Yesterday I woke up to the news that an aunt had passed away. She had been in an accident and did not survive. There had been a few messages before that saying she was in critical condition but I did not see them as I was asleep. I woke up to the finality of death.
I wasn’t particularly close to this aunt. She was my mother’s cousin so not in the first circle of aunts. But the whole day I found myself tearing up. When my mum’s brother died I did not feel this much sadness, but that may be because he was ill for a long time. This was sudden. Maybe that accounts for my (over)reaction. I have experienced the sudden death of closer family members/friends and the seeming randomness of death does not amaze me anymore.
But the idea of not seeing someone who was so alive does. Although when I went to India I never planned specifically to see this aunt, I always ended up meeting her at some family gathering. The idea that she will no longer be present seems wrong somehow. This is the strange thing about death, that even after the event, you expect things to go back to normal and the person to pop up as usual. Acceptance of the finality of it takes time because at the moment it is unreal.
I believe that what really triggered my emotions was the idea that I could lose my own mother in a similar way. I know my parents will die eventually. But not tomorrow, not anytime in the near future. I refuse this possibility. And this death made it real.
I try to imagine the grief of my cousins who, like me, live away from home and would find themselves helpless when the news came. I cannot quite comprehend what it would be like to receive that phone call.
This aunt was extremely helpful to my mother who struggles to look after my now 103 year old grandmother. She would visit my grandmother and my grandmother’s face would light up. She was always at the other end of the phone line when my mom needed medical advice. This is a practical loss as well as an emotional one.
My clearest memory of this aunt: I had developed a serious ear infection on a trip to India, there was blood and pus coming out of my ear, and yet I needed to travel. Reluctantly, our family doctor gave me a pile of medication to help avert the possibility of my eardrum bursting on the flight back. My mum called this aunt, who is a pathologist and familiar with all things medical. She explained to me very calmly and clearly in exactly what order I should take the medicines so that all the fluid in my ear dried up. It was the most sensible and clear delivery of medical advice I have received ever. I still remember her voice on the phone before I take a flight and stock up on exactly those medicines.
So the advantage of attending a conference in US is that I got to see my sister, niece and brother-in-law (even if it turns out that the US is huge and my sister and the conference are across the country from each other with a three-hour time difference and a 7 hour flight) and I don’t have to get a visa (because I already have one). The disadvantage is the time difference, and this time I came equipped with a drug called Melatonin, which apparently helps the body regulate.
Maybe due to the fact that my flight landed in the afternoon, and although I slept on the flight it was fitful, or because of the superpowers of Melatonin, I was able to sleep through pretty much after the first night.
Highlights of the trip:
Watching a Golden State Warriors game live. The last time we visited was in 2012 and the team was one hundredth this level of huge. Now there is almost noone in the stadium not wearing a team t-shirt and people queue up during the match for the merch because the stall gets so busy in the interval. The last time I attended, I found the whole hoopla electric, and it was the same this time. Unfortunately, seated in front of us were some kids and one of the boys was obnoxious. Well, the kind of male that needs to stand up and cheer even while the action is one, obscuring the view of the others behind him, and basically refusing to listen to his friends who till him to sit down.
Eating Mexican food. With a half Mexican brother-in-law, I can count on his choices. In this case, we had to drive 45 minutes to the place. But it was yum. I ate a lot of Mexican food at home too, since the sis has learnt to cook it.
Hanging out with this one. Well, she hanged, and I hung out. At one point, we showed up at her gymnastics class and when she spotted me her face just lit up with the big grin. Her obvious joy at seeing me made me tear up. It made all those miles in the sky worthwhile.
To the bemusement of my bro-in-law, I had no interest in ‘doing’ things. I had done the tourist route in San Fransisco on our last trip, and this time I had a very specific agenda – hang with the family, watch one basketball game, eat Mexican food, and shop. I achieved all four so I was a happy camper. The result is that I saw more of the little town of Livermore they live in, and it was so pretty. The suburbs where my sister lives is so Wisteria Lane, where you can hear a pin drop, there are manicured lawns and flowers growing over the hedges like above. I must be growing old, because I can admire its charms.
