Friday, February 18, 2011

The Sprayer

Can one integrate too much into a new culture? How far is too far? At what level do you have to draw the line?

All of these questions center around one very important part of everyday life here in India. Perhaps the most pressing decision we had to make as to how far we were going to take our leap into the Indian lifestyle came in of all places...the bathroom.

Most people are aware that Indians mostly use their hands to eat (which we've readily accepted). Curiously though, only the right hand is used. Similarly, you would never offer your left hand to someone to shake it. While nearly 10% of Americans are left-handed, I have only interacted with one person here who knows of someone who is left-handed. All of this points back to the question of what is so deterring about the left hand.

The answer lies in the washroom, the most basic of which includes a toilet (sometimes sitting, sometimes squatting), and a small cup filled with water. Once finished, one uses the left hand to scoop out some water and clean him/herself. While it might sound disturbing to the uninitiated, this simple system has been in place in this land for several centuries.

While we were aware of this "interesting" part of the Indian lifestyle, we continued to buy our toilet paper, believing that there really was a point of being "too" enculturated. Then, one evening we were babysitting our American partner's child and I needed to blow my nose. Not finding any tissue anywhere, I thought surely I would find something I could use in the bathroom. But there was none. Then I realized that they had taken the plunge and were now going paperless.

Shocked, but with renewed enthusiasm, we slowly started to wean ourselves off the paper too. Thankfully, we don't have to resort to a cup of water, but have a handy sprayer which made the transition a little more comfortable. Looking back, we're glad we made the switch. Not just for the sake of saving money, paper, or being more Indian. It's actually a lot cleaner too, provided there's some soap to wash your hands afterward. The sprayer is our preferred method and now we are dealing with the prospect of being without it when we come back to visit. I guess we'll just have to get our parents to install them. I'm sure it will provide some good resale value if any Indians are in the market.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Public Service Announcement

"Wear Sunscreen."

This is what happens when you live close to the equator and forget your sunscreen at home. It's amazing how many Indians didn't realize skin could turn purple. I'm awesome.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

There's always room for one more

With over a billion people, India has some spatial challenges. It's hard to fit everyone in where they need to be and where they need to go. While we still on occasion like to have our "personal space", our comfort zone has drastically decreased since arriving. Here are a few of our favorite modes of transportation and some capacities that would not be conceivable in the US.

First is the share auto. If you hire a regular auto you get to sit all by yourself with plenty of leg room. However, you also end up paying a lot. A trip from our place to a nearby movie theater would cost at least 200 rupees. However, with a share auto, the driver goes on a set route and you can get in and ride for however long you want. That same trip ends up costing 30 rupees a person. But the "share" part means the driver tries to pack as many passengers as possible into the auto to maximize his profit. So, it's not uncommon to see one of these chugging along with around 15 humans crammed into something about the size of a smart car.

The family sedan. Motorcycles can be used for lots of useful ventures including hauling your entire family around. These boys have probably been riding in the same position on this bike since they were born. While comfort and safety are not really important in this option, you must respect the way they are able to still make it work without breaking the bank.

As nice as they are, share autos don't cover most of the city. Therefore, the vast majority of the population of Chennai must rely on the bus. These buses vary in shapes and sizes and colors and smell. They have deluxe A/C buses (which are pretty nice), regular deluxe buses (basically means that the doors close), standard buses (as pictured in blue), and the old-as-dirt buses (above) which are a lovely dirty green color and the metal has melted in certain places.
Since most people have to ride buses, they tend to get pretty packed. We were on a particularly crowded bus one time and I started counting (from what I could see, which means no one under 5'7" was included). I got to 115 before we got off. It's really crazy just how many people can cram on to these things, which are always overflowing with eager young boys running alongside and hanging on for dear life. The green bus pictured above gives evidence to just how many people will hang on to the side and tilt the bus till its nearly toppling over. Sometimes the buses get stuck in that position even when they're empty.

So, as our world gets more crowded and full, we can say for sure that our experiences here in India have prepared us well to realize the potential space not yet used to its full potential. So forgive us if the next time you see us we are trying to fit into the back of your minivan that already has 7 people in it - it's just who we are now.