Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cyber Cities

Namaste readers! This post is about my recent adventures to India’s two cyber cities, Bangalore (now Bengaluru, trying to shed some colonial baggage) and Hyderabad. I managed to tour these two cities without seeing any hint of technological prowess, although I did stay at a hotel in Hyderabad that had a hot shower, and I watched Friends and Mrs. Doubtfire on the TV. The second time I’ve watched TV in India, I think, so that's high tech for me. Anyways, I went to Bangalore to see my friend Akhila, who was visiting her family. I had a 6 AM flight, so I left my apartment at 3:30 in the morning, since it can sometimes take up to an hour to get to the airport. It turns out I live incredibly close to the airport and Mumbai traffic is that ridiculous, because I got in the cab at 3:38 and was sitting at the gate at 4:08. How well Mumbai functions without millions upon millions of drivers! Also, for anyone traveling within India, take IndiGo or Jet Airways, never trust Air India.

It turns out there isn’t that much to see in Bangalore. It’s more known for being the call-centre capital of India than having any major sights, but I think we did okay. Although, Saturday there was a bandh (strike) for some politician drama, so the whole city shut down, including rickshaw drivers, so we didn’t really get to do anything. Friday we went to the flower show at Lalbagh.

Only in India. Gross habit.


It wasn’t spectacular, but the weather was really great. Then we wandered and got some great South Indian food. This was my first trip to South India, and it’s really very different. They spoke Kannada, not Hindi, so I couldn’t even get my bearings by reading signs or anything. They also mostly eat vegetarian food, which in South India means dosas, idlis, and coconut chutneys. Here is Akhila with puri sagu. Those puffed breads are puris.

And here I am eating a South Indian thali, with my hands, of course.

On Sunday we did the whole temple thing. The majority of people are still Hindus, but some of the practices are different. Hinduism is actually more of a Western concept, so what we consider to be one religion looks completely different in separate regions of India. The gods also have different manifestations, so the form Shiva, for example, takes in Mumbai might be entirely unlike that in Bangalore. The temples are also awesomely colorful in the south. They’re in the Dravidian style, and the big entrances, or gopurams, look something like this:

Here's a close up.

This is a temple for Nandi, Shiva’s bull. That’s right, the bull of one of the gods gets its own temple. It’s a few hundred years old, and the story goes that it was very small, but has been growing ever since the temple was constructed. When its horns touch the ceiling, the world will end, so they had to put something over it so that doesn’t happen.
Here's a priest performing puja on a new car.

Big horns for the big bull.

There she is!

Then I took an overnight, 11 hour train to Hyderabad. You might thing that’s a long time, but that doesn’t even phase me. It left at 8:20, so I read for a bit and fell asleep. This was a “fancy” express train, so we even got food, which I didn’t eat. It was a bit hard to sleep because my curtain didn’t totally close so I could see and hear people opening the train car door all night, but I was rocking peacefully. Then I got into Hyderabad and pulled up to our magical hotel. I’ve never stayed at a hotel in India that costs more than $15/night. This one wasn’t expensive at all, but it had soap. And TOWELS. And a TV! And complimentary breakfast! I guess that’s what India’s like when you’re not backpacking through it, or attempting to live on $426/month. I was originally going to Hyderabad to do some NGO network research for work, but unfortunately due to some miscommunications, I found out that plans had changed after it was too late to change my travel plans. So I went, hoping that some last minute meetings would come through, which they didn’t, but I got to sightsee! And another fellow, Andrew, had two days off because of a big event he had just planned, so I got a travel buddy.

Said travel buddy. He's an enthusiastic one.

Hyderabad was a princely state, relatively independent throughout British rule. It was ruled by the Nizams, who are Muslims, so when India was divided into India and Pakistan, they wanted to join Pakistan, but since it’s in the middle of India, that didn’t really work for the India government. Today, Hyderabad’s population is 41% Muslim, which lends the city a different character, and some DELICIOUS meat dishes. Friday was a marathon tourist day of sightseeing and shopping. Hyderabad, aka Cyberabad, has another alias of the City of Pearls. We spend the day in the old areas around Charminar, or Four Minarets.

Familiar traffic patterns in the subcontinent.

Salaam from Charminar!


This is Mecca Masjid, which holds 10,000 worshippers, and that’s how many people they get on Fridays.

I was not allowed in because I have female reproductive organs. So this is my view from outside the cage. Those little boxes that look like prayer rugs are each individual prayer spaces.

Goats and pigeons.

