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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

Photo Shoot

Breck’s photo shootSo Breck had an interesting experience this weekend. He and Dave went to a hole-in-the-wall studio where he had an afternoon acting like a model for a clothes catalog! Apparently this is something that the expat kids get to do from time to time, as white skin is still sort of a novelty here (and desireable in advertisements). He got to wear makeup, eat Dominoes pizza, and look like he was incredibly bored all afternoon while the camera whirred.

It was pretty funny, because by the end of the day he really was yawning – trying so hard not to show it – but pretty wiped out. He got to try on all sorts of cool clothes, got a couple of pendants (dragons, nonetheless!), and some cool cash. An interesting experience – if we ever find the exact catalog he’s in we’ll pass that on…

Job search

No, not by us, but for us. Our driver quit right before winter break – supposedly since he wanted to go back to his hometown and be with his family. But since he is now working for a company in the area and still hanging around our apartment every day, we’ve started to doubt the veracity of that story.

In any case, we are looking for a new driver. We’ve been put in touch with a number of prospective employees and have interviewed several, but we received our first actual resume yesterday. It was obviously typed up on an old typewriter, as there are numerous strikeouts and ‘retypes,’ and I wonder if he did it himself or went to one of the many old men around town who make a living by typing up official forms for people.

I’m sorry, I forgot that what we received was not a resume. Apparently the politically correct term these days is “Bio-data.” So have a look at a typical Indian bio-data for someone wanted to get hired as a driver. While I’ve removed the name and other identifying info, remember that this is what someone gave to us in anticipation that it would help secure a job:

  • Name:
  • Address:
  • Date of birth:
  • Contact number:
  • Nationality:
    • Indian.
  • Gender:
    • Male.
  • Marital Status:
    • Married.
  • Educational Qualification:
    • 10th Failed.
  • Experience:
    • Worked for B.M.C. as a peon for two years.
    • Worked for Bharat gas service as delivery boy for 2 1/2 years.
  • Languages known:
    • Hindi.
    • Marathi.
  • Hobbies:
    • Playing cricket.
    • Watching movies.

To school or not to school?

That is the question. There is a big hoopla going on in the city tonight, and we may be getting an extra day off before the long weekend (Friday there are no classes – but teachers have professional development – and Monday is a vacation day. We are heading to the massive conglomeration of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu caves of Ajanta and Ellora in central India near Aurangabad). Let’s see if I can summarize, with my casual Westerner’s eye towards longstanding Indian issues, just what the deal is.

Raj Thackery raises the Sword of Maharastra!There is a guy in this particular state of India who comes from an extensive line of what he would call nationalists and what other people would call fascist xenophobes. He and his uncle – who interestingly enough is grandfather to students currently attending our school – along with other politicians with a similar mindset have made their careers out of bashing Indians from outside the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital). They hate foreigners (that is, anyone not originally from this region), hate the use of English (or really any language except the native Marathi), hate the name Bombay, hate any cultural influence that is not Maharashtran – do you see a trend developing? In other times, in other places, their names might be mentioned in comparison with certain people whose first names were Adolf and Slobodan, but apparently that’s not done here.

In any case, the political parties they’ve founded have habitually beaten up migrant workers in the city, defaced English and Hindi texted signs, destroyed shops selling items that reflect the West rather than India (such as stalls that sell Valentine balloons), held strikes and paralyzed transport, and even killed local ministers who’ve opposed them. According to another teacher that I was talking to today, the word thug is Hindi in origin, and is a perfect descriptor of how these groups act.

Finally fed up with all this, the government charged them with breaking the law. And not just any old law – oh no, they apparently have broken section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot – ooooh!!), 153 A (promoting enmity between groups on the basis of place of birth, residence, etc – aaaahhh!!) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration – argggg!!!).

