September 13, 2008

Telling the punchline to a joke you don't know

Posted by gornzilla

I'll catch us up on the Raju Adventures in a minute.

It took me two days to withdraw money in Kathmandu. I don't have an ATM card and I'm using Mastercard, not Visa. Mastercard is almost completely useless in Asia. No one takes them. I had the same problem in Japan and other tourists have said it's like that everywhere outside of North America and Europe. That caused a discussion on how hard they are to use in EU. I couldn't figure out which side presented a better argument but it's always fun listening to ex-pats and long-term travelers talking when most just have a basic understanding of English and bits of other languages keep coming in.

Anyway, Visa, no problem, but Mastercard is like a Discover card - just a punchline to a joke you don't know (an everyday occurrence on this trip). I had to pay a 6% commission to get cash after hitting every bank, and nearly every credit card taking money exchanger and the Western Union shop, looking for cash. So, a word of warning if you travel, bring Visa.

And the other bit I wanted to say, was the previous post where I said "beard is gay slang". That doesn't mean that I'm gay but that I have gay friends. Sheesh.

Raju got his rickshaw drivers license back. He said the night security guard got it back for him. That was good. I didn't want to pay 2,000 rupees for a replacement.

Raju and I left early on Saturday morning. I didn't think it'd take that long to get money and my Nepali visa expired on Saturday. I thought I'd have 2 days to get to the border, not one. Nepal is still working on their new government and I heard a new change was made so that if you overstayed your visa, it was no longer just a daily fine. Word was, they charge for another month, plus a fine for each day you're late.

If I had to pay for another month, then I was going to stay in Nepal, but I couldn't afford to keep Raju around for another month so I was hell bent on getting out of Nepal.

I let Raju wear the helmet and I wore the old man's Nepali hat that I bought. Dang, I thought I had a picture of me in it, but I'll have to post one later.


I got lost trying to get out of Kathmandu and it took almost 2 hours to find the road out of town. There were storm clouds overhead so I stopped at a bazaar and told Raju to find a couple cheap rain jackets. He came back and said they were too expensive and to buy them at the border. Screw that, it's my money, just buy them or at least one. He left, came back after 20 minutes and said they were too much money. I found another bazaar and we went through the same discussion again, only this time I also wanted sunglasses. No luck with Raju. A bit frustrated I said, "Fine, I know what it's like to ride in the rain, I'm fat so I have an insulating layer of blubber, and you have no idea since you're from a city that is very hot". Sometimes I like over-explaining things because it makes me laugh. More of that later. I think he understood "rain".

So off we go through the Himalayans. It was the most beautiful ride I'd ever done. We went through light rain and rose above the clouds which warmed us up. Then descended back through clouds and more rain. It started raining very heavily and I stopped at a small village tea shop. Raju was shaking and he huddled around the stove trying to warm up.


The rain mostly stops and I was kicking over the Enfield. It wasn't getting any compression. Raju asks, "Run? No run?" and me being a bit frustrated since he was shivering cold because I couldn't get him to buy a rain jacket with my money, I started explaining, "Well you know, it's a big single cylinder motorcycle. A thumper. Push, pull, bang, blow, that's how a thumper goes. We're not getting compression. Maybe the decompressor is acting up, I'm not sure. The altitude is high, but not that high. I'm sure you're very familiar with the internal combustion engine and the need for compression" and on and on I went, stopping only to laugh at myself.

Then I started telling him about the Theory of Evolution and saying that I would explain the Theory of Relativity to him if I understood it better myself. I explained the difference between "hypothesis" and "theory" and how one of my biggest pet peeves was that most Americans don't understand the scientific definition of "theory" and they confuse it with "hypothesis" so even intelligent Americans sometimes make asinine comments when they confuse the two (hypothesis is basically an idea, theory is a well-supported idea. eg, Intelligent design is a hypothesis that explains that the answer to questions humans aren't able to answer yet, is god; Theory of Evolution, is well-supported idea that things change and improve over time, from animals, animals in cold areas evolve to grow more fur, to how engines change, such as flat head to overhead cam and then I said, "But I'm sure you know all there is to know about ohc engines Raju", then we both laughed because we've both done the same thing of talking just to talk knowing the other one has no idea what was being said). All the while laughing at myself, and working with the bike until I figured out that the key has a setting where it doesn't allow compression and that something was screwy with it so even when the key was in the run mode, it sometimes had the lock turned to the open compression mode. I turned the key off then on, and it fired right up.

