Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää, Suomi! (myöhästynyt)

This blog's title is brought to you courtesy of Google Translate, because I don't actually speak Finnish. It means, "Happy Independence Day, Finland! (Belated)"

Seriously, though, how many "a"s with umlauts/diaereses does one word need?

So, December 6th is Finnish Independence Day (a.k.a. the July 4th of Finland.) I had no idea. 

Reader, you may or may not be aware that the "TK" in "ATK" is short for "Tikkanen," a nice Finnish name (it means woodpecker). That's right, my people (at least some of my people) came to America from Finland. And though I don't speak Finnish or know much about Finnish history and culture (except what I've seen on a 60 Minutes piece about how Finns love to do the tango)  I couldn't pass up the chance to attend the National Day celebration at the Finnish embassy on December 6. 

Finns tangoing in the snow

I was very excited to attend Finnish National Day. Even though I suppose I really shouldn't claim to be Finnish (for all the reasons stated above), I do anyways--always proudly proclaiming to anyone who asks that I am half Finnish! (And a quarter Croatian! Got to give a shout out to the Croats.)  However, at an event hosted by Finnish diplomats with real live Finnish-speaking Finnish people, a fourth generation half Finnish, non-Finnish speaking American who knows nothing about the country is not particularly impressive to anyone. Especially since among the people I went with were a real live Finnish person and his American wife.

Still the people were very gracious and humored me. My friend's husband (the actual Finnish guy) explained the story of Finnish independence. (Take that Bolsheviks!)  He would also point out all the Finnish people in attendance when I wondered how many of the people at the party were actual Finns. Like some folks have gay-dar, he has a solid Finn-dar and could point at random people engaged in conversation and say, "She's a Finn. The other person is not." That's without hearing their conversation. I asked how he knew and he said, "You can just tell. They look Finnish." I should probably note that all the people he pointed to were about 6 feet tall with blond hair and blue eyes. Still, I'm not sure how he knew they were Finnish and not Norwegian or something.

Lastly, some lady teased me about how Americans can't say Finnish words or names correctly. I managed not to point out that the vowel to consonant ratio in their words is bananas. (I kid. She was super sweet).

So, to make a long story short, Happy Birthday, Finland! 95 years young as of December 6, 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Going, Going, GOA!

(Do you get it? It's a play on the phrase "going, going, GONE!" often used in baseball games when someone hits a home run. But instead of the "gone" I used "Goa" because that is the place Mr. ATK and I went a couple weeks ago. So I said, "going, going, GOA!" It's funny because it's a pun. Puns are the highest form of humor.)

So, Mr. ATK and I went to Goa over the holiday weekend--the holidays in question being Veteran's Day and Diwali, conveniently falling on November 12 and 13 this year.  Goa, for those of you who are unaware, is a state in South India that is renown for not only its beaches, but also for the cows that reside on said beaches.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the trip because it was awesome and fun and relaxing. If I have to list the things I liked the most they would be as follows:

  • Clean air. The air quality was infinitely better down south. Seriously, the air quality in Delhi recently has been horrible. Like in the hazardous "don't let young children, old people, or asthmatics outside" hazardous. While I'm sure the air in Goa is not pristine, the sky was blue and we were not constantly engulfed in some sort of toxic fog.
  • Cows! Being from Wisconsin, cows should not be quite as fascinating to me as they are. And normally I wouldn't be taking 80 pictures of cows. But cows on a beach, well, that's a whole 'nother story.  Mr. ATK pointed out several times how I took more pictures of cows than anything else. He said, "All we are going to have are pictures of cows!" To which I replied, "But the cows are on the beach! Cows don't belong on a beach. Or in a restaurant.  That's why the pictures must be taken! If this cow were standing in a pasture in front of a red barn, I would not be taking its picture."
Hey, Mr. Cow! Hope this beach is big enough for the two of us!
  • Seafood! While we could not enjoy thick juicy steaks despite the abundance of cows, we were able to enjoy all the delicacies the sea had to offer. Fishermen go out every morning and whatever they catch for the day become the nightly dinner specials. The tandoori red snapper was delicious. Also, baby shark was on sale everywhere. I never ordered any because I'm not sure heavy fishing of baby shark is sustainable. 
  • Dolphins. We rode on a boat and saw dolphins. Every time I saw one come up, I thought of this scene in Finding Nemo.

Other interesting observations:
  • Lots of Russians come to Goa. So much so that many of the restaurants on the beaches write signs in Cyrillic. Not sure why they choose Goa. I don't really have any witty comments to make about Russians in Goa. I was trying to think of a joke about Rocky IV but couldn't come up with anything. 
  • It doesn't seem like many Americans visit Goa. I assume this because every shopkeeper, taxi driver, and tout that came up to us to make small talk before trying to sell us something they always asked if we were from 1) England, 2) Sweden(!), 3) Germany. Not one guessed USA.  Maybe we didn't look very American. Mr. ATK is sporting a creepy mustache at the moment. Maybe that makes us look European.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This was a terrible idea...

How was your Columbus Day?

Mine was spent with Mr. ATK in the holy city of Rishikesh. Well, not really in the city, but outside the city camping on a beautiful white sand beach along the Ganges. We went whitewater rafting, kayaking, played badminton, you know, all the things you do in idyllic places like that. But that's not the terrible idea I am talking about. I did get an ayurvedic massage while on the trip which uses a lot of oil and includes a head massage so my hair ended up really greasy. Also the fine white sand sticks to everything so the massage had an exfoliating element to it. So, in retrospect, I consider that a questionable decision, but not a terrible idea.

No, Dear Reader, the terrible idea I am talking about was my volunteering to foster three 50 day old Indian street dogs so they wouldn't be put back out on street. So within the space of 8 months, I have gone from having no dogs to having four. And little fifty day old puppies are not house trained. Of course, neither is Aloo so I guess they have some common ground.*

But anyways, much to Mr. ATK's chagrin, we agreed to take in the puppies. I really wanted to do it, he was less than enthusiastic but when  asked him if he was okay with it, he did one of those passive-aggressive "If that's what you really want" things, so now we have extra puppies. 

Here they are:

Three extra puppies is a lot of work. Shocking insight, I know. Did I think it would be work? Yes. Did I think it would be this much work? Eh... probably not. I figured we could use Aloo's old wire crate to keep the puppies in the apartment and during the day they could stay in the servant's quarters on the roof. They are too small for walks, so that's less work right there. Right? Right?! 


Puppies pee. A lot. Seriously, it's amazing how much they pee. Always peeing. And it's hard to move three puppies at a time. So when we were keeping them in the house, every hour I had to take them one at a time up the stairs to the roof. I tried carrying two under my arms and putting one in a bag,** but the one in the bag didn't enjoy that experience. It was hard to get him in the bag and then pick up two other puppies before puppy number 1 scrambled out of the bag.  Then we trying carrying the together in a laundry basket, but they kept trying to climb out while in transit. And, of course, they have sharp little teeth and claws so arms and legs are quickly filled with scratches.  And then there's the fact that old dogs don't seem to like new dogs invading their territory. 

Yes, for some crazy reason, I pictured Aloo taking on a motherly/big sister role and caring lovingly for the puppies. It would be like Diff'rent Strokes. Aloo would be Kimberley, the puppies would be Arnold and Willis, I would be Mr. Drummond, and Mr. ATK would be Ms. Garrett the housekeeper (who would eventually become the dorm mother at Langley boarding school in her own spin off, The Facts of Life.) Unfortunately, unlike the Upper East Side of Manhattan, bringing home extra puppies has not resulted in increased conspiratorial shenanigans between Aloo and her new brothers and sister. Actually, quite the opposite has happened. We learned Aloo does not like to share. Aloo spent most of the first evening growling at the puppies, who we kept in a wire crate in a separate room. After taking the puppies upstairs to the roof to do their business, I was bringing the last one in and we ran into Aloo who Mr. ATK was bringing up for her nightly ablutions. Aloo did not take kindly to this other pup in my arms and started jumping on me and snapping at the little guy. Fortunately, for little Fido (they didn't have names yet and I don't remember which it was), she did not get him. Unfortunately for me, she did get a nice chunk of my elbow. (Don't worry she didn't draw blood or anything.) 

The next day (that would be Day 2, not even a full 24 hours with the puppies yet) we had all the dogs on the roof playing together. It was a real kum bah ya moment. I thought Aloo had gotten over her jealously and all and life would be good once again in the Drummond, er, ATK household. (I don't think you realize how exhausting it is to have 4 dogs and to always keep one physically separated from the others.) I started to think, Maybe this wasn't such a terrible idea. Look at all the cuteness! They are so cute!!!

But then...Food Bowl Gate struck. 

We were herding all the dogs down from the roof with the intention of giving them baths (the puppies were infested with ticks).  Nimbu managed to wander over to Aloo's food dish while we were trying to get everyone into the bathroom and took a bite of food, prompting Aloo to absolutely lose her shit. I think she tried to eat that little puppy. Lots of snarling, growling, biting, barking, and screeching ensued from all dogs. It was awful. The puppies now have PTSD and we are back to square one with keeping the dogs separated

PTSD puppies... sounds like it could be a very special episode of Diff'rent Strokes. 

*Kidding Aloo is house trained. For the most part. She still has accidents, though, but we suspect she is just being petulant. 
** Just to clarify, I didn't try to carry the puppies in a plastic bag or anything. It was a tote bag.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Road to Amritsar

Way back over Labor Day weekend, Mr. ATK and I went to Amritsar in the Punjab (a state in northwestern India.) Of course, every time I hear the word "Punjab" (and I hear it quite a bit over here) I think of the Daddy Warbuck's valet from Annie. Do you remember the part where Tim Curry is chasing Annie and she ends up climbing, like, a railroad drawbridge that's raised? And Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters are chasing him and yelling, "Oh, Tim Curry, stop!! She's just a child!" Even though it was their plan to extort money from Albert Finney, er, Daddy Warbucks? Then Annie gets to the top and has nowhere left to go and Tim Curry is getting closer and then Albert Finney's helicopter shows up and Punjab is, like, hanging out of the helicopter trying to save Annie and she is just screaming "Punjab! Punjab!" Then he unravels his turban and she grabs onto it and he saves her while Tim Curry falls to his death. Or maybe not. That seems kind of dark for a children's movie. I don't remember what happened to Tim Curry's character.

Anyways, I think of that scene a lot.*

So Mr. ATK and I decided we would spend the long weekend up in Amritsar. Notable things to see include the Golden Temple (the holiest gurdwara in Sikhism), the Wagah border closing, this crazy Hindu temple that is like a fun house maze (the name escapes me at the moment), and the memorial at Jallianwala Bagh.

We took the train up (our first train ride in India!) The station was chaotic, even at 6:45 on a Saturday morning. The Arrivals/Departures board only contained information for about six trips, not one of which was ours. This naturally led us to panic a bit (since we weren't outrageously early or anything--our train was scheduled to depart at 7:20) and think that perhaps we had gone to the wrong train station. We decided to get in line at the help desk when a random person came up and asked to see our tickets. There was no indication that he worked for/at the train station, so I was kind of wary, but we showed him the tickets and he seemed to know right where we were to go. So he starts leading us to the platform (which was up some stairs, over a bridges, way at the end of the station. We would have never found it without this guy. Of course, the suspicious traveler in me was thinking, He's probably leading us to a dark corner where a gang will be waiting to mug us. Happily, I was wrong.

The train arrives and we climb aboard, with the help of another random person who clearly recognized "clueless foreigners" when he saw them. He looked at our tickets and led us to the appropriate car and seats.  I'm fairly sure we could have figured out where our seats were, but this was much easier. So we just tipped him and thanked him for his help. Again, I am unsure if that person was employed by the train station or was just a guy who hangs out on the platforms and makes money showing people to their seats.

The first class car was not particularly fancy or nice, but it was serviceable. The steward came by fairly regularly with tea and food. It was certainly better service than I ever received on any 6 hour flight in America. The tracks out of Delhi pass through the not-so-nice areas of town that we rarely see. We saw a lot of tent cities, piles of garbage, pigs, and a lot of people pooping. Delhi is a major cosmopolitan city with all sorts of haute couture shops and expensive restaurants. It also has a lot of homeless people and people whose homes don't have indoor plumbing. It's a pretty stark dichotomy. Apparently for a lot of people, the place to poop is next to the railroad tracks.

Six relatively uneventful hours later, we arrive in Amritsar. Despite being north of Delhi, it was hotter and more humid than the city we had just left. We went to our hotel and then decided to go to a neighboring hotel to see if we could get in a tour that evening to see the border closing. Lucky for us we found a tour that took us not only to the border, but to the Golden Temple as well.

Here are some things I learned on this trip:

1) I really don't like taking my shoes off and walking around Indian streets and temples. Most holy sites in Hinduism and Sikhism require you take your shoes off before entering the temples. I get that and totally respect that. Apparently you can't even bring the shoes in, like in a backpack or anything. I tried to sneak my flip flops in and was scolded by the guard. Despite the giant pile of shoes outside, I keep being paranoid that someone is going to take my flip flops. (They are very nice flippy floppies). It's probably unnecessary paranoia, but I can't help it. I also dislike the length you have to walk barefoot from where you leave your shoes to the temple's entrance. This distance varies depending on the monument. For the Golden Temple, I found it a considerable distance. And you had to walk a ways on a major road to get to the temple from the shoe depository. Granted they put down a path of carpet, but that was as dirty as the road. Then you need to walk through water to clean your feet before entering. Again, I understand and respect the custom, but not only is the water dirty from the thousands of people walking through the water, the marble on the other side of the water is really slippery. I kept worrying that I was going to fall.
Not a very clear picture, but there was a fireworks show that was pretty neat. 

2) I don't handle giant crowds and heat well. We ended up going to the Golden Temple on Saturday, which is not only the weekend, it's the Sikh holy day, so it was super crowded. The temple itself is amazingly beautiful (though Mr. ATK was not a fan of the Christmas lights used to illuminate it at night. He felt that was tacky. I didn't mind it so much on the actual gold, but they have the "racing lights" and "waterfall lights" decorating the outer walls, which I thought was a bit odd.)

This is the massive crowd we were in in order to get into the changing of the  guard.  You can't tell from the picture, but it was a very pushy crowd. No personal space.

The real crowd, though, was at the India-Pakistan Patriotic Border Competition.** There had to have been several thousand people there at least. As you may remember from your high school world studies class, India and Pakistan have a contentious relationship. At this one area on the border which is in between Lahore, Pakistan and Amritsar, each side has constructed a mini-amphitheater to cheer their respective color guards as they stomp theatrically and bring down their country's flag at sunset. I honestly can't even explain it. There was a guy in a tracksuit warming up the crowd before the ceremony--like a homecoming pep rally. He kept yelling, "Hindustaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!! Hindustaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!" And then everyone would cheer. There was a lot of running with the Indian flag and dancing before the actual ceremony started.

Seriously, you just need to see this for yourself.

The next day, while Mr. ATK went back to the Golden Temple (to see it without Christmas lights on it), I wandered around the market and found the Martyr's Well. Mr. ATK and I had been looking for it, but were unable to find it, even though we had walked by it about five times the night before.  Jallianwala Bagh is a public garden near the Golden Temple where, in 1919, British troops opened fire without warning on a peaceful crowd. In order to escape, many people jumped into a well and died. Many others were shot down. I think over 20,000 rounds were fired in fifteen minutes or so. The garden itself is closed off, with only a narrow walkway to enter and exit the garden, so the people had nowhere to run. You can read more about the massacre here.

Anyways, I was reading one of the informational historical plaques when an Indian man came up to me and in broken English asked, "England?" I assume he was asking me if I was from England and I could not protest my non-Englishness enough. "English? Me? Oh, no. Nope. I'm American. U-S-A! U-S-A!" Since this guy's English was no so good, I did a couple "U-S-A"s just to make sure he understood that I wasn't English. It's not like he was menacing or anything, in fact, he asked to have his picture taken with me.

We flew back to Delhi rather than taking the train, as the train left at five in the morning. The flight back was uneventful, though this guy totally cut right front of us as we were waiting to check in at the airport. It's like that yellow line on the ground means nothing here

* "Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine." Also, apparently the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" was "Hooverism in the funnies." Hated FDR.

** That's not the real name of the ceremony. I just made that up. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hey there! Long time, no blog...

It has been two months and a day since my last entry. Usually I start off a post apologizing for not writing in a while before scapegoating some innocent technological device (*cough*PS3*cough*). For the sake of consistency, I'm just going to do the same thing now. This time the culprit is Airtel's shitty internet and even shittier customer service. We have not had consistent internet since June, but starting in July it just got really bad. It maybe worked for ten minutes every ten days or so. I would complain and they would come and change the cable. Then it still wouldn't work and I would call again and they would be all confused and say, "But we just changed the cable." I'm like, "I know you did. I'm thinking the cable's not the problem."

The worst thing about this whole no internet thing was that Mr. ATK and I bought an iPad and Slingbox so we could watch football (Go Pack Go!) and then our internet wasn't even fixed by opening day. So we missed the first two weeks. There was much rejoicing today however, when we woke up a 6 am and got to watch the first half of Thursday Night Football before leaving for work. Even if it was just the Giants and Panthers. No fake field goals in that game. Lame.

Also, before I continue with my witty observations on life in India, I feel I should go on the record and say, in case anyone was worried, Mr. ATK and I are okay. Of course, like everyone in the foreign service family, we are very saddened by the death of Ambassador Stevens (RPCV), Sean Smith, and the others who lost their lives in Libya. There have been a few protests in India, outside the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, and up in Srinagar in Kashmir (yes, like the Led Zepplin song.) Today, they are expecting protests in New Delhi, partially in response to the French newspaper publishing a cartoon of Mohammad. Our embassy is basically next door to the French Embassy and we were joking about how we should put up helpful directional signs:

"Protesting the cartoon? 
This way --->"

"Protesting the film?
<---- This way"

Anyways, in order to be on the safe side, Ambassador Powell closed the embassy at noon and sent all personnel home. So if you hear about protests at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, rest assured that Mr. ATK and I are safe and sound at home and nowhere near the protests.

I would also like to share an excerpt from Secretary Clinton's speech for Eid ul-Fitr (the holiday which marks the end of Ramadan) which I particularly liked:

"So tonight, we must come together and recommit ourselves to working toward a future marked by understanding and acceptance rather than distrust, hatred, and fear. We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer. They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult, answering darkness with light; that if one person commits a violent act in the name of religion, millions will stand up and condemn it out of strength.

"In times like these, it can be easy to despair that some differences are irreconcilable, some mountains too steep to climb; we will therefore never reach the level of understanding and peacefulness that we seek, and which I believe the great religions of the world call us to pursue. But that's not what I believe, and I don't think that's what you believe either here tonight. Part of what makes our country so special is we keep trying. We keep working. We keep investing in our future. We keep supporting the next generation, believing that young people can keep us moving forward in a positive direction."

You can read the whole speech here.

Anyways, I look forward to filling you all in on "This Indian Life" more regularly from now on, but I think I'm just going to leave well enough alone for right now.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

About India...

Things I love:

  • Tailor made shirts! Mr. ATK and I visited Grover the tailor and got him some suits and me some blouses. Fine fabrics sewn together to perfectly compliment my non-cookie cutter figure at $32 a piece. I don't think I can ever go back to Van Heusen. Sorry JC Penneys.
  • The fact that the name "Grover" is popular here and doesn't remind people of a shaggy blue Muppet yelling antonyms. Oh how I crack myself up shouting "near" and "far" after meeting a Grover.
  • Khan Cha Cha! The most delicious chicken and paneer tikka there is. So good.
  • You know what? I'm going to expand that previous bullet point to encompass all Indian food. It's got a kick (in fact, my stomach tends to revolt in I eat it for, like, a week straight) but it's very tasty. Dosa, chicken tikka masala, lamb tikka masala, paneer tikka masala.... it's all right up there with Korean food for me. 
  • Fabindia! Or as I call it "The Indian Gap." It has traditional Indian clothes like kurtis and saris, made in a traditional manner but uses rural producers in something called "inclusive capitalism"... Uh, and it sells organic things... erm, yeah... I really just like the clothes. If there's some sort of fair trade stuff/helping women out of poverty stuff in there, that's an added bonus.
  • Cricket. Okay, well maybe I don't "love" it per se, but I'm certainly interested in it. I watch it whenever I see it on tv. In fact, the games are so long that usually they edit them down to just the action, which makes them exponentially more interesting. Baseball should consider this strategy. Of course, then the games would only be 30 minutes long, but they could easily be shown opposite 'According to Jim.'
  • Kabaddi. Another Indian 'sport' that I have never seen but only heard about. Still I love it. Listen to this: Two teams stand on opposite sides of a playing area. One player from one team has to run over to the other side while repeating the word "kabaddi" over and over. They have to try and tag someone on the other team and then make it back to their side without being caught by the other team and without breathing. My reaction to this being explained to me was to exclaim, "That's a sport?!" Because it sounds like a cross between Red Rover and Steal the Bacon. Look for it in the 2020 Olympics. 

Things I do not love:
  • Nestle's Chocolate Morsels are very expensive.
  • Even more expensive is any type of seasonal candy (you know, Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts, Reese's Peanut Butter Christmas Trees. The standards.) At the commissary a bags of those sells for $16. Yes, you read that right--SIXTEEN DOLLARS! Since that is patently ridiculous, I assume no one buys them. What makes it extra funny to me is that after products expire, the commissary will sell them for 50% off. It's totally a caveat emptor* situation, but you can get some good deals on things. And if you toast stale Pop-tarts, you can't even tell that they're stale. But even at 50% off, these year old seasonal candies cost $8 which is equally hilarious.
  • The driving is still nuts
  • The heat is crazy. I mean, I'm usually cold, but I've finally found a temperature where I am horribly, ridiculously, uncomfortably hot. That temperature is 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Now its down in the high 90s and it feels refreshingly cool.
  • Learning all the different names for family members in Hindi. I'd expand, but that will probably end up as blog post of its own soon enough.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Happy 4th of July, Everybody!

Yes, I know, I'm a little late wishing the good ole U.S. of A. a happy birthday. And I sincerely apologize. I hope Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam and the whole crew forgive me. 

I've always enjoyed the 4th, mainly because I enjoy fireworks, hot dogs, parades, and people sitting around in circles of lawn chairs drinking beer and reminiscing about some iteration of "the good old days." For me, this usually occurs in Wakefield, Michigan (the Upper Peninsula, or "North Wisconsin" as it should rightfully be called.) But due to circumstances beyond my control, I am in India without lawn chairs to circle and without Miller Lite to drink.  

Still, the US Embassy, as all embassies are wont to do, put together a shindig to celebrate our "National Day" (we don't really call it Independence Day over here, for whatever reason.)  Also, fun fact, usually the "official" National Day celebration (you know, the one with important people and dignitaries and stuff) is in February on President's Day because it's insanely hot in July and/or there are torrential downpours every day (we call those "monsoons.") I suspect this is partly why we call the celebration "National Day" instead of Independence Day, because usually it's not on Independence Day. Mr. ATK was the emcee at the "official" National Day event. Because he is awesome.

So, unlike other embassies*, our embassy put on two (TWO!) National Day shindigs--official and unofficial. On June 30th (Saturday evening) they had the unofficial celebration on the baseball field. This was your standard festival--or attempt at a standard 4th of July festival. There was food and booze, which you could buy with tickets that you had to buy first. There were eating contests and tug-o-war and bouncy castles for the kids all set to the sweet music of a live band covering American hits ranging from ABBA to Billy Ray Cyrus. And, apparently similar to your Fourth this year in the US, it was 110 degrees the whole time. 

Yet, despite having everything a Fourth of July celebration could want, save a parade and Miller Lite, there were some peculiarities that made me either chuckle or yell at a throng of competitive eaters. First, the chuckle worthy things--also known as "food." There was quite a spread at this event. They had various booths with Asian, Mexican, Southwestern, and Midwest food. Now usually Midwestern cuisine is not a cuisine that is typically celebrated. So naturally as a diehard Midwesterner I was pleased to see that our too often overlooked food finally made it to the big time--a fair! What delicious Midwestern food will I find here to remind me of home? I wondered. Tater tot casserole? Beer brats? Fried cheese? Regular cheese? Some other dish smothered in Cream of Mushroom soup?

Well, Reader, you can imagine my surprise when none of those things were on the menu. Instead, the Midwestern food offered was chicken pineapple pizza, margherita pizza, pepperoni pizza, buttered corn, and corn on the cob. Unless by Midwest, they were referring to Midwest Italy, the only thing on that list that resembled food in the Midwest was corn on the cob. And then they didn't even have mayonnaise or Parmesan cheese. 

Entertainment-wise, in addition to the band, they have competitive eating. Pies and watermelon. They were full sized pies, too. For some reason seeing the pies lined up on a table made me think of the hilarity and third degree burns that would ensue if the pies were fresh out of the oven. I don't know if I saw that in a movie or a sitcom or something, but I could picture it very clearly. Anyways, for both eating contests they let people use their hands. Now, in my limited experience with eating contests (Fish Day Ice Cream Eating Contest Participant '86-'89) you are not allowed to use your hands. That's what makes it a jolly good time. Especially for the pie! Think of the humor of somebody trying to devour a blueberry pie without using their hands! Hilarious, I say! I kept shouting, "Don't use your hands!" and "You can't use your hands!" while simultaneously complaining to those around us about the flagrant use of hands in the eating contests. I believe Mr. ATK was sufficiently embarrassed. He also had never heard of hand-less competitive eating. He's clearly led a sheltered life on those army bases. 

Eventually, after the eating was done and winners were declared, the fireworks started. This was really the first time I had seen fireworks that weren't over a body of water. Well, except for those few times we went to the fireworks in Bessemer, Michigan. There you sat on the football field of a stadium while hell fire rained down upon you because the fireworks weren't shot high enough in the air. We stopped going there after a couple years. 

Still, the fireworks display was very nice. Of course during the whole show, they played Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." (Fire in the sky! Get it!? Do you get it?! It's FIRE in the SKY!! Like the fireworks!) At first I thought it was clever, but then the song just did. not. end. I had never heard a 20 minute version of "Smoke on the Water" before and, quite frankly, I don't ever need to hear it again. But the fireworks themselves were very nice. I do so love fireworks.

And now I leave you with Senor Coconut's delightful version of "Smoke on the Water." 


(No, I don't know who the little girl is in the video.)

*I assume other embassies don't have two celebrations for their National Day because not many embassies have as many people here as we do. But I could totally be wrong. Maybe they all have a separate "fun" party. Also, Mr. ATK and I went to Norway's Constitution Day celebration back in May and it was awesome.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Madeleine Albright says "Hi!"

Ok, no she really didn't say, "Hi!" She did ask if we were a tandem couple though. It's because I look so professional. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What happened to the marshmallows in Lucky Charms?*

Did you ever get a hankering for some cereal after not eating cereal in forever? What do you do? Well, I'm guessing you go to the grocery store and buy some cereal and have a bowl. Then you either eat the entire box within a few days or leave it to get stale on top of your refrigerator and eventually throw it away. These are the types of things we take for granted in our every day lives--being able to go out and buy Lucky Charms when the mood strikes us. And then throwing the entire box away after eating one bowl.

So about three weeks ago, I had an incredible hankering for some Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms. The cereal is available here, but it's like $7 a box which is just absurd. Mr. ATK would never let me spend that much on a box of cereal, and I wouldn't really want to, especially when you can purchase it elsewhere for cheaper. And that elsewhere happens to be On amazon the cereal is considerably cheaper, however you have to purchase it in bulk. So after having a craving for cereal three weeks ago, Mr. ATK and I have finally received three boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and a 46 ounce box of Lucky Charms. Lesson learned: Living in India doesn't make impulse cereal buying impossible, it's just when you finally get your cereal a month has passed, the impulse is gone and now you have 7 pounds of cereal. 

But I do not regret our cereal purchase. In fact, I had a delicious bowl of Lucky Charms for breakfast this morning for the first time in years. It was wonderful. But what the hell happened to the marshmallows in Lucky Charms?! Do you remember when they used to have the red balloons, yellow diamond, green clover, purple horseshoe? Let me refresh your memory:

Note the marshmallows are like actual shapes (more or less). I can tell that its an orange star or whatever.

So what the eff happened between between 1985 and now? While I enjoyed my bowl of delicious Lucky Charms, I could not tell what the marshmallows were supposed to be. I'm not expecting them to look like they do in the commercial any more than I expect a Quarter Pounder with Cheese I buy from the McDonald's drive-thru to look like the Quarter Pounder they show on the McDonald's commercials. But at least I can tell that the little hockey puck-esque sandwich with the crooked piece of cheese is a cheeseburger. I don't know what the marshmallows are any more. The Purple horseshoe still looks like a horseshoe, more or less. And the red balloon is a round object, so I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. But the rest of them? What the hell? From what I can make out there is some sort of green square with a dark green "x" on it. Not exactly the green clover from days of yore. And then there seem to be a bunch of white marshmallows with some sort of colored stripe on them. What are those? Is it a volcano? With colorful lava? It's vaguely shaped like a triangle.  

You know what makes this all extra sad? I remember in college haughtily telling a friend at the dining hall one night that the bowl of Lucky Charms he was enjoying for dinner was clearly off brand because Lucky Charms had purple horseshoes, blue moons, yellow diamonds, etc. and the slop he was eating had random shit like green squares with dark green 'x'es and white thingys with weirdo color stripes on them. Only now as I stared at my bowl of Lucky Charms this morning did I realize that my friend was not eating off-brand Lucky Charms all those years ago. So, Kyung, I apologize for making fun of the cereal you were eating for dinner that night back in 1999. 

Also, apparently Lucky Charms changed their marshmallow press at least 13 years ago. Who knew? 

*Warning: This blog has nothing to do with India. Don't read it unless you are interested in the minute details of breakfast cereals. Wait? What? You already read the whole thing? Well, I put this asterisk next to the title for a reason. It's always important to check the footnotes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Hi everyone!

First off, let me just ease your worried minds.

I am fine.

Having not posted in more than a month, I imagine you were all very concerned. "Did she get hurt? Is she sick?" you asked yourselves. Perhaps you even thought, "Gosh, I hope she hasn't died." I appreciate the concern and I'm sorry I've left you for so long with no word. In my defense, it's been a busy month. I've been working, and we got all our household effects, so I've also been playing Grand Theft Auto IV. So if you want someone to blame for the lack of blog posts, look no further than the curs at Rockstar Games.

Life has been exciting and there are a lot of things I could write about. Like the time I met the Secretary of State, for example.*

But that would just be bragging and no one likes a braggart.

So I think I'll just focus on my trip with Mr. ATK to Kathmandu, Nepal. (Insert obligatory Bob Segar reference here.)

Over Memorial Day weekend, Mr. ATK and I took our first vacation together as a married couple to Kathmandu. We still haven't seen anything in India, or much of Delhi, but we thought we'd get the heck out of Dodge. Mainly airfare was super cheap and Kathmandu sounds like an awesome place to go (spoiler alert: it totally is) and it has consistently been over 110 degrees, so away we went.

But before I talk about Nepal, I must first share some of the oddities of traveling through Indian airports. Well, the main one is that you can't even get into the airport without a ticket. Do you have a sibling and/or child going off to some far flung land with a ton of luggage? Well, you better hope they can find a cart, because you ain't going in there to bid him/her adieu.** We were stuck behind a British chick with, like, four suitcases, but the guard wouldn't let her into the airport because I guess he didn't like the ticket she was presenting. And through no fault of our own, we were running late so we were subtly trying to flash our tickets and passports. Eventually the British lady was told to go elsewhere to deal with her ticket problems and we were allowed entrance to the airport.

The next interesting difference is that security is sex segregated. There is a different line for women and men. (I believe I mentioned this before here.) It's because after the metal detector, everyone gets a pat down. Sometimes it's pretty half-hearted (like at the Hyatt), but at the airport, they aren't playin' around (nor should they.) So Mr. ATK and I go stand in our separate lines. Nine times out of ten, the women's line goes much faster. As I was waiting for Mr. ATK to finish I watched as the security guys stripped this guy of pretty much everything he had brought in the plastic shopping bags that he was using as his carry-on luggage confiscated.   To be fair, his "luggage" was filled orange juice and mosquito repellent, neither of which was in the required 1 oz. bottles and packed in a quart-sized Ziploc bag. He clearly was unaware of the "no liquids" policy or had just gone grocery shopping.  Or both.

After finally getting through security, we had a little time to stop by the airport food court. I decided on McDonald's while Mr. ATK decided on a fried chicken chain that I can only assume is the Indian equivalent of KFC. Hilariously, when Mr. ATK went up to the counter to order his chicken combo meal, he was informed that they did not have any chicken. No chicken. At a chicken restaurant. Incredulously he asked, "You don't have chicken? What do you have?" "French fries," was the reply. So he came over to McDonald's, which, apart from the cheery greeting of "We don't take credit cards" actually had all of the food items on its menu available for purchase.

So then we finally got on a plane and went to Nepal. Kathmandu was very cool. It's kind of like what I imagined India to be... you know, before I actually got to India. Saw a fair amount of cows blocking traffic. Monkeys. Temples. Interestingly, there are no traffic lights in Kathmandu. I'm not even exaggerating. I think we saw one. (It's a city of well over a million people, in case you were wondering.) They seriously have police officers standing in the middle of intersections directing rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, scooters and cars. And cows. But the cows don't seem to take direction all that well.  At first I thought it was some sort of Nepalese jobs initiative, but after conferring on the matter Mr. ATK and I decided that it was probably due to electrical load shedding which leaves parts of Kathmandu without power for (scheduled) hours on end. Police officers are always there. Except when they are not. But they don't require electricity to function, so they are probably a more stable source of traffic guidance than lights would be.

We stayed at a nice little boutique hotel in Thamel, which is a tourist heavy shopping area.We also ended up hiring a taxi driver named Raju to take us to all the cool stuff, which he did.  My camera died on the second day though so pictures are limited. Mr. ATK was also robbed by a monkey.

More stuff happened, but I'm kinda tired and don't feel like writing more. So instead of writing, I am just going to post the following video of some people I don't know's vacation set to the music stylings of Michigan's own Mr. Robert Segar. Basically all the stuff you see in the video--we did and/or saw that.  Except the biking.

*By "met the Secretary of State" I meant "photobombed a picture of the Secretary of State with a bunch of children."

**To be fair to IGI Airport (the international airport in Delhi) supplies baggage carts for free. As do many other airports that are not in the US. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Mambo number 5!

First, May 3rd marked the four month anniversary of the ATK-Mr. ATK union. That's like twice as long as a Kardashian marriage. Yay us!

Second, I officially started my job so I am no longer a lady of leisure. I request a moment of silence please, as we remember those halcyon days of yore when I played Plants vs Zombie all the time and walked the dog four times a day. Now I am a part of "the establishment" working for "The Man."* Happily, I finally have a reason to wear those dress pants, dresses, and nice shoes I brought with me. I'm makin' it work!

Third, our household effects finally arrived. No longer will the maid have to mix banana bread batter in a cooking pot for we now have mixing bowls. We also have a knives that cut, more than four of each utensil, several crockpots, and tupperware for food storage. It's glorious! Honestly, it's a bit like Christmas--opening up all those boxes and seeing your stuff. Plus, the maid had taken to bringing her own tupperware to our house so she had somewhere to store the food she made. Borrowing kitchenware from the maid! Can you imagine? If I were wearing pearls, I would actually be clutching them right now.

Anyways, because of these exciting events, Mr. ATK and I decided to take our first trip to an Indian movie theater to see The Avengers! (Well, I really wanted to see it, Mr. ATK was like, "whatevs." I just love that Iron Man!)

Mr. ATK did some pre-movie research and with the help of our driver found a theater near us. The website only indicated that The Avengers would be showing on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Now as a working couple with a puppy that wakes us up at 5:30 am, we would have preferred a Friday or Saturday showing obviously. And though it is hard to believe that the second biggest blockbuster of the summer** would be pulled after a week (I think it came out last weekend) we were warned by people that due to the sheer volume of movies put out by Bollywood, most movies (American and Indian alike) don't stay in the theaters for longer than two weeks. So we decided not to risk it and went on Thursday night (which coincidentally was our anniversary).

Going to the movies was quite an experience. First we arrived at the ticket counter, only to be told there were no tickets purchased under our credit card, so we bought some more. Then we had to go through a metal detector and get a pat down. I'm not kidding. Literally, I went behind a screen and some Indian ladies frisked me. It was really half-hearted though--just a boob and tummy grab (two body parts that every woman wants strangers to touch.) At first I was a little nervous because there was a sign that said NO HANDBAGS ALLOWED. It also said no phones or other electronic devices, etc. Like you couldn't bring them into the building. But they didn't really seem to care that I had two phones with me, and after patting my stomach to be assured that it's all real, they let me in.

Then we went to the concessions stand. Now it was about 7 pm and we hadn't eaten dinner yet so I was anticipating some movie food goodness. Prices were reasonable; they had a wide variety of food--including a sign taped to the cash registers encouraging folks to try their "!!!yummy pasta!!!" (punctuation theirs). I decided I would get a Paneer Kathi Roll combo. I don't know exactly what that is, except it's some kind of roll with paneer (an Indian cheese) and it came with popcorn and a drink. Mr. ATK ordered the chicken hot dog combo only to be told there were no hot dogs, so he switched to a chicken sandwich. I asked if I could have Mountain Dew instead of Pepsi and the guy was like, "OK." (There's a reason for this level of detail, I swear.) Well, Mr. ATK's chicken sandwich ended up being not the chicken-fillet-on-a-bun sandwich he was expecting, but one of those little triangle sandwiches that come in the plastic container. The seal was broken and it was a curry chicken salad. Not what he was expecting. I just ended up with a large Mountain Dew for some reason. When I inquired about my Paneer Kathi Roll, the guy said, "No paneer." I'm not sure why he didn't tell me that when I ordered the roll in the first place and give me the option of ordering something else (like he did for Mr. ATK.) When I complained to Mr. ATK he said, "You know they don't like giving people bad news here." To which I replied, "But they did give me bad news. They prolonged it by five minutes, but ultimately I did receive the bad news." And in reality, that strategy makes the news worse, because you are expecting something, you know? If you don't tell me right away there is no Paneer Kathi roll, and I watch you prepare our order, I am anticipating receiving (what I assume to be) a delicious Paneer Kathi roll. When I am presented with a tray holding a large Mountain Dew, I am disappointed.

Anyways, we get to the theater, get our glasses, find our seats, etc. Like in the US they show commercials before the movie, expect here we are informed that the commercials are brought to us by... some company I've forgotten. The point is that the commercials have sponsors! Crazy!

Eventually the movie starts and we are enjoying the Whedon-ian banter and plot. Then right when Iron Man is about to shoot lasers at a bad guy, the movie stops and the lights come on. Mr. ATK and I naturally assumed that the projector broke or something. But everybody (well, 80%) of the theaters gets up and starts leaving. Then Lou Bega's late 90's classic Mambo No. 5 starts blaring over the sound system. At this time, Mr. ATK and I are really confused. I just kept repeating, "That's not the end. The movie's not over. That's not... he was just about to shoot that guy!" After Mambo No. 5*** segued into The Venga Boys are Coming which turned into the Macarena and people started coming back into the theater, we surmised that this was some sort of bathroom break. Apparently they just stop the movie at the midway point, regardless of what is happening on-screen. Mr. ATK and I found this (along with the Mambo No. 5) to be unintentional comedy gold. One of those truly awesome "What the what?" moments that are so common when you are living in a foreign country. Eventually, you stop noticing them.

Anyways, the rest of the movie was good. I really just wanted to talk about the Mambo No. 5 thing and unofficial intermission. I also hear movies shown in India are heavily censored (mainly they take out the sexy times.) My version of The Avengers had no sexy times. Let me know if I missed something.

*Not his real name.
**We all know The Dark Knight Rises is *the* summer movie this year
*** Mambo No. 5!

"Ba" se "Baloo"

That means "B" is for "Bear" in Hindi. Yes, I am learning Hindi. Mr. ATK is also learning Hindi, but who wants to hear stories about him?

Hindi is an interesting language. Perhaps you've seen it before. It looks like this: नमस्ते! (That says "namaste" or "hello." I'm not sure if the script will show up on all your computers. Especially if you're using Internet Explorer. I'm guessing you guys will just get a series of random wingdings.) It has a phonetic alphabet so you just need to learn the letters. It can be pretty tricky because there are about four ways to make a "t" sound, but with practice, I think I've memorized most of the letters.

Well, Mr. ATK and I have Hindi class twice a week and for about 15 minutes each time we practice the letters. And by "practice" I mean "rote repetition" like what you do with kids. (You know, "A" is for "apple." that kind of stuff.) So one day we get to "B" (or "Bh" as it is usually written. A heavily aspirated "B.") The teacher says, "Bha se Bhalu." And then he's like, "Bhalu is bear. Like in The Jungle Book." Well, Reader, let me tell you something--there are very few things I enjoy more than Disney cartoons and if they contribute to my educational enrichment, so much the better. So I started to ask about all the Jungle Book characters. Mr. ATK says I was quite belligerent about it, but the teacher did bring it up.)

Basically the conversation went something like this.

Me: What about Sher Khan?

Teacher: Sher means lion.

Me: But Sher Khan is a tiger.

Teacher:  Sher means lion. The bad guy in the Jungle Book is a lion.

Me: No. Sher Khan is a tiger. The bad guy is a tiger.

Mr. ATK (to me): You are talking about a Disney cartoon. Have you read the book?

(Side note: Since I had not read the book, I did not continue to press the point that the bad guy in The Jungle Book is a tiger not a lion. Disney does tend to take creative licence with those kinds of things anyways. But I looked it up and indeed it is a tiger who is the villain in The Jungle Book. And lions don't live in India. But Sher still means lion and not tiger. I guess Kipling's Hindi was limited.)

Me: Does Bagheera mean anything?

Teacher: What?

Me: Bagheera. Bagheera. Does that mean panther?

Teacher: No. It doesn't mean anything. Well, Bagh means tiger. "Eera" is suffix you can use.

Me: But Bagheera's a panther.... bagh doesn't mean panther?

Teacher: No, bagh means tiger.

Me: What about Kaa? Is that snake?

Teacher: No.

Me: How about hathi?

Teacher: Hathi is elephant.

Me: Colonel Hathi is an elephant!

Mr. ATK: Are you done?

I did not bother asking if King Louie meant chimpanzee, because I was fairly sure that was some Disney creativity at work with that one.

So yeah. I can name a few animals and fruits and vegetables in Hindi. Also the English word for bell pepper here is capsicum.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Beep Beep, Beep Beep YEAH!

I know what your asking yourselves--"Why is she quoting the most annoying Beatles song ever written?" Well, I'll tell you. One, it's simply appropriate because of all the constant honking. Of course, the YEAH!s are not nearly as common as the beep beeps, but you can't have one without the other. It's simply not done. Two, we have purchased a car and hired a driver so now the beep beeps are coming from our very own car! (A Hindustan Motors Ambassador!)

So now we have a maid and a driver. That is a sentence I never ever thought I would type.

It's a little weird having "staff" (for lack of a better word.) I've mentioned the maid before, who is wonderful, mainly because I no longer have to wash dishes or clean (both of which I tend to do in a half-assed manner anyway.) Well, that's not entirely true, I still wash dishes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and over the weekend. (Just an FYI, Mr. ATK has not washed a dish since we have been in this country. I'm just (passive aggressively) sayin'.)

Now having a driver is a little odd. Having a maid is a little odd, too, but at least we had a cleaning lady when I was growing up, so having someone clean for you isn't that weird. Of course, I always hid in the basement when the cleaning lady came. The maid is here for 9 hours and we have no basement, so I mainly just sit around and watch her clean, which was a little odd at first. It is kind of odd having someone cook for me. Let me clarify that, it's kind of odd having someone who is neither my husband nor mother cook for me. As I typed this, the maid just came into the room with a mixed vegetable dish she had made a few days ago, which we hadn't even tried yet. She's like, "Did you not like this? Do you not like green beans?" I was like, "Uh... well, no... We like green beans. We just didn't get around to trying that dish. Um... I guess we forgot about it." I felt kind of sheepish admitting neither of us had even tried the dish. I assured her we would eat the green beans forthwith. They are some pretty decent green beans. Not the best, but not awful. What I find funny is that I actually feel slightly guilty for not eating my vegetables, which is odd because I never felt guilty about not eating my vegetables when my mother made them. Yet for some reason, I don't want to upset this lady that I pay to do stuff for me. Not that I make it a priority to try and upset anyone, or that employing someone gives you some inherent right to treat them like crap (regardless of what Republicans think. Because if they don't like it, they can go get another job!) Anyways, I can't really articulate it, but it's an odd feeling. I should be able to say, "Eh, I'm not feeling the green beans. Throw them away." (After all, I did technically purchase the green beans in the first place.) But I'm more prone to sneakily throw them away so she doesn't feel bad. Not that she would feel bad. I don't know.

So having a driver is actually weirder than having a maid, because you know, the maid keeps busy all day. There's laundry! There's cleaning! There's ironing! Cooking! Shopping! You know... stuff to do. A driver, well he drives the car. Since we have no desire to drive our own car in this crazy town, a driver is crucial. Otherwise, we would just have a car parked in front of our building and that doesn't help anyone. So the driver drives. But where to? Well, he comes at 7:30 to take Mr. ATK (and soon me as well) to work. And then he comes to work at 5:30 and takes him (soon to be us) home. Well that leaves about 8 hours in the middle of the day when he is doing.... what exactly? Not a whole lot.

Now, granted, he is also responsible for the car and since we bought a bit of a beater, he has had to take it to the mechanic a few times and fix a flat tire, stuff like that. So that's one way he can spend his day. Also, he runs errands and takes the maid to the market or wherever she needs to go. He'll also starting walking the dog three times a day once I start working. But you know, none of these things take a very long time. So what's he do in the meantime? Well, he sits in a chair outside. At first, I was a little concerned because I knew he would have a lot of down time, and I didn't know what he did while waiting to drive me somewhere. Does he just sit in the car? Am I supposed to let him hang out in the apartment? And then I worried that I was a bad person for not wanting him to hang out in the house. I mean, it's 110 degrees here and I want him to sit outside all day. Of course, then I slowly came to realize that all the people sitting in plastic chairs on the "sidewalks" all day were other people's drivers. Then I didn't feel so bad for making him sit outside.

At first, Mr. ATK and I (but Mr. ATK in particular) were a little chafed by the idea of paying someone when they aren't doing anything. You know, when we were negotiating the contract the driver mentioned providing tea and bread (for breakfast) and "dinner money" (if we go out at night, we would give him something so he can eat while waiting for us) and while neither of those thing is very expensive (in fact, they are very cheap), we were both a little suspicious--is this customary or is this guy trying to pull one over on the dumb Americans? Plus, it's hard to get over the fact that I'm paying you to sit around and do nothing most of the day. Part of me is thinking, You worked for like 20 minutes today; buy your own dinner. Drivers also get paid more than maids so you look at the two and you think, She's working all day for half as much money. She doesn't ask for lunch or breakfast or dinner money. This contributes to mild feelings of resentment as well. But upon further reflection and discussion with Mr. ATK, I had a bit of an epiphany. First, duh, the maid only works three days a week and the driver works six, so there's most of you pay disparity right there. Second, the driver's job is pretty important. Like, I can't do most of what the driver does (e.g. drive a manual transmission (in this crazy city nonetheless!), diagnose mechanical problems, fix said problems, etc.) I can do what the maid does. I don't like it, and she is better at doing pretty much everything, but if she's not here to cook me dinner, I'm not going to starve.

Plus, he may not be constantly moving about doing things like the maid, but he is still "on the clock" all day. It's not when he is not driving he gets to do whatever he wants. Maybe some days he has a lot of errands to run and maybe some days he spends most of his time sitting in a chair outside next to the car, but he always has to be ready to go. If I call him and say, "Can you go drive across town to pick up some dog laxatives? The laxative store closes in 20 minutes." He has to jump up and go. As for the food, well, what does the maid eat? I mean she is here from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, she must eat something, right? We figure she must eat some of what she prepares for us. Well, we pay for all that (the food, labor, etc.) but we don't begrudge her having a bowl of lentils or whatever, so why get all stingy with a loaf of bread?

Anyways, as we've processed all this, we've come to the conclusion that having domestic help is awesome and having a driver in particular has been particularly handy. Since we've gotten the car, we've gone more places and started seeing the sights around New Delhi. Since no one wakes up in this country before noon, we generally have no problems with crowds or heat when we show up at 9:30 AM.

Now all I have to do is take the time to upload the pictures....

Monday, April 16, 2012

By popular request...

Delhi Milk Scheme

As you may or may not know, India is a very large country with many different languages. Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, etc. (Funny aside: On one of Mr. ATK's first days of work he came home and told me he'd come across a group of people who didn't speak English or Hindi. Since he interviews people in English, and most of his colleagues speak Hindi, usually they can cover most people that they encounter. But this group didn't speak either. I asked, "Oh, do they speak Urdu?" "No," he says, "They spoke something called Telugu. Whatever that is." Then after a pause, he was like, "Like I should talk. I speak Kirghiz. Watch, there's probably like 20 million people who speak this Telugu." So I looked it up on the very handy interwebs (such a useful series of tubes and wires). Telugu is the 2nd/3rd most spoken language in India with 74 million speakers. That tops the 4 million or so that speak Kirghiz. Anyways, we found it amusing because neither of us had heard of this language and we kind of dismissed it as some exotic indigenous language, and here it is, like, the 13th most spoken language in the world. Now we know. And knowing is half the battle.)

Anyways, in addition to the native languages of India, there is also quite a bit of English--you know, because of that whole colonization by the British thing. In fact, it is one of the 23 official languages of India. So while it seems to me, most people speak Hindi, a lot of people speak varying degrees of English (or "Hinglish"--a Hindi/English combo not unlike "Spanglish") and there are many signs in English. However, a lot of the English seems... odd. Now, I know that Indian English comes from British English which is different than our American English. So you know, they say "lift" instead of "elevator," "capsicum" instead of "bell pepper," and probably "torch" instead of "flashlight." I get that.

No, what I'm referring to is the choice of words used to name things, usually businesses. Like the Delhi Milk Scheme. What do you think of when you hear that? I think of some sort of devious plan to scam people using milk. Like a milk-based Ponzi scheme, perhaps. I mean, "scheme" is a pejorative term for us, so anything labeled a "scheme" I tend to think is bad by definition. So there are these little stands all over the city labeled "Delhi Milk Scheme" and I thought, Some sort of crime syndicate is clearly taking advantage of the calcium market in India. And they are so blatant about it! Not even trying to hide it! But no, the Delhi Milk Scheme is apparently a program run by the government that was set up to provide dairy products to the denizens of Delhi at reasonable prices. Why, that doesn't sound like a scheme at all!  That sounds like a very nice program that helps people. Clearly, scheme does not mean the same thing here as it does in the US.

(Amusing side note: If you click on the "About Us" link on the Milk Scheme's website, they just have an organizational chart. Ah, government.)

Other amusing English names I've seen tend to be related to security companies. You see pretty much every house in our neighborhood has a security guard stationed outside of it. Don't worry, we are not in a high crime area (probably because there are tons of security guards everywhere.) Anyways, the security guards are contracted through private security companies, so they all wear uniforms indicating what company they work for. So far I've seen "Decent Security," "Competent Security," and "Generous Security." Now, I guess, if describing the work I perform, there are worse adjectives than "decent" or "competent." But those two aren't exactly inspiring. It's like, "I can do my job adequately." Ok. That's good. (Perhaps I'll run across "Adequate Security" next.) As for "generous," well, that one just leaves me scratching my head. Again, they aren't totally off--it's not like the company is named "Terrible Security" or anything, but "Decent Security" as a company name makes me chuckle.

It reminds me a little bit of Bolivia or even Korea when businesses would use English words or phrases in advertising and either spell them wrong, or use words and phrases that didn't make any sense. But it's extra puzzling because English is one of India's official languages (unlike the other two countries.) I imagine words just have slightly different meanings here (because I've yet to see an Indian read "Decent Security" and laugh.)

And this is why cross cultural experiences are awesome. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

So I was walking the dog the other day....

Now, before I start, I realize that in my last post I said I don't want to be one of those people who talks about their dog all the time and here I am, not one post later, talking about my dog. Quite frankly, it doesn't bode well for the future. But before I get flooded with comments saying, "Stop telling me where your dog took a crap and tell me about India!" this is a really interesting story. Er, well, maybe I mean, "This is a story." (I wish I could figure out how to do strike through on this.)

So there are many dogs in India--wild and domesticated. Since I'm in a fancier neighborhood, most of the pet dogs are pure breeds (dalmatians, pugs, labs, golden retrievers, etc.) We happen to have a rescued dog which is an Indian Native dog. She looks like a yellow lab, though, so she can pass in what I imagine are the higher doggy castes of India. But really, although she looks fancy, she is a doggy dalit.

Anyways, the street dogs are generally not very aggressive (unlike the street dogs in other countries--Bolivia, I'm looking at you!). Generally there seems to be an unspoken doggy-human social contract here where they don't bother you, and you don't hit them in the head with a giant stick. However, if you happen to be walking a puppy, then all bets are off. In fact, those street dogs will come after you with some ferocity which is why all dog owners seem to carry a special dog hitting stick when they walk their dogs. (I'm not kidding about it being a special stick. It's clearly some sort of purchased bamboo rod, not, like, some branch you break off a tree.) It's not as bad as I'm making it sound, I suppose. Usually in the middle of the day, it's too hot and the street dogs are pretty lethargic. They don't charge you with the same passion and commitment that they do when it's 6 in the morning and the streets are empty. Lazy dogs.

But I digress... the point I'm trying to make is that there are a lot of dogs here. And where you find many dogs, you also usually find a lot of dog poop. People are not in the habit of picking up after their dogs here. (Nor are they in the habit of doing that in any other country I've been too, except the US, so I'm not saying it to be judge-y or anything.) It seems to me people hire domestic staff and those people are expected to clean up around the outsides of their homes (you know, sweep the sidewalk and stuff.)

So I'm walking the dog and she poops in front of some guy's house. Now the house and small yard are enclosed with a gated fence, so it's not technically in his yard or anything. It would have been right in street in front of his driveway. Now, it's weird for me to walk a dog and let it poop and not pick it up. It just seems wrong, you know, because of social norms and mores and all that jazz that we live with in America. But, you know, if I don't have to carry around a steaming bag of poop with me as I walk through the neighborhood, I'm not going to. Plus, I'd probably be labelled as "The Weird White Lady who Carries a Bag of Poop with Her."

Anyways, the guy apparently saw us leaving this present in front of his house and so he follows me don't the street and confronts me. Now I don't deal with confrontation well, and I do feel guilty for not picking up after the dog (despite the fact that no one else here does!) So the guy is all, "Excuse me!" (in a polite way--it was actually a cordial conversation, not like I imagine the conversation would be if it were between two New Yorkers for example.) So here's the exchange:

Indian guy: Excuse me! Excuse me! Ma'am!

Me: Uh, yes?

Indian guy: Your dog just went to the bathroom in front of my house and you just left it there.

Me: Uh... yeah...

Indian guy: Where are you from?

Me: The United States...

Indian guy: Would you do that in your own country?

Me: Uh... no.

Indian guy: But you do it here in our country? (Here he gets a tad bit on the sanctimonious side.) You treat our country like this? We look up to you.

Me: Uh... I'm sorry, but there is poop everywhere here. I didn't know I was supposed to pick it up.

Indian guy: We look up to you. We go to your country and tell everybody how clean it is and how we should be that way. We want to be like you and here you are acting like us. (He gets that disappointed parental tone there.)

At this point I had several things going through my head. First, "Well, of course I'm acting more like you, I'm in India." I mean, there are lots of things I would do in America that I wouldn't do here--like wear a tank top, for example. Or take a taxi alone at night. Or wear a miniskirt or short shorts. (Okay, so I don't really do those last two things anyway, but it's the principle that I'm talking about here.)

Second, I think, "Postmodernist and critical race theorist would have a field day with this guy." You see, the whole idea of us (Americans/Westerners/white people(?)) being this paragon to aspire to, while their own culture or whatever is somehow wrong is very interesting. Like, would he have confronted an Indian person whose dog pooped in front of his house? I should start carrying around poop because I would do it at home? (I also kept thinking, "Yeah, it's also illegal in most cities to not pick up after your dog." You know, in addition to being considered incredibly rude.) Does he think that if I pick up after my dog, I'll start some new trend among all the other dog owners? (Quite frankly, I think I'll just be seen as the "Crazy Lady who Carries Poop.") Should I do it anyways because "it's the right thing to do"? I mean, there are all sorts of things that are acceptable in foreign cultures, but I wouldn't do them just because I can. Littering, for example. Or animal abuse. So many thought-provoking questions. Any thoughts, People Who Might Be Reading This?

If he had just gotten upset because the dog pooped in front of his house and he thinks that's gross, it would be one thing. But to frame it as "You should act better than we do" because, apparently, I should be better than they are, and to act disappointed that I acted in accordance to local custom... is kinda weird. I guess it's not terribly uncommon, though. It reminds me of the time in Bolivia when I was taking the bus back to my village and, as usual, the bus was running late. It was supposed to leave at 3 pm and it was around 3:15 and still being loaded. One very impatient lady kept yelling, "It's time to go! Come on!" and then looked at me and said, "This is the reason why Bolivia is not advancing! In your country the buses leave on time, right?" And I just nodded, but in my head I was thinking, There are a lot of pressing issues preventing Bolivia's growth and tardy buses does not even crack my top ten. (Though I guess it could be indicative of the larger problem.)

Anyways, so that's my story about walking the dog.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My days as a lady of leisure are numbered...

Since arriving in India, Mr. ATK has been dutifully employed and working hard. I, on the other hand, not so much. I thought being a lady of leisure would be fun and give me time to explore, but in reality, it's pretty boring. The suffocating heat from 11 AM to 5 PM doesn't help either.

My life as a stay at home housewife has consisted mainly of cleaning (generally out of boredom--yes, that's how bored I have been) and dish washing (because we only have four of each utensil at the moment.) Then we got a dog. Life AD (After Dog) has consisted of cleaning, dish washing, and cleaning up after a puppy that chews everything and "eliminates" wherever. (I've learned from all the doggy sites I read that "eliminate" is the word we dog owners use for pooping and peeing.) On the up side, having a dog gives you something to work for--you know, training it and all. I got very excited when Mr. ATK and I finally got the dog to do her business while on a walk. She generally doesn't eliminate in the house anymore (even though the jumbo packs of puppy pads we ordered just arrived.) Plus, she can sit, fetch, and shake. She can also howl like a banshee when you leave her alone, but I digress... (I don't want to be one of those people who pend all their time boring you with stories about their dog, so if I start getting that way, gentle reader, let me know! Those comments sections are for you to use.)

Coinciding with the dog adopting was our hiring of a maid. She is a lifesaver. She comes three times a week, cleans the apartment, does laundry, goes to market, cooks, washes the dishes(!!)--stuff like that. So now I no longer clean, and I only wash the dishes intermittently. This means I can spend all my free time keeping the dog away from the clean floors, reading articles about how much of a tool Scott Walker is., and speculating on who the Packers will pick in the first round of the NFL draft. Yet this is not as fulfilling as it might sound.

So I applied for some jobs at the embassy and after much waiting, I got one! And now my days as a lady of leisure are numbered... as soon as I finish filling out this crazy security clearance form. It sure has been a stroll down memory lane, as I try to recall every single address I've had in the past ten years--especially the ones in countries that don't have addresses. Accounting for all foreign travel in the past seven years has likewise been challenging (Was I in Belize in '06 or '07 (or '08)? Curse those Carnival Cruises!) And the best of all has been going through every job I've had since 2002 and listing contact information for supervisors. One school I worked at in college apparently closed in 2007 and was converted to condos. Kinda hard to put down a phone number for that place.

Anyways, we'll see how this goes. Hopefully, I'll get cleared to start work within a month or so. But till then, I shall continue reading and cringing at the comments people make on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's website.

(Truly, there's some horrifying stuff out there.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

People are a bunch of cheapskates

So this isn't really about India per se, this is just me being annoyed and sharing my annoyance with anyone who happens to read this. (As of now, that is nobody. Except maybe Yong. Hi, Yong!)

Anyway, I'm trying to find a charity to donate to on a monthly basis. There are so many kids begging on the street here (though not as many as I thought, honestly) and it's really quite heartbreaking. They say not to give money to them because you can 1) attract a swarm of beggars and it can get dangerous and 2) most of the kids are "pimped out" for lack of a better term and have to give the money they get to some adult ringleader (like Fagin in Oliver! maybe. But with less singing.) Newcomers are advised to choose a charity and donate to that instead of giving to the people on the streets. Mr. ATK has already chosen a charity and donates to it monthly.

Well, as luck would have it, I had been accosted by a guy working for Children International while walking in Union Square in NYC before we left for India. He was trying to get me to sponsor a child because that's what they do. (You know, it's one of those "For the price of a cup of coffee a day, you can send little So-and-So to school for a year" things.) He seemed earnest enough but I'm not in the habit of giving out my credit card number to strangers I meet in New York City parks. I told him I couldn't make any decisions without consulting my husband (because I think that's what you are supposed to do when you are married) and that I was actually moving to India in two days. He mentioned that they have a program in India and I should check it out. I wasn't sure if this organization was really a scam, but then I saw that Debbie Gibson was playing for them on Celebrity Apprentice and I thought, Well if Debbie Gibson supports this charity, it must be on the up and up. Then I flew to India and forgot all about it.

Fast forward about a month... We are happily ensconced in our apartment here in New Delhi and are learning the lay of the land. When discussing donating to charities, I remember the guy from New York and I look up Children's International. They work in several different countries (mostly in Latin American countries) and according to several review sites, they are not a bunch on con artists. Over 80% of the revenues go to programs, with I think 13% going to fundraising and 7% going to other administrative costs. I find this an acceptable breakdown.

Of course, because I have the attention span of a goldfish, I started wondering about Bolivia and maybe sponsoring a child there (or donating to a charity at least.) You see Children International only sponsors children in Ecuador and Chile, not Bolivia. While I have no problems with either of those countries (despite hearing about Chilean ocean stealing for 3 years), it's not the same as helping Bolivia. I remember hearing about Save the Children working in Bolivia so I look them up. They do indeed work in Bolivia and have a sponsor a child program. Though I believe I know some people who work for them, I decide to look them up online and check out there IRS stuff, you know to see how all the money they get is divided up. Well, they have a similar spending breakdown as CI. But, and this is the whole point of this post, as I'm researching I'm reading reviews by donors and while 90% are incredibly positive, there is a small subset of reviews complaining that the CEOs get paid too much.

It seems that the CEO of Children's International gets about $450,000 a year and the Save the Children CEO gets around $375,000 a year. Apparently this is just outrageous to some people. Never mind that average CEO compensation for for-profit companies is over $10,000,000 a year in the US. If these CEOs do their jobs well (running large international organizations), less than half a million dollars a years doesn't seem so unreasonable to me. I guess people that work in altruistic endeavors should do them for free, but people who make widgets and sell them for profit, well they should be paid as much money as they possibly can. (Not that people who make and sell things shouldn't be compensated at market rates, just that apparently someone that runs an organization with 217 paid staff (and probably a bunch of volunteers) with offices in 10 countries should do it for $20,000 (or whatever it is that these random people consider "reasonable."))

Anyways, I think I'm going to donate to one of these organizations.