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Did I mention that I live in India?: It's been too long of a week. But it's over, and I survived. I believe the worst of busy season to be over, because some of the largest engagements are now done. It's a relief.

Today I finally hit Commercial Street, where the locals go to buy all things Indian. I bought some traditional clothing, which you can view on our picture blog. I also bought a matching turban, or crown, as Maggie calls it. It's a nice outfit, though more expensive than I thought it would be. I'm sure I could have gotten something cheaper somewhere else, but I like the color I got, and it will be a nice Halloween costume for years to come! It seems only women get to be colorful here and men are forced to wear either Western or drab browns. This Monday is India's new years festival, and I'm supposed to dress up. While I like the outfit, it's actually really hot and not near as comfortable as you would think since it looks the pajamas. The drawstring on the pants doesn't feel very secure either. As such, I probably don't want to work in the outfit.

After being here for 4 months, it was nice to finally be a tourist and tout the wares of Commercial Street. A lot of people have criticized the place to me (it's crowded, cars will hit you, sales people are pushy, etc) so I had low expectations but it's actually a nice market. It wasn't that crowded, we're used to the cars, and we have learned how to tell the sales people to pound sand when they get like that. I enjoyed it there, but since it's just shopping, I probably won't be going again until right before we leave to buy stuff.

After shopping we hit a French restaurant for lunch at UB City run by an actual Frenchmen! We split a salad and a caprese panini sandwich and it was only $10! My salad had ham, celery, cherry tomatoes, all things we have never found here, and it was still cheap! Just getting good lettuce is hard here. It was a great lunch. After lunch we hurried home so our driver could go home and watch the cricket final.

This week is also cricket week. India beat Pakistan last week and is currently playing Sri Lanka in the 4-yearly cricket cup for the ultimate winner. I guess India has not been a contender for quite some time so this is a big deal to everyone here. It's been fun, though distracting at work, to watch the games. I still find cricket to be dreadfully dull though, and way too long. Matches can last over 8 hours. We always know when India wins if we are awaken by fireworks sometime in the night.

This week on the Amazing Race the teams were in Calcutta, which is very far from Bangalore, but still India. The streets seemed cleaner than here, but that doesn't mean they are. The traffic seemed as bad though I saw only one auto rickshaw on the show and they are everywhere here. I think the tea scene with the last team shows why India can be such a great place. People are willing to connect and support other people. It was interesting to note how all the teams wanted to leave China when my experience is that India is probably worse for an American overall. But I think the biggest difference is that the people really are nicer here. Again, just my experience.

Sometimes I have time to pause and remind myself that "I LIVE IN INDIA!!!" as opposed to my normal "i live in india" attitude because, really it is pretty cool here.

week in review: 1. I'm sick of that sweet with the pista, fig, and silver in it. I want something new. Luckily, my coworkers love it so I pawned it off on them.

2. We still have church tomorrow and I guess we watch conference the following week.

3. I'm back into working out mode and loving it! I always cool down with two laps around the compound and try and think about India and how cool it is. With my commute being across the street only, I need to remind myself how cool it is I'm in India, even if I live in the burbs of India.

4. Having free cable here reminds me why I don't pay for it at home. It's just more channels with nothing on.

5. I constantly defend India to my expat coworkers. They were criticizing child brides and I gently reminded them this happens in the US too, Warren Jeffs anyone? Also they were criticizing the seedy underbelly of India and I reminded them the US has a seedy underbelly. I should know; I've spent significant time at the EY office in downtown LA across the street from skid row. They told me dancing is illegal here because when someone tried to open a strip club in India they simply outlawed dancing rather than the strip club. I wonder if this is true. Good and bad happen everywhere.

6. One criticism deserved is the gender gap. My Indian coworker had to work from home last week to take care of her FIL. I asked her why her husband didn't take care of him since it's busy season and it's his own father anyway but she just sighed at me. She's lived in the US but gently reminded me it's different here.

7. We hit the body shop today to buy cologne (way cheap here) and some quality lotion. My feet are happy now.

8. I left work 3 days this week 90 minutes after I said I would leave. I feel bad leaving when everyone is still working hard. Friday night I finally told somebody no that I was leaving and then saw her helping someone else so I stayed and helped her out. It felt good to do so, mostly because I knew I wasn't working today so that was it until Monday. It's hard managing 140 people.

9. I bought a Nike shirt with the India flag on it. India's colors are the same as my high school, orange, white, and green.

10. I've been a lot more patient with Dalton lately and feel like the difference is noticeable. He's more calm and loves to snuggle and watch Mickey Mouse with me. He also loves to color and go for walks in the stroller. He's definitely not a baby anymore and is outgrowing the crib we brought with us.

[Comments] (1) make believe: Today is the Indian New Year, which meant only six people showed up to work in my area. So I went for a nice lunch to Toit with the other coaches, Ross my boss, and Mickey and his wife, Ross's boss. We were sharing war stories from India. As Mickey says, you just can't make this stuff up.

In honor of India playing in the Cricket Cup final on Saturday, I bought a shirt at the Reebok Store on Commercial Street with the India flag on it. I got lots of compliments on it. I'll have to have Susie post a picture, but it's very Reebok looking.

Today at lunch another coach couldn't believe my shirt. She said she tried to buy one at a different Reebok store and they wouldn't sell it to her because it has the Indian flag on it and she's not Indian. Having bought mine at Commercial Street, the tourist shopping area, of course they sold me one. She was bitter and we were all bewildered. Why not sell her a shirt? It seems too odd to make this up.

