Everything You've Ever Read About India Is Wrong - Pt 1

My husband, an engineering and materials science professor at UNT, recently was invited to attend a conference in New Delhi, India earlier this month and I took some time off from my work and joined him.  I spent weeks beforehand scouring various travel blogs, trying to figure out what to pack. As usual, almost nothing I read was of any practical use, and off we went, having packed all the wrong things.

The first thing I would ask myself, before travelling to an unfamiliar country, is: what sort of traveler am I going to be on this trip? Every single blog, even on professional upscale business travel websites, told me to bring things like water purification systems, water purification drinking straws, tons of medications, probiotics, vaccinations to get, snacks to pack, insect repellant, and female urination devices (because there would be no toilets and I might need to pee by the roadside.) These suggestions might be helpful to you if you are backpacking, traveling through rural areas, staying in low end youth hostels, or visiting in summer, etc. For a business traveler staying in mid-range hotels, visiting universities, businesses, and tourist sites, visiting in winter,  they were un-needed space wasters in my suitcase.

Suggestions to bring American toilet paper were useful, even if only because it took up space in my suitcase, which later was available to pack souvenirs in, upon returning home. Of the 30 or so different toilets I experienced on this trip, all of them were “western” style (porcelain commodes, not holes in the ground) and at least 25 of them had toilet paper. Now, Indian tp may have been rough, but it was there. I enjoyed my super soft American style tp, but it wasn’t as necessary as I had thought. (And it must be noted, I was careful not to clog Indian toilets, as I had been warned that they couldn’t handle our tp, but to put it in the trash, instead.)

We were warned not to drink tap water: anywhere, in any form, and to pay attention to tap water in hidden forms, such as ice in drinks. We didn’t need the water purification devices. Bottled water was plentiful, provided by our hotel (two liters per person, per day), the conference itself (an unending supply of small bottles throughout the day), handed out by the bus company that drove us around, for sale at various tourist sites, restaurants, shops, etc. We ventured out on our first day, to an Indian version of a big box grocery store, aka Big Bazaar, and loaded up on more water, just in case. (Also food souvenirs to bring home as gifts.)

Hubster had a terrible time finding enough to eat, for even though he enjoys spicy foods, he hates vegetables. Our diet was 100% vegetarian northern Indian cuisine, except for one day when we played hooky from the conference, went downtown, and ate at McDonald’s. Hubs ended up eating rice and bread for a week. I followed the rules I first learned from travelling in Egypt, and have refined over the years in various Caribbean countries, Mexico, etc:  No raw lettuces, veggies, or thin-skinned fruits or vegs (carrots, onions, grapes, tomatoes, etc), only thick-skinned fruits that have been peeled (watermelons, papayas, mangoes, cucumbers, zucchini, etc). The issue here is that you don’t know if the fruits or veggies have been washed, and even if they have, the water used to wash them might not be clean. No raw milk, raw cheese or raw dairy. Pasteurized is ok. I ate cooked vegetables and rice in various curries and other Indian dishes, had egg omelets for breakfast with fresh cut papaya on the side, Indian breads, tea that had been boiled, and had a fine time. I never got “Delhi Belly”. I was also careful to wash my hands before each meal with soap, as well as my knives, forks, and spoons for the same reason as the unwashed fruits: you never know how or if they were cleaned. Our Indian friends ate with their fingers, using the bread to scoop up the food.

One smart item I packed, that I wished I had packed more of (next trip to a third world country, I will pack more) was multiple hard dry tiny hand soaps. You may be the sort who carries hand sanitizer around and squirts it on yourself all the time. Because I have an extremely complicated auto-immune disease, the advice of my own personal doctor (and my brother-in-law, also a doctor) is that for me, soap is better than hand-sanitizer. Soap also can be used for multiple things, like washing your knife, fork, and spoon as well, if you feel they look sketchy; you can use it to wash your underwear even, in a pinch. Almost on a whim I had tossed in a few tiny little bars (from my collection of toiletries lifted from other hotels – here’s a great way to use all that stuff) at the last minute, while packing. Small bottles of liquid hand soap would work as well, I just don’t like the fact that they always seem to leak into my handbag. As soon as I got there, I wished I had more soap that I didn’t mind leaving behind (hence the small soap) at various roadside restrooms, or washrooms as they are called in India. While nearly every restroom I encountered had tp, almost none had soap. Solutions abound, of course: you can lug around your shower soap, or cut it up into chunks, or your bottle of shower gel. I got tired of carrying all that stuff, was weighted down w bottles of water, as it was, and tried to lighten my load any way that I could.

