Happy Republic Day!

India’s Republic Day falls on January 26th each year. It celebrations the signing of the Declaration of Independence and their proposed split from the British Empire. Note: it’s not the same as their actual Independence day. Basically, it’s the day they said “We’ve had enough,” and began their quest to be recognized as a separate nation. Other fun fact: Republic Day is one of only three national holidays in India. Yes, I said three. Despite the weekly festivals, only three days are recognized holidays by every single state. The vast majority of holidays are celebrated regionally (can you imagine if California didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving??) so many festivals in Bangalore aren’t a big deal in New Delhi and vice versa. The other two holidays which garner national observance are Gandhi’s birthday on October 2nd and Independence Day on August 15th.

2016 marked the 67th Republic Day, which was primarily celebrated in the capital city of New Delhi with parades and, of course, lots of fireworks. Each year they invite a guest of honor, usually a head-of-state or high level government official from an alliance country. Last year, they invited US President Obama, making him the first US President to receive an invite. This year France’s President Francios Hollande was in attendance, making him the 5th Frenchie to receive the honor.

Bangalore didn’t have too many celebrations (nor many firecrackers, thank goodness – I still haven’t quite recovered from Diwali) but they did have their annual Republic Day Flower Show in Lal Bagh Gardens. This year’s show paid tribute to the 150th birthday of Gustav Krumbiegel – a renowned horticulturist and architect who is primarily responsible for planning the streets of Bangalore. Personally, after living here for six months, I’m not quite sure that the person responsible for the city planning of Bangalore would be at the top of my list to honor (think: Boston’s anti-grid system with 10x the traffic) but oh well. I’m sure he had good intentions.

The flower show provided me with both excellent people watching and flower displays which left me quite confused about what the designer was trying to convey – which was quite entertaining. Veena and I went a few days early to check it out and beat the crowds. We had a nice morning run inside the garden grounds and then made our way to the Glass House where the main showing took place. Check out some of my favorite photos below 🙂

The highlight of the show for me was this lovely creature. We dubbed her as “Bertha” and were so delighted at her existence in the center of the show. Locals flocked to take selfies and seemed to appreciate her for a whole different set of reasons than Veena and I. My only question was: Why?

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Second to Bertha was this creepy-looking baby. Again, it garnered a different type of appreciation from these ladies than from me. I would like to know what this designer was trying to convey when creating this baby head among the flowers.

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Bertha’s guard, perhaps? This fellow was stationed outside of the glass house, and I can only imagine that he is patrolling the red-flowered seas to make sure no unworthy suitors come to court young Bertha. Or, potentially he is on the lookout for her hairdresser, who I would guess is not welcome back.

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This is the replica of Gustav Krumbiegel’s home. Nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle to my friend, Bertha.

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This lovely totem pole sat next to the baby face…again, I’m not quite sure what they were going for. Also, the green material they put outside of the Glass house makes all of the photos appear to have a strange Instagram filter.

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Some of the more typical, flower show photos.

 

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Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

It’s that time of year again – the time where I hurry to read books I don’t want to have to carry with me, enjoy my last few months of tropical weather and obsessively check Kayak. That’s right, folks. I’m on the downhill slide of my time in India. Two months left, to be exact. I’ll be spending the following six months in…drum roll please…ALASKA! Yippee!

It’s been pretty high on my list the past year – so I finally did some research and made it happen. It was pretty quick actually – it barely even passed my obligatory one-week waiting period before it became official. I’m really excited for fresh air, mountains that meet the sea, hiking, kayaking, delicious seafood among so many other things. It’s also a place where I’m legally allowed to work, so that is helpful.

I really love living in India, but while I was walking to work in the Bangalore traffic actively trying not to get run over…it made me smile to think that in just a few months my life will be completely different. Glaciers, dogsleds and moose sound almost as exotic as saris, coconuts and elephants did to me a year ago.

The only unfortunate bit is that I won’t really have any time to travel throughout India before heading home. As it is I’ll have to finish part of my current commitment in India remotely from the States. Oh well…I guess that just means I’ll have to come back! I will have some weekends to check out Southern India – if any of you have some recommendations of some great weekend destinations, let me know!

How to Drive without Brakes

Here in India, people don’t really believe in braking. The streets of Bangalore are like the racing video games I would play on Sega Genesis as a kid – my goal was to get through the course as fast as possible. I never quite got good enough to master the skill of braking…I preferred to wipe out. I was convinced it was faster. After all…why would anyone voluntarily slow down? If you hit a tree, scratch the bumper or take out a street lamp in the process…oh well. (Side note: Obviously I was never very good at those games.) In India, braking is more of a philosophy than a key element – it’s an optional strategy…just like the video games. It’s something you do if you want. If it’s not for you, no worries. You see…India doesn’t need brakes. They have something else – they have the horn.

I know what you’re thinking – I have a horn, too! I am sure, however, that you are not using it properly…at least according to Indian standards. Follow these simple principles and you, too, can drive without brakes!

  1. Beep when you accelerate. Don’t just tap it, either. This is a minimum of a three-second beep. This lets others know you’re speeding up.
  2. Beep when you’re slowing down. Again, just lay on the horn instead of pushing on the brakes. People will eventually move out of the way when you get close enough. Best strategy for this is to continually press on the horn until you can speed back up again – and don’t forget to beep to signal acceleration.
  3. Beep your horn any time you approach a cross street. This allows potential traffic ready to pull out onto your road to hear you coming, so they can stay out of your way.
  4. Beep when you want to turn left or right. This allows you to take intersections at full speed – no brakes needed here!
  5. Beep when you’re on a crowded road to let others know you’re n a hurry – they might not realize how precious your time is and how little you enjoy sitting in traffic. To make sure they really get the idea, keep beeping until you can move again.
  6. Beep when you’re driving down a big empty road – you wouldn’t want any dogs, people, other vehicles to think the entire road is empty. Give them fair warning you’re around!
  7. Beep when there are pedestrians walking down the street. Sometimes people aren’t paying attention. You don’t want them to accidentally dart in front of you. Better let them know you’re passing by.

See how easy it is to drive brake-free?

Old Dog, New Tricks

When I was home for the holidays, I taught my friend’s four-year-old son the art of knock-knock jokes. It started here:

1: Knock-knock
2: Who’s there
1: Interrupting cow
2: Interrupting co–moo!! (said by person 1…interrupting #2! HA.)

This quickly devolved…with my encouragement…and among many, many others favorites included:

  • interrupting starfish (open palm with five fingers interrupts you by suctioning itself to your face)
  • interrupting jellyfish (interrupts by stinging you)
  • interrupting pinching bug (guess what this one does…)

and then my personal favorite, invented by the four-year-old…the interrupting hug. So cute. Everyone always loves when cool Aunt Cindy comes to visit and teaches fun new tricks! 🙂

In India, I am constantly learning cool new tricks everyday. Some are novel, some are odd and almost all are completely out of left field. It would be so interesting to know how some of these originated. Below are some of the innovative tricks I’ve learned recently which actually make sense.

In Bangalore, there are a ton of street dogs – more than any other city in India. I noticed that about 90% of the time they are missing the tips of their ears. I thought it was really strange and cruel – why on earth would someone do that? I recently learned the answer – the ear tips are cut of dogs which have been spayed or neutered. Because there are so many street dogs, there are a number of programs working on “population control.” When the vet is driving down the street, he can tell which dogs need to be clipped with little more than a glance. Sure, you could argue is a little cruel (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but it is also pretty smart.

Indian food uses A LOT of onions – which I am a huge fan of. It never fails, however, that when I’m cooking I can’t get past onion number 1 without sobbing. Recently I was attempting to cook dinner with a friend, eyes full of tears, and she handed me her motorcycle helmet. I looked at her like she was crazy, like any normal person would do, until I tried it out. I’ll tell you what…it looked a little ridiculous but it worked wonders. Brilliant.

Did you know you can do more than make toast in a toaster? If you take a pop-up toaster and lay it on it’s side, you can put your desired sandwich fillings on top of each piece of bread and slide it in the toaster. When the time is up and it pops out…you have a home-made panini ready to be assembled 🙂

I guess you could call these Life Hacks – A La India

What Have You Invented Today?

I’ve spent the better part of this week researching products which could make your life better if you lived in an Indian slum. In the past, I’ve checked out different technological advances which are revolutionizing life in the developing world, like the cardboard bike and the machine which generates energy from human waste. The human mind is amazing. Maybe there are MORE inventions are coming out or I am just digging deeper; I’m not sure – but I was pretty impressed this week at the volume and variety of gadgets there are. Some are plain and practical, some are flashy, but all are amazing. Here are my favorites which I’d never heard of before, in no particular order.

  1. Artificial Leaf – No particular order except for this one. This blew me away. It’s a small, silicon strip about the size of your thumb, dubbed the “artificial leaf,” and when you place this in water it generates electricity. In a few years, two bottles of water will be able to provide a home with 100W of electricity, 24 hours a day. Sound crazy? It kind of is. The silicon is coated in specific metals that when placed in a glass of water in sunlight, the artificial leaf separates the hydrogenart-leaf
    and oxygen molecules within the water. Professor Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy at Harvard University has been working on the artificial leaf for years. The most recent version is able to be used with dirty water – the artificial leaf prevents bacteria from sticking to the surface. You could literally stick it in a puddle and generate fuel. Hydrogen is a very powerful fuel, but unfortunately his invention has outpaced the rest of the products in the world – everyday products are not set up to run on hydrogen gas. Nocera is advocating for technology which uses hydrogen instead of other fuels. I’m sure this is not the last time you will be hearing about this.
  2. Soccket – I know I mentioned this briefly in my last post…but it is too good not to put in the list. Kick this soccer ball (dubbed “Soccket Ball”) around for 30 minutes and generate 3 hours of power. They also make a jump rope. I love that this combines renewable energy with exercise. Each one costs $99 – so not too applicable if you are living in poverty but it’s pretty cool all the same. slideshow_3
  3. Eliodomestico – Not only does this purify water but it converts salt
    Solar-Water-Filter-Gabriele-Diamanti-4water into freshwater as well – and it is not much more than a clay pot and plastic tank. It works by using the sunlight to heat the  dirty water, creating condensation which is collected in a bowl at the bottom. The bowl is even fashioned to be easily carried on your head, which is how most women living in villages carry heavy items.
  4. Power Felt – This “fabric” collects body heat, or the heat emitted article-0-14B65F8B000005DC-60_468x311from any object and turns it into energy. In other words, add a little
    of this onto your iPhone case and charge your phone by sitting next to it. Mind blown.
  5. Chulha Stove – This one isn’t too flashy, but it is exactly what I was looking for. People living in slums typically cook over open fires that they light with kerosene and burn inside their hut (called chulhas). Kerosene is terrible for the environment, but even worse for the lungs. There are several stoves that run on cleaner energy, but they’re all single-burner or quite pricey. When we tried these out in communities a few months Chulha-Stove-4back, no one wanted to invest so much money for a single-burner stove. Enter: the Chulha Stove! It uses wood, has two burners and has a little chimney to remove any smoke which is created. What’s even cooler? This product was designed by the international company Philips. They don’t sell them, but they put all of the specs online with step-by-step directions on how to build them. There are several retailers throughout India which sell the molds, or you can make your own. I love that they’re sharing ideas. I will likely be rolling up my sleeves, pouring some concrete and making one of my own to try out in the near future.

I hope you were as blown away by some of these as I was. Know of a cool inventions making the world a little better? Let me know!

The Best Intentions…

Happy New Year! I rang in the New Year on a plane – the trip was about 36 hours long so I was literally traveling at midnight in every single time zone possible. But, I’ve made it back to Bangalore, I’m not too jet-lagged and today I officially ended my unemployment streak. That’s right folks, I went to work. Imagine that. Now…if only I could find an apartment…

The concept of a social enterprise is still pretty foreign to most Indians, so it was interesting to learn about about this one through an Indian’s eyes. Currently, the company offers solar lamps on a payment plan to urban slums around a few cities in India. The first thing I’ll be working on is researching and testing the viability of other potential products beside lights. As I arrived they were wrapping up the testing of tablets for which they had really hopes, but the tablets flopped after a few weeks and they didn’t know why. My first mission was to figure out the problem. I was shared on a folder of Google Docs and spreadsheets of user survey data and it didn’t take me long to solve the mystery.

Before choosing a tablet to test, they researched a handful of options – all at basically the lowest price point available. They had 3G, WiFi, cameras and lots of room for apps, movies, music and everything else. Sure, the graphics aren’t HD and the camera is probably the equivalent of what I had on my flip phone in 2005…but it’s good enough for someone that lives in a slum, right? I mean, it’s a tablet. They won’t even notice the difference, right? Wrong.

The problem was the disconnect between the organization trying to provide a “discount tablet” and the people purchasing the tablet expecting a “normal tablet.” You get what you pay for…and when you are only making $130 a month and choose to buy a $100 tablet…expectations are high. However, as you and I know, when you buy a $100 tablet what you’ll get is a $100 tablet. The guy running the test confirmed my theory. When I jokingly mentioned the camera was a little poor, he responded with Yeah but I thought, who cares? I mean, it’s a camera, I thought they’d be happy with anything. He admitted we needed a new version before moving forward.

This is such a good example of well-intentioned people doing unhelpful things. It’s like the people who give packs of Ramen noodles to the homeless man on the street – who has no way to cook it. Or giving a good tip to your taxi driver in Bangalore because you don’t realize that grossly overpaying someone is kind of rude – they just want to be paid for the service they provided…not receive a handout. The instance of the camera is exactly the same – just because they are poor doesn’t mean they’re not discerning with their purchases and like quality products.

I’m pretty excited to research new products and test out what will work and what won’t. It will be a fun few months. If you know of any cool, new inventions that could improve the lives of people living in an urban slum, let me know! Today I found a soccer ball which generates and stores energy as you kick it. 30 minutes of kicking generates 3 hours of light. SO. COOL. They also have a jump rope.