Thursday, November 22, 2007

Four Days, Multiple Timezones, Seoul and India

It’s our second day in India and we have horrible Internet connectivity. Am trying to get a brief report on our travels so far in Seoul and India.

Seoul, South Korea
We spent one day in Seoul and loved it! After we cleared temporary immigration in South Korea, we were transported from the airport in Incheon to downtown Seoul to our hotel. It took us an hour. But our transit hotel was well worth it! The rooms were beautiful, impeccably clean and—best of all—right in the middle of downtown Seoul. The next day we used the subway to meet Chooney with Aekta as our expert navigator through the intricate web of train lines. I have to say that the Seoul “Bart” system easily trumps our Bart system! The seats were heated. Need I say more?

Choony took us through the back alleys in Seoul where we bought fresh persimmons, apples and avoided a boar’s head. We met with the employees of the The Korea Environmental Education Center, which is the education arm of KFEM. One of the most interesting things we learnt from the Education group was how they create curriculum in the form of text books that they distribute through the school system. They start with focus groups with parents and teachers and create text books for paid distribution through the school groups. Similar to our programs they also organize eco camps and eco tours for groups of kids to transport them to rural China or South Korea to teach them about environment in a rural setting. The idea was to introduce kids from the city to the outdoors—their version of Camping at the Presidio. One of their big upcoming projects is an environmental education conference for teachers from Asian countries: Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Japan. For more information, visit

This is our second day in India and it’s already been quite an adventure. India is overwhelming. We landed in Ahmedabad yesterday after a short stop in New Delhi. Seoul was interesting too. Here are our experiences in India so far:

Delhi Airport

My mother and grandma had come to the airport to try and catch me in transit. My Father had sent one car to try and shuttle the six Conservancy folks to the domestic terminal somehow. We had a large car but we had six people, my mother, my grandmother and the driver so by the time we all climbed into the car with all our luggage, my mom and grandmother had no place to sit. So then started a strategic planning session of piling humans and luggage into the car. The first plan was that we forfeit the car plan and try to find the airport shuttle to try and go to the domestic terminal as you would think the airport folks had thought of this scenario. Every time we asked the folks at the airport about where the shuttle service was they pointed to a “No Smoking” sign. So we quickly gave that plan up and went back to planning the human and baggage placement plan in the car. It ended up with the Conservancy folks sitting on top of each other and my grandmother and mother following us in an auto rickshaw at three in the morning. The driver tried to tell us after we’d all packed in like sardines that his rear view was totally blocked and we stared him down and he said he could stick his neck out of the window and look back as he was driving if required. Phew! Close one.

Forty Rupees and a Rickshaw

Aekta’s family picked us up from the airport and we came to our hotel, which is very nice. After a quick shower, Christy, Ernesto, Charity, Jie, and I decided to take a walk at noon to see Ahmedabad—which was NOT a good idea. We’d lost Aekta to her family. Our walk was not entirely without purpose. We really wanted to convert our dollars and traveler’s checks to rupees.

At one point we had to cross the street and I realized how rustic my street smarts in India are as I stood with the rest of my American gang and waited for the light to change. Of course when the light did change, all the cars started rushing towards us and we had everyone yell and scatter in four different directions. We managed to regroup and they appointed me leader and they all promised to follow me into the mad throng of people, cars, cows, cycles, push carts, autos, even if the act ultimately cost them their lives.

Ahmedabad Day 2: Tour Bus Trip
This morning we rushed out of the hotel after breakfast as Aekta’s aunt had asked us to meet her and her kids at “Lal Darwazaa,” which literally translates to “Red Door.” As the only Indian in the group, I was in charge of getting everyone to the Red Door. The Red Door turned out to be an entire marketplace with NO red doors. The auto driver finally agreed to call Aekta’s aunt from his cell phone and we managed to find Aekta and her family.

The tour itself was really nice. We went to Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, which was very inspiring. Christy wrote down a quote from Gandhi that we all liked: “May we know the land and love it more.” We also visited a Jain temple with gorgeous etching and sculptures.

The tour guide offered both useful and useless information with the same level of interest. We made a stop near Sardar Vallabbhai Patel’s (freedom fighter and part of Gandhi’s inner circle) house and she talked about Rabindranath Tagore (he won the Nobel Prize in literature) stayed at the place for a while during the critical months of the freedom struggle, and that was very interesting. At other times she would suddenly scream into her mike that we were “passing the Mr. Shah’s house to the right.” We would all stare at her to see if she would tell us who the Mr. Shah was and why we should care but her response to the staring was “that is the all.” Very well, then.

There was also this one woman on the bus who had bought two peacock feather dusters that she carried with her everywhere. She was a tiny, tiny woman in a sari and was the first to jump out of the bus at every stop and march into the buildings with her peacock feather duster. I made Jie take a picture of her.

Everyone else went on to the capital City in Gujarat, Gandhinagar and visited the Akshardham Temple. They said it’s a stunning temple—built right next to a nuclear power plant. The temple was built by a 1,000 artisans and is an elaborately carved building constructed out of pink sandstone and surrounded by manicured lawns and perfect trees.

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