Saturday, December 31, 2011

Garbage


The intricacies of garbage disposal around the world are fascinating.

In Japan, the garbage disposal came on Mondays and… Thursdays, I think. You received small yellow bags which were placed organizedly in a specific spot for organized garbage pick-up and disposal. The results? Ridicously clean surroundings (but then again, the Japanese cleaned their escalators.)

In China, the maid came in, cleaned, and took the trash. We didn't see much of where it was going. There were trash cans everywhere, people sweeping places with brooms, etc. They'd wash the sidewalks every once in a while, but— and this is a big difference— Chinese people that phlegm is poisonous. And they will spit it out. The sidewalks suffer. There are cigarette butts everywhere.

Tibet was much the same, only that they seem to have much less garbage— people there seem to use a lot less packaged foods… which means much less garbage.

In Nepal, they burned it. People would sweep up their trash into little piles and set fire to it. It might be plastic, it might be orange peels, paper, whatever. They don't have garbage disposal because Nepali believe that setting garbage outside your front door means that the gods/good luck won't visit you. Hence? They just throw it out wherever— including the river, which is supposed to wash away all the garbage. But with so many people in Nepal… and so many non-biodegradable products, how can it? It's just a river.

In India, the concept is much the same. The difference between India and Nepal, however, is that Indians don't burn the garbage. There are signs everywhere, saying NO GARBAGE DISPOSAL HERE, etc. Usually, the sign is surrounded by garbage. It's ridiculous.

Dogs are pawing through the garbage, looking for food— so are goats. EVEN COWS. These people have so many different cultural relics and monuments which are beautiful and fantastic and stunning— white marble and red sandstone and carved flowers and arabesques… etc… and yet they don't have a garbage disposal in place. Sure, there are trash cans, and in Goa we can just put out our trash bags and someone comes to get them… but we don't know where it's going. We don't know if that garbage is going in the river or if it's going to a landfill (I'm betting on the river— I don't think there's a landfill big enough.) or if it's actually going to be disposed of properly.

It's kind of mind-boggling that a country so big, that has managed to do so many things, still doesn't have a green method (or even a clean method, at this point!) of getting rid of their garbage and trash. Culture definitely has a lot to do with it… (untouchables, the lowest caste in Hindu society, handled garbage), but why does that mean that the entire society has to basically live in a dump heap? It just doesn't make much sense to me.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Traveling of a Spider


I think there is a spider in the house that has been there since we moved in. It's about the size of a pinky nail, a brownish-grey color, with a large bottom and a small head. Think Charlotte from Charlotte's Web, but browner. And probably smaller. And not so talented.

It hasn't spun a web yet… but it's been climbing the walls. Maybe it's just been looking for a comfy place to make a home for the past ten days.

It came into the house one day by crawling on the north wall of my bedroom. It wasn't bothering me, and I wasn't sure how to take it outside, so I let it stay. Over the next couple of days, the spider crawled up the north wall, back down again, and then onto the floor.


It slowly traveled from the bottom of the north wall to the other end of the room, underneath the air conditioner on the east wall.

The next day, I can't find it at all. Assuming that it somehow managed to escape through a window, I didn't think any more of it.

The next day, as I come out to say good morning… there is the spider, on the floor, looking normal as anything.

"Hello!" I exclaim. (And later, "Yay… a spider!")

That afternoon, it climbs on the north wall just outside the bedroom— the one just opposite the bathroom, at eye level.

The corridor leading to the bathroom, in my opinion, is definitely not wide enough to get away from a spider that is at eye level.

It doesn't matter that I was living with a spider crawling all over my room for three or four days… but I was always able to walk around it. And it also doesn't matter that I greeted it as a well-known acquaintance.bIn such a narrow hallway… coming almost face to face with a spider… it's rather unsettling.

By the next day, the spider had switched walls and was now scaling the south wall of the hallway. Last I saw it, it was up near the ceiling. But that was a few days ago. It might have reached another wall by now.

The reason the spider was not removed from the house the first moment I saw it is because we have reaaallly pretty glasses and no looseleaf paper. And it's quite hard to remove a spider without both of them.

Besides, I didn't really mind the spider enough to want to kill it or move it.

And what did that specific spider ever do to me?

Another reason was that I remembered a very interesting fact:

The average human swallows eight spiders a year.

Now, I'm assuming they're all pretty small, but I have to make up my quota sometime, and if the spider I've been seeing all around the house is actually three or four or five siblings, well then, so be it.

I must have swallowed quite a lot of them.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Water


Water, as you probably know, covers about 75% of the earth. Your brain is made up 90% water, and the rest of your body is 70% water.

Water is necessary for life. But before I start sounding like a science book, water is one of the more important things on our trip.

The average human needs 2 litres of water a day. We don't have that many water bottles, first off. And except for Japan… there are no public drinking fountains. So on the days we work the most, we also drink the least. This is bad, of course, but at the moment we're surviving quite well. 

But… water isn't JUST for drinking! Water is used to wash with (which includes brushing teeth), make food with, and create electricity. It's also used for recreation and keeping people indoors (we haven't seen rain in a while, though).

Washing

In India and Nepal, there usually is no shower curtain to pull. Not even a little one. The entire bathroom is the shower, which means that if you turn on the shower head…

1) Your clothes get sprayed
2) The toilet paper will be wet.
3) And so will anything else you deign to bring into the bathroom, unless you're REALLY careful.

