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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ramblings on our time in Bangalore

I need to start carrying my camera with me so that I can post pictures too.  I’ve been saying that for a few weeks, so let’s hope it lands a permanent position in my purse sometime soon!
Until then, here are some (very textual) updates from Bangalore.
Size & congestion
First, Bryan and I learned from Wikipedia (so take this lightly) that Bangalore is the 16th largest city in the WORLD.  New York was the largest United States City and it ranked somewhere in the 20’s if I remember correctly.  No wonder it feels so big and seems to have a little of everything.  I don’t mind the size and congestion like I thought I would and I appreciate everything it has to offer because that means there are things like home. 
For example, our friends recommended a butcher and I was timid about going because I was preparing myself for an open-air type environment with some carcasses just hanging around.  I was pleasantly surprised as the part of the shop that was exposed to the general public was a counter with a bunch of refrigerators and freezers.  (Obviously, in any butcher shop there are carcasses hanging around, but I am used to them being more hidden and at least refrigerated.)  This meant that it smelled like any butcher would in the States (a smell that I can tolerate) and had a large array of options like chicken cut an way you like as well as chicken sausage, chicken sticks, etc.  I heard it would have some pork, but I was pleasantly surprised to see there was beef!  We got 6 chicken breasts and 1 lb. of beef mince.  Yes, I said beef mince.  You know, the cut of beef also known as ground beef in the states?  That was fresh (read: ground directly from the animal in the back and still warm when they gave it to us.)  I’m happy to report that the beef mince tasted just like it does at home and we haven’t tried the chicken, but I’m not so concerned about that.  I’ll be making many a return visit to this butcher for sure!
Gluten-Free bakery!
Thanks to the wonders of Google and my searching husband, we discovered that there is a Gluten-Free bakery in Bangalore that not only has gluten free but also has dairy free items.  They have bread!  Want to know what else? They have cakes, amazing looking cakes!  We just discovered it today, but you can bet we'll be making a trip sometime soon.  Then, hopefully I can dine on some PB&J sandwiches for lunch instead of some nuts out of my purse.  Things are looking up!  (Oh - BTW - I recognize that I could bring my lunch, and plan to, but this whole food thing has been hard, so we're starting with baby steps and will grow into it as we are here.  We expanded our repertoire to include pizza and spaghetti last week and are going to work on tacos this week.  You see, it IS SLOW but we are making progress!)
Shopping malls
There is a lot of shopping here.  In the forms of malls but also in the forms of stores along the street.  Shopping is everywhere!  (I guess it needs to be with this many people!)  Most people shop at local food stands, but I’ve learned that if you want a big-box grocery store you have to go to a shopping mall, where they are always found.  (I would love to shop at those little stands, but I have special dietary needs (and am spoiled) so it’s the big-box stores for the most part.
The malls are quite large and seem to be just as much about entertainment as they are about shopping.  There are plenty of stores and even some familiar ones, but there are also movie theatres, mazes, wacky mirror rooms (you know, the kind where the mirror makes you look short and squaty), mock race tracks, and the like. 
Things in general are not air conditioned as much, which means that I’m comfortable and Bryan is sweaty, but the mall we went to on Friday night had me sweating, so you know it was warm in there people!  We seemed to be the only people affected by the temperature though, so we just went with it.
We also saw a cigarette vending machine of sorts.  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen one of those!
Government Bureaucracy
As all expats in India must do, we had to register at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).  We were blessed because our company got someone to help us navigate through this bureaucratic task, and our friends prepared us for the “worst part of living in India” as they described it to us. Even before we left the States we’ve been sending the requested documentation/information off to be prepared for our FRRO paperwork. When we got here, the emails seemed non-stop and after some very hectic last minute moments, our paperwork was ready and we were informed to appear at the FRRO office by 8:15 AM.  We were prepared for the trip to take the better part of a day so we brought our iPad and Kindle and were set to camp out.  The sun must have been positioned just right as we were in and out with our necessary paperwork by 11:30 AM!
Then, we had to begin the PAN registration, which is some sort of tax registration.  That’s been a hairy mess, and the required elements seem to change by the day.  For example, on Friday I verified where we were supposed to send our information with my contact.  She confirmed.  I sent it via courier as directed only to be told on Monday that I should use a different address as that would be “better.”  Really?  Really people?  My courier is well on his way, and he’ll just drop it off at the location you gave me, ok?
I got a response back (a day later) that yes, since the courier was on his way the address they supplied me would have to work. We’ll hope that we get the PAN stuff done soon!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ganesh Chaturthi

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu holiday to the God, Ganesh.  You can learn more from the Wiki link.  Some friends took us around town so we could see some of the fesitivities. 

One thing that both Bryan and I notice (and love) about Bangalore is all of the flowers!  Flowers become even more prominent during the holidays so we've enjoyed the sights and smells of some amazing flowers.  we drove by this archway that was designed out of flowers.  This is just one very large example of the intrcate work we see every day. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was crowded once you got under the archway so we did not go inside.
 Here is Ganesh.  It is characteristic that each family buys a Ganesh statue each year for their home.  They range in size from about a foot tall to 5 feet tall and possibly larger.  They are always brightly decorated.  This one was not inside a temple so we could take a picture of it.

A group created a Ganesh sand sculpture that was made out of 6,000 kilos of sand.  It was HUGE and really neat to see.  There were many people out and about around noon, but by evening there was sure to be a big celebration with thousands of people.  We saw it when there were just hundreds, which made the crowd much more manageable.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We found heaven in India!

After my last post the food situation has stayed the same or gone down hill, if that was at all possible.  But, today WE FOUND HEAVEN IN INDIA in the form of Food Hall, a grocery store.  It was clean, has a large selection, and it has as many gluten and dairy free products as we have in the States!  Yes it was expensive (but so is Gluten and Dairy free food in the States) but it was worth it!

We got Gluten-free pasta, cereal, pizza crust, and flour so I can make my own breads!
We also got Buffalo Mozzarella, the "real deal" people!  As I am typing this there is a Gluten free buffalo mozzarella pizza in the oven.  My mouth is salivating and I feel a feeling of eupohoria that I haven't felt in some time.

In addition to specialty things I was also able to find the spices and traditional Indian foods I wanted and needed to cook to make a complete meal, so now I can (hopefully more successfully) make meals that are edible and taste good!

I still need to update you about some of our adventures including attending a badmitton tournament and registering with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).  That will come; as well as some recipes.  Now, we need to devour some pizza!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How many attempts does it take to make supper?

 Last night after work my plans were to make supper.  I had most of the ingredients to make fried rice and decided to make plain rice with milk and honey on it for dessert.  For me, rice with milk and honey is a comfort food as it is one of the few “comfort” foods I can eat here.  For Bryan, the thought, let alone the smell, of rice with milk and honey makes him gag. 
Bryan was starving so while I made supper, he was going to make guacamole.  Can you believe it? We found avocados in the market and both of us were excited for such a comfort food!   While it felt like an avocado and looked like an avocado, it was a mystery fruit or vegetable that was hard like a potato and had a distinctive peppery taste when swallowed.  Bryan persisted and got it peeled and cut into small pieces.  The taste persisted too, and we couldn’t eat this crunchy, bland but somehow very peppery mystery food.   Meal item #1: not edible.
Meanwhile, I was excited to try to make fried rice.  I found our rice to be infested with bugs!  I had no idea plain, dry rice could attract bugs.  Sadly, we had to throw out our mostly full bag of rice.  We’re going to have to invest in some air tight canisters.  Meal item #2: not edible.
During our first shopping experience we purchased some premade, frozen appetizers.  I can’t remember their name but they are like rice and lentil dough balls.  I pan fried those and we at them with the all American ingredient: Ketchup!  They were edible, but not really a meal.  Meal item #3: incomplete and left us wanting more.
We considered our options which were to eat some stale chips, go get something from one of the restaurants close to the hotel, or just go to bed.  Instead, we got room service. J  Meal item #4: edible!
After moving every possible item that may get bugs to the safety of the microwave, refrigerator, or freezer we had a much needed heart-to-heart discussion.  The food we’ve tried to make has been bad at best and usually horrible if we could eat it at all.  We could figure out what to buy and where to buy it and what to make and how to make it with time but decided to admit defeat and see if we could find a cook!
We’ve known a cook to be an option all along, but I really love to cook and wanted to do it myself.  Instead, hopefully we can find a cook who will go and get the ingredients and come to cook for us.  I’m hopeful to learn from her and return to the states 1) well-nourished and 2) a better Indian cook!  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The view outside our apartment

This is the view outside our apartment window.  We estimate there are at least 100 people working on this 24 hours a day.  You can see all the construction crew if you look closely for the red vests and yellow or blue construction hats.  They are building a multi-story hotel or apartment complex.

I love to watch them build as some things seem very modern and others seem to be very difficult.  You can see they have large cranes, concrete, and rebar as well as scaffolding.  I've seen scaffolding made out of small trees so if I ever see that kind I'll do my best to snap a picture.

They work 24 hours a day and so far have been relatively quiet and for that we are thankful! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What famous entrepreneur does Bryan resemble and other ramblings

We arrived in Bangalore nine days ago.  Since then we’ve been sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and are trying to quickly acclimate to our new life.  All things considered, the adjustment has been about what we expected and we're doing well here in Bangalore.  I haven’t blogged as often as I thought about it, so enjoy these random paragraphs.  They reflect our time thus far.
On Sunday or Monday we stopped by the front desk of our serviced apartment and someone told Bryan that he resembled Mark Zuckerburg.  I could not contain my laughter and Bryan’s response was simply, “Well, we are both white guys.”  I’ll let you be the judge!
Our grocery experience:
We went to a large grocery store our third day here.  It was our first true “day in the life” experience besides going to work and was much different than any grocery store in the US!  The supermarket was large enough that it sold a hair straightener in addition to groceries.  I think that was the most exciting purchase for me.  Unlike my shopping experiences at home, I did not make a list for two reasons:
1). I wasn’t sure what I would find and
 2). Our apartment came stocked with only pepper, so we had a lot of things to buy!
 Thankfully the store sold some familiar things like canned tuna, pasta sauce, peanut butter, and cereal.  That is where the familiarity ended. We spent a good amount of time reading ingredient labels (which really only works if you are familiar with said ingredients), picking out the things we knew we could eat like rice and lentils, and made a quick trip through the produce aisle which had a few familiar things and many unfamiliar things. 
Meat is not consumed as much in India as it is in the States either because of religion or poverty.  The beef was purple. The pork was in an entirely different section of the store separate from everything else.  Bryan checked out that section while I was paying and reported that we likely won’t buy any pork while here.  I did not expect the eggs to be refrigerated (and they were not) but they had all expired well beyond their expiration dates so we passed those up too.  We purchased four boneless skinless chicken breasts.  The two we had were good J.
The trip was an expensive one and left me feeling underwhelmed.  Once in the safety of our car I told Bryan that I never wanted to go there again.  Since then, we’ve researched and learned that we will have better luck if we go to specific stores for their specific offering such as the bakery, meat market, etc. 
Tonight we went to a different grocery store with a plan and better expectations.  The grocery store is called Gourmet Food World and it offered a lot of foods we see in the states that may not be found in other local grocery stores.  This time my list was full of mostly traditional spices, lentils, rice, and a few fruits and vegetables but the traditional items were not available.  I stocked up on what I could and Bryan and I managed to fill the cart with nuts, chips, beer, and wine.  We asked our driver to take us to a butcher and he drove through some terrible traffic only to find the butcher closed for the evening. 
I think I'll have to get used to going to MANY different stores and until we get everything I'll try to make a meal out of what we have.  To date that means me making some very bland, bad meals.  OTnight after we ate leftovers I asked Bryan what else he wanted and he replied, "I don't know, maybe ground up glass" and we both had a good laugh.  Unfortunately that is about as good as anything I've made thus far.  Hopefully tomorrow night my fried rice will turn out ok!  I think I have *most* of the ingredients for that :).
Saturday we did some exploring around our hotel.  There are a few points worth mentioning:
1.       It is hard to find things because few streets have signs.
2.       It is hard to take in the surroundings because you have to look down at where you are stepping at all times.  The sidewalks are not a guarantee and often are missing sections, uneven, or move when you step on them.
3.       We are cautious which streets we will cross (which really means only one-ways or small side streets) so our exploring was limited by our inability to cross a major street. (See This video to get a better understanding of why we are cautious to cross any street.)
Without a map and street signs we did not find what we sent out to find, but we did find a shopping mall, our church, and some horribly offensive smells.  The mix of smells is to be expected and thankfully none of the really bad ones stuck around.  There are a lot of flower shops that smell great, so that was a nice “treat.” 
Recipes coming soon (I hope!)
I spent a considerable amount of time in the last seven days trying to find traditional Indian recipes I could make in our apartment.  With any luck, I’ll be able to post pictures and recipes soon!  If not, there will have to be some major change so we can eat decent, nutritious food.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An update to answer some questions

We got some great questions so I thought I would dedicate this bog post to answering some of those questions.  Thank you for the great feedback!

What is the weather like in India?
India is a large country so the weather varies with the location like it does in the United States.  Bangalore is where we live and it is located in the south central part of India and the weather is quite moderate.  Right now the average temperature is 80 degrees during the day and 70 degrees at night.  During our 6 month stay the temperature will remain mostly the same and warm towards the end of our stay as the average high temperature in February is 86 degrees.  India gets monsoon rains which really soak the country and we are in monsoon season right now until the end of October.  Since we have been here we haven’t gotten any monsoon rains; just a sprinkle one day.  They say that the monsoon rains re-define getting wet as the rain can be so intense. It is very humid right now but that should change once the monsoon season ends. The locals are not used to the temperature variations we get in Kansas City so we have seen many people with stocking hats and jackets.  We’ve been comfortable in short sleeves and jeans though.

What do you eat?
This is a very timely question!  In the first 3 days we ate at restaurants around the hotel.  They have almost every food here except Mexican food.  We ate Pizza and Risotto at an Italian place, risotto and pasta at a Mediterranean place, at an Indian buffet, and at Subway (where a 6 inch sub, chips, and a soda cost $3.00).  We are staying in an apartment located within a hotel and the hotel has a great continental breakfast that includes typical Indian dishes, omelets, bagels, muffins, fruit, lettuce salad, baked beans, and a variety of freshly squeezed juice.  This morning’s juice selections were canned orange juice, (which tasted like it does at home), coconut water (they break open a coconut and the milky substance inside goes into the juice, watermelon juice, and beetroot juice.  Bryan says the beetroot juice tastes very “natural” (read: tastes like dirt) and I haven’t been brave enough to try it myself!

We had to wait for our driver to start so he could take us to a grocery store so we experienced grocery shopping last night.  It was an adventure, and I’ll post more about that some other time.  Locals eat a lot of rice-based dishes that include lentils (they are like beans) and other vegetables as the majority of the population are vegetarian.  The meat selection is much different in India than it is in the United States.  We got some chicken breast at the store but the eggs here (and a lot of places in the world) are not refrigerated.  Beef is hard to find and the beef in the store was the deepest purple color.  I think it was maybe buffalo?  We didn’t try any yet. 

I love to cook and will have to re-learn how as there are different products available here than at home.  Last night I “made” a meal that is similar to a TV dinner at home and it was not our favorite.  We bought an Indian cookbook and I’m going to learn to cook out of there.  Wish me luck!

What kind of work are you doing?
Bryan and I work for a health care IT company.  We are here for Bryan’s job.  He is a project manager and has a team of at least 10 people that live in India and are also project managers.  They make sure the project is in scope, people are getting their work done, and that the project is completed on time.  They also help to identify risks and communicate those risks or concerns with the “right” people.
I’m fortunate to work for the same company and to be able to do my job from India.  I work in the sales support department and help potential clients understand what our company can offer them.  Basically, I do a lot of writing and research.

What languages do you speak in India, and can you speak languages other than English?
There are many languages spoken in India as Hindi is the main language but there are more than 20 dialects spoken across the country.  English is the language used in most businesses and because there are so many Hindi dialects many Indians use English to communicate with one another if they do not speak the same dialect. There are a fair number of people here who also speak Arabic.  There are many international companies here in Bangalore including Dell, HP, Yahoo, and more so in our hotel we hear almost every language including French and British English.
Bryan and I both studied Spanish in High School and in College.  Unfortunately, we do not use it every day so we’ve forgotten some of it.

What religions do they follow in India?Most locals are Hindu but there are a good number of Muslim people as well.  There are some Christians here but they are the minority.  Last night when we were driving home from the grocery store there seemed to be some religious celebration going on that we think might have been a Christian one.  There were fireworks, people in the street singing and being reverent.  It was really cool to see.

What do people wear there? Do they wear dots on their foreheads?This is something I asked on the first day too as I wanted to make sure that my clothing was appropriate and our relocation expert told me “anything goes in India.”  From what I’ve seen that seems to be true.  Some women cover their head and some don’t.  I am not sure what determines if they do or do not but if I figure that out I’ll let you know!  Men mostly wear dress pants or jeans and a polo or pressed shirt.  I've seen both men and women with the dot on their forehead.  The dots that people wear seem to be a fashion statement similar to piercing ones ears.  I think it used to mean that you were married but that is not always the case.  Women wear sarissalwar kameez, and sometimes burqa’s.

What is it like to drive there?
Driving here is crazy!  There are so many people and while they have driving lanes, traffic lights, and sidewalks they seem to be more a suggestion than a rule.  People use their horn to signal.  At home the horn is usually used if people are annoyed, but here it seems to be more to tell those drivers around them that they are changing lanes, in a blind spot, etc. Most if not all expatriates (foreign nationals living abroad) have a local driver.  Ours is NAMED. He has been married for 14 years and has a 13 year old son.  He works long hours and at least 6 days a week. We couldn’t navigate Bangalore without him!

Here is a good video of what traffic is like.   It gets worse than that, but our driver is very good and makes us feel safe.

What kind of animals are there?
Animals are everywhere in India!  There are a lot of cows in all of India, including roaming around Bangalore.  Many families have a cow and you often see them outside but I’ve heard they also go into some people’s homes.  Cows are sacred in Hindu and from what I can tell, are the only “safe” creatures on the roads!  There are also a lot of dogs that roam around and I’ve seen a lot of horses and donkeys that are used as a means of transportation.  Often times they are carrying produce like fruits and vegetables.

I'm sure we'll be posting more adventures to come!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Living in Bangalore India for 6 months

Preparing to leave KC

Exhausted, but in Bangalore and excited!

It's official - - we now live in Banaglore, India! More than 24 hours after leaving our house and 3 flights we landed in Bangalore feeling exhausted and excited at the same time. Today we are getting situated in our apartment so I wanted to share some pictures of our new digs.

Tomorrow we have our city orientation and need to do some grocery shopping.  There are more adventures to come!