Monday, July 27, 2009

Duplicate keys

I needed some duplicate keys for my door. In case something happens, I get locked out again, or for visitors who come to stay for a few days.
There are several different locks on the main entrance of my apartment, keys to each of which are necessary to get in.
So I went to a locksmith. Locksmiths usually just have a stand somewhere out on the street near a market.

The first one I visited was set up near a public toilet--how do they stand that smell all day!--and he had hundreds of possibilities for key duplicates and even advertised "digitized" key duplication. But that machine was broken.
So he said.
It was an interesting process to watch. (But very difficult to stand next to that public toilet for twenty minutes.) He used his metal files and a very dangerous looking blade from which he removed the protective shield and I soon had duplicate keys for two of the locks. But he told me the last key was too difficult and it wasn't lining up right; he couldn't make it.

The next locksmith I visited told me the keys for the third lock were not difficult, but they were precise and it was a lot of work. He would make keys for me right then in ten minutes and I would have to try them out. If they didn't work, he said he would have to go and see the lock and work on them some more. He was very thorough in explaining the process to me. In Hindi, which I tried my best to follow.
The keys he made didn't work.

The next day I went back to the market to find him. His "location" is just a place on the sidewalk up against the wall where he spreads a mat and lays out his tools. The mat and a pile of keys were there, but the man and his tools were missing.
"Where's the locksmith?" I asked the toothless barber nearby.
"He's gone."
"Yes. Do you know when he'll be back?"
"Did he go to lunch?"
"He has taken his things and gone."
Okay then.
I went to the stationary store and returned twenty minutes later. The barber, a man getting a shave and one spectator all told me the locksmith was gone.
I went to a coffee shop, drank a blackberry smoothie and returned after another twenty minutes. The barber and two other men said there was no locksmith.
"But here," he pointed to a kid walking by, "Give your name and contact to this boy and he will tell the locksmith."
"For sure? He will?"
"Very sure."
I gave the kid my name and number on a ripped off piece of my receipt from the stationary store and went into the grocery store. I returned again in another fifteen minutes.
"You are here," said the barber's friend.
"Yes, and the locksmith is not."
"You have given your contact to the boy?" asked the barber.
"I did."
"Then," he waved his hand in the air and put his head to the side to say 'it is taken care of'.
"For sure?"
"Very sure," again with the hand and the head.
"Good. We will see."
I went home.

The key man did not call me the next day and I went back to look for him on his mat at the market. This time, there he sat. (No barbers or other loiterers in sight.)
"So, what happened?" asked the locksmith.
"The keys don't work."
"The keys don't work?"
"Nehi, ji."
"Do they work a little bit and go into the lock?"
"Nehi, ji."
"So they don't work?"
"Nehi, ji."
"Then I have to come to see the lock. Tomorrow I will come. This is your contact?" he pulled out the little piece of paper I'd given to the boy the day before.
"Yes. Do you have a mobile number?"
He gave me his number and said he would come the next day at 10am.

The next day at 12:30, the locksmith showed up.
"Here is the lock," he said looking at the door.
"Yes, ji," I handed him the keys that didn't work.
He oiled the lock, filed the keys for a few minutes then said he needed to take them somewhere else to work on them. He'd be back in an hour.

In four hours he returned.
"These keys are a lot work," he said. "They are imported."
On both the original key and the lock it clearly said: made in India. "They are difficult," I said.
This time he pulled out his file and worked for forty-five minutes or so. He had the keys almost working, but there was something not quite right about them.
"Look," he said, "They are almost right."
"I see."
"I need one other tool for this. I will have to go where they have this tool. I will take the keys and come back tomorrow. This is fine?"
Why not? What am I going to do with two keys that don't open anything? "Fine, ji. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow what time?"
"Early. 11 o'clock."
"Okay, very good."

