It’s January 1, 2011. Except I refuse to believe that it is in fact New Year’s Day. Since my life has been relatively uneventful the past two weeks, other than the trip to Dubai and the fact that my life is an adventure every day, this week you get a reflective post on a new year, and why it’s not the New Year. My New Year’s Eve was nice, but I treated it as any other Friday night. I spent the day home sick, so actually getting myself dressed and prepared to go out was enough of a challenge. I put on my party clothes and my shortest dress yet in India and dared to go out without leggings on. It was surprisingly easy, so either 2011 is suddenly the year women in India can prove they have legs, or I have officially become oblivious to cat calls. I will accept both possibilities.
Just to prove to you that I still have legs. I had sort of forgotten.
I didn’t get to Party #1 until 11:40, so then all of a sudden I was like oh hey, it’s 11:58. We had no countdown, no footage of Times Square filled to bursting point. I think New Year’s is the only time Times Square looks like it could belong somewhere else in the world. It could resemble any European city watching a World Cup final in which the country’s team is playing, or it’s just India and China on any given day. For someone who always thinks New Year’s is over-hyped and always underperforms, I was surprised at how much my acceptance of the new year was driven by that countdown and that slowly descending glowing orb, filled with failed past resolutions as it crashes to zero. I spent about an hour more at the party, which was the quietist, most relaxing New Year’s party I’ve been to, complete with cushions on the terrace and a group painting session. I also didn’t drink thanks to my inability to retain food in my stomach, and then I realized that since I didn’t start drinking until the latter half of my freshman year of college and spent New Year’s 2008 on a quiet beach in Thailand, I’ve only drank for New Year’s once. That might make me one of the most countercultural recent college grads I know. I then left to attend Party #2 and quickly left after I was sucked into a conversation with someone who declared me unable to fully understand the Beatles because I hadn’t listened to the White Album on mushrooms. I’m pretty sure Happiness is a Warm Gun is probably more of a heroin song, but that’s also something I wouldn’t know. So I came home and spent the early hours of January 1 listening to my neighbor’s storytelling, which ranged from tales of northeast India (he’s leaving next week to make a film there. It’s partly cut off from the rest of India because of Bangladesh and a violent separatist movement) to getting arrested (not me), to looking through all the pictures that are on the memory card in my camera, which contain my Euro trip, last year’s trip to India, and even Erica’s rehearsal dinner. I suggested that we make wishes because it was 1/1/11, but I didn’t make a wish because I couldn’t accept that it was, in fact, 1/1/11.
Perhaps my aversion to 2011 means that I’ve officially converted to Indian Standard Time, which, not actually meaning that we’re 5.5 hours ahead of Greenwich time, actually refers to Indians being perpetually late to everything. In what is one of my favorite literary lines ever, Salman Rushdie writes in Midnight’s Children, “No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.” Hindi factoid of the day: yesterday and tomorrow are both kal. So maybe, despite my having physical reactions to being late, I have embraced the culture of tardiness, and therefore I won’t accept the New Year until March or so.
Maybe it’s the fact that there hasn’t been a change of season. It’s slightly colder here, so sometimes at night I could wear a light cardigan and in the day I only sweat if I’m lost. But there’s no snow, no jackets (actually, some people wear jackets and ear muffs. I laugh), no running from bar to bar unable to feel my legs because I was stupid enough to not wear tights. The notions of months are so connected to seasonal traditions that even Christmas was lost, although there were several nativity scenes on my street. Maybe it would have been easier for me if I had used the Sanskrit seasons instead, because December just isn’t without that anticipation of school holidays, movies and Chinese food, snowball fights that have no age limit, homemade hot chocolate, and even socks. I miss socks. So now it’s January, apparently, and in March it will be summer. There is no spring, which means that April has a completely different meaning, so maybe I won’t even have a birthday this year. I can probably stay 22 for another year.
Maybe it’s the moustaches. Approximately 70% of men here have moustaches. About 16% of India’s population is Muslim and they have beards, so of the approximately 80% of the population who are Hindus (I’m leaving space for Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians, and even Jews), I would guess that 4/5 men have moustaches. I bet that Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews wear moustaches too, since it’s the cool thing to do. I never understood moustaches. If you’re going to prove your adulthood or provide a refuge for runny noses, why not go all out and grow mutton chops? How bad ass would India look if 80% of the population had mutton chops, and the rest had full beards? Although in a tropical place, facial hair doesn’t make sense. Hair doesn’t make sense. Indians should be bald. Anyways, the abundance of moustaches and the middle to lower class preference for absurdly tight bellbottoms makes me feel like I’m stuck in the 70s. So not only is it not January, it’s also not the 21st century. Maybe I should have used this argument against aforementioned douchebag to explain that I do, in fact, understand the space in which the Beatles made music. In order to ensure that my readers are always reminded of my love for and ethical approach to being in India, my comments on Indian appearance shouldn’t be taken as patronizing. Most people in America look ridiculous. People from my state are orange. We wear tights as pants. At one point, we actually embraced trucker hats.
There is also the possibility that my New Year started on August 22 when I stepped out of the airport, into the muggy, steamy, air, with the smells of spices, incense and garbage warring to rule my olfactory bulb and my eyes blinded from over-coloration. I have no New Year’s resolutions. I am not turning a new leaf. I don’t toast to 2011, because when I get home at some point between the late summer and early fall, I will again reorient my entire perspective, because it will have been shattered. I will grudgingly write 2011 because a certain amount of conformity is required, but it’s not the New Year. I’m currently rounding into month 5.
And now for some Dubai pictures, as per requests.
This is Spice Souk. I had asked Diva, the friend that I was visiting, to take me around some old parts of Dubai. Turns out there are no old parts of Dubai. There were some random buildings, and people obviously lived there, but it basically rose out of the desert within the past 20 years. But when she said we should go to the markets, I was excited, because I was picturing Indian bazaars. Souks are air conditioned shops that are organized. And established. Not like Indian bazaars. Still, it was fun.
We stumbled into the art scene in Dubai, apparently. I don't know what to make of this, but I'm not really appreciate of modern art.
Here is some Arabic. 10 points for whoever can read it. Remember, it goes right to left.
This is Bastekiya, a preserved area of what Dubai used to look like. It's now touristy with shops and inns, but I enjoy the historical attempt.
Oh heyyy I'm on a boat. Took a little sighseeting cruise around the souks.
These are the boats, or abras. Dubai has a huge South Asian population, so speaking Hindi is still pretty useful. As it was with this lovely abra conductor.
This is a ski slope. In a mall. I didn't ride down the bunny hill, but it would have been a great place to have birthday parties growing up.
This is on our boat tour. That building in the background is the tallest building in the world. In case you couldn't tell, Dubai is mostly about excess.
A close up view of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. I don't think this, or any picture, can do it justice. It's ridiculous.
We went to eat dinner at the biggest mall in the world, which has a nice strolling area that looks up to the Burj. In front of the Burj are the world's tallest fountains. For that evening's holiday entertainment, they had timed the fountains to dance to Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion's "The Prayer." I attempted to upload the video, but alas, India is too slow. Perhaps when I get home, it will still be on the top of your "Must See" lists.
This is the beach, which was wonderful. In the right, you see three women wearing abayas. Those are Emirati women, or women whose families are actually from the United Arab Emirates.
Half the population of Dubai is made up of immigrants, and the Emiratis, to preserve and uphold national culture, get all sorts of benefits, like free housing, utilities, education, and healthcare. They also control international businesses who want to open into the UAE market, so in order for Starbucks, for example, to open a store, an Emirati might receive a Mercedes. Emiratis are encouraged to wear national dress, hence the abayas, and men wear the traditional white outfits known as the dishdash. Great word. It's not necessarily all about modesty, since Emirati women can show their hair and wear heels and makeup. It's about cultural preservation. Either way, Dubai is the best place I've ever been for people watching. Other highlights were doing totally American things. Dubai is weird in that some places that only exist in America are also there. Examples: Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery, and Forever 21. I got there Friday and got a drink from Starbucks, not because I missed Starbucks, but because I missed soy milk and an awareness of lactards. Saturday I went to two malls, one that was the biggest mall in the world, until the second mall replaced it as the biggest mall in the world. I saw a movie with Arabic subtitles, which was a nice change from being in Hindi with no subtitles at all. I went shopping and got some western clothes, which have already definitely come in handy. I ate sushi, and then died and went to heaven. It wasn't a Green Lady from Baumgart's, but it was raw, and it was good. Then Diva and I watched a movie in bed, which doesn't sound like much, but given that I don't have a TV, or a bed, it felt really nice. I took hot showers and was allowed to flush my toilet paper down the toilet. Weird how you get used to looking for a garbage can. And then I went to the beach and wore a bikini. I never thought I'd be allowed to wear a bathing suit in the Middle East, but not in India, but that's exactly what happened, which I can prove through awkward tan lines. But I have a nice base tan for my beach vacation in February, which might be preceded by another beach vacation. That's the nice thing about it always being summer in South India.
And that about wraps up my post. When I'm a little less scattered, perhaps I'll collect my thoughts enough to write something more coherent. But there is a lot going on here, and I have a very busy week at work (surprise!)
Happy New Year to all (April Fools?).