Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mysore, Day One

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The kids had a five day weekend due to Republic Day. I wish it were in a few weeks when Todd is here, but I didn’t want to miss the chance of taking them to see some sites. Bangalore is a great city for living, but not big on the tourist stuff.

I had hoped to be on the road by 8:30, but the driver was half hour late, then he needed to stop for gas, then we hit a massive traffic jam, then he got lost—twice. So, we didn’t get to Mysore until 1:30 (normally at 3 hour trip).[(Shout out to Stephanie S. for lending me her Salwar Kameez 🙂  ]

   

  

We went straight to the hotel, which was absolutely gorgeous. Thanks to my new ex-pat B’Lore friends for telling me to go to the Windflower! The cottages were set along a beautiful set of water with brass urns, geese, waterfalls. The kids LOVED playing chess on the life-size chessboard right along the water.

   

    

They also became very good friends with Rosy, the Australian Cockatoo who could talk and eat of your hand. They would have spent all day playing chess and hanging with Rosy.

  

We need to get better about trying to eat BEFORE we are hungry because service is much, much slower here. You can wait 15 minutes for menus. Drink orders will be taken and they might not arrive until after your food. We dined at the hotel restaurant—an outdoor place with thatched roofs, surrounded by water falls and streams. Gorgeous ambience. The silly thing is, they called it the Olive Garden and I swear the logo was the same! But the food was mainly Indian and Chinese. When we sat down I asked them to bring us two milkshakes and French fries as soon as possible because the kids were hungry. An hour later, after all the rest of the food was finally served, the milk shakes and French fries finally arrived. The kids had HAD it.

Then it was time to try to do some sightseeing in Mysore before it got dark. I wanted the kids to see three things in the town—a palace, a temple, and a market. We chose the palace first.To get to the palace, as with any touristy structure in India, you have to make your way through the stands of people trying to get you to buy everything from sunglasses to sandalwood fans to ivory elephants to pieces of watermelon. Looking like an American is an invitation to dive in with the hopes that we will foolishly pay five times the price for something silly. The kids hate the crush of hawkers that pester us in such situations.

note the clock numbers are in Kanada

Maharajah’s Palace is considered “the” palace in South India, designed at the turn of the 20th Century. It is massive and has lots of stained glass from Glasgow Scotland, marble floors, carved wood, and ivory.

   

   

We then headed toward the interior of the structure. In any special place in India, you must take off your shoes to enter. So at major attractions you have to check your shoes and proceed barefoot. The kids weren’t too happy about that. But it is easy to spot the kids’ Crocs when we have to find our shoes!

We made our way to the ticket booth—Rs. 20 for Indians and Rs. 200 for foreigners. We then walk about the palace grounds with roses and big broad pathways. Suddenly a man grabs both kids’ hands and pulls them toward his little child and starts snapping photos. He said, “Look! Friends! Friends!” Kaden looked so mad. Carson too It’s one thing to ask to take our picture and another to drag us in to the frame. But I figured I should snap a photo of the spectacle as well.

 Upon entering, I realized that I missed the well hidden location to store your cameras. So I was confronted by a guard, a member of the military policy, who said that if I gave him 10 rupees, I could bring the cameras inside. Bribe #1 of the trip.

We then picked up English headsets for the tour. No one else in the whole place, and there was a CRUSH of people, picked up headsets even though they were free of charge. Kaden loved the headset, which was quite well done, telling stories about the Maharajah and of deities and design plans. She loved the design concepts and found it all interesting. Hurray! Carson got bored about half way through and then started getting punchy—literally. The crush of the crowds was really wearing on him and he was exhausted.

    

I noticed when we were in the palace that EVERYONE was taking photographs. So I figured I should take out my camera and take a few as well. When I was shooting the elephant tusk photo above, I was approached by another guard who tells me that taking photographs is a 1000 rupee fine. That’s $20! Which is totally nuts. And I didn’t even have that much with me, honestly. I said everyone was taking pictures and then he said they are all using mobile phone cameras which are fine. How in the world is that different? I had a strong feeling that he was trying to take advantage of the American, especially since his counterpart was the one who let me have my camera in the first place. So I grabbed the arms of both kids and walked away quickly and did not look back. Thankfully, he didn’t follow us.

Leaving the palace grounds, it was about 5:00. I wanted to do one more thing before going home and then hopefully find some dinner. But Carson threw a massive fit. He was done and he made that very clear. We were all tired, and as he said later, “I’m sorry but I just didn’t want to do anything else.” Good lesson to learn from my kiddo. When tired, rest. Trying to do more when you’re figuring out a foreign country is just not a wise thing. It will just make your miserable.

