Matthew's News and Gossip: 09/01/2002 - 10/01/2002
Matthew's News and Gossip
A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth
Sunday, September 29, 2002
This is a continuation of my second week in India....It covers Sept 20th to about the 25th
(no pics yet, but they will appear soon)
Jaisalmer is a magical city of only 10,000 on the hills of a big fort in the middle of the Thar desert. It's about 100 miles from Pakistan. It used to be on the main spice and opium routes and was once very rich. What's unusual about this fort is that you can live in it and there are several hotels and guest houses inside, as well as a palace and some magnificent Jain temples. (although apparently you shouldnt really stay in it...but the guest houses outside are very grotty) But for me the best part were the several Merchants "havelis" -- huge houses built of sandstone with incredibly intricate carving, and pieced together like lego (no concrete). Salim Singh's haveli is the best and has a great tour guide/owner. However, the whole balance of the town is in severe jepoardy. Not enough tourists when I was there, but too many tourists spells trouble, as Jaisalmer in Jepoardy points out
I also fell in with a very funny Rickshaw driver called Umeed. Umeed turned out to be the local rickshaw mafia leader. He had lots of "students" who were also engaged in his activites, which involved driving around town at high speeds, terrorising restaurants that dared to close while he was there, and stealing other peoples rickshaws when his own ran out of gas. (To be fair it was vice versa too). The random swedish girl Mia showed up, and the three of us went ot the stadium to look at the city under the full moon, and get drunk on "strong beer" all followed by great very cheap food in a non-tourist place. We all took turns driving the rickshaw. although Umeed didn't let us drive the truck he also owns. (I'll write about the economics of Rickshaws later, but it's generally not a pretty story) I did get to drive one of his students "jeeps" the next night...
Also in Jaiselmer I went on a camel safari. My lower abdominal region is still reminding me of this. The night was spent under the stars on a sand dune. All was fine and beautiful till the wind picked up, then the rest of the night was spent sleeplessly trying to keep the sand from blowing in my face! The next day I dreaded getting back on my camel (Mahindra) but with some stirrups made from my stretching strap, it began to feel a little better. A camel has three joints in its back legs, so it gets up and down in three motions. If you are sitting on it getting up you go forward, back and forward. Skill is required to stay on. We went away from the small dunes we spent the night on, back into the desert scrub of the Thar. There is some military activity out there and quite a lot of small villages, where we arrived and caused havoc by giving away pens and taking photos with my digital camera (thanks Carter!). Explaining to the kids why we couldnt give them the photos immediately was challenging!
After another drunken night with Umeed in which I bought a nice carpet and two beautiful wall hangings (which meant my budget for the first 3 months is toast) I got back on the train with Mia --travelling second class (no AC) this time, and went to Jodphur. More on Jodphur, Tiger hunting, Agra jewellry scams and Varanasi--coming soon!
I'm next to the Taj Mahal, having been sidelined away from my planned route by a general strike to protest the terrorist action in Gujarat. I just wanted to post my overriding impression of India which is men shouting at me, usually "Hello friend", but quite often "Unda-tek-er!" This is roof that satellite TV is the greatest force on the planet. I'd never heard of him but this guy apparently looks like me! And boy does every kid in India know about him!
Jodphur--So the tavels and travails of being a blogger in India continue. I wrote a long piece this morning, and as I was going to save it, the town had a power cut. The store had an uninteruptable supply, but not attached to the computer I was working on! So all lost--great art needing to be recreated. (My god I'm writing Indian English!)
