Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bargaining on Commercial Street

Had some fun bargaining down on Commercial Street today. OK, I'm sure I got ripped off. I kind of screwed up on the exchange rate. $1Can=40Rp. I paid 800Rp for an Indian wall hanging for Alanna's room but messed up thinking I was getting a good price at $10. Of course it was really $20. Easy math but in the midst of bargaining I wasn't thinking. Still, he was asking 1,600Rp so for me 800Rp seemed a good price. For him, probably a fortune.

Commercial Street is narrow with many, many little shops selling clothing (Indian and Western), handicrafts, carpets, jewellery and all sorts of interesting things. It's a bustling street, littered with billboards on the tops of buildings and hawkers on the sidewalks selling everything from books to popcorn to maps of India.

The woman selling maps of India followed us for quite some time trying to get me to buy one. I had no desire to buy one but I offered her 10Rp (25cents) - she called me cheap. I laughed. She said 400Rp. I said 10Rp. She came down to 100Rp, I went up to 20Rp. And that was it, she finally left us alone.

The original reason for going to Commercial Street was to get the children measured for their school uniforms at Neha Uniforms. Addresses can be a little confusing:

Neha Uniforms,
#323, 1st Floor, Narayana Pillai Street,
Opp. City Centre, 3rd Cross,
Commercial Street,

Turned out to be on Narayana Pillai Street which is the "3rd cross street" to Commercial Street. And the 1st Floor is one up from the ground floor. In this case we saw the sign for Neha Uniforms from the street but had to follow a narrow path between the buildings to the back where there were a number of tailor shops, up two flights of garbage strewn stairs to - voila! - the shop we were looking for.

This shop, no more than 300 sq. ft, housed the reception area where the children were measured within minutes, six tailors busily sewing uniform after uniform and three people sitting on the floor packing them all up. Quite the little place, I hope they are paid well (probably not), but at least it wasn't a sweat shop. The sewing machines were basic but in good condition and each sewer had a fan blasting in their faces and looked relatively well dressed.

We spent close to two hours on Commercial Street and covered merely half of it, not to mention all the side streets that await our next visit. Bartering is fun when you have time for it. Which is why for the big furniture items we will stick to the fixed price stores. But for accessories - the things we don't need right away - it's fun to chat with the people in the shops, have every bedcover or wall hanging strewn over the floor for viewing, and leave (with or without goods) having enjoyed each others company.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Week in India

It's hard to believe we've been here just over one week. Have we found chaos or serenity in our new world? Both of course - it is India, after all! The chaos is mostly in the form of traffic. The serenity comes in many forms: the culture, the colors, the tastes and even a soothing spa.
Our mornings start off relaxing. Breakfast is included, so we start each day with a nice big plate of fresh fruit - papaya, mango, banana - and usually an Indian breakfast of dosa's or potato paratha and sometime omeletes. Right after breakfast the kids and I play tennis or badminton for an hour. We are all improving.
On Monday we all had to go to the FRO office to apply for Residential Permits. It was a typical drab government office requiring you to line up to show ID, get something signed and then go to another office and do the same thing over and over. Luckily we had someone from Michael's office come with us who stood in line and got all the paperwork done for us. He told us where to sign and where to go next. Made things alot easier.
Wed. Michael went back to the FRO office to pick up the permits. He got there at noon, only to find out that they were closed for lunch until 2:30. When he got home I noticed that his permit is good for as long as our visas (April 2010), but mine and the kids are only good til Dec. 2009. We'll have to get someone to look into it.
The kids and I went out looking for furniture on Tuesday. Four places were recommended all in different areas of the city. Valu, our driver is pretty fast and knows all the back roads. He is able to skirt around the heavy traffic at times which can be good. But on Tues. he seemed to take the bumpiest, little windy roads and the kids and I ended up quite nauseated and frazzled.
Not much luck with the furniture. I was really excited to decorate an entire house with a bit of Indian flare but most of the furniture is "big box store stuff" at western prices. First we went to At Home which has four floors of furniture, kitchenware etc. Next we went to Modern World for electronics where I did purchase some small appliances at the same price as in Canada.
Five minutes after leaving Modern World I got a phone call that I had left my receipt there, so I asked Valu to go back. We turned around but after about ten minutes I asked if we were going back and he said we would go to the next furniture store first and then go back. By this time I'd given both kids some gravol and was feeling nauseated myself. He took narrow, bumpy streets at a fast pace and seemed to take forever to get there.
Lifestyle International is four stories with the first three being clothing and cosmetics. Lots of namebrands and trendy items. The furniture was cheaper in quality and price. Nothing really caught my eye. Relaxed in the food court until we felt better and then off again.
We stopped by the electronics store to get the receipt at 3:30 and the store was closed. Then we were off to the back roads, dodging cows and tuk tuks again. Glad to be home after that busy day.
As far as food goes, breakfast is included as I mentioned and then we make grilled cheese or go out for lunch. Food is so cheap in restaurants that I don't think we would ever make Indian food at home ourselves. We had a delicious meal across the street at a little restaurant for only $6 for the four of us. There is a Coffee Day chain that has good coffee, samosas, desserts, and milkshakes all at reasonable prices.
Last night I made "tacos" with fresh roti. I guess it was more like a wrap. But when I think about the time it took to go to the store, buy everything, wash the vegetables in filtered water, dry them well, make dinner and then clean up - it's not really worth it considering we can eat a whole meal for $6 across the street. The worst is we don't have a dishwasher and we have to clean up right away (don't want to attract bugs). The fridges are small so there isn't much room for groceries or leftovers. And there is no oven (common not to have one) so cooking is limited to stove top or microwave.
Another great find on one of the side streets across from our apartment was a Balinese Spa - "Ahvataras, The Spa." We found it on Father's Day. From the outside it looked like any other run down building but when we went up to the third floor past statues of Ganesh with offerings of flower petals and garlands we found a little oasis. Incense and soothing gamelan music immediately calmed our senses and we knew we didn't want to leave.
Since it was Father's Day, Michael got a treat with a Balinese head and shoulder massage with all sorts of nice creams and oils. Craig decided he should get a hair cut and so the two of them enjoyed their 45 minutes of relaxation while Alanna and I watched and sipped green tea.
Turns out the owner is from Singapore and moved here a year ago to open the spa. The decor and treatments are Balinese but the staff is Indian. Excellent people. The total bill? $7 with tip. Don't worry, Alanna and I will plan to get in on the fun tomorrow, my birthday. We are both going for a manicure and pedicure. Cost? No more than $15 each!

Monday, June 22, 2009

What's in the News?

The DNA (Daily News & Analysis) arrives on our doorstep each day. The headlines: "Do Not Fall Sick if You are in Bangalore." Apparently nine key hospitals have been asked to shut down after failing to comply with effluent treatment norms. In other words there is a water pollution problem within these hospitals.

We often have similar headlines in Canada, not for effluent problems, but for overcrowding. Canadian media often reports patients lined up in hospital hallways and long wait times to be admitted or for surgery. But compare it to here in Bangalore where the front page photo shows two patients being treated in one bed! Also reports of used syringes and medical waste littered around the hospital.

Also in the news:

  • More frightening than the health situation was the full page spread of male body builders in speedos, strange poses and scary facial expressions - scared the heck out of me.
  • Cricket is the big sports story with Pakistan beating Sri Lanka in the WorldTwenty20.
  • Activists of the Gay Club launched week-long activities for the Karnataka Queer Habba in Bangalore.
  • Life in Ground Zero of a garbage dump: people living in an area where garbage is dumped, sorted, then trucked off are concerned about the health of their children as monsoon season sets in. Garbage is often left behind and with the wet weather, the dumping ground becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos.
  • Angelina Jolie, Robert Pattinson (Twilight), and other celebrities make the news everyday too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Found Cheese!

We haven't been here long enough to miss anything, but one must look ahead and predict what one will miss the most (food-wise that is). Some of our friends back home actually call us "cheese heads." So, when we noticed that there wasn't any cheese in the grocery store near here, Michael got on it and sourced it out here in Bangalore.

