What’s the rush?!?

28 Jan

All I really needed was a towel. In the larger scheme of things nothing too pressing. From across the counter there was a soft, almost imperceptible enquiry.

“Large or small?”

“Both,” I replied.

“Hai!” The reply shot back, faster than a Nadal backhand and with the sort of military precision that found me nervously shuffling my feet. Firm and single-minded.

As quickly as she’d responded, all that was left where she’d been standing was a shuddering vacuum and a quiver of loose papers fluttering in her wake. She was running. No, not a figurative ‘running like the wind’ type of running, but a literal “going quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and at such a manner that for an instant in each step both feet are off the ground” running. Fast.

Before I could make out the shape of the approaching mercurial object she stopped in her tracks, bowed until her forehead seemed to touch the floor and handed me the towels. The entire transaction, from beginning to end, took about 20 seconds.

Aside from the more obvious reflections about the differences in approach to customer service here in Japan (albeit still a very limited experience) to those experienced in Australia (an extensive, but not often rewarding, set of experiences), what struck me most was my own reaction to being treated with such dedicated and focused attention. I actually felt uncomfortable. Not because I didn’t enjoy the attention, nor because I was unaware of language or customs, but simply because I was not used to feeling that special as a customer. As mundane as this interaction may seem on the outside, it reminded me of how often, as a customer, I am placed in a position of approaching many sales or service transactions as a ‘double helix’. Not only am I offering financial compensation for the service or product, but I often find myself in a secondary process of gaining someone’s attention to either take my money or, if they have already taken it off my hands, to actually perform the service which they have agreed to by a relatively simple transactional act.

Come on people, it’s not that hard. National economies are transactional, even to the seemingly insignificant minutiae of purchasing milk at the local convenience store. What often keeps people buying from you is less the product and more likely how you make the customer feel as they part with their hard earned cash. It’s not demeaning to treat customers with respect. That treatment is itself generative of greater respect for the process, the persons involved and will, as a result of a natural feedback loop, invest all parties in the process with increased levels of respect if not, at least, civility.

The Japanese service industry understands this and, even though I’ve only been here a few days I already want to come back because I feel heard and ‘understood’. That’s repeat business already banked before the first transaction is even complete!

Hai!

You first. No, you first… (first impressions of an unfamiliar culture)

9 Jan

Perhaps it’s already been done, but surely there’s a sociological/anthropological study to be carved out by studying traffic and driver behaviour to determine what can be gleaned about the broader culture in general. Someone should call me. I could give them a jump start with respect to Japan. I could describe driver behaviour here in one simple word.

Impeccable.

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On arriving at Narita airport we were picked up for the four hour drive to the ski slopes. The trip took us through Tokyo city before swinging to the west toward our final destination, Myoko. Given the time we drove through the capital, I can only assume it was morning peak hour (rush hour to my North American friends). So far nothing unusual in this story, except for the fact that it was one of the most silent trips I have ever encountered in such a large city. Not one car horn. No truck horns. No bus horns. No motorcycle horns. Nothing.

In fact, as we reached the most congested part early in our journey, traffic seemed to take a rather serene twist. Drivers patiently edged forward. No one cut in. In fact, drivers seemed to go out of their way to let others through, as if they had all the time in the world forgetting, perhaps, they also had somewhere to be.

Either these Japanese drivers have the patience of angels, or perhaps they have learned that the best way for traffic to flow is to display an overarching sense of empathy for the other, knowing they too will be recipients of such charity.

Whatever the reasons for such polite behaviour, I can only assume the object of their anxiety must lie elsewhere. Surely no one can be this collectively stress free. Can they?

OK, here we go again…

7 Jan

Welcome back… to me!

OK, to you too…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but that should be no surprise given the fact this is a travel blog and that, by reasonable implication, requires I be elsewhere rather than ‘here’. By ‘here’ I mean not just the Emerald City, but the entire island continent (guessed yet?!?). When I am ‘here’, I tend to post my little thought bubbles on another blog, for no other reason than clarity of purpose. This blog is about sharing my experiences as I travel. The other space is about maintaining my own sanity through processing all things life throws at me by writing about it. Of course, given the words come out of the same brain mass, there is inevitably some cross-over, but lets not over-think it.

