Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Home, India, and the Motherland

This last month has been exactly what I needed.

My time in the States was spent basking in the luxaries I've been denied in the past seven months. I have a new fondness and appreciate for warm showers, warm rooms, and hot food. I spent time with family, friends, and in my favorite places in the States. However, the most essential thing my time at home did for me, was remind me that although I've felt displaced, both literally and internally, during my time in Korea, the person I identified with and left behind is still waiting for me upon my return.

Knowing that I hadn't lost who I was, but rather, that this person simply wasn't accessible in my current environment, was a huge relief.

I came back to Korea for a couple days, partied way too hard, and then slept off my jet lag before heading to Mumbai, India to visit Kate, one of my best friends from college.

The trip itself was prodigious; over 14 hours over two airplanes, with two secret layovers (our flight was labeled nonstop but we stopped in Hong Kong and then switched planes in New Dehli).

Upon my arrival to New Dehli, I was struck by all the things that were already different. The flight attendants had worn saris, the women were taken into a seperate enclosure when we were checked in security by a female guard, shoes could be worn through security, there were security checkpoints about every five feet in the airport, and the plane food was OUT OF THIS WORLD.

Kate picked us up in cabs from the airport at about two in the morning. Jing, Jenna, and I were beyond grateful to have transport back to Kate's apartment after our interminable travels (Jings had involved a train ride in Japan with about 7 transfers). The cabs had deceptively small trunks (they're run off gas so most of the trunk is taken up by large blimp-shaped gas tanks). Apparently this makes them more affordable.

We rolled up to Kate's apartment and were blown away. The beauty of her quaint little neighborhood was unstated and lovely; her apartment immediately won me over with it's high ceilings, wood floors, and liberal space. Her room was made complete by artifacts she had collected during each of her travels; a picture from Mandible Cafe at Cornell, a wall hanging from South Africa, a picture taken by a friend in high school. I woke up that next morning to birthday cake in the refridgerator, a glass of filtered water, and all the time in the world to read my Kindle in her window reading nook while the cacophony of sounds from rickshaws and hawkers poured in through the blinds.

To write out the whole trip would take much more patience and space then is necessary. However the highlights include:
-Going to a Traditional Indian Music Concert at Xavier College
-Walking around the beach to witness prawns being collected and dried in the sun
-Going to a bar modeled off of an American Ghetto
-Visiting Ghandi's house
-Taking pictures by the Gateway of India
-Visiting the Taj Hotel
-Walking up to the Elephanta Caves and learning about the 9 representations depicted there of Shiva
-Getting to see a monkey two feet away from me
-Going to see Dhobi Ghatt, a recently released Indian movie about the laundry section of town and then seeing the main actress at a bagel shop the next morning (yes we got a picture)
-A Tour of Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia
-A night of A-list Clubbing
-Witnessing the Gay Pride Parade in Mumbai (homosexuality was only recently legalized by the government)
-A collection of the most amazing food I've ever eaten (for cheap cheap prices)
-Souvenier shopping galore
-The most glorious night/afternoon spent with Kate sitting on Chowpatty Beach with Kate watching the sun set

It was one of the most memorable, most complete vacations I've ever experienced. Never have I been in a place that felt as foreign and yet so accessible. It was welcoming, safe, and there was an overwhelming sense of community that pervaded the city. The train rides (with people stuffed into each car to the point that they were struggling to hold themselves in), the traffic, the pollution, could all definitely make living in Mumbai stressful. However, the vibrancy of both the people and the culture, a curious mix of traditional Indian and left from British occupation, made it perhaps the most fascinating and contradictory places I've ever been lucky enough to visit. Staying with Kate gave us a unique opportunity to skip a lot of the baby steps that a true tourist would take. Eight months in the country had given her a chance to establish favorite restaurants, learn traditions and navigational skills for Mumbais infrastructure, and ways of negotiating ones way through the culture. She imbued us with all these advantages, and yet still could recognize how India was for a foreigner. It was incredible, and I felt so happy to once more feel the thrill of adventure that comes with discovering and finding oneself in a completely different world.

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