Friday, June 4, 2010
Time to catch up a bit...
Greetings, one and all, from Beautiful Hyderabad!! “The City of Pearls“! “The City of the Nizams“! Our new home town!! As some of you know, we arrived at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport a little later than planned, due to about a half-hour delay on the ground in Frankfurt. I say “as some of you know” because sometimes, when the planets have been aligned just right, and the power stays on long enough (it’s really not that bad!) - I have been able to get brief blasts out on my Facebook page. The Internet service here at our new place is a little dodgy (at best!) - but the IT wizards at Deloitte should get me straightened out in a few days.
So…right know - I’m blogging this onto a Word document to cut-and-paste later when I have a good wireless signal. I think I had better recap the journey so far, in case my memory begins to fade. Our arrival was unspectacular…Rajiv Gandhi International is fairly new, as big airports go. It’s beautiful, too…you can Google it to see a picture (I can’t do my customary linkage without an Internet connection - - there are certainly worse things that can happen in life…but more on that later!!) The terminal is well air-conditioned. But you sure could feel the outside heat in the jet way! Remember - it was after midnight, but it was still close to 90-degrees outside!! A well-organized passport check-in was followed by a brief stop with a fellow who looked like a Navy Petty Officer who checked Beloved’s Indian “Non Objection Certificate” - - I would have been sorely disappointed if I had done all that work stateside and nobody checked Bee’s official “papers”.
We were greeted by Suzanne’s colleague from Deloitte, Stephanie, who brought us a care-package of things we’d need. A temporary cell-phone for each of us, some Diet Coke, some potato chips, two Indian power-strips and a heavy black power-regulator thingie (so the local power doesn’t fry our “brought-from-America” electronics.) Thanks Stephanie…you are truly a good friend. We were then introduced to our driver, Naseer, who was assigned to us for two-weeks, until we get our car situation squared-away . Thank goodness somebody had the foresight to have TWO mini-vans meet us. There would have been no way to get all of our checked luggage and carry-on’s into Naseer’s van. A.S.B. and I rode with Naseer, and another fellow followed with all of our worldly goods in the second vehicle.
Arriving as late as we did, we were not sure if our new landlords would stick around and wait for us to show up at the house. Not only did they stay, but they gave us “the tour”! Naseer got a little turned-around in the neighborhood - he went down some pretty dark streets and alleyways and had to back out of a few tight places. N.B. to Allan and Loralee Littman - - you guys…it would have been the ULTIMATE place to pull a “We’re HERE!!” like we used to do in Cantamar!! Anyway…he called the house and Krishna (our caretaker) and another guy came out on a motorcycle to rescue us. I think we pulled up to the house at 1:45 A.M. when our scheduled arrival time was 11:25 P.M. Welcome to India!
In other words… “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!”
Our new landlords, Hari and Sumeeta showed us around (still very much to learn about the house and ow everything works. But Hari new one thing for sure. Where the refrigerator was. I was a bit damp from the evening heat and humidity, so it must have been obvious. Hari said, “Scott, you look like you need a beer!” He didn’t have to ask twice. He had two “bombers” (“beer-speak” for a two-serving 22 oz. bottle of beer) of some different kinds of Indian beer, but I opted for the smaller and oh-so-cold Tiger Lager from Cambodia. Man…have you ever had that delicious feeling when only an ice-cold lighter beer will do…when it hits that spot at the back of your throat?!? That may have been the best beer I ever tasted!!
We love Sumeeta and Hari. Really fine people! They introduced us to our staff…there’s Krishna (who I mentioned before, our caretaker) speaks a little English - -and our security guy (whose name I still can’t pronounce…). There is Krishna’s wife as well, and their little son (the tallest five-year-old I ever saw -really a good-looking kid!). There seem to be some other hanger’s-on - as far as I can tell, they man the front of the house all night long…they are always there to help you with bags of groceries, the car-door, whatever. I gotta get used to having Krishna call me “sir” every time!!
We crashed and burned at about 3:00 A.M. Thank God Suzanne didn’t have to be in the office until 11:00 A.M. We were both just whipped.
