Sara Does India

What I want to get in India: silks, spices, the Black Death. What I will probably get in India: food poisoning, heatstroke, too much work. What you probably want from this blog: gory details of interpersonal relationships. What you will probably get from this blog: a candid description of my travels and thoughts, sans (too much) drama.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

see you at the bitter end

I'm sad to say that my Indian experience is done, and it is with great pain that I have to bring this blog to a close. I'm not even being sarcastic when I say that; I found that tears unexpectedly sprang to my eyes as I wrote that, although I am much too pseudo-stoic to let them fall. My six months in Hyderabad were a life-shaping experience, and the consequences of my journey are not yet fully realized, least of all by me. I made what I hope will be lifelong friendships, I furthered my career growth (which sounds like a horridly adult thing to say), and I experienced a culture that is magical precisely because it is so inexplicably chaotic.

But, all things come to an end, and this blog is one of those things that must fall into the dust. I mentioned earlier that I would start a new blog; and, as some of you know, I already had a blog from my pre-India life, although I rarely wrote in it while I was in India. To maximize confusion, I decided to start a new blog site, but also to transfer all of my previous blog entries to the new site. Thus, it is both my old blog and a new blog; or, as the hypnotic tailor would say, different and totally different.

All you care about, I suppose, is the URL:

It will undoubtedly be less interesting, since I'm not in India, and there will be fewer pictures (sorry to all of you illiterates who don't like wading through my thousand-word posts), but I will probably keep it up with alarming frequency.

Thanks for the memories, India. I'll miss you more than I ever thought possible, even though you failed to give me the bubonic plague.

sri lanka recap: irishing up my vacation

It already seems like Sri Lanka was a daydream, and India is becoming a distant memory--before that happens, I want to record at least some of my trip so that I won't forget everything as I am slowly reabsorbed into California life. Here are some highlights:

1) Sudan. Not the country, the Sri Lankan travel agent. I was sure that we were going to get ripped off by him; the only complaint I have is that he sent us to the Eden Resort in Bentota (which I disliked and which Matt thoroughly hated). Everything else was fantastic--we had a great driver for four days, we stayed in an entertaining place in Kandy and a very nice hotel in Nuwara Eliya, he stored my embarrassingly large suitcases the entire week that we were traveling, and to top it all off he called me 'my little girl'. Not bad for some dude that we picked randomly at the airport, a choice that went against all wisdom imparted by guidebooks.

2) Kandy. Home to the only cultural stuff that we did on the entire trip. I was thoroughly sick of World Heritage Sites by the time I left India, and so we only saw the Temple of the Tooth, as well as an elephant orphanage and a cultural show. It was in Kandy that my laptop was rendered unusable for the remainder of the trip, which made me feel much less guilt about not doing work for ten days. The most amusing thing we did in Kandy: dinner at the Hotel Suisse. We got there so early that we were the only people there for most of the meal. The dining room was cavernous, and there were birds living inside. Their chirps added to the strange, tinny music-box music playing from hidden speakers; the song never changed, although it occasionally skipped as though someone was shaking the music box. So surreal, and v. reminiscent of the music in Bangkok Spoon in Mountain View. The restaurant seemed like the British had left with the intention of returning; everything was shabby but clean, as though they didn't leave money for repairs but paid just enough to keep the place going until the good ol' days of colonialism can return. I loved it.

3) The spice garden outside Kandy. Truly strange. They spent ten minutes showing us spices--and half an hour trying to sell us various medical potions and unguents. Their selling tactics included giving me and Matt fabulous head massages; they also gave Matt a back massage, which they were more than happy to include me in, but I declined since I didn't want to remove my shirt. The proprietor had crazy eyes and selling tactics to rival the hypnotic tailor at Mebaz; I walked away with coconut hair oil which I will never use, and absolutely no new knowledge about spices.

