Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Early days

This is it. I know you've all been waiting to hear how the first one is going to do.
I'll give you brief narratives of my first days. I would post some photos but for some reason they can't get internet on my computer, so I'm writing this on an absolute dinosaur of a desktop.

July 17. 18th, and 10th

Well I'm sure you've all flown before so most of those details would be mundane. The Continental flight that I took from Newark to Mumbai was on a massive 777 jet with TV screens for everyone and 197 movies to choose from. Which was ridiculous. I watched The Crazies, City of God, and the Usual Suspects. This flight was a 15 hour, 9000 mile monstrosity. For the most part it was awful. I was exhausted the whole time but I'm an insomniac on airplanes, so I was just sitting there while everyone around me was snoring. It was boring, uncomfortable and interminable. But eventually I got to Mumbai.
I went through customs, got my baggage, all very easy. Then I got to the arrival lounge and I circled through it all looking for a sign with my name or someone that was looking for me. No one.
I ended up waiting there for two and a half hours. It turns out that they had left Surat at 3 o clock to come to get me, which is allowing for more than enough time. I guess the traffic into Mumbai was just ridiculous. They claimed that at one stretch it took them 3 hours to travel 30 kilometers.
So at about midnight I left the airport with them. There was this Canadian girl who was staying with some man in Mumbai that we had to get. She had some horrible mishap with her flight and had been waiting with this Rotarian for the entire day. From1 to7 we drove to Surat.
I went to the home of my first host family with these guys that picked me up (they were the nephew and brother in law of my host father). My first host family is in Kenya for a vacation right now, so I'm actually staying with someone else. I don't know why they took me there, but I went and gratefully took a nap. Then I had some vegetable sandwiches and my actual first host father, Mr. Anant Gandhi, picked me up. We drove across town to his home. He has a wife whose name escapes me (I have been told to just call her Mom) and two sons, aged 21 and 17. Their names are Pratik and Akshey. Akshey is my main outlet for activites, and I like him quite a bit.
I hung with Akshey for most of that day, had some dinner, went on a few motorcycle rides with him, and went to bed.

July 20th
I got up at like 7 and Dad showed me this jogging park. I went for like a three and a half mile jog. It didn't all that well, but every person in the park was like, extremely impressed with my stamina. I think that distance running is not a common practice here. Then I got back, showered and did some yoga with my mom's yoga instructor. Yoga seems to basically be variations on breathing in and out. But I liked it.
It's embarrassing to say this, but I had quite a boring day. Pratik was not around and Akshey was out of commission between a cold that he had and a crap ton of school work. I looked around the house, but my host mom and grandparents don't do all that much. I'm ashamed to say that I watched 5 episodes of Dexter Season 4 that day. Well, it is excellent.
The evening was better. Pratik arrived and we went out to eat and then I went to bed.

Here are some notes on notable cultural differences.

Food: Food is a real problem for me right now. My family is vegetarian. I like vegetables fine, but I don't consider a meal a meal unless it has meat in it. I think I've been getting enough food. I'm not going hungry and it tastes ok, but I haven't really had a satisfying meal yet.
We went out to a place that they said has the best chicken in Surat. The problem was that it was extraordinarily hot and spicy. Nothing in the United States compares. I think I might just stick to veggies so that my mouth doesn't burn up. The food is difficult for me, and I will have to adjust.
The basic staple of their diet is roti, a flatbread that they scoop up rice, vegetables and curry with. The veggies are completely variable. They have fruit too, mostly pears and bananas. Plenty of ice cream. I've had a lot of tea and coffee, but the concept of having coffee black without sugar is completely unfathomable to them, so I've given up trying.

People: There are an obscene amount of people here. Everyone knows this, but I was still completely unprepared for how absolutely jam-packed this would be with folks. Everything is very tightly packed in. It's kind of really overstimulating, and there isn't going to be a whole lot of peace and quiet here. This is too bad. I like my peace and quiet.

Driving: It's insane. They don't follow even the rules that their government has set. The strategy for driving seems to be to go as fast as you possibly can, make your own lanes, and honk at everything that moves. I went for a few rides on Akshey's motorbike (which he doesn't have a license to drive) and it was quite scary at first. It's actually really fun now, because I've realized that they really don't crash very often, they just take things at a faster pace.

Sports and Exercise: Yoga is a part of their religion. Mom has a yoga instructor who comes every day and does these breathing exercises with her. The two times that I have sat in she has also done other more aerobic and cardiovascular exercises with me. They have jogging parks here. But the one that I went to, there were about three hundred people there and I was the only one actually jogging.
The sports that they play are soccer and cricket. They are obsessed with both of them. It's a good thing I watched the World Cup this year, it's become one of the few cultural touchstones that I have with them.

Movies: In a typical movie theater, two of the three are Bollywood and one is American. But the American movies are dubbed in Hindi. This sucks. I mean, a LOT. Movies are probably one of the biggest staples of my life. In the summer, if I go a week without seeing a movie it is an unusual week. So while I might see American films, I'm never going to understand what the hell is going on. On TV, only the news is in English.

So the cultural differences are immense, but the important thing is that the people are nice, and that is definitely the case here. I think it will get better. For the most part, I'm having a blast. This place is pretty fascinating. I chose it because i knew that it would be the most different from the United States, and it definitely is that.
I might not say anything for a while, so good luck to anyone who leaves before I look in again.


  1. ahhhh this is so exciting!!! i can't believe you're there and already so immersed in the life. it sounds insanely different, and i know that we can't even begin to imagine just how different it actually is. as for the things like food and movies, i think that you'll find ways to deal with that. maybe you can get netflix and watch movies on instant view on your computer? or you could just learn hindi really fast. but i know you'll have a great time, so embrace it all. good luck!

  2. I'm glad everything is going well!!! Also it's really good to hear your travels went well, with the late pick-up exception!! Sorry to hear about the vegetarian diet and movies, but at least you'll get used to them, and everything will still be here when you get back. I still can't believe you're in India right now!! Hope you're having a good time!!!

  3. Ted when you said "dinosaur of a desktop", did you mean it was huge and amazing, or that is really old?

    I hope you're having an amazing time, it sounds incredible.

  4. I meant that it was very old. Like truly ancient. At least 12 years.