Monday, November 28, 2011

Fort Kochi, Kerala India

I am sitting in a Tea Shop, which is filled with the the owner's many-hundred collection of old tea pots. I can hear the combined sounds of a children's school across the road and modern jazz playing throughout the shop, children laughing and talking waft through the mellow rhythm of jazz, and then there an added under beat of drums for a parade of some kind. It is the music of Kerala, new and old rhythms. Last night I went to a sitar concert. Today I am planning to submit my application for the writing fellowship at Stanford. I had almost talked myself out of it; it seems like such a long commitment (two years), and I can't imagine what I want to do when I finish this trip. But then, again, I had made a promise to myself to at least apply. What happens after that is out of my hands. If I do, by some miracle, get accepted I'm sure it will be a great possibility; and two years in California would not be all bad. (Update: application submitted--will know in April 2012, which is when I am scheduled to return to Maui).

Just a note on the teapots, because it is an exceptional collection. There are many sizes of old metal teapots (bronze maybe) with scrolled designs, along with plain metal ones. They sit on wood cabinets, in glass-covered cases, and hang from hooks down from the ceiling which has rectangles of open sky showing through. The light falls into the shop in misty layers on this strange and wonderful gathering of pots. There are hand-painted English teapots, from the very tiny one cup pots to large pots for full settings, and they are all hand decorated vines, flowers, colorful garden scenes, and even a few sprites for good luck. Then there are novelty pots, like the one my friends Sue and Lilia would love; a huge pot shaped exactly like a big fat black and white tabby cat with sparkling green eyes. It is the most amazing collection of tea pots I've ever seen.

The mind is a strange recollector also and so I had a memory surface, in this shop, of how Kent loved to collect specific things and how beautiful they seemed to him even though he lost the ability to display them the way, I think, he would have liked. Then my thoughts when to how torn I am between wanting to get rid of all possessions, having seen in the past few years filled with the deaths of family, how really no one wants your old stuff except you and maybe one dear loved one. Then desiring, on the other hand, to create a lovely space for all my memories and stuff, a wish to surround myself with all the stuff I have to remind me of the life I've had. I'm not sure which direction I will go. Either to get rid of everything, and live a simple life (be here now), or surround myself in a cocoon of lovely remembrances. My thoughts also strayed to how it is some relief to be out here on the road during the holidays (teapots-homey-home-holidays). When you share eighteen years worth of holidays with someone who is no longer there, it can feel better to be somewhere where there are no holidays, than to be surrounded by others. Close family and friends do make the hole seem larger, and although I'm very grateful I had friends and family to spend holidays with the past two years, spending this time out in the world is a kind of relief.

I have been in Fort Kochi for about eight days now, and will probably be here another week. I am staying in a Home Stay referred by Matthew from the Yoga Retreat. It is a lovely house where I have a sitting room, bedroom, air conditioning (which I only use at night), a small fridge for water and stuff, hot water, and even HBO (depending on reception). I have clean sheets and towels daily, and am surrounded by a home filled with plants, a beautiful fish tank, and very friendly owners. It is safe, comfortable, and a great place to hang out for a bit. All for about $30.00 a night. I am doing my best to conserve money for a bit, as I really went over my budget in the first part of my trip. I can eat great food for less than $20.00 a day, and I can walk almost everywhere I want to go. I can rent a bicycle for $6.00 a day, or a scooter for $12.00. There are a million little shops, restaurants, teashops, bookstores, churches, and sights. There is a park in the middle of town, a wharf with Chinese fishing boats, and a unique ferry system to Ernakulum (Cochin). It's a near perfect place, although it is very hot and humid; the place is starting to fill up with European tourists for the holidays.

I just want to add a note on the general snobbishness toward "Americans" that I've encountered during my travels, especially from Northern Europeans. Thankfully I've not experienced any "hate" vibes anywhere, but there is a general snootiness. I've noticed it all over Europe, in Turkey a bit, Dubai definitely, and in India mostly from foreign travelers. I actually expected it to be worse in Paris, but it was friendlier there than I had expected. The only real exception was Holland, where everyone was generally friendly and welcoming.
I can't read people's minds, so I'm not sure what it's based on, if people are aware they are doing it, or if it is just a reflex reaction. I would even consider that I was imaging this, except that I've experienced it before when traveling, and had time to review the incidents enough to be fairly sure my instincts were correct. It's hard to put a finger on the specific behavior, and it displays differently in different situations; it's just an overall expressed disdain, mistrust, or condescension. I detach myself from it, and generally go about my business without responding to it. There have been times when I knew fun was being made of my "Americanism" that I even went so far as to ignore people's behavior as if I didn't "get" that they were poking fun. I am not a nationalist, but I have a fondness for my county and it's people. I also think divisions based on religion, nationalism, gender, race, or sexual preference are superficial and ridiculous. I'm not interested in any of that nonsense. I want to know what we are going to do about all the people on this planet; how were are going to feed, cloth, house, and care for them. I want to know if we are going to go out and explore the universe we live in. I want to know if we are going to find inner peace, all of us. I want to know who the next great scientist, artist, poet,musician, writer will be. I want to know what is the next great discovery. I don't give a fuck about people's daily silliness, including my own! But, as a writer, I do feel obliged to document what I perceive.

Another thing I've noticed here in Fort Kochin is that everyone is traveling in pairs. It seems as if everyone is
in couples; young and old. Even women and men traveling together are in pairs. I've seen very few people traveling on their own. I had kind of expected that I would meet up with people to travel with, which happened when I was here before, but that was forty years ago. I've had to accept that it is much easier to meet up with people when you are twenty than when you are sixty! I am okay with being on my own most of the time, and am well aware that being on my own has definite advantages. At times I wish I had someone to share all this with, but that implies a real "someone", not just a stranger on the way. Those feelings are to be expected, and don't cause me as much pain as in the past few years. I think, gradually, I am healing healing healing...

My day starts usually about 7:30a or 8:00a, with a pot of coffee, then Yoga/meditation, then I go to town and do errands, shop, find new places to explore. In the afternoons I go back to my place and hang out in the heat. At 4:00p I do Yoga again, and then go back to town for dinner and a stroll. It's a very simple, easy life for the most part. I also go to the Internet place, the post office, the bank, the goods store for supplies,
watch some TV, read some books, write, think (not too much), and keep myself clean. That, in itself requires consistent effort. Everywhere is dusty and dirty, along with the heat which means constant sweating. So everyday, at least several times a day, you need to wash yourself off and clean your feet. It is a must, really, although at times it is tempting not to do it. It is hard to wash your feet when you know you will walk out the door and they will be dirty and dusty in two seconds! But staying clean is essential for good health in Asia, and I am vigilant about my health here.

I thought about taking some more tours, and maybe later I will regret that I haven't, but honestly I just needed to sit still for a bit and have a time of regular daily life with no travels and no new adventures. Although, everyday here there are some little adventures that happen just being in India and every once in a while, like at the sitar concert last night, I could pinch myself and say, " are in India listening to a sitar concert!" It is pretty amazing that I and whatever spirits or powers that may or may not be have let this happen for me (again!). I have also had time to look at my life and see that, in so many ways, I have had a remarkable time here, and have been blessed to experienced both the highest and lowest of what life
has to offer. That, in itself, is a gift that is not opened by everyone.

It's several days later, and I've had to change my flight from Chennai to Bangkok because my visa runs out December 16th. The only flight I could get using my old ticket is December 8th, which is fine because I'm ready to move on, except I still have not received any of my mail! I'm very frustrated with the India Post Office, and the way things are done here in general Which brings up a funny story. I was talking with someone here about how I've traveled all over the world, but haven't been across the United States. His response was, "why would you want to travel the States? There is nothing interesting there. They have no
culture." Then he went on to compare the thousands of years of Asian culture with the nothingness of
America (in his view). Now, I am far from being a flag waving zealot, but I felt a bit offended by his ignorance. My response was, "there is a culture in America, it is just a younger culture." I went on t describe pockets of distinctly American history and culture, but he was unimpressed. His response was that it was just a hodgepodge of borrowed cultures from other places. At that point I realized that pointing out to him that all human endeavor was "borrowed" from somewhere else would be futile, and it wasn't a conversation I was even interested in.

So today, when I was in the post office dealing with the impossibility of receiving a package sent two weeks ago, and received three different answers about where that package was currently according to one tracking number, and saw the chaos that is the India postal system, and added to that my experience of the bad roads, terrible buses, trashy streets, along with the common sight of well-dressed men casually taking a piss anywhere they please in public; some wellspring of no-culture American seething in two hundred years of genetic heritage from the back hills of West Virginia and the coal mines of Harlan County, Kentucky and the badlands of Hollywood and the beauteous land of Hawaii spued out of me, and I thought to myself, "if this is the result of thousands of years of culture, they can bloody have it!" I am, after all, a member of the human

So in this entry, you've got the good, the bad, and the ugly which is a fair example of what it is like to travel in India. Some days are magic, and some days are pissing in the wind. I think, even with meditation daily, this is a fair indication that it is time to move on from India, which I will be doing in another week or so.

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