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Archive for the ‘SU Abroad’ Category

We lived together for a month and worked very hard. We also took some time off to enjoy the wonders of India. Missing my fellow travelers…

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Today marks one week since I’ve returned from India to the United States. Overall, I enjoyed my time abroad, but it feels good to be home. As the saying goes: home is where the heart is. Since being back in the States for a week, I’ve realized the myriad of American customs that I missed experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

First off, I never thought I’d write about the fact that I miss the concept of a line. In India, it seems as if people are incapable of lining up anywhere with any semblance of order. In essence, lines in India are organized chaos, bereft of any acknowledgment that someone is next in line. During my time in India, this concept drove me insane. It just seemed so horribly inefficient to randomly serve people in a line by not doing it in an organized manner.

Second, traffic. Much like how lines are not organized, traffic that I witnessed in Mumbai has a very survival of the fittest mentality attached to it. Cars, trucks, rickshaws and motorcycles jockey for position with reckless abandon trying to get to point B from their point of origin. If it’s narrowly missing pedestrians or other motorists, it’s pretty much on the cards for any driver in Mumbai.

Thirdly, I like how I can finally communicate with others without feeling helpless. One of the most frustrating things for me during my time in India was not having a great command of Hindi. I would know basic directional phrases to tell rickshaw drivers, for example, but some drivers would continue to engage me in Hindi despite the fact I did not know any other phrases. Though we did go to places around India where English was spoken, when it came to going to places where English wasn’t predominantly spoken, that’s when it would get a little bit hairy.

Fourthly, I enjoy being able to get from point A to point B on my own volition, rather than relying on taxis or on rickshaws. I consider myself very independent, and I will depend on my car to get from place to place instead of counting on other methods of transportation. It was definitely an adventure each time I would jump into a rickshaw, but, I don’t necessarily miss it.

In sum, I enjoyed my time in India despite the differences in culture between there and America. It was definitely an adventurous journey, one that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

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If there’s one pastime that I love to consistently engage in, it’s going to the movies. It’s a well-worn romanticized cliché, but I am consistently enamored by the notion of going to a theatre, watching the lights dim, and then being transported on a filmic journey for two hours. Since returning from India last Wednesday, I’ve already gone to the movies several times. One movie that I recently saw was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, featuring an ensemble all-star cast that included some of the biggest acting luminaries that Britain has to offer.

Moreover, the main attraction for watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was that it was set in India. I’ll be upfront and readily admit that I would not have seen this film if it wasn’t for the fact that I just returned from India only days ago. I wanted to see if any of the experiences that I had first hand knowledge of jived at all with anything that was captured on the screen. Of course, there were going to be a measure of artistic license taken in the film, but I wasn’t going to let that detract from my film going experience.

To briefly set up the overall story of the film, seven disparate British retirees travel to the titular hotel for the “elderly and beautiful,” which is advertised as being a newly restored palatial place to stay, but is actually run down. Despite that, the hotel slowly charms each individual in unexpected ways.

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow recap of the entire film, but, with this post, I do want to cover some of the situations that were encountered by the British foreigners on their sojourn to India. Many of the situations that were experienced by the characters in the film were almost exact mirrors of what we saw during our time in India.

For example, there is an early scene where the seven retirees take an auto rickshaw ride (referred to as tuk tuks in the film for some reason). Their ride is crazy and out of control, much like what we had experienced. Another scene featured Judi Dench attempting to buy a sari for 1000 rupees, with Bill Nighy’s character attempting to negotiate a cheaper price. In the end, Nighy is unsuccessful, and Dench’s character buys the sari for 1000 rupees.

Little touches like those made me enjoy the film all the more. Also, the film really captured the beauty of Jaipur. Even though it was a city that we did not visit while we were in India, the overall travelogue feel that the film took of Jaipur was very successful. In summary, I’m glad I got to watch the film, and I feel that I was able to enjoy it even more on a deeper level fresh off my journey to India.

