Friday, December 30, 2011

The Insight Bowl

One of the most disruptive parts of expat life in India was having to wake up early or stay up late to catch a game on Slingbox. Coming home, I thought those days were behind me. Then I checked the start time of my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes' appearance in the Insight Bowl: 10:00pm EST. It's hard to believe that the 11:00am local start time in Bali for last year's Insight Bowl (where yes, those same beloved Hawkeyes played) was actually more convenient.

Regardless, I'm settling in for my first full football game in my upstairs basement (as you're probably aware they don't have basements here in Florida so I've converted the bonus room above my garage into a full scale replica of my basement from  Chicago).

Go Hawks!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lost and Found

When the worst thing you can say about a move is that you thought you had lost your camera, it's safe to assume that it was a fairly smooth move. Even though the camera would have been insured and would have been replaced, it was a headache of claims and paperwork and questions that I just didn't want to go through.

On the move day from our house in Lake Zurich, Lindsay had set aside her purse, three wrapped books for a Christmas book exchange (all books about India, "White Tiger," "Holy Cow," and "Delhi Bound: A Book for Kids"), and my newly beloved camera that I still probably can't use properly, my D7000. She gave the movers instructions that what was on the dryer wasn't to be boxed. At one point on move day, she grabbed the camera to take some pictures of the process and thought she put it back in the laundry room. That was the last she remembered seeing it.

After the movers had left for the day and as she was leaving for her Christmas party, she realized that the books were gone and quickly came to the conclusion that the camera was gone too. Figuring it had been packed, she shared the bad news. Knowing that there wasn't much we could do and that I'd be reunited with my newly beloved camera in under a week, I somewhat nervously pretended like it wasn't a big deal.

Fast forward to unpacking day. I wasn't sure what was growing faster, the stack of empty unpacked boxes in my driveway or the angst that went along with none of those boxes containing my camera. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the camera had gone missing. At one point during the day, Lindsay really wanted to show me the office which was the first fully unpacked room. I totally thought she had found the camera and I'd see it sitting proudly on the middle of the desk. No camera, and worse yet my disappointed reaction wasn't exactly what a deservedly proud Lindsay had hoped to see. Regardless, at the end of the day, I still had no camera. The only glimmer of hope was the fact that those three wrapped books were also missing.

The next day there were far fewer boxes to get through and my mood grew more sour with each passing box. My job for the day was to finish the garage as Lindsay and her Mom finished a couple different rooms. Not surprisingly, they finished first (I'm not the speediest of movers, especially when it comes to a place as foreign to me as a garage). No camera.

Since I had already pre-opened the boxes in the garage (I took a quick look inside to see if the camera was visible the previous day), I really wasn't expecting much. As I opened the final box (yes, it really was the final box), I moved a clear plastic container with some sort of foreign looking tool (it may have been what some people refer to as a "hammer") and my eye immediately caught three book-shaped objects covered in my wife's signature wrapping paper (yes, she has signature wrapping paper; it's an idea my mother gave her and if you've received a gift from us in the past five years it's been covered in silver paper with white dots, which Lindsay likes for it's versatility at the holidays, for birthdays, for weddings, etc.). The wrapping paper was my first glimmer of hope throughout the entire process. I looked a little closer and nestled between my saws (I didn't even know I had enough saws to nestle around something) was my camera packed in its case.

My mood changed instantly.

The moral of the story, I guess, is to make sure if you have professional movers that you either need to put some sort of flashing sign next to items that they shouldn't move or, better yet, just put the items in your car. In the end, movers will move anything in a house. My in-laws, who have moved a number of times through the years, recounted their favorite story from one of those moves. Someone in the house had made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, took a bite, and set it down. When they got to the new house, neatly wrapped in one of the boxes was a partially eaten sandwich. Movers will move anything.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mr. (and Mrs.) Luth Finally Go to Orlando

Today was a big day. I finally made it to Orlando. It started early, early enough to make a 6:25am flight from O'Hare. Much to my surprise, waiting for me on the plane was one of the 12 regular readers of Mr. (and Mrs.) Luth Go to India in the world, John Spaight. It's good to have fans. It turns out he had a meeting in Orlando and was turning back for Chicago exactly four hours after landing. My stay is a little more undefined (OK, so technically, I go back in five days, but I do have a one way ticket BACK to Orlando on December 28th).

This week will be a busy one. We close on a new house tomorrow and spend the better part of the week getting unpacked and somewhat settled before heading back to Chicago for the holidays. With all of the moves and transition, I feel like I'm effectively delaying most of the reverse culture shock until after the new year. It's simply been too busy to fuss too much about things like not having drivers and a cook. Though, in a story I'll post shortly, we did find the grocery store a little overwhelming our first morning back.

