Further China Preparations!

My trip is getting closer and closer, I will be leaving for China in nearly two months! I purchased my plane ticket and I am currently working on getting my Chinese visa along with setting up housing accommodations. Even though I will be in Shanghai for the majority of my stay, I decided to fly in and out of Hong Kong which will make traveling to Tibet at the end of my trip more accessible. This will also enable me to see some of what HK has to offer which will broaden my knowledge about the Chinese culture and allow me to see some beautiful places. I am trying to learn Mandarin in the little spare time that I have, which is slightly harder than I anticipated. However, even picking up as little as the basics will help me a lot during my five weeks in China. Learning a new language all over again can be extremely exciting especially when you know you’ll be using it on an everyday basis!

Since I will be working with the student population at East China Normal University, I am trying to get in touch with specific student groups and organizations that would be interested in meeting me. I have contacted a few offices at ECNU and I am patiently waiting to hear back from them.

Since I do not know anyone that lives or will be in Shanghai at the same time as me, I am networking and trying to get in touch with as many people from there as possible prior to my trip. This will not only help me assimilate to the new culture but also allow me to socialize and spend time with people as I know that traveling alone can get lonely.

All of this is really exciting and new – doing as little as planning this trip has already been a great experience!

First Post – The Beginning of My Preparations!

My excursion to Shanghai is becoming so much more real and exciting as I search for plane tickets and housing accommodations. I finalized my research topic last week after several consultations with different people given that the topic of gender can be a sensitive one in China. My plan is to meet and spend time with as many Chinese young women as possible in order to discover their perceptions of gender, sexism, and motives to change the way women are perceived/treated. I would like to incorporate as many aspects of life as possible into my project, ranging from gender roles in family settings, romantic relationships, or how technology is used to empower women. I plan to explore these areas by establishing relationships with Chinese university students through reaching out to student groups at East China Normal University prior to my departure.

The university population seems like a much more accessible subject pool and it will be interesting to see whether the younger generation of women shares their mothers’ or grandmothers’ values, and how they feel about “traditional” roles for women in China.

There is a possibility that I will stay in Shenzhen for a week or two and explore gender perceptions amongst residents/migrants in urban villages. It would serve as a useful comparative tool and would expose me to Chinese cultures outside of contemporary, technology-infused Shanghai. I would also love to visit Tibet after four weeks of my stay in China, but I still have yet to figure out this excursion.

I have never been in Asia before and this will be my very first time traveling alone, and I could not be more excited. Emerging into the Chinese culture will be both an educational and self-fulfilling experience that will shape me in a variety of ways – it might also help me in my future work as a researcher and sex therapist.

Before India

It was less than 48 hours before my flight left and I was standing at Cox and Kings Visa Application Centre asking for my visa for the 5th time that week. It was time to enter into panic mode. I knew if I didn’t get my visa by tomorrow I would miss my flight, and it looked like that was a strong possibility. At this point I had made friends with the staff at the centre and was begging for a way to make sure it came tomorrow. One of the guys put his hand over his mouth and mumbled “Consulate, basement, go to window 2.” I had a final in less than an hour but it was down to the wire and decided to just go for it. I jumped in a cab and got up to the consulate by central park and started thinking maybe this was a bad plan and I would miss my final but as the great minds of our generation say: YOLO. I saw the stairs leading down to the basement were roped off. Not sure what got into me, but I climbed over the little wall and jumped onto the stairs, ran through the metal detector setting off the alarm and walked straight past the security guard to window 2. Note to anyone who wants to get into the thief field: the Indian Consulate is remarkably easy to break into. I summoned the (fake) tears and stated my problem to the woman behind the glass. She asked why I had booked my ticket before I got my visa despite the website saying not to do that and I started to explain the email said my visa would be ready in time which immediately lost her interest. Then I just said “because I’m an idiot.” She seemed to like that and sent someone to go look into my visa.

