Sunday, July 22, 2012

"anywhere i go you go..." -e.e. cummings

Somehow it’s always in the wee hours that my mind starts really going. While I sit snacking on cold spaghetti and watching “Who’s the Boss” in the living room, friends snore comfortably in the two adjoining rooms of this newly-acquired Chennai flat. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently filtered through all of my contacts, having discovered a shocking mass of them when I switched to a new phone a few days ago. Maybe it’s the too-cute 35 second clip my sister-in-law just posted of my baby niece, far away back home, rolling over with her mother’s encouragement in the background. …It’s the little things. But then, when it comes to people, it often is.

I haven’t been around all that long; last week marked the successful completion of a brief 22 years. In that time – the past few especially – what strikes me most are the people. That ever-growing list of contacts that has collected itself on my shiny new phone.

Pennsylvania, DC, Ghana, Denmark, India, and everywhere in between. The ones I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through thick and thin, and the ones I wish I knew better. The ones I know I’ll see for years to come, and the ones I’ll likely never see again. The ones I haven’t seen or talked to in ages, but could never forget…. They’re all there, floating around back here in the slightly misty chasm that is my head late at night.

Too many words, stories, and memories are floating around back there as well; it’s difficult to get a grip on them all and pull them down to the ground, line them up. They’re simply not meant to be lined. The connections with these people certainly aren’t neatly aligned. We’ve met in the most dull, bizarre, exciting, and awkward of moments. We’ve shared, given, and received words of happiness and pain, times of care and of frustration. Some of those times we’d give anything to relive, and some we might prefer to forget. Each of those people are there, though, and each with a story (several with innumerable stories).

My mind almost reels as it goes through the vast mental rolodex, spending plenty of time on some cards and carefully talking myself into putting aside others. Even those few that are set to the side, though, probably won’t be there for long until my subconscious comes by and picks them up again – my streak of OCD cleaning generally applies to people, too. I’m absolutely terrible at just setting them aside and leaving them there.

In less than a month, it will be time to pack my bags and head out – for now. I don’t make a habit of sticking around one place for terribly long (always recalling a friend’s “vision in passing” comment), but I have a feeling I’ll soon be back to this one. And either way, the people back home, here, and in between seem to follow me from place to place, whether any of us realize it at the time or not… 

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Watching... with millions of questions..."

Funny thing: I've thought about blogging quite a bit lately and actually began a post about a week ago, but then got into conversation about the topic in mind (South and/vs North India/ns, in short) and decided it was far too much to be digested into a blog post at the moment. heh... In any case, hello to all; still alive and well. Most recently, I've kept myself busy driving out to Bangalore for a weekend wedding and later making a day-trip to Mahabalipuram, a little over an hour south of Chennai and home to Pallavan Dynasty temples (roughly 700 BCE) now listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. The town also tends to serve as an escape for those feeling otherwise trapped in Chennai, but for now I focused on the UNESCO side of things.

What finally pushed me into this post, however, is something much simpler and briefer: a Facebook comment (shake your head in disappointment if you will). After seemingly perusing my latest photos from "Mahabs," a friend turned to photos posted a year ago, while I was working in Denmark. He asked where it was and a few basic cultural questions, and I responded. Then he said something which, once I got over the potential creepy sound of it, was rather interesting: "You became [a] very knowledgeable girl. That is good. When I met you first time, you were a little girl, which eyes were watching the surrounding with millions of questions. Now you are not anymore that little girl. Hahaha" ...I met him in the winter of 2009.

Keeping it brief, for the sake of efficiency and in the interest of sleep: I sincerely hope we can all still be described as having eyes that watch our surroundings with millions of questions. ...that, at least, I hope I've maintained, and strive to maintain. Thank goodness there's always more to be seen, and always more to be asked. Otherwise, we might as well be in a Simon and Garfunkel song, eh?

As for things I've had the pleasure of seeing recently, though, the online albums as they currently stand: a few Bangalore photos have been added to the recent Chennai album uploads, and Mahabs called for its own album entirely. Passing an elephant on the road back from Bangalore, however, had to be one of my favorite moments. heh...

