Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taxi Driver Man

Getting a taxi or rickshaw in Delhi can be as much a test of your knowledge of the city as it is your willingness to take a chance the honesty of your driver. I should begin by explaining that there are two ways to get a price on your taxi ride here: you can go by the meter or you can negotiate the price in advance. No matter which method you choose to follow you have about a 50/50 chance of having overpaid for your journey.

To demonstrate the mark of a local, I will begin by telling you of when I knew I was officially back in Delhi. During my first week here, I asked a taxi driver to take me to Shanti Niketan where I would be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with friends. Having been to the neighborhood dozens upon dozens of times in the last dozen or so months I could well have driven there myself from the hotel - blindfolded.

When my driver pronounced that the trip would cost 200 rupees I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. I gently explained that I was not a stupid white tourist and I knew exactly where I was going: the payment would be 100. “Ahh but madam this is much too less!” No, I explained to him, it wasn’t as the fare would less than even my 100 rupees on his meter when the trip was done. He bowed his head in defeat and drove off – the long scenic way naturally.

Upon our arrival in front of Lady Bird’s house, the driver sheepishly flipped over the cloth the he (and all the taxi drivers in Delhi) kept over the meter. I read it and grinned at him. “Two hundred rupees, huh?” I laughed. Based on the slightly higher than negotiated meter price, I handed him Rps 110 (which also included a tip for his circuitous route) and he returned my friendly laugh. “I’m sorry that I was not the tourist you were looking for. Have a good evening.” With that, he shook his head at the crazy white lady and sped off in search of his next fare.

In contrast, when Boss Man B, Hubby and I went to the Oberoi on Saturday night, my fatigue at constantly negotiating fares and the driver’s round about directions *cost* us an extra 50 rupees. I naively agreed to go by the meter and failed to pay attention to where we were going when I suddenly noticed that we had driven for about 4 minutes into a dead end would have to double back past the Taj Hotel. Then, rather than taking the route I would have chosen past our old apartment and the golf club; the taxi driver went the back way to the hotel thus ringing up a higher price.

But even a combination of good negotiating and knowing the city doesn’t always pay off as I discovered on my way to visit Kiwi and her baby Prince in GK2. Having never taken a taxi to that area I foolishly negotiated and agreed to *double* what I ended up paying on the meter to return to the hotel. Even if you know the rules, I learned, you can’t always win at this game.

(An aside here, if you will allow me Dearest Reader, as I note that Prince Kiwi is adorable. He was so sweet and cute and well behaved I *almost*, but not quite, wanted one of my own. I will have to visit them both again soon before I depart and he forgets how to correctly pronounce zebra.)

A rare instance of beating the system occurred on Sunday during a ride that Hubby and I took to the Metropolitan Niko. (Please! You knew we were going to end up at the sushi and sparkling wine brunch at some point!) Based on what we had paid to get to the hotel from Golflinks, we (I) told the driver we would pay 100 rupees to his offer of 150 rupees.

What neither the driver nor we had realized, was that it was the first Sunday of Advent and the local Catholic churches were parading through Caunnaught Place blocking several of the roads we required to reach our destination. In the end, he drove around aimlessly for an extra ten minutes trying in vain to find a back entrance to the road we needed and then we had to walk the final kilometer to brunch.

Hubby handed the driver our agreed upon 100 rupee note and he became incensed. “I drive more than rupees 100. You must pay meter.” We (I) pointed out that we had already settled upon 100 and that he had not even gotten us to our final destination. With that we walked off with a throng of local nuns who seemed headed in the right direction.

I’m not sure, my Beloved Readers, if you actually learned anything about obtaining a taxi here in Delhi from this monologue but I hope at least I have managed to amuse you slightly with the tales of trips in the back of green and black Ambassador cars. Just remember that if you negotiate in advance you will likely overpay. If you chose to go by the meter, you’ll have a good tour of the city and still probably pay too much. And if you want to go to CP on the first Sunday in Advent: Don’t!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Return of the Expat Jedi

As the plane flew through the hazy layers of smog that seem to perpetually enshroud Delhi, I knew I was home. Even the air as we debarked tasted different yet not entirely or unpleasantly unfamiliar.

The crushing reality of not going through the Diplomat line at the airport was my first dose of “visitor” reality. I wasn’t a Delhi Expat returning from leave or even a regular Delhite headed home. I was a visitor in this familiar land that seemed to have an odd ache of home and ease.

As we drove past the Niketans on the way to the Hotel I messaged Princess MK and told her the good news: the Queen Diva was back in town! Moments later she rang me and filled me in on the plans for lunch. I had been back in Delhi less than an hour and my date book as filling up rather nicely.

