Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pennisular perspectives: 240 hours of pondering percieved paradox OR why do I think so impoverishedly about cities?

Greetings from the land of the morning calm. I bring you this special addition of Sojourning the Subcontinent, from Busan, South Korea! So long subcontinent, hello peninsula! I haven't written publicly for sometime; it's nice to stretch the old vocabulary and wax poetic openly again. Before we begin, I must admit, this is a long entry. May the sharing of stories bring us closer to the divine.

10 days ago, I arrived in the second largest metropolis, and grand port city, of the Republic of Korea, to visit my dear friend Mitchell and his love, Katherine. My trip to Busan (which is also known as Pusan, the spellings of which I will oscillate, unannounced and without qualification) was, not unlike my journey from Delhi to Toronto earlier this fall, a convoluted and lengthy process. I traveled from Kingston to Toronto the night of February 25, staying for a discount rate in the Hilton Airport Hotel thanks to On the morning of the 26th, I awoke at 4am bound for my transoceanic travels which took me first to Newark, New Jersey (3 hour layover), then Tokyo, Japan (3 hour layover), next to Seoul, South Korea (10 hour layover), finally to Busan, South Korea. In sum, I traveled for 39 hours - or 53 including the time change, arriving at 8:00am, Korean Standard Time on the 28th. I suppose I'm still young enough to suffer the maelstrom that is continuous travel for almost two days in order to ensure cheap air tickets; round trip Toronto - Busan for $1250.00 is hard to beat!

In a week and a half, I have, to name but a few magical moments: traversed the mountains which surround the city; meandered the subway system en- route to true expatriate exploration (including tourist hot spots such as Hyandai Beach, Pusan National University, and the many bars serving soju, a chemically enhanced liquor consumed in unhealthy quantities by Korean business men and foreigners, alike); watched a Sonic Boom game - the Busanese national basketball team (likely a separate post to come on this experience); and toured estuaries and other natural spaces on the western periphery of the city, courtesy of the Busan eco tour. 

Most of my time, however, has been spent on the 6th floor of the Banda Bora Skyscraper complex- my current residence. This 500 square foot, multi-roomed, yet open concept apartment boasts light hardwood floors, a beautiful glass shower, and most strikingly, wall to wall to wall, windows! I usually sit at the dinning room table peering down to the daily occurrences of Minam (the particular enclave where the building is situated). This perspective, coupled with insightful comments from Mitch and Kat, and married to a seemingly intrinsic proclivity for reflection, have lead me to ponder the paradoxes of Korean society; or more fairly, the perceived paradoxes. Let me explain.

Visually, the urban environments of South Korea, in this case Busan, are/is highly developed and deeply technological. That is, the streets are filled with modern cars, the infrastructure is fortuitous with -for example- a highly advanced and very accessible (physically and financially) public transit systems, and the high-rises which purposefully penetrate the Pusanese sky are accessorized with a multitude of neon and other gas filled signs. The lights and sounds are analogous to a perpetual, though perhaps less intensive, Time Square in New York City. However, the illuminated city and its blinking billboards and ticking traffic does not give way to a culture of urbanity, or at least not in the way I traditional conceptualize such densely populated locales.

In my mind's eye the city -especially a port city- is an ethnically diverse, politically liberal, moderately unsafe, and generally licentious setting. (To be sure, I am not equating any of the said descriptions with one another, nor am I claiming that all cities fit this categorization; indeed, my lived-experience, including numerous courses in my undergraduate on urban environments, teach me otherwise). Yet, left unchallenged, I would still perceive the city to be home to activists, lesbians, Hispanics, and drug dealers. (Again, I am not suggesting an entrenched relationship between any of these people groups, nor am a using them as pejorative qualifiers). Nonetheless, in Korea things are different. The urban fabric speaks not the language of my (mis)conceptions, but of a reserved and conservative populous; a group of people who generally avoid public displays of affection and deny that homosexuality exists in their country. Paradox number one - perceived paradox number one - metropolitan Koreans do not meet the standard I think of when I think of urban paradigms.

Paradox number two: so called 'conservative' and 'reserved' tendencies of Koreans do not apply to drinking. In the words of Mitch, "It is not uncommon to see a full grown man wasted out of his mind at 3:00pm". True say, bro-sef. To avoid a pedantic explication as to why I believe conservatism and cultures of reservations to include attitudes of sobriety (if I was even able to craft a cross-cultural analysis of such an arduous scope) please allow to make a general, if only unfounded, assertion: it seems paradoxical for this culture to so often get drunk based on other ways of being which I would have believed to be opposed to such behaviour. The drunkenness though, may be easily (simplistically?) accounted for based on the high levels of pressure placed on members of society with respects to maintaining a certain image/degree of success. 

Paradox number three: safety without personified agents of security/safety in the city. Busan, and according to a number of individuals I have spoken with, Korea at large, is very safe. This opinion is bolstered in my view every time I see children playing at night, women running down a dark path by the water, and is further evidenced by the 'feeling' of the city. Perhaps this safety is due the-ever present, even Panoptic, eye of "big brother" - that's right, friends, Busan is CCTV heaven. Whether or not the perpetual eye of whom ever views the countless hours of closed circuit television, if anyone does at all, is to account for the safety is not for me to say - though I am sure it is a contributor. What I can say however, is that police presence is scarce, and when one does encounter an officer of the law, they are not armed. No, no, no. They have arms! Just no guns. In fact, Korea is to my understanding, a gun-less society:  no guns for cops,  no guns for the military personnel who patrol around the public squares, no gun for you in your handbag. I think that this is a poignant lesson to other 'developed' nations (to use problematic terminology). Nevertheless, it is noted as a paradox because there is a common discourse in the 'west' which argues for investing the power of violence (or potential violence) in the hands of the few to ensure violence is circumvented en mass. On the contrary, my experience in Busan says we can have safe, highly/densely populated environs, without arming anyone!

The final paradox to be noted conforms to the pattern of the ones before it; it is not in and of itself paradoxical, but rather seems to be based on my experience, and commonly held beliefs by a significant number of individuals. Paradox number four: one can access nature within 10 minutes of being in the downtown core. As mentioned previously, Busan is beautifully surrounded by mountains. Busan sits nestled in the valleys below. These mountains have been, unlike their North American counterparts, left to their 'natural' state; no homes on the hills, no development destroys the astounding conifers which bend like an Emily Carr painting. As such, one can quickly escape the sometimes frantic comings and goings of life in the valley by taking a brief taxi, bus, subway, or bipedal locomotive trip to the many peaks which peacefully wait to provide what nature does best, a quantum of solace. Perhaps the North American planning market could trade suburban sentiments for mountainous moments now and again?

The perception of paradox pondered in Busan transcends the ways in which I make sense of Korean culture in the context of the city. The perception of paradox pondered in Pusan transcends the ways in which I make sense of urban frameworks. Indeed, paradoxical perspectives apparently emanate from the very essence of my being. I have once again come to understand the ways in which I am a person of contradiction; striving to live in certain ways, hoping to bring to fruition spirit-lead love in the world, but on the contrary, often perpetuating self-focused, comfortable and placating realities which serve to resist the realm of God. Simply, I often choose my ways over God's. Thinking of Paul's words to Timothy, I know I don't save myself by works and need to rest in the Grace apportioned to me (everyone) before the time, but I also know that I need to be responsive when the dove dances lightly in my heart, calling me to share the Gospel, or pray with friends, or drink one glass less of soju.

These contradictions run deep in my life, yes, and if I'm not mistaken, in yours too. Yet amazingly a still soft voice echos in my head "my Grace is sufficient for you" - a Grace which stems from love; a love that does not betray, dismay, or enslave, a love that sets us free. This love, stemming from Jesus, reminds me to get up, try again and know that despite the frustration I feel from (borrowing again from Paul) doing what I don't want to do, I am being changed, moved, and transformed to places of responsiveness, to places of Kindgom carrying. But I can't do it alone! I need God's help of course, but as light bearers, I also need you to ask me "did you follow the Spirit today". I crave your accountability. So for those of you who believe this enterprise to be beneficial, I invite you, now and always, to ask me how my everyday realities are responsive to, or in denial of, being a Spirit-lead Christ follower. May we together move towards God.

