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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"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Avoiding Late Fees

Blockbuster doesn't exist in India- or I have not seen one yet, but we do have a small movie rental place in our gated community. In order to be a member of the movie rental we had to join the pool club; it's not clear how they are related to us either. The deposit is Rs500 (which is about $11USD) and you can rent a movie for Rs50 (or about $1.20) which is much cheaper than the US Blockbuster chain which I think averages $4.99USD. We took advantage of this local store and rented Night At the Museum 2 on Saturday night, we had already seen the movie, but our choices for new release DVDs were quite limited. Fast forward to last night, Tuesday, the doorbell rings at 7pm. The clerk from the movie store came on his scooter to collect the movie. I guess there are no late fees in India.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday Night Fever

Despite my best efforts, I have gotten sick in India. Not Delhi Belly but a case of the flu (self-diagnosed of course!). This is the first time in about 10 years I have taken a real sick day, since working from home in the US has allowed me to muddle through most any sickness I have had. When you have to drive an hour to the office, meet face to face all day and risk exposing 10,000 people to your cold - you think twice about dragging yourself in. After a pretty productive week at work and a good trip to the nursery to find some plants for our terrace, we headed out to a nice Thai dinner on Saturday night. A general malaise set in and I was in bed by 9, only to wake up with a fever of 101 and a full body ache. Fortunately I shipped an arsenal of familar over the counter pharmacy remedies and then some heavy duty antiboitics. I began to run through the checklist of potential viruses or deadly diseases I could have contracted, all from the comfort of my bed via my iPhone web access...Could be flu, H1N1 (and this was the only vaccine I did not get before I left for India), Japanese Encephelitis, Malaria or the common cold. I typically jump to conclusions, fearing the worst as it could only be my luck as the sole income earner now to be sick! Fortunately I brought along my personal Chemist, Doug, who calmly told me that Malaria and Japanese Encephelitis require bug bites, which I was seemingly devoid of. Secondly, he gave me some regular motrin and 2 tablespoons of Robitussin and put me back to bed. I did feel better and was able to watch my alma mater, University of Michigan, win their first home football game of the season. However, as Sunday passed by I seemed to get worse and developed a cough that leaves me sounding like E.T. Now having a sick day far away from your real home, is not so much fun. One of the downfalls of living in a third world country means that there are intermittent power losses...Well one of those happened today and knocked our TV and internet out, so I tried to pass the time with solataire (the kind with real cards) and naps.

For those of you celebrating Labor day today, enjoy the last hurrah of summer in the US and I will continue to nurse my flu/ cold wrapped up in my snuggy and isotoner slippers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Waist Not!

I had this vision of myself in India; healthy, thin and glowing from my new vegetarian diet and increased yoga practice. I even packed my skinny jeans, the ones that really only fit me after a round of the flu back home. The future me allowed the old me back in Michigan to eat lots of hamburgers, fries, mixed drinks and everything I thought I would miss in India. I stopped checking in on my weight because I just knew that arriving in India would trigger any excess to melt away.

Let's review what I have been eating: chipatis (basically wheat, water, butter), dahl (beans), gravies (i am not sure what the ingredients are but all Indian food has some sort of gravy you dip the chipati in), masala potato chips, domino's pizza and a lot of cappucinos (non-fat milk is not an option). Healthy? Not so much. High carb, sugar and unknowns - you got it. Since the scale at the gym is only in kilograms, I haven't tried it because I am not sure I want to know or be forced to do the math. Clothes fit the same as when I arrived but those skinny jeans are still folded tightly on the shelf waiting to bust out in India.

I am on a mission to get healthy, find a cook that can follow the ayurvedic principles ( and get into a yoga routine again. Finding a yoga studio here is seemingly impossible because it seems that the local Indians don't really do yoga at a studio! I may have to organize my own class and get a teacher to come to my house or park. There is one positive option, a personal trainer for 20 one hour sessions a month for Rs4000 or roughly $90, I may have to indulge.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Christmas in September!

I recently heard the saying that an army runs on it's stomach...well this platoon of 5 was headed for an ambush! We do like Indian food, and yes, you can buy American imported items, but things are just not quite the same. Today was a very exciting day at the house, we received a care package for our friends Jacqui, Lauren and Julia (see picture of the necessities - poptarts, cheetos, fruit roll-ups and gushers) and our air shipment arrived.
Generally I think of myself as a light packer, I can survive a week in Asia or Europe with one smaller roller bag and a purse/computer. I tried to be light but we still arrived with 20 bags between the five of us at the airport and then proceeded to spend $500 at SPAR (walmarts poorer sister store) on items like pot holders, salt-n-pepper shakers, paper towel, food, kitchen towels, pillows and so on. I packed the air shipment on July 27th, so I really could not remember what we were receiving. Just to give you a sense of how much life has been like camping, these were the items we got the most excited about opening:
-Queen sized bed blanket
-Bath towels
-crockery/ pots with handles and lids that fit
-legos (not really a necessity, but makes the kids happy thus me happy)
-cork screw
So happy days are ahead and our Sea shipment should be here in a few more weeks bringing mattresses, bikes, scooters, tennis rackets, clotheses, my 40 pairs of shoes (that will be it's own celebratory blog), bedding, more towels, peanut butter, miracle whip etc...
There was one additional surprise in the air shipment, apparently i shipped a package of turkey bacon. Disgusting you say? I agree. I knew I had purchased some in July but could never find it in the fridge, apparently it got packed and has been sitting in its air tight package for the last 5 weeks. We opted to carry that one right outside...I hope the cats across the street find it :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Potty Talk

It's time to talk business, what are the bathrooms really like in India? Since all of us have to use a bathroom, and some of us require more facilities than others - this is a serious matter. The options in India range from the side of the road (most common for Indian men) to a standard western style toilet with toilet paper available. However, finding what suits you at the time you need it most can become like searching for a needle in a haystack.
As an American I have a hard time thinking I can successfully use an Indian toilet, see picture above, however I have learned that it really facilitates the "going" (see attached diagram). Can you believe that? I guess we haven't tried in the US hence the need to advertise laxatives on TV. That diagram was actually on a website I found advocating the return to the Indian toilet for "health purposes." The only place I have actually seen this type of toilet was in a few homes we looked at with servant quarters, apparently the help likes a traditional squat. Most often I have tried to time my bio breaks with a trip to the mall, a nice hotel or upscale restaurant. Even then, toilet paper availability is slim. Just today at work, there was not one sheet of toilet paper in the bathroom on my floor, I had to make a quick dash to another floor. If you are wondering why toilet paper is not standard, most bathrooms have a little spigot for water so you can use the left hand to clean and rinse off. I will carry toilet paper in my purse before I conform. These spigots are present in the offices and nice hotels as well, a few times when the rest room has been full, I have paused for a moment to see if I can hear anyone using the spigott. Not yet!
On to toilet paper itself, I am used to shopping at Costco in the US and purchased 30 roles of the economical "Kirkland" brand for roughly $14.99 USD. In India, 10 roles (which a much smaller circumference) were available for Rs700 which translates to $14.89 USD. The kids are getting rationed 3 squares per use :)
Oh and if you are coming to visit me, we have three western style bathrooms equipped with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flushable wipes and a room freshner.