Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bombay Baby

We spent the whole day shopping yesterday and then flew into Mumbai last night.  Our flight was delayed about 20 minutes, but we still made it on time thanks to our reckless pilot who was going so fast he hopped the plane on landing.  Our hotel is about an hour away from the airport... I can't tell if that's because of the traffic or actual distance.  Matt's using missed holidays to expense our hotel, and we'll be in Mumbai for 3 days before heading back to Chi-town.  Today we're going on a walking tour from the Lonely Planet... I think it'll be fun if we don't die of heat stroke or exhaustion.  It's supposed to be around 100 degrees today, so it's cooling off from last week.  Internet isn't free and it's a hassle to get, so I don't think I can call people like I had planned.  Sorry, Mama.  Our flight leaves at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. on the 31st.  I'll try to post some Mumbai pictures before we leave.  Wish us luck!

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Interesting Turn of Events

I finally have something noteworthy to blog about!  I'm sure you're all relieved.  As you know, we were supposed to be leaving in the next couple of weeks... well, it seems that we'll be leaving much sooner than expected: Saturday.  Matt got online last night to change our return tickets, which were scheduled for Saturday the 27th, (because we knew we'd be here at least another week) only to discover that the company had already decided to kick him out this weekend.  It would have been nice if they could have given him a heads up at work on Thursday, as they'd been planning it all out since that morning, but no one did, so we found out at about 9.30 last night.  I've been packing furiously all day... well, I packed furiously for a couple hours today, with several TV and snack breaks in between.  It's no easy task considering we brought enough stuff for 6 months and have used only a fraction of it.  Plus I keep shopping, so we have considerably more stuff than we should at this point.  Good thing we don't pay for overweight baggage.  Thanks, UOP (and this time I really mean it).  Matt went into work this morning and then was supposed to go over to the police station to get some sort of written permission to leave the country.  This is the same written permission that Andrew was supposed to get yesterday and still hasn't gotten.  He was scheduled to leave Thursday, but he's still waiting on the permission slip so he might not get out of here before Saturday either.  Why are they taking so long?  I guess that's just the way of these people.   I should learn to accept their poor planning and inefficiency, for it is only through acceptance that I can truly grow to love them.  Anyway, that's the news so far.  We'll either leave tomorrow (morning or night... or afternoon, I guess) or we won't.  We'll either stay in Mumbai for a couple days to sightsee... or we won't.  Probably we'll be here until Monday.  That's my prediction.  In any case, I'm packed (sort of) and ready (not quite).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Show Me the Money

After two and a half weeks in India, Matt finally got his per diem yesterday from the refinery.  We've never been to a place where they pay him in cash, so it feels a little strange having this huge pile of money sitting around.  I don't know how to work the in room safe, so I just have it sitting in a drawer.  It'll be fine.  There's no thievery in India.  Speaking of, I went shopping with one of Matt's co-workers yesterday (he's leaving today, actually... it's always the most depressing when people start leaving site.  It just means you'll be here that much longer than they were) and we took a tuk-tuk back from the mall.  Remember how the last tuk-tuk driver tried to charge me Rps 30 for the ride?  Well this guy tried to charge 50!  Can you believe these people?  (FYI, it's not racist to say "these people" if you're talking about tuk-tuk drivers in general and not Indian people.  Don't worry, we keep it PC up in here.)  I feel like I have a huge sign stuck to my blindingly white skin that says "rip me off".  Anyway, it didn't work, and I just threw 20 rupees at him and walked off.  We thought he might get really pissed, but he didn't.  Well, he probably was pissed, but he just drove off.  See, tuk-tuk drivers, the thing is, you can't try to rip me off after you've already taken me to my destination.  I'm already there.  I can just get out.  If you're gonna try to rip me off, you should probably try like halfway, and then if I don't pay up, you can kick me out.  See how these things work?  Use your heads.