Occasionally there is a bucket— a big one— in the bathroom. This bucket can be filled halfway with water, and then using a smaller bucket, you can pour water over yourself in small increments. It doesn't splash as much, but it's harder to get your back. I tend not to care about my back though.

Brushing Teeth

After Japan, everywhere you go, you need to use bottled water (which is code for boiled water, sterilized water, etc.) for anything you put in your mouth that isn't cooked. I miss Japan in this respect.

The rest of the procedure is kind of the same, but it's hard controling the flow of the water when you're washing the toothbrush at the same time. TRY IT.

Making Food

 You must always wash salads and fruits with bottled water. For boiled foods, it's permissible to use tap water.

Electricity

In Nepal, water helps create the electricity. When there is no water, there is no power. There wasn't much water in Nepal at the time we were there, so there were two power cuts a day, for 30 minutes to two hours, at times. I think. I'm not sure when the morning power cut starts. They don't always start at the same time, of course, but there's usually a morning cut and then an evening cut.

ALL the buildings have emergency lights, which are run by solar power, and the larger places have a generator, but that's only specific lights. You can't charge anything during the power cut, which means that Ioan didn't get to play Civilization much in Nepal.

The power also goes out in Goa at times, but it's usually short… five minutes to half an hour. 


I'm listening to the Dirty Dancing sound track. I want to watch the movie. Again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Going to the Beach


I wasn't expecting the water here to be so warm, but it's lukewarm. Do you know how wonderful it is to step into a lukewarm ocean when you're expecting something freezing… like the ocean usually is?

Yeah, I didn't know either until yesterday. The beaches in Goa are usually buzzing with people, but we found one pretty far away from the main hustle and bustle, so there weren't too many people. There's lifeguards here, which I haven't seen in a while, and we spread out our sarongs to lie on. (We didn't bring towels on the trip. Cool, huh?)

I brought ROOM with me, by Emma Donaghue. I'm not the kind of person that can just lie on a beach towel or build sandcastles or swim for six hours straight— I need something to do… something I can say I did well. So I'm reading a hundred pages and sunning for about two hours, while the rest of them are swimming in the lukewarm ocean or laying on beach towels doing nothing.

Ileana and Ioan decided to bury him in sand. They're pretty close to the water, which means that the sand is wet enough to pile on top of him, and after swimming in the water a bit with Dad, I join in. As we pile sand higher and higher up Ioan's body, some locals come by wanting to take pictures. I'm not sure why… isn't this normal? But they take pictures, seemingly amazed with the fact that we're practically burying our brother in sand.

The tide starts to rise just as we're finishing up the 'casket,' which means that we have to redo his arms. By this time, though, we're all kind of sick of being on our knees, piling up sand, so we hurry through the last bits.

On top, there are about eight inches of sand, and as Ioan struggles to free himself, Ileana's filming and I'm laughing. On the sides, there are five inches of sand. And it's all still wet, which means it's all still heavy. And he couldn't move for the greater part of a minute because he was laughing about it.

Eventually, though, he finally squiggled out, and we all went into the ocean to wash up— his entire shirt was frosted with sand, and so were his legs. Even his face had sand on it.

The sand that isn't wet is hot. It's hard to stand on, and I didn't— last time I was on a hot surface with bare feet I couldn't walk properly for a week. I still have the blister marks, so I wasn't about to try that again, especially when we walk everywhere to get anywhere.

As we leave the beach, six and a half hours later, we're all very brown indeed. Even now, I'm so brown that I don't look like myself.

All in all, I think I liked the beach. It was a bit too sandy, and a bit too noisy… but the water was nice, and that's all that matters, I guess.



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Muses on Buses


I ventured outside of the house for the first time today (except for Christmas, of course!). We walked from the hotel to the bus stop, where we waited for a few minutes for the bus to come.

Buses here have metal floors with no-slip designs on them. The doors were automatic, perhaps ten years ago— now they open and close by use of a handle. To prevent them from banging, one end is attached to the bus by a thin rope.

FOR HANDICAPPED PERSONS and FOR SENIOR CITIZENS are painted on the first row of the bus, one on each side. The two seats behind each are LADIES ONLY.

There were ladies standing up in the bus, and all the seats were full of men. Courtesy is different here.

The man who takes the fare fee has a complicated job. He doesn't give out tickets, so he has to remember each person's face and whether they paid him or not, while computing change, remembering who's with who, etc. He also gives the signal for the bus to stop and go— one whistle to stop the bus, one whistle to tell the driver to move.

The front of the bus is large and walled off. Inside are flower wreathes and pictures of deities. I forgot to mention that people in India drive on the right. It's a bit strange at the beginning, but then it makes complete sense.

In fact, even if you've only been in India for a day or two, whenever you see any Western movies, you wonder why on EARTH they'd be driving on the wrong side of the car. I once had a dream I was driving on the right side of the car. Usually when I have these dreams I've got my siblings in the back seat and there is a) something chasing us, b) we have to get somewhere. There's usually panicking. And I'm on the left side.

But, in this dream, there was no panicking. There was no stressful city I had to drive through. It was an open country road, and Ileana and I were discussing random discussions.

