A couple years ago I was talking with my college buddy, Hoops, about our time in school. We were telling all kinds of stories about funny things we’d done. And it made me miss being in college. I said to him, “Dude, I regret my college days. I wish I’d done more.” My laughter turned to introspection turned to sadness. He replied with an insightful nugget. He said, “Bro, you don’t regret anything. You just miss it and wish your life could be like that now.” He was right.
Then and Now
In writing about the trip, I’ve felt a discontinuity in my thoughts but couldn’t figure it out. This morning it hit me. I’m documenting what WAS as I try to process what IS. It’s the difference between making observations about a day (the temperature, cloud cover, your mood) and explaining WHY the weather or your mood was a certain way. It’s facts vs. analysis.
Facts are usually simple. They’re single pieces of information. A travelogue is relatively simple. You make factual observations about the places you went, the people you saw, and the things you did. It’s not particularly difficult – although there’s great skill involved in good observation. On the other hand, analysis is complex. It takes into account facts but includes feelings, ideas, previous experiences. Facts stand alone. Analysis uses facts as only one small part of its fuel. If we do analysis with only facts we won’t get anywhere. It’s like a motor having gasoline but no air. It won’t go anywhere. That’s a bummer of a situation.
Now and Then
As we reflect on days gone by, we see facts – events, people, places. We remember what it was like and how we felt. Because they’re in the past, we think those times are gone. And that can make us sad. It can make us regretful of not doing more. It can make us resentful of our present because we’re not experiencing the same things we did back then. But my buddy Hoops was right. We just miss it and wish our lives could be like that now. But they can’t. At the moment. So how do we move forward? I have only one thought today. Merge.
I’m now aware of a new place and new people. It’s like I was traveling along my life path and a new road called Kolkata showed up on my radar. For a period of time, when I was in India, my life path traveled on top of this new road. Now that I’m home, it doesn’t. They’re separate ways. Instead of only observing and lamenting, it’s time for some plotting. How can my path merge closer into the Indian road? It might not mean moving there. It might mean helping them financially. Here, too, we can become discouraged. We don’t have tons of money. I’m not a millionaire. But that’s not the point. Paul taught the Corinthians something simple. “[I]f the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Paul (and God) love that regular people partnered with him. My Indian friends doing God’s work there love it, too! There are kids in India who need to eat and learn – their times tables and about Jesus. My few dollars contributes to that!
As a final note today, I want to be honest…I don’t fully believe everything I’ve written here. In my head, I think I’m right. But in my heart, I’m still a little sad (though I can’t totally explain why). I’m remembering Proverbs 25:2. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” The searching goes on – for ways to merge my life and how to understand all I’ve seen.
Now for the facts…Today I present our second day of travel to Kolkata. It was the last day I felt like a Westerner.
Kolkata sits in East India in the state of West Bengal. Population of the metropolitan Kolkata area during the last census was 15.1 million people. It’s a big city!
One thing about international flights is that you have a TV screen on the back of the seat in front of you. It’s cool! You can watch movies, listen to music, and see the Flight Map of the trip. Here are some images of what that looked like on our trip from Newark to Frankfurt. Note that the first picture even shows where it’s nighttime (dark shaded area) in the world and where’s it’s daytime.
That morning, the sunrise somewhere over the Atlantic was great!
As we got into Frankfurt, it was apparent to me (from the air anyway) that I was on a different continent. I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I did.
As we waited to de-plane, I saw the transport bus and immediately became a 5-year old again. Check out marquee on the bus.
I didn’t take photos of it, but as we exited the plane, there were about 5 German police officers standing on the de-planing ladder. I asked Pete if that was normal for an international flight and he said no. As we boarded the bus that took us to the terminal, we saw a woman from our flight being put into a police van on the tarmac. Sorry, Charlie!
Speaking of Charlie, who doesn’t love a plane with the Peanuts painted on it!?!?!?
The Frankfurt Airport. One interesting thing about airports in other countries is that in order to enter the gate area, you have to show your boarding pass and passport. I lost count of the number of times I had to show those things. By about the 4th check, I decided to find a permanent spot in my bag to store them so that I could unthinkingly pull them from that place whenever I needed it.
Yawny yawny, Bratcher!
McCants listening to obscure music. Seth...Hipster rocking in Germany!
We again went outside to board our plane to Kolkata. The plane from Newark to Frankfurt was a Continental 777 that was equipped with power outlets and coach seats with fairly luxurious leg room. Even better, our flight was only half full so people were laying out across the entire middle section of the plane to sleep. I decided not to do that because I saw this video one time of a school bus that hits a huge bump and sends the kids flying into the ceiling of the bus. I couldn’t shake that image of me getting pancaked to the ceiling in the middle of a freak turbulence acceident so I kept my seatbelt on.
BUT…this Lufthansa flight we took from Frankfurt to Kolkata was a bit more normal. To start, it was a full flight. To end, it was an Airbus A330 without electrical outlets. Boo hiss! Eight hours without power. I had work I needed to get done, so that was a bummer. If you’re depending on power on the plane, be sure to check beforehand if the plane has it! Or charge your battery on the previous flight that has them (I’m dumb!).
I told Pete to wave goodbye to Frankfurt. I didn’t have the heart to remind him that waving like this has meaning in Germany.
These longhaul flights include a full meal. It’s not J. Alexander’s. It’s not even particularly tasty. It’s almost like it’s something to do. “I’m on this 8 hour flight. What am I gonna do? I guess I’ll eat.”
Check out the REAL silverware spork!
So after 8 hours, we arrived in Kolkata. About 5 minutes before landing, the plane started to smell a little weird. Pete leaned over and said, “That’s India. That’s the smell of India.” It didn’t smell BAD. It just smelled different. Like in the family of chlorine – in that it was a very distinctive smell. But about 15 minutes after landing, I didn’t notice it anymore. We de-planed and were greeted by a bus from circa 1960. I didn’t question getting on the bus, but it turns out it drove about 100 yards from the plane to the terminal entrance. Kind of funny. This was the last time we’d be surrounded by any white people for the next 8 days.
Once inside, we went to customs. They give you a form to fill out on the plane in order to declare anything of value you’re bringing into the country. You fill out your name, passport number, and where you’re staying while in India. As a note…keep your place of stay and its phone number somewhere on you so that you can fill it in on this form. It’s required. Basically, you just stand in line. When it’s your turn, you hand them the form and your passport. They look at it and then stamp things in 15 places and send you through to collect your bags. They’ll give you something like a receipt. Keep that on you. Some customs officers will check it after you collect your bags, as you leave the terminal to go outside. It was about 1:30am by the time we got everything together.
That's our bus in the background. We rode it during the whole trip
That airport name is a mouthful. It used to be called Dum Dum. Seriously.
We had to play Tetris to fit all the people and luggage into the bus
By the time we got to the place we were staying, it was a little after 2am local time. I woke up the next morning at 7:00am and snapped this picture from our room – which is where I’ll pickup tomorrow! Good morning, Kolkata!