Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thursday Thirteen # 31

Thirteen Reasons Kolkata Is Not My Most Favorite Place Ever (or Despite the Overall Great Time She's Having, Buttercup Bitches About Kolkata)

1) The Filth - After 9 days, I am sick of the layers of filth everywhere, sick of the heat, sick of the perma-grime on my face, my back, and dusting my clothes.

2) The Cabbies - Every time I need a cab, at least 4 times a day, it's a total crap shoot with respect to whether the cabbie will understand where I want to go, whether he'll decide to go there directly, or whether he'll decide to try to cheat me. Usually it takes multiple attempts to find a cabbie who will at least nod in understanding when I tell him the address I want to go to. At least several times a day, a cabbie tries to get me to pay four times over the actual fare. Granted, it's not a lot of money by US standards, and I could just give in, but I don't like being taken advantage of on principle, not by NY cabbies, and not by the cabbies here. It's annoying.

3) My Knees - They don't like Kolkata. I don't know what the problem is. My theory was that the heat and humidity were responsible for the constant dull and sometimes excruciating pain I've been feeling in my knees for the last 5 days. However, then my mom pointed out that nothing like that happened to me in Cambodia or the Carribean, other hot, humid places that I've visited, so now I'm at a loss. I'm hoping they'll like Darjeeling better.

4) The Incessant Sound of Horns - I swear to God, people honk more horns constantly here than I've ever heard in my life. New York sounds peaceful as a baby's nursery in comparison. The reason seems to be that instead of lines in the road, traffic signs, lights, or symbols, everyone uses their horns to dictate the rules of the road. If you have a really loud horn and if you beep it constantly, people will get out of your way. The system, though chaotic, appears to work. I have yet to see a traffic accident (knock on wood), but it makes for an incessant din that I seriously can't wait to get away from.

5) The Waiters At BBQ Trying To Serve Me - I've been to BBQ, in the Park Street area, twice because they have the best naan and an absolutely delicious paneer pasinda. However, last night I was ready to throttle the waiters because they kept trying to dish out more food onto my plate from the serving dishes on my table. They're trying to be professional but it was making me want to scream at them that ladling food onto someone's plate is Not Necessary and that they should leave their guests alone. A somewhat extreme reaction, I know, and more a result of me feeling grumpy last night then the well-meaning waiters, but still.

6) The Beggar Children - Now this one is just not fair at all (of me to mention). Coming to India I was prepared to see poverty and I was prepared to see children begging. I've actually seen far less of them than I had expected, but each time I'm approached I am overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness and also discomfort. It's so obvious that I have so much and they have so little. I could give every beggar that approached me something and it wouldn't hurt me financially. However, I also know that it's a business and that children are sold and trafficked in order to become beggars. I know that the person who bought them is usually sitting on the street somewhere nearby, watching them, encouraging them to harass any tourist/white person that walks by. If I give them money, I'm putting money into the pockets of the guy watching the children from the wings. I'm contributing to that system. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm being cruel to give nothing, to say firmly "no" and then look pointedly away, because if I don't look away they'll continue to ask thinking there's a chance. According to one of the women I work with, the Indian government does not try to get these children off the street. I don't believe they're any shelters or soup kitchens run by the government, though there are a number of NGOs who are working with street children.

7) You Can't Take Pictures In A Lot of Places - This again is a very touristy, probably Western-centric, complaint but it's really annoying because it's totally nonsensical. For example, at the Victoria Monument, you couldn't take any pictures. The Victoria Monument is a big building with exhibits of pictures in it. Photographing inside the monument would not do any harm, there's no religious reason for it, but it's just not allowed. It's also not allowed at any of the Hindu temples I've visited so far. Is there some prohibition against pictures in Hinduism that I'm unaware of? In Thailand, you could take pictures everywhere, inside of temples, outside of them, even of the Buddhas themselves. Ah... Thailand.

8) A Lack of Thinking Outside of the Box - I get it, I'm in India and they do some things differently than the West, and because I'm here I should just go with the flow and do as they do. I totally embrace that. However, in certain situations, say when an Indian coffeeshop is trying to be Western but it refuses to think outside of the box, it's sort of frustrating. Example: Yesterday I was in a coffee shop for breakfast and all I wanted was a banana. They had a fruit plate but it would not be ready for 25 minutes and I needed to eat quicker than that. The banana was not on the menu but the restaurant had thousands of bananas. I ordered a coffee and a croissant and then asked if pretty please I could also purchase a banana. There was a big commotion but after checking with management my waiter informed me that it was simply not possible for me to purchase a banana. That is not the way you're going to succeed people!

9) The Woman at the Multiplex Cinema Who Told Me That I Had To Take My Battery Out of My Camera And Give It To Her - After purchasing our tickets for the movie "The Namesake" we climbed up a 2 flights of stairs and then had to pass through a metal detector. At that point, one guard told my friend (a Canadian) that she had couldn't bring in her water. Remember, it's about 40 degrees Celsius here (that's ALOT in Fahrenheit). My friend refused and they let her pass. Then the guard told me to remove my camera battery. I told her I wasn't going to do that - hello, I would have never gotten it back and what they hell did she think I was going to do? take a series of pictures of the movie? - and that I would not take any pictures, and she let me pass. Why have inane rules in the first place, and why have inane rules if you're not going to enforce them. Totally absurd.

