Greetings, All. Hopefully the fact that you're reading this means that I have returned fro

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Greetings, All. Hopefully the fact that you're reading this means that I have returned from India and you may welcome me back to the United States. As it is I'm sitting here inside of a government building typeing away on a fast 80486 with a wavy monitor and nearly dead keyboard. Because I can expect to be here for a while longer, I thought I had best write down some notes about the trip so far before I forget anything important. Since I so enjoy living vicariously off of Marty's amusing travels, I thought I would describe what life in India is like... at least in the Southern part of India where I am staying. Since few Creationists seem to think their Magical Boat is on the local mountains, I think it's safe for me to assume I won't run into any fundy idiots (Unless Henry Morris is in town) so my account of travels won't be as amusing as Marty's. }:-} I should caution you: I was told by one of the guys here that my impression of India from looking at Bangalore is not exactly right for the rest of the country. They have many States here and they have a four-caste system with many different languages; the common language is English. I first arived in Taipei early in the morning after a 13 hour flight. Star Goat smiled upon me and I was fortunate enough to have the window seat and an unoccupied seat next to me. This is always of great benefit because I usually sit and read through the entire flight, not drinking, not eating, and not speaking to any of the lunatics which some times want to drop by for a visit and, because we're all on the same jet airplane, think I'm his long-lost brother or something whom he's not heard from in decades and feels the need to delve deeply into his life to get me updated or something. Driving through Taipei was a wonderful experience. In the tropic zone with lush jungle, cut through with left-hand-driven freeways, the populace have turned the jungle into a garden. It is hard to describe but three points about the drive from the airport to the hotel was notable. First, every tree and shrub was meticulously trimmed. Second, there was no litter to be seen anywhere. And third, along the cliffs cut to make passage for the freeways, they had cut planter beds and planted bushes and flowers. We (P. K. and myself) stayed a grand total of 5 hours at the hotel. Upon entering my room I noticed an arrow on the ceiling pointing the way to Mecca. After my personal one-finger salute toward the general direction indicated, I grabbed a shower and, after saying my prayers it was off to bed for a short while then a return to the airport. The next stop was Malasyia. We checked into a hotel but, since there was no arrow on the ceiling, I can't remember much about it. Hell, I don't even remember how long we stayed but it must have been at least 8 hours this time. I do remember that returning to the airport and going through security, the men and boys had their baggage x-rayed and then were allowed to pass but the women had a special curtained enclosure where they were scanned with a hand-held scanner as well. I asked P. K. about that and I was told that women have "special rights" that men don't. What? "Special rights?" I had to presume that women, dressed in their large, flowing cultural dresses, could easilly secret weapons of mass destruction among them and airport security was taking no chances. On the immigration form at the bottom it said that drug trafficking was punished by death in Malasyia. And on the airplane flight in the pilot also mentioned the fact. (They have no fucking ACLU! I wonder if that's why their country is so nice.) The next stop was Madras where we picked up a quick lunch where the waiter was unaquainted with speed ("Oh! You want something to eat? Why didn't you say so instead of sitting down at the tabel, picking up menus, then yelling "WAITER!" every five minutes?") and then Bangalore. The first thing I noticed was how nice the weather was as I stepped off the plane. I thought I had best enjoy the feeling because I knew that India customs was coming up and I was expecting a great deal of difficulty getting my high technology equipment into the country. We had shipped a hard disk drive previously and it got held up because someone somewhere wanted to know if India needed a hard disk drive in it. What we were bringing in was quite a bit bigger and heavier than a hard disk drive so we were both worried. It turned out that the Indian government was waiting to meet us to assist our entry (I'm so very special! It's why I make them Big Bucks) and, with many official papers in hand signed by no less than a dozen Indian government officials, we neatly breezed right through customs. Stepping outside the airport and into India proper is probably what you would expect: the stereotypical setting of many people trying to offer their services for any amount of currency waiting for us ("Mister? Wanna taxi? Mister?) not to mention the stereotypical beggers. In Los Angeles, you know, we've got "street people," not so much beggers, so it was disconcerting. As we loaded ourselves and our equipment into the government jeeps, the beggers placed their eyes against the windows of the jeep and asked, "rupee? rupee?" hand-signing a desire and a need to eat. (Even though food is _very_ cheap here, it still needs to be bought.) Everywhere I noticed that the availability of manual labor was large and very cheap. We would hire a taxi for the cost of fuel and something like two dollars to take us someplace. The taxi driver would usually park and wait for us reguardless of how long they had to wait. It was common to have a driver sit and wait for us for four or five hours just so they could be the first in line to take us back and get another couple of dollars. In the airports, in fact, if we picked up a bag, or even a book, airport workers would come up and ask to carry it for us. (I had an unfortunate period of near uncontrollable laughter as I envisioned one of the guys holding my book for me as I read, turning the pages as requested.) We were not even allowed to push our own carts. I had my equipment on two carts in front of a ticket counter waiting for P. K. to return when the ticket agent asked me to move my carcas (but in a very polite way) out of the way. When I started to push the carts, no less than two guys came over to help me push them all of five feet! The way these guys make a living is by helping people get through the airport and on their way from the minute they arive until the minute they leave. They stick with someone and, when it's time to leave, they get a tip for their services. If it's not enough, the helper looks a little wistful, sighs a bit, and renegotiates the tip. You know how some bats navigate by echolocation and sonar? Well that is the way they drive here in Bangalore. Kind of. The traffic moves very well even though roads are paved, mostly two-lane highways, with many motorcycles, three-wheeled death traps, and a few cars. Vehicles and people usually travel on the roads together with cars and such staying somewhat in the center. (Ox-drawn carts compete right along side the cars and mopeds.) When someone comes up behind another car, they beep their horn, causing the driver ahead to come to the left, compressing the cars and people on that side, then the car passes and everyone kind of expands back to fill up the street again. It's always chaotic frenzy with weaving and swerving but for all that, no one ever seems to get horribly killed. They're either all highly and specially trained with years and years of driving experience or they're very, very lucky. Well, to be fair, they have grown up driving like that. I suspect that if someone from the United States was _stupid_ enough to try to drive here, their driving a straight line down the street would cause massive casualties as their actions and path couldn't be understood. P. K. told me, "relax, Fred, they're professionals" and after awhile I had to agree. Driving in the government jeep at midnight didn't afford a good look at the city. We were taken to St. Marks Hotel in Bangalore. This hotel has a four-star kitchen which caters heavilly to vegetarians such as myself! And when they cook vegetarian, it's _really_ vegetarian. They don't just fish-out the bits of dead animal from what they've cooked hours ago and serve it. They actually cook vegetarian and I've had all kinds of hot and spicy "stuff" and enjoyed it all. The first two days of the trip I didn't get to eat anything but I think I've made up for it since. And cheap? Last night, the 6'th of December, there were five of us at a very good kitchen where we ate a fairly large meal with drinks. The bill came to a couple of cents over eight dollars American. And these weren't hamburgers slung off the grill, either; they were fried spiced breads with three different types of lentil sauces and soups with very hot and spicy pickled lemmon something or another for the brave among us to try. (The first sniff was rather like sniffing Clorox bleach in the way it affected the brain. The first taste kills you, the second brings you back to life.) In fact, St. Marks is one of many isolated islands of cleanlyness and wealth surrounded by filth. I can't tell if there's any real poverty, though, in this area. Everyone seems well except for a few. Along the streets you'll find piles of burning trash but areas surrounding spots like St. Marks are clean, being swepped every morning by ladies with hand-held palm fronds. There are abandoned business buildings that people live in, using small fires inside for light at night. At the tops of the buildings I noticed that some of them are unfinished. There are pipes which come up which are extended a few feet and then capped-off. The pillars which hold the building up also extend a few feet beyond the top and the rebar extends from the pillars another three or four feet. Many of the buildings were designed and built so that in later years more floors can be added by extending the pipes and pillars and adding floors, presumably ending with another roof which has extentions for more if needed. At least that's the only thing I