Tuesday, July 27, 2010
THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD (Part 5): Bombay
The following continues the serialization of Chapter 6 from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
I have flown 2 million miles, just on United Airlines. Certainly, I’ve used many tens of other airlines, and journeyed many hundreds of thousand miles on them. I have made, perhaps, ten around the world trips. My wife and I have spent a month on Amtrak around the U.S., throughout Japan on the Shinkansen and Europe on trains. We have driven from Stockholm to Milan and three times across the USA. Then there were those cruises across the Pacific, from Alaska through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean, plus the Mediterranean. Here are some of my worst, well, make that, challenging, trips, indubitably eliminating them from those sites making any best list of places to live.
It was during the mid-70’s when my wife Pearl and I left on an around the world trip: Tokyo, Bangkok, Bombay, Frankfurt, England, Washington, D.C., then finally back to Honolulu. I have only two memories.
First, we flew into Bangkok during the monsoon, and it was in a state of flood. This means that sewers overflowed, and the whole city was a smelly mess. At our first meal in the President Hotel, Pearl ordered a fruit salad, but a vegetable salad came. All the alarm bells rang. Avoid leafy salads in Bangkok, and certainly, oh my gosh, during these conditions. She ate it, anyway. Nothing happened.
Second, we went to Bombay, which still went by that name then. (However, Bombay is a corrupted western version of Mumbai, so, in 1995, the change was made to Mumbai. The power structure also attempted to eliminate the term Bollywood—a type of movie form initiated in this city, where frantic dancing intersperses a love story. That failed, as Bollywood films are now even shown in the U.S. I used to wear Madras shirts in college. Ever try looking for Madras on the Indian map? It is now called Chennai.) However, as we went through customs, the agent sent us to the back of the line because we had no visas. No one told us about that before the trip, but, sure, that was our fault.
At 2:30 in the morning, we were the final two in line. The temperature was in the 90’s (degrees Fahrenheit). That agent—and, sorry, he looked like a crook—said he had to keep our passports, and we could enter the country, but we should hire someone to get them back before we checked out of the country. What choice did we have? This is scam city, and a more active form than in Cairo, yet to come.
There was a very large sign behind him warning anyone not to exchange money with these officials. So he proceeded to ask us how many rupees we wanted. Oh, great, now what? Do we ignore him and walk out, invoking his rage to purposely lose our passports, or get thrown in jail for exchanging money? We got a few rupees. No problem.
The taxi ride was uneventful. We checked into the Holiday Inn, and got a room with the noisiest air conditioner I have ever experienced. But it worked. We specifically picked this hotel because it was a Holiday Inn. Certainly, it would be sterile.
The next morning, we went down to breakfast in their coffee shop, which was swarming with flies. Yes, this was a Holiday Inn.
Pearl walked just outside the hotel area to the beach, and came running back, as a whole mob of children was chasing her to sell rocks. Not gemstone quality, but plain old rocks. What a cultural shock.
We took an arranged tour of the city. I can still remember the utter poverty. People living in cardboard boxes…mothers with deformed children begging…carts hauling dead people to special areas for vultures to pick on…this was a totally different world. Bombay was shock to our senses. If you've seen Slumdog Millionaire, the worst parts were close.
The tour guide was especially proud of a church basement where 8-10 year old children were sewing in semi-darkness, almost swollen with pride because at least they had shelter and food. The Hanging Gardens of Bombay approximated my hanging roof garden in Honolulu. The Gateway of India was swarming with a million people. People bumped into you at this tourist attraction because of crowd surges, but as far as I could determine, there were no pickpockets. Singapore has about 2,000 people/square mile…Bombay is almost ten times that density. 20 million people? I can go on, but a couple of days later we finally found ourselves back at the airport six hours before our flight, to retrieve our passports.
You can imagine our anxiety as we waited for 5 ½ hours with our baggage, waiting to check in. Through a major miracle, the youth we hired came running back…we barely were able to check through…just got on board, and the plane left India. That was our last trip to this country. Eliminate India, and, while you’re at it, Thailand, from the best places to live.
The Dow Jones Industrials crept up 12 to 10538, while world markets mostly increased. The Japan Nikkei soared 179 to 9675. Gold fell $22/toz to $1161 and crude oil is at $77/barrel.