Monday, July 23, 2007

Olivia Aull, Swimming and Community

I had written a few days ago about the swimming league my son belongs to.

Today, in the Washington Post, Donna St. George writes about Olivia Aull, a 14-year old swimmer with one of the teams in the Northern Virginia Swimming League, who died on July 11 in a car crash while on her way to swimming practice.

The teenager was buried this past Monday after a service that drew more than 400 people. Everyone was then invited to a reception at the Aull home, where swim families worked with friends and neighbors to organize food, drinks, tables, chairs and tents. The group set it up, cleaned it up, then drove away with 20 bags of garbage.

Olivia's death came amid the summer season, when swimmers are at the pool almost daily, not only for practice and meets, but also for Friday pep rallies, pasta dinners and movie nights. For six or eight weeks, swimming can become more than a sport. It can become a way of life.

Word of the tragedy spread quickly. In Olivia's memory, several Virginia teams have donated to a scholarship fund administered by the Northern Virginia Swimming League.

At meets the day Olivia died, teams from 18 divisions honored her with moments of silence. Afterward, at 10 p.m., her summer pool held a vigil that drew 300 to 400 mourners. One parent brought hundreds of candles from her church. "It struck me that Olivia had 500 best friends," said Maureen Choudhury, a close family friend.

Three days later, when the Greenbriar team competed again, its opponents from Dunn Loring decorated a banner in Olivia's memory and wore green memorial ribbons on their shirts.

When it was Olivia's turn to swim that day, her team left the lane open to honor the missing swimmer. Everyone stood and clapped for the race, which was won by Olivia's close friend Kacey Norwood.

Please do read the entire article.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Traditional Baby Baths in India: A Community Affair

Lady N had the largest kumkum in the brightest shade of red I had ever seen on any one's forehead. It was at least one and a half times the size of a 50 paisa coin. Her heavily oiled hair was always combed back severely in a bun at the back of her head. Her sari, almost always some shade of green, was draped in the nine-yard style, with no petticoat and the folds going front to back between her calves, pant-style. Her eyes were heavily lined with kaadige (kaajal). Huge diamond studs adorned ears and nose. Her hands and legs were soft and wrinkly, the soles of her feet cracked from walking barefoot.

To me, Lady N was larger than life.

A dear friend of my maternal grandmother, Lady N was probably well into her sixties when I first met her as a five year-old. She had the courage and the confidence to do what even my grandmother, a lady of formidable capabilities herself, would not do. She bathed newborn babies.

This was not uncommon in most households - one or two ladies in the community would help out families with newborns with the bathing. Even today this practice is quite prevalent, particularly in the rural areas.

My earliest memory is of Lady N arriving every day in the middle of the morning at my grandmother's house in Mysore to bathe my new baby brother and then my cousins. She would come with a small cloth bag in her hand containing a bottle with a special blend of four oils which she would use to massage the baby, and a soft cotton saree which she would change into before handling the baby. Prior to her arrival, my grandmother would have the rest of the paraphernalia ready - hot (and I mean hot) water, corn flour, baby powder, powdered saambhrani, some coal, a small, round wicker basket and kaadige, a small spot of which would go on the baby's cheek and forehead to "ward off the evil eye".

After thoroughly massaging the baby for about half an hour (by which time the baby would either be bawling or getting ready to fall into a state of stupor depending on your luck), he would be taken to the smoky, steamy, slightly aromatic bathroom off of the kitchen in the back of the house.

The bathroom, made entirely of stone, brick and cement, was huge by today's standards. At the top left corner of the bathroom was a square protrusion from the wall made of concrete, about five feet by five feet. It contained a huge metal bowl within it which would be filled with water and heated from the bottom by a wood-burning fire. At the top right corner was a section of the bathroom lower than the rest by about two feet with a stone floor reserved for bathing.

Lady N would sit on this stone floor with her back to the wall and her legs stretched out together in front of her and receive the baby from my grandmother. The baby would go face down, head facing Lady N's feet and Lady N would start pouring water over the baby's body. With sure arms, Lady N would wash off the oil with a mixture of the corn flour and water, flipping the baby deftly from his front on to his back. Torso first, then arms and legs, then the face and finally the head.

