Saturday, June 18, 2005

beer bombs

in the morning my stomach is spazzing out from the previous evening's dinner, no doubt. i spend a lot of time on the can. the maid's arrival makes this a bit awkward.

after things settle down, i head to the big supermarket to stock up. before i've finished my guts are turning over again. i buy my stuff and get out. i lift the platic bags out of the cart and my double bagged beers go crashing to the ground and explode near a little boy. thankfully he's unharmed. in shock, i inspect the bags and they are easily the shoddiest things i have ever seen. those that didn't break are on the verge. by now a crowd has gathered to watch me and the small river of beer and glass that has formed. the security guard tells me to talk to the manager and i'd get new beers, but my agitated gut tells me i don't have time. i shove the remaining groceries into my sturdy backpack and rush home, letting the store staff sort out the mess.

after more nursing of the gut, i find my way to the guitar shop, and succeed in buying a cheap indian made ebanez (yes, a rip off of ibanez) guitar. here, the good guitars are, amazingly, the chinese made ones, while the bad guitars are indian made. they don't even bother with american imports.

i spend the rest of the day eating tandoori chicken pizza, watching movies on cable, and playing guitar. it's nice to have a home.

Friday, June 17, 2005

an 80's evening

i was invited by a group of co-workers to attend a party, "hosted" by one of them. apparently when something fortuitous occurs in the life of one person on the team, that person is cajoled into taking out the rest of the group. our host purchased a new motorbike, which apparently is sufficient to spark a celebration. of course i agreed to go. in fact, i had to cancel a planned get together with a few expat pals who had helped me in my housing hunt. that i had two conflicting social obligations within one week of moving to bangalore left me very impressed with myself.

back to the party. apparently, all parties, at least in my office, seem to be pretty much the same thing. a round of bowling (very popular here), followed by dinner. "hosting" means paying for it. ok, not really what i'd call a party, but i'm looking forward to it nonetheless.

bowling is a bit different than back home. at home, assuming you're not bowling becuase you're drunk and the alley is within stumbling distance, you either own your own ball, or you spend some time picking out the right ball from the racks. and that becomes YOUR ball for the entire game. not here. here you just walk up to bowl and grab a ball that might sort of fit your hand from the group of 7 that happen to sit at your lane. after the first frame, do you wait for your ball to return to go for the spare? no. you just grab another ball and throw it. there's none of the chalk stuff or bowling gloves or using the little finger fan. because of this, the game moves remarkably quickly. which means i like this version of bowling much more. one thing i didn't like: the loud, bad music filling the room and my ears.

it was a very wholesome experience. there was no sense of competion, no playful ribbing when a gutter ball was thrown. nobody swore when they screwed up, except maybe me, and i did it under my breath. everyone just wanted everyone else to do well. lots of cheering and claps on the back and high-fives. only one out of 9 of us scored over 100.

we ate dinner at queen. no, not a gay bar, but a restaurant designed to look like a mud hut from a traditional indian village. we separated into the veg and non-veg groups. only a few of my co-workers eat meat. after a week of vegetarian food, i was looking forward to eating some animals, even if it would only be chicken and goat. the guys asked me how i am with spicy, a question i get nearly every day. having had no problems all week, i was beginning to think this indian spicy thing was exaggerated, or that perhaps after 4 months in asia i had grown accustomed to such things. i was about to be punished severely for my arrogance. this was the spiciest food i've ever had. i made my way through the first few courses, but once i hit the briyani i was completely screwed. one bite and the heat started to build, and with each gulp of water the heat actually increased. i would be dead in minutes if this trend continued. i started eating the yogurt concoction desgined to cool. after a few minutes i hit peak heat and began to come back down. the worst was over (though there may yet be a reckoning in my gut). my tribulation was the source of much amusement around the table. strangely though, i never broke out in a sweat, which is what i thought people did.

i thought maybe drinks would come next, but the evening seemed to be over. most people went home, and a few of us went back to the office to pick up things. it was there that 2 of my coworkers and i decided to go for some drinks at purple haze, a rock themed pub. i caught a ride on the back of one of the guy's motorbikes. as usual, with traffic and all of the one way streets, this took longer than walking. still, the driver of my bike found ways to achieve remarkably high speeds ever so briefly before coming to jarring stops. somehow i held on.

