Saturday, August 29, 2009

Advice to SB

Below is some advice for SB that I wrote in an email. SB is considering moving to Kochi. It probably isn't particularly useful for you in your present situation, but it does give some insight into daily life here in Kochi.

I find that India is rather xenophobic. In addition to outright staring at foreigners, every Indian state I’ve visited so far always seems prejudiced against whatever state’s immigrants have “invaded.” It’s not much different than the Cypriots who hate Turks, the Greeks who hate Macedonians, the Singaporeans who hate Indonesians, the Spanish who hate Moroccans, the Texans that hate Mexicans, the Koreans who hate Japanese, the Vancouverites who hate Torontons, etc, etc, etc. In other words, I haven’t ever been anywhere where the local majority didn’t dislike some other group. I think nature has inbuilt these prejudices and they can’t be avoided. If you put two different fish in a tank, they’ll swim around together as a pair. If you put in more of the same two types of fish, they’ll suddenly split into little schools of like and like fish.

I haven’t figured out the gay thing here in India. Most Indians, men and women, seem rather androgynous to me. Women and men are usually segrated so all the guys go around hanging all over each over. Yet no one talks about who’s gay or who is not. Are all the guys on the down low? Or just some of them? Recently, the papers made a big deal about reform of the anti-gay laws. Regardless of all the celebrations in other cities that were shown in the Kochi papers, I didn’t see much acknowledgement of the change here in Kochi. Maybe we don’t go to the right bars…

One of our past times in the U.S. would be to go hang out at a neighborhood bar and drink with our friends. Drinking doesn’t seem to be such a past time here. Supposedly, Kochi has one of the highest per capita drinking rates. If this is true, then everyone must be drinking alone. We’ve learned how to buy beer and liquor at the government run outlets. (They have wine too but it’s all pretty nasty to me even though Angela seems to tolerate it.) We’ve learned how to tell which bars we might be welcome at and which ones are off limits. (Yes, I really have been personally recommended to leave several.) There are even fewer where we actually *feel* welcome. And at those, we feel like Norm from Cheers because everyone knows who we are. I assume the bartenders and servers think, “Here come the rich Americans who leave us tips.” Of course we’re not rich, but who says you can’t buy your friends?

One thing about Kochi is how fast it is changing. I’m talking about big radical changes. When we first moved here, there were 2 state run radio stations babbling in Malayalam. Now, there are many private and state run stations playing a variety of American top 40 hits from the 70’s and 80’s with ads and all. Somebody decides, and “BOOM!” it happens. I just wish I knew who the somebody was. As another example, a year and half ago, everyone just tossed their garbage out in the street and either burnt it every now and then or let the rains wash it away. Now, we have semi-organized city-paid collectors who put all the garbage in a big pile on the outskirts of town and burn it every now and then or let the rains wash it away. Another example is the upcoming “transportation hub.” Within two months of its publicity, a huge 100 acre site was declared as the new terminal for local city, intrastate, and interstate busses, city taxies, and a proposed system of water taxis. According to the planners, the complex will be completed by next April and they haven’t even broken ground yet!

We find it hard to go anywhere from Kochi. There just aren’t enough flights between Kochi and interesting places. Every time we want to go someplace, we end up having to take crappy flights that take 4 times as long as they should. Our last trip to Goa, a mere 400 miles away, took us 14 hours (door to door) going and 7 hours returning. The other issue you need to check is working days. Most companies here in Kochi work 6 days per week. The usual hours are 9 to 5:30 Monday – Saturday. On the plus side, many people seem to only work half day on Saturdays. I have suggested it several times, but no one seems to believe me, that we could be more productive by only working from 8:30 to 5:30 Monday – Friday. People who are paid to think need more time off to not think.

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