Sunday, July 30, 2006

Visiting the Hospital (Again)

Consulting with the doctor

Receiving IV antibiotics

Jodhpur is Awesome

A five hundred year old city sitting in the desert with a fort looming overhead. And somebody got the bright idea to paint half the buildings powder blue. And everybody flies kites.

On the Brighter Side

In the middle of our Day of Woe, Hilleary lost her passport. After tearing the hotel room apart, we traced our steps back to an Internet cafe where we had been trying to change our train reservations at least five hours before. The proprietor produced the passport with a flourish the moment we stepped through the door.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

On New Delhi

It's pretty unnerving to walk around seeing so many white faces. This was understandable in a small resort village like Mamallapuram, but seems preposterous in a city the size of New Delhi. At breakfast, there were three copies of the Lonely Planet guide on two adjacent tables. Of course, we were staying along the Main Bazaar near the New Delhi train station, which is tourist central.

[UPDATE 8/5/2006] See?

Lost Day

Friday turned into a convalescence day. On the train back from Haridwar Thursday night, I had the shits, the shakes, and the dry heaves. I took a hit of Cipro and slept off the worst of it on the train. When we arrived in Delhi, we realized we had made a rookie's mistake: we scheduled our trip to Agra for Friday, the day that the Taj Mahal is closed. This casts our itinerary into disarray. Jaiselmer had to be sacrificed. Then Hilleary took ill with a cough and flu-like symptoms. Sprinkle in some hotel nonsense that I won't even get into and we spent most of our time skulking around the Main Bazaar in New Delhi, still not seeing a damn thing worth seeing in that stinking town...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Everywhere we go, people* ask if they can take a** picture with us. What's up with this? We're not in Papua, New Guinea, or even in the less-travelled parts of India. There are always other white people around. Is it because I'm tall? Or because H is particularly pretty? Or do Indian boys collect pictures of white people*** the way American boys collect trading cards?

* Mostly teenage boys. But just yesterday (for the first time) we were asked by what appeared to be a couple of young married women.

** They always ask if they can take "a picture" but they usually take six, with every combination of people present.

*** Or just white women? They usually seem creepily more interested in H than me.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Qs on Haridwar, Ganges, Pilgrims...

Indian experts, please weigh in. We will append more questions as necessary...

[C] What's the deal with bathing in the Ganges anyway?

[C] Does the Ganges form a kind of cloak of invisibility around the bare-breasted women who are bathing in it? Women who would never wear a skirt above the ankle or a sleeve above the shoulder on a non-Ganges-bathing day? Am I not actually seeing the naked breasts I think I'm seeing?

[H] Pilgrimages: substitute for a family vacation, or something altogether different? Do you take the whole family for a quick dip in the river, say a prayer, and then on to the amusement park? Or do parents and kids and all spend large chunks of time pilgraming together? Do you get pilgramage time off work?

[C] Might you take a quick bath on your way home from work, or is the Ganges a special-occasion-only bath?

Loud and Shrill

You would think it is a fundamental matter of human physiology that we are repelled by loud and shrill noises, and not a matter of cultural conditioning. Not so.

I'm not referring to the sounds of Indian pop music, which can be somewhat shrill to the untrained ear. I am referring to the sounds of that same music when played at top volume through a cheap hand-held cassette player on a train or a bus. I am referring to the man who, lacking a hand-held cassette player, decided to play monophonic ring tones on his mobile for six hours on the train. I am referring to the prevalance of the SOS ring tone on mobiles through the country ("bipbipbip BEEP BEEP BEEP bipbipbip"). I am referring to bus drivers who spend more than 50% of the time leaning on their (LOUD) horns*. None of this seems to faze the common India. Whereas H and I sit next to one another in various phases of homocidal mania.

* They spend an equal proportion of their time passing other cars, buses, pedestrians, and domesticated animals on the left, right, and middle sides of the road.

Indian Trains

The only thing worse than the Indian train reservation website is... the reservation booth at any train station in India. There is no such thing as an orderly queue at the train station.

H and I had a pretty bad day trying to deal with the trains yesterday, which I guess climaxed at the ticket window in Chandigarh where I put my arm over the shoulder of a man who had shamelessly cut in front of me, shoved the reservation slip through the window*, and exclaimed, "Look at me with my long arms! I guess I'm in front of you! How about that? I'm number one!" and then laughed maniacally.

I'm not proud of it. Much.

* This is the only factor which determines who is helped and when in the train station line. It doesn't matter when you joined the line, where you are standing, or even how loud you shout and how hard you shove... All that matters is whether your reservation slip and cash are within the most convenient reach of the clerk.