Preparing to go to India was a mission and a half. Between finding out a few weeks before my plane left and thus being pressed for time, being in the thick of finals, finishing my internship and having to do a trip back to Canada to deal with an almost expired passport, things were pretty hectic. But aside from all of that, how does one even prepare to go to India? I had no idea what to expect. I started asking friends and family for their thoughts and got a whole slew of advice. I got lists from people who had traveled and worked there, my parents, the lady at the bank, my Dad’s cab driver. Everyone had something to say. Most of the advice was safety and food related, making me think I had a strong possibility of being kidnapped/raped/deathly ill within the first few hours of arriving. A girl my age who had traveled in Dehli last summer said she felt unsafe all the time. The advice ranged from cautious to extremely cautious. Some of the most common pieces of advice were:

  • Never take rickshaws, the subway, buses or cabs.
  • If I get in a cab to take a photo of the driver, license plate and send all the information to my parents. – Others said the only safe way to get around was to get a driver.
  • I was told not to go out after 7 pm, or if I must go with a group.
  • Do not go to the market by yourself.
  • Do not go anywhere with someone you do not know (this is going to be interesting since I do not know anyone).
  • Carry all your money in a money pouch attached to the inside of your shirt.
  • Do not drink the water, only bottled water
  • Do not buy food from street vendors, eat as much hotel food as possible it is usually safe
  • No fruits or vegetables unless they have been cooked

A lot of people who gave me advice had never even been to India. This is interesting because it is a reflection of how the West views India. India is negatively portrayed in the media; we hear all these stories of rape, severe illness, theft and danger. The most common response I got when I said I was going was “Why? Don’t get raped.” I joked with a friend and said “why doesn’t everyone keep saying that to me!” and he said “it’s not you, it’s India.” But is it really India? Or is it just our skewed perception of India? The people I spoke to who are actually from India kept saying “it’s fine, you’ll be fine. It’s not like everyone says it is.” I didn’t believe them.
Either way, as a 20 year old girl travelling alone I will exercise caution. After getting all these warnings and lectures, I’m also nervous as hell right now. I have friends of my fathers friend picking me up from the airport and housing with an American expat family organized, so at least that’s a starting point and I’ll figure it out from there, only time will tell. Let the adventure begin.

Advice to fellow travelers:

  1. Apply for visa as early as possible, hopefully you can wait to book your plane ticket until after you get your visa. If it’s not coming for some reason, go directly to the consulate, down to the basement and to window 2, and tell them you’re an idiot and hope they take pity on you.
  2. Go to Cox and Kings early. Walk in hours are between 9 am and noon Monday through Friday. They only accept a certain number of walk in appointments, so go around 7:30 am (at the absolute latest). You will see a lot of people lining up outside waiting for 9 am when the guard will escort small numbers upstairs.
  3. To pick up your visa the hours are between 3-6 pm (despite what it says on the website, learned this one the hard way.) Download a movie on your phone, bring a book and go for about 2:15 at the latest. Going early is way better than having to wait until they go through 50 people before you and then find out that they are closed and you have to go the next day. Fortunately it never happened to me but was a common horror story repeated in the Cox and Kings line up.
  4. Want to avoid all this hassle and just mail it in? Bad plan. Lots of people were saying their applications got lost (along with their passports!) when they had done this and missed their flights and their trips. It’s a lot of time but absolutely worth going in person. Think of it as your introduction to the lines and crowds you will be facing in India.
  5. When you are submitting your visa forms to Cox and Kings make sure the address you put on the forms as your current address is the same as the address that is on your proof identification. So submitting a drivers licence from your hometown and having your New York address on your forms isn’t going to fly, the identification address needs to match your current address. I brought a passport (no address), a lease and two utility bills. They prefer utility bills over a lease, so go for that if you have it. Note they do not accept Time Warner bills, it has to be a water, heat, electricity bill, etc.
  6. Fill out every single form listed on the Cox and Kings website. They’re going to take about half of them but apparently it just depends on the day, better to be prepared than have to go back.

Post Series by ICI Student Fellow Kate Wallace

Recently our Student Fellow Kate Wallace embarked on a journey to India to explore the link between healthcare access and technology as well as healthcare access for poverty stricken communities in New Delhi. Throughout her journey, Kate kept a journal noting the memorable moments and learning experiences from her trip.

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing her journal entries from her experience working and traveling in India.


Kate grew up in Toronto, Canada. After graduating high school she lived in Singapore, Montreal and Savannah, Georgia before settling in New York City. She attends Parsons The New School for Design and is currently a sophomore completing her BFA in Design and Technology. She loves exploring new places and through her travels has learned she has a terrible sense of direction. She is passionate about technology and hopes to save the world someday.

Latest Posts:

  • Before India (3/10/2015) - It was less than 48 hours before my flight left and I was standing at Cox and Kings Visa Application Centre asking for my visa for the 5th time that week. It was time to enter into panic mode. I knew if I didn’t get my visa by tomorrow I would miss my flight, and read on

Chat n Chai: 2014 Student Fellows share their research and travel experiences

Each year ICI provides six New School students with a travel and research grant to study in India or China. Students work in the field and conduct academic research. The 2014 cohort of Student Fellows joined us in a special Chat n’ Chai series focussing on their work. East student discussed their research methodology and presented their findings at the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center in The New School.

