Tag Archive | india

India: Neyyar Dam

Another place I visited twice, just for the freaking lions. The first time around, we missed the lion safari. Yes, for a long-ass 2-hour trip from Trivandrum to Neyyar Dam, we made the long trek for the wild lions.

Neyyar Dam is obviously, a dam. The irrigation project set up there distributes water to the nearby villages for farming and agriculture. People also get naked and bathe in the waters. Hey, it’s a backyard bathroom with no utilities, why not? I also saw some bathing cattles and children. Oh, how clean the water must be…

Otherwise, Neyyar Dam was a beautiful scene. Serene and green, I felt comfortable and relaxed. Like I’ve mentioned previously, my natural element is water. As I stood on the dam and looked out to the giant lake, I was at peace. As I cruised on the boat ride and tried not to think too much about lurking crocodiles, I absorbed the immense picturesque scene before me: mountains, clouds, water, blue skies, and plant life. Oh so soothing…

Just like Shotgun Falls at Splish Splash


Looks like I just climbed Mt. Everest or something...

Neyyar Dam Runway

Top of the Dam

Spicy Masala Mango... I like the juicy sweet one better. I was on fire after this bag.

Love My Mangoes... just not spicy!

The second weekend trip to Neyyar Dam: Lion Safari, Crocodile Park, Deer Park, and Elephants!

Really, this was the Lion Safari Bus? I was envisioning the African savannah rides!


... with barred up windows?



Lazy Lions... Not the WILD Lion Safari I Imagined...


Cool ripples


Lazy Crocodiles


Look at this beautiful Lake Placid!

I got startled when I saw this... thought it was lurking crocodiles, but really, just logs


That's our boat ride.

A truck load of Bambis

Oh, Sunset...

And finally, the highlight of my trip in India. When you think of India, you think of the mighty giants known as elephants. Elephants are sacred creatures in Indian history and lore. One of their most prized gods in India is Ganesh, epitomized with the body of a human and the head of an elephant. I watched a television show about elephants in Ganesh and the essence of elephants. The story goes that the young boy of the gods was killed and decapitated. His goddess of a mother had the chance to bring him back to life and choose an animal’s head as a replacement. And Ganesh was reborn into a prized Majesty. Now all of India (or at least the Hinduists) worships Ganesh as the “Remover of Obstacles.” Even though elephants are prized animals in India, they are poached for their valuable ivory tusks. They are left to die in the wild for two measly tusks because people are money-grabbing bastards. On the same television special, I watched men find and clean after an unfortunate elephant. They enlisted the help of another elephant to pull the dead elephant out of the waters and burn away the carcass. Imagine how that elephant felt to tow his dead friend and see it burn to pieces… Sad indeed.

Well, I didn’t meet the god or worship his doings. I met the real, trudging thing at the Kottoor Elephant Rehabilitation Centre. Say hello to Dumbo…

Oh Hello

This one was whacking itself with leaves, probably to shoo away pesky bugs trying to get some elephant juice

It's waving Hello with its trunk!

I rode an elephant for 100 Rs!!! It felt weird feeling the elephant's bones move beneath you... I wonder how people fought and won battles atop elephants!?

Thanks to our rickshaw driver, he took us around to see the elephants. He was going to make some major dough off two foreigners, so he felt inclined to show us around the backdoor gates.

Oh, and did I mention how India tries to rip off foreigners? One look at me and I’m clearly not a brown girl. You look at my friend and he can pass off as an ‘Indian national.’ At all the parks and places I visited, the fees for foreigners were TWICE that of ‘Indian nationals.’ For me that was 50 Rs for motor boat ride at Neyyar, 200 Rs for elephant riding, 300 Rs for safari, doubled rickshaw fares, etc… amidst admissions fee at Veli Lake, Trivandrum Zoo, Napier Museum, Kovalem Beach Lighthouse, etc… It. Was. Ridiculous! The only foreign place I visited all my life was Asia, and there, I easily blended in with the crowd. I never found out if there was a foreigner price or a ‘Chinese national’ price, since I am Chinese and I got the right deal. But in India, I definitely felt cheated at times because of the language barrier and how I looked. It was not anything I could control. I simply had to be extra careful when I traveled about. Otherwise, these Indians were really looking to make some major profit off a lone Chinese girl. Luckily, my friend helped out and performed most of the transactions: asking for rickshaw rides, buying tickets, etc… Since he could pass off as Indian, he’d just buy two tickets for the reduced, ‘right’ price and then I’d pay him back my share. This way, I was less likely to be jipped.


