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India: The Birds and the Bees

August 31, 2010

Sometimes a male (?) caterpillar and a female (?) caterpillar love each other very much, and also are exhibitionists and like to be watched by a worm.

Photo taken in Goa, India.

Photo: Williamsburg Spelling Bee Kickoff, August 16th

August 30, 2010


New on TheGloss: Productivity Tips for People With Short Attention Spans

August 30, 2010

Having trouble concentrating long enough to really get things done?

There are totally solutions for that.

It occurred to me to write this column when I read a friend’s Facebook status update: “Just completed my third pomodoro!” Um … like the pasta? I Googled. It turns out that there is something called the Pomodoro Technique.

According to the website, “The Pomodoro Technique™ has been used successfully by many different kinds of people doing all sorts of activities: from software developers to schoolchildren; from university students to lawyers and executives; whether organizing events, doing project management or getting homework done on time.”

“Pomodoro” is, in fact, the Italian word for “tomato.” More >>

India: The Hare Krishna Temple

August 25, 2010

A picture from the back of the autorickshaw I took around Bangalore. An autorickshaw is a bit like a three-wheeled golf cart. Or a golf cart body mounted on a motorcycle.

I went to the Hare Krishna temple — you file through a long line separated from other lines with metal dividers, very much like the system of lines used by amusement parks to shuffle people onto a roller coaster, although this one was much faster-moving. In the line, a bunch of unaccompanied little girls stared right at me and started giggling. I said “hi,” and some of the little girls seemed excited to have some further interaction (they made a point of keeping up with me for awhile), although I did hear one little girl behind me say “Hiiii” in what must have been her idea of an American accent — kind of a cowboy drawl.

You check your shoes (for 1 rupee — about 2 cents) before going into the temple. They give you a crazy old fraying bag to put them in, and then hang the bag on a giant hook that just stabs right through the fabric (probably why all the bags are fraying). You have to check your purse or backpack separately. That was free, and there was a security woman sitting at a little table with a log book. She took my name and asked if there was a camera inside. Then she asked where I was from, just for her own curiosity, it seemed. I said “New York,” and a man standing next to her misheard it as “Iraq,” which he took with some surprise. The woman corrected him with a smile: “New York! Not Iraq.”

I don’t know how most Hindu temples work, but at this one, you file through the entire thing single file, with the metal dividers, like a roller coaster line. We filed up the steps leading to the temple, and then we filed in and out of a small room containing a recessed statue of a god. The statue was behind glass, and surrounded with lots of other … decorative implements. It was extremely baroque. By which I mean everything was gold, including the god himself, and the frame around him, and a whole lot of other stuff. The line did a sort of U-turn, so when your place in line was right in front of the god, you stopped and prayed, and then continued shuffling through the line. The people behind me were glad that I just looked and nodded politely (I think) and continued on my way — kind of the same feeling you have when you’re in a long line at Starbucks and the person in front of you gives up and leaves, and you’re like, well, this line just got a little bit shorter.

Then the exact same thing happened again — another golden god-cupola.

And then we were in the main temple, which was a much larger version of the same thing, but with a large open space in the middle for people who wanted to sit on the floor and pray. So you filed single-file to the very front of the room, kind of blocking the view of the people on the floor. At the front was an enormous ornate gold … cabinet-like thing that held three different exhibits, each of which held a god or gods (Krishna in the middle). Some people got down on the floor and prayed (very quickly) even though we were shuffling through in single-file.

Once you got past the gods, the metal line-dividers finally ended, and you could join the people on the floor or shuffle out through various gift shops and sweet shops.

One online review of the temple, presumably from a Hindu or at least someone who has been to many temples, said that this part was too commercial. I see how a person would think that. You could buy all kinds of Krishna-gear and cakes. There is a Little Krishna DVD series for children, featuring a tiny, adorable blue Krishna. I’m pretty sure one of the posters for this was either making a winking reference to, or else just ripping off, the iconography of Avatar (you know … blue and all).

