Thursday, July 29, 2010

Almost the end

In Paris, I determined how well I had adjusted to my new culture by how Parisian I looked and how well I blended in. In India…well, let’s just say blending in is not such an option. So instead I’m measuring my adjustment by how well I can walk home in the dark when it’s raining. Tonight proves me a success, as it has been pouring all day and I walked back from the mall, stepping in all the right places, and made it back with only a couple of mud splatters on my yellow pants.

Sorry it’s been so long between blogs. I haven’t done anything terribly exciting like elephant-riding this time, so here’s a brief recap of the past couple weeks.

The weekend before last, I went with my service learning class and several tag-a-longs on a village trip. It was just a couple of hours away, but so different from Bangalore it may as well have been another country. The trip wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was fun nevertheless. My favorite part was playing games with a big group of village children. They were all so cute! The group had great times, too, singing every song we could come up with while hanging on for dear life to the horse trailer for humans that we were riding in.

Last week we had a mehndi (henna) party and I got my palms tattooed this time, as Indians do. They normally get it done before big occasions, like weddings. I also went to the movies with my friends, seeing half of a Tamil movie in incredibly comfortable chairs that recline more than plan seats do! We had to leave in the intermission though to get back to our dorm before our 9:15 curfew. We got to see an hour and a half of it though, and I would like to see it again (with subtitles) to see the whole thing. It was really funny at first because they had a lot of random phrases in English thrown in casually among the Tamil words.

I had a final this afternoon, so now all of my classes are over besides the dance class we started last week. Dance is so much fun! We’re performing in front of who knows how many people on Monday, and I’m going to try to get someone to tape it, so hopefully I can upload the video when I get back home IN A WEEK. I can’t believe I’ve been gone for 6 months. I absolutely love it here, but I’m so ready to be home, even if it’s just for a few days!

Now that class is over, I don’t have much to do besides shop for souvenirs, so I’ll write you one more entry before I head back halfway across the world. Until then…


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pictures tell better stories than I would.

So I can cross yet another thing off my to-do list before I die: I rode an elephant this weekend! I could tell you about the other things I did on our excursion to Mysore, but pictures are more fun anyway. So enjoy!

Silk worm cocoons--we stopped by the town that produces (I think) 80% of India's silk...that's a lot! You could pick up the cocoons and shake them and feel the dead worm inside.

The Sri Ranganthaswamy Temple

Well, I don't have a picture on my camera of me ON the elephant, but this counts, right? At the above temple. Aaand this is my pretty, pretty pink outfit I had made.

At the Brindavan gardens. We saw a dam, gardens and a musical fountain there--very fun!

Um. I love this sign.

St. Philomena's church. It looks kind of familiar...

...probably because it was based on this one in Cologne, Germany!

Holy cow! They're everywhere, like this one at the temple shown below. The cows here even had red on their foreheads!

Chamundeshwari shrine. We didn't go in here because the queue was ridiculous!

Nandi, the bull mount of Shiva--over 15 ft high and 24 ft long.

Yummy sugarcane juice.

...Made right in front of us! They feed the sugarcane through a machine and catch the juice that comes out. They feed the same piece through several times, folding it up again and again to get as much juice as possible out of it.

The Mysore Palace at night! Beautiful! We went to visit the next day but they wouldn't let you take cameras in, so I don't have any pictures of the inside. It's absolutely gorgeous though, and reminded me a lot of some of the architecture I saw in Morocco, with the attention to details and sheer beauty of every little piece.

Program for the weekend: village trip with my service learning class! I know absolutely nothing about it yet, but have high hopes!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Learning in the classroom and out

Whew, time flies once classes start!

I spent all weekend looking forward to the start of classes on Monday. It really shows what our group is like when I say that we were all excited for class! In Paris, I never wanted to go to class. J So Monday came, and they had an all-India bandh, or strike. It was just supposed to affect autos, taxis and shops for the most part, but we ended up with all of our classes canceled. So we had nothing to do, which turned into an MTV-India watch party in my room. It was actually pretty fun! Then places opened back up at 6, so a big group of us went out to eat then.

