Week in Pictures Part 2: London Edition

Today some street scenes of the complex architecture that makes London shine (even despite the cloudy weather). No slide show on this one, scroll down to see the pictures and captions.


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is right in the central part of town, walking distance from several historic sites. After dropping off my gal at school I decided to head toward Kings Cross and St. Pancras station. Across from the Barclay’s bank building (Above) the station permits international train travel from the island to other parts of Europe and is famous for the platform 9 and three quarters scene in Harry Potter.


St. Pancras is named after a 14 year old boy who converted to Christianity in 304 AD and was martyred for refusing to give up his faith. The former burial ground was dedicated for a station on the outskirts of London in 1864 and construction was completed in 1868. In 1876, the west wing (above) was constructed as the Midland Rail hotel and remained such until 1935 when it was deemed unprofitable and turned into office space. By the 1890s, more than massive amounts of milk and booze were being imported from the coutryside, stored in the chambers below the station. During World War II, the army took over the station moving arms, men and rations toward the front lines. In 1942, a German bomb broke through the ceiling, incredibly they had the station up and running again in less than a week. And in 1945, it became a place to welcome refuges and evacuees into the city.


Construction in 1867 []
Today, King’s Cross Station (below) is practically connected to St. Pancras (the two are often confused, including by me) It was part of the first underground train service in London and was constructed on top of an old smallpox hospital. While the area is in constant buzz and bustle today, in the 1800s it was a rural getaway for those two kilometers away in London proper. In the early 1800s, heavily polluting industries such as gas and light moved in and started tarnishing its scenic nature. As a presumed ploy to stop the buildup of industry, residents erected a statue of King George IV near at the battle bridge crossroads in 1830. But this upset local workers and it was torn down and demolished in 1842, leading to the name “Kings Cross.”




Above is the access ramp from which the tube runs into King Cross Station. Constantly wet and cloudy, London is full of moss wherever there is course rock exposed to moisture. Recognize the plant behind it? You may have a variety of the plant in your garden. It is called Buddleia davidii or butterfly bush or sometimes summer lilac. Native to central China, it now dominates every nook and cranny along the british rail lines, a symptom of ever milder winters. While beautiful it lacks competitors and easily spreads seed. In London, it is an expensive annoyance, growing up walls, blocking power lines and eroding old buildings, costing the city thousands of pounds per year to manage. In the farmlands it is a persistent weed, requiring more labor to manage. But what is probably the worst effect, is its ability to out compete native species. While it does attract a few species of beautiful butterflies, it is actually a misnomer. East of London at the chalk grassland of Folkestone Warren, butterfly bush is taking over a delicate 199 acre diverse grassland along the cliffs. This unique landscape attracts hundreds of types of wild butterflies who wont actively feed on the butterfly bush. Without it, they cannot feed and will die out or leave the area. And so what feeds on the butterflies will have to adjust and leave and so on up the food chain. Still, the plant continues to be sold in flower shops across the city.



Sphagnum moss along the fence line

St. Pancras station almost serves as a divider of older London and the modern scene. This is where the topography shifts up out of the valley and historically has had little development. But today, skyskraper mixed-use apartments are popping up quickly, leading to a stark contrast of modernism compared to the finely decorated and diverse buildings just down the hill. Here a modern new park with sharp lines and simple planting plans.


On my way back into the valley for lunch I passed by The California, a modern, steampunky bed and breakfast set in 4 historic Georgian townhouses. I just really like their lighting fixtures.


In the afternoon I visited Fitzroy, an artsy district that really shows off the multitudes of architecture found in London, all packed into narrow buildings. The area has a fascinating history. It was origninally built for the upper class (1700s) but they quickly moved out to other areas. The vacuum was filled by those seeking workshops and studios and then immigrants coming from other parts of town that had filled up. So by the early 1900s, it was filled with less wealthy immigrant families in aristocratic, high class buildings. But after World War I, most Germans had to leave as noone would allow them to work so a new vacuum opened for artists looking for studio space. It was eventually re-branded Fitzrovia and present day flats run 2-3 million pounds, again only reachable for the very wealthy.





