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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Five weeks later...

 Unfortunately, due to my slow internet connection last night and my busy itinerary for today, I have to combine my aj post and my final post. Here it goes:

The bus ride there and back was between 9 and 10 hours total. That certainly was not the highlight of my day. But getting to the Taj was AWESOME! There was an arch way before entering the area and it was really cool because it created this illusion that it was super close up. Then when you walk through the arch, the Taj becomes extremely far away. So that was pretty cool.

One of the most fascinating parts of the experience was that there were tons and tons of Indians who wanted to take pictures with Carly and I. People would just randomly ask us to be in their pictures (to which we politely declined) and some would just walk up and take our picture. Talk about feeling like Angelina Jolie!

I'd like to say more about the experience, but there really isn't much to say other than that it was breath-taking and I encourage everyone to go if the chance ever presents itself!

I'm very sorry but it took me 45 minutes to upload that one photo, so I can't do anymore. But in a week or so, all of my pictures will be up on facebook!

Now for my final notes:

On the first day here, Sundari told Carly and I "If you can live in India, you can live anywhere". Now, five weeks later, I find her statement to be nothing but the truth. During my time here, I've experience very high points and very low points, but this experience has been the opportunity of a lifetime and I will take back so many memories and lessons from here. I've come a long way in just 5 short week.

I have two people in particular to thank. I remember getting off of the plane at the Chennai airport. It was hot, crowded, and 1am. There were literally hundreds of Indians with signs to pick up people from the airport and I had no idea how we would ever find our person we were supposed to meet. Sundari knew what we were going through and she knew how terrified we were. So she pushed her way to the front of the crowd to make it easier for us to spot her. Since that moment, she has been our Indian mother, and we never would have survived without her. She has devoted her entire time these last five weeks to us. I recall the first couple of days and her motherly nature getting mad at us for not eating, I'm sure she thought we were going to die of starvation before we made it home. In the middle of the night when our cab was taking forever to get us home, she was at the hotel, making sure we got there safe. She did everything a mother would to make sure her daughters were taken care of. Per our request, she insisted that the driver "show these girls the slumdog millionaire". When the hotel staff didn't provide enough tables for us at dinner, she snapped her fingers and made sure that we not only  got tables, but extra bottles of water. Sundari is an amazing, independent, and driven woman. I hope that one day I can be as patient, kind, and strong of a mother as she has been for us.

Second is Carly. If you ever come to India, come with someone who you want to be closer to. When you're in America with someone, you're thriving with them, but when you're in India, you're surviving with them. I could not have come here without her. She has been the best roommate/friend I could have asked for on this trip and I'm so blessed to have gotten to experience this with her. The laughter we shared for the dumbest things here has been unforgettable. We've been each others support system and have taken care of each other just as sisters should.

The two people you can't come to India without. Oh, and I must credit Dave, thanks for playing as our paparazzi at the Taj! Great photographer!

None-the-less, I've learned things on my own too. One of my reasons for coming to India was to take the path less traveled. When I told people I was coming here, every single person asked "Why India?". I didn't know a single person who has been here and to be honest, I know that many people were worried about me for fear of the unknown. So, I set out on a mission: to experience India for myself and come back with a positive experience that I can share with the world. To show them that India is not like slumdog millionaire and to create greater acceptance from Americans towards Indians. I know that one person can't change the worlds views on this country, but I can encourage you all to experience it for yourselves. Now maybe with that, you won't be so afraid and you can see what a spectacular place this truly is.

I saw the poorest of the poor in the world, the largest slums ever... but I didn't see depression.

I saw children walking to school without shoes... as they waved at us with huge grins.

I walked through the streets of India and experienced some of the worlds greatest salesmen, who never went to college.

I found friendship in a housekeeper making a dollar a day and still waking up in a positive mood everday.

I had one of the best nights of my life with people whom I thought were incapable of the word "fun"... MBA students.

And I could go on and on. I've gained skills big and small:

I can convert rupees to dollars and vise versa, in a matter of seconds.

I can convince a driver to give me a ride for 1/3rd of the price he originally proposed.

I'm able to speak with people who use broke english by forming sentences based on one or two words.

The lessons I've learned have been so many that I can't even list them all (although they're hidden throughout my other posts). But the biggest thing I'm taking away from this trip by far, is to appreciate what you have. Live for today, but prepare for tomorrow. I spent nearly my entire time waiting to come back to America, and now I don't want to leave. And knowing how different it's going to be, I can appreciate what I have in the U.S. by remembering what others don't in India. I am a very blessed individual.

