Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kill Me, Kill Me Now!

I’d been putting it off for two days now, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I entered the Pharmacy and spoke to the first person I saw behind the counter, typically he and everyone else who worked there were male. ‘Have you got any cream for hemorrhoids?’ I whispered in the quietest voice in the world ever. ‘What Madam?’ he replied ‘Hemorrhoids, cream for hemorrhoids?’ I replied slightly louder. ‘Hair shampoo’ he responded, ‘No, hemorrhoids, or, errr, piles, cream for piles’ I said getting slightly agitated. ‘Blah, bah, blah, PILES, blah, blah’ (the blah, blahs being Hindi words I couldn’t understand) he shouted to his colleague at the opposite side the shop. ‘Blah, blah, blah, PILES, blah, blah PILES’ His friend shouted back. ‘PILES blah, PILES blah’ the shop and it's dog started shouting. Just wishing the world would swallow me up whole, four men then started grabbling the shelves and presenting me with different tablets and creams for my newfound ailment. I chose the one nearest my hand ‘This is fine, fine, how much’ I hurried ’33 rupees Maaaam’ ’33 rupees?’ I double-checked ‘Yes Maam'. I left the shop more embarrassed than I have ever been in my life with a tube of cream that cost me 17 p! I don’t hold out much hope.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cleopatra Eat Your Heart Out

After 10 days of bathing in a bucket, I was looking forward to a nice, long, warm shower. Before I left for Pune we had sorted out the yellow water issue so thought nothing of just jumping straight in there. As I turned the tap on the smell of vomit filled the room, I quickly exited the shower and scowered the house, maybe Paul had got a little bit tipsy whilst I away, but there was no evidence in the bin, toilet or anywhere? I got back into the shower where I soon realized that it was the water that smelt of pure sick, no amount of soap could hide the stench! Rather than make a fuss (at this point...mainly because I was naked) I thought I would make use of my newfound bathing skills and filled a large bucket with cold mineral water! Although my hair now has a shine to rival a L’Oreal advert girl, I don’t feel bathing in Aquafina is a practical solution! After spending most of the afternoon explaining to Praveen what sick was he has finally taken a sample for tests, Watergate continues... again….

Week ? Malaria Watch

Week I've lost count: Malaria Watch: My Vipassana experience has done nothing for my love of Mosquitos! I still hate them, as in Hitler, Bin Laden and the song 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" hate!

They Don't Warn You of That do They!!!

When you were little, did your Mom ever tell you 'Don't sit on the cold, hard floor, you'll get piles'??
Well put it this way, I am proof that this is no old wives tale! Damn you Vipassana and your hard as rock meditating cushions!!!!!!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vipassana - Rehab for Poor People Part 3

In the morning I woke up to the sound of the alarm, I turned my weary head to the right… NAKED TIGER BALM LADY, NAKED TIGER BALM LADY!!!! I ran into the bathroom and stayed there until she left for the hall, my eyes were scarred!
Every evening from 7.00- 8.30 pm we were required to watch a video explaining about what we had done that day and how we may be feeling. Goenka, the guy from Burma who has been spreading the word of the Vipassana was speaking in the video and he was hilarious! Although my bum would be killing me after a hard days work sitting on it, I used to laugh out loud and really look forward to his stories. The English speaking tape and Hindi speaking tape were played in separate rooms with the English tape finishing a good 15 minutes before the Hindi version. For this time we were exposed to the elements, being bitten to death my mosquitoes and left to fend for our selves in the darkness. As I left the hall I would always say hello to the Geko that lived near the light bulb, whom I fondly called Craig David, as at the time I first discovered him I had the song ‘I’m walking away’ (from the troubles in my life’- quite apt actually) in my head. I would then grab my torch and go for a nature ramble around the vegetable patches hoping and praying to see something interesting; I saw a cat, a dog and a Praying Mantis (a type of insect), not quite up to David Attenborough standards but I was pleased.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vipassana - Rehab for Poor People Part 2

The official agenda for the day was as follows, but I should have really added Tiger Balm Ladies midnight, mental, chanting, washing of her clothes between 3.00 and 3.30 am and her pill taking and medical cream applying from 9.30 till 10.00 pm but I haven't.
4:00 am
Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am

Meditate in hall
6:30-8:00 am

Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am

Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am

Meditate in the hall
11:00-12:00 noon

Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm

1:00-2:30 pm

Meditate in the hall
2:30-3:30 pm

Group meditation in the hall
3.30-5.00 pm

Meditate in the hall
5:00-6:00 pm

Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm

Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm

Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm

Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm

Question time in the hall
9:30 pm

Retire to your own room--Lights out

In total we were required to spend over 10 hours a day meditating or in layman’s terms, 10 hours a day sitting on our arses! I was sincerely worried that my bottom would alter shape by the end of the course!
On the first official day whilst walking in the pitch, black morning to the Dhamma Hall the unthinkable happened, my flip-flop broke! Now a meditation course without easily exit able footwear, is like Jesus with no beard or going snorkeling without a snorkel (probably a better example) it’s just wrong, but being my fathers daughter, I managed to fix my flip-flop with a hair bobble and grip. Yes, I looked like a tramp who couldn’t afford a pair of functioning flip flops, as no one had even had the opportunity to see them in their original form, but I was happy with the result. As I entered the hall, I noticed a few of the girls looking at me with sympathy, maybe it was because of the poor state of my flip- flops or maybe they had been witness to the happenings that went on in my room the previous night, either way I could tell they felt for me and I was grateful.

Vipassana - Rehab for Poor People

After 7 hours, 5 near death experiences, 3 dead animals, 2 punchers and 1 extremely annoyed Ramesh we arrived at Pune Vipassana Meditation Centre… which turned out to be the wrong Pune Vipassana Meditation Centre, the one we needed was another 1 hours drive away called Pune Riverside Vipassana Meditation Centre! We eventually arrived with an even more annoyed Ramesh, 3 hours late.  It said on the confirmation letter that if you arrived after 5.00pm your place would be given away, luckily I had rang up twice, asked Ramesh to ring up, sent 2 emails and asked Paul to contact them to make doubly, tripperly, quadruperly sure I still had my place. I wasn’t missing the opportunity to write a fantastic blog post purify my mind, for anybody!
I think they call it shabby chic
A construction site at a meditation centre-
only in India
After registration I made my way to the dorms, the first thing to strike me was the quiet sense of tranquility that surrounded the centre, the peacefulness, the birds singing and the calm breeze in the trees, the second thing I noticed was the working construction site slap bang in the middle of the complex and signs apologizing for the noise, so I knew this particular feeling would be short lived! After a five-minute walk down a stony path I arrived at my room, number ¾ (I know stupid) I stepped inside, Oh-My -God! It was like something out of the TV show 'Banged Up Abroad'! The floor was a brown dirty, pooh colour, the walls were stained with the blood of squashed Fly's and Mosquitoes, metal bars adorned the windows and the beds- (yes beds, I was sharing my room), mattresses (if you can call them that) were about one inch thick and were laid on a plank of wood attached to the wall. The bathroom toilet room had no shower, just a tap and bucket to wash in and the toilet was leaking from the bottom (but I was used to that) I wasn’t expecting five star luxury but I couldn’t imagine these conditions were going to help me achieve my 'balanced mind full of love and compassion'! I was concerned.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I’m meditating silently for 10 days; I will be back on line 24th May.  

Meditation course whilst you’re in India? It’s the law!

Thank the Lord for Make-up - I know I look rough without it!
If I was a Mr. Man I would probably be Mr. Loud and if I was A Little Miss I would definitely be Little Miss Chatterbox (not Miss Bossy, Paul!) so it may come as a surprise to you all that I have booked to go on a 10 day silent Meditation course known locally as Vipassana, commencing the 14th May.
To comply with the T and C’s (terms and conditions, durr) I have gone against everything I believe in and have been shopping for, ewwww, I can’t say it… baa…. nooo…bagg… pleaaassse…oh alright, baggy trousers and loose top things, the style adorned by hippy travelers the world over. Short of getting dreadlocks, changing my name to Dragon Fly and not washing for a month I think I’ll fit in just fine.
 All the aides which help me complete my polished look everyday including, my hairdryer, my GHDs (the large ones and the small ones), my Babyliss Big Hair rotating curling brush, my Babyliss Root boost Styler and all my makeup (we’d be here all day if I started listing these) will be left behind.