Did you know one of London’s tallest buildings was an official state secret for almost 28 years!?  When it was completed in 1965, BT tower (also called Post Office Tower for one of its purposes) was the tallest structure in London (626 ft). The height was needed to transfer microwave aerials (the middle section) for broadcast communication around other tall buildings. Therefore (presumably for more than this) it was declared “location 23” by govt officials and was not allowed to be placed on state sponsored maps. But the absurdity doesn’t stop there. From its beginning, the tower has contained a 360 degree rotating room on the 34th floor which used to contain a restaurant!

Unfortunately, the Angry Brigade, a anarchist terrorist group left a bomb in the bathroom of the restaurant in 1971 and the restaurant was closed in 1980 due to security reasons.

Today the tower remains an important communications and broadcasting hub.


Across the street is the University College London’s Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Nueral Circuits and behavior which as incorporated curiosities of the brain into its architecture. A series of optical illusions greet the visitor from the buildings winding walls that replicate brain waves to the movable panels that change their depiction as one moves through to various tricks of artist illusionist this place is really cool, a building that sets about experimenting on the visitors who walk toward it. Check out a video (

As you walk through the alley the various faces take new forms.
The windy nature reflects brain waves while showing how depth perception can minimize space between things.
All of these faces are identical in construction. But they appear to follow you with their eyes as one moves past. Our eyes are not trained to see a face that is concave (inwards) and our brain (it is believed) overcompensates and believes it is seeing a face that is convex (outwards)

Finally some street scenes of interesting architecture

Stairwell lighting makes the outside of this building really light up in cloudy weather.
The pipes that convey stormwater and drinking water yield fascinating shapes and contrast (although I don’t know where they go yet)

That’s it for now!



Photos of the week part one: London Edition

Greetings everyone! I’m out and about visiting my lovely Rachel in London as she pursues her Masters in Public Health. Her study schedule has given me ample time to explore the nooks, crannies and intricacies of this ancient metropolis. So far it has vastly surpassed my expectations and every hour out in the streets has overwhelmed my curiosity. I will try to put out a daily set of photos and (if I can commit to writing fast enough) explore some of the storylines that make this place so unique. Here, the Chinese New year! Just click on any image to start the caption.


Photo Tip 1: Using your Histogram and Exposure Compensation

“King of its Domain” This photo exhibits near technical perfection with the histogram slightly to the right.

Almost every digital camera has a histogram and an exposure compensation option. Using these correctly will help you create a technically perfect photograph with a complete tonal range. This means your photo will exhibit detail whether the shot is in black and white or color.
Cameras see in tones of black, gray and white. When your camera is in automatic mode, it exposes for an 18%  medium-gray tone, regardless of whether the object you are photographing is black, gray or white. Because it attempts to make everything this gray tone, snow becomes gray instead of brilliant white, and black labs become grayish instead of slick black. To make sure the camera is seeing the way you want it to and expose tones faithfully, use your exposure compensation tool, which will look like a little metered line on your menu. In order to exposure for lighter toned objects such as yellow and white flowers, move the compensation slider up to +1 or +2, for darker, slide it to -1 or -2. To technically determine just how much to compensate, use your histogram.

“Shattered” In order to get detail in this rock I needed to decide what tone it was. It was darker then medium 18% gray, but brighter than black, so I choose to compensate negatively at -0.3.

Histograms are graphs that show the complete tonal range of grays from black to white, left to right. Graphs too far to the left result in underexposed pictures and loss of detail in shadows. Graphs all the way to the right result in overexposed, clipped highlights. The key is to keep the graph somewhere in the middle, preferably leaning a little to the right, as this will keep all details in the photo. If your histogram is too far to the left, slide your compensation to the right, making it more positive. If the histogram is too far to the right slide it left, making it more negative. This will make a noticeable change in your histogram allowing you to adjust for a better picture.

Here is an example of a well composed histogram.

Even with this option, some scenes are just too dynamic to capture. Without special equipment, you will not be able to get detail in a black rock and the bright sunset in the background. Using the histogram helps you get the desired picture in camera and will save you time from trying to brighten shots or fix overexposed highlights. I rarely look at my pictures directly after taking them anymore, instead I look at the histogram to make sure it is composed well and trust I put myself in the right location to make a strong composition.
Please let me know if this is helpful for you or it flat out sucks. If specific sentences are too confusing let me know and I will clarify. I am a huge proponent of feedback. I hope this helps! To see more pictures visit

“Digging in” Holes in the rock created by the ocean smashing in. In order to expose for the depths of the holes and not just leave them black, I compensated negatively, or underexposed the image.

Conway School of Ecological Design: A new adventure

Greetings everyone!

As some of you already know, I have returned from my adventures in India and have just begun my newest one, a masters program in ecological design from The Conway School in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

The last two years have been incredibly humbling, confusing, insightful, overwhelming, empowering, exhilarating, depressing and everywhere in-between. I am so fortunate to have lived with one of the greatest storytellers I have ever know (Auntie of Kolkata) and with some of the most warm-hearted individuals (Auntie and Uncle of Rakkar). I work with and envied incredible farmers who have found true joy, true health and true spiritualism in their organic fields.

It has been my greatest period of struggle, but also my greatest period of growth as a person. I am grateful for every second of it, but am now ready for a new chapter.

What is Conway and What is Ecological Design?

Ecological design focuses on minimizing environmentally destructive impacts to land while integrating natural, sociological, economical and other systems to create a more ecologically sound landscape. Basically, designers draw from and experience a multitude of information sources to make well-informed landscape decisions which self-organize to benefit the whole system.

The Conway School offers a ten month master degree in Ecological Design, and is the only school in the country to do so. See more at

Why did I choose the Conway School? Practicality. This program gets my feet wet right away with three real clients to design for. It works like a real office too, with no grades or exams, just presentations directly relating to your client projects and practical teachings directed toward any faucet of sustainable design I want. Everything is taught to be related and (with only 13 students) we have enormous amounts of time to pick the brains of our professors and their connections.

After completing the program I plan to go into ecological design at the residential, city and watershed level, providing sustainable alternatives for homeowners, city planners and state/fed governments.

The experience has already built a great deal of confidence in myself and, to help me grow further in rhetoric and practicality, I hope to use this website to channelize what I am learning and draw feedback from others. Look for the start tomorrow with a plant ID post!






Week in Journals

So, as you may have noticed, I have been quite miserable about keeping up a blog and my placement in rural Himanchal Pradesh and the lack of consistent internet that comes with it has not been helpful. What I have been trying to do though is keep up a Journal and from time to time add pictures and edit out personal information so I can send it out to friends and family. So here I will begin posting the journal (hopefully once per week). I apologize to family and friends for falling off the radar, please comment if you have questions. We will kick it off with Christmas Day up to New Years.

Journal      24-31 December

December 24th This Christmas eve was a sleepy one as I awoke frustrated around 11. Of late, and partially to distract myself from the reality of not seeing Rachel another 6 months, I have been captivated by a book titled “Seven Years in Tibet,” a true account of Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter’s war induced expedition into the Forbidden areas of Tibet. It gives an astonishing account of life in Tibet before Chinas red army removed them. The two were able to escape an Internment camp in Derhadun (a place I have visited before) twice and escape via night trekking hundreds of miles into Tibet. The hospitality and bureaucracy they faced there was amazing as random nomads would allow them to sleep in their tents and a number of people invited them into their homes despite them having little money. Their initial goal of reaching Tibet was that it was neutral grounds during WWII and so it at least they wouldn’t be behind barb wire while they were there. Harrer seemed to be a supreme athlete, very disciplined and personable. Both were able to pick up a difficult language in Tibetan to the extent they could convince people they were Indians on a pilgrimage. It changed my view of Tibet before China’s invasion as I have learned of the vast nomad populations, the penetration of European goods into Lhasa the capitol, with the previous Dali lama even having three cars and nobels sending their children to be educated abroad. Khampas are regarded as fierce, ruthless robbers in the book, but I have found online that they maintained an offensive against the Chinese up to 1974, 15 years after the Dali lama was forced out. These men come from the high and cold plains and stories of their ruthlessness even penetrate here as I heard stories from a local doctor how has treated some, about how they use to behead those who would not move fast enough out of their way on the path. The Tibetan guard was also big, with an average height of 6’6 and some even rumored to have reached 8 feet! The book makes it sound that there are plentiful hot springs in pockets of the country and have inspired me to think the 20,000 ft peaks around me are not so difficult to manage. The journal entry style has inspired me to treat each day and experience anew in this area and document my findings, even if they have already been documented. I plan on starting tomorrow with a morning hike up to the pine groves which locals seem to be harvesting gum or something from.

