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09 December 2005

in the somewhere between the wonderful and the horrible

my summary of india on the night before my departure as i sit in my hotel room...

i've had days when i've thought this country is wonderful and days when i've thought this country is horrible. today i am in the somewhere between the wonderful and the horrible, unaffected by one experience, and this makes me qualified to write about my overall opinion of india now. i must stress that i did everything possible to open myself up to the country and to continuously maintain an open mind. but now i'm tired of disclaimers and diplomacy. i'm tired of excuses. this is my opinion damnit.

i didn't enjoy traveling in india. with few exceptions, the country is devoid of beautiful scenery and architecture and the pollution, overcrowding, traffic, poor sanitation, and constant harrassment from touts and salespeople are oppressively overwhelming. most of the country is a dusty brown flatness covered by a thick hazy blanket of smog and heat, the sky rarely bright blue but rather a dull lifeless gray, the air dirty and heavy, the ground hopelessly covered with garbage. the day to day traveling conditions were physically and mentally draining. i realize that there are reasons for the current living conditions in the country, poverty certainly being one of them, and i could have better tolerated the conditions if i'd had pleasant experiences with the indian people, but to the contrary i had mostly negative experiences and found most of the people with whom i came into contact self-centered, deceitful, and generally unpleasant. i did my best to open up and give them a chance, but each of these instances rarely resulted in a genuine interaction. i tried, believe me.

at best, most of the indian population seemed apathetic to the pollution; at worst... which was the norm... most seemed to contribute to the problem, regularly dropping garbage (plastic, metal, food, whatever) wherever they happened to be standing. i can understand that the poor can't do much about their condition, but living in the _middle_ of a pile of garbage?... i just don't understand it. it's quite sad and i wish i had a solution.

most drivers are so conditioned to honk their horn that the noise pollution resulting from the cacaphony is maddening. i so wanted to transport all drivers instantaneously to a foreign land to show them traffic flowing on the highway efficiently and rapidly _WITHOUT_ horns... see! look! LISTEN! you _DON'T_ have to use your horn so often. but then... in india, the pedestrians are just as much to blame... walking carelessly in front of traffic without ever looking to see if there is an oncoming vehicle. they're _conditioned_ to walk first and then listen for any horns. [sigh...] again, i just don't understand it.

clearly there needs to be some very fundamental changes in india. i've read and heard that the government is horribly corrupt and is a big reason for the slow progress in the country. this is surely a simplified view of the situation, but wouldn't the money going to space and nuclear programs be better spent on social programs and public sanitation? again, i don't have the answers.

i can best describe travel in india as a daily beatdown. whenever i felt like i'd adjusted to life on the road in this country and had an enjoyable experience, more often than not i'd have two negative experiences directly after which would knock me further down. it's truly a shame because i know that in my memories the negative experiences will forever overshadow the positive (and there _were_ positives). despite the negatives, i think i _would_ return to india, but not any time soon and not without a traveling companion. on the few days when i was accompanied by other travelers, i had mostly enjoyable experiences. travel is very subjective and i did meet a few solo travelers who seemed to really enjoy the country. i just wasn't one of them. i'm glad i had a chance to experience the culture but i'm pleased to be moving on.

i'll end with this: one thing that i've learned while traveling is that it's extremely important not to give too much heed to others' opinions about a place you've never visited. all too often i've found that _after_ visiting, my opinion is completely different from that of other travelers. varanasi, for example, was one of the most interesting and heavy cities i'd visited in india. i've heard others say they hated it and would never return. my point is this... while for the most part i didn't enjoy traveling in india, i sincerely hope that my opinion is not a determining factor in the reader's decision to travel there. your mileage may vary... significantly.

posted by paul at Fri 09 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

06 December 2005

tue 05 dec - thu 08 dec

tue 06 dec: delhi, india.
immediately to east west med center
iv. blood test. urine test. stool test.
antibiotics. i was in good hands.

wed 07 dec: delhi, india.
east west med center
reschedule flight to thailand
go out to pick up plane ticket

thu 08 dec: delhi, india
east west med center

posted by paul at Tue 06 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

05 December 2005

acute gasteroantritus with uri: resistance is futile

ivimplant.gif

i was a fool to think india would let me escape without casting one final curse upon my insides.

a ch.chill.ill to the core convinced my conciousness to cover up as
the clock clicked. clicked. clicked.
[! make it stop MAKE IT STOOOOOOP !] the click.lick.icking.
if i had any energy i'd pull it from the wall
and with each tick a turning and shaking
and with each click a burning and baking
and with each. blick. the fall.

you are controlled so cold so continue to cover up and pile on the blankets
no need to worry while your thoughts are blurry
i'm taking [care of] EVERYthing.

and i believed the lie for hours. sh.sh[ache]ing sh.shuddering sh.shivering.
inside me a fist clamped down upon and twisted slowly
beaten down and weary a wearing down this past week
eaten down and eyes teary a tearing down passed out and weak

but i woke up from the haze alone in the daze finally and took control
removing the blankets that were blurring my thoughts and boiling my blood.
clawing my way out. of. the. hole.
awake from the ache.

mon 05 dec: agra to delhi, india.

bus back to delhi
serai kale khan
rickshaw to tarra guesthouse.
the sickness peaks

posted by paul at Mon 05 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

02 December 2005

a varanasian gumcha

pow.jpg

the global reconnaissance organization primary infrastructure is back online!

jonathan was dead on with his comment. the extra fedex payment turned out to be a duty charge... but not just any duty charge... a horrible wall to the face duty charge (do the math: the exchange rate is approximately rs45 for 1 usd.).

apparently there was some customs paperwork which i should have filled out when sending the computer back to the states. i made it very clear to the dhl employees that i was sending the computer for repairs and was expecting it to be shipped back to me in india and they said nothing about the required paperwork. when the computer was shipped back to india, i was charged duty on the full value of the laptop... a staggering rs10410. i had absolutely no recourse but to pay the money. blah!

to make matters worse, once i got the laptop back to the hotel, i discovered a new problem. the led which indicated the laptop was operating on ac power blinked on and off as if there were a loose connection somewhere in the power chain. fortunately, the problem turned out only to be a failing power adapter which i was able to replace at a laptop repair shop here in delhi.

so, close to $600 worth of shipping costs, duty charges, and replacement parts later... i'm back in business with my laptop. i'll do my best to get caught up with the blog over the next week, although i'll be flying to thailand on tuesday and the excitement of a new country might get in the way a bit. stay tuned.

posted by paul at Fri 02 Dec 2005 at 03:53:09 EST (-05:00) | comments (6)

30 November 2005

ashes to ashes

thesupercutest.JPG

how cute are these two girls? the _super_cutest.

again... apologies for the lack of updates. i'm in delhi and had hoped to have my computer by now. unfortunately, there have been shipping delays. fedex has the package in the delhi facility and has attempted delivery for the past three days but i haven't been at the delivery address because i needed to transfer to a different hotel. fedex won't leave the package with the hotel staff because there is apparently an outstanding balance for the shipment [??]. i should have expected as much. i plan to call fedex in the morning to determine why i'm being charged.

so, hold tight. updates are coming soon. i have several entries written in my journal and just need to type them in. to hold all you junkie reconites over, i uploaded a new gallery of pics from varanasi. most were taken during a sunrise boat ride on the mighty ganges river.

posted by paul at Wed 30 Nov 2005 at 12:13:06 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

29 November 2005

thu 29 nov - sun dec 04

tue 29 nov: delhi, india.
breakfast
transfer over to one link road
absolute nothing day
went out to a recommended restaurant which turned out to be closed. eat at pizza hut.

wed 30 nov: delhi, india.
walk to huyumun tomb
walk to the india gate
walk to the yatri house to check on my package
malhotra restaurant near the main bazar. the most delicious tandoori chicken in india.

thu 01 dec: delhi, india.
early morning fedex run. horrible duty charge.
computer power adapter problem.
nehru place run.
eat. infrastructure online.

fri 02 dec: delhi, india.
another chill day.
back to malhotra for some more delicious tandoori chicken.
the sickness continues.

sat 03 dec: agra, india.
check out of one link road
rickshaw to the wrong bus station
rickshaw to the right bus station
bus to agra. late arrival.
check into the sheela guesthouse.
eat on the rooftop terrace.
the taj mahal in the darkness.
the sickness increases.

sun 04 dec: agra, india.
breakfast on the rooftop terrace.
my first siting of the taj mahal amongst layers of haze
the amazing agra fort
the 'baby taj'
the taj mahal: free
dinner at yash. movie.

posted by paul at Tue 29 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 November 2005

cut you down with his bamboo boomstick

i just had two excellent rickshaw moments. the following was written immediately after the aforementioned moments when i got into my hotel room while all the emotion was still seething within.

i read the delhi section of my guidebook during the train ride from jhansi to delhi... specifically the section about the potential scams and hazards. upon the train's arrival in delhi shortly after midnight, i was well armed and prepared for the onslaught of local transport chaos as i descended the stairs of the train station platform.

'taxi, sir?'

'no... i'll just take a prepaid rickshaw. thank you.'

'oh, there is no prepaid stand, sir. only at the airport.'

'really, that's not what i've heard.'

'no prepaid taxi, sir.'

i walked on ignoring the swarm of taxi and rickshaw drivers. the prepaid stand couldn't be far.

'where are you going?'

i figured it couldn't hurt to say. 'yatri house.'

'let's go... taxi. this way.'

i could sense from the tone in the drivers' voices that i was getting close to the prepaid stand but still i couldn't find it. i had flashes of second thoughts. were they right? had i misread in the guidebook that there was a prepaid taxi counter at the train station? again, i wish i had the facts.

'there is no prepaid taxi, sir. where are you going?'

'yatri house.'

'i know it. 20 rupees.'

hmm. 20 rupees. i knew my hotel wasn't far from the station. 20 rupees sounded all right. [my 'too good to be true' intuition was apparently down for maintenance.]

'you know where it is?'

'yes. yatri house.'

'you have a rickshaw?'

'yes... this way.'

the driver sounded like he knew the place. we entered the rickshaw yard and i had to push and hold a rickshaw so that my driver could navigate his vehicle from the rickshaw entanglement. i got in and we were off. five seconds later we came to a gate where a man was standing.

'10 rupees. give him 10 rupees.'

it had begun.

'no... no way... you said 20 rupees total. i'm not giving him anything,' i protested. it was at that point that i saw the prepaid stand.

'ahhh... _there_ is the prepaid stand. i'll just take a prepaid rickshaw.' i got out of the rickshaw and grabbed my bag.

'fine, fine, i'll take you there for 10.'

'10? no more.'

i gave the attendant 10 rupees in coins. i guessed this was a parking toll. and we were off... again.

the driver pulled out, crossed the street, turned into a narrow alley and stopped in front of a travel agency. the total trip time could not have been more than a minute.

[sigh...]

'what are we doing here?' i asked.

'yatri house. you go in and book it.'

'no. i'm _already_ booked there.'

one of three guys sitting outside the agency eagerly asked if i needed anything. fucker.

'no, i'm all set.'

my driver looked displeased. i'd obviously thwarted a redirection.to.hotel.with.commission scam that he was running with the travel agency. only after i had made it absolutely clear that i had a reservation and would not consider switching hotels did he eventually pull back out onto the main road. and we were off... again.

15 seconds later, the driver pulled over to the side of the road.

[sigh...]

'yatri house?' he asked.

[yes goddamnit... the fucking yatri house. you know... the one you said you knew how to GET TO?]

during the train ride i'd written the name and address of the hotel on a piece of paper for just such an occasion. i pulled it out and showed the driver. he processed the address in his head for a few seconds. i could tell by the look on his face that i wasn't going to like whatever he was going to say next.

'other side. 50 rupees.'

[mother_FUCK_er]

'no. 10 rupees. you said you knew where it was. 10 rupees.'

'no. other side of the city. 50 rupees.'

i was freaking _pissed_. the fact that it was about 00:30 and was dark and chilly didn't help matters.

'absolutely not. [i'd had enough. [snap]] fine... you want to play games and be deceptive [you bastard]? i can play games too.'

i grabbed my pack and ripped it out of the opening in a gigantic rage and stormed away back to the prepaid stand. i was out 10 rupees... i'd need to make sure not to lose any more. as i neared the prepaid stand, the second wave of drivers hit me as hard as the first. relentless. i couldn't believe it... this was by far the worst rickshaw storm i'd weathered yet... they continued while i was WAITING IN LINE at the prepaid stand. i even heard one of them say 'oh, the yatri is full tonight.' i came very close to stepping out of line and screaming at him for being so horribly dishonest.

after a five minute wait i made it to the counter and told the attendant where i was going. he hadn't heard of the yatri house [perfect!] so i wrote out the name and address of a newspaper in front of him (i'd given the other piece of paper to the first driver). as the attendants were studying the address, the rickshaw drivers closed in around me tightly and i thought i felt something tug at my pack... this of course caused me to instantly react and spin wildly in an attempt to dislodge any prying hands. one of the attendants saw the frenzy and exited the booth quickly with an evil look on his face. the other attendant handed him a bamboo cane through the window.

i'd seen these bamboo canes in action in varanasi... evil. you definitely didn't want to be on the receiving end of one of those bastards. the drivers backed away in fear. [that's right you fucks. get the hell away from me or my body guard is going to cut you down with his bamboo boomstick.] the man with the cane pointed at a nearby building.

'yatri house.'

'i can walk there?'

this didn't seem right. i wrote out the address on yet another piece of paper. wild conversations amongst the attendant and the drivers (who had closed back in) ensued. finally the attendant singled out a driver.

'50 rupees. no more,' the attendant said to the driver.

the driver nodded.

'wait... i only have a 100. do you have change?' i asked.

the driver nodded again.

'i need to see it.'

he pulled out a wad of cash and asked me for the 100. i handed it over and he gave me back a 50. and right there i had broken one of the cardinal rickshaw rules: do not pay the driver before you've reached your destination. i didn't care... the driver seemed more laid back than the other drivers and the attendant with the cane had made it clear that he wasn't getting more money.

and...

we...

were off.

about 10 minutes into the ride, i saw my first indian elephant. kick! it was carrying one man and a big bundle of sticks. it disappeared into the darkness before i could grab my camera.

10 minutes later, we...

were lost.

[sigh...]

this driver had absolutely no clue where he was going. all i wanted to do was get to my freaking hotel so i could go to sleep. he pulled over three different times and asked for directions. fine... good. directions are good. more driving. dark alleys. circling. still couldn't find it. the driver was becoming obviously frustrated and aggitated. he eventually pulled over.

'i need more money. 50 more.'

