Category Archives: culture shock

Riding through the streets of India on a motorcycle and sneaking baggage

Standard

I had though that I was done posting about India, but our last few hours were rather dramatic. On a positive note, neighbors kept stopping by to share their regards and to give us presents. Very sweet, very thoughtful. (Note to thoughtful people though: when packing to move around the world, paint your own garden rocks are not an item that can be taken along due to weight concerns!)

Overall, we had so much stuff and we were painfully aware of how difficult airlines make it to fly nowadays with baggage. We kept weighing, and weighing our bags and were trying really hard to avoid too many extra bags since we would have to pay the fees twice due to our stopover in Europe.

While we were packing in a frenzied manner, the complex  manager stops by with a very large unpaid electric bill. We soon learn that the electrician and the security guard were not reading the bills properly and were undercharging us by a lot.  When I explained that I had in fact tried to pay the correct amount and it had been returned to me for overpaying, the four men ended up in a shouting match in our apartment, with the guy in charge storming out and saying it would come out of the other guys pay checks. Our flight was leaving in three hours, but we spend a large amount of energy quarreling about this bill, with the workers knocking on the door with several iterations of the amount owed. In the end, I had a bill of over $200 due that evening. I had drained all of my rupees already since you aren’t supposed to take them out of the country and therefore you can’t exchange them in Europe or the U.S.  We had no driver booked until it was time to leave for the airport.

So, I ended up getting on the back of the property manager’s motorcycle and racing down the road to get money out of the ATM. I was not dressed to be out and about in India, let alone on the back of a motorcycle. I had on short shorts and a tank top because the house was so hot and I was moving around 50 pound suitcases. I definitely heard some cat calls coming out of the buses. And in true India style, the first ATM was out of order. Then we drove way into our local commercial district. The second ATM was closed to refill the money. Finally, the third ATM gave me the needed cash. And it gave me the opportunity to teach the property manager the phrase, “Third time is a charm!”

I had often wondered what it might be like to ride about Bangalore on a motorcycle. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity in my final hours in India.

Getting to the airport, we had been very worried that our checked bags would stay under the 50 pound limits. That proved to be no problem. But the big problem–our carryons. I had overloaded the carryons. Legos filled the bottom of each bag.  Shies and water bottlshoestring tied to the outside of the backpacks. Plus before boarding I had each child put on a heavy sweatshirt plus tie two jackets around their waists! We just had no room at all.

Much to our surprise, Lufthansa really allows only one carryon, not one above and one below like in the U.S. I  had crammed the kids backbacks with stuff plus each of us had a roller board. Each of those counted as the carryon–no personal item allowed on Luftansa unless it is super small. So the backpacks counted as the one personal item.

We were shocked. Especially since none of these rules were an issue flying into India. PLUS, the were weighing the carryons at the gate. They couldn’t be more than 9 kilos. Some of ours were 22 kilos, because we shoved some of our heaviest items in them to avoid the checked baggage limits. In all my years of flying I have never had my carryons weighed. As long as they were regulation size, I have never had an issue. In the end, we had to pay $70 per bag to check our carryons–$210. It was only due to some quick thinking and some efforts to confuse the airlines on our part that we paid for three additional checked bags rather than five or six ( which would have cost over $400 more).

We had to do this all over again in Frankfurt after our Paris adventures. At the hotel, I repacked all the bags including leaving lots of stuff at the hotel for the maid to find–nearly all of our underwear, socks, toiletries, umbrellas, notebooks, and more. Bangalore didn’t weight back packs, only roller boards. So I put heavy statues in all the backpacks. My backpack alone was about forty pounds.  Then I weighed the carryons to 9 kilos but had an extra bag of stuff in each so that if they weighed and it was  over, I could easily pull out the right amount.  (I should add that 9 kgs equals a half empty rollerboard–even when only putting in clothes in the bag; same is true for our checked bags–none of them were full but all at exactly the weight limit.)  The walk through the airport with all that weight on my back was insane, but we made it. Thankfully Lufthansa was MUCH nicer in Frankfurt. Plus, I voluntarily gate checked one carryon, and thankfully by being friendly they didn’t charge me the $70 fee.

