Thursday, December 27, 2007


Men on the street frequently call me over to sit next to them. Depending on my mood, I either yell namaste and keep walking or I sit down. I am most fascinated by the ones who speak no English but insist on getting my phone number so we can hang out again. As much as I'd like to spend another hour sitting around looking at things while we talk to each other in an unknown language, I may have to pass.

At the end of these meetings, requests for camera phone pictures abound. Something about my white skin apparently just screams for immortalazation. After my last picture with a taxi driver and his Marathi speaking friends, he showed me some videos on his impressive Nokia mobile. After I expressed sincere admiration for the keen piece of tech, he starts a porn movie.

Now, I have not seen any porn in this country but I see it for sale often. I might buy some just to find out if its anything like what this taxi driver showed me. I think calling it soft porn does an injustice to honest breast baring softcore porn everywhere. I might classify this as foreplay porn (you would not believe how long I spent looking up the word foreplay, it's probably inverse to the time I spend on it). The couple kissed passionately for most of the movie while the camera zoomed in on their interlocking tongues. In the last minute, he removed her shirt and we got to see him caress her bare back in semi-darkness. That was it. Does the whole country watch stuff like this and get as excited as my new friend? I'm not sure I want to know.

However, the best porn story of all time came from the beautiful Kurt Vonnegut in The Sirens of Titan. In the book, he described a novel written by his alter ego, Kilgore Trout (a frequent trick of his to describe crazy ideas that didn't have enough meat for a short story). He described a planet where all the vegetation had been consumed in the mad dash of capitalism. They only had petroleum byproducts left for nourishment. You could survive on this but it tasted terrible. The protagonist gets taken to a porn movie by his hosts. It started with a man eating an apple while the camera zoomed in on his mouth as it ripped and teared at the fruit. The grand finale showed a family sitting down to thanksgiving dinner. They had closeups of the bones ripped from the turkey, reveling in the mashed potatoes with simulated moans of pleasure (for this food was petroleum too and the actors faked their enjoyment) until they slowly licked their fingers clean of the delicious feast. Now that's porn.

getting a letter

I picked up a letter from the Mumbai Central Post Office containing my new ATM card. Imagine with me:

Remember your last trip to the DMV. Take away the computers and replace them with reams of paper that overflow into the hallways, kept in stacks that will drown someone when they finally give way. Replace the incompetent workers with employees that received their job through bribes or political favors (unconfirmed reports but rings true to me). Take away any western sense of urgency and replace it with frequent chai breaks.

Luckily, I entered the post office well fed and happy. A hungry Lex would have emerged enraged and possibly dragged out by the numerous security guards (this country must have the highest guard to people ratio in the world). Instead, I could barely contain my laughter at the three ring circus. I would painstakingly lay out the details of my case to someone until they called over reinforcements. I would repeat everything while several people argued in rapid Hindi around me. In the course of two hours, I talked to 19 different people in 7 locations spread across a large city block. I truly have never seen anything like it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Munght or: Merry it's too damn hot Day

Luckily, I did not get too homesick on Christmas day. It doesn't really feel like Christmas because it's hot, I haven't been plastered with ads for two months straight and it's pretty hard to find an evergreen in Bombay. However, people still get the day off work.

I took the train up to my friend's place for a nice Christmas dinner and a few drinks which actually dissolved into delivered dominoes and budweisers. Anyway, I have never been on a train this full. That is not a statement I make lightly. It felt like the stateroom scene from the Marx Brother's A Night at the Opera:

Here are some stats:
The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Mumbai commuter network's rail tracks carry 20,000 passengers every day for each kilometer, or 0.62 mile, of rail, surpassing Tokyo where the comparable number is 15,000 people per kilometer. During peak hours in Mumbai, 550 people travel in a carriage built for 200 with a total of 6.1 million passengers traveling daily.

With all of this crush, I never saw the people so happy. With no work, everybody helped each other even more than usual. I kept yelling "I Love India" to a bunch of Sikhs in the Indian Army. They laughed loudly with big open mouths and wagged their heads. They frowned disapprovingly at the old pickpocket who I put in a headlock after he made a clumsy move for my wallet. Nobody talked that much but we all looked around with big grins to laugh for no reason. The crushing train ride became the highlight of Christmas Day.

new words

While hanging out with two guys and some beer in Pune, I got around to learning some Hindi curse words. I asked for something that would start a fight (if needed):
Ah. Machodta hu.
Loose translation: Approach. I will have relations of a pleasurable nature with your matriarch.

Today on my walk home, a scooter veered around a tree to save some time and almost hit an old man. The man stuck his Indian burger into the rider's face and started cursing him out. I had a general idea what the old timer yelled so I hollered the above phrase after the motorcycle. The man turned and waggled his head at me with a big grin. As we shook hands, I said "damn kids" and pumped my fist a few times. He also made a fist and muttered something probably equivalent in Marathi.

Motherfucker: bringing the world together

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

an interesting thought

I've been meeting a number of call center workers and most enjoy their jobs although they find the hours annoying. It's best to work for a UK company because then you work from noon to 8PM. The US call centers have the worst hours because you work all night. Also, you have to talk to americans. Never a fun task.

Anyway, I have also met some people who loathe these jobs with a passion. I ask why they don't quit and most do not have a choice. They have to support families, pay for sibling's schooling of save enough dowry for their sisters to marry. It's said that in India, a man must find a few husbands before he can find a wife.

However, a few do not have anything keeping them cemented to their job but they stay anyway. I know this fear of leaving your safe comfortable job pervades the world but one guy had an interesting thought on why its stronger in India (besides the obvious lack of high-level jobs in this country). He said that ever since you are small, everyone you know gives you advice on every aspect of your life. Unfortunately, most of it is contradictory and terrible. You have no idea who to trust and you receive a constant shower of unwanted criticism, plans and information.

I have seen this often in this country. I quickly learned to listen with a thoughtful look of concentration to people's advice and promptly discard the majority at the door. I'm old enough to sift out all of the crap but I can't imagine growing up with a constant fight for some straight shit. It would be trying say the least.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

lousy bets

In New York, I kept winning all of the random bets that I made. I felt unstoppable. I've lost every bet I've made in India. Tessa has won every bet, I lost my poker earnings at Bollywood and I just lost 100 Rs to my friend, Pratsut, on the Madrid-Barcelona soccer game. I felt cocky in cheering aganst Madrid to needle him even though he almost made we walk home. Thirty seconds after I bet 100 Rs that Barcelona would score first, Madrid put in a beautiful goal. I think I should be worried that Pratsut bets I will not be able to last out my six month lease in Santa Cruz. I wonder if that fishing boat job in Australia is still available.

taste testing and Eid al-Adha

Tessa met a girl at a roadside chai place in Colaba. The girl called her later because she needed Westerners for a taste testing. Tessa, Mandela (our new roommate) and I took a put-put to Bandra. Then we had to change put-puts to get a local driver who still didn't know the restaurant location. After the usual asking a number of interested bystanders, we arrived at a fancy restaurant decorated with a small forest of exotic wood.

They told us to show up at 4 when they would bring the other Westerners from Colaba. They showed up at 5 and we only sat down at 5:30. I don't know how I still expect people to show up on time. It has not happened once yet I still am surprised. I've heard that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

Tessa and I played cards to keep our minds off our stomachs while we chatted with a backpacker from Ireland. The waiter for our table smiled apologetically and told us we couldn't play cards. We've been told this many times in Bombay and have a patchy history of obedience. This time we told him that we would put the cards away when the food started coming. You could tell it pained him greatly.

We learned two things during our three hours of taste testing 25 different meals, desserts and drinks:

1. These people think we are idiots. Every time we had to turn the page for the next food item, they would come around and check to make sure we had the right page. We eventually started opening to the wrong page and identifying everything as quesedillas (this word is not listed in Google's dictionary).