'OH NO. this is a prepaid rickshaw. there is no more money.' and then i remembered that i'd already paid him. i had absolutely no leverage. i looked around... we were in a vacant alley, it was about 0100, and i had absolutely no clue where i was. shit.

'i need more money.'

i told him again that i wasn't going to give him more money and this aggravated him further. he began to raise his voice and went off in a tirade in hindi.

'i don't understand hindi. english?'

'no english! more money!'

i needed to defuse the situation. this was the first time in india that i actually feared for my safety. 'get me to the hotel and then we'll talk.'

he grumbled and pulled off. we finally arrived at the hotel 10 minutes later after two more stops for directions.

i grabbed my bag and said 'this is a prepaid rickshaw. no more money.'

he began to yell again... '50 more rupees!' and i yelled back 'LET'S TALK TO THE POLICE!'

fortunately i'd noted that two policemen were standing nearby monitoring some construction that was taking place. i stormed over and told one of the officers that the rickshaw driver was demanding more money than we'd agreed to. he motioned for the rickshaw driver to drive over.

a conversation in hindi proceded for five full minutes and i could tell that the policeman was siding with me. thank god. near the end of the conversation i started hearing the english word 'twenty' and i knew what was coming. this is what i assume was being said...

policeman: 'you're not getting 50...'

driver: 'well i need something, i've been driving all over the place.'

policeman: 'ask him for 20 then.'

driver: 'can you ask him for me?'

policeman: 'absolutely not. it's your fare. you ask him.'

drive: 'please? you ask him?'

policeman: 'no.'

the driver looked at me sheepishly and said 'what about 20, for my time?'

fucker. whatever man. i gave him a 50, he returned 30, and i stormed away after thanking the officer.

why does this have to be so difficult? my sentiment right now about traveling in india: fuck traveling in india.

--

chill with prahlad and charli in the morning
khajuraho bus to jhansi
hang with anna at the train station
train to delhi
rickshaw terror
yatri house

posted by paul at Mon 28 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 November 2005

the embers burning

sadhu.JPG

i took this picture two hours ago while walking along the ganges in varanasi. this sadhu said he'd been growing his killer dreads for fifty years.

sorry for the lack of updates... more pics and blog entries will be coming soon!

update 19 may 2007: please forgive the 'GLOBALRECON.ORG' watermark. this picture has proven to be one of the most popular i've taken and i've found it in numerous dread oriented forums. i just recently added the watermark to protect my work.

posted by paul at Thu 24 Nov 2005 at 00:54:04 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

thu 24 nov - sun 27 nov

thu 24 nov: varanasi, india.
the sunrise boatride
a walk along the river back to the guesthouse with edward, stephanie, and jenn
sadhu with amazing dreads
silk shop appointment

fri 25 nov: varanasi, india.
the second sunrise boatride
floating bloated naked sadhu
a wrapped baby hair exposed
silk is dropped off
afternoon bicycle rickshaw to dhl with scott
dinner at ganga fuji
overnight train to satna
meet english anna and poles camilla and marlena

sat 26 nov: varanasi to satna to khajuraho, india.
satna bus station
bus to khajuraho
khajuraho temples
eat in the evening in the treetop restaurant
charli and prahlad and a motorcycle ride
your eyes are always wandering
the sickness begins

sun 27 nov: khajuraho, india.
rest and recover day
anna, marlena, and anna depart
eat at the mediterraneo
chill in the evening with charli and prahlad
american currency scam
the sickness continues

posted by paul at Thu 24 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

23 November 2005

every. single. time.

i'd intended to take an early morning boatride down the river with some other travelers, but my treo conspired against me and i woke up at 0600. i watched the bright red sun rise over the river and then retired back to my bed. my throat was burning and i feared the onset of a fierce illness. sarah's call woke me up at around 1030. i was out along the river shortly after.

i spent the majority of the day walking along the river and taking in all of the sights. ate lunch/breakfast at 1400 and then sat down on a bench to do some writing. there i witnessed a girl being endlessly harrassed by man after man. the story is always the same. it's almost as if the touts and salespeople went to the same 'how to lower a tourist's shields' school. 'what country are you from? what's your name?' every. single. time. today i was from india. yep, born and raised in bombay. i eventually asked the girl if she would mind some company. she hadn't eaten yet, so i accompanied her to the restaurant at which i'd eaten earlier.

later that evening we ran in jenn and two other travelers staying at my guesthouse, australians stephanie and edward. we ate dinner and wandered in the marketplace before walking back to the guesthouse.

posted by paul at Wed 23 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 November 2005

clearly operating far beyond safe limits

life in india continues to be full of learning experiences. i just gave a cycle rickshaw (also referred to as a 'helicopter' rickshaw) driver 250 rupees and he looked at me like i'd just insulted his mother. i just don't understand. i really thought he'd be extraordinarily pleased (which in turn would have made me very pleased) but he obviously was expecting more. i've stopped thinking in terms of us dollars. after a month in india, i thought i had a firm grasp of the costs of goods and services, appropriate tips. apparently i was wrong.

my train pulled into the mughal serai train station this morning at 0630 and 'my' driver was eagerly waiting for me as i stepped off the train. these are a few sites i saw during the early morning taxi ride into varanasi:

. two boys huddling around a small newspaper fire for warmth.

. further down the road, a woman was cooking something over a propane tank which was raging orange fire from four holes on the top of the tank. the tank had been modified to emit the gas right from the top of the tank and was clearly operating far beyond safe limits.

. a man squatting on a pile of trash brushing his teeth with a long stick.

. a red stray dog standing stoically on a pile of dirt overlooking a vast field of garbage. the chill in the air, the whipping wind, the bouncing of the taxi on the giant potholes, the dog... the moment is imprinted on my mind.

. the bridge over the ganges river

we arrived in varanasi shortly after 0700. when i'd called to reserve a room a few days earlier i was told to call the guesthouse again when i arrived in varanasi and that someone would come out to the rickshaw stand to meet me. i'd forgotten to mention that i'd be arriving so early in the morning and so i'd planned to camp out for an hour or so before calling. my taxi driver didn't want to leave me off without the guesthouse escort... not exactly sure why, although the stories i'd heard about varanasi all spoke of the voracious touts... my guidebook likened them to starving tigers pouncing on defenseless deer (pleasant image... made me feel good.). despite the early hour, i thought it best to give the guesthouse a call. fifteen minutes later, my guide arrived and we were off to the hotel.

there is absolutely no way in hell that i'd have found the guesthouse without him. varanasi is famous for its narrow streets and alleys (among other things) and i gave up trying to remember the way after the tenth turn. cows walked lazily through the streets, bicycles and scooters zoomed around obstacles, children on their way to school walked with droning looks, men were in the process of opening their shops, people were doing laundry... all in a space just wider than a stndard car. the streets were very much alive.

i checked into my room and considered going back to sleep or taking a hot shower (although, similar to when i took the long overnight bus rides, i was surprisingly well rested), but one step out onto the balcony overlook the ganges made up my mind for me. three baboons were chilling on the balcony not more than a meter from me. the view of the river was amazing and i needed to get out into the city immediately. the sights below were calling to me.

i grabbed a quick breakfast in the guesthouse and then was out. i hadn't walked more than three minutes before a man saw me looking at the bonfires along the river and asked me if i'd seen the burning bodies yet. no, sir. i had not. he grabbed my hand and led me over for a better view. directly below me, a corpse wrapped in cloth was burning on a pile of wood. varanasi is one of the holiest of hindu cities; the ganges is a river of salvation and hindus from all over india travel here to cleanse their sins in the sacred water. for these reasons and others, it is a very auspicious place to die. bodies are cremated 24 hours a day on two areas along the river on carefully weighed piles of wood. the man told me that it typically takes three hours to fully cremate a body. a family member lights the fire and the ashes are collected and thrown into the river.

i continued my walk along the ganges. groups of men were bathing and swimming (in the fridgid and famously polluted water. the guidebook expands by noting that 30 large sewers continuously discharge into the river and that the water is considered 'septic' - no dissolved oxygen exists whatsoever). the various platforms leading down to the water are called ghats and the walk on each one was uniquely interesting. in addition to the burning bodies and the bathing and praying men, i saw children playing cricket, flying kites, and selling postcards or tikka powder, animals roaming freely (including stray dogs, goats, cows, oxen, buffalo, monkeys, ducks, and geese). i was asked approximately 20 times whether i wanted a boat ride, given a hand massage, and led to two different silk shops where men threw out dozens of tableclothes and bedsreads despite my resistance.

in the late afternoon, the aforementioned rickshaw driver, rajkumar, turned out to be a great guy and carted me around the city, stopping to allow me to eat and use the internet. he dropped me off at the river where i paid him 250 rupees and then paid far too much for a boat ride back to my guesthouse. during the boat ride, we stopped so i could witness puja, a ceremony performed every morning and night in worship of the river. i spent the evening chilling in the kitchen with very fun travelers in including south african jenn and americans ryan, scott, and eve.

posted by paul at Tue 22 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

20 November 2005

sun 20 nov - mon 21 nov

sun 20 nov: kolkata, india.
walk in millenium park
the busiest bridge in the world
st. john's church and the smoldering leaves
job charnock's grave

mon 21 nov: kolkata to varanasi, india.
mother theresa's grave
the busiest bridge in the world
the search for my seat from one end of the train to the other
overnight train from kolkata to varanasi

posted by paul at Sun 20 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

19 November 2005

properly execute the second

i decided last night to stay in kolkata until monday and then take a night train to varanasi. i booked my train ticket in the morning after breakfast, hit an atm, and then allowed a market tout to escort me into the new market complex (one of the first stops on a walking tour outlined in my guidebook).

the indoor market was gigantic, the biggest i'd visited in india, stores packed one on top of another and selling everything from meat to jewelry to clothes. as expected, the tout led me to a standard souvenir knick-knack shop and the salepeople began the well rehearsed robotic process of laying things out in front of me... chess sets, silk shirts, knives. 'what do you want? what do you want?' i thanked them for their time and told them i didn't want anything and wasn't in much of a shopping mood. i always felt a little bad in these situations because the shopowners always went to great lengths to showcase their merchandise... unfolding shirt after shirt... huge wall paintings... while i had no intention of purchasing anything. my escort led me to another store where the process began and ended the same way. en route to the third, i saw my chance to escape.


my guide was walking a few paces in front of me and exchanged a few words with two men sitting on a bench outside one of the stores. as i passed the two men i gave them a 'yep, i'm another tourist that is being led from shop to shop by your friend there. i've given up trying to escape.' expression. they smiled and returned a 'yep, we've seen it before' look. i feigned a 180 degree turn with the intention of turning back around and being a good tout-follower but my legs didn't properly execute the second 180 degree turn and instead sped up and carried me deeper into the laybrinth away from my guide. the two guys i'd just passed saw the escape and raised the alarm to get my guide's attention but it was too late at that point. i'd already turned a few corners and had disappeared into the maze.

i wandered the shops freely and got a few surprised 'wow, there's a foreigner in here without a guide!' looks from the shopowners. minutes later another tout locked on and i found myself in the same situation. after a few more shops, i escaped again by telling him i was going to check out the indian museum (the next stop on my guide book's walking tour).

'oh, the museum is closed today.'

[sigh...]

in these recurring 'that place is closed/full/flooded/burned down/full of gangsters' situations i always wished i had the facts... i was 99% sure that the tout was lying to me in order to redirect me to a situation which would benefit him in some way... but as i discovered in the case with afrosh in mohabalipuram there was always a chance that he was telling the truth. in this particular instance, the numbers prevailed. i found the museum open when i arrived.

the museum was a fairly standard natural history museum... some cool exhibits... but all old and dirty. one thing which stands out in my mind was a stuffed polar bear. years of pollution and lack of cleaning had colored the polar bear a distinctive dark brown color and it looked very out of place in the arctic recreation on which it was positioned.

i'd planned to continue on to mother theresa's grave but i needed to return to the travel agent by 1630 to pick up my train ticket. darkness was closing in and i spent the rest of the evening eating and writing.

posted by paul at Sat 19 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

18 November 2005

enough to fall into the hole

kolkata was not what i expected. i was prepared for a city overwhelmed with ultimate poverty and decay but this morning i discovered that kolkata was very similar to the other indian cities i'd visited... men washing and doing laundry on the streets, rickshaws and other other vehicles zooming through traffic, the usual complement of small shops. the most surprising thing was the number of travelers in the area... far more than i'd seen in bombay.

a few other notes:

. indian men apparently have extremely small bladders. it's very common to see a motorcycle or car pulled alongside the road and the driver urinating in a ditch. i can understand an emergency situation, but the prevalence of roadside urinations leads me to believe that men pull over at just the mildest calling of nature. in the cities, it's common to see men urinating in alleys, against buildings, or squatting by the curb. kolkata was the first city in which i saw outdoor urinals right on the sidewalk.

. motorcycle and scooter drivers in kolkata are more likely than drivers in other indian cities to wear either hardhat construction-style helmets or military-style helmets rather than the more protective full face standard motorcycle helmet (that is if they're wearing a helmet at all). i can't imagine the hardhat would provide any protection in the event of an accident.

. kolkata was the first indian city in which i saw human powered rickshaws.

i grabbed some food and started off on a walk to the victoria memorial. the walk through the maidan park was a welcome escape from the traffic and the masses of people. with the exception of a solicitation from a self-proclaimed 'businessman' selling hash and the 'finest chinese opium', the walk through the park was peaceful and free from hassles. i paid the entrance fee for the memorial museum and gardens and then wandered lazily around the beautiful marble building admiring the trees. i'm not sure if it's just my adjustment to life in india or the city itself but i felt very comfortable in kolkata.

inside the memorial, i explorered the various photos and paintings of the building during construction and took my time in the museum which included an extensive timeline history of the city. like most of the buildings in india, the interior could have done with a hearty washdown and a few fresh coats of paint, but overall i was impressed with the memorial.

the highlight of my day came immediately after i left. across the street from the entrance of the gardens, food and drink stands lined the sidewalk to target the memorial patrons. a young boy at one of the stands saw me eyeing the bottles at a neighboring stand and shouted out for me to come to his stand.

'one pepsi, please. how much?'

'20 rupees.'

bah. a coke of that size should cost around 12-15 rupees. he was obviously adding a tourist tax.

'20 rupees, eh? fine, i'll let you rip me off.'

he smiled and offered me a seat on the bench beside him. workers at the surrounding stands immediately took an interest in me and i ended up hanging for an hour talking to them. at one point, a boy approached balancing on his head a large wooden tray stacked high with bags of potato chips.

'chips?'

'no thank you, sir.'

'just 15 rupees.'

'no sir. no chips for me.'

'15 rupees.'

'15? i know those bags aren't worth 15 rupees.'

he smiled. '12 rupees.' he pointed out the price stamped on the bag.

'no. sorry. not hungry.'

he gave up with the sales pitch but decided to stick around to listen to the conversation i was having with the others.

'doesn't look like you're selling many of those,' i ventured a few minutes later. 'i bet i can help you out. can i give it a shot?'

he handed over the tray with a stunned look on his face and then couldn't control his laughter as i wandered down the sidewalk with the tray balanced precariously on my head shouting 'chips! only 25 rupees!' i got doubletakes and huge smiles from all of the men working along the street as i continued on followed by the grinning boy.

'go ask them,' he said and motioned towards an indian family who had just exited the gardens.

'chips? only 25 rupees.'

they smiled.

'how about 20? a little high, i realize, but we need to make a profit.'

i came down to the base price of 12 rupees, but they still weren't interested. in fact, no one was interested and i had to apologize to the boy as i handed back his tray. i walked away from the crew of street vendors feeling very happy about the experience.

i headed south on the opposite side of the park looking for a trash bin to throw away my pepsi bottle. during the search i walked by an interesting rectangular hole in the sidewalk. i peered down it and was surprised to see that the hole was about four meters deep, the bottom lined with trash and a few pipes. this was very typical of india, which seems to operate on the darwinian principle of survival of the fittest. no cones, no signs, no yellow tape. if you're stupid enough to fall into the hole and break your neck, you're not going to be around long enough to pass your stupid genes onto the next generation.

it was getting dark by the time i started back towards the hotel. i've been using my gps lately to track my wandering walks. although i don't have street maps for the asian cities, i've found the gps 'breadcrumb' trail markers very useful for backtracking to a familiar place. i found my way back to the hotel without a problem, passing one of the first horses i'd seen in india. i ate, spent some time on the internet, and then used the rest of the evening for writing.

posted by paul at Fri 18 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

17 November 2005

trying to look like i knew

0730: telephone rings.

'uh... hello?'

'tea or coffee, sir?'

'no thank you.'

back to sleep.

0830: door buzzer.

'yes?'

'breakfast, sir?'

'uh... no thank you.'

back to sleep.

0900: largescale construction noises directly outside my door. i envisioned a demolition ball swinging back and forth. back to sle... [shock]. 'hmm... wonder what time i need to check out.'

0910: call to front desk.

'hello.'

'what time is checkout?'

'hello? yes.'

'what time is checout?'

'yes, sir.'

[???] 'check. out. what time is it please?'

new person on the phone. 'hello?'

'what time is checkout?'

'ah. room 206? 24 hours. you checked in at 1600 yesterday. checkout is 1600.'

'thank you.'

wow... 24 hours... that's a new one. perfect. i eventually got out of bed at 1000 and took my time packing up my things. it's strange the way most of the items in my pack make their way out of the pack in the course of one night. the hot water in the bathroom turned out to be only slightly warmer than the cold water and was a curious brown color, but i needed a shower to wake up. whether or not the questionable water would in fact clean my body or make it more dirty was secondary.

let me clarify that there _are_ nice hotels in all of the indian cities i've visited. no doubt they are pristinely clean, mosquito free, and provide copious amounts of gloriously fresh hot water. i just haven't been staying in these types of hotels. for better or worse, i've been staying in the hotels listed under the budget section of my guidebook; the rooms typically run between 200 and 400 rupees (5-10 usd). i've attempted to upgrade to the midrange hotels on several occasions but have found that a doubling in price didn't usually correspond to a doubling in quality.

at 1300 i checked out and met my driver outside. we arrived at the airport about 45 minutes later. my flight was delayed by about 40 minutes and we didn't arrive in kolkata until about 1815. darkness.

i paid rs210 for a prepaid taxi and as i exited the airport to find my taxi, a man saw the receipt in my hand and approached asking for my taxi number. it wasn't clear whether he was a driver or not, but i've come to trust my instincts... he was far too eager to help. this man was not my driver and was carrying my bags for a tip. i only had two rupees change; he wasn't pleased but he took it [before i could stuff it back into my pocket.].

it took close to an hour to get to sudder street which was the location of most of the city's budget accomodation and as such was where most of the travelers hung out. [i remember in europe trying to get _away_ from other travelers... now i was seeking them out.] i spotted some of the hotels (including the 'shilton' and 'hilson' hotels) listed in my guidebook while i was still in the taxi, told the driver to stop, paid him, and headed out on the street trying to look like i knew where i was going. i sought shelter in a dark alley where i could pull out my map to find the locations of several hotels i'd marked in my book, but my packs gave me away and i was quickly spotted by a hotel tout. i fended him off easily and after a miss at the galaxy hotel i found a room at the paragon hotel.

the room reminded me of a prison cell, but at rs170 a night (approximately 4 usd) it was unbeatable. unstoppable. it was a classic. concrete floor, two dirty beds, bars on the windows. the internal locking mechanism is a piece of wood that is placed across the two doors, lord of the rings style. the exterior system is a deadbolt that takes a padlock. i didn't feel like wandering sudder street in the dark, walking from hotel to hotel with my pack on. i asked the hotel manager if mosquitos were a problem and pointed out the wounds on my forehead. 'no, no mosquitos.' no mosquitos? perfect. where do i sign? i'll take it.

i dropped off my bags and then immediately went out for some food. spent the evening reading and writing.

posted by paul at Thu 17 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

16 November 2005

relentlessly in monotone

a few random notes i made while in pondicherry:

. the motorcycle of choice in pondicherry is the honda hero. most drivers don't wear helmets instead opting for a clear plastic blastshield to protect their eyes.

. despite the intense sun, i would estimate less than 2% of indians wear sunglasses.

. i still enjoy riding the indian buses. oftentimes men selling popcorn or fruit or other snacks will jump on the buses while they're stopped at intersections, walking from the front door to the back, calling out the name of their product relentlessly in monotone. [yes, we heard you the first five times.] occasionally when the bus stops in a small village, women will come alongside the bus trying to sell fruit or vegetables to the passengers through the windows.

. in the pondicherry museum i saw several statues of nadarajar standing on a baby. who is this child and why is nadarajar standing on it?

. i spent a fair amount of time on the beach promenade looking out at the water. my travels have really given me a difference sense of the world... a much smaller, interconnected, world. while india is on the other side of the planet from the united states, it takes less than 24 hours to reach by plane. so far but so close. all of the countries in the world... all of the distinct cultures... and yet we're all living on the same planet. i had a john lennon 'imagine' moment while watching the waves roll in one evening.

i checked out of the ram guesthouse at 1000 and took a rickshaw to the bus station. three indian women found my large backpack highly amusing and made no attempt to conceal their laughter while whispering and pointing at me. [at least i assume it was due to the backpack. i did a quick selfcheck for any potentially humorous 'situations' and found none.] four hours to chennai.

which of the waiting rickshaw gang would spot me first? [proximity alert] [eye contact] i'd been targeted by a an eager rickshaw neophyte who closed in voraciously.

'where are you going, sir?'

i hadn't yet decided and told him to hang back while i perused my guidebook. while i was reading, other drivers swarmed in sensing the fresh kill.

'hotel comfort,' i said.

i could tell from his confused look that he didn't know how to get to hotel comfort. he asked another driver for directions and a minor argument ensued over who would get my fare; the second driver obviously wanted to take me himself. the argument continued en route to the vehicles until finally the second driver conceded and tried to explain to the first how to get to hotel comfort. more confused looks... another argument... and then i was ushered into the second driver's rickshaw. the young driver's kill had been stolen by a driver with more experience. survival of the fittest. as we prepared to pull away, the defeated driver came alongside the rickshaw and asked me for a tip.

'for what? you didn't do anything.'

'sir, just for a coffee...'

'but you didn't do anything.'

'just a coffee.'

i felt a little bad he'd missed out on my fare so i dug down into my pocket and pulled out all the change i had... a mere seven rupees... and held it out for him.

'seven rupees?' he complained.

'that's all i have.'

'but that's not enough for a coffee.'

[i realize that seven rupees isn't much, but come on man, i'm _giving_ you money for doing absolutely nothing. jesus.] he eventually took it after some more grumbling. next time someone complains about free money, i'm going to put it right back into my pocket.

arrival at hotel comfort. the driver wanted to come in with me ['let's take a look at the room.'] but i told him that i'd be going in by myself. clearly he was trying to snag a hotel commission that i would have ended up paying in the form of an inflated room rate. i gave him a 25 rupee tip along with the agreed upon fare and told him to drive away. move along. move along. the tip had the desired effect; he seemed pleased and drove away.

i checked in, threw my things in the small room, and then immediately took off on a mission: i needed to ship some of the things i'd purchased in mamallopuram back to the states. rickshaw ride to dhl. unfortunately, due to some governmental restrictions about exporting certain items, i was only able to send one of my packages out.

it was dark when i got out of dhl. back at the hotel, i ate some tandoori chicken and fried noodles on the rooftop terrace and then retired for an early evening. i'd made arrangements with the driver who had driven me to dhl. he'd be picking me up at 1300 the following day to take me to the airport for my 1540 flight to kolkata.

posted by paul at Wed 16 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

15 November 2005

sprays and bursts of red and black

i was a productive tourist today. checked out the pondicherry museum and the sri aurobindo ashram where two men were performing surgery on a beautiful tree sheltering the samadhi. the days have been drifting quickly, a combination of my late mornings and the early nights. the sun sets at roughly 1800. i'm familiar with the early sunsets, but only when accompanied with the chilling of the air; the warm dark november evenings have been disorienting. i had dinner on a rooftop terrace. the total on the check was horribly wrong; i eventually needed to review addition and multiplication tables with the manager.

the war of the mosquitos has been raging since i've arrived in india. the battles have not been waged in the city streets, not on restaurant rooftop terraces, not on the beaches... no, the battles have not been waged outdoors at all. the mosquitos have been annihilating me in confines of my hotel rooms and it seems i am powerless to stop their attacks.

most rooms, in addition to the standard compliment of window screens, are equipped with a type of mosquito repellant; a liquid which is heated electrically to form an airborne chemical defense system. unfortunately the defenses are completely ineffectual. no, it seems the indian mosquitos have learned how to penetrate the screens and have adapted to tolerate the chemicals. my own defense equipment is unusable: my container of insect repellant warns against wearing it overnight and my sleeping bag and bugnet are intolerable in the hot rooms. the insect battles have mainly been one-sided and i've been on the losing side. i obviously needed to change my tactics. the best defense is a strong offense. no longer would i sit idly by and allow my blood to be drained every night. no! tonight... i would fight back!

armed with a postcard, i brought the fight to the walls and ceilings. [POW!] as the card landed on each mosquito, it was not just the insect's blood which was shed... indeed, the blood each had sucked from my body the previous night also colored the room. at the end of the battle, my room was decorated with sprays and bursts of red and black and the postcard was coated with exoskeleton and blood. i went to sleep tonight with a winning feeling.

during the night the survivors of my raid got together and avenged their fallen comrades. the next morning, i no longer had the winning feeling. i realized i was losing the war.

posted by paul at Tue 15 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

14 November 2005

stand around and wave blindly

as has been the pattern lately, i got a horrifically late start to the day. i've been in a 'i must do something productive today' sort of mindset but i haven't been following through very effectively. in fact, i feel like recently i've just been going through the motions of traveling and haven't really been extracting much of substance from the experience. as i think i've made very clear in my recent entries, india has been very draining... both physically and mentally. but i don't want to give up on this part of the adventure. i need to give it a little more time.

down to the beach and through the streets. pondy was a different sort of indian town. the first where i've seen trash bins, the first where i've seen public works personnel actually emptying the bins and sweeping the streets, the first where i've seen traffic police do more than just stand around and wave blindly at passing vehicles. indeed, there were even signs posted which asked citizens to help keep pondicherry clean. i stopped and drank a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice before stopping into a bookstore and picking up two more books. i spent the evening on the beach conversing with the parents of three very fun and hyperactive young children. they insisted on giving me some cayungu. thank you!

posted by paul at Mon 14 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

13 November 2005

the swarms of dragonflies farewell

today i would be traveling two hours south to pondicherry. i woke up early so that i could return to the rocks. unfortunately they were already overwhelmed with other visitors and so i explorered further only briefly before bidding the swarms of dragonflies farewell. i had some breakfast and then checked out of the siva guesthouse. as i walked out into the street with my pack, i looked warily from side to side... there was someone in particular who i was trying to avoid.

yesterday i willingly walked into a shop to check out the merchandise. i've been playing up the new zealand angle whenever monetary transactions are involved, especially after the initial nationality shifts yielded several 'we double the price for americans' comments. during the conversation with the shopkeeper yesterday, the new zealand angle grew from acute to obtuse to a full 360 degrees of deceit after several minutes of probing questions. it was magnificent [stop asking these questions.]. i perused the merchandise for fifteen minutes while delicately stacking one block of deception upon the next until i'd build a giant teetering tower of kiwi trickery. after i'd selected the items i wished to purchase (taking care to first feign a conversion into new zealand dollars) and the shopkeeper had swiped my credit card, he calmly reached over to my tower and pushed gently on the bottom block.

'could i see your passport please?'

[oh shit. uhh...]

'i don't have it with me... it's back at my hotel [which, incidentally, was about a one minute walk from the shop.]'

'no problem. just bring it to me later.'

close call. he went on to explain that the indian government requested confirmation of identification for certain purchases but i wasn't paying much attention to his explanation. i was far too busy steadying my great tower of deceit and trying to plan how i'd sneak out of town with a shred of dignity the next day. as i walked out of the shop, i remembered how i'd wrongly accused afrosh of lying to me.

fortunately, i made it down to the bus stand and out of town cleanly today. i spent two hours standing in the aisle of the bus while two frail women sat crunched up in the fetal position on the floor below me. so bizarre. when the bus arrived in pondicherry, i was delighted to note the absence of the rickshaw henchmen.

i checked into the ram guesthouse and then was out on the streets to explore soon after. i walked down to the beach and was absolutely dumbfounded to find trash bins at regular intervals along the promenade... but not just any trash bins... these trash bins were being held by giant white bunnies! i got a great vibe from pondy immediately and spent the next several hours walking up and down the beach before heading to dinner.

posted by paul at Sun 13 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

12 November 2005

a lone traveler but never alone

last night was another late reading night. i'd picked up two books from a street vendor in bangalore using some expert haggling skills.

'how much is this book?'

'100 rupees.'

'and do you have the tower of physics?'

'the _tao_ of physics? yes. 120 rupees.'

'would you take 250 rupees for both?'

