Saturday, January 21, 2006


well, it finally happened. my camera is gone. i had it, then i didn't. i don't know what happened. if it was stolen, i don't know how it was stolen. more likely i did something stupid.

i only lost my ahmedabad pictures (which i am quite sad about) and a few hours of udiapur, so it could have been worse.

i was forced to buy an inferior camera for more money than my original camera. india is a terrible place to buy electronics. high tariffs i think.

going now to file a police report (so i can make an insurance claim). that should be fun. i wonder how much i'll have to pay them for the priviledge. then i'll need to work on getting undepressed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

my rockstar moment

i flew kingfisher airlines to ahmedabad, in the state of gujarat, just south of rajasthan. kingfisher is the most popular beer in india, and the beer baron who runs it recently started a "luxury-economy" airline (that doesn't, by the way, serve beer). i wouldn't feel great about flying budweiser airlines at home, as i don't associate great piloting with shitty beer, but i was strangely pleased to be on kingfisher. anyway, the idea of the airline is that you get singapore airlines style service with southwest airlines style prices. for the 3 hour flight, i ate 2 delicious lunches and received oodles of complementary gifts. the seat next to me was even empty. the entire experience was so much better than flying in the us. rumor has it that the boss recruited stewardesses from the pool of slutty "bar girls" who lost their jobs during recent govt crackdowns, but i was not offered a lap dance or any sort of mile-high club membership. this would be my only complaint.

my first task, after getting my $4.40 hotel room with hot water and cable tv (and slightly soiled sheets), was to head for the train station and book my onward ticket to udiapur. at the station, i met a group of travelers desperate to leave the place. they were horrified that they had to wait 8 hours for a train. i suggested they store their bags with the stationmaster and spend the time seeing the city. they complained that the city is unpleasant and there is nothing to see. true, my guidebook did mention that the overcrowded city is one of the 10 most polluted in the world, and suggested covering one's mouth with a rag while walking around, but it still indicated that there was a lot to see. as i waited and waited and waited to book my ticket at the "speedy" tourist window, i talked to another guy who was upset that he couldn't get the seat he wanted and would be "stuck" here for another day. after all of that i decided i'd book a seat out thursday night instead of friday.

all of these people were morons. i walked out of the train station with my ticket and got lost in the crowded streets. there were no tourists. there were no touts. even the beggars didn't know what to do with me. there were lots and lots of smiles and hellos and handshakes. this is probably because there were no tourists or western faces. none. everywhere there were amazing old crumbling buildings, stunning 600 year old city gateways and mosques (this is a very muslim city) and bustling markets. arcitectually, this was the closest i had come to the india i had imagined. perhaps this is how things look all over the north?

today was even more amazing.

i headed for the 600 year old step wells in the morning. step wells sound boring, but they aren't. these go 5 stories underground, are ornately decorated, and surprisingly spooky. bats would actually graze my head as i entered darkened stairwells and pushed aside cobwebs.

after finishing exploring, i went in search of another nearby well. the locals stared. even the dogs and cows seemed surprised to see me. an old man started walking with me. he was going to show me where the second well was. i assumed this would be another attempt to extract a few rupees backsheesh, but what're you gonna do? we went to the well, which doubles as a hindu temple, and was far less impressive than the first. he asked me if i wanted to get tea. oh god, here it comes. he led me down a narrow but bright and homey alleyway, where the locals sat in front of their homes and went about their business. they were all shocked to see me of course. my voice was starting to get hoarse from all the hellos. i thought we were going to a tea stall but we ended up entering a house. the whole family was there. i met the man's daughters and their kids. at first i was a bit nervous. my guidebook details scams that involve poisoning tourists and so on, so i was on high alert. but interacting with the family it was becoming clear to me that this was the real thing. they brought me tea and then lunch! i took pictures of the family. it was all very nice and they were very hospitable and never asked for a single rupee. i left happy and with a full stomach.

i walked in search of the textile museum, hoping to make it before the lunchtime closing. yeah, i know, textiles? who f*%king cares? but my guidebook claims it's the one "must see" in ahmedabad, and perhaps the best textile museum in the world, so i figure i'd better find out why. along the way, i'm approached by kids. then more kids. i am peppered with questions. everyone wants to touch me. i'm serious. i'm surrounded. adults show up. kids want their pictures taken. i take them. then everyone wants to see the picture on my camera. there's lots of pushing. a few mafia types show up and i believe asked for 150 rupees for the pictures. i laughed in their faces. but they were minor characters in the story. most people were friendly, but the friendliness was morphing into something slightly ugly. as if i were a rock star that the people wanted a piece of. the mob grew. a few guys appointed themselves my bodyguards and helped me push forward. the mob filled the street now, and blocked traffic. things were getting insane. a man hopped in an auto-rickshaw and plowed through the crowd toward me. he told me to jump in. i did. hands prodded me as we sped off and i waved my goodbyes to the mob. whew.

on a smaller scale, this happened repeatedly throught the day, especially where kids were around. i found that i basically couldn't take pictures on the street, as this seems to cause exponential mob growth.

