Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bucket list items crossed off in Goa

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The kids got to do many things that were on their India bucket list during our Goa trip.  The first and the biggest was parasailing! Kaden was wanting to go parasailing from the moment she learned about Goa. I didn’t think that kids could go, but I was wrong. The parasailers in front of the Taj were three times the going rate at Baga Beach. But I am getting better at bargaining. And double the price was worth it to go up in the air far away from any other boats. It was a place of controlled chaos in Baga with jet skis, parasailers, and banana boats zig zagging around one another with few rules!

  

Yes, that is Kaden and I tethered together way up in the sky!  It was remarkably peaceful up there and not scary at all.  Coming back down they let our legs take one dip in the water and then we safely landed on the boat.

  

Here we are coming back in!

The kids also were wanting to get henna tattoes while in India and they got some great ones in Goa. In fact, 5 days later, they still look as dark as they did on the first day! And the kids got to let them dry as they chilled in the kids’ activity center and watched the Smurfs movie!

   

Kaden has always wanted her hair wrapped–especially since her friend Lauren returned from the Caribbean. She got her wish at the Taj in Goa. She is very pleased!

  

Kaden and I also got our toes painted with some fancy Indian sparkles! Mine had a little orange sparkly flower on the big toe and little orange dots on the other toes. Kaden had sparkles on the big toe.

   

Lastly, the kids got to taste coconut water right out of a coconut! A much better showing than the coconut attempt back at home last week!

   

As for me, I got a lovely massage at the spa, including a foot bath filled with rose petals and a detoxing lemon ginger drink when I was finished. Now that’s a vacation!

Banyan trees

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We have seen some beautiful Banyan trees, and especially on the Taj property  Goa. The Banyan tree is the National Tree of India and actually is a fig tree.  As the trees get really old, they develop aerial prop roots that grow into their own woody trunks such that on really big trees it can be hard to tell where the tree begins and where it ends.

Many rural villages in India have a banyan tree as a focal point for relaxing, chatting, having chair, and often a bus stop is there. Often a small deity is present at the base of the tree. The trees are breathtakingly beautiful. They remind me of the big redwoods in California in that they make you feel so small. And that I don’t think photos really capture just how giant they feel!

Not surprisingly, Banyan trees have spiritual significance.  Buddha was said to have found enlightenment while meditating under a Banyan tree. The leaf of the banyan tree is said to be the resting place for the God Krishna.  After consuming all the universe during the time of destruction, Krishna  absorbs everything created and turns himself to a child small enough to fit into the tiny leaf of the banyan tree,  until Krishna decides to recreate everything back out from him.

The kids had a blast swinging at the biggest banyan tree on the property. The limbs were so high that the ropes of the swing were super long, making for a long and thrilling ride. Kaden said it reminded her of the pirate ship ride at Del Grosso’s park.

   

On our way out of town this weekend, we stopped to see theDoda Alada Mara (translated as the  Big Banyan Tree,  located in the village of Ramohalli. The single plant covers three acres and is one of the largest in the world, rumored to be over 400 years old.

  

   

Even cooler for the kids–they counted 31 monkeys living in this tree!

Plus two more monkeys is 33!

  

little girl in front of the Shiva temple located at the center of the tree

The Saturday Night Market and other Goa street scenes

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 On Saturday night, Mom, Janet and I set out to do some serious shopping at Goa’s famous Night Market. It is only open once a week and is MASSIVE. It took us over an hour to get there because it seemed that the entire state was heading to the market. It turned out to be not the greatest shopping–poor quality stuff for the most part. I did buy a hammock and a shirt, but nothing of quality.

But what a scene!  Goan is known for its hippy culture and it was in full force at the market. Thousands of people were there. Live music and rave music were happening from each corner. Bars were serving stiff drinks. Ganga smell was in the air. The whole back side of the market was food, food, food (but I wasn’t going to trust any of it). It was a T

  

The rest of the photos are views from our shuttle as we were heading to and from the airport. Goa is a very small state in India. It was kept separate because it was previously a Portuguese colony and has a very distinctive culture and tradition compared to other regions of India. You can see the influence in the many mission style Catholic churches in the area. You can also see it in the food–lots more meat in the cooking here in Goa and also a different set of spices.