So, elsewhere, where is it this time?

日本

[aka Nihon, aka Japan]

For the first week my family and I hope to experience some of this…

snowreportjan18Together with a whole bunch of this…

Skiing in MyokoAnd maybe a little bit of this (that’s me right at the back there)…

Snow Monkeys

We then change it up a little as we head east to Tokyo.

This trip was unexpected, in that we have only recently had a big overseas family holiday (see some of the previous posts, as scarce as they were on that occasion), and I had never really contemplated Japan as a family destination. Well, the opportunity presented itself and, with my determination to have as many fun, interesting and, hopefully, pleasantly memorable family holidays as possible before the kids decide it’s no longer ‘cool’ to hang out with the old folks over the summer school break, it seemed like a good idea.

This will be one of the first overseas holidays in a long time where I speak none of the local language. Strange as it may sound, I’m looking forward to the potential cultural alienation that awaits, and reflect on how someone reasonably adept at European travel copes with such exotic ‘otherness’ – I am, in a way, feeling like my own anthropological experiment.

I’ll let you know how it goes – hopefully more frequently than my last trip.

The Muse has Left the Building

17 Feb

We’ve been back three weeks.

“What?!” I hear you exclaim, somewhat perplexed.

“Already?” you ask, quite legitimately.

“But what about all those travel posts you were going to publish? All those stories… what happened to those?” Once again, legitimate questions.

“And that deep, yet ever accessible insight you bring into our weary, but ever hopeful lives?” OK, maybe you didn’t ask that, but you can’t blame a guy for his delusions.

I look back at my writing ambitions (no, it wasn’t a binding promise, no matter how much you feel disappointed and let down) prior to our five week European holiday and, having surveyed my prolific achievement of an entire three posts, I cannot but arrive at the conclusion that I may have underachieved a little in the publishing department.

So what happened? I can only speculate, though I must admit I am rather at peace with my hypothesis: I felt no need to share.

Most, if not all of my previous travel posts have been written whilst I’ve been travelling on my own. On this occasion I was travelling with my family. I’m not suggesting that my family consumed all of my time or mental bandwidth and consequently took me away from my desire to write. But what I am exploring is that I actually felt no need to write, and their presence on our shared travel adventure was very much weaved into that absence.

Many real and working writers before me have mused on the process of writing, and how it is very much a solitary exercise. Writing, for many, is borne out of a need for dialogue, some form of engagement (perceived or real) with an audience other than the author. Beyond a psychotic dialogue with self, many of us write in the expectation, wrapped in narcissistic hope (the good kind…?), of someone actually reading our words and engaging in some type of response – whether that response is returned to the author is neither here nor there. Writers are often satisfied knowing (imagining) they have elicited a response. Basically, writers write because they want to share – their thoughts, their stories, their adventures, their journeys – sometimes because writing is the only mechanism available for sharing anything at all.

And so I was actually surprised when, a week or so into our family holiday I noticed I felt no need to write anything; no need to share in any great detail. I was comfortably satisfied with experiencing, in real time, the journey with my fellow travellers. My experiences were being witnessed, at the point of their unfolding. They saw my reactions and my responses, and I theirs. It was immediate and unmediated. It was all there, for all of us to enjoy – and share together. It was very satisfying and rewarding beyond expectation.

Microblogging, by way of Facebook, was all I had in me – and so every now and again I’d share moments, snippets, photos – with those on my Friends list which, with as much hubris as I can feign, does not always include those who might stumble upon this blog. So whatever surplus of need I may have experienced, it was satisfied with only incremental exercises in sharing, and that was enough.

So my apologies for leaving you hanging  and for not delivering on an expectation created, I assume, by my own misguided announcement. Perhaps you’ll take some comfort in the realisation that it wasn’t you – it was me.

Now that the holiday is over I may find my muse on that other blog.

Until then, bon voyage to all you travellers.

“Celebrate the Magic!”

