Tag Archives: india

Outsourced……….blech…..

I was so excited for the premiere of the new tv show Outsourced and was absolutely bummed when my son’s back to school night was scheduled for the same night. Honestly, you would think the school administration would be a little more sensitive to my tv viewing preferences and be a little more careful to not create conflicts between my parenting and entertainment priorities. But no – they weren’t  – Outsourced aired right in the middle of my session of 8th grade math. Hpmf.

But the techno gods have been generous and blessed us with tivo capabilities. So, all is in sync in the parenting and hollywood worlds.

Last night, I finally got to see Outsourced – the new NBC comedy about an American manager running a call center in India. Frankly, they should have outsourced the production, writing, and editing. Blech. Let’s remember that I did offer my assistance. They should have taken me up on it. Who knows, maybe they still will. 😉 The Executive Producers are Robert Borden, Ken Kwapis, Victor Nelli, Jr., Tom Gorai, and David Skinner – just in case you are reading along fellows, you can contact me at AReasonToWrite (at) gmail (dot) com.

There wasn’t much about it that was realistic – even worse, there wasn’t much that was funny. And yes, I understand you are supposed to suspend reality and just laugh. But I just spent the past year and a half of my life living it and there is a lot that has laugh potential without being insulting. A lot. There is the line at the post office and the puja and oh, so much more.

I am not always great with chronology so I might not get my complaints in exact order but it doesn’t really matter.

The first big misstep was that the American manager went to work in a rickshaw. Beyond the fact that the rickshaw scene was very poorly done, an outsourced manager in India would very likely be driven to work by a driver. They just ruled out about 3 hilarious episodes by leaving out the driver and his very real side (splitting) story. Having a driver in India is part of the experience and it adds a whole new dimension to life abroad. It is so foreign to the way most Americans navigate through their day in the U.S. Maybe the manager should have tried to drive himself somewhere – now that would be funny. Very funny. Or try to communicate with a driver whose English is not exactly up to snuff – like here. Or try to find the zoo – like here.

However, my biggest criticism is the Outsourced character of the big Sikh guy who just looks intimidating and totally ticked off. Too easy. It’s (horrible) stereotyping. It’s ridiculous. And based on the Sikhs I met, it’s largely inaccurate. Many are actually gentle giants in many respects. Their temples all have kitchens and they feed absolutely anyone in need for free. I wrote about the Golden Temple here, where they feed over 100,000 people a day.

And then a cow appeared in the front office window. Really? A cow? That’s all you’ve got? Sure, cows roam the streets – but really? Again, way too easy. They should have at least made it a monkey (more realistic in front of an office window) or a camel or an elephant. At least that would have been unexpected. And not to be nit-picky but the cow in the window was way too fat.

On to the minor inaccuracies. All the desks are lovely, spread out, and nicely decorated with picture frames. Yeah. Not gonna happen. Call centers operate on shifts. And for obvious reasons, they try to get as many people in a room as they can (just like in U.S. offices). In the real world, two to three workers would rotate sitting at a desk during a 24-hour period. So there would be no personalizing your workspace. And it is highly unlikely that the boss would be sitting in the same room as the call center employees.

The Indian manager was wearing suspenders. I don’t think I ever saw an Indian man in India in a set of suspenders – I am not saying it didn’t happen – but I call malarkey. Or at least bad editing.

The company in the tv show sells novelty items – some of which are a bit risque. My experience with Indians is that they are very modest people. At one point in the show, the American manager is explaining the “value” of a mistletoe belt to the staff at the call center. How it works – why you would put mistletoe on a belt. Yeah, that would be totally inappropriate and awkward. Later in the episode, he shows the staff a plaque with a replica of a woman’s chest (read boobs) on it that jingles when a song is played. Maybe it was called Jingle Boobs – I had mostly tuned out at that point, so I probably didn’t get the name right. But please. A female employee at the call center laughs at the novelty item. I just really have a hard time believing that would be a typical response. Even most American women would not exactly be amused.

If it was Al and Peggy Bundy get Outsourced, it might have been chuckle-worthy. But it wasn’t about Married with Children hits India and it wasn’t funny.

