India, one year on

Stalkery Crush Boy somehow came up in a conversation on Tuesday with my JTE, who gave me a wry smile and commented, “He seems very, very interested in you.” Nice.

I’m ready for the break to be here–I could use a break from classes, though at least these last ones will all be fun. Just to get out of my apartment for a while, I met Julie, Ashley, and Sally at Paparagi, that awesome new-ish coffeehouse in Mikamo, tonight. The owner is a really sweet lady; I beat them there, so I talked with her for about 10 minutes until they arrived. I love that she says, “Wow,” instead of the standard Japanese “Uwaa.”

So exactly a year ago, I was in India. I went from December 6th to the 16th–I would’ve timed it with winter break, instead of draining my nenkyuu, but I went to attend the weddings of two second-cousins, Prasanna and Prasad, who got married within 3 days of each other. (They’re brothers; Prasanna’s older.) It’s still hard to believe that a solid year has flown by so quickly…it’s also hard to believe that I remember the events leading up to the trip so vividly. December 5, 2005 was a rather insane day:

  • 3:00 – go out to wait for the bus.
  • 3:15 – start getting worried, because the bus is usually never this late.
  • 3:17 – go back inside my junior high, only to find the buses aren’t running due to ice on the roads, and all the taxis in town are already in use.
  • 3:30 – math teacher offers to give me a ride back to my apartment. I very gladly take him up on it.
  • 3:44 – I find a letter from ETS in the mailbox, but I have no time to read it. I stow it in my pocket and keep running.
  • 3:45 – as I’m dashing up the stairs to my apartment, so I can change my clothes and start hauling my suitcase down the 3 flights, my landlady calls to me from below and tells me I have a package. I know exactly what it is, but don’t have time for it–two Pirates of Dark Water cels that I won off eBay. I then also realize that my rent will be late, because I’d meant to pay it that day and it slipped my mind, and my landlady shrugs it off and says I can just pay it when I get back. I vow to get her something nice from India.
  • 3:49 – I find a surprise on my suitcase, of the welcome variety: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, with a note from Hannah. She’d used the spare key to my apartment and dropped off her second copy of the book for me (she received 2 as gifts) to take with me.
  • 3:50 – I’m changing my clothes in the tatami room, and I hear my front door open, see someone step inside, bend over, step back out, and close the door. I peek out once the door’s shut and see that my landlady brought my package up to me. I don’t have time to open it, but I vow to get her something really nice from India.
  • 3:55 – I wrestle my suitcase downstairs to where my teacher’s still waiting for me, and we stuff it and the gift bags for orphanage children into his car.
  • 4:00 – arrive at the post office, where the teacher helps me unload my things and then takes his leave of me so he can return to school. I’m watching my watch nervously because I have a train in 17 minutes, and there’s a line. I run into Nate, who looks obviously puzzled by my strange assortment of belongings.
  • 4:05 – successfully stop my mail, and dash out the door with my suitcase and gift bags.
  • 4:10 – arrive at the station and buy my train ticket.
  • 4:12 – realize that my suitcase is a bit heavier than I anticipated, as I’m trying to haul it up 32 steps.
  • 4:14 – an elderly gentleman gives me a hand with carrying my suitcase down the 26 steps to the platform.
  • 4:16 – I board the waiting express train, stagger down the aisle, and collapse into my seat.
  • 4:17 – the expected time of departure comes…
  • 4:27 – …and goes, and we’re still sitting there.
  • 4:28 – oh yeah, ETS letter! GRE scores. Oooh. 800 math, 590 verbal, 5 writing.
  • 4:30 – we finally leave. I’m glancing at my watch again, because we’re going more slowly than usual, and now I’m concerned that I may not make it to TOPIA before 6 PM, when they close, and I have to make it there to drop off my gifts.
  • 5:00 – we’re still woefully behind schedule. I start getting nervous.
  • 5:20 – I start frantically messaging people in the city–Andrew, Tracy, and Jenna, to name a few.
  • 5:50 – we arrive! The conductor must have really pushed the train to make it on time.
  • 5:56 – I make it up to TOPIA right as the staff is coming out the doors. Luckily, they’re very agreeable, and they hadn’t locked the doors or turned out the lights, so I’m able to drop my gifts off.
  • 6:00 – breathe a sigh of relief for the next hour. Go shopping on the 4th floor of Clement Plaza, and buy a navy-blue hat and blue/green plaid scarf. Have a burrito from Dave’s and a cafe latte for dinner.
  • 7:10 – make my way out to the bus platform.
  • 7:20 – board the highway bus for Kansai Airport. I’m the only passenger so far. I hear the guy say something about hitori, which I thought just meant that he was verifying that I was traveling alone, without any travel buddies.
  • 7:30 – the bus leaves, and I’m still the only passenger. It turns out the guy was saying that because I’m the sole passenger, I can sit wherever I want. The guy is driving this huge bus 3 hours just to take me and only me to the airport! I’m feeling a bit awkward, and I’m not quite sure if I should say anything to him, and I end up not saying a word for the duration, besides thanking him once we arrive at the airport.
  • 10:30 – arrive at Kansai Airport.
  • 10:40 – the airport shuttle for my hotel, the Ramada Kansai, arrives. I board, and we wait around for 5 minutes for any stragglers. A couple get on, neither of whom are wearing winter gear and look like they’re frozen solid. I count my fortunes over thinking to buy head/neck coverings at the station, because they came in really handy.
  • 10:45 – airport shuttle takes off.
  • 11:00 – airport shuttle arrives at the hotel. I check in and head upstairs, and strike up a conversation with a cute guy in the elevator. Arrive in the rather nice room, unwind, realize that there’s a built-in radio with several classical music stations and that it also broadcasts in the bathroom, leave one classical station on, and sleep. (I ended up waking up to the last movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto the next morning. It’s always nice to wake up to a familiar piece.)

