Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Saga of the Index Cards

We're studying Hindi. Central to my previous language studies have been flash cards -- home-made flash cards made from 3x5 index cards. Flash cards appear to be a known concept, but "index cards" has heads scratching.

So we've been trying to find "index cards", or something similar, for weeks.

We've tried to find plain old index cards. Nada. Well, what about card stock that we could cut up into smaller cards. Still draws a blank. Given India's obsession with business cards (aka "visiting cards"), we thought maybe blank ones would be available -- but not that we can find.

Next I tried (yes, Amazon has an Indian subsidiary). One hit on "index cards": Moleskine sells 20 3x5 cards for Rs 589 (about $10 !!!). "Cardstock", "business cards", and "visiting cards" were a total no-go. A Google search came across a few other Americans searching for index cards in India with no success.

A search for "office supplies mumbai" led me to Office Yes (which in its lower-case URL comes across as OfficEyes rather than OfficeYes), "India's Largest Supplier of Office Supplies". Index cards and cardstock are still an unknown quantity, but they do have blank business cards. After spending some time getting together an order, I discovered at check-out, that I have to be a business to order from this site -- and I have to provide tax info to prove that I am a legitimate business. Nothing is easy in India!

Finally, Lon's secretary has been able to convince the printer who supplies business cards to Ruby Macons to sell us some blank ones. But of course, we have to look at sizes and paper styles first. That adds a few more days, especially because this week had a holiday.

The result arrived today.

The cards are about 4 x 5 inches. (I have no ruler at the moment -- but I'll have one by the end of the week when our sea shipment of household goods finally arrives.) They're the size of printed invitations -- perfect for flash cards.

And as for having to be very specific about size, color, paper texture, and so forth, these cards are hardly uniform:

Note the significant variation in color!
But that doesn't matter for our purpose!

So how, you may ask, do Indians make flash cards? The most frequent answer is that they cut up cardboard boxes, and glue plain paper on both sides to make a card. To me, that seems to use more resources than index cards would!

Actually, just finding school supplies can be a challenge. You don't go down to Walmart or Target and pick up a cart load of notebook paper, pencils, crayons, etc. I found some notebooks and pencils at "Big Bazaar", a department and food store that seems to be modeled on Walmart. But the good stuff -- pens, scissors, calculators -- are kept under lock and key, and the choices are very limited. I bought a notebook with blank lined pages to use as a journal. The cover has a picture of the Tower of London superimposed on a map of South America. Rather strange. It's called a "culture notebook" and it's made in China -- of course.

I guess when a main concern is onions tripling in price in the last month, school supplies are further down the list of priorities.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blue Dogs

With apologies to Dr. Seuss ...

One dog, two dogs, red dog, blue dog...

Did I mention that the industrial area has several dye makers? Red dogs are less common, but sooner or later I'll get a picture of one. (Both photos are of the same dog, but there are at least two other blue dogs in the area.)

The Global Food Market

Somehow, I didn't expect that the global food market would extend to Vapi, Gujarat, India. I always thought that that was a first-world artifact -- only the wealthy could buy produce from around the world, taking advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables from both hemispheres (plus the tropics). But here I am -- buying plums from California, apples from Washington, New Zealand, and India, pineapples from Hawaii, and oranges from Florida. And that's just the produce that is labeled. Surprising.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Good Day & A Noisy Cat

Yesterday was a good day.
  • Lon got the bathroom hot water working -- a warm shower! (Not hot, but good!)
  • Our "high speed" Internet got turned on. Still takes takes almost an hour to download a YouTube video, but it's 10x faster than 2G. (Short story, we didn't pay the bill because the phone company never sent a bill.)
  • I got two birthday cards. While I appreciated them both (and the e-cards earlier -- thanks!), the 3-D pop-up from David and Maria was most impressive.

And since Maria always adds cats (see upper right on card), here is ...

Musings on Cats (and Dogs) in India

Feral dogs are all over the place. It pains me to see so many of them in bad shape: many have only 3 working legs; sometimes that bad leg dangles at a sickening angle. There are two blue dogs and two red dogs (at least) in the industrial area -- testimony to the dyes that are manufactured there. The dogs make typical dog noises -- barking, yelping, and the occasional howl.

I've only seen / heard one cat -- the one that hangs around our neighborhood. Of course, in general, cats tend to be secretive, so I'm sure there are more around. This one has a beautiful spotted coat -- I'm still trying to get a good photo. The cat has the most pitiful (not to mention loud) vocalizations I've ever heard. Never a "meow", just this crying -- night and day.

