July 24, 2008
MG Road, Cubbon Park, British Architecture, & the Best of America
When we arrived to the airport in Bangalore for a business trip, one of my bags
didn't make it, so I had to fill out a couple lost baggage forms. I also had
to go through a mess at customs with a British Airways employee because I said I
had 3 bags, but only 2 with me.
We (Dr. John and I) found our driver and began the trip to the hotel. The airport
is about an hour and 15 minutes away from the hotel and since we landed at about
6am, there was very little traffic, so I can't image how long it would take
with traffic. The driving was lawless, seemingly no rules to the road; we ran through
about 3-4 stop signs. At one point the road went from four lanes to two with no
prior warning; I can't image the traffic jam there would be with some decent
There are cars of all sorts; there was one truck filled with chicken cages and chickens,
but the majority are mopeds and motorcycles, then a much smaller number of cars
and auto rickshaws. At one point traffic in front of us was stopped, so we took
a small dirt road detour, which was narrow and slightly frightening.
The landscape reminds me of a bazaar combination of Africa's poverty: random
people on the streets, and small run down shops made of whatever materials could
be found, in combination with Turkey's free market, growing industries, wealth,
sophistication, education, and power. It seems religiously diverse given that we
passed a mosque, church, and numerous small hidden temples all within about 5 blocks.
The temples are very colorful and our driver has some sort of idol on his dashboard.
We were greeted at the hotel by Dr. Sibi and a bouquet of flowers for each of us,
which I found rather odd for a meeting of all men. We checked in to find our beautiful
hotel rooms, which were state of the art and highlighted by a leather couch and
flat screen TV. There was also a great balcony, a welcome fruit basket, chocolates,
and a two-person whirlpool. The DVD player and WiFi reinforced that I was at a business
hotel, but the TV having no reception quickly reminded me I was in India.
The floor numbering scheme in the hotel was odd. The ground floor was labeled -1,
the next floor up was 0, then 1, etc. So the floor labeled "1" would actually
be what Americans would label as "3" and most Europeans would label as
I spent the next couple hours on the hotel's rooftop mesmerized by the traffic
and the intersection below. The combination of traffic, from people to trucks and
bicycles was simply a hodge-podge of anything that moves or in some cases can be
pushed. The oddest sight however was a family of four on a single moped. The older
child was standing between the father and the handlebars; behind him was another
child and his wife. There were also a number of women riding motorcycles and mopeds
There's a popular coconut stand across the street, where the vendor chops off
the top of the coconut and serves it with a straw to his clients. I'm not sure
if they just drink the coconut milk then discard the rest. There have also been
a number of cars with the largest hood ornament I've ever seen, literally two
feet tall, basically just a phallic symbol.
At about 1:00pm we made our way into the city with two of Dr. John's Indian
friends. We first met Mankel, who show us around, a man who arrived in Bangalore
with only 200 rupees in his pocket (US $5) and now runs 5 businesses. The first
thing he showed us was Ulsoor Lake and he seemed quite proud of it.
Whenever locals show me a city I find it more intriguing to see what they want to
show me than I find the actual sights. This man-made lake was nothing more than
a green puddle of pollution in the middle of a thriving metropolis from my perspective.
The islands were concrete blocks, perfectly round with grass and trees while the
outer rim of the lake was again a perfect oval shape with the shore only concrete
steps, showing just how abrupt the lake begins and ends. To me this lake was disgusting;
to Mankel it was something to be proud of.
We next made our way to MG road, or Mahatma Gandhi Road. This is the heart of the
thriving and relatively modern city consisting of shops, restaurants, and bars.
We ventured into one of these stores, the state emporium of handicrafts. There were
a lot of shawls, pillow cases, stone and wood carvings. I found the wood carvings
the most impressive and we spent a good half hour here looking at everything.
After leaving to see more of the street I noticed the number of western stores such
as Levi's that dominated this road. At the end we also found a McDonald's,
which our host was insistent on going to, because he told us it's "America's
favorite." I haven't eaten at McDonald's since I was in pre-school,
but our host was so insistent that we eat there, I felt it would be insulting to
deny him this gift he so desperately wanted to give. Being in India, there was no
beef on the menu, but the menu's highlight seemed to be the "Chicken Maharaja
Mac" and with a name like that I simply couldn't resist. While eating I
noticed that there were large flat screen TVs on the walls running stock tickers.
I found this odd given the fact that we were at McDonald's, but by looking around
it was clear the people here had money and it wouldn't be a surprise to find
many are investors.
The "Mac" was like a regular burger: bun, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions,
but the sauce was a spicy curry and the giant un-breaded chicken mc-nugget type
thing was doused and cooked in the same spicy curry sauce. It wasn't too bad,
but I wouldn't order it again, especially since I spent the next hour focusing
on not throwing up; due to that the next few sights I'm going to explain may
be vaguer than ideal.
We made it to Cubbon Park with sandwich still in tack. The park is filled with rose
gardens, a couple weeks away from blooming, a fitting scene for the city known as
"Garden City." The city library was nearby and quite striking in its blood
Following this, we made it to the British colonial heart of the city, the Karnataka
Government Building and across the street, the Karnataka High Court. Neither looked
Indian as I know it, but rather exactly what they are, British 19th century Colonial.
After a few pictures, I was again struck by the oddities that our new friend showed
us, an upscale shopping mall. I can't figure out if this was shown to us because
he was proud of it or if he wanted to show us how advanced and rich India is, but
from his expression I would guess the prior. This mall was nicer than most in the
U.S. and the Italian-influenced interior was adorned by paintings of Venice and
upscale shops like Louis Vuitton and Rolex.
Our final stop with Mankel was the city's business center. I first thought this
would be like an American downtown, but discovered it to be more of a large street
market. The shops were packed and the people and their products overflowed into
the sidewalks. There were constantly trucks and cars delivering goods to these shops
and the streets seemed even busier here than anywhere else. The city's main
bus station is here as well making the chaotic traffic even more chaotic. This spot
made for great people watching and I noticed a lot of male teenagers and men in
their twenties holding hands, which seems odd, but again, seems to be normal here.
I saw it in more than one case, so this must be the norm and not the exception.
It was also here that Mankel had to leave and we were passed off to his nephew,
Manheal, who's English was much more understandable.
Manheal told us about English levels being directly related to the level of one's
education and that his uncle never went to school, but has self-taught himself the
language since arriving in Bangalore. Manheal, on the other hand, has a college
degree and attended schools with an English medium, so spoke fluently. By this time
my stomach was settled and my curiosity was now on the verge of explosion so my
Manheal told us about the caste system dying in the cities, but still very prevalent
in villages. Bangalore, being a booming information technology (IT) hub and immigration
center (primarily for Indians throughout the country) has almost no remnants of
the caste system anymore, even less so than some other major cities. Due to this
economic boom and immigration, Bangalore is very multi-cultural and for many first
generation arrivals Hindi and English are the only means of communication. The local
language, Kannada is still the most common language, since most Indians
moving here are from Karnataka, but for others there needs to be Hindi or English
Both Mankel and Manheal are among these immigrant groups; both are from Gujarat
in western India, bordering Pakistan. They are Jains, meaning they believe that
no living animal should be killed for any reason, a fact that perhaps made our trip
to McDonald's and my Chicken Maharaja Mac a little awkward in retrospect. I
didn't even notice at the time that Mankel was eating a vegetarian meal. Jains
believe in re-incarnation so view all animals as the same: creatures with souls.
Some are so strict that they sweep in front of them so they won't step on an
animal and many of these people will also wear a mouth mask so no animal flies into
their mouth. It's a fascinating religion and no matter their motivation for
not killing animals, it's a very peaceful and powerful message.
Spinning off the Jain conversation, Manheal told us that India is very multi-ethnic
and this encourages the ability of numerous religions to live side by side in peace,
which is exemplified by the mosque, church, and temples within such close proximity.
From religion we moved on to Indian families and I was surprised to find Indian
families now typically only have one or two children, which is quite a contrast
to the tradition and cultural center of the people, large families with lots of
children; you can only have over 1 billion people by these means and clearly India
Manheal also told us that Americans are fairly well accepted in India because most
people understand that everything is a two way street and the U.S. brings in all
these IT jobs, money, and supports their nuclear energy plants so Indians tend to
Just prior to the end of the tour I was again intrigued by the sight shown to us.
We were shown a street with beautiful five star hotels, each seems more impressive
than the last, as if they are trying to out-do each other like the casinos on the
Strip in Las Vegas. Each did well in accomplishing its task and in the end they
are all incredible. Manheal seemed proud and said this is where the IT capital's
Dr. John and I had dinner in our hotel's restaurant, which was alright. There's
a lot of chicken on the menu as are different types of "wet dishes," or
what many foreigners call "curries." The oddest thing of the dinner though
was that when we ordered water they asked if we wanted it warm or cold. Anyway,
dinner was alright and immediately afterwards I went to bed. The day was intriguing,
July 25, 2008
Meetings & Sikhs
There seems to be either a great sense of trust ingrained in business in India or
a complete lack of organization. I have no idea what the schedule of my meeting
is and have no idea when or where any of my obligations are. I was simply told last
night that a car will be here to pick me up at 8am; the car arrived and I got in.
The driver didn't speak English and if any problems arose, I wouldn't even
be aware of them given the fact that I didn't know where I was going or when
I was supposed to be there. Either way, we arrived safely and were again greeted
with flowers. I'm just not sure what to do with all of these flowers; I don't
want to be rude and just toss them, but that's all I'm going to do when
I return to my hotel tonight.
The meeting began without a hitch and I had most of the morning to relax. Everyone
here seems to call me, and every other male "Sir" and when anyone asks
a question, they stand. Another thing that is striking is that the people always
seems to bob their heads from left to right, not like shaking your head "no,"
but more like the head is tilting on an axis that is parallel to the floor. This
apparently means (from what I've been told) they are listening, like they comprehend
what you are saying, almost like making eye contact during a conversation in many
Lunch and tea breaks were common and set in a separate hall; we made our way there
each break. The staff here consisted of broken child labor laws, but the person
who seemed to be in charge didn't mind given he was just another broken law.
The coffee is only served with cream already in it and Dr. John didn't take
well to this, so they sent another child across the street to have coffee made black,
a task that took a good hour, but did arrive.
Lunch was good and we all grabbed some, then stood around and ate (but only with
our right hands, since the left is unclean and reserved for bathroom duties). During
the lunch break I decided I needed a walk so began wandering around the building,
which is really just an office that has a couple conference rooms they rent out
to groups like ours.
I found Dr. Manjit during this break and he told me that bombs just went off in
the city. He was laughing and explained to me that they were only small fireworks,
then said "Bangalore is really banging!" He seemed more amused than shaken
and told me no one had died and that the closest bomb was about a kilometer away
from us. He said it was probably the "terrorists" and that we should just
ignore them. Indians, he said are too busy with life to take all that time planning
to kill people then trying to kill them. Another nearby doctor then joked that it
was actually Dr. Manjit that was at fault. Dr. Manjit is a Sikh and the other Indian
said it was the Sikhs' job to protect Indian, because Sikhs feel it is their
responsibility to "protect the underprivileged from invaders" and this
translates to them protecting India from Pakistan both now as well as in the past.
I guess I wasn't too concerned about the bombings given his relaxation so soon
made my way back to the meeting.
I later asked Dr. Manjit more about Sikhism and he said that the first line in their
holy book is "There is one God." This, their first and most important
directorate makes them a unifying religion, accepting people of all faiths into
their temples and lives. The next line is "speak truth," a simple idea,
but as Dr. Manjit said, knowing truth is difficult, so to speak it even more difficult.
The conversation was interesting, but soon the meeting began again and our conversation
Back at the hotel we were served tea and coffee, each filled with cream and neither
warm. This was served with cold appetizers, which were unfortunately supposed to
be hot as well. There were five of us here for appetizers: a professor from New
York, one from Baylor (both immigrants from India), Dr. Manjit, Dr. John and myself.
Trying to be polite and not entirely sure what was had ordered, I remained silent
as the three Indian doctors laid into our waiter. They demanded more food, but this
time hot food and hot coffee and tea. Simple tasks it seemed, but from talking to
Dr. Manjit, perhaps the norm in India. I'm not sure if it is poor restaurants
or poor service, but it wasn't good.
As we were eating and talking, the lights went out for a few seconds. The conversation
didn't even pause and I get the impression these power outages happens all the
time, I think I was the only one that even noticed.
Round two in our culinary quest was much better and everything was hot, the appetizers
were vegetables coated in a light batter and deep fried. I didn't give the tea
another chance; the cream was too much for me even though I am a fan of English
style tea with milk.
Only Dr. John and I ordered dinner, I'm not sure why everyone else passed, but
it made me feel slightly guilty eating; however I was starved and Dr. John already
began and I didn't want to let him eat by himself. I had the chicken curry with
buttered naan. The naan was great, but the chicken curry was less than
ideal. The sauce was filled with onions and the chicken was everything from breast
to leg with bone intact. The task of removing the chicken from the bone was difficult
and I found it more work than it was worth by dinner's end.
Dr. Sibi, our host and meeting planner was to attend a small reception then join
us for dinner, however he never made it. We called him a few times, but he was too
busy receiving cancellation calls for the next day's meeting. While Dr. Manjit
seemed to pass off the bombings as fireworks, those who hadn't arrived viewed
them as a terrorist attack and the fear paralyzed the country and could potentially
destroy the meeting. Dr. Sibi said he spent most of the night receiving cancellations
and was so busy he never made it to the restaurant. It should be interesting to
see tomorrow's turnout given the bombings.
