Indian Bromance

When I was in India, I noticed that men are very affectionate and kind to each other. So here are some pictures I gathered showing friendship, companionship and men getting on well together.

Veganuary – Starting off

I decided to go vegan this January, as part of the Veganuary campaign to stop cruelty to animals and raise awareness of veganism.

I chose to do this for a few reasons. In India, I ate a lot, like so much I felt my stomach expanding and really didn’t like feeling that way, so I knew I wanted to eat healthier in the new year and have a detox period after eating so much. When I was in India, I was staying and travelling with a vegan friend Melissa, and being around her and being in India in general, where a large percentage of the population is vegetarian, made me think about vegetarianism and veganism. Then I saw a friend of mine make the pledge, so it just seemed like something I could do too.

veganuary
I’ve taken the pledge, have you?

Before starting, I was a little nervous, I only decided to do it on 31st December, so didn’t have time to go on a huge meat and dairy binge before starting, but I knew I’d miss eggs for breakfast and some of the Chinese food I’d missed when in India 番茄炒鸡蛋,饺子,糖酥里脊 etc.

I had lots of questions about it, and still do, but just 2 days in and I’m actually finding answers to things that before puzzled me. For my whole life, I’ve never known why some vegetarians don’t eat eggs, thinking that eggs aren’t living animals and the hens are kept alive, many of which (especially in the UK) are free range. But I never had the confidence to ask a vegetarian why they eat the way they do, but now I realise that it’s the fact that we are keeping animals outside of their natural environment to fuel the demand for humans. And especially in China, I know free range isn’t a thing, I’ve seen cages the same size that our cockatiel at home lives in, housing 3 chickens, just on the street, surrounded by motorbike fumes, oil on the floor and all other gross things.

I know aswell there are many different reasons why people go vegetarian or vegan, there are health and diet reasons, some people are against animal cruelty, some don’t like the texture or taste of meat so I’ll be really interested in reading other people’s stories.

I still have my doubts about veganism, of course. I’m very anti food waste and it’s been proven that most of domestic food waste is fruit and vegetables, which raises concerns about the sustainability of a vegan diet. As an athletic woman, I also like to consume a high protein diet, and the easiest way to get that protein for me is through meat. But we’ll see how it goes and if my opinion changes by the end of the month. I hope you can join me on this journey.

Image source: http://www.veganuary.com/

Indian Wedding

I was invited to my Indian friend’s wedding this Christmas. I received the invitation months ago, and my friend told me about some of the preparations him and his family were doing ahead of the big day. It was a fairly small wedding (on Indian terms) consisting of three days, which from talking to other Indian friends, is quite common.

Day 1:

On the first day, the bride and groom had separate functions with their own families. I am a friend of the groom, so went to his ceremony, which was in a small hall close to his home. In the morning we went there and he was presented with gifts from his family – gold Hindu jewellery, a special coconut knitted in burgundy cloth and jewels and also a sword.

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He was sat at the front of the hall with his closest family members and all the guests were sat around talking amongst themselves as there was no specific leader or person to address the audience. It was like we were there to see the function, but weren’t actually a part of it. Me and foreign friends all wore Indian kurties, a long tshirt with coloured leggings or trousers. Somehow we all matched and chose to wear blue, which looked great in the pictures! Of course there was food provided afterwards, we all loved the paneer curry and snacks.

In the evening there was also a function, which was kind of like a bachelor party I guess. We returned to the same venue and upstairs there was dancing, both Indian and international music. Downstairs there was a buffet with Indian sizzlers (veg on a hot plate), curries, rice, pani puri and also a very distinctive ice cream making machine, which was a big cylinder of ice that one man twisted as another spread cream, fruit sauces and fruit juices over it. It froze when it touched the ice, then later he scraped it off into bowls for us. It was yummy!

Day 2: Wedding

The second day was the actual wedding ceremony, there was a wedding breakfast at the groom’s house, but unfortunately we were a little late (saris take a while to put on, and there were 9 people getting ready in one house) so missed breakfast. The whole of the groom’s party went in coaches to a location near to the bride’s house and when we arrived, the groom got on a horse and was accompanied by drums, trumpets and everyone dancing in the street to show he’d arrived. It was loud, exciting and the groom looked stunning on the white horse, which was also draped in a red and gold coat.

