E-mail From India...
November 21, 2007
For those who have been to India, this makes sense. For those who haven't:
Good name = First name (this term is actually explained quite well in the book I am reading right now -
Head wag = A bobblehead-like gesture that is quite confusing at first. You think it's an 'I don't know'
but it turns out to be more of a 'yes' (or as they like to say out here – 'Why not?').
Ganesh = My beloved elephant-headed deity. (Kristina – I know you feel me on this one!)
Ahhh…to be back in India is to readjust to the chaotic traffic of cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and holy
cows. As crazy and manic as it is though, it works. These guys know what they are doing. And I think
the patience-level of Indians plays quite a factor in this – the road situations would make even the
most patient Westerner lose their cool. But you won't find 99% of Indians to even be remotely ruffled in
these situations. The horn honking isn't an act of aggression out here; it's an act of saying 'Hey dude,
I'm going to be passing you on the right.' And you will never find the driver of the car that is getting
passed getting offended by this action – he will simply let the person pass. And that is why it works out
here. This kind of stuff would never fly at home – we would be like 'Oh no you di'int!' (this actually
sounds much better when verbalized than typed out).
Okay. Enough about the road/street scene out here. I wish I knew where to begin. After being here for
a month, you begin to lose count of all of the experiences – as everyday there is something (whether it's
good or bad) that you are experiencing.
First let me apologize for something. It turns out that I am pretty sure I lied in the last email that you
received from me. I spoke of the Indian wedding that we crashed. Christine and I were talking about it
the next day and realized that it was just a swank party that we crashed. This would explain the
absence of hennaed hands. This would explain women favoring dresses to saris. This would explain the
DJ playing hip-hop. Oh. And this would explain why we never saw a bride and groom. The problem
with this was that we justified crashing a wedding because the one side of family could always think we
were invited by the other side's family. But with this being a party held by one set of parents, I think
these two stray foreign white girls wearing saris with hennaed hands stood out a bit as people that
didn't belong there. All I can think was that we provided some people with a story for the next day or
at least some conversation that night as they watched us. Ahhh… now I have a clear conscience. I felt
so bad about lying about my escapades to all of you.
Hmmm… Where to start? Let's start in the holy city of Varanasi.
I am far from being some uber-spiritual person. But when we were in Varanasi, we went to Sarnath –
the birthplace of Buddhism. There were countless books of the Buddha-esque nature. But one in
particular caught my eye – 'What Would Buddha Do?' I mean could there be a better place to try to get
in touch with my inner-Buddha than in India? In this book, Buddha answers everything from what he
would do about the 'American Dream' to what he would do about noisy neighbors.
When Christine and I were out the next morning we needed a rickshaw back to our hotel. Nobody was
giving us a fair rate. I offered up my 20 rupees to another person (as that was the price we paid to get
out there) and one driver countered with 'two dollars' (the equivalent of 80 rupees). My response?
"You must think we're really f-ing stupid, don't you?" I said this partly laughing and partly irritated. In
the end we were all laughing and we got a 25 rupee rate. But one thing was for sure – Christina and I
agreed that Buddha would not have given that response. We had some brushing up to do on 'being
So in an attempt not to bore you with an account of everywhere I went and everything I did and saw in
India, I going to put a 'Would Would Buddha Say (WWBS – for short)' spin on it…
WWBS when seeing a mouse while sitting on the floor and having chai in a silk store?
He would say 'Mice are cute when they are in pet stores. Why can't they be cute in a dirty warehouse-
like place in an alley in Varanasi?'
WWBS when you can't find a hotel that isn't sold-out to save your life in the city while you are already
en route to on the train?
He would say 'No fear. The nice Indian man next to you will end up helping you out by calling his
colleagues and having them work some hotel magic. And guess what? You will end up staying at the one
you wanted because that is where all of their company's events are held.'
WWBS about getting ripped off by a holy Brahmin praying on the Gangnes (yet preying on tourists)?
(A bit more of the story goes like this – I was in a nice mood when the Brahmin waved me over. He
started painting on my forehead and I repeatedly was telling him I didn't have any rupees. He paid no
attention and then took me down to the ghat with flowers in my palms. He had repeat a lot of stuff after
him in Sanskrit – words that I could barely repeat since I couldn't understand them. He had me throw
the petals in the water. Then, in English, he told me I had just said in my prayer that 100 rupees was
what it would take to make everything come true. I was dumbfounded and could not stop laughing.
Having been truthful about not having any rupees, I called Christine over and told her to give me 100
rupees. Talk about getting taken by a holy man.)
He would say '100 rupees is a small price to pay to be blessed by a holy man. Not only that – the
experience in itself was quite worth it.' Oh yeah – he would also say that he was impressed by the way
I handled it. J
WWBS when seeing a dead baby floating in the Ganges River?
He would say 'Just pretend it's a doll floating in the water.'
WWBS when coming up empty-handed on a tiger safari?
He would say 'At least you got to see all sorts of deer, monkeys (and not those nasty Rhesus monkeys –
just to note, while in India I read two different accounts of people being killed in New Delhi by a Rhesus
monkey attack!), antelopes, a kingfisher (quite fitting as it is the mascot for the country's excellent beer
and airline) and a crocodile.
WWBS when rickshaw-wallahs everywhere are trying to rip you off?
He would say 'Girl, you are good! Way to walk away and have them coming to run after you each time.
Show them what's up!'
WWBS about enjoying temples with Kama Sutra sexual position carvings (in Khajuraho) more than the
temples in Angkor Wat?
He would say 'Don't worry, Jen. It's okay. This does not make you a pervert. Okay. Maybe just a bit.'
(These Kama Sutra-esque temples would be the reason why almost all of the rickshaw-wallahs said
upon seeing two girls traveling together 'Khajuraho no good without boyfriend'.) ***Disclaimer to the
kids I used to babysit for (Alex – So what if you drove me to the airport, tower several feet over me
and are going off to college next year…you're still a kid to me!) – I am including a pic from these
temples but in no way am I endorsing this behavior!
WWBS say about the beautiful silk duvet cover and pillow and cushion covers I bought? He would say
'This is good because one day (of course this 'day' is still yet to be determined) you will have your own
bed to put them on.'
WWBS about feeling like we were intruding on a mass Indian slumber party on concrete at the
Varanasi train station? And then having just about every person without an arm or without a leg come
up to us to try their shot at getting a rupee?
He would say 'If this doesn't make you appreciate what you have, I don't know what will.'
WWBS about delaying heading out to dinner to watch an episode of Seinfeld on Star World?
He would say 'This is good for you, Jen. After all, you quote this show so darn much you're going to run
out of episodes to compare certain occurrences with. So this basically ensures you don't run out of
WWBS when you had your friend buy the Bollywood movie that you saw last year just to watch it with
the English subtitles (that you didn't have last year) and find out what an incredibly cheesy movie it
He would say 'It's okay that you were the only person in the world that did not realize this. At least the
music was good. And, in a Bollywood kind of way, it really was a good movie.'
WWBS about picking up 9 kilos (about 20 pounds) of goods in India?
He would say 'How often can you buy a silk duvet cover with all the trimmings in India? And all of the
Ayurvedic products? And the reproduced books? Plus you have friends meeting you in Vietnam that
have already agreed to take the 9 kilos back to San Francisco with them.' (And because of this, I ended
up buying things for my friends as a reward for their favor which has increased the load to 10 kilos.)
WWBS about losing my only two sports bras in different hotels within the same week? He would say
'It's okay. Just go to one of the thousands of stores that sell bangles, shampoo, toys, face whitener,
underwear and Bozo-the-Clown inflatable punching bags and see if they have one there to buy.' (Sure
enough, they did! And you might be saying to yourself 'But Jen, you aren't working out. Why do you
need a sports bra? Let me just say that these are more beneficial while on many roads in India than
they are while running on a treadmill.)
WWBS say about the numerous people who take a deep breath just to have every bit of snot lingering
in their nose go straight back and down their throat and make the nastiest of noises?
He would say 'You're right, Jen. That is disgusting.' (I understand that you do what you gotta do when
tissue is a luxury in your culture…but it doesn't change the fact that the sound is like nails-on-a-
chalkboard to me.)
