Monday, June 30, 2008

Quick note before departure

We don't leave to Singapore until Wednesday morning but wanted to say a quick farewell. Will return on the 12th with plenty of photos, I'm sure!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Heading into Year 3

Granted, I'm jumping a little ahead of myself here, but after this summer we'll be starting our 3rd year in Chennai. When we complete our tour it will be the longest any of the kids have ever lived in one house.

I won't be too far behind either. As a kid I lived in Belgium for 5 years, though in several houses. In high school I managed to live in my parents' townhome for 3 years before heading to college. I don't think college should count as "living in one place" with all the vacations, the semester abroad, the switching dorms every year. It was never the same year to year. When we bought our house in Woodbridge we lived in it for 2 1/2 years before heading off the the Philippines. So for me, Chennai is up there in the longevity arena for housing. It's an odd thought for the kids, three of whom have spent more of their lives outside the U.S. than in. Of course for Foreign Service kids, military kids and some wandering fools in the U.S., that's the norm. Every place is home, and no place is home.
There are plenty who complain about the expense of State's mandatory home leave, but I for one think it's a good thing. Not the expense, obviously, no one likes the cost especially with the low dollar power. But the time in America is well worth the hassle of getting there.
I guess I'm missing home a bit.

And so it goes.

My mom left last night. My dad already left a week ago. It's sort of like pulling off a bandage slowly.

After our day trip to Mahabalipuram on Saturday we've been pretty slow here at the Hopper household. I know we went swimming every day, but beyond that? Sunday we went to church and had lunch at Cappuccino. Monday, uh... I think we went to Citi Centre. Mom bought me a birthday outfit from Lifestyle, that was very sweet. Tuesday, Ian left to Hyderabad for a few days, the kids and I took mom out to Dhaba Express for lunch. It's outdoor Indian dining, our favorite place for a quick tasty meal, and it's walkable from home. Wednesday we hung out at home all day. Mom packed, we played lots of board games, and in the evening went to Benjarong for dinner. It's walkable too, but on the way home Rebecca and I surprised her with a quick ride in a rickshaw. The weather outside has been wonderful and the rickshaw ride was cool and not too uncomfortable for the 5 minutes home.
Then the A/C went out in the car so the ride to the airport was a tad sticky, and the departure terminal was mobbed. We pushed mom up to the front of the queue just to get into the building, but even inside it seemd to be wall to wall people. Since we didn't get a frantic phone call saying anyting had gone awry I can only assume she made it onto the plane fine, especially with no luggage to check and flying in something (anything) other than cattle car. I'm sure we'll hear from Frankfurt.
Today everything goes back to normal routine, at least until Wednesday when we leave for Singapore. I'm awaiting the piano tuner this morning (the one I called before my folks arrived, who said someone would be here 2 weeks ago...) and I have loads of laundry and general tidying up to do before we depart. Um, packing too. There is great frustration coming home, tired and cranky, to a messy house and no clean clothes. I need to have the kids do some school type work as their brains are going to mush even with Big Brain Academy on the Wii and Clue Finders on the PC.
Yet here I sit on the computer, just letting everything happen around me. I didn't get to sleep until about 3 a.m. and was awake around 8, so it's going to be a cranky kind of day. Especially if this piano tuner doesn't show up.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

One Mongoose, Many Mongooses

We have a new tenant in our yard/CG yard. I just hope the stray cats know to stay far far away. No photo of my own.... yet.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Little Toasty

Today we did a day trip to Mahabalipuram, about an hour south of Chennai along the East Coast Road.

Photos can be seen on the flickr site.
If you go, wear a hat. And put on sunscreen.

I've added more photos to the June08 set too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No, we're not dead.

Instead, what did happen was all good.

Last you heard from us, we'd gotten the go ahead for the First Communion. That meant we had a week to get the whole thing put together, from having Katherine learn some flute music to prepping for First Confession, to hoping and praying it was actually going to happen. And oh yeah, my parents arrived at midnight on the 12th and all the wonderful things that go along with having family visit.

