Saturday, April 24, 2010

Missing the Delta

What is it that makes a place a home?

I've been pondering this for the past 2 weeks, while I'm in India and very far away from my home outside of Chicago. What is it that I miss? I'm staying at a nice hotel, the food is good, and the people I'm working with during the day are very nice - they're glad I'm here to work with them they're more than happy to help me out when I need it (though I'm not comfortable asking for help, so don't do it as much as I should).

I just moved to a new hotel, to be closer to the office I'm working out of for the next 2 months. It's on the ocean and I have a great view. But... I'd rather be home. Would MUCH rather be home. This is nice for today, but the thought of staying several more weeks is... depressing.

I try to rationalize why I shouldn't miss home. Good opportunity for my career, nice hotel on the beach, room service, driver to take me around.... but I don't care. I think part of the problem is that I have trouble communicating with people here. Most Indians speak English, but it's British English, with different terms, and it's not their native language, so many people speak only broken British English. It's also hard that I don't know how things work over here. What I mean is that the way of life is different - there are lots of small, unorganized shops. They do have malls that are similar to what I'm used to in the States...sort of. I went to a mall last weekend and the shopkeepers are more aggressive and try to solicit people into their shops. It's not a place where you can walk around, window shopping, and relax. I also don't have my car that I can just jump in and drive where ever I want to go. I'm much more dependent on other people and I'm not comfortable with that.

But there's something else about home that I miss. It's intangible and difficult, if not impossible to describe. It's a mysterious, ancient magic that calms and comforts. It's something that's there, but not here. In science and math, the difference between two numbers is often called the delta.

I miss my delta.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kinda the same, kinda different

A reflection on my first week in India (Chennai):

It's hot. And there are a lot of people. These things seem obvious. However, knowing them and experience them are very different things.

Driving in Chennai takes focus, skill, and a lot of luck, I think. Bikes (both bicycles and motorbikes) weave in and out of traffic. But, so do the cars, as much as they can. They have lane lines drawn, but I think they're just there to make us foreigners feel better. My coworker, who's from India, put it well when he said that Indians don't drive on the left side of the road, they drive on what's left of the road. If there's space, someone will squeeze in. People really know where their car or bus is, I've seen hundreds of cars come within inches (or should I say centimeters) of each other. And they pack people in. If the bus is full, people will hang off the side of it. And several people will sit on a motorbike - I saw four the other day, a family, I think. Dad was driving, Mom was behind him holding a toddler, and a young girl was standing on the bike in front of Dad.

The office of the consulting firm I'm visiting is nice. It's a large complex that's still under construction. The hallways are outside, but covered, so it's tolerable. And the A/C inside is cranked, which is fantastic. The team is very friendly. They're very patient with all the questions we ask about their culture.

Went shopping at a large mall today - Spencer Plaza. It's similar to the malls in the US, but it looks like it started as a smaller building and was added on. And the shopkeepers often stand outside their shop and try to direct people in. And they really wanted to sell me Pashmina shawls... I think 20 people asked me. And some of them did a double take when they saw me. Apparently, foreign woman are exciting. Probably they think I have tons of money to spend. I did pick up a cute tunic. The shop was run by women and they were much less in-your-face than most of the other shopkeepers. The woman who helped me picked out my size perfectly. And she helped me troll through all the different shirts. It's not like the use where there's a rack full of the same shirt in different sizes. They were piled up in stacks and you just dig through a find something you like. A young girl was there, I think her daughter. She was wearing a really pretty tunic and I complimented her on it as I was leaving. She got a big smile on her face.