Friday, April 30, 2010

Day Five

Day Five – I woke up around 8am with more diarrhea. Seriously? I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before. How was there anything left in my system? I decided to weigh myself on the scale in the bathroom. Hmmm…kilograms. I wrote down the number and made a mental note to google conversion tables.

Ryan called downstairs to ask if we could switch rooms – we were unsatisfied with the noisy TV and the lack of internet connection in our room. They sent a guy up right away who insisted that they upgrade us to a 6th floor executive suite. He also insisted that we go ahead and he would bring our bags up. You sure you don’t want us to all take one? We can get it. “Oh no sir…I insist...I bring your go…enjoy your new room, sir.” Alright, dude...if you insist. We hopped on the elevator and went to the 6th floor (top floor. Very posh for Ghaziabad.)

The room was basically identical to our old room, but 3 feet wider on the left side. More room to wheel each other around on the room service carts! We waited about 3 seconds and the guy with our bags knocked on our door. Seriously dude...we could have just carried them. I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. The minute we heard the sweet sounds of Bollywood without the accompanying obnoxious humming noise, I threw my hands in the air for victory and startled the baggage guy. “This room is to your satisfaction, sir?” Yes. It’s perfect. And if it has internet access we are each going to kiss you on the mouth.

We wandered down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. If I haven’t mentioned it before, the hotel restaurant is gorgeous. Super clean. Friendly staff. 100% vegetarian (which I would normally find super awesome and delicious, but on a weak stomach, some of the dishes just look mushy and brown. Not appetizing.) Cereal was out because it required milk (unpasteurized). Everything else seemed more like a dinner item than a breakfast thing (what is with the baked beans?) – but as Ryan pointed out, we’re the weird ones who think pop tarts and donuts are suitable breakfast foods. And since this was a strict vegetarian restaurant, they didn’t serve eggs either. I decided to go with starches for breakfast and grabbed 3 potato wedges, a somosa and ½ a waffle. One bite of the somosa and I was positive I’d be in the bathroom again for the rest of the morning. Skip. The potatoes were marinated in olive oil and some (really strong) herbs. Skip. The waffle was good, but wasn’t sitting well. It had been five days and I’d completely lost my appetite.

I kissed Ryan goodbye (right there in the restaurant...scandalous!) and went back up to the room to take a shower. And hey! This new “executive suite” came with a whole plethora of free bathroom necessities. There was a shaving kit! Score! I guess executives shave more than regular non-executive-types? I slathered my freshly shaved gams in SPF 30 and threw on my new "swim costume". I fixed my hair in a tiny little ponytail (and about 30 bobby-pins) and threw on my new straw hat. I was ready to go!

The pool was on the second floor (with access through the gym and spa) so when I opened the doors, there were three little guys standing around in “I’m a personal trainer” outfits next to a bunch of gym equipment. I asked for the swimming pool and all three of them walked over to a door and escorted me out to the pool deck. “OH, shoot! I forgot a towel!” One of the guys hurried off, “I get you towel. No problem.” The other two walked me over to some deck chairs and pointed, “This okay? You want this chair?” Sure. That works for me! Just then, the first guy came back with two huge towels and began laying them out for me. It was super windy, so he laughed a little when the first towel blew completely off and wrapped itself around a tree. “I get you new towel.” And he ran off. “It’s okay. Thank you. One is fine.” But he insisted. The other two guys sort of waved and walked away, like “have fun!” and I realized it was about 110 degrees out there. Curious how cold the water was, I walked over and dipped a toe in. Just slightly above freezing. How in the world do they keep the pool so cold? I was just sure it would be room temperature bath water.

I sat down in my super-cushy deck chair where the guy had already returned with a second towel. I got out my book and I hadn’t even finished a page before my swimsuit was hot to the touch and burning my stomach. Time to jump in and cool off. And as a side note, I’m really bad at regulating my body temperature. It takes a lot for me to sweat, which means I get really over-heated and I can’t cool down. I’ve never been one of those people who can lay out in the sun for hours at a time. I need to float on a raft or spritz myself with water or consume a cold drink if I have any chance of avoiding heat stroke. That said, I could hardly get myself all the way in that water. It was only three feet deep, but it took me 20 minutes to work myself all the way in. I could feel my shoulders start to burn and I’m positive they made that sizzle noise when they hit the water. I swam around a little bit to warm up, but had no intentions of getting my face or my hair wet (or removing my protective hat). I got back out and was bone dry in 30 seconds. I grabbed my book and decided to read while standing in the pool. When my shoulders got too hot, I took a deep breath and dipped down to cool them off. I did that for about 8 chapters.

When the wind picked up, there was a very strong manure smell coming from the lot next door. They were building something that looked like a wedding reception site with giant pergolas and a dance floor (and it required manure). After a while, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I was certain I’d burned through the first layer of my skin. I had no idea what time it was or how long I’d been out there. I packed up all of my stuff and went back inside.

I got back to the room and the phone rang. It was Ryan. He was downstairs and he’d just finished eating lunch with the guys from work (meaning they probably got there around 2:00 because that's what time people in India eat lunch). Shivani was also downstairs with her son and what Ryan guessed was her sister or possibly her nanny. They were all asking about me and concerned that I had been alone all morning with nothing to do. He asked if I wanted to come downstairs and have lunch with them. Sure. Why not.

I met Ryan in the lobby and I told him how relaxing and nice my morning had been. I didn’t mind being by myself at all. Especially in a hotel like this with a great restaurant, comfy beds, a pool, a gym and a guy who cleans your room twice a day whether you need it or not.

We got to the restaurant and we walked right over to Shivani’s table where there were two purses and a backpack in the extra chair. When they didn’t stand up or move the purses at the site of us, the thought immediately popped in to my mind that I’d misunderstood the whole “do you want to come downstairs and have lunch with them” question. Ryan made it sound like maybe they were waiting for me to join them, but they clearly already had food on the table. I suddenly felt really awkward about the whole thing and I didn’t want to intrude. Shivani asked how my morning had been so far and I told her what I had just told Ryan about how relaxing and nice it had been and that I was actually thinking about ordering something from room service. (not to be a total pain in the ass, but if she'd said, "Oh no, please! Eat with us!" I would have. But she just sort of stared at me) As I was talking, I couldn’t help but notice the sweet little face that was staring up at me. Shivani’s son was so cute, I wanted to go over and scoop him up. I waved and said hello and he just looked at me like “who in the world are you”. His big brown eyes looked so innocent and sweet but I could tell he was skeptical.

I introduced myself to the other girl at the table and Shivani explained that she was Anooj’s sister – her sister-in-law. Seconds after that she referred to her as her cousin, so I’m still not entirely sure how they’re related. Either way, she lives with them in Saroj and Ajit’s house and she seemed very nice. I told them I’d let them get back to their lunch and thanked Shivani again for taking me around yesterday. She just sort of nodded her head and smiled, so I said goodbye to her sister-in-law/cousin and tried one last time to get her son to wave at me. Not a chance. He didn’t even blink. Yup. I was going back upstairs.

I said goodbye to Ryan and promptly ran to my room to order a veggie burger and an order of veggie fried rice. One or the other would HAVE to be good so I was hedging my bets. As I waited for my room service (which they call “In Room Dining”) I flipped through the channels and watched some funny commercials about skin whitening creams and the dangers of “setting your fairness back”. Even men were warned about looking too dark and splotchy – little digital effects showed the levels of fairness you could achieve just by using this special cream. I found it fascinating, considering I’d probably be watching advertisements for bronzers and self-tanners if I were back home right now. I also laughed at the 30-second McDonald’s spots that involved some sort of mishap in the kitchen – then a “ding” and a picture of a McDonald’s extra value meal “only 150 rupees”. Well done, McDonald’s. You are officially everywhere.

