Sunday, October 28, 2007

First impressions

I had a good, relatively uneventful trip from Seattle to Bangalore. It consisted of three flights - to Taipei, then Dehli, then Bangalore. I was way less overwhelmed than I expected to be. It was pretty easy just to take things in stride. Dehli was a little nuts, but in an okay way. I don't feel jet-lagged at all either, though we'll see how I feel tomorrow morning. Here are some random first impressions:

  • There were a bunch of dudes at the Dehli airport with really big guns - guns that looked like they belonged in a museum. I'm not sure if that should make me feel more or less safe. :)
  • I've only seen one other white woman so far in India (and actually there weren't very many women out and about at all), and feel like I definitely stood out for being young and white and female and traveling alone. I didn't exactly feel threatened, just conspicuous.
  • Just because we all speak "English" doesn't mean it is easy to communicate! My driver asked me what percentage of his English I understood. I told him about 75% and he was pretty happy with that. My ears will have to adjust, which is fine.
  • My baggage arrived! Now y'all just pray for the boxes I shipped to get here safe and sound, and I will be a happy camper.
  • So here was the surprise portion of my trip: Turns out there are two airports in Dehli, an international one and a domestic one. They are across town from each other and I arrived at one and found out I had to get to the other in not-a-lot of time. Nobody felt the need to make this explicit to me, though, they just kept wordlessly pointing me through a series of dingy corridors. Finally, someone waved me outside to go wait for a bus that would take me to Terminal One. (I was picturing something like a shuttle that would take me to the other end of the airport.) I waited and waited and waited, attracting a flock of men who were hanging around on their lunch break. One of them, a taxi driver (or maybe just a pimp for a taxi company), asked me if I'd like to take a taxi rather than a bus. I declined, but when the bus was late I asked one of the other men, "So a bus will be here at about 2:00, right?" "Maybe." "Maybe, huh? So how will I know if it is coming or not?" He shrugs. "They don't always show up in the afternoon. If the bus doesn't come you take a taxi." So I took a taxi, and think I got ripped off for it too - I'm not sure. I don't really care. It was a fascinating ride through Dehli and I finally made it to the domestic airport.
  • Everything you've heard or would imagine about traffic in India is true, and then some. There seems to be a high level of trust in the laws of physics and the best case scenario. For example, theoretically there is no problem with four vehicles wedged into three lanes travelling abreast around a traffic circle at 50 miles an hour, right? They just don't see the need for the same margin for error that drivers in the US do. It's simple physics, really. If you're driving and you can observe how fast a bicyclist crossing the street in front of you is going, and you know how fast YOU'RE going, there's really no need to leave more than a few inches of clearance, RIGHT? The horn is used liberally and lane markings seem to be optimistic suggestions. The passing maneuvers would take your breath away. (They did mine, even though I tried not to show it. Best not to watch too closely.) Seriously, though, how would you design a multi-use thoroughfare that could accommodate cars, trucks, motorcycles (helmets? what are those?), buses, bicyclists, tricyclists, pedestrians, auto-rickshaws, cows, elephants, and the odd weird flatbed wagon thing? When you consider what they're working with, it's not so bad.
  • The security guard at my apartment building is drunk out of his mind. I'm not sure if a drunk security guard is better or worse than no security guard.
  • Bottom line: I'm really excited to be here. It's gonna be big. I miss you all already, though, and can't wait to talk to you soon!

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