Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Mumbai FRRO

Nope, I didn't spell that wrong.  FRRO stands for Foreign Regional Registration Office.  Although my hair is definitely a bit frizzier here than during rainy season in Brasilia or Chicago in the summertime.  I digress.

India requires you to complete a FRRO visit if you are going to stay in India for longer than six months.   Also you've gotta complete your visit within 14 days of your arrival.

Yesterday there were 11 newbies and 3 oldies who visited FRRO.  As we drove there across the Worli Sea Link, I realized we were going into the older part of the city.  Out the bus windows we saw lots of rickshaws due to the rain, my first cow (Cow Count Goo was 3 days), tents and just people trying to complete their Saturday business.

When we arrived, we pulled up to an old colonial style building.  I took the lift complete with two grate-style, folding doors up to the third floor with a car full of men to meet my friends.

Before I went, I asked a couple who'd gone the day before about their experiences so I could be prepared and know what to do and what not to do during my visit.  I also wondered how this process would compare to the Federal Police residency visit in Brazil.  Additionally, I know the US doesn't make it easy for foreign visitors so I set very few expectations.

Here's what I expected:
  • waiting patiently (brought my iPad), 
  • sitting quietly while someone reviewed paperwork (sit and say nothing), 
  • needing to gather things that were missing (would seek out ASB assistance), 
  • rewriting the same information on a computer and then into a blue book and
  • long lines of waiting (iPad and friends).  
All of the above happened.

Things that were different than Brazil's process are:
  • no fingerprinting, 
  • LOTS of other foreigners applying all at the same time,
  • one person assigned to help several people simultaneously (lots of queuing)
  • purchasing an actual large file folder for your residency paperwork to be put into (mine was a great reddish pink and my school paid for it) and
  • beautiful uniforms.
People everywhere wear uniforms for various jobs but for some reason I'd never thought that saris could be turned into uniforms.  The ladies wearing them may have had different feelings but I thought they were beautiful.

The only surprising thing that happened was a large roach crawled up my good leg during our visit.  When you feel a tickle on your leg, you never know what it could be.  Gross.

If you're moving to India or you wanna come for a longer visit, I found this great blog post with some FRRO Survival Tips. Especially if you're not going with a group, her suggestions of what to brig (ipod) and what to do (make friends) are great tips. Please know that her viewpoints are her impression of her FRRO trip.  

My additional tip would be to make friends with the staff.  Notice something about them.  For instance I noticed the woman who helped me was expecting.  While she completed my paperwork, I asked her when she was due. I knew I had to find a neutral topic so I wouldn't offend her or make a joke that slowed everything down.  By asking about her baby, she asked me about the other teachers I was with, why I was living in India, my school and best of all she completed my paperwork quickly. And in case your wondering, her baby's due in January.

All in all, not a bad trip to FRRO.  Some culture, some nature (shudder) and most importantly I got my official blue book that makes me an Indian resident.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My New Pad

So, here's my new place.  It's not quite ready for guests, but by the time any of you even arrived, I could be.  Here's a brief first tour of my new home.  
My Apartment # and Doorbell 
Why won't you please come in?  My living room and dining room
Looking back at the front door in much better light.  See my flowers!
To the right of the entry, is my long galley kitchen. 
View from kitchen window - all window have this plastic
chicken wire to prevent the birds from roosting.

Guest room
Well, once my stuff is put away.
More guest bedroom.  It will look much cuter once I get settled
and decorate.  There will be a bed too, don't worry.
Guest  bathroom - See I have two bathrooms this time around
Very fancy.
Guest bath continued
That dark shape outside is my dryer which sits on a piece
of plywood under the guest bedroom aircon.
My bedroom
Again, lots to do like put clothes away, decorate after shipment
but my bed's pretty comfy so far.  This bed will move into
the guest room once my shipment arrives.
More of my room 

My shower - the shower's open so water goes everywhere!
This is an Indian style bathroom.  Shower curtain on the
way but the floor slant can't be fixed
More bathroom
My view
Little bit different than Brasilia

It's definitely a great space.  If there's good bones, then the rest will come in time.  Just gotta be patient.  Please know I'm saying that aloud so I know that too.  

