Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Maoists

There are Maoists in India. Maybe there are Stalinists in Iran too, who knows. This week they attacked a government building west of Kolkata and hijacked a train (no one was hurt besides getting hit by broken windows). But the Maoists are the least of my worries.

In a couple of hours, I have a train leaving for Lucknow. I'm running a little late, but that's not the issue. I booked the ticket online through the government agency, like I've done a bunch of times. I got a confirmation email. I was billed. Yet, no e-ticket has ever shown itself on the website. I went into my booked history it shows only 3 random trains, leaving out this one and many others. It does show the first one I booked. Whenever I look at my booked history, it usually shows different trains. So I hope that, in order of least bad to worst, I don't get charged an extra 50 rupees for not having my e-ticket, get thrown off the train, get thrown off at the first stop, get fed to the Maoists.

The guy at the metro seemed to beem with pride at our smooth transaction (it was a different guy than last night). A kid, who had the whole sidewalk (I was pinned to the wall), slammed right into me, but apologized. I was thinking about my run-ins. It seems like there's a battle between foreigners vs. India and Indians vs. foreigners. That's way too simplistic though. It's important to remember than India is a nation of a billion individuals, tons of different ethnicities, religions, tribes, languages, and classes. Some people see you as a foreigner and not as a person. These are the people who are fighting a misplaced battle. It might just be an innocent drawn out stare. Or it might be pushing you out of the way and when you push back, yelling at you. It might be screaming obscenities because someone, who happens to be foreign-born, doesn't take your advice. Yet, this is a small group. One that I encounter to a disproportionate degree.

We must not forget that foreigners' ignorance plays a role too. While one foreigner's ignorance should not lead to assumptions, people here must encounter a lot of ignorance and arrogance. It's a vicious cycle of misunderstanding.

As for me, I've been torn between the belief that violence is wrong in every circumstance and that one must always stand up for themselves. It's something I haven't figured out yet.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Two nights ago, I had dinner with a Peruvian woman, who is volunteering in a village in near Puneand flew to Kolkata for the week. Much of the village hasn't ever been outside of the village. She said it was difficult for her to relate. She was also sad for the girls, whose lives will be determined by their futures husbands.

Last night, I wondered into this weird quasi-karoake bar for dinner. There was a band of 5 musicians playing synthacized Indian tunes while a couple people took turns singing into the microphone, which was set on echo. There were only a few customers in the place. I sat there sipping on a Coke chocolate ice cream float thinking about how funny and ridiculous it all was. Then I took a peek at myself, a grown man, nursing a float in a bar, and realized that I was pretty ridiculous too. The drinks were so overpriced, the Coke float was the least so.

Generally, I'm doing pretty good. It took some time, but I've gotten used to lots of things. I no longer compare everything to the familiarity of America, but instead to the quality of things in the different cities in India I've been to. But there are still frustrating moments that remind me that I'll always be an outsider.

Last night I tried to get chocolate from a stall. No one understood me. The thing is, I've asked for chocolate a million times here. Every vendor knows the word "chocolate." Maybe I was saying it with an accent that I don't normally use. That's the issue, people only know enough English that if you don't say what they know perfectly, it's like you're speaking Greek. The same thing happened an hour ago at the metro. You have to get the ticket from a person at the booth. I asked for "Park." The guy replied, "Where do you want to go?" "Park!" "Park-a-street?" "Yes!" "Where do you want to go?" "Park!" "Park-a-street?" "YES!" I mean, that's the name of the station, Park Street. It's not called something else in Hindi.

As I was getting off the metro at Park-a-street, a little grungy middle aged man decides he doesn't want to wait for people to get off the metro, he has to get on immediately. He puts a swim move on the guy in front of me and helps him along with a push. He does the same to me, which implants my shoulder into the door (and left a visible red mark). I immediately throw up my forearm into him. Of course, I'm pretty buff here, so it gave him a good jolt. Apparently into a number of people because the guy, a woman, and a few more people starting screaming their lungs out in Hindi at me. I yell back repeatedly, "He pushed me first!"As the doors close and I walk away, the few people leaving the metro next to me take turns giving me dirty looks. At that moment, I was discouraged. Perhaps unjustly, thinking that I would never get benefit of doubt here in a situation like that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Synagogues of Kolkata

First I saw Temple Beth El. It's down the narrow Pollard Street and fenced in. After a minute, I saw a guy walk past. I asked if I could come in. He let me in the gate, but told me to wait until he asked someone if I could go inside. I was asked if I was Jewish (which sounds like "Juices" from many Indian people). Which country? America. So far, my story checked out. I also brought a yarmulke for a little insurance and it was perched on my head.

A small hunched old man with one tooth jutting down between his lips and short bristles of white hair forming a beard strolled towards me. He was wearing a wrapping in place of pants, indicating that he wasn't well off. He looked at me hard, a reverse Nazi, trying to find indicators of Jewishness on my face to allow me the privilege to enter the synagogue.

I was told I had to meet a Mr. David somebody who owned a shop in New Market to ask for permission to enter. Then, the guard and the old man changed their minds and called Mr. David somebody. I introduced myself and before I could continue, the old man asked for the cell phone and talked to Mr. David somebody himself. They asked me to write my name, nationality, hotel , and how long I'm staying in Kolkata, which seemed like an odd batch of information.

I asked the reasons for the process, genuinely interested, not annoyed. I was told, wordlwide terrorism was one reason (not locally though). Also, it's a house of worship, not a tourist attraction. And there would be beggars (the guard had a much more apt and less harsh word, but it's not coming to mind) storming the place.

The outside of the synagogue is pastel yellow with blue Stars of David seemingly randomly placed. It looks like an old school house with a tilted roof. Inside was quite striking. It's set in a Sephardic style with the rabbi facing the back wall from the middle of the synagogue and surrounded by open space. The congregation is off to both sides and facing the same direction, save for a few seats behind the rabbi and along the edges of the open space. The old man told me that they didn't have anywhere close to a minion. I believe he said they only have service on Saturday mornings, but that might be optimistic.

The old man then graciously walked me to the bigger synagogue, Temple Moghan David. Both were founded by the Baghdadi Jewish community who arrived from the Middle East (not just Baghdad) a couple hundred years ago. I would have found the barn-red building with a tall steeple (if that's what a steeple is, I don't really know), but I would've never found the way to get in. We had to walk through piles of goods and brush aside a confused vendor to open the gate.

The inside of the Temple Moghan David was quite beautiful. The lay out was the same as Temple BethEl. There were small stained glass windows and lovely calligraphy painted along the facade separating the ground floor from the seats in the balcony.

As the old man and I left, he asked where I was going now. I said the hotel. He asked where it was and I said Chandni Chowk and he pointed to where that was. I asked him for his name. He said, M.D. Khalil Khan (not the most Jewish name, I was reluctant to ask if he was for whatever reason). I asked if I could give him a donation and he said yes. I pulled out a 100 rupee bill and his eyes shined bright. So you can imagine his reaction when I pulled out the other 100.

I know, I'm another Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. 200 rupees is about $4.44. Even if Mr. Khan took that money only for himself, I would be pleased. I accidently followed him to his room, which is in the synagogue. It's smaller than Mother Teresa's was and gets exactly zero natural light. But this is a man who watches over great pieces of Jewish history. He deserves to be rewarded and it's a shame that he's not. It is evident the reverence and pride he has for the two great buildings, regardless of whether or not he's Jewish. It's too bad that we focus on Israel, America, and Europe at the expense of the other places where Jews have called home. That there were Jews in India (and still are a few) doesn't symbolize our history of persecution, but instead represents the wonderful diversity and spirit of the Jewish people.

