I know this is a blog about Japan. But part of the experience we welcomed with this assignment is the opportunity to visit other countries. The past week, my job took me to Mumbai, India. My wife was able to accompany me on this trip, so following the days of meetings we took a few vacation days to see a little of Mumbai. Here are our thoughts about India.
He said: From what we saw, India is a fascinating, wonderful, disturbing, complicated, and sometimes overwhelming place. Throughout our time here, we were greeted by friendly, accepting people. Obviously, as Westerners, we stand out in a crowd. But at no time was anyone rude, nor did they seem to really pay much attention to our differences. Staff at the hotel and restaurants were, as perhaps could be expected, accommodating and genuinely helpful. Even during our excursions in the city and to a local island, we seemed to be at worst ignored, and often warmly accepted.
She said: Usually when I accompany my husband on these trips, I have a couple of days on my own when he has meetings. This is not a problem for me, and I usually will spend that time wandering around the city we are visiting. Most cities are fairly walkable… with sites easily accessed on foot, or by public transit. Not so much with Mumbai, we found. Granted, our hotel was well outside the city center — north near Lake Powai – and seemed to be in an isolated pocket of hotels, upscale apartments, and small businesses. But I found that I could only walk 2 to 3 blocks in each direction before walking out into a much different area. Not that I only wanted to stay in the affluent parts of town, but I was not comfortable walking alone into neighborhoods of tin-roofed shanties and tarp shelters.
He said: And that is the disturbing and sometimes overwhelming part of Mumbai. Abject poverty is everywhere. You see multi-million dollar apartment buildings, and within steps neighborhoods of ramshackle tin shacks. Driving through the city, we saw huge areas where the living conditions were difficult, but at least people had some shelter and a home. Other places, people are living under bridges and on the sidewalks with no shelter, no belongings, nothing. It is hard to imagine how people live in these conditions…and difficult to understand how we can have so much, when so many have so very little.
She said: We had a wonderful experience visiting Mumbai… But we hired a driver and guide to show us around. The chaos and traffic can be daunting. Touring by oneself is difficult. We saw many amazing sites in the city center, and visited a Hindu Temple. At the temple, we were invited by one of the monks to join them in the midday meal that they provided to the community. We sat on the floor and enjoyed eating wonderful Indian food with wonderful Indian people. We spent a day touring the Elephanta Caves on Gharipuri Island – again with a guide – and saw ancient Hindu carvings, as well as the adorable monkeys that inhabit the island.
All in all, this was a fascinating cultural experience for us. Of all the places we’ve visited during this assignment, this was in many ways the most difficult…and in other ways, the most unique and unforgettable.