Friday, July 29, 2011

48 Hours

Unbeknownst to several travel books, the phrase "culture shock" often has two connotations: the "Oh, well didn't that just make my day?" and the "WHAT THE EFF WAS THAT A COW/GOAT IN THE STREET?" varieties.  Most books attempt to prepare the traveler for the latter.  Fortunately, the world is a just enough place to provide both, at least to those who seek it.


The first twenty one hours of my trip to Bangalore, India consisted of next to no leg space in the airplane cabin (a negative), friendly rowmates who will help you through customs/navigate India/talk about So You Think You Can Dance (a plus), crying children (a negative), and free/limitless alcoholic beverages that did not require identification or extra payment (a HUGE plus).  See below.

Europe knows how to compensate for flight anxiety:
complimentary German beer and heart shaped pretzels.

Note: this is real brie [go Europe!], not fake cheddar [let's work on this, American Airlines].


Once through customs - yes, it was that easy - and a seven hour wait for daylight in the airport, I decided to get a taxi.  On the ride there, I realized several rules about driving in Bangalore:
  • Get them ten minutes into the road, far from the airport, THEN charge them an absurd amount for the ride.
  • Honk when approaching/crossing/passing an intersection.
  • Honk when approaching/crossing/passing pedestrian.
  • Those lines that divide the road in two directions don't actually mean anything.
  • Stoplights, if they exist, don't mean anything.
  • If you don't make your passengers use their core muscles to brace themselves, you're not doing a very good job.
  • Pass by the cows with goat horn to make Americans wide eyed with wonder at such majestic road beasts.
  • If there's a pedestrian or motorcyclist on the road, you MUST pass within five inches of it.
  • Akon and Convict must play on loop for the entire trip.

After an hour and several pit stops to ask passersby for directions, I arrived at the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, only to be blocked by - gasp! - a sixty year old security guard.  The interaction occurred as follows:

Me:  Hi!  I'm here to volunteer-
Security: -[shakes his head "No"]
Me:  -with Samartham-
S: -[shakes his head]
Me: But-
S: -[shakes his head]
Me:  See, I emailed Mahantesh-
S: -[looks off into the distance]
Me: -and he said I could-
S: -[continues to look off into the distance]
Enter Janitor, stage right.
Janitor:  No English.
Security and Janitor exchange glances and maybe less than three words.  Exit Janitor, stage left.
Me:  So there's no one I can talk to?
S:  [looks off into the distance]

A long discussion with one of the Samarthanam teachers, a bowl of lemon rice with chai tea, and awkward answers to "Why are you here?" later, I'm successfully considered a volunteer.  Unfortunately, I find out that the main dance group that inspired me to come to India is on a three month show tour... In America.


Remember when I was able to navigate Bangalore and its bus system, but not the roads in my home neighborhood, resulting in me wandering through the dark for two hours?  And then I had to explain to two non-English-speaking officers that they had to call my homestay?  And then I had to explain it to a nearby family of three, who asked their uncle to drive me to the nearest McDonald's on his moped/scooter/motorcycle just so my homestay manager could pick me up?


Thus ends the first 48 hours of my year abroad!  What kinds of crazy hijinks will ensue on the following days of Josh's trip around the world?  Find out next time on:


p.s.  Oh, and I was invited to the wedding of a sister of one of my rowmates right after I got off the plane.  Chances are, there's going to be a ton of dancing there, so I'm more than likely to go to that.

p.p.s.  In case you're wondering, in the time I WOULD be dancing, I'm actually learning kannada, which is the primary language spoken in Karnataka.  I'm not taking classes; some nearby folks are kind enough to put up with me as I jab at the sun and say, "AMERICA.  SUN."  and they say, "KANNADA.  SURIYA."


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Safety Dance!

Good news, friends!  My laptop's battery just died from its four-year life span!  A fresh, somewhat-generic-bootleg battery is now feeding my laptop as I type.

Additionally, I've FINALLY received confirmation from the company in India about my stay.  They've given me the okay, and have started looking for my accommodations.  Wait, what did you say, Mahantesh?

"We'll start looking for a room for you to stay in, with your own bed, possibly within the company's facilities.  We have a campus, did you know that?  Maybe we can find you a private shower, bedroom, and sink.  You know, just so you're as comfortable as possible while you stay with us."

I wonder how long I can cross my fingers before paralysis or arthitis settles in.

On to other things!  As of recently, some dear friends of mine - and parents, as well - have expressed concerns on the actual safety portion of my trip.  For instance, apparently it is a REALLY BAD IDEA to wear a safety pouch, regardless of its flesh-tone polyester/silk fabric and waist-hugging fit..  Growing curious about such guidelines and their accuracy, I've decided to reference The Rough Guide to First Time Travel Around The World.  Below are the most interesting ones, and my thoughts on them:


[]  "With just a backpack and no carry-on bag, you have both your hand free and can remain mobile for a quick getaway or to give pursuit, so robbing you looks like more of a challenge."

[]  "... consider disguising your pack in developing countries... Plastic rice bags are easy to find, dirt cheap, decrease the perceived value of the pack's contents, and make great rain covers... cut two slits for your shoulder straps, then sew or use duct tape to fasten."


[]  "No matter where you are, get in the habit of checking over your shoulder and across the street every now and then."

[]  "Otherwise, walk with confidence.  When you're in an area you're not sure of, resist the temptation to pull out your map on the street corner.  Walk purposefully, even if lost, and duck inside a coffee shop or store to study the map or ask directions."

[]  "Also, get in the habit of avoiding the tables near doors or bordering sidewalks in cafes...  Keep your bag under your table while you eat, with the strap around your leg.  If you need to use the toilet, take your bag along."

[]  "Take a few extra precautions in trains and bus terminals, where many pickpockets lurk...  walk around the perimeter of the station instead of crossing it to so you can keep a wall on one side and your eyes on anyone approaching."


[]  "... treat your passport pouch like your spleen: sleep with it (or put it in your pillow case) and take it along when you shower - you can hang the pouch on the hook, just under your towel inside the shower stall."


[]  "Dress conservatively... Shorts, short skirts and tight-fitting clothes are likely to denote you as promiscuous.  While you're at it, pick up a cheap, simple ring.  You'll need a story to go with it - something about your husband coming to meet you in a day or two."

-  The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World

In a nutshell:  I'm going to have to run like hell with my backpack hidden in a rice bag while sporadically checking over my shoulder and across the street confidently against a train station wall.  My passport, as an internal organ, can filter red blood cells but also must hang on the wall while I shower, along with my clothes designed by Laura Ingalls Wilder while I wait for my husband to return to me.

OR:  Handle things the way my mom says to: "Neber, eber, EBER trust anyone.  Not da neighborrs, not da kids, not da workers.  NO ONE.  Oh, and put on your Pacebook eberyday 'Mom, I'm okay.'  Okay?"