I had Raju wrap a plastic tarp around us both so the windchill wouldn't make the ride dangerous. I figured he was probably mostly ok, because I was in front of him acting as a windblock, but the "probably ok" part made me a bit worried. When I was in Northern Australia it was around 128F/53C according to a temperature gauge. When I made it south it got to the upper 70s and I felt like I was freezing to death. I stopped, put on all my clothes: 2 pairs of jeans, riding pants, 3 shirts, riding jacket and still shivered. My guess was that Raju was doing the same thing. It was still warm, but it was much colder than what he was used to.

Raju kept saying he was warm and wanted to take the tarp off. I said the tarp was what was keeping him warm and the wet clothes would make it very cold for him in a few minutes. None of which translated well.

Raju, "Inside tarp outside warm inside". He's very fond of using "inside" for some reason.

Me, "Raju Dave wet. Wet wind cold".

Sometimes we can figure each other out, sometimes no chance. We really should both tour the world only I can't afford to take him. It's pretty funny when we both talk at the same time in front of people.

The roads were beautiful. Hairpins, cliffs, waterfalls, white faced monkeys, good pavement. The Maoist graffiti looked old which was a relief since there were reports of some Maoist uprisings. When we took the bus to Kathmandu from the border, none of the bus drivers would drive direct to Kathmandu since a bus driver was badly beaten and a family of four was shot to death. That's what everyone on the ground said, but the paper reported it as an accident that killed a family and injured the driver. We had to take a longer route. It wasn't just a bus driver trying to make extra money, all the bus and truck drivers were doing the same thing.

Finally, I got a puncture. Raju and I started pushing the bike and I immediately thought, "Yeah, this should last about 30 seconds". A cowherder Nepali boy walked up and pointed to his steer and asked, "What's this?" I said, "Cow" and he laughed and said, "It doesn't have udders, it's a steer". I wasn't expecting good English. Then he said, "Oh, I see you have a puncture. It's about 10 kilometers to the next town with a repair shop". Great English that caught me off guard. It wasn't the broken English that I was used to.

I have the tools to fix the puncture, but they're in Delhi. I quickly gave up pushing and idled the 10k in 1st gear. After about 8k, it got sloppy so I had Raju walk to the shop while I idled. I found the puncture guy and I had a spare tube. I helped pull the rear wheel off but he had the tire irons so I let him change the tube. 25 Nepali rupees, so uh... 40 US cents? The spare had a hole in it, so it came back off and was repaired. That cost me 40 Nepali rupees, so both changes cost me 65 rupees or US$1.00.


We ended up riding for 13 hours because I had to make the border in time. We showed up at night and crossed the border and found a guest house. There's a 200 Nepali fee each day for having a vehicle in Nepal and somehow I just forgot to stop to pay the fee. I parked in India, and walked back to get stamped out of Nepal, but the Indian side said they had closed for the night. They wouldn't stamp me into India since I wasn't stamped out of Nepal. I left the office, crossed the street, and went back to India.

I thought Nepal might run on Indian time, so I waited until 9am to go to the Nepal border. He looked at my passport and said I was a day late and if I was concerned I would've shown up that morning around 7am. I told him I tried to go there the night before around 9pm and the Indian side said he was closed. He said was there until 11pm and that if I had showed up after he left, the soldiers would've called him. There was of course a fine to be paid.

I didn't want to pay the extra month. I also wanted to give Raju a ride home since I couldn't afford him anymore, and me going back to Kathmandu and paying for a bus ride for Raju just seems like it would cut the story short. The official said, "Well, we can work something out". Ah, my first official baksheesh.

I asked how much he wanted and he said it was up to my heart. It's good to have a travel wallet because if I had opened a wallet filled with 500 rupee bills I would've been screwed. I gave him a mix of about 250 Indian and Nepali rupees. I said I needed the other 300 Indian rupees to take a bus to Varanasi. He said I could find a bank and took another 100 rupees. More than the daily fine, but no monthly fee.

I ask Raju to ask what road to take, he asks, and points out the way. After that, on the ride south, he wouldn't take off his helmet, and wouldn't ask people. My Hindi pronunciation is horrible and working with my map book trying to figure out how to get to Varanasi was frustrating. If I was by myself, I wouldn't have gotten frustrated because I like random wandering, but since I had Raju, a local, on the back it got to me. He wouldn't take off his helmet and ask people.

I start trying to find sun screen or a long sleeve shirt, since I was badly sun burned. That also had no luck in getting Raju to help. I remembered the stories that I heard at the Yellow House from other Westerners. Raju is Indian, so therefore, he's better than Nepalis so he wouldn't talk to them. Even though he was often of a different caste (sometimes higher, sometimes lower), he was traveling with a Westerner who was picking up his tab. The only time he'd talk to the Nepali staff was when he was drunk. Then he wouldn't shut up. A couple Westerners said Raju had made the Nepalis angry by looking down on them. That was why he wouldn't take off his helmet.

He was traveling with a Westerner and experiencing a bit of living in a different caste. Among the very conservative Hindus, all Westerners are considered "Untouchables" because we're caste-less (stay the hell out of my kitchen since you'll pollute it!) but for most Indians because we're caste-less we can get away with stuff (yes, please look at my kitchen!). They ask questions about what sort of work we do, so they can figure out what caste we would be in. Raju was on a break from this. By taking off the helmet and asking questions, other Indians would be able to caste him and look down on him for being of whatever general caste covers bicycle rickshaw drivers. I'm sure there's a specific bicycle rickshaw caste.

Okay then. I've gone this far with him so I'll let him get by with another day of it. After I realized I had to cut him more slack, he'd make me laugh when we'd stop in a hot town and he'd keep the helmet on while I drank water. After a few hours, he finally started asking questions. My tora tora Hindi is mostly useless, so I tuned out on the conversations. As I write these things, it's so very obvious how this is going to turn out.

This ended up costing about 5 hours of unnecessary riding time. Raju only knows two ways into Nepal so he'd been asking directions on how to get to Gorakhpur. That was up north and we were far south of that nearing the Ganga River where I'd turn right to follow it. By the time I figured out what had happened, we were back north and close to Gorkhpur. Just when I figured out that Raju couldn't frustrate me anymore, he did.

Once we made Gorakhpur, I could follow the map, but at that point, just asking, "Beneras?" would get pointed in the right direction. Beneras = Varanasi = Koshi. Same names for the same city, which happens a lot here (Ganga = Ganges). The sunburn was driving me crazy but in Gorakhpur, Raju, like I said, suddenly got helpful. We found a long sleeve shirt and rode into Benaras.

It's always good to reach a city when there's lots of Indian traffic, it's getting dark, and your ass is sore from 2 long days riding an Enfield. At least Beneras traffic just has sacred cows and water buffalo - no camels or elephants blocking the street. Lights aren't really used here since you flash lights to get people out of your way, so we rode in, in heavy Indian traffic, with no lights.

The Enfield clutch doesn't fully disengage so the bike often stalls instead of idles. There's a way of holding in the clutch, while goosing the throttle, while trying to kick through the gearbox occasionally stabbing at the lever that puts the bike in neutral, that I could pull off about 90% of the time, but that still means stalling the bike in traffic once in a while. A fun time had by all. India isn't as violent or hostile as the US. Stalling my bike in traffic here could've been done on purpose if say, I wanted to ask for directions. No big deal.

We made it back to my guest house and parked the bike. Met up with Jennifer, had a couple of very much needed beers and went to sleep.

