Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Gallery of Trucks

Trucks in India are fascinating. While they vary tremendously in size, they are almost uniformly highly decorated. Words don't matter as much as the calligraphy.

Typical "Goods Carrier"

Water tanker. Commonly seen in Mumbai. Never seen in Vapi, which has a good source of drinking water (and hasn't yet outgrown the supply).
Trucks at a toll booth, including a hazmat truck. The variety of nasty chemicals on the road is disturbing, but in reality is probably no worse than in the U.S. -- they are just more clearly and specifically labeled.

My Towel Gets Wet, but I Don't Get Dry

Getting down to the nitty gritty: trying to keep clean!

We're fortunate that our bungalow has western-style bathroom fixtures -- sort of.

We'll start with the bath/shower. We have a bathtub, but don't use it. The shower is not in the tub, but directly on the wall in front of the toilet. There's a drain in the floor, of course, but when you use the shower, pretty much everything in the bathroom gets wet. And stays wet. I've resigned myself to getting my feet wet every time I use the toilet -- or brush my teeth or wash my face or wash my hands. We're pretty much barefoot in the house anyway, because you leave shoes outside. Even when shopping, you frequently leave your shoes outside the shop and come in socks or bare feet.

5 cubic meter (750 gal) water tank on left; solar hot water system on right (not connected)
Also note how sun and monsoon rains "age" materials quickly. This tank was brand-new two months ago!
As for the shower, the water pressure is pretty weak, even with a supplemental pressure tank. Water is stored on the roof. I would have thought that would give enough pressure, but Lon says without the pressure tank, it's just a trickle. We also do not have hot water. There's a solar hot water system, but it leaks, so it's disconnected. Doesn't do too much in monsoon anyway! Fortunately, the water isn't really cold (probably about 80°F, since that's the ambient temperature), but it does take my breath away when I first get under it. Kinda like jumping into a swimming pool. Once you get used to it, it's fine, but that first jump.... ooh!

The toilets are flush -- sort of. They are what we would use in commercial places in the U.S. -- no tank, just a flush valve. But the water pressure doesn't support a good flush. You have to supplement with a bucketful of water (or the bidet!).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gel-Caps + Pressure + Humidity

When I left home, these Vitamin D3 gel-caps were loose in their bottle. When I got to India, they had "welded" into a solid mass. My fish oil gel-caps suffered a similar fate.

Lesson learned: keep all meds, especially gel-caps, in your carry-on baggage! I was carrying a year's supply of "dietary supplements," and I really didn't want to have that with me going through security. What we figured happened was that the pressure changes broke the seal on the bottles (they were new, unopened bottles), then when the baggage compartment re-pressurized, the humid air came in and both compressed the gel-caps and made it easy for them to stick together into a solid mass. I've had minor problems of get-caps sticking together at home in the summer humidity, but nothing like this!

So now, each morning I gently pull two gel-caps from this mess!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Learning Hindi


That says "Hindi" in the Devanagari script. I just found out that Blogspot supports a variety of different alphabets.

Right now the complex Hindi alphabet (also used by Marathi and Sanskrit) is a diminishing barrier to learning Hindi. There are thirteen vowels, that are mostly used if the word starts with a vowel. There are thirty-five consonants, most of which have variations for the thirteen vowel sounds. There are also a couple of other marks that add nasal sounds, or an "R" to the sound. For example, here are twelve variations of "K":

क का कि क़ी कु कू के कै को कौ कं कः  (I can't figure out how to get the thirteenth variant)
Got that?? Multiply by 35!
(And I should mention that there's two versions of English consonants K, G, CH, J, P, B,
SH,  and four versions each of T and D.)

And for consonant blends, you use a "half" letter. Even more to keep in mind!

Yesterday, we spent the day in Mumbai to try to repair my ailing MacBook Pro. We bought a new one instead, so I'm spending today getting that up and running. (Yay!) We also visited the uber-stylish High Street Phoenix mall, created from vacated textile mills. (Yes, even India faces out-sourcing to Bangladesh and Viet Nam.) The vast majority of the stores are American or European. All the English names are transliterated into Hindi -- a good way to practice the Hindi alphabet. Here's my favorite -- it took me a bit to figure out what it said:

रंग्लेर = Wrangler (jeans) -- except that the "L - ल" should not have the "hat" -- it's an artifact of how I have to type in the Hindi.

And the local language, Gujarati, uses a related, but different alphabet that we haven't even begun to examine -- one language at a time!

Every post needs a photo (even if they don't all have one). So here's for learning Hindi:

This is a "milepost" (km-post?) on National Highway 8 near our bungalow. We felt like we've reached our own milepost when we could read that it's 182 km to Mumbai and 363 to Ahmedabad. The top line is Hindi. The bottom line is Gujarati. (Don't know how to read that yet!) While western "Arabic" numerals are used universally, Hindi and Gujarati also have their own numerals, which are similar, but frustratingly different. It's ironic, because India created the decimal system millennia ago.

० १ २ ३ ४ ५ ६ ७ ८ ९  These are the Hindi numerals for 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Friday, July 26, 2013


Laundry is not so much of a chore for us as it might be -- we have a nice washing machine.