Another topic at lunch was how little the US knows Asia. Stories include someone from TX thinking that Asia is a country, a NJ partner mistaking Bangladesh for Bangalore, and people from AL calling Bangalore Bangadore or some such word I'm not familiar with. Many people at lunch were poking fun at these supposed morons but I gently inserted that I only know Asia so well from my mission. After all, the public school system in the US mandates a World Civ course that focuses on Europe with a rather bland glance at Asia culture for maybe two weeks. So let's forgive our US counterparts and blame the system instead. I also mentioned to my coworkers that my wife's cousin is in Okinawa and I had no idea it was closer to Taiwan than the rest of Japan until I looked it up on a map after the earthquake last month.

In honor of the holiday today I worked 10-2:30 only doing hardly anything, then came home, worked out, watched "The Emperor's New Groove" with Maggie, and avoided the maid while she asked Susie for a loan.

[Comments] (1) oh zion: We didn't get to watch General Conference this week. But we do get to watch it next week. Sat they are doing the sessions back to back 2-8 pm including priesthood. We will most likely go to priesthood only. That is way too much to ask of my kids. Besides, I've already started watching the Sat morning sessions online today anyway. We will attend on Sunday from 9:30 - 11:30 and noon to 2, and hope the kids behave.

Technology has come a long way. I remember in Hong Kong, but 10 years ago, we had to wait over a month for the VHS tapes to be translated to Cantonese and sent to us. I don't know if it's faster now merely because the branches in India are english, or if the system is faster. One thing that irks me right now is I can only watch and not read the sessions. I do better reading than listening and don't understand why they can't upload the speeches more quickly.

I'm excited for Sunday. We'll pack a lunch during the 30-minute break. It reminds me of choir tour senior year of high school. We were in Cincinnati the Saturday of conf. On Sunday we bussed from OH to Orlando and made stops in TN & Atlanta to do LDS firesides inbetween conference sessions for local wards. It was a neat experience. After the TN fireside, the ward made us box lunches to eat en route to Atlanta. After the Atlanta fireside, we were allowed to use the showers in the stake center as we rode the bus all night to Orlando from there. That was 1998.

Listening to conf is getting me excited to go to Hong Kong, especially to the temple.

mixed emoticons: So today started off horribly. Despite Dalton's teething keeping him up last night, he still got me up before 7, which is too early on a weekend. Then I decided I deserved a pedicure for surviving busy season and to pamper my feet before our trip to China. Bad mistake.

It was hot today and I was already sweating when I got there. I guess I don't know what a pedicure is, because I thought it was a foot massage, but apparently it starts by clipping your toe nails so short you can't even see them anymore, continues by pushing your cuticles down so far you bleed and scream in pain, and ends with yellow goop being placed on your feet for 10+ minutes when you are so ready to go home and move on with your life.

The nice part is that the aroma therapy they used smelled like Froot Loops, and I got to read the Indian paper, which was quite entertaining. But seriously. Fifteen dollars and my feet still hurt! I sure hope my toenails grow back before our trip. I'm going to continue giving myself pedicures from now on.

Today we went to the Leela Palace Hotel for lunch and to let the kids play on actual grass that doesn't have a sign telling you to keep off! That was just ok.

But I finished the night at church watching Priesthood Session of conference. We were small in numbers, I think 13 in total, but it was nice. I think they were shocked I came since none of the other expat families showed up. I really liked the talk by President Monson. I'm glad that he chose to not talk about the evils of gay marriage and instead focused on the evils of temple sealing cancellations, because, hey, that's something the Mormons can actually do something about. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Tomorrow we'll be watching 4 hours of conference with our fellow saints. We could just watch at home, it would be easier, but I've never lived somewhere that people congregate to watch conference, and I want to be there for my peeps.

We leave for Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong in 6 days!

an american in asia: In the next 24 hours I will leave India, peruse Malaysia, and reach my goal of finally revisiting the mish. I'm very excited to rock the Kong.

Today many coworkers seemed disappointed that I am leaving India. They prefer me to vacation in their country. Well. If the entire country feels that way, then perhaps they should put some sort of infrastructure in place to do so. It is oftentimes cheaper and easier to travel outside of India than inside. Most of India's international and domestic airports are miles apart, the roads are not proper for driving on, and the fees for foreigners to enjoy the country are outrageous. We looked into a Himalayan tour and it takes days to get there, even though I can make it all the way to China in 8 hours. Also, visiting other parts of India isn't that exciting, unless you go somewhere diverse. It's the same in the US. Travelling from SLC to Denver would not be a fun journey; there is nothing completely unique between the two. But going from LA to NYC would provide differences that would be worth it. But as mentioned above, the long journeys require a mix of plane, train, and automobile to get there, which is hard to do with luggage and kids. The food is difficult anywhere here.

Things I'm glad to leave behind for a few days include power outages, waiting forever for the elevators because people push the wrong buttons here (if the elevator is on floor one and they are on the ground floor, they push the down button to call the elevator down to them rather than the up button to ultimately go up, and it's starting to chap my hide), constantly getting pushed around because no one can queue properly here (been chapping my hide for weeks now), and the constant food indigestion. Hopefully when I come back to these things I'll be happier about the challenges and see them as an adventure.

One thing I won't leave behind in Hong Kong is dickering on the price of everything, and getting ripped off.

I found out this week another coach is coming in July to help me out. I'm glad for the help, especially since I can go to Thailand and Dubai in peace and we can share the weekend/late night work.

Our driver is very curious about the Kong. I promised to get him something, and he wants to see pictures. We are really really really blessed to have the opportunity not only to see India, but also to see these other Asia cities also. I hope I can always feel the gratitude.

[Comments] (1) which one a you pick?: The title is a favorite saying of Maggie's. There are signs on the back of all the autos here that say Lose/Gain weight followed by a phone number. I'm not sure how a gymnasium of sorts sells itself on doing both of these things. But I think I may have the solution.