As a final request, I would just like to ask that if you've been reading this blog, please leave a comment here or on facebook to let me know who you are and what you thought, and maybe include something you think you have learned as well.

Thank you so much for experiencing this with me and wish me a safe flight as I travel back in time to the United States!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 1 in Delhi

I learned something very important today. Although I consider myself to be a positive and happy person, 3 hours of sleep and waking up at 4am is not my forte. Our flight to Delhi left Mumbai at 6am and i slept throughout the entire thing, even the loud flight attended announcements. A woman had to wake me up to tell me to lift up my seat.

When we arrived in Delhi, we immediately headed for Airtel. I tried really really hard to stay awake during the presentations, I really did. But my eyes wouldn't even have been able to stay open for the Taj (yeah that's what I'm calling it now, I'm SOOOO local). We had a very late lunch and then proceeded to the hotel which was an hour away. Upon arrival, i went straight to sleep and didn't wake up again until dinner (about 3 hours). There were other sight-seeing opportunities, but I felt it was more important to recuperate so that I can truly enjoy my time at the Taj tomorrow.

With that being said, I'm going to head off to bed because it is in fact a 5 hour bus ride to get to Agra and we're leaving here at 7am.But, the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived... I wore my Saree today (that's right, ALL DAY including the plane ride)! I got so many compliments from Indians and Americans! It's a really cool pattern, and although I won't wear it again, I'll be turning the pattern into sorority letters. So if any Gamma Phi Betas are interested, I've got plenty of pattern to share!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Slumdog Millionaire

Yes, they actually do say "Millionaire" like the host in the movie, "Mill-on-air".

Today we had an absolutely spectacular time in Mumbai! It is quite different from the north in many ways. Much more metropolitan for sure. Our day began with breakfast at the hotel.We had a dish similar to Dosa (a traditional south Indian dish), but I accidentally bit into an EXTREMELY spicy chilly and that was the end of that meal for me. Even after a full bottle of chilled water, my mouth was still on fire. We met out tour coordinator outside (who was quite attractive, certainly the best looking Indian I've seen!) who introduced us to our driver for the day. He proved to be most helpful in showing us around the city.

Our journey began with a drive through the worlds largest slum (where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed). And although it was sad and a noticeably poor area, it wasn't as bad as I envisioned it. Then again, I had really terrible expectations. Afterwards we proceeded 15 minutes down the road to the worlds most expensive house (the first billion dollar house ever made), owned by the family who started Reliance (multi-industry brand). The 27-story house is occupied by the family of five and their 600 servants.

Say hello to the slums.

The Reliance household.

Our day continued with a trip to a temple. It was extremely crowded and hectic and there was even a small sanctuary within that was made purely of gold! Ahh it was crazy. While there, I experienced an extremely heart touching experience. As you may know, there are beggars in India as well as many MANY people who will constantly try and sell you things. You are supposed to just look past them, as if you don't see them, and carry on. This is a very difficult thing to do, but I've managed to adjust to the culture and do it with ease. However, today we met Biyanka. As I was ignoring the sellers, there was a small girl (aged 7) selling flowers. She kept asking and asking for us to buy, but we just looked straight ahead and tried to ignore her plea. Then, I felt her small hand hold my hand. I looked down to see her puppy eyes as she said "Please ma'am, please, only 10 rupees". For those who don't know, 10 rupees is about 20 cents, not even. I caved. So Carly and I bought the flowers that she skilfully wove together into a bouquet in a matter of seconds. As we left the mosque, she politely said bye to us and Sundari (basically our Indian mom) translated so that we could introduce ourselves. I would have loved to capture it on camera, but of course, no Cameras are allowed in the temples.

Around noon we headed to the local gardens, took a stroll around and enjoyed some yummy ice cream cones. It was very peaceful and beautiful with butterflies flying everywhere. Two boys were skillful enough to catch them with their bare hands. Of course, I'm an absolute sucker for kids, so I went over to see the butterflies. The little boy was so intrigued by us that HE asked us to take his picture!

Ok, tell me Indian kids aren't the most adorable thing ever!?
Sundari took us to a REALLY nice restaurant for lunch. The entire place was made of stone and brick and the chicken we had was to die for! I felt completely under-dressed for the price and quality, I was surprised to see everyone in casual wear. Carly and I wore shorts today, but as it turns out, the people of Mumbai really don't care. And to be honest, we needed it... it's much hotter in the north. On our way back, we unfortunately experienced a "Slumdog Millionaire" moment. Little kids came up to the car knocking on the  window and making the hand motion for food. As you can imagine, enjoying a 5 star meal and seeing kids begging for food was not a comfortable feeling at all. Sundari told us though that a lot of the people don't actually need money, but rather are just greedy beggars
Just look at the architecture!
We stayed at the restaurant for awhile before continuing our sightseeing. We spent about an hour driving around and looking at the beautiful architecture of the city. The British influence can really be seen in the streets and buildings of Mumbai. The roads are certainly more spacious than Chennai and the buildings are so large and detailed.

