31
December

My christmas vacation was shittier than your christmas vacation

willy and I have been unbelievably lucky when it comes to vacations. The “worst” weather that we ever had on a trip was when we were in Jamaica in January of 2010 and it rained for a bit and was overcast for a few days. Being the pale people that we are, we were really OK with that. For the most part, we have had record-breakingly fabulous weather. We know that we have been very lucky, and often joke about the “terrible” weather that we get. You know those days, the ones without a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze coming off the water, a nice shady place to lie and watch the world go by.

We decided to go to the beach for the week after Christmas, to see a new part of India, and to have some downtime with the family. we originally looked at going to Goa, but found it to be cost prohibitive, due to the fact that it is a destination spot for many travellers, and the prices greatly increase over the Christmas holidays. One of Willy’s colleagues suggested that Puducherry would also be very nice, so we consulted Grandma and Uncle D, and decided it fit the bill. We found a resort that looked lovely and booked ourselves in.

while we had originally planned on flying, it worked out that it was about the same travel time to drive from Bangalore, and our driver Subbu was willing to take us. We set off on Boxing day for the long drive, and got to see much of the Indian countryside that we would have otherwise missed. While the drive was long and tiring, it was worth it. We were happy to arrive at the resort, and pleased that it delivered on what it promised. Ocean views; lovely open air common spaces; young, but lush gardens; and a calmness and openness that we just don’t get in Bangalore. Our room even had a lovely private pool!

Our lovely pool

The week got off to a pretty rocky start. Woo was sick, running a high temp for the first two and a days. He was out of sorts and not eating or sleeping well. Goose was doing ok, but sleeping with us, and delivering a higher than expected number of kidney and groin kicks. The resort was very nice, but had some service issues, and the food was less than the spectacular I have come to expect in India. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes in the room the first night. Things we starting to look up as the week progressed. We had a fabulous day in Puducherry, exploring. The weather had cleared up and the sun was shining. The seas were providing wonderful waves that we fun to watch – each more spectacular than the last. Then I caught a tweet on an Indian news service that I follow, mentioning a cyclone that was expected to make landfall near Cuddalore. Cuddalore is a town that was about 10km south of where we were staying. I let Willy, Grandma, and Uncle D know, and started following the news a little more closely.

Thursday was a grey and windy day, and it started raining in the early afternoon. We weren’t sure what to expect, but this picture made it clear that we were in for some nasty weather:

Tracking

The day just passed. No one at the resort seemed to be worried, and there was no talk of “battening down the hatches” or any such thing. We noted the the seas had become violent, and the hotel closed the beach early.

Rough Seas

The lils and I had a very windy supper in the open restaurant before Willy, his mum, and brother went out to dinner and saw Uncle D off on his cross India adventure at the bus station. Willy returned to the room a little after nine and reported that it was windy and rainy, but little had changed over the evening. We packed up and tried to tidy as much as we coould inside and out, moving most of our belongings inside, putting all of our valuables off the ground, and locking the large glass doors to the room and outdoor bathroom as best as we could. We went to bed not knowing what to expect.

I awoke a little after two to the howling wind and periodic banging of the wooden door between the bathroom and pool area. Willy awoke shortly after me, and actually went outside to close the door! I was content to let it bang away, but it bothered him enough to go out in the raging wind and re-latch. We both lay in the dark listening to the storm intensify. The door came open several more times, and each time he ventured back out to latch it. On the second or third trip he reported that the loud noise I had heard while he was outside was part of the bathroom’s roof being ripped off.

Goose woke shortly after three, and was very curious about the noises outside the room. I explained that the big storm was blowing things around, and damaging things. She was at first worried about where her toothbrush might be in the morning, but I assured her that we would find it. Placated, she started to identify the sounds and gave a play-by-play of what was happening right outside the room. “Oh, that was our milk glass breaking”, she calmly whispered, “oops, there goes more of the bathroom roof”. She calmly watched as Willy went outside one more time to secure the latch, and as he and I moved a large wooden cabinet in front of the glass door to the bathroom that was taking the brunt of the wind.

