Wednesday, December 21, 2005

the end, almost

sorry the blog has been quiet--i've been desperately trying to finish up work, pack up my apartment and say all of my goodbyes. tomorrow i say goodbye to bangalore and head to goa for the holidays. if i return here at all, it will be as a tourist.

3 weeks ago i was lamenting my departure. my circle of friends was at its peak, after successfully ejecting the losers that B and V and the others seem to allow into the group occasionally. i'd tried to encourage quality over quantity, and it finally seemed to be sinking in. bangalore itself seemed "nicer". after 5 months of overcast skies and rain, the sun finally began to shine unemcumbered. i hadn't realized how much i'd missed it. my routine was good. my maid would wake me up every morning with a friendly smile and would clean around me as i groggily watched the bbc news. on the way to the office, the familiar street urchins shouted their "hello uncle"s. i'd watch the latest episode of "family guy" at the office, and go to lunch with my office friends. i'd go to my usual evening haunts with the non-work gang where we'd be treated like vips, no longer paying the cover charges other people would. my girlfriend was even starting to behave semi-reasonably. i liked my routine and my friends.

i should have left on that high.

after returning from sri lanka, it all went to hell. this week has been weird, in an ugly way. i'm not a violent person, and i can generally tolerate a lot of poor behavior and still keep my cool. but this week i came close to punching people in the face out of sheer rage. on more than one occasion. and that doesn't even include the drunk guy in my apartment who repeatedly challenged me to fight until the floor finally punched him in the head when he passed out. when i get some time in goa, i'll elaborate.

the upside to all of this is that suddenly i'm looking forward to hitting the road again, though i need to get through this goa thing first. i'm giving goa an 80% chance of achieving fiasco status. we have an apartment for 8 days with beds/matresses for 10 people, yet for some reason B has allowed 23 people to stay for the last 3 days heading into the new year. i don't know if they know they will be sleeping on the floor, assuming there's even floor space for them. maybe i'll just get on my motorbike (i'll rent one in goa) and disappear...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

back to bangalore

i fly back from sri lanka tonight.
sri lanka sucks. do not come here. i will explain later.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

a very special thanksgiving blog entry

very occasionally i get a wee bit nastolgic for home. and as the holidays approach, this feeling is ratched up a bit. sure, everyone loves a good deepvali festival, but sometimes you have to return to your roots. being an american, i could not help but want to celebrate that most american of holidays, thanksgiving. for my no doubt vast audience of international readers, let me explain the holiday: we "give thanks" for all we have, not though good deeds or quiet introspection or even fasting, but instead by quite ironcially eating as much as we possibly can. the culinary focus is on a generally dry and not-all-that-tasty giant bird whose meat contains a sleep inducing chemical. we spend our last moments of consciousness further stuffing ourselves with something actually called stuffing, along with mashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, at a minimum.

strangely enough, i decided i wanted to participate in this bizzare tradition here in bangalore. I contacted J, my american friend at infosys, and my mexican-american upstairs neigbors, E & L. J brought a bunch of other americans with him, most of whom suck. we all headed to a place called "the only place" which, appropriately, is just about the only place in india where you can get a proper (or mostly proper) thanksgiving dinner. not only that, it's around the corner from where i live.

i don't really have much to say about the dinner, as it was pretty boring. we were limited in our turkey and stuffing and cranberry log, but a bunch of other sides were available buffet style in unlimited quantities, so the desired stuporous effect could be more or less achieved, though afterwards it felt wrong that i wasn't sitting in a big cushy chair watching a painfully boring detroit lions football game.

but even if bad football were available, the evening would still have amounted to little more than a turkey dinner. it turns out thanksgiving just isn't thanksgiving without family around.

that was, and will be, my one-and-only "touching holiday moment" in the blog. that is, unless i get loaded in goa on christmas day and stumble into an internet cafe. which, from what i hear about goa, is not only possible, but probable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

where's the corruption when you need it?

my visa extension has been rejected! sometime in the last year they apparently changed the rules. back then, no problem. now, i need a 1 year or longer visa to extend it here at the state level. but because mine is only 6 months, i would have to go to delhi and endure the mother of all bureaucracies, with no guarantee of success. no thanks. the policy makes no sense, but no one expects it to, except for the occasional silly foreigner.

to make matters worse i had to hire an agent (actually my company did), who i had to accompany in line at the commissioner's office, only to learn that this sort of extension is never allowed. why couldn't my agent simply have learned this on his own? why did the agent give me a different story earlier? i wonder what this level of uselessness costs.

and before you ask, yes, we tried offering to pay "special fees", but apparently this is something even a bribe can't fix.

so instead i'll fly to sri lanka sometime before dec 8th and get a brand new 6 month multiple entry tourist visa. should be simple enough. right?

speaking of bribes, i was in my girlfriend's car a few nights ago (as passenger) and a cop pulled us over on a trumped up charge. this not being my country, i thought it best to let her do the talking at first, as i contemplated how i should best approach the situation should things degrade and the cop decide to run us in. playing the foreigner card would definitely come in handy here, should i need it. as i ran though different, mostly 'midnight express-ish' scenarios, they argued over whether there was any sort of offense at all. i certainly didn't see one, and if there was then everyone around us was committing the same. but this wasn't helping to resolve anything. so she went in for the helpless teary eyed female bit. she also threw in that she was showing around a tourist (me), and what must he think of this country? this approach was effective, and the "fine" was negotiated down to 100 rupees ($2 and change). of course he neglected to fill out any paperwork. i was excited to finally be part of a police bribe in india. and i was impressed and somewhat frightened by my girlfriend's effective manipulation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

visa trouble

yes, i *am* alive and healthy.

why i've been too busy/lazy to update:

Reason 1:

i'm embroiled in visa extension woes. my visa expires dec 8th.
here's what i need to extend:

1) take myself to the police station and register
2) fill out registration form
3) registration certificate x4
4) copy of passport with visa page x3
5) passport photos x5
6) copy of terms and conditions of business x3
7) letter of business addressed to the FRO by the business firm about duration of business x3
8) IT (income tax) Returns of the business firm for the previous year x3
9) financial guarantee affidavit issued by business firm on a government document sheet attested by notary x2
10) proof of local residence x2 (a rental agreement showing my length of stay on special (i.e. expensive) govt paper, plus police go to your home to confirm.)

It makes one nostalgic for US bureaucracy.

Unfortunately I haven't finished any of these steps, because the local official tells me my visa is "out of order". apparently the bangkok embassy did not list name of the company i'm visiting on the visa. the embassy, which i have called, faxed and emailed on numerous occasions, claims they don't list the name on the 6 month business visa as a matter of course. they don't seem to want to send me a document the authorities here have asked me for. we've hired a local "agent" to help grease the wheels.

if this doesn't work out, i'll have to hop on a plane to sri lanka for a brand new visa. i suppose there could be worse places to have to go. though that would make my planned week in kerala far less likely to happen.

Reason 2:

absurd socializing. the usual ridiculous all night parties with 22 year olds. it wears on you.

recently "the great indian octoberfest" was thrown into the mix. india has a lot to learn about beer drinking festivals, as these stats prove:

Number of different beers available: 1
Sizes available: 1 - tiny
Month OCTOBERfest was held: November
Number of people visibly drunk: 0

though i did enjoy the indian heavy metal band covering Dream Theater songs.

Reason 3:

work. yes, i work.

Reason 4:

the gf. she's become increasingly demanding of my time. but i know exactly how to entertain her (unusual for me). either (1) let her talk, (2) take her to a bad movie, or (3) do both at the same time. it works out. i hate the movies she likes, so when she talks over them i don't care.

in general she has terrible taste in movies, music, books and tv. i have told her this, and she thinks the same about me, so it's ok. and it has its advantages. suppose i want to buy her a dvd. what to get? i merely ask myself, "were i tortured at Abu Ghraib, what dvd would rumsfeld force me to watch again and again while lindsey england points at my genitals?" duh. "charles in charge, season 1." i buy it, she loves it. no guesswork.

