Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Talk to Girls

One thing I've noticed lately, especially on Facebook, where it's mostly in English, is young Indian men don't seem to know how to talk to young women...

I see women, like my coworkers, posting photos of themselves, and young men posting comments like:
  • o so big
  • u way a tun
  • so ugly

One young lady posted a photo of her birthday cake with the candles 2 & 3 on it, with a guy commented "Btw, its "28" na???". And another posted a picture of two not-at-all fat or unattractive women on a sculpture of a turtle with a young man posting the comment "Poor tortoise!!!!".

A few years ago when a small group of us traveled on business and a young, single man shared an apartment with the lone woman in the group, telling her throughout the trip that she was getting fatter and fatter and he knew she needed to keep clothes shopping for bigger sizes (which by the way, was not true at all...).

So, what's the deal?

Are arranged marriages here in India so common because young men simply can't talk to young women and need their parents to get them through "the dating game" that they'd fail if it was up to them?

Or are they so rude and insulting because they know their parents are going to arrange their marriage anyway so it doesn't matter?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Domesticity and Gender Roles Then and Now

Last week I read an Op-Ed piece by Sandra Tsing Loh in the New York Times that struck a chord with me and really made me think a little about me and my wife's roles here in the early 21st century...

I am stricken with the peculiar curse of being a 21st-century woman who makes more than the man she’s living with

Now I have to wonder where I fit in with this… Unlike the author, I am the husband and sole breadwinner of the family (which is just me and my wife, no kids).

I don’t know how it’s going for my sisters, but as my 40s and Verizon bills and mortgage payments roll on, I seem to have an ever more recurring 1950s housewife fantasy. In this magical Technicolor world, the breadwinner husband, Brad, leaves home (where his duties are limited to mowing the lawn and various minor home repairs) at 7 a.m. When he returns from work at 6 p.m., aside from a savory roast with mashed potatoes, his homemaker wife, Nancy, has pipe, slippers and a tray of Manhattans ready.

The couple sink into easy chairs and get pleasantly soused while Brad recounts his workday battles. Through a dreamy mixed-bourbon haze, Nancy makes gentle cooing sounds like “Ah!” and “Oh!” and “Did the central manager really say that in the meeting? They don’t appreciate all the hard work you do! Oh, Brad!”

This is different than my parents. From the early 80's till the early 2000's, when my Mom retired, she was the breadwinner of the family, and my father was the primary housekeeper. He took care of most of the cleaning and cooking, grocery shopping and all that stuff. My father also did stained glass crafting professionally, but more to trade with other artists and craftsmen for luxuries in the house than for money.

My wife, who's Indian and a bit more conservative (but liberal by Indian standards, or she wouldn't have married a foreigner like me!) has no problem telling me that my parents were plain, flat wrong. Her opinion is the husband has to be the main breadwinner, or he's not worthy to be a man.

On the other hand, she respects and admires all of the women I work with for being more empowered, for building careers and for showing the world that women are equal to men. She points out the women on Sex and the City for their independence and their ability to work as equals.

So she's somehow torn between the old and the new.

In some respects she does take on some of the tasks more associated with men, dealing with the plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, tax office and so forth, but that's more because we're in India and I haven't successfully learned how to communicate in Hindi or Marathi. I think this bothers her somewhat, because these are the tasks her father or brother does in their household, never her mother.

She tells me when we move to the U.S. I'd better be prepared for all of that. Though it's less of a problem because in the U.S. we won't need any of those nearly as often.

She does think I should contribute to closer to 50% of the household tasks. As it is she takes care of all the food, from shopping for ingredients to overseeing the servants prepare it and making sure there's snacks and things for me to take to work. She oversees the servants cleaning the apartment as well, while I stay out of the way. I probably do more dish cleaning, however, since I like to do that (and neither her nor the servants can clean dishes to my high standards (let's face it, I like 'em clean enough to eat off of!)). She does all the shopping for household items and clothing, while my only shopping is for books and CDs, things she considers luxuries.

