India, Lynn, Sri Lanka, Work

The First Time I Went to India for Work

7 Mar , 2016  

The Time I was Forced on a Guided Shopping Tour [Sri Lanka]
The Time Marking Waffle's Addiction to IKEA

When I told people I was going to be going to India and Sri Lanka for work, I was uber excited but was mostly met with a mixture of surprise and concern by the people I told.

Growing up, I went to school with a lot of people whose parents come from India and Sri Lanka, but almost all my classmates and friends have never been, or have only gone once or twice to see family.

As you can tell, I am not that familiar with India and have only read about the harsh side of it – stories of women being gang raped in Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh (found hanging on a mango tree), women sentenced to be raped as a result of their brother’s elope near new Delhi, etc. etc. The famous b/hollywood Slumdog Millionaire certainly did not help with India’s image either.

slumdog-millionaire-o

It wasn’t until I was there, did I realize that what I have read in the media doesn’t represent all of India (which really should apply to everything you read about anything these days).

So as a girl who

  • is of East-Asian descent,
  • grew up in North America,
  • don’t know much about South Asia, and
  • was concerned about female safety

here is what I learned while I was there: It feels very safe for women in Bangalore to be alone.

1: India is very big and every region has drastically different culture

Generalizing about the culture of India is kinda like generalizing all the culture of China – you really shouldn’t.

To illustrate how different they are, I will use the easiest example that represents culture and divides people: Language.

india-map-languages

source: http://www.mapsofindia.com/culture/indian-languages.html

Most people I know understands that in China not everyone speaks the same dialect and someone speaking Shanghainese would not understand someone speaking in Cantonese. Well someone from New Delhi speaking in Hindi is not going to understand someone speaking Kannada in Bangalore (part of Karnataka).

However, the difference between China and India is that Mandarin is the national language in China while there is no national decree for India. If not everyone speaks the same language, how can they all share the same values?

When I packed my bags for India, I googled whether I am allowed wear shorts (since it was going to be over 30 degrees everyday) and t-shirts. Having very little knowledge about the geography of India, I did not specifically google about Bangalore but India in general, and honestly I couldn’t have found worse information.

2. Bangalore is a very metropolitan city and plenty of women walk around alone

I got there around midnight and was picked up by the hotel’s driving services. The next day, I googled things I can do in Bangalore and saw that there was a market that was walking distance from the hotel (Commercial Street). I went downstairs and asked if I can get cab to go to commercial street.

The front desk: Commercial street is a 10 minute walk, cabs won’t take you.

Me: Can I get tuk-tuk then?

FD: You mean Auto?

(stands for auto rickshaw – they don’t call it tuktuk in Bangalore)

Me: Yeah – how much do they cost?

FD: I don’t think you should take an Auto (I later found out it’s hard to trust Autos if you are a tourist)…you know you could just walk there….

Me: REALLY? Is it safe….? Like…for a woman to walk there alone….?

FD: (FD started cracking up) Yeah it’s fine…don’t worry, just a 10 minute walk! Just watch out for cars (he forgot to mention cows).

So I cautiously stepped out and walked at a snail’s pace, ready to turn around and run back to the hotel if I felt any danger. Less than one block of walking, I encountered a cow.

I was very excited to see my first cow almost as soon as I stepped out of the hotel

3. Girls don’t usually wear shorts, but you can in Bangalore and it’s not a big deal

After taking several photos of the cow, I suddenly noticed that there were other women on the street, dressed in saris with a strip of their back baring, walking alone or with another woman.

IMG_2631

Typical Sari in Bangalore with tummy bearing when scarf is not covering

Hippie in Heels, a blonde girl who lives in Goa, says do not wear shorts unless you are in Goa.

Not true. I have seen girls in shorts in Goa, Bangalore, and Puducherry (all in south India.)

Based on her advice, and a couple of others on the web, I packed my work clothes (long-sleeve dress shirts and pants), a couple of really unflattering t-shirts and jeans, no shorts, so as to not draw attention to myself.

Except I did see girls wearing shorts – it’s not common but it happens, and when I go out at night, I see girls in tight clothing and short skirts too.

