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I was chatting with my sister on her birthday a few days ago and she mentioned something about how our current apartment looks. It prompted me to snap and post a few photos of the place Cheng and I are calling home for now. We left the hotel-like place withing the first week of arriving in Hyderabad and found this little gem. Called Falcon’s Nest Serviced Apartments, we still get basic room cleaning and complimentary breakfast, but we’re also afforded much more privacy. It’s basically a one-bedroom apartment not much smaller than where I lived in Chicago. The bedroom runs parallel to the living/kitchen area, so I stood in the doorway between the 2 rooms to get most of these pics.

Cheng often has video conference meetings in the evenings because we are 10.5 hours ahead of Austin, so we arranged the desk in such a way that I’m not making guest appearances in the background.

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Facing the front door and “office”

Snazzy couch, yeah? There is also a supremely uncomfortable chair located just in front of where I’m standing, so the camera didn’t catch it. It works extremely well for holding my hat, purse and scarf as well as putting on shoes. The coffee table doubles as our dining table. I usually enjoy my tea and fried egg breakfast there.

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Living area and kitchen. TV on the wall to my right.

Probably my favorite part about this apartment over a hotel is the kitchen area. Even just having a sink and stovetop makes life incredible! I can make my own coffee in the morning and I probably cook dinner 3-4 times a week. Although, I’ve had to be extremely creative, having only these 2 gas burners and a few available pots.

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Kitchen

Our bed is really just 2 twin beds shoved together. Given that the mattresses are almost like sleeping on a pile of cardboard, the crack is virtually unnoticeable. To the right is the door to a tiny 2’x6′ balcony. We considered hanging a line out there to dry hand-washed clothes, but too many pigeons have already visibly laid claim to it.

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Bedroom and dressing area

We’ve had a couple thunderstorms so far and learned that balcony door doesn’t keep out water all that well. Turns out a squeegee and dustpan work pretty well for cleanup.

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Closet space outside the bathroom

Instead of invading the pigeon’s balcony territory, we use the line we hung for the shower curtain to also dry clothes.

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~8’x8′ bathroom with open shower

I love that we get plenty of hot and cold water in the shower! After a night soaking in vinegar, the showerhead has also reunited into a single stream for a most pleasant experience.

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Baby pigeon off the edge of our balcony

Disgusted by how dirty the “white” walls appeared when we first moved in, I spent hours scrubbing the entire place. Then I labeled all the mystery switches. This gang is outside the bathroom. The ones in the bedroom and living area have 2 rows of mystery switches.

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burning garbage in the neighborhood

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Guard dog that lives outside 1st floor apt.

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Sunset in our kitchen



Last weekend Cheng and I tried to wake up early. For whatever reason, the alarms on our phones are very unreliable. Sometimes it works fine, and other times it doesn’t sound, but still reads as a missed alarm. Anyway, when we finally rolled out of bed, we headed out to visit the Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tombs in the southwest areas of Hyderabad. Holy cow, I made the awful mistake of planning this visit the day after my first lower body gym workout. Squats and lunges galore. Luckily, the guide we hired had a bum hip and used a cane to walk, so he was only a bit quicker than me climbing all those stairs!

Some photos of the fort and our drive to it.

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We walked the ~1.5 km distance to visit the Qutb Shahi Tombs. Qutb is also spelled Qutub and is pronounced like this. Very few people seemed to visit this place and we just wanted to wander around and enjoy the solitude. A guide tried to latch himself onto us at the entrance, but all I really wanted to know was how to get to the toilet. He took that to mean he should walk ahead of us and circle back occasionally to point out a building with 1-2 words about it. Literally. Early on Cheng asked if he spoke English and he replied “Yes, Mam.” It took a while to shake him. Finally, we paid him a small portion of his charging rate just to go away. Here are a few photos of that visit.

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View more photos on Cheng’s Flickr page.



I’ve experienced a LOT of massages. As a believer in the healing properties of a good rub down I regularly schedule a massage back home, especially when I’m also consistently going to the gym and/or playing Ultimate Frisbee. Sometime last year I discovered Beijing Foot Massage on Burnet road. For a mere $40 they offer 80 minutes of foot, head, and back rejuvenation. Shirt off, pants on. Primarily pressing and kneading through a towel-blanket followed by a lotion rub.

 

IMG_3095A few years ago I enjoyed a handful of authentic Thai massages in Thailand. For ~$7 each I could have afforded one per day if I had the available time. Alas, I was only able to squeeze 4 in during the week we stayed in that country. Thai massages focus a lot on stretching and using pointed pressure along energy lines of the body (inner legs, arms, and spine.) Loose fitting clothes left on. Here’s a sketch I did after a particularly stretch-intensive session.

