Thursday, April 24, 2008

traveling thru (further notes on rickshaws and nausea)

warning: some of y'all make take issue with my depiction of another throw-up episode, so skip this one if you have to.

transportation is an interesting phenomenon in india. but by making that statement i hesitate on 2 points: firstly, i don't want to be too critical of india or overly ethnocentric. (although i guess my ethnocentrism is rather evident on this blog.) secondly, i have already told one rickshaw horror story; this could be getting old, and therefore, i may appear to be complaining about my travels, and that would only serve to discourage others from vacationing here, which is not my intent. so with those two qualifications, i continue.

this trip has been an assortment of modes of transport as jenni explained on her blog. i began this trip in delhi, took the public bus to agra, then a train back to delhi where i met jenni. then we traveled by night train to jaipur, a luxury bus to ajmer, local bus to pushkar, then public buses back to jaipur where we took 2 planes up to amritsar to the golden temple. currently, we are in mcleod ganj (up the mountain from dharamsala) the residence of his holiness the xiv dalai lama. and of course, i have taken taxis, auto rickshaws (tuk tuks,) and bicycle rickshaws from place to place within each individual town or city. and each one has been its own experience. (but i won't tell any public bus stories. they're not much different here than in Laos, and i aint got much more to say about them than: bumpy, hot, crowded, but a great way to see the countryside and meet new people.)

the funny thing is that when we boarded kingfish airlines for amritsar (this was a time-saving decision; we spent the better part of an afternoon in pushkar attempting to schedule out my remaining 9 days and jenni's 2 weeks,) i was feeling rather happy to fly to our next destination; after a 3 hour ride sitting in the front window of a public bus, a plane seemed like a good break from the frenetic bustle of the indian highway. and the little planes in asia are notable for their great service, hot towels, and tasty food.

but when the small plane got going, it never did stop that shaking you get during take off. and i've been on small planes before - smaller ones than this one even. jenni theorizes that the resulting incident was due in part because i'd already been sick the day before. well, i wasn't sitting in my seat very long before that old familiar feeling of nausea started kicking in. i thought i could beat it, and i even attempted some cbt; but the flight attendant passing out the little trays of food put one in front of me, and the nausea jumped into 3rd gear. jenni opened up her tray, spread out her napkin on her lap and started into her rice like it was nothing. the plane kept shaking side to side, back to front, and top to bottom, and i continued to feel like i was about to lose it. i also noticed a woman sitting one row in front of me holding her stomach too, and that afforded me some comfort; (her husband was eating his rice like it was nothing as well.) well, i had the sense to ask the woman to remove the tray of food, and i grabbed the little airsickness bag, and i proceeded to lose my lunch.

i actually laughed about it - i felt a sense of relief after the fact, and i thought that now i would be able to settle down and enjoy the ride. jenni kindly offered me a tissue, and i cleaned up a bit, joking about my tendency to throw up. then i noticed that the vomit smell was clearly not going away. i had sealed my little bag tightly, and so this confused me. so i looked down and noticed several dark circles on the airplane carpet, and another 4 or 5 on the airplane in-flight magazine that lay between my feet on the floor.
"jenni! my barf bag is leaking." i tried to get the attention of the flight attendant, but she was finished with her "service with a smile" and was sitting in the back, picking at something in her thumbnail. i felt a surge of nausea once more as the smell of my own sick continued to rise up at me from the floor. luckily, kingfish airlines stows all their in-flight materials in plastic ziplock bags, and so jenni hastily fetched me hers and i was able to deposit the sick bag inside just as the seam came apart and yellowish creme-of-mushroom-looking vomit came oozing out. the sight of it really sent me in a tail spin, and the plane wouldn't stop shaking. at this point, i was compelled to grab jenni's barf bag and go for a second hacking episode.

by this time, i felt real bad. my head was spinning, i was sweating, and the nausea was not dissipating. but jenni, stoic as ever, continued to hand me a fresh tissue as the occasion required. and i thought that was it; the woman to my front, (and the woman in front of her) were both throwing up, and so were some people behind us. the plane was a chorus of hacking, each singing in their own chosen key and hitting their own special notes, but demonstrating so much humanity that they all harmonized together in perfect synchronization. jenni supposes that indians don't fly so much, and that is to explain all the puking. i just think it was a shaky plane.

as we were approaching our landing and i was beginning to feel more relaxed, the man behind me decided to join in the hacking symphony with his own set of cacophonic notes. and he ended each stanza with a staccato "yack yack yack, spit!" and hearing his retching put me over the edge for the 3rd and final time. i won't go into details... i already have. but just know that as the plane touched down with a jolt, i sat in my seat with my seat belt securely fastened, tray table in its upright and locked position, clutching not one, but two (the second of which was used twice) barf bags enclosed in ziplocks. and yes, i must admit: i wished for a brief moment that i was home in seattle in my bed with the sheets over my head. as we left the plane, jenni counted several more barf bags waiting to be cleaned, and i struggled to absorb the irony of the situation. i walked slowly to the shuttle that would take us to the baggage claim area, and i observed a group of smiling men waiting with fresh ziplock bags full of magazines, safety cards, and airsickness bags, standing to the side, unaware of the landmines of barf bags awaiting them inside the plane.

but i pushed pass all that nonsense - i had another plane to catch (which was big, didn't shake, and i even ate my meal) and more rickshaws to hire. which leads me to part 2 of this indian transportation expose:

hiring a rickshaw is more of an art form than a skill. the price must be bargained between the driver and the drivee. they say 80 rupees, you say 30 rupees, to which they always look horrified and offended and respond with a resolute "no. this is not possible!" then they say 70 or 60, you say 40 or 50, and eventually you are off and on your way to see some 5 rupee museum or a temple built to shiva. jenni's got the skill down, and she's working on the art form. i have neither: after many years of travel to asia, i am tired, worn, and broken. so i just smile, and if the cost is less than a dollar US, i just say "hooray" and hop in for a ride. that is why i will never be rich and i will die with others having to pay for my burial (and my late credit card payment).

