Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Republic Day Adventure and a personal challenge for everyone...

Preston and I both had a long weekend due to the India National holiday for Republic Day. Next January 26th, I will be at the event......a very impressive display of India's Armed Forces in a parade for all of India to see, and the procession takes place from India Gate to the Presidential Palace......neither Linda or I felt like braving the crowds this year.....Our driver Ramesh had the day off since we had kept him so busy with Jeff being here, so Preston and I set forth on an adventure of our own. Linda just felt like "chilling"....and since the Hiralal the cook was off also, she cooked a wonderful meal that was a welcomed change for Linda and Preston from the Indian/Asian food we have been eating. Black-Eyed Peas and smoked sausage and Jambalaya......a taste of home. A Tuk-Tuk (Auto Rickshaw) ride to Hauz Khas Village.....where my favorite restaurant is.......and we actually did discover a really neat place and the reason for the name of this area of town. Although Preston has used a Tuk-Tuk for transportation in the past (a trip last weekend to Sikkim House, I had never braved a ride in one before......so I chose someplace close to the house.....only about 5 kilometers from the house. After our ride, which was exciting to say the least, we had lunch at the restaurant......I had my usual Masala Dosa.....and it was good. I finally remembered to take a picture of a dosa.....but I remembered a little bit later than I had planned.....I had already taken some bites! After lunch, we began to explore the small alleys behind the restaurant which make up the village. Most of the shops were closed due to the holiday.....but we wandered anyway....when we reached the main street again we saw what appeared to be the entrance to a park....and when we entered we discovered the site of the "Second City of Medieval Delhi"....between the years of (1296 -1316). The area is dotted with the tombs of the rulers of the time.....and the buildings that they built as part of the complex.....it was a true gem of a find......I had been to the area at least a dozen times, and had no idea it was even there. This is just one of many experiences like this that awaits us in India...we truly haven't even turned the first page in the history book of Delhi, much less this amazing country. It is going to be an incredible experience for both Parker and Preston as well...it is one thing to learn about World History from the pages in a book but to experience it first hand is priceless. I wish I could have captured the look on Preston's face when the "light bulb" went off in his head. Prior to us talking about where we were and what we discovered, he was just looking and walking through some "cool old buildings"...but then the magnitude of what took place here and that this was built 500 years before anything in the United States....built over 700 years ago without any sophisticated machinery......these "old buildings" became something more special and significant to him. Preston and I took many pictures......and a video of the Tuk-Tuk Ride for your enjoyment......but I must warn you......there is nothing like the real thing......Come to India......not to see us....and not just for the fun of a Tuk-Tuk ride! India is truly an Incredible place in the world.....and unfortunately not high on every one's list of places to visit...or live and work. I will end this blog with these parting thoughts for you to ponder and a challenge: The next time you think the place you live in is terrible, or boring, or unbearable.........think about the discovery Preston and I made and shared.....I bet that there is something similar waiting to be discovered in your own city or state....where ever in the world you may be in. You may pass it everyday on the way to work or school.....and have never given it a second thought. Learn as much as you can about where you live and embrace it and share it. If you do, it won't be just the "place you live and work"...it will be special. There are many Tuk-Tuk rides to be taken or Hauz Kaus Villages to be discovered.....don't take the obvious things around you for granted; do something that may seem ordinary and boring on the surface.....turn your own page....there is something out there just waiting to be discovered that will give you an entirely new perspective and appreciation for how special the place in the world you live in, truly is. Think of it this way......the place you live in may not be boring.......it may just be you....

Four "S's".....Saturday, Soccer, Sheehan and Sikkim House

Thursday marked my return to Delhi from my trip to Vizag......and Jeff returned on Friday night from his own India Adventure, with our mutual friend, P.V. Patel. He and I had been trading "text messages" all week while he was between Jodphur and Jaislmer.....and then to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. During one of our conversations, Linda and I were invited to meet he and P.V at BUKHARA.....the very famous restaurant at the ITC Maurya Hotel....which is the first hotel I stayed at when I visited India in August. It was going to be a real treat.....and it was....great food and I definitely went NON-VEG on that night!

Jeff was a trooper.....after an exhausting week of traveling the India countryside......by car most of the time.....he told Preston that he would like to be part of the family and watch his soccer game......