I gained a lot of weight from December to February here. I was always too tired to work out and ate a lot of comfort food to cope with the constant burning tongue and indigestion. But my pants were paining me, in layman's terms, and I refused to buy new pants here because nothing from here is going home with me anyway since my clothes are all getting ruined. So in March, despite, busy season, I put myself on a diet of sorts and a workout regiment. Said regiment included working out in our apartment gym, which has no A/C. So the sweat flows rather freely. I'm feeling good in my pants again, better than ever, even. I guess it is possible to lose/gain weight.

break on through to the other side: I should also note that we are blessed here as well. We have each other, and we have Chili's. We also have a driver. Some of our rotators in the US are struggling because of the food there if they are vegetarian, and also since they all go to different offices, some of them are lonely.

I also have a lot of coworkers that don't go on rotation. Even though they are college graduates, they live at home and their parents won't let them go. Having moved out of the house at 17, the concept of a 24 year-old intellectual being dictated to like that, when it really is an excellent career opportunity, is hard for me to understand. I'm also blessed to be able to make my own decisions.

Last blessing was last Sunday. I have the church here. We watched four hours of conference at church. It was fab. A/C was cranked up, the lights were off, we listened to the prophet, while the single men played with the kids. It sure beat watching conference at home, in the heat, huddled around the computer, without free babysitting!

[Comments] (1) better than ok: Just to let the world know, we made it safely to Hong Kong last night, on schedule.

Friday night we left Bangalore for the airport at 9 pm. The kids went to bed at 7, slept two hours, and also slept an hour in the car on the way to the airport. Maggie was totally willing to go to bed early because she knew the sooner she went to sleep, the sooner the trip would start. Cutie bug. Our driver's company makes him work all week even though we aren't around, so I gave him two-days pay out of my pocket so he can also enjoy some time off. He was very shocked and pleased. I was humbled. After all, I only gave him $10.

We finished checking in by 10:45, in only 45 minutes time, giving us 2 hours to do nothing at the airport. When you plan for the worst, you get free time. My company informed me there is a planned strike on the 17th at the airport due to the supposedly-illegal toll booths. In anticipation of this event, we left early to give time around the boycott if necessary. It wasn't. I wonder what happened there today. Maggie played quietly and Dalton and I pushed around in the stroller together for 2 hours while sharing a Mango Lassi. The Bangalore airport is so nice. I honestly couldn't recall what it looked like the last time I was there. I wish Bangalore were as nice as it's airport.

We boarded our Air Malaysia flight, procured the second row, and settled in. Being an evening flight, we assumed sleeping was an option. It is on the Red Eye's from SLC to NYC. Not so. First they served drinks. Then they served full on meals. Then they forced us all to watch Gulliver's Travels, then finally, two hours into the flight, they turned off the lights. Needless to say, it made for four unhappy campers the next day. I'm seriously considering writing a letter. Who eats dinner at 3 am Malay time anyway? To boot, the food made me sick all morning. Chicken in green sauce will now be avoided at all costs.

Though the nice thing about Malaysian Air over Air India is no one hassled us about having 3 carry-ons for 3 seats.

Also, when you fly international here, there was no requirement to take off my shoes, belt, or dispose of liquids in my bag. Same was true when we checked in at Malaysia. I guess the US only requires this, and of outbound flights only.

We got to KL at 7 am. That airport too is extremely nice. The place was packed with white people, though no white babies. We changed clothes, shaved, shook off the sleepiness, and headed into town. The airport is about 50 km south of Kuala Lumpur, but we prepaid for a cab and it was only $25US, and $10US to store luggage. The drive was nice. It was raining but we got to see the countryside. It was absolutely amazing to drive normal freeway speeds again, with no potholes, speed bumps, or the like. The drive reminded me of the toll roads in FL, and the vegetation in KL is much more than India. After Kipling's Jungle Book, I really expected India to look more, well, jungle-like. But it's actually quite dry with a lot of red dirt, reminds me of southern CA, actually. KL is a true jungle. And it had small mountains! Oh how I miss mountains! It was beautiful. And clean. Amazingly clean. I couldn't believe it. So clean, I highly recommend people to visit there. But be warned, the penalty for drug trafficking is death, according to my declaration card.

We arrived at the Patronus Towers around 9:30, 30 minutes after the booth for tickets to the observation deck opened. They were already gone. I was so bummed. Oh well, it was raining so hard I bet the cloud cover removed any decent view anyway. The foundation of these huge monstrosities (the second tallest building in the world and tallest twin towers in the world) is a 6-floor mall. We spent two hours in Toys R Us alone, letting the kids play. We also found a PretzelMaker, smoothies, etc. This mall had it all; including a lot of white people, and tons of families in strollers. Finally we weren't the sole stroller family in the country. People in India have no idea what a stroller is. The country appears to be quite Muslim. Everyone was so kind. People held elevators for us, let us cut in line at immigration with the kids, and honored the queue system. When a store clerk didn't know who was next, the gentlemen informed him it was our turn. It's amazing how kind they all were, though part of them stems from recent Indian experiences I am sure. The only downside was that smoking is allowed two inches from any store, unlike most US states that require a safe distance from buildings, etc.

With the rain, we were stuck in the mall most of the day, but did venture out to see the park next door.

Both kids fell asleep in the car on the way home on Susie, allowing me to take pictures of this amazing country. Our cab back out of town was twice what we paid to go in town, but he used the meter so I'm not sure how exactly he was scamming us. I didn't have enough money actually but he was happy to take the balance in USD, which is a 1:3 exchange on the ringgit. The ringget is a beautiful currency and I stashed some to take home.