So now the big question on everyone’s mind is, “How will the parties react tomorrow?” All after-school sports and activities were shut down today so people could get home in relative safety, and we’ll see if we get an SMS sometime tonight about the situation. Breck and Alea are, of course, hoping that there’ll be full fledged rioting and chaos in the streets – well, maybe not full-fledged, but enough to get school canceled for the day. If I were a betting man, I would put money down on the proposition that there are even some adults at the school who would like there to be an itsy-bitsy protest march really early in the morning as well, but since I’m not a betting man I won’t speculate any further (except to say that I personally don’t think anything’s going to happen).

But that’s the big news in town tonight. Guess we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow…

UPDATE – no riots. We have school.

Wild Winter Weather

Mumbai has been experiencing its coldest winter ever this summer: yup, temperatures have dipped below 50  Fahrenheit (the newspapers have said 9.7 Celsius). The city has gone absolutely berserk. We see people wearing ski masks, gloves, scarves, earmuffs, and fleece jackets.

If you have to sleep out on the streets, I suppose I can imagine there being a slight nip in the air (but remember, that is the absolute low during the day or night) but I have a tough time imagining all that being necessary during the day!

It cracks us up, though, because we are still walking around with shorts on (and keeping our windows open because it is so pleasant) while we hear nothing but all the complaining about how terrible the weather is!

All we can say is -  I hope it stays lousy! The longer we can put off the 90 degrees and 90% humidity, the better with me. I wore one of my Goa shirts to school today and loved it. Barbecues on the roof are pleasant, the breezes are great in the apartment, and life is extremely tolerable now. I hope ‘winter’ sticks around for a long time!

Loose ends for the weekend

I’ve added a few pages to the website, but never got around to listing them here, so if you are among our readership (which I think is now somewhere between 3 and 5 people per week), here are some of the random new pictures and all you can visit this weekend:

Anyways, hope that is enough to keep you busy over the weekend. I know it has been a chore from this end (labor of love, yeah, yeah, yeah).

MathCounts

ASB Mathcounts Green TeamWe held ASB’s first ever Mathcounts competition this weekend, and I think things went off pretty well. We’ve had up to 16 kids coming for practices, but with other events (including an Iron Maiden concert here in Bombay – talk about a phrase I never imagined ever writing in my life!) we had 8 show up for the meet. That works out perfectly, though, as the team events involve 4 kids on each team, so we had 2 groups to go head to head.When the individual events finished on Friday, we had one person who was clearly ahead of the pack, but then a big logjam behind him. Our team competition on Saturday was very close, and our individual “Countdown Round” was a huge success, with several upsets and people changing final placement.

ASB Gold TeamI think the parents enjoyed the day as much as the kids, and the pizza afterwards didn’t hurt. We had really sweet looking trophies made, and hopefully the ‘buzz’ generated by the event will help get even more participation in ‘doing math’ as we go forward. All in all, a great end to our activity and a great start to the weekend.

Some pictures today…

Breck talking with Minnesota’s First LadyFirst of all, here is Breck, asking a question of Minnesota’s First Lady. The governor made a trip to India a while back, and while he didn’t make it to our school, his wife did, and Breck got to ask her a question! According to our director, “he was very articulate.” Way to go, Breck!!

Now for some from our Christmas trip. These are the first pages, put together over the weekend. None of the page navigation is in, so you’ll have to keep coming “back” here to get to the next one, but at least it is a start. Enjoy!!

Happy Birthday, India (aka Breck’s Day of Star Wars)

breck.JPGToday is Republic Day, the biggest (secular) holiday of the year. Everything is shut down, and the country sits back to watch a huge parade held in Delhi. We had been in the city when preparations were under way in January, but we had to content ourselves with seeing bits and pieces of it on TV today.

It was like something straight out of the old school Soviet Union displays of military prowess: naval marching bands, goose-stepping army formations, and the latest/greatest tanks and missiles rumbling past bleachers full of (bored) leaders. The snap salutes and all-too-serious facial expressions on the paraders were straight out of the Cold War playbook, as were the newspaper editorials about how it is even more important to show the world how powerful the Indian State has become.

