Monthly Archives: March 2012

Our Temporary Home – aka Corporate Housing

Last week, we had a friend visiting IDC from Redmond, and came home to meet us. He and his wife are contemplating moving to India and were interested in the corporate housing. Is it big? What all does it include? Where is it located? What are the amenities in the complex? How far is it from Microsoft?

This picture heavy post is about the corporate housing. Typically, in Jayabheri, Silicon County, this marks the ‘honey-moon’ phase of move to India. Located centrally, it is an easy drive to Microsoft as well as to Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area which has all the popular hangouts and restaurants. A band of service staff take care of cooking and cleaning on a daily basis – even changing the sheets and towels every day.

The complex has beautifully maintained grounds, swimming pool and gym. And a lot of children playing in the evening.

More importantly, the complex has full power backup (including AC’s  in all rooms),  no water problems , is not water-logged in rains and is very clean!

Below is the from the balcony. This area is shaded after 5:00 pm so is perfect for Varun to play with other kids. Mom or I go down with him but once he is a bit older, I can keep an eye out on him from the balcony.

Living room is just off the main door. It’s a bit dark in here; but rest of the apartment is bright.

 The kitchen is huge and just off the dining room. As this apartment does not have a washing area/utility area, the kitchen has 2 sinks – one for washing vegetables,cooking etc and other for washing utensils.

The dining room has an adjoining unfurnished family room which has a puja niche, a hand washing sink ( convenient for Indian meals) and doors leading to all bedrooms.

Master bedroom is a decent sized room and has a TV outlet and a small office desk in addition to wardrobes and bed.

Varun’s room is bit smaller but has a full length balcony which most people use as utility area with washer/dryer and lines to air dry the laundry.

All bedrooms have wall to wall wardrobe and built-in mirror for ample storage. We don’t have our air shipment yet, so the closest are mostly empty but I hope we will be able to fit all our clothes in there 😉

The third bedroom is a bit small, but includes a study desk as well.

Varun loves the play equipment, sand pit and the lawns : every morning before it gets too hot, he loves going out and resists coming back home.

We really love this place. Although the 3-bedroom will be small once we get our stuff, but the duplex would work just fine. If we can afford to live here, this truly would be my #1 preference!

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Celebrating Gudipadwa Andhra Style

Yesterday, we had a day off on account of Gudipadwa or Ugadi – as it is celebrated here in Andhra Pradesh. As I understand this is a big festival here, second only to Dussera, marking the beginning of the Hindu lunar year.

Typically, new clothes and jewellery is gifted to family on this day.Everyone, including the service staff was dressed in festive finery.  Most folks perform elaborate puja’s at home to seek blessings at the beginning of the new year. Elaborate meals are prepared which mainly feature raw mango as this is the start of the mango season. New business ventures, big purchases like cars or houses are made on this day – as it is one of the 3 auspicious days in Hindu calendar.

In a typical Maharashtrian style, we did small puja at home. And ate neem leaves with sugar to ring in the new year.Then we hoisted the gudi (or totem) – or rather kept it in the puja niche as we lacked the necessary equipment to hoist it ( long pole, string etc).

And in a typical Andhra style, we hung neem and mango leaves toran on the front door. We also made the famous Telugu dish – ugadi pachadi – or neem, kairi (raw mango), tamarind and jaggery chutney: a sweet and sour brown sauce/chutney which I can eat any other time of the year as well!

We bought new clothes for Varun and later on visited Chilkur Balaji temple to seek blessings and to kick-start the new year on the right note! Legend has it that people go this temple and make manaat (oath) – most commonly to get US visa – hence it is also called as Visa Balaji. Our driver insisted we go here rather  than the Birla temple on this auspicious day.

It is one of the non commercial temples I have visited lately, with no asks for donations etc. Instead the priest was asking everyone to distribute books, study and focus on exams rather than on TV/Facebook etc.

Getting to celebrate two holidays since we landed in India has been awesome! Next, we have a trip to Mumbai and a wedding to attend! YAY!!!

P.S. Apologies for the poor picture quality. I am yet to find the battery charge for my camera. Hopefully things will be sorted once we get our air shipment next week.

