Thursday, January 31, 2008

A little frustration to welcome us home.

There's nothing quite like coming home to a laundry list of To Do-s.

Getting the a/c fixed in the kitchen cause it started to leak everywhere.
Clean up the cat pee that seems to be in most rooms... either out of malice or boredom from our time away.
Remind the housekeeper about using veg/fruit wash for the raw foods... and if it's run out that rinsing in tap water then distilled water is NOT acceptable. I bought bleach and told her to use that. No wonder my tummy is a little upset.
Get cooking gas for the stove before we're reduced to microwave and toaster meals.
Continue to clean mold out of the pantry, realize much of the packaged foods are going stale if they aren't moldy, consider alternative recipes for taco shells.
Learned 100th day of school was Tuesday and projects were due for 1st grade. Thank goodness for legos.
Realize India Week at school is next week, all the handwashable outfits I didn't do before the trip now need to be washed and ironed pronto for wearing next week.
Rebecca needs a ghagra choli for a dance presentation for India Week. Need to look up what a ghagra choli is. Ok, a quick search shows it's a dressy floor length skirt with a short top of any design and color. Thank goodness, she has one of those.
The suitcases are all unpacked, except one I've been dumping all the newly laundered clothes into. It's still sitting on the bedroom floor. Plus the 2 laundry baskets are full of clean clothes.
Iron. A lot.
Deal with freaking out housekeeper when we asked her to cook chicken. Bird flu has reared its head again, so no one (apart from us apparently) is eating chicken or even eggs and the prices at the fish market have skyrocketed.
And this week I had to pay for cooking gas, afterschool tennis for Rebecca, afterschool yoga for Jonathon, January salaries for our 3 househelp people, two phone bills, school lunches for all 4 kids for the next 2 weeks (only 2 meals each a week, thank goodness), tennis lessons this weekend for four of us, Madras Kids for at least one kid (sorry neighbor... I'm a little strapped right now, hope to get the other one next week).
Rebecca needs to finish her home country project. She's not presenting until Leap Day, so thankfully we have a month to pull things together. She's got a good start on it and she's working in a group, but she's needing some home help too. She's behind in math, but is staying in for recesses until she catches up. Why didn't we get her math assignments before we left? I don't know.
Nicholas is catching up on homework too. Spelling lists galore. Math pages out the wazoo.
Report cards came back for the younger three. All improved. We've agreed to pay Rs100 per A (for the girls) or per E (for the boys) at the end of the school year. We are not above bribery. Katherine can't seem to track hers down though so she may not get anything. This is the same girls who lost her camera on the 1 hour flight from Frankfurt to Belgium, lost her scarf in the Da Vinci exhibit in Belgium and lost one of her gold earrings (yeah... the new ones from Christmas) in Malaysia.
I'm going to get her a tshirt that says "Future ACS Case."
I still haven't finished the consumables survey, the hardship differential survey, taking any photos off the cameras from this trip or setting up new piano lessons (now that Madras Kids takes up all Saturday mornings for them).
I'm back on the fingerprinting line at work.
Oh, and lice is floating around the school again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Home again

We made it in last night, about 10p.m. Chennai time and everyone was asleep by about 12:30 or 1 a.m. Today, we've made huge headway with all the suitcases, the laundry is almost done. There isn't much room on the dining table with all the bits that need to find various homes (passports to the safe, ticket stubs to scrapbooking, etc.) but aside from that unpacking is looking good. The house, though, needs a serious overhaul.

Ah, the house. It felt like it hadn't been lived in for 6 weeks. The cats practically had cobwebs hanging off them and the whole place smelled musty, catty and empty. It's a lot better now that we've burned scented candles in a number of rooms, opened doors and turned on a/c to air out, vacuumed with the roomba, dusted the pictures and counters, completely dumped the litter pan that is under the stairs (pyew!), flushed toilets and ran faucets, scrubbed a layer of mold off the pantry shelves and threw out a dozen boxes of molded cereal along with other moldy food items (cat food, macaroni noodles), cleaned up dried cat spitup puddles... the list goes on. Tomorrow I'll clean out the fridge of its leftovers. Yeah, leftovers. Ew.
The cats don't hate us, that's the good thing. Our neighbors hardly saw 2 of them during our absence but they showed up last night and today act like nothing every happened. I wasn't expecting this good a reception from the furballs.
So, we're back home. It's good to be home. It's good to sleep in my own bed (though I can't complain at all about the beds at the Marriott hotels or the Pacific Regency in KL). It's good to sit on our own couches (after vacuum and febreeze). It's good to feel like we don't need to go anywhere or do anything today or tomorrow. Not to say we aren't doing anything. This morning the girls went to their first Madras Kids rehearsal, auditions actually. The girls received the short 2 person sketch at 7:30 this morning, the one they were supposed to do by memory, and by 8:15 were off to the school running lines and practicing their songs. Apparently it went well, Rebecca did "O Lonely Peas" without issue and Katherine... well, Katherine had a little breakdown, did a different song and lost her composure. She tried. Next week they hear who gets which parts/lines/songs.
Madras Kids will take up Saturday mornings, so tennis for Rebecca will move to Sundays and piano lessons will have to figure in a different day of the week. Afterschool activities start this week as well, I think. We're not overscheduled, it's just trying to get everyone into something and with 6 people there are only so many non-work/school hours free. We'll figure it out.
A quick Kudos to our airlines, for not losing any of our luggage, nor canceling or even dealying any of our flights. We had 11 flights this trip and everything ran like clockwork. Sure, it took three sets of passports, and one of our bags was broken on the very last flight into Chennai so it won't be visiting anymore nations with us, but on the whole, that's practically perfect.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A nice final night

Last night we met up with another FS family. They have 3 kids so we hit the pool for a bit before going to a local hotspot for expats calls Suzi's Corner. Suzi's has amazing steaks and the iced fruit drinks were yummy. Again, the weather was wonderful even when the heavens opened and we were caught in a monsoon-like rain. Thankfully Ian waved down a taxi willing to take all 6 of us (we'd heard that taxis can scoff at holding so many) and we made it to the hotel with no problem. Being across the street from the KL Tower entrance certainly helps when giving directions!

We've been thoroughly impressed by KL. Now it's time to go home and we're ready. There's still a 2 1/2 hour time difference but we've all gotten over the jetlag to this point, 2 1/2 hours is nothing. In fact, it's quarter to 9 now so we should probably get some breakfast before packing our bags and hunting up some wonton wrappers for our neighbor in Chennai.

KL has skyrocketed onto our bid list.

What's not to love about a place with tons to do (aquarium, planetarium, resorts outside the city, pilot school in town, philharmonic, art galleries, parks parks parks), wonderful weather, reliable and clean public transportation (took the LRT today), green everywhere (we walked through a forest preserve to get to the KL Tower today), great shopping (Central Market this morning, wow), amazing food (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, western chains like TGI Fridays and McD), better prices, friendly people, clean air, mountain ranges, English....

Oh my goodness. And a city of only 1.4 million people. It's like living in the countryside.

Oh yeah, yesterday we went up to the Petronas sky bridge. Petronas (accent on the first syllable, like in petrol) is a petrol/gas company here. The twin towers are their headquarters. There's a huge Suria KLCC shopping mall there with movie theater, food courts, art gallery, etc. Really pretty. We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe' down from our hotel, let the kids relax in the hotel's rooftop pool in the afternoon, and had dinner at a nearby Japanese place. We walked everywhere. The kids are totally sold on this city.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunrise in KL

I'm just happy I managed to stay snoozing until 6:15 this morning, and that the rest of the crew managed until 7. I think a girl or two are awake now, but all the boys are still out and I get to watch the sunrise out our hotel window where we also can see most of the KL Tower. So far our first impressions of KL are positive. The airport is nice, the taxi service sufficient and knowledgeable, the hotel staff accommodating and a Hard Rock Cafe' in easy walking distance. And it's warm outside. Warm warm warm. Sinuses are clearing, skin is less itchy. Prices are higher than I expected, we'll see how that translates to the city streets outside the hotel room service charges.

Not much to report since the sun is just rising and we haven't done anything yet. If we're even going to do anything, I think we're all tired and ready to laze around for a bit before returning home. I don't mind.

Singapore Airlines: Where passengers are treated like customers, not cattle

We like Singapore enough, even just from the airport (though this is our second time in Singapore and last time we stayed on Orchard Road and went to the Night Safari), we're seriously considering bidding it. It's the perfect mix of everything. And Singapore Airlines is truly the best. Singapore Economy Class rivals other carriers' Business Class.

