Friday, May 28, 2010

Probably the Most Romantic Weekend Trip

We're headed to Udaipur this weekend, which is a mid-sized Indian city located in southwestern Rajasthan, about a ninety minute flight from Delhi. If the overgeneralized picture in your head of India includes deserts, camels, vibant-colored turbans, maharajas, and their palaces, then you're pretty much thinking of the state of Rajasthan. It might seem strange to head toward the desert at this time of the year. In fact, upon telling people at work where we're going, the unanimous reaction has included some flavor of, "It's in Rajasthan. You know it's going to be hot there, right?" What they don't seem to believe when I tell them is - it's actually hotter in Delhi than the desert (or at least the part of the desert where Udaipur is located). Of course, I'm probably wrong and will suffer through the excruciating heat; but worst case, we'll explore in the morning and spend the hot afternoons by the pool.

Udaipur is set on Lake Pichola and might be most noteworthy to Americans as one of the filming locations for the movie "Octopussy". In real life, it's most famous landmark is the Taj Lake Palace hotel. It's a white marble palace that appears to float on the lake. One website,, describes it as "probably the most romantic hotel in the world". I'm not sure what they're basing that on, but I like the semi-authoritative nature of the statement. Regardless, we're not staying there. But we are planning to have dinner there which I can only predict I will be describing as "probably the most romantic dinner we've ever had" when we return on Monday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The "Issue" of Expat Pilots

It certainly didn't take long for someone to try and draw some conclusion between the nationality of the pilot in Saturday's tragic plane crash in Mangalore and the growing "issue" of expat pilots in India.

Prior to my assignment, I wasn't even aware of this phenomenon but have had the good fortune of meeting two of the pilots that the post below suggests might need more scrutiny. I don't agree. Personally, it seems a little soon and extremely inappropriate to draw any sort of conclusion that might insinuate that nationality had anything to do with causing a crash.

In my opinion, the cultural issues described below have little, if any, merit. Not to sound like the uni-lingual English-speaking yank that I am, but I was under the impression that all commercial air traffic control was conducted in English, whether you're in the US, India, Tanzania, or Argentina. Of course, my research is scant so I could be wrong.

Professionally, pilots are a little like surgeons; you want them to learn as long as you're not the customer. So the training issue is an interesting one. Obviously, there are other ways for pilots to get hours; however, it will be interesting to see what happens when we get to July 31, 2011 (which is the date by which expat pilots should be phased out). If there's not "a good plan in place to promote Indian pilots" by that time (and I'm defining "good plan" as one that leads to qualified pilots), I might need to rethink domestic travel plans.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maps are (Unfortunately) Optional

As a child I was pretty much a dork; a dork that enjoyed maps. My family took a number of cross country trips in the U.S. which provided ample time for me to peruse the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas that the State Farm agent provided each year. When that got boring, I'd switch over to the Information Please Almanac. Let's just say by the time I reached junior high I thought I knew more than just about anyone about American geography. Sadly, in the seventh grade I would finish second in the school's qualifying round for the National Geographic Geography Bee. In the spirit of full disclosure, I came back triumphantly and claimed the title in the eighth grade, earning a trip to the Illinois finals, only to be crushed in the opening round.

So maybe my knowledge of meaningless geographical facts wasn't as impressive as I initially thought; however, you can imagine that I'm the type of person that likes to know where on the map he's located and where on the map he's headed. Unfortunately, in India maps are nearly non-existent (though there is a Delhi map book sponsored by the fine folks at Eicher which can be fun to peruse when the excitement on the outside the car dies down). In fact, many locations don't have addresses in the traditional sense. If you were out in Chicago, you might ask a cabbie to take you to 1060 W. Addison Street, and he would know exactly where to take you. You know, because it's a specific location. In India, it doesn't necessarily work that way. Most addresses are landmark-based. You might ask the driver to take you to the "Infinity Building, DLF Phase I, Ground Floor, Near Microsoft." Literally, addresses often have the word "near" proceeding a location just to get you close.

