Saturday, February 26, 2011

Exploring Mumbai

The past week, we have had a lot of city exploration and opportunitys to start branching out our social network in Mumbai. Last weekend, we went with several other ASB teachers to see His Holiness, the Dali Lama speak. He has been traveling around India lately and my parents even had a chance to see him Goa of all places. Even the DL needs some beach time. :) Oanh, a HS French teacher at ASB, was once a French translator for His Holiness and was very excited to go and hear him speak. There were six of us who went, so we jumped into two cabs and sped towards Central Mumbai. As we neared the field where the talk was held, we started seeing posters advertising the teachings with his picture on them. (I pictured a very large crowd since the last time I had the opportunity to hear him speak was during a Kalachakra ceremony in Bodhgaya, nine years ago. There were thousands of monks, pilgrims and foreigners there. It was pretty amazing.) We entered the field through metal detectors and had bags checked...I was very surprised of the lack of crowds. (Sweet! Prime viewing)! We walked right up to the area that had chairs to sit on and Oanh talked our way into this seating area. I was so excited. I could see him, up close and personal! Amazing! The first 45 minutes he spoke in Tibetan, while a translator spoke in Hindi. I tried my hardest to pick up what was being said in Hindi, but alas, I am still an infant in the language of Hindi. I think I picked up five words total. But I tried! We were thinking of leaving after an hour since we couldn't understand anything, but then the question and answer portion started in English. It was music to my ears! I enjoyed hearing his answers to people asking about happiness and Buddhism re-establishing in India. Pretty much the message is that it takes a lot of discipline, effort, and studying to maintain happiness, the answers are within us and getting caught up in the dogma of religion is a recipe for disaster. He has such a peaceful presence and a delightful laugh. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

This past week, my dad and Alison returned from their six weeks in southern India. With their arrival, we had two dinner engagements arranged this week. One with a family they had met in Munnar, who lived towards Central Mumbai and the second was with the owners of our flat. Both engagements were enjoyed by all. Greg and I finally got to spend significant time with people outside of ASB. It was a welcomed experience. The only difficult part was that Indians inevitably, at least in Mumbai, are night owls and don't start eating until late. We tried to let both parties know about Greg needing to be up very early since he gets picked up at 7am to go to the school, but when others are involved, things get pushed back. Luckily, Thursday night was a Professional Development day for Greg, so he didn't have to teach that day. I think both nights were past 11pm, which is late for those of us who are in bed by 8:30-9pm. For those of you who think we are ridiculous, do you get up at 5am to workout regularly? Okay, we are ridiculous on that part, but that's how it all gets fit in. (We didn't make it to any workout Thursday or Friday morning either). We hope to continue doing things with both families, as the company was great and the food spectacular. We even got some hints on more restaurants, having ice cream delivered, and learning about the tiffin lunches provided to millions of people in the city every day, which we could be a part of. Mumbai = delivery to your doorstep!

Thursday, I had one of my Mumbai Explorers trips and the two women leading this one had us take the train to CST terminus (a UNESCO World Heritage site), toured us around the station and then wondered to Crawford Market for lunch. I really enjoyed riding the train with all these women who never dreamed of going on the train, while I use it every week. I usually blast through CST train station and it was wonderful slowing down and looking at all the carvings and details of the building. The two women did an excellent job researching and finding out about the significance of the architecture. Loved it. Then, lunch was at a famous Bengali restaurant that was serving us its last meal before turning into a thali restaurant. Very sad because the food was excellent, down to a coconut prawn curry served in the coconut shell. Yummy!

Yesterday, Saturday, after some shopping with Rachel and Elizabeth (friends from ASB), my dad, Alison and I headed to South Mumbai to visit the National Art Gallery. There was an exhibit of the first female photo journalist in India, who was there and is 97 years old. She was even signing some of her prints that were for sale. It was a wonderful exhibit and featured Gandhi, Nehru, and the time of Partition, life in Mumbai and Delhi, and her history. A fascinating look into India's past and the woman involved in capturing it. If anyone is interested, her name is Homai Vyarawalla and I'm sure she is in the depths of Wikipedia.

It's been wonderful to see and experience a little more of this complex and historical city, though we have not left for two months and the traffic is getting to me, as well as the crowds. Yesterday when getting off the train, I had to push my way off as men were punching to get on. I hip checked and elbowed some people with force. It felt good to be aggressive back, letting out a little anger at that part of living here. It was a sign I need a break. We are going to the hills next week for a short reprieve and we bought our plane tickets for Darjeeling, where we will be going over spring break with Greg's mom. The pictures show awesome views of the Himalayas and my eyes feast on them longingly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The bathrrom saga

oI realize that I have been very neglectful of the blog lately. With a writer's block and hitting a low spot, I couldn't think of what to post. I believe I'm on the mend and last night I was hit with the intense desire to blog about the continued bathroom saga unfolding in our flat. No, it's not a story of a nasty train toilet or a hole in the ground, but rather the story of one of our three bathrooms turning into something nasty and dank.

I think it's now been since the second week in January, right before my dad and Alison left for their Southern India tour. I came home from one of my first days of working part time at ASB in the counseling department, to a leaky wall in our bathroom. There is a place where two pieces of marble come together about three inches up the wall from the floor, which had turned into a small, but persistent water fountain. Normally, one would think marble and water create an aesthetically pleasing and calming affect, but not so when coming from your bathroom wall. This wall is shared by the another bathroom and lo and behold, there was another spring that had sprung from that side as well. I was at a loss of what to do. I went down stairs and asked the building manager to come have a look. His first reactions was "shit." (I thought, "this can't be good if an Indian is using expletives in English.") He rallied the guards and some other random men, who all looked at the leaky wall and then turned off the water.

Over the next few days, the location of the problem was found to be in the hallway bathroom. Contractors from the owner and ASB came to look at the problem. It was decided that over 15 days, the piping could be replaced. This meant tearning out ALL the marble walls, chipping away at the concrete by hand to get to the pipes, replacing the pipes and...we have yet to see what happens then. All buildings in Mumbai are made of concrete (investing in an Indian concrete company is a very good idea) and all the piping is within those walls of concrete. Not sure how this could ever be a positive outcome as the building ages.

The stumbling blocks thus far with the projects:

1) Hours that the work can be completed. Mumbai runs on a different time table than the US. We are use to working 8-5 with two 15 minute breaks and a lunch break thanks to Employee rights. In India - the right of the employee is...not sure that has been established. BUT our building has some guidelines. Quiet time is between 2-4pm and no children are allowed to work in the building. Good that they have the latter, but the former is a pain. They come to start work about 10am since Jacinta gets here around 9:30am. They work for two hours and then take a break. Three days a week, Jacinta usually is gone by 3pm, so they can work another hour or two if she stays longer and then two days a week she is around until 5pm. Finally, they would work on the weekends, but Greg and I are in and out so we told them no. So, it's taking a lot longer to get the job done and I know they are pretty frustrated with us because of this.

2) Water "geysering" out of the new pipes। This is last nights fiasco। I got home around 4pm and Jacinta was still here, finishing up ironing and giving the men more time to work. I told her she could leave and I'd be there so they could continue working. Around 7pm, Greg asked the guys when they'd be done and he was told 15 minutes. Greg got his watch out and 30 minutes later, he got up to tell them they needed to stop and leave. At just that moment, the water was turned back on and I heard a "Oh f*$%!" I jumped up and saw water pouring out of the pipe leading into the bathroom (I forgot to mention there is a hole to the outside right now through the back wall as well). The man doing the pipes was up in the window yelling out and trying to call someone for help. The water started to fill up with one of the drains covered by a pile of dirt and one drain slowly allowing water to leave the room. This was not enough. Greg grabbed a squiggy to push the water back into the bathroom. I ran downstairs to try and find the project manager, but only found the guards. "Help! Water is going every where!" The guards looked at each other and I beckoned one to follow me. I ran, he sauntered. When we got to the apartment, the water was into the kitchen and our bedroom. The guard disappeared and the water was shut off. Both the worker and project manager tried to take the squiggy from Greg, who was swearing, pissed off, and telling them no. He finally let the project manager take it from him. Greg told them to be out in ten minutes. "Two minutes sir, just two minutes," he responded. They scurried about, cleaned up and left.

So that's where we are at. It's a pretty big mess right now and my dad and Alison might have to walk down the hall to use a bathroom when they are back for a couple days next week, but maybe by the time Greg's mom arrives, we'll have a brand new bathroom without water cascading from the pipes and walls...over two months after they started the project.