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There are some things that are ubiquitous in Mumbai: the traffic, piles of trash and auto rickshaws, just to name a few examples. Another interesting aspect that remains a constant presence in the city is a piece of graffiti, which can be seen on a myriad of places throughout the city.

That piece of graffiti reads: “Bean Bags 26407383.” You can find this bit of graffiti emblazoned on walls, pipes and a bunch of other places. At first, I had no clue what it meant. I thought it had something to do with a viral marketing campaign for some film or television show in India. As it turned out, this unique marketing scheme, more visible than any billboard, is the idea of a savvy business owner named Farooq Ansari, owner of Dolphin Bean Bags.

According to Ansari, it took almost a decade for people to readily accept that the advertising was real and that the number wasn’t some sort of hoax. “Often, men would call up to ask for call girls. But there were a few genuine callers who kept up our hopes. The investment started converting into sales only two years ago,” Ansari said.

Moreover, Ansari has taken a concerted effort to make the font and color scheme for the ads the same so that people can immediately recognize it. It’s all about the beanbags, rather than the name of the store.

Personally, I think it is rather cool than someone took the effort necessary to subvert the normal processes of putting up ads in order to bring more business. It is a very unique way of getting new clientele to show up. The amount of interest that has been piqued because of ads shows what a worthwhile endeavor it has been for Ansari.

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I think its safe to say that yesterday I had one the best times in India I had thus far. I played a game of cricket for the first time ever! It was beyond epic. What made it more epic was that it was with some random kids!

Everyday on my way back from lunch Gautam and I see a group of kids playing cricket. We always would stop and take a look at the game and talk about how we wish we could play with them. I know we sound like a bunch of losers, but that’s how we felt.

So the day before yesterday I said to Gautum, “lets go!” Of course I’m the one who was oblivious to the fact that we had to get back to our internships. Well maybe not oblivious, more like I didn’t care,  but not in a nonchalant way. Like I never played cricket before in my life and had the guts today to go up to some random kids and ask to play with them. Gautum ended up being the responsible intern and telling me tomorrow will spend less time eating lunch and then we’ll use that time to go play.

Looking from the outside in

So thats the backstory. Here’s the story!

Gautum and I both planned to where our cricket jersey’s because we were determined to play a game of cricket with those kids today. Lunch time rolled around and we went to get a bite to eat. I literally inhaled my lunch because I was that press to go and play cricket. We left the lunch spot and headed on our 10 minute walk back towards the office. So we get to the field and it’s like we’re both scared to go ask the kids can we play. Finally Gautum gets the balls to look over the concrete-barbed wire wall to ask one of the kids can we play. I stood in the back like a little punk scared that the kids would tell us to fuck off or something. Kids can be cruel people. I was one of them.

Anyways, The kid gestures to Gautum and I to come over. We were both elated. We rushed to the concrete-barbed wire wall to climb over to the field. We walk onto the field and the kids give us the “Indian Stare”. It’s a stare you’ll only get in India. If you been to India you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

A  group of kids left the field we were on and went over to another one. I’ll admit that I felt some kind of way. It was like being the new kid on the block and wanting to play with the neighborhood kids. Everyone has experienced that at some point in their lives. Didn’t think I would be hoping for the acceptance of a group of kids anymore in my life. We watched them play for about 15 minutes until one of the little kids came over and said we were next.

Next couldn’t come fast enough. It was soon our turn and Gautum was up first. I quickly pulled out my iPhone and slid my camera to video. Gautum took his first swing and missed. The kids bursted into laughter. After a couple of swings he got it together and hit the ball. Gautums strong spot was bowling the ball. He made a lot of the kids miss.

Now it was my turn. I walked over to base, bent my knees, swung and missed! I’ll admit the first couple of swings were terrible, but I eventually got it together. The kids were so excited when I finally hit the ball. I was like the kid on the team who sucked and when I finally did something good everyone was so happy. Not to say I hit out the field, but I did at least hit the ball.

Getting my swing on!

