Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Sending out an SOS"

Well, if you looked at the picture, you can tell what this blog entry is about.......
My lovely wife placed several packages of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in my suitcases before I left for India..........which have been wonderful for breakfast...but I have not eaten them everyday....I have been rationing them..well I am down to my last package of six......well, now five.....only five packages ......two cups in each of course......and I have approximately a month and a half until I return to the States. Let's see.....that's 45 days....10 cups left......I can have one cup every 4.5 days(but I am worried about the one left in the open package developing that freezer burn taste)........or one package of two every 9 days.....I need to go to the store today to buy some soap......I will search for an Indian substitute.......there is no need to attempt to send them, they are delicate items that need to be transported with the kindest of care.......someone will just have to make a trip, and pack an adequate supply in their suitcase.......any volunteers?

" ......of course I'm married!"

For those of you following the blog, I left you with a cliff hanger at the conclusion of the entry before last. So it is only fair that I share with you, my latest cultural faux pas!

I have lost count, or I would have numbered this one........but be that as it may.....there will be too many to keep track of over the next couple of years.

As I mentioned, the Puja took place just before my appointment with Rahul, the real estate broker I am working with in selecting a place to live. I promised you a picture of Rahul; in the picture above, Rahul is the gentleman sitting on the far right.

Our appointment was for 11:00am, and he was on time, which is uncommon by Indian standards......so he had to participate in the Puja. As you can see from the picture, at the conclusion of the Puja, I was given a flower necklace, (I am not sure if the refer to them as lei's). It was very nice, but hardly something I wanted to wear while I was out looking at apartments. Not knowing what to do with it, I took it from around my neck and placed the "garland" over the head of the lady wearing the sari...(she is the lady sitting on the floor on the left side of the picture next to the priest)

I may be becoming an expert at Puja's, however,one thing I am having difficulty with is names.......pronouncing them, and remembering them...unless I write them down. This lady had been working with us for about a week, and I had been traveling, so I really didn't have the chance to study her name.

Rahul, was in the room where the garland exchange took place. I simply didn't want it to go unused, and thought that it would be a nice gesture to share it with someone who would appreciate it and would get use of it for the remainder of the day.

Nothing was said, Rahul and I left and we began driving to see the first apartment on our list. Rahul and I were speaking about several things; the puja, his views on Hinduism, the commercialization of religion and comparing Hinduism to others.....great conversation; I could only listen, as I admitted that I had not studied other religions and was not familiar with all of them.......he is a very interesting guy to have conversations with.....and he has a wonderful sense of humor.

Out of the blue, Rahul asks me if I am married......which took me by surprise, as he and I have had several discussions about Linda, and have referred to her as my wife several times......so I had no idea why he would ask me such a thing.

Rahul, then kindly explained that my act of placing the flowers around the girls neck not the correct thing to do......this is an act that is performed only during the marriage ceremony and that it is saved only for a groom and bride.

My mouth dropped open.......I stated that I had no idea that this was the case........there was uncomfortable silence....

Sensing no harm was done, and understanding Rahul's sense of humor, I asked how difficult it was to get a divorce in India......to which he replied.....very difficult, you should have had a Pre Nup!

So there you have it...........I inadvertently married a girl(sort of) and I don't even know her name.

No worries Linda.......you are the only one for me......I assure you!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Diwali Puja at our Office! Yes....another Puja

Today was "Diwali Eve" and we actually had a Puja at our office today..........tomorrow the same ritual or prayers will take place in peoples homes all around the globe. Since this was done at our offices, I was able to take a video of the beginning of the Puja......which lasted for approximately 45 minutes. What you are witnessing is just a fraction of the "action"! Watch and listen to the chanting that the priest is doing. It is very interesting. The only thing that would make it more real is if you could smell the incense burning.
I think I am getting to be a professional Puja attendee!
Here are a few pictures of some of my team members as well........notice the "dot" on my forehead......this was put on by the priest. He first dipped his finger in the dark stuff and then into a little pile of rice.....so I had this on all day (I went House Hunting just afterwards). What you can't see in the picture is the string tied around my right wrist......I am not sure what the meaning is, but I will find out. There is another funny cultural "faux pas" to tell...YES, I did something I shouldn't have...again! Enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Right there, no down a little, now up...hmmm..ok you can stop"...

House hunting in New Delhi has been many things, but I can say it has never been boring.......and until I captured the pictures above, I had never truly associated it with having an "itch.....scratched.....and satisfied". Hence the title of this blog entry.
I have been house hunting....or apartment shopping.....with a professional real estate agent named Rahul Rewal. Rahul is a great guy....and I will have to take his picture and create a blog entry just for him...but back to the entry. Rahul has shown me around the areas of New Delhi that I have been concentrating on at least 4 times now.....and I am sure he is cursing me....but today I went back to the last apartment he took me too on Saturday....it was dark and I wanted to see it during the day and have a look around the neighborhood also.
The apartment is in an area of New Delhi called Visant Vihar....and I heard Rahul refer to it as "VV" yesterday on the phone...see,I am picking up on the local colloquialisms.
Well, I think this is the one.....after it receives Linda's approval via photographs.
So Rahul......after tomorrow,(he is taking me out one more time), there will be no more "down (VV), Up (Golf Links), over to the right (Defence Colony), a little more (Sundar Nagar), Down again (Shanti Niketan), over to the left again(Jor Baugh), a little more (West End) now back (VV)....aah yes....I think you have it.
The pictures of these two cows was taken on the street the apartment is on......so I think it was another sign that "things will be good for ALL of the Lauland's" while we are on this India Adventure!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guessing Game

I thought that I would present a challenge to all of you who are reading my blog to identify the item in the photo's I have attached........I would like all of you to post your "guess" as a comment.....
The first person who successfully identifies the item wins.......one of these and a special something or other to be carried back 13,000 miles when I return to Texas in August.....
For those of you who are out of town, and who may guess correctly, I will figure out a way to get your special prizes to you.
Now......this blog entry would not be complete without the amusing story that surrounds how I discovered what these are.
Last Monday, I traveled back to Visakhapatam (Vizag) with Sonya, our Director of HR, to conduct interviews to select all of the Management Staff for the Doubletree.....the day did not start off well to say the least......I had set the alarm on my phone to wake me at 3:30am so I could leave at 4:00am for the airport......well the alarm didn't go off and I woke up at 4:30.....had to shower and finish packing and get to the airport for a 5:55 flight. I rushed, didn't forget anything, and called Linda on the way to the airport....my skillful driver, Ramesh, managed to get me there on time....don't ask how! We landed in Vizag and went straight to the hotel we were staying at........which is where I came into contact with (the mystery item)! I picked it up and was trying to guess what it was, and then got busy and forgot that I stuck it in my pocket. I discovered it later in the day when I put my hand in my pocket and got the chance to ask what it was to Sonya and Shoeb (the GM at the Doubltree)......when I asked them.....they told me and were both laughing hysterically that I had it in my pocket and didn't know what it was.
There you go....the only hints I can share!
The "odds makers" have Woody and Katie as the most likely to provide the correct answer!
Happy Guessing!

