Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Madelyn & Grace at Panbai International School

Madelyn and Grace finally got their uniforms and this is the first day they wore them.  They look so cute....

I totally support children wearing uniforms to school and I wish it were required in the states. It takes away at least a little pressure in wearing the "right" clothes and fitting in and also develops school pride.  They love them!  They also must wear their school i.d. card with their picture.  I tease them that it's in case they forget who they are, they can look at their badges.  Oh... Grandma...they say!

Panbai International School only opened in March so they are still building enrollment.  Madelyn is the only one in second grade, and Grace is one of five in senior kindergarten. They are both learning Hindi and Madelyn is learning French and Marathi as well.  In addition, they have a Spanish tutor that comes to our house twice a week so they can keep up on their Spanish for when they return to Oregon.

The very first Panbai Sports day was on December 20th, which they even had to attend school on a Saturday to practice for.  It started with a march, and there were relays, a torch ceremony, dance routines and individual races by age group.  Here are a few photos...

They actually really enjoy marching...go figure!

This is the whole school...teachers, students& Principal

Monday, December 27, 2010

Elephanta Island

One of Mumbai's most popular tourist attractions is the caves at Elephanta Island.  The caves were carved  by monks between 450 and 750 A.D, and are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To get there you take a tour boat from the Gateway of India.  Fortunately, Deb's driver, Sateesh, who has lived in Mumbai his entire life - but never been to Elephanta Island, came wth us, and to act as translator.   The Island is10 km (approximately a 45 minute ride on a very slow boat) south of Mumbai.

The boat ride itself is worth the trip. The view from the water of the Gateway of India with the Taj Hotel in the background is great.

Like many things here it's a bit of a thrill ride.  The boat is wooden and probably 75 years old.  Ours stalled for about 20 minutes on the way back as they fixed the bilge pump.

The boat docks about 1 km off of the island as the water is very shallow.  You then get on a little train that takes you 1 km to the base of the hill that houses the caves.  Along the way you can purchase corn on the cob, and the discarded cobs get recycled right in front of you.

You then hike up a couple hundred steps that are flanked on both sides by market stalls and monkeys.  If you're not up to climbing that many steps, for ~ $11 you can be carried up the hill like this guy on the left.

The caves are amazing.  I think we took more photos here than any other place we've been.The interior of the caves is approximately 60,000 sq. ft.   Keep in mind these were carved from solid rock with hand tools.

Unfortunately, when discovered by the Portugese they found them sacriligious and decided to use them for target practice. - Jeff

Mumbai's German Christmas Festival

So one of the great things about India is the cultural mix.  While approximately 70% of the people are Hindu, there are hundreds of Hindu sects, so pretty much anything is cause for a party.  We live on a comparatively quiet residential street and in the two months we've lived here I've already seen several marching bands on the street.

So I wasn't too surprised when we arrived at the German festival and there were a couple of thousand people there, including probably a dozen Germans. They had a big stage, dancing is incredibly popular here, and they played all of the traditional Christmas songs (Santana, Beatles - Hey Jude, Doors, etc.).

Of course Santa was there.

They had German brats!  They tasted just like real ones, but of course they were meatless so the texture was awful.  The girls danced for hours, and we found stockings, Christmas cards, and plenty of beer - so a good time was had by all.

Deb and the girls even went back the next day to play all of the games.

- Jeff

Indian Wedding

This is wedding season here, just like summer is in the U.S.  However, their weddings involve about 3 days and have marching bands, horses, and one time we even saw a horse driven carriage with the couple in it go by our apartment.  I had assumed it was another holiday in this land of holidays and told our driver that a parade had gone by our house, and he is the one that told me it was a wedding procession.  Actually, just yesterday coming home from shopping, the rickshaw I was riding in got caught up in a wedding band march...it was kind of cool, we were riding right beside it.  Before marriage, the couple consults with someone who tells them when the best time for them to get married is and even last night when Jeff and I went to bed, there was a wedding, with fireworks and the works going on right behind our building at 1 a.m.  Weddings are all day and night here, but I guess with 22 million people, there does need to be 24 hour wedding ceremonies in order to share the facilities.

