Saturday, May 23, 2009

The crash will come, but for now just ride the wave.

Isn't it irritating when you start a post, then leave it for a bit, then the power goes out, and since you've already done the brain dump into the computer you can't remember anything that you wrote and moveable type didn't recover the whole entry? Yeah, I thought so too.

The wave of good-byes is just about going to drown someone. It's funny, because there are some people arriving to Chennai just now, but we're so wrapped up with packing and purging and playing (add your own P words here) that it's hard to pull back a bit and remember that life will go on in Chennai much as it has before and our imprint, small as it was, will be washed away. People don't say Good-bye in the Foreign Service, we say See You Later. For the other folks that I've met and liked here, Good-bye is more realistic. Both are hard though.
I tell people we've lived in India for 3 years. That's not wholly accurate. We arrived at the end of August 2006 and are leaving at the beginning of June 2009, so that drops us to 2 years and 10 months. Subtract out the 3 weeks in summer 2007 we were in the States and the 5 weeks we took R&R over Christmas 2007 and the 10 days we took to buy a house. 2 years, 7 1/2 months. That hardly seems any length of time at all, but it's the longest I've lived anywhere since high school, which means it's the longest my kids have lived anywhere their whole lives. They've put down roots and one in particular is anxious about assimilating into the American school system. Each of them reacts differently to a permanent move. I had an e-mail last week asking about the Foreign Service in general as well as the affects on kids in particular.
Here's what I said to him:
About the kids, every kid will react differently to every move at every age. It's a constant juggle of who is going to be happy and who isn't. With our first move (kids were 7, 5, almost 3, 18mo), the oldest one was quite unhappy. She didn't want to leave home, she didn't want to leave grandparents, she didn't want to leave school. You name it, she didn't want to do it. The other 3 were pretty much oblivious and settled right in. Now, my kids are older (13, 11, 9, 7) and it's still the oldest who doesn't want to leave her friends, the school, etc. On the other side, the 11yo isn't so much sad about leaving India, though she is a bit, she's more anxious about going to school in the States. It's understandable, she's going from a school of 60 5th graders to a school of 350 6th graders and aside from a few months of 1st grade in Virginia when we were between posts, she has very little concept of American schools. And she's disappointed in what American schools don't have and don't do. No swimming pool at the middle school. No international trips for sports competitions. This is the longest we've ever lived anywhere ever so the kids are pretty well settled in here and are accustomed to what the school has to offer. The 9yo has a few friends he'll be sad to leave, but everyone has e-mail now, so he's OK with it. He's a total homebody though, so anywhere that we are and his stuff is he's happy to be. The youngest is a happy-go-lucky-nothing-bothers-him-ever kind of kid.
If we told the kids our next post was the moon the oldest would say we were nuts and swear she'll never ever ever go to the moon, the next would argue all the cons to moon-living but rationally accept our pro-moon arguments, the third would say OK then never leave the moon base, and the fourth we'd lose immediately because he'd just go exploring moon craters. Replace the moon with Nepal or Mongolia or Brazil, and you'd get the exact same response (for this move, at these ages).

Kids. They add whole new dimensions to the anxiety and frustrations and excitement and sadness of a PCS.
We're not the only people leaving. That's pretty obvious. And it makes it both easier and harder. If we knew everyone else would stay, there would be a reason to come back to visit. Or at the very least it would be easy to keep track of folks. No, instead a number are staying, and a greater number are leaving to places as varied as Shanghai, Prague and Caracas. Thank goodness for e-mail and facebook and blogs (oh my!) because these friends have no excuse for not sticking. My father recently mentioned that of the people we spent years with overseas when I was a kid, perhaps one or two still send a Christmas card. That's out of 15 years abroad. I hope that "modern technology" will increase our success rate several-fold.
Thursday a newer friend of mine had a party at her apartment. It's strange, we'd been invited several times to play poker with them and never made it, for which we have no excuse. They literally live across the street. Shirley was a friend of a friend, a parent of a Madras Kid, but only recently became a "real" friend. She invited me to her going-away potluck and I saw her surrounded by 30 of her closer friends. During her two years here she got involved in everything and it showed. She's a great hostess, a wicked poker player, a friendly out-going volunteer of time and energy and food no matter the activity. She's off to Shanghai with her family.
Right after the potluck I hopped over to the Consulate for another farewell ceremony. Chennai was Larry and his family's first overseas post, but it didn't show. He was here for 2 years (cut a little short by his current month long TDY in... Florence. Yes, Italy. He deserved it) and in that time adjudicated 42,000 visa applications. 42 THOUSAND. You do the math. Even better than the straight number, he did the interviews concisely, respectfully, legally and often in Telugu, his FSI language. In honor of this accomplishment, Window 7 (the language window) has a plaque recognizing Larry's time spent there:
Larry thanked the Consular Section with a poem written in the style of Dr. Seuss. He's got a great sense of humor and is plain fun to be around. We'll miss playing poker with him too. Larry's wife Kerry ended up working full-time in the ACS section and kept the place going. She was so excited to go to Florence, but we're all a little sad that the TDY cut their time short with us. The next post for the family will be Bucharest and I don't think he has to learn Romanian, but he's going to anyway.
Oh wait, there was a cake with that party. The cake was originally just for Larry, but at the last minute had an addition written on it. Take a look at this:
The cake that looked like it was decorated on a boat.
What it would have said had it not looked like it was written on a boat during a squall: Farewell Larry / Congratulations to *** on Nepal
See, we have quite a few jokesters in the Consular Section. And we all know that the Foreign Service is anything but boring. One of our ELOs got caught up in mass confusion regarding his assignment and he ended up floating in the wind for a while with a potential offer of Bangkok. Well, he decided to pull a fast one and sent a creative e-mail to the mid-levels claiming he had instead been assigned to Nepal. Now, no offense to Nepal, but he did not want to go there, certainly not immediately following India. He had people giving him hugs, crying, offering condolences, getting angry on his behalf. A few congrats were thrown in, but on the whole we all knew that Nepal was not right. Well, somehow or other (I won't give away all Ian's secrets), Ian found out it was a sham and decided to play it out by adding the congrats on Nepal to the cake. After Larry had finished his poem, the other ELO (you're right, I'm not giving out his name) finally came clean. There were some very upset Officers when he did!
You know, reading back on that you really had to be there for the whole week to watch it unfold. It really was funny. As a follow-up though, he did finally get an assignment: Baghdad. Considering he was originally supposed to go to Kabul, he's OK with it.
Thursday couldn't handle any more farewells. Friday came and we thought about hiding at home for a bit. Instead, we were summoned (*ahem*... Kelly) to the Park Sheraton for a Happy Hour at the Westminster bar. I think it's called the Westminster. Since we don't go to bars I wasn't really paying attention. Oh that reminds me though, apparently there's a new restaurant at the Park Sheraton called "On the Rocks" and it's good. Let me know if you go, ok? So, we went to Happy Hour, which I never ever go to, because I don't drink and sitting around drinking has no appeal to me. But these are our friends and it's the last Happy Hour and it's walkable from home, so we went. Also because Kelly called and asked why we weren't there. Nothing like a little guilt to get us moving. The place is actually pretty comfy and though we were about 90 minutes "late" it wasn't until another hour passed that the seats filled up with other people. We chatted, we laughed, we shared stories. Then we went home and remembered again that we're short-timers.
Short-timers coincides with the end of the school year for most of us. End of school means standardized test results come in. Rebecca did MAP testing at the beginning, middle and end of year so we don't have those yet, but the other three had ITBS testing in February. They did well. As I told others, Katherine rocked the house in the language arts portion, Jonathon's vocab is top notch, and Nicholas excels in math. None of which is a surprise.
So, we made it to Saturday. Saturday morning was the International Day thing at school. We didn't go. Instead we spent a couple hours at Spencer's Plaza. Spencer's Plaza is a bit like a rabbit warren and is crowded and dingy most days. Saturday we managed to be there during one of the rolling power outages, making it crowded, dingy, hot, dark and generally miserable. Our purpose? To get wraps as gifts for friends back home. The shop I go to is a little hole in the wall near the end (or beginning, depending on which way you enter) of a side avenue overloaded with t-shirts and handbags and shoes. It's run by a lady, which makes a difference to me as nothing irritates me more in Spencer's (aside from the lack of electricity and the bathrooms) than the guys who try to cajole foreigners into their shops with "Pashmina, madame! Pashmina! Come see!" Erg, just leave me alone. No, I wanted wraps and I get them from her and I'm happy, except when there's no power. Then I have a very cranky Ian (crankier even than the norm when we go to Spencer's) who stands outside the shop to sweat, the lady's assistant starts frantically flapping a paper fan over me while the battery powered lantern flickers ominously and threatens to die. Ian had wanted to look in a few other places to get things less feminine, but once I was done he was done. We dared to have lunch at the Subway, which I'm pretty sure didn't have any refrigeration going on, before bailing on the mall. Our last visit there, and it went pretty much as expected. It's now Tuesday and no one got sick from their sandwiches, so we'll chalk that visit up as a success.
Really we'd wanted to go to Sparky's for lunch, but didn't have enough time. Sparky's opens at noon and we had a party (yes, a going-away party) to get to at 1. Only later did Thom tell us we should have just shown up at 11 and gone in through the side entrance. Like we're supposed to know this. You know, it never crossed my mind to ask the owner of a restaurant if we could just show up early, walk in the working entrance and get served. Would that have crossed your mind to ask? Friend or no friend, it's not something I'd ever have considered.
We had a party to get to. Nicholas' best friend wanted to throw him a going-away party and he could invite anyone he wanted. He chose 5 people, and one of those was another girl because he thought the hostess would like her to be there. Yup, his best friend is Carissa and they are two peas in a pod. Nicholas isn't exactly smitten with Carissa, not in that way, but he sure does like her a lot. He wanted this to be a dress-up party, so he wore a new shirt and tie, and Carissa wore a dress:
She's adorable and so sweet, like her mom. Darlene is our 3rd grade room mom and a wonderful lady and she's another person I wish I knew better and earlier. She has been here 2 years but it's only been in the last few months that I've spent time with her. Who knows though, she's from the Southwest and a huge traveler so I have high hopes our paths will cross again. Darlene is also one of the bravest people I know. Just over a week ago she got her first tattoo right here in Chennai. It's very pretty, an Om in a lotus flower. I keep going back to the idea of getting a tattoo, but honestly the only thing that would make any sense would be a Dalmatian, and I'm no fireman. If you know me, you'll understand.
Back to the party. Three of the people he invited didn't show up, the two others did, and Nicholas was fine. I think I've mentioned he's a homebody. He's also not a huge crowd person and while he doesn't avoid crowds he's just fine with one or two good friends and that's what he got (as well as his siblings and Carissa's brother). They swam, they ate, they enjoyed playing together. Darlene had ordered a really good cake with awesome decorations:
And ice cream from Arun is quite yummy:
Later, I repaid Darlene in part with nearly a case of apple sauce we couldn't finish. Not that she needed any repaying because she's just plain nice, but you know what I mean.
As we chatted we learned that Darlene's husband is a poker player. Well, wouldn't you know there was a poker game scheduled for that very night, so we invited him. At the last minute he ended up not being able to go, long story there - enough for its own blog entry, and that was a bummer because we'd love for the big poker nights to continue after we'd gone. By the end of this summer, 7 of the players that night (of the 16) will have left Chennai. Another one won't be playing because she was a visiting mother-in-law. That's an entire table. Sad. Once there were enough losers, Guitar Hero/Rock Band was turned on upstairs. What a guy thing to do.