A good friend also visited India, a few weeks prior to my trip; she went on a work-related trip to Bangalore. We compared notes, afterwards, and we both agreed: Call your cell phone provider, and tell them you are travelling to India (or wherever) and to update your phone plan for that country for however long you will be there. Hubster has primarily Indian grad students, who gave him lots of complicated advice about buying a burner phone to use in India, bc you use it for everything (more on that, in a minute). We skipped this advice, bc it was too complicated and we didn’t have time – hubster was there to work, after all. By simply telling our phone carrier, AT&T, that we would be in India for a week, we were charged a rate of $10/day, reasonable to us, and our phones (I have an iphone 8, hubster a new blackberry) worked seamlessly, just as if we were in the USA. This one aspect of our trip relieved a great deal of our stress and we carried on, just as we always do, looking up info as we go on the internet (What time is our flight? Which gate? Where’s the best restaurant in this neighborhood? Which are the top 10 Delhi markets? What are the hours for Big Bazaar? What’s the last late-night train?).

The most important thing we used our phones for was the uber app. Hubster’s grad students had warned us: no one uses cabs any more, everyone uses uber. We started out the very first day, asking our hotel front desk to call us a cab, and they tried, but none were available, or answered their call. So we just ubered it, all around Delhi. We were staying away from downtown, in far nw New Delhi, near the university that was hosting the conference. We ubered back and forth to “Old Delhi”: Connaught Square, and all the shops/restaurants/tourist sites in and around that area. An hour twenty-minute ride from our hotel to this area cost us about $5 US via uber. Short hops from here to there were often less than $1. You just can’t beat that. It was as easy to use as it is ta home.

My last piece of advice is: check the weather 10 day forecast for wherever you are going, and believe it. Our conference host kept telling us to pack warm woolens, because it was “ terribly, terribly cold”. The weather forecast showed highs in the 70’s, lows in the 40’s. I listened to the trip host, packed all really cold weather clothing, and was hot the entire time. 70’s/40’s might seem cold weather to a person who experiences Delhi year-round. For those of us in the USA, it feels like springtime.


How to Avoid Douche-baggery in Yourself and Others

No one wants to be thought of as a douchebag, aka what we used to call a jerk in the olden days, so to avoid having people think of you as one, you have to avoid being one. Here's how:

1) Keep your word. 
It’s simple. Say what you will do, and then do it. If you don't think you can do it, if you don't think you will remember to do it, if you don't care, or just don't want to do it, or if there’s a potential conflict - even if it develops, later - tell people. You can say so, beforehand, or halfway through, or even at the last minute. For beforehand, say, “Sorry, I can’t promise that/ do that / be responsible for that.” That’s all you have to say. If you feel you must add more, say “I’ve got something else going on then / another conflict/ other plans / can’t afford it / don't support it / it’s just not my thing.”  Even if your other plans involve a nap. For the last minute conflict, say, “ I’m sorry guys, something has come up, and I just can’t.....” The person who is afraid to say “ I really don't want to do that “ and then is late, doesn't show up, or falls through on his assigned task, is a passive-aggressive asshole. He is fooling no one but himself. Don't be that guy. No one likes him. This sort of behavior makes people twice as angry as if he’d just say Nope in the first place.

2) Pay your share. Do your share. Give your share. 
No one likes the guy who always weasels out of paying or doing his share of whatever. No one likes the guy who never has enough money or time to devote to whatever. No one likes the guy who waits till the last minute and then bungles it. No one. People remember who that guy is, and stop inviting him to participate / join in. If you are invited to participate, see #1. If you are constantly running out of funds or time, re-evaluate your priorities. If no one is inviting you to join in, ask yourself why, and start behaving better from now on.

3) Spend time in self-reflection. Figure out who you are, what you value, what you want out of life, and put your money, effort, and energies towards those goals. If you never have the money or time for “x” but wish you did, re-evaluate. Keep a budget, a ruthlessly honest one, just for yourself. Where you spend your money is what you actually value, even if you don't “think” its true. If your old goals/habits/expenses/ friends aren't getting you where you want, find new ones. Scary though it may be, it’s better to start fresh and try a different tack than be stuck, miserable and complaining, for the rest of your life. If your friends are the ones who are douchebags, find new friends. 

4) What you sow, you will reap. If friends or family matter, go out of your way to cultivate them. If a career is number one for you, hustle and work for it. My personal advice is to balance it all - a little bit for each. Not moving in the direction you wish? Keep a daily journal. Be intentional. Nothing happens if you are passive. Make yourself do one thing each day that moves you towards your goal. Keep a list of what you did in the journal. It doesn't have to be flowery, it doesn't have to be long. Bullets are ok. If you forgot to do something towards your goal today, do two, tomorrow. Make the effort, see #1, 2, and 3. Worried about the past? Don't be. Turn over a new leaf and folks will respond. Just give it time.