The next day, Raju starts bugging me for 2,000 rupees for his rickshaw drivers license. I kept saying he had his license, but somehow it was Nepali tainted and he couldn't use it and couldn't work without one. I said I didn't understand and needed a Hindi-English translator but "translator" wasn't translating and I finally said that I spent about 8,000 rupees on him in 2 weeks and he wasn't getting anymore rupees out of me. He kept trying.

Of course, since I took a bicycle rickshaw driver up to Kathmandu for dance bars, beers and a hooker, every rickshaw driver (bike and auto), crooked tour guide (aka tout), and shop owner knows it. I'm walking around with a big target on my back.

The day after we got back, I was taking a long walk back to the guest house and a rickshaw driver kept asking me if I wanted a ride. I was happy walking, so I said I had no rupees. He'd let me walk another 30 meters, then pull up next to me to ask again.

He said, "I'm good Indian. No rupees okay. Good karma". Anyone who says, "I'm good Indian" (or American or English or any other nationality) immediately makes me suspicious. I finally said I'd give him a ride instead, and got him into the seat and I rode his bicycle rickshaw back towards Assi Ghat (the district I live in). My first time riding a rickshaw and I crashed it. The brakes were crap and the first time I really needed them, they didn't brake enough and I ran into a parked rickshaw at a low speed. After that, he rode and I was in back.

It turns out his name is also Raju. Or "Raju 2: Electric Boogaloo" as I call him (if you catch that reference, very good for you). He asks what I'm up to, I say nothing, so he takes me to his house, and then him, his street fighting rickshaw driving friend, his little kid with a lazy eye (that I wished was a girl so I could call him Gina after my lazy eyed sister that will punch me next time she's sees me for writing that), and I go on a tour of BHU (Beneras Hindu University). It's a lovely campus. It had rained so it was filled with a foggy haze and peacocks and police patrolled everything. Sadly, not as a peacock police force, but they worked their own separate beats. Raju won't let me pay. He buys me food and eventually takes me home.

I see R2 the next day and he takes me on a tour of DLW (Diesel Locomotive Works) but the shops were closed so it was basically a tour of a company town. He kept buying me food without letting me pay. This time, I was pretty sure he was on speed because he talked non-stop for about 3 hours and none of it made sense. It started making me a bit paranoid, so I said I had to meet Jennifer and went to her house.

Normally, I would've been paranoid sooner, but everyone knows I'm with him so I figured at most it was just a long term scam.

Now whenever I'm outside, there's two Rajus that I keep seeing. I've been telling people that I'm staying another week, but I plan on leaving Tuesday morning. By making people think I'll be here another week, I should be able to escape whatever scam is going on. Every day, rickshaw drivers and touts (the shifty tour guides) see me coming and it's like I've got money growing out of my skin the way I sometimes get mobbed. I need to leave this city but it's my fault.

My friend Jennifer keeps saying, "You don't have to be polite" and as weird as it sounds for people that knew me in my 20s, I'm mostly nice and polite.

I went on a sunrise boat ride and was dropped off at the Burning Ghat. I'd been there once before where a tour guide gives a tour, takes you up to an old lady who needs money to provide wood for cremation, then the tour guide needs money for the tour. I'm not sure how much, if any, of a commission he gets from the old lady. I was told that the family that owns that ghat, the one who the donated money goes to, is the richest family in Beneras.

It catches you off guard. I'm a Westerner so death is private. Here it's very open which I think is how it should be. When I'm 5 feet away from a pyre with smoke and ash in my face and clothes and nose and mouth, when hearing burning bones pop and watching the flames and heat shrink muscle making arms and legs and the head move, while the family member with a stick who is about to crack open the skull to release the soul to Shiva, stops and says, "Namaste! Hello, sir!" in a very friendly way and compliments the moustache, it's hard to say "piss off" when getting hit up for cash. But this, my 2nd visit, pushed me over the edge.

I gave the tour guide, that I kept saying I didn't want, 50 rupees. He gave the boat guy a commission. It's a lot of work rowing a boat upstream so when we got back and he wanted baksheesh, I said, it went to the tour guide that I didn't want. I was mad at myself for giving the tour guide 50 rupees and the old lady 100 rupees, when I knew it was a scam and that I should've said no.

