19 July 2007

Welcome To India! Oh, Did You Want Your Bag?

I hopped on a plane in Joburg and 10 magical hours later (I watched Wild Hogs and a bad Chris Rock movie, ate the “chicken” for lunch and the “lamb” for dinner, read my book, took a nap and watched the sunset from 30,000 feet) I was in Mumbai. My first thought after stepping off the plane: “OH MY GOD, IT’S SO HOT!” Indeed, the temperature is hovering somewhere between 85 and 115 degrees.

My second thought, you ask? I wonder if the bags are ever going to come out…We landed at 12:30am and that baggage belt didn’t start spinning until just after 3am. From 1am on a woman would come on every 10 minutes to let us know that “the bags will be out in 10 minutes.” People drove their little baggage carts right up to the belt, leaving absolutely no room for humans. Pilots and patrons alike were peering behind the plastic curtain, attempting to identify the hold-up.

True to form, mine was one of the last bags to emerge. I dropped it on my baggage cart and headed for the door, or so I thought. First, I had to send my bags through an x-ray machine. The line here was a good 20 minutes long and of course, people were standing far too close to each other. Fortunately, I don’t enjoy walking on my own two feet, so the constant railing of carts into my Achilles tendons went only half-noticed. Finally, it was my turn. I flung my bag up onto the conveyor belt and walked to the other side, only to find the x-ray operator asleep under the machine, pillow, blankets and all! Safety first.

Cart reloaded, I headed for the door in search of a sign with my name on it. Thankfully, it was easy to spot, though before I could reach him 3 other guys emerged, all anxious to help with my luggage. One pushed the cart, another cleared a path and a third opened my door. Sadly, I had not been to an ATM, so ended up giving them $5 US – all I had. That converts to roughly 200 rupees. A normal tip in this situation would have been 10 rupees. They were excited.

Forty minutes later we were at the hotel where another three guys were anxiously awaiting my arrival, despite the fact that it was 4am. One carried the suitcase, another hung my sweatshirt in the closet and folded down by bed and a third explained (in extreme detail) how the remote control worked. Immediately my mind was reeling with comparisons between China and India (First below is China, second is India).

Both struggle with a surplus of people to do anything and everything your heart can imagine; things people would just never do at home. Both enjoy absolute chaos in traffic patterns and both are home to people who just love honking their horns. Still, beyond that, these are two very different places, home to very different people. I haven’t wrapped my mind around it completely just yet, but the wheels are spinning…

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