And I pooped my pants.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Shanghai of India

I wonder if Gandhi loaded up and knocked people out of the way while he walked the streets and then turned and glared at them, brushing imaginary dirt off his shoulders. Maybe not. But then again, he had his own little ashram, he didn't have to walk the congested sidewalks of Kolkata. I bet Mother Teresa was shoving people left and right.

Speaking of which, I saw her house today. I walked away with a nice feeling, but it wasn't the spiritual pilgrimage that it probably was for other foreigners and Indians. Maybe that's because the word Jesus was everywhere and so was the cross. I saw the room where she lived for 44 years. It was like a college dorm. There was a bed, a desk, and a picture of the man of her dreams on the wall (that being Jesus). Yes, her room was basic, but I must say, I've had hotel rooms smaller than that. The hotel rooms didn't have fancy desks either. My biggest issue at the house was whether or not to take off my shoes. I walked in and someone (not a nun) asked me to. Then I went back ready to do so and saw a sign that said, "We have no objection if don't take off your shoes." What's with the double negative? Very confusing.

A chicken roll from a stall I could handle, but Domino's gave me a little diarrhea. I tried to get change for 500 rupees at the Hotel VIP Continental and they laughed at me and were very rude, which caused me to start screaming. I went to another store and they politely said they didn't have the change. Then another store gladly gave me the money. 500 rupees is around $11, but it's practically worthless in most places because they won't have enough change to give you back if you buy something.

When I went to sleep last night, I realized that I wrote about the grittier side of Kolkata last time. That's the side that most Westerners associate with Kolkata because of Mother Teresa. But this is a very urbane place. Many people are well-to-do. There are more cars than motorcycles. Shanghai is to China what Kolkata is to India. In Shanghai, I dared to order a plain cheeseburger and Sprite with no ice at McDonald's. I would have never dreamed of doing that anywhere else in China, even Beijing (in 2005). Shanghai is China for sure, but it's not as foreign as the rest of China. There is no one symbolic representation as apt in India as language is in China, but Kolkata (and Mumbai too) are more familiar than other places in India that I've been to.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Kolkata

I was in a Bengali restaurant for dinner, called Radhuni, recommended by Lonely Planet. No one was in there. I sat down and ordered and soon found out why. A rat ran out of the kitchen. Yes, I stayed and ate. Kolkata is in West Bengal. East Bengal is now Bangladesh. Before partition, it was just Bengal. Then Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence from West Pakistan, which is now just called Pakistan.

The Sudder Street area, where the travelers hang out, is a terrible place. I was offered hashish maybe 7 times last night. Only in India does a dirty look means yes. Today, I saw a group of guys shooting up heroin on the street. I did see two white hippie women sitting with two beggar women there last night. I only look at the beggars and smile.

The sidewalks are very crowded. In India, after getting hit a few times, I toughened up and started knocking heads. I carefully avoid even brushing up against women, but if there's a man, and he won't get out of the way, I load up and hit him hard! In fact, I did that on the way over here. The guy let out an, "Oy, baba!" Hey, it was either that or get run over by a bus!

I was coming from the Victoria Memorial, which looks like a cheap Taj Mahal knockoff, but it was still nice. This might be the time to say this, but prices are different for Indians and foreigners. I'm not just talking about a few rupees for a Sprite or a high starting price when bargaining. The The Victoria Memorial costs 10 rupees for an Indian and 150 for a foreigner. The Taj Mahal is 20 for an Indian and 750 for a foreigner.

In Kolkata, there are a lot more women walking around on the street. The men, as unsubtle as possible, gaze at them. It's better than what the men do in other cities, gaze at me! At least for me, it' better. The clothes here, particularly western shirts, are very garish. I thought about buying a leather vest to put over a shiny florescent green shirt, but then I would just look like a gay Taliban. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not the look I'm going for. One more thing, I noticed on the metro as everyone was grabbing the metal bars above them, people's arms are so skinny. I'm a tiny man, but I'm like a King Kong on steroids compared to them having the arms of Darfur refugees... or an analogy less outrageous.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Allahabad to Kolkata

I was feeling pretty bad as I waited for the train to Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). I was upset that I didn't get to see the Nehru's houses in Allahabad, because I just wasn't feeling well enough. Then, a bird decided he didn't like my shirt and shat on my shoulder. I determined that the bumps covering my face are mosquito bites. So, things weren't off to a great start. Next, I'm sitting there, new shirt on, and a guy yells at me in Hindi to move over to the side so his family can sit together. As I shift, I let out a loud, "I was just sitting there, you don't have to yell at me!" There was room to sit on the other side and that way I wouldn't have to move, so I was upset. Then this guy tries to talk to me.

He seemed like he was ok-off and was with his daughter and wife. In broken English, he asks, "Alone or with group?" "Alone," I reply, already agitated by his yelling and the audacity to then converse with me like nothing happened. He repeats the same question; I repeat the same answer, even less friendly. "Um. Where is you group?" "Alone!" I say after giving him a dirty look. A question later he asks, "How many Americans are with you?" "Alone! Alone! Alone!" I yell, about ready to knock him out. He then says something to his wife in Hindi, which included the words, "Alone! Alone! Alone!"

But the conservsation, unbelievably, didn't end there. He asked to see my camera. I said no. He thought maybe I didn't understand, so he repeated. At this point, everything I'm saying is a yell. Then he wanted to see an "American pen," which I got news for everybody, looks remarkably like an Indian pen or what I would imagine a Danish pen, an Armenian pen, or a Kenyan pen look like. Then he wanted to listen to the "American songs" on my Ipod, which I believe was playing some Klezmer music at that point. I declined every offer.

I got a lot of rest on the train ride, although I only ate rice and chapatis because I couldn't do the veggie curry. We got off at Howrah station at 4am. Kolkata at 4am is a great introduction. I went to the hotel that rejected my online booking attempt. I woke up the receptionist and after a miscommunication, he let me in, thinking I had a booking. He didn't find it, but he did give me a room and at a great rate. I watched the Yankees make the World Series. I took the metro, which isn't as nice as Delhi's but still good, and walked around a bit. So far, I really like Kolkata. It has many of the familiar features of a city, with big buildings and tons of taxis. People go on their merry way, not stopping to stare at you or try to scam you. It's like New York meets India. Yet, there isn't the safety concerns that accompany most visits to big cities around the world. Except of course, when you're trying to cross the street.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Mentor

What I've found is that many foreign travelers have had some difficulties adjusting to India, particularly the garbarge, the pollution, and being a target. It's funny because invariably, whenever I meet a foreign traveler, I end up listening to their troubles and empathizing. Because I've been here before, many ask me questions like how long will it take to adjust and what is going home like. Also, I'll be here longer than most travelers I've run into, which surprises me. Only the Swiss woman who volunteered will end up being here longer, but I'm still traveling around India for a longer period.

I also feel like I know more about Indian culture, history, and politics than most foreign travelers, which is a little embarrassing. It does help to relate to people here. I can talk a little about Bollywood movies, cricket, and I know enough Hindi words that Indian people tend to appreciate the effort, even if that amount is pitifully low. I've also gotten questions from foreign travelers about India's system of government and other questions like this. It's just funny because I feel so ignorant being here. I feel like an outsider. And yet I'm able to provide a little window for some.

