Saturday, September 30, 2006

SPECIAL REQUEST: Where should I go?

I need your help.

Here's the deal: The U(c) Pune Civ program is scheduled to run on the block schedule. That means I take three of my classes sequentially rather than simultaneously. Each class lasts three weeks.

Between the first two classes, we have a week long break. We are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the fact. if I needed any encouragement.

Anyway, I have narrowed down the possiblities to two areas of India to explore: Rajasthan and Kerala.

My major requirements are that I want to take a train trip and I want to see a tiger. Both fit the requirements while still managing to be about as a different as you can get.

I'm open to suggestions, but only through THIS WEEKEND. I need to make reservations by this coming Monday if I want train tickets.

So, public, what do you think?


Friday, September 29, 2006

You call this normal?

I just rode a camel.

I was in the Maratha caste neighborhood filming episodes three and four simultaneously in the middle of the festival of nine nights, and a group of kids ran up to me and asked if I wanted to see a camel. I'd never seen a camel up close before.

So they led me behind the float of Shiva, back through some alleyways between market stalls selling fruit and yards of cloth, right by some parked auto rickshaws, and straight to a two-humped painted beast chewing calmly on some grass.

Next thing I know; I'm on its back, and catcalls are flying in all directions, and I'm hanging onto the saddle for dear life.

...and this is now my idea of a normal day.

Riding camels.


Speaking of a normal day, my day-to-day schedule here in Pune now looks something like this:

-Wake up, shower, get dressed
-Eat breakfast at hotel restaurant with the rest of the group from Chicago. Breakfast usually entails idli, coconut chutney, sambar, veggie parkors, parotha, fresh pineapple and papaya, and a rotation of other dishes (the hotel is strictly vegetarian, which is pretty common in India). There's also cereal. If you choose to only eat cereal here, you have my sympathy.
-Walk over to class up Ferguson College Road.
-10:00- Beginning Hindi class.
-11:00- Chai (tea) break. I'm not kidding. We have tea time. Saucers and biscuits included.
-11:15- South Asian Civ class. Usually lasts two hours. Right now we're working our way through (relatively) recent Indian history through the Mughal Empire and British East India Company Raj.
-1:15 Classes over, we're set loose. Dinner is at 7:30 at the hotel and if we're not going to be there we're supposed to let the program know in advance.

So in the free time, I've been exploring. Thus the dancing in street parades, shopping in old town bazaars, seeing elephants in the streets, nearly getting myself killed by buses while riding an auto rickshaw, filming bhakti drummers, visiting 8th century cave temples, and of course, riding a friggen camel.

Granted, I'm also working; I have homework. I had a presentation on the caste system Wednesday, a response paper due Thursday, and two quizzes today. Monday I have a proposal for a seven-plus page final research paper due, the paper itself being due the week after that. Also every day we're assigned a good chunk of reading for civ and an hour of practice with Devanagari (Hindi) script. Luckily I spent enough time at my job at the zoo this summer sitting behind a cash register flipping through Devanagari flash cards that the “hour” boils down to about twenty-five minutes or less.

Any U(c) student will tell you this is nothing compared to a normal workload in Chicago. If there's one thing we can do well, it's complain about how much work we have. We practice that skill every day, every chance we get. We're proud of it too. That and telling anybody who will listen that this winter isn't nearly as cold as the winter was our freshman year, regardless of when said freshman year occurred.

I digress.

India is fantastic, and I've been here barely more than a week. Tomorrow I go hiking in the morning, then more of the festival at night. More pics to come. I believe my first episode from India has arrived in the NBC offices by now so with any luck you will be able to see a bit for yourself soon!


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Landed.

Namaste from India! I'm here in my room after 20 hours in an airplane, five hours in a bus, and two days orienting myself in a city unlike any I've ever encountered.

The plane ride was longer than any I want to take ever again. I flew from Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Mumbai. The lamb curry, basmati rice and coconut pudding Air India serves is the best I've ever eaten while 30,000 ft above sea level. The headphones I got for the ride didn't work however, so I ended up watching a good number of Indian music videos with no sound. That was strange. Luckily I managed to get a little sleep on the way. A little.

We landed in Mumbai airport (much of which is made out of pure marble), crashed at a hotel that night, then set off for Pune by bus the next day. On our way here we drove over the Ghat mountain range. Explosion. Of. Green. It's beautiful out here. Waterfalls seem to be everywhere. Shrines dot the landscape along with half-finished apartment buildings, houses, hotels, shacks and huts. Watch episode two and you'll see it all.

Anyway we got to Pune and have had the weekend to explore. It took me more than two hours and six different banks to find a place where I could change dollars into rupees on a Saturday. Some of them pointed me to other banks, some of them pointed me to hotels. One told me to leave, sent someone to fetch me off the street, then told me to leave again. It wasn't until I got to the tiny travel agency where I had to first remove my shoes before entering that I had any luck. (Good rate too, even gave me a little extra when I came back again).

I've been to tarp-covered, animal-crowded, bustling Juna Bazar which has everything from shirts to knives to busted sega genesis controllers for sale. I've seen street magicians handle snakes, turn leaves into 100 rupee notes, and light bits of fruit on fire at a distance of two yards. I've seen goats, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and what looked like but couldn't have been a chipmunk running around the streets. And Cows. When I say Cows, I mean Cows. The capital C is not a typo. The horns on these Cows could skewer a small pickup truck.

There simply are too many sights, sounds, smells to describe here (especially smells).

Classes start tomorrow. I've just finished the first reading assignment, and now I'm going to head down to dinner. I'll load some photos from the drive over for you later on tonight.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

24 hours left in this hemisphere.

It's weird. I've spent half my summer getting ready for this trip. More than that, actually. And yet I still can't picture it. It's like I've been staring at this big blank space in my calendar that is now about to rush up and smack me across the face when I leave for the airport tomorrow morning at 6:00 am.

The hardest part of leaving is who I'm leaving behind. My suitcases aren't big enough to bring everyone I won't be seeing for the next quarter. (Except maybe my cats, but I'm not sure they'd appreciate spending that much time in the hull of a 747).

The fact remains that I will be leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport early tomorrow morning for Mumbai. There will be two stops on the way; total flying time will be about 21 hours. Once I arrive, I’ll touch base with the rest of my group from Chicago, and then we’ll head down to Pune. I’ll have the camera rolling all the way for you.

Next time I write, I will be sitting on the opposite side of the planet.

Until then,


PS. Here’s a description of the program we’re on if you’re interested: