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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pound to Ponder



I love walking, always have. It has been my thing for as long as I can remember. A thing I mentionned several thing on this blog. To me there is no easier, cheaper way to get in shape and be healthy, and, anybody can do it. The pace doesn't matter, neither does the place, nor your age. All one need is two working legs.

However, my reason for walking isn't necessarily to get in shape. Of course I don't mind it, but that isn't my prime reason. This isn't the part of walking I love above all. And, I never had getting fit as a prime goal. Getting fit is one of the perks, but the reason I walk is more mental than physical. I walk to get alone with myself. I walk to ponder thoughts, solve problems, distress, get rid of worries, anger and woes. I walk to beat what is bitting me, and I walk to get inspired. From the moment I was old enough to be outside on my own, I walked around without any particular goal. As a teen I remember just wandering downtown while window shopping, while in fact I was more keen on rearranging my thoughts than actually buy anything. When I was first living on my own and dealing with the inevitable pitfalls of newly found freedom and the woes of young adulthood, I kept my sports shoes handy, ready to grab and hot the road. Depending on my problem, level of tension or simple need for quiet and solitude, these walks could last hours. I was fortunate back then to live minutes on foot away from a trail that lead straight to the countryside. I rearranged a lot of thoughts, created a lot of new solutions and mulled over a lot of problems pounding the ground.

When I first arrived to India, I spent a lot of time walking around my neighbourhood and discovering things on foot. And interestingly, looking over the decade I spent here, the periods of time I struggled the most with myself were the ones I had the less access to walking. It never really was the climate that stopped me from walking, but the stares of others. Walking is that activity I use to escape the world when I can, and there was no escaping the curiosity of people. But, I still walked as much as I could, so what if at times my walking served only an utilitarian purpose of going from A to B for a very specific reason, I still did, and still do walk whenever possible, choosing it over any other form of transport. Walking without goal is however, much more fun. And I no longer make excuses for not doing it. I probably got used to people starring, and I don't even let the heat or the rain really stop me. I hit the track to find myself back, to let my thought wander, and my imagination soar. I tire my muscles to energise my mind.

This is what I love the most about walking. My goal isn't a specific clothes size, it is reaching a certain state of mind. and no matter how tensed and chewed by issues I might be lacing my shoes on, I always come back from my time out a much more balanced and sane person. My best creative ideas always came from walking, my biggest problem always faded away with the rhythmic thump of me feet on the ground and evaporated with each droplet of sweat running down my skin. A physical activity never just benefit the body, but also the mind.

This is my reason for walking as much as I do.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Our old neighbourhood

I have spoken of that rooftop terrace flat we had in Bangalore a lot, this was after all the flat in which we stayed the longest. What I never did was share the fact that it was in one of these typical residential block in Bangalore, were all the streets are called Main and Cross and are numbered. The layout is a grid and it function a bit like in New York to get around inside the block in question.

 

The picture above was taken on the day we moved in. As you can see all the houses around us are no more than two or three stories high, there is a lot of greenery, and the houses are close to one another. In the neighbourhood it was about 5ft between houses, but I have been in other areas in Bangalore where you barely have two feet. Needless to say that your neighbour will alway know what you are doing. Almost all the people who like us have the top floor of the building have a terrace, but we were the only one using it for something else than hanging laundry and dumping garbage. Over the years our outdoor space turned into that :

 

We bought a patio table and chairs, added a lot of potted plants, at one point we even had a large wooden bench. Every weekends our friends would come over in the evening and we would spend our time there, drinking, eating and chatting. We spent every New Year's Eve at our place, piling on the sweaters as the night became chilli and watch the fireworks in the distance. And because we had world class gossiping Aunties in the neighbourhood, we always had one or the other peeking from their own terrace on ours to see what we were doing. We didn't care, we never let them stop us, they would usually hide the instant we stared back, and gossip never affected us, the only time one of them said something to me was when I was watering my plants while pregnant, apparently she had a problem with that and told me I should ask the maid to do it as pregnant women aren't supposed to walk around like this...I ignored her of course.