Himalayas 1, Us 0

The bottom line is: you can't "do" the Himalayas in 3-4 days. So we retreated after 2 mostly-pleasant days in Shimla, took the toy train down the hills in the unreserved car with a thousand Punjabi Boy Scouts and their alcoholic Sikh scoutmaster, and spontaneously jumped off the Delhi train in Chandigarh...

Question of the day: "How do you make chapati where you are from?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Who knew there would be rain and fog in the mountains during monsoon season? Cooling our heels here in Shimla for another 24 hours before we try moving to Kalpa, another 1,000 meters up, because we slept in and missed the bus. Enjoying curry and pooris for breakfast and samosas for lunch. Walked up a very steep hill yesterday to see nothing but fog and monkeys. Walked down with a nice boy who wanted nothing from us and even paid our bus fare.

And I am not blogging Hillearys freak out on the train. (Ask me over a beer sometime.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Points North

Blogging will be light-to-nonexistent for the next two weeks as we set off for points North: Delhi, Shimla, Jaipur, Agra... The usual suspects mostly. We'll check in at odd Internet cafes along the way, but we may still be keeping the world safe for freedom and the tubes may be narrow. A happy, sweltering July to you all.

Virtually Singapore

Adding to H's previous post, one perplexing detail is I have been able to access the blog from work all week. This is because, through some routing trickery or other, MSR connects to the Internet via Singapore. So, if you want to plan a terrorist attack in India using a blog, join MSR*. If you want to chew gum** and surf the Internet at the same time, stick with Airtel.

* This is very, very obviously a joke. I have no desire to see the Indian version of Guantanamo.

** OK, that was supposed to be a lame throw-away Singapore chewing gum ban reference, but this is too weird not to point out: there is an exception to the Singapore law for "therapeutic" gum. There is also a proposal to allow the importation of small quantities for personal use!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


This is weird. We haven't been able to read anything on Blogspot or Typepad on the internet connection in our apartment for a couple of days, although we could post just fine. We thought it was just a strange and irritating glitch. But apparently it's because Indian ISPs have been instructed by the government to Block Blogs. You know, to fight terror! Um, okay.

Help, help, we're being repressed!

(If you're in India and having this problem, go here.)

Update: It was just a misunderstanding, says the Indian consulate in NY! ISPs were told to block Some blogs, and instead blocked All blogs. To be fixed soon, they say. So dumb, the entire thing.

Exit Tobi, Enter Pain

Last night was Tobi's last in Bangalore. He's off to Delhi to stand outside the Pakistani embassy for four days in the rain*. A bunch of us went out to Opus to bid him farewell. Tobi is a lot of fun; I will miss him.


When we left Opus, we went back to the office and set up some drums on the roof. Then we jammed.

Jamming on the roof

After jamming a while, we started playing with the kickboxing equipment. I put on some boxing gloves and hit this punching bag about as hard as I could.

Punching Bag*

Turns out the punching bag is filled with sand and has been sitting on the roof for months. So it's filled with wet sand. Which might as well be concrete. My hand hurt.

It hurt really bad actually. But I could move my fingers and everything, so I figured I was OK. But when I went to work this morning and tried to type, I couldn't really do anything without wanting to cry. Prasad recommended a doctor.

The Doctor Examines the Patient

Who recommended an X-ray.

Right Hand X-Ray, Oblique

It seems I may have a hairline fracture near my wrist. She prescribed an Ace bandage and some Extra Strength Tylenol. The total cost for my visit, X-ray, bandage and all, was Rs 620 (about US $14).

The Hand, The Bandage

Now I'm all better. Except I can't use my damn hand.

* By choice. He wants to travel through Pakistan**.

** Also by choice.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Goats in the cargo-rickshaw

The land of stone carvers and goats and white people. Photo set here.

[UPDATE] I was hoping to see temples under the sea, but according to the student-just-practicing-English-who-wasn't-a-guide-and-wasn't-selling-anything, they are only visible in May, when I guess the sea level subsides somewhat. There are even more temples which only became visible after the 2004 tsunami.

Accentuate the Positive

Hilleary says all I ever do on the blog is bitch and Tobi says I have ruled out every possible mode of transportation, so let me take a moment to talk happy about transport...

Air Deccan sucks, but both Jet Airways and Indian Airlines were quite pleasant. Indian Airlines actually served a meal on our one hour flight: the cart rolled down the aisle soon after we levelled off and they picked up the trays just before we descended for our landing. And the meal was pretty good too.

The online reservation system for Indian trains sucks and the arrival/departure information in the stations is usually lacking, but the trains themselves are not too bad, especially if you skip the riot scene in steerage and go for an A/C car. The 2nd class sleeper cars are surprisingly acceptable, though by no means luxurious.

As long as you can communicate where you want to go and keep an eye out for any idiosyncratic route changes, autorickshaws are a servicable means of transport. (Even if they screw you, it's usually cheaper than the NYC subway.)

I have nothing nice to say about the buses.

Air Deccan: Unacceptable

The cancelled our first outgoing flight, then they rescheduled our make-up flight. So we set out about eight hours later than we had planned. Then they delayed our return flight. Twice. By a total of about six and a half hours*.

In fairness, in every case we were informed of the change before we had left for the airport** (by SMS, to boot). And the flights themselves were not as unpleasant as I had been led to expect. I saw no rats on board, for example. And I did not have to throw any elbows to secure an unreserved seat.

Still, I shan't be flying them again.

* Here's customer service for you: our flight was delayed so much that it took off after the next Air Deccan flight to Bangalore. Which we were not informed existed, much less offered a seat on.

** If H and I had spend 8 hours in the Bangalore airport, at least one of us would be dead. For sure.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Potty Humor

Healthful and helpful signs
Originally uploaded by PinkHamsters.

Tee hee

PDDP Milk Booth

Eating Garbage

Prasad: "They're not eating garbage. They're eating food that people have thrown away."

Jerry Seinfeld: "Adjacent to refuse is refuse."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Trip to Mysore

Mysore Palace at Night
Originally uploaded by C+H.

Photo set here.

Elephants Need Tips Too

Facing down the elephant's trunk
Getting it in the face
Tipping the elephant

Color Comics

Why is Snoopy brown?

Brown Snoopy

Note: Snoopy is not brown on Sunday. The great and good Indian people know that Snoopy is not brown.

Equally perplexing, if less dramatic: why is Calvin yellow?

Yellow Calvin

Why lay down a light yellow background on an otherwise monochrome strip? (Dennis gets the same treatment. The Wizard of Id does not.)

Days Since a Lost-Time Bathroom Incident:


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Indian Trains

Are a pain in the butt. They have a dizzying array of classes (pictures here). To book in advance you have to figure out how to use a terrible website (IE only; best used in conjunction with this other, slightly less terrible website). Trains are sold out weeks in advance. When you try to book in advance, your browser crashes!

The only thing worse? Indian buses! Because, really, who needs destinations, routes, timetables, or booking information? Real men just go to the bus station and hope for the best!

On Local Scripts

You should never buy a guidebook that doesn't provide place names in the local script. Both the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide books on India get this wrong*. While it is true that you can generally make yourself understood in English**, it is nice to be able to find your own way some of the time (and it is sometimes necessary to spot-check an auto driver's route planning). An English-language map does not help if most of the street signs, bus stops, and train timetables are in Kannada script.

I don't remember having as much of a problem with this in other non-Roman-script countries I've been to, although that's probably because I didn't know where I was supposed to be half the time anyway. We had a difficult time in Japan, but Japan is notoriously tricky to navigate (kanji would have helped, though). I remember having some trouble in Russia, which I guess I dealt with by being very conservative about cabs, buses, and trains. When you're staying someplace for several months, it is pretty depressing to feel like any given cab ride could end in Tamil Nadu.

* As does the Time Out Tokyo guide. Lonely Planet Japan gets this partly right, so it's not uniform across their titles.
** Oddly, this is least true inside Bangalore, which is fairly cosmopolitan, but has a rather small tourist trade and a rather large pro-Kannada chip on its shoulder.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Some perspective

Remember the elevator console Chris was so impressed by?

Elevator Console

With a sense of perspective, it's interesting to even non-computer geeks.


(Sadly, I do not see much of the World's Largest Calculator. Because after having worked in this apartment for a week or so I feel that I have a good estimate of the probability of the power going out at any given moment, and feel that the elevator is not the safest bet, unless you want to spend some quality time with the calculator.)

Matthew Yglesias: Punditry's Golden God

I'm adding Matthew Yglesias' blog to my Blogroll as of today---despite his rank over-exposure as a blogger at Josh Marshall's site, The American Prospect, and his own personal site, as well as having the dubious honor of being in Andrew Sullivan's eponymous awards pantheon---and despite his frequent mis-spellings, his blind spot for homonyms, and his, you know, verbal tics---and despite his being only 25 and having been a prominent liberal pundit before he even graduated college, which puts me in a murder-suicide frame of mind---because the man is always right about everything.

Other recent additions: the brother-in-law; the pseudonymous friend with a great idea and no business plan.

Browser Wars Strike Back

A cross-browser HTML rendering bug has caused the bodies of my posts to disappear in IE for the past I-don't-know-how-many days. My bad. I only ever use Firefox unless I need to access the MS payroll site or something.

