Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shopping India Style

Emma negotiating at a Malaysian market for the latest in faux fashion. 

We knew shopping would be a bit different here in Asia.  Aside from all the new European and Asian brands,  and the necessity to haggle on everything from chewing gum to the phone bill,  we have discovered a few finer points on shopping. 

Pants around the neck. Not every place has a changing room, particularly the low priced bazaars.  You can always try on a shirt easily enough,  but it is not so simple with pants.  To solve that problem, people wrap the waist of the pants around their necks.  Since your neck is about half the size of your waist,  if the buckled pants fit your neck,  they will also fit your waist when you get home.  

Double Occupancy. Upscale shops do have dressing rooms and they sometimes come with their own customs.  When Becky purchased her first Sari,  the sales girl came into the dressing room with her to help her change.  Luckily,  no one has tried that with me in the Levi’s store. 

All Sales Final.  When you buy a light bulb at Home Depot,  do you insist the cashier plug it in ?  Do you open your egg carton to make sure you have chicken eggs ?   Since all sales are final,  we do exactly that.   We still got burned a few months ago when Emma bought a bottle of shampoo that came wrapped with a free sample of face soap.  She unwrapped it at home and discovered the shampoo bottle was completely empty.  The weight of the free sample threw us off.  

No reasonable offer refused,  Anything is reasonable.    It is important in negotiation to determine how much something is worth to you before haggling.  Knowing that,  I was still surprised when my sister bought a ring that only mildly interested her.   When she first discovered they wanted $200 for it, she lost all interest.  They kept coming down in price and finally asked her what she would only pay.  The jeweler seemed a little offended when she said $40.  It went directly back into the case.  2 minutes later,  the jeweler give it to her for the $40.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I’m Ready for the Big Screen

Most Indian people are quite pleasant, so when you have a run in with someone who is difficult,  it sets off an alarm bell.  You’re either doing some thing they don’t like or they hold some power over you.  I’ve learned to pay close attention when the bell goes off.  And when someone is being just too nice,  this sets off the high alert.  
I recently ran into this situation while trying to bring a Television from the US through customs at Bangalore International.  The TV was checked luggage and didn’t make the transfer with me onto the plane with in Paris.  I had to come back to the airport and retreive it from customs.  Three times. 
The first was an exercise in Indian bureaucracy.  I and a junior Air France gate agent who was unfortunate enough to be there when I arrived,  ran around to all the security offices trying to get me into airport customs.  When we found the right guy,  produced the correct documents,  filled out the proper forms and did a little shouting,  I was finally let in.  We arrived at customs just in time for lunch hour.   We could have waited the hour, but the next international flight wasn’t due until 1am that night,  so we might be waiting until then.  I’ll come back. 
The next time was smooth sailing through security,  but the Customs agent didn’t seem to pleased to see us.  We may have woke him up from a nap.  They brought the TV around and when he saw the beauty of the 55” flat screen,  it just made him meaner.  Signal the Alarm Bell.  His suggestion was that I leave it in customs and then take it back when I return to the US. I can just picture him watching every Cricket match on my TV for the next year.   Then he introduced me to his boss,  who was probably the nicest person I ever met.   Signal high alert. After offering Tea and Biscuits,  he kindly explained to me that the value of the TV was nearly $3200,  but since he was such a good guy he would give me the Indian citizen exemption and the duty would only be $600.  Cash please. I’ll come back.
The third time,  Prakash at security waived me through with a smile.  The same grumpy customs agent was there and was none too happy when I presented my $900 receipt for the TV.  As he grudgingly wrote out the paperwork for the $180 due in duties,  he asked his assistant the size of the TV.  When she said “55-inches”,  he made a snarky remark at my expense. I don’t speak the local language,  but I’m sure it was,  “This guy’s compensating for something.”  

My Girls with the Big Screen safely at home.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where have I been ?

Yes,  I was shipped back to the US for time.  Fortunate enough my old company wanted me for a 3-month assignment.    I really enjoyed all the fresh air, predictable efficiency and open spaces.  The US seems almost empty compared to India.  I also had some great times with my Folks and brothers & sisters.  Not much else to report unless you'd like to hear about the adventures of plastics in the Auto industry,  but that’s for another blog.  Now and I’m back in the swing of things here in Bangalore.  

The fish my Dad caught off the coast of Florida.
The biggest fish of the day.
The Turtle I caught off the coast of Florida.
(some details may not be 100% accurate)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Subtle Changes

We’ve come to make India our home and for the most part,  live a very American lifestyle. We have HD TV,  a nice big car and eat as much beef as we please.  Probably too much. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many foreigners before us and the great Indian entrepreneurial spirit that made it all possible.  However, as American as this life seems,  you may notice some peculiar behavior when we return to the States in a few days.
1. The Toothbrush Double Tap.   We give toothbrushes a couple hard hits on the sink before using.  India has these ‘micro-ants‘ that are a bit bigger than a pepper flake and they love toothpaste. (or just want minty mandibles?)  They will pick your toothbrush clean. On the bright side,  if you spill some toothpaste on the counter,  it’s usually clean by the morning.  

