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Happy Birthday Elephant Man: Yesterday was Ganesh's birthday, which involves street marching bands and giving Ganesh a bath!

I celebrated by getting up super early with the kids, going to the gym once Susie was awake, worked for three hours, then went to Papa John's without the kids. Susie and I only ordered bread sticks. Four orders of them, actually. We ate two yesterday, brought one home to have with our pear-walnut salad for dinner, and I brought a box of them to work for lunch today. The total price of all of this was cheaper than one pepperoni pizza, which seemed to upset the staff there, who really wanted us to order pizza.

I haven't been to Papa John's since mid-June. I've probably been there three times while we have lived here. Yet one of the coworkers came over and asked about Dalton. Not Maggie; just Dalton. It pays to be friendly!

Today I am leaving work early to play the piano for an LDS wedding. I've been warned the wedding may not start on time. TII and all that. Well. They get a 60 minute window and if it starts later than that, they lose their piano player. Someone told Susie a wedding was delayed once for four hours. Barring the bride or the groom being missing, I cannot imagine any good reason for this. All it does is reinforce the bad behavior that being late is ok. So today I'm potentially taking a stand. Here's hoping it won't come to that.

Here comes the bride: Today was the big wedding. It only started 40 minutes late. We're told Indian weddings must start on time because not only is the wedding date chosen by an astrologer, but the time must also be auspicious. But on Mormon Standard Time, anytime will do.

Of course they changed the closing hymn on me at the last minute and asked me to play here comes the bride, which I don't have memorized, at the last minute as well. I instead played one of those instrumental numbers out of the back of the Primary Songbook, because those I know. It never ceases to amaze me how last minute things can be here, and how surprised everyone is when things go ka-boom.

I knew the wedding would be delayed when we got there at 2:30 and no one else was there, not even the bride and groom.

Sandeep wanted to watch me play but I also think he was uncomfortable at the wedding because he only stayed for about 5 minutes, which was long enough for me to play the opening song.

After the branch president wed the couple, I later realized he didn't instruct the groom to kiss the bride. It felt like something was indeed missing, but such an ending would not have been appropriate in India anyhow.

Dinner was at UB City, as we knew they would be open at 5 pm (most Indian restaurants close from 3-7). The French restaurant had the biggest croisants I'd ever seen so we got a bunch to go for breakfast tomorrow.

Tomorrow is my last working Saturday in India, followed by a Priesthood meeting in the evening. Not the most exciting Saturday but at least it's something to do.

Staples Easy button, Mormon style: I just read the most interesting article: Link to LDS Newsroom

This is very exciting to me! I really want to serve a mission with Susie one day. And for those not in the know, missions are expensive. The younger version of the missionary set pays a fixed $400 a month into the pot, regardless of where they serve, and, voila, they are good to go. $400 for living expenses is pretty reasonable these days (and the church will also help pick up the tab if necessary), so serving a missionary for a 20 year-old is, from a cost perspective, a slam dunk.

For the couple missionaries, however, the historical stance was that all costs are borne by the couple. This makes saving for a mission rather cumbersome, especially since retirement savings alone is a daunting task in a day of lower rates of return on investments and ballooning healthcare costs.

I'm elated to know that my housing will now be fixed! I'm elated to know that there is more flexibility on length of service (though I don't understand 23 months versus 24 months). I'm elated to see the Church doing something about all of this because it recognizes that, firstly, they WANT more couple missionaries and, secondly, they NEED more couple missionaries.

With a fixed cost set, I now can better get a handle on what a mission would cost and how to save for it! Yay!

[Comments] (1) kel surprise: So. Today I got an email from Expedia. Kingfisher cancelled our flights to Kerala next week. I called Expedia and asked my options. Apparently the new flight they want me on leaves a mere 20 minutes earlier than the previous one, which is fine. The return flight leaves some 11 hours later, which is the next day. I asked if Kingfisher was going to pay for another night's stay for me. They are not. The new flight is at 7 am, which is too early for kids.

So I asked about other flights. We can leave the same day as previously, about 3 hours earlier. That sounds great. Let's do it. Waits patiently while Expedia calls Kingfisher. Expedia informs me Kingfisher needs four hours to complete the change. Forget it then. TII and all that means it will NEVER happen so I might as well move on with my life.

I came to work and re-booked the hotel for an extra day, which was also an ordeal, but not terribly, since it's a Ramada property.

Then I get an email from Expedia saying my new return flight is cancelled. WTH? So I call them, and wait patiently while they call Kingfisher. Apparently Kingfisher approved me to leave on the 4:30 pm flight the day before, in record time of an hour only instead of 4 (or 40, or 400) hours as instructed.

