Manali is a tourist town of the sort I can enjoy. Well, outside the part of town that houses at least 25,000 Indian tourists (no joke, and Lonely Planet amusingly claims the population of the city is 4400 - even subtracting the tourists, not even close). Using my recently developed travel smarts I got my taxi driver to get me to the westernized district - which I was able to sniff out without actually knowing where it was - instead of dumping me in the Indian nuthouse tourist district like he wanted to. There are a several key differences between SE Asia and India I've been able to note and this is one of them - India actually has a middle class with money to travel. If you travel to the islands of SE Asia you will see no Asians, only whitey, outside of a sprinkling of Japanese. Thailand at least has a decent middle class, but I don't know where they travel to.
So up in my neighborhood it's all rastafarian wannabe Israelis and a few English - of the nasty ornery sort that towns known for drugs attract. Lot of London burnouts, I think.
There are a few Americans about, although they all seem to be in package tour groups. Fucking losers. Err, wait, some months ago I learned that going elitist is something that only angry, self-loathing people do....
A lot of incessant giggling in this hotel - I think everyone is high except for me. It's too bad that I don't have drug buying skills. I do know who the drug dealers are, actually - they walk around pretending to sell little tribal drums or huge balloons. But who to trust? I don't have the knowledge to take the risk. That's too bad, because I really want a serious mushroom trip. Meh, I'll just have to befriend some of the crazy Israelis. I don't think I mentioned this previously because I was so pissed off about it at the time - back in Vang Vieng, Laos, I got seriously shortchanged on my mushroom shake. I was especially pissed because I had first hand knowledge of where to go from backpackers I knew who went through the week before. Anyway.
I'm probably going to book this jeep trek. Since I am alone their agent quoted me a price a fair bit above what you see listed. I tried to negotiate and got the "no soup for you" response. Meh, Indians are usually more pliable than that. Anyway, she's got me, I'll send my capitulation tomorrow. I would have preferred to book through a local agency, but after talking to the three travel agencies in town that don't consist of a man with a phone who simply calls up the other three agencies - they all only book group tours, so unless I want to shell out on the order of $2000US to go by myself, that's it.
If that manages to fall through, worst case I just take a jeep straight to Leh. Either way, once there, I'll putz around Leh for a week, fly back to Delhi, then on to Turkey.
It'll be fun - frozen extremities, epic photos, basking in the glory, trying not to fall into a 10,000ft crevasse.
Shit, I've waited years to work "10,000 ft crevasse" into conversation.
Even though I spent two weeks in Rishikesh doing nothing but yoga and reading it didn't feel very refreshing. Now that I'm out of the tropics I think it was just the heat. My first night here, where it probably got down to 65F in my room and I was covered in heavy blankets, I slept for 14 hours. I'm starting to relax a bit.
I am starting to miss aspects of life from back home, friends in particular, but I'm not homesick - I'm still loving the road. It would be nice to take a week break back home, but I've aready done enough to fuck the planet with thousands of air miles and hundreds of discarded plastic bottles. And of course my budget wouldn't survive. On top of that, uh, ubiquitous internet, all across the planet.
I've been content to take walks around town and play dumb video games on the compy - I think the mind needs a serious breather. I don't feel like meeting people all that much. Maybe in a few days I'll chat up some Israeli hotties in homage to MNS.
[side note - I met some hot Israeli girls who were fresh out of their stint in the IDF while I was in Vietnam - total MNS wank material - but they were so fucking annoying that he would have preferred to shoot them. Dangerous levels of generalization here, but I think I received a glimpse into why Jewish males have such uh, complicated relationships with their mothers.]
So I don't think I'm burning out, but I won't know for sure until I get back the backpacker party circuit in Istanbul.
Upon two months of reflection, I have only one conclusion: holy fuck, am I glad I was not born into that. I haven't felt indignity beyond the "intellectual" indignity I've felt since I was 19. Easing the world's pain is, I guess, not my calling.
Business culture in India, SE Asia, and the US
This is, obviously, from the point of view of my interacting with all three cultures. India and SE Asia have more in common than not. In India, in particular, literally every local you get into conversation with who is not extremely poor or extremely rich will steer the conversation toward where you are staying and where you are going next and try to get a commission by sending you to their "friend" who operates a hotel or taxi service. SE Asia is similar, but it's not so comically universal.