The masjid.

Oddly enough, Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar is home to one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. We took a little boat trip to the island and enjoyed the Buddha and some music.

Hyderabadi food:
Hyderabad is known for its biryani. I love biryani, so I was excited to try it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s definitely not like northern biryani. It’s not as spicy, or spiced in general, and there aren’t onions. It’s also served with curry and dahi, or yogurt. Apparently, biryani is well cooked if the rice pieces don’t stick together when you throw a handful on the floor. We tried it. It’s true.

Everyone knows about kebabs. We were shopping for pearls and befriended the owner, who was partial to Andrew because he knows Marathi, and his wife is Marathi, too. They were speaking Marathi, we were speaking Hindi- it was insane. Anyways, we told him we wanted to eat, so he walked us to this restaurant about ten minutes down the road. That’s right, he left his shop to take us to a restaurant just down the street because he wanted to make sure we’d find it. Indian generosity is amazing. We could tell it was great right away because it was packed and people were sharing tables. I wanted to sit downstairs, but apparently most women don’t do that, so we were ushered to a room in the back. We got mutton biryani, but wanted to get some kebabs too. We didn’t know what was good, so I asked the waiter to bring us their best, and the result was the tangdi (pronounced thaan-ga-ree) kebab. It was succulent and wonderful.

We also got haleem, which is meat and dal and some weird things cooked in a pot. It wasn’t our favorite, but we had to try it. We got it at some random little restaurant. It looks shabby, but the food is always best at places like this.

The next day we did some sightseeing on the outskirts of the city at the Golkonda fort and Qutb Shahi tombs. Rickshaws in Hyderabad are really expensive. We took a rick to Charminar from our hotel and it was 240 rupees. That’s only $5, but for us, well that’s the most expensive taxi/rickshaw I’ve ever taken. We decided we couldn’t do it again, so we decided to take the bus. White people don’t really take the bus in India. It’s crowded and it’s not like New York, where they have signs telling you what stop you’re at, or even maps to tell you what the route is. You really have to have faith in people when you deal with buses here, but our two buses to get to Golkonda cost a grand total of 15 rupees, or 34 cents, according to the converter on my phone. Plus, you make a lot of friends. Telegu is the mother language of Andhra Pradesh, the state Hyderabad is in, but a lot of people speak Urdu, which is like Hindi, but the Muslim version with a different alphabet and more Persian mixed in. Long story short, I spoke Hindi a lot, and my vocab might suck, but I think my accent is pretty good, because I was able to convince a lot of people that I was from here. Someone asked if I was Indian, and I told him that I was half. Then I told people I was actually from Mumbai, and they bought it. I developed the story so I could have something to say when people asked if they could take pictures with me. I did a few, but it was really fun saying that I was a Mumbaikar, and not some regular gori (white girl).

The fort wasn’t entirely well maintained, but great for roaming around.

In India, it's not always about love.


We also found an awesome Kali temple. I haven’t seen any temples for her yet in Mumbai, or ever, actually. She’s fierce.

Me and Kali.

Temple wall

Pandit, Kali, and Durga

Then we went to the Qutb Shahi tombs, which are just a lot of mausoleums for the ruling family of Hyderabad.

But sweet doors.

I am really surprised that there weren’t any serious mishaps, since that’s sort of bound to happen here. It might have made this posting a little more interesting, but I appreciated the smoothness of the journey.

Things I learned this week:
1) If there are worms in your rice, they will float to the top of the pot when you put it in water.
2) Sometimes goats act like dogs, especially when they're being led around the slum on a leashes. Adorable.
3) Towels are the hardest things to wash in the bucket. You don't really realize how much fabric there is and how long is takes to get the soap out.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sami Wears a Sari

Namaste! While you have all been stuck in the snow, I have been stuck sweating in Mumbai. It’s still technically winter, but we basically had two weeks of guaranteed walking around without sweating. We are now back to potential sweat if there is constant motion, so walking is perilous. However, it cools down a lot when the sun goes down and the nights are great, so I won’t really complain, because March will bring tears and high AC bills. The past two weeks have been really great, and really busy. Last weekend, Katie, a fellow from Bhuj, and her sister were passing through Mumbai, so I got to play tour guide, which I love.

Us in town. The sign says Mumbai.

