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Friday, December 31, 2010

Massage - Not for the Modest!

I have hemmed and hawed about whether to share this level of detail, but in the spirit of saving you the trouble before booking your Ayurvedic massage… READ THIS. We are in Sri Lanka at this most fabulous beach house and in addition to having a full time cook, house manager, tuck-tuck (auto-rickshaw) at our disposal; Ayurvedic massage can be done in your room. I am a beauty addict. Massage, facials, nails, hair, lotions and potions; I am ready to fork over my green backs in a moment’s notice. I called up Priyanaka from Sri Lanka, sounds like a poem, but this experience was not so melodic.

Priyanka, who is male, arrived at 6pm. He is about 5 feet tall barefoot wearing his clinical white coat and black trousers. His backpack was large and he quickly moved to my room, stripped the bed and laid several large towels down. I was slightly nervous; however Doug and my mom were sitting in the living room just a few feet away. Standing there observing the entire transformation of my room into a make-shift spa, I didn’t know what to do. Priyanka instructed me to sit in my chair. And so the process began.

Eyes closed, I could feel the oil run down my forehead and through my scalp. Was it peppermint or lemon? Both? The cool ooze seemed to console my sunburned head, only to be abruptly interrupted by a fierce slapping on the top of my head. What a way to ruin the moment. I could bare this for a little bit but it seemed never ending. Eventually the head spanking ended and Priyanka began his vigorous head and neck massage. I have been an active yogi for about 9 years and my neck is my Achilles tendon. When I am stressed that is where I feel pain, and when I am in a yoga posture – that will be the stiff spot any given day. I enjoyed the rub down and Priyanka was able to tell that my neck has a “blockage that would cause pain” without me preempting it. Ok so he knows something.

My bliss was broken by a short clip “take off your clothes and lay on the bed.” Weird, I am an American – so slightly repressed. I quickly undressed leaving on my underwear. Priyanka worked on my back for some time, more bliss. I was about to fall asleep when he asked me to get up and kneel on the floor over a crock-pot. I popped up half naked, grabbing the towel to cover up and kneel on a folded towel. The steaming crock-pot smelled lemony. I was instructed to put my face over the pot and inhale deeply, it was lemon leaf and very good me. Suddenly a sheet was pulled over me and tightly closed just as the lid was removed from the crock-pot. The steam was stifling. So here I sit half-naked on a towel inhaling lemon leaf water with a sheet closed tightly over my head. I felt like I might become the next CSI victim. This entire experience was followed by a deep facial massage; the next day my sinuses never felt so good. Doug popped his head in the room about 45 minutes into the ordeal to make sure I was OK. There I sat in my underwear in our desk chair while Priyanka was dumping more oil on my head. He quickly closed the door, I guess that was enough to know I was not in danger.

While this entire experience was not really relaxing, I slept very well and my neck did not hurt for a full night ...the first time in five months. My hair was the real victim. It took about four washings and two trips into the ocean to rid the oil from my locks. The oil coupled with the moisture was a recipe for disaster. Doug thought I looked like Bo Derek in 10, however I knew that was really a ploy :) I felt more like Lenny Kravets and that was not a good look for the whitest gal in Sri Lanka. My advice is – massage in India or Sri Lanka is not for the modest or the girl that needs lovely locks for work the next day.

Ice-Master Doug

You know you are on vacation when you greatest concern is how to make ice, get ice or when the ice will be ready. If you have read my earlier entries, you know that we loaded up at duty free in Colombo since we would be pretty much isolated at the beach house. When we arrived, and cracked open a bottle of Zinfandel for the girls and some gin for Doug…the house staff quickly brought out a small ice bucket. That hit the spot after our grueling five hour van ride to the coast. Ice seemed not to be the issue, but as we hit the afternoon on day two…ice was nowhere to be found. Warm gin, does not hit the spot but you can manage with a cold coke mixed with rum. So here was our dilemma, tonic water was not available during the first grocery store rum but soda and limes were. Doug, a former bar tender on campus at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, concocted a mock gin or vodka and tonic. Tasted good however without ice it goes down slowly.

The best ideas come out of necessity. Doug saved the plastic water bottles, filled them half way and laid them on their side on the freezer. Phase 1 of making ice. Secondly, he cut one of the liter soda bottles, cleaned them out and used it as a freezer ice holder while we filled the trays and rotated them. The cook and housekeeper must have thought we were CRAZY. The volume of ice was flowing, enough for sodas and mixed drinks in our 90 degree weather. Our next great idea was to bring the bottles that had been half filled with water and frozen to the beach. But before coming down to the beach we filled them with rum, all that was needed was a cold coke from the Ocean Moon beach restaurant. Now I had rum and cokes at the beach and I even found Lays potato chips. Vacation had arrived!

So in addition to being my best friend, personal life coach, husband, father of my children, local chemist, make shift doctor – Doug is also the Ice-master which is essential for a Southeast Asia beach vacation.


Catch of the Day!

Our beach house in Sri Lanka is in a town called Tangalle which is the southern tip of the country; next land mass south is Antarctica. I have told the kids that this is their vacation at the end of the earth on Goyambokka beach. While we can see the ocean from our house, we have about a three minute walk down the hill to the beach. There are three little huts set up that all appear to be restaurants, however Ocean Moon Restaurant seems to be existing just for us. As we tumbled onto the beach (four adults, three kids, two boogie boards, 7 beach towels and a couple of footballs), the restaurant attendant quickly came out offering us some plastic chairs and an umbrella. Given the intensity of the sun, we were grateful.

Rolling around in the surf with a water temperature that seems to be perfect all time is a great way to work up an appetite. As a veteran mom, I never come without snacks. The kids quickly peeled through the fruit roll-ups and a bag of cashews. The adults were enjoying Lion Lager – since beer is filling we didn’t have the same drive for getting lunch. As we ordered a few more beers and some cokes, the restaurant attendant presented his menu. Three index cards laminated describing our options (I am including the restaurant spelling for your entertainment):

Prowns – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Kalomari – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Fish – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Ok, seems easy enough. Two orders of calamari and 1 order of prawns (a.k.a. giant shrimp), both grilled. Immediately after ordering we see someone leave the back of the shack with a pole and flippers. I am not kidding; they went to go a catch lunch! Ninety minutes later, our lunch was served. The floor of the restaurant is sand, we sat on plastic chairs but our meal was served on china with real silverware and the table completed with a small vase holding a plastic rose. The food was amazing, so much so we are on our third day of ordering the exact same thing. We have learned to order around noon for a one-thirty seating and have upped the quantity of calamari given its sumptuous taste. Bon App├ętit at the Ocean Moon!

Call of the Wild...

Open Air Living Room
We are in Sri Lanka for our Christmas holiday. It’s truly paradise. We have an open air house (closed bedrooms) but an amazing living room overlooking the beach. Check out their website at Wild peacocks strode across the front lawn just a few meters from our sofa; it was a beautiful sight. I learned that peacocks mate for life and it was very endearing to see the female hopping right behind the male. Out on the beach there are some dogs that belong to the beer hut and they roll around in the surf cooling their sandy paws. Cows graze on the hills visible from the beach. It’s really a humbling moment to know all of this has existed for centuries and we are privileged enough to experience life here for a few days.

