Butt Surgery, Bindis, Bureaucracy and more

If you search up the definition of bad traveler’s luck on Urban Dictionary, the first result will be my name. Okay, not actually, but it should be. After getting emergency butt surgery, sitting at the Koramangala police station for two frustratingly long hours explaining how my bag was stolen, then getting pickpocketed in Mumbai, and missing a flight back to Bangalore as a result of the pickpocketing, I think I can count myself as pretty unlucky (shout out to Steph for having to deal with all the second-hand bad luck whenever we travelled as a duo).  However, as unfortunate (and equally dumb) as I was, I never felt like anything was impossible to deal with because I had an amazing support system always ready to help me. So from dealing with bureaucracy to Siddharth’s deceiving facts about India to surprise hospital visits from my coworkers, here are just a few things I’ve learned about India:

  • The sense of community and family is incredible. I was surprised to learn that many Indians call their parents at least once a day if not more (maybe that explains why our Uber drivers are always on the phone). Furthermore, on our very first day of work, all of our co-workers put together various dances and skits to welcome us to Shahi and make us feel comfortable. I’ll always remember when Bopana’s mom cooked us all delicious pork and snacks when we visited his hometown on a work retreat. Or when the migrant workers at one hostel invited us to partake in a small religious blessing. Or when Chitra invited us to her house and for lunch (she probably made at least 10 dishes!)  And most importantly, after feeling overwhelmed and a little scared the night before my butt surgery, I’ll never forget the surprise visit I got from Chitra and Dr. Leena at the hospital right before the procedure, and how Shruti and my co-interns stayed at the hospital the whole afternoon to take care of me.
  • Indian bureaucracy is a nightmare to deal with (think American DMV but more frustrating). For starters, my co-interns and I had to spend the entire day at the Foreign Regional Registration Office to get our exit permit. The trouble with the FRRO wasn’t the wait time (although spending an entire day at the office was a little long), but rather the lack of clear instruction and procedure, so you truly have no idea what to do or where to go. My co-interns and I also joked about how paying a bribe to someone would be the only way to get something done. Turns out that is somewhat true, at least when you’re dealing with the local police (having connections is the other option). So my advice if you’re ever in one of these unfortunate situations? Be assertive about what you what, find someone who has a connection (or pay a bribe, but I have yet to figure out how exactly to do that), and don’t wait more than 10 minutes at a time before when they tell you to wait (or you might end up finding out two hours later that you’ve been waiting for the wrong thing)
  • The lemon slice in your warm water bowl for cleaning your hands after your meal is NOT a loofah for your fingers (thanks Siddharth for the lies)
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Our first time using the water bowl to clean our fingers after dinner at Empire

  • The red bindis women sometimes have on their foreheads are not stop signs warning off the sexual attraction of men (thanks Siddharth for all of your incorrect information). It actually has religious significance and is associated with a person’s mystical third eye (thanks Siddharth again)
  • Cows on the city roads are very common. And no, they will not moo-ve out of the way for you.
  • When you need to cross the middle of a busy street street with no crosswalk, just DO IT. Stick out your hand, walk slowly, and don’t stop. You will not die. Cars are used to stopping abruptly for pedestrians.
  • Ask for less sugar in every drink.

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    So many juice stands on every street!

  • When you get a call from your Uber driver and neither one of you speak the other person’s language, just answer with your drop location. That’s all they want to know.
  • Chai breaks are a must, and you always have room for another cup of chai or coffee (or 6 cups if you’re Piotr!)

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    Chai from a roadside tea stand in Mysore

  • Budget an hour in advance for everything (learned this the hard way) and enjoy the slower pace of Indian time
  • Don’t try to beat the google maps time that it takes to walk somewhere. unpaved, or nonexistent sidewalks will slow you down.
  • Sleeper buses have male and female sections, don’t accidentally book a male bed (like I did!)

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    The double “Bed” I was supposed to share with another guy before a kind soul switched me to a single

  • You’re going to get ripped off when you auto, just accept it and note that its only less than a dollar extra that you’re paying.
  • Indian menus are extensive. They are like American menus on steroids. While the myriad of options is great, if you are like me and always have trouble deciding what to get, try looking through a 10-page menu of dishes that you can’t pronounce and don’t recognize.
  • Butter garlic naan is amazing. But buttery, light, fluffy, pancake-like Mysore masala dosas? Or crispy, flaky, but soft-on-the-inside Kerala parathas? They just might be even better.
  • In other street food tips, try kulfis, vada pav, sizzling brownies, pani puri, dosas, and butterfruit milkshakes
  • The Indian head bobble doesn’t always mean yes, or no, or anything. It really depends on the context (which can be so confusing when you’re bargaining and aren’t sure if they accepted your price or not). 
  • And finally, the people around you really make a big difference to your experience. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend me 10 weeks with a different group of co-interns or coworkers. I’ll miss Prem asking us every morning if we had breakfast and sharing his rice with us, Sahana’s keen observations (on Siddharth’s weight gain and Piotr wearing slides to work) and her impeccable fashion sense, Shruti’s kindness and patience when translating anything and everything for us, the entire GBL team for making us feel like a part of their squad and hanging out with us, Chitra’s go get ‘em attitude, Piotr’s fun spirit, Steph’s motherly care and introspective questions, Siddharth’s sweetness (he’ll only occasionally let you see it though), and so many more people and memories that could fill up another blog post.

So how do you conclude a whirlwind of 10 weeks filled with incredible (and unfortunate) experiences? With a very heartfelt thank you, a few tears on the plane ride home, and a sincere “till next time.”

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Last day at work

3 thoughts on “Butt Surgery, Bindis, Bureaucracy and more

  1. Oh Angela…..Miss you so much. With all the ups and down you had been through internationally , would make you strong !! Glad that you enjoyed your internship and hoping to see you sometime in future…..will get something for you from India. wanted to give you guys on last day but some how couldn’t coz of busy work schedules. Miss you so much. All the best!!

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About Angela Yang

Rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in International Relations, interning at Shahi Exports in Bangalore summer 2018.