So went back to the Ramada site, re-booked to the original reservation and voila, we're set to go. Net-net this is actually better, as getting back to Bangalore at 6 pm beats getting back at 10 pm. For short flights, I like day flying so I can look out the window anyway.

Crisis diverted, and I was calm throughout. If anything, India has taught me how NOT to sweat the small stuff. I suppose for that I am grateful.

[Comments] (1) the art of miscommunication: I've been pondering the whole concept of children being required to take care of their parents, since the ways and methods here are quite different from back home. For starters, it is more of a patriarchal society here in elderly care than back home. An example that comes to mind is that Susie and I, upon finishing up at BYU, moved to CA to help take care of Susie's mother before she passed away. That was fine by me, and we were happy to do it, even though CA was not our ideal place to live, given our long-term lifestyle choices. But I was happy to do it, as my role mostly was working so Susie could go home on weekends and visit her mother.

Here it appears to work in the opposite frame, wherein newly-married daughters-in-law often move in and take care of their parents-in-law, while the husband trots off to work. I'd imagine that is a lot tougher than my scenario described above, since it leaves you caring for people that aren't your parents. Kudos to the wonderful women of this country.

But the other difference I note is harder to discuss. I was telling my driver Sandeep how my parents live on their own. I live roughly 11 miles from them, can rush to their side (or to a nearby hospital) lickety-split, as neeeded (have done so, actually), but otherwise I leave them to live their life while I live mine. We often tried to visit my dad with the kids once for a few hours on the weekend as time permitted. Otherwise, we were on our own.

Here, caring for them means moving in with them. I tried to ask Sandeep why this is necessary (Sandeep's brother cares for his parents, back in the village, while he is here working). I mean, my parents can still do things for themselves. And Sandeep's parents are younger than mine and can still apparently do things for themselves as well. Our conversation was thus:

Me: But why do they need your brother? Do they need him to cook for them?

Sandeep: No, sir. My mother only can cook. My brother cannot cook.

Me: So do they need him to help them get dressed/go to the bathroom/go shopping?

Sandeep: No, sir. They only can do these things.

Me: Then what does your brother do for them?

Sandeep: He takes care of them, sir.

Me: Takes care of them means....

Sandeep: He looks after them.

Me: How does he look after them?

Sandeep: He makes sure their needs are met.

Me: What needs? Does he cook for them? Clean for them?

Sandeep: No, sir. The maid will clean.

Me: But if they do all these things, what does your brother do for them.

Sandeep: He looks after them, sir.

I guess Sandeep is Abbott to my Costello but I'm still very unclear who's on first.

If my parents required, I would move them into my home in a heartbeat. Heck, I even moved into their home for five months last year for reasons that now escape me. But in the meantime, until I understand how exactly my living with them is caring for them, I'm content with my 11-mile space.

What could I possibly be missing, I wonder?

[Comments] (1) epic win?: I had Jodi bring a whole box of Instant Breakfast with her to India. The kids previously would not drink India milk, especially Maggie. I was very worried about her calcium intake. Well, now the kids think Instant Breakfast is chocolate milk and ask for it every day. Finally some calcium back in their diets. Yay for strong bones! And since it's not really chocolate milk, double yay for those other 42 vitamins and minerals probably not found in Indian food.

I seriously cannot handle shopping here. Last night I had to work late, given the busy season and a late call I had. So I decided I better grab a bag of banana chips at FoodWorld to tide me over until I could eat real dinner at 9 pm when I got home.

How educated people can simply ignore the fact that I was waiting to check out before they were and shove their way in front of me, shoving their food vouchers and purchases in the cashier's face, is not only insulting, but revolting. Who the hell do they think they are? I know I've blogged about this before, and I'll probably blog about it again. But being a CPA and all, I like order, and not chaos. The rudeness of some people here is surprising, given the extreme courtesy of others. I personally blame the caste system, which is even more revolting. Talk about your ultimate entitlement generation.

[Comments] (5) of mixed review: So. Weekend in Kerala for Susie's 30th BD. The day started out fine. Dalton woke up at 7:30 am on Friday, which was our time of departure. But we did have to wake Maggie up. Flight was not until 10:40 but Sandeep was convinced we'd have a horrible to do in traffic. So long story short we got to the airport at 8:30, in normal fashion and sat around for two hours. The door attendant wanted to make sure I was confident about checking in two hours early, as I would not be allowed back out of the airport to smoke, as this airport is no smoking (a first in India to be sure, but more on this later, so stay tuned). We managed to pass the time by eating milkshakes for breakfast, bought Hannah a Christmas present, bought Susie a BD present, and let the kids play in the fab toy store there (the best in India, or just about).