4) Nuwara Eliya. Just like Ireland, only with autorickshaws. We drove up there so that we could get up at six a.m. to see World's End, a stunning drop-off that is apparently well-worth the three-hour walk. We got there around three p.m., after stopping at a tea plantation, and Matt freaked out a little when he saw how similar it was to Ireland. We walked around a bit, it started to rain, and we used this as an excuse to retreat to the bar, where we indulged in lots of Bailey's and ice, as well as Irish coffees, before heading to dinner. Dinner was amazing--it felt like something out of an Agatha Christie novel (before the murder, of course), with lots of different groups of suspicious and intriguing travelers eating fancy meals in a very proper, British-feeling dining room. The food was terrific, as was the wine, and $15/person was an absolutely ridiculous price. We retired to the bar for nightcaps, which turned into much more when we met some Swiss travel agents, who proceeded to keep us up until three a.m. We woke up a mere two and a half hours later for the one-hour drive to World's End; when we got there, the guide told us the hike was pointless because it was too rainy to see anything at World's End, so we drove back to the hotel. The drive was gorgeous, however, and Nuwara Eliya was well worth seeing, so there were no regrets, and we left immediately for the beach.

5) Eden Resort, Beruwela. More like a lowlight; I got a significant number of my potentially-deadly mosquito bites there, and there were flies everywhere. It wasn't a bad place, it was just rather soulless. They did serve fantastic steak there, which was the only saving grace, and which probably prevented Matt from killing a hapless waiter. We were supposed to spend four days there, but left after only two. The only positive was that I finished Haruki Murakami's 'Kafka on the Shore', and I highly recommend the book, especially if you can read it in the comfort of your own home and if you don't get bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitos in the process.

6) Club Villa, Bentota. So much nicer than Eden that it doesn't even warrant comparison. Regina and Rohit stayed there when we went to Sri Lanka in August, and Matt and I had thoroughly enjoyed dinner with them then; when we called for rooms this time, they only had the suite available for the first night, and we took it despite the extra cost due to our desperation to escape Eden. When they later offered it to us for the second night as well, we happily accepted--it was raining at the beach the entire time, but Club Villa made up for it. Those two days were utterly relaxing; I read Zadie Smith's 'On Beauty' (another highly-recommended book), we played an absurdly long game of checkers (aka 'draughts' in Ireland) because the board was 12x12 instead of 8x8, which made the game trickier, more strategic, and much longer, and we drank enough arrack sours that the staff started giggling when they brought more of them to our room. The food was absolutely heavenly, and I can't think of anyplace I would rather be stuck in the rain than at Club Villa. For one thing, it's the only place in the entire world where I have had arrack (coconut liquor) and actually enjoyed the taste; all attempts to export it to Hyderabad were disastrous. If nothing else, that alone makes it a great place to go. If I ever have a honeymoon, and if I am rich by that point, I'm taking the honeymoon in Sri Lanka--it's not popular with Americans because it's as far away from America as you can get (I didn't meet another American the entire time I was there), but it's a wonderful country with friendly people, cheap prices, fantastic food, and a variety of climates, terrains, and activities. If you ever get the chance to go, leap on it, and you won't regret it.

7) Dinner overlooking the Colombo harbor. The last night that we were in Colombo, Matt and I had dinner at the hotel where Sudan's city office is (he stored our luggage for free by telling the hotel that we were planning to stay there; as a courtesy to the hotel, we ate dinner there instead, and since dinner was tasty this wasn't a problem for us). The restaurant was on the sixth floor, with a lovely view of the harbor--but I felt sorry for the staff, who had to wear silly sailor costumes, and who had to deal with a very surly Frenchman who was the only other patron. I spent most of the dinner trying not to cry over the fact that my vacation was over, but despite that, the view was great and the restaurant was an adequate way to say goodbye to Sri Lanka.

8) The drive to the airport. It was completely ridiculous because of my large suitcases; we were in a passenger van, but the suitcases wouldn't fit in the back, so the easiest solution was to put me in one of the back rows, and put the suitcases in the middle row between me and the driver. Since Matt sat up front as well, I couldn't see either of them, nor could I see anything else in front of me except for the suitcases, which made for a strange and solitary trip to the airport. The driver laughed about this the entire way there, which I'm sure was amusing for him.

So, that was Sri Lanka. The only other thing of note happened on the way to Bentota: while the van was moving, I knelt on the floor to pull the seat forward so that Matt could climb into the back and sleep--and the seatback slammed into my face, nearly breaking my nose. Matt had the temerity to laugh, and I forgave him because I could objectively see the humor in it. I recovered quickly and my nose wasn't broken, which was nice.

This was definitely the most relaxing vacation I've ever had, and I am sad that I am no longer only two hours away from Sri Lanka. I miss vacation, I miss Matt (who was an ideal vacation companion because he was just as enthusiastic about relaxing and just as unenthusiastic about monuments as I was), and by extension I miss Hyderabad, the Hyderabadis, and all the other expats. As a way to wrap up my Indian experience, this trip was perfect. See below for pictures!

claudia and tammy looking oh-so-thrilled to have me back; my welcome-back dinner was a disaster in all the ways expected of my friends, and i thoroughly enjoyed myself Posted by Picasa

tea plantations Posted by Picasa

the living room in the suite at club villa; the french doors open onto a private patio. when we arrived, it wasn't raining, but that changed almost immediately. Posted by Picasa

the mosquito netting in the suite in club villa was far too little and far too late to prevent the 30+ mosquito bites on my legs, but it was certainly picturesque Posted by Picasa

the filming location for 'the bridge on the river kwai' Posted by Picasa

matt claimed that nuwara eliya (the highest town in sri lanka) was uncannily similar to ireland; given this shot, the frigid temperatures, and the amount of baileys that i drank that night, i have to agree with him Posted by Picasa

strangely totalitarian sign in the middle of a tea factory in sri lanka Posted by Picasa

elephants walking towards the river and their morning baths Posted by Picasa

another buddha overlooking the chaos of kandy Posted by Picasa

buddha in the temple of the tooth, kandy Posted by Picasa

tastes like burning--the cultural show in kandy, sri lanka Posted by Picasa

matt, ismail, and me at our going-away party; ismail runs all transportation for the expats. i like this photo for the intense height disparities. Posted by Picasa

me and ranjit, whose cooking i do/don't miss (but i do miss the fresh-squeezed lemonade) Posted by Picasa

me and jogi at lunch on my last day in hyderabad Posted by Picasa

katzman, looking utterly insane due to an unfortunate trick of the light. Posted by Picasa

john and holly--they've lived in ukraine, and they helped introduce me to 'lost'. there should be no question as to why they're among my favorite banjara hillbillies. Posted by Picasa

me and arod at golconda--i miss her! Posted by Picasa

overlooking the ruins beneath golconda fort, hyderabad Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 29, 2005

so happy together

I did nothing today but eat--I awoke at nine to the sound of my cellphone, and Vidya's voice telling me that she was still up for brunch. I met her at ten, we had a leisurely breakfast, and I arrived at the office around noon--and hour before the lunch that I had schedule with Gyre and Lizzie. Having two meals in four hours was completely unnecessary, and it made me sleepy, so I came home at four. I intended to spend the evening napping and doing nothing, but a call from Tammy led to an impromptu dinner at Tamarine with her and Claudia. I was home by nine, we sat around watching TV for awhile, and then Claude and I watched 'Kill Bill 2'. It's funny that the scene where the Bride kills Bill always makes me cry, and tonight was no exception. Now it's one a.m., and hopefully I can sleep since I didn't take a nap all day.

