Archive for August, 2011


In a world away

There are many differences that I have discovered that have struck me.  Many of them are because it is India.  Some of them are because it is such a huge city.  Below is the beginning of the list (in no particular order).  Most of them don’t bother me, I just find it fascinating.  I’m sure that many more things will get added to it as time goes on and I discover more of the city and country.

Toilet Paper:  I had heard the whole “don’t eat with your left hand because it is unclean” thing, but it had never made much sense to me.  I didn’t understand why either hand should have an issue with toilet paper.  But here, many people are horrified by the concept of toilet paper.  What this means is that when I go to places who don’t expect as many foreign travelers, there is sometimes not toilet paper – or even somewhere to hang it.  Instead, there is a sprayer (I have been told that sometimes you only have a bucket of water, but have been lucky enough not to experience that yet).  When you are done, you just spray yourself off with water.  Sadly, this does nothing about the fact that you are still dripping.

Also, many places just have pit toilets.  At the airport, we suddenly realized that the line was because people didn’t want to use the pit toilets.  After so many years in the woods I was perfectly happy squatting to jump the line.

Pigeons:  I don’t think I’ve ever lived somewhere with so many pigeons.  I notice them mostly when I’m at home.  They like to hang out in the weird not quite outside places like overhangs – and the piping for the bathrooms.  The first morning I turned off the AC when I got up and had a moment of thinking that it sounded funny as it shut off until I realized that no, it just had pigeons sitting on top.

Service:  Labor here is amazingly inexpensive because there are so many people.  Because of this, the service industry is huge.  What this actually means is that there are a bazillion people working everywhere you go.  When you got to a restaurant, there are a ton of waiters hovering for any possible need you have.  When your food comes, they serve it onto your plates and as soon as you finish anything, they are ready to put more on your plate is there is more left.  We even had one experience where Betsy put her hand over her plate to signify she didn’t want rice (while also saying so) and the waiter just wove his hand around hers to dump it on the plate anyway.  This happens in stores too.  It makes me almost feel like I can’t just look at things – I have to have a plan.  And we get in trouble for saying thank you.  All three of us who just arrived are saying thank you constantly – people are serving us and opening doors etc. – the Indian staff members tell us we aren’t supposed to.

We also have a driver which is a bit surreal.  Anytime we need to go anywhere we just call Manoj (he works 12 hrs/day, 6 days a week).  He brings the car up to the front of our building, drives us to where we want to go, drops us off, and disappears until we call him again and he wisks us away from curb onto our next adventures.  It sometimes makes it feel like we are seeing the city from a fishbowl – it all happens outside the glass.

Another form of service is our house cleaners.  A cleaning service is part of the flats that they rented for us.  So I leave for the day and when I come back my apartment has been cleaned.  Different things get done different days – everyday my bed gets made (whether I do it or not) but somedays my sheets and towels get changed.  I can’t always figure out the rhyme or reason.  One day the magic toilet paper fairy put more toilet paper but another day it was out and they didn’t.  I am really hoping that they bring me more water today. We all have little water cooler type things in our kitchen with drinking water, but the jug on mine is empty and I don’t have the foggiest idea how to get more.  Overall, I don’t think I like having it.  They change things – most of  which aren’t a big deal, but it just feels strange to come home and they have closed all my blinds and changed the settings on my fans and turned them off.  I am very western in that I would rather make my own bed (or not) and sweep my own floors but have my space be mine.

Traffic:  I knew that roads and traffic was going to be crazy, but it adds another level to see it.  I have decided that the only real rule of driving here is – put your vehicle where you want it to go and don’t hit anyone.  Most of the big roads are split with dividers (or medians) which I think is mostly so that cars stay on the correct sides of the roads.  They sometimes put lines on the roads but noone pays attention to them – if you can put part of your vehicle in that space and it will get you closer to where you need to go, do it  There are stop lights, but the stopping group definitely is well into the intersection, and if noone is coming right t that second then they go anyway.  And last night on our way home, there wasn’t even stopping – and barely slowing- for the red lights.  Basically you have to push your vehicle enough in the way where others are forced to stop so that you can make the turn (or u-turn) you need to make.  Cars often turn from not outside lanes and overall it just feels like chaos.  Accidents are not uncommon (we have already been in our first), but mostly both drivers get out and yell at each other and then get back into the cars and go their separate ways.  Even when the police see, they mostly tell the drivers to get back in their cars and keep going.  I get laughed at for wearing my seatbelt.  It is probably not necessary at all since it is very rare to get up to speeds that would cause anything beyond a dented fender. Even on toll roads – which are much less crowded – the speed limit is 50km/h (35ish mph) though everyone goes faster. Overall, I definitely do a lot of backseat driving.  I seem to be far more concerned than the others in the car about the fact that it often feels like we are about to crash.

