Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Stop Neemrana Fort

Neemrana Fort was built in the 15th century. It has recently been converted into a very nice heritage hotel (55 rooms) - part of a chain of hotels that specialize in restoring historical properties and converting them into hotel destinations. The hotel has beautiful rooms with antique furniture and artwork. Beautiful gardens and stonework are everywhere you turn. The fort has 10 levels to it.Of course we enjoyed tea and sweets at 5pm on one of the Fort's terraces. We had fun with the kids exploring the fort's maze of hallways, terraces and courtyards. There is a second site that is a 15 minute walk across the valley below. This underground structure was a summer bathing area for the royal women of Neemrana. The bathing plaza is built down into the earth probably 6-8 stories below the surface... amazing. The temperatures are very cool and comfortable there on a hot day.
We climbed to the top of the small mountain behind the fort. Amazing views are all around the valley. The countryside is beautiful and very different from the highly populated, urban areas of India. Neemrana is in northern Rajasthan and is only a 2 hour drive from where we live in Noida.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tripping out of Delhi

We took our first trip out of the Delhi/Noida area. Went down into Northern Rajasthan. This is a large state just to the south and west of the Delhi-metro area.

We visited two really great places not far from the small city of Alwar: Neemrana Fort and The Sariska National Park. I will post photos and more description later today or tomorrow

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

National Rail Museum

This place is amazing! It's the National Rail Museum located in New Delhi. Probably the best collection of old trains I have ever seen. Our young neighbor in Austin, Artie (4 yrs old) would be in seventh-heaven here!
We met some Canadian friends at the museum on Saturday and really enjoyed the afternoon. Of course safety is always first. The kids could climbed all over the trains - inside and out. Then we all had a seat on the narrow-gauge train and rode around the park. Great fun!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Employee Relations

Hiring and having household staff is completely alien to us, so we were satisfied when we easily hired a housekeeper and driver. Hiring people who will hold your family's safety and well being in their hands, practically live with you and are from another culture is one of the most uncomfortable things that I've done. We naively made it through our first few weeks of managing our household staff. But of course, we made some "rookie" mistakes and are now on round two with both driver and housekeeper.
Employee #1: Our housekeeper and cook, Indu, helped us tremendously in setting up the house, figuring out what was needed for the kitchen, and teaching us where and how to market. When Indu arrived, we looked to her to tell us what needed to be done, how and when. She would spend the weekends in Delhi, and we gave her a lift into town a few times when we were headed that way. In hindsight, much of this was a mistake. One Monday she called saying she could not figure out what bus to take back to Noida and that she needed to be picked up. So Jon and the driver, who takes 3 buses each morning to get to our home on time, drove into Delhi to pick up Indu. Jon had an hour long conversation with her, reviewing expectations and firmly telling her she needs to get herself back and forth from Delhi on the weekends. But it was too late to reign in expectations, so when a similar episode occurred the next weekend, we ended her contract.
Employee #2: A driver, Kirti, started the day our car was delivered. He was a safe driver, on the quiet side, but always left me wondering if he liked working for us. After 10 days, he called to tell us that his mother was in the hospital and he needed to go to her village. Not to worry though, he was sending a friend, who speaks English, in the morning to drive us. We had no idea how to react - do we believe him, is he quitting and just who is this guy who is showing up to drive us in the morning! Having no better alternative, we decided to just let it play out for a few days. As it turned out, Kirti thoroughly briefed his English-speaking friend Chauhan, about how to drive for us, timings, where to go and where to park. Chauhan also is a safe driver, was more talkative and seemed to be a better personality fit with our family.
Employee #3: After 5 days with us, Chauhan informed us that Kirti must stay with his mother for another 4-6 weeks, but that he gave his blessing for Chauhan to take over our contract. So this is how Chauhan came to be our driver.

Employee #4: Wiser from these experiences and much clearer on expectations, again we interviewed and hired a housekeeper, Mary. She has only been with us a few days and only works weekdays. This seems to be a much better fit with our needs. We already can tell that Mary is a better cleaner and cook. The kids like her. And she and the driver get along, which we've learned is important.

I'm not even going to take a guess about how long it will last. I do not pretend for a minute to have a clue about this subculture and its inner workings. It's impossible to get a straight answer, since people will tell you what they think you want to hear. There are all sorts of cultural landmines and missteps. There is definitely a pecking order (I think the driver is at the top). And there is a strange two-way dependency. These people are dependent on us as their employers, and we are dependent on them to help keep us healthy and safe. I find myself falling into this strange emotional dependency - you want them to be good at what they do, you want them to like their job and your family and if they do, you want them to stay. But the world of servants and domestic help is a complex subculture in what is already a very foreign place.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Custom Furniture

As in many Asian countries it is customary to remove your shoes when entering a house - to be both clean and polite. Lesa and I realized we needed a nice bench to help keep all the shoes out of the way and to have a place to sit when you change from your outdoor shoes to your indoor ones (think Fred Rogers).

Lesa found a simple design for a foyer-bench on the "Storehouse" website, so she printed out a photo of it. We adjusted the measurements to fit the space we have and off I went to the the local market with our new driver, Chauhan.
Furniture makers are everywhere here - usually several in each local market area. I had spotted what looked like a prosperous shop on nearby Dadri Road so that's where we headed. The carpenters were young but had a busy shop (see photo - that's Chauhan on the far right). We showed them the sample picture along with our desired measurements. We chose the wood and finish and then negotiated a reasonable price (with Chauhan's help)
This hardwood bench and cushion took about 3 days to make (give an extra day for the cushion) and cost about $65 delivered. I think it's Lesa's favorite piece of furniture now!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Safety First

Every once in a while the American part of my brain kicks in and says, "Hang on, this just isn't safe."

Here are the matches that I purchased for Audrey to do her homework one evening. The assignment was to create shapes out of matchsticks.

Here is a beautiful birthday cake that had five large sparklers on top of it and 20 small children gathered around it.

And my favorite unsafe children's activity: students in polyester costumes, jumping though a flaming ring at the Lotus Valley International School's annual Sports Day.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Outside the wall

I took a stroll in my neighborhood under the late afternoon sun. When you look beyond the dust and grime you can see an India that is always filled with beautiful colors...

Shops of all shapes and sizes...
And scenes that are often stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Time Zone Confusion

Our dual-continent world has become a little less confusing now at the SayerRanch. I managed to purchase 3 identical clocks recently at the local market in the Atta neighborhood (sector 18). Nice wood-framed clocks now represent the three time zones we most frequent via Skype, telephone and email: New Delhi, Austin (Central Standard) and New York (Eastern Standard Time). At a quick glance we can always imagine what our friends and family are doing at any given time of the day!