Pieces of me, pieces of places I’ve been

Sonali Kudva

I went to Chicago for a couple of days over spring break. It was my first time in the Windy City, and despite its acclaim as such, I wasn’t prepared for the biting cold.

Chicago has many ethnic neighborhoods, little slices of home for immigrants and foreigners with food and other elements of local culture. I made some trips to these ethnic neighborhoods.

I visited Chinatown and the Indo-Pak street. Now I’ve been to Chinatown before, in New York City and in Washington, D.C., but I’ve never had the good fortune to do so with a Chinese person, from China. This time I was in for a surprise and some revelations. The strange lettering on shops, products in shops and menus in restaurants made more sense. Questions that I had, but felt too ignorant to ask were answered. What, for instance, are the strange things in the packets? Are things competitively priced compared to China? (The answer by the way is yes, sort of, for the latter.)

The Indo-Pak Street, to me, was like a little slice of home. Automatically I slip into Hindi. I ordered food comfortably off the menu, cautiously ascertain the spice levels and critique using standards I have maintained in India. The Indian street made me happy, a little nostalgic and somewhat surprised at the overt “Indian-ness” of some of the apparel that I saw hanging in the stores. The overt “Indian-ness” reminded me that I wasn’t in India, where ethnic clothing displays are not quite as colorfully bright.

I left my purse in the first Indian restaurant I went to, in the excitement of eating some Indian fast food, which I hadn’t been able to eat since my trip to India last summer. Someone from the next table called me back as I exited onto the street and indicated my forgotten possession.

I went to another Pakistani restaurant the day before I left. I left my handbag draped over a chair, forgotten once again in the excitement of fresh mutton curry, something I have been craving for months. This time I wasn’t quite so fortunate as to have someone remind me as I exited. I returned the next day to the restaurant and my handbag was there, as I expected. I picked it up, was given a fatherly lecture on my carelessness by the owner of the restaurant — and left.

I never expected my handbag to be stolen. I expected to get it back, even though I cursed at the inconvenient result of my carelessness. But I was told by a friend how fortunate I was to get it back. I guess my comfort levels in the ethnic neighborhood never for one moment made me question my good fortune. But what I want to know, am I so unreasonable in expecting that people will be honest no matter where they’re from or who they are? Or is that really naïve?


Sonali Kudva is a journalism graduate student and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].