Monday, July 24, 2006

24th of July

Plan to go get my drivers license today and then learn to drive in this crazy traffic....let's see how it goes!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

5th to present

The past 2 weeks have been crazy. Somewhere along the way i lost track of my blog posts. For a while i was diligently jotting notes during the day so i would remember what had happened, but then it got so busy i stopped doing that. So now i shall sort of recap the craziness of the last few days, or to be more exact, from the 5th thru today, the 23rd.

Well, the packers showed up like they had promised, on the 5th morning. It took them almost all day to unpack and put things away where we wanted. Unfortunately our packers in Seattle had not organized things very efficiently. Their packing skills were superb, everything arrived intact, but they had packed kitchen dishes with art work, bedlinens with electronic equipment, clothes with rugs and odd combinations like that, so we had to open almost every box to figure out what was in what. Since we are renting this place for a year, we didn't want to unpack everything, just the bare minimum we will need for a year. So after opening the boxes, we had to sort of repack and put some away in storage to be opened next year.

The past 2 weeks have basically been spent settling in. The house we are renting needed a lot of plumbing and electrical work to be redone in order for it to be livable, so we have been running around to hardware stores, electrical stores, bath fitting stores trying to get everything. There's no place like Home Depot or something where you can get everything you need for a house under one roof. One has to scout around town to find out where to buy what. For all electrical and electronic products one goes to Gujarati gulley, a 6 foot wide pedestrian choked alley....Gujarati gulley may have electronics but no bathroom accessories...for that you have to go to Troop Bazaar in Abids...Troop Bazaar may have bathroom fittings but no kitchen hardware...for that one has to go to Begum Bazaar and so we spent days on end running around trying to get all these. Then once we got them we had to call the plumber, the electrician and the carpenter to fix everything. Sounds simple right? No way! They give you a which one should realistically add an hour, so for example if the carpenter says he'll come at 10am, plan on 11am....and if he does show up at 11am, you are lucky! So we have been going round and round trying to get all these dudes to come home. Then when they eventually show up, they have very likely forgotten one very important tool like a drill or a ladder or a wrench or they disappear again only by now its lunch time so they've gone for their afternoon siesta and then you are so fed up you give up and don't call them and they never show up!!!!!!!!!!!!! Day wasted! But the thing is that they are genuinely nice sincere people so one just puts up with it. And when they finally do get the job done its with a happy cheerful attitude and a job done all in all i have learned tremendous patience over the past few days.

Once we sort of moved in the next order of business was to get our phone and Internet connections. Again sounds simple right? Again no be able to get any sort of service, one has to provide "proof of residency" or some sort of identification. The all powerful US passport which gets you into virtually any foreign country doesn't work since it doesn't have an address on it. The locals here need something showing a local address. So Raga had to apply for a drivers license. Normally this could take up to a week but again knowing people in the right places helps....he got it in an hour or so. Once the phone connection was established, Internet connection followed. Same story with the phone and Internet guys....they give you a time and show up 2 hours later. So you plan your whole day around their schedule and nothing else gets done. But again when they do show up they are happy and cheerful. Basically a very laid back different from the US!

This is such a country of paradoxes. Here's a prefect example. R and I had gone a few days ago to the civil supplies office. This is where they give your your "ration card". For those unfamiliar with this card, it is a card mostly for the underprivelaged, which enables them to buy essential commodities like rice, sugar, flour etc at very subsidised prices. Everyone needs this card, event those who have no use for it and can afford all the luxuries of life, because this card is the "holy grail". THIS is your proof of residency, THIS is your identification, THIS is YOU! While opening a new bank account, this card basically waives all other forms of identification.....THAT'S how essential this card is. So anyway, we went to the office and like any government office, it was this small pokey, hot, crowded, stuffy place with papers and records from the past 100 years stacked up against the wall. But beleive it or not, what do you think they were using as a means to make sure someone else couldn't use your card....RETINAL IMAGE SCANNING!!!! In the midst of all this chaos - there was this totally state-of-the-art machine, all gleaming and occupying center stage in the room! Raga and I were stunned! The guy in charge instructed us to gaze into i, one eyeball at a time and then "zap"....he clicked it and the image showed up. What was funny is how he had to explain this apparatus to the people who were coming in for their cards. I mean, these are people who are not very well educated at all and have never even heard of anything like this. I think initially they thought it was some kind of eye chart to check their eyesight but when they peered into it there was nothing to read, they simply couldn't understand why they had to look into this machine one eye at a time. It was in a way sort of sad too....!

Anyway, now we are armed with a ration card, the most powerful form of ID one can possess here. Raga and have been working like busy bees....Our house is finally in a livable state and is beginning to feel like a home. I am heading to the RTA office tomorrow to get my drivers license. Initially I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to even attempt to drive in this crazy traffic, but I am realizing fast that I simply cannot depend on Raga to take me places all the time and it also dawned on me that learning to drive here is a lot easier cos if I stall the car or something, people just ignore me or honk at me and drive around me! No problem! As Raga puts it, the traffic here is like an orchestra without a conductor...absolute mayhem but every now and then there is some music!

Oh, forgot to mention that somewhere along the way, our wedding anniversary came and went in the blur of unpacking and settling down. Raga and I have been planning for days now to sit down one evening and watch a movie - that is yet to happen. We have settled into some sort of routine. We have a maid who comes in twice a day and does the dishes, the laundry, the mopping and sweeping of the house and bathroom cleaning daily for Rs 1,200 a month, thats about $28!!!! I get my clothes ironed daily by a guy around the corner for Rs 2 for each item, thats about 5 cents! Living here is definitely a lot if you can take the bad with the good, its pretty cool!

I have taken lots of pics...shall post them soon. Not sure if i will have a aily post, but maybe every other day or so.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

4th of July

We woke up early to go to Dream Valley by 10am so we would be there when the unpackers arrived. Also R and I wanted time to work out a game plan for all our stuff....just unpacking what is necessary for a year, and keeping all the other stuff in boxes. We figured out a plan and waited for the crew to sign of the guys. So we called the local shipping agent to find out what the delay was, and were told they wouldn't be coming since we hadn't paid for unpacking services!!! WHAAAAATTTTT?????? So we called the Chennai office (since Hyderabad gets their orders from Chennai) and spoke to the guy in charge, Mr. Narayanan. Mr.N said he couldn't instruct his crew to unpack till he had got his orders from the US agent after he could confirm we had paid. I was tempted to call our shipping agent Mr.Tandon in the US (it would have been 2am in the morning for him) but instead i called my dad, had him pull up an e mail from our e mail a/c confriming we had paid, and e mail it to the Chennai office. Raghavan called Mr.N and told him to check his emails which he did. That wasn't enough proof of our having paid for Mr.N. At this point, i took over the phone conversation....typically male officials in India are not used to being ordered by women........I told him to send the crew over within the hour and i would e mail him a scanned copy of the check we had paid with. He sort of wavered a little bit and then relented and said we could expect the guys by 3.30pm.

At this time it was 1pm, so we sort of hung around unpacking some boxes...3pm...3.30pm...4pm..4.30pm....same thing! No sign of the guys. So in utter disgust i called Mr.N again and told him we were leaving and we would expect the crew tomorrow at 10am....! We went home in total disgust. At about 5.30pm we got a call from one of the crew guys to say they were at the house ready to unpack!!!! Obviously Mr.N failed to notify the Hyderabad office that we had left for the day!

All in all it was a pretty useless day...didn't really accomplish much!

3rd of July

OK, so here's what happened. Today Raghavan went to the customs office and was there all day till 4pm or so, so the officials could open random packages and check the contents. Fortunately we knew someone at the customs office in Vizag who was able to pull a few strings and get our stuff cleared thru. As much as i HATE taking advantage of people we know in important positions, I am finding out that without some inside help, almost nothing happens. Anyway, by 4pm they were done checking and we were slammed with a Rs.21,000 duty fee, which i thought was astronomical but learned later on that we were extrmemly lucky to have gotten away with such a small fine. After that our belongings - half of them unwrapped - were loaded onto 3 trucks and along with R leading them in a car ahead, they made they way to our rental house. Along the way, the truck drivers decided to drive thru residential areas to avoid heavy traffic and subsequently got slammed again with a fine for doing so. Another 750 rupees!

By the time they got to Dream Valley (our rental house location) bumping and jolting precariously along the way, it was 8pm. There were 6 guys assigned to unload our stuff, and quickly they had it all done by 9pm. Boxes were placed on the ground floor....for the time being. The plan is that they come back at 10am the tomorrow to unpack and place things in rooms per our instructions.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, our frig and 2 beds we had bought, got delivered. Now we have a huge task ahead of us unpacking....and to think we'll have to do this all again in about a year's time..... :-(

1st thru 3rd of July

I've not had time these past 2-3 days to blog.....there have been too many things to do, i haven't had time.

Its been very hectic to say the least. I had quite forgotten how slowly the wheels turn over here. People are very courteous and happy and cheerful but in no hurry to get things done. The typical response is "Sab ho jayega sahib"...or "it will all get done sir".... On one hand its a refreshing change from the fast paced "get it done now" efficiency I got used to back in Seattle, on the other hand its darn frustrating. There must be a happy medium....

