Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dude Looks like a Lady

Homosexuals are not openly accepted in Indian society.  Ironically, the cross dressing variety are some of the better paid members of society.   They work the traffic lights,  just like the beggars do, moving from vehicle to vehicle.   Unlike the beggars,  everyone gives them money. 

I was amazed when I first saw this.  I thought they were women dressed in Saris,  until I saw a 5 o'clock shadow and Adam's apple.  I've never seen anyone give money to a beggar,  but everyone gave to the gays.  Even our driver had a few rupees ready.  When asked why,  he explained if people don't give,  the gays will 'make trouble'.  Trouble means kissing a man or lifting up their Sari and dancing.  They can make 1500 rupees a day -- about 3 times that of our highly skilled english speaking and writing driver.  I'm told they can make even more in the red-light district.  Then I stopped asking questions. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Staff

Americans pride themselves on getting the job done.    We have a can-do attitude and getting your hands dirty is a good thing.   Hired help is a foreign concept, but common here.  We are adjusting to this new concept.   We hired a Driver, Maid,  Gardener and Cook.  I assure you they are all very much needed.

Indian Traffic
A driver is a safety necessity.  After weeks of observation,  I'm just now starting to see some order to the madness of India's streets.   The larger the vehicle,  the greater the right of way.   In reality, driving is the least of Javeed's skills.  He is also our translator, advocate, advisor, teacher, fixer, shopper and chief of staff.    

The dust of India keeps Sudha,  our maid, busy 6 hours each day just keeping things tidy.  When we arrived,  the house hadn't been cleaned for 3-weeks and our feet were stained black just from the dust on the floor.  Sudha also has many talents.  I never knew underwear could be folded and pressed.  It's amazing how many T-Shirts can fit into a single drawer when they're ironed. 
Indian Lawn Mower Blade

Manpower is plentiful.  It's part what makes India great,  but also what holds it back.   There's no need for labor saving devices.  Our lawn service cuts grass by hand with a small blade.  A lawn crew is half a dozen people squatting on your front lawn pulling weeks and cutting grass for the afternoon.  When Tata came to install our satellite TV,  I expected a panel van,  but it was two guys on a motorcycle.  One drove while the other held the satellite dish and drill.  

Indian Lawn Mowers

Having a Cook is also a must.  I personally tried my hand at it for the first couple weeks,  but when family morale dropped dangerously low,  something had to be done.  My American cooking skills we no match for Indian ingredients.   Everything here is done from scratch.  The only processed food is imported and expensive.   For example,  I can make Spaghetti and Meatballs,  but the sauce comes from a jar and the meatballs come from frozen foods.  Indians just don't eat processed food.  Their cooks to do all the processing.

While imported foods (Tomato Sauce, Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Cereal and Pop Tarts) are expensive,  other foods are ridiculously cheap.  Tomatoes are 4 cents a piece.  Eggs are 12 cents.   However,  everything is somewhat smaller than what I am used to seeing.  I was a little shocked when I asked what a particular fruit was called and then told it was a Watermelon.  It was  the size of a basketball -- and it had seeds too.  So do grapes and cucumbers.  The kids are repulsed.  "Daaaad,  there's something hard in this grape."     

In the spirit of full disclosure,  we're actually having a mini-Master Chef India contest.  We found two cooks we liked,  Sarithe and Sudha.    Sarithe cooked last week and Sudha is cooking this week.   Winner to be decided Saturday.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ebony Bistro: A One Time Tradition

Tradition and routine help give order to our lives.   Traditions give us something to look forward to.  Most importantly for us,  it brings a little order the choas of uprooting our life to live on the other side of the planet.  So we decided to continue a weekly tradition from Grosse Pointe.   Church and food.  After services,  we'd usually hit a Coney island or sometimes Farms Market Pizza,  but the emphassis was always on a fun meal together.  

Of course, nothing is more traditional that a Catholic mass.  The Holy Roman Church invented the franchise concept.   There is nothing more consistent the world over than a Catholic Mass.  It's more consistent than a McDonald's hamburger (which McD's does not sell in India).  From the first Alleluiah to the last Amen,  the script is the same.    

Our first church services in India were what we expected,  but still surprising.   The church was a basically a metal roofed Quonset hut with large entrances on all sides for good ventilation.  When it rained on the metal roof,  you could hardly hear the person next to you and forget about hearing the priest.   Like McD's Japanese teriaki burger, every good franchise has some necessary adaption of local culture.   Here, Mary wears a Sari.   There is no handshake of peace,  they have a "Namaste" of peace (head bow with hands together at the chest).  Jesus is still white.        