Then there was that couples massage Cheng and I got in Myanmar where the ladies walked on us, rubbed us down with herbal oils that reeked of Tiger Balm, and told us we shouldn’t shower for 5 days. Um, we lasted about 2 hours. Clothes on (even with the oil.)

Yesterday I decided to ask for a massage at the gym I recently joined. For about the equivalent of $11 it was worth trying at least once. I’m not sure if this experience is typical for all massages in India, but it is definitely worth sharing!

*Warning: the following is rated R for language and graphic descriptions of nudity.

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No, this wasn’t some sort of torture table. It actually seemed quite beautiful in person. up close. nose-touchingly close. First off, notice the lack of towel or sheet. Just me and the oil on this baby (with 2 thin mats thrown in for “comfort!”) I was told to take off all my clothes except for my undies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly comfortable stripping down to the buck, then climbing under a sheet or towel for modesty. However it was a bit disconcerting to disrobe in front of the woman and lay down on my back on the table, then be drizzled with oil. Throughout the massage, she kept pulling my underwear this way and that to rub around it. I often thought “why didn’t she just have me remove them?” Then I remembered the beginning work on my legs…long, quick upward movements stopping only when they crashed into that cloth barrier.

It’s rare when the massage therapist asks for me to hold up or support my own body part. Usually they prefer I relax totally. But this lady locked out my elbow and spread my spirit fingers in the air, then proceeded to double fist my arm like a teenage boy. Whoa.

Remember that scene in The Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi performs his hand cupping heat magic to Ralph Macchio’s knee? I got a brief taste of that action on my knees and elbows.

Next up, the belly massage. Occasionally, I’ll get asked if I want my stomach massaged. I’ve said yes, and I’ve said no. It depends on how I’m feeling that particular day. Usually, the focus is on the abdominal  and oblique muscles as well as around my ribs and diaphragm. I got some of that yesterday. And then she Mr. Miyagi-ed my belly button.

Well, I’d been wondering about this next bit. Was she going to massage my pecs and work around my breasts, or would they be just another body part to squish and pull? Goodness, I don’t know why I even bothered to question it. Of course they received the full treatment! I haven’t felt that thoroughly assessed since my last annual medical exam!

Usually flipping over to lay on my stomach is the best part. I LOVE to have my calves, back, and shoulders rubbed. But take a gander at that face divot on the table!

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After slipping and sliding my way over, I started off by nestling my nose in the center space and resting my forehead on that mid-level ring, but every time she performed an upward stroke, my head would bump into the circle rim. I tried moving my hands off the designated arm/hand circles to cushion my head, but she forcibly returned them. I definitely wasn’t entirely relaxed at this time. So, needless to say, I did not enjoy the second half of the massage nearly as much as the first.

But OMG! The steam bath at the end rocked my world! I knew the gym offered it, but I hadn’t remembered to explore it yet. While I was still covered in oil after the massage, she directed me to this tiny room and handed me a stool. I wasn’t sure how long to stay in there, but figured I’d figure it out along the way. Man, it was not long enough. All too soon she cracked open the door to tell me the steam was over and I should start the shower.

I can only really judge the efficacy of a massage over the next couple days. During the rest of the massage day, I felt lethargic, without appetite.  Probably I didn’t rehydrate properly to compensate for both the massage and the steam bath. I’ll know better next time. But wow, my skin has never been clearer! I practically glowed. Heck, I’ll probably repeat the whole shebang again in a couple weeks because, why not?

 

 

 

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To visit the goats on the rocks, of course!

Last weekend we went camping with a group of Cheng’s Indeed co-workers to Ananthagiri Hills, southwest of Hyderabad. With chilly mornings, hot afternoons, and a rainy conclusion, this trip ran the gamut of weather offerings. I was told that the sole purpose of packing a tent was to lend a legitimacy to our camp photos. Little did we know what was in store for later. Conveniently, the rains arrived after dinner cleanup, not interfering with the cooking process, but later assisting to douse our fires.  The tent kept some of us lucky ones dry overnight, but unfortunately didn’t cover all 15 of us. Many brave souls perished for our comfort (not really, but they certainly could have been drier.)

Ankur, Nikita, Cheng and I set out from Hyderabad around 7am. Since everyone else seemed to be running on Indian standard time, we wandered around a cemetery, eventually finding this narrow, elevated road leading us to the middle of a lake (according to Google Maps.) Zipping around that first sharp right knocked open the passenger door sucking Nikita to an early demise.

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With 3 of us remaining in car #1 Ankur and snapped a couple photos to memorialize the living.