At the end of all the things to buy (really, the amount of real estate given to the world’s-fair portion was at least equal to that given to the religious part), a man with a giant vat of food gave everyone some yellow dal (with rice cooked in) in a tiny bowl made of a leaf. I watched other people for the protocol: you could squeeze the food into your mouth from the bowl, or use your fingers.

I retrieved my shoes, made use of a radically different bathroom system, and left thinking, wow, if all Hindu temples are like this, then this is the sort of religion you really wouldn’t bother becoming an atheist from. You’re in, you’re out, it’s like a fun day at the park. Who would object to that? (There was a posted calendar of lectures and festivals and things. But I don’t think that you’re supposed to show up once a week and sit on a hard-backed bench for more than an hour while someone tells you you’re living your life wrong and suffering from evil inner thoughts, besides).

India: English is Different, Sattvic Cuisine, Makeup on a Baby

August 24, 2010

A design made in flour on the street outside a police official’s office.

Message on the Citibank ATM: “Your transaction is getting done.”

A jewelry store called “Forever 21.” A clothing store called “Forever New.” An electronics store holding a “Non-Violent Sale.” Another store holding a “Mouth-Shutting Sale.” McDonald’s sells only chicken sandwiches.

I bought a toothbrush; the package says “inspired by the design of your finger.”

A lingerie store called “Choosy Cherry.” Umm.

Vendors think I would be really excited to buy pashminas. (I was kind of excited about that when I moved to New York in 2003, but I’ve had my fill!)

Weirdly, I had a hard time finding, um, Indian food in Bangalore. Lots of fast food, but the only nice-looking sit-down places (where it doesn’t seem too weird, just moderately weird, to be a woman alone) were in hotels. Maybe it’s just not a restaurant culture — different countries don’t just have different types of restaurants, they have wildly different densities of restaurants. In Argentina, for instance, people sometimes go to cafes multiple times a day; consequently, Buenos Aires has as many restaurants per square mile as New York. In some cultures (probably those where women are less likely to work), people just eat at home a lot more. And in some cultures, people just don’t care about a restaurant’s atmosphere as much as in others. I’m willing to travel 30 minutes in an autorickshaw to eat the best food, but it’s hard to hunt down. After taking a driver’s recommendation for “best dosa,” I ended up in a place with neon-yellow lighting, zero women, and okay dosa. Best meal so far was at the Hare Krishna temple: boy, do they love to cook with coconut. “Bangalore’s only Sattvic cuisine.” OK!

It’s high in prana!

In a shopping mall, a young woman in a lovely sari was holding an adorable baby wearing bangles, anklets, and FULL EYELINER. Dark, black kohl eyeliner both above and below her eyes. ON A BABY. It looked strangely amazing. I mean, if an American put eyeliner on a baby, I would say that person was insane, and then deplore that we have reality shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras.” But, somehow, this baby looked better than I’ve ever looked. Since then, I’ve seen tons of barefoot little girls with jangly silver ankle bracelets and tiny, precious little bangles on their wrists. I kind of love it.

I have seen two young white women in saris, and both kind of shot me dagger eyes. I think each of us thinks the other one is embarrassing both of us.

India: Water-Water, Sari Modesty, and Not Urinating Here

August 23, 2010

If you want to order two waters, what you want is “water-water.”

As all visitors to India note with some surprise, the “bobblehead” gesture means “I get it.” It does not mean “so-so” or “maybe” which is what an American might assume from someone moving his head in a figure-eight pattern. (Although one published source says the head-bobble can mean “I don’t care!”)

One of the most striking features of India is the incredible underutilization of human capital — everywhere, security guards who do nothing but sit all day, guarding something that is not exactly under siege, such as a high school or a clothing store. Or, a coconut cart manned by three men where one would be more than enough. An empty coffee shop with two people behind the counter plus a waiter — if you want takeaway, the waiter will get your order and repeat it to the guy behind the counter. It’s nice to have wait service sometimes, but the (apparently) incredibly cheap cost of labor can’t be fun for those working.

In India, showing your shoulders is considered somewhat provocative. However, everyone’s grandmother is wearing a sari top that exposes rolls of back fat. The Air India flight attendants wear sari-like uniforms that allow anyone sitting down (at stomach-height) to see their stomachs. At a restaurant, I saw a white woman with old-school mom hair wearing a gorgeous sari (it looked weird on her, but she was very tanned, so it at least looked like she’d been here awhile and not like she’d arrived yesterday and decided to wear a sari). Every time she got up, she had to readjust all her fabric to cover her wobbly stomach. Goes to show that our ideas of modesty are all a bit arbitrary.

There are virtually no ATMs. They are very, very hard to find — only inside a bank location, never freestanding. People seem to pay for a lot of things with their mobile accounts — a billboard suggests that, “If you love just one thing” (image: handsome man holding a baby in a way that seems to really be straining his bulging biceps), you can subscribe to Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter alone for 10 rupees/month. I can’t seem to buy WiFi at an internet cafe without a working mobile — I’m at a cafe now and paid for wireless with my credit card, but then they send the password to your mobile. The coffeeshop waiter gave me his mobile number, so I’m writing this while waiting for him to receive a text message with the password I paid for. It’s been awhile. I’ve got a paneer sandwich and a pot of chai to work on while I compose this list.

A wall that says “Do not urinate” on it every ten feet is kind of worse than a wall that people urinate on. At least a wall that people urinate on is nice after every rainfall. I mean, would you want to own a bucket that said “Do not shit in this bucket,” even if it were the cleanest bucket in town?

India: Traffic in Bangalore

August 23, 2010

When you take a taxi, how many times does the driver typically honk his horn? In my NYC cab experience, often not at all — so, on average, about 0.5 times per trip. In Bangalore, any cab ride will involve a horn being honked at least 30 times. People honk their horns basically just anytime they are physically close enough to a car to do so. If you are walking on the sidewalk in a quiet residential neighborhood and a single car begins to make its way up the street towards you at a reasonable speed, it will honk at you anyway, just in case you are Helen fucking Keller.

At no point will you get to walk on more than 20 feet of continuous sidewalk without stepping out into the street because of giant slabs of broken concrete, huge piles of dirt and debris, or simple discontinuance of the sidewalk. And don’t get me wrong: there are pedestrians absolutely everywhere. It’s not like LA, which has minimal sidewalks because hardly anyone walks. Everyone is walking, often barefoot, and in the street. This only increases the honking.

There are no crosswalks in Bangalore. I mean, there are places where white lines are painted on the street, but there are no streetlights accompanying these crosswalks, nor do cars stop to let anyone cross. So you have to take your chance to run across the street whenever an opening appears. There is a good chance you will get hit by a motorcycle.

Plenty of women ride motorcycles, and not in a tough-biker-chick way at all. I saw a family of four on a single motorcycle — dad driving, four-year-old in front of him, mom behind, holding husband in one arm and baby in the other. Everyone’s grandmother calmly rides (sidesaddle!) on the back of a motor scooter as death-defying driving feats occur all around her.

India: Mustaches, Vegan Shoes, Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

August 23, 2010

In India, more men have mustaches than not. These are not ironic mustaches. In the Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi, I got bored and started counting men with mustaches vs men with no mustaches. Observe:

When I got to Delhi and had to take a 20-minute shuttle ride from the international airport to the domestic airport, the man operating the shuttle asked “Airline?” and I said “Air India,” and he said “Really?”

The Delhi airport was a bit like a bus station — you pour out of a big door (not really in single file) and then there are several buses waiting to take you to the real plane. I had suspected as much when told that it “didn’t really matter” which gate you left from, which is not how airports typically work.

This is the shuttle (so many shuttles) from the airplane in Bangalore to the airport. Lots of dudes!

