EASTERN EUROPE WAS AN ENLIGHTENING TRIP by Diane W. Mufson

EASTERN EUROPE WAS AN ENLIGHTENING TRIP by Diane W. Mufson

In my youth, high schools regularly required classes in world history in addition to American history and civics. These subjects didn’t thrill us, but in retrospect they had definite benefits. Today, when high school students are shown a map of Great Britain or France, many have no inkling where these places are located.

Still, most of us lack an understanding of less familiar parts of the world, especially where there is little current American involvement. That includes Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where we recently visited. Spending a week in this region certainly does not make me an expert, but it is enlightening and is a great reminder that we Americans are very fortunate.

BUDAPEST ON THE DANUBE

Visiting Hungary the second time in a decade was instructive. While the Capital, Budapest, remains a magnificent old city on the Danube River, with new buildings and an easy-to-navigate subway system, there are new ominous political concerns.

On one of our tours, our guide was answering questions about the current government and suddenly announced that he thought it was time for him to stop. Away from the group, he noted that the Hungarian president, Victor Orban, was now moving the country in an ultra right direction, causing fear and motivating educated young people to leave.

“SHOE ON THE DANUBE BANK”

Having previously passed by the Holocaust remembrance exhibit, “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” where Jewish men, women and children were told to take off their shoes and then shot into the river by Hungarian Nazis in 1944, this information was very disconcerting.

Taking a walk in a non-tourist neighborhood pointed out that cigarette smoking is frequent and constant. We may think that tobacco companies worry about the decline in American cigarette consumption, but Eastern Europe is picking up the slack. Another fascinating find was the large numbers of stores selling sewing notion, fabrics and machines. Obviously, the economy is such that homemade clothing is needed as it was here in the middle of the 20th century.

DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

We visited Croatia and Servia, two of the six countries that once were part of Yugoslavia, a country that existed from 1942 to 1991, when the somewhat benevolent independent communist dictator, “Tito” (Josip Broz) kept those countries in line and prevented them from killing each other. This area, known as the Balkans, has always been a tinder point for wars.

Vukovar, a small attractive Croatian city, was about 85 percent obliterated in the 1990s in their war with Serbia, which extended into much of the former Yugoslavia. According to our guide, it’s peaceful now, but unemployment is 33 percent and emigration is causing a brain drain among the young educated people.

Perhaps the most amazing piece of information from our guide regarded schools. Croatian and Serbian people reside in both Croatia and Serbia and some have intermarried. But when the children of intermarried couples go to school in Croatia, they must decide if they will attend a Serbian or a Croatian school; the youngsters of these nationalities cannot mix in schools even if their parents have done so.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

I wasn’t prepared to like Bucharest, Romania’s capital, as I’d heard that it was a grey boring city and a set of my grandparents emigrated from Romania over a century ago because of the dangers facing them.

A BUCHAREST CAFE

But what we found were friendly people, interesting places, great food, joy at getting rid of their Communist dictator in 1989, an amazingly modern McDonald’s and ease in getting around Bucharest with Uber.

Travel is always interesting; visiting a small part of Eastern Europe was enlightening.

[This wonderfully descriptive article first appeared in the Huntington WV Herald-Dispatch on Thursday, September 14, 2017. The author, Diane W. Mufson, a retired psychologist, and her husband Maury reside in Huntington, West Virginia. Ms. Mufson is a weekly contributor the editorial page of the Herald-Dispatch. Her e-mail is dwmufson@comcast.net] 

AN INSIDE LOOK AT CHINA by Diane W. Mufson

AN INSIDE LOOK AT CHINA by Diane W. Mufson

This winter, Maury and I completed another “bucket list” adventure, which included visits to China, Japan and South Korea. Two decades ago Maury and I spent a week in China, which then appeared to be a sleeping dragon. Now, that dragon appears to be breathing economic fire.

A week in China and conversation with informed sources does not make me any type of authority on China’s economy, but some things stand out. Whether the United States likes it or not, China is determined to be the world’s major economy. Our country must make sure that the current American isolationism stance does not catapult China into the world’s trade leadership position.

HONG KONG SKYLINE

In 1996 we visited Hong Kong, long a British possession, to see this region before the communists took it over the following year. It was lively and economically prosperous; the American expectation was that it would be ruined by communist involvement. Today there is political conflict between old Hong Kong attitudes and Mainland Chinese, but the 40 square mile area with about 7.5 million people is thriving with construction and ultra modern skyscrapers.