The downtown is pretty sweet, even if it is just a few blocks. I ventured there for haircut, which unfortunately turned out to be one of the worst I’ve had ever. I like getting haircuts in different places, because hell, I figure it’s hair, it will grow. My sister booked me in with her regular, and I figured that I could have a consultation of sorts because I feel like that’s something I don’t get in Hong Kong due to the language barrier. Her hairdresser turns out to be a character and a chatter, but unfortunately not a great haircutter. I ended up going back and forth about getting my hair coloured, and finally decided not to when I looked more closely at my poorly shorn locks. I’m now going to have to go get it cleaned up in Hong Kong.
I did make one three-hour journey (each way!) to Palo Alto to see friend from college. I’m glad I did. We had a lot of laughs.
Finally, I shopped. The US really is a shopper paradise. In whatever category, you get beautiful things at whatever price point. I am a fan of Target. But I also went to the local outlet Mall and got a lovely Kate Spade wallet, and lots of tops from Old Navy, which hide my paunch. In addition to so many nice things for the kids. I also went a little mad with the shoes, but in the end, decided I was way over budget and returned them all. When I got home and looked into my shoe cabinet, I realised that was not a bad call.
The most amazing part of this trip, however, was hanging with my sister. The friend I met at Palo Alto commented that I was one of the few people she knows who has an uncomplicated relationship with her sister. Barring a bad patch right before she left for the US, my sister and I have always been close. This I attribute to her generous and protective nature. I realise on this trip that my sister is now my primary source of unconditional love, and I am so grateful for it. Being able to hang out with her in person twice in one year is a bonus we don’t always get, and I’m so glad it worked out.
Nene was sick for about two weeks. First he had red eyes, but it wasn’t itchy or runny so I ignored it but it got progressively worse so I took him to the doctor and he had a slightly stuffy nose so the doctor says it’s an infection and gives antibiotics. Now, this doctor gives antibiotics at the drop of the hat, so I’m reluctant to give it. We decide to use the eye drops and wait for a day, and I take him to another doctor who prescribes eye drops but no antibiotics even though she checks his throat. But that night he develops a fever and the next day we spot white spots on his throat – which is the first time I’ve ever been able to (I remember when I was a kid, my mum would make me open my mouth and peer inside but I’ve never been able to see anything when I did the same, until now!). So we decide to give the antibiotics, but basically he has a fever for three days and no progress, so we go back and the doctor changes the antibiotics and drops, but after another two days, he still has a fever. Now, some people are recommending I take him to the hospital but I decide to go back to the doctor and he gives yet another antibiotic.
When there’s no change overnight, I take him to the hospital and the doctor takes one look and says she thinks it’s adenovirus because of the eyes and asks me if I want to get a swab test. Which was my aim of going to the hospital. The next day we get the results and it’s a virus. Not the one she suspected, but a virus which means the antibiotics were pointless – except probably preventing a secondary bacterial infection. I’m pissed for listening to stupid doctor.
So after a week, the fever has gone, but the eye is still bad and he has a cold again. He’s been out of school for a week, and fortunately had a midterm break after so he had time to rest. Take him back to the pediatrician at the hospital and she now thinks the eye is an allergy as is the cold. She prescribes a nose spray and drops for the allergies. I give it a day or two, go to an opthamologist, who agrees that it’s allergies but prescribes steroid drops. This finally seems to be showing some results but considering the strength of the medication, his eyes are still reddish.
I feel so sorry for my boy who has borne all of this stoically. After the opthamologist appointment, I take him to a cute little cafe in Mong Kok, just a few streets away from the craziness of the Ladies Market. In a cafe with numerous coffee choices, I pick Earl Gray and Nene has a hot chocolate. We split a ciabatta and fish and chips. The flavours are unusual, but I’m surprised that Nene tastes and likes them all. We have a lovely time decompressing and go home. I decide that I need to do a date with each child more frequently. V tends to favour cha chaang tengs for meal stops with the kids, but I’ve noticed that they do appreciate places with nicer ambience.
