Thursday, December 13, 2007

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.


Debby said...

Leave it to your mother to say the obvious, always have Tessa in
front of you as you walk out. Bet you never thought of that, brilliant, huh?!

Debby said...

Oh, and blessing your mother is always good but add some repentance in there for your banker, the holder of all your earthly wealth! I would have thought you learned your lesson, be kind to your banker or else...

Jared said...

Well I'm glad someone is watching his finances for him, as the exchange rates seem sporadic at best. At first 400 rupees comes to 10 USD, but after withdrawing the 400 rupees, only 2 bucks come out of his account...Hey Lex, have your Mom give me some of that money, I can get a great deal on some magic beans...