Then Goose whispered the four words that you don’t want to hear at four in the morning as a cyclone rages overhead, “I need to pee“. Our bathroom was outside and getting hit, so that wasn’t an option. Willy again went out into the storm to get a sand bucket for her to use as a commode, and she settled back to bed, this time asking to sleep between us. She wasn’t scared, just wanted to cuddle. She and Willy drifted off to sleep around five, in the eerie calm as the eye of the storm passed over us. It began to rage on again and I tried to remain calm, but each bang made me jump and tense, certain that the wind was going to blow one of the doors in. This fear intensified when the wind blew some roofing material against the main door. It was a rubber mat that had large metal fasteners attached to it. They banged against the glass loudly and often. I nearly jumped out of my skin each time.

Woo slept blissfully though all of this chaos and noise. He woke around 6:45, later than normal, and ran to the door find out what was going on out there. I leapt out of bed and moved him to the couch. we sat and watched out a window that was sheltered from the wind. He had many questions about the storm, which I answered as best as I could. I continued to watch out the main door, and happened to be watching as the gazebo by our pool collapsed. This brought a rash of new questions, most of which centered on the safety of the lounge chairs under the gazebo, chairs that he had spent many hours playing happily on.

During all of this time we were worried about Willy’s mum, who was in an ocean facing room by herself. We didn’t want to call her on the off chance that she was blissfully unaware, and weren’t able to venture to her room, then finally lost power and thought it was moot. We were pleased and surprised when she called and let us know that she was fine. Her door had blown in pre-dawn, and she had called hotel staff who came and brought her to a safe place. She agreed to check in with us regularly, but was safe and dry.

The morning dragged on slowly. We munched on all the emergency snacks that I was carrying with me, and waited for the storm to slowly weaken. Willy made several trips out and about and reported pretty severe damage to the hotel. We reached Subbu, who had managed to drive to the main road, but could not drive the final 2.5km to where we were. The road to the resort was littered with downed powerlines, trees, branches, and other debris. He was lucky enough to have made it to us at all, given that the car that had been parked beside his overnight was crushed in the storm! We waited and watched, were served some lunch, and finally received word that the road was now passable. We called for Subbu, grabbed our bags, adopted two stranded folks, and headed out. I took a few minutes before we left to take a couple of snaps:

Giant glass doors
The glass doors to the room

Gazebo Down
Gazebo down

Lobby
Mess in the lobby

Restaurant
Pile up

Front Lawn
Front lawn

Roof damage
Roof damage

There are more pictures at http://flic.kr/s/aHsjxHRi8D

As we drove down the road, we were shocked by the damage. They had cleared a path that was no wider that the minivan we were driving. There were trees and branches that had fallen across the road every foot or so. Many houses were badly damaged, or outright destroyed. Entire plantations of new and mature trees were flattened. The damage continued as we moved north into Puducherry. As we approached the waterfront we had to drive down streets that were under more than a foot of water. We finally had to stop and let our passengers out a bit short of their alternate accomodation, as the roads were no longer safe to pass. The damage continued far inland on the drive home, as did the rain. The road was slow, but we didn’t mind. We were so glad to be safe, dry, and going home.


Short video shot driving out of Puducherry

The resort we were staying at took a direct hit. Cyclone Thane was classified as a very severe cyclone, the second highest rating. According to reports, it was the equivalent of a strong category two/weak category three hurricane. Current reports identify that 42 people were killed in Puducherry and Cuddalore, and that over 20,000 people are homeless. The damage is shocking, and I can only hope that there will be some sort of relief efforts, and will gladly contribute to whatever I find. We left feeling very lucky to have escaped unscathed. This despite the fact that the hotel was largely unprepared, and did nothing to warn any guests of the storms potential for damage. We are very concerned, as many people were left in a very vulnerable position. We plan to write to their corporate offices to express our feelings.

Grandma and I are going to Kerala next week, so we joked about whether the west coast of India is prone to cyclones. It turns out that the Arabian Sea does get cyclones, so I tried to see the forecast:

Forecast

See those two white dots to the south west of India? Oy.

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29
December

Wrong digits

It took approximately two months for me to get my mobile activated here. A lot of this was me, not being organized enough to figure out what I needed to do, but there were a number of steps and hoops that we had to go through. The first of these was to get it tweaked so that I could use my Canadian phone here, then to actually get hooked up to a plan.

The most frustrating of this was the “address verification”, where they call on the mobile to arrange a time to come to the house to verify that we lived there. They called a few times, but I either missed the call, or did not understand the person on the other end, as they did not speak english. It took much back and forth between Willy and the provider and the phone getting disconnected once before we had resolution. It is now activated, and for the most part works when we want it*.

I have very few contacts in my phone, just Willy, our driver and the few friends I have made here. I don’t get that many calls, and there is much text and voice spam here, so I generally ignore numbers that I don’t know. Occasionally Willy will tell me that we are expecting a delivery, or that someone will be calling. On those days, I answer everything.

It was one of those days when I got a call from someone who only said “hello”, repeatedly. I assumed that it was a dead spot in the house and he could not hear me, so I answered again when he called later. He still just said hello multiple times. He reached me a third time, and I tried to get more information out of him. I asked if he wanted to speak to me or Willy, if he was coming for work on the villa, if he was calling because our landlord asked him to. This time, he responded to me in what I believed was Hindi. I tried to explain that it was a wrong number several ways and hung up.

He called several more times that day, but I ignored the calls. Then I got this:

I ignored it. He still calls a couple of times a day, I still ignore him.

 

*Data plans are silly cheap here, and when you are in the right spot, the connection can be lightening fast. Finding that right spot can be difficult tho, especially when you are on the move. You get what you pay for, right?

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28
December

The call

We have been struggling with early morning wake-ups since we moved here. At first we blamed it on the time difference, and figured that things would go back to normal soon. They didn’t. It must be the light we figured, noting that the curtains in the lils rooms were pretty sheer. We searched and searched for good blackout curtains, but failed to find ones that were thick enough. They’ll get used to it, we thought.

Goose did, for the most part. She still has to combat the early morning visits from woo, but she does ok. Woo, on the other hand, is still waking. Even now that the mornings are short, he still wakes every morning about 5:30. Some days he is great about it, and plays on his own. We are really impressed with how well he does these days.  It’s the other days when he wakes some or all of us. It’s getting tiring. Literally.

This week my brother-in-law and mother-in-law helped me figure out just what it was that wakes him. First Uncle D identified that there is loud music playing every day, pre-dawn. I am pretty sure that I have heard it too, but thought nothing of it. Then I hear it later in the day, and my MIL suggests it is the Islamic call to prayer. A quick google search confirms it. We clearly live near a Mosque. There is not much we can do about that.

This lil can sleep through fireworks going off outside his window for hours, but can’t make it through 30 seconds of music. We’re in a hotel today. He was up in the night with a fever, but this morning he woke up at 8:00am. No call to prayer here.

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25
December

Our traditional Christmas in India

For us, Christmas in India was not a tonne unlike Christmas in Canada.  We were awakened by an excited Woo, early in the morning, but not too early. We raced downstairs to open stockings and presents, happy that Santa came.  The opening was a marathon, lasting well over two hours.  We ate crepes for  breakfast, played outside, napped and played some more.  Then the feast.  For new friends and family, a good time was had by all.

While were decidedly western in out approach to the day, there were a few things that marked it as new and different from our Canadian Christmases.  There was no cold or snow.  When we played outside, we did so in shorts.  While no traditional Indian food was consumed, we ordered in non-veg portion of the dinner, a roast beast, with a side of turkey.  It was hot! Sunny and hot.  By far the warmest Christmas I have ever experienced.

Christmas is clearly marked here, in an obvious way.  Other than in commercial areas, it is also very clearly not a big deal.  We did the best to make it a big deal in our house!

Here is a peek at our day:

7:00am Stockings!

8:00 I swear I don’t know how that in got there

9:00 The aftermath

10:00 New Scooter

11:00 Practicing on roller blades

12:00 Not *quite* a thali

1:00 It was a very lego Christmas

2:00 Prep work for risotto, trying not to dirty extra bowls

3:00 Enjoying his new books!

4:00 Mama’s helper, post nap

5:00 Tennis, anyone.  Suits optional

6:00 This one was a hit with everyone!

 

 

 

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23
December

Well taken care of

One of the reasons that we chose to stick with our driver and cancel the purchase of our car was that our driver seems to really want to CARE for our family. He is clearly enamoured with the lils, puts up with Willy and I, is a hard worker, and does his job really well. We’re really lucky that he was referred to us and are confident that we made the right choice.

