What is it like to live abroad?

We have been living in Bangalore India for over 16 months and it seems like yesterday that we left the US.  Sometimes it doesn’t even seem real that we do live overseas.  Our time in India has changed us in measurable and immeasurable ways.

As an ex-pat we live the life that fewer than 1% of India will ever experience.  It is clearly a life of privilege.  We have a large home in which to live, plentiful food and air conditioned comfort.  We are able to travel to explore this large and glorious country. We see how others are less fortunate and still don’t understand.

We see hard working people who sweep the streets daily.  Crazy drivers who don’t follow rules as they attempt to get from place to place with horns blaring.  Colorful attire with wide smiles.  Children rushing to go to school to learn, to improve their place in their world – and be the light for their family. I could go on and on.

We see this, but it becomes background to our daily lives of living.  Going to work. Shopping at the supermarket.  Getting my nails polished or hair cut.  Playing canasta. Volunteering teaching technology at a deaf school (more to come on this in a future post). Eating dinner with friends. Normal life, just in a different city, different county, different world.

 

 

 

Not Safe to Venture Out Today

Today is Saturday and we awoke to the sounds of birds tweeting, dogs barking (we have dozens living on the nearby streets) and …. that’s it. No cars, no honking, but peaceful quiet. But there is a more ominous reason for it.

A couple of days ago at group called of pro Kannada activists (Kannada is the local Karnataka language) called for a bandh in the entire state of Karnataka where we live. The reason for this is because the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal made an interim decision to withhold release of water from the neighboring state of Goa for a Malaprabha Lift Irrigation project. This would be done in the northwestern part of the state and several districts are severely impacted and are protesting because of dry conditions from past years.

What is a bandh? Bandh, originally a Sanskrit word meaning “closed”, is a form of protest used by political activists in South Asian countries such as India and Nepal. During a bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike. (thanks Wikipedia)

Basically it is a total shutdown of everything.

In some cases there are groups, like the film industry, who support the action and so all theaters are closed. Additionally most stores, hotels and restaurants are closed. But there is a thug mentality here and protestors will go after businesses who don’t close, cars or buses on the streets, etc. so everyone closes and stays off the streets.

There have been arrests and random acts of violence. A train was set on fire this morning. Tires in the middle of roads are lit. Cars are hit with canes to break windows and they are burning effigies of politicians. It is difficult to get gas since the stations are either closed or have no fuel and so people with true emergencies can’t access hospitals. I was just watching TV and saw police beating protesters with bamboo sticks. Frightening.

People are angry. It isn’t clear how this is going to be resolved so we shall see what happens over the next days and weeks.

Here’s a brief description of what it looks like here. Honestly, I’ve NEVER seen the roads so empty. Too bad nothing is open! But how sad that this is the only avenue people feel that they have to protest an injustice.

I’ll note that earlier this week the bus drivers were on strike looking for a 35% pay hike. That seems like a lot, but in perspective, they make about $150 a month and food, fuel and living expenses are rising at a rate of about 6%. The autorickshaws made really good money fleecing people who had to get to work. There are over 5,000,000 daily bus riders in Bangalore so without transit people took to motorcycles (called two wheelers here), cars, etc. It was a mess. In the end schools were closed for three days.  The bus drivers got a 12.5% pay hike and the rider? They don’t know the impact yet, but it will definitely trickle down so a 20 rupee ride ($0.30) will likely go up to 24 rupees. Multiply that out for a month and that is significant for the worker who lives hand to mouth. It is a vicious cycle.

Things are supposed to get back to normal tonight after 6:30pm. We shall see if it is safe enough to go out to dinner tonight. Sort of like a snow day here in Bangalore.

IMG_2401

 

Salted Lassi

Salted Lassi is a 10 rupee (15 cents) drink that Indians love, particularly in the morning. You can find it at most breakfast bars around Bangalore. It is drunk as a refresher and is considered to have good health properties.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. yogurt
  • 2 tbs. fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp. ginger, rough chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions

  • Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
  • Add about 2 cups water to dilute.
  • Drink.

Makes about 3 cups

Note: This drink is definitely an acquired taste.  The salt makes it tart, the ginger pretty strong and the overall texture something not quite like a smoothy, but also not milk. I’m afraid neither one of us enjoyed it much.

Banking in India

Oh boy, where do I start?  This has been a tale of what they call here an “Indian nightmare”. Nothing went right.

To begin let me tell you about PAN cards.  These are cards required for anyone who is paying Indian taxes.  Thus Eric, as the wage earner, (I cannot work here because I don’t have the right visa) had to get one.  It takes a while and requires a copy of a signed lease, passport, visa, etc., etc., etc.  He gets it.

With PAN in hand we both went to the local HDFC Bank branch.  We chose this bank because it is an international bank, has many branches and ATMs countrywide and was recommended to us.