Anyway, Andrew bought some stuff for his mama, and I spent considerably less money and bought some stuff for... some people.  I haven't decided who yet, but isn't that half the fun?  They have some pretty amazing cashmere and pashmina scarves here, but don't get your hopes up, ladies; they're pretty expensive.  Probably has something to do with all the hand weaving and needle work.  I probably won't even get one for myself... nah, I probably will, but doesn't it make you feel better if I say I won't?  Now that I have my fat stack of cash, I'll probably be buying a lot more stuff that no one needs.  There's some rule about how you can't take rupees out of India, and they only exchange up to a certain amount at the airports before you leave, so it's probably best that I just spend it all before we go.  That way at least we'll have something to show for all Matt's hard work.  Andrew and I finally went into the Bollywood men's store looking for some great clothes, and boy we were not disappointed.  My favorite piece was a tight black mesh tank top...  I'm considering bringing a couple back for Nate and Dad to wear on their fishing trips.  Maybe they have a small one for Mason, too.  That way you can tan through the shirt.

This van is outside the Bollywood for men store... I don't think it's moved in a long while.  Incidentally, this is what their ambulances look like. Not the dirt part, just the van part.  

 In other news, Matt has been sick for almost two weeks now.  We thought it was a cold, but now I think it may have moved on into something much more sinister, like a sinus infection.  He promised that if he wasn't feeling better today he'd go to the doctor... I think he'll probably just lie and say he's feeling better so he doesn't have to go.  I guess I can't really blame him, though.  I saw an "emergency center" yesterday, and it did not look inviting.  I think you might come out of that place a hell of a lot sicker than you were when you went in.  Seriously, he'd probably lose a limb or something.  Let's just all hope real hard that his cold goes away soon.  I know he's really tired of it, and at the risk of sounding un-nurturing, so am I.  Still on track to leave, um, sometime.  Andrew is flying out through Delhi and going to see the Taj before he leaves, so maybe Matt and I can do that as well.  We probably won't have to worry about it too much because we'll surely be back.  We just can't get enough of this place, you know?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Still Truckin'

Well, I haven't died of boredom yet, although I would venture to say a little piece of me dies every day from boredom.  And from dirt.  They say boredom and dirt are the two leading causes of death in Vadodara.  Beware. The weekend went pretty well, I guess.  We didn't do much; hung out at the pool both days and went to the park and played frisbee... in the heat of the day!  Not the best idea, but it was fun.  Until we all passed out from heat stroke.  That's the third cause of death.  I'm at risk every day.  Here's a picture of some of the crew members.  This was post frisbee... that's why they look like that.

 Matt and I went on an adventure and found the McDonald's on Sunday.  Yes, we're getting sick of Indian food already.  It's really      delicious, but it's very heavy and a lot of it has the same flavor.  So we've hit up Pizza Hut once, and McDonald's once (and I went to Papa John's today, but that doesn't count because I was alone) so that's only two American food breakdowns in a couple weeks.

Pregnant cow.  She's a biggun.

We had a few more crew members arrive this weekend, two from Russia and Matt's trainee from India.  Matt's trainee is originally from Vadodara, so this is a dream come true for him, but I think the Russians might have a harder time adjusting.  We went to dinner together Sunday night outside of the hotel, and got harassed pretty heavily by some beggar children... I don't think they got my memo.  Anyway, by the time we got back to the hotel, both the Russians were a little shaken and had to stand outside and smoke to calm down.  Ahh, young travelers.  I'm so much more experienced than that now... I never freak out about anything, and I love everything about everywhere.  The epitome of the calm and compassionate  traveler.  Speaking of, I just came back from the store (and Papa John's), and the tuk-tuk driver tried to charge me Rps 30 for the ride: a ride that only ever costs me Rps 20!  I got so angry at him, and I just kept shoving the 20 at him and he kept saying, no, no, 30, so finally I just stuck it in his hand and walked off.  That is ridiculous!  Granted, 10 extra rupees is probably the equivalent of 10 cents, but still.  It's the principle of the thing. I need that extra 10 for the next guy who tries to rip me off.  Oh, but I'm always a target for that kind of thing.  I'm actually a lot fiercer about my money here than I usually am... I think it's because everyone speaks English and I know they can understand me when I explain.  Not that they care, but they can understand.   Saw my first Indian rat the other day and did not scream even though it was the size of a raccoon and looked like a hedgehog.  I was perfectly calm at the time, although now when I walk outside I watch very carefully where I step... especially in the trashy areas (ie the whole city).

These kids wanted me to take their picture.  For real.

