Monthly Archives: January 2012

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!

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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.

  

Still no internet…

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This blog is currently being published in batches of posts because we STILL do not have internet at home, despite day after day of hoping that perhaps it might be the day that the internet guy will arrive. So, when I do make it in to the office, I publish what I can! Hopefully at some point I can resume a more steady post of publishing. Keep your fingers crossed for us! (And for finding a dedicated driver too. The current one didn’t show yesterday when it was time to pick up the kids from school.)

Sunday park time

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My parents had some social obligations today, so I hired booked a driver for four hours and we set out to see “something.” My first attempt was the Botanical Gardens that actually aren’t far away from the house. But everything was closed due to the holiday today. We did get stuck behind a herd of cows though trying to find the place, and that was pretty funny.

  

Yesterday/today is the celebration of the changing of the season from winter to spring in the Hindu Calendar. The holiday is called Makara Sankranthi (also known as Pngal, Lohri, and Sukarat). People shop for ‘ellu-bella’ which includes deep friend peanuts,  sugar candies, and sugarcane.  Yesterday you could see people bringing home large stalks of sugar cane on their motor cycles and scooters as a part of the celebration. Another part of the celebration is the exchange of “sesame seeds, ground nuts, and jiggery,” says the local paper.

Tonight my parents are going to a Bengali pooja for Makara Sankranthi (Bengali people are from the Calcutta region). I’m staying home with the kids since it is set to begin at 8, and if it is anything like a U.S. Bengali celebration, then it really won’t begin until later. It’s a shame though since there will be live music, special holiday sweets, and overall an interesting cultural experience. But since we need to leave the house at 7:30 for school each day, a Sunday evening party in town is not in the cards!

With the botanical gardens closed, I suggested we head to a park in town—parks are always open I figured but I wasn’t sure what else was. We were trying to go to a new park but ended up again at Cubbon Park where we had our Science Center adventure last week. This time I had enough small bills to enter the amusement park area. It cost me 10 rupees to enter (about 20 cents) and the kids were free. In the first area there were small kiddy rides that the kids were NOT going to ride. But we did find one ride that met with the approval, which they rode for 5 rupees a piece (about 10 cents). Although when they got off they claimed that it was “lame.” The ride was decorated with what looked like Mickey mouse knock offs.

    

The rest of the park within the amusement park grounds was a series of playgrounds. They were packed with people. The playground fun included lots of metal rides that I remember from my childhood like see saws and spinning things and metal slides. No plastic or wood chips here!

   

  

It struck me that we would be doing the same thing in the United States on a beautiful day like today. The main difference was that we didn’t look much like the other folks at the park. And to top it off, I was wearing a shirt with buttons down the front, and the buttons get gaping and sometimes coming loose. It was always one of the women in the burkas glaring at me that made me realize a button had opened up!

The park sold all kind of treats including ice cream, cotton candy, corn on the cob from various carts, but I’ve been warned by my parents to be cautious of street vendor food. There was even an open air cafeteria in the park as well but we still needed to be cautious. We got thirsty after a while because it was HOT outside and I had left the water bottle at home. We could have bought bottled drinks that were unopened but at this point we were just ready to go. So we headed back to the house. But I told the driver we would stop for ice cream if we saw a place to do so.

  

Luckily on our way out of town I spotted a Baskin Robbins. What a fun treat! I had Mississippi Mud ice cream (funny to have that way over here), Kaden had Cotton Candy and Carson had Cookies and Cream. Most of the flavors were common in the U.S. but there were some more mango flavors, an orange flavor with chocolate ribbon called “Tiger Tail” and more butter scotch flavors than you usually see in the U.S.

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Our final stop on the way back was a toy store called the Beanstalk. They didn’t have much selection but Carson managed to find a 4600 rupee lego kit that he pouted about. Maybe he can earn it in the upcoming weeks. Kaden also had fun playing a Playstation game called Gods of War. She liked the Greek god aspect of it, she said.

  

A note about sidewalks in Bangalore. Or rather, a note about the absence of sidewalks. It’s strange to me. Here we are in front of the toy store, which was next to a Reebok store and a designer jewelry store. So a high end set of shops, but this is what the sidewalk looked like out front. Similarly, in the amusement area in the park—a place where you expect people to be strolling about, there were sidewalks, but they were littered with extra bricks, broken things, random litter. Sidewalks are just not a priority here when there are so many other infrastructural needs. For instance, the local paper today says that the state of Karnataka alone needs to build another 1200 secondary schools to meet the demand if educating all children in the state. That is mind boggling, really.

  

After our adventures, we headed home. The kids went out to the courtyard from some soccer with Aryaman and company.

Here are some city scenes as we traveled to the park:

  

Karnataka state parliament buildings

  

Court buildings

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Our first Saturday in our new place ended up being much more social than expected. The unit below us is owned by a family with a girl who turned 10 today. Unfortunately they do not plan to live in the unit and instead hope to rent it out. But they did decide to use their vacant villa to host the birthday bash and they invited our whole family to join them.  Carson was too busy playing soccer in the courtyard with his friend Anuman, and the adults got pulled away by the internet people who finally showed a day late (and won’t be able to finish the job for two more days),  but Kaden stayed for the full experience.

