Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who needs to go to the Mall?

Sometimes I am quite amazed by what I can buy within walking distance (and I'm talking a very short walk here) from our house. These little shops on the side of the street are jam packed with merchandise and the owner knows exactly where to find everything very quickly.
The "fancy" stores sell a wide range of miscellaneous items - gift wrap (small selection and small pieces but it works!), hair clips, bangles, cricket cards..........The seller speaks good english and when I asks for something goes immediately to the right box/drawer/shelf.

The stationary shop, a tiny dark little cavern which has provided the necessary for a neuron cell poster (Ads), winter season poster and decorated recycled goods project (Wills) not to mention glitter, glue and marker pens.
One of several pharmacies within walking distances. The cupboards are packed with boxes containing hundreds of different meds, and there is a computerized index system. Anti-biotics come over the counter here. This is not only a pharmacy, but also a prescribing service. If you can mime a sinus infection you can get the meds! Luckily they have reasonable english so there's not too much miming necessary for any family gastro-intenstinal problem! If they don't have what you need they will order and deliver - no additional charge.
Clothes Indian style in all those wonderful colors - all you need is the tailor a little further up the street and you're away. There's even a small market selling psuedo-western clothes a  few yards further on.
Nilgiris is the local small grocery store where you can get most things, though a small selection - (a bit like a very very good British corner shop if they still exist!) The boys are pretty partial to Nilgiris as they have a good supply of Cadbury's and a baked section with samosas and chicken puffs. In true Indian style it is very well staffed. There is security at the entrance to relieve you of any unnecessary bags you may be carrying and exchange them for a token and another one on the exit to check you have a receipt which they will punch a hole in. The door is in good sight and close proximaty to the cash desk but that is not the point! As well as the staff on the 2 check outs there must be at least another 5 employees re-stocking or tidying and dusting the boxes, bottles and shelves, cleaning the floor etc.etc. What will happen when mechanisation takes over or these little shops are replaced by Target/Walmart or equivalent?
 Of course food is never far away, cooked to order or fast food?
We have our local KFC look-a-like. And what does the B stand for. I'd have guessed Bangalore or Basavanagar (the name of the road) but no, this is BIG BOY FRIED CHICKEN!!! - no comment!
Fresh produce is available on all corners 7 days a week. No excuse to eat unhealthily here! These little shops go on and on. In fact in Bangalore there must be thousands and thousands of them. I can also walk to get paint matched and made up, buy electrical goods, get a new watch battery, a phone charger for the car, dry cleaners and tailors, the newsagents who delivers our daily paper, hair and beauty salons for men and women etc.etc. If you want to buy you need an ATM. There are 2 very close by, both have their own security guards -even when they are not working which is all too often the case!
The ironing guy's place is also close by. As we walked passed taking these pics we could see a pile of Indus pants and shirts all crisp and ready to wear which arrived on the doorstep later that evening.
This is not however where I buy our meat. Next door to this store is the chicken store - as the chickens are still tenuously hanging on to life,  I prefer to buy mine, very dead, washed and wrapped at the grocery store!

So why do I go to the Mall? Well, sometime the local charms become a bit exhausting. Although I am getting better, crossing the road still takes a long time. The last stop before we get back to Vista is Tasty Bites, a chai stop and hang out for the locals, rick drivers and autos. I'm sure they stand there laughing at the length of time it takes us make the last dash into Vista! The endless stream of motorbikes, pushbikes, ricks, cars, trucks, carts all at different speeds, with unpredictable behavior patterns, many on the phone or chatting to their passengers make it seem like a life threatening operation to get across. If we are in town and Shankar is coming down the other side of the road from where I am waiting he will signal for me to stay put while he goes on to make a U-turn as he knows it is way quicker than waiting for me to cross the street! Also the incessant horn blowing, the smells both attractive and yucky, the uneven pavements and roads surfaces, the stray dogs, the trash, the open waterways......Sometimes the air-conditioned, cleanliness, order and relative calm of the Mall beckons!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Its riRICKulous! and an epidemic of blogs and yahoo groups!

Friday evening, Wills was sleeping over at a school friends, Simon in the car on the way back from some off-site with his team and Adam had an appointment with his ortho - a two minute check on his now month old braces. The ortho has a drop-in clinic at the dentist's office from 3.30pm to 8.30pm every month. To wait for Simon to get home or go by rick? We choose the latter - bad decision!