Crisis averted but very stressful. I will try to avoid flying Lufthansa in the future.While some may view my theatrics as a bit ridiculous, I find even more ridiculous the fact that on an international flight an airline thinks that 30 kg overall should be sufficient baggage. The airline seems to disrespect travelers more each day. Given the costs of flights these days, to have to pay hundreds of dollars to bring my clothes and souveneirs along is a crime.

Advertisements

Record keeping

Standard

The keeping of records is a fascinating issue in India.  Other than the national corporations, many hotels, apartment complexes and banks even still keep records in big old fashioned ledgers.  With power often iffy, no computer can go down and lose the records. And it’s how it has always been done.

I am astounded by the number of sign in books in our apartment complex and those of other complexes. Sign in the little books to go to the gym, to use the pool, to welcome visitors. And I am astounded by the paper trail at grocery stores. Get a tally of the bill from one person, pay another person, and then a third person at the door checks the receipt and stamps it.

Carson’s juice bottle from Cafe Coffee Day (the Starbucks of India). I have no idea what it is supposed to mean, but it sums up well my feelings in India some days!

While such record keeping seems ubiquitous in what seems like silly situations to me, we have been equally astounded by the lack of data bases and record keeping where it matters. For example, most book stores in India, even huge multi-level bookstores often do not have a method for keeping track of inventory. Books are not shelved based on title or author. Sometimes they are shelved by publisher. Sometimes by subject. Sometimes willy nilly.

Even at the big and fancy Mantri Mall this week, my mom went to a very large book store to find if they have books by Amit Chowdry, a famous intellectual in India. Big shot. Big deal. The book store pulled up Amazon.

My mother asked, “How do you know if you have the book if you look it up on Amazon?”

Clerk: “The book might be shelved by title.”

My mom goes to the section and notices that they aren’t shelved by title at all. She returns to the clerk and asks, “How are the books ordered if they aren’t ordered by title.”

Clerk: “It is what it is madam.”

Even more surprisingly than the book store, my parents went to the Museum of Modern art.

None of the personnel knew what paintings were located in the museum. When asking to speak to a more senior person, the man admitted that the museum does not have a database or catalog. Even more surprisingly, though, was that they could not find anyone who knew where the painting by Tagore was located. Tagore is one of the most famous authors/poets in India history.  My parents finally found the painting tucked away on the sixth floor.

We took the kids to the Art Museum in our last days in Bangalore. The kids were not very enthused about the visit until I lucked out with a game that kept them happy. In each room of art, we all had to choose our favorite and then we had to guess the favorite’s of everyone else.  It slowed them down, caused them to consider the pieces carefully, and they had a blast. I will definitely remember that trick for Paris.

Wandering about the sculpture garden, Carson shows off his new gap. The tooth fairy came last night and left both Rs 100 and $1!

The one place where records are watched very closely is in the cricket league which has caught India by storm. My dad watches a match every night. Carson is obsessed as well. He wears his red Bangalore Royal Challengers cap all around town. Below are some of the team logos at the hotel bar in Hospet.  Carson insisted on watching the matches on the big screen in the bar, much to the concern of the wait staff at the hotel!

Hanging out in Hospet

Standard

The kids and I took one final road trip during our India adventure. We drove four hours north of Bangalore to visit the ancient ruins of Hampi. We were so grateful that our old driver, Srinivas, agreed to drive us on this “out of station” trip. Turns out he didn’t dislike us after all, he just didn’t like his boss as much as we didn’t. If only we had known, we could have hired him directly and avoided all of our driver woes that we have had since March!

We stayed at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Hospet, about 20 minutes from the ruins. It was the nicest hotel around. It claims to be a five star hotel. I wouldn’t say that at all, but it definitely had very lovely rooms, a comfortable bed, strong air conditioning, and a lovely pool.

  

Below, view from our balcony of sugarcane plantation.

After what ended up being five and a half hours in the car, an afternoon poolside was very much in order. The kids loved the deep water which allowed Carson to perfect his back flip ‘(Carson is saying in the video, “Dad, this one’s for you!” and Kaden to make great improvements on her dive.