So, we returned to the hotel. Carson was fine after five minutes in the serene hotel grounds. Ready for some more chess and cockatoo time.  For dinner that night we ordered room service because I couldn’t put them through that restaurant again! We found the flavor of these chips to be very spicy!

We also tried to rent a move from the hotel but all of their kids movies were dubbed into Hindi. Thankfully we found WWE wrestling on TV—Carson’s favorite. And then, because we had our first Wi-Fi since our first week at the Lemon Tree, the kids had a long Skype with Daddy. We even downloaded the same I-Book and Daddy read two chapters to the kids before bed.

Slowing down the pace…..

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Sitting in traffic on our holiday weekend to Mysore, I feel the need to whine a bit about how long things take. As someone who is used to multi-tasking and getting places quickly, it is weird to a lot large chunks of time to getting something done.

I wanted to use the gym at our development. On the way through the courtyard, I encounter Carson who has gotten bruised up in the local soccer game. Comfort him, send him upstairs. Then I run into Mr. Yadav, our head security guard. He had given me the electric bill an hour before. The electric bill had 10 different numbers on it and I had no idea which of these numbers was owed. Yadav says he will speak with the manager, Promod.

Now, to actually access the gym, I have to go to the front security desk. At this desk, I say I want to go to the gym and the security guard on duty shuffles between about 10 different little notebooks. The notebooks have covers that include crayons and Ben-10 (You just can’t make this stuff up!). When they find the gym notebook, I must sign in and then someone will walk over with me to open the gym. This process takes at least 10 minutes.

Today as I head to the security office, Yadav is standing next to it waiting for Promod the manager to get off the phone. He tells me to wait and we will talk to Promod together. We wait a long time for Promod to get off the phone, and Promod explains the bill, and tells Yadav that I should pay him and that he should then write me a receipt.

So then I follow Yadav to the security gate hoping to sign in for the gym. Instead he takes out the receipt book to settle the electric bill. It is clear we will not be finding the Gym crayon notebook until we finish the electric bill project. So, back to my house to get the cash (all bills are paid in cash here, even bills for thousands of dollars—kind of hard when my ATM only lets me withdraw the equivalent of $200 a day). So I pay Yadav and then he gets confused about the receipt, calls Promod back. We complete the receipt.

Then we fill out the gym book and he opens the gym for me. I turn on the lights (it’s dark by now), and get on the treadmill. As happens about 50% of the time, when I try to go above 9 km/hr, the treadmill trips the circuit and all the power goes out. Pitch black in the gym.

Back to the security desk, but Mr. Yadav has taken his break and no one else knows how to fix the problem. “He is coming,” they say. After 10 minutes I give up on the idea that he is coming and start running up and down the five steps at the entrance of the complex. I know they think I’m weird and at this point I don’t care. I am going to get a work out in even if I cause a crowd. I think start jogging back and forth along the corridor between the buildings. Just as I start, Mr. Yadav arrives, cheerful as ever. He truly is very helpful and always willing to go out of his way. For all I know he was done for the night but he came up to help me.

He ambles his way to the gym, sees the blackout and says he needs to go and find a chair to reach the circuit breaker. Now I see where the breaker is and I quickly move the weight bench to use as a chair. I help Mr. Yadav up on the bench and he flips the switch.

Finally, 45 minutes later, I can start my workout!

Some street scenes:

this family is gathering firewood for the day. they live in a shanty on the street here. A little girl about 9 or so was hustling back and forth to carry the wookd back to their house. The girl clearly wasn’t attending school.It still shocks me every time I see a kiddo like that.

      

  

Little one bicycling in the field behind our house.

Republic Day

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Today is Republic day, so the kids don’t have school. We just drove past a very cute parade of school children in uniforms marching down the street as we try to make our way out of town for the long weekend. Traffic is crawling along, if that. Sigh. Maybe we will get to Mysore by the afternoon?

Yesterday the CIS school held a walkathon to honor three Indian charities—a Mother Teresa affiliated organization in Bangalore, Habitat for Humanity and one other charity that I can’t remember. The elementary kids had to come in green, the middle school in white and the high school in orange. A very cool photo was taken of the entire school as the Indian flag.

Kaden is on the far right of the green up toward the top of the green. Carson is in the middle behind the kid with his hands in teh air. They are both very tall for their classes so it is easier to find them.

The kids had to walk/run laps around the soccer fields. I though the elementary lap was wayyyyy too small. A mom had warned me about this—don’t pledge too much a lap! My kid ran 100 laps last year. Well that sounded ambitious, but I can say that Kaden ran the most laps in her class—33. Carson was not really wanting to do this activity AT ALL, but with some coaxing he ran about 8 laps total and then sat down and said that he was “done.”

Kaden is in the second row. Carson must be in here somewhere, but I’m not sure where.