~ Paradise India: Where the Doctor’s Dough At ~

I got a preview of the doctor’s life to come. Call it the first taste of Red Mango joy or the first dip in the Caribbean. The former I did when frozen yogurt waged a blizzard across Manhattan and beyond; the latter I have yet to do… I ate high-class meals suited for a monarch, I drank tonic smoothies and milk shakes that chilled me from the inside out (in a good way because it was so hot), and I went on back-to-back weekend excursions that even Malibu beach models wannabe idols will envy.

Standard of living in Asian countries is much less than that of the United States. Hence, what was ‘expensive’ in India was actually cheap and affordable in US dollars. I had every reason to spend a little extra and enjoy myself before I become a slave to medicine. Well, not exactly tethered to medicine, because I will be looking for a specialty suited to my needs and wants. It’s called a lifestyle job for a reason.

Speaking of lifestyle, I absolutely shaved the surface of what it will be like to live like a doctor. I met some amazing doctors at work who practically bombarded me with places to see: Kovalem, Varkala, Neyyar Dam, Kottoor, Alleppey, Munnar, Veli Lake, … and many other places I can’t spell for life. One head & neck radiation-oncologist suggested we visit Leela, a resort at Kovalem Beach. He goes there once or twice a year for family vacations. If a doctor chills out at a high-class resort like beautiful place on a cliff, then it’s definitely worth the splurge. A tropical scene indeed! You know those advertisements and commercials that lure you to the aquamarine waters of Bermuda (if you avoid the triangle that is) or the Australian coral reefs? Yeah, I experienced that. Not the coral reefs or Caribbean waters exactly, but as close to summer tropical paradise as I can imagine while abroad.  A couple of bumming medical students wandered into the Leela Wonderland, with its spacious entrance, squeaky clean floors and decor, and seaside view. It was a tropical dream come true. It was a surreal moment to walk through a rich man’s world.

The resort entrance

FINALLY, some peace and quiet!

Chess anyone? Sorcerer's Stone style?

This was what I stumbled into... Look how it SHINES...


The Bar...

King Fisher Beer for 100 Rs (~ $2)

Downhill and Out

Then we also wandered into another resort called Turtle. How cute! Our 15 minutes of experiencing the rich tourist’s life got documented with the following sneak shots…

On my weekend excursions, I committed one of the seven sins:  Gluttony. I consumed meals befitting the Queen of England made by an Indian version of chef Morimoto for the price of a Subway footlong, or perhaps even less. Start drooling now. My stomach’s already revolting before I even start writing and unleashing the colorful array of food pictures… You know, pictures are everlasting. That’s why I take pictures of (almost) everything I eat or cook. Or it’s just an Asian thing (blame my Asian friends for starting up this habit of mine now). Once you eat something absolutely splendid and heavenly, the moment is transient. Plus, the food gets digested and excreted. Hence, food isn’t forever, but pictures capture the moment and nurtures the memory.

* At Leo’s Restaurant, Kovalem Beach:  Fish Moilee w/Coconut Curry Milk Sauce & Sear Fish Steak Tandoori and ‘Chips

The sunny seaside view from the lunch table

The table

Same evening, at Fusion, Kovalem Beach, where East Meets West:  I ate Rasam soup (tomatoes, onions, coriander with a tang of citrus), while my friend suffered through a disappointing ‘prawn’ soup (only two small pieces…)

The Menu

 * At Cafe de La Mer, Kovalem Beach:  Vegetable Sizzler… Oh my, look at that steam and heat!

*At Trattoria Oriental Food, Varkala Beach:  Had to eat Asian again! Literally, the Taste of Paradise. What can be better than this view…

Strawberry/Banana Smoothie and the Trattoria Special w/ Rum, Pineapple Juice, Mashed Banana and Cream

Kang Khiew Wan: spicy green herb curry with chicken and of course, RICE

Homemade Pasta Lasagna with 'Fungi' and Seafood... Specially made for us!

Indian Masala Chai with Cardamom flavor... Milky and Tasty!

* At Cafe del Mar, Varkala Beach:  Very hoppin’ with the European tourists. We came here twice, for the food and the life!

Hot Tea

French Pepper Steak

Risotto al Zafferano: saffron, seafood, light cream sauce... and many other goodies... scrumptious!

Lemon Tarte

Gotta Do Italian Lasagna again...

Grilled Snapper

Oh man, I just made myself hungry and it’s almost midnight…

~ Paradise India: Beach Hopping ~

Thiruvananathapuram is known as the “Evergreen City” of India, coined by India’s pride and joy – Mahatma Gandhi.