So I don't think it's surprising when I say that driving on the right side of the car make a bit more sense than driving on the left.

But back to the subject of buses. Standing in the bus is an art. The bus bumps up and down, side to side… turns in strange directions on a dime (right and left are a strange directions when they're on a dime)… etc.

If you're not standing correctly, you will bump into people two feet in front of you. The proper stance is— one foot pointing forward, one foot pointing sideways. Knees bent, weight moving from foot to foot depending on what's going on. HOLD ON to something. Not even the best stance in the world is going to save you if there is a sudden brake…

And you will find yourself falling into people who fall into people who crash into something.

It's not fun.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sounds

When I wake up in the morning the crows are starting to caw. The crickets are still chirping, because the sun hasn't finished rising yet. As the sun rises higher, the crickets chirp less and the crows caw more. 

I get up and turn on my iPod to listen to 90s French music (Joe Dassin= awesome) until about 6:40, when I have to get ready to open the door for the breadman.

The doorbell chimes within five minutes of seven o'clock, and by this time the crows are conversing more earnestly than usual.

At about nine thirty some fathers and their two year-olds venture towards the pool to take a swim. Within two minutes hysterical screams and crying can be heard. See, the water is freezing cold and it's hard to explain to a two year old that 'you'll get used to it.' (Let's be honest. It's hard to explain to me that I'll get used to the freezing temperature. I do not enjoy entering the pool for this reason).

The screaming goes on as the mothers come out and try to take pictures of the children to make them stop crying.

After the parents give up and take the kids back inside, there's a silence.

The puppies next door start barking at something. They're inquisitive little creatures, biting things and digging through gardens. They bite each others' ears and tussle and chase after a yellow ball that goes SQUEAK when you throw it.

We can hear it from the living room in the middle of the day, and sometimes we look out to see the puppies wrestling with each other.

Last night, at 11:30, people had music on at ear-blasting levels. It went something like this:

"YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL! YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL! YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL, IT'S TRUE!"

It was a very nice lullaby until the party songs changed to rock music. But soon after they stopped playing songs (or maybe I fell asleep?) and all I could hear were the crickets.

And crickets, if you've never heard them, are some of the loudest creatures ever. Even one cricket can drive you absolutely crazy.

And they all chirp at the same time… and stop for a moment… and then start again. 

The ceiling fan is usually on in my room, and when the crickets aren't chirping and the crows aren't cawing and nothing is barking and no one is screaming, the fan makes a sort of melody which could become any melody that's stuck in my head.

Speaking of which… I have Joe Dassin stuck on endless replay in my head. I have no idea what he's saying (yet!) but I can reproduce the sounds and the melody and that's good enough for me!

And I can kind of understand what the titles mean. Beyond that, I am hopeless.

And now the crickets are chirping, out of sync with 'Dans Les Yeux D'Emilie,' as the ceiling fan whirs and makes its own melody. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Stage Play


This Christmas we were faar, far away from home, and the only way to see Christmas mass that we all agreed upon was going to a Catholic church at 12am on Christmas morning.

By 11:30pm we were out the door, us girls dressed in sarees or brand new dresses.

We drove to the church, which seemed to be empty, in lieu of using the outdoors and plastic chairs. We found a spot and sat down. People who came after us carefully took hankies or rags out of their pockets and began wiping the seat, then the back of the chair. As I watched them, I wondered what on earth we'd been thinking.

Then the service started. They had the choir singing songs, and various members of the congregation coming up and reading… in Hindi and probably another incomprehensible language. The only ways we could tell it was the Christmas service was by listening to them reading and catching 'Jesu' and 'Cristi,' and recognizing the Christmas carols.

People were going up and down stairs to the pulpit (and perhaps the altar? Everything was so completely different it was almost like another religion entirely.), holding up candles to show the parish, holding up what looked to be a lamp and then something else. Girls were in what I think was the altar, which isn't allowed in the Eastern Orthodox church. Some of them were wearing what looked to be short prom dresses, they had so many bows and tucks. The choir girls had long white robes, as did the priests and the altar boys and girls.

The only part of the service we understood were the parts in English— one of St. Paul's letters, and a part that the priest said in English. That was it. We were standing up and sitting down and sometimes singing along to Christmas carols we'd never heard before, and crossing ourselves when everyone else did (incidentally, the Catholic cross is different from the E.O. Cross: we join our thumb, middle, and forefinger together and tuck the other two fingers into our palm, then touch our fingers to our forehead, chest/stomach, right shoulder, and then left shoulder, and then lower the hand. They seemed to use all their fingers, touching forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder, and then touching their thumb to their mouth.).

Through all this my saree hadn't been creased enough times in the middle, and I hadn't tied the petticoat high enough, so I'm standing and hoping that not too much dust got on the bottom!

We sat through the priest's sermon, which we didn't understand a word of, left quietly when everyone else did, accepted the cake people were handing out, got into the taxi that had brought us there, and came home.

WHERE… (and we children left the house first and entered it first too) we found two badminton rackets, two feather shuttlecocks, and two ankle bracelets.

Must be Santa!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Brand New Roads


When coming into Nepal, we were greeted by Anu, who was to stay in the car with us until we got to Kathmandu. Anu is about 24, with dark eyes and dark hair. He studied business, and knows a little Spanish, and speaks English with the accent that all people who speak Nepali or Hindi have. We need a language called Indian English, because at times you need a translator (or lots of people listening) to understand what these people are saying.

But past that.

The white van is spacious, with room for three people in the front, six people in the middle (there are three rows), and three more people in the back. Our backpacks are piled on the right end of the backest back seat, and on the left is where Anu sits. 

As we come down from the border crossing, through hills filled with green (I missed green in Tibet!), bumping up and down and sometimes sideways as we twist and turn.

Trucks go up to the border all the time, full of export from Nepal to go into China, or vice versa. At the border, men carry plastic-wrapped packages that are twice their width and half their height and about a foot thick. They carry them on their back, sometimes with a strap that goes around their forehead. They're bent down with their noses parallel to the ground. After unloading the goods from trucks at a checkpoint, they carry them to the other side, and load them into trucks at the other checkpoint. 

The trucks often force us to back up and let them pass, and at one point we were stuck on the road waiting for four or five trucks to pass us.

Anu tells us that during the monsoon season, this road is washed away, and they rebuild the road some time in September (I think).

As we're tossing and turning on this road that has more rocks than it does pebbles and more pebbles than gravel and more gravel than cement, with dust coming up as we're driving, and windows that open because of the bumping… I realize…

"So we're on a brand new road?" I ask.

"Yes." Says Anu, as Mom and Dad chuckle.

The scenery is fantastic, but this road is practically hacked out of the mountain every year after a huge amount of rain. To get to the border in the monsoon season, you have to take a land rover, because a van is just too slippery. If you fall over the edge, you're not going to get back up. It's a long drop down to the river, and between you and the river are rocks and outcroppings and trees.

I couldn't read throughout the entire trip because my face was practically glued to the window the whole time. Things were green, with trees, and clouds (I missed clouds), and rivers, and people walking by and washing clothes, and all in all it was just… a fantastic trip.

Even if we were on a brand new road.

Friday, December 23, 2011

India


You all are probably going to be crossing your fingers for me to get out of Goa so that you can read about monuments and cultures, but… gracious. It's India. What more needs to be said?

Indian women wear sarees that show their stomach, but cover their faces. Men wear turbans or those head-fitting caps or hair. You can see people in traditional clothing everywhere (which is awesome. Most other countries have become westernized and wear jeans and t-shirts.), mostly women. Men usually wear westernized clothes, probably because they have to fit in with the business world and for some reason people don't really take you seriously if you're not in a business suit.

Vendors are everywhere, and they always want to sell you something. The best thing is to give them the silent treatment. They'll still try to sell you mini Taj Mahals and ankle bracelets, but they don't hang around as they would if you pay attention to them.

People with strangely twisted arms and legs are around the train stations, crawling around from place to place. They don't beg (this means I haven't seen them), which is interesting, because people who look well-fed do.

Begging is a job here if you want it to be. It's best not to give people money— they'll just keep going to work. It's a bad idea to pay attention to beggars— if they get a reaction (positive or negative), they'll just keep working. If you really feel bad and give them anything, it should be food.

We actually had an interesting encounter when a man at the train station came up to us as we were eating hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches. He asked for food, and Mom offered him an egg. He shook his head. Mom offered him the sandwich. He shook his head. And then he asked for 10 rupees to go buy food. Obviously he wasn't very hungry.

People seem to be working all the time. When you go into a store, there is sometimes a man whose only job is to take your receipt and rip out a small piece of it. That's all his job entails. BUT… he gets paid for it, and he's not begging on the streets. The downside, of course, is that as the customer you're walking all over the store to pay for your groceries, or to order something.

English movies have subtitles in English and all the kiss scenes are removed. Even in music videos, they'll fix it so that you resee another part of the video during the kiss.

We saw a memorial for a Bollywood movie star who'd died this year in the airport. He was about eighty years old when he died, and had acted in 100+ movies. The thing is that they had this practically everywhere in the airport, with these cool facts about this actor. (And I wish I could remember his name). In America they don't even do this for Steve Jobs!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Outside the Window


Once again, I have no idea what to write about. I mean… I have many subjects I'd like to talk about… but none really lie in the realm of 'world observation,' which is kind of what this blog is about.

Hence the fact that I might start talking about what's outside my window more often than not, unless we get out of this villa collection and outside into Goa.

I have absolutely no drive to walk anywhere else or see anything else except maybe beaches for quite some time. It's tiring to absorb a monument a day, and in Agra we saw four monuments in two days… not to mention the three hours in the train station and the five hours in the car. As Ioan mentioned once, the brain is like a hard drive. And it's getting full, which makes it tiring to do anything, really, except read and write and listen to music.

So as I'm listening to a Genius compilation of "Con Te Partiro" by Andrea Bocelli, I'm kind of peeking out my door-window outside, where I have a view of the balcony and a sliver of pool. People are talking, and one man went over with his daughter to check the pool temperature.

There are two puppies here, probably about three months old— with wrinkles that will only get bigger all over their faces, and crows that inspect the pool deck, and cats that climb on roofs. The puppies live in the villa behind ours, and they inspect practically everything inquisitively… but they never venture onto the pool deck, which isn't fenced off in any way— it's basically on a raised platform. You wonder how they know the pool is there.

