Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3. Vacation Part 1


Smoggy, Noisy, smelly and dusty.

Exactly two years and three days after swearing to myself that I wont ever come back to India (or at least not for decades), I find myself in Indra Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. I've come to visit dad and see how he lives over here.. and man, have I learnt!! Lets see, where to start....

Currently I am sitting at his laptop with only a mere 20 minutes remaining on the battery. The power has been out since 8am, and it's now 4pm.. this happens everyday, not always for this long but still. If the power hasn't gone out in a day, then consider it a very lucky day! Much in the same way, the water goes off randomly too. See dad lives in a flat and the water from the mains must be pumped to the roof of this apartment building - which we then draw upon when taking a shower. They've been having bucket showers thus far, but today Taji installed a Geiser (or something like that) which is basically a hot water heater that holds 25litres of hot water. This, I'm sure, will make for a very short shower.. but hey.. it's better than the hot metal rod in the bucket bathing.

For some of the reasons mentioned above I dont like to shave here. The major reason though, is that I like to get a shave from one of the local hobo's on the street. These guys rock!! When I went there, they were in a tiny little shack (considered very pretigeous in their trade) on the side of the road. First they started with wetting my face, then he rubbed in the shaving cream, giving my face a mini massage as he was doing it. He takes out a brand new razor blade and then starts the shaving.. I had a beard from Korea which Taji said had to go ("You look too much like a muslim"). So after that he trimmed my goatie and gave me a haircut too. After the shave he put some sort of cream on my face and rubbed it in really well.. then he sprayed some water to wash it away and repeated the process FOUR times with different creams. The last cream he left on there. All this took about 15mins. Then he asked if I wanted oil in my hair, to which I agreed. They ran out of oil so they sent a boy to get some.. while he was getting some the 'hairdresser' - and i use that term loosely - started to give me a head massage.. five minutes later the boy returns and I get a proper head massage with the oil added in. The whole process took about 25 minutes.. and the total cost?

This brings me to te cost of living in India. The haircut/shave/exfoliation/massage cost me a grand total of Rs.70 (seventy Rupees).. which in Aussie dollars today comes to exactly $1.70. Another reference would be food. We went and bought 10kg of flour, 5kg or Basmati rice, and 5kg of sugar.. the total came to Rs. 600 ($14.50 aussie). Fresh vegetables are still cheaper.. I saw a flyer in the newspaper today that showed Potatos and cabbages and tomatos all for Rs.10/kg ($0.24/kg). But what really gets me is the labour.. They have a housemaid here named Jamuna, probably around 60years old. She comes in every morning at 9am, sweeps, mops, and does whatever else needs doing and leaves within an hour.. that's 7 days a week! She gets paid $16 per month, and that's considered generous! Another simple example is the cost of a carton of beer. Over here they have tallies - 650ml at about 8% proof and 12 per case. That box of 12 cost Taji Rs 400 ($9.70).

This brings me to introducing the Indians to drinking games and well, drinking in general.. but that will have to be a story for the next post, since the battery is running out and the power still isn't back yet..

Until then..

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2. Happy Birthday to ME!

Overcast and frozen.

Well I leave for India in a couple of days for my vacation and I only remembered the Visa in Friday afternoon.. thanks to Taji! So I took yesterday (Monday) off and decided I’ll go into Seoul and plead for a Visa for this coming Thursday’s flight. After travelling for five hours on three buses, a subway train, and a cab I arrived at the Visa Application Centre at 1pm.. just in time to see the last staff member go on lunch break. So I waited around for an hour and went back to the Centre, they said that a foreigners’ Visa application takes seven working days and that can’t be changed. The only way to change it would be to go to the Indian Embassy and get written permission. So off I went to the Embassy – which happened to be just across the road (thankfully). I was talking to the front receptionist guy and it didn’t look like he was going to let me talk to anyone.. that is, until this guy came in who looked a lot like Sanjay Dutt and told the receptionist to let me downstairs.

I went downstairs and met with a guy named Mr Das. He looked me over a few times and had a look through all my documents and in a snobby Indian accent said to me:

“You see, here’s the problem.. what is your nationality?”
“Australian”, I replied.
“..and before that?”, he said.
“None, I was born in Australia, you can see it here on my Australian Passport”, I said pointing to my picture in my passport.
He looked at me over again and said “see here’s the thing, if you were Pakistani then we would have a big problem”
“Pakistani? I’m not that’s why I have the Australian Passport” I asked incredulously pointing again at the Emu on my passport.

