Thanksgiving Tiger Hunt – Ranthambore National Park

A scroll through last weekend’s Facebook photos revealed a cornucopia of Thanksgiving parties and reunions enjoyed by our American friends and family around the world. As for us, Thanksgiving meant an Indian buffet and Rajasthani entertainment on the lawn of our hotel in Sawai Madhopur, five hours southwest of Delhi by train. We traveled with a few other families from school, and we all felt grateful for the fresher air and relative peace.

Here’s a little history about the the park from the website Sanctuary Asia:

The Ranthambhore Fort, occupied for years by Raja Hamir, has lent its name to the Tiger Reserve. A Hindu battlement, it has seen a series of Muslim rulers try unsuccessfully to lay siege to it, including Allaudin Khilji in 1301.The army of the Moghul Emperor Akbar camped here (1558-1569) and the Akbar Namah records the menu that the generals were served when they had a meal under the famous banyan tree that visitors can still see at the base of the ramparts.
The park area itself was once the hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur and many tiger shoots took place here including an infamous visit in the early sixties when a tiger was set up to be shot by Queen Elizabeth II.The Ranthambhore Park earned Sanctuary status in 1958 and when Project Tiger was launched in 1973, it really began to receive the protection it deserved. Placed under the care of the now-famous Fateh Singh Rathore, by the 80s the park had earned itself the distinction of being one of the world’s best-known tiger forests.
The first real signs of ecological renewal were the scores of once-dry pools, streams and rivulets that began running full of water all year long. This helped native plants to re-establish themselves. A major side-benefit of Ranthambhore’s return to health was the ground water recharge service performed by the forest, which helped restock wells in surrounding villages.

For our safaris, we split into two jeeps. The Dents rode with the Rosenfields: Kristen and Jonah, and their two boys, Asa and Liam. In the other jeep: the Gregors and the Curreys. Alicia Brown skipped the first two safaris to rest her weary tummy.

Tiger hunters!

To reach the tiger park, we rolled through the city streets for a drive-by glimpse of daily life. Flaunting designs shaved into their fur or painted with dye, camels hauled carts loaded with bricks and marble slabs. Psychedelically decorated trucks – every inch adorned with colorful designs, sanskrit wishes, huge pompons and pleasantries such as “Horn Please” in elegant script – blared tinny music or parked roadside with their hoods up. Smiling faces pressed against the glass or hung out the windows of overstuffed buses with additional passengers waving from the rooftop. Where the path narrowed and traffic bottlenecked, piles of trash attracted boars, goats, cows, dogs and monkeys. Donkeys carrying baskets of dirt wove between the cars, and villagers carried on with their routines.








Out in the countryside, the scenery changed dramatically. Deforested farmland and pastures bumped up against the rugged hills of the Aravelli range, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and the same ridge that peters out near our home in Delhi.



On our first safari, Friday morning, we spotted tiger prints in the dirt but no tigers in District 6.

We bumped through a stunning landscape turned golden by the rising sun and saw other interesting mammals, such as spotted deer, nilgai and antelope. Cresting a hill, we encountered this guy, a sambar deer. He sat calmly, staring at us and chewing nonchalantly with no clear intention to move out of the road until the driver revved the engine and rolled forward a bit. Still nonplussed, the deer slowly stood and stepped off the road into the woods.


Our guide explained two ways they track tigers in the park: footprints and warning sounds. We had seen the footprints, and soon passed a small deer running in the opposite direction of a sharp barking sound. A large gray nilgai was warning the other animals that danger lurked nearby. The nilgai stood alert at the edge of a cliff, looking down into the valley.

Occasionally it stomped a foot aggressively and startled us with its sudden barks. Eventually, a gray-and-black striped hyena scurried into view, only for a moment, and then both animals sped away in opposite direction. Afraid I’d miss it, I didn’t even raise my camera. “This is only the third time I have seen a hyena in my whole career,” the guide said. Small consolation for no tigers, but we’ll take it!
Our hyena looked just like these guys (which I found on the website Look At India.)
ranthambore hyena

Other shots from the morning safari.





Safari number two, Friday afternoon in District 8, we spotted only one tiger. (I bought him from the puppet maker after the show Thursday night.)


We enjoyed the view from this mountaintop.



Otherwise, we saw some langur monkeys and a few other mammals.


Just as we were heading out of the park, Kristen leaned forward, tapped the driver on the shoulder and said, “I just saw a leopard, and I am not even kidding.” Completely calm. We backed up, and sure enough, there he was! Camouflaged in the leafy dusk, he paused momentarily before slinking away. This was the only semi-clear shot I took.

Safari number three, Saturday morning, took us to District 7, where we continued not to spot any tigers. We did, however, experience some fairly dangerous driving maneuvers. We opted to risk tiger attack and walk up this short hill rather than risk rolling off the mountain in the jeep.


At the end of our safari, we pulled up to this gate to leave the park. Unfortunately, it was locked. Our guide explained: “The man who has the key in his pocket is not here.” Oh. OK.
So we waited. After awhile, someone arrived to unlock the gate, and we headed back to the hotel.

As our two jeeps arrived at our hotel, someone shouted, “There’s a tiger on the main road!” Our drivers immediately whipped the jeeps around and sped back out. This was possibly the most dangerous 10 minutes of my life. We drove ridiculously fast with no seatbelts in an open jeep, nearly popping out altogether every time we hit a pothole or speedbump, cresting hills in the wrong lane, swerving around pedestrians and slower vehicles at breakneck speed. Although several of us thought the tiger would be sitting next to the “main road” in town (a scary proposition!), it turned out the tiger was seen on the main road inside the park. By the time we arrived, other jeeploads shared the news of his escape into the forest. It’s really no surprise that we didn’t see a tiger. One of our guides said there are only about 56 in the whole park.

The train ride home was pleasant enough for Tony and me. Upgraded to second class, we had our own tiny compartment in a tranquil car. The rest of our group – back in “steerage,” as Liv called it – crammed into a compartment with four bunks and no curtain. Everyone in their train car seemed to be talking at full volume, and an overly friendly Rajasthani man desperately wanted to be their BFF. Yikes.

Overall, I loved Ranthambore. I always relish Rajasthan’s colors and chaos, but this trip rejuvenated me like no other domestic journey in recent memory. Nature, clean air, comfy beds, fun people. All good.

AES Rickshaw Rally 2014

With the “Amazing Race” music pounding as our subconscious background track, about 40 American Embassy School teachers careened around New Delhi Nov. 15 for the second annual AES Rickshaw Rally.

Tony and I dubbed ourselves “Sarojini Style” and dressed from head to toe in gear from Sarojini Nagar, a local market and land of low-quality goods and butchered English. My T-shirt featured a drawing of a panda and read, “Cute banda. Sometimes you have to realize that you’re the one bringing the gloom around. Learn to let go.” Tony’s said, “Cances are never given theyre taken.” I even sported the split-toe socks that make flip-flops easier to wear in cool weather.



The other teams were equally ridiculous. We all met at the American Embassy School’s Community Garden to collect the first clues of the morning. Our day would involve answering questions and snapping photos with my iPad to document our progress. We turned in our evidence at the lunch break and again at the end of the day for judges to calculate points.


After our major fail with the AES trivia questions, we received the next set of clues and dashed off campus in our assigned auto rickshaw. Our driver, Sunil Kumar, knew shortcuts to some of the destinations and eagerly kept on the lookout for anything that could earn us extra points, including five people on a motorcycle, specific animals (elephants, camels, monkeys, wedding horses), and an animal in a tuk-tuk. He even cheated at one point by asking some motorcyclists at the side of the road to pose on their bike without helmets. We thought that would be an easy shot to get, but Delhi’s new helmet law has met with a surprising level of compliance.

At lunch, I didn’t hear my phone ring, but I had two missed calls from Sunil Kumar, who told me later, “Madam I call you because there is elephant!” Rats, we missed it.