Given the mustaches, the brown-themed airport decor, and the serious lot of mopeds, it looks suspiciously like the ’70s over here.

There are extremely docile stray dogs everywhere, just sleeping on sidewalks. You can step right over them and they don’t mind.

Many Indian women wear gorgeous saris and other types of traditional outfits on everyday occasions; they also wear hideous shoes. I’m not talking about the cute little beaded slippers from India that they sell in New York; I’m talking about the sort of cheap, Western-style clunky plasticized sandals they sell in East Harlem. Apparently, the reason is that many Indians are offended by leather (what with the sacred cows and all). But seriously, you could make a killing being the first person to sell cute non-leather shoes over here.

In a poor part of town, I saw some ladies in saris doing something on a construction site and wearing yellow plastic hard hats that had a bump on top exactly like a Lego person’s head.

As with everywhere else in the world, absolutely no one walks while drinking coffee. I think that’s just us.

Indians do not bless you when you sneeze.

India: Monsoon Season

August 21, 2010

I’m in Bangalore, and intended to eschew the internet for Actual Life, such as this morning, when I followed a pack of stray goats around and took pictures:

However, it has been monsoon raining for hours! (I didn’t pack my Wellington boots because I thought it would be rude to remind people of the British). It’s even a bit cold. So I don’t want to go outside, even though I’m ravenously hungry. In my wandering this morning, I saw almost no restaurants, so I’d have to wander quite a bit just for a decent dosa. I tried to order in, and the hotel front desk informed me that I could get anything I wanted — just as soon as the rain stopped (since he had to send a boy out on a bike). Kind of defeats the purpose, no? American pizza places are, I’m sure, fully aware that their profits rise substantially when the weather sucks (and, outside New York, their delivery men have cars). This is the view from my hotel (er, residential-cottage) room door:

I posted something about the rain on Twitter and then clicked on the #bangalore hashtag and found a gentleman who commented, “You must be knowing to swim, if this rains continue for another couple of hours.” So true!

I finally broke down and ordered quasi-room-service (the hotel owns a restaurant that is a couple blocks away, so I wouldn’t have wanted to run through the rain myself); I’d been holding off because the restaurant only offers “European” food, and that’s not really what I came to India to eat. I did order a cottage-cheese-steak, though, so we’ll see how that turns out.

New on TheGloss: Oprah’s fat is made of solid gold

August 21, 2010

India: Bangalore Signage

August 21, 2010

I’m in India!

Did that remind you of this?

I’ve seen a lot of goats.  More coming soon!

Video: Math Problems, Episode 5

August 18, 2010

My fellow comedian and former Chelsea Mind Games Math Bee co-host Soce, the Elemental Wizard has been producing math videos, complete with theme song (in the outro).

All of the videos have two requirements: crazy dancing, and some form of awkward touching (watch for it).

This was filmed at my place on a freezing cold day last winter.

The Williamsburg Spelling Bee is in the New York Times

August 18, 2010

In the Nocturnalist column by Sarah Maslin Nir: Spellbound in Brooklyn.

The Williamsburg Spelling Bee kicked off its first bee of the new season this Monday. Despite a brief but sloppy downpour, we filled up before 7:30 and had to turn people away. I didn’t realize the NYT was in attendance until the bee was over, and all the sudden there was a woman with a notepad.

Some words from this week’s bee:

Come back Monday, August 30 for your next shot. (Arrive early! Signup begins at 7, and we take the first 18 people).

New on TheGloss: How to Quit Your Job (Hint: No Inflatable Slides)

August 13, 2010

I’m going to sound like your mother for saying this, but you probably shouldn’t quit your job in a blaze of glory.

Blazes of glory don’t buy you groceries two weeks later when radio programs have stopped wanting to have you on the air via telephone and your internet fame has been eclipsed by a video of a zoo animal using a Blackberry. More >>

Photos from the Ladybits Comedy Kickoff

August 13, 2010

You know I’m serious when the jacket comes off.

Go here for the full photo post.

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