Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Life is Busy (aka, My Excuse for Not Writing)

I recognize my posts have been fewer and further between the past few weeks but I like to think I have an excuse. Since Lindsay went to Orlando just two weeks ago, we've been busy. We've visited Varanasi, purchased a house (that I've only seen in pictures), had a going away party, hosted a visitor from the office in the U.S., made a mad dash to the Taj Mahal, attended the American Women's Association mela, packed an apartment, had a near cardiac event when Lindsay lost her FRRO papers (not something that would be easy to replace), had a joyous reunion between Lindsay and her FRRO papers three hours later, and had movers move our stuff out of that apartment - all while trying to finish up our respective jobs here in India.
Our final roadtrip, a 90 minute stop at the Taj Mahal on Saturday (in hindsight based on the reflections in the pool, there was probably a pretty cool photo op if not for the two of us blocking it)
Tomorrow is our last official day of work. This week we leave for a trek in Bhutan, where we'll be meeting my Dad. He left sometime on Sunday in the U.S., has some sort of tour planned in Bangkok tomorrow, and greets us in Paro on Wednesday. It was hard to believe he was leaving for his trip before I had even started to pack an apartment I was moving out of before joining him on that same trip. We fly back to Delhi on November 30th and ultimately leave the country just after midnight on December 2nd. Lindsay's visa expires on December 3rd. Nothing like cutting it close.

I feel like I still have a lot to write about India and still plan to write it; it's just going to have to wait until December. I'm sure in 20 years I'll regret not writing it as it happened as it's never quite as good in hindsight, but it's the deal I've made with myself in order to retain sanity in the midst of everything going on these days.

In addition, I plan to start some sort of repatriation/transplantation blog about moving back to my home country in a new city. Again, it's probably something I should have started as we began the process but there's only so much I can handle (which is probably a lot less than most people can handle).

Any ideas for a title more original than "Mr. (and Mrs.) Luth Go to Orlando" would be greatly appreciated. I might just be lazy enough to start a genre.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jet Lag, Varanasi Style

Last Sunday night (Sunday morning US time), Lindsay flew from Delhi to Orlando to meet her new team and start the home search. On Friday night India time (that would be Friday morning US time) she arrived safely back in Delhi. This was easily the quickest back-and-forth either of us have ever made. After what amounted to a twelve hour layover, we headed back to the airport to catch our flight for a quick one-night trip to Varanasi. The best plan ever? Certainly not, especially since we bought the Varanasi tickets fully knowing what she'd be going through. However, it's also the final weekend we're in India with our friend Kristin and figured one last trip was in order. Regardless, Lindsay is tired. For those of you that don't know Lindsay, when she gets tired, she basically shuts down. Not a great recipe for the weekend.

We spent much of the afternoon visiting the sites around Sarnath, which is famous in Buddhism as the first place Buddha gave a sermon to his five monk disciples. Before the tour guide had fully calibrated on the level of information we wanted (he actually did a great job for the most part; however, we were a little worried when he had been talking for a good 8 minutes about a mural and seemed poised to go around the entire temple with that level of detail. Thankfully, he caught Lindsay falling asleep while standing which helped expedite his spiel.
Sleeping Buddha. Meet sleeping Lindsay.
On the way from Sarnath to the banks of the Ganges, Lindsay simply couldn't hold on any longer. She fell dead asleep; one of those deep sleeps that can only result from flying halfway around the world in fifteen hours. After about a twenty minute "nap" (who are we kidding, this was some serious REM sleep), we arrived at the drop point. The problem was, she was still "napping". In the spirit of full disclosure, Kristin (who was sitting next to her) had tried to wake her with no luck. I had little choice to wake a very confused and discombobulated Lindsay and tell her was time to walk to the river.

Even after spending nearly two years here, Varanasi was one of the more intense places we've visited. Lindsay went from being in a deep, jet lag-induced early evening sleep to basically getting dropped smack dab in the middle of one of the most chaotic, busy, and flithy scenes in India. Slowly, after a few drunk-like stumbles, she joined the flow of tourists and pilgrims to the river, she found her bearings. Like most twenty minute naps, this one saved her night.

I'll never forget the look on her face when she emerged from the car. Confusion. Chaos. Comedy.
Believe it not, she gave me permission to publish this (though lack of permission might not have stopped me in this case).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mr. (and Mrs.) Luth Go to Orlando

December in Chicago still has the novelty of Christmas and is typically not unpleasant; whereas, January and February are absolutely miserable. Why, you must be thinking, is this important?

For the past couple months, when someone has asked me how I feel about going back to Chicago in the middle of the winter, I've answered with a bit of a sheepish smirk and responded with something like, "yep, it's going to be awfully tough to get used to snow again." Why the smirk? I've had a secret. I only have the novelty of the Christmas portion of winter in front of me. Shortly after the new year, Mrs. Luth and I will pack our bags (again) and head south. The title of this post is misleading.

We're not just going to Orlando; we're moving there.

In fact, the wife arrived there Monday to meet her new team, start her new job, and initiate the home search. It's a quick trip. She's back in India on Friday night.
My only time at Disney was Epcot's 15th anniversary...
Delhi's culture is a deeply woven fabric, carefully crafted over the course of centuries. It could be argued that there's no more "real" place in the world, which is odd because we always refer to our life here as quite unreal and returning one day to the "real" world in the states. If Delhi's culture is a deeply woven fabric, Orlando's is deeply fabricated. I'm sure I'm insulting some of my soon-to-be-fellow-Orlandoans (is that the right term? I should probably check on that...) but outside the deserts of Dubai and Vegas, there may not be a less authentic place on earth than Orlando.
...strangely, the wife was also there (love the matching belt lines)
As we've told a few people about the move, the first reaction is almost always, "Disney, huh?" Yeah, I guess. I've never been one to ooh and aah over Disney; in fact, I've threatened Lindsay that I'd rather not "waste" a vacation when we have kids and that the "Disney" trip would be better served (and longer remembered) if we replaced it with a national park. I know, I'm heartless.

The second reaction is almost always, "There are a lot of chain restaurants there. Like a LOT of chain restaurants." Outside the occasional trip to Chili's for their delicious boneless wings, I despise chain restaurants. However, since we haven't cooked for ourselves in the past two years, the novelty of, [gasp], being in the kitchen and preparing our own food should mitigate whatever chain restaurant overload that may have otherwise ensued.

Even with Disney and the chain restaurants, I'm looking forward to the change. Something tells me that going back to our old lives in suburban Chicago would have been, well, boring. With this move, I get to explore a part of the country I'm not terribly familiar with. I've been to Orlando a grand total of 3 times; once as a kid to Disney and twice for short work trips. I've never visited with the lens of, "what would it be like to live in this place." In many ways, I had a better idea of what living in India would be like this time around than what living in Florida will be like.

Even if you call Orlando fake or plastic (Phil Jackson's word, not mine) or whatever, it's going to be new to me. I'm going to explore. I'm going to keep writing about it. I'm going to ignore the fact that the highest point above sea level is something like 120 feet (that number is approximate but is based on my continuous childhood examination of the Rand McNally Road Atlas).

Repatriating is always tough; the least I can do is try it in decent weather.

A Rolling Pin Saves My Day

This morning I became yet another unfortunate case study about how used to convenience I've become. The coffee grinder broke. This disappointed me because we're about three weeks from leaving and it's not worth buying another coffee grinder with one of those funny Indian plugs. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be forced to overpay for some ground coffee at one of the import grocery stores. I was prepared to pay whatever price was asked; it was worth it to not go without coffee for my final three weeks.

Then something happened. I heard a weird crunching sound in the kitchen. Thinking that maybe our cook Yashoda was trying to fix the grinder, I went in to stop her, telling her that I'd go out and buy some ground coffee today. Much to my surprise, she was nowhere near the grinder. She was busy crushing beans with a rolling pin. In my clouded, decaffeinated head, I had entirely forgot there might be another solution; well, that and the fact I had never thought to grind coffee with a rolling pin.

Many thanks to Yashoda for her resourcefulness and, more imporantly, mitigating what would have been a crankier than average day.

(Sadly, this is only the second most interesting thing I've seen a rolling pin used for during this assignment. The most interesting, and it's an entirely different story but one with pictures that I would need to request permission to publish (there's nothing indecent about them, it's just a little weird), involves kneading out tight muscles during the trek in Ladakh. Judith, just give me permission. I'm sure people want to see.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Leech Trek

If you grew up in the US in the eighties, your likely only experience with leeches is the scene from "Stand By Me" when the boys swim across a water hole and find, upon exiting, huge leeches covering their bodies, including one in a not so awesome spot for Gordo. Trekking in lush south Asian locations can reintroduce you to these little bloodsuckers. Truth be told, if anything good can be said about leeches in the wild, that they're much smaller in real life than on the big screen.

I've had three experiences. In 2005 when trekking in at the Periyar Wildlife Reserve in Thekkady, India (was wearing leech socks so no damage), at Christmas in Bali (didn't realize it was on me until I saw a moving glob of mud on my leg in the shower), and most recently near Munnar, India.
Note to trekkers, leeches like lush, damp environments
In Munnar, after two experiences in a similar climate and even after having told people that "there will likely be leechese," that I would have done something relatively smart like wear long socks to provide some level of protection. Nope. I wore my regular thin, barely-covering-your-ankles running socks. Dumb decision number one. Not exactly a great decision. In a group of six people, as soon as people started seeing and feeling the leeches, I pulled the "these guys can't hurt me" routine and blindly headed up the hill without checking myself. Dumb decision number two.

By the time we stopped for a quick lunch (which is an entirely different story, but the guide had been carrying packages of a watery curry stored in paper bags with chipati in his backpack, an odd trekking lunch selection, to say the least) on the way down, I decided to check my ankles. Sure enough, the cuffs of both pant legs were stained with blood and I had more than one slimy little buggers attached to me.
Lindsay = Smart
A few facts you might not know about leeches: (1) they attach themselves to you in two places, so each leech actually creates two "bites," (2) they're difficult to remove by hand, and (3) when you try and remove them by hand, you might pull it in half where the other half stays attached to your body.
John = Dumb
Clean from leeches, my ankles continued to bleed. And bleed. And bleed. And bleed. Either I had turned into a hemophiliac or some combination of altitude and leech bite kept me from clotting. It was weird. In the shower, my ankles that appeared to have stop bleeding, started without warning. After elevating and bandaging my feet for thirty minutes, my feet stopped bleeding and again started without warning. I re-bandaged but had the same result but had the same result. After a night's sleep, the base of the bed looked like a crime scene. Gil Grissom would have been disgusted. Thankfully, by morning, I had finally achieved full clottage; however, it's safe to assume the leech suckages (they're not really bites, I guess) had caused 12+ hours of unclotted joy.

Should I have been worried? Probably. However, the prospect of driving in the mountains in the dark in India to seek whatever medical attention may have been available seemed more dangerous than whatever damage the leech may have inflicted.