Tuesday, we finally started learning! The day started out with yoga, and for the first class we mostly learned about what yoga is, and did some warm-ups and a few asanas, or poses. That afternoon, I started my culture class and we had a guest lecturer on politics. We’ve had guest lecturers in that class every day so far, including social structure (we got to talk to Indian students about their religion and such during that portion and it was really fun!), economics and dance (I learned how to be a peacock!). We had guest performers today as part of the dance lecture, and we’re trying to set up some lessons with the instructor here at the university.

Tuesday night was special because a few of us went to an Indian couple’s home for dinner. We met a salon owner and his wife over the weekend and they invited us over. We had so much fun, the other girl in the dorm and I decided not to worry about being back for curfew at 9:15 and we slept on couches at the apartments. We looked through engagement and wedding pictures, learning about some of the customs. This couple got married in Bangalore, so their wedding was three days, but in the north of the country, weddings last five whole days! I can only imagine how exhausting it would be, but it looks truly beautiful. I would love to see an Indian wedding someday, but I don’t know if the opportunity will ever come up. We talked with Nanesh and his wife about traveling since they had plans to go to a temple in the Himalayas this month, and we even met his parents. They didn’t speak any English, but we said “Namaste” and smiled a lot! His dad looked like Gandhi—it was great!

Wednesday was class as usual, but my Thursday mornings are free, so I went to Commercial Street with a couple of friends for some shopping. We got outfits made for us for around $20 or less, depending on the fabric used, and I kind of feel like a 5-year-old playing dress up in mine since it’s Princess Pink and has sequins and embroidery, buuuut it’s pretty so that’s okay! After class, I went with some friends to meet an Indian girl they had met, and we all got dinner together. She’s super nice and we had a lot of fun hanging out before making it back to the dorm just in time for curfew. I was going nonstop the whole day so I was really tired by the time I got back!

Tomorrow, the group is heading to Mysore to see a palace and silk saris and sandalwood incense and who knows what all else! We’re supposed to be able to ride elephants at the palace, which I am obviously all over if we have the opportunity. It should be a fun weekend trip, and I’ll let you know how that went next week!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Introduction to India

India: the name evokes images of saris and red dots on the foreheads of beautiful women, of colorful temples and millions of deities, of spicy curries and naan, of yoga and serenity.

Serene is hardly the word I would use to describe this country. The minute you step outside of baggage claim, you are surrounded by dozens of taxi drivers competing for your attention, and the busy-ness only increases on the road to your destination.

India is something you have to experience with all of your senses. Every day, I hear honking horns, loud conversations in English, Kannada and Hindi, and birds chirping the moment I leave my dorm. The streets are full of “Yes, madam? Where you from?” and “Come come come come come!” I smell curry along with pollution from auto-rickshaws (autos) and fragrant flowers. I feel the fresh air in the morning and the humidity hits me like a wall every afternoon—it is, after all, monsoon season here in Bangalore. I taste and feel some of the best food of my life, eating with my right hand as a proper Indian does. I see brightly colored clothing and bobbing heads and trash everywhere.

The hardest thing to get used to so far has been walking. No, really. Many places you have to walk on the street because there is no sidewalk or there’s too much trash. The problem with this is that no one stays in their lane on the road. The vehicles seem to fit together like puzzle pieces, with 2 motorcycles and an auto squeezing in behind a bus, and more motorcycles on the side. Everyone’s honking at everyone else for doing the exact same thing they are, and sometimes vehicles don’t even stay on the correct side of the road (which is the left, in case you’re wondering). Crossing the road is the biggest adventure of all, since there are very rarely breaks in the traffic, and rarer still are traffic lights. You have to take your chances, throw out your hand to try to slow down vehicles and dash out into the traffic. If you’re lucky, you’ll be halfway across, and then have to do the same thing for the vehicles going the other way. I read somewhere that Bangalore is known for having the worst traffic in India, which is not entirely surprising since (if my taxi driver is to be believed) the population has grown from 4.5 million to 18 million in 20 years. WHOA.

Another remarkable thing about Bangalore is the friendliness of everyone. These people could beat out even Midwesterners in a competition. I have never met a group of people so willing to help, to go out of their way even. Maybe some of the reason it stands out so much to me is that I just came here from Paris, but every time I meet someone here I am astounded at how nice they are.

It’s hard to determine what to put in this entry because everything is just so different, but here are a few of the things I’ve done.

Shopped on the street and bartered some prices down.