I did not spend all my days confined to the Medical College, Pattom Road, or East Fort. I went far and wide beyond the Evergreen City to find myself at India’s best beaches. I cannot say they are the hottest beaches because 1) no ladies in skimpy bikinis, 2) no hot guys with washboard abs to flaunt, and 3) no aquamarine blue waters like the island of Capri or the Caribbean. But water is my main element according to Chinese divination, so I found myself at complete ease and happiness when I visited India’s finest seaside spots.

Nevertheless, South India showcases some of nature’s finest works and beautiful beaches… Let’s say I had a delightful taste of paradise as a preview of the doctor’s life to come =) Gourmet meals, cocktails, and smoothies on the seaside, overlooking the crashing waves and feeling the gentle breeze. Truly a tropical dream that’s morphed into reality.

Kovalem Beach, a very popular tourist attraction and close to Trivandrum City. I loved it here so much that I came here twice. This area is actually divided into three beaches: Kovalem, Hawah, and Lighthouse Beach. The shoreline is lined with resorts and restaurants. Long promenades on the beach never felt more magical and comforting!!!

Walking down to Kovalem Beach... SO CLOSE!!!

Coconut trees and boats


Fine, glittery sand... almost like pixie

On the Rocks

Lighthouse Beach

Come a Little Closer, Lighthouse

Bollywood shoot in the works...


The Real Kovalem Beach


Making our mark in India

Varkala Beach

Another famous and breathtaking beach. Towering, red cliffs overlook the grand Indian Ocean. Rocky, misty, and breezy. You walk on the cliffs overlooking the crashing seas below. Sit back in a lounge chair, read a thriller novel, sip on a chill cocktail, and float into your dreams. Let the gentle winds brush against your face. Let the pounding waters below tickle your ears. Let your senses go. Close your eyes and fall into the clouds.

O Captain, My Captain... Where art thou?


Up on the cliffs now

A very long walk...

Veli Lake, is right next door to Trivandrum (literally, 8 km out west), a simple tourist town along the seas. The entire time there, we did not realize how close Veli Lake was. We only went there the last weekend before hitting back home. Honestly, it is nothing compared to the scenery at Kovalem and Varkala. Veli Lake is more a village town with a statuesque green park, lake, bridge, and beach. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!!! There are some naughty pieces of artwork that can be taken deep into the gutter.

Veli Tourist Village

How dirrty is your mind?

By the way, that's the "Floating Restaurant"


... And the Floating Bridge



The Great Wall of Veli

A baby beach

Baby beach connects with Mommy beach - the Almighty Indian O


A different kind of sand: earthy and brown

How cute! Benches shaped as Leaves

Photosynthesizers at Work

Women, are Humpy, Hilly Beings

Lesbian Love


So how many Veli Lakes are there?

~ Paradise India: Trivandrum Travels ~

Now that I’ve unleashed some steam and opinions, I can now relive the beauty of South India. One months time there took me on a blissful trip to parks, zoos, shopping complexes, and beaches. I will take you on a cruise through India’s best!

June 23, 2011: Kedaram Shopping Complex, Trivandrum

Flowers anyone?

June 26, 2011: Napier Museum

Absolutely stunning pieces of artwork: statues of ancient gods and goddesses, ceramic figurines, wood works, masks, costumes, traditional instruments, currencies, and so much history! Entry fee was only a infinitesimal 5 rupees, which translates to less than a dime. The gardens were stunningly green and revitalizing.

Father and Son


The architectural design of the building was breathtaking. I found the sleeping lion humorous. There was also the dancing god on a stone. And the window ledges, which featured a chimeric creature somewhere between a horse and elephant.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight...


Ah, the Weight of the World

Lunch break at the Juice Boss and Hotel Taj

Apple Milkshake =)

Egg Biryani, Raitha, Spicy Mango Salad, Indian Food

June 26, 2011: Trivandrum Zoo

Right next to the Napier Museum, the Trivandrum Zoo featured mostly indigenous Asian/Indian animals. I’ve been to zoos in China and the Bronx. I’ve also been to Atlantis Marine World on Long Island numerous times. I love animals and so will you. Hey, I grew up on the Discovery Channel and Nickelodeon. I was bound to be an animal lover and avid learner of random facts. I will put up pictures of all the animals I saw, along with the interesting facts I learned at the zoo. Gosh, I feel like an excited kindergartener on a school field trip. At the zoo, I was such a tourist, flashing out my pink camera and taking pictures of animals at every angle possible. If medicine doesn’t work out, the paparazzi can be my next resume booster. I’ve already had experiences with the paparazzi at Shanghai (some Asian actor)  and Manhattan (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were my backdoor neighbors).