IMG_2931 Cheng realized he could only hold up this massive boulder for so long before succumbing to its heft and lack of stability. Ankur tried to pull it back, but slipped in the muddy earth. Knowing he was a goner, Cheng waved us back, yelling “save yourselves!”IMG_2923We met up with more of our party on a steep climb taking us closer to our campsite. Luckily, a piano just happened to be on our packing list…
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…so Vinay played a soul-touching dirge in Cheng’s memory.
IMG_2981 Trying valiantly to move past our first 2 losses of the day, we drowsed on a tarp, watching the sun play with the fluttering leaves.IMG_2971 Our serene silence quickly crashed, creating terror in our hearts when gigantic bats appeared and brandished their bare claws threatening us with impending death!IMG_2940Cheng’s ghost magically appeared to lead us to safety under some random, space-age gazebo. 
IMG_2958 Hanging on the outskirts, eschewing the safety of the group, Rahul quickly became an easy target for the bats.IMG_2952 Carried over the edge of the cliff, we tried our best to save him, but to no avail. Shivam took it the hardest, as it was his sun-weakened grip that could not pull Rahul back up. IMG_2953Shivam fell behind the group, his sorrow eating away at him, wishing he had spent more time at the gym this year…IMG_2948 …unwittingly allowing himself to be scooped up as a test subject for the aliens that landed, leaving only dust circles as evidence of their existence. Prateek discovered the markings where their spaceships most likely landed. The rest of us scratched our heads at the idea of Shivam being an accurate representative of the human race.IMG_2950 Later, from all the stress, Vinay started to feel feverish, developing white splotches on his face. We all agreed it was probably the rare water buffalo rash that only affects young men who play a musical instrument in the woods. Vinay frantically rubbed at his rash, knowing medical help this far from town would be nonexistent, and realized it was only too much sun and sunscreen. Phew!IMG_2944While Goutam took candid photos and Ankur drizzled petrol on our cook stoves in preparation for making dinner, we noticed Shivam had returned from his alien adventure. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember anything that happened to him during his time away and proceed to mope on the sidelines, pulling grass and calling his fiance.
IMG_2983 Given how many people were dropping like flies, and also because of the actual flies, we decided it was time to light a funeral pyre. Fortunately, Cheng, Rahul, and Nikita also miraculously revived, which turned out well as our bonfire wasn’t as big as we had hoped. IMG_2997

So long and thanks for all the fish!

(View all the photos on Flickr)

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According to TripAdvisor, visiting the Salar Jung Museum rates #4/193 things to do in Hyderabad. So that’s how I chose to spend my Thursday. Normally, I flock to the painting section anytime I visit a museum, but this time I rented the audio guide (~$1) and took my time exploring everything. Except the clock. Apparently, there is this amazingly detailed musical clock by Cook and Kelvey Co. in 19th century England that activates and begins chiming 4 minutes before the hour. I was so engrossed in admiring other galleries, that I forgot to go see the clock during every one of my 3 opportunities.

But I did snap some pics of these items that spoke to me in some way.

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Ivory carved balls within balls within balls

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Elephants carved from an ivory tusk

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XL pizza-sized necklace for an elephant

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19th century air twisted stemware

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Father of Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal)

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Double-sided wood carved statue

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The priceless glass-polishing crew hard at work.

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After the museum I wandered around a bit before catching my ride home. I found the motherload of shoes as I traveled blocks down shoe alley! Then I passed through 3-4 more blocks of wedding stationary stores.

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The corner store at the beginning of shoe alley

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Need a door?

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It only took a 23 hour trek around the world to get me a really smart phone and my first Uber experience.

Someone recently asked my what the best part of my trip was so far, and my answer probably isn’t what you’d expect. I learned to use Uber for the first time. Sure, I’m somewhat joking, but also serious! Of course, I’d heard other people back home tout it’s usefulness, but my phone was never smart enough to support the app. However, I am now the proud owner (temporarily) of an Intex Q1. For signing up, I automatically received a free ride up to 600 rupees (~$10), but could only rack up a third of that cost. It’s, literally, uber-convenient to have an air-conditioned car show up wherever I am and take me wherever I want to go for less than half the price of a TukTuk. Yesterday I traveled ~10 miles in traffic (1hr) and spent $3.86, and that was for the mid-level Uber car since it was the only type available!

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Typical Tuk Tuk or auto rickshaw

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Watch out for traffic on the sidewalks!

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Crossing the road is like playing Frogger, but instead landing between vehicles.

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For a while we were receiving 2 local daily newspapers in English. Filled with cricket highlights and who’s who of glamorous Bollywood stars, I also found a few gems worth sharing for their weird randomness and local importance.

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Reader beware…this one’s a bit of a rant.