Speaking of calling, everyone here has a cell phone. The technology came so quickly
and at nearly the same price as landlines, but often more accessible so it seems
everyone has a cell phone instead of a land line.
July 26, 2008
Bombings & Chaos
This morning's meeting started one and a half hours late. Everyone seems to
be concerned with the bombings and there was such confusion and chaos that everything
was delayed including registration due to the questions and tardiness of both participants
and exhibitors, many of whom have already canceled. Instead of delaying the lectures
however, they just cancelled all the first lectures of the day, then picked up with
the second lecturer for the day.
Having been here for a couple days now, I'm beginning to notice Indians tend
to be either very passive or very aggressive. I understand this is a stereotype
based on only two days of observation, but for most Indians there is no rush, no
real motivation or initiative, they're simply told what to do and they tend
to do it, there seems to be very little to no independent thought. On the other
hand there is a minority of Indians who are very strong willed, motivated, and determined.
These people seem to herd the masses and want to know everything and control everything.
Whenever I see an Indian who is motivated and assertive, I am slightly shocked,
but also tend to be impressed. I suppose this is the same in any country, most people
are followers, but here the difference seems more pronounced and the followers almost
seem lazy and the leaders aggressive.
Lunch was interesting; each participant and exhibitor got a lunch ticket and a ticket
for each coffee break. When they gave me my tickets I was told I probably won't
need them because I'm white and no one will question me. I tested it and sure
enough I walked up to the lunch line and they gave me a plate without asking for
While I was standing in line, a friend of mine and one of the organizers of the
meeting saw me and told me I didn't have to wait in line. He then took me to
the front of the line and got my food for me. There was no questioning the act nor
were there even dirty looks from those in line. I ate from the "Non-Veg"
line; however there was also a "Pure Veg" as well as a "Dessert"
line. I got my food and joined everyone else just standing around eating without
tables and most without silverware. After seeing the unwashed silverware I quickly
joined them in using my hands, which was slightly awkward given I was wearing a
suit, but very few people were eating with silverware, so I guess I fit in quite
Afterwards I grabbed some ice cream from the dessert line and headed back inside.
After a couple more hours of working I was invited by Dr. Manjit to meet a friend
of his, Dr. Parmanjit, a three star general and the head of the military dental
corps. I accompanied them in the VIP room where we sat around talking about subjects
as varied as life, dentistry and the latest bombing.
In this conversation, to put the bombing in perspective, one doctor said "this
is the value of life in India, three people die, but 300 more are born" (three
died from injuries in yesterday's bombings). Here I also learned that Ahmadabad
was hit with bombs today, but this was not a scare like the bombings in Bangalore
yesterday. I was told 15 people had been killed and over a hundred more injured,
many seriously. In the middle of our conversation, in which no one seemed as all
concerned or shocked over the bombings, which was a complete contrast to those who
had cancelled the trip, we were asked to go to the reception.
We were led down to the front row of the auditorium and no sooner had I sat down
did I notice that there was a long table on the stage with about 8 seats, one of
which had a nametag that said "Mr.Justin." Apparently I was sitting at
the head table and I'm not sure how or why that happened.
The ceremony began with the line "it is appropriate to begin our ceremony by
honoring the gods"; this was followed by a Hindi song/prayer. Soon afterwards
I was introduced to the audience and led to my seat on stage where I received a
dozen red roses; then the introductions and speeches began. I was invited to light
the ceremonial opening candle, which caught me by surprise; then I became quite
fearful, because I realized I was expected to give a speech, however had nothing
prepared, so began throwing something together in my head for the 3,000 or so spectators.
As I was internally writing, another person got up and started yelling into the
microphone. I turned to the person next to me and asked "what language is he
speaking," the answer was English. All I could think was "I hope I'm
not after him"... then I was called to the stage.
When I first looked out into the crowd I realized he had done the opposite of what
I feared, he lost everyone and no one was paying attention anymore, so the pressure
was off and I threw together a speech that was acceptable and much more comprehensible,
or at least understandable than the previous speech. At the end of the reception
each of us were given a plaque thanking us for our contribution to the success of
the meeting as a "Guest of Honor." The plaque was a nice thought; mine
said only "Mr.Justin," which I loved. To Indians the first name is what
is important and how a person should be addressed so the plaque was quite appropriate.
As the ceremony was concluding, we were asked to join the crowd again; the tables
were cleared and our entertainment came out. Our entertainment was a group of developmentally
disabled orphans. They had a costume show and each came out as a different Bollywood
star or religious figure. The first one out realized his image was being projected
on a screen behind him so he spent the next ten minutes staring at himself as the
other children continued the show in front of him. For the most part, the entertainment
was sad given their disabilities, but uplifting since these children had a home
and each other.
Following our entertainment, we had dinner and scotch, well those in the VIP room
had scotch. And we had more entertainment with dinner, a group of Keralian drummers
with little rhythm, but much excitement. Dinner was similar to lunch, but we had
tables available this time. Afterwards I waited for my taxi, which took about an
hour and a half to arrive, so spent my time talking to an Indian doctor, now living
in the U.S. He also got on the topic of the bombings and said India doesn't
have time to kill people, their motto is simple: "live and let live" no
matter the religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc.
July 27, 2008
Robbed Blind & Dysentery
We arrived to the convention center this morning to find we had been robbed. I left
very little on our table over night, but enough that someone stole our pens, CDs,
and journals. The value of all of it is no more than $5 or $6, but it's frustrating,
because I have another full day and now nothing to give out or show to interested
The meeting started late again and I'm beginning to think the country is on
"island time." An Indian doctor here said it's not island time, but
rather the people do what's most important and a current conversation takes
precedence over scheduled appointments so tardiness is common and accepted.
Today was the same as yesterday for the most part. I noticed at lunch that where
we eat there are numerous wild dogs roaming around eating out of our garbage cans.
It seems quite unsanitary, but this is normal here so far as I can tell.
Having some free time during the day, I wrote an essay of my thoughts regarding
my trip ahead throughout and my thoughts on travel in general; as you'll soon
see I had a lot of free time:
While anxious of what's to come in the next few days, it's the attraction
to the unknown, the fear of regret, and the pride of following through instead of
running, which pushes me on to the unknown ahead of me. Soon I'll be in a sea
of strangers... strangers by culture, not acquaintance. I feel like a floating stowaway
on a life raft, alone, no one in sight. The challenge again presents itself: I can
immediately find land by going home, but something inside pulls me, the mystery
and intrigue draws me. The easy route is tempting, but it's the curiosity of
discovery that overpowers that... so I venture on. Only by allowing myself susceptible
can I survive, and thrive, on this voyage.