Other than reading, Pragia (my aunti’s granddaughter) brought back a smuggled 4 day old puppy which could easily fit in the palm of her hand. It was very cute, but I was worried it might not make it long in her hands as she gave it quite a shake and tried to feed it dry food. Luckily, her grandmother was not up for her keeping it, and quite openly made fun of her until she agreed to bring it back to its home. (Unfortunately it did later die) I accompanied her on this (needing some supplies from town) and received some relief when it peed on her which she declared disgusting and embarrassing. Unfortunately for me, all of the stores in this midpoint town close on Wednesdays (I didn’t get the memo) so I came back empty handed.

The way people take care of dogs is a bit discomforting to me. Our house is pure veg, so that means the pets are too. The dogs often subsist on a diet of rice, dal, chapatti, and whatever other food scraps are tossed there way, apart from any bugs they manage to snatch from the air, they are pure veg as well. Despite this, they seem healthy.

Upon return, I put on some sports cloths and went running up the mountain away from the sunset and was pleased with my progress. Returning back, Aunti demonstrated her use of garlic leaves and coriander in the spicing of Kuddi, a sort of sour curry. Earlier in the day, she showed me how she makes paratha with miti, a local weed, which inspired me to maybe do the same with nettle or other weeds in  the states.

December 25th Christmas Day in the hallow wood

Today I (of coarse) awoke late after a rocky night sleep which saw me finish my book, but feeling rather frustrated about loss of sleep. I quickly washed my hair, changed and grabbed a granolna bar before settling on my. After some difficulty I was able to lodge four bricks into the pack and threw my jar of coins and camera on top for good measure. I threw the heavy pack over my shoulder and set off for my first minor training adventure. For a week or so now the feeling had arisen that I was not in touch with the culture here and made several assumptions for how things were done. I vow to now treat everyday anew and to live more curiously. This begins with my morning training hikes and proceeds via the questions I have for the things I see in a new light. Today I set out for a forest about 500 ft above rakkar.

One of the great things I love about India is the great amounts of commons left in the mountain areas. This fills me with a sense of adventure and fills others with doubts of my sanity. Just a 30 minute hike from my home, I can be immersed in a hallow grove of pine trees left over from British timber escapades. In one sense this is a sad place as a shedding of pine needles has sucked out the diversity and only stanch weeds such as lantana, blue mist flower and something which resembles mulberry can survive in the understory. But luckily the edges still demonstrate the diversity that can be found in the undisturbed upper forests, at least some of it. Here, you find a number of local berry varieties which attract the most beautiful birds of paradise, with a whole spectrum of colors and shapes. It is quite a sight to spot some long-tailed varieties of birds of paradise swoop from pine to pine. Their tails are almost twice the length of their bodies so as they take off they first glide for a moment and then must flap heavily to create enough lift to continue. Turning is quite an ordeal as the tail acts as a rudder. Thus their turns must be wide which I am sure takes some getting use to. I would be curious to see these attempts made by younger birds, just learning to fly. Interestingly enough, the male and female both have long tails so I would be interested to know the utility of the tail, as I imagine it makes them easy prey for leopards and hawks. I cannot really distinguish the sexes, but one is gold breasted with black/gold wings and the other has a white breast with blues wings. They appear to subsist on insects, berries and frogs. In addition, there is the ever cheerful goldfinch. Now is mating season so their colors are bright and the males are busy chasing each other around willow trees, that is, until the presence of a hawk or griffin is announced. There is also some sort of medium-sized rainbow colored, iridescent bird which twitches its head and tail in opposite directions as it calls and a large purple bird which hops along the forest floor collecting nuts. Along the edge, farmers copious trees for cattle feed or fire including willow and drake. The former is also used as a traditional insect/ pest repellent.