The one thing that was funny was the food in the cafeteria but only because they made another (way too) easy joke about what we used to call Delhi Belly. When you are not used to spicy foods, you do have to be careful what you eat – and of course that is true of anywhere – not just in India. And some Indian food is super spicy and it can upset your belly. And it can be funny – when it happens to someone else – and someone else who knows better and laughs when they put it in his/her mouth and jokes “what’s the worst that can happen?”. That is what I call “famous last words”. Which are often followed by Montezuma’s Revenge and a quick re-enactment of the fabled Murphy’s Law.

So, for what it’s worth (and I realize that is nothing), I was left very unimpressed. I do, however, remain very willing to offer ideas and suggestions. 😉

Uh-Oh……

I just received this email from a reader – one I know through the blog-o-sphere and through a mutual friend – one who has been complimentary in the past and is (or at least was) a loyal reader. So I am sharing it with you just in case you have the same concerns.

Hi A Reason to Write
Hope you are well. Just read another post by you.

I hope I am not the only one saying this but I feel your posts have changed a bit lately ever since you have come back to the the States. I miss the humor in your posts and I feel that there is a tongue in cheek attitude in your posts. I know you have mentioned in your previous posts somewhere that you are not trying to demean or belittle life in India. But why do I always feel that you are doing just that? I may be wrong and want to give it the benefit of the doubt. India is India and US is US..there is no comparison, period! You called India a third world country once. India is no more a third world country! In one of your posts, not too long ago, one of the things was people leaving their kids alone on the streets…are these things not happening in the US? India is still a very young country as compared to the US and the progress it has made in this short time is remarkable. I do not think it is  fair to compare these two countries. We should compare apples to apples!

I shared my views with a few like minded people who read your blog on my request. It made me sad to read what was being projected to people who are not familiar with life in India and its rich culture.

Please know that I am not upset. I am just sharing my thoughts with you. Pinky swear! 🙂

Where to begin. Yikes. First of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts and ending with humor – at least I know you aren’t ready to form a picket line in front of my blog – just yet. 😉
Then I would add, that my blog should never be judged just on simply one post. No blog should be. As you say, India has a rich culture and history and I tout that often in my posts.

Then I would like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, this post warrants a re-read.
I will readily admit to being sarcastic. I am and it’s extremely likely that I will continue to be.

And this post is just that.

But it is in no way a criticism of India.

I have always contended that there is no right and wrong – simply differences. Shopping and cooking and driving in India and the U.S. are hardly similar in any way. I benefited from having staff in India because it saved me a lot of time. And I am grateful that there are so many conveniences in the U.S. that equally make my life easier but we might have taken it too far when we sell shredded cheese and premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Do I use them? Sure – happily. Do I need them? I would argue no – not even for a second. I even said in my post that my American readers should continue reading just to be reminded of what we take for granted on a daily basis.

Basically what I will say is that this post is more about the excesses in America than any deficiencies I saw in India. I think it is ludicrous that we have 18 different ways to buy cheddar cheese – although I am grateful we do – it’s a tad bit excessive. I don’t ever argue that America is perfect – of course it isn’t. Neither is India broken. There are just things that do not make complete sense through my western eyes.  A continuous thread throughout all of my posts is all that I learned in India and how grateful I am for the experience for me and for my family. I did not love everything about India – but I loved most of it. We have been blessed beyond measure to see that the world is so different and that every place offers tremendous stories and experiences.

As far as India being a third world country. This is truly, truly a fascinating debate to me. Once before, someone adamantly argued that India is not a third world country. Certainly many people in India live well. There is no doubt about that. And there is a lot of opulence in India. However, the majority of India’s citizens don’t have real and guaranteed access to water, permanent shelter, education, and some level of health care. Throw in some pretty high infant mortality rates and you have got some development issues. But don’t just listen to my big fat opinion –

Wikipedia says this:
“The term ‘Third World’ arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world.”

Many people will say that India is a “developing” third world country. That’s probably more fair and I will start using that term from now on. And you make a good point. India’s government is still young – there is a lot of growing to do. But the elephant in the room is the waste and abuse that happens in the Indian government that often results in the unnecessary suffering of so many people. Again, is America perfect? Absolutely not. Of course not. We have our own wastes and abuses and not everyone is getting an equal share of the pot.

Part of what has been so hard for me in returning to America is leaving the images of India behind. I too often allow myself to forget that people are suffering – all over the world. How do I throw away bread crusts when children are starving (and yes, not just in India, in America too)? Now I put my crusts and stale bread out for the birds and squirrels. I know it won’t change a thing in the world but at least I am wasting less. That feels better.

