25 December, 2011

The Christmas Special: And That's Why Indians Think Americans Are Crazy About Their Pets...

"We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup." ~Buddy the Elf, Elf

This is not a super amazing blog post I have to say, but since I showed what Diwali was like while I was in India, I decided to post a tiny bit about Christmas, America's version of Diwali for people in India to see a few traditions in case anyone is curious. Although it was a "Brown Christmas," if there's one time of year we hope for snow it's always on Christmas so we can have a "White Christmas," it was still a nice one.

I did a little Christmas baking with my mom a couple days ago. I made a very common version of what we call "Christmas Cookies" which are sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles. Using cookie cutters, I cut the dough into different holiday shapes such as Christmas trees, stars, and bells.

The finished product after my expert decorating!

In case anyone from India wants to see a real American Christmas tree, decorated with the ornaments, lights, the angel on top, and the presents underneath which people will open on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. My family usually gets together Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and opens most gifts on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day morning is reserved for "Santa's" gifts... My family always has a fake tree, but many families will also get real pine trees for their home.

As my family was opening up our Christmas gifts, each gift labelled with a "to" and "from," I couldn't help but remark on a recurring label. My mom, bless her, labels gifts to and from Sammy, our family dog. Sammy Fox apparently has done quite a bit of Christmas shopping this year, as many gifts were labelled as being given by him. Miraculous, no? And that, yaars, is why Indians think Americans are crazy about their pets... I remember people from India also thought it was hilarious that I gave my dog a surname, and Americans will often give their dog their last name like I did. This reminds me I also forgot to mention a little thing that was pretty great. Some friends of mine gave me a Christmas gift and on the "from" label put "MN yaars" (aka Minnesota friends), which I thought was hilarious and nicely sentimental. Thanks guys :)

Christmas for me is mostly about spending time with family and extended family, eating a couple elaborate meals and sweets, listening to Christmas music, opening gifts, maybe watching a Christmas film, and going to Church. Then today I also relaxed, played games with the family, played guitar and piano, and then when my family started watching a football game (as in American football, not soccer) I blogged!

I've had several people request me to continue my blog, so I am deciding exactly where to go with it. I may continue blogging on a different site. Unfortunately, the type of blog posts that are the most rewarding to write and share also take up the most time and energy. But it means so much to me to have so many people write comments on my blog or facebook, or tell me personally how much they have enjoyed reading what I have to say. And I have found over the past three and a half months how much I really do enjoy writing and want to continue writing in some way, shape, or form. I promise I will do my best and see what I can do in the future. Regardless, I will keep my readers posted on blogging plans...

That's it for now. Happy Holidays everyone and all the best for the New Year!

22 December, 2011

The Return Journey and American Acclimation

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
~Winston Churchill

"There's always room for a story that can transport people to another place."
~J.K. Rowling

My own personal saree, tailor made according to my measurements. First I picked out the material, then was measured and chose the design style I wanted for the blouse. I also had my saree made as a "ready-made" saree so that the pleats were sown in and I wouldn't have to remember how to wrap it, because it's fairly complicated to learn how to wrap a saree.

Before I delve into the reverse acclimation in America, I would like to thank everyone for their support, encouragement, and motivation throughout my 3 months in India. As I now view the stats on my blog, I can say that at this point my blog has had approximately 3000 PAGE VIEWS since I started it a little over 3 months ago, which is roughly a thousand page views per month!!! This is fairly astounding to me, as I never expected so many to anticipate my posts, but it has been just as rewarding, if not more so, for me to blog, and the fact that others have been interested in what I have posted makes it that much more rewarding. I hope that I have at least in a small way reduced stereotypes and provided an honest view into a culture halfway around the world.

I don't think I knew how hard it was going to be to leave India until I got to the airport to board my first flight out of Hyderabad. My last day in Hyderabad was full of goodbyes and farewells to my many new friends who wished me well in the future, hoping we would meet again.

Hyderabad, India

Delhi Airport

Delhi, India
In case you're wondering, yes, I'm THAT dork who will take pictures from my window seat on the airplane, watching the ground every take-off and landing with awe. And yes, I'm 22.