[confused look and then one sideways head bobble to signify 'yes, you foolish tourist. allow me to relieve you of the burden of your money.'.]

i'd been caught up in the intensity of the moment and my mind had misregistered the prices as rs150 and rs120. it was only when i was walking away with the books in hand that i replayed the conversation and distinctly heard the man say rs100 and rs120. i wasn't concerned about the rs30; i felt that i'd done tourists everywhere a disservice.

this morning i ran into afrosh after breakfast. it appeared he'd been waiting specifically for me; when he saw me he jumped up eagerly and asked if we were going to kanchipuram today. i felt he'd been a part of the atm deception and replied coldly that no, we would not be going to kanchipuram today. i explained to him that i didn't appreciate that yesterday he and raghu had told me that the closest atm was 10km from town when in fact the closest atm was only a 10 minute walk away from my hotel.

'but you can't use that one! that's only for indians!' he appeared genuinely upset that i'd accused him of lying to me.

'my card has worked in every atm that i've tried in india. i doubt what you're saying is true.'

'no... no... you can't use that atm.'

but i was already walking away, sure that he was trying to cover up his deception. 11 minutes later i felt horrible; i'd walked to the atm and sure enough, it wouldn't accept either of my cards. i walked back to apologize to him but he was gone. i'm sorry afrosh.

that afternoon i did some shopping (yes, willfully) and then revisited the stone caves and temples. i stealthily passed through the gauntlet of guides and found myself alone on the rocks as the sun set. during the tour with kani the day before, i hadn't realized the size of the monument park. massive. and goats, and temples, and a lighthouse. and then the bats. it was nice to wander and climb alone, away from those who seek to relieve me of my burden. the isolations of india. a lone traveler but never alone.

i feel like all i've been doing lately is complaining. i very much wish sarah or another friend were here so we could exchange feelings and ideas about all of the differences, and there are many. every day the strange sights appear less strange... cows walking the streets, families sleeping on the sidewalks, the ubiquitous heaps of trash... i no longer look twice. but every day brings new strangers and i never quite feel comfortable. i am still desperately trying to absorb and process and adapt to all that is india.

posted by paul at Sat 12 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

11 November 2005

waving with a wrist twist beauty pageant winner wave

this morning a rickshaw pimp named raghu told me that the closest atm was 10km outside of town. this evening while walking home after dinner i passed an atm not more than a 10 minute walk away from my hotel. tomorrow i will seek out raghu for comment.

rewind. last night i got caught up in a book and didn't get to sleep until 0300, so this morning i was dragging a bit and didn't get the early start i would have liked. i'd planned to rent a scooter or moped (killer!) to transport me out to the croc bank and snake catcher co-op but during my search for a rental place i was approached by a rickshaw posse. it's been my experience that the best english speaker is typically the rickshaw pimp; the pimp is accompanied by three or four drivers who crowd around eagerly during the initial conversation. it is the pimp's job to snare the prey; once he's set the hook he dispatches a driver. i made the mistake of telling raghu where i was going and that i first needed to stop at an atm. after five minutes of haggling i'd upgraded my moped to a rickshaw ride. [i'm listening to ozzy's 'no more tears' as i write this and while air guitaring madly to zakk wylde's solo, i have just decided to upgrade my egoramp metal guitar weedling solo ability from virtually nonexistent to gigantic arena rock 80's hair metal proportions when i get back to the states.]

the croc bank was 14km away and the rickshaw i was riding in was crawling. i watched the pavement roll by trying to gauge whether or not i'd have been able to run as fast. i think i could have peddled a _tricycle_ faster. in fact i'm sure of it. i'd have dusted this guy... looking over as i pulled alongside his rickshaw, my eyes staring just to the left of his with a blank expression on my face... waving with a wrist twist beauty pageant winner wave... and then cranking it up a notch and peddling furiously by in a blur of handlebar tassles and shiny red paint. but no... damnit, i was trapped inside forced to be polite and play the 'what's your name? where are you from?' game. lately i've been from new zealand. ha! i've actually gotten several 'for you, special price... we ask twice as much from americans' comments already. i think i'll have to brush up on my cricket knowledge if i plan to continue the kiwi charade.

arrival at the croc bank. initial arrangement: driver afrosh (sp?) would drive me out there and i'd take a bus back. upon arrival he sold me on a 'rickshaw ride back' upgrade after telling me that the bus only ran once every three hours. bullshit... i knew it ran every half hour. finding the appropriate bus stop and getting the bus to actually _stop_ at the bus stop would be the challenge... and clouds were closing in and threatening rain. fine, afrosh. upgrade me. do you serve drinks in your rickshaw for an additional charge cause _GODDAMN_ i'd like some of that too!

20 rupees to get inside. i walked around and checked out some of the croc pens which were pretty kicking. completely filled with evil reptiles. the brick and stone enclosure walls were only about waist high and signs warned that the crocs are able to jump into the air for prey... and still i saw a father lift his young daughter (i'll guess four years old) up _onto_ the wall and hold her hand as she walked along it.

i proceded to the snake catchers exhibit. primary objective. no venom extraction today... only a snake show. i was the only one inside the snake area. an eager to please man pulled out four snakes from some ceramic pots... a russells viper, a crait, a teeny sawscalled viper, and a cobra. he taunted each with a red cloth at the end of a stick in an attempt to get each to strike... only the cobra cooperated. absolutely beautiful.

after some stilted small talk, i asked the man if he was one of the guys who went out into the field to catch the snakes. he replied yes and i asked him if it would be possible to accompany the snake catchers during one of the expeditions. the language barrier was an issue and it took several attempts to successfully communicate my meaning. when he understood he laughed and brushed off my question as a joke. when he saw that i wasn't laughing and that my inquiry was serious, he literally took a step back and eyed my apprehensively as if he were speaking to a madman.

'but, sir... the snakes are very poisonous.'

i thought to myself... 'exactly. this is what i do, man. poisonous snakes. how freaking cool.'

it was obvious that i'd need to talk to someone else. outside the snake area i found a croc bank employee who spoke perfect english and i explained to him what i wanted to do. he understood exactly and told me that he thought it would be possible for a fee... 1000 rupees (about $23 us). i told him no problem, that i was very interested and had read much about the co-op on the internet. we walked back over to the snake area and he began to speak to one of the men in tamil while i waited. i could sense that the other man was taking the inquiry seriously. after a minute, the man told me that the catchers hadn't been going out recently due to the weather. it's been very wet in the area.

mission failure. i was a little disappointed, but i knew it was a longshot. the town of mamallopuram looked friendly and after we got back i walked around and explored some of the stone temples and carvings with a young latch-on named kani.

posted by paul at Fri 11 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

10 November 2005

being pushed by mobs of men

yet another transport day. bus from bangalore to chennai. bus from chennai to mamallopuram. 9.5 hours of pure transportation inferno. rather than describe the ever so exciting journey, i'll use this entry for another installment of 'a randomness of india.' warning: inaccurate statistics and sweeping generalizations following. these are simply my observations after traveling in the country for just over two weeks.

. when trying to get the attention of another person, most indians tend to use a hissing, kissing... almost 'puckering' sound rather than a vocal yell or scream. very interesting. i would think screaming the person's name would be much more effective, but i suppose if you've been tuned to listen to the hiss sound since birth, that is the sound which yields the best results.

. fluency with english is extremely high in india. i've learned just a few words in hindi and tamil... 'hello' and 'thank you' for instance. every time i respond in an indian language, even with something as basic as 'thank you', the person to whom i'm speaking always seems so incredibly happy and surprised and i always get a big smile. i _never_ got that reaction while i was in europe; there it was almost expected that you would attempt to speak in the native language. this reaction makes me really want to try harder to learn more of the native indian languages.

. speaking of big smiles, i rarely see them here. most people walk around with expressions of absolute seriousness. even when apparent friends are talking, i rarely see laughter or smiles. it makes me that much happier when i can bring a smile to someone's face just by using the native language.

. there is a relatively higher number of male underwear ads on billboards and posters in india as compared with the united states or europe. they're _all_ over the place... and i'm not talking boxers; i'm talking bikini briefs. how sportif! i'm going to pick up a few pairs for myself.

. it took me a few weeks to understand why there aren't more rickshaw, bicycle, or motorcycle related deaths in india. the traffic flow is an amazing delicate dance in which the participants rely on pure timing. one driver must assume that the vehicle crossing his or her path will continue on in the same direction and not deviate course. despite the number of vehicles, pedestrians, and animals on the roads, accidents appear to happen infrequently, at least from what i've seen. i've been throwing off the balance of the dance during my travels here.

. all of the building scaffolding at construction sites is made of bamboo... even for the tallest of skyscrapers. an intricate interlaced lattice of bamboo tied together with rope. i know nothing about the stability or strength of bamboo, but apparently it does the job. giant wooden cages.

. restaurants here are one of two types: veg or non-veg. many display their type on their sign. whenever i ask someone for a restaurant recommendation, they always ask me 'veg or non-veg?'

. when i was waiting for my bus to leave bangalore for chennai, i watched a woman with a wisk broom cleaning the travel agent office. she diligently swept all of the trash into a large pile in the entrance to the office and then diligently swept the large pile into a larger pile sitting a few meters down the sidewalk. and there it stayed. have i mentioned that there is a large pollution problem in india? the men working at the travel agent paid her rs10 for her services.

. 95% of young school girls wear their hair in two braided loops. 95% of men wear moustaches.

. upon arrival in chennai, i saw the following things: 01. a cow had just given birth to a calf. my bus must have driven by this sight a few seconds after the delivery. the calf hadn't yet moved and amniotic fluid was still dripping out of the mother. directly beside the cow, a man was peeing on the ground. i saw about ten more men peeing into ditches further down the road. 02. a truck with a full load of bricks had fallen into a muddy trench on the side of the road. it lay there tilted on its side at a 45 degree angle with little hope of recovery. the rains had created a horrible mess of the dirt roads and i saw other trucks being pushed by mobs of men. 03. i've mentioned this before, but stores here are highly specialized. we passed a long stretch of stores which sold nothing but metal bearings and electrical switches. later we passed a stretch of timber and plywood stores.

. there are a variety of vehicle horn types. some pulse in an annoying pattern, some are high pitched electrical sounds, others sound like animals dying. the combination of horns and the frequency with which drivers use them is absolutely maddening. the bangalore to chennai bus had the pulsing horn type; one pulse at tone x, two pulses at higher tone y, repeat. the driver used it _constantly_.

. i haven't been reserving rooms in advance since i've arrived. seems there are never a shortage of hotels here... and if ever i should run into a bind, i shall devote myself to the rickshaw collectives who will work their magic.

posted by paul at Thu 10 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

09 November 2005

while my sanity gradually drained away

0730. arrival: bangalore. i was surprised at how well rested i felt. still, i needed a shower desperately. as i stepped off the bus and was swarmed by the rickshaw extortion collective, i still wasn't clear about my schedule. was i going to find a bus and continue on to chennai today?... or take an overnight bus this evening?... or stay a night in bangalore and continue the journey eastward domorrow? i told the collective to chill while i sat down on the sidewalk and perused my guidebook.

i didn't relish the thought of getting right back on a bus and wasn't really in the mood for another overnight ride. i decided i'd hang in the city for the day, see the sights, look for a usb card reader, get a good night's sleep, and then leave for chennai early the next morning. i wasn't in the mood to deal with any arguments about hotels and destinations. after a half hearted attempt to convince the drivers that i wanted to go to such and such hotel, i gave in and allowed them to work their high commission magic. i give myself unto you, oh mighty rickshaw extortion collective... take me where you will, charge me exorbitant rates, and collect your commission.

first stop: travel agent where i picked up a bus ticket for chennai. departure time: 0830 tomorrow morning.

second stop: hotel vittals. i paid a little extra for the room (as expected), but there would be hot water. glorious hot water. steamy glorious hot water. my first hot shower in two weeks! i carted my pack up to the third floor and immediately jumped in. ah! the water gradually began to cool after five minutes, but it didn't matter. hot water. what a luxury.

i spent the day wandering the city. train station, down to mg road where i was able to purchase a card reader, and then many hours in a net cafe processing pictures while my sanity gradually drained away. tried for a movie later in the evening, but the only film playing in english was transporter 2. transporter 2 i could do without.

posted by paul at Wed 09 Nov 2005 at 23:59:59 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

08 November 2005

enter: the upgrade.

today was slated to be a hellish travel day: fifteen plus hours from arambol, goa, to bangalore, karnataka, a stepping stone on my journey to the east coast of india. i checked out of the piya guesthouse, put my pack in the guesthouse storage room, and took one last relaxing walk through town and down to the beach. when i'd inititally plotted out my india itinerary in amsterdam i'd only scheduled four days for all of goa, but after arriving i'd known that four days wasn't going to be nearly enough. i'd needed substantially more acclimation and chilldown time after a week in mumbai. now, i was on a recon mission which involved poisonous snakes. destination: mamallopuram via bangalore and chennai.

at 1200 i got a taxi ride to mapusa, arriving around 1245. i had time to kill; as per my ticket, i needed to check in at 1400, half an hour before the bus was scheduled to depart. i decided to confirm the pickup location as a precautionary measure. the city bus schedule was nonexistent and i'd read and heard about many bus delays; i figured it wouldn't hurt to make my presence known to the bus company early in case the bus was delayed or canceled. the young guy staffing the ticketing counter took a look at my ticket and told me to come back at 1415. that's what i'd wanted to hear... correct location and nothing about any delays or cancelations.

i spent the next hour or so wandering through the mapusa markets, stocking up on water and fruit for the fifteen hour overnight journey to bangalore. i spent the remainder of the time chilling on a sidewalk eating some tasty oranges. i returned to the bus stand at 1412. the young guy i'd spoken to earlier looked disgusted.

'i told you to come back at 1415,' he said.

i looked at my watch. 1412.

'that's in three minutes [you fucking prick].' i wanted to slap him.

i took one step backward away from the counter. one of my eyes maintained contact with bus guy; the other looked down at my watch. as soon as three minutes had passed and the second hand had hit the 12 i was going to take a step forward. [soon after i was going to seek out an eye doctor.] unfortunately, i never got the chance. some other customers had shown up and he'd escorted them into the back room to assist them.

at 1431, my bus pulled up and i got on. the bus was nothing more than a shuttle; i assumed i'd transfer to the sleeper bus in panaji.

arrival: panaji. it was here that i learned that the 750 rupees i'd paid for an air conditioned sleeper compartment actually only bought me a single seat/bed in a double compartment. [sigh]. the compartment barely looked big enough for one person, let alone two. enter: the upgrade.

'how much you pay me for a double non-ac?' the bus attendant asked.

weren't there documented prices for a double non-ac compartment? i sensed corruption. '50 rupees?'

'oh... no, no... a single is 550. total is 1100. you pay me 250 more?'

i weighed my option. 15 hours of discomfort or $7 for the upgrade.

'fine.'

the double compartment was on the driver's side of the bus in the far back corner. as i pushed my packs up into the compartment, i looked around for a restroom. none. i took a quick inventory of the food i'd eaten that day and determined i was fairly safe.

the bus pulled out of panaji at around 1600. the ride was bumpy as all hell and at one point i was thrown into the air so high that when i landed i had the air knocked out of my lungs. impressive, i thought. i eventually fell asleep at around 0100.

posted by paul at Tue 08 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

07 November 2005

an incline perfect for resting

today was a wonderfully relaxing nothing day. i ate some delicious breakfast in the morning, made a brief stop at an internet cafe to do some research, and then proceeded directly to the beach. i scrambled out to a series of isolated rocks along the coast jutting out into the water and found a rock with an incline perfect for resting and reading. spread some sunscreen on, laid back, and read a book cover to cover. i haven't bought one book during my travels... all the books i've read have either been given to me or discarded in a hostel or hotel. the latest... michael crichton's 'eaters of the dead'.

my plan had changed slightly. yesterday i'd planned to stay longer in arambol but this morning during the research i'd found what i'd been looking for... a place where i could potentially go out with guides to watch them catch poisonous snakes in the wild.

the irula snake catcher industrial cooperative was conceived in an effort to help the irula people of india. prior to 1972, these people had been very active in the snakeskin industry. when an indian law went into effect which among other things banned the killing of snakes, the livelihood of the irula people was threatened. the cooperative now employs the people to capture snakes to extract the venom for use in antiserum. my goal was to get down to mamallapuram (south of chennai) to see if i could hire a guide to go out into the field. chennai was already on my itinerary; i'd just be heading down sooner than expected. i knew going out was going to be a longshot which would most likely require a little baksheesh... and i didn't even know if the season was right... but i figured i'd give it a try. if nothing else, mamallapuram was recommended highly in my guidebook.

i booked a bus ticket for an overnight trip to bangalore departing tomorrow afternoon with plans to continue to chennai and then mamallapuram soon after.

posted by paul at Mon 07 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

06 November 2005

i should have readied myself

today i'd be checking out of the jolly jolly lester and moving north up the goan coast to the village of arambol. last night the woman at the front desk had asked me where i'd be heading today; after i'd replied she'd told me that a couple staying at the lester was also planning to travel to arambol and that if i wanted, we could split the cost of a taxi. i told her that i'd planned to take a bus (rs20 as opposed to a rs300 split for a taxi) and she proceeded to go into a five minute lecture about the downsides of bus travel and the amount of time it would take me. i was no stranger to the 'upgrade' dissertation; it became apparent that she knew the taxi driver very well. i thanked her and told her i'd think about it and would let her know the next morning (this morning).

while i was eating my breakfast on the front porch of the lester, a couple approached me and asked me if i was the other person with whom they'd be splitting the taxi.

'no, i actually need to go to mapusa first to get some money out of the atm before heading to arambol, so i'm just going to take the bus.' it was the truth. this morning i'd realized that my cash was running low and i knew that atm's were typically absent in the small goan villages. i planned to take a bus to mapusa and then another to arambol, most likely arriving two hours later.

i finished breakfast and waved goodbye to the jolly jolly lester, jumped on the scooter, and drove up the street to return it to the pack of scooter pushers. i asked if one of them could drop me off at the bus stand. as we sped away on the scooter, i should have readied myself for another upgrade dissertation, but as usual i was unprepared.

'business has been slow lately. how much will you give me to take you to mapusa and then arambol?'

'i'm just going to take the bus.'

'how much?'

'50 rupees.'

'50 rupees? come on. i get 300 to just go to arambol from here.'

'i can take the bus for 20.'

'but it will take three hours and the buses will be crowded.'

'i don't mind.'

'how about 300? for mapusa... we'll stop at an atm. then arambol.'

'i'll just take the bus.'

'okay. 200.'

i quickly converted to us dollars... about $5. was it worth $5 for the convenience of having this guy take me to an atm in mapusa and then continue to arambol? yes, [sigh]... it was. i couldn't dispute it.

'fine.' i always had mixed feelings about agreeing to an upgrade. the upgrades were always more convenient but it was difficult to shake the 'defeated' feeling of the haggle.

arrival in arambol. first impression: seemed more laidback than the other goan villages. i pulled out my map to try to get my bearings.

'do you need a taxi?' i'm sure this guy had just seen me get off the scooter.

'no... do you know where priya guesthouse is? or ave maria guesthouse?' he pointed down the road and i was off. after a few more inquiries, i found a sign for 'piya guesthouse'... my guidebook had been wrong about the name. i turned from the main road and quickly caught up to a man walking the same route.

'are you staying at the piya guesthouse?' i asked.

'yes. nice place. very clean. i'll take you there.'

in the ensuing conversation, i learned that james from spain had a serious problem. he'd arrived in goa yesterday and had forgotten a bag in his hotel in mumbai. the bag contained 800 euro in cash, his passport, and his plane ticket home. wow. i wasn't sure how someone could forget something like that, but here he was. he had just gotten off the phone with one of the hotel staff who had confirmed that they had his bag. james was relieved but now had the issue of traveling back to mumbai to retrieve the bag. i wished him luck.

piya guesthouse, like the jolly jolly lester, was a bit of a village unto itself. jack, one of the friendly staff members, escorted me to a room which was nothing more than one of a series of bamboo huts constructed on the roof of a more permanent structure. rs100 a night... about $2.25 us. security was definitely a factor and i asked him if he had any rooms with lockable doors; he told me a room would be available for rs200 at 1700. great. i told him i'd be back at 1700. i loaded all security sensitive items into my small pack and locked up my big pack and then went out to explore the beaches.

my first impression was correct. the main street of arambol was lined with shops, but the salespeople seemed significantly less pushy and the overall feel of the village was the most laid back of any of the goan villages. i liked it immediately. i walked to the beach and relaxed at a small restaurant overlooking the water. at 1700 i returned and checked into my room, a clean and neat double with a palm tree view... and most importantly... no frogs living in the toilet.

posted by paul at Sun 06 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

05 November 2005

a burning sensation rushed over

last night's affair with the feeling and the flystalkers had worn me out and i slept in until 1300. i really didn't have much of a plan for the day... rent a scooter and explore the area, walk the beach, maybe check out the ruins of an abandoned portuguese fort on a hill overlooking the beaches. i got the scooter from a few guys who had approached me the day before. rs150 (less than $4 us) for the day... no identification necessary. i cruised around a bit and then parked down by the beach. it was while walking the beach that the strangest thing occurred.

i've already mentioned the scourge of the sand salespeople. fortunately, they're easy to spot as they're typically carrying a stack of sarongs, a fistful of bead necklaces, or a collection of small wooden drums. with some skillful maneuvering, it's possible to detour around them. the beach in front of me was clear... no sarongs, no necklaces, no drums... only tourists. i kept a watchful eye as i walked along the water. a man walking toward me looked like he'd altered his course slightly to intercept me but he wasn't carrying any of the telltale items, so i didn't think much of it. as he passed me casually he did a doubletake in my direction.

'sir, you have something on your ear.'

i immediately reached up to see what it was but felt nothing. my only thought was that a bird had bombed me (incidentally, if a bird _had_ bombed me, it would have been the third such incident of my travels.).

'no, it's just some wax... hang on one second.'

wax? hanging out of my ear? had i missed something in the mirror this morning?

he reached over and _into_ my ear; only after he'd scraped a waxy substance onto his hand (disturbing) did i realize that he'd employed a small metal instrument that i can only describe as a 'scooper' to remove the wax from my ear. at the moment i was far more concerned that he'd pulled out such a large quantity of wax than that a complete stranger had just shoved a small metal object into my ear.

'wait... there's more,' he said.

and again he scraped, pulled out more wax, and rubbed it off on his hand (still disturbing). all of this had transpired in about 30 seconds while i'd stood there in a stupid daze, still trying to process what was happening. it was at this point that i took a closer look at the wax. something wasn't right here. i clean my ears frequently with q-tips and the wax that this man had removed from my ear didn't look like any earwax i'd ever seen. this entire situation didn't seem right. i was instantly out of the daze and on full alert.

the man took a small black case from his pocket and removed a small piece of cotton from it... 'just some cotton.' ...at the same time he showed me the interior of the case. it contained some other bits of cottom and a few other small metal instruments. a small piece of paper, the size of a business card, was taped sloppily to one interior side of the case. it read:

'this is to certify that [whatever the hell this man's name was] is a professional ear cleaner... [i stopped reading as a burning sensation rushed over my skin and he repeated himself...]'

'see? just some cotton.'

[warning: profanity follows]

HOLY. FUCK! i stepped back quickly as he went to stick the cotton in my ear. i screamed 'NO!' at him so loudly that everyone around us instantly turned their heads. my response did not phase him in the least and he stepped toward me.

'just some cotton.'

i couldn't fucking believe it. i screamed at him again.

'STOP! NOW!'

again... no reaction. the expression on his face had not changed at all despite the fact that i'd just screamed at him. i turned around and walked away in absolute disgust... sickened by what had just occurred... mostly upset that i'd _allowed_ it to occur. he followed me.

'sir... sir... '

my hand formed a fist as i continued to walk and shout 'NO... NO...' i tried to process how i'd been duped by this man. had the instrument been rigged to push out the waxy substance when he'd had it in my ear? my mind was surging.

'sir... sir... '

he was a few steps behind me and i turned around and closed the gap like an exploding animal. i escalated my voice to maximum volume and screamed, yet again, 'LEAVE ME ALONE. NOW. LEAVE ME ALONE.' no reaction... but this time when i turned around, he didn't follow.

what a fucking violation.

as i walked toward the fort on the hill, i told myself that this would not happen again. i took it as a learning experience and didn't dwell on it as i began to ascend the rocks leading to the fort. this is the last i'll say of the scammers and pushy salespeople (barring any exceptional stories): these types of people make up a minute fraction of the indian population. unfortunately, _these_ are the people that most tourists come into contact with most frequently and that is truly a shame.

the fort was nothing more than an exterior wall as far as i could tell. i walked the perimeter and then descended, walked back over to the parking lot where i'd parked the scooter overlooking the beach, watched the sunset, and then rode back to the jolly jolly lester.

tomorrow i'd be leaving for arambol, another small goan beach village north of vagator. i vowed to start my indian travels fresh tomorrow... clearing my mind, learning from my experiences.

posted by paul at Sat 05 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

04 November 2005

whose condition seemed to be deteriorating

checkout time at the afonso guesthouse in panjim, goa, was 0900, a little early for my taste; i much prefer the 1000, 1100, or in rare cases, 1200 checkout hotels. i had another delicious omelette, some goan toast, and two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, checked my room one last time and then bid farewell to the beyond friendly family who ran the hotel. back over the footbridge to the bus station... first bus to mapusa and then another to vagator.

i enjoyed both of the bus rides as i had the ride the day before... not exactly sure why. the exterior of each bus was a patchwork of metal siding; the interior dirty, crowded, and permeated with an unpleasant odor. i could have taken a 300 rupee taxi from panjim to vagator, but riding the buses made me feel closer to the average local. the bus from panjim to mapusa cost 9 rupees and the bus from mapusa to vagator cost 7 rupees if i remember correctly.

arrival in vagator. i pulled out my map to get my bearings and started to walk in the direction of the beach, toward most of the accomodation in the area. i hadn't walked for more than two minutes when a man rode up on a scooter and asked if i needed a room. i wasn't sure how to respond.

'sure, i'm looking for a room.'

'get on. i'll take you to julie jolly.'

i definitely remembered the name from my guidebook and scrambled to find the vagator accomodation page in my guidebook. the book indicated that three hotels, jolly jolly lester, jolly jolly roma, and julie jolly were all run by the same family and were well recommended. it looked like jolly jolly lester had the best location so i asked scooterguy if he could take me there.

'sure, same owner.'

i jumped on the back of the scooter and we took off. it took a few seconds for the driver to adjust to the added weight and we wobbled from side to side until he'd worked up enough speed to stabilize. we arrived at jolly jolly lester within a minute, he beeped the scooter horn, and a smiling woman appeared at the front desk.

'do you have a room available?'

she led me through a series of paths between several guesthouse buildings, finally stopping at room 2 in the far building. the room appeared clean and included a bathroom with western style toilet and a shower. i knew hot water would be wishful thinking, but i really haven't minded the cold showers in india... very refreshing after a long day in the hot sun. i told her i'd take it, pleased that i'd found a room so quickly and could dump my pack and go out to explore the area. 300 rupees a night; she talked me into staying two nights after using the familiar 'i can't guarantee you'll be able to stay tomorrow because that's my last free room' tactic. fine. i'd planned to stay two nights anyway, but would have preferred the flexibility.

after i'd handed over 600 rupees she told me not to leave any valuables in the room. damn... should have asked about security before i'd paid... it had slipped my mind.

'why? is theft common here?' when she'd shown me the room, she'd pointed out that i could use my own padlock to lock the front door.

'we've had a couple of problems.'

'what happened?'

'sometimes people come home drunk late at night and forget to lock their door and have had things stolen.'

i didn't plan on becoming so intoxicated that i'd forget to lock the door, but i didn't like the thought that a thief would enter a room with someone else in it. bold.

'and if i lock the door?'

'some people have used sticks through the window to pull things out.'

whoa. okay then. lock the door. put nothing by the window. i returned to the room to scout the security situation and noted that each of the windows was fitted with sturdy bars. i checked for any potential security risks and finding none decided it was time to explore the beaches. i sat down on a chair and began digging through my bags for my sunscreen and during the search a tiny frog jumped out from under the bed and nearly gave me a heart attack. i was already on edge due to the security concerns and the sudden movement on the floor shot my adrenaline and made my skin tingle. no worries... just a teeny frog.

'hello, teeny frog. and what is your name, sir?' have i mentioned that it would be _great_ to have a traveling companion here in india? the frog's name was luke flystalker and i liked him immediately, despite the scare. i eventually got him to pose for a picture after he found his way out the front door.

i made my way down to the beaches of vagator and found them to be nice, but not overly breathtaking, and i was slightly aggravated to see the touts and trinket and garment selling merchants combing for prey. i'm still trying to adjust to dealing with these people... it's just so so frustrating... to the point where it is really impacting my travels and perception of india. all westerners are targeted with furious intensity and persistance and the salespeople will not respond to the word 'no' unless it is delivered with an escalated, almost shouting, tone. it really goes against my nature.

two women caught me off guard on the beach and instead of refusing to talk with them outright, i allowed myself to be pulled into the 'where are you from and what's your name?' conversation. i _had_ planned to look around for some very light pants for the heat, but i wasn't going to tell either of them that and i continued the 'i'm not interested' attitude. long story short, i bought a pair of black ninja pants for 350 rupees... about $8 us... from one of the women. the price she gave me initially was rs1250 and she didn't seem happy even after i'd given her the money, so i suppose i got a decent deal. she should have considered any purchase a victory.

i watched the sunset on the beach and then returned to my room at the jolly jolly lester where i discovered luke flystalker sitting peacfully on the chair.