Again, Bangalore is very westernized and very metropolitan. Although these girls are not going out alone in short skirts and tight shirts, it does happen. I dont recommend that you do it, but it’s okay if you want to wear shorts – just not short shorts that shows your butt cheeks – you need to respect their culture!

4. People are too busy to look at you

So when I started seeing girls walking alone on the streets wearing Saris and bearing their backs and tummies, I began to pick up pace and felt much safer.

Along the way, I saw plenty of other people walking alone or in groups, men and women, and many cows eating garbage.

So…no one was looking at me twice and thought I was strange? But I look nothing like South Indians, do they not find it strange that a Chinese girl in t-shirt and jeans walking around?

Nope, no one cares.

When I got to the market, the market was packed with people that didn’t look like me but everyone was busy trying to get through the traffic and go on with their daily business that I felt non-existent.

There were many other women wearing jeans as well, but most were wearing saris. I did see group of Chinese-looking men walking around, and a couple of caucasians here and there. And no one was even staring at the blondes.

Bangalore is such a developed city with a ginormous tech industry and people all over the world doing business there that people of every colour can be easily spotted around the large city.  Not only do people from other countries visit for work reasons, but people from all over India are coming here

5. There are a lot of East Asian Looking Indians

And this brings me to the fact that what I discovered later on in my trip made me feel even more minuscule – plenty of North-East Indians (Calcutta/Kolkata) and North-West Indians (Mumbai/Bombay) look just like me.  A large number of North-east Indians are from the Tibetan-Mongoloid ethnicity, and on top of which, being so close to China, there are records of migrants from China to Calcutta starting from the late 1700s. So to them, I could be just another Indian.

CB19_NORTHEAST_1183505f

North-East Indians can look like these girls in the photo.  Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/police-assuage-north-east-indians-fears/article3798313.ece

Yes, based on the article, even people India don’t seems to know of this, but in Bangalore, it’s fine.

6. People still ask me if I am Japanese

To be fair, i don’t have snow white skin tones so maybe it’s easier for people to mistaken me as an Indian while I’m in India, however a lot of it is what you wear.

When I was dressed like a local girl (jeans and t-shirt) no one batted an eye. But when I was in my dress-clothes with buttoned-up collard shirts, make-up, and heels, I get people asking me if I am Japanese. I had thought this was a problem in France, but apparently everyone has a fetish with Japanese girls….gross….

unexpected-tragedies-girls

I cannot look like this even if I wanted to. Source: http://tokyogirlsupdate.com/girl-tragedies-japan-20151273231.html

7. India had its first female prime minister in 1966 and the first woman president in 2007

I don’t want downplay the fact that there are significant women’s rights issues in India in general and that it is an on-going battle – but a lot of these battles are not as tangible as a visitor in Bangalore for work.

I have asked a lot of people, over my trips to India in the last few years, and most people believe that the terrible human rights issues happen in smaller villages that are not accessible to transportation in the big cities.

North India seems to have more problems than South India, but it’s hard to generalize all of Northern India too, just because the regions are all so large with so many villages.

In terms of equal rights between female and male, that’s a universal issue that still exists in all countries in this world. The fact that Canada has not had a Female Prime Minister and US has not for president (although maybe Hillary might do take the spot in a few months) speaks a lot about this world.

Whereas in India, Indira Ghandi was a feared and loved Prime Minister by many for many years after her election in 1966. As PM for over 11 years and throughout out her political career, she carried out huge reforms in foreign and domestic policies. In 2007, Pratibha Patil was elected as the first female President.

With all that said, you should still be careful if you are a woman roaming around in India, and I still have not been able to figure out a comfortable way for touring around North India by myself (I have yet to go the Taj Mahal because I keep finding information online about how uncomfortable for women to be there alone.) But I have roamed around Bangalore and Goa and Puducheery on my own and it’s all been okay.

I will end this post with a video of a less busy street in Bangalore (Sunday) – bonus if you spot the cow.

The Time I was Forced on a Guided Shopping Tour [Sri Lanka]
The Time Marking Waffle's Addiction to IKEA

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