The next day, I was off to the airport–I chatted with a girl in the airport shuttle who wasn’t really familiar with Japan and was really relieved when I told her the vowel sounds were pretty much the same as Spanish. I picked up my boarding pass from the HIS/No. 1 desk, checked in (this was the first time I’d heard the name Kota Kinabalu*, a town in Malaysian Borneo** where our plane stopped for an hour before reaching Kuala Lumpur; it was obviously major, because the plane went from being half-full out of Osaka to full-capacity out of this town), ate a waffle for breakfast at one of the restaurants, and then went to India for 10 days.

*I remember having to spend a while on Google to figure out the name of this place, because I couldn’t for the life of me remember it. It doesn’t help that there’s a town here called Kitajima, so I kept thinking the town was Kona Kitabalu, or maybe Kita Konabalu, or…you get the idea. It’s like those old Bugs Bunny shorts where he can’t say “prestidigitation” without mixing up the syllables.

**The only reason I even knew we were in Borneo was because I asked the headscarf-clad woman at the counter of the gift shop. She obviously thought I was kind of stupid for asking, though I asked it as humbly as possible, because I really just didn’t know. We all had to get off the plane for about an hour and then re-board to reach KL, and had to do the same on the KL-Osaka leg as well.

I still think about that trip often. I really want to go back, but I also want to see a lot of other places while I’m here, so…we’ll see. I’m still in touch with Raghu, brother of Prasanna’s now-wife Sushma, and I keep up with Sush through occasional conversations with Prasanna. I’m really glad to have them both in my extended family now. It was especially interesting viewing India through a slightly older set of eyes, and not being at all intimidated by all the staring the way I was when I last went in 2000-01 (which was also my first trip there in 16 years). India felt foreign in many ways then, but this time it felt far more familiar, especially after having lived in a rather distinct and separate culture for the last year. I know there’s a lot I still don’t know (and one of the relatives I met there was “kind” enough to laugh at me any time I made mistakes about customs and terms I’d never come across in the US–yeah, way to make me feel better, huh?), but I felt like I knew a lot more this time around. At the same time, the thought of someday traveling to India on my own kind of intimidates me, and I guess it shouldn’t, considering where I now am, right? It just feels like such a different ballgame, especially considering that I’m an Indian American and not an out-and-out foreigner, which affects how I’m viewed/treated by some people. Anyway, it’s something I’m sure I’ll take on in due time.

In short: India was and is still awesome, on many levels. I think the trip has definitely influenced my experience in Japan since then, and how I view the country and myself. I’m really looking forward to when I can go back, and curious as to how much it’ll continue to change my views and ideas with each subsequent visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *