Wednesday, December 20, 2006

R2I - Extremely affordable medical care, comparatively

So, I fell ill. Nothing major. Just a temperature, with a very bad throat, and dry cough. I was hoping it would heal on its own, mostly cause I don't typically like to got to the docs, and kind of hope for the body to fight the infection by itself. Anyway, this time around, I had to go to a doc, cause it got really bad. So, I went to this doc that my mom recommended highly. I liked the doc, talking was easy with her, and the diagnosis was quick. As I was leaving, I asked her how much was her fee? I was blown-over when she said "Rs. 30/-" (65 cents)! However, I must agree that her office was pretty basic and had no pleasing interiors, unlike a typical doctor's office in the U.S. The prescribed medicines cost me Rs. 120/- ($2.6!), now this included an antibiotic as well. Overall, it cost me $3.25!

In the US, with the PPO plan we had, I would have to just pay a co-pay of $15 at the doctor's office and about $5-10 as co-pay for the antibiotic. The cough syrup would have probably been covered 100%. Anyway, this is just from my purse. The insurance would have been charged 100s for the whole thing!!! Where is $3.25 and where's 100s of dollars?

We had to take my kids a while ago to a pediatrician. We took them to one of repute. We were pretty happy with his office/setup, his interaction with the kids, the speed of diagnosis etc. Each visit cost us Rs. 150/- ($3.25) and the total cost of medicines for bothe kids about Rs. 200/- ($4.35). Overall costing us a total of $10.85 for both my kids, consultaion and medicines inclusive. In the US, 2 consultations would have a co-pay of $30, and the meds probably fully covered, cause there was no anti-biotic.

And here's the clincher, all of this medical expenditure is covered 100% by my hub's company, where as in the US the co-pay is from our pocket. So, the same exercise cost me $0 here, and would have cost me about $55 there! And this is only for a regular cold+fever. If it was anything more, and required a slight procedure, then what would cost about a couple of thousands of rupees (approximately $50), will cost thousands of dollars in the U.S. And in the PPO insurance plan we had, we would have to pay upto 20% of the total expenditure and other hospital fees. Sometimes it makes you wonder how much fluff encompasses the actual medical cost there.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Iron-man" at your service

A few days ago I wrote about the common services that you can enjoy at your doorstep in Bangalore, here. But I consciously did not write about the ironing service, because THIS service deserved its own post. I am not really dependant on this service, preferring to just iron my clothes at home. My husband, however, is a true appreciator of the "iron-man". Hub has always HATED ironing his shirts and trousers, mostly cause he found it extremely painful to get the creases right. I am sure a lot of us will agree that men's clothes are so much harder to iron than women's. In the SF bay area, he often wore clothes that were either easy to iron, or those that retained some from a previous wear! However, here he is getting spoilt silly!
Typically, this service has a "working model". It is mostly family run, with all the nuclear family members involved with one setup. The 'iron-family' that has our area under its "jurisdiction" consists of 3 people - dad, mom, and a young son. There is an unsaid law amongst the 'iron-men'. They don't infringe on the next guy's area/customers. This family always comes to our street early every Sunday morning. Their usual spot is under a particular tree on the pavement. The boy goes to the homes of his regular customers and collects clothes for ironing. He does not pain the others who are not his usual customers by begging for business. However, others are welcome to give him their clothes if they want to.

He then takes the collected clothes to their mobile ironing board, which is nothing but the flat push cart that is used by street hawkers and vendors. A couple of huge and heavy iron boxes heated with coal accompany the board. They fill the heated coal from the top of the iron box. The heaviness of the iron box makes all the difference in the result of the finished product.

The 'iron-man' and his wife do a fantastic job of ironing. The boy delivers the ironed clothes - nice and very crip, ready for use.

Those familiar with this service will know or recollect from memory the distinct smell of these ironed clothes. I guess the unique smell is from the old iron box, the coal, the backing cloth that is used on the ironing-board etc. I have come to associate this smell with crispness!

It costs Rs. 2.5/- (about 5 cents!) for a piece in this area. A piece can be a shirt, trouser, dress, etc. Sarees cost Rs. 6/- or more. Now, these prices may vary depending on the area. In apartment buildings, there is usually an 'iron-man' in the basement parking lot. And mostly he is there everyday of the week at your service.

