Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Indian toilets suck. Western toilets rule. I'm okay with saying that.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A moment of grace

I was feeling a little sad today because I was missing nature and silence and clean air and the green beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and then I looked outside and saw a full rainbow arching over the horizon, and I realized that you can't get too stuck on your own idea of what beauty is. Here in this big, noisy, dirty city in India, beauty is flowering trees, and textiles, and brown children, and the bangles that even the poorest women wear every day. And today for a fleeting moment, beauty was a rainbow outside my window.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pictures from Hampi

The Virupaksha temple, dedicated to the goddess Shiva. The intricacy of the carvings astounded me. They make you take your shoes off - which is par for the course in regular homes, let alone sacred sites - but the stones are BOILING hot and there's elephant and monkey poop everywhere, so it's kind of an adventure. One of the aforementioned pooping monkeys.

A couple of kids hamming it up on the back of an ancient stone nandi (bull).
My favorite thing about Hampi wasn't actually the architecture, but the landscape. There were all these geometrically-shaped, red rocks stacked in precarious ways. It looked like God got interrupted in the middle of a game of Jenga.
I joined a tour group in the afternoon and we hiked up a hill to some ruins that were further out of town. At one point on the walk, we (nine adults) got in the boat pictured here (called a coracle) to cross the Tungubhadra River. One of the most impressive features at Hampi was this stone chariot. I wasn't listening to the tour guide very closely at this point, so I can't tell you how old it is or who made it or what it means, BUT it looked really cool.

At the end of the day I watched the sunset over the ruins from the top of the hill. Not bad.

A few updates

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't written in a little while. This time I can't blame a power outage, just my own business and laziness. Here are some updates from my life.
  • Our office is moving - and good thing, too. There aren't enough desks for everyone and, as the newest team member, I've been floating between conference rooms and apologetically wedging in between people's desks. Today I sat in the "discussion room". That's a room that most Indian offices have near the reception area, which is for handling the many vendors and suppliers and drivers that stream in and out throughout the day. That way they have a place to sit and wait and they don't interrupt the flow of traffic. Other qualities of Indian offices? We have an "office boy" - a great guy named Naveen who takes care of things like errands, cleaning, photocopies, etc. He also brings us lunch every day. (I know, it's a tough life.) Our new office will have a cleaning staff of 4 people who are there all day every day! This seemed like overkill to me until I remembered how dirty and dusty it is in India. You pretty much have to have someone mopping all the time if you want it to stay clean. Oh, and another characteristic of our new office? We are having a puja - a Hindu cleansing ceremony - to bless the office before we start work on Monday. Here's an exchange from a meeting today. Sandeep: "Okay, so now you two have to decide whether you want a priest that speaks Tamil or Telugu." Rama: "Ai. It's so hard to find a good priest these days. We'll have to take whatever we can get." I've never had that conversation in a business meeting before.
  • A monkey came in through our kitchen window and stole our bananas yesterday. I tried to get a picture for y'all, but it scampered away before I could grab my camera.
  • I'm almost completely used to being constantly stared at. I understand that I do stand out about as much as one could within a single species. Besides, it's good for me to be the racial minority, and it's good for them to see someone unfamiliar. Because seriously...if India really wants to take its place in the world economy like they keep talking about, they're gonna have to get used to blondes. Other things I'm getting used to include crossing the street (harder than it sounds here, believe me) and haggling with vendors and auto-rickshaw drivers. Things I'm still not good at are eating with my hands (actually right hand only) and converting to kilometers. And something that will probably always bug me is no recycling. At all!
  • I took a fun day trip to Hampi, a city about eight hours from Bangalore that is the site of some ancient ruins from the Vijayanagara empire. I took a sleeper train there, and an overnight bus back. The train was fun; the bus not so much. Hampi was great, though. I'll post some pictures next.
  • In general, as I round out my third week here, I'm having a great time. Healthy and happy, if missing you all. Come visit!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stories from an evening walk

The Catholic church closest to my house has a bright neon crucifix and display of Mary & Jesus. I don't know quite what to make of that, so I won't even try. It is pretty great, though. I live fairly close to what you might term one of Bangalore's Muslim Quarters. This mosque is no more than a three minute walk from my apartment, but the only time I can hear the muezzin is at five in the morning, as the city gets pretty loud after that. Every time I hear the call to prayer I feel like I'm eavesdropping on another century. It is a hauntingly beautiful sound.
As I was walking along tonight, I heard a commotion and looked over to see about six men crouched down and peering under a bus that was stopped in traffic, pointing and talking excitedly in Kannada. They were all riled up about something, but I couldn't tell what. One of them ran up to the front of the bus and told the driver not to move and another started inching his way under the bus. When I crouched down I could see some sort of trapped animal running in scared circles between the wheels. After crawling under the bus and catching what turned out to be a pigeon, he then posed for a picture with his conquest, laughing the whole time. (The whole time I was taking this picture I was scared to death that he was going to release the pigeon in my face, but he didn't.)
Construction sites like this are common around here. I can't ever tell what is being constructed, but there's no shortage of kinetic energy. During the day a site like this will be full of men pounding with primitive tools and dancing between ladders that should have been retired fifty years ago, and women scratching at the dirt with their hands or with trowels, and removing pans of soil that they balance on their heads. Sometimes they curtain the site with blue tarps, but I don't know why.
In an autorickshaw on my way home from a meeting today, I saw these two street kids (the boy in yellow and girl in red in the picture below) darting between vehicles stopped in a traffic jam. They were performing acrobatic tricks and contortions with the metal rings that are draped around their necks in the hopes of earning a rupee here and there from sympathetic observers. I was a sucker, and they got ten from me (a quarter's worth). I can't believe they didn't get killed when traffic started up again, but they're probably used to it. Later on my walk I stopped to talk to them and they got a big kick out of having their picture taken.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's so different about India?: Part one

Hi, all. Sorry to have been out of touch for a bit. We've had several power outages in the past few days which, as I understand it, is pretty much par for the course here in B'lore. (I'm actually spared from the worst of it because my apartment has a back-up generator.) This morning's power outage was intentional, due to some building maintenance. It's funny - in the US, a planned power outage would be preceded by a week of nice little reminders and apologies under your doormat with an 800 number that you could call if you had questions or concerns, but in India they just flip the switch. So if I'm ever talking to you and get cut off, or don't return an email for a while, don't be offended or concerned.

One funny thing that happened repeatedly in the weeks leading up to my move (they call it a "shift" here actually) is that when Indian or India-smart people would find out where I was going they would shake their heads and say some variation of, "Oh man. Are you sure? It is SO different there!" When pressed for details, however, they were rarely able to provide high-level specifics about HOW and WHY it is so different. So one of the things I'll be interested in doing here is seeing if I can manage to articulate to people at home and to myself WHAT exactly is so different about India. (Because it is true that everything is.) This will be a running theme so you'll hear about it repeatedly, but here are some notes on things I've noticed so far:
  • When I posed this exact question to someone I was talking to in the Delhi airport, he gave me the following answer: "I'll tell you what's different. In the U.S., boyfriends and girlfriends live together. This would never happen in India." I thought he was trying to tell me about the nation's entrenched social conservatism, but then he asked me if I had a boyfriend, which, as I later read in a guidebook to India, is a concrete sign of sleazy motives. Unfortunately I hadn't read the guidebook yet, so I answered him honestly, which only made things worse. :) But it probably does still stand as a fair answer to the question of what's so different about India.
  • I'm actually the most directionally-aware person I've run into here so far. (Those of who you have been in a car with me are shaking your heads in bewilderment right now.) It's not that people don't know where they're going, it's just that they have NO use for north and south, or even street names. (It's actually pretty hit-or-miss whether streets are signed at all.) Even official addresses will say things like "5th cross street, opposite the post office". I asked a security guard to help me find something on my map the other day, when all of a sudden I felt this hand on my arm, and looked down to see this odd, short British guy who told me (say this in a British accent with me now), "DON'T bother showing them maps. They haaaate maps. Even the rich ones don't know how to read maps." I wouldn't exactly say it like that, but it's kind of true. Getting directions seems to consist of rolling down the window at an intersection (or just stopping in the middle of the road...whatever) and yelling out the window to someone who looks like they speak your language and might know where you're trying to go. But I've actually developed a pretty good sense for where I am and how to get the next place I'm going. So to those of you (MJ) who like to make fun of me on this front, I say: I'm not dumb after all, I was just born in the wrong country! So there.
  • There seems to be a much lower premium placed on the value of independence. People in the office thought it was weird that I wanted to take a couple days off to get everything squared away before I started work. They kept saying, "Just come in! We'll tell you everything you need to know." Or just now, for example, I asked a colleague what kind of doctor I should see for the nasty back pain I've been having since that 30 hour plane ride last weekend, and she said, "Oh! There's this doctor, he's a friend of mine." She then describes in true Indian style how to get to his office ("You know Ulsoor Lake? There's a hospital near the lake called Lakeside Hospital. Well, across the street from the hospital is his office. You go down this curvy driveway and it's the one on the left."), then said she would just take me there tomorrow at lunchtime. I feel like that wouldn't happen between co-workers in the U.S. unless they were really close or one were really sick. (Which I'm not. So don't worry, Grandma. :) ) So anyway, I'll be curious to find more examples of this interdependence, and I think I'll come to really like it.

That's all I can think of for now. Pictures coming soon. I love you all!