Chennai/Bangalore: online album here
Mahabalipuram: and here

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Randomness in Chennai (and a bit of Bangalore)

Admittedly, I'm overdue on posting, I know. Safe to say it's been a bit busy. Currently in between projects at Eureka, I've done some meandering around Chennai, taken a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Bangalore with friends, and a few things in between. Plenty of chai and coffee, dosas and chutneys, mutton (read: goat, in this case) biryani, and some shwarma here and there. Oh, eesh, and at one point, goat brain and sparrow. They truly shouldn't have told me it was goat brain *before* my trying it, though I do think I should get extra points for still trying it. Props on the spicing, but the texture was just... bah. The sparrow was entirely safe and tasty, though I felt about as guilty as I did the first time I tried lamb. 

In any case, the photos. Scenes around Chennai and a late night stop for biryani en route to Bangalore, etc. Ah, and a recent front page of the Chennai edition of The Hindu, attempting one of the things I most hate to see: numbering and ranking intelligence. A topic for another day.

On the lighter side of this weekend, have to say, I found myself pulling up to a huge beach house turned private Tamil club and after-party, complete with DJs, dance floor, fog machine, and private bar. Chennai closes at 11 only for those who don't know where to go next - and my DJ friend knew where to go. I watched in awe and amazement; absolutely blew my mind. It was like a cultural treasure-trove in the midst of an otherwise notoriously conservative society.... Don't worry, Mom, I was too busy gawking at the underworld Tamil party scene to get into any trouble. Don't worry about the non-mehndi-ed hand, either; I just lacked grace one morning getting off the bus. Things happen. :P 


Friday, May 11, 2012

Ladies' Night, x3

As the clerk of the next-door grocery shop commented the other day, many of the girls from the hostel have by now left for summer break, some replaced by largely unknown newcomers and some to return in June or July when classes recommence. In the meantime, we’ll be maintaining a small but solid group of three: Ritika (who dates back to the Holi celebration), my roommate Sumedha, and myself. Alas, we had no choice but to see off the last of the former group, Akhila, as she flew back to Bombay on Monday – but not without a three-day sendoff bash.

In Chennai, “ladies night” is seemingly ubiquitous. Pick a night of the week, and you’ll likely be able to find several bars, clubs, lounges, or restaurants offering free entry and free drinks for women. The free entry, of course, is not out of the norm, as cover fees are (so I hear) pretty much nonexistent for we feminine folk. Next along the line of cover charges are couples, trailed by stags, who often seem to either pay rather exorbitant entrance fees or be denied entirely unless accompanied by a female or, in some cases, a couple. Quite the “clubbing” culture, eh?

Akhila’s sendoff weekend began at the nearby Park hotel, where we’d earlier discovered a worthy sushi platter at 601, the house restaurant whose falafel has since won my lasting appreciation. Across the lobby, we raised our glasses to the start of the weekend in Leather Bar on Friday night. Soon joined by Sumedha, we wandered across the parking lot to Pasha’s to fulfill the girls’ entreaty for dancing before heading back to the hostel. Note: Chennai pretty much closes down by 11pm. Sad but true.

Snacking, sleeping, lunching, chatting, then ultimately to Blend to meet up with other friends on Saturday. Snacking, sleeping, lunching, chatting, and a few whirlwind errands, then it was off to 10 Downing Street for “Bollywood Night” and a midnight birthday dinner/celebration on Sunday. I tell ya, it’s not every day you sit at a table of 8, all donned in bright pink paper Barbie caps (men and women alike, Ritika-ordained), passing around chicken and birthday cake before breaking into a cappella Bollywood songs, rounded off by "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

And really, who doesn’t enjoy ending an evening with a cup of chai, masala khakra, and a bit of roof climbing? We certainly do.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


