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. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Ayurvedic Treatment

“India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition.”  -- Mark Twain

As the Earth's oldest largest continuing civilization,  India has contributed more than it’s fair share toward global culture.   Among its many achievements,  Chess, Buddhism, Navigation and even Hockey were all invented here.  
So it’s not surprising the first school of medicine, Ayurveda,  was borne of India.  I failed to understand this fact before Becky and I spent a weekend at an Ayurvedic Spa a few weeks back.    When I think Spa,  I think relaxation.  Nice massages, inviting hot tubs, a few saunas and perhaps a swimming pool next to a bar.   
With this in mind,  we checked in on a Friday evening.  After being led to our spartan room,  we were invited to dinner at the restaurant and given a Doctor’s appointment in the morning.  Dinner started with hot Cumin Tea and moved onto a buffet of Vegan specialities.  It wasn’t exactly bland,  but we’re not coming back for takeout either.  The were shocked when we asked if they had beer or wine.  Alcohol is strictly prohibited anywhere at the Spa.  This was true health food. 
The Yoga Room
In the morning, we hit the 7am Yoga,  got breakfast (no coffee, no eggs, more Vegan) and went to see the Doctor.  He prescribed a hot oil massage and a steam bath for us both.  Perfect.  I’d been looking forward to a nice massage all month.  Over we went to the treatment facility.
I was led to the massage room, given a changing closet and a napkin with a long string on it.  Without using any English,  the masseur made it clear this napkin was to be worn and nothing else.  Okay.  Dressed like a Kalahari Bushman, I mounted the massage table and the hot oil treatment began.  Two guys with gorilla sized forearms aggressively rubbing in HOT oil.  Three quarts of hot oil and they were determined to force it into my skin.  Each guy worked a side with counterbalancing force.   If it wasn’t balanced,  I would have shot off the vinyl table like a wet bar of soap.  This wasn’t pleasure,  this was treatment.  After a half hour of this abuse,  they threw me into the steam bath to really give me the deep fried effect.  Once I was near to losing consciousness, they knew I was done.  

The Steam Bath:  Your head sticks out of the top.
I thought these only existed in 3-Stooges movies. 

Becky and I compared notes over lunch.  This did not meet expectations.  We needed to talk with this Doctor and see if we could get another package for tomorrow.  Perhaps a Swedish deep tissue or a Shiatsu massage.   Exhausted from treatment,  we returned to our room and slept for the next 20 hours. 
After morning Yoga and vegan Breakfast (I would have killed for Eggs Benedict at this point),  we met with the Doctor to express our concerns.  He just stared at us.  It was as if he prescribed antibiotics,  but we didn’t like the taste and could we just eat jelly beans instead.  He called over to the treatment center and had them make a few adjustments. 
If anything,  they turned it up a notch.  The oil was hotter,  the gorillas pressed harder and the steam bath was more intense.  We were going to be healthy if it killed us. 
After two days of Yoga, Hot Oil treatment,  I was sore everywhere.  Years of toxins and preservatives deeply buried within my body were getting knocked loose by all the health food resulting in a massive headache.  It felt like I had the flu.   We hobbled to lunch and after another vegan meal and decided we had to escape.
There were lasting side effects.  The oil was sweetly scented, so we smelled like French Toast for a week.  Even now,  when I sweat, it smells like the pancake house.   Two days later,  we felt fantastic -- rested, energetic, happy, relaxed.  The treatment works,  if you can survive. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Goon Squads

Staying on course
A neighbor and I left for the golf course about 6am one Saturday morning.  The early start means a return before our families are even awake.  It also means we miss the morning news.  Somewhere about the 11th hole,  we were informed by our concerned wives there was a bandh. 