Unfortunately, this system seems to work, and I fear that I'm acclimating to the method. Roads aren't on any sort of grid, and many don't even have obvious names, so traditional addresses wouldn't even make sense (in a future post, I'll decipher the notation for places that have specific addresses in Gurgaon; I'm still catching on but it's slowly beginning to make sense). I have no idea what road our health club is on even though I go there multiple times per week. However, if a temporary driver happens to show up on a given morning, I can easily point him toward a landmark close to the health club. And the thing is, it always works, which is especially helpful because there's still something of a language barrier with drivers (in other words, my computer-based Hindi lessons haven't progressed as quickly as I'd hoped). I'm sorry to report that this landmark-based method for navigation seems to be here to stay, and there's not much I can (or actually really want to) do about it.

I promise though, that when this experience is over I'll go back to being one of those people that says, "go half a mile, turn right on Rand; go another three-quarters of a mile, and turn left on IL-22, go another four tenths of a mile and it will be on your left" rather than someone that says, "look for the big water tower; when you get close, you'll see a guy holding a signboard for a mattress sale, take a left there and then drive slow to make sure you don't miss the brick building; if you see Target, you've gone too far."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Delhi Council for Child Welfare

In an effort to do more than just go to work, the gym, and out to eat, this morning we had the opportunity to visit Palna, which is the Delhi Council for Child Welfare (DCCW) home for abandoned children. Lindsay had been asking at work what people do for charitable activities and a colleague mentioned that he and his wife donate to this organization so they allowed us to tag along. They also brought their 3-year old daughter who seemed a little suspect of the whole operation. Of course, for all she knew, she may have thought she was getting dropped off. They don't typically donate money but call ahead to see what products are needed in the orphanage. As a result, we came bearing specially requested infant formula that Lindsay was able to find in a couple of pharmacies near home.

When I learned we'd be visiting an orphanage in Delhi my mind started racing with images of screaming and malnourished children living in squalid, crowded conditions. Keep in mind, while I've been in India for a relatively long time I haven't really spent much time around children in India so the image I have is a horribly wrong stereotype of children working in a mine in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At any rate, I was pleasantly surprised to find an extremely well run organization that seemed to really care for the children. After we dropped off the formula, we were fortunate enough to meet with the president of the center and learned quite a bit about the work they do. She mentioned there were only 80 children currently in the facility which had capacity for 150. Of the 80 children, twenty were infants and 30 had some sort of disability. Her primary goal was simple: nutrition. Her thought was that with the proper nutrition at the right stage of development, many of the issues that children might experience can be prevented. Toward the end of our conversation, we asked if we could get a tour of the actual facility. If we promised that we weren't looking to adopt, then we'd be able to go see the children. We opted for the tour.

The facility was located on beautiful grounds and in a building with a number of interior courtyards that helped separate it into a number of different sections. As we walked around, it was evident that the children were, all things considered, well taken care of. There were separate dormitories for the kids by age and a couple of different areas for special needs children. The space was clean, sleeping areas were air conditioned, and you just got the general sense you were in a "good" place. Kind of hard to explain and I'm obviously struggling to do it justice.  After seeing where the kids lived, we walked over to the school, which was actually in session. The kids were all younger than six, so it was more daycare/preschool than it was a true "school" but it was impressive to see these little kids writing and practicing the alphabet and numbers.

Word must have gotten out that there were visitors because a young girl came bolting in the room and literally attached herself to Lindsay and quickly jumped in her arms. Our colleague mentioned to me that the girl was a deaf mute but I decided not to tell Lindsay as I didn't want to interrupt the happy moment, even if a few seconds later Lindsay tried to talk to the girl.

As a whole, the place seemed more boarding school than orphanage, which I'm guessing is the intent of the place. In fact, only two parts screamed "orphanage"; (1) the basket at the front gate where parents can leave children and (2) the sheet of paper that explained the price of adoption (basically INR 500 ($11) + INR 27,000 ($585) adoption fee; however, to be clear the process isn't as simple as walking in and plopping down 600 bucks).
While Lindsay has started to volunteer at a school in Gurgaon on Friday mornings, this was my first (albeit extremely minor) attempt at any sort of social service or to learn more about what's really taking place in the community. And I'm going to admit, it felt good. Though I must also admit that I was relieved when the president of the DCCW made the "no tour if you're in the market" statement which pretty much squashed the inevitable question that Lindsay had probably been planning on asking since she invited herself along on the visit (i.e., "don't you want to just take one home?"). While I don't necessarily need to take one home, it was the most enriching experience of my four and a half months in India.

