Wednesday, May 28, 2014


So what exactly is FOBISIA? Any guesses? Well, it's the Federation of British International Schools in SE Asia - over 30 schools from 13 different countries, including our very own Dulwich College Suzhou, are a part of this federation. Throughout the year, FOBISIA organizes a wide range of activities - music festivals, maths olympiads, short story and art competitions, model united nations - but the most popular and the most well-known are the FOBISIA Games!! An inter-school sports competition, the Junior FOBISIA Games require students to participate in 4 activities - athletics, swimming, football and T-ball. The schools take turns hosting the event - and this year it was the Discovery Bay International School (DBIS) in Hongkong!!

The tryouts were scheduled for January, and when Manasi made the U9 Girls squad, I was really excited but also a little apprehensive! Sure, she can run fast, and she's pretty decent in the pool - but football and T-ball??? In fact, the only time she's ever played football is 4 years ago in Chennai when I signed her up for lessons - and she spent the entire hour picking daisies by the side of the field!! Needless to say, the lessons stopped pretty quickly!! Anyway, the training sessions in school began - Wednesdays and Fridays after school for the field activities, and Saturday mornings, a gruelling 3 hours in the pool!!! The coaches were making these kids work really hard to get them in shape!!

I have never ever participated in any sports event - let alone one on this scale - so I was enjoying every moment! Manasi brought home all the different kits she was supposed to wear - singlet and shorts for athletics, football gear, T-ball gear - all emblazoned with the Suzhou Tigers logo!! That was my first 'Aha' moment - these FOBISIA games were a much bigger deal than I was thinking!! The schedule of the games was announced - there was to be a Gala dinner on the last night - so of course, Manasi had to go shopping for a new dress!! Not only did we find a cute peach dress, but also a headband and shoes to match!! Hey, my daughter is off to Hongkong - if she needs a smart dress, she's going to get one!!

Getting all her stuff into her suitcase was a bit tricky - all her kits, plus she had to bring a towel for swimming, regular clothes for the evenings and 4 - yes that's right - 4 pair of shoes!! Sneakers, football cleats, flip flops for the beach and her pretty evening shoes!! I think this was also the first time that she had to pack her own toiletries kit - usually her things just go with mine!! And I'm not ashamed to say it - I was so emotional, almost a nervous wreck, tears all over the place as I was packing - it finally took a chat with my parents to calm me down and put things in a little bit of perspective!! After all, they did send me off to the US all by myself - whereas I was going to be on Manasi's flight both ways, and see her every day...


U9 Girls - at the airport

Manasi drove to the airport with the rest of her team in a school bus - I caught up with them at the gate. All the kids were in great spirits - off to a grand adventure, as it were! The flight to Hongkong is just a little over 2 hours - and the day we flew out, there was an incredible amount of turbulence, a very bumpy flight!! All part of the fun, of course - lot of fake screaming and gasping - seriously, it's unimaginable how much noise 36 excited kids can generate!! At the HK airport, it was a little bittersweet - watching Manasi walk off with her group to their hotel, while I made my way to my hotel room!! Funny feeling - all 3 of us in different places at bedtime!!

Tuesday was 'acclimatization day' for the team. Translation - they all went to Disneyland!! I didn't go with them - I think it is safe to say that I'm all Disneyed out - 4 times should be enough for anyone, right!! The best part of this HK Disneyland outing was that I was able to wriggle out of taking Manasi to the Tokyo one!! So what did I do with my day of solitude - well, that's a story for another post!! The hotel I was staying at- the Novotel Citygate - is conveniently located right next to an outlet mall. Plenty of restaurants, plenty of shopping! The Tungchung MTR station is a 2 minute walk away - so getting to the city is really easy!! Ajey flew in that night as well, and his parents were to land in HK on Wednesday morning! Plenty of cheerleaders for Manasi!!

Before I get into the actual Games, let's get our bearing in Hongkong! HK can be mainly considered as 3 parts - Lantau island, Hongkong island and the Kowloon peninsula. The airport is located on Lantau, and so is the host school, DBIS. There's a couple of airport hotels on Lantau, including the Novotel I was at, the Regal Airport Hotel where the team was staying, and the Marriott, which we had booked for our last night's stay. DBIS is a fairly small school - and since they did not have athletic fields and a pool in-house, they had outsourced all the events to different venues - which meant that we spent a large amount of time traveling back and forth!! So the athletics were at Kwai Chung sports ground in Kowloon, the swimming at Tung Chung pool back in Lantau and the football and T-ball were to be played at King's Park Rugby pitch in Kowloon!! Whew!!

So Day 1 of FOBISIA - athletics in the morning, swimming in the afternoon!! The weather was terrible - a steady downpour of rain! Due to a slight mix-up at the airport, by the time Ajey and I made it to Kwai Chung, Manasi had already run both her races - the 60m and 4x100m relay. Not only had she finished running - she also had medalled in both!!! Gold for the 60m, silver for the relay!!! You could have knocked me over with a feather!!! Seriously, my Manasi?? An hour into the event, and she has 2 medals??!!! Felt terrible about not being there to watch her - and felt worse when she burst into tears when she finally spotted us!! Her third event, the 3 springs jump, was cancelled because of the rain - so we didn't get to see her in action at all! In spite of the rain, it was great fun for us parents - cheering our team on, as we watched them win medal after medal! A good morning for the Tigers - they walked away with almost 50 athletics medals!!

The enthusiastic supporters!

