Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The club's lights come up at 1:30 and the group decides to go to China House, a pretty fancy club not too far away. But before we head out, Sushant and Summer invite me to come stay with them while I sort out my living situation. Their roommate is off in Kerala and so they have an extra bedroom until the following Sunday. I'm very excited about this but I am not sure what's going on with Joey's friend who is off in Delhi.
We pile into our separate cars and head to China House, which is located in the basement of the Hyatt. There is a cover charge to get in but Pinky knows the DJ, although he is currently in Goa. However, once we get there, she's having a hard time getting a hold of him so we give up and head off to our various homes. Sushant reiterates the invitation to stay with him and Summer and I am definitely hoping to do so.
On the way home, Joey and I stop at a roadside eatery for some delicious fried rice, which is quite spicy. We get back to his friends' apartment and are out like a light.
Next morning, I am awoken to a pretty strong sewage smell which eventually clears. Joey takes me to breakfast at a Nepalese cafe where we dine on delicious dumplings called, awesomely, "mo-mos."
I mention Sushant's invitation to Joey and this clears a lot of hurdles. Now his friend in Delhi doesn't have to come home early and I'm taken care of. Joey has a film shoot in the afternoon and he arranges with Sushant to come pick me up at an internet cafe.
Sushant and Summer's company flat is located in Juhu, one of the more fancy parts of Mumbai, and only a few blocks from Amitabh Bachan's house. I am VERY excited about this. As we drive by, Sushant tells me that on Sundays at 6pm, crowds line up outside because Amitabh will often come out and wave to them. He is India's most famous actor -- at least by longevity standards. Shahrukh Khan gives him a run for the money in popularity but he's only been around since the 90s. If you've seen "Slumdog Millionaire" you might recall the first flashback where the little boy gets locked in the outhouse by his older brother when an actor's helicopter lands on the nearby airstrip. The boy jumps through the potty's hole and into the puddle of sewage with a photo of the actor held aloft and then races to get his autograph. That actor is Amitabh.... or at least someone portraying the 1980s version of him.
S & S's place is really nice and I'm very happy to be there. We hang out and get to know each other for a bit before they run off to Sushant's mother's for dinner. WHile they're gone, Summer sends me a text, suggesting I check out the beach as it's pretty hopping that evening. I decide to head up there... and indeed it is quite crowded. Dilapidated carousel rides and food stands dot the beach. Families sit and roam and seem to be having a grand Sunday night. I stop by a stand of puris, which are little pastry balls that are filled with onions and chickpeas and potato mix and dipped in a liquid. You have to eat them fast before they get soggy, which I didn't do. They're like spicy little Indian shots!
As usual, I was quite an attraction. A lot of staring as I stood there and ate. Honestly, I don't know half the time if I'm doing something wrong, or I'm just entertainment.
I wandered around the beach a little bit and then headed back to the flat where I sat and edited photos and finally figured out my hard drive.
Monday - April 12th
Today is the day I have to establish contact with the people I've met. First off, I called Abhay the set photographer. Unfortunately, he is off in Rajasthan (in Northern India) until April 26th but is happy to meet me on his return. Despite his lack of reply to my last email, I decide to shoot off another email to Ravi, the cinematographer I met in New York, letting him know I've arrived. I was only hesitant because Ravi is a big player in Bollywood and very well known and I didn't want to be too pushy. But almost immediately after hitting "send," I received a text to my phone from Ravi saying he was in Bombay filming and we could "catch up" in the evening. I was ecstatic!! On Day One to be meeting a top person in Bollywood... DAY ONE!! After that, I emailed one casting director I had been put in touch with through a friend on Facebook and another that I had met on the street in Colaba (but his cell phone said he was out of area). I figured that doing some extra work would be a great way to get on set and meet production people.
I went for a walk to find lunch - there was a special on a 6 inch chicken breast sub at the Subway down the street for about 1.50. Boy oh boy was it hot out. I also picked up a soda and made my way back to the condo. Crossing the road can be complicated as there are no lights anywhere nearby. Basically you have to dodge across the first half, then stand up on the median and then play frogger across the other side. Traffic was coming at fast clip and evenly spaced so I stood in the median for some time. All of a sudden, this small blurry object hurtles between the cars and appears next to me, grabbing my soda. I'm startled and yank it back to find a small, incredibly dirty boy who is probably around 4 years old. He gestures to his mouth and at my soda and I'm at a loss of what to do in this situation. Give him the nutrionally valueless soda? This is easy to do but it promotes this kind of behavior -- dodging traffic to grab foreigners' food. Or deny him the drink and feel like a big Western jerk. I opted for "big Western jerk." I would rather this kid not get run over in the future than give him a sugar buzz.
Summer and Sushant return from work and we sip wine while Summer whips up a raw pad thai salad to go with the pizza Sushant orders from Pizza Hut, around the corner. I had walked by there earlier and it was hopping -- with a HUGE line outside. I'm looking at my phone every few minutes to see if I've missed Ravi's call.
We sit and watch TV, eating the pizza and drinking wine. No call from Ravi. I'm a little bummed but still happy that at least he wanted to meet up at some point (at least as far as I can tell by his texts. I read them to S & S and they agree that the texts are a little vague but "catch up" usually means in person and not via phone.) Summer is on the late shift the next day so she and I stay up very very late, talking about Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan and watching videos on Youtube... eventually realizing it was 4 a.m. and going to bed.
Next morning, I am in hell. At first I think I'm just horribly hungover (though I didn't think we'd consumed that much wine and Summer seemed to be fine while I'm throwing up). It's not until the strange all-over-body ache followed by a fever in the early evening that I realize it's truly not a hangover. Sushant brings me "exploding arse powder" and mango lassis (which were perfect). I'm finally feeling better in the late evening and was really lucky to have such good nurses.
Wednesday - Taking it easy. Tummy still rocky but mostly better. I send Ravi a text message and find that he's rushed off to Malaysia to shoot a commercial but he writes back that he'll find out what productions are shooting and give me their information. I take a walk on Juhu Beach but have to head back when tummy takes a turn.
Thursday - Finally feeling 90% better. I take several walks to check out my neighborhood. Near a grocery store, a man passes me in a Bryn Mawr shirt. Pretty sure he didn't go there.
Friday - Feeling great! Sushant has set me up to meet his friend Sonia, who is renting a room in her new apartment. In the early evening, I head over to check it out. My rickshaw driver has zero idea where he's going (despite the fact that when I got into the rickshaw and told him the address, he turned around and just started to drive) so it takes some time to get there... and several phone calls with Sushant speaking to him. I initially called Sushant when we stopped at a traffic light and my driver got out of the rickshaw and walked out of sight to, I presume, ask someone else where he was going.
Eventually I arrived at the street Sonia lives on, and she met me on the corner to direct us the rest of the way. The rickshaw driver then proceeded to argue with her over the fare, saying he'd turned off the meter at one point, so we actually owed him 30 rupees over the fare listed. This is complete BS but since Sonia didn't argue, I didn't really feel I could. Sushant would have blown a gasket...
We walked into her building's grounds and it was like the driveway to a Las Vegas casino. Immense overhang and circular drive-in. The building is still under construction so there are very few tenants. Sonia lives on the 32nd floor and the view is insane. She just moved in so she doesn't have much furniture yet. A couch is being made. Then I saw the pool and gym (with sauna and massage room) and was pretty sure I had to take the room.