  

  

   Carson’s teacher.

While I was there I got to head back to his class to read some of his stories. His teacher said that he is a talented writer. She’d like to work with him on his spelling, though. Ummm, yeah, in the U.S. seven year olds aren’t really focused on spelling yet. But if she wants to put some time in on it, go for it!

  

Carson said as he was reading his story, “I have to say ‘washroom’ in my story, not bathroom or no one will understand it here!”

 PreK setting up for a snack. So cute.

  The coolest playset in the school, says Carson. It is reserved for 4th and 5th graders but Carson gets time on it during cricket practice while the other kids are batting.

Overall, I find the school to be a really mixed bag. Beautiful facilities, small classrooms, diverse clientele, rigorous academics. But for the $ that these families are paying, I find the quality of the staffing to be very mixed. The head master doesn’t follow up on anything that I can tell. When Carson’s teacher was absent last week, they didn’t have a sub. They just gave the kids extra recess for most of the day, and so on.

The woes of the Internet, the next chapter

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I have already shared the many woes of our internet experience. The first company showed up and then never came back. The second company came, took our money for a Wi-Fi system and then never came back to install more than one direct line that only sort of works. The third company said they would come right away and then determined that they can’t provide service to our area.

So, we have decided to try the internet sticks. They look like a data stick at home that stores info, but instead it can access the internet from wherever if you plug it into your computer. It doesn’t help to solve the problem of I pads and I touches since they can’t plug into a stick, but it’s a start.

Like mobile phones in India and at the same stores that seem to be located on ever road, big and small, purchasing a data stick is very difficult and even more so for a foreigner. The process involves a several page application, a passport size photo, a copy of your passport, a copy of your visa, proof of residence in India (a lease). Buying a house would be easier in the United States than getting a data stick in India. I had to return to the store three times to get my paperwork correct, since the guy that I worked with also said that we needed our Foreign Registration paper. And then the lease copy wasn’t good enough.

Getting a copy involved driving about 10 minutes away to this little storefront of a guy who sells sewing machines. In this little shop is a copy machine. I think he does more business on copies than sewing. The copies are 2 rupees a piece (remember that 50 rupees are a dollar). Here are some photos of his shop.

  

 

The view to the left and the right

If you are lucky enough to get the stick, it then takes several hours to be activated. That means that you can’t check while in the store. And if a problem is found with the paperwork after you leave the store, they don’t call and tell you. They just never activate the stick, which has already happened to me once.

  this shop couldn’t help me despite waiting for a looong time.

  

This one finally did! (again, note the three people huddled around the page, but the guy in the sweater was definitely in charge at this store. Ultimately, it costs only $20 to gain 3G access from this process, but it took over a week to actually acquire the stick. Happily though, now that I have it, I can Skype from any room in the villa or anywhere else for that matter. And my email goes through much more smoothly.

Meanwhile, as we are headed to the copy store, the courier calls me. We had sent two boxes of books to India in December via “diplomatic pouch” which is a cheap way to send books to other countries where you will be working via the consulates. So, a good month later, the books arrived in Chennai and then were couriered to me. But the person trying to deliver the books did not speak English. So I handed the phone to my driver. The next thing I know, we are pulling over the car, and a man is running across the road with two boxes of books. He delivered them to our car!

 my driver and below, here come the books!

 

Starting to feel settled

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Yesterday, Kaden had a birthday party today at Aerie’s house. Aerie lives in the Benson Town area of Bangalore, about 45 minutes south of their school. It’s a beautiful, tree lined neighborhood. It turns out that her apartment complex has over 15 kiddos that attend CIS, including 4 girls from Kaden’s grade. It’s a lovely, quiet neighborhood (i.e., gated community). Kaden asked me if we could PLEASE move there—and fast! She’s tired of only having boys in our current neighborhood. The problem is, finding a four month lease is tough here! We had to sign on for five months even though we are only here for four, and even then we had few choices. If we had chosen to come for the year we could have lived in a community chock full of kiddos like Benson Town.  Here is a photo of Kaden with Aerie and her Japanese friends at school last week:

The kiddos in that community have a 45 minute bus ride to CIS. That’s nothing though. Some kids have an hour and a half bus ride from the southern parts of town. They board the bus at 6:15 in the morning! Long communities are quiet common in Bangalore. Aerie’s dad works for Toyota (they are from Tokyo). His commute is 1 ½ hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening.  That sounds perfectly awful to me.