My food arrived and I decided to save the rice for dinner and eat the veggie burger. It was by far the most disgusting veggie burger I have ever eaten…and I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers. I love them, in fact. But this one was *wet* somehow. The inside oozed like a half-cooked pancake. I took several bites around the outside of it – forcing myself to power through and then I settled for my little pile of French fries. Delicious. I snuggled up on the bed and found a movie channel in English. “Finding Neverland” was about to start and I got chills just seeing the title.

I love "Finding Neverland". I love little Freddy Highmore. I love that Johnny Depp did a movie where he didn't look crazy or homeless. I love that I cry every 15 minutes because there are so many sweet/tender/sad moments. I cry at the part where they tie the bell on to the tail of the kite and Johnny Depp tells the boys that they have to BELIEVE so they start clapping and cheering “Go Michael Go! You can do it!’ as they send Michael running down the hill and then the camera floats up as the bell starts to ring and...oh my's magical! Or the part when Peter (Freddy) stands on the little stage he made and defiantly tears every page out of his journal while looking right at Jim (Johnny) – his bottom lip all quivery and his eyes full of tears. Pretty much every scene with Freddy Highmore has me reaching for the Kleenex. And the part at the end when the grandma starts clapping for Tinkerbell - her eyes all crazy like her determination will save her daughter too. I had to take a deep breath and let out a long sigh...compose myself. Man, that movie is good.

The doorbell rang (our room had a doorbell) and it was the cleaning service. I decided I could leave for a while and go to the Business Center while they straightened up the room (plus we were getting low on bottled water and they always replenished our free supply - good for every time we felt like brushing our teeth or spending more than 15 seconds outside.)

The Business Center chick and I were becoming friends. She no longer had to get out of her chair to show me where the computers were or jiggle the mouse to get the screen to come on (very specific paragraphs written about this in her job description) so I just waved hello and helped myself to a computer.

Through email, I found out that my oldest dog (Meg) was destroying the basement door and catching snakes in the yard. I take credit for the snake-catching trick - I taught her how to "get the moving stick! get it! now shake it!" but the basement door thing is a fairly new development. She hates to be locked up. She hates her kennel. She hates the basement door. She hates the fenced backyard. She has EATEN the bars on her kennel, she has EATEN the entire wooden frame on the basement door, and she has figured out how to use her body to pop off fence-posts for a quick getaway. The dog understands the principals of LEVERAGE for crying out loud! As long as I live, I will never know a smarter dog than Meg. She's like a wizard.

I re-assured our neighbor (kind enough to look after our dogs while we were gone) that this is what she does. She gets really upset that she's been locked up and she takes it out on the house. We need to replace that door anyway - and the door frame - and the drywall underneath that's been chewed up and spit out in a big chalky mess. Perhaps a mid-afternoon walk or a big rawhide bone would keep her from chewing her way out of the basement? But dang it, dog! If you only knew - the alternative is 2 weeks in a kennel at the vet's office!

I also found out that my sister was definitely getting induced on Friday and we were going to miss the arrival of baby Brett. It made sense. They really wanted him to be born on the 16th of April. My sister was miserable...very swollen and uncomfortable. But it made me sad that I wouldn't be there to welcome our newest little family member. I posted a quick facebook update and I sent out an email to my mom, then I headed back to the room. As I flopped down on the comfy, clean bed, I realized I hadn't left the comfort of my hotel for an entire day...and I was blissfully fine with that.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day Four

Day Four - I woke up miserable. I took a Sudafed around 4am and a Claritin-D around 8. Nothing seemed to work. Even the internet. I carried the laptop in to the bathroom to ask Ryan for help. (I know…it was a bit excessive on my part) Frustrated and dripping wet, Ryan turned the shower off while I held the laptop in front of him. Finally he said, “I’m sorry I’ll have to come look at it in a second - after I finish my shower.” It was working last night but it wasn't working this morning. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time by myself in this hotel room and the internet was a huge part of staying in touch with my world. We went to the trouble of bringing the magic jack and a phone so we could call home for free and I didn't want to miss the news that my sister was having her baby. I needed my internet!

Ryan got ready for work and we went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. He explained how he just called the front desk last night and they sent an I/T guy to the room. He had been emailing and checking facebook last night while I was enjoying my Benedryl comma so we knew it worked at some point. The I/T guy would fix it.

I kissed Ryan goodbye and called the I/T guy just like he told me. The second I hung up, the phone rang again. It was Saroj. She was incredibly difficult to understand over the phone but I got “shopping” and “Shivani” and “send my driver”. I agreed that 1:00 would be fine and then I hung up the phone. idea what just happened.

The I/T guy arrived and sat at our little hotel version of a desk and made noises and shook his head for about 45 minutes. I was sitting 5 feet away from him, trying to watch and see what he did, should I need to replicate this process. And I think (I think) he got annoyed with me. He answered his phone several times while he was there and in his soft little voice, he said something in Hindi to the guy on the other end. I heard that guy laugh so I assumed he said something like, “Yeah…I’m in a hotel room right now with a dumb American girl who is too dumb to figure out how to connect to the internet” and then the other guy laughed because they have a shared disdain for dumb American girls with dumb laptops who know NOTHING about computers. Dummy.

Eventually the guy completely gave up and told me to try the business center on the 2nd floor. Okay. So it wasn’t just me. I showered and got dressed, then carried my laptop to the business center, thinking I could just plug it in somewhere. The process of explaining, “my laptop won’t connect to the internet in my room and there was an I/T guy up there earlier trying to fix it but he told me to come here” just made the girl at the desk blink, like in a cartoon. Then she asked, “Internet broken?” to which I replied, “Can I use a computer?” She motioned me over to a little corner where there were two desks and two computers…my home for the next 4 days.

Around 12:45, I took the laptop back up to our room and debated whether to wait in my room or wait in the lobby for someone who may or may not be the same girl I met at dinner on Sunday night. Again…NO IDEA what I’d agreed to. I just heard “shopping”. I decided the lobby was my safest bet. There was only one entrance and I had a good view from my futuristic white leather chair. Eventually, a very sweet girl from the front desk strolled all the way over to me and said, “Are you Miss Ashley?” I said “yes! I am!” she said “Miss Shivani called your room but you were not there. She asked if you were in the lobby and I thought you might be, so I am to tell you that she is 5 minutes away.” “Oh, Okay! I wasn’t sure where to go so I came down here and… (oh my god. Shut up. Why are you explaining any of this? She doesn’t care.) Great! Thank you!” “You are welcome, Miss Ashley.” And sure enough. Five minutes later, in walked the girl I recognized from dinner. I’m still not 100% sure her name is Shivani, but we hung out all day and when we were done, I didn’t want to say, “So, what’s your name again?”

We decided to eat lunch in the hotel restaurant before heading out to shop. Ryan and the guys from his work showed up just as we were sitting down, so we switched tables and all sat together. I could tell that Ryan was a little more comfortable with the work guys, but they clearly weren’t a chatty group. I had to smile a little at the way they just sort of stared at him following everything he said. Later, Ryan said, “yeah…there’s lots of staring. Lots of awkward pauses.” Poor guy. His India experience was turning out to be quite different from mine.

