Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Staightening my hair, finding a knife and other tidbits

Well, it would seem that many of you got the hint I obviously left on my last post about the size of my flat! Which means, yes, visitors are always welcome and encouraged. For as J and L put it, for people who want to "bail on life." I have to say I had a good laugh when I read that. For those who don't want to bail on life, and just want a vacation, my door is always open!

L, asked me what I was reading, so I thought I'd answer the question here, since it is blog appropriate. I am reading a book called The White Mughals, (click on link for a detailed description). It takes place in 18th century India, but more interesting is that is takes place for the most part in Hyderabad, where I am currently living. It's a historical novel, and I am learning a lot about Islam in India as well and the many mis-conceptions people have towards Islam as a religion. I am about 90 pages in of about 800 pages. I'll review it further when I am finished.

Some fun tidbits and experiences:

* I brought my hair straightener with me to India, with a converter, and although it works, as soon as I step outside I find my hair plastered to my face in heat induced shock and therefore it is pointless to actually straighten it unless I am going directly to work. So I can step out of my air conditioned room,to an A/c filled car, to my air conditioned building at work. If all goes well I can maintain straight hair.

* Yesterday I went out to get some snacks for my room, and I felt it was a tad hotter out. When I arrived at work, I checked the weather. It was 43 degrees out and felt like 47. So then I checked the Ottawa and Sudbury weather and instantly felt better when I saw that it was 4 degrees, with a low of -2. 43 degrees is hot, but I just spent 3months in the cold. I'll take the heat for now. Today it is only 39c.

* I spent an hour watching Bollywood videos today, and enjoyed them.

* Yesterday, I went out to buy some snacks like I mentioned previously, I just can't handle eating another omelet. So I needed to find food that could easily be stored in my guesthouse. So I bought some high fibre wasa like crackers, crunchy peanut butter, whole wheat bread, and mango yogurt. I figured I could just go to the 99 rupees store and buy some cutlery. Most people eat with their hands here, which I quite enjoy doing and have no issues with. But there is no way I can use my hand to spread peanut butter on to bread. So I went next door to the "dollar store" and looked for cutlery. I found an aisle of plates, and an aisle of drinking glasses but no cutlery. At all. I asked the guy who worked there, and he took me to a small selection of BBQ pitch forks. Umm, ok the BBQ pitch fork would come in handy if I was having a pig roast, but in no way would it help me get the peanut butter on my bread. Just a note, cutlery is available here in India, just not at the 3 stores I went into. I pouted my way back to my guesthouse, dreaming about the PB in my bag, and then decided to ask the guesthouse if I could borrow a knife and spoon (for the yogurt). They kindly brought me up a plate and 3 pieces of cutlery. Aww, happy endings!

NB: I prefer to eat Indian food and quite like it, but bread and crackers seemed to be the best thing to buy as I don't have a fridge.

* When I was grocery shopping, I found oreos, Cadbury chocolates in all flavours, skim milk, and raisin bran. It's funny but I rarely eat these things (except the Raisin Bran and skim milk), but just knowing they are there make me feel better. There is also a vast selection of soy milk and tofu; it is a vegetarian heaven here!

* I asked my colleagues at work how you can tell if an Indian women is married (as in our culture there are rings, very expensive ones I might add). I was told there are many ways, such as a woman would wear a red bindi made with sindoor high on her forehead right at the hairline. Or, she may be wearing a toe ring on each foot, or she might be wearing a necklace, which could vary in colour depending on what state she comes from, or both wrists would be covered in bracelets as a married woman doesn't keep her wrists bare. But of course this in only for Hindu women. Christian women might wear a wedding band. This really just left me more confused. I figure if I want to know if someone is married, I'll just ask.

* I'm studying Hindi. It's not going so well. Everyone is telling me I'll learn it in 2 months. Not sure what kind of warped universe they are living in. But I am not sure how that will be possible. Most Indians are surrounded by many languages from the time they are born, and pick them up so easily. Many have even studied and/or are studying French too, you know, to add to the already 3-5 languages they currently speak. It makes me so jealous! I wish I could pick it up that quickly. I have learned a few words, like, "how are you, and what is your name? But that is about it, oh and from watching TV and seeing this commercial over and over again, I can say "Are you smarter than a 5th grader" in Hindi. Although not sure how far that will get me?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Making new friends and dancing before work!

