How moving to India taught Sayo Osine to be patient.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Sayo Osine moved to India from Japan, one year ago, to be with her husband. Though not too keen about living in India, initially, living in Gurgaon—the infrastructure and the varieties of international cuisine, changed her mind. She spends her time traveling and learning to read and write in Hindi!

Have you experienced the expat life elsewhere, how different is it from here?

I worked in Hong Kong a few years ago. Hong Kong is an international city, and since it is a duty-free city, you can find a lot of foreign products at reasonable prices. Besides that, you can reach anywhere by metro, bus, and taxi within one hour. On the other hand, in India, imported products are sold at unbelievable prices because of the high duty rate, and we cannot go everywhere easily as the mode of transportation is limited, and usually, the services are delayed.

In fact, the Japanese community here face the same kind of inconvenience and stress, but we can all become closer by sharing these struggles.

Many expats we’ve spoken to said that it’s tough to meet people and make friends here, do you share this struggle too?

Since people from different countries have different cultural backgrounds, we may think it is difficult to make friends. In fact, the Japanese community here face the same kind of inconvenience and stress, but we can all become closer by sharing these struggles. So, we should always be open-minded.

How do you spend your time here?

I take Hindi classes. It’s handy, especially in negotiating prices at the local market, and in communicating with the handymen, the drivers, and the maid. Whenever I’m able to read the Hindi letters written in shops, I get really impressed with myself.

Other than that, my husband and I travel a lot. India is a huge country and has a fascinating culture that differs from region to region. Moreover, there are so many other countries close to India. It’s very easy to travel to places I’ve never been to, such as the Middle East, South Asia, and the islands in the Indian Ocean.

India is a dynamic and adventurous country. You can enjoy India, but take care of your health and safety.

If you can give one advice to expats moving to India, what would it be?

India is a dynamic and adventurous country. You can enjoy India, but take care of your health and safety. Don’t be afraid! Here, we can find a lot of beautiful things!

Every expat impacts the local community in one way or the other, but at the same time, a host country also influences the life of an expat. How was living in India made a difference in yours?

I learned to be extremely patient. Whether it’s a grocery store, post office, or even the airport, you always find long queues. Everything is delayed from transport, delivery of items to a repairman. With these experiences, I learned how to wait patiently. As a result, I know how to control my feelings, and my life became less frustrated and peaceful.

The Holi story, or should I say stories?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Like any other expat, Indian festivals fascinate me. They are always loud, colourful, and full of life. However, the one that stands out to me the most, and in fact, the most colourful celebration of them all is Holi. But why is Holi such a big deal anyway? Let’s break it down.

The legend goes like this; there was a king who demanded to be worshipped as a god. He couldn’t be killed by man nor by an animal, in the morning nor at night, inside nor outside the house. However, his son chose to disobey him and continued to worship Vishnu; because of this, his dad punished him by burning him. The king’s sister, who had a cloak that protects her from fire, tricked the boy into sitting with her on the pyre. Nevertheless, when the fire was lit, the cloak flew from her and covered the boy instead. The boy lived. The god Vishnu later killed the king in the afternoon, in his doorway, while appearing in the avatar who is half man and half lion. And thus, Holi is celebrated.

Now, if you’re wondering, “but how does the colour fit in?” Well, brace yourselves, because there are more legends to Holi! According to another story, Krishna was feeling a little insecure about reaching out to a girl, because of his blue skin. His mother encouraged him and told him to throw any colour he wanted to this girl so that she will be colourful too! Ever since then, the playful act of putting colour on each other became a major festival!

No matter what the actual story is, this festival seems to bring people from different cultures and walks of life together. In my first Holi here, I was beyond thrilled with the idea of participating in it; however, I did not know where or how to celebrate it. So, I spoke about it to my friends, both Indians and fellow expats, and we found ourselves at an event at one of the farmhouses in the city.

No matter what the actual story is, this festival seems to bring people from different cultures and walks of life together.

The holi story 2

What really made an impression on me was how colours were flying everywhere! Friends or strangers, no one minded it, and truth be told, everyone seemed to be delighted to have colour smeared on their faces! It was as if we were all the same, for once, our differences did not matter. I guess during Holi, there is solidarity amongst everyone celebrating it—I colour your face, you colour mine. Just like that, a bond is created.

