Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are you experienced?

With the release of the Eat Pray Love (or is it Eat Love Pray?) major motion picture ("The amazing adventure of a middle-class white woman who talked her publisher into bankrolling a scripted adventure"), India-tripping is set to become a middle-class fad for the first time since the days of the 70s Overland Chapatti Express.  Except this time, instead of tie-dyed trippies, it will be mani-pedi suburban women seeking "adventure."  

It's always fun to watch the first-timers, fresh off the plane and perfectly accessorized, stumble over the inconvenient realities India inserts into their internal movies (Internal movie script: "Here I am, in front of the Taj Mahal. No, the Taj Mahal is for tourists; I'm not a tourist! Here I am in my spiritual clothes, being spiritual in an ashram.").   

But before they make the great voyage, clutching hand-bound blank books just brimming with the promise of fascinating journal entries,  there are questions. Lots of them.  After reading the India travel forums and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree (India branch) for years, here are some of the best, along with some of the best responses. 

Top 5 Stupidest Questions Ever Asked on Lonely Planet's
Thorn Tree India forum or IndiaMike
(and I am not making any of these up)
5. "Can you get a Starbucks Chai Latte in India?"
-This one, actually, left even me speechless.

4. "Is is safe to be seen publicly reading a copy of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses"?
-This is India, not Saudi Arabia. 
-No. In fact, you will be publicly dragged into the maidan and flayed alive by the angry mobs.

3. "What is the language spoken by the Babas and Sadhus of India?"
-According to my inlaws, it's Rupees.

--Yes, that's the language and the new mantra too!
---I think you are underestimating the sadhus. I am sure they are multilingual, and their dialects includes GBP, USD, JPY, DM etc.

2. "Would it be socially acceptable for me to listen to a Walkman or I-Pod with headphones on a train in India? I know the people are talkative and they might consider it anti-social?"
-I'd like to see the Ipod that could stop an Indian from asking questions.

and Number One....
1. "Is it true that in the Madras Zoo, you can see a Tamil Tiger?"
-Yes, they are readily identifiable by the blood on their hands. 

So, there you have it.  With the imminent arrival of the ELPs (Eat Love Pray crowd), I look forward to a new and better crop of victims contenders. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Goatshead Revisited

Summer re-runs
Originally filed from Kathmandu

Every other "show" gets to run summer re-runs, why not me?  I wrote this list in 2005, and was reminded of it by Lorraine of  It's interesting to re-read this after nearly five years, and see what has changed.

Oh yeah, if you are planning on reading about Nepal, Arresting God in Kathmandu is really mediocre. I recommend Culture Shock: Nepal or its equivalent in the CultureSmart series.  And if it's tales you want, the Traveler's Tales: Nepal is a great place to start.

Okay, let's go down my previous list.
Things you take for granted over here:

Bargaining and haggling for everything
Specifically asking for “English newspaper”

Having neighbors who look like stills from National Geographic

Dishonesty (about prices, availability, life stories, when the work will be finished, etc.) and corner-cutting

Wondering how you will pay the $65.00 rent  (Nowadays, it's more like $100)

Channel-flipping from Nepali to Hindi to English to Tibetan within a few minutes’ conversation

Monks with cell phones

Papayas, figs and pomegranates are not a luxury (At that time there was a pomegranate tree growing in my front yard.  Upon my return to US, I found that pomegranates have become the trendy fruit-of-the-moment.)

A dozen Tibetan high lamas live within walking distance

Nobody has a license (for anything)

Never being cold

Being called “Didi” (big sister) in Nepal, “Chechi” or “Madama” in Kerala, “Akka” in Tamil Nadu, “Memsahib” in Calcutta, and either “Auntie” or “Madame” everywhere else

Prescription medicine without a prescription, or a doctor’s visit

Prescription medicine that costs $50.00 in the US costing $2.00, over the counter.

Every commercial building has a full time watchman and doorman in uniform

Vegetarian food, everywhere.

Constantly carrying an umbrella (for sun most days, and rain during monsoon) - And, I could have added, to keep the occasional aggressive street dog away.

Sandals, 365 days a year

Routinely meeting people who’ve just returned from, or are headed, to places considered dangerous by most of the world (Afghanistan, Egypt, Jaffna/northern Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, trekking in western Nepal, etc.)

No spring, no fall, no changing colours; just hot season, rainy season and dry season (winter)

English teachers: pathethic losers at home, prestigious over here!

Permanently “homeless” people *not* being removed by police or housing authorities 

Handmade custom-tailored clothes available on most every corner (now, you just have to be able to communicate what you want!)

Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine in every shop; aspirin is “English medicine”

Child labour (exception: Kerala)

Beggars with stump limbs and grotesque deformities become routine

Every week is a different religious holiday for a different religion

Flowers grow all year round 

Keeping a bottle of mineral water in the bathroom just to brush your teeth

Hershey’s is an import; Cadbury is domestic

Hot water is a luxury

Being able to identify someone’s religion or region by their headgear or dress

Buying everything, from underwear to a sweater to popcorn to a mirror, on the street

Goats, cows and packs of dogs on the sidewalk

Your washing machine and bathtub both are a plastic bucket

Instead of tossing your old sandals or broken umbrella, getting them repaired by the shy "lower-caste" guy on the corner

Doctor’s visit: Three dollars (and worth every penny, ha ha)

Being treated like a rich person (ie, ability to stroll into five star lobbies and dawdle around without security being alerted) just by virtue of being a “foreigner”

BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper) - I recommend wet-wipes. At first I thought it was froo-froo, but when I finally gave in they just made life so much easier.

Taking a bus for ten cents, or a taxi across town for a dollar- The buses can still be as little as ten cents' equivalent; taxis have gone up - most radically in Kathmandu. 

Automatic VIP status for foreigners- This is changing, but still remains to some extent.

Stores close for afternoon siesta

Stray dogs aren’t rounded up and euthanized, but are alternately kicked, beaten, fed and played with- I did learn that stray dogs are occasionally victims of a poisoning campaign by various municipal governments.  This is really inhumane and torturous way to kill the animals, and since all dogs are allowed to wander here, often affects pets as well.

Saving water in a bucket in your bathroom; at least one day a week there is no water supply- Still a very good idea, particularly in Nepal.

Keeping a flashlight, candles and a lighter handy for power cuts  -This may never change.

Everyone on your block knows your schedule and your entire life story

The temple down the road is “only” 300 years old

Internet cafes and public phones that work on nearly every corner

Waiting for “the boy” to bring something (towel, bucket, water, napkin, tea)

Goat and other carcasses, eyes still open, for sale on the road

Having conversations with persons of a dozen nationalities in one day (German, Japanese, Israeli, Dutch, Danish, Australian, Filipino, Indian, Italian, British, Brazilian, French, Korean, Swedish, Swiss, Nepali, Bhutanese) and being able to identify them right away by accent-    and/or dress.  For example, no one but Koreans would wear those silly duck-billed sun hats, and Israelis are prone to wear bright, clashing colours together.

Not having a phone in the house (residential landlines are rare)

Parking anywhere (with a motorbike or moped), usually for free (exception: Pune)

Waking up at 4am to the shattering cymbals and braying horns of Tibetan morning ritual music--(The best place to do this is Boudha, Kathmandu)

Being nearly grazed by passing cars, motorcycles, cycle rickshaws and bicycles a dozen times a day

Every woman has a pierced nose, some more than one piercing

The Bunch of Keys (they are always old-fashioned, long handled keys and your house always has at least 3 different locks), also suitable for use as a weapon

Taking off your shoes before entering most rooms

Wearing sunblock every day, all day and still getting tanned

Tea is a staple

Wearing a face mask against air pollution-  More than ever in Kathmandu. Air pollution keeps getting worse.

Couples holding hands now appear shocking-  Tourist couples, take note and please heed. We don't like PDA and that includes holding hands. 

Seeing headlines like “500 teachers abducted; whereabouts unknown” or “Maoists slay 5 in Birgunj” on a daily basis

Seeing police with riot shields and barbed wire road blocks on every other corner

Cracked feet 

Compulsively dark shops and restaurants (electricity is very expensive, and people try to conserve to the point of living in darkness)

101 Uses for coconut hair oil (makeup remover, body lotion, moisturizer) and Tiger Balm (congestion relief, headache cure, wakey-uppy)

Stepping over human and other excrement on the road; ability to identiy excrement (human from dog, and cow from horse from elephant) at a distance

Paying $1.00 for a latte is a splurge- This has definitely changed. It's now at least $2.00, which is the average daily wage of many.