I had hoped to take the kids into Hampi that night when it was cooler, but the front desk clerk advised that we do Hampi in one day with a hired guide. Instead, he suggested that we head over to the Tuna Bhadra dam for the sunset and to see the musical fountain.

The pathway to the dam was lined with quotes in English and in Kannada. Some were famous and others were rather obscure!

    

On the way we stopped to take a paddle boat ride, which they called a coracle boat ride. But a coracle boat is one of those round boats the locals use for transport and fishing–nothing like a big plastic blue swan!

   

In true Indian style, we should not have been surprised that we would not be taking the boat ride alone. Instead, a man climbed on board to do the steering for us. As Kaden put it, “I was kind of hoping it would just be us!” Yep. Welcome to India! He was a nice enough guy. Very helpful. But as Americans, we feel that we don’t need help. We get annoyed by help. Help is not helpful!

The rest of the park had a very small aquarium. I told the kids not to get their hopes up, but they were pleased to see a snakefish, and Carson promised me that I will be taking him to a REAL aquarium this summer (add Baltimore to our summer plans!).

  

The park also had an aviary-read large pen with peacocks and pigeons in it.   Plus it had an enclosure for deer, who must get feed by the visitors often because they all came up to the fence to beg for food.

   

We then headed over to the main attraction–the purported finest musical fountain in all of Southern India! Here is one clip of the show.   It wasn’t that bad. But we were done after a couple of songs. To sum up our experience, Kaden said, “This place is pretty cute for India. I can tell they are really trying here. In the United States, it would be really disappointing. But here, it’s not that bad!”

    

Summertime and the living is easy…

Standard

We have one week left in Bangalore. And it is HOT here!  April and May are summertime. Schools are closed. Vacations planned to get away for the heat!

My ambitions seem to falter with every increase of mercury as the temperatures go  up and up. My processing speed now seems to mirror our painfully slow dial up/data stick internet. Thinking quickly, getting work done efficiently by U.S. standards just doesn’t even seem comprehendible. Checking email is a 20 minute process just to open the messages.

Maybe this slowdown is a blessing. I have completely reevaluated my expectations of what counts as a productive day. I take one task at a time and I am grateful if I accomplish that task.  Perhaps I can take this new normal back with me in the U.S. and help to use these measures to carve out a more “normal” pace of productivity at home. Lightning fast internet speeds, access to information right in my pocket is fun. But it also creates its own exhaustions. Doing one thing at a time has its merits.

The kids have slowed down as well, and they seem quite happy to “do nothing” with much less exclamations of “I’m bored” than I hear at home. Being out of school, they have been sleeping late, staying in their PJs until the afternoon.

Granted I am letting them play on their screens more than usual. But I know that they are awaiting the punctual 5:30 knock on the door from the neighborhood posse for the evening game of Cops and Robbers. Or an occasional night swim, game of cricket or football. The whole neighborhood seems to come out after dark, really. Sitting in the courtyard visiting with one another. The puppies come out to play. The heat is just too much during the day.

Sanskriti, Pratham and Mehir came a knockin’ this evening to round up the kiddos.

The festivities end when Mehir and Sanskriti, the oldest kiddos at 14 and ethical compasses of the group (well, usually,), decides that it is time to for everyone go home. Usually that end point doesn’t happen until after 9 at night. Carson comes home so tired  that he often falls asleep changing into his PJs and before he has had his dinner.

When we go out, evening excursions  are more appealing as well. The other night we headed to UB City for a bite at Café Noir.

Carson had fun with this poster at the UB City Entrance

The kids had fun getting soaked in the fountains.

  

Then we drove past the lit up parliament buildings on the way home.

With a stop at Baskin and Robbins for some ice cream. We stopped to watch a few minutes of the cricket match that had the city at a standstill—the Bangalore Royal Challengers versus the Rajasthan Royals.

Below, weddings are still in full force during the summer months!

