Juhu, Bandra, Mahim, Central Mumbai, Elephanta

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to blog, so I’ll try to bring this up to speed fairly quickly.

Sunday I spent most of the day at my grandma’s house in Mumbai and then went out in the afternoon and early evening with my cousin to see various things in Mumbai. We started with the ISKON (I think) Temple, which is a Hari Krishna temple. It’s very well kept and very clean, plus has lots of booths that show diorama style informational scenes from various parts of Hinduism. After that we went up to the top of this mountain-ish thing to Mount Mary’s Church, and I took a bunch of pictures from that side. When the sun started to set a bit, we went down the hill to the Bandstand area beach side where a bunch of film stars have homes and had some corn that was sold rode side and then had a coffee at the Barista that overlooks the water. From there it was back via Bandra where we stopped in some art galleries, did some sidewalk shopping and had (gasp) pani puri! There’s this resturant in Bandra called Only Paratas that sells pani puri made hygenically, so we had some there. I’m dying to have some more, they were so stuipd good. After that, we went back to my grandma’s house.

Monday I got up a bit early since I was going to be heading to my aunt’s in central Bombay, where my other grandma lives. I had breakfast and the like there and then took a taxi with my aunt over to this side (where I am now). While only some 10km or so, it took about an hour due to hideous traffic. Interestingly, once past Mahim on the way south towards more central Delhi, rickshas are now allowed so it makes the traffic a little more sane. In the afternoon in central Mumbai, I walked around the Fort and Kara Ghoda area nearby (which is an arts district) as well as a bunch of the little streets around here. In the evening, we went went on a walk on Nariman Drive during the sunset and then later on to the Taj Hotel for dinner at a Chinese place called Golden Dragon. Needless to say, it was far from authentic.

Today (Tuesday), I went to the Elephanta Caves, on an island an hour via ferry from the Gateway to India. They caves are in fact temples cut in to the mountain that form an entire Shiva temple within the mountain. They were quite a sight to see and impressive. I managed to get some really good pictures there (I think).

Either tomorrow or Thursday I’m going to head back to the suburbs to my other grandma’s house. Hopefully I’m going to try and take a train (the commuter rail system they say is “lifeblood of Mumbai”) since it’s probably fastest and it’s supposed to be a crazy experience. I’ve taken a local train a long long time ago, perhaps 10+ years but I don’t really recall. Then Friday, it’s off to London.

Arrived in Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai yesterday via a flight from New Delhi. I flew on Kingfisher Airlines, which is indeed owned by the beverage group. The plane was fantastic. Great food, good service, comfortable seats, friendly flight attendents. It was a very positive experience flying with them. The terminals on both ends left a lot to be desired but the in-flight experience was among the best I’ve had.

In Mumbai, my aunt picked me up from the airport and we went to my grandma’s house in a part of Mumbai called Santa Cruz. I’ve been coming to this house for pretty much my whole life whenever I’m in India and it really feels like home. My cousins were a bit busy with school during the day and so I hung out and had tea and the usual during the afternoon. Once in the evening and they were a bit more free I went to the bookstore (Crossword) and picked up a few books by Indian authors that looked pretty good and came with recomendations.

For dinner in the evening, we went out to a Goan resturant in some part of town I can’t remember (M-something). The food was totally totally different than anything I’d tried before and was awesome to boot. For those foodies out there, try to check it out. It’s unlike any Indian food you’ve had. The owner was really friendly and came by to chat at the table and told us of a new Maharastran resturant he’s opening up next door and we took back menus. The cuisine they were serving was full of things that I grew up eating and apparently it’s the first (?) Maharastran resturant that’s been opened, period. I’d like to check it out, but that’s seems a bit ridiclious given where I’m staying.

We got home a bit late, but it was a great day. In Mumbai, the city feels a life and full of energy yet more organized and logical (e.g. they follow traffic lights). While the streets and roads of Central Delhi might be better and perhaps cleaner, they feel too sterile while in Mumbai it feels like the city has its own heartbeat. The comparison of Beijing to Shanghai is fitting.