And it wasn't enough for one night, because the next night was a scheduled Guitar Hero/Rock Band night. Six guys, plenty of leftover poker night beer, 2 guitars, a set of drums, a microphone and a Wii game projected on the wall. Rock on.
I'm getting ahead of myself though, because when Sunday rolled around I was tired, really tired. Poker makes for a late night and I'd smartly set my alarm for sometime Sunday morning. Ian and the kids went with the neighbors to Sparky's, I did Marriott brunch with Kelly and her visiting mom. Niiiice. We had a quick stop in Kalpa Druma (on Cathedral Road across from the Chola Sheraton) where I picked up a nice lined jute bag as Rebecca's summer swim bag and a couple other bags as gifts before we met up with a couple other ladies at Nalini jewelry. Nalini's uses a lot of stones both precious and semi-precious. The price tags are nothing to sneeze at either so I didn't feel too bad that the handiwork wasn't my style at all. I'm not kidding on the prices, a $1500 necklace would make any sane person reconsider though admittedly not all were that expensive. I wish I could link to the site, but it gives me a Malware warning and I don't really want to bother that much. While waiting for the others to make their purchases I settled in with a couple books on choosing good stones and found the process quite fascinating. I've also learned I don't like perfect stones, as it's the imperfections that make them interesting. I'm sure there's some sort of profound thought in there that can be attributed to life.
Guitar Hero/Rock Band:
Part 2 of Guyapalooza weekend: Rock Band/Guitar Hero night.
They are such goobers.
And then, Memorial Day rolled around. Could this weekend get any longer? The guys had plans, oh yes, they had plans. I made plans too, kind of. Mine were more of the variety of "I don't want to clean out anything else, I'll call Kelly." So I called her and asked if she and her mom wanted to come with us to GRT Jewelry and the Rathna store. Remember the Rathna store from the Rickshaw Challenge:
The Great Chennai Rickshaw Challenge - Rathna
It's a fun place to go for a short time. The problem is that you can't spend a short time in there as there's so much to poke through and then when you do have a basket of items it goes to one counter to be checked out, another to be paid for, another to get packaged and everything has to be stamped repeatedly by different people. The store is always crowded and it is always hot. Ian was not pleased. Why is it everywhere I want to go is so blasted uncomfortable? Oh right... India in the summertime. GRT was no better because I didn't want to go to the new place, I like the older one as we're not quite so obvious and they don't have the opportunity to cater quite so much. At the shiny new shop, everything feels almost formal as someone escorts you around. At the older one, it's a tussle to get by people and the counter girls have a slight aire of boredom. Yeah, Ian wasn't thrilled there either. Just can't win. I knew exactly what I wanted though and in 15 minutes we were done. It's only moderately more efficient than Rathna as far as the steps involved in purchasing anything, but it was enough.
We had to scurry home so Ian could go off to Part 3 of Guyapalooza (after poker night and rock band night):
Part 3 of Guyapalooza weekend: Paintball
Honestly. Paintball?? They all came home injured. Those rifles are powerful things even if they are only shooting out little balls of powdery paint. Oooh, I should take some photos of Ian's bruise. Katherine has been asking to go paintballing for a while now, and even the site of her injured father didn't make an impression. Sometimes I don't understand her. But what the heck, looks like this coming weekend we'll all go out and shoot at each other. Not the younger kids of course, you've got to be a teenager to play. And then we'll go to Sparky's. Then we'll come home to nurse our wounds and realize how old we are. Or not.
Why couldn't this weekend have been long and boring and unfun? Do you know how hard it is to say good-bye to people?
Sidenote: A plus side to moving, especially moving to the U.S.? I can ignore all the and and e-mails I regularly receive.
Non Sequitur: Check out Jorge Garcia's blog, whether or not you're a Lost fan.

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