Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Longer in India

I am no longer in India and in the process of converting this blog space into a blog that is more relevant to my current location and interests.
Thank You

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Country Am I In? or Hong Kong Highlights

Landing in Hong Kong after a 5 hour flight from Mumbai, the first thing I was struck by was the cleanliness of the city. You could eat off the pavement! There is no trash anywhere in Hong Kong, except in the trash bins. Everything is also very modern looking, the buildings are all glass and metal, and almost nothing looks more then 20 years old.
I was met at the airport by my friend Swati, after a long bus ride through the city, I was welcomed into her house by her family and especially her mom. This was amazing. It is always nice to stay with people in a new city, but it also gave me a lot of time to practice my Hindi since Swati and her family are Indian and their first language is Hindi. So my visiting gift of Indian methi (sweets) was greatly appreciated, but this also meant that I ate a lot of Indian food and spoke a lot of Hindi in Hong Kong.
After trying to get over some intense jet lag Swati and I went to explore Hong Kong city, as we traveled around the markets we used our Hindi skills to discuss prices of bags and shirts. It was kind of like having a secret language, we would decide what we thought the price should be (or what we were willing to pay) and then tell the shopkeeper in English or Swati's Chinese. This made bargaining much easier.
Being shown around the city by Swati, her friends and her family, I spent a lot of time talking in Hindi and trying to remember where I was. I woke up in the morning to Swati's mother and brother watching the news in Hindi (thanks to Star World TV), but would venture out into a city of mostly East Asians, which looked nothing like an Indian city. So it was a bit of a confusing experience, although also clearly a good one.
During the trip:
I ate a lot of Chinese food on my own, according to Swati's family, Chinese food "has no taste," I think everyone had a good time. By the way when I asked what, "no taste" meant, I was told it was too light and not spicy, so basically it does not taste like Indian food. Which after a year in India, was exciting to me.
I also took a lot of pictures, everyone in Hong Kong carries a camera, even people who live there, Swati pointed this out to me on the first day. That was actually kind of nice, because it was never inappropriate to take a picture.
And because Swati and I are the kind of people who cannot sit still and do nothing, I hiked, walked and boated my way around Hong Kong, seeing, not only the city parts, but the country/village parts too.

Monday, August 3, 2009

No Longer in India but Still Blogging

I am no longer in India but I will continue to blog about my travels in Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Last Day in India

As the last hours of my time in India go by, I have decided to use my final post while in India to make a list of the things I will miss and wont miss from Mumbai and India.

I will miss:
All of my friends who are amazing, including my crazy air hostess/ flight attendant flatmate, the women who brings me food, my very nice landlord
Pani Puri (if you have not had it, you have to try it)
The craziness that is Mumbai (endless traffic, tons of people, strange smells)
The Mumbai commuter trains
Watching the rain out my window
The food
The sea front
My gym (rubbing elbows with Bollywood stars, some of whom go to the same gym I went to)
Speaking Hindi
When the Indian national anthem is played before the movie at the theater
The IPL and cricket mania
The random amazing things that happen
Kingfisher beer

What I wont miss:
The pollution
The poverty
Sometimes getting sick from food
The fact that the doors on the Mumbai commuter trains don't close (its dangerous)
Strange white people/ other ex-pats
Lecherous men
The censors who censor movies
Kingfisher beer (I cannot wait to drink something different!)

India, I will miss you, and I hope I can come back soon. There are many things wrong with you and life is not easy, but I am rooting for you to succeed.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Best in Media During My Year in India

As this year in India draws to a close, I thought I would take some time to discuss media related things that happened this year. Basically the following will be a list of interesting media events or a version of a best of list.

Best Bollywood Films I saw when in India this pasted year:
1) Dev D
This movie is not so much "Bollywood" as it is "parallel cinema" (Indian movies that usually do not have the singing and the dancing and have a small budget, roughly the equivalent of an indie film in the USA). The film is an undated version of (based on) the book Devdas, which has been adapted into films by Bollywood in the passed. This version taking place in the present with Devdas now called Dev (played by a wonderful Abhay Deol). Not only is the film beautifully shot, but engrossing, well written and tackles some not so nice events and things that affect India and the world. The film is gritty and dark and reminds me of Easy Rider, not because its narrative is in anyway similar but because the film's music, cinematography, and mood make the film. Dev D was hailed as a new kind of Bollywood film when it came out, lets see what comes after...

2) Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
Another not so much Bollywood film, and again staring Abhat Deol a Lucky (he had a good year). This film centers around Lucky, who is a con man and thief. An off color comedy, the film is memorable for its zippy dialog, great actor performances, and fun portrayal of Delhi culture.

3) Luck By Chance
A conventional Bollywood film, but a good one. Great dance sequences, interesting plot (even if its on Bollywood's favorite subject: itself), and memorable characters, make this movie about the pit falls of Bollywood and fame a great watch.

4) Dostana
Bollywood is out in full swing in this film, everything is glossy and bright, and all the actors are incredibly good looking (or at least half naked). Although, it looses itself after intermission this film is funny and enjoyable and follows two guys who pretend they are a gay couple to be able to live in a fabulous apartment with a hot girl. The movie has some good laughs (if you are not too pc about everything), but the gay jokes are certainly not any worse (maybe even better) than American movies. As always Kiron Kher steals the show as one of the "gay" guy's mom.

5) Fashion
Okay I will be honest, I am not in love with this movie. It's pretty much, ok. But it stars a woman (she is not purely someone's love interest or a prop) and an almost all female cast. Its themes are not innovative- girl wants to become a model- the industry is not very nice- she gets famous- turns into not nice person- does she become nice again and reclaim her career? But it's entertaining enough, well done and has some good moments and well played "evil" characters.
Enough of the movies, lets look at some other media achievements:

Best Media Events (mostly TV):

1) The Second Season of the IPL (Indian Primier League)
Think Major League Baseball but with Cricket played 20/20 style (See previous Blog on the IPL). The second year/season of the IPL was great TV magic, although all the games took place in South Africa and not in India because of the elections, it was still fun to watch the action. Who knew Cricket could be this much fun. All I have to say is: Go Mumbai Indians!

2) The Elections
Every 5 years India goes to the polls in national elections, this year the Congress party won an unprecedented victory over everyone else (BJP, Communist party etc). The elections were everywhere in the media (especially on news channels and there are tons of news channels), Rahul Gandhi is the new media darling and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is really that short.

3) Rakhi Ka Swayamvar
This TV series staring Rakhi Sawant (a sexy TV and movie actress), is modeled on the Bachelorette (the American TV series). Here some strange guys try to win the actresses heart with strange tasks and family visits. The season (series?) finally is on Sunday, who will Rakhi pick? Will the guys pick her over the money? What does this mean for the institution of marriage in India?

Best advertisements:

The Idea mobile service campaign. These ads usually feature Abhishek Bachchan as a "normal person" who comes up with ideas that use the mobile phone as something that can create change. For example people voting on a proposed government construction project via phone. The ads are fun, up lifting, and different.

The Bajaj motorcycle ads featuring a genie, who grants a guy a house, a wife and a motorcycle. Its funny, and well done.

Most overrated advertisement and media thing:
Vodafone mobile service Zoozoo campaign. These ads featured strange looking characters doing stuff, that was irreverent and funny but ultimately pointless.
I am sure I have missed something, but this is what I remember from a year in Indian media.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monsoon Survival Guide

It has now been raining off and on (often heavily) for a number of weeks, and so the monsoon is in full swing. Thus, I thought I would write a short list of things that can help anyone survive the monsoon in Mumbai:
1) You will get wet, deal with it. Basically there is not much you can do about this except never leaving your home. It will rain very hard and your umbrella will not be very affective, or your umbrella will break, or you will be on the train and get wet, or a car will splash you, or you will have to wade through a large puddle or flood because lets face it, the drains here are not always so good or might not exist. Once you understand this fact, the monsoon becomes more manageable.
2) To help you survive these incidence I recommend wearing sturdy sandals outside. These sandals should have straps so that they do not fall off your feet and grips on the bottom, such as Teva-like sandals or hiking sandals, in India these are called floaters. These will make puddle wading infinitely easier.
3) Get the numbers of your near-by chemist (pharmacist) and grocer because they will deliver necessities to you and then you don't have to go out and get them, someone will bring them to you. But remember to tip, it is raining outside so be nice.
4) Do not wear white or clothing you care about in a downpour. Obviously it will get wet and could get ruined, and while this is Mumbai, I don't thing you want your own wet tea-shirt contest going on.
5) Clothes take about 2 days to dry (no one has driers) after washing them so if you need to wear something specific for a specific event or day, keep this in mind.
6) Get an apartment/room (like mine) with a nice large window so you can sit with your flatmate, drink a beer, and watch the rain come down, it is both beautiful and good bonding time.
7) Don't drink the puddle water.

I hope these tips will help you survive the monsoon if you are ever in Mumbai during the monsoon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Times on the Ladies Special

Earlier today I was heading back to Bandra, where I live, from Grant Road in South Mumbai. Since it is always faster I went to the Grant Road train station to take the train back to Bandra. As I waited for the train, I realized that there were a lot of women on the platform, more then usual, and realized that the next train coming was the "Ladies Special" a train consisting of only "Ladies Only" cars. This was good news because that meant that the train would be less crowded, and I could get on to any car, instead of one of the three ladies only cars in a normal train. I got on the train and found a seat. It began to rain harder, and the women in the car began to close the windows of the train. If you have never been on a Mumbai commuter train, there is no AC so the windows are open, although there is a grate there, so to stay dry, the plastic/glass window has to be pulled down from its open position. Most of the windows closed but the one in the isle I was sitting it did not. About 4 women sitting closer to the window tried to close it to no avail. So everyone sat there getting a little wet. At one stop a bunch of the women got off the train and I moved over to the seat next to the window. One of the women said, you will get wet, but I said its only water. I was going home anyway so I did not care if I got wet. In the monsoon you always get wet, so once you are okay with that fact, it does not matter. But I thought I would give closing the window one more shot. So I pinched the locks together on either side of the window, and it slid down, pretty easily, the window closed! I looked at the women sitting across from me rather surprised, and she clapped and said oh good job, and the women next to me touched my arm, and murmured in appreciation. All the other women in the isle smiled and said I must have good luck with windows. They all looked so happy and greatful. I smiled back. The whole incident made me feel so happy and illustrates some of my favorite things about Bombay: the insane number of people in this city, the fact that they generally get along, and the totally crazy (somewhat dangerous) train system that links so many people together and allows you to meet the most amazing people (in this case women) who just make your day better. In a city of so much poverty and hardship, the little things like closing a train window, or giving someone you seat make it a little better for everyone.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

After Delhi and some New York

Since being back in Bombay, I have done some writing, a lot of transcribing, some Photoshop work, and I have been running around meeting people and getting things done, since I only have a little over 4 weeks left in India. One of the things I recently did was go see the movie, New York, a Bollywood film about 9/11. It was... well... not very good, it could not decide if it wanted to be a Bollywood masala film or something dramatic and dark. It also had so many plot holes, the script must have been made of swiss cheese. But it did raise important issues within Bollywood cinema itself such as: Why do male terrorists in Bollywood often appear as amazing dads to their sons (this also happens in Fanaa)? Why does NYC not exsist above 50th street in Bollywood? Why does the movie resemble the "Brooklyn terrorist plot" reported in the NY Times about a month ago?
Also I highly recommend that the writers of Crash sue for copywrite infringement, but other than that I recommend this movie if you are curious about a Bollywood take on 9/11, and terrorism. It is interesting becuase it bring's up interesting arguments in favor of nurture over nature in the creation of terrrorists and terrorism, and points out that efforts to stop terrorism might unintentionally create it. It is just unfortunet that the movie was so jumbled and sometimes silly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Indian Wedding Kanpur Style

While in Delhi I took a side trip to the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. There I attended a wedding with Priya and her family. A family friend was getting married. The wedding was traditional Indian, taking place outside on a very large lawn, with the bride and groom decked out in traditional dress. Here we all are at the wedding: Priya, her grandmother, me, her grandfather, and her mother.
When you first entered the wedding there was a water fountain with pink water:
The bride and groom stood on top of a podium/small stage that rotated (like a turn table) so that everyone could see them while a video camera on a crane taped them from above. See the video camera in the first photo and notice how the bride and groom are facing different directions in each picture because of the turning platform.
There was tons of food at the wedding including buffets of Punjabi, Rajasthani, home style, normal wedding food (dal, subzi jalfrazi etc.), Chinese, and cold salads, along with meethis (sweets), ice creams including Kolfi (traditional Indian ice cream), different types of milk (plain, with saffron), breads (nan, roti) and a pasta bar!
Priya's mother estimates that there were 5,000 people at the wedding!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Delhi and the FRRO

I flew back to Delhi earlier this month to see friends and colleagues and to extend my Indian research visa for about 6 weeks until the end of my grant date (Aug 3rd). Always an intense experience of standing in long lines and being told you have the wrong paper work, the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) could very well be bureaucracy hell on earth or heaven if you like bureaucracy.

I went to the FRRO with another Fulbrighter, Claire, who also had to renew her visa. When going to the FRRO, two is always better then one. After waiting inline for about 2.5 hours the doors to the FRRO were open and we were allowed inside. The first line was to collect our visa extention forms, clare got hers but I was denied one because my proof of Indian address was not sufficent. I was told I would have to go back to the Fulbright office to get a better letter. I showed him lots of paper work about my residency but it was of no use. So I went to the women "in charge" literally there is a sign over her desk that says "in charge." I asked her about what was wrong with my current paperwork and what I needed to be changed. She looked at everything and told me that I needed a more specific letter of residency from the Fulbright and that I was at the wrong place anyway because Fulbright researchers were suppose to extend their visa's at the Department of Home Affairs. This was news to me, and to Claire. We were told to sit a wait a bit, as the woman in charge contacted the Department of Home Affairs, which was not picking up the phone. So we waited... in the mean time I tried to deal with the residency documents and called the Fulbright office who asked for a fax number and faxed a new letter with the currect info. I then showed it to the man behind the forms counter and he nodded and gave me the form (yeah!). 5 minutes later the power went out, and no more fax machine, so that was very lucky. And we continued waiting... So Claire called the Fulbright office to ask about this whole Department of Home Affairs deal, they said that was not true, we needed to extend our visas at the FRRO and told us to put them on the phone with the woman in charge. So we did, and we don't know what was said but then the woman in charge waved us through to the next line where they stamp your visa etc. While there we waited while the power went out again and computers were rebooted. Then a light had to be changed over the desk of the man entering our visa extentions into the computer, so we had to wait as a maintenance man stood on the desk and put in a new light. While we waited the man stamping our visas discovered our knowledge of Hindi and told us about the crazy Taliban (Afghans) in the line next to us and why he liked America for fighting them and thought we should study politics. We just said yes and agreed with everything he said, since he was holding our passports. Finally after being assigned a visa extention number and getting our passports and residency booklets stamped, the man turned to another behind the desk and asked how much a research visa extention is. The man replayed 3500 rupees but you can always charge more. To which Claire replied its 3500 isnt it (in Hindi). Then we went back the the woman in charge who crossed out the 3500 written on our forms and wrote 3720 and told us to go the the "cash counter" to pay. Which we did, then back to her where she took our paperwork and signed over the new stamps in our passports and residency booklets. We were done, 6 hours later. Hugging and cheering insued.

Next: I attened a wedding in Kanpur a small city in Uttar Pradesh with my friend Priya and her family.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Saving the Planet... Indian Style

Anyone who has been to India has seen the trash littered streets, even parts of my hike to the Valley of Flowers seemed to be trash piles, but there are some very interesting things Indians do, that help the environment. Although many of these practices could be attributed to necessity, as oppose to altruism to the earth, people in other countries can still learn from them as all of us battle climate change.
1) The bucket shower- a normal (spray shower) wastes a lot of water, most Indians take a shower by filling a large bucket and then taking a smaller bucket/cup with a handle, dipping that in to the water in the bucket and then pouring it on themselves. You save a lot of water this way- when you lather up with soup, no water is being wasted, and when its 95 degrees out there is nothing nicer then dumping cold water on your head. India has many water issues, and water shortages are not uncommon, so while the bucket shower saves water for the environment, it also means you have more water for other things. Now if people would stop washing their cars everyday...
2) Soda in reusable glass bottles. Most sodas in India served by restaurants or road side stands come in glass bottles. You are given a cup or a straw to drink from (some people just drink from the bottle Indian style without the bottle touching your lips), and when you are finished, you give the bottle back. When a new order of soda comes in the old (used bottles) are given back, they are taken to the plant and re-filled etc. This means less plastic bottles are used, although you can buy sodas and drinks in plastic bottles (and they are becoming more prevalent) but they are more expensive. The downside is that you cannot take the bottles to go. Store owners are very unwilling to part with their glass bottles because then they have one less bottle of soda to sell on a daily basis.
3) Lunch breaks in offices means a lunch break for the air conditioner too. A lot of offices turn off their air conditioners during the office lunch break (usually from 1:00 to 2:00). This saves electricity for an hour and encourages employees to take this time off to (to eat and take a break).
4) Mass transit is what most people take in Bombay. A Bombay commuter train (think NYC subway) can fit 6000 people per train in what is called a "super crush load."
5) Hello Scooties- Scooters are a big form of transport, if you cannot afford a car or if you want to cut your commute in half by weaving around cars and traffic jams then you can save gas and use a scooter (some are even electric). In fact, many families travel on scooters, one kid in the front, the father, then the mother in the back holding the baby. Although most Indians would love to own a car, not everyone can and a scooter is a good answer. Also many women are learning to drive scooters (often called scooties) and are becoming more independent by doing so. There are specific scooty models marketed towards women.

These are just some of the interesting things going on in India that save energy and resources and maybe can be used (built upon) to help stop climate change.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mango Madness!!!!

In an effort to eat more fruit and to try local cuisine, I have been trying to try at least one of all the types of mangoes I can find in Bombay. Here everyone loves mangoes and has a favorite mango type (they come in different shapes, sizes, and tastes) and as mango season begins to wind down, I am trying to pick my favorite mango.
Here are three types of mangoes I have tried and liked:

They are sweet and tart, light yellow in color on the inside and smooth in texture. On the outside they are multi-colored yellow, orange, red and green.

