29-Dec-2014

Sydney


I have been fascinated by Australia ever since I read Bill Bryson’s ' Down Under'. There was no end to the natural wonders the place had, including the world’s oldest living organisms. However when the time to visit Australia finally came, the itinerary was attuned to traveling with a toddler. We spent a whole week in Sydney and one in Port Douglas. 

When we went - We were there in the Christmas week. Before I left, people warned me about the hot summer and the crowds. The temperature never crossed a pleasant 27 degrees in the day. Also, the tourist season picks up only post-Christmas. So it was a good time to have visited. 

Stay - We transited through Sydney to Port Douglas and stayed a night in Circular Quay. This was a stone’s throw away from the key attractions – Opera House, Botanical gardens, Harbour Bridge – and had lovely restaurants. After Port Douglas, when we spent a few days in Sydney, we stayed in Meriton Service Apartments on Pitt Street. While not next door to the sights, it was very well connected by bus and train to all the key spots, was the heart of the shopping district and CBD, next door to Hyde Park and had pretty decent restaurants. With a two-year old, a spacious serviced apartment worked better than cramped hotel rooms. 

See/Do –

Opera House – We went on an hour-long guided tour of the Opera House (have to book ahead. Can do it online). The iconic structure looks magnificent from up close too and the whole tour was very engaging, with quick dashes into the various theatres, a short video on the engineering challenges during construction and some wonderful sights from various vantage points. Highly recommended – laze around the Opera House after the tour watching the seagulls and the sea. Then follow through with drinks and food at the Opera Bar adjoining the seaside wall of the Opera House.

Royal Botanical Garden – Massive gardens with all sorts of exotic-looking flowers. Great for walking around and for a picnic.

Hyde Park – Lovely place for a picnic. Had a large supply of birds on hand for young kids to feed and chase. Every time we passed through the park, Bobo simply ran behind the poor birds.

Hyde Barracks Museum – An UNESCO World Heritage spot, it gave an idea of Australia’s convicts history. While everyone knows how criminals were shipped to the new land, it was heart breaking to see the crimes for which they were being punished (life sentence for stealing a horse!). The only reason I could see the place and listen to the guided audio tour was because we took turns babysitting. Bobo missed this bit, but I am sure he did not miss it at all.

Taranga Zoo – A really big zoo that can take up a whole day. There were very good maps available online and at the venue to plan our day. The Australian animals were the best to see since we could have seen lions and tigers in other zoos too. They also had a section for farm animals which my city-kid gawked at open-mouthed.

Bondi Beach – Long white stretch of sand, with surfers all around. When we went, the weather was chilly but that did not deter the surfers! We also dropped in at the Iceberg bistro next door from where we could see the seaside pool with people swimming furiously in the cold water

Manly – A ferry ride brought us to this beach/eating/shopping area. It looked very promising in terms of the beach and the food. Unfortunately it started to rain and we beat a hasty retreat in half an hour.

Blue Mountains – This was a day trip. We saw several brochures for tours but it was quite easy (and cheaper) to just take a train to Katoomba and then public buses thereafter. The big draw was the Scenic World, with the world’s steepest rail line, a skyway over a canyon and a cable car. We had lunch at ‘The Yellow Deli’ which had really yummy food.

The Rocks – Stone-paved roads that lead to various restaurants. We also read about the weekend markets here but never got around to seeing them.

Darling Harbour – Lovely place to eat and watch the sea. Also had a nice kids park with plenty of play equipment, most of which were meant for older kids. Still, Bobo persisted in playing

Sales – As it happened, we were there on Boxing Day and so I could visit the Boxing Day sale. Despite Australia being horrifically expensive, I could still find some bargains.

Sydney without a toddler would have been a little different and probably included more walks and restaurants and definitely more drinks. Still, it was a good place for kids and every place seemed to welcome them with open arms. So we managed to eat some great food and see some nice places, all with the kid strapped into a stroller. 

Sydney without a kid may also have taken lesser time to tick off but the amazing thing I discovered was that a slower pace meant that we could actually savour a place instead of constantly getting prepared for the next part of our day. Especially letting a toddler lead you can mean stumbling upon a game of chess in Hyde Park being played on a large board with waist-high chess figures and watching the final exciting bits before checkmate. 

