Friday, September 28, 2007

You Can Take The Girl Out of Hyderabad But You Can't Take Hyderabad Out of The Girl

Alas, I may have lost my audience, seeing as I've returned from India and don't have more adventures to recount. I never got around to writing about Hong Kong, and here we are.

Hong Kong was awesome and Shuo was the perfect host. Hong Kong is the most clean, efficient city I've ever been to, and I'm not just saying that because I was just in India - it's way more clean and efficient that any American city. I was able to check my bags into the airline at the subway station in central hong kong - a 45 minute train ride from the airport. The station looks like an airport, with each airline having a check in counter, except after you check in your bags, you get on the train instead of walking to your gate. It was truly awesome, and more cities should try it.

Hong Kong also didn't have bad traffic - nothing compared to New York or SF. There is so much accessible, clean, easy public transportation that people don't even want to take taxis that much. For $2 you can get from Hong Kong to Kowloon on the subway, and it's certainly faster than taking a taxi. Shuo and I gorged for 3 days, and then I came down with my final bout of Maharaja's revenge, which I will need to re-name last emperor's revenge, since I'm pretty sure I got it in Hong Kong. I went crazy eating all sorts of lettuce and ice - tsk, tsk - alas, 5 months in India did not give me any extra immunity.

But Shuo showed me all the scenes and I went to Macau for a day, which, in case you were planning a trip, is considered a different country from Hong Kong, and you WILL need your passport. Macau is like a Portuguese city in Asia. It was much more similar to Southern Europe than the Portuguese colony in Kerala, which is what I can compare it to. There were actually Portuguese people living there, and the entire architecture of the city was white washed buildings and cobblestone streets. It's the only place close to China were gambling is allowed; it is actually now a "special economic zone" of China, the same as Hong Kong, but considered a different "country" with its own immigration and currency - the Macau Paceta (thank you, portuguese imperialists...). Macau was the last western colony in Asia, and was considered a part of Portugal until 1999, when China took it over. Now when you arrive there are cheesey casinos there to greet you and free shuttle buses to every casino there, including the new Venetian. After walking around Macau and seeing the actual historical stuff, I figured I should see where Macau is going these days, so I made my way to the Venetian.

The Venetian in Macau is so big that it's creepy. You go inside, and like any casino, immediately they make it impossible to tell what time of day it is. It is about 500 million times the size of the Venetian in Las Vegas, and the gambling floor that I saw (there are probably many) was so big that you couldn't see the other end of the room. It was so stark and fake and void of real life that I got creeped out and took the next free shuttle back to the ferry terminal.

The next day I came down with my emperor's revenge, and spent the day lying on the floor of Shuo's apartment, anticipating my 13 hour flight.

My flight allowed me one last good-bye to India when I was seated next to a large Sikh man, who saw my henna and tried to talk to me in Hindi for the rest of the flight. He was a nice man, and whenever he paged the stewardess to get something (they were apparently out of water on the flight), he would page her again to get me something.

In retrospect, what I miss most about India was the openness of the people, it doesn't take much to become someone's best friend, and when you are best friends, you are loyal for life. I miss the sense of optimism, which is particularly striking given the constant problems facing you every day. How it is possible to be optimistic when the overpass in the middle of town collapses due to corruption and incompetence, and there are 3 bombings in 4 months, is something that I would like to learn, and to apply to my life in America.

Talking with another ex-pat who was visiting Mountain View for the week, we agreed that the main difference between the attitudes in India and the US, is that in India everyone is looking down. They look at the beggars on the streets and the auto-rickshaw drivers who make 100 rupees a month, and they think "wow, I'm so lucky I'm not them. I have this amazing apartment with running water and marble floors, and it's all mine! My whole family can live here cozily, and we even have a lovely view with some trees!" In the US, we look up. We see Britney Spears and Tom Cruise and think "Wow, look at all they have, and all I have is this lousy apartment. Why can't I have a mansion and fame and fortune? They don't even deserve it." I want to hold onto that Indian optimism and gratitude, and every day that I walk arounf Palo Alto, I feel it slipping away, and I feel myself slipping into the old American attitude of always wanting more.

Always wanting more isn't exactly a bad thing, it has driven the US to become the successful first world nation that it is. The idea that anyone could become a millionaire (although that isn't enough these days either, so we'll have to adjust the term for inflation) - billionaire - is exciting and spurs innovation. But it also grows a cultural mindset that the grass is always greener somewhere else, and that we must find that grass and own it - which is not the attitude in India. In India it would be more like "wow, there's grass! Let's have a picnic there on Sunday with our family!"

What is really intriguing to me is that in Hong Kong, which brings materialism to a level I didn't know possible - where temples have been replaced by Louis Vuitton, and where a "family outing" consists of waiting in line for the next Armani store to open- there doesn't appear to be the sense of pessimism that there is in America. I think that the main difference is that in Hong Kong people know what they want - money and designer goods - and they know exactly how to get it - work hard, save money, buy your purse, feel like a "somebody." In America there is always this sense that there is something bigger, something better out there that prevents us from appreciating what we have - but we don't even know what that bigger and better thing is. And the longer I stay here, the more this old mentality consumes me, as much as I try to fight it.

So, in an effort to combat the immediate loss of everything I loved in India, I planned an Indian cooking party with Padma and Hayley who were visiting from the Hyderabad office. Within a week of returning and moving into my apartment, my small gathering of friends exploded like a high school beer bash until 18 people eventually came. We cooked an Indian feast all night, and didn't finish until midnight - the kitchen took a week to clean! But it was great fun, and Padma and Hayley felt at home helping me host the party - and I am now the proud owner of tubs of spices that I can't identify and a pound of fresh curry leaves (check on craigslist any day for my listing - "Palo Alto, California: Free, slightly dated curry leaves - you pick up.").

The next day I took Padma and Hayley to Monterey and Carmel in my red convertible to give them a taste for the best that California has to offer - and it didn't disappoint. The weather was awesomely sunny and we walked on the beach, watched the sunset in Carmel from the soft white sand beach, and drove on PCH with the top down (and coats on ;). But alas, Padma and Hayley have now returned to Hyderabad, and I feel my last connection to it fading as they fly into the sunset.

It is an incredibly odd phenomenon that it is possible to feel more content in India, a place where you struggle for necessities daily, than when you are in the US, a place where your basic needs are a given and where you have family and friends. I suppose figuring out how to combine the best aspects of both would make life too easy, and then I would complain about being bored. Alas, maybe there is no entirely green grass.

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