Category Archives: India

Online in India: Bakewala.com

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Oh joy!

There are entrepreneurs here who are rocking the establishment and providing world class service online.

Enter Bakewalla.com.

They have such an easy to use website for ordering bakeware such as these cute 12″muffin liners (also known  as patty tins or cupcake holders) and these fun squeezy bottles for piping frosting (how easy is that?) 

Having ordered these on Monday and  choosing to pay an extra 75 rupees for FedEx, I was surprised when they arrived next day from Bangalore !

Must repeat: NEXT day! Woohoo!

Now, Mumbai is a shopper’s paradise IF you know WHERE  to SHOP. I have been here almost two years and just discovered the best bread..

more of that in my next post

Expat.com a Genuine Friendly Expat site. 

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genuine friendly expat site

 

I have to apologise to Julian the creator of Expat.com.

I just took the liberty of adding a tag line –  genuine friendly expat site to his logo and here is why:

Back in March 2010,  Bill was headhunted for a project in Riyadh and he left me to research the place. As you all know,  surfing the net sucks up hours of your life and many times leads to redundant websites, irrelevant advice or worse still – clickbait-that erroneous info you didn’t really need to know about or worse you need to pay money to get anything other than the crumbs. Thankfully I found expat-blog.com (expat.com’s previous avatar) and it became my go-to place for advice. I became a member and quickly got chatting to other expats living in Saudi Arabia. I found Riyadh challenging and frightening sometimes (read my Riyadh posts here) and the contacts I made in the forum became friends I could trust. We had so many good times and so many laughs just chatting there.  It wasn’t as big as it is now and it was lovely to have Julian come into the forum now and then to keep us in line or add to the conversation. It was a difficult time and my disillusion grew when Bill was asked to not come back to the (Riyadh) office, while we were on holidays so I never got to see those friends again. I dropped out of the expat blog scene after that but returned in recent years so happy with where Julian has brought it to.

The site now has over a million members and is bigger and better and just as genuine and friendly as I left it.

If you are an expat you need to join Expat.  com

 

Mumbai daze of crochet and pani puri

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monkey,dino,ladybird,bunny,snail,penguin,crocodile,tortoise,lion,jacket,layette,teddy

Apparantly I am now living in one of the world’s great cities and have been doing so since December 2014.

Hey Mumbai is the home of Bollywood, pani puri and pav (pronounced POW) bhaji which I heartily enjoy.

You could probably buy a new sari here everyday for the next 10 years and never come across the same colour or pattern – truly there seems to be a cloth store on every corner in every street.

There is fabulous art deco architecture and the marvels left behind  by the British Empire juxtaposed with one of the the world’s largest slums, Dharavi that now nestles in prime land close to where I live.

Why then do I feel I have been swallowed up in some Twilight Zone episode?

It’s loneliness, I guess.

Too many days spent in the apartment and tired of trying to find a cab or an Uber driver who speaks English or can operate the GPS. Once on the road, traffic is merciless, constant and the honking, honking, honking never ceases.

On arrival I joined  Mumbai Connections – an expat group for women -and guessed I would just flow in that, as I had in Gurgaon but too often their activities are too far from my place to attend. We chose to live close to Bill’s work which is nowhere near where the expats congregate. They tend to hang out in Bandra or Powai.

My refuge came in discovering pani puri shots at my local restaurant just a hop away from the  apartment. This humble little shell of nuttiness filled with tidbits of  comfort  is popped in your mouth and chased with a shot of spiced water: indescribable flavours of coriander, sweet tamarind, chaat masala, chickpeas and whatever else all combine together to bring joy, oh sweet joy to the palate. I caught myself smiling  and thinking, can this be legal? Perhaps it takes little around here to make me happy but I now understand why Mumbaikers crave these babies when overseas.(Six shots will set you back 35 rupees!)

Speaking of babies, we welcomed two this year and another two are due next year.

It’s hard being a Yiayia (grandmother) on Skype trying to catch kisses blown by the two-year old or listening in on Happy Birthday songs without getting to hug the child celebrating. Calls placed often drop out and the internet jumps from 4G to 3G to H++ to catch me if you can.

To distract myself I crocheted a menagerie of animals for them: penguins, monkeys,teddys,mice, cats,birdies,a lion, a crocodile, even a dinosaur.

Seems I looked up from my crochet long enough to discover I have been in this city for nearly two years!

I’m now ready to go back out  and explore some more- I hear  dahi puri is amazeballs too!

pani-puri-on-rediff-pages

image of pani puri shots from rediff photos

 

 

 

 

 

ten best things about Gurgaon

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1 only 40 minutes to Delhi

2 less than 50 cents on the metro to get there

3 you can drive on any part of the road including bitumen

4 roadside coconut stands

5 shoe repairs starting at 25 cents

6 breakfast buffet at the Westin

7 hairdressers are open till 8pm six days a week

8 Giani ice cream parlours for paan ice cream

9 galaxy hotel shopping strip

10 modern bazaar where men carry your shopping basket

5

The country that will change you

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Here is a good article from Canberra writer, Ben Stubbs that shows how travellers to India will always have a good story to tell when they get home.

For us who live here there is a story in each new  day sometimes without even venturing out our front door.

Take last week for example: as the weather temperature drops and the sodden humidity eases I decide to leave the back door of the kitchen open.

I hear my maid scream!

Rushing into the kitchen she tells me  she saw a large monkey with one hand on the handle of the chest freezer and the other holding up a frozen fish.

An Indian monkey.

He knows how to open freezer doors.

He doesn’t eat fish.

Welcome to India.

Belly of the beast: the country that will change you.

via Belly of the beast: the country that will change you.

A Moment of Truth in Gurgaon

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Yesterday as we drove through the streets of Gurgaon  on a bright Autumn day we saw police attending to another dead body on the road. We then swerved to pass the  carcass of an animal. The daily paper here shows pictures of the dead in the  hope they will be identified by family. It also displays the photographs of children missing, many children that are kidnapped.

The earth is full of suffering.

This video reminds us of the big picture

 

Mahjong, Anyone?

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Isn’t it funny how we conjure up images when we hear certain words?

Missionary, for example, you know, those people who wear socks with sandals or no makeup and last decade’s fashion. Sitting in the jungle, tapping a tambourine to Kumbaya and praying the natives don’t get restless – or hungry.

What about, mahjong – that Chinese game played with tiles and moves such as pong, chow and kung.  Pong-Chow-Kung, definately has a Chinese flavour about it.

Now say, mah – jong.

Mouth wide open for ‘mah’ and then drop your jaw to the floor for ‘jong’.

MaH-dzong

The correct pronunciation isactually with a hard j but it suffers from hyper-foreignism. Much like the character, Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances who insists her name is pronounced bouquet. Similarly people use a pseudo-French pronunciation for the retailer Target as if it is a boutique.

During the Raj, the British excelled in effecting foreign parlance  with words like Raj, Taj Mahal and mahjong: exquisitely elongating the first vowel  but the Hindu pronounces these same words with a short sharp  j.

I was born for hyper-foreignisms and I am so glad I can use them with gay abandon here in India!

Whenever I hear the word, mahjong, I picture ladies in 1930’s style hats playing the game whilst sipping a gin and tonic, sitting under a ceiling fan  somewhere in the  colonies and  complaining about the heat.

“Oh, the heat is dreadful this year!”

“Yes, Alistair promised to take me up to Shimla but that wretched boss won’t let him go and I’m tired of holidaying on my own. ”

“Well, all Carl ever thinks of is his work; he comes home so tired I might as well be a fly on the wall, so I am  venturing up to Darjeeling until the end of September”

“Oh, Darjeeling  darling, splendid indeed! May I join you Carol? I can always do Shimla another time. Let’s say we all go up together!”

“Girls, I would love to join you but I must visit the boys in London and Phillip is off to Hong Kong and Shanghai this month.”

“Celeste, poor dear, do you see Phillip at all?”

“Mustn’t grumble Felicity, after all, when anyone asks me what I am doing here, I reply, spending my husband’s money, of course!”

Chortle. Chortle.

I do exaggerate but often I hear similar conversations  every Wednesday afternoon playing mahjong. We meet in a nice hotel, some of us ‘do’ lunch first and then we sit at tables set up in a cosy corner. Mahjong is often played with money but as gambling is banned in India (apart for a few casinos in Goa) it is best to play it where one can be seen.

I love the game. It is a game of strategy and chance and there is something elegant about playing with tiles covered in Chinese characters. There really isn’t  much time for chatter during the game as you need to stay focused – just like in a game of rummy, you have to see what tiles are being thrown out and whether your game play is still viable. We play for three hours with a coffee break – the gin and tonics are pure fantasy.

I never play with the same group of ladies as there is always somebody flying out to somewhere over the rainbow.

They go to renovate their home in Provence or Spain (seriously!) or to shop in Singapore or Hong Kong, visit their children in boarding school or

Hyacinth Bucket

Hyacinth Bucket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

simply tag along while their husbands attend business meetings in New York. (I did the New York thing back in 2007, lucky me!)

At Mahjong, you find out where you are placed in the pecking order of expats but we are all friendly and unaffected, well some of us are, darling.

Hallo Pleeze! I am Babu the Electrician

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Last week I made a friend. (Stop with the violins!)

I met her at the local expat women’s coffee morning by sitting at the first empty seat I found and that was next to her.

Now I am not prone to going to these as most times it feels  like I’m sitting in a kindergarten with little ones running around or babies squealing for a feed.

I love kids, ask my grandchildren, but as they say, it is easier to put up with their noise than a stranger’s.

What I needed was a nice chat, someone to bring home to dinner.

Valerie asked me where I lived.

Surprised, she told me she lived a minute’s walk away. Across from me sat her friend, Celeste who announced that she can see my place from her house.

Now we were three!

A few days later, Bill and I went to church with Valerie’s family and  then we all joined Celeste’s family for lunch at a nice venue.

The following day, I invite Valerie and her family for a Greek feast!

My recent gift to myself – a 60 litre bench top oven is put to good use making spanakopita and moussaka.

Click!

The electrical circuit trips.

Push up the button and start again.

Click!

The oven starts tripping the circuit board.

My guests are due to arrive and I put my maid on standby at the circuit board.

Click!

Push up

Click!

Push up.

Quickly, I call for the estate’s electrician who arrives promptly and fiddles with the circuit board.

In the midst of making hommous,  I hear a rumble and turn to see flashes, arc-ing and smoke.

My new oven is kaput, my food barely cooked and my guests arrive at the door.

I start having a go at Babu, the electrician who waves his hands violently as if he’s cracking a Bollywood move, speaks loudly in Hindi and does everything but cross himself in self-defence.

Thankfully, I have also prepared jumbo keftethes – more-ish meatballs which we eat with salad, hommous and crusty bread. (Get invited to a Greek’s house and there will always be plenty to eat!)

The oven is still under warranty so I let Babu leave in one piece and note to myself to not have him fix anything around here again.

Frankly, you must have a great sense of humour around ‘technicians’ here.

They turn up at the door with one tool in hand.

The electrician arrives with a screw driver.

The plumber comes with a wrench.

Everything else they need to repair the work must be suppled (and paid for) by you.

Your light’s not working?

The first thing the electrician asks for is a ladder.

When you offer him a dining chair because, as an expat living in an apartment, you don’t think to pack a ladder in your belongings, he clicks his tongue and raises his eyebrows at you, like you’re some sort of misfit.

The carpenter turns up with his hammer and looks to you for nails.

True story.

The carpenter arrives to fix the curtain rail back into the wall.

He turns and asks me for a ladder.

A drill.

A masonry bit.

A chuck to remove the existing drill bit (this he conveniently forgets to give back)

An extension cord.

You’re getting the picture?

But wait there’s more.

I send for the air conditioner technician who comes from a global company rhyming with hibachi.

He starts poking his screwdriver around and I notice the power is still on.

As a small child I got severely electrocuted so I respect electricity. I also observed my Dad, an electrical engineer, repairing items with their power switched off.

Here, often you see ‘technicians'( many who learn their specific trade by simply observing their mates), poking steely bits into sockets and I kind of wonder whether they have a death wish or are they simply looking for better karma in another life?

I turn to continue reading my book.

A flash, a crash and an eerie thud later, I dread to look up.

Will today be the day I see a sizzling corpse before me?

The jolt throws him clearly across the room yet  brushing his hair back, he gets up with a smile.  Not before looking around for his weapon of near destruction.

His reincarnation will have to wait for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Maid Today!

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“No maids today

The maids have gone away

Bill, made sure of that

And they aren’t coming back!”

(with apologies to Herman and the Hermits 🙂 )

OK, you hire the staff that come with the house and you are guaranteed that they will serve you with a smile.

Twenty days ago the maids – a mother and teen daughter combo returned to this house after a three week vacation. They were given the time off by the previous tenants who assured us these two were worth the overpriced salary we were expected to continue to pay them.

The mother arrived as the cook and the teen daughter posed as the cleaner.

First meal served, Bill looked at me and said,

“This is not how you make porridge” – or words to that effect.

Clearly he was not delighting in the meal set before him. The food was either bland or riddled with salt so there was never a rush for seconds.

We had set out some basic ground rules about enjoying our privacy and the cook took it literally by not returning to clear the dishes.

Next morning, Bill and I make our cuppas and start our day.

Traditionally, staff here are up with the birds, washing is on the line by 7 a.m and they are the last to go to bed.

At 8.10 a.m the cook comes down from her room asking what we would like for breakfast.

Bill looks at his watch, realising its time for him to get to work but puts in his request for tea and toast. The tea is weak and the toast is dry… not a good start to the cook’s repertoire. Her scrambled eggs matched something that rhymes with comet.

Meanwhile, after a quick once over the lounge area with a mop, bucket and duster, the teen disappears till evening. I find her crooning her lungs out on the top terrace – Tina Arena she ain’t!

It is hot and humid here and though I enjoy ironing, this is not the season to be doing it – you sweat the moment you move away from under the AC. Approaching the cook for help with washing and ironing she bluntly retorts, “I don’t do that.”

Off to Bill’s HR department we go, maids in tow; perhaps we can sit down and negotiate a job list that includes things I need to get done in my new home. The teen looks bored and tells the HR rep that all she wants to do is dance classes. Clearly this mother and daughter have had a pretty relaxing time in the employ of the previous tenants.

It works out that their former employer gave them free run of the house, cooking some meals, cleaning a little and spending lots of  time in the park playing with the tenants 3- year old. They were also given weekends off, not appearing for duty until 8 am Monday mornings. (Most staff here get either half day or one day off – some work 7 days a week).

For this, they were paid three times the going rate for live-in staff and a TV was set up in their room for their viewing pleasure. (Staff are lucky if they have an overhead fan, rarely do they have access to a power point).

Bill went purple the day they asked for access to the internet so that the teen could catch up with ‘her friends’ – the previous tenants – now located back in the UK.

For those of you not aware, India is the land of maids, cooks, drivers, gardeners and dhobi wallahs {look it up :)}

Millions of people all looking for a job.

Now after ten months talking to the locals you get an idea of what each job specifies and what you can expect to pay.

Clearly, our fore runners had set a standard that spoilt these two women for their next employer.

Although our requirements had been made plain to them by the HR department – in Hindi, these two continued to do their own dance steps.

Saturday morning, I ask the cook to prepare some fresh dim sum which she boasts are her best dish. “Now?” she asks.

“My sister is going to Darjeeling, (etc etc)  I must see her to the station.”

I’m not exactly a she-devil so I say to her, forget about the dim sum (locally called mo-mos), go to the station and see you Monday morning.

Bill hears about this and is not happy.

By now we have driven off to lunch ( yes, cook’s day off!) so I call the maid to tell her I expect her home instead by 6pm Sunday.

No reply.

I SMS her.

No reply.

I call her Sunday.

NO REPLY!

Monday morning comes and Bill receives an SMS saying she will be home Tuesday morning.

Bill replies, ‘Yes, see you then – ready to pack your bags’.

Clearly spoilt and ever ready to take advantage of the nice expat.

I remember reading long time ago that American tourists tipped so highly whilst traveling overseas that they spoilt it for every other foreigner passing through.

There has been a recent heated argument on a local expat forum over staff and their salary ranges. One point was that some expats are paying staff the equivalent to a university graduate working 48 hours a week.

 Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dust each day and I don’t expect my staff to fill their day doing the same. All up, I would say there was no more than two to three  hours of work to do daily and plenty of times I let them go out in the afternoon. Most days I barely saw them between 11am and 6 pm.

It reminded me of the maids we had in Indonesia – two sisters.

Coming home unexpectedly from holidays, we found them having a barbecue with relatives from their village…in their bedroom!

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A nightly feast served up by Dinesh, the guesthouse cook at Garden Estate, Sikandepur, November 2012