I might not know the real story behind Holi, or understand it, but for me, Holi presents itself as a time to spread joy, create bonds, and share with the locals their culture, as well as their zest for life, which basically defines everyday life in India!

…everyone seemed to be delighted to have colour smeared on their faces! It was as if we were all the same, for once, our differences did not matter. I guess during Holi, there is solidarity amongst everyone celebrating it—I colour your face, you colour mine. Just like that, a bond is created.

Five local indie artists you should listen to.

Reading Time: < 1 minute

When I first came to India, six months ago, I was quite excited to immerse myself into the culture by watching Bollywood and listening to Hindi music—this was the best way, I thought. However, it was a total fail because three months down the road, when homesickness hit me, I began craving for something closer to home. After a night out with friends at the Piano Man Jazz Bar in Gurgaon, and heard some local artists perform, I went into a frenzy looking for more Indian artists to listen to.

Here are some that I’ve come across, and have grown to love:

1. Aman Mahajan

A pianist and a composer, Aman  Mahajan released an album called Refuge in 2019. He is based in Bangalore but performs in Delhi often too.

2. Prateek Kuhad

Prateek Kuhad’s name was one of the first names mentioned when I asked my Indian friends about singers I should listen to from India. He has even won several international awards!

3. Tanya Nambiar

I came across Tanya Nambiar on YouTube, and immediately got hooked!

4. When Chai Meets Toast

Again, another band I found while browsing through YouTube, When Chai Meets Toast does an interesting blend of Western folk music with different Indian languages!

5. Lucia

 

When Lucia sings, the room listens. I heard her do an impromptu performance with Aman Mahajan a few months ago, in Delhi, and was blown away!

 

Claudia Villianueva Shares Why Living in India Shapes us as a Person

Reading Time: 3 minutes

An expat for almost 12 years, Guatemalan born Claudia Villanueva lived in the US with her husband, and about three years in India. She and her husband moved to India in 2016, and was immediately startled by how noisy the country is. She’s studying for a master’s degree and has moved to Indonesia with her family.

Besides the noise, what were the other things that took you by surprise, and has your impression of India changed at all?

I think the smell and the dirtiness were a big challenge because I have kids, who are 6 and 12 years old, but when we arrived here, they were 3 and 9 years old, so they were young! If you walk outside, you see the dirtiness and the poop of the cows and the goats, as a mother, it worries me. Another concern is the recklessness of people while driving! A couple of times we saw the monkeys near our windows, my daughter was playing in the bedroom, she saw the monkey and called us, we immediately rushed to her.

Of course, my perception changed. I started enjoying my stay here after six months. India is a very different country compared to what we have seen before, and this made us who we really are; it helped us get closer to ourselves. It helps to look for your community; as a Latina, I am part of a WhatsApp group. There are about 200 hundred people from different countries of Latin America, through the group we connect and help each other and I appreciate that.

India is a very different country compared to what we have seen before, and this made us who we really are; it helped us get closer to ourselves.

What would you say are the best and the worst things about living in India?

The best thing for me is being able to experience a different culture. It’s also great to meet new people and build relationships; this for me, is most satisfying. Unfortunately, most of them have left the country. It took me almost six months, but I made friends. They were all from different parts of South America, like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and Salvador.
Another great thing that happened to us is that we don’t need that much meat now. We are mostly vegetarian now; it is not something that bothers us anymore. We enjoy whatever we have.

The worst thing would be how living here can get frustrating and how women are treated here! Indian men ignore us when we say something. The other thing I dislike is not having the liberty of wearing what you want—the fact that you have to cover yourself till the knee. I think there is hypocrisy. I just don’t get it, Bollywood movies, show women in different types of clothing!

Do you also watch Bollywood movies?

I have watched a few, but not too much because of the language; we look for the one with English subtitles. My husband and I both enjoy it; sometimes, however, you can see a lot of green screens, but they are good movies. I remember we spent an entire Saturday watching Hindi movies because we just couldn’t stop!

What are struggles you’ve come across being an expat for so long?

After having spent so much time away from my home country, of course, I miss it. Sometimes, you just wish to be there, but then you get adjusted to this kind of life. You learn to balance things, and it gets better. One of the worst things for people like me who have kids is getting them attached to their country. It’s a challenge familiarizing them with their roots because we don’t live anywhere near it. Nevertheless, I try to make them listen to the National anthem, and show them videos of family, and teach them different values from home.
One of the most painful experiences I’ve had was losing my mom last year, and I couldn’t be there to take care of her during her illness.

