Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sirens and Showers

Today I was at home most of the day working. I'd embraced it and felt motivated to do some of the work, especially planning for a teachers writing group. 

I constructed my usual work at home scene. Pillow on floor. Laptop on coffee table. Third cup of coffee. Little bit of Modest Mouse on iTunes. The photo, scene and activity really isn't new. What was new was the other activity going on in my building.

Today must have been declared fire preparedness day by my building society. What is fire preparedness day you ask? 

 It's a day where the building society checks to make sure all the fire alarms and hoses are working.  That's a good thing, right? In all fairness it is. I just had a few very special encounters with the checks today.

Wheeerr! Wheeerrr! 

Wait? What's that you ask? Oh. 

Wheeerrr! Wheeerrr! 

That's just…

Wheeerr! Wheeerrr!

the fire alarm being tested as I plan my writing group's background building and activities for Tuesday. The elusive siren failed to be captured on video. One fail due to Coldplay insisting to be turned up louder than the siren to help drown out the noise as I worked. Hence when I tried to capture the siren's "Wheeeerrr", it wasn't audible.  The second time the siren stopped just as I pressed the red record button on my iPhone. Arg! Fire alarm! Just when I'm trying to appreciate you, you stop.

After some time, I grew accustomed to the siren's periodic shouts and screams I glanced up from one of the screens and was distracted by water spraying sideways out my kitchen window. Now it is monsoon season so sideways rain can be an occurrence in Mumbai but there was no rain out my front window so I got up off the floor to investigate.

I walked into the kitchen, opened the door to the balcony, stepped out and looked down to see my car and a few others begin sprayed with water. When I took two steps forward to get a better view, the direction of the spray turned significantly to the right. I was on the right so suddenly I was sprayed with water. Drenched is more accurate. My Reese's t-shirt and pink pajama bottoms soaked. Shocked, I turned around, walked down the hall and into my bedroom to another balcony to assess what was happening outside. 

When I opened the curtains and door, outside I saw two members of my building society who both were watching the spray with appreciation. The two men nodded and smiled at one another. They didn't see me but I did slam my door loudly which to me meant they would surely know that something happened, right? 

As I was drying off and changing my clothes from the surprise shower, I started to laugh out loud. If I'd only watched the spray from inside or gone straight to the bedroom balcony, I wouldn't have had my second shower of the day. A case of wrong place, wrong time and seriously how does someone get sprayed on an inside balcony on the 2nd floor anyway? You just have to shake your head and laugh.

Sometimes you just gotta embrace and appreciate it. The unpredictability. The thoroughness.  The sideways sprays and sirens that bombard you and remember how they'll be some of the things you miss the most when you're gone.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I've Got You, Under My Skin

My arrival back to Bombay this year is really no different than the other three but it feels different. After spending just over 24 hours back at my home away from home (Mumbai), the small stuff remains small.

My cell phone was shut off due to non-payment for the months of June and July. No shocker there. I visited Vodaphone this morning at 10:30 to pay my bills. After making my payment, I asked if there was any other step I needed to take to have service again. The smiley representatives replied, "No," and let me know I'd have service again in between 30 minutes to 2 hours.

5 hours later, still…

This afternoon I didn't mind returning to Vodaphone. I went out in the monsoon rain, caught another rick and went to the store. This time, after some help from one of the friendly Vodaphone assistant managers, we were able to work out my account's status and why service had yet to be returned. And, with fingers crossed, they were able to return service (or so I hope as I'm still in my 2 hour window of service being returned) the same day.

I'm fortunate today because at 10:30 this morning, the inside of my car looked like this…

and now it looks like this.

With a month or so of monsoon rains (Espy told me they didn't start this till late June) my shuttered car became an enormous petri dish. Mumbaikers are used to it.  My car is my first summer mold casualty but as you can see, it's not any longer. Well, it's still smelly but at least mold removal phase one is complete. I've got loads of appreciation for my building car washer who advised me to "give oxygen to the car tomorrow" which translates to leave the windows down in the parking garage at school.

