MB & J

April 1st, 2007

A birthday to remember.
On March the 28th, 2007 I celebrated my 28th birthday. Some would categorize it as my "lucky" or "magical" birthday since I was turning 28 on the 28th. I am not putting it in to either of those two categories, and thus, my story begins...

On the eve of my birthday I am scheduled to finish up work around 9 PM, go to my apartment and gather my comrades, and catch an over night train to Kerala at 11:45PM...or so my husband has instructed me. The first two steps go off without a hitch. The third step encounters a snag when we arrive at the Bangalore Railway Station and after a few minutes Josh turns to me and says, "I may have messed up." As my face begins to crinkle up in to an inquisitive position, Josh shows me our train tickets. In the bottom right hand corner of the ticket printed via inkjet is a time that is either 21:45 or 23:45. I am thinking it says 21:45, but hoping it says 23:45. We begin to ask around and find out we have missed our train. We are told that we can get on another train at 6:15 AM to take us to Kerala, but we would be unable to ride first class and would have to ride second class. As we are all exhausted, there are no complaints and we return home to sleep for 5 hours.

At 5 AM the five of us start the process over again. On our second arrival to the Bangalore Railway Station we discover that the train we have been booked on does not go all the way to Kerala. It only goes about 75% of the way to Combiatore, then we will have to change trains. Optimistically, we all find a relatively empty second class train car and have a seat.

The seats are more like benches and the benches face each other. Jason, Meg, and myself sit in one set of benches while Josh and Andy sit in the set across the isle from us. As we begin to approach the time of departure, more people add themselves to Josh and Andy's bench until there is no more room and they are forced to join our bench. When one of the train employees comes around to check tickets we find out that we are occupying assigned seats and there are unassigned seats a few cars down. We quickly get up and travel a few cars down where we find a couple unoccupied benches. This is where we will stay for the next 6 hours.

The first couple hours are not too bad. Riding second class means there is no air conditioning. Instead, the windows open and the ceiling is covered in fans. The first hour I was actually chilly. We also learned that there are a large amount of people that do their morning 'business' alongside the railroad tracks.

Every few minutes a person would come by offering a snack of "masala tea", "chai tea", "coffee", "birianyi", or "bread omelette" in an accent not unlike the imperial probe droid on the planet Hoth during the beginning of the Empire Strikes Back.

We played 30 Second Mysteries for about an hour and then I began to fade away in to the land of sleep. Upon my reentry to the real world, I find that the temperature has greatly increased, I am hot and sticky, and still have several hours until we reach Combiatore.

Another discomfort of the train that is now apparent are the beggars that are coming around asking for money. While I have experienced this in many settings throughout India, I am usually in a situation where I can walk or drive away. On the train, there is no where to go. I must have been napping when this particular fellow came by, but everyone else spoke of a man whose arm was broken a quarter of the way up and was asking for money. I did encounter a woman with a small child asking for money and she was not shy about reaching out and touching you to let you know she was there.

6 hours, a few beggars, and a drenched set of clothes later, we make it to Combiatore. We hang out in the train station discussing our next move while Josh goes to find out when we catch our next train and to buy train tickets. When Josh returns he informs us that the train ride to Kerala will involve us having to change trains a couple more times and several long waits. We would not arrive at our destination until 10 to 12 hours later. We decide to explore the option of a bus instead.

We exit the train station and are immediately bombarded by taxi drivers. We choose one and pile in to an old white government style car with ornate interior and again no air conditioner. Our taxi driver takes us to a private bus company where we make plans to depart at 4 PM on a non a/c bus to Kochi, Kerala. The bus ride should only take 4.5 hours.

While waiting outside the bus company for Josh we ask our taxi driver to take our picture in the car. We hand him the camera and immediately instruct him to turn it around. He takes a few steps back and we all pose and grin while waiting for him to take the picture. A few giggles begin to slip out as we begin to doubt our drivers ability to take a photo. Finally, the camera snaps and we cheer on our driver's success. He gives us a smile and a head bob and returns the camera before returning inside to fetch Josh. I switch the camera to play mode and almost fall out of the car I am laughing so hard. The picture is just of the top of the car.

