Category Archives: Expat

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

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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.

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Best of… Street scenes

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Everything in India feels so public–people living their lives right out in the open, due to the climate, poverty, culture and more. Fascinating to see. These photos are some of my favorite street scenes that we captured during our trip.


Connections made in Bangalore

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It has been four months of memorable moments in Bangalore!

wearing uniforms to school and making friends from around the world at the Canadian International School

sharing a passion for cricket with Dada

spending time with old friends

receiving temple blessings at Nandi the Bull and elsewhere

sliding down the boulders on a plastic bottle

yummy buffet lunches at hotels

Uncle K’s walk into the wall at the Lalit Ashok hotel!

ice cream–lots of ice cream!

playing Holi!

 

visiting schools of all shapes and sizes

Being sought after for photographs like we were movie stars. And meeting kiddos from all around Bangalore in the process.

seeing student voice in action!

wild monkeys!

Mojitos and milkshakes at the Taj after a nightmare autorickshaw ride!

raising a glass with new friends!

Bollywood dancing

building international relationships in my professional life!

yogaaaaahhhhh!!!!

shopping for treasures

neighborhood friends

One country, seven states, ten cities…..

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Here are some of our most memorable moments while travelling  in India!

spotting the leopard on the Kabini Safari

safari trip of a lifetime at Kabini! Sloth bears, elephants, leopards, otters, crocodiles, peacocks, oh my!

The lion blocking the way of our safari bus in Bannerghatta National Park

parasailing in Goa

houseboatig in Kerala

elephant encounters in Dubare

Young monks at Bylakuppe

palaces, temples, markets…and chess in Mysore

Kochi sunsets

Mumbai adventures with Kim and Leti–especially eating seafood!

Easter morning at the Taj Mahal

Camel riding at Chokho Dhani, Jaipur

snake charmers in Jaipur!

Elephant riding at the Amber Fort

Fun meals in exotic locales! Mango tree, Hampi

Elephant blessings in Hampi

Sitting amongst ancient history, Hampi

Saying goodbye…

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On May 1 at 2 in the morning, our Lufthansa plane lifts off from Bangalore and we head towards home. We have a layover in Frankfurt where we are getting off the plane and heading to Paris for a few days before we return home at the end of the week. That little stopover seemed a lot more logical almost a year ago when we booked the tickets. We’re now realizing we’ll have to pay double baggage fees plus storage in Frankfurt for that choice. But, hopefully Paris will be worth it!

The blogs will continue throughout the week, as I still have more to share about our Bangalore experiences! And I will share our Paris adventures when I can find wi-fi in Europe. It HAS to be faster than what I have here :).

Our last days in Bangalore were spent at home, packing, packing, packing. And spending time with neighborhood friends. When putting together a list of what we will miss most about Bangalore, the kiddos and I unanimously agreed that we would miss our new friends the most.

I will miss my yoga mommies and Astha, our fierce but friendly yoga teacher!

      she’s doing the lion pose here!

   

After our last yoga class we had a delicious lunch at Jashn!

    

Kaden had her school friends over for one final fling.That’s Sophie from Signapore, Marian from NJ, Kaden, Monisa from Massachusetts, Caroline from Denmark, and Kaya from Virginia (Ester from Denmark came a little a late).

      

Dear Mr. Yadov, the head security guard of Almond Tree, stopped by and happily joined in the festivities. We will miss his cheerful greeting, said all in a jumble, “How are you fine thank you!!”

     

At one point, Yadov officiated the swimming races. “One! Two! Three!” He shouted and laughed out loud. Such a fun spirit!

We also bid farewell to the sweet teenagers who did our ironing every Sunday–for the equivalent of 16 cents per item. They both have completed school through 9th grade but their father said they must now work instead of going on for further schooling.

Even more than school friends, the kiddos will miss their neighborhood evening fun–especially their nightly Cops and Robbers games in the courtyard!  In this picture, below, all had  been invited to the clubhouse area for Diya and Ecta’s party.