But when we talk about things, she insists that I don't contribute to the household. Pointing that I get up by 4am every morning and work 45-50 hours a week so we can afford our lifestyle results in her opinion that life isn't all about money, so that's not a significant contribution.

When he returns from work at 6 p.m., aside from a savory roast with mashed potatoes, his homemaker wife, Nancy, has pipe, slippers and a tray of Manhattans ready.

Fortunately for me, when I return home she does have a bowl of cut melon or destemmed grapes ready for me after I finish my chicken soup and am ready to sit at the computer.

The point is that Nancy arrives at the end of her day so fully socialized with, she is ready to glaze over amiably during her husband’s evening Work Monologue

Of course, this is quite different... As a more modern woman, she's not ready to listen to my "Work Monologue" unless I can complete it in about 30 seconds, the time between when she wants to tell me about her day and when the phone rings and the doorbell rings or she wants to get the watchman to clean the car... Besides, the work I do is fairly technical and she has no understanding or interest in it.

Fast forward to 2010. When husbands and wives not only co-work but try to co-homemake, as post-feminist and well-intentioned as it is, out goes the clear delineation of spheres, out goes the calm of unquestioned authority, and of course out goes the gratitude

So, I'm caught, as well between the old and the modern... I'm the old-style, sole breadwinner, but expected, yet failing, co-homemaker. I'm not looking to win, it's a marriage and we should be equals, but can't I at least break even?

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Boring Day in 2005

The summer when I was 12 my parents told me that since they bought me a lot of toys and took me on a long vacation to visit friends and family across the country, that there was no reason I should ever be bored.  To make sure of that, they forbade me to be bored, and said if I ever uttered "I'm bored" again they'd teach me what boredom really is, locking me in my room 24 hours a day for the rest of the summer, except for bathroom breaks.

I've only uttered the phrase "I'm bored" once since then, one day late in August, 2005, shortly after returning to India from a trip abroad.

And, I sure had a boring day when I missed work that day.  Things went fine in the morning, till just after noon.

Leena left for the day to go run errands and visit her father in the hospital (heart troubles, he had a bypass surgery the next week (his second one)).  I finished my lunch and decided to take a quick shower before the van came to pick me up.

So far, so good...

Until I toweled off and turned the handle on the bathroom door and it didn't open.  I cursed and tried again and the door still wouldn't open.

I inspected the crack between the door and the doorjamb and it looked like the latch was moving all the way and not blocking anything, but the metal around there was slightly bent, though that didn't seem to be the issue.

Eventually I decided it was a screw sticking up from the metal plate attached to the doorjamb.  I tried converting some of the few things in the bathroom, the narrow end of a toothpaste tube, the heater elements of my steam inhaler, and a toothbrush into some sorts of tools to try and press it back into the doorjamb, but nothing worked, nothing was both thin enough and strong enough to do anything.  Similarly I tried to get the pins out of the hinges, but without anything strong enough to use as a hammer,  to pound from below, and nothing string enough to try and pry them out from above, that wasn't successful, either.

I yanked on the door in different directions hoping to pull it just enough somewhere to get around the screw, but no luck.  Most of those just ended up with me hurting my hand, the cheap, sharp metal of the door handle digging into the skin of my fingers.  I gave up with that since it seemed more likely I'd hurt myself instead of the door opening.

At various times I kept getting the brilliant idea of try and squeeze through the window and climb down the pipes, then remembering there's bars on the window for security.  And in any case, without any clothes or keys, that wouldn't be a much better situation to be in...

Around 1:30pm I heard the doorbell ringing and my cell phone ringing and figured it was the driver.  But the bathroom I was trapped in was so far from the front door they couldn't hear me.  Then when the ringing stopped I hoped I could yell out the window to get the watchman to bring the driver over to ask him to call Leena on his cell phone (I figured I could at least get the number across...).  But they couldn't hear me (the bathroom is on the side of the apartment away from where the driver parks to wait for me).  Once they were gone I felt lonely, not knowing when the next opportunity would come.

