.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, November 28, 2008


Decaf or not?

Many years ago I made a choice to not partake of caffeinated drinks. I find that generally I can get to sleep fairly quickly in the evening and when I wake in the morning I am ready to start my day right away. I tend to have fairly regular sleeping habits.

If I am in Australia and my friends invite me to have a coffee with them, I opt for decaffeinated. I know there are questions about decaffeinated coffee. Apparently there are two processes for decaffeinating coffee beans. One is expensive and produces a product that is not harmful. The other, cheaper process, produces a product that is reputed to not be particularly good for our health. Guess which one is more commonly used. Still, I don't drink the stuff so often I doubt that it is going to do me a lot of harm. Besides, I do enjoy the flavour of coffee.

In Thailand there is a coffee chain that boasts a range of over 20 types of coffee. At the time I checked them out none were decaffeinated. Fine, I decided, I have no difficulty in going without.

On my second day in India Nazia and I had an early dinner—or perhaps a very late lunch. We decided to see a movie at 7.30 and had a bit of time to kill. Nazia was hanging out for a cup of tea so introduced me to the Costa coffee shop in the local mall. 'But they won't have decaffeinated,' I said.

'Yes, they do.' Not only did they offer decaffeinated but the size of the cups! I ordered a medium. To me it was equal to about two regular cups of coffee. Glad I didn't order a large. Still, it helped to fill the time until the movie started.

After the movie we returned to our homes in a cycle rickshaw. I'm trying to set myself a slightly different sleeping pattern while I'm in India. In Bangkok I usually slept from 10 pm to 6 am. Here, I'm aiming for 11 pm to 7 am. At this point my body clock should have still been in Bangkok time so I should have been nodding off at about 8.30 pm. When I returned to my room it was 10.40 and I was still wide awake. I decided to do a little writing until 11. When that came around I still did not feel tired but turned the computer off anyway and went to bed.

I lay for hours not feeling the least bit tired. I checked the time at one point. It was 2.40 am. I still felt wide awake. I probably dozed off around about 3 am. But I didn't feel I slept soundly and woke up several times before getting up a little before 7.30.

Something had kept me awake for most of the night. There weren't any obtrusive noises. The temperature was pleasant. There was nothing keeping me awake. I was just not sleepy.

So, what was the cause? I believe I drank caffeinated coffee. Did the coffee-making person at Costa give me a regular coffee by mistake? Or is their decaf coffee a fake? I have no way of knowing but I shall avoid it for the rest of my time in India.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Delhi: first impressions

My plane arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport perhaps a little ahead of time. I had rested but not slept on the plane. The tiredness had gone and hopefully was not colouring my first impressions of India.

The airport is big, modern and clean. The queues for immigration were not too long and the process was quick. I did already have a visa so I trust there was not so much that needed to be checked. When I got inside the terminal there was about a half-hour delay to collect luggage from my flight. Perhaps this is normal. I'm not sure. There was no shortage of luggage carousels and appeared to be no shortage of staff but someone explained that luggage from my flight was 'on hold'. When it finally started to come along the carousel they even had a man stationed just after the bend on the end whose only job seemed to be to straighten anything that did not come around the corner too well. But someone else was chatting to him so he missed half of them. Before long my backpack arrived and it took me almost no time to pass through the customs check.

My friend, Nazia, was waiting for me and led me outside where we were immediately surrounded by thousands of flying insects. Is this India I thought. But as we moved away from the lights the numbers reduced. I asked if this was normal in India and Nazia explained that the insects were attracted to something that was burned in the Divali celebrations.

Nazia had come in a taxi cab and the driver was waiting for our return journey to Noida where I had booked a room. The driver drove fast and furiously with the horn blaring regularly. The object seemed to be to keep the cab moving forwards no matter what. And everyone else seemed to have much the same object for their vehicles. Trucks—there are so many of them, delivery drivers must be in plentiful supply—bear signs on the back inviting other drivers to 'horn please' or occasionally the same message with a more creative spelling. And other drivers appear to be pleased to oblige. It makes no difference to the truck. The driver invariably holds his position while other drivers pass on the near side, the far side or anywhere else there appears to be a space.

When I first encountered Bangkok traffic I thought it was anarchistic. I've become used to it over the years. In Hanoi I discovered traffic that was just so incredibly busy and beepingly noisy. Traffic in Delhi is all of the above and more. Did I mention that someone told me, 'Nothing prepares you for India'? As far as traffic goes perhaps they were right.

Eventually we reached the guesthouse where my room was booked and it wasn't long before I was in a comfortable bed and sound asleep.

Footnote: If this blog appears to be out of chronological order, this one should explain.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Internet cupboard

The word 'market' in India is used to describe something that is perhaps a cross between a market with free-standing stalls as you might find in South-east Asia and a shopping strip in an Australian (or other Western) town or suburb. The stalls in the Indian markets are permanent like those in a shopping strip but unlike those in the shopping strip, you don't usually enter. It's too small - sort of like a big cupboard.

I needed to pick up a few hardware items and found such a stall. They appeared to have as good a range of small hardware items as you might find in an Australian hardware store. How or where they store it all is beyond me. There is a woman behind the counter and the husband stands on the footpath along with the customers, helping from there.

'I need a small lock.'

She shuffles around for a short while and produces a tiny lock.

'Do you have one a little bigger?'

And out it comes.

'That's good. Now do you have an electric plug adapter?' One is produced but it's not right. She pulls out a few more and I find the one I need.

What else does she have in this stall that is not much bigger than a cupboard but seems to work like a magician's hat? I'm tempted to test her out by asking for a few more things except I'd have to buy them.

After I'd been staying at the Youth Hostel for a few days I decided I needed to go online. My Argentinian friend offered to show me where the nearest internet cafe was. We took a pleasant ten minute stroll to another 'market' and he pointed to the cupboard that contained the internet cafe.

I opened the door expecting to find a passageway leading to a bigger room behind but no, this was it.

It was a two storey cupboard with two compartments on each shelf, ie a total of four computers. The computers were fairly ancient, running an antique version of Windows and the connection was quite slow. It took me back about five years but wasn't really a problem as I was only checking my email.

At one point there were two guys together on the computer next to mine and they needed help from the operator so there were four of us cramped on the one cupboard shelf.

I've used other internet cafes in India since that one and I'm pleased to say they're more like I've experienced in other parts of Asia and usually run XP. Speeds are not up to what I'm used to in Bangkok, in fact no better than I'd expect to find in Cambodia. Maybe there are better cafes elsewhere in India but, so far, I haven't found one.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 17, 2008


Deciphering the signs

When I arrived at the New Delhi Youth Hostel I had to wait a little while at the counter which gave me time to read some of the signs on the walls. I like this one (the spelling and grammar are theirs):

Use of un-parliamentary languages with any of the staffs is strictly restricted

Climbing the stairs I was able to enjoy prints of paintings by local artists. But this sign had me boggled:


I looked everywhere but could not find this dangerous white picture. Later I noticed they had the painters in and realised that this was the Indian version of 'WET PAINT'.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 14, 2008


Where to stay in Delhi?

No one I spoke to had anything good to say about Delhi but somehow circumstances are such that I've just spent a week there.

I asked my friends with India experience where I should stay in Delhi. It seems they all say Pahar Ganj. No one could actually recommend a place they'd stayed. There was no enthusiasm but no one knew any other options. And online reviews aren't enthusiastic either.

I decided to check local knowledge. I asked Nazia what she thought about Pahar Ganj. 'Don't go there,' she said. 'It's full of touts. It's not a nice place.'

'So, where do I go?'

'I'll find somewhere for you.'

Nazia lives in suburban Delhi but the reality is that locals don't know where you should stay. They never have to look for accommodation in their own town.

Online I tracked down a guesthouse not far from her place. She checked it out and said it didn't look too bad but she had reservations.

I emailled and asked what was their full all-inclusive room rate. They wrote back and said 'refer to our website'. The website quoted 1,000 rupees for a single room and made no mention of seasonal rates. That's not cheap for India. We aren't talking about starred accommodation. Still, I emailled back and asked them to book me in for two nights.

The place wasn't all that bad. It was clean, had air-con, hot running water if you could figure out how it worked and most importantly - the bed was comfortable. They served breakfast and the food was OK. When I checked out two days later, I was presented with a bill for 3,000 rupees. When I questioned them, they said the rate in the website was the off-peak rate and this was the peak period (for one more week). Nazia came along to pick me up and joined in the conversation - in Hindi - which meant I was out of it. The clerk referred her to his boss by telephone. The boss said he couldn't do anything but quoted his boss. I stupidly paid up.

I am not mentioning the guesthouse name because I understand this type of practice is not uncommon in India. I present this anecdote here as a warning to all travellers to India. Don't do what I did. I recommend that you do not accept vague references to a website - ask for a firm price. Don't book unless you get it. If they try to change the price, refuse to pay.

So, where to next? I was prepared to try Pahar Ganj but I wasn't going there if Nazia could help it. I had jotted down a few notes off the internet. Top of my list, because of price, was the International Youth Hostel at Chanakyapuri. Nazia was quite enthusiastic about this because Chanakyapuri is a good area. We took a taxi there and yes, this area is very pleasant - lots of trees, little traffic and quiet. This is the area where you'll find all the foreign embassies.

And the hostel? Well, it's certainly not luxurious but it's clean with basic comforts. There are several options ranging from private rooms with air-con to dorms. But if you turn up on short notice, as I did, you might not get what you are looking for. (Check their website and book ahead.)

For my first three nights, I got a room to myself but had to share the bathroom.
For the rest of my stay, I was in a dorm.

I usually avoid dorms, mainly for security reasons but security here was good. You get a locker to which you can add your own lock. It was big enough to hold my main backpack. If you're fussy, check them out first as you're allocated a specific one. Some are in better condition than others. They also offer secure storage on another floor which looks pretty good. I put my computer bag in there as I wasn't going to be using the computer anyway. As an added precaution, I put a lock on the bag.