My journey is no longer that of mystery, I soon find the path home, but the land
before me is more intriguing. Never fully belonging, skirting the coast, knowing
my escape, I anchor and head inland. As I learn the terrain I push further and search
more. Like an explorer I continue to search, but for what I don't know, as if
Atlantis will suddenly appear and my quest fulfilled. But the quest is
never fulfilled, the journey never finished. What I find is not Atlantis
and not a sea of culture, only myself, a greater gift than Atlantis could
Having reached my destiny, the trip home is no longer an escape, but rather a route
I have traveled numerous times but never with such excitement or confidence. The
return is that of a victor. The person is the same, but the acquaintance with myself
is much more intimate. What was gained is beyond value; it's more than most
will ever have and others have ever dreamed of. With a new me, I carry back memories
and stories others can only experience through their own exploration. The mind begs
of me to go again. The discomfort, the loneliness are forgotten, the excitement
of discovery, of land, of courage, of triumph are all that is remembered. The desire
to seek new self-discovery is all the mind asks. Until a new adventure is begun,
the mind allows no memory except that of growth.
* * *
I found it interesting that I gave away over 100 membership forms and only 6 were
returned, yet nearly every person who took one said they would return it. I was
told it is considered better etiquette to tell a person what he or she wants to
hear than to tell the truth if that isn't what the person wants to hear. For
this reason, Indians typically say yes even if they mean no and in most cases this
is polite in India. Unfortunately, it makes doing business a complete mystery because
you never know where anyone stands, unless you want to be that aggressive leader
who simply tells your associates what to do.
Before dinner I went back to the hotel to relax and found a local newspaper. The
papers said the bombings are only taking place in cities with Hindu zealots or as
in the case of Gujarat, as revenge for past attacks the people had on Muslims. For
a country whose mantra is "live and let live" there seems to be a lot
of violence and the group taking responsibility for the attacks is a domestic Muslim
For dinner I joined Dr. Manjit at a five star restaurant, at which the food was
incredible and the security seemingly impenetrable. At dinner he told me all about
the culture, including what the doctors here want from us, a very different set
of products we've been offering them. Our strategy and approach are going to
have to change to be successful here; but when you haven't worked with this
culture, it is a new learning curve and a completely different approach.
July 28, 2008
Last night I found myself with diarrhea throughout the night. I did well for awhile,
but now I know what "Delhi Belly" is, or more medically specific, it was
most likely dysentery and it's not pleasant. Today I woke up, checked out, a
half hour process due to Indian efficiency, then flew to Delhi.
July 28, 2008
Flight Cancellations & Old Friends
I was supposed to go to Amritsar, Punjab, but my flight was cancelled, so I got
stuck in Delhi; I went to the government run pre-paid taxi stand and gave him 500
for the 180 fare. He then gave me a 100 and said "I said 180, you give me 100."
I tried to argue with him and said I gave him 500, but he refused and demanded more
money. I could do nothing; who am I supposed to complain to? He works for the government?
Due to my illness and desperation to get somewhere else I gave him the money and
After taking a taxi to the New Delhi train station, I realized there was a fast
train to Amritsar, but it leaves from the other train station, so I quickly headed
across town to buy a ticket from a travel agent. Despite warnings, I went to an
unofficial travel agent and only realized this after I had left. Despite the horror
stories, it is a legitimate company, just not the cheapest company.
There were no seats left on the train to Amritsar, so I was stuck and had a couple
days to occupy. I considered going to Jaipur, a nearby city that is supposed to
be nice, but the travel agent/salesman talked me into going to Kashmir instead.
I bought my ticket to Kashmir, booked hotels in Kashmir, and booked trains to Agra
and Varanasi for later in the week.
After leaving the travel agency, I read my guidebook to discover the travel agencies
in this area are notorious for scamming tourists and I immediately regretted my
decision. The only saving grace was that at the travel agent I met two English girls
who took the same trip and said it was incredible.
I had a couple hours before I had to meet my German friend, Sascha, who I went to
school with in Poland. I spent my free time walking around Connaught Place and seeing
the shops and bazaars. I was constantly approached by people claiming to be college
students interested in practicing their English. It didn't take long for any
of them to tell me where to go or what to do. When I told one person where I was
going he said it was a bad place and that I shouldn't go there. One of these
"college students" asked me if it was monsoon in the United States, then
followed this up by asking how far the United States is and helped to answer by
saying "it's close right, like 5 or 6 hours by train?" The conversation
ended there and I went my own way, despite his advice that there are better shops
I should go to.
While I was wandering around I couldn't help but dwell on the traffic in Delhi
and how difficult I found it to breathe given the pollution and excruciating heat
Fortunately, I soon met up with Sascha and we ate at a very nice restaurant. He
ordered his favorite, which he wanted me to try. It was chicken in a tomato curry
sauce; very good and it went well with our paratha. The first question
I asked Sascha was how he liked Delhi and he said he hates it. I found that odd
since he's lived here for nearly three years.
After dinner I headed back to Sascha's place and met his girlfriend, Ana, a
Czech girl, who has only been in India for a year and a half, but much less content
with life here. At times I felt like a psychologist, listening to them complain,
yet at the same time they were educating me. I think it was good for them to vent
to someone other than themselves, and to be honest I found it fascinating.
Arranged marriages are still commonplace in India and they discussed how the people
here look forward to their marriages, but once married, the girls must move in with
his family, get an entirely new wardrobe based upon what her husband wants her to
wear, and learns how to treat her husband based upon what her mother-in-law tells
her to do. In addition to all of this, many times she has never met her husband
or anyone in his family. It seems relationships are odd here and sex education is
for the most part non-existent.
The next vent session involved geography. Maps are unknown in India and no one has
any idea about directions or geography (not that many Americans are any better),
which would explain why my taxi driver took the most round-about path to the airport
in Bangalore. I had only been there for 5 days, but I knew we were taking an inefficient
route. It also explains the comment that the United States is 4-5 hours away by
Travel for the sake of travel doesn't really exist here and to find a traveling
Indian is odd. The people don't seem to make sense in many ways, but, when explored
further, it's just the result of being either uneducated or is simply a different
mindset that I don't understand, which seems illogical, although it's simply
a logic I don't understand. Of course education here is odd and I was told one
story about a couple of girls with MBAs, which I was told were worth as much as
the paper they were printed on. One of these girls has a large stomach and asked
how to get rid of it. The second girl told her to put her arms above her head and
shake them, that should get rid of the stomach fat.
Sascha claims that Indians don't learn, they adopt. He tells his employees to
do something numerous times, but they never change their habits. They also never
seem to fix or address problems, but rather just get used to them. Instead of working
hard for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, they would rather work 12 hours a day, 6
days a week. The reason is simple; these employees don't want to work hard,
they would rather be at work for 12 hours and do nothing than work hard for 8 hours.