Diwali - Gifts, Gambling, Lights and Fireworks

Hello again everyone.........time to share yet another celebration with you. Deepavali, Devali or Diwali as it is known, is a major Indian festival celebrated by Hindu's, Sikh's and Jain's (the three major religious groups) around the world. Yes, there is probably a Diwali celebration going on right around the corner from wherever you may be reading this from. Today these three groups celebrate it as the "Festival of Lights";where the lamps or lights celebrate the triumph of good over evil in everyone. Hindu's in particular celebrate Diwali much like Christmas/New Years combined......yes, gift giving and fireworks!
I received my first Diwali gift from the wife of the owner of the hotel in Vizag......a decorative box of "treats".....and they were yummy! Knowing that the only way I could share them with you was through the blog, I made sure that I took a few pictures.......they tasted as good as they look! OK, they were pretty, but I must admit that I was leery about eating the "shiny" ones......which are covered in real silver! These Indian sweets are known as "Barfi" and they do taste
wonderful.......the one in the back is almond flavored and the one with the nuts....pistachio....which I admit was my favorite! I looked up "edible silver leaf" and learned this very interesting fact......the use of silver foil in Indian food dates back thousands of years, its claimed; in fact, India converts 13 British tons of pure silver into edible foil each year! That little one shaped like an apple was tasty also!
The week ended with me being invited to my first Diwali party......they have actually been going on for several weeks.......where friends and family get together and play cards and gamble.....the gambling ends on Diwali, which this year falls on Tuesday, October 28th! This party was hosted by a friend of Sonya's, Tanya and her husband, and happened to be just down the street from my "Home Office"! The parties start late.....I was told to arrive between 9:30 and 10:00pm......dinner wasn't served until midnight.......until living in India, I thought that Louisiana had everyone in the world beat when it comes to having festivals, parties, and fun....now I am beginning to wonder! I took some pictures of the decorations and people at the party to share with you...... Happy Diwali!!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Doubletree by Hilton Vizag.....someday...and another cultural experience!

For those of you wondering how our first hotel in India is coming......Slooooooooowly! For those of you who saw the first set of pictures I took in August on my inaugural trip, not much has changed...besides having to go there to assess the status of the hotel, a huge part of my job is establishing relationships with the owners. Many of you will recall my telling you that the owner, Sarat Kumar Reddy, wanted to open the hotel on the date of his father's birthday, October 15th...I had promised him back in August that I would be in Vizag for his father's celebration....no matter what. Opening the hotel on his father's birthday was Sarat's dream, but it was clear to me back in August that we would not open the hotel.....but I was going to be there for him. There was a ceremony scheduled that day, but it didn't involve a ribbon cutting...it involved another "Puja". Now this was my second puja and there were many familiar aspects ....remember ...no shoes.....and a priest....alot of chanting, flowers, incense, candles, gods, more flowers.......and something unfamiliar....sitting on the table were two clear containers with two different liquids in them...and one of those little spoons! Now keep in mind that I am standing in this room, watching intently at everything happening, which is easy to do when you don't know what is being said....I don't know if he was singing the Hindi version of "How Great Thou Art" or what, so all I can do is observe.....when the priest picked up the container with the "milky, cloudy, liquid" and then saw Sarat form his hands into a cup......I admit I was having second thoughts, but I couldn't back out at this point.....OK..."second thoughts" is being nice...I was thinking "Oh Shit, what am I about to drink"? I watched Sarat drink the liquid from his hand, then he rubbed the remaining liquid in the palm of his hand through his hair. I say to myself.."OK, I got this down....cup hands.....drink liquid (I was worried about making a slurping sound, and then rub the remaining through my hair...I can do this", but I am still a little nervous. Well obviously I am still around to write my blog; so I didn't die or get deathly ill, but my story can't stop there.....Brace yourselves....I executed the task at hand flawlessly, but did not take into account that rubbing liquid through my hair would have different results than Sarat, who has a thick hair.....yes.....the liquid as it turned out was coconut juice with something sprinkled in it.....but it did not stay in my hair......it ran down my forehead! Yes.....another "cultural" experience for Lloyd in India.....I am guessing that Gandhi has the same problem.....so I wore the coconut droplet that reached my left eyebrow with pride....and I had to do so because the ceremony was not over....Have any of you stopped laughing yet?? So then we were given something to eat, which was sweet.....I think it was called "ghee"....Indian clarified butter with sugar.....it tasted better than it looked....almost like a praline flavor without the pecans. Well...when the ceremony was over , I excused myself and wiped the droplet inconspicuously from my brow...but i had strands of hair and flower petals plastered to my head....because coconut juice is sticky....and I had to walk around like this all day long! Well here are a couple of pictures of the hotel.....like I said, not much has changed and I estimate that the hotel will open sometime at the beginning of March. The last picture is of "Sonny", at least that is what I think I heard them call him.....he sleeps just outside the door to the temporary office at the project site. I miss you Murphy!

"Second Line" - Visakhapatnam

Remember I mentioned that I woke up at 3:30am to start this trip with my flight to Hyderabad, which was just a stopover, as my final destination on day one was to Visakhapatnam or Vizag. When we landed in Vizag, we went straight to the hotel which is under construction to meet with the owner, take a quick tour and then go to dinner.....well dinner didn't start until 9:30pm and lasted until 1:30am....When I layed my head on the pillow, I had been up for 22 hours. But I am not complaining, dinner was great and so were the "Kingfisher Beers" I had with it.
This was Wednesday morning in Vizag 8:00am....day two of my trip and after 5 hours sleep....it was nice to see blue sky and white clouds!Linda is always commenting that in many of the pictures I have shared, there always seems to be a "haze" in the sky.....and yes it is true...it's like living in Los Angeles! But on this Wednesday morning in Vizag, the sky was so pretty I had to take a picture of it. And where there is Lloyd, there will be pictures of flowers.....these yellow ones had fallen from a tree above and looked so beautiful on that green carpet of grass....and I couldn't resist a picture of flowers in one of those pots! Yes.....I can hear it now..."another one of those damn pots"....enough! Well I have news for you all, I am going to figure out a way to have one at home! Later that day, I caught this great shot of a "Shepherd" and his herd of sheep......on the road of course....look at the guy in front with the umbrella.....I think the "SECOND LINE" started in Vizag!

Hyderabad - India's "City of Pearls"

This past week was very busy! I started out on Tuesday morning with my alarm going off at 3:30am so that I could get my shower, finish packing and head off to the airport for a 5:50am flight to Hyderabad. As luck would have it, the Jet Airways computer system had crashed and they were manually issuing Boarding Passes......the lines were very long, but it allowed me time to speak to Linda, Preston and Parker....who was at his friends house watching Monday Night Football, and it was 4:30 in the morning for me! My experience thus far is that every city in India is different, and Hyderabad was no different. The airport was state of the art.......brand new and squeaky clean, which is hard to say in India. I had no trouble finding the driver sent for me and I was whisked away to meet TJ Barring, a business development contact, at the Marriott Hyderabad......which is also brand new and has wonderful views of the lake, and a great breakfast too. We met with a developer who has a high rise apartment complex under construction and three hotel sites. Business........pitching deals......dreaming......I am enjoying my job very much.......it is very different from running a hotel everyday. Most of what I saw of Hyderabad surrounded business, but it was a very cosmopolitan city.......and had a look and feel all it's own. Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls, as over 400 years ago it became a center for trade of precious gemstones. Today, most all of the pearls that are produced make their way to "landlocked" Hyderabad for stringing. We finished our meeting and visits to the various sites and were rushing to get to the airport.......there is one thing that doesn't change.....the driving.......I had to take a picture of the truck that our driver was getting within inches of as he tried to pass him numerous times. When we got to the airport, I had my first "Garam Aloo Chaat".....this is the Chef making them to order.....grilled potato's with spices added to it....at a place named "Chalo Chowpatty"!


Typical Meal at the "Home Office"!

Since I introduced you to Hiralal a little over a week ago, instead of just rushing to eat, one night I remembered to take a picture of what Hiralal has been making for me. I have been eating only vegetarian for my home meals, and this is typically how the table is set for me when Hiralal announces that dinner is ready to eat. I will typically have some rice, a vegetable main course usually made with a variety of different vegetables; this one had potatoes, onions, tomatos and bell peppers......in some type of sauce. I always have lentils, or "Dal", and the part of the meal I enjoy the most is the fresh roti or bread that he makes and brings to me hot off the grill.........it's like having warm, fresh tortillas! YUM, YUM,YUM.......so for those of you who may be worried about how well I am eating, trust me, there is no need to worry at all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A New Delhi Sunday Drive