I'm in Hot Water

In Brazil, the only place I had warm water was in the shower and that lasted about 5 minutes.  No hot, or even warm water, to wash my dishes unless I boiled it.  No warm water to wash your face or to take a hot shower.

But, thanks to all of my geezers here, I can have hot water...
in the kitchen sink,

in both showers,

and in each bathroom sink.

It's the little things that make me happy.  Such a luxury that I'm sure a lotta people take for granted.  And in case you were wondering, a geezer is a hot water heater.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Little TLC

I made it!  I'm sitting on my burgundy and oatmeal striped couch listening to a chorus of honks over the rain outside.  I'm really loving India already.  It's funny how the chaos really hasn't hit yet.  I know it will sometime soon but I'm enjoying it's beauty so far.

With not knowing quite where to start, I thought I'd jump into how much help and TLC I've had since I arrived.  Actually the help started long before I arrived.  ASB and people in India thus far have taken care of me with getting settled in.  I feel beyond fortune to have the help I have so far.  Just wanted to take a quick moment to share some appreciation.

1.  Mumbai Airport
At the airport, as usual I was the last off the plane.   That's what happens when you're a gimp.  As I walked toward the exit, I heard "Looney, Looney," being called.  I was helped down the wet metal staircase, through a long and slow immigration line, unloading my five 50lb bags off the baggage belt and through customs and out the door by three wonderful.

I also have to give a shout to my ASB friends who helped me in transit by pulling bags, loading bags, changing seats from Brussels to Mumbai all so I could be more comfortable and manage the travel easier.  Thanks guys!

2.  Flowers
On my table inside my apartment is this wonderfully smelling flower arrangement.  Each time I walk in I see it, the flowers make my place which is a complete mess, feel more like a home.  Something small but nice.  

3.  ASB Staff
Where to even start?  I have...
  • been greeted at the airport by a flurry of ASB staff members who swooped up our bags and bodies after myself, 20 newbie colleagues and their families had a 2 a.m. arrival,  Our flight was delayed.  Immigration took a while.  Bags were on the same belt as a Bangkok flight.  Everyone was so tired but we were greeted with nothing but smiles and help.
  • had colleagues make sure I received seat changes on my flight from Newark to Mumbai so my ankle could get some extra room,
  • had coffee at a colleague's apartment while we reviewed details of what's on our schedule after that colleague showed me all around my apartment, 
  • been shown how to use every appliance, geezer and water filter in my apartment (see if you can find out what a geezer is) by two more ASB employees, 
Here's a hint for a geezer.
  •  a stocked fridge and coffee table filled with books and magazines all about Mumbai,
The chocolate chips and pb cups were packed but everything else was there!
I have a cupboard with some things in it too!
  • been introduced to a vendor who sells Indian cottage cheese called paneer (yes, I did try it and it's great!)
  • a working cell phone and internet connection and
  • been fed like crazy from yummy Chinese to a delicious Indian dinner. Dinner started with a sweet lime soda and ended with a great new dessert which had a warm donut hole covered in honey which was accompanied by condensed milk ice cream (I think I got that right) and
  • been walked to the car like a prom date by a new colleague in the rain so I wouldn't slip and fall.  They got soaked!
4. Delivery
I had deliveries made including an ironing board, trash cans, tupperware, dish and clothes drying racks and hangers all at no extra cost.  The guys in the shop ran around and up and down grabbing everything I needed.  

So far so good. By the way, the rain's so strong now, I can't hear the horns any longer.  Love this!  Time to go.  I'm off to sleep since it's after 10:45 p.m. here and tomorrow's my first official day of work.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Packed with Care

Everything is all packed.  Just gotta add the final few things in the morning.

Even my ankle's packed.

