Sunday, September 26, 2004

mi casa es su casa

I took the first room ('room' is an exaggeration, it's more like a cubicle or a railway compartment, complete with sliding door) that came my way, I was in a hurry to settle down and lay down my bags somewhere, and spending more than a week with the Sri Lankans did not seem to me to be a Good Thing, and the daily sequence of buses and trains was already turning into a chore, and when I saw the ad that stated that the house is in Marsfield, I thought- aha, close enough to walk to the lab- but I was mistaken, it is close enough to walk if you're in the peak of physical condition and half an hour's walk means nothing to you. Still, it was a stopgap measure, unfortunately, the stop is for three months, I had to sign some kind of a contract with the voluble landlady, who apparently is new to the job and has a desire to revolutionize the place. The house by itself is more or less pleasant and happily content in its suburban habitat. Three shops close-by, and a solitary, much sought after, phone booth. There are around seven people in the house, but I've never seen them all at one time, and its inhabitants are all overseas students, so there is a charming air of foreignness about the place.

Three are Chinese here. The first, Ainli (a phonetic spelling), is a self assured mother-hen type person, who's sense of irony is quite nonexistent. She's always hovering about me when I try to cook something, exclaiming about the strangeness of my food, she even said that she knew that I was a stranger to cooking, because I held the ladle so clumsily. I bowed and said,- thank you, -and she continued describing why I need to eat more, and preferably meat. Meat hangs in the air like an alien atmosphere, the odd smells which I just didn't recognize turned out to be some sizzling dead animal or the other. I explained I'm vegetarian for religious reasons (it's the easiest way), and Ainli sort of understood, because there's also a Jordanian in the house, and he's Muslim and can't stand pork or alcohol, for that matter. I have this insane compulsive urge to relate to people from other countries, even if it means finding some obscure connection, so I told the Jordanian that I spent two years in Israel, in Be'er Sheva. He said, Oh, we call it Beer Sabe’a (the arabic equivalent) in Palestine. I thought, oh here we go, but only said- but surely the desert is not contested over? -and changed the subject. The second Chinese goes by the english name of Alex, an alias, because no westerner can pronounce his real name. I tried, and he seemed reasonably happy, but insisted that there were subtle differences that only a Chinese type person would get, so I left it at that. The third Chinese girl frankly scares me. She's either super angry or occasionally a tiny wee bit civil, but it's quite unsettling to see her literally stomping around the house. I have a nagging suspicion that it's because of the TV, but I have to do a controlled experiment to test this hypothesis. The Indonesian girl and her Polish boyfriend are friendly enough, and she cooked up a storm to celebrate the impending departure of her brother (from the house, from Australia), and knowing my faults, she tried to make a vegetarian dish: but alas, to my brahmin tongue, even that tasted like meat.

So this is the menagerie that I'm currently part of, but it's likely to change very soon. Everybody seems to be trying to get away from the house: Ainli leaves tomorrow, the Indonesian guy is gone, and even the Jordanian guy has plans to relocate.