Monday, September 19, 2011

4700 kilometers from home...

"Slow down." My dad said to my brother, who was driving us to the airport. It was 4:30 AM in the morning.
"Some smart ass cops wait just around the airport at this time, waiting for people like us. They are sure to extract some cash, given that no one would like to miss a flight." he continued, "And, make sure the plumber comes and repairs the motor today. Take care of your mother and sisters"

Myself and my father are to board a flight at 6:30 AM from Chennai to Delhi and a 12 noon flight from Delhi to a foreign country. My first trip abroad. It was an official trip. We were importing some machinery for our industry. There was some excitement before the trip but as the day of the trip comes near, there is this lazy feeling to pack and leave. Happens to me on every trip. The same feeling recurs when coming back from any new place. Feel lazy to pack and go back home. A silly desire to procrastinate the journey.

Waiting in line for the security check at Delhi, i noticed this lady walking across counters showing some papers. I'm guessing, she had missed her flight and checking for the next flight for her destination. She was a little fat and as if carrying herself around was not stressful enough, She was carrying this heavy duffle bag which her 8-9 year old son was constantly kicking from behind. She must have been cursing herself for buying him those shoes with lights on them. He was apparently under the impression that the lights blink brighter based on the intensity of the kick. Mothers..... you got to hand it to them (leg it to them in this case). There is something with lines/queues in India. There should be a survey to find out what percentage of lines actually move. Either there are people constantly cutting in between, or one person standing to represent his whole joint family, or the people at the counter are working two jobs, one of which is outside the counter. Next was a 6 hour flight. The choices on the in-flight entertainment were so many that i opted to sleep rather than decide and sit through a whole movie. Sometimes i wish i knew just one language. We reached the destination and a long drive to the hotel where we settled for the night.

Next day we had a heavy continental breakfast at the hotel since my father had warned that getting "our kind of food" would be difficult for the rest of the day. We met the exporter who is sourcing the machines from different industries in his country. He took us to the bus station, booked us on a 3 hour bus to a nearby town where one our machines were ready for trial. Waiting for the bus to arrive, i casually glanced around and felt, "This is strange, i don't feel like i'm in some other country." Apart from the faces around us, there was nothing noticeably different. It was as if i was in a different city in my own country. A more developed city perhaps. Huge, creatively designed architectural sights were everywhere. It looked a lot cleaner than my city. Not that i'm complaining. One thing that i felt strongly was that whatever was done in this country was done well and complete. For instance, every street light worked and they glowed with the same intensity. Whereas, from where i come from, there are no street lights in some places, half of the available do not work, some of the other half are stolen and the very few that work glow with different brightness and colours. That description actually sounds like a city of disco lights. Anyways, the point is that even though there were these differences, i didn't feel alien here. i did not realize that my skin colour was different from theirs. There was no awkward stare from anyone. Seemed like a very comfortable place.

Then it happened. My first purchase. We needed some water for the journey, so i went into a nearby departmental store. Chaos. There were so many 500 ml / 300 ml bottles of substance that looked like water but the fancy labels and writings suggested that they were something else. Except for the numerals, nothing else was in English. I took one of them and went over to the counter and asked the lady (a pretty one) if this was indeed the elixir of life. For which she typed the numerals 2 on her calculator and passed it on to me. I tried my hand at sign language for which she raised her hands in surrender. Lesson learnt: English is not their second or third language and the calculator is a very very effective tool for bargaining in a foreign country. I took 2 of those bottles along with a soft drink which i identified by a familiar logo and a packet of biscuits who's manufacturer got a wild idea of having a picture of the biscuit on the wrapper rather than pictures of dolls and rabbits like the others. Then we were off on our journey. the bus was scheduled at 11:30 AM and when the digital clock in the bus struck 11:30, the bus started backing out of the station. Out of curiosity, i tried to switch on the reading light over my head. They never work in the buses in my country. And what do you know, it did not work there either. I had a silent fist pump before moving the curtains to get the view of the city and the journey ahead.

On one of these bus journeys, i was seated next to one of the locals. I had this app on my mobile which translates from english to their language. Tried my hand at that for a while and made conversation but it was only one way. By the time I figured out a way for him to type in his language, he seemed annoyed by my enthusiasm. By the time we reached our destination, I ended up spending around 700 bucks on the gprs used for translation and download to know that he was 30 years old, was married and had a girl child. Who said information is cheap??

Through this visit to this beautiful country there were a number of things that i observed. First, the architecture is just amazing, an uncle traveling with us had said, "Whatever images or ideas these people get in their wildest dreams, they just build it". There is a 34 kilometer bridge across a water body and at 17 kilometers from either end, attached to the bridge on one side is this beautiful looking complex. I was wondering how they bought the area to build it? The buildings on normal land were no less. All the places we visited made us feel this presence of human creativity and hard work around us. The lights, the cleanliness, the way trees were uprooted from someplace and then planted as a whole in the place they desire, how they managed to grow plants around concrete posts at heights of 7 feet from the ground. A treat for the eyes. There were so many unique sights that would have looked so awkward and out of place in my country. Sights like men rolling up their t shirts till their chest to showcase their paunches (it was end of summer time), mini skirt and shorts were the uniform for the ladies, Queues at bus stands, small Children with their clothes vertically slit at the bum portion so that they can pee or take a dump comfortably when they want, large smoking population (smoker's paradise actually. every building, office, meeting room is built in such a way that people can smoke inside. And the people we met, offer cigarettes even before we shake hands), sexy looking cars of a million brands, two wheeler taxis, Chicken legs (not the type we get here in India), multi level bridges, bus stations where you board on the second floor and the busses come straight out from there and join the road through a bridge, large number of electric bikes, warm tang juice at buffets, etc. By the time I started noticing these differences and to enjoy the sights and sounds of this country, we were back at the airport staring at similar looking faces which were to travel back with us. Business trips suck. Sometimes I wished I had my whole family with me or a group of friends. I guess a place is defined or remembered by the people around and with you as much as the buildings, geography or climate. Thats why they say "Home sweet home".

On a serious note, during a recent flight, my father lost a gold chain he had kept in the check in luggage. I heard a similar story from another person about his watch and camera going missing from the check in luggage. I think there is something fishy going on in the airlines. Wonder if this is how they make their ends meet!!


  1. :)
    OK, two things:
    one, the country name pls :PO
    second, pls change the bakground of the blog. Its pretty hard to read. Seriously...

  2. My guess is...Shanghai or someplace nearby in China....

  3. Actually i had left out the country name intentionally...
    and the background is changed. hope its better now...