All Posts Filed in ‘Asia

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Kolkata, India

Trying to find a way of sending the bike back to England but it’s not easy. I went to the post office and at first they said they could send it and asked me to come back with the bike so they could weigh it but then when I did return with the bike another guy said no, a bike can’t be sent in the post. So I’ve been trying to find a shipping company. One of the guys who works in the hotel was offering to buy it off me today, but he would only offer 3000 Rupees, perhaps a lot of money in India but not much when you convert it to pounds – about £40. I said I’d want at least ten times that amount.

I want to get away from this place but it’s the hassle of loading everything up onto the bike again, getting it to the station and onto a train, which would probably be a bureaucratic nightmare, that’s keeping me here. If I just had a rucksack everything would be so much easier.

It is tempting to just give it to the Indian guy here. He admitted it would be like a gift if I sold it to him for 3000 Rupees. You can’t compare it to England, he kept saying. This is India. He promised he’d look after the bike, said he wouldn’t sell it to anyone else.

I’ll try DHL tomorrow. I’ve emailed them and if I can send it for not too much money then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t feel it’s really my bike to sell, any way. That’s why I didn’t sell it in Canada, where I probably could have got a good price. More than £40 at least.

Money infests everything. I’ve gotten to know some of the beggars on Sudder Street. One, a kid of about 12 or 13 who first said he was a guide and that he would show me the sights of Calcutta for a small and very reasonable fee, then started saying he was from Mumbai and wanted the train fare to get back there to his family. He just needed 150 Rupees for the train, the Sir General Bogie. That’s the name of the train which goes to Mumbai, or so he kept telling me. I wouldn’t give him the money for the train ticket but I said I’d go to the station with him and if he could put up half the money for the ticket I’d pay the other half. That was yesterday. He’d told me he had 65 Rupees because he said he was going to buy a box of strawberries to sell to tourists but didn’t have quite enough money, and then he was saying he’d need a bit more money to pay off the police. I told him that all sounded like a bad idea.

He couldn’t work out whether 65 Rupees was half of 150 Rupees. I told him it wasn’t quite half. I don’t think he’s been to school much. He told me the reason he came to Kolkata was that a friend of his here said there was a good school he could go to, but when he got there they wanted 350 Rupees a month which he couldn’t afford.

Yesterday he came up to me, having been waiting for me for three hours outside the internet centre, to tell me that his train the Sir General Bogie went at six o’clock in the morning which would be too early for me to go to the station with him so I could just give him the cash for his ticket. I said no. Wasn’t there a later train he could take? The early one is the cheapest. Okay, maybe it’s a bit more expensive to go later in the day, but it can’t be that different. 150 Rupees is £2. I don’t mind paying an extra 50p, or even an extra £1, but I don’t want to hand over cash to him. He’s telling me that he really will go and that if I see him after tomorrow I can get the police onto him. The fact that he’s saying this makes me more suspicious than I already am. I tell him I’ll go to the station with him tomorrow and see him onto a train.

Tomorrow was today, and I haven’t seen him all day. Maybe someone else gave him the money for the train ticket. Or maybe he didn’t want to go to Mumbai at all.

Someone I met the other day told me all the beggars on Sudder Street are scammers with homes in the country. Another guide, who I hadn’t asked to guide me and who I hadn’t agreed to pay anything, he was taking me to the racecourse and on the way, as we got off the tram, there were a number of homeless people living under a raised section of road. They were the genuine poor, he said.

But I think many people on Sudder Street are genuinely poor. Perhaps not as poor as those living under the road, but still poor. There’s a rikshaw puller with a long grey beard and a missing front tooth who always rings his bell and grins at me as I walk past. He used to ask me if I wanted to go somewhere in his rikshaw, and then when I said I was fine walking, he complained that tourists don’t want to travel in rikshaws any more and he was finding it really hard to get by so maybe I could spare a little bit of money for him.

All the rikshaw drivers (pullers?) seem to be old. It’s not a business that young people are going into. I’ve seen a few tourists riding in rikshaws, but not many. Most of their customers seem to be wealthy Indians.

There are many people sleeping rough here. If they really do have homes in the country, to sleep rough for part of the year in order to make money suggests they can’t be that comfortably off. Each morning I sit in a cafe just over the road from the hand pump. I watch people washing. Men and children. I don’t know where or when the women wash. With something wrapped around their waist they fill buckets and tip the water over themselves. Others stand outside the cafe looking in at the tourists, smiling, trying to catch someone’s eye, making eating gestures, rubbing their stomachs. A woman with a baby, a long haired guy with one arm, young skinny children.

