Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shoe Shopping

Earlier this week, I picked up my dress I had bought to wear at the Catholic wedding we are attending in Goa this weekend. (Though it is not a Hindu wedding, they are still expecting 800 people)! As I left the store I realized I needed some shoes that are a little more dressy than my Chacos to go with my outfit. (Most women will be wearing western style clothes, but I went with a more modern Indian outfit that I can wear without the leggings. It's going to be very hot). My friend, Daya, had just purchased some very cute kicks, so I headed to Metro shoes, where she bought them. The doorman opened the door for me and I stepped into the wonderful, A/C store...did I mention that it's hot here right now?

As I started to look, immediately someone came to my assistance. I held him at bay for a few minutes while I browsed. Then I showed him the dress I needed to match and let him know I needed flat sandals due to my pesky foot issues. The first pair I tried on brought me back to my childhood. I remember when you would go to a shoe store and the salesperson would take your foot, put the shoe on your foot and tie or buckle the shoe for you. This is what happens in India. Even these slip on sandals we carefully placed on my feet. The first ones were very comfortable but VERY intense blue. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love blue, but these were over the top. I don't want people staring at my feet all weekend. We picked out a few more and I sat down to wait. I didn't realize where the first pair had come from. There was a hole in the ceiling and the salesmen would hold the shoes up and say what size he needed. A few minutes later a box was tossed down through the hole and caught by the salesman. Ha! India! They are just amazing with use of space, since there isn't a lot and I can't imagine the for renting a space here in Mumbai.

Now, I have larger feet for the US, but for India, I'm big foot. When the salesman asked what size I wore, I looked at my feet and said, "Big." He laughed and said they would have my size. Later on, the sales man found out that the guy in the ceiling had a hard time finding some of the sandals I wanted to look at, so just told the salesman they were out of my size. "I checked on the computer and they have your size!" he proclaimed. He just shook his head in disgust. I thought it was funny and typical India.

While I was deciding which shoes to buy, the salesman told me (after we had chatted about why I was in India and what Greg does), "Now, if you haven't worn these outside and you get home, show your husband and if he doesn't like them, you can bring them back and we'll find you a different pair." I almost laughed out loud! My though, "Buddy, first off Greg wouldn't even notice them until I wore them three times and frankly, I don't care if he likes them or not. I like them." Cultural exchanges can be so wonderful!

I did walk out of there with two pairs instead of just one...:) Back into the sweltering heat.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flamingos in Mumbai?!

Last weekend, I bought the latest issue of "Time Out Mumbai," a magazine that has what is happening each week in the city. As I was flipping through I saw "Flamingo festival." The pink feathered bird being my favorite, I was curious. Lo and behold, there is a flamingo migration in Mumbai! This being my birthday weekend (My birthday following on a Wednesday, I actually feel like I have two this year :)), I let Greg know I wanted to search out these algae-eating beauties.

Yesterday we hopped on the Central Line and headed south with Reid, Rachel, Toni, and Mark. Mark and I had been looking at the tide schedules and agreed that getting to Sewri mud flats after low tide would be time we would likely find the flamingos strutting about. With no problems getting the train down to the Sewri station (the Centrll Line has been an issue for Greg and I and we had recently done laps on it with my dad and Alison), we headed east, towards the water in the hot sun. We walked down a dusty road in an industrial area, lined with water trucks waiting to cart their load off to eagerly expecting people. We started to see some mangroves, which line the water and are a haven for bird life, but rapidly disappearing in Mumbai due to development. The area along the road was strewn with some trash and murky water, typical of Mangrove areas, though this was much cleaner than some areas we have encountered. Further down the road, we could see some very old and decrepit boats testing in the mud flats. As the mangroves thinned near the boats, you could see across the bay to the industry lining the banks and amidst this seen were thousands of pink dots. I expected to spot some flamingos here and there, but this was amazing! We all laughed at the typical extremes seen all over the city and this one: a flamingo bird migration in the center of industrialized Mumbai. This scene is much different than the last time I saw flamingos when I was 13 driving into the Rift Valley in Kenya. But, we all enjoyed watching the birds feeding, strutting and occasionally taking a short flight to resettle back into feeding.
No one is quite sure where the flamingos migrate to or from (not sure why this hasn't been studied yet), but they are in Mumbai for about 6 months, from the end of one monsoon season, to the beginning of the next. So, they will be around for about another month and I highly recommend getting out to see them. Bring water and a hat as the sun is pretty intense out there right now.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Marlys' Visit to India

