Thursday, May 22, 2014

Den of Iniquity

I found out yesterday while waiting for my driver by the portico that I live in a house of ill repute, at least according to the management's standards.  I wish I knew more specifics, because my this letter is tantalizing!  Sad part is, we've not been invited to any of these bacchanals.  How depraved could it be if the families are renting their apartments to other families?  Oh well, my imagination is fertile.
BTW, there are several questionable word usages, but it only adds to the enjoyment of the reading.  The overwriting and flowery phrases are normal, but there are a few things that are just wrong.  Don't focus on the mistakes, just enjoy the tone….


Yesterday I was in my favorite department store, Pothy’s, where they always have a seasonal display when you walk in the main door.  Yesterday, it was BACK TO SCHOOL.  Here in the south of India, school’s opening coincides with the monsoon, around June 1.  [Not sure there is a comparison to be made, but have YOU seen the inside of a kindergarten classroom the first few weeks??? Natural disasters have prettier faces.] 
I’ve always loved shopping for school supplies, either with fellow teacher sister R, or the annual ritual of an early August morning trip to Target with Daughters #1 and #2.  I love to see the display, check out the cool stuff, and get goofy folders with text-ese on them, or precious puppies (the kids, not me), or whatever the fad is.  I would like to point out a couple of India-specific items that made my perusal even more pleasurable.
First, every child must be outfitted with a tiffin box.  Tiffin boxes are used to bring hot meals to people at their jobs, and have several compartments and stories.  For the kids’ version, check out first the sneaky copyright infringement (Happy Birds instead of Angry Birds, even though the face is the same) then the Japanese animé borrowing with the cute bunnies “taking a walk”, the compartments so the rice and the curries don’t meet prematurely, and even the cut-out hearts on the utensils. There is even a retro classic version in stainless steel. I had to buy one, the bunnies, yet I have no use for it.  Inexplicable but there you are.
Next I noticed small chalkboards that were plentiful, so I guess they are for the younger students to do their maths (that’s what they say here, not math) or write “Hello” to the teacher.  Cute, but I wonder how they hold up. BTW, check out the faux-pencil cases, which are really games!  Some of the games are on the top of the box, and others are hidden inside.  Nice touch!
Third was a great variety of notebooks, but they have a leg up on the American versions.  They have collectibles.  Why didn’t WE think of that?  There is a series of famous Indian monuments, crafts of the world (I wanted them ALL), and famous places around the world. How do they ever decide? 

Pretend Pencil Cases that really have games on them.  Genius.

Slate boards, modernized

Finally, there is another item unique to the south of India, little plastic decorated umbrellas for getting drenched on the way to school.  I still can’t quite picture how the kids will get to school during a monsoon downpour, but everyone assures me it’s manageable, although several people also add that sometimes the CM (Chief Minister, similar to the governor the state) announces a school postponement of a week because of heavy rains.  It doesn’t matter if it’s early out, late start, or cancellation, for rain, snow, sleet or blistering heat, every kid in the world warms to the idea that there is a Deus Ex Machina out there that can intercede when the reality of school just seems too much.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

