Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blue Christmas

Ahh, Christmas in India... you can't beat it.  Instead of writing out a long and drawn out post about how amazing our Barodian Christmas was, I will instead let you go on a visual journey through pictures.

We started our day out by the pool playing frisbee and catching rays:


Matt likes to leap unnecessarily to show off his skill.   

And then later he pays for his hubris.  

Later, we played Monopoly and several rounds of Taboo:  

All around us, the hotel staff was setting up for a wedding to be held that evening:  
I don't know exactly which job this uniform designates, but I want it.  A couple of these guys do not look pleased about having their photograph taken.  Don't wear those ridiculous outfits, and I won't take your picture. 

Judging from this guy's get-up and demeanor, I think someone in the wedding party has Indian mob ties.  

Later, we went down to the "special Christmas buffet" prepared for us by the hotel:  
Don't be fooled by the way it looks.  It was gross.  Except for that salad.  That I liked.  

Close up of the turkey fat ring on the outside.  Can you see it?  It's almost an inch thick!  

Later, our bellies stuffed with what can only be described as "turkey fat loaf", we met up with Indian Santa (aka Creepy as Hell Santa).  


Alex's son Krish (my former neighbor) with Creepy Santa.  See how scared he looks?  Santa had to pull his cheeks back to make him look happy.  
At the end of the evening, we had a problem with the bill (imagine that).  The hotel staff was offering everyone a 50% discount.  We wanted to pay full price for one buffet, but zero for the other.  It seems simple, but....
WelcomMustacheMan: "I'm going to say no, but I want to stand here and pretend to consider the request.  Sound good?" WelcomLady: "I don't know what we're talking about."  

Matt: "It is a simple request.  Add these two numbers together, and then put it on one bill." WMM: "I understand, sir.  I just don't want to do this because I don't like making people happy." WL: "Loud noises!"

Andrew: "But sir, it's Christmas."  (Long and very dramatic pause) WMM: "Oooohhh, allll riigghhtt."  

Yay!  Now everyone's happy!  Well, except for that nervous guy.  But he's like that all the time.  

Thus ends the tale of the Blue Christmas in Baroda.  The unit was shut down 12 days ago for a "six day planned shut down."    I wish I could tell you that Matt fought the good fight and the unit is up and running again.  I wish I could tell you that - but road life ain't no fairy-tale world.  He never said it wasn't back up yet, but we all knew.  Things will go on like this for a while - road life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, we'll have another shutdown.  And that's how it goes for us - this is our routine.  I do believe these last two weeks were the worst for us, and I also believe that if things go on this way, this place will get the best of us.  -Daily (modified) Shawshank quote.  

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Miracle

In what can only be described as a true Christmas Miracle, one of our own gets to go home for Christmas!  Sadly, it is neither me nor Matt, but our buddy Ben, who has been with us since the beginning (or at least since July).  Of course we are happy for him, but we here at She's Gone Rogue just wouldn't be us if we didn't resent him just a little bit (okay, a lot) for leaving us here in the lonely, dusty, trash-filled streets of Baroda.  Thanks, buddy.  

Bye Ben.  We'll miss you.  This sort of looks like an obituary photo.  It isn't meant to.  It is supposed to be nostalgic, but not depressing.  Okay, it can be kind of depressing.  

Sometimes I don't know if I'll ever get out of here.  Maybe one day, when I have a long gray beard and two or three marbles rollin' around upstairs, they'll let me out. (Shawshank quote of the day.)  

In other news, Merry Christmas Eve, everyone.  I'm trying to be a little less bah humbug and a little more holly jolly, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.  However, in the spirit of Christmas, I dragged Matt across the street to see Frosty the Snowman and take pictures.  

Meeerrrrryyyy Chrrrristmaaassss!  Ha.  This kind of looks like an obituary photo, too.  Feel free to use it if we die here.  

Oh yeah, we did, in fact go to Mumbai last weekend.  Matt took Monday off work and we flew out Sunday morning, then back here Tuesday morning at the crack of 6:00 a.m.  We stayed at the J.W. Marriott (using points, of course.  We could never afford that if we paid), and it was pretty fabulous.  The room was super nice, but the best of all was our access to the executive lounge, which had a beautiful sunset view, and all the free food and drinks we could stuff into our emaciated bodies.  And stuff we did.  
View of the super fancy pool and beach from the executive lounge.  Can you believe we got all this for the price of free ninety-nine?  Yeah, it pays to be married to a man with Platinum Marriott status. 

We only left the hotel to go downtown once, and we immediately regretted that decision.  Mumbai is huge (pop. 15 million), and very India.  It is nice to get away from Baroda, but the minute we left our hotel, we didn't feel far enough away.  We won't make that mistake again.  

Ahhh yes, India may have finally broken me.  I don't know if I can ever fully recover from this place.  But then I think about another (modified) Shawshank quote:  There are places in this world that aren't made out of trash.  There's something inside... that they can't get to.  That they can't touch.  What's that, you say?  Hope.  

Don't worry, I'll never lose hope.  I Hope that you all have a wonderful and happy Christmas.... I Hope that you don't forget about the little people (us Barodians, if you will) during the holiday season.... and most importantly I hope that some day, some time, I will be out of India, leaving it behind me forever.  I hope.  Happy Holidays.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

We Need A Little Christmas

A couple nights ago, we were invited (repeatedly, in person and over the phone and with a formal invitation slipped under our doors) to attend a Christmas "Cake Mixing Ceremony".  Because everyone knows you can't celebrate Christmas without a cake mixing ceremony.

We weren't too excited about this, but like good little prisoners we showed up at the allotted time roaring and ready to mix up some cake.  Apparently this is some sort of an old tradition leftover from the Brits, according to Chris, our English compatriot.  You have to mix all the ingredients for the cake precisely ten days before Christmas.  Why?  No one knows.  Scholars maintain the true meaning of the tradition was lost centuries ago.
Welcom Staff with all the ingredients.  In true WelcomHotel style they made this into a big production.  They even hired a "professional" photographer.  These are his photos.  They gave them to me on a disk. Merry Christmas to me.  
Of course because this was such a big deal we had to wear appropriate clothing provided to us by the hotel:  
Me, Austrian (that's not his name, just his country), Matt, Ben and Shriram stylin'.  

And then the mixing commenced:  


I have never in my life seen someone so excited about sparkling non-alcoholic wine before.  We also put in non-alcoholic beer.  "Because Gujarat is a dry state," they told us.  Really?  I hadn't noticed.  

From left: Vikram (Matt's trainee), hotel guy, Vikram's wife, Shredda (I don't know how to spell it, but it's pronounced like that), Shriram and Ajay with the finished product.  Ajay looks like this in every picture.  Hilarious.  

Married couples.  See?  Classic Ajay.  

So that was that.  The whole experience took only about half an hour, which was nice.  I know I should be thankful for "the experience", but I'm not, really.  It was all a little too ridiculous.  Sue me.  I think I'm just bitter about staring into the face of an Indian Christmas.  How did I even manage to end up in India for Christmas?  Bad luck, I guess.  It floats around.  It's got to land on somebody.  It was my turn, that's all.  I was in the path of the tornado: I just didn't expect the storm would last as long as it has.  - The Shawshank Redemption, 1999.  (I know what you're thinking, and yes, there are loads of appropriate Shawshank quotes for our situation.  I'll be making use of them frequently from now on.)  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fake It Till you Make It

I'm in a pretty bad way today mentally, so instead of posting some negative Nancy blog post in which I say something awful that I end up regretting later (mostly because my family will bring it up repeatedly at some later date), I decided to fake a cheerful post in the hopes it will put me in a better place - spiritually and mentally, if not physically.

Last weekend we went to Udaipur (in Rajasthan), and while it wasn't the most magical place I've ever been, it definitely beats the pants off Baroda (that's assuming, of course, that Baroda would wear pants, and if I had to hypothesize, I'd say it definitely wouldn't).  Udaipur is 350 kilometers away (about 217 miles), but of course it takes six hours by car to get there.  We hired a refinery driver, who brought his friend along for the ride in his tiny hatchback, which made for a very cramped ride.  The only really notable thing that happened on the way was when we stopped to pay the "border tax".  The two guys got out of the car and proceeded to lock us in.  Strange, we thought, but nothing too alarming about that - until a group of Rajasthani men came up and started banging on the windows and lifting up the door handles asking for money.  Still, we weren't too worried, until another man came up and showed me his photo album full of naked men dancing and worshipping.  Apparently this is in relation to some Rajasthani festival, but it is still a little off-putting to look at naked men in a photo album at a truck stop on the side of the road in India.  That said, I've seen worse.

Two hours after the naked-men picture book, we reached our destination.  Udaipur is billed as "the most romantic city in India", as well as "the Venice of the East", - both claims I find to be equal parts ridiculous and sad.  However, sometimes, if you are in just the right frame of mind, the way the sunlight glints off the scorpion chew wrappers, the smell of urine evaporating off the sidewalk, and the huge fudgey piles of steaming cow feces can make you feel quite enchanted indeed.

Incredible Udaipur.  

But I joke, I joke.  After you get past the fact that Udaipur is still India (and it is, very much so), it's actually a really nice city.  There is a lot of really great interesting architecture, some beautifully-carved Hindu temples, and who could forget the most famous sight of all - the Lake Palace Hotel.
Carvings on Jagdish Temple, the "most famous and most beautiful temple in Udaipur."

For those of you who aren't aware (but why wouldn't you be),  the 1983 James Bond classic Octopussy was filmed in Udaipur.  (On a side note, that is quite possibly the single worst movie title ever.)  Most notable are the scenes from the "floating" Lake Palace, which is actually built to cover the entirety of one of the islands in the middle of the Lake Pichola, making it look as though it floats.  While we didn't ferry over to the palace (you had to either have a room or pay $80 a pop to eat at the restaurant), we did have a marvelous view of it from our hotel room, and pretty much all the rooftop restaurants have a view of it as well.  It's that famous.

View of the Lake Palace from the City Palace museum. 

The highlight of the trip had to have been sitting out on the Sunset Terrace bar, which overlooks the Lake Palace.  It was a beautiful view, especially at sunset, but mostly we liked it because we got to drink beer.  In public.  Never mind that it was Kingfisher-hangover-in-a-bottle.  It was beer.
Never before has a bottle of Kingfisher looked so glorious.  

I think Morgan Freeman (as Red in The Shawshank Redemption) said it best: "We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men."  Of course the sunset view wasn't too shabby either:

Lake Palace just after sunset. 

The palace on Jagmandir Island.  We went there on Sunday... nothing much there, but nice views of the city.  

We also saw some traditional dance performances at one of the museums on Saturday night.  It was really entertaining, and we have some great videos, but I don't know how to upload them, so you'll have to be content with pictures.  Soooorrrry.
One of the traditional Rajasthani dances. Not to rub it in, but the videos are so much better.  

Ten pots.  Ten.  This woman was a monster.  

Because Udaipur is the "City of Lakes", its known for its multiple dhobi (clothes washing) ghats all along the lake.  We saw lots of people washing clothes (and themselves) in the lake, especially on Sunday.  Of course everyone knows Sunday is washing day.  While I'd probably get offended if I saw someone washing their clothes or bathing in a lake in the middle of a huge city in the states (or China... yes, I remember getting all bent out of shape about this in Dagang), in India it just seems smart.  The poverty here is so great that it seems natural for people to use this huge water source to keep clean.  It's much better than the alternative (bathing in the puddles of Baroda during monsoon season).
This ghat was just outside our hotel.  We didn't want to get too close for pictures for fear of being perverted, so we took this from a boat.  

I suppose that about does it for our Udaipur trip.  It was fun while it lasted, but after the six hour ride back to Baroda on Sunday, I think both Matt and I agreed it might have been just a little too far for a weekend trip.  I have literally hundreds of other pictures (each one better than the last, of course) from Udaipur, but I'm tired.  I'll leave you with just one more - the obligatory hand-held Matt and Cait shot.  

