Andre, Peni and Joseph in Asia

Andre, Peni and Joseph have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the other side of the International Date Line.

Fortunately, they have sent us many photos and a great travelogue.

Here are the photos:

Click 'Read More' for Peni's travelogue.

It has been a while since our last note and we apologize for that. Since we're going to be here for a couple of years, we want to pace ourselves and not shove too much down your throats. Also, moving from the hotel into our house and setting everything up has been crazy stressful and it has been somewhat difficult to motivate myself to write. However, we have much to share and will start by picking up from just after we last blogged:

We had a wonderful opportunity to see a traditional engagement ceremony up-close. How cool is that? It took us 7 hours to make what was supposed to be a 4-hour trip to Chickmagalur ( where the event was being held, but we got a chance to see a bit of the Karnataka countryside and some beautiful coffee plantations. The ceremony itself was amazing. Held a coffee estate, there was a huge tent erected to house the several hundred guests in attendance. The clothes were gorgeous, beautiful saris and kortas woven with gold. The engaged couple were presented with several gifts of fruits, salts and grains representing a long, happy and fruitful life together (even though they'd only just met each other three weeks prior) by a procession of beautifully clad people, each offering carrying weighty significance. Other traditionally garbed people sprinkled what looked like grain on the engaged couple's heads with further tidings of luck and wedded bliss. We were nice and conspicuous, being the only foreigners there, and there was a lot of staring. However, we were treated like honored guests and when we tried to sit in the back of the tent, out of the way of everything so that Jos (who hadn't born the trip well) was not too much of a distraction, they came and got us and plopped us in the front row, right before the dais where everything was happening. It was truly, truly beautiful. We couldn't quite get a handle on everything that was going on, since Jos was trying to chase the other children around and climbing behind curtains and basically making a nuisance of himself. We were very embarrassed and tried to keep him as low-key as possible, but that's hard to do when you're situated as we were. We lasted for about 3 hours before we decided Jos had reached his very limit. We figured if Jos had been behaving that way at home, we would have removed him so as not to disrupt the occasion. Since we didn't want to be the horrible foreigners who couldn't control their child and ruined everything for everyone else, we decided to leave and go to our hotel. The actual ceremony was over, so we figured it was safe to take off. We were wrong. First of all, it took us another 30 minutes of walking around the parking areas to find our directionally challenged driver, Madu, he being the reason the trip took 7 hours instead of 4. Since we were in the mountains, mobile reception was nil, so we couldn't call him. Throughout this time, people kept stopping us to ask if we had eaten yet. There was a separate tent set up for a lunch service, but it was full when we stopped by, and besides, Jos wouldn't have sat still through a meal the way he was going. We told everyone we hadn't eaten, but we had to go because Jos was tired. This Q&A happened no fewer than 8 more times, with even the engaged girl's father trying to urge us into the food tent, but we didn't want to cause any more chaos than we already had, so we finally hunted Madu down and took our leave. Had we not been as tired as we were and so focused on getting out of there, AND had we known the brouhaha that brewed after we left, we would have taken the hints and stuck around for the meal even if Jos ripped the tent down. Oh, well. Madu had better luck finding our hotel, The Serai (, a beautiful resort owned by the premiere coffee corporation in India, Coffee Day (what Starbucks is to the US, Coffee Day is to India). The coffee plantation was beautiful with amazing views which we would have enjoyed more had it not been raining steadily. We were pretty much wiped out after our long day and just crashed, but learned the next day from another engagement party guest that we were the talk of the family after we left. Um, why? Because we left without eating - they thought we were offended by something and that why we left. So, you actually WANT a 3 year-old to swing from your tent ropes like Tarzan and drag all the attention away from the happy event? Despite explaining ourselves to about 30 people including the patriarch, they still leaped to the conclusion that we left because we were displeased about something. Gee folks, I thought we were in sync . . . apparently, we were about as in sync as the English in a Japanese horror film. Weeeeell, we wrote thank you/letters of apology to the parents later that week and we still don't know if we smoothed the whole thing over, but we've pretty much agreed that while we may be saying one thing, everyone else around here is hearing something entirely different. Meh.

We decided to celebrate our social faux pas by driving up the highest peak in Karnataka, Mullayanagiri, conveniently located nearby as we were. In retrospect, I'm glad we did it, because the scenery was not to be missed . . . but it was brutal. The roads up the mountain were treacherous to say the least - bumpy, narrow and in some spots steep. It took about an 15 minutes of this cement mixer treatment to get to Jos and me (or as Andre would say, "the wimps"). An hour later, as we reached the top and although I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, it was truly beautiful. Refreshing little waterfalls peaked out of crevices here and there, hilly walking paths wound around the top, and the view was breathtaking - mist and green as far as the eye could see . . . Jos and I were ready to hurl. And we still had to drive back down.