Two decades ago, when we visited China’s capital, Beijing, it was in an early state of 20th Century growth and was dominated by bicycle traffic. Roadways were being constructed. Pollution from coal burning plants was high. It’s worse today; many Chinese wear protective masks, not just for illnesses, but also to cope with the frequent bad air quality. Now, traffic jams abound; one highway reportedly has 50 lanes of traffic.

This trip, we also visited Tianjin, a city of 12 million, about which we had no previous knowledge. It had traffic congestion and a majestic art museum. The most amazing part was its port area, about an hour from the city center.

The area has been identified as the Free Trade Zone of Tianjin, which The Wall Street Journal covered extensively in early March. It is immense and under development. Recently paved unused streets, vast numbers of new sparsely occupied high rises and shipping containers stacked like Legos abound. By the way, Lego has recently announced that its sales are now flat in the U.S. and so they will be concentrating on China. The port of Tianjin is part of China’s trade future.

The main thoroughfares of major Chinese cities are illuminating. It’s not the occasional McDonald’s that makes one wonder about this brand of communism, but the large numbers of truly upscale stores. Tiffany’s and world-renowned upscale clothing stores with sky-high prices are common. All sorts of vehicles are clogging the roads; BMWs and Mercedes are everywhere. China rules its people with an iron communistic fist, but it understands business and capitalism.

From a country that was building roads by hand in the 1990s to the city of Shanghai that now has about 30 million residents, a skyline of skyscrapers and boasts an elevated expressway that runs above the city for 135 miles, China is no longer a third world economy or one that is just producing inexpensive merchandise.

Our brief experience in China shows that our government needs to develop long-range, realistic economic trade policies. Writing in the Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer noted that, “Trump’s isolationism is pushing countries into China’s arms.” China is serious about becoming the world’s dominant economic power. America will suffer if it simply embraces isolationism and avoids mutually beneficial trade agreements.

[Diane W. Mufson is a regular contributor to the editorial page of the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch.  This article first appeared in the H-D Thursday, April 6, 2017.  We felt it was so interesting our readers around the world (even in China!) would enjoy it.  Diane and her husband Maury live in Huntington, West Virginia.  Diana is a retired psychologist.]

 

SAYING “GOODBYE” TO MUMBAI (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

SAYING “GOODBYE” TO MUMBAI (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

I figured out the solution for the potential hazard caused by all the coconuts hanging over streets and sidewalks. There are street vendors with piles of coconuts on every corner in Colaba. One can buy a coconut opened with a machete and a straw to drink the juice for 20 rupees. They come from somewhere. In my mind’s eye, I see young men climbing trees at night to harvest them before they are ripe enough to fall into the street.

COCONUT TREES LINE SOME OF THE STREETS

The banks have a plan for India. My earlier assessment of the reasons for demonetization were only partly correct. I have no talent for dishonesty or greed. I learned today that there will be a two and a half percent fee charged by the banks on every transaction, meaning that after 40 transactions of 100 rupees each the bank has earned the entire amount in fees. I just don’t think big enough when it comes to crime. Driving squatters out of their slums is but a cherry on a very rich cake.

Speaking rich cake, my dentists presented one to me before I left. We took photos and exchanged hugs. They will provide transport to the airport so I had to tell day driver to cancel on night driver. I gave him a 2000 rupee note for taking such good care of me.

As I returned from my final visit to the dentist, we stopped for traffic near the hotel. The young woman with the child that I met when I first arrived and provided with formula for her baby was walking by. She recognized me and smiled with a wave. That is the only thank you that is needed. I know that my small gift was appreciated because she remembered me.

The mystery of the red tree nut is solved. I have seen several of the trees in the area. When I arrived the fruits were bright red and sat high in the tree.

CASHEWS IN STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT

When they are red, the husks contain the same allergen as poison oak. I noticed during my hike yesterday that many of the trees contain fruit that is black. After it turns black, it splits open revealing the nuts much like the burr on chestnut splits. The nuts are still green because they have not been roasted. They are cashews.

My thoughts about my next to last ride in the traffic of Mumbai is that humans can accomplish things through mutual assistance and cooperation. Drive here requires it. There are too few traffic control devices and too many vehicles moving on sometimes very narrow streets designed for horse drawn vehicles. But, the traffic keeps moving because one driver willingly yields to the needs of another. Indians are very social and cooperative with one another and they live in harmony with their neighbors to reach common goals.

