Shopping for jeans is a perennially painful experience.
No point in trying to find jeans here in India, where ladies seem to fall into two style camps: traditional or trendy. For traditional ladies, a “suit” is a typical daily outfit. It consists of loose-fitting bottoms that gather at the ankles and a long tunic-style top with a scarf draped conservatively across the chest. It looks lovely on Indian women, but not on this pear-shaped girl. Trendy locals? They wear western designer styles that are generally too expensive for me.
So, I tend to wait for summer to search for wardrobe staples. This summer, I needed some jeans.
I browsed half-heartedly through the racks and hopelessly tried on jeans everywhere I went this summer. Finally, we visited Nordstrom, where I discovered the NYDJ brand. It sounded so funky and hip. New York DJ? Yeah! I’m not too old to visit a New York dance club in my hot new jeans, right? They fit me perfectly, hugging my small waist but leaving ample space for my out-of-proportion thighs. They actually made my butt look perky and round. And they came in a variety of styles and colors! I wanted them all!
On a retail high, I engaged the help of a young saleswoman, who sported a pleated miniskirt, two long braids and glasses with oversized dark frames. She flitted back and forth to the dressing room, bringing me every iteration of NYDJ jeans. Quickly I discovered my usual size was too big, adding to my excitement about this amazing brand. Really? I could wear a 4! I felt so petite and sexy.
“Ohhhh … yeah, lots of women find they have to drop a size,” said my little helper friend. “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans run a bit big.”
Ummm… hold on. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans? That was not petite and sexy. That was not I’m-still-hot-after-all-these-years clubbing in New York. That was tricky and malicious. That was dumpy, middle-aged soccer mom. That was desperate denial.
I paused to look at the tag. “NYDJ – With Lift and Tuck Technology!” it said. I turned around to check out my butt in the mirror. It DID look lifted. My gut also appeared flatter, tucked as it was. I took a deep breath and let reality wash over me.
I decided that if I had a daughter, her jeans would be too big and frumpy for me. I would have to find some cuter, more flattering jeans, and thus, this brand would be perfect. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. That’s right! These jeans were way more sexy than my hypothetical daughter’s jeans! And so I bought them all.
“Mela” is a Sanskrit word meaning “gathering,” and it’s used to describe all kinds of get-togethers in India. One upcoming mela is the Kumbh Mela, held every twelve years. More than 60 million people gathered in January 2001, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world, according to Wikipedia. I’m skipping that one for obvious reasons (although some of my friends are going). The melas I’m excited about are big markets of handicrafts, home decor, clothing, food and random tchochkes. I’ve even planned my parents’ visit to India around my favorite New Delhi mela in February.
Nearly everything produced in India stimulates at least one of the senses. Silky soft scarves, quirky colorful bags, organic oils and soaps, music for chillaxing, and all sorts of tantalizing treats. (Much of the time, India OVERstimulates our senses–particularly with sounds and smells–but the melas are much more pleasant than daily life. I’m digressing…)
This morning, I drove to the Dastkar Nature Bazaar (almost 10 kilometers, the farthest I’ve driven in Delhi so far, by the way) with my friend Nancy. We arrived just as the mela was opening, so we enjoyed a peaceful stroll through the booths. The Dastkar organization does good work in this country to support and promote Indian crafts.
I still haven’t bought a new camera, and whenever I took out my phone to take pictures, I set it down at a booth and nearly forgot to take it. So eventually I stopped shooting. Anyway, here’s what I got.
Dangly things in a doorway seem to be good luck here, so you see them everywhere. I love them.
These little magnets of Indian men and women cracked us up, but we had an even bigger laugh when we saw they were stuck on a Hannah Montana board.
Vendors enjoying a snack.
I spent a LOT of money at this booth. The dried fruit and other snacks are so delish! Does anyone need any Hing Goli?
This guy demonstrated how to decorate wooden spoon handles with lacquer designs. He stuck the dowel in a little lathe and spun it with a sort of bow while rubbing lacquer on the wood. Every time I watch someone make something, I feel compelled to buy it. Savvy craftsman!
Nancy and I shopped so much, we had to make a trip to the car halfway through our mela circuit to unload some of our bags. Speaking of the car, getting out of the parking lot was no small feat. Let’s just say a tree, a tuk-tuk and a man sorting garbage were all involved. It worked out though, and with Nancy as my trusty navigator, I actually got us home with no problems.