Too bad we only have about 90 minutes here before heading to KL. Catch you later.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wall

It snowed this morning. Lovely light powder that coated everything but was easily brushed away; it was pretty from our 15th floor hotel room. According to our "tour guide" for the day though, the snow created a problem. We wanted to go to the slightly further out section of Mutianyu, with a cable car up and a potentially chilly luge descent but instead were rerouted to the closer Badaling section with its myriad of visitors, hazy skies and bazillion steps just to get to the first little tower. The kids made it up well before me, I stopped about every 20 steps. More on the Wall later, but I do need to get in a small rant about the "tour." We wanted to go to the Wall and I figured we'd be back in time for lunch. Silly me. We stopped at the Cloisonne "factory" showroom. Interesting, we bought something. We stopped at a jade "showroom" that was obviously opened up just for us and we didn't buy anything even though we had every showroom girl trying to get the kids to ask for things, up to the $100 jade earrings for Katherine. Attached to the jade place was a restaurant. A freezing, empty restaurant that we were apparently supposed to eat at. No one told us that part and I wasn't pleased. We said we wanted to go back to the hotel instead and that met with stuttering and general disbelief. Had to go find the driver somewhere (guess he was having lunch), and the ride back was pretty quiet between suggestions of taking us to other restaurants (no thanks), a tea house (none of us care for Chinese tea that much), etc. Arg.

Back at the hotel, we'd been upgraded to the Executive Floor when we checked in. So we checked out the Executive Lounge and were summarily told we weren't allowed there. We'd been -upgraded-, so we didn't count. I tell you, between the fact that the kids' room is still freezing and now this... Arg.

Anyway. I'm ready to start packing up our bags to get out of here in the morning. I rather wish we could just head to Chennai instead of KL. I'm done with "vacation," this is more like work. I'm tired, I'm cold and I wanna go home.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A nicer day in Beijing

The weather here was so much better today, and we were much better dressed for it. Yeah, the Forbidden City would have been a great destination.

Instead we went to church at Wanfujing's Church of China (the only Roman Catholic church in the area I could find and apparently not allowed to admit itself), lunch at a hotpot restaurant (more on that later when it isn't 12:30 a.m.), a little shopping, a lot of nap (oops, my planned 2 hour nap for everyone ended up being 3 1/2 hours), and a Kung Fu show (again, more on that later). We had Starbucks and Haagen Daaz. Life is good. Tomorrow... the Wall.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


No one told me Beijing would be this cold.

No one told me that Beijing would be this cold. I mean, I knew it would be cold, but not this bone-chilling, nose-freezing cold. Have I mentioned that I'm done with being cold? Well, I am. Completely. Counting down the days until we hit KL.
The bummer of this stay though is that the kids' room in our Courtyard Marriott hotel is also freezing. Last night they just made it through thanks to jetlag. We complained to the front desk today, which provided blankets and a space heater, not a fixed central heat. That's not right and I do wish we could switch the room but we're on the end of the hall with next door rooms, one with a king for us and a much bigger room for the kids. I think moving would result in shifting to another floor or having the kids move far away from us which is not an option. We're making due, but Marriott will be hearing from us. I've come to expect a lot from Marriott because I really enjoy their rooms and think their beds are the most comfortable by far. But lacking free wireless is also frustrating so maybe we just need to stay away from the Courtyards and stick with the Residence Inns. Our Residence Inns in Milwaukee were 2 bedroom suites. This place doesn't even have a microwave.
We spent today in the Forbidden City. The plan had been the Chinese History Museum only to arrive and learn it's closed. Until 2010. And it was shut down last year. I'm not joking. They have the Olympics this year and their biggest museum is closed for 3 years. So we went to the Forbidden City, mostly outdoors and completely freezing. I didn't plan on being outside for 4 hours, so we all froze our tails off walking from little museum to little museum while all the big pretty buildings were covered in scaffolding.
The high point of the visit was not the much anticipated (by me) ice skating on the Forbidden City moat, because it too wasn't open or even have any water. We saw an art exhibit which is either always there or not, but we bought our Beijing souvenirs of several silk paintings. They'll look nice at home.
We walked back to the hotel, past Tiananmen Square and into a fabulous bakery. Having snacks is so important, and I was thankful the boys ate because Jonathon was completely passed out before dinner. We had tickets for a Kung Fu show tonight but Ian asked to change them to tomorrow night. Hopefully it'll keep the boys awake and we'll still get enough sleep tomorrow night before getting up for the Great Wall on Monday morning.
Oh, one quick story. Practically the moment we exited the forbidden city ticket gate, Nicholas realized we'd left our biggest painting at the cafe clear on the end of the Forbidden City by the gardens. Ian had to buy another ticket to reenter just minutes before the gates were closed to new visitors. He reclaimed the painting without issue, thank goodness.
I'm beyond tired as it's going on 11 p.m. Saturday here. Tomorrow we'll go to church if we can find it. I don't know how Beijing is going to be ready for the Olympics. The smog is amazing, literally overwhelming. Few people speak English, which I know is more my issue than theirs. And I find the streets confusing. Wish us luck.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ni-hao from Beijing.