So problems aren't a concern because they don't care anyway. Money, according
to Sascha is all they want and they don't have to be efficient or good to get
money, they just have to show up; at least this is the case in the company he works
It was at this point that their vent continued to say living in India makes you
racist and the longer they're here the more they hate Indians. I think they're
simply frustrated and once they leave their memories will be positive, but who knows.
According to my European friends, many of the MBA graduates can't turn a computer
on and most don't know how to use Microsoft Word. For what's known as a
growing tech country, the percentage of people who are familiar with computers is
It was late and I needed to go to bed so headed into Sascha's guest bedroom
to sleep. Their apartment seems slightly run down, but still costs $450 a month
due to its location in a safe neighborhood.
July 29, 2008
Houseboat, Gardens, & Floating Salesmen
I was picked up at 6:30am for my trip to Kashmir. I met some travelers at the airport,
a couple from Ireland, who got the same trip that I signed up for. On the plane
I met two local Kashmiri girls who told me what sights to see and told me that the
people in Kashmir are Muslims, not ethnic Indians, and identify more with being
Kashmiri or Mughal rather than Indian or Pakistani.
The airport in Srinagar, Kashmir seemed rudimentary and I was surprised that there
was a lack of mountains in Srinagar. I was welcomed by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism
bureau who gave me a registration form, and an evaluation to fill out and return
at the end of my trip in case I get ripped off by my hosts. It's tough getting
tourists to Kashmir due to the political instability, so they obviously want to
take care of us.
I found my host outside the airport and we headed to his boat house. The traffic
was typical India: not because of volume but because the roads are so narrow and
there are animals everywhere in the streets. I found my place on Nagin Lake, an
extension of Dal Lake and the boat house was quite nice and roomy. I had a porch
on the lake, a dining room, living room, bedroom and bathroom. My most pleasant
surprise was that the toilet was a western toilet and given the fact that I've
had diarrhea for about a day and a half, a nice toilet is all I wanted at that point.
After settling in, I headed into the city to see the old Mughal gardens and the
downtown markets. Our first stop was at a mosque where I was greeted by a local
who asked me if I was Muslim, after my negative response he then asked if I believe
in Islam. I wasn't sure what response he wanted and his temperament seemed edgy
so I responded by saying "I believe in God." He kissed my forehead and
blessed me as he allowed me to pass.
The mosque and the surrounding grounds were well guarded and I was frisked twice
before I could enter. The Mughal gardens were very nice, but there's little
reason to see more than one. We also went to a Hindu temple at the top of the hill,
where we had to remove our shoes. The black stone was incredibly hot and I wanted
to return nearly as soon as I had arrived only to get my shoes back on. None-the-less,
the temple was interesting and worth the trip.
Following the gardens and temple we headed into town itself and visited some of
the mosques. The largest mosque in the city has four sides to represent the "four
religions": Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. The mosque was beautiful
Walking the streets of Srinagar was interesting and shops were everywhere. There
were a lot of men peeing in the streets here, like men seem to do everywhere in
India, but here they seemed to at least try to hide it by squatting down while peeing.
We eventually made our way to a chicken shop. My host picked out a chicken; it was
weighed, then decapitated, skinned, washed, and thrown in a bag for dinner. Even
if my stomach was fine I'm not sure I would have been able to eat after that.
Once back at the houseboat I found myself bombarded with floating salesmen. Men
go from houseboat to houseboat trying to sell anything and everything. The first
was selling jewelry and I bought two pairs of earrings for a few dollars. Then the
quality decreased drastically and quickly. There were hand-painted paper mache boxes,
shawls, and wood carvings. Most of the objects didn't interest me and I had
to say "no" at least 15-20 times before each would leave.
After an hour of listening to salesmen, I found dinner ready. It was the chicken
I just saw butchered covered in salt and a mild sauce. My stomach couldn't handle
it too long and the excessive salt didn't help.
Before heading to bed, my host informed me that there was a bombing in Jammu very
nearby and that someone was killed. His explanation was confusing however and I
get the impression it was basically just a protest that escalated as one protester
was killed; he passed it off as not a big deal.
July 30, 2008
A Day of Hiking
I slept in today and I needed it. After grabbing a small breakfast of a strange
chewy bread and tea I made my way out to the Himalayas. Near the start of the journey
we drove through rice fields and sparse forests with little to no undergrowth. The
drive was beautiful as the mountains seemed to rise out of the earth very quickly
into rocky cliffs and hidden valley villages. We also passed two enormous hydroelectric
power plants, a motivation for both Indian and Pakistan to fight over the region.
As we approached our destination, nearly a two hour drive, I was informed that this
is known as a "gypsy" valley and the people who live in many of the small,
more isolated valleys are "gypsies." This intrigued me because the capital
of the Roma (the more politically correct name for "gypsies")
is in Moldova, where I lived for some time.
I met my guide in Sonamarg, meaning Golden Mountain and started up the mountain.
The scenery began in what seemed to be a hilly forest, then leveled off as we entered
the fields. After passing the fields we were surrounded by rocky mountain walls.
The hike was peaceful and we crossed ice cold rivers running down from the melting
glaciers, over glaciers, and around rocks which had fallen from the mountains above.
The whole valley is sparsely populated, however there are a few temporary camp sites
for the Roma during the summer. The valley was also filled with wandering
sheep, goats, and cattle probably belonging to the Roma. The Roma
have been quite successful in polluting the valley; the river where all the water
converges is filled with wrappers and empty water bottles.
I met a group of teachers from Srinagar taking a day trip. Kashmir passed a law
a couple years ago that all schools must be taught in English so all of these teachers
had incredible English language skills and were very friendly and intrigued by my
presence. After a short conversation they continued on and I headed back down the
Just before leaving the mountain, I met five Roma children who just stared
and smiled at me. They spoke no English, but they seemed very interested in me.
We rested for 10 minutes with them, but as I started walking, their mother saw them
and yelled at which point they started begging and following me for the next few
I was soon back on the road to Srinagar and couldn't help but be amazed by the
number of military officers standing along the sides of the roads. There was a soldier
every 30-40 yards, but there wouldn't be a village for miles. They were also
stopping everyone at certain checkpoints to see where they were from. There is a
very holy Hindu temple in the mountains and in the past the Kashmiri independence
fighters have bombed these pilgrimage buses so every Hindu must be accounted for.
As we neared Srinagar, we stopped at a small village to pick up some buffalo meat.
I found a man roasting corn here who asked me to take a picture of him. He seemed
intrigued by the camera, but has obviously seen them before because he asked to
see my picture of him.
As soon as we got back into Srinagar I already missed the mountains. The mountains
seem peaceful and honest, they convey the power of the planet and the almost nothingness,
which represents people's place on earth. The people in the mountains always
seem truer; cities like Delhi breed greed and instill poor values such as money
into peoples' top priorities. The mountain people find happiness in other things
and don't seem corrupted by wants. The air is clean, the scenery beautiful,
the people unthreatening. It's a simpler way of life; the choices to partake
in are more exciting, more adventurous. Time seems to stop here; time doesn't
matter, only people and life matter.
