Monday, July 20, 2009

Sometimes titles are hard. Posts are hard too.

All of the grass at the ICGEB died. Perhaps it was on purpose, perhaps the garden guys got lazy. Either way, the answer to dead grass was to re-grass then entire back lawn. This is a pic of the local garden crew cutting a rug on the lawn. Two days later all of this sod has turned brown - because there still isn't any water.
On Friday I went to the Hard Rock Cafe. again. Vahid loves that place so much. especially the smokers room.On Saturday I felt a compelling urge to go shopping. I had a lovely conversation with some Kashmeri salesmen. I bought their wares. Now I have to figure out how I'm going drag home two handmade silk Indian carpets. The woes I face in this country...
Nora, I wish you read this blog because our dorm room is going to rule.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

a weekend that once was.

This past weekend was extremely uneventful - so now I will tell you about all the things that happened.

I have been told by coworkers that you can find any book you need in New Delhi. I didn't believe them, but I figured it was worth a try. I quested on Saturday for "Applied Calculus" a book that I need for a math class this coming semester.

A note on Indian capitalism. In the U.S. an individual who say wants to open a kitchen supply store would scout around for the location with the most need and the least competition. There are exceptions. There are no crafts stores and convenience stores are everywhere. It's not uncommon to see one intersection with a Walgreens, 7-11, Rite Aid and your choice for the fourth.
An Indian however will look at an area and see 3 grocery stores. He will think to himself: this looks like a great place for a grocery store!
So, when book shopping, I did not need to go many places because they have entire markets devoted to books. I've asked people why store owners think this is a good idea and the common answer is numbers. There are so many people in India and they all need everything, so a store location is better where people are already looking.

I started in Ber Sarai, the nearest book hangout and it was suggested I go to Rajiv Chowk - the main shopping center of New Delhi. I was doing pretty well - finding bookstores, but not my book - until a man approached me to help. I have this happen every once in a while, and it makes me bitter. Gary put it best when he said that these guys jam his thinking. They talk to you so much, it is hard for you to make your own decisions. I believe they honestly want to help you, but they also eventually want to divert you to their choice shopping area where they recieve commission for bringing customers. It is everyone's conviction that if a foreinger can just see their wares - can just look in their direction - that a sale will be made.

If I talked out loud, then the helpful man would give an answer. It seems very impolite to completely ignore him, so I answer every other question with varying degrees of truth. Gary and I once went back and forth with a guy trying to see who could lie more.
a 'helpful' guy : where are you from?
me : Holland.
guy: where in Holland?
Gary: Friezland.
guy: what is your name?
Gary: Hans.
me: Gretel.
guy: is she your woman?
Gary: ?
me: we're married.
Gary made it hard though, because every time he would say something, he would giggle uncontrollably.

My helper and I walked all over looking for a book. He was a good translator and I was able to ditch him by getting some lunch. In the end, India does not have my book. There is one more place in Delhi I could try, but I ordered "Applied Calculus" on Amazon this morning, so I don't think it will be necessary.

Sunday was extremely American. I went to church, saw Transformers: Revenge of the fallen, ate dinner at Subway (tuna sub), and was driven back from the mall in a luxury Toyota that belonged to a friend of Vahid's.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Auto Adjustment

Today I had the best auto ride of my life. It's never going to happen again. But, I know the majority of my nearly one dozen frequent viewers cannot begin to understand what I mean by "auto ride." Sure, you can look it up in the dictionary, read books and articles describing the experience, but it truly takes the bumpy, loud, bad tasting sensory explosion of a real life auto rickshaw ride to understand.
First, a few sweeping assumptions to help you understand a typical auto rickshaw driver. Auto drivers are interested in only one thing: getting as many Rupees out of you as possible. Most know some English - enough to discuss money, directions, and to argue about the fairness of a price. It is very easy for me to get an empty auto, one look at my skin complexion and a driver will ignore and drive around several waiting Indians to get to me.