Washing the hair is always the tricky part, especially with a newborn because, obviously, the neck is not strong yet and needs to be supported at all times. With her palm elongated to form a visor and the forehead secured in the crook of her palm between her thumb and forefinger of her right hand, Lady N would pour water on the baby's head with the left. One hand supporting, one hand scrubbing and washing. As a final act, Lady N would scoop up a container full of water, move her arms around in a circular motion in front of the baby three times and pour the water on to the bathroom floor, again to ward off the evil eye.

The actual bath only lasts a few minutes and the baby would then be handed over to my grandmother to be towelled off. Lady N would change back into her dry clothes in the meantime and would settle down on the floor of the "hall", one of the main rooms of the house to dry the baby's body and hair with the saambhrani.

Saambhrani is a fragrant material which when burnt on coal gives off aromatic smoke. The wicker basket would go over a plate of burning coal with the saambhrani sprinkled on top. The baby would be held with both arms over the basket and slowly moved back and forth. The warm smoke would swirl around the baby, warming the baby's body and hair and drying up any remaining pockets of dampness that the towel had left untouched.

Then, voilĂ ! A clean, fragrant, hopefully extremely sleepy baby would be handed off to the mother.

Many years later, my mother came to the US when Big N was born. All the baby books showed pictures of babies being bathed in the kitchen sink. In the kitchen sink! Having come from a culture where there were at least three people hovering over the baby during bath-time, what a let down that was for my mother.

But she rose to the occasion. Never having bathed a newborn before, she swallowed all her fears and trepidations and stepped into a super smooth jacuzzi to bathe her first grandchild. Step by step, she tried to recall Lady N's motions, deriving comfort from her confidence although Lady N was long dead by then. It was heartbreaking and inspiring to see my mother trying so hard to learn something so totally new in such a stressful situation. By the end of the first week, she was actually good at it.

She had carried dhoop sticks (not the incense sticks - these were thick and about a forefinger long), the new-fangled substitute for saambhrani, with her all the way from India, but there was no sitting in the "hall" or in any other room in the house. There were smoke alarms to consider. So off we went into the garage, the poor baby! It was too cold to carry him out with no clothes on, so it was only his hair that got the dhoop treatment.

These days, with no grandmothers in sight, these are the implements I resort to to give Little N a bath:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

A reclining bathing seat made entirely of plastic. A far cry from a grandmother's lap, for sure.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

A mug with a soft rubbery edge that wraps around the forehead so all the water falls back on the baby's head and not over her face. It doesn't work very well, actually. The baby's head needs to be tipped back and held there, which is uncomfortable for her neck, I feel. It might work better on older children.

The only feature of Lady N's bath ritual that is left standing is the mug full of water circulated three times in front of Little N's face and poured down the drain. It's not much but it's comforting enough.

Swim Teams in Bangalore

For those who are looking for information on swim teams in Bangalore:

The pool in Basavanagudi has very good coaches and the swimmers there regularly compete in state and national competitions. You should be able to obtain their mumber by calling directory assistance in Bangalore at 23333333.

Good luck.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Photo Essay: Bangkok

Everyone told us Bangkok would be beautiful. Modern. Developed. Great for shopping. The roads would be great. The airport would be fantastic. We rolled our eyes and said, Yeah, yeah, yeah. The image of Bangkok as a third-world city would not be dislodged from our heads.

Until we came out of the walkway leading from our plane and stepped into the airport. With wide eyes, gaping mouths and short breaths, we took it all in. The cleanliness. The modernity. The space. The airiness. The convenience. The air of prosperity. The efficiency at the immigration counter. The orderly baggage claim area. We landed on a Saturday, perhaps it was just the weekend lull. But still.

A ride into the city did nothing to dispel any of these initial reactions. The roads were great. The buildings were well-maintained. The glass facades of the offices and malls shone with brilliance. It was like driving in some European city.

There was, however, plenty of evidence that we were, in fact, in Thailand.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Right around the corner from our hotel, street vendors sell tender coconuts. The green outer layer is shaved off and the unopened coconuts are stored in an ice box of sorts.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I thought that Pushkar was the only place in the whole world with a Brahma temple. Not so, as we found out in Bangkok. This shrine to Brahma is apparently very popular with anyone who has a favor to ask of God. The shrine occupies the corner of a busy intersection, right next to the Grand Hyatt Erawan. The story behind the location of the temple is that the hotel's renovation was not going very well and it was suggested to the management that they build a shrine to Brahma next to the hotel. The shrine was duly built and legend has it that the construction of the temple proceeded smoothly from that point on. And if you did not know, Erawan is Brahma's elephant.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Flowers for sale next to the Brahma shrine. These shops also had incense sticks. If you duly noted the Subway sign, we did too and promptly headed there for lunch.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I love markets. The most enjoyable part of a trip for me is to stroll through the market in any new city. I love the hustle and bustle, looking at the wares for sale, the color, the people, the haggling, the sameness of the foods that we all eat, and the differences. And it also makes me feel, for half an hour at least, like a local.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The Night Market is one of Bangkok's great attractions (please to banish all naughty thoughts from thy head), an open-air shopping mecca for tourists and locals alike. The market is definitely worth a visit. The prices are very reasonable and you may make a great find for your home or your closet in its maze-like corridors.

After dinner on the first day of our Bangkok stay, we flagged down a tuk-tuk and scrambled in. After the unavoidable haggling over the rate, the driver wiggled in his seat, settled himself in and tore through the Bangkok night. Tuk-tuk is a misnomer. The name apparently originated in the sound of the engines of the the original vehicles. The one we rode in and the other ones we saw on the streets were souped up versions (with myriad multi-colored flashing lights) and sounded more like planes taking off. Big N loved it, of course, and little N, safely ensconced in her father's arms was bewildered by the noise at first and then settled back to enjoy the ride.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The next morning, we hired a local guide for a half-day tour of the important sights. Our first stop was the Reclining Buddha temple.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The Emerald Buddha temple adjacent to the Royal Palace was a sight to see. The sprawling temple complex houses many shrines with intricate design.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Lastly, Thai food was all that it is chalked up to be. We were big fans of Thai food, but as with Chinese food (which adapts to each country it is found in) we were afraid that we would be disappointed by the real deal. Happily, the Erawan Tea Room at the Grand Hyatt dispelled our apprehensions. The food was excellent.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

One last thing. All of the display of prosperity that is evident to a visitor's eyes has come at a price. Our guide told us that beyond the few square kilometers of Bangkok city proper, poverty is all too prevalent in the rest of the country. We were surprised by what appeared to be the non-existence of slums or shanties in Bangkok, but we soon realized that that was only an illusion as we drove from the Grand Palace back to our hotel. Very close to the King's official residence, rows and rows of slum dwellings became visible.

Similarly, the construction of magnificent Suvarnabhoomi International Airport was beset by allegations of corruption on the part of the government resulting in a coup in September 2006 during which the Royal Thai Army overthrew the then Prime Minister. When we visited Bangkok in April 2007, the coup was still in place.

There are reports of unrest and violence on and off in Thailand (there was a bomb blast in Bangkok this past New Year's Eve), mostly confined to the southern areas, so it's worthwhile checking the latest reports as you plan your trip.

A Turtle in Love...or It's Hunger, Maybe?

We came out of our house this evening to find this turtle in our driveway. Note the flower clenched rakishly in his mouth. Gave him a dashing appearance of a man about town, I thought, until I realized I did not know if it was a boy or a girl. Neither do I know if this is a turtle or a tortoise. What is the difference, anyway?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The flower in the mouth came from a bunch like this, which, now that I'm looking at it, looks eerily like Africa.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Two Balanced Reactions to Tintin in the Congo

From the keypads of two formidable bloggers, Uma (Yay! She's back in the Land Of The Blogging!) and Amrita, here are two balanced reactions to the racist content in Tintin in the Congo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Life in Palm Meadows, Bangalore: A View From the Inside

On the day we headed back to the US, we had lived in Palm Meadows exactly one year. For a year and a half before that, we lived in one of Adarsh's other developments, Adarsh Palace, an apartment community in Jayanagar. We had heard a lot of good things about Palm Meadows and the quality of life and amenities, but the biggest attraction for us was that it would be close to our son's new school, Greenwood High.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Palm Meadows is on Airport-Varthur Road close to Whitefield and Sarjapur, about 45 minutes away from MG Road and Jayanagar, and about 20 minutes away from The International School of Bangalore, Indus International School, Inventure Academy and Greenwood High. It is also close to Ryan International, Gopalan International School, Deccan International, GEAR Academy and India International.

It is a gated community of about 600 single family homes, with 10 or more security guards manning the gates at any given time. Some houses are big and some are small, but most houses have at least three bedrooms each. Residents of Palm Meadows are a mix of original owners, returning Indians and expats.

In terms of amenities, it has a club house (with three swimming pools including an indoor pool and a kiddie pool, two restaurants, a full-size gym, sauna, spa, salon, library, and indoor and outdoor children's play areas), three grocery stores (a convenience store and 24-Letter Mantra and Namdhari's, two organic food stores), two gift shops and a tea/coffee/juice shop. The community has 24-hour water and electricity supply.

The layout is beautifully conceived, each house has its own lawn areas, the roads are neatly paved with footpaths, landscaping in the common areas is lovely and the residents' association has hired a veritable army of gardeners and landscapers who painstakingly work every day to preserve the vibrant trees, flowers and plants that are local to the area. There are at least 12 varieties of palm trees within the community and the lawns are manicured - literally - at the hands of day laborers wielding scissors and squatting on their haunches on the grass.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The clubhouse is a hub of activity in the community. There are swimming coaches on staff, tennis lessons, aerobics classes and Bollywood dance lessons are available. The community also has an arts center run by one of the residents that offers Indian classical dance lessons, piano/keyboard lessons and lessons in various other Indian musical instruments.

The streets within the community are filled with kids playing cricket or biking in the evening, mothers going for a walk with babies in strollers and with people walking or jogging in the early morning hours.

The main issues about life in Palm Meadows have to do with the rents and home prices, and cost and difficulty of hiring and retaining reliable, trustworthy domestic help.

When the community was first built close to 10 years ago, the original owners apparently bought the houses for around 80 lakhs. A few months before we left one of the houses had an asking price of 4.5 crores. Although there are many communities now coming up that are similar to Palm Meadows (Prestige Developers' Ozone, about five minutes away is one), the demand for housing and for the lifestyle Palm Meadows promises is mind-boggling.

The rents are not very far behind in terms of the shock factor. There are three resident real estate agents that have all the houses sewn up between them and manage to jack up rents to stratospheric levels. The rents are totally arbitrary (whatever the agent feels like quoting at that moment based on how desperate he or she thinks the renter is). The quote for the same house may have gone up by a few thousand rupees within a span of a few days. Most of their clients are expats, some of whom have no clue as to what is reasonable and what's not and will shell out whatever rent is demanded because they are in India for only a few days before they have to settle housing, schools, work-related issues, etc.

In fact, the situation is so good for home owners that many of them rent their houses out and they themselves go rent a house somewhere else in Bangalore because they make more money that way.

This air of a feeding frenzy pervades the domestic help market as well. The average drivers make is about Rs. 7,000/month. Some drivers make as much as Rs. 10,000/month, mostly working for expat employers. The situation is similar with the ladies that help with household chores. The minimum salary is about Rs. 2,000/month and sometimes as much as Rs. 6,000/month. It is not uncommon to find groups of drivers and other domestic helpers standing around discussing who's paying what and who's looking for helpers.

The section of the Palm Meadows population that is at the raw end of the deal is the group of returning Indians, most of them having purchased a house in Palm Meadows years ago and now are returning to an untenable situation.

Most residents feel that the problem is not with paying the domestic help the money (the economy is rewarding the high-tech sector, so why should the prosperity not trickle down?), but the fact that there is no assurance that you are getting reliable help. We discovered that our driver was making money on the side by using our car as a taxi service whenever the car was empty. And the way we discovered it was the police caught him and impounded the car for using a private car as a taxi. We also discovered later that he had come to us asking for a job although he was employed by one of the other residents. One day he just decided he wanted to make more money and started asking around and ditched his previous employer. They kept calling him for a week, they told me later, before one of their friends saw him at our house and they figured out what happened.

There are scores of similar stories. The issue is that there is a limited pool of helpers and now with Ozone already open for occupation, the situation is only going to get worse.

If you are aware of this issue and are prepared to stand your ground and deal with it and you are prepared to deal with traffic (especially over the Marathahalli Bridge, the only viable entrance to the Whitefield area from the rest of the city), Palm Meadows is a great place to live. It's a breath of fresh air, literally. I like to call it the bubble because it's so different from the rest of the city, but it's a very nice bubble.


1. Boo's comment to this post reminded me that I'd forgotten all about the service apartments and rooms in the clubhouse. Many companies have rented rooms (of which more were being built as we left) in the clubhouse for employees who transfer into their Bangalore offices for the short term.

2. One of the cons of living in a gated community like Palm Meadows, as a chat with Firang Squirrel, a friend and an expat from the US, reminded me, you totally miss out on the quintessential Bangalore - street hawkers selling fruits and veggies, kadle puri, the umbrella repair man and the knife grinder selling their services, etc. Of course, you also miss out on power cuts and water shortages. For now. Even Palm Meadows and other gated communities might not be able to avoid these in the near future if the expansion of the city keeps going at the current rate.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The World Is So Small...Or How I Almost Met A Fellow Blogger In Person

I know there's a surfeit of posts on my blog all of a sudden and I know that that's a weird title, but what I'm about to tell you is even more weird.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about my son's swimming team activities and a fellow blogger named Praba (who runs the colablog, Saffrontree) left a comment saying she'd just moved into the area and she wanted to find out about swim teams for her daughter.

So I responded via e-mail and offered to help with the other questions about the area if she needed it and we started chatting. She said she'd been reading my blog since way back in 2006 and I'd heard about and visited Saffrontree a few times (Tharini, one of my favorite bloggers, is a contributor), we exchanged numbers, planned to meet, etc.

Then last Saturday, after my son's swim races, my husband, myself and our two kids decided to go out to lunch at The Big Bowl in the Reston Town Center (we love the food there). After we'd been there a while and when it was almost time to leave, we saw another South Asian family settle down at Rio Grande, the Mexican restaurant across the street.

Over the next couple of days, Praba and I continued to exchange e-mails and from the way she described her family in one of the e-mails, I had a hunch it might have been the family we saw in Reston. So I wrote her an e-mail asking if it was them and she responded with a long e-mail with lots of all caps and exclamation points and smiley faces and a voice-mail. It was her!

So we spent a good part of an hour this morning talking breathlessly over the phone, with both our one year-old daughters wailing for attention in the background, just amazed at this freaky coincidence, exchanging notes about our trajectories, blogging and otherwise, that brought us so close to each other from so far away.

We've made plans to meet pronto and I, for one, can't wait to meet her and her family!

One of the reasons I LOVE being back

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

My backyard.

Expat Life: Repatriation Tips

It's been a month and a half since we got back and now I feel like we never left! The first few days flew by in a whirlwind of activity trying to get life back on the rails heading in the right direction. If you've been away for a while and are on your way back stateside, here are a few things you can do while still in your host country to ease the transition. Many of these you will have already thought about, but here they are anyway.

1. Get a Vonage connection or some other internet phone connection that'll give you a US telephone number:

That way it's easy for you to make the calls you need to make to the US and for the people in the US to call you back in case you have to leave a message. US domestic and long-distance rates apply. Check with Vonage.

2. Set up as many of your utlitiy connections as you can online:
Most gas, water, electricity and telephone companies are online, so it's easy to set up accounts and have them turn on your connections before you get back home so everything is up and running and ready for your arrival. I learnt this the hard way. Our gas was turned off unintentionally and after two weeks of staying in hotels on vacation on the way back from India, we had to check right back into a hotel for four days when we got home just so we could take a shower everyday. If we had arrived back in the winter, things would have been much worse in the house without any heat!

3. Make sure you collect all of your child's school records:

Our school here wanted to see all the work our son had done in the past year. Also, be prepared to have your child take a test pre-registration, especially if you speak another language at home. If possible, call your school from your host country and let them know you have a child that might be entering their school so they are prepared. And if you can call them then it's a great time to check exactly what documents they need for registration.

