Greetings from Hyderabad, where I've been spending the past week visiting EMRI. This is my first time traveling to India, and the trip has been both busy (due to work and travel) as well as refreshing.
Having spent considerable time in China, I figured that little would surprise me about India. This has generally held true, although there have been some eye openers.
First things first: the traffic. Given the population density and a relative lack of policing, it's not surprising that traffic conditions are a bit hectic. But it still caught me off guard to see cars driving against the flow of traffic, or the numerous pedestrians crossing the street through traffic.
The next key topic, of course, is the food. As I've come to understand, the majority of "authentic" Indian cuisine in the US are north Indian. Hyderabad is located in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which is considered south Indian. Most dishes here are so-called wet dishes, and thus must be eaten with rice or bread. The food has been delicious, although I'm not used to eating such a large amount of carbohydrates. Most meals are served with a huge bowl of rice per person (of which I typically only eat a small fraction, which feels a bit wasteful).
Almost all dishes are spicy, so we typically eat a small amount of yogurt or curd at the end of meals to help ease digestion. Even breakfast foods are spicy! I do love spicy food, so it's been largely enjoyable, with the single exception being the tandoori seekh kebab I had as a late night snack. Don't try that one at home, kids.
As part of the CMU contingent, I've had the pleasure of meeting a number of government officials of Andra Pradesh (including the collector). It seems everyone gives out business cards at such meetings, which unfortunately left me out of the loop in that particular social exchange. Being too reliant on the digital world has its drawbacks when traveling beyond its confines.
I've been having some trouble understanding the Indian version of English (or Hindish). The regular lexicon is a bit different (for example, they use "revert" instead of "reply" when writing emails), which simply takes time to get accustomed to. The more challenging part is when people speak half-Hindi half-English, or Hindi-slurred English, phrases that I have simply no hope in comprehending. I imagine I'd be in a similar boat in Singapore with the Singaporeans' Chinese/English hybrid Singlish language (even though I speak both Chinese and English).
I've also been pleasantly amused to be mistaken by some locals as being from northeastern India (basically on the border with Nepal). I don't think I look very Nepalese, but I suppose such a mistaken association is understandable with people who don't have much exposure. (Aside story: when my very Caucasian friend John Carrino visited China with me in 2008, my aunt managed to convince some poor peddler that John was a family member of ours from western China, where people are more Turkish than Chinese).
[EDIT] It turns out the joke's on me. I was likely confused for people from Arunachal Pradesh, which is located on the far northeastern handle of India past Bangladesh and bordering on China and Burma.
I travel back to the US in a few days to celebrate the holidays. Fortunately, my family now lives in Phoenix, so I can ease the transition back to cold weather climates. Winters in Hyderabad are very mild, with temperatures in the high 70s and into the 80s, which makes it a great place to visit during the winter (and I imagine a pretty miserable place during the summer).