Intriguing life experiences in India for Gordon and Deb Smith

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Four months after their arrival in India, Gordon (son of Marcus and Sonja Smith) and Deb (daughter of Don and Evelyn Long) Smith have sent an update of their time abroad.  Both attended Veteran School, Grades 1 – 9, and then Coronation School for graduation.  Gordon went on to become a chartered accountant and Deb is a school teacher.
Gordon is now a partner with the Deloitte accounting firm, who have offices worldwide.  Deloitte has sent Gordon to Mumbai, India for approximately three years as Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Mumbai is not much of a tourist city, but with more than 20 million people in it, there are a lot of “hidden jewels”.  We spend a lot of time exploring the city, most on foot to capture the true feeling.  Thieves market (“Chor”) is a slum market area where they used to sell stolen merchandise.  It covers a very large area so we asked our driver to take us there.  The driver doesn’t speak much English, but he did say “not good area” to us a few times before dropping us off.  We ended up in the used automotive parts and meat market area.
Deb got attacked – by a goat!  It butted her twice before someone pulled it away.   One of us found it humorous and the other ordered goat meat the next week.  Turns out we were in the wrong area of the market.  The following week Deb returned with a friend and went to the art and antique section – a much nicer experience.
One week ago we went to a cricket match.  Those players are treated like gods.  We lined up about one hour to get through the security for the venue and then sat in 35 degree heat with no wind for about 3.5 hours.  We think we can now safely say “been there, done that”.  Not something we are likely to do in the near future as the game is a bit boring.
Last week we toured the Dhobi Ghat area which is main laundry area of Mumbai. The section employs about 5,000 people who earn between 80 to 120 rupees per day ($1.60 to $2.40), working 16 hour days, seven days a week.  They get about one week off per year.  It’s amazing that they can keep track of whose laundry is whose.
This is also where workers will prewash by hand much of the new brand label clothing sold in India, this being to set the dyes.  By way of example, one guy spends his entire day ironing shirts.  He irons an estimated 500 shirts a day.  When you think of it, that’s about two minutes a shirt over 16 hours.  Gordon now has no sympathy for those housewives that complain about having to do laundry (as if he had any before the tour).  One interesting devise was a charcoal iron.  It uses burning charcoal instead of electricity, quite efficient considering the working environment.
The area we live in has shoe shops – lots of them.  Our guess is at least 300 to 400 shops within a few block range.  Yet, somehow Deb can’t find one pair that she likes.  Must be the poor selection available??  While walking in the area a shoe polish man comes up to Gordon and asks if he wants his shoes polished.  Gordon looks down at his flip flops and says to the guy “you’ve got to be kidding”.  Great recovery by the shoe guy who then says if he polished the flip flops, Gordon would then look like a Bollywood movie star.
On that same outing we did come across a shoe store that seemed to work for Gordon.  The system in this store was quite intriguing.  One guy sits you down and brings forth the array of shoes on display which he thinks is going to work for the customer.  After the customer makes the choices, he looks upward and yells in Maharti the shoe name and size.  Okay, what’s up with this, we’re wondering and low and behold there hidden in the intricate ceiling work is a hole, through which a box or two of shoes are being tossed down to the salesman.  Yep, that’s the little guys job all day, hidden within the attic is the total inventory of shoes.  Hey if it works go for it.  (Thank, goodness it wasn’t Deb they were waiting on.)  I bet that little guy cringes when some Bollywood star walks in.
Other places
Now that we are settled in, we’ve started to get out of the city a bit.  Easter weekend was spent in Goa, which is a 45 minute flight south of Mumbai.  The place is very much like Hawaii.  White sand beaches, palm trees, etc.  We hired a driver who toured us around the area for a few days, on a crocodile river tour boat, viewing chapels built by the Portuguese about 300 years ago, a tour of a spice plantation (very interesting), riding an elephant (Gordon’s legs are still sore from the spread eagle position – those things are much wider than a horse!), carpet shops, etc.  As it is so convenient to get to Goa, we will go back quite often for long weekends.  The silence was a bit disturbing in that we missed the blaring of horns and the feral dogs barking throughout the night.   While in Goa Deb got ill – food poisoning we think from a few days prior in Mumbai.  We had a doctor come to the hotel room for about 45 minutes who prescribe five medications that did make her well quite quickly.  Cost of the doctor was about $16 and the medications were $2.50 including delivery.  Some things are very inexpensive here!
Gordon spent a day working in each of Delhi and Bangalore.  Both were day trip so he did not see much of the cities.  Of note is that each location within India is very different.  Delhi is a less westernized city with fewer English speaking people.  Bangalore is one of the high tech areas of India.  In the past five years or so the population has doubled from about four to eight million people.  It is very westernized in dress, attitude, etc.  People refer to this as the Garden City because of the parks, plants, etc.
Just north of our place, about a one hour drive, is Sanjay Ghandi National Park.  It has the most amazing caves carved into the hills, back  2,000 years ago and is well preserved.  For some reason it has very little tourism, which was great for us.  Inside the park you can go on a safari ride for 55 rupees.  We thought we’d try this as how can you go wrong for about one dollar.
Apparently you can!.  We get into a bus in sweltering heat (no air conditioning) a bus engulfed in, heavy metal grates, (Gord is all smiles for this adventure) to keep the tigers and lions from attacking us if the bus should break down, which in Mumbai is very very possible. In any case the crowded bus is off and we just can’t seem to keep Gord seated with all his excitement in this Wildlife Adventure. The driver, drives  a kilometre to a park surrounded by a high wire mesh fence.
Hey this just might be, pretty off the top for one of their  tours. We go through one gate into a holding pen.  The first gate closes and then a second a gate opens to let us into the park – just like in the movie “Jurassic Park”.  After driving a while we come across one old lion that can barely walk. The guide tells us it’s an old lion, okay, well better get that photo. Then he bangs twice on the back of the drivers seat, sits down and off we go.  Okay did we miss something?  We then leave that park and go through the same thing for the tiger park – only to eventually drive up to two small cages much like a zoo where there is one tiger in each cage.  Again the “guide” kind of stand up and tells us this is where the tigers are kept.  Okay, by now Gordon is looking like the little kid who just had all of his Halloween candy taken from him. During the whole 15 minute tour, Deb was more in wonderment of the double hand bang against the driver’s seat than the whole adventure in seeing The Old Lion and the Two Tigers. Since that incident there are plans for the outback safari tours, recommended by Lonely Planet.
Yesterday we went on a three hour drive to a golf course.  The course was excellent and the terrain reminded us of Phoenix.  The main difference is the seasons.  The course shuts down on June 10 for three months.  Over this shut down period they expect seven meters of rain.
Today’s entertainment was holding out a piece of meat to see if the local crows would be brave enough to take it from our hands.  They got close – about six inches away, when they were frightened by a shadow.  then an eagle swoops down and takes the meat from the hand (all five fingers left behind).  After doing this a couple of times we had about 50 eagles swooping down trying to get the total of four pieces of fat trimmed off tonight’s roast.  Would have fed them more but there is not much fat on an Indian goat.

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