a gathering place for the words, images and momentos of the world of adventures i've adventured, the stories i've wandered through. curriculum bella vita...a resume, of sorts, of the good life.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Make Mumbai Happen

Mumbai sprawls. The airport, in the middle of a huge swath of residential buildings, is an hour drive north of the South Mumbai city center. The drive’s amazing, the whole gamut of sights: the newest hotels and businesses, quiet residential enclaves, and circling them both, massive slums. Everything you’ve ever heard or thought of Mumbai, Bombay, is true. It is a city of world-class extremities, for better and worse.


1 hour flight from Hyderabad, about a $100. A 15-hour night train is an option, but you’ve gotta book trains way in advance in these parts. I wouldn’t recommend the March-August season, as it’s steamier than steamy. Temperatures are about the same as Hyderabad, but the humidity makes it seem much sweatier and way more uncomfortable.


Cheap guesthouses are plenty and not uncomfortable in COLABA, close to the highest concentration of sights and sounds. Travelling with budget-backpackers, we stayed in a tiny A/C room for 1600R a night ($40) along the Colaba Causeway. You’d also be comfortable along MARINE DRIVE, overlooking the Arabian Sea.


The heart of the city is a fantastic blend of domineering colonialism and a fancy but fading sort of art deco. Tree-lined sidwalks like much of the touristy areas, a wonderfully welcome taste of visiting a European. It's so reassuring, in fact, that i walked away with the impression that this was a city that you could actually settled down in as a westerner and feel...comfortable. Some of the highlights?

Gateway of India and Taj Hotel – hustling, bustling city center. As lovely as it is crowded. And a living testament to India’s resilience after the 11/26 terrorist attack at the spot two and a half years ago.

Prince of Wales Museum – neat displays in an even more spectacular building

Victoria Terminus – One of the most photogenic, busiest train stations in the world. Another victim of ueber-nationalistm, now Chattrapati Shivaji Station.

CafĂ© Leopold – earns its reputation for being a fun, flirty place for tourists and NRIs to eat and drink and be merry. Stayed open until 2, which is waaay late for these parts.

The Oval –see cricket in action, hundreds of games overlapping in the same grassy patch surrounded by cathedrals and towers.

Bakeries - What a novelty!!! And donut shops, too!!!

Floating Mosque – Mumbai in a nutshell: scenic and shocking at the same time, an oasis of serenity, but only after you make it through a gauntlet of hawkers and beggars.

Dhobighat (Mahalaxmi Station) – see the innerworkings of the world’s largest washing machine: an entire neighborhood of dhobivallahs washing a city’s worth of laundry the old fashioned way.

Taxis – black and yellow little Ambassadors are the best way to see the city

Gandhi Bhavan – Mumbai’s quiet, leafy residential neighborhoods around Malabar Hills are worth a peek, and the Gandhi Musuem’s a great way to see that area and check out the room where Gandhi spent many of his pre-Independence nights.

And, of course, a more recently famous “bhavan,” the world’s first billion dollar home, Ambani’s 27-story tower.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

One Part of Mumbai

Scene One, while walking down the Marine Drive promenade about 9:00 pm

Can I shine your shoes?
No, thanks.
Only five rupees.
No, thanks.
No, thanks.
Please, sir, I can shine your shoes? I’m hungry.

Scene Two, sitting on the abankment fronting the Arabian Sea, about 9:01 pm

Yes, my shoes do need a little shining.
Okay, sir.
The last man who wanted to shine my shoes said I would look like Al Pacino if only I would let him shine my shoes.
(No response.)
Do you know who Al Pacino is?
He’s a movie star. I don’t look like Al Pacino. Do you live in Mumbai?
No. I am from Jaipur.
Oh, I hear its very nice there. I live in Hyderabad. Mai universityme hindi partta ta, aap hindi bol sakta hai?
When did you come to Mumbai?
One week past.
Where is your family?
They stay in Jaipur only.
You came to Mumbai alone?
Yes. By the train. I need to earn money.
And you’re 12?
Why did you come?
I need money for school. I just passed out 8th class. Now I have to pay $800 to go to school.
Please help me, sir. Please help me go to school.
(No response.)
The shoe is good?
Yes, looks very good. Now, the other, please.
Tell me about your family.
I have two little sisters. My mom cooks and cleans. But the people give her food, not money. My father is expired.
I’m sorry to hear that. Do your sisters go to school?
Please pay for my school. Then I go back to Jaipur. You can come to the train station and watch. I will go back.
Entrepreuenership is a good skill. You are earning a good work ethic.
I thought you could help.
I will help. Here is 10 rupees for the shoeshine. And here is 100 rupees for school.
Your English is very good, I think you will be a good student.
Goodbye, young man, best of luck to you!

Scene Three, the next night, between our guesthouse and Leopold's.

Look, Jeremy, it’s your friend again!
Hello, my friend, would you like to buy a map?
Hello, young man. You are selling maps today?
Yes, please buy it. Only 500 rupees.
I’m sorry, I don’t need a map today. I’m leaving in the morning.
Please, no one buys maps today.
I’m sorry. What is your name?
My name is Sanjay.
Sanjay, aap se milkar bari khushi hui. My name is Jeremy.
Sell your map to someone else, but I am happy to see you again. Here is 100 rupees. Good luck, young man.
Thank you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Open Market

They organized a continent's worth of digital pictures on my computer, freeing space for the sights (if not sounds) of nothern India. The only strangler left in iPhoto? One picture that captures a bit about what this corner of the world is like in 3.5 MBs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vanessa Jane (and The Weary Travellers)


Hosting visitors might just be one of the best parts of living abroad. Showing someone from back home your new world, peeling back the shellshocked and proving to someone that your little foreign story is real. Livable. Sharing Heves with mom and dad after their Olympic trip; show-and-telling Rachel and Margaret as spring came to Heves.

First Indian visitors? Camper-turned-coworker-turned-dear-friend Vanessa and her boyfriend Nick, a stellar lad in his own right. They both spent the past two years teaching English in Korea -- a great gig -- and celebrating the end of their stay with two months in Southeast Asia and two months in South Asia, four months of Asian galavanting.

I know first hand how tiring travelling can be, so i'd been pushing HYD on them as a mid-way resting point since they started planning their trip months ago. Air-conditioning, washing machine, car and driver, all the modern conveniences. Plus Miller Genuine Draft.

Three weeks ago, after a marvelous stay in Sri Lanka, they touched down in Thiruvananthapuram, the southernmost point in India, and have slowly been inching their way northward. The loved the flavor of Kerala. Savored the calm of Ooty. Dug the beaches of Goa. Wandered the wonder of the ruins at Hampi. All by bus and train and foot.

Saturday morning, they pulled into HYD via overnight coach from Hampi. Mixed reviews on comfort, as you might guess. But immediately i threw them into the fray in a weekend action-packed with Hyderabadi fun:

playing cricket (and MGDs) at the consulate
pool party with the foreign exchange students
afternoon nap
McDonalds on a tray
sunday morning brunch
trying to figure out what happened at the pool party
Old City and Charminar
Watching Lagaan (first half only)

Monday, they took off on their own while I was at work and gave the Nizam's Chowmahalla Palace rave reviews. That evening, Raghu and his wife Uma, brought over mutton biryani in honor of their 17th wedding anniversary. (we presented them with a nice basket of goodies in return.) It was nice to meet Uma, I hadn't before. We had a lot of fun mixing English and Telugu (for her benefit) after we insisted long enough and Raghu and Uma finally agreed to join us at the dinner table. (He ate, she didn't.)

Tuesday, they went to Golkonda Fort with Britta, which I haven't even been to yet. They had a good time trapsing up and down the 17th century fort. Wednesday was a full day of relaxation, followed by a delicious lasanga dinner in gloria's new kitchen. In all, it's been great hosting them, as it's great motivation to be more social then I usual am after work. And social, of course, is fun, even if it's tiring.

Today's a packing day, as tomorrow we're off to Mumbai! Beautiful Bombay... We wanted to take an overnight train, but you have to book 2 months in advance, yikes. So we're off by plane. Should be grand!

I hope this is the first in a long string of visitors. Janani's planning a Bastille Day swing through HYD. Jenn Bahmer'll be dermatologying here for two weeks in August. Anders and Simo are debating September. October suits Annie's fancy more. Madison/Colorado friends tease me with the possibility of a December visit. And Cousin Kristine will be going ma and pa in January. And I continue, of course, to lobby others. Including YOU. :-)

Friday, April 15, 2011

getting hotter

woah, things are a changing in the alcatraz apartments. glor's movin' on, andrew's gonna move into his permanent place next week, too. and at the same time, three new friends will be moving in to keep me company as i wait for my own permanent home...as i hit my fourth month in. the good news? new neighbors are fantastic: a former JAG officer and his law-trained German wife, as well as their new baby-to-be. manchmal sprechen wir ein bischen deutsch, which is pretty fun with telugu sprinkled in.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Past Glories

This perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising seeing as I’m surrounded by ancient temples and thousand-year old forts...but apparently India is a country that revolves around celebrating its past glories. Local tv and bar/restaurants are STILL showing the cricket tournament games. (In their eight-hour entirety, of course.)

