Category: daily life


Tonight I went to see the Muppet movie. Being an icon of my childhood, how could I resist. It was just as wonderful as I had hoped and had a stupid grin on my face for most of the movie.

It is the second movie I have seen in the theater since I have been here but was far superior in both movie quality and experience quality. Because it was held in one of the fancier screens at the theater, I had the option of a normal seat (most of the auditorium) or a recliner. I opted for recliner – really was there another choice. There were only about 3 rows of recliners at the back. I got to watch the movie from the comfort of lying down with my feet up – I could even have gotten a blanket if I had thought about it. It took me a bit to figure out how to work it (silly electronic chair) but was amazingly comfortable the whole movie.

Other differences:

They play the national anthem before every movie. They request – and everyone does – that you stand while they show a film of people singing it and many people sing along.

Food service. Not only were there a variety of different food options, at least in the fancy section there were waiters. You could have your food delivered if it was being made, or you could place an order from your seat.

Intermission. All movies have them. About half way through the movie they just stop it. Often the stop isn’t even well timed – in the middle of the scene or something. There is a 10-15 min break. They play commercials, people get up to use the bathroom or get food. The waiters come through to take orders. And then they finish the movie.

I haven’t experienced it too much, but movie watching culture is different here too. There was no announcement to turn off your cellphones. Multiple people were texting throughout the movie – the light of which i found distracting. And apparently talking is pretty common though I’ve been lucky.

It is funny how something that is as simple as sitting in front of a screen can be different.


Wonders of the trains

Getting around Mumbai is an adventures. Traffic is always a bit crazy and so getting anywhere takes forever. One of the few saving graces is the train. The train is it’s own form of crazy, but is also amazing.


You walk into a packed train station and try to figure out where to punch your tickets (assuming you have bought a book) or stand in the huge line to buy a ticket. Once your ticket(s) is punched, you look at the boards as they flip between Hindi and English to try to figure out where the train you want is going to show up. You have to pay attention to both direction (or line if you are at one of the bigger stations) as well as speed. There are both fast – that only stop at major stations – and slow trains – that stop at every station.


Once you figure out where you are going, you take the catwalk over to the correct platform. The platforms are generally packed with waiting people. The train compartments are separated between mens and womens, and first and second class, but it is hard to figure out where to stand on the platform to be near the correct car when it shows up. Women can ride in the men’s compartment with a man they are traveling with, but men don’t really travel in the women’s compartments.


The trains all have open doors and are generally packed to the gills. As the train pulls into the station, people (especially men) start jumping off even before it comes to a complete stop. Once the train finally stops, the rest of the people who are ready to get off the train burst out of the doors into the pile of waiting people. As soon as people finish getting off, the crowd surges on to fill every available space. Often people are running to jump on as the train pulls out with outstretched hands reaching to help them aboard.


The cars are often (though not always packed). People fill every available space. There are benches, which people fill to the point of perching. The area between the benches fills with as many people as necessary. The entire ceiling is filled with hanging handles. I haven’t yet noticed much difference between first and second class other than that first class tends to be a bit less crowded and the hand holds seem to be a bit shorter (which I don’t like because I hit my head). When the train is really crowded, there is a repeating discussion of what station you need to get off so that the compartment can stack itself in order of departure. Finally at your station it is your turn to get birthed and on you way.


There are definitely problems that come with the trains. Many of the more protective of our Indian staff members were very nervous of the fact we wanted to ride the trains at all. You have to be careful (though everyone has seemed more than helpful) to not get pushed off at the wrong station. Also, trains are no good at all if you have a personal space bubble since they often don’t exist on the train. The main problem are the many deaths that happen on the train. These are generally due to people crossing/walking on the tracks, or people who are hanging too far out of the doors when a particularly close post comes by or by trying to ride on top of the train.


Overall, the benefits greatly out way the concerns. It is soooo much faster than any other way of getting around the city. It can easily cut the commute time in half or more and that is in comparison to traffic that is moving. It is cheap. The most expensive trip I have taken so far was to downtown and my ticket each way cost Rs 8 (they are priced by distance) which is about 16 cents /way– you can’t get much cheaper than that. Now if I rode first class it is significantly more, but still probably only a little over a dollar.


But mostly it is often just an amazing experience to be on the train. Sometimes the women are singing in Hindi. Even though I have no idea what they are singing the beautiful songs create an experience amazing and unique. As you stand in a pack of women riding the lurch of the train feeling all the pressing bodies rock and shift almost like a rolling ocean wave, it is such a feeling of oneness and community that I find so rarely in a world where I normally get into a hired car to get driven to work.

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.