Silent: The Street Children of India

Delhi, Essays, India, Uncategorized

They are admittedly cute as they rush up to you with large eyes, grown-up bargaining words, and big expectations.

In their hands can be any number of items: keychains, snow globes, gum, snack mixes. Next to them are adults selling the same items at a competitive price you’ll never hear because your ears are blocked by the cuteness of the child offering up items for you.

They are the street children of India. Often, they look slightly too skinny, with either tattered shoes or none at all, and clothing that is either to big or too large for their bodies. They look like children who have scuffled and played and been roughed around with a few too many times, but here they are, selling whatever they think you’ll buy.

Sari Shopping: Tips for Bargaining in India

Agra, Delhi, Essays, India, Jaipur, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

We shoved our way down crowded back alleys as men lugged crates larger than themselves on their shoulders. Everywhere we turned, there was something bright and glittery to see: the sari or saree, depending on where you are.

A brief walk from Chandni Chowk Station, with large signs to guide our way, the market was filled with the brightly colored garments, along with beautiful lehengas. We started walking the main road before making our way further in.

“Well,” I said as we made our back to the main road, “I guess we’ll need to go in somewhere.”

We passed by more storefronts with mannequins made up in dazzling, bejeweled saris. Some of these were the same ones we went past twice.

Finally we came to a store, took a deep breath and opened the door as we slipped off our shoes.

The faces of a family picking out a bridal gown from their positions on the plushly matted floor stared up at us. Everything in me wanted to turn back out.

“We’re looking for saris,” I told a man who came to ask what he could do for us, “for a wedding.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he said as he ushered us to the back of the narrow room, tip-toeing past the family, with shelves stacked high with saris. He had us sit down, one on the mat, one on a small wooden stool. “Have you ever worn a sari?”

My friend shook her head no, and I nodded vaguely—three years ago, I remembered, being in a friends house being draped in the thick, purple and green sari over my blouse and pants—but did that really count?

“Well, up up,” he said.

I motioned for my friend to follow his instructions and another man came forward with a rope to tie the sari onto her waist. He draped it with expert fashion, pulling it through his hands to make folds once, twice, three times, more times than I could count.

“This is an easy sari,” he said. “The skirt is already draped, so the only thing she’d have to worry about is the piece that goes over the shoulder.”

It was true—a brooch rested on the waist that gathered the fabric into pre-folds.

“It would be easy for me to put on myself back home,” my friend said as she admired herself in a mirror.

I snapped photos and eyed a pile of lehengas in a corner.

The man followed my gaze and I asked, “Could I wear a lehenga to a wedding?”

What to Pack for India

Agra, Delhi, Essays, India, Jaipur, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

Through the winding back streets of the spice market, my friend led me to a hidden set of stairs she visited the previous day on a walking tour.

“We can see down into the mosque from the roof,” she said as we climbed flight after flight of stairs with large, open windows overlooking a residential area.

“Are you sure we can be up here?” I asked—I asked the same thing when we entered a hotel a few minutes before for the purpose of washing our hands.

She waved me off, “It’s fine, it’s fine. We did it yesterday.”

On the third floor, a man stood peering out the window and halfway turned to watch us as we continued our journey.

Finally on the roof, we were met with a remarkable view over the entire market, the mosque, the people int he distance, and the rows of spices down below. The man followed us.

A few other tourists milled about with large, expensive cameras shooting the concrete landscape.
One’s guide roughly shoved his backpack into his hands. “Don’t leave this lying around,” he said. “Someone could steal it.”

We climbed onto a huge concrete platform to get an even better view of the city as all left but one man and the man who followed us.

I stood on one side of the platform taking pictures until I heard my friend explain, “Hey! Why is your light on?”

Indeed, the man who followed us was boldly trailing after my friend with the flashlight on his phone turned on—to peer through her skirt.

“Hey,” I said, “Leave her alone.”

South Korea: A Food Journey

Essays, South Korea, Uncategorized

Exhaustion leadened my weary bones on the seemingly endless drive my first hour in Korea. Outside, only the towering of lights from skyscraper apartment buildings indicated life in the dark.

“In the day, you can see hills,” my boss told me as she zoomed past other cars.

I murmured something and attempted more conversation with a woman I barely knew—a long blur of vague flight details, the experience of my cousin’s wedding, what my family was like—until we arrived.

“Suwon,” she said as she turned down a side street, then another.

We ended up crawling down a bright street hardly two lanes wide with multi-colored awnings set up with a range of wares beneath: silvery fish set on ice, hills of cabbage, pots and pans, hair dye.

Another turn and we ended up on a barely lit street and parking. Without fully comprehending, I was jostled out along with my two suitcases that held my entire life and tattered Kipling backpack.

A woman with blonde hair came out to greet us. She helped me lug my suitcases into my small studio apartment. It was far smaller than I expected.

I looked around the glaringly white space and wondered if it could possibly really be that bright, that small, that empty.

“Are you exhausted?” both she and my boss questioned. “Want to grab dinner?”

“Sure,” I said as I followed them blindly out beyond my apartment and through the market. They sat us down in a chimaek restaurant—a fried chicken and beer place.

A Week In… South Korea (with mom)

A Week In, Essays, Jeju Island, Seoul, South Korea, Uncategorized

Palace with Plant

After constant badgering, I finally got my mom to come out and visit me for a short week at the end of July. At the moment, it’s difficult to believe that it’s already been four months since the last time I saw her in person. So much has happened since then. I’ve experienced election woes, decided to sign another contract to stay in Korea, started making plans to go to a wedding in India and to go to Europe next summer.

Tokyo oykoT: Reflections on Tokyo

Essays, Japan, Tokyo, Uncategorized

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“Hurry, hurry, we need to get in the van,” the little Filipino women said as she urged us into the back of a relative stranger’s 7-seater white van with darkly tinted windows. In other words, it was everything that driver’s training told me not to enter.

My friend piled into the back, I followed, then the woman squished into the back seat with us and we waited.

The Bathing Suit: Body Image and the Pursuit of Satisfaction

Essays, Uncategorized

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The seaside city of Busan was marked by below chilly weather and relatively deserted beaches with biting wind at that time of year. Yet, with a few friends, I decided to make the trek there through Korea during a winter holiday.

“Taking your bikini?” A friend asked days before, face alight with laughter as we ate Korean fried chicken on Valentine’s day, still bundled in our winter coats although we were indoors.

Let Your Heart Be Broken

Essays, Uncategorized

54

“People from all over the world have passed through this village, son,” said his father. “They come in search of new things, but when they leave they are basically the same people they were when they arrived. They climb the mountain to see the castle, and they wind up thinking that the past was better than what we have now.”

-Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Soulful eyes framed by an expressionless face popped up everywhere: Facebook, Instagram, my newsfeed, and email. Successfully over a week, I avoided clicking on the picture to follow a trail to an article. My avoidance came from a purposeful root. Similar pictures led to heartbreak and a cracking in my own shamefully apathetic nature. Cracking is painful and I like to avoid pain. But, that night, the same picture popped up through my languid browsing. This time, instead of scrolling past it, I ran my cursor over it and clicked.