In years past (and I even think in June of last year), these events would have got under my skin and felt like an itchy, allergic rash that just pestered me.

Today however, I don't need an anti-itch cream. So I'm a little unsure whether Mumbai's under my skin in the Frank Sinatra way after living here for 3 years or if my long summer holiday is letting the small stuff roll like water off a duck's back or some other wordy analogy. Whatever the reason, it's good and if you're wondering, by the time I finished my post, I officially had service again.

Friday, May 2, 2014


It seems as though all of my posts lately have been about driving. Maybe that’s because it’s the part of Indian culture I encounter each morning or it’s the biggest challenge to me as of late. Regardless, this post isn’t so much about India but more about my continual evolution as a manual transmission driver.

Wednesday morning, nothing really new. I was going to drive myself to school. Along the way I was going to pick up a friend. Again, this is nothing new.

The only difference was that; since I knew he was going to have at least one suitcase, I decided instead of picking him up on the more main street, I’d turn down his lane. I thought, “No problem. I’ll just make a 3-point turn and he’ll be able to easily load his bag into the trunk.”

I turned left onto the lane. Then I turned left again into the start of a driveway. I pulled as far forward as I could since the gate was closed. About 2 feet. Then I shifted into reverse, turned the wheel to the right and reversed. Car. There’s a car. Right here. I put the car back into first, pulled forward and tried again. Same result. It didn’t take too long before I realized that the cars on either side of the lane with the combination of the available driveway length, were going to make my 3-point turn impossible.

“No problem,” I thought. I’ll just find another driveway. So I went further down the lane, which is a big hill, and found his apartment building’s garage entrance. I thought, “Hey, there’s lots of clearance and no cars. This is it. This is my 3-point moment.”

I pulled into the driveway and instantly went over a large hump. Not just any hump. I went over a huge regular sized speed hump. “No problem,” I thought again. I shifted into reverse and found that with the angle of the basement garage ramp, I was stuck and there was only one way out. Down.  Down into the garage. Down into the dark.

“That’s okay,” I thought again. “I can do this.”

On my left, I saw my good friends’ driver, Hamid. His eyes grew big and he waved at me. Not like a hello wave, a frantic, “What are you doing?” type wave. He quickly got into the driver’s seat of their car and pulled out of their spot thinking he was helping me to make my 3-point turn.

I looked at their spot and laughed out loud. There was no way I was going to be able to reverse park from a steep garage ramp.

Down again was the only option. Still not intimated by the scary basement garage, I took a deep breath, eased down the ramp and turned left. I again, since my car’s small, thought, “There’s plenty of room. I an do this.” I repeated the process I explained in detail earlier. The only difference is this time instead of quickly admitting defeat; I fought tooth and nail to make the turn.

I’m sure I looked like this scene in Austin Powers.  I swear to god it felt like I tried for about 5 minutes. In reality this maneuver probably only was 30 seconds of discomfort.

Back and forth and back and forth for each attempt. No progress.

I had a moment of worry. “Maybe I can’t do this? Maybe I need to call him? He’s waiting outside already for sure. He’ll just get the car out for me.”

And then I really don’t remember what I thought other than no. I looked ahead in the garage. This time the spaces I saw were actually big enough to meet my goal.  The 3-point.

Slowly I eased further into the bowels of the garage. I saw another friend’s car and next to it, an open space.  I actually turned my head to the right for a second glance because I thought, “There’s no way. Was this an actual open space or a mirage?” Luckily it was the former.

So a final left. A final shift into reverse. A final ease off the clutch and onto the gas and I was parked next to their truck.

I took a deep breath. I shifted the car back into first. I turned the wheel to the left and then right as I then gave it a little too much gas as I pushed the car up the ramp and out of the garage. Success at last. I made my 3-point turn.

