Ready To Strangle Someone

Well, I think we’ve about reached our all-time low in India these days. At least I have, but I think Ksenia is following suit at a life-threatening pace. Today we moved from the hotel back to our apartment. We are not sure yet whether that was a good idea, because the air in our apartment definitely has a certain aura of cancerous dust and disease about it. Then again, our almost three weeks in the Grand Hyatt cost us bloody $1200 just for food and laundry etc. alone. Not that the food had even been any good. In fact, we got pretty sick of their menu, really. Worse, their morning coffee was absolutely poisonous. When the waiter asked me the other morning whether I’d like some coffee, I just told him, “yes, I’d like some coffee, but your coffee is so atrocious that I’d rather decline”. I suppose it is a bit of sign of my current state of mind, because I don’t usually treat waiters like that.

Anyways, either our relocation guy is even more useless than I had thought, or maybe it’s the Grand Hyatt that’s to blame, but when it was time to check out of the hotel, nobody seemed to have any idea about the fact that my company will be paying for the room, while I pay for food and laundry, etc. A bit of name dropping and half an hour later they had sorted it out and presented my with my bill of fifty-two thousand Rupees. The price tag of Rs9000 a night didn’t even include their crappy breakfast. To top things off, the concierge made me sign my bill twice, because he wasn’t pleased with the way my signature looked like the first time around.

We stopped at Barista on our way home for some coffee and breakfast. How is it even possible that breakfast for two at Barista is 10% of what they charged us at the Grand Hyatt? Of course, at Barista they served us our coffee, but then they completely forgot about our food. Add to that the fact that some motorbike rider on crack drove into my car the other day, giving it a seriously nice big scratch. Oh, plus, every evening that I’d come back to the hotel from work, their security staff would stop every car, look underneath them, and peek into the trunk.

They didn’t actually really look into the trunk, but they did insist that I open it every single evening. Which, because it’s an HM Ambassador, meant that I’d have to switch off the engine, get out of the car, open the trunk, close the trunk, get back into the car, switch on the engine, and drive off. Why? Because I have yet to find a single person around here who is capable of closing, i.e. actually locking, the trunk. Granted, the locks don’t seem to be the strong points of my car – it regularly takes 10 minutes every time I get gas for the attendant to figure out how to properly lock the gas tank.

Anyways, so it wasn’t even 11am this morning and I was already fully in the mood to kill someone. Mumbai is bloody hot these days and the noise and dust and pollution just never stops. Coming back to our apartment didn’t exactly improve my mood. There was cement dust everywhere, there still is. It smells damp and poisonous. It took my an hour to clean my PC – obviously, my landlord’s brilliant construction crew had not even considered covering my PC. Our shoes they had managed to first cover in dust and then just throw onto the terrace. Last we spoke to our landlord he proudly announced that he had cleaned the apartment, whining about how much money he had spent, but of course wherever we touched, our hands got covered in dust. The furniture shows nice streaks of dust, because some genius had simply used a dirty wet cloth to smear the dirt around a bit. The couch now displays a cigarette burn, and a piece of wooden ceiling just in front of the terrace is now completely ruined and covered in cement.

So eventually we needed some food and we drove to this fairly decent vegetarian restaurant. Last time we were there they had valet parking. I always use valet parking, because there is zero regular parking to be found in Mumbai. Anyways, this time the guy in the restaurant tells me to just park over there, on the sidewalk. Ok, I park over there and some other guy comes running towards me and tells me to park over there, where there’s obviously not enough space for my car. So I go back to the restaurant guy and tell him what the story is, but he obviously doesn’t give a fuck, nor does he speak any English now. So I yell at him a bit and ask him why he doesn’t just tell me right away that he doesn’t have any valet parking. Then I get back into the car, trying to drive off and somehow manage to rip off some other car’s front license plate.

Of course, that car’s driver gets out, doesn’t speak a word of English either, but starts gesturing around. We are immediately surrounded by a dozen gawkers. I tell one of them that there’s nothing to fucking see here, why doesn’t he just move on? His very thoughtful reply was: “This is India. This is not your country.” So the driver can’t explain to me what he wants, or rather: how much he wants, but then this very important looking woman comes along, and she’s obviously the owner of the car. She has no idea what to do either, other than ordering her driver to write down my license plate number and than turning towards me and telling me all huffy and puffy that I should have seen her car. “Yes, I should have, but I didn’t.” – “Well, if you drive, you should look.” She quite clearly was the expert driver, which would explain why she needs to get driven around by her chauffeur, but I left it at that and drove off.

Our next stop was some other restaurant where the waiter insisted that he doesn’t have any cold bottled water, only mineral water that comes in a bottle that is cold. It’s one of those small language things. The food wasn’t bad, but unfortunately we were sitting outside, next to a main road, and one could just see and smell the dust and exhaust fumes settling onto our dishes. I haven’t had a cigarette in two weeks now, maybe that’s why I am in such a pissy mood these days, but clearly I am just about ready to strangle someone, or to get out of this shithole, because it’s giving me a serious headache these days. But I think we need to clean our apartment first.