Thanks for reading, folks. For now, God Bless,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

home, eh?!

why hello friends, family, and other internet stopper-bys;
after a few weeks of prayer, and some very good conversations with (my wise and dear friend) shaminder, i have decided to come home two weeks early. although i miss out on the wedding and hanging out in rajasthan with the kangs, i feel as if my decision is responsive to god's promptings in my heart and i anticipate what comes next!

indeed, i write this message from the comfy computer chair of la maison de ma mere in kingston, ontario. i arrived late last night after a ridiculously long and complicated journey home; punjab, delhi. delhi, frankfurt. frankfurt, new jersey; new jersey, toronto. toronto, kingston. including lay overs and the fact i missed a connecting flight, the trip totaled 51.5 hours! nevertheless, i enjoyed myself thoroughly and was comforted by the superfluous amounts of free food and drink provided by the airlines. i must say, lufthansa is the way to go.

while my time in india has come to a close -for now-, i still have many reflections i wish to share. if you feel so obliged check back in the coming weeks for my thoughts on following god's spirit, my interactions with hindu and sikh celebrations/festivals, and a more colourful account of my final days and trip home. for now i will suffice it to say that the past two months have been a wonderful blessing and i am deeply grateful for my experiences. i look forward to sharing with you in more detail.

by grace alone, daily i am reminded,
robb :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

where the streets (really) have no name

preface: this computer does not have spell check; you will now enter into (the sometimes scary world) of my true grammatical abilities.

hey all;
i can't believe it has almost been a month since my last entry. this post will be short, but know that in 22 days i have traversed himilayas, spent another week in kathmandu (the inspiration for the title of this post); visited nepal's beautiful chitwan national park: complete with elephant rides, morning canoeing through ornithological heaven, and rhino spottings; flew to delhi; and have been in india for a week.

a note on the himilayas: i trekked through jiri, pathikot, and other remote nepalese towns. i travelled with my friends nicole, smita, and sushil. we made it to 3700m (over 11000feet, for my american friends) and were blessed with stunning evening views of mount everest and its environs. i must admit, for the tallest mountian in the world, i was somewhat disappointed with everest. i imagined a fortuitious fountainhead outshadowing all of its neighbours - in both girth (if you will) and height. in reality however, from our vantage point (about 5 kilometers away) it was hard to tell which peak was the highest, and by no means was one more "girthy" than the rest. nevertheless, the range was beautiful; the snow covered peaks pierced the dark night sky, as the moon glistened above, and the sun set in the west.

it's nice to be back in india. my friend shaminder has arrived and we are about to leave to his ancesteral village for a day or two; from there the plan is to see rajasthan. we have a wedding to attend on the 28th. and my flight is scheduled for the 30th of november. i stop in frankfurt on the way home. i hope to have a few more posts before then.
may god continue to make know his love your lives.
all the best

Saturday, October 16, 2010

one month

well folks, by the time i finish this post i will have been "over here" (india/nepal) for exactly one month. i landed in delhi on september 16 at 8pm, indian standard time. it is now 7:30pm, ist: october 16th.

since shimla, i have travelled to manali, a tourist packed, though nonetheless picturesque northern city in the himalayas; the rohtan pass, a very harrowing day trip (hello windy, narrow, and sometimes washed out roads) thousands of meters above manali; kullu, a smaller, further south, valley region with stunning shots of terrace farming and spring fed mill-grinds; mac leod gang/darmakot, home of the dalai lama, hip cafes, and a plethora of israli expatriates who enjoy the villages music, meditation, yoga, classes on healing and buddhism, and the ever present marijuana. after my journeys in hamachel, i rested in punjab for two days before flying to nepal, where i currently reside in a u.n. owned compound in kathmandu: complete with walls and a team of guards. like the marble driveway of dr. kang's residence, it's not as impressive (and/or disconcerting) as it sounds. most homes in the city have walls at least, if not the guards.