Finding a rick, agreeing a price, easy. But the first warning signal rang loud and clear when we were maybe 5 minutes into our estimated 20 mins journey and the rick driver stopped to ask for directions. Things then got steadily worse as it became apparent that this guy had no idea where we were going - not even as to the general area. Ricks are not the most stable or robust of means of transport and when the evening traffic is picking up, the light is starting to fade, it's trying to rain and the rick driver is straying across the road as he's trying to guess which way to go or stopping in mid-traffic stream to ask directions, it's quite frankly more than a little unnerving. Once it was obvious to me, even with my limited sense of direction, we were actually going along the same street for at least the second time I called Shankar, at least four times, for him to speak to the rick guy and explain where we needed to go. By this time Shankar and Simon were home so Shankar got back in the car and set out either to the dentist or to rescue us, if he could find us!
As it was now pitch black Adam and I decided to give up on and quit the rick - where upon rick driver asked for twice the agreed fee - cheek of it - no way, lucky we paid you at all!!
So, Adam and I are now in some back road in the dark in Indiranagar. The dentist office is at the corner of 2nd Main and 9th Cross and, as no streets signs we could see bore any resemblance to either, we head for the nearest main road.

When we first arrived in Bangalore I'd have been more than a little freaked, lost in the dark with Ads in tow, but 9 months in, just a trifle irritated, Adam more so as he wanted food!!
So we find a main road, I call Shankar and accost some poor guy walking along the road, asking him to explain to Shankar where we are. Unfortunately this guy and Shankar speak different languages. But second time lucky. And an hour and a half after leaving the house we are rescued and delivered to the dentist - where there's no wait and a 3 minute appointment!!
Just a minor adventure to get the weekend going!

I'm not sure if it's just me but I think I could spend ours each day dealing with my yahoo groups and reading the blogs I follow.

Firstly yahoo groups - there is one for each kid's grade at Indus. These are useful when it comes to dealing with school issues. Indus seems to respond better when under group attack. I don't have any major issues with the school as both kids are happy and seem to be learning lots. However, I think once you are paying for school, there are always niggles. You expect a bit more than back in California with a shrinking education budget where I had more sympathy with minor inefficiencies.

Then there is the neighborhood, Adarsh Vista yahoo group. This covers a variety of issues from the on going "dog poop" saga , vendors in the club house, domestics needed, aerobics classes etc. Again it's good to know what is going on and generally there is lots!

Of course the OWC with it's 600 plus members is a very busy yahoo group. People wanting to find baking soda, real chocolate chips and other western stuff, people moving onto pastures new selling furniture and appliances, and those moving in buying and of course the OWC events. Occasionally we get quite heated discussions, the most recent being domestics salaries - should ex-pats pay high to help their maids and drivers get a better standard of living and risk upsetting the delicate economic balance in India or pay at the local rate and therefore not empower our domestics to move up in the world. This gave rise to a few hasty comments on both sides!!

Then I move on to the blogs I follow. Some expats, like me, either have too much time on their hands or lots of stories to tell (that's for you to decide!) But I have some friends here who write really good blogs and are also a good source of information. Have "Moving for Mangoes" moved into their new apartment yet?, "Tuna out of Water" gave me some good information on my nose piercing and I've got to go now to check how "Embracing Change" weekend trip taking the overnight train out of Bangalore with her kids went, is it a trip we should take?

And then of course there is facebook.........

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nose Candy!

When I first told a friend about my nose piercing idea, I went into this long rationale about how I wanted it done to remind me of our time in India; how I felt we were and would be learning so much during our time here and how I wanted this 'mark' on my nose to remind me that we aren't the same people who had left the U.S. I think in life we learn so much when life is hard or we move out of our comfort zones but then how quickly we forget when the boat is once again sailing on smooth waters. The resolutions to spend more time as a family, to talk more, not to get back into the rat race, to appreciate all we have, to not forget those who have not.......fade all too rapidly. I will now have a constant reminder every time I look in the mirror.
However, said friend seemed to feel that maybe this was all a load of rubbish and I just wanted to do it because I thought it would look cute.

So whether it's my mid-life crisis, a way to break up the monotony of my rather long nose, an extremely late teenage rebellion, a distraction from my wrinkles, because it looks pretty (and I actually think it does!), or something more meaningful....I now have a pierced nose!!!

I said in my New Year blog some of my 2011/12 resolutions may surprise and maybe this one does!!

And didn't hurt!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cricket is a serious business - even at 6!

Wills has been cricket obsessed for months - it has overshadowed football/soccer by a long way. We all spend hours playing cricket with him on our side yard which now has two very distinct brown patches at both wickets. As Wills now likes to play with something harder than a tennis ball, and can hit with some velocity it's getting a bit dangerous for house windows and parked cars, not to mention passing traffic on foot, bike or car!

