Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kolkata, the New New Hip Place for Tourists

A couple of months ago, I noticed that there were more foreign tourists in Kolkata, in comparison to when we first arrived. Foreign tourists are easy to spot in Kolkata since the city is not as popular as New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc.; and most have (myself included) pasty skin and look of bewilderment.

But the ones in Kolkata tend to stick out even more, since for some reason the tourists that are attracted to Kolkata are the crunchy-crunchy types or decide to discover their inner crunchy-crunchy when here.

I have to briefly explain the crunchy-crunchy, crunchy-creamy, creamy-crunchy, creamy-creamy theory for describing a person's congruity or discongruity between how someone appears and how they behave and think. Using peanut butter texture as the analogy, being crunchy is typically sticking out of the crowd, having some eccentric qualities. Creamy is blending in, being normal appearance or behavior. From my experience with the foreign service, many are the creamy-crunchy type able to blend in with the many different social groups in appearance, but need to be crunchy on the inside to survive this lifestyle.

But back to the tourists. A majority come to Kolkata for ashrams, yoga, Mother Teresa charities, and to stay at the ISKCON temple better known as the international headquarters of the Hare Krishnas. But I have been seeing more of what appear to be regular tourists walking around in tour groups and discovering their inner crunchiness.

A good example of this was when we ran into a group of about eight older, Italian tourists at the flower market, all decked out in recently purchased clothes. Most had on patchwork, baggy salwar pants with crazy combinations of mismatched shirts, hats, bags and scarves. No Kolkatan would dress like this and you know they would not be allowed on the streets of Italy in these combinations, but when a tourist in Kolkata you are free to be a crunchy-crunchy!

But back to Kolkata as a travel destination. So, it is easy to gauge if there are more tourists out and about the city. There have also been more articles on Kolkata written in the U.S. press including:

India rickshaw pullers see 'pretty bleak future,' Los Angeles Times

India lags behind in sanitation facilities, Los Angeles Times

Mmm, Kolkata: Eats on the streets and off the beaten path, Washington Post

A Walk in Calcutta, New York Times

Oh! Kolkata!, the Atlantic

To add more fuel to the fire, travel-writer extraordinaire, Paul Theroux, just released his latest novel, A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta. The novel is based in Kolkata and features a previous Public Affairs Officer as a fictional character. A fun read to get a glimpse of Kolkata and see how Theroux uses familiar landmarks in Kolkata for the story.

So Kolkata may be the secret, up and coming tourist hot spot. It definitely is like no other city in the world.

Image from

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Making the Laundry Detergent

We ran out of our laundry detergent supply a couple of weeks ago, so I took the opportunity to make some laundry detergent that was environmentally-friendly, since "green" laundry detergent hasn't become popular in Kolkata. I have seen what appeared to be lye soap in the market, but opted for a recipe that smelled a "little" fresher.

As we are unable to receive large amounts of liquid in the mail, only 16 ounces per package, I decided to try Soaps Gone Buys' formula of Fels Naptha Soap, washing soda and 20 Mule Team Borax.

The hardest part to making the stuff is grating the bars of Fels Naptha Soap, since the concoction needs to be fine to quickly dissolve in the water. After taking the bar to a cheese grater, I had a eureka and decided to use the food processor I got for Christmas. (Thanks Ruth!) In no time all of the bars resembled grated cheddar cheese. Since we can't get good cheddar cheese here, it was hard not to taste it and luckily I resisted.

After another round of fine chopping, I mixed three cups of washing soda with three cups of Borax to the six bars of soap I grated and it was done. You can order the bars of soap already grated but like adding eggs and oil to cake mix it just would feel like making something unless you had to do a little work.

Now if we are ever posted somewhere without access to good laundry detergent, I have a back-up plan!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Trailing Spouse Network Group on LinkedIn

As someone mentioned on the livelines listserv today, there is a Trailing Spouse Network group on LinkedIn at: with 198 members, that may be a good resource for networking overseas. There also is, which lists country related tips, blogs, discussions and individuals.

I don't have any experience with these two resources, so please let me know if you have opinions on them.

Finally Updated Diplolife's Layout

We have been traveling, then I got really sick with a virus turned bacterial infection, so it has been a while since the last post, but we hope to be back in the swing of things in the next day or so. I finally got around to updating the blog layout with the new Template Designer in Blogger. Much easier than customizing it yourself. Read more at Blogger in Draft.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fun in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark


This weekend we headed down to Orissa, since we had heard so many wonderful things about the state. In two days we were able to pack in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark.


Konark is home to the Sun Temple, built in the thirteenth century, which resembles a large chariot with wheels.


It was a beautiful day and we were happy to start out early before the bulk of the crowd arrived. Here is a photo of others taking photos of Sicily.


After Konark, we took a beautiful drive down the coast to Puri, a popular beach town. Parts of Puri reminded me of Daytona Beach packed with tourists for Holi. We stayed to the less popular areas and Sicily was able to spend some time digging in the surf. We were accompanied by a life guard-type person, who took a liking to Alejo and Christian.


A perfect photo at the back of the Jagannath Temple. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple, so we didn't get to see the temple but the scene outside was very captivating.


Lord Jagannath and his family are representations of universal love and brotherhood, and officially now my all-time favorite Hindu deity. This is a more traditional representation of the group.


How can you not be happy after looking at this image?


After Puri, we stopped by Pipli to see the famous umbrellas with appliques.


Bhubaneswar has one of the best zoos in India, which was a hit with Sicily. She got up close to a baby elephant and


the hippo exhibit was amazing. A highly recommended trip!

Traditional Image of Jagannath from Iskcon Indore

Floating Image of Jagannath from Hotel Diamond Palace

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Two Foreign Service Blog Aggregators

There are two blogs that are now aggregating posts from several foreign-service-life blogs:

this one is edited by hand and with personal commentary: A Daring Adventure
a systematic aggregator at: Foreign Service Blogregator