Riding in the car with (I will continue to call her) Shivani was much more laid back than the rides with Saroj. We had the same driver (Saroj’s driver) but Shivani asked for the radio and she wanted him to crank the a/c. We sat in the back while she sang along to some George Michael and we talked about her 4-year old son who is starting preschool next week. She and her husband just moved back to India from the U.S. about 3 weeks ago. They lived in Chicago, LA and Las Vegas where she attended dental school and he worked for some financial company for the last 10 years. I didn't ask how old she was, but I guessed we were roughly the same age.

She took me back to the flea market from yesterday so I could buy the elephant quilt that I SHOULD have purchased the minute I saw it. (1,000 rupees is like $20 and I have no idea why I was trying to get a better deal.) I knew exactly where to go – bypassing all of the stands selling blue jeans and “Little Miss” t-shirts (so weird). They even recognized me when I walked up to the tent. “Ahhh…elephants!” and pulled it right off the wall. I had my money ready. There was no bargaining. Then we went around the corner to the stack of scarves I remembered seeing yesterday. I looked at Shivani’s face and asked “it’s a good deal, right?” and she sort of looked at me like, “ummm…I would not buy those” so I got nervous. Then she said, “there are many more shops” so we kept walking. I asked about the little Ganesha statues and she took me in to a place with a wall full of brass. I said, “What about marble?” so we went to the shop next door. Basically all of the same stuff, but I saw my little Ganesha right away. He was about 3 inches tall and made of white marble. “I’ll take it!” and paid the guy 300 rupees ($5). I bought some more bracelets too – figured a girl can’t have too many bangles.

I was still fixated on finding some colorful scarves, so we found a shop that stopped Shivani in her tracks. It was an authentic dress-maker’s shop with beautiful embroidered saris and salwar kameez (the long tunic shirts with coordinating pants that look like pajamas). The walls were shelves with stacks and stacks of colorful, hand-made garments, ready to be fitted. It was all of 5 feet wide and 3 feet of the store was a giant futon-looking mattress where employees sat cross-legged facing a single row of benches. A second “tier” of employees were given instructions in Hindi and they returned with stacks of more stuff in clear plastic bags – all folded and pressed. I guessed that the people sitting on the futon were the store owners while everyone else just worked for them. While I looked at silk scarves, Shivani looked at clothes. And when I say “looked at” I mean that we sat on benches and said “yes” or “no” while everyone else ran around and brought us stuff. It was the least amount of effort I’ve ever put in to shopping.

I picked out 8 scarves in a rainbow of colors (gifts) and I paid the guy. He handed back 250 rupees and asked me to look at some embroidered tunics “so pretty…hand made…I give you. You take one home.” Umm…you are GIVING me one or you want me to BUY one? I didn’t understand. But why would he just give me one? Because I spent so much money in his store? Because I looked like a nice girl? I laughed at myself for even questioning his motives. He gave me some money back so I would buy more stuff. Duh. I thanked the guy for his help, then got up to sit next to Shivani. She was sitting in front of a heaping pile of clothes and the tiniest, oldest Indian lady I’d ever seen. I almost didn’t see her. They continued to pull more and more outfits off the shelves and display them in front of her. The outfits were gorgeous. Hand-embroidered in thousands of colors. But the entire time, I was thinking what a pain that would be to have to fold all of those back up. I also debated long and hard about what colors I would pick if I were to buy one, or if I would ever have an event in my life that would require such an outfit. They looked really comfy and of course they were amazing, but I realized it’s the equivalent of going to Jamaica and having your hair braided. I didn’t want to look like the weirdo who was trying way too hard.

Eventually, Shivani narrowed it down to two and apologized to me for taking so long. “Oh, I don’t mind at all. I could sit here all day.” She asked something in Hindi and suddenly a guy showed up with a measuring tape. They were going to measure her and get the fit exactly right. The tiny little Indian lady pulled out a giant leather book (seriously, she could barely see over the top of it) and wrote everything down as the guy shouted out numbers. Even the pen looked giant in her tiny little hand. While Shivani paid and explained where they could deliver her outfits, I watched the heaping pile of clothes get transferred over to a sitting/waiting group of second tier employees who quickly began folding and re-packaging all of those outfits. It became clear why they weren’t hesitating to unfurl every single outfit in their shop. They weren’t the ones who had to clean it all up.

We left the shop and checked out some bags, shoes, blankets, scarves and marble elephants. I asked if there was anywhere around to buy a swimsuit (planning out the next few days in my head and liked the looks of the outdoor pool at the hotel!) She called the driver (still have no idea where he goes or what he does while we shop, but he was there in a few minutes) and he whisked us off to a shopping mall in Ghaziabad.

The mall looked like every other mall in America (complete with giant Hannah Montana banner hanging in the atrium) but we went through security to get in and we found far more silk carpet and sari stores than back home. I enjoyed listening to Shivani asking everyone where we could buy a “swim costume”. I immediately pictured myself in a little flowery swim cap like the synchronized swimmers in the Olympics. We finally found a Puma store and the last two swimsuits were sadly hanging on a rack in the back. They were both one-piece “racing” suits and I figured if I was going to hang out by myself in a country that still treated women like housewives from the 50’s I might as well go with the one-piece. I tried it on in the dressing room and was satisfied. It actually sucked everything in pretty well – made me feel kinda skinny! (it also helped that I’d had diarrhea for the last 24 hours and was losing tons of water weight from sweating so much…India is a great diet if you don’t mind feeling like you’re dying the whole time.)

I paid for the “swim costume” and figured I should ask about razors (which makes me wonder why every swimsuit doesn't just COME WITH a razor. I mean...they go hand-in-hand, unless you're one of those women who pays to get her legs waxed every week, a bathing suit necessitates a touch-up). We walked all over the mall and found a second wing to explore, but no pharmacy or anything close to a place that might help women groom themselves. Shivani called the driver and we waited outside – awkwardly standing in silence. We’d sort of run out of stuff to talk about. And regardless of how many times we talked about the U.S., I was surprised that she continued to refer to our life in Minnesota. I was like, “I gave you a Hallmark ornament - which I explained was in Kansas City - where I work…you lived in the United States for 10 years...I know you looked at a map at some point…how do you still not know that Minnesota and Kansas City are not the same place?” But then again…I still didn’t know her name.

Shivani asked the driver if he could take us to a pharmacy, so we drove around and around – even stopping for gas one time and taking an off-road adventure that nearly popped a tire. We did not find a pharmacy but I learned that the swastika was originally a Hindu symbol of peace. It was painted all over buildings and cars so I had to ask. The response I got from Shivani was basically, “Hitler changed it”. Fair enough.

We got back to the hotel and I had the feeling that Shivani didn’t want to go shopping again tomorrow. I don’t know if she had something against malls, or I'd said something to offend her, or she was tired from the heat, but we were both clearly done. I thanked her for hanging out with me and she said, “No problem. I would not have done so if I did not have my own errands to run.” Ummm…okay. I’ll see you around.

I immediately took a shower and endured 3 more hours of diarrhea. I flipped through a thousand channels of bollywood and cricket to find an old episode of Friends – followed by a show called Psych that made me laugh out loud. I was not in the mood for dinner so I just sat there in the cool, comfortable bed for the rest of the evening. Ryan got back to the hotel around 10:00 and ordered room service. He also pointed out that the TV was still making that loud, annoying humming noise and we should just switch rooms. With no desire to deal with it tonight, we agreed we’d do it first thing in the morning. I fell asleep with the hope that our new room would have internet access! A girl can dream.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day Three

Got my internet back, baby!

