Friday, December 31, 2010

Things I miss about India

So as I walked down Lake st. and approached Clark (Click Here to See it!) I began to think about the things I immediately have begun to miss about India. It amazed me how much I included on the list, and to what extremes the differences are. But the first and perhaps most blaring difference was my food choices available. Follow along and enjoy the ride...

Food available for $3.33 American:

     2 double cheeseburgers
     1 small fries
     1 small cup tap water w/ ice

Now what would that be in India you ask? Maybe some pictures would help illustrate. This is what food and drink looks like for Rs. 146:

(*that's 4 masala chai for those keeping track at home)

Yes... All of this food would be the equivalent in cost to the food in Chicago. Look back through the pictures and really think about that - considering even the variety and quality differences as well.

Random things going through my mind right now: I'm really missing my masala chai, but can't wait to go to the grocery store today... it's warmer back in Chicago than I thought it would be, and I realized I've never been chilled more than on the way to and from Delhi... And I met an Indian who spelled Delhi the same way I used to (Dheli). Maybe it's just a hard city to remember how to spell.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A day in Delhi

Have you ever sat back and thought about the events of 24 hrs in particular? Most of the time a lot more happens than it seems like at first. This was especially true for my latest day in Delhi. I start with Palika Bazaar...

I don't think I have ever been in or witnessed something quite like Palika Bazaar. There is a fairly main part of New Delhi named Cannaught Place. It is an outdoor shopping area, featuring stores similar to what you would expect to find in a high end mall. The buildings themselves feature massive columns and are painted a standout white. At the center of Cannaught Place is a park, with a driving circle surrounding it and roads branching off that then run disect the area like the spokes of a wheel. The park itself is actually beautiful, looking out to several skyline-type views of the city.

Luckily they also post rules to the park to avoid any confusion...

But underneath this inner circle lies the mayhem known as Palika Bazaar.

The Bazaar is like nothing else, a maze of underground hallways packed to the brim with people and products. Each pathway seems to lead to another identical area. Imagine a maze of circles, only the circles aren't actually circles but curved parts, and then add in the perpendicular sections and multiple levels. It's like finding your way through a foreign forest at night while drunk.

To make things worse there is seemingly an endless amount of things that are being sold, yet the shops seem to repeat themselves. For example, say you use a jeans booth as a starting point for where you are going. There are literally dozens and dozens of these shops. Everything (products, stores, and people) seems to repeat.

But no matter where you end up there are similar sights and sounds that the bazaar offers.

vendor - "hello friend. you want flash drive?"
vendor - "hello friend, you like watches? good price!"
me - "no thank you"
vendor - "OK, you want flash drive?"
vendor - "hello. socks. cheap price bro"
me - "no thanks"
vendor - "flash drive. 4 gig?"

The other interesting thing was the high volume of offers for a hoodie with a guy flipping the bird. I'm not sure if it is because English is not the primary/only language, but it seems "very cool" to have a fuck you design.

And they make sure to cater to different styles so that every sophisticated man can tel others fuck you in a way that suits him...

Anyways, you get the idea. The other interesting thing about it is that everything is to be bartered for. If the price stated is Rs 2,000, it means you should be paying about Rs 400. To make the original offer seem great the salesman (and each one of them there does this) pulls out a calculator. The first price he punches in is what most stores charge for the item. Then he punches in their price. Then he punches in a discount "just for you" - somewhere from 10% to 25% off. That third price is the BEGINNING of the barter. I've never more wanted to buy something with a price tag on it.

I was able to make what I thought to be a pretty good bargain for some jeans, only to get them home and realize that they weren't even close to fitting. It was partially that the sizes were inaccurate, and partially that in the states jean sizes are larger than anywhere in the world. In one moment I was able to feel incredibly ripped off and overweight. Amazing what shopping will do.

But not all of the city/country is so hectic. The next morning I decided to take a trip to see the sights. I went by rickshaw to the Red Fort.

It cost me Rs 60, and believe you me when I say that that kid worked his hind off for $1.50

Instead of trying to take a cab to Lotus Temple I tried the metro train, which was unbelievable. Clean, fast, quick, quiet, modern - it puts Chicago's El. to shame. I thought it humorous that the signs were so polite (as many people here are not). One of them even asked "please" three separate times. As I tried to take a picture of it

a man started yelling at me in Hindi. When I said I did not understand, another man, seated across from me and obviously agitated as well, barked that I was not allowed to take pictures on the train. Never in my life has irony seemed so thick.

The temple was breathtaking...

