A Travellerspoint blog

“The most extraordinary country on earth.”

- Mark Twain

A random jumble of thoughts, sentences. That's what India does to me - randomly stimulate me, while thoroughly confounding me.

At the Singapore airport, while waiting to check-in, I might as well have been in India: The flight had only Indians! Landed at Bangalore airport and India hit me in the face full swing. Immigration dude barely moved a muscle but managed to find the energy to glare at me. Opposite to the sullen immigration office was the helpful young man at the Duty Free who followed me around with a basket helping me fill it with goodies (tequila for the bro, Grand Marnier for dad, half a kilo of chocolate for the niece, Mrnalini, and mom). Customs chap was completely shocked that I arrived with only a back pack - he confirmed my lite-luggage status a couple of times, wondering why anyone would come from "phoren" (foreign, abroad) without gobs of goodies for the fam back home. Walked out and bargained for a taxi; invigorating smacking down the taxi driver in Hindi!

The drive home is another story - there are lanes, but the taxi driver drove a couple miles straddling two lanes before making up his mind which lane he wanted to be in. The city has exploded (some say imploded) that I didn’t recognize a single street or landmark. It's an odd feeling to come home where it's only really a memory of what home was like a decade ago. What endures is the chaos and the throngs of people. The local Café Coffee Day was teeming and it was well past midnight. There was enough traffic in the streets that I even saw an accident. Passed an electronic sign board with odd signs flashing, "Better late than never," "Keep Bangalore clean," "Be safe. Wear a helmet," etc; that's what I call mixed messaging.

Oh, the honking. There's the persistent, hand-on-horn variety wanting to clear the way forward with audio intimidation. There's the staccato variety, that must have taken some practice, actually much practice. Sound with a signature style. And here's the funny thing, my mom had to give the taxi driver detailed instructions to find our house. Air Traffic Controller-style, she had to talk him in for the last 5 miles. No GPS (No software can make sense of the warren of roads).

Home - much excitement, touching of feet, loud chatting, 1am snack, contemplated sleeping inside a mosquito net, woke up to the sound of a bore well running, someone yelling at their servant.

Pouring rain the next day. Everything felt really hard to do from driving, to walking, to coping with the heat and noise. Admitted to being crabby, and sheepishly agreed that I was being high maintenance . Waded in ankle deep slush to go shopping, and you thought finding parking at Costco was the hard part. Worth it - got the most gorgeous sari for mom, a silvery grey one with sequins and beads, not as gaudy as it sounds. A lovely deep pink silk dress with a gold border for Mrnalini (my brother's teenager), and diamond nose ring for me. Score!

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More photos of rain

I LOVE THE FOOD - yes, it needs to be in capital letters for appropriate emphasis. Ate more than I should have - appams (like a crepe) with coconut stew, rasmalai (dessert dumplings in thickened milk), dosa and sambar (large, crisp, rice flour crepe with lentil soup), kebabs (with much fuss from the teenager going through a vegetarian phase).

Nothing is convenient in India. The dirt is nauseating, the noise deafening. I feel worn down and disappointed at the state of the nation. But I have also come away grateful for the opportunity to be just 4 hours away from mommy and daddy. Thrilled to be able to attend a family wedding next month. Excited to be part of my brother's life - plan on visiting him in Sept/Oct. For all that and much more, I can cope with inconvenience , the noise, the dirt, the chaos, and the contradictions - bring it on!

Some interesting reading about India -
1. Geography of Bliss: Hilarious chapter on India - Chapter 9. At your local library!
2. Geography of Thought: Deeper dive into why you sometimes want to smack the call center person sitting in India. Actually, a really good book to understand why the East and West think differently.
3. Indians: Portrait of a People: Seminal book, divided into topical chapters covering arranged marriage, views on sex, hierarchical society, etc. The Dummies Guide to understanding Indians.

“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence...the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race...mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition... for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor...the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”—Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897

Posted by Goofy9 06:11 Archived in India Comments (4)

A study in opposites

Got in to Denver after 24 hours of travel...and drove 8 hours the next day to Wyoming. Lots of seat time!
1. How few people there are in Wyoming, Colorado. Coming from Singapore, where there is a line for everything, 6 million people packed in. It was wonderful to look out into the wide open spaces.
2. We really know how to do hamburgers and picnic food! In Singapore, any meal that isn’t Asian is silly expensive, so I have been relishing on soups and noodles, and it was a pleasure to have potato salad, and French fries, and burgers.
3. It will be harder to go back to Singapore, now that I have hung out at home for a week with Rich and Ajax and a green garden.
4. Interesting how many plastic bags one actually sees along the highways.