Grandma and Uncle D are visiting this week, and decided to venture off on their own today. We needed to get some last minute shopping in, so asked Subbu if he could recommend a car/driver for them for the day. Minutes late he let us know that the driver would be at the house at noon, and that he was at their service until 8:00pm. He arrived on schedule, and they set off to explore the city. We had anticipated that they might want to dine out, so let them know that they would likely have to pay thee driver more than the agreed upon rate. We level set as to what the cost might be, not so they could have enough money, but so they knew that it would be a fraction of the fees they would pay at home. They did have a good time, and texted us midday to let us know that they would not be home for dinner.

As we were putting the lils to bed, we got a call from Subbu, letting us know that he had been in touch with the driver, and that Grandma and D were looking for a place to eat. He was going to suggest a place to their driver, but wanted to make sure with us that it was OK. Later in the evening, he called again, to make sure that they got in OK. As luck would have it, they were walking, in the door, so Willy confirmed that they were safe and sound. Subbu also asked if the final cost was OK, and D let Willy know the final cost. There was a bit of discussion, that ended with Willy telling Subbu that the driver was gone now.

It turned out that Subbu thought that they had been overcharged, and had wanted us to let the driver know. We all felt that the rate was fair, but understand that it might have been too much be local standards. We half joked that Subbu would show up with the difference tomorrow, and moved on to other things.

A short while later the phone rang. It was security at the front gate, letting us know that the driver was back. Apparently Subbu had reached him, as he showed up with a refund for Grandma and D! As much as we all felt like the charge was fair, it is really nice to know that Subbu is looking out for us.

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22
December

Harmonium

This was going to be my wordless wednesday post for this week, but our internet was down for much of the last few days, so I wasn’t able to upload the pictures.  It’s late, so I added a few words!

We were invited over to a colleague of  Willy’s for an absolutely delicious lunch on Sunday, and had a pleasant time visiting.  The lils were very entertained by many of the toys and gadgets that they found in the house,  one of which was a beautiful old harmonium.  A harmonium is a piano that produces sound when air is moved through a series of reeds.  This particular harmonium was a small version, like the precursor to the portable keyboard, with a side of accordion mixed in.  The reeds are pumped by hand, as is typical of Indian harmoniums.

 

I only wish that I had taken some pictures of the carving detail on the cover!

 

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19
December

Not okay by me

While things are certainly starting to settle in to a routine on some levels, we still have a ways to go on others. The lils are doing well for the most part, but they miss home a lot and need a lot more attention than they have historically wanted. This is an adjustment for me too and more often then not, if the attention isn’t there, they let me know LOUDLY. Their behaviour has an ebb and flow to it, good for a while, then bad. The good is filled with calm and happy fun, the bad is generally filled with fights, not listening, time out pile-ups, and acting out everywhere and anywhere.

I know this is to be expected, but I hoped we would have settled to their normal selves by now. They haven’t, so we continue to search for ways to make things smoother for them. I have done a tonne of casual observation of their interactions with people, and have noted a trend that is really starting to bug me. I first noticed it with our driver and maid. If the lils were misbehaving around them, things like messing up the bed right after it was made, or climbing over the seats to get to the back of the car, my attempts to get them to stop were consistently met with “it’s okay, it’s okay”. I thought at first that it was because they love and are amused by the lils and also because they didn’t want me to be upset. While I wasn’t really upset with the lils, I didn’t want this kind of behaviour to become the norm.

Then I started noticing it elsewhere. When we were shopping and they were monkeying around in the stores, all the sales people would tell me “it’s okay”. If they were yelling in placed they shouldn’t, people would tell me “it’s okay”, if they were making messes where they shouldn’t, “it’s okay”. It is starting to drive me a little batty.

They hear this, and now I have become the bossy mom that they don’t need to listen to, apparently. It keeps getting worse. We were in a music class recently when Woo wouldn’t share an instrument that was being passed around to all the children. It is something that he has at home in Ottawa, and he realized it wasn’t here when he saw it. I tried to explain that he could get it back after all in the class had a chance, but he dug his heels in and started to get very upset. The teacher came over and started to tell me that it was okay, so I calmly looked at her and said, “actually, it’s NOT okay”. She thought about it, agreed with me, and asked that he pass the instrument on.

Woo did pass it on, and I felt a little vindicated. I wish there were more people who reacted like the five-year-old sitting beside Woo. When he started to get upset and refuse to pass the instrument on, she looked at him and said “that’s not very good sharing”. She was right.

4 comments

16
December

For the love of paneer

When willy and I started dating, I had never tasted Indian food. I thought curry was that powder that you bought in a jar at the grocery store, and I had no idea what roti, dosas, pakoras, paneer, or a host of other tasty treats were. Oh how things have changed! When we let the lils know that we were going on an adventure to India, Woo’s eyes lit up and he asked me in his serious voice, “does this mean we can eat paneer EVERY DAY?” While it is now a staple in our diet, both here and back home, I should not be surprised that so many people back home don’t know what it is. I am though. How can they be missing out on this tasty treat?!

Simply put, paneer is the Indian version of cottage cheese. It is firmer than Canadian cottage cheese, and not at all sour tasting. While you can easily make it at home by souring hot milk and pressing the curd into a brick, draining the excess whey, it is readily available in Indian grocery stores and now Loblaws back home, and everywhere here. I did make it once, and I now know that I will buy it for the rest of my life.

Paneer is a very versitile food. Since we have been here, we have had it prepared in a multitude of ways. In curries, like mattar (in tomato gravy* with peas), palak (spinach gravy), Makhani (butter and masala gravy); in pakoras and samosas; baked in paratha bread; grilled in a tandoor; in wraps; on pizza; and in lasagne (I made this one, not sure it is available locally). McDonald’s even sell a McPaneer! There are also sweet presentations as well, tho I have not tried them.

My favourite way to eat paneer is mattar paneer, which I made tonight for supper. It takes me a while, but the end result is guaranteed to please us all, so it is worth it.

I fry the paneer til it is just slightly golden

 

 

Add it to some veggies and spices

 

 

And voila!

 

 

It is delicious with some other local specialities…

 

 

Lilbunnyrabbitz mattar paneer
I can’t tell you how long this takes me to make, the lils are always distracting me. About 90 minutes :)

1 lb paneer

Curry paste
2 large onions, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 dried chillies (I omit these if the lils are eating)
1 tsp cardamon seeds (removed from green pods)
4 whole cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 pieces cassia bark (cinnamon also works)

Gravy
8-12 plum tomatoes, skinned and chopped
10 oz tomato paste
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp tumeric
1.5 cups frozen peas
2-3 tablespoons thick plain yogurt
Cilantro leaves (to garnish)

Cut paneer into cubes. Heat a fryin pan with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and lightly fry cubes. Pat down and set aside.

Make paste. Combine all ingredients BUT the onion in a morter and pestle and grind. Add onion at the end and lightly grind and mix with the spices.

In a large saucepan, cook the paste over medium heat until onions are transparent (about 5 minutes). Add tomatoes and bring to a boil until juice is reduced. Add tomato paste and spices and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the peas and continue simmering.

About 15 minutes before you want to serve, add the yogurt, stirring well, then add the paneer.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice or naan, or both!

*gravy is what sauce is referred to in Indian cuisine

6 comments

14
December

Wordless Wednesday – Signs that amused us at the zoo

Assault by monkey

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12
December

Giving back

One of the things that I focussed on during last year’s 25 days of Christmas was giving back to those in need in our community. Several of our activities centred around preparing donations, making the donations, and talking about those who have a much greater need than we do. We feel that it is important that the lils know that there are people who are way less fortunate than they are living right in our city, and we want them to feel that they can and should give back.

This year is very different. It is abundantly clear that there are people that are less fortunate than us in Bangalore. We see it every day, pretty muh the minute that we step outside. While I will continue to support organizations in my home community, I also want us to help those in the community where we are now. The question for me has not been whether to do it, but how to make contributions that actually make a difference. I have been receiving daily emails from one of the ex-pat groups that I belong to, asking for donations or assistance. Sadly none of them have been in a place or time that the lils can contribute, and I want to do more than just give money and tell Woo and Goose about it. I want them to feel like they helped too.

This week I received an email from the school, and a notice came home in the lil’s diaries. It talked of three local institutions that our school was doing a fundraising drive for, and asked if we would help out. Woo read this notice in the car on the way home, and was clearly impacted by the contents. “Did you know that there is a school right near ours where the children have no crayons to draw with? And an older school where they have no dishes to eat on? Or a home where ladies have not toothbrushes?” I originally thought that the school had taught him all of this, but Willy tells me he read the letter several times. He has really focussed on the simple things that are needed, and that makes it a great place to include Woo and Goose. This was exactly the type of activity that I had hoped to build into the Christmas countdown.

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