Once the sun sets, a whole new set of sounds float through the house – we all take turns guessing the origin… birds, chipmunks, monkeys or wild dogs? The kids have come up with their own survival tactics for managing through an animal encounter. I thought I would share them with you because it’s a look inside their processing of our new surroundings:

  • Dogs- you chase them back
  • Wolves and Coyotes – make a lot of noise
  • Bears – play dead if they are already biting you; be submissive
  • Bears – you only need to be faster than the person you are with
  • Tigers – don’t fall into the pit at the zoo
  • Alligators/ crocodiles – run in a zigzag, because their eyes are on the sides of their heads and it confuses them
  • Birds – fight back
  • Sharks – you are out of luck
  • Elephants – you stop them from charging by taking away their credit card (I think that was directed at me :))

So if you are out in the country surrounded by wild animals, you now have some tips to survive.




My Kathleen Turner Moment

Movie Poster
circa 1985
On December 27th, we boarded a plane for Colombo, Sri Lanka. I have to admit; one year ago I would have never envisioned vacationing in Sri Lanka. I knew nothing about this small country and had not even confirmed my job in India. Here I am, taking an international flight from India with Doug, the kids, Mom and Aunt Karen. Fortunately Bangalore Airport is state of the art which makes surviving a delay quite pleasant. One hour and 20 minutes after takeoff we have landed in Colombo, made it through duty free – maximizing our 2 liters + 3 bottles of wine per adult. Yes, we fully enjoy our vacations. Next we made our way to the taxi pick up looking for Gamini, our driver. When I booked this vacation, I estimated about 3 hours from the airport to the beach house…seemed doable considering my commute to work is sometimes 2 hours. As the van pulled up, slightly rusted sporting a sticker labeled “Rebecci Schmitt” we all grimaced that this could be a LONG ride. We piled in 7 people, 10 bags and 12 bottle of alcohol. What can I say, we were planning to relax. The driver then informed us it would be 5 hours through central Sri Lanka as the coastline has too much traffic. A sigh of disappointment rumbled through the gang.

After about an hour and a half into the ride, the white van packed with people and luggage piled so high the rear window was opaque careened through winding roads barely big enough for one vehicle. My mom and Aunt looked slightly worried, the kids asked how long until we get there and Doug was taking pictures of rice paddies and villagers. It was humid, the air conditioner smelled moldy, the small towns seemed to run together feeling like we were making loops through central Sri Lanka, would the coastline ever emerge? Suddenly I had a flashback, didn’t Jewel of the Nile begin this way? Kathleen Turner, a New York socialite heads to Colombia to save her sister ….she too didn’t know what she was in for. Her bus ride, like mine, seemed never ending and the surroundings got more rural every second. Her lucky break was getting off the bus, sliding down a mud hill and finding a young Michael Douglas. Unlike her, I stayed on the bus. However we turned down a very narrow mud path and ended up at Moonhill – our paradise on the beach. Like the movie, we had a happy ending too but for a while I was wondering what I signed my family up for!

Al Fresco Living

For our anniversary, Doug and I decided to buy terrace furniture. One of the best features of our home is a huge terrace on the second floor in the back of the house. It’s very private and partially covered, making it the perfect place for breakfast in your pajamas or quiet dinner. The house came furnished with a small table and four chairs, the family of five didn’t fit so well. After some shopping around and seeing multiple options for high end outdoor living sets we decided to ask our driver, Javeed, where we could get well priced things. He took us to Shivajinagar, a neighborhood in Western Bangalore, where there are deals to be had on Cane furniture (otherwise known as wicker). The funny thing about India is that there will be a section of town specializing in a particular set of goods; stall after stall will be selling the same things for different prices. We headed to a busy street and popped in and out of several stores, getting smarter in our bargaining skills as we approached the next merchant. I am not a haggler and frankly, I was not feeling well – so I wanted to seal the deal and move on. Doug was enjoying the banter and we came to an agreement on a nice set: couch, two chairs, two tables, custom cushions and delivery for roughly $300 USD. I quickly accessed my database of US retail prices and figured out that this was a good deal; Pier One would sell something similar for around $900. Doug was pleased all my time at the mall was worth something to him.

Our terrace has been transformed with some new plants, candles, furniture and Christmas lights. Santa delivered the presents to the terrace this year, given we had no chimney for him to slide down. Each day it makes me happy to have a few moments with a cup of coffee before I leave my expat bubble and head out into the streets of Bangalore.

Picture to come soon!  We just got a new camera and i cannot figure out how to load the photos!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Singapore Sling

Marina Bay Sands Hotel
One of the benefits of taking a foreign assignment is the lure of fabulous weekend trips to exotic places - whether that be within India or to neighboring countries.   Well work, life, and just being plain tired, the weekend has become my respite and I savor a few extra hours in bed or simply sitting on the terrace.   In mid-November I realized I had only had 1 day off in the last 4 months and one of my favorite peeps was working in Singapore.   Could I work it out?  Could I make it for a weekend by myself?   Would Megan be up for a guest?  The answer to all of the above was a resounding YES.

December 10th I boarded my Air India flight for Singapore.   Now the morning of the flight I was having massive reservations about boarding airline with a less than perfect safety record.    I was pleasantly surprised - food, service, flight attendants in Saris - and it was on time.    The first major difference about Singapore was the orderly fashion in which the entire airport worked, complete with fast moving queues, holiday decorations and luggage that was waiting for me on the belt.    A quick taxi ride to fabulous Sushi and I knew I was on my way to prime relaxation.      Since Megan is living in Singapore, she found us the best digs in town at the Marina Bay Sands
hotel, which is three towers with a floating sky park resembling a cruise ship anchored across the top.

World's highest infinity pool

Club level hotel with a balcony, breakfast, floating in the worlds highest infinity pool (200m or 57 floors above the city streets) and sipping rose champagne in the sun - refreshed me like nothing else.    More sushi and realizing I was sunburned, we packed it up for a day of shopping on Sunday.    I can fully say I have never seen this volume of shoppers in a seemingly endless string of high end stores before.    From Louis to Gucci, wine bars or sushi, Toys R Us and Banana Republic; my senses were on overload.     Singapore exuded excess which is a stark contrast to my daily surroundings.    The boulevards were draped with stars and the intersections flocked with Christmas Trees as faint holiday tunes filled the air from neighboring stores.   I loaded my suitcases with Max Mara, Banana Republic, Toys R Us, Takashimaya, and other stocking stuffers.    Best of all it was good to have a friend who knows how it feels to be a million miles from home and establishing yourself at work.     Conversation consoles and we all need a little of that.

It's a very Berry Christmas in Singapore at Takashimaya

12 Days before Christmas!

My Mom and Aunt Karen (Dad's sister) arrived this past week hauling six 50 pound suitcases filled with necessities we cannot find easily or affordably in India.    I am not sure they had much room for clothes.   Unpacking the loot seemed to mimic the holiday classic, 12 days of Christmas but fortunate for us, it was 12 types of goodies:

1 MajicJack
2 bags of Skittles 
3 cans of Kraft Parmesan Cheese
4 pounds of pre-cooked / non-refrigerated bacon
5 boxes of Crystal Light Ice Tea
6 boxes of ready to eat hash browns - just add water
7 Brownie Lollipops
8 oz Stove Top Stuffing
9 packs of Pringles
10 Servings of Mrs Grass Chicken Soup
11 Christmas Gifts (to be disclosed post Dec 25th)
12 pounds of Gummy Bears

Other things we asked my mom to bring over included a Smokey Joe Weber Barbeque, a David Yurman Necklace (replacement for the one that was stolen....thank goodness for eBay!), a Shutterfly photo album, 12 napkin rings from Pier One and portraits of the kids taken in the summer.    Now we can have a proper terrace gathering, call our friends home in the US for free via the MajicJack (yes the infomercials are true), decorate the walls, share photos from home with new friends and eat processed food!

It was a timely Christmas treat food is both emotional and physical when it comes to comfort.   Of all the things that bring us a moment of peace and calm the regular sibling fighting; food from home is the cure.  

New Choos!  On Massive sale of course!
 For those of you that are thinking, where are the shoes!  Well the Jimmy Choo chocolate suede 5" sandals are on their way via Michigan along with the Tory Burch black marabou feather skirt.   While India might no do high fashion, I can no longer be without it.   Now that the Harper's Bazaar and InStyle subscriptions have finally been forwarded to Bangalore; I won't loose my cool.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hard Rockin' in Bangalore

It's nearly a month since the last post and I have to admit I don't know where the time goes.    Aside from having severe laryngitis and a cold that made its way through each member of my family...November and December have been pretty eventful.   Doug and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on November 24th and that happened to be my 37th birthday as well.  Unfortunately I was sick so we settled for dominos and watching a rerun of Mad Men.     We celebrated Thanksgiving at a The Only Place restaurant, full turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and gravy.   It was actually quite nice to eat favorite foods on a favorite holiday.   

Around December 4th, we were feeling better and needed a break.  We headed to the Hard Rock Cafe-Bangalore, which is housed in a historic buidling that is super cool.    Indulging in bugers, hot wings, nachos, margaritas and milkshakes - we enjoyed every minute of the dinner.    The whole experience transported us back to America and temporarily kicked our homesick blues.    What american experience would be complete without a trip to the souvenir shop - four t-shirts and $100 later, all were happy and managed not to fight the entire ride home.    

Friday, November 19, 2010

Corporate Becky - what do you think?

Inspiring Leaders exist all around you! 
Corporate Becky

Leadership has different meanings for everyone, for me I think a good leader has the perfect mix of knowledge and confidence; the recipe varies. I continually seek out ways to connect myself to people that exude both attributes– fortunately Accenture has been a place where it’s been easy to find great leaders. A leader does not need to be considered a “boss” or a “supervisor” and I believe you can find leadership from your peers, those that report into you and even strangers depending on the time and place.

My most recent spot for inspiration comes from my children. While they don’t work for Accenture, they motivate me to do my best every day because I am committed to giving them a good start on life. I cannot imagine leaving school, friends, having to cut my hair short and start at a new school in a new country. That is what I asked my son to do. While I have three children, the oldest has the toughest adjustment to our new life in India. His sports that he participated at school do not exist here in his Bangalore school (i.e., sailing, wrestling, track & field), there is not a traveling orchestra and his best friends are no longer a quick bike ride away. Each morning he is the first one up, he walks the dog, exercises, packs his things for school and maintains a consistent level of discipline in his studies. When my inbox is exploding, the commute is long and I just don’t know how I can have an impact in such a large organization; I look to my kids who are not complaining, producing good grades and embracing a new life. If they can do it, I need to figure out how to as well.

Professionally, I have had the opportunity to work for some of our current global leads when they were managers or senior managers. I now listen to their recorded video messages or read their email announcements knowing with full faith they are in the right role to take Accenture forward. It was those years on ground, working on staffing plans, running moderation meetings that I got to know them for their integrity and ability to make an unpopular decision because it’s the right thing for the people or our business. I go back to that mental archive on a regular basis when I am faced with a tough decision or needing to give guidance to our team. Leadership lives on and when you are a strong leader, the people around you take that forward and influence others.

Finally, I look to regular people who influence the world. I think back to Rosa Parks, an African American woman, who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man (which was the law at the time) and that incident started the American Civil Rights Movement. I solemnly remember the group of passengers who confronted terrorists and averted their plane from crashing into Washington on September 11th. These people did not wake up that day to change the world; however they followed their instincts, stood up for what they believed in and influenced others to make a positive change for a greater population. We all have that power and we should choose to execute it.

I recently met with a group of our IDC entry level HR people, I left them with these parting thoughts
- We are typically not faced with life and death decisions, so take a few minutes to get to the right answer.
- Don’t let a bad day yesterday ruin your day today, understand what went wrong, commit to doing the things in your power to prevent it in the future and start fresh again
- Never send emails in the heat of the moment, once it’s written you cannot take it back; it’s much better to take a quick walk around the bay or climb a few flights of stairs to reset yourself.
- Giving people the bad news is just important as the good news, don’t let either kind go unnoticed.
While these tips seem basic, they are tactics I employ every day to help me manage my inbox, employee situations and processes that are going awry. I am not academic in my leadership principles; I rely on perspective, good judgment, experience and confidence in myself and others to lead… And if these fail me, I have a great network of smart, confident people across the globe to help me sort it out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lost or Forgotten

11th anniversary necklace "Lost"
Let's start off by saying I am a highly organized person.  I do not misplace, lose, forget or borrow anything.  I will remember the first time I saw you, what you were wearing and where we met.  Makes for a tough argument.    I know where each pair of my 200 shoes are at any given time; all my accessories are sorted and stored.     I enjoy cleaning out closets and making labels for fun.   So call me Monica (Friends TV Show reference....).   My journey to India has flipped me upside down - literally.     In the first 2 months I have "lost" black pants, eyeliner, cover up, a David Yurman Necklace and a black diamond ring.    Additionally, I regularly forget my employee badge, cell phone and current notebooks.     I have been feeling lost.   Personally I am feeling a loss on multiple levels;  friendship, comfort and routine.  Professionally, I feel lost in a sea of very smart people.    Finding my way is part of the journey in India.  

Here today, gone tomorrow is the story of my life these days.  I see something I like in the grocery store - buy it now - because it might be three months before Ragu spaghetti sauce comes back...or more realistic two weeks before you pass by this particular store at a decent hour.     Events have unfolded indicating I am not a complete lunatic, some items have "reappeared."  I am convinced my favorite maid/ cook is borrowing my things while I am not home.     The entire family turned every drawer upside down and not one of my lost items was found, however the day we filed the police report, the make up reappeared- clearly used (YUCK).    So tomorrow is the ultimatum.  Jewelry back or job lost.   I will not be able to forget.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Great Escape - Facebook, the movie

Even a totally normal activity is somehow different in India.   We went to see the Social Network this afternoon with Emma and Nolan.   I am sure it's rated PG-13 or R back in the States but in India, no rating applied and all the f* words are cut out - so we figured it was a safe family movie since our other choice was Due Date that does carry an Adult warning in India (must be pretty bad).    Here the story begins, we arrive 10 min before showtime and make use of the ATM like movie ticket dispenser - all is good - 4 tickets Rs1000 ($22 USD).    Walk through an airport type security line which includes a scan of my purse.    Ok - good thing they are checking for weapons but the teenage security guard seemed more focused on outside food that might be tucked away in my purse.    On to the concession stand - Value Pack #4, 2 large popcorns and 2 small pepsis Rs250 or about $5.50 USD.    Pretty good value.  

In India, you can only get to your seat about 1 minute before the movie is scheduled to start; so like anything else here - there is no queue just a semi-organized blob.   First in and we pick the center seats mid-way up the seating.    As we are munching away on our snacks we notice people really paying attention to their tickets and looking at the seats.    Could it be assigned seating?    This is a movie theater, open seating, right?   Just as the movie begins we are told we are in someone else's seats but fortunately they were kind enough to direct us to G5, 6, 7, 8 just one row up.    Surprised by this level of organization, we settle in the darkness focused on the big screen.

The movie was great, I actually forgot I was in India for a good portion of the show.   College campuses, American jargon, Justin Timberlake (filling the role of the guy who created nabster - rather poetic I think).   It brought me back to my campus days, about 10 years earlier, even the AEPi fraternity party - some sort of Carribbean theme which is just like one I attended @ Michigan where the basement was filled with sand.    I think that this was the first time I totally relaxed, detached from life and work since I have arrived...Until Intermission hit - back to the concession stand, refill the popcorn and then finish the movie.     We topped the night off with dinner at McDonalds.  No Masala.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Road Trip - India Style

Big Banyan Tree
Festival Season is upon us here in India.    This week marks Diwali (also spelled Deepavali) which is the festival of lights.   Di is Light in Hindi and Deepa is light in Kannada the local language here in Karnataka State.  The kids had a short school break and I had a work holiday to celebrate this occasion.     Diwali is like Christmas for Indians, all sorts of sales at the stores, commercials advocating the gift of massive jewelry this Diwali (O.K., I like that part) and massive sales of fireworks.    The kids were mesmerized by the pop up shacks of firecrackers (as they are known here) along the side of the road, in empty fields.   In Bangalore alone, 260 Crore were sold in just a few days which equates to 260 million.   Additionally, there doesn't seem to be any regulations on where you can shoot off the 'crackers and what scale of explosives is appropriate for a residential neighborhood.     We have been experiencing rapid fire fireworks non-stop for the last three days.   

Thursday morning we packed up our car and headed to Mysore which is the royal city of Karnataka.  The Maharajah still lives there and it's only a 2.5 hour ride.   Our driver accompanied us for the trip and he had his own agenda in mind.    Javeed is very proud of India and especially the history of the local area.    He initially wanted to leave at 6 am, we pushed that back to 9 am.    It was of course a day off for all of us, so we enjoyed a normal wake up time.     Most of Thursday was spent hopping in and out of our car at various spots along the way to Mysore.    Javeed ensured we saw the highlights of the area - both historical and from local films.    The Big Banyan, Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, the Cauvery River, a very old Hindu temple and other architectural remains.    Doug and I enjoyed seeing the history and learned something new about the Hindu, Muslim, British and then back to Hindu ruling groups.   The kids were hot and yearned to get to the hotel pool and room service.    We arrived at 430 pm, quickly checked in and then headed out to Brindavan gardens to see the light show and the damn.   Our night ended with dinner at the Tiger Trail, complete with Kingfisher beer, french fries, naan and dahl.  The perfect mix of American and Indian foods.   Our hotel was complete with the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.    It's been a while since the kids watched their favs while I drifted away.
Emma - International Ambassador

Mysore Palace

Family Shot @ the Zoo- see the Giraffe!
Friday started early with a trip to the Mysore Palace.    What a fabulous place, built in just 15 years for Rs4.5million, the equivalent of $100K USD, this architectural gem was finished in 1912, complete with electricity.   I highly recommend this as a day trip if you come to Bangalore, I will be taking my Christmas visitors back in a few weeks.     The kids loved the audio tour and learned something, this I know because they repeated tidbits through the remainder of the day.    Next was the zoo.    Nothing brings you back to simple pleasure like walking through a zoo and seeing the magic of nature.   Plus in the Indian zoo, you can actually get quite close to the animals - Bengal tigers, white tigers, African and Indian elephants, monkeys galore.    Back to the hotel for pizza and swimming, checked out the next morning.    Nolan and Emma wanted an extra night - I guess that's proof we planned a good trip.

Emma achieved Britney status on this trip, every place we went people asked to take their picture with her.  She is growing in India, because these requests did not disturb her as much as the first time.   It was interesting to see the rest of us get passed over for requests but once Emma agreed to a photo opp, others stepped out of the crowd to get their turn.   

On a shoe note, our white sneakers are now clay red after traipsing through the dirt paths ...

No Tricks, All Treats for Halloween in India

It's good to know that Halloween in the expat communities in India is alive and well.    Houses are decorated, pumpkins carved, spooky music bellows down the streets and kids are decked out in costume.    We had two opportunities to celebrate in Bangalore.   First we checked out a party sponsored by the Overseas Women's Club at a local hotel.   The kids were a little old for the group, however we did get to do some rock climbing, hold a baby goat and win a ghost cake.   All was not lost. 
On Halloween, we headed over to some friends house for a light Indian dinner and some good French wine.   The host travels to Paris frequently and was kind enough to share a bottle of Bordeaux from a recent trip; I lapped it up.    Then we let the kids loose in Palm Meadows (our neighborhood) for 2 hours of trick or treating.   Ms. Starburst (a.k.a. Emma) joined a bag of Peanut M&Ms (a.k.a. Sonia), Will dressed as Uncle Sam (no pictures available) found his friends and Ironman (Nolan who refused to wear the mask) joined Percy Jackson and an Arabian Night.     We draped fake spider webs across our landscape, hung paper pumpkins in the trees, placed our illuminated pumpkins on the laws and handed out American Candy.   Apparently the kids like to trick or treat in Phase 1, which has the bigger houses, but we still got our fair share of kids in Phase 2.     Doug and I decided to leave the bowl of candy on the porch and took a stroll with our pup to check out the houses and see the action.     We ended the night with a family movie.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

India and Apple Pie

We will admit it, we are feeling homesick.   Three months is supposed to be the hump you need to get over, things are starting to feel routine and the awe of seeing cows or a family of four on a scooter is wearing off.    Food, family, friends are a void which cannot be totally filled in India.  Will says he cannot check facebook, he misses high school life in the US.    Emma misses her friends and both Doug and Nolan miss American football.   I am so busy working every waking hour, I just miss the pace of my old job on occasion (which I thought was hard).     I miss decorating my house for Halloween, celebrating with friends and Doug's wicked Hallow-tini's topped off with real dry ice.     The key to success when you are far away from home is to try not to replace what you are missing with the India version; it's better just to do something different otherwise it (the food, the place, the time) just don't stack up.

 Last night we focused on fulfilling the food piece and went to The Only Place, a staple in Bangalore since 1965.  It's famous for Beef.   Steaks, burgers, beef stronganoff, chicken, garlic bread, cheese fries and apple pie.    Our mouths were watering.   No reservations needed, so we showed up at 7pm and were the first people seated.   The Only Place resembles a pavilion decked out with red and white twinkle lights.   You enter off Museum Road and walk back past a boutique (who flipped their sign to open as soon as this pack of foreigners showed up), the toilets and some assorted shacks.    However upon entering the pavilion with its red checkered table cloths and tall vegetation around the perimeter, we felt like we were in Little Italy, NY vs. Bangalore.     
Our table was in the corner and my back was to the general clientele, focused on my family and the menu of American favorites we quickly ordered:   cheesy garlic bread, hot wings and onion rings as starters; a round of cokes in the bottle (if you are a coke connoisseur like myself, these are the best variety); followed by Chateaubriand for Doug, American cheeseburgers and fries for Emma and me, more hot wings for Nolan with cheese fries and Will tried the Big Irani Burger (stuffed with cheese, pickles, mushrooms).    No fighting or complaining from the kids.  The only sound I heard was an occasional slurp and some lip smacking.    The dinner was not high end, but it tasted like it should.   No Masala!    Regular tasting American food.    Every plate was clean.    We followed it up with hot apple pie a la mode with French Vanilla ice cream.     We moaned a little as we loaded ourselves into the car and enjoyed a food coma.      

Goldilocks Survives in Bangalore

Back in April when we decided to make a go of life in India, the decision hinged on one crucial point - will I be able to maintain blond hair amongst a sea of brunettes?   Fortunately I have few secrets, as you are all learning by reading my blogs, so I promptly sent out queries to the expats I know in India with my picture attached asking "can you get highlights for blonds in India?"    The answers were resoundingly positive.    OK, decision to go to India locked - I can get my hair done.    Very shallow, I know, but if you feel like you are falling apart and life becomes on very LONG bad hair day...sense of self gets lost.  Maybe not that dramatic, but close.    

Step 2, locating the so called "skilled colorists" in Bangalore.    I began my search on the message boards about living in India, the best one any traveler to India should check out is   I certainly figured out where not to go for haircut or color - skip Spratt, Bounce and the Lakshmi salons.    Apparently this woman called Tracey who is only available via cell phone is the bomb when it comes to cuts.    I am not sure I like the idea of having someone come to my house to cut my hair - but home service is the rage in India.    One particular place kept surfacing, Jeannesalon.   No website for this shop but the message boards and the OWC (Overseas Women's Club) handbook highly recommended it.     I called for my appointment and it was a 2 week wait (sigh).  I took it, I could not stretch out too many more days of two toned hair.   

October 29th was my appointment at noon, yes I took vacation time to get in for a haircut.   Located in Indiranagar, a good blend of restaurants, shops and interesting housing (however this is India, so cows, trash and pot holes abound).    Jeannesalon had a fuchsia geometric sign perched street side.  Success, we found it.   For women, a salon is a place of refuge - you are pampered, shoot the scoop with your stylist, sip on a mocha or in some swanky spots - chardonnay and you leave feeling like a million bucks.   Back in Michigan, I try to time my appointments with a night out or something special.  When you spend $150 you need to go someplace.    The exterior of Jeannesalon was not great, but it didn't look any worse than the rest of the street....however I was slightly alarmed when I saw across the street was Hong Kong Hairstyles which resembled a Chinese take-away restaurant.   Could I be in the right spot?   

Jeannesalon looks like a pop up salon inside someones flat.   I can look past that as my expectations in India have changed after three months.   There is only one stylist, a Chinese woman named Jeanne.  Her husband is the receptionist and he looks like a Chinese version of Mr. Magoo- gray crazy hair, little glasses and hunched over his laptop.    The waiting area was packed and people were there for cuts, facials, nails and more.    I had to wait 30 min for my appointment but in the mean time the receptionist loaded me up with Western hair magazines, UK beauty periodicals and a fan of color choices for my hair.    If you are of the fairer variety, you really don't add color to make yourself blond - just bleach and conditioner applied on very small strands wrapped up in foil for 10 minutes.   Picture a tinfoil Medusa and you know what I look like.    

Jeanne is GREAT.    She is third generation Chinese born in India but has worked as a stylist since 1972, however she looks about 40.    Chinese women have the most amazing skin.   She learned to cut hair in London and then spent a few years in Sweden working on all the blondies.   She goes back to Europe every other year for Hair school.   The treatment was superb and my hair looks like me, I could not be happier.    All this for Rs3500 or $78USD.   I will be back in three months and feel relieved to know at least on the outside I am still the same Becky you remember.   As for the inside, she is evolving...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Calling all the Beautiful People- this Brunch is for You!

Becky's Mojito, Shiro's Interior
and Doug's Bloody Mary

Sundays in Bangalore are synonymous with Brunch.  Most hotels, gated community clubs and restaurants offer a Sunday brunch with unlimited drinks.   Assuming you have read my previous blogs, it's no surprise I am taking advantage of this offer.    Like a dog to his bone, I could not stay away.    This week, Doug and I ordered the kids Domino's and headed to the swanky Shiro located in UB City which is the priciest mall ever (resembling an Italian castle and Michelangelo's ceilings).   We quickly strolled past Rolex, Burberry, Omega, Etro and a slew of other high end stores void of customers to the upper level in search of life.    Parking was full but the stores were empty because everyone was eating.   Noodles, crepes, pasta and a wine bar line the open air pavilion with a nice overlook to the city's sprawling landscape.   I felt like I was in Southern California and I liked it.    Up the stairs we climbed to Shiro - our final destination - in search of fusion cuisine and promises of sushi.   After leaving Michigan, Doug was going through a withdrawal  on Japanese food.     We were immediately seated on the Terrace next to the 20 foot Buddhist priestess water fountain and perched perfectly for people watching.    

And then the menu arrived.   This is not your typical brunch, most people arrive between 12:30 - 1pm and there is only one round of seating - you eat for almost 4 hours.    Drinks on the left, food on the right.    Shiro serves only Grey Goose vodka for their choices of 10 martinis, offers 3 flavors of mojitos, two daquiris, three wines (good choices), Kingfisher beer and regular mixed drinks.    Like a kid in a candy store - do I take the cranberry mojito or a lemon drop martini.   Well given the afternoon, I passed up the martini and opted for the mojito.   Delicious!    Doug tried the martini and then the food started to arrive. Instead of lining up at a buffet and reaching into a common vat of some unknown dish, Shiro prepared a delightful tasting of starters brought to you and served table side.   The only walking we did was to the Sushi Bar.     The Sushi was mainly cooked fish in California rolls, tempura or other cucumber concoctions but it had the right flavor and consistency.    You know you are used to Indian cuisine when the Wasabi no longer makes your eyes water.     Four hours later and four drinks down the hatch, the 80s music had gotten louder and I felt like it was a Friday night crowd.    Singing, dancing, ordering shots, the crowd was unlike anything I had seen in India thus far.    As for the beautiful people, designer duds, short summer dresses, aviator sunglasses and sky high heels breezed by our table.    I whispered to Doug I know where to bring the girls when we have visitors.    As for me, the zebra stilettos busted out in Bangalore for the first time and it felt GOOD!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oktoberfest in India

This week Munich celebrated it's 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest.    India could not be left out of that fun - they are huge beer drinkers and love many things German.   Many Indians learned German as a second or third language, lots of Germans vacation here and most Indian websites have Hindi, English and German as options for the text!    I guess with a name like Schmitt we should feel right at home. 

I had a business trip to Hyderabad which coincided with a client visit from a German Automotive group...Indians also are terrific we set up Oktoberfest here for all to enjoy.   The Westin hosted our event complete with jalapeno poppers (not really German but satisfied my need for processed cheese), soft pretzels, chicken fingers and fish sticks (out of place, I know).      The ballroom was lined with long tables and low benches sporting glass Kingfisher mugs and make shift draft beer stations on each table.    Now this is where Oktoberfest converts to India flavor - we were served only one type of beer - Kingfisher (is there any other?) and were entertained by a fashion show, hip hop dancing, Indian ethnic dancing and two hosts that reminded me of Sonny and Cher.     The best part about the entertainment is that it was all provided by our employees that work on the automotive account.    Darling Indian women sported after five dresses - all in black, bearing their shoulders and the men had on dapper vests and ties.      The hip hop dancers donned GAP hoodies, converse sneakers and Levi's jeans - truly looking like any mall rats you see in the US.    The Desi dancers (Desi means local in Hindi) had amazing Punjabi suits, flowing scarves and absolutely floated across the stage.    This rhapsody of sight and sound was topped off by our guests participating on the catwalk.    What could be more Indian than grown men in Lederhosen escorted by our team down a stage to Lady Gaga.    Oh what a night!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time for Whine - Malbec Please

People often ask us what we miss from home.  The list varies across the family but we all agree on is affordable ice cream (missing the Kroger 2 half gallons for $5USD) vs. the Baskin Robins 1/2 gallon for the equivalent of $8USD and chocolate.   You must bring M&Ms if you are visiting me in Bangalore.    Taco Bell seems to be next on the list and I cannot say we even eat it that much at home, but shredded cheddar, corn chips/ taco shells and refried beans are not found anywhere nearby.  We have googled and found a Taco Bell - this is the next outing the kids are asking for, but like other things in India, the menu is undoubtedly vegetarian and has a hint of masala.   

I have found myself craving Italian food, ravioli with meat sauce and bruschetta.   And what goes with that Italian dinner better than a nice glass of Chianti?  Not the Sula Shiraz Cabernet which is the top Indian wine available here.   Wine is a huge void.   The Indian vineyards are a burgeoning industry so the government taxes imported wine to the hilt.  Just to give you an example, a bottle of YellowTail Shiraz would be $6-9USD depending on where you buy and here it's an equivalent of $25USD+ and that is not really even good wine.  In fact, I was celebrating another week of work last night and headed to the liquor store.  I immediately ventured into the Imported section only to find the selection slim.   I settled on a bottle of Borbore Malbec from Argentina which was Rs1181 or $27USD (the dollar is weak this week).    I was so excited to sit on the terrace with a nice glass of vino - it's quality is irrelevant - all I can say is it's the nicest glass I've had since my Lufthansa flight on August 18.     I stopped myself at just one glass (SHOCKER, I know) and am saving the rest for tonight.    There must be a way to stop my whine for wine, when I found out I will let you know.

Jimmy, Tod, Christian and Tory have landed in India!!!

On July 26th we packed up our house in Grosse Pointe. The neighbors watched as mattresses, bikes, golf clubs and countless unmarked boxes were loaded on the truck.    It was a mad dash - we were expecting to be boarding our fight only 48 hours later.   Doug and I hauled everything we could think of to the front door.  Here is what we missed:  TV,  rattan end tables, office supplies (scissors, pens, glue), rolling pin, plastic glasses, movies, blankets etc... BUT what I did not skimp on was my shoes.   It was a laborious task to sort through the 200 boxes of labeled shoes, boots, sandals, sneakers in my closets.  I live in a 1930's house, so my collection is spread across every closet on the second floor.  I skipped the boot closet for the most part -I was heading to India but I couldn't resist one pair of Frye Riding boots (in case we go to Katmandu), Tory's summer suede booties and a sassy pair of open too Jimmy Choo booties.   At the time, these seemed like a necessity for Jeans, summer dresses and heading out to dinners.   My life has had none of those things thus far - too hot for jeans, my summer dresses are too revealing and most our dinners involve the kids = not sassy!    I am happy I included every pair of flat sandals and ballet shoes I own as the streets and sidewalks are uneven, sandy and usually fairly sketchy.    Additionally, if you have any sort of personal space issues - avoid the elevators.  I find myself walking up four flights of stairs daily to my office and another four flights to the cafeteria.     Flat shoes are now considered exercise equipment because most days the up and down the stairs 3-4 times is all the exercise I get.    Finally all my heels are lining up provide hiding places for dust bunnies and I fear real bugs...I am usually taller than most people barefoot, so the 4 inch louboutins and Tod's strappy sandals are waiting for the other expats to arrive and invite me out...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scene and be Seen

The kids had their first adventure in Bangalore in more ways than one. We are finally getting settled, not having to spend our Saturdays running errands. Doug is able to get our family organized during the week so Saturday is a time for fun together. Two of the best things about being in India are that we have to be together (yes, that is also the negative for a teen and pre-teen) and exploring together. Now Bangalore is not the ultimate tourist destination but you can see some of the gardens that have made Bangalore an attractive spot to live coupled with the consistent weather. Lalbagh is the city's botanical garden that has a place for snow white, a granite hill with a Hindu temple, a gorgeous glass pavilion, a lake and tons of trees made for climbing. It was originally a royal garden and covers 40 acres. Doug and I enjoyed the walk through the garden, however the kids were hot and kept asking when I would open the can of Pringles in my purse. Additionally, my shoe moment was that sneakers with ankle socks do not prevent the red ants for getting to you....Ouch! The really interesting part of this sight seeing trip was that the kids seemed to be the focus for the local people. I felt like Britney and paparazzi, every time Emma and I turned around some random guy was taking our picture and groups of people approached us asking to be photographed with them. I was prepared as this happened to us in June, but it was very disconcerting to Emma and Nolan. We certainly see lots of other European looking folks around Bangalore but a blond family in rather local place draws attention. My advice, smile - you will never see the pictures anyway.

Goin' Goan

My first domestic trip in India was to Goa this week, commonly referred to as the Hawaii of India. I was pumped however I seemed to forget that I am in INDIA! We are fortunate here in Bangalore that we have a brand new beautiful airport, Goa on the other hand has something resembling a large garage built 30 years ago. Ok, not terrible, I carried my luggage onboard and was able to pop off the double propeller plane and get to my car in about 5 minutes. The hotel sent a slick gray SUV to whisk me away down the usual bumpy unpaved road. Difference number 1 between Goa and Hawaii - US infrastructure providing good roads, stop lights and trash removal. As we coast down the road curving around the bay the typical make shift homes and "hotels" which are really local restaurants dot the rolling hills. Difference number 2: nothing familiar, Hawaii has the benefit of money - chain restaurants, stores, strip malls along the mountainous landscape. I am beginning to think that Goa is really the Jamaica of India (which I quite like too, however that would have set my expectations better). Arriving at our hotel, Taj Vivanta - which I was pretty happy with but my colleagues felt that this was low end for the Taj Hotel chain. Next our hotel was city center about 3km from the beach, my only view of the beach was from the roof top bar. The bay looked great, I was sure I would take a walk to the beach, however after about an hour at the roof top for our welcome dinner my hair had doubled its volume from the humidity and I was on the verge of heat exhaustion. Yes, lifting my hand to my mouth for gin & tonics does wear you out in 100% humidity and 33 degrees celcius. I never made it to the beach, the braver more senior crew from work walked down and stayed through the night. Goa has fabulous shacks on the beach that you stay late and do it up. Goa also bucks the India norm in that alcohol is cheap and other decadent past times are enjoyed openly. Next time I go, i will get to the beach and take advantage of the 7 bottle export option and stock the bar for my visitors.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cat Lady Update!

My Feline Foe has moved but has apparently forgotten one blonde cat who arrives at 6 am looking for breakfast. I am reminded of this daily when my dog launches off my bed toward the balcony frantically howling at the cat who stares blankly at our if to say, "why can't you feed me?" I am hoping maintenance comes and picks up the 18 bags of kitty litter left on the corner, but for now, I am happy the other 49 cats are gone.

This requires pocket change!

Sight seeing has taken on a whole new meaning in India. Sensory overload is oppressive - sounds, sights, smells, taste and general motion sickness are part of my commute to work every day. I now have my favorite cow family I see each morning before I make the turn to our facility, commonly known as Bang 3. I recognize the way home not by street signs (because there are not any) but by street vendors selling fruit to people in traffic jams on a particular corner or the stores I long to stop at but have no time. One of these days I will get to Mother Earth, @Home or the Cane Boutique. One of the most unique things to see is a pack of beggars (I know, not very nice) but this is a special variety. On a few key roads, like the one in front of Emma's dance studio, are the cross-dressing group.
From a far, this crew stands out from the regular street beggars - as they are dressed in colorful, crisp sarees and arms stacked with shimmery bangles. A closer stare reveals wispy side burns, jaw achne and a pronounced adam's apple. Could it be? Is that a guy? I am not convinced, but his partner slowly makes his way along the cars parked in the traffic jamb. Knock, knock! They have stopped at my car - asking for money. My driver (who is usually pretty strict on waving away the panderers) promptly rolls down the window and forks over a few rupees. Appalled by this,I am informed that if you don't give some money- you might get flashed or the pair of beggers may start kissing each other! Still feeling safe in the backseat of my car, I put on my oversized Mary-Kate Olsen sunglasses and pretend I cannot see a thing. Safe!

About an hour later Emma and I are waitng on the steps of the studio waiting for our pick up and the troop of day ladies meander up to us asking for something in Hindi. This time Emma puts on her sunglasses and we both look at the sky. Thankfully they walked away, I am told they usually don't bother the ladies :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Becky the Tattooed Lady

For as long as I can remember I have wanted a tattoo. I really thought Senior High School Spring Break 1991 would have been the time, however I was sick with pneumonia and could not go on the trip. Many of my "girls" came back from Cancun with a tattoo, someplace their parents could not see because as Catholic School Girls - this was something they didn't do. Next I thought, going to college, I would get one. Would it be my Greek Sorority letters on my ankle, a "tramp stamp," or again something small nobody else would see. Meeting Doug (my spouse) at 18 distracted me from that because he is not a fan of defacing yourself (including ear piercing, I know, WEIRD). So I passed...then I had William, our son, at age 22 and really who has the time, money or desire for more pain to get a tattoo. Over the years, I have indulged in temporary tattoos, I have to say they are fun...Even Chanel has temporary tattoos you can buy at their boutiques or other luxury stores. I may have to get those at duty free Chanel in Paris. India has provided a solution for me and I am thrilled to share it with you- MEHENDI!!!!

So Mehendi is the application of temporary tattoo which is a favorite among Indian women. Mehendi is a type of leaf ground into a paste and then applied to patterns on the palm or bottoms of the feet. It is typically applied during special occassions like weddings and Indian festivals (or if you at the mall, you can get a good one for Rs 200 ($5USD). It is also considered auspicious for a bride to decorate her hands with Mehendi. One of my colleagues also told me that for children, they would paint the insides of the hands and feet as a way to "cool" them. I haven't investigated but I am thinking it has something to do with estrogen and the leaf - hmmmmmm... i may need that for all the hot flashes I get in Indian elevators and taxis. Oy.

Attached are two pictures, the darker version of the tattoo is when it was applied, it comes out like a tube of cake decorating gel. After a few hours it drys and then you are left with a beautiful stain on your skin. The first picture is on Day 5. It's now day 7 and I am starting to see things fade, but the peacock on my finger, the fish on my knuckles and the basket of fruit on my wrist are still very visible.

This is professional and work approved, so if you come to India, please experience this!

Finally,growing up I remember a song about a tattooed lady, here are lyrics. I am nowhere near as exciting as Lydia, but this song sure paints a vivid picture and I wonder if Mehendi could really do this:

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
and a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!

When her robe is unfurled she will show you the world,
if you step up and tell her where.
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree,
or Washington crossing The Delaware.

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
When her muscles start relaxin',
up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of them all.
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
with a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!

Come along and see Buffalo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here's Godiva, but with her pajamas on.

Here is Grover Whelan unveilin' The Trilon.
Over on the west coast we have Treasure Isle-on.
Here's Nijinsky a-doin' the rhumba.
Here's her social security numba.

Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Champ of them all.
She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet.
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.
And now the old boy's in command of the fleet,
for he went and married Lydia!

I said Lydia...
(He said Lydia...)
They said Lydia...
We said Lydia, la, la!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Barbeque Nation

This entry is for all my foodie friends as well as those who think they do not like Indian food. We have been in India for 5 weeks now and have been very open to any and all things served to us. Initially we were worried about the spice level, but it's not so much the "heat" of the food but the "flavor" of the spice that we are getting used to. Bangalore has not shortage of options and I have learned from my colleagues that this is the place in India where you really can find anything if you are willing to pay or trot all over town. Other metropolitan cities in India have less options for Western people but somehow with the influx of expatriates to Bangalore, the options abound. That being said, you can buy Lays Potato Chips, however they are masala flavored. We ordered Nachos at an Italian Restaurant, Little Italy (; apparenty in India, Mexican is also found at Italian restaurants however I still miss Taco Bell Nachos Belle Grande. You can also stop at McDonalds and for the equivalent of $2.50 USD you can get a Chicken Masala Mac (Indian version of a Big Mac) combo meal - again I prefer the two all beef paties with the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, toasted on a seasame seed in bun.

When we stop trying to find the replacement for our favorites in India, we actually quite enjoy the food and have come up with a short list of some preferred menu items and one FAVORITE restaurant. Having a cook now for the last two weeks has also improved our dining experience, as she is fabulous at making what we like with the right Indian "flavor" and has cut down the time wasted deliberating what's for dinner??? So if you are new to India, here are my recommendations for eating:
Dosas - they are like big puffed slightly crispy bread items which you can dip in gravies or chutneys
Biryani - this can be very spicy, so I recommend using the yogurt sauce the provide on the side as sort of a "cool me off sauce"
Chippati - when it's fresh and homemade, quite tasty especially when you spread on some ghee (liquified butter) and cinnamon
Channa Masala - chick peas and herbs
Paneer - this has the look of tofu but it's actually Indian cottage cheese cut in cubes and when grilled with chili sauce you will lap it up
Tandoor meats - this is about the closest we come to slow grilled/ smoked meats- chicken, lamb are definitely delicious
Fruits- yes you can eat them and you will NOT get sick, we have been eating apples, oranges, goa, bananas, watermelo, cucumber and tomatoes...

So on to the favorite restaurant, Barbeque Nation was a massive hit with the kids (see pictures) as you have a live grill in your table. Unlimited kebobs - chicken, prawn, veggies, which sides that range from paneer to grilled mutton followed by an all you can eat Indian Buffet and a dessert bar that includes vanilla sundaes. All this for a price of Rs450 or about $10 for those over 12 and Rs 249 (half price) for Emma and Nolan. And if you make it at lunch time you get a complimentary adult beverage ....YUMMY planters punch and screwdrivers. We hope to get back soon, but if you are visiting me, I will surely drag you here because in addition to the mouth watering food, the atmosphere rocks and there is live music in the evening. Bangalore has three locations and my favorite is the rooftop in Koramangla. I'm hungry already!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Going Native...facepaint and all!

Every day I learn something new and I am learning there are no dumb questions in India, people are generally happy to answer questions about their culture. One of the things that has mesmerized me is the variations on traditional Bindi that people wear on their heads. A bindi is the dot, painted design or marking that people put on their chakra between the eyes. Before I arrived in India, I thought that married women wore the bindi as their sign that they were married. However upon arriving here, I started to see men, young girls and women with Bindis on their heads...and boy how they varied.

Here are the reasons you wear a Bindi (as far as I have observed or gotten input from my driver, maid and cook):
- After you make a Puja (prayer offering at the temple) the priest will mark your head between your eyes which is said to be the third eye/ powerful chakra
-Anyone who makes a puja can get the bindi (pronounced Bin DEE)and it can be all sorts of colors
- Women tend to wear the bindi as part of regular dress and it can be a red adhesive dot (you can buy huge packages of them for just a few rupees); you can match them to your dress and add jewels or just draw them on with liquid black eyeliner (like my picture)
- I am told at one point it was a sign of marriage in north India, but that is no longer consistent...

So here is part 2 in my Saree adventure last Saturday. As I arrived at the event, which was at a great hotel, all the westerners were ooohing and ahhhing. I felt chic and with it, until i got to the event and my colleagues hurried me to the wash room to be rewrapped. I apparently bought a wedding saree- too fancy for regular wear even though the invite said formal, it was too short because I am too tall and it was not tight enough. OK, I can live with that but then i was stopped in the foyer and the girls put a bindi on me, so i would look more beautiful. I am not sure that is the look I achieved, it was more like comical attraction.

I am not giving up, my other saree came back from the tailor today with the correct half-shirts custom made for me. I will find a reason to put that on soon even if I am just hosting guests here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Brake Inspectors

Cows are sacred in India for practicing Hindus. You will not find beef at the regular grocery store. The cow is said to be revered for many reasons, 1) it gives so much to the earth – takes so little (grass?), 2) all animals are reincarnated human souls, 3) the bull is depicted as Lord Shiva and 4) many of the cows products are necessary to make puja (prayer offering). Cow dung is also been known to be used for the bindy (the spot many people put between their eyes). More to come on the bindy...

Many people have the impression that cows walk around India – and you are right. It’s fairly typical to see a cow on the corner, just hanging out or laying down and it’s very common to see several cows together munching on some discarded trash along the streets. Who do these cows belong to? Every day I see them roaming the streets, perched on the corners, slowly trotting into oncoming traffic but always without owners. I have asked multiple people, “where are the owners? How do they get back at night?” No answers yet. We have decided that their jobs are to be a brake inspectors, especially when they are perched in the middle of a busy road.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh Saree for not blogging, I was busy shopping!

So the day has come that I actually NEED to purchase clothing for myself. I cannot honestly remember a time in the last 10 years I have needed a thing but the NEED to shop pervades me on a daily basis. Working from home I would often drift over to Saks or Nordstrom’s and peruse the Sale sections, read the Updates from Fashion Week or check out the ever pricey but oh so desirable where even Barbie wear’s Christian Louboutin shoes. Here in the office in India, anything that has a category of shopping, sports, evite, travel or FUN is blocked….we cannot even check yahoo email during the day. At home I am left with a SLOW government run internet that times out each time the flash player tries to load the images at …so I am clueless until my next visitor brings me a copy of InStyle Magazine.

Thankfully I am in India and regular fashion here consists of Salweer Kameez or the Punjab Suit for women, Kurtas (Tunics) and loose pants, a Saree and jeans for weekend wear. Additionally, there are so many places you can pick up one of these items – it’s fairly inexpensive to fit in. And I will say, seriously comfortable to pull on some Indian attire, it feels a little like dressy pajamas. My colleagues get excited to see me embrace the Indian woman look and even strangers have walked up to me to tell me I look “pretty” or “much better in their clothes than the American ones I brought”…please do not tell Tory Burch her famous tunics do not pass for real Indian clothes.

Back to the need, I am attending a formal graduation for the HR Academy at Accenture (where we have entry level people spend 2 years working and going through formal HR training). The venue is the ITC gardenia hotel and the attire is formal, a Saree. Now this is a tricky thing for a non-Indian woman to pull off because it’s 11 yards of fabric strategically wrapped around you- no pins, snaps or velco and you are supposed to be able to move freely without it falling off. I decided to go to a Saree store that is known for bling, I figured do it up. You actually try on Sarees fully clothed and they wrap you up in about 30 seconds. It’s quite amazing and most of the sales people were men. I tried on about 10 different styles and the two pictured are what I ended up with. The multi colored one is heavier cotton with small mirrored disks sewn in and was about $100 while the other is chiffon with black sequins and costs about $35. I am bit nervous about putting myself together on Saturday without help and even more nervous about trying to go to the restroom with that amount of volume on….Oy! No champagne for me.

Yet the final complication to this formal event is that I shipped all my shoes! I could only fit 10 pairs in my luggage and the rest went by sea. So the matte gold flats, gold lizard heels, silver sparkly gladiators, fushcia flip flops and many other combinations are in a carton in Colombo (which is Sri Lanka) waiting to clear customs into India. I am going to have to be boring and wear the black or nude practical pair I packed for the first few weeks. Lesson learned, always sneak one pair of bling shoes in your bag for India.

What's Doug doing??

Everyone is very interested in how Doug is doing with this move to India. For those of you who do not know him personally, Doug is my spouse, Saturday night date for the last 18 years, personal support network and my biggest fan. I am eternally grateful that he agreed to give up his career temporarily, man the fort and come to India. So for the last 6 weeks as we prepared to move and have been in India, Doug has been orgnaizing the kitchen, packing and repacking the cupboards, running errands and waiting in line at all the public offices. He thinks we are now in a routine and is ready to commence some more productive efforts during the day (aside from watching the cook cook, the housekeeper clean, the gardener weed and playing squash). He may work, teach, consult or invent something new...all to be seen. If you are interested in keeping up on his journey, you can see his blog at:

Bad Habits, Not Really bad in India

As a parent I am constantly telling my children not to stare, pick your nose, belch or pass gas (loudly anyway) in public. These things are essential to preserving your own dignity in North American society and out of respect for those around you (especially in the case of the passing of gas). Outside of Western society and crowded planes, these habits have different meanings and level of offense.

First of all in India, it is not considered rude to stare and in fact, you will find as a fair skinned person – you are stared at quite a bit. Add blonde and female and there will be entire buses that peer out of their windows at you as you sit in traffic. Ignore it and get used to it, no matter where you go, if you are foreign, the local population is generally curious about you and checking out your differences.

Spitting – we do not see this too often in the US and I have experienced it in China, but spitting is quite a sight here in India. People like to chew on betel leaves and tobacco which forms a most putrid red mixture. You can tell a heavy spitter the minute they open up their mouths because their teeth are stained red like clay. The government is trying to get people to stop spitting on the monuments, on hospital floors or in the holy water near their temples. If you make it to India, you won’t go more than 5 minutes without seeing a stream of red spit streaming out of a group of people. The only good thing about spitters here vs. China, they don’t accompany their spit with disgusting guttural noise.

I haven’t come across any of my normal habits that are considered vile over here, but when I do, I will let you know.

p.s. this picture I borrowed but I have seen ones that say "Do not spit in holy water"