Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Art of India

India is a place of contrasts; namely colour vs filth. The hand painted adornments on goods carrier trucks, individually painted advertising billboards, and radiant and immaculate saris are all the more vibrant and attention grabbing for their backdrop of grime. I was completely taken with them and attempted to snap every example for the duration of our trip at 3 second intervals through grime caked car windows at 70 km per hour (much to Vikas's bemusement). So unfortunately I have little to show for it. But here's a few examples.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Absolutely Scrabulous.

Old Jack issued me a baptism of fire to the world of tournament scrabble. His rapid plays and steely composure had me flustered from the get go. Despite myself, I had an early lead to offer up by the second half of the game. Online Scrabble, while great fun, cannot prepare you for handling REAL tiles, addition and score keeping under pressure, the operation of the clock, and much less, for Jack. Or Sandra. Or Noeline.

I played my first of many Scrabble tournaments on the 17th November. A 4:30pm start. Getting off work early was not an issue for any of the other competitors, with an average age of 70 – 75. Apart from Jack, another chap, Martin, and Quentin (the only other sub-40 player and apparently self-appointed playboy of Scrabble), it was all broads. For just a moment after entering the room, feeling as out of place as I can ever remember, I asked myself… is this not cool?

Being that this particular tournament was in support of the Movember cause, everyone (else) was sporting a mo. In a room full of seventy-something women you are very mindful to check twice before you compliment the mo. It keeps you on your toes. It's also quite off putting to lose Scrabble to a biddy with a crazy upwards-spiking Mexican mustache drawn in purple felt pen across her lip and up her face. But not quite so off putting as when another played 'areola' then said "I'm sure that's a word. I think it's a medical word. Would you like to check?"

No. Noeline, I would not like to check.

I did have a win in the end though. My third of four opponents was Anna. Anna's expression showed defeat before we began, and she had already had a rough run that night. Though a vet of the tournament scene she told me her Scrabble woes of recent times. Just couldn't get it right when it counted recently. But would you believe it she had played 4 games before the tournament today and won every one of them. I mopped the floor with Anna's face.

At the end of the night I wasn't too proud to take home an encouragement award (after all these awards, like "I swam in a race", "Conspicuous Effort", "The Principles Award", "Best Effort by a Salesperson", and those two Redskins I was awarded in ceremony at the end of Day Camp, age 5, 'for trying' after failing to throw the basketball as high as the hoop, were invented for us Lewises). And with a few more scores to settle, you can rest assured that I will be back.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Birthday from Heck

My thirty-first birthday started out well. We woke up for our second day in a place called Ranthambor, a small town, with genuine people and none of the tourist hassles that you find elsewhere. (Ranthambor is known best as the place in India you are most likely to see a tiger. We were very lucky and saw a tiger there, but fortunately that was the day *before*, since it would not have fitted at all with the rest of the tale of my birthday.) And my mother, bless her cotton socks, had sent a gift along with Sue for me. Now, as always, this gift was prefaced with ‘It’s just a little funny thing that I thought you might like’. And, as always, I was over the moon (yes, it was the mask and party blower that she sent).

We left Ranthambor for Jaipur early, and arrived five or six hours later just outside the city in the Galta Temple (or monkey Temple) at about midday. Neither of us could recall having asked to go to a monkey temple. This was another itinerary item from Vikas, our driver. Likewise, feeding the monkey’s was not optional, nor the employment of a guide who looked like Beetlejuice’s Indian cousin.

The temple was quite impressive. It is a complex of ancient buildings stretching up along a mountainside set into a crevice; impressive Indian architecture, adorned with hand-painted artworks, pools of [fresh] magic water from the Ganges, a presumably dead maintenance worker lying motionless on the ground. But infested with monkeys.

I think Sue and I both made a fair show of feeding the monkeys. We obliged all of our guides requests to feed them this way, and that way. But we declined to antagonize them though he insisted that we should by withholding food when they tried to take it – apparently it would have been good fun.

At the top of the complex Beetlejuice recommended/insisted that I sit on the edge of a pergoda so that he could take some pictures of me getting bitten by a filth-ridden, rabid monkey with a gammy arm. And I obliged.