Back at the airport we got in security in what felt like 5 minutes, once again leaving us 2 hours in the airport. We didn't mind this time, as they had COUCHES and CARPET here. Maggie never woke up; I think she slept through security even. So Susie slept on a couch with her while Dalton and I went postcard hunting. We also bought dinner, and I had a salmon creme cheese sandwich with tomatoes and real lettuce and it tasted like heaven. I fully intend to get it again on the way home. Susie even took a bite and said it was good! She later claimed she thought I said it was a grilled cheese sandwich but she still didn't spit out the bite. We may have a fish lover on our hands yet!

Our second flight leg was great! The plane was only 1/3 full so we got the bulkhead row of four seats all to ourselves. Maggie slept the entire flight. That means she slept from 3 pm to 10 pm straight! Dalton struggled but eventually fell asleep also. As did Susie. I was too excited to sleep and thus read my scriptures on the Kindle and struggled to understand that Tron movie. The plane chairs were all a different color; how festive! The food was fish and I didn't get sick this time.

Made it to the Kong around 10:30 pm, all exhausted except for Maggie. We once again got to cut in the VERY long immigration line, thanks to the kids, and our bag came minutes later. So we exchanged some currency and were off. I was so excited for the ride into town but the bridge lights were off and so were some of the buildings. It was too late I guess. We finally all went to bed around 12:30. Susie was afraid Maggie would wake up and not go back to sleep, but the three of us slept until 11:00 am. The Holiday Inn here is great. They had the kids couch bed made up for us, had extra towels in our room, and had mail for us for our WED trip! Also, when Dalton somehow managed to change the passcode to the safe today, then came and reset it in a New York minute.

Up at 11, I ran out to grab breakfast with Maggie. Oh how I miss bakeries! The bread tasted so good, even Susie ate some (which she wouldn't do in ChinaTown in SF). We eventually woke Dalton up, who was still tired, so we could go explore Causeway Bay. I never served here so the area was foreign to me. We also went to church at 1:30. I'll have Susie post pictures, because words cannot describe. This chapel looks like a Disney castle, and would give Hogwarts a run for its money. It's 11 storeys high! It is the nicest chapel I have ever seen. During sacrament I couldn't help thinking of all the alternatives the money for this chapel could fund. No doubt ever temple-worthy member in India could come here for a week on the electric bill alone! As I expected, I didn't recognize a single member, which is as it should be. The life of a Filipino maid in Hong Kong should be short term so they can return back to their homes after a decent amount of money has been made. It was so so so nice to sit in a pew again, with carpet floors, and not worry what germs Dalton is getting on the floor. It was also nice to hear an organ and not play a fake one. I know the spirit can be anywhere, but this building makes it quite easy. In India, we have to fight for it. The members here are very blessed.

I wore sneakers to church. They were extremely comfy and no one noticed, I'd wager. I'll be doing the same to the temple on Tuesday. I'm sure it looked silly but I don't care. Does that make me a sinner?

After church we ate beef at McD (could not resist) and watched it pour buckets of rain. Then we took the ding ding to Central. The nice thing about this part of the island is that, despite the rain, we hardly got wet. So many covered pedestrian walkways. We visited the Black Man at Statue Square (he's taller than I remembered) and hit the Mid-levels travelator. On the way there, Susie spotted H&M and we spent an hour and money in there as well. But Maggie now has a Hello Kitty shirt from the city that worships the feline.

We saw my last mission apartment and the old church, the Kam Tong Hall, which is now the Sun-Yay Sen museum. To my surprise and delight, the tour starts in the basement and the baptismal font is still there!!!!!!!!!! We asked Maggie what it was and she knew immediately. A very special place to me has been preserved.

By this point it was time to go home. Maggie & Dalton had fun taking a shower together, made easy by the detachable shower head. And heck, I love it too! I look forward to any shower not at our apartment in India.

Tomorrow we do it all over again! Without the rain; we think; we hope.

[Comments] (1) sans Winnie the Pooh: Today we hit Ocean Park. It's only 10 minutes from our hotel, once you pass through the tunnel from the harbour side of the island to the back side of the island. We also passed by a really cool cemetery on the way, just carved out of the mountain.

Ocean Park has it all: a gondola ride over the mountain to the ocean, a carousel that Dalton made us ride 4 times, panda bears, both regular and red, two aquariums, a jellyfish mad house with flourescent lighting and mirrors, roller coasters, a ferris wheel, McDonald's, a singing fountain, a parade, and a rotating view tower. We had so much fun!

As we waited in line for the gondola for around 30 or so minutes, a family from Kansas was in front of us. My first impression, to be honest, was that this father, mother, and five daughters were from Colorado City, or possibly refugees from Warren Jeff's clan. The girls were all in polygamist dresses, but the mother was wearing what appeared to be a nun's cap. They weren't wearing sneakers with the dresses, however, so they couldn't be polygamists. They have been living in China for 3 years as humanitarian aid providers of some sort and, like us, were in dire need of a vacation somewhere that feels like home. We had a nice chat with them.

Ocean Park also had seals and for $25HK, or $3.50US, Maggie got to feed them! It's amazing how I saw the sign for $25 and thought that was a decent price in USD but that was HKD, so it was a steal! I thought Maggie would chicken out and not go through with touching a dead fish, but she did it!

Dalton, of course, made tons of friends, and currently has had more pictures taken with him and middle-aged women than Justin Bieber now has. He's so popular, especially with the mainland China visitors, which is rough, because I can't speak with them.

Before we left the park, Maggie informed me we had not gone on Winnie the Pooh ride yet. I tried to tell her Disney is not until Friday and this is a different park. Spoiled girl; two parks in the same week.

Because we have thoroughly exhausted the kids that last two days, tomorrow they can sleep in while I head to the morning session at the temple. Then in the afternoon we'll hit the peak.

