Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding Eden

David and I spent this morning trying to get into the Garden of Eden, but it seemed thoroughly sealed off to the outside world. From the map it looked deceptively accessible, the inviting green patch (with the words 'Garden of Eden' stretched across) just millimetres from where we were staying. Turned out that this was one of those fenced off sorts of gardens. We began to walk around the outside of the high concrete wall, looking for a gate or an entrance of some sort. A well-maintained tangle of exotic-looking green beckoned us from inside the Garden. Kolkata (Calcutta) pulsed on the outside. Over rocky sidewalks we filed past bubbling caldrons of potatoes and spices; boys playing cricket on patchy littered grass; a tiny girl slapping a soapy, miniature piece of fabric against the pavement. Ornate buses and hundreds of yellow taxis whizzed past. The wall protecting the Garden remained high as ever.

Finally we did find an entrance - a foreboding archway labelled 'Water Gate'. We entered to find concrete buildings and soldiers riding about on motorbikes. A woman in a red patterned sari was walking the road, towards us. She waved at us in a shooing motion. We turned around - clearly this wasn't the Garden, but an adjoining army base. We must have come too far. We set back outside the gate, back in the direction we came.

There was a road that we'd walked past before - this time we took the turn. It looked more promising and before we knew it, we'd found the gate to the Garden of Eden. But alas, it was locked! Through iron bars I could see that gardeners were scattered amongst an organised sort of a jungle, which was thick and moist against the Kolkata sun. I wondered if the gates were ever opened - or whether the Garden of Eden was Kolkata's version of a living room that is too good to ever be used. We left Eden's walls and wandered through the streets of Kolkata instead.

I quickly developed a fledging affection for this city. There's an old-world charm about the place - in the side-walks piled high with sweets and special breads, in the rickshaws that are pulled by short sturdy men in their lungi and sandalled feet, in the gentle blues and pinks of the old architecture. The people seem friendlier than in Delhi, and will call out 'Hello!' and street vendors charge only minimum white-person premium for the food they sell. A woman saw my baffled look as I figure out how to cross through an endless stream of traffic. She said, "This way," and led me across. Traffic police hold cars and buses back with their hands, while pedestrians cross. In Kolkata, the government cares about pedestrian safety! Incredible.

After we'd had our fix of dusty, busting streets, we decided to go see what an Indian shopping centre was like. We hopped into one of those yellow Ambassador taxis (India must be the only country in the world that continues to manufacture cars from the 1950s!) and went off to the mall. The taxi stopped often in traffic and when it did, enterprising people took the opportunity to see what they could get out of two young white folk. A flock of young men tried to sell us punnets of strawberries, the prices getting lower and lower as we continued to shake our heads ("If you can't peal it, you can't eat it" - and we were due to fly a plane the next day). We sped off with the taxi and left them in the dust.

At the next traffic jam a man with one arm and a big smile came to my open window. "How are you? Having good day? Money please? Just one rupee? Handicapped, see, one arm. Just one rupee?" I shook my head. "Sorry, no." I had a personal policy about not giving to beggars. The man walked off swiftly, and the taxi moved on.

I saw the women on the side of the road even before the taxi stopped, and I saw them weave through the traffic to get to my open window. I decided not to close it - if I was going to say no to beggars, I had to look them in the face. They were young and both held babies with thin yellow hair and puffy eyes. They were the sickest-looking babies I had ever seen. They didn't even say the word 'money'. "Baby very sick. Need medicine, hospital, need food. Please. Please." I said no. They stood there, repeating the various words. "Medicine. Hospital. Food." I said no again. For the longest while, until the traffic started up again, they just stood there with their palms outstretched saying, "Please. Please." As the taxi started up one of the girls reached into the car and touched me. I pulled back. As we drove away, I felt so ashamed for drawing away, like she wasn't even a person.

The shopping centre rose out of the dust like some glassy space ship. Street vendors sold food on the other side of the street, and to get across you had to climb through a hole in the metal fence dividing the road. "If it's one thing that India knows how to do," said David as we skipped up the pearly steps, "is juxtaposition." So we hung out in the mall for a few hours, alongside middle-class Kolkata in their shining saris and denim jeans. Eventually we took a taxi back to our hotel.

We're leaving India in the morning, and I probably won't have a chance to see if they ever opened the gates to the Garden of Eden.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I think that Delhi is a really nice city. I'm sorry if that means I'm not very hardcore, because I've spent more time sipping chai lattes in coffee shop than tropsing through slums or whatever you're meant to do when you're being a traveler (not a tourist). But I happen to like nice things: yummy food, vibrant streets, well-constructed public transport systems, remnants of cultures that go back and back and back. Delhi has all that, and I like it.

According to Sarah, one of the women who David used to work with at the Emmanuel Hospital Association, three quarters of India's rich live in Delhi. By the number of outdoor malls full of jewellery, brand name clothing and homeware stores, I'm not surprised. There are wonderful bookshops with upstairs cafes, where you can eat Greek salads and not worry about getting sick. The bookish air is thick with English language - young, middle class India is reading and conversing entirely in English. The old colonial language is also the language of aspiration and progression; English is the language of the educated and upwardly mobile. English is part of New India - a poignant symbol in the same vein as Levi jeans and Coca-cola.

And so, being the way we are, David and I fit squarely within the ranks of the middle-class, educated, English-speaking people of Delhi. 'Delhi-ites', is the term coined for this category. And it wouldn't be so bad, if it wasn't for the poverty. Ah, that old, wretched poverty, that defines your wealth in all its stark glory. So ubiquitous it's almost cliche. The dirty-faced children with outstretched arms, clamouring at you while the string on your swinging shopping bag plays delicately against your fingers.

When you see those pictures of slums, juxtaposed with high-rises, in your home or office in Melbourne, you can feel a sort of righteous anger - "Such inequality!" you can say, and you secretly despise the rich who allow it to happen. But when it's YOU who is walking down the steps from the upstairs cafe, and it's YOU with the pashmina around the neck...well, who do you have to be angry at now? You feel guilty, but what can you do? You try not to look at the child, because there's too many and you can't give to them all, and anyway, it's better to give to an NGO, isn't it?

"Is it obscene to be eating here in this cafe?" I ask David.
"Any more obscene than eating in a cafe like this in Melbourne?"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fog, diverted plane and a bus

Apparently it's fog season in Delhi, which we noticed in full when our plane was diverted to Jaipur due to low visibility. After an initial announcement about the 'change of programme', the Spicejet crew were completely in denial about the fact we had landed in a totally different city. They unlocked the overhead lockers and announced, "We hope you enjoyed your flight from Chennai to Jaipur. We look forward to seeing you next time."

Inside the airport a group of angry men surrounded a lone Spicejet staffer. Communication wasn't high on Spicejet's list of strengths, but in the end it emerged that there was a bus available to drive us to Delhi. David and I formed a little conglomerate with the other Australians on board (a women from Byron Bay who was teaching a meditation course in India, plus her daughter), and together we survived the 6 hour bus journey. I stuffed my feet into socks then sandals and huddled into my seat, as the bus glided through the fog like a fish on the ocean floor. The bus had everything but suspension, and my head made contact with an obsolete metal fan a number of times. David looked like an origami napkin, his long limbs tucked up under his chin. He opened a packet of banana chips (our last vestige from the South) and contents jumped out all over the floor. The Australians giggled. I thought it was pretty funny too.

We paid Rs750 to a taxi driver to take us to our hotel ("Standard airport rip-off price," said David. "At least we've calibrated now," I replied.). Delhi is nice - much more likeable than Chennai. Very cosmopolitan, and I just feel like a person here, not a tourist. Again, just passing through - off to Kathmandu in the morning, before heading back down to Delhi again for a longer stint.

The 'real' India

"Wow, I think we've hit the 'real' India."
"There's no 'real' India," retorted David.

And of course he's right - what I meant was that we'd reached an uncomfortable, less endearing India. The train from Allepey to Chennai took 14 hours, but it might as well have been 14 hours on a plane. The fourth-biggest city in India churned my stomach even before the engine changed its tune and the train slowed down. The smell is an all-body, intoxicating experience - an evil concoction made up of the fumes of 2 million vehicles and the effluent of 7 million people. Maybe there were exotic perfumes and fragrant spices and fleshly cut flowers in the mix there, but I couldn't smell any of that. All I could smell was pollution and poo.