Morning brought a brief morning walk with Beloved (it was smoking’ hot out….even by 9:00 A.M.) I’ll guarantee that there will be no nursing two days out of a lightly-worn shirt here in Hyderabad! The air-conditioning in our bedroom works well…but so-far it appears that you only turn on the A/C in a room where you are going to be. Needless to say, one works up a sweat going down to the kitchen and back up the stairs. The bath and dressing-area get a little spill-over of cool air from the bedroom, but - it still feels good to take a cool shower (we haven’t figured out the water-heater thing yet…another question to ask Krishna.
Speaking of Krishna…he loves having something to do. He’s done all of our laundry, folded it, puts the groceries away, sweeps, cleans, manages the water-quality in the pool (it’s on the same floor as our room - - a door from the bathroom puts you right there. It’s technically “outdoors” , so I haven’t been brave enough to go out there yet!) - for sure he is aptly-named, “the caretaker”. He’ll be our driver as well, as soon as we get our leased car squared-away and we cut Naseer loose.
I worked on getting our clothes and other stuff unpacked while Suzanne got herself prepared for Day One at her new office in Hi-Tech City (Google it!!) I had Naseer take me to the store to find some Diet Coke and a new coffee-maker. Amy said: “Get one with all of the bells and whistles” - something we never had at home.
Well…the first store we went to had Diet Coke, so I bought a whole case...and some almonds and a couple of granola bars. I was not quite sure how the “cook/food” thing was supposed to work. The store was TINY - but had a security guard. Security is big here. I like that.
Then came the fun part. Dear Americans…we honestly don’t know how spoiled we are!! For God’s sake we have complete STORES that sell nothing BUT coffee-makers!! At Bed-Bath-n’-Beyond you can have your choice of fifteen different coffee-makers…from the basic “Mister Coffee” to ones that make cappuccino and lattes with on-board milk-steamers - - most of them come with fancy LED clocks and special timers.
The first place Naseer drove me to was…well - the best way I can describe it is “ roadside stand that sells used kitchen pots-n’-pans” No coffee makers there, that’s for certain. I do believe that the shopkeeper would have given us the same look if we had asked for a box full of dylithium crystals and a new phaser weapon. We went up and down a bunch of side-roads and saw shop after shop after shop…all selling some variety of stuff. We stopped at one place that actually SOLD coffee - - but it was just this one guy and a folding table behind a makeshift counter and he was French-pressing little cups of very strong-looking coffee. Again, if he would have had a coffee-maker, we probably could have made him an offer!!
There’s a hustle-bustle to the streets of Hyderabad that is nothing like I have ever seen before. The traffic is, well, quite frankly, FRIGHTENING! There are no lines dividing one-way from the other. The lane-lines seem barely like “suggestions”, at best. Seeing it from a strange vantage-point makes it even more horrifying. The cars here have right-hand drive, so everything appears to be backwards. The motorcyclists - these dudes are just plain BRAVE. They zip in-and-out of lanes and between cars with bare centimeters to spare. It’s like some kind of bizarre and dangerous dance where the partners never touch, but you can’t figure out how. Pedestrians deliberately walk right through the middle of everything…and only the occasional traffic-light or heard of water buffalo crossing the road slows up the crazy pace of things!!
Before Naseer and I could do any more “shopping“ (BTW…right in the middle of one especially busy block, amongst the “storefronts” - is a small but very nice Mercedes Benz dealership!) - - my borrowed cellular rings and it’s Suzanne. I am being summoned to the Deloitte offices in Hi-Tech City to bring her credit cards (her main MasterCard was declined automatically because the cell-phone she was charging for me was being sold “out of the country”) and our passports. We dropped by the house so I could change clothes and grab the passports, etc.
Naseer dropped me off and said to call him when we were done. I told him I couldn’t imagine that this would take any more that fifteen minutes!! He dropped me off quickly, as stopping and/or parking on the main street of Hi-Tech City where most of Deloitte’s buildings (or “blocks” as they call them) looks like the quickest way to get yourself asked a whole lot of questions by men in blue uniforms, who are freaking everywhere!! I had to wait outside the gates of “D-Block” (or, as Suzanne accidentally called it, “Cell-Block D”!) Now…here I am, alone, and I’m standing out there in the heat, and - well - - I’m melting. But I’m NOT complaining…I mean, what’cha gonna do? I’m not going to change the weather! Amy and Vineel (the “Superman of Ex-Pat Services, Deloitte“!) told me that they’d “be right down”. Again, welcome to India, brother!