can think of for having an "unfinished" roof. I'm probably right since I'm nearly always. The only thing I can't find is Diet Coke! I know it'll come as a shock to you but here in Bangalore they all drink Pepsi! Yes, I know: ignorant savages. Yeah, well these damned savages' day of Judgement will come for them (I only wish I could be there to watch, truth be known.) Pepsi has a bottleing plant right here in Bangalore so, to keep the revenues in the city, people drink Pepsi rather than import Coke which spreads rvenue outside the city. In fact, to tie up this point with the topic of food, that's one of the reasons why food is so cheap here. No food stuffs are imported into India -- at least solid, honest food stuffs. Sure they bring in French stuff for the wealthy if they want something and some of the hotels bring in things (like the French champaine at 2,000 rupees a pop here at St. Marks) but rice, sugar, salt, wheat, mangos, everything else is grown, processed, packaged, distributed, and consumed right here -- all without preservatives, by the way. As I read a bottle of ketchup, in fact, it said "allowed additives" but that was for spices, not color or flavor enhancers or for preservatives. In fact, the bewildering variety of spices in the bewildering variety of foodstuffs had one bottle of sauce of some kind to have "etc..." listed as an ingredient. I hope that the "etc" didn't mean deep-fried cat livers. Here at St. Marks it costs about $30.00 a night to stay. That's about what we pay for a cheap room somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. And yet here we get the four-star kitchen for breakfast at no extra charge and a large number of _exceedingly_ helpful staff. Part of that large, cheap labor pool to draw from is probably partically responsible but $30.00 a night is also a lot of money for hotels in this area. It could also be the fact that government jeeps dropped us off and the fact that P. K. is "kissing" friends / business partners with most of the country's wealthiest and powerful business men. One thing which didn't come as a surprise was the very capable and obviously well educated Indian guys we hired to start up the India operations. One guy's a software dink like myself and the other is a hardware grunt with some good software background. We're renting a large office, getting six or seven software dinks and a kennel of hardware grunts, and we'll be doing some cool things. Most of the revenus stay here and get spread around India to various investors and such. A small percentage goes back to the American and Japanese investors, an even smaller part goes to the platoon of sales people and employees we hire in India, and exceedingly smaller piece of the pie goes to P. K., and a vanishingly small piece of the pie goes to me! Among the Indian software guys, though, I think we could find no better anywhere. From my 6 floor hotel room I get to watch the kids at Bishop College here in Bangalore muster for class every morning. They are organized and orderly, wearing uniforms and listening to the morning announcements quietly. They play what appears to be football (or 'soccer' in the States) as well as some other kind of game with a smaller type of ball that I can't figure out because of the distance from my hotel room. I mentioned to one of the guys that I might like to take a day and attend class and he said he would try to arange it with his son's teachers. I suspect that, since everyone speaks English, classes are taught in English but I don't know. If I can attend, I'll let you know what it's like. (I learned this morning, 9'th of December, that English is used in the schools.) At some of the major intersections on the roads there are traffic inspectors and police who are there for when the power cuts out. It happens enough to warrant some human back up. There are signs and light posts that are put in the street to denote intersections and turning lanes and such. To keep them visible, they're set in large blocks of stone and then painted bright yellow. They're usually plastered over with hand bills and advertizements however, which are faded pale greyish white which makes these road hazzards blend in nicely with the road. One of the more unusual things one runs into is the public toilets. In a word, there isn't one. In fact, what you find is an oblate hole in the floor and, with much thought, I can only conclude that one craps standing up. This is a tiled basin sunk into the floor with a drain at one end at the bottom and a pipe which brings water into it at the other end. No ass-wipe is provided so again I must make an assumption and conclude that people bring it in with them. I was thinking that the shape of the hole might allow one to sit on the floor over the drain; one would remove one's pants. Eventually I would like to see what the female facilities are. I suspect they are exactly the same. Some of the signs are interesting. There is a sign behind me about 15 feet away which reads, "Weather Making Room" on a locked door. I wonder if India has some technology designed to dissipate their monsoons up North every June or something. Since