CROWDED STREETS IN MUMBAI

Indian society has had its divisions and there is still much tension with Pakistan. That aside, Indians cooperate and work well together in teams. There is no bullshit rugged individualism here.

It is 7:45 am on Thursday in Mumbai. My bags are packed. My driver will be here at 10:15. The airport is about an hour away. I should be there by 11:30 pm and my plane doesn’t leave until 2:15 am, but I’ll need to swing by British Air, check my bags and pick up my boarding passes, sell my rupees back tot he Bank of India, then go to immigration and report that I am exiting the country and go through security. It is a long walk to the gates. I packed my checked-through bag heavy so that I wouldn’t need to lug it all around with me. I hope I’m not overweight with it. I’ll go to the departure lounge and start a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I found one on the street for 100 rupees. Although that book helped determine the course of my life in so many ways, I haven’t read it in at least forty years. It is the reason that I went to law school. I think that I am a better lawyer than Atticus. I wouldn’t have let Mayella leave the stand until I had broken her!

About that trip home. I left the hotel at 9:30 with a driver who was forty-five minutes early. He spoke no English, but managed to get me to the right terminal at the right point. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport has two enormous terminals, one for domestic and one for international flights. I was delivered to Terminal 2. Some of you may have noticed that my favorite museum has the name Chhatrapati Shivaji in it, as well. Shivaji Bhonsle was a warrior king who lived in the 17th Century. He became known as Chhatrapati Shivaji, Chhatrapati being a title.  There was no queue at the British Airways counter and I was able to quickly collect my boarding pass and check my big bag through to Charleston.

BRITISH AIRWAYS

The airport was really not crowded when I arrived so I was able to quickly clear immigration. They want to make sure that those who arrive also leave according to the terms of a visa issued to you. The clerk at the hotel notifies immigration when you check out and leave. Visitors are photographed when arriving and leaving. Fingerprints were also collected by immigration enforcement when I arrived although I don’t think that mine are easy to print. My skin has thinned to the point that mine are no longer visible. There were no lines at security either so I quickly entered the departure area, sold my rupees back to the Bank of India for less than I paid. They get you for a total of abut 5% if you buy them and sell them. I made my way to the nearly empty departure lounge for a long wait. I couldn’t log onto CSIA WiFi because I had no Indian phone number so I spent my time watching the other passengers, reading or watching some stupid Bollywood movie on a huge TV, which was directly in front of me. Bollywood movies are the worst, but I find them hilarious when they are meant to be serious dramas. All Indian actors are light-skinned. The “drama” situations were comedic. Dialogue is Hindi but I could understand the plots anyway. The one being shown was their version of General Hospital, but I doubt if the hospital scenes were realistic since admissions and treatments happen in the same room!

The lounge filled up, and we boarded the plane about forty minutes before departure. I found my exit row seat and we departed on time. The plane was a newer version of the Boeing 777. It has nine seats across in groups of three divided by aisles on either side and four sections. I always fly tourist so I always sit in the last section and there were about 180 of us crammed into it. I flew in an Airbus 300 from London to Charlotte. I had an aisle seat but it became uncomfortable after five hours.

SEATING IN A LARGE, MODERN AIRLINER

The A330 has only eight passengers with two on each side of the fuselage and four in the center. I was in the center section. The seats on the 777 are just a bit narrower than the ones on the A330. I fell asleep for awhile when we departed since I hadn’t slept any since Wednesday night. I declined the first meal offered so I was hungry eight hours later when breakfast was served. I could have had an Indian breakfast or an English breakfast. I chose poorly…in heaven, the Italians are the cooks and in hell the English are the cooks! One tray contained two lumps of a thing recognizable as having once been a potato and something stewed that was once a tomato. There were two other lumps that were unrecognizable, although I ate them both. What did Mick Dundee say? “You can survive on it but it tastes like shit.” Two biscuits (crackers to us), cream cheese, some kind of bad pastry and soggy watermelon and cantaloupe along with some plain yogurt which I don’t care for. I prefer my yogurt flavored with fruit in it. I saw “Girl on a Train” during the flight. It is a really good movie and I recommend it to those who have missed it. We arrived at BA Terminal 5 at Heathrow on time after nine hours. It takes an hour longer coming back because of the headwinds.

Everyone who is there to board a connecting flight is herded through security again and directed to the lower level to board a bus for the other terminals. American uses Terminal 3. We were subjected to what I can only describe as interrogation by airline employees before boarding the bus, and it didn’t end with the origin of the trip and the reason for being there. They wanted to know how I made my living, what kind of law I practiced, where my office was, my home address and so forth.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

I became irritated by the invasion and told the employee that I had a boarding pass that entitled me to a seat on the airplane and that I had a passport which entitled me to return to the United States and that I was done playing twenty questions. He decided that he had gathered enough “intelligence” for whomever had directed this interrogation, which likely was recorded by Big Brother as I was waved through. I have never been asked these questions by the airline before.

When I arrived in Charlotte, immigration officers there only asked me where I had been and whether I had any prohibited material, things like produce, soil plants, etc., and customs only inquired about items subject to the luxury tax. What the hell!

[Thanks to Gina Stanley for sharing her recent adventure to and from Mumbai, India.  It’s probably obvious that Gina went to Mumbai to have extensive dental work.  I’ve seen her since she came home, and she looks wonderful!  Gina is a practicing attorney in Huntington, WV. She is a gifted writer, sharing interesting details, pungent personal opinion, and an accurate look at a place most of us will never see.]    

MY TIME IN MUMBAI IS SHORT (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

MY TIME IN MUMBAI IS SHORT (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

I had no internet service for most of the day yesterday. I walked to the Starbucks at the Taj, hoping to get on their WiFi. The Taj is owned by the Tata family, the same family that built the Chhatrapati Shivaji. They have wealth many generations old. They own the Tetley Tea Company, a string of other hotels, telecommunications, banks, an auto company and truck manufacturing, shipping, steel, airlines and THE STARBUCKS! Forbes doesn’t rank them among the richest people in the world probably because they don’t flaunt their wealth. Anyway, WiFi is not free there and I couldn’t pay for it because I don’t have an Indian phone.

THE TAJ HOTEL

I can’t get Windows 10 to download Google Chrome anymore. I had it on the machine once but I uninstalled the program when I couldn’t get it to work well. I can’t even get Edge to let me open g-mail or any product other than ones installed by Microsoft, like Yahoo and Mozilla, neither of which I like. I suppose that I’ll need to pay my computer guy to do it. Or, my grandson has a birthday next month and doesn’t have a computer. I’ll just wrap it up for him. I’ll need to find an adapter though. The plug is configured for use in Asia.

I left at three o’clock yesterday for the dentist. The drive there was not bad and the traffic was light for Mumbai. I left the dentist at 7:30. They installed the abutments (the part that is attached mechanically to implants with screws) and loaded the crowns in the abutments. Then they adjusted the bite, removed groups of crowns on each jaw. They will be glued in place when I return at 4:30 today so I will have teeth in South Mumbai. I haven’t had more than breakfast each day for the last three days and I haven’t had anything difficult to bite and chew for a year. The crowns look very pretty and they even corrected for my overbite.

My driver waited for me the whole time. When I arrived back at the hotel a little after 8:00. Traffic in Mumbai is heavier in the evening and lightest in the morning. He charged me 1,000 INR for the trip and the wait. That is about $15 for five hours. More than fair, I think.

I took a long walk today from Colaba to the back bay over to Fort and back to my hotel.

On my hike, I passed Wesley Church, one of the oldest surviving Christian churches in South Mumbai.  It was built in 1840. A tenement near Wesley Church is for the working poor who are able to pay the rent.

The park across the street commemorates the mutiny of Indian naval brigades in 1857-1858.  I took some photos of the park from the other side of the street.

The small fruit is one of the more than 800 varieties of fig trees seen from the sidewalk. I picked one but it was hard. I don’t know if these are edible. We would cut down this tree. In India many trees are sacred so in this case a portion of the wall was removed to made way for the tree.

There is an athletic field for a school behind this wall with bleachers for viewing either football (soccer) or cricket. Cricket is the national pastime of India. School children were practicing cricket. The school is on the other side of the street although it looks nothing like a school in a western sense.

This is a traffic training park for children paid for by the Western India Auto Association and operated by the Mumbai police. Accidents involving pedestrians are not uncommon here. There are roadways in this park and traffic signals. Children are taught the rules of the road and when to cross streets. There are bleachers here, too. A public study pavilion was in rather heavy use when I walked by it. 

CRICKET FIELD AT CUFFE

The public cricket field at Cuffe Parade, an upper scale area of South Mumbai adjacent to both Colaba and Church Gate. This field is about half mile long and two hundred yards wide.

BACK BAY HOTELS

These apartment flats are typical of those in the entire back bay area. Most are seven or eight stories high. These buildings overlooked the cricket field.

Since I am leaving tomorrow night, they fixed the internet about twenty minutes ago. I had no service for half of the time here! [EDITOR’S NOTE:  These are the sorts of complications one comes to expect when traveling abroad!]

It is 6:30 am on Friday in Mumbai. The house crows are very noisy and people have been checking out and leaving early. The disadvantage of a room with a view is that I hear all of the street noise.

I had Indian pizza at the Basilico, an upscale eatery on the next street. It is perfectly safe to stroll the streets at night because of the ever-present crush of humanity. The crust was crispy, the sauce was good, there was a big collection of julienned veggies on it and it was topped with mozzarella. Italian spices, including crushed red pepper, were brought to the table. I also had a virgin pina colada made with fresh pineapple juice and fresh coconut juice. Those are wonderful. I couldn’t eat it all, so I asked them to pack up the half that I was unable to eat and I offered it to the door man who seemed very thankful to receive it. My conclusion is that Indian pizza far surpasses Thai pizza in taste.

I haven’t had alcohol here, not that I drink often at home. Most places don’t serve it and no one serves it on Monday (I am not sure why that is so) or to a person not yet 25-years-old. Muslims are required to abstain and none of their establishments have it. I have mentioned that most of the businesses in the area seem to be owned by Muslims and there is a significant population of them in this area assumed from their manner of dress (I haven’t encountered any radical jihadists to my knowledge). I hope that I am allowed to return to the country. India officially discourages the use of tobacco and alcohol. There are public service announcements during movies. We are told that tobacco causes cancer and kills. Alcohol is injurious to health, it is claimed. The claim about alcohol is mostly true and the one about tobacco is absolutely true. Can anyone imagine the furor that both industries would raise in the United States. My belief is that tobacco products are very expensive here. I have seen no one smoking in public but I have seen a few sidewalk vendors selling it.

I had my last breakfast at the Godwin. My belief is that both hotels are owned by the same company. They are about thirty feet apart.

Back to breakfast. Breakfast at the Residence Hotel in Fort was better than here, but the food is all right. I had scrambled eggs and pancakes. There is no sugar in these and they are spicy and meant to be eaten with a coconut chutney made from crushed coconut. The chutney is also spiced so it is a mixture of sweet, salty and hot. My personal waiter (that is what he has become because I tip him one-hundred rupees a day) brought me two glasses of orange juice and a pot of tea which he poured and sweetened for me. I am unaccustomed to be waited upon and it seems a little embarrassing to me. The other guests have noticed that I get such lavish attention and I am certain that they wonder about it. It probably doesn’t occur to them that they should tip, too. The meal is part of the room rent. He will miss my tips, which have been 700 rupees a week or about $11 USD.

I also pay my driver well. Two brothers handle my transportation. Independent taxi drivers tend to congregate at hotels. They likely bribe the doormen to send them riders. The brothers have always driven me where I need to go. I will travel to the clinic for my last visit with the daytime brother and the night brother will take me to the airport. They always wait on me when I go to the dentist so I need not find a taxi to bring me to Colaba from Kemps Corner, an often tricky proposition. I pay them a big premium to wait. I could take a metered cab for about 150 rupees so that would be about 300 rupees round trip or about $4.50 USD. I pay the brothers either 800 or 1000 rupees depending upon the length of the wait. The meter drivers work for cab companies and many of them live in the slums and speak no English. The brothers speak some English, own their own vehicles which have air-conditioning, they buy their own fuel and pay for their licenses. They must think that what I pay is generous because they are at my beck and call. I would feel that I am exploiting them if I paid them less. So, I estimate that I will have paid more than $100 USD for transportation since arriving and the trips today will cost about 2,000 rupees or about $30. The trip to the airport takes about an hour, and the nigh brother will take me at 10, deliver me to the right terminal and help me with my bags. Tipping is the right thing to do and it buys better service!

Because I also tip the housekeeping staff, they give me extra towels, a vase of flowers and extra water for my room. I have them clean every other day and pay them 100 rupees for it. I am greeted by them when I come and go.

How does one exchange money in Mumbai? Most banks don’t do it. The hotel did it for me when I was here in May last year. Rupees can be bought from the Bank of India at the airport but they only gave me sixty-four rupees per dollar. So, I have been using the services of a man who can be easily located. I tell the doorman that I need rupees and the guy shows up in five minutes on the terrace. He gives me 65 rupees per dollar and I always buy 6,500 at a time. If I have any when I get to the airport, I am required to sell them back to the Bank of India. It is illegal to take rupees from India.

INDIAN RUPEES

There is a movement here to demonetize India. The explanation given (propaganda) is that all of the cash is in the cities and there is none in villages to stimulate commerce. A more likely explanation is that if poor people in the slums of Mumbai have no debit cards (and they won’t) they will be forced to return to their villages. When they leave, the slums will become available for clearing and commercial development by the already wealthy.

A MUMBAI SLUM

“Think of the poor villages,” the ads proclaim. “Do your part to help. Demonetize India to help them out,” they beg. “Don’t use cash use electronic payment.” Obviously, more money can be printed if cash is in short supply. The currency of India is only supported by the likelihood that India will pay its bills, just as ours is. I am told that it is also being done to deal with the dark money problem. That is, to bring bribery out in the open. Bribery becomes more difficult if a paper trail must be created. A bribe can be paid with blood diamonds, gold or a tanker of crude. I believe that my guess is the best answer. The government simply wants to drive the poor out of cities like Mumbai.

If you want to know the real reason for something done by government don’t listen to the propaganda and don’t be distracted by their lies. Determine who will benefit the most. It is always the already wealthy. Public charter schools in our country? Are they favored, for example, by DeVos because religion can be taught there? Are they favored by DeVos because children will be better educated? Or, are they favored because they will be operated for someone’s profit? The latter, I think.

 

 

 

EXPLORING MUMBAI’S CULTURE (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

EXPLORING MUMBAI’S CULTURE (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

A MURDER OF HOUSE CROWS

I slept poorly last night. I should never drink caffeinated drinks after 4 pm. It is 6 am in Mumbai. The house crows have begun the morning cacophony to greet the day but it still seems dark to me. I will likely take a nap during the heat of the day. I have a dental appointment at 1:00 pm so I’ll leave at noon. It’s a 30-minute drive in good traffic from Colaba to Malabar Hills. I forgot to mention that I have seen more swastikas since I became aware of their presence. There are two in the museum that I noticed, one on an exhibit and another incorporated into the architecture.

I am taking doxycycline to prevent malaria. It is an effective anti-malarial but it is causing gastritis, a symptom of which is gnawing abdominal pain that is sometimes relieved by eating. I have decided that the risk of contracting malaria is low since I’ll not travel outside the city. Besides, it is the dry season and the authorities do a good job of locating and removing reservoirs for breeding mosquitoes.

Breakfast is done. There were cakes that looked like pancakes so I took one to try.

INDIAN PANCAKE

One of the servers brought me a bowl of something made to eat with the cakes. He said that it was coconut but it was salty and hot. I would have preferred jelly or brown sugar both of which were available.

I spent three more hours in the dentist chair this afternoon. None of those chairs are made for anyone my height, so it curves in the chair hit my back in all of the wrong places. I paid the driver when we returned to the hotel and walked over to the café for a chocolate-malted and chocolate tart. Two women came in wearing hijabs and sat near me. There were men across the room, some wearing topis. There are several rug merchants nearby. I think that this part of Mumbai must be the Arab sector. So, I checked it out with the “Great Google.”

I found a lengthy passage in an old book titled The Origin of Bombay. Bombay was once a group of islands in the Arabian Sea. It is now connected to mainland India. It has been ruled by Iran, Portugal, Britain and others. Colaba was one of the original islands and was divided into north and south Colaba. I am staying in that part of Colaba once called north Colaba. The area to the south is occupied mostly by the military of India now. The area surrounding present day Mumbai has been inhabited for thousands of years although there is no evidence that it was known to the Romans or Greeks. Bombay has been strategically important because of its nature bay for more than five hundred years, and there have been Arab traders living here since before that.

I paid for my snack and drink when I had finished and returned to the hotel. I fell asleep and was awakened when Ram arrived to do the massage that I scheduled last night. I had lactic acid deposits in my feet and calves. He dispersed them and, yes, it was very painful. He did deep tissue massage on my back and shoulders. I feel great so I scheduled a return visit for Friday evening.