However, it's small compared to what we're used to.. Two days of clothes (for two people) is pretty much a full load. One set of sheets and pillowcases is a load. Towels are another load. Consequently, I pretty much do a load of laundry every day.

It's not so much the washing (although each load does take almost an hour and a half), but the drying that's an issue. Our clothes drying racks are on the way from Virginia, so right now, we have to hang shirts on clothes hangers and hang them on a drapery rod and lay other stuff out on a bed to dry. We turn on the ceiling fan to move the air around, and turn over the clothes on the bed every few hours. Still, it's so humid that nothing really dries. Everything I pull out of the closet feels slightly damp. Even after wearing clothes for the day, they still feel damp. Even the upholstered furniture feels damp. I'm going to have to get used to DAMP!!!

Hanging sheets from the balcony rail

Drying towels and pillowcases on the beds. Fortunately, these are brand-new mattresses, still wrapped in plastic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Electric Power

Living in an industrial area in Gujarat means that we have excellent power by Indian standards. During monsoon the power drops for a few minutes several times a day. (Outside of the monsoon, the power is pretty steady.) Indians have several ways to cope with this.

First, the appliances are designed for power fluctuations. Our refrigerator says, "Works Without Stabilizer. 135V-290V Protection Against Fluctuation". The washing machine is labeled, "Inverter Direct Drive."

We also have a 2.5 kW inverter that keeps a few lights on and fans running during power outages. However, the washing machine also seems to be on that circuit, and the inverter "overloads" if there is an outage while I'm doing laundry. (Laundry is a topic for another day...)

Some households have a "DG" (diesel generator) for back-up power. But I don't want the noise!

Last night, while we were watching an iTunes movie on our TV, the power went out. Because the computer was plugged into a different, inverter-supported outlet and the speakers were battery-powered, the sound kept coming while the picture went black. We had just shut down the system when the power come back, so we were able to finish the movie.

When we first moved into the bungalow, we were having a lot of problems with power coming and going. The non-inverter circuits had power, but the inverter was powering the other circuits with lots of of flickers and dimming. Apparently that was an issue with a faulty connection to the grid, and that finally got fixed yesterday.

I've still got a lot of adjusting to do!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I'm writing this today on my iPad because my Mac chose to self-destruct yesterday, and the nearest point of help is Mumbai -- and that's a weekend (i.e. Sunday because the work week is Monday through Saturday) task. As a touch typist, typing at any length on an iPad is frustrating!

To return to the topic, sounds are a prominent part of life in Vapi. I won't dwell on traffic noise -- the constant honking and engine noise -- from tuk-tuks to scooters to cars to trucks.

[Just an aside. Blogspot does not let me upload audio only, so I had to add a picture and make a movie.]

Laying in bed, the Muslim call to prayer starts about 10 minutes to 5 in the morning.

This minaret is near our bungalow (as the crow flies). It may or may not be the one in the audio clip.

 This gets drowned out by passing trains.

This is the Vapi train station. I'm pretty sure the audio is of a freight train, not a passenger train.

Louder still is the rain in a monsoon downpour.

About 5 AM, the birds start their morning calls. I have no idea what they are -- my Birds of India book is in our sea shipment, which should be here by the end of August.

Behind everything is the constant whirring of fans -- the climate is bearable if the air is moving.

One sound I do not hear is airplanes. Several times a day I hear what strikes me as a plane, but as it continues, I realize that it is a train -- as loud as a plane coming in for a landing. When I was growing up in Chicago, my neighborhood was under the flight path for O'Hare. The airport was 7 or 8 miles away, but the jets were so loud that school and conversation had to pause until the noise had diminished. The trains are just as loud.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sanjay Gandhi National Park

On Saturday, on our way from Mumbai to Vapi, we spent a few hours in Sanjay Gandhi National Park -- a large nature preserve in the midst of the Mumbai suburbs. By far the highlight of the trip were the Kanheri Caves -- caves carved out of the mountains by Buddhist monks in in the first century BCE to the tenth century CE.

In addition to detailed carvings, the acoustics in the temple were spectacular. Our guide demonstrated chanting, and it filled the room with resonance.

Since it is monsoon, it was possible to see the elaborate water-collection system in action. The monks had carved water channels in the rocks that direct the water into large underground cisterns. This supplied their entire water needs until the next monsoon. At the time we were there, water was flowing over the stairs and many people were enjoying the fast-flowing stream.


I arrived back in India three days ago. Monsoon season arrived over a month ago. The rain has brought the temperatures down and "green" is all around.

Walking around is interesting. The temperature is much more bearable, but the humidity is intimidating and the mud and puddles pretty much unavoidable. The photo above was taken on our walk yesterday from our bungalow to the Fortune Galaxy hotel. It's along the "Vapi flyover" (the elevated road on the left of the photo) and it doesn't really capture the rain and the water dripping off all the roofs.

The animals seem to be enjoying the rain, even though they occasionally take cover under roofs in front of store fronts. Yesterday we had to walk through a group of about six cows. No problem!

I'm still bothered by the trash, garbage, and animal poop all over the place. Personal spaces are clean to immaculate, but the public spaces are dirty and filled with trash. I don't understand.