#1 Ladies Detective Agency

Today I may have earned my badge.  This morning I was traveling in the backseat of a car working on my computer when I heard the unmistakably sound of metal crunching other metal.  I looked up and saw a truck trying to fit into a space in front of us that wasn’t sufficient, and continuing to pull the bumper from our car until it freed itself, then the truck kept going.  The truck kept going.  That was pretty incredible to start with, but it got better.  My driver stopped quickly to survey the damage, didn’t like what he saw, jumped back in and drove in pursuit of the truck.  He overtook the truck, then swung back in front of it and stopped.  He did it well, I have to admit, and it was impressive.  Just like in the movies, only I was in the back seat.
Then he got out of the car, and started shouting immediately.  Two older men (mid-40s, my driver is 28) started shaking their heads and shouting as well, and pretending it wasn’t their fault.  Like we didn’t see what happened.  Like it wasn’t obvious whose fault it was.  Like we were stupid.
Soon it became clear that what I had heard about these events was true.  Both sides have to come out shouting, and the person with the best act prevails.  I wasn’t sure how I could help my driver, but I wanted to try, as he’s had a patch of bad luck lately, and he was driving a government car, and his boss wasn’t going to be happy. 
The Perp
I decided I should take some pictures, because it looked like the truck drivers were trying to get back to their truck to leave.  So I grabbed my camera, got out of the car, and walked up to the license plate of the truck, and started shooting.  Then I took pictures of the truck, where it impacted our car, and asked our driver where else he thought I should take a picture.  Next I turned and attempted to take a photo of the driver, but he turned away and put up his arm in front of his face.  Now I was getting somewhere.  I waited until both of them were involved with more shouting and I got a good profile of them both.  I could most definitely ID them on a line up if need be. Last I went up to the driver and shook my head and with my best teacher face wagged my finger in his face and said, “You know you did it.  Don’t try to lie.”  He was unimpressed (if only I knew how to say that in Malayalum!) and walked away, and I returned to my car. I was feeling it, working them, despite the language barrier.
 My driver got some information from them at that point, and we drove on to my training.  My driver told me someone would be calling me tonight, but I never got a call.  I’m going to speak with his employer tomorrow to tell them I have some eyewitness photos and would be glad to be deposed on behalf of my driver.  A gal’s got to protect her ride, right? 
Later when I was telling my colleagues at work (they already knew by the time they arrived!) they laughed out loud when I told the part about taking pictures, but I didn’t see anything funny.  S got a kick out of as well.  I think it was a perfectly normal reaction in this Wild West mentality of car accidents. 

A small irony of the day is that when I got in, I noticed I was in a different car (it’s a car pool so sometimes someone else has “our” car.)  Having a different car is no big deal, but if a government official has been sitting in the back, they always tuck away the seat belts because they are invincible, I guess.  I told my driver that when I got to my training, he should get in the trunk and retrieve the seat belt for me, please, and in the mean time, don’t have any accidents or kill me, ok?    He laughed, but it turned not to be funny.  Oh, India, your roads are a mess, your traffic hopelessly congested, and your drivers mostly pretending they are in a bumper car environment.  I could use some safe mass transit in my life…. 

Victory is MINE!

Any of you who have been watching my blog since I came to God’s Own Country (thanks to both of you!) may remember that when our possessions arrived from Jaipur in the late summer, several of them were damaged.  Since September 8, I have asked the moving company to make good their contract and pay me damages for the items.  I have them photographed, itemized, and sent several forms at least 6 times to no less than 3 people.  Still,  no love, no rupees.
At the beginning of April, I lost my patience and decided to try a different track.  I wrote to the most recent moving company employee who lied and told me they would resolve the issue within 21 days and told them HE had 21 days to resolve this issue, or I had prepared a very damaging advertisement that explained how unresponsive their company had been, and was going to put it in the Jaipur newspaper when I visited there in early June.  That seemed to get their attention.  A flurry of emails asked me be patient (7 months doesn’t qualify, I guess) and that my case would be resolved.  I responded with a simple “21 more days of patience left, oh, no, now 20.”   I expected to be placing an ad (hadn’t written it yet, but somehow I feel like I could have come up with a homerun) when surprise of surprises, I got an email today that looked like another apology without action, but had an attachment of a check made out to me, which they didn’t bother to tell me how I was to receive.  Actually the email was confusing, because it sounded like they were congratulating themselves pretty heavily on getting the stuff here at all.  Here’s the beginning: 
Dear Sir,

This is in reference to your email message dated 17-04-2014 regarding the subject consignment. We thank you for your continuous support and patronage. We have the best network and proper infrastructure for the safe delivery of your sensitive and high value consignments. State of the art warehouses, mechanized handling, containerized vehicles, Online Tracking; CCTV vigilance etc. is to ensure its safety and security. 

However, sometimes due to external factors and rarely due to human error, there are unforeseen cases of loss during transit.