We’re into birthday season, kicked off with V’s. This year was a big one and though he insisted he wanted nothing better than to be left in peace, his sisters decided to surprise him with a trip to HK. They are the fun loving types and I warned them that he would not want to anything crazy. Unfortunately, V ended up seeing their messages on my phone and the surprise was out of the bag (though he still pretended for their benefit). We had a lovely dinner at one of our favourite Chinese restaurants on his birthday and ice-cream cake which he requested. Then it was four days of basically non-stop shopping madness with the sisters-in-law (i.e. they proceeded to buy up half of Hong Kong; we watched in bemusement and were sometimes plied with the spoils). We also had some intense conversations, and ended up sleeping at 2 am almost every night. On the weekend, we went out for a drink with friends, the boys left after a couple of drinks and we proceeded to party till 3 am. I pretty much only go dancing in Hong Kong when the SIL is in town, and though I turn my nose up at the crazy of Lang Kwai Fong, it is pretty much the only place I know to go dancing properly (rather than shaking a leg to some uber trendy stuff). It took me a week to recover from the four days that the SILs were here.
In between, I’ve been trying to revise and submit a paper. I had submitted a manuscript to a journal a year ago, it came back with tonnes of very useful feedback from the reviewers, requiring major revisions. I asked if there was a hard deadline, and was told that there wasn’t. One year later, I get a note saying that my submission will be deleted if I don’t resubmit within 60 days. The fact is that I would have preferred to resubmit a little later on once I had finished writing a chapter or two and got my thoughts straight in my head, but I do understand that a year is a long time. Having gone through the process halfway, I couldn’t let it go either even though there is a low chance of acceptance. So I scrambled and wrote basically a whole new paper in about a month.
That’s what I’ve been up to. I have a birthday coming up, then Nene has his, and then we’re off to India in December. In between, I need to write a chapter of my thesis. Oh and did I mention, I’ve started Mandarin classes?
Carter Road Beach, Bandra
- Slipped off to India for a friend’s wedding. It was to the be reunion of our group of girls after Bali fell through last year. One got pregnant and bailed and another got really ill and almost bailed but in the end we were six ladies in Goa including the bride (not me, the one getting married).
- Landed in Mumbai with a slight tummy upset. Okay, I had had too much wine at dinner the previous evening, but I swear there was something wrong with the food on the Jet Airways flight in. That airline is really degenerating in quality. The food used to be stellar; now, even I, certified crazy “airline-food-lover” that I am, getting give it a pass. Moreover, the reason Cathay Pacific was my last choice on a flight to India (cost factors being almost equal) was the racist unpleasantness of their staff on the flight. Now it seems like Jet Airway’s hostesses are doing the same thing. I have never seen such grumps serving me on an Indian airline.
- Five flights must have landed at the same time because the immigration queue was packed. I noticed a strange phenomenon: white people cutting the line. I told off one lady, only to have her stand right behind me and the Indian people let her. Then another first-world privileged soul comes up and asks if there’s a separate line for British passport holders, chats and ends up standing right there. Then another white couple come and start talking to the original queue jumper, and tried to pretend that they were with her (they weren’t). They switched to French, and I was on the verge of telling them off in that language when the Indians behind the original queue jumper did. I watched the room and all over were white people queue jumping while looking clueless. The Indians who let the original queue jumper in were talking to the “separate British line” woman about how Indians never stand in queues except in foreign countries. Hello, the room was chaotic because there wasn’t an immigration staff around to organize things but by and large the Indians were queuing up. I wanted to scream.
- Someone left a bag unattended in the line. Two days after Brussels, we all moved away from it. Wanted to call security, but there was no one in sight. Eventually, someone claimed the bag. The same thing happened on the way back with a box of mangoes. This time a foreigner in the line called out asking who the box belonged to and it was claimed by its sheepish owner.
- I am beginning to learn how to do Indian Standard/Stretchable Time. I arrive ten minutes late for everything. Usually that means I’m on time for the other person or waiting only a further ten minutes. I am managing not to stress about being late.
- Before I left, at dinner with friends in Hong Kong, a male friend mentioned that young people in Hong Kong don’t have enough money to buy their own home and so each lives with their own parents and they meet in the week. My girlfriend and I looked at each other and said this would be a very good arrangement. Later, discussing this with the girls in Goa, one said she had actually proposed this arrangement when she got married. It solves the problem of which house parents should move into when they get old, apart from just leaving one in one’s comfort zone. Another friend said that she could never live with her parents. It was pointed out that my relationship with my parents was unusually cordial. By the end of this trip though I realised I could never live with my parents. Heh.
