Archive for January, 2008

Our coconut oil thermometer

January 30, 2008

The weather in Goa is perfect at this time of year. Coolish mornings and evenings, dry, sunny and with a breeze during the day.

We’ve discovered our coconut oil is a ready-made indicator for the best temperature. We left it on the window sill and it solidified. Whatever next, snow?

Come to think of it, the Goans have been getting a bit worried. The temperature dropped to 15 degrees C the other morning, the coldest for 63 years. For us it just meant a jumper for the morning yoga. For the Goans it meant balaclavas, windcheaters, gloves etc. Just shows what you can get accustomed to.

It beats being in Delhi. The temperature there can drop to minus figures at this time of year. The problem is, such low temperatures only happen for around two months, the rest of the year it’s very hot. So all the houses are set up for warm weather. Therefore you can experience minus degrees in houses with stone floors, ill-fitting windows and no heating.

On which subject, we’ve never seen heating in any Indian hotel, including those in McLeod Ganj and Missourie, where it does snow routinely in the winter. Perhaps the places we stay are just too cheap? If you know differerent, please comment.

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The secret to getting information out of the RTO

January 26, 2008

This week, Martin has taken up residence at the Margao Road Traffic Office (RTO). Not literally, but it does feel like it. Between the learner license for a motorcycle, finding out about re-registration of vehicles and transfers of owernship, and going in search of Harry the Honda’s Certificate of Registration when we realised we didn’t have it, he’s spent many happy hours (!) in the RTO.

And it’s been a bit painful, as previous blogs have demonstrated (Martin thinks the RTO warrants a blog category all of its own). However – finally – divine intervention. A power cut. You see, with no power, no one can process any paperwork. So most Goans go away to come back later, leaving Martin with a clear run at Mr Naik (the new senior officer) – unfortunately for Mr Naik.

And success – we now have Harry’s C of R, and we know what the next steps are regarding the motorcyle. At least we think we do. As with all things in India, matters could be subject to change with no notice. And thinking we know what to do isn’t the same as actually doing it, but it is progress. Or movement ….. at least.

However as Hemmingway once memorably said, ‘never confuse movement with action’.

Here come the carpenters

January 23, 2008

We’ve made our first foray into getting workmen in – carpenters to make some furniture. And it was a quintissential Indian experience.

Step one – we wanted a bookcase for the clinic room. It was to go in a specific space, underneath the desk. So we took them down to see the space and the two carpenters and Martin grovelled around on the floor taking measurements. They produced the bookcase. It was four times too large.

Take two – revisit the clinic room and get the clinic receptionist to go through the brief with them again (we’d love to know what they thought we were doing last time, measuring up at floor level). They cut the bookcase down to size and bodged it into place. Actually it looks good and does what we wanted. Plus we now unexpectedly have a nice new shoe rack in our entrance hall (the remaining part of the bookcase).

The carpenters were also making a cover for our air conditioning unit, to disguise it and create an outside table, and fold up bench for extra seating and a place for siesta on our roof terrace.

We expected the whole thing to take two days. They completed it in one, working flat out from around 9.30am to 8pm (no EU restrictions on working days here). We’re pleased – and it wasn’t too stressful. Of course the legs on the bench have to be carefully put into place, otherwise they flop closed, and the new top for the coffee table was too thick, so we had to change the design. But as they say, this is India. If nothing else, you learn to be flexible (no wonder it’s the home of yoga).

Monkey Madness

January 20, 2008

As avid cricket fans, we don’t think we can let the current debacle in Australia pass without comment. It’s hard not to have a sense that things have got just a tad out of hand. Let’s remember, it is just a sport (even if huge sums of money ride on it in the Indian sub continent).

To recap for those not familiar with the unfolding drama, India got beaten in a test match against Australia. A test match they would probaby have drawn if it hadn’t been for some poor umpiring, most of which went the Australian’s way. Just to spice things up, an Indian bowler called an Autralian batsman ‘a monkey’ – and got a three-match ban for racial abuse. So to even things up, the Indians have now decided to press a rival claim that an Australian player referred to two of them as ‘b******s’.

Poor umpirng – it happens. And generally it evens itself out over a match or series – both sides get poor decisions. It probably makes the case for more technology to be used to assist the umpires. We suspect this will benefit bowlers more than batsmen.

As for racial abuse, in part we’re tempted to applaud Harbajan Singh (the Indian bowler) for managing to rile the Australians over ‘sledging’ (abusive backchat from fielders to batsmen). The Aussies are past masters of sledging. It’s not a pretty art form, doesn’t do anything for the game, but clearly the Aussies are happier dishing it out than getting it back. As Corporal Jones (Dad’s Army) would undoubtedly put it ‘they don’t like it up ’em’.

The most sensible solution we can see is that the players involved and their captains meet privately, apologies, and get back to the job in hand – playing cricket. Generaly common sense and India only have a tangential relationship – and it’s even more tangential where cricket’s involved – but we can hope.

As a footnote, Monkey’s in India are regarded as sacred and gods, so calling someone a monkey could be interpreted as a compliment rather than a slur.

A paper chase to beat all others

January 20, 2008

Even by India’s remarkable standards, last week’s paper chase needed to be seen and experienced to be believed.
Regular readers may recall that we have Goan driving licenses, for two-wheeler without gear and four-wheeler. Now Martin wants a motor bike and that means getting a two-wheeler with gear license.
Given the procedure for getting learner licenses for all three types is the same, he not unreasonably asked if they required all the paperwork again, given that he already had two of the licenses. Unfortunately, yes they did. No exaggeration – it took the best part of five hours of Martin’s time collating the various papers and getting them submitted so that he could take the multiple choice highway code test again. And when he was finally sat with the police officer to take his test – guess what. The officer said he needn’t have bothered because since he already has two licenses, all he needed to do was pay a fee of 40Rs (about 60p) and they would issue him with a learner license for a motorcycle with gears! IWA – India Wins Again.
On the subject of driving, there’s been a lot of public hand wringing this week over the number of accidents. The heart searching was triggered by a crash involving a petrol tanker which took out a minibus, a car and two trucks, killing 13 people here in Goa. Yet nowhere in the coverage have we seen any suggestions that perhaps the driving test in Goa might be a tad inadequate. And given the numbers of new vehicles coming on to the roads, coupled with many more new drivers, all accompanied with zero forward planning about where they’re all going to park – well, we don’t see the situation improving any time soon.

Does anyone sleep around here?

January 16, 2008

Further to the Margao make-over described in our last blog, the powers that be came last night to take away all the rusting electicity poles. Night being the operative word – they arrived around midnight and worked for a couple of hours.

To be fair, given the situation with Margao’s traffic (ie congested) the middle of the night is the only time to do such work. However this being India, nothing gets done quietly. The workmen didn’t talk in whipers to one another – they yelled up the street. And they parked their lorry across the road so any other motorists could’t drive up or down. And this being Goa, the other motorists didn’t sit quietly and wait for the lorry to move. They sounded their horns – frequently – until they could get through.

Some residents probably didn’t notice – those who always sleep with the air con on and so the windows closed. However for those of us who for health and enironmental reasons prefer only to run the air con when absolutely necessary – it was a pain. Still at least the street looks better now.

Sunday silence – not

January 14, 2008

The beautification of Margao continues with the removal of the many unsightly electricity poles and cables. To recap, all last year the roads and pavements were disrupted with the laying of electricity cables underground. This protects the supply from electricity theft and should improve the power availability throughout the state. All good news.

Now most of the time, digging up the infratructure in Goa is still a matter of pick axes and manual labour. But not yesterday. There are probably only two pneumatic drills in the whole of Goa. And yesterday one was in operation right outside our flat. All afternoon. They didn’t even stop for a siesta, which meant no one else in the vicinity could, either.

On a positive note, the removal of the poles makes a great improvement on the overhead views, but as usual in Goa all is not quite plain sailing. The poles are being taken out, complete with concrete surrounds, however large holes are being left in the roads where the poles stood. So you can guess what happens when you’re admiring the improved vista. We wonder if Hospicio (the local hospital) is seeing increased business in broken ankles? Not only, but also… we expect to see the poles (mostly old railway track) will be left lying by the roadside for a few months at least.

