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 USA, I'm Coming Home...

Fri Dec 30, 2011 2750 views

USA, I'm Coming Home...

It’s hard to believe that my trip to India has come to an end. I guess I was secretly hoping it would last forever.

I kept saying to myself each day “I have tons of time left” and before I knew it… I didn’t. This has been a very inspirational trip for me. I’ve learned so much about a lot of things. I tried to make the best of my opportunities here. Every time someone wanted to go somewhere or do something I was all for it.

The most amazing part of this trip was undoubtedly the people I met. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet so many people from different walks of life. They have given me different perspectives on lots of things. As you guys can see from my previous blog, I am very impressed with the heart and drive the youth in India possess. During a conversation with a businessman here, I was told “our parents simply wanted to work in the US for job security. Now the parents are training the new generation to create companies in the US.” This determination to “make it” is very inspirational to me because there are a lot of people that will stop at nothing to succeed. I like to think that I share this mentality with them. I hope to see these guys again in the US later! And DON’T FORGET TO EMAIL ME WHEN YOU GET THERE!!! :-)

My family here is outstanding. They took great care of me. Everything that I wanted, they made sure I got it. They were so accommodating, hospitable, and happy to have me here. We shared Christmas with them for the first time. We decorated the tree, had an amazing Indian style dinner and sang American Christmas songs. They shared their amazing culture and landmarks with us. I learned how to play cricket! I was invited to play in a few matches (with varying success). When I get home I will try to play cricket with my friends. It will never replace American Football for me, but it is still a fun new addition to my life. I watched an American Football game with my Indian family, but they didn’t seem to take to it. I kept hearing “It’s just like rugby.” No matter how much I tried to explain the differences it didn’t change their minds. I could only convince them to watch half of the first quarter and then they were bored… Which I found ironic, considering how extremely slow and boring cricket is to watch! They threw my wife and I a miniature Indian wedding ceremony. It was so much fun! I was unaware of the “tradition” to steal the wedding couples shoes and demand money for them! I had to pay 2000 rupees to get my shoes back! Someone from India, please, explain this to me! Haha! I am going to try aggressively to get them to visit us in the States so we can return the favor. I told them it is an American “tradition” to wash my car and do my laundry when they come visit :-)

The landscape here was often a struggle for me. As I toured the parts of the country that I visited I was both pleasantly astonished and painfully horrified from moment to moment. I was told “you have to view India with blinders on. There is a lot of bad here but there is much more good. Just try to ignore the bad things as best as you can.” Although this is hard for me to do, when I am able to overcome my emotions when presented with “slum areas” I see inherent beauty. I wish the corrupt government would stop pocketing the trash collecting money and clean up the garbage everywhere, but what are you gonna do?

When I first got here I told my wife “I’m not going ANYWHERE without someone that speaks the language.” It didn’t take long to learn that most people here speak English. Many of their street signs and business storefronts are written in English. The only issue is the English they know is proper and literal; so things like sarcasm and joking are not conveyed. For example, I had a miscommunication in the market one afternoon. Some guy was making comments to me about Americans all being rich. He was persistent, invading my personal space and annoying me. Out of frustration, I looked at him and said “Ya, we all use 100 dollar bills to wipe our asses.” Obviously it was totally meant to be a joke (I mean, Everyone knows Americans really use $1000 dollar bills to wipe our asses :-) Moments later I was told by my cousin that this guy was mocking me to other people saying that I told him Americans are all so rich that we throw money away in the toilet for fun. Whoops… Looks like rumors about Americans cleaning their butts with cash will spread in India and it will be my fault. I also told another person, who was convinced pizza was all Americans ate, that instead of water we blend pizza, french fries and Coke together and drink it. I was told that this person believed I was telling the truth. Whoops! Haha!

It’s also kind of neat to see the roaming cows, wild dogs and monkeys. The monkeys are particularly cool looking. As time passed I was able to recognize the same cows across town. I learned that many of the cows belong to people and they are left to roam all day in order to feed on the trash left behind by humans (apparently its less expensive to feed them this way). You just have to be very careful not to step in cow s*** that is littering most roadsides.