All last year, our TV sat on top of a cute little Tibetan cabinet I bought in China. The cords and cables intertwined with those of the stereo system and DVD player to form a spaghetti-esque jumble on a school-provided coffee table stashed behind the cabinet. Every time I entered the living room, the cord jumble caught my eye and made me cringe, but wall sconces and our massive Chinese day bed limited our ability to rearrange the furniture. Sliding all over the New Delhi learning curve, I couldn’t cope with shopping for a TV cabinet. When we returned to India in August – no longer the “newbies” and equipped with our own car and driver – I felt ready to take on the challenge. Or so I thought. As it turned out, finding a cabinet was the easy part.
My friend Sandra wanted to visit Gujarat Haveli, a furniture showroom on the outskirts of town. With her husband, Dan, and our new counselor, Holli, we browsed through disorganized acres of random furnishings salvaged from homes, temples, palaces and other buildings mostly in the western state of Gujarat. It took a good eye to spot treasures in the dank cavernous storage areas.
Intricately carved wooden arches leaned against large trunks adorned with stamped-tin peacocks and secured with heavy metal locks. Thick with dust, broken chairs, benches, wide shallow bowls, and splintered distressed boards with protruding nails towered toward the flickering florescent lights. One room featured a lacy wooden screen about 15 feet high and 40 feet long. Narrow paths wove between stacked dressers, cabinets, bookshelves, headboards, mirrors, desks, and random carved figures, some small enough to sit on a shelf and some taller than me. I kept giggling in the spirit of discovery. Occasionally I would stop walking, stand in place, peruse my immediate vicinity and try to process every item in sight, but it was impossible. Looking at my photos, I spot objects I missed in person.
I became a little obsessed with this piece, which must have been a door frame. It’s huge. It would take up most of a wall in our apartment. It would be an irrational purchase, but I keep dreaming of it all cleaned up and polished.
Outdoors, exposed to the monsoon rains, beautiful doors, lintels and other carved woodwork leaned against the buildings.
A mountain of scrap metal teetering outside one warehouse had – upon closer inspection – lovely wrought-iron artwork with curlicue designs peeking out from rusted wire and brass pots.
Dan named this basin of water “the dengue pot.” After battling dengue fever last year, he has legitimate reasons to fear standing water and mosquito breeding grounds.
The big head sitting among other knick-knacks amused me.
Here are some more photos.
Fortunately, some of the warehouse space showcased finished furnishings, slightly more organized and somewhat easier to scrutinize. In addition to the restored antiques, the company sells new pieces – some built from scratch, some using old wood.
In one of those rooms, I found exactly what I needed! The company’s owner said the front and sides of the cabinet were built from old hardwood, but the back is new. It’s hard to know what to believe. All I know is I like it.
By the end of our visit, we had all purchased some large pieces, so we arranged for delivery the next day. That’s where this story takes a turn for the worse.
On Sunday, Aug. 12, the day after our shopping excursion, I looked out the window of our second-story apartment to see a truck and half a dozen scrawny delivery men. Tony ran downstairs to ensure our new cabinet could fit in the narrow stairwell. Otherwise, we could hoist it up to our balcony, which the moving company did with all our other large furniture. He came back upstairs and reported the cabinet was small enough to clear the ceiling and our doorway if it came up the stairs. The delivery men simply needed to carry it upright. Soon after making this determination, we heard a loud smashing sound, followed by another and another. Frozen in shock, we reacted slowly. By the time we got to the stairwell, the cream-colored walls were streaked with red from the battered corners of our new cabinet. The men had turned it sideways for the trip up the stairs. At the bend, they discovered the cabinet was too long to make the turn. They apparently believed the wall would somehow yield if they swung the cabinet around the corner hard enough.
Tony shouted, “Stop! Stop!” But before they could process his instructions, they gave the cabinet one more big heave, which smashed out the stairwell window. This was too much for me to handle with grace. While Tony turns angry in the face of excessive stress, I often start laughing hysterically. (Ask my dad to tell the story of his newly painted garage and my newly acquired driver’s license.) So I started to laugh and shriek. “They BROKE the freakin’ window!” I howled. Tony was bellowing and dropping f-bombs, but the delivery men didn’t seem to understand and continued their pillage up our stairs.
At the doorway to our foyer, they could have turned the cabinet upright and inched it into the living room. Instead, they kept it on its side and, like a battering ram, pounded it into the entrance wall repeatedly, gouging out chunks of plaster and molding, ripping the doorbell off its mounting, and breaking a foot off the cabinet. When one of the men handed Tony the foot, I thought my husband’s head would explode.
I stopped laughing and quickly dialed Jagdish, the owner of Gujarat Haveli. As I explained the situation, Tony hollered in the background, “It’s like a car full of clowns tried to carry our cabinet up the stairs!”
Jagdish agreed to come immediately to see the damage. Tony admonished the delivery men and told them not to go anywhere until Jagdish arrived, but they made a break for it when we weren’t paying attention. When Jagdish got to our home, I started laughing again. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to say. Tony and I pointed out the damage in our stairwell and in our foyer. We showed him the broken cabinet. He shook his head and looked dismayed. He expressed frustration with his employees. He offered to fix the window and instructed a workman to reattach the cabinet’s broken foot, but otherwise he made no attempt to compensate us.
We had expected him to gush with apologies and perhaps even offer a token gift from his showroom or a discount on our cabinet. That didn’t happen. Jagdish kept asking, “Madam, what do you want? What would make you happy?” I honestly didn’t know. We still owed him about half the cost of the cabinet, but we weren’t ready to hand over the cash. We told him we needed to think about it. On his way out the door, he turned back and said, “You know, such things happen. You could be out driving your car and someone hits you.”
“Yes, and then they would have to pay for it,” I said, overenunciating “pay.”
“Not in India!” he responded. And off he went.
Stunned, Tony and I sat silently for a few minutes. We discussed the situation and agreed that we would rather have our school’s maintenance department fix the window. Otherwise, we’d have no recourse if it were done badly. I called Jagdish and reminded him that he had asked what would make me happy. Here’s what I told him:
“I like your warehouse. You have beautiful pieces, and your prices are lower than other places in Delhi. I believe you are essentially an honest man with poorly trained delivery men. I want to recommend your company to my friends and colleagues at the American Embassy School. However, you have to understand we expect a certain level of customer service. We shouldn’t have to beg for it. If you or your employees cause any inconvenience to your customers, you need to immediately make some gesture to express your sincere apology and appreciation. I don’t want you to fix the window or paint my walls, but I do want you to make such a gesture.”
Unable to fathom my meaning, he kept asking for a specific request, so I insisted on a small reduction in the price of my purchase.
He tried to explain how that cabinet sells for a much higher price and he already gave me a steep discount, which led me to say once again, “They BROKE a freakin’ window.” We ultimately came to an agreement, and he turned his car around to come back for the rest of his money.
Despite the delivery drama, we do love our new cabinet.
Picture this: A teaching assistant on playground duty intercepts a wayward soccer ball, picks it up and hefts it back to the players. Did you picture her in an aqua-colored sari, the skirt swishing around her feet, the loose end tossed over her shoulder and flapping in the breeze? Probably not, but that’s what she was wearing!
Even after seven months in India, I remain entranced by the prevalence of women – from all walks of life – dressed in saris. The long flowing sari seems so cumbersome to me, but Indian women carry it off effortlessly and elegantly.
A sari is a long swath of fabric – up to 9 yards! – wrapped in a specific way without zippers or buttons or pins. Ladies wear a petticoat underneath with a midriff-baring top called a “choli.” Every region of India seems to have its own style of sari, not to mention all the fashion trends and myriad designers. As a foreigner who likely won’t need more than a couple saris, how will I ever choose?
Enter Skye Sanford, elementary music teacher, who has lived here for six years. Saturday morning she led 10 of us on a sari expedition to Babu Market, a section of the popular Sarojini Market. We filed in to Harish Kumar’s shop, sat on the benches and watched as the salesmen slowly pulled sari after sari off the shelves and out of their cellophane bags, unfurling miles of stunning fabric. A sari collector, Skye explained what we were seeing and steered us away from poor quality or unfortunate fashion trends (such as saris made of tulle).
Based on my experience in Turkish carpet shops (flash back to emotional meltdowns and street fights with Tony), I needed to scope out the sari scene a couple times before I buy. I was happy to watch, learn and snap some photos, but I will definitely go back. Who wants to join me?