I bring this topic up because in the course of these conversations in India I realized there is no separation between the personal and business here, or what we refer to as "professionalism" in the US. It cuts both ways - I've had really good talks with the guy who runs this little convenience store stand that I patronized most days when I was doing yoga in Rishikesh. We had good coversation, even if brief, and he would try to sell me a hotel, at least for the first few days. In the US it's meaningless small talk and goodbye. Half good, half bad. At the same time you can't place much trust in the motivations of anyone you meet; in the US, at least, you know what you're going to get, even though it's sadly just a bag of gray nothingness.
Contrast the Indian stance to the US, where to a businessman I am an object from which money is to be extracted; in maybe the most extreme case, the receptionist and dentist at your local office are extremely good at mechanically mimicking the kind of conversation that social creatures such as humans need to survive.
Many Indians do try to recreate our modern business style, but even the most money obsessed Indian can't completely disconnect himself from the personal; I can always detect at least a hint of it while he is trying his damnedest to extract a commission.
Due to this lack of separation my American fed mind has two reactions - one, it's a nice change of pace; non-mechanical conversation is constantly possible (I won't use the "a" word because it's too tied up in pretentious connotations). Two, it is completely fucking diabolical.
To radically generalize: Indians seem emotionally comfortable with themselves, SE Asians, and particularly the Chinese flavored Malaysians and Vietnamese, seem to have their emotions suppressed by their culture, and Americans have lost their emotions through shitty living (a few years ago one of the London hussers was talking about therapy, I think, and noted that a lot of people don't even know they have emotions - that thought has stuck with me).
So with these suppressed emotions I've found that SE Asians are much tougher to bargain with than Indians. Their often iron will defines a strict limit on how far you can bargain, and they're more likely to get pissed at you for pushing their livelihood too far. India has been more varied - In Bombay I was often quoted outrageous prices for taxi rides; when I said I'll pay 1/8th as much they'd immediately capitulate with a smile. Conversely while in Goa, in dire need of sunglasses, all I could find was a tout selling used sunglasses she had found on the beach. I said I'd give her two dollars for a pair, she said "no, don't bargain like that, that is below my cost." I should have called her a bitch to her face and walked off out of self respect; I think I ended up paying $3.
Even with Indians being more in touch emotionally I found that Thais in particular are unparalleled at immediately knowing know much you will be willing to pay for a particular item. If you come to bargain with them you have to be extremely emotionally aware to get what you think you should pay; that is alien to me in such a situation. Elsewhere bargaining is a form of who-will-capitulate first - closer to the mechanical or ritual end of bargaining. I always pay a bit more than I can ultimately get because bargaining takes a lot out of me and I like to hit the "knee" of the effort vs. reward chart.
Indians just...cannot hate your mere existence the way SE Asians and Americans can. Maybe that's why I don't feel the same level of cold calculation here.
I assume bargaining and the non-separation of business and personal have been the norm for commerce since Sumeria - I believe fixed prices and professionalism are industrial age concepts. I've done some thinking on what it takes to transform a culture from the historical norm to where the US is today. It's interesting to think about but I have nothing to add. I should go find some books.
I wrote on this topic because I didn't head out on this trip with preconceived notions on it - you didn't get x000 words on "Indians are largely accepting of their lot in life" or "India will never overtake China due to its fucked infrastructure and political patronage system" - both of which I think are true, but having read a fair bit on both topics over the years there is too much confirmation bias and neither topic excites me.
What happened in SE Asia?
After thinking about it for a few months here is my conclusion - it raised the bar on how much I can enjoy life and under what circumstances. My travel diary for SE Asia sounded ecstatic, obviously, but there was plenty that didn't go right which I glossed over, and yet none of it mattered. At all. My previous view on happiness was that it involved serious effort in balancing many aspects of life; SE Asia proved that in the right environment happiness is completely effortless. On top of that I thought love was needed to go to whatever happiness peak I was capable of, that ship has sank as well. Both are completely invaluable lessons, and both give me a measure of control and even power I did not have previously.
So hey, you too can redeem your existence for the low price of US$30k. Maybe a lot less if you can travel hippie style like 256 or misslake.
|< Pig update | Day 8: Still Going Strong >|