I think it was after about 15-minutes or so…when one of the blue-uniform guys took a break from looking under each and every entering vehicle with a mirror and long pole with a black flashlight attached to it, and asked me if he could help me. I think that’s what he asked. I wasn’t sure with his accent. He could have just said that I was under arrest for loitering. I guess there’s no “standing about” in front of buildings in Hi-Tech City. Amy tells me that the searching of every car entering the complex is “S.O.P.”
At the official-looking “security booth” - I signed some sort of “visitors log” (…or was it a “booking sheet”? Heck, I don’t know!) Thank God that I’m clutching our little silver Lufthansa Business Class pouch that I had used to carry our passports and visas in! Dude asked me for I.D.!! Now THAT I understood. I showed him my passport and just then, Amy and Vineel come walking down the parking lot walkway!!
They escorted me in to “D-Block” and had to get a Visitor’s Badge. Really official looking, too. They even took my picture!! My pass expired at 7:00 P.M. At this rate, I was beginning to wonder if we’d make it!!
Entering the HUGE Deloitte cafeteria right at the height of the lunch-hour, (it’s really extremely nice inside!!) Vineel and Suzanne and I went first to the cell-phone kiosk, and then to the cellular service kiosk. This is where she had had her credit card declined, and they needed to see the card and swipe it. Unfortunately, the phone line the guy was using was somehow messed up. I’m pretty sure Vineel fixed THAT, too!! It took quite a bit of time. Amy suggested that I just go ahead and wait because she had a 3:30 P.M. meeting and it would be silly to get our driver to run me out to Banjara Hills and just turn around and come back to pick her up.
Vineel and I took a seat in the cafeteria and we got caught up on each other’s lives until her meeting was over. By now it’s almost 4:30, so we went straight home so she could grab a couple of hours’ nap before she had to come back to the office for back-to-back mandatory video-teleconference calls at 9:00 and 9:30 in the evening.
Needless to say I had a second Tiger Beer and napped as well.
Now on our second day (today, Friday) - Suzanne went in to the office at 6:30 A.M. I took Bee out for a pretty long walk up to 2nd Street (the main drag near our house) to see exactly where the famous “Q-Mart” is. It’s not far, actually - but it was pretty warm out. Needless to say, a big white guy walking down the road walking a little black Lhasa Apso catches more than a little bit of attention. Our hose is not in the “Ex-pat” area, not at all - - we live in the city amongst the people. We probably will stand out a bit until people get used to seeing us…and Beloved! I tried to meet everyone’s gaze and say hello…everybody was so friendly, those who knew some English said “Hi” back.
When we got back to the house I showered and changed my clothes and got the rest of our suitcases emptied and had Krishna store them away somewhere. When Amy got picked up for work, I had told driver Naseer that I would like to be picked up at 10:00 to make another shopping run (I had gotten a few tips on finding the elusive coffee-maker!!) I waited outside in the heat until about 10:15 when I called his cell-phone. He was running late in traffic. No problem, I said…and went back inside and downed a cold Diet Coke and checked on The Bee.
When he arrived at 10:30 (welcome to India!) - our first stop was to be “Boulder Hills Country Club”. Having no pre-conceived notions about the place, I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of golf course would really exist 8,700-miles from Goose Creek and Oak Quarry! On the way to that side of the city (Gachabowli) - we passed some pretty sobering shantytowns along the roads. How to describe them? Well…to be honest - for you Southern Californians - picture the hillsides of Tijuana - these areas make those “homes” look like penthouses in Manhattan. Poverty is pretty much everywhere in Hyderabad, to differing degrees. This wonderful city has a burgeoning middle-class for the first time in their history, and that is a very good thing. But along-side the new apartment buildings (both new and currently under construction) and Hi-Tech City, the views of the oppressive poverty is quite striking. I WILL have photos of our arrival and first few days…as soon as I get my Internet problems resolved tomorrow morning at 11:30. I’m taking bets on what time the “cable guy” actually shows!
So….off we go to see Boulder Hills C.C. There’s no doubt that you are getting close, as the topography changes strikingly. All of a sudden, we are heading into an area that looks strikingly like parts of Arizona and California - - big exposed tan-colored boulders dot the landscape. Palm trees pop up here and there from the semi-desert soil - and somebody with incredible foresight thought to put a golf course out there!!
Turning into Boulder Hills, you cross under gateway arch and through the ever-present security station. This time, uniformed officers actually clicked their heels together and SALUTED as we passed. You can see the new clubhouse in the distance. Naseer dropped me off and said to take my time. I went in and introduced myself the pretty young girl behind the counter. She summoned one of the directors of the club - - who introduced himself politely…and proceeded to take me on an hour-long tour in a golf-cart (curiously, all of the golf-carts have left-hand drive!!). We drove over to the driving range and putting green and practice bunker. He took me through virtually every hole on the front-nine side - - including up to a tee-box on a par-three where you could see Hi-Tech City AND Golconda Fort (Google it!) from the vantage point. It was a little breezy up there, and I looked at he small green out there at about 175-yards away - - and thought “Man…this is a lot of golf course!!”
It really is an awesome-looking course. It’s a little dry from the hot Summer, but the monsoons are coming soon and it will really green-up nicely! For the golfers reading this: the greens look really awesome. It looks a lot like “The Boulders” up in Carefree, Arizona. I can’t wait to play it. I have a chance to play it tomorrow with Stephanie’s husband, Cory - but I cannot miss the appointment with the cable guy! Besides, I’d have to play in tennis shoes and rent some clubs. I’ll wait until my kit arrives from home on our air-cargo shipment!!
The director then took me around the clubhouse and the newly-constructed annex. The annex contains saunas and Jacuzzis and steam-rooms and massage areas and men’s and women’s locker rooms and meeting rooms. It’s quite frankly, state of the art stuff. One of the nicest clubs I’ve ever seen, Southern California or not!! No hyperbole - I mean it. This place has it all!!
They have this incredible “infinity pool” that looks out over the whole course and all of the boulders. They have a fully-equipped gym - - and a Nineteenth Hole (called “The Plus Four”) and attached restaurant that looks five-star. No joke…this is one of the coolest country-clubs ever. Is it “L.A. North” or “Lakeside” or “Bel Air“? No. Not at all. But my friends, here on the exact other side of the globe - - it’s simply out-of-this-world!!!
After the grand tour of Boulder Hills, Naseer took me to the Q-Mart (where I bought a bunch of bottled water, some staples and some Pedigree Bee Food!) and to this electronics store - kind of like a downsized Best Buy - but still no bloody coffee pot!! Suddenly I realized I was starving!! Naseer asked me what kind of food I liked…so I told him “Mexican”. Jokingly, I asked, “Do you have any Mexican restaurants? “No, sir.” he said.
He chose this Indian eatery called the “Hyderabad House”, which is literally walking-distance from our front door in Banjara Hills. I think Bee and I might have wandered past it on our walk this morning. O.K. - like I said, I was starving…but I do believe our driver and I had the greatest Indian food I have ever had in my life, and quite frankly, one of the greatest meals I’ve ever eaten!! Chicken Curry appetizer, with all of these side condiments….the best chicken biryani with al of these sauces on the side, fresh onions and HOT green chilles, too - and hot, fresh off the grill naan bread. Oh, man. That was at 12:30 P.M. - it’s now a quarter-’til-six and I’m still stuffed!!
Amy just called…she’s on her way home with Naseer driving. We’ll probably never drive in Hyderabad. I would dearly like to survive the whole two years here!! Cory made us a starting-time for 10:00 tomorrow, but I have to wait for the cable guy. No problem. I get the feeling there will be lots of time for golf once we get settled here.
I think we’re really going to like Hyderabad!!
Love to all...
Scott and Amy Suzanne