Friday, August 31, 2007

No meat, no booze, no problem?

September will be our month of abstinence.

Beginning tomorrow, Aliyah and I will attempt to go a month without meat and alcohol. I expect it will be much harder for me than it will be for her.

Why are we committing ourselves to these 30 days of self-restraint? I'll buy a beer and a burger for whoever leaves the best answer in our Comments section.

one month down

It’s been nearly month since we arrived in Delhi. I can’t believe it! We’ve settled into a nice routine and have a relatively easy way of life compared to most living here.
Sure, things will break, the electricity will stop and people will snub you. But we’ve decided if you just wait the problem out, things will usually fix themselves.

Work is good. I’m going to be covering India fashion week in New Delhi, looking primarily for business trends in the industry. I didn’t choose this topic, but it sounds fun and different. Watch out, catwalk.

On Sunday we’re taking a trip to Gurgaon, a neighboring city about an hour away. It’s known for its tall corporate buildings, giant malls, and luxurious residential complexes—all sprinkled amongst extremely poor villages. We’re going for the malls, I think.

So far, no more lizards or rats. Just an occasional bug or two. Things are looking good.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Columbia University Club of New Delhi









One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Heat

Even my fingertips are sweating.

The air conditioning is broken in my office. The temperature in New Delhi today is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm wearing jeans and a long-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt.

I could throw around adjectives like humid or suffocating or sweltering or torrid, but I'm not sure they would do the situation justice.

Let's put it this way: My latest scheme to cool off involves going to one of the street food stalls outside and asking a toothless cook with cow dung under his fingernails if I can join his collection of frying samosas and bacteria by taking a quick dip in his large metal pan full of scalding oil. That sounds refreshing.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Lizard King

I found a lizard in our kitchen sink two minutes after Aliyah asked me to check the bed for snakes.

There were no snakes in the bed, though we had succumbed to a somewhat-irrational, Big Love-induced anxiety about the possibility after watching the latest episode of the HBO show about polygamy (and, in this case, snakes in a bed).

There was, however, a lizard in our kitchen sink. It was pale green and about five inches long. It was about one-millionth as unnerving and disgusting as the rat-in-the-bed incident. Still, my adrenaline levels shot up. My heart beat fast. I took a small step forward, then three back.

"Don't freak out," I warned Aliyah.

"WHY?" Aliyah said in a totally-freaked-out voice. "What is it?"

She snapped up from her computer and rushed forward. I tried to block her view of the sink.

"Don't freak out," I said, sounding pretty freaked out myself. I started turning around in circles, looking for...I don't know...a ready-made lizard trap that comes standard in all Indian homes?

"What is it?" Aliyah begged. She stood on her toes to get a better view of the sink.

"OK," I said, now sounding way more freaked out than Aliyah. "OK."

I looked to the sink to make sure the small reptile was still there. It had barely moved. Clearly, it was the calmest living thing in the house.

"OK," I rattled, turning toward Aliyah. "There's a lizard in the sink."

"Oh my God!" Aliyah half-screamed. "What should we do?"

I kept spinning around the kitchen in irrationally-conceived circles. After four or five full rotations, Aliyah offered this advice:

"Call Abhishek."

I stopped spinning.

"I'm not calling Abhishek," I said, thinking how practical but emasculating a call to our landlord would be.

"OK," I said, grabbing a tiny plastic Tupperware knockoff. "I'll just trap him in this."

Aliyah and I both looked at the plastic cylinder and at the lizard. Sure, he'd fit inside. But the diameter of the mouth of the cylinder was half as long as the lizard. There would be no trapping with this device. The lizard would have to crawl in headfirst.

"No," Aliyah said.

"Right. OK."

I began ransacking the house for a better lizard trap. All the while, the lizard remained calm in the sink.

I stormed back into the kitchen with the metal trashcan from our bathroom. It was about eight inches wide -- big enough to trap the lizard. It's sides were covered with small stylish holes, but nothing the lizard could escape through.

I approached the sink. Aliyah hid in the bedroom.

Tiptoeing forward, I slowly brought the upended trashcan over my head. Standing above the sink, I slowly brought the trashcan down into a holding pattern about six inches above the still lizard.

Slam!

Aliyah opened the door a crack. "Got him?"

"Got him."

"Now what?"

"I have no idea."

After several minutes of debate (during which the lizard used those small stylish holes to explore the inside of the trashcan's walls), I walked toward the sink with the latest copy of Time Out Delhi.

"Do it fast," she said. "One swift move, (embarrassing pet name deleted)."

So, in several clunky moves, I lifted the corner of the trashcan high enough to begin sliding the magazine over the metal cylinder's mouth. After 30 seconds of ridiculous struggling and at least one high-pitched shriek (I'm not saying who it came from), I had the lizard trapped in an upside-down trashcan sitting atop a magazine in our kitchen sink.

With Aliyah again hiding in the bedroom, I carefully picked up the trashcan, being sure to hold the magazine firmly to the lid. I walked out to the terrace, all the while hearing and feeling the lizard climbing around inside my makeshift trap.

Setting the trashcan down several feet from out front door (and with the mouth facing away from our house), I removed the magazine and fled inside as if I were a frightened Japanese man in a Godzilla film.

Oh, and when Aliyah went to the gym this morning, our landlord told her that he'd seen six baboon-sized monkeys (and one baby) on our terrace this morning. I don't think we have a trashcan big enough for them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

2 stories

The Mint:
http://www.livemint.com/2007/08/21004238/Meow-Time-to-connect-with-Mum.html

The Hindustan Times:
http://hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=fae72287-43e6-4a0a-9c21-922f17a5b735&&Headline=Frustrated+in+the+US%3f+Get+a+job+back+home


p.s. A woman in Connaught place asked me for directions today! Me! I must look like I belong. Too bad I had no clue what she was looking for.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Five food scenes

1. "One tomato, please," I said to the boy selling vegetables. They were arranged on a large wooden cart in front of an abandoned storefront on the nameless lane we've dubbed Rubina Khan Street because of the political advertisement Khan has on the corner.

The boy put one tomato on his scale. Then another. Then another. I began waving my hands in protest.

"No, no!" I said. "One tomato."

I held up my index finger. I pointed to the pile of tomatoes. I held up my index finger and offered an exaggerated nod. The boy smiled knowingly. Then he continued piling tomatoes on the scale.

"No, no, no!" I said. "One tomato." I held up my index finger again. I pointed again to the pile of tomatoes. I held up my index finger and wagged it a bit. The boy nodded with understanding. Then he continued piling tomatoes on the scale.

An elderly man lounging nearby laughed. With a short Hindi sentence, he corrected the boy's mistake (it turned out the boy thought I wanted one kilogram of tomatoes).

The boy put my tomato in a bag and handed it to me. I pointed to the onions.

"One onion, please," I said, holding up one confident finger.

The boy put an onion on his scale. Then another. Then another.


2. "One medium pepperoni and cheese pizza, please," I said. "And what's the difference between Cheese Burst crust and Double Cheez Crunch crust?"

"Yes, Cheese Burst crust," said the heavily accented voice on the other end of the line.

"Yes, Cheese Burst crust," I echoed.

"Would you like extra cheese?" he said.

"Yes."

"Anything else?"

"Yes. One order of cheesy garlic toasties."

"Would you like cheesy jalapeno dipping sauce?"

"Yes."

"OK. Anything else?"

"No. See you soon."

I hung up and turned to Aliyah.

"Domino's will be here in thirty minutes."


3. "You don't drink beer?" I asked.

"No," said Sanjit the photographer. "I only drink wine and single malt scotch."

I nodded. Sanjit leaned forward.

"I only drink alcohol that comes from a barrel," he said.

"Why?"

Sanjit rolled his big shoulders and looked as if he knew he was about to say something clever.

"Because," he said, "alcohol that comes from a barrel, that is someone's blood and sweat."

He gave my beer a dismissive look and said, "Everything else is piss."

Sanjit turned toward the waiter.

"Now," he said proudly, "bring us a bottle of Zinfandel."


4. "I love the Om Hotel," I said, my mouth half full of a spicy chicken seekh kebab.

"Me too," Aliyah said. Those were the first words we had exchanged since our food arrived minutes earlier.

The chicken seekh kebabs at the Om Hotel are basically chicken sausages. I stabbed one with my fork and slapped it onto my plate. I grabbed a piece of buttered naan and set it beside the kebab. I stabbed the kebab again and dropped it onto the naan. Then I took two heaping spoonfuls of the green chili sauce that comes in a metal dish on a plate with peeled red onions and dumped it on my kebab. Then I rolled the saucy kebab in the naan like a crepe and took a huge bite.

I love Indian hot dogs.


5. "What do we do?" I asked.

Aliyah and I both looked at the metal bowls of water in front of us. A lonely slice of lemon floated in each dish.

"Do we drink it?"

I shrugged. We had just finished dinner, our first at a restaurant in Delhi, and asked for the bill. And then they brought us Lilliputian Jacuzzis.

"Try it," I prodded.

Aliyah stuck her pinkie finger in the water and lifted it to her mouth. She nodded and smiled.

It was only then that I noticed a family at another table washing their curry-covered fingers in their bowls.

Oops.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

EmployMint

Today was my second day of work at The Mint, a business daily that's conveniently located close to Connaught Place, the main commercial district. So far, so good despite a few minor annoyances.

Work starts at 10 a.m. in India, which is a plus. The downside is that Saturday is a work day too. I leave my apartment by 9:30 and try to find an auto rickshaw to take me to work. Oftentimes, none of the drivers want to go to Connaught Place because of the heavy traffic, but chances are by the second or third rickshaw, someone will nod and say "get in." I played a game to see how many seconds of silence I could count before a horn would honk on the 25 minute ride to work. I couldn't get past three.

The Mint is on the 16th floor of the Hindustan Times building. By the time I arrive there's a long line waiting outside the elevators. It takes two or three elevator cycles before I'm allowed inside. In the reception area of The Mint, there are two security guards with a sign in sheet. I tell them, "I work here now." They don't understand. They make me fill out the sheet with my name, address, and purpose of visit. They make me sit in the reception area for 20 minutes and serve me tea as I try to make the case for entry into my cubicle. Eventually, an employee walks in to tell them I work here. Chances are, the guards will forget by tomorrow.

The actual work, on the other hand, has been fantastic so far. I basically get to write whatever I want with as much free tea as I please. My first article is about Craigslist in India and how it's being used by savvy India entrepreneurs to target expats for apartments, jobs, etc. . I'll post some articles on here soon.

I work tomorrow, despite Independence Day. While kids will be flying kites and parading around in green, orange and white, I'll be trying to get past security.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Headaches and hurdles and hoops, oh my!

We were hot and cranky. We knew the line was too long, yet it remained somehow indecipharable in total length and start and end points. The room was packed with used-to-it Indians and put-out foreigners, and felt tighter than a Volkswagen bug full of Milwaukee residents.

I blinked sweat out of my eyes as I turned toward Aliyah. She looked as miserable as I felt.

"This isn't worth it," she said. "Let's leave."

And so ended a fruitless 24-hour journey through India's lumbering, antiquated and horribly inefficient bureaucracy. A word to the wise: Pack your patience and leave your rationality at the door.

After an early morning trip Thursday to the gym (I had made the mistake of asking Coach for suggestions on shoulder lifts. By the time we left, my shoulders felt like two of Mike Tyson's speed bags.), Aliyah and I took an auto rickshaw to the Foreigners' Registration Office in R.K. Puram in South Delhi, as per the requirements of my employment visa.

We arrived 45 minutes before the office opened. A man who looked vaguely Mongolian was organizing a sort of bag queue, where everyone let their backpack or purse hold their place in line so they could sit anywhere in the courtyard. A fine idea, but impractical in India. As soon as the office opened, bags were kicked aside, elbows impolitely poked at adjacent torsos, and all semblance of an organized line disappeared into a sea of international anxiety.

The line was finally sorted out, and within 20 minutes we reached the front. "Success!" I thought. "No, no, no, no," answered Ganesh. An Indian official (whose hair was died an unnatural and disconcerting shade of red) told me that to register I'd need four copies of an application form, four passport photos, two copies of my passport, two copies of my visa, proof of employment and proof of residency. He seemed surprised that I had not brought all this documentation as a matter of course. So we left. And had tea at the Hyatt. Their raspberry crumble muffins are delicious.

I spent the rest of the day getting pictures taken, printing and photocopying documents, and going with our very helpful real estate broker to the local police department, where a 100 rupee bribe got me a police-verified proof of residency.

Feeling good about my prospects for success at the registration office, I returned to the apartment to find Aliyah scrambling to convert her visa status, which her would-be employer now insisted as a requirement before she started work on Monday. Excellent.

We made phone calls and lists, and set out our gameplan for a successful day navigating India's absurd bureaucracy. We woke up early Friday morning and returned to the Foreigners' Registration Office. This time, Aliyah went native and dashed to the front of the informal queue when it dissolved into chaos. Straggling near the back, I entered the office to find Aliyah fourth in line. Well done.

The faux redhead, seeming pleased with the stack of documents I had assembled, told me to wait near Counter 2. I did, and watched the first man get turned away for reasons I didn't understand and a European girl denied because she lacked the proper stamp on one of her forms. "Suckers," I thought.

A Nigerian man went to the counter, got into a screaming match with the bureaucrat behind it, and got his papers approved. I was next.

The mustachioed public servant looked through my papers. He smiled. It seemed as if everything would be OK. Then he started making a list of documents I was missing: a request letter from my employer requesting that I be registered, an undertaking letter from my employer saying that they undertake responsiblity for me while in India, and a rental agreement.

"But I have a letter from my employer!" I demanded, pointing to my contract letter. The Indian man shook his head from side to side and smiled. I growled.

"And I have police-verified proof of my residency, with my signature and my landlord's!" I cried. The Indian man again shook his head from side to side and told me to come back Monday. I argued. He just kept smiling and shaking his head. Grrr.

Next we decided to be frustrated by Aliyah's business. We took an auto to Khan Market, where the internet promised the Ministry of Home Affairs Foreigners Division office would be. It was not there. We were directed to an office 10 minutes away. Our collective temperature, already high, rose.

We arrived at the next office and were directed into a dank, powerless room (no lights, no air conditioning). Aliyah was given number 103. Thank Vishnu they were already on 95. After too much waiting for eight numbers, a woman called 103. We asked her many questions about visa conversions. She didn't answer, and instead just wrote down Aliyah's passport information, handed her a slip of paper and directed her to another office up the lane. Apparently, we had only been waiting in the reception line, and were only now being admitted to the actual office.

The office was the hot, sweaty, crowded Volkswagen bug. We took one look at the hundreds of people crammed inside, the incoherency of any formal line or procedure, the utter pointlessness of waiting, and decided to bail.

So we went to get ice cream.

The place was The Big Chill Cafe at Khan Market. They have old movie posters on the walls and keep the air conditioning at a teeth-chattering 18 degrees C. One of the waiters wore a 'Free Tibet' t-shirt.

Aliyah had a chocolate brownie sundae with swirled vanilla and chocolate ice cream with pieces of chocolate cake in it, all topped with hot fudge. I had the Minty Monsta Sundae.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A couple photos of our neighborhood




a place to call home

Everything in Jangpura Extension is just a stone's throw away, says our 28-year-old realtor, Abhishek. He's right.

Our apartment is very different than when we were staying in Karol Bagh (see ratatouille). The streets are far less busy, most everyone speaks English, there are parks everywhere, and some dogs are even on leashes. We have restaurants, a market, bank and even a gym within walking distance. Work will be a 15 minute rickshaw ride away.

Our apartment in South Delhi is fantastic, sans the daily ant and mosquito massacres we must commit everyday (We've bombarded our house with incence, Hit spray and traps). We have air conditioning, hot water, satellite TV, and internet. We're actually moving to a bigger apartment with an outdoor terrace next week. It's just around the block from here.

The gym here is very interesting. Young boys are hired to rack and de-rack the weights for customers, and men mostly come to socialize. "Coach," who is dressed in the same wind pant suit everyday, comes around to help everyone. It's like having your very own personal trainer.

Ben and I hope to start work next Monday. But until then, it's mostly getting to know the neighborhood, eating delicious food and exploring Delhi. Pictures to come soon!

Aliyah

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ratatouille

We woke up to find a rat in our bed the night that Satish's ceiling caved in.

"Ben!" Aliyah screamed. "Wake up! There's a mouse in our bed!"

I snapped into consciousness just in time to see a furry shadow scurry off the bed and out the door. I jumped up, slammed the lights on and began to prowl for vermin.

"Where'd it go?" I said, voice shaking, as I squinted one eye and pressed a cheek to the marble floor, looking beneath the bed we had just shared with a rat.

"There was a mouse in our bed," Aliyah managed, her very-justifiable fear made slightly comical by the two retainers muffling her enunciation.

"There wath a mouth in our bed," she repeated.

I didn't have the heart to tell her our visitor was no mouse, but instead a rat the size of a Hyundai Santa Fe. Nor did I mention that it probably had The Plague.

"Thank God it didn't bite me," I said, adding quickly, "Did it bite you?"

Absent Plague-infected punctures, Aliyah and I began our search in earnest. I held a small green flashlight keychain that I had bought at a hardware store in Manhattan. Aliyah shivered behind me as the small beam of light searched for the rat. No sign of him.

I escorted Aliyah to the hallway bathroom and continued to search. I scanned our bedroom again, then the sitting room. Nothing. I sighed, remembering how earlier in the evening the monsoon had soaked the ceiling of Satish's bedroom so much that chunks of Plaster of Paris fell at our feet. I had thought that was bad.

"Welcome to India," I muttered to myself as I moved, flashlight in hand, from the sitting room to the small shower room adjoining it. And there he was. The rat.

The rat was the size of a cat.

It stooped low over the wide drain of the shower's tile floor. Black sludge was visible just below. The metal grate that had separated humans in the shower from sewer sludge rats sat limply beside the hole, clearly vanquished by the Super Rat.

I gagged. This was no ordinary rat that had been in our bed. It had crawled out of the sewer. And not the sewer in Long Island. The sewer in India.

But for all my disgust, I couldn't kill or injure the rat. So I simply shut the door and hoped it would crawl back down the hole it came through (it did). I just couldn't kill it.

Though I wouldn't have minded if someone else did.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

checked in

Ben and I are at the JFK airport in New York after a hustle and bustle morning of cleaning out the apartment, last minute packing and more goodbyes. After a nine hour flight we will be flying into Vienna at 8 a.m. for a five hour layover (I hope they serve weinerschnizel for breakfast). The second leg of our flight is only about seven hours to New Delhi where we will be greeted by Satish, one of Ben's friends whom he met on his last trip to India. We will be staying with Satish and his family for a day or two until we find an apartment of our own. Our requirements are air conditioning, internet, hot water and satellite TV. Well, the TV would be a bonus.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. If I wasn't then I wouldn't be acknowledging the realities of moving to a place like India. I was up since 5 a.m. this morning out of excitement, fear and nausea from the malaria pills I recently started to take. I can't wait to get settled and to have a daily routine.
More to come soon...
Aliyah