Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saturday 14th October, 2006 – A lil’ bit of shopping

I woke up in the afternoon, around 2pm. After lazing a bit more in bed, I got showered and dressed, and I left to go change some money so I could pay the hotel bill. I was planning to leave before noon on Sunday, so I wouldn’t have to pay for an extra day. Although I had consulted my Lonely Planet India guide about where to change money, I still decided to ask the staff at the hotel’s reception desk. The man there directed me to Free School Street, and said I could take any bus from the front of the hotel to Park Circus Seven Point, get down, and take an auto-rickshaw to the place. By the time I got outside, I could only remember the Free part of the street, so I went back to ask. I went to stand at the bus stop, realized I was hungry, and bought two small bags of Lays chips, American sour cream and onion flavor. By the way, there is quite a large flavor assortment of Lays chips over here, it’s both funny and impressive. So far I’ve seen American Sour Cream and Onion, Indian Masala, and Spanish Tomato Salsa. Their adverts for these chips are also pretty cool!

Anyway, I bought one bag initially, gave half of it to the security man at the hotel gate, and bought another bag. I then went into the hotel restaurant and bought a bottle of Aquafina (bottled by PepsiCo. Coke’s brand of water is called Kinley, I think. Pepsi seems to rule over here in India. I haven’t seen a Coke since I got here, but there are many Pepsi ads on TV, and at the hotel, whenever I asked for a soda, that’s what I got.) The security man told me to take the number 45 bus, so I jumped on it when it arrived. The ride to Park Circus Seven Point wasn’t far. After I got down from the bus, I realized I was totally confused as to which direction to take. I passed by a place with little stalls that looked like a market, but I didn’t want to be sidetracked (and that could happen so easily), so I looked around for auto rickshaws, then crossed the road to where they had queued. I got onto (into? I don’t know!) an auto rickshaw and just said “Free School Street” to the driver. He however either did not understand me, or had something to say to me, because he muttered something in Bengali I think. I was completely at sea, and I suddenly felt quite nervous and unsure of myself. Luckily, a young guy in the front seat jumped to my rescue and told me that that driver said he couldn’t take me there since the connecting road had switched directions. I didn’t understand that, so the kind guy said he was going to that area so he would just show me once we got down. I was very grateful (as you can imagine). So we set off.

Riding an auto rickshaw is pretty amazing. It’s a tiny little vehicle on three wheels, about the size of a golf cart. However, just like a normal sized car, it seats the driver and one person in front, and three people squeezed in at the back. J I think due to regulation stipulations, most of them are painted green, with a yellow snout (front). There are no doors on the sides, just bars on the right passenger seat at the back. We all enter from the left. If you ride in front with the driver, you have to hold on to a metal handle just above your head. The auto rickshaw drivers navigate the road as if they have no care for their lives. Almost like motorcycles, they weave in and out of traffic, and most of the time cause big buses to stop within two inches of them, easing through slowly to avoid being crushed by the big, obnoxious buses. LOL! They get you from point A to B pretty fast, and cost around Rs. 3-5 depending on the distance covered. Plus, the feel of the wind as you ride through the streets is just lovely! I would like to own one for fun. ( I won’t drive it in the streets of Kolkata though! Sheesh!)

Once we got to the stop where I had to get down, the guy told me, and then paid my fare for me. He introduced himself as Rohan, and I told him I was Denise. He explained to me that the connecting road to Free School Street was open for traffic to flow in one particular direction (to Free School Street…let’s call it FSS for short) from 8am to 2pm. At 2pm, the flow of traffic switched to a one way from FSS. It was only between 9pm and 8am that the connecting street was two-way. That was what the auto driver had been trying to tell me, and silly me, I couldn’t get it. (Haha!...ha!)

So, Rohan was on his way to New Market, which is apparently the place to get different outfits. I had heard about it from many people but I hadn’t gone there yet. I asked Rohan if he would mind waiting for me to change money, and then allowing me to tag along while he went there. He was really nice about it, and took me to a place to change money, after asking me whether I wanted legitimate or illegal money changers. LOL! I should have lived dangerously and gone to the illegal side; they apparently have better rates. To cut a long story short, Rohan acted as my unofficial guide, pointing out various streets and their significance, till we got to New Market. It wasn’t that far from FSS. I also saw Sudder Street, which is mentioned many times in the Lonely Planet guide. At New Market, I had to leave Rohan because he was just returning a shirt, then he had to dash off to tutor some students. He gave me his number to call him, after I explained that I was meeting some resistance in getting a SIM card for my phone. He said he would help me out. How nice of him, no?

Right after I left him, I saw everyone looking, no staring unabashedly at me. J New Market is an indoor market, a storey building filled with various little stores and stalls. I went to the first stall I saw, as the guy there looked friendly and the clothes there were on sale. My main aim was to purchase some Salwar Kameez or Salwar suits, which consists of a top, pants and a scarf, and is won by many of the women here in India. My mom said she also wanted one, so I was on a mission. This particular store had Salwar suits on sale for Rs. 150. Now that is roughly $3.50 for a three piece outfit. “I’ma get mine,” I thought to myself (as Okwasi would say), and rushed to look through. Alas, they were all not my size. (Don’t laugh! I’ve told you how I tower over quite a number of the women here.)

The store owner came to my aid, and pointed me to those that were my size, and those cost Rs. 300. I didn’t think he was trying to rip me off, as I had done my homework and been told that that was the normal price. He introduced himself as Guudu, and was very nice to me. I looked at a number of the outfits, picked one out for myself, and one out for my mother. On a whim I also bought one for my sister. He was very excited, and tried to get me to buy more of the ones I had picked but discarded. I was satisfied with my purchases, and so I was not in the least bit tempted. He even sent someone out to buy me some chai, which was lovely, and was served in this tiny clay cup. Guudu took me around to look for male shirts, but I didn’t find any I wanted as they were all western style shirts. He finally gave me his business card and said I could come whenever I needed to. I left the building and saw just on my left, a boutique where this lovely green and pink Salwar suit was being displayed. I went in and of course, caused a pretty big stir as the streets are not exactly teeming with black people. LOL! I was asked for the third time how I comb my hair, and I had to go through the whole spiel. I tried on the salwar kameez that I wanted but it was too tight across the chest. ( I didn’t my bust was THAT big!). I left that boutique feeling a little sad.

Oh well!! The sadness didn’t last too long. I was excited to be shopping. I went on to buy two bags, which were absolutely beautiful. I also asked about other salwar kameez suits but none were in my size. After browsing through other trinkets, I went into a clothing store to look at materials for sewing my own salwar kameez. I found three sets that I really liked but I decided to go sleep on it. The store keeper was really nice, and he asked me to teach him some words in Twi. I asked him to teach me some Hindi words, and then I took some pictures with them. I left the store and got onto Sudder Street, which I had heard a lot about. Right as I got onto the road, a woman came up to me, begging me to buy ingredients for her to make food. She insisted that she didn’t want money, but that I should buy ingredients for them to make rice and Dal, so she and her children could eat. It was quite an odd request, but I felt that it being a major tourist spot (there are many budget hotels there so lots of tourists stay there), I should still not give any money. As she kept pleading with me, I saw other women and children straining their necks to see what I would do. The street was not that well-lit either, so I was a bit worried. I told her I would go with her to see how much the vegetables cost. It all came to Rs. 190. I told her I couldn’t give her that much money, and gave her Rs. 10. She said it wouldn’t be enough for her and her family, and her friend’s family also. I wanted to shout “Why should I pay for feeding you?” Was that a mean thought to have? I mean, I wanted to help, but I had been warned that giving money to anyone who begged me for it would cause a lot of other people to flock to me for money. It was an eerie experience.

I shook it off and kept walking. I realized it was past 8pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat, really. I saw a fruit stand where they made juice for you on the spot. I ordered some orange juice, and they blended the orange for me with ice. It was so good!! I asked the man selling the juice if there were any good restaurants around, and he directed me to one right next door. I ordered plain rice, chicken do piyaza and tandoori roti. It was a very delicious meal. When I finished eating it was a little past 9pm. I thought that since it would take me a bit of time to get to the hotel and then walk to the internet café, I should just use the café that was on that street.

The café was pretty big, with almost twenty computers. It was in a big well-lit room. In addition, it sold different clothing and souvenirs. The computers also had Skype and microphones and all that good stuff. I was quite excited. Since the connection was pretty fast, I was able to update my blog for the first week, chat with Kwadwo from AC, and then call Twum on Skype. I was so thrilled I lost track of time, and by the time I realized, it was almost midnight. I got up and paid my tab, and asked one of the workers if he knew any reliable taxi driver to take me home. He took me to a taxi driver who invited his companion along. I was a little hesitant, but since the guy who directed me was the one who had taken me to the café, I felt I could trust him. Well, I could trust him but not the driver!!!!!!!! It turned out that the neither the driver nor his companion were clear on the directions to my hotel, and so they got lost. To make matters worse (and my blood boil with anger!!) they said I made them get lost, so I should pay extra. Honestly, I wanted to smack them both across the head. I told them that I shouldn’t have to pay extra because I am the tourist, I gave them the address, and they said they could take me there. When I got to my hotel, I gave them what they asked for and slammed the car door with all my might. The companion was trying to say goodnight with me. If I had been a little more crass I would have told him what to do with his goodnight. (Hehehe…).

I got back to my hotel room still fuming. To relax I turned on the TV and watched several episodes of “The Simple Life”, and the movie “Fools Rush In” (you know it’s a good movie!). I ended up staying up till 8am! J

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