Friday, July 25, 2008
The next day, I rose early with Indrani and hopped in the car for the trip down to her office. The way we'd planned it was that we'd go to her office (she was the only person in for the day) and we'd sit and chat while she finished her work. Around noon, I left to go to the Mall of the Emirates, with the ultimate goal of visiting Ski Dubai. The Mall is huge. Three floors of shopping, hundreds and hundreds of stores and a ski mountain. You know a mall is huge when it has more than 15 anchor tenants, all of which were hypermarkets or department stores or electronics superstores. It took a solid three hours to wander through the massive mall, without stopping in more than a handful of stores. Once I'd done the mall crawl, I headed for ski dubai. After getting my lift ticket, equipment and whatnot (should've worn sunglasses), I headed up the double escalators and out to the mountain and lifts. Instantly, I was struck by the cold. It just eats into you, especially when you're barely wearing any clothing (the parka and pants went over a tee shirt and hot-weather microfiber pants). I'd certainly been outside for longer in less (think speed suit) but after the searing summer heat of dubai and Jaipur, I was simply not expecting that things would actually be cold enough inside. I have no idea how the sheikhs are able to cope (this is the new hangout spot for the hyperwealthy) without any previous experience with cold weather. Riding the lift to the top made me realize once and for all the novelty of the experience. I was skiing...in the desert...in the middle of the summer...and it WORKED. The snow was actually a pleasant surprise, I was expecting rock-hard boilerplate ice and it turned out to be sierra cement instead, my favorite snow. After a little while, the novelty started to wear off. Yes it was snow, and yes it was skiing, but there were only two runs. Once I'd largely exhausted my two hours credit and was starting to tire of the damn gapers (all sheikhs, of course) lying down in the middle of the runs, I ducked back in and swapped the rental clothes back in and hopped in a cab back to Indrani's office.
Once we made it back to the house, I quickly showered the desert off of me and we met up with Indrani's brother to go visit Ronny's cousin for drinks and then dinner. Once we'd arrived at the mall where we were going to eat, we went and got in line for a table at Chili's. We sat down, and looked through the appetizers. I saw what was described as a southwest beef eggroll and was immediately stricken with nostalgia. One of my scavvie friends, named Zach, was the road trip team captain this year. Once they'd finished their items in Kansas, they were heading back through Missouri. They were desperately searching for a fabled chinese buffet, as a reward for their good work. Frustrated, they stopped at a QuikTrip to ask for directions. Inside they found that the minimart sold what was dubbed a mongolian beef eggroll, which they quickly bought. In the car again, Zach bit into his eggroll and proclaimed, "Dude, this eggroll has chili in it." I bought the eggroll, sensing another opportunity for humor and was not let down. It had chili in it.
The remaining two days in dubai were a blur, the most memorable moment of which was Mittz and I dragging Ronny to Yo Sushi! for a sushi experience. It was a task trying to get him to eat something besides shumai and california rolls, but it was a much needed recharger for me, not to mention a meal without a hamburger or steak in sight. It was probably the healthiest thing I ate the whole trip, which may or may not have been a good thing. Still, it was great to have a chance to cut loose for a few days before heading back into Jaipur.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
The coolest moments of the trip were really pretty varied. I can't decide whose skit was the best. My roommates Drew and Reed and their friends Jocelyn and Stella did a great send up of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, where Drew portrayed the female characters in the title song while Jocelyn portrayed Shah Rukh Khan's character. Reed and Stella were their playback singers. Watching Drew open his mouth to "sing" and hearing Stella's voice come out was priceless as was Drew's coy bollywood film actress face, enhanced by his mustache peeking over the top of his hands. Another great moment was during one of the advanced class sketches, which spoofed the wedding of stars Aishwariya Rai and Abishek Bachchan. In the end of their sketch, a hired wedding band burst onto the stage and started playing. The trip to the Sufi shrine in Ajmer Sharif was equally memorable, if only for the cramming into the shrine, which was the least personal space I've ever had in my life. The funniest moment of the trip was almost definitely when we were first wandering the city and we came down to the most famous bathing ghat. There was a cow hanging around and Reed, the guy with the tattoo in the picture of water bottles below, started looking at the cow. He looked at the cow and said, "Hey cow. Are you sad? You look sad, cow. Let me cheer you up." He started moving towards the cow quickly and purposefully. This was obviously to pet it, but the cow literally saw red and charged at him. It just missed butting him pretty well and he got the message. I deadpanned, "No, Reed, that's an angry cow."
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
On a completely different note, someone from the program mentioned me in a not really positive light on her travel blog. I can't say that she's not entitled to her own opinion, but I don't like the fact that she completely made shit up about me. We'll call her Marsha (she says her fake names to protect the innocent always start with M, she called me Marshall below), although her name here is Gurveen (also not her real name, but she spent a bunch of time in Gujarat and that's the name she picked there. Dunno why, it's a weird and particularly ugly name, and not really Gujarati). My comments are in bold following each paragraph.