Of course, this broad post means one thing, not much has happened since the last time I posted. I wish I could do a broad post all the time in addition to writing about the events that happen. I've been sick, though I am optimistic that I'll be better soon. Last night, I took part in my fantasy basketball draft, which I was nervous I'd miss. In a few hours, I take a train to Kolkata. I tried to book a hotel room there, but as of now, to no avail. I think I'm arriving in the middle of the night, to complicate things further. But I'm things will work out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crossing the Street

I'm probably going to receive some guff for the pictures I've taken. I brought 4 disposable cameras and have used two half way through my trip, so I'm on pace. But it's been a struggle to find things to take pictures of. That's because I want to take a picture of everything! Also, because if I stand for more than 2 seconds in any one spot, I will be run over and killed.

So here are some tips for crossing the street in any Indian city. First, pretend that bicycles and cycle rickshaws are invisible. There are too many of them, they go slow, and if they do hit you, you won't die. I've been hit by a couple on this trip and I'm fine. Second, cross the street in steps. Don't worry if you find yourself in the middle with motorcycles wizzing by you on both sides. Just proceed as much as you can whenever you can. Theoretically, people don't want to run into you. Another step is to judge vehicles' speed and act accordingly. The final rule is don't worry about acting cool. Sure, most of the time, Indian people stroll through the traffic without any concern. But if you're not local, there's no shame in making a dash for it. If you follow these simple steps, there's a chance you'll only get hit a few times in 3 and half weeks in India.

Today I ran into a version of a bingo game at lunch featuring a about 20 women, which was neat. Other than that, I've been a bit sick. I've developed the same phlegm induced whooping cough as many people here. My body had held up, but the option of either full blast AC or nothing has been the straw. Also, I'm allergic to something as I've broken out in hives all over my forehead. It might be the bug spray or the bugs themselves. It might be the sheets. But I think it's the washing powder I bought to clean my clothes. Whatever it is, I'll be fine.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Wednesday night, as I was returning from Varanasi to Allahabad, and leaving the train station, the rickshaw drivers went after me. One followed me all the way to the hotel, running over my foot in the process. He felt bad and tried to direct me to the hotel (I knew where it was). He pointed to the hotel, I said I knew, and walked past it to get water and chips. When I came back, he was waiting there and only rode off when I walked up the path. I think he wanted to see if I was lying about my hotel or was ignoring his instructions.

Today I went to Sangam. It's a spot where the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet. I walked a ways and then argued down a rickshaw ride from 60 to 25. When I gave him 25 at the end, he tried to claim I owed him 50. But I had remembered that he said "deese," which means 30, and I kept bargaining down at that point, showing fingers. In Delhi, a similar thing happened, where the cycle rickshaw ride magically went from 15 to 50 by the end of the journey. Then, I wasn't sure of myself, but now I know the drill.

I didn't plan to take a boat out to the confluence of the rivers (I have no idea if confluence is the right word or what it means, I'm just trying to sound like a big man). I accidently bargianed one guy down to 100 to go out and come back. That seemed fine to me. I made it clear 100 to go up and come back and that was it. We rowed out to where the rivers meet. The Yamuna is green and the Ganges are brown. There's a visible difference and it's very cool to see. When we got out there, men began screaming at me. One, who I think was a priest, offered me a coconut and wanted to place red paint on my forehead. I also think they wanted me to bathe in the Ganges. Of course, all this would've been for a fee. I declined and got a stern thrashing in Hindi. In any event, we got into our boat and went back. The rower asked, "Teekay?" meaning "Alright?" and I wobbled my head back and forth indicating yes.

When we got back to shore, he tried to claim it cost 200, but I had made it so clear that I would only pay 100. He wouldn't take the 100. So I walked out of the boat and start to leave, holding the 100 out stretched until he finally relented. I walked some ways out of Sangam until I got a rickshaw ride back for 20. At the end, I quickly gave him the 20 and fled before he could argue for more.

So Allahabad is chill except for the train station, the bus stand, and Sangam. I've also been heckled twice by people shouting "Dude!" at me. But comparatively speaking, Allahabad allows you to be as anonymous as a supremely attractive foreigner can be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Fight

Yesterday in Varanasi, I was in a fight. But we'll get back to that a little later.

Another drug dealer approached me at one in the afternoon as I was walking the path of the Ganges. He offered me hashish in a whispered voice. He said it was sold at a government emporium. I went through my usual spiel to the drug dealers, telling him he was a bad person. Things got pretty heated. At one point, we were face to face. Later, I threatened to take his picture, which really angered him.

After the drug route didn't work, he attempted to explain the burning ghats in broken English. Normally I'm quite patient in that situation, considering I don't speak much Hindi at all, but here I mocked him. He mentioned that I was clever, meaning a smart ass. Then, he tried to change the conversation by saying he didn't want me to continue walking towards the burning ghats because it would defile Hindu culture. He was merely a guide and was just informing me that hashish was sold at government emporiums. I called him out on his shit. This isn't about Hindu culture, I told him. "The first thing you did was to whisper, 'hashish, hashish,' to me. If this is about Hindu culture, why did you let those two white guys pass?" At that point I drove home that he knew I was right and that he should leave, which he did with his face curled in anger.

Later, a vendor, slightly taller than me and far rounder, offered to sell me something, not a rare occurrance. I decline and asked where the river was as I had strayed away from it. He told me it was around the corner, but I didn't want to go there because I had just come from that narrow alley, which was covered in garbage, and had turned back. I told him that as I continued on my way. At that point he screams, "Up yours!" I turn around and said, What?" He repeats. I bellow, "FUCK YOU!", fly down the incline to him, and throw my face in front of his. Then he grabs my throat. I knock his hand away. There's a short pause. I grab his throat hard, with my thumb squeezing the front middle of his neck. Then, a number of men rush over exclaiming, "No fighting!" I yell back, "He put his hands on me first! He started it!" An elderly man with vanishing teeth walks me back up the hill apologizing. He said I was a guest in his country and that it shouldn't have happened.

In one sense, he was wrong. I understand where he was coming from. After trying to sell me something, he genuinely tried to help by telling me how to get back to the river. Perhaps he assumed I thought he was lying as I kept walking in the opposite direction, but that still doesn't call for an "Up yours!" Of course, that isn't why I didn't follow his instructions anyway, so he comes across as foolish, saying "Up yours!" for no real reason and putting his hands on me first. But in a broader sense, we were both wrong. I should have ignored it, no matter how unjust his insult. I have an inborn impetus to challenge injustice, whether grand or petty. This was petty. Also, I should not have put my hands on him under any circumstances. Grown men shouldn't be fighting.

Later, I had a nice talk with a grad student from Benaras University. One of the first things he asked was, "Had any trouble in Varanasi?" "A little," I replied. Varanasi is reknown as a tough city and not just the charging buffalo that patrol the narrow alleys. At the train station, I met a professor from a Haryana agricultural college and we had a nice chat. On the train, I talked with an 8 year old girl, who had a dimple above her cheek when she smiled, and her father for the entire 3 hour journey back to Allahabad. They were on their way to Kanpur. It was the usual collection of random thoughts that make up a conversation with an 8 year old, but fun nonetheless. At one point, she wanted to playfully fight me. I told her one fight in a day was enough for me. For the last 30 minutes, she kept waving to me and saying "bye" in a very unhappy manner. When it was time for me to leave, I must adimt, I've never seen a lip so pouty as hers. I almost considered following her home to Kanpur, I felt so bad. The experience was vindicating for me. If an 8 year old girl can like me that much, maybe I'm not such a terrible person after all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Varanasi

Until 5pm, the touts and beggars who approached me along the Ganges River were fairly innocuous. After that point, I was offered more drugs than throughout my entire four years of college. One guy especially latched on. I had fun with him. I constantly berated him because he told me that his shop was near the burning ghats. The burning ghats are where they cremate the dead. Now, while I don't do drugs other than NyQuil and dentist-prescribed valium (and a little anti-diarrhea medicine on this trip), it's really not my place to judge another's sense of morality. But selling drugs by the burning ghats goes above and beyond personal morals. So I let him have it.