Anyway, we sense a repeat of last year’s row, when the electricity contractors had been paid to dig up the pavements to lay the cables, but not to put the pavements back afterwards. So they left them dug up. No doubt filling in the holes will turn out to be ‘someone else’s job’, and the holes remain while the usual suspect excuses – it’s night, it’s day, too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet – will be wheeled out in an effort to extract more money for the job.

What we really need is for a senior politician’s car to get driven in to one of the holes. That’ll get them filled.

Asking the right questions

January 8, 2008

Yet again, we have managed to be stumped by our failure to ask the right questions. The debacle concerns our broadband account and is very instructive of the Goan mindset.

To recap, when we lived in Per-Seraulim, we took up a broadband Internet connection from BSNL. We paid for 12 months up front and so were a bit miffed when we moved to Margao after seven months, only to be told there was a waiting list for broadband in Margao and that BSNL couldn’t supply it. In time we moved to a new supplier.

So imagine our surprise to get our November bill and find we’d been charged for another 12 months of broadband. Now the fun started – we’ll try to keep this simple. Martin phoned customer services, who told him to go to the accounts office, which is on the ground floor of one of BSNL’s buildings in Margao. He went to the office and was told to speak to someone on the first floor. On doing so, he was told no action could be taken until he wrote regarding our complaint. He did so.

We heard nothing and then our landline was disconnected because we hadn’t paid the previous bill. A visit to BSNL this morning revealed the following.

Martin shouldn’t have spoken to the guy upstairs as that was the wrong office. The said wrong office did not pass the letter to the downstairs office. Apparently we should have written to BSNL to tell them we did not require the broadband connection that they had told us they could not provide.

The upshot of it all is that if you’re talking to the wrong person in India, they won’t tell you. They’ll lead you to believe they’re the right person then just not process the paperwork. If paperwork is in the wrong place, no one will think to pass it to the right person as if it’s in the wrong hands, it’s not their problem. And so it goes on.

The upshot is that BSNL have lost a customer and I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone else.

Mumbai dreams

January 7, 2008

Bombay Street

We’ve now paid our first visit to India’s most crowded city – Mumbai – and we loved it. Beautiful architecture, tree-lined avenues, efficient service, super restaurants, and taxis that use their meters and have conversion charts so you know how much to pay.

We did most of the tourist things – went to the Gateway of India (a building site at the moment), and had bhel puri and kulfi on Chowpatty beach as the sun went down. The climate was terrific, cooler than Goa and with a breeze much of the time.

However the big draw for us was the general sense of a cosmopolitan, progressive, happening city. It reminded us very much of London. The contrast to the Goan ‘so laid back they are comatose’ nature was refreshing.

To be fair, we may have seen Mumbai at its best. The three days we were there comprised a Sunday and two holidays, so it was quieter than we suspect is the norm. Still we enjoyed a New Year’s Eve party on a balcony in Breach Candy, watching the world go by below, and the next day had kebabs from a roadside foodstall that’s got a bit out of hand and now has to provide seating otherwise all the people in their cars queuing for take-outs block the road.

Had a better journey back than on the way – although we were four hours late leaving the station. Reminder to self not to book the Mandovi Express again. Feeling a bit holidayed out at the moment, although we’re sure we’ll soon be ready to plan the next one.

Travelling to Mumbai

January 4, 2008

Just returned from a four-day break in Mumbai – our first visit to the city. Travelling in India is never without its excitements, if that’s the word. In our case the journey involved 13 hours on a train each way.

On the way up we were treated to simply the noisiest Indian family group we’ve ever come across. Ten adults and six children crammed into seating for six adults, food and luggage and all. Their method of communicating with one another was to screech like hyenas at the top of their voices.

So we arrived ‘deaf’ in Mumbai. We then succeeded in finding a taxi driver who was deaf, dumb and didn’t know which road he was parked on. We were due to stay just north of the train station. When we arrived next to a cafe which had been recommended to us but which we knew to be south of the station, we had to stop the taxi and ask directions. On our return journey we drove past the taxi rank and alighted no more than five minutes up the road!! Such is life.

For our return journey, we arrived for a 7am train, only to be told it wasn’t going to leave until 11am. So it was a midnight arrival back in Goa. Still, we did get to admire the vegetable gardens than Mumbaikars ingenously plant between the railway tracks. In such a crowded city it’s important to use all available space.

More on Mumbai in the next blog.