I think Americans allow ourselves to be self-absorbed and protect ourselves from the reality of the sufferings of others – and, to be fair, I can point that same self-absorbed finger at Indians too. We all put on our jewelry and drive our gas hogs and live in our houses that are unnecessarily big and melt our shredded cheese and simply allow ourselves to ignore that, for the most part, even on a bad day, others have it much, much worse.

I struggle with how to become a more global citizen and how to have more of an impact in helping others – and that struggle is a direct result of my life in India. I can no longer pretend that life in Northern Virginia is the norm. It’s certainly great but it is not the experience of most of the world. I struggle with how to do something everyday to make someone else’s life better. I am failing miserably in that regard but I am trying.

And I am afraid this blog will continue to contain comparisons between life in India and life in America. It’s all I know and I am not willing to add another experience to my repertoire – at least not yet.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. I never want to offend anyone – but unfortunately, the minute you hit publish on the internet, you are very much in danger of doing just that. And remember that I am mostly talking to myself – the fact that anyone is coming along for the journey continues to amaze me. I am at least glad you felt comfortable in sharing your disagreement and disappointment with me and my words. That is one thing that India and America do have in common. Democracy is a beautiful thing.

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

15 milliseconds of (possible) fame………….

If you have been reading along for a while, you might remember that my family and I got to be extras on a movie set while we lived in India – just one of the many wonderful things we got to do on our adventure that we would have n.e.v.e.r. been able to do here. I was hesitant at the time to say what movie it was because I didn’t want our scene cut from the movie because info about it appeared on some (stupid mommy) blog.

However, the movie premieres today and we just might be in it.

Guess what the movie is – go ahead, guess…….guess…….guess. Yep, Eat, Pray, Love.

This is a frame that someone (who apparently knows and loves Peter) froze from the trailer.

Now, I want to be very clear that it is extremely possible that this scene got cut from the movie. It is a flashback wedding scene that was not originally in the book. But just in case it makes it – Hubby and I are sitting at the back left table and my kids are sitting at the back right table. Hubby and I are sitting with the main camera guy’s girlfriend (I know he is a super duper big deal and has a much more glamorous title than just “main camera guy” but I cannot remember what it is, sorry) and our kids are sitting with someone’s (maybe even the director’s) kids – so I am thinking we have a good chance of being in there. But I won’t know for sure until 7:10p when I drag my hubby to the theater. And you bet your arse I will write again tomorrow and let you know for sure.

About the book – I will be very honest here (shocking, right?) and tell you that when I started reading this book several years ago, I was not a big fan. I thought it was indulgent, selfish, and, because I had children, a husband, and a life I am happy with, completely unrealistic. The main character does not have children (if I remember correctly she is trying to get pregnant at the beginning of the story) and she decides to completely reinvent herself by leaving her life behind and traveling to Italy to eat, India to pray, and then on to Bali to love. That is so not going to happen in my world so I had a hard time making a real connection to the story. Plus the author came across as a little too impressed with herself – however this whole book thing is working out pretty well for her. Believe me, Julia Roberts isn’t knocking down any doors to play me in a movie so I will shut up on how much I didn’t care for the book right about now.

The experience was a lot of fun.

Hubby and I and even the kids actually auditioned for speaking parts. The kids had to pretend to be afraid of family antics at the Thanksgiving table – they have absolutely no experience with family antics so they were woefully unprepared and were not picked. I tried out for the role of soccer mom which I am woefully over-qualified for and I think they were afraid I might out-act the actual stars. And Hubby tried out for the part of the priest. And if you know him – stop laughing – it really is not that funny. Really, stop it.

The movie crew offered to send a driver to pick us up. I wasn’t too sure that leaving our house with our children in tow at 4am and driving off into the sunrise with a complete stranger in India was a great idea. We had our own driver take us. But once we got there, we got to go to wardrobe and makeup and hair – where they straightened my hair – pretty funny since I have paper straight hair and they put make up on me that made me look like either an 80-year old great-great-great-grandmother or a woman who doesn’t own a mirror. But the chances of you actually seeing my face or my hair are probably pretty slim. So here I am with my dear friend who loves me enough to wake up at 4am to come with. Smooches girl!