India, or more accurately Rajasthan:
I feel like I've been here for ever, and maybe I have. I started in dirty noisy crowded Delhi. I hid in a gorgeous 5 star hotel. As I checked into my room at midnight Murdoch's ESPN Star sports was playing the live game of Birmingham v Aston Villa. Brimingham won a scrappy match 3-0, and I finally got to sleep around 3. I got up for breakfast but lunch was in full swing in the coffe shop. That meant there were three tables full out of 25. I looked disdainfully at the menu and asked if I could have fried eggs instead. "With bacon sir?" came back the response. So there I was--watching British TV and eating British breakfast. I went for a swim, hailed a cab, and plunged into India. Taking a cycle rickshaw around Delhi's old market has to be seen to be believed. I'm amazed I'm still alive but I'm even more amazed that everyone else seems to be alive too! Cows, Rickshaws, lorries, bikes, people all rushing crammed into one or two inches of road, that's actually a 3 ft wide path. Above you are incredible tangles of wires--the electric supply which burst into flames in the rain apparently--all around are tiny shops filled with fabrics here, food there, machine shops next to bread shops, 10 tailors then 10 chemists. Of course I got stiffed by my rickshaw wallah, ending up taking him to dinner and buying, but that wasn't as bad as the first rip-off by the guide at the distinctly unimpressive Red Fort. I mistakenly allowed him to pocket a 500 rupee tip because he kept on asking. It was nearly my major expense in India; however after the tip he did twenty minutes of pseudo religious stand-up fortune telling bullshit that was very funny--especially as I wouldn't let him read my palm and he read my face. Dont worry, I am going to be a great man, and America is a great country; but sir, India too will be a superpower! This sir is not from me it comes from the God! (Which God didnt seem to matter much!) More photos from Delhi are here
I've been to three amazing cities besides Delhi. After a hideous overnight bus ride I ended up in Jaipur. Jaipur is called the Pink City but it's hard to see the pink. It does have a nice Palace in the middle with evidence of the incredible wealth of the Marajahas, such as the 5 ft tall silver pots which were in 1902 filled with Ganges water and taken to London so that the King wouldn't have to drink the impure British water, and the 2 Kilos of Gold on ONE wedding jacket! Of course the people starved or died for their marahaja, as they were always at war with each other. It's also full of bustle and hustle. You find lots of best friends in India very quickly, usually driving a Rickshaw or guiding you. They are relatively cheap and some are great, some less so. The honest ones will tell you the cut they are getting when they take you to the shop with the "best prices!" One nice kid called Sandeep showed me the Amber Fort and then of course wanted me to get him a job in the US. On the 5 Rupee (10 cent) bus back to Jaipur, we almost hit another bus head on in an old gate. (In this photo you can see the front of the other bus) 10 minutes of maneuvers just about got us through. Sandeep leaned over to me and said "the problem with people in India is that they don't fear death" There are very few tourists here and the people are all suffering. 1/4 the usual amount of rain from the recently ended monsoon didn't help.
I clambered up the Tiger Fort with a random Swedish girl called Mia whom I met while buying my ticket out (which is a great performance in India and must be done in advance). After a very expensive dinner (12$ for two). I went back to my hotel. Luckily the midnight train was late and Terminator 2 was playing on the TV. I went to the station at 2 am, the train was now not arriving till 4.30. The staion stunk and was 33 degrees, but the floor was marble and quite comfortable to sit on.
I woke at about 12 to look out at the desert, then eventually we pulled into Jaisalmer . I was the only tourist on the train and 30 touts and rickshaw drivers descended on me as I got off. They were very confused as I burst into hysterical giggles, but what else could I do?
This is more of an observational than a news piece, hopefully some of these will crop up in my blog from time to time
London, 13 years on
I left London 13 years ago and apart from a couple of weeks in 1990, I haven't been here for more than a day or two between trips since, until this year. I've now spent four days in London twice this summer and I've been fairly astonished by some of the changes. Maybe it's that my friends have all grown up, and them's that was struggling professionals are all living in big houses, but London seems to have matured, while Britain has become more petty. I always had the idea that British politics and culture were dominated by big concepts like the future of trade unions in government or the role of Britain in the world. Now it seems that producing trash TV shows for Americans to copy (Pop Idols, anyone) is all that the country aspires too. So in wondering around I mused on several things that seem to be new and different.