I am now back in Singapore:
1. Wow, it’s noisy. Lots of construction and lots of people, everything booming. What was that CNN told us about a global recession...
2. Surprising how quickly one gets into a routine. Skype is happy to have Rich and I back on. How quick are you to form routines?
3. The Earth is Not Your Dustbin – that’s a campaign running currently to get people to be more clean than they already are. There is no littering.

Some answers to questions asked:
Singapore is pretty "controlled." One does not feel hampered at all. But the presence of “big brother” is obvious in many ways. They completely banned bubble gum as it was proving too expensive to maintain the road cleaning equipment. The road cleaner would gum up with the gum. So, they fixed the problem at the root by eliminating gum. And honestly, I don’t miss chewing gum. No one eats on the train. The trains are immaculate. I feel that everything is monitored (cameras everywhere – wonder who’s watching the cameras) and there are lots of signs and warnings – more than 12 on this one board outside a national park.

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It's very, very rare to see people walk around with their Starbucks. The locals are more prone to taking a 30 minute break and sitting down to enjoy it rather than having it to-go. The whole sit-down approach to food must be what keeps them looking good - no gobbling from a paper bag bought at a drive-through. The traffic is very organized. I am yet to see reckless driving. Minimal honking. They are an anomaly to the rest of Asia!

Posted by Goofy9 00:24 Comments (2)

A State of Temporary

The first time Rich came over to my place in Bloomington, he asked me, “Did you just move in?” Good question. After more than a year of being in Bloomington, I owned a couch, two bar stools, 20 pairs of shoes. Minimalist. It was home, sort of. I didn’t want to get too comfortable, what if I needed to move. I didn’t really shop, because who is going to haul all that stuff if I needed to move, I didn’t have much interest in fridge magnets. Then Rich and I moved to Denver, and now we have a dog, a dinner set, lots of candles, and a TV. And a basement full of books, a sewing machine, and Christmas decorations.

Now, here in Singapore, I see a resurgence of the minimalist again. I am taking George Clooney's "Pack a Light Back Up or It will Cut into Your Shoulders" lecture very seriously. My takeaway from his "How Heavy if Your Back Pack/how much does your life weigh" message in the movie, Up in the Air, is that the more you have, the heavier your life is, and the less emotional space you have for the people and things that really matter. The way I see it, take pictures in your head, instead of hauling a tripod!

It’s interesting to observe the “temporary” behaviour in me, and in others. It's manifesting itself in little ways. I have a pile of stuff to bring back home and a list of things to bring from home. Typically, I would have simply bought the stuff. But now, my logic is that I already own it and it's at home, so why bother with a second set. I got a single plant in a lonely pot, not the usual two dozen that I have at home. I constantly say "When I go home…" Weight Watchers has been shot to hell, because "After all, I am here just a few months, I really should devote myself to the local cuisine." Any thought of exercise has been dismissed, there is no real routine, it's all new, and there are places waiting to be experienced, so why waste time working out. Recognizing the symptoms of temporariness? In Singapore, naturally it's the expats who display these symptoms. Most, including me, are severely infected by the travel bug. A weekend spent in Singapore feels like a waste of time since all of south east Asia is just 2 hours away. I feel as if it's a criminal waste of opportunity to not go forth and discover.

The last I made a list, I have had more than 25 addresses in my three decades+ of being around. And now, again, I live in a constant state of temporary.

Posted by Goofy9 01:46 Comments (2)

The practical business of living

So, most of my blog entries have been about food, trips and such, and I realize that I haven’t shared much of what it’s like to live here.

There are no Walmarts, the grocery stores are New York like. You buy just what you need and walk your bags home (what a concept!). I have found the one closest to my place – it’s a 5-7 minute walk. The interesting thing is anything that is deemed Western is at a premium. 4oz olives cost $8, olive oil is about $15 for 8 oz. What $41 buys at the grocery store...1 guava, 1 mango, 1 cucumber, 1 soy milk, 1 rice milk, 3 cup o noodles, 1 cereal, 1 Cadburys, 1 salt grinder, 1 pepper grinder.