For more information, please visit their website:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Other UPS

For those familiar with India, supposed creature comforts like the continuous and consistent supply of electricity aren't as guaranteed as in places like the U.S. or western Europe. In India, the acronym "UPS" has meanings well beyond the timely delivery of parcels. The more prevalent meaning relates to "Uninterrupted Power Supply". I don't want to get into the technical details because, frankly, I don't know and don't really care; however, multiple times throughout the day the power will go out only to return a few seconds (typically less than a minute) later. We're actually fairly lucky in our apartment complex that the breaks in power are that short as certain parts of town aren't as fortunate and have much longer spans of time without power.

These little power breaks happen everywhere, and they don't seem to rattle anyone. It's such a part of everyday life that people simply go about their business. Last night, I was checking out at the grocery store and they lost power. There was no chaos, no scare of looting; the checkout dude simply kept scanning my items. How did he keep scanning, you ask? That's where the beauty of UPS begins. So it's really not a complex concept, but UPS is basically a mini-generator or battery to keep certain essentials powered. At the grocery store, it's items like the scanner and cash register (I'm not so sure of the refrigerators; I'd have to guess that's a "no"). At the gym, it's things like the treadmill. At the office, it's items like computers and select lights; there are also certain outlets labeled as UPS so you know what you're plugging into (note, we won't be examining why all outlets aren't set up this way).

And of course, there's an at-home version. After three months of dealing with the router recycling with each break in power (note, ordinarily this wouldn't be a huge deal to lose connection on a website, but when you're streaming video via Slingbox and watching a show on DVR, it's a fairly lengthy and annoying process to get back to where you were on the show; I know, such issues I face) I finally paid a visit to my good friends at ElectriCity in the Galleria shopping complex. For INR 2900 (about $65) they were kind enough to sell me my own UPS unit, which is basically a heavy duty power strip that can maintain three fairly power-intensive pieces of equipment. Again, I wasn't really one for details with this purchase (I simply picked out the one my neighbors had), but apparently it's good enough to keep the television, router, and an item to be named later (likely the Wii or PS3 when I get around to setting up either of those items) running for 20 minutes, which is more than enough bridge the gap. My favorite part of the at-home UPS is that it's kind enough to remind you that the rest of your apartment has lost power by, much like a smoke detector low on battery, emitting a very large beep once every ten or so seconds (as if the instantaneous darkness wasn't indicator enough).

The power outages are just things you learn to accept, not question, and simply deal with on a daily basis. After the first few times it happens, particularly in the office, and you see people not react to it, it's amazing how quick it simply becomes a non-issue. Of course, one electrically driven item that isn't typically on back-up is, the elevator. Having a natural aversion to stairs, it's simply a matter of time before this happens. I'll be curious to see how (or if) people react, or if it's just another part of daily life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday Brunch, A Tradition Like No Other

During the high heat of the six month Delhi summer, an expatriate weekend is hardly complete without the time-honored tradition of Sunday brunch. Over the past six weeks, we have been out to brunch exactly six times. I've determined Sunday brunch is the sole reason I haven't seen Biggest Loser-like weight loss. Brunches in India typically fall into one of two categories; the "over the top social scene" brunch and the "restaurant just wants to make life easier on themselves" brunch. We've been to both, and not surprisingly, find ourselves gravitating toward the former category.

Over the past few weeks, we've been fortunate enough to brunch (is it inappropriate to use it as a verb?) at Set'z (which is apparently a trendy way to spell the word "zest"), Olive, and the Leela Kempinski Gurgaon. Each of these places is basically at the same price point, INR 1800 - 2400 ($40 - $50), which is a lot of money here for a meal, but surprisingly, I've never walked away disappointed or feeling like it wasn't worth the price. Not only is it basically our only meal of the day but it also serves as entertainment for the better part of the afternoon. From my perspective, I'm actually keeping Lindsay from shopping for 3+ hours on a Sunday, so it could be (easily) argued that these brunches actually save money.