Today we’re probably going to go around a bit and see a few things, and then not sure what the evening will bring. Tomorrow I’ll likely relocate myself to more downtown Mumbai to where my aunt and grandma from the other side of my family are and stay there for a few days.

Jaipur Day 2 and Back in Delhi

My riksha driver picked me at up 9:30am on Thursday and we made our way to multiple multiple forts through the day. I’d eaten something funny on Wednesday and I woke up with a stomachache that haunted me all day long.

Instead of starting on the itinerary we’d discussed in the morning, we stopped by an oil store to pick up some motor oil for the riksha. What good would a quart of motor oil be without having your engine serviced? So we stopped on the side of some street and had the riksha serviced and oil changed before we acutally got on our way. At first I was getting irritated but decided to let it side and just assume this is part of the experience.

We then really started at the Lake Palace, then went up this huge hill (mountain?) in his little green and yellow autoriksha to start at Nahargarh Fort. Then we crossed through the mountain top to Jaigarh Forth, which I wasn’t too impressed with. It was just large and there wasn’t much to see there. We then went on to Amber Palace, which was just amazing. As you approach, it’s even higher on the hill top, with steps and elephants and monkeys crossing up and down (not to mention people as well). I opted for the little more foreigner-with-upset-stomach approach, and took a jeep up to the top and decided to hire a guide at this fort as well. It’s stunning on the inside with marble rooms in places, huge gardens on the inside, mirrored walls adorning columnades, internal cooling systems, etc, etc. Simply fantastic.

By this time it was about 2:30pm and I’d done most of the major sites so I made my way back to the bus stop and managed to catch the last seat on the 4pm Volvo bus back to Delhi and was picked up near Iffco Chowk about an hour ourside of Delhi proper. Pretty grewling 36 hours, but well worth it.

Today was pretty low key. I went back in to Delhi, saw the National Museum (the first floor of which is awesome, the second and there were iffy at best mostly due to presentation rather than content). Then I went to Connaught Circus and hung out there in the afternoon browsing through the streets and the spokes off the wheel. In the evening, I had dinner with my other uncle who lives in this area and just got back. Tomorrow, I’m off to Mumbai on the 10am flight (via Kingfisher Airlines no less, the company known for its beer).

Jaipur Day 1

I woke up at 6:00 this morning to catch a taxi my aunt had ordered for me at 6:30. That early in the morning, it took only 40 some odd minutes to make it out the Delhi (Bikanar House). I booked a ticket on the 8:00 coach from Delhi to Jaipur. After about 6 hours in the bus (with a stop around noon), I made it to the bus depot in Jaipur. The ride was only some 250km long, but I guess that’s largly due to the traffic and general chaos that exists on the roads en route.

In Jaipur, I took a auto-riksha to my hotel (Umaid Mahal), which is quite lovely. It’s a bit over priced for what it is, but the decorations inside look picturesque. It’s just that the rooms don’t really match what I’m used to expect for that much money. In some ways, China has spoiled me in terms of these things.

I headed out via a riksha I’d hired for the afternoon to a bunch of places in Jaipur. We started by crossing in to the city walls (e.g. in to the Pink City), which reminded me a lot of the walls at Xi’an, except with a distinctly Indian flavor rather than Chinese. Unfortunatly, it was quite late already so I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at all the various places this afternoon. I started at Hawa Mahal which was awesome, then went over to City Palace, and then to Jantar Mantar. That took up the large part of the afternoon.

Of worth to note, I was chatting in a part of the afternoon with my riksha driver and after a while we exchanged names. I first gave him my name to which he responded “oh Indian name, Indian face” (since I’d prior told him I’m from the states). Then he gave me part of this name and then in the briefest moment of hesitation gave me his full name. His full name very certain Muslim name, and he told me that he was Muslim right away and immediatly asked me “is that a problem?” I, of course, answered that it’s not a problem at all and he replied saying “Muslims, Hindus, all the same people.” It was an interesting exchange.

