Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another Day, Another Dirham

I'm trying to write this between tracing classes of Year One self portraits for tomorrow. Some dumbass scheduled five of her six classes for the same day, and forgot - on the first days of this week, when I was in PYP training - to do the teacher-intensive part (or ask Olga to) now I've got a Sharpie high and double vision. Oh, and I'm hobbling like an old lady down the hall, because apparently my back is not up to crouching over the table after biking into work and home again today.

Yeah, that. Came through the siege perilous unscathed. The hardest part of the whole experience was getting BACK on the bike at 4:00 and riding home. The next-hardest part was taking the bridge over the creek (Bronte, Wilmarie, if you're reading...does that sound familiar? Oh, that damned bridge on the way to Yuldong Park!) In fact, Socrates took pity on me when I suggested we take Khuzam Rd on the way home instead, although he insists I've got to conquer it (blerg). Actually, I took so long getting over it on the way in that he was nowhere to be seen when I got to the corniche...which was just as well with me, it meant I could slow down a bit on the final leg, and if - Heaven forbid - he had a hypo along the way and passed out, I was going to come across him shortly thereafter (at least, I think I would have...I cut away from the corniche to take the back roads after passing Safeer, and saw fresh tire tracks along the way), and I was prepared, too - stuck a pack of lifesavers in my backpack along with the five million OTHER things I somehow seemed to need today. Anyways, it worked out well, because I didn't have to do all the ass-kicking. I don't know how thrilled Socrates was to be leaving Sunrise at 6:45, but he walked out the door on time, I didn't have to drag him out of his apartment or anything (ahem, Bronte), and although there was really nothing in me that wanted to ride home this afternoon, especially following my club, I would have rather eaten glass than admitted I was considering taking a taxi tonight and the bike tomorrow.

And since I am fairly sure he's never going to read this, I feel safe admitting it here. No glass-eating necessary.

I mentioned my club, which is the "Middle Eastern" Dance (because belly dance has some negative connotations, remember?) club...can I just say how awesome it was? I have four girls - only three actually came today, but they were absolutely lovely - all enthusiastic and good learners and we just had a lot of fun! I had a headache for several hours before, and Casey gave me some panadol, but I wasn't really feeling up to it until I got into the activity room and started to talk to them and explain what we were going to do during our eight-week session. Then the headache magically disappeared (possibly due to drugs, but still...) Instead of making me more tired, I ended up energized and able to face the 30+ minute ride back to Sunrise. Can't wait for next week!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chapter Six

In Which I Somehow Manage To Get Back To Hyderabad, Meeting Up With A Surprise Friend From Another World Along The Way

This is the end. The end of the road. We made it into Delhi from the hellishly long train ride through the misty night at about 4:30. Since the driver fell asleep waiting for us to get in, it was well past five before we got to the Hotel Regent Continental (another winner for Narendra - gotta give it to the guy, he's good). We basically collapsed, and I was still sleeping (best bed of the trip, although maybe I was just THAT exhausted), when the Evil One started showering just before 11. At 11:10, she informed me that I'd need to wait before I tried the shower - the geyser (water heater, pronounced "geezer") needed time to reheat. So I whipped out Giancarlo, looked up the contact numbers Divya sent me earlier in the week when I asked about her being back here, and called her before hopping in the shower.

Upon finishing my shower, Evil informed me that she needed to be at the embassy at 12:30 to get a prescription for therapy in the states. Now this was not the plan we discussed at 5 a.m. that morning and I wasn't in the best of moods, anyways. Then she told me that there was a chance I might not be able to get IN the embassy. WTF? So I called Divya and we made a tentative plan to get in touch after Evil's business was concluded - she had to do some work, anyways, so it worked out. We called her as we were leaving the embassy, but since she didn't answer we headed out to central Cottage Industries on Janpath...which, it turned out, was where she was planning to have me meet her, anyways, and where, eventually, we did meet up.

Now, if you haven't had the opportunity to come together with a friend from one part of the world halfway around the globe from where you are used to seeing them, let me tell you: it is a surreal experience. Here is this lovely Indian woman I belly danced with in Omaha, but in Delhi. It made the crazy world in which I had catapulted myself seem so much more familiar and reassuring. We did a little shopping and I was blown away by how she strongarmed the merchants into giving me fairly reasonable prices. I whinge and say I don't have the money and this, that, and the other, and get some money knocked off the total, usually, but when I try her tactics, they fail miserably. The price of the priviledge that normally goes with white skin, I guess. Anyways, it was good to spend time with her, but I stayed a little too late, and I was afraid, when she told me it would take an hour to get back to the hotel where I was meeting back up with Evil, that we were going to miss our flight, which was just not cool because I HAD to get back to RAK.

(I don't know WHY I felt that so urgently, because now I'm dreading it again. Oh the impending "joy" of writing reports!)

