Friday, July 31, 2009

The Garden of Five Senses

The Garden of Five Senses is a well-maintained garden and sculpture park on the far south side of Delhi, with a name that makes it sound a lot more exciting than it actually is. Here's how well I thought it titillated each of the five senses:

  1. Sight: The Garden is full of beautiful flowers and interesting sculptures, and there is a hill with a great view of South Delhi and the Qutb Minar to enjoy. Grade: A
  2. Smell: The flowers weren't particularly fragrant when we visited, although they do smell nice if you get close enough. The Garden nonetheless gets a high grade because it still smells better than most of the rest of Delhi, which smells of natural gas fumes and feces. Grade: B+
  3. Taste: You're not allowed to eat the flowers, so I presume that the Garden's claim to stimulating all five senses must stem from the restaurants in the garden. We didn't visit them, but Magique looked expensive enough that I'll assume the food is decent. Grade: B
  4. Hearing: Nothing to hear but the standard Delhi birds and low-flying airplanes. Grade: C-
  5. Touch: Some of the sculptures were kind of nifty to walk on and touch. However, the more common way visitors to the Garden use their sense of touch is by making out--the more secluded parts of the Garden were absolutely infested with people snogging. Grade: B-/A+

Unscientific overall grade: B, unless you've got somebody to make out with.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Enjoying Delhi

I spent the day at various attractions around Delhi, and I am currently in the middle of uploading all my photos. In the meantime, however, here's a panorama from the Lodhi Gardens that I stitched together. For those of you who know Ann Arbor, the Lodhi Gardens are kind of like the Arb, except with ancient tombs splattered all over the place. In fact, that's a decent way to describe a lot of places in India: "It's a lot like [insert name of similar place in the US], except with the crumbling remains of the ancient Mughal city of Daghabaghalabad all over the place."
Lodhi Gardens Panorama
The REALLY big version of this photo is 29 MB, but if for some reason you feel like you need a panorama that could span the deck of an aircraft carrier, get in touch with me somehow and I'll find a way to get it to you.

Mr. Kumar

Mr. Kumar is our landlord. He's an older Indian gentlemen with rapidly thinning hair and a bit of a gut. His blocky features are set in a constant scowl, as if he is always worried about something. The one time I've seen him attempt to smile, he presented Brian and me with a lopsided rictus that lasted for only a split second before he self-consciously reverted to his familiar glower. His favorite activities are chastising us for using too much electricity, warning us that this will cause our electricity bill to be very high, and asking us when we will have a copy of the apartment key made so that he can get into our apartment in case something happens while we are away (he gave us both of his copies).

Despite all this, Mr. Kumar is, at heart, a big softie. I see him playing with his adorable young grandson nearly every day, and he is always ready to offer us help navigating Delhi. Yesterday we had a discussion about restaurants, and afterward, he sent up his handyman (who appears to be a 12-year-old boy, but who can grow a full mustache) with a delivery menu from his favorite restaurant.

Favorite Mr. Kumar moment:
I was coming home from work one afternoon, and I met Mr. Kumar outside our building, watching his handyman play cricket with Mr. Kumar's grandson. When he saw me coming, Mr. Kumar waved at me and said "Wait one minute," before disappearing into his apartment on the ground floor. After a minute or so, during which I too played cricket with his grandson, Mr. Kumar reappeared, carrying a letter.

"Is this you?" he asked, pointing to the name in the address field. Although the address of my apartment was correct, the letter was addressed to a Mr. Christopher Ellis, which isn't even remotely similar to either my name or my roommate Brian's. I ignored the fact that Mr. Kumar was still unsure of my name six weeks after I moved in.

"Nope, that's not me--that's not similar to my name, or to Brian's," I told him.

Mr. Kumar thought about this for a moment.

"Are you sure?"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Far out, man!

I don't know what my rickshaw driver was smoking today, but it must have been some pretty potent stuff. First he started flapping his arms like a chicken and saying unintelligible things to me in Hindi. Then he began singing "lo lo lo lo lo lo" to himself right before almost running into two teens who were trying to cross the street. Good times.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I really love Indian cash; it's so well designed that I'm going to be a little sad to switch back to American money at the end of the summer. Here's a picture of some common denominations:
Indian rupee notes

From top to bottom, the denominations are Rs. 500, 100, 50, 10. The coins, from left to right, are 1, 2, and 5 rupees. There are also notes with values of Rs. 1000, 20 and 5. In the US, we use different portraits to distinguish note values. In India, as you can see, they really, really like Gandhi, so they vary the size and overall color of the notes instead of having different portraits. I'm a really big fan of this system--it allows you to tally up a bunch of cash with only a quick glance, because you can easily distinguish between the different notes, even from a distance. In addition, if you keep the bills in your wallet organized by denomination, the differing sizes mean that all of the notes are visible, so you can jump right to the bill you need. Just for reference, here's a picture of the Rs. 500 note next to an American $5 bill. IMG_4220.JPG

The Rs. 1000 notes are even bigger than the Rs. 500 bills, and are colored red. The Rs. 20 notes look similar to the Rs. 10 notes, except the numerals are in bright red. The Rs. 5 notes are always incredibly grungy, so it's tough to get a good look at them, but they're even smaller than the Rs. 10 note (they're about the size of Monopoly money), and are green.

