BootsnAll Travel Network

Bipolar India and Impressed in Thailand

Well, I am sitting safely in Bangkok as I type this in the apartment of a friend of my father’s. I spent my final few days in India in Mumbai and what a finish it was.

My train for Mumbai was supposed to leave at 7:05 am, but after waking up and checking the train status online, I saw that it was three hours late. I decided to get Gashwin involved in a much needed project. People can apply online for a visa for Cambodia. This is actually quite impressive as most countries require you to go to the embassy or get one at the border. It is even more impressive coming from Cambodia who just 20 years ago was suffering under a regime that like to try such “enlightened” social experiments such as abandon the cities and put all the educated people on farms or run the country with no money. They accomplished this communist nirvana through the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population from murder and famine. The country today has a restored constitutional monarchy and is rapidly growing its economy. but back to my project. I needed to get an online shot of myself which I did with Gashwin’s help. This task accomplished, I packed up and we headed to the train station. The train journey was uneventful. I made a lunch out of some bananas, bread, and ice cream that I bought from various vendors who pile onto the train at every stop. The landscape became much more tropical as we approached Mumbai. There were soon just as many palm trees as other types. Along with the palm trees came a high humidity which flooded into the train from the open windows. After being in a high mountain and then desert environment for the last 2.5 months, the humidity hit like a brick wall leaving me feeling quite wilted in the train. At some point a very large transvestite in an elaborate sarri came through the train demanding money from all the men. I paid when I saw all the other men giving money. Supposedly they start flashing everyone if they don’t get their way and I thought it was worth $0.25 to avoid getting a sneak preview.

I arrived in Mumbai around 5:30 pm. The train had lost another 1.5 hours while enroute. Most of this being at the Andheri train station where we stopped for 45 minutes which was frustrating as we were basically in Mumbai. I almost got out and took a taxi but the train finally took off again. On arriving at Mumbai Central, I had originally planned to take a suburban train to get closer to my hotel. After standing in the very long ticket line with sweat pouring down my back from my heavy pack, I decided to just quit being so cheap and get a taxi. I went out into the parking lot and broke a long standing rule about not using taxis parked at train or bus stations and went to one that flagged me over. Taxis in Mumbai are very unique. They are all cars that are based on the 1950’s Fiat and looked like something out of an old movie. They have an old mechanical meter on the outside of the car with dials. The meters haven’t been updated in years and the taxi drivers use charts to get the current fare. The current mark up is 13X the meter rate. He quoted me a price of 150 rupees to the Colaba district where I was staying. Another driver came over and said 100, but he meant for that driver’s cab which was a bit strange. I agreed to the 100 rupee price and off we went. He had also put it in the meter. On arrival at my guesthouse, I did a quick bit of math off the meter and saw that I would have paid only 60 rupees or so if we had used the meter instead. Having already agreed to the price, I felt it wasn’t right to go back on my agreement despite having been overcharged. This episode once again confims that one should never, ever use taxis or rickshaws parked at bus or train stations in Asia. Instead you should go on the street and flag one. Also insist that they use the meter if they have one. As Mumbai is much more expensive than other parts of India, I had booked into a very cheap guesthouse. My room was the size of me basically. This is a bit of an exageration but not much. I had a shared bathroom. The rooms were made from temporary walls and I had no ceiling (important fact for a later story) except the floor supports for the floor above mine. After checking in, I walked along the harbor and looked around the neighborhood. Colaba is known for its massive colonial buildings from the British days and is quite a nice neighborhood with tree lined boulevards with old mansions. I walked around fending off marijuana and giant balloon salesmen. Someone somewhere seems to have gotten the idea that tourist want giant balloons shaped like lightbulbs. These balloons are about five feet tall and three feet in diameter. The salesmen walk around with one blown up. When they see a tourist they coming running with the giant balloon in front of them. This usually causes many people including you to be smacked around by the balloon as the sidewalks are quite crowded. I ended the evening by eating chicken tandoori from a Muslim restaurant. I then checked my email and was surprised to see my Cambodia visa. They did the approval in one day instead of the three they said it would take. I didn’t sleep well that night due to the oven like room and loud hotel staff.