i've been in nepal for a week. while i have made some day trips - mountain biking to a national park, visiting a local village, and taking in the various shopping opportunities (still with few purchases to my name), my days are spent relaxing at home in conversation with my friend nicole. i met her in kingston, working for greenpeace. her friends roger and kelsey rent the place (he works for the u.n) and they happened to have two extra rooms. we talk about the subjective nature of existence, god - or lack thereof from her vantage point-, food, and literature. i must say, i am not very well versed on the latter, and the reason i can hold a decent conversation about food is because we eat so much of it; and more than quantity, we eat quality food. from tibetan momos to banana hazelnut crepes to aloo gobi (potato, cauliflower curry), i have definitely gained weight.

indeed, food and friends are the defining (material) features of this trip and more often than not, they are wed in a beautiful manner. to name a few, i fondly recall having my first coke (the soda, come on now folks...) in years with christopher in manali, or eating amazing breakfast with adam in darmakot, or daal with dr. kang. there's something about table fellowship. but more than that, there's something about fellowship. the meeting of minds. the opening of opinions. the honest reflection of one's life in the company of another. i have met very intelligent, very spiritual, people on my trip. they have all, in their own right, challenged my beliefs, pushed my paradigms, and asked me to share of myself. for this i am grateful. i have needed to find my voice, speak it in humility, and trust that god will mould hearts for his glory through such dialogue.

my time in nepal has continuously brought me to reflection on life at home. how have i lived in postures of ego and not surrender; how have i lived selfishly and not selflessly; how have i deviated from my beliefs to please/appease others; and how have relationships been perverted because of these inner-attitudes - are but some of the questions i am being asked. i realize that, more than i would like to admit, i tend to the darker spectrum of these binaries, that is, towards ego, selfishness, appeasement, etc. as such, in my mind i have failed. i have missed the mark, so to speak. i know that in many ways i continue to fall short. but just today, through yet another failure, i was reminded that all i/we can do is try; try our best. where there are short comings, there is grace. indeed, where i act only for me, disregarding others and god, i can be restored. and where i fail i can actually succeed, because i think that our weakest points, when bathed in the love of jesus, become our strongest. because i believe in the honesty of admitting our humanity, our brokenness, our tendency to put self first, (usually evidenced in relationships, or one's reflection on relationships) we acknowledge that ways in which we cannot live full on our own. but rather we need to invite life and love and light (read christ) into our lives. and when we do this we are empowered to change and we are changed. and it is such change, such regeneration, from those former places of brokenness which shine the brightest.

oh happiness, there is grace!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

i am thankful for

new life in faith
landing safely in nepal
and the wonder of this all

know that i write these words with deep sentiments of love, joy, sadness, hope, fulfillment, yearning, and expectation. happy thanksgiving all: today and every day,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

10 days in hamachel pradesh: part 1 - world tourism day

greetings once again from the hot and hazy plains of punjab.
i arrived in nawanshahr yesterday evening after a week and a half in india's second most northern state, himachel pradesh. it was a whirlwind tour, so to speak. thanks be to god, i made it safely to/from shimla, manali, kullu, and darmakot (north of dharmashala). i enjoyed myself thoroughly and have posted details, and ponderings of but one day adventures below; i hope you enjoy.  

on sunday september 26th i boarded a bus (or what i derogatorily, though light-heartedly, denoted as a glorified tin-can on wheels) bound for shimla: the mountainous summer headquarters of the colonial raj. we were greeted by monkeys upon entering the foothills of the himalayas. everywhere our primordial cousins (perhaps a loaded statement for some) scurried about, picking flees, eating garbage, and lounging in the warm sun. i was struck by their humanity, if you will.

the views from the crowded bus were beautiful. the road wove its way around the mountains, all but inches from steep hills which dropped to valleys below. my precipitous perspective was enlarged as i sat directly adjacent to the door - which remained open for the duration of the journey. the air was cool. fresh. new. a change from the southern smog. perhaps the relaxing breeze accounts for the prolonged sleep my anonymous travel companion feel into: my shoulder a seemingly comfortable pillow. to my surprise, himachal’s trees were deciduous, similar to forests of northern canada. here however, the pine and cedar were ephemeral, light, and almost translucent, like a dandelion ready to seed. moreover, the undergrowth was non-existent and i could see stone built bridges magically carrying trains around mighty tree trunks, slowly winding their way to destinations unknown.