2. This restaurant doesn't have a chance in hell. They billed the new restaurant as fast casual, a McDonalds without throwaway cutlery. They foisted fancy foods from all over the world on us. I liked some of the stuff but I would never get it from a fast food joint. These meals tasted good when made in a fancy kitchen while only feeding twenty people. I see a weird and varied menu made at breakneck speed as a recipe for disaster.

However, we still got our 500 Rs (12 USD) which is now enough to feed me for a week. I headed back home with Mandela while Tessa wandered off with a new friend.

Earlier in the day, while getting breakfast at my new favorite hole in the wall chinese restaurant with a waiter that reminds me strongly of Manuel from Captain's Corageous, I noticed many young Muslim girls in fancy saris and sadwaras with hands covered in henna. I saw Muslim men walk by in spotlessy clean white kurtas and caps. I soon realized that today they celebrate Eid al-Adha (the festival marking Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son) by slaughtering goats and cows. A third of the meat goes to the poor, a third to family and friends (I had some delicious mutton chops last night thanks to this holiday) and a third for yourself. This causes problems every year because of outdoor sacrifices observed by cow loving Hindus.

As I walked back to my place, I heard the pounding beats of the latest popular (and repeated to death) dance songs and Bollywood hits. A group of thirty Muslim boys from their early twenties down to newly walking set up a dance party outside one of the apartment buildings. They swarmed me and demanded that I dance. I told them that I hate to dance. I told them I am a terrible dancer. I told them no.

So as I danced in the middle of the circle, somebody would come in and I would imitate their dance moves. Some did club dancing with invisible energy balls, some would do flirting hip thrusting moves and a father even jumped in and just put his hands in the air for awhile. An 8 year old jumped in and I couldn't even begin to imitate him. I have said it before and I will say it again: these guys love to dance. They urged me to lead so I got them all jumping for awhile before I skanked and head butted my way around the circle. After a few songs, I tried to get away to meet a friend. They pushed me back in and said just one more song. After this happened twice, in the silence at the end of a song, I bowed and yelled "Ass salaam walakum". I impressed a number of people today after I learned this traditional Muslim greeting. They all cheered and I bolted from the circle. I barely got away as they tried to hold me back. I returned to my place, sweat dripping from my last clean shirt.

Monday, December 17, 2007

the true (and last) bollywood extra experience

We got approached by a Bollywood agent to appear as extras in a big action comedy movie named Singh is King. I didn't like guy and he offered us shit pay (400 Rs / 5 USD while the normal rate is 1000 Rs) but we figured it might be good for making Tessa some Bollywood contacts (untrue, we rated less than cattle (bad comparison, treated as cattle would be wonderful in this country, people would pay old women to feed me and paint me in crazy colors).

We met at 8AM outside a McDonalds. We counted on the Golden Arches to be open but of course, they do not open until 10. It always amazes how late shops open around here. 10 AM seems to be average with many opening after noon. We had little options for food so we got some jam sandwiches and chai from a street vendor. Those guys love us when we come by. It appears most foreigners fear the food and never eat on the street, even just sandwiches. A trick I learned for street vendors: go to the places where women and families eat. They will most likely be local people who know the ropes.

The extras agent herded us (the perfect term for it) towards a rickety bus for our trip up to Bandra. I sat in the back of the bus with the cool kids and started talking to Ross, an austrailian guy on his last fling before the final year of med school. I glanced behind me to notice a commotion. A black guy with a big bamboo stick kept yelling at a beggar with a gnarled foot, missing most of the toes. As the entire bus of foreigners watched. He started interspersing his remarks with long hard blows from the stick. I wanted to charge in as soon as I saw this beating and even got off the bus to be closer to the action. Everything in me wanted to run in, throw the stick over the fence and stop this. I just stood there with clenched fists of rage thinking to myself "It's not my country. It's not my country." I don't know how things work here yet. Most of the pedestrians stopped to watch, talking quietly and laughing at private jokes. It left a sick feeling in my stomach for the day: partially from witnessing the casualness of the violence and partially anger at myself for not being man enough to stop something wrong.

We drove about forty five minutes north to Bandra ( a hot neighborhood of Mumbai and a possible new home so Tessa will be close to the clubs and Bollywood work) into a small compound. In the parking lot of this "giant blockbuster", captive goats roamed the parking lot with their multicolored spray painted horns. Extra agents lie a lot. Many people you meet lie a lot. Lying in India is not wrong. They are not raised with it as a sin like in the western world. In a country with so many people packed into a too small place, lying makes sense as a form of social grease. When you catch an Indian in a lie, they will smile good naturedly and ignore any attempts to call attention to it. Part of it also stems from their unwillingness to say "no" because they consider it somewhat rude. If you ask your taxi driver if he knows how to get somewhere, he doesn't want to be rude and say no. He'll say yes and keep pulling up to other taxi drivers or pedestrians and ask for directions. Overall, I like it. I don't feel guilty making up an event to avoid someone I don't like or giving misleading information to pushy "new friends" on trains. It seems to keep the country running smoothly.

It took awhile to get the girls dressed in some lackluster dresses (Tessa said there's nothing here even worth stealing) so some of the boys smoked hash and cigarettes in the stairwell. You can find hash easily in Mumbai and many Westerners spend most of their trip smoking. You usually receive little hassle from the police (except in Goa where they impose fines payable immediately in cash) and pedestrians don't bat an eye. It helps that hash has little smell but there's also a general acceptance. Many sadhus (wandering hindu holy man) smoke constantly and Nepal even has government issued marijuana for them. People, old nosy women especially, tend to frown on drinking while hash or pot recieves little attention. It's nice to have a culture with a more common sense in this realm. People do so much more damage to themselves and the people around them because of alcohol. I'm not saying hash and pot have no negative effects but compared to alcohol, it's no contest.

I finally got dressed in a fantastic pink satin shirt and a fantastic jacket with faux alligator skin lapels (which I may have liberated later in return for my annoying day). I can't believe I didn't get a picture of myself. I looked great. We wandered into the set where they constructed the posh formal living room of a mansion under a roof made of bamboo tied together with rope and a plastic tarp. I love the contrasts. I started a game of chess with the doctor. Luckily, we got interrupted soon because I had already lost my queen and knight in the first four moves (shame, shame, it pains me to admit this but i strive for ruthless honesty on this blog (lie)).

They put me in the very back because I had no shoes. They only gave shoes to one or two guys when they dressed us but this caused a big commotion when they started placing us for the first shot. I liked it. Grand gestures and histrionics over the shoe situation. I could never work at a place like this. At least a hundred people standing around for 14 hour days and getting a minute of two of usable material. Things seemed to run smoothly like a glacier. They paired me with a girl from the french part of Switzerland who studied economics in New Dehli. Unfortunately, she started to feel sick and went pale as a ghost. She kept sitting down and the extra herder would hiss at her to stand up because they would be shooting soon (rarely true). I told him she's going to faint and we needed a replacement now. He said he'd get one right after this shot and just stood there unmoving. I went back to her and she looked ready to collapse. I resisted the urge to try to cheer her up by jovially asking if it's morning sickness. I once got the wrong and reluctant answer to that one and have never asked it again (unless I felt like it). I went to the extra herder and told him he needed to go get someone right now. He grudgingly complied and she finally got a chance to rest.

After the scene, we got herded out to a tent with a bunch of chairs. The routine became clear quickly: sit around and play cards, talk, listen to music or sleep before the extra herder comes in and pointing at people for scenes. I quickly learned to not make eye contact or any sudden moves. I think their vision, like velociraptors, is based on motion. If you get selected, they rush you to the stage quickly as possible, saying you're needed right away (always always always a lie). Then you stand under extremely hot lights in suits with a random foreginer and have to repeat the Big Five Questions until all of the answers swirl into a meaningless mass of boring facts:
Where are you from?

How long are you travelling for? (a little bit of one upsmanship with the longest stay winning, i'm moving here is the grand champion answer unless the person you're talking to hates bombay)

Where have you been?

Where are you going?

What will you be doing when you get back?

And the dreaded one that I always try to avoid: what's your name? I try to avoid it because if you never learn it, you can't be expected to remember it. I've finally got a trick to remember people's names (one of my notorious memory breaches). Right after I meet someone I want to remember, I write their name down on that day in my notebook or on the card they gave me. Next time, I go to the place where I might see them, I look up their name and any salient details I recorded. I only have to do this once or twice and I can remember the name forever. Of course, people like being remembered but indians especially love when you remember details about their families. Many interactions start with twenty minutes of small talk about various relatives. I often excuse myself to the bathroom and memory dump everything I remember into my notebook for later reference. I think this trick will be extremely important for this country.

During one of the down times, I made my favorite remark of the day. I said how the guys got pretty nice suits but the girls had such terrible clothing.
I pointed to one girl in the circle and said "you got pretty lucky with that dress."
I pointed to a nice british girl, currently teaching english here in india, and said "you got the worst of the lot."
She smiled and said "they let me wear my own dress for the day."
"Well, in that case," i said, "it's very nice."
"Oh no, you don't have to lie to me."
"Alright. The pattern looks like a chair in my grandmothers house."
"OK. You can put away the shovel now."
I'm reminded of an Andy Griffith scene. He says something similar and after she storms out in a huff, he lifts up his foot and peers at it quizzically. He looks at Opie and says "look at that big foot. How do you reckon I can fit that entire big old thing into my mouth."

At lunch, a poker game got started and everyone staked their earnings from the day. We had a med student from sydney, a physicist from London, two funny dutch boys and a fellow biochemist from australia. We used pine cones, blades of grass and cigarettes as our currency. In true family style, I lost all of my money first. I think we may have been hustled by the med student from Sydney. We urged him into the game and he reluctantly joined after pleading ignorance. Then he went onto quickly win it all after playing some shrewd hands.

Having lost our earnings, we had absolutely no incentive to continue working under the brights lights and get yelled at for standing where some other knucklehead told us to stand. We stayed in the grass and kept smoking cigarettes, drinking cokes and playing cards. One of the nicer extra handlers kept coming out to bring us in and we kept saying we'd be there after this smoke. He'd shake his head, grab a cigarette and walk back inside. After dark, he came out to let us know about dinner. We all thought it was a trick to get us back in the spiders lair but we finally followed to find a good spread and an efficient and jostling line of Indians quickly moving down the food line.

The head caterer kept smiling at me and obviously wanted to talk. I asked his good name and he asked mine (indian rule of relations: everyone has a good name and you usually compliment someone's name when you meet them. It's more true with the less contact you will probably have with them). I asked him his favorite dish here. He just smiled and wobbled his head. I wasn't sure if he heard me because he started yelling back to his workers. However, I have learned to be patient. Soon, a half full tray of food came out, looking like big fried potato chips. As he dumped it into the bin a few places ahead of me, he smiled and pointed at the new dish. Everyone ahead of that spot in line started reaching back and filling their plates. He started to get anxious as the guys in front of me went by and took huge helpings. You could see the anger rising as the man in front of me went for the last one. He barked at him in Hindi and grabbed the tongs out of his hand. He took out the last piece and put it on my plate. I tried it and gave an expression of extreme enjoyment. He started beaming and told me to wait. Soon, another tray came out and he personally piled a week's supply onto my plate. I love these little interactions.

After dinner, we made a break for the grass but got roped into the next scene. I talked to a very nice girl from Slovenia who gave guided tours of local countries back home. She told me that most of the travelers were in high school and all of their partying made for a fun yet trying job. I got more and more uncomfortable until I noticed that my two fellow deserters/union employees (Actors Local 666) had disappeared. I wanted to go as well but they had posted a guard on me. I saw the physicist in an empty back room mocking me. My guard finally disappeared for a minute and I made my great escape (after reading papillon, I can't get stop from framing adventures like this as a prison break). We passed the head extra wrangler and he told us we wouldn't get paid. I mentioned that we couldn't keep the money anyway but that he did not seem to appreciate my reasoning. I actually preferred to not get paid because I felt guilty eating their food and doing no work. I felt some justification because I know that this movie paid a third of the going rate for extras and consistently lied about how long the filming lasted each day.

They wrapped up around 10:30 and we finally got our hostage stuff. They cleverly locked our bags in a room for the day, the only reason that kept us from going over the wall. The three mutineers got grilled about who hired us and we all pleaded ignorance. I didn't want them to dock his pay because of us. As we got on the bus, all of us got our money for the day. It surprised me to get my 400 Rs and I temporarily forgot that I had to hand them over anyway. Ross, you hustling doctor bastard, i hope you enjoy our pitiful wages when you sleep on giant piles of money with many beautiful women.

We got some drinks at my favorite local watering hole, the Gokul bar. Whenever I'm there, my group has the only girls in the entire place. You simply do not see women at most bars. They show up at nightclubs but there's less women in almost all public places. Anyway, we left at closing time (1AM) and had to leave through the kitchen that leads into a dark slimy alley until you get back to the street. One of the girls pulled me aside and asked for my number. I told her I didn't know it yet so I gave her my card. She wrote down her number and gave it to me with the funniest line of the day: "You should call me, unlike the last 8,000 guys I gave this out to." Well, if I wasn't interested before, I certainly am not now. However, it makes a funny bookmark.

After those few beers, I got so tired. I went to our room, dark with everyone sleeping, and grabbed my toothbrush. As I brushed my teeth, I thought that the beer must be reacting with the toothpaste in a strange way because i felt a burning sensation. As I woke up the next morning, I realized I brushed my teeth with linseed oil. The adventures never stop.

Friday, December 14, 2007

bring on the culture

I started to find my first cultural events in the city. There's not nearly as many events here as NYC but you don't need many to keep busy every night of the week.

After a long and frustrating walk, we finally found the the NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts). I am glad we stuck it out to find the place because I know I will return often. It's a bunch of nondescript concrete buildings but they house a number of free galleries, theater spaces and film screening rooms.We quickly passed through a photo exhibition by a prominent medical doctor of mountains and flowers in the American West. Unfortunately, his lack of training showed through clearly but he shadowed us through part of the gallery so we ooohhhed and aahhedd appropriately.

Then we caught the film that brought me here in the first place, "Dali in New York", a documentary about the great painter's largest retrospective in 1965. I disliked the documentary for its annoying surrealism (I know, I know, it's Dali, of course its surreal but this director did not have his touch). I still enjoyed seeing the maniac and his entourage in person. He always traveled with a black flute player, a man with a gigantic gold eye patch that would randomly read aloud from anything in a loud voice, a sycophant (not that Dali needed one), a man with a pet ocelot always around his neck, a young guy Dali believed to be his reincarnated dead brother (oh, to have been that kid) and a psychological warfare specialist from WWII. He never stopped creating various plays in the street and organizing surreal photo opportunities at the drop of a hat. We watched him get into a bath tub full of money with an ocelot sniffing at his head while someone cracked an egg full of ants on his face. What a guy. Unfortunately, it pained me greatly to hear him call Franco "the smartest living politician". Here's the man himself on What's My Line:

The same theater has a Jackson Pollock movie soon and I found a film club that will meet once a week to show movies from around the world. Now, that I have a cell phone to call them, I'm signing up today. It's starting to feel a little bit like home. Now all I need to do is find a house that's not the Salvation Army.

a short exchange

all in extremely friendly tones, walking home late at night:
Suspected Hashish Dealer: hello sir
.X: I don't want any.
SHD: Hello ma'am
TP: I don't want any either.
SHD (as he fades away): You look very handsome this evening sir.
.X: I always do.

another one bites the dust

In reference to this article, Goody the Incorrigble claimed "i was surprised when it wasnt you"

call me, love your hair babe, don't change a thing, have your girl call my girl, we'll do lunch

I just got my phone number here (updated, try again if it didn't work earlier):
011 91 9833803869
country code + area code + phone number
in case you're interested in the breakdown

Send text messages. They don't cost anything extra.

