Jet Lag & Reminiscences

One week ago, I enjoyed my last day in Bombay.  I slept in, completed my packing with S’s help (true wizard!), had a divine lunch made by S consisting of shrimp dumplings, chicken dhansak, and patra ni machchi  (in my eagerness to devour the meal, I even forgot to take a photo! ), took a nap, and then had yet another feast at H Mavshi’s, with chicken cutlets, kothimbir vadi, prawn curry, eggplant, bhindi, and more! I said my good-byes over the phone and in person, feeling sad to leave this parallel universe of loving relatives that I rarely get to see; and then G, S, and O dropped me to the airport.  I went to the counter to check in my bags, and the airline rep told me that one of my bags was too heavy and I would have to pay an extra 3500 rupees.  I asked how overweight it was exactly, and she said it was over by 8-9 kilos.  What the what? Did I accidentally pack a child in there or something?  Anyway, so I paid the 3500 rupees, and from there, completed the international multi-step check-in process which apparently really does take three hours, and passed out on the plane.

I did not face any type of culture shock or adjustment issue in returning home.  I suppose that would have been kind of dramatic given that I was only gone for one month.  I was happy to see my parents when they picked me up at the airport and then also see my sister and brother-in-law on the way back to my parents’ place, where I spent the next two nights.  Unpacking from domestic flights is always such a drag — but unpacking from the UK and India was so exciting!  I eagerly removed all contents while reminiscing on my previous month, and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, eating, and watching Zee TV serials and and Vicky Donor (so good!) with my parents.  I came back to Oakland Sunday night, ready to get back to work starting the next day.

This India trip was such a different experience than all my previous ones.  Here are just a few reasons why:

– It was my first time going alone.  Most previous trips have been with my parents and sister, and the last one was with just my parents.  It’s fun to go as a family, and there is definitely more excitement building up to boarding the plane and waiting to meet everyone.  But there are also some limitations to this process, where I by default just accompany my parents in their itinerary of meeting people and going shopping or whatever.  This time I got to be proactive in making plans and forging direct relations with peeps.

– It was also my first time not going by Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines is way more fabulous than British Airways — but the London stopover was pretty great both for the relatively short flight times and for being able to chill in the UK and see my family there!

– On previous trips, my cousins around the same age bracket had been busy with exams or studying/working abroad or whatever, but now we had more freedom and flexibility to make plans together.  Of course, I did not get to see enough people enough times, but I will be back, and they better be coming here to visit too!

– Technology these days is the bomb. Whenever I had Wifi, I could use my smartphone to look up directions or book tickets or contact people on Viber/Whatsapp or arrange tweet-ups or check in on Foursquare (and become the mayor of not one, but two hotels, mmm hm!) — and M was kind enough to lend me her local phone so I could constantly text and call people to make plans.

– As alluded to earlier, I now eat meat, unlike my previous two trips.  I was twelve years old last time I was in India and unrestricted, and my gluttony had not yet fully evolved.  I really enjoyed my food this time.

– Despite my relatively newfound abandonment of dietary inhibitions, I apparently weighed a million pounds more last time I was in India.  I had no idea the difference was so drastic, but several people complimented me in essence with: “You used to be such a fat-ass!”

– Although the roads and honking behavior are as crazy as ever, I feel like the general behavior of people in lines and at airports and in public spaces is more polite.  I remember last time feeling like people would constantly push and shove and not give any space, but I rarely had that feeling this time.

So, now it’s back to canned food and immigration petitions!

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Countryside Kingfishers

This weekend, I enjoyed my final vacation-within-the-vacation over a mini family reunion organized by cousin S at cousin G’s farmhouse in Malathe, a small village close to the village of Tala in Maharashtra.  The land is no longer used for prawn farming like it was when I last visited it in 1997 and is now more of a getaway home. There are caretakers in the neighboring home who raise chickens and come in and help cook meals when there are guests. Sister-in-law M also lends her culinary craft to the kitchen, and nephew O is close friends with the caretakers’ children, so he is always excited to come down and hang out at the house.