The weather today was awesome; overcast, light breeze, with just a touch too much humidity.

Just being here for 3 days makes me already dread going back to India. I don't know how my coworker could go home last summer for 3 months; I don't think I'd have the willpower to get back on that plane! And it's not that India is bad; it's just the smallest tasks leave me exhausted and frustrated, and I still don't like the food. My job there is great and we've been able to save money and spend more time as a family. I guess we all need reality breaks now and again.

[Comments] (2) techno-creep: India is horrible tech wise, especially when you consider it is the IT outsourcing place to be. The internet is not widely used; computers aren't widely used. So finding things to do or places to shop must be done in person. It's a pain. Hong Kong is very advanced in this realm. Yet it is still a cash-based society. Everywhere we go, cash is king. That is a pain as well.

I am so tired and tomorrow is a long day. But I know if I miss even one day, this whole saga will never be told. I got up at 7:30 this morning to get to the 9 am session at the temple. I only got lost in the Kowloon Tong MTR once, and made it to the temple in plenty of time. Kowloon Tong sure is warmer than the island. I got dressed and attended my session. I was worried my recommend wouldn't scan, since I may be lost to the church these days with all my jauntings and gallavantings, but they let me in. The temple was just as I remembered. The session was half full, including some Mandarin speakers, a Filipino, and another white woman. The session was Cantonese and, during the intro, they came and offered me headphones, which I refused. I was worried I couldn't do it in Cantonese, but it all came rushing back and I did fine. And this way I didn't have to deal with headphones. The Celestial room was just as I remembered it and I didn't want to leave. But I did, as we had a full day planned. On the way out, I ran into Sister Chan in the lift! Finally a kindred spirit. Shaun Morris and I used to visit her frequently. She is/was the chapel cleaning lady for Sha Tin. She's Indonesian and her Cantonese is not proper, and I always heard her husband was a creep, but her daughter came to church with her every Sunday. I introduced myself, she said she vaguely remembered me, but I don't buy it. At any rate, it was nice to see her.

The Distribution Center across the street was missing. In its place is yet another shiny new LDS chapel. I'm not sure of the purpose of this chapel, as there is a chapel in the temple. I tried to visit said Distribution Center but when I buzzed they informed me it was closed. I tried to give them some sort of information that would make them explain that it was a horse of a different color, but to no avail. Fort Knox remained closed and I'll have to try again another time.

I also noticed on the buzzer box that the mission home is there now and no longer in the temple. I wonder what's going on. I fully intend to find out when I take Susie to the temple on Friday. We promised our maid Kannagi a CTR ring so they better open up next time. Once again, the rudest people I meet in the Kong are members of my own church. Some things never change.

Back home we boarded the ding ding to Central where we alighted the Peak Tram, which, incidentally, does not accept credit cards. The tram is rather intense but we survived the long ride up to the top. We took some nice pictures, even though the air quality into Kowloon was poor. Maggie commented on how many Scrapes there were, being short for Skyscrapers. I asked her to count them and she said there were two. We also went for a nice walk on a 1-mile loop around the top through some lush jungle. They had those aerobic pit stops along the way and Maggie insisted on playing with them. We als found the waterfall where they dedicated the China mission. Maggie kept saying the waterfall looks like a mission--not sure what she thinks a mission is. We enjoyed the walk. After that, we ate at New York fries. I don't know what makes the fries New York, but they had hot dogs. Amazing how I would never crave a hot dog if I came here straight from the states. But no one eats pork in India. The vegetarians don't, and our maid won't either. She says pigs are dirty animals, and something about it not being proper/tradition. So here we are devouring pork as often as possible!

They had a very large princess castle on display for HK Disney's 5th anniversary this year. They also have a four foot ceramic wizard Mickey. Dalton LOVED that thing! And everyone else LOVED Dalton loving that thing. I'm glad he wasn't scared of it.

I've been hit up by eager school children for surveys. This was common as a missionary. One gave me a free postcard for the survey! I was also stared at by Indians all day long as well. It finally dawned on me that I was wearing my India cricket cup shirt. A man from Mumbai was so happy to see me wearing the shirt, though he gave me an incredulous look when I told him I live in Bangalore. Maybe I'm saying the city name wrong.

In the late afternoon we hit the ferry pier, as Maggie has been dieing to ride a boat all week. We took it to Kowloon for photo ops with the city background. The pictures all look like the backdrop is staged, but I promise, it's real. The place was packed with mainland Chinese, with whom I cannot communicate. In fact, they are taking over the place. I fear my Cantonese-language skills may be antiquated one day.

We watched the sun kiss the sky and the lights come up on the buildings over some chocolate-orange and sour cherry gelato. Then we ferried and subwayed our way back home.

We bribed Maggie to behave in all the pictures today with Disneyland. Since we plan to hit the Magic Kingdom on Thursday, I'm not sure what we'll use as bribes come Friday and Saturday. The girl is grumpy about pictures.

still not Disneyland: Yesterday we shelled out money for an organized tour. I didn't want to, since I know the Kong like anything, but they offered an efficient package to see Lantau. So we started the morning with pick up at our hotel, a very nice perk that saved us a subway trip, and met up in Wan Chai with our group. Other groups got off the bus at this point. Some of them had stickers for a tour of Ocean Park. The funny thing is, they organized a tour for a theme park that is only 10 minutes from the hotel! They really didn't need to do that. I should consult. Maybe I should quit my day job and organize tours here.

Our tour consisted of us, an older couple from Australia, another older couple from Paris, and a family with a tween son from UK. The UK family was en route to Australia with a layover here and a layover in Bali on the way home. Talk about a vacation! I told Susie we were pretending to be rich for a day, thanks to our travel money and already being close to here. These were serious people with serious money.