Finally after consulting with some other guy Mr Das wrote a little note on my application to rush the order and have my passport ready by 11am on Thursday morning. Now I went back to the Application Centre and gave them the note. They told me I had to pay a processing fee and a rush fee which could only be paid in person at a bank ten minutes away. Off I went to KEB and paid my 140,000won, then walked back up that hill to the application centre to give them the receipt. They lodged it, I waited for about 20 minutes and then finally I was beckoned and told that I can come and collect my passport at 11am on Thursday morning. My flight being at 3pm and check-in at 1pm means that it will be a rushed trip!

By this time the clock had chimed 3pm and I was starving. I saw an Indian restaurant called Chakraa and so I decided to treat myself to a Thalli meal. I thought I could catch the bus at 5pm back to Yeongwol and I’d be back at home before 7pm. I went to the bus terminal and asked for he ticket only to be told that the 5 o’clock bus had been cancelled and that the next one after that was the 7pm bus. I took it in my stride and went to watch a movie (New Moon, it’s great btw). I came out of the theatre just in time to catch the bus, but found that I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Something was wrong with my stomach.. it must’ve been something I ate.. It must’ve been the Indian! So off I went on the 2.5hr journey to Yeongwol feeling worse and worse as I went. Thankfully there was a 9:40pm bus to Sangdong, which gave me 20mins to visit the loo before another hour on the bus. Finally I got home at 10:30pm.

I got into bed sleep cold and clutching my stomach.. singing ‘happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me’, and so that ended the day I turned 24.

So that’s my sop story.. I hope you liked it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

1. Withertos and Wherefores

Raining and overcast!
The time has come to bid my students farewell once again, but this time I won’t be seeing them after the vacation, I won’t be seeing them again at all. One of my best students- ok she IS the best student in grade six, gave me a letter and asked me to open it right there and then. So I opened it in front of the class, subconsciously aware that they're all looking at me. They saw me smile, then they saw my bottom lip start the quiver and then they saw the water starting to well up in my eyes.. "That's very nice f you Soo-jeong, thank-you so much", they heard in a broken, crackling voice..

Never has that happened to me, but the effort this girl must've taken to have this letter perfect as it was.. and to convey so much meaning in such a small note... it really took my breath away. I was speechless.. didn't know what to say, as I stood on the verge of tears looking at nine twelve year old's all staring at me with big smiles across their faces..

I tried my best to do away with the emotions and told them that this lesson we're going to play game! All that day at my second school the fifth and sixth graders were coming up to me and finding ways to say goodbye, we’ll miss you, stay in touch, don’t go etc.

“Byebye Shiv” – sad face and crying hand gestures.
“Shiv WHY?” - sad face and crying hand gestures.
“very very goodbye Mr Shiv” – hugging her friend tightly.
“Mr Shiv, my SAD” – hugging my arm.

I’ve watched all of these children go through the everyday ups and downs during a mere 16 months of their lives. I’ve learnt so much from them..

I’ve learnt about children’s behaviour and how they can love and hate you all in the same minute. How they can get hurt and a short time later forget that it even happened; how they can be happy and laughing one minute and unresponsive and crying the next.. all because you tease them about having a girlfriend. I’ve learnt that at times you need to put your foot down and punish them, which this means I become the bad guy and I will be hated. But as I said before, that hate vanishes the next time you give them a little bit of positive attention.

Through them I’ve discovered how life should be lived; with an unfearing, wondrous awe. Even though things will get really tough at times and you’ll think that the whole world is against you, tomorrow will be another day, and following that there’ll be another, and another, and another.. I don’t see worries from the past within these children; they spend their days laughing and playing and fighting, they take all these things in their stride. It matters not if someone destroys their snowman; they simply get revenge and start building a new one, in barely 10 minutes all is forgotten no grudges are held.

Once I asked the children in the fourth grade to memorise a short dialogue that we’ll act out later on. They sighed and whined but with a small incentive they are all appeased. All bar one, one little girl who I’ve absolutely fallen in love with just sat there and said no. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to, she’s one of the smartest in the class, she spells words like ‘January’ and ‘watermelon’ in a heartbeat, but what I didn’t realize is that it takes her a little longer to memorise things. She sat there staring at the floor with tears rolling down her face. The clock chimed four o’clock and they left. The next morning she was one of the first I saw running as fast as her legs would take her, playing some sort of game. She saw me and stopped as quick as she could.. with a huge smile and her rosy little cheeks she yelled across the playground: “MR SHIV.. GOOD MORNING!!!” and then kept running.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve learnt a lot about life here in Korea, and a large part of that.. more than I’m willing to admit, is due to these little brats who play scissors, paper, rock as a religion!