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Thursday, December 27, 2007

RightStart or HeadStart - Searching for Bangalore Schools

Below is an email conversation I had on Bangalore Schools - Thought it would be good to post it on the blog site.

------ Forwarded Message
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 00:58:52 -0700

Let me give you a brief on my experience. I have a 5 year old and we have been very keen in getting her admission to the school that would be right for her (even though she would be joining Upper KG here). Especially since we were going to relocate in June and all schools would begin the first week of June (International IB schools begin in August as in the US). There are 3 kinds of schools as Arun mentioned.

  • The traditional Indian schools (SSC, ICSE, CBSE) that are primarily academic focused and have a high student to teacher ratio
  • The true international schools that are based on the IB (international board) curriculum. There are only a handful here.
  • The mixed breed that are traditional schools with additional focus on whole rounded development or lower student-teacher ratios and primarily have ICSE or CBSE curriculum. Some schools have the international in their name but are really in this category

We were not interested in international since we are moving for good. Several expats who plan to return back to the US or whose kids are older and would probably want to go to the US for further studies opt for these schools.

We reviewed a couple of traditional indian schools like the NPS, Bethany's, Bishop Cottons. NPS is heavily academic and their graduates perfrom very well in the 10th board exams. The competition and stress level is also very high on the students. Bethany's and Bishop cotton are also similar but they also have higher student-teacher ratios. Admission for these popular schools begin as early as August-November the year before. We were late for all these schools. Yet we were looking for schools that have all rounded focus or at least not fully academic focus for our child so we are probably not going to try for these schools next year.

We also reviewed some of the mixed-breed schools and liked the approach of a few. Our child currently is enrolled in a school called Greenwood High (I believe they also have a web site). The school is nice though I think UKG curriculum is not as challenging for our child in the areas of reading and math. They do focus on writing though and Hindi. I have heard that they have a good curriculum in the higher standards as well. There are some other schools that look very nice and present a very progressive individual curriculum structure but I feel they are still experimental and haven't proved themselves in board exams (like Inventure though I liked their campus and approach). One school that we did like is Vidya Shilp and we will try for that school next year. They are well recognized for a wholistic approach to education.

NAFL as Arun mentioned is also a very good school (affiliated to NPS) but it was far for us from where we live.

------ End of Forwarded Message

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Realty Bytes - Reality hits us full-on!

I'm back! It's been a whirlwind year+ for us since we moved from Seattle to Bangalore. While we have been exposed to high energy levels being here there have been several incidents that have left behind a sour taste. I have tended to be positive on my previous blogs and optimism is one of my core traits but sometimes the "Once Bitten..." experiences need to be shared with friends and doses of realty are necessary medications.

As you already know from my previous posts moving from Seattle we landed into a mild summer night in Bangalore with all our 8 bags. We were to move into a service apartment that I had taken pains to arrange during my previous visit. It was a new apartment and was promised to be ready by the time we landed. A quick call and we realized that the apartment is getting finished. When we moved in there were at least half a dozen people painting, staining, bringing in new furniture... Work in the house continued for the next 10 days, the "settling process". This was our first taste of realty experience and certainly not the last.

During our four months stay in the service apartment - what you say - yes we really were there for four months. It took us this long to find a reasonable apartment to move into. We quickly realized in the time we were in the service apartment that rents were not realistic. A hole in the wall style apartment would ask a rent of 70K per month.

We found a penthouse in the same building as the service apartment in the first two months and we signed a lease that was far more than we were originally planning to spend. As expected it was under construction and was to be completed by Sep. "Come September" and the "NRI" (you wish) owner tells us that he cannot guarantee the apartment even by Oct. In fact he encouraged us to break the contract leaving us with no options. Later we found out that the [*** expletives for owner deleted ***] had in fact begun negotiations with another potential renter while he was under our legal contract. This despite himself having proclaimed to be an NRI who understood our expectations and supposedly had good "ethics".

In a fix we were able to find another penthouse in the same apartment complex with still a high enough rent that was not justifiable. Of course as usual lot of work was pending (such as an al-fresco master bedroom) before we moved in and some even after we moved in. With our good sense we were able to transform the less than basic apartment into a posh Manhattan style residence. Hopefully we would be in this place for a couple years till we find a reasonable residence to own.

Barely 8 months into the rent and having just settled in with the last of the boxes emptied, our LESSOR (I refuse to call anyone a landlord) decides to DOUBLE OUR RENT! They offers us the "first" refusal (how magnanimous)! We begin our frantic search for another place either to buy or rent.

During our previous realty search while in the service apartment we had exhausted all possible options and the chain of realtors. This search was no different. The same realtors, the same properties (yes they were all still in the market). The only difference was that the expectations of the owners had gone even higher. How can anyone sane increase the rent on their property which has been vacant in the market for over a year? But realty in Bangalore is neither sane nor is it for the sane. The same hole in the wall now rented for upwards of 90K. Both a 3000sft and a 2400sft property in the same community were expecting the same rent for a basic setup. All owners are waiting for this one "Expat" of an MNC to come and agree to the high rates. And while they wait the apartment / house can continue to stay empty even if it means couple of years of no rent.

Finally we have found a residence that meets most of our expectations. But this time we intend to be very proactive and plan to buy something that would be ready for us in the next 18 months to move into.

In all our experiences we now quickly realize that there is no such thing as a "reasonable place" in Bangalore. This is the "American dream in Bangalore" and all people returning to India should set appropriate expectations or rather no-expectations. Bangalore property rates are comparable to California properties. But you just don't get the same value. The only people who are benefiting from all this are the real estate agents. With increasing prices their fees @ 1 months rent or 1% of the sale value have given them a windfall over the last several years!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Return of the Maids - II

So you wonder where we are and how we are doing and wassup with us. It's been almost a year since we found a new base for our life. And time has gone by through several repeating sinusoidal (wave) curves of bliss, happiness, frustration, dismay, wonder, delight and of course humor. Humor has been key in keeping sanity through all.

Take for e.g. a recent crisis Where have the maids gone? In line with Indian traditions and conventions we know that life changes and so do maids. Its a given fact of life that one learns about much before the birds and the bees. So one fine day our domestic help is not a help anymore. Inefficiency and mounting work taking it's toll. Now this news in by itself does not warrant creating waves. But lo' behold - it is the biggest newsmaker in our building. So big that the news has traveled far and wide across mountains and seas to Mumbai, Seattle, Detroit and Vietnam (where my manager is but that's another story). Everyone has been asking us (Sima) on the status of the disappearance. Telling us not to worry as they will return. We were sure they won't this being the second time around. Now we have been used to helpless life in the US for the past 12 years (I meant domestic help-less). So it shouldn't be such a big deal, but it is. In India when your help is no more you call out the alarms and bring in the reserves. So we got a couple of reserves (two external and one internal - Me) for a day or so. Of course we are very efficient at domestic chores - one of the takeaways from America. Still, in India it is somewhat different and difficult as you get used to the "Saheb" life. Don't know how Sima managed to coordinate chores, kids activities and her work (true multi-tasking at it's peak) and keep a sanity. It is such a delight to see all the concern and help people provide in times of such labor crisis (thank you everyone). Suffice it to say that the issue was resolved in person by a very determined Sima and the original maids are back on duty from tomorrow. Lesson learned for all. Certain inefficiencies are inevitable for greater good. Though we will continue to try and propagate the good values learned.

Well this is just one of the myriad experiences we have encountered. And yes "encounter" is the right word. In the "emerging market's" world all experiences have to be gripped by the horn and either it rattles you or you rattle it. There is no other highway.

