Back Home in Beautiful Hawai’i Nei

I’ve been home for about a month and a half now!  I’ve been back at work since December 12th, and tomorrow — Friday — wraps up my second week of school.

I miss Delhi a lot.  More than things like the pani puri, metro, rickshaw rides, phalwalas, etc., I miss my host family and my friends.  Since I’ve been home my host family has called me three times, just to say hello.  I talk to my two good friends quite regularly.  One of them went home shortly after I left (that is, to Manipur) and I didn’t talk to him once while he was gone; turns out, there was some upheaval in Manipur during the time so the state blocked the Internet and all SMSs, allowing only phone calls (we talk through WhatsApp).  I figured he was busy with his family, but as soon as he got back to Delhi, he explained what had been going on and why he hadn’t talked to me in so long.  I really hope my host family and friends can make it out to Hawaii one day; I’d love to show them around and introduce them to novel foods and all that fun stuff.  Delhi was easily one of the best experiences of my life, if not the best. I learned a lot about myself there.

School is hard.  The MA program in Delhi was really different (though, my advisor did warn me about this).  In India there is the BA, MA, MPhil, and finally PhD; as a result, my MA program there was basically an extension of a BA program, which, despite collecting a wealth of knowledge while I was in India from my classes at Ambedkar that I can’t access in Hawaii, it hurt me because I am currently having a hard time adjusting to my work load for my MA program at my home university.  I’m sure I’ll balance everything in out by the end of next week.

I’m enrolled in two Museum Studies courses (Museums & Education and Public History & Commemoration; I find the latter far more interesting), a World History seminar, and third-year Hindi.  So far, quite honestly, Hindi is giving me the hardest time.  While I was in India, I did not hone my Hindi very much.  My listening improved by leaps and bounds, but my speaking really took a blow because I was always listening, but very rarely speaking.  Since the two good friends I made were from Manipur, they only spoke Hindi when they absolutely needed to; my host family only spoke to me in Hindi occasionally (I understand that it must have been difficult to bring their Hindi down to my amateur level).  Very few of my classmates knew that I could understand and speak Hindi, so they never spoke to me in Hindi (and this was not something I bragged about, just in case they did attempt to speak to me and I couldn’t understand).  As a result, I’m struggling in class, especially since I have not formally learned Hindi since last May.  It doesn’t help that I don’t like the TA.  She’s another linguistics scholar from JNU, but she’s different from the other two we had; to me she’s a bit condescending, as if she can’t quite understand why my Hindi isn’t as fluent as one of my other classmates (a Second Language Studies graduate student who taught English in Chennai).  She’s also laughed at my mistakes, which is something I don’t think an instructor should do, and which I took very personally and resented.  The other two TAs would laugh when I’d make silly mistakes, but they’d never blatantly laugh at a mistake I made purely as a result of a cognitive struggle.  I was contemplating dropping the class altogether but this is already the home stretch for me; I’m in Hindi 302 and 302 is the last of the sequence and I know I’d regret giving up just because I don’t like my TA.  I’m not quite sure why my professor isn’t teaching my class since she’s no longer on sabbatical.  My Hindi class is adding unnecessary work to my already heavy workload (I only need four semesters of a language for my degree) but I want to keep learning it because: 1) I genuinely enjoy learning languages, and 2) Out of spite, I want to do well and “stick it” to my TA.  Oh, and since it’s a 300-level course, the course is taught entirely in Hindi which makes it even more difficult for me.

Anyway, I’m happy to be home but I really miss everyone in Delhi.  I think of my friends daily.  Both of them called me while I was waiting for my flight at the airport and I cried at the gate talking to my friend on the phone, the stranger awkwardly sitting across me trying to avoid eye contact (haha).  But my friend and I had all the same courses, and we’d ride the metro home together every day after school (I’d get off at Rajiv Chowk and he’d continue to Hauz Khas).  On December 1st, I slept over at his house and we made typical Manipuri food for dinner with his sister and cousins.  The next day he took me on a whirlwind Delhi tour since I had done 0 sightseeing the entire time I was in Delhi; we went to the Red Fort and Qutab Minar.  We tried to get to the Lotus Temple but we missed it by ten minutes.  Driving me home, I asked to go to India Gate but the lights were off (it was about 7:00pm) to show respect for attacks that had occurred in Kashmir.  I went home the next day but I managed to go to one of his Church functions a few hours before my flight.  I surely did leave a big chunk of my dil in Dilli.

Advertisements

Dussehra Travels

My whirlwind tour of the Northeast has come to an end and I am back in Delhi.

How was the trip?  Overall, I would not relive the experience, but I would gladly go back to Meghalaya and Sikkim (definitely Sikkim).  Assam produced two bad experiences so I have no desire to go back there.  I will explain.

Initially I was fine going to just Sikkim because that is where I wanted to go because 1) It is really cold there; and 2) I wanted to look for specific bangles there for my mom (which I found).  A — my friend that took me to the Valley of Flowers — threw Meghalaya and Assam into the mix.  When I asked him about the plans, he sent me a cheeky photo that said “the best travels are not planned” or something to that effect.  I thought that’s what it was — that he was being cheeky.  He wasn’t.  Aside from Kaziranga on the first day, we had no plans.  And even that didn’t go through — as soon as we arrived in Guwahati, his friend in Shillong called and said to do Shillong and Cherapunji first because of one reason or another, so we headed for Shillong as soon as we landed.  Did we have plans there?  No.  A kept asking me, “So what do you want to do?” and I kept saying “I don’t know, I’m not the one who planned this part of the trip.”  I just wanted to see the root bridges.  The first day, we took his friend’s motorcycle and went out to Cherapunji with no plans.  We passed Elephant Falls which I wanted to go to, but he said his friend said we could do that on the way back.  “Okay,” I said. We didn’t make it to Elephant Falls because we didn’t head back to Shillong until about 5:00pm after aimlessly driving around trying to find things to do.  We eventually saw Arwah caves (which was a 4/10 at best) and Nohkalikai Falls (which was probably a 3/10).  Needless to say, I was already in a sour mood.  On the second day, we got a cab and did the root bridge (though not the one in Cherapunji), a village, and Dawki Lake.  Dawki was nice but since it had rained, the water wasn’t translucent which is why A picked the lake to begin with.  Later that night upon returning to Shillong, his friend took us to his friend’s house where we danced and sang — that was probably the best part.  But A was the only one who sat out.

After Meghalaya, we passed through Assam again and wasted a day trying to find things to do around Guwahati.  The taxi driver said he would take us to a waterfall and ended up taking us to a waterpark.  Did we have swimming attire?  No.  So we had him take us out of the parking lot.  We went to a Balaji Temple, then stopped by a small dock to take a boat out to a small island to see another temple.  I think that afternoon we took an overnight bus to Darjeeling.

We arrived in Darjeeling at about 6am — after a three-hour ride from Siliguri — and wandered around looking for a hotel.  Another thing I love, just love about A (can you hear the sarcasm?) is that he doesn’t book hotels ahead of time — he’ll wait until we’re there and then look for one.  Not smart.  We finally found one, and it was a crappy room for 1,700.  It smelled like wet cloth and mold.  The only plus was that I was able to get hot water for my shower.  A doesn’t get why I need to take a shower every day “even in the mountains” because it’s “so cold” up there.  I’ll complain more about this thought process later.  After a short nap, we woke up at 12:00pm and again, A said “What do you want to do?” and I said, “I don’t know, because you picked Darjeeling too.  I said we could have bypassed it but you wanted to come here.”  He was a bit taken aback by this statement since I was so soft-spoken the two other times we had spent time together (each about four days in length) but this is what happens when someone irritates me.  Anyway, we wandered around outside and first ate.  After, he asked again: “What do you want to do?” to which I said, “I already said I don’t know.  You choose since you picked Darjeeling.”  We eventually got a taxi and went to the zoo.  After the zoo, we went to a tea estate where I bought eight bags of green tea for people back home.  After that, since he had seen a rock climbing set up on the way to the tea estate, and since he is into mountaineering and such, A wanted to stop there.  He paid Rs. 100 (I think) to scale a rock in about thirty seconds, take photos of the view, and come back down.  When he arrived at the bottom, he said “I thought it would have been more fun” and I said, “It’s a tourist set up, of course it won’t be intense.”  We left Darjeeling for Sikkim that evening.