Actually, we found two spots yesterday to buy cheese. One, Sunny's Restaurant in downtown Bangalore, is an upscale place that we went to in March with people that Michael works with. One can get anything from sushi, to lamb chops, to fabulous desserts - in otherwords we really shouldn't be craving anything. In the back they have a small supply of cheese: parmesan, feta, gorgonzola and so on. As well, one can purchase salami, a whole ham, bacon, and fish to take home.

The second place is Spar Supermarket which is large and has an even better selection of cheese, including white cheddar and camembert. Spar also has some nice loaves of bread, a better selection of meat, fruit, vegetables and sauces. One definitely pays for the comforts of home - no price difference or even more expensive for imported cheese, sauces, olive oil etc. One can buy alcohol at Spar, including wine and again it is expensive. Kingfischer beer and Indian wine is reasonable of course.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Getting Settled

Today went well. Had a good sleep and Babu (one of the two guys from yesterday that doesn't speak English), came and made us breakfast. Last night I thought we had decided on omeletes and toast for breakfast. He ended up making a combination of omeletes, toast, Indian dosa's and a huge plate of fresh fruit. We asked for coffee which turned out to be Nescafe with a huge amount of milk and sugar - and he served it to all four of us. Oh well, bound to be some miscommunication. I guess we'll stick with tea until we get a coffee maker. Overall, a very good meal.

Michael went off to work at 8:30 and the kids and I went out to play tennis for an hour. Luckily we have lots of time to practice - we need it. At 11:00 Babu came to clean the apartment and showed me how to work the washing machine. The washing machine is located on a little balcony off the kitchen and there is a rack to hang clothes to dry. When I went out there I realized that Babu has a small room off of this balcony - I think this is where he lives. It has a small bed and there is a small bathroom with a squat toilet. Not sure where he eats though.

At noon the kids and I went to the mall just three buildings away. Quite impressed. The first floor is clothing stores, a bed and bath store, sports store etc. The second floor is a store something like a Walmart (not as big). Bought badminton and table tennis rackets, tea towels. Wanted to get a coffee maker and kettle but quite pricey. $60 for the coffee maker, I think electronics will be the same prices as home, but will look around for a better selection.

The supermarket took up the third floor and had a lot of the basics - lots and lots of spices, flour, fruit and vegetables. The meat was lacking and unappetizing. Lots of bath products - soap, shampoo, creams. Not much in the way of pasta or pasta sauces but managed to find a couple packages and a bottle of plain tomato sauce for dinner. Did not notice any cheese - uh oh!

Back at the apartment there was no big pot to make the pasta so had to have the manager get one for us. Since the sauce was plain we searched high and low for the Italian spice packages that we had brought with us (bought in Italy). Turned out the sauce tasted much like ketchup. Most of the bottles in the store said tomato ketchup so I was carefull not to buy that but turned out to taste like it anyway. The spice mix saved the day and the pasta alone was fine. Will have to make sauce from scratch.

At 6:30pm Michael and Craig went downstairs to play table tennis. The courtyard outside by the pool was full of people - middle class Indians - that live here. They were swimming, chatting, kids were playing tag and riding bikes. Some ladies were having an Indian dance lesson so Alanna and I watched for a while. It was so nice and warm.

Later on we all walked across the street and down some side streets where there are some busy little restaurants (inexpensive), bakeries, and small stalls selling fruit/veggies, shoes, and the best was the "fresh chip" stall. A guy had a huge wok filled with boiling oil. He sliced up a few potatos, threw them in and out came the nicest, warm potato chips. Bought a big bag for 10Rp (25 cents) and ate them all up.

So far we have a good feel for the area and it's nice to be living amongst the Indian people. Lots more to do and explore over the next few days.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

India Arrival

We arrived in Bangalore, India at 11:30am. Got through customs alright, even though two of our checked baggage pieces had big white X's on them when we picked them up. As expected we were stopped by security and asked what was in the bags - electronics? Yes, three laptops, cell phones (didn't divulge how many), and a digital camera. We explained that we would be living here for two years and then told them the name of the company Michael works for. One of the guards quoted the company's slogan and we laughed about good advertising. Then he told us that it would be a long, long two years. We laughed it off and went on our way.

Went outside to pleasant weather, 25 degrees, with a bit of a breeze. About twenty drivers were standing in a row with signs scrawled with the names of people they were picking up. We walked past them all searching for our name but no one was there for us.

We called the driver who was to pick us up to let him know that we had arrived. He showed up shortly thereafter in a new Toyota minivan. It took about 45 min. to drive to our serviced apartment, where we will stay for about a month until our rental house is vacant. Traffic wasn't too bad but someone managed to bump into the side of the van - the first scratch.

Two people were to be at the apartment to meet us and explain how the "serviced" apartment works. Two guys were there and they helped take our bags up to the room. They didn't speak any English. Michael called Partha who was supposed to be in charge of our arrival and getting us settled. He assured us someone was on the way.

We looked around the apartment, which is alright. Three bedrooms and three bathrooms so roomy enough but only two towels, no food, no information for the wireless computer, phone #, where to get money, food etc. We knew that breakfast was included but not sure if we had to buy the food or would they supply it? The guys asked if we wanted "dinner, 7:00pm?" We decided that would be best as we didn't feel like going out and didn't have any food to make anything. We felt like we had been dropped into another planet, and felt totally discombobulated.

By this time it was 2:30pm and still nobody had come to answer our questions, so Michael phoned Partha again. "Yes, Yes, they will be right there, only ten minutes away." Hmm, isn't that what he said 45 min. ago? Eventually they showed up and they did speak English. They showed us around the apartment, explained that the two "boys" cook and clean. They will make breakfast and if we want them to make lunch or dinner it is 250Rp/person ($6) for non veg and 150Rp/person for vegetarian. So we have that option. They showed us the pool, fitness room, games rooms (badminton, squash, table tennis) and tennis courts.

It is unlikely that I will be using the pool here unfortunately, as it is right in the middle of about eight highrises all looking onto the pool. And this is an Indian environment, not expat. Not even sure if Marquisa will be able to go swimming in a one-piece bathing suit as probably too revealing.

We walked out to the street and they pointed out two banks. Three buildings down is a mall with a supermarket. Looks like an interesting area to walk around with lots of little shops and small side streets to walk around.

Back at the apartment we decided to eat right away and all of a sudden the "boys" were busy in the kitchen and the two apartment managers continued to answer our questions and then left us to sort out our luggage. Surprisingly the kids chose their bedrooms amicably and started to organize their own things.

Soon a delicious chicken curry with fresh roti was on the table. We realized that we forgot to ask for rice but the curry and roti were great on their own. In fact through the whole meal the guys continued to make roti, bringing it out fresh, one piece at a time. Turned out to be a great meal, nicely spiced.

We've got the wireless working and everyone has checked their emails - very important of course. Tomorrow will be interesting. We asked for breakfast at 8:00am as Michael plans to go to work. The kids and I will have lots of time to explore the area and do a bit of grocery shopping. We've already starting a list of things we must buy such as a coffee maker, teapot, kettle and bedside lamps. Sometimes it's the little things that are important.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Adventure Begins

I'm looking out over Victoria Station in London, the sound of the trains rattling over the tracks, loud and clear from our cramped hotel room. We were going to switch rooms because of the noise but now I like it - it's so London.

Our flight from Vancouver went well. Straight into a traditional black cab and zipped down to our hotel...well, almost. There is work being done right outside our hotel, so the cab driver had to let us off a block away, with our five enormous duffel bags, two roller bags and two backpacks. We found a grocery cart nearby and loaded the bags onto it, making two trips to the hotel. As Alanna said, we looked like a homeless family walking the streets of London with our belongings.