We've been going back and forth between the rental house, the furniture store, the customs office and our house here. So many details to figure out in so short a time....we asked for the rental house to be cleaned....they cleaned the floors and left!!! So we had to go back and have them dust it and sweep it and polish it and scour it. Then in order to get the phone connection we have to provide some sort of proof of residency, so for that one has to get a ration card...but for a ration card one has to show something else....and on and on and on. But eventually it all gets done. Patience is the key! Sadly i've never been known for my patience!

On the flip side there are some things that are fantastic - the food for one! To say its awesome is an understatement! Indian food in the US is nothing like Indian food in India....which i guess makes sense since Italian food in the US is nothing like Italian food in the Italy and so on. The flavors, the varieties, the spices, the incredibly delicious! 8 of us had lunch at a really good restaurant yesterday for Rs 1100, or $28!!!!! Chinese, Mexican, Pizza, Italian, name it, its there. You can go to Yo China ( a new fast food Chinese take out place) and get a large popcorn tub full of noodles for Rs. 25...thats 60 cents! That just doesn't seem possible!!! Another surprise was the availability of superb household products. With all the hype about how things have changed in this country, I guess i really shouldn't be surprised. We stopped by a home showroom yesterday and i was amazed at all that's fact we have had to redo our house plans after seeing all that's possible. In the afternoon, we went to a Home Expo sort of thing and it was fascinating. From cooking ranges to metal art to tandoor/roti makers to clothing to was just way too much fun. Had it not been for the fact that we are in a rental home for a year, i would have bought all kinds of cool stuff.

As far as getting settled in the rental house, we've ordered our frig which will be delivered today. We bought some furniture which will also be delivered today. Our personal belongings which came by container will be delivered tomorrow if everything goes well at customs as of now move in day will likely be Wednesday. We were supposed to meet one of the persons from the architect's office today at since R was occupied with customs, I got there and waited till about 12.15 for him. Finally in disgust i gave up and went home...he called a few minutes later to say he had been delayed due to the heavy rain and we would have to reschedule. I was so mad....delayed 45 minutes due to rain?????? I called the office and spoke to his boss and didn't get any kind of apology from him either which made me madder...i found out later from talking to another friend of mine that being late is the norm. Get used to it she said!!!!!!!!!!!!

30th of June

Woke up feeling very groggy. We had gone to bed about 10.30 or so but couldn't sleep for all the noise outside. Finally at about midnight we fell asleep only to wake up around 4 am or so. For the next 2-3 hours we kept asking each other "Are you asleep? neither am I"......and then again at 7am or so we fell asleep. But we woke up at 8am determined to stay awake.

We went for another round of window shopping and have identified the refrigerator, the cooking range and the dishwasher we want to buy. Also narrowed down the furniture store. We still have lots to do. I am figuring out this whole text messaging/SMS thing. Cell phone users here text message a lot. We got a hold of our architect and are meeting with him Monday. Also tomorrow we go to the customs yard and try to clear our container so we can have our stuff delivered so we can start living there.

Heat and traffic still a challenge!!!!!! Anyway, managed to stay up till 10pm so hopefully we'll get over jet lag tomorrow.

27th - 29th of June, the journey home

We left Princeton for JFK at 5.30pm. Our flight wasn't until 11.10pm but we wanted to allow for traffic so we could get to the airport by 8pm. But as luck would have it, we didn't really run into any real traffic problems, so we reached JFK by 7.20pm. After a quick check in, we hung around with Indu and Venkat and I had my final latte in the US...! Oh, while checking in we found out our seats were an aisle and middle seat right next to the toilets...I smelled trouble right away...ha ha, no pun intended.

Anyway, after a very difficult goodbye to them, we went to the boarding area about an hour before boarding time, and i made my final round of calls on the cell phone to all our relatives. Boarding was supposed to happen at 10.10pm, but it came and went and no sign of any boarding announcement. Finally at 11.10pm, they announced and in we went. The seats were worse than what i had been afraid of.....they were so close to the toilets, Raga could reach out and touch the door from his seat. the seats themselves were so cramped and short on leg space, we were practically hunched over. Then, as if that wasn't enough, a guy with his little baby sat in the 2 seats next to us, a mom with 2 small kids in front of us, a couple with a bratty son behind us!!!! I have nothing against kids, in fact i love kids.....but this was a bit too much even for me. We were so tired we fell asleep soon after take off, or maybe I should say we tried to sleep. The toilet door must have opened and slammed shut at least once every minute, the kid next to me hollered all night long cos he was squishedin his seat (i don't blame him, i wanted to holler too), the kid in front kept saying "no".....all in all a bad night! Thankfully morning came about 6 1/2 hours later and we were starved having skipped the dinner, so we were really looking forward to a good breakfast. Well....bad luck, all we got was a bowl of fresh fruit and no spoon, so we picked it out from the plastic bowl and ate it. The guy next to me with a kid had ordered a kosher breakfast, well when they brought it he was not interested, so i took it. No hot towels, no socks, irritable attendants...Virgin Atlantic Airlines sucks!!!! Don't ever use it!

We landed at London Heathrow with 3 hours for our next Emirates flight to Dubai. I was excited at being able to browse the luck again. We had to go thru security again and it took 2 hours to get to our next gate. Then to top it off, Emirates had run out of boarding cards, so they made us wait 20 minutes by which time they had started boarding our flight. So the agent told us to go to the gate and get them printed there, which we did. Virgin Atlantic and Emirates are like night and day! Emirates was super! Awesome food, awesome service, cheerful (almost syrupy) flight attendants, constant barrage of drinks and food, individual TV's....just great! We arrived at Dubai airport quite refreshed after the 6 1/2 hour flight. The airport reeks of money...polished floors, beautiful stores, sleek carts, palm trees, lighted walkways, white robed sheiks, burkha'ed women with their beautiful kohl rimmed eyes peeking out....lots of moolah here, no doubt. We had to go thru secutiry again but still had time to check things out. Then it was time to check in for our 3 1/2 flight to Hyderabad, and wonder of wonders - the agent upgraded us to business class. Yippee! We must have looked pretty beat! I used to wonder and sympathise with all those business travellers, feeling pity for them having to travel so much - but now i know that they don't deserve any pity. Business class is fabulous! You get a cushy seat, you're plied with food and drink and wine and champagne, you can stretch out fully and sleep, its like being at home.....even better cos there is someone to wait on you hand and foot. Anyway, i tried to look very casual about the whole thing, like i travel like this all the time - but i was sooooo excited! I loved it!

Needless to say we arrived at Hyderabad feeling quite perky! Which was good cos we needed to be in a good mood for what followed! Since we were in business class, we were among the first to get out and make it thru immigration, which was a breeze. Then it took almost an hour for our luggage to arrive. There was utter confusion at the baggage claim area. A sign at one belt showed our flight number, so everyone crowded around the belt....then suddenly they changed it to another belt, so everyone charged to the other pandemonium. So many suitcases look alike, people would take them off the belt, then realize it wasn't theirs and just leave it on the floor. I actually put a couple back. People were jumping over luggage carts trying to get their stuff. I have realized that in addition to a legit visa, people also need a large dose of patience and a good sense of humor in India. After a while i was thoroughly enjoying myself watching all the fun and chaos, in fact Anyway, after an eternity our stuff arrived and we went thru customs - again, a breeze. Went out and saw everyone waiting for was quite the moment. My dad took a pic of this momentous event.

Then we went out to the waiting car - the driver got in and turned on the A/ was sort of warm, then jumped out and closed the door to start loading the luggage in and realized he had locked the key in the car and the engine was still running. A quick note to my non Indian friends - when anything like this happens in India, it usually invites a huge gathering of all sorts of people trying to help. And so all of a sudden there were hollers and screams and shouts, people showed up with wires and sticks and keys and chains. There were heated discussions, arguments and yelling. Little urchin boys hanging around were sent off scurrying for assorted weapons with which to open the door and they all came back with weird things....after 15 minutes of trying in vain, a smart aleck guy punched the slider thing that opens the rear window, then stuck his hand in and opened the passenger door. Neat! Everyone almost clapped! Then each and every so called helper had his hand stretched out for "baksheesh" - a sort of tip.Small change works.

Anyway, after all this drama we left and got home. The rest of the day was sort of hazy - we went and checked out our rental house, made a vague plans of things to do the next day. Just like i thought, the heat and traffic are going to be my biggest challenges. We tried hard to stay awake and fight the jet lag, but R and I HAD to take a short nap in the afternoon. We went to a couple of furniture stores in the evening just to get an idea of what things cost.....! All in all not a very productive day, but given that its our first day, thats OK. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Back in business....yay!

Since its been a while - almost a month - since i posted anything and I obviously cannot post daily entries now for past dates, I think the best thing for me and the readers will be to post one big single entry with dates by each entry.

Also I figured all posts now from Hyderabad/India deserved a new look and so here it is. Even though personally I like the old format better, I think this is a nice change. My brother Ranjit, suggested the clever new title for the blog (sort of along the lines of "Unse(a)ttled")!

So sit back and enjoy.....its nice to be back in blogland!!!