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Kolkata, India

South Americans out on the roof with a guitar and singing songs. Or maybe they’re Spanish. There’s a lot of them.

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Internet Place on Sudder Street, Kolkata, India

Sudder Street is the main touristy area of Kolkata. The only tourist area I think. I’m in an internet centre which seems to double as a family’s home. There’s a kid on a shelf above my head and the adults are eating curry and rice behind me. The twelve computers are all being used by foreigners.

The connection is a bit slow. I’m waiting for the next photo to upload. See my new photos of India website – the pictures were taken a couple of days ago during the Holi festival of colour procession in the streets around here.

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Holi Day in Kolkata, India

After being out all day following the colour procession around, taking photos and getting covered in paint, I’m sitting on the rooftop patio of the hotel (not as nice as it sounds) and feeling a bit ill. I think I need to go for a walk around and head off for the Victoria Memorial, where I’ll be able to sit in the shade for 4 Rupees. On the way the I walk across the Maiden, a park filled with people playing cricket and flying kites. For many people today is a holiday, though they call it Holi Day. Happy Holi Day. From where are you coming? From England. You come from England to Kolkata? Yeah. Why?

In the Victoria Memorial gardens a guy sits down next to me and starts to chat. I’m really not feeling that great now and don’t have a lot to say. I just want to lie down. It’s good to be in the shade though. He asks me where I’m going after Calcutta. I say maybe Bodgaya and Varanasi, or maybe Darjeeling. You should go to Varanasi, he says. That’s my city. It’s a very nice city. Nice and cool. Cool winds from the Ganges. If you have pen and paper I can write you the best places to go in Varanasi. I hand him my notepad and a pen and he starts to write, very slowly and carefully, writing a heading and then underlining it. He writes in capitals. The letters are English but have a Bengali look about them. As he begins to fill up the page I realize he’s going to ask me for money when he’s finished, and I’m thinking I don’t want to pay him anything. He’s already told me he has a job starting in a month, which means at the moment he has no job, but there are plenty off people in this city far worse off than him and I don’t like the deception. If he’s offering a service he expects to be paid for he should make this clear up front. But once he’s written a page on Varanasi and another page on Darjeeling I’m feeling quite ill and need to get home and just want to get rid of him as quickly as possible so when he asks for some money for a cold drink I give him 20 Rupees, which he seems pretty satisfied with, and leave.

As I walk along the sun is setting and I know that as soon as I get back I’m going straight to the toilet. I’d go before if there was anywhere to go, but there isn’t. I looked for one in the gardens but didn’t find it.

I get back just in time and I’m spewing from both ends. I go to bed but have to keep getting up to go to the toilet. I can’t even keep water down. There’s a bucket outside my door with my paint covered t-shirt soaking in it. I bring it inside the room. It comes in useful later, but I don’t think I’ll be wearing that t-shirt again.

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Dum Dum to Kolkata, India

A knock on my door at 9am. I get out of bed, put a towel around me and open the door. Time to check out, says an angry looking guy with some sheets.

As I put the paniers on the bike a boy of about ten stood and watched, then out onto the street I get some more attention, and spend a bit of time answering questions like where am I from? where am I cycling to? how much did the bike cost? I take my camera out and take a picture of a cow and some people sifting through a pile of rubbish. I’m well back and don’t zoom in on them, but it doesn’t feel right.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand to Kolkata, India

Bangkok Airport. About to fly to Kolkata (Calcutta). The bike is in a tatty bike box and the paniers are in a bin liner, sitting on a trolley outside the airport cafe I’m in. I don’t think anyone will steal them, but better just check they’re still there.

They are.

Ordered a mango shake. I’m not sure I like mango.

It’s hot in Bangkok. Someone said this is the hottest city in the world.

Didn’t get any sleep last night. Had a good massage though. Just a massage. Not the extras you hear about. I don’t know if they did offer that. I wouldn’t know what to ask for. After the stress of getting the bike packed up it was good, and quite erotic, though the masseuse seemed to get a bit bored after the left leg, though I think she might have enjoyed walking up and down my back. I don’t know, I couldn’t see her.

I couldn’t get the pedals off again. I took it to a bike shop a few days ago and got them to take the pedals off, spray some WD-40 on them then put them back on again, which the guy did, seeming to take them off very easily with a very large spanner, but then he must have tightened them up as tight as they were before because I couldn’t get them off with my allen key or with a small spanner. I left it until the evening and by then the bike shop was closed, but I still managed to get the bike in the box, it just bulges a bit.

I had just as much trouble getting a bag to put all the paniers and tent in. Airlines only let you take two items of baggage. One is the bike so the 4 paniers and tent + sleeping bag have to become one item. I went to the main post office and asked them to sell me a mail bag, which would’ve been ideal but they refused. They sent me to a local garage and I got a bag that tyres come in, which was quite strong but not quite big enough so it’s ripped and I’ve covered it with a bin liner, also not quite big enough so that’s ripped and tape is holding it all together.

When I have to go through this I wish I’d sold the bike in Vancouver. Airlines should offer a bike and panier packing service. When they insist the bike must be in a box it means I can’t cycle to the airport, and the size of the bike box means I can’t get a normal taxi, though in Chiang Mai the taxis are pickup trucks so I was okay. I flew from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok rather than getting the train because I don’t know of a bike shop in Bangkok. I don’t like flying any more than I have to, though I guess I don’t have to fly at all – I could just stay in one place, but which place? Chiang Mai seemed quite nice, though too many farangs and too many distractions, such as the massage parlours and lady bars, where if you buy a lady a ladydrink she’ll pretend she finds you interesting and attractive for as long as it takes her to drink it. A ladydrink usually costs a bit more than a normal drink – the excess is what the lady gets. Most bars in Chiang Mai are of this kind, full of farang men and Thai ladies. Very rarely do farang ladies go to those places. The only alternatives seemed to be sedate restaurants and the English, Irish, Australian and German pubs.

Or the wats. Sunday is the best day in Chiang Mai. That’s the day when the main streets in the old town within the moat are closed to traffic and taken over by local crafts people setting up stalls, wats becoming restaurants with the monks calling out bingo numbers, or prices, I’m not sure. I know Thai numbers so I know they were calling out numbers.

The lumps of mango at the bottom of the shake are quite good. Maybe I do like mango.

Just checked the bike is still there. I’ll see if I can check in soon. It’s now three hours to the flight. When I get to India I’m planning to head up to the mountains, probably Darjeeling. Maybe I’ll cycle, maybe I won’t. Either way I’ll have a nice cup of tea when I get there.

Lunch time, but everything in the airport is really expensive. Speak Thai: kow pat = fried rice.

I’m getting tired of people asking me where I’m from. Or I’m getting tired of saying I’m from England so I’ve started saying I’m from China, which is true in a way. I came to Thailand from China, though I only spent two hours in Beijing airport. Perhaps when I get to India I’ll tell them I’m from Thailand. In a bar the other night I think I almost convinced some of them I was Chinese, though they didn’t appear to understand my argument that since one in every four people is Chinese and since the other three people sitting at the bar definitely weren’t Chinese I must be. They asked me to say things in Chinese, which I did, explaining that I was speaking Mandarin Chinese. I don’t think I was. I just made up things that sounded Chinese.

Well, that’s how I’ve been passing my time in Thailand, hanging out in seedy bars talking Mandarin, so it’ll be good to be somewhere else. It’s too easy to be lazy in Thailand, and it’s a very hedonistic place. The tourists are hedonists and Thai culture appears to be based on the principle of sanuke (speak English: fun). I can’t say for sure though. I’ve been in the country for two months but have a very limited understanding of the culture. I’ve seen people praying in the wats, seen all the religious paraphernelia, the Buddha shops, but I don’t know what they’re praying or what they think about things since they don’t say. I’ve asked many of them what they think of all the farangs that come to Thailand now and have only once got a criticism out of someone, which was that many farangs are very big, but I’m alright because I’m Thai size. I also tried asking someone about the political situation, which from reading the Bangkok Post seems to be a bit of a mess – an election next month which the opposition are boycotting, demonstrations calling for the Thai Rak Thai (speak English: Thais love Thais) Prime Minister’s resignation, but haven’t got an answer, though that’s probably down to the language barrier. My Thai phrase book did have those kinds of questions in Thai but I rarely took the phrase book with me when I went out.

Speak Thai: choke dee kap/ka = cheers.

After a certain hour (about midnight) the ladyboys appear on the streets of Chiang Mai saying Hallorrrrrrrrr to passing farang males. When I see one I can’t help starting to laugh, wondering how long the Hallorrrrrrrrrrrr is going to be, which is a problem because I think they think I’m smiling at them and so they can be a bit persistent, though if I ask them what their opinion is on the current political crisis they usually go away. If not, they can’t run very fast in their high heels.

