February 28, 2007



It took longer to sit on the tarmac than it did to fly from M. to G., but it might as well be flying to another planet ... Yes, it's still In., but there's a significant Christian (Xian -- I steal that nomenclature from the snooty and hardcore Jesuits) minority -- I'd guess something like 30% ... The way you notice it is through the women: they dress in Western blouses or slacks, they look you in the eye, they actually talk to you.

But I'm ahead of myself, at the airport I was immediately greeted by a woman probing for members of the tourney. After a short chat I was connected with a driver and we headed off -- the key mistake I forgot to ask was if the trip was being paid for by them or me ... I know better than that, I guess I just got whacked out from the fact that someone was actually there to talk to me.

The trip must've taken about an hour (I don't have a watch with me) and if you weren't already familiar with all the strange nuances of In., I'm sure it would be a mind-blower ... On the trip I saw:

36 cows in the street (16 of those were eating garbage -- things like cardboard)
18 dogs that look crazy, stupid or rabid (2 attacked the car I was in, 1 decided it would be a good idea to sleep on the shoulder).
32 egrets

I also saw a raptor of some type -- in America it would have been a kestral, for sure. I'm not sure what it is here.

Most of the heavy vehicles and tri-shaws have the slogan

<- Honk ->
The whole OK thing is weird -- I don't know if the English picked it up from the Ins. or vice versa -- but it's some kind of power mantra (look at the poster for Life of Brian, a graffito at the bottom says "Brian rules OK"). When you try to get people to explain it to you, you essentially just get blank stares from people. It seems something akin to trying to explain what "red" is to a blind man.
We only saw one fatal accident, which is a bit low for the amount of distance we covered. (In. is the most deadly highway system in the world, both per capita and in raw number of deaths.) The closest call we had (assuming that coming within six inches of a vehicle doesn't count -- if it does, we did that about 200 times) was a girl of about six was standing on the roadway with her mom (of course. where else would you stand?). She went to brush her hair back just as we passed, and we barely barely barely nicked her elbow. Not enough to even move it (think: 2 layers of epidermus). She an her mom both laughed. In. it's SO much fun.
The only hitch was I didn't have a room, and I for damn sure wasn't going to pay US$200 at the InterContinental. I had my driver drop me at a place I knew from a guidebook -- they had a room (they almost never do), but wanted RS1200 for it (US$30). That's a lot. I started dickering with them a bit, but it was looking futile and I really didn't want to trek around as sunset approached, so I took it.
The room is very plain. There's a "double bed" (which means two single beds that are put side-by-side with each other) with a blue mosquito net, a card table with a Ganesh table cloth, some bare shelves and a bathroom that has a showerhead (cold shower), but no door (this means the bathroom takes a shower right on along with you). There's also the requisite water bucket and scoop, but no toilet paper. I never do fully get used to Left Hand Land.
I'm skipping dinner tonight, although we're still in Goa "enough" that several restaurants here serve seafood (there's a fishing boat immediately outside my room), so I'll have a few nights of decent food.
I'm typing to you from an Internet cafe on the touristy drag in the main part of town. It's clear the going rate for Internet in the country is a buck an hour. A good deal, to be sure.
One of the beach houses down the way has a Star of David in front. I'll let you know what's up with that.
Satellite tomorrow. Starts late (16:00). Hopefully jet lag won't be a problem.

Bombay (for multiple reasons)

The people in the slums immediately adjacent to Bombay airport dry their wash on the razor wire of the perimeter. As the shuttle from the flight to the domestic terminal goes past, an older man checking out the world, exchanges glances with me. This is the first and only, time we will ever meet in our lives.

I got there after making a run to my favorite chippie in London and finding it closed. I settled for a second best and then went to a showing of an African quasi-documentary at a art film house off Russell Square. I was one of only two people (and this is only the second time I've ever gone to a movie by myself). One of the things I like best about Britain, maybe the thing I like THE best, is the association with Africa. I mean, come on, when was the last time you heard about someone complaining about the conditions in Mali?

I hit the chemist at the airport, two things I was seriously missing: disinfectant wipes and something for pain if my teeth explode. Turns out Tylenol 3 (that's the good stuff, with codeine) isn't controlled in the UK. I lived there for two fricken' years and didn't know that ... NOW I have something to bring back from my England trips, by God.

I had a US$50 meal at the oyster bar in departures. One oyster, four types of salmon, a passable pickled herring and two types of shrimp. It's possible, if not likely, that this will be the last decent meal I have in a fortnight.

The flight over was wide open -- I bailed from my super-swank emergency exit seat and took a row. Finished Harrington Volume I and slept, probably, four hours.

Customs and baggage were a breeze, but after getting to the domestic terminal, I can't find Air In. I look, look, look. Nothing. They have offices, but no one is there. I go to their outside booth, no one is there.

I try to come back in and the guard singles me out, asking for my ticket. I show it and he says, "Air In. don't fly from here."

Swell, where do they fly from?

After maybe 10 minutes of conversation (he doesn't speak much English and we can't understand each other's accents -- I end up communicating by doing, and I swear this is true, an impersonation of Sriram), I find out the flight is from the International Airport.

"How far is it?"

He waggles his head, "Take a cab over there."

This is archetypal response to question in In. I'll have these kinds of conversations, every day, for three weeks.

If I can cab, I can rickshaw. It's my preferred way to move through In. I go to the trishaw stand and after two people cut in front of me, get my ride. I notice some of the drivers are using meters, which is very unusual. I notice more that my guy isn't.

"How much to the International Airport?"

No answer.

I already know what this means, he's going to charge over-market but doesn't want to say it in front of the authorities.

We go a way, he says "(RS)250."

The exchange rate is 40 to 1, so I figure four bucks is a bit high but reasonable. I accept. We take the classic hair-raising ride that I like so much and he drops me.

But it's only now that I realize my fatigue has me -- that's six bucks, not four. He stuck it to me.

No matter. I made my airport. I'm gonna make my flight. I'm paying RS80 for this terminal, and check this out, they have Mountain Dew here in black cans.

Things can be worse. Much worse.

In fact, things are good.

Hope you're well,

February 27, 2007

Special K, for All You Do, This One's for You

Special K,

I was both touched and endeared by the fact that you asked for me to 'blog about my In. trip. I get vague requests sometimes from other people to write, but I'm just as likely to get ridiculous comments like, "Oh, did you just quit?"

No, I didn't just quit. I said, right here, in these pages, that I was only going to write about rats until the situation was "better." And it's not yet. And I don't feel like writing about rats.

But I'm impressed enough with your request that not only am I going to post -- I'll go one better ... Everything from this trip into my own little version of Hell will be a letter to you.

Sure, everyone else is welcome to read it, but at the end of the day, it's for the K. Because, really, what kind of present have I ever given you? Pretty much nothing. And the most precious gift I can give anyone is time. (This, by the way, has become a sticking point with no less than three women in my life over the last couple of years -- and no, I don't mean you Purl, or Leslie, or Darlene, or Louella.)

I can tell you something right now, though. This is not going to be pretty.

I learned a long time ago that people essentially lie on their sites -- or more precisely they give selective truths such that certain things are only seen certain ways. The best example of this was CJ. Here she is, high priestess of early days of putting your life online. She's engaged, everything is going swimmingly, then BANG, she drops her boyfriend and marries a another guy in about a fortnight -- NO mention of this joker before.

There is a darkness in my soul, K-man. We've spoken of it before and it will come out in full glory here. People really don't want to hear the truth. They really don't. Like when Bush, Sr. said, "Of course this war's about oil," and everyone just went sort-of insane.

What I write isn't going to be for everyone's consumption, but then again, this isn't meant for everyone to begin with.

It's worth noting that the reason I have to use these abbreviations is that I've signed an agreement with the In. Embassy that I would not partake in journalism of any type when I was in In. The mistake I made was listing my occupation as "publisher" instead of my ever-popular and mystifying "manager." I knew that "writer" would be a mistake, I just didn't think the next logical step forward. I'm using abbreviations so that search engines won't be able to readily pick it up. It's likely that I will re-write/delete most of what's here in the future.

You'll also find that I write a lot about the poker tournament I'm going to be in -- that also is for re-purposing later. And honestly, your ego is big enough, that if you know the extra words are all for you, you'll be happy.

Right this second I'm in my favorite Internet cafe in London. It's run by a bunch of Muslims -- some Northern African sect -- Ghanans, I think. The charge US$1/hr and their set-ups are great. The vast majority of the people here use Skype to call other Muslims in Northern African countries -- you hear a fair amount of whatever version of Bahasa they speak as well as some of those pigeon-y Frenchs like I heard in Morocco. It's fun.

Along the way I saw the Albanian barbers who cut my hair when I was here six weeks ago. They're doing well and still talk to each other with that form of self-assurance that comes only from knowing for sure that you have everything figured out.

The flight over was un-eventful. I was able to get an entire middle row to myself. Slept some and spent the rest of the time reading Volume I of Harrington's book on tournament hold'em. I'd ordered a special seafood meal and the boneheaded flight attendant/waitress served it to some cretin in the seat in front of me (I mean COME ON, the woman doesn't even know that she can't have a bag on the seat when she flies and the flight personell actually think she knows how to order a special meal?). They compensated by giving my the starter from some first class swankfest -- it was crab wrapped with smoked salmon on a bed of something-like-lima-beans-but-not-quite and seaweed. It was tasty, but what I should have done was hurl the china plate through the emergency exit.

Because it was an overnight flight, the aisles were empty. I was able to do several laps, which was nice, although one over-vigilant woman was getting ready to club me due to my (obvious) terrorist potential.

I lay over here in London for 10 hours, then it's a 10 hour hop to Mumbai. Then a short one down to Goa on fricken India-Air. The actual travel time, from start to finish, is 35 hours. It's not that bad, and hey, I have emergency exit rows next.

Right this second I'm carrying US$7000 on my person and another $2k in traveller's checks. The entry fee for that tournament is $5k and essentially they only accept cash. I've also insured myself with a very hardcore policy that includes, that's right, US$1M in evacuation insurance. Nothing makes you want to see Singapore like an operating room in Delhi.

You know, I may switch over and talk to you this way all the time from now on. It's really nice not having you interject stupid tidbits about the Macintosh and Keith say whatever he thinks is snappy, but is actually brutal and/or dumb.

I had an apple pancake before I left. I'm still running on it. I wanted to go to Geale's, my favorite chippie here, but it's still closed for renovations (it was when I was here last month as well) -- so I may Google for best fish and chips in london, or I may just head for pizza instead. I am not, am not, am not, looking forward to the In. food. That stuff sucks in a way that's hard to imagine, unless you've been to In., in which case it's impossible to forget.

I'll have spotty gmail. Write as appropriate. Read more often.

And I haven't written haiku in a l-o-n-g time. So this one is for you:

Not really a Jew
Actually more Jew-ish
Isn't that Special?


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February 23, 2007


To understand the next several postings, the key attached here as a comment will help you translate.