The next morning I woke up and set out to do the Lonely Planet walking tour of Colaba Before I left the guesthouse, I was met by a man who wanted to know if I wanted to be an extra in a Bollywood (India’s version of Hollywood) movie. This is not uncommon as Bollywood cranks out over 700 movies a year and is based in Mumbai. Daily agents come to Colaba to gather up groups of foreigners to appear in these films. Knowing this fact and having met people who had done it, I agreed. I was to be picked up the next day. I then left the guesthouse. I started at the Gateway to India built by the British to commerate their colonization of India. Fittingly enough I suppose, it was through this archway that the last British garrison left India in the 1940’s after India was given its independence. While walking around the city looking at the massive, but stunning, stone colonial buildings, I broke another rule that I had been living by and I again paid for it. If you recall from an earlier entry, I had written that I decided not to engage any Indians approaching me in tourist areas as the majority of the time they just want money. A man came up to me claiming to be a student (also usually a start to a scam) and said he was studying here. I spoke to him for a while and he said that he could show me an area where a festival was supposedly going on. There were two reasons that I had lowered my guard. The first was that I thought I had remembered someone else mentioning a religious festival and two I was a little out of the tourist areas when he approached me. I had also had been having good luck lately with people including one man who let me make a free copy at his shop and wouldn’t let me pay him instead saying welcome to India. We took a short taxi ride and yes I figured it was safe as it was daylight and many people about, going to the train station. My first flag was raised when I had to pay for the taxi fare instead of splitting it. We went into this crematorium where supposedly many people were coming in and out to pray. We went in and was joined by two men working there. What followed was a repeat performance of Varanasi. They took me through showing me this burning body and insisting that I take pictures. I declined. We then passed through a graveyard used to bury babies. The graves are apparently reused as baby skulls could be seen sticking out of the dirt. It was at the point the men started trying to get me to take pictures of this baby skull, that they started hitting me up for wood money. They produced this list on which supposedly showed people giving amounts like 200 euros. I gave them 100 rupees. Well they just weren’t having it and kept asking for more. It was at this point I started yelling at them for trying to scam me and walked out with the “student” who kept saying he thought of me as his older brother following me. He kept protesting that he didn’t know that would happen. We got a taxi (well I got a taxi and he came along) to take me back to where I had been earlier. Once in the taxi, he started asking me for money for showing me such an “important” sight. I don’t know why but I gave him 70 rupees and he started begging for 100. I let this carry on for a while and then told the taxi to stop and I got out short of my destination. It was at this point that the man ran off. All in all I have probably only lost about $10 in India due to these scams but it goes to show that one always has to be on the look out. If it feels like a scam it probably is. I was mad more at myself and felt stupid for letting the situation progress as far as it did. I spent the rest of the day walking around the buildings and did encounter many genuine and nice Indian people. I ended up at St Thomas Cathedral where I listened to the choir practice Christmas hymns for a while. By the end of the day I felt better. It was a typical day in India. I experienced emotions ranging from happiness to extreme anger.

I went to lay down to sweat in my personal sauna for the evening with visions of my upcoming stardom in my head. I finally fell asleep only to be awaken about a half an hour later by a plop on my bed. I looked down and thought plaster had fallen from the ceiling next to me. (Here is why the lack of a room ceiling was important). I turned on the light to discover that a bat had decided to join me for the evening. The bat appeared to be very sickly as it was hardly moving and it appear to have fallen rather than flown onto my bed. I had to get the someone in the guesthouse to get a towel to get the bat as I didn’t want to risk getting bitten. To make matters worse the bat showed a bad lack of self control and decided to release his bladder on my bed. After disposing of the bat and getting my bed changed and cleaned, I returned to the room to continue with the restless night.

The next morning I made my way to the pickup point for the bus to take me to the studio. I was joined by about 7 other foreigners. We boarded the bus and made our way to my first paying job in 10 months. I was to make 500 rupees for my supposed 8:00 am to 9:00 pm return to Colaba. I say supposed because as many things in India what you agree to is often different from what happens in reality. Once at the studio, we learned that we would be extras in a movie called “Lucky Charm”. It appeared to be a very typical Bollywood love story. The scene they were shooting was an Indian wedding in Canada. We were supposed to be guests at the wedding hovering in the background. We were given our clothing to change into. I don’t know who did the research for what westerners wear to a wedding, but this was not it. I was put into a silver satin shirt over which I was to wear a bright red velvet blazer. The ensemble was completed by tight ripped bluejeans that I felt I almost needed to laydown to button. I looked like I belonged in a gothic movie or 80’s hard rock band. The other guys were given suits of various designs and colors. The styles ranged from Al Capone Gangster suits to 1970’s quasi leisure suit. For the girls shove a piano in the room for them to lay on, dim the lights, and they would be all set. The funniest was an Australian woman was put into a slinky black dress with a slit almost up to her thigh. Everytime she sat I could see her trying to keep the dress from flying open. I believe these clothes are probably recycled for use in many Bollywood movies as we were shown pictures of other people wearing them. We were then taken into the studio where all the other Indian extras were assembled. They at least had clothes that somewhat resembled what I had seen from Indian weddings in the streets. The clothing is very bright and elaborate. The set was made up to be a wedding reception. Half the room had sofas and paintings, etc. Above the set was lighting and catwalks with the camera on tracks and the director’s equipment on the other side of the room. We were shown our positions for the first scene. I was put into a group and we were supposed to pretend we were talking. The leading actors for the movie then came in. Coincidently enough the lead guy was the star from the only Bollywood (watched at Gashwin’s house) that I had ever watched. His name is Shahid Kapoor. The leading actress was Vidya Balan. They are both up and coming Bollywood performers. The whole day was pretty much spent redoing different takes with the extras doing various background things like walking across the room or speaking in groups. While we did this, the main actors did their scenes in the foreground. The set was very much like I had imagined complete with a guy with the clapboard before every set. I believe for the whole day we must have only shot a few minutes worth of film as every scene was filmed from different angles. We also had to wait large amounts of time for Shahid to brush his hair. It appeared after he made any movement someone would come running with a mirror and a comb so that he could brush his hair. By the end of the day many people were commenting about just wanting to cut his hair off. His hair received probably four times the attention of the leading actress.