I told him that his actions were disgusting. He was a terrible person. How dare he disrespect the dead like that. He smiled and slowly nodded. I shared with him the words of the Notorious B.I.G., "Don't get high on your own supply." It was advice he hadn't been taking, if anyone else had offered it as he was clearly not all there. Or even a little bit. I did dumb it down for him. When he kept making his pitch, I explained to him, first pointing to him, "You are a bad person," then pointing to me, "I am a good person. What makes you think a good person like me would ever go with a bad person like you." He tried to wrap his head around that one before reentering his tired sales pitch.

I tried to help one little kid who was trying to sell me a candle and kept saying, "Please. I have no business." I told him that those tactics clearly weren't working with me. It's important to know your customer and be able to adapt to meet that person's needs. But he stuck to his few lines. At one point he stopped following me, but I wouldn't let him get away.

I told a couple of touts that they shouldn't ask a Moldovan their age. If you know a person's age, you can figure out when their parents had sex and that's rude in Moldova. I've utilized the left hand twist as if you're saying something was just ok (which is like shaking your head no), and also neh-hee (no) and chalo (go), all methods of telling a vendor you're savvy enough that they should get lost. Sometimes when I say neh-hee, the guy starts talking to me in Hindi. I also know enough Hindi to say that I know a little Hindi, but unless they start counting to ten, at that point, I'm in trouble.

A little about Varanasi. The old city is filled with very narrow winding alleys. It feels like the old country. It's 1930 in some small Polish city. There are little stalls everywhere. Things are tucked into places you wouldn't believe. My hotel room was tiny. Width wise, I could touch one side with my fingers and the other with my feet. Last night there was a ceremony by the Ganges with fire and music. A little girl screamed at me, "Please come!" It was then that I realized a Buffalo was headed right for me and I safely jetted out of the way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Allahabad to Varanasi

I did the outdoor dinner and then corner dessert thing again last night that Allahabadasses (Allahabadans?) do. If I were 15 year old and back home, it'd be the perfect date night. Instead, I just sat their awkwardly receiving glares. Ok, so maybe it's not so different.

On the train, there was an old man sitting with his wife and adult son across from me. He took the scarf wrapped around his neck and held it with his left hand as to shield his torso from view. His right arm, bent at the elbow, was behind the scarf and out of sight. His mouth constantly moved open and closed as his lip quiverred. Indentations in the scarf occassionally and rhythmically took the form of his clenched right hand. Maybe he was just meditating.

I think his hand was too high, so I hope he was just meditating, but if not, holy shit, ew!

Now, I'm in Varanasi. My stuff's in the hotel room in Allahabad, where I'll return tomorrow. Varanasi is just about the holiest city for Hindus. This is where the ashes of cremated bodies are scattered. I haven't seen that yet. I did see lots of naked men bathing in the river though. There are also numerous touts and scammers. Agra and Jaipur has trained me and so far things have been fine. An old man did reach out and shake my hand. Then he started to massage it, which is quite weird if you're not expecting it. He said he'd massage me for only 10 rupees. "I don't like being touched by strange men. You could pay me 10 rupees and I wouldn't do it." That was my introduction to the Ganges.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Agra to Allahabad

Rickshaw drivers' revenge: I left the hotel expecting to have no trouble getting a ride from a rickshaw driver. None came. I had to walk a while before I encountered a cycle rickshaw driver willing to give me a ride to the train station. As we rode through the streets, privately sparked fireworks covered the city. Or more accurately, the sounds of explosions did, with the occasional one actually producing a visible flash. I've never been so close to fireworks. It was the most comfortable place to be. The explosion lasted for hours and were still going on when my train pulled out from the station.

High spirits: I felt great on the train. I was leaving Agra! I got to Allahabad early in the morning. It was the first time I had ever heard roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing. When am I around roosters? Or up at that time? I walked the wrong way from the station. I walked to Chowk, the older part of town. I was trying to get to Civil Lines on the other side of the station. Allahabad has been great. The people here are chill. Especially because yesterday, everything was closed. At the hotel, I asked if I could have a room with fewer bugs. the guy said no. I replied, "Then can you do something about those," pointing at two bugs wider than your thumb (unless you're Shaq. And if you're Shaq reading this, welcome, greeting from India!) The guy looked at them and said, "Sure, new room."

Allahabad, it's not Agra: The new room has a lizard in the bathroom, which has now gotten into the bedroom. But at least it's not Agra. Even though Allahabad is so great, there's still the smell of burning garbage everywhere. But at least it's not Agra. Here, there are explosions from early in the morning until late at night. It feels like a war zone if you didn't know any better. But at least it's not Agra. They don't really bother foreigners. The cycle rickshaw drivers ignore me. People here like to eat outside, which makes for a lively night time atmosphere. There are sweets shops everywhere and corner ice cream huts. Very cool. I also saw the tomb of the brother who wanted to overthrow Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal).

Weird conversation: I also had one of the craziest conversations of my life yesterday. It needs to be uncensored to be able to come through, but I'll give you the censored versions: A guy walks up to me holding an envelope with a local address. He's pointing to the address and says, "Excuse me. Are you from Afghanistan?" as if changing thought in mid sentence. "No." He continues, "Can you tell me where this is?" I say, "No, I just got here today." He asks, "Where are you from?" And before I can finish answering America, he takes a breathe and spits out, "I'm gay," but before I have time to react sympathetically, he continues, "I want you to (engage in sexual relations with) me." I had just told the story of being offered gay sex in Cochin two years ago to a British couple the day before, but it still surprised the hell out of me. "No." Then he explained another sexual act that he wished to perform with me and I gave him a "No, no," and turned to leave. As he walked off he said, "Bye" as cheery as he could.

Here's where he went wrong:
1) Even if I was gay, I need some romance. You can't be so blunt about it.
2) Even if I way gay, I'm way out of that guy's league. it was Diwali, but unless it was his birthday too, he'd have no chance.
3) I'm not gay.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Diwali is the festival of lights and a Hindu holiday. I've been wishing people "Happy Diwali" but if I say it to a Muslim, I wonder if it's like wishing a Jew "Merry Christmas" or more like wishing an angry Jew "Merry Christmas." Last night, there were lights hung from many buildings. It's supposed to last five nights, but firecrackers have been exploding for nearly two weeks now, dating back to my first night in Jaipur. People also give each other sweets in celebration and everyone seems like they're in a pretty good mood. Vendors line the streets with marigolds. It's like a better version of Channukah.

Yesterday, I walked around Agra Fort, which is screaming red. It gave me a boost. But then I walked through Kinari Bazaar, which brought my spirits right down. It was crowded and polluted, it stunk, people yelled at me in a mocking way, and I kept sneezing. I've encountered a ton of pollution in India. You don't get a true sense just from that comment. From day one, my boogers have been a mix of black and a hint of green. If I was a Palestinian, I would throw them at Israeli tanks, they're so hard. But beyond that, it hasn't bothered me. Until I walked through Kinari Bazaar that is.