Under Construction

Unfortunately, the wonderful effects of being lazy for 10 days in Thailand were pretty much wiped out the second we got back. Actually, before we even took off, Ksenia got sick as a dog with high fever. We arrived in Mumbai at 11pm, Ksenia looking like she was about to die, and the hot and stinking dust of Mumbai didn’t help matters either. But it got a lot worse: When we got home to our apartment, we realized that we had returned to a construction site. The landlord had started renovating our apartment to get rid of the mold, and of course our ten days in Thailand were by far not enough to get the job done.

We had pretty much expected that this would be a quick patch-up job, maybe some paint here and there. Instead, the landlord’s contractor had basically drilled open every single wall, presumably to waterproof them. Needless to say, the apartment looked like an unmitigated disaster zone. So we looked around a bit and then started driving around town in search of a hotel. At about 2am, after having been turned down by a number of hotels, Ksenia had enough and insisted that there’s no way the Grand Hyatt wouldn’t have a spare room for a woman on the verge of expiration. So we got a $210 room for the evening. Presumably, we were expected to be grateful.

We still don’t know why neither our landlord nor our relocation guy thought it necessary to let us know in advance that we’d be returning from Thailand to a construction site, nevermind arranging for a hotel in advance. In any event, we’ve been back from Thailand for two weeks today, and we are still in the hotel. The construction crew just finished waterproofing the walls; some time over the next two weeks they will re-paint the apartment. Ksenia was sick in bed for the first week; then it was my turn to have high fever and stay in bed.

In other words: Mumbai has been giving us a fucking headache recently; we could use some vacation again. Ah well…

Getting There

So I think we are slowly getting there. Well, first of all Ksenia got here. Four and a half hours late, but she did. The various arrival monitors at the airport indicated her flight as having arrived, or being delayed by anything between 30 minutes and two hours, but eventually she made it. The next day she took off to Crawford Market and to a dance performance at the National Center of Performing Arts (no entrance fee, and the performance matched the price). We still don’t have an apartment, but the process is moving along smoothly. While at Crawford Market, she had her ass grabbed only once, so it went relatively smoothly, even though she did call me at work at some point, because some guy had been following her for the last ten minutes.

On the plus side, we are spreading out in the hotel and in our hotel room, which is really more like a NYC size small one bedroom. Her cooking at home is definitely better than the Italian restaurant, which is good, but at $50 per person a bit too pricey for everyday use.

I am still not fully set up at work in terms of network connectivity and file access, and I am still on my prepaid SIM card as opposed to a regular mobile phone and data service subscription deal, but we are getting there, and I feel like I am actually having pretty normal work days while Ksenia is discovering every nook and cranny of Mumbai. I am not sure about it, but I would think that our driver is also happy that he gets to drive around a hot blonde all day, as opposed to sit on the parking lot waiting for me. Strangely enough, the left back door is still in the same shape it has been since it got crushed by the city bus, but I don’t really care. It leaks a bit if we are driving through a strong rain, but other than that it’s ok. Of course, our driver still hasn’t gotten the concept of keeping the A/C at moderate temperatures, so the commute is still ice cold on a daily basis.

At least I am done with the “business center” in the hotel. Ksenia brought her G4, and we are connected via the hotel room’s ethernet. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap either, but still better than the business center. Maybe it’s the rain or maybe it’s something else, but neither Ksenia nor myself have taken any pictures yet. One of these days, we’ll take some, but right now, we feel odd enough as it is, and running around taking pictues wouldn’t exactly help. Besides, in April, I drove around in auto rikshahs, which are great for taking pictures from, because they don’t have any windows. Now, I’d actually have to make an effort and, well, I haven’t been in the mood yet.

The Laptop

So now I have a mobile phone (SMS somehow stopped working), a car and a driver (at $800 a month), and am slowly becoming functional. I am still missing a bank account, my own apartment (for the first month, I am staying in that posh hotel), my own car, a home computer, a regular bar,…

The bank account was surprisingly easy to setup. The passport picture would have been the most difficult part, so I am glad I had stocked up on those. It’ll take a while to get an actual account number, debit card, ATM PIN, customer number, phone banking PIN, online banking PIN (yes, these are all separate, different, and distinct), but not more than two weeks or so. Hopefully, it will then be cheaper to wire some money once a month, as opposed to getting charged 3.5% every time I use an ATM.

The car and the driver also work out nicely. The driver isn’t driving all that manical anymore since the other day, when he tried to pass a big red bus, only to find that bus making a wrong turn and putting a big red dent into the left back door. The bus driver didn’t even get out of his bus, and the driver just looked at the door for a few seconds, visibly saddened, and then moved on. At $800 a month, I figure I’ll be better off buying my own cheap car and selling it when we are done here. So I am driving from showroom to showroom, of which there are not too many, and none of which seem to have any cars whatsoever to show, let alone to test drive. Besides, untill I have registered with the FRRO and have an Indian bank account, I wouldn’t even be able to order a car anyways. The service in the showrooms always comes with a glass of water, maybe even a coffee, and sales people ranging from very eager to make a deal to utterly desinterested in talking with me unless I can show some proper documentation – i.e. the FRRO document, or a phone bill, which would be of equal legal standing, I am told.