The entire area was a refuge of sorts from the city. It was clean and tranquil, and I can honestly say I was amazed to not hear a horn! It never ceases to amaze me how much we have that we don't appreciated, and how much we lack that we don't miss.

As I sat in the metro on my way back to New Delhi I began to notice how many women rode the train. In fact, there were only women on the train. Where had all of the men gone? Then it dawned on me that they probably gave up their seats to the female riders. Since the train was almost full I began to prepare to do the same, but did not get up as all of the women in my car had seats. As I sat there a woman politely leaned over to me and informed me that I was riding in the ladies car.

Random things running through my head: You know you've been in India long enough when you're cab driver DOESN'T use his horn and this angers you... And why is it OK for the police to do strange things? I was in a tuktuk (motor rickshaw) when a policeman ordered the cab over, then jumped in front and hitched a ride with us.

What really amazed me was that the driver continued to drive like an asshole; maybe that's the law?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BMs, STDs, and reading signs in different languages

The longer that I stay in India the more apparent it is that it is a country in which letter groupings are everywhere. We'll start with BM...

I am blessed that I am not the type of person that must take a number two on a regular basis. To be honest, I'm not sure how I would survive if I had to go at a specific time every day. There are times that I have been places where it is NOT a good thing to have to use a restroom. Take, for example, my latest "hotel" room...

I can't imagine ALWAYS having to use this style of toilet. But seeing as I did spend the day and night in this place I was forced to use it once. I am amazed that people can use these; having been pampered with sit down style toilets my entire life it made me appreciate the skill of balance and concentration that a restroom like this demands.

The hotel that said toilet was located in was a meager place, but for Rs 200 a night I couldn't complain. The gentleman at the counter was very friendly, and visited with me for a little bit when he showed me the room...

...but he soon was bored with our conversation, which made it slightly awkward when I was ready to leave and had to wake him.

There are also signs posted everywhere I have visited for something in relation to STDs...

...though I assume it is not the same as what STD means in North America. Perhaps I'm wrong and Indians are just as concerned with sexually transmitted disease as westerners are.

Though I cannot be sure what it is this sign is actually for, I can only take a logical guess. There were other signs which I also could assume they're intended message...

I do not proclaim to be a linguist, but I think this one has to do with hair loss. The only signs that really tripped me out thus far were the ones I saw while I was in Goa...

Who would have thought that Russian would be so prevalent there?

New rule that I will live my life by: The trip there may be cheap, but be prepared for it to be costly to get back. I took a bus from Villupuram (where the train dropped me) to Pondicherry. It only cost Rs 12. It was an amazing way to see the water... I have now been to and in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. But when I returned to the bus depot I realized that I had no way of telling which of the dozens of busses was the one to get back to from where I came. No one seemed to understand English, and what's worse is the entire area is referred to as Villupuram district (I needed to go to the city). Instead of taking my chances and heading to a far off wrong destination I decided to be safe and take a cab, costing me Rs 900. Though I do not regret going, and the cost was not all that substantial in dollars, it taught me a very valuable life lesson: It may be quick and easy to do it, but it is often much more difficult to be undone. 

Random things going through my head right now: I wonder if all of India is as hot as it is here... Did the creators of "Mike Tyson's Punch Out" base the "Great Tiger" character's head bobbing on actual Inidan people's characteristics, because that would make sense... And is that why I have the slight urge to punch the head bob when a question is answered? (there is NOTHING more aggravating then someone answering your question in what seems to be an affirmative way and then nodding their head in what seems to be a negative way, and vice versa)... I wish I hadn't brought a computer as it weighs 9,000 pounds and there are computers everywhere!.. and my favorite joke when asking for a price (stating that it must cost "9,000 dollars") doesn't work so well here as 9,000 Ruppees is a lot less...  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Indian cabs, motor rickshaws, and getting around

Have you ever wondered what it is like to get around in another place, especially another country?.. Well let me break down what it's like to take cabs and rickshaws in India...

The good: the meter doesn't seem to continue to run while the cab is not in motion, meaning that if you are stuck in traffic (as often there is here) it doesn't cost the rider an arm and a leg. Also the meter fares - especially in motor rickshaws - is incredibly cheap. I rode one for a fair distance while in Mumbai, what would have cost about 5 or 6 dollars US in Chicago. The cost?... Rs 21 (about 50 cents).

