Stranger in a strange land.

Today I was supposed to hook up with one of my guides from yesterday and do some more exploring of the Delhi area, but he ended up having some form of family emergency and couldn’t spare his one vehicle. So I spent most of the day just resting. It’s been a pretty intense trip so far, so it was good to just relax a bit.  By around 6:00 tonight, however, I was going stir crazy like Captain Willard in the beginning of Apocalypse Now. After doing some karate and breaking a mirror [you know the movie, right?], I decided I should probably head out on my own. I asked the concierge if she thought it was safe to go exploring and she said it would be fine. Good enough.

Quick aside. In the middle of writing this, my food arrived. I attempted to order lite this evening. A bowl of soup and something that sounded like a chicken skewer. I got a whole roast chicken, tandoori style, a bowl of soup, a pile of vegetables and they threw in a basket of naan, pickled vegetables and yoghurt sauce. Small meals were just not meant to be on this trip.

Back to the story. I walked over to the mall, which involved crossing a major street. In India, I cross streets by shadowing a local. I just make sure that whatever happens, there’s an Indian between me and the oncoming traffic. I don’t know if it creeps them out, but it’s better to rely on their judgment than my own when it comes to these streets.

The mall is called Great India Place or GIP by the locals. It has every major brand. Literally everything from LG and Samsung, to Body Shop, Reebook, Puma, Levi’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. Almost nothing in the mall is non-western, save for a few restaurants and high-end women’s clothing in the traditional styles. The mall also has a couple dance clubs that I would have liked to explore, but I wasn’t in acceptable attire. You have to be dressed “smart club casual” not “dumbass American rocker”. The sign was clearly posted, so I didn’t even bother trying. They also have a haunted house. I have no idea what constitutes scary in India and I didn’t want to find out. Who knows, it might be pop-up of Obama saying that he’s going to levy fines against US companies who outsource. I know that sends cold chills down the spines of a lot of people here, though I doubt it will ever happen.

Malls in India suck just as much as they do in the states. I got bored from walking around looking at the same expensive crap we have back home. I did note that almost every store had a sign in the window that said 50% off. Some were as high as 90%. I had to wonder about this marketing tactic. What were they charging before? This didn’t make me feel any more like shopping. I already hate bargaining and I didn’t have a local guide, and I didn’t want to end up paying the out-of-towner-special price. BTW, malls have metal detector and pat down as well.

I decided to head down some of the other streets and see if I could find something a little more authentically Indian to experience. I definitely got that. A few turns and I was in what could be called a post apocalyptic strip mall. I half expected to see Decker retire a replicant through a plate glass window at any moment. [Sorry for the movie references again, Mom/Dad. That was Blade Runner.] The buildings look like post-war, pre-reconstruction bomb-ravaged concrete husks. They’re plastered with more billboards and advertisements such that none of the underlying wall remains visible. I’m pretty sure the signs are load-bearing at this point. The “sidewalk” is a mixture of pit-traps, dirt, randomly placed bricks that trip-up the locals and non-locals like, and puddles of I-don’t-even-want-to-know. The atmosphere of the place ranges from bustling marketplace to I-think-a-fight-just-broke-up-here.

The shopkeepers are friendly and everyone wants to invite you in. I saw a lot of things I might be interested in buying (saris, fabrics, placards of Hindu gods, miniature shrines, statues, etc) but I don’t speak Hindi, and and didn’t want to just hand them my wallet and say “take what you think is fair”. I really need a local to bargain for me. Hopefully there will be time to revisit this place with someone who can negotiate.

There was a bit of a thrill walking down these alleys at night, alone and out of my element. This is definitely the sort of place that you would want to be concerned with pickpockets. There are little slumdog kids everywhere and occasionally one of them will gently tug on your jacket and say “sir, sir!” They’re pretty cute, for being dusty little rats. My guide yesterday gave one of them a hundred rupee ($2US) after making him lift his shirt and prove that he was really starving. (He didn’t look that bad, but he would have turned bathwater a deep shade of brown, I’m pretty sure.)

I was expecting to be mobbed. I’d heard a lot of stories about that from other coworkers. I don’t know why it hasn’t really happened. A few of these kids have approached me, but that’s about it. I’ve spent a fair portion of my life in places where it helps to have a well developed “Don’t fuck with me.” look. Riding public transportation in downtown Seattle, loading musical equipment in alleys behind clubs, walking past hippies outside the PCC while they attempt to get you to sign some petition about cruelty free toothpaste. Hey, speaking of hippy activists… Al Gore, if you’re reading this, India is all-good on those low energy light bulbs. I haven’t seen an incandescent bulb since I’ve been here. Every little dinky hole in the wall shop has the new fluorescent bulbs.

I spent a couple hours on this strip, immersed in the crowd. It was a lot like the Old Delhi markets the night before. Again, my only regret was that I didn’t have anyone to help me buy the things I wanted to buy or ask the questions I wanted to ask. Most middle class people here speak English. The folks in the market not so much. I enjoyed the experience quite a bit. At one point, however, I turned down an alley that was an immediate “uh oh” moment. The scene instantly turned from being a public market to being a very dark alley that seemed to connect to all the slum residences behind the market. By dark I mean very dark. Just a single dim street light. I could feel eyes on me. Not necessarily threatening, but just noticing that I appeared out of nowhere and have no business being there. I backtracked as casually as possible and merged back into the market traffic.

I didn’t really have any trouble finding my way back. I had been keeping an eye on landmark positions as I was walking, and the hotel logo is clearly visible from most locations in the city. I got back to the hotel and started to feel like I might have a touch of the Delhi belly. I ate some fresh veggies earlier (tomato and cucumber) before I remembered the don’t eat salad rule. Oops. I don’t feel too bad right now, and I had a yoghurt drink with dinner to help offset the damage. We’ll see. Could be a rough night, but I hope not. I have work tomorrow evening.

One other footnote. There are a lot of gay dudes here. Lots. Tons. Either that, or guys are REALLY friendly with their guy friends here. Like “hold hands and cuddle while picking out earrings” friendly. I don’t know if that holds for India in general, or just the Delhi area because it’s metropolitan. At any rate, that has to be a good thing, right? Countries that persecute gays tend to be countries that I don’t want to have anything to do with. Iran, I’m looking in your direction here. If you’re gay and wondering about visiting India, I’d say you have a green light. (I was going to say thumbs-up, but well…)


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