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!

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Decorum

This morning around 10:30am, I was walking down a residential street in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland, California and passed by a fifty-something man wearing a bird mask.  Later in the day, I drove through the suburb of Walnut Creek and saw a couple of preppy teenagers wearing slutty bee costumes, and it was only then I realized it was Halloween.  But really, it may as well have been any other day as far as that middle-aged bird-man possibly attending a residential Halloween party at 10:30am in Oakland was concerned.

In Oakland, this eclectic city of artists, techies, academics, potheads, yoga practitioners, community organizers, foodies, gang members, and/or hipster refugees from the midwest, I have walked around wearing pajamas, three-piece suits, and heavily blinged out salwar kameezes alike, without garnering any sort of reaction.  A few miles away in the Castro district of San Francisco, senior citizens regularly walk around stark naked and no one bats an eye. Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco together have more than a dozen annual street fairs dedicated to kink and/or weirdness.  In these cities, you will never be able to evaluate the level of education or income that a person has based on her outward appearance, clothing, or level/nature of daytime intoxication.  There is simply no correlation.

I know this near-immunity from standing out or being figured out does not apply to most of California or the United States or the world — but it’s always interesting to see what sorts of things seem to be flagged as oddities.  Somehow, without even opening our mouths, my sister and I on our 1997 India trip were always identified by street vendors as English-speaking and foreign-currency-holding.  We weren’t even dressed in western or trendy clothes or anything.  But I think my sister nailed it by guessing that it was precisely because we were wearing baggy salwaar kameezes from the 1980s that they were onto us.  What local young modern Indian women would be dressed so hideously unless their parents had left the country decades ago, passing onto them this anachronistic sense of decorum?

Speaking of decorum, a word I immediately associate with the Brits, I will be on my British Airways flight to London in less than 24 hours!! At last, my next update will touch upon actual travel experiences and the ways in which I’ve regulated my behavior behaviour.

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.