I sprained my ankle in Chicago about 12 days ago.  Going out in true klutzy style.  My new colleagues and friends have offered to have a bedazzle party on the plane.  Holding you all to that!

4 suitcases at 50 lbs each and 1 carry-on.  

Thanks Mom, my packing specialist.  Thanks Dad, my quality consultant. Thanks Goo, my photo facilitator.  The Looney packing crew's all done.

Time for a drink.  Cheers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Sister's Da Bomb! Well, Irish Car Bomb That Is.

Since I haven't learned how to say cheers in Hindi yet, I'll go with what I know.  Slainte!  It's more appropriate for this post anyway.

Why would you say cheers with a cupcake?  Because it's an Irish Car Bomb cupcake!

Today I was surprised with a special going away treat from the Goo.  She brought home a dozen homemade, Irish Car Bomb cupcakes.  This summer while in Milwaukee I found this delicious dessert and proclaimed it my all-time favorite.

Sous Chef Goo and the Executive Chef Brian spent several hours last night battling the heat, provided by Mother Nature and a steamy oven, to make me my favorite dessert.

Cupcake = Guinness Chocolate +
Ganache = Jameson Chocolate +
Icing = Bailey's Buttercream =

Thanks guys for making my final few days in the states filled with this delightful dessert.

And no friends, I'm not sharing!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today's Random Comment

As I've said before, when you tell people you're moving to India, there are lots of different reactions people can have.  Shock.  Horror.  Exuberance.  Happiness.  As well as others.  Today's was a new one.  

  • Uber hot summer day in Illinois suburbs (heat index 107)
  • Verizon Wireless store in Batavia, Illinois at the check-out counter
  • Megan
  • one male Verizon employee
  • one female Verizon employee
  • one frustrated iphone male customer
Act One Scene One

Narrator:  After a few minutes of establishing the phone upgrade was silly, the Verizon employee and Megan reached their decision.  She would buy the cheapest phone charger and call it a day. Truly, it was all she needed.

The pair approaches the Verizon counter.  The employee directs Megan to his cash register which is stationed next to a female Verizon employee and a male customer.  The male customer is fiddling with his phone as the employee tries to solve his problem.

Male Verizon employee:  " So, where you do live overseas?"  

Megan:  "I live in India."

Male Annoyed Customer:  "India is dirty.  Why would you want to live there?"

Megan:  "I work there.
Male Seriously Annoying Customer "Seriously.  India's dirty.  You should live in China.  You been to China?"

Megan:  "Yes I have."

Male Completely Annoying Customer:  "You been to Shanghai?"

Megan:  "Yes."  She feels exasperated but continues to listen.  She doesn't show any expression on her face.

Both Verizon employees listen but continue to help both of their individual customers.  

Male Super Annoying and Complete Inappropriate Customer:  "You been to Shanghai?"

Megan nods yes.  She pulls her debit card out of her purse. 

Male Super Annoying and Complete Inappropriate Customer:  "I took my son there. He said he could live there.  It's clean.  He told the guys there his mom wouldn't be able to live there."

Male Verizon Employee: "That'll be $21.  If you want go ahead and swipe your card."

Megan:  "China's nice.  I prefer Beijing to Shanghai.  Have you been to Beijing?" 

Male Super Annoying and Complete Inappropriate Customer: "No."

Megan: "You should try it.  It's dirty too. Well, the air's really dirty.  I must like to visit dirty places. Bejing's so amazing and the temples and palaces are just beautiful.  I really like India and think it's a great place for me to live.  It's different than here but it's amazing in so many ways.  I think it's beautiful.  Sorry that the garbage bothered you so much."

Male Super Annoying and Complete Inappropriate Customer: "You should still live in China."

Male Verizon Employee:  "Would you like a bag?"

Megan:  "No.  Thanks for making this so easy."  She smiles and hobbles out of the store thinking thanks to the Verizon employee but also to the customer who's reminded her of why some people just don't get it.

End Scene 
Thank goodness there was only one scene.  