To go along with traffic is honking.  Honking is the white noise of the city because it is constant in a variety of different tones, from the high pitched rickshaws to the duck sounding busses.  But honking isn’t an aggression thing – it is just part of driving.  It is the constant way of saying I’m here, or move over, or coming through, or can we please be moving.  In heavy traffic it seems almost like something to do while you are stuck.  Most of the big trucks and things even say Horn Ok Please on the back.

Stone Floors:  All the flats and museums and malls and places that I have been have stone floors.  A lot of it is marble – in big flat slabs.  It has taken me a while to get used to – I don’t associate it with comfortable rooms.  When I think of stone floors, I think of grand entryways or museums – not my living room.  I can think of 2 reasons why it is so common.  First would be temperature.  Stone is generally nice and cool and in a place that is 70-90 degrees all year, that is a good thing.  The main reason I think is mold.  Stone would be far less likely to mold.  I am hoping that it is just monsoon season, but mold seems to be a huge issue here.  Most of the cupboards smell of it and I even had to wash it off of some of the dishes.

Tourist Attraction:  I am a tourist attraction.  It seems like being white (and female?) seems to make me a tourist attraction.  We went on a sight seeing day and went to many of the big attractions in the city and twice did Ellie and I have strangers want to have their pictures taken with us.  I even had a small child thrust into my arms for a photo – even though it made him scream.

I’m sure I have forgotten some, but that is a list to begin with.  Overall, it isn’t as different as I expected – though I think a lot of that is the fact the that it is a pretty international city.  It it is sometimes hard for it to feel different when I can go next door to the mall and buy a snickers bar or the american bestseller.

Rain!

It has been raining!

I knew that I was showing up during the tail end of monsoons, but I also knew that most of the rain happens in July – not August. The first couple of days was really mellow. It would drizzle a lot, and have points of no rain and points of downpour throughout the day. But moving from Seattle, it just seemed like rain – with being in the car so much, I wasn’t even putting on my rain coat.

And then Saturday happened. The rains started Friday afternoon, and it downpoured until Monday. It rained hard and constantly for days. I would have thought that since it happens for months out of every year, that things would be built to deal with it, but they really aren’t. Pretty quickly roads started flooding. What amazed me, is that until the flooding really became bad, it didn’t stop the crazy traffic. It just made everything take twice as long (which is saying something when it normally takes almost an hour and a half to get to the south end of the city) The road would be at least ankle deep in water – it would be spilling onto the sidewalks from the road, but the cars are still driving through it. It wasn’t until it got worse than that, that cars started to just have to stop in the water. I guess it got bad enough in parts of the city to completely stop both buses and the trains.

The other slightly weird thing has to do with food and monsoon. Overall, they are very protective of what we eat. Most of the places we have been eating aren’t really much less expensive than most of the eating out I do in the states – though often they are slightly nicer places. They want us to introduce our stomachs to more of the lower end food and bacteria slowly. But one of the main contingencies they make is that we really shouldn’t eat street food or anything of the sort until after the monsoon is over. I am fascinated that monsoon has so much affect on the food.

Yesterday and today have been back to normal – a range from not raining to downpour, but completely dealwithable. It should be interesting to see how the rest of monsoon season plays out.

Contact Info

Just in case anyone feels an overwhelming urge to contact me:

email: cerafaery@gmail.com

skype: cerafaery

phone: +91 961 962 1538  (for those who want a ridiculous phone bill)

address:

‘5’ F Block, Opp. Govt. Colony
Bandra Kurla Complex
Mumbai- 400051, India

Here!

I have arrived.

I had a long, but uneventful day of travel.  I slept to Newark – got to enjoy the Newark airport for 5 hours, and then spent 15 hrs on a plane.  I watched at least 7 movies and knit a 1/3 of a pair of socks.

Getting through immigration and customs was ridiculously simple.  They mostly looked at our paperwork and let us move on.  Customs we just got waved through and didn’t need to stop at all.

When we finally made it out , we walked out into this large square that has hip level barracades all around it.  Before Ellie (another teacher) and I even made it all the way out, we saw Betsy waving excitedly.  She (the principal) and Aditya (the CFO) were there with our driver – Monoj –  to pick us up.  The presented us with beautiful flower garlands that hung almost to our knees.  It was so nice to have a familiar face and a warm greeting.  It made the whole process so much easier.

We got back to our new apartments and got a chance to dump our stuff, hook up the internet (with as much regularity as it gets) and crash for the evening.  It is fun because all three teachers who are here so far are in the same complex – though Ellie is a couple of buildings away.  Even Aditya and is family live in the complex.