Speaking of highway remember the work on SE 8th that began just after we all moved into the sacred sammamish city? Well we have our own big dig going on here now right outside our building. Funny part is that one-fine day the BMC corporation decided the roads were bad and just began to dig furiously, without notifying anyone, and without creating a diversion route. The only way out was through the village in the back with roads that are 10" wide with retail encroachments on both sides. It's a wonder how trucks and cars and the variety of transport choices from all types of legs to all counts of wheels plied in both direction without a scratch. In one situation we were desperately trying to reach the airport (normally 15min away but this time it looked like we would miss our flight). As usual there was an uncoordinated jam at the village cross-roads. So finally our hero (me) decide to pitch in as a traffic cop. But soon as I see the mess I am completely flummoxed at how to manage the dump truck, the BMTC bus and the 100 other vehicles in a grid-lock through the narrow channel. Me returns and another blessed soul gets out of his car, replaces me and successfully is able to now coordinate the traffic slowly. Catch is that his car is now the blocker. So our driver gets out and takes his keys (he has no clue who our driver is) and drives his car out of the mess. That leaves me to drive our car out of the mess. A couple of lanes away we both park our car while my driver runs back, returns the keys to the soulful traffic volunteer and runs back and takes over the helms. We reach the airport 20min before departure and make it through. Whew! So anyway back to the big dig. Its getting bigger and longer. We are now covered on both sides by it's size (Help!). Now comes the water pipe leak. Everything is muddy and wet now. Cars and Autos are skidding on the red deccan soil. At the mouth of the big dig we see a container (aka truck) full of soil tipped over 45 degrees. Looks like the axle is broke. Another truck is backed up behind it as some laborers are manually transferring the dirt from one truck to the other. A couple of days later another truck sees the same fate (they don’t learn). And a couple of days later the BMC guy comes to take a look at the leak (someone’s calls were finally answered). Well that is fixed but now the monsoons are beginning in B'lore and so the life for the next couple of months is going to be negotiating wet red deccan earth!

In all this sanity is found in seeing the humor and whiling the lazy sundays at the pool at Grand Ashok with it’s lavish brunch spread and Champagne. Eat, Drink, Swim and cool-off from the rising heat. Jump and get wet in the warm evening showers as the warm rain comes down to cool the parched earth. The unabated thunder and lightning which scares Ishika provide flash glimpses of the city at night. The red moon that provides a picturesque setting over the horizon. And the sounds of the maids working the dishes after you are done with a satisfying meal - true domestic help.

As you can see life is never dull here. It is true when they say movies are a reflection of life. Bollywood and Ekta Kapoor have a wealth of stories right here.
  • "Kkamla bai Kkamwali",
  • "Khod - ek prem kahanee",
  • "Saas, bahuu or naukar"!
Enough dullness for now. Life's calling! Live and Learn.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To Buy or Not to Buy

"Buy and Consume or Buy and Store", two different thoughts, two different lifestyles, two different countries, too different. This is the thought we grapple with as we move into our newly leasedom (a concoction of a leased kingdom). We nurture this thought as we realized the scarcity of storage space in our new apartment and trying to match it with the large quantity of our belongings that we so lovingly brought along with us to India. How easily we have adjusted to the buy and store Costco philosophy that it is taking time to adjust to the new mantra of buying only what we need and when we need more then go out and buy some more (more like call and have some more delivered at the doorstep but we are not one to gloat on that). Let's see if we are able to adjust our lifestyle to this thought.

It's been a while since I emlogged (this is not a web log but an email log). A lot has happened since. Some good & nice and then a lot not so encouraging and downright frustrating. Yet we are surviving. Yes not a day goes by without us thinking if this was the right move. And I think we will keep feeling this way at least for some time. But we have committed ourselves to creating a space for us here. Maybe someday we will create another space somewhere else. Still we are more wiser on account of this experience. Fatter too as I have put on some weight. And a little more lighter on the pocket as we go on a buying spree to help create a space for us that we can live in comfortably.

So what say you makes us wiser? Wiser as in now we know to purchase electric brackets when we buy an A/C, to make sure the apartment/house has all the wiring complete before moving in, to make sure the electrician, the cable guy, the phone tech and also the house cleaning people are all taking to each other in a language that we don't understand and coming to a resolution in delivering to us a working phone, tv, internet, electricity, toilets, geysers in a clean manner.

Sima keeps on asking me to bear the inefficiencies here but sometimes I am on a vigilante mode and the people in front of me (literally) have to move out the way. This is the advantage of driving a big car. When the going lane gets tough and filled with the oncoming traffic, I have fun in standing my ground and forcing the oncoming traffic infractionists (what else do I call them) back into their lane. Honking and blinking away to glory while I do this. Of course little do I realize that on passing me the situation behind me is no better than before. Sometimes even worse as traffic behind is honking me to get my tough hide going.

The other day (first day of the move) we sat on our leather sofa that has so much accentuated that flat we are in that I think the LESSOR might now charge a higher rent all because of our furniture. So we were on our sofa and for the littlest time of rest we took we took in the blue sky with red clouds reflecting the setting sun and the perfectly crescent moon right in the middle of our picture window. Wow! we said. And then there was the heavy downpour of warm hard tropical rain beating outside on the terrace and balcony as we stood near the door with freshly brewed tea in our own brown mugs from Seattle. Ahh! It's good to have your loving belongings. Finally! Despite feeling that we brought a lot of stuff, we really are enjoying the feeling of familiar comfort from an environment we have left behind. Yet we long for the familiar comfort of the friendships that we have physically left behind as well.

Today we get a call from our bank thanking us for our patronship and as a premier customer reward giving us tickets for a Comedy Theater show that has TV stars acting in it. Prior to this we went to a Shobha Mudgal concert. Again a free event. Further this week is a week long Bangalore Octoberfest. No not as in the beer fest but a theater fest. Last night we went to the "Beach" to have goan food. Before that we went to "Inch" for some TexMex and before that... well the list can go on and I am not the one to bore you or gloat over it. The point is that we were watching the movie "Flavors" about American Desis jogging in the middle of the road in a pristine neighborhood that looks like paradise and then when we look outside at the bustling crowded unclean road and noisy activity outside with people dodging trucks in the middle of the road that we feel that we were in a dream and that we have now woken up and for us it feels good to be awake. Yes there is misery here and maybe we are meant to be here to give us a chance to make a small impact in improving someone's lives.

"Wake up and smell the caffee Sir!"

As before I am ending my ramble on a positive note (in case you did not notice) but yet caution to ye all! linving in India is not all that it is made up to be and then again it is. Life here is just like a bollywood movie with experiences of extreme emotions!

Happy Dusshera

Chintan

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Saga Continues

Were Back!!!

The statement has more meanings than I can count on my fingers. It could mean that "we are back online and able to communicate with the world" or it could mean "we are back in India" or it could mean "we are moving back to seattle" (fat chance!!) or it could be that "we are finally out of our jet lag (99%) and feel like we are back in tune with the Sun & Moon and our inbuilt time machine is in sync with the night & day transitions". But certainly the three !!! do convey a sense of excitement (no not because I am now with Yahoo! and the ! at the end but I must say that I am getting used to typing ! atleast once every paragraph!).

So Bangalore beckons and Beckham has yet to deliver and the WI deliveries could not contain Dhoni and Dravid (being from Bangalore we close the circle and can be justified in saying that the world revolves around Bangalore! ;-). But world cup or cricket is not yet the focus of our lives. Bangalore, cooling with the rains and heating with the traffic feels familiar and yet new! Ishika and Tanaya have immediately take to their surroundings. Ishika is excited about her new school and friends including 2 stowaway imaginary friends from the US. She is taking bold new steps and I see a great sense of confidence around her as she is getting used to the culture and environment here. Tanaya is just born natural Indian (well actually naturally born US but you know what I mean) and is exploring India literally through her mouth! Mere desh ki Mitti...