It bit me on the arm, superficial, not much to show for it, but it bled. We tried not to be too flamboyant about our concern, but we wanted to get this thing treated asap. ‘No, no, no, no. Is ok. This monkey not sick…’ our guide said as he scanned the area trying to work out which one it was. He tried to seem unconcerned and suggested a few remedies including spitting on it and rubbing it, and dipping it in the magic Ganges water, but at the same time made a beeline to the front gate. He stopped only to suggest I might like to hold a cobra (it actually was quite tempting to be honest) and also to take us to his friend from Scandanavia who was an out-of-his-tree drug dealer perched in a car out the front gate (the introduction was a little awkward and lasted too long).

The rest of the afternoon was spent in search of hospitals and doctors around Jaipur. Vikas came into his element and did everything he could to ensure we were looked after and to reassure Sue. Plus 100 points for Vikas.

Once all the shots and treatment for that day were taken care of, we were taken to the factory of a friend of Vikas who made ‘textile-something’. Minus 50 points for Vikas. We were not released until they were sure we would not spend another cent some 3 hours later. It was at the end of our ‘shopping’ excursion, when I went to pay the ransome, that I realized that my credit card was missing (and subsequently, $35,000 Rupees).

By this stage it was almost 11pm, still at the textiles shop, when Vikas appeared with tepid Tandoori chicken in a used crisps bag and a bottle of beer. Plus 50 points from Aaron. We were starving by this stage and our nerves frayed, so even Sue was up for our lukewarm treat. Even when Vikas insisted on feeding us by hand. Points withheld.
Before too much longer my birthday was finally over. The aftermath of my monkey encounter, however, would last for the rest of our trip as I lost days in search of my follow up vaccinations in London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and finally, Australia.

PS. If you are bitten by a potentially rabid monkey in a third world country, DO NOT lighten the mood for your grief-stricken wife by biting her (a little too hard).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Scam

So we’d been out of the hotel just minutes on our first day in Delhi. Our course was set for Connaught Place where we would find the Indian Government Tourist Office. Connaught Place is a reputed hub in Delhi famed mainly for its shopping I believe. But I don’t know for sure, I’ve still never been there.

We made our way along the dusty street, I deftly declined a few approaches like a seasoned traveler while Sue acclimatised to our new surrounds. I noticed a young fellow, perhaps 15-18 years old trailing at a few yards. To outfox him, I told Sue to stop while I fished through my bag meaningfully to allow him to pass. If only he had.

He knew where the government tourist office was. In fact, his friend worked there, and he was on his way there! What a stroke of luck. Of course our *strong* suspicions never left us, but straight up he was such a nice chap that it was hard to dismiss him. I looked like Ricky Ponting, except for my beard (which he was impressed by) and that I was big and strong like Matt Hayden. I was buying what this guy was selling.

So we met his friend at the ‘government’ office, partook of a few cups of ‘Indian hospitality’ (chai), and before you knew it our stay in India was accounted for. Parting with too much money we had signed up to a package with our own private driver who would take us on a six day tour of all of the highlights of Rajastan – accommodation and elephant ride included. Our driver would speak very good English and guide us through all of the monuments. The car would be just like our own at home and the driver very safe and professional – of course seatbelts! It would be like driving ourselves and we could tell the driver ‘stop here, take us to there, anywhere you want’.

All these myths where quickly dispelled as we set about our trip.

Our driver, Vikas, would ask, “You how program today?”

“We’ll we would like to go first to… then we will… and after that spend a while in the market… and then back to the Hotel.”


“No. First go to temple. One hour. Two hour. As you like. After go to fort. You walk something. You look something. As you like. Then how my friend as restaurant. You eat something something, drink something. You like. After you go to… etc etc… As you like. I am your servant.”

Negotiations bounced off the language barrier.

By day three Sue and I were holed up in the corner of world famous Indian monuments plotting our escape. This arrangement seemed to have killed our freedom entirely and we wanted out. We came up up with some pretty creative schemes, but in each case we did not know how to discretely dispose of the soil from our tunneling. Logistics!

Over time and through trials we really came to warm to our driver. And learn to make the most of our situation in the same way that an inmate might make peace with his cell. All in all, we saw more of India and had more crazy experiences than we could otherwise have hoped for, including my thirty-first birthday which is a tale of misadventure.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Welcome to Delhi.

Get Smart, Kung Fu Panda, and The Forbidden Kingdom were the movies that played on the flight to Delhi which arrived at 2am on Sunday the 12th October. Coming out of the airport we immediately noted the general grime, the heat and bustle (even at 2am), and that our driver was stoned. We meandered to the hotel in a minivan/lunchbox that I estimate still sported at least 40% of its original function. We arrived at the hotel at about 4am.