Flight was uneventful. Landed in Kochi to blue skies and sunshine, and in monsoon season to boot! We rented a taxi for 800 rupees to take us the hour-long drive to the resort. The road was Highway 47 and was absolutely amazing! No potholes, no community-made speed bumps a la tourist traps, hardly any animals in the road, and a very smooth ride. Nothing interesting to see on the way, as we took the internal highway to save time and skipped going through town. We did see a very brand new, shiny, 16-storey Holiday Inn that tempted us. Susie actually thought we were staying there. Turns out, she was right. More on this to come.

We finally made it to the Ramada! It is breathtaking! It sits on a lake in the backwaters, and all the bungalows are raised above ground so that you have a grand view. The pool is beneath the bungalows, all 24 of them, as it is the longest pool in Kerala or something like that, according to the brochure. We checked in and hit the pool.

We had Shaun bring us a tub of 100 spf suntan lotion that is spray on and something is wrong with it. It feels like I am putting I can't believe it's not butter spray on me. But none of us got burned. Maggie still somehow managed to tan through all that spf, which is a miracle considering her parent's vampire-pale complexion. The pool was great! We came prepared this time after our Goa trip, with our own set of flotation devices and blow up balls to play with. One would think these resorts would sell this kind of stuff. One really would. But one would be wrong. Instead, they sell man-skirts (popular in Kerala, called a Lungee), and pashmina scarves.

The hotel receives mixed reviews from this patron. The room was awesome, the shower superb, the bed the most comfortable I've slept on in nine months time, the view and peace and quiet of the place, including the piped muzak in public places, was so soothing it was hard to believe I was in a country crammed full of over a billion people. On the downside, however, the rooms are all smoking rooms (the room itself was fine but the towels reeked of cigarettes, just what you want to smell like after a shower), the front desk is completely incompetent and needs to better master the english language, and the inclusive meal plan was deceiving.

Firstly, the meal plan. Friday was a smorgasbord fit for a king. We got to order off a menu a salad, a soup, two appetizers, a fish dish, a main course, bread, rice, and dessert. We felt bad wasting so much absolutely delicious food (calimari, coconut beef, tomato-mozzerella tarts) that at dinner we skimped the menu because we were so full and we didn't want to be so wasteful. But then Saturday it was Indian buffet. No fancy menu, no fancy food, forget anything continental being offered. I hardly ate a thing that day. Which was fine. But after the amazingness of the first day, don't skimp the second day, man.

Our package also included a boat ride on the famous Kerala house boats. Or so it said. It was cancelled. Instead we got a free half-day city tour. Which was fine. But again, only informed upon when I asked. The city tour was ok; I can at least say I saw Kochi. Not too much exciting happening, but we saw Portuguese churches, Chinese fishing nets, British Museums, Dutch cemetaries, and Jew Street, with nary a Jew. Our driver cum tour guide said the Jews only come out to conduct business so they are rarely seen. Whatever that means. What does that mean?

The Chinese fishing nets are a fun system. We helped pull one in for a small donation and it's a lot of work, especially considering we caught no fish. It would have been a lot heavier had we caught something. Kochi is a lot cleaner than Bangalore, but some Indian dude still threw a bag of trash in the ocean right in front of me. I wanted to deck him but refrained because it would have upset Maggie. More on this to come.

Back to the hotel on day two we hit the pool again and Susie and I enjoyed our free chair massages as part of our package. Our package also included 15% discount on spa treatments so I went for a steam/sauna. I used to get a steam at BYU after a good work out all the time. Well. Here it was different. They put me in a box with only my head sticking out, then covered me in grease and turned up the heat. Not what I was expecting but still a lot of fun! The whole time I was thinking of that Mr. Bill episode where Mr. Hands put him in a steamer and he came out quite svelt. Does anyone even remember Mr. Bill anymore? Susie didn't know of him.

Day 3 we played in the pool, checked out of the hotel, and went on a boat ride in the Kerala backwaters. The highlight of the trip! An awesome experience. What I wouldn't give to live that life. Dalton fell asleep and missed the whole thing.

The muzak was interesting. Some sort of mixed CD including all the Kenny G classics, including what we call the Kingfisher song (they play it non-stop on the airplanes, we learned the hard way on our layover in Hyderabad en route to Bangkok where we were stuck on the plane for 30 minutes), the song that puts Mack to sleep on the movie "Cars", and "The X-files" theme song. I mean, what other repertroire could be more copacetic? The truth is out there.

Checking out of the hotel was a nightmare. We were charged for the city tour, even though it was free, we were charged for our complimentary laundry as well, or at least half of it. The summer package says one set complimentary laundry per person. Not per room. They apparently don't know the difference and had the audacity to try and give me the english lesson. I mentioned that, had this all-inclusive package been explained to us properly at check in, this whole thing could have been avoided. But you only have to pay this much, sir, they kept insisting. So Susie chimed in and mentioned that, to flip the argument on it's head, they only have to write off that much. Which they finally did. The turkeys. Shame on you, Ramada, for not proofreading your own work.