Us in a rooftop restaurant.  Soooo romantic.  Please note how long and bushy Matt's beard was.  He finally shaved it yesterday (because they finally put VGO in the unit.  It only took five weeks).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Smoke Again

It's like this most days now.  Still not sure what it means, but I'm fairly certain it's got something to do with how much trash they're burning.  Also, check it: we are at 84 degrees on December 10th.  It's okay to be jealous.  Anyway, we're in for a cold snap here tomorrow: only 78 degrees.  I better buy some of those earmuffs they're selling outside.
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Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't Be Distracted By The Beautiful Celebrities

Last week Baroda hosted a cricket match between New Zealand and India... and guess where the teams stayed?  Where else but WelcomHotel?  It is, in fact, the most welcoming place around.  At least that's what they tell me.    As you can imagine, the staff went a little bit nuts preparing for the teams' arrival - but as most of it was beneficial to us, I wasn't complaining.  We got new china for the buffet downstairs, as well as much more attentive waiters (they were so eager to please I often got two cappuccinos with my breakfast), brand new, gleaming white cushions for the pool chairs, and huge flower arrangements scattered around the lobby and lounges.  Change is good.  Except that the staff held a welcom party for each team - every time they entered or exited the building.  And oh, the false wall!  Why wouldn't you put up a fake wall in the hallway to separate "celebrity rooms" from the lowly guest rooms?  Makes perfect sense.  Behold:
This is what the hallway usually looks like.

Real wall?  False.  Fake.  I have to admit, they did a pretty good job.  Shriram couldn't believe it was fake.  We had to take him up there and let him knock on it to see how flimsy it was.  Ahh, India.  

When the teams finally arrived on Wednesday, the hotel brought in the troops - stationing at least 100 guards and policemen in the lobby and upper floors, where they proceeded to collapse into any public seat available.  When we walked through the Residence lounge, it looked like there was a carbon monoxide leak... semi-conscious guards with no shoes on sprawled over all the couches and chairs, too exhausted to even get up and check passports like they were supposed to.  The best they could do was turn their heads and (try to) look menacingly in our direction as we walked through.  Also, there were huge crowds outside every time the cricket teams went out of the hotel.  It was semi- exciting staying in the same hotel as such huge celebrities (it would've been even more so had I known who any of these guys were.)  Also, as I am way too cool and professional to take pictures of cricketers in the lobby (like all the rest of the guests), I didn't get any.  However, I'm apparently not too cool to steal Shriram's pictures that he took off of Facebook.  I never said I was a role model.  

Team India player in the lobby.  Don't know his name off the top of my head, but I call him "Indian Adam Sandler." Apparently all the ladies swoon for him.  I don't see it.   

Probably the best part of the whole debacle was the fact that our UOP guys kept getting mistaken for players from New Zealand.  Every time they went outside people took their pictures and asked for autographs.  They loved it.  We even looked at the New Zealand roster online and found a cricket doppelganger for each of them just in case someone asked.  
Apparently all white people look alike.  This could easily have been Ben and Alberto from UOP as far as any of the fans were concerned.  

I was feeling left out as there are no girls on the team, so I chose a match for myself as well.  Behold:  
Caitlin Correnti, aka Kane Williamson.  The resemblance is quite striking.  

Anyway, on Thanksgiving we had asked the hotel how we could get tickets to the cricket match, and our boy Mr. Faiyaz came through for us.  Never mind that he didn't get us the tickets until an hour after the match started, and never mind that we don't really know the rules of the game, we were going, dammit!  

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the stadium, so here is a picture of my ticket.  Classy.  
The game was not quite what we were expecting, what with the makeshift bleachers topped with plastic armchairs, but it was fun nonetheless.  Also, cricket is slow.  Like worse than golf slow.  (I may have fallen asleep... several times.) We got there a good two hours after the match started, stayed for three and a half hours, and then left with at least three hours to go.  The game was a total blowout - India won by 9 wickets with 63 balls remaining.  (Don't be too intimidated, I don't know what that means either.)  In closing, I'll give you what you want: more pictures of the beautiful celebrities (courtesy of Shriram the cricket fan).  

Cricketer (we'll call him "Indian Mexican") and Shriram in the gym.  

Gym worker, Shriram, Indian Adam Sandler (IAS) and a security guard.  Apparently this picture was a great victory for Shriram and the gym worker.  They'd asked IAS for his picture earlier and he said no.  Maybe he was in a good mood at this point because they'd stomped New Zealand so hard with 9 wickets (what does that even mean?).

Zaheer.  I only know him because he had his back to us the entire game and people were screaming his name and he kept turning to wave at the crowd.  Nice guy.  Shriram says he's "the most underrated on the team in the looks department".  Seriously, Shriram?  Get a hold of yourself.