Days 13 & 14 - The 48-Hour Day

(Part 1: Back on US Soil)

Because I am traveling west at like six hundred miles per hour, I get more than two minutes of real time for every minute on a watch (unless it’s Joe’s watch, in which case you get closer to three minutes). I’m living on borrowed time right now and I fully intend to make the most of it… by writing you this blog.

Yesterday we woke up at the ungodly hour of five am. We picked up our tubs (filled with our possessions), our carry-ons, and our aching bodies, and made the three hundred foot move to the bus. Then we resumed our sleeping. The general mood on the bus was pretty low key for the first couple of hours, when people either spent their time sleeping or silently staring out the window. From the bus window I saw some new parts of Tamil Nadu. We passed huge rice paddies with only a hut or two to tend to them, we passed more busy cities, and we passed open spaces that simultaneously allowed pine trees, palm trees, and cacti to flourish. At about eleven, conversation started to pick up, and it continued that way until we arrived at a shopping mall in Chennai at one. With an hour to kill before we were due at the consulate, and pockets still full of unspent rupees, we hit the mall and scattered in search of trinkets and textiles. I ended up getting lured into a souvenir-type shop by a man who convinced me that the shop that I was in was a waste of my time and money. Bored and curious, I followed him into his shop and he immediately began pulling textiles off of the shelves. While he did this, he began grilling me about my life. He asked me where I lived and then followed up by asking me how many girlfriends I had. He said that my girlfriends would all want pashminas and then proceeded to show me five or six of them… one for each girlfriend. He was a little taken aback when I told him that in fact I didn’t have any (a common reaction), but he assured me that if I bought one, I would be guaranteed to get at least one girlfriend. He was a good salesman with a bulletproof pitch. When I walked out of his shop, I had a pashmina in hand. We congregated half an hour later by some stairs, and as usual, snacks were purchased for all.

From the mall we went directly to the consulate. After surrendering our passports and cameras and undergoing a thorough security screening, we were at last on US soil. While waiting in a courtyard Joe planned his escape route from the street in case he needed to run to the consulate for diplomatic immunity. We were then met and ushered into the building. The air conditioning was a nice touch, and everywhere we looked, we were greeted by Barack Obama’s warm eyes. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton could also frequently be seen staring back at us. We followed someone with a name tag up to a multipurpose room, got settled, and began talking to some junior consulate staff about what the Foreign Service was like. After a while we were joined by the Chennai Console General, who happened to be a graduate of the Garfield Class of 1979. He finished answering some questions about the position and what he does, and then a reporter burst in to the room. We had been expecting to be visited by a reporter from India’s leading newspaper, The Hindu. This was certainly not what I was expecting. The man who came in was a good natured and goofy looking white guy. He announced in a British accent that he was there for the interview, and then he took a seat and waited while we finished up the questions.

With the questions session finished, we left our public relations liaisons Ben, Zach, and Zoe, to represent us in the interview, while the rest of the group split up and took tours of the building. We were only cleared to see ten percent of the building because that’s all that we had clearance to see, but Mr. Simpkin (Console General) assured us that there wasn’t much else to see in the other ninety percent. Of course, that’s the answer that we would have gotten whether it’s true or false, but I believed him and enjoyed the tour. Our group spent a significant amount of the time in the visa offices, where I fully realized how hard it is to immigrate to the US from India. After tours, we had another brief question and answer session, and then departed for the Console General’s house.

We rode the bus a short distance to what was supposed to be the Console General’s house and then deboarded in a drive next to a guard house. We just stood there until the guard pressed a button, and an unassuming wall next to us gave way to reveal a secret passage to the house of the Console General. House is something of a misnomer when used to describe the place. Maybe it’s not a mansion, but it’s pretty close. A career in the foreign service was starting to look really appealing at this point. We started with a much anticipated meal of home cooked pizza and soft drinks, and then progressed to board games, tennis, and lounging. It was incredibly relaxing, and it felt like a good transition and ending to our trip (although the culmination probably came on the 18th). Zach started a game of chess with Mr. Simpkin, who happened to be a former Garfield chess star himself, but the game was postponed indefinitely at midnight, when we had to leave for the airport. We said goodbye to Mutu and his wife and thanked them for being such generous hosts in Karikal, and then bid goodbye to Mr. Simpkin and his wife, who had also been incredibly gracious hosts by putting up with eighteen kids, some of whom were sick

(Part 2: The Journey Home Begins)

The airport was the same as it had been when we got off the plane two weeks ago, and it was a weird feeling to be back. We went to check our bags at the front desk, and were given our own kiosk from the airline. Even so, everything takes a long time with a group of twenty-two, and this was no exception. We watched as the clock slowly ticked past one, one-thirty, and two, while we waited to check bags. From there, we were directed to a line that snaked its way to every corner of the airport. The clock ticked past two-thirty and three while we were in the line. We were getting dangerously close to the scheduled three-thirty departure time, but nothing seemed to change. It was like a high speed, high stress airport movie scene minus the speed. We pretty much just sat on our luggage in line and stressed. Then somebody realized the predicament that we were in, and we got to cut a little bit. We ended up making it on to the flight more or less on time, and once everyone was seated, we just passed out. From that flight, I only remember waking up to confusing snippets of Night at the Museum 2. At one point, I woke up to find a plate of vegetarian food on my trey, then I woke up some time later and it was gone. Then we were in Dubai. I continued to sleep once I found a spot in the airport, but a lot of people pounced on their first opportunity to visit a real McDonalds and feast on the renowned McDonalds quality. Upon their return, I saw that a shocking number of the people who had gone to the D’s had become too used to life without hamburgers; so much so that they instinctively ordered the inferior, mayonnaise drenched McChicken rather than the standard McBeef.

With food in our bellies, we went straight to the plane that we are currently on. On the way to the plane, we were able to catch glimpses of the world’s tallest building. I was expecting a the hulking presence of a small mountain. Instead, I was greeted with a structure that more closely resembled a beanpole, ungainly in its height compared to its breadth. From my haze hindered view, I was not impressed.

Now we’re on the plane and we’ve found that the movie choices are identical to the ones that we had on the plane ride over. This leaves us with the option of choosing to either put up with the sloppy seconds movie choices, or attempting to do some homework. It’s an uncomfortable choice, but it’s all we’ve got.

See you back in Seattle.

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