Sunday, January 30, 2005

10. Life on January 31st Road

Fig. 10-1: January 31st Road

Cramped into the corner of an air conditioned back room of a store called SHOP'N'SAVE in the town of Fort Cochin, somewhere on the southwest coast of India, I am preparing to celebrate my 26th birthday. In some ways, this is like home (wood-paneled walls and exposed fluorescent tube lights feel Midwestern to me) and in some ways it's not (it certainly doesn't smell like home), but either way, the differences between this birthday and past ones is not lost on me.

Counting backwards, I can recall Craig putting on a birthday party in his Downtown St. Paul studio space (that now lives on only in memory and may or may not be a condo by now) in the absolute cold of winter, a series of hazy-but-warm memories from the year previous at the Turf Club (which ended with me throwing snowballs in the middle of some residential street in the Midway for no reason), and dashing from London to Glasgow the year before that to simultaneously visit Jesse Cain and see Clinic play. This is not Downtown St. Paul, though, this is not London, and this is by no means a Clinic show: this is India and this is different.

In India, personal victories are harder fought (we found a restaurant serving vegetable lasagne for dinner tonight and it had real cheese!) and the rewards are quite often smaller (seriously, this was a huge: lasagne with real cheese that tasted not like Indian food, but lasagne, followed by real cake that didn't taste like bland bread). Being as far from home as I am, and this being India, there will be no gathering of friends tonight, no birthday drinks, and no waking up tomorrow thinking that 26 feels a lot like a pounding headache. Instead, tonight will consist of a call home to my parents, a walk home through a sleepy little town, and trying to get below this unbelievable humidity (in January, no less) with the aid of a cathedral-like room, a wonderfully efficient ceiling fan, and a copy of The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith.

Different? Yes.
Bad? Absolutely not.

Tomorrow: The backwaters of Kerala for 24 hours in our own hired houseboat. Pure birthday luxury.
Fig. 10-2: Houseboat
(actual pictures to follow)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

09. Haircut!

Fig. 9-1: London Hairdressers (Photo by Jecca)

A couple of weeks ago, I was desperate for a haircut, so I took a chance on a place called London Hairdressers, though it was no more in London, than I was going to pay more than a dollar and a half for the haircut, so I decided to split the difference and give it a try. The result? Well, Jecca has gone from telling me that I looked like Peter Brady to saying that I now look like I've gone AWOL from the Army. You can't win 'em all, but I prefer the side of that spectrum that I now find myself on; at least I'm getting Robin Williams comparisons again, instead of George W. Bush (I totally deny that one anyway).
Fig. 9-2: "Self Reformation is the Greatest Service of the World "
Confidential to AARON: I may be a little late on this one, but I'm voting haircut. Haircuts may not last as long as tatoos, but that can be a good thing, too.

Friday, January 21, 2005

08. A Lifetime of Cold Showers

Some mornings, while I'm still lying in bed, the breeze through the palm trees sounds just like rain, and on these occasions, it's enough to get me up and peek outside, but I've so far been disappointed every time to find that just another bright, cloudless day in India. In the three hot, sunny weeks that I've been in this country, I've seen clouds just two times, and the only falling water has come from the shower spigot, not the sky. Just like the rain, though, the water that comes out of the shower is seldom anything other than cold.

It has been nearly three weeks since I've had a shower with any degree of warmth. It's not that warm showers don't exist--they do: they're called Geysers, and they come in the form of a tank on the wall, which heats the water, and must be turned on well in advance of the actual act of showering if you want the shower to be more than lukewarm. Likewise, whereas they do exist, not that many people have them, as they are largely the territory of those who have money. If you are without one of these contraptions, your option is basically to heat a bucket of water, and as you're pouring it over your head, pretend that it's coming out of the wall.

My last warm shower (I never remember to turn the Geyser on with enough advance notice to warrant a hot shower) was in Bombay, where we stayed at Jecca's cousin's wife's parents' flat that was the Bombay-equivalent to a Park Avenue condo, overlooking the city's main green space, the Cricket Oval. In addition to being two of the most impressive people that I have met in India, or otherwise, these people were definitely not wont for money or hot water heaters, and even they had to throw a switch in the wall in advance of showering if they didn't want to spend the entire time shivering. I know that this way of heating showers is common in Europe, but the difference would seem to be that the people who don't have money don't have hot water, whereas I have been in some pretty crappy places in Europe, and some especially crappy garden-level (which is a euphemism for below-ground) flats, that certainly had hot water.

Regardless of whether this is good or bad (it is warm here; hot water for showering is not a necessity), the fact remains that, in absence of warm water, I am not only getting used to daily cold showers, I am starting to like cold showers. I'm beginning to understand the nuances of cold showers (for example: there are there are different ways to lead into a cold shower, and different ways to deal with the water once you have immersed yourself); the details that I always missed when I was busy thinking of cold as the lacking end of the shower spectrum, with all points above it differing by increasing units of warmth.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that every morning, when I wake up and look out the door, it's always 90 degrees and sunny outside, without a cloud or a drop of rain in sight.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

07. Happy Birthday, Lawrence

Though I am admittedly out of the loop when it comes to current events as of late, the fact that G.W. took the oath of office today has not escaped me, and while I somehow held out hope that wouldn't really happen much the way a kid hides underneath their sheets so as to become invisible to monsters in the dark, it looks like there's not much chance of things happening any other way.

That said, this day is never a complete loss, as on January 20th , 1981, in addition to Ronald Reagan swearing that same oath, my little brother Jon was born. Since I can't be there to help him celebrate, anyone who can buy him drinks and sing to him on my behalf will be greatly rewarded with all sorts of low-quality souvenier gifts from the great country of India.

Confidential to Jon: Since I can't be there to sing to you myself, I'm going to make believe that the children in this picture that I took on a rural road are really excited because it's your birthday, singing Happy Birthday to you, and that plaque that they're holding is announcing your 24 years. Happy Birthday Little Brother!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

06. The New Slang

People in India ask tourists lots of things. Sometimes it is about "some smoking," other times it is to come into their restaurant, and yet other times it is the (not so) siren call of the transportation industry, as every turn in the road seems to offer men asking "Taxi?" or "Autorickshaw?" (see figure 1).

Fig. 1: Autorickshaw: A small taxi-like vehicle, often powered by something that sounds like a lawnmower engine, carries 2-3 passengers, and costs less than a taxi, due to the fact that each passenger is willfully risking death in order to save a few Rupees.

In Palolem Beach, the last place where we stayed, the most common question that we heard, though, was that of the people sitting in the shop stalls that lined the main road off of the beach, asking if we would like to come in and look at their shop ("Looking is free!" they insist).

After a few days of walking this same strip of shops and refusing their invitations, a few kids in hippie-crap-selling stalls that clued into the fact that I'm an American, and in an attempt to engage a potential customer (these kids are good), they started to talk like California skater kids. The best attempt at this? When I matched one kid's "What's up, dude?" routine, he replied, "I AM FULL POWER!"

I don't know if he actually heard this phrase somewhere, or if he made it up, but as far as I'm concerned, this should be added to the book of American slang, post haste.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

05. Upside Down

The computer that I’m using tells me that it is 12:55AM on Tuesday, January 1, 2002, which clearly means that I am writing from the past, and let me tell you that the first 55 minutes of January 2002 (if you don’t recall them that well) have been unseasonably warm and sunny, considering both the time of year, and the time of day. Has the world turned upside down? Yes, in a lot of ways, it has. It still doesn’t escape me that anyone reading this is probably sitting in a very thoroughly chilled Midwestern city (sitting at work, perhaps?), almost directly on the other side of the planet, and thus either you are sitting upside down, or I am: it’s your pick.

My two cents? That would clearly be that I am upside down, while you all have remained right side up.

Just to describe: I am writing this from a computer in a corrugated-metal shack with small windows, just thirty feet from a very beautiful beach, where I am sitting next to the cell phone that connects all three of the computers on this relatively small, 3-computer network, to the internet. This network, like almost all of those in paradise, runs off of this sort of cell phone connection, with the addition of a few largish car batteries backing up the power source, due to the regularity of brownouts. This, plus the fact that Hotmail seems virtually inaccessible from these cell phone networks, means that I have thus sent one solitary email in the last two weeks, the lucky recipient of which were my parents (Hi Mom and Dad).

Things here are well, though I can't say that I've grown accustomed to it yet. In fact, just trying to sum up the multitudes of information and experience that I've taken in, in just short of two weeks, gives me something akin to what I imagine an anxiety disorder must feel like. Combine that feeling with a very slow Internet connection, and viola: I've grown incapable of being useful on the Internet. That means no reply emails, short blog posts, and a need to sit and do nothing for a while afterward. The solution? Often it has just been to go to the beach, which coincidently, is about all that Jecca and I have been doing for the last week and some. Initially, this made me feel really uncomfortable, just sitting around, followed by some more sitting around (aren't we in India, after all? Shouldn’t we be looking at something?), but let me tell you: that must have just been because I was reading the wrong book (an F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography written by Andrew Turnbull), because since I've started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith (giant thank you to Nichole), everything is feeling much more natural. The beach was fully taken on today, with very few reservations, and perhaps to such an extent that I am looking a little pinkish-red. Oh well. It’s been just over a week now, and between the beaches of both North Goa and South Goa, I think that we’ve succeeded in airing out the exhaust and grit of Bombay, chasing away the sickness that comes of getting over jet lag while getting used to malaria medication, and becoming accustomed to a lifestyle that will likely not be comfortable, except in small and placid moments.

As for the future, I think that we’ve decided that we’re taking a sleeper bus (whatever that means) to the town of Hampi this coming Monday night, to engage in some actual sightseeing that actual Indians go so far as to recommend. If you’re wondering what actual Indians say about Goa, it’s something along the lines of some flip comment about parties, some misty-eyed reference to youth, or if you’re actually in Goa, speaking to absolutely anyone in the service industry (I am talking about buying a drink at a bar or a candy bar at a shop) they say something like: “you want some smoking?” Yes, we’ve essentially been in the equivalent of some combination of Cancun and Amsterdam for the last week, and once we figured out how to shake free of the hippie/rave scene, it’s been just fine.

One of these days, I have every intention of posting something more particular about our experiences, but for right now I’m going to bask in the fact that this may be my longest post to date, and leave it at that. Also, stay tuned: it’s very likely that the next post will come from somewhere way off in the future.

Friday, January 14, 2005

04. Learning Curve

Okay, so that last post was pretty smug, but it came at the conclusion of a long day spent pacing out a death-defying four hours of rural backroads between our sleepy (but somewhat isolated) guesthouse on Morjim Beach, and the Lonely Planet's promise of fast internet in the town of Vagator. As it turned out, though, the Lonely Planet was serious when it warned us against taking its map too literally: what appeared to be a pretty direct 2km slowly unravelled into a much less direct, and much more time-consuming jaunt than we had planned for, and while the backroads of Goa are by all accounts beautiful, they suffer a blight of tourists riding rented motorcycles and mopeds at unadvised speeds, and unadvisedly close to any tourists (us) who have decided that walking might be more interesting way to get between Point A and Point B than taking a cab or a bus.

From here on out, I promise to be on my best behavior when it comes to commenting on the suffering of the world.

On another note, I've also decided to cease to wait for the secret of India to reveal itself to me before I really get these blog posts rolling, as it would appear that there is no unifying factor which makes this country make sense; instead, where this unifying truth should be, seems to be a cultural learning curve that would appear to have no upward limit, where each lesson learned seems to simply become the platform upon which a new lesson plays itself out. And to think: we've yet to leave the beach.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

03. Connexions

Who knew that 56K dial-up connections still existed? Apparently everyone in beach towns in India.

If the internet was always this slow, I would refuse to use it. I now believe that I am starting to understand the suffering of the people of the world.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

02. In Summary:


Two days ago, I went to the Middle East for the first time in my life. Then, I went to India.

Yesterday, I et a shark and went to a Bollywood movie which I didn't understand.

More to come later, as Intertron 5000 is making me dizzy right now.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

01. Riding In the New Year(s)

I finally beat jet lag. Ask me how, and I'll tell you that I can't tell you, but anyone sitting with me at the Turf Club on Wednesday night could probably tell you. I'll just say that I proudly slept through the first leg of my Minneapolis to Iceland to London flight and showed up chipper in London at noon.

Having declared this, though, I also have to admit that I proceeded to boldly waste this accomplishment by not only celebrating the Greenwich Mean Time New Years countdown, but also the--though admittedly much hazier--Central Standard Time countdown. Anyone who missed out on my drunken phone calls around midnight CST can surely look forward to more in the future: last night I only dialed the phone numbers that I knew off hand, whereas I now have everyone's phone number recorded into a single (and very accessable) place. I hestitate to really consider the full possibility for hilarity when I next move these phone numbers into a cell phone in India. Did I mention that the time difference between India and home is eleven and a half hours? That means that I will be going to sleep when the Midwest wakes up, and vice-versa, so I'm just going to appologise in advance for all of the possible suprizes that such a time difference will certainly bring about

Time differences aside, New Years Eve was spent with Dave Schelesinger, his girlfriend Anne, and the shocking last minute guest appearance of one of my favorite people: none other than the Little Rock born, and fellow-can't-stay-putter, Ginny Sims who is currently teaching English in Barcelona, and a few of her friends who live in London. The night started at 5:00 in front of the Natural History Museum, and wound a path that stopped for pints in a gay pub in Earl's Court (oops) where we weren't overly-appreciated, an excellent dinner at The Troubadour complete with New Years resolutions and party poppers, a countdown at a somewhat annonymous pub in South Kensington, and then hours and hours passed and bottles and bottles of red wine consumed at the house/studio of a pretty well-known sculptor friend of Ginny's in South London, where catching up with Ginny was more like a supervised visit than old friends talking, and where the three of found more common ground as we rounded out the second, more Midwestern, New Years Eve countdown, before finally giving in to sleep. I woke up under a very thin blanket, on a sturdy (though not particularly comfortable army surplus-style cot), in the middle of a room full of plastic-covered sculptures.
In summary: I am tired.
Also: I forgot how much I like this.