Two days later, he came in the afternoon.
"Where is it?" he held out his hand.
Thinking he meant the duplicates, I said, "You have them."
"No, it is with you."
Oh, the original key. "One second."
He got to work filing and pounding with his hammer. For a very "precise" key, it seemed like a rough process.
An hour later both duplicates would open the door and the locksmith was feeling confident enough to lock himself out and try them.
Nope. He rang the doorbell and I let him back in.
More pounding.
And finally: working keys! He packed up his tools, sat on his tool box and told me to try them out. It takes a little bit of a special touch, but they do work.

So now I know that key duplicating is an eight day job.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tightrope walking girl

There was a crowd gathered in the street and I could hear a drum beating. Then above the crowd I spotted a little girl in red walking across a tightrope. I tried to grab a few pictures as my auto slowly passed.

It was a homemade rope and stick set up that she first had to climb up onto. The drum beating changed from "Hey this is exciting, come see!" to a more dramatic "Can she do it? Will she fall?" sound as she began to make her way across the rope. The crowd was loving it.

Maybe that's her look of concentration, but she doesn't look very happy.
I always find it sad to see these acrobat street children. What must their lives be like?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bird Pro Solution

I have a pigeon problem.
Apparently since this apartment was unlived in for six years, or so, the birds, chipmunks and other creatures felt welcome to move in. They've been trying to keep their home for the last few months, despite my discouragement and eviction notices.

I especially dislike pigeons. The rats of birds.

When I had an exterminator come to get rid of the cockroaches, ants, silverfish and termites that had been eating away at the apartment for those many years, I noticed in the brochure he gave me that his company also offered the Bird Pro Solution.
"What does this do? You have this service?" I asked.
"You have problem with pigeon?"
No, pigeons. "Yes, I do."
"Show me."
So I showed the exterminator man my "problem" areas: the back balcony where they like the pipes and railing, the top of the window A/C, the front balcony railings and ledges.
"Bird Pro Solution does not kill pigeon, ma'am," said the exterminator man. "It makes him unsatisfied with roosting and he goes to new perch."
"Okay." Sounds good enough to me.
"It does not kill pigeon. It is spikes we put so when pigeon sit, he is not satisfied and he flies away."
"I see."
"You want this service, ma'am?"
I must have seemed too eager to be rid of the pigeons because he told me yet again that the service does not kill the pigeon but takes away his roosting place.
"Yes, I understand. He will still be alive to live somewhere else."
"I will have to give you a call back about the Bird Pro Solution."
"Okay, very good. How long? When will you call?"
"Two or three days, ma'am."
"Two or three days? So Friday?"
"Yes, ma'am."

A week later I called the exterminator man and asked if he remembered about my pigeon problem.
"Your problem is a very difficult one, ma'am," he said. "I need to talk it over with the supervisor. I will give you a call back in two or three days."
"Two or three days?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Okay then. Thank you."

Another week and I called him again.
"Yes, ma'am, I have been very busy. Another two or three days and I will call."

Another week--or maybe two, I loose track there were so many calls.
"Two or three days, ma'am."

One week when I called, Mr. Exterminator man apologized because he was out of station and wouldn't be able to call back until the next week.

But then, hey, he did. He called. It only took five weeks.
"You are still interested in the Bird Pro Solution, ma'am?"
Haven't I called about it half a dozen times? "Yes."
"I will talk with my supervisor and call you in two or three days."
Right. That again. "Okay, very good."

The next day he called back. "You are present in your home on Monday?"
"On Monday? Yes. Which time?"
"3:30? Yes, I will be here at 3:30."
"On Monday 3:30 to 4 o'clock, we will come for appointment."

At 4:30 on Monday, the exterminator man brought over the Bird Pro man. We reviewed the problem areas. Yes, my pigeon problem was a difficult one. Difficult because four storeys above the street makes for dangerous working conditions and the grills over the windows make installation of spikes more complicated.
They needed to talk it over some more with the supervisor.

The next afternoon they called: "You are present in your home?"
"Yes, I am here."
"In ten, fifteen minutes we can come with supervisor to review your problem?"
"Ten, fifteen minutes."
Three men surveyed the problem areas and decided on solutions. First the Bird Pro man explained them all to me in Hindi, then the supervisor explained in English.
Exterminator man then said they'd email me a quote for their service in my situation in two to three days.
"Today is Tuesday, so that means Friday?"
"Yes, it will be sent by email."
"Okay. Thank you."