so it was entertaining to spend the day with ajaybir and his friends after arriving in amritsar because they did all the bargaining for us. one bargaining session got particularly heated. (jenni was loving it cause she has vowed to never be cheated by another taxi driver again.) but the haggling started when we attempted to hire an air conditioned car to the pakastani border to watch the border closing ceremony. they wanted 700, but ajaybir refused to pay above 650 rupees. we even did the whole walking away thing before they agreed to the 650 and we were on our way. funny thing - the a/c barely worked so we had to roll our windows down anyway.

we left amritsar on tuesday, and this required negotiating for a rickshaw ride to the bus station. so jenni took charge of this; (and this is why i would say that she has the skill and not yet the art form of negotiating. you see, jenni is inclined to pay more for a rickshaw, which is pedal operated, than an auto rickshaw, which is gas operated. but that is not how the economy of it works in india. rickshaw drivers are usually paid between 10 - 20 rupees, or about 25 to 50 cents. but when jenni sits behind the driver and sees the sweat beading up on his temples, or the tendons twitching on the back of his calves, she says like it's a mantra, "i feel so bad! i feel so bad!" at one point jenni swore off rickshaws altogether, but i've continued to push for the rickshaw drivers cause, "they need the work." so jenni's coin purse opens like the windows of heaven whenever she's behind the bicycle seat of a rickshaw driver and her rupees flow forth like water from a spigot.)

the driver we hired on this occasion asked for 20 rupees, and we agreed to it, although i knew without even discussing it that we'd pay more. he was a small old man with dark skin and craggy lines emerging from his beard to climb the sides of his face. he wore a faded white turban, yellowing homespun and a dulled silver kara on his right wrist. he pedaled off with surprising energy, but only a few minutes passed before the weight of me, jenni, and our two bags started to slow him down. i watched as much younger rickshaw drivers passed to our right and left. this only seemed to prod him on, and he stood up on the pedals to increase his leverage. jenni began her mantra of "i feel so bad," as the traffic swelled around us and the sweat began to form on the back of our driver's neck.

it wasn't long before we were stopped altogether - and our driver's frustration at the situation came through. a car came to close to the right, and he yelled at him, wagging a finger. then, when the traffic finally began to move again, another rickshaw came up along side and swiped our rickshaw, catching our spokes in the spokes of its wheel. our driver became incensed, and jenni and i tensed up, not fully knowing where this was headed. he pulled and tugged, reprimanding the younger driver, and eventually, jenni and i had to dismount so that he could free the wheels from each other. we got back in our seat, sensing the mounting hostilities, and our driver started off again -- but unfortunately, the younger driver started off simultaneously, resulting in a second collision. our driver then raised his fist in a quick nimble moment, and proceeded to yell at the other driver with percussion-like firing - and if i spoke punjabi, i am sure i still wouldn't be able to print the words he yelled - so i will quote him like this: "bleep! bleep! bleepity bleep!" his arm and its clutched fist paused in midair and then quivered a bit, before finally crashing down into the younger driver's neck. the other rickshaw driver steadied himself from the blow, and seemed as if he was going to retaliate until his passenger intervened with some presumably calming words. but in the end, the younger driver pedaled off first, leaving our old man in his frayed turban to pull up the rear. i was pretty astonished, and i was even more surprised at how quickly our old guy regained his composure. as we pulled into the bus station, he turned to us smiling faintly, and jenni gave him 30 rupees. the punch took some of the charity out of her, and he didn't get the usual 40. we left the rickshaw rather quickly; the sun was hot and the shade of the bus stalls were inviting.

but i find that india has a slew of possibilities, and the spectrum of what i may see in a single day here can definitely challenge the familiar and the comfortable. i feel a popping sensation in my brain as i brush up against india, and i think that is what it's all about. three weeks is a really short trip, and i wish i could be here longer... but maybe next time. maybe next time.


Janet & Chad said...

Hi Joseph,
Just want you to know that we are enjoying your blog and all the cool pictures! Sounds like you are having a great time! Take Care and keep us posted (or is it blogted?).
Janet & Chad

ajaybir said...

aawwww cool pic bro and i like the way ur blog PRSENTATION and i even i for forget that bargaing but u still remeber it guud u knw all the business works nd otherworks are run on bargaing only in INDIA said...

hi joseph now i have made my blogspot that is

WhEn U gT MoNeY u gT pOwEr said...

add me over there as me not able to add there

jrm said...

hey, nice job on the blog. i left you a comment there! everybody should have a blog - so good to c u put one up!

Ann said...

I felt your pain from you bumpy plane ride. Motion sickness is so awful. Not that it didn't stop me from laughing at your story. That plane must have stunk pretty bad after all the barfing that went on in it.

jrm said...

ha ha! yeah, i think it did stink, but i couldn't smell past my own seat. glad you laughed; hope it wasn't too gross, (or an intolerably long post).

Jenni said...

Joseph, you gotta clear my name. Only one time did I pay the bicycle rickshaw driver extra, and that is because he dished out the best punch in the neck I had ever seen. True, I did have my "I have guilt" mantra every time I road in a bicycle rickshaw. I am being accused of being a pushover, which we both know I am much more cold hearted than that.

jrm said...

jenni, its whatever you say - and i am fully ok with you correcting me in my comment section or on your blog - just glad to see that you are safe back in the open embrace of america.