The bad: It is often a hassle to get a driver to actually turn on the meter. It seems that most are wanting to charge a flat rate, most likely knowing that for tourists like me I would have no way to know that I was getting swindled. When I took my first cab in Mumbai it was from South Mumbai (by Victoria railway station) to the 4 Seasons. Once I was able to flag down a driver I asked him if he spoke English, to which he simply gave me a blank stare. I then asked if he knew where the 4 Seasons Hotel was, to which he told me "300 Rupees." When I said no he then replied "OK, 200 Rupees." When I again declined and stated that I wanted him to use the meter he did, though not without a large hint of anger at the situation. I found it quite interesting that he did not know English, yet understood it enough to try and con me into paying a higher price. The final cost of the ride according to the meter: Rs 91. I tipped him, only seemingly making the driver more contempt as he gave me no response. Perhaps he though I simply didn't know the exact fare. Or maybe he was still fuming that he was not able to con my into paying the higher price. In either event I decided then and there that I would never tip here again.

This would not seem so bad, but many times it is next to impossible (at least being a foreigner) to get a cab or motor rickshaw to use the meter. By the time I made my way to Goa it was confirmed as each and every mode of taxi transport was only willing to drive me somewhere if it were on a set price. After telling the driver where I was going they would respond with a price. When I would ask them to turn the meter on they simply said no (or said nothing and opened the door for me to get out). It seems as though they know that they will be able to con some tourist into paying the price they name, and since it is not a lot of money to most tourists it seems all the more a likely reality. So I am left with the decision: either pay the rate that they ask for, or risk not being able to find a cab at all.

Aside from the meter issues there is also the issue of what driving in a vehicle is like in India. You see, lane makers/dividers are simply suggestions, and ones that are not often followed. There seems to be very little rhyme or reason for how many cars are on the road at any particular place. If it seems that there is enough room for 2 cars wide there almost surely will be 3. The rule of thumb being that however wide a particular part of a road seems to be (how many cars wide it can fit), take that number and add at least one (plus motorbikes). Also, there is no such thing as crosswalks, jaywalking, or fender benders. People cross whenever and wherever they can. Cars often hit one another without it actually being an issue (meaning that there is no stopping to exchange info, just keep driving). In one 15 minute cab ride one driver I had struck 2 vehicles and almost hit 3 motorcycles, 2 mopeds, 2 pedestrians, and countless other cars. And when I say "almost hit" I mean literally within inch (not inches) almost hit. It is unnerving to say the least!

Random things running through my mind right now: People here use horns for everything: when they pass; when they want to pass; when they see a pedestrian; when they are impatient; when others honk at them; when they want someones' attention; when they are displeased; when they are in a hurry. Sometimes I think they honk because they haven't honked in a while (by a while I mean to say a very short amount of time - it's relative!)... It really is hot here. Everything is super, super cheap. The train across Mumbai cost Rs 4 each way, liter bottles of water are Rs 15... I wish I could carry more stuff as I would buy lots more stuff... People here seem to have alot of things, but still seem to be very impoverished, feeding my thought that having things doesn't mean you're doing well. Also.... I wonder where all of this stuff comes from. I mean, there's A LOT of stuff here. Everything imaginable really. But WHY is there so much stuff if there's already so much stuff?

Monday, December 6, 2010

London in a day

Ever wonder what you would do in a foreign city if you only had 5 hours or so? What if that city was a world class city, and more that you had never been to it or the country it resided in? Well boys and girls, not only was I lucky enough to have had that experience, but also to share some of it with family!

I met up with Marla and Nick (cousin and her days new fiance), and of course the first order of business was to ride the Tube

Next we were off to take pictures in front of something I was sure to be unable to identify later...

...where we saw some little kid's bum while he peed

I had to use the old school telephone booth in order to change back into my Superman...

We saw Buckingham Palace (it's apparently where the Royal Family stays) and "The eye"...

Before Marla and Nick left we shared a cab, where I learned that old money has no value...

... and stopped at Victoria station

I went to Piccadilly Circus...

...where I stepped into a pub and had a pint of beer

I then went to Oxford Circus...

...where I stepped into a pub and had a pint of beer and a pickled egg.

Then it was off to Camden...

...where I stepped into a pub and had a pint of beer, met two women, and learned how to play Snooker. Afterwards, (when I was leaving the pub) I was thankful for the painted street reminders

I hoped the Tube back to Heathrow...

...where I was reminded that some cultures value common courtesy.

All in all London was great, though I wish I had had more time to enjoy it.

New rule that everyone should follow (or at least I will): Sometimes you have to let the train decide what you're going to do. Had I planned out exactly what I wanted to see I for sure wouldn't have seen it all, and most likely would have been stressed out trying to do everything. So I just picked a spot on the map, took the Tube there, found a pub, and asked where I should go next (explaining my situation). I ended up seeing so much, especially considering I had a 5 hour window to do so. And to boot I met some locals and played a game of pool. If only I had more time to work on an English kiss...