Saturday, October 4, 2008

"If you look at Bombay from the air . . . you get a sense of its possibilities. On the ground it's different."

Post by: Beth
Disclaimer: This post is extremely long, making it not for the faint-of-heart. Feel free to read in sections. ;)

So we are safe and well in Bombay, as many of you know from my limited emails, Facebook posts, text messages, etc. We’ve had sporadic internet access, so that combined with how busy it’s been means no blogging obviously… until now! I decided to go ahead and write the first post, and then hurriedly publish it during a time we had internet so I can get photos up. They’re already piling up – I’ve taken over 100 pictures so far (omg I sound like my mom….) but am sparing you and not posting all 100. There is so much to capture in this city, and there are sights and pictures words just cannot paint. I’m making a commitment during our time here to post as accurate a view as possible – this means the good AND the bad, so I’m going to photograph and tell of the gritty parts as well as the shiny parts.

That being said, Raja and I have sort of developed two mottos here that are helping us adjust and take everything in as best as possible:
1) You really do have to take the bad with the good here. There is simply no way to have only the good. We already feel as though we’re in a bit of a bubble… We are staying in a serviced apartment that has a hotel-like feel to it. People come in and clean each day, we can order room service at any time, the exterior and interior are both very nice. Some of the restaurants and shops we’ve visited have been incredible – some even seem to be held to a much higher standard than what’s considered “nice” in the U.S. The service in nice stores and restaurants is like nothing I’ve experienced before. People cannot wait to make you comfortable, smile at you, refill glasses, replace your napkin, make a chocolate milkshake even though it’s not on the menu, etc etc. It’s actually surprisingly easy to forget we’re in India when we’re inside at some points. But all that changes with one step outside.
2) You cannot possibly come here and try to compare it to anywhere you’ve lived before (for most people). It truly is a different world. If you come here and expect the roads, the buildings, the people, the day-to-day life to be similar in any way to what you’re used to, it’s going to be almost impossible to adjust.

Being here and trying to adjust to all the changes has definitely been slightly overwhelming, as expected. Many times we’re in the car, it’s silent, because Raja & I are both looking out the windows, trying to take in and register what’s going on around us. I’ve been taking the camera most places with us, and sometimes I get so sucked in to watching and observing that I forget I should be taking pictures to show everyone. Some of the times, I really can’t believe what I’m seeing and how different it is. Other times, I’m surprised by the blatant and numerous influences from the west. Some of the photographs I’ve taken so far reflect both instances, but overall, it’s been so different that I had trouble figuring out the best way to lay out the photos for our friends & family to view. (“Should I do it in chronological order… in categories… just post them on a photo-sharing site?... etc) I decided to post them sort of in categories so I could also explain some of them and compound the photos by things we’ve seen that I didn’t get to take a photo of (Most of my pictures so far have been taken from the safety of the car, so if I miss a shot because of the car going too fast, I’m just out of luck.)

To start with, we left New York in the evening. As we flew, we passed through the rest of night, then into daylight, then back into night. So we took off AND landed in the evening (both at 9pm actually). I’m not sure if that made the effects of jet lag better or worse... Could be good because it felt continuous in a way, but could be bad because we slept through the daylight hours, so we had almost 24 hours of darkness. Sort of a strange feeling. J At any rate, we did get to see the sun setting after we woke up, and it was beautiful from the plane, despite the fact hat we probably missed the best part when it first began to set. I also got to take a picture of the first star I saw in India! (You can see it in the 2nd picture below… The shiny point on the engine is not another star – just a light on the engine casing. The only star is that one shiny point above and to the right of the engine.)

Yes, we had officially entered India by this point, but we still had no idea what to expect after we touched down. The airport was a bit of a jolt for me, and actually a bit of nostalgia for Raja. The last visit he made to India was almost 10 years ago, so he seemed really surprised and said that it smelled exactly like what he remembered. I couldn’t really smell anything, but I guess it’s this subtle thing he remembered from visiting so many times when he was younger. For me, it was a lot of noise, chaos, and instructions in another language I couldn’t understand. (All I know is they weren’t saying “Hello, how are you?” “Please listen” “I speak a little bit of Hindi” or “I am very well today” because those feel like the only Hindi phrases I can still say or understand amidst all the super fast talking and slang terms they use. Unfortunately for me, Indian people don’t seem to use these phrases very much. I, however, am like a parrot with these few beloved phrases.) Luckily, Raja busted out some Hindi from SOMEWHERE and was able to talk with the people that helped us with our bags, the rental car and driver that were arranged, and some of the airport officials. I think once I got a second to catch my breath and stop staring around wildly and emerge from the yelling crowd, my first complete thought in India was “What?? What is going on here… This truck is moving, but there’s no one driving it!???” A few seconds later, I realized that Indian drivers sit in what we consider to be the passenger seat. It also did not take long to realize that when people told us there were really no hard-and-fast traffic rules in India, they were not lying. Trucks, cars, animals, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, taxis, autorickshaws… EVERYWHERE. No paying attention to any of these “lanes” I’m so familiar with. No certain direction they must go when on a particular road. No problem with U-turns, anywhere, at any time. And a lot of honking of the horns. Almost constant honking of the horns. I’m not sure which vehicles have the right of way, seriously – it could be cars, but I’m not sure. Trucks surprisingly get left behind, seemingly due to their size and inability to wedge themselves in to tiny gaps in traffic. Sometimes motorbikes seem to get the go ahead. And many times, it’s the animal (sheep, goat, cow, horse, you name it) crossing the road that seems to be the highest bidder at that auction for the right to pass.