Friday, November 04, 2005

virus #9

after dewali, my latest virus got worse. still, i managed to make it to work by wednesday evening. i walked out onto the office balcony to view the fireworks bursting around the city. but all of that standing really took its toll. by the time i made it back to my desk, my vision had started to go. blind spots had developed. i couldn't read a piece of paper in front of my face.

a few years ago this sort of thing would have sent me into a mild or maybe even major panic. but not now. not after all of the strange illnesses and symptoms i've experienced in asia. in fact, this is the second time i've had this particular problem. i sat there and waited for it to go away while i chatted with a partially visible co-worker, pretending nothing was wrong. it went away after a few minutes, but i decided it best to hitch a motorcycle ride to the pharmacy for supplies, then rest at home.

thursday i never managed to leave the house. i took the strange drugs i got at the pharmacy, guessing at proper dosages.

today is better.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


well, i got sick again, but i popped some pills and headed into the bowels of koramangala for dewali. our host's suv navigated the dark unpaved streets, expertly dodging the missles and bombs exploding all around us.

our hostess, R, is an uncoventional indian, who i had never seen in a sari until last night. her mother, father and brother were also clearly very unconventional--there was a hippie vibe to all of them--but we were nonetheless were treated to a traditional dewali. after some homemade wine, we had puja, and then a tasty traditional south indian vegetarian dinner. just as we were about to go out and blow up our "crackers", the rains came. so instead we headed upstairs for a jam session with electric guitar, bass and bongos.

as midnight rolled around and the rains continued, we realized there would be no easy way to get home, so festivities continued until 5am, at which point the rains subsided and R insisted we blow up hitler in front of a much hated neighbor's house. i became the voice of reason--(1) we would be waking up the entire neighborhood, including her parents, and (2) we might be caught. but R continued her cajoling. i was about to cave when her parents arrived. whew! we dodged a bullet--they would have surely caught us and been horrified by our irresponsible behavior in front of their home. or not. R told her mom about her plan, and much to all of our surprise she became its biggest proponent! that was all i needed. we headed out into the dark, wet, muddy and now utterly silent streets where we shooed away the stray dogs and set up hitler where he was sure to wreak the most havoc. it began to drizzle. for some reason i was forced to do the deed (and no doubt the time if we were caught). i lit hitler. we all ran, giggling like children. we looked back expectantly. nothing happened. hitler was a dud. that nazi bastard.

unfortunately there was no time for another attempt, as R had to pick up a friend at the airport, so we all found our way home, vowing to make up for our "crakerless" dewali at a later date.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

happy deepawali, diwali, kali puja, festival of lights, and kannada rajyothsava (and halloween too)

some of those are different names for the same thing, and some are distinct festivals. i'm starting to think these festivals (and all of hinduism for that matter) are purposefully complex to keep the white man from understanding, adopting, and then finally corrupting them. but they underestimate me. tonight i'm skipping over understanding & adopting and moving right to the corrupting. i'm headed to an indian friend's house with a bunch of fireworks and sweets for some traditional diwali mayhem.

fireworks in california (in the few communities you can still legally get them) are "safe and sane". this means they suck.

fireworks here (known as "crackers") are insane. in every conceivable sense:

it is entirely unclear what will happen when i light der fuhrer. but i am very afraid.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

everyone loves disaster pics

a few bangalore photos

the flood both giveth and taketh away

my favorite stat:

over 1000 street cows dead.

these aren't my photos. thanks to the anonymous photographers...

Monday, October 24, 2005

they're on to me

some guys at the office have found my blog simply via strategic googling. i'd always thought i'd be protected by the vastness of the internet/blogosphere.

if the people i've been socializing with find it i'll be run out of town. especially now that i'm running into the "my ridiculous teenage party" crowd and their circle of friends on a regular basis. perhaps it's time to make some edits. or i could just sit back and wait for the coming disaster. all of this socializing goes against my surly and aloof nature anyway. it's getting to be exhausting. this weekend was pretty much one continuous party, culminating last night in, of all things, karaoke. yeah, that's how far i am from where i should be. and this wasn't just any karaoke--this was hipster karaoke. imagine an exclusive new york club frequented by fashion models--the kind of place that would never let me in. now replace all the kate mosses and cocaine with fashionable indians and a karaoke machine. it sounds weird, but it worked, somehow.

4.75 inches of rain in one night

an insane amount of rain fell this weekend. the monsoon was supposed to have ended a month ago, but these last few weeks have been the wettest since i arrived.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

bernard's rebellion

you may recall from a previous post that i have a neck cyst by the name of bernard. unfortunately he has grown red and angry and pussy. i am in the middle of performing an antibiotic exorcism. hopefully he'll settle down and i won't have to have him cut out.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

happy whatever it's called

today is the 10th and final day of a major hindu festival. it's been even more confusing than most of them. one reason is that it has a bunch of different names. the 3 most popular seem to be NAVARATRI, VIJAYA-DASHAMI, and DASARA.

a quote:

"This festival is celebrated for nine nights. Nine days are divided and devoted to the Trinity of God worshipped in a female form - three days for DURGA (Goddess of Valor) three days for LAKSHMI (Goddess of Wealth) and three days for SARASWATI (Goddess of Knowledge and Art) and finally on the tenth day (culminating day) of commemorating victory, the valedictory worship is done, an effigy of RAVANA (the demon king of Lanka) is burnt to celebrate the victory of good (RAMA) over evil."

The 9th day is "durga puja". or maybe it's the 8th. here's a picture of durga smiting RAVANA, I think.

certain groups celebrate with an all-night dance (dandia). i went on tuesday night with a bunch of guys in the office. we watched several traditional dances done in full regalia, then danced ourselves until 2am. there were at least a few thousand people on and surrounding the massive dirt floor dance floor (looked more like a rodeo venue), but i was the only whitey, as this was not on the tourist map. it was my nightmare come true... a few thousand people watching me dance, and not a drop of booze to wash away the inhibitions. oh well. we mostly did the garba dance, i think, as sticks were integral. i wore a colorful kurta, but i should have worn something more like this. yes, the men looked like clowns but the women were quite stunning.

apparently these dances are big pick up spots. the pick up happens though suggestive eye contact, as there is no physical contact. one of the guys told me that there is a huge uptick in abortions after this event, though it's difficult to imagine how this would happen in indian society. i flashed my big blue eyes at a few of the ladies. unfortunately swooning and nausea look about the same, so i can't say for certain what effect i had.

on the way home, at around 3am, from the back of my friends motorcycle, i noticed two women dressed in white by the side of the road. a very strange sight on these deserted streets. were they ghosts?
no, apparently they weren't even women. they were eunuch prostitutes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a no-pee plea

i walked by the giant "cash pharmacy" on the way home from picking up my new tooth (which doesn't fit right), when i noticed a message painted on the exterior wall. it said:

"those who would urinate here are idiots and scoundrels"

i wonder if such messages work.

Monday, October 10, 2005


i can't figure out where this dating thing is going, since all of the signs of forward progression are so different in a country where most people kiss for the first time after they're married. god knows i'm confused enough at home--here i'm utterly clueless. we could either be "just friends" or on the verge of our engagement.

i met her mother on sunday. i didn't know this meeting was coming--my date just kinda sprung it on me. we were left alone to chat for a while. she was friendly. nothing about the dowry though.

afterwards we visted the famous baby jesus shrine in her neighborhood where any wish made is guaranteed to come true. even hindus come here for the no-strings-attached jesus sponsored wish. i pulled the classic trick of wishing for more wishes. gotcha again jesus.

so there you have it. i go to church with her and hang out with her mom. good times. i'm living in the 50s. the 1750s. maybe we'll start holding hands soon, but does that come before or after the engagement?

Sunday, October 02, 2005


a few weeks ago i visited hampi with an american co-worker (MS) in town for 3 weeks.

it was my first overnight train ride in india. 2nd class sleeper: cheap and a bit grubby, but it's supposedly the full indian train experience... lots going on, curious friendly travelers, hawkers galore, strange smells and noises, the occasional mouse, cockroach, etc. 1st class is air-con and upper class indians. someday i'll try that.

we arrived in hospet on time. i hadn't slept well in my upper bunk. it was a bumpy, noisy night. fear of thieves also kept me from a deep sleep. feeling lazy, we negotiated for an auto-rickshaw from the train station into hampi, 30 minutes away. too much trouble to find the bus station and catch the bus.

on our way into town, the auto stopped and some random guy wanted a 5 rupee "parking fee". felt like a scam, especially since we weren't parking anything, but being only 5 rupees, i decided not to fight it.

upon arrival we were assaulted by the room hawkers. prices fell as we moved from place to place. they fell so far we each got our own room for only 100 per night ($2.30), complete with attached bath and mosquito netting, with a nice rooftop area to hang out and look out on the city & ruins.

hampi is a tiny town, nearly devoid of vehicle traffic, though sometimes you get stuck behind a cow jam. all accommodation is basic, family run stuff. no big hotels or resorts. backpackers, myself included, appreciate this sort of environment, but indians generally don't, and tend to stay in hospet. so the petruli oiled goa-loving crowd was out and about, but in small numbers, this being low season.

all in all, it was the perfect antidote to bangalore.

surrounding the small town for miles around are the ruins. vast, atmospheric, and nearly deserted, they were probably my 2nd favorite "ruins" of all time, dwarfed only by angkor wat.

we started at the temple in the center of town, where i gave an elephant 1 rupee in exchange for a blessing (i.e. a smack on the head from his trunk). a guide forced himself on us, and gave a tour in more detail than i cared for. and monkeys were everywhere, sizing us up for bananas and other pilferables.

this first day we stayed in the immediate vicinity of the town, covering what we could on foot, then napped through the afternoon rains. dinner presented a challenge--how could we have a beer in a holy city where all alcohol is prohibited by law? answer: go where the white people are. not hard, as there were basically ONLY white people in the main street restaurants. we easily found beer alongside surprisingly tasty food. there were offers of a lot of other "unholy" substances as well.

it being a full moon, it seemed the perfect opportunity to wander the ruins at night, something we were advised not to do, increasing its appeal. we climbed a nearby hill and looked out on the temple and surrounding ruins. beautiful. thankfully, the power went out in the city while we were up there, extinguishing the few fluorescent bulbs marring the otherwise perfect moonlit landscape. we finished the evening on our rooftop under the bright full moon, playing cards and drinking a bottle of california wine MS brought along with him, accompanied only by the sound of the river flowing nearby. my most romantic evening in ages. if only MS were a girl, unmarried, and far far bustier. sigh.

the next day we rented bikes as explored the more far flung ruins. i'll let the pictures speak. it was a long but rewarding day.

elephant stables:

in addition to the ruins, we had several very nice interactions with the locals. on the way back to town some kids hitched a joyride on our bike racks. in general, the people of hampi were extremely friendly.

day 3 we walked up to a hilltop for the sunrise and amazing views.

later we crossed the river by boat at which point the ass of my (literally) cheap-ass indian jeans ripped open. as the day progressed the rip went from suggestive to provocative to downright slutty. still, i managed to enjoy the day. this side of the river had a different feel to it, kind of like a tropical island, banana trees swaying in the wind. we managed to climb the huge staircase to the famous hilltop monkey temple. surrounded by aggressive holy monkeys, a giant ass-hatch open in my pants, i was feeling a bit vulnerable. but nothing happened beyond a lot of monkey posturing.

we tried to catch a bus back to the train station, but it was late. on top of that a very affectionate cow kept harassing us, demanding we rub her. she smiled, impressing me with her beautiful teeth. surprising myself, i pulled back her gums to show MS her pearly whites and he agreed. by the time she started head-butting me it seemed appropriate to grab a rickshaw back to the train station. this time i slept in a bottom bunk and fought off aggressive cockroaches most of the night. very, very unpleasant.

