Monthly Archives: May 2014

To be Tan or White? That Depends on Your Culture

In the summer as a teenager, my sisters and I would “lay out” in our backyard trying to get a tan of some sort.  I am sure we caused all sorts of sun damage to our skin because sunscreen was not what people used back then — we actually would put products on that would help make the tan happen faster.  Many Americans are so obsessed with having that “tan” look that they visit tanning booths and get spray tans.  As many Americans try to get some type of a “tan” this summer, I wanted to share a little about the obsession in India for many (not all) to NOT get any darker, rather to lighten the skin as much as possible.

For centuries, some people of India have believed that the “lighter” the skin color, the more beautiful the person .  I do not know where this stems from, maybe from the British rule, or the perception of their God’s being light-skinned, but it is startling to me how much money and effort is placed in making skin lighter.  I believe that it is the individual, not their outward appearance that makes one beautiful, but walking through a mall here, driving past billboard advertisements, or even watching commercials on television, one sees that some in the  Indian culture are very obsessed with “whitening” their skin.

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My first visit to a modern mall here, I noticed the large signage in the windows of the cosmetic stores advertising skin whitening treatments, creams and lotions.  It surprised me quite a bit, thinking how many people could really be worried about such a thing?  Well, there are MANY people that think about it, and the very rich and middle class with spending money are not shy about using products to get some results.

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When doing a little research on the topic, I came across an article from 2012 that claimed that there were 240 unique skin-lightening products launched in India and that the industry is booming.  These products contain agents to decrease pigment production but once stopped the skin returns to its natural skin color a few weeks later.  That same year a research firm claimed more skin lightening creams were sold in India than Coca-Cola.  That is a little bit hard for me to believe to be quite honest because the majority of people can not afford these creams.  But for some there is a distorted view on the body based on skin color here.

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Yes, they even advertise making your underarms whiter.

I have heard from numerous individuals, that if the daughter is lighter skinned, than there is a chance of a better dowry for marriage.  I have seen a family that has two sons, the younger one being darker skinned than the older and he is teased a lot about how he is too dark.  The Bollywood actors and actresses all have much lighter skin than the average Indian so their role model to the people of India definitely influences their self-perception just as ours can be influenced from celebrities and media.  While watching American Idol here last Saturday, we saw a commercial that advertised a product for “how to remove your tan.”. I do not want to come across as judgmental here in any way.  As I mentioned at the beginning on this post, many are just as obsessed elsewhere with acquiring a tan.  It seems to be human nature to some extent to try to conform to a standard of beauty.   So as you lay by the pool or head to the beach to get some sun, quit worrying if your body is the whitest one around — that’s worth a lot of money in other parts of the world!

 

 

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The “Process” in India

When an expat arrives here in India, working for an embassy, or even some companies that have many expats working in this country, there are many things that are already established for them.  We were not in such a position.  No one handed us a checklist explaining step by step how to do certain vital things in this new country.  So we have gotten plenty of hands on learning about the unwritten “process” of doing things in India.  To give you a taste of this experience, I have chosen just a few:

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These power lines in India are just like the “process” of many things here in India — a tangled mess!

1.  Proof of Residency — All processes, before beginning anything, require a proof of residency first.  This is a very large stack of papers that are provided by the landlord.  It must have the employee’s full name on it, and the name of the company you work for.  In order for the proof of residency to be received, the employer has to provide proof to the landlord.  When we arrived here, we did not land in a permanent spot, so it was a bit more tedious to try to make this happen.

2.  The FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office)– As a non-diplomat, an expat is required to register in the country of India within 7 days of arriving here.  This requires taking the entire family out of work and school for part of the day to sit in a large room waiting for your number to be called.  If you move residences, you must redo the FRRO process, and annually it must be redone as well when a new visa is obtained.  If you are moving into a brand new building, the building must first have all of its government paperwork finished before you can file for your paperwork.  Thus, the reason, that we ran into a hitch when we moved into our permanent flat because we had to wait months before the government had finished their paperwork on the building before we could redo our paperwork with our new address.  These papers need to be carried as you enter and exit the country.  They are required to establish anything, like internet connection, in the country.