On recomendation from my aunt and uncle, I went then to a veg resturant apparently of some fame in Jaipur called LMB and had some chaat there. The food was fantastic and the chai was so good. I was there too early to have dinner, but the snacks that I did have were great. Also of note City Palace and the Jantar Mantar area, there were tons of Asian tourists, mostly mainland Chinese (I heard some Cantonese as well as some Japanese). At one point I gave a hand to a few of them in Mandarin. It totally shocked them when I started speaking Putonghua to them.

On the flip side, everybody here expects that I speak and starts speaking to me in Hindi, which is almost a total loss to them. I can understand maybe about 10% of conversational Hindi (e.g. what time things open and close, directions, etc) but that’s about it. Thus, when people are speaking non-specific Hindi, I can make out the gist of what they’re saying but if it gets at all specific or starts using anything but the most basic vocab/non-shared-with-Marathi, I’m lost.

Tomorrow I go to see the rest of the major sights in Jaipur and I’m going to try to catch a bus back to Delhi at around 4pm.

Day in Central Delhi

I spent the day in or about in central New Delhi. I started off at Qutib Minar and hung out there for about 45 minutes. I’d been there before, so I snapped a few pictures, walked around the grounds and went on my way.

I was dropped off for the morning at the National Museum. From there, I knew I wanted to try to get to the Mogul Gardens (they’re only open one month a year), so I started on a 1.5 hour treck to first try to find the Parliment House and second, to try to get behind it to the gardens. After much asking in English and people replying in half-English half-Hindi, I managed to find my way there (not without almost giving up at least once).

The gardens were quite cool. The first part is a herbal garden which shows off various types of herbs that are grown along with plaques describing their medicinal (or otherwise) properties. The walk continued to an area that contained the main, mulit-acre (?) garden which had flowing fountains and water paths that criss-crossed in perfect symetery. The other part of the garden of note was a circular pool that was walled and on the inside was a set of plants/gardens/whatever that hugged the diameter of the pool. Unfortunatly no cameras or even mobile phones were allowed inside, so I didn’t get a chance to take any shots.

After the Mogul Gardens, I took an auto-riksha back to the Central Secretariat metro stop. The Delhi Metro is new, about three years old, and wasn’t even open when I was here in 2003. Now it’s got about three lines. The rolling stock seemed simular to the ones used in Shanghai Line 2, but apparently they’re not (Delhi’s are some Mitsubishi JV built) and the ticket system was identical to Bangkok’s (with the plastic RFID tokens). It was clean and largly civil inside the system. I rode it out the Delhi Main, got out in to the absolute madness of Chandni Chowk and walked over to Red Fort.

In the area, I had a masla dosa for lunch at Haldiram’s (not sure if it’s the supposed original one), and if I end up back in that area I will most definintly try to find the gali parathe walee which I’ve read and heard about. After lunch, I spent a few hours at Red Fort, walking through the various buildings and edifics that remain and that have been restored. It’s all quite nice and all, but I’d been there at least once before, so I took it quite easy.

From there, I went back via Metro to the Central Secct area, and then went to the Lodhi Gardens for an hour to look at the old buildings from the time of the Lodhi Kings, then headed back to Guragon. Tomorrow (Wed) and the day after (Thu) I’m going to be in Jaipur. I’m taking a taxi from here to a bus station in Delhi at 6:30am to make the four hour bus ride.

Arrived in New Delhi

I arrived in New Delhi yesterday (Monday) morning and made it to my aunt’s place in the suburbs. My flight from Shanghai was delayed five hours, and my taxi broke down within five minutes of leaving the aiport in Delhi and then couldn’t figure out where to go once we made it to the right part of town. Otherwise, uneventful. I’m heading to Delhi central for the day today and over to Jaipur on Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll post more about Delhi later tonight, and if I can get my laptop online sync up some pictures.

