Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review Alert: is yet another one of the rapidly multiplying online retailers bringing you at home delivery of the big name brands when it comes to clothing and accessories. Their website offers Western brands such as Nike, Levis, and Converse and also offers Indian traditional wear from household names such as Biba, W, and FabIndia.
After deciding I wanted to add to my kurti collection, I logged on and spent several hours browsing their offerings. It seemed that while they had a wide variety of items, the sizes were somewhat limited. For example, when filtering on my size, the options for kurtis/kurtas drops from 2452 to a mere 1725, excluding 30% of their stock. Still I should be able to find something amongst 1725 options, right?
Speaking of 30% - While browsing, I received a pop up that offered me a 30% discount on my first order, if I registered on their site. Figuring that's a great savings, I went ahead and registered. Little did I know that the 30% coupon would expire an hour later! It would have been better to register right when I was ready to place my order in order to avail the discount, however because the website doesn't allow you to put more then a handful of things in your shopping cart without creating a profile, I had to register in order to add to my wish list of items. Only I took too long building that list, and lost out on my 30% discount.
Part of the reason it took me so long to complete my selection, was because although there's plenty of filtering options on the website, it does not retain your search options when browsing. That means, every time I added something to my cart, it would take me to the "Review your order" page. If I clicked on the "Continue Shopping" option it would take me back to an unfiltered main webpage. If I used the back button, I sometimes received a notice that the previous page had expired, and other times got taken back to a main page sans my selection criteria. I found this to be really frustrating.
After sifting around on the site for a few hours, I made my final selection and set off to place my order. Although I no longer had the 30% off coupon available to me, they had provided me with a 20% off coupon but I couldn't find any place to enter the coupon code. Within a few quick clicks, my order had been placed without any discount. So I did what any savvy online shopper would do I made a note of all the things in my shopping cart and I cancelled my order. I then immediately logged back in to re-place my order. It seemed like a good plan.
When I was placing my order the first time, one of the items I selected must have been the very last one in my size, because when I went to refill my order, it wasn't available. The website said that they would send me an email letting me know when they restocked the item. I knew full well the reason it wasn't available was because I had ordered it and it was part of my now cancelled order. So I continued on replacing my items and was a lot more vigilant this time when I got to the shopping cart page and saw where I had to enter my 20% off coupon code. After applying the coupon, I saw that it only offered a discount on a single item. It wasn't a flat 20% off and to be honest, I wouldn't have ordered a few of the tops I had if I didn't think I was getting a discount. I decided then and there that it just wasn't worth it. I had already invested considerable time on their website due to a horrible navigation system, had lost out on my 30% off, had seemingly also lost out on what I thought was a flat 20% off, and missed out on my favourite kurti from that order due to stocking issues. It was time to call it a day.
Now I just had to figure out what to do about the money they credited to my online account after cancelling the first order. I didn't plan on placing an order on their website so having a considerable online credit wasn't going to do me much good. I used the online form to email their customer service asking them to refund the amount to my bank account, so long as their wasn't a fee in doing so. I asked them to call me before taking any action so I could confirm everything. I got the standard "Thanks for contacting us" email and was informed someone would respond to me within 24 hours. I did get a call the next day confirming there was no fee to refund my money to my bank account and with my confirmation, they'd proceed and I should see the refund in 10-15 business days.
The day after I spoke to their customer service about my refund, I got an email telling me my previously unavailable kurti was now in stock. Sigh.
When I told Z this story, he reminded me that he had ordered from that site previously. One of the items was a "free size" bracelet for me but it was too tight. When he looked into returning it, he found not only do they charge a restocking fee, but the customer has to pay the currier charges to return the item. The website says they'll reimburse the buyer for the return shipping charges up to rs100, but they also provide a list of items that are non-returnable and bracelets are one of those items. That's why the bracelet is still sitting in my closet.
Myntra does offer a referral/rewards program which provides an online credit of rs500 when your friends sign up and another rs1000 when they order something. You have 15 days and 30 days respectively to use the credit, and your order must be a minimum of rs2000.