After Kaden’s party, we had some time to kill before picking up Amma. So, I tried to discover the places in town that sell good meat. Many Indians are vegetarians. Finding good quality meat to purchase is hard to do. Most grocery stores hardly sell meat at all, except those that cater to ex-pats.  After some confusion with the driver who tried to take me to Bangalore Central Mall (no sir, this isn’t the ham store. It’s a shopping mall! Really! This isn’t where I want to go!), we found the Bangalore Ham Company–a little hole in the wall known for excellent pork products. I left with pork chops, a pork tenderloin, bacon, and ham slices. Can you tell I am missing meat?

A few shops down we also found a “gourmet” supermarket where we could buy goldfish crackers, Nutter Butter cookies, salami, and turkey lunchmeat. Hurray! You really can get most things in Bangalore. It’s just sometimes a treasure hunt to find them. Ex pats are constantly trading information on things like, “I found maple syrup today!” and “where can I find almond milk?”  The two items that I haven’t found yet are parmesan cheese (grated, although I did find ungrated) and apple sauce. I might need to send a message out to the ex-pat list serve regarding these two items. Todd will also be bringing plain Cheerios (we can only find sweetened), peanut butter granola bars (we can only find oats and honey), and more applesauce!

On the way to the gourmet store, we found a t-shirt shop in an alley where we got Kaden a new graphic tee for $1.  A fun find! Hopefully she will wear it! Despite the look on her face, she had a lot of fun shopping here.

Speaking of grocery stores, I was at the Food World on Friday to pick up light bulbs. The security guard took the light bulbs from my bag and went to an empty light socket at the front of the store where he tested each and every light bulb. Never seen that before! And it turned out one wasn’t working. Now if only he could have tested the size of the light bulb as compared to my lamps. I have plenty of working bulbs, but the wrong size socket! Back to square one!

We saw a cow with its horned decorated for the festival from last week, Sankranthi, when we picked up mom from her Buddhist Meditation class that she found in the city. It is taught once a week  by Tibetian Monks. She was so thrilled to find the Buddhists in Bangalore!

   Mom exiting her Buddhist gathering, with a cow next door.

The kids were THRILLED to have the chance to Skype with both Josh K and Lauren K tonight. Josh was Carson’s first Skype encounter. Kaden had Skyped with Lauren once before. Our connection wasn’t perfect but it really boosted our kids’ spirits to “see” and chat with their friends. Best times to Skype with Kaden and Carson are Saturday or Sunday morning U.S. East Coast time, until about 10:30 a.m., which is 9:00 p.m. here that same evening. Saturdays we could go a little later.  School mornings would be great for us, because 8 a.m. is about 6:30 in the evening here, but I know that can be a stressful time of the day for many families!

  

Best time to Skype with me is 10:30 pm, because I’m arriving at my office around that time (9 am). I have a much better internet connection at work than home, and a private, quiet space. Our only internet connection at home is right in the middle of the living room/dining room. Skyping is really easy, we promise! And free! We’d love to hear from more family and friends.

Then, this morning included two exciting firsts—a new dedicated driver for our family—with a nice mini-van permanently assigned to us. What a luxury and a stress reliever to not have to figure out transportation every day. AND, I found a power yoga class. An ex-pat mom hosts a class in her basement twice a week and invited me to join. Five women joined in the class and then we stayed for lattes afterward. They are a wealth of information, and are encouraging me to get my IPhone “unlocked” so that I can use it here. Tempting…

It was heaven to exercise again in a place other than the treadmill in the fitness room back at the villa. Granted it was no Kerry Bestwick class, but a good enough to keep myself in yoga shape until I return!  Yoga studios and gyms are few and far between in the Northern End of town. A fancy Gold’s Gym (sounds much more like a Bally’s given the classes they will be offering) is opening near here, but not until March. Looking forward to returning to this class Wednesday morning.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

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Today was a day of memorable moments—some of our funniest moments of the trip and some of our worst.   Friday is Republic Day, kind of like the 4th of July but without the fireworks–just a big parade up in Dehli. A big flower show was happening at the Lalbagh botanical gardens to honor the day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lal_Bagh

The day begin by convincing the kids to leave the house (a common occurrence in the U.S. too I must say. Transitions are not our forte).After the slow start, it took over an hour to get to the gardens due to intense Saturday morning traffic. My mom was only planning on staying for an hour since she and my dad were meeting a good friend during his layover at the B’Lore airport at lunchtime. The traffic was so bad that she literally just turned back around with the driver and headed back home without seeing any of the gardens.  Probably just as well because it was hot, crowded and a LOT of walking. The paper said 100,000 people attend the flower show this weekend (or 100 Lakh is how they say it here).

So, the kids and I set out on our own. We started with the Japanese gardens, including a very cool exhibit of tiny bonsai trees. The kids had fun guessing the ages of the trees, ranging from 13 years to 50 years! This one was the oldest .

We were also blown away by this peacock made out of flowers and also really liked the sand sculptures that we found.

