Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on India, Hindi, and New Delhi

After stressing out about our second post for months and researching all the open positions, finally knowing that we are going to New Delhi is such a relief. Nothing is official though because Paul has yet to be paneled (approved) and we are told that takes months because it’s happening  in transfer-date order and ours is not until May of 2012. Since Paul’s second post is what they call an entry-level directed assignment, his Career Development Officer is confident that he will be paneled.
Quite a few people have asked us if New Delhi was our first choice. The answer is “No”. It was #8 on our list of 20 and here’s why. We have both always found India absolutely fascinating and wanted to go there but were not thrilled about learning Hindi. There were other languages that we were more interested in (French and Portuguese), so we bid the places where those are spoken higher. We were also concerned that Hindi is hard and will take a long time to learn. Plus, we thought it was a one-country language that would have limited utility for Paul’s (and perhaps mine) career down the road. Well, that’s because we were ignorant and/or spotty in our early post research.
We have since learned that Hindi is a Super Critical Needs Language (SCNL), which means that if Paul learns it to level 2/2, he will be eligible for SCNL bonus pay (always nice!) and he'll have to serve in India at least one more time in his career as an FSO (mid-level). I’d like to learn it too because I love languages and because knowing Hindi will give me bonus points, if/when I pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) and the Oral Assessment (OA). As a FSO spouse, I am eligible for language training, which could be a class at FSI (if space is available) or online instruction. Rosetta Stone is also available to both of us through State, and luckily, Hindi is one of the languages it offers, so we can start learning it like NOW, although a lot of people in the FS community are not so hot on Rosetta Stone and its method of instruction.
I recently learned something else about Hindi that I didn’t know and I learned it at the school bus stop, of all places. There are two ladies living in our apartment complex that I have gotten to know because they have kids roughly the same age as Nia and we hang out at the bus stop together every day. Ayesha is from Islamabad, Pakistan and Bobby is from New Delhi, India (how cool is that – she’ll be able to help me with Hindi!). At some point, I noticed that they were talking to each other in a language that they both knew. That peaked my curiosity, so I asked them what language that was and they told me that Bobby was speaking Hindi and Ayesha – Urdu. The two languages are so similar that they understand each other perfectly, even though there are a few different words here and there (kinda like Bulgarian and Macedonian).
Who’d have thunk? Well, some of you smart people out there probably knew this but I was completely in the dark. Upon further investigation, I figured out that Hindi and Urdu are basically the same language but Urdu has more of a Persian-Arabic-Turkic influence, while Hindi, more of a Sanskrit influence, hence the word variations. They also use different scripts – an adaptation of Devanagari for Hindi and an adaptation of Persian/Arabic for Urdu. Urdu is spoken by most Afghans as well, for geographical, cultural and political reasons. In my research, I also found that Hindi is close to Nepali, which is spoken in Nepal (duh) but also in Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma). Aren’t languages amazing!!!
So, knowing Hindi would open up a lot of opportunities for us in that part of the world, though we are not really interested in serving in Afghanistan-Pakistan at this time. If we had no kids, it’d be a different story but with a 7-year-old and a baby on the way, we just can’t go there. We are not interested in unaccompanied tours there at this point either.
But back to India and New Delhi. As I said earlier, Paul and I have always been intrigued by India, its culture, natural beauty, history, food, amazing shopping, diversity and believe it will be an awesome post for us in so many ways. We can’t wait to explore the country and see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Mumbai, Kolkota  as well as all the amazing things in and around New Delhi. Plus, India is doing very well economically right now compared to most of the rest of the world – its GDP is growing by 8%+, according the IMF, so it’s an exciting time to be there. We hear that the American school in Delhi is excellent, so we are thrilled about that. India’s also fairly close to Thailand, China, Singapore and Nepal, which we are hoping to visit while in India.
And while we are impatient to go, the timing seems to be really good for us because we are hoping that by May 2012, our house in FL would have sold, the baby will be 1+ year old (weaned and ready for curries -ha!), and I will be good to go back to work (if I’m lucky, I may even be able to get one of those secretarial jobs at the embassy everyone keeps “raving” about.)
That said, we are well aware that it’s a hardship post (with 20% differential and 5% COLA) and there are aspects of it that will be difficult to get used to such as the extreme poverty, crazy traffic, pushy street peddlers and beggars, overcrowding, pollution, dengue fever/malaria/TB and security issues. We think that with the help of the fairly large embassy community (288 US staff and probably twice as many Indian), we’ll learn to live with those things and enjoy all the wonderful things India and the region have to offer.
I mean, look at this collage - doesn’t it make you want to go there right now?
Is it May 2012 yet!
 Map source:
Image source:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our future home: New Delhi!!!

This is just a short post to let you all know that we finally heard from Paul’s Career Development Officer and we are going to New Delhi. It’s not until May 2012 though because Paul has to finish his current assignment in D.C. and then learn Hindi, which is a hard language, so it takes quite a while to learn. I’d like to learn it too, so I will be looking into the opportunity to take some classes.

We are very excited and I have a lot more to say about that but I am volunteering at Nia’s school today, so I have to run. I will be back soon with more on our new post.

Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in New Delhi

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ode to the Metro (sort of) Plus the Metro Song

I love the Washington, D.C. Metro. It’s one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever used. I truly missed it during our 8-year sojourn in the Tampa Bay area, where they could really use something like the Metro.

