Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beach Blues

On Monday afternoon, I was on a quest for peace and quiet. As it was a holiday, I had no work and thought it would be nice to spend part of the day relaxing at the beach. It's been a long time since I've written in my journal and I've been looking forward to improving my penmanship, the old-fashioned way. I've been realizing that I very rarely explore around town on my own. Whenever I embark anywhere solo, it seems I always manage to meet up with someone along the way. So finally, I thought, a day to myself to just relax.
While I'm still unsure of many of the buses in Chennai, I'm familiar with the route to the beach- just hop on 5E outside of campus and it takes you almost the whole way there. Alongside the streets just opposite Besant Nagar beach are vendors selling everything from beaded jewelry to coconut. I know I'm near the sand when I reach the fish market. From early morning till mid-day, people sell fresh fish by the kilo. I've never stopped to get any myself- I'm only so brave.
As soon as I hit the beach I took my flip-flops off, but didn't last long this way, as the sand was too hot. Going to the beach in the hottest part of the day would normally be a bad idea except that I always find the breeze by the ocean to be cooling enough. No matter the time of day, there's always people on the beach. It wasn't too crowded, though, and I made my way past couples huddled together in the sand and little kids splashing in the waves. I found a place to sit about 20 meters away from the water and pulled out my lunch.
This was my first bad idea. -I had recently made my first trip to a small grocery store just outside of IIT's campus. I managed to buy some self-proclaimed wheat bread, although I believe this was false advertising. The bread looks and tastes similar to all the other versions of bleached white Wonder Bread that's available here. I've been making myself peanut butter sandwiches, though, with peanut butter that I brought from home...delicious, let me tell you! Raw, unsalted, unprocessed, STRAIGHT UP peanut butter, not any of that Skippy crap.- Anyhow, I've digressed.
So yes, I pull out my peanut butter sandwich and begin to eat, minding my own business. Not shortly thereafter, a beggar woman approaches me, her hand reaching out to me and then towards her mouth. This gesture indicates that she's hungry and wants food, although she'd probably be more happy to have my money. I tear off half my sandwich and give it to her. She walks away and I think to myself "maybe picnics aren't such a good idea here."
My first interruption I let slide. I didn't need the whole sandwich anyways, right? So next thing I do is pick up my journal and start writing. I flip through the pages, filling them all with thoughts that I've needed to vent to someone or something for awhile. After about three pages of writing, I look up to notice a group of young Indian guys staring at me. I look back down and the paper to keep writing. These guys don't need any signal from me that I'm interested in chatting with them, they will approach me regardless. They come up, sit right down next to me and ask to take my picture. I say, "okay fellas, just this once." They all crowd around and proceed to take four pictures of me, each with a different one's cell phone. They thank me and walk away. At this point I kind of smile to myself thinking it's interesting how wherever I go, I'm perceived a different way. In the states, my presence is insignificant, nothing special. I have no mohawk and no obscene tattoos (although my nose ring tends to attract attention). In other parts of the world, though, my status is elevated to that of a celebrity. It's as though I was promoted somewhere along the thousand mile plane ride to being worthy of attention.
I didn't last more than 40 minutes on the beach. I was interrupted five different times by groups of guys wanting to talk or take my picture. Perhaps my social cues weren't strong enough. I started out friendly- I tend to assume that people are well intentioned and genuinely curious when they spot an out of place foreigner. But after a few such groups approached me, I finally got up and left.
Going to the beach alone was a huge mistake. It's just not the culture here for women to do things like that, and when they do, it does not go unnoticed. While most of the people that approached me seemed perfectly friendly, my patience only lasted so long. I had left for the beach excited to spend the day by myself, observing all the activity at the beach and writing it down. I left feeling frustrated, though, that I can't go anywhere without being stared at or awkwardly approached.
India is teaching me new things everyday, and whether or not I like it, I'm often told "that's just the way it is."


Alex said...

Thats funny b/c the Katelyn Ransom I knew growing up THRIVED on attention haha. As always, extremely jealous of you travels. And don't worry, I'll be at the wedding whenever it happens.

Smaps said...

haha shutup Alex, maybe I should have specified that the attention is completely UNWANTED! thanks for always being a smartass, though :)

bitterscotch said...

thats some pretty pathetic and common behaviour, but its real easy to handle them. take photos of each one of them, ask their names, note it down. and notice the change in reaction ;)

but it helps to look at things from their point. for them its like taking a pic at the top of mount everest. always try talking to them and finding out more about them, helps a lot in easing things out