I love the way this neighborhood is a community. The kids all spill out into the courtyard and play together. Whoever is out, that’s who plays. No cliques or “so and so can’t play right now because she has a friend over….”  Every one plays together. If you have company, they join in the mix. That’s the way it is here. The way it was when I was a kid. I wish it was this way  back home.

The whole neighborhood was also invited to the latest birthday party, which happened in the courtyard/swimming pool area. And all of the moms pitched in. One ran the games, the other manned the music. Everyone worked together.

I also found it fascinating how cultural traditions are the same/different. It seems fairly universal at the parties that we have attended for the birthday song to be sung in English but with clapping throughout the song. At this party, after the singing, the girls fed cake into the mouths of their friends, like Americans do for weddings. I checked with the other neighborhood kiddos and they confirmed that’s a normal custom. Kaden was so glad we don’t do that since she rarely likes the cakes at parties!

    

Below, who wouldn’t want sweet Angel to join in the fun! She is getting so big

Below–cops and robbers being played in earnest!

  

On the final night we had pizza for all the kiddos in the neighborhood (pizza in the background, intense trading of WWE wrestling cards in the foreground!

On our last day we had a final meal at the Movenpick Hotel’s yummy buffet, including a final round of fresh lime soda–sweet!

    


Record keeping

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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!

Final shopping marathon on Commercial Street and beyond.

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Mom and I set out to finish our shopping in what turned out to be a marathon day. We were out there so long that driving into town I texted good night to Todd. By the time we returned home, he had slept through the night, gotten showered, and had gone into work.

First stop: Safina Plaza for some fabrics and pillow covers.

Second stop: Dispensary Road, to our tried and trusted cranky lady to get some  ultra soft linens with elephants!

Time then for me to hit Commercial Street and stock up on some bangles.

While I am still not a professional bargainer like some of my friends, I did succeed with a new technique. I talked one guy down to his lowest price, then walked across the street and said to the next guy, “That guy will give me xxx rupees, what will you give?  (but I really said less than what the first said).” Was the most effortless bargaining of the day.

         

After a brief respite at KFC in the air conditioning and stop in Fab India, we discovered this lovely gem of a store called Kasmir House. Actually it is three shops–two brothers and a son. Each shop is more like a closet. But great prices and amazing treasures. We were bad. Very bad in this store. So many things to buy.

Then down the road to my favorite fixed price man. His prices are so reasonable and he is so cute. And he puts bubble wrap on everything. And I mean everything.

He even sent us down the alleyway to find even more bubble wrap to bring home for packing up!  That was a lot of bubble wrap mom was viewing!

On the way home, we stopped at Bamburi’s to get the best beef in town and some darned good looking eggs. Plus Swensen’s for ice cream, Reliance for veggies, and then to a tailors. For $4, I got three shirts altered.

Two days later, Kaden and I had our own final celebration–getting a little India bling on our toes!

And on a commercial note, I finally figured out why my cell phone plays this Kannada song. For four months, it has been playing the same song. I have no idea what song because I never call myself. But at this point my mom can sing it by heart even though none of us know what it says. Turns out the messages I have been getting for my HT service weren’t related to texting as I thought. Instead it was the monthly renewal of my Happy Tunes service! Rs 30 a month!

And on a second random note on commercialization in India, I am completely amused by the Disney channel in India. They have turned all of the popular Disney Tween shows into Hindi shows here in India. The other night Kaden was watching “Best of Luck, Nikki” in Hindi with no subtitles, and she was able not only to tell me exactly what had happened so far, but started eerily predicting what would happen next on the screen. Turns out the show is an exact knockoff of the show “Good Luck, Charlie.” Kaden knows the show so well that she was able to share with me that the exact storyline was repeated on this Indian show. So exact that Kaden would say things like, “Now a girl is going to come around the  corner. Next a stuffed dinosaur will fall out of the air.” It’s not the only show that has been adapted to a Hindi format. “Suite Life with Zack and Cody” is “Suite Life of Karan and Kabir.”  Of course, the sociologist in me is fascinated to learn what they changed on these shows. With the attempt to make such a parallel formula–what was perceived as not funny or not appropriate for Indian audiences?