Bangkok or Bust

It was almost the latter. Though this wouldn't be a Perlman family vacation without a little drama, right? Hey, don't I always say that whenever we leave town?

It all started on our late night drive to the airport when our newly repaired car stalled out in the middle of the road ... no less than five separate times. Clearly exasperated, our driver was once again quick with the excuse that the stalling was due to a "cold" engine. He did have a point. The mercury did plummet to a crisp 87 that night ... with humidity. I stopped counting after about the fifth time stalling, and as far as I knew we glided in neutral into the airport, with sheer momentum and frustration pushing us forward.

Following a few choice words and ultimatums, we entered the airport and negotiated our way through the masses and chaos to the Thai Airways check-in counter. What should have been a matter of mere routine, turned into a debacle of mass proportions when the agent couldn't facilitate nor issue Grady's lap-child ticket. Apparently Thai Airways had to deal with Air India's reservation agents to process the 10% fare balance for his ticket. Ten minutes ... twenty minutes ... thirty minutes went by and we were still waiting for the ticket. In the meantime, we also had to fill out a waiver for Sheridan as they took issue with her passport expiring in less than six months.

It was in the midst of this animosity and ire where we experienced another of those rare introspective Foreign Service moments. Matt muttered through clenched teeth, "The next time we leave this G*D* airport it will be to go home." When Riley turned to him and sincerely inquired, "Exactly where is home?"

Crickets .... Crickets ....

Matt was so dumbfounded he shook his head and for once didn't have any response. It kind of put this whole lifestyle in perspective. There really are no roots, and the fact is these kids really don't know where they're from. Sure, we always tell them that home is where you hang your backpack... but when you're almost seven and you have perspective, you want to have that connection to your home.

Of course, the self-pity was clearly a fleeting moment, as we were snapped back into reality when the bill for Grady's ticket finally came through, and it was double what it should have been. With little time to argue, and nobody who cared, I thrust my rupees at the ticket agent, snatched the ticket out of her hand, and stormed up to the gate. Getting through security no was easy feat either as Matt went through the male screening line, and I was stuck with the kids, stroller, four carry-on bags in the females line, and five security agents staring at me not offering a lick of help.

We finally boarded the plane, and it departed almost an hour late due to the failure of the ground radar system. Typical. By the time we were airborne and the seat belt signs were turned off, the flight attendants were coming around to serve a full dinner. Can anyone tell me why they need to serve dinner at 1:30 am? What are we at, a Manhattan wedding? The lights were finally turned off around 3 am, for the hour or so of sleep we could grab before descending into Bangkok.

When we arrived in the terminal, Riley remarked that she remembered the airport, and mumbled a few, "Wow, this is so clean" comments under her breath. I agreed. We quickly made it through immigration, grabbed our bags, and hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel. Upon pulling up to the entrance, Riley (who is clearly on a roll today) started saying, "This hotel is so fancy shmancy." Of course it was, compared to the hotels in Chennai where people are outside begging and sleeping on the ground. Again... that perspective thing...

For the most part, we enjoyed a relaxing day napping, hanging by the pool, and inspecting all the bathrooms (which the girls are proud to announce are "Awesome!"). However, I had to deal with car issues and the bevy of text messages my driver sent throughout the day while at the Toyota mechanics. I gave him strict instructions to have my car working by the time we get home Sunday night ... which it should .... unless there's another cold snap.

Despite our mishaps getting here, we're thrilled that we made it safe and sound and are relatively no worse for wear! For the next three days we'll be experiencing utter bliss as we go sight seeing, head to the zoo and aquarium, take the kids on a water taxi, and eat delicious food. We are going to enjoy this vacation to its fullest!

Wherever you are in the world, here's wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving... filled with love, laughter, and Starbucks Caramel Macchiattos.


Friday Fragments ... On Sunday

Because life (and illness) took over and I just couldn't get to the computer to update until today.