The AES Falcons....played the Bai Bharti School.....and won the game...final score 2-1......and Preston played an awesome game in goal.

Here are a few pictures from the game....some action shots of Preston....The last picture is becoming a "post game" ritual of sorts......lunch at the "Sikkim House". Sikkim House is located about a block or so from the school and they have a unique way pf promoting their area as a tourist destination in India......they have a great restaurant.....and as usual, the prices are great. Linda, Jeff and I had lunch while Preston dined with the team.


Here are some fun facts about Sikkim.......it is nestled in the Himalaya's.....it hosts the highest peak in India, and the third highest in the world.....and it is the least populated state in India, with just over 500,000 inhabitants....Nepal is on their west border, China to the north and Bhutan on their east and West Bengal on their south.....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Return to the "City of Destiny"

Jeff Sheehan,Jessica's(Parker's friend)dad, was our first house guest. How he managed to find himself in India was because of me. This is a story of it's own, that I will share, but let's just say that it was another one of those strange things that took place that made me think that India was where we belonged.....destiny.

Luckily he was here on business, a trip that I was to attend with him, but was unable to because of my need to be in Vizag. The Doubletree in Vizag is positioned to be open in a few months, and we are in the window of identifying our Management Team.

Notice periods are long in India, a minimum of one month and they can be longer.....3 to 4 months for the more senior positions.

Two other members of the team and I were returning to Vizag on Monday January 19th for 3 1/2 days of final interviews for key positions throughout the hotel.

Although this marked the first overnight trip for me, I was comfortable leaving Linda and Preston to experience India without me.....all in all they had 18 days in Delhi, and they were adjusting amazingly well. Linda was getting a bit more adventurous and learning.....and Preston was busy at school.

My flight was scheduled to leave Delhi at 5:55am, which means with the tightened security at the airport my day started at 3:00am, to be ready to leave the house by 4:00am; by 4:15 the driver and I were to reach Sonya's house and then on to the airport. Although the driver was here on time, the fog was so thick I instructed him to go very slow....I did not want him to hit anything, or anyone! This is Delhi after all and there were people walking on the side of the road at 4:00am, and we were using it to guide us as me crawled along. Winters in Delhi are notorious for fog....and having grown up in Louisiana, I am intimately familiar with fog, but honestly, I have never experienced FOG like this in my life until moving here.
It is thick......very thick and dense,mixed with smoke, which is common in Delhi due to the many people that use wood for keeping warm, and cooking. It made the journey to Sonya's and to the airport very long. We arrived to find that our flight had been delayed 5 hours.
By 11:00am the fog had cleared enough that we were able to take off and were airborne. Vizag and several candidates were waiting for us. Monday was a very long day of interviews, but the end of the day was most special.
The team and I had been invited to the owners home for dinner with his family. although we were interviewing candidates for Executive Chef for the Doubletree, I am convinced that the best Chef in Vizag is Sarat's wife, Bhavani.
Her food was fantastic......and was such a treat at the end of such a long day.
Tuesday was similar, but without the flight delay.....interviews started at 9:00am, and went throughout the day. Lunch was prepared by a candidate for Executive Chef.....it was very good, and dinner was prepared by another culinary team candidate. We selected both of them.....
Wednesday more interviews......and two hours touring the hotel site with our General Manager, Shoeb. Things are falling into place and the Doubletree by Hilton-Visakhapatnam is "destined" to open in a few short months. After the tour of the property, we had approximately an hour or so before the sun disappeared, so we took a quick drive north on Waltair Beach Road......Vizag was named "Waltair" during British Colonial times. Sonya urged us to take a walk down to the beach even though we were all in business clothes. While I was on the beach, I missed Preston's second soccer game.....this time against the French School......another loss for his team.....
Vizag is gorgeous......and each time I visit the city I fall in love with it again......here are some snapshot's of my most recent trip to the "City of Destiny".
The pictures: The Doubletree by Hilton-Visakhapatnam, Ashish Hasrat, GM F&B;Shoeb, GM of the Doubletree;Sonya, Corporate Director of Human Resources on the beach in Vizag, Visakhapatnam Sunset, Tombs, Vizag Fishing Boats at the end of their day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Our First Few Weeks In India.....Adjusting

Well, enough about Paris, for those of you that have been wondering how things are going in New Delhi, here are the highlights of our first few weeks.
We landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport at approximately 11:00pm on New Years Eve......and by the time we cleared customs and retrieved our luggage, the three of us wished each other a Happy New Year...Linda got a kiss.......a fitting way to start our "New Adventure" in India. Ramesh faithfully met us at the airport and after the introductions and wrestling all of the bags into "Indy"...we made our way home. It was late and we did our best to settle in as quickly as we could.....but I don't think we managed to get to bed until about 3:00am.

We woke up that Saturday to fog......dense fog......not much sunshine and Linda was asking in a concerned voice if this weather was "normal". Although I tried to reassure her, being in a strange place with the strange look, feel, sounds and smells of Delhi, I could imagine just what was going through her mind. It was Saturday, and after some additional acquainting with the "flat", I suggested lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. It was a good choice and we were off to great start......it was a hit with both Linda and Preston and their first taste of true/authentic Indian food. After lunch I thought it would be a good idea to introduce Linda to some of the shopping spots.....Spencer's (she liked), Ambiance Mall (impressive)and the Indian version of Wal Mart "Big Bazaar" (which was a disaster). If you ever want to hear a great story, ask Linda about Big Bazaar. Although we had a great start, I introduced too much to her in one day......I should have known better.

Sunday, we had an appointment with Preston's Guidance Counselor at the school.....Mr. Ridenour.....and Preston got his chance to see the school live for the first time......walk the campus...see the soccer field....and talk about his academic life on campus.

I started work again and Preston started school on the 5th...a Math Placement Test and High School Orientation with all of the other new students who were joining at mid year. The weather had cleared up...the sun was shining and life is good. Although the test was a bit challenging, he did fine....and the anxiety created by the test was quickly erased when Orientation began.....yes Preston discovered that the cute blond girl sitting in the room was not only from Australia, but that she was in the 9th Grade as well. It was a good day for Linda and I as well, because we quickly made friends with the parents of some of the other new students.....Day 5in Delhi and things were still going well.
Day 6 was the first "official" day of school as classes started....at work we were moving into our new office in Gurgaon. The routine was beginning to start...and by Thursday Linda was attending the PSA (Parent Student Association) Tea for all of the new High School parents. Her social circle was growing and she was becoming more comfortable.
Day 7 - more school and work, but it was the first of two Soccer Team Tryout's for Preston.....Wednesday and Friday...the big days!

By the end of the week Preston had learned that he made the JV Soccer Team and that the competition was pretty strong...and hopefully a few things in school as well. We were all invited to dinner at the home of some of our new friends, Gib and Christy, who's son Sam is in Preston's class and on the soccer team as well.
We have a great deal in common; as this is their first overseas assignment as well.
By day 5 or 6, I began wearing earplugs to bed, as we have developed "pressure pump" issues and the multitude of lazy dogs in the neighborhood are staying up all night barking because it is cold. I almost forgot the horns...constant honking.....and the construction noise.....(the pump problem still exists, even at the time of the writing of this blog entry on the 27th)

We shopped for window treatments that first weekend; our flat has a very generous amount of windows, which if you were a goldfish would make you quite at home.....Linda is being a trooper.

Our noisy pump issue has escalated by day 7, and we now have a leaky "geyser". Yes a geyser was leaking in our house....not the kind you find in Yosemite Park.....the ugly device that a person relies on for hot water to take a shower.....a 5 minute shower, with alternating pressure that is driving Linda and I crazy. She can't wash her hair, because the hot water runs out, there is water all over the floor because of the leak.....we are showering in Preston's bathroom, she is doing make up in another, our clothes are in separate rooms......musical showers.....dogs barking, pumps running and cycling on and off......ear plugs.....and we are experiencing India. Just when things are going well, she sneaks up on you and reminds you that she is still here.....at her finest.

But overall, Linda and Preston are adjusting well.....the next week gets even better. Still having "plumbing issues", but I learn to turn the pumps off at night.....no more earplugs, and I am getting used to the dogs and the honking......I have a day trip to Jaipur, a city where we have a hotel under construction.....I forget to take my camera but fall in love with the city. More to come on Jaipur.

