August 31, 2006

Part II, Chapter 1

Only half a post tonight, kids. I'm beat. See below. But thanks so much for all of your e-mails! We've been away almost all of today, but I'll get a chance to write back tomorrow, while we rest up for our whirlwind Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Goa tour.


I made my post yesterday just before Vivek, Mani and I went downstairs to join Aunty and Uncle at aarti, or prayers, for Ganesh -- attended by many residents of the apartment complex, at the complex's temporary Ganesh shrine. I covered a Ganesh festival for the Beaumont Enterprise in 2004, so I had some idea of what I was in for – and excited to not be witnessing it, for once, with a pen and pad in hand. I got to just enjoy the experience instead, which included lots of singing, offerings of flower petals and money to Ganesh and traditional sweets afterward.

Most of the songs were in Marathi, the dialect of the local state, so I wasn't the only one who didn't understand them.


All staying at the Shankar household except Mani rose bright and early today to escort Vivek to his visa interview. To return to the United States, as part of post-9/11 security measures, he had to have his visa stamped at the U.S. embassy here – a process that required many months of submitting paperwork to prove that he is employed by a legit company in the United States doing X at Y salary. And for this, we left the house at 6 a.m.

Obviously, this started us off on a somewhat serious tone. Uncle and Aunty took the time Vivek was at his interview to venture out with me to Haji Ali, a Muslim mosque on the sea accessible only by a walkway that is covered during high tide. According to my Eyewitness Travel Guide to India (Still enjoying yours, Mom? This should be on page 459 ;) .), the mosque was built in the 1940s. But the “floating” shrine began in the 15th century as the daragh, or tomb, of a merchant who gave up his wealth after a pilgrimage to Mecca. Though they've lived in Bombay for about 16 years, Aunty and Uncle hadn't ever been to Haji Ali, so it was a good opportunity to go. (The embassy's just a ways down the street).

This was the first time I've ever had to cover my head – or separate from the men – to enter a place of worship. We didn't spend a lot of time inside the daragh, so I haven't got any deep reflections, really – though I can say the devotees were passionate in rubbing their faces on the cloths covering the tomb. The mosque itself is actually in a good bit of disrepair, and Aunty tells me there are plans to revamp it.

After a stop for fresh pomegranate juice at the Haji Ali juice centre, Aunty and I headed to the dentist's office to wait for Vivek, who had a 10 a.m. appointment for a filling. The Shankars had been sure that he'd be able to make this appointment, since his last visa interview took only 7 or 8 minutes. So when 9:30 passed, and then 9:45, and still no Vivek, we began to worry. Ten o'clock came, and 10:15. Finally, Aunty went to tell the dentist we hoped to be back soon with Vivek, and she and I started to leave to find a place for me to eat breakfast. Just then (of course, right?), the worry subject appeared, and was soon whisked away to what turned into a root canal (ouch!).

While my dearest boyfriend had his teeth fixed, his Pop and I munched on masala dosas downstairs at a cafe. I could eat dosas all day and not get tired of them, I think. They're thin, crispy pancakes, made of fermented rice flour, panfried on a flat pan. Masala dosas come with a scoop of potatoes, onions and spices inside – carbohydrate heaven. I washed mine down with a small cup of chai – not a bad way to start the day's dining, I have to say.

We spent the hours after dentist and dosas touring the Shankar's old neighborhood. I saw where Vivek earned the scar on his knee, when he fell into a car bumper while playing football. He and I walked around a new garden at his old colony, or apartment complex, and then through the hanging gardens, where I saw many beautiful flowers and more than a few butterflies.

We walked down a hill to Chowpatty Beach, which, though pretty to the eyes and offering great views of Bombay, stinks quite a lot. Vivek tells me that's thanks to sewage that empties right into the sea. Yum.

We spent enough time strolling in the sunshine along Marine Drive for me to get a bit of sunburn on my shoulders, and then ducked into a restaurant so Vivek, whose local anesthesia had finally worn off, could eat. He ordered dosa mysore, and I took bites of that and a pair of idli, which are puffy dumplings. I mostly, however, enjoyed a cold Coke from a tall glass bottle.

Soon, what had been until now a peaceful, easy day would open into my first experience with true Indian crowds. More on that tomorrow.

August 30, 2006

23 days in India, Part 1

[Please see more photos here]

AFTER three and a half days on Indian soil -- finally, some time to blog. Here's a journal of our travels so far.


Our 28-hour journey to Bombay began Friday morning, with a ride to San Francisco International Airport. We encountered our first ever-friendly Korean Air employees at the ticket counter, who found us side-by-side seats on the plane and sent us on our way with a smile.