   

Carson is always happy to see a cricket game!

   

One of the churches, and there’s that guy with his crazy cow again!

Another big church in the country side.

Baga Beach

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On our first full day, we headed out in cars to Baga Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world and a very popular beach with the locals. On the way, Todd and Carson stopped to buy boogey boards. They found this man with a very decorated cow as Todd was bargaining with the shopkeeper.

  

 Carson was very pleased to find the boards!

We started our time at Baga Beach with some lunch at one of the biggest beach shacks and Ran’s favorite–Britto’s.   They had fabulous looking lobsters, tiger prawns, and more.

You can see in the photo below how the shacks line the beach. They had shacks along the beach back by our hotel as well. They set up chairs in front of the shacks and then as long as you buy some food/drinks, you can sit all day.

The kids had a blast riding the waves. They were the only people on this crowded beach riding boogie boards, but they didn’t seem to mind!

   

  

Goa!!

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To make the most of the time during which Todd, Kinjal and Janet were here at the same time, we planned a family trip to Goa–one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

To get to Goa, we had to take an hour long flight. I snapped this photo as we were entering the airport. All of these  folks for the most part are drivers or someone picking up someone. The photo definitely highlights the common dress here for drivers and for most working men of any strip–a white button down shirt and dark pants!

 

Carson and Daddy LOVED studying the airplanes together. Todd made use of his aerospace engineering degree describing to Carson how the planes take off and land, why the wings are shaped the way they are. They studied the diagrams in the magazine. They took careful notes outside the window. I on the other hand took a nap. I was up until the wee hours getting everyone packed for this adventure!

here is a photo of our entourage all tanned in the front lobby. We stayed at the Taj Holiday Village–a gorgeous resort right on the Arabian Sea. My parents have been to this resort twice before, and Derek the guest manager  has become a good friend. We had some fun extra touches as a result like a delicious chocolate cake on arrival. Also when Kinjal got sick during the trip (the Dehli Belly strikes the first one of us!), Derek arranged a doctor to arrive quickly and the hotel staff even brought a get well basket to their room. The house call plus all medications came to just $20!

   

Here is a photo of our cottages. Janet and Kinj had one right behind our two.

This view is perhaps one of Ran’s favorite places on the world–a table at the edge of the deck at the main restaurant. Ran would spend most of the day here chatting with waiters and sipping coffee

  

  

The kids loved this room the best–the Jungle Jam, which catered to the younger crowd. As in, the served PB and J, french fries, smoothies and fried shrimp all day long! Plus the kiddos could play their favorite game of Carroum while waiting for their food! We even needed to get a “to-go” order for the shuttle ride back to the airport on the last day!

The kids had fun poolside, and especially with Daddy. Here, being the techie family that we are, the three of them were all playing a game together by connecting all of the devices using Bluetooh. I don’t really understand it, but they LOVE doing it.

  

While some fancy hotels give you towels that look like swans, here they give you a towel that looks like Ganesh! How can you tell it’s just not an ordinary elephant? The special placing of the little dots of flowers.

The kids loved scrambling among the tide pools on these rocks. Carson loved finding the crabs and Kaden liked to stick her fingers into the sea anenomes and feel them close.

  

The beach was just down the  stair case and it was a beauty. Very flat, which made for good running for me in the morning. Although I did get chased by a dog. That was scary! The dog came running right at me barking. I froze and panicked for a minute, then I channeled my inner Papa Joe, turned and faced the dog and growled in a loud deep voice, “Get out of here!” And to my surprise, the dog turned on its heels and ran away quickly. I then noticed that all of the Indians out in the early morning were carrying sticks. So I quickly found one and ran with a stick the rest of the time!

Ayurvedic cooking

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I took an Ayurvedic cooking seminar today through my Overseas Women’s Group. The day started with a lecture from an ayurvedic doctor. We all got a chuckle out of the set up of the conference room, in a fancy hotel no doubt. Mattresses on the floor, shoes off to the side. It was actually very comfortable but made me sleepy! (Thanks to the OWC Cooking club for the photos that include me in them!)

The Ayurvedic health process includes a great focus on body types and diet. Based on your body needs, you should adjust your diet accordingly. The doctor discussed three body types, and said that people are one of these, or more often a combination of two.