If all this sounds so amazing you can't wait to log in and place your first order, please note that currently is only shipping within India.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Living as an Expat - Or Not

Recently I shared with you part of the reason I don't feel I've faced many problems as a woman living in India. As I stated in Gender Segregation and Living as a Woman In India, I don't often go out alone and most often my company/escort/guardian is a male family member. In addition to that, I feel that I'm living in quite possibly the greatest city in India when it comes to pretty much every single factor. The general population here is cool and incidents of harassment and crime are relatively low compared to what we hear out of other parts of India.
I frequently get contacted by people who want to know more about my expat lifestyle, particularly, the ways I've connected with other expats staying in the same area. I gotta be honest - I haven't. All my friends here are Hindustanis, and I hang with them or my Indian family. Granted, I know or have met a handful of people here that were not from India but I've never sought out or participated in any activity geared towards Expats.
That being said, I am part of an Expat Forum, which I joined before I moved here. It provides some good resources and many of us share our blog posts on that site. I find it really interesting to read about others' experiences, so long as I can do so at an arms length.
Let me share with you the top few reasons I'm turned off by the requests for Expat meet-ups that have been sent my way:
  • They're all sent by men.
  • The men sending them are Indian.
  • The Indian men sending them have never been outside the country.
Let me tell you what this means. It means they're not Expats! Why are they trying to set up a meeting for Expats?!?! As much as I love this city, don't tell me they're goodwill ambassadors just trying to ensure everyone feels welcomed here.
Let me tell you why they send them:
  • They're looking for romance.
  • They're looking for money.
  • They're looking for a visa opportunity (really this last one is just a combination of the first two).
On a smaller scale:
  • It's fashionable to have the "white" friend.
  • They want to improve their English
  • They want you to find them a job abroad (you can read more about my thoughts on that topic in Refer a Friend.......or Not)
Granted they don't say this outright but I'm stickin' with my gut on this one. I'll share with you now, a few of the requests for meet-ups I've received:
  • Hai my friend.. I'm from Hyd hmmm if u need a friend then plz remember me.. Anyways plz take care n keep smiling
  • Greetings. Hope you are doing great. Well, I'm from Hyderabad, an Engineer and Ex. Professor by profession. Photography is my passion. Now a days, I am inclined towards capturing Non-Indian faces in Indian cultural and tradition wear.I found you in this blog. Can I request you to spare some time from your daily work to volunteer in this? This is completely non-commercial work and I'm doing this only for the sake of art. Hope you can understand my passion towards photography. I will be glad if you can give me a knock any time.
  • I want friendship , from u , will u please accept me , if so plz mail me
  • Iam male from Hyderabad, i want to be ur friend
Here are my responses had I sent them:
  • I'd forgotten you before I finished reading your message. Also, unless you're into Kung Fu, it's spelled HI or HELLO.
  • 1. I didn't ask. 2. Pervert
  • Unacceptable over indulgence of commas. Please continue practicing your English and build some self-confidence so you don't come across as pathetic and desperate. Perhaps that will help you gain friends.
So, my friends, that's why I avoid the Expat scene.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bollywood Movies: What You Need To Know

Note of interest: Bollywood, as a place, does not exist. It's a concept.
In my last post, I made fun of how many Bollywood movies are Hollywood rip-offs. Certainly that's not the case for all. Although I don't speak Hindi, I've fallen in love with quite a few Bollywood movies and believe those that are well done, can be understood regardless of a language barrier.
Here's what you need to know about Bollywood flicks:
  • Music and Dancing: Expect to see somewhere around 6 musical numbers per movie. You know how it works: A guy is crushing on a girl and he bursts into song in the middle of a crowded street professing his undying affection for her, while all pedestrians within a 5 mile radius start a flash mob, matching our hero step for step.
  • Music Videos: Not quite movie related, but any music video you see on MTV, VH-1, etc. is a clip from a movie. It's common to have a bit of dialogue before or after the singing starts, as they've just cut a chunk from the actual film. The music videos will start airing before the movie is released. I've seen some music videos I've hated, until I've watched the movie. Once I could put it into context of the script, I fell in love with the clip/song.