On the way back to the airport. We saw a sign for a restaurant called Garden that looked awfully familiar. The reason it is familiar is because someone removed the word Olive from the sign but otherwise kept the same image. I'm pretty sure that's not legal, but I doubt anyone in Kerala is otherwise confused by this.

Time for more turkeys. We got to the airport only to be told our flight was not leaving until 7:30 the next morning. I inquired how I could possibly have a printed itinerary otherwise then. They say Expedia did it. We tried to get Expedia on the phone but to no avail. So I have a very very nasty phone call to make tomorrow that I am not looking forward to. In the meantime, we needed a place to sleep and fast!

All the hotels near the airport are Indian hotels and, considering the horrible mood we were in, we needed a good night's sleep to remedy that. I asked where the nearst chain hotel was (ie Taj, Royal Orchid, Oberoi) but they are all on the peninsula in Kochi. There was no way I was going back to the Ramada, over an hour away. Then I remembered that fancy, shiny, new Holiday Inn Susie insisted we were staying at, about 30 minutes away. So we hopped in a cab and off we went, hoping for something decent.

Before this ensued a rather horrible altercation between me and Kingfisher. Someone screwed up and I will find out who, and I have a feeling the blame is equal to both Kingfisher and Expedia, first to Kingfisher for cancelling our original flight that made us have to switch the flight anyway, and second to Expedia who probably switched it to the wrong thing. But I'm the one who had to pay the price. But poor Maggie, the sensitive thing. She did not like watching me being forceful with the Kingfisher manager. I had to apologize to her over and over. She kept projecting that I was mad at her. She was crying and just kept saying she just wants to get on a plane and go home, which I tried to get the Kingfisher attendent to overhear and have some sympathy, but oh well. The flight is a prop plane, which is quite small, and was full, so we were out of luck.

Back to the Holiday Inn. Again, a mixed review. Awesome, awesome room! Big shower, carpet in the hallways and room (first time in India, and nice carpet to boot), a huge bed, and about 2/3 the price of the Ramada. We ordered room service (hello ham and cheese panini and shrimp ceasar's salad). But the lobby staff again is run by turkeys.

We had to call three times to get our luggage. By that point swimming was out of the question, as we had to get up at 5 am anyway to catch our new flight. And we had to ask for a baby cot twice. And they were out of naan (hello, how can you be out of naan in India? This country is lousy with naan!) But the room, food, and shower, was just what we needed to make the kids not think anything was wrong.

Later that night as we were packing for our early morning departure, I noticed our passports were missing. They were supposed to be returned to us with our luggage (India requires every hotel to photocopy your passport apparently). So I called the front desk. They'll look into it, they assured me. Ten minutes later I was beyond frazzled at the thought of a lost passport that I went down to the lobby where the bellmen opened the cash drawer and said, "Here you go, we put them in here for safe keeping." Hello, if you want to keep my passport safe, put it in my hand, not in your crummy cash drawer.

The whole ordeal was a waste of 12 hours of my life and around $200, give or take, for food, hotel, and taxis. But at least we got another night in a very nice hotel with an amazing shower, the softest towels I've ever encountered in my life (that did NOT smell like cigarette smoke, even though this too is a smoking hotel, gimmeabreak), and the best bed I've slept in my whole life (sorry Ramada, but you got beat out just one day later).

We leave for Dubai in two weeks and I'm excited our next trip is out of country. Here's hoping for a few less events like the above.

But I will say this: Kerala is beautiful. We lucked out because it's still monsoon season but didn't get rained on once. And you would think such a beautiful area would be mosquito heaven at night but the whole family escaped without a single bite. This included us playing Racko (Susie's BD present) on our balcony all night enjoying the evening sounds of Kerala. And Kerala is less intrusive than the rest of India. Yes, people were still peeing on the side of the road; yes there was trash in the backwaters; yes the people can be abrasive at times; but all of this is done about ten times less than you find in Bangalore. So the reprieve was enough. We take what we can get.

buy a pape?: We're famous! (We excluding me)

Deccan Herald Article

Never mind they didn't have permission to use this picture. Nor did they actually interview us for the article. But the complaints of those interviewed make me feel validated in my thoughts on the once Garden City turned city of trash and dirt piles.

But imagine my surprise to have my coworker inform me my family was in the newspaper this morning!

[Comments] (3) sigh: We are out of made in the US of A cheese. Same with goldfish. Good thing we can replenish a few items in Dubai next week. In the meantime, absence will make the heart grow fonder.

I get the worst allergies here every time the seasons change. And the seasons they are a changing. From rainy to hot. I'm ready to experience not hot weather. Bring on the snow this winter; I'll be home for Christmas.

[Comments] (1) : I love my kids!


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