While I didn't see much of the Orlando area today, we did a drive-by of the new house (the first time I had actually seen it). If first impressions mean anything, it appears as though Lindsay has made a good choice. It's in a quiet part of Oviedo, which from what little driving around we did, appears to be a quiet and nice enough suburb. It's 15 minutes to the office, under ten to places like Target and The Home Depot (which I've heard is a store where you can buy things to fix your home), and roughly five to the grocery store (more important to me than you'd probably think). It's suburbia, but we knew that going in.

A couple additional initial impressions of Orlando: (1) people at the office seem exceedingly nice (without fail, upon entering the elevator after someone today, they all asked what floor I was going to and pushed the button; not a big deal, just something good people do) and (2) it's true what they say, this place is littered with chain restaurants.

It's been a long journey since we started packing bags in India in mid-November. Tomorrow is a big day; I get to actually enter the building which I will soon call home. And while I seem somewhat detached from all the change occurring around me, closing day is one of the more anticipated days of the entire process.

Annoying Me Slowly

I've been back for just over a week and actually arrived in Orlando this morning. Not surprisingly, after a mostly two year hiatus, there are things that are annoying me in my homeland. Here's a quick list of some of those small differences that have annoyed me as I start my slow re-immersion back into American culture:

Voice Mail
In India mobile phones don't have voice mail. So as you might expect based on its lack of existence, no one uses voicemail. As a person that really doesn't like the phone, this is a good thing. Listening to voicemail is excrutiatingly annoying. If you call me, there's this little thing called caller ID. I will see it. If I want to call you back, I will. No need to waste time with the voice mail.

Traffic Jams
India gets (in my opinion) an unjustifiably bad rap for its traffic. It's slow but flows like a river. Drivers are generally courteous and serious accidents (at least within Delhi) are more rare than you'd think. American traffic sucks. I had the misfortune of driving on the inbound Eisenhower "Expressway" at 5pm last Friday evening. It was much more stop than it was go. I think this may have been some sort of karmic punishment for moving from Chicago; perhaps a big "eff you" from the traffic gods. On the bright side, there were no cars on fire (cited more frequently than you would think on Chicago radio). On the not-so-bright side, cities of five million shouldn't have expressways that merge and choke down to one lane. I will not miss Chicago traffic.

Americans, who drive on the right side of the street, tend to walk down the right side of corridors or sidewalks and walk up the right side of stairs. Indians, who drive on the left side of the street, tend to walk down the left side of corridors or sidewalks and walk up the left side of stairs. I must admit, I had gone local. And it becomes a habit. In my first week back in the American office, I avoided any major collisions and injury; however, I can't even count the number of times I was forced to say "excuse me."

First Floor
I have to admit, I got used to the whole "ground floor is the ground floor" thing and the "first floor is the floor above the ground floor" thing. I know this drives most Americans crazy. I actually like it. It makes counting the number of flights of stairs you need to walk up that much easier (because, you know, it's too complicated to subtract one). I've found myself confused when people tell me something is on the first floor. It hasn't gotten to the point where I've gotten on an elevator from the ground floor and pushed a button to get to the first floor and expected it to move, but it makes me stop and think. And yes, I am lazy enough to take an elevator one floor.

Sports Talk Radio
I never listened to the radio in India. I don't think my life was any less rich because of that. I'd also like to think I have better things to do than listen to people argue about nothing which is, in effect, the idea behind American sports radio.

More to come I'm sure....

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Grocery Store

After a not-so-restful first night back in the states, I awoke bright eyed around 3:30am. I tried to get back to sleep, failed, and ultimately turned on the laptop. Thinking that I'd have no chance at wireless during the few days we were living in our old house, I decided to see if there happened to be any open networks in the neighborhood. Luckily, I became the lucky sap freeloading off the other sap in my neighborhood who hadn't taken the time to change his network name (it's always a good sign if you pick up one called "NETGEAR") and was soon driving down a toll-free information superhighway. This kept me entertained for as long as possible before I decided it was time to wake up my wife and partake in my favorite past time. Yep, we went to the grocery store.

Unless you've frequented grocery stores in the developing world for two years that feature different items on different days depending on what's survived the truck ride or been imported lately, you probably aren't aware that there's simply too much choice in American grocery stores. We went with the simple task of picking out something to make for breakfast. We had no idea what we had in store.

I knew I was in trouble when Lindsay made what you would think is a fairly simple request, "go pick out some English muffins," and I found myself staring, slack-jawed, at over a dozen different options. Ninety seconds later, vowing that I was going to eat better, I reached for a whole wheat option.

In the eggs department, there were fewer choices but you still need to consider, large, extra large, or even larger. You also need to consider whether you need cage free eggs or not. After looking at the price, I decided that I did not. In India, there are two choices of eggs. The first is typically in a nondescript egg carton bottom holding six eggs. The second at least has some sort of packaging. In fact, it's one of my favorite packaging slogans. It's for a product called Keggs Eggs, which are touted to be "near organic."

After finding no eggs that were near organic, I approached the orange juice section. No pulp, low pulp, high pulp, country style, calcium-enriched, freshly squeezed, low calorie in more sizes and brands than I knew what to do with. In India there is Tropicana and another brand. It's not refrigerated. It comes in a one liter box. If you're lucky, you can find juice box sized. Needless to say, this decision took some time.

