Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Monkey Business

Stealing ice cream from toddlers... This is the business of the monkeys at the National Zoo. Several readers have asked me for more photos so here you go. As you can see this industrious little fellow keeps an eye on his back. He then handily cycles from one cone to the next without missing a beat.

Most of the little thieves we observed doing this actually broke off and spit out the cone so they could get to the vanilla ice cream. Once they finished of the ice cream, the monkey would drop the cone and go searching for a new cone-carrying victim. Then a crow would swoop down and carry off the empty cone! As with everything in India - nothing goes to waste here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Republic Day

26 Jan. is Republic Day here in India. It is the day honoring the adoption of India's modern constitution (not to be confused with Independence Day, which is celebrated here in August). Today marks the start of India's 60th anniversary as a Republic.
For the Sayer family, Republic Day was all about the beauty of silence. Silence is something there is very little of here. There are generally people everywhere you go - even in public parks and gardens. A friend told us if you bring a blanket and a picnic lunch to a relatively emtpy green space, your solitude may only last a short while. The next group to come will undoubtedly plant their blanket right next to yours. The field is wide open, but there they go, setting up 5 feet away from your family picnic. This is meant to be polite. Establishing distance might be considered rude. While we may cherish some quiet solitude at times, it seems to be more comfortable for Indians to be very near one another - in the center of the action!
Back to the silence of Republic Day... Everything was shut down on this day. There was no construction, very little dust and traffic. Everyone was inside watching the 3 hour Parade & military review on television. No horns were tooting in the background. No cranes or excavation or hammering. The thick January-morning fog just enhanced the peacefulness of the day.
Adding to the silence was the fact that both Audrey and Evan have been sick these past few days. Congestion, fever, long naps and not much sibling rivalry. In general - Silence.
We are planning a trip to our pediatrician just to make sure the children fully recover and are ok. So don't worry, we should be back to our normal noisy life by the end of 27 Jan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Evan's 7th Birthday!

Evan celebrated his seventh birthday today. We had a nice evening with our neighbors from upstairs. Esha and Shreyas are our kids' good buddies, so they helped join in the fun. We played games, ate pizza and cake, and then tried out some of Evan's new toys.

The cake was a very good dark chocolate one from "Uncle Sam's," our local bakery here in the society. The pizza was from Domino's. We found out from our neighbors that the region President of Domino's actually lives here at ATS Village. We now know why we routinely get really quick, thorough service from our local franchise!
One of Evan's favorite gifts was the storybook his sister gave him about the exploits of the god Shiva. And of course he still loves building things, so the Lego kit and the erector set were also high on his list! He seemed to really enjoy everything.

I have to share that the wrapping "paper" common here in India is actually made out of Mylar. It is sold only in single sheets. Also, the quality of tape here is less than wonderful. Evan had quite a few gifts from family and friends that had been shipped to us from around the world. With such a tall stack of nice gifts, and with me wrestling with multiple sheets of Mylar and bad tape, it took me about 2 hours to wrap everything. Of course Evan managed to unwrap this same pile in about 5 minutes!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama in India

Lesa and I had fun staying up late last night watching the CNN and BBC feeds covering the Inaugural events in Washington. We also enjoyed flipping to some of the India News Networks to get the Indian perspective.

As in most of the world, Obama is viewed by most here as a fresh voice and a milestone for democracy - especially to help re-establish the United States as a provider of just, moral leadership in the world. The Times of India noted that "televisions were on all night across India watching the inauguration." Despite having major differences over some policy issues, India very much views the U.S. as a sister-democracy. There is much hope here that the ties between these 2 nations will continue to strengthen and grow!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Car

We had our new car delivered late on Friday. This was after many days of attempting to get $$ wired from our US bank account to our new Indian Bank account... but that's another story.

After much investigation, comparison shopping and a few test drives we settled on the Maruti-Suzuki "DZire." We really wanted to purchase an Indian brand so we are glad that this worked out. It is a nice little 4-door sedan. The car is brand new, and was delivered with only 24 Km on the odometer. The DZire has a quiet, comfortable ride for such a small car.
The first order of business when you buy a new car here is to have the vehicle blessed. There is a convenient Temple in Sector 18 that is essentially a drive-up Temple, designed with this purpose in mind. First you purchase a tray of items to be used in the blessing ceremony. These include a coconut (for good luck), marigolds, incense, matches, sweets, a red ceremonial scarf (which is ultimately tied around the rear view mirror), and special oils.
The priest then conducts a series of chants and prayers using all of the aforementioned items. This is done over the hood of the car and from the driver's seat (including a ceremonial toot of the horn as a part of the ritual.). He included us in the prayers by placing red and white strings around our wrists (Lesa, Evan, myself and our new driver, Kirti were present for the blessing). He also placed a red "third eye" on each of our foreheads. The ceremony ends with the smashing of a coconut for good luck. Our priest seemed to enjoy doing the blessing for us. So much so, he gave us a tour of the Temple insisting, of course, that we photograph him in front of each deity's display - probably a dozen or more figures of gods including Kali, Vishnu and Ganesha (some of our favorites).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Being Green

Yes that really is an old coal-burning, steam locomotive that has been converted into some one's home. This curious farmhouse is just a few kilometers from where we live. The photo is an extreme example of India's ability to recycle. Perhaps it is a necessity resulting from having such a huge population, but Indians have developed a knack for conservation and recycling. Nothing goes to waste here.
We first noticed this in our hotel room in the Radisson when Lesa and I came to India in August. The rooms are designed so that you need to slide your room key in a slot just inside the hotel room for the power to be switched on. This is a great way to conserve. Nothing electric will be "on" until you are actually in your room.
Early last year we converted most of our light bulbs to fluorescent in our home in Austin... of course this was somewhat a reaction to high fuel prices, guilt and an honest desire to want to reduce our "carbon footprint." Here in India, this technology is used everywhere. All public buildings and exterior lamps seem to use fluorescent bulbs and most homes I have been in (including our own apartment) use them extensively. Electric brown-outs occur daily here, so again the use of these lower wattage bulbs is partially out of necessity. India is making great use of existing technology to combat the country's ever-growing demand for power.
Here at the ATS Village complex almost everything is collected for recycling. The waste management company purchases cardboard, newspaper, glass and plastic products by the Kilogram. This waste is definitely treated as continuous resource for manufacturers.
Another interesting thing to note is that broken appliances are completed recycled or repaired here is well. When you buy a new iron to replace your old, broken one you can sell it for about 20% of its value and it will be quickly repaired or used for spare parts and resold as a refurbished item. There are extensive markets for used and refurbished items with what seem to be an affordable price-range for nearly every segment of society here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finally Some Sightseeing

We finally managed to do some sight-seeing in New Delhi with S.K. We've felt really bad for the kids because they have suffered through many days of shopping and waiting and government offices and waiting. Today was a pretty day and our schedule was free!
SK first took us to one of the largest Hindu Temples in India, Akshardaham. This huge temple is dedicated to Bahgwan Swaminarayn (1781-1830). It sits on 100 acres and consists of beautiful gardens, fountains, sculpture, and well... click the link to see this massive place: The tour includes an Imax film, some animatron exhibits (surely to make Walt Disney himself proud).. and for the truly devoted, a 15 minute boat ride through "10,000 years of Indian history and culture." (Again, this boat-ride must have been inspired by the exhibit-innovations of Mr. Disney) Despite itself, this Temple really is a beautiful place... existing to promote the virtues of peace, harmony, moral values.
SK then traveled to Connaught Place where we had lunch at a famous Southern-Indian restaurant called, Sarvanaa Bhavan. We then traveled to the India Gate (see photo). This memorial gate was built by the British to honor the thousands of Indian born troops who fought and died in World War I. The place was rather crazy today... many National police officers and barracades were there - security in preparation for Republic Day on the 26th of January. It was fun to see - especially on a Sunday afternoon when many Indian families come out to sight-see, picnic and stroll in the open mall areas around the President's home and the India Gate.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fruit, wonderful fruit

Fruit, wonderful fruit -- we had a taste of fresh fruit for the first time in four weeks! We have been playing it safe and not eating fresh fruit until we were sure how to buy, wash and eat it safely.
So armed with the knowledge of how to wash, a special soaking solution called Steriliq, and our trusted cook, Indomathi, we headed to the INA market in New Delhi.
This is a famous and fairly old marketplace in the city. Indomathi said it was a great place and it is! Fairly clean and safe, it is full of market stalls. Like many markets throughout the world, each stall is dedicated to a particular line of products. There are stores for produce, cloth, clothing, sweets and baked goods, dairy items, meats, vegetables and fresh fruit. We found a great outdoor restaurant where they make fresh Naan (see photo). We purchased many provisions including spices, rice, oil, baskets, a ladder, water pitcher, and of course fresh vegetables and fruit. For the last 2 days our mornings have been filled the tastes of fresh kiwi, oranges and plums... sweet and juicy!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sector 82

These are photographs I took today of our local marketplace in Sector 82. If you recall, this is also the sector where I had our throw-pillows made. Sector 82 is the closest "village" to the apartment complexes in our neighborhood (Sector 93A).
Indumathi, the children and I all did some exploring in several neighboring sectors. We managed to find a nice meat market, "Chick Mart," where we bought our first taste of fish... This purchase for me definitely required a big leap of faith. The shop owner, who goes by the name of, "Rocky," lived for 15 years in Milwaukee, spoke excellent English, and was very encouraging regarding the quality and freshness of his meats.
We also found a good grocery in nearby Sector 50 where we actually found organic eggs. I should note that, as in many countries of the world, eggs are not refrigerated here. The carton lists a packing date. The eggs are then good for about 14 days after this stamped date. This purchase also required a boost in my comfort-level. But as with most experiences in India... things don't necessarily make sense, but they always seem to work. The eggs tasted fresh and were quite good. (as was the fish).
I have included a photo of one of the many small produce markets that line the streets of Noida. You can find these everywhere. This one is very nearby - also Sector 82. The freshest produce tends to be found around 11am or 4pm when the farmers bring their fruits and vegetables into town for sale each day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flying Solo

We have survived our first 2 days in the apartment - athough day One was a little nerve-racking. Indumati, our house keeper/cook took the weekend off before she starts for us fulltime on Monday, Jan 5. We were essentially on our own.
We woke up to the realization that we had no utensils to cook with. The only thing on the breakfast menu was oatmeal, juice and toast (since that's all we had in the apartment to eat). I managed to use the propane cookstove... sort of like a camp stove really, to cook the oatmeal. But then, of course, after cooking the oatmeal I realized we had nothing to serve it with. We wound up scooping it into bowls with an old, orange plastic Sealtest icecream scoop we happened to toss into our few meager cooking supplies before we left Texas.
Meals here are more than just having the right ingredients and the right utensils. They are figuring out how to sterilize fresh food, how not to mix up purified and contaminated water. They also include things like remembering to wash the dust and grime off of newly purchased items; remembering not to set newly purchased items on the clean counter before washing the dust and grime off of them. (This is not an exaggeration - items purchased in nearly every store have a layer of dust on them. These items have not been on the shelf that long, it's just that India is a very dusty place. )
After breakfast we had to the face the disaster that was our apartment. About 7 partially emptied suitcases, and 10 more boxes to empty, sort and stow. We spent part of Saturday shopping to get the cooking utensils, dishes and cookware we needed to get the kitchen moving in the right directions. Much of what we needed we found at a place called "Big Bazaar." It is in the basement of one of the local malls here and I guess is sort of like a very dirty Wal-Mart. It has a huge collection of items: clothing, houseware, cookware and electronics and a grocery section. After 2 hours or so of this and lunch at KFC, we traveled home to ATS Village to sort our new "Big Bazaar" booty, face our boxes and luggage. We ended the the day knowing we had to figure out how to cook our next meal: dinner.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Quality Electrical Appliances

We spent most of New Year's day in our apartment. Plenty of boxes and suitcases to again sort and upack. We have to decide what things can be stored until warmer weather and where to put the things that we will need over the next few chillier months.
Some of our new electrical appliances kept the day interesting. There is no central heat in Indian buildings so we purchased a couple of small, inexpensive space heaters. Soon after arriving in the apartment today, Lesa tried out one of these little gems. About 10 seconds after plugging it in, smoke started coming out of it and the plastic fan blade inside the unit began to melt. We quickly unplugged it and tried to determine the cause -- was it the wrong type of outlet, wrong setting, or just a crappy product? Audrey ran and looked at the other new space heater and saw that the back was cracked and the motor was hanging down. We determined the cause of the smoking space heater to be "crappy product" and set it aside so we could try and exchange them at the market.
About an hour later, Lesa and I were putting things away in the kitchen when suddenly one of the light fixtures began to sizzle and smoke. We quickly shut the power off to this light & then stared at each other in confusion... apparently more solid Indian electrical know-how. This time we called in the experts... the ATS Village staff electrician.
Of course when the electrian showed up he didn't speak a word of English. Between Lesa and me we speak about a dozen words of Hindi (on a good day). This is where things started to get even more confusing...
Earlier in the day a technician from Samsung installed our new washer-dryer machine. This appliance is not what your are thinking. It supposedly does both things - wash your clothes and then dries them in one machine - not 2 separate or stacked machines. More on this amazing achievement in a future post. Naturally, we wanted to try out the new washer dryer. Lesa and I read the directions and placed a load of laundry in the unit. We had to guess at the amount of soap to use because the directions on the detergent container only explain how to wash clothes in a large bucket. (This is, afterall, India.) With the unit running we went on our merry way unpacking items and running into our previously mentioned electrical issues...
Now, back to the problem with the Hindi-only speaking electrician. We tried to explain to the young guy the problem with the light fixture. He seemed to think we just wanted him to switch out the light bulb. We couldn't figure out how to explain to him the sizzling-smoking issue. Lesa went across the hallway to ask a neighbor who is fluent in both English and Hindi for help in communicating with the electrician. The neighbor agreed, and said she would be over "in a minute to help."
Meanwhile I am in the dark kitchen with the electrician who is standing there blinking at me and waiting for some direction, when suddenly I hear a loud banging sound on our back balcony (this is where you keep your washing machine in India - outside on the balcony). I run out only to find our new washer-dryer rotated 90 degrees and hopping 6 inches off the ground. I lept onto the machine fearing that it would hop right off the balcony. Of course I have no idea what the electrician thought about all of this.
Then the kind neighbor shows up while Lesa and I are laughing hysterically on the back balcony. I'm sitting on top of the washer-dryer, Lesa is doubled over next to me and the electrician is still standing silently in the darkness in our kitchen. I'm not sure what the neighbor thought of all of this either... but she very graciously helped us - very easily - once she made it clear to the electrician what had occurred. Of course, the electrician then disappeared only to send the "better" ATS electrician back to our flat an hour later with thicker wire. Thankfully this second electrician had an much easier time communicating with us and promptly repaired the kitchen light.