So I decided that if I had to live in Chennai, I would move to Allepey. Not that many people have that luxury - I suppose people are tied to places by work, loved ones and lack of opportunity. I saw my first Indian slum in Chennai, on an early morning stroll along Marina Beach (scattered with old shoes and empty drink bottle, circled by big, black, dirty birds). It was sad and beautiful, bursting with colourful humanity. The scene - women in saris washing children in multi-coloured plastic tubs amid fish vendors and wandering goats, all against against a backdrop of ocean - would have made some great photos. I poised the camera a few times, but it didn't feel right. I couldn't turn someone else's poverty into a Kodak Moment, to take home and call my own ("Here, look - I took a piece of this bathing man as a souvenir!") . I took some photos of the goats instead.

We spent the rest of our time in Chennai trying to avoid Chennai. We sipped real, espresso, barrista-made coffee in a hip, sexy area that had more in common with Collins Street than Marina Beach. We went to an air-conditioned cinema and watched a film in HIndi. We paid Rs750 to take a taxi to the airport (we got ripped off) because thankfully, we were just passing through, on our way to Delhi. Money gives you that ability - to shut the world out and turn the air-conditioning on, if that's what you want. When you have money, you can choose not to see, not to experience. Money keeps us inside a bubble, which takes a whole lot to pop.

I do appreciate it, though. I do appreciate my ability to shut out the world, at times.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Love, fear and religion

There are only two things in the world: love and fear. That’s what Leunig says, anyway, in one of his prayers. I never really understood what he meant, but it’s beginning to come to me now.

Kerala, like everywhere else in India, is heavily steeped in religion – the difference is that the faith of choice here is Christianity. Rosary beads hung from our taxi driver’s dash on the way from the airport, and we passed pink coloured churches whose decorative facades reminded me of something made out of cardboard, tacked on to the front of an otherwise ordinary building. From village parishes whose crosses are reflected in the backwaters, to large cathedrals that rise up on the side of busy roads, there are churches everywhere. Life-size models of Mary and Jesus ascend in shrines that are more like oversized glass cabinets.

We went into a wonderful old cathedral in the tourist district of Fort Cochin – built by the Portuguese in the 1500s. This was a living church: large stars made out of basket material hung from the ornate ceilings, and the images of Jesus sported disco lights. Though the cathedral was beautiful and felt light on my spirit, I didn’t feel a strong affinity with the faith expressed there. As David and I discussed it afterwards, I realized that this was a religion with a heavy focus on fear. It was about worshiping to absolve guilt; it was about praying so that God may show mercy on one’s soul.

Where was the love, inside this old cathedral? I imagine it was amongst the people. But from the prayers and images that covered the walls in the church, I also sensed a lot of fear.

Fear lurks in all religion. We believe for fear of being damned. We insist that others believe the same thing for fear that we might be wrong. We build walls and hierarchies for fear that we might lose our power, or lose ourselves. We of the Protestant faith have bastardised Christ’s message and example and turned discipleship into a club, where you have to follow the rules to be a member, and membership equals salvation.

But what of love? It doesn’t lie in a set of beliefs, or a liturgy of prayers. It doesn’t lie within the bounds of a club. It lies in the way we treat each other – with dignity, with humility, without envy or exploitation. Salvation doesn’t lie in what we believe: salvation is love. If we believe because we are too scared to face the consequences of disbelief, then that is bad religion.

It’s comparatively easy to believe. Love is freakin’ hard.

Loving involves listening, and that’s hard because you might find out that you’re wrong. Being wrong is scary, because it shifts the way you think of yourself and the world. It’s too easy to become dogmatic, but that’s just fear.

Love involves making yourself smaller and less powerful, and that’s scary because you think you might turn into nothing. Love involves finding the similarities between yourself and other people, and that’s scary because you might realise that someone else is just as right as you are.

There are only two things in this world: love and fear. Love and fear.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How business operates in India

I’m intrigued by the way business operates in India. In Australia, if you want to get a taxi from a hotel, you get the person behind the desk to call 132227, and an anonymous cab driver turns up at the location. If you want to do the same thing in India, the person behind the desk is likely to call a taxi driver friend. It is better to ask the hotel operator than to randomly hail a cab, because you have the added surety of a relationship.