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3.  Obtaining a mobile phone.  The phone is vital for every family member here in India.  It is not a luxury, rather a lifeline to reach the driver to be picked up because many of the driver’s areas where they wait are nowhere near where you have been dropped off.  The process here to obtain a phone is much different.  There are no plans you sign up for, rather you buy a phone and then pick your provider.  (We love that part.)  In India, though, they are very particular about the “Process” to obtain a sim card for the phone.  After standing in a very long line to purchase the sim card and show all the required paperwork, the phone company then sends a person out to your place of residence to take a picture of you at that location to prove that you really reside there.

4.  Buying a car.  Our wonderful driver, Ashok, gets most of the credit for helping us accomplish this “process”.  First of all, when you go to look at cars, they will tell you that it is coming from some other place and will be there shortly.  That some other place could be hours away in reality.  Well, after three full Saturdays of Tyler waiting to have the cars show up to look at them, we finally made a decision on one.  That was just the beginning.  To register a car as a new owner, it took our driver 20 trips to make it happen.  Paperwork after paperwork needed to be completed.  And at one point, when tensions between our two countries were not super great, they were ready to close the book on even finishing our registration.

5.  Banking.  In order to get a banking account, one must have a PAN card, something similar to a social security card.  Well, of course, there are numerous hoops to jump through on getting that card, but Tyler got his and then we could finally apply for mine (that is part of the order here).  Until I received my card, he was the only one with a bank card to access our account here, and let me just include that he wasn’t doing a lot of the grocery shopping so it was a bit amusing to make sure I always had enough cash on me.  Once I finally received my PAN card, we could go into the bank together and sign stacks of papers bringing proof of our marriage, our US social security cards, passports, passport pictures, etc.  You get the picture.  Well, the banking process does not end there.  They are extremely particular here about how you sign a check.  So, Tyler has had so many checks rejected based on his signature that the bank told him he needs to take half a day to come to the bank and see what his signature is supposed to look like on the checks.

Yes, the processes here are humorous to the point that one wants to cry at times.  I understand a country needs to follow certain security measures to remain safe, but it would just be so helpful if someone would give us a list and let us know this is the step-by-step process to make things happen.

Ironing Piling Up? Just walk it to the corner.

It is really easy to get behind on the ironing, but here in India, there are many easy ways to get that ironing taken care of without touching an iron yourself — with my favorite being the corner “ironing” stand.  I drive by this ironing stand, which is at the end of my street, every single time I leave my house, and it still fascinates me.

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It is usually the sametwo women that are there most days of the week doing ironing for whomever in the neighborhood brings it over.  Their work day will vary depending on the amount of business brought out from all the buildings in this neighborhood.  I see shirts hanging after they are finished, and sheets stacked and nicely folded after they are freshly pressed.  It is very inexpensive to get an article of clothing ironed there.  According to my driver it probably costs something equivalent to 20 or 30 US cents to get one piece ironed.  Now, those are his prices, I am sure that this little stand in our neighborhood may charge a little more due to the clientele.

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This woman has a smile on her face every time I drive by, even if it is 110 degrees outside and she is getting warmer by doing this kind of work.  It is so tempting to want to drop a few articles of clothing off to her, which at some point I probably will, but my maid loves to do my ironing here and stays right on top of it so I am afraid she wouldn’t be too happy if I took it down to the corner business.  I have also wondered how things stay clean when they are ironed in that environment, as it is out in the open, cars driving very closely nearby with dirt being kicked up every time they go down the road.  The fascinating thing more than the stand, though, is the iron.  There is no electricity involved in this business.  You will not find an electrical outlet anywhere nearby.  Instead, they load this iron with hot coals and it keeps the iron very warm as the ironing is being done.

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The local ironing stand is also a good shady spot to stop and have a good chat.  This woman, on the day I stopped to ask if I could take a picture, had plenty of company to help the work day move faster by conversation.

Another little fact that I should add here when it comes to having those shirts ironed, is about dry cleaners here.  There are dry cleaners at every market but my experience is that there are very few that produce a product that you would be accustomed to.  For example, the chemicals used in the dry cleaners here leave a much stronger odor in the shirts and I think they also wear the clothes out faster.  The very high end hotels don’t use those same chemicals and I have found one other nearby dry cleaner that seems to be closer to the quality I would have in the US.  It ends up costing me as much as if I had the shirt dry cleaned in the US, but at least it doesn’t have that harsh chemical smell for Tyler to sniff all day as he wears it.