We spent most of our time in town (South Mumbai) so we could hit the major tourist spots, but I got to add a lot of fun new things to the list. After some shopping, and heavy bargaining on Colaba Causeway, a major shopping strip with stores and street stalls, we went to dinner at a restaurant called Delhi Darbar. If anyone is going to be here, I recommend the chicken tikka biryani. Sunday we went to two art galleries. One of them was free and had some local, contemporary artists that seemed semi-professional. It was nice, but nothing extraordinary. I have also been spoiled with free access to all of New York’s museums (except the Frick, $5) for the past few years, so there is a lot of comparison being done. However, the second museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art, is a wonderful, peaceful space with works going back to the colonial era. It wasn’t that long ago (only 63 years since Independence), but a lot of the art revolved around the village life in India, which is changing quite rapidly. It’s estimated that soon 50% of Indians will live in cities, and with Mumbai already at 18 million plus, I’m not totally sure where everyone will go. The paintings of the fishermen and the women carrying pots on their heads evokes a lot of conflicting emotions. People are fleeing the villages because of a lack of job opportunities and a startling poverty, as well as the rigidity of the caste system, which is a bit more flexible in the cities. While people in rural India obviously deserve as much opportunity for growth as people who live in Mumbai, and outside India, there is a very strong desire to maintain tradition. There is something so beautiful in the simplicity, the Marxian genuineness involved in village activities, but maintaining those practices, like catching fish from rowboats or picking cotton by hand, comes at the cost of human rights. Then, in order to maintain some semblance of tradition, people uphold practices like dowry (the bride’s family giving gifts to the groom’s family, essentially to cover the cost of having another person to take care of) and fasting. My apologies for that digression. It’s just very hard to ignore the fact that India is dealing with its rapid growth and modernity by holding tightly onto remnants of what used to be.

This is the famous Taj hotel, site of the 2008 terror attack.

A woman selling balloons by the gateway.

Shopping on the street.

A man selling street snacks, with the Taj and Gateway of India in the background.

The gateway and the docks.

This past week at work has been incredibly busy. We seem to have a million projects going on, and I have taken on a few extra in order to help out. Recent additions include a report on family planning and abortions in the slum and creating posters to advertise our recent expansion of services to provide counseling for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. It has been fascinating discussing these topics with women who are not even allowed to talk about, and to a certain extent acknowledge, their own sexualities, and then contemplate how to deal with being a lesbian, for example, in a conservative place like India. Some of my coworkers are more Western-oriented than others and are completely comfortable talking about these issues, even if they have a lot to learn about them, while others, not so much. One of my coworkers asked permission the other day to ask if I have a boyfriend. I will discuss more of these topics in the next post, though, since it’s Mumbai Pride week!!! I am very excited. I’ve never even done a pride march at home, but people from work are going and I’m about to get my rainbow on.

On Friday evening, we had a community event in Dharavi.

Adorable Dharavi children.

A group of kids from the youth group recently completed a theatre workshop to learn about Theatre of the Oppressed, which was developed in Brazil in the 1970s to engage people from disadvantaged communities in discussions about issues like communal tensions, drug use, domestic violence, etc. They did two plays. The first was about a man who got drunk and went home and beat his family members. The second was about how people treat Mumbai, with all the garbage, pollution, spitting, and shitting that are quite visible on the streets. I accidentally stepped in poop the other day, so I can tell you firsthand that it’s everywhere. I always look down when I walk, but it’s hard, because I also want to look everywhere around me. So I guess that’s the risk I take. Anyways, the spectators then chose the first play to explore more deeply, and when the actors performed it again, anyone from the audience was allowed to yell, “Stop!” and take the place of an actor to resolve the situation in a different manner. They are called “spect-actors” in Theatre of the Oppressed language. It was amazing to see people participating, although it took awhile. There were older women, some community workers from my NGO, and this really precocious 12 year old girl who got up twice and locked the drunk husband out of the house.

This is a woman from the community who took the place of the wife.

Scenes from around. Those steep stairs lead up to the second floor of the chawls. And that's Gandhiji.

My favorite moments, though, were when young men got up and tried to make a change. Working in a crisis counseling centre has been eye-opening, but I’m starting to hate men and expect the worst from men in India. It’s sometimes hard to remember that not every Indian man abuses his wife or forces his pregnant wife to have an abortion if she’s carrying a girl (“Missing girls” are a huge phenomenon here. Largely because of dowry and the man’s position of the wage-earner, girls are considered a burden. It is technically illegal to determine the sex of the fetus, but it still happens). So watching these teenagers get involved was a treat and a reminder that the situation might not be great, but some people are doing things to change it. There were also some entertaining moments, like when they first started trying to perform the play, and 30 seconds later, the call to prayer started and we they had to start again. Then a rooster got loose on the stage. After work, I went to my boss’s house to hang out and eat delicious food. It was fun and relaxing, and I always enjoy the times when I can get to know my coworkers better. They love knowing how I feel about India and what I think of the office, and there’s generally a lot of laughing when I attempt to explain how confused I am about going-on at work. She basically force fed me three courses, and I had to cancel my plans to go out and digest palak paneer, chappatis, keema, fish curry, and rice. Ridiculous. She wanted me to eat dessert, but I was already at the point of unbuttoning my pants. I should have worn leggings.

Saturday afternoon, Rachel and I went to Paramparik Karigar, an artisan exhibition in an area called Juhu. Textile workers representing different areas of India come to show their work and sell their goods. In an earlier blog post (Intestines and Indigo), I had written about our adventure to find the beautiful block printing shop, and the artists there told us about this exhibition. Everything was beautiful, and I liked seeing what kind of designs there were from different parts of India. I obviously did a little shopping and purchased my first real pashmina! I could live in it. Unfortunately it’s a little warm here, but it’ll be great for New York winters. Then I had a coworker’s wedding, so I headed over to my boss’s house again so she could put on my sari. That’s right, I did it right this time. So here it is:

I am posing for Ava.

It was just the wedding reception, so no ceremonies or dancing, just eating and gift-giving. My coworker looked beautiful and happy, and it was fun hanging out with the ladies from work. The wedding was in a suburb of Mumbai about an hour away, so while my boss and I were on time to meet everyone else to head over by train, everyone else was super late. My boss almost never takes the train, so it was funny when I had to calm her down and tell her where we had to go and what we had to do. I felt like a local. However, it was really not fun squeezing four people on a train seat while trying not to wrinkle my sari.
Boss and coworkers on the train.

Seriously, just being aware of where all the fabric is totally exhausted me. The seamstress also made the blouse a bit tight, so I was terrified that the top part would come off my shoulder and reveal cleavage. I know, God forbid India sees a boob, but it would be entirely inappropriate, and I’m doing a pretty good job of fitting in here. The woman next to me on the train asked if I was Indian. Well, she didn’t ask me, she asked my boss. Then in English she asked me my “good name,” and whether or not I was married. Two most important, fundamental questions of any Indian conversation. Then she asked my boss if I planned on marrying an Indian person. I believe it would take an incredibly modern Indian family to accept a bride like me, which makes answering that question a bit easier. I have a feeling that I would make a terrible Indian housewife. Actually, I’d probably make a terrible housewife in general. The wedding was fun, but not entirely eventful. I had a lot of good food, good music (and Justin Bieber), and got invited to vacation with the Free Legal Aid lawyer’s family in Kerala in May. Sadly, I had to turn that down.

My coworkers and I. The adorable little child is Abdullah, Nikhat's son.

This is the wedding party!

My boss and I.

Then there was another hour-long train ride home, and then I went out to the bars/clubs. The bars close here before 1:30, and there was a policemen who was trying to strictly enforce that rule and was chasing us down the street, away from the bar with his lathi:

courtesy of google images.

And now, I’m going to introduce the new section of my blog, Things I Learned This Week.
1) Patience is a virtue. Especially here. People really seem to accept the way things work. They mostly hate it and complain, but then just say, “Now you know how we Indians are.” It’s incredibly frustrating, but alas, I must chill in order to survive, and so I have.
2) Saris are incredibly impractical. They’re absolutely beautiful, but I felt like a geisha shuffling along in those insanely high flip-flops. There was so much fabric that I didn’t drink any water so I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. Apparently some Indians don’t wear underwear, so they really just pop a squat. I found this out after I asked one of my coworkers how you could pull down your underwear, since you need both hands to hold the fabric. I hadn’t planned ahead that much.
3) Hindus have moments like Evangelicals. We passed a temple in the slum and there was a man going a little crazy, dancing and yelling, and someone was putting a garland over his head. Apparently God had entered him. I didn’t realize that kind of spirituality existed here.

Until the next edition, Om Shanti Shanti.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


It’s January 1, 2011. Except I refuse to believe that it is in fact New Year’s Day. Since my life has been relatively uneventful the past two weeks, other than the trip to Dubai and the fact that my life is an adventure every day, this week you get a reflective post on a new year, and why it’s not the New Year. My New Year’s Eve was nice, but I treated it as any other Friday night. I spent the day home sick, so actually getting myself dressed and prepared to go out was enough of a challenge. I put on my party clothes and my shortest dress yet in India and dared to go out without leggings on. It was surprisingly easy, so either 2011 is suddenly the year women in India can prove they have legs, or I have officially become oblivious to cat calls. I will accept both possibilities.
Just to prove to you that I still have legs. I had sort of forgotten.

I didn’t get to Party #1 until 11:40, so then all of a sudden I was like oh hey, it’s 11:58. We had no countdown, no footage of Times Square filled to bursting point. I think New Year’s is the only time Times Square looks like it could belong somewhere else in the world. It could resemble any European city watching a World Cup final in which the country’s team is playing, or it’s just India and China on any given day. For someone who always thinks New Year’s is over-hyped and always underperforms, I was surprised at how much my acceptance of the new year was driven by that countdown and that slowly descending glowing orb, filled with failed past resolutions as it crashes to zero. I spent about an hour more at the party, which was the quietist, most relaxing New Year’s party I’ve been to, complete with cushions on the terrace and a group painting session. I also didn’t drink thanks to my inability to retain food in my stomach, and then I realized that since I didn’t start drinking until the latter half of my freshman year of college and spent New Year’s 2008 on a quiet beach in Thailand, I’ve only drank for New Year’s once. That might make me one of the most countercultural recent college grads I know. I then left to attend Party #2 and quickly left after I was sucked into a conversation with someone who declared me unable to fully understand the Beatles because I hadn’t listened to the White Album on mushrooms. I’m pretty sure Happiness is a Warm Gun is probably more of a heroin song, but that’s also something I wouldn’t know. So I came home and spent the early hours of January 1 listening to my neighbor’s storytelling, which ranged from tales of northeast India (he’s leaving next week to make a film there. It’s partly cut off from the rest of India because of Bangladesh and a violent separatist movement) to getting arrested (not me), to looking through all the pictures that are on the memory card in my camera, which contain my Euro trip, last year’s trip to India, and even Erica’s rehearsal dinner. I suggested that we make wishes because it was 1/1/11, but I didn’t make a wish because I couldn’t accept that it was, in fact, 1/1/11.

Perhaps my aversion to 2011 means that I’ve officially converted to Indian Standard Time, which, not actually meaning that we’re 5.5 hours ahead of Greenwich time, actually refers to Indians being perpetually late to everything. In what is one of my favorite literary lines ever, Salman Rushdie writes in Midnight’s Children, “No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.” Hindi factoid of the day: yesterday and tomorrow are both kal. So maybe, despite my having physical reactions to being late, I have embraced the culture of tardiness, and therefore I won’t accept the New Year until March or so.

Maybe it’s the fact that there hasn’t been a change of season. It’s slightly colder here, so sometimes at night I could wear a light cardigan and in the day I only sweat if I’m lost. But there’s no snow, no jackets (actually, some people wear jackets and ear muffs. I laugh), no running from bar to bar unable to feel my legs because I was stupid enough to not wear tights. The notions of months are so connected to seasonal traditions that even Christmas was lost, although there were several nativity scenes on my street. Maybe it would have been easier for me if I had used the Sanskrit seasons instead, because December just isn’t without that anticipation of school holidays, movies and Chinese food, snowball fights that have no age limit, homemade hot chocolate, and even socks. I miss socks. So now it’s January, apparently, and in March it will be summer. There is no spring, which means that April has a completely different meaning, so maybe I won’t even have a birthday this year. I can probably stay 22 for another year.

Maybe it’s the moustaches. Approximately 70% of men here have moustaches. About 16% of India’s population is Muslim and they have beards, so of the approximately 80% of the population who are Hindus (I’m leaving space for Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians, and even Jews), I would guess that 4/5 men have moustaches. I bet that Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews wear moustaches too, since it’s the cool thing to do. I never understood moustaches. If you’re going to prove your adulthood or provide a refuge for runny noses, why not go all out and grow mutton chops? How bad ass would India look if 80% of the population had mutton chops, and the rest had full beards? Although in a tropical place, facial hair doesn’t make sense. Hair doesn’t make sense. Indians should be bald. Anyways, the abundance of moustaches and the middle to lower class preference for absurdly tight bellbottoms makes me feel like I’m stuck in the 70s. So not only is it not January, it’s also not the 21st century. Maybe I should have used this argument against aforementioned douchebag to explain that I do, in fact, understand the space in which the Beatles made music. In order to ensure that my readers are always reminded of my love for and ethical approach to being in India, my comments on Indian appearance shouldn’t be taken as patronizing. Most people in America look ridiculous. People from my state are orange. We wear tights as pants. At one point, we actually embraced trucker hats.