After a short ride in the Delhi metro, where I had to record the stops (two) and cost of a ticket (8 rupees or about 13 cents), I reconnected with Tony and Sunil Kumar to tackle our list of tasks at the following places. I’ve included the info we were given about each stop (in italics).

Buddha Jayanti ParkThis park was created on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment. It was dedicated by the Dalai Lama in October 1993.

This shot was our attempt to “channel your inner zen” with the Buddha statue.

Laxmi Narayan TempleMahatma Gandhi inaugurated this temple in 1939. At that time, Gandhi said the temple would not be restricted to only Hindus, and people from every caste would be allowed inside. The temple is spread over 7.5 acres and is one of the major attractions of Delhi and attracts thousands of devotees every year.

Here, we had to find a priest and ask a few questions about the temple. Photography wasn’t allowed inside, but it was a beautiful peaceful place. We’ll visit again on a less frenetic day!

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh TempleIt is the most prominent Sikh house of worship in Delhi. Langar is a traditional concept, which includes cooking, serving, and eating together in a communal dining hall. Every Gurdwara has a Langar facility. Volunteers prepare everything. Seva, selfless service, and the practice of sitting side by side without regard to caste, color, creed, or rank, in a common dining area both serve to nourish the soul cleansing it from the effects of ego.

This was one of our favorite stops. We popped in to the foreign visitors office, where a lady asked, “How many of you are coming? It would be easier if you all came at once.” True, but that would defeat the purpose. She tied a scarf on Tony’s head and led us to the huge kitchen. We donated a bag of rice, and Tony took a turn stirring the massive pot of vegetables. Volunteers sat at a low table, rolling out chappatis. Pretty fantastic!




We had to skip several stops on the itinerary, including India Gate and Safdarjung Tomb, as we knew the next destination was mandatory and clear across town: Very Special Arts India. The organization works with underprivileged local children and kids with special needs. Their motto is, “No mental or physical challenge need ever limit the human potential to create and excel.” The kids and volunteers at VSAI taught us a Bollywood dance (which was very challenging, especially in flip flops!) and showed us how to use block-printing techniques to make Christmas cards. We had a lot of fun interacting with the kids, and we donated about $300 to support the organization’s work.

Teaching us the dance steps. Yikes!





Afterwards, we all gathered at the nearby mall for lunch at Underdoggs, a sports bar. Rickshaw Rally judges worked quickly to tally our points while we rested, ate and laughed about our morning.

The judges handed out the afternoon clues and released us in order of points earned. Sarojini Style came in darn close to last. We ran out the door and met up with Sunil Kumar, who sped to our next destination, dodging traffic and even driving off the road at times. We arrived at Qutab Minar at the same time as the point leaders! Woo hoo! Here was our afternoon line-up:

Qutab MinarQutab Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, is an incredible example of early Indo–Islamic architecture. It was built in 1206, but the reason remains a mystery. Some believe that it was made to signify victory and the beginning of Muslim rule in India, while others say it was used to call the faithful to prayer. The tower has five distinct stories, and is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Quran.

Here we had to find a tourist and pose like we were holding the top of the minaret. I grabbed the first person I saw inside the gate, and he willingly complied. Stupid sun!

Atre Yoga Studio – We met up with several other teams in this neighborhood. In exchange for help finding the yoga studio, I showed Bernie how to do the designated poses. We were rushing and trying not to identify bits on the dirty concrete sidewalk, so it’s not my best form.

Natarajasana – well, we didn’t quite nail this one.


Extra points for sirsasana!

Chittaranjan ParkIt was established in the early 1960s under the name EPDP Colony or East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony. It remains home to a large Bengali community, and is home to Kolkata-style street-food stalls, Bengali cuisine, fish markets, temples and cultural centers.

Our task here? Take photos of four different kinds of food and write the name of the park in Bengali. Done and dusted.

Sarolini Nagar – Finally, our last destination, the market where Tony and I had shopped for our costumes.
Nagar means market in Hindi. Sarojini Naidu, who the market was named after, was a famous Indian freedom fighter and poet. Sarojini was the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state. She was the second woman to become the president of the Congress in 1925.

