Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who said angels can't be professors?

Oct 25 09

Today I met somebody who will prove to be a real value addition to me. She is different from others - she has a character unlikely of Indian women, of her age and her times.

I met her first on the Diwali function that was organized here. She was the only representative in our traditional wear, saree. You would fall for her at the first sight - she’s so charming! I was not in good form that day and could not catch up with her. Luck was late by 48 hours - I saw her at my bus station two days later and spoke to her for the first time. She introduced herself as a professor in the Department of Social Welfare and she invited me to her home. I could make it to her home only today and the conversation was enlightening, indeed.

Her home is simply beautiful and cozy. Its contemporary yet has the traditional touches of wooden ceiling and walls. Rooms are quite big, with French windows. she told me she enjoyed the view from almost all the rooms and the place is perfectly picturesque. I was surprised even the dustbins in her home are so beautiful, much better than the hand bag I use.

To start with I explained to her the purpose of my visit and how I'm spending my time here (well ,there is a cognitive difference between the former n later aspects:-)). She also went ahead telling about her contract here for up to 5yrs extendable period as Professor. She did her PhD in USA and then returned to India (with genuine patriotism) and served in Tata Institute for social sciences. Her work nature demands her to travel very often and she did enjoy that. Last two years she has been in Singapore and later felt a void and she came through the interview here and decided to try korea before retiring in another 4 years.

We had concurrent thoughts on several observations about Korea. We felt that the Koreans had a monoculture and hence were much closed and are shy naturally. Like India and other countries they are also in the the race of catching up US culture. Technologically they are far ahead than India (Internet usage in korea is world No: 01, as approved by Nielsen’s recent research,; My friend BP, working in Nielsen will also approve this, hopefully!!), while in speaking English they are quite behind the pars and thus reluctant to talk to foreigners. All the Koreans are so alike with same skin colour, same hair style- mostly straight and short, same preferences and I even noticed they all wear the same brand of lab slippers!

Regarding the Diwali function in SNU, she told me even though she was treated cordially and shown good care, she too felt something was missing in terms of the organising and execution of the programmes. I told her that I was not prepared for the north Indian crowd, since I expected to see more South Indian people. I was eagerly telling her how I was agitated that day - The moment we entered the celebration hall, they greeted us by saying Anyeong Haseyo (welcome/hello) (when they could have used Pranam or Namskar or atleast welcome in English) and after registration, Kamsameidha (Thank you). And I was totally frantic because even after watching the koreans, we are not keen to promote our culture. What is the need of korean greetings in an Indian gathering, that too in a 99% Indian gathering?

It was already 9pm and she was late by 2hrs for food. As I asked her if she strained too much bcoz I was coming, she assured me that her husband had prepared all dishes and kept them in the fridge for her to use. She had just made some rice, took some alooparatta and started heating.

We had a hearty dinner. The dishes prepared by her husband were really tasty – the Cholay- Bengal gram gravy and aloo-gobi sabji.

We also found that both of us have experienced the same shock of answering our age to Koreans during the very first week of our visit. Koreans try to find your age at the very first meet. By knowing our age they would decide the language they'd have to use to communicate with us. The korean language like Indian languages (unlike the English language- where you can use YOU to your son and your professor) has different usage of words for communicating to children, to men of same age and to the men elder to them.

Not to stop with that, they will add another year to whatever age we say. Because here the born babe is considered to be an year old. So your days are counted from the time you are in the womb of your mother!!

We noted that like in India, in Korea too, men are superior to women according to the tradition. Girls speak to boys with respectful words, but men can respond in a less respectful language without offending. Koreans respect each other even if there’s a single day difference in their ages, but they don’t treat the foreigners equally. But Madam had an interesting experience at this point, when she was in the US doing her PhD, her close friend was a Korean, and even in Singapore she had a good Korean friend. So I believe it'd be unfair to brand the country as a whole foreigner-unfriendly one (This point is to be noted by my friend Saji, who always likes to have a detachment with korea).

The spoken language here is interesting and I observed that it takes several troughs with “ng”, ‘gw’ used commonly like in the words “An eong” and Nak Se’ong’ dae, ‘Gw’anak.

Even though the government wishes to spend more on international collaborations and wants to portray itself as more foreigner-friendly nation and pays you pockets-ful, the salary slips are still in Korean. The computer is in Korean. You can’t guess the food products, they will be named in Korean, you can’t ask them even-people can’t respond to you in english. I felt very bad initially and found alienated. But then coming over, gradually. I was assuming that because its Korea, this is happening.

But to my surprise, Mam said even in the USA she felt the same - That you are alienated. Its not your inner goodness or how you get along well with others that is valued in US, but how good you can be on your own, how you can live independent of others that will help you out really. It’s a lesson indeed for me as well.

Signing off with a poem that inspired me recently:

Earth and sky
Night and sound
Dark and light
Summer and Winter
One alone is not enough
You need both together
Lesson Number one!.. Courtesy: Song from the animation movie MULAN II

1 comment:

  1. lesson no one is nice...listening mulan...added in my orkut and facebook...thanks raji...

    enjoy ur days...

    life is beautiful...