UAE & India 2015
- Make Tomorrow Today, Please
- Hello Tomorrow
- Top of the World
- Feasting Like Camel Nomads
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- Saadiyat Rhymes with India
- Fifty Shades of Brown
- Yes They Do!
- The End Is A New Beginning
- UAE & India Extras
We checked into the hotel very late at night, and pre-wedding festivities were scheduled to start at noon. It would’ve been natural to take it easy, sleep in, and comfortably roll downstairs for the event. However, we were ambitious travelers and really wanted to see India outside the hotel. As such, we gave ourselves less than 5 hours to sleep, just so that we could squeeze in some sightseeing.
First, however, we had to eat. The breakfast buffet at Taj Deccan was not quite at the Park Hyatt level, but it was pretty darn good. We were in India now so the staples no longer tasted like IHOP… instead we got masala omelet, masala pancake, masala French toast, etc.
The open dining area in the atrium of the hotel was aesthetically appealing.
Freshly squeezed vegetable juice and “Indian coffee”, the latter of which Hong swore was the best coffee she had ever had.
Taj Deccan was not the fanciest hotel we’d ever stayed at, but the service was incredible – and this comes from someone who doesn’t mind services. Plenty of waiters took turns to greet our table and offered to bring us stuff that we could’ve easily fetched from the buffet. When I asked for made-to-order items at the counter, the cook would ask me to sit down and wait for him to bring it to me when ready. I usually get uncomfortable when people insist to serve me, and certainly felt out of place at some high-end establishments in the past. But somehow, right here at this hotel, everyone seemed so genuine and happy about it that all I felt was graciousness. Another cup of coffee (while my first cup was still half full)? Oh yes please thank you so much.
One of the first things we noticed about India was the relative lack of personal space. There were pros and cons to it, though for the most part we saw it as a good thing. For one, the hotel staff loved our children and randomly asked to hold them. In America, this is when you speed dial the cops while pulling out the taser. Here, well, we just pretended the waiters were our close friends. Perhaps this was why we were able to enjoy the seemingly over-the-top service: if they weren’t afraid to befriend my kids, I was fine having them bring me coffee.
Receptionist Sunita loved Xuan, who, completely out of my surprise, didn’t mind her.
Restaurant hostess and chef took Ting on a tour of the buffet so we could eat.
Another aspect of interpersonal closeness could be seen in the streets. Three adult buddies or a family of four on a single motorcycle? Yeah, there’s a certain health hazard involved. However, we put our American DMV mindset aside and thought about how such culture (or rather, inability to afford more luxurious means of travel) forced friends and families to be physically and emotionally bonded closely. Forget about morning kisses if you’d be hugging each other the whole way to school! From that perspective, it’s kind of sad that back at home, Xuan and Ting need to be strapped in their own ginormous car seats, unable to touch each other and can barely see the back of their parents’ seats. Sooner than later, they will also be each holding a mobile phone and not even saying a word to each other. The American setup is infinitely safer in the event of a crash, but so impersonal.
Can you spot a family?
After breakfast, we got a car service from the hotel and headed to Charminar, the 400-year-old structure in the center of Hyderabad and one of India’s most symbolic buildings. The founder of the city laid Charminar’s foundation himself, and commissioned the adjacent Mecca Masjid to be built.
A bit out of maintenance but the Charminar was quite impressive to look at.
Mecca Masjid was closed on Friday, the Muslim prayer day. This mosque was named after Mecca because some of its bricks were made with soil that they specifically brought in from Mecca. The sides of this building, which I unfortunately was unable to see, supposedly were carved from a single piece of granite.
Not sure what this was, but neat architecture nonetheless.
Our hotel car was parked in front of this building. The sign said it was an Ayurvedic hospital but I was pretty sure that it was a zombie-infested Resident Evil set.
Around Charminar was a busy downtown area with all sorts of street people – pedestrians, merchants, and beggars. This is where the lack of personal space was at its worst. A few beggars followed us aggressively and constantly reached out to touch us and the kids. We followed the general guideline to not give in to giving them money, though I did feel bad to hear them asking for 10 rupees. To provide context, we tipped the hotel people 200 rupees at a time without even blinking. The closest we came to danger while in India had to be running away from these beggars while carrying kids and trying not to get hit by the hundreds of auto rickshaws.
NALUGU aka FIFTY SHADES OF BROWN
After getting back to the hotel, I got a text from Dr. J to meet up in his room. For the Nalugu, the wedding party had prepared pancha, a skirt-looking wardrobe, for all the guys. Right then and there, Dr. J and his cousin Sukesh helped each of us put it on. It was entertaining as all of us American guys looked puzzled trying to walk in that thing, and the ladies took turns to laugh at us for struggling with tight long skirts.
The Nalugu was a tradition where the groom and the bride separately held pre-wedding celebrations. No idea what happened on the girl’s side, but Dr. J had to go topless to get his body painted by all the guests.
Guests mingling. None of the guys fell on his face due to tripping on the pancha, so it was a success.
Anil giving Dr. J a belly massage in the Nalugu process.
I did my part one-handed.
Lunch buffet consisted of Hyderabadi dum biriyani, the best mutton curry ever, and Indo-Chinese dishes.
At the beginning of the Nalugu ceremony, Dr. J’s uncle gave a long speech that pretty much included a full-length Christian wedding sermon. The most memorable part was that, after explaining how the ritual had to do with people’s fascination with lighter skin tones, he went into the biology of skin colors. Humans appear to have different skin colors because of the variation of melanin, natural pigments, in their skins.
If you put the white people next to a piece of white paper, you’ll know that they are not actually white. They are just less brown than us.
Conversely, the black people’s skin is not really black. They are just more brown, with more melanin in their skin.
What an enlightening perspective! This view helped with my mental consolidation of the various races into the same human being. All of us were people of color – the same color, even, just with varying shades. Hong coined the term Fifty Shades of Brown. The full spectrum of the various shades seemed present at this event, too.
In the afternoon, in order to get Xuan some milk, I walked to the nearby supermarket. It was a short walk, but crossing the street was really scary! I was so uncomfortable with it (and heck, I grew up in Taipei and NYC), that I creepishly positioned myself next to a little school girl and followed her across. Made it there and back in one piece, but phew! More on the traffic topic later.
Visiting a local grocery store while traveling always makes an interesting experience. What I found here in Hyderabad was that everything seemed… long:
A bunch of lengthy squashes.
Heck, even long pineapples!
The reception in the evening, still part of the groom-only Nalugu, was extremely fun. For one, it was just odd to see so many of our coworkers and former coworkers united in a foreign city.
The girls showing off their henna. One of them was completely sober.
Hong and Xuan.
The highlight of the night was a dance performance that the American guests put together for the groom.
Our girl was so excited to attend this “ball”, that she was disappointed to see it end. Oh well, big day tomorrow!