I thought about calling on Thursday because I had a pigeon incident.
I was walking around the living room with my mosquito-zapper racket killing flies when a pigeon actually flew in and ran into the refrigerator. It broke its leg and injured its wing. It lay there in a disgusting-looking heap of mangled bird.
I had that racket in my hand.
But no, I didn't zap the bird. I turned the racket off and used it to shoo the pigeon back out the door. Then I watched it fly into the neighbor's house across the street. Ayah.

I didn't call, but I waited and, sure enough, I had an email Friday morning from the Bird Pro man with my quote and contract details. It said I could call him with questions, so I did.
I wanted to know how soon this service could be put in action.
He said he would come over the next day at 11:30am to confirm the contract.

He came around 12:30pm and wanted to once more review all the problem areas. Then he called his supervisor who also wanted to come over and review.
Finally we filled out the contract and made an appointment for the installation next week.

This evening when I locked up, I didn't bother to shoo the pigeons off the back balcony.
Their days are numbered.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bricks on her head

The neighbors are adding two new storys to their building.
There is a woman working there whose job it is to bring the mason bricks and cement. She starts down at street level, loads the bricks up on her head and then carries them up four flights of stairs.
I'm so glad I don't have her job.

New fuses and good service

A fuse blew yesterday morning. I didn't notice it most of the day, but I did wonder why the refrigerator wasn't running. Then I realized none of the plugs along that wall were working.
I'd been dreading having to find an electrician. Because I knew that's what I would have to do find him, somewhere out there in the bazaar.
My fuse box was in terrible shape. Dangerous shape. I wasn't going to mess with it myself.

In the bazaar, I told the man at the first place where they sold light bulbs that I needed an electrician. He said he'd send one over, where did I live?
I also asked him if I could buy a stabilizer in this bazaar. No, that's in a different, bigger bazaar he said. Then he added that if I needed one, he'd arrange that for me.
Really? Cool.
He sent out a guy on a scooter to find me a stabilizer and said it would be delivered within the hour when the electrician brought it.
I think that's marvelous service.

Later the electrician showed up and, yup, he had the stabilizer for me. I told him about the fuse and showed him my box. He was actually excited about it. He made it all look very nice and neat.
Much less danger. Next time a fuse blows, maybe I can handle it myself. But if not, the electrician gave me his card.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oh the bureaucracy