- Spent the first whole day doing stuff with my mom. We went to the spa together, where I was fully deforested and pedicured while mum got a much overdue facial. Then we went for lunch to Raj Bogh (the thali was too sweet for me though), then we shoe shopping on Linking Road, where we serendipitiously ran into one of my friends. I haven’t been shopping in the shoe shops there for years, as these days I prefer to just do everything in Shopper’s Stop, but there are some pretty good deals to be had in those shops (compared to Hong Kong prices). Whether the shoes hold up is another matter.
- In the evening, went with my dad to pick out a colour for his new car, and then met my cousin for tea at Birdsong Cafe in Ranvar. We giggled endlessly about the unbearable hipsterness of Bandra and whether bruschetta is pronounced brusketta or brushetta. My theory is if you pick one, someone at your table or the waiter will correct you and say the other.
- Next morning got my curls in order with a haircut. The heat got to me and I ruined it by tying it back in five minutes.
- I had limited time in Bombay and although I had severe FOMO, I did not meet friends when I was there. I visited my closest uncles and aunts, and I’m glad I did. It is tempting to skip out on the older folks, but there is something to be said for the affection that flows in these encounters.
- Every time I caught up with a cousin, I ending up spending more time than originally planned. Met my cousin after work, went for a drink to Otters’ Club and ended up chatting for two hours. Finally, finished up when the parents called to find out where I was.
- I did most of my shopping on Hill Road. It’s hot but honestly, those export surplus t-shirts are great and you don’t get that variety as well as quality anywhere else.
- The most charming encounter of my trip was when I walked into Happy Book Stall, a little bookstore on Hill Road that we used to go to as children. I ended up having a long chat with the owner, who it turns out knows some people from my building who are regular customers. He was also the kind of owner that actually reads the books in his shop and can talk about them, something that is quite rare nowadays. When he saw me lurking outside waiting for the Himalaya shop next door to open, he invited me in to sit in the air conditioning and wait. I ended up buying a very beautiful book of sketches of Bandra houses. He told me how the author of said book rudely turned him down when he requested a few books for his shop, but ended up bringing the books over himself. I feel like a heel ordering books from Flipkart on my trips home, and resolved to patronize his store more. It is hard surviving as an independent bookstore in this day and age when even chains like Crossword are struggling and filling their shops with stationary. I asked him how he does it, and he said, “Trust in God.”
So as mentioned earlier, I was dreading our annual trip back to India. Well, I’m elated to announce (spoiler alert) that in a historic first, the trip was awesome! That’s the short version. The long version is the rest of this post.
It helped that I got my period before the trip, so I didn’t have the usual immunity drop during which time I’m susceptible to any bug and the two days of pain.
It helped that the kids slept through the flight and so did we, and then they slept at home for a decent amount of hours again so that we were reasonably well rested at the start of our trip.
It helped that the kids were older, did not wake up at night for a feed (or to pee even, and never wet the bed once), went off happily with relatives and entertained each other. Although they had dropped their nap, V and I could alternate and handle both the kids if either one of us wanted a nap in the day, though a good night’s sleep meant that we could survive without.
It helped that one of us, or my parents, or V’s sister could take over all the kids and the other person could go out and hang with friends. As a result, I met Curly, not once, not twice, but three whole times this trip! Credit goes to Curly for persisting on this, because I was too chicken to even imagine that this could be a possibility, and to V for gamely taking over the kids while I had those much-needed catch-ups.
It helped that I insisted we all sleep in the least dusty room in in-laws house so at least V and I never got a cold (Christmas miracle!). Also as suggested by 30in2005, I took Vitamin C, gave the kids their multivitamin, and later started on enterogermina. The kids did fall sick, but just for a day at a time.
Our hopes for a peaceful trip were kindled on the first two days we spent in Bombay that went by surprisingly peacefully. My kids were obsessed with the numerous cats and one dog in our building compound, and going for car and auto rides to Bandstand and Carter Road. Our building Christmas party happened at the time, and the kids got their gifts from Santa (ironically played by my dad, who the kids did not recognize, though they commented on Santa wearing dark glasses at night). The party happened at Indian Standard Time which meant that it was supposed to start at 7 pm (an absurd time to start a party for kids IMO) but actually started at 8.30 pm after numerous appeals on the microphone for residents to come down. Then once enough people had gathered, the choir that was supposed to sing was late! I could only laugh, but Mimi fell asleep in the waiting, and awoke with a start only when Santa arrived in our neighbour’s car. We left the party after doing the birdy dance with some of our old neighbours. It was a sweet start to our trip, giving me the opportunity to chat with neighbours and give my ex boyfriend’s wife the side eye. After that one day, Mimi asked me if grandma had 89 friends and I had 50 friends. I don’t think they have said hello to so many people in their entire lives in Hong Kong.