purple haze was something to behold. the focal point of this very dark bar with blacklight images of hendrix and zappa on the walls is a giant flatscreen tv blasting rock videos though an amazing sound system. you really feel like you're at a rock concert, even though you're essentially watching mtv from 20 years ago. the enthusiasm in the room is shocking--people are up dancing and pumping their arms to the body shaking power chords. each new song brings new cheers and high-fives. sometimes the videos would pause at dramatic moments to let the frenzied crowd sing out lines acapella. among the bands: pink floyd, janis joplin, nirvana, u2, metallica, survivor (yes, eye of the tiger), the scorpions, rem, and a host of others. it was impressive that seeing, for example, survivor, in all of their early 80's music video lameness, could be an energizing rather than simply laughable experience, but it was, thanks to the energy in the room. i suppose the beer helped a bit as well. drunk and happy, the guys at the next table befriended me and started stuffing skewers of meat in my face. i kept pleading with them that i was stuffed and could not stomach another bite but they kept making me eat. in fact they'd try to shove the skewers directly into my mouth. i don't like being hand fed by strange men.

even though i'm the rich foreigner, my co-workers insisted on buying the beer. what nice guys. management booted us out at 11:30, half an hour after the mandated closing time.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

moving day

i move into my new place. on closer inspection, there are a variety of things that need fixing. among the most glaring: the shower is falling apart, the water filter doesn't do any filtering, one of the 3 fans doesn't work, and some lights don't light. maina (my landlady, sort of) seems committed to making everything right though. i meet my maid. maina was guessing my maid would cost 300 a month, but it turns out she wants 500, which she claimed the last 2 tenants paid. i am amazed to find out that for this amount ($12/month), she will come and clean EVERY DAY (except sundays). cleaning even includes doing my dishes and my laundry. the only problem is i'm not fond of the idea of a maid coming every day. especially because i have to be home to let her in, and then share the place with her while she works. maina insists that it would be completely insane to give your maid a key, as you would be robbed blind. she tells me that i should lock away anything of value while she's there. actually, maina is fond of telling me a lot of things i should be watchful for, and shares her own robbery stories. by the time she's done i find myself securing every bolt of every door in the apartment. the very fact that there are so many such bolts (as well as a massive secondary padlock on the front door) furthers my apprehension.

anyway, back to the maid. even though i'm not thrilled with these aspects of having a maid, it is something i think i should experience and is such a bargain that i cannot resist. i can always stop it.

after work, i head to the supermarket, excited to fill my fridge with comforting foods and beverages, but all the grocery stores close at 9pm. damn. home won't be too homey just yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

my new home

i get a lead on a place to live though a former bangalore expat i met on-line. i get lucky. the place has just been vacated, its french occupant suddenly forced to return to france for mysterious reasons. the sister of the landlady and her son pick me up outside my office and drive me there, which takes longer than walking. the place is a bit dark and dingy, but it's huge and furnished and has everything i need, including a kitchen (with fridge and water filter), cable tv, and even a balcony overlooking a park. it's pricey though, at 15000 rupees a month. throwing in the maid and the electric & phone bills, i'm looking at almost $400 a month. ah well, i might as well live it up. i decide to take it right then and there.

there's one problem. the deposit. renting an apartment in india (or at least in bangalore, but i think it's countrywide) generally means forking over 10 months rent as deposit. really. so i'd have to fork over around $4000 to stay in a place where i'd be paying $1600 in rent. fortunately they take pity on me and demand only 6 months deposit or $2400. still, that will take me 6 days to raise, using 6 trips to the ATM, which they deem acceptable. i really do hope i'll get the money back. that's some serious scratch. we'll see...