back to the rugs. so the textile museum was closed when i got there, as the auto driver and seemingly everyone else in town didn't have a clue where this world class museum was. i had an hour and a half to kill. i met a young guy outside who gave me a free ride on his motorbike to another museum nearby. then he took me to a temple. then he bought me tea. then he bought me pan (that beetlenut-wrapped-in-a-leaf concoction that most tourists are afraid of). then we met his friends. finally he took me back to the textile museum and said he'd probably come back in two hours when i was done! i hoped that i could sneak past him, because all of this hospitality was starting to kill me. also, he had a habit of spitting in my face when he talked.

it's weird--the entrace to the textile museum is restricted to only 15 people, you get a 2 hour guided tour, and it's free. everything in this town is free. i have no idea why. i snuck out a few minutes early--i was falling asleep from looking at rugs. i avoided my spitting friend. still feel kinda bad about that. did a bunch more stuff later. saw lots of old impressive mosques. more impressive building facades. and more mini-mobs.

i often meet other travelers who tell me that they never have positive experiences with locals... that all overtures of friendship or interest are a rouse to get you to part with your money. it must be that these people stay firmly on the tourist trail, because one day in ahmedabad completely obliterated this theory... i was so overwhelmed by hospitality i was literally fleeing from it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

home away from home

i'm back in bangalore. this is my 4th and final day here. i've been cozying up with the girlfriend, visiting the doctor for my latest malady, and planning the next leg of my journey from the office. it's nice to have a familiar base of operations.

a long time ago, it had crossed my mind to do this in every country. i figured i could hook up with a girlfriend in each country i visited, and perhaps marry the top 3 (i didn't want to stretch myself too thin) and start families. i had rose in china, phoung in vietnam, and juan in laos (yes, juan is a woman). i never found a candidate in malaysia/singapore, but i was a cripple then, and chicks don't dig cripples.

what stopped me? who can say for sure. perhaps marrying a woman willing to trade sex for financial security seemed somehow unappealing to me. perhaps i'm not a bigamist at heart. after all, it's a big step to go from 0 to 3 wives, just like that.

my girlfriend here is not of this ilk, lest anyone think otherwise. she is a proper girlfriend, mostly, though her head is filled with ridiculous notions.

last night, she explained to me that american english is trash. that the queen's english is the only proper english. i explained that american english is largely the result of removing the dopey and/or gay things from british english. for example, all of those superfluous u's in words like 'colour'--we, sensibly, got rid of them. she had a counter-example. she said said the brits say 'give me', while the proper american word, apparently used by american authors and listed in american dictionaries is 'gimme', proving what animals we are. i have no idea where she gets these ludicrous notions, but she gets them regularly. i responed by pawing her and insisting she 'gimme a big kiss with them purty lips of [hers]'. she was overcome by a mix of shock and embarassment, though i'm sure she secretly likes it. i horrify her like this on a regular basis, which is a big reason i enjoy being with her. you practially have to offer up a surprise cleveland steamer to shock a woman back home.

on to my current health problem--in kerala one morning i noticed pus oozing from my eye (actually a guy i met on a ferry pointed it out to me). icky. my diagnosis: eye infection. 2 days later, my ear hurt. my diagnosis: ear infection. hmm. at this rate soon my entire head would be one big infection. so i went to the doctor where i happened to be: varkala, a smallish beach town. surely the doctor, with his experience and skills and his fancy ear-o-scope (or whatever it is they call that thing) would be able to figure out the problem and fix me up.

the hospital staff were shocked to see the white man. i got the vip treatment, catapulting ahead of the waiting masses. or this is how it appeared to me. i felt bad about this, but not bad enough to protest. i wan't looking forward to the invasive ear exam, but my fears were misplaced. the doctor whipped out a massive silver eveready flashlight whose D cells were obviously nearly dead, and directed the "beam" aka mood lighting into my ear. he parroted back my suggestion that i had an ear infection. he sent me across the street to the eye doctor, who looked at my eye with a flashlight that might have been even worse. i doubt my pupils even budged. he concurred: "infection". for good measure, he had me read some letters off the wall to make sure i hadn't gone blind and wasn't telling him.

the two doctors got together with me and gave me 2 kinds of pills and two kinds of drops (ear & eye) and insisted that i must not swim. great. here i was at varkala beach, with nothing to do but swim, and now i wasn't able to do that.

my ear pain got worse, then better with the antibiotics. i arrived in bangalore and a day later my hearing went out in the infected ear, and a day after that the pain returned. today i went to a doctor, who, by contrast to the kerala doctor shoved a stick deep into my ear (though it felt like he may have hit brain). ouch. he removed the stick, looked at it as if checking a car's oil level, and pronounced: "infection". he then shoved the invasive ear-o-scope in there and determined that my ear drum was punctured. I wanted to ask "before or after you shoved that stick in there?" but i held my tongue. he told me it's likely the puncture will heal within 10 days and my hearing will return to normal. if not, my drum will need to be "patched". god forbid. he also pointed out that any drops i put in my ear will pass though the hole in the drum and run down my throat. so apparently i have been drinking ear drops for the past few days. yumm.

finally, i've been planning the next stops on my trip. at last i am venturing north. i'm flying to ahmedabad tomorrow, a jumping off point to rajasthan, home to so many of the touristy must-sees. i will make my way east to agra (taj mahal) and dehli and beyond until i reach bihar, the wild west of india, where a man will kill another man for 20 rupees, or a woman for 10. here i will catch a flight to burma, assuming the military junta running the place lets me in. or at least this is the plan du jour. what happens after that is unclear.