Amritsar – My Hosts and a Host of Random Things

Good morning,

I’ve just arrived back from three full days at the Guru Gobind Singh Diwas near the Golden Temple.  No internet there and I brought no devices so… even if I had been able to access the internet, I would have had zero ability.  Yay.  So much to post about there but I’m exhausted so you know… today is all about light and fluffy activities including shopping with the little sister.
We’ll try to keep today’s post reasonably light and fluffy as well then.  It will be all about my current hosts and the random things that just don’t fit into a whole blog post of their own.  Totally random stuff.  Some bizarre.  Some to make you go hmmm.  And some where you’ll probably think “yeap, that was random.”  
To keep that theme going, we’re also going to publish a pic of the host units and then just random shots of things I found interesting at the time… 
To the left you will find a picture of my hosts, little sister Ramneet on the left and her mom, Gurmit on the right.  Ramneet is the sister of my best friend and they kindly invited me to stay with them in Amritsar, for more than 4 months…  No they aren’t crazy but they ARE awesome hosts, if a little too concerned for my well-being and safety.
Having lived a very independent life, I’m not used to the proximity of other people all of the time.  ALL of the time.  The only alone time I get is at the Darbar Sahib and when I sneak up onto the veranda on the roof in the very early morning hours.  The only ones who join me there are the green parrots and the pigeons. 
The occasional little green lizard hangs out in the entryway to the rooftop but as soon as it hears me or sees me it runs scurrying for cover, so you know… he gets me.

Alone time doesn’t seem to be a thing in this culture… or at least the culture of this house.  Can’t tell which.

It’s not that Ramneet and Gurmit aren’t great.  They are but alone time is something I’m used to … it’s when I get all my reading done, and my best thinking, and… it’s funny because even as I type this Gurmit is making her way into the room to see if I’m wanting anything…

This is probably the bit of ‘culture shock’ that I’m currently struggling with the most.  Obviously… because I’m going on like a whiny, snivelling brat about it.  

Ramneet is a typical teenager – low attention span to most things, a little (but not much) selfish, likes to challenge her mom at times, loves music videos and video games but she also adores her mother, helps out around here whenever she is asked and is so sweet.  I’m having a great time with her so far.  Except for twice when she wasn’t keeping us apprised of where she was (in crowded places) and I had the distress of worrying along with her mom until we found her again.  She makes up for it by being an excellent translator though so…

My relationship with Gurmit is more complicated.  Sometimes it feels like she’s very, very used to being a mother while I’m very used to being motherless.  Sometimes it feels like she tries to be more a sister than a mother, and that’s good – you can’t have too many of those.  Most of the time though, it feels like she’s stumbling to define our relationship.  That’s okay too, I guess but really, I just wish she’d relax and let it be what it is.

She lets me do nothing for myself here.  To her that makes her a good host – she’s doing her job well.  To me, that makes me feel some sort of privilege that is incorrect and uncomfortable.  Hopefully, we’ll find some sort of middle ground.

The buckets you see on the left are just what they look like – fire brigade buckets.  They are the fire system at Guru Gobind Singh Ji Diwas near the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), where I stayed for three days.  Mind you the building has no appliances except for small hot water tanks in the bathrooms, ceiling fans and A/C units, there is absolutely no smoking, and the building is a brick and concrete construction that appears typical of Amritsar.  So a fire seems unlikely and in fact I’m told that fires are very rare in Amritsar (with the exception of reaky garbage fires every freakin’ night) so I guess this is a reasonable way to go.  This is especially so since I’ve not seen a single fire truck or fire hall since I’ve been here… not one now that I think about it.  Not a fire truck, fire hall, fire hydrant… a few smoke alarms maybe, rooftop water tanks and several water towers for sure…  Hmmmm…

Okay, seque… I have nothing to tie the next topic into the last one so I’m just going to say “seque” and we’ll all pretend there was a more eloquent connection, shall we?  What a fun game to play in such a random post, don’t you think?

To the left is a receipt from McDonald’s… ugh.  I promised the bestie that I would try McD’s while I was here in India and I did.  Twice.  And I am having some fun digestive issues as a result… thanks bestie.

The first thing you should know is that the receipt is in rupees.  This meal, involving a large (about our medium) Coke, a McPaneer Royale, fries and “extra” cheese, cost me less than $6.  Cheap by Canadian standards.  Expensive by Indian standards.  To put this into perspective.  The Coke costs a little less than $1 – which is what Gurmit spends to feed a household of three for a day.  So this entire meal is almost a week’s worth of groceries for three people.  I’m not eating scraps and po’ food here either.  To put it another way, that my coffee lover friends will understand – that Coke at McD’s cost me the equivalent of 5 cappuccinos.  5.  They cost 10 rupees at the chai wallas and little cafes.  Is a medium-ish Coke worth 5 cappuccinos, I ask you?  Ummm… hell no.

I guess the second thing you would wonder about is the taste.  Awful.  Not good.  This is from the vegetarian version of Indian McD’s.  Very near the Golden Temple next to Jallanwalia Bagh.  The only options were veg, which is just fine with me – I happen to not mind paneer (a simple farmer’s type cheese).

The Coke tasted exactly like Coke everywhere else I have ever had Coke.  Surprised?  Not really, Coke has established that as a business practice so the fact that it tastes the same means their practice is working.

The McPaneer Royale… yeah… not good.  It was grilled paneer so it should have been rather mildly flavoured.  Except that to flavour this paneer sandwich, they used a mayonnaise substitute (no egg served anywhere near the Golden Temple, just like there is also no meat, no tobacco and no alcohol served (at least openly) around one of our sacred sites.).  The ‘mayo’ tasted entirely chemical (and probably was) and was just off putting.  So were the huge chunks of raw red cabbage that I think was meant to be shredded finer and be a ‘slaw’ type condiment.  It just did not work.

The paneer was good though and I would definitely eat that part of the sandwich (and only that part) again.

The fries are cooked in soy oil which left them really crisp, really dry and almost flavourless if you ignore the massive amount of salt they used on these fries.

On my last day as a meat eater (in the airport in Delhi while waiting for a flight to Amritsar)… I tries the McD’s there.  Specifically I tried their version of the McChicken sandwich.  Yeah, not a winner either, probably because of the soy oil as well.  

To be fair to McDonald’s I am not a fan of their food anywhere.  Never have been, probably never will be.  It’s fat, sugar and salt laden and really gross on the best of days.  The only reason I ever go is for their coffee, maybe the odd Egg McMuffin and when CS is in town in which case I get a McChicken sandwich and enjoy her company.  So you know, take my review with the bias that I obviously have.

Whether it was the expense or the crappy flavour, both McDonald’s were empty.  In fact, every one that I have seen has been empty.  Yay!  One less win for the fast food/crap food industry that seems to be taking over every other part of the world.

Hmmm… what else can I tell you about?  Right, the colony where I’m living.  There is a mix of houses, abandoned houses and empty lots in the colony.  Some of the abandoned houses are ‘older’ and in need of a lot of work.  In fact, at least one of them has been a home to pigeons and parrots so will need to be gutted, I’m sure.  Most of the abandoned houses and empty lots belong to ex-pats or as they’re known in these parts, NRI (Non-resident Indian).  The lot directly across from the lovely little house where I’m staying is one such lot – owned by someone who has apparently left for Australia.  All there is on the lot is a little 4 x 4 brick shack with a roof that has been repaired by bits of cloth, rocks, bricks, bits of paper and other debris to fix what appears to have been a very, very leaky roof.  Other than that, the property is overgrown and contains other trash and debris behind the brick wall which surrounds it.  You can see the shack in the picture below.

I’m told that a family lives in that shack, or lived – they apparently just disappeared one day and never came back.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, almost anything is turned into shelter for someone in India, including tarpaulin lean-tos, scrap wood shacks, clay mound shacks.  If it looks like it might provide some shelter, well… it probably has been a shelter or currently is a shelter. The poverty here… well, there isn’t much like it in Canada, not much like it at all.

I’m just going to let you look at that shack and imagine the family who lived there and just sort of leave that there for now.  Let that sink in a bit.  We’ll get back to that in other posts.  You know, when you have problems and more especially when I think I have some.

Another part of every day life in the colony is the milk man and the veggie vendors.  Raw milk gets delivered to our door each morning.  We take a pot out and it gets filled.  That’s how that’s handled.  Raw milk though is dangerous for your health (especially given the condition of the dairy cattle here) so it has to be heated or homogenized at home.  It is full fat milk, no 1%, no 2%… more like 7 – 9% fat and more once it reduced to all of the dairy products that are made at home – butter, ghee, yogourt (which is called curd), paneer, cream and whey…  It tastes completely different from milk at home, most likely because it is thicker and richer than the milk at home.  My roommate would totally hate the milk here – she’s a skim milk girl … yeap, Elyse you’re gonna want to stay away or bring some skim milk powder here girlfriend.

The colony is also visited by several different vegetable vendors from the early morning hours through to the late afternoon (and today a special treat – a sugar cane juice vendor — would have been super yummy if I wasn’t sick).  They yell out the same phrase over and over and people come on out and buy vegetables.  They don’t sell fruit except apples so… I was wondering how Gurmit would decide which vendors to pay attention to and which to ignore.  That’s what she does.  She ignores most and comes out for some.  By day 3 here in Amritsar I knew she wasn’t going on voice, because she chose 3 different vendors.  She wasn’t going on who came first either.  Apparently what sounded to me like exactly the same phrase over and over was really just Punjabi short hand for “get potatoes, get spinach, get onions, get radish” etc.  She could tell what each of the vendors had on the cart by the call… still haven’t managed to figure out how she differentiates between them at all… but …

To get fresh fruit (besides the apples) we have to leave the colony and either buy it from a street stall selling juices or venture out further to a market area, which sells fruit.  Same goes for spices and nuts.  Other items are purchased at one of the colony canteens.  These are tiny little shops that carry what seems like one or two of just about every small item you can imagine… vaseline, lip balm, bandaids, fibre for constipation, soda, bread, kite string, napkins, shampoo, nails, rice and duram, you know… very, very generalized.  And you can fill up your phone plan too!

Kite string… didn’t see that seque coming did you?  Huh?  See?  I told you this was a fun game.  Kites are a big freakin’ deal around here and this is apparently the time of year for them.  Yay!  Because who doesn’t love kites?

There is kite string all over everything suspended in the air around the colony – light posts, electrical lines, rooftop verandas, just everywhere…  the other day, I even had to side step some kite string and several falling kites at one of the larger gurdwaras.  Kids are on most rooftops flying kites in the afternoons.  Kite string is expensive here – between 250 and 400 rupees for a bail of string but the kites themselves are cheap.  Today I bought about a dozen kites for Ramneet for about 200 rupees (less than $4).  I was a little surprised at the cheapness of the kites until I figured it out.  This is a competition a la Kite Runner.  The object of the kite flying is not just to enjoy a nice, slightly breezy afternoon outside, it is to cut down your opponent’s kite.  Get it right out of the sky by cutting its umbilical to the ground – your string.  Other children, runners, will go and try to catch your kite as it falls helplessly to the ground.  If they get it, it is theirs.  That’s the rule.  If you were silly enough to lose your kite… well that’s your problem, now some runner somewhere will have one to add to his or her collection.   Ramneet’s score this afternoon:  2-0  bwahahaha  Good job girl!

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