Monday, July 14, 2008

"Where from, my friend?"

Beyond just random encounters with bands of beach roamers at Marina Beach and shopkeepers, I think this is always the question I am asked first (and I am always someone's "friend," before we have introduced ourselves, of course), in various forms of grammatical usage and intelligiblity. Depending on the familiarity with America (usually immediately identifiable by the accent and if they can complete the sentence or not) I have noticed that I am always changing my answer around: I am from USA to some, west coast to others, Oregon, even Portland, and to a few Americans I just met last weekend, I even specified my neighborhood IN Portland (who knew someone from a few houses down the block).
Even more confusing is that I have lived in many other areas since childhood- when first asked this by rickshaw drivers I thought they were asking where I was coming from just now (work?). I then wondered if they wanted to know where I flew in from (since I must be a tourist to be seen in this town!), where I have lived most recently, where my family is currently, etc. Although I usually just answer "New York City" even though I only lived there for 18 months, but I get a big smile, thumbs up, and instant name recognition. It's a hell of a lot easier than trying to explain where Portland is on a map.

I've been noticing a lot of these on, well, everything lately. The swastika is considered very auspicious by Hindus. "Throughout India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. Even the Hindu god Ganesh is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas." Depict a bed of swastikas in modern-day Germany and you'll soon be sitting your ass in court (or jail, if the oft-attempted E.U. legislation passes through), not on a flower. I have observed this symbol daily for a month now, and as its regularity changes from eye-catchingly racy to everyday adornment in my eyes, it made me think about perceptions of symbols across cultures. In the West it is taboo, but here people have the welded into their wrought iron gates, painted on the backs of their trucks, and displayed on the fronts of their shops. Similarly (also relating to Judaism and symbology in India), another interesting usage is of the hexagonal Star of David. Used in various Mughal (a post-Khanate Islamic Asian empire) architectural feats I observed in Delhi, such as mosques and palaces, I thought it was an interesting choice in symbology (viewed both then and now) considering the early Mughal Empire's history of religious tolerance (read: total lack thereof) and mainstream Islam's current view of Judaism (read: pretty dim).

I am trying to figure out a good name for the new resident gecko in my room. I usually am not too accepting of uninvited occupants on four (or more) feet, but given the trails of ants that like to colonize any food item I bring into my room and the nightly mosquito invasion, I would gladly accept a breeding program of these dudes, or even an incentivized immigration scheme with high-priority visa-rushing privileges afforded to them into my American-controlled sector. I have even started noticing bats swooping around at dusk outside my door, and gained a newfound appreciation for them as well. Basically, anything that kills mosquitoes can gain my respect at this point in my stay here. I found myself actually missing spiders a few days ago (there are none to be found... what's going on???).
Anyway... now accepting gecko suggestions.

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