The crows wake Mom up in the morning, but I get up before sunrise (that sounds terrible), at about 6am, so I can wake up fully before the bread man comes at 7am. I don't hear the crows. It's usually a pretty productive day by the time he shows up— in forty minutes I can read enough pages to satisfy even my crazy schedules. The room is lit by the bedside lamp, which if it were in a different color and with a less pottery-like feel, I would probably have in my future house. All the other lamps in this house aren't bright enough for my taste, though that may be the fault of the lightbulbs, not the mosaic tiling on the lamps themselves.

It's warm here. It's like summer, which is annoying because the power cuts at times and then you're stuck with no AC. I don't use the AC, but you definitely notice when it's not working any more. Crickets chirp incessantly— or cicadas… anything with six legs that sounds creaky. You learn to ignore it after a while, but then you start wondering… where's the silence?

This is a disjointed post… can you tell? I don't have any subject beyond… 'observe,' and that's a big realm. Rest assured once we have an interesting experience, posts will be nicer. Much nicer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Indecision


The reason the name of this is 'indecision' is because… I don't know what to write about. I have a lot of subjects, I guess, but none that seem like I could make them 500 words without serious padding. And I'm not working on padding here… I'm working on being concise. There will probably be posts like this every once in a while, as I accumulate things I can't stretch out a bit.

The Pool

I don't like the pool much. There's not much you can do just swimming and swimming and slwimming. Luckily we had those floating objects that you lay on. BUT with the arrival of floating objects comes a game called 'Get The Other Person Off the Floating Object,' which meant that we had fun in the pool.

Bread

We get bread delivered to our door step at 6am or at 7am, our choice. This morning, after struggling to open the door, Dad and I selected warm bread from the seller's basket. It was freshly made and absolutely delicious. It was so good it collected ants. We shook them out, but then got tired of finding the ants (they're small. And thin. So the equivalent of almost invisible.), and I decided they were protein. BREAD IS GOOD. AND SWEET. And I would like more… but we're all out. Just have to wait till tomorrow!

Indian Commercials

Indian commercials are musical. They feel kind of like entertainment even if they're trying to sell you things. In America, the commercials just want to sell you something.

We saw one commercial that featured two fingers, walking around trying to get a girl to talk to them. She ignores them completely. The fingers were painted like pants and shoes, in varying colors. Then, you saw the fingers sit down on a ledge, and they turn into legs. A man is there, holding his phone, and you see a pair of fingers in pink-polka-dotted colors walking towards him slowly. His phone lights up. The girl is calling him. After the normal display of happiness, the scene cuts to a phone on a white background. "Let your fingers do the talking." It says. EPIC.

Another was in a store. The sales clerk is practically harassing a woman looking to buy a dress. (This may be normal— we feel the same way.) After telling him no about five times, she tells him something in Hindi and takes a chocolate out of her purse. As the clerk eats the chocolate, you see the smooth, creamy chocolateness sliding around the screen, and the words GET LOST! Is on the screen. Now think about the double meaning of it… "Get lost in the chocolatey goodness," and "Seriously, GET LOST."

Now, I haven't watched enough American commercials… but I'm not sure that they boast this. On top of that… you see Bollywood stars regularly in commercials. Now… I don't know about you, but I haven't seen Brad Pitt or Rihanna in any commercials lately. And it's not perfume commercials, either.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Waiting Game


As I mentioned earlier, fog tends to delay trains. We managed to avoid this on the Delhi to Agra train, simply waiting for the train to come (on time), into the station.

But fog is a tricky creature, and though we awoke at 5:45am and got to the train station at 6:30, ready for the 6:40 train back to Delhi… it was delayed for an hour and a half.

Alright… it was a bit cold, but that would clear, and so we sat down on some metal chairs to wait for the train to come.

Patience is a funny thing. At times, you can sit for an hour and a half… and then three and a half (the train still hadn't managed to show up at 10 am. We got a taxi.), but at other times you can't wait another millisecond before telling someone something, be it good or bad.

After waiting for three and a half hours in the cold fogginess that was the Agra train station, Dad and Ioan went to find a taxi. The taxi meant five hours in a sedan— one person in front and four people in back, smooshed tightly. We bore this pretty easily— I read Middlemarch (which is almost done!) and Ileana either read or listened to music. Ioan and Dad played chess. Ioan and I also fell asleep, sleeping about one hour and a half each. We only stopped once, and that was for the driver.

In the car it got increasingly hot as we got closer to the airport— I had wool leg-warmers on, a windbreaker, and my Scottevest, but thankfully was wearing short sleeves. However, we all bore this pretty well for about four hours. Eventually though, about 40 km from Delhi Ileana and I couldn't stand it any more, and almost in sync we took off our extra layers.

We waited in line for the check-in, checking the parents' two bags, and then heard that our flight was delayed by twenty minutes.

And then later, by twenty minutes more.

At the airport pizza place, it was a fourteen minute waiting game for two medium Margherita pizzas, which were piping hot and ready to be consumed.

As we took the shuttlebus to the airplane, we had to wait almost two minutes for the bus driver to open the doors— and then again for the airport workers to drop full garbage bags from the top of the airplane door down to the asphalt below. They didn't spill at all.

