Sunday, February 14, 2010

Last Call at Our First "Bash"

Last night was our first “official” function with Gurgaon Connection, which is the expat group based in our adopted hometown. It was a Valentine’s Day “Bash”, which is the name given to their quarterly parties, and was held at the new Courtyard Marriott. Our primary objective was to meet some new people.

The most surprising thing was the general lack of Americans; it turned out that even a woman we had met at tea a couple weeks ago who had moved from Fargo, ND was actually Canadian. We met one couple that had met, never sailed before, bought a boat, and spent four years sailing from port to port around the world. While on their travels, they found time to adopt two children, one from the Marshall Islands and one from Kirabati (of which I had surprisingly strong knowledge thanks to J. Maarten Troost’s Sex Lives of Cannibals, which it turns out is about as appreciated on that island nation as Slumdog Millionaire is in India). We met another woman who had been out in Delhi the night before , somehow ended up riding an elephant at 5:00am, and had the pictures to prove it. Needless to say, our “graduate from college, get real jobs, live in the suburbs” background seems a little mundane, but maybe it’s just our little addition to the diversity pot? In general, these seem like the types of people that can only enhance this experience.

The other not-so-great news that I learned last night, and may have been something new based on the reaction from people that have been here for a while, was the last call rules in Haryana, which is the state where we live.  The party was scheduled to last until midnight with last call at 11:45; however, at 11:30 the hotel staff quickly started breaking down the bar.  When asked what was going on, the bartender said, “Last call is at 11:45.”  I looked at my watch and said, “Yeah, but it’s only 11:33”.  This caused utter confusion for the next half hour as expat after expat approached the bar, tried their own way to talk their way into a drink (which may or may not have involved bribes) to no avail. Perhaps it’s because the hotel is brand new and didn’t want to risk any sort of alcohol permit infraction, but I was amazed (impressed would be the wrong word based on what was being withheld) that they stuck to closing the bar fifteen minutes early; the reason for which may go unexplained forever.

The Avantha Masters

While at the gym yesterday, I finished a Scottish Premiere League game (Celtic, as you would expect with their awesome green and white horizontal striped jerseys, prevailed; by the way, soccer is an excellent sport to watch while running on a treadmill as it completely takes my mind from the actual running) and found a live golf tournament, which turned out to be this week’s European PGA Tour event, the Avantha Masters.  I watched for a couple minutes and thought to myself, “those buildings under construction in the background look a little familiar.” Two minutes later they flashed the name of the course, DLF Golf and Country Club, which is the course located about a five to ten minute walk up Golf Course Road from the entrance to our apartment complex. Like most golf tournaments, it had begun on Thursday  yet I had no knowledge that it was taking place.

After seeing the tournament on TV, I tried to see if there was any way I would have known this by driving past the club. On the way to a party last night I was able to strain to see a small sign indicating that the tournament was taking place. While I can understand there being minimal broad-based advertising based on the lack of appeal and history in golf here by the general populace, I found it odd that DLF, which is the development company that owns the golf club and has developed much of Gurgaon including the commercial park where my office is located, didn’t place any signage in the office buildings. What makes this odd is that DLF isn’t one to shy away from self-promotion. DLF, from all appearances is kind of like George Foreman who named all his kids George, has named parts of the city after itself; when Lindsay goes to her bagel shop, she tells the driver, “Bagel’s CafĂ©, The Shopping Mall on Arjun Marg, in DLF City, Phase 1”.  And let’s just say there’s more than one phase.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Civil Unrest (i.e., Valentine's) Day!

As hard is it might be to believe, what follows is an actual security alert email I received and not something copied from The Onion. I just wish they would have been more specific with which "multinational fast-food outlets" were more prone to protest; that is, is McDonald's considered a symbol of gross Western commercialism while KFC is just considered a symbol of simple Western commercialism? Regardless, it helps justify my refusal to celebrate Valentine's Day...

Worldcue® Alert
Severity: Warning Alert

Security: Valentine's Day unrest possible in India through Feb. 14. Avoid protests; use caution at restaurants, gift shops and other commercial areas.
This alert affects India.
This alert began 10 Feb 2010 09:30 GMT and is scheduled to expire 14 Feb 2010 23:59 GMT.
Protests, vandalism, and other forms of unrest are possible across India through the Valentine's Day holiday Feb. 14. Right-wing Hindu groups strongly object to the observance of the unofficial holiday. Unrest is particularly likely in Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi and major cities in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karanataka and Uttar Pradesh states.

Background & Analysis

Valentine's Day is very popular among many young Indians, but pro-Hindu groups such as the Sri Ram Sene (Lord Ram's Army), Shiv Sena, Hindu Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council - VHP) consider the holiday an affront to Indian culture and an example of gross Western commercialism. These groups regularly threaten to disrupt holiday events. The Sri Ram Sene has banned Valentine's Day celebrations in Karnataka, and its activists could prompt unrest in Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore. Mumbai is a Shiv Sena stronghold where Valentine's Day unrest is an annual concern. Localized unrest is also typical in Delhi, where mobs have harassed Westerners at Connaught Place.

Protests are common, especially outside major government buildings, hotels, eateries (including multinational fast-food outlets) and shops selling Valentine's Day sundries. Demonstrations can turn violent - protesters have ransacked shops, burned greeting cards and posters and harassed and assaulted people celebrating the unofficial holiday. Confrontations with police could occur.


Despite increased police surveillance, security disturbances could occur at public parks, university campuses, movie theaters and commercial areas in major cities through Feb. 14. Avoid protests and limit exposure to gift shops whose proprietors typically ignore warnings to shut down. Right-wing Hindu organizations might also threaten to disrupt Valentine's Day celebrations at other venues, such as hotels and restaurants. Use caution in crowded commercial areas and avoid public displays of affection. Potential troublemakers are often easily identifiable; right-wing Hindu activists regularly wear saffron-colored clothing or carry orange flags.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Domestic Decisions

After much deliberation and probably too much conversation, we finalized our first weekend trip destination and are headed to Goa over the extended holiday weekend (Holi) at the end of February. While we'll miss the celebration of colors in the north, we're hoping to get a little color ourselves at or around the beach (I feel like my skin looks the same ashen shade as Kramer's when he took up smoking on that one "Seinfeld" episode).

I booked the trip online at the Indian Orbitz,; while it wasn't quite as simple as its unrelated American cousin, I was pleased with the overall experience.  I really have no knowledge of domestic Indian airline carriers other than Kingfisher and Jet Airways are well regarded and typically more expensive while budget carriers Go India, Indigo, and Spicejet are typically cheaper, as budget airlines tend to be.  The best non-stops were on Indigo and Kingfisher, so I decided to ask a colleague at work for his take.  Here's a transcript of that (quick) conversation:

Me:  "So, what do you think about flying domestically on Indigo?"

Colleague:  "If the weather is good, they're not bad."

I just hope Kingfisher's airline is as good as its beer....actually, I'm openly hoping it's much better.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Weekend Routine

As our first “settled” Saturday at the apartment, we tried to set our “regular, in-town” routine which is looking to take something of the following form:
  1. Sleep until 9am or 10am, respectively (in our defense, we both worked late on Friday, Lindsay to get caught up after missing work on Wednesday and me thanks to a repeating bi-weekly Friday night (U.S. time) meeting (I know you’re reading this, meeting scheduler, and yes, I could have been out dancing or, at the least, enjoying a Kingfisher!)
  2. Make breakfast, either “nearly organic” eggs or pancakes
  3. Hit the gym (this is a key step, not just for the obvious positive health impacts but also the unlimited hot water)
  4. Go out to lunch (we tried the Marriott Courtyard this week, a brand new hotel in Gurgaon that had really good thin-crust wood-fired pizza of maximum crispiness but really slow service)
  5. Go food shopping, stopping at “The Meat Shop” (really good chicken breasts not pumped full of hormones), “Spencer’s Express” for produce (note, Spencer’s in India isn’t like Spencer’s found across malls in America), and “Needs” to round out the groceries
  6. Back to the apartment for a couple hours
  7. Out to dinner (apparently, our lives revolve around sustinence)
During “Step 6” this week, we hosted our first apartment visitor – Loes, our Dutch neighbor, whom Lindsay had picked up a book for in the states and that arrived as part of our air freight. She gave us some encouraging news about her successful nanny search, which delighted us beyond belief.  Confused?  Read on.  Her nanny nannies in the morning, has two hours off from 1 – 3 (that’s where we come in), and nannies again in the afternoon for Loes and Pierre. Three days a week in that 1 – 3pm timeslot, we’re hoping she can fill that gaping hole in our life as a cook. We don’t “need” a full-time cook based on our work schedules, but having someone come in three times a week to cook a couple meals each time might be exactly what we “need”. In addition, if this supernanny plan works out, “Step 5” will likely change to “hang out by the pool.”

“Step 7” this week took us to Delhi, the first time I’ve entered the capital since arriving in January. Out of nowhere as soon as we crossed the border, our driver RK who hadn’t spoken proactively in days, started pointing out the sights, including the tennis stadium hosting a Davis Cup match, the Hyatt Regency (not sure why this was a landmark), and the Prime Minister’s house. After arriving at our destination, the Claridges Hotel, later than expected due to the heavy traffic caused by numerous diversions due to Metro construction (and the fact that there are just a lot of vehicles in Delhi), we were warmly greeted by Hunt and Diane Harris, longtime friends of the family, who were two days into an 18-day Indian journey.  It was great to see familiar faces, get caught up on where their travels are taking them (a lot of places in Rajasthan we haven’t been), share tips on which Indian wines are palatable (Sula = Yes, Grover = No), and receive the couriered package of vitamins and Valentine’s cards sent along by my Mom. We ate at a restaurant in the hotel and had a very enjoyable evening, though I can only imagine how exhausted Hunt and Diane were after arriving on Thursday night, having two very full days of touring Delhi, and the prospects of an early morning flight to Varanasi. They were, however, gracious enough to listen to us babble on about our first four weeks.

Our Sunday routine is still taking shape but will likely look somewhat similar to the steps listed above for a typical Saturday.  The schedule today includes a trip back to the gym and likely a trip back to the bagel shop we found last week (OK, so Loes and Pierre told us exactly where it was and met us there last Sunday). Lindsay still doesn’t feel 100% so I suggested that a bagel with cream cheese might not be the best solution. Based on her reaction, you would have thought I kidnapped her puppy (that is, if she had a puppy). Bottom line, sounds like I can remove the word “likely” from the sentence above about the bagel shop.

Return of the "Belly"

In breaking news, or not so breaking because it happened on Wednesday, we had our first time-loss incident of the assignment which doubled as Lindsay’s first foray back to the world she knew well in 2004-2005, commonly known as “Delhi Belly,” Unfortunately, this time the "belly" struck with a side order of flu-like symptoms. To make a long and disgusting story short and readable, you can imagine my reaction when I came home from work, was getting ready for bed, and heard her say (in her meek voice that only shows itself when she’s either sick or trying to get the attention of a waiter), “I hope you don’t mind, but I used your toothbrush.”


The Move, Part 2 (The Direction-Givers)

Last Sunday’s highlights were both Lindsay-based. The first, watching her reaction when we went to the local bagel shop, and the second, watching her get uncharacteristically fidgety when filling out the country club application. I’ve never seen someone so nervous around what was basically a receptionist – of course, now that I make fun, we’ll probably not make it through the screening/interview phase in a week or so, becoming the laughingstock of the Gurgaonite expat community in the process. The next big event was the arrival of our air freight, scheduled for 9:30am Monday morning. Based on the horror stories we had heard from others, we were expecting its arrival anytime from noon to 4pm and that it would be an all day affair.

At 9:30 sharp, the doorbell rang, and there were two guys there, one obviously the leader and direction-giver, and the other obviously the laborer. I fully expected the rest of my day to be filled with watching the direction-giver ordering the laborer around (I’m not sure what that makes me). Not two minutes later, three additional guys showed up, all carrying boxes, and what I witnessed next was completely unexpected – that is, a fully efficient moving machine. Even with two direction-givers (i.e., the actual direction-giver and Lindsay), they moved in everything, unpackaged, got it relatively in the right spot, didn't break a thing, and removed all the packaging in no more than 45 minutes. If you’ve been to India, you’ll appreciate just how unfuckingbelievable that is.

Undoubtedly, Lindsay wins the prize for finding the “right” 500 pounds of stuff to include in the air freight – namely, a foam mattress pad, featherbed, pillows, and our sheets from home. It’s nice to have a few more clothes and shoes and don’t get me wrong, picture frames with familiar faces throughout the apartment are a comforting touch (as I type this, I can look over and see a picture of Lindsay with Hammes and Immel and a picture of the Acacia crowd from the 2006 Raleigh Winter Games, appropriately positioned on the bar…Hammes and Immel, you’re actually on the bar as well), but nothing compares to the comfort of somewhat feeling like you’re in your own bed, even if it means we “give up” the luxury of having twice a week linen service because we have our own sheets.  It’s a very small price to pay.

What better way to celebrate a successful move than a jaunt to MG Road (hereby referred to “Mall Road” thanks to our driver’s limited English and our still-nonexistent Hindi) for a nice little lunch at TGI Friday’s! Even though everyone here refers to it as “the place” to get Mexican, Lindsay decided it was time to venture out of her comfort zone and went with what she described as “delightful” barbeque chicken salad (note, if you order any kind of uncooked vegetable in a restaurant not associated with a 5-star hotel, you’re pretty much playing roulette); whereas, I took the advice of the waiter and went with the chicken chimichanga. Healthy? No. Delightful? Not entirely. Palatable?  Sure. I can’t comprehend why decent chicken-based Mexican food has not made its way to India, it’s not like the tastes are THAT different. Lindsay claims it’s because of the lack of tortillas. You have as good of an idea as I do on the basis on that claim.  At any rate, if someone could open a decent Mexican restaurant here, I’m quite certain it would do well. I’m surprised Taco Bell hasn’t made a run in India, it’s not like there’s beef in their tacos anyway.

After lunch, we made a few stops at various shopping establishments for some finishing touches to the apartment (including my third stop in three days at ElectiCity for a bevy of surge protecting power strips and power converters; there’s a distinct lack of outlets here) and made our way back home, where we had a self-cooked meal for the first time in nearly a month. No worries though, we’re in the process of rectifying the “self-cook” concept and hope to have a solution in place within a week or so.