Seriously Verizon customer guy?  If you think China's so great, maybe you could get your phone fixed more easily there.  

I'm excited for India.  6 days.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paperwork, Smaperwork, Blah, Blah, Blah

I was reading another American School of Bombay (ASB) newbie's Facebook status or comment about having 43 things related to India on their to do list.  Yuck.  With 18 days till departure day, I needed to spend some time organizing paperwork.  Paperwork was one of my 43 things.  Double yuck.

Living on a different continent means you must have your U.S. bills, files, etc all extremely organized so your wonderful family can grab a document or file something easily when suddenly a doctor's bill arrives from an appointment you had six months ago.   I pay most things online and receive electronic statements but there's always a few that come the snail mail route.  Also, I just needed to add EAB and my Brazilian bills as well as a few things that had arrived to the good ole filing cabinet.

Now, nobody I know likes filing and paperwork.  My paperwork pile's been on the Goo's living room floor by my desk since I returned just about three and a half weeks ago.  I will find just about anything to do to avoid it filing.   To avoid filing today I:

  • spent 30 minutes on the phone with a representative from Dell who helped to make arrangements for my poor computer (broken hinge from last year's tumble) to be repaired,
  • ordered shoes, hair products and a swimsuit bottom online,
  • made automatic payment arrangements for my new student loan and
  • scheduled a vaccination appointment for tomorrow morning (Typhoid and Tetanus woo-hoo).
Talk about strange procrastination ideas!  I signed myself up for shots!

The good news is I did get all the filing done.  I also made my purple, plastic, folding document file for India.  This file folder includes my contract, copy of my passport, passport photos, visa application stuff and other important documents.  It's all in one place so easy to grab when/if I need it.

So even though I did stretch this process out over the course of the day, I think that's pretty darn good that it's all complete and I don't leave for 18 days.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Send Me Packing

The guest room is empty...

so the Goo is taking reservations.

The boxes are full...

with all of my "stuff."  

A total of 7 smaller boxes.  One large box with my bed.

One BIG thing off my to do list.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Packing It In

When you move to a foreign country, many times you have a room in your house, or your sister's house (thanks Goo), that looks like this:

Bedding and Bathroom Linens

Lotsa toiletries

Books, books and more books

Some shoes and clothes

Kitchen stuff

Things for work

My sister's wonderfully accommodating and lets me take over her guest room/office to house all of my overseas necessities. Usually these items all get packed into several large and small suitcases and duffel bags toward departure day.  My mom usually volunteers to help with this process. This year it's a bit different.

ASB provides new teachers with a shipping allotment. They will pay up to $2500 USD.  The allotment can only be used for shipping.  If I don't use it, I lose it. So, I'm a smart girl and I'm using it.

I also thought about the baggage fees currently in effect in both the U.S. and overseas.  They are completely ridiculous by the way.  $25 for somebody to load my bag?  Really?  If I schlep it, it costs me nothing except a backache.

As I mentioned previously, current teachers had highly suggested to bring your own mattress. I bought mine a couple of weeks ago at Back to Bed on Randall Road from Chris. For locals I'd recommend him.

My mattress and box spring that I won't sleep on for 2 months.
I also stocked up on all of the goodies I would usually bring along and set aside some clothes and a few other things that I can wait a while to use. Like I've said before, everyone has their creature comforts and you can tell what mine are.  Yesterday I  picked up a few more items.

Two weeks ago, two different shipping companies came out, surveyed my load and gave me estimates.  The estimates were only about $300 apart.  I actually chose the more expensive company due to their extremely wonderful communication which included great emails when I lived in Brazil, when the estimator came out shared information and finally with the company in India. They earned an A+ with making things easy.  They also have a good relationship with the school, knew exactly who they'd need to speak with which earns extra points as well.  With this move, it's all about making it easy so a few extra hundred dollars for that is just fine by me.