28 Dec

We visited Disneyland. Well, when I say ‘visited,’ it felt more like a consequence of orbiting too close to its gravitational pull and, inevitably, finding ourselves crashing and burning on its deceptively ‘cheery’ surface.

Main Street, Disneyland

Disneyland Paris is no longer Euro Disney – perhaps an attempt to distance itself from the current dismal state of the European economy – and, further differentiating itself from, ironically, all things ‘Euro,’ is a booming Wonderland.

Whilst my own response to our visit is ambivalent at best, I should confess that even my ambivalence is soaked in a toxic distaste for what I inevitably resigned myself to becoming once I entered its gilded gates. Having voluntarily subjected myself to both, the moral and commercial violation that came with buying our tickets, I was determined to extract as much value from the experience as possible. But try as I might, I found myself expending an enormous amount of energy in suppressing the guilt of an unfaithful lover.

A mere 41 kilometres to the west lay Paris, a vibrant, pulsating city – softly beckoning for my attention, calling like a nubile siren. And I yearned for its embrace. Boy did I yearn. But I ignored the call and, like an adolescent who wouldn’t know seduction if it bit him in the arse, promptly turned my gaze toward the loud shiny object of Walt’s loins. There is no way around it. Disneyland is a conspicuous cultural wart on the porcelain ‘perfection’ of Paris. And, as is the intriguing nature of such things, impossible to ignore. But I should have ignored it, and now there’s no going back.

It wasn’t until we’d spent approximately seven of our ten hours waiting in queues, aimlessly wondering from one end of the park to the other, getting soaked in the occasional downpour and battling the hostile throngs, that I realised my mistake. By then it was too late; we’d already turned on each other.

Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy, an epic poem in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Inferno recounts, in allegorical form, Dante’s journey through Hell. I’ve never identified more in my life.

Main Street, Disneyland @ Night

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A thought on orienteering

22 Dec

We arrived in Paris exactly 24 hours ago. If you knew that I am writing this at 06:15 in the morning you may also suspect that the only reason I would even be contemplating such an exercise whilst the darkness still envelops this city of lights is because I can’t sleep (those who know my intense distaste for early mornings might also be speculating about the state of my sanity).

Yes, we are certainly in a fog of jet-lag, though I doubt it will last too long, thanks mostly to some reasonable sleep and the adrenalin kickstarts we will certainly be enjoying over the next couple of days. But there are other types of ‘fogs’ that often descend upon the weary traveller and, in my own experience, the directional bewilderment experienced by being in an unfamiliar place is one such case.

I find the process of finding my bearings in an unfamiliar place both pleasurable and unsettling. Pleasurable because it demonstrates a gradual mastery of my environment; the possibility of moving through this space as if I belonged, turning corners with the confidence that challenges even local knowledge. It’s the equivalent of me, standing at the top of Montmartre, looking over the city as it slopes away into the distance and, with mock defiance, calling out, “Hey, Paris! You’re not the boss of me!”

Of course, this level of mastery is really only wishful extrapolation from those small victories of being able to locate myself within the co-ordinates of a cheap tourist map. Paris right now is very much my boss.

People find their bearings in so many different ways; some will research the hell out of a place before their departure, mapping out both an itinerary and the various routes and modes of transport to be employed. Others will be content with waiting until they arrive, sitting down with a good map and getting a ‘big picture’ feel for the place. Some will prefer to jump in and just start moving, using either a map or the kindness of strangers to get them to where they want to go. And others still may just want to lean back and let others do the leading, by way of an organised tour or a ubiquitous ‘hop on, hop off’ bus. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse way. There are just ways.

Perhaps the point I am searching for is that for the majority of us casual tourists most of our travelling days are defined by the anxious realisations of not actually being where we thought we were, or think we should be. As our eyes constantly dart left to right, with wishful persistence we believe we can triangulate our position simply by the wilful power of our gaze. I realise this is not the same for everyone, but this common experience has already provided me with some reflective fodder to think through how I find my bearings and, being the astute reader you are, you have probably joined the dots to arrive at a well-deserved conclusion that I am not just referring to the art of travelling.