There were some boxes of books sent to me via cargo service. On Wednesday a notice was delivered to me that seven boxes were waiting for me to come pick them up at the cargo import terminal. So I took a taxi, the notice and my passport to see about claiming them.
To get into the cargo terminal, you have to have a gate pass. That would be the first step of bureaucracy. The guard had to send me to a small office beside the gate where a guy printed up my name, passport number and the airway bill number for the boxes, and then I was allowed in with my taxi.
The cargo terminal is several big buildings for, well, cargo. And no where did anything look like an official claim-your-cargo-here area. It all looked like loading and docking and such. But there was a security guard who did not like that my taxi was idling in front of the buildings. He directed me to the Thai Cargo office.
I still had to ask two or three more people where the office was, before I found it. At the office I had to pay a delivery fee and sign and collect my first set of documents. The man behind the desk told me to take these documents to customer counter no. 1. He said it was just at the bottom of the stairs and to the right.
It was not at the bottom of the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was one of many loading areas and half a dozen men staring at me. Nothing anywhere nearby looked like customer counter no. 1. I searched around a bit and looked lost enough that someone finally directed me to the next building where there was another loading area to walk through before I got to the air conditioned waiting area and counter no. 1. Where there was no one. The light was even off.
So I went to counter no. 2 and asked where the counter no. 1 man was. And then he appeared. Which the counter no. 2 man thought was funny because he could just point and say, "He's right there."
Counter no. 1 man gave me a form to fill out, half of which I didn't understand because it was abbreviations asking for my AWBs and MWBs and AMWBs. Huh? I returned to counter no. 1 man and he helped me. Then charged me 66rs and told me to wait while he processed everything.
It was while I was sitting and waiting that I first noticed the Flow Chart For Clearance of Unaccompanied Baggage. The man in the picture appears to be laughing, but assure you, it is not funny. There were fifteen stages and some of it I just couldn't follow. The suptd. was going to do what?
My papers were processed and I was allowed to go to counter no. 2 where the man stamped something and gave me a new stack of papers to hang onto. He said my next stop was the help desk which I would find by going out of the office and turning left to find the man with heavy glasses.
When I went to turn left it was another one of those loading areas with security guards and it didn't look like a place I was allowed to go. But when I asked the security guard he pointed and, sure enough, there was the help desk inside. No man with glasses, though. No glasses on any of the four men who were all determined to see my documents.
I had to sign one of them and the men directed me to a row of chairs along the wall: waiting area 2. I perched on the edge of the cleanest chair I could find in the hot warehouse.
Waiting area 2 was the inspection area. All the suitcases and boxes were brought out, opened and their contents were examined by Madame Ji, the customs inspector lady. There were a dozen khaki-shirted men who had to open the boxes and reseal them when she was finished, but she was the one who had to see inside.
I sat there waiting for a long time for my boxes to come. It was hot. Other people were coming, had their luggage brought out and then they left again. I was still sitting there. After about fort-five minutes I went back to the help desk where now there sat a man with glasses. "Where are my boxes?" I asked him. He looked at my documents and said, "Oh, madame, your boxes are in the last building. This will take much time. They will come."
I got to observe the system at work, though. First the boxes and suitcases come. They are opened and inspected. Then they are resealed with straps and tape and man with a bucket of hot wax comes around to put a stamp on them all. Finally they're taken away again.
There were two very large boxes brought out. I didn't know how big my seven boxes were going to be, so I was glad there were only two this large size and they could not be the seven I was expecting. I would've needed more taxis.
It was ten minutes before the lunch break when my boxes finally appeared. Seven of them. Because I'd been waiting so long, Madame Inspector Ji made the other people wait while five boxes were opened and she looked at them. "Only books?" she asked.
She stopped the men from opening the last two and took my documents to put her approval stamp on them.
