Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life in General

O.K. this is just plain weird. Here I sit drinking my cappuccino and eating a croissant on the ground level of the mall. Tommy Hilfiger, Pepe Jeans and Booster Juice glare at me. I try to avoid the golden arches in the opposite direction. I could be in any mall in the world. Well, except France – I’m sure the croissant would be a thousand times better.
I walked over to the mall to buy at blender at Jamal’s, a fabulous kitchen shop. We’ve deposited far too much money there already. But they are so friendly and will deliver to your door if your purchase is too big to carry.
It’s noon and they haven’t opened yet. I’ve gotten used to shops opening at 11- 11:30 and closing in the evening between 9 – 11pm. So here I sit, patiently waiting.
We bought a grilled chicken from a street vendor a couple nights ago, brought it home and made roasted potatoes and greek salad (yes, I found feta!) to go with it. Now I’ve made the best smelling chicken stock and need a blender to make soup. Plus I’m thinking about mango lassies, fresh fruit juice and smoothies.
Yesterday, after two weeks, I was reconnected with the world – the old fashioned way. Newspaper, telephone and cable all delivered on the same day. Of course the one thing that we all really want – THE INTERNET – has continued to allude us. So much so that yesterday I finally put the laptop in my backpack, grabbed my phone and said to the kids, “Come on, we’re going to find WLAN.” We walked all around the neighbourhood and I searched with my phone.
Every few houses I would refresh and often enough it would say WLAN found, but always a password needed. What are these people so afraid of? What are they hiding? It was early afternoon, the sun beat down on us, the kids dragged along behind me, “How much longer? Did you find it?” Honestly, the exasperation in their voices, one would have thought I was dragging them through a desert looking for water.
No success finding the internet but now that they have installed the phone it may only be days away. Even at the mall – no access to WLAN.
The kids start school in less than two weeks so we are going on a five day holiday to Kerala, Friday to Wed. Looking forward to spending some time at the ocean and on a houseboat in the backwaters. Not sure that this is the best time to go as the coast is getting hit hard with rain. It is monsoon season but we can’t let that stop us. It’s kind of like going to Tofino, off the north coast of Vancouver Island in Canada. You go expecting rain and storms – it’s all part of the ambiance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day Two and Onward

When I opened my eyes on day two in the house, things seemed immediately brighter. I could hear birds singing and ca-cooing, something we never heard in the apartment. Michael went to work and I unpacked.

The mattress guy came to the house and sure enough each mattress was 3” too long for the bed. He said that there used to be different size beds, length and width, but now they are standard size. I guess the beds we bought were older designs and they should have told us that they wouldn’t support the new mattress size. But, the mattress guy said he would have new ones made and exchange them. A week later, we are still sleeping on the mattresses on the floor.
Yes, it’s been almost a week now since we moved in. We all really like the house. It is spacious and airy. We have flowering bushes, potted plants, palm trees, banana trees and a papaya tree with about 12 papayas ripening a little more each day.
We have filtered water to wash fruit and vegetables and we have drinking water delivered. We don’t have a phone or cable or the internet yet but hopefully within another week we will.

Our house is situated conveniently between two huge extravagances. One is the clubhouse which is less than a minute walk from our front door. There is badminton, ping pong, tennis, a yoga room, a restaurant, a fitness room, a spa and a lovely outdoor pool. OK, I’m obviously from Canada, having to mention that it’s an outdoor pool – in India.

The second extravagance – did I say huge – is a brand new mall right outside the gate of our complex. Apparently they started building it two years ago when the previous owners of our house moved in. And the mall opened just as we moved in. Thank goodness we don’t have to listen to all that construction noise. The bad part is that we see the parkade from our backyard. But I can live with it, the house next to us blocks most of it. I just would never have envisioned being able to see a 10-storey high parkade from my backyard in India.

So far I would have to say that I like the area around the apartment better. We could walk to great little restaurants and grocery stores. It was a busy little area with lots going on in the evenings. Here we have a few shops and a grocery store a little further away. But outside the “gates” it’s not really a residential area. Of course there’s the mall which has an Italian restaurant (fabulous pizza and Caesar salad), lots of shops, a chocolate lounge (!!), coffee shops and some western fast food places that are not open yet. Oh, and it has a cinema which should be opening up in the next week. We’re hoping Harry Potter will be playing, otherwise we’ll have to make the 45 min. drive to another cinema.

One month in Bangalore, one week in our house and life is good. The weather is breezy and warm 24 hours a day. Not too hot, little rain and never a goose bump – not once in a month. Which begs the question – why is there a closet full of winter coats, rain pants, and hoodies upstairs? Oh ya, we’re from Canada, eh!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I live in Bangalore India

I am living in a house in Bangalore, India. Seriously.

We moved into the house last Wednesday, five days ago. I don’t think it matters where you are moving to or from. Moving days are pretty much the same whether you are moving across town, down the block or half the world away. You wake up excited the morning of the move, you get to the new house and things start arriving. By the end of the day the house is full of a mishmash of furniture and boxes. For some reason or another you end up sleeping on a mattress on the floor, not wanting to go to sleep...because you know you are going to have to wake up and deal with this big mess and don’t yet know where anything should go.

It’s true, we were all excited to move out of the apartment and into the house. We were up early, packed up the van and arrived at the house at 9:30am. Deliveries started to arrive within the hour. Everything that we had ordered in Bangalore arrived in small trucks with small delivery men. It all came in boxes and had to be put together – luckily in India, the delivery people put it all together.

Soon enough the floors were covered with pieces of furniture and tiny screws, but piece by piece the couches and chairs, the table and chairs, the beds – all of it got put together. Of course, the most exciting delivery was the air shipment box from Canada. Our stuff – it’s minimal, but it’s our stuff.

There were only a few problems – the table was scratched, as well as one chair. But they agreed to replace it in a few days. The TV arrived but they forgot to send the free Tata Sky box (cable) and 50 DVD’s that were supposed to come with it. Oh, and by 9:30pm the mattresses still hadn’t arrived.

I can’t remember if I mentioned in my last posting that the mattress company had phoned a couple days before the move to say that they wouldn’t be ready for Wed. But Michael went and talked to them and got it sorted out – they didn’t have the color mattresses that we requested, but they did have other colors. All we cared about was that they would be delivered on Wed.

Wed. afternoon Michael phones to make sure they are going to deliver them and they say maybe by 9:00pm but for sure by 10:00am the next day. We said no, it had to be today. I mean, what is the one thing that you need when you move into a house – a mattress, something to sleep on!

So then phone tag ensued.

“Are they coming?”

“Yes Sir, one hour away.”

An hour later, two hours later, three hours later...9:30pm, still no mattresses.

“Sir, the driver cannot find your house.”

“Well, where is he.”

“He’s at The Bank of India.”

“He’s at a bank?” Doesn’t he have the address? You have the address, explain to him how to get here.”

“Ok Sir.”

Anyway, this went on and on, back and forth, until they finally made it to the gate of the complex and Michael and the kids finally went out to look for them and guide them to the house.

Relief, they finally drove up – three guys, three mattresses. They bring in the first mattress, a single for Craig, then the queen for Alanna. But wait, something doesn’t seem right – it’s too long for the bed. Everyone stands and scratches their heads, the three guys shake their heads. I can’t believe it. Ok, ok just bring in the last one for our bed and we’ll deal with this later. In comes our mattress and onto the bed – three inches too long for the bed – whaaat??? Wait a minute, I run back to Craig’s room. Sure enough it too, is three inches too long for his bed.

Phone calls back to the person in charge, a lot of shaking heads and no one had a measuring tape. No one had an answer for this. We agreed to put the mattresses on the floor, not take off the plastic and someone would come out to take measurements the next day.

So, our first night in our new house we all slept on mattresses on the floor with a mishmash of furniture and boxes all around. It was 12:30am and I didn’t want to go to bed – I knew the morning would come too soon and I’d have to deal with all this stuff.

That’s it for now as I don’t have any internet and probably won’t have any for another week. But Michael is nice enough to post this for me at work and I’ll write some more tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sometimes Life's Rosy, Sometimes it's Not

Why do I feel like we are camping? The beds are comfy enough but a couple nights ago I was cooking with my headlamp on. Small fridge, no oven, no dishwasher, and often no electricity=no hot shower. All we need is a campfire...and marshmallows!