As I read on down it explained that even though they were basically not at fault, and “ We also agree that a cheque cannot compensate the inconvenience caused. This gesture to compensate with a cheque is to purely minimize your monetary loss.” 
Whatever, somehow I think I will still feel better if you pay me what you promised to pay after you broke my bookshelf into several pieces, broke several pieces of other stuff, etc.
I was elated to have made them do their jobs, but I responded and said this was a nice beginning, but I still didn’t have the check….  and now comes the the part that made S really guffaw….. They replied thus:  Mam:  Same has been couriered to Trivendrum address through overnight courier on 20th may’14.

 Same will be receiving within 2 working days.  
An overnight courier that takes 2 days, now that’s India!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

America, Heck Yeah!

We were in America last week for a wonderful wedding celebration, and in the spare moments (very few) we reloaded our supply chest.  Several people have asked me what kinds of things we need to get in America that we can't find here, so I'll list a few.  You'll notice the distinction blurs between "need" and "want" quickly:  Dri-weave sports tops (Target, I love you.), crazy glue, Sharpees, baggies, sticky-backed hooks, jeans, underwear, pharmaceutical supplies, hiking boots…Definitely on the "want" side we feature chocolate, oatmeal packets, almond butter, black beans, tea, Italian spices, high-end vinegar, and parmesan.
A few of my favorite things:  It was great to see family, be part of the celebration, and also to visit America.  My but there are a lot of enjoyable parts to our country, including but not limited to family, chocolate milk (obviously no order here!), clean streets, the fantastic Frontera Grill food at O'Hare (Thank you Rick Bayless, for making my coming and going so pleasurable) beautiful rubble-free landscapes, friendly people, no horn honking, street lights, pedestrians and drivers obeying street lights, safety, Mexican food, the ease of using a credit card or checking out of a hotel, any financial transaction that is filled with carbon copies here but paperless there, the chatty friendliness of Midwesterners, HGTV (the property brothers still ROCK) people who speak English and understand me (well, understand my English, anyway), etc.  Not a small list, but an important one.
We leave here in less than 2 months for China to visit Eldest Daugther, and it will be fun to explore that culture again, but it was so comforting to be in a culture where you knew what you were supposed to do, even if we didn't always do it.
We could 't believe our eyes.  This level of service in an airport seemed uniquely American.

Had quite a few of those, as it hits 2 pleasure centers.

FRONTERA Grill at O'Hare

And that's what you missed….

During my 6-week writing hiatus, India has been holding national elections.  They spread them out by sections of the country because it gives the national election commission sufficient time to oversee the voting to avoid "irregularities", etc. The results are to be announced this week sometime.  It's been so long even the newspapers are getting bored of writing about it. One highlight for me in the campaigning came a few Sundays back when I read the following in the newspaper:

The Headline:  Day of Embarrassment for BJP, Congress
On the one side, a Congress candidate threated to chop the BJP prime ministerial nominee into pieces…  He was arrested on charges of hate speech.  Caught on video, he said, “If Modi tries to turn U.P. (his home state) into Gujurat (Modi’s state), then we will chop him into tiny pieces….I am not scared of getting killed or attacking someone.”  OBVI

On the other side, the BJP announced that party membership of one guy had been annulled on Saturday.  He had joined the BJP only on Friday…. Hmmmm.  Not sure what is happening on that one, but someone conjectured that they discovered the guy was Muslim.

In other news, the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez died.  If you haven't read either Love in the Time of Cholera or 100 Years of Solititude, put them at the top of your list.  The man was a genius, and his short stories, along with his novels, are some of my favorite reads.  Here is the opening sentence of 100 Years...

 “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” sold tens of millions of copies. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’ ” The novelist William Kennedy hailed it as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”  I concur.

Below are some pictures I've been saving for various blogs that I have to condense today because of time constraints.  They are from a recent trip to the beach, our train ride to Bangalore, and the birds of my neighborhood.   I'll let the pictures do the talking...
This guy was in the park.  Check out the bluish legs.

The view from the rear of a loaded truck

Small load by Indian standards

Standing and watching the tide roll in!

Punk Woodpecker