  

Then we climbed this rock mountain. The rock was 2 BILLION years old!

At the top we bought some much needed water, and headed back down toward the main event—the Republic Day flower display in the glass house/conservatory. This display turned out to be one of the worst moments of the trip. The crowds were unbelievable and the display was interesting, but not worth the crush of people. It was hot and claustrophobic and we were ready to get OUT of there. But nonetheless here are some photos of the pretty flowers during our crush.

  

We snuck our way out an illegal exit, despite the guards saying that we had to make our way all the way back through the exhibit. We just couldn’t do it! And we were so hot and bothered that I took a chance and bought us ice cream from a park vender. It was ice cream from a box (like Good Humor bars at home like chocolate eclairs, etc ) and  I could see that the freezer was plugged into permanent electricity rather than a portable cooler. But still it was a bit risky.  It is hard to see all these food venders everywhere and not feel like we can have 95% of what is offered. But luckily the ice cream turned out to be a safe call.

 

Did you know that bananas grow UP?

At this point my camera battery died, so the rest of the pics of the day were from Kaden’s itouch. Apologies for the quality. The exhibit opened into the broader Lalbagh Park, which is a pretty big place with pleasant footpaths, cool flower displays and big trees—some of which are 200 years old. We saw a flower clock, a topiary garden, a lake

  

AND…. Monkeys! Our first siting of monkeys! There were at least 15 of them in this massive tree that looked like maybe it was a bamboo stand. Lots of babies, a mom, and what looked like a very grumpy dad/alpha monkey that almost started to chase us a few times. We were so happy to finally see monkeys.

   

  

We have heard some crazy stories about monkeys this week. My friend Tey lives on the 9th story of her building. She has a dog and monkeys have come to her balcony but when the see the dog they don’t do much more than pee off the side of the balcony. But one day when she was taking the dog for a walk, she left her kitchen window open just a hair, with the screen on. She came back to find a half-eaten pear on the counter, her balcony composting pots dumped out and some spices scattered on the counter. Monkey hijinks!

Our Bangalore family has also had encounters as well, on the 13th floor. Mamoni saw a huge monkey coming into her kitchen from her balcony. She tried to chase it with a knife but it chased her instead! Finally she chased it to the balcony where it turned on the water hose and made a big mess of things. So, that’s to say, monkeys sure are cute, but WATCH OUT!

While the monkeys were quite a photo opp. for many park goers, apparently we are a photo opp as well. Two separate young couples stopped to ask if they could take our picture. One wanted photos of the kiddos. We were having a grumpy moment at the time and I told him he could have as a caption, “Grumpy American kids wanting ice cream.” Another said his wife wanted a photo with us. I wonder what they said about the photo—we saw some strange looking Americans in the park today and they let us take their picture? And then another woman selling me water said, “Ma’am, you are very beautiful!” And then later, a 9 year old girl came up to us to practice her English. She was so pleased with herself that when she was done talking, she skipped down the lane laughing while her mother chased after her.

We thought that our adventures were done for the day, but apparently they were only beginning. Since mom took the driver with her back to meet up with the friends at the airport. The kids have been wanting to take an Auto-Rickshaw ride and I figured this would be a good time to take one home. It would be a long ride, but the cheapest and easiest way for us to be back toward home. Ha ha. Fatal last words. I really need to learn to speak some Kannada. The first two Autos were not willing to take us so far. The third guy seemed great. He was willing to use his meter, which is the first sign of an honest driver. Almost all refuse when they see me coming and instead try to triple their fees. But he turned on his meter.

I said, “Airport Road! Bellary Road! Go to Esteem Mall! Go North!” (the kids wanted some Baskin and Robbins on the way home).

“Okay, okay!” He said. He nodded that he knew where to go. Perfect.  Carson was so excited he was positively beaming. Here is our picture getting into the Auto

  

As we were driving, nothing looked familiar, but I thought, well maybe we are going a different way through town. 45 minutes later, we are hot. We are dusty. We are tired of being in this vibrating machine that feels like a roller coaster. He pulls over and motions like we are here. I have no idea where we are at all. Turns out he took us to the OLD airport road, which is south of the city. Basically, he took us 45 minutes in the opposite direction from where we needed to go. We were now an hour and a half away from home. I had the kids with me so I had to hold it together. I called my dad and said, “help!” He handed the phone to his driver who could speak Kannada and explained to my Auto driver where we needed to go. But there was NO WAY we could ride in an Auto for another hour and a half. We were done already. Half hour is pushing it in one of those things. So I had the auto driver take us back to the city center and Ran sent the driver down to find us.

Here are photos at the end of the Auto ride. I literally told the kids, “We fell miserable now, but this is one of those times that we’ll look back and tell stories about someday. And we’ll even laugh.