Through the traffic I muttered under my breath, urging the tuk-tuk driver to hurry. We made it back to the hotel just five minutes after the driver was meant to pick up Evil and I to go to the airport. I paced until she made it back, a good fifteen minutes later, but we made it, off we went, and were at the airport an hour before our flight was scheduled to leave, and amazingly enough, it was on time! There were no problems in the air, or getting back on the ground, and - well, the prepaid taxi thing was a bit of a hassle, but come midnight we were back in the Hyderabad Hilton (long story about that name, maybe I'll tell you some day), and I was typing furiously to catch up this blog. Twenty-four hours later now, and I'm done. No offense, but I'm sick of y'all at this point, so don't expect anything else out of me for a while. Cheersies!

Chapter Five

In Which I Am NOT A Happy Camper, In Spite Of A Rescue By Our Driver And A Roomful Of Devoted New Friends

The drive out of Khajuraho to Jhansi was not as terrible as the one coming in. Really. For starters, it was daytime, which meant we could drive a lot faster into oncoming traffic, and we could actually see what we were passing by. Made life a lot more interesting. However, this calm state was not to last. Our guide had told us that the train was two hours late, so we took our time getting back, but still ended up getting there a half hour before the originally scheduled departure time. Still, no biggie, right? I mean, we had to wait four and a half hours before, we could do two standing on our heads, I reckoned. At least, I did until I checked in and found out that no, actually our train was - at the moment - three hours late. And then, before we knew it, four hours late. Aish.

We did our best to stay calm and happy, and I wandered the platforms a little, eventually broadening out to the area around the station (which was a little bit scary), and two hours after we were supposed to depart we weren't doing so hot, when who should appear but OUR DRIVER - KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR! wanting to know if we wanted to leave the station and get some food. Can I get a "Hell yeah!"???? So we collected our belongings and followed him back into the parking lot. Now, whether or not he, out of the kindness of his heart came looking for us, or whether one of the travel agencies associated with this trip called and told him to come and get us, I don't know, but he did it, anyways. He offered to take us to his house for dinner, which was a sweet gesture, and I hated to say no, because I didn't want to take him away from his family more than we already had, but I really just wanted to enjoy a nice, relaxing meal without providing entertainment for anyone. So Evil and I gently declined, saying we didn't want to be any trouble. Probably missed out on a great cultural experience, but by that point in the game, I'd had about as much culture as I could deal with. So he took us to a restaurant in the city - a local restaurant, not a tourist one. Evil said it was probably the nicest restaurant he usually went to, and I will tell you that it was good food at great prices and reasonably clean, BUT it was a hole in the wall, and I couldn't help being a little sketched out. More than 48 hours later I still haven't suffered for it, so I guess it was for no good cause.

Anyways, we went back to the train station and each added to the tip we'd already given him, and went back to the ladies' lounge, with me stopping to make sure the train was STILL scheduled to depart at 10 (which it was). When I got to the room, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a full contingent of ajjummas? Yes, when I see Koreans my heart still leaps and proclaims, "MY PEOPLE!!!" These weren't the first we'd seen on the trip, but it was the first time I'd had a chance to talk to any of them, and the lady sitting in the corner by the Evil One got REAL excited when I asked her, "Kanchana-yo?" ("Is it okay?") claiming the only empty chair in the room. It had previously been occupied by a girl's handphone, and when she came and moved it I told her, "Kamsa-hamnida," and it was all over. I was officially the most interesting thing in a roomful of Korean ladies; they wanted to know where I'd lived in Korea and for how long and if I'd been a seong-saeng-nim? Evil was highly amused, I was happily using my bits and pieces of Hang-guk-mal with my people, and the ajjummas were delighted. Fun times all around.

Until they cleared out. Evil and I played gin with her Khajuraho playing cards (procured expressly for this purpose) for a while, and then the boredom started creeping back in. She went back to reading, I went back to embroidering my cossie and intermittently going to check on our departure time. It was extremely tedious, and I found myself, for the third time, wondering if the waiting would EVER end.

Of course, eventually, it did. But it grated on my nerves severely, and if I ever see another Indian train in my life, it will be too soon.

Chapter Three

In Which I Realize I Don't Know How to Count (Nor Do I Care) and Have A Temple Experience That Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With Being A Good Little Mormon Girl

We got up early to go out to Khajuraho - I really wanted to beat the tourists, and heading out at 7 was not really what I considered early after my trip with Belinda last year. I've got to tell you, there is a short list of coolest-ever places I've traveled. Until Tuesday, it included only Fushimi-Inari-Taisha in Kyoto and the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, but I'm adding Khajuraho to the list. And not just because of the erotic sculpture (see, I told you it had nothing whatsoever to do with being Mormon...) which the temples are famous for (seriously, I learned about them in my Asian art history class). There is just something organic about Hindu architecture, and the sheer wealth of detail with which every surface of the temples are embellished is mind-blowing. Me likey. Also cool was the fact that the last temple we came to had a monkey infestation. Literally. The place was crawling with them. It was very reminiscent of the Jungle Book.

