Saturday, January 31, 2009

The ubiquitous "I'm a woman" post I feel like this is really obvious, but I'm getting annoyed with being a girl right now. Even the some of the other guys on the program feel like they need to treat me differently. It's actually not so bad, but there have been a few things lately that are just combining to make me mad.

First of all, if you go somewhere with only other girls, rickshaw drivers think that it's okay to rip you off. A lot. The fact that we're white and don't speak any Indian language probably doesn't help at all, but I think we tend to get treated better when there is a guy in the group. I've had three bad experiences in a row--including one driver who got really angry and started shouting and sticking his finger in my friend's face when we wouldn't pay him more than the agreed upon price. Then he started following us into the university...the wrong gate, by the way, since he refused to take us to the main gate where we had asked him to take us.

My gender is also proving to be a hindrance when it comes to making friends. In the States, I am much more likely to go up to a strange guy and be friendly than a girl. It's not that I'm flirting or anything or looking for anything more than a friend, that's just who I am. Girls intimidate me. But here I can't do that. The guys who are willing to talk to me are the creepy ones. There's that, and then there's the fact that even the other American guys on the program don't really like to go out with us--according to my one friend he feels like he has to protect us when we go out, and it's tiring. He also won't let us hang out with him and his Indian friends because then the girls in that group wouldn't like him as much (apparently a lot of Indian girls see white girls as competition).

And then of course there's all the guys in the street who stare at us as we pass in the rickshaw or come up to us and ask to take pictures with us. It gets a little tiring after a while.

Also, I would like to wear a tank top out of the hostel. I changed into a ribbed tank top this evening, just to wear around, and realized that for the first time I was wearing an outfit that I would probably wear at home.

Despite my being fed up with the entire male population right now, India is still good. I know something that sounds kind of like a song on the sitar, and Hindi is starting to differentiate itself into words--I can't understand what the words are, but I least I can recognize them. Also, I've decided to apply for publishing internships this summer. I probably won't get any of them (I'm applying to all the big ones because they're the ones that pay), but at least I'll feel like I'm doing something. So I've been slowly killing myself over revising my resume and writing cover letters.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I forgot... mention my sitar! It's beautiful. And very difficult. I keep playing it like I would hold/play a guitar or horizontal violin. And that's very not right. The teacher speaks no English except to say, "No, that's wrong," or, "very good." Needless to say, there are more of the first. But I've only had one class, so hopefully I will learn.

Also, I'm planning on taking kathak dance, although I've missed both classes so because it overlapped with sitar and the other because I was sick (yes, India finally caught up with me...I was doing so well too!). It involves a lot of stamping and percussive sounds with your feet, and you get to wear really pretty outfits. I'm excited. And I have to get my friends to catch me up to speed.

There's also a meditation class I'm thinking about taking. The only thing is, it's back to back with one of my other classes, and it's not that appealing considering 3/4 of my group is taking it, I can meditate on my own (but will I?), and while we're also reading a sacred text, I've already read a lot of them, so I don't really feel the need to. Oh well, I feel like I should take it, so I'll see how the times line up.

Emily's boring life

I feel like I haven't written anything in a while, so it's time for another entry. But, the problem is, life has finally settled down and I have less interesting things to say. So, here's some snippets of what I do every day here.

1) Classes. These are great, especially now that scheduling has stopped and everything is set in stone (although my roommate just had her professor come up to her and ask if it was okay if her class met on Saturday mornings...umm, no?). I'm taking:
- Basic Hindi: All I can say is that at least the Greek letters are somewhat familiar, and there aren't 44 of them. But there's only four people in my class, which is nice.
- Women Writing, Writing Women: A seminar class based around women's literature. We all basically get to pick our own texts to present, and then have a class based discussion around it. Also, apparently the professor knows Paula Richman, my Hinduism professor back at Oberlin. It's a really small class, about half Americans and half Indians, which gives a really interesting perspective on all of the women's views we discuss.
- Children's Literature: My homework is to read a different kid's book every week. It's great. A lot of them are really random books that I didn't realize that anyone else had ever Green Knowe and What Katy Did. Right now we're reading fairy tales...I never realized how depressing the original "Little Mermaid" is! She dies and turns into sea foam because she doesn't have a soul. Seriously? Also, I'm the only American in the class, which is fun. There's only 5 of us, so we all cram into the professor's little tiny office and do things like watch horrible BBC adaptations of "The Snow Queen."
- Indian Philosophy: This is probably my least favorite class. It's a two hour lecture on philosophy. Which could be really interesting, after all, I'm a religion major, but the professor is really boring and manages to not really say anything in 2 hours and he's pretty hard to understand and last class I managed to get spit on by him constantly. It makes me miss David Kamitsuka and MRT.

2) People. The people here are amazing. I've made a lot of friends, and one of my favorite things to do is hang out on the balcony in the evenings. We bring out a guitar and hold sing-a-longs, or we just sit out there and talk for hours. Also, there's always someone to go on adventures with. Which leads me to my next topic...

3) Travel. I haven't gotten the chance to do this yet. We were planning a trip for this weekend, but we couldn't get train tickets because it's a holiday and everyone is traveling. So we pushed that trip back and now I'm in the midst of planning two to Hampi (the home of Hanuman and the monkey people in the Ramayana), and the other to Gokarna (think hippies and beaches). It's great how easy it is to travel here...we paid 30$ for 11 hour, round trip train tickets in kind of the equivalent to business class, and we're expecting to pay about 4$ a night, if that, for our hotels while we're there.

All in all, I'm quite enjoying myself here. There are definitely the downsides, like the fact that getting to and from anywhere involves biking up the huge hill of doom, and the fact that I keep getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers (hint: if you don't want to get cheated quite as badly, go with a guy). However, there are now hot showers in the dorms, I'm actually getting muscles in my legs, and even the heat doesn't really bother fact, this is the perfect climate (talk to me again in April...I might have changed my mind).

Maybe soon I'll have something more exciting to tell y'all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

the high society of Hyderabad

Last night I tagged along to a free concert. It was a French quartet that played jazz/gypsy folk music. They were really amazing, and it was a great experience, albeit very strange. We got there, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, expecting it to be just a concert--the tickets were free, so we didn't think it would be a big deal. When we showed up, however, it was at the swankiest hotel in Hyderabad, and people were dressed, well, more formally than jeans. It was put on by the Alliance Francaise in Hyderabad, so everyone was speaking French and milling around, partaking of the free bar. It was just so strange! I felt like I was in Europe, at a formal outdoor concert.

Anyways, first there was this concert. Then we got invited to the inaugural ball for Obama that is taking place in Hyderabad, also at the same hotel (called the Taj). It's so strange to contrast the day to day life in India that we see in the university and the city with the rich, upper crust society that we are automatically invited into because of the color of our skin.

Fusion Music

One of the first nights we were here, we were all able to see a fusion music concert. One of the girls in the program apparently was able to record some of it, so I'm posting it here. It was incredible...the musicians took eastern instruments like the tabla and sitar and combined them with western instruments to make their own unique sound. Notice that the violin has 5 strings and the guitar is held horizontally across the lap of the musician playing it.

Monuments and Haunted Houses

Despite our constant grouchings of "we're tired...we just want to stay in for a day," we seem to find something interesting to do almost every day. This past Thursday was a Muslim holiday, meaning that all classes were cancelled, so of course we decided that this was the sort of opportunity that couldn't be passed up. And we went on a journey into the city, always an adventure.

First there was the bus ride. At this point, it was just me and three of my friends, all of whom are guys. This served to be kind of a problem, since women have to sit in the front of the bus, while men go in the back. When the bus stops aren't labeled and the buses are as full as Indian buses tend to get, its always an adventure trying to make sure that everyone manages to get off at the same spot. Luckily, the ticket collector took pity on our obvious ignorance of the Indian bus system, and told us where to get off. Then, we wandered down this little alley way, full of Indians (what street isn't?) who stared at us...apparently they don't get too many white people looking for the train station. The train also has ladies and men's cars, although there are also "general" cars for families, so I didn't have to go off by myself. The train is also a lot better labeled and less crowded...and we each only spent 4 rupees (about 8 cents) on a ticket for what ended up to be about a 35 minute ride.

We got off the train, but the adventure was not yet over; we had to take a rickshaw to the public gardens--our final destination. Haggling with rickshaw drivers is always an adventure (most of the time I just let other people do it for me), and I don't think I've ever been on a ride where the driver doesn't take us to the wrong place or ask us for more money when the ride is over. This time, however, after a little bargaining, we ended up where we wanted to be. And we found out that you can fit four adults into a least, if someone is willing to sit on everyone else's laps...

The rest of the day pretty much consisted of wandering around. We found some pretty gardens and monuments (see my facebook albums for some photographic evidence), and eventually met up with a bunch of other friends for lunch. The thing about traveling with too many people, is that it's too many people. It's hard enough to move about inconspicuously when there's four of you, and almost impossible when it's 10. Also, everyone tends to have different ideas about what they want to do and get out of a trip. Anyways, for whatever reason, after lunch and a little wandering around "Buddha Lake" (a large lake with a statue of Buddha in the middle, like the Statue of Liberty), a few of us split up and went wandering again.