So the First Communion did happen. I have pictures to prove it over at flickr. Go check them out! I'm hoping to put up more if I get some from the other family. Since all my family members were involved in the Mass one way or the other (Rebecca and Nicholas receiving the Sacrament, Katherine playing flute, my dad playing piano, my mom and I singing, Jonathon being 6 and a gift bearer, and Ian staying out of the way of the camera-wrath) we're relying on others for the great shots. But what we have can be seen here.
Once the First Communion was done, we took my parents to Saint Thomas Mount. I'll try to add more on that later, but the photos are up too.
And of course we've been up to just being together. So I have a smattering of those photos up as well, with more to be added later.
I promise, more actual blogging later. Hopefully tomorrow. We'll see as tomorrow I plan to take my mom (my dad left last night, he is always off somewhere!) to Eco Cafe' and Anokhi.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Half Way to Success

We nabbed the priest after Mass yesterday. He tried to say that he had business elsewhere on Friday and couldn't wait for us after we were late, and that he had left instructions with another priest for us, and had told the drivers about the other priest as well.

He told us to be there at 4:30, we were there at 4:30, the other person was there at 4:20. There was no tardiness on our part, there was no priest in the office and like I said before, no one knew where the parish priest was. Oh well. But wait, there's more.

We grabbed him after church on Sunday. He asked the kids only one question: "Where is Jesus?" The kids have never had the questions phrased to them that way, they didn't know what was the right thing to say. Nicholas said "Everywhere" and that was wrong. "In the Eucharist" wasn't the right answer either.
But never mind, after that one question and a mini sermon on where Jesus is (I still don't know what he figured was the right answer for that), we settled on a date and time for First Communion.
June 15th, 4 p.m.
First Confession with be immediately prior at 3:30.
We're to meet either at the Confessional Office or in the Tomb Chapel.
We don't know who will be officiating. Fr. Raj said he would arrange it.
We asked what else was needed. He said that was it.
Except of course for a white candle for each Communicant. They could be purchased in the church shop next door. Done. Just need to attach some flowers to them.
And the gifts for the church. Those could be purchased from the shop as well. Apparently vestments, or a new chalice or something of that nature. One kid = one gift. Done. Still need to be wrapped.
And the Tomb Chapel rental fee of course, payable at the church office. The receipt from there had to then be brought to the nun that guards the Chapel entrance, I guess so she could register it and have things ready. Done.
And a program has to be written, songs, readers, etc. My dad is pulling that stuff together from the States.
Katherine will be playing flute for a couple pieces along with two flautists in the other family. She'll start practicing tomorrow.
A cake is being ordered. We'll have a little party afterwards at our house with some finger foods.
Like I said, half way there. The other half will be arriving at church at 3 p.m. and finding someone who actually expects us and knows what's going on. That I can't wait to see.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bonus appetizer at China Town

We've been living overseas too long. Nothing surprises us anymore.

We went to lunch today at China Town in CitiCentre. The restaurant replaced Zyng Asian, which we all liked and lasted all of three months in that location.
We ordered our appetizers and meals. The appetizers came, and Katherine picked up her napkin and under it was a 1.5-inch long cockroach. (Its antennae were another two inches long, but I'm not sure how one properly measures cockroaches.) It scampered under the table. It had been there at least since we arrived, and was very content at its hiding place -- and very discontent about having to move. It stayed there under the table, while Michele kept an eye on it and I flagged down a waiter. Alerted to the issue, the waiter took a napkin and grabbed the cockroach, squished, and took it away. It had clearly been there a long while, since there were 2 or 3 pieces of cockroach droppings on the plate.
We, on the other hand, waited for our main courses and ate.
Now, in the US it would be common for us to get comped the meal, right? This is India. I only got the steamed rice taken off the bill when we pointed out a couple pieces of cockroach droppings in it. I suggested that the restaurant get the situation looked at, but the waiter insisted that there were no cockroaches in the kitchen. "No, absolutely not, sir. Very hygenic." This would be the rare plate-eating cockroach, that is not drawn by actual food, I guess.
None of us have died yet, so I guess it'll be OK.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tata Nano

With video and everything, the US$2500 car.Only in India.

I'm >< (this close) to just saying No.

I brought the kids to the church today for their appointment with Father Raj at 4:30. The one he set this past Sunday, 5 days ago. He said to prepare them (more) this week and he would take them in the church and talk to them himself. I brought a book (Confessions of Saint Augustine) to read while I waited in a pew.

At 5 we went home. We went to the office, he sent us to the Confessor office. It was locked. We went to the Rectory and waited. The door was closed, no one came. We took a walk through the church. A wedding was about to happen. We talked to the guard. He said Father was sick and had left. The driver went back to the office to ask again. We were then told Father was gone but would be back in 10-15 minutes.

