IrWhine – The First Week


So it’s nearly been a week since I got here. It’s rather hard to get close to a computer so far, considering summer break’s still on, and Fall Quarter starts only 23rd. So labs are all closed, and the libraries open only some hours of the day. And, there’s been lots to do.

Car Car Car Car Ell-nodi car.

Remember that Kannada song that went like “Sontakk-beltu kattikondu / Freeway-nalli haarikondu / Exit-alli jaarikoLtaaro” ? Well, all the lyrics are true. You are dead here without a car. The distances are just a few minutes away by car, but unless you happen to be PT Usha, you can’t even begin to hope to cover the distances in less than an hour. Public transport is decent, but the frequency SUCKS. I feel more so because I’m more used to Bangalore’s awesome BMTC, with it’s awesome frequency and service.

And since everything is optimized for folks with a car, and everyone (other than me) has a phone with GPS, people generally don’t know to give public transport directions or walking directions. So this Chinese lady was accosted by four rather scruffy-looking Indian girls (us), and asked, “Is this the way to Tustin District?”, and I think she got freaked enough to just say yes and shake us off. But it turned out, that was NOT the way to Tustin District. We ended up walking thrice the amount we were supposed to. So that lady earned the ire of all four of us, who wished she soon crashed her car on the San Diego Freeway, lost her license and was condemned to use public transportation for the rest of her life.

There was one other time when we had to get to this place called Quail Hill, and took the bus going in the wrong direction. We stopped two ladies crossing the road to ask for directions. One of them said “Hmm… where is your car?”. We obv said “We don’t have one”. She was LITERALLY taken aback before saying “I don’t know how you’ll do it, but cross the Freeway and get to Sand Canyon”. Driving directions for people on foot. Phew!

A side effect of walking around so much in the bright California sun is that I’m very tanned. Very very. My mother would really curse this place and lament about who would marry her dark daughter who’s been burnt coal-black in a place which has no fairness creams.

Hiee! How’re you doo-innnngg!

The first thing you’ll notice is people are VERY polite to you. We went to a hardware store and asked the guy if we could get a key duplicated. He said “Sure! I’d LOVE to!”. The bus drivers wish you a good morning. The guy who  bags your groceries wishes you a good day. Random people on the street stop to enquire about you. Old ladies crossing the road with you tell you about their children and grandchildren. Everyone makes eye contact, everyone smiles.

I likes the Eendian Curry.

One look at me, and everyone asks me if I’m Indian. Other Indians quickly strike up a conversation here. And folks of other nationalities too. There was one Turkish lady who taught dancing at the school here, and a Tunisian woman who was learning English to take up TOEFL. There are many people of Chinese origin… it’s after all the University of Chinese Immigrants.

One Chinese-American old lady caught hold of me while I was waiting for the bus on Sunday, and said she likes the Eendian Curry, lamented that these forks and knives here are not enough to take big mouthfuls when you’re hungry. She likes eating from banana leaves, and described in detail how she rips apart the chicken served to her on a banana leaf with nothing but her fingers and teeth. She hated American Indian Curry, it’s not spicy enough.

And then she proceeded to educate me about the ‘Cast’ system:

In Eendia, you have the Cast. C-A-S-T. There is Tamil, there is Punjabi. Tamil-Punjabi no marry. Punjabi-Tamil, no marry. Only Tamil-Tamil marry.

I asked her if she’d like to marry a Tunisian, or a Japanese… and said the country is pretty diverse and people prefer marrying someone they have more in common with in terms of lifestyle. And that it’s been ages since we folks said balls to the Cast system, it’s about time everyone else does too.

And she had so much ire about the system, it scared me. And the loneliness was so palpable in her voice… talking absolute random stuff about yourself to the first stranger you meet…. I was scared she’d come home with me and ask me to make her curry.

Irvine chaala baagundhi

The omnipresent Gult community. Most of them working here. God, how many of them! Clad in sarees and salwars, and even nighties, they make me feel at home, and tell me how to make ghee from butter, what fruits to buy in what seasons, and a load of other timepass stuff.

Down in the dumpsters

People here discard a lot of good stuff. They don’t have the middleClass Indian mentality here. And also, when they are moving house, it sometimes turns out cheaper to discard furniture than to haul it along.
So a senior said the best way to find these pieces is to talk an after-dinner walk around the block. We did.

Within three hours, our bare house had a couch, a center table, a writing table, a bookshelf and a vacuum cleaner [which we discarded because the plug was broken and beyond repair].

…And other stuff

I’m managing cooking fine. My roommates cook well. There’s hardly a moment to myself, so I don’t yet feel lonely or homesick. I don’t yet have a laptop… I’m waiting for a Dellivery. I’m also waiting to pile up clothes so that I can finally go to the laundry and feel that my $3 was well-spent. I don’t have that much of antipathy towards Pakis anymore, considering a few of them helped me out when I was lost on campus.

The place is quite costly, and we keep mentally converting everything into Indian currency. I find I like Mexican food, and am rather glad for the proximity to Mexico, coz the green chillies are hot enough. Unlike other places where the ‘HOT’ salsa sauce will be extremely mild.

The pizzas are a blessing, and ‘No Meat, No Seafood’ has become my catchphrase in restaurants.

The South-East Asians shock me with their flawless skin, and I wonder what they do to keep it so untanned. I find there are a lot of people just like me walking around on campus on a Sunday morning taking random pictures. There are a lot of beautiful rose gardens on campus. The birds aren’t as scared of my camera as they used to be in India.

I see so many maple leaves here, it feels like I’m walking on the sets of Mohabbatein all the time.

I also seem very impressionable… when someone talks to me in an accent, I tend to talk back in that same accent… it’s unconscious. I’m sure I’m going to get killed one day or the other. Though not as brutally as that Indian on the Cathay flight who said “Ching-chong chinky monkey”.

That’s it for now. I’m rather hungry, and need to go get some lunch. Sorry, make that PREPARE some lunch.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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17 Responses to IrWhine – The First Week

  1. Usha says:

    Yay! Pri’s first blog in US of A. Love it as always… need to see more. Also post pics!!!

  2. Karthik says:

    Sunscreen. Loads of sunscreen.

    It’s only California, though. I spent half a day in the sun there and my shins (the only exposed sunscreen-less bits) were red by the end of the day.

    “The first thing you’ll notice is people are VERY polite to you.”
    I know! In one of the orientations I attended, international students were specifically told that Americans being friendly to you and Americans being friends with you are _very_ different things, so don’t jump to conclusions. I got used to it rather quickly; the politeness rubs off on you.

    “I also seem very impressionable… when someone talks to me in an accent, I tend to talk back in that same accent.”
    You can do accents? Incidentally, you might find this interesting.

    The car thing plagued me until I figured out the bus system. It’s not that big a problem- grocery shopping is a finely coordinated, planned activity, that’s all.

    These posts are a lot of fun to read, please keep them coming!

  3. Srikanth says:

    Nice post 🙂

    I am sure a lot of advice is coming your way from Indian & non-Indian current/former students… but just wanted to point out to you that “vegetarian” soups *can* contain chicken stock as base. You won’t know unless you ask. 🙂

  4. Logik says:

    Nice post.. put some more when you find time..

    A whole lot of typecasting going on.. Chinese this, gulty that. awesome fun.

    the tanning bit seems funny. kinda reminds me of that Friends episode with Ross getting tanned 🙂 . Time to stock up on sunscreen, hehe…

    I never liked the ‘talking to strangers’ bit. Must feel strange if you can’t avoid it.

    • wanderlust says:

      yes. Wear. Sunscreen. like Baz Luhrmann said.
      I would have said Dig, Tam, German, all that… but I haven’t met many of those. Thankfully a bunch from Bangalore is around, so I won’t lose my bangalore accent. we all say “Oh, like that, scene” and “whatae” every now and then, so my sanity is intact.
      talking to strangers is okay…. maybe im a bit more talkative with strangers than the others with me. none of the other indians with me here reported similar experiences. But then again, most of them move in packs, I walk alone.
      Like Rajini said, ‘singam single-aa thaan varum’.

  5. Sunil Khajone says:

    Kool …. all the best for the coming future 🙂

  6. Malaveeka says:

    I don’t like the politeness. I find it incredibly intrusive and annoying that someone/anyone/everyone do the ‘Good Morning. Lovely day’ thing. Leave me alone. Maybe I’m very Indian in the way that I don’t like to greet but I don’t mind gosspiping. 🙂

    Another thing, maintain the queue. They HATE it when people break lines. I remember when I came back from the US (after two weeks), I was so angry wih people who cut lines.

    You will never eat a Pizza/drink American coffee in two weeks. Believe you me.

    • wanderlust says:

      see what pisses me off is that they have a low tolerance for raised voices. bunch of us rowdy giggly tired indian students in a bus, and the entire bus was staring at us.
      all other rules, regulations and all that is fine, not a problem following that. and i am hoping i don’t lose the magical ability to cross bannerghatta road in peak traffic.
      pizza is very occasional. we are a bunch of four indian-food-loving girls, so everyday is an experiment in something indian we haven’t yet made. eating out is occasional… and VERY EXPENSIVE.

  7. Malaveeka says:

    gossiping*

    pizza**

  8. Shreevatsa says:

    The automobile dependency in the US (outside of some pockets like NYC, or small cities like Boston) means that few people can give directions other than driving directions… and with GPS getting pervasive, often not even that. 🙂

    Bus drivers are fine, but I do get annoyed by the civility glut from people at the grocery store. (provision shop? 🙂 ) Somehow all this greeting of strangers didn’t bother me in France… perhaps because “Bonjour” was about the only word I could say. In the US, I even used to find the “thank you, I appreciate it” to be judgemental and offensive, but now I’m come to accept that it means nothing.

    Talking to strangers isn’t necessarily loneliness. 🙂

    I don’t think what you call “middleClass Indian mentality” is restricted to the middle-class… or to India. In any case, it ought to be a shining example to the rest of the world 😛 All the wastefulness in the US is shocking; the amount of garbage produced per person. (And futile attempts to compensate with things like recycling: Reduce > Reuse > Recycle :p)

    (Also, previous post: country of low-voiced people?!)

    • wanderlust says:

      nice links. as usual.
      i did not mean the middleClass mentality in a derogatory way. i’m rather SHOCKED by the waste here. instead of sweeping leaves away, or just leaving them be [pun?], they use LEAF BLOWERS. what a colossal waste of power.
      and so many eucalyptus trees! they suck out ALL the groundwater, and don’t do anything to make it worth it. and you have sprinklers operating twice a day to water the remaining plants.
      and hell, this is next to the desert, for godsake.
      seriously, we are a shining example to the rest of the world.
      now it pisses me off even more to hear of ‘indian weddings, so lavish, how much of food is wasted’ etc etc.

  9. Awesome post! As I read your post, my own memories of those first days in the US came along — just that I have not penned them down as you wonderfully have. 🙂

  10. Magnus says:

    You should have asked the Chinese lady to read Chetan Bhagat’s 2 states. Might give her a heart attack. One also wonders how the golts are pervaded every single part of the world, and they still have enough people left to fight for a new state.

    Nice post btw. Happened to run into it!

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