Long before the travel bug could bite me, I was a travel novice. While I think the desire to travel was always there, I never liked the journey. I have battled motion sickness all my life, and traveling was no fun with it. While I enjoyed traveling by trains in India, buses were a nightmare. When we decided to move to America, I knew I would have to get on a flight. I was scared and nervous. I drugged myself with Indian version of dramamine, and pretty much slept through 24 hours of my flight ride barring the few hours in Taipei during our layover. I spoke English well, and wore jeans so I did not expect much of a culture shock. I took pride in following the backstreet boys and britney spears so I thought I was prepared.
My first culture shock happened at Taipei airport when we ordered noodles. We were starving and could not wait to get our hands on some real airport food. She handed us a bowl full of water and noodles. I was shocked and wondered why the noodles were swimming. I was never used to noodle soup up until that point. I was ready to dive into that bowl but did not have forks. I had never used chopsticks in my life, and we asked the lady for forks.She stared at us, and handed us spoons. We said forks again and this time she chose to ignore us. After grueling 10 minutes in what felt like forever, I walked over the counter and finally took a fork myself. She smiled at finally learning what a fork was. That was 2001.
I remember landing in America and being amazed at how beautiful everything looked. India is the second most populous country in the world, and our streets are a testament of that. We have people walking around, stray dogs and in some instances cows chilling on the street. We lived in Pleasanton, California for the first three years of our American stay. People hardly walked the streets here. I have gone for a week seeing maybe two or three people walk the street. I remember our friends telling us before we came here that people never walked on the street in America. It felt so true until we moved to Fremont. Fremont with her Little India and Afghanistan reminds me of home with the hustle and bustle.
There are several things I was warned about before I came here. I was told Americans don’t like people touching their children. Back home when we see a cute kid, we might try to get his/her attention, and if the kid is really cute we might pinch his/her cheeks. I was warned against it and I am glad I was. Today I know what a pervert means but back then I might have taken that as a complement. Initially when I came here, I was going to shop at Walmart. As we walked to Walmart, the 2-3 people I happened to see greeted me saying “How are you doing?”. I looked back and wondered who they were talking to, so I did the most logical thing ever- Ignore them. After few weeks here, I realized everyone asked me that. I decided to respond but people walked past me as I said I am doing good, could be better and explained my day. I wondered why they looked past me. They asked me a question and I was responding. It was all too baffling. It took me another few months before I noticed Hi, How are you doing was a greeting. I did not have to respond beyond the Hi.
I might have had several bumps along the way as I acquainted myself with America, but food ain’t one of it. I loved the burgers, pizza, cheese and chocolates. I gobbled it at every opportunity and In-n-Out still makes my heart flutter. I was going to start college in America, and on the day of my orientation I got lost not knowing how to exit the building. I did not really see the exit sign on the wall. A handsome and tall boy helped me get out of the building using the elevators. He held the elevator door open, and I felt my first American crush. If I had doubts on which college to choose, I made my choice in that elevator. Thank God San Jose State University turned out to be a good school because I never saw that handsome boy again.
Whenever people come here, they portray a rosy picture of life in America. It’s just like the movies. Sure it is, but when you are not experiencing those moments it feels lot easier than when you are center stage. I did not know when someone asked you for coffee it meant more than just coffee. It was a date, actually I did not know what date meant at that point. I remember being hugged by a guy in college and standing still like a rock. I wanted to kick him for touching me. Eventually I warmed up to the hug. In India quiz means an oral test, and when in college I was told we were having a quiz I was nervous. It was my second day in an American college. I was surprised to know if was a written test. Could have saved me a sleepless night had I known about it earlier.
It’s been 15 years since I came to America, but the culture shock continues. America enthralled me initially and I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I believed I could live this life, but with time I missed the chaos of India. I miss the cows on the street, the stray dogs, the familiar streets and family. America became the place I decided to settle down in, but my heart still beats for India. Home is always India. I began traveling for work with time, and the travel bug bit me bad. While most people think I travel for new experiences, I travel to experience a slice of home. I travel to places that are similar to India, and I am rejuvenated by it. I travel because I cannot afford to go back to my home, so I try to experience a slice of my home in places that are more affordable.