Category Archives: moving

One year ago…..

One year ago today…..on the Friday before Memorial Day….we boarded a plane and left India…..to come home for good.

We left India in the middle of the night – simply because that’s what you do – but it felt a little bit like we were sneaking away.

On our drive to the airport, we saw a young blind girl selling balloons in the middle of the road. She was unattended and trying to make money for someone else. Someone who very likely did not have her best interests at heart. The night air was thick with smoke and smells that had never seen the inside of an air freshner. Our driver weaved the car through traffic and ran a few red lights and honked the horn…..probably just for ole time’s sake.

I sunk lower in my seat, held my breath, and thought “good riddens”.

We arrived home to crisp air and a sky so blue that it looked like God himself had just put down the paintbrush. Our friends and family filled our home with food and love. All of our favorites were in the house when we arrived – Diet Dr. Pepper, snacks, cereals, hamburger meat in the fridge, fresh fruit that didn’t have to be bleached. And then friends trickled in to say hi and welcome back. Soon our house was alive again. We ended up sitting around the breakfast table laughing and talking….the kids ran around outside…as if we never left.

I breathed in deeply and wondered momentarily why we had ever left this place called home. That just might have been the best night’s sleep I have ever gotten.

We jumped pretty quickly back into the mix – found soccer teams, rejoined swim teams, bought the required reading books for summer, registered for school, re-opened my stationery business, drove with the windows down and the radio on, reconnected with neighbors, gardened, shopped, and just enjoyed being home.

And yet, somehow, there isn’t a day that goes by though that I don’t think of India. And every step away from India truly brings the experience closer to my heart. We changed there. And we are different now. Not in monumental ways. Maybe I should say not in noticeable ways. But we step back now and ponder more. We certainly appreciate more than we ever did before. We are not in such a hurry as we used to be.

Repatriation (returning home) has been an interesting process. There are people who write entire blogs about it – I won’t do that do you, but I will explore it.

I went to India kicking and screaming and couldn’t get back home fast enough. That’s not to say I hated living there. If you have read this blog or have had the misfortune to sit next to me for any extended period of time, you know, I enjoyed our journey and I am extremely thankful for the experience. Much of it I do not miss. But on that smokey street in the middle of the night, I left a piece of me in India and picked up a piece of India to bring home.

YESTERDAY AND THE EXPAT F0RUM………

Yesterday, I got to be a grown up and go into Washington, DC for a meeting. For those of you who do this every day – I am soooo, sooo sorry. Augh.

My day started out all loverly – hubby got the kids ready for school so I could leave on-time half an hour late. (I left late because I stink at waking up and overslept. Hubby really was very helpful.) I went into my closet to find something to wear – yes, I should have done that a month ago when I would have still had time to lose a little weight – only to discover that I actually do believe in magic. I tried on pants that had no chance of fitting and even tried to zip them and what I discovered was that  A) I need to stop wearing pants with elastic in the waist so that I can feel when my clothes are getting tighter and B) too tight dress pants don’t look any better than too tight jeans. Sigh.

But there were some pants that fit and looked decent. So on they went and I even had a top that didn’t have grape jelly or ketchup stains on it. Yeah for me.

Then I set out in to the big bad world of DC traffic. I did my homework and found out that there was an accident on the road I wanted to take, so I turned right instead of left. I also found out that the Transformers is filming part of their latest movie in DC – this week. Oh goody. So, basically, there was no great route to take. And, yes, I could have taken the metro – but I h.a.t.e. the metro. Hate it. HHHH.AAAAA.TTTTT.EEEEEE.   IIII.TTTT. So, that wasn’t really an option. I just can’t start my day with all of the following smells combined into one – smoker’s breath, coffee breath, perfume, sweat, hairspray, gas passing in one form or another, and inevitably someone has gas on their hands from filling up their car….augh. Metros really should be smell-free zones. Seriously, you should have to pass through an odor detector – if the smelldar goes off – you go directly to the showers or the deodorizing tank. Off with your smells. And, by the way, good smells in combination with bad smells in confined spaces still equal really bad smells.