the room is locked and inside a government building, I can't step inside and check it out but I suspect it's an air conditioning room or air-moveing equipment. If you look in the nodelist, there was a FidoNet node here in Bangalore which was marked "Down" as of October 20'th. There are 12 systems in India as of the 20'th of October and most of them are in the big cities as one might expect. Bombay and New Delhi _are_ different than Bangalore and the massive farm communities are quite different than the cities. India has a third of the land that America has but India has almost a billion people -- four times the number of people America has. Since the amount of farm land is so large and the length of the growing season is so long, there seems to be no shortage of food. (Today I learned that coffee is being grown along-side the massive tea leave farms but that coffee wasn't always grown here.) The reason why so few FidoNet systems are in India is because only about 1 in 10 people have easy access to a telephone -- at least that is what I was told. That's going to change and damn quickly. Two days ago the "opposistion party" here which have been trying to keep India self sufficient by keeping foreign investors out issued a statement redefining what self sufficiency means, allowing foreign investments in while at the same time pretending that they haven't had to change their stance to keep themselves voted into office. The vast majority of the populace votes -- nearly 100% of the people over the age of 18. They take politics very seriously and the opposistion party which has been trying to keep technology and inovations out (along with all the negatives and corruption that come with it) has had to change their posistion by redefining terms. Sound like politicritters everywhere, huh? Coming back to the caste system, there are four distinct ones, each of which has an impression of sitting within a class higher than the other. What matters, however, is each castes' sitting in the favor of the majority of the ruleing class. I don't pretend to understand it but I believe it's not complicated at all to see how the classes stratify out. As of today I haven't striked-up any conversations about how the system works so I really don't know. I do know that some of the people have caste marks whereas most do not. Thought one of the guys I'm working with is an atheist and has no caste mark, he has nonetheless stated -- quite seriously -- that the gods are very nice to India because the number of natural disasters which plague the rest of the world are few in India (three days ago Union Carbide was protested again on the 11'th anniversary of the accidental gassing of some 20,000 people. Had I known of the protest I would have sought to attend but, alas, the local news media only covered the aftermath of arrests and the hanging of a sign; a sign which misspelled the word "killer.") As for the issue of cows having the run of the streets, it's true. Even though the streets get crammed with traffic and there are really no idea of lanes, cows walk among the traffic or lay on the side of the road or in the center between opposing traffic. They're huge and healthy animals with a lot of grass and weeds to eat. School children, I noticed, on the way to school or coming back from school stop to pet these animals on the nose and such. Even though noisy, smoking, swerving three-wheeled death traps come within inches of hitting them, they sit quietly watching it all without flinching. People go around them and when they approach an intersection the traffic inspector in the turning circles redirects traffic to allow the cow and all other traffic going the cow's way priority. And of course the British have left their mark on the country. Last night at dinner (10'th of December) there were a family of Indians whos children were "so very British" in their language and selection of words. They ate with their mouthes open -- which might be typical here -- so they were probably brought up somewhere in the North. The little girl started singing "Joy to the world" and I had to laugh when she broke off and asked her father what "a lord" was. (It seems the death cult which plagues us in the States hasn't fully corrupted this country.) Her older brother's explanation included kings and queens, lords and ladies, in England "a couple of years ago, I'm sure." Speaking of cults, here in India there are a lot of "god men." These are simple magicians performing fairly simple tricks which nonetheless require a great deal of practice to pull off convinceingly. Here in India there are a great many of them -- many of which are called "holy men" who suppliment their "holyness" by magic. I have been trying to get time off to attend a gathering of such groups which use such a central figure to see first-hand how they operate. Since my departure date has been moved up to the 13'th and today's the 11'th, I doubt I'll get a chance unless a largish group comes through Bangalore. In the Bangalore papers (which come to my hotel room every now and then) at times have a page devoted to "thank yous" to what is bizarrely called "the child Jesus." It's very strange. There is a dozen pictures of a nearly Asian/Indian looking baby wearing strange clothes with some kind of a crown with an occult saying under it. I asked someone about it and was told that most of the "thank yous" are entered into the paper by Americans trying to make it look like Christianity "has a foot hold" in India. (I'll send one of these to someone in HolySmoke with a scanner so that the GIF can be made available for everyone to see what it looks like.) The Jesus myth ranges from either just another dead "god man" to just another prophet among the believers. There seems to be very few actual believers in the Jesus myth here. Some of the hotel staff have found it financially beneficial to effect a belief, though. Yesterday at Bishop College there was some kind of an event with music and fireworks. I don't know what it was but the band played "You're in the Army now" or whatever the real name of that song is. "You'll never get rich by digging a ditch: you're in the Army now." The buses are neat. They're usually crammed packed with people and, as the bus comes to a turning circle and slows down, people jump off while it's still moving. There are honest bus stops where the bus actually stops for people who are unwilling to jump out of moving vehicles in the center of traffic where they're just as likely to be run over by a car as they are to be run over by an ox pulling a cart. Another thing which I examined closely was the way electrical power gets distributed from node to node in their existing power grid. Along the street you'll find power transformers sitting on platforms up about 20 feet or so with insulators being used to keep things from shorting out but I seriously think a United States electrical or health and safety inspector would have a stroke were the design used in America. Children are probably taught not to climb on the things and play on them. I guess that they're not even considered a hazard since everyone just has the common sense not to mess with them. The last days of my trip can be summed up as, "noisy, smokey, and crowded." The days are filled with the sounds of horns on the streets and smoke covers the city from cars, three-wheeled death traps, and burning trash. The men usually wear Earth colors while the women wear bright flowing cloths, making a drive through the crowded streets a dazzeling experience. For all that the people are delightful. Most of all I liked to watch the happy children dressed in their uniforms and ties. Everyone seems so happy and the city throbs with life -- quite a bit different than here in Los Angeles where fear and resentment seems to be common. Having such a well-educated, high population in a small area within Bangalore probably accounts for the generally positive mental outlook I saw. If food wasn't so cheap and plentyful, such high population density results in crime, I think. The trip back to the United States (it's now the 13'th) was a real bitch. Getting through Customs in Madras was an exercise in circular logic. Before Customs can "authorize" equipment it must be checked in at the airline and before it can be checked in at the airline equipment needs to have a Customs inspection stamp. We finally worked it out by having Customs inspect the equipment, then we checked it in at the airline explaining that Customs inspected it but is waiting for a stamp after... Well, you can see that The System over their needs some redesign. At the end of the exercise Customs walked over to the airline check-in and put their stamp of approval on things. I was interviewed in Madras and was asked what I liked the most about India. "The people," I said trithfully. When I was asked what I liked the least about India, it was either a toss-up between the inability to drink the water, the lack of any real driving order, and the inability to make telephone calls. After thinking about it, I thought that having a telephone so that I can have bottled water sent up and so I can conduct business over the phone would negate the other two, I replied, "The telephone system." (Much like the United States, Canada, Australia et al. where one can pick up a phone and have food and drink delivered any day, any time day or night.) After boarding our jet in Japan, I ended up with a small Japanese boy of about six years sitting next to me. Because he couldn't get comfortable for the long flight to Los Angeles (he was going to Disnyland to meet Mickey!) I had warm, smelly boy legs in my lap most of the way back. I avoided going to India and, if the need arises again, I will try my best not to go again unless I must. Though I enjoyed India very much and the government was very helpful, taking three days to get their is rough and exhausting. (At first we were booked on a train from Madras to Bangalore which would have added another 8 hours to the trip but we got lucky and found available seats on a jet.) If I have to go back, I will look forward to it, though. And I think I'll bring my oldest son with me and have him attend the schools for the two weeks I'm there.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank