sabato, dicembre 10, 2011

Getting off on the wrong socio-economic discourse level

You know what? So far, I don't like India. It's just not my cup of tea. But I'm pretty sure that's not India's fault - I think it has a lot to do with my introduction to it. If I had been introduced to France or Italy without being able to communicate meaningfully with anyone earning less than six figures I'd probably have found them pretty unlovable too.

Just about everybody I'm meeting (admittedly an economically rarefied group, as I'm here for work so they generally own or work high up in large businesses) who I'm capable of having a really involved conversation with, obviously in English, is demonstrably extremely comparatively rich. Everybody else I'm meeting doesn't speak much English at all. And the extremely comparatively rich ones have all the tedious reflexes towards the tedious justification of their own existence as extremely comparatively rich people that help make the extremely comparatively rich fucking tedious all over the world. So that's not exactly endearing the place to me.

I don't bring up the begging here in conversation, for example, nor the homelessness, the general scenes of human squalor right next to massive, ornate, guarded, barb-wired residential compounds, nor the malnourished children who aren't in school. I don't feel able as a first-world consumer who enjoys cheap textiles and medicine to editorialize on a phenomenon I believe my own buying habits support. No - the extremely comparatively rich Indians keep bringing all that shit up with me. And they use the same language to describe the discrepancies in destiny that the extremely comparatively rich all over the world use; the poor people are lazy, they're feckless drug abusers, that's the way they  prefer to live, there's plenty of work for the people who want it, panhandling is an industry, etc., etc.

I guess to some people hearing it, it'd sound like some sort of awesome mystical Eastern acceptance of the cycle of existence, because it's being said in an exotic accent in an ancient city where monkeys roam free and where Mahatma Gandhi snuffed it and where Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and the monk Xuanzang walked to from China to get the sacred scrolls, but to me it just sounds like a bunch of Ayn Randian bullshit that'd sound right at home on the lips of some fucking cokehead Fox News fishbelly troglodyte. Ayn Rand's pretty big here, BTW. That's even grosser than the fact that when I blow my nose, the snot comes out black because the air here is so fucking filthy.

venerdì, dicembre 09, 2011

My very first person

So I have my own tuktuk driver, speaking of Westerners seduced by inexpensive personal services. I'm paying him at the same rate that Indians pay cabdrivers, as far as I can figure out, and tipping him like a drunk Canadian - which is exactly, precisely, the opposite of ironic - and that seems like enough to make him 'my' tuktuk driver. That means he waits for me outside offices and conferences and restaurants. He seems happy and I'm happy because he speaks pretty decent English - almost enough to chat, definitely enough to know what I'm saying when I say where I want to go.

Also he's Sikh, and for reasons I don't fully understand, I feel safe with Sikh guys. I think it's because somebody mentioned years and years and years ago, when I was very, very young and impressionable, that if you're a woman and you're ever getting hassled in India, you just find the nearest Sikh guy, who'll kick the shit out of the Hindus or Muslims who're hassling you, on principle alone. It's either that, or that single, lonely emotionally charged moment in that wasteland of a film The English Patient where the hot Sikh guy was washing his hair. 

I'm quite happy to pay the driver what a cabbie would get because tuktuks are better than cabs. A little crammed, but they're all open-air, and since you sort of have to let go of the idea of personal safety as soon as you're near a road here if you're in anything short of a tank, you might as well have something all open-air. Especially since there's not much air here. Shanghai is obviously a fucking mess of a place but it's close to the sea, and not so damn dusty, so this is the first time I've ever had the experience of the air catching at your lungs as you breathe it.

Another reason I reckon middle class European descendants and Nazis are so seduced by this place is that it feels pretty European. There's not much culture shock. Obviously there's some; I mean, realizing dying one day will be easier than I'd thought because as much as I like it, this plane of existence is pretty much a shithole for, like, 2 billion people, is somewhat shocking. But it's not really culture shock. Truth is, I feel like I'm more or less back in Europe here - it feels pretty much like Southern Italy with a fuckton more people, wild monkeys, and the relative populations of the middle class and the gypsies + refugees reversed. 

Anyways, I'm done pondering other people's reactions to this place for awhile. First I'm gonna sleep, and then tomorrow I'm gonna drive out to the Taj Mahal (not in a tuktuk) and have my own fucking middle class reactions.

giovedì, dicembre 08, 2011

Negatives and positives

You don't have to put me on suicide watch yet, but realized with a start this morning that having visited India will make it a little easier to die one day, because it's a fucking rotten world in a lot of ways. I suppose I can know that people are malnourished and even see videos of it and even do a graduate degree in international relations whose fundamental basis is that some countries are more malnourished than others and there are eventual consequences to that, etc., but when people are actually malnourished right there in front of me, and there's a lot of them, I suppose I understand what it means a little better. It means there's something really shitty about existence. By they way - I'm staying in one of the richest quarters of New Delhi and mostly just bouncing around between office districts - so basically, I haven't seen shit yet.

On a positive note, more than 50 hours in to the trip and I still don't have the shits. And now it's off to work for me.

Offended pinko sensibilities

Well, you know what, I'm just not comfortable with this place. It offends my pinko sensibilities. I'm starting to suspect two things:

1. That Nazis pretty much lifted the framework of their racial theories wholesale from here. There's something seductive about how things are arranged here, with some people locked into servile roles all their lives based on their ethnic background but not many people complaining too horribly hard - certainly no so hard that wealthier families aren't outnumbered by their male, live-in servants, nor so hard that things have changed a great deal in terms of this organization after 60 or so years of democracy. It would seem like some sort of arrangement of destiny to Europeans without a postmodern education.

I'm sure it must have had some sort of Romantic appeal to the kind of half-educated minds that could go all Nazi. I'm not calling India's prosperous Hindu classes Nazis, mind. Just that they provided a blueprint that stupid German cunts who could only read well enough to get totally the wrong idea out of Romance literature went to town with 80 or so years ago.

2. That European descendants who go all ga-ga over India are far more seduced than they'd prefer to admit to themselves by how cheap everything is, especially servile labour. Yes, it's really neat and picturesque how religion and its rituals is still such an overtly integral part of the culture here, but there is no way I'm believing a lot of those university profs and undergrads and whatnot I know that ended up on long-term yoga retreats here weren't very, VERY seduced by the way their shoes disappear and reappear spotlessly clean, or how they can always have a taxi waiting for them, or how they don't have to walk to get food, and shit like that.

You know what, it actually makes me hanker after China a bit - ugly, unseductive, unromantic China. You still have cheap domestic labour there, cheaper than seems right, but nothing like the same obvious inequalities as here, at least in Shanghai. For God's sake, I saw a fucking three year old begging on a busy cross-city avenue just now. He had to scramble to make it back to the curb when the light changed, and he almost wasn't tall enough to mount it. I mean, shit. What the fuck is seductive about the sort of culture that allows that, except that so many people here are so inescapably and eternally poor that middle-class Westerners can come here with their middle-class money and have a developing world experience that matter-of-factly offers luxuries they could never dream of at home?

martedì, dicembre 06, 2011

Blasé no more

I'm in New Delhi. You know, at this point, I thought I was getting more or less used to travelling and had got a little blasé. It turns out I was wrong. India has that effect on people, I suppose. I've never seen this degree of poverty, except among Italian gypsies and refugees there, and I've certainly never seen this degree of servility, and I've only been here about 9 hours, most of them asleep. Damn good breakfasts here, though.

I'm off to a beauty parlour in a few minutes, BTW, and pretty excited about it. Beauty parlours and restaurants are really the only two entrées I have to the life of a city when I'm there for such a short time, as on these business trips. I realized that the first time I tried to get waxed in Shanghai, where the almost hairless women in the parlour gave up trying to use that wax on my tough Italian fur, and just whipped out the straight razors instead. But I'm guessing Indians have hair a bit more along my lines. The hairiest men I've ever seen in my life were all Indian, so hopefully they'll have the technology to sculpt me a bit.

UPDATE: Indeed, this is the right country for Sasquatchettes to get themselves sorted. Top marks! Pits, eyebrows and moustache for the cripplingly high price of $3.50 ($3.97 with tip). A damn good job, and as painless as it can be, but threading makes me cry, which amused the salon mightily. "Your first time?" No ma'am. I'm just a big baby. Now that I've raised an appetite through excruciating if minimized pain in the name of beauty, I'm off to stuff my newly hairless face.