Anysmell, o-n-e h-o-u-r and f-0-r-t-y-f-i-v-e minutes later, I was able to park and find the building. But I am not bitter at all about how long it took to get there and this is why – first of all – I was by myself  in the car for one hour and forty five minutes – no one asking me questions or asking me to do this or do that – but more importantly, the last two times I parked in DC parking garages, it took forever to find a spot – then the one I finally found was really too small – which is why no one (with pants that weren’t too tight thus reducing blood circulation to her brain) parked there. But not me, remember, I believe in magic – zippers that zip and cars that fit in too small parking spots. Both times – yes, both times – I side swiped the entire driver’s side of my van on a cement post. But yesterday, I quickly found myself a big wide open spot (right next to the exit, mind you) with no cement posts nearby. Yippee Skippee.

Are you wondering what the point of this post is – sorry. I finally sat down at the Expat F0rum, only to find out that Andrea Martins was one of the panelists. That’s pretty cool because she is one of the co-founders of the website Expat Women – which is listed on my blogroll – and I am listed on theirs (under the blogs about Asia section – and because my blog starts with an “A”, I am even near the top of the list). Expat Women is extremely helpful for any women who do not live in their own country – lots of info, lots of stories. Andrea is enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it was a treat to meet her.

Of course, I just had to introduce myself to her. Didn’t you see that coming? You must know by now that I did. I told her about my blog being listed on her site and she tilted her head a little and went ohh and then ummm. Okay, I was a little disappointed that she didn’t screech that she was so lucky to meet me and that she reads my blog religiously but at least she didn’t tell me my pants were too tight. Anyway, she did ask if I had plans to turn my blog into a book and she wants to give me the contact information for someone who might be able to help me. Yes, tres coolio!

Alan Paul was also there as a panelist. He wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about being an expat in China and now he is turning that column into book. Do I see a growing trend? Turning a blog into a book – sounds like a great idea, right? Anybook, he was funny and just encouraged everyone to think about what you gain from an expat experience and not focus on what you are losing. It’s easy to get frustrated about how hard life can be away from your home country but if you look out your window, you just might see the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. That can’t be all bad.

At the end of the panel discussion there was some time for questions. One of the themes throughout the f0rum was the difficulties spouses have with finding employment overseas. I was never someone interested in working (oh sure the paycheck part was appealing but not the working part so it never really worked out for me) – there were days I felt like I could barely tie my own shoes – much less be responsible to a boss – but lots of people do want to work and it ain’t easy finding a paying gig. Oddly enough, Susan Musich was there. She is the Managing Director for Passport Career.

I will let their website description explain what they do: “Passport CareerTM is the first-ever, comprehensive, online global job search support system for international professionals moving to or living in unique and challenging destinations around the world. Whether they are moving to the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, Passport CareerTM provides detailed insight and knowledge on the business customs, strategies, and resources related to the job search for each country and destination covered.” Good to know, right?

The Department of State also has a similar program for embassy family members called the Global Employment Initiative.

The whole f0rum was hosted by Clements International, a company offers (okay sells) international insurance policies but also does a lot in support of the expat as a person – like this f0rum and writing contests for kids. They invited me, so I thought I would mention them. Thanks Clements. And, nope they did not pay me to say that. I also have never investigated international insurance policies, so, to be fair, this is not an endorsement – but they might be one place to look if you are searching for international insurance. There. Disclaimer said.

So, even though I did not want to get out from under the warm and cozy covers only to try on big girl clothes, I am glad I went. I even won a Starbucks gift card worth $10. 😉

Outsourced……….blech…..

I was so excited for the premiere of the new tv show Outsourced and was absolutely bummed when my son’s back to school night was scheduled for the same night. Honestly, you would think the school administration would be a little more sensitive to my tv viewing preferences and be a little more careful to not create conflicts between my parenting and entertainment priorities. But no – they weren’t  – Outsourced aired right in the middle of my session of 8th grade math. Hpmf.

But the techno gods have been generous and blessed us with tivo capabilities. So, all is in sync in the parenting and hollywood worlds.

Last night, I finally got to see Outsourced – the new NBC comedy about an American manager running a call center in India. Frankly, they should have outsourced the production, writing, and editing. Blech. Let’s remember that I did offer my assistance. They should have taken me up on it. Who knows, maybe they still will. 😉 The Executive Producers are Robert Borden, Ken Kwapis, Victor Nelli, Jr., Tom Gorai, and David Skinner – just in case you are reading along fellows, you can contact me at AReasonToWrite (at) gmail (dot) com.

There wasn’t much about it that was realistic – even worse, there wasn’t much that was funny. And yes, I understand you are supposed to suspend reality and just laugh. But I just spent the past year and a half of my life living it and there is a lot that has laugh potential without being insulting. A lot. There is the line at the post office and the puja and oh, so much more.

I am not always great with chronology so I might not get my complaints in exact order but it doesn’t really matter.

The first big misstep was that the American manager went to work in a rickshaw. Beyond the fact that the rickshaw scene was very poorly done, an outsourced manager in India would very likely be driven to work by a driver. They just ruled out about 3 hilarious episodes by leaving out the driver and his very real side (splitting) story. Having a driver in India is part of the experience and it adds a whole new dimension to life abroad. It is so foreign to the way most Americans navigate through their day in the U.S. Maybe the manager should have tried to drive himself somewhere – now that would be funny. Very funny. Or try to communicate with a driver whose English is not exactly up to snuff – like here. Or try to find the zoo – like here.

However, my biggest criticism is the Outsourced character of the big Sikh guy who just looks intimidating and totally ticked off. Too easy. It’s (horrible) stereotyping. It’s ridiculous. And based on the Sikhs I met, it’s largely inaccurate. Many are actually gentle giants in many respects. Their temples all have kitchens and they feed absolutely anyone in need for free. I wrote about the Golden Temple here, where they feed over 100,000 people a day.

And then a cow appeared in the front office window. Really? A cow? That’s all you’ve got? Sure, cows roam the streets – but really? Again, way too easy. They should have at least made it a monkey (more realistic in front of an office window) or a camel or an elephant. At least that would have been unexpected. And not to be nit-picky but the cow in the window was way too fat.

On to the minor inaccuracies. All the desks are lovely, spread out, and nicely decorated with picture frames. Yeah. Not gonna happen. Call centers operate on shifts. And for obvious reasons, they try to get as many people in a room as they can (just like in U.S. offices). In the real world, two to three workers would rotate sitting at a desk during a 24-hour period. So there would be no personalizing your workspace. And it is highly unlikely that the boss would be sitting in the same room as the call center employees.

The Indian manager was wearing suspenders. I don’t think I ever saw an Indian man in India in a set of suspenders – I am not saying it didn’t happen – but I call malarkey. Or at least bad editing.

The company in the tv show sells novelty items – some of which are a bit risque. My experience with Indians is that they are very modest people. At one point in the show, the American manager is explaining the “value” of a mistletoe belt to the staff at the call center. How it works – why you would put mistletoe on a belt. Yeah, that would be totally inappropriate and awkward. Later in the episode, he shows the staff a plaque with a replica of a woman’s chest (read boobs) on it that jingles when a song is played. Maybe it was called Jingle Boobs – I had mostly tuned out at that point, so I probably didn’t get the name right. But please. A female employee at the call center laughs at the novelty item. I just really have a hard time believing that would be a typical response. Even most American women would not exactly be amused.

If it was Al and Peggy Bundy get Outsourced, it might have been chuckle-worthy. But it wasn’t about Married with Children hits India and it wasn’t funny.

The one thing that was funny was the food in the cafeteria but only because they made another (way too) easy joke about what we used to call Delhi Belly. When you are not used to spicy foods, you do have to be careful what you eat – and of course that is true of anywhere – not just in India. And some Indian food is super spicy and it can upset your belly. And it can be funny – when it happens to someone else – and someone else who knows better and laughs when they put it in his/her mouth and jokes “what’s the worst that can happen?”. That is what I call “famous last words”. Which are often followed by Montezuma’s Revenge and a quick re-enactment of the fabled Murphy’s Law.

So, for what it’s worth (and I realize that is nothing), I was left very unimpressed. I do, however, remain very willing to offer ideas and suggestions. 😉

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

So hard to explain………

I have been really grappling with how to share my transition back to America. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I am truly paralyzed at the thought of doing it all justice which means that I have not been putting fingers to keyboard very much and I am afraid that some of it is going to slip away from my memory.

At least ten times a day, I look around and think (sometimes to myself and sometimes to any poor soul standing near me) that America is exactly the opposite of India. And I really, really mean that. It is exactly the opposite! And that does not mean bad or good – just so extremely different that I know my words would have a hard time describing it accurately.

This morning at Walmart was no exception. Just walking into Walmart is a little bit overwhelming. Heck, just getting to Walmart is different. I grab my car keys and I hop in the drivers seat and I drive myself there. No waiting for Rajinder to fill his water bottle. No giving a list to Francis and Rani for what I want. No asking Ravi if he needs anything. No trying to translate what he actually asks for. No waiting for the guard to unlock/open the gate. And certainly no wondering if I will be able to find what I need. Just me, myself, and I hop in the car.

I control the radio – hey, I listen to the radio. I decide which route to take. This way or that way is up to me once more.  On the way to the store, I pass tons of green trees along roads where (nearly) everyone stays in their own lane (everyone except those dingbats who are texting and driving – seriously that needs to stop). No one honks their horn. People stop at red lights and use their blinkers. There are no wild cows or dogs on the road. In fact, people are walking dogs on leashes and they are fatter than they need to be – the dogs and many of the people. There are no children begging or doing tricks on the side of the road. There are no bicycles with 3 or even 4 people on them. There are no women on the backs of motorcycles with their dupattas (scarves) flowing dangerously close to the back tire. There are street signs (in English) absolutely everywhere. There are no people running to literally catch a bus that is so full of people that it already looks like it might explode.

I pull into Walmart’s abundant parking lot and I pick where I want to park. I don’t have to tip anyone to push another car out of the way to make room for me. I don’t have to ask Rajinder where I should meet him when I am done or explain how long I think it might take. A man greets me as I enter the store and I get a cart. Oh sweet shopping cart heaven. No one follows me through the store. No one asks me 25 times if I need help. Two people and two carts can easily pass each other on each aisle. And while I am shopping I can get a Subway sandwich (with meatballs and s.a.f.e. lettuce), order eyeglasses, fill a prescription, develop photos, and just about anything else I want to do.

I do have to push my own cart and pull my own items from the shelves. And it takes me so much longer because there is so much more to look at and so many more choices. But I only have to go to one store.

The reason I went to Walmart was to get clear trash bags for the recycling container. Once again, we are responsible for our own recycling. And we have two trash cans in the kitchen. One for regular trash and another for anything that can be recycled – paper, plastic, glass, and metal items. So I like clear bags for the recycling. That way we can tell which is which and the trash men know which bags have recycling in them. I also wanted small bags for cleaning out the cat litter.

Here again I am assaulted by choices. Upteen size and color options. I really just want trash bags but now I have to decide if I want white, flexwhite, green, black, clear, or slightly opaque. Do I want handles or ties or looped handles. Do I need 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 33 gallon, or yard bags. It takes me just a second to focus. But then I found the recycling bags I wanted.

Now onto the small trash bags. Holy trashbag batman – they come in colors – vanilla and mint green. Then, I realize – not just colors but scents. Huh? I fully understand that perfume was invented to cover up body odor – but we have moved away from that because it can really be a toxic combination. And as such, deodorant was invented. Perfume is much better on a bathed person and scents are much better for candles. And I know the makers of these cute little mint green 8 gallon bags with handles did not know that they would be used for litter – but the potential certainly existed that they would be used for something smelly. And not for nothing, who decided that 76 bags was the right number of bags. That must have been a fun meeting. And who lost out – the person who thought that 88 was just the right number?

So India is the land where not much of the trash finds its way into a bag and America is the land where trash bags are supposed to smell like a cupcake or a bowl of ice cream. I really don’t know if this makes sense to anyone who has not lived in both places – but honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is different, different.

And the the final irony is that I searched and searched for these small bags for our kitties poop only to be given about 15 bags of almighty plastic to hold all of the c-r-a-p that I bought at checkout. And they are the same, same size and they do not smell like cotton candy and they would work perfectly fine for holding cat litter. And I would be recycling if I just used those.

On to checking out. Even that is different. The woman in front of me was using coupons. Dang, I forgot about that. Note to self – get Sunday paper, cut out coupons, and remember to bring them to the store – then remember to use them at checkout.

Most transactions in India are in cash – so the debit card machine temporarily stunned me. Do I want cash back? It’s a simple question – but I forgot that it prompts you for that. I stand there waiting to be done – and the people behind me think I have dropped in from another planet – how can I possibly not know what to do here. Okay, okay. No, I don’t want cash – well, unless it is a door prize – but I am guessing that is not the case, so no, I don’t need cash back. But that is not the end of it. Do I want to contribute to a fundraiser for a children’s hospital? I can buy a paper balloon and write my name on it. I should not have to think about it – but wait a minute – what did you ask me? Oh, a charitable donation? Sure. How much? A dollar? Fine. And no thanks, I don’t need to write my name on the balloon. Besides, my hands are full because I am going to have to carry my own bags to the car and remember where I parked it.

I can feel his pain ………… unexpected connections…..

Today we went to see the new Karate Kid movie. If you have not seen the movie, you might not want to read this yet. It’s predictable – you already know what happens, so I promise I am not ruining the ending – but I am all full of opinions about this and I might taint your viewpoint. Better to see it first then tell me how wrong I am.

At one point in the movie, the 12 year old boy who was forced to move across the globe has a mini-tantrum and tells his mother that he hates it in China and that he just wants to go home. After the movie, Bear said that he could totally feel his pain. And then he laughed. And we marveled that we had already been gone a year and a half and that we are now back home. We all agreed that the experience was amazing but we could totally relate to the main character wanting to get the heck out of there – even if the ice cream is really good.

One of the beginning scenes was at the airport and they showed this statue.

We all simultaneously looked at each other and laughed. Several parts of the movie were filmed in places in Beijing we had been – the markets, Olympic Park, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square, etc. That was bizarro. I knew the movie was filmed in Asia but I didn’t realize it was filmed in Beijing where we had just visited not too many weeks ago. We went out for a little family bonding time in front of the big screen and behind bags of popcorn and we found some tremendous unexpected connections.

Right before we left for India, Slumdog Millionaire came out and that was really my first introduction to India. It’s wasn’t a warm and fuzzy “how ya doing” introduction – it was a “holy crap you want me to move where and take our children with us – yeah, that sounds like a great idea” kind of introduction.

And then, when we return, Karate Kid comes out. That is about as full circle as it gets. And as much as the Indian population was not that impressed with Slumdog, I don’t think the Chinese people and mothers in general are going feel the l.o.v.e. for Karate Kid.

It missed the boat on a number of fronts. The bottom line is that a father has apparently died and a mother moves her son from Detroit to China for a job. But knowing how tough this decision really is, I was disappointed that they just started the movie with the move. A move that they made too simple and too uncomplicated. There weren’t really any tears – the family just picked up and left with a few hugs in the rain as Dre’s (the Karate Kid) best friend gives him his skateboard and they knock knuckles. That just is not reality. When you move around the world, you are tearing yourself away from just about every little level of comfort you know – especially if it is your first international move – and even if you don’t love everything about where you are leaving – you at least mostly know what to expect. Anytime you move, you are leave people you care about and routines and just a life that is familiar. Surely, there is a thrill in the new adventure but it just doesn’t begin with a hug in the rain.

Those of you who know me will probably laugh when I say this – but I also simply cannot believe that a widow can take her 12-year old boy to Beijing and let him just run about town. He spent a good deal of his time unattended. Let me say this about Beijing. We wanted to take a cab from our hotel to the Hard Rock Cafe and back to get my brother a hat. The hotel “strongly” discouraged us from doing that because most people in China don’t speak English. It’s not easy to navigate a big city even as an adult and even when you can speak the language and can read the signs. It is totally unrealistic to think that a 12 year old could find his way around that town alone and that a mother would be comfortable with that happening. I know you are supposed to suspend reality when you watch a movie. But I think that when people put together a movie that they want you to believe in – they should make attempts to make it believable. A woman alone with a child in a completely foreign environment just would not give her son so much freedom. I could not get past that. Every time Dre was walking somewhere alone, I could not help but think that he should not be doing that.

After the movie, I asked Bear what he thought the chances of me letting him roam around Beijing by himself would be. He laughed that I would probably let him do that before I would let him delete a text message from me and then not respond. Oh yeah, that happened too. Dre’s mom was looking for him and he just hit “delete” after receiving the message. Excuse me? But she was on his arse about not hanging up his jacket. Huh?

