Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hot Hot Heat! India First Impressions

One month! Time to go back in time and describe all the adventures I’ve had since arriving in Hyderabad on April 29th!

After leaving Suz in London I had the long red-eye flight direct to Hyderabad. I’m bad on planes, I can’t sleep. Watching movies is too tempting. As a result I arrived at 5AM without having slept more than a few minutes every few hours. Just a note. I sat next to a 75 year old Indian woman, who didn’t get up for the duration of the 10.5 hour flight. Machine! And she was capable. She just didn't want to. 

My first reaction to India was not surprising, the heat. Even getting off the plane in the dark at 5:30 AM it hit you like a wall. Heat and humidity. Even at that time of day it was already 30*C which coming from Montreal and Wales was dreadfully hot. I was in for a surprise. Hyderabad for the entire month of May saw temperatures in the 30’s maybe once or twice. Every day was 40-46*C. That is a new kind of hot for me. Needless to say, I was a little slow that first day. I got settled in at the guest house where I quickly learned how loud on in India should watch their TV, had a quick nap, then went in to the Indian School of Business where my office is located. 
ISB at Sunset

ISB at sunset

Company on my walk to work

Getting to the school, I have to walk down my lane which is about 4-500 meters to the main road. The street is a bunch of guesthouses (long term hotels) mixed with slum tents (I’m sure this isn’t what you are supposed to call them). As a result you have cars, bikes, motorbikes, buses, autorickshaws, many people, stray dogs, cats, cows and goats along the street at any given time. Makes for an interesting walk. But it does smell bad. The guesthouse is fine, but in the heat, the first couple days my gut was not used to the smell of the open sewers in the road. Crazy enough now a month in, I barely notice. A note on the animals. One of the dogs and also a cat has had a litter recently. So there are tiny puppies and kittens everywhere which is cute. I don’t let them near me since they spend 80% of their day itchng fleas and the other 20% sitting in garbage, but they are still cute to look at. 
Daily walk home

With holidays, and the National election, the office was pretty quiet. But I got to meet the staff that was around that day and after a few short hours of yawning I called it a day and went home. 

My second day in India was the election. For those of you who don’t know. India had a new parliamentary election in April-May which had 815 million eligible voters. This was a very big deal here in India, and you couldn’t have a single conversation without someone bringing up predictions or opinions. It was an exciting time to be around. I’m glad I got to experience it. Coming a little earlier would have been nice since I could have experienced a little bit of the build up. 

My first weekend here was a guys birthday at my guesthouse. Dinner is provided for us at the guesthouse so I often eat dinner with the same guys. Since it was Priyank’s birthday we decided to go out to dinner. Those of you who know me well, know I’m not the most adventuresome eater. That, mixed with all the fears of ingesting some Indian food that will make me sick (I was new here and still paranoid) had me a little tentative. Fortunately/unfortunately that isn't an option here. The restaurant was all you can eat buffet and the guys wanted to introduce me to all of the foods of India at once. There is a very popular snack which is like a fried puff pastry filled with a salty lime salsa type juice and I was quickly fed 3 or 4 of these (they are like golfball size so this wasn’t insignificant). After an hour of consuming all the foods my stomach obviously wasn’t happy with me. I wasn’t so much sick as just really uncomfortable. This made for a night where my stomach grumbled all night and I woke up feeling a little worse for wear but otherwise fine. I went in to the office only to discover that there were a few of the staff members leaving so we were going to an ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET! I hope my enthusiasm for this outing wasn’t too apparent. But the food was good and it was nice to see the team outside of the office. I’ll mention that everyone has been really nice, often eating lunch together and socializing. 

Guys from the guesthouse and their friends at a birthday dinner

Friends along the lane

View from roof of guesthouse down lane

Dinner at the guest house has been good. The food is repetitive though. Every day of the week is the same. Monday has a Monday meal, Tuesday a Tuesday. Wednesdays we get a hard boiled egg! I am pleased to announce I can eat a little bit of spice now. The first week everything was FIRE! But now the dinner isn’t bland exactly, but some meals definitely could use a little more punch. Also, eating out has spoiled me since the meals are so much more flavourful than what we get on a nightly basis. 

Typical Dinner at the guesthouse

My first weeks I was at a little bit of a loss as to how to fill my time. At 45*C it is too hot to go outside even for walks (I tried and learned the hard way). The first week, to fill time I went to the mall which has AC. I wasn’t the first to have this idea. On a random Saturday the mall was PACKED. And I mean December 22nd -23rd busy in Canada. Coming back to the guesthouse I mentioned this and people said I should see it on a Sunday or Holiday. I can only imagine. I've since discovered the gym at ISB and have been filling up a lot of my evening time pumping iron. Getting huge. There is also a pool so I've been doing the varsity warmup workout before calling it quits each day. 