In the Southern Indian guide I have been carrying around, it states that there is a KK Residency hotel that is the most luxurious hotel in Combiatore and has a couple of nice restaurants. We ask our driver to take us there. Upon driving up to the outside of the hotel we immediately realize that our definition of luxurious and the book's definition of luxurious is way off, as the KK Residency Hotel we are looking at seems to be about 30 years old and in need of repairs. We then ask our driver to take us to a new hotel that we passed along the way.

We pull up to the Alkbar hotel and we can feel the cool air flowing out the front door as we step out of the car. We head straight to the restaurant and order fresh lime sodas before going to the restroom to freshen up. I change in to a fresh pair of clothes as to rid myself of the dampness from the train ride.

Our buffet lunch included the basic Indian fare and some ice cream. It may not have been the continental food we were craving but it did the trick. We filled our bellies and cooled our skin until it was time to catch the next leg off our trip.

We arrived back at the bus company at about 3:45 PM totally refreshed and ready to start our journey. We boarded the bus, got comfy and were ready to go. I was asleep in about 10 minutes. About 45 minutes later I awoke to a new set of sticky skin and clothing and a loud horn unlike any other I have ever heard. The horn sound was coming from the bus and it sounded as if we were sitting on top of it. Fortunately, I was not sitting next to the window as I heard that the smog inhalation was also a problem. What was also a problem for me was the man sitting behind me who was sleeping, but his cell phone rang every 5 minutes. Really? You could turn your phone on silent. I was able to doze off again before we reached our rest stop about an hour later. We bought cold drinks, I called my Dad, and then we boarded the bus. I was able to get in a dirty look to the guy with the cell phone before dozing off again.

Upon waking I realize the whole of the day has worn on my bus mate and she informs me that if she has to spend 10 more minutes on the bus she is going to jump out the window. I am not far behind her, but try to stay positive. 30 minutes later we reach our hotel.

At the Yuvarini Hotel we take showers, order Pizza Hut and relax. Surprisingly enough I am asleep by midnight.

That was 28th birthday in a nutshell. It was definitely unforgettable.

The beginning of the end.
I had made it through March the 28th unscathed and in good spirits. The next morning we all pilled in to a Toyota Qualis ready to start the next part of our journey.

I immediately started investigating what would be required to return on Kingfisher airlines. It would just require $50 a person. Sold. I made reservations for 5 departing the evening of Friday, March 30th at 8:30 PM.

It took us about 2 hours to reach the backwaters of Kerala where we boarded a house boat. It was gorgeous and very relaxing. I finally felt like I was on vacation.

On the front of our boat was a couch and two large chairs where we all sat, enjoyed the scenery, talked, leisurely took naps, and enjoyed a few beers.

We were served an Indian lunch and dinner. I am afraid that was the beginning of the end for me. We stayed up playing 30 Second Mysteries and Bullshit before retiring for the evening. I noticed then that my stomach was not feeling 100%, but just thought it was the beer I had enjoyed earlier.

In our rooms the air conditioner had been turned on to 17 Degrees Celsius / 62.6 Degrees Fahrenheit. I was freezing under our very slim blanket and my stomach aching was not helping things. In the middle of the night I finally got up and turned off the air conditioner and was able to get a couple hours of peaceful shut eye.

The next morning we had omelette's and toast for breakfast, which I forced down. I thought I was suffering from yesterday's drinking and was determined to continue onward. I loaded up on medications and crawled in to the third row of seats of the Qualis. I made it an hour before we had to pull over so I could get a soda and change to the front seat.

From there we went to Jew Town, which was an old Jewish Community the Indian government had given a group of Jewish refugees. We shopped for several hours before stopping for lunch.

After Jew Town we went to Fort Cochin which was located on the beach. I did not last long at the beach before I had to get back in the car. The smell of fish and the sound of crows was not helping my stomach.

From Fort Cochin we went to the Taj Residency. Finally. An oasis. We had dinner then headed to the Kochi airport.

