Monthly Archives: May 2008

“STD LSD”

There are signs everywhere here that say “STD ISD”. When I first saw them, my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

It seems that they have a complicated way of handling telecoms here. You don’t get a phone and have local versus long distance rates. You order them as separate services it seems. STD stands for “Standard Trunk Dialing” and ISD something else, perhaps international. There are many concession stands where you can walk up and make a phone call; and all have a large sign proclaiming “STD ISD”. We don’t have STD dialing in the temporary apartment. I know this because every time I dial a number that requires STD, I hear a recording of a sweet sounding, Indian accented woman telling me that…

STD functionality has not been enabled

STD means “Sexually Transmitted Disease” in American English, so standard trunk dialing has provided no end to my merriment. ISD looks like LSD (as in the drug) at first glance and only adds to the fun; hence the title of this post.

Today, I tried to reach the relocation consultant and ran into the standard trunk roadblock. I was able to reach his colleague. There seems to be a patchwork of telephone exchange switches in Bangalore, some of which I can reach without standard trunk dialing and others where this functionality is needed. This evening when we were sitting out on the balcony, enjoying the evening thunderstorm and reviewing the day, I sent my wife into fits of laughter with…

I don’t have STD, so I could not call Buddy

It seems that not having STD limits my social contacts.

Road Rage

From the Bangalore edition of the Times of India:

The traffic police say road rage is the main cause of accidents in the 31-50 age group, making them more vulnerable. “Most accidents that occur among this group happen in a fit of rage. Road users get annoyed if others overtake them. In retaliation, they drive dangerously and violate traffic rules, resulting in accidents. Since they don’t have licences and are afraid of being caught by the police, they drive recklessly, killing or injuring themselves or other road users,’’ explained the police.

The Times of India likes to talk about road rage.

Let me put this into a bit of perspective. Westerners readily throw hissy fits at the slightest violations of customs. A couple of months ago, I witnessed a station wagon pull into the left lane to overtake another vehicle on a German autobahn. In doing so, he blocked the way of a Porsche with Swiss plates whose driver flew into a fit of rage because this plebeian Opel was blocking his god given right to drive 200km/h; ironically on a stretch of A5 with a 130km/h speed limit where everyone was already doing 150. He kept swerving to cut the Opel off and could have killed several people. He could have just slowed to 150kmph for a few seconds, allowed the Opel to complete the pass and move back into the middle lane and gone about his merry way. The Opel cost him just a few seconds of his travel time and anyway, it was a speed zone and he should not have been driving that fast. I was angry at myself that it took too long to grab my mobile and film the scene. I’m sure the Baden Wurttemberg Police would have happily relieved him of his driver’s license.

On the roads here, I have seen just about every sort of low speed insanity that I thought imaginable and a lot more. I’ve been passed by motorcycles that had barely enough space to fit be between each other in between us and the truck on the other side. I’ve seen goats being brought out into the road into rush hour traffic. I’ve seen intersections where the vehicles seem to be weaving among each other and going in every direction imaginable. I’ve seen vehicles cut each other off in a myriad of ways. I’ve seen rickshaws and motorcycles drive through the oncoming traffic to get an edge. The traffic here makes even Rome’s infamously chaotic traffic seem orderly in comparison.

I am constantly amazed at how relaxed Indian drivers are on the road and how unperturbed they are for blatant rules of the road violations to their detriment while they happily commit the same violations. What I never see is the road rage that the newspaper men allude to.

Oh and if you are Swiss, drive a Porsche and were on A5 between Karlsruhe and Heidelberg earlier this year: you are a complete asshat!

Right Hand, Left Hand

I am a westerner. There are no cultural issues related to the use of the right or left hand. You have two hands, why not use them both? India is like the Middle East, with its right hand/left hand rules. The left hand is the one that you clean yourself with after a bowel movement, so you use the right hand for everything else. Now I’m not really sure why the strict adherence to this rule is necessary when the “carefully use toilet paper and wash your hands thoroughly after each bathroom visit” rule makes it moot, but I am the foreigner here and I don’t think that it is my place to buck the norm.

This is where the fun comes in.

Things that you should NOT do with your left hand include:

  • Eating. In restaurants, people will lay their left hands in their laps and eat with their right hands only. It is almost as if everyone is suddenly an amputee.
  • Giving things to people. Never hand something to someone with your left hand. To do so is an insult. This includes money when you are paying for something.

Things that I do every single time with my left hand include:

  • Eating. I can’t tell you how often I’ve caught myself popping something into my mouth with my left hand. There seems to be a trick to tearing chapatti bread one handedly. I’ve yet to mater it and have to use two hands. Indians, ever gracious, pretend not to notice my barbarity.
  • Paying for things. I habitually hold my wallet with my right hand, fish through it with my left and hand the money over with the same. When I’m aware of what I’m doing, I hold my wallet with my left and do the fishing and giving with my right. I’m aware about 10% of the time. The rest of the time, I realize it just AFTER I handed the money to the rickshaw driver/waiter with my left. This is then followed by my profusely apologizing that I meant no offense and simple forgot the rule here. Indians, ever gracious, simply smile and to that head wobble thing.

I do wonder what they think as they drive away.

The FRO

One of the rituals that every foreigner must partake in after coming to India is a trip to the Foreigner Registration Office. There is a small list of countries whose citizens don’t need visas to enter India. There seems to be no rhyme or reason, though if I had to hazard a guess, with the exception of Sweden (is Sweedon a misspelling of Sweden?), most are former Soviet satellite states; so it might be related to the cold war era “non aligned” movement. North Koreans don’t need visas to enter India, while westerners who might actually come here on vacation or business travel need a visa. I appreciate the irony in this. Do Indian bureaucrats? For most foreigners, you mush register within 14 days. If you are from Pakistan, you must register within 24 hours. Another reminder of the India/Pakistan lovefest.