after finding a place to stay (the ymca: complete with large, musty rooms, red carpet, and continental breakfast) i walked the city. up and down its hills; through crowded bizzares, packed with clothes, vegetables, and samosas, to the peacefully paved, british influenced, mall (not a complex, but rather the main street, popular with tourists) 

monday morning i agreed to eat with some young french travellers whom i had talked into the night with. they arrived, but disappeared soon after i stopped to sit with a kiwi couple in the porch of our hostel. my new friends (chris and ursula) informed me of a tour they had been invited to by a man claiming to be the president of himachel pradesh tourism. weary of scams, but ready for adventure, we decided we would attend together. chris pulled a piece of paper from his pocket; the invite: world tourism day 2010, please arrive at the house of the c.m by 9am. what's the c.m i asked?

looking to a local for help we were guided to a well kempt and gated complex, complete with multiple arms-bearing security guards. we were ushered through a metal detector and patted down, and asked to sit in what was essentially dry-walled holding cell. we were joined by a group of young westerners, soon after. "leave your bags in the cloak room and come with me". abidingly we followed the suited man. we emerged from our confines to a courtyard of a large stone home. somewhere in this process it had come to our attention that c.m was simply an acronym for chief minister: the equivalent of premier for you canadians, or governor for american folks.

we entered a side door to a waiting room surrounded by offices, still unsure of what we had gotten ourselves into. the room was filled with westerners and various suited indians. within moments waiters appeared with trays of water and juices: grapefruit, apple, or orange. a lady wearing a brilliant pink sari entered and everyone stood and shook her hand. she proceeded to greet us, as if we were aware of the purpose of our visit.

crowd gathered in front of the house. curious, as i still had yet to conclude what was happening, i meandered over. there the other westerners had lined up in front of a series of vehicles splashed with decals reading "shimla city tour" and adorned with bouquets of flowers. my new zealand friends joined me and we entered the fray. as stood chatting with a growing sense of anticipation, more waiters materialized serving glorious indian finger foods! excitement grew as we realized that we were to be the inaugural, the first, and to date, the only, participants of the tour. chris would spout endearing statements in his almost laughable accent like “this is going to be in-TIN-se”

suddenly there was a hush. the crowd parted, making room for media: cameras turned on and spot lights shone as from the front door, surrounded by yes-man, the chief minister himself appeared. peacefully he proceeded towards me: greeted me, pinched a handful of rose pedals held by a servant to his right, tossed them over me, placed a traditional hat on my head, and departed by placing a bindi between my eyes. a journalist quickly appeared asking my name and country and how i felt, whilst the c.m continued fashioning hats and bindis down the line. when he at completed decorating us, we were rushed into the vehicles.
we spent the day touring shimla, escorted by tour guides employed by the government. first to the temple of hanuman, the monkey god, which sat gracefully atop the highest mountain in the region – providing beautiful views of the snow covered himalyas in the distance. then to various museums, containinh a wide array of historical documents from ancient stone carvings to a poignant letter from ghandi to hitler, urging peaceful ends to the mounting tension of 1939. other sites included: gorton castle, the indian institute for advanced study (the former colonial headquarters, and building where pakistan was partitioned), cultural performances, and a luxurious hotel where we were served two magnificent indian feasts. the day was ostensibly arbitrary, bizarre, profound, and indeed, wonderful.

making it particularly enjoyable was the company. a group of 5 polish and german interns, chris and ursual, adutch couple, myself, and an indian couple shared the experience with our knowledgeable government guides. as we ate lunch, passing the abundance of chapatti and nan to dip in our delectable dishes, we recounted the series of events which delivered us to our shared adventure. we laughed at the seemingly random nature of it all. “if i hadn’t stopped and chatted”; “if i hadn’t turned this corner”; “ if i didn’t meet these folks at this hotel” and so on - we all appeared to know the reason for being where we were. it was extrodinary in our minds.