We FINALLY moved into our house at Prestige Ozone in Whitefield, Bangalore ( about 10 weeks ago and the difference between being nomads and being settled is astronomical. The community is great and we feel at home already - it's really nice to be back to a routine. Our effects were delivered intact for the most part, but along with the delivery came a flu bug that took Jos out for about a week. He's all better now, but seems to keep a cold since he started school - he and the other little carrier monkeys just pass the same cold around to each other as though in a rotation or something. Andre has, thus far, been unaffected, but I have succumbed more than once. I'm REALLY sick of being sick, so I can just imagine how frustrated Jos is. Incidentally, that's his new favorite word - frustrated. When I'm having a small fit about something, he walks up to me and says, "You don't have to be so frustrated, mama." Of course, it knocks the fit right out of me, because I can't help but to laugh, but it also shows me I need to be more in control of myself around the kid - he picks up EVERYTHING. Before we came here, I thought I was a patient person. Sigh. Anyway, with the house came different responsibilities. We now have a house staff and I'm not yet used to it. Our driver is called David - he's the 6th driver we have been through (various reasons), but it finally appears we have struck gold. He takes us everywhere, pays our bills for us and runs our errands when we don't have time. Only thing about David is he laughs like Renfield and that's taking some adjustment for me. I try not to amuse him, because it creeps me out. Our maid's name is Vijaya and she comes every day except weekends and, primarily, keeps our floors clean because it's extremely dusty here. It's freakin' weird to have a strange person in your house all the time . . . but not so weird that I'd want to do the floors myself. She also looks after Jos from time to time, so I guess it's good she's around a lot so that he gets used to her. Our gardener is called Swamy and he keeps everything trimmed and plants whatever we like - herbs, veggies, flowers. You may wonder why we would need someone else to tend our yard since we have always found it relaxing to do our own at home. Well, at home we don't have scorpions, deadly snakes and spiders the likes of which you find here. I'm not touching it. Besides, this guy does the job for the equivalent of $40 a month. It's all very different, but it's part of the culture here. By the time we go home, I wonder how traumatizing it will be for me to have to make up my own bed.

More than any of us, Jos' adjustment has been easiest and we're really happy about that. He started school two weeks after we moved into the house and, after a few hiccups with the school bus, looks forward to going every day. He has two new best friends in the complex - Ellis (family from UK) and Kevin (family from US/Japan). They seem to be glued and walk into each other's houses as though they live there. They are hysterical to watch and their relationships are quite different. Jos and Ellis play very nicely together and they don't seem to have a problem with sharing toys. Ellis actually has the most hilarious accent. His started developing here, so it is a unique blend of British English and Indian rhythms. I imagine something similar will happen with Jos as his speech develops more while we live here. Jos and Kevin always seem to want to play with the same toy at the same time and only seem to get along smoothly when they're riding their bikes together . . . yet, Jos always wants to hang out with Kevin. Jos and Kevin are actually classmates at Step By Step, their playschool, and they ride to and from school together on the bus. I think part of what irks Jos about Kevin is that Kevin always wants to hug Jos and Jos is good with one or two hugs and then he's pretty much over the concept. All three are adorable to watch together, though, and the moms are pretty cool, which makes playdates nice for me, too.

Tonie (Ellis' mom) and her family have been here for about two years and she seems to know everything there is to know about getting around in Bangalore and Whitefield - a very good person to know when you're clueless. She's great fun, has a wicked sense of humor and shares my love of movies. I'm actually starting to worry about hanging out with Tonie, because I've noticed off and on I've started to pronounce my "H's" "hache" instead of "ache" and I'll soon be totally incomprehensible. Kanako (Kevin's mom) and her family have been here for about a year and a half. She is originally from Japan and is married to an American from St. Louis. A couple of weeks ago, Kanako (and Shino, originally from Japan, of late from Wisconsin) taught a bunch of us how to make sushi and teriyaki chicken. It's something I've always wanted to learn since sushi is probably my favorite food in the world. The trouble is the fish here isn't exactly the best or safest, so we had to make canned tuna, imitation crab and vegetable maki - no matter, I know how to do it now! And everything was delicious! Kanako also made this tempura onion dish that I'm determined to duplicate. Mela (from Malaysia) made a fabulous papaya salad. Tonie, Helen (from California), Maribel (from Panama) and I added nothing but our wit and a willingness to learn to the proceedings and a wonderful time was had by all. Because the other ladies have been so welcoming and inclusive so quickly, it has made settling in so much easier. We are all in the same boat, so to speak, and it helps to be able to help each other whenever we can. This has been my favorite part about the move so far - meeting all these wonderful people from all over the world. For the most part, their families have been living the expat life for many more years than ours has - these people have lived EVERYWHERE - but you can see the benefits to the children in their social skills and their general awareness. It makes me really excited for Jos as I watch him blend in so well and learn from the other kids around him.