At one point, the boy and his instructor take a train ride to train at the Great Wall. Seriously? She’s going to let this total stranger take her son on a train? So, the mom might win an academy award for this movie (but don’t bet on that) but she certainly will not be getting mother of the year honors.

Anyneglect, then there was the whole issue of Dre making friends. On the day he arrived, the Karate Kid met a boy about his age and played some basketball with him. Then he saw a cute girl and went over to meet her. Enter the bullies who were unimpressed. He got the crap beaten out of him. Frankly, it was a little much. I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the Chinese teenager – but this seemed so out of character for what I have experienced. Five or six boys ganged up on the new kid and pummeled him. Exit the new friend. This blond boy is never seen again in the movie. Again, really? Not even at school, not even once? Really, Chinese teenagers would pummel a foreigner within hours of his arrival in the country. It just didn’t all add up.

When Dre’s mom saw his black eye – and not until the next morning by the way – she accepted his “I ran into a pole” excuse to avoid having a discussion in front of the school administrator. Again – not gonna happen. You realize your son has been beaten up, you did a little deeper. You don’t leave him at the door with a “I love you, honey” and send him into the wolves den. Guess who some of the first kids he saw at school were? Bingo!

It was never clear what type of school the boy was going to. But it seemed to at least be an international school. They have this new student thing down pat – they usually assign a “buddy” to kids to help them navigate through their first few days. Didn’t happen. Dre did run into his “crush” at the cafeteria but the bullies didn’t like him talking to her and turned his tray upside down on his shirt – right in front of the school administrator. She just sent them on their way in opposite directions and did not address the conflict at all. Huh?

The boy got bullied a few more times and then finally saved by the maintenance man (Jackie Chan – lucky to have him as the maintenance man). Jackie Chan agrees to train Dre and they become fast friends.

I also had a really tough time accepting the bullying nature of the group of boys in the story. Everyone I know who has their kids in some sort of martial arts touts the discipline the art teaches. It is not about the fighting but about strengthening the mind and the body and learning focus. You become strong so you do not have to fight. But the motto of the teacher of the bullies was basically if you have any mercy, you are weak. Fight until someone cannot get up. Yes, you remember that correctly. These boys are 12.

I guess, it was possible to believe that the fights on the street got nasty. But even in competition these boys were giving blows to the face and trying to maim their competition. They were more like MMA fighters than 12 year olds learning martial arts and competing in a respectful manner. It did not give a great impression of martial arts training in China. Dre’s teacher did say that there were no bad students only bad teachers. But still. The whole premise of the fighting was that these boys were out for blood and trained to be so.

There were just too many missing pieces in the plot. Not enough of a front story. Not enough of what we loved about the first movie – the training sessions and the growth of the character. And a very predictable ending – which had to be predictable because it is after all a remake of the Karate Kid. I can forgive it the ending – and, no, I was not crying at the end. The theater was extremely humid.

A Charlie Brown Christmas……………

About a year ago, I was decorating our house for Christmas and getting ready to move our family around the world. It was an overwhelming time and it felt a little rushed. In many ways, it is mostly a blur. Immediately after Christmas, I literally stuffed all the decorations into boxes, shoved them in the closets, and checked one more thing off my to do list. Christmas – done and undone – check. Then I began really focusing on moving my family to India.

What I didn’t realize is that almost exactly a year later, I would visit Singapore all decorated for Christmas and I would hear Christmas songs in every store. That I would buy candy canes in Singapore just because I could – they just don’t seem to be available in Delhi. And that when I got home I would just stick them in the cabinet. Because we were treeless. I don’t think I have ever been treeless. In fact, we usually put up two tress in the U.S. – one that has decorations the kids made and one that no one is allowed to touch but me. But now, all of our decorations are in the U.S. – except for a few that I bought at a craft show a few weeks ago.

My parents got divorced when I was pretty young, so I often celebrated Christmas twice. My mother’s birthday is Christmas day. It’s always been a wonderful time of year for me. After I got married, we started celebrating Christmas three or four times – just depending on how many different groups of family members were gathering together. Christmas Eve with number one hubby’s family is a wonderful, cherished tradition. Christmas morning with most of my family is magical. Then of course, we have our own party of five celebration. Throw in a few parties and some cookie baking and a white elephant gift exchange and you have yourself a Christmas season.

