Tag Archives: infrastructure

Pic of the Day – The Pee Man and the Monkey

I took this shot in the old city of Jaipur. Yes, they have public urinals up there that are open for the world to see. No, they do not lead to the sewer system. (they just seem to be aimed that proventing men from peeing just anywhere) No, they don’t seem to actually prevent men from peeing just anywhere. I saw a man urinating ten meters from one of these rows of public urinals.

And yes, it appears that monkeys are more common on the streets of Jaipur than Bangalore

Monkey

Monkey

Elections and Postmen

Today is Election Day in the US. This reminds me that I have a love-hate relationship with India Post. They seem to hate me and I certainly don’t love them.

It started innocently when I was in America in September. Since I knew I was going to be in Bangalore on the Election Day, I knew I needed an absentee ballot sent to our house in Bangalore, instead of the usual address in Germany. I filled out the absentee ballot request form and mailed it to the Ocean County Clerk’s office. The form said that they would mail the ballot 40 days before the election.

About a week and a half ago, my ballot had still not arrived and I started getting nervous. So I called them up and asked if there was a problem. The answer was:

We mailed it on October First.

I had them check the address. It was correct. The ballot never arrived. NEVER ARRIVED??? Luckily, they are experimenting with an email ballot this year. The clerk sent me the appropriate forms that I had to print out, fill in, scan and re-send back as a PDF. I also have to take the original that I had filled out and signed and physically mail that as confirmation. I had emailed my ballot the other day. Today, I went down to the post office to mail the confirmation (only the email version has to be delivered by 8PM EST today). The building has the kind of run down, we-don’t-need-no-stinking-computers flair that the FRO has, but there is a critical difference. Whereas the FRO has a mix of surly employees and foreigners who need favors from them, the post office only had the surly employees.

After I stood at the counter for a few minutes, the woman directly in front of me – who had been sorting mail and studiously ignoring me – finally acknowledged my presence; with a look of death that cursed my ancestors, my family, my descendants and my pocket lint for having the nerve to break her meditative mail-misrouting trance. I nicely handed her the envelope and told her that I needed to pay postage.

Do you want it resisted?

(no, I’d rather my mail not encounter resistance) Resistance? What’s that?

Do you want a confirmation of delivery?

(does registered mail even work internationally?) No, thank you.

38 rupees

(resistance? Do I need to hand scribble some Ganeshes on it for good measure?) Only 38 rupees? It’s going to America.

38 Rupees.

What I can’t capture in text is the gruff hostility to the universe that only government workers seem able to summon. She sullenly took my 38 rupees and gave me the stamps. I affixed them and handed her the envelope, said thank you and left.

I still wonder about that resistance option.

Back – Part II

Continued from part I

So the afternoon after my holdup in JFK, I headed back up to New York. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, early autumn afternoon. A day like that two weeks later in the year would be called Indian summer. I wonder how much confusion this causes for Indians from the subcontinent that Americas also use the term “Indian” to mean “the aboriginal people of the Americas”. The 360 view from the Verrazano Bridge of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New York Harbor and the Raritan Bay all the way out to Sandy Hook and Atlantic Highlands was magnificent, as was the drive along the Shore Parkway. Check in and clearing security in JFK was smooth. The flight left on time and the fancy on-demand video system in the Delta Airlines 777 had more things to watch that I had the time to in the 15 hours it took to go from New York to Mumbai.

Then I arrived in India.

The international arrival hall in Mumbai’s international airport has a similar quant, run down feel as the old Bangalore airport. I could not figure out where I needed to go. The Delta agent in New York told me that I would have to check in again with Air India in Mumbai and that he could not give me boarding passes for the entire route. So I ignored the sign reading something to the effect of “domestic connections” and walked out the exit. I asked a policeman with a rifle where I had to go to check in with Air India. He directed me to go out the exit and around the corner. As I started out, a man in a white button down shirt with a security card hanging from his neck asked me where my destination was.

Oh you need to go to the domestic airport. That is a 20 minute drive from here. You’ll need a taxi. Come I will take you to one.

Great I thought. This airport employee can direct me to the taxi stand. But if it was a 20 minute drive, then why were there no shuttle busses? I asked about the fare. As I only had 200 Rupees in my wallet, I wanted to have a metered fare and wanted to avoid the unmated Taxi rip-off.

Oh the driver has a fare card that he can show you.

He then took me PAST the taxi stand and a non-descript Tata Sumo (a small SUV that is ubiquitous here) pulled up.

He will take you.

I climbed into the back seat. The man that I had thought was an airport employee then climbed into the front passenger seat. After driving out the airport exit, the driver handed me the fare card… 1950 Rupees, plus a 30% after dark surcharge. I had a heart attack. That was $60. They nicely rounded the two thousand plus 30% to 2500. I was angry, but I was also committed. What was I going to do? Get out onto the streets of Mumbai, not knowing where I was or how to get back to the airport?

As we drove through the city, I was thinking over how I had been scammed already. I hate this having to be constantly on guard. Were they even going to take me to the airport, or would there be another “fee” after they have driven me around. They nicely took me to a cash machine. The “airport employee” stood outside the cash machine’s kiosk. Behind me in line were two Americans. They were young, physically fit men with short, military style haircuts; not the usual middle aged yuppie types on business trips, or the hippie types doing the Goa or ashram thing.

Hey, isn’t that our taxi driver from last night?

Yeah. He scammed us. Shall we kick his ass?

They were actually debating beating the “airport employee” up. Apparently, they decided against it. As I turned to leave, one of them asked me

How much is he charging you? Two thousand?

2500

You are being robbed. That trip should cost no more than 200.

I know, I replied grumpily.

Well, the same thing happened to us. Live and learn.

They actually took me to the airport without further trying to rob me, big surprise. Later, while googling around, I discovered that the domestic and international airports share a runway and are in effect different terminals of the same airport. There is also a shuttle bus that should cost 50 Rupees.

If I ever see these guys again, I’m going to kick their asses.

Architecture II – The Bathroom

On to a much earthier subject for today; with an appropriate warning that this entry is not for anyone eating lunch. 😛

When you enter an Indian bathroom –that is their take on a modern, western style bathroom, you notice a couple of oddities. Firstly, there may not be a bathtub. In fact, here may not even be an enclosed shower, but rather a part of the bathroom that can be curtained off. It is actually quite practical as the whole bathroom floor has a slight downward slope to the shower and you can hose down the whole bathroom floor if you want. It is all much easier to clean than a western bathtub or shower stall.

Where would you find such a hose you might ask… well right next to the toilet of course. There always seems to be a hose with a flip trigger right next to the toilet. Indians don’t traditionally use toilet paper and in fact hotels sometimes tell you not to flush toilet paper down as it can clog the pipes. Whatever they do with Lincoln log situations, I do not know and I’m not sure I want to know; though I’m pretty sure the kids would be fascinated and there is probably a profession of people who stand around all day, waiting to hande such situations. For this reason, the toilet paper roll (if available) is often in some ergonomically impoverished location (such as smack up against where the shower curtain meets the wall), almost as if the bathroom designer wants you to use the butt hose. This is not the kind of wimpy little hose jet that you see on American kitchen sinks either; it is a full bore industrial strength sprayer. Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on a toilet and you need to clean yourself. Now as you are sitting, it is the bottom side of you bottom that needs a good hosing; which naturally means the hose needs an upward angle. The kids tried this a couple of times; until we banned them from using the hose.

The Butt Hose

The Butt Hose

Now this hose carried over from the more traditional toilet. Most lower and middle class homes still have the traditional one and our house has one as well behind the kitchen. It amounts to a hole in the ground with footholds that you squat over. That’s right, you squat. You never squat with western toilets. Even in makeshift backcountry outhouses in wilderness areas of the Adirondacks, you sit on a wooden plank with a hole in it. Even in the more makeshift (read wall-less) outhouse that I encountered at a campsite in Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, you sat. Sure, there was something gigantic (a bear? a moose?) moving in the brush less than a hundred feet away. Sure you had a flashlight in one hand, TP in the other and a gigantic Bowie knife between your teeth; but you sat by golly! Traditionally, Indians have found western style toilets uncomfortable.

I’m still puzzled as to how you avoid brown slurry wall painting disasters in traditional bathrooms.

The Call Center

I’ve been having trouble with my ISP, BSNL. Due to a billing snafu, they cut me off on Friday and I only got my internet turned back on today. Now I could imagine Deutche Telekom doing something this stupid because they have shown me many reasons to. (For the record, I never had any complaints about Nynex when I lived in New York) What makes BSNL special is not just that they manage to screw up bills or mangle timing for turning things back on (both BSNL and T-Online are good about turning things off; it is the on switch that vexes them). At least T-Online works when it is “on”. With BSNL, actually being able to use the net is hit or miss at any given time. I usually have to click “reload” three or four times to get any page to load.

So I got fed up with BSNL and started shopping for a new ISP. Reliance seems to be popular with my neighbors and they tell me that it is more reliable than BSNL, so I’m going to give them a try. I called their call center to tell them that I want to switch to them. I was impressed by the call center woman I got.

Sir, I need to check what service availability is in your area. What city do you live in?

Bangalore

What state is that in?

This question floored me. Bangalore is one of India’s major cities. This is like telling someone that you are in New York City and having them ask you what state. Actually, I’d understand that better. If I was in New York and talking to someone in a call center, it would probably be in Bangalore and they could be forgiven for not knowing what state New York City is in.