We were invited to the wedding of the daughter of one of the people on Jeff's project, which we attended not long after Thanksgiving. We were only invited to the last day of the ceremony which had been going on for a couple of days.  As you can see by the photos, they wear bright, beautiful colors in their ceremony.  We didn't understand anything said, but every so often they would bring by some colored rice and every once in a while everyone threw rice in the air....the girls enjoyed that part of it although I had to get one of them to stop throwing it directly at the people in front of us.

Part of the ceremony they encircled the couple with a rope and another part they wash each others feet ( that would be kind of nice especially if there was a foot massage along with it).  Afterwards, there was a time for people to come give advice/blessings/ whatever to the couple....I don't know exactly what my husband is saying, it could be anything.  By the way, they were married at 12:36 p.m.

Gandhi National Park

My driver Sateesh took the girls and I to Gandhi National Park, which is a huge, 40 square mile park right in Mumbai.  It has lakes where you can go on paddle boats, several playgrounds, a train that takes you through part of the park, and there are monkeys playing in the trees all over the place.  There is some small caged buses that you can ride to see tigers and lions and although we didn't have time to do it the day we went, a couple of weeks ago the girls went there on a field trip with their school and got to do it then, which they were very excited about it.  There are some caves there also, so it is on our list to go back on some Sunday when Jeff can go with us.

Wherever we go, people are always staring at the girls and wanting to take photos of them.  I finally turned it around on the people in this photo and said I wanted to take their picture.  It can get really annoying how people are so enthralled with these girls, especially Grace with her long blonde hair...everyone says she looks like a little doll and want to touch her hair or cheeks.  We left the park soon after this photo was taken, after a woman unexpectedly kissed Grace on the cheek.  I'm telling you that many people do not have personal boundaries here!  When Lisa was here in October, security staff had to intervene when she was mobbed when she went to get us food and drinks on a dinner cruise we went on...they all were wanting to take her photo also.  I can see why some celebrities have lost it and taken a punch at photographers and other bothersome admirers...it gets extremely frustrating to not be able to do anything without people invading your personal space and staring at everything you do.

The park is nice though, and when Jeff is with us people don't seem to bother us quite as much so I'm looking forward to going back there sometime soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Mumbai

We were all set to go to the Taj Hotel for a real turkey dinner on Thanksgiving that was arranged by the American Women's Club, but it got cancelled a couple of days beforehand; It was the anniversary of the big terrorist attacks two years ago and there apparently were some more terrorist threats targeting hotels where Westerners stay.  I think I was the most bummed out because I love turkey and I haven't seen one for sale here but we also don't have an oven to fit one in (we have a small confection/microwave oven).  However, it turned out to be a very nice day and we found a nice restaurant where the kids had fish and chips, Jeff had lasagna and I had prawns.  We actually had a little American fare because the french fries came with ketchup and also a cup of gravy to dip in so we essentially had some potatoes and gravy.  We topped it off with apple pie with vanilla ice cream, which is as American as it gets.  I had already bought the girls Punjabi's, so they wore those and were complimented many times in their Indian attire.

It was a very different Thanksgiving then we have ever had, but of course we are in a very different country and culture.  It is interesting though, that the first Thanksgiving was a harvest feast shared between the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and Native American Indians and here we were in India having a dining experience with Indians.  We missed our family, but it was a good day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Photos of the Mumbai Metro One Project

I've been asked for photos of the Project that I'm working on.  This isn't the appropriate place for an editorial regarding theProject , but there's no harm in posting a few photos that were taken on November 12, 2010.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trip to Lonavala

Back on the 24th, Lisa, Grace, Madelyn and I (Deb wasn't feeling well), traveled to the Hill Station of Lonavala.  A Hill Station is a location where the well-to-do have their country homes.  I've mentioned in previous posts how beautiful the countryside is.

The highlight of the trip for the girl's was riding a camel.

This was not at all like in the states where they bring the camel into a Safeway parking lot.  This was in the middle of nowhere, alongside the road where a a bunch of people were stopped to enjoy the view.  The most memorable part for me, was not the joy on the girl's faces, but the joy on the faces of the people watching two little blonde girls riding a camel.  It was clearly something they had never expected to witness.