In Bangalore, the FRO is at the Police Commissioner’s complex on Infantry Road. The building gives a vibe of being a pompous old administrative building that has been allowed to go to seed for decades. Looking at the architecture and the fact that the electrical wiring is in external conduits (indicating that the electrical wiring came later as an upgrade), I’d hazard a guess that the building was built during the British Raj and it would not surprise me if it served as the police commissioner’s office then.

The office itself is so unlike any German or American bureaucratic administration office that I have ever seen. There is a main hall at the FRO with humming ceiling fans and a dozen or so clerks working through stacks of papers. The Bangalore FRO is not a paperless office. And individual foreigner registration has five separate sheets to sign, as well as visa and passport photocopies, creating quite the bundle of paper. The clerks seem to read through the applications. They then collect papers into six inch high stacks, bundle the stacks up with string and stack them on shelves. I’m not quite sure how they keep track of these stacks of bundles of paper, but I’m sure there is some system. Also noteworthy is the lack of computers.

Fortunately, we had consultants guiding us through the process and actually doing most of the interacting for us. Otherwise, the process would be incredibly painful. I overheard a blonde woman with an American southern accent saying that the last time she was there, she was there all day. We were not even done on that trip, another was required. Interestingly, the consultants could take care of that for us; they just needed to have our passports to have power of attorney to act in our stead.

In Germany:
You do your foreigner paperwork at the landkreis (county) administrative building. There is almost never a wait and you are in and out within half an hour. You must do this in person. Everyone (Germans and foreigners alike) must register with the town hall when they change addresses, so there is the additional trip to the town hall. This is as painless as the landkreis trip.

In America:
Foreigners have to deal with a regional INS office. It is a higher volume and more impersonal affair with a longer wait. You must do this in person. There are more mistakes that you can make that can get you deported and you have to be careful; but everything is well documented and the officials are as competent as their German counterparts. You’ll probably be done within a couple of hours. This trip is more painful than its direct German counterpart, but as there is no equivalent to the German requirement of registering with the town hall, the total energy involved is comparable.
In India:

Indian bureaucracy is special.

You must make at least two trips to the FRO. Both are guaranteed to be painful, but you don’t actually have to be there for both if you send someone with your passport. Honestly, I’m not impressed by this. It lacks both efficiency and thoroughness. It gives an impression of thoroughness without actually having it. A cynical man might be tempted to believe that the combination of convoluted processes and lack of automation is a deliberate design decision so as to increase the number of civil service jobs. A less cynical man would draw the conclusion that the relative cost of computing power and peoples’ time is reversed here; so automation does not pay for itself directly and the negative effect that inefficient red tape has on the economy is indirect and hard to measure for justifying improvements.

Oh and after the foreigner residence permits were delivered, we looked them over. Daniela’s end date was wrong and they spelled our names wrong. Score two – three actually – for lack of thoroughness. From what I read in the paper, passing the civil service exam is not easy and requires hard study. It seems however that actually checking your work for mistakes is not a requirement. I fear getting these mistakes corrected will be painful.

Reconciliation for the price of a shopping trip

Charlotte’s black mood did not last long. Already, we – and especially Charlotte – are less bothered by everyone staring at us. They still do, but we’re just getting used to it and Charlotte discovered the advantage of being the center of attention that comes from being exotic. We went to a department store here, called Big Bazaar. We walked there, about three kilometers from the temporary apartment. Charlotte and Daniela went on a shopping spree, buying Indian style clothing. Charlotte also met the women who ran the cosmetics department and a good sized portion of the female staff of the department store. A dozen women crowded around Charlotte for half an hour to apply makeup and she had an absolute blast.

 Geschminked!

I think she’ll do just fine. In fact, I think she’ll enjoy herself in the long run. Sammy will be tougher. Charlotte is gregarious and loves being the center of attention. Sammy is shy. When some of the women fawning over Charlotte turned their attention on Sammy and started fawning over him, he hid behind my leg. Speaking of Sammy, I read that the head is sacred in India and that you should not touch people on the head; including children. People often touch Sammy’s head. Either it is not really a problem in south India to touch a child on the head, or curiosity gets the better of people and they do it anyway.

Good deed of the day

When Daniela and I were getting dinner ready earlier, I heard Charlotte calling up from the swimming pool. She had “broken something”. I went down to check and he had pulled some filter device off of its mooring screw. As I was trying to fish it back onto the slide lock, a bat landed in the pool. The poor little thing was thrashing around and had no chance. It was doomed to drown without help, so I fished it out of the pool and set it down on the ground by the poolside. The kids (ours and the neighbors’) gathered around to look at it. Then it suddenly popped up and flew off, taking a detour between Sammy’s legs as the little guy laughed. Had Charlotte not pulled the filter off its mount and had I not gone downstairs to fix it, that bat likely would have drown.

There is an amazingly powerful thunderstorm raging just north of us. They get really impressive evening thunderstorms during the fortnight before the monsoon sets in.

My turn to stare

I could not help myself either… I saw a Hijra today. Hijras are sort of a third gender; eunichs that dress as women. They are not really like western transvestites and they are sort of creepy. I can’t really explain it. Dani and I watched a BBC documentary on them a couple of months ago. We saw him/her/it (which is the proper form?) while entering a supermarket as it crossed in front of our path. It struck me, “Hey, that woman is a guy! no! wait! A real live Hijra!”. After we entered the store, Daniela and I switched to German (our secret language here) and gossiped; “Did you see the H..I..J..”, “yes…”, “whoah…”.