Feel free to give me a call. It's actually not that expensive to call from an american land line. Also, every gas station has cheap phone cards for calling India in case you think I might be worth the effort.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Voices of Bollywood

I woke up early for the free Salvation Army breakfast served from 7:40 to 8:40 by our always smiling hosts. It consisted of two pieces of white bread, a small amount of butter and jam, one green banana and one hard boiled egg. I have not bothered waking up for it since because i require approximately four times more food for breakfast. It takes a lot to maintain these gigantic muscles.

I took a short walk to the Gateway of India (one of the two worthwhile tourist sights in the city, the other being the gloriously gothic Victoria Terminus, the busiest train station in Asia) and enjoyed the approximately 75% reduction in stares from being without my pretty blonde sidekick. Back at Salvation Army, I walked into the common room and my belgian roommate told me that a guy downstairs asked for americans for a bollywood thing. I ran downstairs to meet, Imram, one of my new friends in the city. It turns out he has met the guy from Shantaram twice, the most thrilling book I have read in a long time about a guy in Mumbai who loves people and gets into crazy wonderful happy adventures while also working for the mob and fighting with the mujadeen in Afghanistan. I know I have mentioned this book before but I promise I will also mention it again. It's all I can do to not talk about it constantly with people who are reading it so I don't spoil anything. Anyway, Imram told me about a voiceover role that only took 4 hours (that's generally 5 to 7 hours in indian talk) and paid 500 Rs (12 USD). They only needed a male but I could bring Tessa along for the fun of it. We picked up two great girls. Zoe has been traveling India for about a month in between her theater studies at a New Zealand University. She has great hair with some dreadlocks and some braids filled with bells, ribbons, feathers and buttons. It was a work of art. Stef, from England, spent the last few months working at an orphanage in a village in the poor state of Andra Pradesh. She said it became a very draining experience but I didn't want to press for details. It seemed a little too fresh. She's lived everywhere teaching english and does the kind of human interest journalism that I would love to try.

We caught the commuter train up to Andheri. Imram insisted on buying tickets which makes sense for him because he cannot feign ignorance like we can during the amazingly infrequent ticket checks. Tessa looked great standing in the open doorway with the wind whipping her hair around. I have to grit my teeth while most men on the train stare and the adolescent pukes devour her optically. I sit down and start talking to a nice young guy from Cairo getting his MBA here in Bombay. However, he's sick of India and got accepted to MIT. I gave him some Boston advice and my card. Then, I noticed Tessa talking to a distinguished looking Sikh fellow. Sounds good to me. I love Sikhs. After a lengthy conversation, he sits across from me and I talk to him about his trips around the world with the Indian merchant marines. He missed the glory days when loading a ship took at least four days, leaving him time to explore the city. It must not have been all he explored because after he left, Tessa told him that he made a clear sugar daddy offer. The girls laughed at this and I agreed we could hold out for better than a captain in the indian merchant marines. However, it's hard to imagine a better sugar daddy than a Sikh. I bet they take care of you.

We grabbed two put-puts to get to the studio. I believe our driver had the longest ear hair I have ever witnessed personally. Unfortunately, my pictures did not come out. After a few worrisome minutes when our put-puts got separated and I saw our rupees sadly floating out of reach, we all arrived at the sound studio.We met Peter, a theater actor from England who moved here a few years ago and now works at all kinds of projects around Bollywood. He also turned out to be a gifted (or at least practiced) voice actor. We all gathered in the dubbing room for something I never knew existed. In many of the scenes, an extra's voice might not come out clearly on the footage. Therefore, when the police officer in this movie introduces the couple but he spoke too softly. They have me say the same line and synch it up with his lips. We repeat this a number of times because the syncing can be tricky. Once it's right, they play it back to check it and you get to hear your voice coming out of someone else's mouth. Instructions come from the glassed in sound booth behind us with six sound engineers, mixers and related audio monkeys. After we took care of the individual voices that needed touched up, we broke for lunch.

Lunch came in aluminum foil bags packed with chicken briyani. Heaven. I would work for just the free food. The second half of the session got a little more tedious. We became the background noise for various scenes. Luckily, we could say whatever we wanted. Nobody seemed to care. We would cheer for the party scenes, talk about the killer drugs and babes on the drunken ride home, discuss the impossibility of finding good help at the five star hotel scene and peter discussed all the missing and tampered evidence at the police station. He kept up a ridiculously funny chatter that almos ruined some takes because of our giggling. During the horse racing, I would do the racing guide scene from the Marx Brother's "A Day at the Races". No one else got it but it made me happy. Please enjoy. I always do. After a few hours of this, they brought us some chai and thanked us for the help. While we waited to leave, Stef taught me blackjack. It's not the 21 version we play in american casinos. It's a game where you start with seven cards and you try to lay them all down first but there's a bunch of special cards to skip people or make them pick up more cards. I liked and won a few hands by the end. It became my default card game with Tessa because I am sick of losing at rummy. Imram paid us off (with little something extra for us because Tessa did some work even though she wasn't supposed to get paid) and we hopped a bus back to the train station.

We had an invite to some fancy CD release party at a club in Andheri (north mumbai, hot area, looking at apartments there today hopefully for $75 bucks a month) so Tessa wanted to go shopping for nice clothes. Imram took us to a street that had open air shops down it's entire quarter mile length. Every few steps we heard please sir, please ma'am, it's free to look, i have very nice things , very cheap, just for you. I really respected the guys trying to sell us baby clothes. That takes salesmanship to a whole other level. People also seem bewildered that neither of these girls were my wife and that I might prefer it that way. Actually, I gave up for awhile and told people yes, I am married to Stef. It made it easier to refuse sales requests because people seemed understanding when I said it was not worth it spending money on her. Tessa found a cute outfit and pair of shoes for 400 rupees (10 USD). We showered up and headed to Andheri for the second time that day.

Luckily, we finally found a young put-put driver who knew the club location we requested. We enter a hip dim bar with a mob of cameras in one corner around a pretty young actress. We headed to the back room to check out the music and met a cool Canadian guy living here for a few months to finish releasing his album of indian music. He gave us some tips on the city and a lead for a Bollywood gig for Tessa. Then we realized it was a full open bar. Tessa enchanted the bartenders who kept a drink at her elbow at all times. They even made her a flaming tower by putting a few different glasses on top of each other with a filled cocktail glass as a base and then lighting vodka on fire and pouring it over the whole structure. All of the glassses go up in a blue flame as the liquor pours into the drink and you have to finish it all before the flames goes out.

As we sat with our first drinks, I noticed a guy two seats down who looked familiar. It turned out to be Sven from Sweden, our botanist friend from the Golden Temple. He came with the guy who invited us, Kenneth Lobo. I knew Kenneth through couchsurfing but had never met him in person and forgot to look at his online picture before we left. I never would have found him if he didn't already have Sven staying with him. I love connections like that. Kenneth works for a local paper doing cool feature articles for them and seems to know everything happening in the city. I liked him right away. They went downstairs to get food while Tessa went to the dance floor.

I did what I do best at loud posh dance parties: I sat in the corner with a brooding look and a deck of cards, observing the room. I usually dislike these events and this was no exception. I didn't want to talk to any of the young beautiful people running around. I liked watching the photographers the most. I assume they came here from various papers, gossip rags and websites but you could clearly see a brotherhood. They stood out as dorky looking younger guys and older heavy men but they seemed to be the only people in the room who cared about each other. They hugged, held hands (I'm getting used to but it's still tough for me to walk a few blocks holding a guy 's hand) and talked nonstop between getting pictures of the attendees. They seemed to be the most genuine people in attendance although I am always unfairly negative to people in the entertainment business.

Once the bar closed, we went to the apartment of a DJ from Brooklyn who had been working here for a few years. I am positive I did not give him this blog address so I can be honest (sometimes my comments must be censored out of kindness, I do not like it all and it makes the whole post feel fake to me). After two years here in his giant marble apartment, he spoke no Hindi and seemed to know nothing about this country. He does shows in all the major cities but he flies to them and stays in fancy hotels. He travels in a Mercdeds with a driver and has never taken a long distance train or the local Mumbai commuter rail. In fact, he seemed appalled I would even take Tessa on the train at any time (we actually both love the train, you meet interesting people, get gawked at and can stand in the door for a nice breeze). He had a casual distrust of all indians in terms of money and safety. This blows my mind because you have a lot more to fear in Brooklyn then you do in this gentle Hindu country. Many people do try to hustle you for an extra buck but they do it openly with a smile on their face. I'm still getting used to the different attitude towards money here. In America, when you start arguing over money, things get heated pretty fast and the bad feelings last after the completion of the exchange. In India, you can sit and haggle for twenty minutes but everyone uses pained expressions when they can not accept your price. Once you reach a price, no hard feelings persist. People still want you to sit and gossip about anything. I am training myself to not be my normal efficient self and move away so quickly after a sale. Most people continue to sit and talk and I should do the same. Hell, I got nowhere to be. I'm free and loving it.

MASH at the Gokul Bar

If you do not know the game MASH, you missed the biggest thing to hit our elementary school. Here's the quick run down: You write MASH at the top of the page which stands for kind of house you will have (mansion, apartment, shack, house). Then you make categories like spouse, job, car, vacation home, pets, time of death and anything else you want. In each category, you choose two good items to put in the list and your partner (who is doing the writing) writes two bad items. For example, for my wife i had these four entries: Marilyn Monroe, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, Olivia de Haviland and the crazy asian woman from the bus yesterday. One you have filled all of your categories, the writer covers the pen with their hand and says go. They then start making tally marks until you say stop. Using the number of tally marks, start counting each item starting at the M in MASH at the top of the page. Every time you reach your number, cross out that item and keep counting. You keep crossing off items until there's only one left in each category and that is obviously how your life will turn out.

My Life:
live in: house
wife: Marilyn Monroe
job: planetary explorer (dork alert)
car: the "van"
money: enough
vacation home: the moon (double dork alert)
kids: a firstborn son (Edward Carl Alexander Pelger V)
time of death: long twenty years of downhill slide with your mind going last (thanks tessa)
pets: rats (I'll let Pap take of them, he loves rats)
overall: except for the dying (which I don't truly believe I'll ever do anyway), I came out pretty well

Tessa's Life:
live in: apartment
husband: Danny Tanner from Full House
job: world food tester but with no calories (i was really hoping for sewer worker or lab guinea pig)
car: Audi TT
money: neverending wallet
vacation home: grand canyon (ha, that's the bad one i put in, mostly to needle our father, we call it the Grand Ditch and only speak of it with derision)
kids: always triplets
time of death: natural
pet: pig trained to love human flesh (kept thinking of snatch (the movie) that day for some reason)
overall: I got her good with the husband but otherwise she has a pretty good life

back in bombay and the adventures just don't stop

My first order of business (with gritted teeth) regards the just completed rummy 500 tournament. Congratulations to Tessa Pelger, the luckiest girl in the world. Actually, she plays quite a good game but you do have to be mad after so many hands of laying down face cards right after the deal. Also, who gets to pick up her cards and go out on the first round before I even make a play? Come on. Anyway, she did good and deserves the medal I will make for her out of trinkets I find on the street.

After some plan readjustment,we came back to bombay a few days ago. I prefer trains here because you always meet nice people but no train tickets were available (helpful india travel hint: almost all trains have seats set aside for foreigners but you can only buy the tickets at the international tickets bureaus at the major stations. Therefore, if you have set travel dates to smaller locations, always buy all of your tickets ahead of time. Also, ride sleeper (cheapest) class. Don't be a little girl. You meet good people, well behaved cockroaches and pay a quarter of the price. You still get a bed to sleep on. They just don't give you blankets or AC.) From the beach, we took the local bus (official number of people allowed to stand: 11, people standing: ~22) into the travel hub of Mapusa and went to get money from the ATM. However, we only have Tessa's ATM card (see lex incompetence/giant sikh guard/stupid bank rules to find lex's card) and I checked the balance before withdrawing to make sure mom added more money. She holds the majority of our money in separate accounts that we cannot access from India and tops them off when they get low so nobody can steal our life savings (might have happened to your beloved author once before in Kathmandu, don't ask, I won't tell, five years later and still not funny to me). The balance said 400. I start ranting and raving. 400 rupees equals 10 american dollars. That's probably not enough for the trip. We might be stuck here with no way to get any money. I take out the 400 rupees and we now have 678 rupees total. After some negotiations and shameless begging, we bought the cheapest tickets available for the bargain price of 600 rupees. I put in an emergency call to the parents so they can add money immediately.

For 25 rupees, I get a bag of excellent vegetarian egg noodles from a fast food place. I wish I had taken a picture to illustrate american fast food versus indian fast food. This place stood about 7 feet across the front and 20 feet deep. It had one giant frying pan over a wood fire, one table to make sandwiches and one small fridge for cold drinks. A labor intensive process, the work involved one cashier, one cook, one sandwich guy and a runner/bagger. Any under the table work here involves many people because it obviously does not cost much for people's time. In an odd twist, jobs in the formal economy (approximately 10% of the population) open up slowly because firing people is almost impossible. The exception being the always fast growing indian bureaucracy (approximately 60% of the formal economy, i love that fact) because jobs to hand out as favors and immunity from prosecution are the two biggest perks of getting elected. Another great fact: almost half of the indian parliament has been indicted.

Anyway, Tessa and I squat on the street to eat the noodles from a plastic bag with our hands and watch a crazy or drunk asian woman berate everyone in sight for incompetence while she had a ticket for a company three doors down. I furiously count money and decide to buy a bottle of water and regret picking up Silmarillion for 220 rupees earlier in the day. That would be a fortune now. I later again regreted buying the book because it turned out to a very dry history of Middle Earth that Tolkien had been editing ever since he can remember. The world he contained in his head astounds me with its depth but the history read too much like the boring parts of the old testament. Anyway, I go back to check the bank balance one last time to see if they somehow got money transferred by online banking. The balance has changed to 398. They had been giving me the balance in dollars and not rupees. I kicked myself, blessed my mother for the mean thoughts I might have harbored and withdrew enough cash to choke a determined goat. I put in an apology call to the parents and ran back to Tessa to buy a bunch of wonderful delicious snacks for the road with our new found wealth.

I'm used to buses and I like buses. I spent most of my senior year of college travelling between NYC and Boston on Chinatown buses (motto: it's so cheap because we're not inspected or licenced and we mule drugs for the mob under the seats) to see my special lady friend (hey baby, isn't my writing getting better, it's all the practice (and the parentheses (i'm thinking about a parentheses shout out for every post (a kind of fun little feature) thought it might get old) which are probably played out already)). We got onto the bus in classic indian style, a shoving match to get onto the bus as the driver keeps the bus slowly moving to keep us on our toes. However, this 14 hour monster ride got pretty miserable. We sat at the very back of the bus with no windows to lean against. The man to my left, a Gandhi with bug eyes and giant hands, kept picking his nose and I felt the wind blow his golden treasures onto my arm. Even worse, I had tessa on my right side. The bus had no bathroom but stopped every few hours. We also got stopped by the police in the some of the silliest police work I ever witnessed. They boarded the bus silently, walked to the back, looked behind the rear seats, touched the outside of each bag in the overhead compartments and stood in the front for a few minutes doing nothing. As we pulled away, we noticed the half empty whisky bottle under their official police bench. I think they were just lonely. Then came time to sleep and things got bad for me. I simply cannot sleep without my head against something so I had a sleepless miserable neck pained night. What the hell? Build character, right dad?