VATA–focus on large intestine and lower body, air and space, dry, cold, moving

vata people have joint pains. they are athletic, can’t sit still, the mind races.

They also describe these people as really tall or really short with thin, dry hair. (okay, well I thought I was vata until I got the really tall or really short).

Vata people should avoiad coffee, raw veggies, potatoes, nuts and beans and embrace sweet and salty food.

PITTA–focus on digestive system, fire and water, hot, oily

Pita people have heart shaped faces, pale skin, burn easily.

They tend to have digestive issues and be quick tempered and emotional

Pitta types should focus on cooling foods that are gentle to the stomach , so nothing too spicy or sour.

KAPHA–focus on mucous and lymphatic system–chest, shoulder, head eyes, cold, heavy, dense, smooth, slow

lots of sinus issues

These people are heaving, slower, calmer. They have good hair and a strong voice.

Kapha should avoid sweets, bread, red meat, and avocados

Then we headed to a cooking demo that demonstrated the preparation of food for each of the three types–a spicy coconut milk soup for vata, a beetroot salad for pitta, and a cabbage dish for kapha.

We followed the cooking demo with lunch at the Movenpick buffet–one of my favorites. Yummy naan, tandori chicken, and sushi too!

Follow the money

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We faced the daunting challenge last week of figuring out how to pay our first round of monthly bills, and especially the internet bill. The choices appeared to be online, by voucher or by courier.

We tried online first, of course. The website appeared to be broken at times. when it was working, we ran into the problem of having a foreign credit card. Some websites won’t accept a foreign credit credit card at all. Others do but the credit card company rejects the charge as fishy. We did not have any success paying the internet bill by credit card.

We opted for the courier option as we did not see any address on the bill or online where we could drop off the payment. For an extra 50 rupees ($1), the courier was to come and pick up the cash. Of course, the courier didn’t come on the appointed day, or the next day. And then we were heading off to Goa for the weekend. We left the bill with the head security guard. Luckily the courier called when we were near the phone in Goa and luckily also RAn was nearby to speak Hindi and give directions, because the man spoke no English.

The voucher option might be something to explore. It sounds like a money order. You go to certain stores and can purchase payment vouchers that can be used for specific purposes. Then there are apparently payment boxes for the vouchers that can be found about town. I’ll save that adventure for next month!

Notice that paying by mail was not one of the choices! The postal system in India is not trusted or reliable. Important business here occurs by courier or by a company such as DSL if going internationally. I have mentioned before that stamps are not trustworthy because it is assumed that someone will cut them off. But since then talking to colleagues it seems that the mail itself only has about a 50% chance of arrving unless you pay for registered mail or some sort of explicit tracking service. So running a business dependent on the mail services is foolhardy. And no one trusts that the mail will get money where it needs to go.

I’ve realized that how money changes hands is a big concern in India. People prefer to deal in cash, even when it is the equivalent of thousands of US dollars.  And there seems to be an expectation that money theft will occur and it affects how business is conducted. For example, in local grocery stores, first you check out your food items and receive a receipt. Then you go to the money guy. It is often a bit chaotic since you have people from several check out aisles converging on one money. He’s where you give the cash or the credit card. Then he stamps your receipt. You then go exit the store where a security guard checks to make sure that your bill is stamped. Now, often this process occurs within a few feet of one another and it is very frustrating to me when the security guard puzzles over my bill after he has watched me check out and then walk over to the money guy. Then, interestingly, fruit is sold separately outside of the store and they collect their own money.

This concern about theft and money helps to explain why building relationships is so key to conducting business in India–the assumption of trust is not there initially but needs to be established through gestures and time.

The lack of trust is also clear with our maid, or her fear that we don’t trust her. She won’t even touch dishes if they aren’t right by the sink because she doesn’t want to be accused to taking anything. She even scolds us if she sees something sitting out that she feels should be locked up. We never let her stay in the house if we are leaving and she doesn’t want to be there for fear of accusation. And yet we know she wouldn’t steal from us, or at least she would be a fool to do so because her entire family works for the apartment complex. Her husband is on the building crew. Her daugher cleans houses. Her grandson gardens. If someone in the family screws up, they could all be fired and be in big financial trouble.

Turns out the Holyman across the way got robbed last weekend. He had Basama, our maid, as his house cleaner, but replaced her with a live in servant. The servant stole from him this weekend. They found all the stuff under the guy’s pillow. By they, I mean Basama’s family and the workers who live in the garage area of our complex. Since the lack of trust also extends to the police, they beat the guy up and brought the stuff back. Justice served, the Indian way.

The photo above hows a policeman in this strangely elaborate tented area on the side side of the highway. The tented area is next to the new toll booths  set up near the airport. The drivers in town are furious about the new tolls and Todd and I got to see their rage when I picked him up at the airport. People getting out of their car and shouting. Cars honking loudly. Turns out they are really mad about the new tolls.

The growth of the wine business in India

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On a very hot February morning, Todd and I headed north of town to join an ex-pat excursion to Grover Vineyard http://grovervineyards.in/  , a winery trying to establish itself as one of the elite in India.  Grover started with a search for the climate that would yield the best grape production. The Kashmir region took first place, but given the extreme political unrest up north, the second choice region became the preferred area–Bangalore.

The 40 of us were greeted at the beginning of our tour with jasmine garlands. Very fragrant. Often these gardens are placed in women’s hair. The scent was overpowering for many in the heat and folks wrapped them on their arms or on purses to move them away from their faces. I thought it smelled heavenly.

  

The Grover vineyard only started tours three months ago, and after I realized that I really thought they did a great job. We started out in the fields where a man described the growing process. They have vines grown the Indian way and the European way. The European vines and climate reminded me very much of Napa.

Every step of the touring process emphasized that Grover was doing everything just like the French do. They have a French person in charge of the entire process, they import their barrels and grapes from France, and so on. As I teach in my policy classes, mimicry is the way a new company in a new place gains legitimacy. It is interesting how little I hear Napa folks comparing their production to France. It is almost in the U.S. like there is an explicit attempt not to try to compare to France in Napa but instead to establish the value of U.S. wine in its own right. I most remember comparisons in which the U.S. winemakers showed the medals that they won over french wins.

  

After touring the fields and the production facilities we were finally taken to the tasting room. Sitting down with some wine put a smile on our faces. We are pictured here with my new friend Priya. She lived in the States for 17 years (including Illinois and Boston) before deciding to move back to India with her family. I am learning a lot from her about the struggles and successes of returning back to India. For her kids, it is not returning, but moving to an entirely new place–not so easy, and especially not so easy to learn how to fit in to a very different schooling structure. Priya has kiddos the same age and gender as ours, so we are hoping to plan to get the families together soon.

   

Most of the wines were just okay, and some were actually quite awful. We sat with a fun group of Brits and one lady exclaimed after a red, “it smells like old leather shoes.” But thankfully our opinions changed after we had the last wine, La Reserve. A delicious blend of cab sav and syrah. So delicious that I bought a bottle to bring home to share with my monthly wine group.

  

After tasting perhaps too much wine, we had a lovely biryani lunch outside, with even more wine. Ducks floated about in the pond and monkeys climbed overhead!

Visiting a Jain temple

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Todd and I explored a Jain Temple complex an hour north of Bangalore one morning. We headed to the area in search of a Hindu Temple that our friend Rahul had recommended to me. But instead, we found this mountain top cluster of buildings. The landscape North of town is very arid and rugged with large boulders. It was a very hot day and we saw lizards sunning themselves in the hot sun!

      

   

  

While Hinduism is the most prevalent religion in India, Buddhism and Jainism are also present (as well as Islam and Christianity too). But Buddhism and Jainism both seem to be more explicitly in contrast to Hinduism—which legitimizes stratification in Indian society by saying that castes/social classes have a religious basis and that the pathway to eternal life is through reincarnation which eventually leads you up the caste latter. In contrast, Buddhism and Jainism say that everyone has access to God and both highlight a religion based on peace and equity.

The Buddhist story in India is particularly interesting since Buddhists have mass conversions of the dalits, or the untouchables (lowest caste), since it is a faith that tells them that they are worthy people rather than at the lowest run of the social system. This association between Buddhism and dalits is so strong that I have heard people use the terms interchangeably. So, at work I heard a grad student say to her professor that she is wanting to support the Buddhists on campus, and especially since one committed suicide recently. But what she really meant was that she wanted to support the lowest caste/first generation graduate students who are struggling with fitting into the university system. But she was interchanging the word Buddhist and Dalit at will.