(thanks to MS for several of the pictures)

Thursday, September 29, 2005


after dinner i went after the bits of fried chicken stuck between my teeth with a toothpick. though i was by no means picking agressively, an entire tooth popped out of my mouth. or most of one.

time to visit a dentist.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

i've added a few pictures

to some of the posts below. scroll down.

why do i get sick so often?

two problems currently:
1) another cold
2) you know that problem EVERY traveler to india is supposed to have? well, i have the OPPOSITE problem. that's all i'm going to say about that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


i was sitting in a cafe the other day. having just placed my order with the incompetent waitress, i sat ignoring B and V's blather while something gnawed at the edge of my consciousness. after 10 minutes, i realized what it was. a waitress. we had a waitress! everywhere you go in india, you are served exclusively by men, but here, now, was an actual waitress. you do see women working in banks and offices, but never in the service industry. until now. times they are a-changin'. too bad she was terrible at her job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

date aftermath

she wasn't a teeny bopper after all, and her interests did show some intersection with mine. i was hoping to score a nice dowry and close the deal, but it turns out she's a progressive indian woman, and a christian, so i'll have to keep my job.

here's a breakdown of indian women as perceived by indian men, as far as i can tell. keep in mind that i'm an ignoramus. i will stick to the tried and true baseball metaphors for male/female interaction, adding a few new ones:

batters box - meeting with a girl with the idea of evaluating compatibility, e.g. a first date
signing the contract - getting married
losing the game - ending up anywhere from miserable to resigned
winning the game - ending up anywhere from happy to in love
traded - breaking up

old fashioned country girl

signing the contract -> home run -> lose by 10 runs

traditional woman

batters box -> signing the contract -> home run -> lose by 5 runs

modern woman

batters box -> first base -> signing the contract -> home run -> possible win, but likely loss


batters box -> first base -> second base -> signing the contract -> home run -> win or lose by a small margin


batters box -> first base -> second base -> third base -> signing the contract -> home run -> win or lose


batters box -> first base -> second base -> third base -> home run -> signed or traded

this is why alomst all western women are considered to be whores. i suspect my date is either modern or trashy.

desi date

i've got a date tonight. with an indian. in 40 minutes. i think i asked her out by accident (to be explained later). it's actually difficult to figure out anyone i could find who i'd be less compatible with: she likes high fashion and gossip and all things euro; i like grungy travel in 3rd world hell-holes, largely to escape all the stuff she likes. she's also 12 years younger than me, though it can feel more like 20 at times. not that she's not very nice (again, unlike me). oh, this is gonna be good! gotta run...

Thursday, September 15, 2005


next week the blog returns to regular update status. really.

tonight i'm taking an overnight train to the ancient holy site of Hampi. back on monday. in the meantime, travel with me through this guy (he links to pics).

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

happy Ganesha Chaturthi

it's the national holiday for everyone's favorite deity, lord ganesha. it's hard not to like a plump, friendly, multi-armed elephant dude who rides around on a tiny mouse. folks will be going nuts for the next few days. i might walk over to the lake later and see ganesha submerged.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

identity crisis

when you're a white guy with long blond hair in india, people tend to remember you. unfortunately when you're a white guy with a shitty memory and you meet new indians almost every day, you tend to forget some of them.

this causes problems. i've been here long enough now that i run into people randomly in the street who stop and greet me, often addressing me by name. the problem is i often don't know who they are, though usually they look sort of familiar. this morning it was the guy who sold me and most of my students guitars--i've been to his shop about 5 times, but he still had to tell me who he was. and i was greeted by my old buddy girish the other day, and we're supposed to get together sometime. if only i could figure out who the hell he is.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

the view from my balcony

sorry for the delay on the wedding report--been extremely busy this week. it's coming.

in the meantime...

this morning i heard someone playing drums outside my window. i ventured out onto my balcony and saw that a tightrope had been set up on the street below, the rope suspended from a few bamboo poles about 8 feet off the ground (which consists of your typical head-splitting pavement). there was no net or safety equipment of any kind.

as the man drummed away and a woman collected money, a little girl walked the tightrope doing various tricks along the way. she looked about 8 or 9. i was horrified. this girl was being exploited and put in harm's way for the gain of her parents (if they were her parents). but my neighbors were delighted--everyone seemed to enjoy the show and showered them with rupees. and i'll admit, the show was impressive. after 15 minutes, the girl's brains still safely tucked away inside her skull, the show wrapped up and moved on to the next block. i guess it's better than starving--until you die from head trauma of course. i was sorry that my camera was at the office.

Friday, August 26, 2005

heading for the wedding

yesterday i purchased a nice new khadi kurta (handmade indian shirt) to wear to the event, and i've joined the office gift pool. thus everything is taken care of. tonight i catch an overnight bus for chennai with some of my co worker buddies. the wedding is sunday at 7am--not saturday as i originally thought. not sure what the plan is on saturday, though the guys mentioned something about a "booze party" in the evening. hmm. maybe the plan is to finish a very long night at the wedding.

Monday, August 22, 2005


i'm invited to a wedding this weekend, but it's way the hell over in chennai (madras to you old timers) and it's saturday at 7am. yeah, that's right....7am. i also need to buy clothes and shoes to wear, and figure out a gift.

i've never been to an indian wedding. should i go? will it be a cultural experience i dare not miss, or a snoozer (which might be literal given the time of day)? if you have experince with these things help me out. i'm also getting a lot of different stories on acceptable dress. if possible, do suggest clothes and shoes i should wear and the gift i should bring. it would be nice if i could wear something that would be useful for more than indian weddings (e.g. something i could wear to work or out at night).

is cash an acceptable gift? what amount is reasonable?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

youth camp

most of the people i hang out with here originally met through an organization i will call IYE (international youth exchange)*, where young people do volunteer work and live with a host family in some other country. this time of year, IYE runs a camp outside of bangalore to welcome the latest arrivals to india. B & V (the swede and the italian) & R & M2 & Y (the indian women) have all been affiliated with IYE in the past. even though most of them have nothing to do with IYE officially anymore, they enjoy visiting the camp, and this time they invited me to come along. i felt a little weird about going, given that i have nothing to do with IYE and that the Y in IYE doesn't exactly fit me to a T, but i figured it beats sitting at home with a cold. so, hopped up on cold medication, i packed a bag, grabbed my guitar, and met the gang for the ride out to camp on the outskirts of bangalore. before we got in the van, V took me aside and quagmiresquely** explained that this year's crop consisted of some 24 females and 3 males, the oldest amongst them pushing 21. I should have replied "giggity, giggity...all riiight"***, but being snotty and sick and most cripplingly of all, me, i just couldn't bring myself to become "that creepy old guy" for the weekend. I decided then and there that i'd leave that for V.

But that was before i fully appreciated the transformative effect of questionable cold medicine, hindi dance music, and the old monk (indian rum).****

to be continued.