Set'z (aka, Zest)
Like many nice things in India, Set'z is located in a mall. However, the DLF Emporio Mall is unlike any other mall I've seen in India. If you're into super-luxe shops, it puts the Magnificent Mile or other shopping meccas to shame; it's home to Delhi's outlets for extreme luxury goods; Versace, Dior, Cartier, Armani, and Jimmy Choo to name a few. For the most part, the only thing I can afford in the building is brunch at Set'z. The food is split into geographic genres that span the globe. Culinary highlights include freshly tossed Caesar salad and some of the best sushi I've had in India. In addition to the food and what helps provide the value in the INR 2000 cost, is the free flow of imported sparkling wine or whatever your beverage of choice. Of course, this portion of the brunch basically renders the rest of your day unproductive, there are certainly worse places and ways to toil away an afternoon in India.

Set in close proximity to Qutab Minar, Olive at 1 Style Mile has long been one of our favorite restaurants in Delhi. Part of the allure of Olive is it's outdoor setting under a huge banyan tree. So while they do have indoor seating and it's likely a better choice during the winter, they do a nice job of cooling down the outdoors with large fans and misting machines (yes, like the ones on sidelines at football games). The spread at Olive isn't quite as extensive as the other locations; however, there are still ample choices including their thin crust pizza and a live grill with excellent prawns. The only down side to Olive (since the price requires you to drink to achieve the desired level of value) is that sparkling wine is not included in the price. While the other choices were more than adequate, you've got to think this will become some sort of competitive disadvantage down the road.

Leela Kempinski
The Leela was the site of this week's brunch and easily had the most extensive selection. If you wanted it, you could basically have it. I hadn't been to the Leela hotel, which is one of Gurgaon's newer business hotels, and had heard very good things both about the hotel and the brunch. They even found a way to give a hotel located adjacent to one of Gurgaon's largest malls actual views of something other than construction. While our table looked out over the hotel entrance, just across the road was actual open space yet to be claimed by DLF or Unitech or whatever other development company comes along next. Described by the locals as jungle (and who am I to argue), it actually looks a little more like desert with scrub trees, it's still a nice break from the constant views of progress (i.e., cranes and construction). The only detriment to the experience was the "iced popsicle with alcohol" the waiter passed around the table. It was ice on a stick soaking in some blue liquid in a tumbler. Looked appetizing enough. What they failed to mention was that it had been "Indianized" with a dusting of masala powder. Not a flavor I enjoy, yet not near enough to destroy the experience.

While it's probably not necessary to hit these brunch spots each week, if for no other reasons than it both makes me sound like a pompous entitled brat and inspires a certain level of lethargy and naps, these Sunday afternoons do provide a great way to meet and connect with friends (and provides a nice respite from the heat, noise, chaos found in most other parts of our expatriate world).


I read this morning that NBC picked up a Thursday night sitcom for the fall called Outsourced, which I would assume is at least loosely based on the 2006 film with the same name (surprisingly, I haven't seen the movie but have heard it's very good). The show will be based on a manager whose department gets offshored and he's asked to move to India to either manage the operation or transition the job. While there are likely parallels here with my life, I'm actually curious to see how the show presents India and whether or not the show will even be aired here.

(Note, there are a number of American television shows here though few are aired in real time. I think the only "live" program I've heard of is American Idol though I think that's now only aired the same week. Typically, a show will be a season (or two) behind which helps explain why Hulu and other streaming media isn't accessible from outside the United States. The final season of Lost just kicked off here last night when the U.S. is only two episodes from learning the fate of the castaways.)

Regardless, with the help of my trusty Slingbox, not only will I be able to watch the Lost finale before I head to work next Monday (which I'm going to need to do because someone will invariably post some sort of spoiler on Facebook), I'll also be able to check out Outsourced in the fall. Whether or not it's worth comparing to the actual experience remains to be seen. Also remaining to be seen is whether or not there's wide enough appeal to the American viewing public to be reminded on a weekly basis of what many feel is a primary cause for the unemployment problem in the U.S. If there's not much interest in that, this show will have a very short run.

