Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Finally, India

So I get all excited about writing a sprawling India post, and I end up with zero time to do it. My Better Half and I are barely unpacked and our bedroom looks like it threw itself a party. I can't find my bus pass and I feel like I have been doing laundry since I got off the plane. And I still don't seem to have any underwear.

Nonetheless, I will try, bit by bit, to tell you about my month.

Truthfully, we spent most of our time visiting with family and getting ourselves acquainted with the craziness that is Mumbai. We didn't do a whole lot of touristy stuff, mostly because people don't usually go to Mumbai to be tourists. And I can see why.

Going outside is stressful. I think I had a slightly worse time because I am both pasty white and female, but generally, people looked at us like they wanted us to die. I was prepared to be stared at, but I didn't really expect the stares to be so unfriendly. Maybe I am just hopelessly naive. Maybe it's actually that bad. Either way, it became more and more awkward to do simple things like buy water or food.

In the end, we stopped going out just the two of us, and made sure we were escorted by family everywhere we went. This was to avoid being robbed or manhandled, but also so that we could actually do some shopping. Without family members to aggressively barter down the price for us, we would be paying almost quadruple for everything. Our feeble attempts at bartering were not strong enough to withstand the cost of being a tourist in Mumbai. Even when we went to the museum, we were moved to the "foreigner" line and charged three times the admission because we were Westerners. Not even my BH, who grew up in Mumbai and knows the languages, could sway them. After a while, it got on our nerves.

One evening in particular, we went to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner and took a walk around the neighbourhood afterwards. In Ottawa, going for a stroll after a meal is easy-peasy. In Mumbai, it's just dumb.

We started getting followed by two men pretty soon after we started walking. It was dark and we were easy targets, and we knew it. So we hailed a cab and jumped in, asking to be taken home. Now, although my BH knows the city quite well, he has a pretty funky sense of direction. My brain, on the other hand, makes a map everywhere I go, and I can memorize a city pretty quickly. As the cab started off, I knew immediately he was taking us in the wrong direction. I signaled this fact to my BH by giving him a wide-eyed freaked out look. Sure enough, the cabbie was overly friendly, totally creepy, and took us for a "short-cut" through the brothels. They didn't look unlike the scary Asian brothels you see in bad-news documentaries. I guess he was trying to intimidate us, and let's face it, it was effective. Still, we stayed calm, and he eventually brought us to our home. And then he demanded an exorbitant amount of money. The security guard at the compound stepped in as my BH argued with the cabbie about the cost of the fare. We took off after giving him the correct amount, and vowed not to cab alone anymore.

Although stuff like this happened here and there, we managed to have a really great time overall. My BH has an amazing family and the sweetest grandmother in the world. We played with his new little cousins and ate a stupid amount of food.* The heat was intense, but as it turns out, I love intense heat. I really didn't think I would be able to manage in +40 weather, but I adored it. I have been cold since I came back to Ottawa.

Another highlight was our week-long trip to Goa. It started off a little rocky, with a 12-hour overnight train ride in a cockroach-infested cabin, but the beauty of Goa made up for everything. Because May is the hottest month in India, people prefer to travel in November and December when it's cooler. Consequently, our hotel was nearly abandoned. We had a nice pool and restaurant to ourselves, as well as a beach with a handful of people on it. The food was fresh and delicious, the drinks were very strong, and our room had a functioning toilet and shower. Aside from our hilarious massage incident, it was smooth sailing.** We didn't want to leave, and the week flew by.

But we did go back, after another long train ride in a slightly cleaner train, and we spent our final week in the Crazy City. Oddly enough, we found that we had become far more comfortable navigating and bartering than we did in the first two weeks of our trip. I could cross the street without getting nicked by a cab or spat on, and I even bought some things kinda by myself. We picked up some stunning wedding presents for the approximately six weddings that are taking place this summer, and we got my BH an amazing custom-made suit with two ties and two shirts for $300. Jesus. Next time we go, I will get some suits made too. And some jackets. And some pants. Etc. We also took a road trip to a small village that is entirely mango plantations. The people there were some of the friendliest, kindest folks I have met. I began wishing we had gone to more villages in the early weeks of the trip. And the mangoes? Out of this world.

It's been strange coming back. Jet lag aside, we enjoyed being so close to my BH's family, and it's hard knowing how far away they are from us now. Still, it feels good to be back at work, able to do my own shopping, cabbing and cooking. I have nothing nice to say about Indian toilets, showers or general sanitation, and my bathroom is now my favourite room in the house. I missed Ottawa loads, and I've come to appreciate how freaking awesome it is to be living here. My daily stresses seem so minimal compared to what people have to deal with in India. Here, we try to live our lives the way we would like. There, they try to live.

At any rate, it's good to be back. The next post will be all pictures.

*Mind you, since it's not culturally acceptable to be living with someone who has been your partner for seven years and not be married or have kids, I quickly became the "fiance" or the "wife" instead of the girlfriend. We eventually stopped correcting people, because they really didn't understand our Canadian logic. Good thing I didn't tell them that I plan to get married in a backyard wearing a pink party dress.

** I never thought I would have to pay someone to strip me, oil me up and spank me. I've decided that, under the circumstances, it's not my cup of tea.


Marie-Adèle said...

That sounds so awesome... You've articulated exactly the reasons I wouldn't go to India without someone who knows the place, though I'd love to get there someday. Being pale and blue-eyed just isn't an advantage in a lot of places.

Did people treat your BH the same way when he was on his own?

Andrea SK said...

He had it a bit better, but he was still pretty Western-looking. Indians don't wear baggy jeans and cute little caps.

He also had the advantage of being able to understand what people were saying to him... Although in this case, that might have been a disadvantage...