About Julia Roberts – I was frankly disappointed that she never even said hello to the group of us in the room. I think that would have been the nice thing to do since we all woke up at the crack o’dawn and sat in a very hot room all day to help make the movie. She is certainly very pretty and actually smaller in stature than I thought she would be. And her laugh is absolutely infectious. But she never once turned to us and said “thanks for being here guys – especially since I am going to make enough money on this movie to feed all of China”. Really? Hmpf.

As you can tell, the scene we were in was a wedding scene. So at one point, one of the directors thought it would be more realistic to have people “pretending” to take pictures. They gave cameras to the people in the scene who were associated with the filming so that they could trust that pictures would not end up on the internet (which by the by, I totally would not do because I know full well that would mean the scene would be cut, duh).

As I mentioned, we were sitting with the big guy’s girlfriend and she was given a camera. So, I asked her if she would use my camera instead. Brilliant right? Hubby was crawling under the table, very sure that we would be getting kicked out and he would have spent his entire day in the heat in a suit for nothing. It was probably as close as he has ever come to considering divorce. But she was delightful and used the camera. She even told me she was trying to get a picture with me and Julia in it together – she was really a liar, liar, pants on fire. She is actually a director in her own rite and was very careful to only take pictures without faces. But it was very sweet of her to pretend for the crazy lady trying desperately to break bend the rules.

And then, at the end of the day, she turned us in. Honest to God, I thought I was back in college trying to get into a bar with a fake id (and Dad – by that I totally mean hearing a story about a “friend” in college who tried to get into a bar with a fake id – you taught me better than that). Enter Bruno who could not flatten his arms against his body because they were so bowed by muscles. Hubby is giving me the death stare while Bruno deletes the pictures.

But, all in all, it was a fantastic experience. The beginning and end of a wonderful acting career – and, yes, hubby and I were each paid $60 for our time and extreme talent.

I will be back tomorrow to let you know if we made the cut.

Lived there, done that…………..

Since we have been home, we have been catching up on some great t.v. Yesterday I saw an ad for this new NBC Show – Outsourced. The new comedy will be on Thursday nights starting in the fall. It looks like it has the real potential to be very funny. Of course, they will have to maintain a very careful balance so that the show is also not insulting. What I hope they don’t miss is the “life outside of the office” experience. Frankly, I think they need a writer who has actually lived it, perhaps a blogger with a bunch of material (already) in the queue, maybe a blogger who has over 100k hits on her beloved blog, perhaps someone with a sense of humor about how different life can be ……. hmmmmmmmmmmmm ……. maybe they will be calling me soon. 😉

Anyone have any contacts at NBC? If so, please feel free to pass them along.

So hard to explain………

I have been really grappling with how to share my transition back to America. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I am truly paralyzed at the thought of doing it all justice which means that I have not been putting fingers to keyboard very much and I am afraid that some of it is going to slip away from my memory.

At least ten times a day, I look around and think (sometimes to myself and sometimes to any poor soul standing near me) that America is exactly the opposite of India. And I really, really mean that. It is exactly the opposite! And that does not mean bad or good – just so extremely different that I know my words would have a hard time describing it accurately.

This morning at Walmart was no exception. Just walking into Walmart is a little bit overwhelming. Heck, just getting to Walmart is different. I grab my car keys and I hop in the drivers seat and I drive myself there. No waiting for Rajinder to fill his water bottle. No giving a list to Francis and Rani for what I want. No asking Ravi if he needs anything. No trying to translate what he actually asks for. No waiting for the guard to unlock/open the gate. And certainly no wondering if I will be able to find what I need. Just me, myself, and I hop in the car.

I control the radio – hey, I listen to the radio. I decide which route to take. This way or that way is up to me once more.  On the way to the store, I pass tons of green trees along roads where (nearly) everyone stays in their own lane (everyone except those dingbats who are texting and driving – seriously that needs to stop). No one honks their horn. People stop at red lights and use their blinkers. There are no wild cows or dogs on the road. In fact, people are walking dogs on leashes and they are fatter than they need to be – the dogs and many of the people. There are no children begging or doing tricks on the side of the road. There are no bicycles with 3 or even 4 people on them. There are no women on the backs of motorcycles with their dupattas (scarves) flowing dangerously close to the back tire. There are street signs (in English) absolutely everywhere. There are no people running to literally catch a bus that is so full of people that it already looks like it might explode.

I pull into Walmart’s abundant parking lot and I pick where I want to park. I don’t have to tip anyone to push another car out of the way to make room for me. I don’t have to ask Rajinder where I should meet him when I am done or explain how long I think it might take. A man greets me as I enter the store and I get a cart. Oh sweet shopping cart heaven. No one follows me through the store. No one asks me 25 times if I need help. Two people and two carts can easily pass each other on each aisle. And while I am shopping I can get a Subway sandwich (with meatballs and s.a.f.e. lettuce), order eyeglasses, fill a prescription, develop photos, and just about anything else I want to do.

I do have to push my own cart and pull my own items from the shelves. And it takes me so much longer because there is so much more to look at and so many more choices. But I only have to go to one store.

The reason I went to Walmart was to get clear trash bags for the recycling container. Once again, we are responsible for our own recycling. And we have two trash cans in the kitchen. One for regular trash and another for anything that can be recycled – paper, plastic, glass, and metal items. So I like clear bags for the recycling. That way we can tell which is which and the trash men know which bags have recycling in them. I also wanted small bags for cleaning out the cat litter.

Here again I am assaulted by choices. Upteen size and color options. I really just want trash bags but now I have to decide if I want white, flexwhite, green, black, clear, or slightly opaque. Do I want handles or ties or looped handles. Do I need 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 33 gallon, or yard bags. It takes me just a second to focus. But then I found the recycling bags I wanted.

Now onto the small trash bags. Holy trashbag batman – they come in colors – vanilla and mint green. Then, I realize – not just colors but scents. Huh? I fully understand that perfume was invented to cover up body odor – but we have moved away from that because it can really be a toxic combination. And as such, deodorant was invented. Perfume is much better on a bathed person and scents are much better for candles. And I know the makers of these cute little mint green 8 gallon bags with handles did not know that they would be used for litter – but the potential certainly existed that they would be used for something smelly. And not for nothing, who decided that 76 bags was the right number of bags. That must have been a fun meeting. And who lost out – the person who thought that 88 was just the right number?

So India is the land where not much of the trash finds its way into a bag and America is the land where trash bags are supposed to smell like a cupcake or a bowl of ice cream. I really don’t know if this makes sense to anyone who has not lived in both places – but honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is different, different.

And the the final irony is that I searched and searched for these small bags for our kitties poop only to be given about 15 bags of almighty plastic to hold all of the c-r-a-p that I bought at checkout. And they are the same, same size and they do not smell like cotton candy and they would work perfectly fine for holding cat litter. And I would be recycling if I just used those.

On to checking out. Even that is different. The woman in front of me was using coupons. Dang, I forgot about that. Note to self – get Sunday paper, cut out coupons, and remember to bring them to the store – then remember to use them at checkout.

Most transactions in India are in cash – so the debit card machine temporarily stunned me. Do I want cash back? It’s a simple question – but I forgot that it prompts you for that. I stand there waiting to be done – and the people behind me think I have dropped in from another planet – how can I possibly not know what to do here. Okay, okay. No, I don’t want cash – well, unless it is a door prize – but I am guessing that is not the case, so no, I don’t need cash back. But that is not the end of it. Do I want to contribute to a fundraiser for a children’s hospital? I can buy a paper balloon and write my name on it. I should not have to think about it – but wait a minute – what did you ask me? Oh, a charitable donation? Sure. How much? A dollar? Fine. And no thanks, I don’t need to write my name on the balloon. Besides, my hands are full because I am going to have to carry my own bags to the car and remember where I parked it.

I can feel his pain ………… unexpected connections…..

Today we went to see the new Karate Kid movie. If you have not seen the movie, you might not want to read this yet. It’s predictable – you already know what happens, so I promise I am not ruining the ending – but I am all full of opinions about this and I might taint your viewpoint. Better to see it first then tell me how wrong I am.

At one point in the movie, the 12 year old boy who was forced to move across the globe has a mini-tantrum and tells his mother that he hates it in China and that he just wants to go home. After the movie, Bear said that he could totally feel his pain. And then he laughed. And we marveled that we had already been gone a year and a half and that we are now back home. We all agreed that the experience was amazing but we could totally relate to the main character wanting to get the heck out of there – even if the ice cream is really good.

One of the beginning scenes was at the airport and they showed this statue.

