Well, here is my first post since I left Australia. Don't expect champagne writing – I don't have the time to for that. When I get back to Australia, I'll hopefully write a bit more elaborately about my trip. For now, I'd just like to update you on what's been happening.
The flight over was a long process, as it always is when you fly to anywhere from Perth. On the flight to Phuket, they showed "The Illusionist." It was a good film, but I thought the ending was weak and not consistent with the incidents in the film. As far as 2006 films about magicians go, I'd place it second behind "The Prestige." OK, enough with the film critique already.
The plane was on the tarmac in Phuket for about 45 minutes (passengers going on to Bangkok were told to stay on the plane). Some new passengers boarded, and next to me sat a Thai guy, a surgeon who turned out to be both a windsurfing enthusiast (although he's now much more into kitesurfing). That gave us plenty to talk about. "Kitesurfing is addictive" he told me, adding "I think about kitesurfing constantly." Apart from talking about that, I also asked him what he thought about the military coup in Thailand. He wasn't too concerned, and was largely positive about it, as he said the government had been corrupt. It's funny how people just get used to things, be it annoyingly ubiquitous mobile phone ring-tones, or military coups. I can't imagine a similarly educated Australian person being so nonchalant about the elected government being displaced by the military.
The new Bangkok airport terminal, which has only been opened a month or two, is absolutely massive, and a true marvel of human architecture. It reminded me of the Death Star in "Return of the Jedi" but not so much of the one in "Star Wars (A New Hope)." While browsing in one of the duty free shops, I saw two girls, one of them with Hebrew writing on the back of her t-shirt.
"So, I'm guessing you two or on your way back from Shnat?"
"Yes, how did you know that?" as if I might be psychic.
"Well, to be honest, I just read the back of your shirt" I said, as if disappointingly confessing that I wasn't. We all laughed a bit at that.
"We're on our way back home"
"Oh yeah? I'm from Perth too." Something of a coincidence I thought.
"Do you know what Habonim is?" they asked.
"Yeh (I'm not stupid), I'm just a lot older than you, that's all."
"Did you go to Habo?"
"A little bit, but I wasn 't like a huge Habo person or anything. My sister was really into Habo though. She went on Shnat and was a madracha and all that"
"What's her name?"
I told them. It drew a blank, as I expected. "You won't know her, she's even older than me!" It was a reminder of how fast time has flown the last ten years or so. It's really scary where all these years went.
I went to the departure gate, hoping they'd be some other travellers to meet – may be we could even split a cab. However, it was virtually all Indians in our departure lounge. I spoke to only one person, an Indian guy named Mathu, who had the appearance of someone who worked in I.T. I asked him a few questions about India, and he was very polite. When we boarded the plane, by amazing coincidence, it turned out his was the seat next to mine. I gave Mathu the address of my blog, and said I'd mention him...well, there it was.
On arrival at Mumbai airport, I changed some money, and took a pre-paid cab to the hotel. When I got in the cab, I showed the driver a printout of the address of the hotel. However, I soon realized that he was probably illiterate (later this was confirmed by an Indian friend that almost all taxi drivers are illiterate), so I just told him orally. Amazingly, he managed to drop me right to the door. The ride from the airport was a big shock. The chaos of the traffic (which included the odd horse, bull, and goat), the masses of poor people sleeping on the ground by the side of the road, or under a parked bus. Forget motorcyclists having helmets, some didn't even wear shoes. Many times it seemed that we were going to be in accident, but we never were – it's just how people drive in India.
When we arrived at the hotel, it really looked like a dump from the outside. They told me my room was in the guest house, an annex around the corner. A guy carried my large backpack, I held onto to my overnight bag, and we walked to the guest house. A large rat ran by on the street, just in front of where we were walking. Two couples of foreigners (Americans I think) also walked passed about the same time. They appeared intoxicated, and they laughed, as if either at myself or the porter. I was feeling very disconcerted – the dirtiness and poverty was still affecting me – but those laughing Americans, they really exacerbated that feeling. I wanted to turn around and say "Can I help you with something, friend?" Travis Bickle (DeNiro character in Taxi Driver) style.
We got to room, and it was a relief to see it was nice and spacious with colonial furniture, just like on the pictures I saw on the internet. I unpacked some toiletries, took a nice cool shower, and went to sleep.
Coming up in future blog posts: I go to Shabbat Chanukah at Chabad, and then later, I meet Sarita (my Indian penpal) in person for the first time.