So, I spent the next eight hours in there all by myself.  I usually dress and undress in the bedroom outside the bathroom, so I was in there without any clothes, just a wet towel I'd used and two tiny, dry washcloths...  I spread the towel out to lay on it and keep me at least a little insulated from the cold tiles and used the washcloths as a pillow.  Other times I sat up, hung the towel from the rack to lean against it.  On the whole, it was pretty boring without much to do but periodically check the lengths of the shadows outside to see how far the sun had moved.

When the shadows were getting long both my cell phone and the apartment phone started ringing away.  Some I could tell were Leena, some weren't.  Lots of SMS's coming in, too, but what could I do?

Finally about 8pm Leena got home in a total panicked state, fearing the worst.  I heard her park and unlock the door so I yelled for her and she rushed to the bathroom door, asking "are you okay?" to which I answered, "I'm bored".  She tried to open the door from the outside but couldn't, it simply wouldn't budge.  She had a screwdriver but that didn't help, so she called Kalesh, the guy who does the building maintenance at her brother's shop and told him to come over, "abhi, jaldi an emergency…"  ("now, fast")

When Kalesh got there it took him nearly an hour with a hammer and chisel to break part of the door to get around that screw sticking up and get me out...  I wrapped myself in the towel first, though.  He had to smash up part of the door and it completely ripped apart the mechanical stuff for the handles, but no big deal, it got me out.

Leena was still shaken up and told me how her day went.  She said by 6:30pm she was worrying a little that she hadn't heard from me and I hadn't replied to her messages, but thought there was a chance I was in a long, long meeting or something.  By then, too, at work my close friends and colleagues Anuj, Renu and Cyndi were getting worried that I didn't show up, didn't answer the door when the driver rang the bell,  and didn't call or message to let anyone know I would be out of the office, which is very unlike me.  Anuj, though knew the situation with Leena's father and was reluctant to call in case I was just at the hospital with Leena's family or something and didn't want to be disturbed...

Eventually Cyndi talked him into calling Leena and when neither of them knew where I was and I wasn't where either of them thought then they started to panic, but unfortunately Anuj was at the office without his car and couldn't dash out to find me.  That's when Leena tried to rush home but got stuck in traffic, and what was usually a fifteen minute drive from her family's house took her two hours, of mostly waiting without any cars moving.

And all the while I was just bored laying on the bathroom floor.  I never panicked, figuring eventually she'd come home...  No worries...  Just boredom and daydreams...

Now I know my lesson, always bring a good book into the bathroom...  On the other hand, it could've been worse, I could've been stuck in a room unable to relieve myself without making a major mess...

Since then we've had several other bathroom door mechanisms break on us, twice while people were inside and unable to get out, but both of those times someone else was in the apartment to open the doors without difficulty.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Odissi Dance Performance, Sunday Night

Last night I was out late, at an Indian classical dance performance.  The first one I've actually been to in nearly nine years here in India.  When I first came over, a couple of my friends at the time said "don't worry, we'll see lots of Indian classical shows" for both dance and music.  But well, none of the plans ever worked out…  Sometimes there'd be one and Prasad would say "it's from 9pm to 1am, and I won't be going to Aundh afterwards so you'll have to get back on your own" which didn't seem like a good idea.  Or other reasons we just never went.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this one.  It was an Odissi style performance.  The dancer was a disciple of a famous Odissi dance guru, who later became the master's daughter-in-law.  It was an annual performance put on for the anniversary of his death.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to keep the notecard sized "program" with their names...

My sister-in-law, Sonal, was the master of ceremonies, explaining the performance at the beginning and then giving an overview of each individual piece before it began.