  

It was a tough drive back into the city. Our legs wobbled as we got out of the Auto, kind of like after riding a roller coaster too many times in a row. But luckily at Mom’s recommendation, we followed our Golden Rule for travelling. When having a rough day in India, find the nearest five-star hotel. So we had the driver take us to the Taj on MG Road. Best decision ever.  The place is so service oriented that you feel safe and cared for after harrying experiences. Kaden got a strawberry banana milkshake and fries. Carson got pasta Bolognese. I had the strongest mojito of my life.

And we were happy again. So happy that we got a little giggly and loud. At some point after the mojito, Carson apparently hid behind a potted plant and jumped out to surprise what he described as a “billionaire with a briefcase.” I’m kinda glad I missed that one. He remembers it fondly as his favorite memory of the day.

  

 

The silliness continued all the way back home once the driver found us. And we got that Baskin and Robbins ice cream as a final treat.

So in the end, all’s well that ends well. And with a Mojito, it’s just a little bit better.

Service struggles

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While I need to keep reminding myself that we have only been in India for 3 weeks, it is frustrating that we are not fully up and running yet. The local ex-pats smirk and say that it takes a full month to get settled here, but with only four months in our stay, that is a frustrating experience.

Some tasks have occurred very quickly. For example, my mom went to register for TV service and they arrived within ours to make the installation. The WiFi has been another story. One company  came on Wednesday and said they would come to do the install on Friday. So we waited all Friday. He never came so we called another company on Saturday. They came, took 2200 Rupees, promising to install the router on Monday. We waited Monday.  Finally at 5:30 Tuesday they arrived, but did not come with equipment to install a wi-fi network but instead just one direct line connection that doesn’t work very well. We have no idea if they will every come back to install the proper network.  We are thinking we need to start over with a new company and just eat the costs paid to the last company. There really is little recourse when this kind of thing occurs.

We have also had issues with bees. There was a four foot by two foot bee colony on the adjoining apartment’s balcony. Of course, the bee guy came to remove the hive at the same time that the tv guy and the wifi guy arrived, which was all right when the kiddos were coming home from school. We sit and wait for days and then everyone arrives at once.

We talked about our service dilemmas with our Bangalore family, and concurred that it definitely is a different approach to customer service here. It is a “labor intensive” economy. While in the U.S., there is a tendency to understaff, here most things are overstaffed. People travel in twos, threes, fours. As our friend joked, one guy does the installation and another guy has the job of handing him the tools, much like a surgeon. With our wi-fi issue, the technician could not install a router because there is a separate service person in charge of routers instead of the direct line connections.

Here are a couple of photos I’ve taken of this phenomenon in the past two days. One are some workers here at our villa complex—two security guards and two of the workers who do landscaping and odd jobs around the property. They were all collectively knocking on the door of one of the tenants. I’m not exactly sure what they were doing, but it’s so common and usually it is for something that in the U.S. would never involve more than one person—even when it would be easier if it did.

Also note that the youngest kid in beige can’t be more than 15, but he is already working full time.

In this other photo my mom and I are buying an internet data stick at the mall. Four service people were working together to fill out the paper work. Four.

We find the expats

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This week I have discovered the ex-pat women’s network in town. Very helpful! The Oversea’s Women’s Committee—OWC has a huge membership of over 1000 women, primarily from the US and the UK but also from Germany, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, etc. Most of the women in the group are wives of people who have been transferred to Bangalore for 1-2 year stints. As such, most of these women are here unwillingly to some extent. They are trying to embrace the adventure but they didn’t CHOOSE to come here. Nevertheless they offer a wealth of information on everything from driver recommendations to where to find cheddar cheese and fresh meats to finding a place to stay for a weekend trip. They also offer many social activities, including cooking demos, wine tastings, and excursions.

http://www.owcbangalore.org/index.html

The main event with the OWC is a weekly coffee on Thursdays in Leela Palace south of the city. However, every other Tuesday a coffee is offered on the North End of town, just a 20 rupee auto-rickshaw ride from my NIAS office. So I arrived at the Mövenpick Hotel promptly at 11 and eventually 10 women joined the group.  Five of the women have kiddos at CIS like Kaden and Carson and one was even in Carson’s class.

In the two hours that I was there, I learned about how to take an air conditioned airport bus into the city from Brinda (an India woman who lived in Germany for 50 years before recently returning). I also learned from the CIS ladies about some inside scoops on the school.  I found out a woman named Helen from the UK who has lived here for four years hosts a private power yoga class in her house Tuesday and Thursday  mornings on this side of town (yay!). I also got some leads on drivers and some weekend trips. And I even found out the best grocery stores to buy meat, cheese, yogurt, and other U.S. kid-friendly foods. Total score!