The inside back part of my left shoe is ripped. It tears all of my socks. Yesterday, a big portion of one sock was dyed red. The shoe had cut into the part between my heel and ankle and I was bleeding. I cut some of the empty toilet paper roll and tried to make a pad. It's helped only a little.

I won't miss Agra. Only the Taj Mahal. I haven't eaten meat in a few days. For all the downside of Taj Ganj, at least you could get meat on the cheap. I'm near Sadar Bazaar and there's no such luck. I forgot to mention I saw a completely naked guy walking around one night. That's how bizarre India is to an America. You forget about a naked guy walking around. He had a beard like a lion and his hair was trying to escape from his head in every direction. It was like looking 5 years into my future!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hi Murphy

Last night I had "mutton sheek kabob" for dinner. It was one of the spiciest things I've ever had. I forced down 3 of the 5 long kabobs until I had had enough. I gave the other two to a cycle rickshaw driver. He gave me such a look of appreciation. I felt good for a minute. Then I walked past the dozens of other cycle rickshaw drivers, not to mention the other inhabitants lining the dusty, polluted, crowded streets bordered by open sewers on both sides. I became overwhelmed.

Certainly, when one country steals from another for hundreds of years, as the British did here and in Africa, it makes sense that the victims would suffer. The colonial powers have never been required to pay the hefty indemnity that they should. Instead, they've created a system to run their victims into further debt. But the remnants of colonialism doesn't fully explain why people are so poor and the cities so dirty. The governments of India have been corrupt. They also know they won't be in power very long.

But here comes the difficult discussion. Is it partly a failure of society? There are cows roaming around shitting everywhere, but that shit is used in numerous productive ways. We must not mistake the unfamiliar for a failure. But the mounds and mounds of garbage that are a part of an Indian city does not serve any purpose save a negative one. There is an excess of rickshaw drivers hounding tourists, providing little benefit to society- besides the occasional cheap transportation to a local- and yet only a few outcasts make it their job to do something about the garbage. I'm not sure any of that answers my provocative question, but it's food for thought.

I talked with a Swiss woman who volunteered in Ladakh for the summer, but since then, things went a little downhill. The poverty has been getting to me. I'm sick of Agra. I only had 340 rupees, not enough to pay for my hotel room. A few ATMs I tried weren't working. I asked at a bank's information desk. When the guy saw me, he covered his mouth with a piece of paper. He mumbled behind the paper except for the one question, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?!" He was very unhelpful. As I was leaving, I turned around to see him lowering the paper. I was so mad. I wanted to go back and, if he did it again, let him have it. I'm even still thinking about going back there. It's probably better if I don't.

I did manage to extract 1500 rupees from an ATM, but that's only about $33, and it probably cost me $5 in fees. I got back to my room and the power went out. I felt like I was at the bottom. Five minutes later, the power came back on. I realized, the power needs to go out for it to come back on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power Went Out

Every once in a while I've found myself in a suddenly darkened room. The power outages have been more frequent in this new hotel in Agra. Last night, I went for a walk in Agra's darkened streets. I could hear the rows of generators desparately trying to jackknife some light to each building.

I've been on a comedown since seeing the Taj Mahal. I've felt sluggish today. I was trying to figure out why. I ate in a restaurant that didn't have a sign, a menu, a napkin, or lights, but my stomach's held up. To say that beds are firm in India is to say Hitler wasn't a friend to the Jews. An old guy ran over my foot with his bike today. I yelled at him and thought about following him to kick his ass, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. There was a 36-hour range where I didn't talk to any member of one particular gender. I don't know how those guys in Khost or FATA do it. I need to see women, to talk to women.

Speaking of women, I've heard from a couple of different Australian women that I have a non-descript accent, meaning they couldn't make out my nationality from my accent, which surprised me. I guess that's why my Moldovan scheme has worked so well. Plus, no one's ever heard of Moldova.

Today, a rickshaw driver said that because we were friends, he would take me to the train station for free (forget the fact that I didn't want to go to the train station to begin with). I told him that maybe I was his friend, but he wasn't mine, because he was trying to scam me. I also told him that even if my legs were chopped off right then and there, I'd rather crawl on the dirty, shit-covered street than take his rickshaw.

And finally, there were explosions right outside my window. I found out that these and the ones in jaipur are to celebrate Diwali.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hip Hop

After see the Taj Mahal yesterday, Ice Cube's Today Was A Good Day kept ringing in my ears. But even at the Taj, there are scammers. A father-son duo stood near the Jawab, on the right of the Taj, and directed tourists on the best places to take photos of the Taj. Of course, they then demanded money after completing their seemingly helpful deed.

I sat next to the 10 year old son and kindly berated him. "You and your father are running a scam?" He shook his head in agreement and replied yes, for to come across as agreeable than having an idea of what I was saying. "You know talking to you is like talking to a door." At one point, he pointed behind us and asked, "You know movie picture, James Bond?" I didn't know what that meant. I asked, "Is James Bond back there now or something." His father strolled past and answered, "He is trying to tell you they shot scene of James Bond movie, Octopussy, from there." I said, "So what? I don't give a fuck about James Bond. This is the Taj Mahal!" Building to a crescendo and enunciating the last two words slowly for affect.

The rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers like to scream, "Hey! Hey! Whoa!"as you walk by. I scream back, "Hip Hop Hooray, Ho! Hey! Ho!" While I was walking around, singing Skee-Lo's I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller, it occured to me that it would be a great prelude to If I Were a Rich Man. I even have a tune Tevye can sing for I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller. The other thing I think about when I walk by people pestering me and I ignore them is Common Sense's The Questions: "'Cause you recognize me, yo, I got to speak?"

As I've mentioned, the Taj Plaza had bugs. I'm in a new hotel now and they wanted me to take my clothes out, put them on the dirty ledge, so the sun could kill any potential bugs that got into my bag. Forget the thought that the sun will somehow kill bugs- won't that make sure there are bugs on my clothes? I was willing to keep my closed bag out in the sun, if the heat would kill them, but they wanted me to take it out. I didn't understand the logic. In any event, I got my way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taj Mahal

No stories about the fact that I think I ate pork even though I ordered chicken. Nor about the dinner I had with an American (from America, er, Chicago, er, Kansas City, the process one goes through when realizing that someone's actually heard of your hometown) and his Japanese girlfriend. None about the old rickshaw driver, who did an Abbott and Costello routine with me about how cheap I am, that I keep seeing and we always wave hello. No stories about the bad young driver from Sunday night, who I ran into again. Nor about the 17 year old shopkeeper named Vicki (a boy) who gave me advice about girls (give them a present and tell them you love them), like life is a Bollywood movie. I won't talk about the Bangladeshi Secretary General of a southern district that I met. Not about the mob of kids who ran after me asking for "one cold drink." No. This post is about the Taj Mahal.

I could attempt to wax poetic about the majesty of the Taj Mahal when seen up close. But I fear Tagore's reincarnation might fall into depression if I try. So I'll leave it at this:


Monday, October 12, 2009

Agra's Finest

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about poverty. I've come up with a lot of questions, but no answers.

