Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maps are (Unfortunately) Optional

As a child I was pretty much a dork; a dork that enjoyed maps. My family took a number of cross country trips in the U.S. which provided ample time for me to peruse the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas that the State Farm agent provided each year. When that got boring, I'd switch over to the Information Please Almanac. Let's just say by the time I reached junior high I thought I knew more than just about anyone about American geography. Sadly, in the seventh grade I would finish second in the school's qualifying round for the National Geographic Geography Bee. In the spirit of full disclosure, I came back triumphantly and claimed the title in the eighth grade, earning a trip to the Illinois finals, only to be crushed in the opening round.

So maybe my knowledge of meaningless geographical facts wasn't as impressive as I initially thought; however, you can imagine that I'm the type of person that likes to know where on the map he's located and where on the map he's headed. Unfortunately, in India maps are nearly non-existent (though there is a Delhi map book sponsored by the fine folks at Eicher which can be fun to peruse when the excitement on the outside the car dies down). In fact, many locations don't have addresses in the traditional sense. If you were out in Chicago, you might ask a cabbie to take you to 1060 W. Addison Street, and he would know exactly where to take you. You know, because it's a specific location. In India, it doesn't necessarily work that way. Most addresses are landmark-based. You might ask the driver to take you to the "Infinity Building, DLF Phase I, Ground Floor, Near Microsoft." Literally, addresses often have the word "near" proceeding a location just to get you close.

Unfortunately, this system seems to work, and I fear that I'm acclimating to the method. Roads aren't on any sort of grid, and many don't even have obvious names, so traditional addresses wouldn't even make sense (in a future post, I'll decipher the notation for places that have specific addresses in Gurgaon; I'm still catching on but it's slowly beginning to make sense). I have no idea what road our health club is on even though I go there multiple times per week. However, if a temporary driver happens to show up on a given morning, I can easily point him toward a landmark close to the health club. And the thing is, it always works, which is especially helpful because there's still something of a language barrier with drivers (in other words, my computer-based Hindi lessons haven't progressed as quickly as I'd hoped). I'm sorry to report that this landmark-based method for navigation seems to be here to stay, and there's not much I can (or actually really want to) do about it.

I promise though, that when this experience is over I'll go back to being one of those people that says, "go half a mile, turn right on Rand; go another three-quarters of a mile, and turn left on IL-22, go another four tenths of a mile and it will be on your left" rather than someone that says, "look for the big water tower; when you get close, you'll see a guy holding a signboard for a mattress sale, take a left there and then drive slow to make sure you don't miss the brick building; if you see Target, you've gone too far."

1 comment:

  1. I believe I have the same State Farm atlas in the car...probably circa 1985.