Finally, I stopped at the produce section. The produce section used to be my favorite section. I even had a produce guy before I expatriated. His name was German. My favorite move of German's was to see a huge line at the check-out, see me, call me over, and quickly whisk me into an unopened line. Sure, I'd bag my own groceries to speed up the process, but it's this level of service that made German the greatest employee that Dominick's (my grocery store chain of choice in Chicagoland) ever saw. At any rate, German wasn't there. In fact, the only thing I saw there was aisle after aisle of fruit that looked like it had been injected with God knows what. Quick question, how long should bananas last? The answer? Two days. At least that's how long the puny (yet delicious) varietal sold in India tends to last. Something tells me that's more normal.

Forty-five minutes after entering the store, we triumphantly loaded the car. Exhausted. It was still before 7:00am.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Luth Gone Bluth

I used to find it hilarious that when you Googled my wife's name, Lindsay Luth, you'd receive an auto-correction that asked, "Did you mean Lindsay Bluth?" Lindsay Bluth, for those uninformed, was the socialite-for-no-real-reason twin sister of Michael Bluth on FOX's critically acclaimed but lightly watched sitcom "Arrested Development" produced by Ron Howard. The show, better known for its cult-like following than any sort of real commercial success, is one of my favorites.

If you're familiar with the show, you're aware that the Bluth family lived in a model home. That's a little what I feel like back at our "old" house in the Chicago suburbs. It's currently staged for selling. I'm not going to lie, it looks great. If I was looking for a house here, I'd totally buy it. Not that I'm biased or anything. That being said, staged houses aren't exactly the most livable houses.

Next to our coffee maker (which is functional, though I hedged against being able to find our grinder and had Starbuck's grind me a pound of Pike's Place for the week or so I'm here) is a placemat with two coffee mugs half full of beans. A nice look, but not sure what good a half full mug of beans looks like.

Like in most bathrooms, we have towel bars. Unlike in most bathrooms, those towel bars each have towels with a bow tied around them. It looks nice, if you're into that kind of thing. Functionality is questionable if you don't want to spend half your day retying bows around towels. The net result is that I now dry my hands on my jeans.

I'm sure there are worse stories about people trying to sell homes and having to quickly vacate for showings; however, this is probably the first of many reminders that things won't magically take care of themselves (with helpful people cleaning up after me) here like they did in India. Everything moved out of place must be put back into place. These seem like fairly basic lessons for a thirty-five year old man to (re)learn, but two-year habits don't seem easily broken in the first 72 hours at home.

Having the house staged when we were in India was, obviously, not an issue at all. And since we begin our transient December life on Thursday when the movers show up (which begins the first of four consecutive nights in different friends' and family's homes before heading down to Orlando; yes, I realize I'm a freeloading jerk), I can't complain. Unlike the Bluth's, the Luth's know where they're headed. It's just a matter of days.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Delhi to Disney

I was once a typical Midwestern guy. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River, went to college at Miami (the one that was a university before Florida was a state), settled in Chicago, got married, moved to the suburbs, and drove a German car. Life was good.

In January 2010 things changed. We moved. Far. 7,434 miles far (or 11,964 kilometers, as I would soon become familiar) to a suburb of Delhi, India called Gurgaon. For nearly two years I lived the Indian corporate expat life, a life mixed with the everyday frustrations and joys of living in India and seeing much of the world I had never imagined all while surrounded with more domestic help than I knew what to do with. Life was good.
Trekking in Ladakh, July 2011
In September 2011 my wife, Lindsay, accepted a great new position with the company that had sent us to India. A great new position with a catch. The catch? The job was in Orlando. After much (OK, not that much) deliberation, we determined the right next adventure in our life was to head south, continue to skip winter, and see what central Florida has to offer. Life was exciting.

December 2011 is a month of transition. We arrived back in the States on December 2, move out of our Chicago home on December 8, close on a house in Orlando on December 13 (that I've never set foot inside), head back to Chicago for the holidays, and ultimately settle in Orlando (for good) just before the new year. Life is busy.

I knew more what I had in store for me when moving to India than I do about moving to Orlando. I spent six months in India beginning in October 2004. I've been to Orlando exactly three times. Once as a child to Disney World and twice professionally. During those two professional visits, I've been outside the airport, hotel, and office for no more than two meals. My wife visited Orlando in November to meet her new team and start and (which really came as no surprise to anyone) finish the home search. Life is unknown.

This blog comprises the stories, experience, and process of repatriating from an amazing experience in India to a completely unknown part of the United States. Life will be good.

If you're interested in reading about my Indian adventures, check out Mr. (and Mrs.) Luth Go to India. If nothing else, it will help explain the many future references to my trusty drivers Kailash and Ashok and the separation anxiety that I'm sure will plague the first few months back stateside, regardless of location.