Anyway, we might be leaving here a lot sooner than expected... like 3 to 5 months sooner.  Apparently they weren't really ready for Matt to come yet, and he has only checked out maybe half the vessels in the plant.  They told him yesterday that after today, they have nothing else for him to do so they want to release him.  For several months, if I understand correctly.  So yay for me!  Of course we have to wait a week or several for the lawyers to make up a contract, but if all goes smoothly (it won't) we'll probably be gone in 2 to 3 weeks.  Surely we'll be back.  I'm not sure where UOP will go with this news... sometimes they save specific people for specific jobs (we're both kind of hoping that's not the case) and sometimes they just stick them wherever there's an opening.  We'll see.  I'll keep you updated as I need to  blog to stave off the murderous boredom.  Matt said another Dumai, Indonesia job is starting at the beginning of April, and there's a chance he'll have to go there again.  He told me I'm not allowed to go... apparently I didn't hide my misery well the last time, what with all the crying and depression.  Who knew?

Friday, March 19, 2010

I Love Fridays

I haven't really had anything to write about all week, and I still don't, really, but I do have a couple of pictures I thought I'd share, just to help you get a feel for the place.  Not much doing this week... I went to the grocery store (or several small grocery stores, to be exact, before settling on the best one, Spencer's) twice this week and found such delectable treats as Gatorade and granola bars.  By the way, a lot of the food and juice that I've been buying here is expired by at least a few months... consequently, they are cheaper.  I really have been trying to find non-expired juice, but I haven't found anything more recent than January '10.  Most are still in the '09 category.  I haven't gotten sick yet, so I figure my iron stomach can handle it.  

I went to the "big mall" in town yesterday.  I meant to walk there, but the heat almost knocked me over as I walked out the door, and I gravitated toward the tuk-tuk without even realizing it.  It's been in the 100s for the past few days... it's only going to get hotter, people... come visit now if you're coming!  Anyway, the big mall isn't really very big in terms of American or Chinese malls, but it does have some Western clothing stores.  Although what Indian people (or people in general for that matter) need with a United Colors of Benetton is beyond me.   I also found several Indian clothing stores, including one with very reasonably priced shoes... so I bought some.  I think my size 7 (or 8 depending on the shoe) feet are at the higher end of their foot spectrum, but I did find one pair.  I'll keep searching. 

 Also, the most notable thing that happened all week occurred yesterday.  I was crossing the street and two little boys came running up with their hands out for money... in the middle of the street.  I put my hand out to stop them before they (or I) got run over, and they both slapped me and then ran off.  Can you believe that?  The gall.  I'd like to issue a decree from this point forward: To all little children or adults who want money from me, I will only give it to you if you are quiet and respectful about it.  You may follow me, but you may not, under any circumstances, claw at me, scratch my arms or feet, slap me, or (most importantly) stick your hands in my armpits.  If you do this, you will get none of my money.  Thank you.  

Cows eating from the dumpster: a common sight.  

Confronted my fears (both of the pool and of people seeing me in a swimsuit) and went swimming yesterday.  It's not a nice pool, but it's (relatively) clean and hey, it's a pool.  In accordance with me not eating at the buffet anymore, Matt and I went and ate dinner at the Thali restaurant again and then another night went to a different Indian restaurant across town. The food was good, but the traffic was so bad getting there and back, and we got so ripped off by the tuk-tuk drivers, and the garlic naan settled so poorly in our bellies that I don't think we'll be going there again.  Not to worry, I spotted both the Pizza Hut and Papa John's restaurants on my walk yesterday.  I will not starve.  Also, I'm taking multivitamins so I (probably) won't get scurvy.  Though if I did, I could write a song about it like Captain Dan (authentic pirate hip-hop).  Have been running for 15 minutes every day on the treadmill and sweating a gallon at a time.  Still haven't lost any weight, but I have faith.  If things get really bad, I might start seeing the personal trainer again... things would have to get REALLY bad for that though.  Scream 2 is on TV... I better not miss this.  

Traffic at 7.30pm in Vadodara

There was a festival the other day. I don't know what it was, but it's apparently marked by the giving away of strawberry milk.  That's what these people are fighting over.  They are loving it.  

