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Victor Huynh - Blog 2: Expectations, Assumptions and Appreciation

Victor Huynh - Blog 2: Expectations, Assumptions and Appreciation

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Nearing the completion of 2 months of my internship with the National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) and Migrant Forums in India (MFI) and living in the Kerala state capital, Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum, I have come to realize many of my expectations and assumptions of life here as false and have grown a new appreciation for southern India.

First arriving in India, I thought any major city in India would be full on and the way television depicted India. Crowded streets, mind numbing traffic, cars and motorcycles ignoring all traffic rules, and busy streets all through the night.  After a few days in Trivandrum, I quickly realized all that to be false, except how motorists ignore traffic rules… Crossing the street is still quite a challenge.  I often find myself standing at an intersection waiting even though the pedestrian crosswalk sign is lit green.  Instead, I follow crowds, or 80% of the time someone will just grab my hand and say, “come, come. Please come” and lead me across the street. Chivalry is not dead in this city.

Trivandrum is a very quiet town and resembles many of the world’s state/provincial capitals. Of the many capital cities I’ve been to, they’ve typically been a lot quieter when compared to other major cities.  Trivandrum is no different.  Shops open late, close early, and the streets empty around 8pm.  Of the people I’ve met, many say in the evenings, they prefer to stay home with their family, watch TV, go for walks, and watch films. Coming from a city with a vibrant nightlife, bar culture, an indie art scene, living in Trivandrum was going to be a tough adjustment.

My first 6 weeks in Trivandrum were overcome by an intense work schedule at NDWM/MFI.  Working 7 days a week, 10-12 hour days, I wasn’t finding much time to explore the city anyways.  Working on annual reports to secure funding for 2013, planning and co-facilitating workshops and planning a workshop in Nepal for the national coordinators of a project where we get 80% of our funding from was what I was occupying most of my time with.  However, as things have calmed down, I’ve been attending evening yoga classes, going to the gym, finding new cafes, restaurants and bakeries to try and occasionally catching a movie in the local language, Malayalam.  Of the 3 movies I’ve seen, the story line has been, boy meets girl, girl’s family disapproves, dance number, girl and boy run away, family finds them, dance number, family forgives them, dance, girl and boy get married….then another dance number.  Although the storyline in these movies have become quite predictable, everyone seems to love them nonetheless and can’t wait for the next film to come out!

Throughout my exploration of the city, I’ve met many people keen to satisfy their curiosity with me.  Upon interacting with locals, what I learned was that the quietness of the city is what people here have grown to love.  People enjoy living in a city, without the hustle and bustle of a place like Delhi, Bombay or Bengaluru, yet have all the amenities of a large city, strong political atmosphere, and an arts and culture scene.  What separates Trivandrum from many cities is its access to the ocean, greenery, ayurvedics (natural medicine), yoga, and abundance of natural beauty.   And upon deep reflection, Vancouver, the city I’ve grown up in and love, is much like Trivandrum.  It has all the amenities of a city, access to the ocean, beautiful hills and friendly people, with many places to hide from the fast pace life of a city and enough going on to satisfy one’s desire for a “city life”.  Furthermore, after complaining of Trivandrum being too quiet, I’ve come to realize that I’d probably complain about living in a city that doesn’t sleep. Here in Trivandrum, I feel like I can search for and immerse myself in a busy life or remove myself and live a quieter more relaxed life. 

Another thing I’ve really grown to appreciate is the communal and friendly atmosphere that’s associated with southern India.  From seeing strangers sharing food and their possessions on the street, people who are seated on the bus holding bags for people who are left standing, people sharing their seats and people striking up full on conversations with random people have all made me feel a sense of safety and security while living in this new environment.  Next week, I make my first venture to the north and experience Delhi. It’ll be a great opportunity to experience the culture in one tiny part of Northern India and see if it really is a whole new world in comparison to the south like many people tell me.