Getting schooled by the kids

And I got it!

They then invited us to play an actual game with them. Thats when I knew they actually liked us and wasn’t annoyed by our bad skills. We got in a circle and they had two kids pick teams. This definitely made me feel like a kid again except for getting picked last. I never got picked last when I was little. First time for everything even though I was a tad be salty, but whatever.

I was out in the field trying to avoid getting dirty, but I was having so much fun that I forgot all about trying to do that. By the end of the game I was picking up a ball that was just in sewer water. Yeah I made the same face your making now when I first saw the kids do it, but in the midst of having fun all of that flew out of the window. I just didn’t care if I was dusty and dirty going back to work. So be it. i just played a fricken game of cricket!

Playing a game of cricket was fun as hell. I will remember this forever. If I’m 85 with Alzheimers I think this will be one of the few things I’ll remember. What average American has played cricket before? I know I’m not average, but still you can’t name any. I felt like I was in the movie “Sandlot”, the Indian version. I met some cool kids and just as the made my day, I made theirs. They taught two Americans how to play their game. They were beyond excited that they did that.

The game was over, which meant we had to get back to work. All good things must come to an end so to make sure we would remember it we snapped some pics with the kids and went on our way.

After leaving I felt like a little kid on the block again. Running  down the street to go play with my friends and coming back home later dirty and with rips in my clothes. Yes, I ripped my pants climbing over the barbed wire fence. Can’t tell you how many times I did that growing up as a kid. A great day to say the least. Definitely one for the books.

My team! We were Kolkata

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About two weeks ago we took a trip down to Dhobi Ghat. It’s an open/outdoors laundromat were workers known as Dhobis, work in the open to wash the clothes from hotels and businesses all over Mumbai. It’s one of the largest outdoor laundromats in the world. The British soldiers used to wash their uniforms there when they occupied India.

The Dhobi Ghat

Working hard!

Before seeing it I thought it would be like some big pond or lake where people just stood in the water scrubbing clothes, but I was wrong. It was actually more structured than I imagined. There was a whole system going on where there was concrete sectioned blocks for each person to wash and rinse the clothes, then hang them to dry. It was really cool to see these people washing clothes the traditional way. Matter of fact it was so cool that I was inspired to wash my own by hand. Well TG had already suggested it, but I never gave it that much thought until I seen the whole washing operation at Dhobi Ghat.

So here I am now in week 4 of my trip here and I have washed my clothes by hand for the second time. Well just my underwear because we don’t have a clothes line outside. Shorts and shirts are thick so they wouldn’t dry well. Still a great effort none the less.

Hand washed undies!

I must admit it was a little weird and still kind of is because I’m used to washing my clothes in a machine and now I am using a bucket of soap water and scrubbing my underwear to death. At the same time it’s fun because I feel like I am completing a challenge. I know a challenge sounds silly and an Indian reading this would probably laugh, but after finishing I felt very accomplished and also frugal. I saved about 500 rupees by washing myself. Everyone on this trip knows I’m about saving a rupee or two and couldn’t pass that opportunity up.

My little Dhobi Ghat in our kitchen

Anyways,I think I’m done with washing for the remainder of the trip. There’s only one week left and everything thats dirty is getting piled into my suitcase for an excellent welcome home present for my mom. I normally wash my own clothes, but when I went to college I realized that my mom misses me a lot and doing the little things like washing for me. When she has the opportunity to do it she hops on it. That normally last for the first week I’m home and its all on me. So will I continue hand washing my clothes? I’ll be honest and say no. I’m American what’d you expect.

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Yesterday we took a trip down to South Mumbai aka “SoBo”. The B is for Bombay for those of you who were wondering. No your not stupid, just a little slow. Anyways I had a ball! Sobo compared to the rest of so much cooler than the rest of Mumbai. We’re staying in Puna which is way on the other side. It’s about the equivalence of Manhattan to Queens. Sobo is right on the water by the Arabian sea and a host of India’s elite stay in the area. We got to see the “King of Bollywood”(SRK’s) house. It was was huge. It had a house that he originally bought and attached to it was a four or five story apartment building. It was sick!