Within the forest, locals make use of the trees, collecting sap from them by cutting knotches in a bangerang shape for about a half meter down the trunk. At the bottom of these cuts they place a lip which feeds sap into a metal cone. Once one tap is finished, they make another down one spine of the tree until they reach the base of the trunk. Rarely, the taps continue to the other side of the tree. There seems to be a correlation between height of where the taps start and the height of the local population, as they go no more than six feet. Almost every tree thicker than 6 inches is tapped in this forest and I have yet to determine what the utility of the sap is (I assume it is some sort of glue). There appears to have been a fire here a number of years ago as all of the trees are charred at the base. In a way, I find the taps beautiful with their red and orange outlines of the exposed cambium, but I worry that these trees may be overworked and many will soon die. I have later learned that what is being tapped is actually Turpentine, done by the government. The locals get no value out of this forest and neither does the wildlife. With forest food sources gone, monkeys and wild boar devastate the local farmer’s crops. I wonder if I can get to trouble for cutting down trees and starting a tree planting program.

Notches cut in trees for harvesting turpentine. A Disappointing government project.
Notches cut in trees for harvesting turpentine. A Disappointing government project.
Almost every tree in the forest has been tapped multiple times
Almost every tree in the forest has been tapped multiple times

Continuing my forest trek, I came across a group of boys holding a picnic (fire, rice, maggi=ramen) to celebrate their Christmas day off (no Christians in this community). They seemed a rambunctious group and when I was on the return of my trek they offered me some food and we enjoyed each other’s company in broken hindi/English. They were all in middle school and were curious about my pack while I was curious about their game of toss. Essentially this is like golf with stones and the target being cut out matchboxes. If you missed the matchbox initially, you threw from where your rock landed. Players take turns throwing and whomever collects the most match box cutouts wins. They are pretty good and each had brought their own special stone. Just before leaving, they asked about my pack and I let them try and carry it, almost causing them to fall over. I had forgotten I had my jar of American coins with me and was happy to give them something in return for their hospitality.

Continuing my trek I came across a terraced pasture and climbed up the ravine as to get toward another section of forest, but along the way stumbled upon the remains of what must have been an incredible stone mansion. The foundation was massive and one can only wonder how all of these large pieces of slate were moved from high on the mountain to here years ago. Leading out of mansion was a raised/polished stone patio which overlooked all of the valley below. Even though built of stone, the building still contained storage cabinets and shelfs of where idols were placed. From the center rose a towering stone chimney suggesting to me that it was two storied . After extensively exploring the compound, I again set my eyes again on the forest until I ran along a cliff which widened into old mines. Here I had a fantastic vantage point of the mountains which lie ahead. The noise vantage was special too as I could hear boys from the top of the hill taunting the boys at the bottom and women singing traditional bahari tunes. The noise and sights (minus a few concrete buildings in the distance) made me feel like I had gone back a hundred years in time. I contemplated from my perch for a bit and then set off for aunty’s.

Inbuilt shelves for candles and religious idols
Inbuilt shelves for candles and religious idols
A traditional mortar and pestle for grinding grain into flower
A traditional mortar and pestle for grinding grain into flower
The remains of a huge stone property
The remains of a huge stone property

Along the way, I met a boy and his two little sisters one of which had an absolutely commanding eyes and tone which sent a shock through me. Though only 6 or 7 years old, her eyes and demeanor pierced right into my soul and I felt a bit awestruck after our short encounter. I am sure that, given the opportunity, she could go on to be a great leader.

When I returned to aunties I was treated with a fruit salad of sorts consisting of Kinu (a sort of orange), garlic, chilly and apple.