Then we hopped a ferry to Lantau. Maggie was pleased with this ferry ride, since it was 30 minutes instead of the usual 15 across the harbor. No one got sick, so we were off to a good start. It was very windy and actually cold at the pier. But the sun came out as we travelled.

At Mui Wo I looked for the chapel but didn't see it. I saw on the LDS chapelfinder that it wasn't there, but had moved to Tung Chung, which is actually very far away. I wonder if the members in Mui Wo, Lok O, and Peng Chau go to the monstrosity church in Wan Chai or go to Tung Chung. I also assume the missionaries don't live there anymore. That apartment was the nicest I ever had! I wanted to visit it but it's 10 minutes from the pier so out of the question. The old baptism spot was still there at least. It's hard to move the ocean. One of the members works in an office at the pier but I didn't remember which one otherwise I would have popped in quickly. Oh well. The McD's was also still on the corner there, as were the thousands of bikes at the pier. I'm kind of sad. I baptized four people there and, though one moved to the New T's and one moved to Australia and married my old companion, they expanded the church building. And now it looked as though the whole building was gone, given way to a gas station. Cue Amy Grant here.

We boarded the bus for Cheung Sha beach. I LOVE the ride from Mui Wo to Tai O, though I remembered it being bumpier. Maybe it seemed less bumpy because there were no Indian speed bumps or pot holes on the road. We only got to be at the beach for 20 minutes, which disappointed Maggie, but it was high tide so I actually was fine with that. We did take a quick dip in the South China Sea.

On to Tai O. I can't remember if I took mom and Jodi here. I'm sure I wanted to. It's my favorite place in the whole city. A little fishing village with houses built on stilts over the water. We actually rode a boat on the river! I never did that before. Since there is no food allowed on the buses here, the kids used this opportunity to scarf down a bag of goldfish. Now here's a city that is little changed. I loved tracting here, and we even had a baptism from there, but he now lives in Sha Tin. No other members live there that I know of. It's a tourist trap without acting like one. I still remember meeting a tour group there as a missionary that included a member from Hawaii. She gave us each $100HK, which was grocery money for a week! I looked for the missionaries but saw none.

Next it was up to the Big Buddha. Boy that place has changed more than any other! They now have a secret car passage that let us escape the 256 stairs up to Buddha, which, with the kids, was both disappointing and appreciated at the same time. We dined on a veg Buddhist lunch there of veg fried rice, corn and mushroom soup, condensed milk sticky buns, tofu stir fry, etc. It was all really good. During lunch I got to talk to the couple from Australia. They knew how to use chopsticks and eat Chinese food proper, due to the large Chinese population in the land down under. He told me I'm brave for bringing the kids. I explained my situation and my bravery levels increased. He's been everywhere but still has no desire to see India. I'm sure my stirring description of the country did no decent inspiring either. I did tell him that an auto rickshaw ride is a once in a lifetime experience.

He also told me in Bali everyone gets sick like India with Bali Belly. It turns out his wife didn't have Bali belly but was pregnant and had morning sickness. I think Bangalore belly has hit us all.

After this we hit the mall. Big Buddha has sold out to Starbucks. The mall itself is structured authentic and looks nice, but a 7-11 and really high end merchandise do not seem fung shei to me. I wonder how the monks view this. I guess it generates revenue. I thought it cheapend the trip; it was more Epcot less China. Next was the 25-minute cable car ride. Boy were we up high; higher than the airplanes! Considering how breezy it was, I am surprised we didn't sway all over the place. It must be a fancy cable car. The wind does come up through the vents though, and it was chilly. Maggie kept commenting on how long the ride was, over and over. Dalton of course used the opportunity to make four new girlfriends.

Then we bussed home, while Dalton finally got his first nap of the week! For dinner that night, we hit CPK, and it was divine. We also went grocery shopping and found pretzel goldfish and sour gummy worms, not too unreasonably priced. The kids scarfed them down after their shower. We all crashed around 8 pm, except for Dalton, who I think was still awake when I went to bed.

Other happenings include seeing various non-doctors wearing surgical masks about town. I don't think it's a fashion statement. My guess is, post-SARS, sick people wear them out of consideration of others? It's a nice gesture. We also had a teenager approach us to practice English. His opening line was how easy Korean is to learn. I don't know why I care, but I remember being sought out as a missionary to practice english so I indulged the young lad. But just in case anyone does care, Korean is easy to learn!

Today we visit the big Mouse!

[Comments] (1) feels like home: We finally hit Disney yesterday, with some absolutely fabulous weather. The sun was out but so was the breeze. This is a mini-Disney, which includes a full Tomorrowland, a half-Fantasyland, and a half Adventure land only. It was enough for a full day; we saw all the shows and only missed two rides, because we just don't like Autopia enough to wait 60 minutes and Stitch's Encounter seemed too scary for the kids and was in Mandarin when we were there. The pictures will stand for themselves, once Susie posts them, so I'll stick to a few points of interest:

1. I was finally homesick. Being in Disneyland almost made me think I was in Anaheim sometimes. Sharing the park with Asians certainly didn't make a difference.

2. Everyone was super nice there. Susie always had a seat on the subway with the kids. The little things like this were not things I saw as a missionary. I was an annoyance to people then so I saw the less kind and considerate side of people. Being here as a father and non-preacher, I've seen another side of people here that is very nice.

3. We had to take 3 subways to get here. The third one is a dedicated Disney subway with plush seats, statues of the characters, and Mickey-shaped windows. I felt like I was on a Disney cruise!

4. Maggie was not scared of any rides! Every ride was a do-over for her. She and Dalton didn't cry! She later told me "I think this Disneyland has no scary rides, dad."

5. They built this newer park with the mistakes of past parks in mind. For example, a lot more queues are in the shade or indoors with A/C, the pathways are all wheelchair accessible, etc.

6. The only problem we had with queueing came in the form of the Mainland Chinese people. I'm going to assume that the British browbeat queueing into the Hong Kong natives. This means that there are over 3 billion people in India and China that have no idea what a line is for. That scares me. One lady I seriously wanted to hit, she was being so rude and I was by myself in line with the kids while Susie rode Space Mountain. I finally had to let some elbow fly to get the point across that she was being absolutely rude for no good reason whatsoever.

7. Many of the rides have subtle changes to them here. Winnie the Pooh, the Jungle Cruise, Small World, all had nice Chinese or otherwise changes that were fun.

8. I was surprised that the shows are all in English. They have 3 separate queues for the Jungle Cruise, for English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, and have different windows of time for the Stitch ride. I really expected for Cantonese. I guess English always wins because it would be improper to pick Cantonese or Mandarin so they default to English. India is the same way. Too many states will fight a national Hindi language as unfair to the Tamils, Keralans, etc so we end up with English most often.

9. We saw the missionaries on the way home last night. I got about half of my questions answered before they had to head home. I wish I had seen more of them.

10. Today we're letting the kids sleep in. Dalton just woke about about 9 am so just waiting for Maggie now before we have another exciting day!

stupendous saturday: Today we hit the temple. Or tried to. We found it. Does that count? It was closed for Good Friday, as was the mission home, as was the distribution center, which is hardly ever open to begin with. So frustrating. What better day to do temple work than on Good Friday? On the plus side, it saved me from watching two kids alone in the Kowloon Tong mall for two plus hours.

I never remember Good Friday is a holiday because my own self-proclaimed Christian nation doesn't mandate my corporation give me the day off. But it is a holiday here, as it also is in India. Go figure.

We did catch some missionaries and they let us in to see the new mission offices. We looked at the mission president wall of fame and Susie read all about the Ong's, who were president after my reign and who are friends and possibly enemies of Roy and Frances. I chatted with the missionaries for a while until the kids were screaming too loudly so we excused ourselves. There is a park next door to the Mission Home and the kids were begging so we obliged. Since parks in India contain little more than dirt and dangerous metal equipment, it seemed like we couldn't leave without letting the kids play in an actual park with actual playground equipment.

Apparently the temple is closed tomorrow as well. What holiday is tomorrow?

We hit Sha Tin today, one of my areas. Attractions included Snoopy World (which, 10 years later, actually includes rides and stuff!) and the Hong Kong History Museum, which is also running a "25 years of Pixar" exhibit. The place was packed. Once again, even without trying, we hit Disneyland again, since they had life-sized Sully and Mike dolls, and larger than life sized Woody, Buzz, and Pizza Planet alien creatures.

[Comments] (2) around the world in 12 years: When I first set sail (air) for the Kong in 1999, I flew from SLC west to China. When I flew to India in 2010, I flew East. My flight in 2011 brought me East from India to the Kong. I have now circled the globe!

Today was a drizzly rainy gloomy day. So we hit the streets (one street, Stanley) for some shopping. Stanley Market is on the backside of the island and is a nice drive. I envision Portabello Road to be like Stanley Market. The streets are narrow and covered so it was a nice escape from the rain.

We bought T-shirts for me, Dalton, Sandeep our driver, and James for his upcoming birthday. We also bought Chinese clothes for Susie and the kids, and also for Kyli for her birthday. Also, chopsticks, a parasol umbrella that Maggie is obsessed with, a Lantau taxi and a New Territories mini-bus that Dalton is obsessed with, some scroll paintings, a surprise graduation present for Chad, postcards, jade, jewelry for Kannagi the maid, and probably a bunch of other stuff I've since forgotten about. Everyone had fun and we left before the kids could get bored.

Boy has Stanley changed in the last ten years. Not the market itself, it looks exactly the same. But everything is fixed price now; no more haggling! Which is exciting, but also makes the experience seem less quintessential Asia I suppose. My nephew Logan would probably find a way to blame this change in tradition on the LDS missionaries, because some people are jerks like that. Zing!

We hit Times Square one last time to let the kids play on the trampoline. I won a free camera! Well, it wasn't free, I had to tell a story about my favorite place in Hong Kong, and only because Susie begged me to. And the camera takes 35 mm film, which seems like a step backwards to me. But Dalton really stole the show there. That kid is now on cameras, computers, and facebook posts all over the Orient. I bet his picture was snapped about 200 times today alone, that I noticed. We'll take the camera home for the kids to play with.

We hit CPK again for dinner. Then packed. Tomorrow takes us back to home, er, to India. And I'm ok with that. I've had a rest and it's time to move on. Back to a washing machine; back to home cooked meals; back to a gym; back to Dalton's crib so we don't have to lay with him until he goes to sleep; back to routine. I just hope our driver Sandeep remembers to pick us up at 11:45 pm tomorrow night!

[Comments] (2) survey says: We made it home safe, sound, with all our luggage, and on time. Thanks Malaysia Air! We were lucky enough that Easter Sunday was a beautiful Hong Kong day and we were able to play at Victoria Park before we left. Also, next to our terminal and gate was a children's play place. An added bonus was that both of our planes gave us personal TVs, so Dalton and I watched The Simpsons, and I watched my first Glee episode. I didn't like it; too smutty. But a lot of it was accurate. I still don't recall why I liked high school, but for some reason I parted on good terms. I also re-watched HP 7 Part I. It really helped pass the time. Now it's back to life as usual.

I've allowed myself to get into a rather heated debate on facebook with my nephew. I'm mad for allowing myself to get sucked in; I'm normally able to abstain when no one else can. But this time he ruffled my feathers and I responded in a very strong tone.