Obviously no one had a clue where Father Raj was.

We'll grab him after church on Sunday. Again. I know this is how things get done (or not) in India, but it isn't how I get things done, and I'm about fed up.

I was wondering about Liberia...

And really, who hasn't been wondering about Liberia?? It's dropped out of the news every since the woman president was elected. So yes, I was curious what's going on. What I learned was that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, 37 years ago) was doing OK and in fact was just in NYC on the 4th of June for the Sirleaf Market Women Fund's Adopt-A-Market campaign.

If you're like me you said "Huh?"

But it's actually really cool. The president realizes the power of women in her country. She realized that "a special concern of women is renewal of the rundown and battered markets for food and basic goods - places where women buy and sell from mats on the ground or temporary shelters, and places that have become community centers, despite the lack of resources and poor conditions."
The fund builds markets. Concrete buildings that get women out of the elements and give them a safer place to sell their wares. It seems like an amazing and successful program. I'm even more impressed with President Sirleaf than when she was elected, and I'm glad that Liberia overall is out of the news. The continent only draws attention with it's misery and turbulence (Zimbabwe anyone?), so with silence coming from Liberia we know they're doing something right.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Report Cards

All the kids did well. Katherine was frustrated with some of her grades, but after the year she has had she did just fine. She's quite optimistic about 7th grade, we're relieved about that.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Decisions decisions

It's decision time. Baghdad. Or not Baghdad. That is the question.

Take a read at Baghdad Anne.

For people who have grads or know grads

From a parenting group I'm on I saw some great ideas for gifts for the new grad. Check inside.

- A laundry bag full of towels. How about tossing in a starter set of individual laundry detergent packs. And maybe a pack of quarters
- A favorite book, like a good simple "out on your own" basic cookbook, or how to fix things.
- Luggage type tote bags. Monogrammed even.
- Stationary to keep in touch with friends. Along with that, how about a basket with desk supplies like a small stapler, staples, rolls of tape, stamps, some good pens, 3M hooks, a mini sewing kit, etc.
- Order from a place like "Our Name is Mud", that makes fun coffee mugs and bowl .
- For the college bound, get items in their school colors or from their school store, like a desk lamp with the school logo, a picture frame, or a blanket throw with the mascot.
Anyone have other suggestions to add to the list? Tried and true gifts that really help out a kid on his/her own?

Thou Shalt Not

Thou Shalt Not try to mail the following items through the Diplomatic Pouch:

• Aerosols
• Alcoholic beverages
• Ammunition
• Animals, endangered species products
• Any items for resale
• Items procured for official use, unless funding has been provided to
A/LM/PMP/DPM in advance to pay pouch transportation costs.
See 5 FAH 10 H-511g for further guidance
• Charitable donations of goods
• Controlled or illegal substances to be used without a prescription
• Corrosives
• Currency (cash)
• Explosives
• Firearms including air rifles/pistols and objects resembling weapons or
dangerous objects
• Flammable type films
• Glass containers
• A total of more than 16 ounces of liquid in non-glass container(s) in a single
• Incendiary materials such as road flares, cigarette lighters, self starting
charcoal, etc.
• Magnetic materials such as powerful magnets that can damage computer
software and other electrical equipment
• Narcotics
• Personal professional books and materials intended to be used for a
private business; this does not include small quantities of professional
books or materials for official use and material received from attending
FSI or similar type training courses.
• Plants, seeds, bulbs
• Poisons
• Radioactive substances.
Most of these items I don't have an issue with. Keep me away from the radioactive substances, thanks.
But. But but but. I have a bone to pick with the powers-that-be about the 4th item down: Animals, endangered species products. No, I'm not planning on shipping any tiger skins or rare butterfly wings. What I do have are kids who have implored their mom to do some biology topics this summer. Namely, dissecting animals. Having a bachelor's of science degree in biology myself, I'm happy to oblige. What I'm not keen on is finding our own local specimens. I can do fish, that wouldn't be hard. But frogs? Crayfish? Really long annelids? Even if I could find them here, would I want the kids picking them apart in their freshly caught goriness (goriness? goryness?) in my house?
Instead, I found Carolina and went shopping. I know the regs don't allow live creatures. I know that perishable items are forbidden (and for good reason). But the kit I wanted included cleaned, preserved and sealed creatures: not alive and definitely not endangered.
So, I tried. I placed the order for 2 Young Scientist Animal Dissection Kits, and 2 additional sets of animals (4 kids = 4 of everything, especially something this cool).
Well, no shock to anyone really, my order was turned around at the Pouch facility. The box contained animals and all animals are not allowed, no matter their condition. Makes one wonder about items like dried fish snacks or chocolate covered grasshoppers. Frustrated I am. And I'm wondering how yucky the options from the local market really are.
We would still need supplies, even with local specimens, but don't anyone say I don't learn from my mistakes. Up there in that list, the 12th item down that starts with firearms? No, I'm not going to go out and shoot anything, but what about the second half regarding items resembling weapons?
Does a scalpel count as a potential weapon? Inquiring minds want to know. I'm waiting to hear back tomorrow.