The other highlight of the trip was feeding the wild  monkeys along the side of the road. The monkeys would be sitting on the guard rail,you'd toss an orange slice, and they'd catch it.

Deb says: Regarding the monkey on the right,  I was wondering where I had seen that expression before,and it didn't take long to realize where I had seen it many times.....George W. Bush!  You see it, right?

Michelle Obama

The Obama's have been visiting India this week.  The Indian press has mixed reviews for the President, but they love the first lady.  One of today's front page headlines was about the Obama's visit to a grade school and Michelle's participating in traditional Indian dances with the students read: "Dancing Queen Rocks India".

Another headline read: "First Lady's Grace, Humility Win Hearts".  In the article the following encounter was reported:  A young girl upon meeting the first lady said: "is a dream come true for me", the first lady quickly responded, "No, you are a dream come true for me."

Is it to early to start a Michelle 2016 campaign?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A bit more on India and on safety

I feel like my last Post on 'safety' may have been a bit too negative about India.  Everyone asks me what's India like.  Before leaving Portland I read a quote and it has proven to be very true for me.  The quote was: "India is the WORST place in the world, and India is the BEST place in the world, and both statements are true."

Everyday you're assaulted with the most overwhelming poverty and the same day by the grace of the people in accepting and enjoying their lot in life.  Apparently, its the Hindu way - you're born into your current place in life because of your karma from the previous life, and if you live a virtuous life you'll be rewarded with a better life next time around.  I have no doubt that such widespread poverty in the US would result in the complete breakdown of society and revolution, but here many people (not all or most - but many) seem to find an inner peace.

There are many other positives, but generally most everything remains a significant challenge.

I'd like to end this as positive as possible, but I have a couple of photos that I want to share (they unfortunately get back to the topic of respect for human life that was the topic of my previous blog).  The 8 story condo bldg. across the street from us is being painted.  The following photo is of the bamboo scaffolding that is typical in India.

I find it amazing, unfortunately, there's no way to tell just how strong it is, and I for one do not have that much faith in my knot tying ability.  The following photo is of the guys using it - 100+ feet above the ground.

Perhaps you can't tell from the photo, but there is no attempt to tie-off to anything.  I wish I could say that they're so skilled that it works out just fine, but I've heard its one of the most common causes of fatalities, and to some just an opportunity to move on to that next life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in Mumbai

We found a Halloween party for the girls at the Hard Rock cafe and it was really fun!  They had games, a parade, crafts, a costume runway opportunity, and tons of good food and drink.  When we got home the girls and I took a rickshaw to a donut shop and bought donuts while Lisa hid candy for a scavenger hunt.  Later we hung donuts and ate them from the string without touching them, where I showed my true skills for eating chocolate donuts...winning the game!

Madelyn had earlier made a piƱata from construction paper which proved to be very tough.  They had fun filling it and then hitting it open and running and squealing for candy.  But, by far their favorite thing was the scavenger hunt.  Lisa did an awesome job creating 10 rhyming clues for them to follow....they loved it and have saved the clues and enjoy reliving the experience.

I never saw myself celebrating Halloween in India, but it was fun.  Finding decorations proved challenging and very expensive....$4 for a small bag of cobweb stuff, etc., but it was a worthwhile challenge.  It was kind of fun to see the look on peoples faces when the girls were out and about in their costumes....most have never heard of Halloween, which really is a pretty bizarre celebration when you think about it!

trip to Goa

Lisa, Madelyn, Grace and I got back from Goa on Friday afternoon, after spending 3 nights at a beach resort there.  It was so nice to see clean beaches where you could go in the water.  Goa is a short flight away from Mumbai...it's weird, they schedule it as an hour flight but it really is only about 20 minutes...you barely get up in the air and you are coming down for a landing...my kind of flight!  The hour is actually for the delays in getting started and circling around before landing.

As you leave the resort to go down to the beach there is a very disturbing sight to see...two men, bigger than life statues, as you can see!  It kind of leaves me speechless!

