Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cultural Differences: Clothes

Ever the casual enthusiast, shortly after being assigned a sponsor last year, I inquired about the dress code. I was told that I was lucky, because in the IRM section we could wear polo shirts and slacks (pretty much what I've worn to work at every job I've had). Perfect! After arriving, I quickly noticed that I was one of the few people wearing polo shirts to work. In fact... people regularly jog or take morning walks wearing them. Fast forward many months. I got a terrible poison ivy rash on my arms, and in an effort to refrain from scratching, I wore a button down long sleeve shirt. I was complimented by someone in the Med unit for wearing such a nice shirt, because "you're normally just wearing a t-shirt." 

"Whoa whoa whoa!" I protested, "I'm normally wearing a POLO shirt."

"In India, we call those t-shirts too."

A quick internet search comparison between and shows the truth in this. Well... I made it half way through, why change now? It does make me wonder if people would notice if I started wearing regular t-shirts to work though... better not chance it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sounds of Chennai

Living in India is definitely an experience for all of your senses. Everything is more colorful, there are active spice mills on side of the street (and other less savory smells, from time to time), the food has more flavor, and, of course, there are a lot of sounds. 
Our house is situated on the corner of a medium-sized intersection (busy, but no street light), and we have a constant barrage of sound 24 hours a day. Horns, calls from chaiwallas (tea sellers), and other passing bike-based vendors (think cardboard recyclers, vegetable carts, or tailors) comprise the bulk of the cacophony. Add in the random parades, political drive-bys such as the one in the video, and religious processions... and things can be quite noisy. Sometimes fireworks go off, because "Hey, we had some fireworks and [maybe even] something to celebrate."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Streaming Abroad

Consistently, the most important thing for incoming officers is immediate access to the internet. They say it's to check in with their family, so their spouse can keep up with her online-grad-school work, or any number of legitimate reasons, but let's face it. We all know it's because they want Facebook and Netflix. That's not an accusation, I was totally the same way.

Facebook works everyhwere, so that's not a problem, but Netflix has regional content blocking. Most of the people I talk to in the Foreign Service use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bounce all of their internet traffic off a US based host to get around this (we are Americans afterall, it makes sense that we have access to American content, right?). However, I've slowly been converting people from VPNs to a much more appropriate "Smart DNS" service provided by Unblock-Us. VPNs are difficult to configure and use, can only be used by one device at a time (or require expensive network gear), generally cost more, and in most cases, are scarily unsecure. Unblock-Us works by changing who your computer, phone, whatever asks when it attempts to find the actual IP address of the website you've requested. So when you type in a web address, such as, it points you to servers in the US, rather than the regional servers for your location. For Netflix, this allows you to watch as if you were in the US, but is much faster than a VPN, since the data only has to travel from Netflix to you, rather than taking a stop at your intermediate VPN host first. In addition, Smart DNS service can be set up with literally any device or network gear, so you can use as many devices to watch Netflix on your home wireless connection as your bandwidth will allow.

Disclaimer: I've used Unblock-Us ever since moving overseas, and recommend it to pretty much everyone. After 11 months of suggesting it to people, I figured I might as well sign up as their affiliate, so everyone that signs up using my link above gives me a free month of service.