The only real difference was that the USSR – to the best of my knowledge – didn’t have parade participants riding on decorated camels, unlike the Rajasthan border control corps were (followed by people picking up the camel poop scattered across the street).

Ultimately, however, we all know the true reason for the hoopla: India was really out celebrating Breck’s birthday! (This year he was unfortunate enough to have it on a Saturday, but next year it is on Monday and we will even have a day off from school for him!!)

While people were dancing in the streets of Delhi, we were putting the final touches on our house done up in a scheme we call the Force Finest. We had a Star Wars table cloth (courtesy of YiaYia), a crossed lightsaber cake, a “pin the lightsaber on Darth Vader” game, the computer showing pictures from all both trilogies, and music from the movies playing all day long.

Things got off to a great start when Breck opened his first present – a huge Lego AT-AT (that is a Star Wars vehicle, in case there was any doubt). Much of the morning was spent starting to assemble it. Dad and Breck took a time out in the middle of the day to go to the school for a weekend soccer league, and we got to play speeder chase in our rickshaws (dad had planned on driving, but since our driver quit over Christmas, and we don’t really use our car at all, the battery has gone dead) to and from the school.

When we finally got around to actually having the boys over that Breck invited (2 from our same building), they played the Vader game, tested Dad’s force power by blindfolding him and attacking him with lightsabers, stuffed themselves with pizza and cake, opened up Lego sets and minifigure Star Wars dioramas, and closed out the evening to “The Return of the Jedi,” the favorite of the younger set because of those (infernal) Ewoks.

What a day, and what an evening. And tonight, there are going to be fireworks. It sure doesn’t get much better than that! Happy Birthday, Breck (and happy republic day, India)!

UPDATE – Check out all the action at Breck’s Birthday Party!!

Fireworks and kites

Firecrackers in DelhiEvery Indian holiday requires fireworks, and every god has a holiday, some of which stretch over several days. Since – not counting Jesus and Allah – there are about 300 gods in the Hindu pantheon, pretty much every day around here lends itself to an excuse to set off loud noisemakers or hire a drum band in the name of religion. (And whatever days are left over, chances are there’ll be a sporting event, political rally, or birthday party to pick up the slack.)

The fireworks that are available are pretty incredible – we’ve seen enormous displays going off from the streets and rooftops around us. There are multirocket packs that you can buy that set off exploding rockets for 20 minutes – just light and leave. The firecracker packs are huge, loud, and cheap. Of course, they’re not always very safe. There are news stories nearly every day about people (kids) hurt, blinded, and killed by them. 

Of course, I would never think of doing anything irresponsible with fireworks. But in case anyone asks, remember that the Rambo brand firecrackers go off instantaneously and will burn your hand badly unless you lay a lit incense stick across the fuse, run away, and wait for it to burn down to the firework fuse and set it off. In case you were wondering.

Kites for saleSpeaking of irresponsibility, Tuesday was the big kite flying day around the country. While not really as popular in Mumbai – since there are buildings and that sort of thing that block most of the open air space – in many of the smaller towns, the holiday of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan is a huge deal. It is a celebration of the day the sun supposedly begins to travel back north (I had always been taught that this day is December 22, the day after the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, but it is marked on January 14 here. Who knew that the laws of solar movement differed from country to country?).

People fly kites using strings coated with powdered glass and try to cut each others’ strings. If you read the book “The Kite Runner” you know what I’m talking about. Apparently numerous birds are injured or killed every year, both during the festival itself and in the weeks following it as the strings caught in trees or power lines continue to ensnarl them. Birds’ wings get cut open, their feet get sliced off, and they get wrapped up and bleed to death. Animal rights groups are not too excited about all this.

Even worse, Wednesday’s papers were full of articles about all the people who were killed due to the festival. The causes of death ranged from kite flyers who fell off their roofs, kids getting electrocuted retrieving kites from power lines, people chasing kites and getting smacked by cars, buses, or trains, and innocent bystanders driving down the road on motorcycles and having their throats slit by the sharpened string (actually, decapitated was the word used in several news stories).