* name altered so i don't get in trouble
** second quagmire (family guy) reference in the blog. dennis made the first. thanks dennis for opening that door.
*** third quagmire reference
**** foreshadowing used to increase readership.

a picture, proving i was there:

Friday, August 19, 2005

don't trust your pharmacist

my lastest illness turned into your basic cold. the huge pharmacy nearby looks like something from america in the 20's. the old gothic building houses old tall wooden cabinets with ovaltine ads etched in the glass panels, something from the days of british rule to be sure. these cabinets are crammed full of drugs of all sorts, seemingly haphazardly. i half expected to see mortars and pestles and someone muttering incantations. i added myself to the queueless hordes (not so fun being jammed together with sick poeple) and eventually found a space at the counter and a man who would help me. i told him i needed cold medicine, and he went off to rumage though the cabinets. after a few minutes he returned with a few sheets of pills. note that pills almost always come in those little tin foil sheets, as putting them in bottles would invite drug counterfeiting. note also that these sheets are often cut up into smaller sheets to the point where you can't read the ingredients or its MRP (retail price) or expiration date, unless you are lucky enough to get that part of the sheet. Also, dosages are never indicated on the drug as they are to be indicated by a physician. Anyway, he brought me a sheet of multi-symptom cold medication and a somthing-cillin. i asked what the something-cillin was, as the "cillin" suffix sure sounded like an antibotic to me. He confirmed it was indeed an antibiotic. he said i'm supposed to take the antibiotics along with the cold medicine. I looked at him with horror, and told him you're not supposed to take antibiotics for a cold. they are useless against viruses, i said. my rebellion was unexpected. another pharmacist backed him up. i told him i didn't want the antibiotics, purchased the cold medicine and walked home in the pouring rain. once home i realized i didn't know how many of the pills to take or how long they lasted. oh well, i would have to experiment.

anyway, somebody needs to tell indian pharmacists to stop giving antibiotics to cold sufferers or somebody needs to explain to me why i should have taken them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

sick again

god knows what kind of weird virus i have this time. i'm sweaty and i desperately want to sleep. maybe i should go home.

lumpy and me and pee

i've had a strange lump at the base of my neck for a few months now, so i finally decided i'd get it looked at. the doc poked and prodded and squeezed and teased my neck nodule, then pronounced it harmless. i could get it cut out if i liked, but he didn't recommend bothering with that unless it gets bigger or infected.

total charge for doctor visit: $0. he said he didn't need to treat me, so it's free. i never filled out a single form or gave anyone my name. i walked in (sans appointment), saw the doctor, and walked out. so easy. screw you US health care system, you bastard.

since i'll be living with this lump for a while (perhaps forever), i've named it bernard.

as bernie and i headed home, i witnessed my first female public urination since college.

Monday, August 15, 2005

happy independence day!

indian independence, that is.

it's one of the big indian holidays. everyone has the day off and the flags are flying... this is a very patriotic place. i've mentioned to several indians the common independence day bond we have, both of our countries having booted out the brits and united as democratic nations. surprisingly, this almost never fails to elicit surprise. in fact i've been told twice that i'm mistaken. i guess western history is given about as much study here as eastern history is given in the USA.

i was going to go to the freedom jam--a massive outdoor music festival, apparently the biggest in india--but the event was cancelled due to security concerns (i.e. terrorists). once again the terrorists have won, and i'm at work instead.

the party

well, B and V finally came though. the party was well attended and a success. this was truly an international event. here's the breakdown (ordered by skin color--light to dark):

1 swedish male (B)
1 swiss female (J)
1 american male (Me!)
1 italian male (V)
5 indian females (Y, M2, J, R, K)
1 indian male (P)
1 guy from dubai (M)

i was expecting something closer to 3-6 people, as B & V, until now, have always overpromised and underdelivered.

more fun facts:
1. at one point in the evening Y grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the bedroom. she pointed at R lying in a heap on the floor. it took me several moments to process what was going on. R had fainted. her eyes were half open and lifeless. i carried her limp body to the bed. i checked her noggin for blood or a massive lump she might have received hitting my very hard floor. nothing. as i was contemplating my next move she regained conciousness and apologized for fainting.
2. 4 people spent the night (not including me), the final stragglers finally leaving on sunday morning. the event began on friday, mind you.
3. those of us remaining on saturday went shopping for indian wedding wear for me. no, i'm not getting married (the party wasn't that good). i'm invited to a wedding. M2 seemed to relish her role of dressing me up like an indian prince. i drew the line at perfume and jewelry, though surprisingly i liked the glittery long scarf she insisted i wear.

i took some pictures. maybe i'll post them. (i just did.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

local girls, sort of

i met b & v and two of their indian female friends, just back in town after a year long stay in switzerland. some sort of student exchange. these girls (i can call them this becuase they were about 20) were quite nice and very westernized. normally i feel like i have to tread lightly around indian girls, who often seem shy and easily shocked by swearing and drinking and such. not so with these two. in fact they're coming over to my place for V's birthday party on friday and have even asked if they can spend the night. scandalous! i will be the talk of the building on saturday.

i get stared at a lot when i'm alone, but walking down the street with the provocatively (again, by indian standards) dressed indian girls drew more stares and even some catcalls. local men would try to "help" the girls (with what is unclear), assuming they were tourists. the girls seemed both amused and slightly annoyed by this.

while everyone was pleasant enough, i realized i'm really starting to miss people my age. everyone i hang out is 23 or less. well, V is 28 actually, but he seems 23. i miss adult conversation.

(here i should point out that among my most satisfying conversations on this entire trip were those i had with an 18 year old english woman i met in vietnam. i'm still freaked out by her.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

rickshaw fight

ok, so i've fallen a bit behind. not a whole lot of stuff to report anyway. even in india, new and exciting things don't happen every day. but there have been a few mildly interesting happenings:

a rickshaw driver corralled us coming out of a club at the usual 11pm ejection time and insisted he knew of a place that 1) was open until 2am, and that 2) he could get us in for free, instead of us paying the high cover. V and B seemed more enthusiastic about this than i did, and in particular, i never trust auto-rickshaw drivers. B made it clear that we should know that there's always a risk of the auto taking us to somewhere we'd be jumped by thugs, but this did not particularly concern me. i was more concerned about clearly negotiating the terms of our contract with the driver.

our agreement turned out like this:
he takes us to the place
1) if we don't like the place, he brings us back, we pay "whatever we want"
2) if we can't get in for free, he brings us back, we pay nothing.
3) if it closes before 2am, he brings us back, we pay nothing.
4) if all of the above works out he waits for us, we pay him the cover charge for one person, or 300 rupees. this is a damn good fare.

during our drive i reviewed the contract with our driver a few times. "yes, yes" was the constant refrain. along the way, he tried upselling us, offering hookers and drugs at ridiculous prices. i declined for all of us.

we arrived at a very posh hotel, and the driver walked us in and took us to the "secret free entrance" which was neither secret nor free. the charge was 300 each, and we could get in for 15 more minutes and be served no more drinks. obviously our driver was completely full of shit. "take us home", i said. even though our agreement said we should pay him nothing, i knew this would cause grief, so i decided i would pay him 70, which is slightly more than the usual fare for the journey we took. more than fair, yes?

no. i gave the driver the money and he looked disgusted and shoved the cash back in my face. he wanted 500. he said something along the lines that we didn't have to pay his "service charge", but we still owned him his fare. that it wasn't his fault the place was closed?! what an asshole. the security guy from my building came out and a full on argument ensued. the fight was mostly in kannada so i couldn't understand most of it, but B told me that the security guy was saying we should pay the driver, which i find kind of hard to believe would be true. why would he take the side of a rickshaw driver (notoriously corrupt) over the guy who lives in the building he works in? V as usual gave the racist explanations that indians will always help indians over the white man, something i've seen proven false time and again. anyway, B was making the stupid argument that we paid him 70 and that's a good rate for the distance travelled, rather than pointing out that the agreement called for paying him nothing. i told the guys it was time to stop dealing with this pinhead and go inside. we did and mere seconds later the guy was pounding on my door and ringing the bell. this went on for half an hour. i was annoyed that building "security" had let this guy in at all. V disabled my doorbell. eventually the driver got tired and went home. this kind of thing just happens with rickshaw drivers from time to time. it's best to use the meter when you can (nearly impossible late at night) and not bother with "special agreements", which are seemingly never binding if they don't work out in the drivers favor.

Monday, August 01, 2005

dinner party

after 40 minutes trying to find a rickshaw that would take us for a reasonable price (no one would use the meter) we arrived at V's new place for spaghetti carbonara cooked up by a real italian. V hadn't purchased much furniture yet so we sat on his floor and ate. yum. B, B2 and A were there, and even B's sari-clad indian girlfriend showed up, disproving my theory that she didn't really exist. she mostly stayed in the kitchen helping V cook and clean. i felt bad about this and made a few attempts to emancipate her, but she declined. we we're all drinking and eating pork, two things i later learned she disapproves of, so she was probably happier away from us. why she's shacking up with a pork/beef eating swedish drinker is unclear.

seeing V's place, i realized how badly i'm being ripped off. his place is a brand new 2 bedroom, 2 bath place for 6000 a month (about $150). Mine is a 1 bed, 1 bath, older place and i pay 15000. sure, my rooms are much bigger and furnished and i am in the city center. still, if i were going to be here for 2 years like these guys, i'd definitely move, despite the rickshaw hassle. speaking of which, the evening ended at 1am, and i walked out to find a rickshaw, but the streets were deserted. i stood and waited, slowly coming to terms with the idea of sleeping on V's floor, when a lone rickshaw appeared and only charged me double the meter for a ride home. we shared the road with a few cows and no one else. easily my most pleasant ride in india so far.

Friday, July 29, 2005

hospital visit

i still feel some pain in my ankle, so i went to a well-respected local orthopedic hospital. it was all a bit chaotic. i registered at the counter, sat and waited. there was significant human stink nearby, so i moved around until i found a stink free zone. my name was called 10 minutes later but this wasn't to see the doctor--it was to pre-pay my bill. i waited in the cashier line, fighting back the usual queue jumping bastards (most of whom were injured in some way and therefore relatively manageable). i paid, then sat down for another half hour, wondering if i'd been scammed or forgotten, when my name was called again. i met with doctor prasad, who told me my ankle could easily take 6 months to heal. quite a contrast to my second vietnamese doctor who told me one week. i mentioned the slight pain in my elbow i've had for 6 months. he asked me if i played tennis. i told him, no, i was injured when i punched a guy (which is true). turns out i have tennis elbow anyway. unfortunately there isn't anything called fighter's elbow.

the doctor ordered x-rays. the x-ray people told me to go to the cashier. i returned with my proof-of-payment and hopped up on the x-ray table. they forced me to recline and rest my head on the grubby community pillow. 5 indians surrounded me, each taking a turn moving my foot by some miniscule amount. they covered my nads and scurried off to hide and take pictures. this process was repeated until they had 3 pictures of my ankle and 2 of my elbow.

back to the waiting room. bored, i studied the bad hotel room style art on the walls and a painting of an agonized thorn-crowned jesus, thinking how much more pleasant it would be to see a happy lord krishna or ganesh. finally i went back to the doc, who spent all of 5 seconds looking at my x-rays and told me nothing was broken. he showed me some exercises i could do to rehabilitate both body parts. he prescribed swimming and long walks on the beach. i reminded him that the nearest beach is about 8 hours away by train. he ordered me up some physical therapy and an arm brace. i went to the pharmacy (next to the waiting room) and showed them the brace order. they printed up a bill, which i had to take to the now familiar cashier. i paid, brought the receipt back to the pharmacist, got the brace, then back to the doctor. turns out they gave me a wrist brace. back to the pharmacy with the doctor, who scolded the incompetent pharmacist and got the correct brace. back to the doctor's office, where he put on the brace and told me stories of his family in america and gave me his phone number. nice guy.

3 hours elapsed time. total cost for everything: $11

note that this is less than the $15 co-pay i would have had to fork over had i used my fancy US health insurance. actually the telephone charges to get pre-approval would probably have cost more than $11.

haven't had a chance to visit the phyical therapist yet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

more than i (and now you) needed to know

friday: fun at purple haze. i stumbled across the mysterious retro "second floor" which according to rumor is a drug haven that lets in westerners and well-connected indians only. i discovered it by accident on my way to meet a co-worker buddy on the hard rockin' 3rd floor, so i didn't have time to test the claims. lots of depressing metallica on this particular night.

saturday: fun at an exclusive ultra fancy nightclub. plush couches, classy decor, and a bar covered in rose petals for christ's sake. B's indian friend G got us in. bangalore's pretty people came out in droves. i had the best manhattan i've found in india thus far, though it still wasn't quite right and cost a whopping 250 rupees ($6). that's the price of half a month's lunches at the office.

sunday: fun at pecos. B2 & A, who i met on my very first day in bangalore, returned from their india tour. met them and others for beefy lunch and fermented beverages. i learned that one day in belgium during a festival a few years back, the geeky and scraggly B2 drank 100 beers, french kissed 25 chicks & 9 dudes, penetrated 3 girls (no guys, apparently), and vomited 4 times (these numbers were recorded by a secretary documenting each "accomplishment"). i found the vomiting/tonguing combo to be especially loathsome, but B2 insisted that the beer cleaned you right up. B2 got the record for beer and tonguing dudes. i hope he doesn't mind me sharing this remarkable feat.

monday: haunted all day by what i learned on sunday.

Friday, July 22, 2005


yes, i went with B&V to another disco, this one called sparks. as usual, B&V promised they'd bring other people, and as usual those people didn't show up. the club seemed dead at first, but lo and behold, scantily clad (by indian standards), menless women began to arrive in significant numbers (they get in free, we don't). soon they were even dancing to the plodding hip-hop churned out by a squad of hipster djs. all i had to do was go out there and i'd be dancing with 8 partnerless women. but like the shy young indian men all around me, i hadn't yet downed enough liquid courage to make this happen. neither had B & V. by the time i was drunk enough to dance, the 11pm closing hour hit and we were booted out. i'm so lame.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


1. guitar class is down to about 5 people now. my students are eager enough while we're in class, but they are clearly not practicing enough at home. i'm starting to change my approach from the carrot to the stick.

2. i think i got the voice-over job, sort of. a woman called me and mentioned the name of the educational cd-rom company and what sounded like the payment rate along with bunch of stuff i couldn't understand. i asked her to repeat what she was saying but it still made no sense to me at all. she assumed we had a bad phone connection, but we didn't. she told me she'd call back but she never did, and i never bothered calling them back either. so much for that career path.

3. my maid has never again tried to seduce me. this is a little disappointing.

4. i'm considering poisoning the dog that attacks me every night.

5. i've stopped eating with my hands. once the novelty wore off, i decided i preferred using a spoon.

6. i got a new nephew the other day. that makes 4 nephews, no nieces.

7. the indian woman of my dreams remains elusive.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

wedding reception

i was supposed to go to a co-worker's brother's wedding reception saturday night. i had even arranged to meet another co-worker earlier in the day to shop for some proper attire and a wedding gift. but i fell ill and none of this ever happened. still, i managed to learn something about weddings and receptions in preparation.

a reception is quite a bit different here than at home. first of all, the wedding was a week ago, in a different city. this reception was for the bangalore crowd who couldn't make it to the wedding. there may therefore be many such receptions in the weeks following the wedding. secondly, you might ask what what business i have going to the reception of a co-worker's brother in the first place. apparently this is not unusual. you accompany your friends to events that are a big deal to your friend, regardless of their direct meaning to you. thus if your friend's brother gets married, you join your friend's entourage, even if you've never met the bride & groom. similarly if your friend's brother dies, you go with your friend to the funeral. you share the good and bad in your friend's life (which must make for hugely crowded events). third, the reception is basically a dinner. there is no dancing, and probably no drinking (booze served with food is rare here--you don't generally drink anywhere families go). i think there would have been some interesting cultural goings on though. i can only hope someone else (or their sibling) ties the knot in the next 3 months, and that i get invited again.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

the monsoon, finally

friday at 5pm we started our office festivities. a few team building games. thankfully i was appointed judge. who says you can't trust the white man? at 7 the engineering group headed for the go-cart track. the drizzle turned into real rain. i put on the provided helmet, worried slightly about picking up head lice. fortunately the stink inside the helmet made me forget all about the lice. i started around the treacherous track, the front tires kicking up dirty road water onto my face (the helmet visor was missing). 6 laps later and back in the pits i was soaked and filthy, though i was sure i had the fastest time of the group. there was little satisfaction in this, however, as my co-workers are so uncompetitive (see the bowling entry some weeks back). i watched the next group as i picked the grit from by teeth and eyes. lots of crashes and spinouts--good stuff. i think some people weren't aware that the go-carts had brakes. the group after us was even more fun to watch, crashing into one another and even destroying a car.

filthy and wet, we headed to a hotel to eat. "hotel" means restaurant in india. no one seems to know why. we ate chinese, which seems to be the most popular non-indian cuisine in the country. i asked for chopsticks which freaked out my co-workers, who hadn't a clue how to operate them.

by now i was late for my meeting with B & V and their pals. i asked the guys to drop me off near the bar, unable to convince them to join me. V had brought his 2 cameroonian friends, N & E, who seemed bored out of their minds. a few glasses of beer and it was already closing time, and time for me to get my second soaking of the night on my walk back to the office where i had stupidly left my keys. a strange man in a car kept trying to pick me up on my way back home.

i woke up this morning with a sore throat and a raspy voice.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

my future bride

the guys at work feel bad that i'm single and old (compared to them) so are trying to find someone to marry me. they walked me through a search of, billed as the worlds largest matrimonial website. too many of the hindu women seemed to have their priorities messed up, including wanting to marry within their caste or their race, etc. when i restricted the search to non-religious women (my officemates thought this was a very weird thing to do) i ended up with only 5 or 6 choices. my top pick is a 28 year old meat-eating school teacher and artist. an excerpt from her bio:

"...Want to share my life with someone who would be my friend and support, open-minded and non-superstitious. I believe in trust and transperency. I hate Hipocracy. I'm very much afraid of cats."

it's eerie. i could have written the very same thing, except that i'm very much afraid of squirrels. cats are pussies.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

mad dog

the stray dogs roaming the bangalore streets ignore humans during the day, but become territorial at night. one dog patrols the area around my home, and even sleeps in my driveway. during the day he completely ignores me. after 11pm he treats me as an evil intruder, barking and growling and baring his teeth. i stare him down and make my own threatening noises, which so far keeps him at bay. this happened again last night as usual, only this time the building guard gave the dog a beating for it. i should have tipped him i think.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

office rat?

one of my few female co-workers was making a leisurely trip to the bathroom, which happens to be next to my desk. she opened the door, gasped, and lept backwards. she stood still, her mouth wide open in shock. apparently a rat had charged out of the bathroom and under my desk. i asked, "a rat or a mouse?" "a rat!" she insisted. the maintenance guy put a trap under my desk and an hour later a tiny mouse was caged inside. i'm not sure what they did with it...

Sunday, July 10, 2005


i thought i was heading to mysore to take a break from the mayhem of bangalore. i was wrong.

true, mysore is smaller, less crowded (but still crowded), and the air is a bit more breathable. it's possible to cross the street fairly easily. sometimes there's even a traffic cop to help you along. on the other hand, wherever you look you see men urinating on a wall or through a fence or into a gutter. sacred cows are everywhere, and so is their shit. so much of the city reaks of cow shit and man piss. there is a lot of pleasant looking green space, but most of it is fenced off, probably because people would just pee all over it, and of course cows would graze and shit on it. but worse than all of this are the scammers.

mysore gets a bunch of western yoga students and tourists, which in turn has created a massive scamming industry (i suspect yoga students in india for the first time might be particularly easy targets). this being low season, there are few tourists and a ton of out-of-work scammers. so they basically all descended upon me. the scammers range from cute 8 year olds to grizzled 50 year olds. the one thing they have in common is that they are extremely friendly. they're always so interested in you. there seem to be a few different pitches:

1. show you the incense factory
2. take to the one day only music festival (the scammer often posing as a music student)
3. show you a amsterdam style "coffee shop", where pot smoking is legal (mysore, they claim, is one of a handful of indian cities where it is legal)

these offers always come after a lengthy confidence building process during which they express great interest in you and share their love of things from your culture. two separate scammers actually sung the same bob marley song in an effort to prove they were "just like me." never mind that i'm not really a bob marley fan. they drop the names of their fun loving western friends living in mysore (who almost certainly don't exist, or if they do are part of the scam), and ask if you'd like to meet them. and the list goes on and on. in general, they make it difficult to shoo them away because at this point they've only been friendly.

then comes one of the above pitches, of course disguised as a gesture of friendship. i'm not sure what happens with each. i suspect the music festival has "just ended" when you reach it, and you meet the scammer's musician friend who leads you in some other unknown direction. the "coffee shop" scam scares me the most, as from what i've been able to gather, pot smoking is illegal in all of india and this might be a scam designed to get you "arrested" followed by the bribe to get you out of trouble. the incense factory is undoubtedly some sort of redirection scam as well.

one scammer walked with me for a while, chatting me up as usual. a western woman even waved at him from the window of a passing bus and he waved back. maybe i was wrong about him? maybe he's just a nice guy? no, when he waited for me for 45 minutes while i was in a museum, i knew he had to be a scammer. i debated with myself whether to see where the scam leads or to just blow him off. i decided to use him at least to point out a good cheap place to eat. he did. i was careful to make sure that it was a crowded eatery so that i wouldn't be drugged. he told me it was ok to smoke pot here, but i declined. while i was eating, his "friend" came by. this guy spoke perfect english. we talked at length about bangalore. he knew the city well and we talked about many places we'd both been. he lamented the westernization and yuppification of bangalorian culture. he spoke at great length of his interest in yoga and ayurvedic medicine and what it could do. we discussed the tragic london bombings and world politics. he spoke at length about his studies abroad and his return to india to "give something back" by working with local children with cerebral palsy. he shared his email address and gave me the address of the sister orphanage in bangalore in case i wanted to check it out and volunteer or donate. man, what a great, great guy. after lunch, he wanted me to stop by his place with the other scammer. i somehow had the impression this was the orphanage (he said he lived there), and i thought the scam would involve me giving money to either a real or fake orphanage, and/or buying some fake and/or overpriced ayurvedic medicine. i debated whether to follow or take off. what the hell, i went with them. they weren't big guys and all of the confidence building didn't suggest a violent end. plus i could turn around an leave at any time.

instead of an orphanage, we went into a ramshakle storefront. no one else was there, so i felt fairly safe. he had talked about the ayurvedic properties of certain oils in the restaurant and sure enough, he had some of those oils here. he started to bottle some up for me, one he guaranteed would repel mosquitoes and the other would cure any stomach issues (things we talked about over lunch). i told him i didn't really want to buy any oils. he went on about how this wasn't about money and how he wanted to share ayurvedic medicine and why would he go though all of this for a few dollars. he knocked down the price of the two bottles of oil to 250 rupees, which is about $6. he wanted to sell me some expensive and ostensibly highly potent "marijuana oil". when i didn't bite, he offered me a big bag of pot for $9 (the pot was real). yes, this huge investment of time was coming down to whether or not i would by $16 worth of stuff that probably had a value of something closer to $3-5. but this is india and making $10 in a day is a good score. i told them i didn't know anything about these oils and was uncomfortable buying them, and that i didn't want the pot. they feigned insult and prices came down somewhat, but i took off. they weren't happy and our friendship was clearly over.

in addition to the scammers, there were the beggars and the street vendors who would chase me for blocks trying to separate me from my rupees. definitely more agressive than bangalore.

but it wasn't all bad...

sites seen:

maharaja's palace - the highlight of the trip. those maharajas really knew how to live it up. at one point i ended up on the off-limits palace rooftop having taken a stairway i wasn't supposed to take (apparently a door was unlocked that shouldn't have been). i realized immediately i was somewhere i wasn't supposed to be, but i still snuck around for a while and took in the views. no one caught me.

the art museum - not bad. after making the rounds i tried to leave the gallery, but one of the staff stopped me, insisting i must see the musical clock go off on the hour. so for 5 minutes i stood in front of this massive french clock adorned on top with a little regal military scene. the only movement was the drummer boy pounding out each second. a crowd gathered. anticipation grew. the hour struck, and the music box began its song, though nothing moved. was it broken? finally the soldiers and horses and carriages stuttered into action, circling the palace atop the clock. it was easily one of the lamest things i have ever waited for. the museum guy who forced me to stay approached with a smile and said (paraphrasing) "see, wasn't that great?" i wanted to punch him but instead i gave him a thumbs up and a smile.

chamundi hill - i took a public bus to the top of chamundi hill. i left my shoes in the shoe repository, bought a ticket, and joined the queue to enter the hilltop temple. somebody shoved flowers and a religious idol into my hands. i said i didn't want this, but they said it's not for you, it's an offering. they didn't ask me for any money. i was waiting in line and someone scolded me becase my flip flops were poking out of my backpack. the complainer thought i had merely shoved the shoes i was wearing into my bag. i explained i hadn't, and that this was my luggage, but he was unsatisfied. i was now trapped in the disneyland style circuitous queue and there was no way out. finally he agreed i could hide them in my backpack at least. i did. so there you have it, my first trip to an indian temple and i'd offended the gods, or at least their worshippers.

i felt bad about my faux pas at first. but then i entered the push to get a blessing and offer my flowers and icons. people pushed and shoved as a security guy enforced a rapid offering rule. i gave my offerings and my cash and was shoved away. it's difficult to imagine a less holy experience. how is this less offensive than flip-flops protruding from a backpack? to exit the temple, i navigated the gauntlet of holy men seeking money for blessings. one caught me and i ended up lighter by 10 rupees with a dot of paint between the eyes.

finally i emerged from the temple and the guys who "gave" me the offerings hit me up and ended up with way too much of my money. i went to pick up my shoes, pushing through the children selling postcards. the shoe attendant motioned me aside, pointing to the wall. painted on the wall was the number 100, nothing else. the shoe guy said this meant that shoe storage was 100 rupees and i roared with laughter. i took my shoes and gave him 1.5 rupees.

so there you have it. this holy place was largely about getting me to part with my money. 20 years from now i'll enjoy stepping on the cockroaches these karma-poor scammers become in the next life.

i walked the 1000 steps down chamundi hill and after the usual negotiations caught an auto-rickshaw to the train station. i was really looking forward to getting home.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

fat, snotty, pale & lazy

a few weeks ago i was bronzed and trim and healthy.

but sitting in front of a computer all day changes all of that--fast. my tan is gone. almost no exercise and too many carbs are causing an alarming gut expansion. and i've been suffering with allergies that are making me sneezey and sluggish. turns out bangalore is the allergy capital of india.

i need to find some way to reverse all of this. wooing the indian ladies is difficult enough as an outsider without adding the gut and the snot. though maybe being pale is an advantage.

solutions? low carb eating isn't feasible. the gym is too far away. plus my ankle still isn't really exercise ready.

i figured constant bouts of food poisoning and other gut related maladies would keep me trim, but so far i've had it easy. in fact, except for one ultra-spicy food related incident, my bowels have been better behaved here than at home. go figure.

ugh. i think i've said too much.