If you are wondering what a "DAY OFF" consists of for me right now, here is a peek into my Sunday! It isn't much different that what would have taken place at home.....I am just without my family and thousands of miles away.....but the routine is the same.
Normally, this would be extremely boring......but I have cool pictures to illustrate some of the things I did ( of course, you may still find it boring).
Ramesh picked me up at 1:00pm and we toured neighborhoods...again..then I asked him to take me to a new place for lunch.....it was a place that Prem (my friend from the plane) suggested Ramesh take me too. It is just on the outskirts of Connaught Circle (Circus).....Hotel Saravana Bhavan or HSB for short. There are even 4 locations in the good ole USA.....for those of us in the south, the closest is in Decatur Georgia! Go figure, I had to travel 14,000 miles to find them. Great food....and it was right next to a McDonalds, which was more expensive!
Next he took me to see some of the Government buildings and then we made it to Hauz Kaus Village for some furniture shopping. It was in the village that I came across an art exhibition and I took some pictures outside the gallery. it was a great day, found the source where Pier 1 buys their furniture.....at extraordinarily low prices compared to the states....and there was a 30% off sale! Enjoy!

Meet Hiralal.......my personal Chef!

Before I arrived in India, I received an email from Sonya inquiring as to my arrival date so that she could arrange for a cook and a houseperson to "look after me". Well they have been doing a fine job....it is very uncomfortable to have two people always wanting to do things for you. The first few days, I didn't utilize my cook, Hiralal......partly because I am not used to such treatment, partly because I didn't want to eat alone, and partly because I was busy discovering Delhi's restaurants! Which are great! Hiralal was beginning to feel unwanted, so this Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday, I used him.......yes....I discovered that he is not just a cook, but a Chef! Hiralal can cook anything, but up till now I have kept it simple.....not because of him, but because I don't know what to ask for! The first night I asked for some Dal (lentils), rice and vegetables. It was so good, I asked for it a second night! It was much of the same, for the other nights with a little variation here and there. Today, before I left to wander around with Ramesh looking at neighborhoods again, the following dialog took place with Hiralal. He asked if I wanted some lunch, I declined.....but said that I would like him to cook dinner....I went to the internet, typed Indian Food in the Google Search and asked for images! Bingo, I had a menu from an Indian restaurant located in New Jersey.....filled with dishes with Indian names and descriptions. I wrote down the ingredients and asked Hiralal if he could cook ALOO BAINGAN.....$11.95 at the Palace of India restaurant in Lawrenceville, NJ...at that price I figured it had to be good! My pronunciation of Indian words has much to be desired, so you might imagine how this dish sounded to Hiralal....he looked at me wanting a little more direction. I figured that there was a disconnect with the name of the dish...so I thought i would just tell him the ingredients....."Eggplant, potato's, onion, chili peppers" He repeated "potato, onion, pepper" but he did not understand eggplant! So.....back to the computer...typed the word, eggplant, in the google search and hit Image again and up popped a picture of .......a BAINGAN!!!!!!! His eyes lit up.....I gave him a 100 rupee bill (about $2.25) and he cooked a meal for 4 people. Not since Grade School have I felt the need for FLASH CARDS, but I am thinking about developing a set.....perhaps they can even be marketed and sold! I am always trying to find a way to get rich.....any backers for my "Flash Card" idea?

Dusshera Again!: My second Thursday in India and another National Holiday!

I am beginning to think that India has as many festivals as Louisiana. Yes it is true that on Wednesday, I celebrated this same holiday in South India (Chennai), but today it is being celebrated in New Delhi. I was driving through several neighborhoods in South Delhi, looking for the ideal place for Linda, Preston and I to settle, and came across several parks which were being decorated for the evenings festivities. In Delhi, neighborhood organizations put on a live reenactment of the story of Rama defeating Ravana. Replica's of Ravana are constructed of different materials and are erected; later in the evening, the actor playing Rama shoots an arrow into the stomach of Ravana and the replica catches fire. The evening is filled with fireworks and music and food; just like Louisiana! Here are a few pictures that I took at one such celebration site. I wanted to witness the celebration first hand, but I decided to sit this year out and enjoy the view from my car. Next year, I will feel a bit more comfortable and will enjoy it with Linda and Preston.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This is what happens when you don't follow rules!