En route to the Koyembedu bus stand, my cab driver kept his phone on loudspeaker while the woman on the other end gradually went from rapid-fire, trembling Tamil to outright crying, speaking in gasping bursts. The driver sat silently listening, while I sat behind him silently entreating. Say something… say something… say something… say something! Nothing. Phone rings and he refuses the call. And again. And again. Heart aches for them both…
A family of five clambered onto the bus several hours into the journey, filing down the aisle to the back row, where the one empty seat on the bus – beside me – was quickly occupied by the veiled matriarch. Periodically she’d reach down to the youngest, hoist him into her lap, and exchange smiles and pecks on the cheek. During our snack break outside of Bangalore, the oldest daughter shyly worked up the courage to approach me, her mother smiling from behind. Where was I from, where was I going? And if you’re going all the way to Goa, do please eat here, as there will be no dinner stop in Bangalore… 
We called each other back and forth, this friend of a cousin of a friend. Having met with trip fiasco en route, I’d had little choice but to get off the bus in Bangalore shortly after 10pm. The nameless friend coordinated with my auto driver, retrieved me to drive the last leg, and led me right up to the elevator, instructing me to go to the fourth floor, turn left, and knock. There, I was immediately welcomed by more smiling strangers, the aunt and uncle of a friend in Hyderabad. The next morning, as she served me a third(!) dosa, Auntie asked my name. I had already slept there, joined her in the kitchen while she cooked the remaining batter, and brokenly discussed our families. Here they were giving me a place to sleep, welcoming me with smiles and a laden plate, and they didn’t even know my name. I still don’t know their names, beyond Uncle and Auntie. In the afternoon, having assured that I’d booked a ticket back to Chennai, the couple hailed an auto, gave the driver stern and specific instructions, and sent me off with a brick of sweets, a phone number, smiles, and a warm squeeze of the hand…
It’s the human factor. The crying woman, the family, the friend, the couple. Strangers whose very humanness suddenly seem to make everything ok. I’m not about to say “strangers are friends you haven’t met yet,” recalling a past comment on how that can land you in prison or some such thing, but finding the humanity in people, wherever you are – now that’s something, and it’s something you can find anywhere. Or rather, it finds you. No matter what’s happened or happening, no matter what has brought you there or what awaits you, these seemingly small things can bring a smile and a breath of peace. Even if it’s just one moment of reassurance, it’s more than enough to keep you going. To quote Aamir Khan’s “all izz well”: it may not solve the problem, but it gives you the courage to face it. It may only be that moment, but it gives you the strength to keep going and, if you’re listening, inspires you to return the favor sometime, just by holding on to that all-important thread of humanity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The "vision in passing" dilemma, traveler edition

My decision to go to Hyderabad last week was less of a "decision" and more of an escape, truth be told. A spur-of-the-moment, get-out, buy-a-ticket style whim. In any case, once in Hyderabad and with the help of slightly more decision making than went into buying the first ticket, I determined to return to Chennai earlier than planned. Debating this shortening of my visit, a friend queried, "What would you do in Chennai if you went back anyways?" "Aside from the fact that I live there, you mean?" "But you don't live there." This I had to leap on (playfully, of course. heh). Poor guy didn't know what hit him.

Five months - does this qualify me for "living in" Chennai, or am I merely visiting, passing through? My friend had no idea what he'd unintentionally struck upon and immediately rescinded his comment, but it was a valid one. And, as I informed him, it was certainly not the first time I'd considered it. Take, for instance, over a year ago when another friend dubbed me "a vision in passing," remarking upon my generally floating presence around campus, never in one place for long.

At its most basic, this can be taken in a purely geographical sense. Staying on the move, bopping from one place to another. Even when stuck in the hostel for the night, I'm likely to be found on the rooftop - or, as with this evening, having hoisted myself to the water tank atop it (I miss rock walls). DC, Ghana, campus, DC, Denmark, campus, DC, India. Chennai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bombay, Hyderabad, Chennai. Next up, Pondicherry and "Mahabs."

I'm most inclined, though, to take it a step further, beyond the basics of physical location. "A vision in passing" - because really, nothing is truly "a vision" if you have time to more thoroughly scrutinize it. An interesting phrase, no? If anyone slows down to take a better look, that "vision" swiftly becomes more real and less idealized. The veil begins to drop, knowingly or otherwise, and the fault-lines appear. The imperfections, the flaws, those bits of us we try so hard to cover up or keep locked away - from others and, often, from ourselves. It's all so much easier to avoid when we stay on the move.

Of course, with thoughts like that, I try also to keep in mind what I see as the glory of imperfections, and the privilege that comes with being permitted to see them. Safe to say it's a universal concern, to be sure (eg. this NYT article, particularly the latter half). Caught in the limbo of travel - especially solo travel - and resettling makes the question that much more relevant. Do we remain a vision in passing, clinging to the safety of movement and a hefty veil? Or do we take the risk and go Hitch-style, "leap and hope to God you can fly"? Judgment calls, I tell ya... Either way, the view from that rooftop certainly has its benefits.

