The Accidental Tourist Hits Mumbai
Got a bit pissed off the other night when the local Indian sub-distributor booked the next leg of my trip, the following night to Mumbai, into an even crappier hotel than I had expected. The Traveladvisor.com User-Rating for this charming oubliette was 0, and the only user comment stated unambiguously, "Very Scary, Do NOT Stay Here."
OK, the distributors were trying to save my company a few bucks because, as you well know, India hotels are outrageously expensive - although I doubt that this is due to the exemplary and trend-setting remuneration of the service staff. They had planned to put me into this 3-star place for $USD175, which was the same rate I paid for my plain, pitilessly unadorned, god-awful suite (double-sized room, OK I'll grant you that) in which the block-out curtains did not meet in the middle of the window. That was in Pune. This $175 rate might sound a tad expensive for a low-end business hotel in one of the poorest countries in this particular universe and indeed such a exploitative charge might smack or ruthless opportunism to some. And that's because it is. But experience has told E@L that for India, such a rate it is quite bloody reasonable. For Mumbai it sounds extremely cheap. Which means that it IS CHEAP. Bad. More than bad; Very Scary, in someone's opinion.
I didnít want to stay there. I emailed, I got the local guy to call the office three times. It was late, the office was closed, they'd do it in the morning. By all the key Hindu deities, they'd better.
Ironic isn't it? The poorer the country, the more expensive the hotels. If you wonder where that money goes, if not to the staff, note that 4 of the world top ten billionaires are Indian. So, I insisted on enriching the rich even more and asked the staff to rebook me at a reliable hotel 4-5 star, such as the Le Royal Meridian. It turned out to be mere $100 extra for the night. Only staying one night.
Why was I pulling a this tantrum, being such a petulant baby?
Because that 60% difference in room rate was probably worth 600% in terms of facilities and quality. Le Royal Meridien might not be perfect, but it a 5-star hotel that has ambience, charm, comfortable chairs, soft towels, a pliable mattress, scrunchy pillows, shower water that (when eventually it heats up enough to use only after 5 minutes like the Pune Hotel) doesn't leave you covered in a strange waxy coating. It has a V in BOTH ROLLS of the toilet paper, a jazz quartet playing under chandeliers in the foyer, deliciously edible food in the superb restaurant (and not reheated-from-breakfast-vegetarian-only mush), pictures and ornaments on the wall, fresh fruit in a bowl, it has staff who are attentive and helpful without being intrusive, cloying, obsequious and just plain annoying, it has disabled aids in the bathroom (? - I must have got the "special" room), it has English language on the TV stations, a fax machine for sending off orders for a Noosa Heads property, a luxury car from the airport as opposed to a non-A-C mini-MINI-van, etc, etc, ETfuckingCETERA...
In short, it is a world class hotel. OK, Iíll stay here.
For all the exorbitance of rate of the Pune (ex Poona) hotel, I have had similar quality rooms for $20 in Manila, for $30 in Phuket or Pattaya. So why did I stay there? Why didn't I crack this tantrum on Monday?
Several reasons. The clinic I was working at was immediately across the road, the customer is such a nice man that I didn't want to upset him by seeming to be a tosser, plus there was an awkwardness, dirt, dust and plain danger in the one hour auto-rickshaw drive (our dealer has no car) in nightmare traffic every morning from the still relatively crappy but at least liveable Pune Le Meridian across town (and that bridge) to get to his clinic. These were the tipping factors.
So I took it up the Khyber for the week. Call it altriuism
The clinic/hospital I was to visit here in Mumbai, in contrast, is far away from anywhere, right at the tip of the peninsula of the old city. There are no business hotels nearby, all are as close or as far as each other. The appointment wasn't until lunchtime so there was no rush and no proximity factor, no need to make excuses for the delay due to traffic and so, while the customer is also a very nice man, no need to change hotels just for his convenience.
I guess I am coming across like some whingeing Accidental Tourist here, and heck, I might in fact be turning into one. Here's why.
I have a nice flat in Singapore.
Airy, roomy, Maugham-esque light fittings and ceiling fans, leafy vistas. Quiet, you've no idea. People love to come party there because you can be loud, no-one is nearby: the flat above empty, a church next door, long spaces to other apartment buildings. You can quietly play chess, loudly watch Rammstein DVDs.
It is well stocked with all my favourite books. Volumes that I can grab out at as I am having discussion with Izzy or other guests, books from which I might just want refresh myself of a key phrase which has moved my life on somehow.
It has my comfy Moran leather recliner and couch, my 42in Plasma to watch my countless DVDs and my favourite TV shows (like last year's AFL Grand Final!) on my recorder. It has my chess set and my HUGE chess puzzle book (that The Mouse gave me for Christmas) on the coffee table.
