BOMBAYS FIRST DAYS

Bombay To Goa AKA Paradise: Arabian Style!

Goa, where to even start! This beach town off the west coast of india is rich with history, culture and beauty. For the first few days I couldn’t pronounce it right. I kept saying Ago. But it’s Goa: where India’s most beautiful beaches are including Anjuna made famous for the annual Trance festival that dominates the beach with headliners like Above & Beyond who have a track titled Anjuna Beach.

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Just about an hour long plane ride south from Bombay, Goa is the opposite of Bombay in many ways. I’ll list some ways they’re different. Here goes:

The Bombay airport puts LAX international to shame. Once upon a time I thought international departures out of LA was a pretty kick ass place with nice shops, Gucci, Godiva, ya know all your high end luxurious stuff that I currently can’t buy but still cool to see? Yeah.

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The Bombay airport is stunning and massive and contains artifacts and important pieces of art that decorate the long terminals and wait areas. I said to Sebastian once we landed, who had been a little nervous about going to India because of the poverty, “See man! This is Bombay. Straight up beauty. Told you, nothing to worry about.”

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Wow, did he make me eat my words. Within 30 minutes, my iPhone was picked up by someone, never to be found again. I got confused on where to find the designated 800 rupees taxi station so just ended up paying 1400 rupees to get to our hotel. This was my first experience in Mumbai and I was trying my best to remain optimistic cause that’s my style. But still losing your phone just sucks and getting overcharged taxi service sucks no matter how you cut it.

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Anyway, now in the taxi I regretted my decision to pay 1400 rupees when I was interrupted by the driver, ironically asking me for directions! “Really dude? I’m from California I’m sorry but I don’t know where 8 Maharasha something or another Mumbai, postal code, then another street name on top of that and some words jumbled together” so I just keep repeating: “YWCA YWCA YWCA.” Which led to the taxi driver reacting sort of ahh pissed off?

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Needless to say, addresses have been a bit hard to figure out here in Bombay. The taxi was prepaid so I knew what I was getting myself into but at the end of the ride it didn’t really matter: for, he was still expecting to get paid a nice tip. I got my own bags, provided directions, and paid for him to steer the wheel. I didn’t tip. Sorry bro. But no. Aint happening.

But let me back it up just a few, so having lost my iPhone upon arrival which damn near killed me, I got in the cab and as we drove out of the airport we begin to see the most shocking sights I ever laid my eyes on. Within minutes from the terminal were now driving past shack after shack, slum after slum.

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The contrast was compelling enough for me to wonder how on earth billions of dollars could be spent (HSBC) on such a nice airport when just right outside of it were people who if lucky were living off of $1/day, literally.

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The dilapidated concrete cubes were crumbling homes, old wood and sheet metal configured into square huts. “What the hell is this? I asked Sebastian…

“The Slums dad…”

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I could not take my eyes off them. For miles and miles they stretched on the side of the highway. People too everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Crowded, chaotic streets, physically empty and emotionally inept lots, untouchables, people defecating in public.

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It was a quick slap in the face welcoming us to Bombay. If you’ve ever been to Tijuana, which is the only place I can compare my experience to, picture that and then trust me when I say that Tijuana and its border crossing in San Diego is a gem compared to what I was feasting my eyes on.

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Bombay is gigantic compared to Goa. Picture Los Angeles with an additional 10 million people compared to Santa Cruz. Drastic right? Bombay is so big and so diverse. For example, you walk down a certain block, I don’t care where you are, anywhere in the city and you’ll see an old British style structure like this one. Beautiful right? Then right beside it is a slum.

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 Then you’ll have a mall, then shacks. You can’t escape the two extremes. There is no middle, at least from what I’ve seen.

Bombays poverty is something that would take anybody’s breath away. More then half the population here make and live off of $1 per day. The others make close to $2 a day. Those are the ones that fall in the category of being under the poverty line and then the extreme poverty line is $1 a day. What on earth? It’s really really apparent as well.

Apparent because no matter what part of Bombay you go to, you will without a doubt, challenge me on this one if you dare, be hit up for something whether it be money which it usually is, offerings of their services like showing you around the city (I got scammed this way numerous times in numerous ways…some of these street peeps are smart, quick and clever as hell so watch out).

If you have fair skin and you utter a word which gives away your American accent, boom, you should be ready to use any street smarts you have. It’s gotten so bad for Sebastian and I walking in Bombay that I’ve had to go to extreme lengths just to be left alone like pretending I’m deaf and blind so I don’t see what they are selling or hear them try and sell to me which in my case has always led to gradual scamming.  And besides who the hell wants to deal with all the theatrics? Best piece of advice, don’t say a word. Keep walking. Smile if you wish, but keep walking if you don’t want to be solicited. And where SUNGLASSES which will help you avoid eye contact. Even at night. I do. You do what you feel comfortable doing.

Bombay’s weather is much dryer and hot then the muggy and moist Goa. And the wonderful part is India loves AC. Unlike some European countries I’ve visited, India is big on AC in almost every place. Yay!

The taxi drivers. We have such a wide array of moving machines everywhere. I was told the first day I got here that the only rule or law in India is that there is no rule of law in India. A professor at St. Xaviers labeled India as a “functional anarchy”. Hmm think about that for a minute. And when it comes to healthcare,  you don’t need a prescription for any American controlled substances, I don’t care what India’s so called “zero tolerance” narcotics and psychotropics law is because they sure as hell aren’t implementing it. There’s chemists/druggist or pharmacies on every corner peddling out liquid ketamine, benzos, needles, strong injectable pain killers, steroids, speed whatever! And there’s intermediaries on the street hired by these chemists to bring you into their shops.