Let's take stock of what's happening. Well the stock market is down but the confidence that this is just a correction and the future is strong is present everywhere. While the stocks are down real estate and interest rates are high and climbing. And the roads are very bumpy creating a mixed feeling of up and down.

Our biggest concern is in finding a good place to stay. I think it will take some time looking and strong decisions to not compromise. Having a good house is mandatory! and so is living close to the main areas! Still what is getting us through this concern is the knowledge that this is shortlived, and the service that we are getting morning-night (as Murtuza mentioned). I can see how desis put on weight once here! I need a trainer like Anil. I still have to get used to waiting till the driver opens my door before getting out. My humble nature does not allow me to take advantage of such bourgeois services and I always beat my driver to the door!

But I shedded some big weight last week. Went to a upscale salon in the mall and sat on an armchair for a haircut with full service shampoo before and after including a hair/head massage. I felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders (literally ;-).

OK then I will take a break and mention our contact numbers for everyone's benefit. Sima finally has her phone and an internet connection. So we all are now connected to the world. We also bought new mobile phones Sima has a Moto SLVR L7 and I have a Sony K750i.

Till our next encounter of the 1st kind

Chintan the RFNIO (resident foreign national of indian origin) NRA (Non-resident American)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Continued Coverage from Bangalore

Hello all,

In case you were wondering I am still alive and kicking in this city and my spirits are still high. Certainly I did not know what to expect when I arrived here and that I think has helped in adjusting to the lifestyle here so far. So the message to all moving and considering moving to India "Come with no expectations and ye shall not regret".

But I do miss Seattle now! Someone remarked when they found out I was from Seattle "But isn't that such a beautiful city, why did you decide to come here?" It did make me remember all the lovely summers spent in Seattle, camping, picknicking, travelling around the state and just simply many a times the commute back home in the evening under bright daylight with the vast expanse of W.Lake Sammamish and beyond from 520, or the views of Seattle from the floating bridge, and the spectacular downtown view from the ferry with an orange Rainier hovering over the city like a Magic Majestic Mountain. Wow! I certainly miss Seattle.

I was thinking about this as I was waiting to cross the busy street at the signal when the crossing sign turned green and a familiar chirp was heard above me. Wow! Bangalore lights have support for blind people crossing the streets! I looked up and I saw a real bird chirping high above on the banyan tree nearby not an electronic one. So much for a equal opportunity traffic system. And don't get me started on traffic. I think that if only the concept of a stop sign was embraced in India the traffic would be so much smooth and efficient. No hopes of that happening anytime soon. Here it is everybody for him/her self. The name of the game is get as far ahead as you can. Don't worry about the others. If they can they will do the same. If you tell someone that they cut in line while you have been waiting for a while they will grudgingly say "OK man, you can go ahead I don't mind yaar" and you will feel like they obliged you by this benevolent act of theirs.

But that's India. That's the spirit. If you need to get things done demand it. If you can't have it one way try and find another. Be persistent and you shall succeed! And many a times people will help you find a way out (as long as it is not threatening theirs :-)

So it rained the other day for an hour. I was sitting on the sofa in the evening and reading when I heard a loud drumming sound like a machine saw. It went on for a while and I was thinking what the hell are they doing? But I was getting used to the noise when I realized that this isn't a machine saw but hard rain on the aluminium roof shingles. In a couple of minutes the tiny road was jammed with cars, trucks, cows, dogs, cycles and of course constant honking from all of them. Not one minute goes without a car honk and one wonders if all this honking is really necessary. But I feel the car honking is just a reaction very much like getting in a heated argument at the drop of a hat. The other day my car driver got into one (obviously he was in the wrong) with a motorcycle guy who complained that the car almost ran over his leg. The driver let forth a few of the choicest abuses as if it is his right to get as close as possible to get ahead. I had to tell him to stop yelling and continue on.