We then went down the street to the Bollywood walk of fame. Not really what I expected. I’ll just say it’s a work in progress. Serious progress. Before we left we went over to one of India’s premiere hotels, the “Taj Lands End”. It’s beyond nice. When you walk into the lobby the fresh scent of Jasmine is lingering through the air. Everything is so nice and it felt too expensive for us to even be in there. When I come back to Mumbai I have to stay at this hotel for at least one night. It’s a must.

Next on the agenda was to visit TG’s old neighborhood and her favorite temple. We didn’t get to see it because it was closed, but the town was cool to be in. We walked through a bunch of curves and turns to get to the beautiful pool that was at the center of the town and surrounded by homes and temples. A tranquil sight. Next on the list was to visit the hanging gardens.  As we were walking through the garden we got hounded by this guy named Ravi who was selling peacock feather fans. Some of us were tempted to buy them, but TG told us they were over priced and we could find them cheaper in Colaba. He followed us for the entire 30 minutes we were there. By the end of the trip he got us all to buy one of his fans. With some negotiation and compromising he came down to a price of 150 rupees. As much of a pest he was I never got annoyed with him because he reminded me of myself with his persistence and entrepreneurship. I had a little candy business growing up from middle school to high school and understand the world of hustling. I find it funny that we all ended up buying one, even those of us who didn’t initially want one. Imagine if he wasn’t persistent. He likely would have not gotten those nine sells. I’m sure Ravi will someday be running a company in India. It’s def his calling.

After enjoying the coast of Mumbai we headed over to the city’s biggest attraction, the Gateway to India. The Gateway was colossal. I kept thinking to myself, “All of this for King George?”. Obviously not a fan, but the gate was epic to see and be around. It was so funny being there because white people are a hot commodity. Many of the people visiting the Gateway are from small areas of India and have never seen anyone white before so when they saw all the white kids with us it was like a new species was discovered. Even I was asked to take a picture with someone. I wasn’t as hot as the white kids, but I did get a request. The one person who did request me made my day as much as I did theirs. They met a black person for the first time and I felt like a celebrity for 20 seconds. We both were winning.

After taking a thousand pics we headed to the original taj hotel, the “Taj Mahal Intercontinental” hotel to see the memorial for the people who were killed in the bombings at the hotel 2 years ago. It was great monument and reminded me to be thankful for my life. The hotel was also really nice. One of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. If I had to choose between the Taj Lands End and Taj Mahal Intercontinental, I would go with the first one. I think because it was more modern and smelled like Jasmine everywhere you went. Oh yeah the bathroom was better at the Taj Lands End. Both were extremely nice hotels to say the least.

Now that we saw Mumbai’s biggest attraction it was time to shop at Mumbai’s Colaba. It’s a strip that stretches down blocks and blocks with countless vendors trying to sell you almost anything. What’s even better is that its a buyer’s market and you can bargain for some awesome deals. I got so many of my gifts for people at great prices. I had a budget for gifts and I won’t tell you what it was, but I didn’t go over. I actually was under. Anytime I’m saving money, I’m happy.

I’m the king of bargaining. I even got a couple of people here on the trip with me some sweet deals. For instance I helped Shawnna get two 6-packs of key chains for $200 rupees. We went to Hiranandani today and say one of the keychains for 55 rupees. Made me realize that we were def winning last night.

After leaving Sobo I kind of wish we stayed there. Leaving Sobo was like leaving New York City and heading into Jersey, such a let down *D Woods voice*(Trip insider). No disrespect to New Jersey, but that’s how I feel every time I leave New York City. Ending the night at Colaba was great! Good call TG. We all got on the bus happy because we felt like we got our money’s worth and more. It was a great bus ride home with some epic tunes. I’m def coming back at some point in my life. Shout out to Sobo!

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