India

Mary PW Chin 穷孩子
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Bangalore, Ooty & Kodaikanal

If you don't like meeting other foreign tourists whilst travelling, this is the place. There were awesome mountain ranges of pristine and splendid grandeur. Beautiful country!

We were on the night bus to Ooty when I fell asleep, only to be shaken up by my friend in great urgency. The moment I opened my eyes I saw a nice big deer looking at me as the bus passed the woods. That lovely sight is vivid till this day -- the healthy, full-grown deer with puffy cheeks and big, big eyes, looking at me with utmost vigilance and brilliance.

It rained in Ooty when we were there, I remember saying how fortunate we were to be able to see Ooty crying.

Mother Teresa's Broken Pencils

The trips to India was the closest I got to the place from which Mother Teresa's heartbeats vibrated to the ends of the Earth. I remember her for her broken pencils, which I read about many years ago:

"I always say I am a little pencil in God's hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more. Be a little instrument in His hands ..." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Tibetans!

Wide, rosy, serene and compassionate faces. There were Tibetan markets and restaurants in the towns we visited in India. We developed such an affinity for the Tibetans that we returned again and again to Tibetan restaurants. Not just for the food, but also for those Tibetan faces. Wide, rosy, serene and compassionate faces -- and yet they are the people whose life hasn't been rosy.

There is always, always, something deep within us that no one, no trauma, no oppression can take away. Always. Something that remains intact and untouched. Come what may.

About Tibetans, here's a highly recommended reading: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, which I read donkey years ago when it was first published. I still remember:

The book is a translated version. I later bought myself a Mandarin translated version. Not that I overturn my cup or imagine me self lying dead each night; not that I tailor my sleeping hours according to the 4 seasons, but the book profoundly sharpened my idea about the essence of life.
Cheap books everywhere

Books were incredibly cheap. Very good classics, including standard undergraduate references and textbooks, were available from roadside kiosks. If you don't mind the carrying, the characteristic paper quality and the copyright, you can build a library with a negligible amount of money.

Welcoming & complacent

The locals were very curious about us being Chinese, but always welcoming and open. In sharp contrast to the many ambitious Indians seeking greener pastures abroad (including Malaysia), the locals appeared complacent, settled and untroubled -- lacking nothing. Personally I do not believe in seeking greener pastures that way unless there is at least one hungry tummy in the family. I would live abroad for cultural integration and exchange, for science and research, and for mission work -- but not for money.

Programmed cows

On busy roads we saw unmanned bullock-carts destined to deliver loads of goods. I was absolutely amazed and wondered how they reached correct destinations without being directed. Pointing to his brain my friend explained that the cows had been programmed.

The most skillful drivers on earth

We made a few short trips by tut-tuts. The other ladies in the group screamed all the way, absolutely convinced that we were about to crash. We never did. I trusted the Indian drivers and enjoyed the thrill. Amazing! Millimetre-tight squeezes again and again, but they just never hit. As if the cars were surrounded by invisible and magical cushions all around.

Asirvanam Monastery

Asirvanam Monastery is not only Benedictine, but vegetarian. Despite my every sincerity to accept the food with gladness, my stomach just wouldn't agree with the diet, causing trouble which invited much caring attention from the monks, who prescribed and prepared meals with fresh coconut milk.

I shall never forget that scene of over 1000 dairy cows across the pond. Black and white, black and white, and black and white. Awesome.

There were two white gentlemen making their retreats there: a priest and a Brother. Both are missionaries devoted to India, Indian living and Indian growing. True missionaries. In one of the sermons we were taught how to pray: by positioning the hand with the thumb pointing towards our bosom:

the five-finger prayer: praying with our five fingers
  1. the thumb is closest to our heart - we pray for our loved ones;
  2. the index finger is the one that points and directs - we pray for teachers in the world;
  3. the third finger is the tallest - we pray for leaders in the world;
  4. the fourth finger is the weakest - we pray for the marginalised, the deprived, the weak and the sick;
  5. the fifth finger is the shortest - we pray for the humble me.
Second visit

My first visit was 2001. I revisited in 2010, to Mumbai this round. The streets looked much like those I saw during my first visit, no surprise. The swarm of people at the airport was, however, surprisingly intimidating. I joined some friends on a chartered taxi tour. Our guide brought us to the standard tourists' destinations. Before depositing us back to BARC he brought us to a mosque where a saint's body was housed. Squeezing through the queues and crowds of local pilgrims I regretted the adventure from the bottom of my heart. My friends, however, found it the fabulous climax of their trip. I guess many Europeans are sufficiently alienated from any form of worships that any open expression of piety can be a genuine wonder of a lifetime. As it happens, that curiosity is absent in me. I do not find it experiential watching people in kneeling positions muttering prayers in their lips, kissing their fingers immediately after touching the cloth covering the holy dead.

OECD Quality of Life league table

According to OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Factbook 2010 in year 2007 the number of road fatalities per million inhabitants in India was less than that of South Africa, Russia Federation, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia, Greece, US, Korea, Hungary, Slovac and Czech Republic. Italy? Another 6 steps further down!