Chak De Andrea!

Follow the exciting and not so exciting adventures of Andrea in Mumbai...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mumbai is... wet

Hmm did I do that one already? I don't think I did. When it rains really hard, all of the entrances to Almeida Park flood. You see the park is in the middle with a ring road around it, and then about four roads leading out to the main roads. So if I want to go out at this point (which sometimes I need to) I have to wade through quite deep water in order to do so!! Rain has been off and on, but we had a huge lot earlier today and I could see all the rickshaws splashing through the very deep water from my window. I'm not at work today as I woke up with a very bad cold, but am here in a cafe updating as I needed to go out and get some lunch anyway.

So today I shall answer the question you've all been asking yourselves (You know that you have!) What does Andrea do on a typical day in Mumbai?

Well here is a short sum up in a typical day in the life of Andrea McLeod.

I have two types of days during the week, one is when I'm heading into the office and the other is when I'm heading out to a site.

Both of them will start pretty much the same. I wake up, shower, choose my clothes for the day (I usually have to iron them because I've stuffed them in the cupboard and they're all wrinkly), then have my breakfast of bread with peanut butter. I would like to mention here that peanut butter is very expensive. It cost me 120 rupees for a bottle!!! That's like $4!!! And there were even more expensive types there! Cheese is expensive too, and not that great quality. I have sworn never to buy cheese again after being very disappointed with the one I got at the big supermarket I went to.

So, ahem, back to the story.

This done, I walk done the road to Bandra Station, and then comes the difficult bit, actually getting on a train.

This doesn't take technique so much as it takes stubbornness, force, and the ability to push other women out of the way or to resist being pushed out of the way yourself. There are always three ladies carriages for each train, one at the front, one in the middle and one at the end. So you must position yourself correctlly (just look for where all the other women are) and then wait, preferably as close to the front as possible.

The real trick to getting on a train, is to not actually wait for anybody to get off it. That's right, just push straight on because otherwise you won't get a seat. Unfortunately I think that growing up in Australia has made me far too polite, so I don't tend to follow this advice. As a result I sometimes have to wait for the next train. Or travel in the baggage compartment with the women who are carrying the veges and fish they plan to sell somewhere.

So if I'm going to the office I take the train down to Churchgate which is the furthest station to the south. I'll buy myself a little take away chai and then walk to the office, which takes over 20 minutes, but I just can't be bothered working out which bus to get on and it's a nice walk. The only difficulty is avoiding the tourist touts.

Unfortunately as a white person, I am automatically classed as a tourist. Therefore I am fair game for anyone wanting to see scarves, drums, sandles, kashmiri shawls and HUGE balloons, which quite frankly I'm not sure why anybody would ever have a use for them. Usually I just ignore everybody, which is much easier when you have an ipod, but if somebody is particularly persistant, I will tell them to bugger off (in hindi of course).

Then I will spend the rest of the day at the office before doing the whole thing in reverse.

Well this blog has been quite long enough so next one will be describing how a typical day at a construction site creche is!



Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bombay is… patriotic.

15th August was Independence Day, the day that the whole of India celebrates the British finally leaving in 1947. This year was the 60th Anniversary of Independence and everywhere people were celebrating.

There were flags and badges for sale, decorations up and people were dressed in their best. I have no idea about any official programs but my program was set. I was going to attend a flag raising ceremony at one of the Mobile Crèches centers. I had been seeing the children practice for Independence Day at every centre I had been to so far, so there was no way I was going to miss out.

I chose to go to the Godrej Construction site at Mahalaxmi for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s one of the easiest to get to from my house, and secondly because it was the first centre that I had ever visited. I arrived by 9am to find most children already there and dressed in their best clothes. Some of the little girls in saris with jasmine in their hair, and there were boys in kurta pajama or jeans.

It took awhile for everybody to arrive and get settled, including some of the children’s parents.

Following that, everybody stood to attention and saluted while the flag was unfurled and the children sung patriotic songs, did a dance, and there was a short speech about the meaning of Independence Day. It really was a beautiful event to see them all so excited and proud, and I got a little bit emotional while they were singing the national anthem.