Book notes:

I started taking some notes in the books I am reading about subjects that interest me or raise questions. Harrer was actually a proud gardener by the time his stay in Tibet had matured and he conceded that tibet’s summer climate is perfect for a number of European vegetables as long as the roots are well watered. The capital is on the same latitude as Egypt and is very dry and sun is intense so everything well watered grows exceptionally well there.

Tibetans were actually aware that the only thing which could save them from the Chinese was intervention from the outside world so they tried to send ambassador monks all over the world. One group was successful, but the rest were tied up in India. When the first group returned they packed with them a full size jeep which was driven once and later turned into a backup generator for the Dali Lamas movie theater.

The 13th Dalai lama had actually fled to India also from Chinese invasion. He was able to return so it was seen as a good omen and helped dictate the later move of the current Dalai Lama

Tibet was ruled mainly by a monastic class with some balance of power given to nobles. While many monks live up to our generalizations, they are not all so and one group is even militant. They are called Dob- Dobs and bully around other monks and carry daggers. They later led their own offensive against the Chinese. They were always at war with Dob Dobs of other monasteries. The only place Harrer was able to find athletically built Tibetans was in these monasteries.

While Dalai Lamas are intended to rule as God-kings(not true, according to current Dalai Lama, they are simply important reincarnations of a certain deciple of Buddha, recognized in Tiber as the most important), many were used as puppets by their regents. Not the current.

Many of the nobels owned vast estates which were given to them as payment in their government jobs. Many of these had castles with moats to prevent against the earlier threat of Mongol attack.

Are there still oracles today?

Yes, and the Dalai Lama frequently uses them even though the government doesn’t support it as much anymore. In his autobiography he clears any doubt that these are just actors, but stresses that each spirit which communicates through them has a different personality and advise shouldn’t always be followed. The spirit is brought out by specific chants which put the acting reincarnation into a trance. At this point a 30 pound helmet is secured onto his head. The weight makes his eyes bulge out and he makes strange grunt sounds. Then suddenly leaps into the air and often throws his head in every direction while dancing around with a sword and giving prophecies. At the end, he essentially faints and the helmet is quickly removed. In the time of Tibet, there were thousands of oracles and now there are 100 or so.

Important advice at the Dalai Lama Temple
Important advice at the Dalai Lama Temple
 A painting of the Potala, the Dalai Lama's winter home in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. He hasn't been there since 1959 and today the site is overshadowed by Chinese development as part of an incentive given by the Chinese government
A painting of the Potala, the Dalai Lama’s winter home in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. He hasn’t been there since 1959 and today the site is overshadowed by Chinese development as part of an incentive given by the Chinese government

Third Person Animal Narrative + Random Pictures

So this is kind of old news, but I didn’t have time to quite finish my story for this week, so here we go. Also some random pictures including stories.

In this segment of Adventures with Auntie, we had a common problem within open-air Indian households: intruders. For this one, I will try to write through the lens of such intruder. Let us call him Monty.

On this particular full-moon evening, Monty was likely enjoying himself. He, roughly the size of a butterfly, was out and about picking-off a good helping from the bountiful monsoon insect harvest. As he fluttered past one of the higher apartments, he saw a very strange sight. A strange, six-foot something light-skinned creature tapping frantically on some glowing plastic device.

Monty thought so himself, “I must get a closer look at this creature, my furry friends will not believe me”.

So Monty decided to glide his way through the window and flew a few circles around the creature when, suddenly, it jumped and moved to a corner. Monty was intrigued by this action flew to a curtain to observe. The creature grabbed a towel of beautiful brown color and started to approach Monty. Shocked, Monty flew out just before he could be collected and took the high ground of the room, dodging fan blades and keeping a healthy distance from the lengthy creature. At this stage, a wide-eyed Indian woman entered and began sending soft, comforting calls. Monty became calm and decided to land on a bed. Just as he was getting comfortable, the wide-eyed Indian woman swooped in with a purple dustpan. He narrowly escaped once again, returning to his ceiling circling position. The wide-eyed Indian woman then instructed the creature to turn off the glowing tube in the wall. Seeing the creature blinded, Monty swooped in for a closer look. He landed softly on the creature’s right thigh and stared up at its face. When the switch was reverted the creature looked around its gaze finally met his own and for a moment, there seemed to be mutual understanding between the two of them. For a moment, Monty felt he had made a friend. This was quickly squelched once again by the soaring purple dustpan and he booked it for the window. Seeing it closed, Monty feared for his poor, leathery little self. To the rescue came a straight-haired Indian boy who calmly opened the window and coaxed Monty out the window. Having freed himself of the alien’s room, Monty took a quick selfie to confirm the sighting and merrily fluttered his way back to the gol park mango tree.


