Friday, July 25, 2008

"Dude, this egg roll has chili in it." Part 2

Dubai can best be summed up as a crazy idea propped up with oil money. When Mittz told me that it was a complete bizarro world, I didn't initially believe her. I do now. The five days or so I spent there were some of the strangest of my life. It all started on the way to the airport. I realized halfway there that I hadn't printed my itinerary to show the airport security guys. When I got there, I pulled the itinerary up on my phone and was ready to spew excuses. They didn't seem to care much, although they did find it amusing. Once we'd boarded a few hours later, I realized that everyone on the plane except for me and a handful of other travelers would be hard at work the next day keeping the tourism wheels of the emirate turning by building more buildings. Out of the 190 or so people on board, at least 180 were Rajasthani laborers. After the quick flight, and the surprising (somewhat) lack of reaction regarding my clearly jewish name and appearance, I hustled out of the terminal and into the early morning sun. And then, with Mittz and her brother in tow, right back inside again. They were determined to IMMEDIATELY get me some Americana, which seems to sell surprisingly well in Dubai, in all of its forms. With a half-dozen Dunkin Donuts (celebrating 50 locations in the Emirates this month) in tow, we hopped in the car for the brief blast down the highway back to Mittz's apartment in Dubai. Immediately, a couple of things became glaringly obvious to me. First, the heat. The desert climes of the Emirates simply make the Jaipur heat look like child's play. It's not that much hotter. What really kills is that the desert is just not bone-dry like you'd immediately think. Oh no, the desert also manages to be so humid that you're pretty much soaked after a minute or two, the combination of sweat and humidity condensing on your skin making you permanently feel like you've just put on clothes after hastily drying yourself in the shower. Second, there is no sand left. Of course there's sand everywhere, but wherever there's sand, there's a building either being built or standing there. According to Indrani's brother, when he moved to dubai 10 years ago, he could see the emirate I had landed in from his apartment. It was all just sand between there and his home. Now there are 15 miles of buildings in the way. And finally, third, the realization that this really is an Islamic state, despite all of the western-style fripperies. Each neighborhood has its own mosque, streets are packed at prayer time, the nation censors sites it feels are against the cultural mores of the emirates (most notably flickr, orkut and anything with Israel's .il domain suffix) and the women in purdah and the men in dishdashas. It's somewhat jarring at first, but it was less of a big deal after coming from India, where the culture of modesty is still pretty strong. In any case, this juxtapositon of western stores frequented by men and women in flowing clothes certainly served to confuse me a bit. After a solid morning catching up on lost sleep, I awoke to find Indrani's roommate Ronny still asleep. Once we'd both gotten up and cleaned up, Indrani had return ed from her half-day at work and we hit the streets. We made a stop at Khan Murjan, a fake souk in the basement of the Raffles Hotel. The stuff on display varied from reasonably tasteful (at least by Dubai standards) all the way to incredibly tacky. Who wants an Andy Warhol-esque picture of a caricature of a camel done in dayglo paints on black velvet? Or a picture of the ruler on a piece of glass made from Swarovski crystals? The decor of the place fit this tacky vibe, as there were massive stained glass ceiling panels depicting trade routes and huge, ugly and elaborate banisters and ceiling-to-floor chandeliers. The funniest thing was easily the huge stained glass window, which may have looked nicer had it been catching natural light. They'd just thrown a few fluorescents behind it (it's underground, remember) and this made the colors look really strange and off somehow. They did have nice turkish coffee though, although the last inch or so was very caffeinated and sugary mud. Then we visited Wafi Mall, a huge depository for all things expensive. Apparently, it's one of the highest end malls in the city (probably the world). Unfortunately, the Dubai sense of taste involving expensive things seems to be to cover it in diamonds and gold/platinum and then buff it to such a mirror shine that you can probably burn ants with it. I saw some truly hideous stuff, which I wouldn't have been surprised to see in a place besides a rolex store. But what do you know, there were rolexes in the front window just covered in grotesque shiny crap, including a Presidential with a leopard skin band and green and black and diamond leopard print across the face in precious stones. There also was a store which sold Urwerk and Richard Mille watches, among some of the most expensive on Earth. They typically have to be special ordered from a dealer, due to the difficulty in sourcing one. This store had 5 of the $50k+ Urwerks and 3 of the $100k+ Milles. The next stop was one of the wildest malls on earth, Ibn Batutta Mall, which celebrates the travels of the famous Muslim building him a mall. Sounds perfectly logical and amazingly tacky, no? While we were at this mall, we met Indrani's boss, a large Lebanese man named Sam. Mittz had told me that he was a bit of a pistol, but he surprised me by asking before anything else if I had sampled the local talent of Dubai. I said no (hint, hint: they're all in purdah and I'm reasonably certain that I'd be excommunicated by my grandpa if I did). After a whirlwind tour of the many malls, we returned home and I passed out.

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 the 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

No, Reed, that's an angry cow.

