Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Family Reunion Down Under

The last time I saw my cousin Vishal, I was a senior in college and he was an extremely shy 10-year- old boy.  I had only met him once before, when I was 13 and he was a precocious toddler.

The only reason I wasn't close to that part of my family was that I literally wasn't close to that part of my family.  I grew up in Fresno, California.  Vishal and his older brother, Kaushik, grew up in Bombay, India.  We only saw them every seven years when my father took us to India while on sabbatical from teaching.  Technically, we are second cousins -- our grandfathers were brothers and our fathers were first cousins -- but by Indian standards we are practically siblings, so I am still much closer to Kaushik and Vishal than I would be to anyone else I had only met two or three times. And now we are Facebook friends, so we can keep in better touch.

Of course, we still aren't any closer geographically now that I live in London, because they both moved to Melbourne, Australia.   When Josh informed me that he needed to travel to Australia on business and hoped I could go with him, I could not have been more excited.  My first trip south of the equator AND a chance to see my cousins!  Since Josh had meetings for most of the first week of our two-week trip, I flew directly to Melbourne and spent a few days catching up with both brothers.

My timing was excellent.  Vishal and his wife had an adorable baby girl the week before I arrived, so not only did I get to meet her, but Kaushik and Vishal's mother and grandmother had come from Bombay to help out with the new baby.  It was quite the family reunion!
My great-aunt Shanti, cousin Kaushik and his wife, aunt Lata, and cousin
Vishal and his wife and new baby daughter
Vishal's puppy, Bruno, made his grandmother a bit nervous, so he had to stay tied up in the living room while she was around.  They kept encouraging her to try to make friends with the dog, but she would have nothing of it.  She doesn't speak much English, but at one point she looked at me and said very clearly, "eighty-seven!" to emphasize how old she is.
Vishal and his daughter play with Bruno
Since Vishal had his hands (and house) full with a new baby and his mother and grandmother, I stayed with Kaushik and his wife, Shilpa.  We took a nice day trip up to Mt. Dandenong, where we enjoyed a fantastic view of Melbourne.
View of Melbourne from Mt. Dandenong
There's a nice park with a scenic overlook.  Not sure why there's a giant chair there.

Shilpa & Kaushik
They also had a few of these things, which I'd never seen before.
What the heck is this?
They are coin-operated barbecues, and they are quite common in Australia, particularly in public parks.  My tourist map of Melbourne even had them marked with a little sizzling sausage icon.  $2 gets you 10 minutes of cooking time on the stainless steel cooktop.  Not a bad idea!

But that wasn't the only unusual thing I saw...
Fall colors in May?!
It was mid-May, and the trees were changing color.  It's late autumn in Australia, although the weather in Melbourne was about the same as it was in London, where it was allegedly late spring.

I also saw some of my first Aussie wildlife, including a cockatoo and a kookaburra.
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...
Instead of cutting down this dead tree, they carved it into a sculpture.
Aussie totem pole
Then we wandered around one of the cute little towns nearby
Shootout with Aussie bandit Ned Kelly
Tea for two?
Kaushik and Shilpa took me to one of their favorite places, Miss Marple's Tea Room.  Sort of a cross between a traditional English pub and an old-fashioned tea room, it is also somewhat of a shrine to Agatha Christie's elderly sleuth.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kaushik and Shilpa are just as fond of Agatha Christie mysteries as I am, and since we were also famished, it seemed like a good choice.
Miss Marple's Tea Room
Even in mid-afternoon the place was packed, and our server seemed a bit harried.  When we asked what had happened to the food I ordered, she showed us what she had written on her notepad to prove that the three of us had only ordered two items.  Wow.  An authentic English eating establishment, right down to the surly customer service.  The massive desserts more than made up for it, though!
Like being back in England...
It was a real treat to get to spend time with my cousins.  I wish they didn't live so far away!