Friday, May 29, 2009

Random summary thoughts on India

Food—I pretty much didn’t have a bad meal in India. The thing that makes this even more amazing as that I went about just ordering random things from menus with no idea what they would be, and they were all flavorful and delicious. It’s also amazing because it comes out super fast, even at places where they have 100 items on the menu, and none of it looks like it was simple to make.
Niruda’s is a fabulous Indian fast food chain that offers Indian food, some burgers (burgers in India are popular despite the fact that they can’t be made with beef) and pizzas, and ice cream. I found it a few times near bus stations, and it was a welcome respite after dealing with the havoc that inevitably defined an experience on a bus or buying a bus ticket. Unlike American fast food, Indian fast food is actually priced out of the budgets of the majority of Indians. It was more expensive than several mid-range restaurants I went to. This means that there would only be a few upper class Indians in there, and there was AC. Beautiful. (It’s hard to get away from people, especially beggars and people selling things, in India.)
The only food that I wasn’t a big fan of, and this is just me not liking most deep-fried things, was the fried stuff they sold on the streets. Everywhere street carts had huge vats of boiling oil to deep-fry anything they could think of. Whatever was fried would end up being one-fourth of the final product; the rest was fried breadedness.

Exercise—as I mentioned a few times, they just don’t do it. Right now they have a lot of people below the poverty line which might be protecting the country from an obesity epidemic, but I estimate they’re right on target to match America, at least in this regard, in the next few decades. Pretty much every man over the age of 20 had a pot belly, even ones who seemed not too well-off. And the large amount of sari fabric couldn’t hide that the women were quite wide. I saw a few public health campaigns, but these were tiny, plain signs lost in a sea of much bigger and bolder product advertisements. One said “Take up jogging. Give Delhi a heartbeat.” For the record, I might have seen 2 joggers in all of India.

Electricity and Computers—Universally unreliable. Power outages happen frequently and are pretty unpredictable, although it happened twice while I was in internet cafes, and the owners seemed to think that if I would just hang around for 5-10 minutes, who knows, maybe it would return. I learned quickly that they were just making up these estimates.
Also when I turned on my iphone back in the states, I realized that the browser on my iphone is actually light-speeds faster and better than any of the computers I saw in India. They all seem to be running Windows 95, and about one-third of the common websites I use daily in the US couldn’t be opened on the ancient browsers, although which of my websites wouldn’t open that day was a variable surprise.

Person-to-Person culture—if you want to get something done in India, you have to know the person who does it and meet with him face to face. If you want a bus ticket, you have to go to the bus station and stand in line to get one. Recently they’ve made some online purchases available, but if you buy a bus ticket online, instead of emailing you the ticket to print out, they actually deliver the ticket to your house, which seems to me to negate the whole benefit of online purchase.
At Niruda’s, the fast food place, I noticed that although they entered my order into a computer at the cash register, the order didn’t get automatically transferred to the kitchen like in the US McDonald’s. Instead the person took your order at a front counter, gave you a paper ticket to retrieve your ice cream from the ice cream counter, and then walked back to the kitchen counter to verbally tell your order to the cooks.
It’s also all about knowing someone, which might be why they’re resistant to automating things. My friends in Udaipur informed me that they don’t go anywhere without first guaranteeing a discount. They call up their friends at whatever restaurant, say they’re coming, and negotiate a discount. Convenient, eh?

Travel—As I’ve pointed out several times, this takes a really long time. Now why when you’re running behind you would still stop and take excessively long breaks every 10 minutes is beyond me.

Stealing—I actually did not feel like anyone was going to steal from me in India. Poor as they are, I don’t think they steal. They may scam you, they may ask you to pay an unfair price, they may try to change the price at the last minute, but they won’t actually reach into your pockets and take your money.

Things that are everywhere in India—dogs, cows, dirt, temples, trash.
Temples. Mini-Hindu shrines and temples were quite literally everywhere. I don’t know how they decide which to visit and leave gifts at. But overall India seems like a very religious country.
Dirt. Walk outside and you’re covered. It blows in through the cracks in the windows. Basically, it’s everywhere. No avoiding it. Sometimes I didn’t even think I had touched anything yet, and there was black dirt all under my fingernails. Gross.
Wild Dogs and Cows. These are running around everywhere. On the streets, inside the historical and holy sites. They pretty much have free reign. Now, I thought cows had free reign because they were sacred, but just because they don’t get killed doesn’t mean everyone respects them. I saw a woman swatting at one, and I also saw a young boy literally hitting some dumb cow as hard as he could in the head over and over again. Yikes.
Trash. Well, judging from the above entry, it follows that cow dung and dog piss are everywhere. However, generally the culture does not seem to think twice about throwing trash anywhere it lands. There were just piles of it in the streets. Sometimes I saw piles being burned, but mostly I saw cows chewing on newspaper and trash. When people finished something and had trash left over, they just dropped it wherever. Even the railway conductor threw his water bottle out the window of the train. On the bus a man eating a mango just dropped the peels onto the floor of the bus, and worse, on another bus a man was actually spitting onto the floor of the bus. Sick.

Culturally appropriate—What is socially acceptable is different here, as you might expect. Interesting ones that seemed to be perfectly fine were throwing trash anywhere, playing on railroad tracks, picking your nose, and asking strangers for things. People just walk along the railroad tracks, and little kids play on them. Apparently parents don’t teach their kids that trains are dangerous in India. Nose picking was a funny one. I saw people everywhere just full on digging for gold in public. I never wanted to watch long enough to figure out what they did with their boogers, but I probably didn’t want to know. Also weird is that the Indians just ask you for things, like money or presents. They don’t seem to feel like it’s impolite to ask for presents. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to figure out whether they only ask western tourists or if they ask each other too. But it’s a pretty annoying habit, since I feel obligated to try to help people and to give someone something they directly ask for. One thing they wanted was pens. Maybe it’s hard to get pens in India or something. But I don’t travel to India carrying boxes of ballpoint pens with me. I guess next time I will know that this is an essential item for the packing list.

Sex—The sexual life is incredibly repressed. Men live with their parents until they get married, and usually don’t have the opportunity to have sex before they get married in their late 20s. Furthermore, given the style of dress, they don’t even get to see a female’s legs or shoulders. If you think about it, this is like a country full of males stuck at the level of 12 year olds in the US who try to get girls’ attention by snapping their bras or pushing them on the playground. This is a problem for western women, as they see us as a great opportunity to have sex. Umm, sorry. One of the Indian guys I met in Udaipur also felt it necessary to tell me that he and his girlfriend “had sex many times…lots of times” Okay, thanks for sharing. I think the upper class are a little more liberal in this regard, but still.

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