By some miracle, A had a friend book a hotel in Gangtok so we were set up that evening.  The next day we had planned Tsomgo and another lake but right as we were leaving, we were informed that in order for a foreigner to go to Tsomgo, they needed to be with at least another foreigner.  That didn’t (and doesn’t) make sense to me because I’m not sure why you would want more foreigners in a border area.  Since that plan was shot, the taxi driver that brought us to Sikkim ended up taking us to small waterfall (Lhasa) and Rumtek monastery.  The second day in Sikkim, we again had no plans.  A kept dogging me about it, asking “What do you want to do?” and I said, “You know, I told you to plan and you didn’t.  And now we have no plans.  I’m honestly fine staying in the hotel and reading my book and relaxing.  I wanted to come to Sikkim for the bangles and to relax, and I’m fine doing that.”  And he retorted, in some astonishment, “All day?” and I said, “Yes.  All day.  I’m fine doing that all day.  Sikkim is the place I actually wanted to go to.  I wanted to come here — Sikkim was my main destination.  You picked Darjeeling, Meghalaya, and Assam without plans, not me.  I’m in Sikkim to relax.”  After walking around Gangtok a bit more and finally finding the bangle for my mom (a bangle of various metals roped together, with silver dragon heads at the end – my host mom told me it’s a Sikkim speciality) he asked me again, “What do you want to do now that you have the bangle?” and I said “I’m fine relaxing, I said that already” and I just stood there staring off.  He went off to a tourist office to find things to do, and just then a man crept around my shoulder (not creepy like I’m making it sound) and said, “Kahan ja rahi hai?” and I said, “Uh…” and right then, A came back and decided we’d go to South Sikkim.  They (the man who approached me, and his two companions – a man and woman) were going to West Sikkim and offered to take us for only Rs. 500.  We ended up going all the way to West Sikkim with them, and on the way stopped at another tea estate.  They were all Nepali and ended up being my favorite people we had encountered.  The woman was particularly sweet and we ended up exchanging numbers and taking countless selfies (I’m surprised that the selfie culture is bigger here than in the US!).  We made one stop in South Sikkim and it happened to be the place I wanted to visit: Tathagata Tsal.  We reached Pelling at about 7:30pm or so and had dinner near the hotel.  A drinks regularly and had a bottle of whisky in his jacket which he needed to drink outside of the main restaurant and at the bar on the deck; to this, the woman (N), said “Do you drink?” and I said “Very rarely, usually only on special occasions” and she said, “Drinking is very bad!  No?  I think A is drinking outside” and I found that very cute and endearing for some reason.

Pelling was my favorite part of the trip.  It wasn’t A’s cup of tea since it was mine — relaxing.  The night we arrived, I asked a hotel employee, “Garami pani hai?  Shower ke liye?”  He smiled a lot and said yes, and I thought it was because he and N were talking about how surprising it was that I knew Hindi, considering I was from America and not Nagaland as they had both thought upon meeting me.  Later that night, I had issues with my tv so the same guy came up (“B,” from now on).  As he fixed my tv,  he asked how I was liking Sikkim and I said I absolutely loved it (I did and do).  He eventually said, “You should stay.  You should marry someone in Sikkim in stay!” and I was like “I wish I could!”  The next morning, I went looking for breakfast and B walked me to a restaurant where I gorged on four slices of toast, a masala omelette, and chai.  After that, A asked if I wanted to eat and I spitefully said I had already eaten.  He wanted to see the monastery and Rabdanste nearby, so we did that.  He went to have lunch and I went off on my own to explore Pelling.  When I returned later in the day, I went straight into my room and watched tv, doodled in my notebook, and just lied in bed eating apples I had purchased earlier in the day.  It was amazing.  To be polite, I asked A if he wanted to grab dinner with me and I eventually knocked on his door when he didn’t answer my message.  He was sleeping.  I had thentuk (delicious) and Tibetan bread.  The bread was a breakfast item but since I had asked about it anyway, the server said “We aren’t serving it anymore, but I’ll have them make it for you.”  I apologetically (truly, and multiple times) kept saying no and that it was okay, and that I could do without the bread but in the end, I had a feast of egg thenthuk, Tibetan bread, and ginger honey lemon tea on a cold, rainy Sikkim evening.  Of course A got back to me midway through my meal.  I walked back to the hotel in the rain, bought more apples, and spent my night eating apples, watching more tv, and doodling.  Lovely!  Absolutely lovely.  Pelling was my favorite.

The next day I went looking for breakfast again and B was smiling at me from the counter.  I didn’t think anything of him until he asked me about Facebook and then for my phone number.  That’s why he was all smiles!  But I’m a foreigner, so I’m not sure why he asked anyway.  Since I’m a foreigner and will never see him again, I did give him my Facebook information (showing I’m engaged, vomiting photos of me and my fiancé and our small family of two dogs and a kitten) and number (Delhi number).  A and I barely talked all morning and we sat across each other, me eating my aloo parathas and him drinking his chai, not saying anything.  He knew I was and had been upset, and I did not care.  To this, my fiancé said I should have been more forgiving, but I’m convinced he only said this because as my fiancé, he knows how b*tchy I can be when I get into my moods, but I’m not sure why A wouldn’t think I was serious when I said I wanted plans.  He runs a company that’s basically that — he takes people (locals and foreigners) on day- or week-long treks that include extensive planning, sometimes going on planes, etc., and so I expected him to be good about this.  He was not, and I did not and do not feel bad about my cold demeanor, especially since this mess of a trip ended up costing me about Rs. 20,000.  Anyway, then we left for Siliguri — or so we thought.  It was impossible to get a taxi from Jorenthang to Siliguri so we ended up taking a private cab.  We were supposed to have arrived in Guwahati at about 6:00pm.  Due to multiple jams, we only arrived in Siliguri at 8:30pm and needed to pay (well me, since A ran out of money) Rs. 14,500 for a private cab to Guwahati since our flight was the next day (today).  We reached Guwahati at 6:00am and that was that, and now I’m finally back in Delhi.

When we got the hotel in Guwahati this morning, I asked if we were getting separate rooms.  In an irritated manner, A said “Why?  Why do you insist on two rooms only for a few hours?” and I sighed and said “Whatever just one then.”  Why did I insist on two different rooms the entire trip?  Let my ranting begin:

A is a pig.  When he hung out in my rooms the time we were together for VoF, he basically trashed my rooms.  He would smoke and get his ashes everywhere and not clean them up, and then he would leave the butts everywhere.  The time I went down to his room to use the washroom right before we left Ghangaria, there were cigarette butts and ashes all over his room and cigarette butts floating in his toilet.  And this is at the hotel of someone he knows.  He knew the owners of all the hotels we stayed at and still disrespected their rooms.  I also don’t smoke, so his smoking in general was irritating to me.  Secondly, he likes to talk a lot.  I don’t.  I like to relax by myself, especially at night.  So obviously, the separate room was good for this.  Lastly, as I had mentioned before, he doesn’t see the need to take a shower in the mountains since it’s cold.  I do not think he took a shower at all since we left Shillong — that’s about six days of no showers.  By the time we reached Pelling he had a smell resembling wet clothes and sweat (plus his cigarette smoke).  I do not want to share an enclosed space with someone who smells.  Today, the smell was even stronger and even as we sat on opposite ends of the room, I could smell him in our Guwahati hotel room.  I am not even joking.  I am a very clean person and I need to shower every day, no matter what.  If I go to the gym in the morning, I’ll take a full shower then — soap, shampoo, conditioner — and I’ll take another full shower in the evening before bed.  I don’t care if it’s cold — a daily shower is a minimum for me.  Any time he walked by, I would hold my breath because I could not handle the smell.  Needless to say, sitting together on the plane ride back was near torturous and anytime he made any slight movement, the smell grew stronger.  Again my fiancé said I needed to be more forgiving, but again I said, “No, you do not understand.  It’s been nine days of this.”  A is also a bad listener.  In Gangtok, our cab driver dropped us off at Lal Market and said that for us to get back to our hotel, we needed to walk “upar aur uske baad, right” meaning, on to MG Marg and right.  When we went up, A kept asking me where to go.  I said, “He said up and right.  We went up, so now we need to go right.”  He kept asking, “Are you sure?  Do you know where we’re going?” and again I said, “He said ‘up and after that, go right’ and that’s what I’m doing.”  Again he asked, and I finally said “Were you listening to him as he spoke or not?  What did he say?  He said ‘up and right,’ didn’t he?” and he said “Oh yes, yes, I guess, yes…” and even after that, he called the hotel and asked for directions and said “Yes, we are going the right way” and I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they were going to fall out of my head.  A bunch of things like this just boiled over nine days and I don’t think I’ll be seeing A again before I leave.

Anyway…I’m glad to be back in Delhi (e.g., familiarity).  I really, truly loved Sikkim, though.  When I come back to India, I’m definitely spending a fair amount of time there.

Little Things

There are some days that I cannot, and I stress, cannot wait to go back home.  Today was one of them.

