Monday, October 27, 2008

A few fun days ...

The past few weeks we've had incredibly great weather in San Francisco (and the bay area). Not sure who to credit/blame for this, but we are enjoying it as much as we can. We had a great outing on friday (after school) and Saturday with the kids and a few friends. Friday after school we went to Hotel Nikko swimming pool and swam for some time. I took the opportunity to use the gym and did the elliptical machine for a mile and a stationary bike for a mile. The kids then warmed up in the sauna before we continued on our adventures. We took the powell street cable car and were headed toward ghiradelli square. After China town the cable car goes via Russian Hill (Hyde and Union), which is also the location of Zarzuela, one of our favorites tapas bar. It was early enough that we decided to jump out and have an early dinner with the kids.

The meal (tortilla omelet, patatas bravas, goat cheese in tomato sauce, grilled calamari, crab bisque soup) was quite good along with some excellent sangria. Maya was quite adventurous and tried (and liked) pretty much all the dishes. PJ pushed her boundaries a bit and tried a few more things in addition to her favorite food of bread with olive oil :). It was getting late so we headed back home. The first couple of cable cars were full, we managed to get on the third car and then took the underground to castro where the car was parked.

On saturday we headed to Muir woods to take the kids on a short hike. Our friend trish had an extra credit project out there and hence the outing. The extra credit was a bit lame (she just had to take a photograph and a receipt of the visit along with a short writeup), but we did get a decent hike in. Its quite amazing that even though the place is super crowded at the entrance, most of the crowd does not venture past the second bridge. We made it close to the end of the boardwalk trail with multiple snack stops and visits to big trees along the way. On the return, Tan, Trish, Nick and I took the hillside trail back to the visitor center. Towards the end of the hike, we lost sight of Nick and Trish. Tan was a bit flustered and we split up to find them. Trish and Nick were waiting for us at the entrance and did the wise thing of staying put. Since it was quite a hot day, we decided to head to chrissy field and spent a couple of hours at the beach. I went for a short 20 minute run along the beach to give my knees/muscles some more exercise. Nick and Trish wanted to eat at Cha Cha Cha, so we had an early dinner there. We had a large group so we got a taste of most of the dishes on the menu. Most of the food at C3 is mediocre, but it does have a few excellent dishes (potatoes, cajun shrimp, jerk chicken).

We had a nice long uphill walk back home (helps to get sober from all the sangria) and had a one spoon dessert of yummy salted-malted ice cream from Bi-rite Creamery. The kids (and us) were exhausted at the end of the day. My knee was quite sore and achy which meant i was fast asleep by 8:30 pm (kinda amazing how the body reacts to various things). I've been sleeping much better the past few weeks, but still not as good as I used to. The temperature difference between the two knees is quite amazing (you can literally feel the heat from the fixed knee. this is expected behavior and should slowly disappear as the knee heals)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anterior Crucial Ligament (ACL) Reconstruction Rehabiliatation Guidelines

(Since i did not find a good physical therapy schedule on the web, i'm typing out what my PT gave me)

These notes are from Health South Doctors Hospital, Alex Lau

Post-Operative Week 1:

  • VMO quad sets with biofeedback
  • Straight leg raises
  • Gentle patellar mobilization/scar mobilization
  • Theraband ankle exercises
  • EMS especially important if patient unable to initiate quad sets of independent SLR
  • Prone extension
  • Gastroc/hamstring streching
  • Cryotherapy
  • Manual/self ROM zero to 90 degrees

Post-Operative Week 2:
  • Continue previous treatment
  • Isotonic program (hip abduction/adduction, leg curl)
  • Mini squats 0 - 30 degrees
  • Wall slides 0 - 30 degrees
  • Posterior tibial glide joint mobilization at 30 degrees and 90 degrees if ROM problem persists especially in ext
  • Bicycle ROM 1/2 arcs progressing to full ROM
Post-Operative Week 3:
  • KT-1000
  • Continue with previous treatment
  • Heel walking, toe walking
  • Balance/proprioception training on flat terrain
  • Reformer single leg press
  • PROM/self ROM zero to 120 degrees sitting. Upon obtaining 110 degrees of flexion proceed with prone ROM
  • O/C brace and crutches if ambulating without a limp

Post-Operative Week 4-6:
  • Continue Isotonic program (hips, hamstrings, leg press)
  • Continue with previous program
  • Treadmill forward and backward walking
  • Step ups
  • Trampoline - single leg standing
  • Balance board (lateral tilt, A/P tilt)
  • Weight shifting (modified lunge to 30 degree flexion: forward, backward, sideways)
  • Continue biofeedback for neuromuscular VMO re-education
  • Aggressive patellar and soft tissue mob, post-tibial glides
  • PROM/self ROM zero to 135 degrees seated, prone zero to 120 degrees
  • Interval stationary bike program
At the end of 6 weeks, patient should have between zero to 135 degrees ROM, good patellar mobilization. Normal WB and gait. Minimal pain and swelling. Biofeedback can be included in closed chain activities

Post-Operative Weeks 6-12:
  • Continue with previous treatment
  • Isokinetics limited range (90-45 degrees), high speed above 150 to 180 degrees/sec at 10 weeks (If painfree and no patella femoral problems)
  • Isotonic squats - Smith Machine bar weight only (feet forward, tibia perpendicular)
  • Lunges
  • Stairmaster
  • Slideboard
  • Sport cord walking (forward, backward, sideways)
  • Trampoline (Single leg bouncing, stepping high knee, weight shifting forward, sideways, diagonally)
Patient should obtain full ROM between 8-10 weeks. Self ROM seated and prone should be continued for 6-8 monts to allow full harvest site tissue maturation.

Post-Operative Weeks 12-16:
  • Continue with previous program
  • Isotonic terminal kne extension, low resistance high repetition
  • Theraband slow running low intensity
  • Controlled slow forward and backward jogging on level surface
  • Trampoline jogging
  • Low intensity impact activities (In absence of patella femoral pain or general knee pain. Patient should also have full ROM at this time.) (double leg jumping, sideways jumping, forward jumping, running on spot)
  • Functional closed chain evaluation
  • At 15-16 weeks, Isokinetic evaluation (In absence of patella femoral pain or general knee pain)
Post-Operative Weeks 16-20:
  • Continue with previous program
  • Running program if 70% quad stregth per Biodex test and asymptomatic function evaluation. Test speed dependant on sport specfic and symptomatic basis
  • Sport specific activities
  • Plyometrics medium to high intensity (broad jump, single leg jumping, vertical jumps)
  • Agility limits
  • Isokinetic evaluation and functional evaluation on a monthly basis until discharge from formal medical care. Patient will be discharged from formal physical therapy with a home program at 20 weeks

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ACL Surgery: 3 week report ..

So its been a bit more than 3 weeks since i had my knee 'fixed'. I had my first PT (physical therapy) appointment at the 3 week mark. Seems like I'm progressing quite well and have got a fair amount of flexibility back. Did not lose a lot of muscle strength in the quads / calves since i was not out for too long and have been fairly aggresive on stretching and walking and putting load on it etc. My PT, Brian, gave me a a pretty good post-op exercise worksheet, which i'll put on the next blog post (since i could not find anything good on the web).

I've started taking long walks up and down the hills of San Francisco. Can pretty much go for 90 minutes (with a small coffee break in between) with no significant issues. Also, I can walk as fast as the kids which is a big step forward :) The kids school had a walkathon yesterday. I walked a few laps with the kids and also jogged a bit. Jogging is a bit more difficult, but i suspect it streches the skin and flexes the knee more than walking. So will incorporate this into my daily PT exercises. There is still some amount of swelling around the knee, but this is normal and will be around for the next few months.

Its quite wierd how the knee flexes differently in different directions. Sitting on my bottom, in can pull my knee quite close (125 degrees or so) towards my bottom. However lying on my stomach and trying to bend my knee (hamstring curls), seems like i can just bend my knee a wee bit past the 90 degree mark. mari had a good idea of flexing my toes while doing it, which would get me a few more degrees. Maya helps me out quite a bit and does most of the exercises alongside me and is very curious about what each exercise does etc.

We've been swimming once a week and that seems to help too. Our latest swimming find is Hotel Nikko which has a nice warm pool (86 degrees) and is quite reasonable ($10 / adult, kids are free). This find was due to an excellent blog post in the chronicle. The kids are becoming pretty good at climbing at Mission Cliffs. As an incentive, i've promised to get the chalk bags when they can climb 5.4 and climbing shoes when they climb 5.5. I hope we'll do a lot of outdoor climbing this summer (along with some rafting and lots of biking). I was able to belay the kids with my brace in week 2 and did not need the brace last week. I'm hoping to start climbing in the next few weeks

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vote for Larry Volpe for the Intel tech makeover awards ..

Larry Volpe is an awesome teacher and a long time San Jose ICO volunteer. he's in the running for an Intel tech makeover award. To vote for him click here

Voting closes soon, so do it NOW :)

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Food Exchange

After almost two years of living in Nelson, we learned how to cook good, tasty, healthy food. I used my two "Greens", Cook book most times, and tried recipes from I also learned about the cook book, "Nourishing Traditions" from my friend Kath. Lobo used epicurious, and Sukies Indian spice packs.

Kath, Lobo, and I were always exchanging our left overs. Lobo made curries, I cooked things from the Greens cook book while Kath cooked from Nourishing Traditions. It was great to taste Kath's delicious cooking while opening my eyes to her favorite cookbook. Our friendly food exchanges became regular. Our good friends Niluckshi and Tamiko also joined in the exchange using recipes from Jamie Oliver. We started to drop off food at the school and place the food under our children's coat hooks. Having all this wonderful home cooked food meant more time at the playground with the kids.

A month or so before our return to San Francisco, I asked two good cooks if they wanted to be in a food exchange. Lisa and Jill both said, "yes!" Our first exchange took place on Tuesday September 8 at Rainbow Grocery Store. Jill and I carpooled together with Maya and Pj. The food exchange entres were:
Jill: Polenta and Fish Soup;
Lisa: Veg and Sausage Lasagne
Mari: Cheese and Nut loaf.

The food has been healthy, wholesome, and delicious. A lot of work went into those three dishes and were appreciated by all the families. Maya and PJ are pretty adventurous already and were agreeable to trying food that Jill and Lisa cooked for them.