Weighing up the differences between a private room and a dorm, there are pluses and minuses to each. If you want quiet, the private room is definitely the way to go as people come and go in the dorms at all times of day and night. Some are considerate of others. Some definitely are not. I've also discovered that Indian men are even worse than Chinese men with the noises they make to clear the phlegm from their throats early in the morning.

What I liked most about the dorm was the opportunity to meet others. I shared my dorm with an interesting range of people, none of whom were Westerners. Among the Indians were a couple of guys who were part of a team working on a new political journal. There was also an (almost) retired professor of political science and an historian working on the period before and after independence from a Muslim perspective. Foreigners included two Afghan students. I also met a young accountant (really nice guy) from Argentina.

There were some superficial renovations taking place during my stay but some major work is also needed. The hostel is advertised as being 'eco-friendly'. The main feature of this is the solar hot water system which only operates in the winter months. At the moment it is stuffed so there's no hot water at all which, of course, is still eco-friendly : )

Both of the bathrooms I used were pretty bad in general. The plumbing challenged my understanding of the laws of physics.

The hostel has a kitchen which serves reasonable (mostly Indian) food. Breakfast is included in the room price. Sometimes the kitchen is open for lunch, sometimes not. You have to book and pay ahead for lunch and dinner. There is a deadline for this which may or may not be enforced depending on the staff member on duty. If you miss out, there is a local 'market' where food is available but the range is limited unless you are looking to dine in a fancy restaurant. (The one I tried is quite good.)

Chanakyapuri is not in the centre of Delhi but it's only ten minutes away from Connaught Place by auto rickshaw (similar to a Thai tuk-tuk). There's usually one or two waiting outside the hostel. They will ask you for a fare of 60 - 100 rupees for this. Offer them 40 and walk away if they mention a figure over 50. There is also a bus for much less than this. The nearest stop is a pleasant ten minute walk from the hostel. They can at times be way overcrowded but pick the right time (as I did) and you'll get a comfortable and maybe interesting ride.

If you want to check out Pahar Ganj (as I also did), it's a walkable distance from Connaught Place or take the metro. It certainly is an interesting place to visit. Vibrant is the word that comes to mind. I'm told there are good restaurants there but I didn't try them. Yes, the touts are there but after six years in Asia I know most of the tricks. Inexperienced travellers should be cautious with people they don't know. Don't be paranoid or you'll miss out on the fun. Just don't believe too much of what he says. (So far I haven't met a female tout in India but I'm open.)

Back to the New Delhi International Youth Hostel, if I haven't turned you off (not my intention), I suggest you check out their website and remember to book ahead.

Labels: , , , , ,


Is he really stupid?

The tables in the dining room at Ivy Bank Guest House are fairly large. If you want to be heard by the person opposite, you need to raise your voice a little. It's not easy to have a private conversation. So I couldn't help hearing the voices at the next table.

The elderly American gentleman was quoting someone as saying that George Bush Jnr just had to be the stupidist (or was it dumbest?) US president ever. He must have agreed with this assessment or he wouldn't have bothered repeating it.

I don't.

I think George Bush Jnr is very shrewd.

The stupid ones, in my opinion, are all those American citizens who voted for him eight years ago. They proved to be even more stupid when they put him in again four years later.

I remember reading when I was a younger man that the way to have power over people is to convince them there is something they should fear and present yourself as being able to control or defeat that which is feared. (Sorry, I don't remember who said this, just remember the concept.) Dictators have been using this principle for centuries. Adolf Hitler used it well. The Chinese government used it recently to convince Chinese people not to listen to what the rest of the world was saying about them.

It works in democracies too. Just convince a majority of voters that there's something out there to be afraid of and that you'll do what is necessarly to protect them and they'll vote for you. Sadly it seems that so often so many of the people are too stupid to realise that what they need to be protected from is their would-be protector.

You may not be able to fool all the people all the time but if you can fool enough of the people some of the time, you just might get to be president of the United States and ruler of the free world.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Do we need a miracle worker?

Congratulations to Barack Obama on his decisive win in the recent US presedential election.

To the rest of us I say: Please be patient. Barack Obama is an intelligent man. Hopefully he also has integrity and seeks what is best for the US and the world. But he is not a miracle worker.

The US (and through it, the world) has been badly mismanaged for the past eight years, perhaps longer. It has been exploited by bankers and others with more money than they need but not enough to satisfy their greed.

What can this man do? I don't claim to know.

What can we do? First, let's not put Barack Obama on a pedestal. He alone can not fix the problems of the world. Perhaps he will make mistakes. He is, after all, human. But if his intentions are good and he is prepared to acknowledge and correct his mistakes, we can all learn and move forward.

The world can only move ahead if we all work together. That doesn't mean we have to agree with each other. I'm talking about intention. What are your goals? Are your goals about working towards making the world a better place for everyone? Or are they about making it better for you? I believe the world has got where it is because too many people chose the second option. I hope Barack Obama is choosing the first option. And I hope you are too.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?