A bigger OWC event is on Thursday at the very fancy Leela Palace south of the city—one of the fanciest hotels in the world. Here are some photos of this fancy place:

 

That’s Tay showing off the gardens.

  

   

A woman named Tay who I met at the Tuesday even offered that I could come to her house and then we could head to Leela with her driver. So my mom and I headed down there Thursday afternoon. Tay is from Greensboro, NC and her husband works for Volvo. She has a beautiful 9th floor apartment in Shantinagar—an old neighborhood in Banglore with large trees and actual sidewalks. She has her dog from home and they take walks around the neighborhood every day. She is helping to coordinate the neighborhood recycling effort, which is totally volunteer and just getting off the ground. Interesting stuff!

We arrived at Leela after a 45 minute crawl through city traffic. It was massive. At least 100 women there. My mom came along and we perused a binder full of information on drivers. We bought a book written by the ex-pat group on all the details you might want to know about the city, including shops, directions to groceries, and so on. I also signed up for an ayurvedic cooking class held next month right near my office. We met two women from Buffalo, one from Austin, one from Boston, one from RI, and a smattering from the UK among others.  It was a great resource, despite some of the disparagaing comments of some of the women, like “Why should my daughter have to know how to spell ‘burkha’ as a spelling word?

 

This is the OWC weekly gathering. What a beautiful outdoor room! And on the right, that’s Kathy from Buffalo. She just moved here with her husband and kids 2 weeks ago. Both of her girls go to CIS as well. We are getting officially registered as OWC members.

Tay was kind enough to drop us off back at Poonam’s—the uniform shop. And it turned out that a post office was right down the block. We made our way down some sketchy sidewalks and into the post office. Mailing a letter in India is complicated. Stamps aren’t used very often because people might cut the stamps off of your letters. So, most people go directly to a post office to send something. I needed to send some receipts for reimbursement to the Fulbright office. I had grabbed an envelope from my office at work but noticed that it had no glue on it. When I arrived at the post office, the main pointed to a counter where he asked me to “paste” the letter. Indeed, there was a small pot of paste on the counter with a stick on it for sealing the letter together!   I have also noticed that we do not have a mailbox at our villa. Bills do not happen through the mail either. In this labor intensive society, someone comes around to collect most bills and you pay in cash. Increasingly, internet payment is an option, but mailing options are still not very common at all.

Lastly, we needed to do some serious shopping so we hopped an auto to the Manti Mall—the largest mall in India. onSix floors of insanity.

http://www.mantrisquare.com/

  

On the right in the above photo, you have the only ice skating rink in Bangalore! It ain’t big, but it’s quite an interesting site!

Fitting the typical plan, the bottom floor is a gourmet/ex-pat friendly grocery store. The top floor is restaurants, a movie  theater and an arcade. In between those floors were everything from furniture stores to sari stores to book stores to electronics stores to Crocs, Reebok, and Office Depot! We were starving so we had a delicious late lunch at the “Great Kabob Factory.” A silly name but delicious chicken kabobs. I loved the four chutney choices—pineapple, mint, tamarind and peanut.

  

And the array of Indian desserts was also fantastic.

We got a few floor lamps and a clock to add to our sparse apartment, a data stick to access internet since we are still not up and running with WiFi, and LOTS of groceries. We were delighted to find fresh chicken breasts, strawberry yogurt, a huge vegetable section, and fresh bread and pastries at the Spar grocery story.

Since we still do not have a dedicated driver (although we are getting close), I called a taxi to bring us home. Mind you we had  a U.S. sized amount of groceries—about 8 bags, plus the two floor lamps, the bag of uniforms, and other assorted purchases. We never did find the taxi (which only come if you call a radio taxi service and it takes at least half an hour). So there we were on the sidewalk with fresh chicken, ice cream, yogurt and floor lamps and no way to get home. We debated an auto but wondered how on earth we could fit all our stuff into one. Well, we did. We were like the circus clowns that keep coming out of the car. Mom and I were squeezed so tight in that auto that the loaf of French bread from Au Bon Pain kept hitting my mom in the head. We giggled all the way back to Yelahanka, where we all had to pitch in to prep both kiddos for very tough spelling tests tomorrow!

The Dehli Public School

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While visiting our Bangalore family,  I perused through Skipper’s high school year book. He attends called the Dehli Public School (not public by U.S. standards–all kids pay tuition in India unless it is a charity school for slum kids).

http://www.dpsbangalore.net/

It is a school that is highly regarded in Bangalore and has three locations–one north of the city, one east of the city  and one south of the city. All schools are required to move out of the city center and to the outskirts due to traffic problems in the city.