Monday, July 04, 2005

the indian movie experience

i survived my first indian movie theater experience, barely.

plenty of people talked over the movie. cell phones rang. the dramatic tension was largely undone by a poorly placed intermission. the aspect ratio seemed wrong.

fortunately i had a buffer between me and the masses. if the theater were full it would have been a complete disaster.

at least i only paid about $2.40.

happy independence day

i'm pretty sure i'm not supposed to be working today as it is independence day in the US, but here i am anyway. frankly, i'm not sure the whole independence thing is working out, so it's difficult to get excited about the holiday. after 230 years of it we end up with our worst government ever.

still, i will celebrate. i'm taking the afternoon off to see "war of the worlds" with scientologist superstar tom cruise. i hope i don't end up rooting for the aliens.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

police inaction

apparently our intended destination was shut down by the cops, and the evening degenerated into a few guys drinking in my apartment. B and V left at about 1am. i walked out on my balcony at 1:15 and saw them in the streets talking to a group of about 5 cops. probably nothing. i checked again half an hour later and they were still there. this generated a little concern. i walked out to see what was going on, not that i really had much of a strategy for getting them out of the clutches of the police. fortunately i didn't have to. B speaks some kannada (the local language) which delighted the bored police and they were just chatting. finally the conversation broke up, but at this point B and V were worried about finding an auto-rickshaw that wouldn't charge them 4 times the going rate. so they came back to my place and fell asleep on my couches. B was a little concerned that the bored cops would follow us home in search of some booze and something more entertaining than hanging around in the streets with the stray dogs, but they didn't. but this got me thinking... maybe i should befriend the notoriously corrupt cops. once i have them on my side i could get away with anything. not that i have a lot of underworld ambitions here. not yet at least.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

disco is dead

friday night i hooked up again with B and V and over a beer a plan emerged to head to the disco. do i like discos? no, but i thought i should at least experience an indian one. B and V, being european, adore discos the world over.

there is a rule in bangalore that you cannot get into a disco unless you bring (or are) a woman. there is a reason for this. first i should explain that indian males often remain entirely "wholesome" until they get married. this is often not by choice. or at least not by their choice--it's usually that women won't allow anything to happen until marriage. this makes the typical indian male obsessed with finding someone to marry as quickly as possible. it also leaves him in a perpetually hot and bothered state. now the disco tends to attract the few not-so-conservative indian girls out there. we're talking tight sleeveless shirts and skimpy skirts. while this is the way everyone under 20 dresses at home, you just don't see it here, and it suggests, at least in the minds of some males, that these girls might not insist upon waiting until marriage. once the guys realized where these, um, more liberal minded girls were congregating, they arrived in droves. cover charges skyrocketed, but not enough to trump the mating drive. fights fueled by certain pent up energies broke out as several guys would compete for the attentions of one girl. hence the rule and the high cover charge we would surely be asked to pay.

we had no women in tow, but well-connected B knows the doorman, who probably also realizes that the white man isn't gonna go nuts when confronted by a woman in a skirt, though i wasn't so sure about V and his one track italian mind. we were offered entry for 600 each (about $14), which includes 2 free drinks. i applied the best of my formidable negotiating skills, but could only get the price down to 400 each. we then learned that the dance floor was closed until further notice, so we'd essentially just be sitting around drinking like anywhere else, though the doorman tried hard to sell us on the atmosphere inside. turns out that there'd been a crackdown on clubs, the new police commissioner enforcing a disco license law that was previously ignored. every dance floor in the city, if not the state, was shut down until various fees and fines were paid and paperwork processed. this was a bit of a relief for me and a crushing blow to B and V. we sure as hell weren't gonna pay the big bucks to sit on our asses, so we left and instead paid the small bucks to sit on our asses and drink at the nightwatchman, a nearby bar. B's indian friend N joined us and we (well, they really) came up with a drunken strategy for the next night (i.e. tonight) involving a secret late night club and go-go dancers.

i'm giving this evening a 20% chance of success, and a 10% chance of something terrible happening. still, i dare not miss it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

pigeon love

everyday i have to watch two amorous pigeons go at it on the air-con unit outside my office window. they do some sort of spastic kissing thing for a while, followed by "the act", which is mercifully brief. it was sort of interesting the first few times, but now i'm kinda hoping they smash into a window and die.

indian english

i love indian english, which is a lot like old british english, i suppose. a typical newspaper article, for example, might lament the increasing number of rowdies, rascals, miscreants, or other similarly named perpetrators of hooliganism or bamboozlement. i think i will subscribe to the paper for this reason alone.

i do however, wish i could better understand spoken indian english. it varies widely by speaker--some people make perfect sense to me...others might as well be speaking chinese. yet indians seem to understand each other when speaking english even when i can't. the whole back-and-forth communication rhythm is a bit different as well. you could almost say there is a certain impatience to indian english. most of my phone calls with indians result in complete confusion as my pauses and verbal cues differ from theirs.

one correction: the KFC is not new, it was only remodelled. my co-workers were aghast (see, i'm talking like this now) that i thought bangalore might have ever been KFC-less.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

goat pizza

they've just opened up a shiny new KFC near my place. i wonder when i'll finally break down and eat there. mercifully, the only other american fast food chains nearby are pizza hut and dominos. i try to stick with indian chains when possible. for example, i usually get my pizza from U.S. Pizza, an indian pizza chain posing as an american pizza chain (much in the same way that outback steakhouse is an american steakhouse chain posing as an australian steakhouse chain). sunday night i enjoyed a tasty tandoori paneer and onion pizza. for some reason, they always give me a load of ketchup packets with my pizza. i think they think americans douse everything in ketchup and adore tandoori paneer.

last week i had pepperoni pizza at "pizza corner" (another local chain) but it was goat pepperoni. i'd kill for real pepperoni, but you won't even find that at pizza hut or dominos.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

the audition

i was placed in a sound studio and read 2 pages of an instructional chemistry script. i haven't had chemistry since high school and wasn't sure how a few of the terms should be pronounced. why couldn't it have been phyiscs or math? the sound engineer played it back to me and pointed out a few areas for improvement. not sure if i'll get the gig. actually, i'm not sure if i even want the gig. do i even have the stamina to read like that for 2 hours?

met the expats for drinks and dinner later. i met a young swede, B, who has been here for 2 years and therefore has the scoop on everything. B and V got into a battle and i mostly just let them go at it. several times V, in a loud voice, declared his disdain for and mistrust of all indians. this would have been simply lame and small minded at low volumes, but was highly inappropriate at high volumes while surrounded by indians. if anyone overheard, they didn't let on.

B left to meet his girlfriend and V and i went to dinner at "the only place", which is the only place i know of to get delicious and copious amounts of that most sacred of animals, the cow. i just had a tasty cheeseburger, because i wasn't that hungry, but i tried a bit of V's steak and it was very good. i think i'll be a regular there.

Friday, June 24, 2005


i had lunch with co-workers at a new (to me) kind of hole-in-the-wall specializing in some sort of ultra fatty sikh food (the correct name escapes me). most daunting was the quart of buttermilk i was supposed to drink. i managed to down half of it. yuck. at least i saw my first sacred street cows on the motorbike ride out there. they were dining on piles of garbage.

after work, i ended up at purple haze again with the same guys i went with the last time. amongst the frenetic crowd were the same overly affectionate locals i had met the week before, who this time assaulted me with even more touching and hugging. this time they tried to feed me french fries by hand.

after being booted out of PH, we grabbed some food at 11:40, at the only place around that bribes the cops to stay open that late. apparently the bribes weren't enough, as the cops burst in and shut off the lights and threatened the proprietors. according to my co-worker buddies, the cops said something along the lines of "if you serve another dish we'll mess you up but good." it was time to go.

[note: cops here wear silly austrialian style cowboy hats and carry sticks (which they wield almost constantly) rather than guns. i think to make up for this, they put on the tough guy act.]

Thursday, June 23, 2005

class dismissed

guitar class went alright. only about 5 people had guitars, and were enthusiastic pupils. most of the guitarless attendees left once we started working on chord shapes.

class was followed by a design meeting from 9:30-11pm with the california office. the phone line went dead about 4 times. a little frustrating.

walking home at midnight is nice in that you can cross the streets without fear, but not so nice in that most of the people still out are a bit sketchy. until now, i was beginning to wonder if anyone here would ever offer me drugs and women.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


my coworkers heard i play guitar, and cajoled me into giving lessons once a week, starting tomorrow night. every night this week i've gone with a student-to-be to a nearby shop to buy a guitar. i figured i'd be informally teaching 2 or 3 maybe, but the list of people interested is now up to 16, or about half the company. i think the low price of the course (free) and the novelty of it has contributed to the high level of interest. no doubt there will be a lot of drop outs early on. still, now i'm feeling the pressure to actually plan something. simply getting everyone in tune could take an hour.

i was originally planning on finding a guitar teacher here, rather than becoming one.

as if that wasn't enough...

the english woman through whom i found my apartment gave me the number of a guy who's looking for an american voice for some educational cd-roms. it actually pays quite well for 2 hours of work. but more importantly, i am attracted by the novelty of it. i go in for an audition on saturday. i have inteviewed before, but i have certainly never "auditioned" for anything.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

the services of one's maid

my maid does fairly shoddy work. she just sort of splashes around a lot of water without doing any real cleaning. each day she asks me to check her work before she leaves. some days i point out something i'd like her to actually clean the next day. this doesn't necessarily mean that it will be cleaned.

i've been sort of curious how she's managed to stay a maid given her lackluster skills.

that is, until now. this morning, she stroked my arm and said "massage?" i don't think this is a normal service provided by indian maids, but it may be where her true skills lie. rather than test those skills, i listened to my internal alarm bells and declined the offer.