i move in in the morning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

finger licking good

everyone in the office is very welcoming. they invite me for lunch. we walk a block or two dodging both the human and vehicular traffic. my co-workers seem worried that i'll be hit by a car as we cross the roads, not knowing the ways of crazy indian drivers. they give me street crossing directions, which if follow unquestioningly. we decend into a packed basement hole-in-the-wall eatery. my co-workers are hesitant to order me real indian food. they ask if i want fried rice or a few other mild items clearly listed for people who look like me. screw that i said, and made them order me what they were having. it was delicious. in years of working in boring alameda, california, and going out for countless lunches, this would rank among the tastiest lunches i've ever had. and for only 25 rupees (60 cents). i wasn't however, quite ready to eat with my hands just yet. i used a spoon.

for those who don't know, most indian food is eaten with the hands--actually just the right hand. and i'm not just talking about finger friendly pakoras and the like.... i'm talking about rice with curry poured over it. you push it all around your plate with your fingers, sopping up the curry with the rice, then scoop up a clump with the fingers of your right hand, bring it to your mouth and shovel it in (using the thumb). not surprisingly, your fingers end up quite messy (and there are no napkins), though your palm remains clean if you do it right. you also, of course, end up ingesting whatever was on your fingers pre-lunch, which is the part that bothers me most, especially considering that in india, a lot of unpalatable things end up on your fingers. i will try it soon, but not on my first meal out...

oh, and NEVER EVER eat with your left hand. the left hand is reserved for unsavory things, as discussed in my other blog.

after the meal, you go to the sinks, or sometimes just a water jug, and wash off your hand.

Monday, June 13, 2005

i need a home

i'm tired of paying 920 rupees a day for my hotel. i'd like to find a real place quickly. but accomodation can be tricky in bangalore. very little is available centrally. yet traffic to the outskirts is terrible, as the city has grown much faster than the roads can accomodate. many of my co-workers spend 1-2 hours a day commuting, and that's often using nimble motorbikes. i call V, who the day before kindly offered to show me the place he stays, a long term guesthouse. i think i am supposed to meet him at footworld, which i can't find, so foodworld will have to do. he shows up. we climb into an auto rickshaw for the smoggy 25 minute ride.

the place is pretty much just a hotel room with a bit of furniture. it's 7000 a month, or 8000 for the "luxury" room, which just adds a little space for a tiny table and chairs. tv & fridge are in a common area. maid service is included. figure on 3500 a day in auto-rickshaw costs and we're suddenly talking 11 thousand a month or so (under $300), plus all that time on the road. i think i can probably do better. there was a lot of confusion on the particulars, as the manager wanted to conduct all business through velario as he doesn't know me yet. i found this off-putting.

after, we go into a ramdom red velvety loungy place for a drink. i want to try something other than the kingfisher so i get a jaguar, which the bottle says is a "winey beer". sure enough, it is a mix of beer and wine. weird. weirder still is the plate of raw onions and cucumber we are brought to snack on. after we find some dinner, and i flag down an auto rickshaw to go home.

shortly into the ride the auto-rickshaw driver says, "it's after 9pm, so you pay 1 1/2 times meter". "what?" i say with a look of surprise and mistrust. "you can ask at your hotel when we get there," he retorts. i agree.

i call his bluff. i ask at my hotel, and the guy at the front desk says, no, it's after 10pm that the extra charge kicks in. i pay the driver the meter rate and he's pretty pissed off. this convinces me that finding a place within walking distance to the office will be worth paying a hefty premium.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

back to a slightly different grind

monday morning brings out the masses.

the way people talk about it, and the way the hotels are priced, you'd think bangalore would be a gleaming high tech mecca, but really it looks much more like you'd expect india to look. there are hordes of people everywhere. sidewalks look like they've been hit by bombs and wires from electrical poles dangle down to eye level. traffic stops for no man. aggressive beggars chase me and grab me and block my path. i am choked by smog and assulted by blaring horns and loud engines. a child tries to rip the coke from my hand. crossing the street here feels about as dangerous as it did in saigon. at least in saigon it seemed like the drivers made some effort to avoid me. here i get the sense they gun the engine and take aim. it's nothing that isn't managable though.

i still don't know where my office is. i walk along mg road in one direction, then the other, and still nothing. i pop into the tourist office and they tell me where the building is. apparently i had stopped just short of it when walking in the first direction.

the 13 story building is confusing. i naturally assume i should enter via the front door, but this turns out to be a citibank branch, with a large metal detector in front. the guards direct me to the side of the building. i find my company's placard on the wall and see that we're on the 11th floor. i get in the elevator, but it only goes to 8. someone in the elevator explains i need to use the outside elevator. i go back down and do a lap around the building. there is no outside elevator. there is however another bank of indoor elevators on the other side of the building, and lo and behold, those go to floor 11. i emerge and walk in the office and am surrounded by young indians who help me find my way to the office manager. the office "waiter" brings me a cup of tea and some water. i am shown around. the views of bangalore are impressive from up here. the city looks pleasant and green, though the blaring horns still find their way up this high. the pleasant outdoor balcony is just the sort of thing that would never be allowed in the states as one could, if extremely stupid or suicidal, fall or jump and die. india is much more sensible in that it is the natural order of things that the extremely stupid or suicidal do die. and so do a lot of other people.

eventaully i am encircled by everyone in the office, a good 25 or so people, all of them indian. i introduce myself and vice versa. everyone seems friendly. we even joke around. i remember no names. and so my office life in india begins.

that's no sheep

things are far quieter in the morning. i explore mg road, where my company is supposedly located, but i don't find it. most places seem to be closed. one exception is the "indian coffee house", a hole in the wall where turban clad waiters serve coffee with various egg dishes. the first meal in any new country is always daunting, as you don't know any of the rules... how to be seated, how to order (often there isn't even a menu), how to pay, etc. i go through the usual awkwardness, confusion and miscommunication, but eventually i manage to get a table and some food. as i eat indians start to sit at my table, which i can't understand, as there are unoccupied tables nearby. they don't talk to me or seem interested in me, but nonetheless they sit at my table. i hope that this isn't going to be a common occurance. i do like to have my space once in a while.

stuffed full of runny eggs, i emerge and am immediately harrased by auto-rickshaw drivers. (auto-rickshaws would be called tuk-tuks in thailand--they're the noisy, 2-stroke polluters that dominate bangalore roads). these guys all run the same scam of taking you around town for an hour for only 10 rupees (23 cents), provided you go into their "special" (i.e. grossly overpriced) shops. no thanks.

i switch modes to hotel recon, looking to move out of my expensive place asap. although accommodation is scarce and pricey in booming bangalore, especially here in the center. i suspect i can find something a bit more reasonable.

unfortunately addresses make absolutely no sense here, and i fail to find the first hotel in my list at all. i ask a guy where it is. he tells me it's no longer a hotel. i have no idea if he's right. still, it's a good thing indians speak english, as i'm starting to get the idea that i'm going to have to ask for help a lot.

i find the second hotel on my list, and move into a room that is only 2x rather than 3x the price of my most expensive room in 4 months of travel. i only give up aircon, which seems unnecessary here. bangalore's temperatures are surprisingly mild.

i head to a department store where i find a food court and supermarket. i eat some fast food chapati & curry and stock up on crazy snacks. as usual, i buy the local varieties of lay's potato chips. i pick up a bag of indian masala flavor and one of "chaat street" flavor.

after a rest, i head to the pubs. bangalore is apparently one of the few places in india that has pubs at all, and it has a lot of them. apparently the new yuppie class has generated a demand for this sort of thing. the first place is dark and crowded and loud. i quickly down my first indian beer and leave. the second, pecos, is more accomodating. i hike up 3 floors and find an outdoor rooftop table where good music plays at a reasonable volume. a few expat-y looking guys show up after a few minutes, and there being no empty tables, i offer space at mine. we start talking and more people show up an suddenly i am a member of the expat community. they invite me to join them for dinner at a trendy restaurant where i order a fancy french mutton dish, but i had forgotten that mutton means goat in india. this is my second time eating goat. my first was in cambodia where i had goat soup in a restaurant called "goat soup", still one of my all time favorite restaurant names. my new cohorts give me some good leads on housing. i tenatively plan to meet with the italian guy the next day to visit his place, which is a sort of a long stay guesthouse.

it's time for bed. tomorrow is my first day of work in 4 months, after all. my brain hasn't accepted this at all, and thinks i'm still going to be a tourist tomorrow.