It was a fascinating day but by the end we had all had enough. When the agent recruited us he told us we were going to be back at our hotels by 9:00 pm. What they didn’t tell us was that since they weren’t shooting the next day (Christmas), they were going to try to shoot a few extra scenes. They didn’t tell us this until toward the end of the day. We were all grumpy and hot by this point. Satin and Velvet don’t work very well in the hot humid Mumbai weather. When 8:30 pm approached with no sign of shooting ending, the guys decided to just go and change (me included). The girls also then came and this appeared to cause a bit of a panic amongst the Indian staff who came running to try to prevent us from changing. We said we would change back but they would have to pay us more as we were staying well beyond our agreed to time. We still had over an hour ride back to the hotels. I sort of lead this movement not really due to the money as I only asked basically for another $2.50 (100 rupees). After my experience the day before, the bat epsiode, and the lack of sleep, I wasn’t really in the mood to be pushed over. I thought it was only fair since we had been misled on the workday length. We never really agreed to anything but we got dressed again anyway. One guy sneaked off somewhere and didn’t return to the shoot. The half an hour longer that they said we would shoot turned into another hour. We (when I say we by the way I mean the foreigner extras) were finally let go. We never got more than our 500 rupees though.

The next day, I went to the airport to catch my flight. I arrived at the gate on time and waited for my 9:00 am depature. I passed the time speaking with an Indian man and his wife who were going to Bangkok on vacation. As the departure time approached, a rumor began to circulate about a three hour delay. It was only a rumor at this point as I had yet to see any Air India personnel or heard any announcement. Singapore Airlines had a delayed flight and they had personnel everywhere helping passengers. The Indian man and I finally decided to try to find someone to find out what was going on. We finally found someone at another gate. I waited while they spoke to each other in Hindi. At some point, my companion started to grab the man and try to drag him back to our gate. The airline man disentangled himself with an angry Don’t touch me. As it turns out, there was a three hour delay, but we could go eat on the airline in a lounge. Still no personnel or announcements, so it was left to us to inform the passengers on our flight of this. There was a monitor in the lounge that showed a 12:00 departure time for the flight. When 12:00 approached we still saw no one from Air India. Singapore Airlines, yes. It appeared Air India was hiding. Tired of sitting, I decided to walk around and see if I could find someone again for an update. I found a man from Air India at another gate. I asked him about the status of my flight. He unrolled a paper and on it showed a 9:00 am depature. He looked up and asked me if the flight was delayed. I didn’t respond and just walked off. It was at this point that I noticed a crowd of about 30 people coming up behind me. It appeared to contain all the males on my flight. They were being led by five large, turbaned sikh men with huge beards. They all stormed into someone’s office and started shouting about the lack of announcements and wanted answers. The only problem was the man in the office had nothing to do with flights. At this point the police came. It was explained to the mob that this poor man had nothing to do with the flight and that they (the police) would try to find someone. The whole crowd set off behind the lone policeman to another gate. The policeman found a little airline man who looked as if he had been hiding. The crowd quickly surrounded him. Then began much screaming and hand waving from the crowd about the lack of information. They stated how this was unacceptable behaviour from India’s flag carrier especially when Singapore Airlines was everywhere. The man stated that they had made announcements (not true). This was all being translated to me and a group of Chinese who waited on the outside of the crowd for the outcome. As it turns out, our bags were being put on a new plane and no one from Air India bothered to inform us of this fact. The mob then left the man and set off in a new direction. I just followed along and eventually ended up on a plane going to Bangkok. After this excitement, the flight was normal and arrived in Bangkok at 9:00 pm four hours late. After clearing customs and manuvering around women trying to get me to take an expensive private car, I caught a taxi to Robert’s apartment where I am currently staying from the public taxi stand outside of the airport.