Headed back to meet up with Summer and Sushant before going out for the evening. I had called Sushant and told him about the first rickshaw driver ripping me off this evening and he was irate. Got into my second rickshaw who turned around when I told him "Juhu Beach" and said, "100 rupees." "Um, no," I said and patted the meter (knowing full well that it would cost about half that). He shook his head, "100 rupees." I shrugged and started to get out of the rickshaw to which he grunted and started the meter. When we got back to Summer and Sushant's place, I had to run upstairs and get some extra cash, leaving the driver outside. Just as I did that, Sushant called to see if I made it home and I told him what the driver did. "Is he still there?" "Yes, I had to get some money upstairs. Why, do you want to kick some ass?" But I realized I was talking to dead air. Apparently, the moment I said, "yes" Sushant, who was on his motorbike only blocks away, decided he DID want to kick some ass. I went down and paid the driver who has no idea how close he came to getting torn a new one and went back upstairs and moments later Sushant and Summer came in. Sushant said next time he was going to follow Summer and I to see who tries to rip us off.
We decide to go to the Hawaiian Shack, where apparently S & S met four years ago. It's in trendy Bandra and upon arrival and looking around at the clientele, Summer exclaimed, "Oh no! I've become one of those people who brings their foreigner here!" The club had four levels. First floor was apparently mostly 80s rock and Abba. Floors two and three played hip hop and Bollywood hits. The fourth floor was the roof but it was closed for a private party.
Summer and I wanted to hear Bollywood songs, naturally, and we went upstairs. There was a group of middle-aged men dancing together near us and they clearly needed some women in there as they were dancing with each other rather sexily. When a hit Bollywood song came on, the arms all went up, the shoulders bouncing. I was in my element! Finally I could bounce my shoulders with impunity!
Back downstairs, they were playing "That Thing You Do" from the movie of the same title. Interesting choice.
It was getting late so we decided to head out before the rest of the club emptied. Back at home, I got out my lighting kit and set up a quick photoshoot, where we posed with the electric mosquito bat OF DOOM and Sushant's motorcycle helmet. Good fun! Really pleased I fell in with some wonderful folks!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Why my elbows? Why my knees? All of this to feast on (have you seen the size of my backside?) and these are the areas you choose? You're making me look like a victim of the pox and as soon as I have one of those electric racquets of mosquito DOOM, you're toast.
Consider your days numbered, you little jerks. But hopefully reincarnation will bring you back as something slightly more palatable next time. Like a Republican.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
First off, time to get a phone. I headed out to the phone store around the corner and was kitted out with a small black phone (which Joey would later sneeringly refer to as a "driver's phone") for about 30 bucks. Imagine my happiness upon discovering, after leaving the store and standing on the street corner going through the ringtone options (because I know the last thing I want to hear in an enclosed space is someone going through their ringtone options), that two songs from "Om Shanti Om," one of my favorite Bollywood films, were listed. I settled on "Dard-e-Disco" (although I've now learned that the unfortunate -- or fortunate!!-- side effect of having this tune as my ringtone is that I now walk around humming it for 30 minutes after every call. The lyrics in English are "my heart is full of the pain of disco, pain of disco." Much more of this and it really will be full).
I pocketed my new phone and headed to the Barista Cafe near the Taj. I remembered there had been wifi there in 2008 and thought it might be a nice place to beat the heat. As I scooted past the vendors and street children, I passed a familiar face: my old pal Lawrence (see above linked post). I smiled but didn't say anything, knowing he'd probably turn up at the cafe. He smiled back, questioningly but we both kept walking. Sure enough, 15 minutes after I was ensconced in the window seat of the cafe, he waltzed in and sat with his friend just across from me and looked at me with vague recognition. I said, "Lawrence, are you ever not here?" His eyes went saucer-like and his mouth pursed. He leaned back in his chair: "This is scary." He squinted a little more, "Mo?"
We had a nice catch-up. He asked if I was feeling better this time. I said yes, this time I forced myself to eat and that helped. Talked a little about 26/11. Apparently he had, of course, been in the cafe. They had food and water and a televison to keep informed but they could hear everything going on outside and it was incredibly frightening.
As it turned out, the cafe no longer had wifi. I'm not sure if this was terrorism-related (as I previously wrote, I had to give my passport number over to use the internet in another cafe.) Lawrence told me that the cafe across the street did have wifi (and didn't ask me for any ID which is confusing) so I decided to head over there. I was having some issues with my new hard drive and wanted to get it sorted. Plus this cafe had Kingfisher -- giant mugs of it. I had stupidly gotten iced coffee at the first cafe (although they told me the ice was from filtered water) and I had fished out the ice but who knows if that was enough. My thoughts were that if I couldn't beat giardia lamblia -- I'd at least get it drunk.
Two mugs of Kingfisher, a surprisingly good personal margherita pizza and fourteen fits of temper at my stupid hard drive later, I tried calling Joey again to see what his progress was. Apparently he'd been trying to reach me for the past hour but couldn't get through to my mobile. He was done and wanted me to come meet him halfway as getting down to Colaba to pick me up at 6 on a Saturdaywould be a nightmare at this hour. I said goodbye to the slightly irritating couple next to me: an Indian man and a loud girl from Philadelphia, and dashed back to the hotel for my stuff, which I'd stored. Hopped in cab and headed towards a shopping mall at which to meet Joey. About halfway there, two young men on a motorbike kept pace along side my taxi, trying to talk to me. When we finally lost them, my taxi driver told me I shouldn't talk to those men. "They are bad boys." I have noticed on both trips that a lot of Indian men will talk to me and then at some point admonish me for talking to other men... as they are clearly "bad." Okay. A moment later there's another honk and another bike next to the taxi trying to get my attention. But it turns out to be the Indian man with the Philadelphia girl on the back of his bike. How bizarre to run into them (probably almost an hour after leaving them in another part of the city)! They recognized my hat from the back window of the cab and wanted to say hi... which they did and promptly zipped off again. My taxi driver grumbled.
We pull up to the mall at last and with no help from the driver whatsoever, I unload myself and stand on the sidewalk a little bewildered. I'm not sure where to go when suddenly there's a tap on my shoulder and Joey is here! He grabs my stuff and wades out into traffic with me stumbling along beside him, trying not to get run down. We pop into his car and he deftly moves into the flow and we head north. He's a good driver, yet slightly terrifying. Much like the rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers, he makes space where there is none, gets a little too close to the cars in front of him, lanes be damned. Truly -- lines on the road are purely for decoration. There is no such thing as a traffic lane. You go where there is space, even if physics deem there not to be any. It will just open up. Somehow. Same for every moving body situation here. Somehow all these people and vehicles move with each other, around each other, so closely, yet no one touches. Well, except the men. The men are always touching. They drape. On everything. They're very lean and limb-y...and drapey. I don't know how else to describe it. They drape when they sit, they drape over each when they walk, they're even a little drapey when they're moving alone.
Now is the tricky part. Joey has to find a locksmith to meet us at his friend's apartment. He leaves me in the car to go find one and I decide to make a quick call home to let everyone know I'm alive. We then head to the apartment where Joey asks me to stay in the car while he takes care of this. Unfortunately, the apartment manager stops them from breaking in -- even though he talks to the girl who lives there. Joey tells the manager that he's her brother and that I'm her friend from the US, but it's a no go. Joey gets back in the car and contemplates his next move while telling me about all the new strict tenant rules at many apartment buildings in Mumbai. At most places, young men are not allowed to live together anymore, he tells me, because landlords are afraid of terrorist cells and more than one man equals a "cell." They're also not allowed to have guests. Uncertain of what else to do (although I offer to go back to a hotel and am waved off) he takes me to his friends' apartment. I guess this is an apartment building that is okay with three young men living together. They're all actors and ...well... if I thought three young American bachelors have questionable hygiene and living conditions, I won't ever complain about it again. Not that I was complaining-- I was happy to have a place to crash for the evening. I just made sure my sleep sack was on the bed before I put my pillow down. And I had my first run-in of the trip with a squat toilet. I was given one of the two bedrooms and the three young men all went and re-draped themselves in the other bedroom.
But... there was no sleeping yet! It was Saturday night and time to party!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Mostly uneventful flight, I did take notice of Belgrade and Beirut as we flew over them in the darkness. Funny how in the dark cities could be anywhere in the world, Beirut could be Detroit, hard to tell.
As the sun came up, sparkling blue, we approached Dubai, which could give Los Angeles a run for its money in the smog department. I asked Miss Perfumes-a-lot if it was from dust or pollution. Mostly dust, she said. Sandstorms.
The world’s tallest building is literally twice as tall as the next building in the city. I contemplated reenacting my classy Sears Tower as…um…nevermind… photo but decided if kissing gets you arrested in this city, perhaps pretending its architecture is genitalia is worthy of execution.
I slowly found my way out of the airport through passport control where men in white Arab garb and white sandals with one inch heels ushered us past and quickly found a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (it was almost midnight in NYC afterall). I paused to take a picture to show my mother when I noticed a guy near me doing the same thing. We were the only ones around and got to talking and it turns out we were both on the New York flight and he also lived in Los Angeles for a time (and most of his family is still there) and was pretty excited to see the ol’ Coffee Bean on foreign shores. He was going to his hotel downtown so I figured we could share a ride. It turned out the metro was cheaper so we opted for that. However, finding the metro turned out to be more difficult. Let’s just say that the Dubai Airport is unnecessarily complicated.
Finally aboard, I dug the incredible cleanliness and futuristic soundtrack playing softly. Turns out Jerome missed his stop entirely so when we got to mine (at the Burj Tower), we wandered over together, admired the tower and then jumped in separate taxis. I took mine over to the beach where the ridiculous six-star Burg Al Arab stands like a giant sail out over the beach. Unfortunately, you need a reservation to go inside, which could take 15-20 minutes and I was on borrowed time, so I just plopped myself down in the sand for a bit.
The water was incredibly blue and the beach very empty. In fact the whole city felt empty. Now I realize it was only 10:30 in the morning, but it was strangely quiet. Everywhere you looked there were skyscrapers halfway built. Cranes litter the cityscape. It’s bizarre. I caught a cab over to the train with a quick peek inside a nearby mall. Women in black veiled garb giggled as they passed me.
Back on the train, I initially got on the women and children’s car but it was too crowded so I went to the front and spent the ride back videotaping the landscape surrounded by staring men. The population of Dubai seems to be more Indian and Southeast Asian than Arab. Jerome told me that most of the lowpaying jobs are done by the South/Southeast Asians and the good jobs go to the emirates.
Made my way through the gigantic airport and back onto the plane for my last leg of the trip. Sat next to a nice young man who was from India but has been working in Dubai for the past 2 years and hadn’t been home in the meantime.
I was seriously fading by this time. Tried to sleep a little. Plane was delayed taking off due to a family not showing up and so they had to offload their luggage.
Arrival in Mumbai by daylight but it’s dark by the time I get my luggage. Prepaid taxi to the city is about 8 bucks. I feel more confident this time. Construction is done on the airport so it is very modern looking. Still it’s a shock when we pause at the outer gate so the taxi can pay the toll to get out and instantly I have a young mother with baby and child knocking on my window for money.
Drive to hotel takes about an hour. We take the new Sea-Link drive, which goes along the ocean, and much like the lake in Hanoi, is lined with motorbikes every few feet on which sit necking couples. It is pretty adorable – couple after couple after couple all either sitting on their bike or on the wall making out.
Finally make it to the hotel and I’m just blown away by how familiar the smell is… in a good way. The airport smelled the same – slightly mildewy and something flowery. Same at the hotel but with more incense and spice and decay. I don’t think I could ever pinpoint any of the fragrance. You’d need a true sommelier’s nose.
It was too early to go to sleep so I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I found the nearest internet shop and was startled to learn I needed to give them my passport number now, as a defense against future terrorism. My hotel, by the way, was in Colaba, a few blocks from the Taj Hotel.
Next, I trekked out to find some food. I wasn’t terribly hungry but I remembered that the reason I felt poorly my first few days in India last time was because I wasn’t eating. It became a bad cycle: not eating, then feeling badly because I wasn’t eating, then not eating because I was feeling badly. It was now getting late so my food options were limited. I found myself in front of Leopold Café, which was hopping and decided to go in. It was the first place I went on my first trip so might as well keep up tradition. A man with a rifle at the door searched my bag. Two more men with rifles guarded the other entrances. I was seated in a corner and ordered a chicken masala khati roll, which was like a little Indian soft taco. I got to talking to my waiter, Salim, who asked me if I was familiar with the events of 26/11. Yes, I told him. I had been glued to the television. He reached up behind me and removed a small picture frame, which hid a bullet hole the size of a golf ball. Then pointed to another in the corner of a painting, and another near a light switch. Suddenly, my khati roll wasn’t so tasty. I of course knew what had happened at Leopold’s and was hesitant to return but also didn’t want to be kept away because of terrorists. I finished my meal, chit-chatted with Jimmy from Zanzibar and then headed back for some sleep. Unfortunately, now I was a bit jetlagged and fidgety and couldn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m.
I’m usually pretty good with knowing pretty close to what time it is. Usually with in ten minutes. But when I woke up in my windowless room after what I thought was a fairly goodnight’s sleep, I had no idea. My ipod was on New York time and my brain wasn’t functioning yet to do the math correctly. I ended up going forwards instead of backwards and thought it was 11 a.m. I got up and started sorting my luggage and flipped on the television… which said it was 5:30am. Which meant I’d been asleep for a little over 3 hours. And considering I’d had maybe 3 hours the night before I left followed by a grand total of 2 hours on the planes, I thought it best to go back to sleep.
Woke up again thinking it was 11 a.m. got up, took a shower, got dressed, ordered my free breakfast and discovered it was just past 8.
Again took my time before leaving the hotel as I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with myself that day. I didn’t feel much like doing anything touristy. I needed an adapter and a phone SIM card (which would require a copy of my passport and visa to obtain, another terrorism related issue). I bought these and then found myself wandering near the Gateway to India and the Taj. I thought I’d take a peek into the Taj and, again, went through some serious security in order to get in. Metal detector, bag scanner etc.
Lunch was a strange falafel sandwich… then started to feel rundown. Headed back to hotel for short nap. 5 hours later… (boy is this blog familiar). Wandered out to find food – headed to a restaurant that was recommended for good chicken biryani. At the take-out counter, I ordered and waited. When I got my food, the bill was slightly higher than expected. I asked the cashier guy and he said, “Tax.” I shrugged and walked back to the hotel where I realized I had the wrong food. Chicken kadhai. I went to the hotel manager where I called the restaurant and talked to the Take-out guy. He said, no, I had ordered chicken kadhai, everyone had heard me order chicken kadhai. I said, “I ordered biryani. I don’t even know what chicken kadhai is.” “No. You ordered chicken kadhai.” And he HUNG UP. So I called back, this time with the hotel guy doing the talking. The hotel guy meekly hung up the phone a minute later. “He said you ordered the chicken kadhai.” “Call the manager,” I said. I got some guy on the phone, asked if he was manager, he said no… and he hung up on me.
Boy… I had forgotten the legendary “the customer is rarely right” way of India.
Miffed, I picked up my food and stomped off to the restaurant. Clearly, the take-out guy was surprised to see me. I was pretty pissed off but I remembered that angry arguing gets you no where in India so I pasted on a smile, waggled my head, and insisted that I didn’t order kadha chicken. Eventually the take-out guy gave me the right food (hopefully minus any retaliatory bodily fluid). As soon as he handed me my food though, of course his demeanor changed. “Why didn’t you just call us?” he asked, sweetly. “We would have brought you the food. You didn’t have to come all the way back.” ::sigh:: Customer service AFTER the fact.
The chicken biryani was awful, by the way.
*I wanted to post pictures but I'm having some issues with them at the moment. Check back tomorrow!
Um...that is if I really want to find out why you've turned into one big hard lump. Maybe I should just leave you be. Nah. Surely your resolve - slash - packaging must have weakened by now.
The Known Beautiful
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