Sunday, October 17, 2010

Traffic and being impounded

I forgot how terrible the traffic is to get out of the aiport. I think it took 15-20 minutes just to get onto the main road. There's a lot of construction in the area, which makes things worse. While the ever-present dust was expected, the persistent horn honking was also lost to memory. Something to get used to since everyone uses their horn. Lucikly, the hotel driver wasn't one of them. The driver taking us to work and on our weekend excursions also isn't a heavy horn user. But he is a pretty aggressive driver, which comes after 14 years of driving I guess.

The traffic going to a shopping mall on Saturday was quite heavy, but it allowed us to have a glimpse of the city. We've been impounded in our walled apartment/hotel complex that such a venture out is welcomed. Our compound has one entry/exit point, which is a number of security guards are stationed. They use a mirror to look under every car. The hood and trunk is opened for inspection, along with the doors of the car so that a dog can sniff the interior. If everything is OK, a round concrete post is lowered so that we can pass. I appreciate the security, but I dislike being imprisoned. I miss having an apartment and being able to walk to restaurants, shops and buy fresh produce from the local vendors.

After just one dinner in the hotel, I've been ensuring our schedules are arranged so that we can dine outside. It's a bit tough when most restaurants don't serve dinner until 7 or 7:30. We've decided we would rather work late during the week and get a late start on the weekends to be able to remain outside the walls a little longer and experience life as it should be lived.

Sunday Times of India, October 17

I don't think I've ever seen an article like this in a newspaper. How interesting. I guess it's not typical otherwise it wouldn't have been newsworthy.

Seen on page 16 of the front section of the Sunday Times:

Guj man seeks hubby for his 50-year-old live-in partner
Ahmedabad: Ramnik Parikh, 65, is a busy man these days. He is looking for a husband for his live-in partner of two years - 50-year-old Sunanda. Just this week he brought Sunanda from Nadiad, some 60km away, on his motorcycle to meet three prospective grooms.

"Sunanda is very warm and loving. She and I are having compatibility issues because of difference in our educational backgrounds", Ramnik told the prospective grooms, all in their 60s. He will return with Sunanda to the Veena Mulya Amulya Sewa (VMAS) marriage bureau in two days to meet more prospective grooms.

At a matchmaking fair for divorcees in Ahmedabad early this month, Sunanda said she had divorced early in life in Bangalore. In 2008, she was approached by Ramnik's sister after Ramnik found her address from an all-India marriage meet for seniors. Sunanda liked Ramnik and they sighed a Maitri Karaar', a sanctioned live-in relationship in Gujarat. However, their relationship is on the rocks.

"I am highly educated, while she is just Class VIII pass. It has become a mental mismatch," said Ramnik. Sunanda claims Ramnik is under his daughter's influence.

Wheelchair through the airport!

I arrived Wednesday evening after a terrific direct flight from Newark, NJ (love the near-flat beds in business class and the shelves in front of each seat, which was perfect for propping up my foot) and was whisked through the Mumbai airport by a hard-working wheelchair attendant. The flight attendants on the airplane convinced me to travel by wheelchair after they saw me hopping out of the bathroom (at one point in the trip, my foot hurt and I wasn't able to put any weight on it). As one of the flight attendants put it, "It would take you 6 months to walk through the aiport." She wasn't joking. It's long and there are a number of small inclines and declines (which are problematic when your foot isn't flexing properly).

This guy pushed me while also wheeling my 4-wheeled carry-on bag and was huffing and puffing up the slight inclines. I offered to hold on to the carry-on bag myself, but he declined. As we waited for an elevator to descend to immigration, he did put the bag between my knees and that worked out well.

Immigration was a breeze when you're in the handicap line! My attendant took my passport and entry form to the immigration officer and came back immediately to whisk me to baggage claim. No questions asked! It was also comfortable sitting in a wheelchair at baggage claim since it seemed to take forever for the bags to appear.

