Grumpy Days in Bangalore
After my first two days starting on the wrong-foot I have not had success creating stories in Bangalore so I will simply share journal entries from day three onwards. Most of my stories are journal-like anyway, so this is not very different.
Friday, February 15. Journal Entry.
After yesterday, I really do not want to leave my hotel.
My best headphones torn in two during my attempted mugging, I put on my extra earphones, the plain ones that have a low profile and are comfortable to wear when going to sleep. Today I intentionally dress-down, a silly T-shirt, dark glasses, ball cap, and jeans. I hope dressing poorly will make a difference, but it doesn’t.
Twenty meters from the hotel a tuk tuk is already trolling beside me. I will no longer engage even to say no, I have learned that here in Bangalore the driver will not accept that I do not want a drive. It only seems polite to wave him away and let him know that I am out for a walk, but since he will only elongate the interaction if I acknowledge he exists, I must just look forward, walk forward, ignore. On my other side a man is now calling to me, “My friend – my friend – my friend – my friend – over here!” The shopkeeper is not my friend. If I even look his way to tell him no thank you, chances are very high that he will take that engagement as encouragement. He will tell me that he just wants me to look, not to buy. He will walk alongside me and argue with me to come back to his shop for as many as four blocks. I may end up going in a direction I don’t want to go trying to escape him. Yesterday I went around a block trying to escape someone, and when I happened upon him again he continued his harassment as if without pause.
I am not a person to these touts. I am a walking bag of money that they are desperate to get inside. They do not see me as a fellow human, they treat me like I am an encumbrance to them attaining wealth. I have it and they want it. Whether or not that is true doesn’t matter, it is how foreigners are viewed. If only they could somehow get me to open my wallet. Certainly I have, too many times. I even knowingly allow myself to be grossly cheated at times when fighting is not worthwhile. But, even as an affluent Westerner I can not afford to accept the constant scams. They will take as much as possible, for as long as possible.
This is not pleasant for me. I have a friendly, sensitive nature and interacting with locals when I travel is the only reason I travel. Here it has become impossible to interact with those who approach me. Being hyper-defensive is exhausting, I hate it and it puts me into a nasty mood.
I take a longer route going to the main commercial district so as to avoid the auto rickshaw stand where I was mobbed by so many drivers yesterday that I could hardly breath. One after another they came up to me on foot. Some were aggressive and actually blocked my way. I nearly became violent myself, trying to get past the long queue of harassment.
I find my way to a familiar Indian Coffee chain and order a croissant and a coffee for my late breakfast. No nutrition, just empty calories, but I’ve experienced food poisoning from their pre-made food and this seems like a safe choice. They have no change. Having no change to break your bills is an epidemic problem everywhere in India, at least for the foreigner. So now I have used up my small bills in this sizable coffee chain that seats at least seventy five people on two floors. Having only thousands (same as $20s) really limits my ability to have any transactions now. If I need transportation, they will try to consider as much as 800 of the 1000 as a tip by them not having change. I’m not kidding, with an accumulated 10 weeks in India now, this is just what happens to me. It will be the same at most any restaurant too. Sometimes I can find a Visa sign on their counter and escape the scam that way, by presenting my card for payment rather than cash. Perhaps all businesses truly do not have a cash float to give anyone change, but I really think that most of the time it is just a hopeful attempt to keep the change from foreigners. Even when the change would be four times the purchase amount. People can be very bold here.
I just don’t know how to break my Bangalore funk when everyday I start being targeted and hassled minutes after leaving my dirty hotel. Apart from a few temples, churches, museums, and parks, Bangalore has very little to offer if I cannot enjoy wandering the streets and interacting with locals.
This morning I woke up to relentless knocking. I got up, put on some clothes, opened the door. “Would you like to send anything to launder Sir?” If you do, you can call the front desk. That’s what is says to do. I slam my door and go back to bed. I hate this hotel more every day.
Bangalore has made me want to just call-off my travels and go home. I even look into it. I’d lose $2900 in prepaid unrefundables plus tickets home in the next few days would cost an additional $5800. I figure it is probably not worth $9000 to avoid three more weeks of travel. It’s just that Bangalore has become a complete failure. The nice locals are not introducing themselves to me and I can’t seem to find them. I am too busy fighting-off the scoundrels.
Saturday, 16 February. Journal Entry.
Before going on a bus tour I try to order lunch at the hotel restaurant, but they have decided that 12:30 would be a convenient time to do some sort of in-house maintenance. I recognize the room cleaners who are now doing something to the tables. The rooms are so dirty, it seems a bad idea to distract them from their already incomplete work. They send me to a nearby Chinese restaurant that slowly serves me overpriced barely-edible mutton after I have asked their suggestion for something fast. Fat, bones, and a bit of meat mixed into rice for $20. How can these places exist? I must have had the foreigners menue.
It is always a mistake to show a tuk tuk driver where to go on a map. You may understand where you are going, because you can read maps. But he apparently cannot. Maps confuse Indian drivers, at least the few dozen I have dealt with. I have walked everywhere since my arrival to Bangalore because I have learned not to trust drivers. This is sad but true, I have had too many bad experiences from hiring cars and tuk tuks. If I am with an Indian of course it is no problem, but travelling alone it always is. (Perhaps I shouldn’t generalize, but it always has been.). Unfortunately, my elongated lunch has made it necessary to get a drive to my afternoon tour. After consulting with several people nearby to be able to take me to a very local address, it’s basically right at the South corner of the large nearby park, my driver refuses to use his meter. Get out and miss the tour, or accept being cheated. Stupid criminal. It’s not like I could hope another driver to follow would be more honest anyway, I know that’s very unlikely. I agree to 250Rs, I figure its probably three to five times the appropriate rate for a five minute drive, twenty minute walk. Whatever the case, it is a better deal for him than using the metre.
At my destination I give him the exact 250 Ruppees. He challenges, “I said 450!” Perhaps he was counting on me not having exact change, but $5 for this 5 minute drive is already way too much. “Oh no you didn’t! This is already way too much! I can’t believe you!” “Just another hundred Ruppees then, please Sir?” NOT A CHANCE! I am really pissed off. They all just look at me like a potential lottery win. He was already highly overpaid and now he wants to get a days wage for five minutes.
I cannot imagine having to stay several more weeks in India. The more you know, the worse it becomes. Doing anything, going anywhere, it’s becoming a constant struggle here and sometimes it feels too hard. Why can’t I just pay for what I need, why does it always have to be a battle against theft?
Inside the tour bus the guide opens the curtains. My entire window view is now obscured where the curtains tie-back. I try to adjust them and end up breaking a wire spring that bounds up to the passengers in front of me.
I had hoped I might meet some Indian tourists on this tour, but with the assigned seating, no one is beside me and as usual people seem to be in groups. As I come to realize this tour is just poor transportation between boring tourist sights, I abandon it at an industrial museum not too far to walk back to my hotel. It may have taken me to the important sights too, but I am too grumpy and I just don’t feel like being the lone guy in the midst of groups today. I wonder if anyone will notice that seat thirteen is now empty? Who cares.
I don’t know what Bangalore is really like. All I know that for me it has been a rude, harsh, nightmarish city of dishonesty. I have heard that this is a prosperous IT city, it has the largest number of new business start-ups per capita in India. Perhaps having a sizable growing professional middle-class is causing anger and corruption in the lower classes? Is this why I find myself to be a moving target, why I am constantly approached with scams? India really needs to abolish the kick-back policies of most tourist stores. Of course people keep wanting to take me shopping, they could offset a months salary in just a few minutes. If I spend $200 on some scarves, they’ll collect $100. That is too much temptation and it creates touts all around me. Some aggressive, some just unrelenting. Either way, I am really hating every moment in Bangalore.
I venture to an open-air pub that I’ve researched. It’s a fun, upbeat place, but everyone is in a group. I drink a beer by myself. It’s Saturday night, people are out with their friends. If I could just make one local friend it would probably completely change the trajectory of my miserable stay in Bangalore, but it doesn’t happen. I just don’t know how to meet a nice person here. Visiting this city has been a personal failure. I finish my drink and leave having not spoken to anyone. I do not see any group where I could possibly interject myself.
Sunday, 17 February. Journal Entry.
Tuk tuk drivers hover like annoying flies as I head North from my hotel today. I have come to realize that I am staying at exactly the worst spot in the city when it comes to getting hassled. Coming and going from my hotel, I wonder how much of my Bangalore experience has been destroyed by these blocks of daily annoyance. I am much more successful at ignoring them today. As for the shop-keepers, I hear them calling but no one steps in front of me blocking my way this morning.