Groom's procession

We went inside and waited for a while…quite a long time actually. There was live traditional music and to pass the time the guests spoke amongst themselves.

We went downstairs for another Indian buffet (rice, bread, curry, garlic bread, buttermilk, dosa) and then rushed back up to see the arrival of the groom to the wedding hall. He was now dressed in gold and carried the sword from yesterday as he made his way to the stage and sat on the red throne waiting for his fiancee to arrive.

When the bride arrived, her family held a carpet above her head, threw rose petals as she walked and accompanied her to sit next to the groom. It was strange that they didn’t really look at each other during the first few minutes.

The ceremony happened and to confirm the marriage, they both walked around a fire four times and it was complete. We were all given coconut ice cream and after lots of pictures on stage with the married couple we went back home.

Later that evening, we went to the groom’s house for dinner (even though he wasn’t there). We ate typical Gujrati food, which is really special and tasty, I love the tetlas and potato curry.

Day 3:

We could finally have a lie in and relax during the day before the evening dinner and dance reception. This was an event for both the families and there were about 300 guests. The couple were again on stage, this time the bride in a heavily jewelled pink dress and the groom in a suit, sat on a sofa as a very animated and lively host talked to the audience and played some games. It felt less formal than day 2 as the crowd was engaged and the couple seemed more relaxed than the day before. After a few speeches, we ate (do you see a pattern here?) and then the hall turned off the lights and converted into a dance floor. The guests went crazy dancing and I did too, singing to Bollywood songs and Western pop songs. It was so much fun and everybody was dressed so well.

In summary, Indian weddings are exhausting, it’s a lot of waking up early, driving to functions, wearing lots of make up, smiling for photos, eating and dancing. But I loved being part of their special few days and learning more about Indian and Hindu culture through the events I saw and the people I met.

Although I’m in India for a few more days, I feel I’m all wedding’d out and am not quite ready to attend another one, my stomach is looking pretty big after all the food I’ve eaten.

Gifts from the East

My Chinese friends are so kind to me, not only do we have a good time together but they also help me with my Chinese and give me gifts. It was yesterday when I realised the strange collection of gifts I’ve collected over the past couple of months here, I’ve also included the gifts from my Indian friends.

Gifts

Going from top to bottom:

  • An Indian map
  • A clay figurine of a character from 京剧, Beijing Opera
  • A small potted plant which I’m taking very good care of
  • A world map – this is from India and my Chinese friends are shocked when they see that Taiwan is classed as an independent country
  • Postcards of Xi’an and different buildings on Qingdao University campus
  • A campus map
  • Qingdao University playing cards
  • Book of commemorative stamps and stories about good children

Close-up

  • Gold and pink flower necklace and matching earrings (India)
  • Another pair of silver flowery earrings from my friend’s sister, I loved the unique design but there was no time to go shopping so she took them out and gave them to me (India)
  • An elephant statue (India)
  • A shrimp sweet (even though I’m allergic)
  • Chinese tea, green and red
  • Two homemade juggling cubes
  • A pair of insoles
  • Stolen hotel jams and butter.

Also not in the picture (as I’ve already eaten them):

  • A goody bag from the bakery of cakes to nibble on
  • A whole watermelon
  • Left over meat – see here
  • A bag of peanuts (apparently special because they came from his brother’s wedding but there was nothing that special about them)
  • A bag of fresh strawberries
  • Yoghurts… so many Chinese people give me yoghurts (not necessarily cold).

What about you? Have you ever received an unusual gift from an Asian friend? Which of my gifts do you like the most? Comment below.

Bollywood Movies

Although I am not a big ‘film person’ I do like a good Bollywood movie. I have seen several during my time here in India, Bodyguard, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Jai ho! and Gunday. The themes have been different and so have the characters and songs but there are some features that almost always appear in a Bollywood movie. Tomorrow I am going to see Highway (a video of the trailer is below) and this is what I expect.