Well, I liked the sculpture so much that I decided I HAD to have my own little sandstone sculpture to take home with me, of one of the less explicit erotic couples. During the process of haggling the sales guy kept trying to pawn some of the more exciting ones off on me - he didn't really get the fact that I just was not into threesomes, foursomes...moresomes...bestiality...nope, not really my bag. I also happened to notice that he had miniatures, and I really wanted to buy myself a painting from India, so I asked to see some. Maybe I even asked to see some that were "Kama sutra style," because I was maybe feeling naughty and some of the illustrations are not as explicit. Of course, though, I mean, come on, if you're a tourist and you're buying a miniature, and you want a kama sutra illustration, you're NOT (probably) looking to get something you can put on your wall, right? So they didn't exactly have what I was looking for, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Hmmm. Well, these aren't really what I was looking for.
Salesguy: Is good.
Me: Oh, yes, very nice, but my mother would freak if she came to my home and saw this on the wall.
Salesguy: No. Sex is natural.
Me: Yes, Sex is natural.
Salesguy: Without sex you not be here.
Me: Oh no, you're right, but I'm looking more for something about love.
Salesguy: You love, you sex. They go together.
Me: Of course, but again, not something my mother really needs to see.

And with that I grabbed my sculpture and scampered off to another part of the shop, where Evil was bartering over "pashmina" shawls.

We saw the eastern temple group, and then our guide offered to take us to the old village, where he lives, and he explained about the different castes and showed us around. The Evil One and I emptied our pockets of coins, as the children - and some of the old ladies - who had obviously seen a whitey or two in their day, were unabashed at coming up and saying, "Hello? Rupee? Hello? Rupee?" and having their picture taken.

After that, it was lunchtime (Indian at a roof-top tourist restaurant), followed by a Evil-induced trip to the bookstore up the street (she'd read all of her books, and the one I had that she hadn't read yet, plus one that she'd bought in Agra - which is an emergency in Evilworld), where I found A Short History of Nearly Everything (which came highly recommended by Dougie-Poo, and as books are cheap here, it joined the dozen or so that I am ALREADY bringing back). Thus situated, we were ready to brave the long road back to Jhansi, and it was only 12:30. Not bad. No, BAD would come later on that day. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chapter Four

In Which a Day is Wasted Being Grumpy

Let me tell you about this day. We got up way too early to catch a train to Jhansi, where we would proceed to Khajuraho. Then the train (coming from Delhi) was delayed due to - you guessed it - fog. For FOUR AND A BLOODY HALF HOURS!!! Waiting most of that time in the ladies' lounge on a hard chair and peeing in a squatter did NOT put me in a good mood.

(Don't get me wrong. I can pee in a squatter with the best of them. It's just not fun).

Anyways, I continued to be grumpy on the train because I sincerely dislike having people in my personal space, and I had to share my right armrest with some creeper because Gimpy (aka the Evil One) didn't trust her recovering elbow to a stranger. Which the rational part of my brain understood, but the rational part of my brain was on a vacation somewhere else and so MAYBE I was a little pissy with her, but she is an awesome friend and still pointed out some of the more awesome features of the landscape we were passing, including a random temple or palace out in the middle of nowhere. Or rather, the near middle of nowhere. The true middle of nowhere, as we were soon to learn, is where we were headed. Which is a good thing, because the Persians, who ruled India during the Mughal dynasty, were not averse to recycling Hindu temples, minus most of the art, and I'd be really upset if that had happened at Khajuraho.

Unfortunately, the train didn't take us all the way there. We got off the train at Jhansi, and had a driver taking us the rest of the way. And take us, he did. I can't even explain the driving to you (but I can involved veering around lorries, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, cows, and anything else in the road - at high speeds, in the opposite lane, with oncoming traffic. Oh, and lots of horn honking and light flashing). And it was literally off the beaten path - about three hours after we set out the road deterioated to a surface similar to that of your typical adolescent's face - so it was creeping up on nine before we got into the FABULOUS (and I am absolutely NOT being sarcastic) Usha Bundela Hotel, where we picked up our lovely young guide. He proved his worth that night by taking us to an Italian restaurant called the Mediterraneo ("Italian Chef - Dutch Supervision. Since 1991). A great hotel and a real Italian restaurant. What more could two white girls ask for? Okay, I can think of a thing or two, but we'll leave it at that for now...

Chapter Two

In Which the Taj Mahal Knocks My Socks (or just my shoes) Off

Eight o'clock on day two of our adventures saw us out the door of the Hotel Pushp Villa heading for the Taj Mahal (already crowded).

What can I tell you? It lives up to the hype. It's one of theose sites that you can hardly look anywhere else when you're in eyeshot of it. Unfortunately it was another foggy day, but the Taj Mahal shrouded in mist had a sort of ghostly quality that seemed appropriate. As we took our shoes off and walked up into the actual mausoleum, I found myself being moved to tears. Here it was, one of the world's finest monuments, and it wasn't built to glorify some man's greatness, or even one god or was a testament to the love of a woman, the work of a man who had no other outlet for his grief than to immortalize it. Sort of makes Ramses look like an even bigger douchebag.

After the Taj Evil and I went to Agra Fort. Going in...well, it looked pretty lame. I guess after the Taj pretty much anything will fail to impress; it's a tough act to follow. But as we wandered, we started to realize it was pretty fricking cool...lots of good architectural details, both Persian and Hindu.

Oh, and parrots. Have I mentioned the wildlife yet? We saw monkeys wandering free at the Taj, and TONS of parrots, here and elsewhere.

Onwards to Fatephur Sikri, through a market area of Agra. Apparently the Sunday ladies' market was on, and it was PACKED! The traffic and the garbage of THIS leg of the trip helps me to appreciate, more and more, Hyderabad. The mangy dogs and cows rummaging through garbage are particularly pathetic. Anyways, by the time we got to Fatephur Sikri, it was raining, and chilly (Evil will deny this, but it was), so we didn't stay long. Instead we came back to the main part of Agra for a little shopping and dinner at that mainstay of life world round, MacDonald's (don't hate - I have enjoyed LOTS of Indian food while I'm here and only eaten at Macca's once).

Chapter One of...The Indian Adventures of Two White Girls

In Which They Make it to Delhi, Three Hours After They Were Scheduled To
(Also known as "Not an Auspicious Start...")

So. I've made it back to Hyderabad in one piece, my sanity mostly intact (the Evil One's is fine, as well...but she is better equipped to deal with the...challenges...of life in India having lived here for the last ten months). This little jaunt out of Hyderabad began five days ago, with a plane ride to Delhi. Something you might find interesting about northern India - apparently in the winter they get fog. Lots and lots of fog. I didn't know about this until we were all boarded, ready to go, and the captain came on (for the first of many times) to announce that visibility in Delhi was too low, and we were probably going to be delayed for a half hour. The half hour stretched into an hour, and then into two, as we waited for some instrument to be repaired at the airport in Delhi. There are times when boredom sets in, and you feel like you've always been waiting for X to occur, and there is no end in sight, and you will always BE waiting, even though you know it MUST at some point be over.

This would turn out to be a theme for this trip, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

After two-plus hours, we were finally able to take off on our merry way to Delhi - YAY! After two more hours, we were above Delhi, and the captain came on - yet again - to let us know that we were going to have to circle until visibility went up to 300 meters. Which turned out to be yet another hour. And that is why I may look kind of grumpy in the pictures we took at the monuments in Delhi. Also, the fact that it WAS foggy, sort of ruined seeing said monuments. But what can you do?

Said monuments were a.) Qutub Minar and b.) Humayan's Tomb.
How much can I tell you about these world heritage sites? Not much, since I don't believe in tour guides. Here's what I picked up from the Evil One: Humayan was the Shah Jehan's favorite son, who was beheaded by one of his other sons in a bid for the throne (other bloodshed ensued, but you gotta feel bad for Shah Jehan...he'd moved his seat of power to Delhi after Mumtaz' death and was pretty heartbroken BEFORE his heir apparent was murdered by another child who THEN had daddy imprisoned). Anyways, by the time we finished at the tomb, I'd chilled out some and was feeling up to the drive to Agra, which was long and proceeded in Indian fashion (ie, with some scary driving). At about the three-hour mark I mentioned that I needed the bathroom, and the driver said he knew a place we could stop. It turned out to be the (eeeeeeeeeevil) Maharaja Motel, and it was excellent. The bathrooms were clean and western-style, the restaurant smelled good, if we were hungry (we weren't), and it had a plentiful array of tourist schlock that we could have bought if we were feeling touristy (also a negatory). But it had pringles and Twix and bottles of coke and gave us the strength to keep going til we got to Agra, where we ate a late dinner at the hotel's - get this - revolving restaurant called the Merry-Go-Round. Seriously? A budget hotel with a revolving restaurant? Yes, rock fans, only in India.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sixty-Nine men, a monkey, and a cow

That's the count on public urination as of writing. Also seen monkeys and dogs going at it, and one kid who pulled down his pants as he ran along, to pop a squat at the side of the road. Evil brought up the country's tourism slogan - Incredible India! - at about that point. Yep. Incredible India.

Saw the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatephur Sikri today. I'd tell you all about it, but at the moment I'm dead tired and a nap is calling my name. Just wanted you all to know I was still alive. Peace out.