Munich, Germany
It was really kind of entertaining because several flight attendants on the plane ride from Delhi to Munich started speaking to me in German, and as soon as I gave them a blank look on my face as I tried to comprehend what they were saying, they were like, oh, English? Yes, please, English! A few times I knew what they meant if they were giving directions in the Munich airport, having quite a bit of experience at this point with communicating with people that I don't speak the same language, but what a riot. The funny part is that if they would have spoken to me in Hindi I would have had a better chance of grasping the general idea of what they were saying than German (not that I'm anywhere near fluent, mind you, in Hindi), but German I don't speak a lick.

The Munich airport is the only place I have ever seen indoor designated smoke zones like this, and there were multiple spots. The Camel Smoking Zone is specifically designed for smokers to light up in.

Chicago, IL, USA

St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN, USA
The last stop... I can still hear the relief in my mom's voice when she knew I had landed safely...

When I returned to America, one of the first things I did was have a sip of tap water from a drinking fountain because I knew it was safe, and it was the weirdest feeling. I can really appreciate the fact that the US has such an abundant supply of safe drinking water right out of the tap, hot and cold water straight out of every faucet. Americans really have no idea how luxurious our lives are, things like clean drinking water we take for granted, and yet, it is such a privilege to be blessed with that. And Americans don't have the constant power outages for a few hours a day, or the chance that there won't be any water pressure for a couple hours at a time. I remember several mornings in India going to take a shower, and wait, no water! The cities in America are cleaner, more spread out, and much, much quieter. There isn't a constant flow of honking in the streets. Driving for the first time again also felt very strange, opposite side of the road and the car, and people actually follow the traffic rules! I am really not enjoying the weather which has been about 0 C, or 32 F, which considering it has actually been a fairly warm winter so far, it's predicted Minnesota will have a brown Christmas, instead of the usual white Christmas, a rare thing in the Midwest USA not to have snow this time of year.

Since I've been home I've also been enjoying the simple things, like having an American cup of coffee, beer at a bar with friends, salad, pasta, pizza, and peanut butter sandwiches. Yet I will say I miss Indian food and the flavor, I think I will try my hand at cooking up a few things here that I always liked to eat in India. My first morning home I had my first bowl of cold cereal and cold milk in over 3 months and at first I was really excited, and then I took a few bites and was like, oh, this is kind of bland... For dinner one night my mom made tacos, a Mexican dish generally consisting of tortillas (America's version of roti/chapati except it's store bought, pronounced tore-tee-yas), cheese, tomatoes, onions, optional beef, and lettuce. The American way to eat it is to put all the ingredients inside the tortilla and wrap it up, but it just felt too strange for me to eat it like that after India, so I tore my tortilla into strips and scooped up the toppings just like how I would eat a roti and curry.

I like the fact that I'm in the same time zone as friends so I can just call them up again. I look around and I'm not a foreigner anymore, I don't stand apart, I'm much more normal, and that actually is very comforting. I love that my grandparents can have a 15 minute conversation about how long they think we have been or will be, waiting at a red stop light. Speaking of which, people from Innopark might be interested to hear that my Grandparents took me to experience my first real life casino gambling experience yesterday! Basically broke even, but learned how to play a poker game called Deuces Wild, and witnessed a lot of slot machine gambling.

About a week after my arrival back to America, I've almost completely adjusted to the time difference of 11.5 hours, which really threw me off at first having my nights and days flipped. So now I'm feeling much better after a good couple nights of sleep. On top of that getting sick the last weekend in India and traveling home with virtually no voice didn't help things. Overall, it really has been quite strange adjusting to life again in America, and slightly overwhelming at first, still not nearly as difficult as adjusting to India, but I would say difficult in different ways, and physically and emotionally difficult in different ways.

Leaving India was definitely bittersweet. Wonderful to be home to see the "3 F's" family, friends, and familiarity (yep, I just made that up), and yet very sad to be leaving India because I know that I will really miss it. I miss the chaos, the daily adventures, the food, the crazy routine my life took on, and the people, I have many friends I want to keep in touch with! What made life challenging also made it exciting. But I hope to always continue the ultimate journey, the endless journey, the journey of self.

It has been so awesome to see college and hometown friends again, and to communicate in my oh so familiar American English, not having the frequent language barriers anymore. It really is such a wonderful feeling coming home to people that are so happy to see you again, and now I've got a few thousand crazy stories to add to the fun. My friends here tell me I seem so relaxed now, so much more confident, so comfortable, and more direct. And really, daily life just seems so much easier again in my familiar environment. And I know that this new sense of self I wouldn't have discovered without going to India, it changed me as a person.

I think that there are often things that people like to read, but don't want to personally write, either out of sense of privacy, fear, or not wanting others to be upset at their views. I hope I have provided through my blog a small outlet that can help people voice tough or contrary opinions, to stand up for what they believe in, and to be more accepting of people in general. It's not easy to publicly write things that are deeply personal, or that you think others might not agree with, it hasn't always been easy for me, but that's really the only kind of writing that can make an impact. And then something really amazing happens, as soon as you begin to open up more, it becomes easier and easier, and you become happier that you are being more honest, and then you keep expressing your true and honest opinions. And then you start becoming more of the person you want to be, and you're more satisfied with yourself that you're not scared anymore of being what you really want to be, behaving and believing how you want to behave and believe.

When I look back to who I was as a person just starting college, I can't believe how much I've changed since then. If you would have told me I was going to live 3 months in India, I would have thought you were suffering from some sort of mental illness. You never know where life will take you if you are willing to work for it, and recognize an opportunity when it comes. Stay committed, to all my design friends, if you love design, then really love design, live design! But also stay inspired, do things that inspire you just for the heck of it. In order to be a better designer, you also need to experience life, take up a hobby, read a novel, learn to play an instrument, go for a walk, or travel abroad. Because if you don't take the time to do things that make you happy, you'll be waiting your whole life to start enjoying your life. And what's the point if you're not enjoying life?

So now as I enjoy the holiday season, I know I will be applying for jobs soon in Minneapolis, which is still an intimidating prospect, but I hope that the adventure I have gone through has better prepared me for a life and career ahead. I have grown as a designer, but I have also grown deeply as a human being, and I hope it is a journey which never ends.

"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."
~Mae West

09 December, 2011

A Little Heart-to-Heart

"Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world."
~Marilyn Monroe

"I'm a new soul
I came to this strange world
Hoping I could learn a bit 'bout how to give and take
But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear
Finding myself making every possible mistake"
~Yael Naim, New Soul lyrics

I won't claim that I'm a poet, but I believe in posting things that mean something to me, and the following poem means something to me:

This is the story about a girl, who was struggling when she arrived in a foreign world.
At times she felt lonely and at times she felt blue, at times she felt very homesick too.
Life was so strange and so new and so different, it was difficult to retain her shaky confidence.
She was often at a loss as to what to say, at a loss as to how to behave.
And then she started to open up and share her worries, she learned the names of clothing and curries.
She said what she meant, and meant what she said, she got up on the right side of the bed.
She grew out her nails and painted them pink, she wrote a few verses in order to think.
She learned just because she kept it classy, didn't mean she couldn't be sassy.
She sang a song to herself each day, to remember the little moments that took her breath away.
She walked into work every morning with a smile, and left every night with a cheerful goodbye.
She decided her troubles weren't really so bad, there was always something for which she could be glad.
She learned she had met real friends, upon whom she could depend.
She learned it doesn't matter here or there, people are people everywhere.
She walked with a little more bounce in her stride, she believed kindness was more important than pride.
She knew she couldn't change the entire world with her heart, but she could change herself and that's a start.
She dared to dream, she dared to live, she dared to share, she dared to give.
She had a thousand million plans, goals that stretched far beyond her own wingspan.
Dreams for the future, dreams for the now, dreams in her thoughts, dreams she voiced aloud.
She knew that never is a kindness too little or small, to not be important at all.
She believed in many impossible things, she believed in the wonders that life can bring.
She knew that below the surface of books and looks, there was a girl who just came out of her nook.
And suddenly she knew a bit about herself, something that she couldn't find atop her bookshelf.
And that's a beautiful thing, you know, learning to let yourself go, grow, and glow.

It's amazing how much a place can change you. I feel so different from when I first arrived, it seems like a million years and yet just yesterday that I stepped off of the plane and onto unfamiliar soil. Often people ask me how I've liked Hyderabad, and I can't even begin to sum up my experiences in one sentence. The closest I can come to is, overall, it's been good. But how do I describe to people in just a few words the initial culture shock, mentally, physically, and emotionally, as well as the constant and ongoing language barriers, the cultural differences, the steep transportation learning curve, the complete absence of anything or anyone familiar, and sticking out like a flamingo in a snow storm whenever I step outside? Add to this homesickness and loneliness, difficult to resolve visa paperwork issues, and establishing new social connections, and you have the making of a real survival challenge. And yet, I am so glad to have come and experienced this, which has undoubtedly made me a stronger person. Talking to so many new people, living here, and experiencing a completely different culture has taught me that, on the inside, how similar people actually are everywhere. Once I began to adjust to vast cultural differences, and understand the culture and people better, I began to realize on a deeper level that everywhere people still have many of the same fears, hopes, dreams, goals, and most importantly that we are all human beings. And no racial, religious, or cultural differences should stand in the way of seeing each other as such. And you know what? I can be just as sarcastic here with my friends as my American friends, humor is also everywhere.