  • Huge dances
    Chammak Challo
     *
    * hold Ctrl and click to open the video in a new window

    The dances are choreographed amazingly, with so many people I am always amazed. You just have to watch the video above to experience it, I really like the songs. Watch out for the original dance moves, Salman Khan especially who does funny things, like the pocket move or the belt twist.
  •  Fights
    Boom boom pow*
    hold Ctrl and click to open the video in a new window

There are now more and more fight scenes in Indian cinema, some can be very violent, but as bad guys are thrown through the glass of a penny machine at an arcade, sometimes you just have to laugh at how outrageous the stunts are.

  •  Muscles
    Of course, it’s always the most ripped, most muscly guy who wins in the end.

     

  • Beautiful women in beautiful clothes

There is always a love story of some sort in a Bollywood movie. Indian actresses are stunning and in the Bollywood movies they can flaunt sarees, skirts, dresses, the lot. I’ve been in awe of some of the costumes, especially the scenes in Gunday with Priyanka Chopra in the Calcutta desert.

  • A wedding


Marriage is a very important part of Indian culture so it is only normal to see a big lavish Indian wedding or part of the celebrations in a Bollywood movie. The bride will be the girl wearing the most bling in the room, with gold on her head, wrists, ears and neck. There will be tons of guests, food, colours and dancing.

  • Holi

    One of India’s biggest and brightest festivals is often featured in Bollywood movies, thousands of people in the streets drinking, dancing and throwing coloured powder over each other.

  • Revenge/Betrayal

Normally there is a twist somewhere in the movie, which comes in the form of revenge or betrayal. Whether it be two best friends falling out over a girl which they both like or the son of the rich businessman that was killed in the first fight coming back to avenge his father’s death. Be prepared for old characters to come back and for people to stab others in the back.
 
Not to mention beautiful scenes of India, great feel good songs and also an interval mid film to go to the toilet and get some snacks! See the trailer for Highway by clicking here. I am very excited!!! I will be seeing it in one of the malls in New Delhi tomorrow.

A Foreigner’s View on Driving in India

As I got into the taxi the other night, I automatically reached for the seatbelt, forgetting that even though there are belts in the back of vehicles in India, the buckles are impossible to find. This taxi had a really pretty interior, white with red roses and it was all kind of laminated with plastic. Very vintage/retro/hippy, it was cool. The rickshaws also sometimes are individually decorated, one had green fairy lights on the inside and we asked him to play music (he played an Indian love song) here is the slogan that was written at our feet.

Anyway,  there are just sooooooo many people out on the roads, even at night there are rickshaws, taxis, cars and pedestrians (even if there is a pavement, people still walk on the road next to the cars). It was a shock at first because it’s so different to the driving style in the UK. Slowly I am getting used to the driving style in India, here’s what I make of it and the rules I think exist.

1. There are no rules. Do what you like, when you like and how you like. If you’re on the expressway and you need to get something out of the boot, just stop your car, get out and get it. If you see a small gap between two cars that you want to get through, beep your horn and go through (I’ll come back to the horn later). If you have a family of seven and only a five seater car, squeeze them all in.

2. If you see lane markings, ignore them. They are pointless anyway. You have to use all the space available on the road, especially when there is traffic. If people stuck to the ‘one car per lane’ thing, the tailbacks on the Western Express Highway would be endless. So across the three ‘lanes’ you have to fit as many vehicles as possible, the average being 4 cars, 2 rickshaws and a motorbike.

3. Following the road signs are optional. This includes speed limits, no honking zones, no U-turns, no overtaking and anything else. I’ve seen taxi drivers going at 100km/h when the limit speed limit is 30km/h. Overtaking always happens and nobody pays any attention to the no honking zones.

4. Me, myself and I. Unsure has the right of way at an unmarked junction? You do! No matter if you’re at a crossroads turning right, turning left or going straight ahead, it’s each man for himself. You always have the right of way and you can go any way you like, even if you cut others up, pull out on oncoming cars or if you’re reversing.