The Signature 18th Green

The Clubhouse is a well disguised trailer.
(Photo courtesy JPRaguso)
A bandh is a general strike with the specific aim to shut down the city.  Whatever group or political party that calls for the bandh sends out their 'goon squads' to block traffic,  shut down businesses, close schools and throw stones. Occasionally,  they overturn busses and set cars afire.   They are out to ruin everyones' day.   
We finished our golf round, headed home and found the road blocked.  Nobody was getting through.   So much for a few quick holes and back home.   Fearing a stone throwing mob, the safest thing to do was to sit tight and play another 18 holes.  First we had to stock up on food -- before the other golfers finish and realize they're stuck too.  We had a nice lunch and then the worst happened -- we got word the roadblock was lifted and we could go home. 
Where Ikea when you need it ?
We have amassed enough books, knick knacks and electronics to warrant bookshelves.  The usual furniture showrooms didn't have what we wanted, so we headed to the local furniture market.   They sell wholesale furniture and can also make custom pieces.  You even get to haggle a little bit -- it's fun. 
Not seeing what we wanted,  we left a deposit with a furniture shop to make a couple bookcases.  Two weeks and many phone calls later,  there were no shelves.  Unhappy about the whole thing, Javeed,  our savvy driver, called the Corporator.  The Corporator is like a city councilman with henchmen.  It's not clear if the henchmen are a prerequisite for the job or if they come with the office,  but these are the basis for the goon squads mentioned above.  
Javeed returned to furniture shop along with the Corporator.  Once they saw the Corporator,  they quickly returned the deposit money and apologized.  The Corporator told them they still needed to make and deliver the shelves in 2 days.  Another week passed and still no shelves.  Hearing the news from Javeed,  the Corporator and his squad headed over to the furniture shop,  got the money and threw all their furniture in the street for good measure.  Like a temporary eviction over a couple of $30 bookshelves. 
Javeed wasn't there for the "eviction",  but returned the next day.  They sat him down,  got him some tea and asked his forgiveness on their knees.  Really.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Creeps

Life in India is generally a pleasure.   It's been something of a vacation (for me).    I do admit there have been more than a few times when I've longed for the good ol' USA.  The next few blogs will relate to this topic. 

Winter is pleasant here.  Weather is like southern California.  The last rain was early December and temperatures range from 80's in the day and 50's at night.  That's as cold as it ever gets.  The absence of freezing is a boon to the insect community.  They keep on growing until eaten by something bigger.  

While in Sri Lanka, I grabbed a towel from the clothesline and slung it over my shoulder.   The Giant Centipede that was in the towel was now crawling underneath my shirt and up my spine.  Animal instinct (the creeps) took over,  and I whipped off my shirt to reveal the beast which had luckily fallen to the bedroom floor.  Becky says it was 8" long,  but it looked 2 feet at the time.  Her first instinct was to call everyone to our room,  "hey everybody, look what was crawling inside Doug's shirt." 

Giant Centipede:
Insectus Surprizus

I have new respect for hanging laundry. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Police Report

Javeed,  our driver,  and I filed a police report at the local police station.  Once the sub-inspector and detectives heard our complaint,  they left us for a few minutes to shuffle some paperwork.  Javeed leaned over and calmly said,  “Now they will arrest Sudha (our maid),  throw her in Jail and beat her with a ruler.”  
The burly Sub Inspector of Bangalore.
His detectives have even bigger mustaches.

In retrospect I might have asked,  “Just how big is the ruler?”  At the time, I was caught off guard.  In the US,  these detectives would  have been the starting linebackers on any high school football team.   By contrast,  most Indian folks make a good horse jockey.  These detectives were not selected just for their brains.   I had to make it very clear that I didn’t want any human rights violations just because we're missing some jewelry.  After all,  we weren’t positive if it was Sudha or the electricians who stole Becky’s ring and necklace.   In any event,  we were told that getting the the police involved often makes the goods “reappear”. 
The detectives loaded into our car and came back to the house.  The crime scene was thoroughly inspected for evidence.   We retired to the living room and Sudha made us some tea.  She espoused innocence as they politely questioned her.   I tried to offer the Detectives a few hundred rupees for their trouble,  but they refused.  (I was later told they didn’t want to take money from a foreigner because if the jewelry did “reappear”,  I’d want the money back.  They would have taken a good bottle of wine though.)
The very next morning,  some missing cosmetics returned.  They had been used by someone with a much darker complexion than Becky.  We thought,  “The Police scared Sudha.  She returned it.  Doesn’t mean she took the jewelry,  but maybe something else will show up.”  That’s all that showed -- until Christmas time.   Sudha told us she had a dream the necklace was returned.  Three days later,  Becky found it in her purse.  We are very thankful she returned it and will allow extra credit for the foreshadowing,  but could you be more stupid ? A couple days later,  we discovered $120 missing from my mother-in-law’s purse.  
Sudha: looking for new work

Now I have to make my bed and my own dinner.  Lucky for the family,  I have mastered 5 different meals : grilled chicken,  grilled burgers, hamburger helper, leftovers and frozen leftovers from when we had a cook.  I give it 3 weeks before I’m sacked.