Saturday, January 29, 2005

America's worst

americas worst, originally uploaded by seamonkeylifeboat.

We've been meaning to post this since the election. This was the headline of a major indian newspaper the next day. The talks of America's isolation from the rest of the world at a time when some major economies are developing continue to make me sad. For all you rabid conservative Americans who might just randomly happen upon this post, please don't use us as a sounding board to express your righteous indignation that I don't know what I'm talking about. I didn't write this headline.
We're heading to Rajasthan tomorrow to begin a little traveling. Floating palaces, camel treks in the desert near Pakistan, lion safaris, bike riding through bird sanctuaries and the Taj Mahal are all part of the itinerary. Our friend Maurice is going to join us for part of the trip. We wrote him a little note to help him get safely and happily to us in Bundi about some lessons we have learned (mostly re: taxis) and figured we'd just post it here so it looked like we were writing a lot.
Advice for maurice:
1. don't bring too much baggage, or leave some in Bombay with your computer ie set of nice clothes. We'll be hauling things around quite a bit and it's a lot easier to shake a pack of rickshaw wallahs when you can bob and weave.
2. Bring some warm clothes (not Chicago warm) for the AC trains because they can be freezing cold in the heat of winter.
3. Don't take any gifts from anybody. They are usually attached to the giver by serious strings verging on ropes.
4. If someone tells you you can't go or do what you want to do, don't believe them. You probably can, but they won't make any money unless you do it their way. People will tell you the hotel you want is closed or there are no buses and you have to take a taxi and they will be lying. Sometimes someone with no commercial interest in you will be very helpful, but they are hard to discern from the rest.
5. If someone approaches you they will likely have a commercial interest in you. If you approach them, they are more likely to be helpful without wanting money.
6. Ask taxi and rickshaw wallahs about the fare before you get in. Ask a few drivers to see if the fare is fair or not. Mumbai taxis always use the meter, but in other towns you might have to negotiate the fare. Baggage up charge in Mumbai is 3 rupees per bag (maybe 5) but sometimes they will ask for up to 20. Mumbai taxis have a fare card they should show you at the end of the ride. The meters are very old and fares are roughly 15 x the meter for cabs and 10x the meter for rickshaws. The red column is for the night rate which is from midnight until 6am. Sometimes a cabbie will point to the red column to get more money if he thinks you don't know any better, but now you do. The last few days, they all seem to have cards with only the night rate which they show foreigners. If one way of scamming you fails, they will often try two or three more.
7. Make sure the taxi wallah makes eye contact with you when he says he knows the destination you want to go to. Make him repeat it. Many times they will just nod you into the car without really knowing the destination and just start driving and then ask you questions as to where they should turn. If you don't have an answer theyĆ¢??ll jump out and ask people at random following their advice hither and thither until you finally reach your destination. This is less likely if you have a fixed fare.
8. Don't let anybody pick up your bag or take it out of your cab or your hands. They will always want money for carrying it even if it is just from the trunk to the curb.
9. Don't let people guilt you about tips. Most Indians don't tip and if they do it at a restaurant it's tops about 10%. If someone carries your bag, Rs20 is good. Cabbies get a few rupees tip but we generally give them 10% because their job sucks.
10. If you give change to a beggar word will travel and you will have many more. We usually still give some rupees to the severely handicapped....
11. Don't believe little girls who tell you they don't want any money, just milk or baby formula or whatever. They'll take you to a store where the owner will jack you on the price and then they will return whatever you've given them and split the money with the shopkeeper. The baby won't get any special food. We got nailed with this one when we first got here much to the amusement of our flatmate.
12. Don't let anyone clean your ears, or if you do, know that the big ball of wax they show you at the end to let you know how useful they are is actually the accumulation of earwax of all those who came before you.
13. Expect mice and cockroaches on trains, but mostly only cute little ones (at least for the mice, cockroaches are never cute.)
14. The omelets and veg cutlets and tomato soup on the trains are tasty and okay for eating. You might want to wipe the fork off or dunk it in your boiling tea for 10 seconds to sterilize it. They'll often hand it to you straight from their pocket.
15. Don't let this list scare you, we were having fun writing it. You'll be fine. Did we mention the lepers?


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