Let it be known to the world that Maryls Tibboel travels India wonderfully! Greg’s mom was here for two weeks. The first week we spent in Mumbai. She celebrated the Parsi new year with a lot of ASB staff and our friend’s Khush and Gilan, who were the hosts and are Parsi. Lots of socializing and eating. She had my most scary train experience…scary because I was responsible for her with only a day and a half under my belt and I had to get her through the huge, aggressive crowd of females trying to get on the train car we were getting off of. They were relentless and I held tight onto Marlys as she was being swept back on the train. Two quotes: “Now I see what you mean,” and “I don’t think I knew I should have been scared.” Needless to say, she made it off safely, no casualties other than my nerves and she was still open to getting on a train again. Greg took her on a Dhuravi slum tour and before she left we took her on a short tour of the Dhobi (laundry) ghats, which was a first for us too. The day she arrived, she was game for a shopping excursion, then she went back for more with the elementary school principal’s wife a couple days later…then back for more and more and more. J India is a shopper’s heaven. She did not need an extra bag upon leaving, so was very responsible with her purchases. She was even here during the extraordinary event of the World Cup cricket final: India vs Sri Lanka. We all bought and wore our India jerseys and celebrated a great game and win for India!!!!

Then…we went to…Darjeeling. We had a wonderful time there for about four and a half days. Our friend, Rory, joined as well and we enjoyed views and cool weather. Greg and I wore some of our warmer layers we brought, which have been sitting, neglected. Very sad indeed. Our first day had some drizzle, but we were still able to walk down, down, down to the Tibetan Refugee Center. (Darjeeling is built on steep hillsides and paths switch back along the slopes to access houses and businesses. It’s quite wonderful). I hold the Tibetan people pretty high up and the more I learn about them and their trials, the more I am in awe of them. The refugee center was created by Tibetans who sought refuge in India after the invasion in Tibetan in the late 50s, early 60s. These people crossed over the Himalayas, trying to escape the Chinese. The landscape that they had to deal with was harsh, rugged, and had few hiding points. Many parents left their children and returned to Tibet to take care of other family members. The Tibetans seem to be a tight community that have worked together to continue their cultural survival. At the refugee center, many people are employed in making various Tibetan handicrafts. They are sold here and all proceeds go back to the community. We saw them start with spinning sheep wool, dying it, and then creating beautiful carpets. We bought one, though we have to patiently wait until October, when it will be delivered. Greg and I find it so much more meaningful to use our consumer power to directly help people, rather than just buy for the sake of buying. Unfortunately we did not take a picture of our carpet, but we have a couple pictures of two carpets that Marlys is thinking about purchasing.

After the Tibetan Refugee Center, we hiked up to a wooded high point across from our guest house. There were thousands of prayer flags, but the temples ended up being Hindu. A great example how the different religions borrow from each other. We took Marlys around, showed her how Hindus give their respect to their gods, and then one of the men watching over the temples took us down to a cave with more shrines. He recited prayers while we crawled around, then we were all blessed and Marlys received her first sandalwood mark on her forehead.

The second day, we had a busy day. We visited the Himalayan Zoological reserve that houses fauna indigenous to the Himalayas, including a snow leopard, tigers, barking deer, Asiatic bear, and red panda. Right next door was the Himalayan Mountain Institute, where there is a museum about mountaineering in the Himalayas and where courses in mountaineering are run. In the afternoon we headed to Happy Valley Tea Estate. We had a winding hike down to the building where tea is processed. Afterwards we did a tasting with a wonderful, lyrical woman, who was one of the highlights of the trip. So many times in our travels, it’s the people you encounter that make the trip amazing. We were introduced to 5 second tea, which was amazing. Steeped for 5 seconds, the tea is a bright orange, no bitterness and surprisingly sweet. Delicious!

The morning of day three, Marlys, Greg and I took a 4:30am jeep ride to the highest point in Darjeeling, called Tiger Hill. We were there along with hundreds of others to watch the sun rise. We had an excellent view of Kachenjunga, the 3rd tallest peak in the word and then of to our left we could see the very tippy top of Everest, way off in the distance. These mountains are spectacular and make the Rockies look like foothills…which they are comparatively! Greg and I are very excited for trekking this summer. 30 minutes after the sun rose, everyone disappeared. We decided to walk back to our guest house so we could look at some Tibetan Gompas (monasteries) on the way back. The first part of the hike was very relaxing, since Tiger Hill was part of a reserve. We had views of the mountains the entire way down. We visited the oldest gompa in Darjeeling and the largest. We had a surprise at one of the newer gompas. Just as we arrived, the monks were getting ready to do their morning prayers, so we decided to stay to listen and watch for awhile. I don’t know if anyone has heard Tibetan monks before, but it’s this wonderful, low and musical chanting in which at times they stop to play cymbals, drums and horns before chanting again.