Yee haw.

Happy New Year!

The Stutz family in front of the Taj Mahal!!We’re back from our “Golden Triangle” trip – safe and sound, battle scarred and road weary. Our trip was, in different turns (and often within minutes of each other) beautiful, dirty, frustrating, rewarding, restful, and stressful. We saw wonders of the world and soul wrenching poverty, experienced overwhelming environmental degradation back to back with fantastic wildlife conservation, and came away with a new appreciation for all that we have.

In fact, one of the most poignant moments was upon our return to Mumbai – as we were driving through the street, both Dave and Susan looked at each other and remarked at how clean and orderly Mumbai seemed!! After all our ‘comments’ about the quality of life here, seeing what things are like out in the sticks brought a new round of culture shock home to us.

In any case, we’re back and will begin putting together pictures and stories from the trip, but this will be a very time-intensive project (as you can imagine). Patience, and we’ll get these posted. In the meantime, Susan is taking off for a week in Jakarta, Indonesia to get some teacher training, so don’t expect to hear much from her!

Parties and Pictures

Eid dinner!Tonight is the “big” Eid – the end of the pilgimage to Mecca. That means huge parties where animals are slaughtered – great fun for the whole family. We’ve seen people leading their goats all around town getting them ready for the feasting that will be going on. As I write this, a band is downstairs getting all warmed up, as our basement neighbors – the Khans – are hosting a party, complete with lights and all.

Of course, all us heathens will probably be up on the roof drinking beer, still recovering from the white elephant party last night. Susan got a fancy heavy crystal wedding picture frame and Dave got a metal candle holder plus Indian disco cd. Our best gifts, however, were some that were mysteriously left behind at our house by those who had won them – including various cakes, a wooden rooster, and some “Kama Sutra Body Spray” – yummy!!!

While there are no pictures from those festivities, we do have some new ‘catch up’ pages being posted: school pictures of the kids and parents, some shots from life around the apartment, and another “View of Life in India” page.

Mark this date

December 15 – after being in Mumbai for 4 and a half months, today is the first day that the temperature is moderate enough, the weather is calm enough, the pollution is low enough, and the outside smells are offensiveless enough for us to turn off the air conditioners and throw open the windows. Ahh, fresh air with just the sounds of dogs barking, horns honking, and people selling in the streets wafting through. Plus a bit of diesel fumes, some drying fish, a tiny stench of garbage…

On a more uplifting note, however, there is BIG news to share. Yiayia is getting married on January 19th!! I got the official email from her yesterday: she and John Robinson will be tying the knot at the Washington DC LDS temple. Whoo hoo!!!

Congratulations to the blushing bride and grinning groom; we’ll hopefully be able to give more personal greetings this summer!

A typical day

A couple of new pages going up today – some shots of the kids during this past month and pictures taken during our typical days’ bus rides. Just another look at Life in India…

Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue

While that is the name of a country song (that people seem to either really like or really loathe), it seems to also be the sad theme of the latest news here in India. This week, I’ve seen US Says It Has Right To ‘Kidnap’ Foreign Citizens, US Intel Nails Bush Lie on Iran Nukes, US Poll Finds More Believe in Devil than Darwin, Dumbed Down FDA Puts US Consumers At Risk, as well as economic concerns about the imploding housing market and opinion pieces ridiculing the US’s support of Pakistan’s Musharref, as headlines in the local papers. Sigh.

It is difficult to really explain the sense of ambivalence that people here have for the USA. They see India itself flexing its muscles, China rising, Europe rebounding, and don’t get them started on the moves Iran is making to fill the vacuum of leadership in the Persian Gulf region. While America is still respected as a great place to live, work, and make money, the general opinion is that as a whole, the country is going down the tubes.