4. Medical records:

Particularly a list of vaccinations you and your children might have received. Your doctors here will need those to update their files.

5. Packing:

Remember to have documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, medical and school records and all other important documents with you. Packing these to come along with the rest of your shipment is not a good idea because you will definitely need them before your shipment gets here.

6. Activities for Children:

Check with your community, the local YMCA or your local REC center for activities for children when you are back. Even if you're coming back to your old house, remember people may have moved on and your children may not have their old friends. These are great resources for finding friends with similar interests, both for you and your children. Jumping in and getting involved is a sure-fire way of settling in fast.

This is all I can think of right now. Will add if I can think of any more. In the meantime, if you have any tips for repatriating families, please do leave a comment.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Baby Shower? What's That?

A few days ago I had to attend a friend and former colleague's baby shower. After the usual juggling around of schedules, the plan was for me to go with another dear friend and leave the kids at home with my husband. As the day neared, Big N, who had been part of the gift-selection process, wanted me to stay and not go. He wanted the four of us to hang out and do something together.

So he said, "Mom, do you really have to go to the baby bath?"

Tag: Eight Random Facts About Myself

This has been a long time coming. Jawahara and Lakshmi had both tagged me a while ago. On the thought that late is better than never, here goes...

1. I don't sleep much. I go for days sleeping really, really late or getting up really, really early (such as today) and then once in a couple of weeks, sleep a lot to make up for it.

2. It's hard for me to let go of things. If I sense that someone is upset, I keep digging to figure out why and how to reslove it. Sometimes it ain't purdy.

3. I'm proof-reading all the time - restaurant menus, billboard signs, airplane tickets. Anything goes. And I have the urge to tell the people I'm with exactly what I found wrong.

4. I have an insane memory. I remember so many downright useless things - episodes, facts, names - from so long ago with such clarity that I wonder just what important things my brain is rejecting for storage because of lack of space.

5. I am extremely practical-minded, down to the point of seeming detached sometimes. I rationalize unwelcome events on the thought that "that's what needs to be done" or "that's how it is" and move on.

6. I can't stand whiners and whining.

7. Growing up, I was considered tall, but this time around when we lived in India, I was shocked at the number of girls of this next generation that are so much taller than me.

8. I hate cooking the everyday stuff, but love making food for large gatherings of friends. New York style cheesecake is one of my favortie things to feed other people (and eat too, unfortunately) and I'm pretty good at it.

Yay! I'm done! I know I'm supposed to tag eight other people, but don't know if there is anyone left who hasn't been tagged. So if you are reading this and you haven't been tagged, consider yourself tagged.

Some Press and a Few Publications

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Children and Singapore Airlines

Over the past few months we took two trips on Singapore Airlines, both from India via Singapore, the first one to Australia in November of 2006 and the second one to Bangkok and Vietnam in April of this year.

Both times we were traveling with our son, who is now seven, and our daughter, who was five months old on the first trip and 10 months old on the second.

For the older children, Singapore Airlines is as good as any other airline, perhaps slightly better. Their website has a feature where you can order the childrens' meals in advance so you can be sure of what they are getting to eat, which is particularly useful on long flights. The air hostesses are very friendly to children and there is the usual complement of toys and games and the entertainment system to keep the children busy.

For infants and toddlers, the facilities are not that great. The bassinets are tiny flat beds that are only good for children less than a year old. Even then, there is absolutely no space for the infants to wiggle around even the slightest amount. They are strapped down with a wide belt that goes from the neck down to the stomach. So basically the kids have to lie on their back and not move a muscle.

Unfortunately, none of this was helpful to little N, our daughter. She sleeps on her side most of the time and she wiggles around quite a bit in her crib. Plus Singapore Airlines' policy is to have the parents pick up the babies out of the bassinet every time the pilot makes a turbulence warning announcement. For some reason, both times, the number of announcements was mind-boggling, way more than we had encountered on other airlines. By the end of the flight, we figured it was almost better not to have had little N in the crib and we ended up holding her for most of the time the second time around.