Now, sitting in the airplane over the wing, looking out onto the sunset, waiting for us to reach Goa (where we'll be in the car for another 40km), I wonder the waiting game— how it changes depending on the situation.

I cannot wait for things I can change— whether it's walking faster or eating faster or making someone be quiet. But I can wait  patiently for something unchangeable— like a train schedule or the fog.

… But how come?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fog


Fog is something we're somewhat familiar with. At home, there is sometimes fog on the lake.

In Chitwan, Nepal, Dad and Ioan's birdwatching expedition was postponed for an hour because of fog. They couldn't postpone in more than that, or apparently they would have had a better view.

In India, trains are postponed because of fog— trains will not go if there is fog on the tracks. At all. Trains can be postponed for hours because of fog on the tracks.

Fog in Chitwan was something that we saw in the morning as we woke— lightly obscuring things about ten feet in front of us, getting worse the farther away we tried to look. It was not terrible though, as it usually cleared at about ten or so.

Fog in Agra is a different beast. You cannot see any of the monuments you have come to see until they are within arm's reach. When visiting the Taj Mahal, we were practically on the platform before we could see one of the minarets. We had to be quite close to see the Taj itself, and I don't think we saw the dome properly at all.

But the fog is also quite helpful. For one thing, we got to have a wonderful discussion with two people which we otherwise would not have had— people would have been hurrying to take photos of the Taj, or trying to sightsee. But with the fog stopping us from seeing more than a meter in front of our noses, we could curl up on the back of the Taj and talk about the places we'd been and the things we'd seen.

The fog also made things cold. Really cold. While waiting for the fog to lift, we ran around the Taj in under a minute in order to warm up.

Walking around in fog is something eerie. It means knowing where you're stepping but not where you're going. It means staring at the ground to see the path because there's nothing you can see in front of you.

It means that instead of seeing the Taj Mahal from the beginning… all we saw was a grey mist. On the road to the Taj, we were actually wondering if it was possible we had lost our way! We could see nothing in front of us except the street lights… and they were so dim they didn't seem very reliable.

All the same, the fog is a beautiful thing. Even if there was also fog in the afternoon, instead of obscuring things it lent a softness to everything it touched. It made things hazier, but not terrible. It gave things a further feel, in a way, as if something was much more distant than it actually was.

The fog is grey, and a bit blue. In contrast to the red we have been seeing, it made things slightly gloomier… slightly less forcedly cheerful. It made me feel a bit sleepy, a bit calm. A bit more at peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Schoolchildren Visiting the Museum

[posted late because of no internet connection in the room in Agra.]

Yesterday, as we were visiting the National Museum in Delhi, we were swamped  by enormous groups of school children, ranging from the age of six to eighteen, it seemed. They were lined up by school (you could tell the difference because of the uniforms), and squatting to wait to be let into the museum.

As we entered the museum, we headed to buy our tickets (foreign adults pay XXX rupees, while children under 15 pay just one rupee,) and our audio guides. Children under twelve are allowed an attached headset… but what happens to the children between twelve and fourteen?

As we toured the Harappan Civilization's sculptures and pottery (I will be using four cornered bowls in my house.), the school children started coming in, shuffling along and pushing each other with their hands on the shoulders of the child in front of them. The line moves incredibly quickly— I think they will manage to see the entire museum in a third of the time it will take us.

We were of more interest than the tiny, bug-eyed, clay lizard that looked like a cartoon character. We were of more interest than the dancing girl. We were of more interest than even the cute, four-cornered bowls. Some of the girls smiled shyly at us, and we smiled back.

Then, as we went more recently into history, we smiled more boldly. And then it began.
"Hi!" said a particularly brave girl.
"Hello," I say.
"Hi!"
"Hi!"
"Hello!"
"Hello, how are you?"
"I'm good," I'd say, "how are you?"
And then another would become brave enough to hold out her hand for me to shake. Suddenly, they all wanted to. This line of girls is shuffling along at high speeds through this museum, and instead of looking at the intricate stonework of a lintel (XXX), they are pushing forward to shake my hand. I don't their inattentiveness matters much— the one rupee entrance fee probably allows the school to bring them here quite often.

Some would ask our names. ("Maria," I replied once, "Ahhhh!" exclaims the girl, eyes wide, joining her hands, "That is a beautiful name!") We would ask them theirs too, but while our names may feel something like theirs, their names do not sound like names to us. There was, however, a Lakshima and a Reha. That is all I remember.

Once, while I was shaking hands, a girl dashed onto the couch I was standing next to in order to shake my hand. Another shouted "Excuse me, excuse me!" Until I moved her way. A boy about twelve years old shook my hand twice. I couldn't stop smiling at all these children who are so excited just to see you. They're not expecting candies, or chocolates, or money. All they want is to shake your hand.

It didn't hurt that they tapped my cheek with their hand (I'm sure it's a compliment— it's usually accompanied with a very wide smile and head bobble, both of which are good) and pronounced me "very beautiful."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Airport Security in Nepal

We took a plane from Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India on December 11th, 2011.

Once you enter the actual body of the airport, you put your bags onto a conveyor belt close to the floor, and pass through either the ladies' line or the gentlemen's line. This is reminescent of metro security— each security checker person has one of those hand-held metal detectors, and he or she will run the device over you, check every one of your suspiciously lumpy pockets, and then let you pass.

