The Problem with People

 

The world is a funny place.  All I have wanted to do, for as long as I can remember, is to travel.  And I have.  In the 29 years I’ve lived so far, I’ve seen 6 Canadian provinces, 5 US states and 9 Chinese Provinces (plus Hong Kong and Macao, which don’t actually count as Chinese provinces but sort of are…).  I’ve  also visited Cuba, Thailand, Cambodia and now India and I’ve gotta say…everywhere I go, people are pretty much the same.

We all basically have the same needs,  no matter what our religion, ideology or race may be.  We all want to feel safe and to have a place that we can call a home.  We all suffer defeats and achieve our goals and feel defiance and pride and a great deal of other emotions.  We all have families and loved ones and we all want what’s best for them.  Everyone you meet is looking for the same basic things you are…but it’s hard to remember that when you are in the face of a strange culture where you are ‘the other’.

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A store selling Indian rugs.  None of them can fly…

I made a new friend in Suzhou recently.   He found a good job as a chemist in China and is currently dealing with Culture Shock.  When he was at our place a few weekends ago with his girlfriend, he mentioned that nobody ever writes about that stuff in blogs.  Everyone writes about how lovely travel is; how rewarding it is to learn about other cultures.  I laughed and said that although some of my posts can be downers, most of the time, i try to put a positive spin on my experiences.  Mostly I do this because I find it helpful to look for a positive when I’m in a negative situation.  But if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, part of me really wants to hang onto that idea that travel is all lollipops and rainbows…

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Nobody talks about the line ups you wait in so that you can go see an overpriced attraction.  And nobody wants to talk about the traveller’s diareha!  It’s real and it’s awful!!!

So let’s be honest for a moment…

Today was one of those rotten travel days.  We’re beginning to realize how much we overpaid for our tour and we’re both getting tired of being treated like walking piggy banks.  We had a group of children follow us through the bazaar today, trying to sell us something (we aren’t sure what) and we’ve had countless people grab our arms and try to bring us into their stores to sell us their goods for 10x the price they’d charge a local.  It’s exhausting knowing that you can’t really trust anyone when you are travelling….being a tourist can really jade you in that way…

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Can you spot the difference?  This isn’t actually very surprising or unfair.  We don’t pay taxes to keep up these beautiful places so it’s only fair that we pay more than the locals.  What’s unfair is that we had been told by our tour operator that all the sights we’d be seeing were free.  This one was the cheapest one we could find today…

Of course, we do have some coping mechanisms.  Sometimes it’s an inappropriate joke (every tourist makes them).  I recognize that it can be culturally inappropriateive or offensive to laugh at Chinese medicine or to make a joke about Ganesh and his giant elephant head, but it’s sort of like laughing at a funeral…sometimes an inappropriate joke is the only thing you can do to relieve the tension that has built up with every encounter you’ve had throughout the day.

Because really, at the end of the day….people suck!   We are a sefish group, we really are!  We are destroying the earth because we are too lazy to recycle plastic bags or to walk to the store.  We allow corporations to treat their employees like garbage because it saves us money on our groceries.  We use animals for entertainment when we go to Swim With the Dolphin programs or when we go on an elephant ride.

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Disclaimer:  This animal was tortured for months so that you can ride on its back!!

And for some reason…we (and  I’m referring to all of human kind) think that people from other countries are somehow ‘less’ than we are.  Canadians have the resources and space and jobs (yes jobs!) to take in refugees but many are against it, because they think Canadian lives somehow matter more.  Somehow we have to fix ALL our  problems before we can hep anyone else…why should we all have to be living at 100% happiness before starving children and families fleeing war can be helped?  How are they less important??

It’s the same on this side of the planet.  I’ve been taken advantage of in nearly every country I’ve visited because of my white skin and my accent.  Somehow, because I’m Canadian, it’s ok to take advantage of me because I have ‘so much money’ and I can always make more.   I came here with a budget that I need to stick with….so all our tour guide did by charging us 30% more than he needed to, was to take away from what we would have spent on the second half of our trip.

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This also means that we have less money to tip musicians and artists who are trying to make a living without begging.  These are people I like to support.

And yes, these are trivial problems.  I’m sure some of you at home are rolling your eyes and hating me for ranting about my ‘first world problems’…but there are bigger issues too…

I did a lot of research before coming to India because I knew it would be very easy to get sick here  Disentary is something many travelers suffer from while in India and I did not want to be one of those unlucky travelers.  Basically, the water in India is very contaminated and dirty.  So dirty, in fact, that you are told to brush your teeth with mineral water and not tap water.

This means that all raw fruits and vegetables are off limits to us…because if they were washed with tap water (and they probably were), we will get sick.  And I’m not talking about a tummy ache….many people need to be hospitalized and are on medications for months if they catch something from the water here.  It’s no laughing matter.

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We are also on a vegetarian diet while we’re here, because meat is often unsafe.  We’re only ordering it in top notch restaurants, and even then, I find myself sticking with Dhal (lentils and chickpeas)

So when I learned that you are suppose to crush your empty water bottle when it’s finished, so that scam artists can’t refill it with TAP WATER and resell it in the market place, I wanted to scream.  These aren’t just people who are trying to make an extra buck off of me…I can understand why those people resent me.  I am no better than them…i was just lucky enough to have been born in Canada.  I can forgive them for taking as much as they can… After all, many of them are supporting extended families as well as their own children.

But there are actually people here who are knowingly getting people sick to make a few extra rupees…. That’s a completely new level of behavior.  That goes so far beyond ‘doing what you have to go get by’.

So that’s how it is.  That’s what it can be like to travel in foreign countries.  Tourists aren’t protected by the same laws we have in Canada here, because let’s face it….their government has bigger fish to fry.   The number of homeless people in India is astounding and my tourism dollars can go a very long way to help those people…I just wish so much of that money wasn’t in our tour operator’s pocket…

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The number of stray dogs is astounding…you see them curled up in the boulevard between lanes, trying to sleep like this

But I will leave you on a happy note..

We had a lovely walk today through Old Jaipur.  We set out early and were walking through as everyone was just getting set up for the day.  The crowds weren’t out yet, and we were able to walk along slowly, taking in the Pink City.  And the most wonderful thing, was all the smiling.  We had several people give us the warmest, most genuinely beautiful smiles.   They couldn’t communicate with us verbally (now that we’re out of the capital, fewer people speak English), but they spoke in a way that they could.  Indian people, as a whole, are so wonderfully inviting.  It’s a shame that the bad apples all flock to the tourist industry, where they tarnish the name of a country that is otherwise, welcoming and vibrant.

And we finished our day at Tiger Fort, where we watched the sun go down over the Pink City.

And while today i do feel that people suck….my love for animals remains…

And there is an abundance of them in India…

I will be back soon!

A Day in New Delhi

New Delhi is a place like nothing else i have ever seen.   I expected the crowds and the pollution and I knew that that poverty here would appall me, but nothing really prepared me for one aspect of Indian society that I’d read about, but had ever seen first hand…

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We also knew we’d see a lot of stray dogs…the ones in India though, unlike those in Cambodia or China, seem to be well cared for.

We woke up this morning and enjoyed western breakfasts that were recommended by a local tuk tuk driver.  As we were leaving the restaurant with our stomachs then appeased, the same driver offered us a ride once more, which we actually did need.

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One of the meals we enjoyed later in the day

He brought us over to one of his drivers (this was a manager I suppose) and they both made us feel very welcome and promised that they’d get us to our location (an HSBC; the only bank that will let us withdraw from our Chinese bank account) and we were off.

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This is an Indian Tuk Tuk.  They are a very popular form of transportation all across Asia.

Our driver showed us landmarks along the way and asked us questions about our lives.  He told us that he has 4 children (2 boys and 2 girls) and that tomorrow is he and his wife’s anniversary (years!).  He was very easy going and friendly and we didn’t feel pushed at all by him.  Many taxi drivers in China will try and scam you, and I kept waiting for that from this guy, but he seemed legit.

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Most surprising was his ability to maneuver his vehicle while keeping pace with our conversation

After taking us to the bank, he drove us down to a government tour office.  He said they could us plan any train trips we needed and that we could save some money if we got set up with a rail pass.  We agreed to stop in, and he said he’d wait outside.

The tour agency ended up being immensely helpful and we booked our next 12 days with them.  We’ll be able to see 2 extra cities and have everything taken care of for us because of our Tuk Tuk driver friend.

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The only real shot I got of our driver

The agent at the office offered us his driver for the rest of the day as a ‘bonus’ for booking with them, and a few minutes later, our Tuk Tuk friend came in so we could pay him and he could continue on with his day.

Now, this is where things get infuriating for me….

As he entered the room, our jovial and friendly driver turned meek and quiet.  At first, we didn’t understand why, but we soon realized that it was because of our company.  Not only did these tour guides talk to him like he was a small child (or a dog), but they laughed at me when I said that he should be receiving commission for bringing them so much business.

What we witnessed this afternoon was the Caste system.  The tuk tuk driver was treated as some sort of sub-human, all because he doesn’t make as much money or belong to as wealthy of a family as the tour guide.   It all happened so quickly at the time that it took us a few minutes to even realize what had happened, but we also know that being in India, this is to be expected.  Things have improved here, for the lower castes and women, but they still have a very long way to go.

This entire situation has been bothering me all day (especially the way this man was spoken to…) and I feel that it will forever change my perspective on travel and culture.  As much as I try to respect other cultures and embrace their norms, this is something that, had I caught on more quickly, I could never have allowed to happen.  

Frankly, my favorite people so far are all “lower caste”.  The servers at the restaurants, the tuk tuk drivers and the ‘bell boys’ at the hotel have been nothing but kind and welcoming to us since we arrived.  I can promise you all this: my goal for the next 28 days is to be as kind as I can to these people in an attempt to help balance out the way they are treated by others in their culture…even if it’s only for a moment at a time…