Monday, January 21, 2013

India--Day 1

I think I may have mentioned I am not a huge fan of Indian food. Well, my adventures with the cuisine began on the flight over when the airline served Indian food for the in-flight meal, snack, and breakfast. The flight itself was about what I expected--long, crowded, and uncomfortable seats. I now understand why my previous boss coveted aisle seats for long flights.

I ended up having to check my carry-on bag both on the regional plane from Raleigh to Newark, and again on the flight to Dehli. Once we landed in Delhi I felt a little overwhelmed at the airport because I just didn't know what I was doing. I knew I needed to go through immigration (and of course, I filled out the forms wrong) and pick up my bags, but there were only signs for baggage. So I just followed the crowd and made my way to the general area for baggage, and immigration was there too.

I wish I had dug through my laptop bag for my camera at immigration. There was a beautiful wall sculpture of huge brass discs and hands in various mudras poses. Luckily, I found a few online, but trust me, immigration was way more busy than this when I passed through.

Next came baggage claim. I really should have tied something easily identifiable to my bags. One has a fairly distinctive pattern and was easy to pick out, but my carry-on looks pretty generic. Granted, as a carry-on I never intended to need to pick it out on the carousel, a colorful ribbon or strap would have made finding my new bag a lot easier. I actually took it off the carousel, looked at it, and put it back because I thought it had more zippered compartments than mine. But after it came around 2 more times I decided to take a peek, and sure enough, it was mine.

Next, I needed to find the driver hired to take me to the hotel. The only problem with this was there were several designated areas where the driver might be waiting. My flight had landed early, so I wasn't too worried when I couldn't find him right away, but after a half hour of searching I started trying to figure out how I would get to my hotel on my own. Luckily, an airport staffer noticed I'd been patrolling the pick up area and stepped in to help me find the driver, and I immediately outed myself as a tourist and an American by trying to get into the driver's seat (passenger seat at home).

Then there was the drive to the hotel. Think of any movie scene you've ever seen about driving in India, it's really just like that--lane markings are merely suggestions, making left turns from right lanes is a well-developed skill, and flashing red traffic signals? Those just provide ambient lighting, because no one stops at them. I apparently wasn't too worried, though, seeing as how I kept drifting off during the drive.

And the horns! Everyone always seems to be honking at something, and it seems more of a Morse Code form of communication than the you-dumbass-you're-about-to-cause-an-accident way we use the horn in the US. Drivers here mostly honk when they're over taking something, whether it's a truck, a car, a rickshaw, a pedestrian, or a cow--it's sort of like saying "I'm here, I'm here, look out, I'm coming through." Except that there are just so dang many cars, someone is always passing something, so there is always a cacophony of horns.

Pretty accurate, including the music. Just put a couple of huge stickers in the front window so you can't really see where you're going, and picture it on a 6-lanes expressway.

I am so thankful I had a driver, but the experience did help me understand why drivers in Fremont, CA (with a high percentage of Indian and Afghan residents) drive the way they do. It also made me realize how much of an effort those foreign residents were making toward following American rules of the road.

This morning, I looked up my work office online and realized it was only about 2 blocks from the hotel, so I decided to walk it rather than get a cab. On the one hand, I'm glad I decided to venture out on my own, on the other hand, I came to realize how woefully unprepared I am for doing just that. When I first decided I would walk, I was picturing a city like any other city. Maybe it would be bigger and busier, like New York City, and maybe it would be unorganized, but I was not fully prepared for the chaos.

The first thing I noticed when I set out to walk to work (in heels, low heels, thank goodness); there are no sidewalks. The berm is overgrown and something of a trash depository, so all foot traffic walks in the street with all the car traffic. I passed someone feeding a bull in the streets. I wanted to take a picture, but I also didn't want to stop on a busy street to do it. So, no photo. I bought a vada for breakfast from a street cart.

While I was buying the vada, I showed the cart vendor the address I was trying to find and he indicated it was back the way I came and kindly communicated on my behalf to arrange a rickshaw.

English is not nearly as widely spoken as I previously believed, and every time I would try to speak English to someone who spoke Hindi back to me, I would switch to speaking Spanish, the only other language I speak with any fluency, which most definitely did not help communication at all. I am learning, though, that the Indian head wobble-bobble means "I understand" or "yes," and I just hope that they understand what I am actually trying to communicate. It would be very helpful to know some basic Hindi phrases, though, everyone has been patient and helpful as I muddle along.

People at the office seemed very surprised that I got to work in a rickshaw. At first I thought the look they were giving me was because it must have a touristy thing to do, but when I told them I had started out on foot the look changed to more of an "are you stupid". I've been told, under no uncertain terms that even though it is only a couple of blocks, I am not to set out on foot to or from the office; they will provide a car to pick me up every morning at the hotel at 9:15 and will arrange for a car back to the hotel in the evening. If I want to go anywhere else, I am to let them know and they will make all the arrangements.

Part of me does not want to be shielded from getting out and experiencing daily life in India, but as a woman traveling alone, the other part of me appreciates the concern.

Jet lag started setting in around 3:00pm and I called it a day just before 5:00 and went back to the hotel. My plan had been to stay up until evening to try and reset my internal clock, but I ended up napping for a few hours. I also ended up at the McDonald's downstairs to get a bite for dinner. Oh, it has been sooo long since I've had McDonald's fries. And there is no beef to be found on the menu--the Big Mac is instead made with chicken, the Chicken Maharaja Mac, and most sandwiches have a veggie or paneer option. I ended up getting a spicy chicken wrap and learned that McDonald's spicy chicken is way spicier in India than in the States.


  1. Thank you for writing so much! Awesome to hear how it's going. And yes follow the rules this time about getting to the office and site seeing!!! :D

  2. Glad to hear that your first day was relatively uneventful. You know that cows are sacred in India, right? That's why you see them on the streets - they get to roam wherever they wish. So any beef cravings you get will have to wait for your return to the US. Too bad you're not a fan of Indian food - I wish I could be with you just to sample local cuisine! :D

  3. i am a fan of Indian food well hell truth be told, i am a fan of ALL food. I am so excited for you. Are you getting to talk to Scoob while you are gone and how is he taking all of this in?