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A different culture from a train perspective

24 Apr

Have you ever thought about your train travels from a cultural perspective? A few months ago I would have said no but lately I have realised how much of my cultural learning and reflection is related to my train travels in India and Australia. The train was every bit as much a part of my cultural experience and learning as I caught it everyday to get to the school I was volunteering at and when I was travelling around.

It was almost like the train was a mini culture within itself. There were certain do’s and dont’s but they were just taken for granted and no one really talked about them. Learning and making explicit the do’s and the dont’s was upon reflection a fun process.

The do’s for Indian train travel:

  • Do select your appropriate carriage be that 1st class, females only, males only or disabled and people with cancer.
  • Do learn a little of the local dialect, language barrier becomes all too apparent when all train announcements are in another language!

The don’ts of Indian train travel:

  • Don’t worry about being late for the train it runs on Indian time not the timetable.
  • Don’t attempt an Indianan Jones and jump from the moving train. The Indians do may make it look effortless but don’t be fooled. This one was learnt the hard way by my volunteering friend; she was okay by the way. Utter embarrassment was her biggest scar.
  • Don’t worry about the bridges and infrastructure that have been built to change platforms, just jump the tracks, it’s so much quicker. As one of the volunteers commented the first time he did it “It was naughty, it was wrong, but it was exciting”.
  • Don’t go shopping in the markets. Sit back and let the markets come to you on the train. Get anything from Samosa, Chai, Chikki , jewellery, even Saris.

But apart from learning the practicalities what was it that made the train so memorable and a framework for organising some of my cultural experiences?

Well most importantly I got to meet someone new everyday, from school children to working mums, other travellers. I got to know their story and they got to know mine. The train also was part of my immersion process. Some days I got stares the other volunteers and I named these constant starers stare bears. The stares were often clear in conveying your white and different, defiantly a new experience for me. While other days a warm accepting smile would melt all that insecurity and cultural difference away. The most memorable experience on the train was something that made me fit in, a simple action that took me from outsider to insider, quite unexpectedly. On a crowded train back from Mumbai, It go so crowded that I could not have my backpack on or even hold it in front of me. What did I do? I put it on my head. Some Indian men that some volunteers and I had been talking to started cheering, with one of them commenting that was very Indian of me.

This sort of train reflection has continued even since coming back. I can’t help but see the stark contrast between the cultural experience of the train in India vs. Australia. In Australia I almost feel disappointed by my train journey and nothing exciting seems to happen. Everyone wants to keep to themselves, always wary not to sit too close and invade someone’s private space or talk to them. It feels like it is all about your phone or your Ipod. And this is where my dilemma comes. If someone foreign to our culture was learning about our culture from a train perspective, what would they deduce? For me I would say we were a rather anti social bunch or are we?

So I ask you this my fellow bloggers, is there some framework that you came up with to organise some of your cultural experiences?


Cultural Immersion on the train

Not a day goes by

10 Apr

It’s true that there is not a day that goes by where I don’t find myself being cast back to the most incredible country and experience of my life. Without looking to hard there’s always something that can take me back. Whether I am on a train and thinking how boring and antisocial everyone is. In India trains were like parties. Big crowds, meeting and chatting with new people, you could even get Chai on the train! Or my utter excitement to find that the infamous Indian head wobble does exist in Australia. But what really takes me back is the people I met, worked and lived with, the people that really showed me India. I too like bec4890 keep a screen saver of the 6th standard class I taught.  In some ways I feel guilty in that I went to teach them but really feel like they taught me. I now feel I am living proof of the adage ‘those who teach, learn’. Inevitably I feel myself being pulled back into my own day to day woes, so I keep this picture up to remind me. India and its people taught me so much and I never want to forget it.

Not a day goes by and I don’t want it to.

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