1) Boobs & fashion ==
OK, so it was a hot week in September, but I never remembered girls on the street in London revealing half as much as they do now...and I don't remember them having half as much TO reveal. Luckily my quasi brother-in-laws' copy of the News Of the World had a special "Breast Supplement" that helpfully explained that British girls were the biggest up front in Europe (the Belgians came in a distant second). I think they showed 48 breasts in 12 pages, but I might have miscounted! For more typical NOTW fare click here
2) Boobs on the Boob Tube ==
Related to this, of course has been a huge growth in the amount of satellite TV, all owned by Rupert Murdoch. With all those new channels something has to go on it, and now there are several specialist titilation channels thatshow up after midnight. You can also pay extra to get the real thing, but my Dad is either too cheap or uninterested. My favorite freebie channel is called "Men & Motors" and featured a superb dopcumentary on some very high-class strippers going to Dublin for the weekend followed by a successsion of topless babes beating each other up wearing huge boxing gloves. No wonder I never got over my jet lag.
3) Estate Agents ==
London house prices used to be crazy, now they're insane. Making hay before the crash, every second shop front houses an estate agent. British agents work on a lower commision rate than Americans, but at 1 million GBP for a 2 up, 2 up, 2 down in Notting Hill, they still appear to be coining it.
4) Mobile phones==
Despite the (in some cases coming) bankruptcy of all telelcom companies, including the venerable British Telecom, the Brits are crazy about mobile phones. Not only has everyone got one (and I mean everyone) but they all have color screens, send automatic text messaging (which unlike in the US they actually use), and will give you a shave and a blowjob...well almost. Most importantly they all play a special tune when called. My favorite was the opening of "Blue is the Colour" which I heard on a Chelsea fan's phone on the way to the game.
5) Cars ==
The other thing that is new is the Cars. English cars rust so you dont see the old cars you see in Califoirnia. They also have to pass the pretty tough MOT Test inspection which none of mine would get through! But what's really changed is that Londoners are falling prey to the new trends of every man having a Porsche Boxster and every woman a SUV. The Jeep Cherokee, which is a) a useless car, b) far too big for London streets, and c) made in Austria by Daimler-Chrysler, is everywhere. Yet in England it never snows, so it's even more useless than it is in California and gas is $5 a gallon!
6) Money ==
Which brings us onto the main problem with London, and England. A 25 minute train ride is $15. A meal out is double the US price. And for the biggest change, when I used to go to see Chelsea in the 1980s, it was 4 GBP to stand and the most expensive seats were 8 GBP. Last Saturday I paid 45GBP. However, these days thay are quite good,and the ground/stadium was fantastic!
7) And finally, as soon as you leave dinner you can't get a drink because the pub still closes at 11pm.
So I left San Francisco following an emotional goodbye to my physical therapists Nicki, and Devin (Laura wasn't there for her picture), and a fairly wild night out at the Thirsty Bear (pictures right-click here). After a smooth trip in business class--getting my reward for all those changes at O'Hare in the 1990's--including a brief time sitting next to a model (sadly the overnight part when we were both asleep) I was met at Heathrow by my sister Roxane.
My stepsister Jo married Nigel and everyone got very merry indeed in a big marquee (that's tent to you/we Yanks) put up on the lawn at my fathers house. Roxane and Dordy behaved quite well, and my dad Eddy made a very funny speech (which is more than can be said for the best man!). On the Monday I had a good night out with Roxane, Dordy and their boys, Robert and Simon, at the Highwayman--a good but very expensive pub restaurant--to celebrate Rox's birthday on the Sunday. Off to the morass of London to get visas and final supplies this week.
I'm now doing tutorials for James and Shawn. Shawn (that's a she) just came back from 5 years in China (so she says!) and she really cares about my backpack and my lack of a collapsable duffle bag--I spent 2 hours at REI today and still no resolution! James just wants to find out what a computer can do for him. James has a website for his company Western states teleport. They both owe me big time. Carter cooked a great dinner.