Looking from the outside in, it is hard to find good arguments to counter such sentiments. The insane war in Iraq (hear the great sucking sound of lives, money, world goodwill, and the ability to project power or influence disappearing into that abyss?), our intransigence on climate issues, the rejection of rationality, logic, and science as a basis for decision making, the utter hubris in judging our viewing of moral and cultural issues as the only correct way of doing so, the fascination with vapid, useless celebrity trivia (and ignorance of everything other than who the American Idol finalists are), the collapsing dollar – all these add up to a very depressing view of the direction my country is taking.

What a downer to come in to a day with. I’d better go grade some papers to cheer myself up.

Sexy in India

I didn't take this picture, but I love that hair!As we spend more time here, we begin to get an appreciation of what is considered hot and what is not.

Well, maybe not an appreciation of those things, but at least an idea of what they are. Check out the guy pictured here. His name is Amitabh Bachchan and he is apparently one of the biggest fish in the Bollywood pond.

His face glowers from the enormous billboards that fill the roadsides everywhere. Women swoon over him, men flock to his movies, and children name their teddy bears after him (better that than Muhammed, I guess).

So, one aspect of Sexy in India must be “obviously dyed hair.” I mean – really, white beard and jet black hair, does he think anyone is fooled?

Maybe I should try a toupee and become Sexy in India…

Horn OK Please

Horn OK PleaseChances are you’ll see this around 50,000 times a day as you’re driving around. It seems that every other rickshaw and big truck has this exhortation painted on its back end.

It is a funny phrase to native English speakers, especially as it is often misspelled: peease and hon seem to be the most common. They don’t mess up OK too often.

It simply means, “I am probably not paying much attention since there is a really good Bollywood song on the radio right now, and even if I am, my mirror has been broken off and I can’t see too much on either side or behind me, so toot your horn to let me know you’re there so I can cut you off more effectively.”

I am apparently not the only one who likes this phrase; we saw a movie – the Loins of Punjab – that was put out by “Horn OK Please Productions, Ltd” according to the advertising billboards (or hoardings as they are called here).

Holiday Greetings!

Our annual letter about all the stuff we did this past year is now posted on our webpage. Read, enjoy, and have yourself a merry little Christmas…

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving in IndiaPumpkin muffins, apples, corn, peas, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, peppers, corn on the cob, jello, apple crisp, stuffing, casserole, and … tandoori chicken. Welcome to India.

We celebrated on Saturday, since we had a full school day on Thursday and went to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park on Friday for our day off. Mom and dad spent part of the morning doing a little shopping for Christmas presents and decorations, so we are doing a good job of integrating our holidays!

We all ate too much – the kids on veggies, mom on apple crisp, and dad on sweet potatoes – and then got our energy out by playing the Terminator game (this is a Breck invention, although he has never seen the movie. One person shoots a nerf dart at the other two, and if you get hit then you are the shooter).

The evening ended with a little Skype conversation with family in Minnesota, which brought a good holiday to a fun end. As Yoda would say, “Lots to be thankful for we have.”

Pictures from our day at the park are here…

Tie a yellow (or red, or white, or green) ribbon

Tree RibbonsDriving home from school, we noticed that there were a bunch of trees along the way with string tied around them, and asked our driver what that was all about.

Iqbal is a Muslim, but gives us insights into Indian traditions of all different religious backgrounds. He replied, “Hindu women believe that they are reincarnated 7 times, and so they tie that around trees to be with the same husband every time. It shows how much they love the husband and are glad to be with him in this life, and they pray to enjoy all of their lives with him.”

Susan asked, “What if he is a jerk and they don’t really want to spend another life with him?”

Iqbal glanced back and said, with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his lips, “Then they find a really small tree, ma’am.”

Goa head

Sunset over Goa…and look at the Goa pages. They should now be pretty complete with our travelogue of the visit. After another silly week at school, those hours on the beach just keep looking better and better. Oh well, when the going gets tough, I just throw on one of the Goa shirts I bought and pretend I’m back there!