It's off to dinner.   The speedy 5:30 pm services let out at 6pm  -- the lack of a fancy organ has some advantages.   Emma wanted Thai and had a 7pm reservations at he nearest Thai place.  It was at the country club of a neighboring gated community.   Within the club house,  the famous Ebony Bistro opened a satellite location which is much more convenient than the hour drive to the original in downtown B'lore.

Now, Indian dinner is typically served around 8pm and even later on weekends.  We knew 6pm was early and were not surprised when we were the only customers.   There was some confusion with the bartender and waiter at first,  but this was all in Kanada (the local tongue) and I figured it was due to our early arrival.  We were quickly seated at a nice large table with a white tablecloth and a significant wobble.  Things just didn't seem right.  The lighting and decor looked more like a lobby or classroom.   Something was odd, but was it real or just India? 

After ordering a round of drinks,  things went from suspicious to strange.  The waiter handed us 3 menus and left.  Why are they only giving us 3 menus when there are 5 of us ? Is he coming back with some Kids' menus ? And while similar,  none of the menus were the same.   One was stapled,  one bound with string and the last looked like a term paper jacket.  The menus had common pages, but only one menu had appetizers,  one had a Italian page and a wine list,  the other menu had several Indian dishes the others didn't. 

The bartender served the drinks along with an explanation.  The Ebony Bistro closed several months ago,  but they were still glad to serve us.   The guy who took the reservation, the one at the front desk who gave us directions and the host who seated us all forgot to mention this fact.  We were assured many times we could have anything on or off the menu we wanted -- including steak, meat loaf and lasagna.   (These, along with Pop-Tarts are the stereotypical Western dishes.)  So, the restaurant closed 3 months ago and you can still make us anything we want at a moment's notice ? 

Since we were already dealt drinks,  we decided to play out the hand and eat.   We ordered a spring roll and chicken satay to start,  which both came relatively quickly.  The entrees took some time,  but we've learned to be patient. Although we had the sole attention of the entire kitchen staff,  the sense of urgency to get things done is less than in the US.  This is normal.

The food was better than average and the bill was reasonable.   We assumed the food came from the country club's kitchen.   

We ordered Chinese take-out the following Friday.  The spring roll looked and tasted familiar.  Too familiar.  I wouldn't put it past them if the kitchen was a collection of take out menus and the busboy doubled as the pick up man.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ride of the Fogger

Each evening in the upstanding community of Palm Meadows, the Mosquito Fogger rides.  His highly specialized skill is to ride a bike down the streets at dusk wearing a mask.  I've not seen anything like it.  

The fog machine rides on top his rear fender throwing a deadly tail of smog.  As soon as he starts the machine, he rides like he's being chased.  Weaving in and out of traffic,  it's fun to watch.  Like a stunt plane at an airshow.  Until we realized India may not be so hip on carcinogens. Could they be using DDT? At that point we ran and shut the doors.       

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Bizarre Bazaar

Entrance to the Bazaar

On our Bangalore arrival,  we moved directly from the airport to our new house.     We found our supposedly furnished house was indeed a house,  but not furnished.   No pots,  pans silverware, bedding,  etc...  After a few days of indoor camping and wrangling with the realtor,   they agreed to provide us with some rental gear until our shipments come.
We arrived at the rental place,  a market bazaar in the Islamic section of Bangalore.  When you think of a 3rd world city street,  this is it.  The street is jammed with people and vendor stalls while motorcycles and 3-wheeled auto taxies zoomed through the crowd.  The smell is a mixture of nutmeg, cigarette smoke, diesel  exhaust with the occasional waft of sewage.   
It is not a place for women and children.  Javeed,  our trusty driver,  and I went to get the furnishings and left Becky and the kids safely in the car.  After a little searching,  we found the right guy,  but he had no idea what we were talking about.  After a few phone calls and some tea,  we straightened things out.  This whole process,  including the initial confusion,  is standard operating procedure for India.  We were then escorted down the street and told to pick out the wares we wanted.

Meanwhile,  Becky and the kids were safe back at the car.   Nearby,  a wild dog and a raven got into a tug of war over slimy piece of roadkill.    We know it was slimy because the bird won and while taking off with it's prize,  the roadkill slapped into the side window of the car and smeared slime across the window and roof.

So far, the kids have had no nightmares about flying roadkill, yet.

What's a sub-continent anyway ?

My wife, Becky, recently took a new assignment with Accenture. We always wanted to live overseas and with our son Will ready to start High School, it was the last opportunity. So, we loaded up the truck and moved to Bangalore. India, that is.  The sub-continent.  Home of silk, spice, shampoo and pajamas. 

With Becky hard at work, I am left to set up shop and then look for work, adventure or what finds me first. Once the help is hired (driver, maid, cook), the kids adjusted to their new school, I will be on my way... 

To avoid mindless Facebook updates, the story of the India Schmitts will be chronicled here.