Archive for December, 2006

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

December 30, 2006

Today’s blog could otherwise be entitled ‘Alison buys a bus ticket’ but that was just too boring. However the rigmarole of securing some long-distance transport has a lot to say about how India does (and doesn’t) work.
We’re going to Bangalore. For the unitiated, Bangalore is one of India’s up and coming cities. A centre of IT excellence and an important commercial ‘metro’. Therefore – it’s hard to get to from Goa! There’s one train a week to and from, or relatively expensive flights (the ticket prices look OK until you add the taxes). Failing that it’s an overnight bus. The train was fully booked with a long waiting list, so we had to settle for the bus. Here goes.
Step one – consult web site for the best of the luxury bus companies (the state buses are for short journeys only, unless you’re really hardy/strapped for cash). The web site gives bus timings, place to board, and prices. No page for making a booking but references to their Margao and Panjim offices.
Step two – phone bus company head office. ‘No we don’t take bookings over the phone – please contact our Margao office’.
Step three – phone Margao office. Discover that the web site information is all out of date and they don’t take bookings over the phone either. We must go in to book.
Step four – converse with a neighbour who recommends a different Margao office to the one listed on the web site. It’s closer to our home, so this sounds promising.
Step five – Alison goes to the bus company offices to find herself dealing with a man who conducts three other transactions with people who just barge in, while also arguing down the phone with someone about her booking. They can give Alison a ticket for the journey to Bangalore but not for the return! The second ticket will have to be booked in Bangalore. ‘Go to our offices near the racecourse when you arrive.’ At 7.30am? Yes, they’ll be open then – not. Can she pay by cheque or credit card? No, has to be cash. Does the man behind the counter have change? Eventually yes, after dealing with another customer concerning a trip to Hyderabad. Finally Alison left the office with two tickets, and several reminders about the time to check in and the date we’re going to travel. We think this was the customer service bit.
If you’re reading this and think this blog is a bit long-winded, imagine being in the thick of it and let us assure you that this was a relatively simple transaction that went well.
Which only leaves us to tell you that there won’t be a blog tomorrow – it’s Sunday. See you all again in 2007.


Of Stamps and Seals

December 29, 2006

Indian’s love stamps. We’re not talking the postage variety but the kind you put on official documents. They love them so much that we have three of them, plus a common seal. Those familiar with this blog will understand when we say we never have the right one with us when we need it. There’s the rectangular one that says ‘authorised signatory’ and our Indian company name, that we need whenever we sign things at the bank. Then there’s the almost duplicate rectangular stamp that says ‘authorised signatory/director’ (and the Co name) because our accountant wasn’t happy with the first version. And then there’s the round stamp, with company name and town registered in, which seems to have to go on anything official (including any cheques we write).
We also have a Common Seal. No, not the grey fish-eating version, but a heavy tool that embosses paper. Again we haven’t used it yet, not least because our advocate ordered it then forgot to tell us he had it, therefore it languished in his office for 18 months. No doubt we’ll use it ‘magir’.
Coming back to the subject of stamps, Indians do make some very pretty ones. Yesterday’s letter to Alison’s grandmother has been sent equipped with a large (more than 3 inches long) picture of the Agra Fort. Previous letters had butterflies on them.
Off to the beach today. Just thought we’d let you know.

Goan Bald

December 28, 2006

Our objective is to start a Chiropractic and Bowen healthcare clinic in Margao in mid-February. It’s taken a lot of time, effort and patience to get this far. There are still a lot of bureaucratic hurdles and hoops to negotiate but we are confident we will be in business on schedule – the paperwork might not be in place but we will be.
We are not alone in the frustrations of establishing a business. At first we thought all the bureaucracy was incurred because we were whiteskins and the slowness of it all because of our inadequate grasp of Konklish. Not so! the locals have to negotiate most of the same obstacles, but just without so many language difficulties.
A small example. Today we tried to sign up for a post-paid cellphone with the same company with which we have a pre-paid system. We produced all the paperwork requested in the application form. One after another the bits of paper came out. Our man behind the desk then asked for proof of payment of the telephone bill, which we have… but not with us. So we tear a few more hairs out. We’ll try again another day and we are not bald yet!