And the battle continues in what I now fondly call Watergate! This was my bathroom floor yesterday afternoon. I have no words.

No, its not what you're thinking, its muddy, silty, brown water!
Emptying the tank once again

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm Ready for my Close-Up...

Looking guuuuud
It may have taken 3 months, 2 weeks, 1 day, 4 hours, 27 minutes and err approximately 31 seconds but I have finally done it! I was an extra in a Bollywood movie!! 
If you are an avid follower of this blog, you probably recall me being denied of my first opportunity to ‘break the industry’ a mere 3 days into my Mumbai adventure, as Paul decided to make other plans at the 11th hour. Since then we haven’t ventured into the touristy areas so I haven’t been approached since, however on Monday I decided to clean out my handbag! Now, every Woman knows that this tedious task can take hours and who knows what you might find; as well as a total of 15 British Pound coins (I haven’t lived in the UK for nearly a year) 6 earplugs, 16 nail files, a fork, 3 stones and a shell I found the Bollywood scouts card!  As it was Paul’s fault I wasn’t the western worlds answer to Priyanka Chopra yet I asked him to call immediately! ‘Yes she will be at McDonalds Colaba tomorrow at 8.00am!’ he confirmed. It was as easy as that! I was in!
I arrived punctually at 8.00am the next day, there was 19 of us all together. I arrived via driver in a blue flowery dress, compulsory 4 inch wedges, hair straightened and full make up ready to go, the other 18 were bohemian stylee backpackers to whom the words soap and hairdryer would be a distant memory, I looked a little bit out of place but I wasn’t fazed. The bunch consisted of: An Irish primary school teacher, a Canadian actor who is off to Pakistan and Afghanistan next, 3 Irish doctors, a guy from Norwich and a girl from Sweden who met travelling, a man in his 50’s whose flight back to the UK has been delayed for 11 days, 2 girls from Spain, a screen writer from Mexico, 2 guys from France, one of which was drugged on Friday and didn’t come round until Monday and was robbed of everything he owned- he was doing this for the money so he could get back home, 2 young guys from Holland, a Woman from Belgium who was flying home that evening and 4 lovely 18 year old ladies from the UK (If I had little sisters I would want them to be like these girls, they were just lovely and from the Lesbian capital of the world as one of them proudly told me. )  After a brief hello we were carted off by the organizer into Taxis and ferried to Mehboob (he, he) Studios in Bandra. We were first treated to breakfast, which consisted of various Indian delights including a chili and mushroom omelet, which was delicious, we then made our way to the less than glamorous green room where we could meet each other properly. The Irish teacher and the girls from the lesbian capital of the world had already spent one day filming, so were explaining to us all what to expect, they seemed to have really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to getting started. No hair and makeup was required as it was a nightclub scene so only costumes were needed, we made our way into ‘wardrobe’ or 'really old clothing rail', as it should have been called. The girls were given pretty crappy dresses and the guys old 1960’s style suits, after seeing the Indian guys and girls on set we came to the conclusion that they wanted to depict Indians as being ‘cooler’ than westerners or this is what they thought westerners wore, either way we all thought we looked hilarious and took some snaps. My dress was zebra print and didn’t fit at all, so I asked if I could wear my own dress, they agreed. Once dressed the organizer