Beautiful ISB Pool. It isn't closed. I am just the only one who goes

That first weekend at the mall, seeing as I knew nobody and it was too hot to do anything, I decided to go see Spiderman alone. People definitely looked at me funny. There is a funny stigma in India about westerners. I think it is because life is very conservative here, they assume that I live like a rockstar in Canada with my liberal promiscuous ways. Everyone asks me if I am married and when I say no, they then as where my girlfriend is. One individual was so taken aback that I was single that they offered to pray for me. Back to Spiderman, movies are funny in India. And I don't meant the dancing stereotype that you see, I mean going to a movie, the experience of it. First: National Anthem was played and everyone stands up. Second, they offered pillows for short people in case the person ahead of you is too tall. And third, there is intermission. I was watching, it was in the middle of a fight scene and the theatre goes dark. After experiencing a power outage or two already I got quite frustrated but then realized it was just a planned 15-20 minute intermission.

Getting to the mall involved one of my least favourite pass times. Haggling over cost of an “auto”. I’ve travelled around this city enough to know how much cabs and auto’s should cost. However, anytime I try and go anywhere, they see a white person and assume I’m foreign and fresh. Even for drives I do almost daily, unless it is my normal driver (there is a group that hang out at the corner) I will always have to argue. I’ve learned now that if I am pretty certain about the amount. I don’t negotiate when I get in, I just give them the amount as I get out and walk away. So far I haven’t had any trouble. My trip isn’t over at this point though, auto drivers don’t drive you all the way to your destination since you are usually sharing one with people. They drop you off on the road en route. This means that daily I need to cross a 6 lane road at rush hour. Crossing the road here isn’t like Vietnam where you slowly walk and the traffic moves like a wave around you. Here, cars and bikes and buses don’t move, they will simply blare their horn and not touch the brakes or turn one bit. So you play this fun human frogger game.

Daily Struggle of crossing the street

Despite the fight to get into one, I actually enjoy riding in the Autos. They are painfully slow going uphill, but then turn into the most hilarious little cart races anytime you are going downhill. I swear the drivers try and beat each other to every corner. Don’t worry mom, they only go like 30kph so it’s not THAT dangerous.
Blurry Photo of how 7 people plus driver fit in an Auto

Since it is so hot here on weekends I haven’t really done much sightseeing. That and Hyderabad isn’t really know for being a cultural hub of India. I did go and see a few mosques (Hyderabad has the largest muslim population in India since Pakistan and Bangladesh are no longer part and Hyderabad used to be ruled by a muslim King) and a museum/palace. They were interesting. India, like Europe is so different than North America. Fairly "modern" historical buildings may be 500 years old. Old buildings are 2500 or more. The scale of everything is just so much grandeur than what I am used to
Charminar from Street level

Mecca Masjid Mosque, one of the largest in India

Chandeliers: Chowmahalla Palace Asif Jahi Dynasty

They love chandeliers: Chowmahalla Palace Asif Jahi Dynasty 

The most complete Swiss Army Knife there ever was, Chowmahalla Palace Asif Jahi Dynasty

One thing I noticed while sightseeing is I am amazed at how few foreigners I have seen. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that including all my trips and flights and museums etc, I may have seen 30-40 white people since arriving in India. And that includes tourist sites in Mumbai. As a result I find that a lot of the street merchants don’t really know how to deal with me. I get a lot of funny looks, either that or am just ignored completely. 

View from the top of Charminar, This is extremely light traffic

Other than that, not too much. I have gotten myself into a fairly good routine with work, the gym and entertaining myself through trying to learn more about India. I spent a lot of time the first couple weeks trying to figure out where to buy books in India. The mall had little to offer and bookstores are non existent. Fortunately I discovered is SUPER cheap for some items. Pretty much if the book is published in India it will be a few dollars, if it is published in Europe or North America the book will be astronomically expensive. So find a book that is published here, and loads are and you can order them and get free 2 day shipping. I was amazed. I'm currently reading an interesting and very well written book on the history of India's democracy. It is fairly long though so I will be reading it for a while. 

Some light reading on India, my other 4 books for scale

As I’ve alluded to, I have done some travel, I’ve been to Goa and Mumbai, but I will leave those for another post since I feel this one is getting a little long. In my next post I will go into more detail about my specific adventures. 

Questionable sandwich place near my guesthouse

Hope everyone is doing well!


Samia Qureshi said...

Vince, this is amazing!

I'm assuming the golf ball size pastries were "pain puri' or "gol gappays" :))

Be happy that you are a "foreigner not married", because if you were "indian not married", you would be coming back home with at least 10-15 marriage proposals. :/

Hope you are getting to enjoy lots of mango milkshakes and looking forward to hearing more.

Thanks for sharing !!!

Vincent said...

Samia, that is exactly right. Pain Puri, not sure if I will be rushing back for more...

As for the proposals, I haven't had any yet. One day! And I LOVE Mango Lassi, I have them nearly daily.

Bettina Habib said...

Love this Vince!

Sean Conner said...

Questionable sandwich place with a wicked awesome name. Look for the next newest food truck in Vancouver to be named as such.