Saturday, August 09, 2008

My Bright, Sunshiney Day by the Ganges

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."

Herm Albright

What a beautiful day.

This post has no business existing. I could simply just lump everything I'm going to say here in my previous post and save you guys the trouble of coming in twice but then again, there's practically two posts there already - so yeah, here you are and here I am. I'll pick the story up from when I was at I:ba, that Thai and Japanese restaurant found in the deep urbs of the very old city of Varanasi where the crew and I had breakfast after our dawn-time cruise on the Ganges.

The folks at I:ba had a sort of promotion going on and they were giving out a chance to win a T-shirt for every 100 rupees spent there. What I meant by "a chance" is actually 16.67% - that is, we had to roll doubles on a pair of dice.

I spotted the notice they had up the moment I walked in and I immediately had this overwhelmingly strong conviction that I would win it. I can't explain it at all. It's sort of similar to the sensation I sometimes get of people looking at the back of my head, as if I could feel the heat of the stare there or something. I believe that we, humans, have a very primitive brand of prescience built into us which allows us to just see a little into the future, and I believe that it stemmed from our ability to plan ahead. I mean, we're the only species in the world which can actually worry about things that haven't happen yet so it is only natural that we evolve a certain talent to help us with our plans, right? I know, pseudoscience - but hey, it's nice to believe in these sort of bullshit.

So, the ten of us went to the counter to put our 16.67%'s to the test. I was actually first in line but I kept letting people go before me. I don't really know why I did that but it's almost like I was waiting for something to arrive. I waited till 8 of my friends have taken their turns and right before the 9th person stepped up to the plate, I cut right in and said, "My turn." That something has arrived. I could feel it in my knees and elbows.

Without ceremony I just rolled the dice. I did it almost nonchalantly, confident that no matter how I toss them, I'd still win. Look, I really, really can't explain it, okay.

And sure enough, double fours. I won.

What I won is this though,

I don't care what everyone says. Blue on brown is awesome.

It's a cheap and tired thing but you got to admit this; it makes a pretty cool souvenir. The main design flaw in it is the neckline - it's too wide. I realised that when I went to the beach with Phoebs wearing it and I got a crescent shaped sunburn on that strip of skin between my neck and my shoulder. My neck is tan enough to resist the rays but the rest of me - not so tough. This I:ba T-shirt exposes a bit of my shoulder that is usually covered with clothes.

The 10th and last person to take her turn lost as well, by the way. I was the only one who won.

After I:ba, I wanted to walk back to our inn through the riverside to see the ancient city up close, since I would probably never get another chance to do that again after we leave later in the evening. Not a single person, not even Vincent, our photography fanatic, wanted to join me. They had taken a boat ride along the Ganges and had breakfast, and that's more than enough. They want nothing more to do with the city, much less seeing it up close. Everyone wanted to take a rickshaw back immediately and sleep, hoping that the bad dream that is Varanasi would go away after they wake up.

So I set out alone with Pei Min's camera.

Holy cows in holy water.

It's when I got to the banks of the Ganges that I realised I did not have a single rupee on me. I spent the last of my money at I:ba and I have quite forgotten to borrow some in case I meet some emergency like seeing some cool souvenir which I absolutely must buy. But oh well, can't help that now, can I?

Somehow, not having any money on me turned out to be a spot of good luck after all. It's like it was ordained somewhere by some supreme governing body of the universe that that day is my day, and there's nothing anyone or anything can do to screw it up. I didn't say "God" because I am pretty sure he doesn't like me very much since I kept telling people he's not real.

The first fortunate turn of event happened as I was walking past a funeral pyre. Okay, I bet that I am the first person in the world to ever use that combination of words; "The first fortunate turn of event happened as I was walking past a funeral pyre." But moving along, I wasn't all that curious about some dead body burning on an open fire because that comes with being a medical student. When you sit in front of a cadaver for two hours a day, 5 days a week, cutting it, tracing the courses of its nerves and arteries and playing catch with its heart and brain, anything associated with the death of a human being ceases to be fascinating or morbid to you.

Suddenly, one of the cremators (there is such a word, I checked) squatting in front of the pyre gestured at me to go to him and when I did, he told me to watch the ongoing cremation, which was already halfway to well done. So I did. He explained to me how the cremation business is really a precise science. They took pride in being able to calculate the exact amount of wood required to reduce a corpse completely to ashes, just by measuring its size and weight. Neat. I didn't know that.