but isn’t that what life is? a series of seemingly random events, which lead you to people and places. a series of random events which move you in directions you may have never imagined, or even wanted? sometimes this is obvious, like my encounters in shimla - but i think that ordinarily, in less extreme and more familiar situations, the brilliant orchestra of life, the underlying cause and effect of our days, is hidden by our complacent comings and goings. that is, we become un-awed at the ways in which the world is evolving, unfolding, and being (re)created around us. realizations of how we met our friends, our spouse, how we ended up in this city, why we know what we know, and the emotional/spiritual ramifications of these material realities are forgotten, or worse, unacknowledged. but beyond our schedules, our deadlines, our life, lies a force which created the conditions for these interactions to play out in the first place.

as a christian, i believe in a creative god, working to redeem the world in counter-cultural ways, as evidenced through the radical love of jesus. while would take multiple pages for me to suss out how far and in what ways i believe this to be occurring and how i perceive/do not perceive this as the mentioned force ( if i could accomplish such a difficult task)  i know  that on world tourism day 2010,  i was humbled: i was awed. i was brought to a greater appreciation of the gift of this journey. i was reminded that there is so much cannot control.

i pray that by god’s grace we may step back daily and marvel at the ways in which things come together and the ways which things fall apart. and that we may be grateful for such complexity and creativity.
oh there's so much more to say,

Friday, September 24, 2010

taxi drivers and agricultural pedagogy: my days in punjab

my days in punjab are coming to a close, at least for now. i plan to leave to the northern states of himachel padesh and jammu and kashimir sunday morning. first to the hill station at shimla (the former colonial summer capital) then to manali, and perhaps even ladakh; traversing the grandeur of the western himalayas. before i make that journey, inshallah, i thought i would share with you a more thorough description of daily life thus far.

every morning i wake up, before i put on my makeup, i say a little pra...oh, err, wait. no. let's try this again:

5am: the local gudwara beckons worshipers to prayer. i turn over, hoping for another hour of sleep;
i typically rise between 6 and 7am. i use the washroom. i clean my room. i greet dr kang, who can usually be found practicing yoga or otherwise preparing for the day (tying his turban, reading his hymns, etc). i spend the next two hours leisurely oscillating between reading scripture, catching up on indian news, praying, eating chapati, purifying my water, and trying to communicate with shanty, the house maid: so far we've mastered hand signals, and basic words such as roti (food) and sukrriya (thank-you).

i have come to expect dr kang's emphatic call of "let us move" around 9:30am. we exit to the marble driveway, which may sound more posh and exotic than it is: many of the homes i have visited have marble flooring. some mornings we take the car (a compact suzuki), some mornings a driver picks us up in a government suv, and one morning we took the new hero honda motorcycle: a trip which was less jarring than i had expected, in light of previously mentioned road conditions, and the lack of helmets (sorry dad).

our destination depends on the day. friday, monday, wednesday, and now friday again, we have made the 6 kilometer journey to langroya - a small colony outside of nawanshahr - to what is called a kvk: transliterating hindi to english, a krishi vigyan kendra (farm science centre): the workplace of dr. kang.

there are a multitude of  kvks (571 to be exact) across india. they act as a testing ground/research area for vegetable crops, fruit, and other aspects of farm life, including animal care and domestic duties such as embroidery and child rearing. kvks are composed of a team of specialized scientists - most of whom have completed doctorate level research - and workers who tend to the fields and package the produce. kvks operate under the auspices of the federal government, in conjunction with local universities; in this case the punjab agricultural university at ludihana.

kvk langroya employs a veterinarian, an agronomist, a home scientist (re: domestic duties), a horticulturist, a plant geneticist, a plant pathologist, an entomologist (one who studies insects), and a agricultural engineer. together they attempt to find the most effective  methods of farming (with respects to crop yield and crop health) in punjab. dr kang has been the director of this kvk for 8 years; he oversees the various projects undertaken by the staff and works to ensure coordination between the researchers and local farmers.