Reality Bytes: One Week Later

Everyone I know is very curious to know how we have fared in one week. How is the office working environment? What is the work culture like? How was the move? Do people show up on time? Whats the maid story like? How are we adjusting? What about  heat, pollution and traffic?

Well, this is how things are a week since our move and week into the first work week:

Working at IDC:

It’s largely the same as in Redmond. Work culture, meetings, push back on work items, deadlines, pressure etc seems to be the same. In fact once inside the campus, past the security checkpoints, and if you ignore regional accents,  it’s very easy to forget you are in IDC and not in Redmond.

Information is shared very transparently and I am encouraged to run with my areas without worrying about making mistakes. People seem vested in helping each other succeed – whether it’s a feature decision or its a presentation to external team.

Vipul’s team seems to be more ‘agile’ and has a lot of impromptu meetings that go on late in the evening and again early mornings but I have yet to experience that. My team has strict guidelines on meetings, agenda and all meetings I have attended this week have begun on time ( within a 1-2 min mark) – which is a refreshing change from my previous team 😉

Hyderabad Life

It seems like Hyderabad is a decent place to move to. It’s not as big as Mumbai or crowded as Banglore, making commutes easier but is not very small either – so there are all restaurants, concerts, pubs, shopping that’s within driving distance and doesn’t take hours to get to.

Traffic

We havent ventured out much beyond the Madhapur (where we live) – Gachibowli ( MS campus) area during weekday, but traffic seems manageable when we leave around 9:00 am and come back around 6:00 pm. It takes about 15 mins to drive about 7-8 km. On weekend, the drive to Banjara Hills was decent ( less than 20 mins). We saw heavy traffic post 7:00 pm once we were late but it kept moving along and didn’t stretch the commute into hours.

Pollution

The streets are dusty; especially in these summer days. But since our complex is not right off the main street, and we keep the doors closed, there isn’t much dust in the house. I don’t feel the need to dust/sweep twice a day – which is a relief.

Heat

Our move has been ill-timed given that it’s the beginning of summer. Temperatures are already hovering around 40 C and rise up to 45 C in April May. Localites joke that they are not as bad as Warrangal (interior AP ) where its hotter/drier and go up to 50 C. We don’t venture out after 10 am or before 4 pm. In the evenings, around 6 pm, when I take Varun to the garden , the air is still and you can feel the heat embrace you as you walk around. I carry a water bottle with me when I go out. Varun’s cheeks turn a deeper shade of pink/red by the time we return. I wish we had deferred the move till post summer so we would have had some time to acclimatize better.

Restaurants, Pubs and NightLife

we are yet to experience any nightlife, but the two restaurants (Ohri’s – Tansen and Chutneys ) we have been to so far have been really good. We haven’t tried the buffet in either places but the ambience, food and live music was really awesome. Next we have Calcutta Cabin and Prego on the list.

BTW, Hyderabadi’s are crazy about movies. Apparently, they get up and start dancing in the movie theatre – which I think will be fun to experience at least once ;).

Relocation Experience

The relocation experience in India could definitely have been better. It definitely did not meet our expectations as they were set during the interview and offer stages.

Housing: The final house was not in a move-in ready state. Things like AC and washing machine were not working. Kitchen was not fully equipped. Some of the built-in furniture is not in the best state or broken. The manager and staff here are responsive and try to fix all the problems that we report – but we would rather have not had these problems in the first place. We really expected the property was move- in ready. Surely, an inspection would have been a stretch, but at least ensuring daily needed things are functional was an expectation.

Cook Service: So far this has been a disaster. We have had 2 cooks in less than a week and neither of them have been reliable. They cannot come at times that we want because they have other commitments. So we agreed to waking up at 6am to accommodate their times and they just don’t show up. Every morning as soon as we wake up and after we come back from work we have to spend time calling up the various cooks and other staff to figure out who is going to come today if at all. To make matters worse, the person who we were engaging with to get cook was out due to a personal family tragedy and there was no backup for her. We escalated matters to the relocation contact and since then we have a cook who has been coming for past 2 days. Punctuality is not her forte but at least she has been showing up twice a day and makes pretty good food.