Identified some foods I particularly like. For example, that red sauce at lunch today. The runny one with the tofu in it. Does it have a name? Probably…

Ridden in auto-rickshaws. I was nervous to begin with, but it’s a great way to get around, especially since streets are so hard to get around. The autos are open on the sides, so you get a great breeze throughout the ride. It’s not fun when traffic is stopped though, and small children come up and tug on your pants, asking for money or water or whatever you have.

Seen cows chilling on the side of the road, confident that nothing will happen to them…for good reason!

Covered my head, removed my shoes and washed my feet and hands before entering a Sikh gurudwara. I ate some sort of wheat-sugar-something before sitting down. I’ve also been to a Hindu Krishna temple and seen the outside of a mosque and a few churches.

Used a squat toilet.

Attended a meeting with Indian students—complete with standing up when the professor entered the room and a lot of “yessuh”s.

Taken a shower with buckets.

Had my first massage ever.

Eaten on a banana leaf.

Managed to stay healthy despite the lack of soap most places and huge diet change. Knock on wood.

I’m excited to start classes on Monday (side note: I wrote this over the weekend!). I’ll probably actually have started already by the time I have internet and can upload this entry! Speaking of internet, I won’t be on facebook much since it’s blocked at the university and I won’t be going to the internet café in the mall as often once my computer is configured for the internet on campus. So contact me here or through email!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Motherland

I have internet whoooo! No facebook or skype, but at least I can blog for you! I wrote this post on the plane to India:

There are certain things in life that seem too good to be true—the USA making it to semifinals in the world cup, getting my India visa in time, my trip to Ireland. The entire week I spent there, I was just in awe of everything, how a place I had been wanting to go ever since I can remember lived up to my expectations quite beautifully. I mean, how often does something you’ve looked forward to for so long not let you down at least a little? It really didn’t at all though, which made everything seem a little like a dream!

Kate and I flew from London to Dublin to start off our incredible journey. We wandered around a bit the first afternoon and evening, and since we stayed right next to the Temple Bar area, there was no shortage of pubs and restaurants and opportunities for people watching. The next day we got up and took a walking tour in the morning. We wanted to make sure we fit as much in as possible, since a week in Ireland sounds like plenty of time to see a bit of the country, but we could easily have spent that long in each city without running out of things to do. On the tour, we saw the Dublin Castle, Jonathan Swift’s place, the Temple Bar again, some main streets, the river Liffey again, we learned a lot of history from our incredibly knowledgeable (especially for his age—18!) tour guide and ended up at St. Stephen’s Green Park, which was absolutely gorgeous!

That afternoon, we went to the Guinness Storehouse, a must on my list ever since I first tried Guinness on draught instead of from a can and discovered I really quite liked it! I think I managed to bring Kate to the dark (hehe) side as well. We went through a self-guided tour and then up to the Gravity Bar, where they gave us pints with a shamrock shape in the foam on top and we had a 360 degree view of the city. Not bad! That evening we went back to the Temple Bar (the bar of that name within the area) and listened to some live music and I discovered a new love—Murphy’s stout! Yummmm. I’m pretty sure that new obsession contributed to the fact that my jeans are a bit tighter than they were before I left Paris…good thing I’m starting yoga soon!

Our last morning in Dublin, we headed to the Chester Beatty library (so cool! And free! And has really super old religious manuscripts!) and back to Trinity College (forgot to mention that we saw that on the tour) to see the Book of Kells and the even cooler library that they use for all of the library scenes in Harry Potter. This seems to have been a bit of a HP-themed trip, since Kate and I paid a visit to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station my first night in London town. This library is so beautiful though. I could have just sat in that room for hours and been happy. Hello, my name is Kristin and I am a huge nerd.

We trained it to Galway that afternoon. We spent the evening going through brochures and websites and figuring out what we wanted to do with our time there. The next morning, we got up and joined a bus tour with a hike through the burren (huge limestone area) and a local farm, complete with Irish coffee and apple pie. After the hike, we visited a few more sites, most notably the gorgeous Cliffs of Moher. We saw the Aran Islands from a distance but didn’t have enough time to make it over there. Next trip! That night, we went to a restaurant our tour guide told us about that had live music, and much to our surprise, several people changed their shoes and started dancing! It was fantastic.

The next day we explored Galway a bit and attempted to find a pub to watch the U.S. play in the world cup, but unfortunately England’s game was the only one showing. So we watched some of that, and then I took a train and Kate took a bus to Cork, getting in at about the same time, but each choosing the cheaper option for us!