After the athletics, Ajey and I went back to the Novotel - picked up Ajey's parents, a quick lunch, and then we headed to the Tung Chung pool. This was only about a 5 minute walk from the hotel. The weather had changed, and instead of the cooling rain, we had hot sun and unbearable humidity! Swimming has never been our school's forte - things have been better since we got our own pool this year - but still, we have a long way to go before we're serious contenders!! Manasi was again in 3 events - 25m breast stroke, 25m back stroke and 4x25m medley relay - backstroke is her weakest stroke, so I'm not sure why she was in that race, and as for the other strokes, while Manasi is technically perfect - a pleasure to watch in the pool - she has never been really fast. So, when she took off furiously in the breaststroke, leading almost to the very end, losing out the gold by a whisker - once again, me, feather, you get the picture!! As expected, she didn't do so well in the backstroke, and the medley relay was canceled because they ran out of time! 14 medals total for our school - the best haul ever!!

Happy with the silver!

Proud grandparents!

On the podium...

Day 2 - Kings' Park Rugby Pitch for a day of football! The morning was the round-robin, and after lunch, the playoffs. It was quite an exciting scene - 6 simultaneous matches, with parents and coaches cheering and shouting instructions! I think football is the one sport which touches a chord in everyone - it is very hard to stand on the sidelines peacefully - a little craziness is guaranteed!! The Friday before we left, Manasi found out that she was to be goalie for her team! Really?? Oh well, one more shopping trip to Decathlon to buy goalie gloves, and then a crash course in goal-keeping with Dad - more than enough training, right??!! Our team started off a bit slow - losing the first game 0-2. When Manasi let the first goal in, she dissolved in tears - and it was incredibly heartening to see her friends and coaches boosting her up! And she wiped off her tears, and stood tall once more - I think I've never been more proud of her!!

Our Tigers rallied remarkably well - the next game was a draw, and they actually won the third one, leaving them 2nd in their pool, with a good shot at a medal! Manasi had a couple of impressive saves - diving onto the ball, totally fearless!! The semi-final was against a team who had had decisive wins in all their previous games - but Manasi's team held their own, the game actually ended in a draw!! Which meant we're into a penalty shootout, and Manasi is the GOALIE!!!!! Stress levels were so high, I thought I couldn't even watch her!!! She did save one goal, but it still went on to be a heartbreaking loss!! One more chance - they fought hard for the bronze, and the victory was so very sweet!! What an awesome group of girls!!

Zen before the games!


Go Tigers!!

Bronze medalists!

After the football, the kids headed over to DBIS for a beach barbecue and some other fun stuff. We decided to go for some sightseeing instead of the beach - so it wasn't until next morning that I found the Manasi had picked up 2 more gold medals!! One for the 3 springs jump which had been cancelled the first day, and had been rescheduled to after the football, and the second for the shuttle relay, which had the entire U9 - boys and girls!! In case, you've lost count - that's 6 for Manasi now!!! After all this excitement, the T-ball was a bit of an anti-climax. First of all, there were so many weather delays - with the games proceeding in fits and starts. Secondly, our kids just hadn't had that much training. The school schedule is so jam-packed, these kids are already stretched thin - it really is hard to find the time to not only learn a whole new sport, but to also get in enough practise to get good at it! Notwithstanding the T-ball washout, Dulwich College Suzhou still ended doing pretty well! The U9s were third in athletics, and third overall as well. The school as a whole was 5th out of 8 schools! This is the best we've ever done in FOBISIA!!

Posing with the athletics cup!


What a wonderful opportunity this was for all our team members!! Yes, the winning is great - but beyond the medals are life experiences that are invaluable! For many of them, including Manasi, this was the first big solo trip outside of home!! Add to that the pressures of the sport, the drama of winning and losing, learning that disappointments and achievements always go hand-in-hand - and the more mundane things like going to bed on time, getting kits ready for the day, and yes - remembering to brush twice a day!! Just a week away, and I can see the growth in Manasi - the quiet confidence, the inner strength!! I am awed and humbled by this group of girls - Manasi and her friends - for showing the resilience of spirit and coping in situations which would have made adults give up!! Way to go girls - you have made your parents so proud!!

Last, but by no means the least - a round of applause for the PE staff and coaches who made this all possible!! Starting with giving up their Saturdays to coach the kids, and then shepherding them all the way to the end - a big thank you for all the hard work! I think coaches are always under-appreciated - parents are quick to blame them when kids don't do well, and stingy with credit when success does come our way! But after this whole week, I have a new-found appreciation for these dedicated teachers! Well done - our kids wouldn't be where they are without you!!

As I said before, it was really, really stressful watching Manasi on the field - I was going through so many mood swings!! Crossing fingers, hoping she would do well - elation, totally top-of-the-world when she did - and then wanting to cuddle her and wipe her tears when she didn't!! Seriously, I must have teared up at least a couple of time even when writing this!! My shy little Manasi - the determination to win, this competitiveness was a side of her I've never seen before!! What an absolutely wonderful achievement!!! Truly, the world is at her feet today!!!


  1. I am glad I found your blog!! My family and I are moving to a town near Suzhou (Luxu) and right now we're trying to find as much info as we can! I read that blogspot was one of the websites China has blocked, but I guess not? Or do you get around it somehow? I have a blog through blogger and I would prefer to not change once I get there. I will be following along with your posts... Thank you!

    1. Hi Tobi, Thanks for reading! Blogger is indeed blocked in China - most expats use a VPN to get around the internet restrictions! You might want to setup an account with Astrill VPN or Strong VPN right before you move! Do let me know if you have any specific questions about moving to or living in China - would be glad to help! -Gauri

  2. Thanks for the recommendation.. I was looking into VPNs today when I found out the restriction so I'll definitely set one up before we leave. It's great to see you guys so involved in sports - my son and husband love all sports and are eager to find out where the nearest rugby, football and field hockey clubs are!