One of the things you notice first when you arrive Kerala is the beautifully curvy and mysterious script. The Malayalam alphabet consists of 56 letters. Its rounded form comes from the fact it was primarily handwritten with a sharp point on dried palm leaves. Continue reading
Many Cornell “hotelies” are multilingual; not only bilingual but often speaking three or four languages. Their coursework is in English, they may speak Spanish or French from high school education, and Chinese helps as the number of Chinese travelers increase every year. For example, my good friend from the Cornell Hotel School speaks Spanish because she is from Venezuela, speaks Chinese because her family is a Chinese-origin, speaks English just like all my classmates, and maybe she speaks some other languages that I don’t even know about. Similarly, I speak English, Korean, and some Spanish and Mandarin. So, as an hotelier, I called myself a multilingual and thought I could easily communicate with people anywhere I go. Until I arrived in Kerala.
Learning Malayalam is the first time in my life trying to learn a language that has a totally different alphabets and pronunciation. So the experience is totally different from learning English, Spanish, or French. One of my colleagues here learned Hindi before she arrived in Kerala for her studies but Malayalam is so different from Hindi that it doesn’t help her communicate. The one thing that saved all of us (Interns from US) is that English is an official second language in Kerala so all of the resort staffs here speak English pretty well. However, most of them speak Malayalam to each other during work and speak English only with foreigners, so I thought that learning Malayalam would be a good idea to get to know the culture and people better.
My first step in learning Malayalam started with memorizing some simple words and phrases so that I can initiate conversation with everyone. So our journey of learning Malayalam started by asking around for some Malayalam lessons.
Three days ago, we pulled up in front of an art deco gate and half-abandoned mansion on the property of a soon-to-be new RAXA Collective resort. By ‘we’ I mean the design team comprising of an architecture student (me, Chi-Chi), a landscape architecture student (Rania), a hotelie-turned-interior architecture student (Jonathon), and an engineering student (Siobhan). We were told to get a feel of the property.
We found: ‘objects’ (modest fishermen’s homes); an endless, unobstructed beach with marbled sand and black waves; and our new favorite hangout spot, a nearby internet café.
Kaiser found: two Indian security guards; their next-door-neighbor friend; our cook Manu; and us.
Kaiser is a tiny mixed puppy who arrived on site only an hour before we did. As a dog-lover and all-around “everything happens for a reason” believer, I KNEW KAISER WAS A SIGN. A sign for what, I don’t really know, but he was a very cute and very small sign, so I immediately focused all my down-time obsessing and fussing over Kaiser.
I think Kaiser gave me more insight to Indian attitudes. It’s very difficult to converse with someone about abstract ideas without a common language, but if you throw a dog in the mix, it becomes a lot easier.