Thailand feels like a very safe country. The only violence I’ve seen is from farangs. Even when I went to watch some Thai boxing the other night there wasn’t any violence. It was a pretty lame fight, between a farang and a Thai. They just seemed to size one another up for the three rounds. I think the Thai won, but it wasn’t very clear. He went and shook hands with the farang so I assume that means he won, but I don’t think a single kick or punch connected so I’m not sure how the judges decided.

There was a Thai movie dubbed into English that they kept showing in the hotel I was staying in in Bangkok, a kind of Thai martial arts movie where this Thai guy who’s a kind of Thai Bruce Lee who doesn’t like violence takes on nasty farangs twice his size in the Khao San Road in order to get back the Buddha head that’s been stolen from his peoples’ village, in order to restore the honour of the village. It ends with the main villain being crushed by the giant Buddha head.

Calcutta

The plane touches down just after sunset, though it’s only 5.30. The clocks have gone back two hours. From the plane window the landscape is hazy. It doesn’t look Indian. It looks like it could be anywhere. Canada even. It looks cold but we’re told it’s 31 degrees outside.

The bike is already waiting for me when I get to the conveyor belt, but it takes a while for the bin liner containing the paniers to appear. There are many bin liners on this conveyor belt. Previously by baggage has always been easy to spot among the suitcases and backpacks because it’s by far the most scruffy. A bulging cardboard box held together with tape and a bin liner covered with tape, but here there are many bags almost as scruffy as mine, but when my bin liner does appear it definitely is more scruffy than anything else. A number of poeple handle it before it reaches me, perhaps wondering if it might be one of theirs.

I get through customs without any problems, though the woman checking my passport asks me what I do for a living. I tell her I make websites. So you’re a hacker, she says. No, I’m the victim of hackers, but that’s something for another blog, or maybe later in this blog.

A number of people ask me if that’s a bike I’ve got in the box as I wheel my trolley out, and then ask me if I’m really planning on cycling in India. When I get outside a few taxi drives approach me but I tell them I’m going to put my bike together and cycle to a nearby hotel. One of the taxi drivers is quite persistent and follows me to a quietish spot where I decide I’ll be able sort out the bike. He helps me get it out of the box, which is quite awkward since one of the pedals is pcking through the cardboard and is wedged. As I unload the box and the paniers a crowd gathers and as I’m reassembling the bike I’m being watched by a group of about twenty people. Occasionally they say things to one another but mostly they watch in silence. A few of them help out by holding something or holding the bike steady when I don’t have enough hands. At one point some police or army people get them to move back because they’re crowding me.

I get directions to the hotel I want to go to, which the Lonely Planet says is cheap and basic, but it’s only about a kilometer away. I don’t want to cycle the 17km into the centre of town in the dark. As I get out into the street and I’m confronted by the chaos, cars hooting like the hooter is what make the engine go. I realize the directions I was given were totally inadequate since they don’t take into account the chaos. I start to think I must have gone past the place, and it turns out I had because I eventually find it down a small alley way.

Is the shower hot or cold? It’s medium. Unfortunately no water comes out when he turns it on. He sticks a pin into the shower head and has a bit of a poke around and manages to get some water to dribble out. That’ll do, I say, just wanting to get rid of him.

I go out to a restaurant, the only one I can find. I don’t want to go to one of the street stalls, though this place cooks its food in the street but at least I can sit inside. There’s a bottle of water on the table but no glasses. I watch someone come into the place and drink some water, which he does by holding the bottle above his mouth without it touching his lips. After the chicken biryani I’m thirsty and even though people have said don’t drink the water in India, I think it’s probably okay here. But I guess I didn’t tip my head back far enough because most of the water went down my shirt and onto my trousers. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I don’t want to stand up and leave until the wet patch has dried off.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s the hotel owner again. He sees my packet of cigarettes. Can I give one? he asks, taking one. He asks me how much my laptop cost. £1000. That’s 80,000 Rupees. Earlier he was asking if I had any English coins. He said his son collects coins. I fished around in the bottom of my panier as he was fixing the shower and found some pennies, a two pence piece and a five pence piece, but he seemed to want something a bit bigger. I found a two pound coin but didn’t tell him. If I gave him that that would be almost what I paid him for the room, and I decided to change some of my Thai money into Stirling as a reserve just in case I can’t get cash out here.