As for the adults, I've noticed that the expats in the complex basically stick together and the locals do the same. I wondered if at first I was mistaken, but I asked a few of the other ladies and it seems most of the locals will tolerate us, but don't necessarily want mix with us. The younger generation doesn't seem to have much of a problem with us, but the older ones are less welcoming. It could be due to the transitional nature of our installation - perhaps they don't want to form relationships when there's no guarantee of us sticking around for more than a couple of years. The majority of the houses rented by expats are owned by Indians living in America or the UK, so it could be that they just don't want anything to do with strangers from other countries. Seems a waste to me, considering all we can learn from each other.

Thanksgiving in India was an interesting affair. We have no oven, so any attempts at cooking our own meal inclusive of a turkey was vetoed. We ended up having dinner at the local Italian restaurant, Toscano (, which is actually French-owned, and it was really quite wonderful. They served a traditional turkey meal with mashed potatoes and the only odd thing on the plate was the bread stuffing roulade. Tasted okay, but looked really wrong. I'll tell you, though, the best dish of the evening was the smoked duck salad served at the beginning of the meal. I could feast on that happily for the rest of my life. There was also a tempura eggplant napoleon appetizer that knocked our socks off. Jos ate well, but was distracted because Kevin and his family were also dining at the restaurant. It was filled with expats and it was interesting to see so many from all over the world, not just the US, celebrating a US holiday. There were a fair number of locals there, too. We will most likely be getting our Christmas Eve pizza from there, too. For anyone planning to visit us, that's probably the first restaurant we will take you to - conveniently situated next door to our complex

Jos was in his first school play! Step By Step ( has an Annual Day celebration every year during which the students put on little skits and awards for the year's events are handed out. Jos was the driver on "The Big Red Bus" skit and he did his job so well! This was the first time we had ever experienced such an occasion as parents and we were very proud of our little man as he ran around the stage with his steering wheel, honking his horn. Andre will say it was torture, but I saw the look on his face - he was smiling from ear to ear! The school has only been in existence for a few years and was recommended to me by another friend, Caroline, whose son Harry was the first expat student to attend. Mrs. Philip, the founder and principal, is a marvelous woman and Jos is crazy about her. She says he has a very strong personality. She smiles when she says it, but I wonder if that means she thinks he's an intractable little dictator. That's what WE think.

Christmas has been a trip and a half. First of all . . . I MISS THE SNOW!!!!!! My senses are just confused. I know it's the holiday season, but it doesn't FEEL like it. It's between 60 and 70 degrees and Andre is in Heaven (probably because he didn't care for shoveling, anyway), so you get the colds, etc. that come along with temperature changes, but none of the actual change of seasons that I look forward to every year and the colors associated with them. There are Christmas decorations everywhere and we've decorated the house, but it's all just strange. I try to relax and just roll with it, but the little Midwesterner in me has a minor revolt almost every day. We're taking off for Singapore on Friday so that Andre can have his tattoo completed. We were actually there a few weeks ago and the city was beautiful, already decorated with lights and trees everywhere. But no snow. I know . . . get over it

6 things you didn't ask about India: 1) You know how some parking garages require you to take a ticket to park and pay? Well, here there's a guy whose job it is to stand there at the ticket machine, push the button and hand you the ticket. On the one hand, it's ludicrous, on the other hand, it gives someone a job (no matter how searingly ridiculous) - who's to say it's wrong? 2) We got our dining room chairs re-upholstered for about $80 US, including fabric. We're still in awe. 3) Scorpions have no qualms about marching right into your house, even in planned communities. Snakes have the same attitude. We've made the acquaintance of a scorpion. He didn't fare well in the meeting. I'm hoping the snakes don't have any immediate plans to join us. The geckos are welcome - they eat the mosquitoes. 4) I never thought I'd reach this point, but the power outages no longer aggravate me the way they did when we first arrived. It happens a few times a day and if we didn't have UPS systems for our electronics, I'd probably be singing another tune, but as it is, it no longer makes me homicidal. 5) The gardeners here cut the lawns by hand with a pair of scissors. Seriously. I call it monotonous . . . and heaven help you if you work in a corporate park. 6) The stamps here don't have glue. A friend of mine here just told me she spent a good amount of time licking the backs of a few before she realized there was no glue. The people behind the counter at the post office just sat there looking at her like she was demented and she had to explain to them that where she comes from, the stamps have glue you can lick and stick on the envelopes or even sticker stamps. She said they didn't look like they believed her. The stamps here come with a small jar of glue so that you can apply it yourself to the backs. Is this place for real?

Photos attached, not necessarily in the order listed:

1) The coffee groves outside our villa at The Serai.

2) A walking path near the top of the Mullayanagiri. Jos and I needed to stop for a minute (gag).

3) The view from the top of Mullayanagiri. I guess it was worth it

4) Diwali decoration comprised completely of flower pedals.

5) Jos and Mrs. Philip at Step By Step.

6) The ice cream man in India. Would YOU eat it?

7) The family photo at Hard Rock Cafe Bangalore, Halloween 2009, for those of you who didn't get the holiday e-mail Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!