I Have Internet!!

Whew! After 3 home visits by a total of 7 technicians, at least 15 different phone calls and a few strongly worded emails, my apartment is now connected to the interwebs. ACT customer service is worse than FedEx. Sheesh.

I immediately dove into the black hole to see all I had missed on Facebook, Instagram, etc…which of course was nothing. Some friends had babies, some friends had very nice looking meals at nice looking restaurants, some friends drank Pumpkin Spice Lattes and some Bangalore folks whom I don’t know sent me several friend requests. I don’t know why, but it is SO ADDICTING. I can’t help it. Next I dove into the news. Just in today’s news, I learned about the shooting at Planned Parenthood, the waiter who was shot at a Waffle House in Mississippi and violent Black Friday shoppers across the US. Seems like maybe some people should be more fearful of their neighbors instead of Syrian Refugees – just a thought.

On a happier note, the holiday season (well, the Western holiday season) has officially started! I enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving dinner with some friends, and we even streamed the parade online. Success. Black Friday doesn’t exist in India – double success – so I completely missed that craziness. This afternoon Veena and I went to do some shopping and we found a Christmas store over near Commercial Street. The decorations were decent by Indian standards – fake trees covered in fake snow, lights, garland, balls, the works. I’ve never been that into Christmas, but this year I’m pretty excited for it. Maybe because I miss most of the commercialization of it, so it is nice to see the occasional Santa sign in the shopping malls or the Christmas music playing at Starbucks (I know, I’m a stereotype…but they have good internet!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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We found Christmas!!! There is something about posing next to a Christmas tree in shorts and sunglasses with fake snow in the background that is quite amusing to me.

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The Anti-Facebook Effect

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about the Facebook Effect. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, this is where people feel inadequate because they look on Facebook and only see the best moments of their friends’ lives – beautiful sunsets, fun parties, cute babies, beautiful weddings and tropical vacations take over the screen. People can feel like their life doesn’t measure up because real life isn’t just these happy moments, but it’s the good with the bad. No one posts pictures of sick kids, takeout food, traffic jams, arguments at home or stressful jobs.

I don’t post very much on Facebook, but I do post a bunch of pictures on here and pretty regularly on Instagram. Many people assume I am on a constant vacation. Not true…though I did quit my job last week and I am back to spending time with my dear old friend unemployment (I’m starting to get a complex…) Life here is still life. To balance out my pictures of palm trees, festivals, scenic treks and ancient palaces, here are ten reasons why you should not think that my life is better than yours just because of my cool photos.

  1. Sometimes the sewer overflows into the road when it rains – this is rainy season.
  2. When the sewers overflow, the roads flood. This makes already congested traffic become impossible. As I’ve mentioned before, I could walk the 7.5km to my old office in the same time it took to ride the bus in normal traffic
  3. Some type of parasite has decided to move in and make my stomach its home. I look six months pregnant.
  4. A lady at the grocery store asked me when I was due yesterday. I just made up a date instead of making everyone feel awkward and saying “Actually I have worms…” and then pretended like I was getting a phone call. Classic Cindy.
  5. It is not really socially acceptable for a girl to wear shorts unless you’re in a club, even if the weather gets up to 90F or 100F. Never, ever to work. This also goes for dresses or skirts without leggings underneath. So much sweat.
  6. I get scammed or overcharged at least once a day. Last Friday I got fined on the bus for sitting down before paying. The conductor told me to wait when I tried to pay him, then sent another guy over to fine me.
  7. I have yet to get internet at my house. I need a letter of residency signed by the police chief and Indian government to prove my address – to get a prepaid internet USB stick (dongle). This is in addition to copies of my passport, visa, and my photo. The bureaucracy here is ridiculous.
  8. Last week, some of my neighbors decided that the corner across the street from my house is a good spot to dump their trash. It’s starting to smell.
  9. The sidewalks are peppered with holes and loose tiles. Step in the wrong spot and fall down into the sewer. Don’t spend too much time looking down, though, there are also lots of obstacles you’ll need to look up to see – like tree branches, speeding motorcycles (yes, on the sidewalk) and loose wires hanging at eye level…
  10. This is definitely a first world problem…but my iPhone updated and needed me to log back into my Apple ID. Since my phone account is suspended, It can’t verify my phone number until I go back to the US…so no more iMessages or FaceTime for now 😦

Just to be clear, I love my life and I love living in Bangalore – I just wanted to show that it’s not all Instagram photos and vacations. Here is a photo to make you smile this morning. I found this pet store in HSR Layout. I think it might be the funniest English fail I’ve seen yet. It’s almost like this guy tried to make a double meaning. Why would you name a store Heavy Petting in the first place? I got a kick out of it.

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I’m Getting Old…

I love Bangalore, but walking down the street on a normal day can be sensory overload. Between the traffic, the horns, the smells, gaping holes in the sidewalk tiles, the cows and the cow pies, it would suffice to say that there’s a lot going on. Add crackers into the mix and the experience goes to a whole new level.

Crackers are tiny little fireworks, similar to what children and adults alike play with in the US for the 4th of July. Some are small and spew sparks everywhere making them pretty to look at. Others, called bombs, are exactly that. Light the fuse, run, and 5 seconds later there is a flash of light and a noise loud enough to leave your ears ringing if you did not cover them fast enough. I assume since these don’t emit any pretty sparks that they are cheaper, making them a good option to stock up on if you want to buy as many crackers as possible on a budget. And the first rule of Diwali: buy as many crackers as you can.

Seeing all of the kids in front of my house and in the streets by my office lighting these ‘bombs’ and running away makes me feel like the grumpy, old lady in a cartoon who yells “Hey! Quiet down!” to the playing children in the next yard. Or the grumpy old man in Friends who in the apartment below Monica and Rachel. The one that hits the ceiling with a broom every time they make noise. Though I never actually say anything (nor do I hit things with a broom), I still think it in my head – I’m old. In my defense, these are set off on the sidewalk or in the middle of the road, so any time you walk around the corner you could potentially step on one, or get hit by a flying one. It’s exactly what you think would happen when you give explosives to children on a small, busy road at nighttime. Motorcycles driving down the small streets have watch out for the dim glow of the fuses in the night to avoid running into them. And – don’t leave your windows open! Some of these fly…

Modi, the Prime Minister of India, issued a statement asking people to light candles instead of crackers this holiday because of the negative environmental impact that crackers have. I am told there are fewer crackers than normal because of this, but it sure doesn’t seem like it to me. Once the sun went down, my neighborhood sounded like a war zone. The view from on top of the roof, however, safely out of the way of the bombs and crackers below provided a great view of some actual fireworks in the distant night sky. And watching the kids below having fun in the streets was nice, too. Just as long as I’m out of the way. Luckily, it rained for about 72 hours straight prior to Wednesday night, so everything was good, wet, and inflammable. Happy Diwali! 🙂

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Mesmerized by the light

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Freddy trying to light some rooftop crackers

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Sparklers!

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This is the inside of my bus home on Wednesday night. You can see the steering wheel in the bottom right corner. This guy wasn’t joking around with his decorations! Listening to Hindi music, watching fireworks in the distant night sky and being surrounded by decorations like these certainly put you in the festive spirit. Almost makes you forget you’re packed on the bus stuck in traffic…

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Happy Diwali!

That’s right, another festival! It’s holiday season in India, and this week is Diwali – The diyasFestival of Lights. It is also called Deepavali, which literally translates to a row of lights in Sanskrit. Diwali Festival means lots of decorations in the streets, light decorations on houses, flower garlands, poojas (prayers/blessings) and of course, crackers (fireworks). Different states celebrate Diwali on different days. In Karnataka it is tomorrow (Thursday) but other regions celebrate various days throughout the week. There are many common traditions associated with Diwali, here are a few which you’ll find throughout the country:

Rolling the Dice
As per the Hindu mythology, it is believed that playing dice on the day of Diwali is very good luck. According to the legend, the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and greatly enjoyed it on the day of Diwali. She declared that ‘whosoever plays dice on this day shall be bestowed with a good fortune throughout the year’. Over the years dice games have been replaced by cards and people often organize card games during Diwali, where friends and families get together to indulge in friendly gambling matches.

Lighting Up Fireworks and Lamps
As per Diwali traditions, lighting your house is necessary to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune, into your home. The traditional way to do so is by lighting handmade earthen 10_16_2009124459AM_8790331232lamps called diyas. On the day of Diwali, these multicolored lamps are filled with mustard or coconut oil and wick. Once the prayer ceremonies dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are completed, these diyas are lit. These ethnic lamps, typically made of clay, are placed on window sills, doorways and in the darkest corners of the house. The pictures on the right are different types of diyas being sold on the streets. 21DIYA_0_0_0

Bursting firecrackers is one of the most popular traditions of Diwali- they can be heard throughout the day and night. It is believed that their sound and light wards off evil spirits. This year, Prime Minister Modi has issued a request to use candles instead of fireworks to welcome Lakshmi to reduce the negative environmental effects these little crackers have.

Cleansing and Home Decor
People from all walks of life begin to clean and refurbish their homes depending on their budget during Diwali. Even the most economically challenged person will participate by keeping his/her home absolutely immaculate during Diwali. This tradition is based on the belief that Lakshmi only visits homes that are completely spotless. Other than cleanliness, people also put in a lot of effort and time in decorating their homes with strings of light bulbs, shimmering streamers, flower garlands and ribbons. Colorful and intricate drawings, known as rangolis, are drawn at the doorways using colored powder or flower petals or powders. Some of these are pictured below which I passed on my walk to work.

Exchanging of Presents
Presenting Diwali gifts to one’s friends, relatives and acquaintances becomes more and more popular during Diwali each year. Traditionally, just boxes of sweets were gifted; however, now people give anything from electronic appliances to jewelry to food baskets. During Diwali, people give gifts to friends, employees and family members. Many people still prepare lots of sweets at home to distribute as well. In the States, I am used to the gifting of chocolate, cookies, candy and jars of jam during the holidays – this is the Indian version! My loves in the US sent me some homemade jam and Halloween candy which arrived yesterday – which coincidentally to fit in quite well with the Diwali celebrations! Good work guys – you planned that well. I bet it was the first time anyone has eaten candy corn for Diwali!

Shopping
Diwali festival is considered a good time to make financial investments as well. Diwali promotions rival the US Black Friday sales. You will find many people buying gold and silver coins as well as jewelry. People also shop for kitchen items, especially utensils made of gold, silver, steel and copper. Throughout the five days of Diwali festivities, markets are beautifully decorated and filled with all kinds of gadgets, furniture, clothes, etc. which people which people buy for themselves or to give as gifts. In addition, people buy more property and more vehicles during Diwali than other times of the year.

Happy Diwali to all! Below are some of the decorations I’ve spotted around Bangalore.

This bus is ready for the festivities…but I’m not sure how it is possible to navigate the Bangalore traffic while your windshield is covered in flowers…IMG_2460

My neighbors have decorated their motorcycle. The splatters you see all over the bike is a type of Hindu holy water used to bless different things during pooja.

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The next four pictures are some of the Rangolis I passed on my walk to work. These drawings are made with flower petals, rice flour and/or vermilion powder. They are made on doorsteps to welcome gods and goddesses into the home. Some people make different versions of these each morning, but during festivals they are everywhere. It’s so pretty.

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Run Forrest, Run!

Every few months, I go through running phases. I’ll run a few miles every other day, develop a routine and at first I’ll stick to it religiously. Inevitably, after a month, or two, or three, something will come up. A week-long training for work, a holiday with friends or maybe a blizzard will prevent me from continuing my carefully crafted routine. And once I stop, there’s no starting back up. I am never able to get myself back into the same rhythm, and I generally give up and move on to a new obsession.

A month or so ago, I decided I wanted to run a half marathon, and I decided this time would be different. I had been running daily over the summer when I was in the US, but it was easy to keep up with my casual, flexible schedule of unemployment and beach-side living. Now, with my 1.5 hour commute and full day of work, it requires a little more dedication. I sort of follow the training plan on the app I’ve downloaded on my phone – I consider the runs during the week to be optional…depending on how motivated I am at 5am when my alarm goes off (generally I snooze the alarm for an hour until it’s time for work). But I always stick to the long runs on Sunday. Currently I’m up to 11.5km – almost half way to my half marathon distance! So far, so good.

One factor helping my motivation which I did not expect is the terrible traffic in Bangalore. Taking the bus to work takes 1:30 total, door to door, in normal traffic. If it rains, I’m easily over two hours. However, walking takes me 1:35. I can literally walk as fast as the bus drives. If you know me, you know that nothing infuriates me more than inefficiency. So it didn’t take me long to realize that I could cut that time in half by running. If walking is the same as driving, then running is twice as fast! I can’t run to the office – showing up all sweaty would likely be frowned upon…not to mention my shorts, which expose my legs. Scandalous. But I can run home!

In addition to being more efficient, it is sometimes necessary. I signed up for a dance class with some friends and didn’t consider the commute. I only have an hour and a half in between work and dance, and the studio is past my home, making the bus commute about two hours. This doesn’t work. It is also quite a hassle to find a rickshaw driver willing to take me that far for the regular, metered price. And then, once I find one, it is likely he has rigged his meter to be fast and overcharge me, which is the only reason he has agreed in the first place. Solution: Run to dance class! Problem solved.

Between my dance classes, running commute, my two upcoming 5K races this weekend AND my 11.5 run in between…I think I am right on track to complete that half marathon in January. Who knows, maybe I’ll keep it up and go for the full afterwards!

The Golden Avocados

My friends and I decided that Fridays are “American Fridays,” meaning that I will cook American food. They are delighted and I get an excuse to eat cheese, so everyone’s happy. Last week was the inaugural meal and I wasn’t quite sure what to make, so I headed to the grocery store for inspiration. I mostly eat local food, so I wasn’t really sure what ingredients I could find here and what I could not. After lots of perusing the aisles, I settled on typical Cindy food instead of typical American food – a sweet potato dish, grilled zucchini, salad and grilled chicken. I finally managed to find everything I was looking for (or some version of it) and head to the check-out.

When I paid, my bill was a little higher than I expected, but I chalked it up to poor rounding on my part and headed home. I was already running late because it was raining so traffic was horrible (no drainage + downpour + roads filled with potholes = cars afraid to drive in puddles because you can’t see how big they are) so I grabbed my bags and headed to Vidhya’s to start cooking.

The salad I was making required two avocados. So far, I had only seen the avocados with the green skin here, but the only kind they had in the supermarket were the black-skinned ones, which I prefer. I was quite excited for the find. There was no price listed, but I know there are avocados in India so I wasn’t too concerned. Maybe my friends would scold me for paying a few cents extra, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal – how expensive could they be? This is India – I can comfortably eat for $1-2/day. It’s not like I was buying fancy imported wine; it’s fruit.

All produce gets individually wrapped with a price sticker and a bar code on it so the cashier can just scan, they don’t have to type in a PLU code like they do in the US. When I grabbed the little bag of avocados to chop up and put in the salad, a number caught my eye. 563 rupees ($8.60). What?? That couldn’t possibly be for two avocados…could it? Yup. Apparently, these avocados are imported from New Zealand and come with a premium price tag. That’s $4.30 for ONE avocado! I couldn’t, and still can’t believe it. That is more than double what I would consider expensive in the US! The actual sales price at the store was 999 rupees ($15.25) per kg. Ugh. Lesson learned – read before you buy.

Next week for American Friday – mac and cheese 🙂