I can’t stand how hot Delhi is.  I can just be standing at the metro station for three minutes waiting for my metro and I will sweat.  I will wipe my face, neck, and forehead with my cloth and in another minute, will be sweating again.  Even if I catch a rickshaw to me metro station (I do this when I’m leaving the house after it starts to get even hotter), I still sweat.  The only time I’m not sweating is probably when it’s pouring rain, and I am already soaking wet.

When I arrived in Delhi – and before leaving Hawaii, actually – I was told by everyone who had been to Delhi or who was from India to always use the women’s compartment on the metro because it is safer.  It is not.  In the two months I have been here, I have only been pushed once by a man, and it wasn’t even a man – it was a punky kid whom I shot a really nasty stink eye for deliberately pushing me when I literally could not move anyway because there were so many people in front of me trying to get into the metro compartment.  Other than that kid, I’ve only been pushed by women.  There have been times when we clearly are not moving, but some woman will push me anyway, thinking shoving me will somehow get everyone else in front of me to move so she can get wherever she is going.  The women’s compartment also drives me crazy because everyone has a large bag and will hit everyone else with it, and I’ve learned from experience that women do not care how full the metro is — if they need to get somewhere and CANNOT wait another to minutes – because they’ll absolutely die if they need to wait for the next metro! – they will squeeze themselves in even at the protest of the other people in the metro.  Three weeks ago when I was coming home from around Hauz Khas (it was about 6:30p/7:00p), the metro got so crowded that my arm went numb because it was stretched out and smashed between so many people.  This happened at the Yamuna Bank metro station because a group of girls forced their way in even despite people in the metro saying it was full and to wait.  They just needed to leave right then and there and the metro, like everyone had said, was too full and we sat there for about five minutes (not exaggerating) because the door wouldn’t close, precisely because the compartment was so full that a girl could not fit and the door kept closing on her.  Everyone was telling her to get off but she refused, delaying a metro full of hundreds of people for a time longer than it would have taken another metro to get there.  Oh, and last week, a woman grabbed my ponytail to brace herself so she wouldn’t fall.  I was standing next to a pole so she could have grabbed that, but instead she yanked on my ponytail.  Have you ever had a woman, a grown woman, weighing probably 150lbs, grab your hair to support her body weight so she would not fall down?  Then when I looked at her, she looked at me with a look saying, “Well don’t have hair for me to pull, then.”

And then there is the men’s compartments, which generally smell better anyway because the men wear cologne.  They do not have large purses that hit me in the face, and they do not shove me when they clearly see that I have stopped moving for a reason.  Instead of blatantly cutting in front of me while waiting to board the metro, more often than not, they will ask, “ma’am, are you getting on?” and when I say yes, they stand behind me.  Wow – manners!  Consideration!  They also don’t force themselves into a compartment that clearly cannot accommodate more people, because they are smart and probably considerate and do not want to make the people in the metro more uncomfortable than they already are, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with another stranger.  A few days after the woman in the women’s compartment pulled my hair, a man somehow grabbed my neck (again, I was standing next to a pole so I think he was trying to grab that and just missed).  This obviously startled me so I looked up and not even five seconds after his hand landed on my neck, the two men standing between us yelled at him and one of them grabbed his arm and yanked it away from me.  Shortly after, another group of men boarded the metro and since it was crowded, my face ended up buried in a guy’s shirt and I was trying to move my head away as to not drown in his dress shirt but also so I wouldn’t be rubbing my hair (again in a ponytail, but my hair is short so it’s very small) wouldn’t be in the face of the guy behind me.  Noticing this, the guy (who had yelled at the one who grabbed my neck), nudged the guy in front of me and motioned for him to move.  Lastly, at Yamuna Bank (I’ve grown to hate this station), another flood of people came in and the same guy was still in front of me, and when people came pouring in, he essentially held himself up against the pole and made a small barrier around me so I wouldn’t be uncomfortably pressed up against everyone coming in.  I did not ask for these things, yet he was nice the entire ride from Rajiv Chowk to my station.  Yet, people have been telling me to never use the men’s compartment because it is dangerous.  I get odd looks at times, but that’s less irritating to me than someone pulling my hair, elbowing me in the face and looking at me like it’s my fault, talking on the phone and yelling their conversation in my ear, or pushing me because doing so will obviously make the metro a more peaceful experience for everyone else.

Couples here also like to do asinine things like sit on the staircase at busy metro stations to make kissy faces at one another, effectively making hundreds of people walk around them.  But we get it, your private time in this very public place is more important than people going where they need to go.

Everyone laughed when I said I would be going to India because everyone who knows me knows that I generally hate people.  I have very few friends, but they are good friends.  I have a short fuse when it comes to people, and it is not difficult to get on my bad side.  I also very obviously to not like crowded places, because like any normal person, I do not like to go to places filled with things that I hate.  So, naturally, my family and friends said, “You realize you’re going to a place that is full of people?  Billions of them?”  I can handle it most days, but some days I just cannot.  Especially not when one of them pulls my hair (I really cannot get over this).

Delhi is charming in its own way.  I like it most days, but so far I really, truly, deeply favor Dehradun over Delhi, and I honestly do not really see myself coming back to Delhi for vacation…I’ll probably just spend a day or two here, then leave and spend weeks in other places that are less crowded, less hot, and devoid of incessant horn-honking.

I also really don’t like monkeys, and my university houses many of them.  About a month ago one of them looked me in the eyes as I tried to run past it (I’m afraid of monkeys, stemming from a childhood experience at the zoo) and grabbed my hand.  Then a few weeks later, as I was walking to class with a cup of coffee and unopened bag of cookies, another one ran circles around me and eventually started jumping at me, trying to steal my cookies.  Neither of these experiences has made me any more warmly receptive to monkeys.

An Atheist Goes to a Liangmai Baptist Church; I Suffer Through My First Ever Ride Service and am Reunited with a Big Dog

Yesterday was an eventful day!  I woke up a little late (around 9:00a) and just spent the early morning and afternoon doing homework and reading River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh.

Earlier in the week as my friend was dropping me off at the Hauz Khas metro after he took me hungry shopping in Vasant Vihar (I love Modern Bazaar), we had a short talk about my atheism.  He asked me what I think will happen to me when I die, and surprisingly, I didn’t have a truly definite answer.  And surprisingly, and very un-atheist, I said I would like to think that I would be reborn in some way.  I do not think I will go to a Heaven or Hell, but I would like to keep bouncing around from life to life.  He had asked me to attend his church service before but I had declined because churches kind of make me nervous.  But he’s so kind to me and always runs random errands with me after school, so attending a service was the least I could do.  I wasn’t looking for answer to his life-after-death question – and I didn’t find it there – but I enjoyed the service a lot.  I met him and Dhaula Kuan metro and squeezed into the backset of his car with his “cousin-brother” (I’m still not sure how relationships work in India, to be honest) and his two older sisters (his other cousin-brother was in the passenger seat).  The service was about two-and-a-half hours but it went by quickly.  I always find services to be moving even though I am not a subscriber to that particular faith (this Baptist service; another Greek Orthodox service I attended for school; the ISKCON temple near my university).  This was no different, and I left happy and with no sense that I could have been doing something better with my time that day.  The only thing that made me cringe was when his sister went up for final announcements and introduced me to the entire congregation as “Sister.”  I just don’t like attention.  English services are done every last Sunday of the month, so I can attend at least two more services before I go home in December.  After the service, he took me back to the Hauz Khas station so I could make my way to Gurgaon.  Before I could get out of the car, however, his cousin-brothers bought three large plates of fried noodles from a stand outside of the station and I was force-fed half a plate of those noodles.  They were so delicious I wanted to and could have eaten a full plate by myself, but I generally don’t eat noodles because I’m a girl and carbs are my enemy (usually).  His sister is a twig but ate 3/4 of a plate by herself and kept trying to feed me more, saying “You have a long trip to Gurgaon!  You may get hungry.”  I eventually escaped and got on the metro, half asleep after all those noodles.

