Wednesday, October 24, 2007

India Night Pics...

"Bollywood Here I Come..."

Or perhaps a more honest title would be, "How to Dance on Stage In Front of 200 People Without Unraveling A Sari and Falling On Your...(insert appropriate language here)."

So, Umm...that pretty much sums up my version of the Overseas Women's Club "India Night" party last Saturday night. Oh... that's can add a "couple" of glasses of wine to the scenario if you'd like (strictly your own imagination, of course, but remember, we expats-with-kids don't get out much! Which explains the Hookah lounge, Wade's Hat and Bob's complaints about his shoes "hurting" his feet (yeah, sure buddy, try that in high heels...)

Since all of "that" happened later in the evening, I'll recap the rest:

The Overseas Women's Club (OWC) is an Expat organization here in Bangalore that functions as both expat resource and support and charitable organization. In addition, they publish an invaluable expat guide, "The In and Out of Bangalore". Many of the fun events also serve to financially support over 25 local charities, most benefiting children and families in some way...pretty much a win-win for everybody involved.

The OWC hosts a formal "India Night" benefit each year. This year's event was held at "The Grand Ashok" hotel in Bangalore with an Indian Buffet featuring various regional cuisines, performance by the expat Bollywood dance group "The Foxy Ladies," Hookah lounge, and a great excuse to buy some fancy Indian clothing and socialize with other expats.

Pretty cool, right?

I had the chance to go sari shopping a couple of weeks ago and Bob bought himself a "Kurta Pyjama" and a pair of red pointy shoes to match. Vimala, our maid, painted "Mehendi" on my hands, brought me some bangles and a Bindi for my forehead, helped me find a tailor to stitch my sari "blouse," bought me a sari slip, agreed to babysit our children and arrived early to wrap me in my 6 yards of silk. Other beneficial commentary that led me to believe I had no idea what I was doing: "You're not going to wear your hair like THAT, Madame?" and "Where is your eyeliner?" and "You don't have any matching sets?" (dubiously eyeing the jewelry I'd set out). Undaunted by my obvious lack of experience with both social custom and Indian formal wear, Vimala had me wrapped, tucked, pinned and emerging as a proper Indian lady in no time. How she did so, is still a major mystery... However it all occurred, I was greeted by both kids with serious approval: (Owen) "mommy you wook bwootifuw" (Grayce) "you should always dress like that, every day." Did I mention the safety pins? Are you aware that safety pins are only for slackers? That those 6 yards of fabric are simply wrapped around and tucked into a slip? Or that Indian women do more than just stand there carefully, trying not to move too much? Vimala wears a Sari every day cleaning and mopping my house. It's amazing...just getting in the car had me in a panic!

Fast-Forward to Raffle Ticket Time: Several prizes given away, including Bollywood dancing lessons, in which another woman went up to claim her prize and had the dance studio owner/instructor surprise her with an impromptu and very public lesson. A second set of lessons is announced. Bob looks right at me and says, "you know you're going to win this." I suddenly just KNOW that he's right (damn "The Secret," it's always getting me into trouble!) I suddenly just KNOW I'm going to have to get up and dance...Bollywood style...which is not exactly "conservative".

I win. 8 lessons. Free. I am on stage and I am dancing. Thank God for Vimala, Sari Pins, and a realllllyyyy charming choreographer by the name of V. Arun Kumar....proprietor of Zealers dance studio. (Probably, the wine helped, too.) It wasn't until it was all over that I realized I'd missed my chance to send Bob up to claim his prize.

Next year, this time...

Chandra Fischer-"Foxy Lady"

The Fischers...having a great time in Bangalore!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Electricity: Othewise Known As "Now You See It, Now You Don't"

I'm beginning to think about electricity as more than just the flip of a switch. It does, in fact, seem to have a life of it's own. It's a fickle and stubborn life form, delighting in it's own electric mania of sorts.

The other evening at dinner we were plunged in to blackness 6 times in a half hour time span. Lokesh, our cook, kept trying to light candles. Each and every time he succeeded the lights would flicker back on (and the ceiling fan, effectively dousing those happy flames just in time for another go round). I could almost hear the laughter of the puppet master...

In the first couple of weeks the kids would scream or cry or otherwise spend a little time in freak out land (like the time Grayce was watching "Barbie: The Island Princess"...yup, thaaat was fun...NOT. I'm sure the neighbors wondered what cruelty was befalling our poor children by the screech that followed the repetative black-outs. Personally, I had a little fun imagining Barbie's swan dive...but...she...just...kept...coming...back.)

They're adjusting though. We're down to simple exasperation and a groan, "Mooom, the powers out!" (really? I hadn't noticed.) Who knows?? By this time next year they'll be able to spontaneously combust as needed without a single complaint. Think of the savings on matches!

In Palm Meadows there are three levels of power: Full. Back-Up. None. In full power everything works! An electrical device is plugged in...and it works, really! Part of your mind can't help but think that all previous lack of power was a myth. Back-Up power kicks in after we've lost all power...within 5 -10 minutes or so. In Back-Up, some of the lights function but many outlets do not...especially the ones you really to the washing machine mid-cycle...or the toaster oven mid-broil. Back-up power has an adversarial relationship to NO power. They're always arguing...back and forth, back and forth. Plus, all you have to do to blow a fuse around here is think about plugging in the coffee grinder!

Another consideration is The Great Exploding Appliance...usually the-most-expensive-electrical-appliance-you-shipped-from-home-and-had-plugged-in-to- the-biggest step-up, step-down converter-transformer-available-to-those-without-an-electrical-license. In our case...a brand new $160 toaster oven (a replacement for the oven that doesn't exist in our that it will be possible to bake cookies and birthday cakes). There wasn't really an "explosion" but we did see flames shoot out of the electrical components and it has certainly ceased to function. Funny how the converter-transformer works just fine.

My favorite part of all of this is the "switch-confusion." There are many, many electrical switches in our house. One example is the 8 switches plus a fan control for the dining room. I swear the switches change their allegiance to a particular fixture on a regular basis...or maybe it's just me ;-) fuse at a time.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Last of the Nandi Hills...

More Nandi Hills...

Nandi Hills...

Nandi Hills Monkeys

Monkey Bait: A True Story of Man and Monkey in Nandi Hills

Let me introduce one of our favorite people in India: Our driver, Raju. Target India works with a service called "Deeksha Travels" to provide expats with both car and driver so our Toyota Inova and Raju were ready to go about a week after we arrived. Driving and Traffic in Bangalore deserve their own blog but suffice it to say that there are many excellent reasons for us to NOT be driving. Raju is a safe, prompt and kind driver. Grayce and Owen adore him and he's proven to be wonderful with them both. He maintains our car (washing it daily!), runs errands (paying bills, picking things up and carrying in the groceries...) and speaks pretty good English (we understand one another most of the time and he's always happy to point out interesting sights or share the history of particular places). Little did he know the fate of his day lay in a simple sandwich as we set out this past Saturday to visit the small hill station, "Nandi Hills"...
Now, Nandi Hills is famous for its monkeys. Lots and lots of Monkeys! We had been duly warned about the monkeys snatching food and planned to "picnic" in our car. On our way back to lunch we stopped and bought a couple of bags of chips to eat with our lunch and I had a small taste of what it is like to be stalked by monkeys. It was a warm day and I walked along swinging those bags by my side (one red, one green...shiny enough to catch the light.) Then, out of the corner of my eye I see a monkey...his neck snaps around, gray fur, pink face, piercing eyes suddenly and intently focused on those bags. He sits up, takes a step in my direction, then another and I am very aware that this is not a battle that I will win, should it come to that! I am considering whether I should just abandon the chips when I reach the car (Bob and the kids are already there,) blurt out, "the monkeys want my chips!" and thrust them into Raju's hands, which then quickly shove them into the car and shut the door. The monkey sits back, tilts his head at us and runs back to his "chip scouting" perch. We are further convinced that eating in the car is the right thing to do and all pile in to enjoy lunch. The monkey eventually ignores us and wanders off into the woods.
Raju has already eaten lunch and is outside, leaning casually against the front bumper. We have many delicious sandwiches. Bob hops out and offers one to Raju. All is well. All is peaceful. The day is beautiful and so are the Hills. We are all very hungry and happy.
Suddenly Raju turns...fear leaps briefly into his face. He vaults the car and we see one VERY large monkey running full speed directly for that sandwich. He's got 4 0r 5 reinforcements trailing closely behind him and they mean (monkey?) business. The door of the car is wrenched open. Thunking, metal to monkey. Raju leaps inside, the sandwich still in his hand, his breath heavy and slams the door behind him. A bevy of monkeys fall against the car in one last attempt. Raju turns to me and says, "Sorry Madame" and begins to laugh a little (he is unharmed but it feels like a close call and there is certainly nothing for him to be sorry about!) A baby monkey face hangs upside down from the roof of the car, peering so endearingly through the driver's side glass that we almost wish we could open up the window. But we don't!
Nandi Hills is small but quite lovely. The rock formations remind us of the North Shore (albeit with Palm Trees and Monkeys, of course!) We hike the trails. We visit the temple and make an offering to Nandi, the Hindu bull God. We admire the temple carvings. We recieve a blessing at a small Ganesha temple outside. We stand high on the rock and peer over the edge. Karnataka is green and lush still...the monsoon so recently ended. Warm greetings from other visitors abound. Several groups ask to take our picture. We gingerly throw the remnants of a small snack to a skin and bones street dog who stands with her face to the wind and are rewarded with vigorours tail wags. There is much too much garbage littered about but we walk in the woods mere feet from the monkeys. We watch them sleeping, climbing, playing, munching at grass. The babies wrestle on the ground, guarded by mama. It is eery how human-like they appear. They are every where, as cautious and curious as we. We watch for signs of stress or agression but there is none (lunch time "monkey mania" is a couple of hours off yet and we carry no food.)
The adventure ends after our *interesting* monkey accompanied lunch. We drive back down out of the hills through villages, stopping to admire a banana grove, buying some freshly picked green grapes, Raju points out a huge and gorgeous statue of the elephant god Ganesha. It is within the gates of a school and he stops to ask if we can enter to take some photographs (he is a devotee of Ganesha one of the most beloved Hindu deities. Ganesha is well known for blessing all journeys...the beginnings and endings and this seems a fitting conclusion.)
We end the day at a roadside stand where the top of coconuts are hacked off, a straw stuck inside, drinking coconut water. We buy one for Raju...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Banking, Electricity, Laundry and Traffic...and Playground Equiptment: Part One

All things we gave little thought to in the U.S.A. All things that functioned in the backround of our lives. Certainly present...yet taken for granted. Occuring with a minimum of fuss. Safety essentially presumed.

Welcome to India Where It Is Best To Take Nothing For Granted!

Going to the bank has taken on a comical note: Today was our fourth attempt at visiting the HSBC bank at which we have an Indian bank account. Bob was lucky enough to get it set up at work during his orientation when the banking rep was present to help Indian employees set up direct deposit. They weren't very happy with his signature and he had to sign form after form after form but the deed was done in an afternoon. We know other expats for whom the process has taken 2 we were feeling pretty good.

As there was no actual money in the account yet we decided to deposit the rest of our travelers checks. Since the bank is close to the Target office (but 40 minutes in decent traffic from Palm Meadows) it made sense for Bob to stop by one Friday 3:45 pm. Until he discovered that banking hours are 9:30 to 3:30. Bob has decided that he will one day return to work as an expat banker. Strike One.

We're told the bank is open on Saturdays. We drive the 40 minutes (again, on the way to some place else). There are MANY people at the bank, but it is open. We go inside. We ask where we can exchange travelers checks and are directed to a long line. We wait. Our turn arrives and we are told that it is impossible to cash travelers checks or do international wire transfers on a Saturday. "You'll have to come back during the week." We sigh in frustration but go on with our day. Strike Two.

We decide that the kids and I will ride in with Bob on the way to work for a third attempt and then go visit a bookstore we've heard of. The kids are cranky. Owen has to go potty. We arrive at the bank and get out of the car only to find that it's a holiday and the bank is closed. We laugh at the absurdity and vow to try again. (At this point it's no longer just a trip to the bank. At this point, it's a QUEST.) Strike Three.

It's the following day (TODAY) and we set off again certain that the fourth time's GOT to be a charm. We do a verbal checklist: Weekday? Check. Banking Hours? Check. NOT a holiday? Check. The kids are left at home with the maid (no potty stops or sibling rivalry to slow us down). The car has fuel. Our water bottles are full and accounted for. Passports? Yep, got 'em. Account number, banking paperwork, actual travelers checks??? Yes, Yes and Yes. We make the 40 minute journey for the fourth time. Arriving at the bank at 9:35 we see that it is indeed open. We step into a short (!) line, reach the teller desk, present our papers...and are politely but firmly told that the exchange rates are not available until after 10:30.

We stare like guppies at the teller... The pulse in Bob's normally calm temple bounds... But in the end we shrug our shoulders, Bob reschedule's his 11:00 am meeting and we go out for a "soothing" cup of tea, returning at 10:30 where we eventually pull the sword from the stone and make the d#*n deposit!

Aah...India. What we love best about it so far is also what frustrates and challenges us the most: Nothing is ever what it seems and every notion you've ever had is split down the middle!

Chandra And Bob Fischer
Knights of the Round Table
Happily Searching For the Sorcerer's Stone in Bangalore...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Some Pictures...

Due to the fact that we've had some minor internet issues and haven't been able to post as much as I would like (our ISP is currently blocking blogger for some reason...perhaps they fear our revolutionary tendencies?) we thought we'd share some photographs of the kids and our neighborhood in Palm Meadows. The neighborhood pics are taken from our front rooftop patio looking out and the bottom photos with Grayce in her school uniform (Owen doesn't have to wear one) were taken on the kids first day at Gopalan school. We are finally getting out and about and remembering to carry our camera with us, so check back soon for pictures of the city in all its color, grime and glory!
Missing you all!
The Fischers

Monday, October 1, 2007

35 year old, American Female seeking furniture polish...

and other household items to be used for lurid and unusual activities including (but not limited to): dusting woodwork, sweeping and mopping floors, laundering clothing.

At least it seems that way.

Setting up a household in Bangalore is a lesson in perseverance, creativity, frustration and humor. Items which we, as Americans, easily take for granted become difficult to explain, describe and very often, find. Often there is an Indian equivalent...not exactly the same...but close enough (or better in the case of the extremely useful natural brooms!). Usually, though, it takes a while to determine what those equivalents are.

Witness the aforementioned 35 year old American girl attempting to describe (and mime) the shape, structure and use of a "dish drainer" to a very nice young Indian man. A young man who spoke a bit of English but who was much to polite to simply tell me he didn't know what the H&*ll I was talking about. Or the frequency of times I have attempted to buy wood polish met with the familiar Indian head bobble and a "Yes Madame" only to be led directly to the shoe polish. While it is completely true that it is possible to find nearly anything in Bangalore, it is also equally true that you will find yourself visiting 26 stores and spending 10 hours in traffic, driving across the entire city only to learn that the item you seek was indeed available...last month.

I've heard a recent rumor that Clorox wipes are available in Bangalore. And I'm actually spending time fantasizing about discovering the "mother lode" on a shop shelf in any one location and buying up each and every one! (Aside from vinegar the concept of natural, chemical free cleansers appears to be far away for me to even dream about.)

That and cereal bowls. I find serving bowls, finger bowls, mixing bowls galore but nary a cereal bowl to be found...

What this all boils down to is learning to embrace the unfamiliar. My knee jerk, off-the-cuff reaction is often one of incredulity: "WHAT, no cereal bowls...of all the is it possible that there are no cereal bowls!?" And then I remember that we have chosen to live in a foreign culture. Chosen a life in which our notions of "right and good and usual" will be continually challenged. A life in which cereal bowls might just be traditionally unavailable because the traditional breakfast doesn't include cereal (who'd a mean it's not just like the U.S.)