So I’m hearing from the locals that Hyderabad is a more modern city in India. We’re in the hi tech section unofficially called Cyberabad…near the Google offices if you want to..ahem…google it. Although our current place is kind of creepy so we’ll be moving next weekend to a new place farther away, but more homey (or as many residential advertisements here say “homely.” We’re in a furnished suite in a hotel-type building. very modern. The first couple days we were the only guests, but a few groups have since arrived. and soooo many staff! They just hover, pouncing on any chance to offer assistance. Cheng was up really early Saturday for a bike ride with coworkers [pictures here] and saw them just sleeping in the lobby (towels over their heads) …waiting…

Yesterday Cheng asked for a couple bottles of water on his way to the room after work and was told no because we already had bottles in the room. Since water is supposed to be provided as part of the stay here, we were confused. However, I realized we had some empties in the corner waiting for recycling, so maybe that was what they meant. I’m pretty sure they just re-use bottles filled from a main, filtered (hopefully) source. So today I trekked 6 empties down and exchanged them for 2 full bottles. This seemed to require a lot of conversation in Telugu between the front desk manager and his boss. I didn’t figure out what the problem was, though. Mostly we only get smiles, nods, and “Yes, Madam” or “Yes, Sir.”

This incident also seemed to trigger the house-keeping staff activation button because I received a call the second I stepped inside the door (I swear they just wait and watch!) asking if they could clean now. I’ve only been letting them in every couple days because I can’t stand the smell of the cleaners they use. And, really, is it necessary to bleach the showers (yes, we have 2 bathrooms in our 2 room suite,) mop the floors, and change the towels everyday? (and the pillowcases, but not the sheets?) So the 2 cleaning ladies and 3-4 supervisors all traipsed in to do their thing.

IMG_2771 Also, they brought in a surprise microwave for the room, unasked. Granted, in the advertisement, this place says it comes with AC, refrigerator, microwave, hot water, etc. However, the AC only works in one room at random times. The first fridge got it’s cabinet enclosure really hot without cooling the inside of the fridge, and the hot water comes and goes. Many of these things we could learn to live with, but what’s so creepy is the lack of privacy. I know they think they’re just offering super-attentive service, but I’d prefer to be serviced less often. So we’ll relocate to another place this weekend.

My first local outfit. Pre-made.

My first local outfit. Pre-made.

I stick out like a sore thumb here. A REALLY sore thumb. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a non-Indian person (male or female) since we’ve arrived, so there’s a bit of a rush on getting some local clothes made. We walk on the side of the road here, in traffic. I’m worried that all the rubbernecking to see the white girl might cause an accident! I plan to have some better quality clothes made as soon as I find a “Ladies Tailor,” but until then I bought some ready-made stuff at a local mall.

I made a new friend at the local crafts market today. Zubi (short for Zubair) runs a shawl shop and speaks English excellently. He first wandered over to another stall and helped me navigate some inquiries, the led me to his stall and proceeded to talk my ear off for quite a while about every type of shawl known to man. and beast. He sent a neighboring artist to run and buy me a tiny cup of chai while we dickered. I ended up buying a few things from him, for myself and as gifts. Then he proceeded to guide me to the best stalls (or maybe his friends?) for a few other things I wanted to browse. Zubi chatted up the vendors, got them to come down in price, and served as my interpreter when I had questions about different items. I may or may not have been swindled on price and quality of the Kashmir shawls, but I’m chalking the whole thing up to a lovely Indian experience.

My new friend Zubi who may or may not have swindled me.

My new friend Zubi who may or may not have swindled me.

I walked 3km to the Shilparamam market today. One sign said it opened at 10:30. When I arrived after 11, artists were just setting up, so I walked further in to the tribal museum and sculpture garden. Apparently, this is the hot date spot because I only saw couples in every nook and cranny of pseudo private space…including next to Gulliver’s neck in the Gulliver’s Travels life-size painted rendition. Bypassing his tied-down feet, I walked up a rickety flight of stairs to the top of a large boulder. Around every corner of this section I saw camo-ed, stone army men pointing guns willy-nilly. Odd.

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Auspicious sign to see a peacock

Auspicious sign to see a peacock

When Cheng and I were picked up from the airport at 5:30am the skies were just beginning to lighten. My new friend Ankita pointed out a peacock perched high on top of a boulder pile alongside the road. I remembered reading in my “India culture” guide that seeing a peacock is very lucky, but hearing one is unlucky. Perhaps it was an omen for a great vacation? After finding my first ever 4-leaf clover in my yard before we left, I’m starting to believe luck is a thing ;) Especially since I always though they were just a myth. This statue reminded me of that sleep-deprived memory.

 

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