Day three in India and it was already time to change hotels. It was Monday morning and Ryan’s vacation was technically over – as he was supposed to start his paint trials at the Rapid Coat plant in Ghaziabad (about 45 minutes from Delhi). Once again, I was wide awake at 5am so I decided to just start packing my suitcase. I thought I was being really quiet...unhooking all of my clothes from the wooden hangers so they wouldn’t clank together...but over breakfast, Ryan revealed that he was watching me the entire time and laughing at my efforts to be (what I thought was) “quiet”.

Breakfast at the Taj was much more entertaining than yesterday. Now that I sort of had the hang of things, I felt free to look around a little and act like I’d been there before. I was also less surprised to see baked beans and wok-fried vegetables next to the omelet station for the second day in a row. It was also clearly Monday morning – a work day. The hotel was packed full of guys in business suits hosting breakfast meetings and making business deals. There were certainly more “white” faces in the room this morning, which would never have occurred to me unless I’d just spent the last 3 days being the minority – an experience every white American should try, in my opinion. One guy in particular caught my attention right away. He was wearing black pants, a starched white shirt (no jacket), black and white striped socks, black and white patent leather dress shoes (like spats), and a pinky ring. I knew I was supposed to take him seriously because he had super slicked-back hair and a skinny, well-groomed chin beard. I couldn’t help but wonder what business he was conducting in Delhi – other than perhaps the representation of a young Bollywood star or a new chain of Douche-bag night clubs. I was delighted to hear that he was indeed American – the booming voice and wild gestures was enough to make me proud.

As Ryan and I returned to our table with heaping bowls of cereal and completely reasonable portions of sweet breakfast pastries, one other character caught my attention…an overly-tan guy in cargo shorts, wearing a youth-medium t-shirt to further accentuate the steroid-pumped muscles of his upper-body. I could only assume he was in Delhi to lay by the pool and work out. Then he spoke. He unleashed a fit of rage at the waiter who had just brought him a to-go bowl of liquid that was evidently not what he ordered, “What is this? You call this porridge? This is SOUP! I asked for porridge! Who would eat this? I don’t even know what this is. It’s certainly not porridge” in an accent we couldn’t quite place. Was it Irish? Australian? Italian? I was ready to write the guy off as a total a-hole until Ryan overheard him telling another waiter that his wife was very sick and waiting upstairs for her porridge. Ryan said, “I can only imagine how stressed I would be if we were in a foreign country and you were sick and I came downstairs for your breakfast and they gave me the wrong thing.” As he said that, I looked over and the guy had his head down on the table. Whatever happened to us that day, it was going to be better than anything that guy had going on.

At 9am sharp, Luke joined us in the restaurant for breakfast, followed closely by Ajit who was there to drive us to his plant in Ghaziabad. While they finished up their breakfast, Ryan and I gathered our luggage upstairs and checked out of the Taj Mahal Hotel. With slightly more judgment than I anticipated, Luke helped us get ALL of our (oh. My. God. You guys brought so much stuff. I only had this one back pack) luggage in to the trunk of Ajit’s car. (I’m sorry, but 1 suitcase and a carry-on for a 15-hour plane ride seemed perfectly reasonable to me!) Luke was a nice guy, but his “experience” traveling to India made him sort of jaded and unsympathetic to our pedestrian ways.

In our rush to prove we could fit ALL of our luggage in to Ajit’s car, I realized I shoved my camera in the trunk. Dang it!!! I cannot even tell you how many picture-worthy moments I missed on the car-ride from Delhi to Ghaziabad. It still bothers me. At one point, there was a traffic jam and we took a little “off-road” adventure past a giant field where workers were spreading cow poop on flat, stone surfaces and letting them dry in the sun. They were forming the dry ones in to round disks and stacking them in to huge piles to be gathered and sold as fuel. I made the mistake of asking what the “fuel” was to be used for. I wasn’t entirely clear on the answer but it had something to do with cooking food. I’m hoping they limit those to residential use and the somosas I ate in that restaurant yesterday weren’t cooked using dried cow poop. Gross. Mequite BBQ flavor would take on a whole different meaning.

The traffic jam also afforded me an up-close and personal experience with a cart full of chickens being pulled by a tooth-less, sweaty guy on a bicycle. No matter how many times the traffic moved or how adept Ajit was at cutting through the mess of cars, every time we stopped, I was face-to-face with this sick cage of dying, pooping, blind, feather-less chickens shoved in to tiny cages, miserably stacked on top of each other. I had a strong desire to go strict vegetarian for the rest of this trip (and possibly the rest of my time on this planet) but I mostly wanted to avoid whatever person or restaurant was about to buy those chickens.

During what I can only assume is a typical commute to work, we saw crammed, dirty busses full of guys in “the uniform” – a short-sleeved cotton shirt, black pants and sandals. Every once in a while, a guy would hop off of the bus and just start walking down the middle of the street. Then the bus would pull forward a bit and other people would jump on the bus (no doors or windows). The situation with the motorcycles continues to blow my mind. I’ve seen as many as 6 people crammed on to the seat of a single motorcycle. The women all ride “side-saddle”, sometimes carrying backpacks and holding small babies and children on their laps – no helmets. The men wear helmets and sometimes balance one or two kids on their laps in the space occupied by their arm’s reach.

In cars, there’s no such thing as child seats. Kids are propped on laps – sometimes standing between the driver and the front passenger seat. Auto rickshaws (all the power of a hair-dryer on wheels) can carry as many as 8 people – usually stacked on top of each other with one or two guys hanging out the side. Evidently the cost is the same, no matter how many people are crammed in there, so they keep piling in like a clown car at the circus. It’s insane. Without looking like a complete weirdo, I’ve been obsessed with capturing a decent picture of the traffic situation. No lanes. No rules. No seatbelts. No helmets. No signals. And they drive on the left side of the road which means there are roundabouts instead of intersections and they merge by squeezing themselves in to the tiniest place you can possibly imagine and hoping the other guy backs off.

I’ve asked Ajit (and every member of his family) how you go about getting a driver’s license in India and I’ve gotten a different answer every time. Evidently, the process ranges anywhere from walking in to an office and buying a driver’s license to taking a driving test – which you may or may not fail on your first try. I still can’t fathom how you would fail a driving test on a road with no rules...perhaps by blatantly driving on the wrong side of the road? But I have to say, I’ve seen that here too.

We eventually arrived at the Country Inn and Suites – the hotel where Ryan and I would be checking in for the next 5 days. I had an idea in my head of what the Country Inn and Suites might look like but there weren’t any chain-smoking hicks behind the counter and the lobby did not smell like a swimming pool. It was all glass and marble and contemporary furniture – staffed by well-groomed people with all of their teeth. I immediately got my camera out and started snapping pictures when we got to our room. Awesome marble bathroom with water-fall shower; clean cotton bed sheets with fluffy white pillows; a retro Eames chair in the corner next to a glass-top table. Were you reading my diary, Country Inn and Suites?

