Computations and Translations

Often people think that language is a major barrier when living in another culture.  I always think that it is the full range of computations and translations that need to take place that are stressful as you try to navigate life.  An assistant in my office is helping me on my Urdu.  He will give me my tea in the morning if I ask him in Urdu and now he has me asking “how are you” each morning.  It is going as well as can be expected.

Then I have to figure out what the temperature is outside before I leave the house.  I have developed a simple formula for the conversion when I’ve lived abroad before.  Take Celsius and double it and add 30 and that gives you a general idea of the temperature in Fahrenheit.  It isn’t exact and it would not work if I were in a place that goes below freezing.

And then there is money.  The exchange rate is about 150 Rupees to the US Dollar.  So when something is 5000 Rupees, exactly, how much is that??  I’ve worked out a formula that seems to help.  A Rupee is about .6 cents.  So 100 Rupees is 60 cents.  1000 R is about $6.  And then multiply the $6 times 5 and you get approximately $30.  It took me quite a few tries to figure out a formula that I could work with.  And of course, if the exchange rate changes, I will be in trouble.

Then there is the scale of air pollution.  I learned of this scale in Hong Kong but only paid attention the one time it got to over 400–which still did not bother me.  I went on line to look at the scale which is an international scale:

I continue to be confused by the color sequence.  Is it just me?  Is this cultural?  I want red to be at the top.  So we are in the red zone and I think we are in trouble and then I go back and look and see that there are two levels even higher.  So I have had to learn to just read the numbers and then go back to the scale to see where it is.  Here are the averages per day the past seven months.  Averages since I have come have been in the purple and maroon category and black (which is not on the scale).

What is more interesting is how it ranges over a day.  This last Thursday I went to bed when it was reasonable (relatively speaking) and opened the house up because it was cooler.  In the middle of the night it spiked up to 635, far above the hazardous category, and public schools were cancelled the next day because of it–a smog day.  But by the time I got up it was back in the “unhealthy” category.  So do you close up the house at night or do you open it up?  Language, money, temperature, pollution scales.  Translations constantly in daily life.  No wonder I’m tired sometimes.  If they would just change the color sequence for me, I would feel so much better.

Magical Himalayan Salt


I have friends who have Himalayan Salt Lamps.  I have been skeptical of their being from the Himalayas which is separate from my skepticism on their medicinal properties. But this week I, in fact, visited the mine where they come from.  The Khewra Salt Mine is in the Salt Mountains of Pakistan and this is where the pink salt originates.  Is it Himalayan?  Well, the Salt Mountains are the outer range of the Himalayan Mountains, but it is a distance from the “real” Himalayans.

The Khewra mine is about three hours from Lahore.  To get there you travel across the Indus valley, crossing two major rivers.  I was glad to be able to get outside the city and see farm land.  Wheat dominated the landscape immediately outside the city.  In-between the two major rivers that we crossed, orchards and sugar cane were more predominant.  We stopped at a major rest stop before heading away from the main highway.  I was faced with McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Hardies, and Pizza Hut.

When headed north toward the mine, the land become dry and parched.  Salt was evident on the land and little was under cultivation.  Across the landscape you could see rock walls that still delineated property lines, though.  And we started running into large trucks filled with chunks of the pink rock salt.

Soon the Salt Mountains appeared and goats and camels became more common.

The mine used to draw visitors from abroad but locals are the primary audience today with the mine being the destination of school field trips.  The actually history of the discovery of the salt deposits goes back to 320 BC when it was discovered by Alexander’s troops but trade started in the Mughal era.  Today there are still 1000 workers on the active site.  The salt deposit was formed when a sea was cut off from the ocean and then evaporated, leaving the salt deposits behind.  It is also part of a folded and faulted rock formation that is part of the forces creating the Himalayan Mountains.  Besides the salt that is used for the lamps, it is also used for bath salts and potash is used into other products such as laundry detergents and shampoo.

Mine Workers

Waiting for train to enter mine

We took a small train into the mine and then walked around.  They have built structures inside with the salt for bricks.  Even the emergency center is made out of the salt.  And famous buildings are also reconstructed from the material.

If you have problems with asthma you can stay in a special facility within the mine for ten days and you will be healed.  I remain skeptical.