PS: I'd say this, like many things, can be applied to places as well as people....

Monday, April 16, 2012

A snapshot of Bombay

Ok, so I've got a brief check-in at the home base of Chennai - just returned from Bombay this afternoon, met up with a friend this evening, and heading back north to Hyderabad for a few days as of tomorrow (Monday) night. For now, just sharing a small taste of the lively metropolis of Mumbai. Coastal views, Bandra Fort, the tourist-covered Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Palace, etc. Note:

a.I've chosen to title the post with "Bombay" rather than "Mumbai" as many from the city continue to use the former. Funny, isn't it - no matter how many dictates we may make, the actual implementation is up to the people (well, you know. "The people."). Will opt out of babbling about naming politics at the moment, but it's interesting stuff to check up on for anyone interested, and certainly not just in India. Eg. Israel and the revival of Hebrew.

b.What is more familiarly dubbed Bandra Fort was originally the Portuguese Castella de Aguada (1640). Particularly intriguing: in a bid to conserve the area (Bandra is in the midst of rather high-end development, home to Bollywood stars and plenty of shopping and good food), an outdoor amphitheater has been created. Rather beautiful, when you're not stumbling upon one of the numerous young couples in search of privacy. ...ahem.

c.Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Palace photos taken by Rahil Fernandes, given custody of my camera while we played tourists for the afternoon. He was, after all, stuck with custody of me for the day; I thought it best to throw the camera in with the deal. Find him here- writing and photos worth a gander.

d.Kebab, paneer, mango lassi, and good company at Leo's, not far from the Gateway and Taj (Colaba area). Partnered with this, a book recommendation: Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. It's a bit of a tome of a book, but never dull. Vibrant characters in a vibrant city. We're somewhat tough literary critics, so a friend and I granted it a very noble 8/10.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tremors and the tsunami that wasn't

In the past, my hearing of natural disasters was generally composed of article threads, tweets by the "breaking news" accounts of international news outlets, and mass media on the whole. Reports were heavily numbered - category or scale of the storm/hurricane/earthquake, height of the tsunami waves, number of casualties and people missing, homes lost, anticipated financial damage, distance covered or area effected, time of impact and duration, etc. It didn't occur to me until late in the evening that today, as I watched clips of street scenes from Chennai join others on the breaking news reports, I lacked that "hard data" that usually flooded my various newsfeeds.

While daily power cuts from 2-4pm at my office in Royapettah, Chennai, now have me headed home early in the afternoon, today I returned to a similar blackout in the nearby area of Nungambakkam, where electricity had been cut for a monthly 9-5pm period. Supply and demand, you know. After leaping off my usual bus to the hostel, I swiftly dropped into my own little world of reading and packing for tomorrow's trip to Mumbai - a world interrupted only when a local friend texted with "Hey! are u ok?" Sure thing, why wouldn't I be? Before she had time to respond, my trembling bed and shaking water bottle fittingly explained her concern. I'd somehow missed the first tremor, but the second was unquestionable (and the splashing water bottle assured me that I hadn't gone mad). Still without current until 5pm, I was left with my phone as my only source of news. 8.6 earthquake in Indonesia, tremors in Chennai, buildings evacuated, tsunami alert, streets even crazier than usual, and the traffic was flat-out impassible.

Texts and calls were made to various friends in Chennai to assure each other that all were fine (and all had been evacuated from offices), calls to and from friends and family outside of Chennai who had heard the news, and, once 5pm rolled around, TVs turned on in search of the latest on a tsunami alert. While the public had, naturally, been advised to stay away from the coast (about 4.5km from my hostel), Marina Beach had indeed been flooded - by crowds of curious onlookers. Not the most intelligent move, but interest subsided as the ocean failed to respond fittingly and, gradually, panic and street insanity subsided as well. Enough, in fact, that a few friends and I grabbed an auto (-rickshaw) and continued with our original evening plans, necessarily skipping the mall (closed, along with much of the city) and moving on to a kebab stand and chai at a favorite bookstore.

It was upon returning to the hostel that I noticed the difference - hours had passed, and I'd still heard no word of those numbers I'd come to expect. After greeting my roommate, I awkwardly asked a question I never imagined myself posing. "So... no tsunami?" Next question: what's the damage? How's it look in Indonesia? And for that one, she had no answer. No numbers. Living in the midst of it, and I felt shockingly out of the loop. Why was that? Did the time difference not have me hearing about Asian disasters until further afterthefact in the US, allowing for that data-gathering period? That technicality, though, simply wasn't enough to explain it. Dare I begin to surmise, then, that it was a matter of distance - not just geographic, but personal? 

Earthquakes are not uncommon creatures, no, but I'd venture to guess they're unsettling every time nonetheless, particularly for those who recall - or, worse, lived through - the likes of the 2004 tsunami. That's probably why hearing of people crowding Marina Beach evoked a rather verbal reaction from me; how could it not, given past stories. Waters receded, crowds approached the beach in curiosity, and the ocean struck in a ravaging return. It's not the numbers our minds remember most distinctly, it's the images and the stories, memories, and emotions that accompany them. Even now, with little to no "hard data," it seems as though I've gained some greater understanding (I'm searching for a better word here...) of the earthquake and the tsunami that never was.

Here's hoping that, when those numbers inevitably roll in, they're kept at a minimum. Thoughts are with those effected.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hyderabad, dust, and an imam encounter

Goodness, it’s hot in Chennai. Sticky hot, with a pretense of a sea breeze that doesn’t really hit you until the evening. A week spent in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, however, was no escape from the heat; on the contrary, it was an exchange – lose the humidity, in favor of mouthfuls of dust. Still, touring around the city on the back of a scooter was well worth the grime collected in the process.

The 12-15 hour overnight bus between Hyderabad and Chennai, while a bumpy ride, is a cheap, relatively positive way to travel. Pro: sleeper style and AC. Con: rolling over in the middle of the night to find that someone has ambled into the bunk across from yours and proceeded to stare at you. …Creepy. Safely arrived in Chennai, I bounced from one side of the city to the other, switching from a friend near the University of Hyderabad, in suburbs west of the city, to a friend on the far eastern side of the city. Train was the most expedient (and ridiculously cheap, at Rs. 6) way to move between the two, but the trip was still a dusty 80 minutes in total.

Between meandering at the University’s annual festival and making my way through heaps of biryani (a Hyderabad specialty), the vast majority of my time was spent on the back of my friend Amby’s scooter – an excellent way to see the city, though one gets a bit saddle-sore after the first few days. March 23 marked the Telugu new year, which naturally meant plenty of delicious food, chatting with relatives in town for the occasion, and more food and chatting. So began the risk of my bursting from the amount of rice I was served during my time in Hyderabad.

Aside from biryani, Hyderabad is known for the jewels of the Old City, most notably the focal point of Charminar (1591). Heading that direction, I leaned around Amby to take street shots while he dodged the rickshaws, other scooters, and daring pedestrians attempting to cross the bustling street. Similarly dodging dozens of fellows hailing us with handfuls of pearl necklaces, we made our way through the bangle shops then jingled on down to the Makkah Masjid, Charminar’s neighboring mosque (completed in 1694). Shoeless and appropriately veiled, I was still quite clearly non-Indian, and we unintentionally attracted the interest of the imam in the process. Within two minutes of entering, we were pulled into conversation by a hajji, who then beckoned us along to the office of the imam.

While the imam sat silently observing us, the hajji led into a lengthy and impassioned monologue about the peaceful nature of Islam and its followers, their love for all as brothers, and the frustration of Pakistan and the divisions it created. The “local people,” he said, painting their mosques and houses green and flying the Pakistani flag, could not understand this properly – they were not “high minded” as we were. It seemed I, as a foreigner, had won immediate approval, while Amby was lauded because “the lady trusts you.” Most importantly, however, remember: Islam is a peaceful religion, scarred only by the black sheep that scar every group, and we are all brothers under the Creator – Americans take note. “There are no guns or bombs hidden in the mosque – would you like me to show you? I will happily take you in.” Preaching to the choir, my friend, I thought; it’s not those carefully garbed in head scarves who need to be warned against Islamophobia, though I’d happily spread the message.