I think it's also important for me to note that, I hope I have shown that Americans are also real people. The behavior of celebrities and the scandals in their lives aren't how the majority of the population lives and behaves. How life is in American movies is also not exactly accurate as to what life is like in America, just like Bollywood films don't represent the lives of a 'typical' Indian, whatever that may be. We get such distorted images from the media about cultural differences of people around the world who are different from us, creating twisted stereotypes, either positive or negative, of foreign lands and peoples. This is so unfortunate and has created so many unjust biases and prejudices. No country is so perfect or so awful as the media will portray it as, India's not perfect, America's not perfect, nowhere is perfect. There is no existing utopian society, but I think if we take the time to realize that everywhere people are people, the world can start to become a better, more accepting place.

Life will certainly be much easier in many ways returning to America, but I will miss life in India and all the craziness and chaos, the excitement and new adventures. And then I will get to dive into the joys of portfolio revising and job searching. I don't really know where life will take me after this, but wherever my path leads, I know that I have a new sense of self, new foundation of confidence, and I am more ready to take on new challenges that will come my way. It is a very empowering feeling that long-term traveling gives, no longer a tourist but a traveler, learning how to live in a culture and way of life completely unfamiliar. It makes you see possibilities. And I hope to always continue experiencing life with a sense of adventure, appreciating the simple things, celebrating the small things, being thankful for the important things. I hope to continue to grow into more of the person that I really want to be, instead of the person that people expect me to be. To stand up for myself when I strongly believe in something, to stand up for others when they cannot stand up for themselves. And I hope I more often have the courage do what I strongly believe to be right rather than what is easy. It's important to really sit down and think about life, otherwise before you know it, life could be or be taking you somewhere that you don't really want to go. But the good news is, you don't have to stay there, you can change.

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." ~George Eliot

On a random note, I was learning a few more Hindi phrases, and words like "must" and "zabardust" which mean wonderful, when someone told me the word "jakaas" also means wonderful. Honestly, when I first heard it I did a double take, because it sounded a LOT like the American word "jackass," which I promise does not mean "wonderful" haha... I also learned this useful phrase, "Mene kuch nahi kia!" which means "I didn't do anything!" And if I really want to tell an auto driver to "Get lost," I could now say "Dafa ho jao!"

Last weekend I also saw my first movie in a theater, and I thought it was interesting that all movies in India will have an intermission, or an interval as I guess it's also called here. In America, our movie theaters never have intermissions, no matter how long the movie is, only if you go to a live theater performance will you have an intermission. Theaters here show movies in 3 languages: Telugu, Hindi, and English.

The most unfortunate part of my return? The weather...and this isn't even the worst of Minnesota winters. One last weather comparison for the heck of it.

"There is a time for departure even when there's no certain place to go."
~Tennessee Williams

01 December, 2011

And Then I Saw A Sindhi Wedding...

"Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak."
~Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."
~Oscar Wilde

 This wedding was a Sindhi Wedding, very different from the South Indian Wedding I attended earlier. It was a very classy wedding, very posh. I didn't see the actual ceremony, the couple was already married, but I came with a few coworkers for an afterwards sort of celebration. In India, weddings last several days with lots of food served.

Food tables - so nice to see ONLY vegetarian food options! Hehe, this would never happen in America...

Warm Milk - very tasty. Weddings are popular for the food served, and a great way to try a lot of new foods. Let's just say I came away stuffed, after tasting quite a few new foods and desserts... My coworkers tease me about being health conscious, and they were joking about how many calories everything had, I told them I would just rather not know for the night, the food was much more enjoyable that way. Tried naan and jilebe for the first time, as well as a few other things I can't remember the names of.

I was surprised to find a little American touch! (the caterer had Liberty in the name)

Mandrap - this is where the wedding ceremony takes place.

Pretty lady!

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."
~Steve Martin