Transition City

29 May 2011
Dublin, Ireland

I don’t remember jet lag hitting me quite as hard before as it did traveling from Kathmandu to London. To be fair, it was a very long day.
The day before my flight, I arranged with my hotel to have a cab come at 7 am. I confirmed this later when I paid for my room.
The morning of my flight, not only was there not a cab, but there was a strike. I was informed of this at 7 am. 15 minutes later I’m standing next to an empty bus being told that the bus won’t go until it is full. It will go to the airport. Possibly before my 9:30 am flight.

I start pulling cars over and asking if they’ll take my fare. I get a lot of nos. There’s peer pressure involved in this strike, especially from fellow cab drivers. Then one guy said yes. For 1,500 rupees. The usual fare is only 400 rupees and I had carefully arranged it to not have 1,500 rupees so as to not have to exchange any money at the airport – exchanging money always comes at a loss.

“I have 700 rupees. Will you take me for 700 rupees?”
“No, not possible. 1,000 rupees.”
“I’m not trying to bargain with you. I’m offering you all of my cash.”
“No. Not possible.”

He drove away and an enthusiastic cycle rickshaw driver tried to convince me that he could cycle me to the airport for 500 rupees. I was expressing my doubt at this being a feasible plan when Mr. 1,500 came back and told me to get in the car – he accepted my fare of 700 rupees.

(Later, the man I sat next to on the airplane, who works in Kathmandu, was surprised at how lucky I got. He left at quarter of six to deal with the strike business because he, unlike me, had actually been informed it was happening.)

Half a day, four movies, and no less than 13 queues later,1 I was in London.
I have always had luck with jetlag, but this luck was not with me this time around. I was dazed and disoriented on the tube – even more so when we went above ground and it was sunny out. The fact that my body thought it was close to midnight aside, it was after 7pm and the sun was telling me it was closer to 3pm.
The Underground was also disorienting in that I viewed it through Asian eyes.
Western couples are really, really physically affectionate with each other. It’s jarring to see after months of never even seeing hands being held in public. Suddenly there are couples practically sitting in each other’s laps, kissing… at the least holding each other’s hands.
And women dress a lot less modestly. You never think about it when you’re used to it – when you yourself have been known to wear dresses that require graceful maneuvering to remain decent in – but the contrast is a bit startling. A contrast made even more stark by the fact that I was on the Underground on a Friday evening.
Then I arrived at the flat I was staying at. Michelle, a fellow volunteer with Katah Sandesh, has an older sister who lives in London and she and her husband put me up for the two nights I passed in that city. That was the second big culture shock for me.
In Kathmandu I had splurged on a 500 rupee / night room. It had an attached bathroom, a balcony with bars on it, an aging green carpet like you find at mini golf courses that had patches of cement peeking through where cigarettes had burned through, and a single bed with what I suppose technically passed for a mattress.
In London I stayed a ten minute walk from Bukingham Palace.
I had dinner with the couple – both friendly and I see the family resemblance both in looks and mannerisms between Michelle and her sister. That night I was wide awake at 3 am – my body thought it was 9 am – and I didn’t quite get back to sleep.

The following day, however, was lovely.
I wandered through the neighborhood, going into half a dozen charity shops looking for clothes that were both warm2 and europe appropriate. I bought a bottle of wine at the farmer’s market for my hosts. I got a sandwich from Pret and sat in t he park outside of Buckingham Palace eating lunch. I spent a large chunk of my afternoon in the internet cafe waiting for the Indians who owned it to fix my USB drive, which I had not been able to access since India.
(I spoke Hindi to several different people over the course of this Saturday and had to actively avoid the Indian restaurants that were as common as the pubs.)

I passed out around 9pm I was so tired. There had been a big game the night before and my hosts were out late. I ended up not being able to say goodbye to them – I left around 9 am in order to get coffee and be at the station by 9:30. (I still feel bad about that.)
And then I was in Dublin by this afternoon – three countries in as many days (four if you could the layover in Delhi).

It is rather odd to think that 72 hours ago I was in Kathmandu wrangling a ride to the airport.

1 I’m not joking. India and Nepal both have a habit of creating three steps for what could be done in one.

2 It’s 49 – 59 F here. That is stupid cold to my body now.

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