Friday, July 22, 2011

Settled back in and what's the difference between a loan and an advance.

Recovery slowly from jetlag. There's only a 4 1/2 hour time difference from the UK, so I really don't understand why my body is being so slow in getting back to its normal sleep patterns.

The Europe trip is fading into the distance and we are conscious how the school vacation is at the tail end - but we are looking forward to 2 weeks in monsoon riddled Kerala as the finale!!

We knew we were definitely back in India yesterday when Simon had 3 requests for "advances"

Firstly from Simon's muscle manufacturer, or personal trainer, who as we are gone so much of the summer felt he needed paying for next month in advance. I didn't really understand the logic of this as he is already paid in advance and would never catch up. So, I'm thinking this maybe a loan in disguise. Anyway Simon said no, muscleman nodded, smiled and continued Simon's 4 time weekly torture session!

Then Shankar, our driver. Shankar was employed on the premise that, as we think he is well paid, we would not grant him any loans. When we employed him we were desperate for a driver so he was in the right place at the right time and we didn't negotiate over his salary request as much as we would have done otherwise. So, he asked for an advance of salary repayable over several months. Now, who are you kidding - this is a loan right?

Lastly Sweetie, apparently, not wanting to be left out requested that last months advance be deducted over several months salary. Again - this makes it a loan right? Also, she wants a raise. "But we have just started paying Vidya's school fees," I say "That's a raise". She looks at me: "But Ma'am that is different" How??????

We are open to helping Shankar and Sweetie when they need help, especially once they have been with us for a while. For example, we pay Sweetie's daughter's school fees and have paid for various medical bills. It's this feeling that they are trying to get one over us or think we are stupid that irritates and also, from their angle does not produce the desired result!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oh to be in England, now that summer's here (or is summer there?)

Through the chunnel, which was quick and painless, across London, out the other side and we chug through the beautiful green, rolling, British country side into the wonderful limestone Georgian buildings of Bath. And yes the sun was shining!

I always enjoy my trips to the UK, reconnecting with family and long lasting (don't like to say "old" anymore!!) friends, from school, college and work. But this time was different, I wasn't coming from or returning to my longtime home (California) but from my temporary base, Bangalore, which I think made our visit all the more sweet.

It was great to see everyone, hopefully we will meet again in the not too distant and until that time keep in touch. There were chatty catch up lunches, lazy afternoons in Henrietta Park more chatting and sipping tea while the kids played, glasses of wine in the Garrick's Head, exploring new restaurants which have sprung up in my absence, time with family members talking into the early hours.........

Done cricket in India, so now county cricket in the UK. Essex v Somerset on a balmy summer evening, in the shadows of the golden stone of Bath Abbey, sipping a glass of Pimms. Life is good!
So, what can top cricket as a typically British activity - it has to be croquet!
We rented a small mews house in central Bath which was 40 yds from the rec. ground where the cricket took place but was also available for public use - a good place to take the kids for a run!! Everything is so convenient -walking to Waitrose, all the shops, pubs, restaurants etc. Tho' this is something I have missed since we first left Bath in 1997!

Highlight for the kids was probably the reunion with the British Jumps from California in Cadbury world. Chocolate and great friends..,.almost too sweet!!

We got to spend a lot of time with my Dad, glider flying, mini golf, cricket and board games amongst the favorites. Not to mention too many treats for the boys, teas and lunches. The weather remained kind until the last morning when it compensated and we got to Heathrow with soggy shoes!

I have to confess not being too excited at the prospect of returning to India having relished some of the western ways for a couple of weeks. But once we landed, reunited with husband and father, it all felt familiar and where we should be just now. The kids were glad to be back to their own space, their possessions and friends - specifically "brother from another mother" across the street!!

So we've just settled in and its time to prepare for the final summer trip, 2 weeks to Kerala. But this time a short flight and no time change so no jetlag....why does jetlag get worse with age!!!

Where have all the people gone????

Back on western soil after 7 months - what did it feel like?, what did we notice?

Passing through Dubai airport is a shock to the indianised system, where there is nothing non-designer in the plentiful, busy shops (obviously the recession has not hit duty free Dubai) and the ladies drip diamonds out of their burqhas. But it serves as an introduction for a re-entry to the western world.

As we arrived into central Paris from CDG airport on the RER, the first thing that struck us was how empty everywhere was, where had all the people gone?  In central Paris, in the rain, a woman and 2 kids pulling their own suitcases - no-one looked twice. In Bangalore - white folks pulling their own cases - plenty of stares!! How clean the streets, how quiet, how cold!!, how bland, how purposeful the people, how organized and regulated the traffic, how drab the colors of the stylish clothes, how pale the skin but how many female shoulders, knees and cleavage exposed....not normal reactions to central Paris, but to us fresh from India our first thoughts.

To blog or not to blog? I had thought that I would only blog our impressions of europe from the expat perspective but Adam pointed out "Towers take a trip" should include our Trip to Europe, so this will be, I think a sort of halfway house.

I always thought when we left the UK, in 1997, that I would really miss Mediterranean Europe and I have. To be back in Paris was wonderful, there really is no place like it - I have an enduring love affair with Paris, but then who doesn't? To sit in a cafe, sipping real coffee, munching a real French croissant watching Paris wake-up.......

But talking of love and Paris, what is new since my last visit is the "Love Padlock" - no this is not about to get X-rated!! Couples buy a padlock, write their names on it, lock it on one of the bridges over the Seine, declare their undying love and jettison the key into the waters below. Sounds romantic but apparently there are issues - how much weight can the bridge carry, does this spoil the view etc.etc. On a more personal basis, what to do if your true love ceases to be - do you come back unlock (having kept a spare key), erase and recycle? Near the bridge were folks conveniently selling padlocks, some with three keys, menage a trois? -no lets not go there!

This was the first time I had visited Paris with kids so it was a tad different from my previous visits. Cafe life was somewhat curtailed once the food was consumed. We actually went up the Eiffel Tower which I'd previously always shunned as far too touristy.  Now we were tourists we had to take the cheesy pic. A better pic would have been all the would-be photographers squirming and repositioning to try and get the angle right for this one!
We had a quick visit into the Louvre but only so Adam could see the Mona Lisa. The other wonderful art museums didn't get a look in!! We walked up to Montmartre, Sacre Ceour and watched the painters and artists. Adam was aghast the number of people smoking - that's my all american boy!

The main things that struck us was the way we could sit and watch the world go by instead of the world watching us, the independence and ease of getting about - hopping on and off the Metro, not too mention the BateauBus.  Highlights of Paris for both boys was the food and the Metro tho' Adam did expand his top hits to include the architecture!

Our hotel was cheap for Paris, so a bit down market - chipped furniture, wall paper peeling and paint flaking and hardly enough room to turn around but it was central to the Gare Du Nord, facilitating our entry and exit to/from Paris and our getting about. I couldn't believe how expensive Paris was, but then I had arrived after a 15 year absence via the US and India! We had breakfasts and dinners in the same cafes a few yards away from the Hotel, so the waiters got to know us and were patient with mine and Adam's french. I was quite amazed at how I could easily I could remember, speak and understand basic french conversation and also how Adam did try and use his even more basic french! Picnic lunches, those fresh baguettes, cheese, peaches, cherries did not actually last until lunch time! The ease of buying and eating street food without thought, drinking water out of the taps and for Adam milk by the beaker was truly wonderful.
However, once we had been in France maybe 24 hours, I lost the ability/need to compare everything to India, and Paris seemed the norm! How quickly we adjust!