We managed to find more monuments, blah blah blah...and then two of our group decided they wanted to go to an amusement park (which looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland). Me and my one other friend were too tired, so we ended up going to get coffee and cookies at the Imax theatre, on the suggestion of Mr. Das (who runs the guest house we live in). We get into the theatre, and it's this tremendous mall, a completely different dimension from the India that we had just walked out of. We ended up going on this 4-D adventure ride, which was like an underwater ride where dinosaurs jumped out of us (ok, it sounds cheesy, but it was actually really fun).

The other two people in our group joined us at this point, and we decided to go to a haunted house (really...of all things to find inside of an imax theater...). I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I've never really been in one before, and I may have gotten a little freaked out. First there was my friend behind me (who was probably the most scared of any of us), who grabbed the back of my shirt. I thought he was someone who worked there and started hitting him on the head--and of course he didn't say anything to disprove my idea, so Rebecca (who also goes to Oberlin, by the way) keeps saying, "It's only us Emily, it's okay." Then there was the guy in bed who kept chasing me...he was like chained to a metal bed and was making it jump up and down. He did it a few times, and I thought he was done, but then he started coming after me. Regardless to say, I spent most of the time clutching at the person next to me and trying to use him to block me from the scary things. When we finally all spilled out the door into the mall again, all of the Indian people just look at us and start laughing hysterically. It was quite amusing. Anyways, I'm all done with haunted houses.

After that little adventure we went to the Birla Mandir temple, one of the main Hindu temples in Hyderabad. It was amazing. We went at sunset, and the temple looks down over the entire city. And it was this huge labyrinth of marble paths and shrines that we wandered around barefoot. It was a great ending to the day. It was fascinating to me that the temple had plaques that were dedicated to different religions--like Christianity, Judaism, and Confucianism. I can think of no other religion that demonstrates the same, not only tolerance, but respect for and acceptance of other religions that Hinduism does.

Then we went out to eat, and finished the day off by having dessert (I had the best brownie ever) and having a huge discussion about religion and it's place in environmental type of conversation. By the time we got home it was about midnight, and we still had to ride our bikes the two miles from the main gate where the rickshaw dropped us off to our hostel...not something that I would ever do alone, by the way, but since I was with two other guys, I figured I was okay. And the only noises we heard besides the numerous guards wandering around were of this huge pack of monkeys that sounded like they might have liked to eat us.

Okay, so this was a really in depth description of a day. It's just that that day encapsulated India so well for me. India is having adventures and wandering around and stumbling on the most beautiful things you've ever imagined. It's eating good food and having deep conversations with people. It's getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers and squeezing on to city buses surrounded by more people than you can imagine. I think I'm in love.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

and life goes on...

I'm sitting on the grass outside of the library at the University. It's the second day of class, and a bunch of us are here waiting for it to be time to go to a talk about the different kinds of cultural activities we can do (i.e. drumming, sitar, dancing, etc.).

We still don't have internet, so it's been a while since I've been able to update. Eventually my plan is to copy a lot of what I've been writing in my journal and to put it in here, but for now I'll just tell you that I'm still alive and well.

Scheduling here is the most chaotic process ever, at least to an outsider. The class times are extremely fluid, and often a class will meet at 3 different times during the week. Then, just when you think you have it all figured out, the professors decide that they would like the time to be at some other time, and everything has to be figured out all over again. There is no master list of classes, and no class limits, and everyone just shows up and hopes for the best. I've already missed one class because I thought it met from 3-5, but when I showed up I realized that they had changed the time from 2:15-4:15. Oops.

You know you're in India when:
The cars sing when they're put in reverse
You're walking home from class and realize that you're trapped between a herd of cows and a bright green dump truck filled to the brim with people.

I don't quite have a routine yet, but things seem to be calming down a little. I'm settling down and making friends. We've gone to an open air market, and also to a planetarium/children's museum. The whole thing was like something out of Lost in Space...there were great special effects from the 70s and a whole room full of an old computer. However, even though the graphics of the planetarium seemed to be decades old (and the style was quite cheesy as well, although that might be simply a symptom of Indian culture), I did notice that they carefully refrained from calling Pluto a planet. Then after that, we got into a big discussion about the meaning of life and where we fit into the cosmos. Yep, I've met other philosophy/religion nerds.

Anyways, it's time for me to start on the way to our next event. Hopefully I'll have time to update a little more extensively soon.