Day 15 – Florida Roadtrip – Richmond, VA

The next day we went to a Camping World RV sales lot somewhere near I-95. At each campground we walked by these RVs and trailers, I never have been inside one. Some of them are soooooo huge! And cost over $100,000. So we were very curious to see what was inside of those big ones but also what those small pop-up ones look like inside.

The big ones can sleep10 people and have cable TV, air conditioners, heat and a full kitchen as well as a shower and a toilet. The small ones with no bathroom are very small. They can still sleep four and have two gas burners and a sink. Also there is a table to eat for four. I have to say I was jealous about the indoor kitchen. But mostly because you don’t have to put it away…
We had lunch in some small redneck ville in North Carolina.

Once we arrived in Richmond VA, we decided that we were not ready for such a big city yet. So rather than planning for a downtown walk the next morning, we found a historic farm to go to the next morning and to watch some sheep shearing.

For dinner Renzo found a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant. It was a real dive, but the food was fantastic and the owners were the most wonderful people, an elderly couple from Vietnam.

All the greater then was our shock when we arrived at the motel that we had already made reservations for on the way. The entrance are was entirely packed with dozens of high schoolers on a field trip, apparently some kind of sports team. They were pretty well behaved but we were worried about a bunch of screaming teenagers keeping us up all night.

In the end, the teenagers were quiet and what kept us up instead was some rotten wiring and/or air conditioner that decided to make a lot of noise most of the night.

Crying About Your Nanny

So I’ve been kind of lazy in terms of writing here, but while Ksenia was a bit obsessing about sewing some curtains and pillow cases, I was obsessing about re-writing my photo blog. Neither of us is done yet, but then again, nor are the painters, so our apartment is still a construction site. Of course, the difference with the painters is that they haven’t even started yet. I guess that’s a good thing in a way, because we really were not in the mood to have these guys make a bloody mess again – at least not right under our noses, so we told the landlord to have them patch up the walls while we go on vacation.

So rather than them doing a real full paint job while we are at home, they’ll do a crap paint job while we go to Kerala for a few days, starting tomorrow. Not that they wouldn’t have done a crap job anyways, but the hope is that they will actually be done by the time we come back. One can always hope. We’ll be happy if the currently still barren and exposed walls display some sort of resemblance of paint when we get back.

So our flight to Kerala is tomorrow at 5am. Speaking of hope, the idea is that we’ll catch a few days of semi-clean air in a reasonably laid back setting. Here in Mumbai, whenever Ksenia goes out during the day for this or the other errand (such as getting her own debit card from HDFC, which apparently is impossible, but that’s another story), it only takes about two hours until she’s entirely exhausted. I also have been feeling slightly sick for a good two weeks now, probably due to the air – after all, the daily pollution chart on TV keeps telling me that pollution is at unhealthy levels, usually just barely below hazardous. As if I needed confirmation.

Kerala holds the promise of green landscape, backwater boat rides, and mellow people. I am betting on a huge population of mosquitos as well, so we better unpack our Malaria pills. Everybody keeps telling me that Kerala is great, but then again, a lot of very intelligent people apparently really loved the movie Swades (Our Country). I only saw the last 10 minutes of it, but Ksenia had gotten it, because it supposed to be a thoughtful movie by the same director who did Lagaan, and not yet another Bollywood trivia. Apparently, I only needed to see the last 10 minutes, because there was more use of the word motherland than you can shake a stick at. It was an utterly unbearable patriotic shmaltz production all the way. Still, I was kind of disappointed that I had missed the best scene, which was when the main actor Shahrukh Khan (probably the top Bollywood actor at the moment), who played a grown up scientist at NASA, started to cry like a little girl because he was missing his childhood nanny…

Anyways, in other news, we tried to go to Shivaji Park twice now (to play frisbee), but both times the place was mobbed with hordes of pretty looking followers. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the acronym for Shiv Sena is SS, because they do look like a bunch of Hitler Youth guys (khaki shorts, white shirt, black head gear, dull faces), and they have an insane ideology and plenty of criminal energy to match. There were cops everywhere, including cops with machine guns cruising around on decrepit scooters. Not our scene really, so that was that in terms of playing frisbee in the park.

Alright, so I am trying to finish this on a good note. Ok, the weather is decent, the maid is great, we love Deepak, and we are going to Kerala tomorrow. Work is a mixed bag of good stuff and incredible insanity, but compared to other things, it is a place of retreat, which says something about Mumbai I guess. Which reminds me: a colleague at work told me that he was trying to bribe the MTNL clerk to get his DSL service set up properly and quickly. Believe it or not, the clerk ended up calling my colleague’s father: Your son has very bad manners, I don’t want a bribe, we have a capacity problem! Yes, apparently, everybody knows someone with influence in Mumbai, and it’s ok to complain to grown-up men’s fathers about their son’s manners. I really need to see that scene with India’s Brad Pitt crying about his nanny…

A Better Day

Alright! Things are happening. In the morning on my way to work I get an SMS from Karilyn, our personal Mumbai expat guide, who tells me that all I need to do to get gas in my apartment is have the building’s doorman flag one of those gas delivery guys on the bicycle down. (Thanks!)