For the past month Jill and I have been able to exchange dishes once a week, while Lisa exchanges once every two weeks. Jill and I live less than two blocks away from each other so dropping off food on each other's porch is very convenient. We try our best to deliver the food before Tuesday dinner. It has been great to have the refrigerator full of great food. There's definitely extra food which we eat for lunch or give away to our other food friends.

The second week entrees:
Jill - chicken cacciatori
Mari -dahl vegetable stew
Lisa - fresh pasta sauce from her garden

The third week entrees -
Jill - vegatable goulash
Mari's mom's - arroz caldo -

4th week entrees
Jill- green beans and grilled chicken
Lobo chole, chicken curry
Lara (guest cook) lemon risotto

We also had a pot luck on Saturday -
Arielle cooked a nicaraguan dish with masa and chicken
Lobo cooked a lamb curry
Mari: savoury bread pudding with mushrooms and cheese
Lara: Swiss Chard Greens with garlic
Cecile: Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate and caramel ganache- best cupcakes ever
Jill - Lemon Bars - they were perfect

Cooking has become fun and exciting when shared and eaten with friends and family.

Day 8-10 post ACL ..

Had a doctors appointment on thursday. The doc was quite pleased with the progress (and his handiwork) and suggested that I continue pushing hard and learning exercises from the web. He showed me a few new things to try out and I'll incorporate those into my thrice a day PT. (knee bends and hamstring curls)

Have stopped taking all medication (i.e. the tylenol). I'm able to put a fair amount of weight on the knee and can walk around the house without the ace bandage or the immobilizer. I use the cane to provide a wee bit of support if needed. Not having those two things really helps me a lot (since it caused a fair amount of discomfort). I've enlisted the kids to help me with PT. So they press on the knee and count to 20 or so. They also do the leg lifts next to me. So thats kinda fun.

Had a pretty long day outside with mari, lara and the kids yesterday (farmers market, dolores playground, tacubaya and then oakland airport). Was quite exhausted at the end of it. Figured that 3 hours or so outside is my limit before which i need to just lay back and rest for some time. Hopefully this number will go up this week. The food at tacubaya's was quite good. We had the veggie tostada, banana tamales, chicken tostada (for kids), chips and guac and menudo. Would be good to have a place like that in the city. Unfortunately sketch was closed for the second time a row at 5:00 pm. Need to send them mail :( Luckily the kids take it in stride. We had a chocolate cake (with some spicy mexican chocolate sprinkled in there) at tacubaya's instead. Was wolfed down by the kids (and mari and lara) at an amazingly fast rate (i.e. i managed to only get one small spoon!)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Day 6 / 7 after ACL surgery ..

Fortunately day 6 was more like the first few days after the surgery rather than like day 5. Was glad that day 5 was over and done with. Realized that I'm in a bit more pain towards the end of the day, and it might just be the fact that the body is tired etc

Got the PT drills down quite nicely. So doing more reps and for longer periods of time. Realized that the brace and compression bandage are a significant part of the uncomfort, so now I remove them when not needed. It helps that the swelling has reduced significantly. However, this means I need to make sure I have all the stuff needed within easy reach (since putting them on is an exercise by itself). Need to figure out a more efficient moving technique without the brace (crutches?), so i can lie down and stretch as needed.

Had a decent lunch at Shalimar with Lara, Mari and Dave. Being outside and chatting with other folks makes it much easier to deal with (since u r not thinking about the knee etc). Mari and Jill took marley and maya to the asian art museum in the evening. I had the task of entertaining and putting PJ to sleep. We had a small scoop of icecream and walked over to dave's place. They had already left, so PJ was a bit sad and wanted to go to someone else's house to play. We came back home, and spent some time opening the spanish material from la clase divertida. Hopefully their material is better than their customer service (awful, did not respond to email / phone calls). Read a few stories to PJ on her bed and came close to falling asleep there. Had a decent sleep last nite, tossed and turned a bit more than normal.

Having a hard time focussing and sitting for an extended period. So my work productivity is quite awful. However i'm making up by doing customer support and squashing minor bugs in CiviCRM. Hopefully the focus will come back in a few more days

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Day 5 (and 6) after surgery ..

so day 5 was probably the most painful day of all so far. Not very sure why, but might have been due to my "long" walk on day 4 (which had a decent downhill component). Anyway got up at 3:00 am and was quite uncomfortable (bordering on pain, i think) till 6:30 am. I finally asked mari to help me take a shower with the hope of improving things. It did help a bit but not a lot. I also removed both the support and compression bandage for an hour or so and that seemed to help a lot.

The rest of the day was quite similar. Was not really a happy person yesterday. We went to Phu and Tamar's house in Portola valley after school today. The kids had a good time especially when the sprinklers came on. I started hurting a bit towards the latter part and we hurried back home.

Had a great sleep last nite (removed the compression bandage also). Maybe it was a combination of lack of sleep and the wine etc, but things look real good and up today. The pain has decreased considerably and hopefully things will be better from here on out .... Its amazing how different your mood/attitude is after a good sleep :)

Have been doing a fair amout of physical therapy. Do a set of exercises approx 3 times a day (ankle streches, leg lifts and knee bends). So far things are looking good on that front.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 4 after surgery ...

So things are coming along quite nicely and am fairly happy with progress so far :) We removed the bandage and the immoblizer in the evening and then i took a nice hot shower. The knee did not look too bad, but it is a bit swollen (which is expected). Mari then helped me put on the ace bandage and the immobilizer. Its kinda hard to require help for every little thing, but over a period of time, i'm starting to do more things on my own. I helped cook a simple dinner of brown rice, dahl and roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary.

Tried to sleep without a sleeping pill and it worked quite nicely till 1:00 am. Could not get back to sleep, tried reading god of small things, a book which i've never managed to finish reading. This did not help put me back to sleep either, so finally resorted to taking the pill and got 4 more hours of sleep.

Went with Lara and Mari and had an excellent latte at four barrels on 375 Valencia. Was quite nice and strong, though i prefer the latte at cafe belbo. The space inside is really good (better than belbo and ritual), so overall this might become a regular haunt for us (quick bike ride down 14th street, when i'm able to get on my bike). I also started doing some physical therapy exercises which I managed to find on the web: Recovery after ACL Reconstruction. The straight leg raising is quite strenous and get the heart beating.

After speaking to the Kaiser advice nurse, i went for a short walk. My goal was to have a coffee at Reverie and then get a few books from Cole library. As I started my walk, i realized it was a bit too ambitious of a goal and I was not too sure if i could even make it to reverie. I thought to having coffee at the ashbury market and returning home. It was quite empty and I did not want to hang out there, so i continued onto Reverie. The walk back uphill was much easier and faster. I suspect future walks will be a lot easier. I'm hoping to get more sleep tonite with all this physical exercise. I'll also remove the immobilizer and see how that goes.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 3 after surgery and other news ...

last nite and today have been a lot better. Not a lot of sleep last nite either, primarily since i dont sleep on my back, but i've started to twist and turn and sleep on my side which is a good thing. Borrowing a few sleeping pills from my friend, dave, to help solve the problem tonite. Luckily, i have not taken too many of the pain pills, and hence have avoided the stomach issues associated with it.

Took PJ for her first soccer game. Was good fun to see 4 year olds run after the ball and trying to figure things out. Maya prefers to play in the playground and ride her bike instead of soccer. The kids are having a lot of fun in school and integrating quite well with other kids. We've met quite a few of the parents already and will meet the rest over the next few weeks.

For folks who have kids, here's my favorite rhyme which the kids learnt recently:

Where are you going, pig pig pig
I'm going to the garden to dig, dig, dig
Going to my garden to dig, dig, dig?
SHAME ON YOU, pig, pig pig
Sorry man, I'm just a pig
ALL I KNOW is to dig, dig, dig

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 2 of surgery ...

day 1 went by quite nicely. Could not keep any food (rice porridge) or water in my stomach till late evening. Then had a few pieces of bread and that stayed in. There was not a lot of pain and i attributed it to the nerve block that i took before surgery.

Did not sleep real well last nite :( Woke up at 2:00 am and then pretty much stayed awake for the rest of the nite. Took a painkiller (oxydocin) and that might have put me to sleep for 30 mins or so. Stayed up and finished a quick non-fiction novel (was not very good either, was about the kids and MIT and Las Vegas, forget the title)

Today has been significantly more uncomfortable than yesterday. I dont think i'm in a lot of pain, but am not very comfortable. Walking around is painful for the first few minutes before it gets better. Have been doing a lot of sitting / sleeping and reading the backlog of new yorkers. Hopefully things will be better tomorrow. Am just taking half the dose of the painkiller and might skip it completely till bedtime

Being immobile is a very different feeling. Kinda strange to be dependent on other folks for most things. Sat outside in the sun for a few minutes and that felt quite good. maybe a short walk with crutches on some flat area might help my mood. Doing work stuff (and blogging) is also a good distraction

Friday, September 26, 2008

ACL surgery done and over with :)

Got my knee taken care of earlier today. Kaiser informed me last nite that my operation was scheduled for early morning. So I was there bright and early at 6:45 am and scheduled to be operated at 9:15 am. They have quite a few patients to get ready for when the OR opens, hence the early call. Things were quite efficient the Kaiser way, and I spent a fair amount of time streching and getting a few last minute exercises in (while waiting).

I kinda expected to wait for some time, so had a stash of New Yorker magazines to read while waiting. This proved to be a great decisions since i spent a fair amount of time waiting to be wheeled into the room. My ACL was operated on by Dr. Miller (from Kaiser San Francisco, French Campus). I also opted to take the nerve block to minimize pain after surgery. Seems to be working quite well, since I'm not in any pain right now, but am quite nauseous. Nothing seems to be staying in my stomach, so i'm hoping it improves real soon

Overall things went quite smoothly. I was knocked out for 3 hours and then woke up in the recovery room. Had a few more painkiller IV'ed in, before they let me go home. They ensure that your bladder is functioning before they let you go home. I'm quite psyched that I got this fixed finally, and ready for some good physical therapy and get the knee back up and running soon. Need it to play soccer with the kids :)

More updates later, off to sleep a bit

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Life in San Francisco ...

So a couple more weeks since my last update and a few more comments and random thoughts about life in San Francisco compared to life in Nelson

  • Getting into a regular routine has been quite good. We dont spend a lot of time on the road on the weekdays, the backroads to the kids school is surprisingly fast (approx 15 mins commute, similar to our tahuna -> richmond commute). Also found a great coffee shop with internet access on the way (in Glen Park, Cafe Bello). I think the coffee there is even better than Ritual. Does give a pretty good buzz :)
  • Our favorite restaurants still rock :) So if you are in San Francisco for an extended period of time make sure you eat at Shalimar for north indian food, Vik's Chaat Corner for indian chaat (snacks), Sketch ice cream (any flavor, any time), Lime Tree for malaysian / singaporean food and Spices for sichuan chinese food, La Corneta Taqueria for mexican food.
  • We've been pretty good with eating most meals at home including lunches. Mari's food club is working great. Last week we got chicken cacciatore from jill. Jill got mari's famous vegetable dahl (the greens book recipe). This week we've got home made pasta sauce from Lisa and Vegetable ghoulash from jill. We combined the vegetable goulash with some dosa mix from viks to have an excellent meal of uttapam and yoghurt for dinner tonite
  • Mari and her brothers (benj and benny) along with brian (nephew) and brenda (niece) did the half dome hike this weekend (its a 17 mile roundtrip with approx 4000 ft elevation). I took care of the kids and we had a great time in the valley. Did a few short hikes and a lot of bike rides. We also went for a junior ranger talk / hike at happy isles nature center. Yosemite does have a fair amount of stuff to offer for kids. The waterfalls were non-existent / down to a trickle, so did miss that part of yosemite. On Sunday we took the kids on a fairly long bike ride (2 hours or so). I suspect the kids biked 5-7 miles that day. At the end of the ride, PJ looks at us and whispers that her legs cannot move any more.very cute :). The drive to yosemite on friday evening was quite awful. Took us close to 5 hours to get there. Luckily we did not get stuck in too bad traffic, but it was bad none the less.
  • Getting my ACL surgery done this thursday. Hopefully i'll be back up and be able to do short walks etc in 3-4 weeks. Mentally i'm quite ready for this and will try to do fairly intensive physical therapy. In the meantime i'm trying to bike as much as possible and do my favorite bike rides (ocean beach/zoo/lake merced, GG Bridge and Sausalito). Biking in the city feels like playing a video game, although the consequences are a bit more severe. Significantly different than biking in Nelson
  • Found a good public swimming pool for the kids, Martin Luther King Pool in Bayview. Recreation time is typically after school hours (3:00 pm or 3:30 pm) and they reserve a fairly decent section of the pool for families. Last Tuesday we were the only family in there and it was great. Today it was a wee bit more crowded, but still ample space for everyone. The showers are nice and super hot also. Definitely a good surprise. Richmond Aquatic Center still has a significant edge though :)
  • The kids are doing good in school. Maya has warmed up to the teachers already, and the teachers have already noticed PJ's masti streak. The school is quite good and we are trying to get involved with as many things as we can. There are quite a few evening meetings and educational things for parents on an ongoing basis. Will definitely keep the kids and us busy this year. They have a cool program called WOW (walk on wednesdays). We drive close to school and then join the "walking school bus". There are bagels and milk at the end of the walk.
Pictures and some indepth blog posts on other facets coming soon ..

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back in San Francisco ...

So its been a week since we got back to san francisco. A few random thoughts and musings ...

  • San Francisco is dense :) Compared to Nelson (or some other places in NZ), i suspect most of the world is quite dense and crowded. I miss the light traffic, short distances and easy parking of Nelson and NZ in general. I really miss the convenience of the library and the aquatic center and the fabulous playgrounds (though they are quite a few good playgrounds in SF)
  • Food wise, I think the two places are quite comparable. San Francisco does have a wider variety, but we pretty much had most things we liked in Nelson too. The two farmers markets are equivalent (in my opinion)
  • The kids started at San Francisco School late last week (Sept 11th). They've settled in quite nicely. The school has been wonderful and very accomodating and we did a pre-trip on Monday to get the kids a bit familiar with the other kids and teachers. We also had a play date with two families from the school last week at Walter Haas playground
  • The school is a bit closer than I expected :) It takes us between 15-20 minutes to get to school. I was expecting to spend 30 minutes or so driving them to school
  • Mari started her food exchange program this week with Jill and Lisa. The program was great this week, since we got to eat yummy rice and nut loaf (mari), cous cous with spicy lemon grass fish soup (jill) and lasagne with home made pesto and sausage (lisa). Here's to more good food in the weeks to come
  • Made a quick visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium on Wed before school started. We've been taking the kids there once or twice a year. Is quite amazing to see the various things that holds their interest at various stages of their life. The fish feeding and penguins were a big hit this time. If you are in the area and have little kids, do stop by at the Dennis the Menace playground. There is also a long bike trail which is great for families with kids :)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Review: Richmond Montessori School, Richmond, Nelson, NZ

Maya and PJ attended Richmond Montessori School in Nelson the 20 months we were in Nelson. That probably was our best find in the area. Its a great school with staff that really cares for the kids and gives them a good base for them to build their future on. Both Maya and PJ thrived in that school (along with their other classmates) and most of the times were quite excited to go to school. They were recently reviewed by the ERO (education review office) and came out with flying colors. You can read that fine review here.

Here are some of the highlights of our stay there (in no particular order)

  • The teachers (Tameko, Judith, Natasha, Sarah, Niluckshi and Sally) were all so nice, gentle and patient with the kids. I used to volunteer at the school twice a week and observed them and their interactions quite closely. Its quite amazing how they manage to get a large group of kids to work and focus both on an individual and as part of a group
  • The snacks and lunch :) The school provides lunch on tue-thu. Most of the produce used for the lunch would have been purchased by Niluckshi (the directress) at the Nelson Saturday market, i.e. local organic produce. The kids were introduced to a variety of different types of food from salmon and cream cheese sandwiches to pumpkin soup. At the end of our stay there, maya and PJ choice of sandwich was a mousetrap (a vegemite and cheese sandwich). We'll need to find a local source for vegemite to satisfy their mousetrap cravings
  • Bike thursdays and the two scoot bikes that the school offered. Kids out there get to bike and watch their friends bike every thursday. This positive reinforcement along with the help of the scoot bikes resulted in kids as young as 3 years old bike without training wheels.
  • Yoga class. Niluckshi would lead a yoga class once a week. Most kids loved doing it. They also had a simple breathing and mantra exercise which really helped the kids calm down. We used this mantra a lot with PJ when she would be upset / throw a tantrum. It worked wonders
  • Willing to experiment and try out new ideas. Mari made a few suggestions on things that the school could potentially do to make things better. The school incorporated those suggestions over the course of our stay there. Niluckshi and team really strive to make the school an enjoyable experience for the kids (and parents too)
  • Being proactive with regard to a child and their growth. We would talk with both Maya and PJ's teachers on a regular (sometimes weekly basis) and exchange ideas / get tips on how to make things better. Tameko would help us a lot with ideas on how to get PJ to eat better. Judith and Natasha would encourage us to organize more play dates to make maya more comfortable with other kids and adults
  • Forgot to mention the Profile books that they create for each child. This by itself is a work of art (and hard labor). Maintaining and updating it seems like a full time job for the teachers. They do have to work extra long hours to update the books for ALL the children
  • Maya and PJ also love the cooking classes that are run weekly. They seem to enjoy the music class too (which is run by fabulous grandparents of a former student, ron and gaylor)
We'd like to thank the staff at RMP for helping raise our kids and being such fine teachers. Your dedication and commitment to the kids and the school is amazing.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Back in San Francisco ...

We landed in San Francisco yesterday afternoon and are back at home :). The kids are quite pleased to see their old room and toys. Maya and PJ insisted on riding their bikes the minute they got home (after a shower etc)

We had an interesting experience getting to Auckland. Due to fog, the flight was diverted to Hamilton. From Hamilton we were bussed into Auckland. Normally would not be a big deal, but having to transfer 8 pieces of luggage (including a ski bag and a bike case) was quite the challenge. Luckily Maya and PJ are old enough to take care of themselves. They made themselves quite useful by rolling the third cart at Auckland and San Francisco airport.

We went for dinner to Phu's place and met a few friends. We had excellent Beef Stew with noodles / French bread for dinner (mari and tamar had a seafood soup) along with a good bottle of Rimu Grove Pinot Noir. For dessert we had some yummy bi-rite icecream. We had exhausted the kids out there and hoped they would sleep all the way home and into the morning. unfortunately they were still on NZ time and stayed awake a bit late, till 11:00 pm or so. Hopefully they'll get over the jetlag stuff pretty soon. Got a pretty busy weekend ahead with quite a few scheduled activities and events

Restaurant Review: Bouterey ..

We had two great meals at Boutereys the past few weeks. Boutereys was a finalist this year in the Cuisine magazine restaurant of the year awards (along with Hopgoods in Nelson). On both the visits we had a large enough group that we had a taste of everything on the menu :)

Our first visit was with JD and family. The restaurant (as most kiwi restaurants) were very accomodating and gracious to the kids. They had just re-opened after a three week summer break and had a new menu to start with. Since we were 4 adults and 4 kids, we ordered all 5 appetizers and all 5 main courses and did a lot of sharing. Some of the starter highlights include the tuna tartare, beetroot ravioli, the fried squid, the chicken pate with wafers and the pork belly. I just realized that I mentioned all the 5 starters as highlights. The kids were quite famished (we had a long full day with them in the great outdoors), so they were responsible for finishing off a large section of the starters. One slight disadvantage of dining with small kids sharing your plates is you dont get to taste things as a whole, since the kids typically pick and choose parts of the plate that they like. So the experience does get diminished a wee bit :(. The mains were quite excellent also. We liked th duck breast, the beef cheeks and the potato cannelloni. The only dish that was good but not great was the fish of the day (salmon). The chocolate mousse, creme brulee and the tarte tatin desserts complimented the fine meal. We also shared a very good bottle of the Felten Road Pinot Noir.

On our last week, we organized a farewell dinner at Boutereys with the staff at Richmond Montessori and a few friends. We had a total of 16 adults and 9 kids. We scheduled an early dinner so we could get out before the restaurant got very busy. Fortunately for us, this was a slow winter night and the restaurant was quite empty. I managed to sit with a group of folks who liked to share, and we did the same as our first visit, i.e. ordered all the starters, main courses and desserts. This time however, the restaurant paced the meal very well. The kids had a risotto for their main and a chocolate mousse with icecream for dessert. They got the kids meals out approx 10 minutes before the adult meals. This gave the adults time to ensure that their kids ate most of their meal. This allowed us to enjoy our meals with the various sauces and flavor combinations. Once again everything was quite excellent and I really enjoyed the vegetarian ratatotouille and cannelloni. We managed to stay there for 3 hours and it was quite cool to see 9 kids behave for most of that time. Our thanx to Tania and Matt for being such gracious and accomodating hosts

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Restaurant Review: Food Game ..

I should have written about Food Game a long long time ago, but i did not, and I feel real bad. A bit late is better than never. Food Game is basically a deli / take away / wild game food shop in Wakatu Square, Nelson (next to Lightning Direct and across from the Hunting shop). The yellow pages address is: 70 Achilles Ave, Nelson, 03-545 6505

Ben and his wife also started Fishmongers in Auckland, which is a great fish & chips shop in auckland and a must visit. It serves quite a few other yummy stuff besides F&C. We normally would have a meal there when we spend the day in Auckland before flying to SFO. So it was quite cool and nice for Ben to move to Nelson and start a great place.

The place has got the worlds best sandwiches! There is a different hot sandwich (or two) every day. Some of my favorites include the wild pork, the fish cake and the roasted doppler lamb. Ben will make a grilled fish sandwich for mari since she does not eat meat. Our friends the dierkings visited the shop a few weeks back and mentioned us. JD ordered quite a few things (none of them veggie), so Ben reminded him that Mari does not eat meat and packed a really good fish sandwich for her. Our neighbours Paul and Toni are also frequent visitors to Foodgame.

Here are a few items that we've had there that were wonderful.

  • Blue cod fish cakes
  • Smoked Fish Pie
  • Rabbit Pie
  • Balinese Goat Curry
  • Hot smoked salmon
  • Raw fish in coconut milk
  • Jamaican style Goat Curry
  • Wild pork vindaloo
  • Hummus and Babaganoush
  • Gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola
So far, we've only had one dish (filipino stule goat curry) that was not great. Unfortunately we had it after the balinese goat curry which was extremely good. Foodgame carries a lot of wild game (from marlborough) and also carries Doppler lamb. Definitely a must visit place in Nelson. I suspect this will be the place I will miss the most on our return to San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

back to san francisco ..

So in 3 days from now, we'll be heading back home to san francisco. All of us seem to have different reactions to going home. Maya is thrilled to go home and live in a big city. PJ wants to get reunited with her dora-dora couch. Mari is happy to go home to be with family and friends. I'm kinda in between.

I'm a bit sad to be leaving nelson since i really enjoyed the slower lifestyle here (specifically the not having to deal with traffic and crowds part). The kids have grown up so much out here and have learnt all the outdoor things we wanted to get them into. Its kinda cool that by the time they are five years, they can bike, ski and swim. Their favorite memories of NZ include the backpacking trips to the two huts (thanx Kat!), Flora Hut and Awaroa Hut. We pretty much talk about the hut trip every week or so. I'll miss all our friends and the gatherings at various playgrounds after school, the combined explorations. I'll miss the market and the food, but that is a whole new blog post :)

We've taken the move back as a good reason to reduce the amount of clutter and stuff in our lives. So mari has been spearheading a major major cleanup of our stuff. We also had to give away most of the furniture that came with the house. Luckily our network of friends managed to help us out :)

I'll blog a bit on the various things as we go through the process

Monday, March 24, 2008

US trip report ...

I went to New Orleans for a CiviCRM training. Getting there direct from AKL involved spending a lot of time at LAX. I opted to break the journey in San Francisco (on both directions) primarily to meet a few friends and wrap up some paperwork. On a related note, booking a multi-city trip on the Air NZ web site is pretty much impossible. I tried to use Judy our NZ travel agent to book the tix, but her response seemed to span quite a few days. Finally I just did it online and booked two separate round trip tix ( AKL <-> SFO and SFO <-> New Orleans)

Did not spend too much time in San Francisco. Did have a few good meals though :). Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale served a pretty yummy mysore masala dosa and a filter coffee (does not come close to the one at Mitra Samaj though). An excellent takeout meal from Shalimar (naan, chicken kofta, bhuna ghost and rice). A pretty good seafood meal at a Vietnamese place in South San Jose (at the vietnamese mall on Story Road). Phu preferred to eat at Cha Cha Cha's over Spices, so we ended up there for lunch. Luckily for us his older brother and family were also there. So it did help to have a bigger crowd and get to taste more dishes there. I think I'm done with Cha Cha Cha for the next decade. The sangria is good but not compelling enough to go back. I think we also need to introduce Phu's family to a few more places in the city :)

The New Orleans trip was a bit more hectic than i would have preferred. A combination of jet lag and 12+ hour work days did not really help things. As such our food experience was good but not great. I definitely would want to go back with mari and spend a week in that part of the country. Might not be a bad idea to do a couple of months road trip with mari, maya and pj on one the school holidays (with wireless network cards pretty much omnipresent in the US, its quite easy to be connected anyplace / anytime).

While walking to the group dinner, we stopped at Fiorella's for a quick snack. We split the catfish poboy (above average) and an incredibly awful gumbo. Not a great start to our NO food experience. Next up, was the group dinner at HerbSaint. I was fortunate to be seated next to Sarmeesha who also is a keen foodie. We decided to get the two soups (shrimp bisque and gumbo) and split 3 small plates (spaghetti with some great cheese and tasso on it, crawfish gratin and shrimp and crawfish over grits (my favorite dish)). All 5 dishes were excellent. I also managed to barter some food with dave for a taste of pork belly with side dishes of dirty rice and collard green. That dish did not seem to be as good as our plates. Dave did mention that his arugula salad with beets and cheese was amazingly good. Overall HerbSaint came out with a score of 7.5/10.

We had a quick breakfast of cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. The coffee was mediocre, the beignet were excellent (according to beignet expert dave). We did find a cafe with pretty good coffee, envie, on decatur street. So the next couple of days we had our coffee there.

Our two sandwich lunches were quite bad, so I will not mention the places here. Suffice to say, dont eat in the central business district of New Orleans. We were a bit disappointed that the line at Mother's was way too long, and hence with a sad heart skipped it. I also had lunch with the US PIRG folks at Casamentos. We had some raw oysters, an oyster loaf (basically a fried oyster sandwich) and a seafood platter. Most of the food was fried (good frying technique, not too greasy), but i do think that all fried food tastes quite good. You cannot judge a place on frying technique alone, so i'll avoid rating it :)

The next night we had dinner at Coops. We shared the jalapeno's stuffed with crawfish (mediocre), 2 pieces fried chicken (good) with rabbit jambalaya (mediocre, a bit too sweet for my taste) and an excellent shrimp etoufee. Unfortunately they had run out of mint (and hence mojitos), so i settled for a decent spicy bloody mary. Overall coop gets a 6/10

We had an excellent training session (in our opinion, need to get feedback from the folks who attended the training!), so we decided to celebrate with a good dinner. We lucked out and got a reservation at our first choice Brigsten's. So off we went. The appetizers seems to be a bit more interesting than the main courses, so we decided to split 3 appetizers and the seafood platter. The appetizers we had were: fried catfish (excellent), crawfish (good) and shrimp etoufee (excellent sauce). The seafood platter had a great jambalaya, and an excellent shrimp with pernod sauce. The rest of the platter (oysters and fish) was mediocre. The service was great and overall i'd give it an 8/10

New Orleans is definitely an interesting place to visit. Its a super touristy town, but also a bit poor compared to some of the other cities I've seen in the US. I suspect this was true even before Katrina and the neighbourhoods we walked thru (quarter, marigny, garden district), most blocks had a mixture of run down homes and good homes. It does seem quite well integrated racially and ethnically.

some good news and bad news ..

The good news is that the both the kids got into San Francisco School in the city. The bad news is we needed to make a decision and figure out some long term plans. Most of you who know us, realize that we like to avoid making any long term plans, but in this case some quick decisions had to be made. They give you a week to decide. Mari and I had an informal agreement that if the kids do get into a school that we like (sf school, live oak and friends school met that criteria) we'd head back to the US.

So we are off to the US for good in September. I'm a bit sad since we do enjoy living in NZ and have a great circle of friends. I really like our work and play schedule and the amount of time we spend with each other as a family. The less traffic / population density and close access to all the things we like doing make it a great place to live. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons with everything. Will be interesting to see how we react to life back in the US for the first few months.

This also means that if you are planning to visit us in NZ, you better do so NOW :). The NZ winter starts in may/june so the earlier the better. We plan to do a fair amount of travelling and seeing a few places down under before we head back. Some of the places we'd like to visit are queenstown, wanaka and southland in the south island, taranaki, gisborne and coromandel in the north island. We'll also try to visit australia (melbourne, tasmania) and potentially stop over in some islands (fiji, tonga, tahiti) on our return trip home.

Seems like we'll switch our travel schedule and go to places when the kids have summer vacation. I'm currently thinking it might be a good idea to spend time in a different country every summer for the next 8-10 years (assuming the kids still like hanging out with us!). Some countries we'd love to visit and stay in include South America (Argentina or Costa Rica), China and Japan.

Quick trip back to San Francisco

I'm headed back to San Francisco (actually at auckland airport / in mid flight) while writing this for a quick business trip. Dave and myself are doing a CiviCRM training in New Orleans, so i'll be spending most of my time there. This is the first multi-day trip in a long time without kids, and it already feels a bit strange. I did the same routine we did with the kids the last time we went via AKL airport. Bought a couple of postcards and stamps from Whitcoull's and sent them to the kids in Nelson. I'll try to do the same from the other two cities i visit on this trip. I was a bit sad on the long flight back and did miss playing and chatting with the kids. Since this was a business trip, I flew premium economy. For the additional cost, this is definitely worth avoiding. The food is relatively good (they serve you business class meals), BUT the seats are just a wee bit better than economy. The number of seats per row is the same as economy, so simple math does dictate that you will not get a lot more space. The seats do not recline a lot more either. Would have been so much better if they had traded off the food and seats. Seems like a scam of the highest order :( On the return trip, I did manage to get a decent rest. I was a bit stupid and did not call up and get a window seat ahead of time.