Sydney was pretty ok. 
 

21-Sep-2014

Farm Animals

D said, reading Bobo’s school diary ‘Bobo has to take pictures of some farm animals to school. They are making a collage in his class’

D sounded grave and serious.

‘Uh huh’, I acknowledged without paying much attention. Bobo’s playgroup had been doing farm animals all month. Bobo had taken a toy horse to school earlier. Bobo had also been repeating ‘rooster’ endlessly for a while. It was hardly a topic for grave and serious conversation.

D continued ‘I am going to write a note saying we don’t have pictures of farm animals’

I looked up shocked ‘Wait a minute. We have plenty of pictures of farm animals. My mom used to cut pictures out of Span magazine all the time when we were kids. Of course he is going to take pictures of farm animals’

I was not going to let my son fail at homework this early on.

D continued, still despondent ‘We don’t subscribe to Span. We subscribe to the Economist. They don’t have pictures of farm animals’

D had a point. The previous week I had foolishly attempted to read the magazine with Bobo on my lap. Trying to surreptitiously censor the pictures, I had noticed the astounding number of guns that had been pictured in the issue. Certainly no farm animals. But I was not going to lose an argument.

‘Of course they have pictures of farm animals. They had pictures of cows all the time during the Mad Cow disease’

D did not bother responding.

Suddenly something struck me ‘I will google the pictures and take printouts at work?’

D did not respond this time either but that was because he had the look of ‘my wife is such a genius on his face’

‘Gosh you are so brilliant’ he finally spluttered.

We agreed on that point.

---

Post-lunch, when the office is usually quite empty, I began to google for ‘rooster’. I was quite sure I did not want to get cutesy cartoons of farm animals. I wanted the real thing just so Bobo could see what the animals looked like.

I stuck gold in the first hit. I printed a glossy colour picture of a handsome and proud-looking rooster on an A4 sheet.

Then it was onto ‘cow’. This did not look so good. She was massive, almost like a black and white brick wall. The problem was that she looked a bit disgruntled. The cow was from an article on the mad cow disease (Ha. Take that D) and maybe that is how mad cows look…? Still, I was not going to spend lunchtime looking for cows with mellow expressions. Bobo could take what I found.

Another glossy colour A4 printout.

Then it was the picture of a horse. I picked the first one I spotted - an insipid looking light brown mare. Bobo could do well with learning that not all animals are handsome or majestic creatures.

At this point I began to wonder how big was the collage that the school intended to do. Surely the kids would not be able to work on such large-sized pictures. And surely the school should not think I was some sort of non-tree hugger who took such large and wasteful colour prinouts for a pre-schooler?

I considered reprinting everything on a smaller scale but figured out that that would infact make me a non-tree hugger.

I assuaged my conscience by finishing off with a small picture of a pig.

---

In the evening, I told Bobo that I had got the pictures of farm animals.

He obviously had no clue that he was supposed to take some to school. Still, he was excited by the envelope (Used one. Note - Environmentally conscious)  that I waved at him.

We went through the pictures one by one.

‘Rooster’, Bobo cried looking at the first. I gave him a big appreciative hug.

‘Penguin’ he cried next.

What!

I flipped the paper to see if I had printed the wrong picture by mistake. But no. he was looking at the massive, disgruntled cow in black and white. The only animal he had seen in real life that was black and white was the penguin. And he had last seen a real cow in India during his infancy, the memory of which he clearly did not retain.

It looked like my choice of getting pictures of the animals instead of cartoons was already providing an education.

Still considering he got the horse, rooster and pig right, I began to wonder if the picture of the cow had been a good choice.

---

I showed the pictures to D, obviously waiting to hear more praise.

‘What huge pictures!’ D exclaimed ‘how big do you think the collage is going to be?’

‘Aha’ I replied ‘that is why I also got this small picture of a pig’

D said ‘This pig looks like it is quarter the size of a rooster. How do you explain to kids who have never seen farm animals which animal is larger?’

I protested ‘Hey. The teacher should think of that. That is why we send Bobo to school’

D continued ‘God, why does this cow look so weird?’

I was beginning to feel like the massive, disgruntled cow myself. I think D picked up the mood since there were no more comments.

---

The next morning I handed the envelope with the pictures to the teacher at school, cow included.

I am yet to hear how the collage is turning out.

I hope I get atleast one star for my effort.


07-Sep-2014

Bobo School - One month later

Bobo stands eagerly at the door, waiting for his slow-coach Mummy to catch up with him. He has already worn his school bag and now wants to wear his shoes. It is the first time he has voluntarily taken the bag. He said ‘rooster’ earlier, a takeaway from the week’s focus on farm animals. 

As soon as the door opens, the neighbour’s four year old daughter jumps out ready with her school bag. She goes to a different school but likes to meet Bobo for a few minutes every morning. She quickly grabs his hand and both walk to the lift. Once downstairs, they part ways.

Bobo has mostly forgotten that till just a few days ago he expected Mummy to carry him to the lift, past the pool, to the condo’s back entrance and to the bus stop. He bounces past the pool by himself and then stops and asks ‘thuki?’ (short for ‘carry’ in Tamil). Then seeing his Mummy is in no mood to do so, he negotiates ‘bus  thuki?’ (‘carry me in the bus?’). Mummy is balancing his stroller, his school bag and her voluminous bag and is happy to seal the deal. Even with grandma walking with them, it is best to get him used to walking the short distance.

They enter the main road. Mummy thinks she spies their bus and quickly sweeps up Bobo in her arms and runs to the stop. She realizes she is glad of this excuse to pick him up and break her own rules about getting him used to walking. It is not their bus. Mummy, grandma and Bobo sit down to wait.

At the bus stop, Bobo begins to say ‘hi’ to passers-by and co-passengers as always. Some ignore him. Some smile back at him. Bobo is never discouraged. He keeps up a steady chatter, pointing at various things.

When the bus comes, Mummy puts Bobo on her hip, carries the stroller and bags and then hops in, trying to punch in her fare card. Sitting in the bus is a balancing act with Bobo eagerly trying to look outside. More difficult to handle than having him just slump listlessly on Mummy, but definitely far more preferable.

‘Patti?’ Bobo asks, wondering where grandma disappeared. ‘Patti will pick you up in a couple of hours. You play at school till then’. Bobo nods thoughtfully.
Bobo’s “construction” stop arrived. A nod to the heavy construction work ongoing just behind the bus stop. Mummy opens the stroller while Bobo suddenly begins to cry in a “I am bored to be going this but we have to keep up appearances” montone.

In the beginning, the tears were genuine, full throated ones protesting going to school. They sometimes began in the bus, sometimes in the lift and sometimes even at breakfast if school was mentioned. This was followed by a sad face. Over the days, the tears have become restricted to three slots – on leaving the house, on being put into the stroller at the bus stop and upon entering his school. Now Bobo has all but forgotten phase one of crying. By the looks of it, Phase two is on its way out too.

Bobo asks for his ‘pura’ (short for ‘porvai’ a.k.a blanket), sits comfortably in the stroller and the tears disappear.  Mummy and Bobo chatter about the blue car that is going down the road, about the trees and about the man cleaning the sidewalk. They walk the two side streets and then arrive at the school gates.

Bobo’s teachers greet him with big smiles. Mummy calls out ‘bye’ and quickly leaves the gate before he can begin another bout of tears. Mummy thinks that phase three i.e. the moment of parting  will produce the most tears. Every morning these gates have seen some of Bobo’s loudest wails and every morning Mummy is used to standing out of sight, behind the compound wall waiting to hear him stop crying. Some days he disappears into the classroom before he has stopped crying and Mummy goes to work knowing he must have stopped crying but feeling sad.

Bobo however has not let out even a whimper.

He is already in school mode. He can see his ‘friends’, he is itching to hop into the toys cars and he knows that beyond these are the rooms filled with toys and fun things to do. He does not know what is for lunch today (cinnamon toast? Bee Hoon?) but he is going to eat it. Mummy thought that Teacher Zira was overestimating his eating skills till he impressed everyone in the weekend by eating his noodles with a fork (Of course while spilling half of it on the floor).

There is no reason for Mummy to wait. She turns and starts walking back to the bus stop to take the bus to her office. Feeling happy and relieved.

And a little sad.