We had a few tasks here: I got mehendi. Tony pretended to be one of the roaming belt sellers. He also posed with the jalebi maker and ate some with a couple other teams. We snapped a creepy mannequin. And we collected a blanket from a specific stall to donate to a local charity.







With Sunil Kumar’s help, we got extra points for the two guys on the motorcycle, as well as this creepy monkey and the wedding horses. Tony spotted the dog in a rickshaw! We never did find five people on a bike.





Tony’s glasses didn’t survive intact. Bummer, they were so stylish.

We wrapped up the day in our own neighborhood at the Pint Room (after pausing for chai with Sunil Kumar and a few other teams).


Sarojini Style ultimately never came close to winning, but we had a great day (after some initial bickering…).

The winners? Craig and Holli – or Team Dengue Duo. Congratulations!

For more photos of the AES Rickshaw Rally, check out my flickr album – AES Rickshaw Rally. Thanks to Kate, Kathleen and Clint for organizing!

Math and English collide in cuteness

When I was in second grade, we sat at our desks and raced through pages of addition and subtraction problems. As a teacher of English learners, I’m sure my students often wish life could be so easy. However, today’s second graders learn math in an entirely different – and much better – way. They learn the concepts behind the place value work they do. It’s not enough to “carry the ten.” Kids need to understand they are conceptually regrouping ten ones for a single ten. I am not lying when I say I only just realized that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years when I “carried the ten”!

Earlier this week, I was working with a second-grade math group, which included three English beginners: one Israeli, one Korean and one from Bahrain. We were practicing the strategy of “Read-Draw-Write” to solve a word problem. With help, they read the problem and I explained some of the tricky words. Next it was time to draw the problem before writing the equation and answer sentence. They had learned to draw a place value chart with symbols for the tens and ones. I turned to help the Bahraini boy, who had been absent the previous day and needed to catch up. By the time I got back to the Korean boy, he had finished his drawing to illustrate giving away 10 seashells. It looked like this:

So cute! And so wrong. I had to remind him that by “draw,” we mean draw a place value chart.
He did it, reluctantly, but then he insisted on drawing an arrow back to his original sketch. Fair enough.

Reminds me of another confused little Korean kid I knew in Laos. Check it out: Korean Math Warriors.

Halloween 2014 – Orange is the New Black

I didn’t realize how cliché our Halloween idea was until I checked Pinterest. Apparently gaggles of girlfriends around the globe dressed in orange scrubs and transformed into the Litchfield inmates of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. No matter; we rocked it. Like Red on the show, I used a plant to smuggle in some contraband (gum).


We won the prize for Best Group Costume!

Bangkok Weekend

This blogpost is about a month overdue, but here you go.

When Tony informed me he had registered for an education conference in Bangkok the first weekend in October, I said, “I’m tagging along.” We took advantage of the 4-day holiday at school to visit Bumrungrad International Hospital for our annual check-ups, and then Tony spent his days learning about technology integration while I got massages, shopped, walked around Bangkok and caught up with a friend. Here is a quick run-down of Bangkok moments that made me smile:

* We celebrated our 22nd anniversary with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Soul Food.

I’m embarrassed to admit our eagerness to visit this restaurant stemmed in part from knowing an excellent pet store is next door. Our babies needed some toys! Guess where we spent more money: the pet store or the restaurant? Here’s a hint.

* While getting a facial at the Divana Spa, the music made me giggle. The instrumental mix included “Flight of the Bumblebees,” a marching band standard I couldn’t name, “Let Him Live” from Les Miserables, and a few Katy Perry songs..

* There’s something so alluring about a blank notebook, but like icing on the cake, Thai notebooks often feature gobbledy-gook English blurbs on the cover. Irresistible!