Puppy Blogs

December 27, 2006

One morning, four puppies appeared outside the house. They looked well fed but no mother in evidence. Later in the afternoon, they were still there, conserving energy but weaker. So we did what you would do in the UK – phoned a local animal charity, which came and picked them up.
It’s an aspect of Indian life we struggle to understand. Most people have dogs – for security- but few are neutered. The resultant offspring are not wanted and either starve or join the ranks of undernourished and diseased dogs on the streets and beaches. Once you could have blamed cost – however the charity mentioned above neuters animals for free.
Is it habit? Or just a different attitude to life?

Boxing Day Blues

December 26, 2006

As promised, a report on Christmas lunch Goan-style. Lots of food! Sorpotel (a pork dish only prepared for feasts), roast pork with cumin, chicken curry, fish salad, rice, vegetables, noodles. Then five different puddings, including Bebinca and Dodol. Suffice it to say we ate too much. And now people keep bringing us sweets. Most of them are Christmas specialities. Very nice but it’s getting a bit out of hand. Our neighbours from downstairs have just turned up with a bag of cakes and goodies for us. Just bitten into a cinnamon flavoured something, deep fat-fried…mmmmmmore please.
Anyway, today was supposed to be a ‘put our feet up and go to the beach’ day. However Martin has got the gardening bug – some friends have given us some plants – so a large chunk of time has disappeared in soil and cow dung collection, plus Martin has learned how to de-husk coconuts, without wounding himself, and also glued together some Indian household stuff that is falling apart already.
After the excitements of the last two days, we slept 11 hours last night. Perhaps we’ll get to the beach tomorrow? Or should that be ‘magir’!

Christmas Spirit

December 25, 2006

Xmas tree in SeraulimOff to Midnight Mass, Goan-style, with the neighbours. A pleasant hour in our village church, seated outside under a decorative awning. The attendance is double that of a normal Sunday so it’s standing room only for late arrivals. Konkani version of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ to make Martin and I feel at home. The Konkan Railway could have been more sympathetic when they laid the tracks – the trains go right past the back of the church so the service was interrupted at regular intervals, including during the sermon. English churches take note, you get coffee and cakes after Goan services. Then everyone goes out to party. Eating, dancing and drinking until breakfast. We escaped early at 4am. Christmas lunch with other friends today. Not sure what it will consist of but expect a report in tomorrow’s blog.
Not so much a ‘funny’ as a point of note. Christmas is far more revered as a religious festival in Goa than in the UK. Lots of people make cribs and set them up either in their gardens or by the road. Would such things survive the night in the UK? Discuss.

Kushal Boray Natala

December 24, 2006

The title of today’s blog – literal translation – is ‘joyful good Christmas’ (we think/hope). The spelling is phonetic to help those of you who do not speak Konkani know how to pronounce it.

Learning the language is, we think, one of the best ways to begin getting under the skin of a different culture. In Goa, the local language is Konkani. It seems to us that Goans have a odd relationship with Konkani – they don’t all speak it and, because it’s taught in schools in Devnagari script rather than Roman, people often need extra lessons if they are to apply for Government jobs which require knowledge of Konkani Roman script. As not all Goans speak Konkani, and because the language is not spoken in the form we’re learning it outside of Goa, we’re also learning Hindi. Here are few of the ‘funnies’.

The Hindi word ‘kal’ means both yesterday and tomorrow
Magir in Konkani means later but also afterwards or behind
Kazar and kasar – very similar, but not to be confused unless you want an argument, the former means married, the latter means tired
There isn’t a Konkani word for agnostic.

English is widely spoken in Goa, but sometimes with a peculiar results. There’s a web site for a well-known Ayurvedic centre that promises ‘impatient facilities for the infirm’.

Anyway, off to make sanna now. That’s a bread made with ground rice, palm toddy (raising agent), coconut, jaggery (palm sugar) and a little salt. We’re making it as a present for our neighbours. It would have been made earlier today but the palm toddy arrived ‘magir’. Predictable or what.

No blog tomorrow – late night tonight at Midnight Mass, party, three hours sleep, Christmas lunch and afternoon with friends. Next post magir (new translation – Boxing Day to you and me).

PS Who noticed that we missed a blog this week?

Catch ‘Skype’; it’s not a disease

December 23, 2006

A longstanding friend of ours suggested we sign up with Skype. It was a doddle and with a set of earphones and a microphone we were away. Technology is a wonderful thing when it works… and Skype works. We’ve been delighted. Email your number if you want a chat over the Xmas holiday; we’ll have time to give you a call up to about 4.30pm your time. We’re now taking a Christmas break. Goa is slowing down too (that’ll be stationery, then!)
If you have already caught Skype our handle is alison.bale. Check in for free.

The Indian art of paying the phone bill

December 21, 2006

Those of you familiar with our pre-blog emails will understand our slightly fractious relationship with Goa Telecom. Tales of Martin’s various meetings with Messers Lolikar and Barve (and Mr Barve’s assistant) have at least amused in retrospect. We’re often asked what we’ve been up to and it’s sometimes a bit difficult to explain. Reviewing this week’s attempts to pay our phone bill, we think we know why.
Tuesday 19 December, option one, pay phone bill online. Form required for bank. As we don’t have a printer, trip into bank required on Wednesday. As the bank and the telephone office are in Margao, decide to pay at telephone office instead. Wednesday morning, 11am, twenty minute queue at the telephone offices. Option three – let’s pay at the post office. Another large queue – fortunately before we waited too long Martin saw a notice saying payments are accepted only from addresses in Margao. Option four – pay at our local post office. Thursday lunchtime, queue behind an American who’s trying to buy stamps for post cards. Unfortunately she’s written on the right hand side of the card and so has to be charged letter rate not post card rate. Plus she wants extra stamps. Alison makes first foray into Konklish translation services. Finally, Alison presents phone bill and correct money. Sorry, payment of phone bills only accepted up to 1pm (time on watch, 1.10pm). By the time we pay the bill on Friday morning, overall time taken during efforts to pay phone bill – in excess of three and a half days. Please pray for us that tomorrow isn’t a public holiday.

Sometimes we just wish we’d stayed at home

December 20, 2006

After our day of leisure yesterday it was back to work with a will this morning. Pre-dawn Yoga, a 4 mile run, shower, breakfast and computer stuff before a trip to Margao to the bank for (hopefully) completion of three items and some photocopying.
There was a fair bit of traffic to deal with on the computer.The server at Panjim was behaving erratically. Downloads were timing out and everything was taking a age, enough to delay us by nearly an hour. Eventually we were totally foiled by a power cut.
We arrived in Margao even later than expected;delayed at the level crossing where a lorry had managed to get itself wedged with a couple of other vehicles thus blocking the road in both directions. The level crossing performance has to be seen to be believed. When the gates close, usually more than five minutes before the passage of the train, there is no orderly queue. No; both lanes of the road fill up solid against the gates on both sides. Needless to say the traffic takes at least fifteen minutes after the passage of the train to flow freely again, while the unholy mess sorts itself out.
Margao is now decked out with plenty of Xmas lights, boom-boxes belting out Christmas hits of yore. Anyway, item 1 at the bank went without hitch. ATM withdrawal. Item 2. To pay utilities on-line you first have to fill in a hardcopy form; OK a bit old-fashioned but hey! this is India. What we didn’t know is that having completed the form you have to produce a copy of the utility bill. Weird or what? Of course we didn’t have it with us. Failed to achieve Item 2. Item 3. Where is our Credit card? We ordered it eight weeks ago. All they can tell us is that it takes a long time and will arrive magir – later. Item 3 not achieved, not even pushed forward an inch. Over to the photocopying shop. Sorry copier broken. Need we say more?
It’s all OK and the frustrations are forgotten when Alison finds just the thing for Christmas Day in a clothes shop. All is well with the world.
PS Item 3 was achieved after all. One hour after arriving home a courier arrives with our credit cards!