A very ornate dress in the Sequinz store down the road.  

And here's me, at the insistence of the man outside, standing in the window next to the beautiful dress.  "It's all about making the memories" he told me.  Please excuse the glare.

Matt's favorite store in town.  He hasn't been in yet, he just likes the sign.  

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Love Weekends

It appears that against all odds, I have successfully survived a full week in India. Granted, Matt only worked four of the seven days, but still, it's an accomplishment that deserves to be recognized. I'll gladly take your praise in monetary form. The weekend was pretty successful, though "hot as balls" to quote my husband. Friday night, we were all a little stir-crazy so went out to a different hotel for dinner (yeah, we know how to party). We had Thali, a Gujarati staple, which is basically a bunch of different vegetables and sauces in little dishes on one big plate, with rice and naan and other bread-stuffs. It was delicious, and unlimited, and at about $5 per person, one of the more expensive meals I've had here. that, some of the crew met up in our room and we worked out a plan on how to sneak alcohol into the billiards room so we could drink and play snooker (I learned from China the first time that snooker is basically only tolerable with alcohol). For those who don't know (and why would you) snooker is pretty much a really difficult form of billiards with a huge table and cues, and tiny balls that are color-coded instead of numbers. We still don't know all the rules, but we're getting there. Back to the plan: we ended our devious plotting by pouring rum into a water bottle and then taking it down with us and pouring it into Pepsi. I feel like I'm in high school all over again. Not that I ever drank in high school...
Anyway, things didn't get too out of hand (except Ivan kept hitting the balls off the table and into the windows... none broken) but I guess the hotel staff thought we were too rough and cut our party short by simply turning off the lights on us. We got the hint. Saturday we went and ate some good South Indian food (I guess it was South Indian... lots of curries and stuff) and then walked around in the ridiculous heat for a couple hours. Then back to the snooker table, as it's basically our only form of entertainment at this point.
Sunday the entire group (all 9 of us, including a baby) went to see the Laxmi Vilas Palace here in town. Even though it's one of the only "sights" to see here, apparently no one knows where it is. We had to show the tuk-tuk drivers on the map how to get there. I can't really tell you much about the history because while our guide spoke English, none of us could understand him, so we kind of just walked around blindly.I do know it was built in the 1890s and has had five generations of "kings" living there, including the most recent one whose family still resides in the upper sections. I don't know what the guy is the king of. Baroda? Gujarat? I could probably look that up, but I wouldn't want to lose the mystery. After the palace, we wandered around looking for some other something that Andrew read about in the guide book, but astonishingly, no one in town knew where or what it was. Had lunch at "Barbeque Nation" which was the first meat I've had since getting here.

Today I went to the bookstore, Crossword, and walked around enjoying the A/C and looking at just about every title. It's a really nice place with lots of books and some DVDs, although they're not nearly as cheap as China. Too bad. I bought the last Twilight book (don't judge me... you have no idea how low I can stoop) and started reading it in the coffee shop on the second level of the store, all the while getting stared at (disapprovingly) by the traditionally dressed Indian men behind me. Ahh, sticks and stones. All in all, a fairly successful few days. Hopefully I can navigate the rest of the week without any major breakdowns (I've only had one so far... on our second day... I repeat, don't judge me).
Incidentally, the personal trainer here turned out to be a total creeper and I've quit him completely. I'm sure he's not all that bad and that it's a cultural gap at the very least, but I figure if it's making me uncomfortable, I don't have to do it just to be polite (actually, I didn't figure that, Matt did. He's much more sensible than I am). The trainer "stalked" me outside on day two after our session and asked me if I wanted to come in and watch him exercise and talk to him. That was basically it, and now that I write it down, it seems really harmless. But man, you wouldn't think so if you saw him. Also, Saturday he came and creeped around the snooker table and watched us play for a while. Everyone agreed that he's a creeper not to be messed with. It is amazing the lengths I will go to avoid this guy... I have completely altered both my workout and sitting out by the pool schedule so as not to coincide with his.