The evening began with Sonal's cousin, Nitu, who is also a former coworker of mine at Tieto, and her sister and brother-in-law picking me up down at the end of the lane.  We went to my in-laws' house to meet up with my brother-in-law, Vinesh and niece, Shraddha, who went in a separate car.  We got to Symbiosis in Deccan at just about 5:30pm, and it was scheduled to start at 5:45pm.  After the parking we all went in and found seats just behind the "reserved" sign blocking the front few rows.

But things didn't start right away…  The hostess was waiting to see if more people would show up, since most years the auditorium is packed for this show, but this year it was little more than half full.

Once it started Sonal came out and explained what we were going to expect and introduced the dancer.  And shortly the dance began.

There were six (or was it seven?) numbers.  The opening and closing ones were more the dancer's prayer to a god, and while they were graceful and elegant I didn't really understand them.

The ones in between were more stories from Indian mythology and while I didn't know some of the stories, such as the one Nitu explained involved casting dice and gambling, I could recognize a number of movements as representing activities, and sounds that were clearly rain.  It helped, too, that Sonal introduced each one.

The one about the rain was the clearest, with the music and the dancer's movements most obvious, beginning with light rain and great, crashing booming of the deluge that washed everything away.

Even when I didn't quite understand it, I still thoroughly enjoyed watching.

At one point, though, I found if I sat with my feet crossed at the ankles I yawned and yawned and yawned, but if I kept my feet flat then I wasn't tired at all.  Shraddha, next to me, however, was a different story.  She was obviously bored and fidgeting horribly, completely unable to sit still.  The wooden armrest between us was a little loose and sometimes in her thrashing about she'd bash it into my side, not on purpose, I know she wouldn't do that.

At the beginning Sonal announced it would be about 90 minutes.  About 90 minutes into it she introduced one as "in the next piece" and Shraddha's reaction was a mumbled exclamation "shit!".  Nitu said this wasn't the most exciting or interesting classical dance performance and she's seen better.

But I really liked it.  I didn't have any other expectation so it was fascinating to me.

After it was finished Nitu and her family wanted to stop for dinner, but it was getting on to my bedtime so I went with Vinesh, Sonal and Shraddah.  Sonal invited some of her dance classmates, a couple of teenage girls, to join us since they had to go to Kalyani Nagar as well, and we squeezed all of us into the car.

On the way back the three of them discussed how perfect the dancer was, how exact she did "flips" and "frames" and other technical dance terms I wasn't at all familiar with, and how well her facial expressions went along with each movement and story, which was something I understood...

Afterwards, looking at the Wikipedia article, the repertoire listed was a very close match to what we saw, including the story of Radha.

So, if there's more of these on Sunday afternoons, not too late, and not too early, I'd be happy to go.

Well, here's a couple of pictures from Wikipedia...  This performance last night was strictly "no photography" and without a clear invitation, even if I'd brought a camera I don't think I'd be comfortable taking photos of a live performer who might be trying to concentrate...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Green Lizard Ate a Tennis Ball

Our fifteen year old niece asks a lot of questions. That in itself isn't so bad. The annoying aspect is that she asks the same ones over and over and over. She's not dumb, she's quite intelligent, speaks five or six different languages, reads a lot, so it's not like she's incapable of understanding or remembering the answers. I think she asks more to hear herself talk and to be the center of attention than anything else...

She likes to get started with "have you ever been to ?" and then ask one place after another until someone loses patience and tells her stop. But I'm not sure she can think of a variety of place names as fast as she can talk, so it's always the same places, even in the same conversation. And in the years I've known her, only one answer has ever changed, after my first trip to London (but she doesn't have to ask, I told her I was going there, and I told her about it afterwards...)

They say there are no stupid questions, but maybe sometimes asking the question is stupid...

I'm trying to get Leena to start answering our niece's questions with nonsensical answers, or at least, ones that don't have anything to do with the question...

Q. Have you ever been to Egypt? (let's face it, she'd know if I took a trip to Egypt between any of the many times she's asked this question...)
A. The green lizard ate a tennis ball.

Q. Does Kevin really get up at 4am? (how many times does this need to be answered?)
A. The elevator shoes don't stop at the 13th floor.

Q. Do you speak Jewish? (I tell her at least ten times a year, often on successive weekends that the language is Hebrew, and that I don't speak it...)
A. The owl hunts at midnight.

Q. Have you ever been to Paris? (asked and answered numerous times...)
A. We'll be trialling a new, updated, paradigm of non-fact based information disbursal, in acknowledgement of valueless queries.

Q. Have ever read Mary Kate and Ashley?
A. Rising runner missed by endless sender...

Q. Have you ever been to Orlando? (yes, I've told her numerous times I've been to Orlando!)
A. A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure, inside is hid.

Q. Have you read Twilight?  (We usually talk about books, I'd tell her if I was reading her favorite book series...)
A. Performing on a stool, we've a sight to make you drool, seven virgins and a mule, keep it cool.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wait! Hold The Door!

One of the things at the office here in India that's been really bugging me for a while now is how people don't hold the doors for others outside their own small group.

In many situations where I'd expect an American to hold the door it just doesn't happen in India, and in many cases when I hold the door, I don't get a nod or quick smile as I'd expect in an American.

Even if I'm right behind someone going out the office door, if I'm not part of their group they just let the door fly shut behind them, making me try to catch it.  I know sometimes they see me, they look right behind, and I'm not wearing good "office camouflage" to make it hard to see me, but then they just let go of the door anyway, whether I'm right behind them or even just a little distance away.

And once in the hallways people in India don't have the same manners I'm used to when sharing the space.  What I miss from the U.S. is people yielding and moving aside to let others pass, while usually nodding or smiling or saying "excuse me" to acknowledge the others.  Mostly in the Indian office it doesn't happen so much, groups of people going the opposite direction are less likely to group closer to make a little room for a single person, and if they're people I don't know, far, far less likely to give any indication they saw me.

Somewhat related is here in the office so many people just walk up and down the hallway talking on their cell phones.  Usually when they're on their phones they don't seem to pay any attention to others in the hall, don't move if they're blocking doors and slowly walk in a direction they're not even looking.  Once in a while I say "excuse me" and if I get any response it's "I'm on my mobile".  Which, yes, I can see, but to me that's not a good excuse for not paying attention in a public location.

I also realized why it's only recently started bothering me. At my last company, First Insight, here in India, in our first office we only had two rooms with doors, and only six people in a room, so it was rare that people were coming and going, unless the whole group was going off for a break. Then when we moved to our second office, it was one huge room, except for the conference rooms and washrooms, and for most of the time I worked there the front door was open with the watchmen facing it.

It was when I first began at Tieto, that I started noticing, and being annoyed with people simply not holding the door open for people not far behind or people coming.

Oh well, it's not nearly as intense as when I tried to buy some malai barfi last year at the sweet shop in Kalyani Nagar...  There I completely failed to return to the car with the sweets altogether...  Instead of the American way of standing in an orderly queue, or taking a number and waiting your turn, it was a total scrum up at the counter.  I had the name of what I was supposed to get written on a slip of paper and kept flashing it or saying whenever one of the people behind the counter made even a little eye contact.  But other guys just kept jostling and forcing their way to the front and yelling their order, over and over at the tops of their lungs and the clerks just kept serving them, while I kept waiting to make eye contact and say my order...  I gave up after about ten minutes of watching other people get their orders even if they showed up after me.  I couldn't make myself yell.