July 30, 2008
I requested wazwan for dinner, a traditional Kashmiri dish that is typically
only served at weddings. It is usually 16 courses, however they are only going to
make the main four courses for me. The first is goat meat covered in oil and chili
over the grill; the toughest piece of meat I've ever had. Next was ground buffalo
and lamb kebabs, then sheep meatballs in milk and oil, and finally a mystery meat
in meatball form. The sheep was better than expected and the buffalo/lamb kebab
was fairly good.
After dinner the mother demanded I pay her 500 rupees for dinner, but I stood up
for myself and said I already paid for it (the price included breakfast and dinner
each day and I asked if wazwan was included and they said yes). She was
not happy, but agreed.
In the evening I learned much about arranged marriages. The daughter at the house
is "engaged" to a person she has never met. She told me that her mother
"is my mother, my father, and my friend. If she says he is a good husband,
then I trust her." The odd thing is that her mother has never met him either;
she's only met his parents, which is normal apparently. The two sets of parents
get together and make sure everything matches like religion, economic status, astrological
sign, if you're Hindu, caste, and if you're in Srinagar if the other family
is a houseboat family or not.
On the day of the marriage she will "make her last cup of tea for her brother,"
the husband's family will collect their dowry and new daughter-in-law. She will
then move in with her husband's family and learn how to be a wife to her new
husband by learning from her mother-in-law, who will teach her how to cook and clean
in the way her husband likes.
Her brother is also getting married the same weekend, probably for financial reasons.
He however has met his "wife," because he requested a meeting and both
parents agreed given the fact that all the male cousins were present. The family
has already started collecting food for the wedding, but neither seems too excited
to be getting married.
Soon after making it to bed I found myself up all night on the toilet; apparently
goat meat and sheep aren't good on the stomach, or perhaps it's still the
July 31, 2008
Floating Vegetable Market
I woke up this morning at 4:00am to catch a water taxi to the floating vegetable
market. This whole experience was one of the most incredible and surreal experiences
I've ever encountered. Farmers row out to the water's openings with their
small row boats filled with vegetables or flowers as other men come to buy. The
atmosphere was eerily silent and colorful. There were no motor boats and the feeling
was as if I had been transported into another generation and in another world. The
scales were simple hand scales with a rock on one end and vegetables on the other.
It was mesmerizing and we stayed for a couple hours.
The trip home rowed through a lake filled with lotus flowers on each side, an old
Mughal castle to the southwest and the mountains rising out of the lake to the northeast.
However, when I returned to my house boat, reality came striking down. I was told
to tip everyone: the boat driver, the two cooks, my two guides, everyone it seemed.
It put a bitter taste in my mouth, I'm already paying these people so much money
yet they are very direct and pushy in demanding tips. To me that's only motivation
to lower the tip, but none-the-less its disappointing when you pay them well, they
are kind, then they trap you in a corner and say "give me big tip!" I
found it rude and pushy, but I don't entirely understand this culture; the whole
idea of a tip as I know it is lost in India.
I made my way to the airport and had to go through security three times. It seems
like the attitude here is "more is better," but really the security at
each checkpoint is a formality.
July 31, 2008
Red Fort & Jama Masjid
My flight to Delhi from Srinagar, Kashmir was smooth and soon after landing I was
at Delhi's Red Fort. Again, my driver demanded a tip, but his service was poor
and by this point I began to stand my ground so declined giving any tip at all and
it felt great.
As soon as you enter the Red Fort you have a market selling souvenirs. Every salesperson
is asking you to look at their stuff. This is India; you pay an entrance fee then
get bothered by salespersons. I ignored them and just acted confident, like I've
been here before and knew exactly where I was going. This seems to be the secret
to getting rid of salespersons.
The fort was impressive, as was the nearby Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque.
But more impressive than both was the atmosphere in the area and the nearby market.
The area is filled with people and seems so alive. The small side streets are filled
with shops and the stench of fish permeates the air. I bought some water here and
soon headed out to find an auto rickshaw to New Delhi.
Shockingly I found a driver who was willing to use the meter, something my German
friend, Sascha told me is rare. I took him up on it and it was much less than I
was offering other drivers before I found him. He didn't ask for a tip and he
put on the meter without my request. I rewarded him with a nice tip and thanked
him for his honesty, a well deserved tip.
I got some money from a Citi Bank ATM, one of the few I trust here and walked over
to Humayun's Tomb only to find it closed. I made my way back to Khan's Market
to call my friend Dr. Manjit, then headed over to La Meridian for dinner. The hotel
was incredible and made me not want to leave. Dinner was Indian, and the relaxation
the hotel's atmosphere offered was very welcomed as, for the first time in days,
I felt like I didn't have to be on guard.
August 1, 2008
Lotus Temple, Qutb Minar, & a Personal Servant
I woke up at 10am which was the most I've slept in days. I tried to check my
e-mail, but the internet in the building was out so I got a car for the day compliments
of my friend Dr. Manjit. We started at the Ba'hai Lotus temple, which was very
impressive and peaceful.
We then continued on our tour of the city in true tourist fashion. We went to the
new state of the art mall, then Qutb Minar, a great old ruin from the time of Ashoka,
Indira Gandhi's house/memorial, the president's house, India Gate, a Buddhist
temple, Sikh temple, Humayun's Tomb (open this time) and finally Gandhi Smriti.
Everything was impressive and it truly displays the history and excitement of the
city. Every place I went was full of tourists, not Americans, but tourists, except
the Indira Gandhi memorial at which I think I was the only tourist. I have little
to write about today, I was simply a tourist and avoided the culture until dinner
when I met my friend Sascha at an Italian restaurant.
Dinner was very good, but a large flat screen TV adorned the wall and didn't
seem to fit into the environment. This seems to really bother Sascha, especially
since it's just showing regular TV and there is no sound due to the "atmospheric
After dinner I headed back to Sascha's place for a couple hours until I was
picked up by Dr. Manjit and taken to his second condo in the city. He had one of
his employees stay there to act as my servant, which was again odd, but Indian I
August 2, 2008
The Baby Taj & the Taj Mahal
I woke up at 4:30am today to go to the train station to catch a train from Delhi
to Agra. I was seated next to a Swiss girl, who is also in India on business. She
was very nice and our conversation helped the trip move very quickly. We arrived
to the train station in Agra swarmed by anyone and everyone looking to make a quick
buck. Outside, however I found my ride waiting for me and her's waiting for
My guide was very good and I knew I liked him when he explained that it's his
job to take me to overpriced tourist shops because his company gets a kick back.
Then he told me that he is going to tell me to hire a photographer at the Taj Mahal,
but it's really a rip-off unless I want a whole portfolio of myself at the Taj
Mahal. He was very down to earth and it was clear he was ready to find a new job.
The Taj Mahal was very impressive. At first, I was slightly disappointed, since
seeing it in real life is just like seeing it in pictures, but then you get closer.
What I've never noticed is that the entire building has stones inlayed into
the marble. When you see the detail it becomes so much more impressive.
After the Taj Mahal we headed to Agra Fort, which is similar to the Red Fort in
Delhi, but less touristy. We also went to the Baby Taj, which was almost more impressive
than the actual Taj Mahal. It was build prior to the Taj Mahal and the inlayed stone
work was much more extensive. It was also strikingly similar to the Taj Mahal, because
the Taj Mahal was actually modeled after this building and not vice versa. To me,
the inlayed stone work was too overwhelming, but the skill required is impressive
The rest of the day was slow and filled with attempts to find something to do. At
one point we went to the main tourist office to find out what time my train leaves
because it said both 1:20pm and 9:45pm depending on the source. Apparently, the
train leaves its origin at 1:20, but my stop is at 9:45. Again, it makes no sense
to me, but we're in India and the logic is there, it's just very different
from my own.
Perhaps the day's highlight was the garden opposite the Taj Mahal. We spent
no time in the gardens, but rather went straight to the small pond where the view
of the Taj is incredible. It was like being on the grounds of the Taj, but without
hundreds of people.
After having dinner, I headed to the train station to catch my train. I arrived
early and found the train station completely blacked out. I wasn't sure why
there were no lights; it was rather sketchy and I didn't let go of my pocket
with my passport and wallet in it. After nearly a half hour the lights went on and
I realized it was just an extended power outage.
As the train time approached more and more backpackers started showing up. Apparently
I'm on the backpacker route, for the first time this trip. I haven't seen
any backpackers or tourists except at the major Delhi sights and Agra; Bangalore
and Kashmir I saw no one.
While I was waiting for the train I only saw one other single traveler, Tim, an
American from Los Angeles, who is currently living in Sudan. As we began talking
we realized neither of us has seen any Americans or single travelers, which is quite
different from backpacking in Europe.
The train soon came and we went our separate ways. I found myself in the third class
air conditioned cabin, although I bought a second class ticket from the travel agent,
which I suppose is just an unwilling tip given without my knowledge.
August 3, 2008
The Holy City Along the Ganges
I woke too early again, at about 6:00am on the train when one of my cabin mates
decided to start praying with a very loud, almost shouting "auuummmm."
The sign of a Hindu and on the way to Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi. As
interesting a cultural experience as it was, I wanted to sleep, but was prevented
from doing so. After he held his auuummmm for about ten seconds and repeated about
ten times he went silent for a minute, then began a higher pitched "hhhh-ayyyy."
This went on for another few minutes and afterwards I tried to get back to sleep,
but before I could do that, he then began with a song/chant/prayer for about 10
minutes. I found it odd that he was so loud with so many people around, but I suppose
eternity and reverence is more important than politeness. After this, I slept on
and off until we arrived two hours late.
The Varanasi train station has a higher percentage of scammers and cheats than perhaps
any place on earth according to what I've read and been told. I made my way
to the auto rickshaws and on my short trip was told the hotel, at which I have reservations
had burned down, was full, is bad, and is too expensive. Everyone here gets a kick
back for taking you to their friend's hotel and everyone told me something bad
about my hotel. I finally found a driver who agreed to give me a decent price to
the hotel, but once I got in the auto rickshaw he asked where I was going again,
then acted surprised and said that's a bad hotel and I can't go there. Next
thing I knew I had a phone being held to my ear and was told this hotel was better.
I said no and told him to take me to my hotel. He then said the price doubled on
my fare, so I got out.
I finally found an auto rickshaw for a poor, but not horrible price so agreed. On
the way into town we got in an accident, which both drivers just ignored, and he
tried to pass a funeral procession. The procession of course got upset and started
hitting his auto rickshaw with sticks and metal poles so he stopped. While we waited
for the procession to pass I was mesmerized by the ceremony. It was led by a cattle
dressed up in a gown more ornate than most Indians can afford, covered with make-up
and it was pulling a cart with the body, covered of course. The procession was enormous
and took up the entire street
Once he dropped me off, he gave me directions to the hotel, which he can't take
me to since the streets are too narrow for auto rickshaws. I asked people where
the hotel was and no one had even heard of it. I wandered for about a half hour
before finding someone who had heard of the hotel and as I got close everyone knew
the hotel and had no problems getting there in the end, although all these streets
feel like a maze.
I spent much of the rest of the day just relaxing on the hotel's patio; it was
August 4, 2008
Is That Manure I Smell?
I woke at 4:30am to get a boat ride. I went to the Meer Ghat, where the
price was 2000, then to Man Mandir Ghat where it was 1200 then finally
to Dasaswamedh Ghat. The area was chaotic, thousands of people in orange
going down to the river to bath. I also headed down to the river as one of the crowd.
The journey was difficult and as I approached the water I was stopped by a man who
told me I had to remove my shoes. I asked him if I could take a boat, but he said
they were closed due to a holy festival taking place.
I headed back to the hotel and re-awoke at about 9:30 so got in line for the internet.
I got on at 10:10 and stayed on an hour for 35 rupees. I then spent the next hour
staring at the ground, exhausted, literally.
Shortly after noon I began my trek through town. Outside the hotel there are about
5-10 people constantly waiting for foreigners to exit. As soon as anyone leaves
all of them stand up and start talking to you. If you say "hi" they follow
you for 4 or 5 blocks. If you ignore them, they only follow you for one block. In
a way it's like Turkey in that everyone is trying to sell you something, but
here it's a hard sell, while in Turkey a soft sell. You can't walk one block
without at least one person trying to stop you. If, however you actually ask them
about themselves they're taken back and the wall they place between you for
their sales pitch collapses.
My city tour began with the ATM machine, which didn't work, then on to the Vishwanath
Temple. The cattle call lines in the streets head to this temple. The line was nearly
a half mile long in each direction. While passing this line in the street I saw
another funeral procession, this time the body was dressed in a very ornate red
cloth decorated with gold colored metallic objects. Also while walking this street
I felt a woman try to reach her hand into my pocket, but I grabbed her hand just
as she got it into my pocket, so I graciously helped her remove it; she quickly
disappeared into the crowd with nothing.
Throughout the day there were groups of men as small as 3 and as large as about
30 all in orange that returned from the river chanting "Bol-ba" in a single
file line. These groups are never going in the direction of the river, only away
from it and the one in front first says "Bol-ba" then the rest of the
group repeats "Bol-ba." They continue this pattern until they move quickly
(fast-walk pace) out of sight. It's only men in these groups and typically they
are young, between 18-30.
On this same street I also noticed that the amount of tobacco and other leafy products
people chew in this country is disturbing. People are constantly spitting; both
men and women. Along with cow manure, the streets of Varanasi are stained with brownish
spots, one is better off avoiding.
