Tuesday, October 30, 2007

End of the Travesty

So, part three of the triple tragedy with Travisa sees a happy ending to the saga... but not without complications, of course. We checked online this morning to get our 'status update' and were surprised to learn that while my visa was approved at 10am, Tom's was not yet, which was a little odd as mine is contingent on his being granted and was supposed to take three to five days .... fast forward two hours, when we are even more surprised to see that according to the online status, Tom has collected his in person, despite being in New Jersey, an hour and a half's drive away! After a long boring repetitive phone call, someone at the Travesty office advised us that it was indeed a mistake and that we could collect our visa's in person any time that afternoon.... and we did! Shockingly, they were ready, albeit three days after the promised deadline, but allowing us enough time to go and grab a glass of fizz at the Waldorf before Tom headed off for his flight. One member of staff, who told us he was a 'contractor' conceded that the system might not be in business long.... my only hope is that this happens before we have to renew our visa again in 12 months!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Celebrity Sightings

So, it's normal when I get to the first world to have a few celebrity sightings... this week was no exception, with the mixed bag comprising the very good looking Matt Dillon on 81st and Columbus, the elegant Ivana Trump and young buck boyfriend outside their Park Avenue place, and jogging through Central Park, the taller than expected Hank Azaria, former husband of Helen Hunt and one time love interest of Phoebe on Friends. You just don't get this in Bangalore!

No Visa, No Clue... Many Worries!

As an addendum to my Friday post, we still have no visa! We waited until 8pm (the office is supposed to close at 6pm...) while another two or three suitcases of passports were transported (by cab) from the Indian Embassy to the offices of Useless & Useless, Inc. Tom's was not among them, despite having a delivery date of Friday and his receipt. "Oh, that's not guaranteed," advised one apathetic employee. Great! His suggestion? "Come back Monday... I'll do you a favor, speed it up..." How?? I'm not sure what he did other than mumble and shuffle off with our receipt. He couldn't care less as I demanded to know what time, what we could do to expedite further, whether we should go to the Embassy ourselves, or the fact that we had a flight on Monday! The chaos in the office was palpable. Plastic buckets alphabetized and passports slung into them; bundles of passports grabbed willy-nilly from who knows where, waiting for who knows what; the seemingly helpless attitude of the staff... I have to go back later in the week to collect mine... and live through this mini-hell all over again. My big concern is that if neither visa is process, and we need to get our passports back, how will they find them? My urge to leap over the counter and search through the chaos myself may not be containable!! The system - I use the term loosely - started on October 1st; it will be interesting to see if it lasts without imploding until November 1st.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Travesty of Travisa...

So, Tom and I are sitting on a Friday evening in the 'outsourced' Indian visa office, run by TRAVISA, waiting to pick up his passport, along with about 50 other folk all in the same boat. And the police are here. Tempers have frayed as the pick up time for passports is 4.30pm to 6pm, but it's now 7pm and we're still waiting for some to be sent back from the Embassy! Despite getting here on time, the 'suitcase' of passports didn't arrive til 5.30pm and at 6pm, desperate staff just started shouting out names on the passports that arrived, and people stepped forward to pick them up. Those that weren't there, got on line, and waited and waited for more to arrive. During this, there was a scuffle and allegedly some woman was manhandled in the office and flung out on the floor! Crazy! Then there are the line cutters - typical Indian style is not really to queue, but we're in New York City my friends, so I joined in the tirade to get the offenders to the back of the line... While things in India do take some time, and processing paperwork can be slow, I'll be the first to admit that the old visa system in New York worked a treat - drop off at 9am at the Indian Embassy, take a walk round Central Park, grab a coffee, and pick up at 12:30pm. No problems. It would seem that India is a victim of its own outsourcing success, but maybe the problem is that they outsourced this operation to Americans, instead of their own citizens!

Monday, October 15, 2007

AOL... Rhymes with HELL!