We all simultaneously looked at each other and laughed. Several parts of the movie were filmed in places in Beijing we had been – the markets, Olympic Park, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square, etc. That was bizarro. I knew the movie was filmed in Asia but I didn’t realize it was filmed in Beijing where we had just visited not too many weeks ago. We went out for a little family bonding time in front of the big screen and behind bags of popcorn and we found some tremendous unexpected connections.

Right before we left for India, Slumdog Millionaire came out and that was really my first introduction to India. It’s wasn’t a warm and fuzzy “how ya doing” introduction – it was a “holy crap you want me to move where and take our children with us – yeah, that sounds like a great idea” kind of introduction.

And then, when we return, Karate Kid comes out. That is about as full circle as it gets. And as much as the Indian population was not that impressed with Slumdog, I don’t think the Chinese people and mothers in general are going feel the l.o.v.e. for Karate Kid.

It missed the boat on a number of fronts. The bottom line is that a father has apparently died and a mother moves her son from Detroit to China for a job. But knowing how tough this decision really is, I was disappointed that they just started the movie with the move. A move that they made too simple and too uncomplicated. There weren’t really any tears – the family just picked up and left with a few hugs in the rain as Dre’s (the Karate Kid) best friend gives him his skateboard and they knock knuckles. That just is not reality. When you move around the world, you are tearing yourself away from just about every little level of comfort you know – especially if it is your first international move – and even if you don’t love everything about where you are leaving – you at least mostly know what to expect. Anytime you move, you are leave people you care about and routines and just a life that is familiar. Surely, there is a thrill in the new adventure but it just doesn’t begin with a hug in the rain.

Those of you who know me will probably laugh when I say this – but I also simply cannot believe that a widow can take her 12-year old boy to Beijing and let him just run about town. He spent a good deal of his time unattended. Let me say this about Beijing. We wanted to take a cab from our hotel to the Hard Rock Cafe and back to get my brother a hat. The hotel “strongly” discouraged us from doing that because most people in China don’t speak English. It’s not easy to navigate a big city even as an adult and even when you can speak the language and can read the signs. It is totally unrealistic to think that a 12 year old could find his way around that town alone and that a mother would be comfortable with that happening. I know you are supposed to suspend reality when you watch a movie. But I think that when people put together a movie that they want you to believe in – they should make attempts to make it believable. A woman alone with a child in a completely foreign environment just would not give her son so much freedom. I could not get past that. Every time Dre was walking somewhere alone, I could not help but think that he should not be doing that.

After the movie, I asked Bear what he thought the chances of me letting him roam around Beijing by himself would be. He laughed that I would probably let him do that before I would let him delete a text message from me and then not respond. Oh yeah, that happened too. Dre’s mom was looking for him and he just hit “delete” after receiving the message. Excuse me? But she was on his arse about not hanging up his jacket. Huh?

At one point, the boy and his instructor take a train ride to train at the Great Wall. Seriously? She’s going to let this total stranger take her son on a train? So, the mom might win an academy award for this movie (but don’t bet on that) but she certainly will not be getting mother of the year honors.

Anyneglect, then there was the whole issue of Dre making friends. On the day he arrived, the Karate Kid met a boy about his age and played some basketball with him. Then he saw a cute girl and went over to meet her. Enter the bullies who were unimpressed. He got the crap beaten out of him. Frankly, it was a little much. I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the Chinese teenager – but this seemed so out of character for what I have experienced. Five or six boys ganged up on the new kid and pummeled him. Exit the new friend. This blond boy is never seen again in the movie. Again, really? Not even at school, not even once? Really, Chinese teenagers would pummel a foreigner within hours of his arrival in the country. It just didn’t all add up.

When Dre’s mom saw his black eye – and not until the next morning by the way – she accepted his “I ran into a pole” excuse to avoid having a discussion in front of the school administrator. Again – not gonna happen. You realize your son has been beaten up, you did a little deeper. You don’t leave him at the door with a “I love you, honey” and send him into the wolves den. Guess who some of the first kids he saw at school were? Bingo!

It was never clear what type of school the boy was going to. But it seemed to at least be an international school. They have this new student thing down pat – they usually assign a “buddy” to kids to help them navigate through their first few days. Didn’t happen. Dre did run into his “crush” at the cafeteria but the bullies didn’t like him talking to her and turned his tray upside down on his shirt – right in front of the school administrator. She just sent them on their way in opposite directions and did not address the conflict at all. Huh?