If I haven’t already laboured the metaphor enough merely by implication, I am fascinated by how my children will find their own bearings as they travel through life’s unfamiliar places. Sure, I am interested by how we all do it, but clearly I have a vested interest in this case.

This reflection inevitably turns on itself as I can’t help but ask what my role as a parent should be in this process for my kids. Should I drive them there myself? Should I provide them a map and a mobile phone, in case they need to call home? Or perhaps my role is mainly to show them a map (but which one, and where do I get one?), and give them all the nutrition they need to be able to walk as long as they need to, wherever they are going, on their own. These, and a myriad hybrid possibilities.

Perhaps a good sleep will help clear the fog.

I Wonder…

21 Dec

As I write this we are flying at an inordinate distance above the Celebes Sea, at an approximate ground speed of 901 kilometres per hour, and 2390 kilometres from Hong Kong. I didn’t even know there was a Celebes Sea. Barely off the ground and I’m already getting an education.

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Here we are, all 265 of us, gently, yet oh so single-mindedly, headed towards our singular destinations on the other side of our world. I’ve flown a lot this year. Mind you, not very long distances, but certainly more than once. In fact, I have hopped on a plane about 66 times this year, if you count the return trips. And each time, without fail, my mind turns to the laws of physics that make this trip even a remote possibility. I have no idea what those laws are. Not one bit. But I’m glad someone does.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s all magic.

And I marvel.

Hey, miss me??!!

19 Dec

I’ve decided to remove the dusty covers off this blog and, after I’ve finished sneezing from the over-abundance of dust mites, turn my hand to writing again. Travel is always an inspiration to me and, fingers crossed, I hope this time is no exception.

Over the next five weeks there will be words about travel (err, obviously), cultural conundrums, mysterious foods, freezing cold climates (and a longing for warmer ones), self deprecating anecdotes about my pathetic attempts at staying upright on a pair of skis, and the usual linguistic trapeze acts one finds oneself in when the locals are simply too obstinate to speak to me in the accepted ‘universal’ language (not, not the language of love… I’m not writing those down…).

So where will I be? Well, my family and I are off on an international adventure. Pictures speak a thousand words, so you work it out…

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See you in the Blogosphere!!

Blatant Cross (er… Self) Promotion

28 Mar

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally acted on my decision to write a much more regular blog. Given I’m not travelling as much – at least to anywhere that’s actually inspiring me to write – I figured I’d try my hand at something a little less structured, and a little more risky.

Less structured because it will not be just about travelling, or thoughts, reflections, experiences whilst away from home. The canvas is blank, and very broad.

More risky because, in the same, somewhat pathetic, angst-ridden procrastinating way, I have no idea what I can say that will be of any engaging use to anyone. Still, my prevoius attempts have yielded some nice results and, more importantly, I enjoyed writing very much. In the end, it is about me, after all. Isn’t it?

Hence the title of my new venture: Be Kind 2 Yourself (Go on… click on it!)

Yep. much to reflect and learn on that topic. Indeed.

In the unlikely event of an emergency landing…

10 Sep

The softly spoken female flight attendant was very warm and encouraging:

“In the unlikely event of an emergency landing…”

What do they actually mean by this qualification?

Is it simply that it would be unlikely to experience an emergency landing? Or, should we have an emergency situation whilst in flight, that we should expect to land at all?

Brace yourself…

The Ground Beneath Our Feet…

10 Sep

There is an old joke that suggests there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

Yes. We grin in recognition. That is so true. The joke is funny in part because of the absurd juxtaposition of something so absolute (so certain) against something relatively banal in comparison (I’m sure there are other reasons why it’s funny, but I just want to set the scene here…).

My recent trip to New Zealand has highlighted the sheer terror we may face when, something we take for granted as certain – as fundamental – to our everyday lives – decides to ‘fight back’. I’m not just talking about some theoretical, ethereal, existential angst, but of a terror that strikes at one of the most fundamental assumptions many of us take for granted in our physical and ‘mundane’ quotidian existence. The very ground on which we walk.