We left for Bangalore after two days, and V expressed the (premature, I thought) belief that Bangalore would be even easier. I shushed him, partly superstitiously but also because it has never been so. But it was! My in-laws house has a yard and now the kids are old enough to run around in it with us only vaguely watching them from indoors. My FIL has two cars parked in the yard and Nene spent hours in them pretending to drive. Then nieces came over and basically it was a riot. Then FIL bought the kids a mini electric car and bike, and we basically saw them every few hours. (“This from a man who never bought us a pin when we were little” commented SIL on the expensive purchase for the grandkids.) The in-laws house was less dusty than usual and the new maid seems better. We spent the whole day of Christmas at one SIL’s and then two days at the other’s house, during which time we finally went to Cubbon Park and it was lovely. V and I also went for the Star Wars movie with BIL, leaving SIL to fend for herself with four kids. Weirdly, I’ve never been into Star Wars but I might be now. I also managed to get a haircut I’ve been hankering after but never able to get in Hong Kong.
V and I celebrated 10 years of marriage and it was sweet. We had a screaming fight on Christmas day over V shouting at me over a towel, or the absence thereof (I had made off with his towel while he was in the bath, but the reaction was not warranted), but we made up, and I guess that is what is different in our relationship now. We make up fairly quickly. We celebrated our anniversary with the in-laws (whose anniversary we share) at their farm and it was a lovely day, with the kids going gaga grabbing sundry chickens and goats and feeding cows. They also did a round of fireworks at the end.
Back in Bombay, I’ll admit I missed the freedom of just vegging (I read a two whole novels in Bangalore), and the kids got a little stir-crazy in the smaller house, especially the first day and a half when we were mostly at home. However, after New Years I started the round of visits to my relatives and it was fine. This Bombay trip was a bit of revisiting my old childhood haunts – our building, but also horse and mini Ferriss Wheel rides at Almeida Park, Juhu Beach (where I confess I paid a guy to make a monkey dance and then felt terrible about it later, and the kids didn’t even enjoy the performance), and Joggers Park where the kids spent so much time talking to the geese that they didn’t even get to climbing frame.
Did I mention I saw Curly thrice? Once over coffee, then we got a pedicure together (something I can’t recall ever doing) and then dinner and drinks with a friend, who shared some news that made me so happy. I also met another friend for a very long coffee.
The trip going well made it easier for me to imagine us living there, but after eight days, I kind of wanted to go back home to Hong Kong. I was actually missing work. I guess it helps to have work you actually want to do (though now that I’m back home, I’m showing no inclination to do any work).
Food wise, we binged on Indian Chinese, ticked the Nagarjuna box (I did not enjoy the meal because the kids were exhausted and Mimi kept kicking me), tried Bangalore’s version of fried chicken, ate at Peshawari in the ITC Maratha Sheraton, ate a superb Goan meal at my aunt’s, ate a variety of dosas and idlis, finally tried Candies (where I giggled at a bunch of old Goan aunties and uncles telling their trendy niece “what? No, I don’t want an omelette!”, ate a fabulus Gujarthi thali (at Raj Bhog, Khar).
Is it any wonder that my stomach collapsed? I had one bout of puking and diarrhoea mysteriously after the coffee with a friend and then dinner at home. I rested my tummy only briefly before going off for a five-star lunch. I was fine, except I pushed it and had squid again at dinner and a drink with Curly and another friend, and the next day I was puking non-stop. This might have been okay had I not been travelling that night. I was puking half-an-hour before we left for the airport nad completely dehydrated when we got there. By some miracle, V managed to get me a wheelchair, a blessing because then Nene started puking so I could have him on my lap while V carried a sleeping Mimi. My limbs had gone numb and leaden and I was convinced I had dengue (a paranoid fear of mine, not eased by the fact that I had just heard that our BIL’s cousin had shockingly died from two days earlier on a family reunion in Goa). Thankfully, a couple of hours into the flight, the leaden feeling eased and I didn’t puke at all. I dined only on Pepsi with ice, the first time I’ve ever flown and not eaten a meal (I love airline food.)