I had an irresistible urge to say “Punjab”.

Karnataka

It was not in my best interest to allow the woman to get too confused.

Sir what is your PIN?

What in the blazes is a PIN? Is this some government issued ID number? Some special local code?

Ma’am, what is a PIN?

Your PIN Sir?

Ma’am, I don’t know what a PIN is, but I can give you my postal code

I need to know your PIN Sir.

That conversation went nowhere. She told me that they would be contacting me within a week. And for the record, a PIN is what they call a postal code in India.

Welcome to the Republic of Palm Meadows – The Big Move II

So we finished our move from the service apartment to the house where we will be living the rest of our time in India. Except that we are no longer in India it seems, but this strange mongerel of a place that seems like a cross between India and suburban Orlando. It really looks like a condo village near Disney world and considering that just outside the gate on Varthur Road is the typical hustle, bustle, poverty and dirt of India, it is a really strange combination.

I think that the architects watched Leave it To Beaver one too many times when designing the place; with its wide, immaculate streets, sidewalks set back from the street, American style and palm trees everywhere. It gets stranger. The people, wherther they are Indian, German, American, Korean or whatever also seem straight out of an idealized suburban American neighborhood circa 1960. People use the sidewalks – in large numbers – to stroll around, socialize, go to the store, etc. In the evenings, it seems that everyone is out for a stroll and there is a sound of children playing everywhere.

One of the other residents, who also happens to be a parent of one of Charlottes’s classmates said to us, “Welcome to the Republic of Palm Meadows”. Does this mean we commute to India now?

Serendipity

There is a place up in the Himalayas called Amarnath. It is an ancient Hindu shrine in a pretty spot. It also happens to be in Jammu. It also happens to be a favorite target of Islamic terrorists. Oh and somebody recently suggested transferring some 40 acres from a forest over to the board responsible for handling pilgrims there. Environmentalists opposed it, which was why it ultimately was not handed over, but nothing in India can ever be over something as simple as the environment.

I don’t see how this affects me, an expat living in the very south of India. Oh wait! The BJP and some other not worth remembering political party declared a Bandh over it because it was obviously against the dignity of Hindus. For those who have never heard of a Bandh, it is sort of a general strike with a twist. The twist is that the supporters of the people who declared it go out and do a bit of mob violence against those who dare to break the picket line. The insanity was apparently at fever pitch yesterday (seriously people! Is this actually worth people getting killed over?) up north. Down here in Bangalore, life was pretty much normal with the exception that our driver, a Roman Catholic, used it as an excuse to take the day off. I usually don’t keep up on my Vatican news, so I guess I missed Herr Ratzinger issuing a Papal Bull in support of the Bandh.

Daniela worked from home during the morning, but really, really had to go in for a video conference. The kids’ schoolbus took them to school normally and Whitefield road looked normal, so it was apparent that the Bandh was not really in effect here. We were hesitant to drive. Neither of us is licensed to drive in India and I’ve been absolutely content to leave the driving to someone experienced with Indian roads. I’ve driven in Italy, but Italians drive like Midwesterners in comparison. Plus, if we got into an accident, it would likely get troublesome given that we are not legally allowed to drive here. Eventually, we decided to brave it. I would drive Dani in. Despite being my first time driving a right hand drive vehicle, complete with a tendency to start the windshield wipers when I wanted to indicate (the wiper controls and blinkers swap positions here), I LOVED it!

There are a few rules to consider when driving in India;

  1. You must know how to operate a clutch and manual gearbox.
  2. There is an indicator switch for left and right turn signals. That is optional. The standard binary indicator is to be used in all situations with optional accompaniment by the lever operated blinking lights if the driver finds that kind of thing pretty.
  3. Try not to hit the stray dogs, cows, goats, pigs, monkeys and woolly mammoths that may be in the road. If there is a living woolly mammoth anywhere in the world, it can be safely assumed that it is standing in the middle of a road somewhere in India.
  4. Right of way goes to the biggest and the bravest.

That about sums up the official rules of the road in India. The rest is straight out of Mad Max or a demolition derby. The operation of the binary indicator has some advanced rules that you should acquaint yourself with.

  • If you see a dog, honk.
  • If you see a pedestrian, honk.
  • If you come to an intersection, honk.
  • If you pull into traffic, honk.
  • If you overtake, honk.
  • If you plan any directional changes, honk.
  • If you see a truck that says “Sound Horn Please” on its tailgate (which means all trucks here), that is obviously an invitation to honk.
  • Honk three times for the sheer pleasure of it!

I’m going to go get an official Indian driver’s license so I can also do this legally!