Salesman at the ready.
The show begins.
Skye added two more saris to her collection!
Sandra and Alicia get wrapped.
Eva looks lovely in gray … but I think she bought this style in blue.
Sandra tries on another sari. You can’t do it by yourself!
The salesmen tossed saris back and forth across the shop.
A little shrine in the shop.
Alicia ironically pulled out “Real Simple” from her bag …
Tony and I recently took a tuktuk to the DLF Promenade mall just 10 minutes from our apartment.
It features many western shops such as Zara, Mango and Marks & Spencer and a few appealing restaurants, but more enticingly it also boasts store after store of colorful, glittery, girly, swirly Indian fashions, not to mention stunning wares for the house. And it turned out there wasn’t just ONE mall; it’s a mall complex. Nice to have options.
Funny how it takes so little to remind us that we’re not in America anymore. Once we entered the mall, we couldn’t hear ourselves think amidst a promotional performance for this show:
Here’s a sample. Maybe we’ll go see the real thing.
I don’t know why I’m so behind on blogging about our summer vacation. It’s not like I don’t have any free time. I spend most of it feeding ducks … and shopping online. At least my computer faces the wall behind the windows that face the lake so I can see the water reflected in the computer screen.
Wow, that sounded pretty pathetic.
You know what would be awesome? If you guys would join me in the online shopping joy … mostly because I can earn kickbacks, but also because I want to share the fun. I have subscribed to a few shopping notifications, and I kid you not, I scored some shockingly affordable fabulous finds.
Here are my recommendations. And I must admit that I learned about all these sites from my shopping pimp, CanCan.
Check out Swirl – Here’s what they say about themselves, “It’s a place to buy clothes and accessories at up to 80% off from designers you love and buzz-worthy fashion-world newbies.” I say it’s a fun little collection of cool stuff that you seriously NEED.
To ensure I benefit from your shopping extravaganza, please get there by clicking my link: http://www.swirl.com/invite/theguidehog Check out Ideeli – This is the shopping site I love the most. They email you with “on sale today” links, and I’ve found some awesome deals on gorgeous designer clothes and shoes.
Again, please use my link: http://www.ideeli.com/invite/dentsadventure Check out Bluefly – Some of this stuff is crazy expensive ($2,500 for a raincoat? Seriously?), but then you find a swanky sexy AWESOME swimsuit that was originally $150 but you got it on sale for $40. Oh yeah! Run, don’t walk to your nearest keyboard and click here: http://www.bluefly.com/invite/12cb6f7rf
In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia. Much of the surface culture – street food, traditional clothing, celebrations, etc. – is familiar. But here in Mumbai (aka Bombay … you say tomAHto…), it’s all brand new.
I can’t stop staring at the stunning women with their long thick braids trailing down their backs. Expecting to see more T-shirts and jeans, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of ladies decked out in traditional clothing in colors that popped out of the dusty city landscapes. Mumbai is considered one of India’s fashion capitals, and even in the suburbs it quickly became evident that my minimalist make-up, frizzy unkempt hair and casual ensemble were out of place.
Some of the Indian ladies in our PYP workshop explained the most common clothing to me: Churidar – slim-fitting pants that gather at the ankles Kurta – loose-fitting top that can be long or short with sleeves or sleeveless Dupatta – a long scarf that often drapes across the chest with the ends hanging down the back Sari – a piece of cotton or silk fabric (up to 9 meters/almost 10 yards!) that is draped around the body with no pins or clasps
One girl told of visiting the U.S. and being amazed at how blah our clothing was. So true. Another girl said the younger generation is more inclined to dress Western, but even they accessorize with multiple spangly bangles, bright pashminas, flashy heels, voluminous hairstyles, and bling, bling, bling. What a wonderful place to play dress-up!
After the workshop on Saturday, I joined two other teachers – Je and Maricor, both from the Philippines – for an outing to the chic western suburb of Bandra. After about 40 minutes in the rickshaw, we found a handicraft exhibition set up in a reclamation area.
Entering the bazaar.
I had hoped to purchase some local handicrafts, but just like the first time I visited Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or Yuyuan in Shanghai or any other city’s sprawling market, I found myself overwhelmed. Instead, I just gawked. Colors and patterns exploded from the displays. At one booth, I felt drawn to some bright orange fabric trimmed in green and gold. It must have been about six yards of cloth, gathered and clipped to a rope so it hung like a very full skirt. I asked an Indian woman if the fabric was for making a sari, and she said, “It IS a sari!” I couldn’t imagine how you would manipulate that much fabric into something wearable.
A booth of sparkly skirts and tops.
These shoppers were checking out “magic eye” pictures. Ha!
A saleswoman displays a silk bedspread.
After we left the bazaar, we stopped at a shop called Cottons. This was my dream store! Again, I could barely take my eyes off the displays. The cotton fabrics were all block printed by hand and stitched into gorgeous modern-style skirts, tops and dresses, as well as traditional kurtas and churidars. Unfortunately, the shop was closing just when we arrived, so we only got a glimpse of the collection.
We stopped for dinner at a trendy pub recommended by one of the Indian teachers at our workshop. In retrospect, I would have rather experienced something more local, but it was fun to see where the hip young crowd hangs out. (Obviously, I didn’t fit in there…) The other two ladies were ready to head back to the hotel by the time we finished eating, so we hopped in another “rick” and called it a night.
Je, me and Maricor at the pub.
Vientiane sits right on the Mekong River, which divides Laos and Thailand. It’s just a short drive (or a 39-minute bike ride) to the Friendship Bridge, which crosses the border. On Saturday, the school arranged a shopping trip for new teachers to see whether the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side.
We all met at school, where a convoy of school vans and personal cars awaited. We took off at 7:30 a.m. At the bridge, we handed our passports and paperwork to our drivers, who took them to the appropriate booths. Staff members who had never been to Thailand before had to wait in line to get their pictures taken, so the rest of us waited for them. Finally, we crossed the bridge with a big cheer: “Hoorayyyyyy…” only to have to stop again and repeat the process on the Thai side.
In Laos, people drive on the “right side” of the road (as in, the North American side), but in Thailand, they drive on the “wrong side” (as in, the Australian side). When you cross the Friendship Bridge, the road criss-crosses to get your car on the correct side!
Once in Thailand, we pulled in to the Mut-Mee Guesthouse in Nong Khai for breakfast around 9:30. (If you’re interested, check out the website: www.mutmee.com.) We sat in their tropical garden on the banks of the Mekong and sipped Lao coffee (strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk), freshly squeezed lemonade and egg sandwiches.
Finally, we drove the last hour to Udon Thani, home of many big stores and malls. We went to just one on this trip, a mall with Robinson’s Department Store. Our goal: Find pants for Tony, who has lost about 50 pounds this year. Just inside the mall, we discovered a store called Export, where we found heaps of clothes made in Southeast Asia and exported to the West. Tony even found the exact same shorts he bought at Target in July, only in a size that fits his new skinny butt (and for only about $10). He also found a few pairs of Dockers pants. Perfect!
Otherwise, we bought a trashcan for our kitchen, and that was about it. We didn’t really need anything. I compared prices of toiletries, and they weren’t any cheaper than in Laos. However, it was nice to wander through Watsons, Boots and even a little Body Shop. There are no Western fast-food restaurants in Laos, so we gorged on junk from KFC, Dairy Queen and Mister Donut at the mall.
In the parking lot, we were all ready to leave when our superintendent, Steve, discovered his car had been blocked in by a white van. A mall security guy showed up with a jack and prepared to haul the van away, but the owners came dashing out just in time. Of course, they were shocked that anyone would touch their car, but they grudgingly moved it so Steve could get out. Ha!
We’ve been told that better bargains are to be found at Tesco or Metro, but those explorations will have to wait for another time. When we first heard of the shopping mecca of Udon Thani, we thought we might head over there a couple times a month, but the border crossing makes the journey a little too time consuming. We’ll likely stick to our little village market until desperation hits.
My fantastic EAL coordinator, Carine, invited me on a shopping excursion last Saturday with our new school counselor, Leslie, and our new special ed teacher, Barbara. We went to Home Ideal, a smallish version of a Chinese K-Mart; a rattan shop, where I bought a shoe shelf; the “Morning Market,” a crazy collection of Laos handicrafts and Chinese crap; a pharmacy; and then a lovely Mekong Riverside restaurant. So civilized!