Our shipment from the US hasn't arrived as of yet. I learn later that week that our Chairman is coming for a visit, and I have a conflict......I am going to miss Preston's first soccer game......and I learn that our shipment has arrived, but is scheduled to be delivered on...Saturday.....the same day as we will be receiving our first house guest from the United States.

Can't everything happen at once.....PLEASE! But Linda remains calm, cool and collected.

The Chairman's visit goes well,Preston's team loses their first game, all but two of our boxes get delivered (they still haven't been found), unpacking is therapeutic as we have items familiar to home with us now.....and we get almost everything unpacked before we need to pick up our guest at the airport that evening at 9:30pm.

This brings us up to date through the 17th......the picture above is a "geyser".....the other is the pressure pump that is still noisy......please excuse me while I stop writing......I have to the roof to go turn off the pumps and get to bed!

Three American's in Paris or "The French Connection"

Being without an SUV and having 9 very large and heavy suitcases presented a dilemma of it's own. But having a son like Parker who is resourceful and blessed with some very good friends, he managed to arrange to take us to the airport in his best friend Brandon's F-150. Our luggage was covered with a tarp to protect it from the rain, and our time with Parker was running thin.....it was a very emotional time for all of us and I admit that fighting back the tears was difficult for me. Parker is very much a man of his own at the age of 19, but it is still sometimes very difficult to not think of him as a boy. I wanted that hug to last a long time;I wanted it to be meaningful; I wanted it to speak the words that were not coming out, but were running through my head; I wanted that hug to be memorable (for both he and I). He helped with the luggage, waved goodbye and the three of us made our way into a very crowded airport to board the Air France flight to Paris.....
We landed at 10:00am without much sleep, but the adrenaline and the cold weather helped to keep us going. The excitement of the adventure had begun.....we had less than 48 hours and had the best intentions of making the most of every minute. We came well prepared with tips from Woody and Katie on the "MUST DO's", the "MUST SEE's" and the "MUST EAT's".....but our bodies were telling us that we "MUST REST". After checking in and with time nearing lunch, we decided to brave the cold and explore. We stopped by the Concierge and obtained a map and directions, donned our coats and gloves and stepped out onto the streets of Paris.

With map in hand we walked to towards the Champs Elysee and the Arc de Triomphe. The sun was shining and we found Paris still dressed in her Christmas best. Huge crowds of both locals and tourists.
We reached the Arc and found it to be every bit as impressive as we had imagined it would be. After years of reading about it and seeing pictures in books, it was hard to imagine that we were actually seeing it firsthand. The lines were too long to make our way to the top and decided that it was time for a bite to eat...we opted for a "bistro" on the "CE" and had a great lunch.....then more walking. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Peugeot.....future cars.....Starbuck's and more. After a few hours of pushing ourselves to our limits it was getting dark, so we headed back to the hotel to thaw out and nap......and we did sleep well, only to awaken and discover that we were hungry again. Before venturing out, we stopped at the Concierge and asked for a great "local place" to eat within walking distance...and that was open late....it was almost 9:00pm before we got our act together. We braved the elements again with the anticipation of a wonderful meal awaiting us at the end of our walk. When we arrived at "Bouef Sur Le Toit", the hostess told us that they were no longer serving, despite having the assurances from the Concierge that they were. Cold, disappointed and hungry, we turned to leave when a waiter quickly turned things around and dressed a table and we were able to enjoy a wonderful meal......the French Onion Soup was yummy! By the time we finished and were back at the hotel it was 1:00am. We planned to rise early, drew the blackout drapes, called for a wake up call, set the alarm and climbed in a very comfortable bed.