The Extremes of India

India presents a world of extremes, and while most of my posts relate to what many would consider the positive extreme (i.e., there's a vast minority of really, really nice things here), I haven't done a great job of relating how the extreme poverty experienced by the masses exists side by side to the opulent luxury enjoyed by a few. As a quick example of how the worlds coexist, one day on the way home from the gym I saw an orange Bentley getting passed by an orange bicycle rickshaw in a roundabout. As an even better example, here's a slideshow I came across from The Wall Street Journal that does a great job of showing the division with pictures (probably better than I could do with words, not that I won't try in the future):

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Mid-Year Resolution

So I finally determined that it might be time to make a more concerted effort to extend my friend network (or at least better develop those relationships I’ve started to form) in Gurgaon. I’ve met some really great people while here, but, admittedly, Lindsay has done a better job of meeting people and actually creating what society might recognize as friendships. I’m not sure this should surprise me as I wouldn’t consider myself the world’s greatest “friend” (i.e., I probably could only loosely tell you what some of my closest friends actually do for a living).

This epiphany took place this morning when I made the mistake of plugging my iPod shuffle charger into the computer as it was still “waking” up. I went to make my breakfast, and continued my normal routine of sitting on the couch with some toast, a glass of juice, and my laptop to get caught up on what happened in the real world (i.e., Facebook, Twitter,,, and Gmail) while I was asleep. Much to my chagrin, the “resuming Windows” logo was frozen on the screen. Upon eating breakfast there had been no progress. I was mortified; I felt like I was much too good of a person for this to be happening to. I had no choice but to power completely down (that’s the extent of my troubleshooting skills) and hope for the best. The computer would power on but failed to actually boot; there was just a black backlit screen. I literally felt like I had lost my best friend. That’s how pathetic I’ve become.

In an amazing stroke of luck; I got home from work tonight and tried again (OK, so now I had finally exhausted my troubleshooting skills). I was pleasantly surprised to see the “Vaio” logo appear on the screen quickly followed by one of those “your computer didn’t resume correctly” messages, and three minutes later I was back in business. After quickly backing up my files, I made a mid-year resolution to make sure my computer isn’t the best friend (spouses not included) I have in Gurgaon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm Vexed

We had the first minor, or what some might consider major, hiccup at the apartment this morning. We woke up, Lindsay got ready and went to work early (she had an all day conference), left, and I took my usual breakfast seat on the couch while checking Facebook and email. A while later, I walked into the master bedroom and was surprised to see the curtains blowing in the wind. This was especially shocking because I've never opened a window in the apartment. Period. Especially a window that opens to a sill where a noisy air conditioning unit rests. I checked it out to just see if somehow the A/C was blowing air in a strange and new direction. It was not. I moved the curtain back and the window was wide open; as in, a four foot square hole in my bedroom. At this point, I got a little scared, but there's really no way for a person to get into the apartment from that window (that is, unless they had a ladder). At any rate, I had been sitting in the next room, with the door open the entire time and hadn't heard a thing. In addition, my wallet and watch were sitting out and hadn't been touched. I did, however, check the shower just in case there was some sort of silent intruder. Coast was clear.

The only logical explanation is that the cleaning boy forgot to close it when he had finished wiping down the sill yesterday (yes, the cleaning boy wipes down external surfaces each day as well; believe it or not with the amount of dust and dirt blowing around here, it's kind of necessary). I noticed a few more mosquitoes last night than typical but that still doesn't explain why we didn't notice a wide open window the entire night. Even if the wind wasn't blowing, the temperature seemed fairly consistent with other nights (as in, the air conditioner was running full blast) and I don't think the Roman shade provides the same level of insulation as a real, glass window.

