Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Perfect Bollywood Ending

Could you end a trip to India more perfectly? On our last full night we attended a special premiere of a new, Bollywood drama. One of the Americans we met at church on Sunday is attending one of the top film schools in the world here in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. So when we heard about a special screening of a movie coming out in the next few days, we jumped on it. To our surprise some pretty big film stars showed up. I had no idea who they were, but I always wondered what it would be like to be a paparazzi. This was my golden chance. Pretty funny!
This was the the movie we watched. Although it was all in Hindi (w/ no subtitles), I still really enjoyed it. It was based off a novel from the most famous writer of Gandhi's time. It was sort of a Shakespearean love story, pretty good plot. I sat next to one of the girl's Indian roommates so she could paraphrase what was going on. I still want to see it again with subtitles.
This was a funny sign on our way into the movie. Next time someone stops you at a movie theater in America and says you can't bring food in, just tell them it's an eatable.
The school is located in the middle of Film City, which is the town where all the movies are shot. This is a fake forest they were building for an upcoming movie.
Here's a few other highlights from Mumbai (yes, we did work, but you probably wouldn't enjoy pictures of me sitting around working on the computer or sitting in meetings).

This is the Taj Mahal Hotel. It's the one the terrorists ran inside of and held people hostage for nearly two days. It is a really nice hotel where all the delegates and celebrities stay when they visit. Several were in the hotel when they stormed in. The tower on the right is the one they set on fire (it's been rebuilt of course). Our driver gave us a tour of South Mumbai telling the story of where the terrorists arrived (on an inflatable boat on the beach) and went on their massive killing spree throughout the city.
That Taj Mahal Hotel is right next to the Gateway to India. It was built for King George V and Queen Mary's visit to India. Nice gesture right? Well, when the Indians officially kicked the British out of their country for good years later, they sent the soldiers packing through the same gate and on to the boat (immediately on the other side is a big loading dock into the ocean).
This was a police cricket league game going on. We stopped to watch for a bit. I bought a starter cricket set. Now I have to learn how to play it. I bought a miniature cricket bat for CJ that I can't wait to give him.
I've seen a lot of interesting things while we've been driving around. This one was pretty crazy. A Sikh riding in a showcase automobile. Our driver wasn't exactly sure why.

I figured no one would believe me if I didn't get a picture of this. The typical family car for a family of four. You'd see this all the time on the busy streets and even highways. Dad, with the oldest kid in front of him and the mother side straddling the motorcycle holding her child. I'm a bit of a risk taker, but even I was nervous for them, because the mother typically can't hold on.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Goodbye Delhi, Hello Mumbai

So we wrapped up in Delhi this past week and flew to Mumbai to meet with a few more companies and wrap up our research. I was getting used to that dirty, less than safe city. It had quite a bit of character.
But I really like Mumbai. Although it still has very dirty parts, there are big stretches of the city that are very clean. When we got here, the hostel we booked was not as advertised. It's located on this side-alley in a not so safe location and is tiny. Then on Sunday, one of the ex-pats offered to drive us home from church, and when she saw it said 'You can't stay here. You should come home with me.' Fine, twist my arm. It has been the biggest blessing and so wonderful. I think we would have survived there, but it would have been pretty miserable because it was hard to get anywhere from there and we would have had to work all day in those tiny little rooms. There was no water pressure to shower with so we would have been washing out of the bucket. This lady, Debbie Dickens, is so nice. Today, she let us use her driver to take us downtown and sight see and shop. It was so nice to have someone with tons of knowledge about the area, shopping, etc. And the food has been great. Anyway, it has made Mumbai a wonderful experience.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Indian Hair Cut

We broke a 10 year old heat record here in Delhi the other day. And my mop on top was only making matters worse, so I decided to go for a hair cut. They have such nice hair here, I figured they must have good barber shops (actually they do have them all over). The hair cut is fine, but the experience was the best part. The barber shop was just down the street and looked like any barber shop I've been to. Then the guy started cutting my hair and I've never seen scissors fly so fast. He cut, shaved my sides with a razor and gave me a head massage in 15 minutes, while he was watching TV. And it only cost me 50 rupees ($1). Of course I doubled it just because the experience was so fun. As I was getting my head massaged, I was wishing he hadn't cut it so short so I could come back tomorrow. I wonder how much they charge for a regular massage...

An Indian Wedding

We were coming home from a tourist spot this evening and saw all this music and dancing going on. I didn't know if it was a religious observance or what but I wanted to get a video (sorry for the quality, I was trying to be discreet and film while walking).
Then, when we were almost through this young guy (about our age) comes running up screaming at us. I was thinking 'uh-oh, now I'm in trouble'. Turns out it was his sister's wedding and he was so excited that two Americans walked by and he was begging us to join them for one minute. So, he throws us into the middle of a moving dance circle surrounded by people and horned instruments. We danced with them for a bit and then he pulls us out saying 'please one picture' to come join the bride and groom by their carriage. The crazy guy is the one in the second picture obviously. It was one of the funner experiences we've had here, and I kind of wish he had asked us to stay, because we would have.
The bride didn't seem too happy that her brother was parading us around and making a scene at her wedding. And I'm sure the husband was like 'what kind of family did I just marry into?' Cute kid on the carriage though.
Yes, those are sweat stains that he hugged us with afterwards.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It had to happen sometime

So, my insides are screaming at me for some of the foods that I've been eating lately. Not a problem. I've been able to deal with it pretty well. Then today we are meeting with some big-wig from an international non-profit group and all of the sudden it feels like someone kicked my intestines and started squeezing. I was pinching so hard, I really wanted to stay in that meeting.

Finally, I couldn't take it. As we were "slowly" wrapping things up I tried to carefully excuse myself. Only problem is there is only one private bathroom (the company was stationed in a large house), and it's two feet behind us (I'm praying the walls are soundproof). So I rush in and barely make it. Then I tried to courtesy flush in case there is a crack in the door and I realize the toilet doesn't flush!! You gotta be kidding me! This is a disaster! The guy didn't just want to walk away, so he's standing out there asking Moriah if I'm okay.

Meanwhile, after wrapping things up in there, I'm trying frantically to figure out how to flush the toilet. I pushed every button and turned every faucet in the whole bathroom. I even had the top off and was trying to do it manually from the tank. Not even a bucket to try and force it to flush. Finally in desperation (or frustration), with the tank lid sitting on the counter, I just start yanking the lever up and down about a hundred times. It worked! Well sort of. It never completely flushed, but it released some water and ensured there wouldn't be a "gift" waiting for the next person to use the toilet.

So I got done and prepared myself to walk out like nothing had ever happened. Luckily, the guy we were meeting with had given up on me and gone back to his desk (still hadn't figured out what I was going to say, although a quote from Ace Ventura sprang to mind). Moriah was just sitting there wide-eyed thinking 'what the?' Funny that her first question was "Did you get wi-fi on your smart phone or something?" She knows me too well already. So, I think I was able to avoid complete and total embarrassment and save a little face in front of the company, but I thought I would share my first "emergency" in India with you.

Monday, May 9, 2011


First, a disclaimer for Courtney: Although I am smiling in these pictures, I am not having any fun while you are at home getting four hours of intermittent sleep taking care of our children. You are a wonderful mother and I love you!

I haven't posted in a while. The reason is because we've been touristing to a few places. Sometimes when we are feeling energetic we'll go somewhere in the evening after work and then on Saturday we made the big trek down South to see the Taj Mahal (warning: many pictures to follow).
On our way down (4 hours one way) we had to stop in between states to pay a tax or something. Our car was bombarded with people selling stuff or showcasing these monkeys. I stepped out to get a monkey on my back. Bad idea! Not only was I immediately surrounded by ten peddlers, but the monkey kept pinching me in the face. For their size, they pack a punch. Worth 10 rupees (about a quarter) though. I found out later they had just taken them from the buildings nearby. We passed an abandoned building driving and saw dozens and dozens popping out of every nook and cranny.
This is the gate that leads into the Taj Mahal. Everything is about perfect symmetry and optical illusions. Not a bad entrance to your wife's grave.
The writing on the side is from the Quran. As they painted/etched the writings going up they made it slightly bigger each step of the way so that no matter how close you stand it all looks like the same size font.
Then as you walk through the gate, the Taj Mahal "looms" into view. Optical illusion #2: If you go to the edge of this arch and walk backwards the Taj Mahal appears to get bigger. I tried to capture this on video but it couldn't trick my trusty ol' lense. Pretty cool though.
Courtney, I love you, but not as much as Emperor Shah Jahan loved his 3rd wife. I probably won't hire 20,000 people to work 12 years to build you a perfectly symmetrical grave site. But I still love you.
Every tour needs a good guide. This was ours. He looks Mexican in this picture, but he's not. He grew tired of us taking pictures the wrong way so he would take our cameras, positioned us and then take several pictures for us. He's been doing this for that past 20 years. He was great, and very passionate about the Taj Mahal.
We also had our 15 minutes of fame. For some reason, 20-25 people came up to us while we were touring the Taj and asked us to take a picture with them (and everyone else in their group, one by one). I thought it was because we were white as the marble, but there other white people around. My guess is that it is because we looked very American. Several of them shook my hand and congratulated me on Usama's death (you're welcome, played a huge role in that one). Anyway, I thought it was so funny, I took a picture of it. Also, parents wanted their infants and small children to shake our hand, so they would force the sometimes terrified children to extend their hand or look our way and say hi. Poor kids.
Moriah got a little too into her 15 minutes of fame, and while I was trying to snap a picture of this cute kid and her dad, she popped her head in. I was cracking up as she realized I wasn't trying to take a picture of her.
Speaking of cute kids, Indian kids are the cutest. I want to bring one home with me. I actually sat there for 10 minutes on the ride home and thought about how I could sneak one on to the plane. This is inside the Taj Mahal. This little girl started to run as I took a picture. Then her parents grabbed her and made her stand still while I took some pictures. I felt kinda bad. Pobre sita.
See, aren't they cute. I'm going to the market soon to try and buy Emma Jane a churidar like this one. Also, the little anklets that have the bells on them. The little girl who ran had some on her that were so cute when she stepped.
Another pic our guide took. He was always framing the Taj Mahal with something.
They made us wear protective covers on our shoes to preserve the stone and probably also for religious reasons. I thought the covers would be enough to walk into the mosque next to the Taj Mahal, but some guy laid into me when I tried to walk in. Dumb American!
A view of the garden looking from the Taj Mahal.
The top dome actually comes off and there are little cookies inside, Yum!
Afterward, we went and saw how the gem stones were laid perfectly flush into the marble. It was done by this artisan family, and the special method has been handed down from generation to generation. They still take a several months carving and fitting them by hand. At least they made it look like they did, and wanted to charge me an arm and leg to buy anything. It was pretty impressive watching them do it.
Then we went to the Agra Fort, where the emperor and his family lived. This is a view across the garden to his bedroom. He was eventually jailed by his power hungry son and locked up in the tower over on the left until he died. Rough life.
A throne fit for a king. This guy understood. This is the entrance into a very nice, private and comfortable bathroom.
This is a carving on the side of the walls, before Hitler flipped it around and made it a symbol of terrible things, the Swastika was (and is) a symbol for good luck in many of the Indian religions.
The emperor and his wife(s) took a bath in this big tea cup. Those are steps on the side.

It was a long, but really fun trip to Agra and back. We also saw a small boy charming a cobra, but we were driving and I didn't get a picture. This is an amazing place with so much history.

Another evening after work we took a quick trip to few places in Delhi. This is the Lotus temple. Built recently by the Ba'hai religious group who believe everyone has the truth (or parts of it). It was pretty peaceful inside. The lotus flower is the state flower of India.
Then we went to see the India gate. Very pretty, but not so safe at night. I was surrounded by a bunch of teenage boys who decided for some reason not to do anything.
Then we went to the Old Fort for their light and laser history show, but it was cancelled due to technical problems.

Then, last night we went to this Akshardam Hindu Temple. They wouldn't let us take our camera in, so this is a pic from the web. But that's what it looked like.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why you'll never meet a left-handed Indian

So, I finally figured out how to get a little hot water which makes shaving much easier. They don't have plugs for their sinks though, so I found this little pitcher and bucket under the sink. I thought I was pretty creative, finding a way to hold the hot water while I shave... until I found out what the bucket was for.

I thought it was for laundry or cleaning the bathroom. It turns out Indians don't use toilet paper (they have given me some, but that's not how they do it). Instead they fill up these buckets with water and every time they go to the bathroom you scoop up a pitcher full of water and wash yourself. The reason why you'll never meet a left-handed Indian is because they only use their left hand. They eat, shake hands, etc with their right hand.

Then when I got to work the next day, I noticed their bucket was filled with water. I understand they diligently clean their hands after, but the whole mental image still grosses me out. And I was shaving my face using the same bucket. Here is a link if you don't believe me (don't worry I don't have a squatter toilet). Moriah is still laughing at me.

Speaking of Moriah, she is feeling a little under appreciated by Indians. She wrote a funny blog post about it here.