  • Item Number: Many movies will have what's called an Item Number. This often comes at the beginning of the movie, before the story starts, but can show up anywhere during the film. Generally the IN will feature a super hit actress that is not a member of the plot cast, and in no way related to the story line, she just kind of appears out of no-where. In many cases, the song or dance she performs has NOTHING to do with the plot and if your not familiar with the framework of a Bollywood film, can be quite confusing. It's just a random interjection of yet another song and dance routine in the film.
  • Singing: What you should also know, is the singing you hear in Bollywood movies is dubbed. Being a playback singer is big business here. The actors are lip-syncing.
  • Length: Hindi movies generally run somewhere around 3 hours. If you see them at the theatre, you'll be granted an intermission.
  • Plot Twists: Due to the length of the movie, you can expect a lot of plot twists. I've been surprised by quite a few movies when, an hour in and around the time my Hollywood conditioned mind expects the loose ends of the plot to start wrapping up, an entire new storyline will start. Then again, an hour later, when the plot takes another turn and an entire new story line starts. Some movies can be really unpredictable, which I find refreshing.
  • Sex: You won't see it. You'll barely see any kissing (although the younger Bollywood generation is getting pretty risqué). If you find yourself watching a scene in which two people are moving in for the big smooch, the image of a bee or butterfly landing on a flower or a ceiling fan spinning (if they're smooching in a bedroom - after their wedding, of course) will flash on the screen. I find a bit of a paradox here, however. While the plot might be innocent enough, the dance numbers leave little to the imagination. See for yourself.
  • Heroes and Heroines: Every Bollywood hero is capable of killing five guys with a single bullet, stopping a train with his bare hands, or flipping a car upside down with the smash of his fist. Every heroine is a damsel in distress.
  • Antagonists: Every bad guy is armed with an axe, a sickle, or a sword. At all times. In any situation.
So that's my top list of things you should know about Hindi movies. Here is a list of some of my favourite movies that you might enjoy:
3 Idiots: Great cast, great music, rather typical plot but enough surprises to keep it interesting.
I Hate Luv Stories: Lots of Hinglish dialogue which makes it easy for the non-Hindi speaker to follow. Great music. Awesome cast.
Raanjhanaa: Again: Awesome music. Awesome script. Awesome cast. Tragically beautiful love story. I still think they could have incorporated the song Why This Kolaveri Di into the movie. It would have totally fit the plot.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan: So full of plot twists, I felt like I got three movies for the price of one when I saw it at the theatre. Love seeing Anushka Sharma and SRK on the screen together again. Great soundtrack.
Ek Tha Tiger: Great script. Good, albeit somewhat predictable storyline. Awesome opening scene.
Kal Ho Naa Ho: Again, crazy plot twists. Somewhat corny musical numbers, although catchy. Great cast. Love seeing Hindi movies based in the US. I think I got halfway through the movie before I recognized Saif Ali Khan.
Special 26: Great movie. Might not make sense for people who aren't familiar with Indian government to follow but if you can get it dubbed, you should be able to follow along. Even though it's based on a real story, take it lightly.  
Barfi!: I loved loved loved this movie. Anyone who's a fan of Priyanka Chopra, or has seen her collaboration with PitBull or Thursday Night Football intro, wouldn't even recognize her in this film. She did an amazing job. Not a dialogue heavy movie, however you'd want to see it dubbed so you can really follow the narrative overlay.
Cocktail: Terrific story. Lovely acting. Again, great music. I really appreciated the storyline in this one and the music was great too.
Bol Bachchan: Great comedy, fun music. Really hilarious to native English speakers who've spent any time in India or anyone who's regularly observed "Indian English."
Anything else someone not familiar with Hindi movies should know? What to add your favourite Hindi movie to the list? Do so in the comments below!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Get Your Own Plot!

The TV Series 24 is staring up in India. The first episode is set to air this week, staring Anil Kapoor as the Indian version of Jack Bauer. I never got into "24" when it aired in the states, but I am a big Anil Kapoor fan. You might recognize him as Prem, the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, from Slumdog Millionaire (and he did appear in Season 8 of the US version of "24") but had to roll my eyes when I saw the advertisement for it.