I discovered a bakery down the street from where I stay called "Ofen: Delectably European" so I decided to see for myself it really was delectably European. Baked goods are not the same as home, they are still mostly good, just different. I've been eating omelette's for breakfast from the guesthouse most days and I just couldn't bare to eat one more. So I decide to hike to Ofen in the 40 degree heat. I think I went a little crazy with the purchases, as I bought cinnamon cake, a chocolate croissant, a cinnamon bun and peanut butter cookies!! Yes, peanut butter cookies. It's the first time I've seen these here, and I was so happy to see these delicious baked goods that I bought more than I can eat. I also bought a cafe latte and am now sitting happily in front of the computer at the recruiters office sipping the sweet drink and eating the croissant, which was quite good! My appetite has changed a lot since being here , the heat causes me to never really want to eat, and when I do, I eat very small portions as everything is so rich that you don't need much. I've lost a couple of kilos since arriving (about 4 pounds), so I'm not complaining. OK, I just tried the peanut butter cookie and it is most definitely not peanut butter (hmmm maybe they mis-understood me). They have cumin seeds in them, and although quite tasty, I'm disappointed.

OK, enough about food. This week has been great. So many things have happened, but mostly I have met so many people and made some new friends. Work is also great, and I am loving the freedom I have to be creative and control what I want to train the agents on. Right now I am working on a PowerPoint presentation explaining car culture to them, and why cars are so important to Americans. The portfolio I work on in the call centre is an American auto club, thus the need to have them have this understanding. Also, I am finally used to the "graveyard"shift, and I find myself really loving it. I get to sleep around 4:30am and sleep until about 12:30-1pm (it's hard to wake up with the heat), and then I have all day to get things done while shops are open. Plus all the people I am meeting are on the same schedule as I am. So things with work are great, and people there have been so helpful! Getting to know everyone's name has been a challenge, but if I ask people to write their name down for me, or if I am able to see it on their name badge then I can memorize it. I try to learn 5 new names a day.

Travelling and working in India has been a completely different experience, meeting Indian people and really getting to know them has been an eye opening and educating experience. Two people I have met and have become close to, is Shimul, and her boyfriend Sreeram. They met at work 2 years ago and now are trying to get married. They will have to convince her family who have been actively looking for proposals for her. His family already approve of the marriage and so when her family arrive from Delhi in 2 weeks to visit they will have to convince them. Sreeram has gotten a new job with Google India to show his dedication to her family. When I travelled through India I never really had a chance to see Indian couples, and to hear about dating. Most of the places I visited were smaller villages where that idea of love marriage and dating is still a very foreign idea. I've also met another couple at work where she is 10 years his senior (unheard of here). But it has opened my eyes, as my ideas about India were very narrow. That culture still exists, but you can see this generation pushing for change. Independent India is a young country, and it is only 60 years free from British rule. Think back to what the United States was like 50 years after independence. There was slavery, corruption and even arranged marriage. India will get there, in the next generation or two, things will be different, ideas will be more modern, but I hope it doesn't become too westernized. The world would be a very boring place is every country was the same.

Last night, there was a dinner for all the trainers from my company. There seem to be a lot of outings for group morale, and it has been a great way for me to mingle and meet people. So before work around 7:30 Shae, and Tim, the two other expats headed to BNC (Bottles and Chimneys) and Indian pub for what I think is a small get-together and dinner. They expect about 90 trainers and of course, although we arrive about 30 minutes after the set time of 7pm, we are still early! We must get used to IST or "Indian stretchable time." If someone says dinner at 7pm, show up for 8pm. It takes a lot of getting used to, as I am about as punctual as you can get. But I do like the go with the flow attitudes here, it is definitely a change from the crazy fast-paced, stressful lives we live in North America. So, it's around 8:30pm now,and the music starts getting louder and louder, and Tim decided he feels like dancing. No one is on the dance floor, but he insists, that people will start to dance once we go and start things up. My friend Shimul, and R encourage me to join them, and expat S. even decides to give it a whirl. So we go and after a few minutes the dance floor is packed. And boy do Indians take their dancing serious. It is funny because men made up the majority of the people on the dance floor. So anyway, after about an hour of dancing, we ate a delicious dinner (mutton curry, potato curry, and spinach curry and naan bread), most of head headed back to work. Some went home. I chose to go back to work, as Shimul was having a cake for Sreeram as it was his last day of work. He will start with Google in a weeks time. So I went back to work, but all we really did was have cake upstairs on the roof, then go to this restaurant that serves a buffet until 2am. It turned out to be a really fun evening! Tonight, Shimul, Sreeram, expat S., Timothy, and probably another friend I met named A. will go for a sizzler dinner tonight. Yummy!!

In other news, I went to see an apartment yesterday,and I had no idea what to expect, and was quite glad to be involved in the selection process. The place was huge. Two bedrooms, a living room, two bathrooms, a kitchen and 2 balconies. It was in an old building, but was very secure, and I liked it. Ranjana, told me that once she finalized things I could move in by May 5th. They are going to paint it and fully furnish it for me. After living in a place the size of a closet in Korea, I am quite surprised and content with what will likely be a comfortable living situation. I'll also have a washing machine, and a place to hang my clothes outside on the balcony! I don't much like dryers anyway. So I think next weekend, I will take a small trip to Hampi to visit K. Shae is thinking of coming with me, as she has never been. We have a holiday next weekend so it is a good time to go. Although I hear Hampi is scorching. I am excited to see my old friends, and to see K's family again. His brother's wife is expecting her baby any day now, and it will be exciting to be there to see the new baby.
Hope everyone is well and enjoying the spring weather and hockey play-offs!! Miss you all!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Rajasthani dance performance: not your typical day at the office

This week at work we have two American clients visiting our office, and so it has been crazy and hectic and most people have been working 12 hour days to prepare for their arrival. Yesterday a Town Hall was held to give updates about the company, hand out company awards and then afterwards there was a big Indian dinner on the roof of the building.
The Town Hall is similar to those I have attended back home while working in the government, except there was some fun additions like a comedy skit and a traditional Rajasthani dance performance, performed by some of the employees.
Rajasthan is a north western state in India, that is linked mostly to royalty and palaces. The girls dressed in colourful orange and yellow costumes, decked out in amazing Rajasthan jewellery and presented a traditional dance for the American clients. As I stood watching this, I had to shake my head and once again be thankful to be having such a unique experience. I was surprised how the young men of the company shouted and cheered (like these girls were real Bollywood actresses), which is very normal here. Even going to a movie the men holler and cheer, everyone seems to get very animated and excited about their dancing and performances here. It was a nice experience and I was glad to have been a part of it. I know some of the people in the company took pictures so I will try to get my hands on a copy.

In other news, I am still awaiting my apartment. I was told they have a lead, and were hoping to see the place tonight. I have asked to see it as well before they agree on it. I am trying to be patient, but I am sick of living out of a suitcase, having wrinkled clothes, and eating in restaurants. It will be nice to finally have my own place, where I can get Internet.
I also found a gym here to join, and by Indian standards it is a little pricey, but it is something I won't give up. I need to exercise. Gyms are relatively new phenomenons here so are more expensive and only the well heeled can afford them. But they are air conditioned, have all the amenities, plus a massage centre that is actually a good price.
Hope to have some pictures soon. Maybe this weekend I'll get out and start taking some.
Hope everyone at home is well. Miss you all!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hightech City! It really is High Tech!

The last few days have been a whirlwind, not only starting a new job and meeting so many people and remembering so few names, but also getting used to a whole new shift - the graveyard shift. I got to Bangalore and after 2 or 3 days, got over the jet lag only to have to return back to the north American sleeping patterns. But I seem to be adjusting. It does mean keeping myself awake on the weekends though when I am not working. Thankfully there are some great movie channels here. HBO and a few other English channels show some movies and television. I watched Greys Anatomy and Criminal Minds last night. Also the current American Idol plays here too, but I am at work when it is showing.
After waking up today I walked to the coffee shop to get a muffin and a coffee, I just didn't feel like another omelet and soggy toast the guest house was serving up. The coffee shop I go to is called Crosswords and it is inside a really nice modern bookstore, selling amazingly priced English books. The same books I bought for $20 are selling for 250 rupees (about $10). I brought 9 books with me for fear that I would have problems finding books here (as when I traveled here in the fall,I had problems locating good English books). But Hyderabad is much more modern than most places I have been (other than Bangalore and Mumbai). Anyway, I found that is was quite warm as I was walking to the coffee shop, and I was curious as to what the temperature was like,so when i arrived at the Internet cafe I checked, and I was shocked to find that it is 40c!!! Holy crap! Luckily it is a very dry heat,and it thankfully gets down to about 25 or 26c in the evening when I go to work, but you just can't be out in this heat without feeling a little queasy. So I am always armed with water. Lots of it. Most of you have no idea what 40c feels like. I think this might be the first time I have experienced this kind of heat. Korea was stupid hot in the summer, but it was humid, and never got to 40c. I think it might have been close in Costa Rica as it was a dry heat there too, but you had the Ocean there and you could wear shorts and bikinis. Here, you need to dress a little more conservative and wear sunscreen at all times!! I have been told that April and May is their summer and will be the hottest months of the year,so I am glad to be getting it over with right away. In early June the rains come (monsoon season) and although Hyderabad gets less rain than the rest of the country, it will be enough that it will cool things off a little. In May I was told it will reach the mid to high 40's.

I started work on Thursday, our driver picked me up at 8:30pm and I share the cab with S, an American going on her second year in Hyderabad. She told me that when we came to High tech city I would be quite impressed, but I was not prepared for it. I mean I've been to India, and I thought I'd seen it all. But as we approached ht-city, I thought I was in Toronto, or New York. The sky was lit up with lights of about 15-20 high rise modern buildings. I knew Hyderabad was modern but it really does live up to it's nickname of Cyber-bad. The security in the building I work in is top notch, and I worked for the National Defence at home, so I know security. This was even tighter. The security guards check the trunks of the cabs as they pull up, then when we enter people with badges have to swipe at every door they enter. I didn't have a badge for the first day so I had to be escorted everywhere. I was also not allowed to take my bag in my work area or my cell phone, and I was given a locker with a key (on day 2) to store my things. On day 2 I was also issued my badge with picture so I can now move around freely.
It also seems that most people work this shift as it is a call centre dealing with North America, and the building was buzzing with people moving about. The building has a gym with yoga classes and several cafeterias. I can't say too much about the job on the blog as I signed a confidentiality agreement, but I can say is that I will be busy and get to come up with a lot of my own material for training the agents, and most of them are eager to learn about life in North America. I met so many people, and they are all very educated and their English is impeccable! Most of the mangers have Masters degrees and some are working on their Ph'd's. It's a big business here in India, and I love that I will learn so much from this wonderful culture. The people have been so kind and generous to me. My living and working here will definitely be a different experience than that in Korea.

The city itself is wonderful and I know living here will be a good experience. I still have so much more to explore, and right now it is just too hot to be running around. But so far I've discovered a pretty big mall with some nice shops, the book store and coffee shop, a Baskin Robbins for days when you need a cool treat. A McDonald's, which I plan on never visiting, an organic grocery store, and a Hindu learning school (yes I plan to take Hindi lessons). I hope to discover so much more soon.
Amanda asked what the
call to prayer sounded like - thanks for the question Amanda- so please feel free to ask me things I might forget to mention! As far as I can tell the call to prayer happens about 5 times a day. And it is a chanting/singing that is heard from a loud speaker at one of the Hyderabad mosques. I would say the chanting/singing goes on for about a minute. I found a link that translates the chant and you can also listen to it for yourself.

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the warmer weather in Ontario. I definitely need to give a shout out to my Bruins who have forced a game 7 with the Habs!! My Dad has been awesome about calling and keeping me informed. Go Bruins!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Hyderabad and it is hot and cool! First impressions

I arrived in Hyderabad this morning around 9ish after about a 45minute flight from Bangalore. Hyderabad has a new airport, and it is so modern and surrounded by palm trees, flowers and thousands of trees. It was a nice way to arrive in a new city. The roads looked brand new, and I forgot I was in India.

The heat hit me as soon as I stepped out of the airport, although it was a dry heat and nothing compared to Mumbai and the woolly sweater feeling I felt all the time. It is about 36-37 degrees here, but it is bearable. The company had a taxi waiting for me and it was nice to be able to relax in the back of the car and take in the new sights of a city not yet visited.

I have only been here for a few hours, so my impressions are young and general. Hyderabad is in the state of Andra Pradesh where the main language is Telegu (K speaks this language). It is also primarily Hindu but in Hyderabad there is a larger Muslim population. So I noticed more women wearing burqua's (full black gowns covering the body and most of the face)), and wearing ha jibs (scarves to cover the head). It is so hot, so I would hate to be under that much material. I also noticed a few mosque's spattered around the city. While I was in my guesthouse I hear the call to prayer for the Muslims on a loud speaker. It was the first time I have experienced this, and I like the newness of it.

The area where I am currently staying is in a place called Banjara Hills where is is the middle/upper class area, and is more modern. I still do not have accommodations and they are still searching for a flat for me. I am fine with this, as I would rather have them take their time and find me a nice place. I am staying in a lovely guesthouse with delicious Air con and good food. I start work tonight, and work night shift. I am a consultant for a large financial company here (which I do not want to name on my blog) and because I am training employees who are directly working with North America, I have to work north American times. It is fine, and there are 2 other American expats working as well. We have a driver and car who drives us to work and picks us up to bring us home when we are done. The next few days will take some getting used to, just as I got over my jet lag, I have to go back to North American patterns.

On another note, today is K's birthday. To celebrate I took him to a Chinese restaurant where he had Dim Sum for the first time and loved it, then after we celebrated with some decadent chocolate cake. K is now currently in Mysore visiting his brother who is studying software engineering there. As a norm for his birthday he usually buys lots of sweets and gives them to the orphanage he works with in Hampi, so he organized for this to be done while he is away, so the children will get a nice surprise today in honour of Ks b-day.

NB: I am using initials for names as I want to prevent people being able to google search. Since K, works in the tourist industry, I want to try and keep some semblance of privacy, even on an online blog. All this does is prevents people from using names to search the blog.

Anyway, I have to work soon, so I should rest up, I have a long night ahead of me. This is the beginning of what will be an interesting year. I'm looking forward to all the new experiences, that is for sure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pizza Hut in Bangalore

OK, yes, I went to Pizza Hut, but I didn't do it for me. K has never been to a chain type restaurant, he lives in a more remote village so I thought it would be fun to take him. We sat upstairs overlooking the busy street, and I asked him while looking at the menu if he would be willing to try pepperoni (pork). He has never eaten pork, as where he is from it is a very holy place, and meat is hard to come by (other than goat and chicken). Plus most people consider pigs a dirty animal and refuse to eat it. This is how the conversation took place:

S: Are you willing to try pork pepperoni pizza?
K: Pork is pig right?
S: Yes, it's pretty good though.
K: It's not like the pigs in Hampi right?
S: (not knowing what the pigs in Hampi are like) No, of course not, they are American pigs. Pizza Hut is an American chain. (really I have no idea where the pigs come from- but this sounded good)
K: OK, sure why not, I'll try it.

Success. He loved the pepperoni pizza and he also loved the bell that people rang on their way out signaling that they had a good time at pizza Hut. Once you ring a bell all the staff yell thank you at the same time, everyone was ringing it.

K rang the bell on the way out, and he had this big smile on his face as he did it.

In other registered today at the police commissioner's office and have to go back tomorrow to request a transfer to Hyderabad. I think they are booking me on a flight for Thursday morning, and i will start work that day. I am actually getting tired of living out of a suitcase.

Go Bruins Go!!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A whole new India

It's weird being in India but not being a traveller. Everything you experience, see, smell, touch is significantly different. I've been to Bangalore 3 times prior to this time, and it's like being in a whole new place. Now, I look at India as home and I test myself to see if i can adapt to the culture change, the climate difference and if living in India will be a positive experience.
Luckily Bangalore is located in a temperate climate, it doesn't get too humid just hot. But I can handle that, as long as I am not sweating in my clothes. The sun has been shining everyday and it's about 35 or 36 degrees, but it is bearable and nice. The evenings are perfect with a warm breeze and just perfect for sitting on a patio enjoying a late dinner or mango lassi.
Bangalore is also very modern, or at least the part I am in. You see less saree's and Salwar kameez's and more jeans, tank tops, short skirts and tight tops. Kiran said he would like to take his mother to Bangalore for her to see how her country has changed. He said she would be shocked. Bangalore is the high tech hub and progressive, you see more foreigners mulling about with blackberry's and young fashionable Bangalorians shopping for the latest trends. You get less stares than you would in smaller cities/towns/and villages.
It's a fun place to be, but it is still India, for example, last night we went to a pub called NASA and inside it was shaped like a spaceship, and was decked out with laser lights. The music was definitely American and modern with a mix of old Bon Jovi, new pop and house music. However, I noticed they were seating people differently. Two women walked in, and I guess were Nigerian and they were seated next to us. They asked the waiter to be seated in the busier part of the bar and the waiter said, "no this side is for families and couples." I asked Kiran why they would segregate women and families and he said it had less to do with inequality and more to do with the comfort of the women and families. In a way I can understand that, as I know I feel more comfortable sitting in the women's train cart while traveling. So although Bangalore has the look of being modern it still has some conservative ideas. But it's getting there, and that is a major plus!
Tomorrow i meet with my employers and have to get registered in Bangalore since that is where my visa was issued. Once that is all done they will fly me to Hyderabad where I will start working and get settled into my new home away from home.
I have to say I still love the prices of India! Bangalore is more expensive than smaller places but wow, it's still cheap. I need passport photos to get my residency card and healthy card here, and I opted to get the pictures in Bangalore as I knew they would be cheaper. But I didn't expect how cheap it would be. In Canada, 2 passport pictures cost $11, and I need 10 of them. I got 15 of them here (they came in that amount) for $2.15. I am so glad I waited!! Last night, between Kiran and I we had 2 beers and a glass of wine, a plate of fries and bottled water and it cost $8. I can get used to this!

Anyway, we are heading for dinner soon and to see a movie. I have to be up relatively early to go to the police commissioner's to get registered. I am looking forward to the next phase of my adventure; working in India!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

I am back!

Just a very quick post to let everyone know I have arrived safely! It was a long flight, and waiting for my bags was an ordeal, but all my bags did arrive. Seeing K was great too and he had been waiting a few hours for me while i cleared customs and immigration and finally got my bags.
The weather so far is pretty good, hot as expected but I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt and not sweating, so I am doing well!
We just had a dinner of butter chicken and butter naan, and it was great to be eating the spicy Indian cuisine once again. The area we are staying is the modern and "westernized" area and so it is bustling with young hip Bangalorians oozing with style. Kiran said he would love to take his mother here to see what she has to say about how the people are dressed.
Anyway, we are about to go and find some mango ice cream or lassis, something fruity and cool. The jet lag isn't so bad right now but I slept a lot during the day which I shouldn't have done, but had to as I couldn't keep my eyes open.
I meet with my employers on Monday morning to get registered and then I fly off to Hyderabad. So I have two days to chill out and check Bangalore out. I think we are going to the Botanical gardens tomorrow and maybe a pub tomorrow night.
But it definitely feels good to be back here, but in a whole different capacity. I am not so much Shelley the traveler anymore as I am now Shelley working in Corporate India!