The Kochi airport was the nicest airport I have seen in India. It is brand new. I hope Bangalore gets there one day. We checked in and then boarded our prop plane. One hour and 10 minutes later we were in Bangalore. Selva was there to pick us up and we were headed home.

Upon arriving back at SJW, I immediately went to bed and that is where I remain, almost 48 hours later. I was scheduled to spend Saturday at the spa being pampered as a present for my 28th birthday, but the pain in my stomach would not allow it. Nor would it allow me to hang out with my friends before their departure.

The one thing my stomach pains did allow for was an overwhelming home sickness. At this moment I am ready to go back to the US of A.

February 12th, 2007

Take a picture. It will last longer.
In India staring is not a faux pas. In the beginning I thought it was amusing that I would see heads peaking over cubicles with all eyes on me or passerbys constantly peering in to our car as we rode down the street. 8 months in, I am a little less amused and often feel myself wanting to recite the title of this blog.

Before I left the States, I read about this in an Indian Travel Guide. They said that if you dressed like the locals then you would blend in and the staring would subside. I have not found this to be the case. When I wear anything remotely Indian, I feel as if the amount of peepers looking in my direction is double. This could be an illusion on my part because I am already self conscious about my appearance in clothes that are out of the ordinary for me.

December 10th, 2006

Have you had your lunch?
In the United States if someone asks you if you have had your lunch they are leading up to asking you to eat lunch with them or if you would like for them to pick you up some lunch while they are doing the same. The past 6 months people have been asking me this question a lot.

Every morning my driver asks me, "Have you had your breakfast, Madam?" The first few weeks I answered cheerily and told my driver, Selva, what I had eaten for breakfast. After the first few weeks my cheeriness started to downgraded and my answers became shorter. Recently I found myself thinking, "Yes I had my breakfast. What's it to you?"

When people started asking me at work if I had my lunch, I first thought they were going to ask me to eat lunch with them. Whether my answer was 'yes' or 'no' nobody ever asked. My initial confusion was then followed by frustration and I found myself again thinking, "What's it to you", or "Why are you asking me if I have eaten?"

A couple weeks ago I finally asked a guy I work with why everyone asks me if I have eaten my most recent meal. He explained to me that is how Indians go about asking, "How are you?" Indians believe that if someone has eaten recently they are more likely to be in a good mood.

Now when someone asks me 'Have you had your lunch', I cheerily reply with an affirmative or negative and ask them the same.

November 18th, 2006

Long Time No Sea...
Growing up I used to receive postcards in the mail from my dentist that had Garfield on a surfboard in the middle of dried up ocean. It was accompanied by the tag line written above.

So here I am after a 'Long Time No Sea..'. I guess I could tell y'all about what I have been up to since July, but I think Josh has been doing that so no need to repeat. Instead, let's talk about what everyone really wants to know about. India.

Someone asked me the other day what were the top 3 things I loved about India. Here was my answer.

Top 3 Things I Love About India
1. The People
The people make the country. Everyone is so sweet, generous, and just happy to go about their everyday business. Whether their business maybe collecting garbage, driving around foreigners, selling food on the street, or programming. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but overall this is my general perception.

2. The Animals
I am an animal lover. You would think after 6 months of seeing cows lying on the sidewalk, dogs popping out of dumpsters, runaway oxen having the time of their lives, or sighting the occasional monkey or parrot, that my amusement would come to an end. This has not been the case and I don't think it ever will be.

3. Work
I know. Everybody thinks I am crazy, but I really do like work. It is interesting and rewarding to watch and participate in an organization's/industry's early stages of growth. Everyone is very optimistic and excited to be there. It is very motivating.

July 23rd, 2006

Hey guys. As before, I have been working a lot and that does not leave much time for blogging. Especially when I am mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day and spend a large percentage of the weekend sleeping. I am working on a blog about work, but as I started writing it I realized it was going to take me awhile. I may end up publishing installments.

Whether the Weather
I am now living a few inches from the equator and you would think that it would be hotter here than in Alabama. That is not the case. The weather in Bangalore is awesome right now. I would say it is usually between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and it is not humid. This is not supposed to be a good time of year to visit (monsoon season is starting), but it has not rained that much and the weather is gorgeous. If I was in Alabama right now it would be stifling hot.