locked up our possessions in the room and we made our way down to the set. Here the atmosphere was electric, the music was already pumping and we were told to dance like we had never danced before! After a few minutes of ‘warming up’ they started performing proper choreographed Bollywood dance moves and everyone joined in! Being the ex A Level dance student I am, I picked it up very easily, but so did the 3 Irish doctors so that proves how simple it was. As I had my wedges on I was a good 5 inches taller than all the other girls who were wearing flip flops, so was put at the back of most of scenes- so who knows if you’ll ever get to see my expert moves?
Once they had the crowd scene down the actors came on stage with a group of white western dancers. These poor girls were dressed in red bra and pants with some sort of doily on their heads, it’s no wonder Indian men stare at white women walking down the street, this is who they think we are! I felt sorry for them as everyone was staring, but they are professional dancers from England, Australia and America who come to Mumbai with an agency for 6 months and dance in various Bollywood movies. They get paid around 7000 rupees per day which is pretty good and the chances of them getting an opportunity in a film back home would be slim, but still, they were clearly less than impressed with their costumes and covered up between takes. When the actors arrived on stage things started to take a bit longer, we would dance for ten seconds and then the music was cut, we would chat for a bit and then the process would start again. Yes, it could have got slightly boring but it was more about the atmosphere, being within sniffing distance of Bollywood actors and meeting and learning about new people. We had frequent breaks where we were given local chai, water, and Tic Tacs (I know random) and lunch was a delight, chicken curry, Dahl, rice and potatoes and they weren’t stingy on the portions either.
Turn it this way!
Although we spent the whole day trying to figure out what the movie was about we just couldn’t do it, it was too random, there were two fat guys dressed as twins with milk bottle glasses and goofy teeth, a man in drag, a man in a turban, the hero in a suit, the obligatory, beautiful Indian heroin and 50 Chinese extras, so we presumed we were in China, but that was the best we could come up with. The main Bollywood actors starring in this film were Mallika Sherawat, Ritesh Deshmukh and Sanjay Dutt. The only one of these actors I had heard of was Mallika as she was following me on Twitter before I left (I was following her too) but apparently Sanjay was really famous (and hot) back in the day. The film is called 'Double Dhamaal', which is a sequel to the film Dhamaal. 
At 8.30pm we started to film the final scene, which again involved dancing and waving your arms up in the air (like you just don’t care), within 15 minutes we were finished and everyone started cheering. ‘That was a wrap’ (I’ve always wanted to say that) the director shouted. Although long and tiring, with lots of stopping and starting, I had a fantastic day, I learnt so much about the world from the backpackers and have at least 6 new friends of Facebook! I was also offered a speaking role for a movie on 21st and 22nd of May but I unfortunately have other plans (more on this to follow) But most of all I was in an actual, real life, Bollywood movie! I feel complete!
If you are in Mumbai and would like to be an extra in a Bollywood movie, email imran.giles@gmail.com
The set
The dancer with a doily on her head
Drag queen, (the one in the pink)
Mallika and the man in drag
Another one of the set - nightclub
The main man 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's The Small Things...