* My friend and teaching mentor, Miriam, met me for lunch at Central Chidlom mall. This is no ordinary food court. The Food Loft features an open kitchen concept with a plethora of delicious options in a hipster setting. Perfect for hanging out for a long chat, which we did. Our “lunch” lasted for four hours!
Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 10.19.47 AM

* Having a discussion about menopause feels awkward enough. Add to the mix an older Thai gynecologist with limited English. She dropped all her ending sounds and dragged out the long vowels in a high-pitched nasally drone – but with a lovely smile on her face. She discouraged the use of hormones and told me I could control the symptoms with some lifestyle changes. It sounded like this. “Heah in da Eee, we yoo naycha hawmohhh. We exa-sighhh. We ee vegtabohh rainbohhh. Seven cuh-law of vegtabohhh.” (Here in the East, we use natural hormones. We exercise. We eat vegetable rainbow. Seven colors of vegtables.) Fortunately, I saw a second doctor who said, “Yeah, I’m on this hormone, too. If you run out, write me an email and I’ll have the pharmacy send you some refills.” Whew.

Girls Get-away: Udaipur

Just an hour’s flight from Delhi, and I awoke to this view.

I spent the Diwali weekend in Udaipur with friends from Shanghai, Colleen and Ronna, and their daughters. Col now works in Hong Kong, but Ronna joined the AES staff this year, so we’re colleagues again. Small world!

We stayed at the Radisson Blu, which overlooked the Fateh Sagar Lake.

Although relatively peaceful by India standards, the pool and restaurant were completely overrun by young children. Fortunately, we were upgraded to suites and had plenty of room to spread out and lounge. We escaped from the noisy restaurant to enjoy leisurely breakfasts outside under a canopy of morning glory.

The staff created Diwali rangoli in the lobby, and we were told to vote on our favorite.
“I like them both,” I said. “I can’t pick.”
“You must,” said a bossy supervisor.

On our first day, we caught a couple tuk-tuks to the City Palace. Walking to the gate, we had a nice view of the Lake Palace, now a Taj Hotel. A rich lady who attends my yoga class in Delhi had encouraged me to stay there. Last I checked, the cheapest room was about $730 a night … so … yeah.

Ronna and Ava.

Brenna, you teeny thing, no need to “mind your head.”

I couldn’t resist hiring a guide at the gate. I am, after all, The Guide Hog. (See my previous post about my Guide Hog Jr.)


Here’s what we learned: Maharana Udai Singh, 53rd ruler of the Mewar Dynasty, founded the city of Udaipur after a holy man advised him to build his palace on the hill. He started construction of the palace complex in 1559 on the east bank of Lake Pichola, and successive kings added on to the palace for the next 300+ years.

Just nine years after moving to Udaipur, Udai Singh lost his kingdom to Mughal Emperor Akbar (grandfather of Shahjahan, who build the Taj Mahal). In 1572, Udai Singh’s son Pratap led a Rajput army against Akbar’s forces in the legendary Battle of Haldighati. The palace museum features paintings of this battle, as well as a statue of Pratap’s horse, Chetak, wearing an elephant mask. Our guide, Mr. Singh, explained that in battle, neither horses nor elephants will charge a baby elephant. So Chetak’s disguise bought time for his rider. Chetak died in the battle, but despite being fatally wounded, he carried Pratap to safety. The Rajputs later won back their freedom and territory from the Mughals.

Built of granite and marble, the complex comprises 11 interconnected palaces that reflect European, Chinese, Rajasthani and Mughal architecture with cake-topper cupolas, multi-level balconies, carved lacy screens, gardens, terraces, colonnades, and fountains. A couple sections of the palace now operate as heritage hotels.

According to Wikipedia:

Once India got independence in 1947, the Mewar Kingdom, along with other princely states of Rajasthan, merged with the Democratic India, in 1949. The Mewar Kings subsequently also lost their special royal privileges and titles. However, the successor Maharanas have enjoyed the trust of their people and also retained their ownership of the palaces in Udaipur. They are now running the palaces by creating a trust, called the Mewar Trust, with the income generated from tourism and the heritage hotels that they have established in some of their palaces. With the fund so generated they are running charitable hospitals, educational institutions and promoting the cause of environmental preservation









A cardboard cutout of Bhupal Singh, paralyzed at the age of 16, tells that he was the first Rajasthani ruler to sign an Instrument of Accession to join the new Union of India in 1948 and the last Mewar ruler to reside in the palace.


