Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lunch in Mumbai

I had lunch at my yoga teacher's house this afternoon. When I arrived it smelled so good and she told me that she was making an eggplant dish for lunch. I just bought an eggplant on the way over to her house because I was planning on making eggplant parmesean for dinner. So she invited me to stay for lunch. How could I say no to such an invitation?!

What I smelled when I arrived was her maid's masala, which contains Indian spices (tumeric, cumin, coriander, peppercorn are what I remember) and coconut and onions. Masalas are the basis of Indian cooking (as I learned in a cooking class I took in Houston in October). They're added to dishes along with water to make a gravy, which we would call a sauce. She fills the small eggplants (about the size of a thumb) with the masala and steams them in the masala and water sauce. She also added some potatoes.

Every Indian dish needs a dahl, which is lentils. She pressure cooked the lentils with some cumin and later added them to some tomatoes and onions along with water. It was soup like.

Some rice and roti (bread) rounded out the meal. We ate in the traditional manner with our hands. Even the rice. Everything was fabulous. And over the meal I learned about Indian culture. Every class I learn more and more. There's nothing better than spending time with a local to learn about a location, its traditions, and its food. I'm grateful for having found such a great teacher.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Life is back to normal

I just returned from spending the last 4 hours outside in my neighborhood, Bandra West. I picked up some water from a small grocery store (there is no such thing as a big grocery store here), some eggs from the corner kiosk, ate an ice cream cone and a snack at the KFC while overlooking a busy street corner from the second floor, had a Thai foot massage, bought a pair of flip flops to wear in the house, some beautiful pashmina shawls from Kasmir from a sari store and a couple of bags from a street vendor, and window shopped (oh...the bedspreads here are beautiful!). There are lots of people shopping, street vendors are selling their sandals and clothing, sellers are hawking food, autorickshaws clogging the is normal in Mumbai.

The ordeal is finally over and the news stations are now speculating on how the terrorists got away with wreaking havoc in this major city. I'm sure the speculation and the accusations will go on for the coming days. I only hope that security gets tightened here. I still can't believe that the National Security Guard (equivalent to the U.S. Special Forces unit I think) doesn't have a unit stationed in Mumbai. Clearly the police force isn't trained to contront terrorists ... at least one of their cars were stolen by the terrorists!

I learned that the guards stationed at hotels and businesses here aren't even armed! In contrast, the guards in terrorist threatened countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Colombia are heavily armed. I like Mumbai enough to hope that another attack doesn't occur again. Let's hope the government will learn from this event and put stronger security measures in place.

I'm not afraid to be on the streets. I don't plan on cutting this trip short and have not been asked to do so. I still have 2 more weeks of enjoying life in India and continue blogging.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Update to the terrorist activity

It's after 11 am and over 12 hours since the activity began, it's still going on. There are terrorists holed up on a floor in one hotel and they're still at the Taj Hotel as well.

By now you may have seen pictures of the Taj Hotel on fire on TV or the internet. It's a beautiful Colonial structure from the early 1900's and a major landmark for the city, much like the World Trade Center was for New York.

The news here is predicting that tourism will be impacted by this. They're calling it Mumbai's 9/11, which will mean that they'll take a harder stance on security.

I thought security at the JW Marriott was fairly tight. Similar to what I saw in Malaysia and the Philippines. All guests must go through a metal detector to enter. They restrict the cars that can drive up to the lobby and first inspect the trunk and hood of each car. I don't see bomb sniffing dogs here.

I'm a bit baffled as to why it took almost 6 hours for the army to storm the hotels where the terrorists have taken hostages. It doesn't appear that the government was really prepared for such an attack, although relations between Muslims and Hindus have been strained for some time.

And how on earth did two police vehicles get stolen by the terrorists? Makes me question the competency of the police force here.

The office is closed today and I've been told to stay in the apartment. Although there was one day that I wanted to give up on the idea of staying in an apartment, in hindsight I'm grateful that I had the resilience to not give up. It was meant to be in order to secure my safety.

Wow...a walking shrine on a cart just made its way down the street with its loudspeaker blaring a song. I wish I could post a photo. What a blessed sight....

Terrorist Attack in Mumbai!

I've been awakened by calls at midnight alerting me of a terrorist attack in Mumbai. The areas affected are not close to where I am staying, but I have been instructed to stay put in my apartment. My driver has also called to tell me he's not coming to pick me up in the morning. He sounded freaked.

All of the affected areas are in a very touristy area, where I visited this weekend. This includes the Taj Hotel (kind of looks like the real Taj), central train station, a hospital, and a dockyard. There are even hostages of tourists in the Oberoi hotel and shots heard in the Taj Hotel. I'm thankful that I'm not in an hotel tonight.

Quite interesting to watch it all unfold on TV here. It appears as if it's mass chaos. The TV is reporting 230 injuries and 60 deaths. I wonder if it's like the U.S. where the estimates are higher than reality.

Apparently a terrorist attack as big as this is unprecedented in Mumbai. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Much happier

Life is definitely better in the new apartment. My cleaning lady cooked dinner today. How wonderful to come home and find dinner waiting in the refrigerator. And it was quite good! I'm going to look forward to Tuesday and Friday nights now.

The building across the street is under construction and I came to the realization that the workers are living there. There are no walls yet, the concrete is being poured on the 5th level. I noticed a guy brushing his teeth on one of the levels one morning and assumed he brushes his teeth at work. Last night I noticed a small TV was on. This morning I noticed the corregated steel shacks next to the building. They do seem to start work early and end late so living so close to work probably is good for them. This would also explain why a sheer green covering is only on part of the building. I think it provides them with some privacy from my building across the street.

Two buildings down is a cricket field and the workers sometimes stop working to watch a game. There's usually a game every night and weekend mornings. I haven't spent any time watching a game. It looks similar to baseball and the cheering can get a bit it is right now.

If it's not the fans cheering, it's the traffic noise. It's only peaceful between 1 to 5 am. Then the crows start making a racket and the honking starts not long thereafter. Rather typical for a big city like Mumbai.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Apartment Improves My Life

After spending 4 days with no internet access (a userid and password is needed to access a web page to open up the internet connection), no pots and pans and other kitchen necessities, a static filled phone, borrowed linens, and crazy hot water heater switches (I had a decent hot shower for one day), I moved into a different apartment. The relocation specialist lived around the corner and was moving back to the U.S. I gladly took her offer to move.

I still have a 3/3 apartment, but now I'm on the third floor facing an apartment building under construction. It's a little noisier during the day, but the bedroom window faces what looks like a mango tree and is quiet.

This apartment is stocked in the kitchen thanks to the numerous ex-pats who have lived here, a home theater sound system, rugs, and one switch for the hot water heater. :-) I kept her cleaning lady/cook on the same schedule. I ate leftovers for lunch yesterday (a chicken patty and vegetable yellow rice) and it was quite good. I'm looking forward to dining in.

The food in Mumbai is surprisingly good and dirt cheap. Lunches are ordered in - either a veg or non-veg box of Indian food. I recognized paneer in spinach (I made it in cooking class in Houston) and masalas. There are lots of Asian style restaurants and Thai restaurants are popular. There is also a KFC and McDonald's nearby. I did get a veggie pizza from Domino's one night. It was far better than any Domino's in the U.S.

Obviously vegetarian choices are abundant. One of the guys at work is a Jain, which believes in non-violence to the point that they won't eat root vegetables because insects are killed during harvesting. That severely limits what he can eat.

I am eating well, haven't gotten sick yet (knock on wood), and am finally happily settled in Mumbai. The remaining 3 weeks here can only get better. The worst is behind me and I didn't let my troubles defeat me!

Living Like an Ex-Pat

I finally got a key to the apartment on Monday. It’s a 3 bedroom, 3 bath apartment on the 6th floor. My driver helped bring the luggage up and the first thing we noticed was the light switch in the hallway didn’t do anything. Uh oh. Inside the apartment it was more of the same – no power. Did someone turn off the electricity?

I call the relocation specialist and she says to check with security. Sure enough, they go turn on some main switch. Still no power. I send the driver back downstairs to talk to security as I looked for my flashlight. Security comes up and they’re looking for something. Nope, not in the bathroom or kitchen, but success! They found a breaker box in the hallway. The main switch was in the off position. Whew!

The A/C unit in the living area was cranking out cool air as I took a quick assessment of the apartment. One bedroom had a new bed, but I couldn’t figure out where the switch was to turn on the A/C. The other bedroom had a functioning A/C unit, but the light switches didn’t turn on any lights. The third bedroom had the A/C on and the lights working. I felt like Goldilocks.

I then noticed that none of the beds had sheets, blankets or pillows. A quick check in the closets confirmed no bedding other than a blanket. Yet another call to the relocation specialist (I was having dinner with her that evening) and she offered to bring some bedding when she picked me up. She was smart enough to also bring towels, which I also lacked. She did show me how to find the multiple electrical switches each room seems to have. None of the switches are marked. They control the electriacl outlet, fan, lights (many lights), A/C, etc.

