Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rag Pickers Hoping for a Better Future

Placing your trash in a large plastic container that one wheels out to the street weekly for a large garbage truck to collect and deliver to the closest landfill is NOT the way trash is collected in India.  I must admit that I really hadn’t given the collection of household trash much thought until we moved into our flat and I then wondered, “what do we do with the trash?”.  Thank heavens for the maid who understands the system.  In our neighborhood, there is a man that brings a big wagon pulled by a bike around daily to the different buildings and gathers the trash bag that is left at the back of the building each night.  He has his designated area that he works and receives his 250 rupees each month from our household for his service.  I have never met him, or really seen him for that matter but I am so grateful for his service.

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The trash collected by these individuals does not go to a massive landfill, rather it goes to areas where “rag picking” occurs.  Today, I was able to visit an area of Delhi where a very large “rag picking” community resides.  This particular community relocated from another part of India to Delhi in the 80’s and they have been a “rag picking” community ever since.  If one is born into this part of the world, the future most see in front of them is working 7-8 hours a day with the most productive hours being early morning and late afternoon bringing in on average (according to the sources I spoke with today) anywhere from 50-120 rupees a day.  (60 rupees is about $1.). This work is actually very unhealthy as you can imagine all the different waste that one would be sorting through and trust me, they are not wearing gloves of any kind when they are sorting through the trash.  They will search for plastics, paper, glass, aluminum, anything that could have value that could be sold to those companies that recycle the materials.

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Please don’t overlook the women “rag picking” in the picture above and below.  They do this for 7+ hours a day just to try to buy a few items of food to eat that day.

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“Rag pickers” are joined by the dogs, cows and goats that want their share of the leftovers as well.  Notice the smoke in the background.  Adding to the lovely fresh air of Delhi are the small fires that are lit to burn the unwanted trash after it has been picked over.

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Within this community there is a non-profit organization that is bringing hope to girls in finding a better future than rag picking the rest of their lives.  Many girls in this community are not given a full education.  I asked a few how long they stayed in school and it was around 9th or 10th grade.  Some only get through primary education before the family sees no use in them wasting their days in school and their time is better put to use doing “rag picking” so they can add a little more money to their table each night.

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PCI India is an organization right in the neighborhood that has about 400 girls go through training each year to provide a better life and future.  Monday through Friday, there are four different time slots during the mid day that the girls come for about 1 1/2 hours to learn sewing skills, computer skills, beauty classes and art classes.  This allows them to continue their “rag picking” in the morning and late afternoon.  Most of the programs last about 6 months before they get a certificate and then the non-profit organization can try to help find them work with employers or many go out on their own sewing in their own homes.  There is a very small fee (just a few $) that they must pay for the program so that they are committed to seeing the program through to the end.  On Saturdays the girls can also come to together for additional educational opportunities or just playing some board games together.

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The girl in the blue pictured above was just finishing her “final” for her certificate.  She has been in the “beauty program” where they learn to do the elaborate preparations for an Indian bride.  The girl next to her is the student that was chosen to be her “model”.  She has been “decorated” as a bride would be for her wedding.

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These girls were practicing the art of “henna” on some of us visiting.  Henna is a common decoration added for a wedding or other Indian celebration. 

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Pictured above is the sewing class and the instructor is pictured below.  Please notice that all the sewing machines are “hand operated”, meaning no use of electricity to use them.  The girls have to learn to make their own patterns based on measurements and start out using newspaper, moving up to making small “doll-sized” clothing and then making and designing adult clothing.  When they leave the program, if a student shows real promise and motivation, the organization will help with purchasing a sewing machine for them to start their own tailoring business.

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Pictured below a student showed us her completed project that she designed and sewed herself.  The students must learn how to do hand embroidery as well because the machines that can do the embroidery are too expensive and require electricity to use.

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Sagina, pictured below, shared her story with us.  Her parents are deceased.  She is 18 years old and has 3 sisters, ages 21, 14 and 10.  They all do “rag picking” to survive.  They live together in a small concrete room that is not as large as some walk in closets in America.  They use a “common bathroom” facility in their building that is government housing and is often not working properly.  Sagina came to know about PCI and their program one day as she was out “rag picking”.  One of the workers at PCI goes out and canvases the area and lets girls know about the opportunities right there in their community.  Sagina is currently in the sewing program and she has a great desire to learn a skill that will provide a better income for her and her sisters so that she can make enough money for her two younger sisters to return to school and get an education.