Marshall is a man of the times. He bears a striking resemblance,
mostly in manner, vocal stylings and hairdo, to the verbose,
phallically graphomaniacal high schooler in Superbad. He hails from
the University of Chicago, a cold bleak place that seems to suck out
the joy of many of its students. There are many theories about why
this is, but personally I think there are spirits in the lake who take
tiny bites of the souls around them, to keep warm under the water. The
locals are immune, but those who come for higher education grow wearied
by this quiet siphoning of the spirit, which no amount of scarves can
ward off during the endless winter. I frankly have no idea what she's talking about in the second half of this paragraph. Is she trying to suggest that I have no soul because it's been sucked out by lake spirits? All I know is someone fancies themself a writer. I don't think she's got it. Everyone makes the comparison with Jonah Hill from Superbad, although I don't compulsively draw pictures of dicks.
Marshall studies economics. Marshall has never read or heard of
Amartya Sen, but this ignorance belies an extremely smart young man
whose hobbies are more complex than the average American's career
path. Marshall is not here for the food. Its novelty wore off
sometime earlier this week, and now his dreams are peppered with
fantasies of caprese salads and other fine western delicacies. Like
many of his countrymen, including me, he has been spoiled by the
plethora of culinary options offered by city living. In Chicago one
may travel around the world and never leave the zip code. Here in
Jaipur, there is no denying that one is in India, even at McDonald's. I have heard of Amartya Sen and told her so in the context of the conversation which sparked this blog post. I do find it amusing that she pulls out some random western delicacy that I do like, but didn't mention in my rants on food. I made it absolutely clear that I want a steak. What I also find odd is that it's certainly not that difficult to do some foreign cuisines here, and yet she fails to get this. I guess she's never been to a friend's house for a few days. Or Prab and Arjun and Mittz are anomalies. I dunno.
Marshall's story reads like that of a chick lit romantic interest.
I expect a beautiful Indian woman to teach him some big lesson, steal
his heart and sing a song in the rain. Isn't that what happens to all
wealthy eligible bachelors who seek to teach something of the west to
India? I still am confused about this passage. Am I suddenly a gallant hero, or some rich western punk that needs to be taught a lesson about capitalism?
Marshall's family builds malls, but has its fingers in various real
estate pies. Following this lead, he does not focus his studies upon
the impact of rising rice costs or similar development phenomena.
Rather, Marshall studies numbers and markets and business, and embraces
the capitalism he rode in on. I ask him why India and he tells me
his plan. She completely misunderstood me here. The way she writes it, she makes it seem as if I am completely out of touch with reality here. I see the poverty and aim to do something about it. That is what I want to do with my money, help those less fortunate than me rise out of poverty.
He dreams of opening new doors for the upwardly mobile's consumption
habits. He is tired of the racism and such which lead to the fashion
industry's coerced scarcity of high end new releases which, if they make
it to India at all, often come two years late. He hopes to rescue India
from a fate of outlet mall status. He wants Indian malls to offer the
very latest Coach bags and Nautica clothes. He will bring Nike into the
everyday, and blow Liberty, the local knock-off brand, out of the
water. He will allow people the chance to spend money on items whose
ownership implies a higher economic class than that which they actually
belong to. Apparently, in this there is success. Once again, she doesn't quite get it. Although I don't believe that western outlets should sell clothes two years late, it's for entirely different reasons. She was the one who came up with the notion of racism, which seems somewhat irrelevant here. What she misses is my main point, when most western outlets come to India, they Indianize their catalogs. As one kid once told me, "We don't want to buy salwar kameez and kurta pajamas from the gap, we want to buy jeans and tee shirts from the gap." She also underestimates the potential market, which numbers in the tens of millions.
"Do you worry about how increased identity-based marketing of
Western goods will affect national character?" I inquire, genuinely
and without sarcasm. Contrived bullshit quote.
"No." He says. "India has a long relationship with the world, and
with international trade. Indians have a right to be globalized if
they want to, which the middle class does. I love this culture, I'm
interested in it, or I wouldn't have come here. I don't want to
destroy it, I want to cater to its needs and interests."She slightly misquotes me here, but that's largely ok.