She also told me that the hot water heater has to be turned on about 20 minutes before showering, but we’re not sure which switch is for the hot water (there’s no hot water for the sink). Thank goodness she mentioned it or else I would’ve been taking a cold shower in the morning. Alas, I did end up taking a cold shower (for 2 days). I tried the switches in one bathroom with no luck. I did the same in the other bathroom, which was warmer to begin with, and accepted the room temperature water as being bearable. I’ll figure out which combination of switches will turn on the hot water heater by the time I leave!

The apartment is really spacious. The honking horns cannot be escaped, but the wrap-around balcony is cool. The apartment takes up half of the building and there’s a balcony around the entire apartment. The exterior wall is floor-to-almost-ceiling windows. The views are of other apartment buildings, but it’s great looking out at the city. In the morning I watch the guy in the next building pray facing East as a woman in another building does a walking circuit on the small rooftop terrace.

Grocery shopping in a big store is non-existent here. The closest market is teeny, but has staples like bread, butter, water, chips, yogurt, milk, cereal along with Indian staples. A guy follows you with the basket, which makes the store even more crowded. He also tries to sell me things. Try this dip, try this sweet. Then when you check out, he reads the prices to the cashier and bags everything. Fairly efficient since the store doesn’t have scanners.

Fruits and vegetables can be bought off the street, right outside the apartment door. Some vendors have stalls. Others sit in the road and sell produce off a blanket. My purchases have been limited to bananas and eggs so far.

Driving: The traffic is as horrendous as I’ve heard. With three-wheeled taxis (rickshaws) buzzing everywhere, along with the 4-wheeled versions, buses, goods carriers (aka trucks). It’s not the vehicles that I fear, but the pedestrians that seem to dart out of nowhere right in front of you...and there are LOTS of people walking everywhere!

To make things worse, there are vendors selling on the side of the road everywhere and forces more people onto the streets. I don’t know how these drivers do it. It’s frightening being on the road. The honking doesn’t help either. It seems that they honk at virtually anything, but I guess it makes sense when people, cars, buses, trucks are all trying to get somewhere. I think the driving has to be some of the worst I’ve seen, beating Shanghai with no doubt.

Dust: Dust is quite pervasive, which is why cleaning ladies come daily. My apartment feels like a dust bowl. I normally am barefoot in my house, but here I have to wear slippers otherwise they soles of my feet would be black by the end of the day.

Mumbai Beach Life

On Sunday I did nothing but lay by the pool. I didn’t bring a swimsuit since I thought I was going to be in an apartment, but I managed to get some sun nevertheless.

I spent about 15 minutes walking on the beach. At 10 am it was populated by so many men playing games of cricket that made me feel uncomfortable walking around on my own. In one direction I sort of followed a young Indian couple for safety. Then I got to the “boardwalk” where the coconut milk guy tried to sell me a drink and a wood flute vendor started to follow me around as he played his instrument. At that point I figured I had experienced enough. The “boardwalk” was amusing as it had small carousels for the kids and food booths where the smell of curry was strong (I think I prefer smelling vinegar fries).

Apparently the beach gets quite crowded on the weekends with families coming out, especially in the late afternoon. I assume it’s because the wind picks up and makes the heat bearable (it was actually a comfortable day, probably in the mid-80’s).

I spent the entire day at the pool and closed the day by watching the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy for a really nice sunset, but I can add yet another sunset picture to the blog when I'm able to post photos again.

Holy Cow ... I'm in Mumbai (Bombay)!

Six days after returning from Argentina, I was once again in the air on a nearly 24 hour jouney. I arrived on Saturday night thinking I would be staying in a corporate apartment. Unfortunately, no one arranged for a transfer of the key. I assumed the driver or building security would have it. Nope. After a few calls and about a half-hour wait, someone booked me a room at the JW Marriott for the weekend instead. It actually worked out well as I now didn't have to worry about how to explain to the driver that I need a grocery store where I could buy breakfast food and water ( buy food...for cook...fruits....vegetables .... blank stare). Those are activities that best dealt with after talking to other ex-pats or locals.

The Marriott is in a suburb called Juhu and is on the beach (on the Arabian Sea). It was beautiful and fabulous. The place smelled of jasmine as it was everywhere inside the hotel. I guess on the weekends they string it and hang it, and place blossoms on floors, tables, etc. Flowers in the jasmine family are extremely fragrant and I was in heaven taking big whiffs as I toured the hotel.