Monday, June 20, 2005

work: week 2

by now i am eating with my hands every day at lunch, skillfully scooping up curry covered rice clumps. i still use my hand sanitizer beforehand though.

my co-workers belch a lot during lunch. i'm don't think i'm ready to emulate that.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

screw tang

i meet a few of my new expat pals at pecos. pecos is a great place until about 7pm when they jack up the music, making conversation much too difficult. V has obligations and departs early, but M and i move over to nasa for some outer spaced themed drinking. we are greeted by uniformed waiters that look more like they belong on a cruise ship than a star ship, but the effort put into the theme is nonetheless impressive. i see a manhattan listed on the menu, so i take a chance and order it. what i get is a sugary girlie beverage. oh well.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

beer bombs

in the morning my stomach is spazzing out from the previous evening's dinner, no doubt. i spend a lot of time on the can. the maid's arrival makes this a bit awkward.

after things settle down, i head to the big supermarket to stock up. before i've finished my guts are turning over again. i buy my stuff and get out. i lift the platic bags out of the cart and my double bagged beers go crashing to the ground and explode near a little boy. thankfully he's unharmed. in shock, i inspect the bags and they are easily the shoddiest things i have ever seen. those that didn't break are on the verge. by now a crowd has gathered to watch me and the small river of beer and glass that has formed. the security guard tells me to talk to the manager and i'd get new beers, but my agitated gut tells me i don't have time. i shove the remaining groceries into my sturdy backpack and rush home, letting the store staff sort out the mess.

after more nursing of the gut, i find my way to the guitar shop, and succeed in buying a cheap indian made ebanez (yes, a rip off of ibanez) guitar. here, the good guitars are, amazingly, the chinese made ones, while the bad guitars are indian made. they don't even bother with american imports.

i spend the rest of the day eating tandoori chicken pizza, watching movies on cable, and playing guitar. it's nice to have a home.

Friday, June 17, 2005

an 80's evening

i was invited by a group of co-workers to attend a party, "hosted" by one of them. apparently when something fortuitous occurs in the life of one person on the team, that person is cajoled into taking out the rest of the group. our host purchased a new motorbike, which apparently is sufficient to spark a celebration. of course i agreed to go. in fact, i had to cancel a planned get together with a few expat pals who had helped me in my housing hunt. that i had two conflicting social obligations within one week of moving to bangalore left me very impressed with myself.

back to the party. apparently, all parties, at least in my office, seem to be pretty much the same thing. a round of bowling (very popular here), followed by dinner. "hosting" means paying for it. ok, not really what i'd call a party, but i'm looking forward to it nonetheless.

bowling is a bit different than back home. at home, assuming you're not bowling becuase you're drunk and the alley is within stumbling distance, you either own your own ball, or you spend some time picking out the right ball from the racks. and that becomes YOUR ball for the entire game. not here. here you just walk up to bowl and grab a ball that might sort of fit your hand from the group of 7 that happen to sit at your lane. after the first frame, do you wait for your ball to return to go for the spare? no. you just grab another ball and throw it. there's none of the chalk stuff or bowling gloves or using the little finger fan. because of this, the game moves remarkably quickly. which means i like this version of bowling much more. one thing i didn't like: the loud, bad music filling the room and my ears.

it was a very wholesome experience. there was no sense of competion, no playful ribbing when a gutter ball was thrown. nobody swore when they screwed up, except maybe me, and i did it under my breath. everyone just wanted everyone else to do well. lots of cheering and claps on the back and high-fives. only one out of 9 of us scored over 100.

we ate dinner at queen. no, not a gay bar, but a restaurant designed to look like a mud hut from a traditional indian village. we separated into the veg and non-veg groups. only a few of my co-workers eat meat. after a week of vegetarian food, i was looking forward to eating some animals, even if it would only be chicken and goat. the guys asked me how i am with spicy, a question i get nearly every day. having had no problems all week, i was beginning to think this indian spicy thing was exaggerated, or that perhaps after 4 months in asia i had grown accustomed to such things. i was about to be punished severely for my arrogance. this was the spiciest food i've ever had. i made my way through the first few courses, but once i hit the briyani i was completely screwed. one bite and the heat started to build, and with each gulp of water the heat actually increased. i would be dead in minutes if this trend continued. i started eating the yogurt concoction desgined to cool. after a few minutes i hit peak heat and began to come back down. the worst was over (though there may yet be a reckoning in my gut). my tribulation was the source of much amusement around the table. strangely though, i never broke out in a sweat, which is what i thought people did.

i thought maybe drinks would come next, but the evening seemed to be over. most people went home, and a few of us went back to the office to pick up things. it was there that 2 of my coworkers and i decided to go for some drinks at purple haze, a rock themed pub. i caught a ride on the back of one of the guy's motorbikes. as usual, with traffic and all of the one way streets, this took longer than walking. still, the driver of my bike found ways to achieve remarkably high speeds ever so briefly before coming to jarring stops. somehow i held on.

purple haze was something to behold. the focal point of this very dark bar with blacklight images of hendrix and zappa on the walls is a giant flatscreen tv blasting rock videos though an amazing sound system. you really feel like you're at a rock concert, even though you're essentially watching mtv from 20 years ago. the enthusiasm in the room is shocking--people are up dancing and pumping their arms to the body shaking power chords. each new song brings new cheers and high-fives. sometimes the videos would pause at dramatic moments to let the frenzied crowd sing out lines acapella. among the bands: pink floyd, janis joplin, nirvana, u2, metallica, survivor (yes, eye of the tiger), the scorpions, rem, and a host of others. it was impressive that seeing, for example, survivor, in all of their early 80's music video lameness, could be an energizing rather than simply laughable experience, but it was, thanks to the energy in the room. i suppose the beer helped a bit as well. drunk and happy, the guys at the next table befriended me and started stuffing skewers of meat in my face. i kept pleading with them that i was stuffed and could not stomach another bite but they kept making me eat. in fact they'd try to shove the skewers directly into my mouth. i don't like being hand fed by strange men.

even though i'm the rich foreigner, my co-workers insisted on buying the beer. what nice guys. management booted us out at 11:30, half an hour after the mandated closing time.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

moving day

i move into my new place. on closer inspection, there are a variety of things that need fixing. among the most glaring: the shower is falling apart, the water filter doesn't do any filtering, one of the 3 fans doesn't work, and some lights don't light. maina (my landlady, sort of) seems committed to making everything right though. i meet my maid. maina was guessing my maid would cost 300 a month, but it turns out she wants 500, which she claimed the last 2 tenants paid. i am amazed to find out that for this amount ($12/month), she will come and clean EVERY DAY (except sundays). cleaning even includes doing my dishes and my laundry. the only problem is i'm not fond of the idea of a maid coming every day. especially because i have to be home to let her in, and then share the place with her while she works. maina insists that it would be completely insane to give your maid a key, as you would be robbed blind. she tells me that i should lock away anything of value while she's there. actually, maina is fond of telling me a lot of things i should be watchful for, and shares her own robbery stories. by the time she's done i find myself securing every bolt of every door in the apartment. the very fact that there are so many such bolts (as well as a massive secondary padlock on the front door) furthers my apprehension.

anyway, back to the maid. even though i'm not thrilled with these aspects of having a maid, it is something i think i should experience and is such a bargain that i cannot resist. i can always stop it.

after work, i head to the supermarket, excited to fill my fridge with comforting foods and beverages, but all the grocery stores close at 9pm. damn. home won't be too homey just yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

my new home

i get a lead on a place to live though a former bangalore expat i met on-line. i get lucky. the place has just been vacated, its french occupant suddenly forced to return to france for mysterious reasons. the sister of the landlady and her son pick me up outside my office and drive me there, which takes longer than walking. the place is a bit dark and dingy, but it's huge and furnished and has everything i need, including a kitchen (with fridge and water filter), cable tv, and even a balcony overlooking a park. it's pricey though, at 15000 rupees a month. throwing in the maid and the electric & phone bills, i'm looking at almost $400 a month. ah well, i might as well live it up. i decide to take it right then and there.

there's one problem. the deposit. renting an apartment in india (or at least in bangalore, but i think it's countrywide) generally means forking over 10 months rent as deposit. really. so i'd have to fork over around $4000 to stay in a place where i'd be paying $1600 in rent. fortunately they take pity on me and demand only 6 months deposit or $2400. still, that will take me 6 days to raise, using 6 trips to the ATM, which they deem acceptable. i really do hope i'll get the money back. that's some serious scratch. we'll see...

i move in in the morning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

finger licking good

everyone in the office is very welcoming. they invite me for lunch. we walk a block or two dodging both the human and vehicular traffic. my co-workers seem worried that i'll be hit by a car as we cross the roads, not knowing the ways of crazy indian drivers. they give me street crossing directions, which if follow unquestioningly. we decend into a packed basement hole-in-the-wall eatery. my co-workers are hesitant to order me real indian food. they ask if i want fried rice or a few other mild items clearly listed for people who look like me. screw that i said, and made them order me what they were having. it was delicious. in years of working in boring alameda, california, and going out for countless lunches, this would rank among the tastiest lunches i've ever had. and for only 25 rupees (60 cents). i wasn't however, quite ready to eat with my hands just yet. i used a spoon.

for those who don't know, most indian food is eaten with the hands--actually just the right hand. and i'm not just talking about finger friendly pakoras and the like.... i'm talking about rice with curry poured over it. you push it all around your plate with your fingers, sopping up the curry with the rice, then scoop up a clump with the fingers of your right hand, bring it to your mouth and shovel it in (using the thumb). not surprisingly, your fingers end up quite messy (and there are no napkins), though your palm remains clean if you do it right. you also, of course, end up ingesting whatever was on your fingers pre-lunch, which is the part that bothers me most, especially considering that in india, a lot of unpalatable things end up on your fingers. i will try it soon, but not on my first meal out...

oh, and NEVER EVER eat with your left hand. the left hand is reserved for unsavory things, as discussed in my other blog.

after the meal, you go to the sinks, or sometimes just a water jug, and wash off your hand.