The boy got bullied a few more times and then finally saved by the maintenance man (Jackie Chan – lucky to have him as the maintenance man). Jackie Chan agrees to train Dre and they become fast friends.

I also had a really tough time accepting the bullying nature of the group of boys in the story. Everyone I know who has their kids in some sort of martial arts touts the discipline the art teaches. It is not about the fighting but about strengthening the mind and the body and learning focus. You become strong so you do not have to fight. But the motto of the teacher of the bullies was basically if you have any mercy, you are weak. Fight until someone cannot get up. Yes, you remember that correctly. These boys are 12.

I guess, it was possible to believe that the fights on the street got nasty. But even in competition these boys were giving blows to the face and trying to maim their competition. They were more like MMA fighters than 12 year olds learning martial arts and competing in a respectful manner. It did not give a great impression of martial arts training in China. Dre’s teacher did say that there were no bad students only bad teachers. But still. The whole premise of the fighting was that these boys were out for blood and trained to be so.

There were just too many missing pieces in the plot. Not enough of a front story. Not enough of what we loved about the first movie – the training sessions and the growth of the character. And a very predictable ending – which had to be predictable because it is after all a remake of the Karate Kid. I can forgive it the ending – and, no, I was not crying at the end. The theater was extremely humid.

Another one bites the dust…………….

Plain and simple – I stink at having staff in my house. We just fired our cook and his wife. And by “we” I totally mean “me”.

Just so you know I don’t get rid of staff willy nilly – please remember that we have had Ravi (our house keeper) since the day we got here a year and a half ago. And I am only on our second driver – and the first driver was simply reassigned within hubby’s company so he was not “fired”. We don’t have loyalty issues. But dang it. Another one bites the dust. And this was a two-fer.

If you haven’t been taking notes along the way while reading this blog, this is the 4th cook we have fired. Hubby fired the first 3 because I was just a big fat chicken and simply did not want to deal with it. So Francis and Rani were my first “fire”. I really, truly could have lived my entire life without firing someone. It’s not pretty. There were no cameras, no lights, no dramatic “cue music” like when Donald Trump does it – and certainly no applause. And they did not get to ride home in a limousine.

Francis and Rani have been working with us since October, when cook number 3 (Laxmi) got canned. My first warning sign should have been the day we hired them. They stood in our driveway and called Laxmi’s mother to find out if this was the house that Laxmi worked at and did she know they were interviewing new people. Thick as thieves these guys – literally.

I have been grappling with what to do about Francis and Rani for a few months. When we first hired them, we really liked them. They worked hard and Francis made excellent breads – which forever endeared him in the heart of number one hubby. But then I realized they weren’t honest. Francis was doing the shopping and on the way home from the store, he would rewrite the receipts to his benefit. They were not nice to the guards or the other people working in our home and they were making decisions that were not theirs to make. And they were stealing. They were smart enough about it – my earrings are all still in place but they would take little things that I probably wouldn’t notice.

Just one of the many examples of the things they did that was less than impressive was this – our guard stands outside of our gate in 110 degree heat. He does not get the benefit of the air conditioning like some of the other people who work here. Our guard asked Francis for water. Now, mind you, Francis and Rani used to fill up about 6 large soda bottles a day and take water home with them. But Francis said the guard could not have a glass of water. He never even asked me my opinion. Just decided all on his own that the man guarding my house and my family did not need to be hydrated, while he sat fat and happy in the kitchen with air conditioning. Let me just say this is probably what sealed Francis’ fate because it told me that his heart is black. How can you look at a person standing outside in the heat all day long and deny them a drink of water, especially when your cup literally runneth over? Especially when it frankly is not even your water.

Of course, there were many other things along the way that caused me concern. But the plum that broke the boss’ back was actually just that – a plum. Now, I know this will sound absolutely ridiculous to most of you and as I think about how to write the story so that it makes sense, I am not sure I will be able to find a way.

Most people who have staff here just accept that they will be dishonest sometimes, that they will take a few things here and there, that they just don’t look at life the same way we do. After all, we have so much and they don’t. And most people will argue that it doesn’t really matter if they take things from you as long as they don’t take anything important. A year and a half ago, I would have been incensed by that and argued the morality of it all. Now, I understand that it can make you crazy and if you just don’t think about it – then it is not a problem.

But even after having a long heart-to-heart with Francis and Rani about being honest and playing nice with the other staff, they still thought the rules did not apply to them. These heart-to-hearts are supposed to snap staff back in line faster than a rubber band and buy you a few weeks if not months of no conflict. But it was clear that Francis and Rani did not take me seriously and that they thought I am not the brightest bulb in the pack. Even after I explained to them that I know exactly what is going on in this house and, just because I don’t address something immediately, does not mean I am not aware of it.

Oh “yes, ma’am” they said with heads bowed. “Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, yes ma’am.” Augh.

If you are a parent and you have had this type of discussion with a child, you know just how I felt. It was pretty much “yeah, yeah, yeah” and they went right back to their antics. Immediately right back.

So, I waited until I knew that they had taken something and I asked the guard to check their bags. There it was – a plum. Along with half the contents of the fridge that I had actually given them. I cannot stand for food to go bad – so we give a lot of leftovers to our staff. (Which by they by, means that they are forever making too much food so that there are leftovers – see how this all works.) That day I had asked them to make sure to clean out the fridge and take home the leftovers. And when I walked in to the kitchen, I saw Rani’s bag with a plum in it. Completely separate from the other food. And no, I did not look through her bag – it was sitting on the counter and the plum was right on top.

Right about now, you are probably thinking, well you gave them food – how did they know the plum wasn’t on the menu. Trust me. They did.

Or you might be thinking – seriously a plum? Yes, because enough already.

As I said, there was a lot that lead up to the great plum incident of 2010. And I am writing this – not to get your sympathy or not to earn Francis and Rani your sympathy – but so that I can remember this. This blog is a great big “note to self” for me to remember my experiences here. Already, just a few days later, I am questioning my sanity. How did I let myself get so wrapped up in this? Why can’t I just let some things go?

And now I am left with a plum that is rotting and that cannot do laundry or cook dinner or wash dishes.

But, how can I stand in my own kitchen everyday and look at people who are dishonest and whose hearts are black and pull money out of my wallet to pay them to steal from me?

I will surely never reconcile this whole having staff thing.

What he said………..

It turns out I am in good company in the blogosphere. The U.S. Ambassador to India has a blog too – it’s called Roaming Roemer – yep his name is Timothy Roemer and he is certainly roaming all over India – to places that most of us would never know about or be able to find. He is rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty – and sometimes getting them clean. Tim Roemer is advocating for better education, cleaner water, better opportunities for women and children, and so much more. Check out his blog and you can see the real work that is happening in India and how America is being allowed to participate in it. It’s interesting stuff for sure!

Easter in India……..

Did you know that there are nearly 30 million Christians in India? Me either. Well, make that 30 million and five.

I just assumed that Christianity came to India with the British – but that does not seem to be the case. Apparently, one of the Apostles – St. Judas Thomas – was brought to India around 52 AD to build a temple. While he was there, he converted a few people.

French missionaries began arriving in the 1300s. And then around 1500, the Portuguese arrived in India and started trying to convert Indians to Christianity under the Pope’s edict to baptize people all around the world.

The British surely had their own influences too when they arrived in the 1600s but really did not begin their missionary work until the 1800s.

I got a few emails from friends asking me how in the heck we celebrated Easter in India.

Let me start by saying, if you are moving to India and you plan to celebrate Easter in India, bring some of those plastic eggs with you. Bring extra in case you have a friend or two who did not bring them. You’ll be the belle of the ball, I promise.

The hardest thing about Easter in Delhi is that there is no family in Delhi – that and the fact that they simply do not sell those little plastic eggs here. But the rest is pretty much the same.

We woke up delighted that the Easter Bunny found us so far away from home. And we got dressed for church – there is a lovely international church that is Christian but non-demoninational. And someone – I cannot imagine who – thought it would be best to attend the 9:30am service so that the rest of the day was pretty wide open – only that someone – again, I cannot imagine who – got the times messed up. It seems that there was a breakfast at 9:30am and the service actually did not begin until 11am. Ooops.

So, the hubby and the kids were dressed in their most uncomfortable finest shoes and clothes for an extra hour and a half. Ooops.

It turned out okay though because we just hopped over to the American club and enjoyed a very quiet early brunch. We literally had the whole restaurant to ourselves – because everyone else checked the schedule and knew just what time the Easter service started. Ooops.

Then we came home and lazed around. We ended the day with a proper Easter meal at the Hard Rock Cafe and a call to our families.