New Orleans seems to be a food mecca. The number of good places to eat seems to be mind boggling. Need to spend less time at work and more time walking and eating around the city. Our good friend Lara seems to know all the good places there. So we've got a long potential list of candidates. ChowHound is quite good to do research also. Between the two, i think i can spend at least a month eating and walking around New Orleans. More food reports as I visit those places.

We've ordered a lot of toys and games from amazon. Things in the US are significantly cheaper than NZ. A card game that cost us NZD 25, costs USD 8 at amazon. The price differential seems crazy and stupid. Since I'm traveling along and light, I figure I can pack a couple of bags filled with toys (and some food too!)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bouterey's Restaurant

After a 2+ hour hike up the Richmond hills, Kath and I showed up at Bouterey's. We were hungry. The restaurant was full on a Saturday night. The other diners were dressed nicely and more than casual and we were not. Thank you Bouterey's for not having a dress code.

I was looking forward to dessert so I only ordered a main dish. Kath ordered the curry bread and vegetable side. The very knowledgeable waitress reccomended the bread and said it was amazing. She wasn't kidding about the bread. It was amazing. We ate all but one slice which Kath asked to pack for home. Somehow it didn't get in the doggie bag. Every bite of the curry bread tasted like it was dipped in curry. Yumm. I asked if I would be able to order the bread, but it's made to order so it depends on how many reservations they get on the day, etc., but worth a try to call and request.

On to the main course. Kath ordered the monk fish which she said was very tasty and cooked well. They stacked the fish and layered it with vegetables, salad, and a few ravioli's.

I ordered the vegetarian - a tower layered with beetroot, pumpkin ravioli, and mushroom. Very good, tasty, special sauce. Eating the bread along with the meal made it a satisfying and delicious meal. The portion was enough that I had room for my own dessert.

I ordered the vanila creme brulee with ice cream. It was good. Sweet enough and rich enough for my sweet tooth. I wish I could've had more than a one spoonfull of ice cream. Kath ordered the chocolate souffle and fondant. It was chocolate and more chocolate of very good quality chocolate.

We left the restaurant feeling not stuffed but eating a very tasty delicious food.

Since I was making sure I'd have room for dessert, I didn't get a chance to try the starters. I'd definitely want to go back and have a couple starters for my main meal next time.

Bouterey's is on my restaurant list, just wish it could be on my lunch list as well.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Life back in Nelson ...

So its been a bit more than 3 weeks since we returned from our trip. It is indeed very nice and relaxing to stay in the same place for some time. Living out of a suitcase gets tiring after a couple of months :)

We've been having a lot of fun the past few weeks. The kids have gotten back into their regular schedule and so have the parents. The kids have made great strides in some outdoor sports. They are both now getting fairly comfortable in the water and can swim a few strokes without floats. We've been hitting the pool at least 4 times a week and have been spending 30-45 minutes or so on each visit. Not sure where the kids get their energy from, but i'm exhausted at the end of the day :) Its still summer here (not that u can tell from the temperature sometimes), so it does not get dark till 8:30 pm or so. We typically go to the pool after an early dinner (6:00 pm), but late enough so that we can use the hydropool (which is a super warm training pool). Its a lot of fun to swim with the kids and see them learn and figure out stuff. Maya right now is experiment with her back float and attempting to do underwater flips. PJ, as always is willing to jump in the deep end and figure out things in real time. As with most things, they each have a very different approach to how they learn and grasp things.

In other news, maya decided it was time for the training wheels to come off. Saturday was the day of the big no-training wheels ride. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so we went swimming instead!. Sunday turned out to be a great day, so off we went to Neale Park and the Railway Reserve Bike Trail. mari taught maya how to just use her legs to kick off and get the balance feel. I'm a bit sad that we did not hear about the Wooden Bikes at a earlier stage (would have made things a bit easier). Maya did get a quick feel for the balance and pretty soon she was pedalling with mari / me running behind her holding her up for balance (hard work!). We did this for an hour or so, and quite a few times let go and she pedalled quite nicely. So looks like she'll be up and pedalling away in the next few weeks. Am looking forward to doing the railway reserve ride with her and also the ride along tasman bay (near the airport)

After a short afternoon break, we headed back to the pool for another swim session. We were joined by zack/maddy/chris so the kids had an extra long pool session. We returned home quite tired and rested for a bit. After dinner the kids still seemed to be a bit energetic, so we marched them up the famous tamaki st stairs. The kids managed to get up 250 or so steps before they wanted to head back down. All in all not a bad sunday :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nelson lunch spots ... (Go Mexico, Bar Delicous, Falafel Gourmet, House of Sushi, Crema)

We've been spending a fair amount of time in Nelson during the day running various errands and paying bills that were due some time back. We also get to enjoy lunch in nelson while running these errands. Here's what we've tried in the recent past, the nelson ethnic food scene is definitely getting much better :)

  • Go Mexico: This is a mexican place run by a North Indian on Bridge Street (close to Collingwood). Our friend Chris had visited this place when it first opened and his reviews were not stellar. So it took us a much longer time than normal to visit this place. We went there for lunch today, and boy was it good!. Mari has the grilled fish (monkfish) burrito with a mild salsa and a horchata (home made). I had the chicken burrito with the medium salsa and a fresh lemonade. Ordering the drinks was a mistake :( The drinks were very good but a bit too big and took up valuable stomach space. My chicken burrito was excellent. The rice and beans had a nice spice and sour taste to it from the chicken sauce / salsa. There was a reasonable amount of meat but the combination hit the spot. The burrito seemed to be more like a home made chappati. Mari's fish burrito was also quite good. I tasted the fish and it was fresh and flaky. We only managed to finish half the burritos, so we have a yummy lunch tomorrow. After i mentioned Chris's review, the owner asked me to send Chris back to the place and pick up a free burrito on the house. The burritos are a bit on the steep side for those of us used to $5 taqueria burritos, but the quality of ingredients and size makes up for the cost (its get amortized over 2 lunches!). If you are in Nelson, go visit Go Mexico! now. We need to ensure it stays in business.
  • Falafel Gourmet is another great lunch spot (actually all the places on this list are great lunch spots!). I always get a large lamb and mari gets the smal vegetarian falafel. The large is good enough for a meal and a half. The tahini sauce they use is quite good. We need to get some pita bread and hummus from that store home the next time we are in town
  • Masao and Yuki from our favorite sushi place (House of Sushi) have opened up a new, slightly larger branch on Vanguard St (past the New World). We had lunch there last week. Mari had the fried warehou and salmon over rice with a small salad. I got a pork katsu over rice. We also shared a seaweed salad (which was a large salad with some amount of seaweed in it). We picked a few of their desserts for snacks for the kids. They were ok, i found them a bit too sweet. Masao's japanese curry is very good and worth having. I tried making a japanese curry at home earlier this week, it was good but nowhere close to masao's :(
  • Bar Delicious is our alternate to Hopgoods since its next door. It recently won the best cafe award in Wild Tomato (a local lifestyle magazine). The nicoise salad is very good here, so is the pork belly. Mari got the pan fried fish of the day (warehou). She liked it, but i thought it was very average. We finished off lunch with an excellent coffee from Crema (a coffee cart near the cathedral)
Its so good to be back home and not have to travel for the next few weeks / months :)

Brady trip report ..

Our friends the brady's spent a month in Nelson, New Zealand over the xmas holiday. You can read his trip report here. You can also see some good photos of Nelson and NZ here. This link should help folks who complain that the blog has no photos :) Speaking of which, we hope to upload some of our photos to flickr sometime in the near future :)


Monday, February 11, 2008

A Mumbai Wedding

Claudy and Ruby’s Wedding. It was an outside evening wedding decorated w/ flowers, lights, and more flowers. Pink and white were clearly the chosen colors. The bright lights delayed bedtime and the music started the party. We arrived on time and so we had our choice of tables. Maya and PJ were full of energy and happy to be dancing to fun music on an empty dance floor.

When Maya and PJ’s cousins finally arrived, they happily danced around with them. I took this chance to take pictures of all that was happening. I wore my friend’s sari that she so freely lent to me. Thank you Smita. It was fun to wear as I felt I blended in with the other few hundred guests. Some advantages to wearing a sari – it’s a good guard against mosquitos, and allows air to freely flow through. I had shorts on just in case of it all falling apart. I found myself adjusting it a lot but maybe more so than needed since I was thinking about it’s looseness whenever I wasn’t roaming around taking pictures or keeping up with the kids.

When the two guests of honor arrived, the DJ did a great job keeping the party alive. Everyone had a good time throwing the pink and white tiny styro-foam balls as Claudy and Ruby walked passed all 400+ guests. Right after that they cut the cake. Kurund was more than happy to open the bottle of champagne and squirt a few lucky people. I was very lucky. After the toasts, the dancing started.

While the dancing started, I and Maya wandered around the buffet table. The servers were kind and allowed Maya and I to take some food before the official food announcement. There were a lot of food choices for vegetarians, carnivores and mithai eaters. The jellibee was the best I’ve every eaten. The chocolate cake was excellent too.

There were crayons and paper available to all the children which helped entertain the kids while the adults filled the dance floor or just relaxed at the table while enjoying the moment.

Around 930pm or so, Maya and PJ fell asleep on a couple of the cushy chairs. They’re cousin Anika joined them. When the music stopped around 10pm or so, everyone quit dancing to eat. To end a fun filled evening, we went on stage to congratulate Claudy and Ruby once again.

You can view a few of the wedding pictures here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Trip Report: Final Days in PI ...

