Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Impressions

We arrived safely and relatively sane. No terrible airport or airplane experiences, a vast improvement over our departure from India which was about the worst day of our entire lives. Detroit and Nagoya airports are surprisingly comfortable – big enough to have good food options and kid play areas (key!), but not so huge and busy like DFW, ORD or NRT.

First day in the office accomplished much, notably applying for cable and internet and our VAT point-of-purchase exemption card. All our American consulate friends from India will truly appreciate the existence of a VAT card! In the interim, the clubhouse on the compound has free wifi for members.

For the rest, we can’t help but compare to Hyderabad, our most recent point of reference.

• Housing is smaller in comparison, but comfortable. Hearing some stories, it sounds like the off-compound situation is similar to Hyderabad: beautiful patina, but questionable functionality. On-compound (where we are), most appliances are imported. I don’t have any complaints except for my shower head (pressure and hot water are sufficient, a bonus over our last house!).

• Driving is slightly crazy – tame in comparison to India, but not quite as orderly as the US. Since we live near the office, we hopefully won’t have to deal with the crazy traffic jams, especially during monsoons when we hear some roads flood. Driving time, though, will be a key factor in evaluating schools for William. If William were old enough to ride a school bus, we’d probably skip the driver.

• Availability of Western goods is high. We thought HYD was doing well, especially with the recent opening of Marks & Spencer and Chili’s. If you crave to continue to live your life with all the same brands as in the U.S., Manila is the place for you. Some come at a premium (e.g., men’s Croc’s for $40 instead of $30), of course. I found it strange walking around the Mall of Asia yesterday and seeing all the normal shopping mall stores of the U.S. interspersed with fast food stores selling fried pork parts. (no, I was not adventuresome enough to try them.)

• The jury is still out on personal safety. Sadly, I was pick pocketed on my first day out and about, something which never happened to me in India. I had a cell phone for all of five minutes, I think. The local SIM card worked in my fancy US phone (which I had had unlocked in India), which I put in a Velcro pocket on the outside of my bag … and then after a brief walk through the mall and through a toy store to pick up a new ball each for Wm and Patch, the phone was gone. Thankfully, all four passports and my wallet in the zipper pocket were safe. We’re going out again to purchase a cell phone, and this time I’m in the market for a boring talk-and-text-only basic handset.

I was a compound skeptic, but my initial impression is positive. Our neighbors report immediate response when repairs are necessary. The dog run and swimming pool are each about 100 yards from our front door, the playground maybe 40 feet. William already knows his way around, and reportedly the kids pretty much roam free between the each other’s houses. My mom is excited that the clubhouse restaurant (and Gloria Jean’s coffee shop!) will be operational from Monday after renovation.
The only negative so far is that the on-compound preschool is reportedly very strict on birthday cut offs. We had been hoping to send Patch there, but he’s two months shy of the cut off date. After three months in the US hearing exclusively English all the time, he’s actually starting to try and talk more! We’d like to encourage this and have him in a small playgroup for 2 – 3 hours each day, but I guess we’re probably going to have to look elsewhere.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Greetings from steamy Manila

I'm trying this on the iPad, so sorry about any misspellings. It also doesn't seem to like the blogspot interface, so hopefully this will actually work.

Anyway, it's darn humid here. Think Houston in June. Luckily we've been able to get to the mall both days this weekend. Yesterday we both got our phones set up, only for Pam to have hers stolen out of her purse within an hour. This gave me an outstanding opportunity to buy a new phone, which I have kept for myself (with the approval of an indifferent Pam - though I suspect she'll have a new one before we leave Manila.).

The apartment is pretty decent, once you get past the tiny non-master bedrooms. Ous is big enough to be two bedrooms, and the other two, if combined, would be about the size of one. Fortunately we have a rather large living area. Turns out we probably could have brought more of our furniture than we did, but I still think it's better to have extra empty space than to not be able to move because you have too much stuff. And our shipments aren't here anyway, so maybe we brought more than I remember.

William is enjoying the new place, especially the playground. Once he decided the pool wasn't too cold yesterday, he had fun there, too. Patch, for the most part, is indifferent to the whole business and just keeps on doing whatever he does. Oh, and the plane ride was tolerable. It's incredible how much difference it makes when you can just put the headphones on the three year old and forget about him for a while.

That's it for now. Hopefully the house will be wi-fi enabled and hooked up to cable in the next week, but for now we have to sit by the pool to go online (I know, the horrors!).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pack Out --- AGAIN!

The movers will be showing up in about thirty minutes to pack up our air frieght shipment. Seems ike we just did this. Oh, yes, that's right. We did. And now again. Good thing we'll be staying put in Manila for two years. The packing is the worst!

This time, of course, less effort was involved. Just keep out five days worth of winter clothes to wear before we get on the plane - and the rest of the winter stuff goes in the air shipment. At first I was going to sort through all the boys' summer clothes to see what to bring and what to ship. Luckily, though, toddler-sized summer clothes fold very small, and everything fit in one duffel, so I was spared the trouble. Phew!

I gave in to William's one request: we'll find room for both the dump truck AND the fire truck (both about one foot by one foot) in the suitcases. The thought of packing again had him in such a tizzy last night. Thankfully Patch is too small to make space-constraint requests :) The two-wheeler bicycle with training wheels (complete with Spiderman helmet) is all ready to go in the airshipment for the "welcome to Manila!" present for William.

I didn't have that hard of a time making decisions about what clothes to bring - but when it came to books, ACK! I have a small pile of kids books in the middle of the living room floor which I'm undecided about. On one hand, they're heavy. On the other, it's a LONG plane ride and a completely unfamiliar place at the end. Willl Katy the Steamshovel and The Big Red Barn make the cut? I have until the movers show up to decide...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Adjusting in time to change again

Today, William finally let us leave his classroom without him screaming. I'm not expecting it to happen again tomorrow, but I finally felt like he was adjusting to being here ... and then two weeks from today we'll be in Manila and it will all be new again. I have difficulty visioning how difficult this move is for William. Patch doesn't really have much of a long term memory, so it's not as big an issue for him (now that he's accustomed to wearing winter clothes :) ).

William's a pretty verbal kid, but I do have to remind myself he's only three and a half. Often, when he has a huge outburst, after he finally calms down enough to talk, he says what's really bothering him - usually that he's missing something in India (his trains, his toy farm house, Sarwari and Shabu) or that he's bothered by something different here (having to take a nap at school instead of home or having chapped lips and hands because of the cold). Greg and I are stressed out about big picture things (shots? house? schools?) - but the stresses for a small kid are much more accute and immediate.

Taking a cue from a foreign service parenting tip suggestion, we went for Indian food last night. The first time for Indian food since we left! William easily reverted to making little rice balls and eating with his fingers. Patch totally jammed out to the Bollywood hits (playing loudly, of course!). Both polished off their dinner. Advice from this publication I was reading hit home -- I have a lifetime of experience in the US and find the food, the sights, the smells, the sounds all comforting. The US is as foreign to William and Patch as Manila will be for all of us (unless living in a traffic-congested dusty large city actually ends up being more familiar to them). I just need to remember that though I'm comfortable and happy to be home, the boys lack that shared memory.