WWBS about passing up going to Sanchi (an UNESCO World Heritage site of temples and, most
notably, a stupa) when it is really close to where you are staying?
He would say "It's okay, Jen. Staying at your hotel and getting Ayurvedic massage treatments is still
getting a taste of the Indian culture. Also what a great way for you to relax while in India. After all, you
have seen your fair share of religious places already.'
WWBS about the only reason why I was so excited to see the kingfisher bird on our safari was because
of my love for the Indian beer (to my friends who know me best – can you believe that I am actually
this fond of a beer?) and Indian airlines of the same name?
He would say "You hate birds. If that is going to get you interested in a bird, then go with it."
And here are just a couple other sights that stand out in my mind from my time in India. As I thought
at the time, 'Only in India…'
A bizarre scene at a mall in Varanasi where there was a McDonald's that was jam-packed. And it wasn't
for these people to get their masala chicken patties. It was to see the man of the hour – Mr. Ronald
McDonald himself. You would think it would be lots of kids, right? Nope. Mostly all grown men listening
while Ronald was addressing everyone in Hindi. Who knew about Ronald being bilingual???
Stumbling across a Bollywood film shoot. Seeing a nicely made-up cow wearing beautiful garlands. And
then watching the cow get restless and runaway. And then watching the handlers have to chase this
somewhat dressed-up cow around the temple where they were filming. The crew (most of whom were
European) couldn't help but laugh either. (It was also during this filming that it dawned on me how
incredibly tedious being an actor would be.)
Being in a taxi in New Delhi and having a kid come up to my window to try to get some rupees out of
me. Then having the kid slide my window open while my taxi driver was telling him to stop. Having the
kid test his luck one more time before my taxi driver got out of his car and started running after the
kid. The kid ended up fleeing. This was good as I know the driver wouldn't have had a problem being a
bit physical. Talk about entertainment during a red light!
And then there are the things you have to adjust to: Watching people constantly picking their noses and
having their fingers shoved in their ears. And then having them all want to shake your hand. But there
are certain things you won't find them doing with their hands – for instance, covering their mouths
when they cough, sneeze or burp. (I am not saying this is everybody. But it definitely seemed like the
It was funny watching people during my toy train ride holding their noses during the smoke smells. I
wanted to say 'Isn't this a breath of fresh air after smelling urine and feces on a daily basis?' (Don't let
this deter you from India – just know that it is a fact of life on many streets.)
I got reacquainted with my love of Bollywood. I saw a couple movies and have seven more CDs in my
repertoire (I guess one could say I have almost become obsessed). Let me put my personal shout-out
for 'Om Shanti Om'. Seriously, I am buying this when I have a chance!
My time in India concluded yesterday. The month took me to Delhi, Kashmir, Varanasi, Khajuraho,
Orchha, Bhopal, Goa (the beaches, the capital city of Panjim and the rainforest), Bangalore (now
officially renamed 'Bengaluru'), Mysore, Ooty and Cochin.
I took overnight trains, overnight buses (absolutely, positively painful! Let me just say that when they
tell you 'Very, very nice bus. Super deluxe A/C semi-sleeper Volvo bus.' – it means something a hell of
a lot different than it would in South America!), city buses, planes, ferries, toy trains, first-class
Shatabdi trains (this might as well have been an airplane ride it was so nice), private drivers, cycle
rickshaws, auto rickshaws and four hours of sitting on the back of a motorbike (the painful butt was
accompanied with a bit of fear when the owner of the motorbike kept telling me that he couldn't
properly see the road after the sun was long gone).
Last year I was looking forward to leaving India. This year I could have stayed longer. I almost felt a
bit rushed at the end and had to let certain places get pushed aside. Who knew that almost 5 weeks in
India wouldn't really take a toll on me. I ended in Fort Cochin which was perfect as that is one of my
favorite places I have visited in India (I went last year, too).
I have just arrived in Dubai. Talk about an entirely different world! But I guess you will hear more
about that in the next email you get from me!
I hope all of my compatriots have a wonderful Gobble-Gobble Day! Think of me while you eat your
turkey and cranberry sauce…and I will think of you while drinking in some bar in Dubai. J