i am continually impressed by the work, maybe i could say mission, of the kvk. far from an ivory tower, an academic enclave removed from reality (as some perceive the academy to be), the scientists here humbly strive to better the practices of local farming. arguably the most important facet of doing so is relating to the local farmer. indeed, to quote a punjab agricultural university calendar which hangs in many of the rooms, "[the] farmer is the most important visitor on [the] premises. he is not an interruption on [the] work, he is the purpose of it." most strikingly the staff embody this attitude. they meet regularly with farmers, they host training sessions, and they attempt to foster relationships built on mutual trust and understanding. the calendar continues: "we are not doing a favour by serving him, he is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so." as such, binaries of researcher/researched, educated/ignorant, and town/gown, beautifully blend as knowledge is gathered and disseminated. to reiterate, the kvk works for the betterment of the farmer, not for a short-sighted economic end, nor a ego-based scientific enterprise which attempts to know all. Of course helping the farmer includes advocating for fair wages and promoting practices (through science) which decrease waste and improve yield for cash, but the spirit is of service, not profit or self-aggrandizement. 

in many ways this educational environment serves as a model of what "western" institutions could be. while i am sure there are some that operate similarly (perhaps in an agricultural setting like this), more often than not, i think canadian/american/english based universities have become couched in discourses of vocational opportunity. "what do you want to be?"; "what job will that degree get you?"; and "are we producing economically viable citizens?" have replaced more important questions like "how does your degree affect your job?"; "how does your degree help you be?"; "how can your degree work to support the citizenry?"

as i wander the main hall of the institute, professors welcome me into their offices (which they share with a colleague); they are interested to hear of my life and willing to speak of their own. for those who speak little english, we stick the basics: why am i here? where am i going next? those whose english is more competent, converse on their research and motivation for working with the kvk.

on multiple occasions i have ventured to rural farms and the fields of the kvk, guided by various professors. i have learned about crop varieties and species, breeding techniques, preservation, and soil quality. when the professors are occupied i find myself reading journal articles on indian agriculture and am now adequately versed in the basics of the field (no pun intended).

throughout the day i am served tea, and sometimes cookies, by the young man - essentially a butler - who runs back and forth helping professors with administrative and culinary duties. lunch is spent with dr kang. and my afternoons are ripe with continued learning.

when "5 has gone" (after 5pm) dr kang and i leave for home, always with a fresh basin of buffalo milk and other items his assistants may have purchased at his request. upon arrival dr kang begins preparation for dinner; i have started to help. we peel fresh vegetables for the base of the dish to be served and talk about life. notable is the great respect dr kang has for his associates and the humour he finds in many things: i rarely laugh this much.

at 6pm dr kang leaves to worship at the gudwara and i sit and think or work out. i probably should tend to the latter: we eat a lot here (i average 10 chapati a day and three main course meals, a piece of fruit, and a serving of dairy) and i am rather sedentary.

when dr. kang returns he bathes while i read and then we switch. afterwards we finish dinner preparation and eat (usually by 8:30pm). after we have had our fill it's bed time: 9:30pm, lights out, ready for another day in punjab.

the days when we don't attend the kvk, we spend touring the major attractions of the state. i have seen the capital, various museums, the golden temple, hindu places of worship, various markets in the big cities, and, most poignantly, the indian/pakistani border. (each of these trips deserve a post unto themselves, though due to time constraints will likely not be brought to fruition. if you so desire, i anticipate our conversation upon my return.) as i have written before, dr kang graciously funds these adventures and i have only spent rs600 ($13.33 CDN; to be sure, that's thirteen dollars and thirty three cents) since arrival!

on our trip to amritsar our driver took it upon himself to take my luggage tag, which was a canadian flag with my contact information affixed, and tied it to his rearview mirror. unfortunately, he had to have gone through the contents of my bag to do so; i suppose his intentions were only moderately malicious (or, more positively, he was just a curious fellow with a vexillological fixation) as he left my sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and journal. i didn't have the courage to call him on it. so if you're in the area and you see a canadian flag in a taxi window you know we('ve) share(d) proximity.

admittedly, this post was rather heavy on details, intentionally so. i hope it provides a deeper understanding, or paints a better picture - if you will, of my travels. thanks for taking time to read this.
god bless,