I was unable to take pictures inside the bank, but suffice to say it doesn’t exactly feel “safe”. Cashiers are behind desks with a 2 foot high piece of glass that is easily reached over.  There is one cash drawer but multiple cashiers.  So your cashier will make sure your check is valid (by making lots of marks all over the check), will pass it to another cashier who makes similar marks all over the check, passes the check back to the first cashier who stamps it and has you sign it again on the back.  And then?  Yes, the check goes back to the second cashier who finally gives you your money.  At some point they are supposed to check your ID, but this didn’t happen with me because I’m white, versus the Indian woman next to me who was rejected because she wasn’t carrying ID.

At the desks where you actually open your account there are either two or three people sharing one space, one computer and sometimes one chair.  Not sure what the other people are doing.  It isn’t clear how well trained they are.  This is very much an old-fashioned, paper-based system.

Back to my story. Our bank officers were quite nice and we filled out lots of forms, many signatures and after 2 hours left with a preliminary ATM card and check book.  That was the last time things worked for us.

Here is the list of things that went wrong (some of which were our fault!)

  • we changed phones from a prepaid plan to a postpaid (like in the US) and had to change phone numbers.  This completely screwed up the bank’s internal systems and it took me several visits and two weeks to get this fixed.
  • We got locked out of the account a few times and the texts went to the old phone number, which we couldn’t retrieve.  Required a trip to the bank.
  • Eric got a permanent ATM card about three weeks later so the temporary card stopped working.  But this one now sends texts to his new phone number.  One problem solved.
  • Anytime a new biller is added to the account or a bill is paid a one-time password is generated and sent to Eric’s phone.  So he has to be nearby when I’m working on bills.
  • Despite repeated attempts to apply for my ATM card it never came.  I never heard from the bank.  I called.  They’d say something was missing.  I’d fill out more forms. I’d wait.  I’d call.  You get the picture.
  • Four weeks later, in early April, they said because I didn’t have a PAN card myself there was another form that needed to be filled out.  I filled it out.  It got lost.  Two weeks later I called.
  • I filled out the form again.  Two weeks later I went to Citibank to open another bank account.
  • Today I found out that in March (that would be 10 weeks ago) Indian banking laws changed requiring all bank account holders to have a PAN card or…. NO ATM.
  • Tomorrow I apply for a PAN card.
  • When we get back to India we move our money because a bank that can’t communicate unless the customer calls to complain doesn’t deserve my business.

I’m one small account, but I need to send the message that this is really poor customer service!

Bangalore’s Many Cuisines

Bangalore is a multicultural city with people from many parts of the country and the world. There is also diversity in language, religion and ethnicity.  In particular Bangalore is known for big breakfasts and spicy foods.  Here are examples of the kinds of cuisines from around Karnataka, our Indian state, which can be found here in Bangalore:

  • South Indian Breakfasts – major hotels have huge spreads of many different cuisines, but an authentic Southern Indian breakfast might include:
    • idli – fermented steamed cake.  Very white with not a ton of flavor on its own, but good with different chutneys.
    • Vada – savory fritter.  I guess anything deep fried is good and at least worth trying.  I’ve found them to be a bit doughy though.
    • dosas – savory pancakes.  Now we are talking.  The thin pancakes resemble crepes, but are made from rice and beans (although you wouldn’t know it to taste them) and can be filled with all many things like masala dosa (a potato curry mixture that is delicious).
    • other things include set dosa (fermented savory pancake), bisl bele bath (rice, lentil, vegetables), pongal (savory rice and lentil), uppittu (semolina porridge), avalaki (flattened rish), rava idli (steamed semolina cake), pesarattu (green gram crepe), idlyappa (string hopper), appam (fluffy pancake) and puttu (steamed rice cake).
  • Chettinad Cuisine – Chettinad is a region in Tamil Nadu, home of a large and successful trading community.  They use many spices and the food is hot.
    • dosas (savory pancakes), appams (fluffy pancakes) or idlies (fermented steamed cakes) are used to offset the spiciness of
    • pepper chicken, lamb varuval (dry curry) or kothu paratha (minced meat dish and bread)
  • Kerala Cuisine – Kerala is on the southwest coast of India thus fish is a big part of the menu.
    • puttu and karla curry (steamed rice cake with chickpeas curry)
    • idli (fermented steamed cake)
    • pidiyan (rice dumpling)
  • Andhra Cuisine – Very cool because a traditional meal is served on a fresh banana leaf as a plate and fingers are used for eating.  In the center of the leaf is a huge mound of white rice, usually with ghee (a kind of clarified butter that is everywhere).  There might be a meat as well.  Around the rice you’ll find many little dishes with:
    • spicy pappulu podi (lentil-based condiment)
    • pappu (lentils)
    • vepudu (dry vegetables which means cooked vegetables, just not in a sauce)
    • gojju (curries)
    • pulusu (sour gravy)
    • pappu chaaru (lentil broth)
    • pachadi (chutney)
    • rasam (soupy lentils)
    • ooragaya (pickle)
    • curd (yogurt)
  • Coorg Cuisine – coffee country in South West Karnataka where Pandi Curry (pork) is a local speciality, but there are many different rice dish variations as well.
    • akki roti (rice flour bread)
    • puttus (steamed rice cakes)
    • nei kool (rice dish)
    • spicy rice dishes
  • Coastal Cuisine – coastal Karnataka is far south and seafood specialities.
    • Spicy coconut-based dishes with fish, prawns, clams and crabs
    • kori roti (rice flour bread)
    • neer dosa (rice pancakes