The party included about 10 girls and a smattering of siblings plus a whole slew of adults as well. It is most common for adults to stay at the party and for it to be a multi-generational affair. The cake was cut at about 12:30 and then eventually food was served around 2:30 and the event stretched on even after that.  We brought a present for the girl (some lip glosses from Claire’s back home), but it did not seem that many of the guests brought presents. The singing and birthday cake were very similar. The same song was sung, in English. The main difference was that the kiddos rhythmically clapped the song while they sang it, gathered around the birthday girl as we do in the U.S.

  

The cake was then cut and distributed amongst the guests (a delicious white cake with pineapple filling), along with potato chips and an Indian dish that was more savory than sweet called a Doba Vapur (I know I am spelling that wrong).   It tasted like Raita yogurt with an Indian dumpling of sorts inside of it. A bit hard to describe but very different from the U.S. No ice cream was served at this party at least. The kids had a choice of water or a pink traditional drink called rose water that was rather bitter actually. The kids did not like the rose water—hardly anyone drank it. My dad thinks they made it wrong. I noticed that all of the girls were dressed in Western clothing. To my eye, they could have fit in at Easterly Parkway. But Kaden claimed that they were far more dressy than what she or her friends would wear and some were even wearing skirts (a dirty word in our house, apparently)!

      

After the cake and snacks the younger party guests gathered in another room of the house to play a board game and then headed outside to the playground while the adults chatted and got the food ready.It was at this point that we had to leave because we had a prior commitment at the kids’ school. The Newcomer’s Tea at the school was a bit of as bust. There weren’t many newcomers and none the age of our kiddos, so they were pretty bored for the event. Plus Kaden was pretty wiped out from the unexpected birthday party.  At this event, finger sandwiches and lots of donuts and cookies were served, along with hot tea, hot coffee, and hot milk, as well as juices for the kids. Mind you it was a good 80 degrees or so out there!

While the kids were a bit bored, I met a delightful couple from Buffalo New York who had just moved town last week. Their children were ages 11 and 14 and they lived in the city center. Their daughters ride the bus to school and it takes almost an hour. I really enjoyed Kathy and we had similar experiences, questions and reactions to Bangalore. I am going to look forward to meeting her for coffee—hopefully next week! We are also going to check out the women’s ex-patriot group that meets once a week that is apparently a great social network for figuring out the city.

We then stopped to fix Kaden’s new cell phone on the way home. Yes, Kaden has a cell phone and it is much fancier than mine because she is looking forward to texting all of her new friends and to making international calls back home. We shall see how this goes but at least I know it’s a temporary situation! Here is a photo of Carson watching all that is Bangalore out the window while we waited for Kaden and my parents to finish up.

  

Social Saturday

Play dates

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On Friday after school, Kaden brought her friend Airie home with her. Airie is from Tokyo, Japan. I realized that attending an independent school means that friends live all over the city! And that was the case here. The logistics of having a play date are far more complicated. I figured stalking the mother after school might be the easiest plan, and it worked out. Kaden was desperate for a play date and given that we are still figuring out our driver situation, bringing Airie home with us seemed to be the only solution. What the mother ended up suggesting was to have her driver follow our driver home so that they would know where to find us later that day. Then the driver only came to pick up Airie a while later. The girls had fun playing in Kaden’s room, swimming in the pool, and then practicing their Bollywood dancing steps.

If you don’t know what Bollywood dancing is, you are missing out. Here is a link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waEXlvat5GA

Airie taught Kaden some more moves. Here are some photos of their exhibition in our dining room!

   

  

It’s interesting coming to India. I in part wanted to bring the kids here so that they could understand what poverty really looks like, but in a lot of ways they are learning about what privilege looks like. The gap between the have and have-nots is so great. And we have to separate ourselves much more here in some ways, or at least it is more obvious. Gated communities, drivers, servants, private schools (there aren’t any public schools, really). So in teaching about diversity and about disparity, they are learning bout wealth. Quite the paradox!

Meanwhile, Carson continues to play with his new from Aryaman who is seven and lives just across the courtyard. His dad is a management consultant who travels all around the world and spent the last year in Singapore, coming home once every other week. Anuman and Carson really enjoy playing soccer and cricket together in the courtyard, well into the dark! And also climbing on the playground equipment. Carson comes home from such adventures quite exhausted and ready to sit still awhile, which is a great side benefit.

  

  

Notice the difference in clothing in the above photos. It has been unseasonably cool here–70s during the day and 50s at night. The locals here are freezing, but it feels great to us!

By the way, Carson scored 11 out of 12 on that spelling test (only misspelling “naughty” of all words). His score was the highest in his class! And just now he was sitting in bed next to me reading the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid silently while I blog. Who is this kid anyway?

   Our community at night, but it is actually a lot brighter than it looks here.