Mr. Singh pointed out that the Mewar people worshipped the Sun God, which explains the big suns displayed on the exterior and interior of the palace.



Following our tour, we met up with our tuk-tuk drivers and tried to find a shopping street promoted in several guidebooks. The city was bustling with Diwali shoppers and festival preparation.

This lady was decorating the stoop in front of her bangle shop, where Brenna hit the jackpot.





Holiday shoppers and honking vehicles filled the streets, sidewalks and markets. Amjan, one of the tuk-tuk drivers, stopped a few times to ask if we wanted to get out and walk around. No thanks!




We saw a sign for “rooftop restaurant,” so we climbed about five flights of steep narrow stairs only to find ONE table at the very top! The owner offered us a menu, but it seemed a bit sketchy.

Poor Amjan. I could tell he was frustrated that we couldn’t decide what to do. The crowds were too daunting. We finally asked him to take us to an Indian restaurant, where we had a nice late lunch before heading back to the hotel for the rest of the evening. We hunkered down with cocktails and snacks on the hotel’s deck, but before we knew it, Diwali entertainers were setting up a puppet show. Halfway into the show, we realized we were the only adults in the front row.

The style of puppetry is called “Kathputli,” an artform purported to be more than 1,000 years old. At our puppet show, a man climbed onto the platform and stayed hidden the whole time, manipulating the puppets, while a woman sat cross-legged next to the makeshift theater, drumming and singing along. I thought the puppeteer was playing tunes on a kazoo, but the website illuminated me:

Rajasthan puppets have their own unique speciality. Puppeteers manipulate the puppets with a whistling, squeaking voice and are interpreted by a narrator who also provides the rhythms. The puppets have no legs and movements are free. Their bodies and limbs are made of mango wood and stuffed with cotton. A slight jerk of the string causes the puppets to produce movements of the hands, neck and shoulder. Many puppets hang on one rope: one string tied to the head and other to the waist. The puppeteer makes a loop around his fingers and manipulates the puppet. He takes ghungru (bells) in his hands and plays it according to rhythm. These puppets have a very limited vocabulary, so the movements play a very important part. Puppets are moved towards each other with speed and with swords in their hands in fighting postures. Greetings and salutations are done by bending the puppets and leaving their arms to hang loosely.

Our second day in Udaipur involved a lot of chilling out, followed by our cooking class with Shashi. We returned to Delhi Saturday morning so Col and Brenna catch their flight back to Hong Kong. Before they left, though, we spent a couple hours at a salon getting pampered.

For more photos from our get-away weekend, check out my flickr album: Udaipur.

Cooking with Shashi in Udaipur

It’s no secret that I’m hopeless in the kitchen. Still, I’ve discovered cooking classes provide unique cultural insights and bring a sense of humanity to any place I visit.

When Col and Brenna asked about a cooking class in India, I looked online and found Shashi’s Cooking Classes in Udaipur. It looked a bit amateurish (“For a mouth open dive into the marvelous flavors of Rajasthan…”), but she got good reviews on TripAdvisor.

After a couple confusing phone calls regarding the class time, a tuk-tuk picked us up around 2 p.m. for the short ride to Shashi’s home. Ronna and Ava stayed behind to enjoy the hotel spa (which, unfortunately, turned out to be less than enjoyable). We joined a group from Ireland, who were in good spirits despite getting whacked with Varanasi’s version of Delhi belly during their train journey to Udaipur. (The only thing worse that Delhi belly is Delhi belly on a train.)

We all crowded into Shashi’s kitchen, where she demonstrated how to make masala chai and many delicious dishes. Following along in our photocopied recipe booklets, we stirred, sautéed, dipped veggies into pakora batter, rolled dough into chappatis and eventually sat down to eat it all. My favorites included the potato and onion pakora with mango chutney, aubergine and tomato masala, and the potato parantha. Yum!