We are definitely looking forward to moving into the house next Wed. The apartment is nice and roomy but the kitchen is sparse and the electricity fails often. When the electricity goes out, the generator usually kicks in, but then you can't plug in any appliance too big - microwave, toaster, rice cooker - or all the electricity goes out.

We are all getting bored of Babu's breakfasts and have just been asking him to cut up some fruit and make toast. At least he does the dishes so that is helpful and he cleans the apartment everyday.

Craig seems to be doing ok. As long as he has his DS lite or a good book he's happy. Alanna is feeling a bit homesick, mostly due to boredom I think. She's read all the books that she brought and is missing her friends. Feeling cooped up in the apartment with not much to do. Hopefully next week once we get in the house and she has some of her own things that we sent over it will help. Plus the kids will have their bikes and scooters and they'll be able to go out and ride around the area.

The kids and I are still playing badminton for an hour a day. Craig loves to play hard, whereas Alanna spends much of the time doing ballet poses and doing leaps as she serves. We have fun...usually.

We've been driving all over the city looking for furniture and I feel like we've been in every home store in Bangalore: At Home, Home Stop, Home Town, Home Store, and more. When you have to buy so much and have a limited budget you have to compare prices and pick and choose what's important. We have ordered all the main items: beds, mattresses, couches, table and chairs, etc. and everything will start to get delivered next Tues. and Wed. Looking forward to that.

Last week Michael went to the airport to have our airshipment inspected at customs. It's a whopping 36% fee on any electronics and sporting goods. Luckily the company Michael works for pays for this (we think) although it was pretty minimal for us. We didn't bring much in the way of electronics as India uses a different voltage. Now that we are here we realize that we could have brought small appliances. Adapters are inexpensive and easy to find.

We visited the house last week and talked with Marko and his wife (from Finland). The house is two stories, 4 bdrm/4 bath and the backyard has lots of flowering shrubs and a banana tree! The appliances look good - dishwasher, washer and dryer - and the geysers (hot water tanks in each bathroom) are bigger than what we have in the apartment. Hopefully we can get a shower without the water turning cold. The oven is not what we are used too (that's an understatement). It is the size of a large microwave but apparently you can roast, bake etc. Won't be making 6 dozen cookies at a time I guess...or a turkey dinner.

Michael opened a bank account, finally. Someone from the bank came to his office and had him sign papers. Well, Michael's signature is more like a scrawl so the guy had him do it over and over, as no two signatures look alike. That night he got a text saying the bank rejected his signature - even though the guy saw him sign everything in person. Had to do it all over again a few days later and the account finally got opened (and money actually deposited!). However the bank card didn't work at the ATM when we tried it yesterday...

My birthday was great a couple weeks ago. Alanna and I went to Ahvataras, the spa, and had a manicure and pedicure. They said it would take 1 1/2 hrs. We enjoyed our pampering so much that I didn't check the time until we got home - 2 1/2 hrs later! The total bill for both of us? 1000Rp ($25). And because it was my birthday they gave me some beautiful flowers and a gift certificate for a free body massage - now that's great service!

We were so late from the spa that we were almost an hour late getting to Caperberry's for lunch. The staff was so welcoming, with big smiles and shaking our hands like we were family. Really nice lunch with a tapas buffet bar to start. A choice of a few items to choose from for the main meal and then a dessert buffet to finish it off. Highly recommeded and reasonable price. Must try for dinner sometime. Oh, almost forgot - because it was my birthday (Michael must have sent out a memo to everyone), they put on this loud Happy Birthday music and came over and gave me a birthday cake - big enough for the four of us. Could have done without the music, luckily the place had cleared out by that time.

So, we are missing a few things and getting used to others. But, I think that is normal in the beginning of such a big adventure. Going to Mysore last weekend was great and we are planning another five day trip in a few weeks, before the kids start school. But next week the big excitement will be moving into the house!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mysore, A Weekend Trip $1Can=40Rp

We went to Mysore for the weekend which is a three hour drive/two hour train ride from Bangalore. We paid our driver, Rajesh, 1000Rp extra for the weekend trip. I would have liked to have taken the train but this way we could stop along the way and see some sights.

