Thursday, May 28, 2009

Street Smarts

Being "street smart" in India is a necessity for survival. Being "street smart" here is like playing in a whole new league.

I get cheated here everyday. I accept that we will pay a few rupees more for our goods and services. I have made peace with this and as long as it is just a few extra rupees, I don't consider it cheating.

From time to time though, someone really tries to cheat us and we can't accept it. Like the time Jonathan threw a bunch of bananas back at the fruit-wallah who was trying to charge him double. (this was only a few rupees, but the price doubling caused Jonathan to lose it!)

I am still fuming about a taxi we hired for 2.5 days in January. The taxi (organized through my employer) charged me for 4.5 days. Two days that I did not even use the taxi! They also charged me for over 160 kms per day. This is absurd - the taxi would have had to drive from my home to office over 10 times in one day to rack up that kind of distance. It is May and I still have not paid this bill. I've argued and I've gotten my co-workers to argue. The 2 extra days have been removed but all the extra kms are still on the bill. My coworkers have told me to just pay it and that next time I must document all the kms from the odometer.

I notice when we go to "take petrol" that the locals intently watch the meter on the petrol pump the entire time the attendant is filling the tank. Chauhan explained that this is necessary or the attendant will add some extra rupees to the charges.

Sometimes a "leap of faith" does not work, and your "street smarts" need to jump in.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where's the Beef?

It seems as though eating meat in India is optional. Vegetarians are by far the largest group of food-consumers in India. This is mainly driven by the Hindu and Buddhist religions prevalent here (over 80% of the population). The veg diet is so important that the government here has adopted symbols to show if a product uses proper Vegetarian ingredients. Green denotes Veg and brown is for Non-veg products. The diet choice is not drawn simply by religious faith. It also seems to be connected to caste, region and one's status in the community. Many Hindus do, in fact, eat meat - chicken, mutton (which in India is actually goat), and sometimes water buffalo. Most of the meat shops are Muslim-owned, since this is one of the largest meat-eating communities here.

Cows are everywhere in India - one of the sacred animals of Hinduism. They are not wild, (although you would think they are). The cattle are farm animals, managed and milked by their owners. The casual observer might not notice, but if you really spend time observing the cattle of India, all of them have a routine. They wander out in the day to scrounge for food. Only to return back home in the evening to be milked by the farmer.

Most meat shops are open-air, fly infested establishments - only for the locals and (in my opinion) the brave. We have found a nice shop for meats in Noida's Sector 50 called, "Chick Mart." The shop is fairly clean and offers fresh boneless chicken and fish (flown in from Mumbai). The shop even has bacon and pork sausage (also hard to come by as it is not permissible by the Muslim faith).

Beef is everywhere, but you won't find it on your plate - just wandering about in city traffic.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Election Day

Yesterday was election day for this part of Uttar Pradesh and a few other states in India. Our neighbors, Shail & Mini, invited me to come along to the local polling station to check out the voting process. The station was in the small village behind ATS. Security was provided by local and state police (including several commandos)... they wouldn't let me take any photos near the polling station. It was all much more sophisticated than I expected. Citizens check in to vote with a picture ID (Shail actually confirmed his name and voter registration online prior to voting). Once you are confirmed as an eligible voter, you get in a queue and proceed to the electronic voting machine.

Once you have voted, your index finger is marked with permanent ink - everyone displays this finger with a bit of pride as proof of their participation in the election... This year the "in" thing to do was have your middle finger marked - especially celebrities - giving a polite excuse to flash "the finger" at reporters with a wink and a grin. There where no reports of disturbance or violence in our area during these elections.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hot... Really Hot.

We've had to re-adjust to our surroundings again. India is now hot. The temperature climbs above 40 degrees (104 F) nearly everyday. According to the Times of India we are in the midst of a heatwave - about 5 degrees Celsius above normal.

Life continues on here for the locals... there are still plenty of smiles during the heat of the day. But the pace of life has definitely slowed. The heat sucks away your energy and enthusiasm, and for me, it drains a little of the romance out of life in India.

The biggest change for our family has been learning to readjust our schedules. Lesa and I now walk earlier in the morning and we all swim in the evenings to cool down. An extra shower late in the day also helps - even the kids are volunteering to take showers now!
Unlike Texas, which also gets pretty hot in the summer, Indian homes do not have central A/C. If a room has A/C it is cooled by a stand-alone unit. Because we are trying to be more energy efficient, we run our units selectively. Its just not practical to run them in each room at once. The hotter it gets here, the more area-brownouts occur. When we are on power backup during a brownout, the system will only support two A/C units anyway.

So far I have managed to live with just ceiling fans running during the day. In the evening, when the family's all home, we are learning to live in one or two cooled rooms. To be comfortable through the night, we sleep with our bedroom A/Cs on a low setting... I'm sure by the time we get used to these new routines the monsoon season and high-humidity will arrive. We'll just learn to re-adapt all over again.