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Our air shipment from India finally arrived a few days ago. Yes, you read that correctly. Exactly six weeks after our Chennai apartment was packed up and ‘shipped’, it arrived at our house in Indiana.

Now, during my last week off of work, I get to unpack it. Ugh. I am not a fan of unpacking. Not boxes, not suitcases.

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For one thing, I am almost certain that it will create a massive amount of laundry. Furthermore, it means that I will have to find homes for all of that stuff in my house that just underwent extensive cleaning and organizing. So much for being organized.

On the bright side, unpacking is going to expand my cardio options provided that the bike and trainer arrived intact. I think I feel normal enough now to actually sit on the bike too, which is a bonus.

There are also some fun things to unpack. We made an effort to buy something for Kai in each country that she visited, I am kind of excited to find all of that stuff. So far I found her stuffed panda from China and a jacket from Kathmandu (pictured above).

At least one item was completely destroyed in shipping. Chris and I bought a fairly large stone fertility elephant just before I left. A fertility elephant is a carved statue of an elephant with a smaller elephant nested inside. It is pretty impressive to see a carving inside a carving!

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Anyway, ours, although packed very carefully, was reduced to dust in transit. Major bummer. I’m sure we will get paid for it, but I don’t want my money back, I want my elephant.

Here’s to hoping that the rest of the shipment arrived intact!

I envisioned arriving at the Chennai airport, breezing through the business class check in line, passing through customs one last time, and then heading for the lounge to guzzle free water until it was time to pass through security to my gate. Just to be sure that this plan worked out, in spite of the hot humid temperature and lack of air conditioning at the airport, I elected to wear Chris’ hooded sweatshirt through this process to avoid questions about being pregnant.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

No. I didn’t get stopped for being pregnant. Instead I was held up for any and every other reason imaginable. Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for the first time ever I was glad to have arrived at the airport two hours early because I needed every minute of those two hours.

First stop: Check-in.

I rolled my three checked bags, Continental’s maximum allowed number for international business class, up to the counter. All of them weighed in ok, were tagged, and I thought I was about to be on my way until the agent said that I would need to go to the Lufthansa office to pay my €150 fee.

Wait. My what?

The first leg of my trip was a Continental/Lufthansa code share. My ticket was purchased through Continental.com, but the Lufthansa baggage policy was being enforced.

I began to protest. €150 is a lot of money! Finally they agreed to set my bags aside and verify Continental’s policy.

My waiting began. I stood, in the non-air conditioned airport, sweat drenched in Chris’ hoodie, for thirty long minutes waiting for some person in the Lufthansa back office to check Continental’s baggage policy. Finally, the ticketing agent’s radio crackled to life. ‘She must pay.’

I protested. I spent the next twenty minutes talking to the ticketing agent’s manager, then his manager, trying to get them to call Continental or Lufthansa customer service. Somehow I was making zero progress and they were beginning to close down the check-in windows. ‘Ma’am, you must pay or pick one bag to leave behind.’ Right, just leave the black one, I didn’t want to bring that stuff home anyway.

Frustrated, I was led to a tiny office in a typically inaccessible corner of the airport to pay my baggage fee. ‘€150?’ I questioned. There was a pile of receipts for bags on my flight that were all for the amount of €50. ‘Why is my extra bag three times the price of the other extra bags?’

‘Ma’am, business class extra bags cost more because you can afford to pay more.’

‘Are you serious? I paid five times as much for my ticket and you thank me for that by charging me three times as much for an extra bag that is within the policy of the airline who I purchased the ticket from? Can we call Continental customer service?’

‘No ma’am. This is Lufthansa.’

‘Can we call Lufthansa customer service?’

‘No. That is a daytime job, they do not open until Europe daytime.’

‘Is there anyone else here who I can talk to?’

‘No. You must pay €150. Your flight boards soon.’

I paid. I was furious, red faced, sweat pouring down my face, through my hair, dripping down my back. I was still wearing Chris’ hoodie just in case. The guys in the Lufthansa office must have thought that I was a nutcase.

I made my way through customs and had approximately five minutes to grab some cold water in the lounge before it was time to head to my gate. As I slumped into a chair, de-hoodied, and had just loaded the Continental baggage policy website onto my phone to double check myself, my favorite ticketing agent tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Ma’am, there is a security problem with one of your bags.’

My mind was racing. What could I possibly have packed that wasn’t even checkable? Nothing registered. I tried to show him the baggage policy, but he refused to even look at it. We headed into the back of the airport to investigate my unauthorized cargo.

‘Please open the bag.’