'hello sir, and how are you doing this evening?'

i planned to hit up a restaurant with outdoor seating, so i opened my pack to pull out my mosquito repellant. while i was rooting through the small pocket of my bag, something lunged at my hand and rapidly scurried up my arm. 'HOLY SHIT!' [accompanied by the 'holy shit some little critter is crawling up my arm' swat swat swipe swipe dance.] a gigantic roach fell to the floor and ran into a crevice in my backpack... into the space which holds the waist belt of the pack. i knew it would be nearly impossible to flush it out of there and just had to hope that it would find its own way out over the next day.

so... thieves, frogs, and roaches.

i had a delicious chicken and potato dinner at the nearby bamboo palace, recommended by the woman who ran jj lester, and returned to an empty room, slightly disappointed that luke was not around to chat. i took a refreshing cold shower, broke out my sleeping sack, doublechecked the locks on the door, climbed into the sack, zipped it tightly to keep out any crawling indian beasties, set my brain to wake me up to any 'thief breaking into my room' sound, and drifted off to sleep.

end of my day, right? wrong.

a few days ago i reported that my digestive system had made an exceptional transition to indian cuisine. well, the situation has changed slightly and recently i've found myself noting the location of the nearest restroom facility after each meal. a few hours after falling asleep, i woke up with... 'the feeling.'

me to the feeling: 'can't this wait until morning... please?'

the feeling: 'most certainly not. this is happening right here, right now... i'd advise you to head into the bathroom immediately.'

[sigh]. i unzipped the sack, slipped on my bathroom flipflops, hit the lights, and stepped into the bathroom.

what the hell was that?

i kicked gently at the wastebasket on the floor and a roach (the roach?) zoomed out and ran up the side of the toilet bowl.

fantastic.

i kicked again and it scurried away behind the toilet, out of sight. i wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing... i think i'd have preferred to keep an eye on my enemy, especially given the vulnerable position necessitated by the task at hand.

the feeling: 'uh... are you playing with a bug right now? apparently you don't understand the situation. let me make things clear for you.'

and with that said, the feeling made things _very_ clear. i'd forgotten my toilet paper and scrambled out to grab the last precious roll and then quickly back into the bathroom where i used the majority of the roll to line the toilet seat. done. i turned around, dropped my pants, and just as i was about to sit down, i saw a dark movement in the bowl.

oh no... the roach.

the feeling: 'are you kidding me?'

i pulled my pants back up and turned around for a better look.

luke flystalker: 'hello.'

noooo! it wasn't the roach at all. luke flystalker was swimming gleefully in the water. there was a _frog_ in the toilet bowl... and at the most inopportune time.

the feeling: 'you have exactly 30 seconds to deal with this situation and then we're going to rock... frog or no frog.'

what do i do? i had no time...

'i'm sorry, luke... may the force be with you.'

[flush]

but the situation didn't get better.

in fact, it got worse...

AAAAHHHH! luke flystalker's wife and child had been hanging out under the rim and were swept down by the rushing torrent of water. when the water stopped, three frogs were scrambling wildly to get out of the bowl. the child flystalker managed to jump out and onto the floor. i quickly opened the bathroom door and shepherded him out. the feeling was stabbing at me, so i flushed again anxiously but there wasn't enough water to do much.

the feeling: 'i warned you. let's do this.'

the first flush had thoroughly soaked my toilet paper seat cover and had rendered it completely ineffectual. i couldn't sit down on the wet seat, so i turned around, pulled down my pants, hovered about 10 centimeters above the rim of the toilet, and apologized outloud to the flystalkers. i had no choice at that point; the feeling had taken over.

i'm not going to go into the details, but suffice it to say that whatever was inside of me wanted to get out... in a hurry... and combined with the high altitude... well... things weren't pretty. the remaining toilet paper was not nearly enough for the job... hell, it wasn't enough to get _started_ on the job. i folded up the used paper as best i could and laid it on the bathroom floor, remembering a key point on the sign hanging on the wall of the bedroom: 'do not throw toilet paper in w.c.'

i hobbled around to see how luke and his wife had fared. both were still swimming; beyond that you'll have to use your imagination... [or, you can check out the photo when i post it. oh yes, there is a photo.]

a shower was my only option at this point. i hobbled out of the bathroom to the far end of the bedroom, hit the bedroom lights, and then hobbled back over to the bathroom where i took off my clothes, taking special care to 'contain the situation'. when i opened the bathroom door, i discovered luke's wife sitting on the floor next to the roach which had come out to see what all the commotion was about. i apologized again and escorted her out of the bathroom. luke was still scrambling as i turned on the shower... nothing more than a nozzle hanging out of the wall. i picked up the soaked pieces of paper lining the toilet seat and then directed the water into the toilet in an attempt to help out the poor frog whose condition seemed to be deteriorating rapidly.

i cleaned myself thoroughly and then checked on luke. the shower water had cleared the toilet water significantly, but the frog was nowhere to be seen. i flushed a few times and wished him a fond farewell. dried off, got dressed, returned to the my sleep sack, and zipped it up tightly.

what a truly bizarre situation. the feeling made a return appearance later in the night but was easily combatted with a couple of tums and sheer willpower. i never saw luke flystalker again.

posted by paul at Fri 04 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (5)

03 November 2005

a randomness of india

it's not uncommon to see two men walking down the street while one has his arm around the other's shoulders. sources tell me this is merely an expression of comradery. i've definitely seen this behavior in both the us and europe, although not as frequently as in india; what i've not seen however is two assumedly heterosexual men holding hands while walking or standing together. the same sources tell me this too is merely an expression of comradery in india.

99% of all trucks on the road have the following words painted on the back of the truck: 'horn OK please'. as if drivers weren't using their horns enough, these signs _request_ others to use their horn to alert the truck driver in case he has his windows up. [?]

okay... the next bit of randomness is interactive. imagine a bindi in the center of your forehead. now, imagine an elongated sideways figure eight (take the number 8, squish it so it's long and thin, and then tilt it sidways so it looks like an infinity symbol) about a meter in front of your forehead. here is the interactive part... i expect all of you to do this no matter where you're sitting right now: loosen your neck muscles and move your head by using the imaginary bindi on your forehead to trace the imaginary figure eight in front of you. congratulations, you have mastered the indian head wobble... a sort of meshing of the 'yes' nod and the 'no' shake. i've not seen this head movement anywhere but india and i've seen it used to express the positive, the negative, and countless other expressions.

i've seen the swastika symbol throughout mumbai and goa. surely this symbol does not represent the national socialists of germany, but something far different. i need to do some research.

i've been trying to do my job as american ambassador in goa... while walking on the calangute beach i picked up a water bottle that someone had discarded. i could _not_ find a garbage bin. no wonder there is so much litter in india... there aren't any garbage bins. now, granted, garbage bins would mean unavailable money would need to go to workers who had to drive around and empty those bins, but they would go a long way to help cut down on litter. litter is a very large issue in india and piles of garbage on the side of the street is not an uncommon sight, even in goa.

i've seen both women and men carrying some immense things on their head. i've taken a few pics and will try to post them when i'm able. speaking of pics, i feel the photos i've taken so far in india have been less than stellar.

i've seen four people riding on a two person scooter... typically families. from front to back, the typical order is older child (standing), father (driving), younger child (completely squashed), and mother (sitting sideways).

i want to go on a guided expedition to dig a king cobra out of the sand. if any of you have time to do some research for me, let me know. i'm completely serious about this.

i got my first mosquito bite yesterday. no worries; i've been taking my malaria medication regularly.

the straws in india are very flimsy and i haven't used one that hasn't seemed like it's had a hole in it. half drink, half air.

the trees in india have the most character of any i've seen during my travels. one type of tree has a trunk made up of many smaller trunks and grows to massive sizes. another type has small branches which grow downwards from the main branches. other trees have trunks which are gigantically contorted and twisted. very beautiful.

posted by paul at Thu 03 Nov 2005 at 00:00:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (8)

i can still feel

i was definitely excited to be in goa. i had a declicious omelette and goan bread at the hotel and was on the panjim streets by 1000 for a relaxing new city walk. the weather was beautiful, if just a little hot. it's very interesting... it's rare that you see an indian wearing shorts despite the intense heat. i planned to do some wandering on my own and then take a walking tour outlined in my guidebook. as has typically been the case on my new city walks in india, it wasn't long before i'd completely lost track of my location on the map and was taking turns arbitrarily. [wrong turn. he saw me.] one of the evil henchmen of the drumseller gang spotted me and descended on me like a vicious vulture.

henchman: 'nice drum. for you... very cheap. where are you doing?'

me: 'this direction...'

henchman: 'i'll come with you.' [they _always_ come with you.] 'you're going to the market?'

me: 'sure man... that's _exactly_ where i'm going. the freaking market. i just can't get enough. can't wait... let's go.'

i'll give him credit... he got the hint long before most of the others usually do and decided to prey on someone else. the sidetrack to the market put me back on one of the main strets in the vicinity of a computer store and i stopped in to see if they sold compact flash card readers. the salesman was at the opposite end of the spectrum as the drumseller and could barely have been bothered to look up from his newspaper to respond to my inquiry about the card reader. negative. i'm very close to being able to process the photos without my laptop... the card reader should be the last thing i need, but i'm guessing i'll have to wait until i get to bangalore before i'll be able to fine one.

by noon the sun was squezing the life from me and i decided to take a pitstop back at the hotel to cool down and change into shorts before starting the guide's walking tour. now, mind you, i was wearing my pants/shorts combo gear and could have converted on the fly, but the shorts of the combo are just a little too short and harken the days of colored striped tube socks and breakdancing [never mind that i still own the socks and can rock the 'glide' better than turbo], so i generaly prefer to just wear my regular pair of shorts rather than converting the pants. but i always have the option.

i spent a few hours walking the guided tour outlined in the book, passing the chapel of st. sebastian, the panjim inn, the maruti temple, the bishop's palace, the chief minister's residence, and the church of our lady of immaculate conception.

time to try out the city buses. calangute and baga were just up the coast and i wanted to check them out. i found the bus station easy enough, but it appeared chaos reigned as far as the schedules were concerned. it took several minutes to determine that in fact there _were_ no schedules (as far as i could tell). drivers shouted out their destination town and people climbed aboard. when the bus was full, it left.

had a very fun time on the bus and a nice time walking around calangute and up to baga. took the bus back and ate some more goan food: chicken xacuti, goan bread, chapati, and a very powerful goan spirit called fenny made from cashews. i can still feel the burn.

posted by paul at Thu 03 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

02 November 2005

swiping innocuously at the air

today i'd be leaving the hyperstatic of mumbai for the peaceful tranquility of goa. i'd slept in the sheetless beds of the hotel volga for six nights, give or take a night due to insomina induced by the diwali celebratory explosions, and as is the case with most of the private rooms i've stayed in for a few nights, my belongings were scattered about the room. it took me an hour to organize and compress everything back down to transportable size. although i like the privacy and security of private hotel rooms, it takes far more effort to meet other travellers; i do miss the family type environment of the european hostels a bit.

my flight was leaving in the afternoon... i grabbed my last meal at leopold's and then checked out of the volga, leaving my pack unattended in their hallway. progress or regression? at the beginning of the trip i never would have left my back unattended. and in india? i should take care not to become lax with security, although the pack only contains replacable items such as clothing, toiletries, and sleeping sack and oftentimes (usually while walking between a train or bus station and the next hostel or hotel) i silently considered the thought of a stolen pack as a potentially liberating experience.

after spending some time in the internet cafe doing some last minute writing, i walked back to the hotel and stopped in the entranceway to make a quick call to a hotel in panaji, goa, to reserve a room. room secured. up the stairs to grab my pack... back down... and one final pause for final check and inventory. check. check. check. the plane ticket is missing. [crisis mode: all systems to full alert.]. i'd stuffed the plane ticket in my india guidebook and had just used the guidebook when calling to reserve the room... the ticket must have fallen out. it took only a few seconds to locate the ticket sitting on the stairs in the entrance [where it wasn't uncommon to see several of the street people milling about]. disaster averted.

back on the street. one billion taxis located.

me: 'i'm going to the airport.'

driver: 'get in.'

me: 'how much?'

driver: '400.'

me: 'no, 350.'

driver: 'okay, 300.'

[?] i was certain he said 300.

me: 'sure, 300.'

i put my pack in the trunk and hopped in.

me: '300, right?'

driver: '350.'

situations like this were extremely common in mumbai. at a restaurant, for example...

me: 'two pieces of toast, please.'

waiter: 'two pieces, okay.'

waiter... reading back my order after i'd finished: 'one piece of toast.'

me: 'no, i'm sorry... two pieces.'

waiter: 'okay, two pieces.'

i'm sure the language barrier is causing some of the confusion, but in some cases the other person is speaking flawless english, so apparently there are other issues at play.

the domestic and international airports are not connected in mumbai and i believe a free bus service is provided to shuttle passengers back and forth. the driver dropped me off at the domestic airport upon my request because i was in fact flying to a destination within india. upon presentation of my ticket to a security guard at the first check-in station however i learned that all air india flights depart from the international airport. the guard told me to take an autorickshaw to the international airport for 35 rupees ('don't pay more than 35.'). i'm sure i could have waited for the shuttle, but i didn't want to waste more time than necessary.

the driver of the rickshaw at the front of the pack motioned me over.

me: 'i'm going to international airport.'

driver: 'okay, get in.'

me: 'how much?'

driver: '50 rupees.'

me: '35.'

driver: 'no, 50.' i began to walk to the next rickshaw in the line. 'wait, wait... okay, 35.' now, 15 rupees is the equivalent of about $.25 us and i truly don't consider myself a close-fisted miser, but something within me had snapped... i'd grown tired of the beatdown and wanted to press the issue. i'll comment more on this in a later entry i'm sure.

i only had a rs100 note. perfect. i should make sure he has change before i get in.

me: 'do you have change for a 100?'

driver: 'yes. get in.'

me: 'no, let me pay now.'

of course he didn't have change for the 100. i began walking to the next rickshaw in line.

driver: 'no, i'll get change.'

fine... in. we proceeded to drive around for the next fifteen minutes, stopping at various shops to see if he could get change. he continued to ask me 'do you have a dollar?' i'm not kidding... at least 10 times. to the first eight, i responded nicely, 'no.' on the ninth time, i tapped him on the shoulder while he was driving and waited for him to turn around... i then looked him squarely in the eyes and with a very firm and elevated tone i said 'NO. I DO _NOT_ HAVE A DOLLAR.' on the tenth time, i reverted back to the simple and nice 'no.' i was in perfect position to strangle him and only through willful determination was i able to restrain myself.

he finally got change, but only after stopping at a gas station to fill up. we arrived at the international airport approximately 25 minutes after i'd stepped in the rickshaw... it was at that point that he handed over my change... 50 rupees.

'keep it coming.'

he handed over another 10.

'five more.'

he smiled and said 'come on... it's five.'

my hands reached out to grab his neck, but my legs were faster and i was outside of the rickshaw when my clenching hands came together... swiping innocuously at the air.

and once again i've spent far too long commenting on the ridiculous travel intricasies and left the fun part lacking in substance. i'll do my best.

i sensed goa's gentle pace during the taxi ride from the airport to my hotel. the bright red sun was an intense fire in the sky. the owners of the hotel were so incredibly nice. the goan dinner at a nearby restaurant was delicious. and all of the mumbai frenzy had disappeared. this is exactly what i needed.

[there's a chance i'll expand on my goa arrival tomorrow, but i need to get out of this net cafe right now.]

posted by paul at Wed 02 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

01 November 2005

the clear leaders in pure celebratory explosion

i'll take a different approach. given the very unfortunate terrorist bombings in bali, london, and delhi, i'm afraid my original tongue in cheek opener 'let's be clear about one point: i'm no stranger to explosives.' doesn't quite ring with the humorous tone i'd intended and opens the door to misinterpretation for those who don't know me well.

growing up as a child in pennsylvania, the fourth of july meant one thing: fireworks. despite the state laws banning certain types of fireworks, there always seemed to be an abundant supply of sparklers, smoke bombs, firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, jumping jacks, m80's, and miscellaneous other gun powder packed goodies around the neighborhood at the beginning of july. i don't think anything turned my dad into a teenager again as much as igniting explosives with the other neighborhood dads. each year would be better than the last... each year one neighbor would try to outdo the other... each year the fourth of july night sky would be brighter. bigger. better. louder. POW!

however...

none of my pennsylvania fourth of july's compared to the explosive power of the diwali celebrations in mumbai's colaba area this evening. while the states excel in the area of bright, beautiful, colorful airborne fireworks, it seems the indians are the clear leaders in pure celebratory explosion. the day began at 0730 when a madman (no doubt smiling maniacally) set off a string of firecrackers on the street below my window. i'm guessing i woke up after a few seconds... and the noise continued without interruption for at least 20 additional seconds. good morning.

the frequency of the explosions increased throughout the day until nightfall, when the street below my hotel became a complete chaos of children running around igniting firecrackers... wait, the term 'firecrackers' is not the best word because it implies (at least to me) a small [bang!] when really these children were igniting [kkkkkkaaaaaAAAAAPOOOW! llooww rruummbbllee.]... a complete chaos of children running around igniting explosives that were way out of the league of anything i'd witnessed (except in those special 'oh, you should hear what byron's dad got a hold of this year' situations in pennsylvania). i mean damn... the street was a frenzy of explosion... and i'm talking right in the downtown area of mumbai while cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and scooters continued to drive by. my eardrums rumbled with each of the big explosions and i eventually grabbed my earplugs in an effort to prevent escalated [eeeeeeee]. i know for a fact that the people standing down on the street had to have experienced some type of ear damage that night... i went down a little later and even with the earplugs my head was hurting. (of course it could have been the flaming piece of firecracker that landed _directly_ in the center of my scalp. 'hmm... that's strange... wonder what tha... WHOA!' if it hadn't been for the recent buzzcut i think my head would have gone up like a torch.).

that was my initiation into the indian festival of lights. [_wow_] so glad i stayed for diwali in mumbai.

earlier in the day i'd met two cool kids, viraj and gunjan, who had approached me while i was relaxing down by the gateway of india. like the day before, these kids didn't want anything from me... just wanted to hang. i'd guess they were 13 or 14. they'd said that they'd said hello to other tourists in the area and that most had just ignored them. it's really a shame that due to the high number of touts, most tourists are already so defensive that genuine interactions don't occur as frequently as they should.

[slight digression]
i haven't talked much about the food situation here. as you may have noticed from my previous entries, i've been spending a lot of time in a restaurant called leopold's. leopold's is directly under my hotel, the food is good and cheap, the place is very clean, and the service is excellent... more importantly, i needed a stable safe haven from the streets for these first days in india. surprisingly, my stomach has been extremely resilient with the transition to local cuisine, although i must admit leopold's definitely seems to cater to tourists so i'm sure i've been experiencing a watered down version of the local food. i have been trying new things... mostly chicken dishes... even going so far as to order items i know absolutely nothing about... and in all cases i've been pleasantly surprised.
[end digression]

tomorrow... goa. i didn't have the opportunity to visit the prince of wales museum or elephanta island while i was in mumbai... i'd saved those for another day.

posted by paul at Tue 01 Nov 2005 at 00:00:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

31 October 2005

calling to me from the confines

i really needed to take care of my travel arrangements for the upcoming months. this long term travel has been a bit of a balancing act. i want to allow myself enough flexibility to change plans if i really enjoy a particular spot and want to spend extra time there. on the other hand, the cheapest fares are usually secured only by booking at least a month in advance. given the timing, i still think the decision to cut out china is a good one... it allows me to concentrate more on the southeast asian countries. i know i'll be back in asia at some point in my life.

i'd already been to air india and they would not issue me a delhi -> bangkok ticket until i could prove that i'd be leaving thailand by showing an onward travel ticket. i'd planned to travel from thailand overland through malaysia and into singapore where i would catch a flight to indonesia. a flight from singapore to jakarta, indonesia, would prove onward travel. fortunately, singapore airlines offers e-ticketing, so i booked my flight, printed out my confirmation information, and walked back to the air india office.

ticket from mumbai -> goa: secured. back to the more important ticket: delhi -> bangkok. the man looked at my confirmation printout intently and seemed skeptical... asking how i intended to get from bangkok to singapore. 'i'll be taking a train or bus.' he looked at me strangely and consulted with a nearby woman in hindi. she typed a bit into her computer and asked me the same question the man had just asked a moment earlier... 'how are you getting to singapore from bangkok? you need to show how you're going to get to singapore.' [sigh] a repeat of my last visit.

me: 'i'll be traveling overland by train or bus.'

woman: 'but you can't get to singapore overland.'

shit. had a made a geography mistake? no, i was certain that thailand borders malaysia and that there is a connection to singapore from malaysia. i wished i'd brought my se asia guidebook as proof.

me: 'i'm sure i can. those countries are connected.'

the woman consulted with yet another woman in hindi.

second woman: 'you can get from malaysia to singapore, but not thailand to malaysia.'

me: 'no, i'm sure i can. thailand shares a border with malaysia.' i hoped that there was in fact a border crossing station along that border... this was the one thing that i wasn't certain of. damn, should've brought the book.

the second woman broke out a world atlas and began flipping through the pages. i would be vindicated. sure enough... thailand shares a border with malaysia.

second woman: 'but you won't be able to travel down there. no one does it. you'd have to take a motorcycle... maybe there would be a bus. no one would do that though.'

me: 'but i'm a backpacker. that's what i do. that's _all_ i do.' [i absolutely _will not stop_ until i've crossed that border!]

i really wished i'd brought my guidebook to consult the overland routes from thailand to malaysia. as i continued to argue my point with the second woman, the first woman typed madly into her computer and looked up. 'you can buy a return ticket to india for only rs2500 more.' quick calculation... about $55 us. [sigh]. i sensed it was the only way they were going to sell me the ticket. they'd worn me down and had won the battle. i could have left and returned with my guidebook, but i didn't think that would get me anywhere and it would have just overloaded my day with admin. i left the office with three tickets: mumbai -> goa, delhi -> bangkok, bangkok -> delhi.

done. flights secured. what a great feeling. i decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon in mumbai's fort area.

i needed to learn more about cricket. i recently saw an interview with an indian who said that he thought the two most cohesive forces in indian society were cricket and bollywood. lee and simon were cricket fanatics and had explained the rules to me. while walking near the bombay university, i saw several games in progress... some with players that appeared to be from an organized club... others just pick-up games. while i was watching, several children came up to me and started chatting. i sensed straightaway that this was a genuine conversation... one of the first i've had here... that wouldn't eventually be steered towards money. i told the children that i wanted to learn more about cricket and that was really all i needed to say. all were incredibly excited. 'photo! photo!' i took several photos of the cricket superstars in various poses and then handed over my camera so that they could get a few shots of me. great kids. i finally left with a big smile on my face.

i wandered the fort area in a similar fashion as i'd wandered in the north side of the city. within ten minutes, i had officially lost track of where i was on the map. more streets... more markets... i eventually made my way back to colaba.

yet another nap... then out for food where i ran into lee and simon on their way back to the terrace restaurant we'd visited the day before. some delicious chicken tikka laziz... then back to the gokul bar... an internet cafe visit... and finally back to the hotel.

despite the slight complications in the air india office, i had a great day. i feel like i'm finally adjusting to the pace of the city... learning how to deal with people better... in general just relaxing more. the sights of the city are becoming less foreign... i know what to expect when i walk out the door of my hotel each morning. i did miss halloween a bit... it's without a doubt my favorite holiday and my grip reaper costume was sitting idle and calling to me from the confines of the storage space in boston. but this year i'd be celebrating an entirely different holiday on the other side of the planet... one of the biggest in india... diwali! a festival of lights. the fireworks had already begun.

posted by paul at Mon 31 Oct 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

30 October 2005

the ability to tear away

lee and i were down in leopold a little before 0800 to meet the bollywood recruiters and grab some breakfast. i expected to see a large group of travellers... the guy who had spoken to me yesterday said he was planning to recruit 20 people. leopold was virtually deserted and i immediately got a bad feeling about the situation. i pretty much made my mind up right then that i wouldn't be attending the shoot.

at around 0815 one of the guys i'd met the day before showed up and was standing outside the restaurant. lee and i weren't sure if he'd recognized us or if he was just waiting for others to show. we continued with our breakfast and at 0830 an english guy came in and apologized for the interruption, introduced himself as simon, and asked us if we were planning to attend the shoot. four foreigners had shown up... simon, two swedish girls, and one latvian girl. lee eventually decided to join them; i told them i'd pass. off they went in the taxi.

i hadn't been feeling very well this morning. not sure if it was a food reaction or the late last night was getting to me. the heavy heat here also has the ability to tear away at energy reserves. i returned to my hotel room, lied down in my bed, and slept for a full eight hours, shocking awake at about 1700. i couldn't believe that i'd slept that long, but apparently my body needed the rest.

i jumped in the shower and went to grab some food. the restaurant was packed, but after a brief wait, i sat down at a two person table and ordered my food. i was about halfway through my meal when the restaurant manager asked if i minded if he sat someone else at my table. the pre-trip me would have preferred to eat alone... sharing tables with strangers really isn't something that occurs in the states. the current me however was delighted to have some company. an indian man, ravinder pal, sat down and we began talking about his job and my travels. he was a construction manager from delhi, down in mumbai to supervise a project. he'd only stopped in to have a beer and departed soon after, but not before giving me his phone number and email address, telling me to contact him if i needed anything when i was in delhi. very nice guy.

about two minutes after pal had left... tap on the shoulder... lee was back from the shoot. apparently he'd had a lot of fun. particularly interesting to him was the troop of russian dancers who had performed at the shoot. ha. sounded like i'd missed out. still, i'd felt so drained in the morning that a long day of standing around would have been difficult.

we met up with the other recruits and kiran, a different casting recruiter, and headed over to a very nice rooftop bar overlooking the water. had a great night hanging with the bollywood stars.

posted by paul at Sun 30 Oct 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

29 October 2005

to make sure it wasn't dead

i'm still in the process of adjusting my standard operating procedure here in india. i think i'm generally a friendly person and so it's very difficult to completely ignore a smiling stranger saying 'hello' on the street. unfortunately, that's what must be done. 99% of those who are saying 'hello' inevitably steer the conversation into a business transaction. i'm considering making up some small cards with the following message:

'i mean no disrespect, but i'm not interested in visiting any stores, taking any tours, or giving donations. if you've said hello for any other reason or you were genuinely interested in becoming a friend, then please accept my apologies for ignoring you. best wishes.'

of course i could always take a less diplomatic approach:

'hello, friend... friend... hello, friend...'