Our first stop after 1 1/2 hours was the Big Banyan Tree. It is a 400 year old tree, sprawling over four acres. We walked around the area and enjoyed the huge tree and monkeys jumping, playing and swinging from branch to branch. Craig thought it would make a great tree house or climbing tree.

We drove another 1 1/2hours to Sangama. At first it didn't look like much, with a bunch of stalls and hawkers selling souvenirs. But once we got past them we found some stone steps leading to a small temple on a riverbank. It was serene and pretty as long as you overlooked the garbage in and along the sides of the river. Much to our delight there were small round boats called coracles made out of buffalo hide, that you could go for a paddle in. Craig, Michael and I went on one, for about ten minutes.

Indian people gathered at the river for different reasons. One old lady was washing clothes. Three men were holding an urn, going out in a coracle boat to throw their loved ones ashes in the river. Others were piled into one boat - 12 people - having fun spinning round and round. Still others stepped down into the river and immersed themselves.

We carried on and arrived in Mysore at 1:30pm (left Bangalore at 8:15) and found out that all the shops and sights, Mysore Palace - everything was closed due to some riots that had been happening over the last three days - five people stabbed. Disappointed. Nice room though at Hotel Regaalis.

Late in the afternoon, one of the sites - Chumundi Hill - opened up so we decided to drive to the top. There is a sacred Hindu temple on top, dedicated to the Hindu goddess Chumundi (Durgha). There were nice views on the way up but by the time we got to the temple we were in the clouds and it was raining. There were a few people but not as many as usual due to the riots. The temple was quite ornate with lots of carvings and statues. People gave offerings of money and flower garlands. Lots of monkeys were stealing fruit and vegetables from the stalls.

On the way down the hill we stopped at a huge statue of the black Nandi Bull. From here we realized there are stairs to the temple. It would be a nice walk up on a clear day with a view of the farmland and town below - next time.

On Sunday we were happy to find out that shops and the Mysore Palace would open up. We walked to the palace and then realized we were at the north gate instead of the south gate so we got a tuk tuk around for 30Rp.
We paid 200Rp to enter the Palace (locals pay 20Rp) but at least headsets were included for foreigners and we had an excellent tour. Even kept the children interested (bonus). There are many rooms to look at with elaborately carved and painted halls, gates, a wedding chamber, and statues all in excellent condition. There are gardens outside to walk around and the kids were excited when we saw elephants in the distance and camels in the courtyard. We splurged (20Rp) and they went on a short camel ride.

We spent 2 1/2 hrs touring the Palace, then back to the hotel via tuk tuk, had a swim and lunch. By 2:00pm we called Rajesh and decided to go back to the river with the temple and the little boats. There is much more to see and do in and around Mysore. We will definitely go back another time to see more sights and walk around the town.

It was raining so we didn't stop at the river for long and continued on our drive back to Bangalore. The road is never boring. There are so many things to look at:

  • working cows with long horns pull carts full of anything imaginable.
  • motorbikes with families of four or five weave amongst cars and buses.
  • a big open truck drove by with an elephant in the back.
  • a tuk tuk full of dead chickens.
  • we even saw people riding camels along a street in Bangalore. Just as we came alongside of them they darted in front of us and crossed the street.

Our eyes were wide with wonder. There is always something to look at, you really hate to close your eyes, as you will surely miss something exciting.

On the way back we asked our driver where he stayed for the night in Mysore. I understood that hotels have an area where drivers eat and sleep. We were surprised to hear that he caught the train back to Bangalore for the night. In the morning he caught the early train back again. He said he would have been too bored to stay there alone - none of his friends were there.

The only thing that we were not happy about was that Rajesh (the driver) asked for more money when we got back. We were upset that he would do that after we had agreed on a price. We said we would think about it overnight. Today he was late picking up Michael for work and then he asked if we had "thought about it." Michael said that we were not going to pay him any extra. Then Rajesh mentioned that he had worked 1/2 hr overtime last week and wanted 200Rp for that.

It's true he did work an extra 1/2 hr so Michael agreed even though 200Rp is way too much. Michael also told him that we planned to give him a nice tip at the end of his three weeks. But since we are not happy with him asking for more money not to expect a tip. I thought things were going well with Rajesh so I am disappointed , it made us feel uncomfortable having to say no to him. One more week and then I think we will get a permanent driver.