How many of us, on stepping outside our home, look down at our feet and challenge, if only for a split second, the security of the ground we walk on? In fact, I’d speculate that most of us are so certain of the steadfastness of our chosen paths that such questions barely reach our consciousness. Unfortunately, for those in Christchurch on the 4th September 2010, their collective consciousness experienced a rude awakening.

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Apparently, and quite understandably, people in Christchurch are now terrified. Terrified to walk outside. Terrified to stay at home. Not many options left after those two. The Earth has ‘spoken’, and there’s nothing to do but humbly acquiesce. On this occasion the Earth could be considered to have been reasonably benevolent. There were no deaths.

But the aftershocks, both physical and emotional, will be reverberating for some time to come.

[Photos sourced from The Dominion Post]

It’s Black AND White: My Final First Impressions of India. For now…

6 Sep

Warning: This post is reaaaaally looooooong, and tends toward the academic. Or, if I were to be truly honest, it’s downright self-indulgent.

So sue me…

Disclosure:

  • I was in India for seven days.
  • I went for business purposes.
  • I first landed in Kolkata, then flew to Mumbai, drove to Pune and back, then flew out of Mumbai, back to Sydney (via Bangkok).
  • Most of my travel around India, except for Saturday and Sunday, consisted of being driven between the hotel and the offices.
  • I had a driver available on call throughout my stay.
  • The hotels I stayed in were very, very nice.
  • I ate breakfasts at the hotels and had a couple of dinners there as well.
  • My trip to Pune from Mumbai, then back, was a road trip, with one pit stop – for a masala chai at a truck stop near Kandala.
  • Most of my sightseeing was of Mumbai on the weekend, the Sunday being Independence Day.
  • I flew coach (economy).

So, lets not ignore the elephant in the cultural critic’s room. Given my stay was relatively short, and certainly mediated through a number of Western, and westernised, apprehensions (as well as comforts), what on Earth could I possibly say about my impressions of India that could bear any cultural legitimacy and relevance, or add to that discourse?

I’m glad I asked that question…

Ever since my university days (I feel like I should be sitting in a rocking chair, smoking a pipe, as I tell you this) I’ve been intrigued by the spaces  in cultural criticism and social critique between generalised theory on the one hand, and indivisible personal experience on the other. And, as any passionate, naive student should do, I’d waver between the merits and ‘evils’ of both.

On the side of theory would be the belief that social frameworks and constructs provide a good and reasonable lens to understand the world, furnishing us with a shared language by which to engage in productive discussions so as to progress such understanding. Of course, on the days I’d forget to take my meds I’d very quickly see through the smoke and mirrors of theory, and accuse such posturing as yet another exercise in cultural colonisation, an appropriation of truth in the name of the powerful, who would claim ownership of social knowledge, leaving its very objects of knowledge bereft of the possibility of any self-definition.

My educational bi-polarity would eventually take a turn and, through a series of delusional gestalt moments I’d see the light. But of course, an individual’s experience matters. The embodied subject is the one who writes the cultural ‘text’. Perhaps not on paper, but certainly through more wholistic means. And it this embodied life’s refusal in being recorded, statically, for all posterity, that is the locus of colonial resistance. The individual writes their own history. No one else. Until I’d forget to take my meds…

Yes, heady stuff indeed.

Ironically, the most common response to the exhausting navigation between these two poles is silence. Not discussion. Not discourse. Not cultural exploration. Nothing.

[Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it has taken me three weeks to get back to this post to try and complete it? Paging Dr Freud!]

As I’ve more or less implied in a previous post, I take these ruminations seriously – perhaps too much so, to the point of muted inertia. But, consciously or otherwise, this is the very threshold every writer with half an opinion (and sometimes even less brain) decides to cross each time they put fingers to keyboard.

But what has this to do with India? Everything. And nothing at all. The writer’s internal demons are my own, and there is no other reason to share these with you except for the distant hope of cathartic redemption in the act of confiding that, no matter what my impressions of an otherwise ‘exotic’ country may be, it will bear no difference to anyone’s life there (or here, or anywhere…).