5) Move through the world as you wish to find it. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Create the kind of reality you wish to live in. If you want people to like you, be likable. You can't treat people like dbags then expect them to hang around forever, being nice to you. If everyone you know is a jerk, ask yourself why. You have to give, in order to get. While it feels like your life should be all about you, it isn't. Remember you are just a small piece of a larger puzzle. Nothing wrong w/ that....fit into the whole harmoniously. Don't be the piece that’s all ragged and bent and gets hammered down then thrown away and replaced bc it ‘s useless. Don't be useless. See #1,2. If you've tried these things and nothing is working, then #3. 

6) There’s an old saying : Intellegent people talk about ideas. Shallow stupid people talk about other people. Don’t be a gossip. Don’t talk trash about others. Remember, a gentleman never reveals a lady’s sectets. If you can’t say something nice about someone else, just don’t ever say anything. Mark Twain I think was the one who wrote, “Better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” 

Sent from my iPad

Letter to the Young Men I Dated in HighSchool - Another Type of #MeToo

Something has been bothering me for awhile, and it’s a New Year, a fresh start, so I figured I’d take a moment to address it. I have let it sit in my thoughts for years, but I notice from FB that you now have wives and daughters, and presumably care about the females in your lives, so I want to start a generational conversation. 

I know that at various points, either long ago or not so long ago, some of you have said to other friends within our youthful social group that I had sex or slept with you. I know this bc others in our group have told me you said it, or told me you discussed it between you. You and I both know this isn't true. I was a virgin when I graduated from high-school. We may have kissed passionately, made out, groped around and consensually explored each other’s bodies with fingers and tongues, but you know and I know there was no actual sexual intercourse between us.

I understand the male need to brag about exploits real or imagined. I understand the need to save face, to act cool, join the club, to appear more experienced than one was, to avoid the appearance of rejection, and to trash talk about girls. I totally get it. I have raised a house full of sons and watched these dynamics unfold among 16, 17, 18 year old boys, both as a parent and as a teacher- where girls in high-school are several years older, socio-emotionally, than the boys, and tease, toy and manipulate the poor hapless fellows into a variety of situations. It’s a tale as old as time, and the very reason that teenage females were married off to older males, historically. 

I do not dismiss my own role in any of this. As a 16, 17, 18 year old young woman, I had passions, too, that I did not know how to channel. The ‘70’s were an era where young ladies read “Cosmo” magazine as a lifestyle hack and thought we were liberated when we did what it suggested we do. But I also had a strong self-concept, rooted in my own ego needs as a young lady with intellectual, cultural, religious, and social goals for my life, that I somehow managed to wrangle myself into achieving. I am not ashamed of anything I have done or not done - it has made me who I am today.

I did not have brothers or a father around to look after me, when I was a teenager, to have these conversations, to advise me, or stick up for me. But I write to you today bc it does hurt, even a strong minded woman like myself who has lived a good life and is above such petty things, every single time a man talks about a woman sexually in an exploitative way, even more-so if what he says is untrue. It is a form of emotional abuse to spread lies, to engage in dismissive braggadocio sexual banter about someone other than oneself that is untrue. It is, in fact, sexual harrassment. Please look at your daughters, wives, or other female family members and ask yourself: "How would I feel if some boy she knew spoke about her this way?" What sort of world are our daughters growing up in? Let’s change it.

No apologies needed......just stop doing it. Have a conversation with the young men you know, to let them know this isn't cool, and with the young ladies you know, on how to love oneself in-spite of it.

Listen to Joe Biden here talk about the issue (paraphrasing) “the important thing is to get guys to stop the loose talk about women.” The “loose talk” in general fosters the sort of environment where women are harrassed and not believed.


How to Attend a Wedding as a Guest

I know you know all this, but a few reminders. It is not enough to show up, you must also participate. Here’s how: 

1) You shall wear a suit and tie and nice shoes, trim your hair and beard before you go. Trim your nails, wear your best underwear. You want to look sharp, successful, and smell good bc weddings are the best places to meet people, especially potential dates/ girlfriends. I know you will be polite, handsome, and charming. Dance with old ugly ladies, too. At least offer to fetch them something to eat.

2) If you have not rsvp’d to whoever sent you the invite, do so NOW. Phone call, rsvp card, email or text. Do it. They need to know BEFORE THE WEDDING how many people will be there, so they can confirm w the caterer how many plates of food will be planned for / charged to them. If no one rsvp’s but everyone shows up, it’s a disaster - not enough food. 

3) You shall bring a wedding gift that cost over $50 (Texas prices; East and West Coasts start at $100.). No exceptions. Price of admission. $50-100 is the expected price range if you don't want others to think you are a dbag. Trust me, the bride (and her friends and family) will talk about this, as well as who wore what, who was with whom, and who behaved or didn't. Your ability to follow social conventions here will determine whether you pass or fail, in terms of being admired or laughed at, invited to future other friends’ weddings/ social events, and generally considered a contender, as a man, socially. Through one’s ‘20’s, weddings become a huge part of one’s social life. The cost, and the good taste of your wedding gift sets the tone of what others will think of you.....are you white trash? Country? A hillbilly? Or are you a civilized man who sets an example? A potential good provider, desirable? You decide how others perceive you. Always better to err on the side of too much than too little.