Xing Nian Kuai Le

Happy (Chinese) New Year! It’s been an odd day in Shanghai. The last few where hectic: cabs were hard to find, malls were packed with people, the subway was torture. But today, it’s been a ghost town. I was at Yu Gardens and I’d never seen it so empty, the subway was nearly empty, and in general I hardly saw many people around on the streets at all. There are some fireworks exploding outside within view from my hotel window. It’s off to dinner for me and off to New Delhi tomorrow night.

White White Above Sea

Bai Bai Shang Hai / 白白上海.

I’m moving back to the States. To San Francisco and California, more specifically. The movers arrived this morning and packed up my apartment and at 10pm on Sunday, I’ll be on a flight to New Delhi. From there, I’m going to Mumbai, then to London, then to New Jersey/New York, then to Nicaragua and returning to home via Mexico.

It’s been about 15 months since I’ve been living in Shanghai and just under a year and half since I’ve been traveling and working here. The amount I’ve grown, the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have made this last place truly phenomenal and easy to call my home. When the packers were at my house this morning, I really felt like my home was being packed up and I was getting ready to leave my city.

Shanghai has given me so much and I think I got a lot out of my time in here. I can speak/read/write some Chinese (我知道一点中文, 但是,我的中文不好). I lived in a totally different culture, understood what that meant in terms of work and my personal life. I changed jobs and teams. Got to eat all kinds of Chinese food I never knew existed. I got to travel all throughout Asia. How lucky is that?

The saddest part about leaving without a doubt is all the friends I’m saying goodbye too. For the last year they were my family. Some old friends from the states who became best friends, some new friends from here that became my closest friends, and of all the random people I met along the way who are on similar or totally different journeys that I am on, it’s hard to say goodbye to all of you. To boot, I’ll miss my apartment. I loved that place, I can only hope I’ll find as good a place in SF.

If you’re interested in getting a postcard, shoot me a mail at [email protected] and I’ll try to send you one from a few of the places I’ll be at. I’ll be blogging throughout my trip and I’ll be back in the States around the 25th of March.

See you soon, Shanghai.

Saturday at 0030 Hours

I’ve been a bit under the weather this weekend, fighting a cold, so I stayed at home Friday night. At about 12:30AM (e.g. Saturday 0030) I was getting ready for bed when the doorbell to my apartment rang. Of course I didn’t expect anybody over, so I gingerly looked through the view-hole of my door and didn’t see anybody in the small room that my apartment shares with my neighbor.

I did see somebody moving at the outside door (where the doorbell is) so I cracked my door open to see who it was. As I opened the door, a young twenty-something opened the outside door and started to walk in to my apartment. I asked her to stop in Chinese saying that I don’t know you (我不知道你!) and what did she want (你要什么?). She was being very friendly and it only took a moment for me to realize that she was a xiaojie (小姐). In very broken Chinese I told her that she had the wrong place but she was very insistent that she wanted to talk to me and come inside.

So after like a minute or so of a conversation that left both of us confused, she pulled out her mobile phone and started to see if she had the address right. Her phone had a message on it that had the same apartment number as mine but after some more arguing with her, I managed to convince her she was in wrong side of the building and pointed her in the right direction. She promptly left and walked through the double door that splits the the two sides and I’m sure was on her merry 小姐 way.

Delivery Service

One cool thing about living in a huge city is delivery men. In Shanghai, they ride around on bikes, electric motors bikes, motorcycles and other things, clogging up traffic lanes. Lots of companies keep delivery companies on retainer so if you need something sent within the city a delivery guy will be at your door to pick it up and hand carry it there in a few minutes for about 10-15 RMB. I even had one who was delivering my lunch home yesterday stop by the pharmacy and pick up some cold medicine. Apparently, a lot of the delivery men are out of work or otherwise injured factory workers or people who are unable to have a more “regular” job, so the government gives subsidies to the delivery companies to hire such people.