“When we reached Munnar, we discovered that a huge Communist Party rally was in full swing.”
“There were thousands of people who had been bused in from nearby villages all over the area. Munnar was decked out in red banners emblazoned with slogans and the familiar hammer-and-sickle symbol. People waved large flags and many wore red caps and carried posters of local leaders.
A huge parade proceeded to stop traffic for an hour. We saw one impatient driver that tried to edge forward through the crowds, but several men grew angry and began to pound on the hood. They forced him to back up, and there was a lot of shouting and honking. We weren’t sure if it was going to escalate into an ugly fight, but eventually the driver and the men calmed down and the parade continued.
R. & I climbed out of our car to take photos. Everyone was friendly and curious and eagerly posed for our cameras. Some women chatted with us for a bit. One girl pointed out her “several mothers” and asked if R. was my brother. Once I started to talk to the villagers, more were emboldened to approach me for a conversation and peppered me with questions. “Where are you from?” “America.” Telling them I was from the U.S. always produced a response of disbelief. “Noooo,” they would reply incredulously. “Yes.” “Nooooo.” This back and forth would continue until I finally relented and gave them the answer they were looking for. “Korea.” “Ahhhh.” Then they would smile, satisfied at last. It almost seemed as if their heads would explode from the contradiction of my answer. “She looks Asian, so how can she be American?”
—Journal Entry From My Trip to India in 2004
“All of the villagers stare at us as we pass by, some stoically, some with a smile.”
“The houseboat is a wide canoe-like structure with the domed roof made out of woven jute, bamboo and rattan and palm leaves. There are three crew members: a wizened old captain with a gentle smile; a friendly cook named Apu and the engine operator. The engine operator and captain communicate with one another by ringing a bell.”
“I watched the cook make several curries in his tiny kitchen. Using a gas range that had two burners and blackened woks, he made one curry with coconut, another with okra. Everything was sauteed with coconut oil and seasoned with mustard seeds and tumeric. Apu also toasted papadum and fired up kingfish steaks that had been rubbed in a chili paste. He had made sambar and rice ahead of time. His knives looked dull, but he was able to cut all of his vegetables by using a careful slicing motion and drew the blade towards him. The engine operator would rinse the cutting boards in the river. Other tools were cleaned in bowls of water on the deck. Apu and the engine operator chatted while he cooked, and they both laughed at my interest in his preparations. “Are you hungry? Are you hungry?” he asked several times.”
“Kerala’s backwaters are my favorite part of the trip thus far. Small villages are interwoven within an intricate series of canals. The landscape is lush with palm trees that remind me of tall, frizzled lollipops or feather dusters, and the air is warm and thick and moist but still not too humid this time of year. Fishermen go out early every morning to catch a native fish akin to porgy and use long canoes to traverse the waterways. On our boat cruise, several paddled up to us and hitched a ride by clinging to the side. We even had some bring us fresh coconuts that were hacked open right on the spot.”
“Women wash their laundry on the steps that lead to the river. They slap and whip their clothing on the stones, then scrub them clean in the water.”
“The mountains were covered for miles with tea and coffee plants. The small uniformly-cropped tea bushes snaked in maze-like patterns upwards along the rolling terrain, and from a distance the endless rows of bushes resembled green sea coral that blanketed the countryside.”
—Journal Entries From My Trip to India in 2004