Monday, January 23, 2006

What's Goan on?

I have gotten over the culture shock and have adjusted and expect strange things all the time. It is a very odd place.

For example, imagine if the produce department manager at Safeway slept between the lemons and avocados. At the market yesterday in Panaji, prune faced women in tattered saris were sleeping among the okra and tomatoes. There were dozens of them atop burlap bags next to the vegetables they displayed. The market also featured a bunch of rotting meats and very fragrant spices in large baskets, along with shoes and underwear and Ardidas and Nuke brand athleticwear. Nevertheless, Panaji seemed a little less chaotic than much of this country, and actually looked like a rundown Latin American city, due to the fact that this was a city settled by the Portuguese. Women sat on the dirty sidewalks (or what would pass for sidewalks) selling piles of unrefrigerated fish, swarming with flies. It really made me hungry for some tasty Goan fish curry.

We tried to change our train tickets. What a mistake that was. We walked upstairs in the bus depot to a dirty room that smelled like urine. All three of the customer service windows had "communications failure" signs so we were told to return later. When we did, the room was packed and the computers were functioning. You have to pay 10 rupees for the "take a number" ticket and then wait until they call your number. It turns out were booked in a sleeper train, but Bethany booked it for the day after we really wanted to leave because they had sold out. When we tried to change it, the man told us we should keep it. So, we will each have a bunk for a 12-hour evening train ride in 3rd class. Not really the way I would choose to travel, but not much I can do now.

But Panaji is a different world from the place we're been staying the last few days. This is a resort hotel built atop Fort Aguada – an old Portuguese dark stone fort.

This is where the wedding was. It's a beautiful spot, abounding with coconut palms and all of the tropical plants you see in the Home Depot foliage department, only here they grow wildly. I thought I would lose weight here but instead have been eating like crazy. The night before the wedding, we were hosted to an outdoor dinner on a cliff above the Arabian Sea. Candles, Bollywood music, lots of amazing food, colorful saris. The wedding the next day went off without a hitch as the sun set in the background. And then that evening was another huge party in a grove of coconut palms, complete with fireworks. There must have been 50 people just staffing the event. So, it is nice to party with wealthy Indians. Guests included the mayor of Hollywood, Florida; a director of Kroger; doctors from Belgium; a Bollywood production manager. A very interesting crowd.

Unfortunately I am sick. Not the Indian kind of sick. I think it's something I picked up on the flight to London. Strep throat. So I just took a taxi to Doctor Bajaj's office which was a small hovel on the side of a dirt road complete with a cow on the steps. It looked far less sanitary than any free homeless HIV clinic in the Tenderloin. He gave me some azythromycin, which seems right, so I will take my first dose on an empty stomach in about an hour. The tongue depressor he stuck in my mouth looked not so clean, but I figure the drugs should knock anything else that may have been on that thing.

Anyway, this country is chaotic. Not the organized kind of chaos you find in Latin America, but total and absolute disorder at all times. Buildings are all run down and in need of a paint job. And every street is crazy with traffic: cars, mopeds, bikes, buses, rickshaws and cows. The cows just sit in the middle of the road like they own the place, and I suppose they do. The dogs kind of look like Mark's Cooper, only skinnier and dirty. But they seem to have happy faces, as opposed to those surly Mexican dogs. Cows do keep the streets somewhat cleaner than they would otherwise be because they stand around eating garbage. I also saw two women on the beach carrying giant baskets on their heads. The baskets were filled with trash and plastic bottles and the women both wore bright yellow vests that said they were official rubbish removers. I wish my garbage collector at home would carry my garbage can on his head.

So, other than the strep throat, I'm doing great and just relaxing at the hotel today. We head south to Cochin tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Waiting for my Spice Jet

So, I made it, with one more flight to go and then I see Bethany and start to really experience India. I wanted to say hi to each of you, so I'm doing it in this impersonal way and sending you all a greeting.

I'm sitting in the Bombay International Domestic Airport (yes), waiting for my delayed flight to Goa. I arrived in India last night and it is every bit as crazy as I suspected. People everywhere. A few cows. Tons of traffic. Shanties and shacks built everywhere there is any space to build something. It's completely astounding that things actually function. My hotel was incredibly nice with ten employees grabbing at my baggage the moment I stepped out of the car. They put me on some type of executive floor, where my personal host walked me to my room and then checked me in there. The room was pretty amazing: very Ethan Allen and Bombay Company, with every possible luxury: a bowl of fruit, a teddy bear, a gigantic bathroom with a tub and a shower and so many lights. It was weird, considering I had just been in a car racing (I was surprised) through the streets from the airport, passing clusters of people sitting in the road eating out of metal bowls, women carrying giant parcels on their heads, children playing with sticks and fabric. This was midnight.

From my hotel room I could see the beautiful pool where I relaxed a bit, the waterfall behind it, and the big brick wall that surrounded the hotel. Just beyond the brick wall were shacks and sheets and odd brick structures and fires and people. In the distance were other luxury hotels like mine, a mix of apartment buildings and a haze so dense that the city lights behind it had a muddy glow. I had a great Indian breakfast with yummy aloo parantha and vegetable korma. I also enjoyed the gym and my power workout, followed by a steam with the Turk who thought it simply wasn't hot enough.

I had been warned that I would smell Mumbai when the flight approached, and the cabin indeed filled with a smell of sweat and mustiness. From the airplane, you can see city lights below that never end - they seem to go on forever, beyond any reasonable horizon. Austrian Airline's odd decor seemed to contrast with the browns and oranges outside: walls were light blue, seats turquoise with alternating red and yellow headrests, pillows were bright red and the carpet was light green. It seemed like a good scheme for a pediatrician's office and I was feeling like I was waiting for my first trip to the doctor.

So, now I am in this chaotic airport waiting to go to Goa, which I think will be a bit less insane. The man behind me just belched and then smiled quite satisfied with himself. The sitar music being piped through the loudspeaker is somewhat soothing. It seems nicer than the International International Airport, where rusty fans and falling ceiling tiles greet passengers stepping off the brand new jet ways. I got a mosquito bite waiting to change dollars into rupees. It does make my two days in London seem very quiet and antiseptic.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

About Me

I'm an urban planner who lives in San Francisco and plenty of things make me cranky. My father used to say I was a very negative child, but I disputed his assertion. Now I've found a way to channel all of my negativity into cyberspace.
About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman