The REAL last post!

So, Claire and I have finally come to the end of the India/Nepal section of our trip.  As these things go, there were times that I thought that the trip would never end, then all of the sudden I look at my journal and realize that our flight out of Delhi is tomorrow!  So as a final post from India I thought that I would give you some preliminary thoughts on the place and the people.  I have to warn you that I am still processing much of what I have learned here so don’t expect too much ground breaking insight.

To start with, how about a description of a typical day in India?  Generally I wake up at about eight o’clock.  Lying in bed I try to think if we had any plans for the day.  It’s likely that Claire had something in mind, but I can’t remember what, and her plans are probably going to change about three times before breakfast anyway.

Getting up I wander to the bathroom and hope that the power has been on long enough that there’s hot water.  Regardless of what I find, Claire and I are both ready for the day at nine and we head out the door. 

The hotels are usually planning on making the majority of their money off of the food you buy, so as we pass through the lobby it takes considerable effort to rebuff the offers of tea, coffee and toast with jam – Claire and I tend to prefer the company of the locals and also find that the street food (omelets, tea and coffee) are frequently better than hotel food anyway.  We step out of the safety of our hotel into the streets.  Before we are 5 steps from the door trail of ‘Hello!’s, and ‘Good morning!’s follow us like a shock wave.  During the first few weeks in India, you feel obligated to reply to all of these advances, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that you will never get anywhere in town when you have to stop and talk to every second person on the road.

Part of the day is spent searching for an acceptable coffee and embarking on whatever we have planned for the afternoon.  There is also a part of the day that is spent looking for a local food vendor that makes thali (a bottomless Indian dish that consists of dal, curry, rice and chipati) and can understand ‘Little salt, little oil, but spicy.’  We tried learning the Hindi for this, but that confused them more than our English…

The evenings are bonding time.  We almost never have TV, even more rarely TV and power together, and when the stars do align, Hindi CNN is never enough to keep our attention anyway.  There is very little in the way of a tourist night life in India.  Claire and I have speculated long and hard about this, and believe that there are a few factors.

1) If you go to a local place, you are the entertainment.  Indians have no qualms about outright staring, and will readily stop what they are doing to watch our funny Western ways and to laugh if Claire is showing more than her neck.

2) Drinking is sacrilege, making bars and hard to find.  And coffee and tea all night just doesn’t do it.

3) The travelers in India are generally older and seeking enlightenment.  Very few people under 30 come here and as a result many are content with just reading, meditating and going to bed.

So what this means is that Claire and I have had about 90 nights of one on one bonding time.  Some might say that that’s too much, and I times I agree with them.  But we have found ways to entertain ourselves and have actually bonded through it all.  And it makes the social life of Vancouver all that much more special.

So that just about wraps up a normal day here.  I also want to comment on the culture and people, as this has been asked about on this blog before.  It is hard to know where to begin.  The couture here is really beyond description.  I have seen it called a ‘functional anarchy’ and think that that’s reasonably accurate.  In public ways I couldn’t imagine a more live and let live environment.  You can spit, throw trash and pee wherever you like and can drive on the wrong side of the road if you like.  Nobody will look twice.  However, in private ways this culture will judge you and damn you before you even know what you did.  They also have very little modesty when talking to travelers, asking questions like ‘Do you have sex together?’ and once, when Claire had her hat in her front hoodie pocket and her money belt below that, she was asked ‘Are you pregnant?’ – always without the slightest look embarrassment or guilt!

Work conditions and poverty are another issue altogether.  It seems that most of the country is self sufficient.  Neither paying taxes or taking advantage of the taxes others pay.  In small towns, those who cannot, or do not farm are generally destitute, and most of those who farm are heavily in debt.  However, they make a living, own their own home, and smile at you as you pass.  The workers who see the hardest work conditions seem to be the ones without property.  You see them hauling cement rail ties from the train, or moving dirt for new roads from the bus.  These people are normally doing long days in dangerous conditions wearing sandals and torn cloths.  They do not smile.

I really can’t get into the poverty issue right now as my feelings are not solidified.  I will say that it is more extreme that I ever planned to see and – to make it ever worse – includes many, many children.  To some extent you really have to keep it at an arms length while here, for when I let my guard down, I am struck with such remorse that India loses all appeal and adventure and takes on the visage of an open air prison.  This is one aspect that will impact me over the course of my life in ways that I cannot even speculate on.

As a final note, I must not leave out the beauty of the culture and customs.  The desire of the people to know everything about you.  The hustle and bustle in streets, the open markets in the shadow of the Himalayas.  The men and women selling coconuts from baskets on their heads and the joy and majesty of beholding wonders like the Taj Mahal make India an all round positive and unforgettable experience.

Now to find out about Southeast Asia!

2 Responses to “The REAL last post!”

  1. Jen says:

    Very well-written post Seth, it was really interesting to read. Sounds like you’ve grown and changed and feel confused about how you have grown and changed all at the same time! I know the feeling. It’ll be interesting for you guys when you head to a new country, and then back home. It puts things in a bit more perspective about exactly what’s happening/what has happened to you. Right now you’re in it, so sometimes it’s hard to explain. Jon and I deal with the same thing in Taiwan, except maybe on a lesser scale. I’m really proud of you two, and I love reading your blog! See you two soon!

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