Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Still alive!

I thought cricket was going to be a smaller part of my life after the world cup, but so far that hasn’t panned out quite the way I planned. I have now been to TWO live Deccan Chargers matches. The sport is slightly enhanced by seeing it live, but greatly enhanced by the shorter, 3.5 hour format. As if there were a shortage of team spirit in India, each team has seen to importing a squad of Eastern European cheerleaders that prance about whenever a four, six, or a wicket is hit. I like how every team has a short jingle that they play when they make a good shot (so like every 2-3 minutes). The Charger’s song is particularly corny/great. Go, Chargers, Go! Watching Cricket “highlights” is pretty lame, because the criteria for being a highlight is so low that the highlight reels are so long, you basically end up watching a game summary rather than something cool like a top 10 plays reel (a la NBA.com).

Apart from etiquette befitting a diplomat (whatever that means), my job usually doesn’t require any sort of responsibilities once the Consulate closes for the day. However, every so often it becomes necessary to pull a shift as the ‘Duty Officer’ and be on-call in case of any emergencies regarding American citizens. I know my mother, who is on call frequently and for potentially much more life-threatening incidents would dismiss my complaints, but my enjoyment of the cricket game and my weekend in general was diminished by having a nagging fear that my duty officer phone would go off and I’d have to dash to the rescue of some American in distress.

I haven’t had an update for a couple of weeks! So sorry. I’ve been a bit busy lately. This week was my last week with my friend Jordan, someone who hasn’t graced this blog too much so far, but whose company I have been enjoying since I met her a couple of months ago. She is off this weekend on a final trek up north to Delhi, Agra, and Rishikesh. I’m a bit jealous. To get even, I have decided to join Jeremy and his friends on a trip to Mumbai this weekend. I’ll be sure to take pictures and write about it when I get back. That is, if I’m not too busy moving into my NEW APARTMENT! yaayyy.

In a move that plays to my ego and assumes my readership is bigger and more influential than it probably is (but I love you all anyways), my friend, brilliant med student, and avid reader/commenter Chloe has requested that I make a shout out to bring some attention to the important work she is trying to do in Peru this summer. She is trying to go to Peru to work on improving water sanitation. Poor water sanitation is a real problem in the developing world and is responsible for all manner of diseases and even death. Check out her site HERE and if it moves you, donate!

Oh and one last bit, I saw my first motorcycle accident yesterday. A couple of guys riding on a motorcycle ate pavement a little ways ahead of us and their heavily laden bike dispersed its contents in various directions. The two gents got up immediately but they seemed a bit scraped up. A few of my co-workers are forming a bike gang, slowly peer pressuring new officers into buying a motorcycle. Thankfully, seeing this incident reminded me that there are very good reasons not to ride a motorcycle in the country with the highest traffic mortality rate in the world!

Sorry this post hasn’t had any sort of focus, I’m at a loss for deep, philosophical issues to raise. Maybe inspiration will strike soon. Anyway, my friend Gloria has graciously decided to cook dinner for her former Telugu classmates and show off her new house. Off I go!

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Holi Hell

You may have noticed last weekend that Google’s homepage had an extra colorful background. Like me, perhaps this is also the primary way you are alerted to most holidays (by the way, is today Houdini’s birthday or something?). Unlike most abstract Google backgrounds, this time I knew what the colors signified.

This past weekend was Holi.

For those of you uninitiated to the holiday, Holi is one of the more famous Indian holidays. Otherwise known as the ‘festival of colors’, it is a day where you are supposed to let your hair down and be bit irreverent, some of that may have carried over into this post. Its hard not to use ‘colorful’ language when talking about Holi, get it?

When I asked people about what Holi was supposed to be celebrating, I got a few variations on the theme of a celebration of the death of a certain demon. One thing everyone agreed on though, was how to celebrate Holi. Basically, arm yourself to the teeth (and try not to get it on your teeth) with colored dyes and apply lavishly to friends, family, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross your path. Don’t stop until your friends are so colorful you think you’re seeing in thermal vision.

