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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 :)