Wednesday, September 12, 2007
My life in Asia may not always be comfortable, but it’s always interesting and sometimes exciting. Of course, it is a matter of choice that I take the crowded, hot, and bumpy public bus instead of the air conditioned taxi, or the regular “sleeper” train instead of a short flight. It’s not just a matter of expense, but of wanting to be with ordinary people and to know what daily life is like for them in their own country. But I see plenty of extreme cases that I prefer to forego – people working long hours in oppressive mid-day heat doing hard physical labor, living in thatched huts with dirt floors and no running water, or sleeping in the streets. One needs to learn to look past the many beggars that haunt the cities and are especially numerous and persistent in tourist areas.
I’ve postponed my return to the United States until late November. The current plan is this:
On Friday Sept 14, I’ll fly to Malaysia, then go to Thailand for a while, then to Bali. My objectives in Malaysia and Thailand are to experience some other parts of Asia where the living seems to be easier and more pleasant than in India, and to take a little break from my regular work schedule and enjoy the beaches. In Bali I will be doing some work with another of my colleagues who has, for the past 10 years, been helping to organize complementary currencies and exchange systems in that part of the world. We will put some serious effort into developing sources of grant funding and investment capital to support the kinds of exchange options that are becoming increasingly urgent as the global regime of money and finance become ever more oppressive and unstable.
I’ll return to Auroville in late October to continue work with our project teams there, then fly to London on November 12. I’ll have a 2 week layover for visits in the UK and Europe, then fly to San Francisco on Nov 26.
Toward the end of August I took a journey of exploration toward the west coast of India. I started with an overnight bus from Pondicherry (now officially, “Puducherry”) to Bangalore. There are many private companies that provide intercity transport. Most intercity runs are made overnight, I suppose to avoid both traffic and daytime heat.
My coach was a sleeper bus, reasonably comfortable but not air conditioned. The layout has bunks above and regular coach seats below. There are no toilets on these busses. Fortunately, about the time my need to pee became urgent, we pulled off the road for our mid-trip stop. To call the place a “rest area” would be misleading. There was a little tea stand and snack bar beside a big parking area, and a concrete building labeled “men” and “women” at either end, which unfortunately was padlocked. There was no choice but to follow the lead of some of my fellow passengers to the muddy field at the edge of the parking lot. There were a couple women on the bus, but I have no idea how they managed their necessities.
The main problem with this mode of intercity transport is that you get dropped off early in the morning, in some side street, in a strange city, in the rain, and have no idea where you are or where to go. Fortunately, there’s always a swarm of motorized rickshaw drivers eager to take you somewhere. My greatest need upon arriving in Bangalore was to find a toilet, then a café where I could get a cup of tea and bite to eat, and take some time to get oriented and plan my next move. My driver proved to be helpful in finding the former but not the latter. Being still early morning, I had to wait for a café to open.
Bangalore showed little to interest me. Like most Indian cities, it’s crowded, noisy, dirty and, if you don’t know your way around, expensive. I ended up paying far too much for a very ordinary hotel room in a bustling part of town close to the bus and train stations, an area that seemed like one big bazaar.
I decided the next day to catch the train for Goa. I’ll not take the time to relate the details of that part of the trip, but just to summarize, I found the Goa beaches to be a bit of a disappointment in comparison to those in Carolina, Florida and California. I’ve heard that there are some nicer ones toward the south of where I stayed, which I might explore on another occasion. It did not help that it was still rainy season there, so outdoor activities and time on the beach were limited. The four month long monsoon (June through September) causes everything in Goa to be covered with some combination of moss, mold, and mildew. One café owner told me that everything must be repainted after each rainy season.
The most pleasant and relaxing part of that trip was the three days I spent in Pondicherry prior to my return to Auroville. After 24 hours on the train from Goa to Madras (now officially “Chennai”), I caught a public bus back to Pondi where I managed to get a room at the Park Guest House, which is operated by the nearby Sri Aurobindo Ashram and is located right on the Bay of Bengal. For less cost than anywhere else I’ve stayed in India, I had a clean and bright second story room overlooking the garden and the sea. The one minor drawback is the 10:30 curfew, but that was no inconvenience in my case.
Understand that Pondicherry is divided into two sections. Pondi was formerly a French colony and the eastern part toward the sea, the most desirable part, was laid out along traditional European lines. The “French quarter” is cleaner, prettier, quieter and less crowded than the rest of the city, and is a place that still offers some escape from the frantic pace that is characteristic of India cities.
There’s much more to tell, but that must suffice for now.
Warmest regards to all,