The Community Liaison Officer graciously offered her house up as a sacrifice and invited the Consulate employees to celebrate there on Sunday. I had participated in Holi the day before with my driver, so I thought I knew what was in store. I had no idea. Upon arrival, it was clear that the CLO outdid herself. The scene was set with enough platters of powders to make a coke-head faint. Holi ammunition comes in two flavors: wet and dry. The wet kind tends towards pink and red colors, of which we had two replenishing drums full, while the dry powders run the entire color spectrum. Both work in harmony to leave your clothes, hair, skin, fingernails, and even contact lenses a rosy shade of pink that still hasn’t completely worn off even a week later. They also had gold metallic paint that when applied liberally made people look (and act) like a robot. Colors aside, the combination of Bollywood music, Indian finger food (I don’t care what they say, I still don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it), welcoming hosts, and general joviality brought out the wild side in us. It wasn’t long before we were ‘playing Holi’ with the best of them. Talking about Holi can only ‘paint’ the picture so well. Like the matrix, you can’t really be told what Holi is, to really understand, you have to see it for yourself. Commence slide-show.

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Thankfully, most of the visa applicants seemed to understand why the Consulate employees looked (even more than usual) like a freak show on Monday, and only a few poked fun of me.

Holi was the first major Indian festival I have participated in since my arrival to post in January. I know that on some college campuses in the USA there are limited versions of Holi, but I really think there is a place for this holiday in America. I’m trying to do my part, but the Indian-Americans who know about Holi should really spread the word! While I may not always muster up the gumption to celebrate in the manner I did last weekend, Holi has left its mark on me, both physically and otherwise.

Indians and luurrvve.

Disclaimer- I could write a much longer post about this subject, but I’m not going to. There are lots of generalizations in this post and the complexities and logic behind the Indian matrimonial system are beyond my storytelling capabilities. With that said, this is just a quick and dirty post about some of my initial thoughts and observations about love in India. Furthermore, I recognize there is not one Indian ‘system’ but many depending on religion, caste, income, and personal preference.

Despite having a rapidly changing society, most Indians these days have an arranged marriage. From a Western perspective and in my personal point of view, where I think of myself as an individual before I think of myself as a part of a family, arranged marriages can seem abhorrent. How can I be expected to love and spend my whole life with someone I didn’t choose? However, to many Indians, marriage isn’t so much about the individual.  Rather, one family marries another. So with that mindset, the individuals wishes and desires are less important that what the family wants. When this system is imposed in its strictest sense, dating is nonexistent. Couples can meet each other on the wedding day itself. However, these days it is much more common to at least have a date or two to gauge core compatibility before stepping up to the altar. Still, dating isn’t exactly a common practice, and PDAs (public displays of affection) are borderline blasphemy.

Perhaps as a result of the clash between traditional and modern relationships, Indian’s have a funny way of showing affection. Rather than wax philosophical about arranged marriages, here are a couple of funny anecdotes from my stay here.

-Since guys don’t have too many opportunities to show affection for girls, they seem to take that frustration out on their guy-friends. Its not uncommon to see guys holding hands (sometimes holding onto 1 finger, an even more promiscuous sight) at the mall. When among close  friends, Indian’s aversion to physical contact is non-existent. Even my friend Aditya lets our handshakes linger a little while longer than to what I am accustomed.

– The entire time I was at the Brian Adams concert, this stranger next to me kept putting his arm around my shoulders. At first it was alarming, but after a few attempts to shrug it off, eventually I just submitted.

-I was riding around with a couple of co-workers the other day and we happened to pass a park where we could see a few couples strolling around and holding hands. In the U.S., whenever PDAs are unbearable to the crotchety-old-man spirit within us, we yell out ‘Get a room!’ and shake our fist. In India, this saying has been adapted a little bit. Instead, my co-worker yelled out “get married!”