We are back in HK, Mia is reunited with her Tita, Nene is whizzing his toy trains off to Bandstand, and we are sleeping like logs (I slept till 9 am today, something I haven’t done in years). It’s a little quiet, but it’s good to be home.
I recently celebrated a milestonish birthday. Let’s just say it didn’t end with the big 0, but halfway there. My group of girlfriends were meant to mark this momentousish occasion in Bali, but alas a volcano foiled our plans. So we were left to our individual celebrations.
It turned out my sister-in-law and nieces were to be here during my birthday. So I had a readymade plan. My birthday weekend commenced in Disneyland, which I am only a little ashamed to say I love. Considering we were going back after a couple of months, we really should have bought an annual pass (as V could not stop grumbling). However, I could not deprive the kids of the chance of seeing Disneyland with their cousins. It turned out to be the best possible weather, a little overcast with a hint of cool and no rain, and strangely, a lack of crowds and queues. So even though the nieces covered very little on the half day they were there before us, we covered a lot together on Day 2, thanks in no small part to what the sister in law referred to as my Disbey dictator tendencies whereby I marched everyone around in a predetermined order. As usual, from Tw moment I met the nieces, I became the Pied Piper with three children hanging off me at any point.
Also, thanks to many not-so-subtle hints, V got me the coveted mouse ears as a birthday gift. Alas, there is no being an adult and laying claim to the ears when there are kids around. My precious ears were appropriated almost immediately by Mimi who decided they were hers and what’s more, it was her birthday (the whole thing about having her birthday last is not going down well with the Meems). Then, oldest cousin Lala had her turn, and I only got to wear them before bed at night. Harumph.
However, I highly recommend them. At one point, V was arguing with me and he just gave up and said: “I can’t take you seriously in those ears.” Honestly, the Israel-Palestine conflict could be resolved if Netanyahu and Abbas donned a pair. Anyhoo, I digress.
The night before my birthday, I went out dancing with the sister-in-law, the bestie in Hong Kong, her sister-in-law and another girl who was scandalized by our behaviour. I have not been dancing and/or to Lang Kwai Fong in ages, but I got into the spirit of things quite quickly. One lychee martini helped speed up the process, which then had to be slowed down by an enormous bottle of mineral water and fries. Let us just say that we got home at 3.30 am.
Even more astonishingly, we actually woke up and went to the beach at 9.30 am, the day of my birthday. There was a typhoon in the Philippines and the waves were crazy rough but we had a lovely time nevertheless. Nothing like four munchkins collecting ‘special sand’ to rub over your legs to make you feel special.
V went out of his way to get me my desired very chocolate cake from Agnes B, which has been polished off at leisure all week. The candles however were blown out by Mimi and Nene.
The day ended with a huge pizza dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. We got a table overlooking an ice rink with extra space for the kids to move around though Nene still pissed off a neighbouring guest by bumping into her chair and thereby stressed me out. And then Nene slammed his finger in the toilet cubicle door. Oh well.
I have to say it was a lovely birthday. It has been one hell of a year emotionally. On the one hand, the PhD was going swimmingly, until most recently when I had a dreadful fall down to earth. On the other, the marriage was going not so swimmingly, but in the last month we seem to have simmered down and dare I say, made our peace? I feel like I’m finally getting off a rollercoaster and not a moment too soon.
I am going a bit crazy with work, panicking about work, not knowing whether I have my candidature exam coming up or not, and experiencing that bizarre situation that being in limbo entails. I haven’t had much time to blog, and yet I have to thank the awesome readers who contacted me about participating in my study. I really really appreciate it.
It doesn’t help that I have a lot of distractions. First, there are the primary school applications for Nene. After initially leaning towards international schools, we finally ended up going the other way and applying to more local English medium schools. We still have one international school on our wish list, but other than that, I am resigned to the local system.
The pressure of what would happen at the interview began to get to me when I realised that Nene’s ‘academic’ skills are quite poor and if he was asked to write, he might not do so adequately. As the date of the first interview neared, I started to resemble a Tiger Mom drilling her cub. After one particular rough homework session, I gave into the realisation that I could not cram a couple of months’ worth of learning into a couple of weeks and that I would just have to let Nene wing it.