The drive to our apartment/hotel was actually quite alright … The driver of the rental car was very nice, spoke English, and came equipped with bottled mineral water for us. He had no trouble finding the address, so we mainly got to look outside at the streets, roads, and neighborhoods. First impressions: crowded, tons of people in the streets, lots of noise. We’d be riding along and all of a sudden we’d be in the middle of some festival taking place in the streets: drums thumping, women in glittery saris dancing to music, children running and laughing. I also got a very sudden glimpse into the poverty we’d heard so much about. All along the drive, we saw families fixing their cots on the sides of the roads; bathing in washtubs filled with muddy water, children without clothes on, and hardly anyone fixing their beds for the night had the luxury of shoes. In America, so much of the country tries to hide its homeless or struggling. Here, there’s simply too much of it to hide, it seems. It’s all out there, and if you look away from it, you’re merely greeted with it on the other side of the street. For better or worse (they are pretty dark and from a moving vehicle), here are many of the pictures I was able to snap on the way to the apartment.

For everything that's different about this place, there are 2 things that look pretty familiar here: gas stations and billboards. :)

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to post some of the pictures from our apartment and also show some of the roads around where we live. The transportation methods here alone are so different from what I’ve seen in the States, so I took a few pictures of how people get themselves and their belongings from Point A to Point B. Check back soon… : )
We hope you’re all doing well!


Wishful Thinking said...

Beth can I just say that your posts are always so full of information and so well written that it's almost as if I'm right there with you experiencing it!

- Karen

Big Cuz said...

WOW! That is about all I can say! I am in awe at what you must be experiencing right now, as well as jealous... I would love to see all of the sights there (good and bad) I am so glad you are there documenting everything for ME!!

The Freeman Family said...

I am glad you made it safely.

On a lighter note....did the Derby hat make the trip to India? I don't sleep to well at night and for some reason I started wondering how you would pack that. =)

Stay safe and enjoy your time in India. Where to after India?

Rhonda Walker said...

Hey Sweetie, thanks for the post. I have missed seeing things that you write about. Your perspective on here seems to be a little different from the phone calls but I can def. see why. Goodness it is a crowded place. Aww the poor children don't have clothes, now you know where I would be headed right? I'd be in the first store that had clothes they could wear and use all my money on them. I guess it's a good thing I am not there or we would be broke. I am really glad y'all are doing well. I do love and miss you both. Please take care! Keep those post and phone calls coming. I look forward to hearing from you.
PS. I have a clock on my wallpaper with the Mumbai time on it so I can keep up with what time it is so I don't call in the middle of the night.

John and Amanda said...

Yay! You made it! It's so neat to read about someone else's experience of living abroad, now that ours is coming to a close! Ours isn't half as interesting either because we got to use the miltary stores/dining places/etc...

I can't wait to hear more! Your post has inspired me to make the most of my remaining 3 months in korea! there is still so much I haven't taken pictures of or blogged about!

Beth + Raja Gupta said...

thanks, everyone, for our comments! :) i love knowing we have people that don't get sick of reading all our chatter!

lee -- no the big derby hat didn't make the trip .. bathing suits and shorts DID make the trip, but are utterly useless here :(

and don't worry mom -- you'll see the pretty things coming up soon :)

amanda -- you may not have been forced to eat only ethnic food and visit foreign supermarkets, but i haven't seen one pillow yet advertising who to call if you want this car moved. ;)

johnsmith said...

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is one of the most cosmopolitan city of India.You can enjoy the city in any way you like - from parties at its posh pubs and clubs, a relaxing walk on the beach, sightseeing antique monuments and building, art and festivals, posh malls and roadside bazaars, to nature trails near the suburbs. Mumbai can satisfy almost your every whim, if only you can bear a
city overflowing with people.