Well, most of that simply cannot happen when you live around the world from the people you hold most dear. Even putting up decorations seems like just going through the motions. But not being able to put up decorations is really depressing. We will be home for literally 20 hours Christmas day – the rest of the time we will be traipsing around the world. We are counting our blessings and know just how very lucky we are. But, something is missing.

Until last night. Last night, number one hubby brought home this. Now you know how he earns his status. Today after school we are going ornament shopping. We might even make some hot chocolate and sing a few Christmas songs.

Charlie Brown would be very, very proud. (For those of you not familiar with Charlie Brown – he is a cartoon character and one of his stories is about how he finds this little twig of a tree and brings it to life with love and lights. He turns nothing into magic with the spirit of Christmas.)

P.S. Someone is probably curious – so I will go ahead and answer the question now – yes, there are over a million Christians in India and they celebrate Christmas. Lucky for us! There are stores that sell trees and ornaments and decorations. It’s just that the town won’t be all decked out in red and green – it’s a big difference! But it feels better now.

Today…………

Today I wish I could sit on the sidelines at the soccer field or in the bleachers at the swimming pool and see those friends I only got to see when my kids had practice. I want to drive myself to the grocery store – down a road where nobody honks and everyone stays in their own lane – and  I want to buy too many cucumbers and tomatoes with the best of intentions of eating them all. I want to be able to eat them without rinsing them in a bleach solution first. I want a loaf of Wonder bread that is so fresh the aroma assaults you when you open the bag. Today I want to go to Target and get 6 errands accomplished in one place and pay prices that are written on the things I want to buy. I want to know that the President and your grandmother and I all pay the same price for the same thing. I want to rush through a fast food drive-thru and eat food that is horrible for me but tastes so yummy. I want to sit on the front porch and use cheeseburger wrappers as a plate and watch ants gravitate toward the ketchup I am sure to spill on the ground. I want to drink a glass of wine out of a plastic cup and watch all the neighbors walk by with dogs that chase the squirrels and bark too loud.  I want to watch my husband reading the newspaper on the porch in his pajamas. I want to see 15 kids running through my yard playing flashlight tag. I want to watch the leaves blowing in the wind and I want to watch my kids make a big pile to jump in. I want to hear the leaves crinkle under my feet when I walk. I want to walk up to the shopping center and get an ice cream for dessert. Maybe I want a banana split with whip cream that tastes like whip cream. And I want to have 31 flavors and 16 toppings to choose from. I want to plan a Thanksgiving meal and invite our families over. I want to figure out a way to make it different and familiar all at the same time. Today, I want to be home.

Document this………………

During the past two weeks, I have nearly used up my 15 minutes of fame. First, auditioning for a movie and then meeting with a lady who films documentaries.

Chances are very good that I will not appear in either film. But both opportunities have really been “life experiences” that I will not forget. In fact, I will probably bore you to tears by telling you these two stories over and over again.

The woman who is producing the documentary is Yasmin Kidwai. She found my blog and sent me an email. She is filming a documentary called “Indian by Choice.”

Here is what she wrote:

I just came across your blog. Very interesting. I am making a film-a documentary on Indians by Choice-People who have chosen to live in India-I could not find any information about you on your blog. If you think you fit into this film and would like to  share your experience with me  pls call me. Thanks…i look forward to hearing from you.

Yes, I heard that collective gasp – no, I don’t really “fit” the theme of the film because we absolutely plan to return home. Yasmin is really looking for people who have chosen to make India their home and not just people who have come here for work. (If that is you, please let me know – I can put you in contact with Yasmin.)

When I called Yasmin back, she realized that I might not be the right person and she ended our conversation by telling me if I could find a compelling reason to include us in the film, I should email her. Honestly, what she said offended me a little – what did she mean, compelling reasons? So, I wrote back to her – then I edited it and sent this:

This is me from A Reason To Write – India (a blog about our life in India). I called you this morning in response to your email about my blog.

You asked me to write to you if I could find compelling reasons to include us in your documentary. Please forgive me for saying so, but that comment took me by surprise. It almost came across as though we could not be sincere global citizens if we came here merely for employment.

