Retroactive Update #1: Chennai and Bangalore

March 20th, 2013

Country/Day:      India/43

Bikes Fixed:                  62

Bikes/Day Avg:               1.44

So, back before my computer died, I was just about to leave on a trip…

A few disclaimers:

– I let Viju (my travel buddy) take most of the photos since he has one of those iThings that probably takes better pictures than my camera, and is more portable, and also is a phone. So some of the photo credit here goes to him.

– There are a lot of maps of India floating around right now. I didn’t realize this, but every time I post a map of India somebody says the map is wrong. This occurs for any number of reasons — Pakistan wanting to look bigger, the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, compensating (either way) for the tension in Sri Lanka… I’ve been told all my maps are wrong for those reasons and more. So I just want to put it out there that I’m doing the best I can to respect the way India wants to be seen on a map. However, I can’t please everyone, nor are my maps intended to be “official” in any way, shape or form.

– – –

So a few weeks ago — two, and exactly two, actually — I got up at a nice and early 4:25 AM to catch my ride at 4:30. First I thought I was locked in — the gate was locked from the outside — but just in time the gatekeeper showed up (driven in by his dad just for me!) and let me out. Oh, the woes of household help. Anyways, from my residence Viju took me to his parents’ apartment, where we had tea and waited for the taxi to the airport. On the way to the airport, by the way, the taxi spoke — it said, “Please slow down. You are crossing the speed limit.”

Well, excuse me.

There’s a few differences in security between the US and India. For starters, you can’t even get into the airport without a boarding pass and ID. When you order tickets, your pass is mailed to you, and if you forget it, they charge Rs 600 (about $12) to print it outside the airport. So, if you ever go anywhere in India, make sure you print your boarding pass!

Next up — the guys who check your boarding pass are uniformed and armed. Like, camo and AKs, or a pistol at the least. The first few times it was a little unnerving (I have never been that close to an automatic weapon before) but after a few flights I got used to it.

You don’t have to remove anything attached to your body unless you have a particularly metallic belt. EG, shoes and watches can be left on (side note: US airport security, the TSA, has never actually caught any terrorists…).

Anyways, we still had some time before our flight, and we weren’t sure if breakfast would be served, so we went to… McDonald’s. Am I ashamed? Nah. Given I was just about to embark on a week-and-a-half long adventure to new climates and new foods, I’ve no guilt about playing it safe by eating something completely familiar to me and my stomach. I mean, I would have rather had a sandwich, but at 6 AM, the choices were McDonald’s or random expensive Indian place (side note: I got sick anyways. Details impending). Oh, and for the record, I got a veggie burger, and it was really good.

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So after our Mcventure (I’ll only do that once, promise) we headed off to board. While in line we got in a conversation with a feller who had some interesting things to say about Air India. Basically he said,

“All the pilots and stewardesses are retired, so expect the unexpected.”

And there you have it. About to take off for the next week and a half with nothing but a backpack, and I’m supposed to expect the unexpected (Viju packed an entire suitcase… a fairly large suitcase, too. We later had a lesson on “packing light”).

Anyways, if you read my latest post you know what happened next — my computer died (the whole story is much more dramatic, check it out if you can). A few other things went wrong that day:

– I left my book on the plane.

– The internet at our hotel didn’t work.

– I left my credit card in Gurgaon (usually in my wallet so I don’t have to worry, but for safety I’ve been keeping it elsewhere).

– I left my adapter in Gurgaon, so couldn’t charge my phone. I’ve never had to bring an adapter before… (fortunately, perhaps, my computer didn’t need it).

– I left a sample hydraulic brake set in Gurgaon (necessary for the presentations I was to do, though I didn’t know it at the time).

– We never got a rotor truing fork (necessary for the presentations I was to do).

Most of these start with “I left…” so yea, my fault. They all have legitimate excuses but I’m not one for excuses so I’ll forgo those. Just know that the first day wasn’t exactly perfect.

Oh, while I’m at it… Chennai was full of mosquitoes. Suddenly I was a bit more disciplined about my anti-malarial.