The whole thing was over by ten thirty and I headed home to find that my room mates were only just getting up. I decided that since I had a day off work I might as well go for an adventure, and so, very unpatriotically, I headed for a mall.

I know what you’re all thinking, but honestly I was dying to see what an Indian mall was like… and it was hot… and there was a Crosswords book store there!! So I spent a couple of hours there and then came home and collapsed. Make sure you check my flickr account for my Independence Day photos, which should be uploaded soon!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bombay is.... Autorickshaws

Which go way too fast, squeeze through gaps that should be way too small, beep their horns way too much yet manage to be convenient, cheap and fun.

From now on, we'll be having 'Bombay is...' every time, so that you can all get to know my city of residence a little more! However no large update tonight, instead I'm just posting the address of all my photos. Here they are:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Well it’s been awhile since you last heard from me, and I’ve had many more exciting adventures since then including grocery shopping, catching local trains and actually making it to work (despite the rain)!

At the moment it’s just Jenny and I in the apartment, but her friend Piya may be moving in soon, and then we’ll have another flatmate at the end of the month. Luckily this means that very soon I will be able to pay at least a bit less rent. We’ve also just gotten cable television connected at our place, meaning that I can now watch all of the crappy hindi soaps, movies and songs that I could ever want. All under the excuse of improving my language skills of course.

So since part of the roof at the office had fallen in due to the rains, I met my new boss Devika at her apartment instead, which was very beautiful as her husband is an architect. This was my first local train experience, as we took a train from Bandra to Mahalaxmi in order to reach there. Luckily it was nowhere near peak hour when we left, and so it was quite easy to find a space in the train and we even got to sit (believe me, this is quite rare).

Local trains aren’t as bad as everybody makes them out to be, although during peak hour they do get VERY, VERY crowded and there is a fair deal of pushing and shoving as people try to get on and off. Luckily there are special ladies compartments, so I didn’t have to worry about having to deal with any men in close quarters.

I’m hoping that today I’ll be able to upload some photos for you, so keep your eyes open. If I do, then there will be an announcement on the blog with the web address of them.

So then after meeting with Devika I went to my first ever mobile crèche centre which is at a building site at the old Simplex Mills at Mahalaxmi. The crèche itself is divided into three areas, one for infants up until three years, one for three to five years and one for school age children who aren’t in formal education. While they learn in the morning, the afternoon is for fun and games, and the kids were making some beautiful artwork when I arrived. I spent the rest of the afternoon there observing, and then today had my first day in the office, where the fallen section had been repaired and was in the process of being replastered. Today I mainly met the rest of the office staff and was given a variety of documents to read in order to get me up to speed with developments. The rest of my week will mainly be spent visiting different centres so that I can get a proper feel for the organization.

Okay, I actually wrote the above bit quite awhile ago, and the rest of this week I’ve been visiting various crèches to get a feel for the organization. I won’t go into too many details, but instead will tell you several things I’ve learned over the past few days.

1) It’s very easy to walk onto a construction site in India. I never needed to show any idea, I just told them I was there for mobile crèches and they let me go straight in and navigate my way around the work in progress until I found the centre, some of them are quite far away from the main gate, so I have to keep
2) Indian builders are far politer than Australian ones. I haven’t had a single comment/cat call/anything in all the time I’ve been wandering around construction sites recently.
3) (Not really related to above two points) You can tell whether somebody owns their own rickshaw/taxi by what coloured shirt they wear, owners wear white shirts, while those renting them wear brown.
4) I’ve decided that I don’t like coming into Colaba, too many tourists, and too many people trying to sell things to them. Does this make me a snob?

Well let’s see, what other interesting things are there about my life that I can tell you?

Well, rather than making dinner (we don’t actually have a stove) we have a tiffin delivered to us six times a week (every day except Sunday), it usually has rice, two vege curries and some chapatti.

Also, our other new flatmate Piya, has moved in. This actually wasn’t planned, but she’s a friend of Jenny’s from work and she was staying in a really dodgy hostel (rats etc) that she wanted to get out of, so now she’s joined our happy apartment!

Because the internet was down last night when I went to the café, I delayed posting this once again so now I can tell you about my day today (Saturday the 11th August).