Let me illustrate: today we wanted to get to a relatively remote beach via auto-rickshaw and pay the driver to stick around for a couple of hours so he could then drive us back to Gowri Residence, where we’re staying. We asked Wali, a staff member from Gowri, what was a reasonable price and was told: “Rs350 – I will arrange a rickshaw for you.” Wali made a call to somebody he knew who was a rickshaw driver, so that when the driver arrived, we didn’t have to explain anything. We felt confident that we could trust this driver, because he had more to lose than he could gain by ripping us off – at stake was a personal and business relationship with the people at Gowri.

We chatted with the driver both ways on the journey (David has made a point of finding out what’s going on with the cricket and it’s an invaluable way to make friends!). At the end of the trip I said to the driver “Rs350?” To which he answered, “You decide.” He knew we wouldn’t rip him off either, because we’d already established an amiable relationship. Plus, and perhaps more significant, we had an interest in keeping on good terms with the people from Gowri, which would be undermined if we paid the driver less than what was fair.

So that’s how it works – through relational ties. People aren’t afraid to help each other – even if it’s the opposition. If one stall doesn’t have change, they go to their competitor next door to get some. You constantly see people hitching rides on each other’s motorcycles, or on the backwaters, larger boats looping ropes around canoes and pulling the smaller vessels along for a bit. People own their own plots of land, but they farm it together. There’s a great collective spirit here.

So that’s Part One – David tells me that Indians also have a great capacity to rip each other off. The tension between the collective and the individual is one that marks every society, and I suppose there are people who are collectively orientated and individually orientated in India as well. Right now it’s Day 5 and I’m still in the honeymoon period. Please don’t burst my bubble just yet.

Wealth and washing clothes in the Keralan backwaters

David brought his laptop into paradise, and I’m quite glad of it. The backwaters of Kerala are watery roads that connect towns and villages, whose livelihoods were traditionally etched out in rice paddy fields and fishing boats. Dusk is settling on the water, evening light playing its last dance amongst the ripples. Coconut palms are silhouetted endlessly across a dark sky, and some kind of Indian music is warbling across the water, counterpointed by lapping water and the occasional chirp from a frog. I can hear the sound of cooking – our chef is at work, preparing our dinner. The boat sways and I’m taken some place else.

The houseboat David and I hired has been drifting through this array of rivers and canals all afternoon long, while we wave at the villagers washing their clothes and generally going about their daily life. We have a chef and a driver. How rich we are.
I step off the boat when it docks for the night, keen to get a glimpse of life in a backwater village. The houses snake around the waters, perched on narrow banks. I greet the women and children with ‘hello’ or ‘namaste’. The children grin at each other then stand erect and finally brave, “What is your name?” “My name is Andreana. What is your name?” And that’s as far as the conversation goes, before they erupt into a fit of giggles and run away.

I am trying to get used to averting my eyes when I pass a man: I’m not concerned for my safety, but it doesn’t feel proper for me to be constantly catching the gaze of men.
I look up.
“What did you do to your arm?”
He is a good-looking Indian man in his 30s, wearing a lungi and bare feet. I show him the last piece of gauze tapped to my forearm, and explain how I fell in a ditch in Allepey.
“Ah I see.”
He asks where I’m from and I tell him. He says he has worked in tourism, on the houseboats, which explains why his English is so good.
I want to know about this village: why it appears so wealthy, for example. We are in the middle of nowhere, but the houses are stout and colourful and people look happy and healthy.
“Do people own their own houses?” I ask. I’m interested in land and how people hold it, because it’s one of my research areas back home in Melbourne.
He tells me that they do – and not only that, but everybody owns their own plot of paddy field land as well. People work together in the fields, because you can’t farm your own bit of land on your own. When he speaks, his lips come together tight and stretch wide again, like a piano accordion.
“Has it always been this way?”
No it has not, I am told. Before independence, the state of Kerala had a system of feudalism, where tenant farmers paid rent to landlords. After Gandhi and independence, a series of socialist governments brought many changes of Kerala, including land reform. People don’t have to pay rent anymore; the wealth stays in their own hands.
He tells me that the wealth also rides on the back of the Portuguese, who set up the first trading routes from the south of India, and later the missionaries, who helped to achieve 100 percent literacy. The south, I am told, is a very different place from the north.
“So is land reform the key to Kerala’s wealth?”
He is leaning casually on one leg, while I stand properly with hands clasped, listening earnestly. A few curious children gather around while we converse. He asks if I have time – he can explain more, if I like. I tell him I have some time (although I’m a bit anxious because David is waiting back at the boat). He says that the real backbone of Kerala’s economy are its emigrant workers. The north of Kerala is heavily Muslim, so many Keralans work in Middle Eastern countries, sending capital back to their families. This part of Kerala is far further steeped in Christianity than Islam, but even so, remittances mark deeply on the economy.
“Out of 100 households in this village,” he says, “30 or 40 would have a member working in another country.”
I point to a small but sturdy house standing behind us, with the sound of a TV wafting out of open French windows and a satellite dish fixed to the side of the wall. “Is that why the houses are so nice here?”
“Yes,” he answers.
Aside from farming and selling labour overseas, many in this area work as fisher people. For the aspirational young, however, the future seems to be in tourism – operating houseboats like this one, for example. “Here in Kerala,” he tells me, “agriculture is becoming less and less, and we are turning more into a consumer society. For example, we no longer grow any of our own fruit and vegetables – we buy from other states.”
“Is this a problem?”
“Yes it is, because it drives the prices up. It is ok if you are middle class, as many of us are. But if you are poor, it is very difficult.”
“And so the gap between rich and poor is growing?”
“Yes it is.”

I think about my home in Melbourne, which is also largely a consumer society. There are people who lose out there, also. I guess standards of living can only get so high before people start falling through the cracks. Gain that is beyond your share is always founded on somebody else’s loss. As we get more, we become more selfish and stop looking after each other. I think about the Keralan rice farmers, who can’t farm their own piece of land by themselves, so they have to work together. If they were richer they would have machinery, and wouldn’t need to collaborate as much. The ties based on economic interdependence would begin to dissolve, and thus the ties between people. That’s where wealth disparity begins.

“Some people here are beginning to buy washing machines and things like they. They don’t need to, because we have everything we need to wash clothes.” He points at some steps leading down to the darkening water. “The washing machines are just there to tell everybody how rich you are.”
“Status symbols?”
“Yes, status symbols.”

He wants to know about Australia and I tell him it’s not so different – only we are further along than Kerala. Our eroding wealth goes much deeper and further than the way we wash clothes.

He invites me to chat more – he motions in the direction of his house. It is beginning to rain and the mosquitoes are biting; it’s getting dark and I told David I wouldn’t be long. We each express gratitude for an enlightening conversation, and I wander back to the houseboat to listen to the sounds of dusk falling.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The time I fell into a sludge-filled ditch in India

The other night I fell into a hole full of sludge. I climbed out of the concrete roadside ditch and found that my bottom half was almost entirely covered in black who-knows-what and my arm was grazed. David and I looked at each other and said, “Oh shit” – and then, almost in unison, “That really is shit!”

“What do I do?”

We quickly realised that no auto-rickshaw driver was going to let me within smelling distance of his vehicle. We stood there a moment, both completely unsure what to do, and me with my gritty, soaked pants sticking to my backside. Headlights lit the street and horns continued to blare. Sari-clad women paused, tut-tutted and kept walking. It wasn’t long before a man took pity and directed us to the hotel where we’d had dinner.

With wet, smelly grit in my shoes I tiptoed gingerly to the hotel. We stopped at the door and called to the registration desk, “Do you have a bathroom?”
“Stay where you are, stay where you are!” The hotel staff, it seemed, were not particularly keen to get black sludge all over their white floors.

There was a group of nicely dressed Indians sitting in some kind of waiting area in the hotel. They gazed at the gunk-covered white girl and let out a collective “Eww” (or the Indian equivalent). The whole situation struck me as particularly funny, so I started laughing. There wasn’t much else I could do.

Eventually, a hotel staff member led us around the back of the neighbouring service station. David said, “I’m coming with you for this bit” (he’s the hero in this story). We dodged parked trucks and men smoking cigarettes until we found ourselves in a small Indian bathroom, with a toilet, a bucket and some taps.

I stood there in my undies and panicked about what the hell was in that sludge while David went off to find some antiseptic and new clothes. He returned with a shiny plastic bag from the lit up Reebok store a few addresses down – the only place selling clothes that was still open at this hour, it seemed. I pulled out a white cricket uniform. It cost Rs1000 (about $25 – there was 30 percent off cricket gear that day) and it would have to do.

Dressed up in my cricket uniform, with my (thankfully shallow) wounds drenched in antiseptic lotion, we stopped by one of the many drug stores that dot the streets of Keralan towns. We walked away with a course of antibiotics in a brown paper bag (“Sell only upon receipt of physician administered prescription”) and hailed an auto-rickshaw for the bumpy ride back to our abode.

We decided it would be a good idea to see a doctor, mainly to get the dosage on the antibiotic right. The next morning, through a series of directions, we found ourselves at a hospital. Rows of people sat on long dusty benches in a breezeway, while official people wearing white whisked in and out of doorways. I stopped in my tracks and surveyed he scene.

“Do you want to go in there?” Dave wanted to know. “We don’t have to.”
“Sure, let’s do it,” said the writer in me.

I was aware that I was getting special-white-person-treatment, because after registering and paying the Rs150 initial fee, we managed to skip several queues and were led quickly through a door, past a very sick-looking man lying on a narrow bed, and into a small room crowded with hospital personnel.
“Please sit down.”
I sat down on the bed, but it was the wrong spot so I got moved. A man in a white coat asked me a question that I couldn’t understand. I looked at David but he appeared as clueless as me. The man asked again and I looked back, blank-faced before saying, “Oh! Australia!”
“No no no.” The man repeated the question again. I looked at David. David finally figured it out. “What is your complaint?” he interpreted.
“Ah, right.” I related the story. The man in the white coat pulled out a stethoscope and strapped Velcro around my arm, pumping it tight.
“So do you know how much antibiotic I need?” I asked.
The man waggled his head. “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the doctor that.”

Ah ha. So he was the triage nurse.

I sat there a few minutes longer before the nurse announced that the doctor was here. He pointed over to a corner of the room, where an overweight man wearing a stethoscope around his neck was walking slowly through the door. The fat doctor lowered himself onto a chair, his face grimacing. He motioned for me to come over.
His face was a sickly grey-brown colour – not exactly a picture of health, I thought to myself. Oh well, hopefully he’ll know about antibiotics.
“What is your complaint?”
I explained the story again. As I spoke he gazed over my shoulder through yellow-lens glasses. When I finished talking he looked at me, felt my forehead, and briefly pulled the skin under each eye. He poked his stethoscope into his ears and lifted the end, motioning for me to shift forward on my stool – he wasn’t going to come to me. The doctor wrote something illegible on a piece of paper (I guess there’s one thing all doctors have in common!) and handed it to the triage nurse.

The nurse gave David a piece of paper and we wandered back out into the breezeway again.
There were about three counters to choose from in the following order: Pharmacy, Billing and Cash. We lined up at Pharmacy because that seems somewhat logical – turns out we were supposed to go to Billing first, then followed by Pharmacy, and then by Cash. But the staff were very gracious and communicated amongst ourselves to get the two whities paid up and out of there.

It all seemed chaotic and illogical, but it must be functional. After all, we were in and out of there much faster than most Australian clinics. Then again, I really did get some serious preferential treatment. The meds cost about Rs180 – about $4 for us, but a fair bit for a local. I’m not sure whether healthcare for locals is subsidised in Kerala.

We Googled the medication we had been prescribed (each in a little brown paper bag with squares that were ticked according to the frequency of administration). Turns out we got an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory and something to cure indigestion from overconsumption of spicy food. I suppose he prescribes the latter drug for all white people who come, no matter the complaint.

So I think I’ll live through the experience. For the time being we’re not going far from the beaten track, in case I come down with some terrible fever. But so far I feel ok – from now on I’ll watch my footing a little more carefully, and be grateful for the opportunity to tell some more tales.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Stuff White People Like

The Lonely Planet describes Cochin (or Kochi) as a 'gaggle of islands', and so today we left the chaos of the mainland town Ernakulam for the comparative serenity of Fort Cochin, where apparently goats outnumber auto-rickshaws on the roads. Well, I'm not sure about that last claim, but certainly what DOES outnumber the auto-rickshaws is the tourists.