We got dropped off in the middle of the highway in north bombay by the airport. We got mobbed by taxi drivers who refused to believe we wanted to walk and claimed the closest breakfast place was miles away. The only people who really grate my nerves here are the pushy lying taxi drivers and sellers. I have decided I will either ignore them or play words games with them for my own amusement. We wandered to a nice little place for breakfast and then caught the train into the city. We spent most of the day repeatedly calling a contact who offered us a place to stay for a few months but he never picked up his phone. Since we had all of our stuff, we read in the park for awhile, watched the movie Hitman (only enjoyable if you have played the video game and even then it's a stretch) and tried to find a place to stay on couchsurfing. Nothing came through so we went to the Salvation Army dorms in Colaba (greenwich village with less cool shops and more tourist stuff). We hadn't been in this famous part of the city before and we finally found where they hid the tourists. They all stay in Colaba. Naturally, I do not like this district much but it would be a good place to find clients if I ever start the tour guide company I've been thinking about.

The SalVal dorms only cost 5 bucks a night for the both of us although I have been hearing scattered reports of bed bugs. We got cheap food at a famous little street kebab place and then cheap drinks (big Kingfisher for 60 rupees) at a local bar. We liked the bar a lot. The waiters kept coming by to talk to us, do magic tricks and watch us play MASH (i think that will be the next post). It pained them to make us stop playing cards but apparently the police really will get you in trouble for it. We sat there for a few hours while tables of Indian guys just gawked at Tessa, the neverending story. As we left, I walked downstairs ahead of her and missed someone grabbing her ass as he walked by her on the way out. ARGGHH. Drives me crazy. It's only happened a few times but it's always been when I won't be able to catch them. I can't wait to catch someone. He will get a month's frustration of people staring, whistling and grabbing at my sister. It will not be pretty.

I had a great day after this but I'm getting sleepy and my writing is getting more boring than usual. I want to be bright and chipper to talk about our first work in bollywood proper and my first posh bombay party.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

my first taste of films

A friend told me that she needed another guy to come work on a beach music video for the day. It paid 1000 Rs (22 USD) and it mainly involves sitting around. I quickly agreed because I also know that they can pay up to 5000 Rs a day for extras in a Bollywood movie. I wanted to see if I could do this a few times a month to pick up extra money.

Conclusion: I could do this as long as I had a long book and a 6 month old baby.
Unfortunately, I only had a short book (Choke by Chuck Palahniuk) and the baby for an hour.

I rode my stolen (more like kinda stolen) scooter over to Anjuna at 6:30 AM to meet my ride. They needed 8 boys and 8 girls for today's shoot and almost all of them came from France and Russia. I didn't know anyone beside my friend and nobody spoke in my language any way. So I used my time to plot stealing the baby from the French woman in charge of getting the Westerns. After a long wait, we finally left for the beach about half an hour north. I got in a good nap which I needed for the grueling (heavy sarcasm) day ahead.

We got breakfast and several of the locals complimented me on eating with my hands and knowing two phrases in Marathri, the native language of Bombay and surrounding state. Then we waited. In fact, most of the day consisted of waiting. Generally, a hundred people worked on setting up shots, performing and moving equipment while another fifty people just sat there and oogled the girls (in India, staring is the national pastime - Mark Anthony). The girls actually had a hard day of dancing in the water, walking along the water, sitting by the water and swooning over the singer. Each shot took at least a dozen takes and the singer obviously had all his talent in his throat because the rest of his body could never do what the choreographer wanted.
I only had once scene right before lunch. We danced in the water with the girls for one take although this mostly involved us splashing the girls. Then we danced in the water while the girls ran to us from the beach. They only did one take of each and I think they just did it to justify paying us for the day. They had little interest in a bunch of unattractive white guys with tattoos and mullets. Go figure.
I mostly sat and read my book, took care of the little French baby, swam in the water and got checked out by the high school age backup dancers (not proud, somewhat amused). Unfortunately, I finished my book around 3 and spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly. I hate being at the beach without a book. At the end of the day, I saw a whole bunch of people playing games farther down the beach. Indians love games and I love playing games with Indians. They always get excited when people want to join and everybody wants to shake your hand. These games got really funny because this turned out to be a law firm out for a family beach day. I couldn't stop laughing as everybody would argue over the rules, the rulings and anything else that they could disagree on.
I took my final two hour nap on the beach and woke up after dark to a stunning wedding scene. They wrapped up shooting, I got my 1000 Rs cash and a ride back into town. I treated myself to a nice meal at a restaurant that plays movies while you eat. I've already seen a bunch there including Man on Fire (denzel washington movie with great cinematography although ruined by last scene, i think i said this already), Meet the Fockers, and a few others. Tonight I watched Million Dollar Baby. I liked it (two great voices: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman) but didn't see it as Best Picture material.
Unfortunately, the delicious momos (nepalese/tibetan food: pieces of meat wrapped in dough) or the chicken hot and sour soup turned out to be a giant GI punch. I spent a few tough hours with one end or the other in the toilet and intense gut pains that came every ten minutes for a few seconds at a time. On the other hand, I got through almost three hundred pages of Memoirs of a Geisha which I had "borrowed" from the restaurant that night. There might be a karma lesson here but I won't think about it too closely.

straight whiskey + stupid brit + Illuminati = almost trouble

feSo I met this Russian girl named Victoria on the beach. I noticed her because we have the same beach MO: ignore everyone, read voraciously, go in the water once an hour, make no eye contact with beach vendors. We agreed to meet for a drink after I finished seeing my Portuguese friends on their last night in India.

I orginally met Vasco and Nuno in Amritsar and went to the pakistan/india border ceremony with them. In Goa, they met up with friend Carlos who has been traveling through South America, Southeast Asia and India for several months. That day, we played some terrible (on my part) beach volleyball with them and I wrestled with Vasco who turned out to be less a wrestler than a human-gorilla hybrid. Luckily, I still prevailed and Vasco will go on to his next great adventure: settling down to his job, slowly moving up the ladder, marrying a nice girl, having a few kids, sex once or twice a month, retirement in a nice home and so on (helpful links for Vasco: corporate politics 101, meet mrs. right, how to buy a house, dr. spocks pregnancy guide, sex tips for older men, retirement homes in portugal, death with dignity FAQs)

We decided they should eat dinner where I would be meeting the russian girl for drinks. We came up with a few plans while we waited. The most popular called for them to act drunk and hit on the girl so I could take them outside to teach them a lesson out of sight (foreshadowing?). However, she walked in with her friend from Belarus and I could see that they gave up the fight plan quickly. He did not look that tough but he was russian. I heard that they take fisticuff classes for the first four years of school and move onto knife fights and firearms from there. Instead, as the three of us sat down, I received the bill for their gigantic last meal in india. They said my face froze like a mask for a few seconds. I called their bluff and paid for their meal without them realizing it. When I sat with them a little bit later, they felt bad for making me pay. They tried to give me money for the meal but I refused because I knew it would just make them feel like assholes. Ha. Instead, as they left with a promise to meet for lunch tomorrow, six free beers showed up at my table (the next day I also might have charged my breakfast to their room and stole their scooter).