Checked in and decided to sleep for a few hours. Forced ourselves to get up in the late afternoon and went out for a bite to eat and to start sightseeing. Started by walking ten minutes to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately the guards are posted behind the ornate gates now, right by the Palace. No opportunity to take photos with them or torment them by trying to make them laugh.

From there took a nice walk through St. James Park to the Parliament area and Big Ben. Westminster Abbey is just a block from there. Lied on the grass and took it all in. I love the history and tried to give Alanna and Craig a brief history lesson so they could appreciate it, even in their jetlagged state.

The Abbey was closed when we got there, but at 6:30pm a church service started and we decided to go to it. It was quite lovely to be there for the service and not just as a tourist, although one couldn't help but stare at the incredible stained glass, the high arches and the statues. Hopefully we will go back to explore some more of the Abbey before we leave.

Walked back to our area via Victoria Street and found that we are close to where some of the shows are playing. Decided to book tickets to Billy Elliot for tomorrow night.

I'm glad that we decided to stay in London for a couple of nights. Not just for the sights and to rest, but because it still hasn't sunk in that we are moving to India. I feel like we are travelling, not on vacation, certainly not moving for two years!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Time Well Spent With Family

The weekend is over, the stress about having to entertain and take time out of our busy schedule to go to the wedding was all for naught. In fact having family here and going to the wedding was the best destresser. What was I thinking? Worrying about entertaining my parents and brother? My parents are the kind of people that jump right in and say, "What can I do?" By the time the first day was over they had helped me pack, washed windows, and made lemon meringue pie!

The wedding was a great way to see everyone from my side of the family together, dancing and enjoying themselves. And my brother is easy to have as a guest - pizza and beer and chatting in the back yard. Time well spent!

We sold both vehicles this weekend so have to rent a car for the week. Good to get that out of the way and get some cash. Moving and storage costs will start to mount up soon, not to mention that dreaded property tax and mortgage payments that we have to be prepared for until we get bank accounts set up and are able to transfer money here from Bangalore.

Today the air shipment people come. It will be nice to have them pack up all the stuff we are sending to Bangalore. Mind you, we'll see if they are able to fit everything in that we want to take. Still lots to do around here. Just have today and tomorrow to finish packing up everthing for storage. Then cleaning and gardening to have the house ready for the renters.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My back is twisted into tiny knots, the likes of which Evil Knieval himself could not undo. This is it, stress has set in. I knew I should have said no to Alanna's track meet today, but you feel quilty. It took up half the day and tonight is her dance recital - three hours! Hours of driving and then sitting and getting nothing accomplished. Mom and Dad are coming to stay with us for the weekend, my brother comes in tomorrow night and we have a wedding to go to Saturday.

Yes, it's all getting to be a bit much. It really hit me today.

On the up side our house is rented out for a year to a family. And we decided on a house in Bangalore. It is the house that we saw when we visited in March. People from Michael's company are moving out on July 14th and we will move in a week later after painting, pest control (very important), and cleaning. We got an email today from the people who live there asking if we would like to hire their gardener - for $30/month! Well, I love to garden but how do you say no to $30/month?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Picture Perfect in Sunny White Rock

We just had the best weekend of the year here in sunny White Rock. Warm evenings were spent in the backyard visiting with friends and family. Fish and chips down by the ocean and a last dip in the Pacific Ocean for the kids. The sunset, the mountains, the ocean - one would wonder why we would leave such a beautiful place for two years? But I didn't have a sense of melancholy like I thought I would. I was in the moment and grateful for the wonderful weekend we had.

I stood on the beach with the children playing in the sand and chasing each other as the sun went down. I realized that this exact situation will be replayed in India. The ocean won't be just down the road, but perhaps an overnight train ride away. We'll watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean or the Arabian Sea and the children will play in the warm, salty water, as they did here last night.

Everything we do now registers as "the last time." The last piano lesson, the last choir practice, the last time we'll see so-and-so. But it's not forever. If I think about what I was doing two years ago, it doesn't seem that long ago. There may be times in India where it will feel like time is standing still. But I think for the most part we will take advantage of every opportunity to explore, travel and enjoy...because in only two years we'll be back.