The connection between Buddhism and Dalits is so strong that it is unusual for people in India to be Buddhists who are not dalits, or at least it is viewed as surprising. Since my mother is Buddhist, this tension has been an issue for her. It is easier sometimes to hide the fact that she is Buddhist to some more devout Hindus.

But I digress. Jainism has over 4 million followers in India and around the world. It does not have the explicit tension that Buddhism does. The religion is most known for its strict rules about nonviolence. Jainism  is so peace oriented that it is even protective of insects—so much so that Jains not only are vegetarians but the also do not eat root vegetables since cutting the root kills part of the plant. Plus, it kills microgranisms and insects on the roots.

All of the buildings were under renovation, and some seemed to barely be held up by scaffolding, which made Todd nervous. But in true Indian fashion, the hospitality was incredible. The construction workers motioned for us to enter the temples despite their ongoing work and even opened closed parts of the temple and removed dropcloths so that we could see the artistry.

  

you have to take off your shoes in any temple in India. The beautiful inlaid marble in the one temple reminded me of the Taj Mahal.

This temple seemed to be one of the main ones in the complex. The center had a larger statue and then the outer rim of the temple was lined with 53 smaller statues that looked like this one below, right.  Best I can tell, they are saints. Jain does not have elaborate deities like Hinduism or the ominous calming presence of the Buddha. But lots and lots of this same image. Each statue was only slightly different, such as a different jewel for the third eye. The last few statues had a crown of cobras above the heads. The structure of the temple reminded me of stations of the cross in Catholicism, and the 53 statues seemed to be significant given that the construction worker pointed to the number and said, 53!    The little towers below signify the 53 saints, which are housed in the temple beneath of those towers/flags.

Many of the Jainism principles are similar to Quakerism, the faith that I follow. Jains believe that every living being has a soul and each soul is “is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas)” (says Wikipedia).  Because we all have the potential to be devine, every soul is sacred and thus the great focus on nonviolence.  Again, from Wikipedia,  When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attains divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss. The triple gems of Jainism (“Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct”) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver, or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated, and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts. The purpose of life is to undo the negative effects of karma through mental and physical purification. This process leads to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.”

I’m not sure of the significance of the hanging bell, but we saw one in most of the temples.

 

   
Jain monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing insects or other tiny beings. We did not see the two holy men sweeping that we encountered, but we weren’t really looking to see if they were, so maybe we just didn’t notice.  Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced (particularly through the guidance of Shrimad Rajchandra) by Jain tenets such as peaceful, protective living and honesty, and made them an integral part of his own philosophy.[41]

Headin’ to Sankey Tank

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After the kids came home from school, we headed out on an outing. Todd had been home all day while I was out doing fieldwork and we needed to give him a taste of India! First stop–the Malleswaram shopping district. Recommended in my ex-pat guidebook, the shopping area had nice sidewalks and both permanent shops plus street vendors.

  

I found an Indian top for the equivalent of $4. Kaden and I used the camera as a mirror since we couldn’t see how we looked. Me-yes on the top for wandering about India. Kaden–no on the stripes.

  

Carson found a cricket bat.

Todd found ground coffee. Love this picture below. The kids are comparing who has the bigger “Litzinger chin dimple” while Todd buys some local Coorg coffee in the background.

  

Anyone know what this fruit is? I’m not sure.

Then we headed to Sankey Tank. It’s an awful name for one of the most beautiful place in Bangalore–a lovely body of water surrounded by a walking path. Like many parks, it is not open all the time and not even mid day. It is saved for the serious walks who arrive early in the morning and later in the evening. The rest of the day the park is closed–even on Saturdays! Thus our first attempts to visit were thwarted by the restricted hours. Today we brought the kids’ scooters and set off for a stroll.

    

   

On the way back, we stopped for McDonalds fries and nuggets and some Baskin and Robbins ice cream. Todd said he wanted peanut butter cup ice cream and I had to explain that peanut butter is a flavor that one only finds in the United States. It is a weird, acquired taste that most of the rest of the world thinks is quite gross! You can buy peanut butter here in ex-pat friendly stores, but you won’t find it in restaurants.