Friday, 10 April 2009

A Taste of India

"India is like trying to read a serious book of history with the television on, the cassette player turned up high, the children yelping and neighbors quarreling. It is an acquired taste and if you don't get it, India is one gigantic headache," Abe Rosenthal, the famous New York Times editor, and an India lover.
I tried to wrap my head, more like mouth, around India. First it was Dosa. Then Chai Tea, Chapathi, Idli, Idiyappam. Some I liked. Some I didn't. Did it even matter? Seize the day! Live it up even in the most unlikely places.

On the contrary, maybe I didn't come to India to try to understand this place at all. Maybe I came for a more selfish reason, to learn about others in the hope of understanding myself. To learn more about myself through the eyes of others. For instance, my friend Mercy thinks I'm very simple. I don't wear a lot of make-up nor jelwery when I travel. To Indians, I'm incredibly plain. I don't even care much about going to touristy sites. I'd rather take a stroll in the park with her and her kids or just simply hang out with new friends. At this point, I'm more interested in the people. For instance, I rode on the bus yesterday with the kids from the AIDS Home, and they got so excited about something outside the window. At first I heard the word elephants. That's common enough for kids to be excited to see such big animals. But when I looked out, I realized they meant airplanes. Wow, when was the last time I got excited about seeing an airplane, more than 20 years ago perhaps. As a child, I used to make a wish when I saw an airplane. As a child, I used to get excited about the simple things in life like begging my mom to let me run around in the rain, digging a hole in the ground and hoping to come up on the other side, or dancing in front of the mirror and using my mom's make-up and putting on her dresses and high-heels.
I treasure the limited time I have with my friend Mercy, whom I consider to be my angel. I didn't like her when we first met in Indonesia ( I wrote about her story in detail in the Thailand(My Siam) blog). But this morning we prayed together on the rooftop of her house. We have an unlikely friendship. I dont' deserve to be treated like a princess in her home.

Pretty soon, I hope to be off to Bangolore or Bangaluru, if that's God's will and if I could get a train ticket. I'm planning to deviate from my original itinerary, such is the art of traveling, someone says. We'll see. It'd be cool to have another taste of India.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The AIDS Home

I was supposed to stay at a Christian family's house while volunteering with HOPE. But as expected, things didn't turn out as planned. The wife somehow got admitted to the hospital, so the husband didn't want me to stay there. So the wonderful Malar Prabath, HOPE Chennai coordinator, arranged for me to actually stay at the AIDS Home. It was a modest room, used as a storage, inside had a bathroom with a shower that didn't work and an Indian toilet. (I really have a thing with Asian style toilets, which make me cringe every time I think about them. But I'm determined to not let such discomfort get in the way of God showing me His glory in the face of poverty and suffering.)

  • I told them I'm from Thailand. They had no idea where it is. Malaysia, yes. Thailand, no.
  • They were quite fasinated with my pedicured nails I had done a few weeks ago in Bali. Despite the chipped paint, they loved the floral design and the red dot with the pink background.
  • The housing structure somehow made me feel like being in the Middle East.
  • I lost my appetite when I saw kids sitting on the dirty floor eating with their hands, like they'd scoop up rice with their entire palm.
  • They loved it when I took their pictures.
  • At night the girls taught me how to do Indian dance. That was really fun!
  • They told me about this American guy named Rocky, a disciple, who will be there at the end of the month. He had previously volunteered there for 3 months last year, fell in love with the kids, and will spend the next 5 years with them. I pray that someday I'll get to meet him, a man with the heart of gold!
  • I constantly found myself longing for first world comforts. That's why I'm amazed at Rocky's heart.
  • I'm amazed to see how God takes care of the poor and needy. The women whose husbands were dead due to AIDS have been nursed back to health and now have a job working at the Home. Their children are also being looked after by HOPE. Tireless, underpaid HOPE staff dedicating their lives to a noble cause. I salute you, all of you for your bravery, faith, and love despite your circumstances. You choose to live even though you know you are dying. But isn't that true for all of us?

Monday, 6 April 2009

Real First Impressions of India

At the time I'm writing this blog, I'm waiting for my 2 pm train in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India.
Here are my quick snapshots so far:
  • I saw a hugh rainbow this morning at 7 am as I was boarding the plane. It put a smile on my face for rainbows remind me of God's promises. I thought that was a great sign.
  • I stood out like a sort thumb on a plane full of passengers from South India.
  • I definitely got the stares.
  • The smell wasn't as bad as I thought.
  • The one and only ATM machine at the airport was out of electricity until 10 am. Then I asked the officer there if I should wait until 10 am to withdraw my money, since it was already 9.45. He flashed a white smile and said this one and only ATM machine also had no cash.
  • Trichy reminds me of Phonm Penh.
  • Every woman in this city wears sari. I wonder if it's a taboo to wear jeans?
Ok, after the snapshots. Here's a bit of a video clip of my first eating experience in India. Since I had 4 hours to kill, I decided to find a place to sit down, eat, and relax a bit. First I saw a hotel sign boasting to offer the best Indian hospitality. I walked in only to find out it wasn't a hotel but some kind of government office. Never mind the sign then. So I kept lugging my bags around, annoucing to the people that I was such a tourist. A few kids ran up to me and asked for money. I remember in some Indian movies that if you give some change to a kid, the whole village will run after you. So I politely declined their request.

Eventually I found a decent cafe. Still no air con. But I couldn't stand the heat and wasn't going to be picky anymore. I walked in, looked around, and saw that everything on the menu was in Tamil. So I simply asked for anything chicken only to be told that it was a vegetarian restaurant. But surely they must have Naan. No, the waiter told me. Then I asked what kind of food do they have. The first waiter must have sensed how pathetic I was and rushed off to take order from another table. A minute later, the second waiter came to my table and rattled off some names that I still had no idea what they were. All I could make out was something Dosa. Yeah, get me that, Dosa. He paused and gave me a puzzled look. Did I say something wrong? Then he dashed off again, and a few seconds later, a third waiter came to my table. Finally I looked over somebody else's table and pointed at what the boy there was having, a crepe looking thing. Just get me that please. You want Dosa? He asked. Yeah, yeah, that. Whatever it is, please give me one. Thank You.

I really hope to get some good sleep on the train. I'm beginning to feel somewhat suspended in time.

Transiting in KL

Last night I got in to KL. Siew Leng took me to see Shan's band performance. That was cool to see the creativity and musical talents of young Malaysians. They were having a good time, so was I. If that wasn't enough of a treat, later on, they took me to this restaurant called Look Out Point on top of a hill. Honestly, I didn't expect such a welcome. After a band then a mountain experience? I took the liberty of breathing in as much fresh air as possible, and hopefully cleaned out some of the pollution in my lungs. There were eight of us. I was so impressed by their hospitality and would love to come back here again and again. By the way, I got to dazzle them with my less-then-stellar Bahasa Indonesia, which is similar to Malay. A brother commented that he's never seen a Thai who's so Malaysian like me. Well, by now, I've sorta acquired the skill to blend in and out of a few cultures.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Rough Itinerary

If God's willing, I'll...

Mon April 6 - Leave for KL at 12 pm, have dinner with two Malaysian sisters, Siew Leng and Shan Shan, and spend the night at their house.

Tue April 7 - Leave for Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), India, at 7.40 am with Air Asia. Arrive in Trichy at 9 pm. ( I think there's a 3-4 hours time difference between KL and Trichy.)

- Somehow get to Trichy Train Station(TPJ) and catch the 2 pm Guv Chennai Express to Chennai Egmore Station (MS). Arrive in Chennai around 9 pm. My dear friend Ms. Mercy will pick me up. I'll spend the night at her house.

Wed April 8 - Somehow I'll find a way to the HOPE orphangage where I'll spend 5 days or so volunteering at the orphanage, school, and wherever else. During volunteer days, I'll stay with a Christian family. The room and board will cost Rs 1500 or about 30 USD.

Sun April 12 - Go to church and fellowship as much as possible.

Wed April 15 - Catch a late night train back from Chennai to Trichy.

Thur April 16 - Catch an early morning flight at 9.25 am from Trichy back to KL, arrive at 3.40 pm and spend one night there again.

Fri April 17 - Catch a 10.40 am flight to Bangkok. Arriving at 11.40 am. Then sleep for the rest of the day.

Getting Cold Feet

It's the day before my leaving for India, and I'm getting cold feet. A dear friend of mine almost talked me out of going , and we sorta started planning to do other fun things in Thailand instead. I'm also having second thoughts because I kinda got into a mild conflict with my parents over some cultural issues, with them being so Thai versus my American mentality. I'm still adjusting to this culture, and I'm not so sure I'm doing a good job at it. So things aren't completely resolved and from the looks of it, I'm guessing it'd take awhile for both my folks and I to accept each other. So the question is: Should I cancel my trip to India because I haven't been able to completely resolve the issue with my parents? I hate to leave on a bad note. I'm contemplating saying sorry again over the phone tomorrow morning, but they're having a hard time accepting it cos I still disagree with their reasoning on the issue. Huh! Maybe I need to read a book on how to get along with parents or pray to God for the wisdom and humility that I don't have.

At any rate, another friend convinced me to go anyway since it'll only be 12 days, and all the preparations have been made months ago. The worst fear is if something were to happen to my family while I'm gone. But that has always been my fear anyway, and isn't that all the more reason for me to trust in God's providence since afterall I'm not in control of anyone's life? And it may be good to let things cool down a bit so that I, too, may come to my senses. "Everybody needs a little time away," as the song goes.