On the other hand, some years ago in Florida I ran into that sort of thing.  It was my cousin, Elise's Bat Mitzvah, and after the ceremony, dressed in a suit and tie, clean shaven and looking oddly respectable (as that was back in my scruffier days), my mother sent me to the grocery store's bakery counter to pick up the cake.  Despite having taken a number, a couple of older, retired people (southern Florida being full of elderly, retired New Yorkers and New Jersyites, possibly the rudest people in America) tried to get their orders first.  One woman, an old lady in her 80's or 90's, wouldn't stand for it, she yelled "fuck you!  I'm old and fuck you if I'm going to wait in line behind a young man!"  Fortunately the bakery clerk wasn't having any of that and told her to wait her turn while she was getting my cake...  Ah well, that's Florida grocery stores for you...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foods I Miss from America

I recently offered some American candies, Good & Plenty, (sent by a close buddy who's now in Chicago but remembered they're one of my favorite candies) to a friend at work who asked what food I miss the most from the U.S. Well, there's quite a lot, and "the most" can depend on my mood...

A list like this will probably barely scratch the surface, since it's hard to just sit down and think of everything... But I'm imagining all the great things I've eaten at various times...

  • Cereals - There are a few cereals here in India (although certainly not the mile long aisles of them like in American grocery stores!), but they're not the same, they're harder, more abrasive and hurt the inside of my mouth when I eat them.
    • Cheerios - Cheerios rank up there pretty high, actually. One of my favorite breakfast and snack foods. I just love shoveling it in my mouth when I'm reading or watching movies or any time. Sure, I had Cheerios in the U.K. on my trips, but they're highly sweetened and not as soft and light as plain American Cheerios. I might have to eat four bowls of Cheerios to equal the nutrition in one bowl of Total, but you know what, I can eat four bowls with breakfast without a problem, except maybe stopping at four...
    • Lucky Charms - Sometimes I just get the urge for some kind of cereal with those marshmallows and this ranks up there pretty high. I don't mind the generic ones...
  • Bagels - Bagels, bagels, bagels.... India seems to be a bagel-free country.
  • Beef - It's not that there isn't beef in India, but I've been told over and over again not to buy any to cook at home, only trust the quality from a few select restaurants, mostly Parsi or Muslim owned, that are tied in with a farm. Any retail beef is supposedly not necessarily fresh and not good quality.
    • Roast Beef - I just love roasting a nice chunk of beef. I'm not adventurous in trying it different ways, I just like to rub some butter on it, toss it in the oven for a couple of hours, take it out and eat slices while it's still hot and steaming...
    • Hamburgers - I don't even need the buns (which are available in India!) since usually I only use that as a handle to hold the meat when I'm in public. Sometimes I eat some of it, sometimes not, rarely all of the bun...
    • Steak
  • Fresh salad - While lots of vegetables are available here in India, generally in the market place they're a lot less consistently fresh and good than in the U.S. The variance is probably because vegetables are rarely eaten raw in India, the way they are in the U.S., they're almost always cooked with a lot of spices that really cover up the flavor, so bad ones are less noticeable.
    • Spinach - It's very, very rare that the spinach I've eaten in India has tasted good raw. In the U.S. I just like to take fresh spinach out of the fridge, run them under warm water in the sink to clean them and shove them in my mouth.
  • Chocolate Silk soy milk - Actually we get single serving cartons here in India, but I miss half gallon jugs that I can just pour glass after glass without worrying about "oops, only one left". And the single serving ones just don't seem right for adding in a ground up Oreo cookie...
  • Chips - While there's no doubt the fresh Budhani potato chips here in Pune are absolutely fantastic, and Kur-Kure is delicious, there's ones I miss a lot from the U.S. that I'd like to eat:
    • Doritos - Yeah, we can get small packs of imported ones, but the prices are so high Leena refuses to entertain my requests for them.
    • Fritos
    • Funyuns
    • Diane's Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips - Let's face it, they're the official chip of the Waldport High School Games Club!
    • Cheetos - I like the puffed ones, not the crispy ones.
  • Oat bread - Being allergic to whole wheat, oat bread is my favorite kind of packaged bread, much better than white bread. But here in India I've only seen white and whole wheat.
  • Pretzels - Only once did I find a bag of pretzels here in India, and after eating a few they turned out to be terrible, and whole wheat. Pretzel rods, pretzel sticks, soft, hot pretzels, those pretzel rolls with peanut butter... Mmm.....
  • Pepperoni Pizza - Yeah, I know it's on the menus of several restaurants, Smokin' Joe's and Pizza Hut, for instance, but often they don't actually have it. But the Smokin' Joe's menu says flat out that it's pork and not fresh, and the few times we've ordered it at their restaurants the waiters have tried to dissuade us from getting it.
  • Persimmons - Not a common fruit, but I like 'em when they're good and ripe, super sweet!
  • Soda Pops
    • Dr. Pepper - My favorite of the big sodas.
    • Root Beer
    • Ginger Ale
    • Cream Soda
  • Lactose intolerant milk - Since I have a lactose intolerance problem, but I like chocolate milk, I miss being able to buy milk that won't cause such a problem...
  • Twinkies - Okay, these may not be good foods, and I didn't eat them often in America, but now that I can't get one, I sure miss them. Even more when I read or see something about deep fried Twinkies, which I'd like to try.
  • Ice Cream Sandwiches - Good quality? Bad quality? I really like all kinds of ice cream sandwiches, from the cheap grocery store branded ones with plain vanilla ice cream between the cookie pieces to fancy Dove ones and all the ones in between...
  • Pocky - Mmm.... Pocky!
  • Flavored Oatmeals - I like all those various flavored oatmeals that just need hot water added. I've tried with plain, unflavored oatmeal but I have no idea how to add flavors so it doesn't just taste like boring, sticky oatmeal, and most of my attempts to make it end up inedible.
  • Smoked salmon - Ah, I really miss those plastic packages of smoked salmon from the grocery store. They go with spinach as a great breakfast, just open the package and rip chunks off to eat...
  • Fake Crab - Yeah, I know it's cheap, garbage fish with some added flavor, not real crab, but I like it anyway, especially the flakes, more than the sticks...
  • Yogurt - I don't like plain yogurt, I only like fruity flavored, sweetened yogurts. They're starting to turn up in India now, but the variety and quality aren't up there with the U.S. yet, and about 25% of the packages are definitely sour, with the package puffed almost to the bursting point, before the expiration date...
  • Tea - As funny as it sounds, living in the world's largest tea producing country, but American grocery stores simply have a wider variety of teas available to consumers, and a wider variety of qualities of black tea and a wider variety of flavored teas.
  • Beer - I'm not much of a beer drinker (in fact, I had more fun brewing my own than drinking it...), but I like a half-pint glass of a nice, rich stout, porter or a fruity ale every now and then. Unfortunately, the beer in India is all pretty lousy lagers.
Undoubtedly I'm missing something from my mental trip down the grocery store aisles...

While a few other long-term expatriates I've known all say when they return to America McDonald's is the first place they go for a "taste of home" I don't see myself doing that. I'd rather start with something good rather than fast food. Admittedly, on my last vacation back I did hit A & W in the terminal at Newark Airport during my layover, and I was extremely disappointed with the burger and fries, but the root beer was heavenly after a few years without...

Plus shopping for groceries in the U.S. is just a lot easier. There's always more variety in one place, better inventory control so what you want is more likely to be there, and far, far more helpful staff at the grocery stores. Here in India any question like "do you have X?" almost always results in a negative answer, even the worker is standing in front of a shelf with several feet of the item, compared with an American grocer who will usually do what they can to help find things in the store.

In an American grocery store if I need help picking a ripe cantaloup, I can almost always count on the produce person to help make a good choice, but my experiences in India buying fruits the seller usually seems to try to offload the worst on me and quote a higher price, or I'm just not argumentative enough to bargain for both quality and price or something... Buying fruits has generally not been a pleasant experience for me in India, though fortunately Leena's the one who's been doing it for the last few years.