I have my tidy, well stocked kitchen with my favourite food and my favourite drinks. I have my coffee. I have my wine fridge and my vodka freezer. I have my Chinese "antique" furniture. I have my pool outside to do my dizzyingly slow laps and my gym just by the door should it be empty and I am in the mood.
And I can make breakfast EXACTLY the way I like it, or even venture out there on a wild ride of poached eggs with Vegemite toast!
The flat needs a bit of maintenance. Two of the air-cons are spitting their last acrid warmth into the air along with a waterfall of condensation. The washing-machine has developed a tendency to keep going through all the cycles for the one load. I need to organize some workmen to come. I need to be in town, to direct them, to pay them.
In short I have a place that I call my home. I like being there, basking in all of the things that define me in anti-Fight Club sense. When I head home from work at the end of a long loose cunt of a day, that's where I like to be going.
Not to some tiny shithole crapbox hotel where nothing is to my specs, nothing meets minimum safety requirements, where the plugs fall out of the electricity sockets for no plain reason, only half the lights have working globes, where the lift-button cover is hanging off, where it stinks like carpet left wet for 15 years, and where the staff are stupid or vindictive or both. Not to someplace Very Scary.
Look, listen, understand. My work involves travel. Lots of it, in occasional spurts of three or four weeks or for single weeks that often snatch half of either weekend. My rate last year was 60% out of town, which is terrific for my NOR tax, but horrible for other things, like having a life.
Similarly I might have two to four weeks bursts of no travel, just cruising in the office watching the boats come in, due to quiet patches in the buying cycle around my parts of the world, or there's a training session which I give in our Singapore office. So I don't get to be at home all that much, and not in any predictable pattern.
I'm not home enough to have a routine.
I don't get to have friends over for dinner or to visit each Thursday or go out each Friday for a quiet drink after work. I don't have a local pub where everybody knows my name. I just don't have routines. OK a few of Sunday evening s that I'm home I'll be at The Gutter, but I donít actually LIKE Wala Wala that much. I'd like to have the opportunity and time to search for another nice pub.
And I am alone a lot of the time at night. A LOT of the time. Eating and drinking by myself. "Just one more beer, Mr E@L?" Hence this blog and its long rambling posts. Routines keep you sane. This blog is my current mental routine - if I was Beckett I'd be computing Watt.
You're probably aware that I don't have any regular personal relationship going at the moment, haven't had one for eight years, other than the mainly electronic ones with some of my regular readers or other bloggers. How can I have a girlfriend, a dog, even a houseplant, when I'm out of town for two months at stretch, as my schedule currently seems to threaten me with? Can I call all those ants, gheckos and cockroaches who currently have the run of the place my pets? (90% of the biomass of my apartment is ants. Even when I am home.) Can I make names for them...
And so I sit and I type this in a strange chair in a strange room in a strange hotel in a strange town, in a country not always pleasant or safe.
Not home. Definitely not home.
But at least it's a comfortable chair. Really comfortable, to be honest!
Yes, I know I mentioned all the destitute people sleeping and living on the streets and by Christ aren't I being the wasa hypocrite, but still my back is aching from the economy class seats, from the bad mattress, and my feet are killing me from all this standing as the customer scans... *
By the sacred snout of Ganeesh, good readers, grant me the respite to have a decent bed to rest in for ONE night at least, as if I were at home. Snug, safe, home.
I've been doing this type of job for ten years, in case you are wondering. Current plan is for five years more. Anyone want to take odds on my making it?
In Singapore tomorrow for one day (S-1D). Then Perth-7D, S-1D, Kuwait-5D, S-8D (four of them for a training session), then HK-5D (R7S), S-5D, Vietnam-6D, South Africa-12D... That's my next two months, two weeks in Sigapore.
E@L (Friday night in Mumbai)
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
Can one still get a bit of free space on the floor in a Sikh temple on which to lay out one's bedsheet one wonders? How about DAK bungalows? Gone for ever one supposes along with tiffin.
Only if one is a widow and had chanted prayers all day in penance for not being a person - gone along with tiffin is the noble recreational sport of sati or widow burning.
Same old story. All downhill after independence.
I think we need to take this search for a "local" a little bit more seriously than a blog post...we need to have "lists" and we need to do research...and we need to bend the elbow and sample deep fried bar food and we need to do it all within a 10 buck cab ride.
dak bungalows? many indians wouldn't know what you were talking about!
tiffin still exists though. you just need to know where.
and so does non-person-burning.
Notice how I let that one slide, Knobby? I still have no idea.