I can't believe that I've only been home for three days--it feels like it's been so much longer, almost like I never left. I need to unpack so that it becomes more solid; my belongings are strewn everywhere, and it's only going to get worse when my three huge boxes of stuff arrive. I also need to start throwing away/donating stuff, since I was embarrassed by the sheer amount of stuff I had in my suitcases in Sri Lanka, and those suitcases were the merest fraction of the amount of possessions I've acquired (and kept) in California. I had to repack my bags in the Colombo airport and switch six kilos into my backpack, and at that point I definitely wished that I had less stuff. I don't think a minimalist lifestyle is for me, but at the same time I very much admire minimalist design, so I may have to make some concessions if I'm going to achieve the look that I want in future homes. Now, though, it's time for bed.

Friday, October 28, 2005

your love is gonna drown

I seem to have brought the rains with me ever since Sri Lanka; it rained on the beach, it rained in Singapore, and it rained in California during my first full day back. Today was lovely, but since I spent most of it in the office, I didn't see much of it. It was so strange to go back to work today--not that I did much work. Instead, it took the tech guys two hours to fix my computer after the issues that it became afflicted with in Sri Lanka, and then I had lunch with my manager, and then I tried to leave early but spent an hour and a half getting to the door because I happened to take a route past a lot of people whom I wanted to say hi to. I still made it out by four (a glorious achievement compared to Hyderabad), came home, and took a three-hour nap. This is not helping my campaign against jet lag, but I couldn't help myself. Since I couldn't sleep tonight, I went to latenight on campus with Can, Shedletsky, and Joanna, where I ate some absolutely hideous nachos and had a generally amusing time.

Last night was extremely entertaining, although I can't really believe that it was last night--time is flowing backwards and forwards in that strange, surreal way that stems from unnatural sleep patterns and the general sense of loss caused by moving halfway around the world. Tammy, Shedletsky, and Claudia had planned the first of a couple of surprises that required me to be blindfolded for a somewhat significant amount of time--the blindfold wasn't really necessary, but most of what I do with my friends isn't necessary, and so I accepted it as a matter of course. I was hoping and praying for Mexican food, but instead they took me out for Indian food. Bastards! Adit, Vidya, and John crashed the party, and there was some drama involved with that--Adit asked us to switch to Sunnyvale rather than Palo Alto because he was down there, and the place he chose was a fast-food-style dive in a strip mall, when Tammy/Shedletsky had planned to take me to a more upscale establishment. This led to a drama-filled showdown between Tammy and Adit; this actually amused me a lot, and was almost preferable to a regular ol' dinner at a nice restaurant.

Back to the office--it was so strange. Nothing has really changed, and simultaneously everything has changed. It feels like I never left, and at the same time it feels like I'll never find my place again. It's funny--when I was in Hyderabad, I would stay up way too late because I was talking to friends online, but now that I'm home, I can still stay up way too late talking to friends online. That's the beauty of a 12.5-hour time difference, I suppose. I know that I will recover from the wrenching sense of dislocation someday, but today is hard--it's like I was taken out of a puzzle into which I fit quite nicely, and I'm being shoved into a new puzzle where the pieces aren't quite aligned. I'm lucky that my relationships with my friends haven't shown any signs of decline, but I do miss the friends that I made in Hyderabad.

I could go on and on about this strange dichotomy between being happy and miserable, between being home and being homesick, but talking about it doesn't really help. Instead, let's talk about something more exciting: my new blog! 'Saradoesindia' can't continue if I'm not in India. So, what shall my next blog be? Please vote:

1) saradoestheworld
2) swampfest
3) sarawampler [prosaic but professional]
4) other suggestions from you, the reader

I intend to start it sometime this weekend, whenever I get around to creating it. I'd also like to clean my room, unpack (my bags arrived this morning), see some friends, and make some cookies--we'll see whether my ambitions are fulfilled.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

california: messed up but beautiful

I'm home! And I still have twenty-four minutes left of Tuesday, which is insane--today started with me tripping and almost losing my foot on a Sri Lankan escalator, and is ending with me watching 'The Daily Show' and the new, exciting 'Colbert Report' with Terry and Claudia. Weirdest day ever--but it's good to be home. I'll write more tomorrow!

Monday, October 24, 2005

prolonging the magic

I'm sitting in the Singapore airport, in the same lounge where I wrote my first post from Asia so many months ago. Tuesday so far is not such a happy day, but since I'm flying backwards over the international date line, there are still eighteen hours in which it can redeem itself. Tuesday will end with me seeing my friends, my apartment, and the glorious California freeway system (never thought I would praise such a messed-up piece of civil engineering, but times change), so it should all work out. Right now, though, I'm something of a disaster. A thunderstorm is raging outside the airport, which is appropriate; it rained on our last two days at the beach in Sri Lanka, which was also somehow appropriate. I woke up in Sri Lanka yesterday morning, went to Colombo, and caught the midnight flight from Sri Lanka to Singapore. We got here at 6:30am, dropped Matt's luggage off at his hotel, and then had an extended breakfast. We had intended to go and find the funicular that my father has waxed so eloquent about, but we were both absolutely exhausted, and I at least no longer had the mental energy left to pretend to enjoy myself when the last remnants of my Indian experience were crumbling around my ears. So I left for the airport three hours earlier than I had to; Matt was perilously close to being inducted into the small, elite cadre of people who have seen me cry, but I managed to hold off tears with a litany of 'don't cry don't cry don't cry', at the expense of completely missing out on the goodbye because I couldn't concentrate on it. A taxi driver named Chua got inducted into the cadre instead, although I don't think he realized that it was a rare honor and so probably thought that I was insane instead. Considering that I had been on the verge of crying since dinner in Colombo the night before, I actually held it together remarkably well--no embarrasing sobs, just silent tears as I said goodbye to Asia through the car window.

This should not be taken as an indication that the whole vacation was an unholy amalgam of rain and tears--I had an absolutely fantastic time, which probably didn't help my current mood. The week in Sri Lanka was a week during which I avoided most thoughts about Hyderabad and the friends I've left behind; I also didn't think much about my return to California and the exciting but chaotic social swirl that awaits. So today I'm not only mourning the end of vacation and the return to work (which is also depressing), but also the end of six life-shaping months in India, the end of a fantastic little pseudo-collegiate expat group, and the end of my travels with Matt (who is returning to Dublin and who will not be in the California office within the next few months like everyone else). This post is all about the end, but soon there will be posts about beginnings: the beginning of a new blog (since saradoesindia doesn't make sense anymore), the beginning of a new season of the 'Shrimp or Feet' game, the beginning of new projects at work, the beginning of a whole bunch of dinners and parties and barbecues and movie screenings to make up for all the fun that I missed this summer. So, I'm going to use this absurdly-long plane ride to mourn the past, and hopefully I can land in California with a clear and happy heart.

Friday, October 21, 2005

plagues and sand

I'm still in Sri Lanka, currently at some resort, but Matt and I are switching hotels tomorrow because of a strange plague of flies. Long story, but suffice it to say that the last two nights of my vacation will be spent at the same place where we met Regina and Rohit for dinner on our last trip to Sri Lanka--it's beautiful, with awesome food and a great beach, so we're both happy about this change. Then, on Monday we leave Sri Lanka at midnight for Singapore, and the longest Tuesday of my life will commence. I'll have four hours on the plane (but six on paper due to timezones), then eleven hours in Singapore, then another twelve or fourteen hours on planes, and I'll still get into San Francisco at 7:30pm on the same Tuesday, leaving me with four and a half hours with my friends in California. Crazy!

I'll update on the whole experience later, but now I'm headed for the beach. For those of you in California, I'll see you soon!

Monday, October 17, 2005

days 1-3: steak, steak, and more steak

I'm safe in Sri Lanka, and the driver is wondering what's taking me and Matt so long in a stupid internet cafe, but we both had last-minute work things to do. And the internet cafe guy broke my laptop, which will effectively stop me from doing any work on vacation. Yay!

Okay, all my loyal fans, I will update you more when I am someplace that isn't 100 degrees and full of dirty computers. Take care! I'll be home in a week.