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Many of these girls marry at a very young age.  By law, Muslims and Hindus are allowed to marry at 18 or 21 years old depending on their culture, but many times they are married off by their families much younger, commonly around 16 years old.  PCI had an intern from the UK there and she has been interviewing these girls and is writing their stories.  She shared with me that one girl that really stood out in her interviews was forced into marriage at 16 and is now 21 with a four year old already.  She wants to change her future by gaining some skills where she can work from home.  According to information given to us, the director estimates that about half of the graduates from the program leave “rag picking” to obtain a better paying job in the workplace or at home.  The desire that exists in these young women is amazing to be around.  Just imagine you were born into this community instead of the one you are in.  It makes the opportunities provided to many other parts of the world seem incredible.  How grateful I am for my education and opportunities.  It is hard to fully comprehend this life but is a great reminder to me to waste not the privilege that I have been given.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My FedEx Experience

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Inside the FedEx office in India.  The similar signage is NO sign that your experience will be the same as the US.

I knew once that Jacob had left the United States and moved to the Philippines that I would need to finally figure out how to mail a package from India.  Well, today was the day and let’s just say that it once again confirmed to me that one needs to “expect the unexpected” when doing anything here.

Jacob’s birthday is next week and I had found a very simple package idea off the internet that consisted of envelopes glued together and folded accordion style where it opened up into one long strip.  Inside each envelope were notes, a few items of memorabilia from our travels to Paris and Thailand then just some basic US treats like gum, mints, Crystal Light lemonade powder, skittles, etc. that we had still from our US stash.  So I figured the most reliable source to get a very small package to him was FedEx.    I didn’t know where one was located but after searching on the internet, I gave my driver two different addresses with telephone numbers and asked him to please locate one of them.  At home, running a package to FedEx would take maybe 15-20 minutes.  Well, my little excursion ended up being three hours and moments of pure frustration.  The FedEx location that is closest to our home really is not very far.  When we pulled up there was the familiar FedEx signage so I went in with hopes that it would be a similar experience to sending something from FedEx in the states.  Well here are a few differences that I encountered:

1.  Passport and Visa are required.  So, my driver and I headed back home, I made copies of my passport and visa pages and returned with those as well as the actual passport.  I had to leave the copies with my signature on each paper with FedEx in order to have them send the package.

2.  Package must be thoroughly inspected by FedEx employee — and more than once.  I had wrapped the package in brown paper but was prepared to open it for them and then transfer to one of their boxes, if required.  Well, not only did I have to unwrap the package, every single item had to be removed, taken out and hand inspected thoroughly, answering multiple questions about each item.  The first time the employee did this he told me the powdered Crystal Light could not be sent.  I told him no problem, I would just remove those.  Well the second time he went through it (after I returned with my passport and visa), he handled everything again and told me that nothing edible could be sent.  So basically, all of my little pocket envelopes were stripped of their contents outside of the notes and a few non-edible items.  Now, according to the FedEx website, there is nothing that says mints, gum, etc. cannot be shipped but in India, it was a no go.

3.  Shorter distance does not necessarily make the cost of the package go down.  So by the time I had refolded my now empty envelopes, hoping Jacob would laugh about it when I emailed him and just know we were thinking of him on his birthday, and placed it in a FedEx envelope, my paper contents now cost almost $50 US dollars to mail and arrive in 3-4 days.  I have had the same size envelope mailed to me from California to India overnight rate and let’s just say that being closer to the Philippines I expected the price difference would be more noticeable.

Well, like many things in India, the FedEx experience again confirmed the “process” everything takes in India.  The experience, though frustrating, was a great reminder for me that in India, one should ALWAYS “expect the unexpected” and just roll with it because that is how it is done here.  Now for future packages, well, let’s just say I think our son can expect packages when we are back in the states at summertime.

Spring Break in Phuket Thailand

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We have made a list of destinations we would like to see while we live in this part of the world so as spring break approached, we decided it was time to see one of those destinations — Thailand.  After speaking with many people that have traveled there, we decided on the island of Phuket which is about an hour’s plane ride from Bangkok.  We were excited to feel the waves in the ocean, bake in the sand and enjoy some tropical life for a few days.  We were not disappointed.  Thailand is definitely a country we would highly recommend to anyone wanting a trip to Asia.

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We stayed at the Renaissance Resort which is the north end of the island.  It was a perfect location right along the Andaman Sea.  The resort had a children’s pool with a small waterslide and another large edgeless pool that was a short one minute walk from the beach.  We were so happy to see the blue sky, breathe the clean, fresh air, and enjoy the sunshine for a few days.

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The waves were not great, but the water was so warm.  Unlike California beaches, the sand had no rocks and was full of small intact seashells.  There were also loads of sand crabs along the beach.

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A few other creatures we saw during our stay — lizards, and of course an elephant or two.

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The tropical resort also had pineapple growing, bananas and coconuts.

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We rented a car one day to see the entire island.  A few things that stood out to us were the 7-Eleven stores — they were everywhere.  We had not seen that store sign in quite some time so the kids were hoping for a Slurpee but Thailand 7-Eleven stores do not have slurpees, but plenty of snacks.  There were many stands selling kites along the roadside as well so we took a few back to the resort to fly them on the beach.

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Our experience coming from New Delhi is that Thailand is much cleaner, no noise pollution and the people were very friendly.

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 This is a pier on the island which had some fun “local” shopping nearby.

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 Some of the beaches were lined with this typical fishing boat.

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We also saw many different shrines as we drove around the island.

 

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As we separated at the airport with Tyler flying to Bangalore to get to a big meeting the next day and the rest of us returning to New Delhi for a couple more days of spring break, we had big smiles, some shoulders hurting from sunburns, and a great impression of beautiful Thailand.  There is a quote that states, “the real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  We are grateful for these experiences that are giving us “new eyes” to the world and to ourselves.  We are truly learning how enormous this world is and the diversity and beauty that exists.

 

Trekking in the Kingdom of Kumaon by Conner

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As a high schooler at the American Embassy School, the classrooms get closed for a week and all students get some “real learning” in the country in which we live.  Back in October, the 25 trip choices were given to us.  We had to make a list of our top 16 choices and then it was up to the “computer lottery” as to which trip we were assigned.  The 25 trips varied from service trips, cultured focus or moderate, challenging or extreme in adventure.  For someone who loves ceramics, they could go and do ceramics in a village in India for the week.  There were horseback riding adventures as well as many river rafting choices.  The one that I got assigned to from my choices was the “Kingdom of Kumaon.”  My group consisted of 12 other boys (mostly juniors) and a husband/wife teaching team from the school.  There were guides from a company that led us on our journey.

We left Saturday morning at 4:00 a.m. and returned at 5:00 a.m. the following Thursday morning.  We traveled 7 hours on a train and 4 hours on a jeep to get to the destination in Kumaon Himalayas.  I have never seen such mountain ranges, it went on for quite a distance.  Due to the rain and foggy weather, I did not get to see them in all of their splendor but what I did see was impressive.

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The first ruling dynasty of this area dates back to 500 BCE.  It is now in the present day Uttarakhand state of India.  We hiked through the Binsar National Park and passed through several different villages and got to see how the people really live life.  Let me just say that life in these villages is VERY simple.  Binsar was the capital of the Chand Raj kings who ruled in the 7th and 8th centuries.  We saw a Shiva temple built during this time period.

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Our days consisted of lots of trekking.  We started around 8:00 every morning and then finished around 4:00 p.m. daily.  It was a lot of up and down hills but not that strenuous.  We slept nightly in tents but our gear was transported daily to our end spot so we only had to carry our daypack with us.  It rained nightly and on one night the wind blew so hard that our rain protection over the tent blew off, getting us wet on that night.  On one day we got caught up in a “gobstopper size” hail storm as we were trekking.

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It was the first time our school had done this particular trip and overall, it did not contain a lot of excitement but it was neat to see this area of India.  In total we did 60 kilometers in 4 days.  I came home tired and ready to sleep in my own bed.  Next year I hope to win the lottery on a river rafting trip.  The best part — no schoolwork all week!

Last Family Member Joins Us In Asia

Our oldest son, Jacob, graduated from high school last June and was excited for the change that was upon him in heading off to study at a university in a different state.  Well, around all the excitement, Jacob soon realized that his life would change even more so as his family decided to accept the position in India moving his family halfway around the world from him.  This week, this last member of our family joined us in Asia, as Jacob flew to the Philippines, arriving Tuesday evening, putting him much closer to us.  Instead of being 12 1/2 hours behind us, he is now greeting the day 2 1/2 hours before us.

For two years, Jacob will serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the San Pablo Philippines area.  He has spent the last 6 weeks studying the Tagalog language at a training center.  We knew before accepting the assignment in India that Jacob would be spending two of our three years in India serving a mission somewhere in the world.  A missionary does not get to pick their location, it is assigned by an apostle of Jesus Christ, and so you can imagine that we were elated when we found out in September that the assignment would put Jacob a bit closer to us.

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Our other children would say that this move of ours to India has had little affect on Jacob, as they dreamt of him back in the United States enjoying their favorite things, but if I could speak on behalf of Jacob, I think he would say that it has affected him.  For example, Jacob was scheduled to start school in the fall but with our move happening the first of August we moved his start date at the university to begin the summer term.  This way, we could drop him off at college and get him settled.  When it came time to pack Jacob up for college, it wasn’t just packing what you want to take off to college — we had three piles going — one for college, one that would sit in storage for three years and one for donations.  Jacob did not like this part because he felt like he was “packing up his life” a bit sooner than he wanted.  When Jacob returned to San Clemente for the break between summer and fall, he arrived at a home that was empty.  That was a little weird to him and cemented the fact that his family was gone.  But with all of these changes, there have been some true blessings that have come from it as well.  Jacob got to see firsthand just how many people care about him and were ready to look after him after our departure.  He grew closer to many extended family members due to their love and concern for him.  He had friends cover things like rides to the airport, staying at their homes in San Clemente during breaks, and feeding him.  Another benefit has been the “know how” Jacob needed to obtain quickly on some things in life as his parents were not accessible at his every waking moment due to the time difference.

So as we spoke with Jacob Monday night as he was waiting at the airport to fly to the Philippines, we were excited to know that he is arriving in Asia and that his adventure of living abroad is beginning.  His experiences will give him a better understanding of some things we have been experiencing and likewise we will understand some of the things he will share with us — like toilets.  (The Philippines has the same way of cleaning themselves when using the toilet as the Indians.)  After we finished talking to Jacob on Monday night, Hailey asked if I was sad because he would be gone on his mission for two years.  I could honestly tell Hailey that I was happy about it.  I had already worked through some emotions back in August when it struck me just how far away he was from us and how little I could do to help him.  I am happy for his decision to serve Jesus Christ and happy to know that he is joining us in Asia.

When Standing In Line….Allow NO Gap!

In kindergarten the typical American learns the lesson of “no butts” and “no cutting”, so arriving in India, it has been a surprise to see that this lesson does not apply in this country and that their culture has a completely different take on the proper way to stand in a line.

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Tyler travels to Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore every few weeks to spend time at the other Microsoft offices in India.  It was after his first visit to one of these offices, a few weeks after our arrival, that we saw the first glimpse of how to stand in a line in India.  He came home and told me how standing in line for a dinner buffet with all of these professionals, he didn’t quite understand why people were cutting in front of him.  He was standing in line as an American would with a few inches of space between him and the person in front of him.  After several people “cut” in front of him, he started to think how rude it was but then looking around he realized that if he left any space between persons, it was understood by the Indians that you were not in a hurry, so it was acceptable to move ahead of him.

A couple of months into my grocery shopping experience, I was also standing in line at an expat grocery store, holding my red basket with my load (yes… Costco shopping moms, imagine having to carry your basket around in your hands to do your shopping… that’s how we do it here, no shopping carts to push around) when a woman kindly asked if I was standing in line.  I replied yes, and she informed me that I needed to get quite a bit closer in order for others to understand that I am in the line.  She was also an expat and was giving me a little help in understanding the rules of the line in India.

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It is very common to see individuals walk right up in front of the line at the grocery store and hand their money and hold up their soda can to pay quickly in front of everyone else.  In January, our entire family was given the opportunity to go through an 8 hour culture training where a company sent their consultants to our home.  One worked with our children and two worked with Tyler and I in understanding the culture and how it contrasts to the culture from which we have come.  I asked these consultants about standing in lines here.  They explained that if you are not almost pushing the individual in front of you to hurry along, than the Indian reads that as a sign that you are not in a rush so it is okay to move ahead of you.  It was nice to finally have that “culture difference” explained.

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As we flew out of the airport last weekend for Paris, I nearly lost it though with the “butting in lines” here in India.  Just going through security, we experienced three different individuals who decided their lives were much more important than ours.  One was a man that just slowly moved his way up the security line standing in front of a few more persons every few minutes having no regret that all of us were in the same situation.  The second was a woman that once she had gotten to the point of security where you select your bins to put all of your belongings that are carryons to be sent through the xray machine, she decided her line was too long, so she moved over to ours and literally was taking the bin out of Tyler’s hand as he was pulling it out of the stack.  He explained that yes, he was using it and that she could get one behind him.  Our third experience was of another woman that decided she was going to make a second line behind the xray machine that one walks through.  In India, men go through one security line and women another, with women going behind a curtain and getting their “pat down.”  Hailey and I were next in line and a woman came and stood right next to Hailey.  The woman behind me spoke up and explained to her that there was one line.  She tried to say that she thought there could be two lines.  I told her that we were indeed next.  It is against my nature to push and shove in a line but I am learning that I do need to be a bit more assertive in a line.  I still think what I learned in kindergarten is indeed the proper way to stand in a line regardless of your culture.

A Weekend in Paris

When we left for India in August, I would never have guessed that we would be doing a weekend in Paris but the opportunity presented itself, and we took it!  Tyler had a work event to attend for 3 days and when he told me about it, he said, “Let’s do the weekend together in Paris.”  We went back and forth on the decision knowing it was a bit pricey for just a weekend but let me say that not one of us regrets the decision to go.  Words describing the weekend from the children were “awesome”, “dreamy”, and “great memories!”

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We left around 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning and took a flight direct from Delhi to Paris.  It was about 8 hours.  It’s funny when you have traveled halfway around the world, 8 hours doesn’t seem long at all.  When we told the children how long the flight was, they said, “That’s all?”  We recall the days of our first trip from San Francisco to Hawaii and how we worried about the 5 hour flight and how our children would handle it — now they’re saying eight hours isn’t bad at all.  It all comes from a change of perspective in their travels.

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We arrived around 6am to some rain and a bit colder weather than Delhi.  We stayed at the same hotel that Tyler’s event was located at the following Monday which was right in the heart of Paris.  Since we were too early to check in, we dropped the bags and headed off to the Louvre, about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  We have taken our children to lots of museums and art museums have never been at the top of their list so, according to Thomas, “We just need to see the Mona Lisa and then we can go.”  We got them to endure a little bit more than just the one painting and marveled at the talent that was displayed right in the museum with artists painting copies right next to the originals.

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The weather cleared up perfectly for some great shots up at the top of the Arc d’ Triumphe that evening.  We got the best views of the city with a beautiful setting sun.

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Our visit to the Eiffel Tower was not as clear the next morning and a bit chillier making our stay up top pretty short.  At one point, the boys separated from the girls and Hailey and I had tickets to the Broadway Musical, Beauty and the Beast and the boys had tickets to the PSG football match.  We all returned from both events stating it may have been the most memorable part of the trip.  The boys said the fans in Paris put the Chelsea fans (which they experienced last spring break in London) to shame as far as rowdy goes.  They loved it and have their sights on trying to see a different match sometime next year in Europe.  Hailey and I got to hear the French language spoken and sung for 2 1/2 hours in the musical and let me say that it was beautiful.  Hailey is rethinking her decision next year to switch from French to Spanish.

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Another big highlight of the trip was taking the train out to the Palace of Versailles.  The difference between our boys and daughter really shined through on this trip.  The boys didn’t find any use in pausing too long in any of the rooms — yet Hailey wanted to stop in everyone, take pictures of everything, and left dreaming of castles and palaces.  The palace is amazing and impressive.  To think it started out as a hunting lodge getaway.

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So, Monday morning, reluctantly, the four of us left Tyler in Paris to do “work”, while we headed back to Delhi to arrive around midnight.  None of us were quite ready to leave Paris.  The boys were happy to eat real hamburgers and meatball subs at Subway and McDonalds (who goes to Paris to eat at these places…. well if you are a teenage boy without beef, these are the places you want to eat.)  Hailey did not get enough street crepes and none of us got enough of the hotel breakfasts that were amazing.  I am sorry, but the French truly know how to make a brioche and a croissant.  One thing that I could not get over was just how orderly and calm it is there.  Paris is a very large city but I believe having been living in the city of Delhi for a while now, that it didn’t seem large, crowded or very busy to me.  It seemed so organized, clean and calm.  It was truly an AMAZING weekend in Paris!