Friday, March 07, 2008


Two weeks from today, I will board a plane to India.

I know, riiiiiight?

I am not a particularly adventurous soul, but after several conversations and a lot of contemplation, I realized that I really had no choice. It is an incredible opportunity, made all the more amazing by the fact that it is paid for by my company. Now, if they would just open up a branch in Tokyo.

I have fears, ranging from vaguely disturbing to really very upsetting. I won't quantify them, but I will list them. Being a whitey, I tend to assume that I am always in a state of general ignorance, whether it is about race, culture, or anything described as foreign. So, this list may cover things that are clearly naïve – I wouldn’t attempt to deny that. When I return, I will address each fear and let you know my experiences, perceptions, and everything I’ve learned.

1. The smell. This is not special to India…odor is a big factor in travel, believe it or not. I’ve heard that Moscow has a striking odor, solidified by the toxic levels of pollution. New York City also has a shocking array of smells that leave newcomers slightly nauseated and more than a little disillusioned. Chennai is a huge city, full of traffic and people, and it is going to be 95 degrees while we’re there. I’m betting on a memorable odor.

2. The poverty. It will be unavoidable. I hear that it is not as bad in Chennai as Bombay, but it will be there. Begging children will be difficult to bear. They say you see everything in NYC, but I’ve never seen dirty, naked, begging children. I’ve heard that is a possibility in India.

3. The heat. I am terrified that I am going to take a dive right in the middle of our business meetings/ tours. Which will suck.

4. The panic attacks. Being non-adventurous, it seems foolhardy to travel to a place like India, which is so different from anything I’ve ever known. If the godforsaken subway makes my vision go tunnel and my heart go BAMBAMBAM, what the hell do I expect to experience in India…or the eighteen hour plane trip, for that matter? One of my tricks is to bear down and start berating myself harshly in my head (“How can you be so weak? You are a fucking idiot, now suck it up” etc.) but it would be difficult to maintain that for eighteen hours. We’ll see how it plays out.

5. My boobies. And womany womanhood. I’m kind of clueless here. What is the actual status of women and their rights in India? Will they respect me? Should I shake a man’s hand? What are the pitfalls, the things I’m not aware of that I cannot seem to find in any online guides? I keep thinking I am going to do something unbecoming a woman…mostly because I feel like I do that every day here in the US and A.

6. Sacrilege. I want to visit temples, see the sights and people, take pictures, and hopefully not cause an international incident. If we get to see the Bull Temple in Bangalore I promise not to make kissy faces at it.

7. Kali will destroy me. Just kidding. That’s just a shout out for my shi shi. Holla!

8. Food. I am not very familiar with Indian cuisine. I am really relying on my right hand to take the lead here. I remember how annoying it was to dine with people completely ignorant of Chinese food (“We’ll just have rice” – I shit you not) and I just do not want to come off like a major tool.

9. OCD. My obsession with clean hands is going to have to be put on hold for one week. I’ve decided that this is the only way to deal with my fear of ooey gooey germs and greasy grimy dirt. Am I assuming that the whole country is enshrined in crap? Not exactly. It will comfort some of you to know that one of my least favorite aspects of the interview process is the hand shaking. Sorry, my kittens. I love you, but I know that finger was just up your nose. Or elsewhere.

10. General idiocy. My experience with our Indian counterparts has convinced me that they are far more formal, practiced, and careful with their speech and interaction than I ever have been. My tendency to smile like a fighting monkey whenever I’m in a strange situation will either come off as friendly (I hope) or slow witted (I fear). Since one of my deepest, darkest night terrors is not being smart enough to hold my own in a cocktail conversation, it stands to reason that I’d fear this almost as much as passing out from the heat…or a panic attack…or from basic womany megrims.

Yippee-ky-crazytrain! Don’t judge, y’all. I will be honest and tell you exactly where I was right and exactly how I was wrong. Two weeks!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am from India- oh and I adore your writing.

I live in Bombay so I'm not terribly familiar with Madras, but It's probably not the peak of summer yet. It should be around 35 C I think.

Attire- hummm.. wear anything. Tee shirts and trousers to work? Or jeans off work? It really doesn't matter.

The food can be a bitch though. Although it does grow on you. Will you be in Madras only?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct that you need to be aware of cultural norms when you visit another country. There HAS to be something you can read out there. On the other hand, most of the Indians I've known have been really easy-going and understanding and nice. I'd bet if you're just polite and smiling they'll like you.

I don't think your gender will be a huge issue.

I think you've already been attacked by Kali. She looked a lot like your sister.

You're one brave bitch. Seriously.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now wait a minute. I gave birth to that Kali...ulp...daughter you're talking about! And yes, Shiney is brave but she's not a bitch. Well maybe every now and then... Anyway I gave birth to her too! So xnay onay ooyay! =)

9:17 AM  
Blogger Shiny said...

Too many anons! ID yourselves, even if it's in code that only I will understand, okey dokey?

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought mine was pretty obvious since I gave birth to both Kali and Shiney. =)

10:03 AM  
Blogger Shiny said...

O yar, I know you, because you are my beloved ANON. I think the other one must be our Kali, but I can't tell. I have Stranger Danger syndrome.

12:52 PM  

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