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It’s a good thing I do not cook at those prices! I live next to Lau Pa Sat, it’s an old food court, in a beautiful old building from a 100 years ago. I can have dinner and a juice for about $3.50. If I want to splurge, I can have 5 sticks of satay for $5. Sushi is fresh, and a buffet (of the highest quality) is about $20. Can you imagine all you can eat sushi for $20?! A crab dinner with a lot of food, and sides, and juice would be $35. All you can eat dim sum at the Raffles Hotel at the highest end would be $40. A Sunday brunch with Moet et Chandon at the 81st floor is a whopping $175!

The trains are wonderful! A $20 pass will last me a month, with each ride being under $1. Absolutely no one eats or drinks on the train. They are very disciplined about keeping their public transport and city clean. I hear that you could actually be fined for eating in the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). The interesting thing is that when you Google a place, the google map gives directions from the closest MRT station. I usually walk to work, though. It’s just a 20 minute walk and good exercise in heels! When it pours, I’ve been taking the bus, just two stops.

My apartment came with internet and a home phone with free local calls, and I bought a cheap cell phone for $35 (yes, it’s the lowest lifeform for a cell phone). I have not got myself a phone subscription though since everyone I want to talk to is not here! And international calls are expensive. I have been using Skype, with the video cam. I gave up a long time ago trying to look pretty on the cam, now it’s just fun to see Rich and Ajax, while I drink my morning tea in my pyjamas!

I have been using my regular US credit card and it’s worked out just fine. Cash is still king here. The hawker food centres are not swanky enough to accept credit card, the public transport you buy a travel card with cash, you cannot use card for anything under $10. I am told that I should open a bank account but I am going to wait to see if I really need one. I haven’t felt the need for one so far. I am getting close to where I will have to figure out how to use the ATM here. Hmm....

My current challenge is finding someone to do my eyebrows. I am beginning to look like yeti. There are many nail parlors, and lots of hair places and a chain called brow haus, but chains scare me. Another challenge is trying to cross the road – many roads you can only cross underground, and the minute I get underground I am lost and I end up in a tunnel that isn’t the one I want. Am going to need to explore some this weekend. The tunnels are huge, have stores and restaurants. A whole entire city under the roads! Singaporeans are known to shop for hours and not come up for light. They just ride the train from one underground mall to the other to avoid the heat.

Dry cleaning is expensive, but ironing is not. I got 2 dresses, 2 pants, and 3 blouses ironed/pressed (It's called "pressing" here) for $20.

What else?

PS: Country Line Dancing Association of Singapore – they meet every Friday. Dick, Garry, these videos are for you specially!

Posted by Goofy9 21:49 Comments (6)

Jakarta or Djakarta?

Jakarta has a “first” for me – I am not used to travelling with people other than Rich/family. I have always travelled alone, and this is the first time I travelled with with people who I have only known for a month. And, I am happy to report that I am not a social misfit and I had a good time. It all worked out beautifully. Lots to be learned from collaborative decision making, bargaining, and negotiating travel-related tasks.

Jakarta is a teeming city, lots of people on motorcycles, traffic from hell, and noise to boot. But it’s vibrant in its messiness. And it has a couple of odd things:

1. The hotel has souped up security (perhaps, the aftermath of the Bali bombing?): Every time you drive in, they check the underside of the car, the open the doors, the boot. It took a little getting used to seeing armed guards at the hotel. When you walk through the main entrance, you have to go through a metal detector. Same for malls. You walk through a detector. Can you imagine that in the US?!

2. Indonesia is 90% Muslim. I hardly saw any mosques (did hear the mullah/muezzin every few hours) and there were no overly obvious signs. In fact, it didn’t even feel as if every woman had her head covered. In comparison, in Malaysia (which is only 60% Muslim) every second building either has an Islamic sounding name or has the word Islam in it. I have a few hypothesis – Are Indonesians simply comfortable with who they are and do not need to make a big deal of their religion, irrespective of what the religion is? Or is it that since it is 90% Muslim, there’s no competition, so there’s no need for signs? Is that they have had Islam for over 400 years and it’s in their heritage so it blends in?

Misc photos from trip

Posted by Goofy9 06:21 Comments (1)

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