It sounds like you are looking for people who have chosen to live here for reasons other than work. My husband found a job that afforded him the opportunity to bring our family to India. He has worked with Indian people in the U.S. for many years and has tremendous respect for the Indian culture and ways of  life. He wanted us to be able to experience life in India first hand for so many reasons. He could have simply brought us to visit – but he knew that was not the same as living here. Immersing ourselves in a life so foreign to what we had been used to.

Mainly, it is good to see the world outside the bubble you are used to – wherever that bubble is. And India could not be more different from the U.S. in tremendous ways – some good, some not so great. It is important to understand that the world is not the same everywhere for everyone. I think by living in India our family has found more gratitude and more grace and has become more willing to reach out to those around us. We are coming to appreciate the world in new ways and embrace the differences. And where we do not have the understanding to embrace the differences, we are working to at least accept them.

My husband also came for the experience of working in the outsourcing industry – to understand how it is changing the world economy. India is changing the way America operates and the best way to understand that is to be here living it everyday.

You also asked about my writing. India has opened that door for me. It was our decision to move here that inspired me to follow my passion of writing. Moving to India has given me “A Reason To Write.” It has been amazing to chronicle our experiences here. To journal memories I do not want to escape me when we leave here. To relight my joy of the written word.

And, yes, we do plan to leave here. Our home is in the U.S. because our life long friends and our family are there. But India will never leave us. It is shaping who were are and how we want to interact with the world. You cannot live here and remain unchanged. And that is why my husband wanted us to come.

Best wishes on a very successful documentary. Please do not discount those of us who have come to live in India thru a job opportunity. Our appreciation of India should not be dampened by the means we used to get here. Thanks again.

Yasmin wrote back and invited me for an interview. I still don’t really fit the theme of her film but it was a real treat to meet her. She is a mother and a woman and a person trying to understand how foreigners come to love India and never leave it. I can appreciate all of that.

If you have been following this blog for a while you might already appreciate the irony in this post. Just in case you are new – here it is. When my husband asked me if I wanted to move our family to India, I asked him if that was a new street in our neighborhood. I could barely fathom it. Although I knew from the very moment he asked me that we would be moving, I just had a hard time accepting it. And now, well now, I am defending my right to be here, embracing all that India has given us, and absorbing the changes we are seeing in ourselves and in our kids. I guess that is just about as full circle as it gets.

Pictures please……….

I got a lot of requests for pictures of our new house, so here they are…………..

This is our new little family of cats. They are so skinny and adorable that I just had to give them food and water. Don’t worry, they are not allowed in our house and the kids know not to pet them. In fact, Angel told me that I was not allowed to pet them. She knows me well. Flower asked me if I could take them to the vet and get them checked out so we could adopt them. That would be “no”. They are not exactly the kind of souvenir I am hoping to bring back from India.

You might wonder why I am showing the picture of these cats first. Well, besides the fact that it is the first one I have taken so it is the first in the queue, they are part of why I love this house so much more than the other one. We have a little outside space and these cats feel comfortable here. They lounge in our chair and hide in the shade of our plants. It makes our house feel more like home.

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This is where we eat. In our old house it was also our entrance way and the center of the house. It is very nice to have a space kind of isolated away from the rest of the house for homework and family dinners. It’s a mess because – well because it’s a mess.

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Next up, family room. See that window over there – awesome – the sunlight actually comes through it! Yahoo!

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This is the center of the house – you go up a few stairs to the kitchen, dining room, and our room. Down a few stairs to the family room and office. Marvelouso!

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Rooftop Patio. Loverly.

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And, remember I love doors. This is ours. The best thing about this door is that it is not up a dark, narrow hallway and no one else uses it but us. Smile, smile.

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This is the new home for our stray kitties front patio. It is so nice to be able to let the kids paint with chalk or jump rope or just bounce a ball.

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Kitchen – self explanatory. It is so interesting that in India most kitchens do not serve as the center of the house. They are tucked away on the side usually with a door and guests do not gather in them. They are meant for the staff. This is where our driver and cook hang out when having a tea break. Bizarro. In America, guests gather in the kitchen.

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This my little home away from home closet – yes we have storage space now.  And, yes, I know that most of these items are available in Delhi – but they are imported and outrageously expensive here. So, I loaded up. Some of these things are not available – triscuits for example and teddy grahams and combos.

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And here is where it all happens. The nerve center – my writing oasis. My office.

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I did not show you the bedrooms because I just do not know you well enough yet. 😎