When you ship internationally, one of the things you have to do is make an inventory of your items in case something should happen.  I am taking out insurance on my shipment (better safe then sorry) but with this time frame felt crunched to complete this.  My parents have asked repeatedly how they could help so I asked them, while I was away in NYC if they could complete the inventory.  They are always thorough but in this instance I was completely amazed.  They spent four hours making a detailed, itemized inventory which listed product names such as "Bath and Body Works Lemon Kitchen Handwash."  It's hand soap.  I appreciate that I will know exactly what's coming and what could be missing.  I can picture my dad sitting at the laptop behind the desk in the room while my mom lists items that he has no idea what they are (most the toiletries).  Thanks Mom and Dad for taking four hours one day last week to do this.  I really do owe you each a BIG margarita for your help.  This inventory had to be completed before the shippers come to move me out.

When do they come?  Today!   ASB Four Winds is sending their local Chicago partner to come and pack me up.  They will come this afternoon.  Then this mess will be gone and the Goo can have some of her house back.  I'll also have a HUGE thing checked off my list and can go and celebrate by having margaritas with my family to say thanks for your help.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Pride

Living overseas gives you a perspective of other countries' patriotism. In Brazil, they decorate their neighborhoods with yellow, green and blue before the World Cup. They wear the sea blue, earth green and six stars on their t-shirts with confidence as their cheer for their sixth World Cup championship. Not their team's; theirs.

The past few days I've seen more external American pride. I've see flags being tucked into flower pots and hung outside. People at the airport wearing their Old Navy 4th of July t-shirts or other red, white and blue garb. I've seen red, white and blue carnations on kitchen tables.

Living overseas gives you a new perspective on your own and your fellow countrymen's believes on patriotism. At times you fill with pride when you see images and hear decisions made. At other times you can cringe when you see images on tv and the news of reactions to events or news.

A few weeks ago, two small moments reminded me of my American pride.

Moment one...Cubs' game
After a long rain delay, we finally entered Wrigley. We sat in center field. Shortly after we found our seats, we were being asked to stand for the national anthem. Caps were removed and the fans turned to face center field where a large flap was draped downward since there wasn't any wind. The singer began the first verse which we all know. As the song continued, as usual, others began to join the singer. I watched other fans. Some had their hands over their hearts. Others smiled or swayed. Others just stood silently. I found myself surprised as the song continued that I was moved. The lyrics that I've sung so many times. The words I've heard others sing filled me up in a different way. It struck me in a different way than it had in a while. I was proud to be in such a large group watching this team which we all had a strong feeling would lose but still this group of people all knew the same rituals and routines I did. And these rituals and routines brought use closer.

Moment two...Starbucks soldier
At Starbucks a few weeks ago, Andrea I noticed a mom and son finishing their breakfast. The boy was about 4 or 5 years old and sitting with his mom at a table by the door. As on any other day, other customers entered while we waited for our order to be filled. We got most of our drinks and then realized they missed one of our orders. We asked them to make it and while we waited, a National Guardsman entered. He waited for his drink to be finished. I heard the mom's voice say, "We just wanted to come over and say hi." The solider bent down and started to speak to the boy. Their conversation was quiet so we couldn't really hear what was being said. The mom said, "Thanks for all that you do. We appreciate it." I saw the solider reach up to his shoulder and heard the rip of velcro. He pulled something out of a pocket and gave it to the little boy. He pressed something into his hand. The mom said, "Thanks again." The solider smiled. The little boy turned around with a huge grin and they left Starbucks. Appreciation by both the solider and the little boy. Our order was ready so we left too.

Both of these small occasions remind me that though my external pride might not always be there I do have it. Though Americans don't agree on everything, and at times that everything can feel like anything, I'll be optimistic and say that everyone has some American pride. Some of us wear it on our t-shirts. Others decorate our homes. Others like me may ebb and flow with our show of external pride as much but it's there. I found national symbols can surprise us and remind us of the pride that we do have. Just wanted to share a couple of stories for those of us whose red, white and blue may be worn on the inside today.

Happy 4th all!