I got V to take a day off and come to the interview but it turned out that they didn’t interview us at all, just Nene, who was taken into a room without us after a lot of waiting around. When he came back, V had warned me not to force him to relive the whole thing. So I gently asked him what happened, and he told me he was asked to count butterflies and then there were 10 and then he was asked to count something else and there were too many. After that, he said he couldn’t remember what happened! In retrospect, it is good that we weren’t allowed in as not knowing helps me to cede control. I can’t stress out about how badly he did because I don’t know he did badly. Heh.
It turned out that we got an offer from that school. It is the closest to our home from the schools we applied to, and seems fairly nice with a really beautiful campus. However, it is run by a religious organisation and is fairly new so an untested bet. Nevertheless, we have accepted the place and will keep our fingers crossed for our target international school.
In the meantime, I had visits from my sisters-in-law one after another. V’s oldest sister decided to do a work/pleasure visit on a whim. She hasn’t visited us for eight years. She is a fiesty shopaholic with a lot of cool hobbies, and while I’ve had my run-ins with her in the past, I enjoyed her visit this time. She told me not to be offended but I had changed for the better and seem more sensible. I only smiled. It is possible that I have changed – after all, I have had two children and am generally older – but also I think she has changed. She has mellowed down a lot (though is still as shopaholic, some things don’t change I guess).
I realise that I am less angsty around my in-laws. I always liked V’s sisters but sometimes I found them too strong as personalities. While possibly they have mellowed, I have less rough edges too. I am more secure in my skin, and not as easily affected by the things people say. In these matters I think time also helps.
Literally, a week later V’s other sister and kids turned up. V’s oldest sister was there over his birthday and the younger one over mine and it was nice. We don’t do a big hoo-ha on our birthdays anymore but having them there made it more special.
As for the birthday, details in the next post.
I’m very into Christmas, but not into religion so much. My kids haven’t really been raised in the religion, initially due to us being lukewarm on the whole thing and then as a conscious choice. I intended to take them to church on Christmas Day since we were living with my parents, but then I was feeling too lazy, and then I got a look from my mum so I conceded, but then I fell sick so there was no way I could go, so I had to convince V to do the needful.
Getting Mimi into appropriate clothes was a nightmare. I had picked out a dress for her which she roundly rejected. Trying to convince her to wear the dress, I said, “It’s baby Jesus’s birthday. He’ll want you to wear a nice dress.”
Mimi: He won’t. He’s a naughty guy.
Grandma (who was getting dressed nearby): He’s not.Mimi: He is.
Grandma (tersely): He’s not!
Finally, Mimi was coaxed into a wrap dress. V walked her to church after the others had left. Mimi walks into church, looks into her dress and says loudly: “Look, my boobies!”
The sister to Sibear: Look, there’s Jesus.
Sibear: Where, where?Sister points to stature: There
Sibear: That’s not Jesus.
Sister: It is.
Sibear: It’s not. Jesus is a baby.
Sister: That’s him when he grew up.
Sibear: But why does he have long hair?
Sister: Some boys have long hair too.
Sibear (in a whisper): Why is his heart outside his body?
Sister is gobsmacked. Also, why did we never ask these questions when we were kids.
On the way out of church, V blessed Mimi with holy water from one of the fonts. Immediately she started shouting: “I want to drink it, I want to drink it!” V dragged her out. Mimi dragged him back in. Finally, she contented herself with dipping her hand in and smearing herself in the stuff.
This is not about me. It’s about my mom.
My mom visited us for 10 days. This was quite an achievement because my mom cares for her mother, my grandmother, who turned 100 in March and has been in rapid decline ever since her 99th birthday. Caring for an old person with the level of commitment my mom has put into it takes its toll and I felt that my mom urgently needed a holiday. One of her brothers had once vaguely mentioned that he would come to India to visit my grandmother every three months and the idea of my mom taking off during one of those stints took hold. When I went down for my gran’s birthday, I reminded this uncle of his offer and he immediately agreed to relieve my mom of her duties for a week or so, while my father agreed to shoulder the extra work of running the house in my mom’s absence. My mom managed to wrangle 10 days and landed up in Hong Kong.
I didn’t believe it would actually happen until she was there. A week before my grandmom had to be hospitalized when she took a turn for the worse. The doctors however felt there was no point doing invasive tests and just put her on the drip which seemed to revive her. I even looked into postponing my mom’s visit for a week but later realised that there was never going to be a great time for her to visit at this stage in my grandmother’s life.
