Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Chickens Roosting

Chickens Roosting, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Here are some chickens we saw roosting alongside the road near Hampi last month. They all seemed pretty happy there -- I think there were a good amount of chicks on the ground below.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eating in India

We had a reader email us with a few questions in preparation for an upcoming trip to Bangalore. One issue was the neverending debate of what a visitor can and can't eat. There is one school of thought that says that getting sick in India is inevitable, but I don't think this matches the reality. We've never gotten anything more than minor problems from eating here for most of a year.

Of course, I can't say if that's because we've just been lucky or not. If you're just in India for a few days, you might want to be a little more cautious -- don't blame us if our advice gives you jippy tummy. In any case, don't be lame and not eat anything except crackers and Coca-Cola! You might not get sick, but you'll definitely be bored, and that's sad too.

Things we don't eat:

  • Cut-up fruit sold on the street: even though it always looks really, really good.
  • Salads and lettuce: we pick the lettuce out of sandwiches if it's in there. Admittedly, this is pretty much the same as just eating it, but you have to have clear-cut policies about this stuff.
  • Tap water: Unless it's heated up, as in tea. Also, we think that a few drops in a just-washed glass is OK.

Things we think are safe:
  • Street food: As long as it's hot and there's lots of turnover at the stand. Sometimes I pick out the coriander (cilantro) leaves on top, but usually I don't.
  • Tender coconut water: It's inside the coconut! What could be safer? Too bad it doesn't taste that good. (Don says, "It really is good once you get used to it.")
  • Lassis: There might be some water in the glass and possibly water used to thin the curd down, but it's a risk I think worth taking.
  • Fresh lime sodas: As much as possible.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I am happy

Here's a quick test to tell if you're an optimist. If you head to a
bookstore's reference section and see a row of thin language books with
titles like "Learn Tamil in a Month," "Learn Tamil Through English,"
"Urdu for Dummies," and "Read Hindi Script Just Like That," do you
think to yourself, "well, four weeks is a pretty long time, I'm sure
I'll learn how to say lots of stuff by then"? (We already have the
classic "Learn Kannada Through English," and it hasn't taught me a
thing just sitting there on the shelf. All the same, I had to get a
couple more of these language guides.)

The reason for the current bookstore expedition was our upcoming
departure from Bangalore. Next Monday, we leave for two whole months.
For three weeks, we'll be in Chennai (the former Madras, where Tamil is
the main language), then we're going on vacation, and then we're going
to Delhi for month. And then back to Bangalore.

My (I hope realistic) goals are to learn a few basic Tamil phrases, and
also be able to read and say a few things in Hindi. My success with
Kannada has been poor, but I'll do my best with these two other

Monday, January 22, 2007

Summer's Coming

Most stores in Bangalore are in the middle of sales right now. That's
because it's almost the end of winter, when it's been in the 60s to 80s
(15-32 C), but mostly in the 80s. Soon it will be "summer", in the 90s
(32-37 C) or more, and you'll be able to get short sleeves in the
stores again. (Although short sleeves ("half sleeves") have been very
comfortable here since I arrived in November, they have not been on
store shelves. It's because it's long-sleeve weather, that's why.)

In the dead of winter, many people wear sweaters or blazers in the
morning, and knit caps ("chilly hats"), and old men wrap thin wool
shawls around themselves. And little kids wear "monkey caps", hats that
cover their whole head except their face. The coldest it's ever been in
Bangalore in the morning is probably around 60 (16 C) or so. (Delhi,
however, does get genuinely cold, right around freezing.)

But summer's right around the corner. Any smiles I may have had at what
seemed like over-reaction to the cold will be more than paid back when
I start sweating within moments of walking out the door. The sun's
power is amazing here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tablecloth Treatment

Koshys!!!, originally uploaded by dakini.

For lunch today I headed to MG Road to eat at Koshy's, a favorite old-skool Bangalore coffee shop/diner kind of place. I ate in the smoky old-man side, as always, rather than the prettified section. Can't say my fried chicken was very good, but the fresh lime soda was wonderful as always. One nice touch is that the waiter comes out with a plaid tablecloth and throws it over your table if you're ordering food. At first I got paranoid and wondered why I was getting this special treatment, but then I realized that of course all the men around me were just talking and smoking with coffee -- it was early. No tablecloths for them!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Drying in the Sun

Gully for Laundry
It's always laundry day at this centrally located gully on Richmond Road, not far from several malls and lots of major office buildings. If you send your laundry out and you live nearby, I suppose you might be able to find your pants in this picture. We have a washing machine, so our clothes aren't on display in town unless you visit our the constantly used drying rack in the apartment. Seriously, I'm glad that dryers are more or less nonexistent in India -- with so much sun (almost) all the time, they'd be a serious waste of energy.

Don's goatNot too far away is Don's favorite goat in all of Bangalore (well, at least I think it is). The goat has what we suspect is an optimal life. He lives to one side of a plot of land on which people spend their days making marigold garlands and other decorations out of flowers. I'm sure the goat gets his fair share of all that vegetable matter.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Making Fun of Gandhi: An Object Lesson

So recently there's been a bit of a media ruckus over a comedian named Gautham Prasad. An NRI (Non-Resident Indian) living in New York, he posted some of his shows on Youtube a while back. One of them has him dressed up like Ghandi, performing a (PG-13) striptease, with a pole and everything. A couple Indian TV stations found out about this, and broadcast clips of the skit to the general dismay of many, many people.

The clip, which can be easily found on YouTube, is a whole lot of not funny. However, calls by politicians to punish the guy in some unspecified way or to make the TV stations that aired the clip apologize are hardly the right approach. The video is now banned from being aired on TV in India, so I guess most people will just have to imagine how bad it could be.

I bet Prasad is glad there are several oceans between him and the folks angry with him, and here's hoping it blows over soon.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Still More Books

Books from NYC.JPGJust like last time, I sent two boxes of books from New York. They took about $60 and almost exactly two months to get here. This time, I mailed them to Don's office address rather than here, in hopes they would arrive with less hassle. Well.

The books didn't go to Don's office, but instead, Don got a handwritten letter saying that he needed to pay 30 rupees a box as a "bulk mailing fee." This was fine, although I don't really understand why my New York City post office didn't know the right amount of postage to put on. Was this a fee a unilateral decision by the Museum Road branch of the post office? I don't know.

Off I headed to the post office. I managed to pay the 60 rupee fee and to locate the books without too much trouble -- they were in the PO's basement, in an office next to a couple other random packages. The next problem was convincing the clerk to give me the books even though they were addressed to Don. Since I was the mailer (but not the mailee), it ended up being OK. And then I discovered that one of the boxes inside the heavy plastic M bags had burst in transit. So I had a bunch of books sloshing around in a bag.

It would have been easy if I could have kept the boxes in the bags, but I needed to give both bags to the post office, and the clerk (and the postmaster, who she called) wouldn't trust me to bring them back tomorrow. (Why did they need the bags? According to the clerk, to get the USPS to reimburse them for postage). After standing around for a while packing all the books I could into my gym bag and making a pile of the rest, I wore down the nice clerk, and she gave me a spare box to get them home.

Now I only have to find the time to read them . . .

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

So Long, 70mm

We recently called it quits on our membership with Seventymm, the Netflix-like service we joined back in November. It got to be a pain calling the company to have someone come pick up the movies and making sure someone would be around to give it to them. It's a lot easier to just drop DVDs in the mail.

The selection of English movies was not huge -- and most of the ones they had were either action flicks or old movies. Often we'd fall into the trap of feeling like we HAD to see the movies we'd gotten, just to get them out of the house.

The small selection reflects the English movies you find in stores, but we didn't get the feeling that 70mm was buying bunches of new stuff every chance they could get. Of course, the company does have the challenge of having a good selection of Bollywood and also movies in Telagu, Kannada, Tamil, and other languages as well as English, and we're not their average customers. But for us, it's probably easier and cheaper to just buy a VCD or DVD when you think you'll have the time to watch it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I'm Always Breaking Things

India is a land of hard surfaces. There's lots and lots of stone
available, so counters and floors tend to be granite or something
equally unyielding. If you drop something glass, it's gonna break --
you don't have the fighting chance you'd have with a wooden floor or a
plastic counter. In my time in India, I've broken a large Kingfisher
beer bottle by tipping it over onto the counter, a jam jar (it fell out
of the fridge), a watch crystal, and countless glasses (I also dented a
cell phone, but since I lost it soon after, that doesn't count).
Undoubtedly I'd have broken lots more stuff if most things weren't
metal or plastic.

And all that stone on the ground can be a little scary to walk on. Big
fancy malls and office buildings feature highly polished, slick,
head-busting granite stairs and entrances, and they also often have
someone energetically mopping away and making sure the stone's a little
wet. I'm always expecting to see lots of wipeouts, but I guess people
are nimble and on the lookout for potential spills.

My favorite recent breakage was when I was shopping for a dinner party
last month. I had a bunch of stuff, including two bottles of wine. I
set them both down in the small parking lot of the schmanzy Home Stop
store, and immediately one bottle tipped over and broke at the neck.
Oh, the stares from the rickshaw drivers and passers-by I attracted as
the red, red wine stained the pavement and rolled down toward the
street. The store guard very kindly got me a new bag to put my as-yet
unbroken bottle in, and took the busted one off my hands. I thought
he'd throw it in the garbage, but instead he hurled the bag into the
drainage ditch/open sewer that flows right by Home Stop. Handy! And off
I went.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Bit Too Much of an Adventure

"The fascinating rock-hewn Barabar Caves, dating from 200 BC, are 36km north of Gaya and contain detailed Ashokan inscriptions. These are the 'Marabar Caves' of EM Forster's A Passage to India. From Gaya take the train to Bela (Rs. 7). Then ride a tonga (horse cart; Rs. 70) for 10km of potholes to the start of the arduous 5km hike that leads to the caves. Although well worth visiting, they're in Naxalite territory, so it's best to organize armed guards at the police station."
--Lonely Planet India, page 511.

I love the passage's can-do spirit, what with the potholes and the 10km horsecart ride and the commie gang threat, but I still don't think a trip to the caves in Bihar is for me. Here's a bit more about the caves. (It's also where I grabbed the photo above.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas Star

It's almost Epiphany, so here's a picture of one of the many stars we bought in Kerala (we also saw some sold later in Bangalore). As you can probably see, they're made out of folded paper. Although a few were more plain, most of them were bright like this one. I thought they were all beautiful.

Hampi Rest Stop

Here's a nice picture of Don at the Narasimha Temple in Hampi. I think he looks like a rock star. We were a little tired by the time we got here . . . .