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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.