What Does It Mean to Go Home?

In a couple of days we will be heading back to the US to celebrate our daughter’s college graduation.  The trip has sort of snuck up on me, but I’ve got presents packed, have figured out the logistics of keeping my pitiful garden (more on that in another post!) alive while we are away and have made plans with friends and family for visits while at home.

We are lucky to be going back to our house which has been well tended by friends and I’m anxious to sleep in our bed and explore the things I’ve missed.

But when I start thinking of that list it seems to have shrunk a lot.

At first I really thought I’d be dying for a salad, a burger, pizza, good cheese or a favorite restaurant.  A long walk without worrying about uneven sidewalks, unruly traffic, beeping horns, cars going in the wrong direction on one way streets, dirt and all that makes India, India.

The reality is that I do miss all that, but I’ve been just fine without all that stuff.  That’s not to say I won’t enjoy it when I’m home, but maybe home is where you are rather than what you remember.

Maybe I have two homes now.

IMG_1879

Two Chutneys – Onion & Coconut

Onion Chutney

  • 2 big onions, big dice
  • 2 dried chillis (spicy)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ginger, skinned and rough chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • Small piece of white meat of fresh coconut
  • Pinch salt

Instructions

  • Saute all ingredients for 10 minutes, until softened.
  • Put ingredients into food processor/blender and grind until relatively smooth, but small chunks might remain.

Coconut Chutney

  • 50 gm small chana dal
  • 1 small piece white meat of fresh coconut
  • Few coriander leaves
  • 1 fresh green chilli
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • Pinch mustard seeds
  • 5 fresh curry leaves

Instructions

  • Mix the ingredients (chana dal, coconut, coriander, geen chilli and salt) in a bowl and then put into a food processor/blender and grind.
  • Add water (add 1 tbs. at a time) to get right consistency, which should be not too liquid
  • Saute in a little oil (1 tsp.) the mustard seeds and curry leaves, about 2 minutes, until lightly cooked.
  • Put mustard seeds and curry leaf oil on top of chutney for flavor.

Makes 1 cup each

IMG_1450

Okra and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 tbs. oil, split
  • 1/4 kilo (about 1/2 pound) okra or lady fingers, as they are known in India, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 potato, diced
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • Pinch jeera powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions

  • Heat saute pan without oil.
  • Once hot add 2 tbs. oil and continue heating.
  • Add lady fingers and cook until browned and not gummy, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove lady fingers from pan and put in bowl.
  • Add 2 tbs. oil to same pan and heat.
  • Add potato and  cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
  • Add lady fingers back into pan with potatoes and stir.
  • Add spices, mix and serve.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Vegetable Fried Rice with Prawns

Just because I haven’t posted recently doesn’t mean we aren’t eating!

Ingredients

  • 1 c. white rice
  • 3 tbs. oil
  • 1/2 c. beans, chopped
  • 1/2 c. scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 c. cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c. carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 c. green peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 lb. prawns
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. green chili sauce
  • 1 tsp. tomato sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper

Instructions

  • Heat 1 tsp. oil in pressure cooker and then add rice and two cups of water.  Close pressure cook and cook on medium heat for 3-4 pressure pops.
  • Let pressure cooker cool.
  • Heat large pan with oil.
  • Add all the chopped vegetables and saute about five minutes or until vegetables have softened.
  • Add prawns, soy sauce, green chili sauce, tomato sauce, salt and pepper and cook until prawns are just done.
  • Add prawns and vegetables to rice.  Mix and serve.

Makes 4 cups

Scrambled Eggs with Onions and Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 tbs. oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. tumeric powder
  • 2 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs

Instructions

  • Heat oil in saute pan
  • Add chopped onion, chili powder, tumeric, tomatoes and salt and cook for 10-15 minutes until very soft.
  • Add eggs and mix vigorously to scramble them so there are no big pieces of yolk or egg whites.
  • Cook for a few minutes until eggs are cooked through.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Observation: Tumeric is primarily used for coloring and to kills strong odors, in this case eggs!