"I believe that if one man gains spiritually the whole world gains with him." -Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Orientation, Finger Food, a Garden, and Waiting Rooms

Kitne kaa hay (pronounced key-tih-nay kaa hey) means “how much is it?” in Hindi.  I have yet to use this phrase since most vendors or other people that are trying to sell you something at least know what this means in English.  It is pretty much the phrase that begins a bargaining session.

            We have been getting oriented the past couple of days before we start classes.  This has comprised of sitting in a classroom with a powerpoint while Jacob, our Resident Advisor, explains cultural things, academic expectations, rules, tell stories (lots of stories), etc.   Jacob has also taken us on small excursions in the city and taught us how the bus system works.  Half the group went to register with the police yesterday while the rest of us went today to get our residential permits (slip of paper equivalent to a green card). 

            Since we are only taking classes with the people in our group, we have the opportunity to regularly attend a class for the regular Christ University students.  Yesterday we spoke with the department heads to find out which class we wanted to sit in on (I went with the political science instead of the business).  After this we took at bus to the oldest and best restaurants in Bangalore (recommended by many) and had a very traditional Indian meal.  We were served out of silver buckets, the food kept coming, and I learned how to eat rice and curry with my hands.  Everything about Indian seems to be extreme, which on the day-to-day is awesome.  The spicy food is spicier, the sweets are sweeter, the streets are noisier, the colors are brighter, and the people are more beautiful (Unfortunately the flip side is the rich are richer and the poor are poorer). 

            The meal was amazing and we followed it by walking around the botanical gardens.  At times I wish I could just blend in with the crowd and experience India without being treated like a foreigner (being charged more and taken advantage of), but being a white American has its perks.  Sometimes you are just stared at, which gets awkward, but sometimes you are treated like you’re famous (big ego boost).  A couple of us were followed around by some kids to the gardens, who we thought just wanted money at first but then realized that they were just interested in us.  When we told them we were from the US they responded with “USA!  Wow!”  And the proceeded to ask for pictures to be taken of and with them.  They walked away saying that we were really nice and were just really excited.   

            Although Indian boast about their democratic government, it is better known for the corruption and lack of timely paperwork processing. (I am not making any negative judgments since I think the country’s level of democracy is pretty impressive considering it has only been independent since 1947 and is home to 1.2 billion people versus the US population of 307 million)  After experiencing the streets of an Indian city, you realize how crowded the country is and it is very hard to offer a reasonable alternative to the corruption if you want anything to get done.  That being said, we were each required to pay 1,500 rupees before going to police registration.  It took us a little while to realize that this was for the bribe our group was paying the government office to ensure what we got our legal residency in just one day (11 am to 6 pm) instead of having to continue to return to the office over the next few weeks. 

            Classes start tomorrow and I am looking forward to getting into a bit more a routine, meeting local students, and having more time to see the city in smaller groups.   I am definitely feeling more and more comfortable here, which I measure by how willing I am to get within inches of cars when crossing the street.  Don’t worry mom and dad, I don’t mess with the buses! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Day In India

Metre haaki (pronounced similar to "meter hockey") mean put the meter in Kannada (the local language in Bangalore).  This is very useful when taking the auto rickshaws to make sure (or help make sure) you are not being cheated.  Most of the time they will not use the meter and charge you 2-5 times as much as a ride should cost.

Some of my postings may be off by the day since I am writing them like a journal when I can and putting them on the internet when I have a chance....

I. Am. In. India.  After a full 24 hours or so of traveling we got here yesterday at the lovely local hour of around 2 am.  I was prepared for the flight to be devastatingly long and awful, but I was surprised to find that it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  By the time we left the airport, got to our apartments, and unpacked it was 6 am.  The apartments we are staying in also surprised me.  They are way nicer than I expected: three large bedrooms (I am sharing), two bathrooms with nice toilets and a shower, a small kitchen that has a water purifier built in, a living room with a tv and internet box, a small refrigerator, a microwave, a toaster, a stove similar to a camping stove, and a prayer room that I thought was a dungeon due to the barred door for the first half hour we were there.

We were meeting to start the day at 10 am, so we took a 2 hour nap and were off for our first day in India.  We were shown around by the hospitality students at Christ College (where we will be taking classes), got a campus tour (very small, but very nice campus), and some of us ended the day after a quick nap by finding our way to a restaurant for dinner.

I am still on sensory overload.  Just driving and walking is an adventure here.  Each time we crossed the street successfully we celebrated.  Successfully meaning we lived.  There are pretty much no traffic laws so the smaller your vehicle the faster you will get through by weaving through traffic with inches (or less) between cars, bikes, and people.  We took a small van sent by USAC for most of the day, but when we went to dinner we took an auto rickshaw, which was very exhilarating.  Cars are sometimes blocked by the cows walking in the streets, there are stray dogs everywhere, and our apartment is surrounded by pigeons. 

All of the people here are beautiful.  Seriously, the women are gorgeous and all the children are adorable.  Bangalore is a relatively clean and upper scale city, so I haven’t seen that many beggars, but it is very hard not to feel guilty turning the children away with their hands out for a rupee.
I am already in love with the country and its people.  I can’t help but smile most of the time and I have a feeling this will feel like home very quickly.  


Friday, June 24, 2011

Before Lift Off

Khusi (pronounced like Tushy, but with an H that you sort of hock up) means Happiness in Hindi.

I am packed and getting on a plane to Hong Kong and then Bangalore in less than 20 hours!  It seems pretty unbelievable at this point, but I know it is happening.  I am getting more and more excited and luckily less nervous, but I'm sure the nervousness will kick in again at the airport.  I have a 14 hour flight to Hong Kong and then a 6 hour flight to Bangalore where I will be for the next five weeks through the USAC study abroad program.  There are about 20 other students in this program where we will be attending classes at Christ College in Bangalore.

When I tell people I am going to India, they usually respond questioningly and surprised that college students actually want to go to India.  People ask why India, so I suppose I will use this as a chance to explain a little and I'm sure I will elaborate more once I am there.  My family didn't really do any international travel when my sisters and me were growing up.  Most of our vacations involved going to our house in Tahoe or visiting my aunt in San Diego.  Save for a day trip to Tiajuana when I was 8 years old, I have not traveled outside of the continental US so studying abroad is my first big opportunity to do so that is supported by my parents.  Both of my sisters studied abroad in college, Jean went to London and Mollie went to Africa.  I decided on India 3 or 4 years ago.  I'm not sure what really sparked my interest in the country, but I know that I need a real culture shock considering I spent 18 years in Petaluma and the past 3 years in San Luis Obispo, which are not known for their diversity.  From what I have read about India and from the multiple people I have talked to who have spent time there, a culture shock is what I will get along with a life changing experience.

As I mentioned, my first five weeks in India will be spent in Bangalore where I will be taking International Strategic Management (I am an International Business major), Survival Hindi, and Yoga.  My sister, Mollie, is going to join me for two weeks after my abroad program is over in the beginning of August to travel around the rest of the country.  We don't have definite plans yet on where we are going, so if anyone has any opinions, please feel free to comment.  The last two weeks I will hopefully be volunteering somewhere so as not to travel alone, which is warned against considering I still look like a 16 year old girl.

Although we were told that internet would be available in the apartment I will be staying in, I have heard it is pretty spotty so I'm not sure how often I will update.  I'm thinking of at least writing journal style and then will post when I can.  Anyway,  we will all know more in a couple days assuming I survive 20 hours on a plane!