Saturday night at the Marriott was hopping. I noticed quite a few young people dressed up and dance club music blaring. One of the doormen at the club convinced me to go in and take a look. Although it was past midnight and I was tired after a long day of flying, I figured what the heck. I'm glad I experienced the Mumbai club scene. I immediately understood why he wanted me to go in ... the male to female ratio was heavily slanted on the male side and the place was packed.

What’s unusual were the guys were all singing, pumping their fists in the air, and dancing with each other or by themselves. Other ex-pats later confirmed that this is typical, and no this wasn't a gay bar (homosexuality is frowned upon). In the hour or so I was there, not a single guy asked a girl to dance. They seem to be content watching the scene, singing and dancing. The girls danced with each other, the guys were doing their own thing. There were some mixed groups and they danced with each other in a group.

The singing was especially fanatical when the songs were native dance hits. They play a lot of western songs, of which I only recognized Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina.

I also noticed a lot of guys drinking out of brandy snifters, and I doubt it was brandy. Some had ice, others had a straw and the drink didn’t look like brandy. The guy next to me either smelled of cloves or his drink (in a snifter) did. He seemed to enjoy using my hip as an arm rest. Given how crowded Mumbai is, Indians' size of personal space is quite small.

As I left around 2 am (amazing that I stayed up so late on the first night), I noticed a little podium with a charge card machine. Ah ha...the bar only makes the drinks. Payment is handled at the “cashier” station and it seemed a bit frantic at 2 am as people started to leave.

Day one first impression: smell. Everyone always remarks about the smell of India. As I stepped onto the jetway, it smelled like insecticide. Hopefully it’s to kill mosquitoes....I'm taking malaria pills just in case.

P.S. My card reader isn't functioning properly so I can't post photos at this time. :-( But I'll add them later.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Mate? No, it's actually pronounced mah-tey. It's basically tea, drunk throughout the day in vessels. We spent a lot of time with 2 Argentines who drank the stuff all day. They have bags to carry their thermos of hot water and their mate cups and straw.

It's an art pouring the grass into their vessel, shaking it to remove some of the dust, then slowly pour the water, stop, then pour more. In meetings they pass the mate cup around and everyone takes a sip. A very social activity.

Leandro let me try his mate and it's bitter, tastes a little like grass and similar to a very, very strong green tea.

It was 90 degrees outside and they still drink their mate throughout the day. In Uruguay it's common to see people drinking it while driving.

On the drive back to Buenos Aires we stopped at a gas station to take a bathroom break. Outside of the bathroom I saw this vending machine, which dispenses hot water for mate. Just insert your thermos, drop in your pesos, and the Argentine can continue to drink their mate.

I wonder if Mate Annonymous exists to help them kick their addiction?

Colon, Argentina

My second week in Argentina was for work and it required me to travel to Colon (we were about 30 minutes away) for a week. Colon is a 3-hour drive from Buenos Aires. The drive could've been through any farm state in the U.S. Lots of wheat fields and the corn was barely sprouting.

The entryway to the plant is lined with huge eucalyptus trees. Driving in, I felt like I was in a movie and going to a resort! Too bad it wasn't.

The accommodations in Colon were in the plant's guest house, right next door. This was probably the shortest commute ever on an audit. The house is rather large. Our wing (left in the photo) had 7 or 8 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. There is a formal dining and living room, a pool room, a TV and dining room, and kitchen. We have no idea what the other wing's accommodations look like.

We were served breakfast of toast and fruit for breakfast. A huge lunch was served at the plant cafeteria. And a home-cooked dinner was served back at the guest house (at 8 pm, while the Argentine guests ate at 9).

On Thursday night we had a parrilla - barbequed meat. That's beef ribs, blood sausage, chorizo, and chicken on the grill.

I wish we didn't work 14 hours a day because this place is a great retreat. Very, very peaceful. Birds wake me up at 6:30 am. Sometimes we can hear cows mooing from the next farm. The night sky is full of stars and a clear moon. There are grapefruit and tangerine trees on the property and the blossoms' sweet fragrance is intoxicating. Lots of areas to sit, relax, and enjoy the surroundings.

Cats and kittens roam free (unfortunately they're not fixed) and catch mice and birds. The dogs lay around near the cafeteria to be fed. This dog is soooooo friendly and starved for attention. The cat is the ONLY cat that would allow anyone to pet it and she too is starved for attention. She even let me pick her up. There are lots of cats were hanging out and hiding from the heat behind the cafeteria.