Anyways. We checked into the hotel around 11…

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It was alright.

…before heading out for the day. The first place we went was a Toshiba repair center, to no avail. Then we went to a beach side restaurant a friend of Viju’s had recommended — not a bad view, except for the weather.

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It was more than alright.

A note about the restaurants in India: Not only is the food cheap (averaging maybe $5/plate or less; recall the restaurant in Dehradun where myself, Prabhat, and a friend went for $5 total), but there’s a lot of choices. Most restaurants serve Indian, Chinese, and Continental, and usually they forgo descriptions for sheer volume. It’s not uncommon for a menu to have 200 items or more — but none with descriptions. So if you don’t know what all that Indian stuff is and don’t want to risk it, you’re stuck with Chinese or Continental.

Comparatively, this restaurant had little to offer (maybe 30 items on the menu) and all had descriptions. Still adjusting to the climate (hotter and more humid than in Delhi), I went for something safe again: mushroom alfredo pasta. It was pretty good. We also tried the chili cheese fries but… apparently in India “chili” only means the spicy vegetable, not the soupy stuff… so that was a bust.

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It busted the crabs out, anyways.

After a walk on the beach chasing some crabs we headed back to the hotel. Oh, by the way, watching Viju bargain with the auto drivers (“auto” in India means motor rickshaw) was intense. For starters, apparently south Indians have a superiority complex, so will try and charge north Indians more than they should, and can’t be told otherwise. For a ride of Rs 110 (always check with your waiter or estimate about Rs 20/km (about $0.60/mile)) one guy wanted Rs 200 when he heard Viju speak in Hindi. Fortunately, Viju knew the local dialect and as soon as he started speaking in it the prices came down.

There was one guy who quoted us Rs 500  to which Viju replied, “But sir, there is a tourist in our midst!” I just thought that was funny, because no doubt I was the reason for the ridiculous quote… anyways, after passing by a few we found one who would settle for 115.

“110!” said Viju as we walked towards his cab.

“115.”

“110.”

“115.”

“110 or we walk,” said Viju, pulling me to the next cab.

“110 barely covers the price of petrol!”

“See ya!”

“Okay sir, okay… 110.”

And then, when we got in the cab,

“115!”

We ended up paying him 130 or so tip included, because, you know, it’s an extra $0.40. But yea, you have to be aggressive, not afraid to walk away, and if you love your wallet you’ll never get into a cab without negotiating the price first (unless you’re in Mumbai, but I’ll get to that later).

So anyways, we got back to the hotel, I mourned for not being able to update my blog, and watched inordinate amounts of TV instead (which I would feel bad about if I’d had anything else to do. I didn’t want to explore outside as the pollution was particularly bad there). Around 5 or 6 we headed out for a business meeting.

– – –

Short description, Firefox is sponsoring a bicycle team, and there’s a fellow in Chennai who wants to do the jerseys for the team purely out of passion. So we went and met with him to get the prototype jerseys. They were pretty cool (and not commercially available); other than that, we talked about what the mechanics needed to learn. He was pretty frustrated that there wasn’t a mechanic in India (except me) who could service a high-end bicycle… before we left we actually fixed his computer for him. The following words were said:

“I don’t care how much it costs, I just want it to work. I don’t ever want to have to adjust anything on my bicycle.”

So, there’s all sorts of bike riders in India. And that’s all I’ll say about that…

– – –

For dinner we just walked around outside the hotel until we found somewhere appealing. That night it happened to be the “Baker’s Cafe,” which seemed like a coffee-shop/mini restaurant of sorts.

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Pizza was had. Good pizza. Pineapple and mushroom and… man, I wish my computer hadn’t broken down, I would have done this in time to remember everything that was on it. Ah well… some things are fleeting.

– – –

On Thursday we got up bright and early around 8:30, had breakfast, and left for the seminar. The hotel served an Indian breakfast buffet, which consisted only of spicy things… this made me (or, more accurately, my stomach) question my health about halfway to the shop, but all was well in the end. We arrived and asked around for a few things; a stand, for instance, was had. Some things were not had, like chain lube.

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Action film shots were not missing that day.

A bike shop not having chain lube is like a car mechanic not having engine oil. Or a maid not having Windex. Or a teacher not having chalk. You get it. It made me sad. And it made me realize how ill-equipped some of the shops here are.

Anyways, we were supposed to start about 10, but some of the mechanics had a two or three hour drive, so we didn’t end up starting until about 11. All told there were 40 or so mechanics:

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And man, did I have a heyday. In a good way.

For starters, only a few of them spoke English, and they spoke it… slowly. So I had to speak slowly and repeat myself often. For those who didn’t speak English, Viju would translate. This was perfect for me as it would give me time to collect my thoughts, draw on the board, etc. etc. Then there was one fellow who spoke only a regional dialect… so after Viju translated, the guy next to the regional-only fellow would translate for the regional-only fellow.

All together it took about 5 hours, excluding a break for lunch. We started with the bike out of the stand, talked about things to check for right away, then presentation (angle of the handlebars, seat height), brake adjusts, derailleur adjusts, and drive-train wear. After lunch we did hydraulic brakes and a rudimentary bicycle fit. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember it took 5 hours… okay, about 3, and then Viju translated for the other 2 (thanks bud!). Made me realize how much I know. Especially since I could have kept going.

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But instead I just pointed at stuff.

There will be more details on the seminars later… I do want to get to bed on time tonight though, so let’s move…

to dinner!

Actually, wait.

After the seminar the owner of Just Buy Cycles (the shop where I presented) asked me what my plans were. I told him (Epic) and he seemed a little disappointed.

“It seems like you have this thing that you’re passionate about, and good at, and that’s what you should do.”

I mean, yea. Oh, and then he offered me a job.

To be clear though, when I started this project (as a Watson), I never expected to make a career out of it. I don’t know why. I like working with bicycles, but for some reason, right now anyways, I’m more excited about going to work at Epic. So that’s what I’m going to do.

More on that later.

After hanging out for a bit while we waited for a taxi, we went back to the hotel and walker to Baker’s Cafe again (it was good the first time…). Back to the hotel, more movies, and then sleep… before getting up at 5 for a 7:00 flight. Thanks, Viju.

– – –

Upon arriving in Bangalore I was met by my sister’s boyfriend’s parents. Yes, you read that right. My sister lives in Washington, DC., and is dating an Indian feller by the name of Priyesh. His parents are from Bangalore, so when they heard I was coming to India, they insisted I come visit. And when Firefox gave me an unplanned weekend in Bangalore, well… it was just inevitable.

So I went home with them. And as in any proper Indian home, there was eating.

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So much eating.

The plate you see there is the “I made one of everything plate, try them all and then whatever you want more of, you can dish it up again!” plate. I didn’t quite make it.

We planned a weekend of fun and the next morning… I got sick.

I’m not sure quite what it was… in fact, it probably wasn’t any one thing in particular, but many things. First off, there was the change in climates. Delhi was medium temperature and humidity. Chennai was hot and humid. Bangalore was cool and had little humidity.

Second, the food. Not that any of it was bad or unclean, just that I had tried so many different things since leaving Prabhat’s. Also, I had definitely had too much to each the previous night (the “try everything once” night).

(Warning: The next two paragraphs are somewhat explicit about my sickness)

Anyways, the parts of Saturday I didn’t spent vomiting, I spent in bed. I didn’t eat anything, because the one time I did try and eat something, I promptly un-ate it. Oh, and then there were the electrolytes. So Priyesh is a doctor. Which was awesome, because he knew some medicines that would help with my stomach upset. But he also recommended electrolytes. Now I’m sure they have flavored electrolytes somewhere in India… these were not flavored. They tasted like rotten salt. And I didn’t know salt could taste rotten. So anyways, those came back up too.

On Sunday the vomiting ceased but I was still exhausted and could hardly eat. I downed a few spoonfuls of rice but didn’t want to overdo it.

Conveniently, on Monday I was feeling good enough to… er… give a presentation.

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I count 14.

But I still didn’t eat much.

More soon!

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