10 Fascinating Things about India (and How I Got to Discover Them)

In 2009, I graduated with a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from UP Diliman, no laude, but with a prestigious award shared with two other people for having the best thesis in the campus. Barely a month after graduation, I focused all my energies into the licensure review, and four months after, passed the exam. The freedom bestowed upon me by my UP sablay and my professional license led me into spending all my time into college dancesport (of all things), and it wasn’t until six months more that I began to look for a job. In February of 2010, my heart got broken. That’s why I landed in UST Global as a software developer.

“What has love got to do with my chosen career?” you’re probably asking. Well, to tell you the truth, nothing. Nothing at all. But after a heartbreaking incident which, upon hindsight, seems laughable, I slid into depression. The kind of sorrow only young age and teenage angst could possibly bring about. I did a lot of silly stuff which I now laugh at. And then one night, my friend Dickinson called me and said the company where he worked would be holding a mass recruitment THE NEXT DAY—and that it would bring accepted applicants to India. The next morning, I was all slick, suave, and prepped up.

#FRESH. I can't believe I used to take many selfies like this. LOL
India … hmmm, now that sounded like a crazy idea at the time. Slumdog Millionaire was still fresh, and if you ask anyone of their perception of India, the word “violent” was ever-present in any discussion. Not to mention “poverty” and “stench” (yes, that’s what movies do to people). In addition, “spicy” was almost always there too, though that one I was actually excited about.

I was heartbroken. I had a diploma and incredible exam grades, but I had no job. I (foolishly and mistakenly) felt friendless. I was at odds with my family for being distant. And I had just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. Therefore I had to go to India.

I couldn’t say I was the best applicant that day, but I acted as if were. Haha! I aced the exam. I breezed through the interviews—and was, later on, handpicked by one of the top managers to be in her team! To cut the story (and my bragging) short, I was one of the people who got hired on the spot. And I did this not to actually get a job, but to GO TO INDIA. It’s funny how good I perform in miserable circumstances!

Two weeks later, my visa and passport were all ready, and I went back to the office to get my plane ticket. THIS WAS IT! I WAS GOING TO INDIA!

Then came March 2010, a group of 14 newbies, including me, flew to India—the violent, poor, smelly, and spicy country. Or at least, that’s what we’ve been told!

Aboard the luxurious Singapore Airlines plane. Unlimited alcohol. Love it!
Before going to India, I knew nothing about the country except what the movies showed me and what other people told me. And the fact that they have spicy food. And Bollywood. And gemstones on their foreheads. Apart from that, I knew zilch about the culture. And let’s face it, who among those people who told me that it was so stinky in there have actually been there?

Having witnessed it with my own eyes (and nose), I would bravely declare three things:
  • India is not for the weak-hearted.
  • Indians have a very rich culture, which reflect in their lifestyle, customs, clothing, mannerisms. They differ so much from us Filipinos in almost everything, so once there, be prepared to “be one of them”.
  • India is a fascinating country. There was so much to discover, so much to see and taste, so much to experience, that all memories of my grieving and long, lonely sleepless nights instantly vanished! Going there felt like being cleansed and getting a new start!
I applied for a job in that company without dragging anybody with me. I wanted it to be that way. I wanted a new world, new people in my life. I wanted to go far away. And all these, I got through India. In essence, I felt as if I had also eaten, prayed, and loved—except I put fiery stuff in my mouth, I prayed but not meditated, and I learned to love not someone new, but myself. Oh well, you get the gist!

And of course, I got to explore India, specifically Kerala, and its wonders! Maybe for you it’s no biggie, but for me it’s one country off the bucket list!

Kerala is a region in southwestern India, along the coast, and almost province-like. Its capital city is Thiruvananthapuram—short name Trivandrum—and it was where we stayed during our India trip. It was the 14th most populated state in all of India, but not as congested as Manila. If you’re planning to see Taj Mahal in Agra coming from Kerala, it would take you 2 days by train. There are no direct flights from Trivandrum to Agra, and vice versa.

Trivandrum was our company’s headquarters in Kerala—specifically the Technopark. The city thrives on software development and related businesses, thus they chose to train us there. Our hotel, Ginger Hotel, was a fifteen-minute walk from the park (and two minutes by the killer rickshaws, but I’m getting ahead of myself). OMG! No need for MRT!!

the Technopark
awesome view from the top floor or Bhavani building in Technopark!
elevator group shot
Being in a new city, in a new country, with a new job and new friends opened a lot of opportunities for me. Opportunities to grow. To become better. To let go of childish whims and start being professional. This trip to India changed me in so many ways. I saw, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, experienced, and learned a lot. There was no turning back after this.

Ginger Hotel, my home for 6 weeks.
unpacked my shits: clothes, shoes, and EMERGENCY INSTANT NOODLES!
my window sill
Below, I have compiled some of observations and discoveries during my 6-week stay in Kerala. That’s right, six weeks! Yes, as in 42 days! Forty-two days of incredibly humid and scorching weather. Forty-two days of eating outrageously spicy food and running to the nearest toilet two seconds after (OK, I’m exaggerating, it was only 4 days to be exact). Forty-two days in a cool boutique hotel, with a room all to myself. Forty-two days of fascination, truthfully! So here you go, the top 10 things I was enthralled about in India:

1. No means yes.

On my first day in India, I was extremely puzzled. Why was everyone shaking their heads? I asked if this was the airport’s immigration counter, they shook their heads. I asked if I could enter the gate, they shook their heads. I asked if we were already in Kerala, they shook their heads. WTF?!?!

Apparently, shaking your head left and right means yes. That’s why people answered me that way, and all this time I thought they were fucking with me. How cool, weird, and amusing.


2. Indians are not violent people.

Competitive maybe, but not violent. And I say this only when it comes to work. They are not good listeners, they don’t handle mistakes very well—no offense to my Indian friends!

Aside from that, they are generally a friendly lot. They’re hospitable and will make sure you feel at ease and welcomed. One Indian batch mate, named Anand, even invited us to their home. In an attempt to relieve us temporarily from all the chilies and masala, his mother prepared a Pinoy-like delicacy—cassava with niyog! Such a sweet gesture!

Anand :)

Another friend I wouldn’t forget would be Davis. By the second week there, I ruined the one and only pair of black shoes I brought to India. Holy shit, how could I show up in office wearing slippers or sneakers?! To my surprise, Davis hauled me into his motorcycle and raced off. I thought he was going to kidnap me, haha! The road was getting more and more deserted, and starting to resemble a jungle. Finally, we reached his apartment and he gave me a pair of shoes!

my smart and cool Indian friend Davis

3. Not all Indians are Hindu.

In Trivandrum, about 20% are actually Catholic. You could tell someone is catholic if their surname is in English, as opposed to pure Indian.


4. Crossing the roads in India is a formula for suicide.

Everyone is maniacal in the street. Not only bus and rickshaw drivers, but also the corporate people! They drive like they’re always running late. I felt like I was in Need for Speed, and to think I hated racing games! Try walking listlessly roadside and most likely you will get killed by accident!

The purveyor of death... hahaha kidding!
The fact that they’re on right-hand drive didn’t help, because it also meant I must reverse my normal way of crossing the street: look left, then right. In India, it’s the other way around. So if you accidentally looked left first, and a bus was speeding by, then good luck!

I must admit though, that riding the auto rickshaws at devilish speed was SOMETIMES pretty fun. Auto rickshaws are motor-powered, like tricycles here, as opposed to normal ones, which are like our local pedicabs. Drivers liked to show off, shouting unknown Indian words and an occasional English—and even Filipino—cussword, as winds swept our hairs off our foreheads and dried up droplets of sweat on our faces. Ahhhh, yes.



5. People from Kerala are way more alcoholic than I am.

Any store with a long queue in front of it is guaranteed to be a liquor shop. So many men fall in line as early as ten in the morning—can you believe that? Some of them even buying more than one bottle. During weekends, we would purchase some alcohol downtown and drink inside the hotel. I had the chance to get in line once, and man, it wasn’t a fun experience. It took so much time to get to the front line because of so many men bickering—about what, I didn’t now. Some of them were probably haggling? I really had no idea. Bystanders even offer to fall in line for you, in exchange of a fee. I was like, WOW.

