Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Costume

In the spirit of celebrating American holidays while overseas, I dressed up for work on Friday, October 30th. The office was having an "orange and black" color theme day, so I integrated that as well. I am (dressed like) a Foreign Service Generalist. To fully appreciate this, I should note that I've never worn anything other than khakis and a polo shirt to work in Chennai... This 'costume' was so out of character that I got comments from pretty much everyone... I received plenty of laughs and even some tips, such as: "Start every sentence with, 'When I was in <insert previous post>.'

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ayudha Puja

I mentioned Ayudha Puja last year, but it's worth revisiting. This year, we went to attend the group puja of a bunch of vehicles at one of the multi-family-residences. As it turns out, I parked in the wrong place... so I was invited to get my car puja'd as well. SCORE!

The puja (or pooja) is a multi step blessing process. First the vehicles (or tools) are cleaned. Then they are sprinkled with turmeric powder and kumkuma powder (also turmeric, just mixed with slaked lime which makes it change color) and palm leaves/flower leis are tied on.
Next, offerings of puffed rice and fruit are placed in front of the vehicle. Camphor is placed on top of an ash gourd and coconut, lit on fire, and the smoke is wafted around the blessed items. The gourd and coconut are then smashed open in the street (and left for passing animals).
Finally, a lemon is placed under each wheel (of the car) and the car drives forward, crushing them. This is said to bring good luck for the year. I like to think it means my car is now invulnerable. I wonder if I can get them to reduce my $70/year car insurance rate, in light of my car's new found power.

On a side note, everyone tells me that the minor "bang" I had yesterday was obviously because my car wasn't puja'd last year.

Monday, October 19, 2015

First Love Tap, Driving in India

I guess it was bound to happen. Driving to work today I got into my first "bang" or fender-bender, as non-Indian's call it. Of course, neither of our fenders were bent... so "bang" is probably a more accurate term. It was completely my fault, I was looking at the side of the road at the group of personal drivers from the Consulate, who were getting breakfast at a food stand. The car two cars in front of me slammed on his breaks for no reason and caused a mild '3 car pile up.' In the end, we all got out, the personal drivers came over, and everyone agreed (in Tamil, without me having any clue what was going on) that there was no damage to any of the vehicles. The other two cars drove off... and I finished making my way to work. The only real damage done was to my reputation as a driver in the eyes of the personal drivers. I'm pretty sure they were shaking their heads and saying, "Silly American, this is why you hire a professional!"

I was quite lucky; had there been damage, I could have spent several hours at the police station. At least, that's what has happened to other officers in the past.

Note: The pictured car is not mine, but is the same make/model and is just as (un)damaged.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Great (Pay) Expectations

When I joined the Foreign Service, I expected to take a fairly substantial pay cut. I was making 6 figures at my last job and figured I would start as a low FS-5. That being said, I've been (pleasantly) surprised by my actual compensation. In my initial guesses, before getting hired, I really didn't understand how overseas pay was calculated. Here's a breakdown of my current pay modifiers:

All Foreign Service Officers, while overseas, get "Overseas Comparability Pay" (OCP) of 16.14%. In Chennai, I receive 15% "Hardship Differential." In addition, I get a 5-10% "Cost of Living Adjustment" (based on some wonky math, so it ends up being 4-8%).

This changes my original belief of making $43,378-$63,702 to $60,369-$91,881. That's a pretty substantial difference. In addition, I was also fortunate to qualify for a much higher step than I'd expected. Throw in free housing and utilities,  drastically lower expenses ($5/month for a cell phone plan(!), $20/month for high speed internet, et cetera) and things are much better than I'd expected.

Other's mileage may differ, certainly many countries have lower hardship differentials (or none) and are much more expensive than the US (Hi, London!). That being said, we've actually been saving more in Chennai than we ever did living in the DC/Baltimore corridor, despite the lower gross pay. I've heard more senior officers say that you save money while overseas to be able to afford going back to DC (where you don't get free housing, differential, or COLA). I could definitely believe that.

Of course there are a lot of "quality of life" differences as well, both good and bad, but I'll save those, and how my benefits have changed, for another post. (Hopefully? Soon).

Note: Why oh why did they discontinue these AMAZING one rupee coins? Eeeeeeeeeey!