And I'm more accustomed to the behavior of other customers in American grocery stores, the neat, orderly queues where most people wait patiently for their turn, or impatiently, but still wait, and give some breathing room. Compared with Indian grocery stores where the checkers are usually incompetent and going slow, many more items ring up at wrong prices (and unlike American stores, the Indian ones don't let you get away with a lower price when it's their own mistake, so you have to wait while they fix it) and lots of people try to jump ahead in line. I have to be defensive, stand closer to the person in front of me than I'm comfortable and try to maintain my place or if I leave enough space for someone to fit in front of me, someone will try it. It's worst when people send their servants to pick something up, they have the least respect for the line.

Related to food, I miss baking tremendously (I'm not much of a cook, just a baker). In India, before getting married I had an oven, a cheap German one that scared the hell out of me whenever I had to turn on the gas and then lean deep inside it to light it with a match to the hole near the back of it...

But after we moved into our own apartment, there's no space in the kitchen for it. We've been on the waiting list for a second gas cylinder for a few years, but the gas company never has spares to give us a second one. If we do get one, maybe I can set the oven up in the servant's bathroom (since we have no servants). Then I can try baking bagels or pretzels.

On the other hand, with any luck we'll be moving to America faster than the gas company...

Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Holiday Photo

This past two weeks' office photo club challenge had the overall general theme "holidays" and the organizer said upfront it was open to a lot of different interpretations

I thought about it for a while and couldn't come up with anything for a holiday theme.  Partly because these winter holidays are ones that have always made me feel uncomfortable.  Growing up in a small town where my family was the only non-Christian one and I the only kid in school who didn't celebrate Christmas this time of the year was one of my least favorite.  New Year's Eve might not be religious, but due to proximity it's always lumped in with Christmas, with much of the symbolism mixed and matched between them, adding it to the holidays I wish to black out.

To be clear, I don't mind that my friends and others celebrate Christmas, that's their holiday, and I respect that and hope they all have a fantastic holiday.  What I don't like are people who know I'm Jewish wishing me a merry Christmas or random strangers (e.g. in the office bathroom) wishing me that, too, on the assumption that I celebrate it.  To me, Christmas is merely a day off work, and if I'm in Portland, a fantastic day to go shopping at my favorite store, Powell's Books.

This year was particularly frustrating as I'm in touch with so many more people from school and college, and a much wider range of liberal and conservative, non-religious and very religious friends.  The frustration came from those conservative, highly religious friends who simply had no conception that some people might not celebrate Christmas.  The overall consensus amongst them, even those who never met each other, was that those of us who don't celebrate this holiday are the ones who are wrong and one specifically said those of us who prefer not to be wished "Merry Christmas" can just "go fuck off".

Another actually posted "A very politically incorrect MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY CHUNNAKKA, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!" on the evening of December 24th...  While maybe politically incorrect, I had to point out that it was overshadowed by ignorance.  People don't usually wish a happy holiday to others after the holiday is over, and by the time he posted this, Chanukah was almost a week finished.

Not that I I don't like any of those people, I have fond memories in school and college hanging around, some of them have been my friends since the 4th grade!  But I just hate it when these late-in-the-year holidays come around, they're just that one bone of contention, and I just want to shut my eyes and sleep till they're finished and things return to "normal".

So, this picture represents my feelings on the holidays.  I took it by making as fast an exposure as my camera would do, with the narrowest aperture the lens allowed, and most importantly, leaving the lens cap on.

Canon EOS 400D, 24-85mm zoom
24mm, 1/4000 second, f/24
Manual focus
Post processing: cropped some of the black around the edges and rescaled to a smaller size...

One funny aspect...  I took several shots, and the slower the shutter and wider the aperture, the larger the resulting JPEG was.