Another visual treat was at the largest gompa. They had a café, so we ordered some chai and sat outside, enjoying the warm air and breath taking views. There was this energetic, cocker spaniel puppy chasing flies around. A monk decided it was time for the pup to go back in his kennel, so called him over and opened the door. First the pup jumped on the monk and gave him kisses, then he jumped and then right out. He ran around and then hid. The monk called for him and the pup ran around then hid again. This happened two more times. The monk then walked over talked to the pup briefly, gave him a stern look and the pup got up, ran over to the kennel and hopped inside. I loved seeing the patience and respect the monk gave the pup, as well as the relationship the two have. The monk never used force with the pup.

Our last full day, I relaxed and read while Marlys, Rory and Greg hiked around. Marlys and Rory came back early, while Greg continued on to the Japanese Peace Pogoda. The three of us took the opportunity do a little bit of shopping, including taking Marlys to a shawl shop, an experience in itself. Rory and I had to push the shopkeeper to keep showing us shawls, but we had a great experience and walked away with some goods.

Greg and I were sad to leave the cool, refreshing mountain air and the views of the Himalayas. Greg is buckled down for (now) seven more weeks of school. Marlys has been back in Iowa for a week and over her jet lag. Thanks for visiting us!!!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Seeking the game - World Cup Cricket!!

Today is a big day in India. India has been hosting the World Cup Cricket for the past month and the final is today...India vs Sri Lanka. Two days ago was the semi final...India vs Pakistan...and that was a huge rivalry. So much so that at one point the Hindu fanatical group, Shiv Sena, threatened that this game would not take place on Mumbai turf. I rolled my eyes and thought, "you've got to be kidding." The game went off without a hitch, at least to my knowledge, and India won. (We do have a friend who has "inside" info that the games was fixed, but I'm not buying it. Cricket has had issues with bribery, but I'm favoring the optimistic mentality).

This morning, Greg, Marlys, and I walked to several sports stores to buy Marlys and I India jerseys. We were successful and sorted them proudly the rest of the day. Many Indian s were excited to see us supporting India and we did many call and responses, "India!," "Go, India!" with onlookers. The game started at 2:30pm, so a quarter till we walked down Hill Rd to Mocha Mojos. We were assured that for India vs Pakistan, many people were here watching the game. When we walked in, there was a projection screen with the game just starting. It was on a covered veranda and the bright lighting made it very difficult to see the screen. There were no good seats looking at the screen either. We sat down to made a choice on what to do and finally decided our main goal was to watch the game and second goal to pour back some cold ones and third to have lunch, so we decided to keep searching for a place to watch. (STRIKE 1)!

Greg's idea was the new chocolatier restaurant, which has some TVs. We jumped in two rickshaws and headed over. I called our friend, Rory, to let her know of the change in plan. We got over to this restaurant quickly and headed inside. Greg started to head up stairs, where a big screen TV was located and was stopped by an employee. He was told they weren't open upstairs and we could sit downstairs. Greg let them know our main goal and the man disappeared upstairs. He returned with a manager, who told him the same thing. We walked out with the manager welcoming us to stay for 30 minutes and watch the little TV in the corner. (STRIKE 2)!

Jenn, another friend who lives in our building and was with us, suggested Mumbai Times. Mumbai Times is a bar and restaurant with one room located on the roof top of a building. We had not been there, but Jenn and her husband enjoy going there for beers. We decided to mosey on over and I called Rory again for the update. Mumbai Times is located on a fairly busy street filled with restaurants and shops. As we rounded the corner of the building it's located inside, we heard cheering, horns, and drums. The elevator up to the bar had a line of fans waiting to board. Right when we were getting on, the doorman asked if we had reservations. We did not...reservations??!! We were not allowed in and Jenn laughed, getting a kick out of the craziness of it all. (STRIKE 3)!

We headed across the street to another bar, which was also packed. At the same time, Rory called, trying to get directions to Mumbai Times and I was trying tell her where we were. She was near and I told her to stay put. I went to grab her while the other three tried to find out if we could get in. As Rory and I walked back, Greg, his mom, and Jenn came toward us. There was a 1500Rs cover charge. (STRIKE 4! This is cricket, so we have 10 strikes until we are out).

We decided to head around the corner where two other establishments of sport and drink are located. The first one said there was a 2000Rs "package" and the second a much smaller cover, but not favored with all in our party. Rory, tired of us racking up the strikes, does a little negotiating with the manager. She says we'll go in to help fill their seats, not do their package deal and if other patrons come in and they need our sets, we'll leave. And they agreed!!! Luckily, we were hungry and thirsty and let us stay. When a large group came is, Greg asked if we should leave. They were very happy to have us there and did not want us to leave. FINALLY!!! Success to watch the first part of the game. (The World Cup cricket match is 50/50, which lasts about 8 hours, not the multi-day games that some cricket matches take to get to the finish).

The first half is over, with Sri Lanka having ended strong after a slow start. India is going to have to be on there game to beat to 270+ points that Sri Lanka has...GO INDIA!!.