We also finally got my kids together with my friend Priya’s kiddos. They are the exact same age and gender. Our schedules didn’t connect until this late date. We went over to their house for some swimming. The kids got along great, but unfortunately Kaden developed a tummy bug when we were there and spent most of the visit on the couch. Carson got it the next morning and both kiddos spent the day on the couch. Nothing as serious as the Dehli Belly, but enough to put them out of commission for a while.

At bedtime, sleep is a challenge in the heat. While luckily it does cool down in the evening, not enough for the house to cool well. We have just one bedroom with an air conditioner in our place, and we put it in my parents’ room where they and Kaden sleep. It didn’t seem worth it to spend $400 US Dollars to buy another one when we are here for so short of time. Carson doesn’t seem to mind the heat of our bedroom.  We bought a small oscillating fan for $40 US Dollars. Couldn’t find any box fans at all. And can’t believe the cost of fans in general!

But the oscillating fan broke with 2 weeks left here. I can’t take the heat anymore,  so I have started to sleep on the outside patio on our roof. The first two nights I accumulated 11 mosquito bites on my face, so it was time to get some mosquito netting and make my bedroom a permanent fixture. Very hard to find, mosquito netting. It’s not used much anymore here. But I finally found some for the hefty price of $20 US dollars. I’m just amazed at how much these things cost here!

I just got everything settled tonight in my open air bedroom. And the skies opened up. Our first rain in four months!  The monsoons won’t arrive until June, so hopefully this was a fluke, and I can return to my outdoor sleeping plan tonight.  I have enjoyed the majesty of taking deep breaths in the fresh air and looking up at the stars as I fall asleep.

Easter in India

Standard

We celebrated Easter morning at a Muslim mosque and mausoleum–the Taj Mahal! Many more pics of this trip will be shared in future blogs.

We got an e-mail from Daddy while in Agra  that the Easter Bunny had arrived in State College even in our absence and brought much loved treats that cannot be found in India–Peeps, Jelly Belly beans, Bean Boozled beans (is it peach flavored or vomit flavored? You won’t know until you try. Oh what fun for a 7 and 10 year old!).

Many thanks to the Sheehan family who so thoughtfully offered to have Pat deliver our Easter Baskets during his business trip to Bangalore this week!  What a treat! Carson even received a much wished for Mark Henry wrestler doll and Kaden got a Tamagatchi, which she loves! The kids found the baskets waiting for them when we returned from our trip up north! During our travels, the kids kept studying the picture below to see what delights awaited them!

But BEFORE all that good news, last week the kids were wondering if we’d have Easter at all.

Christianity comprises only 2.3% of India’s population. Albeit that is still 24 million people. Most Christians are Catholic, and are located south in Kerala, as well as the Konkan Coast and pockets of the North East. Still, Bangalore has a big Basilica and many other churches scattered throughout town. My friend Kathryn even noted that the church near her house changes Mary’s sari and Baby Jesus’s sleeping clothes every week. They are a well-dressed family!

Despite all of that, we had great trouble finding Easter Candy. Because of this concern, we told the kids  that the Easter Bunny doesn’t come to Bangalore.This warning was important to explain since the expected treats of Easter in our family–Peeps and Jelly Beans don’t seem to exist in India (my kids are not big chocolate fans–especially Kaden). Easter is not Easter without marshmallow chicks!

After much searching and finding NOTHING, we also found one fancy hotel–the Lalit Ashok–that had chocolate Easter Bunnies and eggs. Plus hot cross buns and Easter breads, although we didn’t get those! Although we have learned that in the hot Bangalore summer time, all chocolate must be kept inside the refrigerator or it is a puddly mess–even inside the house! Temperatures these days average about 95 degrees and we don’t have air condition but in one bedroom.

 

Still, since Easter didn’t feel like Easter without  some baskets, Mom and I surprised the kids with Easter, Bangalore style. So on Good Friday morning ,the morning before we left for our trip, the kids awoke to treats that Mom and I had found around town.

The goodies included an Easter Egg dying kit that I had saved from Easter last year, gold coins and jelly candies for the grocery store, a blue Hanuman Statue, an Indian purse for Kaden, Ganesh coin banks, and little jellies and candies that we found at various stores.

