Amritsar, Golden Temple
Trip Start May 01, 2007
209Trip End Jun 17, 2008
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I returned to the Golden Temple at dusk to witness the reflection on the holy pool and transformation from hazy day to dazzling night lights. As night fell, I sat down on the marble side of the reflection pool around the temple. In a minute or two, an older teenager and his brother joined me and we started into The Local to Foreigner Conversation ("Where are you from? What is your job? Are you married? Why not? Oh, America is such a rich country. America, beautiful country. And what do you think of George Bush? etc.) (As opposed to The Tourist to Tourist Conversation: "Where are you from? How long have you been traveling? How much longer are you traveling? Where have you been? Where are you going? Oh, I went to X
Well this conversation stuck with me because tomorrow this young man, who has never left India, and probably has never left Punjab, goes to Australia! Wow, I would love to have a talk with him again tomorrow night. He's going there to study hotel management for two years. He already knew quite a bit about Australian culture and was quite excited to experience it. Together, staring out across a dark navy blue pool reflecting a bright golden Sikh temple, the holiest of all Sikh temples, we gave praise to God for Australian visas.
He invited me to pray with him in the temple. I declined, mostly because I saw the huge line. We exchanged goodbyes, thanked each other for the pleasant conversation. I sat in silence...for about another minute.
Then another teenager, this one younger, probably about 15 or 16, joins me. Contrasting the first conversation, this young man peppered me with questions about the world. He had no concept of the difference between Europe or the Americas. For example he asked me if we used rupees in my country. When I said we used dollars, he looked shocked. He asked, "And you don't have coins?" "No, we have," I said
Later, around 9:30, I found myself a couple blocks away on a narrow, busy street buying water, soda, and some crackers from a Sikh father and son at a kiosk. The son helped me (spoke fluent English like most Sikhs that I met). The father remained silent; he seemed a bit morose. As the son turned away to get me a soda, I maintained my quiet demeanor and kept my American big, friendly smile. Behind me I noticed a small bus sat parked with about ten passengers staring at each other in silence. Then, as I waited for the son to get my change, a stretcher comes out the door next to the kiosk with a very thin corpse wrapped in a sheet, headed into the back of the bus directly behind me.
For a brief second, my eyes must have popped out. I turned back to the kiosk, made eye contact with the somber father and attempted communicate seriousness and understanding in my facial expression. The father maintains eye contact and clearly, in English, says, "It's a part of life."