I complied. I proceeded to pull out the first pointy, ‘sharp’ item in question, explaining that it was my camera tripod and no, it did not contain batteries. The baggage inspector did his best to take it apart to ensure that there were no batteries in it.

Next up was explaining that the mass of ‘wires’ in my bag were not wires, but tent poles. Before I knew it I was pitching a tent in the underground of the airport to demonstrate what it was and that it was not dangerous. Not kidding, I wish I were.

I looked nervously at the time. My flight was supposed to be boarding and I was on the wrong side of security.

The security guy asked if the belts I had in my bag contained metal. [I bought a few cheap belts in Indonesia last week.] I don’t think so? They are just wood, beads, and fishing line.

Finally, we examined the two headlamps that I had in the bag. Yes, they did contain batteries. No, the security guy did not want to confiscate the batteries. I am still not sure why my nonexistent tripod batteries would not be ok, but headlamp batteries are. I suppose that it doesn’t matter. I was finally free to repack the bag and make a frenzied beeline through the airport.

I made it through security just in time to learn that my flight was delayed. Of course it was, but naturally all of the passengers were already queued for boarding anyway. I joined the line, hair soaking wet, still sweating like I had just finished a run, wearing my hoodie to ensure that there would be no snafus with boarding, and stood waiting for twenty minutes until I could get on the plane, sit down, and feel the sweet relief of air conditioning.

Later today I will be calling both Lufthansa and Continental in attempt to get my money back, but I doubt I have much recourse now that it has already been paid. I wish that I had checked both airlines’ baggage policies, but it didn’t even occur to me ahead of time. Disappointingly, I could have shipped all of that stuff home for free with our household contents, I was just trying to take some of the packing burden off of Chris. Surely there was one bag worth of stuff that I could live without until January.

On a more positive note, I will be home to New Jersey later today and I will finally be finished dealing with unexpected annoyances at the Chennai airport.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sir, are you flying on Malaysia Airlines? Is that a skateboard?

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Riiight. Chris said to cut the guy some slack. My middle of the night cranky pants wouldn’t comply.

Last night was my second to last time leaving MAA after midnight. As usual, the bathroom was soaking wet, with no toilet paper. Do you think I remembered mine? Nope. Naturally I didn’t realize the toilet paper problem until I made it a half liter into my giant bottle of water. Hydration is that important.

On the bright side, traveling in South Asia during the pre-dawn hours of Thanksgiving is far less crazy than doing so in the US. I suppose that is something to be thankful for. We made it through our overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur with minimal sleep, but reasonably good attitudes. Just one more flight to Denpasar!

If all goes well, I’ll be able to hunt down some pecan pie sometime today. Last year I am pretty sure that I managed to single handedly eat an entire Costco pecan pie over the course of Thanksgiving weekend. Although it wasn’t homemade, a family tradition, or even particularly special in any way, I am totally jonesing for it’s corn syrupy goodness.

What Thanksgiving treat are you most looking forward to?

Today I decided that it was time to start packing to go home. With just three full days remaining in India and an expected influx of laundry after our upcoming trip to Bali, I couldn’t justify putting it off any longer.

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It doesn’t seem like very long ago when I was unpacking my suitcases, carefully arranging my clothes into different closets, one for work clothes, another for everything else. As I pack up the items that I left home thinking that I couldn’t live without, it all seems a bit surreal. I am amazed at how quickly the past few months passed and stunned by how much I have learned here, it should not be surprising to me how much this experience has shaped my worldview, but somehow it still is.

In retrospect, upon examining the items that I shipped to India with the idea that I couldn’t part with them for a few months, I can’t believe how many things went unused. Chris and I both tend to value experiences over stuff and this just drives that point home. It turns out that of the tiny fraction of our belongings that we brought here, we hardly needed any of it. Granted, neither of us has exactly looked like a fashion icon over the past few months, but we have had such a wealth of experiences lately that I don’t think either of us cares much.

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Over brunch on Sunday, Chris and I talked about how the last few months have been so busy and packed with adventure that it might take several more months to reflect on them and process it all. In the past five months I have had the opportunity to visit eleven countries, eight of them new, with two more expected in the next week. Twelve for Chris with eight new ones. Pretty wild to think about. During that time I have also grown 45% of a baby and learned a lot about myself.

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When I first moved to Indiana, many people at home asked me how I could live there. If you have ever seen that cartoon of the New Yorker’s view of the country, with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and a big void until you reach California, I think that Indiana seemed like some kind of no man’s land, a place without real people, experiences, or anything to speak of. What those people failed to realize, something that I have said all along, is that it is the people who make a place. Upon announcing that we were going to India, I got many of the same reactions, but I knew it would be ok because Chris was going.