Driver: This has been the silver lining. So far this has been the most reliable and punctual of all. I really hope we get a driver that is as reliable even afterwards.

Maid Service: This has been another reliable service. They come on time and sweep, mop , dust etc, change linens, make beds, clean bathrooms etc. I feel so pampered to come home to a well made bed 😉

Destination Services: As part of the relocation, we will be assisted in finding a house and negotiating a lease, get driving and Telugu language lessons, help with shopping for appliances etc. We met with the primary contact this week and will begin our housing search next week onwards. We want to at least narrow down the areas where we want to live soon so we can enroll Varun in a daycare there and not transition him again when we move. the daycare search is still ongoing. Hopefully, we will have something worked out by end of next week.

Bank, Cell phone, PAN card

Opening a bank account was seamless, thanks to the folks who came on campus. Getting a cellphone, prepaid account was easy – once you have either a PAN Card copy or address proof. But since the guy from the shop didn’t submit the papers on time to the telecom company, so the account got deactivated.

Luckily, we have an Airtel and Vodafone kiosk on campus. You have to submit a photo,Microsoft ID copy and passport copy and you get a postpaid phone account immediately. The SIM takes 12 hours to activate – but its pretty straight forward. We got Airtel 3GS plan which has special rates for MS employees.

The interesting things is that for both bank account and cell phone, they made us fill only the address and designation and sign on the form. They take care of filling rest of the form ( like name, plan selected, etc) afterwards so you are there only for a few mins. I still think this is a workaround for the bureaucratic process that is followed in India and wish that they would simplify the process itself.

Vipul has a PAN Card but I still need to apply for one. I am dreading filling that form and providing all necessary details.

PATIENCE!

In the one week that we have been here, we have realized one thing: Living in India requires a lot of patience. Whether its following up with service providers or asking for stuff in a store – people just tell you what they think you want to hear and not necessarily the truth.

Are we wishing we were back in Redmond – sometimes. When the maid doesn’t show up, I wish we had our reliable dishwasher here! I miss our cars – having to wait for the driver or asking him to stay back till 11:00 doesn’t seem right.

But mostly, we are looking forward to settling into our apartment and in a routine here!

Image Source Page: http://www.savagechickens.com/2008/05/patience.html

NEO @ IDC

Monday, March 12th 2012, marks the beginning of phase II of our Microsoft experience.

It was a long day with delays, miscommunications, filing a bunch of paper work and long-winded talk reading from the power point slide about benefits and insurance – very different from the experience in Redmond almost 8 years ago.

Yesterday, we told our driver to arrive by 8:15 so we could leave early and be on campus by 9:00. Vipul had received an email with NEO times, I didn’t even get an email but I just tagged along hoping that it was a communication error. The driver reported on time, but we were delayed since I had to find my card key. We left home at 8:35 and reached campus by 8:50 am – muy better than my Redmond commute to Advanta. Traffic was light along the way. Vipul has been to IDC before, but this was my first time – I was excited to see Infosys, Wipro, TCS, ISB, CA, all in close proximity!

Once at IDC, we had to go through multiple security checkpoints – luckily since our card key was ‘activated’ we could scan and enter – else we saw others get down from the car and go through some additional security measures.

Past security, the driver parked at the garage closest to Building 3 ( where the NEO was scheduled) and we asked to come back at 5:00 to pick us up.

Building 3 is a modern building – reminiscent of Advanta or City Center buildings with lush tropical foliage, fountains and flowering trees. At that mid morning hour, I could smell the faint traces of plumeria as the occasional breeze wafted our way.

Once inside, we used our card key to enter the building, but the receptionist/security guy pulled us aside to verify our card keys and then gave us directions to the NEO room.

There were about 12 of us in all at the NEO. Everyone was given a different start time of NEO – so people strolled in leisurely. We had chai and exchanged notes with others while we waited. Also, the NEO is over 2 days, day 1 is Global NEO and day 2 is for enity specific – MSIT, MS IDC etc. But since we didnt have 15 people, we didn’t end up with Global NEO and that will be scheduled at a latter date.Finally the HR gal showed up at 10:00 ( she was told that the session is at 10:00) and we spent the next hour and half on going over various forms ( new employee form, pension , corporate card etc). Vipul and I were industrious and filled the forms while she was explaining so we got done by 11:30! Others filled the forms after 11:30. Then we had a lunch break till 2:00.

Now, Vipul and I were starving at 11:30 – we ran upstairs to the cafeteria only to find that they don’t start till noon. We had a pathetic veggie burger and veg pita roll from the only counter that was open and then had a glass of buttermilk. Then I went upstairs to meet my team and said hi to an old friend, Shubhada ( glad we are on the same team!!) and found the cube where I will sit. Boo for the cube, but yay for the team!

After that we took the shuttle to Vipul’s office in Bldg 1. I waited in the lobby while he met his team mates and found his office ( he gets an office ~)) . Then we explored his cafeteria ( mine is better but lacks chat corner) , gym ( there is one in each Bldg with showers and towel service). His building also has a Barista , basketball court and a cricket ground ( a match was going on in 35 C heat  – either they are crazy or we are these ‘pretentious firangs’ who can’t handle heat anymore).

Oh, and did I mention there is free Maaza in the cooler?

And the dishware and cups/mugs are the ‘real’ kind – not the compostable ‘can’t- handle-hot-contents-for- they-melt’ variety!

After lunch, we had an hour-long session on flex benefits and insurance plan options. It was boring and I was glad when it was over. The gist that I took away from it is that we can get coverage for us as well as our parents as part of medical insurance, life insurance is limited to employees and their spouse, dental coverage is almost non-existent and child care is subsidized.

Following this was another hour-long session on details of medical insurance, claims process, network policy etc. This was the longest hour today as the United Healthcare speaker droned on and on.Even garam garam cardamom chai could not keep us up. Luckily, everyone felt that way and no one asked any questions and the session ended before time.

The last session of the day was on Income Taxes, salary structure, allowances, deductions and exemptions – the most interesting session of the day. I will post details on this in a subsequent post once we file the Indian Income tax return for our ~ 2 weeks income before the tax year ends on March 30th. The speaker  from Ernst and Young was knowledgable and relatively engaging. Kudos to him for answering questions patiently and making taxes not-so-boring at the end of the day!

Then a bunch of Bank representatives (AXIS, ICICI, HDFC , Kotak Mahindra etc)  had come on campus so we could open a bank account. There is an ICICI bank on campus, but we opened an account with Kotak Mahindra as they had the best interest rates on savings account ( 6% P.A.) and had a Activmoney feature where in any amount greater than 1 lakhs gets transferred to a fixed deposit earring higher interest rate of 8.25% .The other benefits , such as ATM coverage, daily limits, net banking etc seemed almost the same amongst all banks. They made us fill our name, address, phone number, nominee information on a one page form and said that they will fill the official form which is 4-5 pages long using that information. We simply signed the official form and gave them a photograph and copy of our passport and in exchange got a welcome kit that included the ATM/Debit card, online account ID, bank account ID, passwords , check book etc.

I was hungry by this time. We ate a samosa and gulab jamun ( free!), met another friend, called the driver and came home. Traffic was OK at 5:30 and we were home by 5:50.

I was glad to see Varun after a long day! We went down for a walk and to play in the garden.Tomorrow is first day of real work. I can’t wait to get started 🙂

India Adventure begins with a big b(h)ang!

I couldn’t have wished for a better start for our India adventure than Holi- the colorful festival that signifies the arrival of spring. We were welcomed by the folks at Jayabheri (the complex where we will be staying for next 4 months) with organic colors, pichkaris, bhaang and Bollywood style dancing with music blaring out of two giant loud speakers while we were soaked to the skin! Varun had blast stomping his feet in water and went running behind the folks who were dumping water or springing water from a hose!

And in true desi style, there were snacks and drinks followed by a buffet lunch.

But, this is not how the day began.

Hyderabad Airport

The day actually began with us landing at Hyderabad airport at 2:45 am or some such time. Hyderabad airport is cleanest airport in India – which I expected based on our prior visit in Dec. We were not greeted by the sticky heat that is associated with Mumbai airport, it was hot in the airport. I am sure that AC’s were on, but with 4-5 international flights landing at about the same time, the place was teeming with people. We didn’t want to deal with handling carts, bags and Varun after the 18+ hour journey, so we hired the paid porter service. Their rates are fixed ( Rs 200 for max of 3 bags) and I was glad we didn’t have to haggle the minute we reached India.

Immigration was quick, but getting our luggage and then exiting through customs took time. Around 4:15 we found our driver, and then we were off to the temporary accommodations at Jayabheri. Normally, Varun is not too fond of car seat but today he wanted to sit in it. We were too tired to strap the car seat, so I just held him in my arms. We both dozed just after we exited the airport.

Temporary accommodations

When we reached the temporary accommodations, we called the guy who had contacted us in US regarding housing keys pickup. Within minutes of the call, the caretaker of the apartment came down to greet us and help with the luggage. He showed us around the apartment ( rooms, how to use the gas range, geyser, phone, dishes, pot n pans,cutlery etc) before leaving. We asked him to send us breakfast in the morning, so we don’t have to cook. I was glad there was milk, eggs, juice, cookies and fruits in the apartment – so I wouldn’t have to rush out to get milk for Varun first thing in the morning.

We took their mobile numbers before they left and we simply went to bed.

Bright bright morning

Around 8:00 am, Varun woke up and I was forced to get up with him. We didn’t have any tea in the house and I was not a happy camper.Promptly at 8:30, the caretaker got our breakfast – freshly made aloo-parathas and raita! They were good – even Varun ate a small one with relish. With breakfast, we had elaichi tea – and that helped a little with  the jet lag. After breakfast, I decided to step into the balcony to look around – but the light was so bright that I came back in and pulled the curtains back. And it was warm. It was only around 9 :00 am and I was already reaching for cold water. That’s when the music began. Loud sirens of Bollywood hits booming through the complex. I wanted to crawl back in the bed to sleep and really wished that they would stop that music.

Well, it stopped intermittently till I guess everyone came down to play Holi in the gardens.

In the meantime, To keep us awake, we decided to do grocery shopping.

We called for the car, had to wait for an hour for them to come, which is when the door bell rang.

The first one was from the cook- when did we want one to start etc. The second one was from the cleaning service, the third was from all the maids asking for Holi bakshish…you get the drift. Finally the driver came and off we went to get some groceries.

Grocery Shopping

This has been our biggest activity today, We went in the morning before Holi and lunch to get basic supplies and then again in the evening to get everything else the cook would need.Hypercity, Heritage Fresh, Reliance Fresh are the most popular modern grocery shopping chains in India. We went to Heritage Fresh, just because it is near the house. Its small, with limited selection of items but clean, with less crowds and faster check-out; probably is pricier. The quality of produce seemed decent.

Reliance Fresh is bigger, with more variety ( 3 types of Sunflower oil, 5 types of Basmati rice etc). But the produce was lame, the check-out slow and disorganized. I didn’t like it as much as Heritage fresh. I will have to try Hypercity or else stick to local ‘thela-wala’ types for fresh sabji.

Afternoon siesta

By the time we returned from morning grocery run, it was hot. Varun was intrigued by the shrieks of children as they played in the water and when I took him to the gardens to watch, he wanted to join in. So while Vipul put the groceries away and waited for lunch to arrive, Varun and I went down to play with colors and water. I had to struggle to bring him back up for shower and lunch. Lunch came in  a tall 5 box stainless steel tiffin in a Milton casserole box and was simple – rotis, dal, sabji, dahi, rice and papad.

Post lunch we all slept till Mom and Dad came around 5:30.

Dinner

Varun went for a walk with his grandparents in the evening.He simply loved being with them and was chanting ‘aaji- aaba’ all the time. Dinner was puran-poli and methi-parathas. Mom made them and got them along. It was the perfect end to the day. Normally, we would have got dinner from the same place as lunch but it was closed tonight (cook was out) and we had the option of getting dinner delivered from a nearby restaurant. But we didn’t really have to resort to that option.

Overall, it was a good start to our Indian adventure – Mom and Dad are here, Varun is happy though jet lagged, power back up seem to be working (we lost power 2-3 times but the backup was seamless), wireless router is up and running.

Tomorrow, we look for day care option for Varun.

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