5. Beeping your horn is absolutely necessary at all times of the day, at any and every junction. It is a way to interact with other people on the road. Nearly all of the larger vehicles and trucks have written across the back in large colourful letters “HORN OK PLEASE” or “BLOW HORN” as they need other drivers to communicate with them. When the horn beeps, it can mean any (or several) of the following things:

  • Hey, pedestrian, watch where you’re going!
  • Pedestrian, move out of my way!
  • Doggy, be careful on the road!
  • Move to the left, I’m coming past you
  • Move to the right, I’m coming past you
  • I’m going to overtake you
  • I’m going to undertake you
  • Why are you going so slow?
  • I’m driving across these crossroads and I’m not going to look left or right, so I hope nobody is in my way
  • Drive faster!
  • I’m stuck in traffic and it’s not moving, so I’m gonna honk to show my frustration!
  • I’m going to pull out on you
  • Why did you pull out on me?
  • Why are you doing a 3 point turn in the middle of the road?
  • You are an idiot
  • Who taught you how to drive?
  • You almost scratched my car
  • Why did you stop in the middle of the road?
  • Etc
The list goes on, but those are the main ones. Mumbai roads are constantly noisy, with trucks driving at all hours, people beeping their horns and the partying rickshaw drivers who have speakers in the back, blasting out the Bollywood tunes on the road.

Heading East, Can’t Sleep

I write this blog post from my bed. I can’t sleep, I have butterflies in my tummy and I can’t stop thinking and stressing about my next adventures. Even though the furthest I have been away from home was my year in Chile, with 7573 miles between Temuco and Coventry, I feel like my next set of travels will be my biggest challenge yet. 

First I am going travelling in India, to see some good friends of mine that I met last year in Nottingham. I have no doubt that they will look after me very well (there are even talks about one of their cousins’ weddings being in February!) but I am still very nervous about going to a country that I have very little knowledge about. I don’t know any Indian languages and my knowledge of the big Eastern religions (Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddism) is a bit rusty. I don’t know what clothes I’ll have to wear and I am very nervous about the risk of malaria and Dengue fever. Then there’s the overcrowded cities, the public transport, the mosquitoes and the idea of being so far away from home (ie time difference) is daunting.

After just over two weeks in India I will travel to China…from New Delhi, India. I found two flights to get me to Qingdao that were cheaper (and much better for my carbon footprint) than returning to the UK between visits. This also means I have to step up my act and get all my Chinese paperwork done before I leave for India…and I have to pack for two very different countries with a 20kg weight limit. 

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Overall I feel a little let down by my university in regards to my year abroad. I am still a member of the student community but I am unsure who to actually write an email to when I have a question that needs answering…and I am a person who has a lot of questions. My academic tutor is usually in Guatemala or somewhere like that, researching to write more scholarly articles and the year abroad team are split into the international office and then somebody is on maternity leave and it’s all very confusing. Maybe they organised it that way on purpose so that they wouldn’t receive emails from worried and stressed students. I understand that at any one given point there are hundreds of students abroad and we cannot each be assigned a mentor, but I think that an “are you ok?” email once every couple of months from somebody (anybody) would show that the university still has some kind of responsibility or interest in my welfare.

There have been many obstacles in organising my time abroad, especially on the Chinese side due to the language barrier, strict immigration/visa procedures and with the university offering a new exchange scheme, starting with my year group. I tend to skim read emails now that concern China as many contain, not bad news, but just not the type of news I want to hear. For example one told us how we had been offered brand new student accommodation on campus in the international building, something like that…however, the building work hadn’t begun on this building yet and it is likely to be finished well after we arrive in China. 

There was a time when I really didn’t want to go to China. I was more than happy staying in Spain and the thought of moving to a city with a population of millions was looking more and more like a nightmare each day. Now I have come around to the idea more and now that my flights are booked, everything is seeming pretty real. It will be an opportunity to speak and learn a lot of Chinese, live in a huge city (that has a metro, that’s a first) and also to experience the Chinese university life – 11pm curfew and all. 

Even so, I still have a huge to do list before I go. Normally if I split my to do list into sub categories they are: things you have to do, things to do if you get time and things you should do but let’s be honest you won’t. Now my to do list is separated into many categories all of which I simply have to do in the next month: packing, paperwork, health and “questions”. One of the questions on my to do list is quite simply “Do I have enough pairs of shoes?”.

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