Of course, this was after I had already gone, for a third time, to the gas distribution office, where they promised gas is on the way. My driver even insisted to have a word with them himself. So when I got that SMS, I tried to get his confirmation – it took a little while, but eventually he enthusiastically exclaimed: “Yes Yes, Sir, bicycle much cheaper, watchman smart man, 10 rupees tip! Bicycle no salary, 2 rupees commission!”

Ok, so that makes a lot of sense. Screw that office and their customer number!

Then, at work, I get a call from the long lost furniture guy. The furniture is ready for delivery in the evening. As it happens, when I got home, not only did I have new big shiny (ok, I exaggerate) gas cylinders, but I also had some yummy food in the fridge. So I thought, I should go with the swing of things and call the TV guy, who had never showed up to install digital cable. Amazingly enough, he said, his guys will be over in ten minutes.

Alright, so it wasn’t 10 minutes but more like an hour and a half, but they showed up – incidentally pretty much as the same time as the furniture guy. So the house was full and the confusion complete, when the TV guys asked where’s the computer? I didn’t quite get what they needed a computer for, but it turns out that the cable guys were under the impression I want internet cable access. Well, apparently some sort of typical misunderstanding, but I couldn’t argue with that and just said: “Sure, who cares about digital TV, just give me your broadband cable internet access – how fast is it?” – “64 kilobytes, Sir” – “You have something a little faster?” – “Yes, 128 kilobytes, Sir” – “How about 256?” – “Yes, we have, too, Sir” – “Alright, if that’s the fastest, I want that.”

So while the two cable guys started playing around with my router settings, etc., the furniture guy, his sister, and their cab driver were spreading out the furniture on the terrace, four chairs and two little tables, with gorgeous wood carvings and golden inlays. At least I think it’s gorgeous, because our terrace was a bit dark already. But then I noticed that one table was smaller with the other table, so I asked what happened here, how come this is smaller? I couldn’t really get a straight answer or explanation, aside from an unsuccessful attempt at convincing me that that was what we had wanted, so I said, ok, you can either come back with a table a bigger size, or you’ll have to give me a discount.

In reality, I found this more amusing than anything else, but I am kind of starting to like this whole bargaining business. Anyways, so the response was that they can make another table with the same size, but it would be a different design. Smart move on their part, because even though there was zero logic to that, I didn’t really want to risk getting a plywood table top in exchange, so I said, ok, I’ll keep it, but I am not paying 10,500 rupees (which was the originally agreed on total). Ok, so the game begins, but these guys are pretty good and I knew I’d lose, especially after I then started with a half arsed counter offer of 10,000 rupees.

Of course, they looked very shocked, and just said: “500 rupees less? No, Sir, impossible!” – “Ok, how much?” – “200” – “300” – “No, Sir, impossible, 200” – “250”, at which point everybody was pretty much laughing. “No, Sir, impossible, 200.” Alright, so I give them 10,500, because I didn’t have exact change and I ask, so do you have 200 rupees change? Well, of course they didn’t, so the whole bargaining procedure was completely useless, and that really made me laugh. Alright then, what the hell! So they took the money, everybody is smiling and then, as they are walking out, he asks, “Oh, and taxi money!” Well, that was a nice try, because I know we had argued about free delivery weeks ago, and they had eventually agreed, and so I just said, no way, that was included, and so they didn’t argue with that and off they went.

Meanwhile, the cable guys had real problems with my router, so eventually they gave up and connected my computer directly. Fine, I’ll figure it out myself. So we started a little test drive – and it turns out that 256 kilobytes broadband connection actually manages a blazing fast speed of 90 kilobytes per second. Well, that’s pretty shitty, but for now it’s better than nothing. Plus, they are coming back for the digital TV setup tomorrow afternoon.

Daily Life

I am afraid this will be another whiny blog entry, but such is life. So on Monday it was raining some more. Well, a lot more, and the office was closed. Our maid still made it on time, which was great. Unfortunately, she ran out of gas while boiling some rice – literally, and not because of the rain. Our apartment has a gas cylinder beneath the kitchen stove, and if it’s empty, then you call for a new one, and it gets delivered.

So far so good, except today is Thursday, and there’s still no gas. Calling the number for the gas man didn’t work – first, because I didn’t have the number, then because the number didn’t work. I guess I am not the only one whose phone isn’t working because of the rains, so I had to go there myself.