Shashi learned English through her interactions with tourists, and although she often pointed to the recipe on the page, she admitted she couldn’t read English. She simply memorized where each recipe was located in the packet! Her life had been hard, but her spirits were high. Growing up in a village, she had only ever cooked in clay pots over an open fire before her arranged marriage brought her to the city. When her husband was murdered by a business partner, she struggled to support herself and her children. Her cooking classes provided the emotional and financial boost she needed. Whereas touristy cooking classes usually wrap up and send participants home, Shashi seemed happy to hang out and chat as the evening wore on. We stayed till almost 7:30 p.m. and likely would have lingered longer, but we knew Ronna and Ava were waiting back at the hotel.

Brenna and Col enjoying their tea.

Shashi and her amazing box of spices.


Shiny gets ready to sauté some onions.

I’m just here for the photo opps.

Shashi’s son, Ashish (right), is getting married soon, and there was some disconcerting talk about how Brenna was just the right size for Shashi’s nephew.

Rolling chappatis (which are the same as rotis, in case you’re wondering).

Full hearts and tummies.

Here is Shashi’s masala chai recipe:
Serves 1 glass
* 1 glass of milk
* a quarter glass of water
* 2 heaped tablespoons of sugar
* 1 tablespoon of black tea (Indian Darjeeling tea is the best.)
* a pinch of Masala Tea Powder (10 grams each of dry basil, nutmeg, dry ginger, cardamom and black pepper)
* 2 pieces of cardamom
* 4 black peppercorns
* a fingernail of fresh ginger
1. If using the fresh ingredients rather than the Masala Tea Powder, then grind the cardamom, black pepper and ginger roughly in a mortar and pestle.
2. Add all ingredients into a small saucepan and place on the stove.
3. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for approximately four minutes, stirring occasionally. The chai should start to turn a coffee brown color, and you should start to smell the cardamom and other flavors of the masala.
4. Once it is done, pour the tea into a glass through a strainer to remove the tea and other solid pieces left behind.

Fun with an old friend – and her kid?

International friends often comment about how we just pick up where we left off whenever we get back together. We vacation in each other’s countries, crash at each other’s houses, and use each other as tour guides after years apart. The elephant in the room is this: How will our friends’ KIDS change over the years? And will we WANT them to visit?

One of my close friends in Shanghai was a New Jersey gal named Colleen (aka Col, Shiny, Shiny Pop Pow, Sheila Pot Pie and who knows what else?). Her daughter Brenna was in early elementary school at the time and had some mighty fine dance moves, not to mention prehensile toes like mine that she could spread apart or use to pick up objects. Our favorite story about Brenna continues to make its way around the world and epitomizes what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. Her grade 2 spelling test featured weather words, but instead of “typhoon,” she wrote, “Thai food.”

Of course this story surfaced last week when Shiny brought Brenna to India for their fall break last week. “I even asked two times,” she recalled. “‘Really? Thai food?’ and Ms. Nutting said, ‘Yes! Typhoon.’ But I heard, ‘Thai food.'”

I hadn’t seen Brenna since both our families left Shanghai in 2009.
Here she was in 2006.

And here we are comparing toes back then.

Here she is now with her mom.

I forgot to ask about her toes or her latest dance moves, but I can say that she blew me away with her curiosity and enthusiasm, maturity and confidence, sense of humor and knowledge of India. More than once, someone would ask a question about Indian history, food or religion, and Brenna would have the answer. Amazing! I must admit my heart swelled when she badgered our tour guide with questions at the Udaipur Palace. I do believe I’ve found my Guide Hog Jr.

Oh, I was also thrilled to see Shiny! But I knew I would be.

I wasn’t so sure how I’d feel about spending my weekend with a teenager. I adored LITTLE Brenna, but … you know, now she’s a TEENAGER. What a glorious relief to say I loved every minute of my time with her, and I can’t wait to see both of those goofy, gorgeous girls again soon.