'if you were my friend you would know my name... now fuck off.'

as i was walking to a restaurant for breakfast, a man quickly shouted out 'hello, i'm from bollywood.' i ignored him and ducked into the safe haven of the restaurant. when i emerged an hour later, he was still there... again 'hello, i'm from bollywood and we're casting extras.' i stopped and asked him for identification and he produced a flimsy business card which provided four phone numbers and the name of his casting company. i told him i'd be interested but that i was concerned about the validity of his offer. we talked for a few minutes and while he sounded genuine, i was still skeptical. i gave him my name and he told me to meet at a restaurant at 0800 tomorrow. i planned to do some research before the meeting.

back at the hotel one of the staff told me i'd received a call from dhl and that there was a problem with my shipment. blick. i gave them a call and a woman told me that the value i'd given for the package was too high [?], that dhl would only ship packages valued at a maximum of rs20,000. she asked me to return to the office to change the value of the package... [sigh]... i agreed.

i'd made the call from the hotel lobby and there i met australian lee. i mentioned that i'd just been recruited for a bollywood film and he said he'd been as well. he said he'd shown the business card to the hotel staff and that they'd said they'd seen it before. i felt better about the offer; at least i'd know one of the other recruits. we made plans to go out for a drink later in the evening and then i was off to dhl.

arrival; change the value; done. i hadn't planned to walk back into that area of town again but decided to continue on in the same direction in order to see mani bhavan, a house in which ghandi had lived and worked, now housing a museum.

i stopped to watch some boys play cricket in a park. cricket is gigantic here. onward, i saw an interesting sign and stopped to take a picture... something to the effect of 'if you park in front of this street we will deflate your tires.' ha. some men saw me taking a picture of the sign and obviously thought i'd mistaken the house for mani bhavan... i walked over and asked them to point me in the right direction and they obliged, laughing.

i really enjoyed the exhibits in the small museum and definitely learned a lot about ghandi's life. such a gentle and peaceful man. many pictures and copies of letters that he'd written, one to hitler in 1939 imploring him to stop the progression to war.

i left mani bhavan and decided to take a different way home. the guidebook map i've been using is not very detailed and most of the streets are not named. i decided on a general walking plan, codename: walk south, and started off. within ten minutes i'd already lost track of where i was on the map but felt i was still headed in the right direction... south.

i found my way to a giant outdoor market... food, clothing, jewelry... completely packed with people. scooters and motorcycles everywhere. dogs sleeping on the sidewalk. i even passed a sleeping cat on the sidewalk and took a pic... amidst all of the horns and foot traffic... sleeping... i couldn't believe it and took a closer look to make sure it wasn't dead. ha. shops appear to be highly specialized... one selling just long metal rods... one selling just electric motors. the best word to describe this city continues to be 'intense'. there is just so much energy... so many people... so much traffic... so many foreign sights. as i walked on the sheer amount of incoming energy was overwhelming and i almost gave up my walk to hail a taxi. i decided to walk on for another half hour to see if i could locate one of the main streets and figure out where i was. eventually i came upon the charni road train station and remembered that it was on my map. on the map the train station was very near the water... i got my bearings and discovered that i was in fact walking due north, not south. somewhere in the marketplace i'd gotten mixed up and had lost my sense of direction.

i walked back along the water and caught a lovely pic of the sunset. finally i made it back to colaba, but not before seeing some interesting flying creatures. are you familiar with the scene in indiana jones and the temple of doom where dr. jones says 'those aren't birds, sweetheart. those are giant vampire bats.' yep... that size. no kidding, these bats were huge.

lee had left a note on my hotel door... he was taking a nap and wanted to meet up later. i left a note on his door letting him know i was going to grab some food and that if he woke up he could meet me down in the restaurant. leopold was packed and i ended up sharing a four person table with an indian named ranajoy. as we were talking about my travels, a man at a nearby table, tom from england, overheard us talking about vietnam and leaned over to offer his thoughts... he'd traveled there and had had an amazing time. i asked him to join us... lee eventually showed up... and the four of us had dinner together.

after dinner, lee, tom, and i decided to head to a local bar called 'gokul' where i drank much more thank i'd intended. fortunately, the hotel was just around the corner.

yet another day of intensity in mumbai. i really hope i'm doing an adequate job of conveying how frenetic this city is. i'm slowly adjusting to the frantic pace and i think it will take some more time before everything seems less foreign. i wonder if other indian cities will be so overwhelming.

posted by paul at Sat 29 Oct 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 October 2005

a wall to the face

yesterday evening as i was eating my chicken curry rice and sipping my freshly squeezed delicious orange juice, an internal shock hit me like a wall to the face when i remembered...

[!CRACK!] the third twinrix vaccination for hepatitis a and b.

three shots are required: the first at time zero, the second at time zero plus one month, and the third at time zero plus six months. i received the first vaccination in february and the second in march. the nurse at the travel clinic in boston had recommended getting the third in june when i returned to the states for the wedding even though only four and a half months would have elapsed since the first shot. in june i visited a clinic in north carolina but the nurse refused to give me the shot because the full six months hadn't elapsed. grr. fine. i'd planned to get the shot somewhere in europe. and somehow this very important thing had completely slipped my mind... until last night while i was eating in india. [!CRACK!]

i went to sleep last night planning my missions for today, disappointed that much of the day would be consumed with admin duties.

01. locate an appropriate medical facility and get the third twinrix shot.

02. go to air india and book my flight from delhi to bangkok.

03. search for a replacement memory module for my computer; if one could not be located, ship the computer to the states via dhl.

04. call sujata's parents.

my hotel room is directly next to the reception area and so the phone and doorbell are regular sleep killers. i woke up at 0500... not sure if an outside noise had shocked me awake or whether my body was still operating in the old time zone. i think it was the latter. i couldn't get back to sleep and decided to do some mission research in my india guidebook. perfect. two medical facilities were mentioned... bombay hospital and breach candy hospital. breach candy: 'best in mumbai, if not india'. ding ding. the guidebook also specified the location of the dhl shipping office, so if i wasn't able to locate a memory module, i'd be heading there. unfortunately, no computer stores were specified.

i laid in bed until 0800 and then called breach candy hospital using my treo [digression: i bought an orange brand sim card from a store very close to my hotel. rs300 (about 7 usd) with rs330 of credit. i didn't notice it at the time but i'm almost positive the sim card kit had already been opened. the man was very slick to conceal the traces while 'opening' the package in front of me. the card works and has the promised rs330 of credit, but the credit expires in only four days. not a problem... i figured i'd be using up the credit by then regardless. still... i'll be more careful next time. end digression.]. i was transferred to the opd department of the hospital and made an appointment to see dr. rohit barman at 1500. perfect. that gave me some time to take care of the other missions.

i got dressed and was out before 0900, grabbed some breakfast at leopold, and was on my way to the air india office. i had spoken with two people who told me the names and locations of a few computer stores... i'd be passing them along the way. unfortunately, upon arrival i discovered that they didn't have what i needed, so onward to air india.

i located the office after a few wrong turns. the flight that i'd been trying to book online was strangely not available from the ticketing agent's terminal. i'd need to take a flight that left at 0555... a little earlier than i'd have liked, but i didn't have an alternative. fine. the agent began entering my passport details into the computer... more typing... more typing... [what the hell is going on?]...

'when are you coming back to india?'

'i'm planning to take overland transportation into laos and vietnam.'

'with an american passport, you need to have proof of onward journey before i can issue this ticket.'

damn. mission: failed. i didn't think i'd be able to get a thai train ticket as proof i'd be leaving the country. i'd need to book my singapore -> australia ticket and hope that that proved that i had no intentions of becoming a foreign leech in thailand. the agent gave me a reference number to hold the fare.

on to dhl. i hoped that they'd have packing materials there. i find the shipping process very burdensome... locating and purchasing packing materials is never as easy as it seems... packing up the item... blah. not fun. fortunately, the woman told me that they would pack the item for me as i watched. okay. 'i'm sending a laptop computer. it has to be packed extremely well.' i micromanaged every aspect of the process... making sure the computer was double boxed and adequately padded to my satisfaction. done. six thousand. two hundred. fifty-nine rupees. [wow]. mission accomplished.

by the time i'd finished with dhl it was after 1300... i had a few hours to locate the hospital. planned to walk it. down along the water... lots of walking.... 1400... i was on track... 1430... almost there... 1445... shit, i'm not going to get there in time. i spent rs40 on a taxi to take me the last few minutes. the waiting room was completely packed... i was very glad that i'd made an appointment. i checked in and two minutes later was back in the doctor's office. dr. barman told me that the hospital didn't normally stock the twinrix vaccine but that he'd ordered it especially for me. i knew this was a reputable hospital but was still planning to ask him to show me the sterile packaged syringe. before i could say anything, he held up the packaged twinrix kit and showed me that the kit came with its own syringe. a quick sting and rs1600 later, i was on my way. mission accomplished.

mumbai is filled with black and yellow taxis. a few look like they've been well taken care of and some are even decked out with neon lights and decals. most of the taxis however are falling apart... literally. as i walked out of the hospital, i saw a long strip of metal fall off the door of a taxi as it sped away. i broke out my camera to take a picture of the metal lying on the street (with intentions of illustrating the above point here in the blog) and just as i was about to snap the picture, a boy rode up on a bike, saw the piece of metal, stopped, and picked it up. he gave it a once over and then folded it up several times and put it in the basket on the back of his bike and rode away. wow. talk about efficient recycling.

taxi back to the hotel, gave sujata's parents a call, and made plans to meet her father at a mall by their apartment. another taxi... one hour of intense mumbai traffic... arrival. her parents and aunt were _so_ incredibly nice. not only did they take me out to dinner but they gave me gifts. her dad took me out for an autorickshaw tour of the area and later bought me some indian candy from a nearby shop. great experience. [thank you so much!]

it was dark by the time i got into the return taxi. the traffic was still heavy but not nearly as bad as during ride out... 45 minutes later i was back at the hotel. what a long intense day. i think every day in mumbai will be intense.

posted by paul at Fri 28 Oct 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

27 October 2005

my blurring of days

this begins my transition to transcribing from a paper journal. it seems my computer is unoperational for the time being and despite my best attempts i've been unable to diagnose the problem. the system is still under warranty but my current location and lack of a permanent address complicates the shipping process. i must accept the possibility that i'll be without a computer for the remainder of the journey. i'm not so much concerned about the blog entries as i am about the photos. the process of burning cd's every time my compact flash card fills up will be an onerous annoyance. of course, if the problem with the laptop turns out to be a failed hard drive, i'll have wished i'd be burning cd's all along. it's been a little over a month since my last backup. so... enough about the faulty machine and back to the mission at hand: global reconnaissance.

yesterday [26 oct 2005] and today [27 oct 2005] were not in fact two separate days but a long string of a blurring hours fused into one. a giant glob of transportation and sleep. a departure from europe and an arrival in asia. i took an early morning train to heathrow, just a little later than i would have preferred with an overall feeling of anxiety very similar to the feeling i had back in april as the plane rolled down the runway in boston. an excited anxiety, not overly heavy. i've learned there's no use worrying about objects already in motion... although i couldn't shake the thoughts of the onward ticket. i'd planned to have a plane ticket for the delhi -> bangkok leg of the journey to show proof that i'd be leaving the country, but the lack of e-ticketing meant that a printed ticket would need to be generated and delivered to me. somewhere. i decided to purchase the ticket at a travel agent in india.

check-in went fairly smoothly. i'd been carrying my plane ticket in my money belt for the past month and it was just a bit bent and torn... enough however to cause a jam in the self check-in machine at the airport. malfunction. only after several kicks and curses did the machine relinquish the ticket i'd fed it a few moments earlier. all of the window seats were taken but i was lucky enough to snag the one remaining aisle seat for the eight hour journey. one of the ticketing agents asked for my return ticket but didn't press the issue when i told her i'd be travelling to thailand after india.

security was tight. two separate x-ray and metal detection screenings and multiple passport checks. onboard the plane. the departure was delayed for almost an hour, but miraculously we arrived in mumbai only 15 minutes behind schedule. local time 2345.

through border patrol; passport and visa check but again, no questions. through a pretty much non-existent customs station. waiting area. i had no desire to deal with transport and hotels on a new continent in a new country in a new city in the dark after midnight. i'd already planned to wait in the airport until daybreak. the time went quickly... read a bit and listened to some music. this trip has taught me patience. i finally left the waiting area at 0600. i'm not sure if it was the cold weather in amsterdam and london, but i was completely unprepared for the oppressive heat which blanketed me upon stepping out of the airport. internally i scolded myself for being surprised with the heat. i was in india.

the first atm didn't like my card and i felt a passing twinge of new city no money panic. the second atm gave me three thousand indian rupees. went to the prepaid taxi stand and paid rs370 for a taxi to colaba, found my taxi, and was off.

the 45 minute ride from the airport to my hotel in colaba was surreal. i felt like i was on an amusement park ride, blinded by the intensity that was the raging traffic and all of the powerful and unexpected images on the other side of the imaginary plane separating me from the outside world. at 0700, the streets of mumbai were bursting with life. people were _everywhere_. walking through traffic with complete disregard... walking randomly in the traffic lanes of the road. still sleeping anywhere and everywhere out in the open. in the process of opening rickety shops on the side of the road. bathing and brushing their teeth on the sidewalks of dirt. naked children picking through piles of garbage. sharply dressed business men and women carrying briefcases. _everywhere_. the air felt heavy in my head. a thickness that i'd never felt before. so much so that i felt like i couldn't take in a full breath... couldn't, or didn't want to try. all of the cabs were painted identically; black with yellow tops... and the drivers drove with a wreckless abandon which smothered everything i'd seen in naples, italy. we passed buildings which looked like they were on the verge of collapse... even a mcdonald's didn't look very stable or clean. shanties which appeared would crumble with a strong burst of wind. i was in an _entirely_ different world.

and all the while the blanket of heat pressed down at such an early hour through a veil of haze. and with my absolute assurance that the following statement is not an exaggeration, we passed within a few centimeters of people, cars, autorickshaws, and bicycles at speeds of approximately 50 km/hr. each time this happened, my eyes opened wide and i screamed 'holy SHIT' in my head... i'd look at the driver and his expression would not have changed... i'd turn around to look at the expression of the person to whom we'd almost inflicted a hideous disfiguration and it would be one of complete disinterest. the steering wheel in the taxi appeared to have about 45 degrees of play in it... meaning a turn of the wheel didn't register until the driver cranked it hard... driving straight actually required a steady left/right motion.

the haze and dustiness seemed to coat everything and as the ride came to an end i felt a headache creeping upon me. but above all i felt so lucky and fortunate for so many things.

i found my hotel with the assistance of two gentlemen who quickly accosted me when the taxi pulled to a stop. i told them the name of my hotel and before i could say another word they were pulling me along to the hotel which was only a few steps away. inside, the hotel staff had no record of my call on saturday.

'do you still have a room?'

hotel guy walks over to a nearby door and knocks... some rustling inside... a man who had obviously just been woken up walks out... hotel guy says 'you can have this room.'

'how much?'

'600.'

'to share?'

'no, just you.'

fine. 600 rupees is equivalent to about 13 usd. the room was somewhat sketchy... no sheets... not particularly clean... but i didn't care. i hadn't slept in a long while and i was crashing hard. i unpacked my sleeping bag and was asleep within 10 minutes despite the bright light pouring through the window. i woke up eight hours later at 1600.

after waking, i decided to take a new city walk. again, i hadn't prepared myself for what greeted me on the street. i wasn't able to walk more than five meters without someone approaching me asking for money or asking me to come into their store. i wasn't quite fully awake and was completely not ready to deal with all of the incoming stimuli. i quickly found a restaurant and sat down. chicken curry rice... and then a quick retreat through the darkness back to my room where i discovered that my computer was broken.

so... that was my blurring of days. i feel so fortunate to be able to experience this city and i can already feel a completely different sort of energy pulling me in. a city of complete contrasts that is just seething with intensity. truly i've begun the next phase of my adventure.

posted by paul at Thu 27 Oct 2005 at 23:59:59 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

equipment malfunction

damn. my laptop will no longer properly boot and i suspect a hardware issue. the hard drive and fan power on but the screen remains blank without so much as a flicker. unfortunately, the lack of a laptop will significantly restrict my ability to post pictures and in depth blog entries here at globalrecon.org. [sigh]. the computer is still under warranty, so i'm going to contact the vendor and will plan to ship it back to them if i'm unable to fix the problem. blick.

posted by paul at Thu 27 Oct 2005 at 11:31:34 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)