August 20, 2008

Weekend Excursions

I couldn't let myself leave India without hitting up that big white onion, the Taj Mahal, if only because it's maybe the most famous building in Asia and it's relatively close to where I'm living (seven hours by train, that is). When my friends and I got to the entrance gate, though, we were saddened to discover that the visitor's for foreigners was roughly $18, while Indians got in for just fifty cents. The Indian-American guy with us waltzed in with the lower price despite his SoCal accent. Us whities who paid the full fare made it our goal make the most of it, which included taking as many pictures as possible. These are some of my favorites...

Also the kickboxing version...
And the happy frolicking...

I sweat so much in India (even when I'm not leaping in front of the Taj) that one of my favorite pastimes has become blowing beads of sweat off my nose and seeing how far they can go. The next weekend after seeing the Taj, I decided that I had had enough with India's summer heatwave and I needed to escape to the Himalayas up north. So my friends and I journeyed to Shimla, which, it turns out, is where all the British used to flee to escape Delhi's summer heat. Sometimes us white folk can be so predictable. The British actually relocated the entire colonial government during the summer months from Delhi up to Shimla, which is a tiny resort town that sits on the top of a ridge and could only be reached by winding mountain roads. These imperialists really couldn't take the heat.

The spires of the Anglican cathedral stick up on the bottom right.

Traces of the Brits are everywhere in Shimla - it actually feels like a charming European village, and the only things reminding you that you're in India are the packs of monkeys trying to jump into your hotel room window and swipe your camera.

Nature decided to rain the entire time we were there and envelop us in a very British fog, except for the few minutes that it let up and I was able to snap some photos. Not to be deterred, my friends and I still went on a horse ride up to the top of Shimla ridge in the downpour. Fun fact: my horse was named Moti, which you may recall was also the name of my camel. Coincidence? I think giving me creatures named "Fatty" is India's way of saying I'm gaining serious weight thanks to all the naan and chai. When we reached the end of our harrowing uphill journey into the Himalayan wilderness, we amusement park, featuring go-karts and a ferris wheel. Now that's connecting with nature. We definitely would have taken a go-kart spin, but our legs were completely drenched from wet horse torso. We retreated back to our hotel room for the rest of the day, where we took tea and complained about the dour weather in as British a manner as possible.

August 12, 2008

Life Without Bob Costas

I’m an Olympics junkie. I get all misty-eyed when countries like Djibouti walk their two or three athletes out during the Opening Ceremony, and I’ll cheer for any athlete of any sport that’s on TV, even if it’s speed-walking. I’m especially a sucker for the underdog—I’ll just shrug if Michael Phelps wins his eight golds, but I’ll probably do a little victory dance if, say, Kyrgyzstan stages an upset in handball. So I may be enjoying the Olympics more than ever before here in India, which is arguably the biggest underdog in the world. It may have a sixth of the world’s population, but Indians readily admit that they’re not the sportiest people, nor does the country have the funding to train its athletes. There are only 56 Indian Olympians in Beijing, and the country’s not competing in a single team sport. Its national sport, cricket, isn’t in the Olympics, and though it once boasted a medal-winning field hockey team back in the 1970s, this year’s team didn’t even pass the preliminaries.

Yet despite the country’s low profile, the Indian media is Olympics-crazy. TV channels have repeated India’s entrance into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony over and over, and one newspaper printed a huge blow-up photo and labeled each team member. Every single athlete’s performance is monitored by the press, no matter what their odds of a medal is. Monday was a particularly depressing day: “Indian archer off the mark”… “Indian judoka disappoints” … “Indian swimmer finishes last”…

So when on Tuesday an Indian rifleman shot his way to a gold medal, the entire country exploded. This is India’s first-ever individual Olympic gold, and it seems like all one million people here are celebrating. The national newspaper not only devoted their entire front page to the champion, but filled a full three more pages with additional coverage (e.g., interviews with his parents, coaches, the Prime Minister, and probably his dentist). His mug is on every single TV channel, under headlines like “Believe in India.” The paper claims, “No individual gold has mattered so much to so many people in the history of the Olympics.” As for the medallist himself, he’s a bespectacled little guy who quietly explains to cameras that shooting is a very unpredictable sport, and he could have just as easily finished 10th or 20th. I’d imagine he’s a little overwhelmed by the fact that he just went from a nobody to a national icon.

Abhinav Bindra, overnight hero

Gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra of India on the podium following men's 10m air rifle shooting finals, 11 Aug 2008

Sure, there’s something a little laughable about all this. I mean, before now, who cared about the sport of shooting? Now newspapers are filling space by analyzing Abhinav Bindra’s technique or detailing his career history. Whether one dude’s ace shooting can really symbolize a whole country’s athleticism is definitely debatable. But for me, partying with the rest of India about their new Olympic status is way more fun than rooting America’s pampered swimmers and gymnasts on to their expected glory. An added perk is that Bindra is from Chandigarh, the town I’m living in, so when I go to the town’s Independence Day parade this Friday, I have a hunch it will turn into a big Abhinav Bindra pep rally. I can’t wait.

Wyoming Wedding

Last week saw Kuldeep travel back to the US to celebrate Joe and Kim's wedding. I also had the honor of performing groomsman and groomsbrother duties. Joe amazingly let me slip some Punjabi dance hits into the reception dance mix, so I got to teach my family some Bhangra moves and make my Indian teachers proud. And I'm stoked to welcome my pabi (that's "older brother's wife") into the family.

That's me, next to the groom

Pops and Schmudd looking "smart" (that's a bit of Indian English for you)