Not to be a downer, but...

A couple recent articles are pertinent to all of us, whether we're in India, the U.S., China, Burma, or anywhere else in the world.

A TIME article on how to survive a disaster. Few people panic, many people freeze, and most people just want someone to tell them where to go and what to do. But we don't have to rely on others to give ourselves a chance of survival when the world collapses around us.

A CNN article on disaster preparedness.
True preparedness starts in homes and neighborhoods and should be intertwined in every part of our daily life.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Church and church-related issues. More later.

.... See, told you more was coming and here it is, though I'll keep it brief.

1) We went to church on Sunday. We've started sitting behind the altar as it's far less crowded and cooler, and behind us is the big Jesus statue, standing on a lotus flower with the peacocks by his feet. Last week we commented on all the graffiti all over Jesus's feet and robes. Sunday, we had easy viewing of someone climb over the rail, step up next to the statue and start writing on a section of his robes. Appalled is putting it lightly.
2) On May 20th we had a scheduled meeting with the parish priest, so he could talk to the kids and we could finally nail down their First Communion date, place and time. We were there, he wasn't. As we were sitting waiting, the kids drew a lot of attention from Indian tourists who come to see the Basilica and St. Thomas shrine. They took pictures of the kids, sidled up to the kids, and one woman put her baby on my lap to take a photo of us. Um, OK. We moved further indoors to wait by the rectory door. A nun came by and asked what we were waiting for. I told her and learned that the priest had left the day before for a 10-day holiday. Come back in June.
Sunday being June 1st, we cornered him after Mass and reminded him of our prior appointment. He placed the blame on us, saying we were supposed to call and confirm. I guess we'd have had to confirm he wasn't going to be there? Anyhow, he never mentioned that last time, nor did he give us a phone number to call (the numbers on the parish board do not work). So he brought us to the office and proceeded to ask why we were there.
He had no recollection of us... the 2 white women with the 3 white kids who want First Communion.
Over the next 45 minutes he was fixated on the idea that the boys are 8 years old. We've told him that's the normal age in the U.S. Here in Chennai it's 10 years old. If he'd told us right off that 8 years was too young and they couldn't do it here, that would something, but we pressed on. He asked the other mom to quiz them. He wasn't happy with their replies, especially Nicholas. Nicholas doesn't talk much, and he certainly doesn't talk when he's nervous.
The greatest issue I think was that the kids hadn't memorized the whole First Communion prep book. They couldn't spit words and passages out instantaneously. That's how kids are taught here in India, memorize vast swaths whether they're understood or not. As long as you have instant recall, that's good enough.
So we have another appointment for this coming Friday. And the priest said he would take the kids into the church and quiz them himself (wait, are they supposed to know all the parts of the church and such too?) then determine if they would need another chat with him.
Oh, and he asked what month we were planning to have the Sacrament. We told him this month, in 2 weeks actually, because that's what we'd said 6 weeks ago. Because both our families will be in town, from the U.S.
He wouldn't commit one way or the other.
I find it most frustrating that we're trying to get Sacraments done and the church is uninterested in helping us accomplish our goal (which one could assume would be their goal as well). Granted, we aren't parishioners. We aren't parishioners because we attend a church out of our home zone. We attend a church out of our zone because it's one of the few that has English services. English services on Sunday morning that isn't at 6:30 a.m. I would register if they'd let me. I tried within a couple months of arriving in Chennai and was told no. I don't really think I understand parish boundaries. Shouldn't we be able to attend any church we wish? And not just attend, but belong to as well?
So we go back on Friday and jump through more little hoops, all while hoping this will actually happen, and I'm doubting more and more that it will.
I wonder if he'll be there.