Let's dive right in and talk about the Silver Bomber. The car. The bane of my existence. It was discharged from the Toyota dealership's ICU on Thursday, though sadly without any scheduled follow-up appointments, fluids, or answers. Seriously, all I was told when my car was delivered was that it works 'fine', and here's your RS 12000 ($250) bill. The itemized bill showed that they 'cleaned' the fuel injectors and muffler, and 'repaired' the nozzle to the fuel pump... they also washed the car and did an oil change. That's it. They ONLY looked at what my driver suggested was wrong, and that's after he went back to the dealership to 'look' at the car with them. Nothing more, and almost certainly, everything less. They didn't look at the fuel hose (which my dad said probably needed to be changed as well), nor did they re-fill any of the fluids. So until I get answers I'm withholding payment, and even better, I'm sending my car back on Monday to be re-checked. I'm still trying to figure out how my car goes from needing $5000 worth of work to being released with just a $250 bill. Why am I so skeptical... what is wrong with this picture?

During the great car catastrophe, I came down with a nasty head cold that just kicked my tush. I made it through Tuesday, and even kept my volunteering commitment on Wednesday to help during the school's Bubble Festival. But Thursday I was down for the count, and sadly, so were the girls. They both had fevers and coughs, my head was congested, and what was left of my voice sounded throaty ... a la Kathleen Turner. The girls quickly rebounded, so Friday I sent them to school, but I ended up housebound and in bed most of the day. And guess who got sick on Saturday? Why does this always happen right before we go out of town?

On Friday afternoon Matt finally got Grady's Indian visa issues resolved. When you are assigned to a country as a diplomat, you're required to have a diplomatic visa. However, due to a number of extenuating circumstances, including the bevy of issues we encountered getting him added to Matt's travel orders, little support we received from both post and headquarters, and lack of guidance from the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, Grady entered India on a 6-month tourist visa. Without going into any of the sordid details or pointing blame, let's just say that Grady is now legally here.

After all this (and a wee bit more) we decided we needed a break, so we're heading out of dodge for a few days. Thanksgiving will be spent soaking up the Thai sun in Bangkok... Four full days of Starbucks (that's at least eight caramel macchiattos), eating at American chain restaurants, malls, zoos, river taxis, Buddhas, palaces, parks, shopping, dinner cruises, and more! If 'one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble' ... just imagine what three nights can do!


Six For Six ...

... photos for months that is.

The munchkin is six months old already. 6 months old!! I love watching the amazing transformation from baby to toddler. He's changing right before our very eyes.

His stats:

* 18.5 pounds
* 27 inches

He eats:

Everything ... almost. He LOVES green beans, peas, squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, and pears. He despises peaches... with a passion. He won't even open up his mouth after he takes that first unsuspecting bite.

His tricks:

Eating his toes. Rolling all around. Playing like a madman in his exersaucer. Holding his own bottle. Screaming on the top of his lungs ... followed up by giggling. Trying to sit up. Attempting to get onto all 4's. And yes... sucking his thumb. Sheridan does have a nemesis after all.


Patience Is NOT My Virtue

My parents are probably nodding their heads right now... as are my in-laws. And Matt? Well, he would normally be smirking in agreement, though after the last few days without our car, coupled with the plethora of incomprehensible conversations with the Toyota mechanics, he feels my pain.

I am well aware that I am ye of little patience. I own my irritability when things don't go as quickly as I'd like them to. Like right with my car right now. I am beyond frustrated.

We left off last Thursday with the understanding the Toyota dealership would send the "broken" fuel injector pump up to Bangalore on Friday in an effort to refurbish it, and save us the hassle and money of purchasing a new one. However, we got a call on Saturday morning letting us know that the Bangalore mechanics couldn't fix it, and the only way to move forward was to purchase a new fuel pump... to the tune of 1 Lakh (or around $2500). But wait, there's more! The tax, importing, shipping, and sea freight charges, in addition to the two month car rental fees, (as that's how long it would take to get here) would bring the entire transaction closer to the 2 Lakh range.

Are you freakin' kidding me? We only paid a smidgen more than 2 Lakh for the car! And to add a cherry to this sh** sundae, the dealership actually told me that it's too expensive, and they didn't want to order it... instead leaving me to either fend for myself, or enjoy the 4000 pound paperweight that would forever sit outside my front door.