Here's a closeup of the coins: IMG_4219
I'm not as big a fan of the coins, because I find the Rs. 1 and 2 coins hard to distinguish by feel. However, you hardly ever need to use Rs. 1 and 2 coins because most things are in multiples of five rupees, and if they're not, people just round anyway (never in your favor, of course). Also, the fact that the coins have the "thumbs up" and "victory" hand signs on them always makes me happy. The Rs. 5 coin on the right of the picture is a little atypical; it is very new (which is atypical already), and the design is standard, but all the older coins are silver instead of gold. The Rs. 5 coins are about the size and thickness of an American nickel, but heavier. The Rs. 2 coin is about the size of a quarter.

The only thing I don't like about money in India is that there isn't enough of it, and I don't mean that the country is poor. The problem is that there simply aren't enough small bills. Encountering rickshaw drivers and storekeepers who can't make even small amounts of change is not uncommon, and my friends and I are always scrounging around for 10 rupee notes to hoard against the next time we have to use exact change. The general stores in neighborhood marketplaces are good places to get change, so I make a point of visiting the store every couple days to get change for Rs. 500, which gives me enough Rs. 100 notes to pay the rickshaw drivers. The drivers, in turn, leave me with enough 10- and 20-rupee notes to pay for lunch every day (Rs. 25), and to pay the occasional driver who doesn't have change. Other than that, however, I really like Indian money; whoever designed it clearly put a lot of thought into it, which makes it very functional.

As you've probably gathered from this post, my camera has been fixed. Yay! Now I can take wonderful photos again. I'll hopefully have some of my friends' shots from Agra and Jaipur up on Flickr soon, but until now, enjoy a shot of the solar eclipse (taken with Brian's camera): IMG_2398.JPG

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

India: 1, Camera: 0

If any of you have gone through the hundreds of photos I've taken here in detail (no shame if you haven't), you probably noticed one of the Baha'i Temple that was all purple-tinged. That was my camera's way of telling me that it didn't like the heat. The problem has progressively gotten worse since then, and today, two days before our trip to the Taj Mahal, it crapped out completely. I'll try and steal photos from some of my friends to post, but until my camera gets fixed (or I get a new one...bleh), this blog will be photo-less. Would anyone like to ship me an Olympus E-P1?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Here's a chronicle of all the animals I've seen in India so far (not including insects, of which there are plenty. The cockroaches, thank goodness, are actually smaller than in Chicago). I'll update this post as I see more animals or take pictures of them.


  • Indian Crow. Acts and sounds exactly like a North American crow, but has a brownish-grey neck and chest.
  • Pigeon: Look exactly like North American pigeons, except that the pigeons here are all the same; there aren't mutant technicolor ones like in the States. There is one that likes to land on the blades of the ceiling fan on our balcony. He always seems surprised when the fan starts spinning as he lands on it.
  • Parakeets: Also look just like regular parakeets.
  • Common Myna: This bird is about the size of a robin, with black wings that have a white stripe underneath, a lighter belly, and orange spectacles. It acts a lot like a starling, and is pretty good at running around on two legs.
  • Edit 7/23/09 Peacocks: They're kind of like wild turkeys; I saw several flocks of them from the train last weekend. None were displaying their tail feathers, unfortunately.

  • Other: The tree outside my apartment has berries that seem to attract a lot of birds; I've seen several that I couldn't identify, so I'll try and take pictures of those.


  • Elephant!: I have seen a couple meandering the streets of Delhi with riders. My first reaction is generally "Gee, that's a slow-moving truck," followed closely by "That's not a truck."
  • Stray Dogs: All over the place. Some will ignore you, others will bark at you, but all of them will follow you home if you give them food. The girls down the street (who are also UofC students) gave food to one, and now she (I think, since most male dogs here are very conspicuously not neutered) sits outside their apartment and whines piteously for food every time they come home.
  • Monkeys: I haven't actually seen many of these; I saw a few working with a street performer near India Gate.
  • Wild Boar: Can occasionally be seen rooting around in public parks.
  • Cows: There is a small herd that usually traipses through the nearby market in the evening, grazing on the decorative plants. It's worth noting that Indian cows look very different from the American conception of cattle. Here's an Indian cow. Here's an American farm cow. The Indian cows are lean and rangy, while American farm cows are stocky and compact.
  • Water buffalo: We saw these in Goa. Alternatively, they may have just been cows standing in fields flooded with water; I'm not sure I would have known the difference.
  • Mongoose: There is one that lives outside my office building, but I've only seen it from pretty far away, so I can't give you much of a description.
  • Squirrelmunks: These little guys are grey like squirrels, have black stripes on their backs like chipmunks, have bushy tails and climb trees like squirrels, and chirp like chipmunks (even louder than chipmunks, if that's possible. If you've never heard a chipmunk chirp, you're missing out.)
  • Edit 7/23/09 Bats: I've seen small, mouse-sized bats here before, and on Tuesday night, I saw a bat the size of a crow flying over New Friends Colony. That's a big bat.