Another photo is of the Indian wiring we sat next to at the open aired restaurant we were in.  It also leaves me with a loss of words!

You will also see a photo of a ship very close to shore...apparently it ran aground 10 YEARS AGO!  Have I said it before how things are slow here????

Finally, a photo of the girls at the beach...which really is a very nice beach, except for the vendors who are relentless.  Lisa and one young girl started really getting into a quarrel...the girl accused Lisa of telling her to come talk to her later and that Lisa was supposed to buy something from her then.   The girl didn't know who she was dealing with!

I definitely want to go back to Goa again and explore it further!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safety in India

What you've heard about the cows in India is true.  I've seen traffic on a major highway come to a standstill in the heart of Mumbai while a herd of cattle crosses, and I've seen thousands of cars, motorcycles and pedestrians stop to wait for a dog to pinch a loaf in the middle of one of the busiest intersections I've ever seen.  These animals don't have a care in the world, and wouldn't last a week in the states.  But, I truly expected the Indian culture to have a greater respect for human life as well.

Everyday I see cars pass at full speed within inches of pedestrians (they will lay on the horn while doing so - but I'm not sure that's a plus).  Meanwhile, tires will squeal as vehicles brake for a lamb frolicking on the highway.

There has been a lot of reporting in the newspaper about the recent Commonwealth games (CWG).  I don't know how much attention it received in the states, but there were significant issues with construction quality (a newly built pedestrian bridge collapsed within weeks of its opening), corruption (they have no idea where the money went, but a significant percentage was obviously lost due to graft), and hygiene (many countries threatened not to send their athletes, and many individual athletes elected not to participate).  The press is calling it a national embarrassment and is doing a pretty good job of investigating.  As an aside - I remember as a young man when the press in the states used to do investigative reporting on topics other than Lindsey Lohan's rehab.

Earlier this week they reported that the government could not state definitively how many fatalities occurred during construction of the CWG facilities, but they think it was less than 50 people.  The same article happened to mention that during the construction of Dehli's 2 Metro lines there were 109 fatalities.

I understand that their are 1.2 billion people in this country, but geez. 

The reports are that there have not yet been any fatalities on the job that I'm managing, given they haven't really kept track at the CWG, I'm not confident that its true.  If so, its pure luck.

As an example, I went out on site one night during my first week here to observe them placing a 170 ton U-girder 40+ feet in the air.  I was very encouraged to find that they had nice equipment which was more than adequate for the job and that they were being very diligent in setting up the cranes out-riggers (apparently cranes falling over is a common occurrence here - I've yet to see anyone compacting their backfill).  My senior field person (a great guy, well intention, experienced, and very helpful) proudly pointed out how he had struggled to teach them what to look for when setting the out-riggers.  He then proudly pointed out that after years of coaching he had finally convinced the crew that they had to wear safety harnesses when working at height.  I of course congratulated him, but I'm afraid I then almost broke his heart, when I suggested to him that we stop the work while he tried to convince the crew that wearing the harnesses didn't 'accomplish much if they didn't then connect (tie-off) the harnesses to something nearby. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Flat in Bandra

Deb and I have finally, moved out of the hotel and into our flat.
The flat is nice, but my definition of nice has already begun to morph towards India standards.  It's 3 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath, on the 11th floor (its the entire floor) 1 block from the Arabian Sea.  There are views of the sea from every room.  It has elaborate granite floors thru-out, the bathroom walls are also granite. All the furniture is hand made with wonderful wood work and elaborate doors (labor is obviously very cheap), but once you move from aesthetics to functionality the quality rapidly drops off. 
The following photo is taken from our living room with the tide out.

We have two parks within a block and a half of our flat.  The following photo is looking south from the furthest of the two Parks (Jogger's Park).

And the next photo is looking north from Jogger's Park to the Juhu neighborhood.

And this is a photo of Grace and Madelyn playing at that Park.

Here's a photo of our building from Jogger's Park.  Our flat is the third from the top in the center building.

The other park is pretty much just across the street from us.  This is the sign welcoming you to that park.

And this is of the granddaughters playing at that park.