Praveen working his magic
For all of his yellow water related faults, our House Keeper Praveen is still a bit of a legend. He arrives promptly every morning at 8.45am, cleans our house from top to bottom (with the help of the actual cleaner), takes our washing to the laundrette, folds, hangs and puts away the clothes, does our shopping, tidies up and will do any odd job we ask of him. But what I love about Praveen more than anything, is the effort he puts into displaying the decorative cushions that reside on our bed, no day is ever the same! I can just see him now, deciding whether to put the small, pink, sparkly cushion diagonal or straight or wondering if it would cause offence to put two purple ones together! Whatever his thought process, he never disappoints! So you can truly appreciate the excellence of his elaborate displays I have put together a weekly diary of his creations for you to admire... I know, I have too much time on my hands!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

‘Easter Sunday on a Boat’ (is the name of the song that we wrote whilst on the boat… on Easter Sunday)

Making beautiful music
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever met a real life Captain of a Ship? Well I have and he was Russian and he used to sit opposite me in my old job in Singapore! How cool is that? I used to sit opposite a Russian Captain of an actual ship! Just thought I’d share this as I have a boat related story.
On Easter Sunday we decided to hire out a boat for the day and sail around some of Mumbai’s surrounding paradise islands. Surprisingly the trip was pretty uneventful, well, that’s if you call almost being flipped out of an auto rickshaw after going over a pot hole at 50 miles per hour in Alibaug, going to see what was described as ‘the best beach in India’ and discovering it was the worst, witnessing a man hurtling towards the earth (and surely his death) on a 60 rupee a go parasailing ride which consisted of a makeshift parachute and a 4x4 jeep pulling it down a beach, being chased and flashed at by an Indian man with obvious mental problems, being told to throw all alcohol over board immediately because the Police were on their way to arrest us, then all the empty bottles not being carried away with the current and circling the boat like a big sign saying ‘they are drinking alcohol arrest them now’, the Police (with guns) arriving and boarding the boat (magically not noticing the bottles) and telling us that it was illegal to moor and play guitar on a boat in this area, then us having an argument with them telling them that was ridiculous whilst tipsy, then taking a photo of them, which made them get angrier but was the ammunition we needed to get rid of them, eventually arriving back to the Gateway of India to be shouted at by the boat driver because we didn’t give him a big enough tip (although we paid 20,000 rupees for the boat for half a day), arriving home to a group of children begging at us and when I said leave us alone the Security Guard running out of our building and beating them with a bamboo stick really hard…Uneventful then I suppose it was!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Shiver Me Timbers! What is This Olives All About Then? Ou Arrrghh…

I'm just missing an eye patch!
If one more person was going to tell me that I ‘Just had to go to Olives in Bandra on a Thursday night’ I was going to get a jar of Olives and stuff it down their throat!  I was sick of hearing about the place and because so many people had told me I should go, it made me not want to go at all as it had a lot to live up to (and it takes about 2 hours from our house to get there in stupid Mumbai traffic) But as it was Bank Holiday and Paul didn’t have to get up for work the next day, we and few others from his work decided we would go and check it out. I used my poshest English accent to reserve us a table, as apparently they can be quite difficult to secure, and it did the trick (yes, people from Birmingham can put on posh accents!). We arrived promptly at 9.30pm and even at this time it was starting to get pretty busy. We were sat outside, just before the toilets (I’m not sure why that information is important), the décor was lovely, white pebbles made up the flooring and fairy lights and candles gave it a romantic feel.  Paul ordered various sharing plates for us all to tuck into and it really was delicious, the Moscow Mule cocktail I had was out of this world and it came in a tankard! An actual tankard, I felt like a Pirate! After we finished dinner we noticed the place was heaving, it was so packed that people were starting to edge closer and closer to our table, with one girl almost parking her pert buttocks on my left over lamb chop, it was too much so we decided to head inside...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Choo Choo (as in train not Jimmy)

Me, maybe reconsidering my activity for the day!
Last week Paul’s best bud Chad came over from the UK to pay us a visit, which was amazing! As Paul had to work on the Thursday it was up to me to come up with an exciting outing, which wasn’t already on Captain Hanley’s itinerary for the following days. This wasn’t going to be easy, as Paul had made me promise I wouldn’t take him to the Fish Prison (aka Taraporewala Aquarium) and that was my number one option.  After minutes hours of wracking my brain it hit me, we were going to do the number one thing that every Indian person I have met has told me not to do, the thing that apparently would put me off India for the rest of my life (their words not mine), the thing that hundreds of Indians die doing every single year… we were going to catch a public train! Yes, you read correctly, I, Sophie Hanley got on an Indian public train! Chad, so impressed with the impending adventure, quickly changed into his brightest pink T-shirt to ensure I could spot him if we got separated, I thought the fact that he was, white, blonde and 6 ft 4 was enough, but no, he insisted. We hotfooted it over to Churchgate station, which is only a short walk from our place. As we entered we were overwhelmed by the stench of a men’s urinal, I started heaving uncontrollably, desperately looking for the nearest bin to puke up in, it was so awful, I could see everyone looking at me as if to say ‘typical’. I felt so bad as I even wore jeans to try and blend in, but to be fair I often heave if I go past a public toilet anywhere in the world! Who doesn’t?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole…

A paleontologist would be happy with this find!
Anyone under the age of 50 probably wouldn’t know the name of the person who sang the song ‘Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot’ however, I am more than sure that you would know the song itself (it was always played at Aunties and Uncles birthday parties/ weddings in the 80’s early 90’s and everyone would start dancing around like Cubans and pretending they had maracas? No? Just my family then.) Well today, according to my thermometer the mercury hit 101 degrees and May is supposed to be the hottest month in Mumbai by far, so it’s just going to get higher and higher! I am tremendously concerned as my air-conditioners are extremely old and should have gone out with the cassette tape, and I don’t think sticking my head in the freezer every 15 minutes is an acceptable solution- bad times!! Only good thing is, that I’m sweating so much I must have already lost half a stone in weight- good times!
(FYI the person who sang ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ was a man called Buster Poindexter, I googled it as I am unemployed and was feeling hot… hot, hot)

Week 3- Malaria Watch

I can’t believe it! I have been so concerned with my polluted, Potassium Permanganate-less (thanks travel bug) water that I have neglected Week 3 of Malaria watch! Apologies, not only to my readers but to myself!
Week 3: Malaria Watch! : No bites present, (just scars from where I kept scratching them) I suppose now it’s a waiting game…
Phew! Glad thats back on track!

Actions Speak Louder Than Words!

What I have been showering in for the last
5 days!
Yesterday was every inch as difficult as I imagined it to be. After 20 minutes of ‘It is only a little bit yellow madame’ from Praveen, I took matters into my own hands and filled up a bucket with the contaminated tap water, (I did this so the concentration would be stronger, therefore the yellow/orange colour would be more obvious- a tip I picked up from an episode of CSI ) and stuck his head in it!... I didn’t really, but I wanted to! Within minutes of showing him my cast iron evidence the apologies started to flow and the water tank from which the water originates was emptied. Now when I come out of the shower I smell clean rather than of *!!@/$ ? rust. Result!

Monday, May 2, 2011

And The Most Annoying Conversation Of The Week Award Goes To…

McDonalds McDelivery…
Me: Hi, can I have a Chicken McSpicy meal please?
McDonalds man: No, sorry, we do not sell Chicken McSpicy.
Me: Are you sure? I’ve just seen an advert? A Chicken McSpiiiicy!
McDonalds man: No, sorry no Chicken McSpicy. Maharaja Mac?
Me: No Thank you. Are you 100% sure? I had one the other day? Chicken McSpicy
McDonalds man: No, we only have McSpicy Chicken.
Me: I’m hanging up now.
The McSpicy Chicken, not to be mistaken for a Chicken McSpicy

What Would Mr Patel Say?

Needless to say that 
Mr Patel's  was closed yesterday
Yesterday was what the Indian’s call a ‘Dry Day’, which means it is illegal for alcohol to be sold to the general public in shops and bars. Surely that’s a violation of human rights?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The End of This Story is Like a Coldplay Song

No I didn't wee in a glass! It is our tap water
on the left compared to bottled water on the right- nice!
Probably the most time consuming thing I have had to do in India so far, is to try and explain to somebody who probably has to share an outside toilet, that doesn’t even have a flush, that our plumbing is inappropriate and needs fixing. For obvious reasons if you are an expat living in India and your toilet is broken you are screwed, so when I discovered we had this problem I was somewhat distressed. In the morning, I walked into the bathroom to see that the toilet was leaking from the cistern (the top bit of the toilet, for those of you lesser versed in the art of plumbing) all over the floor, I then embarrassingly realised that the flush wasn’t working. Dismayed, I dragged Praveen, our housekeeper into the bathroom and showed him the leakage; he didn’t seem fazed at all ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked in broken English ‘Its only little bit leaking’. Slightly surprised at his lack of sympathy, I continued to show him that the flush wasn’t working, in the hope that he would realise that there actually was a problem. ‘It take 15 minutes for tank to fill, then it will work,’ he replied in a tone which suggested that this was perfectly acceptable. ‘It needs to be fixed properly! No leaking!’ I answered; with the state of our bowls in India we cannot be waiting 15 minutes between flushes, we needed a plumber and we needed one ASAP.