Cross Cultural Storytelling: Week 5

Cross Cultural Storytelling:  The Lighter Side of the East West Center is a project that hopes to be a repository of notable East West Center impressions.  When different cultures meet, poignant, humorous, and uplifting experiences create treasured memory recalls that last, and are quite simply, unforgettable.

Submission guidelines are available at:


SUBMITTED BY: Vasanthi Ranganathan, EWCA Chennai Chapter
FIELD/AREA OF STUDY: Open Grants 1987 – 1991

I come from India , a very traditional Brahmin family where no meat is eaten. My mother never ate in hotel which served non vegetarian food.  Coming from this kind of background,  cooking and eating in the East west center kitchen was all fun, there were smells or should I say fragrances of cuisine from the far east.  Everything looked funny and different and all these they aid ahd life before they ended up in the sink or in the pot.  Kitchen sinks in Hale Manoa, Common refrigerators where all kinds of meat was stored – all I had to do was to pray that I should learn to enjoy the smells and also the sight of roasted flesh strung on sticks, even if I decided not to taste.

To me the American who enjoyed a hamburger or a Filipino or a Korean who ate maybe dog’s meat were all the same. To me they all ate meat and I did not. I was even at Maui where the islanders picked up raw mussels off the rocks and enjoyed eating them, they even relished it. I also felt good because in my country those who did not eat meat could not stand the smell or sight of any thing be it lamb or chicken or maybe beef.  Here I was enjoying or at least stomaching the smells which were different and strange. But there was an interesting afternoon where even the meat eaters could not handle it.

Dr. Richard Brislin of ICC, held afternoon sessions on cross culture. Every culture had a brief introduction to their culture. This particular afternoon, we were told that we will be given delicious Filipino lunch. Lunch served in a plate and covered with a paper napkin was kept before all the participants who attended the session. All of us, conjured up a delicious dish of dog meat. Kindly remember that I always could smell and see well and till date have stuck to being vegetarian by birth and by choice.   Even the meat eaters slowly opened their lunch delicacy and all faces turned a little strange and uncomfortable.  Everyone thought that they were being given some slushy dog meat, oh well it was slushy alright but it was only chicken.

When the cat was out of the bag, all laughed. There was a sigh of relief across the hall. Everyone comfortably started eating the food but some faces continued to look a little funny. Perceptions are surely difficult to change.  People’s ways of thinking takes a long time to change. Stereotypes are common.  EWC helped us alter our perceptions and be open. I think of this day sometime way back in 1989 and tell myself that I need to learn more about people, rather than be judgmental. It was real fun and still is.


Vasanthi Ranganathan attended the East-West Center Open Grants Program during 1987 – 1991. She received the Makana award. She  introduced several programs in India and also introduced the 1st abacus program and today India sells abacus franchisees to the world.