Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heaven on Thailand

It's actually been a month since Bret and I came back from Thailand, but we're already wondering when we can go back. While Thailand was amazing for the beaches and food and helpful service, at four months into our stay in India, more than anything Thailand was everything that India is not:
We swam in clean (!) ocean water, drank imported Belgian beer, walked through streets without piles of trash burning, wore a bikini on a beach without having to deal with ogling men hovering nearby -- well I did, at least-- ate seafood every night without the fear of being violently ill the next day, enjoyed customer service from waiters and staff who were actually nice and helpful, and were offered a cheap Thai massage every time we left our bungalow (no, this does not happen on my way to work from Visantha Valley).

As you can probably guess, as my trip is winding down I'm getting more and more excited for everything that places like Thailand -- and California! -- have to offer. I can't wait for sushi, burritos, big salads from the Google cafes, fresh air, clean water, quiet streets, paneer-free meals, bagels, really good coffee... okay still another month to go-- I really shouldn't get carried away.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Good reads on India

It's been fun to read fiction that takes place in or somehow relates to India while I've been here. Here are some recommendations -- a few I read before I left but are great. I left off the worst book related to India I've ever read (thanks to my book club!)-- The Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. Avoid that one, but read the others! This is also a chance for you to check out Google Book Search, which is my new favorite distraction...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lenhart ladies invade India

Apologies for my delinquency in posting, but we've been busy over here. Last week, my mom and Colleen visited and got to experience India first hand. My mom loved commenting on her 'over-stimulated olfactory, auditory and visual senses.' We had a great all-day tour of Delhi by Nigel, an 87-year-old former British officer who guided us through obscure corners of the city with (sometimes questionable) historical significance. We wandered through the biggest cremation site in Delhi and watched bodies get doused with water from the Ganges in preparation for the funeral pyre.

At a large Sikh temple, they handed out bright orange kerchiefs to the foreigners who arrived without a turban or scarf to cover their heads in the Sikh tradition. In Old Delhi, it was entertaining to follow my mom through the winding alleys trying to capture every single cow, basket of spices, pile of trash, smelly latrine and shopkeeper with her camera.

Taj Mahal

Colleen looking glamorous in front of the most famous monument to Love; Bret and my mom amazed by their moonboot shoe covers enforced at the Taj Mahal to protect the white marble.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hanging in Hampi

Last month, Shannon, Ashley, Allison and I ventured out on an overnight train for an all-girls weekend. We spent time at the the very holy (and consequently completely dry) town of Hampi. However, the town's dry status didn't stop us from smuggling in some red wine and jamming the cork into the bottle to drink it. The town feels magical -- it sits on a river among green hills scattered with huge boulders. Hampi is poor (not necessarily more so than the rest of India), but seems to be surviving thanks to a steady stream of tourism from both foreigners and Indian pilgrims. The guest houses and restaurants all proclaim 'Recommended by Lonely Planet!' in paint on the sides of the buildings. Our weekend consisted of visiting about a dozen temples including a couple world heritage sites, drinking lots of masala chai from the roof top of our 'bring your own toilet paper' guest house and wandering around the surreal landscape.
Another highlight was watching the local temple elephant get her daily bath.

I also spent a lot of time playing with Jemina, the 10-year-old girl who was employed by our guest house to help cook, clean, collect water, and run all the errands for the owners. Not surprisingly, they didn't flinch during my lecture to them about child labor. 'Her parents across the river send her to us. What can we do?' was their reply. I thought about checking out right then just to demonstrate my disapproval, but realized a better option was to just distract her from her work-- we danced to the Lion King on my ipod, counted to ten in Hindi and drew pictures in my journal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Happy Birthday Dad

We need some grinders in India!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Wedding finery

Last night Bret and I broke out our nicest saree and kurta respectively for the wedding of our friend Rahul. The ceremony itself was at 11:29pm on a Sunday night, which the families' astrologists deemed to be the auspicious time for the occasion. The event began a few hours before that so that there would be enough time for the 700+ guests to eat several servings of veg South Indian food. As there were no utensils available, we ate the proper local way and dig into the rice, curd and dal with our hands.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cuisine: Mexcon

Okay as Ali has told me, it's not very reasonable for me to make fun of the housestaff's kind efforts to please us with ethnic food. They are relentless in their attempts to keep us happy by making food they think expats like (even though we keep praising their Indian dishes to encourage them to stick to domestic food).

