Monday, August 13, 2007

India, Week 6: Taj Mahell

India has a population of 1.1 billion people. Of these, roughly 1.1 billion want to sell you something. Though the quantity of goods is incredible, the variety is not, and your options are limited to postcards, tours, and shiny rocks. With the markets glutted and supply far exceeding demand, touts turn to hard-sell techniques.
The tout will first try to initiate a bond with you, often by telling you something you already know ("The entrance is under that big sign that says ‘Entrance,'" "You buy your tickets at the ticket window for the price specified by the ticket seller," "Your president is George Bush"), whereupon they hope you will confuse them with someone helpful and procure their service. If you say anything other than yes, they assume you didn't hear correctly, which leads to conversations like the following (I quote verbatim):

Tout: I sell postcards.
Greg: No, thanks.
Tout: Would you like to buy postcards?
Greg: No, thanks.
Tout: I also sell postcards.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

India, Week 5: Currying Favor

This may come as a surprise, but, in India, they serve lots of Indian food. The following will not come as a surprise: I detest Indian food; it falls in the category of things that aren't bagels, cereal, or Angela Lansbury. Fortunately, before Gandhi started the "Free India" nonsense, the East India Company had sufficiently colonized most of India to include Pizza Huts, McDonalds, Subways, and other civilized eateries, making it possible for me to avoid Indian food or anything that might dare expand my palate over the first four weeks of my travels. And then I got to Goa.

Goa is India's smallest state, nestled on the western coastline a fifteen-hour train ride south of Mumbai. It is beautiful! Luscious forests, crystalline waters, and a gorgeous, temperate climate prevail. There isn't a lot of traffic, and, unlike much of coastal India, Goa keeps its beach and toilet facilities distinct. (The Portuguese liked Goa so much that they conquered it in the 15th century, built a slew of cathedrals, and declared it a second Lisbon. The city proved less popular than they hoped, however, due to high taxes and bubonic plague.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

India, Week 4: Soft News, Sharp Elbows

I've made international news.

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, though I hoped the lead photo would be Angela Lansbury presenting me with a Tony or Mayor Bloomberg presenting me with Angela Lansbury. Instead, if you look at the front page of The Times of India on Sunday, July 22, 2007, there I am at six in the morning at Hyderabad's Himalaya Book World, exhausted, irate, and cross-checking a little girl to get my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.