Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Glad I'm made in 'merica!

I know I said that Mysore's such a nice city (India's second cleanest!) that I could imagine living here but I'm very glad I didn't grow up in India.  Although times are changing in India (as well as the rest of the world), there's still many traditional and cultural biases that put a lot of pressure on the people here.

Last night, one of the most experienced, competent, enthusiastic and capable Indian teaching assistants went home.  The camp started a week after his undergraduate graduation and he came with some medical issues but he hadn't slept in a week and has had increasingly bad nighttime panic attacks.  He loves the kids, knows a lot about business and has been a huge help to everyone because he was one of the two current staff members who worked here last year.  Although the camp's fast pace and long hours exhaust us all, he seemed to be real struggle in figuring out his future.  He said how his last name means "accountant" and "businessman" and expects him to fulfill this role and take over the family business.  He wasn't the first to mention how his family name set up expectations for either personality traits, future professions or behavioral expectations.  And although the caste system is gone, people are still aware of them- the first day of camp, the TAs organized themselves hierarchically by caste and were trying to figure out where the domestic instructors fit in.  That's just crazy to me.

Speaking of TAs, back to the story at hand- although this TA was really good at business, it's unlikely that's his true passion.  Anne said he seemed infinitely more excited about a website he developed with his friends to sell artwork.  But in India, many people live with their families after graduation and it sounds like some families use this to really chose their children's future for them.  I met one of Vivek's friends yesterday, Abu (best name never!  And I can pronounce it!) whose father owned an orphanage but then got sick, had to let the children go elsewhere and decided his son should get an MBA in hospital management.  It's nice to make a career out of helping people but it definitely wasn't Abu's idea.  

Another recent example was Abhi's roommate who's completely in love with a Moroccan girl.  They've been dating for over three years and talk every day for hours.  He claims they've got a mysterious connection where one has a stomach ache and the other one feels it.  Obviously, I've never met her although I said hi on the phone, but they seem adorable and made for each other.  However, he said how they could never get married because she's Muslim and he's Hindu.  He said they decided to stay single and stay "friends" so they could at least be together, even if they can never make their romantic relationship official.

I can't imagine dealing with all these religious and caste complications- life and love is hard enough at it is....

To end on a lighter note, today was the halfway point of classes and things are going well- we have a guest speaker tomorrow, an engineer from JK Tyres so that's a little less of a lesson that I have to prepare.  When we were talking about prototypes, I showed the students a video of the new Hunt library and they all want to go to NC State, use the Bookbot and play in the Gamelab.  Yesterday, we introduced Mechanical Engineering so I showed them the Ok Go music video and had them design Rube Goldberg machines that incorporated all four types of motion and at least four of the simple machines.  My favorite was the "Cork opener 2000" to open champagne bottles at a party quickly.  At 11:59 PM, a cuckoo clock releases a bird that lays an egg that spins a wheel and delivers the ball to turn on a fan which causes a toy boat to set sail, which releases a mento that travels through a maze-like contraption into a bottle of Diet Coke to start a reaction that activates the uncorker to start a chain reaction of uncorking for a dramatic display at midnight.  I want a Cork Opener 2000! (Even though I'm not sure why this kid has champagne on the brain...) 

Last night, Vivek brought me to get my camera fixed (it decided to get stuck open with a "lens error" right before I got to the palace last weekend.  He's finishing up his architecture degree and is the president of NASA (National Architecture Student Association haha- it fooled me too at first.  Apparently this organization is older than its American counterpart though).  He loves to buy old cars and fix them up and sell them.  He picked me up in an 30 year old, burnt orange, open-air Jeep that would have been right up my brother's alley (not too many Jeeps in India, that's for sure).  After dropping off the camera, we stopped at Gupta's which is famous for its Jalebi, an Indian "fried dough".  Riding high on a sugar high, he picked up Abu then went to one of the oldest and largest Catholic cathedrals in the country, St. Philomena's to see some beautiful Gothic architecture.  It was interesting to go inside and see statues of Catholic saints and Jesus adorned with flower wreaths and people making offerings in a similar way they would at a Hindu temple.  After that, we went to Mayukh's flat (since he's a couchsurfer I met at Infosys and Vivek knew him) to hang out with his flatmates... I was supposed to see their band perform last thursday but didn't get the message in time so it was nice to finally meet them.

St. Philomena's... not my pic because we were there at night and I didn't have a camera but just so you can see

I think that's more than enough of an update for today.  It sounds like we need to go back to register online AND go back the Foreign Registration Office next week to get approval to leave the country so wish us luck.  It's a huge pain because they are only open on weekdays between 9-3:00, which is when we teach and all the instructors have to go so I'm not sure how they're going to arrange that.  I guess I should be grateful that we haven't had to deal with elephant stampedes or jaguars yet, although the students rioting at lunch when they ran out of chocolate mousse was pretty terrifying.  Bye!