-My friend and co-worker Jeremy (check his blog out here) went on a hiking/road trip with an Indian outdoors group. As part of the trek, he had to endure a long bumpy bus ride to an outlying area. On the bus ride, one of the married couples asked the single guys about their first crushes. The response would usually be the standard fare about some girl in high school or college. Inevitably, the second question would be “Did you propose?”. Even more startling, the response was usually ‘yes’! Somehow, I think a few steps are missing there between ‘crush’ and ‘proposal’.

-I was reading a Indian Reader’s Digest (valentines edition) that had lots of personal love stories submitted by readers. Almost every story started with “We were married in January…” and then proceeded to explain how the love developed post-marriage. It was kind of a buzz kill compared to the US matrimonial section where they explain how the couple met, started dating, and proposed. For many Indian’s, marriage is the START of a relationship, not a mid-point or (sadly) even the end-point of the story that Westerners consider it to be.

-My friend Steve suggested we check out ignighter.com , a ‘group’ dating site. Unlike the dating sites in the U.S., where individuals contact one another, on this dating site you get a few friends together, post up a group profile, and try to meet up with another group. Interestingly, this site was developed in the USA by a couple of guys in New York, but their experiment didn’t catch on very well in the USA. They noticed that Indians were frequenting their site, and now the site almost exclusively caters to Indians. Internet dating sites are extremely popular in India. Its a great way to do some pre-screening to find the one girl that your parents will (maybe) accept!

 

My first indian wedding

A few weekends ago I went on a binge of Indian cultural activities. I didn’t get as many good pictures as I would have liked, but I have enough to at least post a few up and link you to my flickr account for ones that didn’t make the cut.

I appreciate all the compliments from my readers on my writing, I’m still trying to figure out what my readers would rather see, more photos or more musings (or rants). Help me figure this out by taking the poll at the end of the post. A lack of photography skills means my photos don’t quite tell a thousand words, so they are accompanied with some written descriptions.

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My friend Aditya invited me and his friends to his cousin’s wedding. He comes from a Telugu Brahman family, so the wedding was conducted in that manner. The slight scandal was that the groom wasn’t a Brahman, so some of the family were not in attendance as a form of protest.  Still, the couple looked happy and the wedding was festive. After getting my fill of Indian food (including paan of the tobacco-free variety and four cups of ice cream), we waited around for a while for the official wedding time.

Indians are all about ‘auspiciousness’ and to have a marriage done right, it needs to be done at the correct ‘auspicious’ time. This time is selected by a Pujari (priest) after consulting the Indian astrology. Unfortunately, ‘auspicious’ and ‘inconvenient’ seem to go hand-in-hand, as the Pujari more often than not picks a time at like two or three in the morning before the couple can tie the knot. Practically, since nobody wants to wait around until the wee hours of the morning, the wedding has all sorts of pre-wedding receptions and ceremonies that the family attends, and only the young, or the loyal stay up late. Thankfully this wedding occurred at 12:30am, fairly reasonable by Indian standards, so I stuck around for the ceremony.

The pictures show what went down. Basically, the bride sits in a basket that is carried up to the altar where the groom waits. The two of them are seated next to each other while the Pujari recites some words and then they put rice in each others hair. The entire time the band on the side is blaring their traditional instruments as if we weren’t inside or it wasn’t 12:30am. The couple is surrounded by family the entire time and children are running amok. With all the color, noise and motion the wedding feels a lot different from the few christian ones I have seen in the USA.

These are the friends I went with. We were merciless in making fun of Ladoo’s blue shirt. He was stealing the groom’s thunder!

Finally, just to try some blog features out, here is a poll-

A farmer’s life for me

Today I took a day trip to my friend Aditya’s uncle’s farm. About an hour and a half outside of town, this farm was a nice getaway from the busy life of the city. Teja, Aditya and I had been planning to go to the farm all week, and despite our best efforts to get a few more people to tag along, only my buddy Steve came.

Here is a picture of the crew: Left to right : Teja, Me, Aditya, and Steve.

Teja is a Fulbright scholar from California who is doing her research on Kuchipudi dancing. She has been doing this dance since she was a child and her capstone performance is coming up soon. I’ll probably make a post in itself about this later. Check her blog here. She used to dance with a former co-worker of mine. Aditya is the friend whose uncle’s farm we were at, he is still in college and has known Teja for a long time. Lastly, Steve works for Microsoft here in Hyderabad (technically in Hi-Tech City), and has been encouraging me to share his passion for running. All three of them are software/mechanical engineers… geeks.

Upon entering the main gate, we could immediately see some adorable cows and water buffalo, and as we continued our journey up the dusty road towards the main farmhouse, we came across some weird grapefruit-like citruses. Not brave enough to try one, we trekked on. For fear of this becoming a food blog, I am not going to go too deep into this, but I noticed that Indian farms grow some weird stuff that you don’t find in the USA. The grapefruit-like thingies, some weird kiwi-looking fruits called suppota, and Jackfruit are all among things they grew there. Yum? These didn’t prepare me for the coolest thing, EMUS!

The emus are like small dinosaurs. They always have their mouths slightly open like they are going to barf, which makes them look both goofy and scary at the same time.  We went into their cages and I tried to get them to run around by running directly at them – bad plan. Two emus promptly stood their ground and stood up to their full height as they saw me coming at them. I stopped dead in my tracks officially having my bluff called and now the beta-dog. I quickly exited the emu pen before their bird-brains all realized they were the ones in charge. Later I saw one of their eggs, it was a brilliant shade of green and friggin enormous!

 

Finally, Aditya’s uncle’s farm-workers prepared some food for us, all fresh from the farm. It felt really trendy to be drinking coconut water and eating organic food, but it was delicious. All in all, it was a great day and a nice relaxing end to the weekend.

for more photos, click here.

 

My first impressions

Since I have been here for 3 weeks already, I have already sent a few e-mails to friends and family back home detailing some things that I have done. Realizing that there has been some duplication of effort telling everyone what I have been doing individually, I think this blog would be a great way to keep friends in the know. So while I will make a post about some recent stuff, here is an edited e-mail that I wrote home after my first week at work (2 weeks ago).

Got my home internet working! It tends to flicker on and off, but with a little patience I managed to skype my friend in China. The irony of it is that after waiting all weekend to get my internet working (b/c the guy I had to talk to was gone during the weekend), the moment I got it fixed, the power went out!  The power tends to go out for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day, but its nothing too major.

Flying in- loooong flights but the lufthansa staff was friendly enough and the plane food was tolerable. The frankfurt-delhi leg of the trip was nice b/c I was in the front row and thus had some legroom and I also had my own private t.v. screen to watch movies on demand. I am a bit dissapointed that the flight attendants don’t wear lederhosen though. Arriving into Delhi went well, I didn’t see the town from the plane though, nor did I leave the airport, but I will get a chance to go to Delhi on the 27th of Jan for a namechecking course and consultations. However, the delhi airport was fairly crowded (considering I got there at 1am) and I had to hang out there from 1am to 6am, so i had to kill time watching all the security guards and the big elephant statues. I don’t think I ever went through customs… but thats fine with me. Not like I had anything to declare, and if they took my nori I would have thrown a fit.

Landing in hyderabad the temperature was an amazing 70 or so degrees, maaaybe a little warmer, but really just a perfect day. My social sponsor and her driver met me at the airport after I got my bags (without a hitch), and drove me to my place.  Similiar to Claire’s place in New York, the sound of traffic is incessant. Apparently you don’t pass someone, change lanes, or brake without hitting the horn here. Did I say change lanes? They don’t really have lanes, traffic is best described as water, it just fills up the road and drifts downstream with cars somehow changing positions left to right at will. Really the first major shock you get upon arriving here is the traffic. Its not bad like standstill traffic, its just such a crazy amount of vehicles that you wonder how they aren’t standing still. I suppose if that many cars in the U.S. tried to go around following our traffic rules, i.e. obeying lights, respecting lane lines, respecting cars personal space, it just wouldn’t work, so instead Indians have devised their own system of driving which seems to work for them. Unfortunately, it is very noisy, and TERRIFYING to cross the street. Still, I haven’t seen any accidents nor been hit by a car in my 5 or so road crossings to date.