And that, finally after 2 months, put me closer to the ex-pats and the Indians who live here. Nearly two months of it until I understood why they come across so harsh to the beggars who hit them up. After a while, what can you do? Sure, sometimes you still give some backsheesh to the really screwed-up cripples but for the most part, it's just ignore or maybe "leave me alone". If you say, "Sorry, no", that encourages many of them so it makes it worse in the long run. Just a wave of the hand without really looking and most of the time, they leave you alone. Mostly. But since I'm still a Westerner and still not good at coming across as being angry yelling "cholo" (go away) and since I laugh at most stuff I get myself into, I still get hit up, but it's not as bad.

Ok then. It's hot and I'd love to go for a swim in the Ganges, but it's very heavily polluted. The Ganges River, the Holiest of rivers in a country where everything is holy, is a 90 second walk from my place in Varanasi (Assi Ghat).
It's where I see lots of dead people, dead burning people, people pissing/shitting/spitting/tossing trash into the Holy River, and lots of people swimming, bathing, brushing their teeth and washing clothes in the muddy river.

In Varanasi (the Holiest of Cities in Hindu religion), they toss in about 40,000 cremated people (not counting the whole ones if they're the non-burning kind: kids, virgins, holy men, lepers and untouchables - so screw you Sean Connery).

It's a very polluted river with upstream factories and they still use DDT here. 80% of health problems and 1/3 of Indian deaths are attributed to water-born disease such as cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and amoebic dysentery.

But there's faith, so the river must be self-cleansing.

Faith can be a terrible thing. And if the girl I know named Faith is reading this, that wasn't a dig at you. Visit the burning ghat, and get a bottle of water to was the ash out of your mouth. Barbecued Soylent Green doesn't taste like chicken.

Don't take this as me making fun of Hindu religion. All religions do some kooky stuff, so I'm not singling out Hinduism. Hinduism is probably the most open religion in the world. They put up with everything. Eventually the Moslems give them enough grief and they fight each other, but it's a very tolerant religion.

Here's a picture that I took that didn't turn out. What I meant to get was a dead person on the beach that they'll set fire to in a few minutes. They get them wet in the holy river, then let them dry out a little, then the fire starts. There's people swimming in the water where the dead guy is. This picture just has the stuff they wrap the dead person in. It's common to see a dead person in the river right next to where someone is drinking river water. I'm not punk rock enough to take pictures of burning dead bodies, but I have thought about taking a short movie of people drinking water next to a floater.


Posted by gornzilla at September 13, 2008 02:46 AM

Breakin 2 was Daniel Riordan's breakthrough role as "surveyor." This lead to such roles as "Removal Man" in My Blue Heaven, starring alongside Johnny Depp in Ed Wood as "Pilot/Strapping Young Man". Later he would play drums in a band with ex-airman Michael Dorn. These days he does voice over work for video games. It's a small world.

Posted by: sex creepy at September 13, 2008 07:17 AM

well done, sir! And might I add, that's a very nice mustache you're sporting...

Posted by: kellye at September 13, 2008 09:01 AM

Oh it's more than just a punch in the arm! I'm kicking your ass! DARE to be rickshaw free!

Posted by: Gina at September 13, 2008 01:14 PM

Ya got to watch out for them burnin' rings of fire.....

Posted by: justin other smith at September 13, 2008 11:04 PM

Yea, my dad told me how bad he felt when he'd see kids come up to him in Vietnam with melted napalm faces and couldn't help but give them all the money that he had in his pocket, so don't feel bad. He had to stop that as some point too. This all as he was working there as a civilian.
Anyhow, I'm glad you have an Indian version of me to put up with.

Posted by: Skipper at September 14, 2008 01:18 AM

Plus, you know that I've been calling Dan Fink's child Dan Dan 2 Electric-boog-a-loo don't you. As Godfather I can call her what I want.

Posted by: skpr at September 14, 2008 01:24 AM