3 December 2004
This city is great, like a laid back New York with better street food. I can wander around the streets for hours, through endless street markets, polo grounds, spacious parks, on tram lines, busses, ferries on the ganges/houghly. The buildings are taller, modern style but crumbling -- the whole city is like an old pair of jeans. The cabs are yellow and everywhere. Even in the financial district people fry things, cook chai, cut up sugar cane, split wood to sell for fires and every once in a while someone drives a herd of goat. But no cows.
Expensive stores here, lots of jewelery, great street food (Masala Dosa, Idly etc. for 10Rs and perfectly made). And everywhere as I walk I hear "Sir sir sir emporium open open open emporium handicrafts manali, ganja, sir sir ..." Motioning me into a fine tailor: "Nice suits, good quality manali, hashish, very good sir, good price." Every grandpa is out here on the street with the fresh harvest from the hills. It takes like 4 "no"s to get rid of them too. But then it takes at least 3 nos to get rid of the guys selling bangles. And you cannot get rid of beggars. Some of them around here are kids, obviously fairly well dressed, wearing jewelery and bored...so they do dress up and come down to beg from the tourists. Yesterday this little girl came up, playing with my nose, primping around in here scarf and earings. "excuse me ?" i say "you have shoes, clean clothes and jewelery. no money, no way. cello." 5 minutes later she comes back and gives me 5 rupees that she just got from somebody else. And walks off. Of course 5 minutes later she comes back to pry it out of my hand.
There are a lot of Chinese looking people here, they come from the northwest of India; mostly tribal cultures, fairly well off and suffused now with christianity thanks to the missionaries (and no more doggy style for you people! only missionary position please). Its always important to remember that race doesn't change right at the borders, its not like its all Indians then all of a sudden its all Chinese: China-India has a mix of ethnicities; strips of mongolians; occasional misplaced herds of Rajiputs that end up in Nepal when their own region gets invaded. Tibettans everywhere: Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkim (part of India since 1970ish) and Assam/Darjeeling area; and now since the 1950 chinese invasion there are Tibettans everywhere — Himachal Pradesh, down South, in all the major cities. The Tibettans have a joke that when Man goes to settle on the moon they will find a Tibettan Refugee Market already up there doing business. I figure there will be a Chinese restaurant long before that. It turns out that the Chinese food distributors really do choose locations on Earth that don't yet have a Chinese restaraunt (little towns in Iowa, Wales, Texas), pay for the visas and export people to go set up those take out restaraunts. Then they buy food from the company on contract, and get the menus printed and run the business. Good opportunity for people that want to move out of China.
The chai spot near Sudder Street is really nice, full of interesting conversations‐I made a couple of friends, Kolkatans. More about them in a bit. Its really nice to finally have conversations with normal Indian people that aren't just interested in getting me in their rickshaws. I tell people I was in Bihar and they all say "oh yes, very bad there." All of the north along the tourist trail is a feeding frenzy. Here in the big city, people are laid back, they go to school, have jobs, experiences, cell phones, cars even. At least around this neighborhood. There's much richer areas and much much poorer areas. And lots of NGOs and western volunteers doing their couple of months tour of duty.
I would like to come back here, but now its been a week and I'm ready for the South, quite ready. Train today: 28 hours to Chennai (Madras).
Note: the pictures have errors in them because Micro$oft writes crap software. I had to use the command line DOS FTP, and it always damages the file in transmission. Maybe it was competing with a commerical FTP program they were selling, so they had to go and cripple the built in FTP. I lost a whole 'roll' of 300 pictures due to this. Why does earth put up with this kind of treatment ?
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