I again gave a little too much gas, which resulted in that loud revving that you hear in movie stoplight scenes or in north central Illinois on Friday nights when the teenagers from the towns surrounding DeKalb come into show off their rides, but I was out of the dark and onto the tree-lined lane. 

I pulled forward past his building and parked on the right. I wasn’t quite parked as close to the curb, if there had been a curb, as I should have been but I’d made it. I started laughing out loud again just as he walked out with two big suitcases and a smile. I'd earned each and every one of the 3-points I made in the turn (and for those of you who are worried, I do know why it's called a 3-point turn just felt the effort I put in means I should earn points).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stop and Stare

I've been driving for about 6 months in India. Every day I drive myself to school in the morning. My commute takes me about 25 minutes from the parking spot at my apartment to the spot, that's covered in some mystery water, in the basement garage at school. On my commute, I navigate around children pouring out of rickshaw school buses, men playing chicken as they cross the street to use the public restrooms and red buses who I honk at as I speed up to pass them by in the hope that they'll stay in their lane and not move into mine.

When I started driving in Mumbai, I noticed people staring at me as I signaled and sped and honked my way to school. It was the taxi driver next to me who didn't turn when he could because I distracted him. It was the mother wearing a burka walking her two sons across the street to Catholic school who caused me to quickly shift back into first from second. It was a motorcycle passenger whose head swiveled, almost to the same degree as a barn owl, as they passed me by.

I don't notice it so much anymore. The stares. Well I hadn't until this week.

For the first time I drove home from work too. My driver had the day off so I decided rather than bum a ride from a friend, to instead just do both legs of the commute.

Before I left school, I felt a little nervous. How much traffic would there be?  How much today at 4:18?  What's funny is that I thought it'd bother me. After a busy school day I thought a drive would stress me out but instead I loved the freedom. I loved being alone in the car and in control of the music. I was in control of the temperature and which gear we used along the American-like open road stretch in BKC. It kinda surprised me.
Light traffic in BKC on the way home.
Even with these feelings and truly enjoying the ride, I noticed the stares again. The man and woman in the back of the taxi who didn't take their eyes off of me the entire time we waited at the stoplight. The man in all whites in the rickshaw behind them who did the same. A taxi driver who nearly hit the car in front of us because he was looking at me.

I've gotten used to them. They don't bother me anymore. I just keep doing whatever I was doing. Singing, looking around, waiting patiently for it to be my turn to zoom to the next signal and wait again.

What I wonder about is why. Why the stares? Is it because I'm a woman? A western woman? Is it because I'm alone?  I just wonder. I hadn't wondered in a while but I did again this week. No need for answers but just something I noticed. Funny how one small change, like the time of day you do something, reacquaints you with something old again.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

License to Drive

Being home over break reminded me just how different driving in the U.S. is from India.

Some differences...

The steering wheel's on the left side not the right which may, just perhaps, cause the driver to:
  • Attempt to enter the car on the wrong side,
  • Flip on the windshield wipers when you really wanted the turn signals and 
  • Flip on the turn signal when you really wanted the windshield wipers. 
These may have happened multiple times to me. Maybe.

The biggest difference, which only happened once; I swear, is I made a left turn and then proceeded down the wrong side of the road. I quickly realized when a car was ready to back out from their driveway onto the same street I was on and I was in their way, that I was actually in the wrong lane. I only did this for about 5-10 seconds so it sounds MUCH more dramatic than it really was. It was also in DeKalb which has little traffic and was on a sidish street so again, this error should be downplayed.

Visiting Chicago quickly helped me adjust to a bit of snow and ice driving. Coming from 85 degree temps to in the single digits with various forms of frozen water on the roads, means driving at slower speeds. Kinda obvious. What's the challenge each year is more not driving too slow and causing more trouble for your fellow travelers. Plus the own self-imposed, please tell me I'm not driving like a senior citizen. 