This meal stemmed from my visit last week to Q-Mart-- a small, expensive and dirty grocery store whose only redeeming value is that it's one of the few places in Hyderabad to find things like gouda, Old El Paso salsa and Skippy peanut butter. I came home with a bag full of food I had been missing: flour tortillas, cheddar cheese and salsa. The very next day, I saw the title of our dinner menu-- 'Cuisine: Mexcon' and found these two plates in the fridge: squashed burritos (one filled with breakfast potatoes, the other with a curry-chicken-veg mixture) and creamed corn. The housestaff definitely aims to please.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No monsoon; Yes dahi poori

Okay I guess this shows that I'm really not a local yet. Last week I reported that the monsoon had arrived in Hyderabad (see below), but I read in today's paper that those brief rainstorms were only a taste of what's to come. Apparently it will really be pouring and so I'll know the monsoon has come when it comes. Sorry for spreading false information.

In lieu of the monsoon, I'm bringing you a video of the preparation of my favorite chaat (Indian snack, usually street food). Dahi Poori is native to Mumbai, but this one is being made right here in Hyderabad. It's an incredible mix of salty, sweet, tangy and spicy flavors. The chaat is made on the spot while you wait, and you stuff the whole poori in your mouth immediately, so the flavors don't mush together. You taste each one on your tongue at a different moment and it's amazing! Spicy boiled potatoes and chickpeas are pushed inside a light and flaky fried ball and then the whole thing is topped with plain yogurt, tamarind chutney and a freshly ground roasted spice topping.

This is Arjun, my colleague on the product specialist team (we're a two-man team here), Scott and Sarah, my roommate, all enjoying some dahi poori before dinner.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I'm at home in Hyd this weekend and really enjoying the downtime. Going back in time a few weeks ago, Bret and I visited Mumbai and were lucky to have a friend from the office, Nachiket, volunteer to show us around his hometown since he happened to be visiting his family at the same time. We spent the day walking around the city learning little known facts from our expert guide.

One of the highlights was visiting this quaint neighborhood in the western part of the city that seemed like more like a rural village than a pocket of the fast and hip Mumbai. We meandered through windy streets down a hill until we came to a rectangular pool of water surrounded by steps that led right up to the front doors of modest homes and a couple of temples.

Only then did Nachiket reveal that his uncle and aunt lived nearby. He gave them a call, and they were quick to invite us over. They ended up living in one of the cute houses that looked right over the pool of water, called the Banganga Tank. It was late afternoon and we had been walking in the sun all day, so all of us had sweat dripping down our faces when we arrived. We left our shoes outside and Nachiket's aunt greeted us with a tray of iced waters.

Bret, Sarah and I shared the same thought simultaneously. Drinking local tap water would be a death wish, but we had to react appropriately to the hospitality of our hosts. Despite being parched, I took a few tiny sips of the water, exaggerating the motion of taking the glass to my lips but never really swallowing much.

Luckily Nachiket's uncle had a son living in the U.S. and could speak enough English well enough to carry on a conversation. Everything was going well until Nachiket's aunt entered again, this time with a tray of glasses filled with ice and a fuscia-colored liquid. Bret, Sarah and I shared another look of dread. At this point, we knew we couldn't keep up our tiny-sip strategy. 'I give in,' I thought. I'm going to drink this, it's going to taste good, it's going to make the situation less awkward, it's going to make Nachiket's aunt happy, and I'm going to be up all night puking. I looked up at Bret and Sarah and it was clear they had made the same decision. We downed the salty, sweet, syrupy drinks in less than a minute. It was super-refreshing, but I couldn't help thinking about how miserable our flight that night would be, each of us taking our turn to run to the bathroom.

After some more chit chat about comparing life and work in India to the U.S., etc. we got a tour of the house by the man of the house. As there were only four rooms, it only took about four minutes. The kitchen was last. As we walked through the cramped cooking area, I spotted a disproportionately large water filtration system. Salvation! I felt a massive wave of relief in realizing that I would not have to hover over the toilet in agony for the next three days. This must have been karma.