You remember the rule that you were taught at a very young age; "Don't talk to strangers!" Here I am...alone in a strange land, and thousands of miles away from the voice who ensured that such lessons were taught and stayed with me throughout my life.......and what do I do.....I talk to a stranger! Well nothing bad happened; as a matter of fact, breaking the rules, sometimes, leads to good things......especially when you are on an adventure! Meet my new friend Prem and his family. Prem and I just happened to be sitting next to each other on the airplane from Chennai to Delhi. It began as a typical flight.......minding my own business, seat back, and trying to catch a few winks of a nap.......then my meal came. If I hadn't mentioned this earlier, flying on any of the airlines in India is truly an enjoyable culinary experience, even in coach! Nothing at all like the US which typically gives you a free soft drink and a small bag of peanuts or pretzels......the airlines in India feed you a wonderful meal even if the flight is only an hour or so! And they even insist on giving you a choice: Indian non -vegetarian or veg.....kosher.....you name it and it is yours! But enough about that. What is important about the meal is that they also include, wrapped up in your real cloth napkin, a small package of the Indian version of after dinner mints......flavored seeds of all types, but you can mainly taste anise. They are candy coated......I think you know the stuff I am talking about. Well, I have taken a liking to these mints....and I guess I was eating them...out of sequence to my meal. My neighbor, Prem, decided to use my culinary 'Faux Pas" as a way to break the ice. He simply asked......you like our mints? I nodded and said "yes" and continued to fidget with my tray......straightening things up and just waiting for the flight attendant to come and retrieve it. Shortly after the Flight Attendant removed our trays, Prem went to the restroom and then so did the passenger to my right......I found myself alone in the middle seat. Prem obviously returned before the other passenger, and when I noticed when he returned he sought an empty seat in another row (the plane was not full). At that point, I unbuckled and moved to the window seat, and this time, I made a comment about "I think I will help us both get more comfortable since the seat next to me is vacant". That was it.....I stopped minding my business and the conversation started. Prem it turns out is on his way to celebrate his granddaughter's birthday, who was turning 4 years old. I won't bore you with our entire conversation, but Prem offered to help me search for a place to stay in New Delhi and he invited me to attend his grand daughters birthday (which I politely declined).....after we deplaned, he immediately started making calls to friends in the areas that I found to be desirable. We were waiting for our luggage and he would get a friend of his on the phone, talking in half English and half Hindi......and then he would say, Mr. Lloyd.....speak to my friend Mr. Banga. We retrieved our bags and were making our way from the airport where my driver was waiting......and I asked him how he was getting to the birthday......when he stated that he was taking a taxi, I invited him to use my driver. The plan was for my driver to drop me off at my "home/office" and then take him on to his destination, as his destination was beyond mine......but the conversation continued.....we talked about food again, work, family, travel, etc.....and then the topic of birthdays came back around. Knowing that it was his granddaughters birthday and it was also a "special day of Vijayadamshi", I commented that she must be considered very special to share a day of such importance with her birth. He explained that her Birthday and the holiday do not always fall on the same day each year, but that he too was born on a very special day according to their beliefs, and unlike his granddaugthers which changes, his always falls on the same day in August. I asked the date........and wouldn't you know it is the same day as mine, August 21st! Prem is a few years older than I am, he is 52 years old, but we do share the same day. Well......that was halfway through our hour and a half journey through the traffic of Delhi, so I wound up attending his granddaughters Birthday. I am sure that Prem and I remain friends for a very long time! Sometimes breaking the rules turns out well! Their names are as follows: Aarushi(the birthday girl), Rimjhim(his eldest daughter and mother to Aarushi), Anuraag (Aarushi's dad) and Anjali (Prem's wife)