Monthly Archives: October 2009

Stamps and Memories

When I started my new job back in January, part of the first day paperwork was to confirm my citizenship by showing my passport to HR.  The first thing the lady said to me was, “I’m jealous, I wish my passport was as beat up and filled stamps as yours.”

I hadn’t thought much about it before, but I realized at that moment that I had done my fair bit of traveling around the world.  Obviously not as much as I would have liked, but I think more than most other Americans at least.

As the HR lady handed me back my passport book, I flipped through quickly to see all the stamps that I had collected over the years; multiple in and out stamps to Taiwan, Paris, London, Japan, and a few others that had been washed out from that time I had to walk a few miles in the rain to get to my hostel.  The memories from those journey’s flashed through my head and I was happy that I had this passport to remind me.

Preparing for this upcoming trip, I had to renew my old passport first in order to get a 6 month visa into India.  This meant filling out new forms, taking new pictures, paying a bunch of money for an expedited application, and sadly, returning my old passport to the State Department.

I had bittersweet feelings about relinquishing my passport and the memories associated with it.  Bitter that I’d have to lose the one souvenir that tied together all my travels for the last 10 years, but sweet in that it meant I would be entitled to another decade of wandering the Earth.

Two weeks after mailing in all my paperwork, I received a large shiny priority mail envelope which I immediately opened to find a brand spanking new US Passport, futuristic microchip and all.  I flipped through to find a more mature looking me on the second page, as well as 27 crisp new pages for visas and endorsements.  I was happy to be making progress in preparing for this trip.  I didn’t think twice about my old passport as I’d long since accepted its loss.

What a pleasant surprise it was this afternoon to find a plain brown envelope from the Department of State containing my old passport, hole-punched, yet still intact with all my old stamps in it.  Who knows if it’s their policy to return old passports, but I’m thankful to have it back either way.

T -29 Days Until India

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Parental Units

Last Friday my mother called to ask if I’d be coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, as this is my first year living 3,000 miles from them.  I told her that I’d be coming home for Christmas but not Thanksgiving.  In that moment, a shot of adrenaline sped through my system, and as I tightened my neck to prepare for the worst, I added as quickly and as succinctly as possible, “I’ll be in India over Thanksgiving”.

To understand my cringing response to delivering this awesome news to my mom, you need to know a little bit about my history with my parents.  To put it in a sentence, they have never supported me in anything that is even mildly unfamiliar, risky, dangerous, or adventurous.  I’ve done my best to live my life seeking those activities that embody those qualities, which, as you can imagine, has left me quite unsupported from my parents.

As young as third grade, I remember my first independent initiative was the desire to join the school band.  Our school had recently offered open enrollment for band and orchestra for certain instruments, and when I heard that they were offering saxophone spots, something in me sparked.  I’d later become quite familiar with this spark and to interpret it as “I don’t know why, but I want to do that!”

I got the required form, filled it all out and took it home to my parents.  All that stood between me and a lifetime of playing the sax and being the coolest cat on the block was their signature.  Surprisingly to me, they weren’t as enthused as I was with the idea of playing the saxophone.  Maybe they didn’t understand what a saxophone was or what a school band was.  I can’t quite remember the exchange that occurred between us, but I left accepting that I wouldn’t be joining band or playing the sax.  Maybe I should have fought harder at the time, but there’d be plenty of fighting in the years to come.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  There would be plenty of arguments over the years, but not quite about things that I wanted to do.  As I grew older, I slowly realized that I could do the things I wanted to do without them, except when it came to things that required more funds than I could muster on my own.

But with most things, the basic formula was this: Don’t ask them for permission, and if they ask, tell them after the fact.  By then, they can’t do much fussing about it.

When I wanted to start riding a motorcycle, I did it all without them knowing.  After about 6 months of owning and riding a motorcycle, I decided to sit them down and just tell them.

When I was leaving for Europe, I called my dad from the terminal minutes before boarding just to let them know that I was leaving the country, in case anything terrible happened.

When I decided to up and move out to California, I told them after I had gotten a job and worked out all the details for the move.

And this time, just as all the other times, I already had a plane ticket to India in hand before telling them I was going.

Luckily, this phone conversation occurred during dinner with friends, so I used that as an excuse to end the call quickly with my mother, but I knew that after I had hung up the phone, worry and trouble was about to brew back east.  Over the course of the weekend, being busy and all, I had missed 4 calls, 2 voice messages, and an email, which basically stated that they thought it was a bad idea for me to go to India alone, as expected.

When I finally called them back earlier this week, I think most of their fussing had been done without my involvement and they had settled with trying to make sure I was as safe as possible.  I suppose this is better than them fighting me all the way.

T -30 Days Until India

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Why India?

When I tell people that I’m going on vacation to India in a month, the first question most people ask is “Why India?”  To these people my default reply is “I don’t know, to see Indians?”

To be honest, I don’t have much of a good answer to their question.  With people that I work with and with people that I interact with day to day, I can understand the disconnect between the word “vacation” and “India”.

I speak only for myself, but growing up in a middle class, suburban family, vacations typically meant long weekends near the coast, trips to national parks, visiting family, sightseeing in New York or other metropolitan city, and general relaxing in “nice” places.  Not that India doesn’t have nice places or beaches or tourist attractions such as Goa or the Taj Mahal, but other than those two mentioned places, India, in my mind, conjures up images of Indiana Jones, tiger filled jungles, cows wandering the streets, nuclear tensions, terrorist bombings, and last but not least, widespread poverty.

In fact, my ignorant, media-centric view of the country is a large part of the reason I’d like to see it for myself.  India seems to be a complete antithesis of the world that I am familiar with.  I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I don’t think I’ll be finding any strip malls or fast food restaurants while I’m there.

I want to learn about the culture and their customs and spirituality, which plays no small part in their lives.  Customs like arranged marriages are so ingrained into the culture that even in the US, the practice continues in some Indian families.

I don’t know India, and despite having a number of Indian friends over the years, I don’t know much about Indians.  So to answer “To see Indians” is only half true.  I’m going to India to see India, period.

T -37 Days until India

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