It was really interesting the differences in high school in India and the United States. For example, the FIRST page of the yearbook listed the top exam scores for each subject, including the student name and the score.

Given my interest in student voice and participation, I found the house system fascinating. As with my kids’ school, each kiddo is assigned to a house, and there are student officers assigned to each house, including prefects which provide a student-run discipline structure.

It seems that field day at CIS and this school as well, field day is in part a competition between the houses. It looks like at Skipper’s school, the Field Day is quite elaborate.

    

I also thought it was interesting to see the graduation attire—saris for the girls and suit and tie for the boys. No Harry Potter robes, here, despite the British legacy. Interesting to me that the girls continue to wear traditional Indian clothes and the boys wear Western clothes.

    

Also all of the teachers seem to wear saris every day, or at least on the photo day. This was interesting to me since in Bangalore, saris are not so very common day to day. I’d say maybe just 30-40 percent of women wear saris. Others wear salwar kameese or similar outfits, or Western clothes.

Also, the sports offered was interesting—basketball , soccer,  swimming, tennis,  and track (athletics) like in the U.S., but also cricket, table tennis, roller skating, and badminton.Sports are not such a big focus in Indian schools, as you can see by the small number of options and small number of participants.

 

I also found it interesting to see how Mamoni was addressed by her students. She is a famous singer in India and she is a music teacher at the school that Skipper attends. They prepared her birthday cards and wrote, Happy Birthday Mam! Or M’am Sromona (her given name, or her “good name” as they say here). Kaden says that she calls her teacher “Miss.”

  

I also find it interesting that the teachers take the same school buses as the students. This is true across the board for these schools. The advantage for Skipper now that his mom is a teacher at the school is that the bus will wait if teachers are late arriving to the stop. So he knows he won’t miss the bus with his mom coming as well.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dehli public school with Mamoni and Skipper during my time here.

Celebrations and ceremonies

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On our way to celebrate Mamoni’s birthday, we got a knock on our door from Mr. Yadov, the property’s head security guard. The company owner, Nikhil, was hosting a Murti pooja, or a Hindu blessing for the property. This ceremony was a form of pujaa or celebration. So we all headed out to see the pujaa on our way to the car waiting for us at the gate.

The space reserved for the ritual was considered a holy space, so we were required to take off our shoes. The holy man offered many blessings to the property. The Hindu god Ganesh is considered the god of houses and good luck related to living quarters. A beautiful, ornate Ganesh statue was central to the ceremony.

  

We were given flower petals to throw at the Ganesh statue to bless it. The holy man also passed around a special fire. We were to gather the smoke toward our face. Applause also occurred a couple of times as well as repeating of phrases in Hindu. At one point the holy man’s cell phone went off during the ceremony which the kids and Ran giggled about.

  

 

Above: Putting the Ganesh on the pedestal, where it will remain.

Today was Mamoni’s birthday so we prepped ourselves for the hour and a half drive  (due to traffic) down to their apartment to celebrate with them.  It was her birthday but she cooked such a feast for us. First the kiddos ate and it was all of their favorites—pizza, French fries, shrimp, special cakes.  The kiddos had Heinz Ketchup with their fries. It turns out Heinz has a plant/distribution center in Mumbai. And no nasty corn syrup in the India version. We have to buy Heinz organic in the U.S. to stay clear for the corn syrup nastiness! I also thought it was fun to see that the label advertised that they also sell a mint chutney—one of the most popular India condiments.

Then the adults had some delicious Indian food including the best dal that I ever had, flavored with oranges. Plus potatoes with coconut milk and a delicious meat dish. It is common in Indian homes to eat in phases. The kids ate first around 7:30, then we ate with Ira Dida around 8:30. Mamoni and Budu were going to eat much later, like 10 or so.

   

Much discussion ensued over whether it would be possible to watch the Madrid/Barcelona game on TV that night, in the middle of the night. But no such luck. Also talk about a music concert that will happen this weekend. Classical Indian music concerts last all night long, especially since some ragas are designed for playing in the evenings and others in the morning. Strategizing was occurring regarding when and whether  to take naps before or in between portions of the music festival and what house was close enough for resting. With the kids here I am unable to participate in these adventures!

The kids enjoyed watching Ira Dida make her Paan. Paan is a vice in India that is enjoyed by many. The Paan Walla sells Paan out of carts along the streets and people make it at home as well. Pan is a beetle leaf that is filled, sometimes with tobacco and sometimes with herbs.  Wikipedia says that is filled with areca nut (betel nut) and slaked lime paste or kaatha brown powder paste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paan). But everyone puts their own regional spin on the concept. It is often eaten after meals.  Ira has stopped putting tobacco in hers and instead had some spices that tasted like minty cinnamon. Kaden and Carson thought it tasted like toothpaste.