I recognize I live in a place where you kind of need to expect the unexpected, but this one is vexing. Much like Commodus in "Gladiator", I'm vexed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The New Tailor Revisited

On Sunday afternoon, the new tailor made his return house call to the apartment with his finished goods. My first impression is that he does a nice job with the clothes but doesn't pay attention to some of the details, which may not bode well for some of our future purchases. When tallying our total, he completely forgot to add two shirts that we had had made for a co-worker (note, Lindsay used this to her advantage when negotiating the final price) and she was fairly certain that he made one of the co-worker's shirts out of a different fabric. While the fabric selected was nice and this co-worker will never know (unless she's reading this post), just a reminder that we will need to be fairly explicit and write down what we've purchased going forward. It's not that he tried to substitute a cheaper fabric; it was an entirely different pattern and color. Our previous tailors had never bargained so what follows was a new experience. In general, his offer price on shirts seemed quite reasonable (INR 700 - 800) but his price on skirts and pants seemed expensive (INR 1200 - 1600 in general and up to INR 2300 for the silk....and yes, Lindsay acted insulted when he expect she pay the equivalent of $50 for a silk skirt). For the following list of clothing (not including the missing pieces), his initial offer price was INR 9900 (approximately $215):
  • 2 - Women's linen skirts
  • 1 - Women's silk skirt
  • 1 - Women's short sleeve shirt (copy of Ann Taylor)
  • 2 - Men's long-sleeved linen shirts
  • 1 - Men's short-sleeve linen shirt
  • 1 - Men's linen pants
Lindsay gently reminded him of the fact that he had forgotten two pieces and slowly got him to come down in price. We ended at INR 8400 (approximately $182) for our items. While I'm sure we overpaid to some extent, he made the mistake of mentioning that linen is more expensive than cotton, so we have some leverage and basis for comparison when the need for new dress shirts arises in the not too distant future. The clothing he brought seemed good enough and he did a very nice job with Lindsay's clothing, something that has been a struggle in the past (not anything to do with Lindsay specifically, the tailors we've found just seem to do a much better job with menswear). We placed another small order which he'll bring back next Sunday (hopefully this does not become a part of our weekend routine), most of which is linen. And yes, I recognize how ridiculous all this linen will be when back in Chicago. I may end up looking like Panama Jack, but there are still two very full summers to sweat through here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Basic Deal With Drivers

The General Setup
Most self respecting westerners (or at least any westerner whose company car lease strictly forbids driving) has the support of a driver while in India. The particulars of the setup can vary widely. For our situation, we technically have what is called a “cab” here that means it’s a commercial vehicle, almost like a livery in the U.S. However, the only difference between a “cab” and another car is the color of the license plate. Since Lindsay and I are technically here on two separate assignments, we each get a car as part of our benefits. As a result, we have better access to transportation than many other expats we’ve met here. The reason? Drivers/cars are typically available six days a week for twelve hour shifts. Based on this setup, Lindsay and I have a car start early, a car start late, and give one car off each day of the weekend. The net result is something like 18 hours of coverage of weekdays and 12 hours of coverage on weekends. If we extend beyond that time, there is a nominal charge (i.e., the car just doesn’t disappear if you’re out to dinner and you hit the end of a shift).

The Cars
Lindsay and I each have a Honda City, which is the smallest Honda car sold in India and slightly smaller than the Honda Civic with which you may be familiar. While this might seem too small, especially if you’re familiar with my size (i.e., six-one and 200-ish pounds), when the front seats are set especially far to the front (which is always the case on the passenger size and basically the case on the driver side…the typical Indian driver is considerably smaller than my six-one, 200 pound frame), there’s enough room to comfortably fit. Plus, they’re stylishly black in color, which I had the good fortune to pick during the car selection phase of the assignment.

The Drivers
The subculture of the Indian driver is interesting, to say the least, to those that are unfamiliar with India. The reality is that they’ve chosen a profession where they’re basically at the beck and call of their employer. Our drivers literally report at the given time by giving a “missed call” (i.e., they call and let the phone ring once and hang up; basically their unofficial way to punch into the clock). They then sit around and wait until we’re ready to go wherever we’re going. At our apartment complex, there’s a drivers’ waiting room where the drivers congregate to play cards, read the paper, etc. Personally, nothing would frustrate me more than participating in a card game where yourself or another player could be called away at any given time. I wonder if they have rules for this scenario. When we go where we’re going, they find a place to park or some other unknown place where drivers congregate and wait for us to finish. When we’re ready to be picked up, we simply call and a couple minutes later they reappear. The most frequent phone call I make consists of the following conversation:

Kailish (who you’ll meet in a minute): “Hello, sir”
Me: “Kailish, can you come pick me up?”
Kalisih: “Coming!” (Note, recently this conversation has become more efficient by him simply answering and saying, “Hello, sir, coming.”)

Kailish – The Early Shift Driver
I have no idea how old Kailish is, but there’s a good chance that he wouldn’t be able to legally drive in the U.S. unless he was a farm kid in Iowa. He’s a smart guy; at times, I worry he’s too smart and will find a way to get out of the driving business which would probably be good for him but bad for me. He quickly learned our routine and basically knows where we’re going before we tell him. We’ve had our share of difficult drivers in our time in India, but Kailish is prompt, waits in obvious places when we’re out, and isn’t afraid to quickly get directions if he doesn’t know where we need to go (sorry, that last sentence sounded like feedback for his annual review). All things that would seem positive traits that a driver should posses, but not as common as you would hope. At first glance, Kailish has a fairly cushy gig for a driver. He reports at 8am and typically is released by noon or 1:00pm.
Depending on our schedule, his routine usually entails taking one or both of us to the gym, waiting there, taking Lindsay to work, stopping at home briefly with me so I can take gym bags out of the trunk, and then driving me the 45 seconds it takes to get to my office. On especially busy days, when Lindsay goes to the gym early, he might be forced to shuffle between us. Initially, I thought this to be a good deal for him as he’d have the rest of the day to do as he please. However, after a strangely complex conversation I had with him recently (I was shocked at the well-developed level of his English) he informed me that he routinely works 16 to 18 hour days. So once we release him, he takes on other rides. This makes me feel a little less guilty about keeping him around longer through the day if there’s a chance we might need him. I’ve got to think it’s “better” for him to stay with a ride longer than to have to shuffle between. I’m fairly positive his pay remains the same (i.e., the company gets the benefit of his availability but probably has him on some daily wage regardless).

Ashok – The Late Shift Driver
I actually know very little about Ashok as I typically only see him one day a week on the weekends and occasionally on a Friday night if we go out for dinner after work. I was shocked to learn (through Lindsay who had learned through Kailish) that Ashok has a one-year old son. This seemed particularly surprising because Ashok, much like Kailish, looks no older than 15.

Ravi – The Former Driver
He was quite possibly the worst driver we’ve ever had. While his reference to the “Ravi-car” versus the “Kailish-car” was somewhat endearing and helped us determine which car to expect when, his penchant for pissing people off was not. Here's a quick rundown of our time with Ravi:
  • He quickly made enemies with the security guards in our complex by taking short-cuts (i.e., the American way) to make right turns in the neighborhood roundabouts.
  • He took "shortcuts" that took longer than the actual route; typically these shortcuts were through private parking areas where, again, the guards would yell not so nice things at him
  • He routinely argued with people on the phone when asking directions to the place we were headed (even though the person he was arguing with was at the intended destination).
  • He would call Lindsay multiple times each day to confirm or confuse the time that she needed to be picked up from work.
  • He routinely would take 10 – 15 minutes to show up when called (or after the time he had quadruple confirmed with Lindsay; apparently when the two parties don't speak the same language fluently these types of mishaps can occur).
  • He decided to stop wearing his uniform (ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded the no-uniform thing, it’s a little unnecessary; however, if you’re supposed to wear it, wear it). Plus, the driver uniform (kind of like a cruise ship officer's) looks a little odd when you're wearing the pants and a black untucked t-shirt.
  • He gave off the aura that he may or may not have been stoned from time to time.
Add all those things together and throw in the fact that Lindsay had just finished the book “White Tiger” which is a novel written as a first-person narrative of an Indian driver that kills his employer, and Ravi’s days were obviously numbered.

The Conclusion?
For most foreigners (myself included) having a driver is either a necessity or a necessary evil. It can be endlessly frustrating if you have no idea where you're going and they have no idea where you're going, but as long as you have a phone number, an Eicher Delhi Map Guidebook, or are humble enough to ask directions, you're typically going to get where you need to get. And since the idea of being on time has different cultural meanings here entirely, you're typically not even late.

More Options for Water Consumption

Author’s Note to his Mother:  You might not want to skip this post which outlines the reasons and situations where I’ve moved beyond simple bottled water for various purposes.

A primary concern for travelers to India is where they get their water. In our apartment, we have a reverse osmosis ultra violet (RO-UV) filter system from which we take all the water we consume. However, the first glass of water, even from that top-of-the-line machine, was something of a leap of faith. However, once you don’t get sick, you quickly acclimate and gain a level of confidence and trust.

The discerning and careful traveler will obviously stick to bottled mineral water. In restaurants, waiters automatically try and upsell to Evian or some other import, but the Indian stuff (i.e., Himalayan, Catch, etc.) is just as safe and typically half the price. The longer I’m here, the less vigilant I’ve become. I’m not doing something as stupid from drinking from the tap (or, as was the case with a friend when here 5 years ago, drinking from a random well in the middle of the country), but have started to follow the lead of other westerners I’ve seen. At some restaurants, I’ve decided to start trusting the filtered water. While this is risky, if others are doing, why not? While I’m sure the chemistry in my body hasn’t changed, the fact remains – it’s filtered water. If the water were THAT contaminated, no one would drink it. Bottom line, I’ve decided to start racial profiling; if I see other white people drinking water from a pitcher, I’m going to follow their lead.

I stay away from known tap water with one exception: brushing my teeth. At the end of month two, I decided that it’s no more or less dangerous to shower in the water than it is to brush your teeth with it. How much water do you swallow when you brush your teeth? Probably about as much as you accidentally and unintentionally consume when you’re in the shower. I have no data to back this claim, but I’m considering it a fact nonetheless. That’s why I decided to put it in the “safe” column. If you’ve ever brushed your teeth with bottled water, it’s fine for a few days. Two years? It’s an entirely different situation.

Of course, there’s a good chance you’ll see a post in the near future talking about how I can’t imagine how I could have gotten sick. Consider it one of the pillars of the John Luth Weight Loss Plan. 

Indian Wine Snob

There are typically three price points when ordering wine in a restaurant in India; in ascending order of price; (1) domestic, (2) “cheap” imported, and (3) ultra expensive imported. Since wine storage doesn’t seem to be skill yet mastered (we had dinner with a friend returning to the states last night, ordered a bottle of red, and had to wait for it to come down to room temperature; once it did, it was actually quite pleasant). Based on this storage issue, group (3) has a risk/reward proposition that makes it a no-win situation. This group of wines is typically fun for the sole purpose of seeing exactly how much they’re trying to charge, which routinely tops $100 – $200 for a wine you could probably buy at Binny’s in Chicago for no more than $15. The wine mark-up has totally new meaning in a place with a 100% duty on imported liquor from some countries. That clause “from some countries” seems to be a relatively new concept and has lead to the creation of group (2). For some reason, certain Italian and Chilean wines have come down in price; I would assume there’s been some sort of new trade agreement in palace. I’m not the type to proactively do that kind of research, so let’s just assume that as a fact. Thankfully, you can now get some bottles in restaurants in the $35 range. With this group, you’re overpaying for the quality of the wine, but the only other option is Indian domestic. This group is typically priced around $5 cheaper by the bottle (i.e., not low enough to typically incent a purchase).

Once you've made your selection in a restaurant, it’s always a good idea to have three or four backups ready (which likely comprises the entire wine menu). I’ve yet to order an imported wine where the waiter claimed it was in stock (keep in mind, I’m not ordering from group (3)). Automatically, your selection is out of stock, but there always seems to be French wine available. This French wine typically has the varietal splashed across label. I don’t know much about French wine, but I do know enough to know the varietal is typically assumed based on the region and not nearly as important as on an American label. Basically, these wines aren’t France’s finest. Typically, if there’s nothing else to your liking, you can politely ask them to go back and check to see if there might be one bottle of your original selection. Magically, they’ll either appear a few minutes later with your original selection or some other option that was likely not part of the original menu but priced at the same point. At this point, I feel like a sucker for just not going with the Indian domestic but too proud (or cheap) to switch over; it’s going to be no worse than what they’ve put in front of you. In the end, that extra $5 for the import might be the smarting pricing decision the restauranteur has made.