Last night I decided to take photos of local sidewalk obstructions. The messes that cause pedestrians to walk on the streets in traffic so often. They are what made my attempted mugging possible, a motorcycle could not have swiped me on the sidewalk.
I enjoy my wanderings today, but I have not yet had a single positive interaction to write about in Bangalore. A kid waved at me from a portable shrine, that was very nice but not a story. A woman stopped me in the street to warn that she could see money coming out of my back pocket. I keep small bills in all of my pockets to give to beggars so I don’t need to pull out my wallet in public. This was nice of her too, but not quite a story. The money in my pockets is practically not mine anyway.
The beggars today were really nice though. None of them came at me for more, they just accepted what I gave them and let me go on my way. That was very pleasant. Perhaps Sunday is a friendlier day.
I go to my usual coffee shop and sitting there a young boy approaches me, he has been sitting with his Mother and Sister nearby. He just wants to say Hello. I give him a few other easy English conversation phrases to keep it going for a moment, he is obviously wide-eyed and excited to meet a foreigner. They are on their way out. His mother says, “Now say goodbye to Uncle.” “Where are you from?” she asks. “Welcome to India,” she smiles and says warmly. This moment is the first authentic friendly moment I have experienced in five days and it makes me feel emotional. They seemed like such a nice family. One drip of humanity and now I think that Bangalore can’t be all bad. I feel like I am locked away from experiencing any kindness that must exist here, and I just saw it through a keyhole.
I really don’t want to end my day by passing the vultures on my way back to the hotel, but there is no other way. To bypass the walk by being cheated in a car or tuk tuk would be no better anyway. Why must they always do that. I guess it is just their nature, like the friendly scorpion who kills his friend after promising not to.
Monday, 18 February. Journal Entry.
Yesterday I found a foreign supermarket and was able to buy nice-looking fruits, vegetables, bread, and cheese. This enabled me to take a day off, I did not leave my room today. I did not have to deal with anyone, not even the nasty room service. The only thing I missed was being able to make coffee. The kettle in the room has maggots in it, even cleaned or replaced I would not use any kettle here after seeing that. I took a cute little video to show their movement, the photo didn’t do it justice.
Tuesday, 19 February. Journal Entry.
This is a real shame. The adventure stops dead when one stops taking chances. That has happened to me in Bangalore. I will not go anywhere with anyone anymore and I distrust everyone I meet or who approaches me as having dishonest motives. A taxi driver who wanted to take me sight seeing today, he seemed like an honest guy, but they usually do. There are so many things I will not see in this city because experience has taught me that I cannot trust strangers here, that I will be openly cheated, held hostage by being taken somewhere I don’t want to go, or worse. If I could rent a bike I could possibly cover some ground, but that in itself would be too dangerous given the lack of traffic rule adherence.
Bangalore just did not work-out for me, I met all the wrong touts, I stayed in the wrong hotel, and I had no luck meeting locals through websites such as meet-up or couchsurfers.
I go to my usual coffee shop and there is a loud drumming group out front. I take a short video before going inside. My coffee person tries her best to explain what the drums are for, but its so odd that it is confusing.
So, here is what she explained. The owner of this small commercial building has not paid taxes in five years. Now, the government wants him to pay. In protest, he has hired a band of drummers to make a loud commotion outside. They’ve been playing since yesterday, she tells me.
Seriously? That’s the silliest reaction to a tax bill I have ever herd of! Might they reduce his bill or back-off because he is disturbing the neighborhood? Clearly there are no noise bylaws for him to break, that seems obvious everywhere I go. What will be the outcome of hiring this drumming troop to deal with his tax bill? Is this normal?
Later, over dinner on my last evening of a trying week in Bangalore, a group of MBA students approaches me to make friends. I leave in the morning, I need to pack tonight. If I had met these guys early on I may have been able to enjoy social activities with them throughout the week. That would have completely altered my experience of Bangalore, a city I just want to escape.
Some things just don’t quite work out. But, if that wasn’t the case, life would not be real.
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Click on the image below to witness my kettle.
In the next video, see how a wealthy landlord tries to convince the government to let him out of paying his taxes. He’ll bother all the neighbours in protest until they say it’s okay, he doesn’t have to pay his taxes afterall.
The following video just shows walking around some motorcycles parked on the sidewalk.