My hotel room is a disappointment. Way to screw me again Lonely Planet. It specifically said, "You won't be disappointed." The Taj Plaza, stay away, unless you like ants and seclusion. It's near the Taj Ganj, which is where the people who built the Taj Mahal lived. It's dusty, there are open sewers. People urinate in the open. Animals leave yesterday's meals.

Unfortunately, I'm in Agra for 6 days. This is really a one or two day place. I was told that. I listened. I just couldn't get a train for any time sooner and didn't want to deal with a bus. Everything is overpriced in Agra for starters. And the rickshaw drivers are merciless. One of the first people I saw when I left the hotel was the young teenager from last night. He said, "Remeber me?" I screamed, "Fuck! Unfortunately, yes." He didn't follow me long though.

I walked forever today and it's only 3 in the afternoon. I ended up 7 KM away from the Taj, where my hotel is nearby. I don't know how much that is in real measurements. But I didn't walk straight there. Not in the least. I must have walked between 7-10 miles in the middle of the day heat. I had company. Maybe about 5 rickshaw drivers followed me. I took it in stride. I talked with them as they followed me. All but one were cycle rickshaw drivers. The one auto rickshaw driver that followed me stopped because his auto rickshaw died. That's how persistent they are! (True story).

With the rickshaw drivers, I just thought up any shit that came to mind and said it. I got rid of my filter. Most only understand a little bit of English, so it's a rather one-sided conversation. At one point, I sat down on the curb. An old rickshaw driver, who looked a little like an Indian version of my grandfather, and I talked a bit. Later, I saw him again. He yelled, "Hello nice man!" I gave him a warm hello and wave back.

Here are some methods I've used to (eventually) get rid of rickshaw drivers:

- I've demanded ten rupees if the rickshaw driver wants to ride his cycle rickshaw next to me while I walk. Think of it as a cheap English lesson on the go. That one works well.
- I told one guy that I think rickshaw drivers are stupid. He said, "No, they know only little English." I said, "No. Do you understand?" He said, "Yes." I told him, "I don't think you do. If you did, you wouldn't follow me." He got it and we gave each other a pleasant goodbye.
- I told one I wanted to walk like Gandhiji.
- I said I was walking to the Taj Mahal. He said it was 6 KM, too far. I told him I've run a marathon, 42 KM, so that's nothing for me. He left right away.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jaipur to Agra

The bus was cramped, even for me. Fifty mile an hour winds punched me in the face throughout the whole 5 and half hour journey. But for some reason, I didn't mind.

On the bus, I talked to two guys who sat next to me at different times. One, the Indian Craig Stadler (what a mustache!), didn't speak much English. It created some cute moments: "Are you going to Agra?" After a long pause, "115 kilometers." He was in the medical profession from Rajastan and though Kashmir was India's Heaven.

He got off and another guy got on. He let me borrow his phone to call the hotel to pick me up. He was from Rajastan too. He also worked in the medical profession, for the army. He was visiting his sister in Agra. The driver picked me up right from the bus. He was also very nice. His family is from Dharamasala. His wife and daughter just went on a train there and he said he just called to make sure they were ok. Family's the same everywhere.

The guy who showed me to my room in the hotel asked if I had a girlfriend. He then said, "I can't believe you don't have a girlfriend. You are very handsome." What am I supposed to say to that? "Well, I have a terrible personality." Anyway, I thanked him. I ate at the hotel's rooftop restaurant. The Taj Mahal was right there beyond the night. It was tantalizingly close, yet still remains unseen. When you mention the Taj to foreigners or Indians who have seen it, their eyes light up. I'm excited.

Besides being next to the Taj, the hotel is in the middle of no where. I went for a walk and was approached by a small teenaged boy. He offered me beer, weed, and girls. I didn't accept.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

City Palace and Hawa Mahal

I finally found Jaipur's City Palace and Hawa Mahal. I only saw the outsides, because I didn't want to spend the money. The walk there was an experience. You pass through the main bazaar. It's located on a wide avenue and the sidewalks are relatively clear. It's much more pleasant than the chaotic Old Delhi bazaars, if not as memorible. I was feeling friendly and said hello to a man in rags walking next to me. He said hello back and I thought our interaction was done. He had other ideas. He then asked for 10 rupees. Apparently, a "hello" costs you 10 rupees here.

The main bazaar was littered with pollution. It got to me a little bit. It gets to the locals too. People are always spitting. Men wear bandanas over their mouths and noses. Young women wrap their faces and arms in scarves, although that might be for another reason. Whatever the reason, it doesn't do me any good to have all the young ladies covered up.

Of the couple dozen people who I have approached on this trip to India, all have been helpful. Of the hundreds of people who have approached me, only one genuinely wanted to give me directions. The rest haven't had my best interest at heart. Today, as I walking through the nicer part of Jaipur, around the Jai Singh statue, a young man rode his motorcycle up beside me. Within two minutes of the conversation, he had asked for my full name, if I had a cell phone, the name of my hotel, and my email address. I didn't give him any of it. He must be new to the scam business.

Since last night, I've gone a little crazy while in public. I sing Only Fools Rush In and Skee lo's I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller. I yell random things like the Mike Singletary look-alike on the Letterman show. For the most part, people leave me alone then, because they think I'm nuts. My new thing is, when asked, "Where you want to go?" by a rickshaw driver, to reply, "Away from you!" Oh, snap! I've also asked the rickshaw drivers who they think is better, Manny Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto. Two went for Pacquiao (probably, just repeating what I said), 5 wanted to take me to the park, and one mistook Miguel Cotto for Monkey Temple. I told him that was racist.

There's an old saying in Jaipur, we have it Moldova, I think you have it in Jaipur, that goes, 'I don't want to go to the fucking Monkey Temple. The monkeys will shit on me.' One guy asked if I liked elephants. I told him that I did not because an elephant did something terrible to my (ficticious) sister, but I won't tell you the terrible thing I told him. Then he told me he has a wife and a baby daughter, which wasn't the logical place for that conversation to go. In any event, ESPN-Star cut away from the Yankees game in the 11th, but at least came back before the end. They never came back after leaving the Red Sox game in the 7th. I was pissed!

Friday, October 09, 2009


There are explosions outside the hotel every evening. Not sure what they are. I keep forgetting to mention that. It's probably the auto repair shop across the street.

I've had diarrhea since Monday. It had been getting progressively worse. Yesterday, my poop was just liquid. Even water ran right through me. The human body is amazing. It knew something in my system was bad and made sure everything that came in was thrown out, just in case. However, all that wiping really irritated my hole. Thankfully, my bathroom is relatively nice. I have a nozel that I've been using as a beday or however you spell that, I'm not French). I think it was Pizza Hut that did it to me. I can't take dairy here, yet I am too stubborn to stop.

I was going to ask the rickshaw drivers what they thought about Ronnie Belliard's game-tying hit for the Dodgers, despite the fact that he sucked with the Nats. He's this generation's Felipe Lopez. But I largely stayed in because of the diarrhea.

One aspect I've wanted to write about for a while is the Indian work ethic, if one can generalize like that. There are guards dressed in smart uniforms, who stand outside of the McDonald's all day and night, opening the door for foreigners and yuppie locals. Europeans seem to have taken to the local custom of ignoring these guards. There are vendors who get up at the crack of dawn and close up shop at 11pm. All they do is stand in their little stall. There's no weekend for them. Then there are the guys with cycle rickshaws. If they are fortunate enough to get a fare, they use every ounce of energy to pedal the customer to their desired destination. At night, they contort their bodies in order to sleep on their livelihood. And to some extent, these are the lucky ones.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Getting Hot

Last night I saw a Hindi movie with two Australian women. The movie was called Dil Bole Hadippa. According to Lonely Planet, the theater is the number 1 cinema in India. It was half empty and nothing really suggested Lonely Planet's claim was true. It was funny that people were yelling at the screen though.

The two Australian women were of similar attractiveness. One was short, thin, and blonde. The other was tall, brunette, and a little fuller. When we were walking on the street, every Indian man gazed at the tall brunette; it was astonishing. They not only stared, they yelled at her. The blonde got nothing, much to her delight. A couple of rickshaw drivers tried to get a little aggressive with either woman, until they saw me walking behind them. Then, their faces filled with shame. It was pretty funny.

I haven't met one American since I've been here in India. I haven't overhead an American accent. I haven't even seen someone who looked like they could possibly be an American.

Today, I was messing with the rickshaw drivers. I asked one what he thought about the Celtics now that they have Rasheed Wallace and Garnett's back. Did he think they were better than the Cavs? His answer was, "Festival?" I said, "Festival? What? No, I'm talking about the Celtics and the Cavs." He replied, "Camels!"

Then it got hot for me. I was approached by a guy who said, "Nice beard." I told him, "Thanks. It's better than yours." (Keep in mind, I knew he was trying to either sell something to me or scam me). Then I started a new thing. I told him I was from Moldova (a la two years ago) and my name was Asswipe (pronounced Assweepay) Johnson- a take off of an old SNL sketch that had a good premise but fell flat (thanks to Nicoloas Cage, the guest host). Soon, his buddy came and they tried very hard to scam me. The buddy said that beardy was from a small village and just wanted to talk to a foreigner. He wondered why foreigners were so rude. In the words of Sunshine Anderson, I heard it all before- from the Monday night scammers.

Speaking of which, one of them returned as I was walking with these latest two clowns. He was on the back of a motorcycle with a guy I never met. As soon as he arrived, the other guys split. The returning guy had a flat nose and a pony tail (2 of them from Monday had a pony tail, never a good sign). Right away he asked why I ddin't show up to meet his friend (don't you think you'd eaze into that subject?) He asked if he would see me tonight. I said no, I had plans with a friend. I kept walking. Then his friend pulled back up beside me and asked why I hadn't shown up the other day, again. In a non-scam situation, why would he care? Then, they drvoe off and I believe called me an asshole. We'll see what happens with that. Thankfully, I leave here Sunday.

Right after they left, Muhammad, from Monday night, rode by me and the back of a motorcyce. He screamed, "Hello David!" with a big smile on his face. He didn't stop, which makes me rethink whether or not he was trying to scam me. But why would a rickshaw driver be riding on the back of a motorcycle and not in his rickshaw?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Target vs. Privilege

In India in general, foreigners are both targets yet enjoy privilege. No matter how shabby my clothes, I can walk into any store because of the color of my skin. Last night, I ate at Pizza Hut. I've eaten there, at Subway, and at McDonald's; that's only three non-Indian meals in a week, give me a break. The drinks were really expensive, so I didn't order one. The waiter gave me filtered water, but I didn't touch it. Then he kept giving me Pepsis for free. I'm still not sure why, but it was very nice. The guy at the internet place, when filling out the form, asked if I was male. "Good guess." He laughed. Then he guessed I was 23 years old. I thanked him.

Foreigners are also targets. As you know, targets of scams. Targets of shocked stares. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, supposedly a heavily traveled area. It sits on the Delhi-Jaipur-Agra triangle. Yet, whenever I walk by, I'm gawked at as if this was a remote part of India. Maybe it's just me. Targets of beggars. Targets of overzealous rickshaw drivers. After I told one I was from America, he said he had three friends from America and named a few cities in a bid to get me to go with him. I said, "Tell them to come here!" He said, "They are coming. They are coming in summer." I said, "That doesn't help me now," and walked away.

Jaipur is decorated with garbage. There are hoards of animals wondering about. Camels, pigs, goats, cows, hump-backed oxen, and dogs. They feast on the garbage. They seldom go hungry here. There is supposed to be a beautiful palace. I still haven't found it. Jaipur is called the Pink City. I was anticipating everything painted pink. Not quite. Maybe they should call it the Garbage City instead (no disrespect intended). Or the Stare at me like I'm a clothed monkey City (a little disrespect intended).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More From Yesterday

The guy from the train, Arun, asked if I had a girlfriend.
One more "Really?" and I would've had to take him with me as my wingman.

The Muslim driver, who took me from the train station to the hotel, also tried to sell me his services as a tour guide. The hotel manager, who was so nice to confirm the scam, charged me a ridiculous fee for using the internet last night. Of course, he didn't tell me that until this morning. Muhammad, the rickshaw driver who first alerted me to the scam, was also trying to scam me himself.

I'm still upset at myself that I let the scam go as far as it did. It would've never made it past the first night, but I still set up an appointment with one of the guys to go to the Monkey temple (of course, I didn't show up once I learned it was all a scam). At one point last night, while I was sitting in the private room with the 5 guys, one of them said, "You look like you're uncomfortable." I was. I need to tap into to my instincts a little better. Never trust a man with a pony tail.

These guys are pros. There's even a warning about them in the travel guide, but it only mentions a "gem scam." Of course, I was far from that point, so I didn't immediately recognize it from the guide book. There was a lot that was off about the interactions, but I didn't put it all together right away. I wanted to believe they were nice guys. But I was going to ask the hotel manager if it was on the up and up regardless.

Today I walked around a bit. I saw some of the old city, which is the big thing in Jaipur. It's not nearly as crazy as Old Delhi. So far in Jaipur there have been a number of beggars. The rickshaw drivers are a little agressive, not unsual though (worse than Delhi, however). Since the attempted scam, I either totally ignore them or stare right through them. I'm sure both are very rude. I've been battling a little diarrhea that carried over from yesterday. My sore groin persists. I think I'll take it easy tonight. Maybe take a bath. Hey, we all need a little pampering!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Jaipur to Delhi

The makeup of this post in my mind has changed a few times since I've last been able to sit down to a computer.

If someone put up "Honk If Your Horny" signs all over India, this would be a nation full of Wilt Chamberlains.

Back in reality: Because the AC wasn't working one day in Delhi (I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy; in that room anyway), I got a discount. More accurately, I asked for a discount. They also charged me less than the orginial price they quoted me, a rare occurance in India.

I made it onto the train to Jaipur, no problem. At one point a few of us were piled on each other. A nice 23 year old guy, Arun, invited me to the upper bunk for lunch. He shared this wonderful potato dish with me. Unfortuantely, it went through me, and I had a tough train ride bladder-wise. But I hardly noticed. I had a nice talk with Arun. Then there was a family with a couple of little girls and a baby. We kept smiling and playing. Life was great. Arun let me borrow his phone so I could call the hotel in Jaipur to pick me up for free. The driver asked me if I was Muslim because of my beard. I said no, but a lot of people think that. We then introduced ourselves, shook hands, and he touched his right hand to his heart and then kissed it. I've always thought that tradition was very touching.

The hotel room is so nice (relatively speaking). I feel like a king for under $20. I unleashed my badder flurry, showered, and was on top of the world. Then, I went searching for dinner.