Carolina Coviello: Carolina explored the improvement in Chinese labor standards. She also investigated how this process has impacted both the manufacturing market and the relationship between China and the international companies, like Adidas, which have outsourced there.

Joe Wheeler: Joe engaged in discourse with women working toward gender equality externally (via national reform) and internally (via community reform) in India. He explored how the Uniform Civil Code is understood by both sides, the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions to this complex problem, as well as the lived ramifications of discriminatory Personal Law and real world persecution of religious minorities.

Mikaela Kvan: Mikaela looked at China’s labor laws and used China as a baseline to evaluate the growth of Cambodia’s garment industry through the voices of women who work at various levels throughout the garment manufacturing process. The research assessed the physical effects of the growth of this industry on emotional outcomes in identity and personal expression. Her study took place in Shenzhen, China and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Tomas Uribe: Tomas researched how music is used as a tool for empowering youth and analyzed and evaluated the applicability and relevance of music education in the lives of at-risk youth based on two case studies in Mumbai (Mewsic) and New Delhi (Music Basti).

Marina Kaneti: Marina traveled to Hong Kong, Guandong, and Shanghai to conduct research of archival collections at several locations. This research, part of her broader PhD Dissertation work, examined the links between migration and business at the end of the nineteenth – early twentieth century.

Below are videos of the event including as well as some candid conversations with the students.

Chat n Chai – 2014 Student Fellows:

ICI Conversations – 2014 Student Fellows:

They’re not as serene as they seem to be

Minimum wage violations perpetuate modern-day feudalism on Assam’s tea plantations

Recently had the opportunity to be published in the Hindustan Times as the co-author of an op-ed developed with Francesca Cespi Feruglio during my time with Nazdeek as part of my research fellowship with India China Institute.

Colonial-era labour structures, faulty trade union practices and corporate greed are responsible for unjust wages…  The current state of the plantations is nothing short of modern-day feudalism—taking the migrant population, placing it in social isolation and ensuring the people live in abject poverty with little to no access to education, health, food or an alternative livelihood. Plantation owners eliminate any opportunity for social mobility.

See the full article here.

Hope through music


Mahesh's Interview

Mahesh’s Interview

Dharavi, being one of the biggest slums in the world, has many challenges regarding waste management, transportation, garbage disposal, and clean water. Clearly, families living in Dharavi cope with this situation by taking part in traditional and ludic activities such as praying, dancing, singing, and celebrating religious holidays. While working at Dharavi, we were invited not only to interview the children’s parents in their own homes, but have the opportunity to share with them some time, talking about music and art, and how Mewsic has influenced positively their children’s lives.

With Sachin and Kaajal

With Sachin and Kaajal

One of the interviews we conducted was with Sanjay (Mahesh’s student)and his mom, a women head of household, who just 4 years ago lost her husband due to asthma complications. She lives with Sanjay in a small yet humble, 9 sq mt house in the middle of Dharavi; a little over 15 minutes away from the Mewsic Center. While interviewing her, one could sense her devout religiousness and hard-working attitude. Being a single mom is definitely not an easy task, but she was confident when saying the communication with his son has improved immensely since he started playing the guitar and flute at the Mewsic Center. She saw Sanjay perform at the Music Mela (a performance event with music presentations) and was so overwhelmed with his performance, she couldn’t help it and started crying while her interview. One of the several testimonies we got this day in Dharavi (in addition to Kaajal and her mom), also from parents who see in their child hope of a better future, serves as an example of how music empowers these children, and how through music, they have a chance of gaining another perspective of life, despite their socio-economic situation. Continuing with more footage and looking forward to additional tutor interviews and parents with their kids.

Interviews at Govandi

Dance kids at Govandi

Dance kids at Govandi

Our visit to the Govandi music centre was very productive and proactive. We met with the dance tutor, Sachin and witnessed a remarkable dance session with the children. Having experienced yesterday the Dahihandi festival (or Govinda sport) in the streets of the Mahalaxmi area, it is clear that dance and music is key to their cultural development and traditions, both individually and collectively. The Dahihandi festival celebrates the story of Krishna, trying to reach the top shelves of the house and eat a bowl full of buttermilk. Numerous groups of children (both girls and boys) team up and strategize to build human pyramids, resembling Krishna’s effort to reach the top. It consists of an entire day of festivities, where multiple politicians and their political parties support financially the festival.

Similar to the music heard at Dahihandi, children at the music centre were dancing to Bollywood item numbers, contemporary music, hip hop, and dub step beats with carefully selected choreographies taught by Sachin, their music tutor. Their energetic faces and bodies make them seem as truly professional dancers and artists. We started the interviewing process for the documentary with a 10 year-old girl named Nida. She lives only 4 blocks away from the music centre in the middle of Govandi. We had a very interesting conversation, facilitated by Astrid and Sachin (serving as translators), about her talent as a dancer, what her thoughts for the future were, and her experience at the Maharashtra dance competition where she participated. We continued with Sachin. He talked more in depth about his dance expertise, his background, and how he plans to have his own dance academy for the community. He stressed the fact that he likes to send a message with his choreographies, considering the social problems they face both as a community and as a country.

Nida's Interview

Nida’s Interview

Mewsic has several advantages in the community. Many people have been following their activities and concerts, which is why they have several collaborators and mobilizers. The mobilisers help to spread the word about music classes and programming around the community, while also bonding with the children’s parents and families. Thanks to one of the mobilisers, we met Nadi’s family. We visited their home and spoke to her for a while. She stated she likes to see her daughter dance (Nida’s oldest sister also danced at Mewsic, and now she attends college for a BA in Commerce). Even though Muslim families have different perspectives about artistic and musical endeavours, Nida’s mom is a complete fan of her daughter’s dance skills, and supports her as long as she goes to school and remains with good grades. All in all, great footage and a truly enlightening day. Tomorrow, we’ll speak to other students at Dharavi music center.

Trip to the Lotus Temple

Day 22 in New Delhi

For my last afternoon in Delhi, I wanted something calm and relaxing so I headed south to the Baha’i Lotus Temple, an astounding piece of modern architecture. I had the opportunity to walk the grounds, learn a bit about the Baha’i faith, and sit in on a service. Baha’i works to find the unity in all major world religions, and for the service I joined practitioners read verses from the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Quran followed by a period of silent, personal prayer and reflection.  This gave me time to think back on my experience with Nazdeek, plan out what might come next for the project, and prepare for the start of my last year of graduate school–courses start just a week after I return.

Coming from a background in both religious studies and architecture this was an amazing experience both in terms of the content of the service and the design of the space. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my trip. Photography was not allowed inside the temple, but here are some shots of the exterior:

A view of Mumbai

Incense and prayer

Incense and prayer

Throughout the weekend, since it was mainly about Independence Day, most governmental institutions and venues were closed except museums and other tourist sights. Considering filming and shooting without permission in Mumbai is against the law, due to the 2008 terrorist attacks, getting footage for the project has been quite a challenge. Most of the footage I’ve been aiming to get while not working with Mewsic and the children is from the city, the traditions and cultures one can experience in urban settings, traveling by auto rickshaw, train and taxi cabs, and through common day-to-day activities. In some of the temples, people are OK with tourist taking pictures and watching their prayers. Here’s a photo from the popular Jain Temple in the city. Particularly, policemen can be found in every single train station, and they will make you delete any snapshots you’ve taken with your camera, let alone any semi-professional DSLR’s or similar.

Man near CST

Man near CST

After a week staying in Mumbai, I’ve gotten the hang of the train system. Quite different than New York’s complex yet efficient system, Mumbai’s railway system is a bit more tough to handle and manage. Orientation in the city is not that hard; trains go from north to south and have both western and central railways. The first couple of rides tested my ability to fight for a spot within the 1st (100 INR or more) and 2nd class (5-10 INR) cars. Clearly, the 2nd class cabins are packed most of the time. Men are the common customers in 2nd class since it is too packed for women to travel (given the circumstances in gender violence cases). Train travel is a great option to check out the city and get away from the hustle bustle of constant honking in the streets and chaotic pedestrian walking. One thing to admire is the great railway system implemented by the British more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the architecture of train stations as well as buildings and classic British houses have been left without any restoration, making most of Mumbai’s views and urban scenery old and grey. Mumbai’s main train station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – CST (Victoria Terminal) is a beautiful building, also designed while the British empire ruled Mumbai. Major local, express, and city-to-city trains leave and arrive from this station, making it one of the busiest around town. I’ve been able to get great footage if Mumbai’s citizens, seeing how they live, how they relate to one another, and how they are part of a huge dynamic metropolis. The city of the 7 islands, or how the Portugues used to call it, Bom-Bahia… Bombay.

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Man at Jain Temple

Man at Jain Temple

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