One of the worst things for people like me who have kids, is getting them attached to their country. It’s a challenge familiarizing them with their roots because we don’t live anywhere near it.

Do you have any advice for new expats in India?

In India, you see things that you wouldn’t have imagined, and anything could happen here. I think you just have to learn to let it go; it will pass eventually. Don’t stick to your first impression about this country, rather enjoy the beauty of India. Always take precautions, especially when it comes to the food, even my husband struggled with Delhi Belly.

Finding your tribe in crowded Delhi.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The idea of living as an expat is often seen through rose-colored glasses. It’s considered to be a chance of a lifetime, “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” as many of you have told us. It’s an opportunity to learn, to travel, to experience new cultures, and to meet new people. I don’t disagree; it is a great way to see the world and be a part of the global community. However, being an expat also has its drawbacks such as culture shock, illness, and one aspect that we almost never talk about, loneliness.

However, being an expat also has its drawbacks such as culture shock, illness, and one aspect that we almost never talk about, loneliness.

Though the existence of social media makes it easier for us to be in touch with family and friends back home, as human beings, we also crave to connect and build relationships in the countries we are based in. Someone to on a run with, grab drinks with,  or rant to when things aren’t going well— we all need that support system. What’s more, whether you’re extroverted or introverted, an INFP or an ESTP, building these connections aren’t always easy. So often, we all have the same barriers to cross before finding our places in the foreign countries we momentarily call home.

Finding the core issue.

In a survey we conducted before the launch of the magazine, we found out that one of the top five concerns of expats, living in India, was their social life, and over 60% of expats expressed the desire to attend events where they can meet other expats as well. In addition to this, over the past couple of months, WTE team have met with and spoken to expats from different countries and walks of life, and except for a handful of people, most mentioned that they’ve struggled to form meaningful relationships, for multiple reasons— language, busy work schedules, culture, and worldview. However, we were mostly baffled by how some expressed they haven’t been able to build genuine relationships despite having lived in India for a decade or more.  So, we put our heads together, read up a lot, and explored this issue deeper with some of you.

At the risk of sounding a cliché, no human’s an island— we are inherently social beings. No matter how introverted we are, at some point, we will crave human interaction. So, when that emotional need isn’t met, we are left with a gaping hole that we desperately try to fill— some of us go out partying it up every night, while some swipe left and right trying to find companionship, and some, throw ourselves into work and travel. The truth of the matter is, expat life can be quite lonely.

A lot of our readings pointed to language and culture as the causes of the issue; we believe it goes beyond that. In an interview, WTE contributor, Ranjit Atwal said, “I thought India would be easier because there won’t be a language barrier, but it turns out language barrier is not the thing that determines the friendship or not, it’s just an attitude, a way of thinking, and a general acceptance of the world,” which largely resonated with what we felt the core issue was. This also explains why a lot of times, we get stuck within the expat bubble and sometimes, refuse to step out of it. Expats, to a certain extent, understand each other because we’ve been through similar experiences. Hence, despite coming from different cultures and nationalities, we always have a sense of camaraderie. This bubble has always been painted in a negative form, we’ve always been asked to step out of it, but if worldview is the core barrier, maybe the bubble isn’t as bad as it sounds? It’s perhaps even necessary, a stepping stone, if we can call it, as we venture out and explore a new culture.

Expats, to a certain extent, understand each other because we’ve been through similar experiences. Hence, despite coming from different cultures and nationalities, we always have a sense of camaraderie.

Finding your tribe in Delhi

Finding a solution.

To be honest, there is no one formula for building relationships in India, or anywhere in the world, for that matter. However, there always is a starting point, and that point will differ from person to person. It could be a casual coffee with your colleague from work, fellow expat or not, or that Facebook group you’ve just joined, or Sunday mass, and even that dating app you’ve downloaded to experience the dating scene in India.

If you ask me, take advantage of the expat bubble, but don’t limit yourself to that. Once in a while, it’s healthy to step out and experience India with the locals too. We all know that they will know better about their culture and country! Branch out where ever you can, and soon enough, you will find likeminded people. It might take some time, but it’s not impossible.