Matt and I spent both Saturday and Sunday afternoons researching where in the world we could purchase this fuel pump. We found the exact model on eBay in Australia, though it was a two year old listing. We e-mailed four manufacturers in Singapore. We called the Toyota dealership in Sri Lanka. After hours and hours (and hours) of investigation, we confirmed that all roads to a new fuel pump lead to Japan.

Yesterday's and today's phone conversations with the Toyota mechanics were nothing more than an exercise in futility. Yesterday they told me that they were waiting for the part to return from Bangalore. Today they told me that the part never even WENT to Bangalore... rather they only sent a xerox copy of what the fuel pump looked liked. What? So they could perform "virtual tinkering?" Can you imagine what a faxed copy of a xerox of a greasy, dirty fuel pump looks like? Probably like a Rorschach inkblock test. If I wasn't so pissed, I'd find this uproariously funny.

So I sit here waiting. As patiently as I can. For the Toyota dealership to give me a concrete answer of what's wrong with my car. They switched their story again late this afternoon when they called to tell me they cleaned the fuel injectors, and muffler, and it's working just fine.... though they still want to attempt to fix the nozzle of the fuel pump. Why they didn't attempt this last Wednesday when they took the car is beyond me.

Breathe in ..... breathe out .... breathe in .... breathe out...

Nope, doesn't work. Patience is not a virtue.


The Tooth Fairy Is Working Overtime This Week ...

In the last five days, Riley has lost 3 teeth! She's starting to look like a hockey player.

November 14, 2009

Left: November 9, 2009 ................ Right: November 12, 2009


Another India Moment...

This is the e-mail exchange between Matt and the maintenance crew at the office yesterday. Nothing ever surprises me anymore...

From: Chennai Motorpool
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 11:31 AM
To: Matthew Perlman
Subject: RE: Mongoose in My Engine

Dear Sir:

As instructed by you the vehicle was checked by our transportation staff, the mongoose was removed from your vehicle and the engine was hereby water washed. This is for your kind information.


Chennai Motorpool


From: Matthew Perlman
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 9:38 AM
To: Chennai Motorpool
Subject: Mongoose in My Engine


During the security inspection of my vehicle this morning, the guard observed a live mongoose in the engine compartment under the hood. Having already experienced the foul stench of one dead animal in my engine, can you please thoroughly inspect my vehicle to ensure that it is animal free.


- Matt


The Silver Bomber Is On Life Support ...

... we're not sure if she'll make it. She's undergoing a fuel injector pump transplant... and they have to bring in a specialist from Bangalore.

The issues began early Monday morning when the car wouldn't start. Velan couldn't figure out what was wrong, so he called our trusty mechanic friend who hurried right over. After an hour of tinkering, the mechanic realized he couldn't fix it, and the next call was to bring in the big guns; the Toyota mechanics. It took the three guys who came (1 to translate to my driver, 2 to work on the car) about an hour and $20 to diagnose and fix the clogged fuel pump / injector. The car began working again. And off they went.

Until Tuesday morning, when Velan attempted to start the car. Nothing. He tried again. Nada. He tried a third time. Boom ... Boom ... Boom. We realized the end was near when thick acrid black smoke blew out her exhaust pipe. Velan valiantly performed mouth-to-hose resuscitation as he sucked fuel from the fuel pump into the injectors... in attempt to start her. True story.

The Toyota mechanics rushed right over. Five men showed up to see why the car wouldn't work. They were there for almost two hours. Tinkering. Conferencing. Tinkering. Conferencing. Tinkering.

Eventually they were able to get her started just long enough to get her to "limp" into the Toyota repair shop. They told me they'd have an answer by the end of the day... Wednesday morning at the latest.

Around 4pm today I got the news. After "diagnosing" the problem (and I use that term VERY loosely), they think they've narrowed it down to the fuel injector pump and nozzle. Of course, they don't have the technology here to fix it, so they're going to ship the part to Bangalore to be rebuilt, since a new one could not be located anywhere in India due to the age of the vehicle... though I have to wonder if they really tried.

The mechanic is estimating that it will cost upwards of $500, and it will take a week to fix. So in layman's terms, that means it will be at least $1000, and a month before I have my car back.

We hope that at the end of this drama, she'll be as good as ... well... old.


I Got Nothin' ...

... except for a little complaining, though I'll spare you the agony of listening to me kvetch. Lucky you. Seriously.

Like sands through the hourglass, this was the past week of our lives....

Grady's 6 month immunizations ~ split up over two separate days

A cooking demonstration and lunch at a fabulous Mediterranean restaurant

Two trips to the Apollo Children's Hospital to visit our good friend's little guy who was there for observation due to a horrible drug allergy.

Riley started her swim club practice twice a week

We had parent teacher conferences, with Sheridan's lasting twice as long as Riley's

And Shabbat dinner with a small group of other "Members of The Tribe."

We were house-bound for almost three days due to the monsoons that finally rolled in

... though we did make a quick escape to dinner Saturday night with friends.

And Riley finally lost her tooth. Which reminds me that I need to ensure that the tooth fairy doesn't forget to stop by our house tonight ... which would be bad if she did, considering Riley wrote her a personal note, and I promised her that if the fairy had trouble deciphering what she said that I'd call her and explain ... as I have her number programed in my iPhone.

Riley asked how to spell 3rd ... to which I responded "it's three with an 'rd'.
I thought she'd write the number three, but instead she spelled it out and added the 'rd'.
It took me awhile to figure out what she wrote ...

Visiting Carter in the hospital. Sheridan LOVED looking at his IV and everything he was connected to. Riley was just afraid he was contagious and quickly jumped off the bed after the photo.

The back patio after the monsoons. This area is MUCH larger than our last home, and thus it takes a LOT longer to flood. The water is still about 10 - 12 inches in some areas, though it pales in comparison to last year's floods. Not that I'm complaining...


My Caramel Macchiatto Runneth Over ...

I just got word this afternoon that my little blog here, this space in which I write about the chaos of our family of five, was recently recognized in the November edition of the Foreign Service Journal. I had no idea they were going to be mentioning my blog. No clue they would be reviewing our family's journey. I didn't know they knew of me.

But they did. They do. And the author has great taste! In his overview of my blog he writes ...

"Updated frequently and written with an almost brutal honesty - "follow the chaos as we tell our tales of life abroad" - this blog directly addresses some of the hardest issues relating to Foreign Service family life. But the author never displays undue angst and tempers her views with a healthy dose of hope and fondness for the mundane. Her ability to inject sass and emotion into a family letter is incredibly endearing."

Oddly enough, if you remember, about two and a half months ago I really struggled with the decision of making my blog private. I vacillated about it for weeks, truly unsure of the direction in which to turn. Despite the updated disclaimer, I still find myself holding back on occasion. Not always calling a spade a spade due to the fishbowl community in which we live, and the large number of local people who we know read about our lives.

The blog has chronicled everything from fertility issues, to babies, culture mis-identity, moving, and exotic vacations, to vomit ... and more vomit, consumables shopping, funny things that kids say, monsoons, struggles of overseas life, from finally adapting to the local culture, to saying good-bye to an old friend.

While the recognition is nice, and it helps remind me that many people enjoy the blog, this truly is a just cathartic experience for me. It's a place to write my feelings, and document our journey for our children ... though through the years I've realized it's also struck a chord for people who've experienced similar things.

So thank you for letting me share our lives. Thanks for coming back day in and day out with your comments, personal e-mails, and stories ... because even though it sounds uber fun to live in a 3rd world country about 10,000 miles from "home", oftentimes we really miss having our family and dearest friends near us to help support us during good times as well as bad.

And most importantly, thanks to my friend Donna, living in Beijing, who let me in on the secret about my blog ... as hers was also recognized in the journal as well! Another mom whose chaos rivals ours, (like the recent story of their maid who was recently hit by a car which left their family stranded without help for several weeks). Seriously, you can't make these stories up!

Here's the entire article in the Foreign Service Journal. It starts on page 43 ... with my highlight on page 47. Enjoy ... as my five minutes of fame are now up.

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