  • Leeezards: The lizards are pretty shy, but they will occasionally scamper into a building through an open window, or across a window screen. I think they must be geckos, because they're always climbing along the wall, or on the ceiling.
  • Toad: Not really a reptile, but I didn't want the lizards to get lonely. We saw one of these in the park near the ISKCON and Baha'i Temples.

Edit 7/15/09: Bugs

  • Giant Millipedes (thanks to Ajit for reminding me of these): These look really creepy, but they're no more threatening than North American millipedes, although they are much, much bigger. I haven't seen any in Delhi, but they were all over the place in Goa.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spit, meet baling wire

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; I've had a busy couple of weeks.

Also, I want to note that a lot of this blog will be generalizations (i.e. stereotypes) about Indian culture. It's not my intent to be racist or to make baseless generalizations. Rather, I am adjusting to a new culture, and the way to adjust to a new culture is to learn the rules of that culture--that is, how most people of that culture act in a given situation. In other words, you come up with behavioral rules that allow you to fit in better by acting the way most Indians act; I'm sharing the rules that I have come up with.

Anyway, today I'm going to write about a joke I have made a couple times with my parents, which is that a lot of India seems to be held together with duct tape. I make this joke because I frequently encounter wacky repair jobs and strange design decisions that remind me of Home Inspection Nightmares or There, I Fixed It! (take a look at both those links if you aren't familiar with them). I run into stuff like this in the US as well, but creative repairs seem to be more common here, perhaps because Indians are more likely to repair something than throw it out. Since I'm new here, I'm also hyper-sensitive to things that aren't as I expect them to be, so maybe I'm also surprised by some things that I wouldn't think twice about if I had grown up here.

Some examples, both funny, and not-so-funny:

  • IMG_4209.JPG
    This is a voltage stabilizer. It's a device that keeps anything hooked up to it from being fried by the power fluctuations here (I would argue that decentralizing the task of creating steady power is itself a kludge). I now have one of these hooked up to my laptop after the power adapter got fried (twice in two weeks. Yay warranties). This one, however, is connected to our air conditioner, and it did a great job--until one day it belched a cloud of black smoke out the back and caught on fire. As you can see, it hasn't been replaced. The landlord got his handyman (who appears to be a 15-year-old kid) to open it up and repair it by cutting off the burnt parts of the internal wiring, and splicing everything back together. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with doing that, so long as you do it right.

  • IMG_4206.JPG
    This, however, is a picture of what happened to the previous splicing job my landlord did. Good thing our curtains are apparently flame-retardant. I really hope this isn't how they fixed the voltage stabilizer.

  • When I was signing up for internet, the sales representative asked for a copy of our rental agreement. I had been told he would ask that, so I had already had a copy made. He looked at it and said "This needs to be notarized." I hadn't known that, so I apologized, and told him I didn't have a notarized copy. He said "Okay, no problem," and proceeded to sign me up for internet anyway.

  • My bathroom has a sliding door which, when opened, is in front of the light switch for the bathroom light. You must remember to turn on the light in the bathroom before opening the door, otherwise you have to close the door, turn on the light, and open the door again. That same switch plate also has an extra switch that does nothing. In fact, most rooms have at least one or two extra light switches that aren't hooked up to anything. The ones that are hooked up to things have to be labeled with what they control, because they all look identical and there is no consistent method of ordering them.

  • My bathroom also has a hole in the wall that, when the proper combination of valves is turned, shoots a stream of water in the direction of the sink. This is in addition to the shower head. I have no idea what anyone would ever use that stream of water for.

  • There are no street addresses like I'm used to; neighborhoods are divided into blocks, and each house on a block is given a number. Individual buildings are numbered sequentially within a block, but there doesn't seem to be any system for how blocks are arranged within a neighborhood (other than that they are adjacent to one another). It's basically impossible to find a building in a given neighborhood without knowing where its block is; you have to stop and ask for directions every couple hundred feet. I received a piece of mail for a previous tenant today; one of the lines of the address was "Near Eros Cinema," which is a nearby landmark. How crazy is it that someone felt it was necessary to give the post office landmarks so that they could find a house? Here's a map of my neighborhood--see if you can figure out the system.

I don't want to give the impression that I dislike India because of these things or think it's backward; most of the weird quirks I've encountered have been harmless (except the ones that threatened to set me on fire), and as the links I provided show, stuff like this can be found anywhere. I find quirky things amusing wherever I see them, so this is just to pass along a few that I found especially interesting.