Queen E, the Ladies J, and the Princess met me at the hotel for what would be a marathon of a lunch. After demanding hugs from my friends, they immediately set to catching me up on the latest gossip, chat and dirt that I, being Internet-less in Nairobi, had been denied.

As the craziness reached its zenith I voice the despair we were all feeling, “Girls we need alcohol.” I could see the look of fear in the eyes of the waiter clearing our table. I don’t think he had realized or even dreamed that the insanity at the corner table was the work of sober people. Of course the Vodka Bar wouldn’t be open for another hour (42 minutes and 26 seconds, not that we were counting), so we needed to kill time.

We agreed to split up and run our respective errands and regroup for at 4:30 for drinks. We synchronized Swatches and set out. Princess MK and I piled into her car and headed for Khan Market so I could get refill cards for my prepaid SIM card. After a quick stop my old phone guy I made a beeline to Hidesign for a new a wallet.

This, I feel the need to point out in my own defense, was actually a necessary purchase as I had been using a small cloth change purse for the last year that barely fit my credit cards let alone money. After a few minutes of debate I left the store with not only a lovely leather wallet and even a small change purse to match. The whole deal (which coincidently matched my lovely Roots bag from Toronto) came to a total of less than Rps1200. And they say I don’t know how to bargain shop.

Having exhausted ourselves shopping, we headed back to Aura for refreshments. As I sat sipping a Pink Cucumber (aka Spa Drink) I smiled at the waiter who always served us back in our hey day and realized that while Delhi wasn’t home anymore but it was a really pretty darned close… for a week or three.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Missing But Not Forgotten

Rumor has it that I’ve been a wee bit lax in my blogger B!tch duties of late. *blush* Emails, text messages, phone calls, and blog comments attempting to track me down have found me hale, hearty, and, alas, internet-less. That’s right: I have a semi-decent excuse for slacking off for a change! Go fig!

When last we blogged, I was about to head off to visit my family in Toronto for some much needed R&R. Three weeks of eating my parent’s awesome cooking, shopping, and not so secret trips to Harvey’s did their thing and I eventually left several pounds heavier (not to mention with an extra suitcase full of goodies that put me way over my airline baggage weight limit). But more about that trip in a later installment... Suffice to say, for now, that the trip was so good that I even discovered that the brother I thought my father made up was actually real! Freaky yet true, my Devoted Readers.

I eventually returned to the fair lands of Kenya, which I have finally started to call home without cringing. Within days of landing in Nairobi I was whisked off of the Kenya-traz™ grounds to my very own too-awesome-for-words apartment. The movers didn’t even break anything (including us) when they saw our 4th floor walk-up complete with an additional loft (accessible only via a vaguely rickety metal winding staircase), which we had decided would be our bedroom. In a few weeks I’ll post pics of our new humble abode including the beyond kick-arse kitchen that neither Hubby nor I can stop raving about.

Since the day we moved in we’ve been cooking up a storm, Hubby has been traveling (Botswana and Ethiopia), we obtained a car, and (brace yourselves) I was even seen ironing shirts. The latter will, no doubt, be a blog unto itself as those who know me well likely don’t believe the rumor of my pressing prowess. The downside to all of this, I must lament, is that we still don’t have Internet. This last issue will hopefully (please cross your fingers and toes for me here my Friends) be resolved shortly upon our return from our current jaunt.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? I’ve been jaunting again. As I type this, Hubby and I are sitting in the Emirates Business Class Lounge in the Dubai airport. (Note to BBS: this place is wicked swinging and worth the price of an upgrade.) In exchange for my foregoing a trip to Ethiopia, Hubby agreed to upgrade our tickets on this trip to India. Poor thing doesn’t even seem to fully realize that his days of passing off trips in Economy Class are so yesterday. Business Class Rules!!

Where was I? Oh yeah….

So, I spent a year complaining about India; months telling you how happy I was to leave, and even contemplated adding a count down icon to the blog to mark the occasion. And now I am not only voluntarily heading back but am even beyond thrilled to be doing so. So while Hubby toils away for the next three weeks, I will be enjoying myself at all of my old haunts with my Delhi Expat Friends, and reliving the heyday that was all of six months ago.

I am , in my most na├»ve way, trusting that Internet will be fairly available to me while I visiting land of my Grandfather. That, as I’m sure you are thrilled beyond words to realize, means that I will be blogging!

So watch out world, Delhi Typ0 is back and she is ready to party!