So, if you are looking at that pile of ironing and wondering when you will ever get to it, know that India has the solution — most maids take care of it, and if not, then the local ironing stand is always open!

 

 

India’s Obsession — Cricket

Driving around New Delhi, one sees cricket matches being played throughout the day in many dirt fields and parks.  It is truly the sport that everyone in India is obsessed with playing.  Their greatest rivalry is Pakistan and when India plays Pakistan, everyone is glued to a TV set watching the match.  Cricket matches are constantly being played and replayed on TVs that are in restaurants.  It is truly the game that is followed by almost everyone.

It is believed that cricket was first introduced in England in the 1300s.  As the British Empire had an influence throughout the world, cricket was introduced to many of the countries it ruled.  As a result, cricket arrived in India by British royalty in the mid 1800s.

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This past Saturday night, we finally attended our first Indian Première League (IPL) Cricket Match between the Delhi Daredevils and the Rajasthan Royals.  Tyler booked us some tickets on line by a company similar to a StubHub in the United States.  He had to pick up the tickets on Saturday between 11am and 6pm.  The adventure in locating the place of business was something to write about on its own, but we can save that for another time.  Tyler invited one of our drivers, Ashok, and his seven year old son Akshay to join us.  The driver’s son was so excited that he was telling all of his friends at school and they couldn’t believe that he got to go to an IPL cricket match.  He was a delight to have join us.

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Conner sitting next to our driver’s son, Akshay.

On walking to the stadium, of course, there are scores of people trying to sell you their sodas, shirts, flags, etc.  One funny moment going in was a vendor shouting out 20 rupees and as soon as we approached him his product was now 50 rupees for us.  Upon entering the stadium, only in India, would you find massive amounts of hired help to do some of the basic things.  There were four turnstiles at the spot we entered.  At each turnstile there was one employee to take your ticket, another to scan it, another to turn the turnstile for you and another to direct you.  Conner stated, “only in India, could labor be this cheap to justify it.”.

Not knowing what to expect we arrived there a bit earlier than we needed to.  The extra time before the game, though, ensured that after many requests and Tyler’s persistence, that a ladder was finally removed that blocked some of our seats.  Before they finally moved the ladder I had mentioned that there were so many electrical wires wrapped around it I was afraid they might shut off some power for the event if they did try to move it.  We finally got an unobstructed view from the second tier of the stadium, though and they were pretty decent reserved seats.  Now a reserved seat on your ticket doesn’t mean someone won’t already be sitting in your seat and they will insist that it is their seat until you pull the ticket out, maybe get an employee to assist and be just as insistent that this is your seat.  Once you get up and go somewhere during the half time break, one should not be surprised to find that your seats again are already taken.

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The ladder someone thought would be okay to just leave there.

Terms like wickets, bowlers, batsmen, overs, sixes, fours, boundaries, were all new to me in the game but with the help of my boys and husband, I was able to learn the simple rules of the game.  It was much better as the game progressed because I understood it better.  It reminded me of when Hailey was little and attending lots of American football games that her brothers played in.  One day, she sat down and watched a football game with her dad on TV and he explained the rules.  She told Tyler, “Dad, this game is a lot more interesting when I understand it.”  There were even cheerleaders at the event, about nine for each team.  They were set up around the stadium in groups of three doing dances and cheers.  Now for the die-hard cricket fan, the “real games” can go on for days.  Just recently they have started establishing some games and rules where the game is only 3+ hours so the normal person with a life can actually watch an entire game.  If you are wondering if cricket would be a sport to watch?  Well, if you do not like baseball or think that sport is boring, than cricket is definitely not for you.  It is not baseball for sure but the closest thing I can compare it to.

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The stands full of fans!

With mosquitos thick in the air already this year, we also got to experience the “pesticide service” spraying at the game.  About 10 minutes before the game started, without warning, a man came out and just started spraying chemicals along the edge of the field where it met the stands.  Again at the halfway break, the same chemicals were sprayed.  I have no idea how they can figure that is healthy for any of us sitting there or for the players that were standing out on the field.  But without warning, they just let the foggy mist do its job.  Definitely part of the India experience.

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The mosquito fumigation.

So our Delhi Daredevils lost the game by just a few points but it was a fun experience and something we will probably repeat.  We learned a few things to change for the next time (like make sure you never need to use the restroom while you are there), but it was so very fun to learn and experience cricket — the game everyone in India follows and enjoys!