Right now, Blogspot is not letting me upload video. Video will be posted when I can. So for now, you'll just have to look at the back end of a cat!

Finally -- success uploading video in Firefox rather than Safari. But it's S ... L ... O ... W ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Boy Scout Skills on Steroids

Most temporary shelters and scaffolding here are wooden or bamboo poles lashed together. There really are uses for all those lashings and knots Boy Scouts learn -- Scouts take note!

A medium-size shelter under construction. Photo was taken from walkway on first floor (aka U.S. second floor) of building where we take Hindi lessons.
A close-up of the lashings holding the structure together.
Two days later -- the tarps have been added to provide shelter from monsoon rains. Note that the construction is sturdy enough to support standing on the tarps.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Miscellany

It's Sunday, so we walk to and from our 2-hour Hindi lesson and take in the monsoon sights in Vapi.

There's a big Hindu festival next month, and temporary shelters are going up all over town. This large pavilion is in front a large Hindu temple.

Sooner or later (I'm betting on later) I'll tire of taking pictures of cattle monopolizing the road. Also notice the two young calfs in the group. On the other hand, when you're trying to cross a busy street, luck is with you if you can walk with a herd of cattle (or even just a single cow) that is going in the same direction.

And just to show that my Internet woes are not just in my imagination, here's a graphic from the July 25 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. The article is about slow downloads in Russia. Note that India is even worse. Right now I'm operating (or trying to) on a 2G ("Edge") cellular connection. (50 MB takes me about 3 hours to download.)


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cooking -- Part 3

The Microwave

Indian kitchens do not have ovens like we have in the U.S. and Europe. Baking is not a typical cooking method. Their microwave ovens, though, do incorporate a broiler, a rotisserie, and a convection oven. Of course, this is a small oven. At most you have room to roast a small chicken or bake a 10-inch round cake. Cookies would be next to impossible, as you could only bake about 9 at a time! (Lon compares it to the incomparable "Easy Bake Oven"!)

I am assured by the Owner's Manual that the microwave is "A very safe appliance." "Microwave energy is converted completely to heat when it enters food, leaving no 'left over' energy to harm you when you eat your food."

The microwave also has a number of special menus that I haven't explored, and most likely will not.  These menus include: "Nutri Care", "Indian Rasoi", "24 Hours", "Just 4 U", "Utility Corner", and "Body Care". The menus go deeper to such items as "Health Plus" and "Continental" under "Nutri Care".

As you can tell from these titles, this is a microwave made specifically for the Indian market with a translation from Korean to English, and apparently then transliterated to Hindi. For example, the "24 Hours" menu is literally transliterated 24 आवर्स ("Aawars" -- sound that out -- you get an approximation of how we pronounce "hours"). A translation would use the Hindi word for "hour", घंटा ("ghantaa"). The exception to this is "Indian Rasoi" (the "oi" is pronounced "oh-ee"), where "rasoi" is an English transliteration of रसोई , the Hindi word for "food, dish, cuisine" and also a short form of "kitchen".

The refrigerator is also customized for India. It includes three spice boxes and a storage compartment for "Beauty & Care". The door is lockable (??), beeps loudly if you've kept it open too long, and has a floral design. (Everything in India must be decorated!)

And while I'm on the subject of decorated surfaces, the photos below show two pieces of art on our tiled kitchen walls.

The cooking adventure continues!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Internet Woes

I'm going to have to stop posting until I get a more robust Internet connection. Our home "broadband" (about 3G speeds at best) is not working at all, so I'm running the network off a "data stick" that provides a cellular connection to my laptop. But that is a drip, rather than a garden hose -- measured in BITS per second, not BYTES per second, much less kbps. I think this is so slow because once I use 1 GB for the month (the first day pretty much), it reverts to 2G speed for the rest of the month. I'm really not patient enough for this!

I'm also learning just how much "junk" is on a web page. For example, Gmail's regular interface downloads about 5 MB of stuff (what? I have no idea) before anything shows up on the screen. Gmail's plain-vanilla interface loads very quickly. Everything has become a data-hog, and I'm doing my part!

Today and tomorrow are holidays in India. (Some say the holiday is today; some say it's tomorrow; why not take both days?) So it will be a few days before anything can get straightened out.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Monsoon Sunday in Lonavala -- Water Everywhere

Monsoon brings out all the waterfalls (and people) around Lonavala.

