Help, I’m in a foreign place and I don’t know what to do!

1 Apr

I arrived in Pune, India, a couple of days ago, and have so far familiarised myself with two locations: my accommodation, and the office. I can successfully walk between the two without getting lost, yay! I’m also more than happy to eat at the restaurant downstairs until I get my bearings. But hang on a moment… how do I get my bearings?

Furthermore, what do I do when the weekends come? Sure, I want to see all the touristy sites, and I’ve had zero difficulty determining what and where those are (like the Pataleshwar Cave Temples or the Sinhagad Fort). I also have complete faith that I can get into any rickshaw or cab, and the driver will be able to take me to those landmark destinations without getting lost. Cool!

But how do I get back? What if I can’t explain where my accommodation is, or recognise the area upon my return?
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered whilst in India, it’s that simply knowing a street address is rarely enough. To be able to get anywhere, you’re best chance of reaching the right destination is citing the equivalent of suburb, block, main road,  the name of the nearest major intersection and/or an appropriate “landmark”. In my opinion, that’s a little too complex for a newbie.

I’m sure many of you will be thinking “well duh, Google it! Get an app! Buy a paper map!”, although in truth you might not be thinking in rhymes. The main problem I have with relying on maps is that I am prone to losing my bearings – and believe me, I don’t want to get lost on my first solo venture! The next problem is that it doesn’t really tell me much about the area, and introduces a sense that the city is made only of roads and destinations. I want to get to know the culture, the vibe, and the little landmarks of an area, the same way that I do back home, and I don’t believe someone else can tell me what those are.

What then, should I do? Well…
My personal preference is to start small:

  • Go for a short walk, but limit it to to one block from your accommodation.
    …It’s harder to get lost on this first walk, but also provides a basis for identifying the area later on, and helps me get used to how others react to me (after all, I am a foreigner).
  • Go for another walk now, but take in another block. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
    …The benefit of this is that each time you do this, you (a) become more acquainted with “base”, (b) stretch your awareness of the area just a little more and (c) consolidate a mental map of the area so you don’t need to rely as much on a physical one.
  • Read the local paper
    …to find out what’s important, and what local events are running. For instance I’ve discovered that each Sunday there’s a “bazaar” on in one of the malls. I’m not sure what to expect at this point, but I’m quite excited to head there quite soon.
  • Collect recommendations
    …Ask locals (colleagues, neighbours, even shop staff) to recommend a place of interest – not just the key tourist spots or where they like to eat out, but where they get their groceries, buy gifts, go to worship, or like to go on weekends.
    I find these to be more valuable than what any old map, directory or website can tell me, because recommendations stem from others’ personal experiences, not from marketing or tourism campaigns.

So now I’ve become a little more familiar with where I am,
and tomorrow I hope to push that boundary just a little further,
until I’m as wise as any local around.

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One Response to “Help, I’m in a foreign place and I don’t know what to do!”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ishanya Mall « Olivia Platek - April 1, 2012

    […] finally, even though my rickshaw drivers were both massively disoriented (luckily, I know my way around now and could guide them), Ishanya Mall is very easy to get to, as it’s close to the airport and […]

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