The weekend habit.
Their local vodka tasted like death—I was actually waiting for my demise with every shot. It wasn’t particularly delicious, and the only alternative we had was Smirnoff, so what the fuck, eat like a local, drink like a local!

what happened after drinking Shark Tooth mango vodka

6. Indian food is yummy, cheap and ideal for sharing.




4 awesome dishes from one of the Kovalam beach restaurants. Forgot their names though. LOL

Let me tell you something disgusting: for the first four days in India, I had LBM. I went to the toilet like, five times a day. Whether it was because my stomach wasn’t accustomed to those kinds of spices or it was because the food was dirty, I’m not sure even until now. But after 4 days my tummy stopped acting up so I just enjoyed it.

spicy something, spicy chicken steak, spicy rice, Indian thali.
And to tell you the truth, I genuinely enjoyed Indian food. It wasn’t anything like Filipino cuisine. They serve no pork, because of their religion. There was the sporadic beef, although in these few instances, my digestive system got messed up. So for 6 weeks, I ate mostly chicken, fish and vegetables. Tikka, biryani, masala, naan, tandoori, thali. OMG! Never did I imagine I would taste authentic Indian food from India itself, not from a posh hotel buffet in Manila. I loved it!

Chicken biryani enough to feed an entire family. LOL!
Where's the chicken? They're somewhere within the huge heap of rice!
Of course there were several “American” fast food shops selling fried chicken and pizza, but that’s corny.

By cheap meal, I mean carinderia prices in Manila. Almost like a Pinoy lunch, just spicier. And sometimes, unidentifiable. Also, since it’s so spicy, a rice grain-sized piece of ulam can last you until about 2 spoonfuls of rice, so basically a 30-rupee (approx. 30 pesos) viand could be shared by 5-6 people, LOL! I’m serious!

One thing I couldn’t really absorb was that Indians loved eating with bare hands. Pinoys eat that way too, but personally I don’t do it with saucy food like adobo or caldereta, for instance. There, they don’t even have a concept of using forks when eating cakes. Welcome to India!

see what I mean? LOL

7. India has beautiful sunsets.

Kovalam beach. Sanghumukham beach. Alleppey. Stunning scenery. I will tell you more about these in my future posts. 

sunset at Kovalam beach
posing atop the lighthouse area in Kovalam beach
sunset in Sanghumukham beach
rode one of these houseboats while navigating the Alleppey backwaters

8. Bollywood and Indian music are cool and hypnotic, respectively.

With my own TV in my hotel room playing nothing but Indian channels, I was forced to watch Bollywood films sometimes. You know what? They are pretty cool! Good dancing, lively music, colorful costumes, and awesome energy! Very well-directed, these movies.

As for the music, well … they put me in a trance of some sort. If you want to doze off, listen to a few. No offense meant, but I don’t understand the lyrics after all! Oh, and one more thing, the songs playing in public transportation were from the Westlife era. Sigh.


9. Cadbury is fucking cheap, but Sunsilk is a luxury.

Cadbury at fifty pesos?! Yahoo! Sunsilk at double the Manila price? Hell, no! Which brings me to #10 below…


10. Indians smell like ginger, Pinoys smell like fish.

OK, so I admit, the smell was something we were not used to. Most Indians smell like ginger, and I could only guess it’s because of their food. While I do enjoy writing about tastes of dishes I eat, I don’t like doing the same with odors, so let’s leave it at that. In addition, their religion has something to do it as well, and I respect that. After two days there, honestly I was accustomed to the atmosphere already. No need to be fussy and act all squeamish! I mean hello, it was as if you had a choice! Would you rather die of asphyxiation?

Besides, they say Filipinos smell like fish and saltwater. So I guess all’s fair in love and odors!

~*~
With my 4th year anniversary at UST Global approaching, I thought of writing a series of posts about my India escapade. I hope you enjoyed reading about these observations and discoveries! Stay tuned for more!

pepe samson

About Pepe Samson

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8 comments :

  1. pinoys smell like fish?
    haha... no way. lol

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  2. Hi Ayan! Well I don't exactly agree, I believe I smell more like beer. :p Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! :)

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  3. sure.i was actually surfing for info on Casa Verde Manila.. i used to live in Cebu and its a favorite resto.. but havent tried the one here.. thats how i bump into your blog.. and i happen to be backpacking India later this month... haha..

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  4. Cool! I love Cebu. :) Are you going to Kerala?

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  5. im heading north. kashmir area. and maybe golden triangle...

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  6. Great! I didn't get the chance to go up north. Good luck and have an awesome trip!

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  7. AWESOME POST MY FRIEND! Love it! Feel as though I have been to India now hehehe. Plus it pretty much confirms all of my suspicions about the country. And I love your style of writing too bro -- keep up the good work! :)

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  8. Thanks Derek for reading! Hehe. I envy you because you'll see it for the first time. I mean nothing compares to the first time. Good luck to your travels!

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