Ajit took us to his office next – a factory called Rapid Coat that he started 35 years ago simply by reading/requesting books about powder coating. He built the entire factory himself and most of the equipment inside. He’s incredibly smart and incredibly humble. He and Ryan got along right away. We walked in and everyone in the room immediately stood up. They have a lot of respect for their boss and they work hard to keep their jobs (and from what we’d seen, there were clearly more people in India than jobs – especially in nice, air-conditioned offices). During our tour of the plant, it was great to see Ryan in his element. The floor was concrete instead of laminate and the lab was make-shift instead of state-of-the-art, but Ryan recognized all of the necessary components and he was really impressed. The plant was loud – lots of machines going at once – which made me proud that Ryan remembered his ear-protection (which he frequently carries just in case we find ourselves in the middle of a random fireworks display or a balloon-heavy birthday party and I’m catatonic in the corner). I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I smiled a lot watching Ryan with Ajit’s employees – easily a foot and a half taller than everyone – ducking as we went through doorways. I just hung back and followed them around – waving and smiling like some sort of powder-coating diplomat.

We ended up in Ajit’s office to talk over the plans and expectations for the next 5 days. There were cold bottles of Pepsi, drinking glasses and huge bottles of water waiting for each of us, which I found really sweet considering they made a special effort to refrigerate our drinks. Electricity is really expensive – as evidenced by the frequent, mandatory power-outages that occur throughout the day. I quietly drank my Pepsi and smiled while the guys had their meeting, then Ajit’s wife (Saroj) and his son (Anooj) joined us so we could all drive back to the hotel for lunch. Ajit drove his own car, but Saroj had a driver named Naveen who was very sweet and quiet (and CRA-ZY skinny! Wow! That boy’s biceps were smaller than my wrists.) The whole way back to the hotel, Saroj and I made plans for all of the shopping we were going to do after lunch. In the front seat, I could tell Ryan was getting really nervous. I was making plans to go shopping with a woman wrapped in gauzy, embroidered, linen, dripping with diamonds, being driven around by her own personal driver. Awesome.

You wouldn’t think a hotel restaurant was anything picture-worthy, but I immediately broke out my camera. It was gorgeous. There were three, big open kitchens with chefs in tall hats preparing fine, Indian (all vegetarian) cuisine; huge copper kettles for making fresh naan bread; buffets full of fruit and bread and cheese just for starters; a dessert bar with hundreds of tiny bite-sized desserts all lined up like delicious little soldiers and an ice cream bar with flavors like mango, fig and pistachio. And it was gooooood!

After lunch, Ryan, Anooj and Ajit headed back to the office to get the paint trials going while Saroj, Luke and I headed off to Delhi. We had to get Luke back by 3:00 for a meeting and Saroj and I had big shopping plans! The traffic headed in to Delhi was worse than what we faced coming out of it, but I was getting used to this commute. Delhi is a much larger city than Ghaziabad and everyone drives in there to work. Plus, the entire city is under construction for the Commonwealth Games (expected to take place in November 2010 despite the fact that there’s no stadium or infrastructure built yet) so the roads are completely torn up with detours all over the city. It’s a good way to make an already filthy city even dirtier. Just put heaping piles of dirt and trash by the side of the road so families can crouch next to it and grout some tile for the next 7 months. And I’m talking *entire* families…babies with no pants, kids with sticks as toys, dogs, women and men are all crouched next to the frantic, busy highway building sidewalks. (or something…I honestly have no idea what they’re doing. Several times, we drove past big groups of dudes just standing around eating bananas – like, “it’s 4:00…time for a banana!” One time we watched a girl just pick up bricks one-by-one and chuck them 2 feet away from where she was standing. Seemed tedious and a little unnecessary but whatever.)

Saroj and I dropped Luke off at the Taj Mahal hotel and headed off to Connaught Place – the city’s oldest shopping center. It is currently being restored (like everything else in Delhi) so we didn’t actually get out of the car. We drove around and around it until we could find the one and only entrance to the center, then we fought like crazy to get through a congested parking situation (not so much a parking lot, just a big open space where cars were triple and quadruple parked in a mass that looked like complete chaos). Connaught Place basically looks like The Colosseum, except this one is for shopping, not fighting to the death. Saroj explained that there were apartments on the second story of this building and the people who lived there once had the rights to paint/decorate them however they wanted, so they got all run-down and gross and the city mandated that everyone move out and they sort of start over. The shops had to be more uniform with their signage and the apartments above had to maintain a certain level of integrity. The restoration really looked beautiful (where it was close to being finished). They are restoring classic Roman columns and installing floor-to-ceiling windows in the apartments above – which are going to sell for 1 million dollars per square foot when they’re finished.

Next, we went to something Saroj called a “flea market” where vendors set up booths and tents full of everything from jeans to nightgowns to jewelry. We had to go through a security gate, but I looked back to realize that the guy standing next to it wasn’t a cop. He was just a guy selling electric fly-swatters. The street smelled like pee and I was trying my best to avoid mysterious piles of trash on the ground, so I didn’t get many pictures of the market. I also didn’t want to lose my host who was booking it toward a display of cotton nightgowns.

It took me a while to warm up to the flea market, but eventually I realized they were selling 100% cotton shirts for 100 rupees. That’s like $2.50. Of course, you can’t try anything on and you’d certainly want to wash everything before you wear it, but I was there for the experience and the thrill of the hunt. I wasn’t going to regret a $2.50 contribution toward their economy. Saroj bought a cotton, embroidered nightgown and tried hard to get me to do the same. “T-shirt and pajama pants” just didn't translate. Then we went to a tent selling cotton quilts, pillow-covers and wall-hangings. They were amazing. All hand-embroidered and machine washable, according to this lady. It was well shaded, but still over 100 degrees in that tent. The woman and her husband took nearly every quilt off the wall and spread it out to show it to us. Saroj bought one for the new house she’s building (she knew just where she wanted to hang it) and I debated long and hard over a cheerful yellow quilt with elephants all over it. (I could picture it in the baby’s room or laying across the foot of a guest bed...a conversation piece if anything.) Saroj did her best to bargain with the lady but she was firm on 1,000 rupees. Saroj said it wasn’t worth that much – maybe 600 rupees – so we walked away. I didn’t stop thinking about that elephant quilt all night.

I didn’t know what was happening most of the time. Saroj switched back and forth between English and Hindi at a rate I couldn’t fathom. Most of the time, she asked questions in Hindi, then the vendors would reply and she’d say something like “Oh…I see” and I’d be all “what just happened? What did you ask?” as I followed her out of a tent. At one point, she asked if I wanted a Pepsi or a Sprite or something to drink (again…so unbearably hot), so we made our way out of the flea market to a sketchy little cart selling food and drinks. This was exactly the type of thing I was told to avoid in my instructional video. The guy shook his head as Saroj asked for two words I recognized (something-something-Pepsi? Something-something-Sprite?) Then she turned to me and said, “you want apple juice?” Um…no. How about a bottle of water? She turned back to the guy and he handed her a thing that looked sort of like a Frappucino in a tiny bottle without a lid and I got really nervous. Saroj took out a straw and began slurping it up. The vendor re-appeared with a huge (slightly unmanageable) bottle of water and I was relieved. Because if that brown drink was water, we were in trouble. It turned out to be iced coffee and Saroj finished it off in about 5 seconds, then she set the bottle in a crate by the trash-can (it was the closest thing to recycling I’ve seen so far. I used to think India banned plastic bags, but every single thing we purchased was shoved in a plastic bag before I could get my money out or explain that I already had a bag and I could just put it in there. As if I wasn’t foreign enough. Weirdo.)

We turned the corner and found even more shops – these were on the street and they had air-conditioning and doors. I purchased a scarf for 50 rupees ($1.00?) and decided I should come back for more of those before I leave! I also purchased some fun, authentic bangles in a giant plastic sleeve – perfect for my outfits that require rhinestones and jingly accessories!