There are a number of waterfalls at the end of Lonavala Dam. Some have paths leading about half-way up the mountain, and many people enjoy the cool, clean water. There are small concession stands at the base of these falls.
Another waterfall a bit further up the road.
The road coming into the Bhushi Dam area. Lots of places to "Pay & Park". By the time we left, people were arriving on tour buses and many more in private autos, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and on foot. Apparently this is the thing to do on Sundays in Lonavala during monsoon.
The footpath to Bhushi Dam. We did not realize that we would have to wade nearly waist-deep in murky water to get to the dam. We decided not to get that wet!
A closer view of the river crossing to get to the dam. In addition to wading through water, you have to "wade" past dozens of vendors selling snacks, trinkets, and flip-flops.
It's difficult to see, but all these people are sitting/wading on the spillway of Bhushi Dam.
And so that's what you do on Sundays during monsoon in Lonavala!

A Monsoon Sunday in Lonavala -- Sights

We took a 15 to 16 km walk through and around Lonavala today. Here are some of the highlights.

Shivaji Park. The main paths were above the standing water, but clearly the park is designed for non-monsoon use!
Note the green algae/moss on the concrete bench. Everything turns green in monsoon! Cars that haven't been driven for a while are coated in green. Roofs become "green roofs" without any effort.
Lon standing beside the dam that makes Lonavala Lake.
The upper end of Lonavala Lake. Our hotel is on the other side of that mountain. You can see that the lake can fill up a good bit more by the end of monsoon.
These are some unusual-shaped houses just below the Lonavala Dam.
We've seen a number of trash cans like this -- in the shape of various animals -- that say "USE ME". This one in Shivaji Park is a kangaroo. We've also seen rabbit ones. I don't know if they do any good!
Since I have a photo of Lon, I also need one of me. Here I am in the Fariyas lobby wearing a kurta.

American fast food is making inroads in India. There was a McDonald's next door. Of course, McDonald's doesn't serve beef, and KFC has veggie options. But the Dollar Menu is a Wow! Price menu (25 rupees is a bit less than 50¢). (Subway, Pizza Hut, and Domino's are also in abundance in India.)

A Monsoon Sunday in Lonavala -- Animals

During our walk today in Lonavala, we saw a number of interesting animals. Here's a selection:

Three small pigs eating along the road. They were part of small herd of 7 pigs.
While I've seen many dogs here, this is the first time I've seen them sleeping off the ground -- these two are on an unused vendor's cart. Clearly they know they're not supposed to be there -- as soon as I stopped and took out a camera, the lower dog immediately left the cart!
I took out my camera to take a picture of three crows sitting on the back of another buffalo, but they flew off as I took out my camera. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to capture this face!
This video isn't as good as I'd like it to be because there was no oncoming traffic. Nonetheless, it gives you a taste of how cattle just roam around in India.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Karla Caves

Just a few km west of Lonavala are the Karla Caves -- caves carved into rock by Buddhists from the 2nd century BCE through the 10th century CE. The main temple is most impressive -- huge. The site is reached by about 150 steps lined with small shops selling flowers for the Hindu shrine that's also located at the site and "chikkis", nut brittles of various sorts, a specialty of Lonavala. From all the water spots on the lens, not to mention Lon's rain poncho and my umbrella, you would be correct to surmise that this was a wet trip!

Some of the steps that lead from the parking lot up to the caves.

Shops line the steps. (Sometimes I think monsoon should be called the "Season of the Blue Tarp".)

About a third of the way up the steps. The valley below is filled with rice paddies.

Karla Caves. The temple cave is just off to the left, but the view of the entrance is obscured by a Hindu shrine.

The temple. Unusual feature of this temple include the wood arches in the ceiling and the wooden parasol over the stupa.

The top of a large column at the temple entrance. I love the moss growing everywhere.

An elephant carving at the temple entrance.

Along the Road

Vapi to Lonavala

It's my birthday today -- the big six-oh. To celebrate, Lon's taking today and half of Monday as vacation days and we're going to spend two nights in the resort town of Lonavala -- about half way between Mumbai and Pune.

Yes, my fascination with Indian cattle and their ways continues.
At least these cows (there are two there) have attendants as they browse the median of NH8.
And on the other side of the road:
A full-service "rest stop" where you can get a snack (left stall) while you get your tire repaired (right stall).
And finally, this map looks more like Norway than India. The difference is that the Mumbai-Pune Expressway is a 6-lane road. (The north-south road is 2-lane.)

And by the way, Google maps is the way to go in India. Apple maps are pretty pathetic, but Google maps shows just about every road. Although I wouldn't necessarily trust the added landmarks and features. In Vapi, at least, they can be wildly inaccurate.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

At War with Mold and Mildew

It's so damp, that nothing really dries completely. Two weeks ago, we had our wooden spoons in a drawer. When I went to use one, it was covered in mold. So now we leave them on the countertop. This morning, even that didn't work. The far right photo is an image of the spoon that was left on the countertop by the mold coming off the spoon.