Lion-Tailed MacaqueGets its name from its tail which has a tassel at the end like that of a lion

King Cobra: World’s largest venomous snake and the only snake that builds a nest! Its forked tongue is used to gather sensory data. Females are dedicated parents, as they use their tails to gather mounds of leaf litter.

Rhesus Macaque: Strong swimmers. Used for research =/

Banyan Trees and Prop Roots

Rose Ringed Parakeet: Immense capacity to imitate. Loud sharp screaming uttered at rest and flight.

Parakeet Alexandrine: Named after Alexander the Great when he returned from Punjab. Likes to nest in holes of large trees, very social and loud birds.

Silver Pheasant: Defends territory with whistling calls. Known to be aggressive to other species, such as attacking its keepers =/

Kalij Pheasant: Cluster distinctly into male/female groups. Quick runners, but fly when frightened. On the ground at daytime, in trees at nighttime. About 85% are born male, who also tend to stick close to the family and help out. How filial lol…

Brahminy Kite: Official mascot of Jakarta (Indonesia). Island of Langkawi named after this white bird.

King Vulture:  Expert glider, sometimes soaring for hours without flapping its wings. Nest sites are known to be smelly for the purposes of warding off predators.

In the jailhouse

Cinereous Vultures: Rather ugly looking critters. Largest bird of prey in the world. Heaviest bird of flight. Also known as the “Pilot’s Worst Nightmare” because they can fly at high altitudes, up to 2300 ft.

White Bellied Sea Eagle: Marine and migratory. Do not build a nest every year, instead, renovating old ones.

Golden Pheasant: They can fly, but they prefer to run =D During courtship, males jump from side to side of females, while making whistling & clicking noises.

Adjutant Stork: Solitary and shy birds. Named for it’s stiff march style of walking.

PARK OF WATER BIRDS … Could not tell which was what… Still, I’m proud of these pictures I took through the fence holes.

I Got an Itch

Great Heron: Deep harsh croak uttered during flight

Rosy Pelican:  Fishes in cooperative manner, swimming in semi-circles, flock drives fish towards shallow waters and then with sudden swish of the wings, catches the fish in its bill. Nests in old nests of flamingos. Elegant soaring bird.

Painted Stork: Until 18 months of age, young ones can make loud calls to attract their parents; afterwards, they lose the ability and must find another way to communicate with fellow birds…

Oriental White Ibis: Feeds in shallow water with head submerged. Silent birds.

Black Necked Stork: Only stork species found in Australia. More of a fish eater than other storks. Also eats reptiles, frogs, crabs…

Spoonbill: Feeds by wading through the shallow water and sweeping with partly-opened bill. Feeds many hours a day (hungry hungry birdies). Flocks fly in V-formation or single diagonal lines.

A very green lake down below:

Bamboo Tree

Cannonball Tree: Medicinal uses include analgesics, antiseptics, antibiotics, antifungal, disinfectants; Helpful for colds, stomach aches, malaria, skin diseases, & toothaches (young leaves)

Sloth Bear: Its love for honey has called for its nickname “Honey Bear.” Then why is Pooh Bear yellow?

Emu:  Calls consist of booming, drumming, and grunting. Booming is caused by an inflatable neck sac. Farmed for meat, leather, and oils =(

Indian One-Horned Rhino: Running Rhino started chasing some deer, running as fast as 40 km/hr. Likes to wallow in water during the day (lazy animals). Excellent swimmers (hard to imagine…) Active at night and early morning, mostly solitary. Official state animal of Assam, wherever that is… Seeing the rhino reminded me of Ace Ventura, which I saw on TV in India, the part where Ace is hiding out in a fake metal rhino and gets stuck and pushes out through the rhino’s butt. This unfolds to the astonishment of a family on the wild safari, believing the rhino is giving birth… and out pops a naked white man. Ouch…

Looks like a Tricerotop

HIPPOS!!! I love these creatures, but not at all huggable and lovable. Very violent-tempered animals. Spend most of the day wallowing in water or mud. Birth takes place in water. So does mating (kinky eh?). Third largest mammals on Earth. Though they look like fat & lazy animals, they can easily outrun a human at 48 km/hr. Known as the “Beast of the Nile” to ancient Greeks and Romans. Now I have an urge to play my favorite childhood game, Hungry Hungry Hippos!

Asian Elephant: Largest land mammal. Heaviest brain of the animal kingdom. Can sleep while standing. Wish I could do that…

Deer cohabiting with rhino and elephant

Cattle: Nothing special. Just hamburger.

African Cape Buffalo:  Known as “Black Death” in Africa since it is known to gore people to death (200 human deaths/year). Herd sticks together when there’s a predator, keeping the young in the middle. Daring enough to rescue a victim buffalo from predators.