So Wills and one of his buds from the hood have now joined the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC). Sounds grand and it is pretty impressive. Wills now has a kit bag nearly as big as he is:

His cricket bat sticks out of one side pocket, his helmet attaches to the outside and in side are his batting pads etc. They play with real cricket balls so protection is required. They do have training kits and altho' Wills was measured for his, he obviously didn't have it on his first weekend. I didn't realize until after but he wore an England shirt for his first session which given the results of the current England/India test series was maybe a bit tactless -but I don't think anyone noticed. For the Sunday session he wore his India cricket shirt - much more appropriate.

I am sure I have written plenty in previous blogs about IST - Indian Stretchable Time, well at the KIOC, there is little if no elasticity. At precisely the start time a whistle is blown and about 80 boys (all ages from 6 to 18) sit down for a sort of assembly - both notices and words of inspiration. Then they get divided into groups. Watching the older boys in the nets - there is some very serious bowling going on - I wouldn't like to have those balls coming in my direction. Of all we have seen of India so far, I have to say this is the most organized and timely operation by a long way. The coaches seem strict but fair  - there is much less praise than in the US. If you get it, you've earned it. This sits well with Wills who has never liked feel good praise. For a lot of these kids their parents have made a fair investment in sending them to this camp, so they want to see progress is being made. It's definitely more like "competitive" soccer than "recreational" in the U.S. Cricket not being a top sport for a lot of the ex-pats Wills is the only non-indian but no-one seems interested.
Wills and his contemporaries start with warm up exercises. Wills is on the far right in the lighter blue shirt. The kids here are more independent than in the US. No parents in sight - just a few drivers hanging around. Even the youngest 6 year olds have to pad up by themselves and manage perfectly well. So as not to be the only "hover" parents Simon and I vacated the premises and a short walk took us to Commercial Street and my favorite cold coffee with ice-cream!
We don't have any pics of when the real action started but Wills had a great time both days and is looking forward to going back next weekend when he wants Shankar to drive him and we apparently don't need to go at all. Little guy is changing, not so long ago he was too nervous to even go out on the football/soccer pitch - now he strides straight out to meet his group and is chatting and joking away with the other kids in no time, his Indian accent fitting right in.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A "Normal" Weekend

As we had nothing special planned this weekend, I thought I'd compare a "normal " weekend here to what we may have been doing in the U.S.

We started off with taking poor Wills to the dentist for 2 teeth to be pulled. I guess a few differences here - firstly taking our shoes off and leaving them on the porch, and also I guess the fact the kid's dentist is open on a Saturday morning. The great thing about our dentist is we have his personal cell phone number and he answers it! Ads had a spot of tooth ache while we were in Kerala, I shot the dentist a text and within the hour I had a response as to what to give him. Wills was pretty stoic and we left the dentist smiling. My only concern was that Simon may have keeled over but he managed to stay standing!

Meanwhile Ads was left at home doing his homework. He definately gets more homework over the weekend than he did in the US. This weekend he is making a video and a brochure with some of his class room buds about Nuerons. He also has Math, Chem, Physics and English! Some of his homework arrives by and is returned by email to/from his teachers -so I guess all the kids in his class have email accounts. Even Wills has homework over the weekend, first grade has been quite a ramp up for him. The spellings have a couple of "challenge" words at the end - this weeks is "transportation." No way he's going to get that one right!!

I then leave for the  grocery store - Hypercity. Even in the nine months or so, we have been in India the western produce has increased and improved. Especially the cheese! However western food is way more expensive than the Indian options. Produce is a good price but is very seasonal which does mean it is fresher but I do feel as if I haven't seen a strawberry for a long time and the mangoes have gone until next year! They have now started charging for plastic bags, which I totally endorse, but as they charge so little I haven't yet seen many people bringing their own. The range of items on the shelves, especially with the western foods is pretty sporadic. Things appear and then disappear for a few weeks, usually just after the kids have got used to said item and decided its all they want to eat. What I do like is there is a small Waitrose franchise in the store. Except for visits to the UK, its been a long time since I could shop at Waitrose - however it is very overpriced so only for little treats!!

After lunch Simon and Wills, head off with another Dad to check out a local cricket academy. Wills and his bud here in vista are cricket obsessed and have been since April/May so its seems more than a passing fad. Wills comes back very excited, Simon not so, one session is Saturday evening, the other very early Sunday morning and as I am not yet entrusted with the car yet - Simon will have to drive!!! Wills will also will need full cricket kit, pads, helmet etc. So decision is pending.

Meanwhile I take Adam to have his hair cut. Adam and his hair are an ongoing saga at school. So we are keeping it short and as it grows like wildfire that means every 3 weeks we seem to be at the haircutters. Luckily its drop in and very close to home. When he has his hair cut I have a quick eye brow thread. Charge for both 88 rupees (yes thats $2!)

Wills is now out brandishing a light sabre with his bud and Adam playing on a computer game with "brother from another mother".

This evening we going round to a friends in vista for a drink and then to a french creperie for dinner.

So a "normal" Saturday - the difference is really only in the details!!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Going, Going..Ganesh

With Simon at the wheel and one very cross kid (torn away from his friends in the 'hood) we headed off to Ulsoor Lake, in mid-Bangalore to hopefully see some Ganesha meet their end. Although this was not a major submersion day for the festival there had been an article in the newspaper saying the police were expecting a lot of Ganesha traffic. So, we were hopeful.

The Ganesh's started pouring in. They were parked on the quay for one last round of pooja and offerings. Time running out....

Then over the fence and consigned to the murky waters, one, two, three dunks and your gone......
These Ganesh were so beautiful with their bright eyes and chubby bellies. Not to mention all the intricate design and workmanship, I was quite sad to see them go, as were some of their temporary owners:
As the afternoon ticked by the Ganesh got bigger and the atmosphere more electric. The Ganesh were driven up on carts pulled by oxen, on the back of trucks or pulled by tractors. Drums were beat, chanting loud, and firecrackers boomed.  This was only mid-afternoon and already getting a little overwhelming for Wills. Next year, we'll leave the kids at home and drive up one evening to see the real action!
One of the things I love best in India: no-one minded we were there, everyone was happy to have us share their festival and their fun, people wanted to talk to us, in-fact, someone told me "Its Sunday, so the Christians have come to drop their Ganesh", it's all encompassing! And of course everyone wanted their picture taken:
It was sad to see the end result, these beautiful statues being pushed to their graveyards....
But next year, both they and us will be back!!!

Ganesh Chaturthi

After the buying and selling of Ganesha, the real festival begins. Our community Ganesh, fully decorated in wreaths and garlands:

The overall celebration, as well as being Ganesh's birthday, is a celebration of and offering to the god of prosperity and good fortune. It is also symbolic of the permanence of the soul and impermanence (is that a word?) of the body. The statue of Ganesh comes from the earth (clay) and at the end of the festival is returned there (submersion into water). Every year his soul returns in another clay body. This bit I especially like, the symmetry and enduring image of the soul.

In my previous blog, I had missed out on the symbolism/representations of the animals accompanying the various Ganesha statues. In the Hindu religion, the gods or mystic presences can be manifested in any living being, all living beings having a soul. Sometimes my limited, but growing I hope, appreciation of the Hindu religion and culture is not up to separating the serious from the exuberant! The mouse (I took to be a rat) is called Mushika and there's quite a story but he is linked with Ganesh, the Peacock, Murugan, is a reformed devil, and the lion is usually associated with Pavarti. The animal presences are generally linked with a particular deity/god.

Our Ganesh was housed in his temporary pandal/shelter, made of woven leaves and highly decorated - in fact a house fit for a king. If you can see on this little photo, our Ganesh is seated on and framed by a serpent, which is also a Vahana (mystic presence in an animal body).

While the Ganesh is in the pandal people come and give offerings and their pooja (prayers). The hope is that Ganesh will bless them and theirs with prosperity and good fortune. These are the traditional offerings given to our Ganesh:
For a set period of time, can be just until that very night, or for a maximum of 10 days,  Ganesh stays in his pandal. Then, the final stage of the festival, Ganesh is transported as part of a parade/procession with people singing, dancing and chanting to his final resting place, a lake or submersion tank. As he sinks into the waters, he hopefully takes away all misfortune and leaves behind prosperity and good fortune.

Drowned plaster of paris Ganesha, covered garishly in colored chemicals, garlands and wreaths have caused big problems and environmental issues for the lakes of Bangalore. All are encouraged to buy clay Ganesha, adorned with natural paints, who just dissolve into the earth, and also, to disrobe their statues before submersion to keep our lakes clean and drains unclogged.

Last night, from the safe confines of Vista, we could hear the parties and parades, as some Ganesha dived into the waters, well into the night. The firecrackers echoed loud and clear. Part of me wished I was there and part of me was content to listen from a distance. We had thought about going to one of the designated "submersion" lakes in the city but apparently nothing happens until evening and then it's a very crowded and noisy, party atmosphere. Wills would have found it all too much - the Ganesha sale was a stretch for him - crowds and chaos are not his thing!  Adam, the white guy, stands out much more but is happy to talk to everyone who asks him where he comes from, where he studies, what football team he supports etc. as he wanders along quite happily through the thronging crowd.

Our community Ganesh will meet his bodily end on Monday afternoon as he plunges into murky waters, which I'm sure is a much more sedate affair and I will be there with my camera!