Thursday, January 30, 2014

Republic Day

26 January is "Republic Day" in India. It's a major holiday across the nation commemorating the day the Indian Constitution came into effect in 1950. Modern School (where I am trying to be of use as a volunteer) invited us to be the "Chief Guest" (Lon) and the "Guest of Honour" (Sue) for the occasion. (Photos here are screen shots from videography by Wide Video Vision of Vapi.)

The occasion always starts with a flag raising.
That's confetti flying as the flag was unfurled. Lon did the honors here.
A military-style parade followed.

The main dais held guests, trustees, and the principals. In addition to the dais, there was a stage set up for the performers, and a smaller platform for alumni who were being honored ("felicitated" is the Indian term) for having successfully completed university programs in engineering, medicine, and business.

The students sat on the lawn. Teachers and parents had chairs along the sides. Note that as at most times in India, boys and girls were in separate groups.

The program included plenty of performances.
One of three groups that sang during the program.
Older girls gave a spirited dance.
While the younger girls gave an impressive demonstration of yoga.
The boys got into the act by making several styles of human pyramids.
A skit showing that the Modern School admits good students regardless of their ability to pay. (Modern School was started to provide an education to the poorest in Vapi, and places particular emphasis on educating girls.)
But without a doubt, the scene-stealers for us were the "mascots" that roamed the grounds, acting much like jesters. You can see in the photo above, that the elephant (in gray) could never stand still. The horse can also be seen behind the stage in the skit photo. Other characters included a leopard, a lion, a tiger, and a bear (or was it a gorilla? -- black and hairy and hard to figure out).
Eventually, you have to get to the serious stuff. Lon and I both gave short speeches.

Lon and I were both presented with beautiful shawls -- but I had the better "photo op".

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Landscaping" -- Part 2

Knowns and Unknowns

Help appreciated!

Some of the plants I recognized or have been able to identify:

Coleus. I never realized that this was in the mint family -- but I should have known, since like most mints, it's really easy to grow.
Hibiscus. The familiar red version is a favorite of Ganesha (the god with the elephant head).
I've got one of those, too, but it's not blooming at the moment.

Bougainvillea. It took me a while to figure this one out. The one I bought is bright purple. All shades of red and pink bougainvillea are blooming throughout Vapi.
I also recognized the "annuals": impatiens, marigolds, begonias, and petunias. I'll have to see if they are annuals or perennials here -- there being no real dormant season.

Others that I didn't photograph are:
  • Tulsi (aka Holy Basil, not to be confused with Thai Holy Basil, apparently), which is used as a mild medicinal tea, and is a favorite of the goddess Lakshmi. You are supposed to have a tulsi plant or two in your home for Diwali.
  • New Caledonian Pine, which looks just like Norfolk Island Pine, but my books assure me that if you have this plant in India, it's the former. Both are in the genus Araucaria, which is an important tree in southern Brazil: and
    I'll decorate it as our Christmas tree this year.
  • Curry Bush, the leaves of which give Indian cuisine one of it's distinctive flavors.

And here are the ones I haven't been able to identify. If you know (or think you know) what these are, speak up! (i.e. email or leave a comment.) I didn't realize I should have brought a "houseplant" book with me!

I know I've seen this plant back in the U.S. I had something that looked similar, but non-variegated, as a ground cover at our townhouse in Richmond. Couldn't figure out what that was, either.
Thanks to a reader, this has been identified as Schefflera. (That actually sounds familiar!)

Another plant that looks familiar to me from the houseplant aisle in garden centers.
Thanks to some help, this one is most likely Croton.
I haven't been able to identify this Juniper-like specimen -- all the books say that juvenile foliage is difficult to impossible to identify.
This gangly plant had one almost-gone extremely fragrant flower when I bought it. I think it's Champas (Michelia champaca). I'll have a better idea when it blooms again.

I've no idea what this is. Flowers have 5 petals; leaf has three lobes with deep sinuses.

Animals & Walls

No cows here:

I liked these goats moving around on top of the wall about 5 feet off the ground. I'm surprised they hadn't eaten the laundry hanging on the next section of wall to the left. (You can see the orange clothesline tied off on the left post.)
This dog was sitting on the median wall in the middle of very busy Vapi-Daman Road. He seemed unconcerned about the traffic zipping by just inches away. He was there again the next day.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Landscaping" -- Part 1

The Big Picture

(such as it is with a small plot)

In India, most "landscaping" is done with potted plants on terraces and walls. Most living units have no "yard". We have a small yard of hard-packed soil that I would like to fill with green. The best time to plant is just before monsoon -- gives the plants three months of rain to get started.