But I have been driving around a lot in the city and have a fair idea of distances and times. Exploring some areas for schools and homes. It's been hard to get a good combination so we will have to continue to work on it when we all move here. But prices are shooting off the roof. And sellers/renters are demanding a premium price just because they can. If only buyers/rentees stood their ground then the price rise can be contained. Still with the expansion planned and some road infrastructures planned to complete in the near future for improving the flow there seems to be good amount of growth still left in the city.

And there is a lot of life and energy. I saw a sign for Sunday Music Jam every month in the palace grounds. Bangalore is a good place for music artists. Also there are lot of other activities for kids through adults and older. There are also Karate classes, urban yoga wear shops, kids model hunt, indian idol shows and other fashion shows (I haven't been to any though ;-). Also "sleeveless sarsa" is quite funny on Radio Mirchi. "Chi Ganda" is her quote on the DJ. Also there are decent places to eat. Not as good as Mumbai / Delhi but good enough. I had pani puri and sev puri and gobi manchurian at the "chaat corner". The Pani Puri guy was the authentic one with the thela (not a sanitized version) and hands dipped in the masala. I had dosai, vadai for breakfast at Yahoo!, frankie for lunch, really good paneer tikka at Geoffreys (a bar) and good buffet at "Roomali with a view". So guys I have been eating well. A little too skip a meal (not used to so much food during the day).

Anyways it's getting late so I should stop. I am eager to come back! It's been long 3 weeks and it's going to be hectic for the next 2-3 months for us.

Hope everything is well in Seattle and I will bring some Mithai with me. If anyone needs anything else please send me an email asap so that I can get it.

So as you say bye in Kannada

"Bye"

Chintan

Monday, May 1, 2006

Hello from Bangalore

Thought I would drop you all a line from my new email address which is . It's been a week here for me in the "garden city" (or should I say "pub city") and I have been getting settled in both with work and trying to make head or tail (or rather north/south) of the city. So far I have had both good and the usual experiences (I won't say bad since this is what we really expect to face). The work place is very nice in the downtown center of the city where all the pubs are also located (and no I haven't been to one yet during office hours :-). The people are all good to work with as well.

The first thing I decided to do was to get a cell phone. Thinking I will get a pre-paid SIM card I went to a store to get one. But they refused to get me one without proof of a local residence address. Apparently there was a Govt. circular last week making this mandatory. Wow! We are actually following government guidelines to the T. I am both glad and slightly miffed with this. No longer you can get things done quickly with a wink and slap, but I am glad that we Indians are following the rules (not on the roads though). So it took me 5 days to get a cell phone that I can now use anywhere in the world to call anywhere in the world. It really feels good to be connected again.

Now I am looking at schools for Ishika and flats for us. Again I do have to deal with the usual "call u in 5 minutes sir" and waiting for 2 hours before I call back. But that's India so I am getting used to it and where ever possible trying to push a need for efficiency. But all in all work is very exciting. In fact couple people I met we were discussing how professional growth in India is at a far rapid pace than in the US. You really get to experience a larger side of the business aspects than I did in the specialized jobs in the US. This is really challenging and motivating.

I still have to explore the city. Being late spring, early summer the Gulmohar trees are in full bloom and they are a beautiful sight (I havent' seen these trees for don't know how many years). But it is a good sight distraction from the increasing traffic and noise. Like I had been warned either the traffic is terrible or the roads are completely broken down in several places and the average speed would drop down to 7-8 kph. But apart from this there seems to be a lot to do in the city. I did try to go to a pub here. But apparently (again due to Govt regulations) they close down at 11pm sharp. I think maybe next time I will try to go earlier.

Anyways thought I would drop you all a line but it turned into several paras. Still I am quite charged though I do miss you all here and can't wait for Sima and the kids to be here. There is a lot of excitement in this city and so many companies that it is truly a globalized center (as mentioned in the world is flat book). Certainly lot of opportunities and especially many interesting people to meet. I have already started networking. I will continue to give report of the city and my experiences in coming emails.

OK Then Au Revoir (I think as the Kotharis would say in French) or as we say in India Phir Milenge

Signing off

Chintan