The wake up call came, the alarm went off several times, but our bodies didn't want to move...none of us.....by the time we did stir and have a foot hit the carpet, half of the day was gone.....it was lunch time and we were well behind our "scheduled" plans for the day. To make matters worse, it was raining.....and it was cold......but, we braved the elements again and ventured out to get something to eat, which seemed to be what every one's idea was.....the bistro's around the hotel were packed, so after walking a few blocks in the rain, we returned to the hotel for lunch. Which was good.....Preston had a Hamburger.....which he thought would be his last chance.
Although our intentions were to catch the tour bus, we were unsuccessful.....I tried and tried, asked several people.....but nothing was working. We walked up and down on the Champs Elysee trying desperately to find the correct bus stop.....our feet were cold, the rain turned to snow and although it was beautiful,Preston was getting worried that he was not going to see the Eiffel Tower....it was getting dark......we walked up and down the Champs Elysee, popping into stores to warm up, then venture out again......we never could catch the tour bus.
Determined to make it to see the famous tower, I asked Linda to "trust me" and coaxed her to follow me a few blocks away to catch a public transportation bus. she and Preston reluctantly followed me as I jumped on the bus, to be greeted by yet another "Parisian Bus Driver" that spoke no English and didn't appear to even understand "Eiffel Tower" and my hand gestures. There was only one other person on the bus, and he quickly came to our aid and assured me that we were heading in the right direction.
We exited when told, were given directions to walk to the end of the street make a left, and we will see the Tower. At least that's what I understood.....but when we got to the end of the street and turned left.....we saw nothing.....Linda and Preston were truly doubting my ability to lead them......and despite being "peppered" with comments such as "You don't know where you are going", etc. they followed. We crossed a few intersections, made a right turn in front of the Theatre, and when we rounded the building...there it was....beautiful, splendid, magnificent, and romantic...even with Preston in our presence. I had goose bumps and not because it was freezing. I think all three us us stood in awe of the site. It was the highlight of the trip...we were unable to make it up to the top due to the ice and snow, it was simply too dangerous and it was closed.
We missed out on a great deal, but we vowed to return and discover Paris on our return to the States in June/July when Parker is with us. It just didn't seem appropriate to be enjoying Paris without him there to share the experience with us.
And Preston won his bet with Parker; he did meet a beautiful French Girl and he had his picture taken with his arm around her on a very memorable night on the Champs Elysee! SO PAY UP Big Brother!

DECEMBER.....the Prelude

My last entry was in early December.......just before I left for my journey back to the United States to be re-united with the family and to prepare for the move to India.

It was a blessing in disguise to leave a week earlier than I was originally scheduled to leave......obtaining the Visa's for the family was the reason to speed up the trip. It allowed me the additional time to help Linda.....making some last minute repairs around the house, the packing of the household items, the packing of the items for India....two separate days of the moving company at the house.....what seemed like thousands of boxes....by the 20th of December......reality set in. The house, although not empty, didn't feel like home anymore....my comfort/confidence of leaving Parker was fading...not because of him....it was simply the reality of knowing I wouldn't be close if he needed anything. Spending time with him during these last few days was a joy.....but December wasn't as depressing as I have made it sound.....we had some good times as well.
By December 20th, we were on the road to Louisiana, and we had a stopover in Lafayette to visit our friends....and to personally deliver the "Prizes" that Erika won from correctly identifying the "TONGUE CLEANERS" in an earlier blog entry. Our night in Lafayette was just what we needed after two weeks of preparing for the move. The food was outstanding, seeing our friends was LONG overdue, and catching up and planning for future house guests on visits to India quickly got us excited again. Erika and Ms. Pauline, Sue, Jimmy and his family, Erin and Perry....and a last minute encore presentation by Doug with more good food. It was the highlight of the trip for us.....and a night we will cherish forever.
Then it was on to New Orleans to see our family and spend time eating more food and having more fun and celebrating Christmas with them. We left Houston unprepared for the freezing temperatures in New Orleans. Even though we made it to the French Quarter for Christmas Caroling, we didn't venture out of the condo.
By Monday we were on our way to meet Linda's mom in Mobile to deliver Murphy to her for safekeeping while we are in India. It was sad for all of us......leaving the "Murph" with MiMi.
We had at least a few more highlights before leaving Houston.....we felt safer leaving Parker behind with a more reliable vehicle, so we traded in our Ford Expedition......Parker retired the black Jeep that I handed down to him (it has 213,000 miles} and we took the plunge and he is now driving the "Silver Bullet". My promise to him was that if he gets straight "A's" this semester, I would help him with accessorizing. AND IF YOU READ THIS....please be safe and stay on the pavement!
By Sunday the 28th, we were all packed.....six very large and heavy suitcases (minus the Murph) and a total of three carry on bag's....nine suitcases in all......and the adventure truly begins!