Some similiarities...
  • Avoiding potholes which this week Chicago gave Mumbai a run for it's money and
  • Reading fellow travelers' minds who do not use turn signals (a newer Midwestern trait).
The biggest difference is that instead of taking driving lessons as I did, from my good friend in India to learn how to drive manual, my dad gave me a forced driving remediation course. One, potentially snow stormy morning, my dad gave me the owner's manual for their car. They bought this car late this past summer. I have driven this brand and model (they had one for over 10 years) and I've been driving since I turned 15 (just over 10 years - ugh). Apparently, he still thought that I needed a refresher because their model was so new and it was going to be snowy or maybe it was because I was playing up all of the differences causing him some worry. Still funny regardless and I did learn I'm definitely jealous of all the fancy steering wheel controls their car has that mine doesn't.

I head back to Bombay soon. I'm at the gate. Wonder how the similarities and differences will flipflop when I land. Here's to hoping my remediation course and snowy driving road tests help with it. Thanks again for the great time and lessons Dad (and Mom).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Baby It's Cold Outside...Chiberia

I'm on winter break in the US. I return as a brunette to Bombay later this week. Contemplating a blog name change...

So love it or hate it, the current deep freeze in Chicago has of course a cute name. Chiberia. Chiberia is a reference to...
In particular look at the "feels like temperature.
What to do on a winter break day when on the news they're showing how much warmer it is in Alaska than it is in Chicago? You get a little inspiration from a Facebook friend and Google winter science experiments and you get...

your mom's who's willing to bundle up and toss boiling water into the -45 degree air which turns it into water vapor.

We I wasn't completely satisfied by the result, so when we came back inside, I researched more into it. Does the quantity of water have an impact? What about the size or shape of the container? What about how you throw it? So you go back outside to do a bit more research and you find...

that really it's about how you throw the water. Love your technique Mom.

While I was inside I wanted to see what Chiberians were doing so you looked on Instgram and found LOTS of Chiciagoans did the same experiment today. I also read about another experiment with bubbles and how they freeze in such chilly temperatures. So, I had to try this too.
See corn syrup can be good...sometimes
I found a solution for us to make and got a little lot of help from my Dad with the bubble solution recipe modification. We tried a few different types of wands to blow the bubbles including cookie cutters and found that a slotted spoon worked best.
Bubble solution factions
Then out we went outside and were able to blow them but with the wind being so strong, it was hard to get great pictures  or even catch them but here are a few shots of us braving the cold.

When we saw the bubble pop they looked more like if a plastic or glass had shattered like this.

Photo from (Just Heather)
Okay, ours really never landed and looked so perfect, more melted and shattered but you get the idea.

Pretty good winter fun despite the cold. Still gotta do the put the wet clothing item out into the cold experiment though. And for those of you with another day off tomorrow, here are a few more ways to love this arctic polar cyclone too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Year in 15 Seconds

In 2013, I didn't send Xmas cards. I didn't send New Year's cards. 

Maybe that was due social media's influence and my love of Instagram. 

Maybe it's because I didn't find the perfect picture of just me in all of the amazing places. Perhaps I'm being a little vain. 

Maybe that's because when I visited all of the amazing places I did in 2013, I was with my family and friends and they're in most of my photos. They could have the best ones of me that I haven't seen yet on their cameras (read that as a hint friends).

When I landed in Chicago in December, I felt a ping of guilt when I arrived home and had a wonderful pile of cards showcasing family photo in Xmas pajamas or red and green trimmed dresses and shirts. Summer memories or lovely professional portraits. I didn't do my part. 

In 2013, traveled to Kerala, Kolata, Bangkok, Cleveland and Detroit. Then to New York, Kathmandu, Kansas, back to Bangkok, Chicago and DeKalb.  I celebrated 2013 with my sister on a road trip and family at home. With friends I've had for over 10 years and newer friends made in Brasil and India. 

So, with ease of technology and my love of photos, here's my 2013.