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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

China Leaves the Simpsons Full of Holes

While we've been in Delhi, we've started making it a habit to start the
morning out right, not with the tedious Anderson Cooper or the slightly
less boring BBC News, but instead with the Simpsons, which appears on the
wonderful Star World at 8:30 AM. Star World is the expat American's
friend -- it's got the OC, American Idol (current season), and a slew
of other prime export-quality shows.

Anyway, yesterday's episode was titled Simple Simpson.
In it Homer becomes a kind of pastry vigilante/superhero, getting back
at bad people by throwing big fat pies in their face. It's all going
wonderfully until he's caught by his boss Mr. Boss, who discovers his
secret identity and threatens to reveal it unless he only pies people
Mr. Burns is against. Girl scouts, that sort of thing.

But the episode's ending was confusing -- Lisa was introducing someone
on stage, Homer was getting ready to pie whoever it was, and then
suddenly Homer had a change of heart and gave up. At first I thought it
was because there had been sloppy cuts because of ads or something, but
then Don remembered that it's the Dalai Lama who's about to get a pie.

And that's when it made sense -- Star World broadcasts in China too,
and the cuts were probably made to get past the censor there (See the
above link for more). Sad that it also means a censored episode here in
India as well.

[Update: the linked-to article claims without a citation that the Dalai Lama cut was done "to appease the predominantly Buddhist viewers of East, South, and Southeast Asia with regards to any view of mocking the Dalai Lama." Not sure which theory's right.]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Monkey Washing in Assam

Monkey Butler.JPG
Despite the important-sounding name, the Asian Age is a low-rent newspaper, as you can see by what they chose to include on the top half of their "Newsmakers" page (19 March edition). The caption reads: "GOOD DEAL: A monkey cleans the utensils of a shopkeeper in exchange for two bananas at Tezpur in Assam on Sunday. This monkey comes frequently to the shop and helps the shopkeeper by cleaning the utensils."

The hell? How is this at all likely? What do they mean "frequently"? And what do they mean by "clean"? Most monkeys I've seen make things dirtier than before. On the other hand, this monkey looks especially obese, so maybe it's remotely possible that he's given up his happy wild life of terrorizing anything he thinks is weaker than him and instead decided to work for bananas rather than steal them. But I just don't think so.

What gets me is that surely almost everyone reading this Indian paper has had at least some interaction with monkeys -- enough to know that they're cute at a distance and evil up close, with large teeth and an inclination to steal anything that looks interesting (just like this blog?). It's no more likely that monkeys would start cleaning things than that people would spend their days walking along each other's balconies, stealing water bottles, and mating on roofs.

For a more realistic approach to monkeyshines, I think you only have to look at the inside of the door leading to our balcony at the cheapo hotel we stayed at:

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Mughal Gardens

And the day after the Haus Khaz rose gardens, we remained on a flower rampage. We headed to the Mughal Gardens, part of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President of India's house).

This was an amazing place -- a complex of about five gardens laid out in the late 1920s by Edwin Lutyens, who designed most of the "New" infrastructure in New Delhi. The best and biggest garden was like a typical Mughal-style garden, with small streams of water forming a rectangular pattern and meeting near the center. The garden is only open for about 5 weeks of the year, and I was glad we had a chance to go.

Given its location more or less in the center of India's government, it's wasn't too surprising that security was so tight. And the sign above explains why I don't have any pix of the amazing, huge zinnias, or anything else. The government had put thought into more than just security. There was bottled water available, as well as a handy supply of bathrooms and even "lounges" (covered tents) for getting out of the heat.

The lines moved fairly fast when we arrived in mid-morning, but when we left around noon they were much longer. Clearly, visiting the gardens is something that lots of families do as a tradition. But what people evidently don't do is stop and smell the roses -- we got lots of funny looks when we did so. And with rosewater such a common ingredient in desserts as well as perfumes, this seemed especially surprising.

Wi-Fi: A Highly Selective Delhi Guide

In the Greater Kailash area, the only public place I've found that has Wi-Fi is the Cafe Coffee Day in GK-2 market (that's the M block). If you ask your server, he might say it doesn't work, but look for the Airlink signal. You'll have to pay via credit card, not by buying one of those cards. Also, it's expensive at 45 rupees an hour or so, but since it evidently has a monopoly for a large portion of South Delhi, I can't argue.

If I've missed any Wi-Fi spots somewhat near GK, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Springtime in Delhi

Summer is about to take over and make everything dry up in Delhi, but for the moment the city's parks are full of flowers. Zinnias, roses, marigolds, salvia, poppies, huge dahlias, and a million others kinds I don't know. The weekend before last we went to Hauz Khas ("Royal Tank"), a large park surrounded by a schmanzy neighborhood in South Delhi. This tank (water reservoir) was built around 1300 for Siri, the second city to exist within what is now New Delhi.

As in many other parts of Delhi, Moghul monuments and tombs are scattered here and there, in various states of repair. In fact, Delhi has so many that I wish they could lend a few to Bangalore -- they'd really perk things up.

The rose garden in the park was huge. And very well kept up. I suspect that there's a lot of non-city money going into keeping it like this.

After the rose garden, we headed to the Deer Park, which actually does have very obese deer behind cyclone fencing. Even better, there was a peacock. I wanted to taunt him into displaying his feathers, but I didn't know how to do that. I suppose you need a peahen.

The lake itself was a lot prettier than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be a big puddle, but there's a lot of water here. It might have been helped by the relatively large and unseasonable rains we got a few days earlier. Isn't it eerie?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Smiling the Smile

Smiling the Smile, originally uploaded by jrambow.

And here's a slideshow of photos from our second day at Angkor Wat. That was when we covered the Ta Phrom (overgrown with jungle) and Bayon (full of creepy smiling guy) Temples. They were both splendid. Do you think the Smile wore off on Don?

Maggi Ketchup Horror

It's on the shelves of supermarkets and little neighborhood stores alike. It's on the table at lots of restaurants, especially the mediocre and the mid-range. It comes with your fish and chips, it might come with your pizza, it will probably even come with your samosa or pakoras as a kind of chutney. Worst of all, it's usually thrown into Chinese food and tomato soup as a main ingredient, giving a simple, sickly sweet taste to everything it touches. I'm talking about Maggi (and to a lesser degree Kissan) ketchup. The two of them sometimes seem to have all of India in their sticky paws.

Between the milk-sweets and all that tea, it's no secret that most Indians have a sweet tooth. But it's still surprising that a majority evidently wants their ketchup to be even sweeter than the corn-syruped-up American classic. Where American Heinz has a pleasing vinegar/tomato bite to counteract all its sugar, Maggi just has more cloying sweetness. The stuff even looks gooier and shinier from all that cane sugar.

But there are signs of a little change. We were excited a few months ago to discover that Heinz is available here. I've tried Indian Heinz a couple times so far, mostly at fast-food joints, and to be honest couldn't tell if it was A) Just as Bad as Maggi, or B) Slightly Better. It still didn't seem as tangy as the ketchup back home, but it's a step in the right direction.

Related: a Stylestation post about a Malcolm Gladwell article about what people want in ketchup, and why there aren't a million different kinds on store shelves. I'm still amazed that Heinz hasn't made more inroads in India -- according to the blog post, it's been here since 2000. I guess sweet ketchup is a winner.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Causeway, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Here are a bunch of photos from our first day in Siem Reap. These are all from Angkor Wat, the major temple there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Phnom Penh Take 1

When we arrived in Cambodia, we ended up having to spend a while getting our visas. A big German tour group was in front of us, and that held up things a bit. We'd known about the eVisa, but hadn't gotten our act together and applied for them. I'm not certain that they would have saved much time -- the single line for them was kind of slow-moving too.

We stayed at the Foreign Correspondents Club, a slick bar and restaurant that also has a few very nice rooms. Their marketing is so clever that the New York Times' infamous article on Phnom Penh bought into its roving-reporter shtick. For the record, there are no feverish writers working on their next Pulitzer there, or at least no more than anywhere else. We liked the place a lot, but we thought the game was given a way a bit by their cool t-shirts, which cost $15. That's about five times more than I'd expect anything like that to cost in Cambodia. (I still want on, though.)

Here's a picture from our room window. The beat-down mansion in the foreground will probably be fixed up soon -- one exactly like it a couple doors down is now owned by the United Nations, if I recall correctly, and they have clearly sunk a lot of money into it. In the background is the National Museum.

After this quick visit to Phnom Penh, it was on to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. After we checked into our hotel, rented bikes, got our $40 passes for Angkor Wat, and actually arrived, it was lunchtime. This turned out to be a blessing, since we missed a quick but powerful downpour.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Math is Hard

Math Is HardDon and I loved this totally complicated sale going on at Kalpana, a local clothes shop. According to the ad, women who walk in wearing the official International Women's Day colors can get up to 9% off -- 3% for each color worn. I don't know who judges whether or you're wearing purple or just dark blue.

And then the confusion starts, because you get a bigger discount based on your age, should you "dare to bare" it. You have to add up the digits in your birth date. If I were a lady, for instance, I'd get a total of 30% off (27 Feb. + '73 = 21, + 9% for the green, purple and white outfit I'd scrape together).

What I love is that the discount is totally random -- it's not as if there's any pretense about giving you a bigger sale if you're older.

Those lucky girls born on 29 Sept. 1999 are probably in high demand as dressed-up shopping "friends" today -- but their sisters born the next year are being ignored.

More Wats

The next day we went to Wat Arun, a temple that was handily right across the river from our room -- you could see it from the upstairs part of our really cool hotel room. We took a boat across the river: a very quick trip.

As you can see, the central tower is mammoth up close:

And all those brilliant designs are made from broken-up china:

After Wat Arun, we took a taxi south to Wat Prayun, a temple with a great sideline: a pond full of turtles that can be fed. The grounds of Wat Prayun itself were busy with 100s of monks all listening to a lecture, so we didn't nose around too much.

Here's one of the snappers eating a banana on a stick. Buying a plate of over-ripe bananas and a stick was one of the best 10 baht I spent in Bangkok.

Surrounding the pool is a manmade hill with a steps that lead to a Reclining Buddha shrine. The lights inside gave it a nice eerie glow.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Shiny Bangkok

We had a great time on vacation in Cambodia, a visit that included a couple days in Bangkok at the start and the end. The flight from Chennai was a killer -- it took off around 1 am (it was delayed), and then landed at an indeterminate point in the morning (time had no meaning at that point). In the seats in front and around us were Indian Rotarians who pushed their seats back all the way, laughed and talked constantly, and fussily demanded whiskies and anything else they could think of from the long-suffering crew. This cut down on the funtime factor for the rest of us by about 35%, I believe.

After we landed at the huge new Bangkok Airport, got to the hotel, and left our luggage, it was time to see Bangkok on no sleep at all. (We visited last year too, so we didn't feel as if we have to see everything.) This time we were close to the Royal Palace and Wat Po (a temple), so it was easy to do these. Here, for instance, is Don contemplating the Reclining Buddha's nipple:

We were very impressed with the super-fancy buses parked on the streets around the Royal Palace. There's nothing like these buses in India, or maybe in most other places. Some of them were even karaoke buses! What a way to head down the road.

There were lots of tourists at the Royal Palace. I was so sleepy at this point that it started to seem like the best policy to see what everyone else was taking a picture of and to look in the same general direction.

We did make sure to check out the scale model of Angkor Wat. It's just sort of lying there sandwiched between amazing temples and palaces and shrines, but it's one impressive carving. And accurate, we'd soon find out.

After slowly going haywire from the heat and all the crazy, gorgeous designs everywhere, it was time to call it quits on sight-seeing for the day, take a nap, and then just go wandering.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


We got into Delhi last night. I'm hoping to stay put for a while, although we also do want to take advantage of being in India's north and visit some places nearby. Compared to Chennai the weather is just wonderful. It's 73°F(23°C) and dry in Delhi at the moment, compared to 86°F(30°C)and humid in Chennai. The Delhi temps mean that many men are wearing long-sleeve shirts and thin sweaters while I'm wearing shirt-sleeves and not sweating (for once). I forgot how nice it can be to walk down the street for an extended period of time.

The guest house is OK -- good location, very old/strange furnishings, and non-functioning but imminent Internet -- pretty typical of our experiences elsewhere.

I don't know much about the Greater Kailash neighborhoods we're part of, but it's clear much of it has been planned. Markets and stores are grouped around several central small parks, and addresses are fairly regular once you know the system. It all makes me a little giddy -- all this regularity. Last night Don and I took a walk around and managed to end up back at the guest house without expecting it -- we'd been walking on a street that curved back onto itself. It was surprising to end up home sooner than you thought -- almost always it's the opposite.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


The past couple days have been a slow process of flying from Cambodia to Bangkok to Chennai, which is where we arrived this afternoon. Tonight we're probably going to visit Pondy Bazaar and buy some clothes -- after all that running around, most of our stuff is dirty and dusty, and it will be another couple days before we can get it all washed.

Tomorrow Don's going into the office a bit, we're picking up more luggage there, and then flying to Delhi. This time, we're staying in the thrillingly titled "East of Kailash." Kailash is where Shiva lives, but in this case we'll presumably be near the "Greater Kailashes", of which I think there are three: GK 1, 2, and 3. But maybe there are more, and maybe "East of Kailash" is WAY east. Hopefully all will become clear once I can get my hands on a street map.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Phnom Penh

We're back in Phnom Penh after lots of Angkor Wat adventures, of which more later. There's something about Cambodia internet cafes that doesn't jibe with thoughtful posts, at least for me. First, I'm too lazy to upload photos from them, so no eye candy. And then there's the pleasant chattering I'm overhearing (but not understanding) between the middleaged lady owner and a Buddhist monk. Then there are the many, many geckos on the ceiling (way more than India -- maybe a dozen?), which are very entertaining. And then there are the guys next to me planning a very detailed flight itinerary. So it's a little hard to think.

Tomorrow we spend most of the day here in PP, then we fly to Bangkok tomorrow, then we fly to Chennai the day after, then we fly to Delhi. You might wonder why our plans are so drawn out and messed up. We wonder that too, a bit, but it's just kind of worked out that way. Anyway, we both have some luggage in Chennia, so now we're locked into it.

In other news, the New York Times continues to copy our vacation plans. They just wound up their Cambodia coverage by sending their reporter to stay at the $300-a-night Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap. That was exactly 10 times more than we paid for our hotel, and ours was pretty fancy too! Admittedly, no one baked us cookies. but I'm still trying to account for a $265 difference.