I could tell Saroj was getting a little tired of the crowds and the noise, so I asked her if there was anywhere else she would like to go. She said, “Oh, yes Ashley. I will take you to some very fine shopping” and she pulled out her phone to call her driver. He was at the curb in about 30 seconds and we were off.

The next place didn’t allow any pictures and I’m not even sure how to describe it. We were dropped off in front of a big white gate on a cobble-stone street that was off the main road. There were no cars honking and there was a valet guy ready to park our car in a safe, non-mirror scraping parking lot. It looked like a garden the way it was all fenced in and private. Through the white gate were little stone pathways through green, plush grass and along the pathways were individual “hut-type” boutiques. There were peacocks roaming around and twinkle lights in the trees. It was about 10 degrees cooler because there were hardly any people around. Barely any noise at all. It was heaven.

Saroj took me to a store called “Anokhi” where I picked out a few scarves and debated a cotton throw for the bedroom. The prices here were a bit higher but the craftsmanship was much closer to what you would see in the U.S. (and more consistent than anything we saw in the flea market). I took my scarves up to the check-out and stood behind a woman purchasing one of everything in the store. And I’m not even kidding. Her total came to over 1 million rupees and then she paid in cash. Gulp. A guy standing next to her looked at my measly scarves and said (in a super sexy British accent), “You really must buy more. Best prices in all of India. We’re only here for 5 hours and this is the only store we plan to visit.” Alright then…looks like you’ll be here for a while anyway...might as well have a look around. I decided to try on a caftan (though nobody here calls them that). I pictured myself on a yacht somewhere, wearing my authentic Indian caftan ("I'm on a BOAT!") – or going to Mexico with my friends in October – using this cotton shirt-dress as a swim-suit cover-up. It fit perfectly and I figured why not. Plus that British guy told me to. While standing in line, I noticed some cute little ruffly tops that turned out to be dresses for little girls. Perfect! I hadn’t bought anything for Delaney yet. She would love it. It’s summery – it twirls – and it’s a dress!

After Anokhi, we ventured through the garden to a tiny little jewelry store that welcomed Saroj like a regular – because she was. They brought her a glass of water and a chair so she could sit next to the gold jewelry counter and pick something she liked. She really wanted me to buy an embroidered pashmina, so she insisted that the girl bring out stacks of pashminas while she shopped. After spending my last rupee in the previous store, I graciously declined, but she continued to try on gold bracelets and insisted that they bring her “something”. ”I want to buy something” she would say whistfully as she brushed her hair out of her eyes. This lady was a trip.

We drove back to Ghaziabad around 6pm and Saroj made the comment “you sure do like to take pictures, don’t you?” as I clicked away – hoping to capture a small fraction of the mess we saw on the roads that morning. We made plans to shop again tomorrow but I realized after I got out of the car that I had no idea how to get in touch with her or what time to be ready. I was feeling nauseous from the stop and go traffic and I was anxious to take a shower. I’d also had a perpetual runny nose all day so I decided to upgrade from my Claratin-D to my Benedryl.

Ryan called the hotel room around 10pm to say he was on his way home, finally. I’d been completely zonked out for the last 4 hours and missed dinner entirely. Ryan knocked on the hotel room door around 10:30 and I vaguely remember waking up to say hello. My Benedryl had really kicked in so I was semi-conscious for the following events: Ryan got home, realized the internet connection in our room wasn’t working, called an I/T guy to come fix it (which means a stranger was in our room for 20 min while I was completely unconscious on the bed), Ryan called the front desk to have someone come up and fix our TV (it was making loud, humming noises that were super distracting and annoying), somebody brought a whole new flat-screen TV in to our room and hung it on the wall, Ryan called room service and ordered food, somebody brought a huge cart full of food in to our room and Ryan ate dinner right next to me. I sort of remember eating his bread and a bite of biryani, but that’s about it. Benedryl, man. That stuff WORKS!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Moving to the new hotel meant losing my evening access to the internet - which means I haven't been able to blog at the end of each day - which was my goal all along. We tried and tried to get the connection to work in the room, but I've been typing out my entries on the old laptop, so I'm hoping to upload them later today when we head back to Delhi.

Sorry everyone. Big fat fail.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day Two

This morning began around 5am when I decided I couldn't sleep any longer. Normally I'm a sleep camel (when I get a chance to load the hump, I load the hump) but I didn't want to make it completely impossible to fall asleep tonight. I watched the sun come up over Delhi as I blogged about "Day One". I even snapped some photos but the city just looked dusty and cloudy rather than radiant or sunkissed.

Our guide for the day was a guy named Luke - a Valspar guy from Minnesota who is here on the same business trip as Ryan. Luke has visited India 8-9 times and knows exactly what it should cost to take you from our hotel to the mall in a taxi. He met us for breakfast at 9am in the hotel restaurant and went over the rough itinerary for the day. We were up for anything!

Valspar arranged a car and driver for the day, so we started at India Gate. It's a lot like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, only instead of being the center of the city all lit up with pretty lights and cars circling around it, the India Gate is in the center of nothing, surrounded by thousands of guys playing cricket in the dirt or selling fruit from sketchy carts. I took some pictures (it's not like you can go inside or climb it) and then decided to walk over to the cricket park (dodging dog poop and standing water). There were quite possibly 35 games going on at once. I have no idea how they weren't all getting hit and running in to each other, but that's just the way things seem to go in India. Personal space and room to spread out just don't exist.

My favorite quote from the day happened as a tiny dude crouched next to us with a basket and a giant cobra. I said, "Whoah! That guy has a live cobra!" Luke (still walking) said, "Yeah. You don't want to be anywhere near that guy." I looked back as the giant cobra popped out of the basket and bit the guy right on the hand.

The next stop was Swaminarayan Akshardham - a giant temple built out of pink stone and white marble as a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. They didn't allow any cameras, bags, cell phones or personal items of any kind because it was destroyed several years ago (I don't remember who bombed it) and had to completely re-built it. There was quite a security process to get in! The men and women were separated in to two different buildings where we were all patted down and checked for hidden weapons - or perhaps that particular guard just really liked the way my boobs felt in her hands? We went through metal detectors and were scanned with wands even after the pat-down. I was grateful that Luke knew of this "no personal items" rule and advised us to keep our bags and bottles in the car. The line to check bags and cell phones looked very crowded and pushy. Like I might freak out and kick someone.

We walked around the grounds (100 acres of gardens, statues, pillars, colonnades, and a giant temple) and stopped twice to buy more bottles of water. It was so hot, my hands and feet swelled like sausages and I felt my heart beat in my skin. I don't know what heat stroke feels like, but I imagine that's how it begins. Ryan looked over at me and said, "Are you okay? Your face is really red" so we decided to find a shady spot in a breezeway to hang out for a while. It really was amazing and beautiful - so many ornate carvings. We finished up in the gift shop where we bought a book (another recommendation by Luke) and jumped back in our car.

We drove to the Gandhi Smirti - the place where Gandhi lived and eventually died. The grounds were a bit more shaded and there wasn't quite as much to see. Mostly it was a lot of reading. There was a sculptural walk-way to show the path Gandhi took after being shot and a temple built to indicate the spot where he collapsed. A lot of great quotes and a beautiful mural depicting his life. Inside an air-conditioned building was a multi-media art show by some students in India who were inspired by the life and work of Gandhi. They were all eager to show you their projects and encouraged you to interact with the art - it was a lot of "touch this and this light will come on and it will play a movie". It was all very cool and artsy.