Anil Kapoor at the US "24" Finale
Why? Just re-read the sentence above. Anil Kapoor is known in the US for his role as host of a TV game show ("Who Wants to Be A Millionaire"), ripped off from the US, and is now staring in a TV series, also ripped off from the US. Can't Indians come up with their own ideas for movies and television?
So much of the hit TV shows and movies here are plots taken from US shows. In the spirit of "24", here is my top 24 list of the most blatant Bollywood rip offs:
Bollywood: Partner
Hollywood: Hitch
Bollywood: Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu
Bollywood: Aisha
Hollywood: Clueless
Bollywood: God Tussi Great Ho
Hollywood: Bruce Almighty
Bollywood: Kaante
Hollywood: Reservoir Dogs
Bollywood: Players
Hollywood: The Italian Job
Bollywood: Khal-Naaikaa
Bollywood: Chor Machaaye Shor
Hollywood: Blue Streak
Bollywood: Black
Hollywood: The Miracle Worker
Bollywood: Nishabd
Hollywood: American Beauty
Bollywood: Hum Tum
Hollywood: Sliding Doors
Hollywood: My Best Friends Wedding (they couldn't even be creative with the title here)
Bollywood: Knock Out
Hollywood: Phone Booth
Bollywood: Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye (the Indian version is a bit tamer then the US version)
Hollywood: The Wedding Singer
Bollywood: F.A.L.T.U.
Hollywood: Accepted
Bollywood: Apartment: Rent at Your Own Risk (They should have considered a Hindi title because this English one sucks)
Hollywood: Single White Female
Bollywood: Pyaar Ka Saaya
Hollywood: Ghost
Bollywood: Sssshhh.
Hollywood: Scream
Bollywood: Mr Ya Miss
Hollywood: Switch
Bollywood: We Are Family
Hollywood: Stepmom
Hollywood: Home Alone
Bollywood: Teen Patti
Hollywood: 21
Bollywood: Ra-One
Hollywood: Tron Legacy (although many say it's more Robocop)
Have one to add? Comment below!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Utlimate Mandoline Strikes Again!

Today spawned another medical emergency. Not an emergency really, but it required a trip to a medical professional which seems to be a theme for me since I've come to India.
On Tuesday, while slicing vegetables using the Ultimate Mandoline, from Pampered Chef, I sliced more than my cucumber. PC describes the Ultimate Mandoline like this:  "Slice and grate perfectly when you have four interchangeable stainless blades to choose from. The food holder ensures your fingers stay away from the blade, right down to the very last slice. The crinkle cutting, v-shaped slicing or adjustable slicing blade pops up to slice food when you slide the food holder over the blade."
I was using the v-shaped blade, and I was NOT using the food holder. As I was slicing, and becoming mesmerized by how smoothly I was able to glide the cucumber over the blade and create perfectly uniform slices, it occurred to me that it was nearing time to pull my hand away. Before my brain could fully register such a novel thought, my finger met the blade, get the idea.
Two days later it was still bleeding so I thought I'd better see a doctor. There, they cleaned it out and bandaged it up. They also wanted me to have a tetanus shot. Now remember, this is India. The clinic doesn't stock the tetanus booster or the syringe and a trip outside of the clinic over to the pharmacy to buy the tetanus shot plus the syringe was required. Once back, I got my injection and was on my way. The entire ordeal took just 10-15 minutes, no appointment required, and cost somewhere around $3 including medicine and administrative fees. Not too shabby.
And for those that want to see what amazing things the Ultimate Mandoline is capable of when once doesn't employ the food holder?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gender Segregation and Living as a Woman in India

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from the Washington Post addressing the call for female only trains, busses, cabs, and even city parks in parts of India. It seems that it's not only the Indian newspapers that are full of stories of rape and violence against women. India's seeming surge of violent attacks is making news globally.
In sending me the article, my friend was asking for my take on the safety of living in India as a woman. Keep in mind, I am married to an Indian with my in-laws ever present so my experience I feel is more sheltered then that of someone staying here, who doesn't have family to fall back on and has to take care of everything on their own.