Love is interesting here. It seems like all entertainment, such as movies, music etc is loaded with sometimes vulgar sexually charged innuendo (some of it would make a desensitized American blush) yet society is quite sexually repressed. Young unmarried couples enjoying a night out cover their faces to prevent themselves from being recognized and subsequently ostracized from their family.

Americans are celebrities here, since they see so few of them. I was pointed at, stared at, and even approached for pictures. Some people just wanted to talk with me and ask questions. I was told that many of these people have never seen a white person in the flesh before. We even noticed passing motorists dropping their jaw at the site of me and turning their heads as they passed by. When I was riding through town on a motorcycle, at each intersection everyone seemed to crowd around me and just stare. I thought it was funny, and I tried to be friendly and understanding about it. I mean, it is their country, if they want to stare then that’s what they should do! Since fair skin is considered desirable here I got my share of looks from the ladies, which my wife quickly resolved :-). I got preferential treatment simply because I’m American. People opened doors for me and insisted I step in front of them in lines. In the airport in New Delhi a bathroom attendant waived at me and insisted on cleaning a toilet before I used it (something I didn’t see him do for anyone else). Of course, he may have been working for a tip, since the belief here is that all Americans are rich. Even though it was embarrassing at times, It was quite an experience.

Much living here is drastically simplified compared to the US. Every morning the families make food and eat together. Each night they do the same. I kept explaining to them how in the US we are so busy that most food we make is ready made in packages. For instance, they make fresh chapati every day. This would be the equivalent of an American family making a fresh loaf of bread every morning. Some Americans have time to do this, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of us buy it at the store. Also, raw materials for food are all made from scratch here where in the US we often purchase prepared packages with the seasonings and stuff premixed. When I explained this to them they thought it was strange. I witnessed a lot of the woman spending all day preparing food from scratch. Practically each time I went outside I saw vegetables drying in the sun to be used in tonights, tomorrows or even next weeks meals. The woman made sure they fed their families and then ate what was left. I found myself eating with the woman most nights because they were a lot of fun to chat with. Since I was American, they didn’t force me to abide by their social rules.

Most motorists drive motorcycles and bicycles. I was told that many don’t purchase cars because fuel costs so much here. Stop signs don’t exist and intersections are regulated by a strict “honor system” code (and a s*** load of horn honking). Businessmen aren’t checking their emails every 10 seconds (which I am still accustom to doing). They run their lives with a respectable “let it be” mentality that I wish to adopt for myself. Family entertainment is sitting around talking to each other while enjoying delicious tea made from raw materials such as lemon grass (no tea bags for these people)! I really adore the family values here. It’s strict, but loving. Oh, and since everyone here drinks tea, it is hard to get a good cup of coffee. Coffee here is what we call instant coffee in the US (it’s ok bit it’s no Starbucks or Dunkn’ Donuts). I did find a cafe nearby that has a banging Cappuccino, however.

Bathing here is as simple as a bucket of water and a bar of soap. No baths, no showers. They are available here in the newer homes, but my wife’s family lives in a home built in the 1970’s. You better believe that when I get home the first thing I’m doing is taking a shower until we run completely out of hot water. Eating and drinking can sometimes bring on a panic attack. You never know what food is hygienic or not. You’re not supposed to eat any fruit that you did not wash yourself or drink water that hasn’t been filtered. Our family compound has elaborate water filters that they use to fill clay pots with clean drinking water. The pots keep the water cool. The water in the washroom is not filtered so I needed to be careful not to accidentally consume water while bathing. I got terribly ill for 3 days from eating a peda (an Indian sweet treat) on the street. The thing that sucks is that restaurants will claim their food and water is hygienic even though it is not, so I had to be extra careful.

The emphasis on family is very strong here. The youth don’t eat until they’ve fed the elders (men and retired people eat first, then children, then wives). If an elder asks for something the youth do everything possible to get it done. It appears to me that it’s normal for people to start work days later in the morning and come home earlier in the evening to be home with their families. Of course they have 6 day work weeks, but I get the impression that it is less stressful than my work week (which is often 5-6 days and 8-10+ hours a day).