All the animals were waiting for Friday's lunch, which was cooking behind the comedor (cafeteria). And here's what it looked like on my plate. This is a small portion. Most of the guys also have rice, bread, and a dessert (jello or flan).

Yup, the food in Colon was an extention of what was started in Buenos Aires. I'm a very happy girl who is in need of a diet.....or a trip to India. Looks like India has won out. I'll be leaving for Mumbai in a week.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back to Buenos Aires - art and food

Friday was spent going to yoga in the morning, having breakfast, then going to the MALBA, the modern art museum of Latin American artists. It's a really beautiful museum with some unusual artwork. They were showcasing one artist who had red, white and blue lollipops piled in a corner and the audience was encouraged to eat the display. Of course I complied and took a photo, which the guard said I couldn't do. Como? We can eat the display, but we can't take a photo of it?!

He had a similar display of candy in silver wrappers spread out on the floor of a large room. Three other displays had posters on the floor (one was red rectangular with a black border titled NRA, as in National Rifle Association) and again the audience is encouraged to take them. Truly a modern museum.

In the evening, hotel proprietor Jim and I went to a Spanish restaurant and had the best fish he's ever had in Buenos Aires - and he's lived here for 2 years! While I had crispy pork ribs. Absolutely delicious. It was nice trying a restaurant that he's never been to, yet he's been recommending it to guests. It was definitely perfect for people who are tired of eating red meat.

On Saturday I soaked up some sun at a very big and local Centenario Park (after walking for MILES to get to the place). People here love to go to parks and lay out. Some are in swim suits, others are fully clothed. I didn't photograph any of the sun worshippers, but here's the pretty lake that was in the middle of this park. There's a small artists feria there (along with numerous flea market-type booths) at which I had to buy more jewelry. Since this one tends to cater to locals, the items were pretty inexpensive but lovely nonetheless.

On my last night in Buenos Aires, Amanda (one of the auditors) came out to Palermo and joined me for dinner at La Cabrera. It's a well-known steak house a few blocks away from the hotel. We couldn't get reservations, but we got a table around 9:30 pm when we arrived - que suerte!

Although the couple next to us from San Francisco kept on offering us their leftover steak, we declined and ordered our own ojo de bife (rib eye). As you can see, it's larger than my hand!
Plus all of the little side dishes that comes along with the steak were so yummy. Who knew that baked apple, pumpkin, or pear would be good with a steak? Plus there were side dishes of lentils, beans in a pesto-like sauce, olive paste, garlic, and red peppers just to name a few. The steak, a mixed salad to share, 2 bottles of water and a generous glass of Malbec totaled $37. A bargain! We were stuffed, but it felt good to eat every bit of that steak.

The variety and price of food in Buenos Aires is amazing. I had lunch at an Armenian restaurant on Saturday and had a wonderful plate of rice pilaf and seasoned shredded chicken all for $5. Pretty much every kind of food is available here and it's generally inexpensive. On Sunday a friend of my mother's and I went to a buffet that's run by Chinese people. Dirt cheap with grilled meat and a good variety of other dishes (like fried rice, noodles, and other Chinese items) and dessert.

Of all of the things I'll miss in Buenos Aires, it has to be the food....and the shopping! ;-)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Punta del Este, Uruguay

I'm still a couple of days behind in the blogging. On Thursday, I took a 2 hour bus ride to Punta del Este to have lunch, walk around, and see what the fuss is about this resort town. Although the trip is "direct" it still dropped people off in the middle of nowhere and made a stop in a small town outside of Punta del Este. I assumed it was the bus terminal for Punta del Este so I got off (no announcement and almost everyone got off). Ha! Was I wrong! Luckily the next bus arrived in about 10 minutes and took me to where I wanted to go.

Right outside of the bus terminal is quite an unusual landmark. As you can see below. It's right in front of the beach. I think the fingers up close kind of looks like Stonehenge!

I admit, Punta del Este is a great little beach town on a pennisula on the Atlantic Ocean. The "fingers" side of the water is rather windy (it is spring and about 65 degrees outside). I got my feet wet and found the water quite cold. The surfers were out and they were all wearing full wet suits.

On the other side of the penninsula the water is much calmer. And the yacht club is at the tip of the penninsula.

In all, I spent about 3 hours in Punta del Este. I would definitely go back if I were in the area in the summer.

I got back to Montevideo in time to depart on the 7:30 pm ferry back to Buenos Aires. It's a 3 hour trip and I was able to say adios to Uruguay and my last sunset over the Rio Plata.