I passed through with handcream. In America they'd look at me sideways and kind of shake their heads, then ask me to take it out and throw it away. But I passed through with handcream.
Once you retrieve your bag from security, you have to go check your bags (if any). We skipped this and sat down instead. Once our plane was called, we stood up and were confronted with another security check. We had to stand in line behind a woman who yelled at us if we passed her. About four meters in front of her was the security gate, where we passed through unhindered once our bags and coats and shoes had gone through the security check.

Right before getting on the plane, there was another security check. We were kind of surprised, but held our arms out as the security guard ran her hands up and down our arms and felt around our pockets. We also had to open up the camera bag once or twice, to double check that nothing harmful was in there.

All of the examinations are manual. The metal-detector gates seem to be there just as a sign of where to go, because they don't seem to beep at all, except perhaps as a notification that someone's passed through the gate. Even if we're not used to it, the whole thing is a very non-invasive procedure, and is a lot less awkward than passing through the security gate in America and then realized you stepped forward too soon and having to go back, or not stepping forward fast enough and now you've inconvenienced these people… and on and on and on.

Though airport security is completely different on this end of the world, there are rules that persist. No water is allowed through the second security check. It's fine, though, through security check number one (I passed through while holding a water bottle. It wasn't empty.) and security check number three.

They don't allow sharp or flammable objects on the airplane (who would?), and the entire airport is non-smoking, with the exception of a certain room which is walled off with sanded glass and which says in bright red SMOKER'S ROOM. Then, in subscript, SMOKING IS DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH.

All in all, I think I like Nepali airports more than I do American ones. They seem so paranoid with all their rules and regulations, compared to the Nepali, who don't care if you have hand cream or not.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Washing An Elephant


While we were in Nepal, in Chitwan (where there is lots of jungle and presumably tigers), we had the option of doing three things with elephants.

We did all three, but the best part was the elephant washing. After the jungle ride, in which we saw a mother rhinoceros and her baby, we headed back to the Sapana (means "dream" in Nepali) hotel/resort to get in our bathing suits and relax a bit before the elephants showed up.

To see elephants coming down the the dirt road with a mahout on their necks was amazing. Each mahout led their elephant down to a mounting place— a sandy place where the elephant lay down and let us climb on using a step ladder. Mom, Ileana, and Ioan all got on one elephant… but I had my own. The only thing you can hold on to is the mahout. You can, however, clasp the elephant with your legs. It's completely different from horse back riding, though— for one thing, the elephant is a lot bigger than a horse, and a bit too broad for leg-clasping.

Once you're on, the elephant will stand up and walk down to the river. First she has to go through a smaller creek, and for a moment I'm afraid I'm going to slide off as it climbs up the creek bank. But it lumbers onward, and I don't even slip.

Once we reach the river, the mahout tells the elephant to lie down. This usually means that the elephant looks a bit like your cat when its basking it the sun. And it means that people who don't move quickly slide off into the water. Because I'd watched the others in front of me, I was moving away from the water as the elephant was laying down. I don't like cold water, hence the moving.

The elephant's head is a mottled pink and grey. The pink is from age. It has scars from the tools the mahout uses to guide it, but they're superficial and it doesn't seem to feel them at all.

An elephant has tiny, tiny eyes that are a bright, clear brown. And so many wrinkles around them that they look old and wise and as if they know exactly what you're feeling. An elephant's trunk is soft and rough at the same time, and it pokes inquisitively into my hand as the mahout and I scrub its head and sides with water and our hands.

An elephant's skin feels like… well, think of really wrinkly, hairy leather. It's not a romantic description, but it's accurate. It's like nothing I've ever felt before, but it's one of the nicest things I've ever touched. It's calming. This huge animal is letting you touch it, and it's humbling.

The elephant looks at me as it's lying on its side in the water, and I would be happy to just sit there on this great big elephant's stomach and relax.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Streets in India

Streets in India are not as crowded as I was expecting… but that doesn't mean anything. Cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorcycles, and rickshaws all zoom to their destinations, some at faster speeds than others.

Crossing the street is a matter of timing, speed, and judgement. At times, one has to stop in the middle of the street with cars coming at you at high speeds, waiting for the right moment to cross the rest of the street. As you wait, people honk at you. 

As you walk, people honk at you. They honk almost continuously, sometimes just for fun, it seems.

There are almost no public bathrooms, except at the entrance to the metro, and it's not uncommon to see men standing on the sidewalk facing a wall and urinating. I'm sure that women do it too… but in a more private location.

There are bus stations every 500 meters or more, but buses don't stop unless it's to let someone off or someone from the station holds out a hand, palm down, for them to stop. (By the way, hand signals in India are COMPLETELY different from what they are in the rest of the world.) Often, people are jumping onto the bus as it moves away from the station— we have had to do it two or three times ourselves, and it's exhilarating. At times, most people have to also get off while the bus is moving.

Indians do this with grace and speed and make it look ridiculously easy, as if the bus isn't moving at all. Of course, like all pretty things, it's harder than it looks.

The culture is different too— a couple was arrested for kissing at their wedding… but men frequently hold hands while crossing the street or have their arms around each other's shoulders (even little kids— it's the cutest thing). Sometimes they have their arms hooked. They wear pink or pastels, and have no problem wearing earrings in one ear. (Incidentally, why do rings in the nose just look gang-ish in America, but look completely normal in India? It makes no sense.) 

I wish that guys in America would stop being so macho about everything (the number of times guys have not wanted to spar with me because they don't want to get beaten by a girl…) and learn some sensitivity and understanding instead of being worried about how manly they are.

Women do the same things, minus arm-around-the-shoulders, but then that's relatively normal in America and so it doesn't make such a big impression as it otherwise might.

One of the annoying things, though, is the fact that contact between men and women is frowned upon. You'll see a young or very old couple holding hands, but there are no hugs or kisses or really any contact otherwise. Since we're a very touchy family… it's hard at times to not be able to reach over and hug my dad or kiss him on the cheek (buying the saris is a good example of this.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Kumari

Nepali religion includes the Kumari; aka Living Goddess. Nepali believe she is the reincarnation of the goddess Kali.


She is chosen from the young girls of the Buddhist sect born on the full moon of a certain month. However, she is a Hindi goddess— another example of how Nepal merges two religions into one

The girl selected as the kumari must have many specific physical features; cow eyes, a certain type of nose, a certain type of mouth… her nails must be just so, her feet a specific shape…

When the priests have found about 20-30 girls, the testing begins. Not only must the Kumari look a certain way, but she must be unaffected by scary things— if she is frightened, then she can't protect Nepal from natural disasters.

At the age of three or four, all the little girls that meet the above requirements are gathered together at the Temple of Kali in Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Three priests: One Buddhist, one Hindu, and one King's priest, gather together to take the little girls into the temple all at once, and try to scare them.

Part of this trial means exposing the four year old to 324 animal sacrifices— I think that they are all sacrificed in front of her, though I'm not sure if it's one by one or all at the same time. 

They put her in a dark room and make loud noises, or bring out snakes and spiders.

All these trials are to make sure that she is strong— that she won't back down if she has to protect all of Kathmandu.

Most little girls will be scared when confronted with these things. But I don't think any of them react as badly as they would have— I'm assuming that their parents, who know that the Kumari is chosen from a certain Buddhist sect, and know the details of how, will expose their little girl to such 'scary' things in an effort to train her. I'm only assuming; this may be wrong.

If more than one little girl doesn't react to all these scary things at all, then each is given two sets of prayer beads. One set is real; the other is a fake, but highly resemblant. The little girl who chooses the correct beads becomes the Kumari.

The entire process takes about two weeks.

After becoming the Kumari, the beautiful little girl is taken to a 'palace,' where she does not live with her family. Instead, a priest takes care of her. When she gets her first menstruation, she is no longer the Kumari, and another little girl is chosen.

Every year in September the Kumari walks around Darbar Square to 'reinforce' the protection around Kathmandu. She has six public viewings a year. Postcards of her are sold at her home's courtyard entrance, and she is on the map of Kathmandu.

It is bad luck, however, to marry a Kumari. Imagine being a goddess— pampered all your life… and then becoming a normal person. How would you even begin to adjust?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our 15 Minutes of Fame in India

Yesterday at Qutub Minar— a 73m tower made of red and buff-colored sandstone. Building on it started in 1199 AD.

Naturally, there are many tourists there, all trying to get a picture with the tower.

As Mom was taking a picture of the rest of us, a middle-aged woman in a green sari with red trim came up to us and gestured that she'd like a photo. We shrugged and nodded, not knowing what we were getting into.

The woman and her family— about four or five other people all got behind us and between us and smiled at another of their group, who was taking the picture. Some people must have caught sight of us, because they also came up to ask for a picture.

Dad moved out of the way before they managed to ask, though, so it was just the three of us children and one Indian mid-20-year-old after another. (Question: How many people do you think we posed with in the end?)

As we were walking away from the tower, another group of Indian men came up to us saying, "One photo?"

Ileana and I smiled and nodded, posing for pictures. I won't repeat the number of times a group of young Indian men came up to us and asked us for a picture— rest assured there were lots of them.

At one point, while waiting for our parents, a young man came up to us nervously and asked, "Where are you from?"
"Romania." I say,
"Ah." Pause, during which he gathers his courage. Then, while bobbling his head, he says, "You are very beautiful!"
"Thank you." I say.
We exchange names— his starts with a B and is pronounceable only on the scene of the exchange. Afterwards I forget it completely.

But this prompts a realization: we are beautiful here! While we know that we are pretty in the US, it's somewhat of a shock to find out that the Indian standard of beauty matches what we look like.

Two encounters are ones that we enjoyed immensely:

  1. A… 50ish year old woman comes up to us and asks for a photo. Ileana and I join together at the shoulder, expecting her to stand in front of us, but she elbows her way backwards to stand between us, her arms around our waists, looking very happy indeed. Later, we went up to her and asked her for a photo, and she grinned, bobbled her head, and pulled her husband into the picture.
  2. A young woman in a pink sari and her husband were looking at us shyly, holding a camera. We'd seen her through the archaelogical site earlier, and I went up to her and asked for a photo. She smiled with relief and came over to stand between us, and we got a fantastic picture.

The total number of people who took pictures with us is 56, give or take 5 people. We were sick of smiling so much.