I have to say that the Metro has changed since the last time we lived here though. It’s not as clean as it used to be, the AC doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to, it’s gotten more expensive, it’s a lot more crowded (especially the orange line). I know these issues are related to the budget difficulties the Metro is facing and the fact that more people are using it, which I guess is a good thing

Anyway, I recently saw this song by GoRemy and it reminded me of my good old days riding the Metro. I know a lot of you out there use the Metro at least occasionally, so I thought I’d share it. I especially like the “It must be driven by a pirate because the board says ARR” part. If you like this song, you may like some of Remy’s other stuff – he has one about Arlington, several about Middle Eastern Food (hummus, tabbouleh, falafel) and many more. You can see them on YouTube or on his website He kinda reminds me of Borat, though perhaps not as funny or outrageous.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Grade at Last!

Her Cuteness started First Grade today! Huge milestone for her and she was beyond excited! My Mom and I took her to school this morning. I got all choked up when we went into her room and met her teacher, Ms. Quinlan.

Best of luck, Nia!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Hell of a Burger

We went to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington yesterday. That’s one of President Obama’s favorite burger joints and also where he took Medvedev earlier this summer (photo below courtesy of

The verdict: the burgers are big and juicy and really tasty but the place is small and crowded. It’s a hassle to find parking, the line is long and getting a table is no picnic. It’s a cash-only type of establishment but if you don’t happen to have cash on you, there’s an ATM conveniently located in the restaurant itself, which we had to use because we didn’t have enough cash.

If you  like burgers, you are going to enjoy Ray’s, so I’d say go ahead and try them, if you have a chance. Paul thinks the burgers at Five Guys are just as good but almost half the price and hassle-free. I thought Ray’s were better.

In any case, it was an interesting experience (pictures below) and we are glad we got to try them. Next, we need to try Ben’s Chilly Bowl, where the President took the Sarkozys.

The line, which often goes out the door.IMG_8357

Paul placing our order with the kitchen, where the magic happens, in the background.  IMG_8358

Her Cuteness and her burger, which, with the bun, was almost as big as her head. She likes her burgers plain – all she adds is cheese.IMG_8364

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Washington, D.C. from above

Paul and I have wanted to go up the Washington Monument since we lived here between 1999 and 2002. For most of that time the Monument was getting a facelift, so it was closed for tourists but it re-opened shortly before we moved to Florida. We, of course, waited until the day before we moved to do it, so we went down at zero o’clock and waited patiently for our tickets. Our tickets were for 10 a.m. and “whaddaya know”, about 15 minutes before our time, a huge storm rolled in and they closed the Monument, so we couldn’t go up!!! We were so bummed out and have been talking about it ever since. Finally, we got to go last Sunday.

This time, I got our tickets from the Park Service website, which was not an option the last time we tried.  I am so glad they’ve added this option because if you live far from downtown (or out of town for that matter) and have kids, going to the Monument at 7 a.m. to get your timed tickets is just a pain. You do have to pay a $1.50 fee per ticket, if you get them online but the convenience is totally worth it. If you get your tickets at the Monument the morning of, they are free but you have to be there between 7 and 8 a.m.

Our tickets were for 6 p.m. and we got downtown about an hour and a half early. We found parking very close to the Old Post Office, which at 315 feet is the second tallest structure in DC after the Washington Monument (with its 515 feet) and which we had wanted to visit for years as well, so we were able to hit both in one trip – pretty awesome.

First, the Old Post Office. It’s a beautiful old building that now houses restaurants and souvenir stores in the first two stories (there may be offices on the higher floors). There was no line for the clock tower and you don’t need tickets, so we got to go right up. You take one elevator to the 9th floor and then another from the 9th to the observation deck of the clock tower and the Bells of Congress. We loved the views from the clock tower. Here you are closer to downtown and the Capitol and get to see the Washington Monument from up high as well. You can’t really see the White House from here because other buildings are in the way but I highly recommend it because the view is different from the Washington Monument and the Old Post Office is much easier to get into.  Here are a few pictures:

Looking down from the elevator to the lobby area, where the restaurants and souvenir stores are.IMG_8324

Pennsylvania Ave. with the Capitol at the endIMG_8313

Beautiful roof gardens on the buildings along Pennsylvania Ave.IMG_8315

Two shots of the Washington Monument with the Ronald Reagan Building in the foreground – they are a little hazy because I was shooting against the sun.

IMG_8316 IMG_8317 

A picture of the picture they took of Nia while we were eating and the fake newspaper cover they made out of it that they then broadcast on big screen TVs in the hope that we would buy it. We didn’t.IMG_8325  

We grabbed a quick dinner at the Post Office and headed to the Washington Monument. We got there 5 minutes before our time and went right in. The views from here are also gorgeous but you get to to look through small and not very clean windows (not ideal for picture taking), whereas at the Post Office, two of the sides have large open air windows with steel ropes, through which I was able to shoot pictures no problem. Here are a few of the pictures from the Washington Monument (the ones in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial didn’t work out because of the bright sun):

The National Mall with The Smithsonian Castle, the other museums and the Capitol.IMG_8328

A closer shot of the Capitol from the bottom of the Monument.IMG_8342

The Tidal Basin with Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Potomac and National Airport in the background.IMG_8330

The White House from afar. IMG_8338

The White House up closer. IMG_8339

The Old Post Office from the Washington MonumentIMG_8337

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