 

 

Reshaping the floral industry in India one bouquet at a time, Svetlana Bakshi.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

With a lot of questions in mind, Russian born Svetlana Bakshi, landed in India for the first time ten years ago, exploring the country with her friend. She has been living in India for four years now and is the artist behind the Secret Garden Flora, an artisanal floral shop based in Delhi.

Tell us something about yourself?

As a person, I’m a perfectionist, and this is both good and bad because a lot of people get irritated by me, but this is how I am, I like it perfect. I feel satisfaction when I see perfect things, and that is what my bouquets are all about. I want to be around good people as you always learn something new from them, along with getting positive vibes. I like to observe things, and I think that’s why I came to India. There are always a lot of questions in my head about life, how? What? Where? So many questions and no answers. And while thinking about all those, I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.

…I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.

 

You said that you asked yourself a lot of questions and you found your answer, what were they and what were the answers?

My questions were about life in general. Like how everything works, about the relationship, partnership. When you turn a certain age, you begin asking yourself what you’ve achieved in your life and what to do in the future also. When I shifted here, I realized so much go around in life, that too, simultaneously. Sometimes I like to sit in the car when my husband is out and about buying stuff; I just observe things in general all around. Someone is sleeping, someone is standing there, and someone is riding a bicycle. So many things are happening at the same time, it’s so beautiful. So, in this way, I came here and found so many answers to my personal questions, but I still have so many questions like how to be happy? How to find balance? How to be patient? I believe India teaches us to be patient. Everything is so slow compared to Moscow, as I feel everything was fast there.

What did you think of India on your first visit, and has it changed at all after four years?

It was almost ten years back when I came to India! And of course, I was impressed. At that time, we (my friend and I) were 20 years old, and it was my first trip abroad with friends. It was a dream to come true for her; I was just tagging along. When we arrived here, it was a shock. We could already breathe in a different smell just by exiting the plane— I loved it. I still love coming out of my house to smell it. My husband doesn’t understand. He is like, “what smell?”

We reached late in the night at our hotel, we tried to sleep, but the constant noise from outside kept us awake. We came as backpackers, without tour package, and were by ourselves. There were so many things going on all at once; it was both fascinating and overwhelming. But I can’t judge; it’s a different place, people here have their own life, culture, mentality, and traditions. And of course, it impresses me because it’s so different! There are so many different nationalities together, in one small place.

What was a culture shock that got you, and how did you get over it?

I think the lack of manners and basic etiquettes really shocked me, and I’m still not used to it. The worst is men peeing and people spitting on roads. The other thing that annoys me is when people organize a free-food service to feed, but when everyone leaves, the place is full of garbage. It’s such a mess already and then all those cows, rats and dogs eating it. It’s crazy.

Svetlana Bakshi

How did Secret Garden Flora come to life?

Everything was done by Vidur, my husband, and me. I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood. In Moscow, I worked for a corporate company, and right next to our office was a massive market of flowers. Whenever my colleagues and I went to a party or a birthday occasion, we would go to this market, pick up flowers, and made our bouquets. I never bought readymade bouquets from the shops because they were never perfect. I always prefer getting custom bouquets. The 8th of March is the International woman’s day, and a holiday in Russia. On this day, you will find tulips everywhere. I went to the market to pick up flowers for my mother and sisters and made bouquets for them. Everyone wanted to know where I bought them from and how much it was. I told them the price, but they started complaining that it was too expensive. I make artful bouquets, and they might be quite expensive, but they are worth it.

I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood.

For two years, after getting married and moving here, I thought about what to do. I was still adapting, so I didn’t really think about flowers, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And you know, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always dreamt of having a supportive husband. Vidur understands when I don’t like how something looks; he gets it; I don’t even know how, but he just does. We are talented in different ways; however, when we put our talents together, we become a strong team.

Svetlana Bakshi

We noticed you use a lot of flowers that aren’t available in the local floral shops, and flowers we didn’t know we could find in India! How do you find them?