By now, my party had swollen to two more russian girls and a beefy british guy missing two front teeth who kept calling me max (not my name, i try to not use my name on here because i do not think future employers need to hear about drunken indian adventures). I think I impressed the russians with my knowledge of russian pol tics, literature and an fierce hatred of putin and luschenko (the dictator of belarus and leader of the last autocratic state in europe). In short order, the british guy started pressing me about 9/11. I told him I thought 9/11 truthers didn't ever read anything besides the propaganda and never looked at the other side of the story. Side note: 9/11 truthers, of whom I have a number of friends in NYC who I believe have holes in their head WARNING: PARENTHESES AHEAD (eric williams (update: eric williams' official position is "I have literally no idea what is going on with this planet, especially all the people on it, and I don't much care anymore") , sir jon rotberg (update: he claims i'm a jerk-off (no contest) and whatever happened is a lot more complicated then what we are told by the new york times (as most things of this level are) and i don't know what to believe and frankly don't care anymore), this means you but don't take it personally, i like people with holes in their head) believe that a bush conspiracy flew the planes into the twin towers in order to build up the massive public opinion that they squandered so well in the last seven years. I've heard this many times before and have seen the documentaries and websites but am not at all convinced for two reasons:
1. the debunkers present much stronger cases
2. the only way three people can keep a secret is if two of them are dead - ben franklin

However, 9/11 truth I can understand but then he starts spouting off about the Illuminati ruling the world and america is the least free country in the world. I can't imagine saying something so stupid while sitting next to someone from the arguably most repressive regime in the western world. I decided to not argue and just kept staring straight ahead. I looked in the mirror and realized that I looked exactly like my father when he doesn't believe something. I wondered if people could read that face, like I read his, to know that I am completely unconvinced. This guy came out with so many gems:

idiot: what do you do max?
.x: stem cell research scientist
i: yeah. what are those again?
x: the cells that can become any other cell in the body. it's going to be very powerful for human health in the next twenty years.
i: max, if i can give you piece of advice: stay away from this stemology business
x: i'll keep that in mind

i: we have to get ready. a new world order is approaching. we're being turned into slaves about to be taken off planet.
x: like brave new world?
i: not at all. everybody in the world is controlled by the illuminati and they will use drugs to sedate us into a sheep like obedience to their system. it's already happening.
x: yeah, you're right. that's nothing like brave new world.

x to someone: have you seen american gangster?
i: i have. do you know what's its really about?
x: i bet i'm about to find out.
i: it's about how america started the war as a cover for smuggling heroin out of british controlled afghanistan in the coffins. it's just like how prince william (i think he meant charles but who knows) had diana killed. the british family, they're all in cahoots with everybody.
x: pretty clever.

Understandably, I got pretty bored. The russians stuck to russian for the last hour and I could barely hear the drunken british idiot even if I wanted to get more annoyed by his lack of intelligence. I wanted to get going because the restaurant had been dark for over an hour and our waiter obviously wanted to go to sleep in the back. It turns out he had no sleep for the last 19 hours. I kept trying to move us out the door and the idiot kept ordering more beers and treating this nice young kid like a retarded servant. Even so, the waiter still offers to let the idiot and lady friend sleep on the restaurant couches if they don't want to go all the way home.

Finally, the waiter just brings the bill and says he must sleep. It came out to 750 Rs (19 USD), not bad for a few hours of drinking although I felt sobered by boredom. Everybody threw in money and it came out to 1200 Rs in the form of 2 500 Rs notes and 2 100 Rs notes. I told someone to take back their 200 Rs because it still came out to a 30% tip. For the idiot's sake, he did say "ah, the kid worked hard and the money doesn't matter to us" (remember this statement) so I left it.

The waiter comes back a minute later and says he needs 50 more rupees. Now, the book only had 1 500 Rs note and 2 100 Rs notes. The idiot starts blustering that the kid stole the 500 Rs note and nobody was going to take him for a fool. I thought he already did a pretty fine job for himself in the fool department but kept the thought to myself. I said that there must be some mistake because I am positive what bills were present and we just need to find the other note. It must have fallen out. The idiot gets mean and rude, claims he will not pay the extra money and wants to see the manager. I look him in the eye and say "Listen idiot. You don't know what's going on or how much was there. I handled the money. Sit down. Shut up." He calls me a "bloody fucking wanker" and starts coming around the table at me. I just sit and keep staring. The russian stops him and I say "I don't want to fight over this. Don't get your panties in a twist over nothing and I'm sick of hearing all of this Illuminati bullshit." The russian gets him away from the table for awhile and then he returns his seat and starts glowering. The russians keep talking loudly so we can't talk to each other but I know the time for fighting has passed. I kept nice and calm (the most infuriating thing you can do) while he kept getting so worked up during our exchanges.

i: stupid fucking american scientist. i'm a fucking gypsy. i'll tear your skinny ass apart.
x: probably. is violence the only thing you have?
i: yes.
x: no brains, no nothing? that's sad.
i: thank you.

i: you don't know who you're messing with. you're lucky we're in india or you'd be smashed.
x: why does the country matter?
i: i'll come for you later. i'll get your goddamn knees.
x: it's funny. you're like a little girl. i call you an idiot and you freak out completely.
i: because you're a stupid american wanker.
x: i know, you said that already. why does it matter what i say if I'm so stupid?
i: bloody american scientist. fucking wanker.
x: you already said that too.

For some reason, the four of us turned out to be last people at the table. He finally left with his girl and said " bloody fucking american. i'll go house of daggers on your ass." House of daggers? That made me giggle. It didn't help.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

As the world turns...

Yesterday became the day of coincidences and helped me to like this beach paradise a bit more.

We moved from the town of Anjuna to Vagator, heart of the world famous Goa party scene. Unfortunately, for people who party, rave and dance (I do none of these), Goa died an abrupt death four years ago. Because of local complaints, the authorities created a strict 10PM noise curfew law to end the three day raves in the jungle and loud dance parties in the beach towns. Sometimes these parties do occur (with more frequency around the Christmas high season) as long as the cops get their large chunk of bakeesh (bribe/tip) but they can be hard to find even for people who have been settled here a few months or years.

However, I really liked this new town. It has more friendly young foreigners, families with cute naked kids and less intrusive sellers. We spent the first day on the beach next to a friendly man from California who gave up his lucrative job with a huge construction firm to work in Sri Lanka after the tsunami a year (approximately 200 US news cycles) ago. We had a fun day talking about Groucho Marx, life around the subcontinent and interesting future plans. We also met a nice guy from Sweden named Joel who introduced us to our favorite new beach shack with cheap food and a really friendly owner around our age. Then we walked over to the excellent Rainbow book shop because I have been running through books at breakneck speed. I picked up Papillon and then asked the owner if she knew a place to stay in someones house. She called the owner of her place and he to the book store on his scooter. We negotiated a price of 225 Rs (5 USD) for a room with its own shower. I am almost positive that he said that breakfast and dinner but apparently my ears or his mouth confused me.

We come back to the beach today and I decide to walk to the next beach to see the Buddah head that someone carved into the rocks. It turned out to be the beach I wanted was only a hundred yards away (i do not know how these two beaches have different names, nothing separates them besides a few rocks) but I thought I needed to walk around the point. I start walking along the water in my bare feet on the volcanic rocks that cut like razors. I turned it into a character test and tried to enjoy the time alone (a hard thing to find in this country). I walked for about an hour and half until I got to a sand beach. I walked along this for a few minutes before I looked around and realized that I had walked back to the town of Anjuna. I cursed a little but decided to walk back to Vagator on the road and incorporate this into my self imposed manliness test.

As I started walking, I saw two pretty girls and decided to play the pity card. Knowing full well my location, I asked them where I was so I could tell them how I got here. We talked for just a minute but they didn't seem interested so I let them continue on their way. I couldn't place them by their accents or dress, something I usually pride myself on. As I walked up the main crossroads in town, I see a guy by the side of the road with a few backpacks. Hells bells. It was our friend from the flight to Dehli, Mark Anthony. He might have been the last person in India I expected to see here. I knew he just had surgery in Dehli and assumed he started teaching at a school in the UP with the program that brought him here. Apparently, his wound got infected and he decided to head back to the States soon but wanted to travel a little bit before he skedaddled (great word, huh?). He told me that he came with two Italian girls who just finished the program that he never got the chance to start. He watched the stuff while they went to find a hotel. I told him I didn't like this town and that they should come stay in our nice little town at our cheap place. He agreed and I told him how I just finished hitting on his friends and would chase them down. He told me their names so I could surprise them and I ran back to the closest hotel to their last location. This also happened to be where we stayed when we there. I asked the man if two girls had just checked in. He said that they were upstairs in room 7. I knocked on the door and they asked how I had tracked them down. I yelled "Simonette, Georgia, Mark Anthony sent me. We decided you should come to our town." They agreed but seemed confused when I tried to get them moving. Then I noticed that the room looked lived in and they had backpacks. Overall, it took us a few minutes to work out that these were not the right girls. I laughed and laughed at myself and continued trying to impress them. Alas, Alak and Alaska. They simply stayed pleasant and disinterested. I remembered Mark waiting for me and took off for the crossroads again.