Ok, so I would consider this more of a rant than a posting, or even a cry for help; either way, after two hours on the phone last night to AOL I feel like doing both the afore mentioned, as well as chugging a whole bottle of wine. I feel I have inflicted this pain on myself, but a few weeks ago I decided to route my personal email at my personal domain through AOL and their "My Eaddress" system. It's really simple, just bring your domain name to the "My Eaddress" site, then add your email address, change the settings on your domain, and BINGO, your email can be picked up on the AOL site. It all started out well, but was never 100%, so I decided to cut out the middle man and just pick up my emails at my domain server. THAT's where it all went horribly wrong... I have no idea how many emails are reaching me or not, but the ones from my husband and mom keep getting bounce backs from, of all places, the AOL postmaster.... And to boot, I cannot email my personal domain email from my real AOL screen name, as it is treating it as an AOL screen name, and says it's not recognized (that's correct, as I've stopped routing it through there). Long story medium length, I cannot delete the screen name from AOL, have no idea why some emails come straight to my domain perfectly while others take the AOL route. After three days of trying to find the right telephone number that could bypass the ridiculous recorded message 'help' at AOL, I spent two hours last night in a loop of hell talking to all manner of people, each of whom referred me to another division, who then referred me back to where I began, where I can quite honestly say I lost the plot! My favourite quotes in all of this were a tech guy who told me that waiting 10 minutes to get through to him was nothing; he's spent hours waiting to get through to other customer service hotlines! And the woman in customer service, who couldn't even find the "My Eaddress" service I was referring to, despite it being a much-heralded AOL offering! Hilarious (after the fact...) All (I think) I want them to do is delete all reference to my domain name from their system, and delete the 'screen name' which is not a screen name, but is my own personal email. So, where I am now, other than in interminable email hell? They figured out how to file a complaint, gave me a reference number, and told me to wait 24-72 hours... We will see! If anyone has a glimmer of insight into all of this, or just wants to rant along the same lines, please do post a comment. They cannot be any more UNhelpful than the help desk staff I encountered last night!!!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Beaming Bag Lady

So, the society pages in Bangalore are clearly hard up for pix when I get in yet again, this time on the 'What's Haute' section of the inaugural issue of 'The Bengaluru Pages.' I would have been happy to have been described as '... beaming...' had it not been for the feature's headline: Bangalore's Bag Ladies!!! Not sure it has the same meaning in India as in the US!

All Meat and No Veg

It's a Monday morning water-cooler question: What did you do at the weekend? Well, I'm pretty sure there's not too many responses like: Oh, I watched not one but two horses get castrated! And all within earshot of a bunch of nine year old girls bouncing on a trampoline, clueless to the fact that within a few yards was a poor two-year old horsey who wouldn't be jumping anywhere for a little while to come. It was actually fascinating to watch and quite quick and blood free! (That said, I'm not a guy and didn't feel the need to stand cross-legged as I watched!) In fact, we've decided that were we called upon to perform this on anyone/thing, we'd be able to do it with minimal effort and fuss, just the requisite amount of sedative and anaesthesia, depending on the size of the victim! A couple of quick slices and snips and it was all over, the offending articles slung unceremoniously into a basket (think chicken in a basket, and nearly the same size!) After watching Anthony Bourdain eat a cobra's beating heart, a freshly killed uncooked seal, and a bull's penis, I'm sure there's a market for these things in a basket somewhere - just not in our house!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shop til you Pop

So, in the 'real world' shopping is one of my favourite things; I can spend 8 hours in ONE store (Nordstrom) and still not feel I've seen everything. I can go out for lunch and shell out $500 on a suit when I all I wanted was a sandwich. I'm good at it. But that was before... before Bangalore. Here, my shopping is confined to one or two stores: Anokhi, which is great for casual khurta, pj's, and the odd shirt for hubby; Cinnamon, an upscale store with clothes, accessories, and nick-nacks; and Grasshopper, the restaurant/boutique which is always great for a $100 bag purchase after you've had a few drinks, or a $300 jacket if you've had a few more drinks. The excitement of shopping in Bangalore is really confined to one place: supermarkets. And moreover, finding that great western item you'd forgotten existed and that costs you probably 10 times that of its western price. Today I revisited the imaginatively titled 'Supermarket' which is, in fact, no more than a small corner store in a very dodgy looking 'mall' on Brigade Road. The joy of 'Supermarket' is its ability to sucker you in to spending not just $20 on superfluous items, but nearer $80 on such items, which will fill less than two carrier bag loads. I give you some examples to today's splurge and you'll see what I mean: one can of Pledge furniture polish $7 - it's unheard of in India, so I can't wait to show the maid what to do with it; $4.50 for a box of Oxo stock cubes - saves me carrying them from England, although they weigh virtually nothing; $7 for a can of Pam cooking spray - there is no equivalent here, unless you want to add clarified butter to everything; a bottle of chocolate milk - my favourite hangover cure, a bargain at $4; and today's favourite, the last remaining three bottles of Starbucks coffee drinks - $11 for the lot - with a very short shelf life. My friend asked recently, "so, do you travel abroad and fill up your suitcases with this stuff?" Yes, came the reply. They do the dirty work, so you don't have to. But at the prices they charge, maybe I could just buy a round trip ticket home?