But now the security guard was waving everyone out of the building and I had to return to waiting area number 1 until after lunch. The air conditioned room. Good thing.
As I read the Flow Chart for Delivery of Unaccompanied Baggage again, I saw I'd made it as far as stage five. Ten more to go.
After lunch I was directed to a door near the inspection area with a 2 on it where Madame Inspector Ji had passed my documents on to a guy with a computer. Just as he was about to enter some information on the computer another guy rushed in and said, "She hasn't been to the DC yet." Where?
"DC customs office, ma'am. Next building over."
So I took my documents and went to find out what a DC was. The next building over was full of cages and people running around in them with packages and papers and much chaos. Nothing looked like an office. The security guard in the corner, though, said I had arrived and he pointed to a sign over the door he stood in front of. "Deputy Commissioner of Customs".
Wonderful. But he wouldn't let me in. The DC was doing some other work just now. How long would it be? He had no idea.
During the ten minutes or so that we waited, the area outside the office door filled up with men and documents all waiting to see the DC. They were getting pushy. But when the door was allowed to be opened, the security guard made all the men move out of the way and he let me go first. I appreciated that.
Seeing the DC, though, was the most ridiculous part of the whole day. I entered his cubicle office--an island of cleanliness and air conditioning in the gigantic, steamy warehouse and he told me to sit down. He barely glanced at my papers before saying, "You go," as he waved his hand at the door. Huh? That was it? He hadn't signed or stamped anything and he hadn't given me any new documents.
"I can go?" I asked.
"I will release your parcels."
"You will call someone?"
"I will enter it in the system."
"Oh. Very good. Thank you." And I went. How absurd.
Back to the other building and door number two. There the man with the computer asked me if I'd really seen the DC because he hadn't received any notification yet. Then he admitted maybe his computer was too old and slow.
But apparently the DC had sent the notice of parcel release to Madame Inspector Ji instead of man with the computer behind door number two. So I had to go back to her office window, smile at her while I waited for her to email the notification and then walk back to door number two where the man with the computer told me it was time to go to the bank. He gave my documents to one of the men in his office who led me to the bank to pay the customs fee.
The men in the bank were talking about the foreign lady who came to get boxes thinking I couldn't understand while the fee was processed. The banker handed me my change. "Ten rupees more, hm?" I said in Hindi.
Oh ha ha, my guide thought that was funny, "Ha ha, she knows what we said. Ha ha, she knows about the ten rupees. Ha ha ha." He led me back to door number 2. Then door number 3. I don't even know what happened in there, it was so fast. Signature? Stamp? But it was one more necessary step we couldn't skip.
Next was through the inspection area and in the back door to the waiting area number 1 and now I was right in the office of counter no. 2 guy. A/C--nice. Two signatures, one stamp.
On the way to the next stop, my guide was telling me all the remaining steps. Somewhere in there he said, "And then will come the part where they ask you for bakshish (bribe money)." Huh? He was telling me about it?
One more signature from Madame Inspector Ji, in and out of door 3 again, and back to the help desk. "Finished," said the guide.
"Finished? Everything?"
"Everything. Ha ha," he chuckled to the other men at the counter, "Madame ji speaks Hindi. She knows what we say."
Hilarious, yes.
I called the taxi driver and two of the warehouse men brought out my boxes to his car. He'd been waiting four hours. The warehouse men saw his car and asked would all the boxes fit? Sure, he said, they can go on the roof. Two fit in the trunk, four on the roof, and one in the back seat with me--we could have handled 2 or three more.
And we were off.
Almost. First a stop at the gas station. Which was a good idea because I needed some water.
Even though all the work was over, the drive home was the hardest part. It took two hours, most of it sitting in the traffic at stoplights. It was melting hot on the pavement.
As we rounded the corner into my neighborhood, the driver leaned out the window and told one of the cycle rickshaw drivers to get in his car, madame needed help with her boxes.
Good. Coolie taken care of.
The rickshaw guy carried all seven boxes of books up four flights of stairs for me. I gave him some water and some money; then I laid down on the sofa and took a nap.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Latest painting projects