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After a few solo moves after college, I quickly learned that new places seem scary, lonely, and maybe even depressing until you make a friend or two. Luckily, for my past few moves, I have been accompanied by a built in friend. My second relocation to New York was infinitely better than my first, mainly because Chris and I went together. It is much easier to make plans and get out of the house, or even just sit home ‘alone’ when you have someone to do it with. This phenomenon repeated itself when we left Purdue to move to Southern Indiana. Once again, when we embarked on this adventure, Chris came through, immediately erasing much of the unknown that went along with moving to India.

As I get ready to head back home and on to Indiana, my other home, once again, I know that it will be ok because of the great people I will see there. This morning over coffee, Chris and I talked about that some. A few people in my life have been feeling bad for me that nearly a month will pass between me arriving in the US and Chris coming home. What those people fail to realize is that because they are there everything will be ok. Chris, on the other hand, will probably be the one with a rough month ahead of him. I’m confident that he can manage though because if there is any outstanding characteristic about Chris, it is his extremely strong will.

Ultimately, although on many levels I am sad to see this great experience end, I am beyond excited to return to familiar people, old routines, and all of the things that make the US in general feel like home.

Anyone want to put my Christmas tree up with me? 😉

I think we have reached a new low. This morning after I finished my first early morning conference call I asked Chris if he was going to make coffee.

“No, Babu didn’t come yesterday, so the coffee pot is dirty.”
Humph.

But I kind of wanted coffee. I broke down and *gasp* cleaned it myself. Crazy concept, right? Before you get the idea that I am ragging on Chris, please note my coffee drinking vessel.

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When I realized that all of our coffee mugs were dirty, I decided that drinking coffee from a Nalgene bottle was perfectly acceptable. Wash a dish? Riiiight.

This train of thought seemed perfectly logical until it occurred to me that I will be back home in ten days and suddenly the responsibility for cleaning and washing dishes will fall on me again. As often as I have expressed frustration about Babu coming into our apartment when we didn’t want him here or not cleaning up to my standards, I think I’m going to miss him.

Chris will certainly be bummed to return to his normal morning ritual of cleaning the coffee maker and ironing a shirt each morning before work. It is obviously much nicer for him to have Babu do it for him.

It is pretty crazy how our attitudes have transformed over the past few months. When we first arrived here, I remember talking about how I felt guilty having someone clean up after me. Obviously, as many people suggested that I would, I have gotten over this.

On a more positive note, I imagine that Chris will stop losing shirts when he starts doing them himself again. We’re not really sure where they are going, as Babu never delivers other people’s shirts to Chris, but Chris definitely has fewer shirts now than he did when we arrived. My theory is that if they get messed up in any way during laundering that they just disappear. Pretty annoying, but not all that surprising. Even the cleaner in Indiana does not like to own up to the shirts that they wreck. [Hence the reason for Chris ironing his own.]

I’m sure if Chris reads this he will totally agree that we need a daily housekeeper in Indiana. I’m sure it is totally affordable and justifiable. ::Eye roll.::

After missing out on watching the first nine Penn State football games of the season, Chris got a tip via a co-worker in Japan, that we could watch them online at http://www.vipbox.tv. Kind of a bittersweet moment considering all of the press that the Nittany Lion coaching staff and university administration have been getting in the past few weeks. I’m still thrilled to watch the Lions play, but I am saddened by the scandal. I can only hope that it is more benign than the media is making it out to be.

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The first game on our agenda tonight is Purdue vs. Iowa when Chris and I plan to cheer on our joint alma mater. We already have pizza on order and non-alcoholic champagne on ice for the event. I think Chris would prefer beer, but that isn’t as easy to buy for home consumption in Tamil Nadu as one might expect. Pretty much a non-issue for me being that I can’t drink it right now anyway.

In all honesty, the Penn State vs. Ohio State doesn’t kick off until 2am India time, so it will be a struggle to stay awake long enough to watch, but I’ll certainly try my hardest. I have a feeling that Lori will be watching! Unfortunately, she will probably be rooting for the wrong team. I’ll forgive her because she probably doesn’t know any better.

Also on our agenda for this wild Saturday in Chennai was some souvenir shopping. Since my stay here is coming to a close, Chris thought that we should pick out something to bring home with us that we both liked. We ended up with a painting and a fertility elephant. I should have taken pictures of them before the store wrapped them up safely for transport. I’m pretty excited about the painting, it is the first one I have seen here that I really liked. Hopefully we will be more energetic about framing it than we have been about our painting from Africa that is still sitting in our guest bedroom rolled up.