We decided to take the family to Normi's beach resort in Bacanotan. Mari's mom has a huge family, so we invited only the kids. This was an unplanned event, so trying to figure out food and transportation for 100 people or so was not really feasible. We ended up with approx 25 adult/kids at the beach. Bacanotan is quite close to the water, but there is no public access to the beach. This is really sad and shocking. Its amazing places exist where there are km's of coastline but no public access. Most of the locals cannot really afford to pay the $3 (USD) to a resort to access the beach. Due to the high cost a beach visit is a very rare occurrence for most of the family. It was quite nice to see all the kids have a great time at the beach. We had a big wave drench all the little kids and then the group decided it would be a bit more fun to play in the swimming pool. After the swim session, we had a snack of club sandwiches, fries, cold drinks and topped it off with ice cream.

The number of kids / young adults is very noticeable in PI. In the villages the percentage is even more noticeable. Mari's dad mentioned that more than 50% of the population is under 30 years. Family sizes are quite high in the villages, and quite a few teens are kids. PI is also a very religious country. Most towns have churches of quite a few denominations (roman catholic, iglesio de christi, seventh day adventist, latter day saints). I suspect the high birth rate is due to a combination of the influence of religion / church and lack of education. Quite a few of mari's cousin's drop out before they even complete high school.

We drove to Manila a few days before our departure to HK / NZ. We stayed at Fraser Place Apartments in Makati. The apartment was quite spacious and the kids had a great time running around the place. We were travel fatigued by the time we goto manila, and took it quite easy and stayed in and around the apartment most of the time. Manila was quite hot during the day and the ac apartment and swimming pool were quite attractive. We had the families of Joy and Alex (maris cousins) visit us in the evenings. Maya and PJ had a great time playing with alliana and justin. Since we were such a large group we just picked up some takeout food for dinner.

We then flew to HK and spent the day there before catching our flight back to NZ. HK was quite cold so we could not spend much time outside. We did have a great dim sum meal at the Celestial Cafe at the Sheraton in Kowloon. We also spent some time in Kowloon Park. We then took the ferry to Hong Kong Island and spent the remainder of the day at IFC mall. We found a good market there, CitySuper, which seems to be similar to whole foods in the US. We got some good bread and a great sashimi platter for a light dinner. We made the children march up and down the escalators at IFC mall and the airport a fair amount. This worked out quite nicely since they slept on the plane even before the plane took off and were knocked out for the next 9 hours.

The flight back was uneventful. We got back home at 5:00 pm. It feels good to be back in a place for the next few months at least ...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Trip Report: Tam-awan Village

We read about Tam-awan Village in the Lonely Planet while looking for places to stay in Baguio. The description was interesting enough and seemed like we would learn a bit more about Filipino culture and tribes that we decided to stay there. On friday evening, we landed up in Tam-awan Village. Alex is not very familiar with Baguio, so it took us some time to find the right road to get to Tam-awan.

There are some places that seem just right at first glance. Tam-awan Village is that place :). To get to the reception/cafe, you climb up 30 steps or so. Its a small patch of forest surrounded by some old and lots of new development. While climbing the steps an artist entertained the kids by mimicking an elephant and falling water sounds (a hollow bamboo stick filled with seeds or rocks). There is a small open area courtyard (dap-ay, a stone paved gathering place) which is the main focal point of the village. Surrounding the courtyard is the cafe, the art gallery, a performing stage and an Ifugao house which can sleep upto 8 people. The group stayed in this house while we stayed in a smaller house slightly further up the hill. The house is made up of heavy hand-hewn timber, the roof is covered with hay and bound with reed and cogon. In the original construction, nails were not used in the building (probably because nails were not available either). The houses were disassembled and tagged at the source, and reconstructed in the village (was relatively easy to do due to lack of nails!). I had an interesting discussion with maya about the differences between the hut and the houses we have stayed in on this trip. Some of the things we talked about were that the hut was basically a single room, all cooking / cleaning / bathroom was outside the structure. The ceiling was also very very high. The hut was quite warm despite the cold outside (good insulation with the wood). The door was basically a piece of wood that slid open (and hence not attached). The door slipped out of its groove when mari tried opening the door. This freaked the kids out as they thought we were now stuck in the house forever. Inside, the house had a benches on all 4 sides, where guests could sit and chat. The benches were made of bamboo and hence we could see the ground underneath. The benches were also handy to keep all our stuff. There was a small wooden bridge to get to the other side of the complex and to a view point, hence the name Tam-awan, which mean a vantage point. On a clear day, one can see the south china sea, however we were fogged in on both days and visibility was quite limited. While at Tam-awan, we also had some artists sketch portraits of the children.

We had two dinners and a breakfast at the village. The meals were quite excellent and we managed to sample most/all of the dishes. We had some cordillera (moutain region) cuisine. One of their special dishes is pinikpikan (killing-me-softly chicken) chicken, which is chicken in a clear soup broth. There was also few different preparations of bangus (milkfish). Their adobo dish and longanissa was the highlight. Alex and Arlene liked the tuyo (fried salted fish) quite a bit. Breakfast was pretty much the same as dinner, with a fried egg added to the meal. We also had an excellent bottle of rice wine. The next day at the cultural show they released a coffee wine. They had a coffee arts festival starting the next day, and we were told that their coffee was quite good. We thought it was a bit too weak and not as flavorful as some of the other beans we've had in the past.

The next day mari's mom got a two hour (hilog) massage which she recommends highly. We returned that evening to Tam-awan for a cultural performance (and even more food). We saw a couple of indigenous dances including an excellent mindaon performance from a manila based group. The kids were quite enchanted with the tribal dances since there was lots of movement and sound. The indigenous dances were done by kids from the local school. The last dance included audience participation and mari graciously volunteered the two kids. During the break, PJ entertained the female dancers and invited them all the New Zealand. Maya decided to invite the girls to San Francisco. I suspect our kids are as confused about where they really live, as we are :). Both PJ and Maya agreed not to invite any of the boy dancers, since in their words, boys are too much 'masti' (naughty). I suspect the 'lion episode' in singapore zoo is still haunting them a bit. The village seems to have a fair amount of local support since most of the crowd was filipino, and many of them seemed to be local to baguio city.

Tam-awan is run by the Chanum (which means water in Ibaloi) foundation. It was started 12 years ago (1996) by a group of 3 men from Manila.The aim of the foundation is to sustain and nurture indigenous customs, promote awareness and respect for the cultural heritage and arts in the Phillipines, particularly in the Cordilleras. I spoke a bit with one of them, Chit, during our stay there. Chit was an electronics engineer for 10+ years, and then worked in the government for a few years, before he decided to focus on Tam-awan and the Chanum foundation. He has a great working relationship with the staff and artists and seems very much at ease at the village. He was also a contributing editor to Lonely Planet, PI. I suspect the prominent mention of Tam-awan in the LP guide, gets them quite a few visitors. The current goal for the foundation and village is to raise money to build a museum and display gallery for work. The foundation also has art therapy classes for kids from the surrounding provinces. We hope to link them with some of the other schools and organizations that we support in PI.

In this blog post, I have borrowed liberally from the tam-awan brochure. Please see the tam-awan website ( for more information and/or contact them via email ( or phone (+63 921 588 3131, +63-74-423-0570)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Trip Report: Baguio City, Phillipines

Baguio is a 2 hour drive from Bacnotan where we are staying (in Northern Luzon). We decided to do a short road trip to Baguio City and check out a larger city in PI. We were joined on this trip by Arlene and two of her nieces and a nephew. To avoid traffic we left at 7:00 am, however we still hit school traffic in San Fernando and were stuck in it for some time. We were soon past that traffic and climbing up the mountain on a fairly steep twisty road. At the top of Quezon Hill, a hose of the car blew and we were stranded near Baguio City. Luckily, mari's cousin and our driver Alex is also a mechanic, so while he made a trip to town to get a new hose, we jumped into a Jeepney and went to the main plaza and Burnham park. We found a pretty large playground and kid cycle rental in the park. That kept the kids entertained for the next couple of hours. Maya was quite happy to be playing outside (instead of sitting in the car) and was biking around the park like crazy. PJ on the other hand was content to be sitting in the passenger seat driven around by the older kids.

Since we did not have the car and the kids wanted to be like the grandparents, we had lunch at the nearby McDonalds. After lunch we headed to SM mall since mari's dad wanted to get a new cell phone or sim card. What was supposed to be a quick trip, turned out to be a 2+ hour wait at the mall. There was a bouncy slide thing at the mall, so the kids were quite happy jumping up and down. We finally had a decent cup of coffee at the mall. Its been a long time since I've been to a large mall, but a bit sad to see that most of the food carts were selling junk food (donuts, nachos, hotdog and fries). No wonder obesity is an epidemic in today's world. While we were hunting for Mari's dad and mum, they were at an Internet Cafe and playing Bingo respectively at the mall. Finally after gathering all the troops we piled into the car and headed to Tam-awan Village. The place was quite amazing and warrants its own blog post which I'll do next.

The next day we headed to Burnham park and the kids ran around for a couple of hours. Mari's dad wanted us to visit the Botanical gardens, so we headed there next. We could not find it, and decided to goto John Hay Park. The kids wanted to go horseriding, so we rented a couple of horses and went on the trails for some time. John Hay park is definitely very nice and we could have spent a much longer time there. However we were running a bit late and had to rush to meet the rest of the group at SM mall (again!). We had a mediocre meal at Taste of Laoag (the province that mari's dad comes from) in the food court at SM Mall. PI food courts are a bit better than the ones in the US but cannot be compared to the ones in Singapore. Its hard to have a quick meal with a large group in a restaurant. We then did some handicraft shopping at Easter Weaving Room (near Tam-awan Village). Mari bought a few traditional filipino costumes for folks in NZ, her dad bought a bottle of rice wine and berry wine (which were quite good). We then headed back to Tam-awan village for a cultural show before heading back home to Bacnotan. We had a good time in Baguio and would have prefered to stay another night. However the other folks in the group wanted to head home, so home we went :(

Saturday, February 02, 2008

First impressions of Phillipines ...