When we were building our business, we also developed a relationship with suppliers who work in flower export and import industry from around the world. The situation of the flower industry in India right now is like how it used to be in the ’90s, in Russia. The choice here is mostly lilac, roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. However, since I like flowers, and I saw so many beautiful flowers, unique and colorful shades in just one flower, I wanted more than what was offered. This was when we started researching on how to import flowers. I also went to floristry school, where I learned what flowers exist in different parts of the world and which one you can use for making bouquets. When we built a strong relationship with suppliers, we were able to purchase everything in quantity because you can buy these kinds of flowers only as a business or if you have a shop. Sometimes if you want a unique flower, a particular color, the suppliers will let you. However, they will also demand that you 50 pieces of them, so we have to the minimum they ask for. When we started, there were maybe five companies that sold flower bouquets online. Now, it’s growing. This is why I say it’s like the ’90s in Moscow when this business had just started.

I respect everyone who is in this business because I know the massive work behind creating a bouquet. Suppliers throw tons of flowers. For me, it’s very personal, and I try to reduce any wastage if any.

Can you walk us through the thought process before designing a bouquet, to putting them together?

It’s an interesting question because I think it comes naturally; you don’t have to observe much. For example, in the market, when I choose flowers, I do not follow a recipe, because it’s a little different. You just have to see the color combination and what shades would be in harmony with each other. However, there are techniques to make bouquets, so you have to decide which one to follow.

In terms of putting them together, I get inspiration from nature itself. I take pictures for me to remember the shades of a tree, or a specific location and note it down. I think people like the bouquets when they look more natural; they don’t appreciate artificial bouquets. Of course, everyone is different, but I’m talking mostly about our audience. They understand the beauty of these things that how everything is put together.

Now it’s all online, so every morning, I take my inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and other websites. I follow different pages. In the beginning, it was hard because I didn’t get visual inspiration, but day by day, when you search for more and more visual art, you start getting ideas, and then when you start doing, you already know what to do. Nevertheless, while making a bouquet, it’s better to see and feel things in person. Sometimes when you see a flower, it’ll look beautiful, but when added to a bunch of flowers, it doesn’t look great. And there is a reason behind. You have to know the technics of floristry. If you take it lightly and bind a bunch of flowers, you get anything but a bouquet.

If you could describe India through a bouquet, what would it look like?

I think it will be something in bright orange or bright pink and red. It will definitely be very colorful, with many textures, like India is for me. It’s an excellent question because, in some way, you are guiding me, and I will now research about this!

Svetlana Bakshi

Being a florist in India, what do you think about your industry, the work culture in India, and then in general?

Floristry is growing, but it’s still like in the ’90s. So, there is a lot of room for growth. Competitors are also increasing day by day. Nonetheless, I think it will be interesting to make a community of florists. Currently, the florists here are not a community but are competitors, but abroad the florists are also a community. Sometimes, all the competitors come together, and it’s wonderful. I would like to do this here, so let’s see, we have big plans for the future. Let’s see how it goes.

Do you ever get homesick, and if yes, what do you miss the most?

Honestly, I think no. Sometimes, it’s just those emotional moments with my family that I miss. I don’t miss the food, clothes, or even winters. I am very comfortable with what I have today, and I love India. I love butter chicken—it took my heart away.

Julie Parvery on how there is a solution for everything in India.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

French travel consultant and trained sailor, Julie Parvery was living in Beijing for three years before moving to Delhi with her husband and their two teenage kids. They’ve been living and exploring Delhi for the last two years, with hopes of staying longer to experience more of the country.

What brought you to India from Beijing?

We came to India because my husband works for the company Airbus and he had the opportunity to come to Delhi. We were given the option not to move, but as soon as we arrived in Delhi, only after two days, we decided to stay and live here because we had the impression that we would be fine. Moreover, it was an excellent opportunity to discover a new culture and a different way of life; I can say that we never regretted it.

Can you tell us something about what you do in India?

I work for a Paris-based company called Cmycities; it has many travel agencies around the world. My job is to help people who want to visit India and to help those who will be coming to India to live as an expat. I help them find an apartment, discover Delhi, and guide them in things like where to buy food, what hospital to go to, and the best place to visit, etc. I help expats to live hassle-free in this city and also help students who want to come to Delhi for studies. This is a new concept for travelers; we support them by giving them genuine advice. They pay a package, but we don’t organize everything, we give them relevant tools to help them organize their own trips. It is an excellent way to travel for people who want to organize everything by themselves.

…as soon as we arrived in Delhi, only after two days, we decided to stay and live here because we had the impression that we would be fine. Moreover, it was an excellent opportunity to discover a new culture and a different way of life; I can say that we never regretted it.