Why?
I find myself asking this question again and again. Why do you have to clean the pool every afternoon from 12 to 4? That is when I want to swim. Why am I not allowed to consume alcoholic beverages at the pool? I brought cans and covered it with a koozie AND there is not another soul at the pool. Why are the stairs in my building at work 'Restricted Use' and I get in trouble every time you catch me using them. Why do I have to promise to hand over my first born for mobile phone service? Why can I not leave my stapler and post-it notes on top of my desk without them being considered abandoned and taken to the lost and found?

Oops.
Yesterday Josh was reading the newspaper when I hear him shout, "MB", in a frantic excited voice. He then runs in to our office where I am sitting at my computer. He runs up to me with the newspaper open, pointing to a layout. There in front of me is a picture of the man that was sitting next to us at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The same individual that I commented on in my May 25th posting. Josh is pointing to a full page layout on Infosys Technologies and the man sitting next to us was the founder and CEO. Oops. I should have been passing him my resume instead of sitting next to him snoring. No wonder everyone was fascinated. If I had known, I would have been fascinated too.

Our Latest Visitor
Josh and I moved to a new apartment about a month ago, so we no longer have the birdcall doorbell. We thought we had escaped the birdcall until a couple weeks ago when we were awakened at 3 AM to a loud 'CAW, CAW, CAW'. It sounded like a bird was sitting in the room with us. It was then followed by another 'CAW, CAW, CAW', this one sounded like it was sitting on the balcony a couple buildings over. That one was followed by a 'CAW, CAW, CAW' that sounded like it was on the other side of the apartment complex. The cycle then started over with the bird on our balcony leading the pack. After a couple cycles, shaking off the sleep and realizing what was going on, Josh stumbled out on the balcony in his underwear. I then heard him shouting, "Get out of here!" That ended the cawing for the night. Unfortunately it was not a permanent fix, since a few nights later at 4 AM our friend was back and letting us know it. This week he did wait until 7 AM to wake us up and he left before Josh had to tell him he had over stayed his welcome. Maybe he is getting the hint. If not, we will be setting up a scarecrow on the balcony.

June 17th, 2006

Sorry everybody. I know this is long overdue. I have been working a lot. Unlike Josh, I haven't gotten out and explored the city much. I'm glad that we are going to be here a year, so I have plenty of time to get to know Bangalore.

My First Impression
I am not sure if I can find the words to describe the past few weeks of my life. India definitely smells different than the US and it took me about a week to adjust. Bangalore is also very polluted. There is garbage every where. It upsets me every time we cross over the river, because it is filled with garbage. Someone referred to it as "open air sewage". By the way it smells, I can't say that I disagree. I would like to implement the 'Adopt a Kilometer' program while I am here. With that said, the first few days we were here I was doubting my decision. The thoughts 'what have we done?', 'we have to stay here for a year?', etc were swirling through my head. Since those first few days, the culture shock has subsided and any doubts that I had have now faded.

The Doorbell And The Bed Sheets
Our first day here we were in our apartment unpacking when we heard a loud bird call. I ran in to the living room where Josh was sitting and said, "What was that?" I then headed for the balcony. Josh replied, "That sounded like it was inside the apartment." Seconds later the front door swings open. It is the cleaning ladies. We tell them that now is not a good time and they leave. I think momentarily, then turn to Josh and say, "I bet that noise was our doorbell." Josh scurries out in to the hallway to test my theory. He presses the doorbell and sure enough, one loud bird call chimes out of the wall. Who knew?

A few minutes later the bird called again. I went to the door and it was another cleaning lady. She was trying to tell me something about bed sheets. We went back to our office and she opened the closet where a large amount of clean sheets were located. She took some sheets out and then she left. A few more minutes pass, bird calls, another cleaning lady. I say, "Sheets?" She nods and goes to the office, gets some sheets and then leaves. A few more minutes pass, bird calls, cleaning lady, gets sheets, leaves. Hopefully you are getting the picture. This happened a few more times until all the sheets were gone.