All auto drivers, like the 99.9% of shop owners, are men. If I ever saw a woman auto driver I would run away because she would have to be the meanest, loudest woman I have ever encountered.

All auto rickshaws have meters in New Delhi, but it is a diamond in the rough finding one that not only works, but has a driver that agrees to use it. Some drivers break their meters and others are out dated. The ideal situation for them would be for you to ask to go somewhere, hop in, and go. This way they can ask for anything when you arrive and there is no way you can argue because the meter isn't working - you have no case. Instead, one must negotiate a price before stepping into the three-wheeler. If they do not drive away in disgust after you name where you want to go and then continue to stay after you name the price that you would like to pay, then you begin the age-old debate for a price on which both parties can agree.

With a population over 1 billion it is safe to assume that their are about three auto rickshaws per capita in Delhi.

Since this is such a great consumer's market, I find it all right to be picky. I will go through up to 10 autos before I am too worn out with arguing and settle for a slightly unreasonable price.

I usually take an auto twice a day - going to and coming from the ICGEB. By meter the price of a ride is 35 Rs. The ICGEB's location is in the middle of nowhere. This bittersweet arrangement means that a savvy driver is not going to take me to the ICGEB for 35 - he will want enough to pay for a trip to the nearest market for a new fare. Also, most auto drivers have been conditioned to expect more money from foreigners. Many a driver would rather transport an Indian for 50 Rs. than a foreigner for 70. So, in the morning I pay 50 Rs. to go to work. In the evening I try not to pay more than 40 Rs. since the place I live is very busy and full of customers.

I say to myself that no auto ride is complete until your seat has left the seat. Roads in Delhi are worn and pot-holey. Also, random speed bumps are put in everywhere to slow people down. There hardly any rules and no enforcement when it comes to driving, so the best enforcement is to take away the surface on which people speed.

The interior of an auto can vary widely. I have sat on all sorts of upholstery surfaces, from spotlessly new to foam poking out of slashed holes. The passenger seat can comfortable fit two, squish in three, and someone is in your lap with four. I have seen up to six people in an auto in addition to the driver, but one was a child. Past three, many a man will sit on the sliver of space next to the driver.

Now that you know a bit about the Indian taxi, let me tell you about my crazy sweet drive to work today:
I had a wad of 10 Rs.s in my pocket so that I was prepared for any price and price variation thrown my way. I walked out to the main road and waited for an empty auto to drive by. An auto pulled up, dropped off his previous fare and came up to me.
"Aruna Asaf Ali Marg"
"?" (i get this a lot)
"Go down Africa Ave." *wild gesturing in the general southery direction*
"Ah! Ber Sarai." now, many drivers know of Ber Sarai, it is a local market area. the problem i most often run into is that they don't want to go past Ber Sarai because they know that there is nothing out there except for fare-less science institutes. So I say, with limited success:
"South of Ber Sarai, 2 km south. Du kilometer SOUTH"
he understood the first time I said it, then he head gestured for me to get in the back.
I held up 4 fingers. "40 Rs."
He, without outrage or confusion, gestured again to get in the back.
I hopped in and noticed how clean and new the interior was. He didn't have stickers of Hindu gods all over the top part of his windshield. There was no rust where the yellow top met the green bottom of the cab. The seat and floor were clean and in a whole piece. The rickshaw sped down the street at a comperitively fast 40 kph; most autos top out at 30. He went past Ber Sarai without a glance and continued to the ICGEB until I asked him to take a right - which he did!
When we stopped, I pulled out 40 Rs, and walked away. He took the money and left without being upset or confused about how he's getting cheated. It is a rare morning if I have not argued with anyone about anything - and those mornings are because Vahid is there to negotiate a ride. My only regret is that I did not ask him to come back to pick me up every day for the rest of the summer.

So, that's an ideal auto ride. I hope that all of you can someday experience their majesty.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating my Independence

After registering for the U.S. embassy, I was sent an invitation to the 4th of July celebration.
I've been talking about this event to people at work - giving them the whole history about why fireworks are really important. When I arrived, the gates to the embassy ball park looked like a movie premiere. There was a red carpet, people lining up and tons of security. Unlike all of the security I have been through in India, this was actual security - working metal detectors and I had to turn on all of my electronic equipment.

So, can someone remind me what we are celebrating? This guy confused me a bit.
Once inside I was a little grossed out at the volume of red white and blue assaulting my eyes. After the initial shock, I got right to business buying expensive food and being ignored by those around me. It was very homey. Eventually some college-aged kids sat next to me and I got to know that they were from California, had been living in New Delhi for 7 weeks and were Christians taking classes and working with an orphanage. They were very friendly and I am going to church this evening at a place called Kingdom International.
On the evening's schedule was food, fireworks, presentation of the color guard, music and fun. I couldn't quite figure out what they meant by scheduled 'fun.' But I soon found out it was a tug-of-war, watermelon and pie eating contests and a raffle.
One of the girls in the California group won the raffle. The prize was a free Continental Air ticket back to the states. I don't know what to think if the nicest thing that can be given to you in In

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

shim shim shi-shimla

Once on the mountain, it feels like a different country. The British Raj built their summer home hear to escape the heat of Delhi. They chose well. To help them feel at home a beautiful, super expensive palace/castle was built for everyone to relax. It was also the first Indian president's home. Pakistan/Kashmere peace talks went down in one of the rooms. And Ghandi stopped by! Now it is an institute for learnin'

Christ's Church was the 2nd church built in India and sits in the city center Scandal point.

The real highlight was another monkey temple. We quested up a mountainside to the land of irate apes. All along the way a person is cautioned: don't look them in the eye, don't smile, carry a stick to beat down monkeys that try to attack. I wasn't particularly concerned, but as soon as we sat down an older monkey snatched Gary's specs. The monkeys were scary smart. It did not relinquish his spectacular prize until an entire bag of 'monkey food' was thrown into its hands. The monkey caught it like a football, saluted and ran away. We headed back last night via overnight bus. At last I returned to the ICGEB for a day of science.

The train that took forever - BRIDGES!

In the morning we were hounded by shoe shine men and Gary relinquished his beaten down boots to see what would happen. The results couldn't have been better. They reglued the toe of his shoe sole, sewed the holes together and smeared on a cleaner that looked like snot. For $1, that's a good deal!

The trip between Chandighar and Shimla was a historic trek into the mountains on a train built in 1903. The British put the train there so that they could access their summer home in Shimla. The trip was a feat in civil engineering with 800 bridges and 100 tunnels in 96 km. The train was supposed to arrive at 5 pm, but instead took until 7:30 due to long stops waiting for other trains to pass by. The views and company made the toy train well worth the journey.

We arrived at Shimla in the evening in time to catch a pic of all the lights. Hurray electricity!

Chandigar - Paddles and Rocks

So, the story of Chandighar is that American designers laid out the city. Sidewalks, houses set back on the property, space between buildings! it hardly felt like India.

Chandighar did however have a lake. I jumped on a paddle boat right away to get a better view of this rare chunk of water. I learned something on that lake: Gary hates paddle boats. For 26 minutes I heard non-stop complaining about the whole experience. He was convinced that we were slowing down - that our paddle boat was defective. It turns out he was right. As soon as we returned to the dock we saw a 30 ft net dragging behind us. It was quite a bit of exercise.

A pic of Gary complaining and doing nothing while I paddled.
I mention this instance so thouroughly because this is the only time the whole 7 day trip that Gary complained. Believe me, 7 days with me and he has earned the right.

Next we went to the Chandighar rock gardens. They were huge and sprawling and full of waterfalls. The rock gardens also contained hundreds of statues made of recylced anything you can think of. These ladies are made of bangles I think.