I got a ride to the house with A, A, and V.  The drive took around four hours from Bombay, and it was interesting experiencing a sudden transition from loudly honking cars packed across the highway to a much lower volume of traffic, goats, and cows on windy two-lane roads.  We stopped by a liquor store to get some cool beer along the way, and we were welcomed with a chutney-filled pomfret once we arrived at the house, which paired absolutely perfectly with the Kingfisher!  To make the picture even more perfect, we then spotted some pretty kingfisher birds, among many other types!  My sister missed out on birdwatching, her favorite sport!

We went for a drive in the evening which was really cool and pleasant, albeit quite bumpy and windy.  I started getting a headache and having delirious thoughts and wondered if I was going to have a life-altering revelation.  It turns out I just had to puke.  I’m not sure if I drank some bad water or got motion sickness or just ate too much or some combination of them all, but I felt much better and less likely to have a revelation after I puked (I’m not the type who desires a sudden life-altering revelation; I prefer for wisdom to enter me more insidiously).  After popping some Tylenol and taking a brief nap, I was ready to spring back up with a vodka cocktail and chicken curry and about five billion fried vadas.  Yum!!!  It was so fun to have this rural night out with family members of my generation, hanging out on the deck and eating and laughing and looking at old photos and listening to chirping crickets.  It would have been even better if all of the cousins could have made it, but there are many more trips to come!

This morning after chowing down on some idlis and dosas, we walked around the farm and learned more about the uses and history of the land.  We then ate another delectable meal featuring prawn curry and then headed back into Bombay, rounding off the evening with a delicious meal at H Mavshi’s place.

Somehow I have come down to the last four days of my trip!  There are a few relatives I still need to try and catch up with, and I’ll finish shopping and rounding up the items that my parents have requested.

Oh yes, and I will also check out Gold’s Gym!

Connecting, Reconnecting, and Reloading in the UK

In just a little while, the test results concerning the fundamental sanity of the United States will be out.  If I were at home, I would have been watching the presidential election coverage, armed with a bottle of wine to enhance my growing state of revelry or despair.  But now that it’s getting late into my last night in London, I will just keep surveying and reloading Facebook for updates concerning my home country’s fate for the next four years; my Facebook friends are the most credible news source anyway.

In matters of more certainty in revelry, I am having such a fabulous time in the UK!  The flight out from SFO on Thursday was smooth and didn’t at all feel like it was more than 10 hours.  Upon arriving at London Heathrow on Friday morning, I got my bags, sailed through customs, and hopped on a National Express coach to Wales.  After riding through the lush, quaint countryside with views of many brick buildings and grazing sheep, I arrived at the Bridgend stop, where my cousin S picked me up to spend the weekend in her lovely home.  I got to see my brother-in-law V for the first time since their marriage almost 15 years ago, and I met their two delightful children for the first time (the first in our family to have Welsh/British accents)!  Even though it was my first time in the UK and I had barely seen this part of my family, I felt immediately at home with delicious homemade biryani, and a poster, song, and dance prepared by the kids!

On Saturday, the family took me to the Big Pit to tour a historical coalmine.  Before we were allowed underground, we were provided belts and helmets containing a light bulb.  I thought these artifacts were sort of a cute touch to romanticize being in a coalmine — but it turns out this was the real deal, and those lit up helmets were really quite essential to prevent our skulls from cracking while crouching through the various windy, dark underground tunnels!  It was interesting and heartbreaking to learn about the working conditions for the mine workers, who began working at age 6, and their families, who had to do their best to prevent and ward off disease and infection.  After wandering through the pithead baths and the mining galleries, we grabbed some food in the canteen.  I tried a traditional Welsh Cawl, a simple but tasty dish consisting of lamb, carrots, leeks, and potatoes.  We went to a charming pub called Caesars Arms in the evening which had tasty food, not least including the delectable sticky toffee pudding.  On Saturday night, we got in our pajamas and played tennis and “Just Dance” on the Wii, which was loads of fun, followed by a viewing of Rock of Ages (as in the Tom Cruise one), which I actually totally loved!