I’d read many horror stories of the shady practice and scams that tourists are regularly subjected to in Indian hotels and was prepared for anything. But the check in was painless and the room Spartan but not entirely disgusting. I considered this a win.

Our next win came when, having freshly withdrawn our currency, the smallest denomination that I had with which to tip the hotel porter was 100 rupees. Pained, I did. His face lit with something like appreciation and he immediately offered, “Wait, wait. Air conditioning not working. Wait.” He scurried off to another room on the same floor then reemerged to flick switches on our wall unit, “See, now works!” Thank you… I think. I also got some ‘bonus’ toilet paper out of that tip for ‘no money, no money’.

Little did I know that this would be our last win in India for some days.

We were staying in an area of Delhi called Parharganj. I went for what I intended to be a stroll when I got up at around 7am. What I was faced with was somewhat overwhelming, and I hadn’t walked more than 30 meters when I revised my ‘stroll’ to a ‘mission’. I was to get to the end of the street (300 meters), purchase water, and get back to the hotel, stat. Stray dogs, ‘sacred’ cows, unidentifiable fluids in ditches and in the dirt gutters, curiously unpleasant odours, rubble laden streets and a film of dirt covered all. The street was already active, but dominated by folk who did not seem so active. It was quite apparent that every one of them was Indian, and I was not. So I had their full attention. The irony was that for once in my life I truly *was* the centre of attention… and I didn’t like it.

I tried to look casual and comfortable about it all, I don’t know how I went at that, but I did complete the mission, and in pretty good time too.

When Sue got up I worded her up. We had read up on what to expect in India; of the hotels, the streets, the squalor, the scammers and touts. But clearly we were still not fully prepared. We left the hotel and within 5 minutes had fallen for a scam; one that would occupy the rest of our stay in India. Who knew that con artists would be such nice guys??

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Very Easy Rider

Without doubt, the single most exciting day of my adult life was 2 March 2008. That was the day I bought my scooter; the Blue Dragon - 2005 Peugeot Ludix Elegance. It is indeed more lovely and more temperate than a summer's day. And though it's only a wee-rumpa, every one of its fifty cc's screams freedom louder than Braveheart. Quite a bit louder actually, and that is half the appeal.

Here's the benefits in brief;
  • 5L of petrol buys me two weeks of commute
  • I get to work quicker as I negotiate traffic like the wind itself
  • parking is free - while every other sucker pays $180/mth
  • at the shops I get parks that disabled folk envy
  • scenic doubles along the waterfront wit me mole as a weekend activity
  • ever heard of Arthur Fonzarelli?

Here's a little shirt I printed up in celebration of the Blue Dragon.

The helmet that I got with the bike was only extra large - so it didn't really fit. I got a new one very soon after as the other gave me a splitting headache when I wore it - and it seriously damaged my newfound street cred.

And peaking of street cred, Dad did a little research on my behalf. Apparently I would be 38% safer with a white helment, fluoro vest and a flag off the tail of the bike.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rudd Gratifies Greens

As his first act as Prime Minister, K-Rudd ratifies the Kyoto (International Climate Change)agreement. Apparently, ratifying it just means 'doing what it says'. Sooooome people possibly thought 'ratifying' it (as has been so frequently bandied about) meant to sign the agreement. No, John Howard did that in 97 after negotiating significant concessions but then never put it into place. It's probably different in the political and climate change arena, but in the used car market it's considered rude to negotiate yourself a red hot deal, then drop in that you actually prefer Conflakes and walk away.

“This is the first official act of the new Australian Government, demonstrating my government’s commitment to tackling climate change,” Mr Rudd said.

"This is just the first of many flimsy platforms and grand promises upon which Mr Rudd secured this election. Let's worry about the 'hows' and the ramifications later. At a time when our trade deficit has reached record levels, the last thing Australian industry needs is further impediments to competitiveness," said political analyst and web logger, Aaron Lewis.

K-Rudd has also appointed Julia Gillard to the deputy prime minister.

"She has very mean, skinny lips," said Mr Lewis.

"It is trifling and puerile to judge a woman, or a man, in the political arena by their lips!" commented Mr Rudd,"Ms Gillard has numerous and innovative hair styles."

As at 9:06pm EST 3 December 2007, interest rates have not risen under the labour government.