After a significant amount of time spent in conversation with the hajji – the imam, silently observing me throughout, interrupted only once to ask (via Amby) what I was doing in India – Amby and I made our way out of the office with bemused smiles and copies of the Quran. Back to the scooter, back to the city center, and, for me, back to Chennai.

For a few more Hyderabad photos, check out this (relatively brief) online album.

Meanwhile, back in Chennai, it's some work and frequent outings for food, celebrations, and general revelry. I stand by my belief that building a social life is crucial to settling in. :)

Enough babbling for now. More soon- off to Mumbai/Bombay next week!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Holi hai! ...among other things

The metal rings of my belt, much like my social life, simply have not been the same since I find myself running into the Bay of Bengal. It’s only been about a week since my last post, but it’s been a busy one.

First and foremost: Holi!! I’ve enjoyed mini celebrations of the Hindu festival of colors in the past, but nothing could compare to celebrating in its home country. To be fair, the festival is little observed in the south, but a group of north Indian girls from the hostel pulled me in for our own celebration, beach style. Piling into three rickshaws, four or five in each, we made our way to Elliot Beach in Besant Nagar, smaller than Chennai’s famed Marina Beach (which is second longest in the world) but notably cleaner. Cameras and cell phones were shielded in plastic baggies, then everything else was fair game for a color dousing – including willing passersby and a stray dog. Douse in color, dip in Bay of Bengal, repeat.

The next day, Eureka welcomed loads of children from across Tamil Nadu for their state level science competition, held on Saturday. Friday’s welcome, however, necessitated another beach – this time Marina – as we loaded the kids onto a public bus (now there’s an entertaining challenge for you) and headed out for an evening of singing, games, and getting our feet wet as the sun set on the busy shoreline.

Later in the evening, a fellow Holi celebrator found me enjoying the breeze on the hostel roof, and we naturally fell into conversation, which of course led to a joint Saturday outing in search of a good lunch, gelato, and harem pants. Having successfully located all three by the end of the afternoon, we headed back to the hostel and parted ways until dinner (which, American readers should note, is after 8pm), for which I joined her and a group of 4 other north Indians, all in Chennai as they work towards Masters degrees.

The combination of people worked out so well that I was summoned for a late Sunday night outing, this time finding myself with two of the guys from Saturday, plus one of their fellow MBA students. It’s times like that – sitting at a rooftop bar with three Bengali fellows and swapping stories over tandoori chicken, fries, and beer – that I can’t help but sit back, shake my head, and smile. My first full weekend in Chennai, it was an incredibly promising one, to say the least.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

And so it begins: fresh off the boat in India

Let the record show that this morning, I walked to the bus stop, caught and paid for the correct bus, and walked from the bus stop to the office entirely by myself and without taking any wrong turns. There was momentous inner triumph when I arrived at the gate at 9:57am, a full 3 minutes early and the first there. There may even have been a silent fist pump.

This triumph is, of course, because you find me in Chennai, India, having arrived late Friday night and recent conqueror of jet lag (10.5 hours. Gah.). I will be partaking in the ongoing do-not-melt challenge until the first of August, volunteering a bit with Eureka Child (via AID India) and seeing a bit of the country in the meantime. Equipped with camera, kurtas, a yoga mat, the massive Lonely Planet guide to India, and a few phrases of Hindi, among other things.

My general rule of thumb: no country updates until at least a few days in, as the first bit is always the trickiest – and India has certainly lived up to its somewhat chaotic reputation thus far. I am writing in the midst of the scheduled power cut (but hey, points for its being scheduled), and mosquitoes have attacked my appendages like a fat man on cake. My one suitcase for the five month stay also took its time in arriving, landing me in a kindly escorted tour of the airport yesterday afternoon following its arrival from Delhi. The trip back into the city, however, wins the opportunity to serve as my first tale from India. Note: the entirety of the story takes place while weaving through the hectic traffic found only in the metro areas of developing countries (or Italy, I hear. heh)…

When someone winks at me, I smile/laugh. I can't help it - but it's a problem when the person winking is a fellow on a scooter riding alongside my cab. My laughing reaction encouraged him to triumphantly tell his friend (driving the scooter), who then burst into song and proceeded to follow alongside the cab. "Where are you going? Should we have a date?" which point they were forced to drop behind and the cabbie turned, somewhat perplexed, and asked "Date? He was joking, yes?" A minute or two later, my open window is confronted with "What's your name?" *laughter* "Are you serious?!" ...and in steps the cabbie to rebuke them in Tamil. They respond, continue alongside for a bit, then blow me a kiss goodbye, leaving me to my barely contained laughter and a well-tipped cabbie.

And we’ve only just begun. More to come later, likely including why those few phrases of Hindi will get you nowhere in South India, and might actually offend some of the friendly Tamilians surrounding you – many may be at least a foot shorter than myself, but I’m willing to bet they’re scrappy and feel no need to test it as a young Western woman fresh off the boat.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Travel had changed him."

"Travel had changed him. You go away for a long time and return a different person - you never come all the way back."
-Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

PS: Next Thursday, I will be leaving for India, not to return until the start of August. Details to come. :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pulling a Forrest Gump (, running.)

I have a somewhat unfortunate habit of buying a ticket when I "crack," or feel myself in danger of it. Bus, plane, train, ferry. All are among a long list of viable options. Bicycles are cheaper but temporary, as they don't get you as far as quickly.

It's funny, really - geographical relocation can certainly help to some extent, and of course there's one of my favorite quotes, Paul Theroux's "travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts"... but there's only so much one can "flee" from. There's even less one ought to flee from. And so, while staring semi-vacantly out the window of the bus, plane, or train, or resting against the rail of the ferry deck (as the case may be), I very often find myself thinking about exactly that which I'd hoped not to think about. I know this, yet still I buy the ticket. Maybe the part of me that is buying the ticket is also attempting to deny the fact that many things - thoughts especially - can be inescapable. 

Or maybe there really is something to it, even just a bit. A distraction, perhaps. A determination to not get mired down in something I'd considered myself in danger of getting mired down in. A revitalization of that continuous undercurrent, yearning for new places, new people, new thoughts, new challenges. A fresh look at the "old" places, people, thoughts, and challenges. The last of that list especially (it's broader, I suppose). Even given a tight budget (generally the case), I am more likely to thrive on basmati rice and chicken tikka masala - both of which I now have plenty of experience whipping up - in order to save money for travel/escape than I am to do otherwise.

Thankfully, I've got a large canvas sack of rice, complete with sturdy handles to make it travel-friendly.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A game of "Taboo"

This holiday season, Taboo became the pastime of choice for my large, loud, and competitive family, rounds of the game becoming increasingly raucous as wine bottles were drained and excitement heightened. 

Count off into two teams. As one player draws each card, he or she must give team members clues to guess the term on the card without saying the buzz words, ideally getting through as many as possible before the timer runs out. Always a lively experience, and all the better when you have inside information - "Grandpa always wears these, um, they're rainbow..." "suspenders!" Of course, this can also be risky, depending on circumstances, eg "Matt makes us..." "late!" "crazy!" "annoyed!" etc, until Matt himself answers correctly with "laugh!"

At one point during our lively New Year's Eve game, one of my step-sisters gave the clue "A lot of Kate's friends are this..." Immediately, my brother and step-brother rattled off possibilities. "African!" "Indian!" "Black!" "European!" "Non-American!" "Hispanic!" "Middle Eastern!" "Muslim!" The last of which receiving a nod of encouragement from the clue giver, they finally alighted upon the correct answer, Arab. 

Of course I have plenty of American friends as well (of varied ethnicities and religious beliefs), but I'm entertained by what seemed the obvious defining feature to my family - not character traits, but nationality. Diversity, really, and of the sort that isn't often seen in our small, agricultural hometown. 

I couldn't help but smile. Indeed, my friends have somehow tended to come from many corners of the world, and I have had the honor and pleasure of getting to know them and their stories in the process. I'll gladly agree to all of their guesses - just as, when a Ghanaian man once asked me mid-hike if I could love a black man, my natural response was to give him a slightly confused (/distraught) look and reply with what seemed the obvious answer of "sure, why not."

And with that, happy New Year! May it be a colorful one of learning and listening, adventures and misadventures, friends and loved ones - new and "old" alike.