The gas man is basically a tiny office behind a screen, so nobody can hear a thing being said. After I practically forced my way behind the screen so I can at least try to communicate with the guy, above the street noise and beyond the usual language problems, the conversation went pretty much like this: “I would like to have a new gas cylinder, mine is empty.” – “Eight days, Sir.” – “what do you mean, eight days, I don’t have any gas to cook.” – “Ok, Sir, today or tomorrow.” – “Well, can you be a little more specific?” – “Ok, Sir, tomorrow before 10 will do?” – “Ok, tomorrow before 10 is good, but it has to be before noon, before 12, oherwise there will be noone at home, ok?” – “No probs, Sir, tomorrow before 10 will do?”

So, apart from people really saying ‘no probs’ a lot, it wasn’t really a surprise that of course nobody showed up the next day. In fact, I expected as much, so I made a point of stopping by the place at around 9, asking them whether they will deliver the gas today, before 10, and of course the answer was yes. Well, that was this morning, I know the maid was here untill 12:30 at least, but there is still no gas. And the probably very yummy chicken dish she had made on Monday, before the gas ran out, is gone as well – but that’s because I told her that if there’s no gas today to have the chicken with, then I don’t want the chicken anymore (it’s a bit too hot here to have chicken that was cooked four days ago, and the chicken is a bit too spicy to be had without any rice).

Anyways, so what better to do in such a situation than go out for food, besides, after all, a lot of neighborhoods don’t have any gas at all, but instead stand in long lines to purchase kerosine, which comes in a wild assortment of plastic containers, which are sold to them basically in the middle of huge mountains of garbage on the street.

So on my way to a new eatery that I tried to discover in my neighborhood tonight, I walk by a real modern Reliance WebWorld shop, i.e. an internet cafe, which I had discovered last night. I regret very quickly not having hired a rikshah for the short distance of maybe 200 meters, because by the time I get there, I am already pretty exhausted from the heat and humidity, not to mention my unsuccessful attempts at trying to avoid getting splashed by cars and rikshas that are passing me at very close distance while running over another pothole puddle.

In any event, I get to WebWorld at 9:30 tonight, hoping to check some gmail (which is blocked both at work and on my BlackBerry), before they close at 10 – except tonight they were in the mood to close right in front of my nose, so I am writing this from my BlackBerry. I guess I mentioned that my landline phone is still not working?

Alright then, so let’s find a place to eat. A few near death experiences as a pedestrian later I walk into a place called D’Nosh, which greets me with an American Diner style interior with a black and white checkered bar counter, a large flat screen TV showing some Rap for the pretty pictures of some rapper ladies doing their thing (I am guessing, because there was no sound and the picture was quite distorted due to bad reception), plus, most importantly, The Scorpions followed by Led Zeppelin followed by other crimes to humanity commited at least 20 years ago – of course played by a real DJ at the CD deck, and played at full earsplitting volume with a number of air conditioners and fans adding to the general feeling that I might have walked into the wrong place.

Not surprisingly, the food was equally bad, but I didn’t really care anymore and marked it down as yet another day that I have been unable to find a place that doesn’t try so damn hard to look American. It would be nice to find some place that has music that’s maybe post-1985 and not Bollywood pop, but untill then I should probably stick to the regular dark holes in the wall that just have great food designed to strengthen my immune system. Or maybe I should just stay at home on my terrace, having nice home made food. Oh, wait, there’s still no gas in the kitchen, and I have never heard back from the furniture store that was supposed to deliver some terrace chairs last Tuesday. Hm, I guess I should call them, except their phone is not working either. Oh, and even if it does, no doubt they also expect that somehow someone is always at home to greet their delivery.

I must be doing something wrong, because the TV cable guy certainly seemed quite surprised not to find anybody, not even my wife, at home this afternoon at 4pm when he tried to install a digital cable box for the TV. That conversation went pretty much like this: “Sir, there is noone at home.” – “No, I know there is noone at home, because I am at work.” – “I am trying to get into the flat, but noone opens the door.” – “No, there’s noone at home, that’s why I said twice, you need to come before 12, when my maid is at home.” – “Ok, Sir, tomorrow will do?” – “Yes, tomorrow will do.”

On the plus side, when I got home after that bizarre Rapper/Scorpions experience, I made a very quick kill. Maybe that cockroach had just had dinner as well, but it was too fat and too slow to survive for more than two seconds under my “NEW! HIT! Cockroches – Rs.33 off!” spraying onslaught.

Moving Day

So our move sort of went smoothly. Deepak, our driver, had his day off, the first in four weeks. I am not sure how that works, really, but we had a different driver on the day of the move. Ksenia pretty quickly stated the obvious: “I don’t think he knows how to drive”. Well, he really didn’t. He had no clue where he was going, when to stop at the green light, or when to go at the red light, and, best of all, he spent more time honking than I would have ever thought possible. Deepak honks the horn quite often as well, but at least one can sort of see the reasoning. This guy seemed to use the horn for no reason whatsoever. I guess it’s true, as it says on the back of every truck in this country, and I am not making this up: “Horn OK Please”. Well, sometimes it says “Horn OK Pliese”.

Anyways, we ended up being half an hour late for the handover of the apartment, but it was OK. I had not noticed when I had looked at the apartment, but of course, Ksenia noticed right away: Whenever the elevator door is open, it plays an atrocious midi melody, kind of like an ice cream truck in NYC. But that was not enough. The kitchen has a water filter that also plays music. The filter is some mysterious contraption with an electric switch, and whenever it’s ready for use, and in fact for the whole time thereafter, it plays an even more annoying midi melody. Maybe it’s designed to help scare off the germs in the water, but in any event that’s what we have in our kitchen.

The next thing we notice, because the owner of the apartment gives us a tour of it, is that this 2 bedroom apartment must have about 70 light and other switches. It seems like each individual light bulb and electric outlet has its own dedicated switch, and none of the rooms has one main light, but instead a whole assortment of light sources that one can switch on or off in endless variations. Of course, since none of the light bulbs appears to be more than 10W, it’s nevertheless a little dark, or maybe let’s say there is always a nice ambience. Anyways, the sheer number of light switches is dizzying. We had wondered about the TV commercials for Euroswitches, which we had seen a few times, but whatever those really are, people seem to have a real love for light switches here.

Unfortunately, Ksenia also developed a serious case of toothache, so we took the opportunity to ask the apartment owner about a good dentist. Back in the hotel, where we picked up our second load of luggage, we also asked the front desk, but when we called the dentist they recommended, we were told that he was already gone for the day. That was at 11:00am. The apartment owner’s dentist seemed to be a better bet. He also had already gone, but he’d be back at 4:30pm, and so we went there in the afternoon. We had the dental office give our driver directions over the phone, but he still had to ask two people on the street and call the dental office back some more. Maybe we aren’t the only ones who can’t make much sense of addresses in this town. The dental office, proudly going by the name “Only Smiles”, turned out to be a good find. There was hardly a wait, the prescribed anti-biotica were $1.20, and the x-rays were done the next day. Unfortunately, Ksenia needs a root-canal, so that’s not so great, but she’s scheduled for next week, and on the plus side, we no longer have the shits. We both had a mild to not so mild case of the shits, but that’s over for now.

Before we went to the dentist, we spent the afternoon hunting for kitchen and cleaning supplies. But first we had yet another fantastic meal at a restaurant. The waiter recommended to go to KNB or to Shopper’s Shop for kitchen and cleaning supplies. He must have been confused, because both places featured women’s dresses and a very small selection of tea pots and such. Shopper’s Shop is kind of a mall and not exactly what we needed. When we asked a sales woman there about kitchen and cleaning supplies, like mops and spunges etc., she tried to steer us to her water boilers, apologized for not having any mops for sale and recommended another store around the corner. Now, that store was a little closer to what we needed, at least they sold ashtrays, right next to the women’s dresses and men’s shoes. So we bought an ashtray (with the usual ceremony of one guy selling, one guy wrapping, one guy taking the money, and a fourth guy handing over the ashtray), and walked out of there. Luckily, Ksenia then remembered a store somewhere near a Barista (the Indian Starbucks), which should have everything we wanted, so after a few futile inquiries about the
location of that Barista, we eventually found it. And, indeed, Rs2,200 later we were loaded up on spunges, a mop, toilet paper, and mosquito repellent – just the sort of stuff one needs to get started. Interestingly, toilet paper really does seem like a luxury item here. At $5 for six measly rolls, I was tempted to look for the golden prints and silk embroidery, but they were just plain white and expensive.

Our moving day ended with the discovery of a very cute pink Lizard in the living room, and of a less cute but thumb-sized cockroach in the kitchen. There wasn’t much in terms of pots or pans or anything in the apartment, but a big can of anti-cockroach spray there was, and it came very handy. Ksenia went after it with full gusto, and that was the end of it. Our pots and pans etc. arrived the next day, yesterday. Ksenia is still in pain with her teeth, and we have interviewed a maid. Tomorrow, we’ll go to a dance festival and continue the car buying saga. We still need to get DSL, but at least there is something called instant internet here. It’s dead slow, but works from any phone line on demand, so I am writing this via e-mail from Ksenia’s G4, since I haven’t set up my computer yet either. The weather is quite nice these days, and Ksenia sways back and forth from “If it weren’t for the food, I’d hate this country” to being quite taken with the various fabrics she has found, as well as with her Indian dance and the yoga classes she is taking. So, all in all, we are already on our way to a normal life. And, still, I can’t wait to get a car, so we can get out of town, for a totally different India altogether, I am sure.