Blackbuck: One of the fastest animals at 70 km/hr. State animal of Andhra Pradesh. Males fight to the ultimate end for sex. Males have bitter duels. They also mark their territories by rubbing their facial glands on tree trunks during mating.

Spotted Deer:  Very nervous animals.

Zebra:  Very social animals. Each zebra has a distinct stripe pattern.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight...

Tiger:  National Animal of India. Also known as the world’s favorite animal. Stripe pattern is unique for every tiger, like that of human thumb impressions.

Spectacled Caiman: Named for the bony ridge between the eyes that gives it the appearance of glasses.

Ostrich: Largest bird. Sadly they cannot fly, BUT they are the fastest two-legged animal.

Indian Peafowl: National Bird of India. Shy and alert. Males flare out their plumage to attract females.

Not the Laughing Kind of Hyena huh?

There was one casualty on this trip: my flip flop. I had to hop and walk on rocky roads until I could catch a rickshaw back.

And the Aquarium called “The Fish Galaxy”

Inside the Aquarium

Kissing Elephant Gardens

WOE – India, Part 4

The Indian Stare & Glare

As I’ve voiced since the beginning of my travels, Indians like to stare because I’m so different. It’s likely not an evil, creepy stare; it’s more the intrigued kind since it’s not often people see a live Asian girl on their streets. The thing is, when you stare back, they do not look away. They keep staring! It gets super awkward for me, so I look away first. One time, at a jewelery store in East Fort, I saw this plump old woman keep staring at me. As I walked past, I saw her eyes follow me. Her head remained still, but here eyes followed me and nearly disappeared behind her lids. When I sat down at the next showcase over, I noticed her head roll in my direction. She had this stern, hard look that emanated condescension. Where’s the shame in staring down someone?! It’s so uncomfortable and rude!

In the beginning, it was all weird and creepy, believing the eyes were all devilish, wolfish, and probing. I was uncomfortable around passing rickshaw drivers, laughing children, oogling pedestrians, etc… I was only fine in the hospital with doctors, because there I didn’t feel as vulnerable and judged. With strangers, I felt weak, open, and like an exotic zoo animal.

As I acclimated, I let loose and became more accepting. I embraced who I was and made the most of it. I smiled back and played with kids. I waved to kids on the streets, and boy do they get giddy when a foreigner acknowledges them. It’s like I’m a local celebrity to them. I smiled more to people and nodded my head as I thanked people in shops and restaurants.

Bathrooms Suck

I rambled about how bathrooms suck here before. And I’ll ramble again because that’s how terrible the flushing systems are in India. Good luck finding a bathroom… If you do, they are literally crap holes. They are squat toilets located in cramped spaces wreaking of urine and ammonia. Plain disgusting. On top of that, there’s no toilet paper, only a bidet hose! A hose!!! You have to hose down your ass after your personal business?! Indians really don’t waste anything here. Even with the bidets, I would not trust the cleanliness of the water enough to wash down the behind. If you ever go to India, make sure you pack a roll of toilet paper in your bag.

You may find a bathroom and really have to pee, but make sure you have a rupee or two to spare. Yes, you pay to pee, to have to do something as natural and necessary as relieving the bladder. I made that mistake the first weekend I went to the Napier Museum/Trivandrum Zoo. Since when did it become a cardinal rule to pay to go to the bathroom or wash your hands? It’s supposed to be a comfort station, not a piggy bank!

So I wonder, how do women handle their monthly dates with Little Red Riding Hood? No toilet paper, no waste baskets, no trustworthy flushing system, etc… Emergencies happen and the urge can be unbearable. It can seriously strike like a tsunami. What do they do?! How do people feel about using a bidet? I’ve never used those gadgets, but I’ve toyed with Japanese ones that had nifty options and music. Those seem fun and hospitable, but not Indian hoses.

So if you ever go to the bathroom in India, your best luck is to go to the bathroom twice a day, in the morning and evening. During the day, you’ll be drinking plenty of fluids to replace lost ions and water from sweating like a marathon runner. You’ll be drowning yourself in water, but you’ll barely feel the urge to go. You’ll feel dehydrated, and everything you chug and wolf down will be absorbed.