After an uneventful flight we landed in Manila, Phillipines in the afternoon. Maya seems to have gotten over her motion sickness since she has not fallen ill the past 5 flights. Hopefully this is a thing of the past. PJ was quite tired and slept for most of the way. The Manila immigration queue reminded me of Mumbai's queue 10 years ago. Not sure why it takes folks such a long time to realize that a snake queue, with a controller at the top, is more manageable and fair rather than 10 separate queues, which tend to split up and merge as the lines lengthen, counters open / close. After some initial confusion as to where mari's dad and alex were, we were finally picked up at the passenger pickup point. We needed to book our tickets from Manila to Hong Kong, so we headed over to Cebu Pacific Air. We could not book our tickets on the internet, since their credit card processor refused to accept our credit cards. The office was relatively empty compared to the number of staff there, but the progress was super slow. It took us close to an hour to book our tix. the agent made 4 copies of 4-6 pages of our passports, we also had to sign for the receipt we received. Not sure why they need to waste so much paper. This was probably our first indication of how things happen in PI.

Due to some mixup in communication, we were scheduled to drive for another 5 hours after we landed. We were hungry and tired, so i was not really looking forward to a long unplanned road trip with the kids. Luckily the kids love mari's dad, and I was hoping he would be the savior (which he was, thanx grandpa!). We had a quick lunch at Makati (the financial capital of PI, sister city to Manila) at a fast food place (Deli France and JolliBee). This was kinda sad, since we had avoided eating at any fast food place on our trip (i don't count an udupi joint in India as fast food, though you could make a very convincing case that it is!). We then headed North towards San Fernando de la Union, which is where the tagalon clan resides (mari's mom side). The five hour trip turned out to be a bit more than 6.5 hours. We finally reached home at 10:00 pm. The kids were asleep, which helped ease the transition.

Phillipines and India are quite similar. Most of the highways are 2 lane. There is significantly less traffic in PI. However the tricycle (a motorcycle with an attachment that can seat 2-4 people) are quite dominant on the highways. These vehicles are quite slow (35 kmph) and basically get down the overall speed of the highway to their speed. These vehicles are not well lit either, so you have to careful and aware of their dim lights at night. It reminded me a bit of our Hrishikesh road trip a couple of years ago, where the bottleneck was even slower bullock carts carrying sugarcane crops.

Mari's parents have a place in Balatacon, adjacent to the highway. So there is a constant vehicle noise all times of the day and night. Luckily its not a super crowded highway, so the pollution is not as bad as mumbai. I'm typing this with a window to the highway, and hear a vehicle approx once a minute or so (at 8:40 pm at nite). The one big advantage, PI has over India is clean restrooms (they are called comfort rooms out here). A few days sampling has revealed that most/all places have pretty clean restrooms. In india, the worst part of a road trip is the unpleasant restrooms (unless it a super busy corridor and you hit a few cafe coffee days along the way). Balatacon is close to the ocean, so we were hoping to go to the beach on a regular basis. Public access to the beach is a foreign concept here. So far we have not seen any public access.

Mari's dad mentioned that he knew a doctor who lives on the beach. So we headed over to the doctor's house. The family was away, so mari's dad went in to call them from his cell. It was super hot and approx 20 mins later, the gate opened and we were granted permission to access the beach. I noticed Mari's dad sitting on the bench with his head down. This is strange behavior for him. I kep watching him and wondered what he was doing. He then got up, but could not support his own weight. I shouted to mari that her dad is sick and we rushed over and supported him. We lifted him into the car and drove towards the hospital. The car had its AC going on full blast, so was quite cool. He recovered pretty quickly and insisted we go home, rather than the hospital. He did mention he was dizzy since he took a tablet a bit late (he was supposed to have taken it the previous nite, he took it in the morning). We listened to him and went home. He looked and felt much better by the time we got home. Mari's mom insisted we get a doctor and do a home visit. So Alex, Arlene and Winnie (mari's extended family cousins) went in search of a doctor. They located and came back with a doctor an hour later. The doctor realized that he has a very low pulse and recommended he stop taking one of his pills for a temporary period of time. She also recommended he check himself into a hospital. He ignored the latter half, but did take a break for the rest of the day. PJ and Maya were quite shocked and saddened to see their grandpa fall sick and could not understand what was happening and why. Later that evening, he felt good enough to join the extended Tagalan family for a clan feast.

Food in PI is not bad, my major complaint is that its always served cold. I'm used to eating food that is piping hot, so making this transition has been quite hard. At mari's place in alameda, we always have the option of microwaving the food to heat it up, which i frequently exercise. Out here in the country, the option does not exist. I'm hoping to taste a few more delicacies from other parts of PI I suspect we'll hit a few restaurants to try these delicacies. the LP guide seems quite good in this regard. The coffee is still Nescafe, so the country needs to make a few strides in the coffee department. This opinion is very biased, since we are in a small town in PI.

We decided to goto the beach early today since it gets quite hot in the afternoon. We hit the beach by 8:00 am (after picking up a few relatives along the way). We went to Normi's resort a few km south, which also has a couple of swimming pools in the resort. We spent a large part of the morning there, had a decent breakfast before heading further south to the city of San Fernando. While the kids were playing in the playground, Mari and I took turns scouting out for good lunch places. Seems like most place in PI are "taru-taru" (point and pick), with very little food being cooked (or at least assembled) to order. We lucked out and found Midtown Manor, a fairly crowded place (high turnover hopefully means the food is more fresh). The place also had upstairs seating, where we could order food (not sure whether it was cooked, or just carted from down below. i suspect a combination of both). While we had a pretty good filipino lunch, mari's parents went to McDonald's. We had gone our separate ways since they wanted to go to PI's Costco, which we decided to pass on. Later in the evening, we visited Mari's cousin Winnie's stall in the market. She runs a pretty happening halo-halo stall in the market and has got quite a few customers (while the other shops are closed for the day). Unfortunately halo-halo has lots of crushed ice, made from ordinary water. While tempting, we had to pass on it and decided to have a treat and had a coke. Singapore and PI are the only places (so far), where i've desperately felt the need to have an ice-cool coca-cola.

We are headed to Baggio in the morning, a hill station to the east of san fernando. We are supposed to be staying at this pretty cool arts complex. more reports from there (i'll also post this entry from a cafe there). Internet in PI is super cheap. the cafe charges 20 pesos / hour, which is approx 50 cents / hour.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trip Report: Singapore ..

We left Mumbai late 26th night / early 27th morning en route to Singapore. I'd forgotten how short this flight is (4.5 hours). Kinda makes it a bit hard, since the kids do not get a decent night rest. Gaurav, a friend of my brother Stephen, offered to host us in his apartment in SG. We decided to take him up on his offer.

In retrospect, it was quite an excellent decision to stay with Gaurav. We saw life outside of Orchard Road and Marina and got to explore the non-tourist side of Singapore. The kids were thrilled since there was a small play structure within the apartment complex. Gaurav rents a fairly spacious 3 bedroom apartment in Buket Purmei. The apartment complex was built by the housing board of singapore and has probably 20 buildings or so along with a lower school etc. There is a fair amount of green space for the kids and a few play structures in the complex. We also visited my friend PMT and his family, who also live in another apartment complex on east coast parkway. This apartment complex is private and has a few more facilities, specifically a swimming pool and a gymnasium. Its also much smaller in total number of apartments compared to the HBD complex.

Spending time with another family who has kids with the same age range makes things so much easier. PMT's daughter, Sheba, is also 5 years old and goes to a Montessori school in Singapore. it was quite entertaining to see how sheba and maya would play with each other. They were very polite and shared things nicely. They seemed to agree on when it is ok to break their self made rules. Mari has taught maya the dot game (you lay down a bunch of dots and then fill them up with squares and your initial). Its quite a easy game to teach and play but does provide endless hours of amusement and fun for the kids. We had an excellent lunch at a seafood place on East Coast Parkway (Red ???). PMT thinks that all the places there are similar. We ordered a chilli crab, a black pepper and garlic crab, fried rice, chinese brocolli with ginger and some fried bread. The bread with the chilli crab sauce was most excellent (one of the top 10 dishes of our trip!). The pepper and garlic crab was interesting but lacked the sauce (which IMO is quite important).

We then played at ECP for a few hours, watched some surf boarding at the man made lake there and saw lots of planes land at Changhi (amazing as to how busy that airport is!). We then went for a quick swim in the complex before heading to Chinatown night market. The kids were quite exhausted (not a lot of sleep the previous nite on the plane), and we had to carry them and give them a couple of good sugar drinks (coconut water and watermelon juice). The food at the chinatown night market (on smith street) was quite excellent. We got peanut/sesame ball soup, chicken porridge and fried noodles (char kway theo?). You need a big group to eat at such places, too many choices for a small group.

The next day we went and visited our good friends at the NZ immigration office. Compared to LA consulate, this office was very busy and quite slow. We waiting for 30 minutes before seeing the person. Unforunately our files had not yet been transferred. The person was nice enough to call our case officer (JD) in Christchurch, who immediately fixed the situation.Good thing that SG and NZ are relatively close from a timezone perspecitve (+5.5 hours). We were asked to wait for 30 mins and so we decided to head down to Food Republicj in Wasim Atria for a quick singaporean breakfast. We had a great breakfast at Toastbox (toast with eggs in a sweet soy sauce and white pepper). The other places at Food Republic seemed quite good also. We did want to have lunch there, but unforunately, we could not hang out in that area forever since shopping is the main and only attraction on Orchard Road. The much advertised and signed aquarium in Wasim Atria / Ngee Anh City is basically a large fish tank at the basement of the building. We then picked up the visas and headed to the zoo. We wanted the kids to experience the SG subway system, so we took them to the zoo on the subway. Maya has a slight aversion to subway's after seeing kurund miss the subway in NY. We finally convinced her it was ok, and off we went.

SG zoo is a must visit. Its quite amazing to see how kids change as they grow older. We've taken the kids to the zoo multiple times in the past. This time it seemed a bit different. Maya was really curious about some of the animals. It helped that the male lion got into a fight with the female lions and scratched one of them pretty badly and prevented the lioness from getting any feed. PJ was quite upset with the male lion. One of the trainers explained that the male lion gets teased a lot by the lionesses and hence reacts that way when his patience runs out. PJ seemed to relate to the situation (she likes to tease maya a lot, and maya gets mad at her periodically), but insisted that in her case it is very different. After playing in the park they wanted to go back and visit the lions again. They also liked seeing the other cats. The orangutans and chimpanzees also put on a good show for us. We convinced the kids to pose for a picture with the orangutans. The camera uses a wireless card to store the image on a computer at the picture desk (a few meters away). So you get the picture pretty much immediately after its clicked. Pretty cool use of technology. A new kids park / animal rides is being constructed at SG Zoo and this is scheduled to open in June 2008. Kinda cool to see them making things even better. The kids were having so much fun at the zoo, that we had a mediocre lunch at the zoo and played there till a bit past 5:00 pm. We arranged to meet our friends PMT and family at their house and then head to the hawker / food court at Vivocity, a new mall in SG. The Vivocity foodcourt was very mediocre. We had some decent dim sum and a collection of different noodle dishes. We over ordered a bit for the kids, and then ended up eating that food. In retrospect, we should have headed to a more historic / renowned hawker area like Maxwell, Newton or the more recent Glutton Bay (near esplanade).

We had an early flight the next day morning. We got to the airport well in advance and hoped to find a good breakfast spot at the airport. I was not aware that the better eating spots are in the public areas, while the transit area has the more mediocre places. We ended up eating an awful masala dosa and chai from Kaveri. The kids had inari and tamago from a sushi boat place. there were quite amused by the sushi going in a circle. There was a pretty cool block art area for kids and adults at the airport. We spent some time there before we boarded the plane to Manila, for our final leg of the journey.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eating adventures in India ..

Its a bit sad, but its kinda hard to try out new and different food places with kids. In general eating out with kids on a regular basis is hard. It took a fair amount of time for maya to get comfortable in Mumbai. It did not help that we would take a trip out of Mumbai every other week. PJ on the other hand was willing to go with anyone who offered to take her. That said here are some of the places we ate at (and liked) in India. You'll need to check the Times food guide for address / hours. The places are listed in the likability order:

  • Cafe Madras in Matunga, Mumbai. Good dosas and absolutely the best filter coffee. They also have good banana chips, chaklis and great halwa for sale.
  • Mahesh Lunch home near Khadi Bunder, Mumbai. Great seafood preparation. the fried prawns with garlic was divine. The stuffed pomfret and butter garlic crab were not bad. Bob had a great dining experience at Trishna, which is mahesh'smore expensive and fancier offshoot.
  • Mitre Samaj in Udupi. The best snack place in Udupi. Great dosas, decent coffee
  • Jaihind in Parel, Mumbai (near ST bus stand). Good fresh seafood at reasonable / cheap prices. Limited menu. The fried prawns was excellent as was the stuffed masala pomfret. If price is included in the rating, Jaihind beats Mahesh very easily (the price is a third of Mahesh)
  • Badshah Kulfi House at Crawford Market, Mumbai. Good pau baji and badshahi kulfi (dont get the royal falooda)
  • Madhuvan Village, Mangalore. Decent food for that area, crappy service.
  • Elko Pani Puri in Bandra
  • Wild Grass lodge in Kaziranga, Assam. The assamese food at this place was quite good!
  • House of Sushi. Takeout sushi made by Ravina in Mumbai (check TOI food guide). The rolls need a bit more filling and less rice. Unfortunately she does not have any raw fish rolls :( but the rolls she does have are quite good
  • Ratan Tata Institute (RTI). We've gotten snacks from this place and have wolfed them down (might have been because we were super hungry). The pattice and quiche are not spicy and the kids love it.
  • La Pattisserie in Taj Mumbai for birthday cakes.
Places that we'll probably skip the next time include Caravan Serai, Ideal Cafe, Noodle Bar, Baghdadi. Bade Mia seems to have lost its charm for me (or i really dont care for kebabs a lot). I was not impressed by the various biryani providers either (Olympia, Noorani, Lucky, Jeff's caterers). My aunt (annie aunty) makes a better biryani than all the above providers :)

And finally we can go back to NZ ...

For most of the trip our final destination was always a bit in suspense!. We could not enter NZ unless our residency application was successful or immigration figured out how to get us a temporary visa (since we had hit our limit of a max stay of 12 months / 24 months).

Our legal team (Karsten and Julie from NZ Immigration Concepts) did a great job, filed all the papers soon after we handed it to him and followed up with the immigration department on a regular basis. We were fortunate to get a very understanding officer (i'll use the initials JD, since i'd like to avoid mentioning the name of the person) look at our papers. All things fell in place at just the right time. We recd a letter a week before we left India about an interview in Christchurch before our application could be finalized. We explained to JD over email about our situation and our unsuccessful try at getting a visa at the LA embassy.

At this point, JD suggested it might be easier to do a phone interview and potentially finalize the application immediately. This would enable us to bypass the entire visa application process and get a residence permit (and returning resident visa). We had the phone interview last tuesday on our way to the web access office. We clarified a few things with JD and seemed satisfied with the answers. There was a minor hitch, since she was not aware that we were working full time on CiviCRM and assumed we would be looking for a job. We exchanged some more email and on thursday we recd our residence permit via email. We paid out migrant levy fees and confirmed that we would obtain the permit in Singapore. We got the permit on our passports earlier today at the NZ immigration office in SG.

Overall it was an incredibly smooth and excellent process. We managed to get the residence permit in approx 5 months which is quite cool considering the amount of paperwork and back and forth that needed to happen. Being able to talk directly to your case officer is so beneficial and smooths the process a lot. The Bureau of Immigration in the US might want to learn a bit from their NZ counterparts :)

So the uncertainty is off, and kinda glad to know that we can stick to our original plans and go back to cool Nelson. Hopefully we have not missed most of the summer. We are off to PI in the morning

Friday, January 25, 2008

Things to do / food to eat with kids in Mumbai

(most of this is from maya and PJ and what they liked doing in mumbai)

  • Cooperage Pony Park (south mumbai)
  • Mumbai Port Trust Joggers Park
  • Chowpatty beach in the morning (its clean and deserted)
  • Bandra bandstand park (on the water). The promenade walk is a couple of km's and has three playgrounds along the way and a Cafe Coffee Day at the end of the promenade.
  • jechand talakshi toys (51 empire bldg, above mcdonalds at VT). A great selection of montessori based teaching materials.
  • nehru science center, museum and planetorium. We did not get time to visit this, but it was high on our list
  • Skip Byculla Zoo, Taraporevala Aquarium and Aquaria (unless u want to buy some aquarium supplies)
  • Balodyan a playground for kids and women ONLY. This is near charni road station
Food and restaurants that are kid friendly
  • Cholle Bhatura from Cream Center
  • Natural IceCream
  • Kulfi Falooda at Badshah (near crawford market)
  • Sada (Plain) Dosa at any Udupi restaurant
  • Pani Puri at Elko's (bandra). The kids can experiment and make their own pani puris and decide what goes in each puri
  • Fresh Lime Soda or Lassi in any restaurant. A good alternative to water and not too unhealthy (if u regulate the amount of sweet syrup u add)
  • Some snacks (chicken pattice, veggie quiche) from RTI (ratan tata institute, colaba)
  • The bakeries carry quite good bread. We've bought good bread from Birdy's and CeleJour. La Pattisserie makes excellent cakes. Maya chose a chocolate truffle cake for her birthday which was very good

Trip Report: Mangalore ...

On our return from Guwahati, Assam we spent a couple of days in Mumbai. We attended Claudian's wedding (which was quite grand) in Mumbai, before we headed down south to my mom's native place, Mangalore. We always look forward to going to Mangalore. The weather is very nice, the beaches quite clean and the water warm. The traffic is also quite minimal (relatively speaking).

The airlines in India like to serve good food even on a short flight. We flew Jet airways to Mangalore and the service/food was quite good and similar to Kingfisher. There are some new cheap no-frills airlines which have started recently (Indigo, Spice Jet, Air Deccan etc) similar to the Southwest model. However, unlike the US there is no passenger bill of rights. So if there is a long delay, these airlines will cancel their flight. The passenger is then left to fend for themselves. We had this experience when the Pune->Mumbai train was cancelled and each passenger had to fend for themselves.

Mangalore is pretty close to the Kerala border in South India. The scenery is very green and lush year round. There are lots and lots of coconut trees and there is a decent sized river every 10 kms or so. Typically the river and the town share the same name (mulki, udayawar, katapadi). Similar rivers across the state boundary in Kerala have a thriving houseboat tourist industry. We had done a one day houseboat trip near Bektal, Kerala two years ago. I think one day was a good amount of time, it gets kinda boring at the end, and there is only so much scenery you can look at and admire.

When we got to Shankerpura, we gave the kids a bucket of water and let them play in the front yard (aangaan). The kids can spend days just playing like this. We managed to keep the kids entertained and snuck out to the big town of Udupi. We visited our favorite Udupi restaurant (Mitre Samaj near Krishna temple) and then took the bus back home. Mari and the kids went with my brother Frank to Coondapura on the second day, while I attempted to recover from a mild cold and fever. The third day we went to our aunt Sunita's place in Mulki. Her brother, Peter, drives us around when we are in mangalore. They have a great place in Mulki, adjacent to the confluence of the Mulki river and the Arabian Sea. They have built a new house in the past year and have a good 2 bedroom apartment on the first floor for guests and visitors. We are sending our friends Michal and Piotr on a 5 day trip to Mulki and environment later next week. I suspect they'll have lots of photographs. If anyone is interested in staying at Mulki at Peter's place, you can him at: +9194481 04396. There are lots and lots of beaches (most of them clean) around that area (Surathkal, New Mangalore Port, Kapu, Malpe, Ullal).

The next day we took all the kids, Ashwita, Allan, Anita, Maya and PJ to a water park near Mangalore (Manasa water park). We had a lot of fun on the various water slides. However, there the kids school was also going to be at the park later that day. So the kids were a bit on edge, as any group of kids sent them into scurrying away since they thought it was their school. This turned out to be wrong a few too many times, before we decided to pack up and leave. We had lunch at Madhuvan on the airport road. Its got pretty good manglorean style seafood. It also had spaghetti with olives which our kids devoured (it was a wee bit spicy!).

We spent the last couple of days just hanging out at home and playing with the kids. Mari started teaching the kids baseball. We used a 2 liter coke bottle as the bat and the kids collapsible ball as the baseball. It was good fun watching Maya and PJ trying to figure out the various mechanics of how to hit the ball. Its quite interesting to see how all these small things add up in the development of a kid. Its amazing how many things we take for granted :)