We had our Hindi camp this previous week. The three day trip out of Jaipur and into pushkar was interesting, frustrating and exciting all at the same time. Pushkar is a beautiful town, nestled at the foot of some mountains in central Rajasthan. Pushkar's famous for a few reasons. Due to Hindu myth, Pushkar is the location of one of the world's few Brahma temples, because when Brahma dropped a lotus to earth, it landed on Pushkar and became holy lakes. The lakes are surrounded with ghats, which are bathing locations where Brahmins help (read: extort from) pilgrims do Pooja, or as the free brochure we were given said, "The ghats are stain-like (sic) places where pople (sic) like to take holy dip (sic?) in the take (sic)." The lake is absolutely filthy, though. There's no inlet water flow, and there's certainly no exit. The lake is fed by rain, which is pretty nasty because of the heavy metals used in the factories upwind of the lakes. It is a holy place, but you'll need some prayers to keep your body clean. However, the real reason why the town is such a popular stop for tourists is the hands off stance they take on drugs. Since bhang, a cannabis preparation, is legal in Pushkar for religious reasons, tourists, especially Israelis, flock to the town. It's really strange to see signs in Hindi, English and then Hebrew, and to have have shopkeepers blaring hora music from their shops or greeting you by saying, "Shalom Aleichem, come and see my shop." In any case, we largely exhausted the sightseeing opportunities of this town in an afternoon. And we were there for two days. Then what did you do, you might ask... We spent the rest of the time making asses of ourselves. There was a very elaborate set of programs planned for us, which we'd skipped many of the scheduled classes back at the institute (at the behest of the teachers of course) in order to put together an unparalleled program of embarrassing things that'll end up on youtube at some point. I was personally involved in a few acts. Our whole group's act, where we sang a song from the classic movie Sholay largely went off without a hitch. We didn't have issues like some of the other class groups did, like when the stereo broke for the other intermediate group, or when the advanced kids were out of sync with their backing track. The other thing we did put my bad dancing center stage. We spoofed (if you could call it that) a song from the recent bollywood film Jaane tu...ya Jaane na. The track was called Pappu Can't Dance, Saala. I was the Pappu for this. In essence this meant that I basically came in during one of the verses and during all of the gaps between verses, choruses, etc... and danced as badly as I could. I'm hardly a good dancer, so this was either really easy or really hard depending on how you look at it.

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

Lacking Charisma

This previous weekend, I visited my friend Arjun in Gurgaon, a 4 and a half hour drive from Jaipur. While National Highway 8, the Jaipur-Delhi road, is certainly well-paved for an Indian highway, the journey down there took much longer than the three and a half hours I'd allotted for travel time. In any case, the trip was certainly a success. I had a lovely time in Gurgaon with Arjun, his wife Preeti and his son Raghav. Since I am an alumnus (of sorts) of the College Source program, Arjun brought me along to meet some of the students and I succeeded in scaring them to death about the harshness of North American winters. In any case, they'll adjust karenge. I know Nikhil managed to. I had a great time going to landmark bookstore, where I got a ton of DVDs. The best part about the piracy fighting initiatives here is that legit DVDs are dirt cheap now. Arjun's son is hilarious, he loves to "play videogames," which means hang on my arm and watch me play C&C3. It was pretty funny. It was also a great treat to have some fantastic whiskey, chinese food and red meat, a huge change from yellow daal (yellow lentils) and chaval (rice) for every meal. Speaking of food, I've been having some really strange food related dreams as of late, especially relating to chicagoan foods that I miss and even some I certainly don't. About a week ago, I had a dream about a chicago style hotdog, with all of the assorted trimmings, including sport peppers. I don't even like full chicago-style dogs, because sport peppers aren't really my thing, yet it somehow made an appearance. I had an entire dream about a Manny's deli pastrami sandwich with potato pancake. The whole forced vegetarianism thing is really doing weird things to me. My guess are these dreams are my body's way of telling me that I am a carnivore pure and simple. When Neil, my roommate this year, went vegetarian, he told me that he felt really good when it happened and he had more energy. I'm eating right, a lot of vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbs and yet I feel really lethargic without meat. Pretty much the only place I've gotten meat was at McDonalds, which is not the way to go. I felt so much better this weekend that it solidified in my mind that I'm just doomed to be a carnivore.

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


Without futher ado, here are some pictures from my travels so far.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The only rockstar at the taj mahal

The Agra trip we went on was one of the strangest experiences in my life. Period. We started it off at our infamous raj garden apartment, now free of the polluting influences of Sushil Kumar. We ordered Domino's Pizza and sat down for a good long bollywood film. Once midnight rolled around, we stumbled out of the apartment and into the cars we'd arranged to take us to the Taj. I was more than a bit nervous. Indian roads are notoriously dangerous. The highway to Agra is unlit, cratered and fraught with peril. Unmarked construction sites, livestock and impromptu barricades erected to collect tax from travelers abound. I sort of half jokingly called both of my parents and told them I loved them and hopped into the back of our dingy hired Qualis. The whole point of doing the trip as an overnight was to sleep. Try as I might, there was simply no way that was gonna happen. The road would rocket you out of your seat the moment you'd nod off. I tried some crazy origami sleeping position with the other guy in the back, which looked like a line of tetris that was about to be cleared (except my legs didn't vanish). This didn't work because I almost mashed my neck into the seat more than once. Finally after 6 fitful hours of tossing and jostling, we made it to Agra. When we finally made it up the street full of touts, we entered the Taj and paid the exorbitant 750 rupee entrance fee (slightly less than $20) and went in. Some of the girls paid for a tour, but the guys were largely content to simply wander. We did see the beautiful tombs themselves, and they really are as pretty as the pictures everyone takes, but the place was simply mobbed outside. The weirdest part was there were white people EVERYWHERE. In Jaipur, I end up gawking at every other white person I see, because they're so rare outside of the program. I maybe see 5 white tourists a week poking around our neighborhood, only because the Birla Mandir is so close. In Agra, white people (namely white tourists) were everywhere. You know you've been somewhere for a while when you gawk at other foreigners. Once we'd finished our wanderings and settled down for a rest at the back of the structure, the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me in India slowly began to happen. There were 12 of us, we were all wearing respectable, non-touristy clothes and most of us were wearing salwar kameezes (the girls) and Kurta Pajama (the guys). I was wearing a tee shirt, but with respectable pants. Slowly, some Indians came over and started gawking at us. Eventually, a crowd of about 40 people swarmed and started shooting pictures. They'd bring their kids over and click away. Everyone wanted to have their pictures taken with the weird white people. At some point, an old woman asked Kari, one of the fairest skinned women in our group (blonde haired and blue eyed) to autograph her arm and a 50 rupee note. Then a bunch of Muslim guys came over and saw that one of our group members had a Muslim-looking beard and gave him the traditional muslim greeting and we got mobbed once again. The iconic image from this whole experience was watching this small kid, who was probably no more than 8, just gawping open-mouthed at seeing two pale white women in salwars. We then faced the street of touts again while going to get a bite to eat. We got to the roof-top restaurant we'd been looking for and had just pulled up a table when the heavens opened and we got seriously dumped on. We quickly dashed down to the first floor of the restaurant and passed a very pleasant two hours down there enjoying some nice food and hot coffee. All the while, the storm was dumping torrents of water onto Agra's stinky ass streets, which put a very palpable pong of shit and rotting garbage into the air. Agra is a foul cesspool of a city and I don't think my nose got a break from unsavory smells from the time we crossed in until the time we moved on. The more immediate problem was we had no desire to wade through 1 km of raw sewage to get back to our cars. Cars are not allowed in Taj Ganj, which ruled out having our drivers pick us up. We had to take rickshaws which are like boats in this sort of weather. It didn't help that I was basically in charge of getting my rickshaw to where we needed to be and since it was me and a bunch of people crammed in to such a small space, my retarded caveman Hindi had to suffice. It only worked so well, though. He did understand parking, but he misinterpreted what I said. I said paschimi parking, which means the west lot, but he thought I meant dakshini parking, the south one. Eventually he just gave up, making us fend for ourselves and ripping us off in the bargain. I was so happy to get back to our dingy little Qualis and shut the door to shield us from the stink and touts of the Taj Mahal parking lots. The next 6 or so hours are sort of a delirious haze, where I may or may not have fallen asleep.

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

Sweet, Sweet Freedom

My gloom and doom posts of the last week or so have raised some concern among my family. I'd just like to say to them that this trip has many positives and that I'd only focused on the debacle with our housing because it was interesting.

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

Grabbing life by the earhairs

Well, the spectacle that is living in 601 Raj Garden continues to this day. The coolers our landlord promised finally showed up 3 days late. They don't work. They just make the room much more humid (which is an achievement in Jaipur during monsoons) and raise the temp 15 degrees. We had to turn them off because it was so agonizing having them on. The promised drinking water has been sporadic at best, we've had to go to the market every day to pick up about 15 one liter bottles of water because he brought us 12 (which were finished in a day...I don't think he gets how dehydrated white people get in Jaipur) and keeps trying to slip ones into our fridge that he's refilled at his house. He claims to have an aquagard purifier, which is okay I guess, but our doctor has told us to avoid even aquagard water and just drink bottles or RO water. The cook hasn't been sorted either. His wife has been cooking for us, which has been okay, except that when he brings us the food he snoops around our place and we caught his wife in Ashwin's bedroom poking around a few nights ago. The food as of the last few days has been pretty bad too, alternating from "this is bad because my wife is a bad cook," to "this is bad because I'm a stingy bastard and can't be arsed to get you real food." It hit an all-time low when we were served breakfast today, which was 5 rupee samosas from a street cart and bread and butter that we bought. We're paying this guy 2000 rupees per person per month and he can't even be bothered to not starve us? It's ridiculous. The TV hasn't been sorted, and now I think he wants us to pay for it. That's minor, though, we all have laptops. The धोबी (washerman) that we sorted is ludicrously expensive and he's overcharging us by a factor of 5 compared to the other building residents. We just fired him this morning because he won't change his crazy prices. And the electricity keeps going out in the middle of the night which means that the fans go off and the whole apartment turns into a tandoor. We boil as long as the fans aren't on, because the apartment rests at a toasty 88 degrees at night.

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.