I can't identify much of what I purchased -- there are no labels on the plants! I planted a row of "annuals" that are largely hidden by the pots. But I suspect that impatiens, marigolds, and begonias are not "annual" here, but grow year-round if watered.
The family that does our outside maintenance and I disagree on gardening and landscaping practices. As you can see, the garden is mostly "scorched earth". There was a nice cover of leaves and some "volunteer" plants coming in, but one morning I came back from our Hindi lesson, and everything had been efficiently cleaned up. I'll just have to adapt, I guess.

The bright orange pots are new ones that I bought. The brown ones were on the property when we moved in, but had nothing growing in them.

As you can tell, these are not the main steps up to our porch. But they make a good place to put some plants.
I've got four lonely plants along the wall on the right side of our parking area.
To match our neighbors, I'd need three times as many plants as I have!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Dark Side of Kite Day

Not everyone is delighted by Kite Day.

This is a veterinary ER tent set up to try to rescue birds that get caught in kite lines.
I got invited into the back room where a pigeon's wing was being sewn back together. The bird has a hood over its head, on the left as seen above.
It's clear from the feathers and the maroon kite string that a pigeon had trouble here. This was on the street outside our bungalow. This is not the only clump of feathers we've seen this week.

Birds aren't the only living things at risk on Kite Day. Motorcyclists have been garroted by kite string.

Kite Day

Today is "Kite Day" -- it's a school holiday and everyone is flying kites and smiling. Loud music is booming from many rooftops -- until the frequent power failures cut the sound off. Kites have been landing on our roof and walls since early December, but it got "serious" this week!

About a week ago, kite booths were set up along the bazaar boulevard -- where the usual fare is lots of produce. We've been told that some families make their entire year's income this week. For 51 weeks they make kites, and then they sell, sell, sell, for one week.

It's difficult to capture the in-air kites in either a photo or a video, but here's an attempt:

They're much easier to photograph when they come back to the ground! (Or at least close to the ground.)
Many kites end up in trees and power lines. Run-away kites are picked up and collected by children who end up with an armful by the end of the day.
Night brings its own special sights.

Candle-lit hot-air balloons are released in the evening.
Each of those red dots is a hot-air kite. There were dozens in the air at one time. Probably hundreds over the course of the evening.

Kite Day Cows

OK. I know. Enough already with the cows. But I can't resist …

I guess this calf wants to enroll in Jr. KG.
This bull wears a bit of greenery while walking down the road.
I've frequently seen buffalo with streams of weeds adorning their horns -- just haven't been able to get a photo.
Sorry for the blur, it was just after sunset and both the bull and I were walking through traffic.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Turkey for Christmas -- Part 5 Appendix

I finally got video upload to work. Here are two shorts from Istanbul.

We were at the top of the Galata Tower during the Friday noon call to worship. With literally dozens of mosques vying for attention, the sound was truly impressive.

Sound for this clip was recorded as a voice memo on my iPhone.

Then I realized that I could take a video with my camera.

This Week in Vapi

Sugar Cane

It seems like it's always sugar cane season in India. Most of the cane was harvested in October and November, but there are numerous street carts that sell sugar cane juice -- squeezed fresh on the spot.

One man drives the gears, while the second man feeds sugar cane into the press.
Sanitation is somewhat sketchy. The glasses get re-used with just a wipe of a dirty rag in between users.

The sugar can press in action.

Hindu Worship Festival

There was a 7-day Hindu "festival" (for lack of a better word) on the road near our bungalow. There were events four times a day, with lots of loud music. It seemed a lot like a "revival", but I suspect that's not an accurate description. My lack of cultural understanding is showing. At any rate, the temporary tent was erected in about 3 days (and dismantled in less than 2). Here are some photos:

The gate over the road near the entrance.
The entry way. The wall got a fresh coat of paint, and the grounds were thoroughly cleaned before the tent was erected.
The large tent could seat several hundred people. The worship platform is in the rear. It's difficult to see, but there is a tree in the middle of the tent -- they just put the tent over it.