My first impressions of Bangkok were very favorable. I was staying in the Sukhumvit area which is a warren of tall skyscrapers. The city appears to be very modern and clean with lots of green space. Many of the buildings are full of terraces overflowing with flowering plants. My first full day in Bangkok was spent sightseeing. Robert and I set off on the skytrain to go to the river where we were going to hire a boat to take us along some of the canals in Bangkok. Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East and many canals lined the city. Many have been filled in and transportation has shifted from boats to cars, but some still remain. At the train station I noticed something quite barbaric. People were actually forming a line. How rude. What were they thinking. Don’t they know the proper way to get on a train is to run screaming at the door as fast as you can with your elbows out. Also at the same time it is proper etiquette to block the people getting off the train so that you can spend more time with them. Well to each his own I guess! I got in the line with all the rest of these rude people. We took the pristine train to the water front and got into a long boat. It was just the two of us and the driver. We had to go through a lock to get into the small side canals off the main river. The canals we ventured down were lined with small houses. The water was full of lilies and where there were no stilt houses, the bank overflowed with elephant ears and banana plants. In some ways it really reminded me of the marsh communities in South Louisiana along the coast (minus all the Buddhist temples). We stopped at an orchid farm and then got dropped off at the Grand Palace. At this point, Robert left as he had already seen the palace. The Grand Palace is the former home of the King and is Bangkoks premier site (apart from the red light district). The entrance fee was priced accordingly, but it was worth it. The palace/temple complex was stunning. The buildings were covered in small pieces of cut glass of various bright hues and gold leaf. They were topped with tall golden spires. The whole area virtually glowed in the sun. The main temple houses the Jade Buddha which is set on a golden pedestal. After seeing the palace complex, I went to Wat Pho which has the world’s largest reclining Buddha. He is 45 meters long and he is housed in a very elaborate temple again covered in glass and leaf. Leaving the temple I returned to the apartment this time by taking a public ferry which plies between different piers on the river. That evening, Robert took me to a gourmet Thai restaurant where I got to try some of my first true Thai food.

Today, I set out around 9:30 am to go to the Laos Embassy. This time I had to take the metro. Again after being in China, Nepal, and India for the last five months, I was very impressed with how orderly the whole system worked. Leaving the metro, I caught a taxi (who actually used a meter without me asking) to the embassy. At the Laos embassy, I once again had a chance to be impressed. This had to be one of the friendliest and effecient visa process I had been through. I was in and out in less than an hour with my visa in hand. I then headed to Khao San Rd to try to buy some guidebooks. Getting there from the embassy required me to use a taxi, skytrain, metro, boat, and then finally my own feet. Khao San is the backpacker ghetto of Bangkok. It is like Thamel in Kathmandu, or Colaba in Mumbai. Here I got to see the tourist side of Bangkok. There were the rickshaw drivers waiting to rip off tourist, the used bookstores, hemp clothing stores, and cheap guesthouses that abound in these areas. I went to many stores trying to find a good price. I finally found a store with a used Cambodia book at a semi decent price. I bought it and the salesman also wanted to know if I would like a woman to go along with it. He had her number in his phone. (Prostitution is very big in Bangkok.) I politely declined and went to another store to get my Laos book. No offers of women this time. I ended my time there with an aggressive Thai massage. I then headed back to Robert’s apartment. Tomorrow I am going to see if I can find a tailor to make me some good suits.

Sidenote: Bangkok is much cleaner and more orderly than I expected. Gone are the never ceasing car horns and everyone with the exception of the taxi drivers appear to drive reasonably well. People form lines and the public transportation is also very clean. Another surprise is that Bangkok is more expensive than I expected. Prices here are more in line with Hong Kong than India.

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4 Responses to “Bipolar India and Impressed in Thailand”

  1. Preeti Says:

    Happy Birthday Barry!

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Michael Dauzat Says:

    Barry……This is Mike Dauzat. Your teacher in high school and also your friend at LSU. I haven’t seen you in proably 8 years. I hope you are having fun traveling the world. Wished I could do that. I would like to meet up when you come to Plaquemine. How is your sister? Tell her I said hi. My number is 225-333-1513 if you want to talk. Take care. Be safe. Again, I am very happy for you.


  4. Michael Dauzat Says:

    Barry….Give Kellie my number.

  5. Gashwin Says:

    Hey I think I forgot your birthday so happy birthday! You’ve had a pretty amazing experience of India, I must say. And you got into a Bollywood movie too???? Jamie will be very jealous.

    Enjoy your travels and stay in touch! Happy New Year!

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