Pesky Bugs

Speaking of stink and poo, BUGS are EVERYWHERE! Flies, ants, mosquitoes, gnats, roaches, fruit flies, and moths – I’ve seen them all. Except, they are more like mega bugs in India. Disgusting, absolutely! I have this perpetual fear of insects, basically anything with over 6 legs that can creep, crawl, fly, or bite. Ewww, I shiver as I conjure up images of the bugs I encountered…

In the apartment, there was  giant cockroach that lived under the kitchen sink where it was dark. It met an untimely death when it came out and attempted to enter my closed room. There have been swarms of fruit flies in the kitchen. They multiply like the speed of light. It got so bad that fruit flies covered the whole inside of a wastebasket, which had to be taken out onto the balcony. Later on, there was a wavy trail of marching ants across the outside balcony. Around the same wastebasket, there was a concentric circle of dead fruit flies. And still, a layer of live fruit flies laid along the inside of the bin, unperturbed and resting. Also, several huge-ass flies came buzzing furiously in the apartment. They were monstrous! Good thing my roommate killed them in blitzkrieg-style using a rolled-up Gelato advertisement. They were left along the balcony door beneath the curtains. Another unfortunate fly died a terrible death under the dinner table. I was watching TV by the couch and I kept hearing an obnoxious “BUZzz BUZzzzzz.” I turned and saw this twitching fly. It was giant. A few days later, some scavenging bugs surrounded it and had themselves a feast off the unfortunate beast. Then they mysteriously disappeared…

I got random bug bites during my trip. Not sure if they were mosquitoes or another species of pests. But I got most of my bites one night and after beach excursions. And leggings did not help! Because they’re skin-tight, bugs can still penetrate. Just because they’re long and black does not fool these buggers. I still ended up with an itch fest on my legs and arms and cheeks. How awkward it was when it came to scratching my behind?!

Bugs are literally everywhere and people here are used to it. They, little ants, roam desks, tables, and shops. Roaches crawl all over trains and no one seems to care about the socializing bugs on the ground and seats. They’re completely harmless, but they are still gross to see…

Stray Dogs

Poor babies. Sad, lonely, and unwanted, they roam and sleep on the streets. At night, they howl and cry into the night. It may be doggy sex, some late-night loving, or doggy abuse. It’s a sad sight and a terrible thing to hear in your sleep. But in India, they are like garbage on the streets. They are not the Indian man’s best friend. Our natural instinct is to pet them and play, but not there. They could be carrying disease and pathogens. There, they have to be treated like a disease. That’s just the reality. No matter how pitiful and lonely they are, dogs will never be accepted as cuddly friends.

Just Missed the Train

India is probably a good 10 years behind schedule compared to the rest of the world, on many things. Take technology – cars, computers, cell phones… Remember the Nokia ringtone, ever so popular back when cell phones were just emerging? Yeah, it’s overplayed in India. While Americans and Asians have migrated to funky Verizon tunes, rock songs, and K-pop music, Indians are loving their Nokia tone. Most people have simple mobile phones, if they can afford one. Doctors and professionals have fancier phones like Blackberries, Androids, and other Smartphones. However, I find the ringtones not very fun, spectacular, retro, cool, or cute. Things are basic. I still like the Nokia tone, since my first cell phone was the rather heavy navy blue edition. It’s refreshing to hear the old tune again, something different from the Verizon tunes.

India also likes Fur Elise by Beethoven. It’s the default car backup warning sound. It’s also the cancer clinic’s waiting notification, the tone that’s played to call in the next patient. I like the song very much, thanks to my sister’s brainwashing. She played Beethoven’s classic song on the piano for NYSSMA one year. I also heard it played over and over again at a neighbor’s apartment when I went to Shanghai 10 years ago.

JFK = Just Fucking Kidding

One of the biggest frustrations is dining at restaurants. The menus are never honest. The menu pictures and descriptions tantalize you until you drool. When you are ready to order the signature dishes and featured picks, you call over a waiter. He approaches and shakes his head, “Sorry, we don’t have that.” WTH!!! At almost every restaurant I went to, this happened! Way to shoot down my hopes and cravings. It happened with milkshakes, desserts, breads, and main entrees.

Seriously, if you put something on the menu, colorful pics and juicy descriptions, I expect to have that choice. I expect full service and options, not disappointment. I don’t expect to be tempted, then shot down with a forced alternative.

What’s With Indian Men

Aside from toga dresses, tobacco gnawing, and awkward gazes, Indian men are not afraid to be touchy, with each other. On the streets, I’d see Indian guys hold hands and flaunt their open friendship. No, they are not gay, simply happy to be with each other.

WOE – India, Part 3

Primitive Eating 101

Yet another cultural deal I had to get used to: eating with my hands. Growing up, I’ve been trained to eat everything with chopsticks: fruits, soup, rice, noodles, pizza, potato chips, you name it. If chopsticks were not accessible, I had to make way with forks and knives. Even then, I was a failure at the Western way of dinner table etiquette. My white friends in college found it too funny how I failed at knifing my chicken and holding the fork properly. And last month, I had to do away with metal utensils and use my hands as utensils. In the beginning, I was grossed out and hesitant to use my hands. I remembered the RCC canteen where I ordered curry and chappathi for lunch (a struggle in itself). Except there were no utensils! I looked around and everyone was using their hands to scoop up rice and sauce. No spoons?! AHHH!!!