In Cork, the main thing we did was head to Blarney to see the castle and kiss the stone. I can cross that off the list of things to do before I die! It was fun to be upside down that high up in the air…knowing, of course, that someone was hanging on to me and if I did happen to fall, I couldn’t go more than a foot or two because there are bars underneath. We walked around the rock close at the castle, which was beautiful, and had a lot of explanations of myths surrounding the place. I love that kind of thing!

The next day we went shopping and explored Cork city a bit, soaking up our last moments of Ireland before stepping onto yet another plane, taking us back to London.

In London, I was kind of lame. I started taking my malaria pills and they made me feel a little queasy at first, so I hung out in Jenny’s apartment a lot while she and Kate were at a concert all day. I did walk along the river and snap some photos, but mostly took it easy and rested up before my long journey to India.

And thus ends chapter one of this blog. Next come my India adventures!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There are eight days in a week, and other things Paris taught me

I have come a long way in the past four months. I’ve always been drawn to trying new things and going new places, and these months have been full of new experiences, as I’ve done just that. I had studied abroad before, but with each new trip I learn more and more; I acquire new skills and capabilities. Four months in Europe have taught me many things that my Latin America travels did not, and built up even more the skills I acquired on my other trips. Since I have left Paris behind me and am preparing to head to a new continent entirely, I thought I would reflect a bit and demonstrate some of the things I have learned, some of the things Paris has done for me.

• I am a lot more laid-back. The RER's on strike and another one won't come for 26 minutes? No big deal. Plan out where I'm going and what I want to do before I get there? Pshhh I can ask at the hostel and they'll be able to give me a lot better info than the internet most of the time anyway!

• I have a great desire to cook. Of course, it's the one time in my life that I can't, but I am so excited to go back and try finding recipes for all of these pastries I can't get enough of. I want to put potatoes on my pizzas too, and have some salad without horseradishy mustardy something sauce as the dressing. Yummmm.

• I am amazingly resourceful. Give me a map and a point of reference and I will run with it. I have always had a horrible sense of direction, but I've found I'm a surprisingly good navigator. I can't tell you which way's north, but I can figure out relations between things. I can also figure out alternative routes when public transportation isn't working so hot, I can work the metro system like a pro, I can turn a baguette and cheese into a feast. I don't know how any of this happened, but I am glad it did! I used to be afraid I would get lost in airports even after studying what gate I was arriving to and which I was leaving from, but now I approach the ticket counter with nothing in hand but my passport and I've made it all over this continent without any problems. I'm in shock at how far I've come!

• I have confidence. Of course, when you realize you can do all of those things and cease to worry about them, confidence kind of comes with the package. I am able to project confidence too though, which is essential if you want to blend in on the streets of Paris. I walk everywhere like it's imperative I get there NOW, but without seeming in a rush. It's a weird sort of image, but the Parisians manage it, and I seem to have done all right at picking it up myself.

• I am more aware of how American and French actions differ. Sometimes I will catch myself grinning and it feels weird. I've been told that I smile a lot actually, and that's after trying to tone it down a bit. I've come to wish that my fellow Americans, if not already my friends, wouldn't go to the same places I'm going because they tend to be loud and obnoxious. Not to say that I don't participate occasionally in this habit as well, but I at least try not to. In Barcelona, Tiffany and I actually started speaking Spanish with each other so we wouldn't be associated with the shrieking American girls around us. And, as chance would have it, we made some friends by doing so. I'm able, in Paris, to tell if you're American or French just by looking at the way you dress, the way you walk, etc. and think I've only guessed incorrectly a couple of times. It's a fun game actually! You hear stereotypes about the American tourist, but I have found most of them to actually be true, which is unfortunate. It's not so hard to try to blend in just a little, even if you don't speak the language or look the part.

• I speak French. I have no idea how this happened. I came to Paris with four semesters of the language under my belt and armed with Spanish vocabulary which I tried pronouncing in a French fashion, and I left being able to obtain a visa for another country with no problems whatsoever. The weird thing is, I didn’t work at it. I had to work really hard to get where I am in Spanish, by reading books and listening to music and practicing the language every chance I got and concentrating really, really hard. My French skills, on the other hand, seem to have seeped in through my pores or something. I am still not where I would ideally like to be, since I had very little interaction with my peers and know absolutely no slang. I was really only exposed to the language through hearing it in my classes and at the apartment and speaking the bare minimum in those situations. I spoke it at the boulangeries though, and planning trips and escaping from creepy guys. I think my Spanish skills definitely helped me out a lot, but other than that I am really not sure where this skill came from!

And since we’re making lists, here’s another. Highlights of my last couple of weeks in Paris, très rapidement: Die Walküre at the Opera Bastille, wine and parks galore with my friends Amanda and Jessalie, returning to my favorite streets and food places one (or two or three) last time, witnessing a large demonstration from my window, the catacombs underneath the city (lots of creepy bone piles!), going out with the girls, watching the world cup kick off at a giant screen by the Tour Eiffel. That’s all I can come up with at the moment, but I’m really bad at journaling so I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few!

When I left Paris, I met up with Kate Olsen (TU student and sorority sister) in London and we went to Ireland, where we are in the middle of a week so amazing I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ll probably save the Ireland blog for my flight to India. I mean, what else am I going to do with my 9 hours in the air? Certainly not sleep.

Final thoughts:

• Sorry this is so unorganized!

• It’s really weird to be saying all of these goodbyes, seeing friends I haven’t seen in months, and embarking on a new and completely different adventure. And not going home when all of my friends are.

• It’s also weird to be two thirds of the way done with something I’ve spent my entire life looking forward to. I am feeling already that it is going to be a really difficult transition back to life in the United States, especially since I have no idea what I’m doing after graduation. After my previous study abroad experiences, I always had this one to look forward to. I know I will come back to Europe someday, but I think it will be hard not having a set time anymore, especially since I’ve been planning this trip since about second grade. I’m not going to worry about it yet, since I still have a month and a half of incredible India before it’s even an issue, but for those of you that have to deal with me when I get back…You’ve been forewarned!

And so it is. I am supposed to have wi-fi in areas of my campus in India, so hopefully I can keep you updated fairly regularly. I will have to be inside at 9 p.m. every night, so I will have plenty of time to blog!

Oh! And one more thing. The French, instead of saying a week, frequently use the expression “8 days” and for a fortnight, it’s “15 days”. Just a fun fact. 



Thursday, June 3, 2010


The week after Prague went by really fast. While Matt was off gallivanting around the continent, I spent what little time I wasn't in class or doing homework hanging out with my friends who were leaving and packing up a big suitcase my brother was kind enough to take back with him. Because let's be real, I do not want to be lugging around my heavy winter coat when it's summertime in Bangalore.

We set off for Copenhagen on Thursday evening, and there was a general strike that day, which somehow worked out in our favor as the Roissybus driver taking us to the airport wouldn't let anyone pay. I'm not sure how that worked, but I'm glad it did! I'm sure you can guess what we did there as well (hint: my legs were really tired!), along with visiting the Carlsberg brewery, taking a train to Malmö, Sweden for half a day (and seeing a MARCHING BAND there...I was kind of excited) and checking out the out-of-commission LED screen that was taking the place of the Little Mermaid while she's shipped off to Shanghai. We stayed in a hotel, which, although certainly not top-of-the-line, excited me greatly. We had towels! We had a TV! We could go to sleep and wake up whenever we wanted and didn't have to sleep with our belongings! It's those simple pleasures.

After Copenhagen, I came back and submitted my visa to the Indian Embassy. The wait was only 2 1/2 hours, pas grande chose. It's out of my hands now, however, and up to the fates. It's a good feeling to have. Matt and I explored Paris some. He had already visited so had seen most of the cool touristy things, so I took him to a great gelato place on Rue Mouffetard and we walked along the Seine, over to Saint Germain des Pres and then back to my apartment. We took some wine and cheese and bread up to his hotel by the airport for the night and I stayed there since it's an hour metro trip away. I am getting used to this hotel thing, and liking it! Then this week I've had some finals, which is weird since I still have two weeks of class left, and I've been soaking up the sun in my spare time now that it's finally gorgeous out! I'm in Paris this weekend and the next, and then that next Friday I'm heading to London and Ireland so it will be nice to have a little bit of time with Paris. It's so weird that I'm leaving so soon! But I've already given you more than enough to read between these two entries, so I'll talk about that later. Bisous!