Also, the food at the hotel is paid for by the refinery, so everyone eats dinner here almost every night. I guess it was foolish of me to think I was included in the free food extravaganza, but I did. I can't say I was surprised however, when we got a call from the front desk saying we needed to stop charging my meals to the refinery as they weren't paying for me. Busted. This company sure does know how to make a girl feel welcome. I think if they could, they would charge me for half of the price of the hotel room, since I'm sharing it with Matt. I shouldn't mention this to them. I don't really care about the dinner except that it's kind of social hour for me, and now I'll have to skip it (it's $20 a night for the buffet, and call me cheap, but that's just ridiculous when I can spend $2 outside and be happy). I wore a tank top AND an above the ankle skirt today... hear that? That's the sound of the rule book being thrown out the window.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Just got back from my first outing of the day... it went slightly differently than I'd planned. I tried to go back to the same area where I was the first day, but sadly, I didn't ask the hotel the name of that area beforehand, so ended up riding around in the tuk-tuk while the driver drove and stopped and pointed for 20 minutes. Finally I just got out at some store and bought some juice and forks. Then I decided to walk back to kill some more time, which turned out to only take about 10 minutes. It is so hot here already. They aren't kidding when they tell you to only go out before noon and after 4. I guess my next adventure out will have to wait until this evening. For now, I'll leave you with a picture of the pancake maker at the Residence Inn. Not here, sadly, but back in Chicago. This thing is amazing. You push a button, and out pop two pancakes. If anyone wants to get me a late birthday present, that's what I want.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

India pictures

I ventured out again today... and ate lunch out again today ... alone. I had a little boy following me asking for money, but he was so annoying I just couldn't do it. I felt bad, but not that bad. And then later i felt really bad, so I gave money to the next kid I saw. I shopped a little bit, but nothing special.
There is what looks like a big glass enclosed mall a little ways down from our hotel that looks really cool... it isn't. I went there today and there were only 3 stores open in the whole 4 story building. I took some pictures, but none of them really captures the essence of Vadodara. I'll have to keep working on it. In the meantime, here are a few to give you an idea.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I love Vadodara

That's probably an overstatement, but I am enjoying myself much more than I thought I would on this the first day of my India adventure. This morning I went and did breakfast with the crew before work, and was pleasantly, nay, fantastically, surprised to see the breakfast is actually really good here! (We have a thing about breakfast. As you know, it sets the tone for the day.) We have an omelet station and eggs made to order, pastries, fruit, cereal, and some Indian stuff that I'm sure is delicious but might make me regret eating it later. Later, when all the workers had gone and I was left to my own devices, I headed to the fitness center to work off some of the million pounds I gained while sitting on my rump for days on the plane. It's a pretty good gym, but hot and small, and the attendant stood in there and watched me the entire time I ran on the treadmill... which wasn't very long, I'm afraid. Then Assam (or Hassam... Asham?) the attendant explained that he is a personal trainer, and can help me "lose all that weight". As much as I love to be told I need to lose weight, I was pretty excited when he showed me all the ways to firm my triceps. That's all we did. A million different exercises for the backs of my arms... yet I won't deny that I needed all of it. My arms were shaking something fierce by the end of it, which I'm taking as a good thing. He wouldn't let me do ab work because he said we'd done enough, but I think it had something to do with his shift ending. In the end, he made me lay down on a mat and proceeded to stretch me out in a way that seemed mildly sexual (for India... I mean, they even have separate security checks for women at the airports) but completely unthreatening. Then he told me I was limber. I was pleased. Then he showed me the massage room and sauna and said he hoped I would let him massage me sometime. As I was leaving, he said he'd see me tomorrow, and I said yes, maybe. And he said, no, not maybe. I will see you tomorrow. It is the only way to lose the weight. So I guess I'm locked in now. I'm actually really excited about it. I've never had a personal trainer before, and a free one is even better! At least I think it's free. I'll probably be in a lot of trouble if Matt finds out I've spent all our money on getting fit. On second thought, after he sees how good I look, he'll probably forget it. Maybe.

