In Thailand, people are rarely direct. If someone is concerned about something you did, or something you said, or that your hair is too long or your skirt is too short, or you forgot to close your fence last night, or really, anything at all, they wait until your neighbor gets home and then they gossip about you.
In the course of their conversation (something I've never been directly privy to), something happens and the person who wasn't originally concerned becomes concerned. And so they talk to someone else. Eventually, whatever you're doing wrong is communicated to you by the person determined to be the closest thing to an actual friend. This is how you sometimes find yourself at dinner listening to comments that begin with, "The yaais (grandmothers) are concerned about .... ."
It's also why I can really appreciate my American friends, who have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about saying things like, "I miss your blog." And then I know that it's time to write again. Thanks, friends. Keep the directness coming.
Today is my first day back at school after a month-long bit-term (school break), which, as you might have noticed from Josh's "pictures-are-worth-a-thousand-words-I-don't-have-time-to-write" blog post, included a trip to India. I haven't written about India because I haven't yet figured out how to write about it, but I'll give it a shot. The only word I have yet been able to use to describe it involves profanity, so I'll settle for this sentence instead: It was chaos--chaos of the senses, the intellect, the heart.
Chaos of the senses: The sights! The sounds! The smells! The cool, cool air! The fooooooood!
We arrived at night to a very modern-looking airport, and before we even disembarked from the plane, we were startled by an announcement that, "Prudy, passenger Prudy, we have a message for you." So Prudy, who had been with us for 10 days prior, seeing all sorts of crazy things at our site and in Bangkok, went and received the message that our "driver" had called to say he would be late. Our "driver" was actually our friend C. whom we'd gone to visit, and it turns out he was flying in the same day and his flight got in later than ours. From the minute we left the airport lobby with C. to the minute he dropped us back off at the ticket counters there 10 days later, we encountered a whirlwind of activity and confusion and excitement. Here are some highlights:
The bull temple, a monolithic bull (statue carved from a single piece of stone), that is still worshiped today and that is black because it is cared for with offerings of butter and oil that are rubbed on it daily.
Tipu Sultan Palace: The palace of Tipu Sultan and it's beautiful grounds/garden were one of the calmest places were went. A bit of an oasis in the middle of the city. The Sultan fought the British four times.
The ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) Temple: Chanting the Hare Krishna barefoot with devout believers was a compelling experience. Outside, we joined barefoot worshipers in their walk from stone to stone as they chanted the meditation 108 times. We blessed ourselves with fire and spent a few good long minutes meditating on the beauty of the inside - no pictures allowed - which was decorated in golds and whites, carvings and paintings of the Hindu deities adorning the walls. The walk through the gift shop (lots of pressure to buy) and the line for food (lots of pressure to buy) and the plans for the new ISKCON Center (which resembles an amusement park more than anything else) were less calming and slightly off-putting. But, that wasn't the only temple we went to where we were expected to "donate" for the right to worship and it seems to be common.
Indian Hospitality: C.'s cousin, D. was kind enough to let us stay in her home for several nights when we first arrived. She also served us incredible food, in portions large enough to feed a small army, night after night. Sometimes, we were so stuffed we couldn't imagine eating anything more, and then a new roti, chapati, or rice would appear on our plate, followed by a serving of some delectable, spicy, brightly colored dish, yellow dal, red chicken curry, green chutney. To die for.
The roads: hahahahaha.
The driving: I figured out that the rules of driving in India are just like those of downhill skiing: You are responsible for not hitting whatever is in front of you. That's it. But you also have this cool horn you can use to say, "hi!" or "I'm going to give you a love tap if you don't move over," or "holy *&^%!," or even, "I'm coming right for you and I don't plan on stopping!"
The directness: Like Thais, Indians don't seem to have any qualms about asking questions regarding money. But they will not politely tell you paid a little too much for something. They will tell you, with a horrified expression that you got ripped off. Then they will take you shopping and argue way more fiercely on your behalf than any Thai ever would. And you will get a good deal. And then they might buy you a present. (See Indian Hospitality, above.) They will tell you you are too skinny and that you need to get fat. (They will not understand why you can't get fat or why Thais think that's a bad thing.) They will attempt to make you fat. (See Indian Hospitality, above.)
I got sick. Mountain roads. Pollution. More mountain roads. Too much coffee.
In Mysore: Great food. People people everywhere. Festival. Palace!
In Hampi: Calm. Amazing views. Incredible landscape. Ruins. UNESCO Heritage Site controversy (google it). Sunrise hike to top of hill to see the Hanuman temple, at which the priest and other devotees read the Ramayana 24/7/365 (they have 3 hour shifts). Gift shopping. Delicious vegetarian food. Terrifying bus ride (see roads and driving, above).
It's not fair, really, to reduce the last six weeks to this post or the soundbites above, but it just doesn't yet seem possible to say more.
Plus last week other big things happened: Like, Amanda's English Camp, at which I did arts and crafts with the kids, broke up a fight, and got a new nickname (Pailyn, or sapphire).
Then Obama got elected, Karl Rove went crazy, and Petraeus resigned. And of course, school started again. I promise, I'll try to keep up the blog - but, who can compete with all that news?