On board our first flight, I was too excited to sleep. There were already knew sights and sounds. Even with a group of teenagers bound for a inline skating tournament in Seoul, I was in the minority. I got my first international flight kit soon after take-off, complete an eyepatch, toothbrush and socks. The hostesses wore beautiful uniforms and rushed about to fill passengers' requests (including my many queries for water).

We had little time to explore Incheon airport, as our plane departed SFO a bit late and thus landed in Seoul a bit late. Soon, we were on our desi-packed flight to Bombay, where I slept, quite thankfully, for four solid hours, plus a few more naps.


We landed promptly at 1 a.m. Sunday, as we were scheduled. I then, however, experienced my first round with what my boyfriend Vivek and his friends call “bad Indian planning”: another plane was at our gate (yes, at that hour of night), and so we waited on the jet another 40 minutes. Immigration, customs and even the ever-tedious wait at baggage claim, however, took only another hour. Soon, we Vivek was waving to his brother, Mani, at our exit. Vivek's parents both greeted me with a hug, the first of many measures to make me feel right at home here.

We were spirited home by a “hired”, which was a taxi reserved the whole evening by Vivek's family. Even at 3 a.m., we saw a number of people up around the city, including those setting up temples for Ganesha, the elephant-headed god whose festival began Sunday. Electric holiday lights strung up across the city are a good indicator that there's a Ganesha idol nearby. There's one right here at the apartment complex (which is called a “colony” here), and yesterday we saw a group of children there dancing. The story of Ganesha is one of the few I remember from studying Hinduism, and it's a great one. You can check it out here.

After a quick tour of home, a much-needed shower and my first simosa of the vacation, served with homemade chutney, I went to bed about 5 a.m., where I slept peacefully until about noon. Three of Vivek's friends, including Balan and Siva, showed up then, and we soon departed for Mulund – the self-appointed “Prince of Suburbs” to do a bit of shopping. I bought a pair of flip-flops (my filthy, cheap ones were chucked at home before we left) and my first two kurtas, which are long shirts made of cotton (good for the heat and humidity).

Our suburban expedition was my first chance to see India by daylight. The first thing I probably should note is that suburbs in India are not much like American suburbs. The high-rise apartment buildings here in Thane, where Vivek's parents live, remind me of the housing units you might find in Georgetown. But the problems of most cities extend even to here, including poverty. Shanties and tents line the streets, and there are homeless under bridges and overpasses here.

It didn't take long to realize that many of the guidebook photos I've seen can be misleading. A photo of a man selling fresh veggies from a stand can look quaint in a well-positioned photo. But in the larger context of many men selling veggies and trying hard to make a living out of it, it can be more depressing.

The second thing I should point out is that even in a city as large as Bombay, there are still hallmarks of a developing world. At the mall in Mulund, makeshift shelters of bamboo rods and tarps covered some of the open-air escalators and walkways to protect them from the monsoon rains.

We retired home Sunday evening for dinner, which was mostly ordered in. I ate mattar paneer (peas and fresh cheese) and a mutton dish both prepared by Vivek's mom, and just one piece of the tandoori chicken that was ordered. Vivek's mom – his folks are Mamta and Ananda, Aunty and Uncle to me – has been quite concerned that I'll fall ill, and is trying to ease me into outside cooking. (So far, I have to say, this approach is working quite well.) The friends departed near 10 p.m., and I went to sleep after another shower and some Web surfing.


Morning came early for me Monday, around 7 a.m. I've been sleeping lightly (my whole cycle's a bit off, having come, after all, halfway 'round the world). I set to reading about Bombay in preparation for my first big expedition to the heart of the city.

We set off around 11 a.m. -- a bit later than planned – on what turned out to be a two-hour journey. The roads we rode on are paved but filled with potholes after the monsoon rains. Despite the bumps and occasional swerves, however – and Mani is to be credited with some excellent maneuvering, I must say – I didn't get at all ill. To the contrary, I spent the better part of our first hour snapping photos out the window, such as this one at a busy intersection. Many crossroads here have no traffic lights, leaving motorists and pedestrians to their own devices – and most forge ahead without caution. I'm glad, let's just say, that I'm not doing the driving here.

We met Siva halfway to town, and he took over the driving from there. Our first stop within Bombay was the loo (that's toilet) at the Taj Mahal Hotel, just across from the Gateway to India. Think Four Seasons hotel bathroom - quite nice.

We took photos around the Gateway and then hopped into a cab to find food. I was excited to be in Bombay, but I started to realize at that point that the dizziness I'd been feeling hadn't quite gone away. On Sunday, I felt as though I was still on the plane, that the floor was rising and falling much the way it would in the air. Monday, however, I just felt lightheaded. I felt as if I'd had too much to drink and really just needed to lie down. After eating, touring the Bombay Store and finally cashing some traveler's checks, I gave up fighting the odd sensation. We headed to Vivek's friend Kunal's apartment, where I promptly fell asleep on a window seat with a view of the water.

Two hours, I awoke and took a shower (many thanks to Kunal!). We headed to Leopold's Cafe on Coloba Causeway, which it turns out is quite the tourist destination. After sitting in the heat there, I don't think anyone felt much like eating – but we headed anyway to dinner at a Chinese restaurant that’s a favorite of the eight friends I was hanging out with, whom Ankul’s wife Shi calls the “cricket” gang for their love of the sport. I very nearly fell asleep at the table there, and slept for a good portion of the ride home.


I had planned to head to town again today with Vivek and Aunty, to do some sightseeing while Vivek got two cavities filled. But the lightheadedness struck again after breakfast, and I went back to bed. Aunty phoned one of her nephews, a doctor, who suggested plenty of fluids and some rest, so I stayed home. I woke at 4 p.m. to a glorious (if hot) bit of sunshine. After a shower, palak paneer (soft cheese in a spicy gravy of pureed spinach), I'm sadly still feeling a bit lightheaded – but better than this morning, and better, I'm sure, than if I'd made the journey to town.

With less than 72 hours of India under my belt, I suppose still in a bit of culture shock. It's frustrating not to understand Hindi, even in only brief spurts between Vivek and his friends (I've decided to poke him every time I need a translation). The streets are a bit overwhelming – there are people everywhere, which is exactly the way Vivek described it to me. But it's hard to comprehend, I guess, unless you've seen it. The colors are stunning, and often a welcome distraction from the poverty. Even the women living in tents or shanties wear vibrant saris.

Mostly, though, I'm anxious to be rid of my dizziness and to feel my two feet firmly planted on the ground again. Hopefully, in another day or two, that shall be the case.


We've spent the day in so far (it's about 5 p.m. here), save for a trip out to pick up hair pins and an expanding file folder. Lunch was chole, one of my favorites, and I've spent the afternoon reading. Tonight shall be an early one, as we have early commitments in downtown Bombay tomorrow.

August 23, 2006

Good-bye, San Francisco

It's incredibly hard not to fall in love with San Francisco. And I did fall in love.

Sure, I also found a boyfriend here, and that could be tainting my view a bit. But it's the city itself that's tugging at my heartstrings tonight.

When I visited Ocean Beach a few weeks ago, I was already upset about leaving -- but it was looking north and south along the coast that made me burst into tears. Would I really leave that beauty behind for a job?

Tonight I rode in a Miata over the Golden Gate, to Sausalito and back. I had Two-Buck Chuck at a friend's apartment, then dinner at a Polk Street eatery. I walked home with Vivek, who pushed his bike, and bought ice cream at the corner store. We crossed the Hyde Street cable car tracks just before we hit our door.

As I write this, I can see the lights of Marin from my our living room window. It's nothing much to look at right now. But I know that earlier today, the sun gleamed off the waters of San Francisco Bay, with white sails of sailboats framed against the gray fog of the city. I know that on a sunyy day, the water is blue as blue from here, and my vista looks like something out of a Mediterranean tourbook. Outside, the Powell-Hyde cable still is humming.

I'll leave this beautiful city in just 36 hours, en route to what I'm told is a beautiful, beautiful country, India. But it's hard to imagine the sort of postcard scenes I've encountered daily here could be found anywhere else on this planet.

For my own sake, I hope my first trans-Pacific trip proves me wrong. But for now, I'll go to sleep with visions and dreams of San Francisco, the city I know to be just about the most beautiful on earth.

August 11, 2006


It's here! After the toil and tribulation that always accompanies deliveries to me, I've now been playing with my new MacBook Pro for about two hours. Yes, those are my geeky blog-writing pajamas there.

August 2, 2006

Earthquake No. 2

My roommate Crystal and I felt this 4.4 quake tonight while we were chatting -- me in my room and she in my doorway. My TV shook a little, and Crystal saw the glass of milk on my desk shake. No damage, Mom. A 4.4 is considered "light," and there are 6,200 of them each year, according to Wikipedia. The Chronicle tells us no injuries or damage reported so far. It took place 42 miles from San Francisco city hall.

The U.S. Geological Survey offers a pretty cool service where people who feel an earthquake can report what it was like. They've had 11,000 responses already, and the quake happened less than 40 minutes ago. Not bad, Californians.

I felt my first earthquake, just a ripple, this winter. It was a 3.4 temblor that hit somewhere in the East Bay, though I can't remember where.