Since souvenir shopping was not exciting enough, we decided to head to the sari store next. It was super intimidating for me because I am clueless about saris, the store was jam packed with people, and it was staffed by men who only spoke minimal English. Fortunately Chris learned a thing or two about saris when he went shopping for Diwali with one of his co-workers. I was instructed to buy a double sided, 100% Kanchipuram silk sari. Even narrowing it down that far, it was amazing how much different the fabrics could feel. Some were quite soft, my preference, while others felt pretty stiff. In addition to texture, they came in a rainbow of colors, some even with a two-toned sheen. Blue was my color of choice, and I would say that it was sari success! I still need to try one on to see if I can fold/wrap it. I haven’t been quite that energetic yet.

Off to watch the Boilers! More importantly…Let’s go State!

Oh, hi. Remember me? I used to write blog posts fairly regularly.

Chris and I spent last week in the Maldives with a group of great friends and minimal internet connectivity. I’ll post more about that later after I get a chance to edit my Chris’ pictures. In the meantime let’s talk about what I have been up to since we got back on Sunday night.

Naturally, I have been buried in work. If my work laptop was not quite so heavy, I think I would actually prefer to bring it on vacation so that I could spend an hour or so each day answering the truly important emails. It would give me peace of mind and dramatically reduce my post-vacation stress upon my return. Pretty sad, huh? Something about going on vacation usually leaves me feeling like I need another vacation.

Lucky for me, my next trip is on the horizon. Almost immediately upon our return, we firmed up plans to go to Bali for Thanksgiving. Chris has been dreaming of going, probably since he read his first surf magazine, but I’ll admit that it was not really on my radar until much more recently. In fact, even when we found out that we would be somewhat local to Bali while living in India, I had still somewhat discounted the idea of going. Nevertheless, I’m pretty excited about it, especially since Chris’ friend brought one of Chris’ boogie boards to the Maldives for him.

No, don’t worry, I’m not planning on catching any waves in Bali; I can’t actually lay on the boogie board at this point anyway. I’m just excited about it because it gives me something to cling to so I can sit behind the lineup and socialize with Chris between sets. Although I felt a bit like a little kid hanging onto a kickboard at my first swimming lesson, this ended up being one of my favorite activities in the Maldives as I am not really the type to lay on the beach or by the pool. More on that in a Maldives recap post.

In other big news, I bought my plane ticket home last night. At this point, it is kind of bittersweet. I have never been away from the US for this long, nearly five months, so I am extremely excited about experiencing all things familiar. On the other hand, I don’t know if or when I will have the chance to come back to India or have such easy access to travel all over South Asia.

On the whole, I would say that my excitement over being home trumps the disappointment of leaving India. There’s no place like home, right? In addition to being excited about seeing my family and friends, I am excited to see these guys.

Back to the US in 15 days! Not that I’m counting or anything…

After our visit to Agra, we set out on a five-hour journey to Jaipur to see the second of three cities in the Golden Triangle. I was very excited to go to Agra ever since I read a book about it a few years ago.

[The book is called “Dreaming in Hindi” and it is about a lady, Katherine Russell Rich, who moves to Jaipur to do a Hindi language immersion program.]

The book described many of the architectural details of the city which I was very curious to see in person. Most notably, I wanted to see the Palace of Wind because of the intricately carved lattice windows overlooking the bazaar in the center of town. The purpose of the windows was to allow the ladies of the house to see outside and watch what was going on without anyone seeing them. I was pretty intrigued by this idea. Luckily, we arrived in Jaipur right before sunset and had just enough time to see the Palace of Wind and City Palace. The light was particularly good for photographing the Palace of Wind!

Bright and early the next morning we set out to see two other noteworthy Jaipur sites, Lake Palace and the Amber Fort. Lake Palace was my favorite in Jaipur because it looked so serene in the early morning light. It is kind of rare to have a quiet, peaceful moment in public, at a tourist site no less, in India.

Our next stop was the Amber Fort, which, in stark contrast to Lake Palace, was bustling with people even before it opened in the morning. The hawkers were out in full force selling everything from hats, to parasols, to wooden figurines. Somehow, despite my protests, I ended up with a glittery white parasol. Chris said that I needed it to ride an elephant up to the fort. I’m not sure if I needed it or not, but it was kind of fun goofing around with it as we rode to the top of the hill.

Our visit to the Amber Fort was going swimmingly well, until suddenly the camera battery died. Notice a theme? At this point, we did have a charger and had even charged the spare battery, but it was in the camera case…in the car. On the bright side, I felt like we had a chance to really take in the fort rather than be distracted by photographing it.

In fact, we even had an interesting discussion about it as we roamed around. After visiting many forts, palaces, castles, churches, temples, and whatnot around the world it is interesting to compare the architecture from different places during the same era. Take the Amber Fort (1592), the Blue Mosque (Istanbul – 1609), Versailles (1624), and Himeji Castle (Japan, latest reconstruction – 1609). Completely different levels of sophistication. [Not trying to take anything away from the Amber Fort, just an observation.]

After we got our fill of the fort, we hoofed it back down the hill, got in the car, and made a beeline for Delhi, the last stop on our Golden Triangle whirlwind tour.

The Taj Mahal is one of those places that I have been aware of for as long as I can remember and I have always dreamed of visiting. When Chris started traveling to India frequently for work, I had a secret fear that he would visit the Taj Mahal without me and that it would suddenly be demoted to the bottom of our joint list of vacation plans. Lucky for me, Chris never made it there without me and we finally set things in motion to go.

We set out from Delhi before dawn on a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The driver told us that it would take about five hours for us to get there, but in reality we made it to Agra in just over three hours.

After buying tickets and transferring the last kilometer to the Taj by bicycle rickshaw, we passed through a short line at the security check and were on our way to see one of the Wonders of the World. Amazingly, it was fairly uncrowded considering where we were. We were able to make it through the entire complex in about ninety minutes.

Our first mission was to make an attempt at getting that classic photograph with the Taj in the background. Chris quickly spotted a British couple who had a camera similar to ours. “I’ll take your picture if you take ours.”

Done. Excellent choice. As soon as I saw the man focusing the camera on us before shifting it to capture the whole scene, I felt like we might get at least one decent shot. Hopefully that couple is as happy with Chris’ photography.

Next, we headed to the shoe drop, which in retrospect I am kind of bummed about. I hate walking places barefoot. In and around my own home, sure. Public places barefoot creep me out though. Almost immediately after giving up my shoes I noticed that all of the smart tourists were wearing clean room booties over their shoes. How did I miss that memo?

Finally we were close enough to the Taj Mahal to really see the detail. Almost every surface was embellished with some kind of flourish whether it was intricate stone inlays, delicate carvings, or cut patterns reminiscent of Waterford crystal. I am always awestruck when I see such old and massive structures built with this degree of attention to detail, especially considering the tools that were available at the time.

Just as I had always imagined it, the Taj Mahal looked almost like a giant size version of a beautifully made jewelry box. I am so thankful that I finally had the opportunity to see it as it has been on my life ‘to-do’ list for a long time.

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I did not really consider covering this topic until I read this headline over someone’s shoulder in the airport last night. Funny how some things translate so much differently depending on where you are. Fortunately the man with the newspaper was gracious enough to let Chris photograph it, but I am quite sure that he had no idea why we would want a picture of it.

I probably should have been combing newspaper headlines since we arrived here because there is no doubt that this was not the only gem. Too late. My bad.

So, if you didn’t gather this from the headline, India hosted its first Formula One race yesterday in the capital city of New Delhi. For non-racing fans, I’m not sure if this was big news everywhere, but it sure was big news in India, getting plenty of media coverage both in the major newspapers and on television.

Lucky for us, as we played tourist in New Delhi yesterday afternoon, the big event did not seem to have much of an impact on either road traffic or air travel. Good thing, because we were on a mission to cram as much sightseeing as possible into our weekend by squeezing most major sites in the “Golden Triangle” into our busy weekend schedule. It was grueling, but probably for the best. We decided to use our last few days of vacation for the year outside of India, but we did not want to leave India for good (or, as Chris pointed out, more likely for now) in December without seeing some of the major sites.

Chris and I caught the last few laps of the race on TV last night as we were getting ready to head back to Chennai and I couldn’t help but think about what a big deal it was. While I don’t feel like it is all that popular in the US, F1 Racing is fairly popular on a global scale and bringing a big race to India plays a large part in creating positive buzz from the press and perhaps bringing in additional tourist dollars. Within India, I noticed a fair amount of negative coverage about the event, mostly citing concerns about the amount of money that was spent to hold one event for one sport, but I think those complaints are short-sighted. Just as the Rugby World Cup brought a lot of attention to New Zealand, this F1 race should produce a net positive impact for India.

Did anyone watch the race? It would have been super early morning US time, so probably not unless you are a die-hard F1 fan. I surely would have sat that one out.

More on our Golden Triangle Trip coming soon!