Like in Superbad, Marshall has a sweet side, which enables a
charisma he is sometimes deeply in need of. He is earnest in his
devotion to being a student, versus a tourist or a colonizer, in this
desert capital. The program is hard, especially for an economist
without a strong background in language or cultural studies. This heir
to an empire (of concrete foundations and indoor fountains) is bathing
out of a bucket, eating daal three times a day and being price gouged
by his Dickensian landlord. As a testament to his affinity for human
connection and cultural immersion, he appeared near tears during our
sticky, cramped taxi ride around town during which we were matched with
host families. He was quite upset that other people might be spending
the near future bonding with their host families, while he awaited
placement, and in the end, as a male (most homes offered rooms for
girls only) he was stuck in a flat with four other students.This is where her blog starts getting fallacious. Starting from the beginning, she believes I lack charisma, which is probably the wrong word. I may offend people with acidic sarcasm or profanity, but I'm reasonably sure I don't lack charisma. Secondly, she claims I have a lack of background in languages. This is as bullshitty as things get. I have studied (in one form or another) English, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Latin, Japanese and Hindi in my life. Admittedly, I'm not too strong in Hebrew or Japanese, but I'm actually still reasonably proficient in French, Latin and Hindi. The bucket bath thing is not a big deal, I like bucket baths, although we do have a functional shower.The whole housing thing is a joke, I was more pissed off than sad because the program had fucked up and some of the well-accomodated girls were trying to pilfer the little bit of male housing that there was. I also ended up in the apartment by choice, which has its positives and negatives.
Luckily for Marshall his cleaning lady adores him. She gets his
jokes, she thinks he and his housemates' cultural oddities are
infinitely amusing, and she protects him, fighting the landlord on his
behalf like a good mother wolf. She is his favorite thing about India,
and she will never, never be able to buy herself anything he plans on
selling in his air conditioned designer shops.This really confuses me. Suman, our cook, cannot understand my hindi and I rarely understand hers. She isn't really maternal, she just dislikes our landlord because he has been slow to pay her a few times. She laughs at us, not with us. That's not to say that we don't like her, I just don't get why "Marsha" thinks that Suman is my favorite part about India or why she thinks that she understands us.
In any case, what's most annoying about this sort of thing is that she's getting paid $7 an entry for this blog. I don't like when people talk shit, I hate when people talk shit about me, but I guess I really hate it when people talk shit about me and get paid for it.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Monday, June 30, 2008
I had another really weird experience yesterday. The guys in the apartment were hungry and we decided to visit a mall we'd never been to before. It clearly wasn't totally done, many of the shops on the third and fourth floors were blank storefronts being outfitted for tenants. We came to this place called indijoe sizzlers where the ambiance was clearly geared towards a chilis/tgif/applebees sort of place. They'd clearly never had a white patron before, let alone five, so they asked for our input on all sorts of minutiae, like the music, and the amount of M&Ms in the shakes. It was totally strange.
The power's getting cut so I have to run. Pictures tomorrow.
Friday, June 27, 2008
We finally largely resolved our housing issues. Our landlord got us gas, a TV, and a cooker and has left us alone. We're supposed to get a water machine in the very near future. I'm not exactly holding out hope for that, but worst comes to worst, we'll just buy our own. One of the great novelties about having a TV now is the great stuff that's on Indian basic cable. I spent at least 4 hours (half)watching a One Day International Cricket Test Match for the Asia Cricket Cup between India and Pakistan yesterday. Cricket always maintained its novelty for me because I certainly couldn't understand it until my friend Indrani explained it to me in 2006. I still didn't really understand it until I saw it put into practice last summer. This was the first cricket match I've seen where I understood what was going on from the get-go and it was somewhat interesting. India's bowling and defense was pretty bad, so Pakistan managed to score 299 runs in their 50 overs. India then put on a clinic of dominant batting and they scored 301 runs in only 40-ish overs, getting them a bunch of national pride in this ultimately pointless rivalry.
Our classes are rather busy, today we took a test which we will take again at the end of the program. I think it's supposed to test our proficiency with hindi, but what it really does is make everyone despondent for 15 minutes afterward or goofily adopt a "fuck this noise, I'm just going to write C for everything" attitude. While I didn't really do either thing, I did start moving pretty quickly towards the latter option in the last 15 minutes or so of the test. The vocabulary is just so high flung that there's no way in hell that someone like me, who speaks self-proclaimed "retarded caveman hindi," can ever crack it. Making matters worse is that all of the answers, every single sodding one, are in every question. It's hard to know if a passage is about Dalits (untouchables), space travel, witchcraft or world population when you can't understand three-quarters of the words and all four ideas make an appearance. This leads me to believe that the writers of this test were christingly fucking stupid, as the test doesn't test degrees of fluency, but actually only tests if you're fluent or not. As none of the people in the intermediate group are fluent, I don't know what the teachers were thinking.
On a less annoyed and whiny note, I am going to agra to see the Taj Mahal tomorrow. As I hear Agra itself is sort of nasty, we're daytripping it. It should be interesting.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The funniest part about the whole situation is that he flees every time we try to sit him down. We've decided that we're blocking the door tonight and if he tries to run out when we talk to him, we'll wrestle him down by his earhairs, which are at least 3 inches long. We're sick of the bullshit from his end and we're probably moving again next week. Watch this space.