The emphasis on education is refreshing. I come from a lineage of school teachers, college professors and military instructors so I’ve heard a lot about the sliding study habits of Americans over the decades. For s*** sake, I met an 8 year old kid here that spoke 4 different languages fluently. She even made fun of me for only knowing one! Of course I ended up getting a pass when I spent minutes spouting off all the computer languages I know. I also met a 10 year old kid that was studying SAT material (high school level in the US). This is what I was talking about in my blog about “complacent American workers” being bulls eyed. The kids here may be smarter than the majority of college freshmen in America. It is the emphasis on family and the sheer will to succeed that drives this. When trying to encourage their kid to go and study, I heard a parent say “go and study or you’ll end up running a rickshaw or living in the slums.” The incentive there is that the kid sees this sort of impoverished living constantly and they know for sure that they don’t want to end up this way.

One evening I was using my Pocket Universe app on my iPad to stargaze with some of the kids and I was so impressed with their understanding of physics and astronomy. When I would explain basics of nuclear fission they would interrupt me and complete my thought. I wanted to teach them something, but they knew it already! I even tried explaining concepts like supernovas and neutron stars and these kids already knew what they were. They even were able to recite some physics math formulas and chemistry interactions to back up what they were saying. This was awesome for me because I consider myself an amateur astronomer, and when I talk about this stuff I need to speak very abstract to avoid boring people. I also find myself being uncontested (everything I say is accepted as true). But these kids would follow up with questions that forced me to back up what I was saying with math and science. They were as excited about this stuff as I was and it made me feel amazing. Our stargazing nights were topped of with multiple displays of meteors, including one that actually made landfall about 300 yards from us. If I am so lucky to have a child some day as intelligent as these kids then I’d be the proudest parent in the world.

The weather has been so nice. I heard from my Indian friends back home, before I left, that December is the best time of year to visit… And they were right! It’s warm during the day (not stifling hot), the mornings and evenings greet you each time with a relaxing and refreshing coolness. The downside of this was when I first got here I was eaten alive by every mosquito, spider, ant, EVERY SINGLE INSECT. They just couldn’t get enough of my delicious American blood. My first week was marred with bug bites and red bumps everywhere. Now that my time has come to an end, my arms and legs are clear, my bug bites from the first days are either gone or scabbed over… The bugs literally got bored of me. It’s sunny every single day. The stars are glaring you in the face each night. The hum of the nearby city is relaxing at night. It’s fun to see all the city kids in the streets playing cricket every single day. All the homes are open so the air indoors is constantly fresh. Of course we did have to sleep in a mosquito net at night, but “when in Rome”! 

Street vendors travel from neighborhood to neighborhood to sell their wares. If you want vegetables for dinner, just walk right outside your house and there will be someone selling some. Milk arrives fresh to your doorstep every morning. The food here is mostly vegetarian (sometimes vegan) and although sometimes its spicy as Hell, it is very nutritious and filling. I did, of course, sneak out and indulge in my favorite non vegetarian Indian dish: chicken tikka masala with a side of naan. I also learned of a chicken tikka roll that is exquisite! They cook with large amounts of oil here (way more than America, if you can believe it) and many dishes are spiced to perfection and beyond. The issue is that our weak American stomachs can only take so much before they get angry at us. On those days we visited the American restaurants nearby. Yes, I’m talking about Pizza Hut and Dominos. You can also buy simpler foods like pasta etc. There is KFC and McDonalds here also. My Indian family said of pizza, “we can’t eat this, it’s tasteless.” Hahaha! Oh ya, and some people here think that Americans eat pizza everyday. I tried to explain to them that we don’t, but they don’t believe me!

I showed WiBit.Net to a bunch of people here. They all seem to like it. My experiences with showing off the website has given me first hand experience dealing with the issues that we occasionally receive from our users abroad. Since Internet bandwidth is less in India, services like ours (and even powerhouses like YouTube) are practically useless in some areas. It takes so long to stream the content. I also learned a lot about the different ways Indians use technology compared to Americans. I will take these experiences back home with me and apply it to our products to help make it more obtainable to more parts of the world. We are aware that we are quite popular in India so we will try our best to make sure WiBit.Net accommodates our friends out here.

The time has come to say farewell to this magnificent country. I will cherish my memories here forever. I will keep in contact with the great people I got to know. And don’t worry, just like Arnold… I’ll be back!

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