I reached Gurgaon a little after 7:30pm.  My original plan was to swing by my friend’s place and go back to Delhi since I had class this morning (which I did not attend – whoops).  He lives pretty close to the HUDA metro and just told me to book an Ola.  Now, I do not even use Uber of Lyft at home because: 1) I have a car and drive myself everywhere; 2) in the case I get super drunk (which is rare) I always have someone else to drive; 3) I am uncomfortable getting in a car with a total stranger, trusting that they will safely delivery me to where I need to go.  Everyone — my host family, my friends, my classmates, etc — said that Ola is completely safe.  I figured, “okay, his house is close, just book the Ola – you’re just paranoid and you’ll be fine.”  First problem: the driver’s English was worse than my Hindi.  He couldn’t understand where I was telling him I was relative to the metro, so I heard him yell “Bhaiya!  Bhaiya!  Bolo, Angrezi mein, Angrezi mein!” so this kind stranger had to coordinate a place for us to meet.  After I got into his car, I realized how difficult this ride would be just in terms of language.  Shortly after we left the station, the Ola driver turned to look at me and asked where I am from.  I said “US se” and he said “Oh…bahut khusha ki apne cab mein” and I was like “….kya?” uneasily.  He said I was his first American customer; okay, great.  He followed that with, “You have a very pretty, very pretty smile” and I was like “Thanks…so when we get to Boom Plaza my friend needs to speak with you to give you further directions to his flat.”  Then the Ola drive started asking me for directions, which confused me because I knew I had input the location.  I gave him directions, and he then proceeded to pull over on the side of the road and in all of my paranoia and getting caught up in all the scary and terrible things my family, friends, and co-workers were trying to scare me about, I caught myself thinking “You’re fatigued from three hours at the gym earlier but you could kick his ass, he’s really skinny.”  Shortly after that confusing episode, he continued to drive and continued to ask me for directions.  After a wrong turn and me having to give him directions in Hindi, we eventually got back onto the road and his questions continued…”Is this your first time in Gurgaon?”  In my paranoia — again — I figured it would be best to lie and say that no, it was not, so I could at least feign that I might know where we might be so he wouldn’t know I totally didn’t know where we were or where we were going.  Then he asked, “Aap ka dost…voh boyfriend hai?” and I sharply answered no, but because I felt it was an inappropriate question.  We finally reached the Plaza and my friend needed to meet us because the driver couldn’t follow his directions to the flat.  I arrived at his flat irritated but relieved to finally be out of the car.  My friend said I could stay the night since it was now a little after 8:00pm and that the metro would take about two hours back to Delhi, and another Ola would be about an hour-and-a-half.  The thought of another Ola shook me, and I said “um yeah I’ll stay the night if that’s okay with you.”

This friend was my Hindi TA back in Hawaii.  I didn’t think he liked me until pretty much last month when he took my roommate and I to Nehru Place so she could buy a phone.  I just didn’t think he cared for me too much but I figured he must like me to some degree if he offered to host me at his home in Aurangabad and take me to see the caves and invited me to hang out at his flat (we were initially supposed to do an evening at JNU – he went there and occasionally teaches workshops there).  His roommate wasn’t home so it was just us, their house keeper (a live-in one), and his roommate’s ten-month-old golden retriever puppy, Charlie.  Charlie reminds me a lot of my own dog, Logan, so I was extremely happy to be in a home with a dog.  We sat around and watched tv, I tried to help him with brainstorming for training exercises for a client, we had a delicious dinner (albeit around midnight; rice, roti, dal, mushroom masala, and dahi for dessert), smoked a blunt, watched more tv, and eventually slept at about 3:00am.  I slept in his room and I insisted on sleeping in his sleeping bag since I’m smaller, but he insisted I sleep on his bed, and so I did.  I got to sleep with Charlie cuddled up next to me, and since I sleep with my boyfriend and dog every night at home (our other dog doesn’t like the bed and sleeps on his own mini sofa next to our bed), I felt very at peace sleeping with a dog again.  Since I showed up on short notice (i.e., with no clothes), my friend gave me some of his clothes to wear to sleep (I looked ridiculous; he’s easily six feet tall while I’m a tiny 4’11”).  I took a quick shower the next morning and my some miracle, he had extra toothbrushes and toothpaste (I assume single men don’t have these things lying around, okay).  The housekeeper (I don’t know the correct/more polite title for this) made us scrambled eggs and roti for breakfast.

My friend is very down-to-earth, and it’s one of my favorite things about him.  My host family, as nice as they are (especially my host mom) is a little more concerned with material things, success, etc. and constantly brags about her family and their accomplishments.  Being proud is fine, but she talks about it a lot.  Their housekeeper, whose name I do not know because they only call him “Bhaiya,” works 9:00am/10:00am – 9:00pm every day and needs to use a separate restroom on the top floor of the home.  On a few occasions my host mom has made comments about him being “uneducated,” which is why my exchanges with him must always be done in Hindi since my Hindi is better than his English.  He’s sweet and I always try to avoid asking him for things unless I really need something (like chai, since I don’t know how to make it).  I feel that Bhaiya is just there to do his job.  My friend’s housekeeper lives with them and generally hangs out with him and his roommate.  On his down time around our house, Bhaiya sits in the kitchen or in the hallway and watched videos on his phone.  My friend’s housekeeper (N, from now on) will sit in the living room and watch whatever he pleases because my friend doesn’t care too much for television.  I asked my friend if he wanted to watch anything, and he said “No, but N might.  He likes singing and dancing programs and the Kapil Sharma Show.  I hate it but he likes it so I just watch it.”  He always refers to N by his name.  When we were eating dinner, I asked him if I could take more food and if N had eaten already.  He said, “just take, he said he’s going to eat the chicken he made earlier.  But hold on, I’ll double check.  I asked him earlier but maybe he changed his mind, who knows.”  After, he came back and said “He’ll eat his chicken so you can eat the rest of the dal, but save some of the mushroom masala for him.  It was our first time making it so he wants to try.”  My friend and N winged the mushroom masala and cooked it together.  In my host home, Bhaiya cooks everything and my host family rarely cooks or helps him with things.  And when I asked for more chai this morning, N nodded and made his way to the kitchen but my frind called after him and told him to do it only after he had finished eating his breakfast and doing whatever he needed to do.  I’m not completely sure how the dynamic works, or if there is a correct way for it to work, but I prefer the relationship between my friend and N than the one between my host family and Bhaiya.  It feels warmer.  N is from Jharkhand so my friend was forcing us to speak in Hindi to each other since we’re both learning.  N told me he understands English, too, so to speak in English and that he would answer in Hindi.  I don’t often see Bhaiya’s personality because he’s very reserved.

Anyway, after breakfast we eventually left the house around 1:00pm.  I totally skipped my class today because I would have had to have left the flat around 6:30am to get to class on time, which was not quite worth it to me when I have a friend from whom I can obtain notes.  My birthday is in about two weeks so we’re going to have dinner at Ama Thakali.  My professor was hesitant about me seeing this particular friend because he knew I was feeling homesick and he knew I would want to hang on to anyone that reminded me of Hawaii (except my roommate since we only met right before leaving for Delhi).  At first that was the issue for me, but now I just want to get out of my house and hang out with people away from the East Delhi neighborhood I’m in.  My friend told me to feel free to stay at his place whenever I feel like it, and I’ll take the offer especially if it means I get to hang out with Charlie more.  There’s a tattoo shop he recommended to me in Gurgaon so I’ll be spending a few nights at his flat again after I get my tattoo so I don’t need to spend two-ish hours on the metro back to Delhi with a fresh tattoo.

Below is a photo of the ever-charming and handsome Charlie of Gurgaon Sector 57.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-21-29-pm

Dussehra Plans!

They’re almost official!  We just need to purchase our tickets.  The person that my host father put me in touch with for the Valley of Flowers was great and we ended up really getting along.  Initially I wanted to go to Aurangabad for Dussehra but my friend won’t be home during that time; after, I thought maybe Kerala, maybe Bengal (for Sundarbans), maybe Nagaland.  My friend – A – had made plans for Sri Lanka but rescheduled and planned a trip for us to Assam, Sikkim, and Meghalaya…all in nine days.  I told him not to cancel his Sri Lanka trip since he had already purchased his tickets, but he said they were refundable; he also said he lives here and can travel whenever he wants, but I only have until December to see as much of India as I can.

We will arrive in Guwahati and spend a day at Kaziranga park, weather permitting.  After that, we’ll drive (I think) down to Shillong because he has a friend there that is willing to put us up for two or three days while we see Shillong and Cherrapunji.  After Meghalaya, we are scheduled to pass through Darjeeling and spend two or three days there (though I would prefer to cut it down to a day or two), then for the remainder of the trip we will be in Sikkim and fly back to Delhi from Bagdora on October 16th, with my classes resuming the day after.  In my Hindi class for AY 2015 – 2016, we did two rounds of travel projects with each student picking two places to do presentations on (I did Sundarbans and Kachchh).  A classmate did Valley of Flowers (thanks to him for pointing me in that direction!) and another did Assam and Sikkim; without his presentation I wouldn’t have thought to go to Sikkim either.  He talked about Kaziranga (and also Cherrapunji) at some point, but I never thought “Wow, I need to go there” about either place for some reason.  I’m more excited for Cherrapunji than Kaziranga.  As for Darjeeling, I just want to go to Singalila and the Natural History Museum.  A quick Google search also told me that I can go horseback riding through tea plantations, which does sound nice…but after the mule rides between Govindghat and Ghangaria, I’m not sure I can handle subjecting another animal to carrying me around.  Some of the mule drivers were very mean to the mules and I had to bite my tongue on a few occasions.  Even if I had said something, I’m not sure it would have had the same effect through my intermediate Hindi.

My roommate initially planned to go to the Northeast too, but with friends from school.  She invited me to go but I declined for two reasons: 1) I’d prefer to go with my own friends, and 2) I can barely tolerate my roommate.  She’s a genuinely nice person and I know she has a big, good heart but I just cannot stand her.  I want to like her, but I cannot.  Every time she talks I feel my head pounding.  She speaks exactly like Jeff Spicoli and always says things are “sooooo coooooool” and “sooooo gnarly, dude.”  She also always has to make comments about how things are always healthy, as if I (or our host family) did not know that vegetables are generally healthy.  Tonight at dinner we had a bitter melon veg dish.  Goya is popular in Okinawan cuisine (I am Okinawan) and I love it.  My roommate asked what it was, and our host sister said, “it’s bitter gourd.  I don’t like it.”  My roommate tried it and said “Whooooooa dude that’s sooooo bitter.”  What do you think “bitter melon” means?  It won’t be sweet.  It won’t be sour.  It won’t be spicy.  It will be bitter.  Then, she had to drop her token comment: “But I feel like it must be really healthy because of the bitterness.”  She always tells me that dairy isn’t good for the human body.  I live off dairy.  I eat yogurt and eggs like nobody’s business back home and I love milk.  She says it isn’t healthy and finds her diet made up of largely raw vegetables to be superior.  We went to the gym a few weeks ago with our host brother and when we got home, he said, “The trainers were very impressed with you, but they found her to be very weak…they kept saying ‘She couldn’t do anything, she couldn’t lift anything, not even the lightest weights.'”  Eating vegetables and hummus only gets you so far.  I’m healthy even with all of my devil dairy, and I’m in better shape, too.  So quit your yappin’ about how wonderful vegetables are.  I love vegetables too, but I don’t talk about how healthy they are at every single dinner, like the people around me have no concept of what healthy and unhealthy are.  Meanwhile, while eating so “healthily” and being into raw and organic foods, she likes to pollute her body by smoking marijuana all the time.  She also likes to frequently tell me that washing my hair every day isn’t good for my hair, and she washes her hair once every three days (of course).  If I wanted gross nappy hair, I’d have it, thank you very much.  She also doesn’t take showers when it’s cold…of course.

Anyway, my roommate was dropping hints that she wanted to tag along with me and my friend to the northeast after her friends changed their plans and decided to go to the South instead.  In my cold-heartedness, I pretended I didn’t catch any of her hints and went about my business.  At home, in Hawaii, I’m very…nice.  I always compromise my own feelings and desires to please people (except if it’s my fiancé, then it’s all about what I want – hehe).  But being in India is a very special time for me, and I refuse to concede for someone else even though I know it would be the “nice” thing to do.  I am not going to ruin my time to be “nice” because my time in India is extremely precious to me.  And I know that if she comes along, I will want to shoot myself for the entire trip.  Am I being selfish?  Quite possibly.  But I worked very hard to be here and my time in India is limited – I need to be happy while I am here, and I must ensure my own happiness.  The way I look at it, being stuck with a roommate who otherwise makes me want to bash my head against the wall was a pretty fair trade for only paying $1,600 for an entire four months in India.  I got a $5,000 scholarship from the Center for South Asian Studies at my university in addition to a $2,000 grant just for completing my financial aid paperwork on time.  I only needed to pay out-of-pocket for my plane ticket and remaining $292 that my scholarship and grants didn’t cover.

That’s another thing that bugs me…I worked very hard to be here in India.  I did my Bachelor’s degrees in Religion and History.  I took courses on Indian history, religion, and philosophy (and two years of Hindi!) and slaved over my application for the scholarship I received (my advisor revised it for me four times before I submitted it).  I’m doing my Master’s in World History with a focus on India.  I have many reasons for being here right now.  I’m taking four MA-level courses (the max at my university is typically three, so I’m taking one extra course) — The State in Indian History, Partitions in South Asia, the Indian Ocean in History, and Problems of Historical Knowledge.  My roommate picked to study abroad in India because “[she] really [likes] Asia and it was the most exotic location offered.”  She’s a year younger than me, it is her fifth year of college, and she has yet to declare a major (I didn’t even know it was possible to be undeclared past the junior standing).  She requested an academic leave because she will travel through Southeast Asia until the Fall 2017 semester and is scheduled to complete her Bachelor’s degree in a total of six years.  She’s thinking about declaring a major in sociology but is taking two literature classes, one sociology course, and an economics course (there are more than a few sociology courses on offer at our university in Delhi).  Her philosophy about school is that it should not be rushed and one should learn whatever they want to learn, and obtain their degree whenever they just happen to accumulate enough credits after all of that liberal learning.  And of course, her parents pay for her schooling; meanwhile, I’m $20,000+ in student debt and racking up more with this Master’s degree.  We’re on different wavelengths, I suppose.  She also thinks ALL drugs should be legalized, and truly, truly, deeply believes that the US government uses the illegality of drugs to keep the US citizens from the “truth,” effectively rendering us ignorant and otherwise slaves to the government.  Different wavelengths.

Anyway, I’m excited for my upcoming trip, and I don’t care that I’m being mean to her about it (well not to her, but…I’m just not being nice, just civil enough).  I’m also going back to Dehradun for Diwali to stay with A and his family.  He (and others) said that Dehradun is beautiful on Diwali, especially when seen from Masuri, so that’s the plan as of right now.

I’m also considering vegetarianism again.  I was a vegetarian for about two years in high school and the reason I stopped was because I could not resist my aunt’s pork chops one summer in Washington.  Her pork chops are among my top favorite foods.  Pork is normally tough, but she browns the meat and then bakes it in cream of mushroom with peas and corn.  My aunt is a wonderful cook.  She always makes two pans of pork chops – one for me and one for my cousin (her daughter).  I like mine with peas and corn and my cousin likes hers with potatoes, so everyone else just needs to pick between our preference, haha.  But those pork chops are amazing, and the meat melts off the bone.  Anyway, that is why I stopped being a vegetarian.  I tried saying no to the pork chops but in the end I ate one pork chop for every meal until the pan was empty.  Eid was not too long ago.  Last weekend A and I went to Jama Masjid with two of his friends.  After our visit, we were walking around the lanes behind Jama Masjid looking for food and on our way out, we passed a shop and my eyes fell upon two decapitated goat heads sprawled out on a table.  We had just eaten mutton curry for lunch.  By some strange coincidence, my Facebook feed was then flooded with pro-vegan and pro-vegetarian posts (perhaps because my friend is a vegetarian and frequently posts those things?) and I got sucked into the “glass walls” void for about three hours.  If I wouldn’t eat my dog, why would I eat a pig?  Or a cow?  Or a chicken?  Delhi also puts me a lot closer to my food, and seeing chickens shoved into a cage clearly too small for that amount of chickens a few weeks ago also made me feel a bit uneasy.  If I can live off of plants, why would I need to eat dead animals?  My host family is largely veg, too, so that’s made the decision a bit easier.  I don’t think about eating meat because the food I’ve been served every night has been delicious without it.  But then I also found myself thinking that egg-laying hens and dairy cows are subject to the same treatment, and I’d like to think I could commit to laying off eggs and dairy whenever possible, but I think I’d have to half-ass that one.  I can do without eggs and milk (I actually really love almond milk) but I would’t be willing to scrutinize every ingredients label looking for red flags.  Vegan super powers would be cool, but I don’t think I need them.  I can try to avoid animal by-products, but I don’t see myself going out of my way to buy egg-less pastries or asking if this or that dish has fish sauce, etc.  I’ll do my best.  India has some freaking delicious soya dishes, though.

Lastly – and most importantly – please feel free to let me know if there are things in Sikkim, Meghalaya, and Assam (and around Darjeeling) that I should see!

“We’re a hundred years behind your country.”

The above line was said to me by a friend that I met here in India when we were talking about intercaste marriage.  I am aware of caste and its levels, but I never considered how large a role caste still plays in India (or does it really?  Let me know your thoughts).  Caste is something I never felt comfortable asking my Hindi professor or FLTAs about despite them talking about it in class at times.  I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up with my host family either; the only time it came up was when my host father’s brother in law said that my host parents both come from good Brahmin families.  My friend with whom I had this discussion, too, is from a Brahmin family and the issue came up because he said his cousin is engaged to a Rajput, which I didn’t think was a big deal.  He said younger generations tend to ignore caste, but that it is the parents who make a big deal out of it.  He also has two friends, one Muslim and one Hindu, who are dating but cannot get married because their parents would not allow an inter-religious marriage.  I said “Really?  It’s that big a deal?” and he said “Yes, because one is a Hindu and one is a Muslim.  You know why their parents feel that way, right?” and again I said yes, but again didn’t think (whether naively or ignorantly, I’m not sure) it still resonated so much today as to affect the viability of a marriage.  I told him not to say that India is 100 years behind the US, but he said it is, and then moved on to another topic: arranged marriage.