My husband is actually in the heaven of ironed clothes now. :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For a cuppa filter coffee

One late afternoon, I was on MG road trying to kill time before meeting my husband. I was browsing through some stores and doing some shopping/window shopping. Since my return from the US, I have been getting used to my mom's first class South Indian filter coffee everyday at around 4.30 pm. Typically, I don't drink too much coffee and am not an afficionado by any measure. Infact, for all the years in the US, all I had on a daily basis was a cup of instant coffee with hot milk in the mornings. :) When on the road, I have enjoyed Starbucks too.

Anyway, as I strolled along I realized that it was my coffee time, 'mom's South Indian filter coffee' time. I was at The Bombay Store, and the nearest coffee joint is the Cafe Coffee Day(CCD), which is adjacent to it. I went to the counter to take a look at the menu. There were the typical espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, decafs, and the like. So I asked the guy at the counter if they served the regular South Indian filter coffee, after all I am in South India, aren't I? And there was no such coffee available. Also I noticed that the per cup coffee prices ranged from the early to the late 30s. I next headed towards Barista, further down from CCD. I could smell the cappuccinos and espressos as I neared Barista. I didn't even bother going in. I wanted my South Indian filter coffee, and that was that.

I walked down further and the very familiar coffee smell greeted me from the India Coffee House (ICH). I walked in and to my surprise the table right next to the big window overlooking MG road was available! I sat at the table facing the window and ordered for a coffee right away. The waiter brought me a cuppa Kapi. No frills and no jazz, just the way I wanted it. The saucer had water droplets, having just been washed. It was a nice big cup of fresh South Indian filter coffee, just like mom's.

After I got the coffee, I ordered a masala dosa. He brought it almost immediately. Nice and very home-made. Loved the simplicity of both my dosa and coffee. I noticed that the menu card hadn't changed in all the years. And the prices were down right low! Right in the middle of MG Road and I just had to pay a total of Rs. 22/-!! Amazing! (Any coffee at CCD was around Rs. 35/-)

I enjoyed the window view as I cleaned off my cup and plate. Nothing had changed. The ICH has probably remained the same for all the 60 odd years. The same old ceiling fans, a few old posters and hangings on the walls, the same red+white uniforms on the waiters, a few tourists, and some regulars. It had the old Bangalore colonial hangover and I was almost transported back in time.
View from the window
There has been the rumor that ICH is going to be razed to the ground, like everything old in the city. The location is very prime. In fact, I am surprised it is still standing what with the espressos becoming the norm in the trendier parts of town. I don't know for how long it is going to be around, but thanks to ICH, I hardly missed my mom's coffee that evening. And my hub got to meet a happy camper!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Auto, an (in)convenient mode of transport

Well, the auto has been around for a long time on the Indian roads and needs no introduction. It is an easy mode of commute. The biggest plus is that you can just hop in and out. You don't have to worry about the lack of parking space for your car or the availability of public transport, the bus. You definitely don't have to drive, especially in the crowded/narrow roads. An auto ride is not too expensive. It is Rs.6/- per kilometer, with a minimum of at least Rs. 12/- per ride.

The downside is that you are exposed to the air and noise pollution, since the auto is open on both sides. By the time you commute for about 10 kms, you have a distinct exhaust smell in your hair and clothes. The exhaust smell can also make you feel nauseas. Since the smog checks have become fairly strict, the cars, 2-wheelers, and some autos are almost smoke-free. However, there are some autos and buses that are still very polluting. See pics below.
Smoke from auto exhausts

The second issue is that of the auto fare meter. Most autos still have the "dreaded" mechanical fare meter. Why "dreaded"? Cause they are most often tampered with and read anywhere between 5-20 % more than the actual price. There are very few autos that do not have tampered meters. How do I know this? I have had to go to the same place everyday from home and I have been engaging autos by default. However, I am yet to come across 2 mechanical auto meters that have read the same price at the destination! So, what have I been doing of late? I just tell the auto guy that his meter is faulty and that I have been doing the exact same route everyday and know the exact distance and price. Amazingly enough, the auto guys just accept what I say without any arguments. Clearly implying that their meters are faulty!

The electronic fare meter is SUCH a welcome change. It not only shows the running price, but also the running distance in kms. Makes it very easy to know the exact price for the ride. Unfortunately, the digital meters are seen very sparingly in the Bangalore autos.

Another very positive development is the "identity display system". Every auto must display certain details (see left) of the driver. In case you need to go to the police for some reason, you have enough info to track the driver.

Bangalore also has the "pre-paid" scheme. But the pre-paid autos are only available at some fixed spots like the railway stations, Bangalore city bus stand, M.G. road, airport, etc.

Overall, in Bangalore, an auto is alright if you have to just get from place A to place B, on occasions. But, it definitely cannot be a mode of transport for your regular everyday commute, more so because of the continuous exposure to air pollution.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The peddling Bollywood celebrities

It is astonishing to see how Bollywood celebrities peddle anything and everything! Celebrity faces adorn every hoarding, wall, screen, gadget that there is to adorn. If you go to an appliance store, you can easily identify every LG appliance that there is in the store, cause all of them have a big huge face of Abhishek Bachchan's on them. When you are at an appliance store, it is real funny to have Abhishek Bachchan stare at you from all corners.

Amitabh endorses a huge range of products - Pepsi, Emami, Dabur, Parker pens, Reid and Taylor, Eveready batteries, Cadbury's etc. He is truly the Lord of Endorsements. Shahrukh Khan can easily be called the Ad Khan. He endorses Pepsi, Hyundai, Airtel, Videocon, Sun Feast, Tag Heur, Emami, Mayur Suitings, Lux(!), ICICI and more.

Hoardings with stars and their products can be spotted through out the city. You have the Bachchans, Khans, Aishwarya Rais, Kareena Kapoors staring at you from everywhere. All of this is really good for the product brand name, but not so much for the celebrity brand name, IMHO. After all, the "stars" just become peddlers at the end of the day. Such an overkill.

In contrast, you hardly ever see Hollywood stars promoting products in the US. They do promote goods in other countries for very hefty amounts, but at least you are not seeing them endorsing goods in the US. The paparazzi cover them enough and the stars appear on enough and more TV talk shows to promote their movies/books/agenda. If they were to endorse goods as well, it would have been a bit much.

What prompted me to write this post was seeing this new Shahrukh Khan's Videocon ad.
Seriously, what is he doing in this ad? :-O

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

R2I - No ocean to keep families apart

The proximity of our near and dear ones is a big plus on returning home. Typically parents are getting old and their dependencies, increasing. It is very easy on the nerves to not have the oceans and mountains keeping you apart, especially when there is a health crisis.

Both hub and I are only kids to our respective parents and we wanted to be here for emergencies that might arise. I would have hated to receive a really tragic news in the middle of the night and not be able to come home right away. What with 2 young'uns and all. Though both sets of parents have visited us before, I didn't see it happening again cause of different health complications. And that wasn't comforting at all.

It is an absolute joy to watch the children interact and play with their grandparents. And it seems to be doing a whole lot of good to the grandparents as well. Something to keep them young and spirited .... company of the very young. The nearness and proximity is easy on their nerves as well. For them, the huge geographical divide and the tiring and long international air travels are things of the past. :)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

R2I - Our boxes are here!

And it feels so surreal. All the meticulous packing in our Calif garage, then sending the boxes away in a truck and now seeing them here in our Bangalore home, feels strange. It took exactly 2 months for these boxes to travel the seas and get here.
We used WorldWide Ocean and Air Shipping Lines Inc. for shipping. We are really very happy with their service. They picked up the boxes from our Calif home and delivered it at home here. They also delivered it in the promised time frame. They kept the paper work easy and simple. After the boxes arrived here, my hubby had to go to the customs to get the boxes cleared, and pay some duty. Once the boxes were out of the customs, the shipping company did the rest of the delivery. It cost us about $1 per pound (lb), though that is not how they charged for the shipping.

Seeing our stuff from there made me miss our Calif home. We loved our home, the community, our wonderful neighbors, the beautiful mountains, park etc. When I missed everything, I was just glad that we still had our home there. We may never really go back for good, but when I do miss our home, I don't have to feel real terrible. :)