Three guys on a motorbike stopped in front of me. They were disheveled. "Why are tourists so mean?" they wondered aloud. One guy's friend just wanted to learn about art. He was wondering why a Swastika, that is good luck in India, is so bad in the West. I explained. They offered to get a drink with me. One guy with a pony tail said that it was too cloudy and wanted to get off the street. That struck me as odd. I was hesistant, but figured I'd go for it. We sat in the bar and the pony tailed man suggested we sit in a private room. Two more guys came. It was supposed to be one of their niece's wedding tomorrow and they invited me. I thought it odd to invite a stranger to your friend's niece's wedding. They peppered me with bad jokes. They offered to take me to the monkey temple. They rambled on and on. They weren't too interested in what I had to say.

I was dropped off near the hotel and went searching for a drink. I had it in my mind to ask the receptionist if this was on the up and up. A rickshaw driver named Muhammad approached me. I was slightly annoyed. He started talking and I decided to humor him. It was then that he explained that they were big scam artists. I thanked Muhammad. I confirmed it with the hotel manager. The manager told me absolute horror stories. People losing lots of their money. People being holed up in the scam artists' homes. He said that they are very tricky, so they haven't been caught. Plus, the legal system is very slow.

I was skeptical, but I must admit, I was duped to a point. If you're in Jaipur, be careful. And as a result, I haven't eaten since Arun offered me some of his lunch.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Old Delhi

Too much to say. I forgot about the woman who was carrying 20 bricks on her head yesterday. I was stuffed in a metro at one point. My ass has been touched too many times.

Last night, I planned to take a nice stroll through the bazaars in Old Delhi and then grab a bite to eat. Uh. Opps. I think I went at the wrong time. It seemed like there were all billion Indians in that narrow street. And they were all going in the other direction. It was surreal. I had to wade through miles of people. There was just so much going on. I slammed my knee against a motorcycle. Or to put that another, more accurate way, a motorcylce ran into my knee! The bazaars twist and turn, so I totally lost my sense of direction. I ended up at the Jama Masjid, which can hold 25,000 people. I was there during the call to night prays. The power of it was awing (is that a word?).

I walked so much, it took a lot out of me. I got a very mild case of diarrhea, but that was from my own hygenic shortcomings. Independent of that, a got a rash on my tushy from sweat. My groin muscle is also tight and sore from walking. Here you wanted tales of spirituality and delciious food from my trip to India and I give you ring-around-the-asshole.

Today, I saw a Hindi movie, Do Knot Disturb. The theater was really nice. That completes one of my three goals for this trip.

Later, I went back to Old Delhi to see where the train station is. It was more laid back (relatively speaking. At one point, I had to grab the back of a cycle rickshaw and yank myself forward to avoid an oncoming motorcycle. In India, you have to shut down. Tonight, I grasped why. I opened myself up. I can't really explain it. Guys with limbs cut off. Pleading mothers clutching their half-dead babies. But that's not the point. I'm not able to explain everything that flowed through me. All I can say is that I dreamed to be able to process it all, even though I know that will never be possible. And then I ate at McDonald's.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Assassination Saturday

I asked for a Sprite from a vendor and how much it cost. I didn't hear what he said and asked the guy next to me. He said 24 rupees. I gave the vendor a dirty look. Turns out the guy next to me misheard; it was 22. The vendor said, "22 rupees. That's Indian price. Not foreigner price. I only charge Indian price," smiling, knowingly lying (I paid less than that across the street). I responded, "What about handsome price?" showcasing my face a la the Price is Right girls. I got a laugh. I still had to pay 22 rupees.

The street I'm on is called the Main Bazaar. This place smells like urine. In fairness to Delhiites, it smells like my urine.*

I found out that yesterday was Mohandas Gandhi's birthday, which is why everything was closed. Today, I went to the place where Gandhi was murdered. It was emotional. The only problem was, I walked in the wrong way. You are supposed to follow in his footsteps (literally) to the spot where he was shot and take off your shoes at some point. Unfortunately, because I went the wrong way, I didn't realize my shoes were suppose to come off and I got in trouble.

I also visited Indira Gandhi's house, which displays the blood soaked sari that she was shot in. It also has pieces of Rajiv Gandhi's clothes that he was wearing when he was blown up. Keeping in the family line of past Prime Ministers, I next saw Jawarhalal Nehru's house. Let's just say it pays to be the Prime Minister of India.

*- In fairness to the reader, I should note that while it does smell like urine, it's not really mine.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Low Key

Yesterday was a low key day. I took it easy as to not get sik and it worked! To show you the area I'm in, I hardly went out yesterday and was offered hash 3 times. The foreigners here are all hippies. But not the good kind of hippie. The arrogant druggy type of hippie. But it's safe. One local did describe Pahanganj as "the slums."

I mostly read, watched tv, and slept. Indians love cricket. It's on the tv all the time. It's even on the news. I' talking CNN and CNBC. And not just a blurb either. Everyone was discussing "the top 7 reasons why the Indian cricket team sucks." And they won! They beat West Indies, which is now a country apparently.

Today, I did more. Delhi has a great metro. It compares favorably to New York or DC. I walked around New Delhi, which was very nice. The place I wanted to go was closed, because of some festival honoring Gandhi. I saw several monkeys. That's not racist, I mean actual monkeys (Who am I, Don Imus?) I yelled at a couple of monkeys, "You monkeys are fucking hillarious! Thanks for making my day!" Then I saw a guard behind a gate looking quizically at me. Later, there were thousands and thousands of screetching bats hanging on to several blocks worth of trees. I wasn't afraid of bats before. I am now. But this is just your typical national capital, monkeys and bats roaming around.

While I was walking around in Connaught, an upscale tourist spot, 4 guys came up to me (at separate locations) and said, "Nice beard." Then they each (inocuously) followed me. Back home, the girls all want me to shave the beard and walk in the other direction when they see me. I wish there was some way to switch the two groups.

The people have been nice and the food great. I had two wonderful tikka dishes. I did have a hissy fit in the Subway (fast food chain). I wanted pickles on the side. They said, "Not allowed." Instead of in the sandwich, I want it on the side, what's the difference? Every other Subway in the world lets you have pickles on the side. These are reasonable points in print, but not as much when your arms are flailing about, making more of it than should be. I instantly felt bad.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

In Delhi

"Let me check to see if I can let you go," said the woman working behind the desk in Newark's airport.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because your passport is mutilated, that's why!" she retorted as if I was the stupidest person in the world for not knowing that. Her supervisor came over and let me go. But not before issuing a warning, "You might have trouble with the government when you get back." Thanks for the helpful advice, jerk.

It was an arduous flight. I cried during the wedding in Meet the Fockers, I saw Godfather for the first time, I saw Rocky for the millioneth time, and watched Austin Powers. I also had a nice talk with the lady next to me that rambled on too long.

I was anxious about the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. Apparently, the drivers try to tell you that your hotel is booked or closed and take you to one where they get a commision. I played dumb, which was enhanced by not sleeping for 24 hours. I made up some ridiculous story that I was meeting my friend, but didn't know the name of the hotel. Instead he was going to call me. All I had was an address. Everything tunred out fine and I even talked with the driver a bit. He came to Delhi 20 years ago. He asked if I spoke Hindi and I said that I just couldn't get it. He said it was easy. I said I knew, but was too stupid. He chuckled in appreciation of my modesty and was turned out to be helpful.

I wandered for a while trying to find the hotel. I'm in the Pahangarj area, which houses a lot of tourists. It's probably not a great representation of Delhi. But you can't escape India. The noises, the smells, the dust, the heat.