After my bag finally arrived, we headed to customs (by this point, I'm holding the handle of my 4-wheeled suitcase is in front of me as he continued to push...what a sight it must've been!). I was greatful I didn't have to lift my bags onto the x-ray machine since my hard-working attendant took care of that as well. Just before we left customs, he asked for the customs form and his tip. I gladly gave him a nominal tip and fretted that I should've given him more.

He continued pushing me to the car waiting for me in the parking garage. The car driver was carting the luggage so the load did lighten up a little. Luckily, it wasn't a hot evening and once he deposited me into the Mercedes Benz, he was off.

I'm glad I listened to the flight attendants. If not, I probably would've still been limping through the airport by the time I arrived at the hotel! Thanks Continental!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nearly 6 months since last entry?

Can't believe it's been that long since I last traveled internationally. Don't get me wrong, there has been plenty of travel in these past 6 months, but they've all been to domestic locations - Midland, Michigan; Philadelphia; Honolulu; Vermont; and 2 weeks of touring farm country in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

I long to not understand a word people around me are saying. Or to order from a non-English menu. And soak up the sights, sounds and smells of unfamiliar places.

If all goes well, I'll be back on the road on Tuesday. I was supposed to depart on Friday but a nasty cat bite turned into an infection, which has kept me in bed for nearly a week. The swelling is slowly going down. I can put more weight on my foot and walk very slowly. I'm doing everything in my power to get better quickly so that being on an airplane for 18 hours will be possible with some comfort.

If all goes well, Tuesday will have me on the plane to Mumbai. It's been 2 years since I was last there. Two years since the terrorist attack. I look forward to seeing how the city has recovered and being able to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a familiar place.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that all goes well!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3:1 Ratio?!

One of my colleagues and I were discussing something I've noticed here lately. Why are so many beautiful Brazilian women married to overweight, unattractive guys? I met the wife of a former colleague this morning....he's pudgy and she's thin and very attractive. And last week this guy said he expects his wife to remain slender! Over the weekend we visited the house of my girlfriend's aunt and uncle. The cousins with their spouses were also there. Once again, icky, fat, lazy guys and lovely women.

So I asked my female 23-year old colleague about this during our after-lunch walk. She said that it's really hard for women to find a guy in Sao Paulo, and possibly the entire country. The women to men ratio is 3:1. Yikes! And of course if you narrow your criteria to exclude guys who couldn't provide for a family, are bad men, etc. the ratio is even worse! She said it's gotten so bad that the women are really aggressive at the clubs and will go after the guys. Therefore she has an American boyfriend.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend in the country

I'm grateful to have friends in a number of cities around the world so that I'm able to experience life as a local in the 3 weeks I am able to spend in a location. I have a girlfriend who used to work for our company that invited me to spend the weekend at her family's farm outside of Sao Paulo. She promised me a weekend of walking, relaxing and fresh air. How could I say "nao"?

We left at 8:30 pm Friday night and drove north for 3 hours. Silvia has 2 kids (6 and 2) and a nanny that came along with us. Having help is pretty typical in Sao Paulo. Silvia has a cook/cleaner and nanny during the week and often one of them helps out on the weekends. For this trip, the best part was having the nanny in the back seat taking care of the kids, who quickly fell asleep (Silvia's strategy is to leave at night so they would fall asleep), so that we can chat.

Her family's farm is north of Sao Paulo near a town called Mocaca. The farm was originally a coffee plantation, but is now sugar cane and vegetables. The advent of mechanical harvesting machines has relegated coffee to flat lands. Much of the area we traveled is hilly. Her farm is in a small valley, but has too many hills for coffee. Most of the family isn't interested in maintaining the farm so most of the land is rented to other farmers. There are 5 houses on the farm. One that her grandmother still owns, which is where we stayed. Caretakers and domestic help live in the rest. There are some cows, horses, chickens, quail and one pig on the farm. There's no internet access and no cell phone service. The farm road is unpaved and red dirt gets everywhere.

The family home has 5 bedrooms, a wonderful porch, a pool, and a private church next door where Silvia started the tradition of family members getting married. The church was built in 1909, although Silvia didn't think the house was that old. The ceilings in the house were extremely tall and the home was filled with antiques - furniture from France, flow blue pottery, china cabinets full of stemware. The windows have blue shutters and no screens. Lucky for me, the mosquitos were not in full force. Although the housecleaner who made my bed every morning closed my shutters in the afternoon I opened them up at bedtime. It was wonderful to sleep with windows open after being in a hotel for two weeks!

We woke up after 8 on Saturday. Breakfast was homemade bread toasted in a cast iron pan with homemade jabuticaba jam , a honeydew melon, and coffee com leite (warm milk). Silvia and I went into Mococa to buy some groceries for dinner and I got to experience a real meat counter in Brazil. The display case was no different than what one would see in the U.S. But inside the case, huge cuts of meat hung on hooks. You ordered the type of meat you want (such as sirloin, rump) and how you want it cut - thin, thick, ground, pounded, cubed, etc. It was fascinating watching the butchers skillfully trim the beef and cut the meat. With 4 butchers and a long line of people buying quantities of meat for the Sunday barbeque, it took us awhile to get served. But since Silvia doesn't cook and isn't used to buying meat like this, it was good for us to observe what others were doing. We ended up with ground meat from the same cut of meat that I saw another guy request to be ground. Why not! 
After our supermarket experience, we drove into the heart of Mococa to see the old town square, church and houses. The church was lovely from the outside, but nothing spectacular, but beautiful on the inside. As Silvia explained, people in Brazil are very supportive of their churches and take good care of them.

We spent the rest of the day playing with the kids and farm dogs, reading on the porch and took an afternoon walk for 1.5 hours while the kids listened to music at the neighbor's house (the cleaning lady) with the nanny. The neighbor was having a barbeque and her son had friends over to play the guitar and sing. The cook made us lunch and dinner so meals weren't a hassles (except getting Sofia to eat was sometimes a challenge....why do kids dislike eating so much?!).

Sunday morning Silvia and I took another walk in the morning to check out the lake. This is one of the roads we walked and the vista we enjoyed. It was a truly relaxing and special weekend. I really appreciate Silvia showing me a slice of her life.

First Futbol Game ..... GOL!

Quick impressions..... wow .....50,461 people in a stadium that holds 55,000 in a residential neighborhood with streets going in every direction imaginable. The poor people who live nearby has to put up with boisterous people partying pre-game (no alcohol inside the stadium so people sell beer from coolers or alcohol from the back of pick-up trucks pre and post game), plus the street vendors selling food and souvenirs and people parking on any street remotely close by.  And this was a 9:30 pm game! We were lucky in that one person in our party of 10 had a membership and was able to park in a special space at the stadium and our driver dropped us off (the joys of having a driver!).

It's a sea of people making their way to their assigned stadium gate. Many drink outside until close to game time. We quickly drank our beers (Skol - pretty bad beer) and made our way inside.
Although our tickets have seat numbers printed, there is no assigned seating ... that is, the seating doesn't matter. It's first-come, first-serve. We were sitting in the blue section, which goes from the goal to the center of the field. We arrived about 45 minutes early to secure decent seats and ended up near the goal. The game was the Sao Paulo Libertadores against Colombia's Once Caldas. It was a critical game for Sao Paulo because they had to win to stay in the race for the World Cup.

Because the opposing team was from another country, 99.99% of the attendees were rooting for Sao Paulo. This was the section assigned for Colombia and it was pretty deserted.

In contrast, here's the section where the fanatics sat (one level above us and to the left). This section cheered throughout (lots of singing with a drum beating in the background, stomping, and jumping up and down) and it looked like many were standing the entire time. After Sao Paulo scored, there were a few sparkler-type fireworks going off in the section. Quite a fun section.
The game was rather boring since both teams played terribly. I don't know much about soccer, but I know enough about how it's important to set up shots in hockey and to pass to open basketball players to know that the home team did not do either well. But somehow they did score a GOL! in the first half. The game ended 1-0.

We made our way to the streets with the hoards of people and were able to get out pretty easily and were home by 12:15 am. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to experience futbol in Sao Paulo!