My latest painting projects have been this stool, which came with the apartment and which all the handymen have used and abused. I was making it live outside. But now that I've painted it and it's clean, it can live in the house.
I also got a mailbox. The mailman just lays the mail on the bottom step of the building where anyone could take it. I hope that by putting the mailbox up, the bills and letters and packages will actually get to me. Mailboxes are not common things. And it was not easy to find one. This one was handmade out of stainless steal and needed painting. Maybe I should have made it red, a more standard mailbox color, but I wanted blue.

Another carpenter, another mess

I have invited another carpenter over. (Will it never end?)
He is hard at work making a mess. And making a new window to replace the rotted one the landlord's friend broke on my first day here.
I am chagrined at the sight of so much sawdust again. But also know that monsoon is coming and I have to be able to keep out the rain, and the birds.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Twenty-four hours activation

Today I woke up convinced that I needed to call a new internet company (since the other one hadn't worked out) and get one of those little usb dealies for internet.
I can't share that kind of internet with guests, that's why I haven't done it before now. But at this point of no-internet-for-a-week-and-a-half, who cares if I can share it or not. I need it.

I called the operator for the number and then called the company. The man on the phone said he'd send a guy in half an hour. It took an hour and a half for two guys to show up. They surprised me by being from the same internet company as the one that hadn't worked before. Thought I'd asked for a different company? Anyhow, it was service via a different medium. No satellites this time.
One of the guys whipped out his own usb dealy and had some trouble at first. While they were waiting, the second guy wanted to see my documents for filling out the service form. I told him I wanted to see the service first.
"No madame, no madame, problem nehi hai."
Then he wanted me to sign the papers. "Not until I see the service working."
He was rather shocked by that. And he tried again more hesitantly, "Sign here, ma'am?"
The other guy told him to let it go.
The connection did eventually start working. And then I was happy to almost sign.
They hadn't told me anything of the tariffs and I wanted to know how I could pay the bill and what to do when I was traveling and wouldn't use internet.
They weren't really very good at giving out information at all because when I said that I wanted to see my own usb dealy in action before I handed over the money, they both panicked and said, "24 hours before service activation, ma'am!"
"24 hours?" I groaned and displayed some drama by flopping onto the couch. "Then how can I give you any money?"
"Ma'am this is how much the modem costs."
"I understand that. But it doesn't work yet."
"In 24 hours, activation will happen."
"And then I can give you the money."
"No, ma'am. This does not work. The money is necessary to activate the service."
"Listen," I said, "I paid the money to have your company come here and put up the satellite. That did not work and now I have no service and no money. And I have waited four weeks for my refund. This," I held up the bills in my hand, "Is a lot of money to me."
As the bills hovered between us, the second guy's hand was just twitching to reach out and take them.
"Ma'am," said the first guy, "Broadband service is different from our service. It's a different department."
"I understand. I understand it has nothing to do with you. But I also understand that I have given money to people with promises and have nothing in return."
"This bill is for the modem."
"I know it is, and I will gladly give you the money for it when it works. I have no problem with that."
We went through the whole scenario again and this time when I ended my story and said it was a lot of money to me, the second man actually put his fingers around the bills still in my hand, but I did not let go.
"Where is your contact number for the broadband service?" asked the first guy.
While he was making some phone calls, the second guy tried again to get me to turn over the money. "Look," he said, pointing to the price, "We give a 400 rupee discount."
"That's very good. And when it works, that will be wonderful."
"Ma'am, only 24 hours activation time."
"Okay, and 24 hours' activation time for the money, too." I surprised myself by thinking up that one.
The first guy came back from making his phone calls. I knew that he would be unable to do anything and that I would eventually hand over the money, and so when he said his spiel again about the broadband being a different department, I asked if I could give him half the money.
"No ma'am, for the full service."
"But this is only half the service. It doesn't work yet."
"24 hours, ma'am. 100% working."
"Everyone says that. And I still have 0% service." I was loosing. So I tried another angle, "24 hours means what?" I looked at the clock, "12 o'clock tomorrow?"
"6pm tomorrow evening, ma'am."
"6pm! That's not 24 hours! That's 30 hours!" A little more sighing, a little more drama and I gave up. I handed over the money.
Tomorrow we will see.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Couch transformation

The landlord left a couch in the apartment. I agreed that it could stay only if I could have it re-upholstered. He said I could do whatever I wanted to it.
It was in terrible shape, flattened cushions and crusty material.
I had it fixed. It's condition could only be improved from what it was, and it sure is better now.
Watch the transformation from disgusting and ugly to green and able-to-be-sat-upon:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The spectacular helicopter?

Our taxi driver was supposed to take us to the mall. Along the way he pulled over to the side while we were on a flyover. This flyover was near to the air force property.
The driver thought it was a fantastic thing that from this view you could see one of the helicopters. A forty years' old one, he said, that people used to jump out of with parachutes. He thought it was great.
The rest of us were not convinced, but humored him.
The real "thrill" here was probably the adrenalin rush caused by stopping next to the dangerously close traffic and getting out of the car.
We risked our lives to see a helicopter?
Why not?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July

I went to the Fourth of July celebration at the embassy.
Interesting. American, yet still India.
For one thing, the very tall "Uncle Sam", was an Indian circus performer hired for the evening.
The marines brought out the flag and the national anthem was sung. There were fireworks and hamburgers (very odd for India) and apple pie and the very rare A&W root beer (wish there had been Dr.Pepper).
Something that could have been scheduled better were the fireworks that happened before dark and the picnic games that happened after dark.
There was a watermelon eating contest, three-legged races, pie eating contest, and tug of war. One of the tug-of-war battles was between the very few (seven) marines and several dozen children. The marines lost.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dye shop

I wanted to have some cloth dyed.
As I asked around the bazaar, my questions led to a tiny, steamy alley where several men stood around all these pots. They dunked in the cloth, wrung it out and dunked it in another pot, and perfectly matched the swatches they were given.
I don't know how they do that.