The apartment hunt is moving along as well. Most apartments within my budget are dark, small, with horrible furniture, on a loud street. But for some reason they all have two bathrooms. Eventually, I see a very nice apartment with usable furniture and even a terrace. The monsoon has started, the temperatures have dropped, and this apartment is on a relatively quiet side street, so I guess that terrace might actually be really useful.

Unfortunately, sending Ksenia some pictures of the apartment (and blogging), is proving a bit costly. My posh little hotel charges $10 for thirty minutes in their business centre. Dining there also comes at NYC prices, so I am thinking maybe I should rent a laptop untill Ksenia arrives with hers, because my room does have an ethernet connection. Well, that’s another story. I found a laptop rental place online, and miraculously even find the adress somewhere in the depths of Irla, another part of the suburbs (forget about making a deal online), but as I get there, they want to see some purchase order from my company. Since this would be for private use, I refuse, and offer a cash deposit instead. After a lot of back and forth, they agree, except of course, I would like that cash deposit to come from my credit card, since I don’t have an Indian bank account yet, nor do I even have 50,000Rs ($1200) in cash. Sure, no problem he says, except, he doesn’t have a credit card swiper, which doesn’t really surprise me, since we are in an industrial building in the back of a back road, with carpentry and tiles shops and god knows what else in the same building. The office suites are randomly numbered 31, 73, 52, etc. and contain equallly random businesses and as I walk along the floors, and it took a good while to even find this laptop rental place to begin with

So, I say, ah well, I guess I am out of luck then. I am also late already for an appointment to see an apartment. But not so easy, the guy was not about to let me go just yet. Instead, he makes a number of phone calls, talks frantically with the proprietor, and lets his servant hand me another coffee. When I tell him, I need to go, I am late, he insists that I wait a minute. 15 minutes later he says, ok, we’ll come to your hotel with the laptop later tonight, no problem. Ok, no problem.

So later that day I am back in the hotel, and he asks whether I can come to his office in half an hour. Curious about what he might have in store, I get back there. He, laptop in hand, two guys with him, are already waiting for me and are jumping into my car, so off we go around and around various sidestreets. The traffic, as usual, is of course unbelievable madness. Eventually, we stop at a little Indian incarnation of NY deli, Radio Shack, and Canal Street backpack and umbrella store all rolled in one; a store of about 5 by 5 feet. Lots of commotion, but apparently, the owner is willing, ready and able to swipe my card for the deposit. Well, untill he sees my card and apologizes profusely, because his little credit card swiping machine only handles Visa/MC cards issued by an Indian bank. The disappointment all around is heartbreaking. Can’t we just call my company again, it’s just a formality, that purchase order, the laptop guy says. Some more phone calls, and this time some tea. Finally, someone has the brilliant idea to ask me whether I have American Express. I can only assume they’ve seen some American Express commercials where some stranded traveller was magically rescued by his AMEX Gold Card. Well, I do and since I’ve always been wondering about that commercial myself, I actually call them. But I guess the magic of my AMEX card isn’t all that powerful, because I am told that I would have to go to their office (which is two hours away downtown), and in any event they would charge me a fortune for their rescue services.

So that was that. No company stamp, no Indian bank, no laptop rental. I guess I will be feeding that business center like a slot machine for the time being.

Must Have Passport Pictures

The other thing I decided to do was get an Indian prepaid SIM card. The hotel has those, very conveniently. Except they need a passport picture, otherwise no SMS card. Plus copies of my passport. I guess an SIM card could easily be used for subversive acts. Luckily, I still have a whole bunch of passport pictures, because I needed four or five to register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). I had to spend lunchtime getting driven around in the hunt for a place that makes such pictures. We found one (well, the driver did, I wouldn’t have recognized the little shack as a place for Kodak moments), took off our shoes, as it is the custom in many small stores, and walked off with 10 passport pictures with a gorgeous red background and a bit of redeye to match.

Not that I am actually already registered at the FRRO yet. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, mainly paperwork. And rumor has it that foreigners are well advised to go with an agent, so as to not having to deal with disgruntled government employees themselves. Fair enough. So my appointment is scheduled for next week. As usual, my father’s name was a required piece of information for registration with the FRRO. So when I bought my SIM card and again was aksed to fill out my father’s name, I didn’t really flinch anymore. They didn’t care too much at all about my mother’s or my wife’s name – unlike Ksenia, who as my wife will be asked for her father’s name, or her husband’s name as an alternative, or maybe as a backup.

That SIM card was then handed to me right away. Not that I could make or receive any phone calls with it. Of course, it needs to get loaded with some Rupees, but needless to say, you can’t do that in the hotel. For that, I go to some little place along the road and there I am, a proud owner of an Indian mobile phone number!