The website 'Stuff White People Like' lists 'Being the only white person around' as one of our key desires whilst traveling - it makes us feel like we're somehow less of a tourist and more of a traveler, or something like that. I found the best cure for my discomfort at being surrounded by hundreds of people JUST LIKE ME was a good dose of irony. David and I found ourselves directed by a series of coordinated signs and brochure wielding representatives to a Kathakali performance, where the costumes and makeup outdo the even most ornate Baz Luhrman production. It was White Person Hell - a room completely full of fisherman pants, tank tops and oversized earrings. I squirmed in my seat until I found the cure - I just started taking photos of the people taking photos. After a while I felt mean and became ashamed of my actions...my comfort clutch of irony (another thing that White People Like) was a guise for arrogance, since it implied that I was better or more self-aware than the other tourists.

Hmm, propensity to psychoanalyse one's self - another thing that White People Like. I guess that's because I'm White.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

So this is India

Woke up to the sound of gunshots and a flurry of voices, wishing I had've been more conscientious in my perusal of the official travel warning website that the Australian government puts out. Turns out the reverberating bangs came from a nearby construction site, so David and I breathed a bit easier.

So this is Kochi, India: sleepy in the morning (apart from the construction) and buzzing, beeping and blearing well into the night. We wandered out of our hotel room last night in search of dinner, making 'chicken' runs for it through traffic that never stops, and treading precariously over the rubble that's the footpath. I found out that my 'hunches' about roads meeting up don't apply in this city, and that David doesn't like getting lost. We ventured into a department store lit up like a Christmas tree, which held five levels of the most beautiful silk saris. The women are so beautiful here, and wear saris that make me want to be Indian so I could pull them off.

This is no sleepy seaside town! Off to Fort Cochi next, which I'm hoping will be a little more relaxed (and smell a little less...).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kuala Lumper in the language of commerce and opportunity

Dusty runways have been replaced with steamy tarmacs. We wound our way around thermal screening passage ways, crawled along in fat dazed out queues, and ended up on an over-airconditioned bus headed into Kuala Lumper. I sat next to a beautiful woman in a headscarf and tight jeans. She was holding a little boy who alternated between playing a game with me and wacking my boobs in a hope of finding some milk.

The good thing was that the woman taught me how to say 'thankyou' ('derimagasi', or however you spell that). I must say that I've felt a little silly utilising my new forre into Malaysian language, because everybody here seems to speak English (not that I've so far ventured far). Nearly all the billboards in this hyped up, Vegas-like city have a large componant of English, and the radio station blearing in the taxi-ride to the hotel was like Hamish and Andy in some kind of generic Asian-accented version of my native tonge. As David says, English is the language of commerce and opportunity, and everybody is more than willing to speak it. Not everybody here has shared in the riches, though - we passed one begger on the way from the hotel to the internet cafe.

We've spent the first night in style, and I spent part of this morning filling up on logan fruit and smoked salmon at the hotel's buffet breakfast. Back to the airport in an hour or so for our next stop: India!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

At the airport

Sitting in the international departures lounge with the Mac computer that David normally has within a two metre orbit of his body. He's pushed it under my nose in a loving bid to get me to write something. I am ever grateful for these small patchwork squares of support. We hope there's enough here to hold it all together for three and a half weeks non-stop togetherness. I'm optimistic.

I bought a tuna patty for $6, inside a polystyrene container. Heart sinking, I left the disposable cutely on the counter and wondered whether I would regret that purchase in India (Dang! Could have bought 240 extra rupees worth of elephant embroidered cushion covers for that!). I should've got the sushi, but I'm deciding not to let it ruin my trip.

I'm relishing the last little pieces of home comfort - grinning customs officials who laugh at old passport photos; a dusty runway under a hot blue sky; the Qantas logo. I think I will appreciate having the ultimate colonial language as my mother tongue, in the lands of the colonised.

The planes are cumbersome but confident beasts, defying the odds to be up there, king of the skies. Soon we'll be sent into the clouds, clutching at aluminium feathers. First stop: Kuala Lumper.