For those who care, the problem was I introduced some HTML comments to the blog template, using "--!>" as a terminator. This works in Firefox, but not in IE. The result is the entire post becomes a comment and doesn't display in the browser window. (It's still there if you View Source, of course.)

Comment poll: who visited the site and didn't see anything? Who visited the site and didn't see anything and didn't bother to email me about it? Or are all my hordes of readers non-IE? (If so, you should really consider some of Microsoft's fine products.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Happy Fifth!

Had a Fourth of July party last night, attended by a majority of the American ex-pats in the office. In the run-up, I think I convinced my Indian co-workers I'm a John Bircher, which is pretty funny considering how much time I've spent thinking about what country I will move to in 2008* if George Allen becomes president**.

We did all the things Americans like to do: drinking beer, eating hot dogs (thanks Jonathan!), talking about television, confusing the German, and teasing the Canadians. In a show of progressive internationalism, we sat through 119 scoreless minutes of soccer*** with only moderate whining. (Granted, that last minute was pretty damn exciting. And I jumped out of my chair as the only other foreign country I've been in for more than 2 weeks earned its spot in the finals.)

God Bless America. Especially the Supreme Court. Happy belated Fourth!

* Not that I didn't spend plenty of time on similar themes in 2004/2005, but other factors intervened. I might actually be finished with my degree by 2008, knock on wood.

** I pose George Allen as a most-likely/least-acceptable exemplar---he is a deeply odd and odious character. Bill Frist and Sam Brownback would be similarly unacceptable. I'd probably stick around to see how John McCain turns out...

*** For a while, I tried to be "culturally sensitive" and call it football, but you know what? "Soccer" is semantically unambiguous. You know what I'm talking about. Get over it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Way ahead of you, Joel.

Joel Spolky cites Nick Gravgaard's inane proposal* on tabs vs. spaces. Gee, Joel, where'd you get that idea?

But here at the Procrastiblog, we're used to getting sniped by high-profile bloggers without credit. We've got our eye on you, Joel. Shape up.

* Nick says "elastic tabstops" that "expand or shrink to fit their contents" would have "a nice side effect---proportional fonts can now be used." Here I thought the entire programming universe would soon be using Consolas.

You learn something new every day.

Apparently, the Internet is "not a truck. It's a series of tubes." Also, apparently, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AL) is a gibbering moron. If you've got two and a half minutes to spare, listen to the audio. It is appalling, even if you don't understand the technical issues and even if you agree with his underlying point---a person has to work very hard to make this little sense.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

You Buy We Cook

Originally uploaded by C+H.

Kochi: not my thing. Reminded me a lot of Charleston, SC, in a weird way: both are old shipping centers with nothing much going on that attract tourists and antiquers. The synagogue was pretty nice (the city has a historic Jewish community---Jew Town (no kidding)---that now consists of 14 people from 3 families).

Something which turned out to be really worthwhile that you would think was a suckers' game is the "you buy we cook" fish stands down by the waterfront. Maybe we got ripped off in relative terms (we paid around Rs 600 for a 3 crabs and 2 lobsters, and another Rs 150 to get them cooked), but the food was really yummy. A tip: curry crab should be cracked away from the diner and should not be eaten in a rush.

P.S. Lots of goats and cats, not so many cows and dogs. Why is that?

P.P.S. Deb asked pretty much every local he met for the first two days where he could get some crab and the answer was invariably "no chance" since it was out of season. Every fish guy on the waterfront was selling crab, and most of it was alive (and therefore fresh). WTF?!

P.P.P.S. We showed up on the one day of every month when alchohol is not permitted to be sold anywhere in the city. We happened across a place that was selling beer out of a hole in the wall---seriously---but we didn't have the good sense to purchase it or the guts to photograph the hole.


Originally uploaded by C+H.

Went to Kerala for the weekend and spent Friday and Saturday morning on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kumarakom (photo set here). This was an incredibly nice experience. The boat, which had two bedrooms sleeping four people, cost Rs 4750 (that's almost exactly USD 100) for about 24 hours of floating, drifting, idling, and relaxing (incl. a crew of three men, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a basket of bananas). You would think this sort of arrangement would involve docking at various villages where people would be lined up to sell us useless knick-knacks and handicrafts. Nope. The docking was entirely non-commercial in nature. The only up-selling attempted was: Rs 800 for a kilogram of prawns with dinner (not worth it), Rs 100 for 2 liters of toddy (kind of disgusting), and Rs 800 for a massage (we said no). Everybody, everywhere: go do this! It's fun! (Caveat emptor: these are off-season rates. Prices include a fair chance of monsoons.)

POSTSCRIPT: Shout out to the nice people at the Tharavadu Heritage Home who kindly helped us arrange for the boat in exchange for, at best, a kickback from the boat's proprietor (we didn't give them any money, anyway).