Halfway through, he asked me for a "donation". What "donation" really meant is that he's charging you admission to watch some poor sod burn. Varanasi has an economy system based on death, which is only natural considering that so many millions of people flock to the city to die every year owing to it's most holy city of India status and the ontological loophole in Hinduism that allows a person to instantly escape the cycle of rebirth and suffering if he dies there. It's also quite natural, if very wrong, that the people who run the burning ghats hereabouts would thought of guilting some cash out of tourists under the pretext of "local customs" and "taboos".

I'd pay if I have any money on me (after all, I paid that dick in the Taj Mahal who charged me for asking a simple question) but I didn't. I actually turned out my pockets to show the cremator that I was telling the truth and he, never having to encounter a penniless foreign tourist in his life, could only let me walk away. After all, he was the one who asked me to watch before telling me that I have to pay for it.

I win.

Some flute selling guy who saw me turn out my pockets and thus, did not bother to badger me with his wares.

There are possibilities to this 'no money' tactic, I thought to myself as I walked downriver.

Later, I sat down on the steps leading down to the water to chill and just enjoy the scenery (I had to gaze pretty far away to avoid having the bathing old people in my field of vision). This was where a stranger, out of nowhere, grabbed my hand and started squeezing it.

Yeah, you read right. Some dude just grabbed my hand. D-U-D-E. Has a moustache too.

"You had Ayurvedic massage before?" he asked conversationally.

"I have no money on me," I answered. You can't say that I purposely lead people on now, can you?

"Don't worry, just enjoy," he said, as if he was just humouring some standard tourist babble. He was doing this cool thing where he popped all my finger joints. That felt pretty good, I must admit.

"I really don't have any money on me," I repeated.

"You pay me how much you feel like paying," he replied dismissively, now kneading my wrist and arm. "Come, lie down here."

He took my sweater and satchel from me and made a makeshift pillow out of them on the steps, and set me down. I complied. It's not very smart to argue with someone who know all there is to know about joints.

That's my leg he got there. I wish he didn't look so sensuous here.

He worked me thoroughly, my head, my neck, shoulders, back, lower back, thighs, legs, feet... and even toes. I never knew you can crack your toe joints! It was really, really enjoyable in spite of my misgivings of the benefits of massage not given by some really hot chick. It would have been a lot more enjoyable if he would just stop spitting, though.

Every minute, like clockwork, he'd spit onto the steps - bright, red phlegm-gooey spit from chewing betel nuts. Also, he wouldn't stop chattering about how people would pay up to 800 rupees for his services and even very poor people would give at least 500 rupees for the purported health benefits; basically hinting as broadly and as ungracefully as he dared. That's the trick, you see. They'd tell you that you can pay however much you like and then tried to give you an idea of how much other people usually pay, so you'd think (if you're retarded, that is) that you're actually getting a pretty good deal if you're paying a bit less that that.

At one point, he furtively patted my pockets while he was at my thighs, trying to call my "no money" bluff which, of course, was not a bluff at all. I smiled to myself at the moment he realised that.

Besides riverside masseuses, there are also riverside barbers. They only know one style though.

Anyhow, since I genuinely enjoyed the massage a lot, I decided to pay him after all and having no cash on me gave me a nigh unbeatable bargaining leverage. I managed to make him shake on 100 rupees (about RM 8), which was less than half a quarter of what a standard massage centre here would charge per session. Also, he had to follow me all the way back to the place I was staying, a kilometre away, to get it.

Okay, now I feel sort of sorry for him.

But should have heard me gloat to all my other friends who was holed up at the backpackers inn about how I got a full Ayurvedic massage at 100 rupees.

Those are cow shits he's baking in the sun.

Before I wrap up this post, here's a couple more pictures which actually belongs to the previous post, but I have somehow neglected to put them up,

Torng Lei sending an offering of light and flowers downriver - or trying to set the other boat on fire depending on how you look at it.

This picture is not posed for at all, I swear. I was bargaining with the salesman on the other boat (yes, they have floating shops here) on the price of that lotus shaped lamp I had it my hand. I bought that bead bracelet in Dharamsala for fun (I don't believe in religious blings) which I hold in my hand more often than I wear it, and my right hand was simply indicating that I would only pay twenty rupees for the damn thing. And Pei Min in the back wasn't doing the Buddha Palm either. She's just saying, "I don't want any of your crap" to the peddler.

Touched all over by some dude,
k0k s3n w4i


shinyin_jocelyn said...

i want an ayurvedic massage too!

A full Ayurvedic massage at 100 rupees(RM8)? wow! that's more than a bargain!!

Steffi said...

your full ayurvedic massage sounded so so so good!
anywhere to find one in manipal too?
p/s i like the photo with vincent and the hearts around him and the old man. hihihhihi funny...!
nice one Kok!

- yuhhui - said...