It's all about the Ghandis.
2. Change hoarding.   No merchant (except McDonald’s) stocks change.  It’s a great way to get customers to pay extra once the haggling is done.  You end up paying 200 rupees for a 164 rupee bill because the merchant has no change to return.   So,  I like to have 5 bills of each rupee denomination before leaving the house.  I’ve snapped 3 money clips already, but will usually have the right change.  
3. Charge for pictures.  Cheek pinching extra.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere,  Nolan doesn’t like going out to public places because people will want a picture with him.  As a parting gesture, they’ll try to pinch his cheek, too.  It’s not bad when one or two people ask,  but when a line begins to form it’s time to leave.  Now when people ask for his picture, he says “100 rupees”.  No sales so far. 
150 rupee per cheek
Bite and chew gently.  I’ve had more than my fair share of boneless chicken or meat turnout to be semi-boneless.  Same rule applies to fruit salad. 
5 Ask lots of questions and get pushy.  A friend of ours simply wanted faster Internet service.  He spent two weeks of his life proving he had the permission of the landlord to increase the speed,  only then to be told he already had the fastest rate available.  Brings  me to my next point ...
6. Lose your temper.  My favorite pastime while waiting at the airport is watching the ticket counter.  Once or twice an hour someone loses it on one of the poor ticket agents.  This is no quick vulgar outburst.  This is an art form in India.  A good “tirade” can last up to 3 minutes without pause for a breath or to blink.  No personal attacks.  No cussing. Just a cascade of complaints presented in a rapid-fire chain of rhetorical questions.  It’s a great  way to flag the manager’s attention and receive special treatment. 
It’s tougher than it looks.  I’ve done this while getting a cell phone and again at the bank,  but could only muster 30 seconds of rage.  It still works.
7. Always carry a flashlight.   The power is always going out and you never know where you’ll be.  I have a dinky penlight tethered to my cell phone that has saved me a lot of trouble.  It was the one time I was without it that caused me problems. 
Nolan and I were showering after an evening swim at the club inside the Men’s showers when the lights went down.  No windows, no emergency lighting.  I was able to locate Nolan in the hallway by heading for his voice -- like a game of Marco Polo.  We slowly navigated a 20 foot hallway feeling our way along the wall until we got to the outer door and the moon light. Nolan then realized he left his swim goggles back in the shower.  Return to the darkness.  Upon reaching the shower stall,  we discovered there was a man now using it,  Luckily, he already found the goggles and handed them over.  One must be very careful receiving goggles from a showering man in complete darkness.   
8. Look down when walking.  Open manhole covers,  exposed wiring, missing chunks of sidewalk and cow/dog waste are all par for the course on the sidewalks outside the compound.  We’ve even had a family member fall through when one of the concrete sidewalk tiles snapped in two.  And this was inside our nicely manicured Palm Meadows compound.  If walking at night, see #7 and add sleeping dogs to the potential hazards.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We've moved

 One of the benefits of Becky's recent promotion was the upgrade in the housing allowance.  So , we packed up and moved down the street to a nice 4-bedroom with a white (concrete) picket fence.   We also got a another dog,  Myli,  but that's another story. 
There have been many questions and requests for pictures with the new house,  so I will attempt to answer them here.  For those who could care less,  nothing exciting happens,  so you can stop reading now.  Just remember to update our address so you know where to send our next care package. 
Villa 273 Phase 2 Palm Meadows
Whitefield, Bangalore 560066
The house is in the same neighborhood,  just down the street. It has a more American feel -- 4 bedroom with a attached two-car garage.  It's larger than the old  -- we packed 6 people and a dog into 1500 sq. ft. 
Emma is back to having her own room and so is Danielle.  The boys inhabit the kids' room which has a groovy built in double loft.  Will could do all his homework in the privacy of his own room,  but still prefers the kitchen table so he can annoy his sister.  Nolan also has his own desk, but does his homework on the bus coming home.  His handwriting looks like a seismograph. 
The new kitchen is full size.  Our last kitchen had low countertops and small cabinets -- imagine the nicest Playskool kitchen you have ever seen.  The new house also has many extras.  It has a large Pooja room,  used by Hindu families for their prayer offerings. There is a “Florida” room, built in computer desk, servant quarters, front and rear terraces and of course our favorite,  the Media Room.  Sounds cool,  but it’s just an upstairs room where we watch TV.  The living room reminds me of home.  It’s by far the largest room, but no one ever goes in there.  That is except Myli,  the new dog.  She redecorated the place by ripping the stuffing out of the couches and chewing the corners off the coffee table.
The new joint.  At the intersection of the Main Road and Phase 2 Main Road, 
Looking down the dining room to the
Florida room from the Entrance. 
Nolan answers the door.

Sharadha (Head of Household Hygiene) and
 Mrs. Thompson (Master Chef) in the Kitchen.