Well I caught a train downtown to Churchgate Station and then spent the rest of the day walking around. In the meantime I managed to buy myself four outfits, an iron (as in one that irons clothes), and a pair of sandles, since I managed to break a pair (not yours, Mum!) by tripping up the stairs during rush hour at Bandra station. I bought the iron at Crawford Market, a huge undercover market in Fort, which mainly sells household goods and food stuffs. There were mainly stalls selling chocolates, breakfast cereals, jams and other spreads, and interestingly, Australian Kraft Cheddar cheese. Which I was very tempted to buy, but which was waaaaaaay overpriced.

Also it hadn’t been in a fridge.

I also had a trek through ‘Fashion Street’ which is really just a bunch of stalls on the footpath of MG Road, selling everything from t-shirts to pants to bags to salwar-kameez to shoes, hats, etc etc. It was here that I got two salwar kameez outfits very cheaply (the other two were from a store, making them probably better quality and also more expensive).

Then it was time to go home and I grabbed myself a seat and squashed myself between various aunties on the train for the journey home.


Bombay life.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Mumbai ki Barish...

To sum up Mumbai in one word at the moment would be 'wet'. My first day the rain wasn't too bad, but now it's absolutely bucketing down, and I've gotten soaked already.

When I arrived I quickly found Lee from ATMA and we stuffed my one suitcase into the back of a rickshaw and were on our way.

I won't say too much about the flights, the one from Brisbane to Darwin was packed and not very impressive, the one from Darwin to Mumbai was half empty and I had an entire row to myself!

After having a brief chat with Lee and my new housemate Jenny, I went straight to sleep.

The apartment is nice, quite roomy and clean. Ours is on the top floor (which made dragging my suitcase up the stairs quite fun) and it is opposite a nice park. The suburb I'm staying in, Bandra, is quite upmarket and has many trees, making it leafy and green. I've been told by Jenny that our landlords are friends with Salman Khan. Apparently she met his little sister once at their flat.

Well back to the story of my first day, we couldn't leave the house as early as we wished because the landlords were coming over to inspect one of the beds (not mine) on suspicion of bedbugs. The problem is that although they put this herbal stuff on it, there's no way to know whether (a) there really were bedbug in the first place or (b) whether the stuff has worked or not.

After that Jenny took me to a bagel place for breakfast. Yes I know, shocking, my first day in INdia and I had a bagel for breakfast. But it was damn good and so was the iced cappucino. As the place has wireless internet, I expect I'll be spending a lot more time there once I have my laptop... Lee met us there and while Jenny went for work, Lee and I went out ot run errands. Our first stop was FAb India (google it, they've got a website!) where I picked up two outfits. It's not that expensive and has beautiful traditional cotton outfits as well as its own range of organic products!

From there we went to a photo studio where I had some passport photos taken so that I could get my rail pass and from there to Bandra statin. I now have a second class ticket for the next three months which only cost me 368 rupees! That's a little over $10! So the only money I'll be spending on transport from now on will be for miscellaneous rickshaws.

Then for lunch we had Bhelpuri and Dahipuri which were both delicious from an excellent chaat (snack) place which makes everything with filtered water!

After this I went home for a nap and then later on took a walk to Bandra Bandstand which is on the oceanfront (the Arabian Sea). It was raining lightly and my shoes were giving me blisters so I took a rickshaw home and had another nap.

Later on I met up with Jenny and her friends Piya and Himanshu from work and then we met Lee and her friend Hayley for dinner. Following this we went to a very upmarket bar called Zenzi. I was tempted to order a cocktail but as they were even more expensive than in Australia, I settled for a pineapple juice instead.

Today I was meant ot go into mobile creches for the first time but couldn't due to the rain as apparently the trains were not running. S oinstead I've spent half the day napping and the other half wandering around looking for somewhere to eat or exploring more of Bandra. Nothing seems to open here before 10am so it took me awhile to get breakfast.

Hopefully come Monday I'll have my laptop and some exciting stories about my first day at work! Until then here's hoping that some of the Mumbai barish finds its way to Australia and that I can find some way not to ruin every single outfit I've brought...