So Good Friday morning we set about dying eggs in earnest! Easter isn’t Easter without some spirited egg dying, and at least one pot of color being spilled across the table!

    

So in the end, not being home, the kids got two sets of Easter baskets instead of one this year!

Food, books, dancing, swimming, riding a bus–Indian style

Standard

With the kids only in school for one more week, it was time to tackle some of the restaurants that might not be viewed as so much fun to them. One experience that I wanted to try was a traditional thali lunch. With circular plates lined with a banana leaf, the veg thali lunch here at Bheema’s Restaurant on Church Street was standard lunch fare for the tables of workers that filled the restaurant. With mounds of rice and dal and papadam as the main staple, I was also presented with little bowls of yogurt, spicy sambar soup, a little desert and pudding. I realized that at my office, we basically have a thali lunch everyday, since that’s just what they serve–rice, a bread, a sambar, curd, cukes and tomatoes and then two or three veggie dishes. But the thali is special because of all of the cute little bowls and the banana leaf presentation.

  

Plus a guy would come around with buckets of food–beet root, more dal, chutney. The food was very spicy. The meal wasn’t over the top amazing, but quite satisfying and a fun experience.

After the meal, we braved the crazy sidewalks, some of which were as high as my shin, to get to an incredible used bookstore. Three floors of every book imaginable for no more than a few dollars. Not that we need anymore weight in our suitcases, but I got some paperbacks of the hottest Indian writer right now, Chetan Bhagat. Plus we found some of Kaden’s favorite Nancy Drew graphic novels.

On the way into town, here was a bus of workers on the highway. This bus was moving. No room inside, so people hung to the outside. Wild.

Here, Kaden is swimming with her new neighbor and friend, Diya. Sometimes in India I feel like I have stepped into the 1920s. And her family is modern–the girls actually have swimming suits. When dry, the suit dries out to be baggy shorts. And swim caps–de rigeur.

Neighbors Diya and Ecta, in their standard matching outfits, enjoy Just Dance on the Wii with our kiddos. The Bollywood song is now a huge favorite in our house!

Technologically challenged…

Standard

Since coming to India, I have had my technological struggles. We  had initial struggles to gain internet access and satisificed with a weak wireless connection that only works in the living room and only really works for email and browsing. Downloading a movie takes about 24 hours–if the system does not stop working temporarily or the power goes out. Yet, this wireless system is the only way to load information onto ipads and itouches–the devices that keep the kids happy during the hour long rides through traffic that we experience regulalry, let alone travel to other cities.

When not at my office (a half hour drive away) I use a data stick that is much like dial up access. Sometimes it is kind of fast, sometimes it is painfully slow. My last Skype session for work, I had to type in rather than talk since my voice was delayed by about 15 seconds.  Streaming video of any kind just does not work at all.

To watch movies on the TV, Todd ordered a DVD player off of Ebay that works with Indian electrical currents and plays any DVD (not just DVDS from the US but also the UK  and India–not all DVDs are alike).

When Todd, my technology guru, left India, all systems were working well. And Todd even got another DVD player from the US working as well.  In the past week, all devices have failed on me.

– The wireless tower in the area has not been working for a week–no ipad or itouch devices. Still waiting for the tower to be fixed. could take another week or two. (We are only here for four more weeks).

-The ipad itself froze and no longer showed videos for several days (until Todd walked me through how to miraculously fix it with a strategy that was not on any internet help board–I had already tried all of those trying to be independent!)

-The DVD players? broken. Both of them. The one just started manically opening and closing after power outages. The one from plays as a speed slower than it should so that the picture and audio skips.

-My computer? Well, the data stick keeps running out of $ because I have to use it as a sole source of internet. That was doable, until the laptop case cracked. The screen piece is only connected to the keyboard piece by one frail wire now. I have to prop up the sad, wobbly screen with a pillow to use it, even now as I type.

I am trying to be a trooper about this unfortunate set of events. It is encouraging me to read more books, that’s for sure. Screen time is certainly limited. I am ready to return home to the land of 3g. And to my technology guru who is in charge of solving these problems!