On Sunday, we checked out the Cardiff Castle, which is quite an exquisite site, modernly located across from a Burger King and Subway in Cardiff.  Each part of the castle is adorned with an amazing history of its own, including tunnels that had been used as an air raid shelter during WW2.  After seeing the castle, we got some yummy food at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Cardiff before I got on my train back to London.  I had such a great time with the family’s gracious hosting, and it was sort of surreal to have met my niece and nephew for the first time; I’m hoping they will all visit us in the Bay Area soon!

Once I arrived in London on Sunday night, I had another wonderful experience with reconnecting and first-time-connecting: I was greeted by my cousin M whom I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years, and for the first time met my brother-in-law R.  They graciously welcomed me into their stylish apartment, and once again, I felt right at home, catching up over scrumptious homemade food and Bollywood on the telly!  My friend H joined later that night, and we stayed up until late at night, excitedly discussing our upcoming activities in London and plans to travel to Bombay at the same time!

H had found out about Sandeman’s free walking tours, so M, H, and I decided to do one the next day.  We really lucked out with sunny weather and had such a great time on the tour!  It covered pretty much all of the tourist destinations of Westminster, such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament, and the tour guide did a great job weaving in wit, humor, and history.  H kept holding up the group with his persistent photo-clicking, but I am sort of glad he did, because we captured some amazing photos!

After the tour, we went to this pub, where we were joined by B, who had hopped in a couple nights before from Barcelona!  We all got fish and chips to get more in the mood of our current setting.  Unfortunately, the fish and chips were disgusting.  Now, I am by no means the world’s greatest proponent or practitioner of good nutrition, but this “fish” was just a nasty puddle of grease and bones.  We all ended up a bit sick and poor M had to go home, but B, H, and I persevered into the night to see some breathtaking views of the Thames, the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge.  We ended the night with dinner and a gay bar in Soho.

I slept in quite a bit this morning, and when I woke up, M and I got ready and met up with B for lunch near the Victoria station before B headed on back to Barcelona.  M then took me to the amazing shopping destination known as Harrod’s.  This building, including the architecture, lights outside, and all the displays along the exterior and interior, are all just spectacular!  We got in lots of quality time together over tea and OMG-worthy macarons at Laduree.  Then we walked around a bit in some other hoods, amazingly worked up more of an appetite, and then met R for dinner at Kadiri. What versatile and mouthwatering food!  After coming home, M and I partook of one of my most favorite at-home comfort activities: pajamas, green tea, and Gossip Girl!  Then I caught up on some work, packed to take off to Bombay tomorrow, and now here I am, blogging and awaiting news of Obama Round 2!

While waiting, here are some miscellaneous thoughts:

– People are generally dressed pretty well in the parts of the UK that I’ve seen.  I guess the climate here sort of necessitates jackets and scarves, which in some sense limits the scope of frumpiness, but still — everyone’s clothes seem ironed, and the people seem alert!

– I have instinctively immature reactions to things like a historical pub called Dirty Dicks and a tube station called Cockfosters, especially when announced in proper British accents.  I guess that reaction is a function of me being American and/or perpetually 12.

– Please come through for me, USA. And do it soon because I’d like to be done reloading for the night!

– I expected to gain weight during this trip, but it has happened so much more instantly than I expected.  I have gone from reasonably plump to bona fide pregnant with triplets in less than a week!  And Diwali is approaching in India! But, so is Gold’s Gym…

– My family is awesome, and  I couldn’t possibly be more excited to continue on the journey of connecting and reconnecting with them in my next stop: Bombay!

Regaining Meat Cred

The last time I was in India, in 2006, I was a flexi-pescetarian: I was fine with dairy, eggs, and seafood; and I would imbibe other animals in the form of broth, curry, or gravy, but not eat them in solid form.  I ate well, and I ate a lot — but my gluttony on this upcoming trip will take a whole new course now that I don’t confine myself to being any type of -tarian.

I first became full-vegetarian in my senior year of high school, largely influenced by my older sister who effectively conveyed the many planetary benefits of this conduct.  These considerations ring truer than ever today, especially with the way things go down in the United States, but I’m a jerk.

There is a widespread notion that vegetarianism is intrinsically linked with a general fervor for health and fitness.  Please. I have never been fatter or more unhealthy than in my freshman year of college, when throughout most of the year, I maintained a strict diet of cheesy sticks, double chocolate chip cookies, cheese enchiladas, malt liquor, and the occasional herb for good measure.  Then one day at the end of the school year, I went out for dim sum with several dorm floormates.  My family always used to go to this place and gorge on shrimp dumplings, fried crab claws, and other seafoody goodness — and now that I couldn’t have that, and there was no cheese or bread, I would have to eat… vegetables?!  Obviously I had no choice but to introduce seafood back into my diet for good.  Aside from the liquid flexi aspect I mentioned earlier, I maintained my pescetarianism for a good twelve years.

And then one day in my responsible grown-up life, while poring over a heap of H-1B files, I experienced the world’s most intense yearning for Chicken McNuggets.  I did not succumb to it then and there; I instead called my mom and asked if she could make me chicken curry.  But, eventually I did indulge in the original craving.  The Chicken McNugget is the gateway meat.  I mean seriously, how could you think you’re too good to have a locally sourced, organic lamb shank once you’ve gone there?

So, India. At last, we will meat again.

the state of u, i, and us

At the dawn of my thirty-second birthday, I am about to ditch my bachelorette pad and my job as a lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area for a month of travel to the UK and India.  This premise could have only been more romantic if I were recently divorced, white, and ascetically inclined (at least within the ambit of the mystical east) — but one thing I do share in common with the author of Eat, Pray, Love is the ability to decode what the modern-day English names of my destinations are obviously aiming to signify.  Whereas Ms. Gilbert traveled to three countries that began with the letter “I,” informing her that hers was a consummate inward journey, I am traveling to the UK, then India, then back to the US.  In other words, I am exploring the state of U, I, and US.

The UK has special theoretical significance to me as it is the land of my colonial forefathers, who spread their seed over both the United States, my country of birth, and India, my country of ancestry, leaving behind a lasting legacy of railways and repression.  I’m quite stoked to visit my cousin and her family in Wales, meet up with another cousin and her hubs in London, and also meet up with two friends who are coming from other locations.  It will be my first time there, and therefore it really will be like getting acquainted with U, a new person.

India is the place from which both of my parents hail, and where most of my relatives live.  I am brown, I love spicy food, and I was a multi-year spelling bee champion, so there is no doubt that India is the land of I.  However, with my limited first-hand exploration of the land, especially as a solo traveler, India in my mind has long been stagnated into a tableau that my parents have painted based on the 1970s India that they left behind.  This will be a time to challenge and expand that notion of I, to have that quintessential “American-Born Confused Desi (ABCD) exploring her roots” experience, where I will discover that India is a land of startling contrasts.  I am excited to reconnect with family members, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, if not decades.  Several wonderful cousin-bonding opportunities and excursions are in the works.  And I’ll finally get to experience a real Indian Diwali!

Oh yeah, while in India, I also plan to stalk the shit out of Bollywood.  During my first week in Mumbai, I have booked a stay at a hotel in Bandra, for obvious reasons.  To spell it out, some ABCD chick not too long ago started working out at Gold’s Gym in Bandra; today, she is John Abraham’s wife.  Apparently, he was attracted to the fact that unlike many women he encountered, she was unfamiliar with his star status.  I plan to work out at Gold’s Gym as well.  While I don’t have the lack of starstruckness to offer as an area of novelty, I do have a body type that will be mindblowingly unique compared to the usual Bollywood offerings.  I plan to leave India betrothed to Prateik Babbar and/or Siddharth Malhotra.

And finally, I will return to the US and try to situate and strengthen myself some more in the space of interconnectedness.  This is where my individual history all began: family, home, friends, school, career, community, and countless blessings.  But try and count them, I always do.