Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Mumbai, etc.
I am BombayJules and I moved to Mumbai in June 2012 after my husband was relocated here by his company to head up an Indian consumer magazine called Right Choice. Previously I was an accountant working mostly in the real estate sector in London where I also lived with my husband and two cats.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging immediately as I knew that coming to live in Mumbai would be like no other experience in the world, and that my friends and family would be very interested to hear about it all. I had no experience of writing before this and it was very difficult trying to string sentences together at first…but now it is easy and I really enjoy it. Whilst I was trying to set up our apartment, I realized that it was very hard to track down home furnishings so I started documenting everything to help other expats. I also started writing about all the places I visit in Mumbai, the places where we eat and about any of our travels within India.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favourite blog entry is about a rally tour we did around Kerala in an old Ambassador car with forty other people. We saw amazing sites and made some good friends and driving the Ambassador was like no other experience! It was not that long after we moved to India and our first major travel outing. It really was wonderful.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Mumbai differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Thankfully for me I am a very adaptable person who loves to experience new things, so I did not find coming to India a culture shock. I have travelled quite extensively before – although not to India and I am quite independent so my husband is happy to just let me get on with it. Although I gave up a ‘proper’ full time job, I started volunteering for an NGO right away – one that deals with malnutrition in young women and small children. For me this was the biggest eye opener as I had a) never worked for a charity before – I’d always worked in the corporate sector b) never worked with children before and c) never been to underprivileged communities before. It taught me about life and how lucky we are back home in the UK. After an initial three month placement, I was asked to join the Executive Council where I now contribute towards Strategic and Financial Planning.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Mumbai? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I am the sort of person that plans meticulously for everything – whether it is a dinner party, an interior decoration project or a move abroad. My husband’s company handled most things, but in terms of what area we wanted to live in, where I wanted to volunteer, and even how I would blog was all planned before I arrived. My husband ended up having to choose the apartment on his own without me seeing it (except for photos) but I fully trusted him so it wasn’t a problem! The layout and location is perfect. The only thing I wish I had brought when I first arrived was a pair of Wellington boots – I really needed them to handle puddles in slum areas that first monsoon! Also I don’t cope with the heat very well but I have to as I am determined not to be confined to our air-conditioned apartment when it gets tough out there.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
It always amazes me how much British expats or white foreigners in general sometimes held in awe by our fellow Indians. When we are travelling within India, my husband – being blond and blue eyed often gets stared at. Indians often come up to us at tourist sites to ask us if they can have their photo taken with us. Or at least I used to think it was ‘us’ - for I am dark haired and olive skinned - so I more often than not get asked to move out of the frame! Tch! This has made me realize that I sadly have no future in being an extra in a Bollywood musical – something I always wanted to be – as the demand is usually for fair haired people.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Mumbai?
- Research very carefully which area you want to live in. For expats, these usually fall into three camps – Bandra, Powai, or Malabar Hill. A lot of people with children tend to live in Powai with its towering new apartment blocks and access to good schools. But it is quite a way out of central Mumbai so you can end up feeling cut off unless you are prepared to travel in Mumbai traffic to get south. Bandra (where I live) has a younger vibe and is close to lots of trendy restaurants and shops and only an hour from south Bombay via the Sealink. It is very popular with expats. Malabar Hill is the most refined part of Bombay with its clean, leafy streets and colonial buildings. But in my opinion, there is less choice of restaurants and things to do and tends to suit older couples. If you have children, where they go to school will be a deciding factor on where you live.
- If you are a ‘trailing spouse’ (a term I despise!) with no work visa, you should attempt to find something meaningful to fill your time. There are plenty of expat wives that are willing to spend their time at coffee mornings or ‘down the club’ but this is a waste of many people’s skills. Find a worthwhile cause in Mumbai – after all there are so many! – and try to volunteer for at least a day a week. Whether it be teaching English to small children, providing administrative or IT skills or fundraising; you won’t regret it and you will find it so rewarding. And don’t worry about the environment – it’s never as bad as you think it will be!
- People always ask me how I could possibly have done so much during the last twelve months that we have been in Mumbai. Well, it is partly because we initially thought we would only be here for a year – so we tried to squeeze in a lot of travel and sight-seeing. But really it’s because I get out there and use my eyes, ears and senses. I want to enjoy being in Mumbai and I want to learn as much as I can. I just get out there and do it and I believe everyone else should too.
How is the expat community in Mumbai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a very strong expat community in Mumbai although I like very much to mix my friendships with Indians too. I am lucky I can do that through the volunteering work I do. However through such organizations as InterNations, Mumbai Connexions, The Cigar Club and the American Women’s Club it is always possible to make new friends very quickly. They organize a lot of social events and clubs and are very friendly. I have also met quite a few people through my blog and the blogging network is also very friendly. And it is always easy to set up your own clubs through Facebook – I set up an amateur photography group with a few other like-minded ladies for example.
How would you summarize your expat life in Mumbai in a single, catchy sentence?
“It may be hot, but just get out there and do it!” (On my blog it is “I see, I eat, I shop, I comment”).