Alfonso (also spelled Alphonso):Alfonso's are the sweetest mangoes, they are yellow on the outside and a darker orange inside. They are so sweet that when I eat one all by myself my teeth hurt but they are good. (sorry about the pictures, I ate this Alfonso at around 7:00pm and it was dark out, and my apartment lights are not good for photos).


Badami mangoes are one of my favorite, they are sweet, but not as sweet as the Alfonso mango. They are yellow on the inside and smooth, not stringy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Himalayan Adventure: Valley of Flowers (without many flowers) and Election Results

While sitting in an Advertising agency office last week, I received a phone call from my friend Neil, who currently lives in Delhi but is also a New Yorker, asking if I wanted to join him on an adventure to Uttaranchal, a state in India which is mountainous (ie Himalayan mountainous). He proposed that we trek up to the famous Valley of Flowers which is at about 12 thousand feet. I was a little unsure, since I live in Bombay, which is a lot farther away from Uttaranchal then Delhi is (I would have to fly or overnight train it), and then even after getting to Delhi, it was going to be a trip to even get to the trail head for the Valley. After I thought it over for about an hour, I called Neil back and told him I was in. My reasoning: when am I going to go to the valley of flowers, when else am I going to spend a week freezing my butt off with Neil, I got to get out of Bombay for a little bit and here is my opportunity.

So I booked my plane tickets and off I went... after buying an Indian hiking backpack for Rs. 950 (I was going to need one anyway for my New Zealand trip post India).

Landing in Delhi at 8:30 am after a flight that left Bombay at 6 in the morning, Neil and I headed to the Delhi Bus station at Kashmire Gate, where we boarded a Government bus to Rishikesh (the supposed 7 hour trip took about 9 hours). As we bounced along the not always well kept road which had tons of construction going on, we got covered in dust and caught up as we had not seen each other since I left Delhi in February. Once we reached Rishikesh we found the nearest hotel to the bus station, put our stuff down, ate some dinner at a Rajasthani restaurant; thalis and Limca, and took showers before going to sleep.

The next morning we awoke to catch a 6:30 Sumo (shared jeep) for the 8-9 hour trip up to the mountain town of Joshimath. When we got to the bus station we found out that we needed to be at a different bus station/sumo station to catch a sumo so we got a rickshaw to take us there. There we got a sumo to take us part of the way to Joshimath, where we could catch another Sumo to Joshimath. The sumo was stuffed with people and stuff and we headed out and up. I was armed with motion sickness medication, biscuits, water and lemons (which Neil's grandmother said cured motion sickness and nausea). The first sumo ride was relatively painless, we stopped at a dhaba (road side restaurant) for parathas for breakfast, but then ended up getting stuck in mountain road traffic- when two large trucks or buses cannot pass each other on the narrow mountain roads, and face each other and honk at each other while everyone else waits behind them until one moves back or they somehow manage to pass each other- this can take a while. When that sumo ride ended we somehow managed to get right into another sumo, for the rest of the journey. This ride though was a bit more eventful. The sumo had a bunch of families in it and I sat in between one other and her two young children and another mother and her baby. Neil sat in the back with the group of guys. About half way up, it began to drizzle and the road started to get really-really curvy. I sucked on a lemon (which seemed to be working) and preyed we would not go skidding off the road and down a cliff. But unfortunately, the baby next to be did not have a lemon and vomited the mother tried to use her dupatta (scarf) to wipe up the mess and I handed her the plastic bag I was holding (which was for such emergencies). The sumo came to a stop and the mother, baby and father got out to clean up the mess, the rest of us waited in the sumo. I thought I was going to go after seeing the baby but thank god I did not, although the mother threw up right after we started moving again (this time out the window). Finally we reached Joshimath, which was cold, overcast and raining. Neil and I decided to go look for food (having not eaten anything since our paratha breakfast (not that I felt like eating until then) and it was now early evening. We turned to each other and announced that we both wanted momos (Tibetan dumplings). We went in search of a place that had them- finally finding a place after walking around the whole town for about 25 minutes. We sat down and devoured our momos, soup and noodles. After which we inquired about a sumo to take us the final 20 km to Gobindghat (the base village for the 14 km hike to the base camp of Ghangaria for the Valley of Flowers). We then found a hotel and crashed for the night.

The next morning (it had finally stopped raining) we got a sumo to take us to Gobindghat, but when we got there we discovered the Valley of Flowers was closed and not opened to visitors. We were crushed, we sat down at a dhaba to decided what to do. Neil suggested that we go up to Ghangaria anyway, but I was nervous since we did not know what we would find once we got there (food? housing?). As we sat and discussed a man came over and said his friend Rajnish Chuhan was in Ghangaria and had taken some guys from Bombay there two days ago. He told us to go to the village of Phula (3 km into the 14 km trek) and ask about Rajnish Chuhan to find out more. With this new information we decided to go. After eating a breakfast of maggie (Indian Top Raman) and eggs we headed out. When we reached the village of Phula we inquired about Rajinish Chuhan and found ourselves at his house, where we met his mother, who told us he was heading down from Ghangaria today and that we would meet him on the trail. She then of course made us chai. After thanking her we left and continued up -and I mean up, the trail was incredible steep and Neil literally had to push me up once, because at about the 8th kilometer my body decided that it wanted to stop going up. In any case, we did meet Rajinish Chuhan on the trail (and the two Bombay trekkers who were not from Bombay even though everyone else seemed to think they were). He told us that we could stay at his hotel when we reached Ghangaria and get food there (although only simple food- meaning home-cooked tasting and mostly lentils, potatos and chapatis, and no fancy restaurant fare). We told him this was fine. He said he was going to be back in Ghangaria tomorrow morning around 10 and he would meet us there. Great we thought. Around the 9th km it started to rain again so we put our raincoats on and kept going up (we were now very tired). After 7 and a half hours of trekking we finally made in to Ghangaria, found the hotel and were invited in. We put our stuff down and joined the hotel workers sitting around a fire -they were there painting the hotel and fixing the rooms getting ready for the big tourist season for the Valley and near by Helm Kund (a Sikh pilgrimage site)- which begins June 5th when everything is open. We ate some more maggie noodles (which were amazing a warm) talked with the guys, walked around the village, and then ate a dinner of chapatis and potato curry.

In the morning we woke up had some chai and more maggie for breakfast. When Rajinish Chuhan got up we discussed our options, Helm Kund was out of the picture (at least for that day) because you had to leave at 5 am to reach the top (mountain lake) before the afternoon when it can begin to rain or snow and you do not want to be up there when it starts snowing. The valley of flowers was closed but he said we could ask permission to go, we did and though it is unclear if we had permission we went anyway (there is nothing blocking the enterance).
The hike was gorgeous and the mountain views were amazing. Although there were very few flowers in bloom (still too early) the scenery was fantastic. About half way into the valley I started feeling dizzy (my ears had been popping the whole way up the day before) and then nauseous. I could not figure out why, then I realized it was probably altitude sickness. We stopped, and I put some W.H.O. Re-Hydration salts into my water which helped but I still felt funny. So Neil went the rest of the way, while I sat and watched the river and glacier. When Neil came back we headed back down to Ghangaria for a late lunch of more maggie and then hung around the village. We decided that we would skip Helm Kund the next day since there was reportedly a foot of snow on part of the path (which we did not bring equipment for), Neil's knee was hurting and my altitude sickness from that day would not make the next easier.

The next day we woke up early in the morning to head down. We had our last maggie breakfast, thanked everyone at the hotel and headed down, snapping pictures as we went and passing ponies carrying supplies up the mountain. We reached Gobindghat around 12:00, wind and sun burnt, jumping into a sumo headed for Joshimath. Which was fun until we got stuck in mountain traffic right outside the town. After sitting there for 25 min we got out and walked the finally 500 meters into town and a dhaba for lunch. After lunch we went in search of a hotel with hot water so that we could take a bath- we smelled really bad having not had a bath since Rishikesh. We found one, but sat in the room waiting for the bucket water for half an hour, so we walked out of the hotel and got another hotel which brought the water quickly. After cleaning up we sat and talked before getting dinner.

The next morning we headed down to Rishikesh, this sumo ride was uneventful but cramped. Neil (who is tall) and I were squished together in the front seat next to the driver (which meant I did not get sick) but also meant that we could not move. After the ride down we were pretty tired and decided to walked around and find a hotel. We quickly decided we did not like Rishikesh (famous for when the Beatles came to India and went to an Ashram there). It was very touristy, Neil described it as a fake and clean version of Varanasi filled with western-hippies. Although we had thought about going rafting the next day, Rishikesh is famous for rafting down the Ganga (which runs through the town), once we got to the hotel we were too tired to do anything about planning a rafting trip nor did we want to get up and go in the morning the next day. We decided we would head back to Delhi the next day so I called the airline to see if I could bump my flight up to Saturday night, which I could. We then spent the rest of the evening watching Blood Diamond until the cable cut out and then ate dinner.

So we left Rishikesh early the next morning, got on a bus to Delhi and then sat for hours and hours and hours on the bus. Not our favorite, the people in front of us smelled really bad, and traffic was terrible. But we did manage to get some peaches from a cart vendur on the side of the road which were delicious. It took some convincing to get Neil to agree that there were peaches on the side of the road (he kept telling me they were mangoes not peaches). We arrived back in Delhi, washed up and then had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We then headed to the airport, and said our goodbyes. It was fun and always good to have a travel buddy!

In the airport I sat and watched the outcome of the Indian national election unfold with everyone else in the airport (even the guards). The Congress Party and allies had won a whopping 260 seats! This was a huge win and everyone was talking about it. The news channels even played a montage of the now re-elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh waving at people, making speeches, and looking political while the song "Singh is King" from the move "Singh is King" played in the background. The news anchors talked a lot about how this enabled the Congress party to push its agenda through more easily and gave greater stability to the country (because the government was strong- not an un-united weaker coalition). The plane was about 40 minutes late so we finally took off around 11:10pm and landed around 1:00, instead of the 12:30am we were suppose to. I was happy to be done with my travels, except I was not... after boring the bus to take us to the terminal we got caught in runway-car traffic (I did not know such a thing existed). We sat on the tarmac, in the bus, for 20 minutes going nowhere. Then the bus turned around and went around the airport for another 15 minutes before finally reaching the terminal. I got into an auto and then finally reached my apartment.

Vital Stats:
Hours traveled in vehicles: approx 42
Number of Maggie meals: 5
Number of W.H.O. Re-hydration salt packets consumed: 2
Pictures taken: approx 100
Number of lemons sucked on during driving: 5
Number of seats won by the Congress and allies: 260
Fun had: Tons

It was a long trip but a fun one, and definitely an adventure.
More pictures later this week.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

IPL, Elections and Dance Classes

Although I am not generally a huge sports fan, I like playing but I am not a big fan of watching sports on TV, I have gotten into the IPL (Indian Premier League). The Indian 20/20 Cricket league. Cricket matches traditionally last days but 20/20 cricket is a shortened form of the game in which each team only bowls (throws) 20 overs (an over is 6 balls thrown by one bowler (pitcher)). Thus a game of 20/20 lasts about the same amount of time as a game of baseball. This type of game results in more 6ers (when a batter hits a ball out of the oval (field)-think home run) and more 4s (when the batter hits the ball out of the oval on the ground (it touches the field before bouncing or rolling out). This is because batters will take more risks in a 20/20 game, since they have a more limited number of balls being bowled (pitched) to them. This of course also means batters get out faster: the ball is caught by a fields person before it touches the ground, the ball touches the wickets before the batter can get there (think base when I say wicket) etc. This makes the game more exciting (in my opinion) and helps those of us who have short attention spans (I cannot watch a single game for 3 days).
In the IPL may Indian cities have teams: Mumbai Indians, Delhi Dare Devils, Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Deccan Chargers (Hyderabad). There are 8 teams in total. So people cheer for their home state or the team of their cities like baseball in the US. Although the season is much shorter here (a bit more then a month). For more info on 20/20 Cricket see:
This year because of the elections the whole 20/20 season (called a tournament) is taking place in South Africa instead of India, so while it is a big TV watching event, there are no matches to go to. There was fear that the IPL and the elections would disrupt each other and with India on a high terror alert because of the elections, their was a fear that the games would be a terrorist target. (Fyi: Indian elections take place in phases and last about a month). I guess I will have to come back next year to go to a live game

In other news (I mean this literally since the newspapers are dominated by two things right now- 20/20 and the Elections), Bombay went to the polls this past Thursday to vote for their local representative to the Lok Sab and thus vote for Prime Minister. This years turnout in Bombay was considered low because their was only a 43 or 45% turnout. As an American I thought that was pretty good, but here that's considered a really bad turnout, about 60% is considered good. The low turnout was blamed on the fact that the Bombay election phase occurred right before a three day weekend. 4 day weekend if you include election day (when offices are closed). But low turnout was also blamed on confusion at election stations where people's names were not on lists or there were issues with their ID etc. In any case the election results will have to wait until May 16th when the results for all of the phases of polling are announced.

The other exciting development is that I have begun taking Bollywood dance classes, for fun. Having never taken dance classes, it has been fun to learn the steps to popular songs, and you will never know when this could come in handing during my non-existent Bollywood carrier.
This is what I am currently learning:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Elections and Nimbooz

Every 5 years, Indians go to the polls for their national election. This year is election year and voting has already taken place in some districts. Bombay votes on March 30th (for those of you who do not know, voting takes place in phases with different states and districts voting on different days lasting for approximately a month). As Election Day draws near, I am seeing more and more election ads: billboards, TV spots etc and plenty of newspaper articles on politicians calling each other names.
Along with the election campaigns, I am watching friends get ready to vote, one of my friends at an ad agency just registered to vote a few days ago through a website called Jaago Re One Billion Votes is a campaign sponsored by Tata Tea to get more young, mtv generation, mostly urban youth to vote. With an extensive print and TV campaign to drive people to a website where one can complete the voter registration form, they want to bring out the vote. The website has easy to follow instructions and drop down menus, which generate a pdf registration form with directions on where to send the form in (via post). The site makes registration easy for the internet savvy and the youth. But we will have to wait and see how successful it was.

In other news, the I-should-have-thought-of-that award goes to Nimbooz. Nimbooz is a new bottled drink that is basically bottled Nimbo Pani. Nimbo Pani (Lemon/Lime Water) is a traditional Indian drink of cold water (not carbonated) flavored with Nimbo (a citrus fruit that a cross between a lime and a lemon) juice and sugar or salt. It is an Indian version of lemonade. The bottled version is only the sweet (flavored with sugar) version. Nimbo Pani is usually made at home, and is widely consumed during summer. The release of the bottled version coincided with the beginning of summer, and now allows people to drink Nimbo Pani away from home, and take it with them. I have to say Nimbooz is actually pretty good, although not at all like homemade. In any case, Nimbooz is by PepsiCo and is advertised as “by 7Up.” It’s going to make a lot of money even though it is so simple. Its pretty smart to take a drink that is simple to make and that everyone likes and put it in a bottle so they can have it when not in the home. This is especially smart when one remembers that most cold drinks (sodas) are consumed out of home at fairs, restaurants, street-side stalls etc.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some South Trip Pictures Up

Internet is not always easy.
More to come.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April Update

I apologies for the lack of update the last two weeks, things have been very hectic.

Fist I will talk about the last few days of travel with my parents. After Kerala, we went to Ooty and Mysore before having one more day in Bombay to get things together ad pick up tailored shirts. Ooty was beautiful mountains and tea gardens and the weather was wonderful and cool, especially after hot hot Cochin. In Mysore we walked around the city and the market, where I was finally able to get a DVD of the Tamil version of Ghajini. We got interesting Jute bags for people back home as gifts, coffee and a great Indian Cricket team shirt for Gabe to wear in New Zealand, in support of the Indian cricket team. We also did a lot of Mysore Palace touring and temple viewing, both impressive.

At the end of our journey we spent some time in the freezing Bangalore airport which we had to pay a tax to get into (but it was a nice and new airport). That night we all headed to Zenzi, a happening bar in Bandra, to meet some of my Bombay friends and have a nice night out. It was definitely fun. On Saturday I said good bye, I miss them already.

Then it was back to work on research, which I am currently mostly doing on Lakme cosmetics. While work has been stressful, there have been some high points including getting to attend Lakme Fashion Week. Lakme Fashion Week started in 2001. As a property it represents Lakme’s creative side and reaffirms its position as an aspirational (desirable, glamorous) brand. Each LFW has a theme. This summer’s theme was “Bridal Sutra.” At the end of each LFW event the closing show is the work of the designer whose clothes feature in the Lakme ad campaign for that season. The show features that designer’s work with the models all wearing Lakme makeup. Winter 2008 featured the designer Sabyasachi while the summer 2009 features designs by Anamika Khanna.
“Bridal Sutra” was the same theme that was used for the winter 2008 LFW. The ads and products associated with that campaign did very well, and so the client (Lakme) wanted to extend the theme to summer 2009. The winter 2008 looks (images and make-up colors) and ads followed the stages/ceremonies of an Indian wedding (the fashion week and ad campaign smartly placed right before wedding season) but with modern edgy touches. For example, the use of a black and red dress within one ad, which is a non-traditional color and look or the addition of a watch on the wrist of one of the models. The campaign bridges the West and the Indian.

The new Summer 2009 Bridal Sutra collection follows the emotional journey of the bride as appose to the ceremonial one. Instead of the rich deep earthy make-up colors of the winter collection, the summer’s collection features more nudes and lighter colors.
Summer 2009 LFW took placed at the Grand Hyatt. Within the venue a Lakme Salon had been set up. A working salon it also doubled as a product show piece displaying this seasons ad campaign images, products and models. The runway was decorated with the Lakme logo and “Lakme Fashion Week” was written prominently on the walls.

I had never been to a runway show before so it was really exciting an interesting to be there and see the whole thing take place, as well as the branding aspects for Lakme. I saw the show for Westside which is a clothing brand, that had three well known Indian designers design small collections under its name. It was fun to see a fashion show and it also gave me a better understanding of how this type of event can be used by Lakme to promote itself and Indian designers and fashion.

Pictures to come soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Traveling Through the South

The past week had been a world wind of travel. Flying from Bombay to Trivandrum was fun. There we (my parents, their friend Lenny, and I) visited the famous Shiva temple and the palace there, while trying to brave the heat of the south. From there it was a fun trip by car to the backwaters of Kerala for a houseboat experience. We were greeted at the boat with coconuts (filled with wonderful coconut water) and took off for the smaller canals in our slightly smaller boat (two bedrooms only and no pool or rooftop seating area- yes some of these boats have pools on top which is crazy). The food on the boat, cooked by the three man crew, was incredible and contained fresh local vegetables, fish and prawns. Although we were hit by some hard rain for about an hour of our trip, we had a great time being wined and dined while watching the beautiful scenery, villages and people go by.

After the houseboat it was off to Cochin were we ate more great fish and prawns, watched the Chinese fishing nets, visited the Synagogue, palace, spice market, and beautiful old buildings of Fort Cochin (old Cochin). We also ate at the highly recommended Dal Roti restaurant, which I highly recommend to anyone heading that way.

Then it was time for a 7 hour drive to Ooty, in the mountains. We traded the crazy hot weather of Kerala for the cool weather of the mountains and the views of palm trees and ocean side for mountains, tea gardens and windy roads. Which were fun to walk around, but made me a bit sick.

Now we are in Mysore for some more palace viewing, market walking and temple viewing before its back to Bombay.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back in Bombay but... with the parents

After finally beginning to get somewhere with my work here in Bombay, my gains have been cut short by a visit from parents, who came all the way from New York City to visit me.
Although I am soooo excited to have them here, I am bummed about not being able to get work done, I just don't want to be away for so long and have everyone at my fieldwork site forget me.
Hopefully they wont.

On to the fun stuff: I have been introducing my parents to Bombay. We did the standard Colaba tour, I showed them around Bandra (where I live), took them to my field site to visit, went to Elephanta Island, and saw a bollywood movie (Billu Barber) which was not as bad as I thought it would be and which my parents liked a lot probably because they could not understand the script. We have also been doing a lot of eating at some great restaurants my friends recommended. It has been wonderful to introduce my parents to coastal Indian food, as oppose to the north Indian food that is more easily found in the USA. All in all, its been nice to explore Bombay with them, especially since I have not had time to explore it myself.
Next stop: Kerala

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bombay and Kolkata

As I begin to get settled in Bombay. I have had to learn a lot about my new city. I have gotten a seasonal train pass for the Bombay computer train/metro which will enable me to get around the city for only 340 rupees until May 15th. Although the train is very cheap it is also very crowded so I have also been learning about which trains I need to take when. For example some trains begin and end at my station, Bandra station, these trains are less crowded because they do not travel farther out and therefore less people can take them. But in general I find that the ladies train car (yes there is a separate car for women) is crowded and there is a lot of pushing but it is manageable and not as crazy as the men's car, where during rush hour you can often find men riding on top of the car instead of inside the train.

I have also been wandering around my new neighborhood and I have found a jogger's park where it costs 2 rupees to get in and use the nice dirt track. This has been great for my morning runs. I have also found a good and cheap restaurant near my house that delivers if I ever get hungry. Speaking of food there is also a place called The Bagel Shop, which sells... bagels! Although they are no where as good as the bagels in NYC, they are boiled and do resemble a bagel. I have also started carrying out my research with advertising agencies and have made inroads into new products and their ads.

But of course as just as I am get settled, I had to leave for 5 days to go to Kolkata for the annual South Asian Fulbright Conference, where Fulbrighters, alumni, and those who run the program from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan all get together for a conference. I have been able to listen and see other Fulbrighters present about their work and I was able to present mine as well. It was generally very well received which was so exciting for me. I have also been able to explore Kolkata a bit and even try some famous Bengali sweets! Its been a good trip but its back to Bombay early morning tomorrow for some frantic work before my parents are come for a visit! This means more travel. Get ready for some more commentary on Bombay as I explore it like a tourist, as well as a trip south!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My New Pad

My new apartment in Bombay, its nice to have a place to call home:
I live on the 7th/6th floor depending on if you are counting the Indian or the American way.
This is my bedroom:

This is the view from my window:
My bathroom:
My kitchen (with no stove)/hallway:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Welcome to Bombay/Mumbai

I have finally left somewhat cold Delhi for the warmer weathers of Bombay. After packing up all of my stuff into two over-weight bags, I went to the airport ready to pay some money for my entire life in two bags... but I was let off from paying by the nice check-in counter woman at KingFisher with only a warning not to do it again! How, one might ask, did I avoid 3120 rupees (65 USD) worth of a fine (15 kgs over at 208 rupees per kg)? Well I spoke in Hindi and said I was a student! Somehow that worked...
After an uneventful plane ride, I landed, staying at my friend Raj's house for a day until I found my own apt in Bandra (a suburb of the city), by this I mean- think SoHo but located Park Slope, Brooklyn distance from Time Square (in this case Corlaba). I basically live in the West Village/SoHo of Bombay. Am I cool, or what?
I am still setting up, I need Internet and cable, but I have a pillow and a bed so life is good.

Based on my few days of observation in Bombay I have some thoughts on the differences between Delhi and my new city:
1) Delhi is round in design and flat, Bombay is long and has some hills.
2) Delhi's metro is new and shiny, Bombay's train system is old, not air conditioned and not as scary as everyone says- think NYC trains during rush hour after you have waited for 10 min, but like this all the time. Also there are women only cars so no creepy guys, and less pushing, and people are helpful about helping you out. (I would like to thank the nice Auntiji who told me which side of the car the Martunga Rd platform would be on, and said to just follow her off the train because that was where she was going too).
3) Bombay is windy- so even when hot there is a nice breeze, Delhi is not windy.
4) Everyone uses the meter (autos, taxis etc) in Bombay (yeahhh!), I have to argue with everyone to get a fair price in Delhi- but the auto wallahs are more talkative in Delhi.
5) I can wear skirts to my knees in Bombay no problem, Delhi is long skirts only.
6) I have lots of Friends in Delhi, I am beginning to make friends in Bombay.

So far: No Bollywood star sightings.

Pictures to come...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bombay Countdown Cont.

4 Days until I am in Bombay for 4 months!

The Great Coca Cola Question

So (as per my Fulbright project),
I was sitting in the middle of a brand planning meeting for Pepsi's new foray into Andhra Pradesh (for those of you who don't know, its a state in India), where they want to increase their soft drink sales. At this meeting in New Delhi, at an Indian brand planning agency, with all Indians except me, the discussion turned to why Americans consume so much Coca Cola/Pepsi and why Indians do not. In India, getting the average person to consume any soft drink more than once or twice a month is difficult, in part because people do not consume flavored drinks with food. In the USA people drink soft drinks with lunch, breakfast, snack, and when we get down to it, anytime and anywhere. In India, there is this idea that adding a flavored drink to your meal will ruin the meal and expressions of general disgust are made when this is mentioned. Soft drinks are consumed in India at: movie theatres, hanging out with friends at the mall/street corner/ dhaba (street side stall) etc. Maybe soft drinks are served to guests at a house if it is hot out, or if they are children, but tea is considered nicer and more appropriate. But this does not explain why Americans consume so much soda.

So I am asking everyone for your help:
Why do Americans drink so much Soda/Pop/Cola?

I was unable to answer this question,
maybe you can help me explain it to my Indian friends and colleagues.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bombay Countdown

11 days until I move to Bombay.
This means, tons of work to do in Delhi, I have to pack (and give Priya all the stuff I am not taking with me), and I have to see everyone before I go.
This also means I will be a bit absent from blogging until I reach my new destination, for four more months of research before returning to Delhi for writing-up and reflecting. Just cross your fingers that I find an apartment in Bombay sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January Weeks

So along with crazy amounts of work these last few weeks have included one flu/fever (ugh) where Anju (my flat mate) came to the rescue by making sure I ate, slept and stayed warm in the chilly Delhi nights and tons of other stuff, here is some of it:
These weeks have included my first forays into Indian cooking, I helped Anju make subjzi (vegetables), some curry and parathas. And... I made my first dish on my own, Chana Masala (chick peas and curry sauce). It actually turned out well. I brought it to Futurebrands for lunch, where everyone eats together in large groups and shares all the dishes and food they brought (not usually the rotis and rice they bring) but the dal or subzi they made that day. In this way, everyone gets some dal and vegetables to eat, and gets to try different things. So that day, for lunch, everyone liked it and said it was well spiced and well cooked and tasted like it was not the first time I had ever used a pressure cooker. This was exciting, because pressure cookers are just a bit scary.
In other news, it was my birthday on Jan 18th and I celebrated in Delhi style with an evening to bring in my birthday at the bar Buzz and then at the ever-hip club Tabla Rasa, thanks to Sumi, who got us in for free where there happened to be a free and open bar! Needless to say we of course all ordered the most expensive drink on any bar’s menu in Delhi… wine!
On Sunday itself I had a wonderful lunch with friends at The Big Chill (no- not the movie) an Italian restaurant in Delhi, I ate like an American and ordered pasta with meat balls (chicken ones- no beef in Delhi). After that, my friend and Futurebrands colleague Arati and I went to Chandini Chowk to China and actually enjoyed it despite bad reviews and some crazy ketch/mellow drama going on. As a visual anthropologist, all I can say is: move over Euro-America, Asia is taking over. (Here instead of the usually trip to Australia, Europe, the US or Canada, the movie moves the action literally from Delhi to China- weather either country wants to admits it, they need each other as much as they are rivals). Although the rest of the movie needs you to suspend all logic!
By the way- Mumbai here I come on February 7th.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Raj Kachori

While Back in Delhi, I thought I should introduce everyone to one of my favorite foods: Raj Kachori. This chaat (street food or snack that combines elements of chips, spices, masalas, sauces, yogurt and everything you can think of) is amazing and fun to eat. Not to mention it also tastes very good. If given a chance you should try it. Here is one of the best ones I ate in Delhi.


After Mumbai and a world wind Lonely Planet walking tour of Jaipur and a quick lunch at the Ganesha Restaurant (I highly recommend it), Rachel and I only had a few hours of sunlight to explore the city. The next day we headed off with fellow Fulbrighters Callin, Michele and Jaspreet to the Amber fort for some nice fort touring and then to Jodhpur. Jodhpur is by far my favorite city in Rajasthan. First of all it is beautiful. Many of the buildings in the old city are painted blue (it is often called the "Blue City"), the people there are very nice and helpful. One helped Rahel and I negotiate a rickshaw and everyone we met were happy to give directions. The famous and mountain top fort/palace of Jodhpur is also amazing and probably the best preserved and maintained fort in Rajasthan with an amazing audio tour (yes in India there is an amazing audio tour that was really fun to listen to and informative). The fort is also very well preserved and restored. Although our hotel was a little strange (crazy painted rooms and a strange, sometimes too talkative, hotel owner), the overall experience was fun and we treated ourselves to some great Rajasthani food.
After Jodhpur we all headed to Jaisalmer, the city at the edge of the desert. Also very beautiful like Jodhpur, but not blue. It has some very famous havelis (littlerally wind-lights) or large ornate houses with large courtyards in the middle that let in wind and light. The havelis were great, the the narrow winding streets of the city were fun to explore except for... all the cow shit that was everywhere. There were sooooooo many cows in such small streets that everywhere you walked you always had to look down so you would not step in a cow pie. Not to mention the smell. The Jaisalmer fort, which has literally been incorporated into the city (there are houses and shops in it) is currently sort of in disrepair with stones falling off of it every year. But it has great views of the city and a great massage parlor. Yes... while everyone went on a camel safari (I have already done one and so has Rachel) Rachel and I opted out and opted in for massages instead. A lot more comfortable and better smelling!
After Jaisalmer we traveled to Bikaner for a night (ate amazing home cooked food) and then made the nauseating (small bumpy roads) and long (8 hours) trip back to Delhi. After all this traveling, I have to admit, its nice to be back. But it was fun to see so much too.
See the Vacation pictures I posted to the side.