Nonetheless I am compelled to share. You see, the butterfly effect looms large in my consciousness – the ever abiding hope that perhaps, in my simple utterance, or perhaps through the thoughtful positioning of a punctuation mark, my thoughts matter.

And here’s the rub, the paragraphs you have just read (if you’ve managed to get this far), barely streams of consciousness are, in effect, the very essence of my experience of India.

“WTF?!?” I hear you whisper, bemused and, in some measure, frustrated.

Unlike a cheap stripper (or so I’ve been told), India does not lend itself to uncomplicated, titillating self-exposure. It is a complex place. A jumble of contradictions living in symbiotic tension.

I don’t purport to “get” India. I do not dare to write it’s story. But neither can I remain silent, for I did experience it, if only in passing. India teased me and left me wanting more. And now I deal with its absence, its distance and its otherness by writing about it. Perhaps I can reclaim its strangeness on my skin and in my nostrils. Perhaps it will remember me and welcome me back.

India [is]…

exhilarating

confusing

humid

humbling

exotic

impenetrable

welcoming

damaged

intelligent

self-reflective

kitsch

proud

pained

rich

poor

defiant

carefree

paranoid

hopeful

indifferent

compassionate

selfless

egocentric

free

uncertain

It’s all of these things, and more, all at once – colliding with the violent expectation of nuclear fusion, leaving the observer gasping for air – and reaching for their nearest blog.

The Element of Surprise

22 Aug

I have no idea what happened.

One minute I was punching a few thoughts onto this blog for a handful of family and friends (OK, perhaps ‘handful’ is a little optimistic) and then, BAM! How did my blog go from an average of 20 to 50 views per day/post to a whopping 1600, in less than 24 hours?

How does a simple anecdote about an Australian’s half-sleepy encounter with someone who returned his laundry early one morning in India garner that much attention? Surely it can’t be the Euro-centric reflection on conversational constructs. Did I totally underestimate blog readers’ thirst for grammatical correctness? Or has our collective desire for linguistic directness broken through the Zeitgeist such that all we want to do is express ourselves from ‘first principles’?

Allow me to reiterate: I dunno.

I would love to think this unexpected attention is a direct result of a broad-based discovery of my incisive content, edge of the seat writing style, all wrapped up in rapier-like wit.

Shh… please leave me to my fantasy for just one minute…

I started this blog in April, having promised myself I’d get back into writing something that might actually be read by other people. I had some comforting support from a few friends so I launched myself into it.

The problem for me, however, and I assume a very common one for a few aspiring writers out there, is that whilst I harbour many thoughts, opinions and solutions to all the world’s problems, I still suffer from the ‘reality principle” – that is, who is really going to read my stuff and, more significantly, am I going to look like a douche as a result?

Lets not underestimate that last question. This is not just about ‘exposing’ my thoughts and ideas to my immediate neighbours, but opening myself up to potential ‘douche-ness’ on a Global scale. So in order to contain the potential for such universal humiliation I decided to concentrate on very specific experiences, and the possibility of riffing on my brief travel adventures gave itself over as an option, offering very targetted and focused material (given this particularly rambling post, I may need to rethink that remit).

And so, it is a purpose-built blog – at its busiest when I’m travelling. And this is how its been since April, with a handful of hits when the blog is active. Until a couple of days ago…

Perhaps WordPress has a ‘Featured’ section, drawing readers to different types of content and aspiring new bloggers. I can’t be sure, as I haven’t actually checked, being the vagrant blogger that I am. At least, if I don’t check I won’t be bursting my self-congratulatory bubble anytime soon. Ignorance is ego.

Anyway, I guess that was my fifteen minutes of ‘fame’ (actually, it was probably about a third of that – say five minutes). I didn’t even see it coming. Thank you anyway, all you kind readers. Now back to my keyboard. I may need to book my next trip for fear I may have nothing else to write about.

Grammatology, and the art of guileless offence.