Let me start out by saying, I feel blessed to have landed in Hyderabad. No matter where else in India I've visited, I've always felt like I was coming home upon my return to the city. I find the people here to be very welcoming and genuinely caring and helpful. When I first came here, I attributed this to my white skin. Everyone was curious about me and eager to help, but after living in the same place for over two years, that sentiment hasn't changed much. When I'm out in my own neighbourhood, I feel comfortable. Local merchants that know me (and that's just about all of them), go out of their way to come and say hi when they see me out, and I feel as though I have people I can count on when I need anything.
Apart from taking care of daily business in my own neighbourhood, I don't go out alone. I'm always accompanied by my husband or my brother in law and don't find myself in situations where I have to navigate something without the company of a guardian that speaks the local language. It sounds old fashion, but it's how things are done and it certainly lends itself to safer circumstances.
The article in the WP discussed the demand for women only transportation options and locals providing women a place they could relax and enjoy the company of their friends without having to deflect lewd comments or looks from men. They are supposed to provide safer options for the female population. Now, we all know that the real problem is with the men and that the attention should be on raising our boys to learn to respect women, but that's going to take an immense educational effort and generations before such sentiment is at the heart of the population.
If there are immediate options available to women that allow them the independence to go out alone because they don't have to fear for their safety from men on a local bus, or some creep at a local park then I think that's a good thing. I don't believe that some level of segregation, in the name of safety, will discount the educational gains or career options for women, as stated in the article. I think it would do the opposite. I think it would provide women with opportunities to bolster their confidence and independence because they wouldn't have to expend energy worrying about every other passenger on the bus and what their intensions might be.  
There's no where I want to go that I don't have someone that is willing to take me, and while I appreciate their company, the option to take a ladies only bus would certainly provide additional options for me and I think that's a good thing!
What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Massage: Why Can't It Be A Legitmate Thing?!

Body massage in India is somewhat of a taboo. Not overtly, but an undercurrent of suspicion seems to arise anytime I bring up the topic. I was a regular at local massage centres back home, and in over 2 years in India, have yet to find a quality, legitimate place to have this done.
My first experience getting a massage in India scarred me. It started out at my local salon/parlour and the same girl who had done my facial and hair spa, took me into the back room for my massage. Within a few minutes the male owner entered and was overly concerned about any tension I might have in my bra. That experience shied me away from getting massages for a long time.
About a year later, a massage parlour opened up in the building right beside my apartment. I heard all of the "therapists" were women, so I felt a bit better and considered checking it out. Until I was informed they only accepted male clientele. It was a brothel under the guise of a massage parlour.
One day we received a flier in the newspaper for a package deal at a new salon. It included a massage so I checked it out. The place was professional and the massage was conducted by a female, in a comfortable and secure setting. She just wasn't very good. I'm not a fan of these foo-foo massages, I'm used to being worked over by a sports therapist and the massage being more of a work out. So now I'd found the location, just not a quality therapist.
Just before my wedding, I started going to a new salon. The owner of the salon gave an amazing facial and included a little shoulder massage, so I asked her once if she'd do a back massage, even thought it wasn't in the "menu" of services provided. She agreed, but she never did it. No matter how many times I asked, she'd say "yes yes" but she'd never do it.
So now her salon has been bought out and I'm going to the one that replaced it. They advertise massage services, and have quite a variety to chose from in the menu. Every time I ask for it, I just get returned with confused stares and no matter how many times during my services that I bring up the subject, they NEVER do the massage. I can point it out in the "menu" but they never do it.  I don't know how to be more assertive about it besides crossing my arms, stomping my foot and refusing to leave until they do it.
Today I asked no less than four times. The lady doing my other services (the same one from the old place that got bought out) even asked me if I wanted oil or cream, and even stepped out to confirm the prices, but she NEVER did it.
I don't know if I'm some kind of freak for asking for it, or for persisting, but I don't get what the big deal is. I don't require someone who's professionally trained, just someone who can put a little elbow into it and isn't a pervert. There are options at the high end hotels and a few resorts to have it done, but you'll pay a fortune and those places aren't easily accessible. It looks like they might be my only option though. I think when I get to go back to the US for a visit, I'll schedule a massage for every single day I'm there! Just to make up for lost time.