Though I got used to eating with my hands, I’m still accustomed to the Western rules of propriety at the dinner table. I had limited options in India. I followed cultural norms. Utensils were usually not available, except at some more upscale places and tourist hot spots. Actually, at the nicer places, when waiters saw me, they’d make sure to provide handy utensils.

Eating with the hands gets messy and greasy. That’s why there are wash stations at every restaurant or eating lounge. I hate getting sauce, food, grease, and spices under my nails. That’s why long nails are considered unhygienic in India. I hate the discomfort of seeing and feeling the oils and food bits all over my hands. I can eat Indian bread with mushy meals, since it’s all about ripping and scooping, but not rice. I had to have a spoon for that. People there mix and ‘stuff’ the rice with sauce into their mouths. I can’t imagine myself doing that; I need my spoon to scoop and carefully place the contents into my mouth.

And when it comes to eating meats, you use the bread and fingers to break off chunks of meat. It’s easier to eat veggie dishes honestly. Meats come with bone and skin. You really have to work for your food in India! Actually, in general, you basically work to satisfy your appetite. All that ripping, scooping and stuffing, plus the sweating from the spice – no wonder you can’t get obese in India!

Oh yea, there are no napkins either. That’s why there’s wash stations for [before and] after you eat! You can wipe with your hands, since you’ll just rinse off the grease and junk anyways.

Doctors eat in this fashion too. You’d think reputed, prim doctors have propriety, but they follow cultural norms nevertheless. I’d see surgeons and doctors eating their Thali lunches in the lounge, with their hands. I’d eat with my hands too, except nothing as gourmet as rice and curry. I’d eat a very pitifully healthy lunch: banana, orange, and vitamin-fortified wheat crackers =D

And my breakfast for several weeks: MASALA RAMEN NOODLES. I satisfied my ramen noodle craving in India. I ate it the Korean way – straight out of the pot. Imagine having to eat with my hands for this hot, slurpy breakfast!

Indian Fashion

MEN:  Many commoners wear togas. Formally, they are called lungi, commonly worn as a casual dress in Kerala, South India. Take an old towel or bedsheet and wrap around the waist. It can be plain white, plaid, or patterned in many colors and designs. You can go au naturel or commando underneath; no one will know. It’s convenient, cooling, and breathable in the hot Indian summer. It can be adjusted to different lengths: long like a maxi dress or folded up and tucked in like a skirt. Men adjust their togas on the public streets, rolling up their sheets and folding them up and forward.

WOMEN: All women wear very decorated sarees, so pretty and elaborate dresses with bright colors and patterns. Women certainly dress more elegantly and fashionably than men do. They wear light, flowy pants or long dresses to cover up. On top, they are clad in beautiful tunics with scarves and jewels. Female doctors also wear their usual dresses and tunics and sarees to work. No wonder I appear so different, me in my leggings and shirts. On the beaches, women also don’t wear bathing suits or bikinis. We are talking about a conservative society here. They dive in for a dip right in their long sarees. Men hop into the waters in usual swim trunks. It was funny when I was at Kovalem Beach, a group of European girls laid on the beach tanning, while a batch of Indian men sat on the boardwalk oogling at them. Men, they need to get their dosage of skin and boobs, and I guess it’s not often they get it from Indian women.

Anyway, women are well put-together in India, not revealing too much skin. Young females are thinner and more covered up. Older women are more plump and wide at the waist. The thing is, they seem to flaunt their fatness. Older women wear half shirts on the inside and sarees diagonally across the front, revealing the outpour on the sides. The bulging abdomen and jiggling muffin top are exposed – unnecessary, excessive, and unattractive. I thought Indian women would be more conservative with their bodies and appearances, but I guess not. What they wear could be attractive and gorgeous, if their attire suited a hotter, more youthful body…

Kedaram Shopping Complex

I notice that the poor are very thin, while the rich are more rotund and ‘healthy-looking.’ Body size correlates with money and status. Larger men, not as far as obese, are fuller and happier. Larger women, who probably are happily married and settled down, let go around the abdomen. It’s like what Russell Peters joked about:  Indian women are drop-dead gorgeous, and then they hit 35 and disaster strikes…

Either way, Indian female fashion is rather ornate, vibrant, and traditional. If you have the perfect body, you would be drop-dead gorgeous and fashionable. My leggings and huggable tunics are bland next to these angelic sarees. I like their dresses: simple, ethereal, glamorous, and cool for the cruel, hot summer. Maybe next time, I’ll try it and see how I feel. I’m curious as to how I’ll appear in these traditional Indian dresses.