Danielle says hello from her room. 

The side yard. 





Billiards Room.
Nolan gets in a little batting
Bonus points if you can find which two
couches Myli (dog in foreground) tore into.  The coffee table
was also victimized.
Library. (Pooja Room)
Dining room. 
Music Hall. 
Front terrace with the Grocery store across the street. 

Back terrace.  

Nolan's desk.
The loft.
Walk in closet.  Rumour has it the original
owner would do yoga atop the closet
 each morning, 
Emma's room.
Master bedroom from the top of the walk in closet. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Road to Pondicherry

While in India, one of our goals is to travel at least once a month.  There is always the risk that the plug gets pulled and we'll be on the next plane to Detroit.  We need to see India while we can,  So,  taking advantage of Danielle, our live-in guest, Becky and I left the kids at home and drove to Pondicherry.  (Technically, we rode since Javeed did the driving. )
Pondicherry is on India's East coast and a former French colony.   The city really plays up it's French heritage, so you expect to find New Orleans,  but it's really more Baton Rouge.
Since it was just the two us with Javeed along as a designated driver,  we decided this 8 hour road trip would be a first class.  We rented a couple movies,  packed a nice lunch and a cooler full of ice.  I pictured us in watching movies and sipping on G&T's while Javeed comfortable sped us onto Pondicherry.

India had other plans.

The road between Bangalore and Pondicherry runs through some old mountains and lots of mining.   The trucks hauling ore from the mines have turned the road into a rumble strip.  Instead of lunch,  I should have brought Dramamine and barf bags.  Becky would have also liked a port-a-potty.  7 hours driving, 5 of them riding atop a lasagna noodle, is a lot for the bladder. You can't just hit the bathroom before ordering your Big Mac at the next town.  Boys are better equipped for travel since the roads are all lined with drainage ditches.  There's no shortage of men showing how they're used either.

Once we arrived, we never wanted to leave.  A little because Pondicherry is a few blocks of French charm,  steak dinners and pastries,  but mostly because we dreaded the ride back.

Old World Charm
A dog having lunch from the hotel dumpster.
In the evening,  the cows come over for dinner. 

Becky and Javeed with the Bay of Bengal behind.

Becky and I

The Hotel L'Orient
If it wasn't for all the friendly people,
this block of Pondicherry could almost be Paris.  

Notre Dame Cathedral Indian Style

What's that bus doing in the middle of the road ? About 35 miles per hour.
Per local customs, he was just borrowing our side of the road until we really needed it.
  (We drive on the left here)

One of Mountains between Bangalore & Pondicherry

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Black Friday Falls on a Wednesday

You have heard the phrase ,“ busy as a bee " or "busy as a beaver".  Perhaps even,  "busy as a one arm paper hanger" .  I'll add : "busy as a security guard at an Indian rummage sale. “
People ask me,   “What have you been up to since your arrival in India ?”   Well outside of my new hobby of Squash,  my old hobby of Golf , taking in Indian culture and my significant duties supervising our Driver, Maid , Cook and Gardener,  I do volunteer work from time to time.  (Okay,  so this was the first).  I volunteered to be a security guard for a second hand sale.
Bangalore’s Overseas Women’s Club has a rummage sale every year to benefit their charities.  Expats donate clothes,  housewares ,  old curtains,  appliances ,  and anything else that will fit into a box.    The items are sold for pennies on the dollar.  The deals are tremendous and more people come every year as word spreads.
Indians are particularly adept at making the most of their resources.   The high ratio of people to resources drives that fact.  It also fuels serious competitive spirit.   For example,  you soon learn that while standing in line,  you must keep less than 1 body space between you and the person in front of you.  If you don’t,  someone will make use of that space.   (Cars are driven the same way.) 
Combine the great deals at the sale with 500 spirited competitors and you have serious crowd control issues.   The ‘private sale’ for the volunteers’ staff (Drivers, Maids, etc…) scheduled to open up at 11am,  became the 10:15 open to everyone sale.  As the line grew,  the mob pushed and our security team was soon overrun.   We had to start the sale to avoid people,  including children,  from getting crushed by the crowd.   It was Black Friday at Macy’s times 10. 
Swarms of people filled the tent in a mad rush to get the prime goods.   During our retreat,  I was charged the task of holding the mob back so customers could be released one by one to the cashiers.  It's a good role for a tall, fat American.  Other security volunteers had the task of getting the customers to stand in line.   In the highly competitive Indian culture  “lines are for suckers”.   So is personal space.   Within moments of the opening,  I was belly to belly with the A-Players of Indian competitiveness.   Luckily,  the sale organizers passed out apples to the volunteers before the sale to keep everyone's sugar up.   I discovered that taking a cracking bite from the apple and chewing with my mouth open helped people keep their distance.   I chewed that apple down to the seeds.
I am delighted to report the sale was a big success.  The planned 4-hour sale was closed after  1-1/2 hours since nearly everything was sold.