The train station. Not what you thought India would look like, huh?

We concluded our day with a visit to an Indian home. Sundari's friend lives in Chennai and was kind enough to allow us to come over for dinner. This family is wealthier, so the house was quite larger than most and they completed a lot of renovations on it, but it was still very different. I didn't bring my camera in, out of respect, but I'll describe it. There weren't really any hallways at all.Every room had two doors, one that led out and one that led in from the previous room. All of the rooms were connected by a series of doors and the rooms were smaller. Imagine a bedroom, and when you open the door, you're in the living room, when you open the next door you're in the kitchen, and so on. But I do give them major kudos for their use of such limited space. Everything was stored in shelves built into the walls and the walls were all white so that helped make it seem larger.

So, in a nutshell, that was my day in Mumbai. Now I have to get to bed for our 6am flight to Delhi. Please send prayers!

Power Outage

Many people have been asking me if things are ok and if we lost power here. So I thought I might just clear this up real quick. First of all, all is well and I am fine. During our four weeks in Chennai, we would lose power all the time, unexpectedly. It would go out for between a second and a few minutes, then come back on. One time we had class cancelled because it was the schools turn to have the power shut off. If you read the Indian newspaper, everyday there is a segment that says where in India there won't be power today.

With all that being said, the large blackout occurred in the north while we were in the south. Yes we will be traveling to Delhi, but I'm told everything will be fine for our visit!

Let the travels begin!

I am so sorry that I haven't updated in a few days, It's been a very busy last couple of days so let me sum it up...

Our final presentation for our independent study was on Tuesday. I didn't feel very confident at all and was worried sick the day before (possibly contributing to said home-sickness) that we would fail. As it turns out, both Dr. Rao and Dr. Surana LOVED it! Well, maybe not loved it, but we got great remarks and great feedback!

Tuesday was also our second CXO dinner, you know, the one I planned to wear the Saree to... well that unfortunately didn't happen. Carly and I were exhausted with relief after our presentation and decided to take naps. I thought she was waking me up and she thought I was waking her up. So, at 5:30pm, my internal clock woke me up suddenly and I had a bad feeling. I called our NMS friend Mounika to ask what time the bus was leaving for the dinner, to which she replied "You have to be in the lobby by 5:30pm". Panicking, I woke Carly up, threw on our clothes from the presentation and rushed down stairs just in time to leave. Believe me, I was disappointed about the Saree too. I'm going to try my hardest to find a day to wear it in Delhi. Hopefully the day we go to Airtel.

I may or may not have mentioned it, but the MBA students from Albany are here for 8 days.Although we expected them to be super old and serious, they've proven to be a great time! After the CXO dinner, we went out with some of the gentlemen for our first time out (and last night in Chennai). Although last call was at midnight, we hung out and didn't get to bed until around 3 or 4am. Brightest decision? Probably not. Worth it? Absolutely. They'll be meeting up with us in Delhi and we're looking forward to the company again!

Unfortunately we had to wake up at 7am to pack our things and we had two company visits today. The first one was EXTREMEY interesting though. It is an eye-care hospital that charges it's patients based on their income, and if you can't afford care, it's free! We toured the first two buildings and I can honestly say that I've never been in a more depressing setting. There were dozens of poor people lying on cots after their surgeries in the blistering heat. The women explained to us that most of these people aren't used to laying in a bet because they sleep on the ground. This was luxury for them. I couldn't take it. That in combination with the excessive heat and lack of sleep made me feel as though I was going to pass out any minute. So for the third part of the hospital visit, I decided I needed to stay on the bus.

Well, the bus was not much better. The part of the visit I missed out on was the longest part, 2.5 hours to be exact. So I sat on the bus... with no air conditioning the entire time. I would have gooten off and gone in... BUT i had no idea where we were! The bus was parked on some random street and I was so lost. I wasn't worried though because I knew the bus had to go back to pick everyone up. What I didn't know was that lunch would be had there, so I missed lunch. But then again, that's not my first time missing meals in India. I'm anxious to come back for some yummy meat, cheese, etc.!

