Stories about culture

A new year in the land of Hitachi

The beginning of a new year in the land of the rising sun was a very memorable experience for me. I learned a lot about Japanese culture when I spent my first new year away from my homeland here. Like the fact that Hitachi is defined by many Japanese people as the ‘rising sun’, where hi means ‘sun’ and tachi means ‘to rise’. December 31 and January 1 saw hordes of people on the streets, making their way to shrines, temples, and matsuris (festivals). On December 31, I made my way to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. It is a small city full of ...

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What a gori learned in India

I didn’t get to ride an elephant or dance and sing about love and heartache in choreographed Bollywood style. But during a little trip to India to attend my boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding, I did learn some things about Indian etiquette. Here are a few lessons for non-Indians who find themselves sari-wrapped in India. Lesson #1: The price is never fixed You can haggle for literally everything in India — even when there are signs saying “price is fixed.” The process is like interpretive dance: prices hang in limbo while unresolved arms sway and strike poses to the rhythms of sari fabrics brushing ...

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My blue passport doesn’t make me American

There was an incredible comment I read on one of my previous posts about how it’s impossible to live on in the oblivion of being both Pakistani and American. I don’t remember who wrote that to me, but if you’re reading this, thank you. You are a small part of the motivation that inspired this topic you are reading today. I was born in Karachi and lived the first nine years of my life moving back and forth between Karachi and Lahore before moving to the US. Though I can’t recall what the people, culture and society were like ...

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Who let the dogs out?

The puppy is six weeks old. She has black fur all round except for a little white mark on her neck. She likes to drop her food on the ground before attempting to eat it. If she likes you, she will bite your foot. Her owner, my friend, is madly in love with her new pet. I spent the evening at her house playing fetch with her Rottweiler puppy and went inside to wash my hands. And that’s when she says: “You should probably do wuzu (ablution) you know.” The tap water is running, I have soap in one hand. “Sorry?” I ...

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‘No Baba, not her 18th birthday party, her wedding’

“Baba, I need to go to Mehek’s* mehndi tonight.” “Mehek’s sister?” “No, Mehek’s. As in, Mehek in my class.” My father lowers his newspaper, eyebrows raised. “Mehek in your class is getting married?” Yes, Mehek in my class is getting married. And I am cordially invited. Who gets married at 18? Apparently, a sizable chunk. I can easily produce a list of girls who have gotten married, will get married this year, or will be getting married in the next year or two. The list of girls whose possibility of getting engaged in the next year or two is exponentially higher. And this phenomenon is not ...

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Why can’t women ride motorbikes?

It wasn’t long ago when I saw her. I remember how stunned people were as soon as they caught a glimpse of her. She was a fat woman, wearing a dark grey men’s kurta with sleeves half-rolled, riding a motorcycle. Yes, you read it right. She was a middle-aged woman, riding a Honda 70 on Karachi’s roads, with a man sitting behind her. This often makes me wonder; being a girl, why am I deprived of enjoying this convenient form of personal commutation without having a million eyes ogling at me? It saves time and is amazingly economical, if nothing ...

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Great grades mean nothing if you don’t have a chaperone – or a Y chromosome

Meet Maheen*: a hardworking final year A’ Level student. By hardworking, I mean that when Maheen received a B in Chemistry, having lost out by a mark, she stayed back in the library for hours on end every day for three weeks, to finally get an A in the finals. It’s that kind of hard work that translated into 14 As in her O’ Levels, seven of which were A*. Naturally, she had straight As in her AS Levels. She is the kind of girl that you assume will apply to the best colleges. But Maheen is not calling the ...

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Video blog: Why Toffee TV is awesome

I’ve always been concerned about what children watch on TV every day. The absence of quality, locally-produced cartoons in Pakistan has always been disheartening for me. I remember a teacher who went through a lot of trouble and spent a huge amount of money only to order a Spanish cartoon TV series Pocoyo for her pre-school children, because the ones that are aired here in Pakistan are not appropriate. A recent laudable effort by Rabia Garib and Talea Zafar, called ToffeeTV, was a welcome sign. The online initiative is based on promoting our ...

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Postcard from Dubai

You know, I really wouldn’t say another nasty thing about Dubai if I didn’t know a secret. Yes, it’s true. Dubai and other Gulf states which sear their bottoms on the desert sands have a dirty secret that doesn’t get publicised. And I am going to tell you what it is. To be fair, however, let me just say that there are really no points for you as a critic for singling out Dubai for criticism. Namely, because a. it is an easy target; and b. it doesn’t make a difference. And I agree. In fact, I think it is unfair to diss ...

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Marketing Pakistan: Know your product

On the one hand, it seems that Pakistan doesn’t have much to offer travelers these days with the exception of expats visiting their families, Lonely Planet reading backpackers, Sikh pilgrims and cricket-mad Indians—many of whom have waned from the ‘insecurity’ situation. Then, on the other hand, the ‘Ministry of Marketing’ (let us suppose that one exists) has plenty of underutilised fodder to attract positive international interest, if only they would. From an ancient civilization that’s older than the Pyramids (the Indus Valley along with Buddhist and Gandhara aren’t adequately promoted like the Mughals as they’re pre-Islamic), historical architecture (including pre-Partition buildings that ...

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