After the gym, I took a tuk-tuk (one of those three wheeled things where they drive you around) for the first time (in India) to the Vadodara Center. It's basically just a department store with a small super market on top. I bought the essentials (shampoo, body wash, crackers, noodles, water and of course, peanut butter) and then had lunch at the food court. Most of it was under "renovation" although there's no telling how long it's been that way, and there was only one place open, so that's where I went. I asked what their best dish was, and the guy told me they didn't have one. "So all of your dishes are bad?" I asked. Yes, he said. Yes. I don't think he understood. Or maybe he was just trying to be honest. I ordered... something. I meant to write it down, but forgot. It was a huge wafer-y thing stuffed with potatoes and spices and lightly fried or baked or something. It came with either a dipping sauce or a soup, which wasn't great, but that wafer-thing was delicious! Well, just the inside was delicious. I was going to take a picture, but all these people kept walking past my table to stare and I got embarrassed. Look at the foreigner, taking pictures of her food. See how she uses a fork. So childish!

Later I hopped in another tuk-tuk, this one driven by a toothless man who charged me the same price as the other guy, much to my surprise. Then I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by the pool (it's fantastic, by the way). I know it doesn't sound like much, but for my first day, I quite enjoyed myself! Also, the day's not over yet, but it's so bloody (yup, I'm saying bloody now) hot outside I don't think I'll be doing much else. I hear it will be getting much much worse as this is only the start of summer, so wish me luck.

Now I'll leave you with a few random things I keep thinking about: I think I'm retaining water here because my calves and ankles seem to be perpetually swollen. Either that or I'm developing cankles, in which case thank you Lord for sending me Assam the trainer. Also, I have been wearing bug spray (with DEET) and am taking Malaria pills every day, but I still somehow seem to have huge mosquito bites all over. This always happens to me. Hopefully the DEET killed them after they bit me, but who can know? Also, last night on the dessert buffet, there was a small brown and pink cake labeled "barfee". Seriously. you can't make this stuff up. The Indians got offended when I used the word "barfee" but to me, that's what their cake looked like. That's a derivation from a Jack Handey quote. Hope you enjoyed it.

Oh, and another thing for those who I haven't told yet: the hard drive on my computer crashed the day before we flew out of Chicago. Can you believe it? Luckily we were able to get in to see a "genius" at the Apple store that night and they fixed it for me OVERNIGHT and for FREE! Apparently it was some sort of manufacturers error for this year of computer. They also gave me a new keyboard because mine was cracked. I couldn't believe it! That's probably hands down the best customer service I've ever gotten. Thank you, Apple. It makes me want to purchase Apple products exclusively... which is probably why they do it in the first place. Anyway, they were able to retrieve my data (all my pictures, too!) with the exception of some software I installed, including my camera software. So I'll re-install that and then get some pictures to you as soon as I can. Love to all, write me back while I'm still in good spirits!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Love Short Hair?

I finally took the plunge yesterday and chopped off all my hair. I'm donating it to Locks of Love, and they require 10 inches minimum, so that's what they got. It was a pretty huge shock to cut off that much hair at once, and it's the shortest haircut I've ever had (but not by much). I haven't decided to like it yet, but Matt likes it. My assessment is I look younger... like about 20 years younger. But surely it looks more effortless, right?
Surely this hair cut will make people stop and look and say, "wow, that girl looks so carefree! What could she possibly have to worry about? Certainly not her hair because it's so short and effortless!"
Anyway, I've included some pictures, so you can judge it for yourself. Also there are a couple of never before seen pictures of when we cut Aura's hair in Germany last year. Sorry, buddy. It's too funny to pass up.

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes! All in all, it was a pretty fabulous day... Matt made me breakfast and then took me to see Rush Limbaugh: The Musical at Second City in Lincoln Park. It was hysterically funny and incredibly horrifying at the same time. I don't care what anyone says, he is a crazy person. We finished off the day with dinner and a HUGE margarita, and then a piece of overpriced cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. See, we know how to do it up right.
We're leaving for India on Saturday (evening... thank you Janine) so we've just been trying to get all our stuff together the last couple days. We're also moving hotels today (again... third time's the charm) because Matt HAS to get his Marriot bonus points before we go. (By the way, if you want to know what we're like with our "bonus points" and "rewards cards" for hotels and rental cars, watch the movie Up in the Air. It's pretty much exactly like that.) I'm getting super stressed trying to pack for such a long trip, and yesterday a lady flipped me off after she cut me off at an intersection, which has further added to that stress, but you'd never know it because i have such short stress-free hair.