Thursday, March 10, 2005

india.. the land of contrasts. 3/10

land of contrasts is what everyone was calling india when they were explaining it to us. they said for every beautiful thing you see, there is something equally or more horrifying. the taj mahal is in india, and so are millions upon millions of homeless. where ever you drive around you see beautiful temples (along with the occasional church or mosque) and you also see people bathing in the street or begging in a way that really brakes your heart.
everyone speaks english here, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. the reason that everyone speaks english is that there are 324 languages spoken in india, and hindi, which is the most widely spoken, is only spoken by 40% of the population. many many speak english because they learn it in school, so they are able to talk with us. the reason this is good is because we can talk to them, tell them what they want, and they can talk and explain things to us. for the same reason is it bad that they speak english: we cant just walk away without feeling rude, we cant just walk away when bargaining for a lower price at the market like we could in china and viet nam. they will follow us and ask, "OK, so what would you pay for this?"
but it is wonderful being able to talk to people and get some insight into their lives. there are so many genuine people here which is something i did not expect at all in this magnitude. i had no plans for india, so on the first day a few friends and i went to the travel agent to figure out what we were going to do. as we leave the ship, we are absolutely swamped by taxi drivers and people trying to take us into their stores or sell us something on the street. (about the bad parts of them speaking english) they also make you feel bad that you would go in a different taxi, and tell you that friends wouldnt do that. our taxi driver that we randomly got to take us to the travel agent stayed with us the rest of the day. he drove us from place to place speaking to us in great english, one of his 15 languages that he spoke. he waited for us outside the travel agent, waited for us when we came back to the ship to change to get ready for dinner, took us to a great restaurant and a bar at the end of the night where we talked to him for probably an hour. he was hindi and didnt drink, but got very excited when we told him that we would pay for his pepsi. he really wanted to get to know us and was willing with any information that we asked from him.
and this story is by no means unique. another of my friends was taken to his taxi drivers house at the end of the night. his house was a mat on the floor which he shared with his wife and two children becuase his previous house was destroyed in the tsunami. and although he had nothing, he offered his watch to the students that were with him. they sat there and talked with him and his family for hours and finally had to ask to be taken home because it was getting late, and as they left the wife said that she would miss them and if they ever come back to find them and that they wont be living like they are anymore.
i can continue with stories like this forever, but im gonna talk about what i did in india instead. like i said, the first day was just travelling around chennai and going to the travel agent. the next morning we left for goa. we flew in a very small plane to bangalore and then to goa. it was interesting because our ticket said chennai to goa, but the only flight was to bangalore. we eventually figured it out, but it was an stressful few minutes thinking that we just bought tickets for nothing. after that, the flight went fine, and i had some of the worse food of my life on board it.
goa is an incredibly beautiful place, and we decided to go to northern goa basically at random. i think it wouldnt have really mattered where we went in goa, but im really happy with where we ended up. we stayed in a bungalo the first night at a very nice hotel which was right on beach. the staff was all very excited to see us, and they gave great recommendations for where we should eat and go later in the night. we also met some of the other guests (none american) some of whom have been coming back every year for over 20 years. after three nights and eating there the total came out to less than 80 dollars.
goa was a portugese colony until the mid 60s, 20 years after india gained its independence from england. although india as whole is 80% hindu, goa is 50% christian and 40% hindu. one person told me there are even a few jews somewhere. so there is obviously a stong portugese influence there, and we saw more churchs than temples. there is still the indian culture there, and one thing that i realized was the idolization. all of the taxi drivers have pictures in their taxi, and i thought that it was a hindu thing becuase of the shivas and ganeshes that i saw the first day in chennai. but in goa the taxis have pictures of jesus in the same location. they also have little shrines that they pray to and they pray much more like the hindu people pray to their gods.
the beach was gorgeous. the arabian sea is very strong and the waves come quicker and at a sharp angle. the sand was also very nice, very fine. there were chairs set up owned by various little shops on the beach. if you sat on their chairs they would come up and try to sell you some food or drinks or some shirts. there werent really any beggars however, unlike chennai, except for one man who lost the use of his legs from polio. we ended up chatting with him for a long while, and explained a lot to us.
we went to an amazing dinner that night and to a really fun club up on a hill after that. the next day we spent travelling around the area, did some shopping, and finished the day off at the beach again. again we went to an amazing dinner, and the owner sat down and talked with us for at least an hour before going to get his guitar and play for us until we ended up leaving. the next day we spent seeing the sights of goa, going to a museum and a few churches and cathedrals. they were old and very beautiful. you could walk in and go anywhere; there were no security ropes or anything along those lines that you would find in america or europe. we finished the day off with a third amazing dinner followed by the owner of this place talking with us for a while as well. he talked to us alot about business in india and how its getting easy to start a business in india than it was previously. he also said that wal-mart is coming to india, which made us upset but made him think only about how it can help india. finally, we left very early in the morning on tuesday to return to chennai. many of the wait staff had left their emails and adresses for us to contact them.
when we got back to chennai we spent the day going around the city in a rickshaw (a little three wheel taxi that you can hire for roughly a dollar to two dollars an hour. we went to many of the temples, but there is no way to go to all of them, so we went to a few of the more famous ones. its was a holiday for shiva that day so they were all very crowded which made it very interesting walking around. many people were praying and the monks were putting the paint on peoples forehead. very cool experience. the people that went to vernasi (the most holy place for hindus on the bank of the ganges) that day said that people were in line to be cremated in the river. absolutely amazing.
my last day we went to the cathedral of saint thomas, one of only two cathedrals built on top of the grave of one of jesus's desciples. it was a fairly modest church considering. right behind the church is one of the places where the tsunami hit. its was horrible. nothing but rubble. people were living in tents, fashioned out of some lose clothes tied to sticks put in the ground. they were probably 6 by 6 by 6, if that. they were all in a line, attached to each other, only seperated by one piece of cloth. people eat, sleep, and bathe in these little tents. as soon as we came there we were swarmed with beggars. we left (a difficult task), and we went to a store an bought a bunch of food to bring to them. we bought what we thought was a lot, but as soon as we showed up to bring it to them we realized that nothing we could have brought them could have been enough. we were crowded even more than before hand, people grabbing and pushing others out of the way. after we gave it out they couldnt understand that we didnt have more. one woman appologized for the crowding people and thanked me over and over and told me that i have to understand why these people are so forceful trying to get food. it was a very difficult and moving experience to put it in so few words.
we are now back on the ship heading for kenya.


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