Am Bratach No. 239
September 2011

 Graeme shelters from the rain near the Taj Mahal.

Life in Korea
by Graeme Mackay

“... the poor wee thing was doing cartwheels between the cars in an attempt to increase her selling power.”

Well here we are coming ever closer to the end of summer, and if it is any consolation at all, the weather in Korea this summer has been the wettest they have experienced for many years. The only difference between the rain here and in Scotland is the temperature — but I’ve concluded that rain is wet wherever you are! I should also point out that the picture of me standing next to the Taj Mahal [on front cover] is not a Korean replica or a Photoshop picture, it is the real deal which I was fortunate enough to visit in July during our five day summer vacation. (This means holiday for those not yet converted to the endless Americanisms I am expected to teach! I mean, why have I found myself using words like awesome, elevator and eraser? And why is there no ‘u’ in colour or favourite? Anyway, I digress).

I flew to New Delhi on July 23 to go and experience what life is like in the Republic of India, albeit staying in a hotel whose name would suggest quite the opposite of the luxury I enjoyed. The hotel, Shanti Home, was located in the west of Delhi and unlike other “West Ends” throughout the world, it made even the most unattractive “East End” seem like a desirable area to live in. Call me judgemental if you wish, but every capital I have visited so far have been flagships to their nations, sparking jewels in their crown, but much to my surprise I discovered that India must have one rusty and tarnished old crown in need of a damn good dousing of Brasso! There must be areas of great natural beauty and splendour in India, but for me Delhi is not one of them. Perhaps I was just experiencing culture shock, but looking back at the trip I simply didn’t expect to find such chaos, homelessness, poverty and dirt in the capital city of a country. It was evident that thirteen million people live in Delhi, and it was also evident that a vast majority don’t have homes or places they can call their own.

Aside from the poverty, the dirt and smells of the city, I admit that Delhi does have some beautiful and amazing tourist attractions to offer. The city boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, endless shopping markets and the world’s largest Hindi temple which was completed in 2005. It used the help of 3,000 volunteers and 7,000 artisans to build the immense Akshardham Temple. However, outside every tourist attraction you are back to the endless beggars and touts on the street. At one point we were stopped in the car waiting for the traffic lights to change and a little girl came up to the window asking for money. I literally blinked, and the next second her legs were passing the window — the poor wee thing was doing cartwheels between the cars in an attempt to increase her selling power. I really struggled with the constant begging, most of all because I choose to turn a blind eye from reality and I felt, and still do feel, a great deal of shame and selfishness for being so distant from fellow human beings in need.

My day trip to the Taj Mahal was the highlight of my visit to India. It is no surprise this building is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. No matter which angle you look at the mausoleum it literally takes your breath away. Built between 1632 and 1653 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the tomb encompasses elements of Persian, Turkish and Indian architecture. It really was amazing to see the craftsmanship and skill that went into building something over 350 years ago without the modern technology we are used to today. Everything was symbolic, perfectly symmetrical and the amount of semi-precious stones, individually crafted into the white marble was simply mind-blowing. It rained all that day, but the white marble still seemed to gleam while drenched under some serious grey skies. What a beautiful place to visit.

The final observation I must share with you about India was the insane driving conditions on their roads. I can only thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t behind the wheel. Oh, my goodness, it puts driving into a whole new perspective for me — one I am more familiar with on computer games than real life! My heart was in my mouth each time I went to open the car door. On an average journey you would try and avoid the oncoming traffic, cyclists, motorbikes, children, horse and cart, cows, stray dogs, pigs, monkeys, tuk tuks, buses and rickshaws, often through narrow streets with no tarmac, pavements or traffic lights. I thought perhaps out in the countryside it may have been more relaxed and organised, but no, it resembled the city driving. Your ears soon tell you that their horns are considered the most important part of their car and, boy, do they know how to use them!

Despite my views and observations about Delhi, I really did enjoy exploring the city and experiencing the new culture and fantastic cuisine that India’s capital had to offer. Like everything in life it was an experience and I appreciate having the opportunity to see first hand how others live in different areas around our globe. Travelling really put things in perspective and it is true what they say that there is always someone in a worse position that yourself and there really is no place like home.


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