We made it to Beijing, and everybody's awake, at least for the moment. It's just before 7pm here, but the flight (which left at about noon Chicago time) was at the wrong time for sleep. Everybody napped a little, but not much. The flight was fine -- US flights, even business class, pale in comparison to international carriers.

Most of the lower level of business class (it was a 747) was empty, as was much of "Economy Plus." But did they upgrade anybody to fill those seats? Nope. They even made an announcement to stop people from taking the Economy Plus seats unless they paid for them. I know they want the money, but once the plane doors close, why not just give them the seats? Reward frequent fliers, build up a little goodwill. But they just don't get it.

Since there's no airport shuttle service for the hotel, we had to take a cab here. Two cabs, actually, to accommodate the people and the bags. Now I knew that I should have brought a card with the hotel name and address in Chinese characters, and if we were just going from home to Beijing, I knew I would have. But this is the back end of a very long trip, and I didn't do it. The Chinese police/security guy at the airport knew enough English to tell both drivers roughly where to go, but neither of them knew exactly where the hotel was, or what it was called. Michele and the boys were separated from me and the girls, but we both found our way here in different ways. Michele had the phone number for the hotel, and had the cabbie call. She made it here first. We took a rather more circuitous route. We finally made it to the right neighborhood (I did know that much) and I scanned signs and buildings until I found the hotel, then directed the driver to it. It went OK, but we wouldn't advise this method to others.

This biggest reaction we have so far is that the reports of Beijing's pollution are wildly underestimated. Nicholas was hacking right after leaving the airport, and I felt pretty ill in the cab. You can barely see a city block, and smokestacks are everywhere. Beijing city planners would have done well by playing SimCity -- don't put your industrial zones too close to residential! Even here in the hotel room, I still smell the city. I'm not sure if it's through the windows, or if it's in our clothes.

Tomorrow we'll do some sightseeing, but tonight we're focused on just keeping people awake, getting them something to eat, and recovering from the cross over the dateline.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Off to Beijing...

Back in the airport in Chicago. Another trip to McDonald's. I think I'm developing an allergy to it... there are just too many of them. We're finally saying goodbye to the US, and heading to China. We've enjoyed our trip back to the US, and it's a little sad to know that we'll be back in a year and a half at best. Now we're turning back into tourists, and looking forward to getting home, settling back in, and seeing if we can apologize to our cats for leaving.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Not our blood, just stuff along the way.

--Wait, did I say not our blood? There's been a bit of our blood. Dry skin. Dry skin is miserable and with it comes a lot of scratching and indeed, we've drawn blood. One great thing about living in a tropical zone... plenty of humidity and no central heat!

I mentioned we went to play with the kittens at the Alley Cat Rescue in Brentwood, MD, right? I wanted to give Rebecca a chance to see a working rescue facility and talk to some of the volunteers and workers there. And of course we played with the kittens. ACR welcomes people of all ages to come in and spend time with the cats to keep them socialized before adoption and we had a ball. Ian was interested in one young cat, really reminiscent of our own Masala. No adoptions though, thank goodness.
The blood wasn't at the ACR either. On the way a couple blocks before our destination we saw a dog that had been just hit by a car. The dog wasn't going to make it, that was quite obvious, but adjacent to the ACR is the Brentwood Animal Hospital so the girls went with Ian to tell them about the accident. The poor doggy, and it was obvious the driver was distraught.
Our other incidence of blood was just the other night at the hockey game. It involved a puck moving so fast we saw it bounce off person #2 and get caught by person #3, and we all completely missed it hitting person #1 right in the face about 4 rows in front and 4 seats over from us. We did see the blood exploding out of his nose/mouth and the surrounding rows were appropriately grossed out.
I hope the rest of the trip is a little... less icky.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

*insert wolf howl here*

We're lounging in our room at the Great Wolf Lodge. And the GPS is worth it's weight in gold. An exaggeration, sure, now that gold has reached $900/ounce, but you get the idea.

It was tough getting up this morning but we finally managed some breakfast before leaving the hotel about 10:30. It makes me nervous leaving late, so I was not very pleasant this morning especially when Katherine came up from breakfast without Jonathon and had no idea he was even supposed to be with her. And she wants a cell phone. Right.
We decided to follow the GPS directions to New Berlin (a kinda remote suburb) to meet up with my grandmother and aunt for church. National is a major road, but a city road with stop lights about every 50 yards, and instead the all-knowing GPS took us from highway to highway and we arrived at my aunt's doorstep in 20 minutes. Milwaukee is a small town. We went to church then to the nearest mall where my uncle's family met up with us. A mall food court is an unconventional family reunion spot, but it works for a mixed group of 22 people from 10months to 70something, and we had the chance to sit for a couple hours and catch up before driving a couple hours to Wisconsin Dells and the Great Wolf Lodge.
Which is where we are now. Like I said. I'm tired.

"That's Debatable"*

So the boys saw their first hockey game tonight. The girls had been to Atlanta Thrashers games the inaugural year, but the boys (not having been born yet) were uninitiated. Granted, the Milwaukee Admirals are a minor league team, but in out opinions that makes them that much more fun.

Our time in Wisconsin is going by quickly. We've had a snow flurry, the kids had a snowball fight in front of our hotel in Madison and built a snowman of sorts in a park by their grandma Grace's home. We saw Ian's mom last night and took her out for Indian food after a short walk along Madison's State Street. I think Ian's favorite part of this leg of the trip so far is the GPS unit in the car. It certainly does make the trips go by quickly. I'd always heard that Madison-Milwaukee takes 2 hours but we zipped along in less than 90 minutes and hopefully tomorrow's trips to New Berlin and then on to Wisconsin Dells will be as fleet and uneventful.

* "That's Debatable" : When a player would come out of the penalty box the announcer would say the teams were back at equal strength. The crowd would reply... That's Debatable! I thought it was one of the silliest things for fans to shout.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hi from Chi-town

Michele's been really sucky at updating the site, so this is our first update since New Year's. Stuff happened, but I'll let Michele post that once she's good and ready....

We're here in O'Hare airport in Chicago, awaiting boarding for our flight to Madison, WI. I just got directions to our hotel, made sure that the car rental place has GPS units, and made sure that our rental was for 6 days, not the 2 that was set before. All this in an airport on my laptop. Yet another reason why it's easy livin' in America.

The kids just came back with McDonald's... this is the third or fourth trip there that I know of. That's fine -- after we get back to India, it'll be at least a year and a half, maybe more, until they get to go again.

I have to recommend United's EasyCheckIn for flights. You pick your seats online, print out boarding passes, and the check-in line flies through. It's too bad they don't do it for international flights.

We have free wireless at the hotel in Madison, so perhaps Michele will post something. Perhaps.....

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year

We got our visas for China. Yay. When is Chinese New Year this year anyway?

We've been busy. Went bowling last Friday. My first frame was a strike. I won that game with 124. The second game I don't think I broke 80. Talent I have not, just a little luck. Sometimes.

We had family portraits done on Sunday with the 8 of us. Monday we spent 5 hours at the Tysons mall. Tuesday an old high school friend came over for a bit with her husband and 3 year old. Last night we went to the warehouse store and bought 200lbs of cat litter and a big pack of Sharpies. I *heart* Sharpies. Today we're visiting an old friend of the family who lives in the neighborhood, then going back down to Woodbridge to lament the fact that houses are really affordable down there but it's so far away from DC. No actually we're going down to pick up something and swing through Potomac Mills Sports Authority for tennis supplies, but lamenting will happen on the side. As will a stop in Chik-Fil-A.

Katherine is plugging away on her math work, they are all continuing with piano and/or flute. This weekend Ian and I will be gone for a few days so my parents have run of the kids. Say a little prayer for them.