20 Aug

Pune, India. Early Wednesday morning. Barely out of bed and feeling somewhat disoriented (I had only just arrived the night before, after a three hour road trip from Mumbai), wondering what time it was.

A courteous but determined thump on the door startles me. My senses immediately switch to overdrive. I perform a practiced reconnaissance across the room to determine all potential exits. Unfortunately, this one is six floors above ground. Another thump. What’s the worst that could happen?

I drag myself to the door and open it. Tentatively. A woman’s voice. Deep, but definitely feminine.

“I want cash.”

What?!?

“I.want.cash.”

She thrusts a small, soft package through the slit of the door.

I’m about to throw the package back in her face, slam the door shut and call the Australian Embassy to request an air lift when my eyes finally manage to focus on the package. Oh…

On arriving at the hotel the previous night I’d noticed my shirts were dirty. I had called reception to see if they could arrange for them to be laundered overnight. Four shirts – washed, ironed, neatly folded and wrapped in plastic. This was the package.

What reception had failed to tell me was that they ‘outsourced’ this work (no, the irony doesn’t escape me) to a local woman who is not on the hotel books.

“I WANT CASH,” she seemed to repeat, assuming I had a hearing disability. No sooner had I rubbed my eyes and grabbed the package she managed to walk through the door. Literally. I don’t remember unfastening the latch. She then continued her determined ways, and proceeded to change the mood to the imperative.

“Sign. SIGN.” I managed to wrest the piece of paper flapping in my face from her hands and noticed it was an invoice. Ah, I see, “You want me to sign this?”

“Sign.”

“OK.”

“I want cash.” She was obviously in a transactionally transitive state of mind, “215 Rupees.”

Dug in pocket. Gave her cash. Signed paper. Nudged her out. Locked the door. Smiled.

It wasn’t the fact that the hotel reception had forgotten to warn me to have the money ready that stood out for me, but the sudden shock of the pure expression, through the most core of english grammatical structures, of a clear desire. No niceties. No diplomacy. No chit chat. Not one word about the weather.

Just give me the money. It was both straightforward and disquieting, but I doubt she could have expressed herself any other way. It was a sober reminder, however, around how much of our own verbal communication is wrapped in grammatical cotton wool. I think most of us would find it difficult to unwrap, pare back and see what happens. Too many cultural assumptions. Too many unspoken rules. Too socially awkward. But it’d be a great experiment! Perhaps you could try it at home.

If, instead of asking a loved one or friend, “Gee, I feel like a cup of tea, do you mind making me one?” Why not try, “I want tea. Make me one.” Would this suggest you love or respect them any less? It’s rude, you say. It’s offensive. Maybe, but that is one of those very assumptions I’d be challenging.

Four shirts for 215 Rupees. That’s $5 Australian per shirt. In the end, I hope I wasn’t the one that offended her.

Horn OK Please

17 Aug

The car/bus/motorbike horn in India is an instrument. not a musical instrument in the way the vuvuzela is a musical ‘instrument,’ though potentially as nerve-wracking and annoying to the untrained ear. The horn does not mean “DANGER,” nor “What the hell are you doing?” It simply means, “I’m here” or, in the more extreme cases, “Watch out, I’m coming through!” Given the population of 14 million in Mumbai, any one individual’s announcement of their existence on a public thoroughfare is bound to escalate into a cacophony of dissonant sound.

This, of course, also leads to very particular behaviours on Indian roads, the most obvious one being the assumption that one has the right to cut in front, move ahead, turn without indicating and drive against the flow of traffic – as long as you have adequately announced your presence and intentions by use of your horn.

A typical scenario would involve a car driving behind a larger vehicle such as a truck or bus (though this also occurs for vehicles of all sizes) and toot your horn to announce you intend passing them. But the horn is not just an announcement of intent, but an imperative for anyone in front to move aside, and quickly. This seems to have led to some quaint signage on vehicles that might be considered either large or incapable of great speeds or maneuverability. This signage is a nod to the assumed need for such driving behaviour, and politely declares, “Horn OK Please.”

You can’t fault Indian manners.

[All photos mine. If you want to use any, please let me know first. Thanks.]

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