So you may be thinking to yourself, “Is this some sort of devil worshiping ceremony?” Well think again, I think.

On this particular day, I was feeling particularly adventurous. After walking random allies for a few hours, I came across Calcutta University. I really wanted to look inside the university which was founded in the mid-19th century, only one problem, it was surrounded by police vehicles. So what is a traveler to do? Go anyway, that’s what. So as I carefully moved through the grounds, I heard a commotion coming from the auditorium and decided to investigate. The atmosphere told me that I wasn’t supposed to be there (seemed exclusive), but I acted like I fit in and sneaked by the transfixed guards into the auditorium. I found a spot in the left corner of the box seats and kept a low profile. This show, whatever it was, looked like it was going to be good! After 15 minutes of waiting a woman came on stage and started thanking the Kolkata police force for their generous sponsorship and then quickly proclaimed.

“Welcome senior citizens of Kolkata! Are you ready for some fun!?”

This threw me off my guard a bit and as I slowly rotated my head around to look at the crowd I saw hundreds of slightly amused-looking senior citizens wielding small multi-colored flashlights. Not one person in the complex was a lick under 60, except the police officer purposely approaching me. Part of me was intrigued enough to hide and part of me would have been fine with being kicked out. As he got closer, I decided the later would be better, but, when he was just a few feet away, he asked me if I had a flashlight in Bengali, handed one to me and walked on.

I decided I might as well stick around and see the commotion for a while, and was treated to one of the most rowdy concerts I have ever seen. The lady was singing a lot of jazz and traditional Bengali songs, but in the middle of the second song some of the senior citizens arouse and began yelling out requests. This trend continued throughout the next 5 songs until I decided to leave due to being late for dinner. I handed off my flashlight to a surprised old lady and stealthy moved out of the building.

"Trained Dogs" Hanging out at a random train station.
“Trained Dogs” Hanging out at a random train station.
"Floatel" On board the unique river hotel on the Ganges with Howra bridge in the background.
“Floatel” On board the unique river hotel on the Ganges with Howra bridge in the background.

Sorry for the Delay! About Fulbright

Post #1 Sorry for the delay:

So, you may be wondering why I have not posted yet. Well, that I have no good excuse, only that I am limited in time and too much of a perfectionist to put just anything out there. But ignore that, I have so much pertinent information to share and so little time, so here is an introduction to my life in Kolkata, India.

Why am I here?

I have been summoned by the governments of India and the United States to relinquish the veil of cultural understanding between citizens of the two countries and enlighten teenagers of the ways of American English. Okay, that’s way more flowery than the truth. In reality, I applied for a Fulbright grant, India seemed to have liked what I had to say and now I am charged with (1) “Increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of India.” To “strengthen ties between countries,” to “Promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement, “ and to “Assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and India.” Essentially, I am a public diplomat for the U.S., spreading culture by making friends and teaching English.

“Kolkata Street Scene” Kolkata’s metropolitan area is about 16.7 million people strong. Much of the population boom came after 1947 when many Hindi refuges moved here from the newly formed East Pakistan (became Bangladesh in 1971). Today, the population boom is coming from rural communities moving to the cities.

What do I do?

