One of my favorite things about traveling non-stop for an entire year is what we call New Country Day. Even though New Country Days usually involve long uncomfortable bus rides, or overnight trains, or multi-leg flights with time changes, and figuring out logistics like where to stay, how to get around, and where to eat, New Country Days have a level of excitement and anticipation unmatched by any other day. On New Country Day, the whole country lies before you, waiting for exploration.
As much as I enjoy seeing the subtle ways that the cultures of neighboring countries blend into each other when we travel overland, one unique aspect of flying is how it drops you right into a completely different environment. By this point in our trip, we’ve had some pretty big transitions: France to Morocco, Spain to the Czech Republic, Poland to Ireland, Ireland to South Africa, South Africa to Jordan, Jordan to South Korea. And, of course, Japan to India.
You probably couldn’t find two countries who are fundamentally different: Japanese society is predicated on order, and Indian society is predicated on anything but. One of the reasons I think I found India to be so shocking was because we just had spent a month in Japan. Japan was pleasant and enjoyable, but by the end, we were a little bored and itching to move on. And move on we did.
(A note about Delhi’s metro – the picture above doesn’t really reflect what it was like most of the time. I would have loved to have taken a picture in the height of the crowds, but it is a little hard to use your camera when you are being jostled and pushed in all directions. At times, the metro cars are stuffed to the gills, meaning that people have no room to stand and don’t fall down only because they are being held up by the compression of the crowd. When the metro rolls up to the platform, people impatiently waiting for the metro push their way on as people already on the metro push their way off. In the more crowded, popular stations, an attendant tries to keep people in line. Try being the operative word. As you can imagine, as unpleasant as it is for men to ride Delhi’s metro, it can be distressing for women. The first couple of times we rode the metro, I rode with Sean in the general cars, doing my best to shield myself from stares from the men around me with a scarf and sunglasses. Once we started encountering metros that were overflowing, I separated from Sean to ride in the women’s only car. Delhi instituted the women’s only car so women can avoid the physical contact, leering, and groping that can be part and parcel of riding in the general car. Yet I’m not sure that riding in the women’s car was much better. I may not have to stand pressed between sweaty men, but the leering was worse. Inevitably, the overstuffed nature of the men’s car compared to the extra room in the women’s car meant that men overflowed into the front of the women’s car. It often seemed like the most pervy men took advantage of overcrowding to get an unblocked access of a car full of women. Some defiantly strode right into the middle of the women’s car. It is not surprising, I suppose, that things are so bad that a women’s only car is required, that some men don’t follow the rules. At the most crowded stations, enforcers boarded the women’s only car and shouted at the men until they scurried away. Interestingly, all of the enforcers that I saw – the few that there were – were petite women. I didn’t realize until I wrote this post that the women’s only car had only been instituted in the month before our arrival, so perhaps conditions have improved.)
(As a further sidenote, Japan also has women’s only cars, but the restrictions only applied during rush hour. We never saw a need for a separate women’s car firsthand during our subway travels in Japan.)