I was all set to pick her up from the airport when both V and I came down with the flu, so she had to cab it herself which thankfully is not a big deal in Hong Kong though I know it always stresses her out. Within an hour of arriving, my mom said she could feel the stress of the months past melt off and was already fantasizing about her next trip.
Before grandma arrived, I think I laid it on too thick and whenever I asked Benji whether he wanted grandma to come, he said: “No!” But he went down with V to pick her up from the cab and was quite chatty. When mum entered, Mimi took one look at her and burst into tears. That’s my kids’ way of welcoming strangers, especially those who are not Chinese.
But within five minutes, they were both grandma’s greatest fans. “Where’s grandma?” they’d ask if she disappear for a minute. My mum spent a lot of time with them, even doing stuff like playing catch-n-cook which I’m too lazy to do. She has taken it upon herself to be the most indulgent grandma. So she rarely corrects them. She insists on giving them candy to my irritation (though she does restrict herself because of my disapprobation.) Every day she’d take them to the park, though it was hot and play ball or go hunting for snails. She let them comb her hair and they said she was “Princess Elsa” (they have now graduated to doing my hair, and OMG why didn’t I get them to do this before). She encouraged them to play in the rain and puddles and get soaking wet and then reprimanded me for not bringing enough changes of clothes! Heh. One day she was in splits playing a game with Benji that involved flinging pillows at each other. At one point, she threw a pillow at Mimi who didn’t react, which both mum and I found crazily funny, and she did it three times with us collapsing into laughter before Mimi reacted. V just looked on nonplussed.
That puddle is deeper than it looks and the kids are wetter than they look.
I admire my mother for being totally non-judgmental and non-interfering. I did wonder if I perceive less judgment because she’s my mom, but I honestly think she makes an effort to put up an impassive front. There were times when I glanced around after something the kids did or when V and I were skirmishing and she didn’t seem perturbed, nor did she have anything to say. I can’t help compare this to my in-laws.
On the other hand, possibly for the first time because I’m in a situation where I need it, I felt my mom at my back like a support. I felt that there was someone in the house who supports me unconditionally, and that is a liberating thing. I also realised how having a parent in the house, even one has non-interfering as my mom was, changes the balance of power and why it’s better for new couples to live alone.
My mom and I had long chats late into the night. After the second night, V asked in befuddlement: “What do you talk about?” He just could not understand how we could fill the time between 9 pm and 2 am simply talking on two consecutive days. What did we talk about? Our own lives, our close family, our respective friends, people in our building, our extended family, my mom’s helpers and their problems. We also touched on the situation in Gaza and Sonia Gandhi’s alleged domination of Manmohan Singh (my mom is a fan of Dr Singh, me not so much). Yes, this usually comes under the banner of gossip, but it’s also about knowing and caring about people and their lives.
Since my mom has been to Hong Kong several times in the past, we didn’t do the great tourist round. We did do dinners and lunches out, mostly in our neighbourhood. For once, she wasn’t keen on doing much shopping except for some practical grocery items. But I did enjoy doing a round of the malls with my mom instead of with V or as has been the case lately, by myself. I’m most comfortable shopping with my mom, we shopped with her from our teens onwards and I never had the same comfort level with friends. “Buy it,” she egged me on this time, “You don’t have that many clothes.” Ah, sweet music to my ears! However, the husband’s glowering presence in my mind’s eye and the impended student status, made me buy just one rather expensive handbag.
She also read like crazy something she doesn’t get the time to do in Bombay. She finished two books in 10 days, one of which was The Casual Vacancy. Seeing my mom absorbed in a book, reading through lunch, reading while chidlren screamed around her made me realise who I got the bookworm gene from. I had always thought it was my dad.
My mom is older than before. I have to watch her in case she stumbles and falls. One is prepared for this and never quite prepared for it.
I was sad when my mom left, sadder than I’ve ever been in the past. I realised how lonely I am for that day to day chatter even though I am so used to being without it. When my mom or I leave after a trip to my sister’s, she bawls. I have never been the crying on departure type. I bear it all stoicly. I have stopped hugging and kissing my mom sponstaneously, though we do kiss on arrivals and departures. I know she would love me to be more physically demonstrative but I can’t bring myself to. And yet, I came so close this time.