Before high rise made their appearance, this is how the middle class lived, in Bangalore and other cities, and how some still do of course. In Bangalore, these houses usually have one independant flat per level, the landlord usually live in one of them and rent out the others, the staircase always run on the outside of the house. In real estate listings these flats are listed as Independant house, but unless the add mention it is a duplex or villa, don't imagine you are going to rent the whole house, you are really just renting a flat in a house that belong to an individual instead of a flat in an apartment society.

 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Parents' homeworks

When you have a child in school, you know that sooner or later, they will not be satisfied enough to just give them homeworks. they will want to test your skill as a parent. They can't really call them homework though, that would not be proper. So instead they call these special events. Events for which your kid will have to produce something that has been made with parental supervision by the parents. All school have them, and pre-primary classes are especially fond of them. This is something you simply cannot escape, it is your parental duty. There is dress in blue, white, yellow, pink...to learn the colours you see. Those are easy to pull, just make sure to have an outfit in ever possible colour in your wardrobe at the start of the academic year. But that is not enough, you have to be prepared for a succession of special days that will see you send your kid dressed as a community helper, mom or dad, a national leader, in tricolour, a cricketer, an animal, an insect, a fish, a magician, a witch, a monster, in ethnic Indian wear, an athlete, as what they aspire to be when they grow up. And just when you thought dress up days were enough, there are all the show and tell days. Bring a specific fruit, a stuffed animal, your favourite toy, a printout of one thing or another, a family phot, a best friend photo, a couple of chocolates, a few sweets, a rakhi, modelling clay, books, crayons. In all cases you have to sit your child home to teach them a few line about what they are wearing, or teach them a Hindi poem that even after a lot of repeating will end up sounding as "mumble, jumble, na vid ya Kaput" (true story). Yes parents, they want you involved, and it often feels like they are testing your knowledge, skills and how much of a Mc Gyver actually reside inside you!

You end up catching up on the drill quickly though. You stock up on craft paper, paint, glue, stickers, you make sure the wardrobe has enough options to pull out a costume of one kind or another, you stock up your printer with paper and colour cartridge, and know Google will be your best friend forever. That's what I did.

And, that is when the school threw me a curve ball!

"Dress in an international costume and teach your child to speak about the country he/she represent"

Dang! Dammit! Anything but that! No!!!!!! I am not ready, I have nothing to pull a traditional costume you people! And now would be the time to let you all know that in Ishita's school they ask parents NOT to rent fancy dress, they want parents to make these from what they have at home on hand. Or buy something to make it. And sure, we all have a fancy international costume in our kids wardrobe! Silly me, didn't see it coming. An entire rainbow in the wardrobe and 4 Indian ethnic outfit and nothing to pull an international ethnic outfit? This is one of these time Google comes to the rescue, except that because Internet is widely tinted with some American culture, it yielded nothing in this case. You see, it seems that in US it has become politically incorrect to dress up your kids in the national costume of another country for Halloween, a couple of nincompoop even said it was racist to do so. So because they feel it is their moral duty to speak for the entire world on what is appropriate or not and what cultures not their own should be offended by, Pinterest and Google will give you nothing. No variation of "children international costume will" yield much. Too bad that a school frequented by Indian kids planned a fun day of dress up to teach the kids that theirs are other nations and culture than their own!

Time to turn to my friends on Facebook. They were useful, I got to learn how to make a toga out a white bed sheet to be a pretend Greek goddess, how to make a Native American dress out of a brown pillow case among others. they were good ideas, except that bed sheet sets sold in India are rarely white, and all the used and ready to sacrifice bed linen I have comes in funky colours. I have a black kimono wrap top in my size, but no amount of pinning, belting and adjusting ended up making her look as anything but a fancy potato sack. So that idea had to go as quickly as it came. It left me with there somewhat doable options to explore:

1) Take the withe frilly dress they made me buy for sports day the year before and manage to Swissify it with enough red ribbons and white crosses and edelweiss to pass as Swiss. Good idea except it was pouring cats and dogs, and I had no red anything to trim the dress with to make it ethnic, forget it, no ribbon anything in any colours but a hot pink funky one. Plus teaching her about Switzerland other than " This is where mommy come from and they eat cheese and have snow" felt daunting on such short notice.

2) She has a long sleeved t-shirt that vaguely looks like a cheerleader outfit, could pretend she is American and give her some pom-poms made of paper. Not bad, just as I was getting ready ton consider it, I remembered she was wearing it on Thursday morning as I was thinking about it, and right on cue sent some yogurt on it! Bam option gone, noway it would dry in 24 hours if I hand washed it right away. Plus she has no connection to American culture, knows nothing about it, and teaching her something constructive enough to say was a bit scary...we don't want a repeat of "mumble, jumble na kaput" here.

3) Dress her in her pink t-shirt with Pandas doing karate on it, make a paper Chinese hat and a hand fan and sending her saying she is representing China. That was the easiest, because she also knows China has panda, that they eat noodles and rice with chopsticks and that Papa went to China recently...fair enough

You guessed it, we went with the funky Chinese option. And as I type this, she has been sent to school by bus. The hat blew off her head while we were waiting leading me to a quick fix on the strap and telling her to hold it in her hand and ask the teacher to put it back on her head in a hurry as the bus approached. the instant she was inside it started pouring cats and dogs out of nowhere, so right now, I have no idea if the hat ever made it to school dry, if at all...could they at least hold the crazy costume ideas until AFTER the monsoon is over, when parents can go shopping last minute or send paper craft that will not reach the classroom soggy and destroyed? Needless to say I am scared to think about what comes in store for the rest of the academic year when it comes to Parents Homeworks.

Reconnect with me

I changed the name of my blog, and updated my RSS feed address as well. As a result, you probably aren't getting the new feeds in your Feed Reader of choice. Worry not, all you need to do is to re-add the blog to your reader of choice. I had to do this in Blogsy yesterday to test it, and it worked fine.

There are also other ways to connect with me and make sure you never miss an update:

I am on Twitter : @Cynadventure

I have a Facebook page, that is by far the most updated of all with status updates, extra pictures and links : https://www.facebook.com/CynsAdventureInIndia

I am on Google+ and I just got an easier custom URL so you can find me more easily : https://plus.google.com/+cynthiahaller

And of course, there is the feedburner RSS address that changed : http://feeds.feedburner.com/HomeCynHome

To make it simpler, you can click all the litte icons in the right column to take you to the right place, I tested them all, they work fine. With this final update, I hopefully have ironed all the wrinkles that come with a name and layout change. If you have any technical issues, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hosting an afternoon event

 

In the West, when you have small children, chances are you've been hanging out with peers in what is commonly known as a playgroup. These are informal gathering of mothers who come together with their children, be it at a park, or in someone's home. In organized playgroups, the ladies take turn hosting the event, which usually takes place in the afternoon. The children play together while the moms catch up over tea. This is a very good system to beat the isolation new moms feel in the begining. In India I have been hanging with expats for that kind of events, as my Indian friends don't see it the same way.

In Inida it seems the very concept of hosting child centric weekly event in one's circle is a relatively unknown concept. However, India has introduced me to the concept of kitty parties, which more or less work on the same principle, with the distinction that the ladies in the kitty end up paying the hostess a fixed sum...only to see that sum returned to them when they host the even themselves. Kitties do not necessarily mean kids will be around. My kitty group does involve kids, but that is not a norm. As you can see, I belong to differnt social circles, and with each groups come some cultural differences. Both my kitty group and the expat playgroup meet in the afternoon, for what can be considered an afternoon tea. But the way it is hosted and what is served varies considerably in the West and in India. This post is not meant to pit one hosting style against the other. I just want to explain the cultural differences at play in an informative way.

