Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mostly up, slightly down

A fairly busy day, but in a mostly good way.

Let's see - started off with me meandering down Fifth Ave (Oh, I'm currently in Manhattan - did I say that?) to the Canadian consulate to get my visa. There's this thing about being in NYC - the pizza is thinner as are the people, and life is good.

Anyway, in a good mood reached the consulate, spirits raised by a couple of close encounters with the cabbies (yeah - that's what's so attractive about new york, just like B'bay - the ruddy rude vivacity - the city has life, and isn't afraid to flaunt it). While I was completing my form, a black guy walked over and gently asked me if I could help him. I mechanically replied in the negative ("I mean, c'mon - panhandling within the consulate?"), but then noticed he had money sticking out of the thick sheaf of forms he was holding. Turns out he was a citizen of the Ivory Coast, basically illiterate, and to boot had little English (despite having lived in the sates for 19 years). Ssssoooo I jumped right in, inflicted my two years of half-forgotten French on him as I filled out his form for him. Damn, but it felt good. Almost made me want to be a rural Indian postman... {wild exaggeration as a paragraph ending literary device}

Then the second high point of the day. Since Kunal and I were planning on meeting up in Montréal, I started sniffing around for host on Hospitality Club. For those of you who haven't noticed the link to it on the right-hand side of this blog, or haven't followed the link, do so.

Here's the short version - online group with approx 100k members in 200 countries, and the basic premise is MAH - Mutually Assured Hospitality. If you're planning on visiting someplace for a few days and need someplace to crash, or just someone to hang out with and show you the sights, call up a member in that city and likelier than not that person will extend some form of an invitation. Of course there's no obligation to offer hospitality, but people are members usually because they're open to the idea. For those of you who mentally cringe at the thought of complete strangers hosting you or visiting you, there are some quality control features. For one, there's an eBay-style feedback tab which allows you to see what other hosters/hostees have said about the particular person. For another, the amount of personal information you divulge to the world in general is completely controlled by you, and the website acts as an intermediary. For instance, you can choose to keep your phone number and email address hidden, and in that case anyone wishing to contact you would have to send an email via the website - this would slow down communication, and likely reduce the success rate, but that's what you pay for greater privacy. And lastly, it's expected that you share your passport number with hosts/hostees, which allows them to do some form of background check on you if they so desire.

Having said all that, you either still hate the idea, or totally love it. I know which category I'm in, and as to you others, all I have to say to you, with all the scorn I can muster... "Wimp!" :) Even seriously, the cost-benefit analysis seems totally positive to all involved - even more than the free aspect of it, there's the whole aspect of this idea enabling like-minded people who're interested in travelling and cross-cultural experiences to meet. An enormous amount of volunteer work has gone into making the concept work, and I think it's an awesome implementation. For instance, if you've checked out the website, you might have seen the links to the
ambassadors, who're basically on extended tours bringing the idea to people around the world.

I'd intended using it for the first time during this trip, to have some off-the-trakc adventures (say in Fargo, North Dakota, or someplace equally remote - someplace I'd never been beore and likely never would again). But, time is short and there were so many friends I wanted to meet.

At any rate, long explanatory detour aside, I used it for the first time this morning to hit up a really friendly looking couple in Montréal, to see if they wouldn't mind me and my brother, Kunal, piling on for a few days. Despite expecting it, I still ended up feeling very pleased when it all effortlessly happened - had a brief chat with the guy, and it was set up.

And then the minor downer - Kunal backed out at the last moment. Has stuff to do, too short a trip to be worth the long ride, and last-minute tickets are expensive. All valid, but still...

Considered going by myself, but wouldn't be the same. I too should be writing that silly paper, and working on fixing those typos in my thesis

Luckily, my Chindian nephew is the cure for all downers. Ended up spending the evening making paper Christmas ornaments for Casey to hang on the tree, and just listening to him babble. Very relaxing, listening to a kid jabber absolute drivel - kind of puts research, work, and grown-up-stuff in general in perspective.

Tomorrow, or the day after, I'm likely off to Boston. Watch this space...

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