Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Christmas Blues

The kids have been having fun with Manish and Laxman. I am afraid they are going to miss them when we leave the Guesthouse in a few days. We have been gearing up for the big move into the flat. The kids and I have been at the apartment for the last 2 days cleaning and preparing. The place was pretty grimy. The last tenants obviously did not spend a lot of time cleaning or taking care of this flat. After a lot of elbow grease and disinfectant it is beginning to look more like home. We now have most of our furniture and it has all been assembled.
Our housekeeper, Indumati, started on Monday. She is hard working and very nice. She is working on a trial basis, but we are hoping she likes us and the apartment and decides to stay. She was a big help to me today at the local market in Sector 82. She can help me translate and communicate in Hindi and is a good bargainer. We had to purchase some dustbins (trashcans) and a washtub for the dishes so we went to a "plastic shop." I neglected to bring my camera today so sorry that I don't have photos.
We also now have curtains. We purchased some ready-made ones at the mall and then had a local tailor cut and sew them to size. He also made me 12 throw-pillow covers with the left over material. For this work he only charged me Rs 550. That is about $12. At the market today I arranged to have another tailor make 12 pillow-inserts. This will only cost another Rs600. These beautiful handmade pillows will wind up being a little over $2 each!
In India technology costs about the same as it does in the US. For example, cars, computers, phones all are comparably priced. But items or services that require mainly labor to complete are dramatically reduced in cost (like the pillows).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas In India

Oddly enough, Santa was everywhere in Noida on Christmas day. He was riding on a bike (that is a real person), hanging body-less in the local market, and wandering about the streets giving candy to children.

Although Christmas is actually a national holiday in India, it is not celebrated by most Indians. Two percent of the population consider themselves Christian. Most of these are clustered in just a few places including Goa, Kerala and Pondicherry. Elsewhere in shops and markets, you see Christmas items for sale to the rapidly growing consumer class. To these folks we believe it is the "festive" nature of Christmas - the colors and lights and gift-giving that are the attraction. But to the average Indian the holiday goes essentially unnoticed.

It's hard to celebrate Christmas in a place that really does not celebate the holiday. I think that the best thing about Christmas in India is that there are no extra holiday pounds to shed in the new year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lesa's Birthday

We've had a whirlwind couple of days... Lesa's Birthday is December 23rd and I've been wanting to share this year's experience with you. Her birthday is an important day, but also a difficult day because I want to do my best to separate her birthday from the Christmas holiday. This year it was not much of a problem. Normally her birthday is surrounded by Christmas marketing, Christmas music and festivities... Not true in India.
Laxman and Manish made a nice Indian meal for her, including her favorite curried cauliflower. We purchased a wonderful cake from a very nice bakery in Sector 18 of Noida called, "Top Breads." Chocalate Truffle cake. Here, what is displayed as Christmas is actually a little frightening." More on this in my next post.
The big event on Lesa's birthday was our trip to the airport to finally claim our air shipment from Texas. Fortunately we had a transport/customs company assist us with this very bureaucratic process. It would have taken us hours and hours (instead of just 3 hours) of waiting at the Delhi air freight terminal without this help. Note the image to the below: "Flow chart for clearance of unaccompanied baggage" The flowchart involves 15 stages. Six of these flowchart steps indicate "staying in waiting hall." The process involves multiple forms, passport and visa checks, receiving a "Foreign Resident Permit" (this took a week to get), additional passport-sized photos and a visual check of our belongings with a very stern female customers officer. This is a woman who insisted that my cheap 10 year old guitar was new and therefore liable for import duty tax. She also had absolutely no idea what Audrey and Evan's car booster seats were.
Our 16-odd boxes were cleared and were delivered before dinner time, so we were able to enjoy Lesa's nice birthday meal and cake that evening.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Furniture, etc.

We had a very productive weekend. The kids finished out their first week at Lotus Valley International School and seem to be enjoying themselves. The each have a few friends and have taken easily to the concept of uniforms. Laxman and Maneesh (the Freescale Guesthouse staff) have been a big help each morning preparing the kids lunches for school and cooking us breakfast... We think we eat much earlier in the morning than the typical guest here... the normal business day in India seems to start at around 10am. Our schedule runs earlier since the kids' school day starts at 8am.

We spent much of our time on Saturday and Sunday looking for furniture (since we have none). We're moving into the ATS flat on the 4th or 5th of January so we are getting a little nervous about this. We went to some well-known furniture markets in and around Delhi and to one of several local malls. The driver, SK has also taken me to a few street markets for price comparisons. We have at least identified our core furniture for now. I'll return to this topic once we get the furniture delivered... Delivery costs - as with most things here are quite cheap. I had a TV delivered for $2 US. To have a couch, refrigerator or other larger furniture delivered will be between $4 and $10 US... depending on how local the delivery is. We still need to purchase some major appliances, including a refrigerator, washer-dryer unit and in January, at least 3 A/C units.

On Sunday, the kids got to spend the afternoon with another American family living here in Noida, the Smiths ( ). They have seven children and have been living here for about 1.5 years... I think the kids had a blast playing with other native English-speakers. This family has been very supportive and has been a huge resource for us... especially in finding out where and how to do things! Contact with other Expats is one way to keep a little of your sanity and the best way to not "re-invent the wheel," when attempting new projects.
We are looking forward to the rest of the week. Lesa's birthday is tomorrow and our first Indian Christmas is rolling right at us. More about Christmas trees, diwali lights and creepy plastic Santa masks later...

Friday, December 19, 2008

ATS Village

I wanted to give everyone a sense of what our apartment is like. Here are a few views of the "Greens" section of the ATS Village gardens and pool. I also have included a 2 photos of the inside of the flat. Beautiful exposed wood trim and cabinets as well as marble floors.. these are typical in nice Indian homes and apartments.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Business Cards

Business Cards seem to be an essential part of life here in India... Meet a new person, exchange of business cards...conversation follows. Not much different then developing business contacts in the US, but here cell phones and connections mean everything. This is especially true if you want to actually accomplish anything in a reasonable length of time.

Our temporary driver, S.K. (photo below) is a very experienced professional. He's probably about 45, and has been driving for quite some time. He is a devoted employee, very knowledgeable about where things are located and where things can be found... and very protective of his passengers.

SK found out I was thinking about getting some business cards. This was on my mind since we now have signed a lease and have an actual address here. We also have a family cell phone so it now made sense for me to get a box of cards.... especially since people keep giving me their cards and I have nothing but a dazed grin to give them in return. SK said... "Dont worry sir. I know a good marrrket we can get them." So off we went to a local Noida Market (see the new "Swimming-in-India" banner above to get the picture of this place).

We parked on the street and after inquiring at a few street-front shops SK led me down a tight alleyway. (photo above). The alley got narrower and dingier. SK made a few more inquiries at a small stall. We went on and made an abrupt right turn down an enclosed alley way with no power. It looked like a scene from Blade Runner. Open fire, darkened stalls lit by candles. Water on the broken concrete floor. Rubbish everywhere.

We walked to the end of the alley and a voice in Hindi called out from a dark stall. The man lit a candle (this really happened) and emerged from darkeness. SK and he exchanged words and he pulled out a stack of business card samples from beneath a ratty little table to show me. After a bit of haggling, gestures and broken English we settled on a format, colors, font and price... Rs 450 (about $9 for 500 hand printed pieces.) Rs 100 deposit and the deal was done. 3 hours later SK and I returned to proof the card on the street (again, refer to the new photo on the "Swimming-In-India" banner for a visual) and the cards were done.

My sense is this is a normal transaction here in India.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lotus Valley

Getting into an Indian school is about exams and interviews for the children. For the parents it involves a tremendous amount of waiting, flattery, and ultimately patience.

The children passed their school placement exams today at Lotus Valley International School. They both did really well and will enter at their current grade levels. Audrey is really charged up about starting saying: "tomorrow is going to be the most exciting day of my life." She is sure she will have a new friend by the end of the day. Evan is more reserved, but gladly didn't fuss about wearing a uniform.

Although there is protocol at every turn, the staff have been warm and welcoming. The kids' first day of school will be on Tuesday (tomorrow!!).
The kids have been amazing for the entire past week. They are experiencing massive amounts of change -- time, culture, accent, food -- and taking it all in stride. They have hardly fussed through multiple long days of apartment hunting, school interviews, Indian meals and waiting, waiting, waiting.

The other BIG event today was that we signed the lease on our apartment at ATS Green Village. It is a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom flat overlooking the gardens and pool of the complex (known as "Societies" here). The flat includes a secure, separate room and bath for a live-in servant. We plan to hire both a cook/housekeeper and a driver at least for the first few months here.

Establishing a utility service, a bank account, buying a cell phone - any task involving paperwork is agonizing here. There is always a proper order of events, a protocol for signatures and review, and a specific number of copies to be made... Passport photos, copies of passports and visas, copies of lease-contracts, letters of employment, all seem to be required to set up any service. Standing in a queue or waiting a significant amount of time before, during and after each step seems to be part of the price of admission.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Guesthouse

We have moved into the Freescale Guesthouse after spending 3 days at the Radisson-Noida. The guesthouse is definitely a nice change of pace. The home is lovely and spacious. We have 2 bedrooms and access to a living room upstairs and are fed 3 home-cooked meals a day. The kids are enjoying playing in the yard and having their own bedroom.

Lesa and I like to watch the comings and goings on the street out front. All the usual traffic... buffalo-drawn carts, auto-rickshaws, bicycle-rickshaws, wandering cows, you name it. This morning we saw a family of 4 riding on regular bicycle... Mom, Dad and 2 small children. Laxman, the cook/caretaker of the house is wonderful. He and the staff are very kind and help us with pretty-much anything we need... Ha! It's nice to have someone bring you a cup of coffee with warm milk and sugarcubes!
Yesterday was spent going to a few local department stores to get a better idea about the cost of new furniture and appliances. We are hoping to purchase some of these used from other expats readying to end their overseas assignments. If we can do this it will save some rupees since we are on a limited budget.
Today we are just resting and unpacking some of our belongings so we can be a little more comfortable. Our next goals are to finish enrolling the kids in their school and to sign an apartment lease. Once the lease is signed we will have a "permanent address." This is a big step because it will enable us to set up a bank account... then the fun of really establishing a household here begins...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dipping our toes in

We made it to Indira Gandhi Airport late Monday night. The flights were long but actually pretty good... kudos to Continental Airlines. The kids were fantastic... and in hog-heaven since they had access to movies, shows and video games for almost 14 hours. : )
We are comfortably staying in the Radisson-Noida for our first few days... my only complaint is that the internet is slow and last night it wouldn't let me send out any emails... going to call their IT today to see what the issue is. Spent most of our first day starting to register the kids their school and looking at 8 or 9 possible apartments. I think we have it narrowed down to 3 or 4 good possibilities right near the school and work. More on this later.
We also have a cell now... I will send the number out today if my email is working. Lesa has already sent this out to a few folks via her work email.
Today brings us more apartments, school registration and a little exploration. I will bring my camera today to get a few pictures. Namaste.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Heading to India

We have our new tickets and are set to fly to New Delhi via Newark, NJ on Monday, December 8th... We are both excited and rather anxious, but are looking forward to the adventure - especially after a week of living out of suitcases in our own home.

Just as a reminder, if you have been trying to get in touch with us, our only working phone is our home phone - only set up for local calls at this point. Email is the best way to reach us until we have a phone and permanent address established in Noida (hopefully by the end of December). Snail mail addressed to our US address will not be forwarded to India by the postal service.

Our renter/house-sitter moves in with us this weekend for a crash-course in care-taking the 'homestead' here in Austin. I think she will enjoy the home and our neighborhood and we will be able to communicate easily with her through work email.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


We finally received word today from the Indian Cosulate that all of our visas have been approved. The next step will be re-scheduling our flights to Delhi. Hoping the new departure date will be Friday or Saturday... In the meantime we have continued to clean the house and yard, gotten some last minute shopping done and been able to get out some holiday cards.

Since the kids are not enrolled in school now, we have been learning about India. Made a map and a flag of India today. We have also been studing the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit and started learning about the metric system to prepare for life outside of the US.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Waiting for India

Traveling to India requires 2 essential documents: a passport and a current visa. My wife and I had our passports renewed and received new ones for the kids earlier this year, but we have been waiting for updated visas.

About 2 weeks ago we were notified that the visas were due to be processed and released on November 28th (according to the Indian Consulate in Houston, TX). This was cutting it very close for a Dec 1 departure date, but we were reassured that all was on track..

As timing, luck and/or fate would have it, the bombings in Mumbai (Bombay) occurred on November 26... sending the Houston Consulate into a frenzy. The consulate staff was suddenly overwhelmed with local requests from Indian Ex-patriots trying to check on loved ones back home. Subsequently, no visas were issued by the Indian government to travelers on Friday. Several friends joked and reminded us that waiting is also an essential part of travel and life abroad.

The good news is that this delay will give India a chance to settle down a bit, and give our family a chance to finish properly packing. As soon as we have a new departure date I will post it here.