At a western style event, food is always served from the start. This is an invariable constant in the art of hosting where I come from, it doesn't matter if it is a lunch, dinner, afternoon tea or other party...food is the main event. People sit down and talk animatedly while eating and drinking. In India, food is served at the end of an event, the talking and drinking is done before any food appear, and usually when the food appear, you know the gathering is reaching an end, and guests will leave shortly after finishing their plate.

In India, a tea snack should be substantial, especially at an even like a kitty party or gathering of several people. By European standards, it is looking more like a meal in itself than an actual snack. and it is always cooked food, that is savoury rather than sweet, served hot, sweets are served as a dessert...yes even at an afternoon tea. Indians usually eat dinner much later than people in the West, so tea time has to tide you over for longer. Westerners are more likely to serve light snacks along with tea. It is often something as simple as a sponge cake, and sliced fruit, or a plate of cookies.

In the West, people usually set the table nicely with everything before the guests arrive, as it is rude to receive people with nothing ready. The hostess is not supposed to disappear in the kitchen, she is to among her guests getting the conversation going. In India serving food that is pipping hot and shows the skills of the hostess seem to matter far more, and the hostess usually excuse herself and go finish to prep her meal while the guests continue chatting without her (remember in India the food is served at the end of a gathering). Showing off your culinary skills for your guest is less of a thing in Europe, so even if you can't bake a cake to save your life, it is perfectly acceptable to get something bought from a store, your guest are more likely to feel upset if you are constantly disappearing in the kitchen instead of sitting down with them.

In India, guests often play a polite game of abstaining from eating until the hostess asked them at least once or twice to dig in, and it is also the hostess job to keep an eye for empty plates to refill without the guests asking. Guests that are usually done eating need to insist that they are full but reassure the hostess the food was delicious. In a western gathering the hostess will at the most ask you once to help yourself of cake, and if you decline will not insist, just assume you are fine and will serve yourself once ready. Westerners usually start helping themselves of food as soon as everybody is seated at the table, including the hostess. By European standard, pushing food on your guests is considered rude, a hostess will at the most ask their guests if they are up for a second serving of something during a bigger meal, but not at a tea party.

I have been navigating in both culture for quite a while. A few of my Indian friends told me that the western way of serving food at the start was confusing to them, as it eliminated the social cue that points guests to the door. Because with the meal being the main event, how does one know when it is appropriate and polite to leave. At a playgroup/afternoon tea, it is usually when the conversation starts to die down, and the food on the table is closed to finish. At a lunch or dinner event, this is after the coffee has been served and finished. We always finish a big meal with a warm beverage in Europe. But expect a dinner party to last 2-3 hours, we take a lot of time to eat, and by the time dessert has been served the conversation runs out of steam and the hostess usually offers the coffee. Another cue for an afternoon event is the time. We usually eat dinner by 7 or 8 pm, so an afternoon tea usually end no later than 6 as a result.

What are the hosting style differences that you had the most difficulties adjusting to?

 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New Name

If you are a returning reader, you might be wondering what is going on. Not only did I change the look of the blog, I also changed the name.

This has been something that has been on my mind for months. I was toying with the idea of ending this blog and starting a new one, changing the layout but retaining the name, changing the name...The reason behind all this is that I have been keeping this blog for nearly 10 years now (I started in 2004). Back then, I only started this blog because a friend of mine said I should write about what she considered an adventure. And, because I suck at titles, I just decided to name the blog "Cyn's Adventure in India". Back then, it rang true, I was new to India, I was adjusting to all kind of things, I was moving around a lot; and if you read the old entries, the blog was all about that...then. A decade in India has changed me, and living in India just became life. There is only that much you can write about taking in the exotic factor into consideration. There is a point where the way I wrote was less about my struggle to adjust, but about what is now life. As I settled into my new life, the blog started featuring a more eclectic mix of entries, recipes, craft project, mundane daily life, pictures, and rambling. So much so that the title ended up not really matching the content of the blog itself.