Oh, and my toenails are STILL pink...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Try this on for size.

Sometimes online shopping makes me happy. Pouch arrival day's always one of the highlights of my week. And trying on glasses online and then ordering them from the US?


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Play Ball: Cricket Style

Heading into the heart of the Commonwealth, it’s a given that you’ll have to learn to like cricket, or else spend two long years explaining why you don’t. It’s easier to give in...

But for the first few months, I couldn’t get into watching the seemingly silly sport. Even as India kicked off the 2011 Cricket World Cup in mid-February – a quadrennial tournament between a dozen or so mostly Commonwealth countries held this go-round in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – I had only tepid interest as the world around me shifted into cricket overdrive.

It would take a long paragraph to explain how one-day international cricket is similar to baseball, except that every major facet of the game is pretty different. And in truth, I wouldn’t have been able to write that paragraph until Wednesday, when I turned on the tv to watch the India-Pakistan semi-final and BAM! All of a sudden, cricket made sense. All the back-and-forth rules, all the crazy numbers at the bottom of the screen. It was kind of a great moment in time.

After a month of round-robin play, 8 teams made it into the elimination round. After first-round wins, India and Pakistan won the right to face each other in the semi-finals. There was a wee bit of build-up for the game, as this match would be akin to your choice of:

Ali v. Frazier in boxing
Packers v. Bears in football
Yankees v. Red Sox in baseball
Federer v. Nadal in tennis
(except, I suppose, more like Serena v. Venus...)
Hungarian v. Soviets in water polo
Forrest Gump v. the entire Chinese Ping Pong Team

Oh, and just for fun, the countries have fought four wars since 1947.

Oh, and let’s double down, they share a contested and militarized border.

Oh, and no big deal, but they have a bevy nuclear weapons pointed at each other.

The match was so big they threw a screen up in the cafeteria and the local staff, with a smattering of interested Americans, caught bits of the game during the afternoon. It’s a slow paced game, like baseball, you can come and go without missing too much.

Cricket happens in halves. First, one team bats. They bat until 10 batters get out, or until 50 “overs” is complete, whichever comes first. (Each over is 6 bowls, so that’d be 300 pitches.)

India won the toss and batted first. Most teams subscribe to that theory, unlike deferring in football, thinking that it’s better to go first than the pressure of needing to chase a set number. They started at 2:30, but I didn’t pay attention. When I walked out of work at 5:30, half the staff was still watching the game. India was still batting. Faces were long, thought, India weren’t (yes, this is correct, per South Asian English!) racking up big runs like usual.

When I got home at 6:00, Pakistan was just starting to bat. I was amazed to understand the game when I turned on the tv, so I had no choice but to order a pizza to make the evening complete. (It arrived 2.5 hours and two phone calls later...)

With each swing, the Pakistan batsmen fell further and further behind. With each over, hoots, hollers and firecrackers would burst on the street as India inch closer and closer to victory over their fierce (and real-life) rival. When India finally sealed the game, young cricket fans poured into the streets with song, dance and flags. I watched the spectacle, under a firework-lit sky, from my window high above the street.

On to the finals, today, Saturday. Excitement in the streets, although in comparison I would say it was less than a Wisconsin city when, say, the Packers are in the Super Bowl.

Sri Lanka batted first, but it wasn’t until the switch that I joined Yogi and friends at a nearby house, converted into viewing parlor with a projection screen. Again, things weren’t looking good. Indians were pessimistic, and swearing off the importance of the final. “It’s far more important that we beat Pakistan in the semi-finals,” more than one said. I had already started to prepare a thesis, relating India’s foreign policy to the attitude of its sports fans. Namely that Pakistan mattered than everything else combined...

The mood bottomed out when national hero Sachin Tendulkar struck out after tallying only 18 runs. For many overs, India just barely held on. But captain M.S. Dhoni slowly started swinging for the fences. A long series of 4s (a ball that bounces out of the playing area) and 6s (a ball that clears the playing area on the fly) later, he sealed the already-decided game with a massive six. Boom, turns out the Indians actually did care about the final, they poured into the streets again for fireworks, jumping on trucks and other assorted tri-color merriment. Tendulkar carried off the field. Dhoni given a new place in subcontinent lore.

The Indians liked it. And so did I, just not quite as much. So it goes with a sport where you can wear ridiculous hats during gameplay...