Devil’s Circuit – down and dirty in Delhi

October 12, 2014

Last year, an adventurous group of AES teachers participated in a local mud run. I asked if they passed out Z-packs at the end of the race and joked that the free beer should include a shot of hepatitis vaccine. I mean, Delhi is a dirty city in the best of times. We take off our shoes when we come in the house. We rinse off our feet if we step in puddles. Do I really want to intentionally roll around in Delhi mud? Then … an email announcing this year’s event appeared in my mailbox, and this time I couldn’t control my hyperactive FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Before I knew it, I had sent a “reply all” adding my name to the list of participants.

Today was the day. The Devil’s Circuit.

With an eye on the “best costume” prize, our leader and first-grade teacher, Kate, urged us all to dress in school colors or otherwise promote the AES Tigers. She had tiger tails and hats made for us. I wore knee-length yellow and white socks (which were yellow no more within minutes), an AES “Game Day” T-shirt, my tail and tiger hat. Middle school drama teacher Beth brought the face paint and managed to decorate much of our crew despite the bumpy bus ride.

Clint got a very scary tiger mask made.
scary tiger

face paint

After a very long bus ride, we arrived at Wave City, where the sign reads, “Welcome to the city that thinks for you.” Here’s the scoop from the Wave City website:

Wave City is one of India’s largest Smart Cities, which is spread across an impressive 4500 acres. It is built on the Smart City concept by IBM. World renowned AECOM is its Town planner & Landscape designer. Wave City is constructed keeping in mind contemporary design and new–age architecture. With the luxury of open spaces and modern designs, this city ensures a pampered, secure and luxurious lifestyle. It boasts of more than 750 acres of green spaces, wide roads & congestion-free BRT network for smooth traffic flow, mechanized garbage control systems, fiber optic connectivity for each resident, 24×7 security systems, healthcare provisions including hospitals, medical university, ISKCON Temple, educational institutions, local shopping centers, malls and multiplexes – among many other facilities. It is a city full of vigor and vitality, which makes it the perfect place to enjoy a comfortable, convenient and uncluttered lifestyle.

Ummm… right. We didn’t see much “vigor and vitality.” But there was tilled parched earth as far as the eye could see with an occasional little park and clusters of concrete buildings. Lots of signs promoted communities of the future, such as Greenwood Enclave. It’s hard to imagine any enclave here being green or woody. For some reason, roadblocks prevented our bus from using the marked route to the Devil’s Circuit. We actually went off road, rocking and bumping on a pitted dirt path, to reach the race.

This sign cracks me up! That “sample built-up” ain’t gonna happen.
model homes

wave city

off roading



Right off the bat, we slogged through thick slippery mud, climbing over or ducking under hurdles. I skipped quite a few of the obstacles, particularly those that predictably plopped competitors into a mud pit. However, I did conquer a few, including:
* hopping across wooden poles stuck upright in the mud,
* climbing a wall and rappelling down the back,
* scurrying up, over and down a rope spider web arch,
* pulling myself out of a deep pit with mud up to my shins,
* scooting across a beam stretched over a mud pit while holding hands with my friend Beth, who was doing the same on a parallel beam, and
* carrying a sand bag from point A to point B (I dumped out about half the sand … shhh.).

Wow, I’m racking my brain and I can’t think of any more. I started to tackle the monkey bars, but the bars were too big and wet to grip, so I quickly gave up. I managed to stay dry from the knees up until we came to the last obstacle. There we had to lie down face-up in a muddy trench and use the chain link fence covering the opening to pull ourselves through the water to the exit. We emerged completely soaked and muddy. The finish line included a tank of icy cold water. We climbed out, shook our tails for the cameras and then claimed our participation medals. As the only group in costumes, we also won the costume contest!

Brave Tami!
Brave Tami

Kate and Kathryn came up with a creative way to get across the pit, so Beth and I followed suit.
muddy river crossing

More pics.
finish line




The Devil’s Circuit Facebook Page featured this shot of us as their banner for a few days. Pretty hilarious!
mud run


Adventures in Teaching and Travel