My host parents had an arranged marriage and they’re very happy.  Once in my cultural anthropology class, we had to read interviews with girls (from India) who preferred an arranged rather than love marriage.  Many cited school commitments, but more cited the fact that their parents would know what would be best for them.  It makes sense, or as much as it can to me.  My friend was engaged to someone he had been with for almost a decade but they recently split up and now he told me he’ll accept his mother’s suggestion for an arranged marriage in a year or two (both of their parents were happy for the love marriage).  I asked why he wouldn’t want to try dating again, and he said that he trusts his parents.

Those two conversations obviously made me think about myself.  When I took my Indian Philosophy course a couple years ago, my professor (from India, did all of her schooling through her PhD here) made it clear that we were to no longer think of India as a place of spirituality or religion.  She said that there is nothing about India that makes it intrinsically spiritual or religious – a place for people to “find themselves” – other than the imposition of that image from the outside.  From then, I stopped thinking about India that way.  So it was a bit jarring to me when many of my classmates asked about my faith, assuming I had one.  I was able to tip-toe around my answer most of the time, only using “atheist” once, and “I don’t believe in a god” once more.  This surprised them, prompting them to ask me why I did a BA in religion if I didn’t have one (a quite logical question, though).  I also began to think about how my religion (or utter lack of one) totally does not affect my life at all at home.  My fiancé is also an atheist, so there’s a double dose of religious irrelevance in our relationship.  My father hated my fiancé for the first half of our five-year relationship (actually maybe a little longer) and he and my mother actually had a falling out over his poor treatment of him (my mom loves my fiancé; I always say she loves me more by obligation but likes him more as a person).  I’ve never been able to sit down and really talk about the cultural differences that seemed quite obvious to me but that I learned were indeed quite novel.

I’m beginning to recognize the very clear distinction between learning and living.  I’ve learned about caste in my Hindi, History, Sociology, and Anthropology courses, and my professor at my university in Delhi even went off on an hour-long tangent about caste, jati, and varna (though I can’t remember why – it’s a class about state building and state formation in India), but I’ve never really talked about it with someone who is personally familiar with it.  And by “really talk,” I mean sit down and ask difficult and uncomfortable questions.  I’m afraid of both sounding ignorant and offensive, but more the latter than the former.  The same is true for arranged marriage.  My friend told me it’ll be unlikely someone will find my question offensive, but it’s still something I’d rather not touch unless someone else brings it up.  I’d feel like I’m prying into a life that isn’t mine, because it is a life that is not mine.  That’s the same reason I tend to withhold my opinions during class, especially during my class about Partition.  I’d prefer to listen, but not prod or pry.  I’ve read many books and articles about Partition, but I’m not personally connected to it and as a result, uncomfortable voicing my far-removed opinion about something that deeply affected a country.  Ask me about the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese or the systematic abuse enacted by the Japanese during the 30s and 40s and I’ll have opinions (I did my senior thesis on wartime nationalism during World War II and textbook censorship during the US occupation, in conjunction with oral histories of people who lived through, fought during, or otherwise contributed to the Japanese war effort of World War II).

I’ve made very few Indian friends here, so I’ve had very little reason or opportunity to even inquire about caste or Partition.  And by “Indian,” I mean the way people would think of Americans in America (kind of like how my host mom refers to “Americans”).  Most of the friends/acquaintances I’ve made at school have been from the Northeast (Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya).  None of my professors knew I was the foreign student because I don’t look as foreign as I could – like a typical “American” student.  This is kind of a segue into my next topic – slightly derogatory comments slanged at me?

Prior to coming to India, my Hindi professor and FLTA (both from Maharashtra – Pune and Aurangabad, respectively) told me that people wouldn’t look at me and think “Japanese”; they’d think “Northeastern” or “Chinese.”  Most of my classmates have broken the ice with me by asking if I’m from somewhere in the Northeast.  Numerous people on the street (young boys, of course, probably late teens), however, have walked/driven past me yelling things like “ching chong” or “CHINEEEEEEEEEESE” or “CHINAAAAAA.”  This has happened about seven times now.  And I get why they’re doing it (racially and historically).  I think it’s funny and I giggle when it happens, but my friend feels bad about it, as if those boys yelling at me are misrepresenting the entire young male generation.  It happened on Saturday while we were walking near Jama Masjid (“Chiiiineeeeeese”) and again today while we were walking through the Garden of Five Senses (“Chiiiiiiinaaaaa”).  He apologized when he heard the guy who said it to me, but I really don’t care.  I will never see that person again and I know I’m not Chinese and even if I were, I wouldn’t feel bad about being born into my ethnicity.  It’s funny to me because I’m rarely mislabeled at home (Hawaii) because everyone is Asian so everyone can tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc.  If I’m ever mislabeled at home, it’s as Korean (my friends say it’s my eyes and cheekbones).  I’m actually half Japanese and half Okinawan, but only Japanese and Okinawan people tend to care about this difference (I take more pride in my Okinawan side, and my surname is Okinawan).  Most of the time, I think the China comments are funny.  But catch me on a day when I’m tired from school, hot from Delhi being Delhi, and cramped in the metro, and I’ll probably snap at someone one of these days (regrettably, I’m sure).

Also…before arriving in Delhi (and once after by my friend/Hindi FLTA, about Lodi Gardens to which to refused to accompany me for this reason) I was warned about certain places being “couples’ points.”  I knew the Garden of Five Senses was most likely one of these places, but I foolishly underestimated the monicker and dragged my friend there…only to be surrounded by a sea of cuddly, lovey-dovey couples who stared at us for intruding in their love space.  It was a nice place to visit though, and we had a nice pizza (and me, a Moscow mule) from Fio.

 

Weekend Trip to Uttarakhand

Last Thursday evening I caught a night bus to Dehradun and spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday traveling around Uttarakhand.  I planned the trip since Eid was (WAS) scheduled for Monday, but on Thursday (after my host father had made the appropriate arrangements for my travel) my university emailed us saying that Eid would be on Tuesday and that we’d have class on Monday.  I hate missing class unnecessarily, but it was totally worth it.

Originally my host father was going to put me in touch with a guide in Uttarakhand that could take me to the Valley of Flowers but by some miracle, a family friend of the man who owns the company in charge of coordinating my Study Abroad program between my university in Hawaii and the one in Delhi just happened to be traveling to Delhi on Thursday to see his sister, so he (I’ll refer to him as “A” from here) agreed to accompany me.  We later found out that both he and I were nervous about setting off for a three-day trip with someone we were to meet just minutes before boarding our bus.  I was supposed to head back to Delhi on Sunday evening but for various reasons, I ended up staying until Monday evening.  A and I really hit it off and he asked me to stay one more day, but I really could not since I had a paper due in one of my classes today and needed to get back to Delhi to work on it.

Anyway, we reached Dehradun at about 4:00am Friday morning, where A and I went back to his home where his mother made us chai (I drank about fifteen cups of chai in four days).  After our morning chai, we boarded another bus for Joshimath.  The bus ride was ten hours long and I was so sick that at one point, I was fully convinced I was going to stick my head out of the window and vomit.  A was able to jump off the bus for a bit and get me some medicine which really worked and I was able to enjoy the last two – three hours of the bus ride after that.  After arriving in Joshimath, we had dinner (paneer and chicken – mmm!) and stayed the night at his aunt’s house.  I was scheduled to stay in a hotel in Joshimath but his aunt insisted I stay at her home and not waste money on a hotel.  That was my first experience with a separate bathroom (meaning, it was right outside of the main house so I had to walk outside to use it) as well as with taking a shower sans running water.  She boiled water for me which I mixed with the cold water that was stored in the wash room and made do with that.  It was oddly comforting, though, and I totally didn’t mind it.  It was actually quite relaxing.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast (lots and lots of toast) and headed off for Govindghat around 10:00am (we were supposed to have left at 7:00a, but Am overslept and I didn’t want to wake him).  It was very hot by the time we started the trek from Govindghat to Ghangaria, so we ended up taking mules and reached around 4:00pm or so.  Being bored twenty-somethings, we drank in my hotel room until I was in bed buried in blankets because I was drunk-tired and very cold (going from somewhere like 90-degree Delhi to 60-degree Ghangaria was not easy on me).  A was nice enough to go downstairs to a restaurant and fetch dosas for us since I had mentioned wanting dosas earlier in the day.  After eating, we sat on the deck outside of my hotel room and talked until about 1:00am.  I’ve never seen so many stars in my life.  Even on a quiet beach on Oahu late at night, there are never that many stars visible in the sky.  It was beautiful.