Bombay is a hub: financially, manufacturing, industrial, and consumer items. Remember back in the early 2000s when India was looking to become a very prosperous country and a robust democratic and corrupt free government? After all India is a very young democracy in comparison to most countries. Foreigners were beginning to invest their money into India and their stock and trading options, but then things kind of just sizzled out due to failed economic and political policies and today India is still trying its damnedest to  compete as the worlds second largest democracy. So they voted into office Hindu Narenda Modi! The election made world history: More then 500 million Indians came out to vote for the new Prime Minister in a completely legitimate corruption free election process! Go India!

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For decades corruption has run rampant on every level of government from the cops on the street, to the dynastic powers and politicians which is a shame because India could have had the potential to become a powerful nation but unlike what media or Indian officials say, becoming a super power in 30 years, in my opinion, cannot and will not happen. It won’t for many reasons as much as it pains me to admit. One of the reasons for India’s regression is this belief system involving economics and merchants being, what is known as, “addicted to the chase”.

Meaning, I’ve witnessed that the Indians I’ve dealt with are more excited and concentrated about the practice or art of extracting, negotiating, bartering in their pursuit of money then they are about actually earning or possessing it. I observed this from seeing transaction after transaction go down where I’ve literally spent hours in stores or different places where the whole conversation is revolving around how much and package deals, discounts, sales, blah blah blah. So as I was told, never accept the first price a shopkeeper offers. It is always open for negotiation unless of course you’re at a fancy hotel or restaurant then: no you wouldn’t sit there arguing with your waiter that the foods value is lesser than what you’re being charged.

But on the street and the shops all over the city, they are all open for bargaining. And from what I’ve seen, the attempt at getting the money out of me seems much more enjoyable then receiving it. Ill give you an example, I get dropped off at this textile store in Agra that my driver wanted me to check out because if he brings customers there and they buy stuff he gets a cut. I go and I buy a couple pieces of art made by the Mogul family which is the family who built the Taj Mahal. I spent 6000 rupees which is about $90 USD. Not bad. I was in there for about 2 hours, the man offered us soda, water, tea whatever, gave us a grand tour of the shop, laid out damn near every piece of cloth from drapes to scarves. I saw a couple things I liked and said I wanted them, which he initially wanted to charge 9000 rupees for which was way overprriced especially since its wholesale. So he agreed to 6000, which is actually a number he threw out there and I bit on. And at this point I’m thinking alright I got me a good deal, he’s got himself 6000 rupees everybody’s happy, ya know? No. No. No. The poor guy was miserably depressed by closing the deal.

The experience with me has been different. I see these sellers attitudes go from excited, happy, hospitable, charming during their chase to seal a deal, to depressed, mad, rushed and seemingly regretful. It drives me bonkers!

The stray animals in Bombay is pretty tragic!

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Dogs eating a dead cow in India.
Dogs eating a dead cow in India.

Meaning the animals on the street like dogs, cats, goats, chickens, cows, and monkeys, seem to be everywhere and sometimes at the most inconvenient times like when we were stuck in Bombay’s traffic and I look to my left to see a cow pulling some products waiting for the light to turn green. Sebastian asked me as we were walking around the slums why no one seems to care about the animals. I said son if you have a dollar to spend everyday and you have kids to feed, are you going to spend it on feeding and caring for a stray cat or your family? He countered back that the government should build shelters and I agree. The amount of animal waste, filth, and sheer population of them is a big problem but also a big opportunity for job creation, promotion of sanitation and safety.

In Bombay if you make it one block without being hit up for cash, or some sort of favor, I want to meet you. Sebastian and I, him having blonde hair blue eyes, and me being a white dude, my so called white privilege is gone…long gone. I’m the minority and although extremely challenging to get used to I actually endure and like it. Every day is a fight. Everyone who comes up to us says where you from and I say USA and the usual reply is “oh I have friends in US, come lets talk.” I’d advise you don’t. Now I’m talking about the random people on the street and the ones selling things in makeshift shops or carts on the street and the homeless. Do not test your luck with them. Since being here I’ve lost over 20,000 rupees from bad sells, straight up theft, scams, you name it.

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You gotta realize, some of these people, like the ones who live off of a dollar or two a day, have to do what they think they have to do. The one’s I’ve encountered have charmed me and helped me, going so far as giving me 500 rupees because they like me, only to have me hours later spending it somehow back on them. So lesson for Bombay, stay away from the street dwellers, unless of course you want to give them money and you can do so, then shoot by all means. Remember you are in a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY! My single dad student status, no way can I continue to fall prey to the amazingly and intricately designed scam system for tourists. I’ve warned you. Take it. Leave it. Choice is yours.

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Just remember if you are white and especially lost or just look confused, for the life of me, please even if you are lost, throw your shades on and pretend you know exactly where you are going. Find yourself a business thats legit like a nice restaurant or police station and ask for help. The minute you look lost and confused your scamming street savior will show up and save you.

Be on the lookout for my Top 10 differences and similarities between Bombay and Goa soon. Subscribe to receive email updates of when the blog posts! Till next time…Peace. And our prayers and thoughts go out to the victims of the latest Terrorists attacks in Bangladesh by Isis which killed a UC Berkeley Student. BE SAFE!

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