I am also involved with the association Main Tendue. It comprises of eight NGOs based in Delhi that takes care of vulnerable people like abandoned children, children who were taken from the custody of their parents, abused and battered women etc. The association also redeploys people by teaching them how to cook or sew. For example, Mother Theresa is also part of this NGO; it helps handicapped children. Main Tendue raises funds for all of these NGOs. We organize a few events during the year like a Mela, a fair with many exhibitions. All the profit from this mela goes to the association. Then there is a charity gala at the embassy where people can buy their seat, dinner and the profit, of course, goes to the association.

Did you experience any culture shock coming to India?

I think the culture shock was mostly positive. However, India brings daily surprises, and sometimes, it can get stressful. It can be nothing or many small things that can easily disturb your everyday life. A leak in the kitchen, or an AC that stopped working when its 40 degrees inside your apartment are two good examples; these kinds of daily issues can be very tiring. Even if it’s not very important, it can affect your mood.

…India brings daily surprises, and sometimes, it can get stressful. It can be nothing or many small things that can easily disturb your everyday life.

Another thing, I felt freer in Beijing compared to Delhi. In Beijing, I could take my bicycle out and run my errands with it. I could go out any time, day or night, and not be worried about the risks. In Delhi, you can’t really do that. As a result, you are more dependent on your driver or friends.
When it comes to food, Beijing and Delhi are almost the same. I had to bring my food, cheese, and even wine from France! I also bring my butter from France as I’m not too fond of the Amul butter available in the market here.

What would you say is the best and the worst thing about working in India?

Working with Indian people is not easy! You can’t always rely on them to do the job right. You have to keep checking what they’ve done from the beginning until the end because sometimes they’ll tell you they’ve done it, but it won’t be done correctly, or as you thought it would have been. You have to check every setting, and that takes a lot of time. It’s not because they’re terrible people, it’s just that they have the impression that the work is done, but it’s not done as you would like. So, you have to make certain they did what you were expecting them to do, and this is why it can be tough working with them. In addition to that, they (the men) seem to find it difficult to work under a woman; even if she has a higher authority. They’re not used to it, and that’s a little confusing to me.

I would say the best thing about India is that everything is possible here. No matter how big the problem is, there is always a solution.

I would say the best thing about India is that everything is possible here. No matter how big the problem is, there is always a solution. I see it when I organize travel plans with people, even if you have a problem with a car or anything, there will always be a solution, and fast. In France, it can take two days to find a vehicle if the car renter doesn’t have any car. Here if you don’t find a car, the driver’s friend will come to pick you— as soon as you need a car, you can find one.

What advice would you give to someone planning to move to Delhi?

Though there are many things to discover in Delhi— it’s a beautiful city. I would suggest going outside of the city as soon as you can. For example, we recently went to Âlwâr, which is only 2 hours’ drive from Delhi, it was great! If you do that you can meet people in the countryside, walk, involve in other activities, and discover lovely places like big forts, or nice temples. If you leave the city and explore new areas in the countryside, you will see a new part of India and have a different view of this country. For me, Gurgaon is not India! This country is so beautiful that I would recommend you to try to discover every part of this country like Rajasthan, Gujarat, and even Ladakh!

Coming Home For Christmas, In Retrospect

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The first time I visited another country was when I was 18. I attended a Youth Camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What did I enjoy the most? Food. The stretch of seafood restaurants and hawker stalls in Jalan Alor at Bukit Bintang has an array of local (Nasi Lemak) and exotic (Frog on a stick) delicacies you can enjoy until the wee hours of the morning. My sister lived there for almost a decade before settling in Canada, so Malaysia was like a second home. Its neighbor Singapore is also renowned for its seafood. The ‘sambal stingray’ or spicy banana leaf stingray is mouth-watering! 

I was never really out of the Philippines for a long time until I lived in Dubai for four years. As a foodie? The zesty flavor of Al Machboos and the insanely tender and juicy meat of Mandi Rice will be forever etched in my memory. Four years in Dubai, and I rarely felt homesick, culture shock was at no time a struggle. My friends and I thought that I am less likely to experience homesickness and culture shock as I can survive anywhere, eat exotic foods, and enjoy meeting people from across the globe.

Well, that was before I met India. 