10) Restaurants Who Don't Have Lassies - One of the things I had counted on in India was the opportunity to have delicious mango lassies with every meal. Every Indian restaurant in America has them, and they are authentically Indian, so naturally I thought I'd be swimming in lassies over here. About half the restaurants I've gone to don't have lassies. It's disappointing, especially since it would be nice to have some yogurt and mango with my daily staple of naan. I'm sure there are thousands of restaurants in Kolkata that are cute and do offer things like lassies, but I haven't found a ton of them, and frankly it's too freakin' hot to go off exploring during most of the daylight hours (and the night time hours are dangerous)... you get the picture.

11) The Heat - Ok, fine, I said it. I'm freakin' tired of the heat. Everyone who told me I was crazy to go to India and that it would be too hot to travel during this time, pat yourselves on the back for telling me so. You win, it's hot. You're so smart. However, despite the heat I would still have come. It's not unbearable, it just wears on you and makes you feel semi-comatose by mid-afternoon. Up in the hill stations it should be a little bit cooler. I can't wait for Darjeeling!

12) My Hotel - I'm staying at this place called Akash Deep in the Park Circle area that my organization (kindly) arranged for me because it's relatively near their office. It's costing me about $30 a night, which is about $20 more than I wanted to pay anywhere in India. The hotel itself is bare bones, though I have greatly appreciated the AC and the TV (especially when jet leg wouldn't let me sleep). It has no character, it's in a part of town that has nothing around it - no cute restaurants, no cute shops, no other travelers or locals hanging out (except for the people sleeping in the street). Honestly, it's kind of lame, and in the 9 days that I've been there no one has cleaned my room once. Good because I don't have to worry about my stuff, but for $30 bucks one would think I could depend on a steady supply of toilet paper. Also, the "white" sheet, that I'm not using, was stained grey, and because I don't trust the red carpet, I haven't even braved one sit-up or push-up. I suppose I could do that if I put the sheet down...

13) The General Chaos and Uncleanliness - I know this is kind of repetitive of a few above, but this basically sums up the worst of Kolkata in my mind. It's been jarring and fairly exhausting to be here. I think I talked in an earlier post about the energy of this place draining you instead of pumping you up. I've found it very difficult to sit still here, both physically and mentally. Part of that has been that I've been running around town with my volunteer work. But when I haven't been volunteering, there's just not a lot of peaceful places to go. For example, this morning, waiting an hour for the train station ticket counter to open, there was literally no place to sit to pass the time except for out on the sidewalk in the midst of all the early morning commotion.

Bonus #1 - The sound of Bengali, during animated discussions, often sounds like the people are angrily shouting at one another. Maybe this is how English sounds to Bengali ears?

Bonus #2 - The computer rage I experience at the super slow cyber cafes. For all of the talk about India's IT capacity, I must say that the internet cafes in Kolkata pale in comparison to those in Thailand. Can you tell I've been thinking fondly of Thailand. It's truly a marvelous place, something I've come to appreciate more during the past week.

Next time I'll do a list of all the things I love about Kolkata, but for now I just needed to get those off of my chest. I'm just done with the city for now and ready for some trees, mountain views, and some time for contemplation and relaxation. Tomorrow I take a night train to Darjeeling, the "quintessential hill station." Tibetan crafts, Buddhist temples, and the Himalayas, here I come!!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It's easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!


Toni said...

Really looking forward to my trip now! JJ- hope it doesn't get to much worse!

maggie said...

Thats to bad you didn't like it.

Darla said...

mmmmm.... mango lassies. I'd have expected them everywhere, too. :)

Toni said...

No not planning a trip- just being sarcastic! ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. Chaos and dirt doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy. Interesting for you to experience it firsthand, better for me to read about it from you!

Dewey said...

Hi, I had to visit you from the Thursday Thirteen page because my nickname is Buttercup!

Also: It's "tout de suite." The de is actually the T sound. TOUT sounds like TWO, then the DE makes the T sound you hear, then comes suite. French is almost as crazy a language as English!

Kristin said...


Sparky Duck said...

mmmm naan.

Cabbies sound like cabbies in a America, it should make you feel almost like home.

The battery is just weird

Gypsy said...

Argh! Those things would get to me, too. Especially the beggar children. I had problems with that in Italy and they are nowhere near as prevalent.

Angelika said...

One more place I'll never visit, LOL.

gravelly said...

Stay safe!

Buttercup said...

Hey All, I hope I didn't steer you wrong here with my list of annoyances. Overall I'm having a good time, and the annoyances are a part of being out of my element, traveling, experiencing new things, and exploring. If everything was a peachy cakewalk, I think I'd be missing a lot of what makes traveling interesting, even though at sometimes (like yesterday) it can drive you crazy. Don't be turned off from Kolkata (but maybe go when it's cooler than now), and please, please don't be turned off by India!! Stay tuned for more about India. I travel to Darjeeling tonigh.

Dewey, Thanks, I know the correct spelling includes the "de" but to non French eyes it looks like it would be "toot sweet" when spelled like "tout sutie," and I kind of wanted to go with a play on Tout de Suite. I'm still thinking of including the "de." Thanks for the comment!

Dewey said...

Any time. :)