I should post up a video tour, but for now, take my word, my place is pretty awesome. Compared to DC the place is HUGE, with 3 bedrooms 3 bathrooms, a giant living room and a kitchen. It is actually temporary housing until maybe the end of February. I was content with what I have, but once I saw what the permanent houses are like, I was bowled over. they are suuuper nice. You don’t really realize you’re in the dumps until you see how good some other people have it. Anyway, this place has a freezing, ice-box pool up on the roof, and a tiny better-than-nothing gym too, which I have been trying to use. Every day the staff here can make me breakfast, a huge meal consisting of like 6 peices of toast, fruit, an omelet, cereal, and milk. A giant breakfast that since they can only make it by 7:30am, I have to scarf down in 15 minutes before I have to leave for the consulate. maybe I will have them pare the portions down… They also clean the place whenever you want them to. All of this without any tip or anything, b/c its worked out in the agreement when the place was procured for the consulate, I think…

Work has been a whirlwind of training and getting up to speed. My telugu is slow to come back to me after the holiday break, but thankfully the locals will give a white boy a lot of leeway and credit for even mustering together a ‘nenu bagunanu’. My bosses are all extremely cool, today Jeremy and I sat in on a consular chief meeting (the heads of the consular section) and it became clear that they were really just generally good people that don’t take themselves too seriously. They were even good sports when I cleaned them out in low-stakes poker last weekend (ignoring advice to let the consulate general win). The training schedule is intense but very complete and has great attention to detail. Some of the officers that left before I got here spent a lot of time honing the training program and it seems like in the next 4 weeks I will be getting a lot of valuable experience. The local staff, which outnumbers the Americans by four times or so, is very friendly and competent. Their english is amazing and since they are from a diverse array of religions and areas of the country, tons of them dont speak a lick of telugu.

Socially, yesterday night i went out to a concert with 100 snake charmers playing in a snake-charmer only orchestra. It was a remarkable venue, an outdoor stage with a fort in the background that had a dazzling colorful light show going on the entire time the snake-charmers played. And no, there were no snakes. The snake charmers instrument sounds a lot like a bagpipe, which as you can imagine, isn’t too appealing, however I appreciated it from a cultural standpoint. They played traditional snake charming music, some bollywood songs, and even attempted Amazing Grace. The best part was seeing the way they moved their bodies while they played their instruments. Apparently charming a snake isn’t really about the music, the snake gets entranced by the movement of the musician. Sort of like how in bullfighting bulls dont see the red, they just dont like the movement of the flag. Since snake-charming is usually a solo-sport, each artist had his own way of moving around and for the most part the cues of the ‘conductor’ were taken more as guidelines. I have also been to a few of my co-workers houses and eaten delicious food, played board games, video games, and poker. Jeremy and Gloria actually live in my building just down the hall, plus a couple of other officers too.

Did you notice? Hyderabad is #19 on the NYtimes top 40 places to visit in 2011… http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/travel/09where-to-go.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=hyderabad&st=cse&scp=1
pretty impressive! I’m not sure I agree just yet, its still a lot to take in and certainly isn’t the same sort of vacation as a trip to Italy or France… hopefully the longer I stay here the more I will get a sense of what people might like to see when they visit. I still dont have a car or driver, but I get one in mid-Feb so from there I can do some exploring. Food is super cheap here, but I did put in an order to the commissary for some beers (carlsberg no less, a blast from my past in Copenhagen).

Just a couple of hours ago I walked to the Taj Deccan hotel (Taj Krishna is also nextdoor, both super posh) and attended a presentation on contemporary Indian art. The presenter was an Indian lady who worked in Academia but is now an art critic and she spoke well. It was interesting to see modern art with slightly Indian twists to it, and the audience was very well-to-do, plus a bunch of artists as well. It didn’t hurt that they served dinner too.