On a completely different note, I am sad to report that, since the previous post about spams on the blog was written, I have had to add 7 new drugs to the no-write list. The most recent was glucophage, which I know puts a big dent in peoples’ topics for conversation. (But Viagra is still OK to bring up, as Uncle Rob checked earlier)

Goa home

The Stutz Family in GoaAfter a full week of sun, sand, and sweet relaxation, we are back in Bombay. As mom unpacks to the snap-crackle-pop of post-Diwali firecrackers going off all around the apartment, the rest of us sigh in contentment.

There will certainly be more info posted on the goings on of this previous week, but I suppose a one-sentence synopsis is in order. To begin, however, a disclaimer – I have ever been a big fan of the sit-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation.

Even with that caveat, I have no hesitation in stating for the record that this was probably the most smooth running, relaxing, fun, and mental-health-restoring holiday that we have ever taken.

The location was superb, the hotel was great (not ritzy, but exactly what we wanted), the pace relaxed, and the prices right. What a great time we had doing absolutely nothing (of course that’s not true, but unlike other trips to areas where there was a lot to see and do, this one was dedicated to the hedonistic pleasures of just relaxing, swimming, eating, drinking, and spending time as a family).

Susan wrote up a letter outlining our week; it is posted here at what will (eventually) become the webpage about the trip.

Goa way

We’re wrapping up the end of the week and looking forward to our Goa vacation. Everyone is very ready for a break: the kids are pooped after all the craziness around school, Susan is coming down with a nasty cold, and Dave is just plain ready to relax. One of the nice things about a holiday like this is that we are abandoning all electronic devices except the camera. No phones, no computer, no internet – just the beach and an old Portuguese fishing village. So don’t expect any updates for a week or so; and then we’ll have plenty to share after our return!

Week without Walls update

As promised earlier, and just in time for our weekend off, the WWW pages are now posted. Enjoy!

Be-Be

BB the turtleAnd here she is, our second pet. Given almost the same name as the original gecko we caught outside, Be-Be ended up in our lives as kind of an afterthought. The kids had been pestering Susan about getting an animal, but she wasn’t budging (although I hope to persuade her about a cat some day).

Stella, our housekeeper, happened to be in the room during one of these conversations and she told Alea that she could get her a turtle the next time she went back to her village, as they were all over there. Well, we didn’t think much more about it until the day that we can home from school and found her swimming in a big plastic bowl in the kitchen (Be-Be, not Stella).

Susan ran out and got a fish tank and some rocks, and Be-Be has inhabited a corner of Alea’s room since then. We started her off on a diet of carrot slices, rice, and chopped veggies, but she has since moved up to chomping on any bugs we can find for her. It is a source of great amusement for the kids (just as the gladiator shows probably were for those little Roman children) to watch her chase bugs around that are twice her size, trying to take a bite out of them before they escape. Susan loves to watch Be-Be for signs of ‘surfing,’ which is when she climbs up on a rock and sticks her arms and legs out to catch the heat.

Happy Halloween!

Stutz family at Halloween 2007So here it is, one day after our Diwali shindig, and we had the big Halloween get together. (You can bet the kids are just going nuts at school with all the parties, candy, days off, and break coming up.) We had a trick or treating night at our apartment building, and all staff kids were invited to go up and down the stairs, knocking on all the doors and getting tons of candy. There were even ‘adult treats’ being cracked open in one of the apartments.

A few more pictures of the evening are posted here.

Breck and Alea did pretty well, and held their own in the trading sessions that followed. I was pretty excited to see that someone had even gotten ahold of Reese’s somehow, and so I made sure to ‘encourage’ them to trade for those!!

Susan the pirate picked up the same cold that Breck and Alea had, and so she stayed for a bit as the pirate greeting the kids, but then she did make her way around to give holiday greetings to all. She was not feeling any better this morning, but still decided to come in to school, but was not sure if she would make it all day. (I find it amusing that our driver has the day off on Thursdays, and that is the day of the week that everyone in our family has been the sickest!) Hopefully she’ll be feeling better by this weekend!