I've thought about some things I wrote (basically told the young lad to grow up and realize that most 16 year-old debate stars do not, in fact, know everything). He bases a lot of what he believes on what other people tell him. We all do. But I still think the superior way to experience life is first hand. Unfortunately that's not always possible.

But think about it. Is there any way to really comprehend what a pineapple tastes like second hand? How about the feel of an ocean breeze? The experience of an airplane ride? Marriage? Parenthood? You can read about these things, ask thoughtful questions, but you'll never really "get" it until you can try it for yourself. And isn't that the point of life? I think we would be all well-served to rely less on wikipedia and our favorite blogs of complete strangers and more on actual life outside the computer screen. And being in India does not automatically make life experiences happen. I still have to choose to leave the comfort of my home to roam about. As such, I'm signing off.

I AM MICHAEL SCOTT: Given the time lag here, I was caught up on The Office last night when I went to bed, but am now one episode behind. But watching the Dundie awards, I've decided that the real inspiration for The Office comes from writers that have spent time in India. Here's why:

1. April Fool's Day. I had no idea they were aware of that here. They are. We had shaving cream in phone receivers, people's desks had been completely cleared of their belongings, etc. It was an office full of Jim Halpert's that day.

2. We have lots of Ryan's & Andy's here. You know, the ones that keep showing up, don't do anything, and don't even seem like they need to work, so I guess they come for the free ping pong? I'm told these people normally come from very wealthy backgrounds so the job is more social than a meaningful career.

3. Our secretary is a lot like Erin. Very sweet, but we very frequently wonder why we even bother giving her tasks to do.

4. We have a few Jim & Pam's, I think two, though I'm unsure if they actually met at work.

5. We have A LOT of Dwight's. Title is very important to people here. In the US, what we call a Senior 3, the level before Manager, is here called an Assistant Manager. Or Assistant to the Manager. Does it make a difference? They do the same thing a senior 3 does in the US for the same base pay (in terms of earning power). But they want that title. One colleague's email tag mentions he is a Senior Associate & Back-up technology coordinating assistant or something like that. What a mouthful and what a clearly self-imposed, secondary calling in life. But it's important to him.

6. We have one Phyllis, the mother of the office. She's a manager and wears a very traditional saree every day. But I think she scares some people.

7. We don't really have an Indian Oscar that I'm aware of, as being gay is still taboo here. But men here do hold hands and touch each other more freely than men in the US. We do have an Oscar counterpart in the form of a US person over here.

8. I can't think of any Stanley's or Angela's.

9. We have a new activity every week. Every week. I've always ignored the input into the festivities. But today is a post-busy season outing. We were put into different groups for a dance contest. It's overly complicated in that we have to do four ethnic dances. I told them I would do two of the four with my group. Big mistake. I spent close to 5 hours TU-TH learning to dance on the roof of the building. So five hours of work lost x 1,000 tax professionals coming to the outing is 5,000 hours of productivity lost. I had no idea they invested so much time, every week, in these endeavors. I'm not sure why we allow that, but it's not my place to fight it so I let it be. So we have our own party planning committee and endless onslaught of ridiculous activities, including Twin Day.

10. So I guess I am Michael Scott? I help people but don't actually generate revenue. I'm also told my people do like me. But I am also probably considered slightly quirky to everybody due to cultural differences. I'm sure my dancing will be on YouTube before the day is over.

Yes, the inspiration from The Office came from India.

[Comments] (1) 1:11 of fame: So yesterday was the West team outing. I opted to have my driver take me and my family rather than take the 6:30 shuttle bus from the office. I still got a wake-up call at 7:30 asking where I was. I think they were nervous I would ditch.

The resort was very nice and very clean. I played Table Tennis for a while. Even though I stink, none of them were very good either. I still stunk, but was only marginally worse than them. My strong point is I serve better than they do. I learned to play in the Kong, where the kids play much better than here. Susie had no idea where I learned.

They had four swimming pools. The family pool, ladies pool, toddler's pool, and children's pool. I'm not sure why the woman always get their own pool; it's not private, as in the men can still view the women's pool. But it's the same at immigration and security here; different lines for men and women. Also, the toddler pool had a waterfall named Niagara Falls. Why a waterfall in a kid's pool I don't know.

Actually a lot of stuff is named after the US. They had a suite called the white house that was much smaller than the original. They had these fun bungalows. They also had an A/C room that I had to hide out in for a while. It was hot yesterday.

I danced. I went whole hog because I figured, I might as well have fun looking stupid. I was video taped by about 20 different people, including my own wife, who was a judge. My team won, and Maggie was pleased that, during my "crowd time" I came by to high 5 her.

I also won a Dundie! For best coach in the West (I'm the only coach in the west). My Dundie didn't come with a 1,000 rupee prize like the others, but that's ok. The $20 goes farther for the others anyway.

A lot of people had a huge bad attitude about dancing, faked sick at the last minute, etc. It was pathetic, and I saw right through all of it. I guess they are still young and care about impressions. I'm old and this isn't my culture, so no one expected me to dance Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, or Kannada well. But still. Sometimes life is about doing stuff we don't want to. Suck it up, guys.

Lastly was the fishy discoteque. Words can't describe. It was inside a fish, was dark, noisy, and apparently consisted of two dance floors. Seriously. The guys dance together and the girls dance together. Maggie came on the guy side with me for our obligatory 5-minute cameo, and then we left. Susie wouldn't let Dalton experience the loud music.

It was hot yesterday and the dancing was hard in the heat. And people here don't like chilled water so that never helps matters. But it was a nice day. Since our maid called in sick with a paining head, we hit Pizza Hut on the way home.

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