India - Monday Morning

Greetings from the future!

While I think I have won the jet-lag battle I am still not fully used to the idea that I am a half day ahead of the world as I know it. It's a little bizarre to think I have had my breakfast and am starting my work day while most, if not all, of you are settling in for Sunday night football. So as you wind down your weekends and prepare for tomorrow morning, here's what the start to my weekdays looks like.

5:45a - I wake up before my alarm goes off and am fairly alert. Since this is when I normally get up in Chicago I feel like my body is getting itself back into some sort of routine. I decide to go to the gym but then regretfully remember that my laundry is not due back from housekeeping until later today and in it is my full stash of workout wear. By the way, I'm not totally okay with the idea of housekeeping doing my laundry but the alternative - packing 6 weeks' worth of underthings - is not realistic. I just hope they heed my request to return everything folded and I don't come home to a wardrobe full of bras dangling on hangers.

5:45-6:45a - I continuously hit the snooze button on my phone. Anticipating today's schedule I decide to allow myself a few extra minutes of sleep. There is no conference call scheduled with Chicago tonight, which means I will leave the office probably around 7p instead of 10p, but because there is no call with Chicago there will be time for a call with our project leadership team in Delhi. They are there for another project kick-off so I am left to man the fort here in Mumbai. The reality of working here is you put in your 10 hours at the office and then buckle up for another 4 hours of phone calls as people in North America wake up.

7:30a - Breakfast. Each day I eat breakfast in a hotel restaurant called Frangipani. There is more food here than necessary but our hotel caters to business folk from all over so Western options abound. My stomach is being a little short-tempered today (I know I am living on borrowed time in the GI issues world) so this day, and most others, I try to start things out on the lighter side. What does this include?

Clockwise, starting with coffee:

  1. Coffee. A far cry from the American drip variety but better than expected. It's likely that I am the sole drinker of this brew each morning, as those around me down pots of tea

  2. Fresh fruit. Hallelujah. It's deliciously fresh.

  3. Peanut butter. Same deal as the coffee. My smear of peanut butter every morning clearly exposes me as an American. But since there is no red meat in this country and because one can only eat so much chicken, I find myself pining for protein every day and this is one of the easiest ways to get it.

  4. "American corn." Yes, that is just what it looks like. Big, fat, golden yellow kernels of corn with a little bit of green onion and parsley thrown in. I'm not sure why Indians think this is an American dish to be served at breakfast but I've found myself indulging in it almost every day. Why? Because this is the only vegetable I've found so far that does not come either raw or entirely smothered in spices, gravies, and/or sugar. You may think it strange to crave straight-up steamed vegetables but it doesn't take long for your body to want something relatively straightforward. Thus, corn.

  5. Toast. No story here. Apply peanut butter and eat. This happens to be brioche and it's fabulous.

  6. Two eggs over easy. I didn't order these but in classic Indian fashion someone thought I did and I didn't have the heart to say "no." (Sidebar: I've been advised that when Americans say they don't like something that you, the Indian employee, has done, it can be devastating to one's ego. Frankly, I think this has less to do with American-ism and more to do with the general approach to relationships here, where hospitality is a trump card and people want to believe they do things perfectly from the start every time. Don't believe me? Then read an Indian newspaper and see how many stories of perfect scholastic entrance exams fill the pages. There was a front page story about two guys getting 99% on the Indian MCATs just yesterday.)
Breakfast is over and it's time to head out to the office. Before I depart I stop by my hotel room to get my malaria meds and some Immodium. As I said, I'm on borrowed time.

8:00a - Outside the hotel at the valet stand I ask for a cab to the office. One pulls up and the driver has a few words with the hotel valet. The driver demands 100 Rs. and the valet looks at me sheepishly. I've been trained to react with a face full of shock and retort that I shall not pay anything more than 50 Rs. In my mind this all seems silly because remember, we're talking $1 versus $2, but to succumb to the 100% markup screams "tourist" and "Westerner who flashes money around like it's no big deal." And regardless of where you are, that latter descriptor is an obnoxious trait to own. So I wait for the next cab.

I'm not the only one waiting for the next cab. Other taxis wait for the next cab, too. If you look toward the tree line in the picture below you'll spot 3 cabs lined up with no passengers. Yours truly, a prospective passenger, waits not 50 yards ahead. No one wants to drive me and this is not uncommon. Many taxi drivers would rather stand idle than take a 50 Rs. fare. Here's where I want to yell out, "Hello, opportunity cost!" But alas, I wait.

8:15a - My next chariot pulls up and I get in. Today's fabric is a take on giraffe. A giraffe who seems to have eaten too many blueberries, Violet Beauregard-style.

We cruise along the 2.3 km route to the office and dart through intersections. Is it bad that seeing another moving vehicle this close to my window doesn't cause me to blink but rather prompts me to take a photo?
8:25a - On the streets we pass all sorts of people going all sorts of places. Childen in freshly pressed school uniforms, replete with bow ties for the boys, march along in direct contrast to older women slouched over and ambling barefoot along the broken sidewalks. Delivery carts are out and a man empties his tank along a wall in broad daylight.

8:25a - I arrive at the office and pay the 40 Rs. cab fare. Figuring out cab fares is a science to be discussed another day but I decide I've done alright with my math because the driver doesn't yell at me. Up the Stairs of Scares I go to the office.

I'm the first one in and Ganesh, one of two "house boys" (read: janitors cum housekeepers cum waitstaff) says hello and brings me a fresh bottle of water and a hot cup of chai tea. Nilesh, the other house boy, will be in later in the morning and stays through early evening. I don't like the chai, despite numerous attempts (I get two chances each day to change my mind). But much like the egg incident above, I elect to sip a few sips each time and then find a moment where I can discreetly take my tea back to the pantry (read: kitchen) and dump the beverage down the sink.

You must understand that this is risky business and I say this with every attempt to not sound patronizing: it is part of Ganesh's and Nilesh's jobs to make, serve, and remove tea cups for each member of the staff. So, when I don't drink it AND I take it back to the pantry I am, in essence, saying, "I can do your job for you while I'm doing my own, thankyouverymuch." This whole exchange makes me very uncomfortable because I don't like the feeling of being waited on but this is another example of jobs created from a glut of labor supply.

It is now 9:51a and approximately half of the office staff have reported to work. The rhythm of the days here is very different from what we know in the States. We'll get to that at another time.

Signing off and clocking in.


Eileensews said...

I read the blogs for the sewing stuff, but I am really enjoying your experience living and working in India.

Meigan said...

I came looking for sewing stuff, and lo and behold you are in India...just like me! (I've been here 2.5+ years!. Enjoy your time. It's a wild and crazy place.

Hopefully you'll have time to shop for fabric. Ask at the hotel where local ladies shop for "dress materials" by the meter. You will be stunned probably most by the prices (cheap) and then by the colors and designs. Also suit/trouser fabrics are good quality and very reasonable. Raymond shops have good stuff.

Good luck!

snidersarah said...

Catherine! Your blog is amazing. Keep up the lovely writing. I am living vicariously through you at the moment. You'll be amused to know that all of Seattle shut down today at the threat of 1-2 inches of snow. Yes, just a threat and they closed schools, stopped running normal bus routes, etc. It's mayhem....and yet, it's sunny out! We can handle rain, but not snow. Thought you and your Chicago folks would enjoy that.


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