I found Mark with the correct two girls and I showed them where to hop the bus for my town. I have always traveled by bus and foot here unlike most people who rent motor scooters. This has led to some run-ins with suspicious cops who tend to be rude, especially because I usually start off pretty rude and get worse when they start searching me. The hotel owner just that morning had been encouraging me to tell friends to stay at his house but I never expected to bring anyone in because everyone already had a place. Lo and behold, that very day, I snag three people for him.

I go to the beach for a few more hours and on the way home, we run into Nuno and Vasco, our Portuguese friends from Amritsar. I love those two. We decide to meet at Nine Bar (recently reopened after the cops shut them down when they got behind on their bribe payment) for some dancing (them) and people watching (me). (I love parentheses). At nine, we get back to our place determined to get moving because the bar closed at ten. Instead, our key did not work (secret: I may have dropped it and picked up the wrong one) and I had to saw open the padlock with a metal saw blade. Also, our hotel owner, Lawrence, had friends in from around the country. I ran upstairs, always excited to meet new older people and I hit the jackpot. Many of them came from Bombay and they shower me with advice, offers of help and idle boasting. I felt a connection with two of the guys immediately and am looking forward to seeing them when I get back to the city. One man, Felex, who works for Apple computer in San Jose, really liked Tessa and offered us his home in Bombay for the four months that he will be staying in the country. Having a pretty sister becomes a liability and an asset. Once she gets the boob job she wants so bad, she will be more of both.

So Mark, the girls and I got a late start for Nine Bar and only had about 20 minutes of dancing. I do not like trance music anyway but this place had terrible terrible trance music. It did have a lot of interesting looking people but I didn't get to meet anyone because I got attacked immediately by a russian girl that I had met on the beach who really liked piercings. Tessa disappeared on some adventure with a Janis Joplin clone (both in rugged beauty and attitude). Thus ended a wonderfully productive and coincidental day.

Health report:
Feeling great and eating massive quantities of food from beautiful topless native girls while being fanned with giant palm leaves (although this only happens at night during my REM sleep). Otherwise, I have some scratches on my arms from the sharp volcanic rock lurking under the water and a large scrape of skin from my left bicep from climbing a palm tree, bear style, to get my first coconut in the country. I got my very first coconut in Haiti and tried to sneak my prize through the Miami airport, only to get caught at the fruit X-ray machine (a fruit x-ray machine? seriously? we inspect less than 0.1% of the shipping containers that come into the country which could be carrying nuclear material, dead bodies or even nuclear bodies but we have stringent fruit scanning procedures). I dropped down the largest nut and presented my baby as a gift to two Tibetan girls only to discover that the larger the coconut, the less taste. Today's life lesson: you cannot woo buddhists with large nuts

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Goa = hate?

Goa has beautiful beaches, warm weather, love-dovey couples and temperate ocean waters. In short, everything I hate. I dislike Goa more than anywhere I've seen in the country and that's saying a lot after the "the Trial of Dehli". In the last twenty years, Goa has become the hotspot for foreigner beach parties and raves. Just like any touristy spot (I'm looking at you Eiffel Tower), it makes everything here feel so fake. The locals only talk to you to try to sell something like drugs, crappy trinkets, clothes. The taxi guys only ask me if I want a taxi to provoke me into hotly yelling "no way" so they can giggle. The few goras we talked to only seemed to care about the parties and the beach. I don't want to malign this famed part of India but it feels like the antithesis of this warm wonderful country.

We spent the early part of the week staying with two great guys in Goregaon (north of Mumbai), Pratsut and Bobson who we found on We didn't do much because some unnamed traveller couldn't stop throwing up (hint: it wasn't Tessa). However, we got to watch Pulp Fiction in their home theater living room and Om Shanti Om, this year's Bollywood blockbuster, at a local theater. Shahrukh Khan, the biggest Bollywood star/advertising whore, stars in this movie set in the 70's. One dance number has over a dozen current Bollywood A-listers making guest appearances and seemed like it must have been a blast to shoot. In typical Bollywood fashion, one of the many spin offs from the movie includes a hot-selling line of 70's outfits. I love Bollywood movies. They are all sugar and song and nothing wrong very long.
When leaving Mumbai for Goa, we caught a late night train. A large number of cockroaches and a friendly filmmaker/professor enhanced our first ride in the lowest (sleeper) class of the Indian trains. I killed a few of the former and learned my first two words in Marathi, the language of Maharashtra, Bombay and Pune, from the latter. After a good night's sleep, I woke up around 9 and expected us to be at our stop within the hour. We had to get off before the end of the line so I paid attention to make sure we didn't miss our stop. By 1:30 I was pretty nervous. Not one stop we passed in the last few hours appeared on my maps and the train should have been at the end of the line over an hour ago. However, I remember my dad's words of wisdom (I can see him getting tickled by the praise from here, well, why not? sometimes it's just kinder to throw bones to an old dog): your mistake is almost always stopping before your destination instead of overshooting it. Note to Chris Ryan: This rule does not always hold true and you should probably also listen to your very pretty and very intelligent wife instead of ending up in western West Virginia on the way to Lancaster from DC. Anyway, after I resigned myself to spending the night in the middle of nowhere Indian jungle, we came to the stop right before ours in Goa. We must have slept through a long train delay that night. No worries because we still had lots of hours of daylight to get to the beach.
We decided to skip the taxi for 80 Rs (2 USD) and take the crowded and more fun bus to Mapusa, the main gate to many of the Goa beaches, for 7 Rs (18 cents). We were four rupees short but a nice English couple forked over the difference. They both lived in Oxford and decided to do a one year around the world tour before they settled down to make some babies. She worked as a speech pathologist for kids with cleft palate and he laid stone. You could see working man's strength in his arms and he told us how he had spent the last year in the office but couldn't go back. He needed to be outside laying stone again and planned to do that when he got back. I like hearing quick snapshots of good people's lives like this. My most abiding interest is people but I like to get to know them in depth more than anything. That's why I'm excited to settle down in Mumbai and start making friends.
Tessa and I wandered the Mapusa market and marveled at the sheer amount of produce in this little town. I should have stopped and gotten pictures of the marvelous colors of food and people swirling around. Unfortunately, hunger called and we got good food in a restaurant while we played some rummy. Then we took another bus to the beach town of Anjuna and got a hotel right by the beach for the rather expensive rate of 400 Rs (10USD) a night. We had dinner (everything costs more at the beach) and wandered around the tiny town. I found some local kids playing badminton and assured them I could "whup" them. I got off to a lousy start when a kid got me down 10-0 but I finally got the feel of the game again and came back to beat him by three points. No one else got close to me after that and I maintained my undefeated streak since the freshman year of high school. (hey, I don't brag about much but I'm death with a badmitton raquet). We passed out early and woke up ready for a day at the beach.
I bought a cheap pair of shorts for swimming but got quickly annoyed at the predatory trinket sellers everywhere. Everywhere else in the country, people generally talk to you out of friendliness. Here they only talk to get you into the stands or to get a closer look at Tessa (warning to all Indian teenagers: if you take a picture of my sister, I will throw your camera in the water. I am not scared of you because most of you are so skinny that it makes me feel hard as nails). Once we got away from the people, we had a great lazy day on the beach.
My favorite part of the beach is the same as my favorite part of hunting: reading books (although farting and gambling come a close second in both arenas). I could only find one bookstore so I had to pay outrageous prices for two books: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) and Dune by Frank Herbert (one of the classic sci-fi novels of the century). I won't do reviews now because I want to get out of hotel so I don't have to fight with the manager about paying for tonight but I will do a book review post sometime in the near future. Await with bated breath.
Rummy 500 update: 1-1
current round: 250-200 in favor of Tessa
additional rules: in an effort to wise her up, I cheat whenever possible. If she catches me, I only get half the points for the round. If she doesn't, I rub it in or save the trick for next time until she figures it out.