Travel Time with Tanmay
I love travelling. It’s something I definitely look forward to every year and the Great Pandemic of 2020–21 (even more?) has not been very helpful in satisfying one’s wanderlust. If you’ve been homestuck like me, then strap in for a little travelling via this series on what it’s like to travel with me.
In short — it isn’t the most fun. I’m an experienced traveller but that doesn’t necessarily make me a great one. I’m not painful for sure, but erm, I’ll probably bring in some unexpected, ‘adventures’ that you did not plan for. It isn’t that I throw a hissy fit and turn into a drama magnet or anything, just that I’m a juxtaposition of not the best spatial sense and a misplaced sense of confidence that often gets the better of me.
Osaka, Japan (December 2008)
In my tenth grade, when I was 15, I was selected to be a cultural ambassador representing India in Japan through its program JENESYS (Japan East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth) through a partner organization AFS. After a host of selection rounds and discussions and what not, 60 of from India were chosen to participate in this program. Other countries participating included Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
The program itself was planned to the T (and this is important background to have) with the partner organizations having divided us into bus loads of students of mixed nationalities covering different parts of the country simultaneously with plenty of cultural immersion and of course, bullet train rides. This was done for the first of the two weeks and in the second week, we were very kindly welcomed into the homes of some wonderful families who opened up their doors to us and hosted us for the remainder of our time there. My very warm and kind host parents lived in Osaka, Japan’s third largest city and once Olympic venue too. They also happened to be friends with another of my bus-mates, an Australian lad who still happens to be a good friend — we’ll call him R. The two of us went to school together and also ended up doing all the local activities our families had planned together.
On one such night, our host mothers had taken us to the downtown business / commercial area for some work. After a while, we all went to the house of their friends and while they caught up with each other, they let us loose in the wild streets of the night. Okay, it wasn’t so bad, but go with it. R had a cell phone his okaasan had given him. Neither of us had working SIMs anyway — it was 2008 and ain’t nobody was going to spend oodles on roaming monies. Anyway, off we went from the apartment and headed out, briefly looking back to see that there was a China mall or something around.
Cue us getting fascinated by the neon lights, fancy sounds and heavy traffic. We walked about slowly soaking in the place. My mate was good with reading Japanese and would translate random signboards for me. Much fun. Everything one’d think of what Japan would be! Including all the top-end electronics and stuff. Now keep in mind that this is 2008 and most of the stuff you take for granted today — laptops, phones that did more than dialing, high storage memory sticks etc. — were super rare luxury goods almost back then. It was also the time that blu-ray discs had just about entered the market and were supposed to revolutionize the storage market (spoiler alert, it did not and I’ve never owned a disc these past 13 years). R wanted to pick up a couple to take home. We walked past a few shops and obviously realised that it was kinda pricey and so moved on. That’s when this bright, Indian flashbulb went off in my head. I said, “Dude, obviously it’s expensive on the main street man. Let’s try one of the inner roads — it’s always cheaper there!” Because that’s how it works right? What happens in my home is what happens everywhere! Did I mention that this was the first time I’d been overseas?
We took a right turn into one of the lanes and saw a couple of shops. Still pricey. Took another right turn. And then a left turn. And then a left turn. And then got tired cause we were on foot and also a little hungry.
“Alright, this didn’t work, let’s head back.”
“Do we know how?”
“Okay let’s turn out from here and see if we’ll get back to the main road”.
The thing about Osaka’s downtown district is that it doesn’t have a regular grid pattern. Streets intersect mostly at 90 degrees, but not all of them. Guess which ones we took our turns on? Anyway, we knew we had to get back towards a China Mall but that’d be possible only if we got back to the main road! So we headed out. Reached a point that kinda looked familiar but wasn’t we needed. We saw from there that a giant Swissotel stood a little further away and mentally noted that as a landmark to avoid coming back there. So we retreated a bit and took some more turns and hit another point only to look back at the same hotel! Not again! Okay let’s turn around. More retracing, more pacing. It’s getting dark, it’s getting cold and there’s a mild rain that’s begun falling. Note, neither of us panicked, courtesy the overconfidence of youth! Helluva drug, that. Now, we didn’t quite even know what apartment block to find or what we could even ask about for except for the relatively obscure China Mall. So we got back to the last point from where we kept viewing the very square Swissotel building.
We got out and walked back what we thought was our “main road” and just kept walking. In between I found an Indian restaurant and asked the counter guy in Hindi about the China Mall but nope. No cigar. Kept treading on until.
“I have my phone.”
“Right. RIGHT. But we don’t even know where we are.”
“Wait, let’s get to a station.”
R’s breakthrough idea was genius. We went to an underground station while he rang his okaasan and then thrust the phone into the hands of the ticket checker. I don’t even want to think of what the guy was thinking. Two young lads dressed in bright blue windcheaters handing a random pink flippy phone. Who knew what could be on the other end! Japan hasn’t had the best experience with subways so uh yeah. Thankfully we were found and the kind gentleman explained where we were hopelessly lost and awaited a rescue. Finally, a good three hours after we set out looking for blu-rays we went homewards, empty handed as earlier, but with a mind full of memories of the smallest, kinda shady side lanes of Osaka.
So there you have it. 15 year old Tanmay did not have the most outstanding display of wits and definitely risked our wellbeing only to get a few Yen off a technology that did not take off the way we thought it would.
More travels perils to come!