Sunday, July 22, 2007

Home, Sweet Home?

After making the long, but fruitful journey back from Mumbai via Frankfurt and Montreal (many thanks to all of my friends who came out to see me and hooked me up with a place to stay along the way!), I found myself back at home and in the comforts of the Western world... where I quickly found myself misplaced and in search of a compromise between the Eastern and Western worlds.

More on that later...

In the mean time, please feel free to call me at my family's home (please e-mail me if you don't have the phone number). I'd love to talk to all of you!

Incidentally, I have received many e-mails stating that some of you are unable to find my photos on my blog. I have posted (and will continue to post them) them in my articles, of which most have been archived and can be found in the links on the right hand column of my blog under each given month. I will be updating my blog continuously until it is completely up-to-date, which might take a while, but the photos will be first.

So please continue to check back for updates. I will also see if I can create a link to just my photographs as well.

I hope that all is well in each of your lives, and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Love Always,

Me upon my arrival back home from India via Frankfurt and Montreal.

(Incidentally, my garb is straight from tourist Delhi... Yes, only tourists where baba pants.)

A close-up of the new me.

The Long Road Home, Part II-- Montreal

After a 30-minute nap in Mainz, it was off to Montreal to visit my good friends, J.P. and Nathalie, whom I met in Nepal on the Annapurna Sanctuary trek in April, for my one-day grand tour of Montreal!

(I was originally supposed to meet the sister of a great friend of mine, Nick, in Montreal, but the plans fell through at the last-minute due to timing-- I really hope to be able to see her and her family someday soon, though!)

J.P. and Nathalie met me at the airport in Montreal, full of energy and excited to show me the city they call home. It felt so good to see them again as if no time had passed since we had last seen each other. I was sooo happy to have met them in Nepal!

The first stop was the Parc du Mont Royal (Royal Mount Park) and its fantastic view of Montreal... I couldn't believe just how beautiful and green a major city could be!

Next stop-- Old Montreal.

Walking through the old part of town, I couldn't help but start to fall for the city... The weather was perfect, the city was rustic, clean, and had plenty of beautiful Quebec (French) women abound...

J.P., Nathalie, and I decided that a beer was in order and settled down at a famous local brewery, Les Trois Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) for luscious beer and a common local dish... Poutine.

Poutine, a combination of French fries, cheese, and gravy, I am told, is a dish only found in Montreal.

Not since France had I attempted to devour something so fattening, but oooh sooo good!!! Yummy!!! I highly recommend anyone going to Montreal just for the Poutine!!!

After gorging ourselves (OK, mainly me gorging myself) and savoring the splendor that the combination of barley, hops, and water bring, it was off to the homestead.

But before we left, J.P. presented me with the profits from the offer they had presented me with in Nepal.

J.P. and Nathalie had agreed to bring my trekking poles back to Montreal from Nepal for me and sell them there, as I was having a tough time trying to resell them in Nepal. The poles were original Lekis, but all of the tourists wanted to buy new, cheap, Chinese knock-offs.

J.P. informed me that Quebec has one of the largest per capita outdoor markets in the world, and told me he would bring them back for me and send me the money when he got word I was home. I immediately asked where I needed to sign up for this deal!

It turns out that he was able to sell my poles for more than I orginally purchased them. I graciously accepted their hard Canadian currency and thanked them repeatedly for their efforts. Ironically, apparently my poles were headed back to Nepal!

J.P. and Nathalie have a wonderful home just outside of Montreal and were kind enough to let me stay at their place for the night.

Unfortunately, on this day, my body was lacking an ounce of energy, which was painfully obvious, especially to them, the closer we got to their house. J.P. and Nathalie had invited to me to a family gathering that day to which I was overly excited to attend. Regrettably, by the time we got to their house, my fate was already written on the wall. Being such wonderful friends as they are, they understood and could see my pain and invited me to relax in their jacuzzi, instead, and recover through the aide of sleep while they were away. My body, not my face-- it was too tired-- gleamed with excitement.

A few hours later I awoke and found J.P. downstairs reading. I asked him about the party, and we caught up. Later, we found ourselves in his lower level watching a DVD that he put together about their trip to Nepal. Man, how we wanted to return to the place that we love in that instant!

Before long, our beds were calling our names, so we set in for the night.

The next morning, I awoke, seemingly fresh, though not really, and met J.P.'s son, Jean-Philippe, and his pseudo step-son, Jonathan who made the trip the night before to the house after the party. Both are splendid young lads are were just as happy to meet me, as I them.

The gang was headed to go boating on this glorious day, a day in which hot air balloons were ascending into the sky surrounding Montreal. We all hovered near the windows in the kitchen to get a view.

We all sat down for a fresh breakfast, enjoyed each other's company, and I presented the family with a gift that I had carried along with me from Kashmir-- a hand painted set of coasters. My new friends accepted the small token of my appreciation, and before long J.P. and I were off for the airport, less than 22 hours after I had arrived.

I had seen a small part of Montreal-- just enough to whet my appetite for more-- and had visited my new good friends. And my stomach was full of good food and Poutine from the night before-- Life was grand!

... And I was now reluctantly headed on my short flight home.

The fabulous view of downtown Montreal from Parc du Mont Royal (Royal Mount Park).

J.P., Myself, and Nathalie at Parc du Mont Royal.

A view of the Olympic Park from the East side of Parc du Mont Royal.

My idea of multi-taking: Stuffing my face with Poutine (french fries topped with cheese and gravy), a Montreal tradition and my first taste, and washing it down with an Amber Ale at Les Trois Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) in Old Montreal. Delicious!!!