Hey, thanks for what you've told me in the previous post's comments. Initially i was pretty worried but now I'm assured that Manipal is all right. I got IMU too but i realised that there's no much point doing 5 years local with the same amount I'm gonna pay for Manipal. I rather go for Manipal which offers me more experiences. hehe.. Eh, around the uni.. got massage parlours? Hehe.. U know med students.. after studying.. we need to relax.. =)

P/S : i feel quite sorry for that dude who massaged you.. but i guess that's how things are in India huh. Can't give too much or everybody will be after you...

k0k s3n w4i said...

shinyin_jocelyn: a lot of things in India is more than a bargain if you really have the time to look into them :P come india - I'll bring you go massage (but you must come within the next 7 days 'cause after that, I'm leaving India for good)

steffi: you do know that us manipal students can get a free one anytime we like right? just go to the T.M.A. Pai's Hospital in Udupi and make an appointment at the Ayurveda department. Give them some excuse like "back ache after basketball" or sumthing. don't overdo it or they might just refer you to the orthopaedic dept :) it's there in our health coverage. some of us posted there have already gone a few times.

- yuhhui -: I hardly know anyone who goes to IMU just to stay there for the whole 5 years. people usually twin from there. Glad I clarified things a little for you. you can always ask me anything you want to know about manipal if you like. And don't need to feel sorry for the guy la! he got RM 8 for half an hour's worth of work. Pretty good, I think. Oh, and refer to my comment to Steffi on where to get free Ayurvedic massages :P

- yuhhui - said...

Well, I applied for the 5 years local programme for IMU beacause the twinning one is a little expensive. Then I realised.. IMU's lectures are only 2 hours and they don't have cadavers. So, I changed my mind.

well,I'm still waiting for the booklets to come. They haven't update me about the hostel and all. I shall wait for first or i would b asking unnecessary questions. Anyway, was wondering where are the good places to travel around Manipal. I heard about Goa.. how far is it from Manipal? And also, now that there are some bombings around in India, where are the safer places to go? And do you know how much the spiritual tour costs? I would like to visit Buddha's birth place and all.. the Bodhi tree.. etc. =)

haha. i felt sorry coz if we wanna get a massage here, we have to pay like 70 bucks per hour.. about 35 for half an hour. But I guess without all the ambience and etc.. 8 bucks sounds ok. hehe. Wah.. you med students really know how to get free things. hehe.

bevE said...

po is so gay xD

i tot that was fried chicken she was putting out on the water

k0k s3n w4i said...

- yuhhui -: I prefer IMU's schedule actually, because I prefer autonomous studying. In Manipal, you get like 4-6 hours of lecture per day plus the 2 daily hours of dissection. 1 of that 2 hours, you get to do anything you want with the cadaver. it's very cool. Goa is a 5-6 hours train ride away from Manipal. Jog Fall's, India's highest waterfall is a 4 hour bus journey away. Mysore, Ooty and Kodaikanal are pretty near too (I'm going with Phoebe in a week). You're coming this September right? Try to plan for a North Indian Backpacking trip for the February hols. Best time to see a lot of the places I went. I don't think any of this is in the Manipal booklet xD

beverly: why fried chicken? for the snakebite river zombies to eat? >_> there's absolutely nothing gay about being touched all over by another guy T^T

- yuhhui - said...

Yupe. I know it isn't in the booklet thats why i asked you. =) Hm.. isn't the north a little dangerous now with all these suicide bombers ard? Im not clear about that but ppl kept telling me travelling in India is dangerous but I decided to ask u. U travelled more than any1 else. =) Anyway, thanks for telling me all these. I appreciate it! Have fun with ur gf and have a great week!

FUBI said...

eeyer, u got molested again >_> n tht purple hanger is mine T^T

k0k s3n w4i said...

- yuhhui -: i'm not sure how much the buddhist pilgrimage tour will cost but I think u can always plan a pretty cheap one using the Lonely Planet Guide. One of the 4 places, Lumbini, the birthplace of gautama, is in nepal though, so you might want to check the immigration protocol for that (whether it requires special visa or whatnot). As for the recent bombings, none of the places I've visited was hit, to the best of my knowledge. terrorists tend to target population heavy cities and industrial hubs - and most of the cities I've been to are pretty small, unimportant towns. For general touristing, i'd say that India is one of the world's safest places seeing its long history of receiving foreign visitors. just travel in a group more than four person and you should be fine. also, check the current political climate before going on tour - that's what we did.

fubi: y u say as if i got molested a lot >_> it's mine now T^T

Steffi said...

ok thanks for the info. was searching for one for quite sometime already.
nice post u got here! keep it up!

fubi said...

hanger thief T^T