The Pony Races
Two Sundays ago we went to the horse track. We were the only white people there and we were there for 30 minutes before I saw another woman. We weren't real sure how to bet, so our first bet was kind of a guess. That was the race I won the most money on. We then went to sit down. Fortunately for us there were a few seats open right next to the guy that was napping with drool running down his face. After one race next to our sleepy friend we decided to see if we could find the VIP section. We paid about a buck fifty to go upstairs and hang out were it was not so crowded. There were a couple women up there. Overall, I lost, but it was a lot of fun.

I Love Sundays
On Sundays the hotels and nice restaurants around town have big brunch buffets, complete with champagne (or chocolate martinis at the Olive Beach). There is a lot of food and it is all delicious.

Two weeks ago we went to the Chancery Pavilion hotel. They had pastries, sushi, Indian food, soup, pizza, chicken and steak on the grill, a large assortments of desserts, and several other items. I filled up for the week.

Last Sunday we went to Olive Beach, a Mediterranean style restaurant. They had several varieties of tasty breads, black bean and chick pea humus, about 5 different kinds of salads (yummy!), asparagus, oysters, quiche, and lasagna, just to name a few things. They also serve a mean chocolate martini. It tastes like a chocolate milkshake with vodka. There are also two girls and guy with a guitar that come around and sing. They played several songs for us and we helped them sing (me singing? Imagine that.).

Technology in India
Here I am in the midst of a technological boom in India. The Silicon Valley of India. For a place that is now taking over the world's technological market, what they don't use technology for cracks me up. Here are several examples.

Scaffolding - Scaffolding in India consists of a bunch of long sticks of wood tied together with some rope. The people on the scaffolding don't wear any type of protective gear. They are up there barefoot or in flip flops and there is no helmet involved.

Cutting the grass - There is a lawn at Bang 3 (my office), that has a stone walkway and grass grows in between the stones. While eating lunch with Fancher in the cafeteria one day, we looked down and noticed three guys cutting the grass between the stones with clippers.

Picking up the Garbage - We drove by a garbage truck the other day. The truck was as big as a garbage truck you would see in the States. There were three guys with the truck. One guy would get the garbage off the street and pass it up to a second guy, who would scatter it in the truck. It was the third guys job to jump on the garbage and pack it down.

I do realize why things work this way, in these cases, less technology creates more jobs. But that doesn't stop it from being hilarious.

Alright, MB out. I'll try not to wait so long before my next write up.

May 25th, 2006

Enroute to India
We are now living in India. The last week we were in the US everything came through - the Visa and the apartment. We are living in St. John's Wood apartment complex - http://www.prestigeconstructions.com/stjohnswood/.

We departed Tuesday from Atlanta at 4:30 EST. Our flight to Frankfurt, Germany was about 8 hours long and we stayed awake the whole time. Staying awake the whole time was not the smartest move. We did get to sit in the first row of "economy class", so we had plenty of leg room to stretch out.

When we got to Germany we had breakfast in a cafe at the airport. We then met up with Theresa Cohen, who is one of my old group leads. She was traveling back to Atlanta after being at the IDC for 2 weeks.

After talking to Theresa, the coffee from breakfast began to wear off and complete exhaustion set in. At the Frankfurt airport you are not allowed to enter the seating area around your gate until about an hour and a half before it is time for your flight to leave. We had arrived at the airport at 7:30am and our flight was not until 11:30am. We had killed a couple hours eating breakfast and chatting with Theresa, but we still had an hour to kill before we could sit down at the gate. This would not have been a big deal if there had been a few places to sit around the airport or if we had gotten some shut eye on the first flight. We resorted to walking a loop up and down terminal A for the next hour. If I had stood still for one minute I would have passed out.

Around 10:30 we were finally allowed to enter the boarding area. We snagged a couple of seats and stared at the wall. At least, I guess it was the wall. I could not really see straight by that point.

Apparently there was some famous Indian guy sitting next to us in the boarding area. I would say he was about 60 years old and people kept coming up to him and introducing their selves and taking his picture. Everybody else was staring at him. I heard one man say, "I have read and seen many things about you." Well, I hadn't read and seen anything about him, so I had no idea who he was.

Once we had boarded the flight to Bangalore it took us about 5 seconds after we sat down to fall asleep. I slept for several hours and woke up just in time to catch the end of a Bollywood flick. The movie was okay. It definitely had a nice plot twist at the end.

Once we landed in Bangalore it only took a few minutes to go through customs. However, it then took a very long time to get our luggage. We had four bags and they come out one at a time with about 10 minutes between each one. One of Josh's bags had a big white X on it, which meant that it needed to be x-rayed after we got it off the belt and before we exited the airport. While Josh's bag was being x-rayed I went out of the baggage claim area and found Jim Fancher.

Let me veer off a little bit and tell you about Jim Fancher, since this is not the last time you will be hearing about him. Jim lives in Atlanta and I know him from working at the BellSouth Center in midtown. He arrived in Bangalore 2 weeks ago and is staying until September. He was nice enough to volunteer to come and pick us up from the airport, since he had already been through the same experience a couple weeks ago.

Alright, back on track...we waited for Josh and then went outside of the airport. You have to pay to get in to the airport (60 Rupees/$1.50) even if you are just picking someone up. I guess that explains why some people felt that they had the right to spend the night on one of the baggage claim carousels. When you exit the airport there are a ton of people outside holding up signs with people's names on them that are to be picked up.

We navigated through the mob and met Sashi at the street. Sashi is one of the drivers that waits at St. John's Wood to drive Accenture people around. The boys loaded up the car and we drove to St. John's Wood. My first impression of Bangalore architecturally is that about half of it needs some work and the other half is really beautiful. There were several buildings that looked like a bomb had gone off in them and they had just been left like that.

Sashi drove us in to St. John's Wood the "back way", which meant we got to drive by the goat slaughter houses. If I had driven by without a guide I would have thought they were crack houses. Of course, you then turn a corner and there is St. John's Wood. Bangalore is very mixed architecturally. You can have a brand new complex right next to one of the bomb buildings.

Sashi dropped us off at the front door of our building - Deodar. The boys unloaded the luggage and Jim Fancher showed us to our room. The elevator going up to the 8th floor was very small and three of us plus our luggage barely fit. I felt sorry for Jim, since we had not showered recently.

We got to our room and Jim showed us how to turn on everything. There is a remote control for the air conditioner, you have a switch that turns on the Geyser which produces hot water, and every outlet has a switch. It took us a little while after Jim left to figure out all the switches and which ones went with what.

By this point we were exhausted and decided to call it a night. After lying in the dark for a few moments everything electrical came to a screeching halt. We had blown a breaker. Luckily Josh found the breaker box and the electricity was restored. We decided to turn off a few fans and turn up the AC, so it wouldn't happen again.

May 14th, 2006

9 days to go until we depart for India. We spent yesterday packing our entire life in to 12x8x8 cube. Everything we did not put in the cube we are going to try to cram in to 4 suitcases. Thanks to everyone that came to help us - Luke, Meg, Carolyn, and David. We really appreciated it and could not have done it without y'all.

We are currently still living in our house. We are sleeping on the fold out couch, which we are leaving for Wyn. The kitchen now only contains the basic staples in life: a pair of scissors, a wine bottle opener, a bottle of wine, some liquor, 3 plastic cups (we had four, but I left one at the Open Door Cafe today - doh!), 10 paper plates, napkins, plastic forks, ketchup, some frozen tots, and a half eaten Snickers bar.

We are still waiting on our Visas, but those should be here this week. We still don't have an actual place to live in Bangalore yet. We are supposed to have an apartment, but that has not panned out yet. If we do not have one by the time we arrive on May 24th, we will be living in the Le Meridian hotel until we get an apartment.

April 11th, 2006

Josh and I found a renter for our house this weekend (thanks Wyn!). Looks like we will be packing up everything and moving it in to storage before we leave for India. As I look around at everything I own, I am hoping that won't be too much if an under taking.

Last Updated: Saturday, June 17th, 2006 [Contact MB][Contact J]