Jump ahead past a company visit and three hours in the car, and we were at the Chennai airport on our way to Mumbai! The plane ride was ridiculously fast and quite comfortable, and the view! The view was amazing! I wish I could have gotten a picture of the city. So here I am at 12am in Mumbai. I don't notice any differences yet, but our one-day tour is tomorrow and I'll gain a better insight!

With only 4 days left in India, keep checking back at my blog because I should be updating daily at this point.

This isn't even the worst part of town...

Saying goodbye to NMS. They've been so hospitable and it's been an absolute pleasure getting to stay with them. They will be so missed.

I've never boarded a plane like this before. Our flight from Chennai to Mumbai.

Monday, July 30, 2012

One more week to go

Alright, I'll admit it, at this point I truly am homesick... and I can't find a cure. At this point we have two days left in Chennai, 4 days traveling, and Sunday night (India time) we leave for the U.S.A.

I'm trying really hard to embrace the last week and make it worthwhile, but even shopping isn't cheering me up at this point. There's nothing different/worse about India, in fact it's even better now that classes are done. But the need to hug my mom, eat something tasteful, and be in an area that isn't overly populated, is outweighing my excitement.

On top of this ache in my heart, our presentation is tomorrow morning at 11am and I couldn't possibly be more nervous. I've lost all and any motivation I have for school work because all I want to do these days is talk to my family.

I'm sticking it out and staying as happy and positive as I can, but the next week can't go by fast enough.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Friendship: Doing it Right

The day finally came today, Pondicherry day! But before I go into more detail, let me give you a  bit of background information:

Unlike Chennai, Pondicherry was a french colony and therefor has a lot of french influence as well as some local french that still reside in the area. According to our friend, Pondicherry is the place people go for the alcohol because it's much much cheaper than in Chennai and the age to drink is 18. The beach you'll see in the pictures is the Bay of Bengal. And after my experience, the best way I can describe it is like Mackinac Island, the people are friendly, it's much cleaner and very pretty, a lot f people ride bicycles, there are quaint little shops all over, but it's not really a place to live if you want all of the commodities that come with being closer to the city.

Let me start this story with last night. Carly and I couldn't fall asleep, so we decided to watch the opening olympic ceremony. By the time we got to bed, it was probably about 2:30am. We had to get up at 6am to catch our 6:30am ride, so the entire day we were running on less than 4 hours of sleep. It takes about two and a half hours to get there, but we actually had a lot of fun in the car with our 6 NMS friends. Believe it or not, these Indians are PHENOMENAL at charades. We were playing with movie titles (where you act out each word of the title) and they were so good that they guessed "Chronicles of Narnia" in a matter of minutes!

We stopped on the way for a quick breakfast, and I'm not a big fan of the rice cake (the texture gets to me), but what I did have was good. We took a couple of group pictures and then proceeded to Pondicherry.

When we arrived, we visited a few temples where we got to learn more about the different gods and religious practices, that was pretty neat! And it is true that you have to take your shoes off in such sacred places. Afterwards we walked to the beach, which was an absolute riot! Standing on the stones and getting drenched in the waves was so fun and hilarious, Indians know how to crack really good jokes! For example, as we were taking a group photo, we were waiting for a wave to enter in the background and one of our friends said:

"Wouldn't it be cool if there was a Tsunami and we got a picture with it in the bbackground! We could make it our facebook pictures!!!.... You know, if we lived."

Maybe that's one of those "you had to be there" kind of things.

We then proceeded to a small shop with different gift items and then headed off to lunch. The lunch wasn't all that great, but it was pretty cool to be in a place where I could legally try alcohol. I tend to be pretty stiff on laws and am always afraid to break rules, so this was really cool for me!

When lunch ended, we headed to a museum where we got to see the Matrimandir, a large globe which took 37 years to build. It reflects sunlight and contains a meditation room inside, but we didn't get to go in. Click on the link for more info about it!

After a long day and a lot of walking, we headed back for our 2 and a half hour drive (which turned into 3 because our  driver was nuts, but that's another story). It was a long day but it was definitely worth it. Thus far, this day has been my favorite experience in Chennai. What made it so special was getting to bond with students our age and just ""hang out". It makes seeing the city so much more interesting and the day was filled with fun and laughter.

That's the nice thing about friendship: when you're doing it right, it knows no cultural, ethnic, or color boundaries.

Carly's breakfast

Our NMS friends!

The 1st temple we visited. There were no photos allowed inside.

The girls right before that giant wave soaked us all from head to toe!

The Matrimadir, the "egg" is 29 meters high.

If we ever come out with an American/Indian album, this will be the cover