Pinoyspotting: Kababayans in India

In 2008 my second sister Susanne died unexpectedly.  Reminded that one could be called at any time, my other sisters and I discussed going on a trip together, to bond and strengthen our relationship.  It would be the first time all four of us would be traveling together. We decided to go to India in November of that year. Fortunately, my eldest sister, Helen, postponed the trip due to some work commitments.  That was the year and the month that “a series of twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days occurred across Mumbai.” The plush hotels like the Oberoi Trident Hotel and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel were not spared, and tourists went into hiding, especially Americans and British citizens who were singled out as hostages. 

Six years later, I broached the idea of visiting India again, and Helen agreed to organize it.  We finally went in February 2015, but my youngest sister, Yvonne, was not able to join Helen, Bella and me.  Two other women friends of Helen joined us.  What do five women do in India?  The only site we had on our list was the Taj Mahal, but we had pages upon pages of shopping areas and stores recommended by other people who had been to India before. Pashmina shawls, Kashmir carpets, kurtas, jewelry, quilted bedspreads, brass bowls, saris, handicrafts, etc. Our itinerary included New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, site of the Taj Mahal.

  Left to right: Bella Yuchengco, author, Prem Shukla (tour guide), Ivy Semeno, Baby Cruz and Helen Yuchengco Dee (Photo courtesy of Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Left to right: Bella Yuchengco, author, Prem Shukla (tour guide), Ivy Semeno, Baby Cruz and Helen Yuchengco Dee (Photo courtesy of Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Khan Market in Delhi is a small shopping area with alleys and narrow buildings where a lot of tourists go to shop and the rent is quite expensive.  From the outside of the building, you would not expect to see boutiques selling brand name items and jewelry.  Of course, you also have less expensive stores selling handicrafts and other goods made in India. It was there that I saw a huge poster announcing Augusto Cabrera as the new chef of Town Hall.  We were not able to go in, but when we got back to the hotel, I googled him and found out that Cabrera used to be the sushi master of the Oberoi Hotel and now is a managing partner at Town Hall. According to Indian Restaurant Spy, "Cabrera had the national capital’s elite eating out of his hands.”  It further states that it was Cabrera “who rid Delhi’s chattering classes of their fear of raw fish by introducing the culture of sushi rolls.”

 A poster of Chef Augusto Cabrera of Town Hall (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

A poster of Chef Augusto Cabrera of Town Hall (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The church on the grounds of the Holy See Embassy is where all expats and Catholic tourists go, and of course, I knew I would bump into Filipinos there as well.  On our second visit, I approached Lourdes and Irenee Dabare from Burkina Faso in Africa.  Irenee works at UNDP as deputy country director in India.  He and Lourdes have been in India for three years.  As we were talking, another Filipino couple, Bobby and Mariza Reinoso, joined us.  Bobby is in charge of manufacturing at Gillette in India.  They have been in India for only a year.

  Left to right: Maria Reinoso, Lourdes and Irenee Dabare and Bobby Reinoso (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Left to right: Maria Reinoso, Lourdes and Irenee Dabare and Bobby Reinoso (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

We also met the Philippine Embassy staff — Second Secretary and Consul Fernando V. Beup, ASEAN and Cultural Officer Jeanette B. Ramos and Protocol Officer Acmali L. Salic.  The ambassador had just been recalled and had not yet been replaced. According to the embassy staff, there are about 3,000 to 5,000 Filipinos in India, 350 in New Delhi alone.  Most of them are engineers (like Bobby Reinoso) and spouses of Indian nationals or foreigners (like Lourdes Dabare).

  Left to right: Second Secretary and Consul Fernando V. Beup, ASEAN and Cultural Officer Jeanette B. Ramos and Protocol Officer Acmali L. Salic (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Left to right: Second Secretary and Consul Fernando V. Beup, ASEAN and Cultural Officer Jeanette B. Ramos and Protocol Officer Acmali L. Salic (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The Embassy staff joined us for lunch, including Jeanette’s family — her husband, Reigner, who is a painter and who also helps out in the Embassy when needed, her energetic son, Jan Regz, and her daughter, Eden Roc.

  ASEAN and Cultural Officer Jeanette B. Ramos and her family: husband Reigner, son Jan Regz and daughter Eden Roc (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

ASEAN and Cultural Officer Jeanette B. Ramos and her family: husband Reigner, son Jan Regz and daughter Eden Roc (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The night before going to the Taj Mahal, we watched a musical drama on the love story between Emperor Shah Jahan and his fourth wife, Mumtaz Mahal (he actually had six wives, but Mumtaz was his favorite), who bore him 14 children. She died giving birth to the 14th child. It took the emperor 22 years to build the mausoleum for his wife. After that, he was going to build a black mausoleum for himself beside the Taj Mahal, but his eldest son instead put him in prison because the treasury was already bankrupt. The Taj Mahal is really something to behold, so majestic and beautiful, at least from a distance. Once inside the Taj Mahal, it is dark. The tomb has a circular fence that makes it difficult to see inside.  There is no time to explore anything else inside as thousands of people push their way in.  It is said that around 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year.

 The Taj Mahal (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The Taj Mahal (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Our tour guide, Prem, tells us that India’s population now is at 1.2 billion and that in the near future, India will surpass China’s population.  India does not believe in the one child per family policy of China. According to Wikipedia, low female literacy and the lack of widespread availability of birth control methods are hampering the use of contraception in India.  It is a beautiful country, similar to the Philippines in some ways, but more steeped in history and culture. To get the “flavor” of India, I ventured into the old Delhi in a tuktuk (tricycle). People warned me of the smell and the dirt.  As the tuktuk entered narrow streets filled with shops and restaurants, and as vendors used the sidewalks to hawk their wares, I shouted to my sister, Bella, “It’s just like Divisoria!"

 Bella Yuchengco (left) and the author on a  tuktuk  (Photo courtesy of Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Bella Yuchengco (left) and the author on a tuktuk (Photo courtesy of Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 A sidewalk vendor in Old Delhi (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

A sidewalk vendor in Old Delhi (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)