Expat Voice: Embracing Life with Open Arms
“I had been travelling to India for business research and preliminaries two years prior to moving to Bengaluru with my children. So, I had a fair idea of what to expect and how my life would be in this country,” Ema, who runs an anti-aging spa in the city, tells Little India.
The aesthetician talks about setting up her first spa, helping the less privileged children, her life in Bengaluru and much more.
Setting Up the First Spa
I, along with my Indian business partners, opened an anti-aging spa that specializes in result-oriented facials and body treatments. I decided to settle here because I understood that unless I stay here and transfer the technology to my staff and personally do the marketing for our prospective clients, this business would not take off. I also teach Face Yoga.
However, I faced many problems while setting up the business. For example, no one told me that Bengaluru faces electricity shortage and that I would be required to install a generator. We could not install a big generator since the neighbor would not sign the no objection certificate. I had no idea that construction would be a slow process and that the delay would cost us so much money.
I felt like crying the night we finally lit the signage of our first spa in Indiranagar, in Bengaluru. The hard work had paid off. Our first spa will always be special because we learned so many lessons from the mistakes we made.
Every interaction with a client has been memorable. They trust us to take away their muscle pain and stress. They trust us to make them look better and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.
Life in Bengaluru
I was mentally prepared to live in India, so it was not that difficult to adjust here. I am also an Asian, so we have some cultural similarities.
My children were used to having Filipino maids round the clock in Manila, unlike in Bengaluru, where they had to do household chores themselves. I faced difficulty finding maids who were reliable, responsible and trustworthy. Therefore, I decided not to employ any help. I also saw it as an opportunity for my children to become more responsible.
The children moved here at a relatively younger age, so it was easier for them to adjust. However, they missed their friends and Filipino food and the variety of recreational activities they used to do in Manila. They have become “Indianized” now and have many friends here.
However, I have a couple of complaints–the lack of basic infrastructure is imperative. The problems that I faced 12 years ago still exist, in fact, have become worse. Shortage of water and electricity, bad roads, garbage are some issues that still exist. Secondly, the banking system is so slow and complicated. The process of opening a bank account which takes an hour or two in my country, could take up to two weeks due to the slow activation process.
Grant A Wish
I always knew that I wanted to do something meaningful in life one day. When I was younger, I would promise myself: “One day, when I become rich, I will help others.” However, I realized that I didn’t need to be financially well off to be able to help others.
Before I became an entrepreneur, I was an executive producer for a television program in Philippines that created documentaries and infomercials to rescue and rehabilitate abused children. Applying all my acquired skills from my previous job and with the help of business contacts and like-minded friends who wanted to be involved in a charitable mission, I spearheaded the “Grant A Wish” initiative.
It is an annual initiative organized by ExpatLife India, a Bengaluru-based organization comprising expats and global Indians. Hundreds of members, along with our friends and family, fulfill the wishes of underprivileged children from selected orphanages and child-caring non-government organizations (NGOs).
It is the happiest day of the year for me. The number of children beneficiaries keeps growing every year and I hope this continues.
Some Unfortunate Incidents
I was walking down Indiranagar one evening when someone on a bike groped my chest and sped away. That was the first time I felt unsafe in India.
In another unfortunate incident, my daughter was hit by a lady biker when she was crossing the street. She had a skull fracture as she banged her head on the concrete road after being hit. The lady biker was also hurt, but the mob blamed my daughter for being “careless”. My daughter, however, was crossing a street in front of her school–that’s a school zone.
The mob helped the biker and brought her to the hospital, but no one bothered to help my daughter. Could it be because my daughter is a foreigner? I don’t know. She managed to bring herself home but was bleeding. I felt terrible and shared the story on Facebook. Many Indians offered their sympathies and support. Maybe it was bad luck for my daughter.
India is a country of extremes. Living here has brought out the best in me. I never knew what I was capable of, until I went through challenging times while setting up my business. Success was not an option, it was a must. I learned to be patient, resourceful, creative and mentally tough. I learned to be non-judgmental and met people from all walks of life here.
I learned to be more grateful and appreciative of whatever I had when I was living in Philippines because I had to give up my comfortable life after moving to India. I made many sacrifices in order to sustain the business.
You need to prepare yourself mentally if you wish to live here. You have to be open-minded and be ready to face the chaos, because India is unpredictable. You will get used to it eventually, to the extent that when you leave India, I guarantee, you will miss it.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.