On the first of August, I began teaching grade 6 and 7 Spoken English at A.K. Ghosh Memorial School in Kolkata. In a metropolitan area of roughly 16 million people, building space is intimately crowded, and A.K Ghosh is no exception. For four 35 minute periods per day I navigate classrooms roughly half the size of those in the U.S. but over-capacitated at 60-70 students each. One of my classes is so crowded I cannot even shut the door (I can’t imagine if there was a fire). In addition, there is no air conditioning (yay!) so the windows are always open exposing the class to the incessant honking of the street (boo!). This, combined with my naturally low voice and unruly students, leads to an overwhelmingly loud classroom. In all, there are about 2000 students in the school with roughly 20-30 teachers, depending on the day. But that is enough harping about my situation. My students are extremely talented and, as soon as I learn the ropes, we are going to have an incredible time together.

Students performed Alibaba and several Bengali plays at the annual function last weekend. The program was absolutely astounding. Students also performed a puppet show and a mixture of contemporary and traditional dance.

In addition, I am studying Bengali, the language of West Bengal (the state Kolkata is in). I am blessed with a wonderful set of teachers at the American Institute of Indian Studies. I spent my first month taking classes 5 hours per day and have now switched to two classes per week as I am teaching. I have progressed a great deal, but Bengali is extremely difficult to learn coming from an English background. While English sentences follow Subject Verb Object format, Bengali is SOV. So the verb is always at the end of the sentence. In addition, there are several sounds that do not exist in English, making it difficult for native speakers to understand me.

Here are a few early lessons I have learned from teaching:

  1. Sixth graders are uncontrollable.
  2. Once you earn the respect of your seventh graders you can accomplish anything.
  3. Facebook pages for students can be super helpful in explaining culture, especially when you only have 35 minutes a day with them and no projector.
  4. Slam books are a thing.
  5. My voice still cracks.
  6. The favorite movie among middle schoolers is Titanic
  7. Chalk boards really suck, especially with knock-off chalk.
  8. Primal glares work better than yelling at students
  9. Checking student notebooks may take the whole class period and it is very important your word choice in their notebooks. Ex. Very good does not equal excellent.
  10. I do stand out, even after I grow a mustache.
  11. On that note, more mustache=more respect from other teachers.
  12. My schedule is unknown until the day/hour before the classes begin.
  13. When you don’t speak the language, staff rooms are a lonely place.
  14. Even though I can throw an obnoxious kid out the window doesn’t mean I should.
  15. You can be the tiger or the deer, but you have to choose one and stick with it.
  16. Markers tend to explode here.
  17. I love the feeling of leaving after a good lesson and I hate the feeling of one that doesn’t work.

Where do I live?

A was person once said “Patience is a virtue,” and it is a virtue I live out every day. Many words come to mind when I try to explain my living situation; mayhem, religious enlightenment, smoky, clear, tribal and first class. Essentially, I live with a 73-year-old Indian woman whom I refer to as Auntie and a 23 year-old Indian master’s student named Atuno who studies online courses from 9am to 4am every day. Up until a week ago, Auntie’s deceased husband’s slightly insane sister Rita also lived with us. Each morning, Auntie has a cook come and prepare the food, a man come to do dishes and wash the floor and a woman to sweep and mop the floor. The apartment sits on the fifth floor yielding a spacious balcony view of the city. Literally every day is a new adventure. Here are a few lessons I have learned:

  1. You should never sleep with your feet facing a religious idol.
  2. Auntie has a natural remedy for everything.
  3. Auntie is always right (even when she’s wrong)
  4. Bengalis spend about 30 seconds greeting each other before leaping into an animated fight over seemingly silly facts. (I often look up the answers on the internet, but don’t tell the answer until they stop arguing).
  5. Bengalis can never put enough salt in their food.
  6. To Auntie, medicine never expires.
  7. Insomnia is an epidemic and there is no possibility I could have it.
  8. Toilet paper is not a thing.
  9. Cheese graters are not a thing (finger nails)
  10. Sanitary has a different definition in India.
  11. Cold showers are preferable to using the gizzard.
  12. According to Auntie, I am too young to understand Khaled Hosseini and Gabriel Garcia Marquez books.
  13. Auntie is an incredibly sweet and intelligent lady, but sometimes she drives me insane.
mime jpg
“Mimed” Another image from my student’s annual function.