We ate lunch around 2:00 (normal in India) at a place that was recommended by our driver. I've learned that I can't judge the location of the restaurant or the looks of the outside because what we found inside was delcious. What we found outside were toothless men sharpening knives on a bicycle and creepy dogs covered in mud. We had intentions of continuing on to the Red Fort, but the minute I sat down and cooled off, I hit a wall. The heat was really getting to me so we asked for a rain check. We headed back to the hotel to take cold showers and brief naps. Bliss.

Around 5:00, Ryan and I woke up and got dressed for dinner. We met Luke in the lobby and took a taxi to the mall. The cab ride was about 15 minutes long and our driver honked his horn the entire way. It's like a turn signal in India "Hey, I'm passing you on the right." (honk-honk) There are no lines on the road and anyone is welcome to join. Bicycles, Motorcycles, Rickshaws, Cabs, cows, old dudes with walking sticks...we even saw a bicycle pulling a huge cage full of chickens. (they didn't look so good)

We showed up at the mall and went through a metal detector/security check point (I was getting used to this by now) and walked around the mall for 2 hours - watching people, window shopping and attempting to find a brown belt for Ryan (who sadly left his in Kansas City). The mall was entirely packed with kids from India trying to look like kids from the States. Superman t-shirts, Abercrombie polos, Levi's jeans...several popped collars and retro 80's mall hair. It was fantastic. We took a seat next to a Cinnabon (every mall smells like Cinnabon!) and listened to Backstreet Boys blare over the mall atrium.

Around 8:00, we made our way to the restaurant for dinner. Malls in India are sort of like hotels. They have fabulous restaurants and fancy night clubs. We were there to have dinner with the men who own the plant in India where Ryan will be working/visiting/over-seeing production for the next 5 days. The restaurant was called Vepa and it reminded me of a club in Vegas. Dim lights, gold peacocks on the walls, mother-of-pearl lotus flowers on the floor, gold fabric-tufted booths that stretched a long a curved wall that led to a private dining room divided by a silk curtain.

Our hosts were fabulous, generous, down-to-earth people who ordered several rounds of tandoori appetizers, amazing flavors of naan bread, and delicious entrees that we passed around the table, family style. There was SO much food! Dinners in India start around 10:00 so we were the early crowd at 8. As we were finishing up, the restaurant was packed and bustling - likely to stay for dessert and coffee well in to the morning.

Ryan was feeling anxious to get back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep - as he had work in the morning. I stayed up and attempted to load my pictures to facebook (which failed). Only the beginning of my computer woes.

Tomorrow, we check out of the Taj Hotel and move to Ghaziabad. We are staying at a Country Inn so I'm anxious to see if they serve the same biscuits and gravy for breakfast as they do in the states!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Day One

After a full day of packing and running around Kansas City for last minute errands (an adjustment at the chiropractor, a trip to the bank, and a set of Ryan's fingerprints) Ryan and I headed to the airport. It was 12:30 in the afternoon.

We checked in with American Airlines and played a quick game of Bananagrams at Gate 77. We were very early, but figured an international flight deserved some waiting around. Security was no problem - even the cookie I stashed in my purse made it through. Then we decided to look around and guess who else might be flying to Delhi via Chicago.

One particular face stood out - a man who looked an awful lot like my best friend's dad. I asked Ryan, "Doesn't that guy look like Dr. Forbach?" "He does!" "That's so funny. But I just saw him this morning for my adjustment. He didn't say anything about being at the airport today." After some bizarre stalking and strategic waving, we decided to just call Jason to find out. "Hey! Is there any chance your dad is at the airport right now?" "" "Because there's a guy here who totally looks like your dad." "That's so funny. Maybe he has a second family we don't know about and he's going to visit them this weekend." "No, dude. I really think it's your dad. Will you call him and ask if he's at the airport right now?" So he did. And it was. Dr. Forbach was not only flying to Chicago on the first leg of our flight, but he was assigned to the seat right behind Ryan.

I felt like we were flying with James Bond with his noise-canceling Bose headphones and his super-low-profile "pillow in a bag". Dr. Forbach even had a cool carry-on with a pocket for his water. I bought my plastic pink headphones at Target and wrestled with where to stash my water bottle all the way to India. The flight to Chicago was so fast I hardly remember it. I think we got beverage service and I vaguely recall sitting between Ryan and "the guy who read his newspaper the entire flight and never took his elbow off of the arm rest." We confirmed that Dr. Forbach was, in fact, teaching a class in Chicago that weekend - not visiting his second family. He was meeting up with an old college buddy for dinner and wished us well on our journey.

With a 2.5 hour lay-over in Chicago, we decided to by-pass the food court and treat ourselves to a sit-down dinner at Macaroni Grill. It was a condensed, airport version of Macaroni Grill, but the waitress still wrote her name upside down on the paper tablecloth and the bread tasted like heaven. We ordered a tomato-basil bruchetta appetizer and common sense told us both to order super-heavy pasta entrees. (Gotta carb-load for the intensity of sitting down for the next 16 hours!) After dinner we casually made our way to Gate K-19, dodging runners and beeping carts trying to catch their flights.

We found two seats in the waiting area next to a free plug in the ground for charging our laptop. I took pictures of the GINORMOUS airplane sitting outside our window and played a little Spider Solitaire while Ryan called our families to update them on our progress. Before we knew it, we were boarding. The jet-way was about 100 yards long and only heightened my excitement for the final boarding of this BEHEMOTH. I didn't take any pictures inside (wanted to act like I'd been on an airplane before) but it was truly gigantic. We were all the way in the back at Seats 39 A & B - window seats together on the left side of the plane. Across the aisle were 5 seats together and then another aisle and then another 2 seats against the opposite window. As we walked through the business class seats and their reclining chairs, I thought about the flights my family took to Paris and Hawaii - the joys of flying first class. While grateful and incredibly fortunate to have done so, I almost prefer not to know what I'm missing.

We found our seats and snuggled in for the 15 hour flight to Delhi. Ryan had the aisle seat which meant he had the annoying task of grabbing my pillow, my eye-mask, my medicine, my water-bottle (ugh! That water bottle!), my slippers, my lotion...not all at once of course...these were requests that spanned 15 hours of unbuckling his seatbelt, uncovering his lap from the pillows and blankets he had stacked there, worming his way around the arm-rest that didn't go up, and opening the bin with contents that MAY have shifted during flight. I will say it right now - I have the best husband in the world. He only made a dragon-breath noise ONE TIME and that was because the dude who was NOT assigned to the seat in front of Ryan decided it was better than his assigned seat, so he picked that seat to recline and sleep for the rest of the trip. Actually, we felt worse for the dude in front of me who thought, "sweet! two seats to myself!" but quickly found himself with a travel buddy.

We've flown over-seas before - most recently to Greece with my entire family - but that flight left me in tears. I didn't sleep, I wasn't comfortable, the movies sucked (Eight Below) and I just wanted it to be over. This flight was a dream compared to that one. Our seats had little TVs built in to the head-rests and we had a choice of 9 movies that just played on a loop, including Avatar - which is a really easy way to kill 3 hours! There were also TV shows like The Office and 30 Rock - and let me tell you - I can get behind some 30 Rock. I watched The Proposal and fell in love all over again with Ryan Reynold's abs. I also watched Sandra Bullock with new eyes as I thought about her Oscar win and dissolving marriage...and I frequently jabbed Ryan in the ribs, and pointed to the screen to sign "I WANT THAT DOG!"

The food was gross. Of course. It's airplane food. And it was even more disgusting knowing that First Class was probably dining on roasted duck and apple chutney. I ripped open my microwaved container of "do you want chicken or vegetarian" and attempted a few bites of the thing marked "yogurt" before calling it good. I wasn't even hungry. I had sleeping to do.

Two benedryl later, I found myself curled in a fetal ball with my feet on an armrest and my head against the window. We only had 6 more hours to go! There were snack bags being passed around with Ruffles and Milano cookies. I rousted Ryan to let me out for a bathroom break and devoured the salty chips while standing in line. I saved the cookies for morning. I was clever enough to bring some very cozy slippers and felt increasingly proud of my outfit choice as the flight endured. My little pink dress and black leggings were both practical and adorable. They expanded with my bloated (in-flight) tummy and kept me warm when the temperature seemed to plummet. My slippers stayed on and flexed nicely as I propped my toes on the armrest in front of me. I was getting pretty good at this airplane stuff!

Another 3 hours of pretty good sleep and it was time for breakfast. Our choices were "eggs or vedge" and I have to tell you - I hesitated. What in the world is "vedge"? Why wouldn't she just say the whole word? And besides that, the contents of a vegetarian breakfast were too much for my airplane brain to register so I went with the eggs. It was omelet-ish. With cheese and potatoes and green pepper-looking slices. Not terrible. Again with the yogurt. Pass. Tiny little containers of water. Too frustrating. Soon a cart with orange juice and chai tea rolled by. Yes. Please! Thank you.

Only 1 hour to go. I took this time to gather all of the things I'd shoved in the seat-back pocket in front of me and clean up my floor space. I switched places with Ryan so I could pull my carry-on out of the bin and re-pack all of the crap I'd brought with me. I also got my toothbrush and toothpaste out and headed to the lavatory (which Ryan and I both agree is a dumb word). Nothing makes you feel less like you've just been on an airplane for 15 hours like brushing your teeth. I also slathered some Clinique lotion on my face and re-applied my eye-makeup. There! Done! Good as new.

We listened to a kid scream "Swiper! No Swiping!" at his Dora video as we made our way in to the Delhi airport. The TV screens in front of us tracked our journey with real-time updates and a tiny little airplane representing where we were on the map of the world. I watched the altitude drop and the ground speed go from 524 mph to 253 mph as we finally touched ground. I sort of wanted to cheer, but it clearly wasn't a cheering crowd. Remarkably, everyone was pretty much packed up and ready to go when the seatbelt sign turned off. We followed the crowd to the visa-check station. We got in a really fast line (behind the Dora kid and his dad). We found the restrooms and the thing that gave us back our luggage. We found the driver that was waiting for us with his little "Mr. Ryan Westhoff" sign. And then we went outside.

HOLY BALLS!!! It was 104 degrees!!!! At NIGHT!!!!! We followed our little driver to the parking lot as Ryan navigated our luggage trolley through the people and buses gathered in a clump outside. I was set on watching the driver's every move as he was pulling the carry-on that contained my passport. Ryan was busy fending off random dudes wanting to push his luggage cart. "No thank you" can only sound *so* polite when you have to use your elbows.

The driver loaded up our luggage and cranked the a/c as he handed us 4 bottles of water. Compliments of the Taj hotel. Sweet! I have seen it on the Amazing Race and I have heard people talk about the drivers in India, but there's really nothing like it. Cars weaving in and out of lanes. Horns honking - some short and friendly, some long and a bit more hostile. Every single car has a smashed bumper or a side-swiped door. We cleared the corner of a giant dump-truck with about 2 inches to spare and Ryan looked at me like "You're not gonna throw up, are you?" Ryan made conversation with the driver as I clutched the seat in front of me, hoping not to look too panicked. "Meesar Ree-on? You have nice flight?" "Meesar Ree-on? You have driver at home?" "Meesar Ree-on? You stay in Delhi for how long?" I once answered a question and it became clear that women don't do much of the talking in India.

The car ride was about 45 minutes. Our driver did his best to point out the "attractions" along the way, but it was dark and every building worth seeing was surrounded by a wall, topped with barbed wire. Our driver also told us funny stories about his son who is turning 13 tomorrow and wants his daddy to buy him a bike in "the big city" for his birthday. Ryan and I were happy to tip him enough to give his son a nice birthday.

The hotel was (and still is) amazing. We pulled up to the gates and there were three armed guards standing there with riffles and flashlights, checking under cars, under hoods and inside trunks for (what I can only assume were) bombs. They saluted us and we made our way up the drive to the marble entrance. It was gorgeous! Guys in gold turbins (I hope that's really what they're called and I haven't just offended anyone) and women in aqua saris greeted hotel guests through the metal detectors and the luggage screening process (all a bit blurry to be totally honest) and then we walked through a marble lobby that smelled like orchids. The elevator was all mirrors and marble and the hallways were lined in gorgeous wool rugs. Our luggage would be delivered to our room and our hotel ambassador gave a brief summary of the hotel amenities. I know she was talking, but all I could think about was taking a shower and crawling in to that cushy, clean, white bed.

And that's exactly what I did.

Ryan set up our magic jack (so we can receive local phone calls from home) and ordered some internet access for the laptop. We called our families (who were preparing for lunch) and told them we were safe and off to bed!

Day one was almost 22 hours of traveling. Count that on my list of things I get to check off this week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Ryan and I are headed to India for 10 days! We leave on Friday, April 9th and return sometime Monday the 19th (...or we leave on Monday and travel back in time to return on Sunday??? I still haven't figured that out.) We'll be in Delhi for the most part, then we travel to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. We've been immunized against (and warned about) Yellow Fever, Malaria, Hepatitis, Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese encephalitis, Polio, and the germ-carrying proficiency of mosquitoes. We have prescriptions for Cipro (diarrhea), Ambien (sleep aid), and several Z-packs (bacterial infections). Our Travel visas are all updated and I have auditioned several walking sandals over the last week. We bought a new camera (RIP little Canon SX100) and I even bought myself a straw hat!

Some people have connected India with the fact that we are adopting, but I assure you they are not related. We are not adopting a baby from India - though I have been warned about the poverty and will do my best not to stash a sweet little cherub in my carry-on. My only intention is to bring home a thousand pictures, some awesome jewelry, and a bunch of amazing fabric. Ryan is going for work (I am simply tagging along) so he'll have a totally different agenda. Something about powder coatings and paint and business and I honestly have no idea what he's going to do. So I've been researching what to see and what to do while I'm on my own for 5 days. Here's what I know:

We are staying in New Delhi, which is in Northern India - it's the capital:

Delhi is very congested and the most popular means of travel are these auto-rickshaws. I've been told it is really easy to get ripped off. Awesome. I love a good language barrier and the fear of losing money:

This is the Red Fort. It is closed on Mondays:

This is a hallway in the Red Fort. I'm prepared to pick my jaw off the floor many, many times while admiring the architecture in India:
More hallways:

This is the Jama Masjid:

This is Raj Ghat - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial:

This is a memorial statue of Gandhi leading the salt march:

Another Gandhi memorial:

The Lotus Temple:

Close-up of Lotus Temple:

Taj Mahal as seen from some body's airplane:

The Taj Mahal is apparently the greatest symbol of love ever constructed?? An emperor built it for his 3rd wife who died giving birth to his 14th child. One of his sons over-threw him and tossed the emperor in jail where he watched the construction from his prison window? Eventually he died and his followers returned him to the Taj Mahal where he could be buried next to his wife. That kid has what we call "anger issues":

As Phil Keoghan would say, "Good safe...GO!"