The typical thing before buying the wedding gift is to ask someone, before the wedding weekend - ask any friends you have who are also going, female friends probably know more about this than the guys- “Where are they registered?” Typically, the bride and groom “register” a list of gift items they want to set up house -  the only time in life it is truly acceptable to do so-  at several places around town. Back in my day, it was crystal, china, and silver at a dept store like Macy’s. Nowadays, it’s more likely to be blenders, dishes, toasters etc at Target . If a friend says, “Macy's, Ikea, Crate and Barrel, and Target”, you either go online and find “wedding registries” (usually stored by name of bride and groom) at one or more of these stores, or physically walk in the store, go to customer service, and ask. Note: You don't have to buy the item there, if you can find it elsewhere for less. However, you must buy the exact item they have requested, no substitutions. 

They most likely have already had several wedding “showers”, typically small lunch or afternoon parties w cake and more gifts. (Not to be confused w bachelorette parties, which include the bridesmaids and younger friends, and involve drunken revelry.) The showers will include older female relatives as well as younger, be during the daytime, and sedate. Brides get very excited about all this. The difference between a shower gift and a wedding gift is not only price, but seriousness and good taste. Shower gifts range from small items like pot holders, kitchen utensils and measuring cups to gag items like sex toys. If you have not been invited to any of the showers, don't worry about this. Showers are often given days and weeks before the wedding, and involve mostly female relatives and friends, and small or silly gifts. 

You must still bring a wedding gift, in the $50-100 cost range, whether you were also invited to a shower, or not. You will leave it in your locked car for the wedding itself. You will walk in to the reception (the party, after the wedding), with the gift, and ask a bridesmaid, groomsman, greeter, or any old lady, “Where are we putting wedding gifts?” before you sit down, greet friends, eat, drink or do anything else. 

After you have purchased your wedding gift item, you absolutely must wrap it in wedding style wrapping paper, with a bow and a card. No exceptions. So plan on also purchasing beforehand: a roll of wedding wrapping paper. Go to the greeting cards/ wrapping paper section of the store, and find something that is not Christmas, Valentines, Birthday or Baby Shower wrapping paper- this is in the category of advanced, as you must look at the designs here, and choose. Baby shower stuff is in pastels w animal pix, birthday paper will be in bright colors, etc. Wedding wrap is often white, silver, or gold. The more minimal the design, the better. You also need  ribbon and a pre-made bow and a card. You will be judged if you do not. Go to Target to do all this - another $10. An easy classic color combo would be white wrapping paper with ribbon and bow in another color- anything but black. The card is essential - tape it on strongly- bc later, after the wedding, the bride will write thank you notes, and she needs the card to tell her who gave her what. This is where the gossip mill spreads around who gave an acceptable gift, and who did not. If you ever want to be invited to future friends’ weddings, or hook up w the bride and groom's friends socially in the future, don't cheap out. Everyone will know.

Ok, lets say you can’t find where they are registered or you are too lazy, and want to give cash or a gift card. YOU MUST SPEND MORE ON CASH OR A GIFT CARD THAN YOU WOULD ON A GIFT. $75 is the minimum here. $100 is better.

If you decide that you need an all purpose tasteful wedding gift, can't track down the registry, or don't know what to buy, here are your best options: crystal bowls, silver candlesticks, high end cookwear like caphalon or le crueset. Buy one large skillet or a griddle or a dutch oven. Ask for a “gift receipt” (a receipt that does not show the price) when you buy it, and include it with the gift when you wrap it. This way, if the bride hates it, she can exchange it. But no matter what you do, she’s gonna know how much you spent. Stick to $50 minimum.

When dad and I got married, I did not register (long story, I was just coming off my divorce and felt it was in poor taste.) All my friends knew that.....but all of dad’s friends did not. They were determined to give us nice gifts, bc over the years, dad had given them nice gifts for their weddings. It is part of the civilized social exchange under which we live. So instead of the china pattern place settings people typically receive for wedding presents, we ended up with a ton of crystal bowls, silver candlesticks, vases, etc. Even my students at the time gave me gifts. The gifts we liked the most and used the most were the caphalon cooking pan set and a set of high end kitchen knives. We also received tons of random stuff from Crate and Barrel and the Waterford-Wedgwood store. When I need to buy a wedding gift, if I do not know the couple and what they want/where they are registered, I give them a beautiful large crystal serving bowl. When friends have a house-warming party (similar to a non wedding gift occasion) , I give a Le Crueset dutch oven in their favorite color.

Most of all, have fun! Be charming to the old ladies, yes, they are judging you.