The cabin lights and the too frequent announcements on the flights were also irksome and not only for the children.

I wish all airlines would get the reclining kind of bassinets, the ones that are similar to car seats and in which the children are belted down like in car seats. Children don't have to lie flat on their backs (is particularly helpful if their noses are stuffy) and they can at least move their arms and legs. British Airways is the only airlines I've seen this in and unfortunately the rest of their service is not that great.

Singapore Airlines is generous with baby food (Heinz) and diapers for the little ones and their staff is truly baby-friendly, which is a delight.

P.S. Their uniforms are the best in the whole world. I don't know who designed the air hostesses' dresses, but hats off to them. They are sensuous - tucked in at the right places, flaring at the right places, very feminine and alluring, and it's amazing how gracefully and comfortably they are able to move about in what seem to be form-fitted clothes. And they have shoes to match! I would be jealous if I weren't so enthralled.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Capturing the excitement before it fades away...

Big N has been in swimming competitions for three weeks now and has a little collection of ribbons that grows by the week. Over the weekend, he and I went to Target and got a foam board and some thumb tacks with which to pin the ribbons so we would have a place to keep them safe and create an easy way to chart his progress over the summer.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Yesterday we were at a race and we saw a ribbon belonging to one of the older swimmers lying forlorn on the deck next to the pool. I wonder how long it is before these ribbons don't mean anything to the person receiving them. I guess if you've been swimming long enough and you collect about 50 ribbons each summer, it would start getting old pretty soon.

But for now, the novelty of it all is very appealing and any new ribbon is tacked on promptly.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Muscle Memory is a Wonderful Thing Indeed

It's amazing what your muscles remember, almost three years later, even though it appears that your brain may have forgotten some things.

The first day we were back home after moving out of India, we were unpacking our suitcases and I had to put a few things in a drawer in the bathroom sink area. I held the items in my left hand and bent to pull the drawer when I realized that my hand went under the drawer to hold the bottom part and slide the drawer out rather than reach for the knob in front of the drawer. As the drawer slid out, I remembered that the front plank of the drawer was loose and so would have come apart in my hand had I tried to pull on the knob.

Needed: Humane Medical Equipment

The X-Ray machine stood in the middle of the room about 20 feet by 10 feet. About four or five feet away from the X-Ray machine was a contraption that I hadn't paid attention to when little N and I were escorted into the room. I was looking for a chair on which I would sit and hold little N in my arms while her tiny chest was X-Rayed. I expected the medical technician to give me the radiation-proof vest to wear. The technician did hand me the vest, but little N would not be in my arms.

Instead, she would sit, but herself, in that contraption. I looked at it closely now. It had a wooden plank and a hole about two and a half feet in diameter in the middle through which a green tricycle seat was visible. Her legs and hips would go through the hole until she sat on the tricycle seat. Around her torso rising up from the wooden plank was a plastic enclosure, almost like a vest, which would go around her chest and be snapped shut. Her head peeped just above the plastic enclosure. Every part of her body was where it was supposed to be, but what about her arms?

I was supposed to hold them - tight together above her head. I gently pulled her arms up and held them while the technician tried to close the plastic vest around her chest. By this time little N had started whimpering. She did not like her hospital gown, she was uncomfortable in the seat, her arms must have been hurting quite a bit at the armpits from being pulled up above her head. The vest would not snap shut and little N started pulling her arms down and wanted to be picked up. At one point her arms got wedged in the vest and we had to unhook the clasp and start all over again. This went on for about five minutes by which time little N was angry. She wanted to get out and now.

Two more minutes of struggling with the contraption and the technician was ready to run the X-ray machine that was behind little N. Then he realized it was the wrong film plate in the slot in front of little N. He ran to the supply closet to pick up another one and slide it in its place. Now, finally he was ready. One X-ray front to back and another sideways and we were done, but it took a while before little N calmed down.

There's got to be a better way of doing this. How can one expect small children to sit for any length of time in a contraption such as that without feeling uncomfortable and therefore refusing to cooperate with the process? Or is this the lot of the little children? Children have no voice, other than crying to express their discomfort, so whoever designs these things must not feel the need to take into consideration their needs. No one gets X-rays for the pleasure of it. We go in there because of a medical necessity and, in most instances, in worrisome situations. The least the manufacturers can do is to spare a thought for the comfort of the little people for whom these machines are desinged.

