Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? As an earnest proponent of the “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of character building, I can’t recommend traveling in India enough as a way to become a better human being.

As I write this, I am sitting in a rather dingy hotel suite in Chennai, mentally congratulating myself for not completely losing my mind with the kind, well-meaning, and utterly ineffective staff.

Knowing I had a 14 hour layover in this absolutely boiling southern Indian city, I had the utter stroke of genius to book a hotel an hour from the airport. Yes, I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. to return to the airport for my onward flight, but this hotel was right on the beach and it had a gorgeous pool! I envisioned myself lounging poolside all afternoon with a fruity umbrella drink before putting in a few hours’ work in the office area of my opulent six-room suite.

Have you ever noticed how my plans always seem to go to shit?

After an uneventful 55 minute flight from Bangalore (during which we were served lunch, even though the cabin crew barely had time to pass out the boxes of sandwiches and mango juice before turning around to collect the trash; American carriers, kindly take note), I land in Chennai, collect my suitcase (that I bought last night after deciding that backpacking was utter bullshit) and exit the airport in search of my pre-booked taxi.

My pre-booked taxi, I should add, that never shows up.

See? More patient already. I randomly choose a taxi counter, arrange a cab, and 5 minutes later I’m in the back of an ancient black Vauxhall, plunging into the melee of central Chennai. At every nauseating turn, I remind myself that I’ll be lounging poolside shortly.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
Even though it’s miserably hot and ridiculously chaotic, Chennai *is* beautiful.

We finally make it to my hotel, but not before my driver attempts to deliver me to two other hotels and a seafood restaurant. He’s really convinced that the latter is the right place, and calls the parking lot security guard over to help him argue with me.

Naturally, the security guard is on his side. “Yes, you are definitely in the right place, madam!” It’s not until I threaten to get out and walk the rest of the way that the driver believes I’m really not staying the night at India’s version of Red Lobster.

We drive the wrong way down a one-way street to arrive at my hotel, but apparently this is OK because he honks the horn a lot. I’ve learned that, in India, you can disobey any traffic rule you want as long as you make liberal use of your horn while doing so.

The hotel manager is round and cheerful and welcoming as he takes my bag and ushers me inside. “Which way to the pool?” I ask, hoping he doesn’t notice the rivers of sweat running down my arm as we shake hands.  

“Oh, sorry madam! The pool is being now closed for maintenance.”

I can almost feel the increased patience flowing into my body.

Another employee pipes up. “You can always go across the street to the beach, madam!”

“OK. Is the water safe for swimming?”

“Oh, no. Current is too strong. Definitely do not go for swimming.”

<Deep, deep breath>

While I’m sure it would be lovely to bake on the sand on a 95 degree day without any way to cool off, I decide to pass on that. I guess I’ll be spending the afternoon holed up in my room, getting caught up on work.

“Oh, madam?” I’m halfway across the parking lot when the hotel manager calls after me. “Sorry, sorry. WiFi is not working today. Sorry!”

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
The exact expression on my face at that moment.

Patience. So much patience.

Please note: I absolutely love India, and the Indian people. I would never dissuade anyone from visiting India, especially my beloved Bangalore. But, ah, when you go? Bring a sense of humor.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.

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Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Barefoot Dentistry: Not As Horrifying As it Sounds

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The sign outside the second-floor clinic instructs all visitors to remove their shoes before entering, and the staircase landing is littered with sandals. OK, apparently this is a thing. I briefly consider turning around and leaving, but I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m wearing my lucky Harry Potter underwear. Also, I just saw my first two sacred cows, which seems like a good omen. I’m about to have dental work in India, and I’m starting to think this was possibly a Very Bad Idea™.

I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They're everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I'm not posting pictures so stop asking.
I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They’re everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I’m not posting pictures so stop asking.

I feel better as soon as I step inside the clinic. Everything is clean and modern and sterile. I’m handed an iPad on which to check in. The receptionist has perfect hair and looks like he just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, except he’s also barefoot.

As soon as I finish signing in and taking an extremely unflattering picture of myself with the office tablet, J. Crew leads me up another flight of stairs to the exam room, which is similarly spotless but full of Buddha statues and a small radio blaring Indian pop music.

Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.
Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.

Also, is it a bad sign when your dentist has the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies on his office bookshelf? Asking for a friend.

Dr. Narayan cuts right to the chase, asking me what’s going on. I go into show and tell mode, and he only interrupts to ask a few questions. He can tell right away that I’ve been putting this off for some time, and that there was trauma to the tooth in question. He smirks when I tell him the story of being head-butted in the face by a rambunctious dog while drinking a beer.

“Well,” he says pushing back from his desk, “let’s have a look.” I pad along barefoot behind him into the treatment room. This is probably my last chance to bolt and I’m totally missing it.

The room is as bright and sterile as any Western dentist office, and he uses all the usual tools for the exam, but there is no forgetting where I am. He explains every step of what’s needed in distinctly Indian terms. The root of the tooth is like a sleeping tiger. Bacteria rise up like warriors. Etc. I try to close my eyes during the exam but he gently admonishes me to keep them open. “I know you are scared. Watching what goes on will remove the fear.”

Here's a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.
Here’s a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.

It only takes a few minutes for Dr. Narayan to decide I need a root canal and we should begin immediately. OK, hold up, I only psyched myself up for an exam. I was not prepared for this at all. “You’re already here,” he says, reading my mind again. “Best just to get it over with.” He’s right, of course, but I must not look entirely convinced. “I promise it won’t hurt a bit, and you won’t even need any anesthesia.” It’s not polite to call your doctor a big fat liar, so I tell him to go ahead.

As it turns out, he wasn’t a big fat liar at all. I would hereby like to insist that every dentist I’ve ever seen to go to India and take a few lessons from this guy. Especially Dr. Kmon, who was a really big jerk to me when I was six.

Fifteen minutes later, having experienced zero pain whatsoever, I was on my way. Who would have guessed that one Indian doctor could cure a decades old fear of the dentist’s chair?

I ended up going back for three additional visits for a follow-up, a temporary crown, and a permanent crown. My entire cost for four office visits, a root canal, and a porcelain crown was $230. I did a little bit of cost comparison with US averages, and it appears that a root canal on a front tooth can cost in the neighborhood of $900. If you need a crown, expect that to be over $1000. You might have insurance that minimizes your out of pocket cost, but if not, that’s a huge expense. I suddenly understand why so many of my American friends have chosen to have their dental work done overseas. For the cost of one root canal and crown in the US, you can fly to the dental tourism spot of your choice, stay in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks, enjoy a lovely vacation, and get some top quality dental work done while you’re there.

Worried about getting dental work overseas? I was, too (especially the whole barefoot thing, but I got over it) but I did a ton of research and got personal recommendations from other travelers, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. The dentist I chose came highly recommended with over 18 years of experience and training in both India, Europe, and North America, and has trained dentists all over the world. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail from American dentists, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again and now I completely understand why so many people have chosen to travel for their medical and dental procedures instead of paying outrageous prices at home.

Have you ever traveled for a medical or dental procedure? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

Good Morning, India!

Daybreak on my first morning in India. I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. after getting less than four hours of sleep. Thanks, jet lag.

My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it's delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.
My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it’s delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.

I’ve already used the four days’ worth of wifi codes provided by the hotel. I’ve been here for 9 hours. Oops. I’m already reconsidering my decision not to rent a personal wifi hotspot “because I’ll have access at the hotel so I won’t really need it.”

I discover at 5:00 a.m. that there’s a mosque somewhere nearby. Some people would be annoyed by the early wake up call, but I love it. The sound of the adhan breaking through the predawn darkness brings me back to my first solo trip, when I discovered I’d booked a Mandalay hotel room next door to a mosque, and sat on the wide marble windowsill, hugging my knees and listening to the Muslim call to prayer for the first time.

Getting to the hotel last night was an adventure. The only thing more exciting than Indian traffic is Indian traffic at night, in the rain, while your taxi driver is texting because he can’t find your hotel.

Travel Tip: In addition to your hotel’s address, make sure you have their phone number handy before you travel. Many cabs in Asia don’t have GPS and your driver will want to call the hotel to get directions before setting out. Don’t rely on the promise of free wifi in the airport to pull up this information as most Indian wifi hotspots require you to have a working Indian phone number at which to receive an access code by text message.

It’s such a beautiful morning I’ve dragged my wooden desk chair out to the balcony to listen to the city wake up. I’m surrounded by Bougainvillea bushes and thin-leafed trees I’ve never seen before. It’s barely dawn but the traffic already sounds heavy on the main road. A flock of pigeons on the roof of the building next door is making a huge racket, and a local woman in a blue tee shirt is jogging around the block before the oppressive heat that is surely on its way.

Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.
Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.

Good morning, India. I could sit here all day but there is adventure to be had!

 

The Monthly Bucket- April 2017

Hey Adventurers! Is it just me or has April absolutely flown by?

Where in the world am I? Hello from Bangalore (Bengaluru), India! I’ve been here for two weeks and I absolutely love this glorious, chaotic mess of a city. This morning I walked straight into a cow on my way to Starbucks and that pretty much sums up Bangalore.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: Can you believe…none?? Apparently it’s really time consuming to uproot your life, get rid of all of your stuff, and traipse to the other side of the world. But don’t fret- I’m on my way to Sri Lanka in a few days to explore some gorgeous old temples (bucket list item #542!)

Highlight of the month: Hopping off a rickshaw in the middle of a traffic jam on a Sunday afternoon in Bangalore only to find myself in the middle of a giant Hindu flower festival.

Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.
Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.

Lowlight of the month: Crying in the parking lot of the doggie summer camp where I left Murphy Ann until I get back to the US at the end of July.

Best meal: Chicken Tacos at Tequila’s Town, Savannah, Georgia.  Honorable Mentions: The Squawking Goat chicken biscuit at Maple Street Biscuit Company, St. Augustine, Florida; the Cuban sandwich at El Ambia in Melbourne, Florida;

Seriously, these tacos. I can't even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn't matter where you are.
Seriously, these tacos. I can’t even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn’t matter where you are.
I'd probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.
I’d probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.

New blog posts published:  Have Dog Will Travel in which Murphy Ann the adventure dog takes over the blog while we adventure around the Southeast US. 

What I learned:

  • You never need as much stuff as you think you do.
  • If you can survive Bangalore traffic in an auto rickshaw, you can survive anything.
  • There aren’t any walk signals telling you when to go, so you just have to watch for an opening, take a deep breath, make peace with your creator, and plunge (ooh, life metaphor alert!).  
  • If you see a big crowd of people outside a sketchy looking food stand, go there. Bonus points if there’s no menu. Use hand gestures and look hungry. 
  • You never realize how much you take air conditioning and unlimited ice for granted until you don’t have them anymore.

 

What I read: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I loved this because Cheryl is quite possibly the only adventurer to have more travel catastrophes than I do.
What’s next? Heading to Sri Lanka on May 2nd for three months of temples, beaches, elephants, leopards, and adventure.

Well, I’m heading back out to explore more of this beautiful city before it’s time to leave. You should head to the comments and tell me where in the world you’re adventuring this month!