We're supposed to keep our shoes in a built-in cabinet on the front porch. Our helpers keep on putting them away for us. But if you leave the shoes in the cabinet, they look like this spoon after a day. Lon's sports coats are also mildewing in the closet. It's War! (And we're losing.)


Traffic is chaotic in India. More so in Vapi than in Mumbai. Just drive where it's most convenient.

Mumbai: Count the lanes; count the tuk-tuks plus taxi and motorcycle. Why use two lanes when four (and a half) will fit? Signs along the road say, "Lane Driving Safe Driving".
I missed a golden opportunity to get a traffic video when we were first in line at the Morai railroad crossing.

Waiting for the train. Just beyond the truck is NH8. Even a short wait backs up traffic on the highway.

A close-up of the other side of the tracks. The truck is in the proper lane. Note the motorcycles and cars lined up in the lane for oncoming traffic. Our side was the same. To our right were motorcycles and cars waiting to cross the tracks. When the gates open, the motorcycles zip ahead, and somehow, everyone gets across and ends up in the proper lane.

I'm still trying to record a good video of traffic. I'll post it when I get it!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Plumbing in a Foreign Language

Even if I spoke Gujarati, I still wouldn't speak plumber! I can barely speak plumber in English!

Our water leak has returned -- it leaks in a wall upstairs, runs across the floor, then drips off the balcony onto the ground floor. There's also a major leak coming off the "soffit" (for lack of a better term) above our bedroom windows. It's a substantial leak -- over the course of about 14 or 15 hours it completely drained our 5 cubic meter (1250 gallon) tank. So today the only water we have is the gallon-or-so of purified drinking water we have in the RO (reverse osmosis) unit.

The plumbers arrive on a motor scooter with a small bag of tools. Hardly the plumbing trucks I'm used to that carry a whole shop's worth of supplies and equipment. Even today, knowing they have to tear out and replace some pipe, they arrive with just a sledgehammer and a few basic tools.

I really hope we have water restored by this evening so we don't have to try to book a room at the Fortune Galaxy Hotel! Lon has already spent enough time there!

Musings (and Amusings) on English

Living in a country where the second (or third or fourth) language spoken is English can be a real hindrance (I guess the pun is intended) when trying to learn Hindi. It's mildly embarrassing to be struggling to learn Hindi when you're surrounded by people who are conversant with four languages -- Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, and English -- and can read in three alphabets. It's almost disturbing to see so many signs in English. It makes it really easy to ignore the Hindi or Gujarati words and skip straight to the English script. I know I'd be learning a lot more Hindi if I had to use it more to get around.

For example, the local word for "orange" (the fruit) is "santraa" or "narangee" in more formal Hindi (a la Rosetta Stone). So what is the color? Usually just "orange", but it can be "santraa" or "narangee". What day of the week is "Sunday"? You could call it "itvar" or "ravivar", but mostly it's "Sunday".

Like all variants of English, Indian English has some usages all its own. (I think the Times of India reads more like the sports pages than the news and political pages.) And then there are times when you not only have to figure out what the "English" is, but also translate from British usage to American usage. The plumbers (see today's other post) were asking if I had a certain item. Once I figured out they wanted a "torch", I had to remember to think "flashlight".

But when it comes to food, you really do need to know the Indian names. Let's get our priorities straight! You won't find "turmeric", you have to look for "haldi" (written that way in "English"). Coriander is "dhaniya"; cilantro is "hara dhaniya" (green dhaniya). Cumin is "jeera". Chick peas (which, of course already have an alternative English name, garbanzo beans) are "besun". And most of these come as seeds or powders or flours. I could go on, but I'm still learning! Food continues to be an adventure.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Walk in Vapi

Every Sunday we walk from our bungalow to our Hindi lesson and back -- a round trip of about 4 miles. It's good to stretch legs at least once a week! Walking is not the most pleasant way to get around town -- lots of dodging cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and whatever else decides to be on the road. And you never know what you might come across.

This is not a new sign, but I finally snapped the photo. Driving against traffic is frequently done if it's more convenient.
Sooner or later I guess I'll become accustomed to seeing cows and buffalo everywhere. Here are today's encounters:

Just outside our "society" a cow finds the road the best place to "set for a spell."
Along NH8. Water buffalo are really HUGE animals.
And finally, is this an apartment complex for chemists? I've always been amused by the name, and have no idea where it comes from. (I had not noted the leaning power pole until I started editing the photo -- it's just too typical not to include it!)