A view from the bridge heading towards the airport.

A final glimpse of beautiful Montreal.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Long Road Home, Part I-- Mainz

After catching a plane from Delhi to Mumbai, where I landed at nearly 2am and finally got to bed at 6am but would spend less than 24 glorious hours, I caught a plane to Zurich and connected onward to Frankfurt, where I would spend the first night of my epic journey home-- quite possibly the longest in frequent flyer history.
My dear friend Jessica and her two handsome and quickly growing boys met me at the airport in Frankfurt. I had caught an earlier flight in an attempt to spend more time with my friends so there was some time for me to get accustomed to being back in the Western world.

It was there that I quickly realized just how much I had changed over the past few months, as Jessica, who had seen me just five months prior, hardly recognized me as I walked by her and the boys. In fact, I was told by many people since that they only recognized me due to my eyes... but all have had raving comments about my new look and slimmer trim.

It was also at this time when I realized that I was already starting to have reverse culture shock. As we drove into Mainz, I couldn't believe how quiet, clean and orderly everything was. The streets were as soft as a baby's bottom, the air was fresh and clean, and the cars were massive. It was as though I had never been to Germany before. I couldn't believe my eyes or, frankly, all that I was seeing. My mind was just beginning to play tricks on me.

Jessica thought it would be a superb idea to surprise Andre, Jessica's husband, with my new look. We stopped by his work but he had already left for lunch, so we hunted him down using his colleague as our knowledge base. After some quick thinking, we found the restaurant, an upscale Italian joint nearby. I, being clad in my trekking/Indian garb and having not yet showered after the long flight and a hot time in Mumbai, of course, did not come close to fitting the restaurant's typical dress code. The man at the door shot me a glance and looked me up and down as I shot him a quick response-- "Ich suche nach einen Freund von mir." (I'm looking for a friend of mine.) "Uh, huh" was his response.

I noted Andre right away then got into my character.

It is widely known that India and Nepal are two of the most impoverished countries in Asia, so I, of course, encountered quite a few beggars during my tenure there. I thought, given the circumstances and my appearance, that now would be a good time to use what little acting skills I had to impersonate one of them to surprise my friend. I looked the part for Western standards, so I gave it a go.

As I approached Andre's table, his colleagues all began to scurry about, not really knowing how to comprehend a person of my meager stature in such a setting. I tapped Andre on the shoulder as he was talking to a colleague. As he turned to me, gazing onto me for the first time, I could see the shock behind his eyes. His comfort level was deteriorating quickly. I mimicked as a beggar would-- I didn't say a word, placed my thumb against all four cupped fingers of my closed right hand and brought it quickly to my mouth and then followed it with a praying gesture.

Andre suddenly turned away in utter embarrassment.

I tapped him on the shoulder again.

He turned to me in complete disgust as I mimicked the same motions again.

This time I could see his face turning red, in a loss for words, and I reckon, I quick signal that he was about to call the waiter over.

He turned away again in disgust.

I quickly said "Hey, Du (you)... Andre."

He turned immediately and wondered how on earth I knew his name.

It was then when I saw him peer deeply into my eyes that I knew he knew it was me.

His face light up like a Christmas tree and he broke down into laughter as he sat in awe of my new look.

I told him that it was Jessica's idea, and we chatted briefly before I left he and his colleagues alone to finish their lunch.

Jessica, the kids and I then went back to her place so that I could freshen up and catch up.

Later in the day I met my friend Burcin, who I met in February during Fastnacht, in the Domplatz for a quick lunch. We went to one of Micha's favorite cafes and caught up on the past few months. Burcin loves to travel and was really interested in hearing all of my stories, as she sat in amazement of my new look. Apparently, it was quickly turning into a good look for me!

Naturally, as great conversations do, my allotted time with Burcin quickly came a went... running into my time with Joerg and Matthias at the Eisgrub.

I showed up nearly and hour late and, hoping that they were still there, I ran into the patio area and quickly glanced about. I couldn't see them anywhere.

Then I heard a voice say, "Ist das C.J.? Das kann nicht sein... aber der sieht ein bisschen wie C.J. aus..." (Is that C.J.? That can't be... but he looks a little bit like him...)

I turned and saw Matthias talking to Joerg about me. As I made eye contact with Matthias his jaw dropped and he began yelling at the top of his lungs, "NO WAY!!!"

Neither could believe just how much weight I had lost or how much hair I had accumulated over the course of five months.

We drank many fantastic brews and caught up, as good friends do, well into the night.

Neither, however, could stay up late with me.

There was one last person to see-- Micha-- who was presently residing as best man in a wedding.

I called Micha several times throughout the night to check on his status, anxiously waiting to see my good friend again. I walked nearly all of the Altstadt and took in the pleasant weather. At about 4am Micha appeared from his car at the Hauptbahnhof. We had two hours to catch up, and we intended on using it!

I hoped in the car and we scampered off to Micha's family house, where we hunkered down for a good conversation until 3o mins before I was to leave for the airport. Micha hoped in the shower, and I dozed off to sleep.

Thirty minutes later, at around 6am, I reckon, I was gathering my things and heading to the airport, in a daze and onto my next stop-- Montreal and my new good friends, J.P. and Nathalie.

Micha and I enjoyed our final moments together; all 6'6" of him gave me a a huge bear hug; we exchanged "Ahhhs and Ahhhooos" and I was off for my seat and to an immediate night/day's sleep.

My friend Burcin and I at the Domplatz in Altstadt of Mainz.

A close-up.

Matthias, Myself, and Joerg at the famous Eisgrub Brauerai.

Taking a photo with the local "connoisseurs."