In 2015, the peak of summer, my best friend and I decided to tie the knot in New Delhi. He is a Tangkhul Naga from the state of Manipur, but he practically is a Filipino at heart, having stayed in the Philippines from Grade 6 until college. He and his sisters speak my language, enjoy my food, and share memories of my country. Despite all this, culture shock and homesickness squeezed its way during my first year in New Delhi. The scorching summer heat, the air and noise pollution, the seemingly rude behavior of the locals, and most of all, the almost non-existent Filipino community took a toll on me. Unlike Malaysia, Singapore, and Dubai, where Filipinos are everywhere, and Filipino goods and products are almost in every store; I had to ask my mom to send me an expat box full of favorite ‘Pinoy’ goodies! The hardest was during Christmas. 

…culture shock and homesickness squeezed its way during my first year in New Delhi. The scorching summer heat, the air and noise pollution, the seemingly rude behavior of the locals, and most of all, the almost non-existent Filipino community took a toll on me.

The Philippines is known to have the world’s longest Christmas season. As soon as September hits, Christmas carols fill the air. Homes, malls, and streets are adorned with festive decorations and sparkling lights— almost overnight! The countdown to Christmas spans from September to December, otherwise known as the “BER Months.” Why that long? Because of the family-centric values of the Filipino society, and Christmas is that time of the year when families reunite. With many Filipinos living outside the country as expats or immigrants, the long Christmas season gives families time to get back together and be “home for Christmas.”

I spent four Christmases in India and never really felt home. Don’t get me wrong. I sure have a warm, loving family here plus a wonderful church family. I always look forward to our Christmas Cantata, a grand celebration of the reason for the season – the birth of Jesus. The Filipino blood in me, however, longs to experience that strong family and community bond, highly seen in our Christmas culture. A longing I thought would only be realized once I go home for Christmas. My fifth Christmas in India proved me wrong.

The Filipino blood in me, however, longs to experience that strong family and community bond, highly seen in our Christmas culture. A longing I thought would only be realized once I go home for Christmas. My fifth Christmas in India proved me wrong.

Coming home for Christmas
Courtesy of Thotmung Muivah

Somdal Village, home to people of Tangkhul Naga ethnic group, located west of Ukhrul District, Manipur State in Northeast India – my husband’s hometown, with roughly 500 families, about 2500 people, the village was full of life! The scenic mountains reminded me of Baguio, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, also known as the City of Pines. The scent of fresh air and the melodious sounds of the birds and children’s laughter was an everyday treat – a total escape from Delhi noise and pollution. 

Just like in the Philippines, lanterns and Christmas lights and carols graced the village homes and streets. If we Filipinos gather around midnight for Noche Buena feast on Christmas Eve, Somdalite families go for picnics by the river to bask under the sun and cook a feast together. I enjoyed de-feathering a homegrown chicken while enjoying a scenic view, for the first time! The exchange of laughter and craziness mixed with the aroma of the organic food was heart-warming. 

The evening comes, and the entire village is filled with Christmas choruses by the community, as they march around the courtyard. Young and old, men and women, gather around in circles, and sometimes around the bonfire, singing and dancing in celebration of the season. It was quite a sight!

Coming home for Christmas
Courtesy of Thotmung Muivah

New Year falls within the Christmas season in the Philippines. And while we Filipinos eagerly wait for the clock to strike midnight so we can make a joyful noise to welcome the New Year, it was utterly quiet in the village. But a deep and beautiful tradition lies within. Somdal Village has seven tangs or area. A day before the 1st of January, each tang goes for hunting (mostly birds) and river fishing. A group (the good cooks) is then assigned to prepare various meals for the New Year Community Lunch (tang-wise), which by the way, is around 10 in the morning. All families gather in a circle to welcome the New Year together by enjoying sumptuous meals – traditional, exotic dishes a foodie like me would find heavenly! Children, parents, grandparents – three generations in one place, celebrating the gift of New Year. To see our 2-year-old daughter experience such precious moments was a bonus. 

Filipinos take ‘home for Christmas’ seriously. And this time, spending Christmas in Somdal, I can finally say, “I was home for Christmas.” As an expat, it was emotionally rewarding to see that two different cultures can be inextricably intertwined. India has a vast culture, like its geography. But with a fresh, unprejudiced perspective, we can also call it home.