The blog has taken me to a place I would never have imagined being in, what was originally an outlet for my adjustment to India, became a hobby, and something I simply can't stop doing. I love to write, and often I wondered if whatever crossed my mind would be "Cyn Adventure worthy". This is why I needed that change of name. I have been plying with names and titles for a while, and today I just got it : Home Cyn Home.

Home Cyn Home as a play on Home Sweet Home. For a blog that features more and more recipes, art projects, decorating tips and daily life snippets, that just seemed fitting. Plus I'll always be Cyn. this is the part of the old title that had to remain.

I am still working on the tiny details, but the URL remains the same, the Facebook page has the same URL, the old content is still the same. At this point the little changes that could occur over the next few days are likely to be just cosmetic ones...bear with me.

Philips DVP3688 region unlocking

This weekend we had to get a new DVD player because our old one became ridiculously temperamental over the months, it would stop playing certain DVDs, it scratched a few, sometimes refused to let go of disks forcing me to open it with a screwdriver to retrieve my precious movies from its innards which would still had been fine if it wasn't for the fact that it would not take any command without us hitting on it, or banging it hard. The routine to play a DVD was as follow : Press open tray button, then bang the player hard, tray would then open, putting disk in we had to push the tray in manually and then bang hard again for the disk to load...got old very fast. And the last nail nits coffin was that it scratched Ishita's beloved Forzen DVD...time to let it go (the old stubborn player that is).

We opted for a Philips DVD player instead of or old Sony that did last far far less longer than our old LG one. All was well we brought the player home, set it up, played Frozen to see if the scratches could be read by this new one (it can't, the Sony one killed it, so the same scenes that were out are still out). I congratulate myself for a painless set up, marvel at how easy it is...all is well. Until yesterday when we tried to play a DVD that had another region, than the Region 5 it is apparently locked on...DVD regions dammit!

Regions blocks have been an issue for as long as DVD existed, and unlocking players have always been possible, in fact the 2 previous players we had were unlocked from the start, we never had an issue with them. Unlocking a player is not difficult, you just need to have the secret code to do it, and if the player is. To unlocked when you buy it, chances are the store will tell you how to do it, or offer to do it for you. Except that Croma did not do it, or offer to do it, we simply assumed the player was unlocked already, which clearly was not the case. In such cases, the easier is to turn to the internet, because driving back to the store, and paying for someone to enter a secret code is time consuming, money consuming...and a bit stupid.

Thanks to Google, I found a list of all Philips players and their respective hacks (the code changes for a lot of models), but my model was in no lists, turns out that this model in question seem to be sold in India and nowhere else, and all the people who asked about the question on how to unlock it were Indians, and nobody had the answer on any forums, some people plain out gave a wrong code passing it as the real one...FRUSTRATING. After a lot of research I figured out that the only one close enough to our model would be the DVP3600. At least it is the same family of player, and there was one hack for that one.

That hack turned out to be the right one! And woot my DVD player now can play all the regions again, a 30 second procedure, that took me over an hour to find online simply because DVP3688 isn't known abroad and no one seem to bother giving the code here. Well this is no more, guys, I am revealing it now, save your time and money, trying to get it done in a shop.

Here is how, but first a picture of the remote to help you:

 

1) switch on your player and TV, the DVD player will automatically display a menu, namely Disk, USB and Setting (cogwheel) SELECT the setting menu.

2) In the setting, scroll down to the tab called PREFERENCES, at this point make sure that at least one of the subcategories in the preferences menu is highligthed, it doesn't matter which one and no you don't select it, it just need to be highlighted to show you are indeed in the Preferences Menu.

3) once you are in the menu in question and it is an active menu. Take your remote and press the following sequence of keys : Next, Previous, Next, Previous. The keys in question are the two arrow keys I have circled in red on the remote picture above...so the sequence goes ><><

4) as soon as you finished entering that sequence, it will take you to a screen where your current zone is displayed, since we are in India, that number will be 5. Use the up and down arrows the circle grey key on your remote to change the number of the region, do that until the number 0 appear.

5 ) Press OK and voila, region free player!

 

As you can see the code is so ridiculously simple, that there is no point in going to any store, wheee they might even tamper with the hardware to unlock it and void your warranty. The code doesn't tamper with anything at all, and your warranty stays safe...easy peasy!

 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Along NH4

 

In February 2010 we were moving out of our hole in Navi Mumbai, back to Bangalore, and because the company was not paying for that relocation, we avoided extra charges such as getting the dog on a plane. Instead we took two days to drive from Navi Mumbai to Bangalore taking the NH4 (National Highway 4). In February, the greenery the monsoon brings to the hills is pretty much gone and replaces by a semi desertic landscape. By the time you start seeing palm trees plantation you know you have officially made it to the Southern part of the country. This picture was taken on day 2 in what could be the middle of nowhere. The dog needed a walk, Ishita was getting fussy and hungry, and we spotted on of the rare dhabba along that road (surprisingly there aren't many along that road). We first got the dog for a walk enjoying the leg stretching ourselves before eating. Once all our human and canine needs were satisfied. With a dog and a 18 month old child, we took two days to cover the distance.

 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The feline factor

 

This is the first time I am on solo parenting duty with Mittens as part of the gang. But her being a cat, it doesn't add too much stress to my routine. The opposite might even be true, she has a soothing effect on me, like most cats do. I am probably more of a cat person than a dog one. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, I really love having Jasmine around too and she has been a source of comfort many time. But a dog is a high maintenance pet, one that is dependant on his owner.

Household cats only really need humans for food and water, and even then, would not hesitate to abandon ship if they don't get what they want. They are independant, and act like you owe them respect...which of course shall be due to all pets. You won't get a cat to do tricks if they don't feel like it, they won't come on your lap, just because you want them to. And, my guess is that I click with them more because they are not intruding on my introvert personality. In many ways, cats and I are on equal ground for many things. I grew up with cats, and so far all the ones I came accross as my own pets or the pets of friends all had that same quality. They don't expect much from humans. For someone like me, who has been manning the ship alone countless times over the years, with live beings around me having high expectations of me, the fact that our latest addition is pretty much only demanding that her food bowl be filled once a day, and her beauty nap time respected is refreshing.

She will on occasion curl up on my laps in the evening, or sleep behind my head while I am on the sofa. She sometimes feel the need to check on all of us at night, made it a habit to join me in the bathroom in the morning, and tolerates Ishita playing rough with her. By the time Ishita is on the school bus, she comes to wherever I decided to work from on my iPad, asking for a cuddle or two before lying down on a chair nearby, or as it is the case today, a pile of newspapers right next to the desk in our study, content that both her two leg and her dog (cats own their house and everything in it) are where they are supposed to be.

One pat, or cuddle with her is enough to melt my stress and tensions away. Which is a fact that seem to have been the object of many scientific researches that have countless time proven that pets relieve stress in humans. And owning a cat might even decrease one's chance of dying of a cardiovascular disease. Don't believe me? Read the article here. And it seems the benefit of owning a cat doesn't stop at just reducing cardiovascular problems, they boost the immune system, help treat depression as well. With Mumbai being a super fast paced city that is, with little green space left and people left running for time, owning an undemanding soothing feline might actually be just what the doctor ordered.

Just as I finish typing these words, Mittens decided to move from her newspaper bed to wedge herself between my butt and the back of the desk chair, purring away...