Homeschooling in Bangalore

Su, in response to a query regarding homeschooling via the comments on one of my posts on schools in Bangalore, has this to say:

There are lots of families in Bangalore who are homeschooling their kids even in higher classes, so you're [not] alone. There is a yahoogroup for people who are interested in alternative education in India and the group has quite a few homeschoolers, most are from Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune. The group is
So if you are interested in homeschooling, check out the yahoo group by clicking on the link or by copying and pasting the url at the end of the response into your browser. Good luck.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Swim Team Rules!

Little blue and green flags fixed to car windows on short white poles fluttered wildly as the impromptu motorcade of about eight cars made its way down the nearly empty highway. At 7:30 in the morning the sky was overcast with dark gray low-hanging clouds as we drove from our team's pool to the rivals' pool about twenty minutes away. The car radio blared Chicago and Tom Petty and Pink Floyd, the DJ keeping his chatter to a minimum.

Earlier that morning, the team, made up of children from six to 18 years old, along with their families, had gathered at our pool for directions and last minute instructions before heading out for the races. Parents milled around with coffee mugs in their hands, the children gathering with friends or staying put in the cars and vans, seizing the opportunity to grab an extra 10 minutes of sleep.

At our destination about half an hour later, families spread out their towels and blankets on the pool side lounge chairs and made themselves comfortable while the children headed to the team area, plunked their backpacks down on the pool chairs and unpacked their swimming gear - swimming goggles, team caps, towels, sun screen. The home team was already well into their warm-ups. Each team had the pool, separately, for twenty minutes each to complete warm-ups before the event kicked off at nine am with a rendition of the national anthem.

Officials (volunteer moms and dads in dark blue shorts or pants and white T-shirts) found their respective stations as recorders, timers, stroke and turn judges, marshals or team coordinators. The diner, also manned by volunteer parents, opened for business with a variety of breakfast foods, hot dogs and burgers and drinks.

The races began with the youngest kids, the 8 and under age group and continued up (9-10, 11-12. 13-14, and 14-18), one stroke at a time, boys first, girls second. First came free style, then back stroke, breast stroke, butterfly and finally the team relays and individual medleys. Waves of parents made way for each other as the races of interest to them came and went, but there were the die-hards too, who tracked every race and promptly jotted down the winning times in each of the races on the program schedule. At the end of each race came high-fives, lots of cheering, pats on the back and words of encouragement for the next race.

This is the stuff of every Saturday morning and every Monday night from late May to late August when the swimming league competitions and practice sessions are in full swing. The swim team meets for practice every week day in the mornings with their coaches.

One of the most admirable aspects of the running of these swim teams is that most coaches are high school students themselves and the rest are in college. It is quite something to see them manage a program by themselves with very little direction. The coaches are responsible to the team representatives but they carry most of the day to day operation of the swim team program entirely on their shoulders.

While the younger swimmers are still getting their bearings around the competitions, the older ones, starting from the 9-12 age group, are already well-versed with team dynamics, the rigors of daily swimming practice and in the language of the swimming leagues. They are the coaches' ready helpers in preparing the pool area before and after practice, they check for their time with the timers the minute they touch the wall, the compare it with their time the previous week (to figure out how much time they've "dropped"), some of them know exactly what the state record is for that event and they know their competitors' times (as do some of the parents). It's a delight to watch the younger ones look at their older team mates with admiration, shyly calling out, "good race, so and so!"

Swim team is a great way for parents to meet other families in the community and for the children to make friends quickly whether you've lived in the same area for years or you've just moved in. It's also a fine way to develop team spirit and competitiveness in a low pressure atmosphere, to learn to follow instructions and rules and the nuances of fair play and community involvement. It's entirely normal to see three or four moms and dads running up to a child who's despondent at a bad result, all trying to make him or her see the positive, or exulting in a child's win. In addition to all of this the children are learning a skill that will last a lifetime.

So I say, Swim team rules!