There is also the possibility that my New Year started on August 22 when I stepped out of the airport, into the muggy, steamy, air, with the smells of spices, incense and garbage warring to rule my olfactory bulb and my eyes blinded from over-coloration. I have no New Year’s resolutions. I am not turning a new leaf. I don’t toast to 2011, because when I get home at some point between the late summer and early fall, I will again reorient my entire perspective, because it will have been shattered. I will grudgingly write 2011 because a certain amount of conformity is required, but it’s not the New Year. I’m currently rounding into month 5.

And now for some Dubai pictures, as per requests.

This is Spice Souk. I had asked Diva, the friend that I was visiting, to take me around some old parts of Dubai. Turns out there are no old parts of Dubai. There were some random buildings, and people obviously lived there, but it basically rose out of the desert within the past 20 years. But when she said we should go to the markets, I was excited, because I was picturing Indian bazaars. Souks are air conditioned shops that are organized. And established. Not like Indian bazaars. Still, it was fun.

We stumbled into the art scene in Dubai, apparently. I don't know what to make of this, but I'm not really appreciate of modern art.

Here is some Arabic. 10 points for whoever can read it. Remember, it goes right to left.

This is Bastekiya, a preserved area of what Dubai used to look like. It's now touristy with shops and inns, but I enjoy the historical attempt.

Oh heyyy I'm on a boat. Took a little sighseeting cruise around the souks.

These are the boats, or abras. Dubai has a huge South Asian population, so speaking Hindi is still pretty useful. As it was with this lovely abra conductor.

This is a ski slope. In a mall. I didn't ride down the bunny hill, but it would have been a great place to have birthday parties growing up.

This is on our boat tour. That building in the background is the tallest building in the world. In case you couldn't tell, Dubai is mostly about excess.

A close up view of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. I don't think this, or any picture, can do it justice. It's ridiculous.

We went to eat dinner at the biggest mall in the world, which has a nice strolling area that looks up to the Burj. In front of the Burj are the world's tallest fountains. For that evening's holiday entertainment, they had timed the fountains to dance to Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion's "The Prayer." I attempted to upload the video, but alas, India is too slow. Perhaps when I get home, it will still be on the top of your "Must See" lists.

This is the beach, which was wonderful. In the right, you see three women wearing abayas. Those are Emirati women, or women whose families are actually from the United Arab Emirates.

Half the population of Dubai is made up of immigrants, and the Emiratis, to preserve and uphold national culture, get all sorts of benefits, like free housing, utilities, education, and healthcare. They also control international businesses who want to open into the UAE market, so in order for Starbucks, for example, to open a store, an Emirati might receive a Mercedes. Emiratis are encouraged to wear national dress, hence the abayas, and men wear the traditional white outfits known as the dishdash. Great word. It's not necessarily all about modesty, since Emirati women can show their hair and wear heels and makeup. It's about cultural preservation. Either way, Dubai is the best place I've ever been for people watching. Other highlights were doing totally American things. Dubai is weird in that some places that only exist in America are also there. Examples: Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery, and Forever 21. I got there Friday and got a drink from Starbucks, not because I missed Starbucks, but because I missed soy milk and an awareness of lactards. Saturday I went to two malls, one that was the biggest mall in the world, until the second mall replaced it as the biggest mall in the world. I saw a movie with Arabic subtitles, which was a nice change from being in Hindi with no subtitles at all. I went shopping and got some western clothes, which have already definitely come in handy. I ate sushi, and then died and went to heaven. It wasn't a Green Lady from Baumgart's, but it was raw, and it was good. Then Diva and I watched a movie in bed, which doesn't sound like much, but given that I don't have a TV, or a bed, it felt really nice. I took hot showers and was allowed to flush my toilet paper down the toilet. Weird how you get used to looking for a garbage can. And then I went to the beach and wore a bikini. I never thought I'd be allowed to wear a bathing suit in the Middle East, but not in India, but that's exactly what happened, which I can prove through awkward tan lines. But I have a nice base tan for my beach vacation in February, which might be preceded by another beach vacation. That's the nice thing about it always being summer in South India.

And that about wraps up my post. When I'm a little less scattered, perhaps I'll collect my thoughts enough to write something more coherent. But there is a lot going on here, and I have a very busy week at work (surprise!)

Happy New Year to all (April Fools?).