We finally worked our way to the actual valley on Sunday morning around 9:00am.  The trek in and out took us about five hours.  We missed the valley in full bloom by  couple weeks (the weekend I went to Masuri last month would have been the perfect time to go, actually) but I still enjoyed it.  A kept apologizing for the lack of flowers, but I was happy with what I saw.  The valley was a type of nature and beauty inaccessible to me in tropical Hawaii, so I loved it even with only a few flowers still in bloom.  It drizzled the entire time we were in the valley and it was just under 60 degrees.  After coming back from the valley, I gorged on a bread omelette (two eggs and FOUR slices of bread!) and veg pakodas (and chai, of course).  We caught mules back to Govindghat since we were running short on time but the rush was no use – we were trapped in Govindghat for the night due to a landslide.

On Monday we made our way back to Joshimath and Dehradun.  Instead of taking a bus, we took a cab from Joshimath to Dehradun which was a lot more pleasurable.  There’s something about spending ten hours with the same strangers that’s both funny and comforting.  On the way to Joshimath on Friday, A’s aunt (his other aunt) picked up a khira from a road side stand between Dehradun and Karnaprayag.  As I was feeling sick at the time, I didn’t eat much of it but what I did taste was delicious; as a result, on the way back to Dehradun I really wanted to pick one up.  We passed by the same area too late and the shop keepers had packed up for the day; luckily, however, the taxi driver was nice enough to take me to another shop he knew would be selling them so I was able to pick one up and take it back to Delhi.  We reached Dehradun around 10:00pm; A’s friend met him off Rajpur Road and had brought A’s motorcycle so we could hurry and head off to get momos up the street (the name escapes me – “Singh” is part of the name).  He said they’d be the best momos I’d ever eat and that I wouldn’t be able to stomach Delhi momos after eating those, and he was right.  We had chicken and cheese momos and veg and cheese momos, both were amazing (and very rich).  Each plate was about Rs. 110 for six pieces (totally worth it).  I got on a Delhivali bus at 12:30am and was back in Delhi — unfortunately — by 6:30am on Tuesday morning (I finished my paper on time).

It was such a nice weekend.  Uttarakhand is so beautiful and I know I’ll keep going back.  A invited me to stay with him and his family for Diwali.  On our previous trip to Dehradun last month, our friends had told my roommate and I that Diwali in Dehradun would be way better than Diwali in Delhi; they also said that should we come back, they would take us to Masuri so we could see Dehradun lit up for the holiday.  Those friends and A are childhood friends, so naturally A put forth the same plan.  A friend from school is also going to head up to Dehradun for Diwali since a friend of his is attending school there, so he offered for us to go up together in his car versus taking a bus.  Everything is falling into place!  I’ll most likely head to Dehradun on the Thursday leading up to Diwali but be back in Delhi on October 30th to celebrate the actual day with my host family.

A will be in Delhi this weekend for business (he owns a travel company as well) so we’ve made some plans for the weekend.  I’ve met some really wonderful people here in India and the thought of leaving and going back to my home, half a world away, makes me sad.  I know I’ll keep coming back to India, but it’ll be weird going from seeing someone in school every day to seeing them once every few years…but anyway, I really love Uttarakhand!  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my host family is also from Dehradun.  They’re only in Delhi for work purposes (who’d want to leave Dehradun for Delhi consciously?!)  Dehradun is so nice and quiet; coming back to Delhi is jarring and I’ve been cranky since returning on Tuesday.  It’s just so hot, crowded, loud, and full of smells (both good and bad).  Did I mention that Delhi is also just really hot?  Like really, really, really, sticking-your-head-in-an-oven-that’s-already-on-fire hot?  I sweat just sitting around doing nothing.

I’ll be heading off to…somewhere for Dussehra break.  If my friend will be home in Aurangabad, my first plan is to go there.  If not, A and I may head off to Kolkata since he knows I want to go to Sundarbans (I did my Hindi project on Sundarbans last Fall semester).  My roommate is heading off to Assam and Meghalaya with friends from school and invited me, but if it’s my choice, I’d like to spend my break with friends I’ve made on my own, y’know?  Sometimes I forget I’m here for school, hehe.  But being in India for just a month and a half has really made me realize how big the world is.  India is just one country but each state is so different.  It’s hard to believe that Uttarakhand and Delhi are just a few hours away from one another by how much the environment changes between the two.  I want to see as much as I can before I leave.  I feel extremely lucky to be here, and even luckier to be with a host family.  Being with a host family is very special and I’m getting an experience that a student just thrust into some dorm (or a tourist on an extended stay) wouldn’t necessarily get.  Tonight we went to Paharganj for dinner; my host sister also needed to pick up new shoes for a formal at her university next week.  I also got my nose pierced!  Naturally, I was a little nervous about getting my nose pierced in Paharganj (an area my professor specifically advised me to avoid) but my host sister got her nose pierced at the same shop so I trusted it.  I was even more nervous when I saw that the jewelry he put in my nose was just taken out of a plastic bag (versus a sterile packed piece of jewelry) and that the needle used to pierce my nose wasn’t in sterile packing or sterilized…and that the guy wasn’t wearing gloves…and that he only swabbed the outside of my nose with alcohol.  But my host sister’s nose is perfectly fine and she’s a smart gal (and I’m just a paranoid American) so we’ll see.  We’re going to get our hair done on Sunday morning.  I also cut my own bangs on Tuesday just because I felt like it.  The last time I cut my own hair, I was six and my mom was very upset about it.  My bangs turned out alright; Im going on Sunday to get my hair layered a little.

Anyway, check out these photos of beautiful Uttarakhand!

 

 

 

“It must make you think of all the people you left at home when you put that kettle on the stove with just enough water for yourself.”

At my university, I’m taking four classes (unfortunately for me, these courses are worth four credits each since they meet for four hours a week, but since my university in Hawaii is on a three-hour schedule, I’ll only get three for each on my Manoa transcript): Problems of Historical Knowledge (a historiography course), Partitions in South Asia, the State in Indian History (state-building, state formations, transformations, transitions, some social/economic/political theory, etc.), and the Indian Ocean in History (the place of the Indian Ocean in the world, its influence on people and places, and their effect on it).  For my Indian Ocean course, my professor assigned In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh.  Immediately, I was drawn into the book.  I was just as curious (okay, maybe not “just as curious,” but I was curious) about the slave of MS H.6, as well as what would eventually happen to Ben Yiju.  I was less concerned about Ghosh’s contemporary account about his ethnographic work in Egypt during the ’80s (though it was still interesting).  Right before we started the book, my professor expressed that it is one of his favorite books and that it changed the way he looked at history (my professor’s area of expertise is the Indian Ocean, focusing on Tanzania and Kachchh).  It really is a great book.  The storylines in the book are great, but Ghosh does make important points in the book about historiography, human relationships (notions of difference), and modernity and tradition (among other things).

Besides it being a great book (I also went out and bought Sea of Poppies, Flood of Fire, and The Hungry Tide – I need to get River of Smoke), it made me think about what I am doing here.  To a far lesser extent, I am kind of doing what Ghosh was doing in Egypt — though, like a said, to a far lesser extent.  While I am not working on a dissertation, I am here for academic purposes, on a mission to find something (i.e., what exactly I will work on for my thesis).  Like I said…to a far lesser extent.  While finishing the book, I began to think about how I am currently cultivating relationships with people I would have never otherwise met.  Strangers have welcomed me into their home (although on a more structured basis) and I have breakfast and dinner with them every day, and will until December.  They ask me how my day was, they playfully speak to me in Hindi to get me to be less shy about speaking it, and on Mondays and Tuesdays I ride to Connaught Place with my host father and his daughter since we all start work/school around the same time.  There is one person from school I’ve become rather close to, and he was one of the first people to formally introduce themselves to me.  I was sitting alone outside of my university’s canteen one day after school; as I took out my Hindi notebook to brush up, he and his friend sat at the table and he just said, “You’re in MA history too, na?” and after that, we slowly started talking more and since we’re in the same classes, we see each other every day and normally do something after school once a week.  On Fridays he normally drives to school since our classes end at 6:00pm and doesn’t want to take the metro at a peak time, and he’ll drop me off at a metro station just three away from mine, shortening my travel time to about ten minutes from about what would have been forty-five.  I think about how he could have bypassed me like I bypass others (I never initiate conversations) but he was friendly, and he’s been kind since day one.  He took me to Vasant Kunj earlier in the week just so I could go to Om Books for the three additional works I bought by Ghosh.

I think about the people I’ve met here in just the first month and think about how these relationships can go.  I can go back to Hawaii and never see these wonderful people again or I can really put my heart into these relationships and they can be in my life for years and years after I leave Delhi.  I’d obviously prefer the latter.  It’d be even better if I could return regularly and see them, or if they could make it out to Hawaii.  It’s weird to think about how random my entry into some of their lives was, and how temporary my presence will be physically.  My host family is wonderful and I feel incredibly comfortable with them.  My friend here reminds me of my friends back home in how thoughtful he is (e.g., tugging my backpack and pulling me away from the road and cars, asking if I got home safely, etc.).  This is a very special time in my life and I don’t want old age to rob me of it down the road.  My co-worker gave me a diary (which I’ve been neglecting, unfortunately) and I’ve been trying to take pictures daily.  Inside the cover of my Sea of Poppies, I dated it and wrote that my friend had taken me all the way to Vasant Kunj after my incessant nagging and that he was likely late for his church choir rehearsal because of it.

Then, after I think about myself and my small network here, I think about other people that I know who travel frequently.  My professor, for example, does research in Tanzania and Kachchh, though more in the former.  He first went to East Africa when he was a little younger than me, and learned Swahili from a woman free of charge.  While he was there, she had a young child and to this day, he keeps in touch with them and has essentially seen that boy grow up over twenty years.  He has friends from all over East Africa, and all over India.  My friend (who was a Fulbright TA for my Hindi class for AY 2015 – 2016) has traveled extensively as well; he was born in Tamil Nadu, grew up in Aurangabad, did all of his college schooling in Delhi, then traveled to Egypt for part of his PhD work, Hawaii for the year he was with us, a cross-Europe trip after the semester wrapped up, Korea, and all over India.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to randomly enter those many lives and want to keep all of those people with me while continuing to move around from place to place.  It’s a great feeling to expand one’s world so much, I’m sure, but for me personally, I get attached to people quickly.  I’m not too sure what my point is in this post, really…perhaps that I simply realize that these are lives and people, not just characters in a diary, a blog, or photos on my iPhone.

City Fever

“This is the longest I’ve been away from my mother!” is what I tell people who ask me what I miss about home.

But what I forget is that this is just the longest I’ve ever been away from Hawaii.  I didn’t go away to college and whenever I take trips to see my aunt and cousins in Washington state, it’s never been for more than two weeks.

Delhi amazes me with its size — it’s somehow massive yet also so tiny compared to the rest of the country.  If you stand in Delhi, you’re swallowed up by it; if you look at a map, it’s swallowed up by Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which aren’t even very large states to begin with.  I can spend four months in Delhi and not see everything.  You can spend a month on Oahu and see pretty much everything.  I don’t consider myself an “island girl” in the “iSlAnD GuRRl 808” sense, but that I cannot be away from it for too long.  I miss my drives to work and school and I miss how close everything is.  Getting from my host home in East Delhi to my university in Old Delhi takes about 45 minutes by metro; it takes me about 45 minutes from my work place in town to home on a day with normal traffic.  Pidgin has never sounded good to me.  Born and raised in  Hawaii, it’s something I heard a lot.  Most of my family utilizes Pidgin English to some degree; despite that, it’s still like nails on a chalkboard to me…except in Delhi.

What spurred this odd longing for pau hana traffic and Pidgin English were videos on Facebook made to poke fun at the moke culture.  Pidgin has never sounded so good to me!  I’m sure growing up in any of the states gives you a special culture and humor, but I truly feel that Hawaii is a bit different.  The types of communities that came over from all across Asia and the ways in which they intermixed and created new cultures is something very special, and something I always take for granted until I’m away from home for a while.  Even something as silly as not knowing that passion fruit and lilikoi were the same thing until I was in my 20s makes Hawaii feel more special to me.  Sure, I talk stink about the rail, the building of luxury condominiums, and $7 boxes of cereal, but sometimes I do think those things are worth what else Hawaii has to offer.  I don’t like the beach and I hate that Hawaii only has two seasons — summer and pseudo-winter — but I love its special foods like lau lau, pipikaula, and poke and that everyone is your aunty or uncle (this is true in India too, which makes me feel a little closer to home).

Aside from cuddling up in bed with my fiance and dogs when I go home, I want to eat Oahu’s best summer rolls at my favorite pho place (plug: Pho My Lien near Pearlridge) and go to Kalihi for one reason or another (the neighborhood in which I work).  I’m enjoying my time in Delhi, but peeking out the airplane window and seeing Oahu and knowing I’m almost home feels amazing as well.

An August in Delhi

I’ve been in Delhi now for a few days shy of a month.  I’ve been racially yelled at by men on a moped (“ching chong” means the same thing everywhere, even when you’re Japanese), I’ve been bumped/pushed on the metro numerous times, I’ve fallen victim to the sudden monsoon rains more than once, I’ve been ripped off by autowalas, I’ve confused people with my broken Hindi (surprisingly, after two years and hours of classroom time, I was at a loss trying to buy a watermelon), and I’ve been stared at walking back from the gym in a pretty modest tanktop.  But nothing was more difficult than my first month here in terms of dealing with being away from my mother, fiance, and dogs.  After about a week here, I called to have my return flight changed from December 17th to December 3rd.  The person on the other end put me on hold for twenty minutes, effectively using ALL of my minutes (especially since it was international), so my fiance called in my place and sat on hold for two hours to change my flight.  In retrospect, this was done very soon and without really giving Delhi a chance.  But for someone who’s never been away from home or their family for more than two weeks, waking up half a world away with the knowledge that you’re stuck there for almost five months is terrifying.  Nothing is wrong with Delhi, I was just extremely homesick.  Now that I’ve adjusted, I’m disappointed in myself for shaving two weeks off of my stay, but I’ll do my best to make the most of my remaining time here.  I was coming home on the metro today and as we crossed over the Yamuna, I began to think about how lucky I am to be here.  Once I really just thought — excuse me — “fuck it, you’re here,” things got a lot easier.  And by “fuck it, you’re here” I also mean adjusting my Western mind and forcing myself to use squat toilets (my host home has Western toilets, as has every home I’ve been in here).  Life is a lot easier when you aren’t perpetually anxious about using the restroom, especially when, for two days out of the week, you’re in school for seven hours and all of the restrooms in your building only have squat toilets.

So, what have I been up to?  Over Independence weekend, my roommate and I went to Dehradun and Mussoorie.  Our friend/guide from the travel company is from Dehradun (as is our host family) so he was able to show us around a bit.  His family owns a sweet shop there as well.  Mussoorie was beautiful and I was sad to return to Delhi and the Delhi heat.  Other than that, school has kept me rather busy.  I joined a gym near my house last week and have been going regularly.  The staff is really friendly and the trainers are great.  I’ve made friends in school and I went to Majnu ka Tila after class today with one of them and we had an early dinner at Ama (mala tofu, chili garlic paneer, chili fried noodles, bok choy, and tingmo) and walked around a bit.  I bought two really pretty bracelets for myself and one for a friend at home.  My roommate just left for Manali so I’ve got the room to myself until Sunday.  On Saturday I’m going to go to Flyp in Connaught Place for an Ayushmann Khurrana concert…and forcing a friend to go with me.  Ayushmann did a short tour in the US right before I left for Delhi, but didn’t come to Hawaii (of course) so I’m very excited that I’ll get to see him here!

My roommate and I are pretty different.  She’s very adventurous and I’m a homebody.  Even our host family has commented on this, and I think I make them feel a little more comfortable since they always know where I am, haha.  The other night, my roommate came home at about 10:00pm (our curfew is generally 9:00pm) and our host father gave her a short lecture about why it’s dangerous for us — anyone generally — to be out in Delhi past 9:00pm unless we’re being dropped off at the front door by a friend or ride service.  But she’s very energetic and always wants to explore, and I’m fine sitting at the dinner table doing homework, watching Netflix up in our room, etc.  I know I need to force myself to go out more, but the house is just very cozy.  I also enjoy the company of my host family.  But I do hope to go to Manali in a bit with my friend (the one who is from Aurangabad), in addition to a Mumbai/Aurangabad trip in October.  I’d also like to visit Jaipur.  Once my friend returns from Aurangabad and settles into his home in Gurgaon, I’ll be spending weekends here and there as well.  I’d also like to visit the Northeast as well…dekhenge.

After a month in Delhi, I’ve grown to enjoy the metro despite being pushed by people who are walking no faster than I am, cycle rickshaw rides, and phalwalas (so convenient).  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the endless horn-honking or 110% humidity, though.