On my way back from town a man stopped me and gave me an alright arm and hand massage,
then wanted to give me a head, neck, and shoulder massages for 10 rupees. I said
no so he lowered it to 5 rupees. I was trying to figure out if he was that desperate
for money or if he has another angle for this offer; I didn't stick around to
find out, but felt bad for his plea to get some money.
When I returned to the hotel I was told there aren't any boat rides taking place
because the water is too high due to monsoon, and those that are taking place aren't
safe so should be avoided. It seems like everyone at this hotel is Spanish, plus
a few Japanese, then the rest are Koreans, French, or British, but only one American
that I've found so far, me.
August 6, 2008
Dinner & Departure
I got a ride to the airport in Bangalore from Abdullah, Dr. Sibi's personal
driver. We didn't talk much due to my exhaustion, but what he mentioned that
struck me was that he's been married for 24 years. I swore he wasn't much
older than 30, so I asked and he's only 29 years old. He of course had an arranged
marriage, but to be married at 5 seems a little extreme; his wife was only 4 at
Once at the airport I had plenty of time to write and reflect on India:
Many people here seem to want everything, but are willing to give little. It seems
they've learned being pushy and greedy works. I don't want to be a jerk,
but at times I feel like I am one. On the other hand I feel like everyone's
father, teaching them lessons, lessons they never learned or forgot over time; not
rewarding poor behavior and trying to set principles.
Money has corrupted the people, the want of as much money as they can have. They
lie to get money, they lie to get more money. Money is the goal, but few Indians
I encountered seem to want to do anything to earn it. Everyone demands tips for
everything and for nothing. Tim, an American who ran into again at the Varanasi
airport had a tour guide who left before the tour was finished, was on the phone
half the time, did a poor job, but once done demanded a tip; Tim refused and the
guide got upset. This just seems wrong to me from an ethical and moral perspective.
It's like a feeling of entitlement; many people believe they deserve your money
for no reason other than you are there and have money. Earning money and customer
service don't exist from my experience here. Yesterday in Bangalore I had a
taxi trip for which I agreed to pay 80 rupees, while in reality should have been
only about 50. He got lost, dropped me off at the wrong place and still demanded
a tip. I refused and gave him the 80 we agreed upon. He just started yelling at
me as I walked away. The whole idea behind a tip as I know it is that it's for
exceptional service for those who go beyond what is expected and you feel deserves
more. But tipping has become standard now. In the U.S., even if you receive poor
service in a restaurant you will typically tip a small amount, but India has taken
it to a new level: they want tips for horrible service or even no service, for not
fulfilling their contracts, for cheating you, even irritating "porters"
and "guides" who you didn't hire, but stalk you then demand tips.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh and either don't understand India or don't
understand the dire straits these people are in financial, but I still can't
reward lies and laziness.
* * *
I had a transfer in Delhi and arrived to the international airport to find the entire
place flooded due to the rain, there were buckets trying to prevent, or at least
slow the flooding, but they did little. Our transfer to the international terminal
took us on a 20 minute trip then we had to re-check-in through three more lines
of security. Thankfully I had a six hour layover so I again had plenty of time to
What's perhaps worse than the people here expecting everything for nothing is
that they are like spoiled children and yell and scream when you don't tip them
or if you don't tip them enough. It seems from their actions that asking for
tips generally works but when refused they tend to get extremely aggressive and
I can only guess many people here are like this because it has worked in the past.
It's quite frightening when you're in the situation and most people feel
threatened enough to tip them. I however learned quickly and stopped tipping them
out of principle. At first I tipped because I didn't want to be rude, but I
realized all I'm doing is reinforcing bad service and greed.
Backing up to yesterday; I checked into my hotel in Bangalore to find the rate went
from 350 to 1275 rupees. I began very politely and said I had reserved a single
no- A/C room. The price then dropped to 750. Only at this point did I mention that
my quoted price was 350. He refused, but came down to 650. A by-stander heard this
and said "I just paid 550 for the same room." The owner then agreed to
550, but I calmly asked why it wasn't 350 (knowing if the locals are paying
550, I'm not going to get him down to 350); he said prices went up. It was already
10:30pm and the locals are paying 550 so I said 550 was fine and registered.
When he gave me the bill to sign I noticed the price went up to 700 again. I again
questioned the 700 price tag and said I would pay no more than 550. He then got
upset and said "give me my 700 now." I only had 600 on me so I said I
didn't have that much and needed to find an ATM machine. He then raised his
voice and his tone got aggressive when he said "you have the money, give it
to me now!" Knowing I needed a new place to stay since I obviously couldn't
trust him, I chose to throw fuel on the fire instead of walking away. I sternly
and firmly said "you lied to me and you're cheating me, you said 350, then
550, now 700, I want my room for 350!" He then completely lost it and yelled
"give me my money now or get out!" So I got out.
Experiences like this sadden me, because I know this man doesn't represent India
as a whole, but he still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The odd thing was that
I didn't feel angry after being shouting at, I wasn't upset; I was relieved
and proud. On this trip in India I constantly felt like people are taking advantage
of me and I always back down, give money, and have a feeling of emptiness. I think
that emptiness is a feeling of embarrassment for backing down, regret for giving
money to the undeserving, but most importantly the knowledge that all I've done
is encourage that person to cheat and lie to the next person. In standing up for
myself, I stood up for principles, I re-affirmed the strength in me, I rose above
him and perhaps I've helped the next person to cross his path, or by some miracle
taught him a lesson. That last thought is naively optimistic, but if everyone stood
up for themselves this would be a better place and honesty would dominate greed.
Events like that at the hotel make me ask myself who is at fault: this man or the
thousands of people who haven't backed down when confronted? I hate to divide
them into two groups, but for this argument I must. The Indians may partake in the
actions, but through the tourists we have encouraged these values and lack of morals.
With our money, but more importantly due to our naivety to them and their culture,
our varying perspective, and our attitude we have only exemplified and then magnified
the negatives in these people. I'm not talking about every Indian, only the
ones like my hotel clerk, only those who I encounter, or more accurately encounter
me as a tourist. I wonder if they should be blamed for their actions or if this
is all they know and all they've ever been taught. Is it me as a tourist or
these individuals that are wrong? Do they deserve my money because I have it or
should they earn it? Do I deserve it?
Being born in the U.S., I've been given more opportunities than most people
in the world, but I don't believe it's the money I have that needs to be
shared, but opportunities need to be given and perspectives on both sides need to
be explained and experienced.
My plane's about to board, but I have a few more minutes so just a few last
thoughts... I don't think I'm responsible to changing India, but being here
I am reminded I'm responsible to improve myself and I'm responsible to change
the world through improving what I have power and capability to control and change.
India probably gave me more than I returned to her.
I now have a 16 hour flight ahead of me, good night.
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