CHILDREN: Little girls are dressed up like baby dolls. They are donned in vibrant dresses and jewels (not the fake plastic ones from Toys R’ Us), sometimes even makeup. It’s too cute!

Students wear uniforms. Guys wear dark pants and white buttoned-downs. Girls wear colored pants, white top, and colored sarees across the front. And they like to wear pigtails that fall over their shoulders onto the chest. They look rather innocent, shy, and playful. The uniform style comes off as more proper and clean. In Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and England, girls and boys wear neat and conservative uniforms. Private schools in America require a dress code too, but not in public schools. I always wished I could wear a school girl uniform so I would not have to wrestle through my pitifully unfashionable wardrobe every day and see trashy Americans wear cheeky shorts and cleavage-bearing tank tops in school. America’s all about freedom of expression, so that’s what you end up finding in the school systems: too much skin and flubber. No such thing as conservatism here …

Which reminds me what I dressed up as for Halloween last year. My friend and I dressed up as school girls: I was an American school girl and she was a Japanese school girl =D Fantasy satisfied after all…


WOE – India, Part 2

Indian Bobbleheads – I’m still laughing about this cultural phenomenon, this ‘head wagging.’ It’s hilarious when you see heads wobble during conversations. Doctors bob to each other during surgery. Nurses bob to their superiors. Doctors bob to patients. Rickshaw drivers, servers, caretakers, conductors, … it’s everywhere. People essentially have speak dialogues with their heads. Indians bob their heads with so much energy that I wonder if their brains are getting banged up. Indians wag their heads so much I imagine their heads are unstable and will fall off if they make another move. For an outsider, it was a titillating spectacle. By the end of July, I felt my head instinctively shake in affirmation.

It certainly gets confusing. Is the side-to-side head shake a yes, no, or maybe? Most times, I did not know how to take it. “Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know…” (lyrics from Malcolm in the Middle intro song)… What’s a ‘No’ then? A head nod up and down? When I talked to people there, I would start nodding my head up and down, since that’s a “yes” in America. I’m sure I confused the hell out of Indians there. Who knows, their “No” nod is the American “Yes” nod.

Geez, for the first few weeks, I was getting used to the head bobbing phenomenon. For a while, I was trying hard to suppress my giggles. Good thing I had a surgical mask on to hide my smile. Seeing the surgeons and residents acknowledge each other and speak through head bobs was too funny a performance!

Indians bob their heads constantly and enthusiastically. Add in a creepy smile and thick accent, you can make your own Indian bobble head toy! Witnessing the head bob actions gets dizzying. Yes, dizzying, especially when you are observing multiple parties bob to each other in casual conversation.

The Indian Accent – Hey, even Russell Peters made fun of it! Whenever my friend toyed with the Indian accent, it never failed to send me through a fit of giggles. It is thick, strong, and difficult to understand. It’s a mutual thing – Indians don’t understand my Americanized English and I don’t understand their accented English. For instance, when I said I lived off Pattom Road, the doctors were clueless. I said it like “bottom” with an ‘A.’ But whenever my friend said “Pattom” with the right pronunciation and accent, people understood him completely. On multiple occasions, Indian people had trouble interpreting my American English and for some reason when my friend spoke, everything was crystal clear, though it sounded the same to me.

I had great difficulty interpreting their English. Hey, it was better than dumbing down my semantics and using my hands, but still a challenge. Sometimes I had my brown friend repeat what I said to overcome the language barrier. Other times, I nodded along, still unsure of what I was affirming to. A small percentage of the time, I understood. I felt myself straining my ears and craning my neck like a pigeon to hear better. I used much more body language to communicate, like talking with my hands. I had to compensate heavily for the major language barrier by acting out “sleeping,” “leaving,” and “eating.” I kind of felt like a monkey, but I tried my best with what I felt comfortable doing.

I also tried using simpler words and sentences, I slowed down my speech to make sure I was clear. I enunciated and spoke loudly, sometimes a little too loud that it was startling. For example, I walked back to the GI clinic at the hospital to retrieve my agenda book and startled the patients. At times, I accidentally fell in the habit of using colloquial language, like “heading out” and “drilling the head,” which was completely lost in translation. Throughout my trip, I had to eliminate my slang and humor and substitute with common and simple vocabulary. Since my young days, I have been an avid reader and vocabulary junkie. To stop using my decade-worth of SAT words and idioms left me almost in shambles =/