After comp breakfast. Today, there were the usual hard-fixed, scrambled and boiled eggs. They will also be cooked to order. Then they had sweet rice with peanuts which I had to remove since I still have no teeth. There were two kinds of Indian bread and regular bread for toast. There were baked beans and fries. That must be an English thing. There was guava and watermelon and orange juice, coffee, black tea or milk tea. My favorite was the very thin pancakes rolled over and stuffed with spicy veggies. As usual, the waiters hovered over to fetch anything that I wanted because I always tip them with a 100 INR note ($1.50). I don’t see the Asians tipping them. Most of the Asian guests are Arab.

I have commented about this before, but I have never seen women working in a hotel. There are men everywhere. Six men work the small dining room each morning. There must be three men to clean rooms and provide service on my floor and there are only seven rooms. I have them clean it every other day and tip them 100 INR. There are three men wearing military-style uniforms and either berets or turbans. They open and close the door and help with bags. I tipped them when I arrived and I will do the same when I leave. I don’t tip them every time they open a door. There are always money-changers about.

INDIAN RUPEES

I had less that $100 in rupee this morning and I plan to take the day out. I asked the doorman about the money-changer and had a seat on the terrace. He was there in less than five minutes. The exchange rate is between 67 and 68 INR per USD today. He gave me 65, so he made about 2-3% for the service. The business of India seems to be commerce and personal service. It is a patriarchal society. Perhaps they can curb the birth rate by reversing things. If women worked and men stayed home, there would be fewer babies and less poverty. But, hey, it is their country and they should run it as they see fit.

India is like a fruit pantry. There are coconut and date palms full of fruit. I asked about the coconut trees which lean over street laden with large nuts. If they fall and hit you or your car it is the will of Vishnu, Shiva, Allah or some other deity. I am fairly certain that coconut trees are not permitted to line streets in the U.S. Perhaps our deities are less powerful. I also see lemon trees, mangoes, papayas and the oft-mentioned figs. The lemons are very small and thin-skinned but juicier and better flavored than the ones grown for shipping in the U.S.

I returned to Elephanta Island today.

SCULPTURE OF SHIVA ON ELEPHANTA ISLAND

The air was very hazy and visibility on the water was poor so I took no photos from the boat. The ride is an hour each way. I did see that one of India’s two aircraft carriers was docked in the navy yard. When we landed, I took the train powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine, paid the five rupee arrival tax and began the climb up the steps to the top. I did not go into the cave area since I was there last May. My reason for being there was to shop for a geode. I found what wanted and began the trip back. I bought a rather large one. I haven’t weighed it but I am guessing that it weighs between ten and fifteen pounds. I brought one back last May. The ICE agent in Detroit had no idea what a geode is and I suppose that I’ll need to explain it again in Charlotte. Geodes form due to an air bubble trapped in lava. Crystals form over time, the usual ones being quartz or amethyst. They are millions of years old in many instances.

GEODE

Back to the subject of aircraft carriers, only nine countries have any in service.

AIRCRAFT CARRIER

The US has as many carriers in service as the rest of the world combined, being ten. We have one in reserve, two under construction, fifty-six decommissioned carriers and twelve never completed. So, why do we need more carriers than we already have. Herr Gropenfuhrer would increase the size of our navy. I wonder if he owns any stock int he companies that bid on naval contracts?

I’m still having problems with this old computer. I hoped that it would get me home. It is a seven-year-old Acer with windows 7. I may go dark and need to buy a new one here. If I am offline for awhile, you will know why. I am having trouble posting anything very long because the box won’t let me see the entire text of the message. Only about three lines are visible to me until I post it. Does anyone have any suggestions? Something else that I learned today. The best time to use the net is after midnight in Mumbai. Internet connections are lost due to heavy volume of use during the work day. I have no photos from today, but I have the next two days off from the dentist. My next appointment is Monday at 4 pm, so I’ll go back to Chhatrapati Shivaji and then I’ll see the Museum of Modern Art.

I have this machine set up the way that I want it and connectivity and speed are both increased now. I slept for three hours from 9-12. My circadian rhythm is a mess!

There are “shades of color” discrimination in India. Some Indians are European light, some are African dark and others are every shade between them. The only Indians depicted in their movies or commercials are European light Indians. Because I didn’t feel well today, I spent the day in my room watching movies and when I sleep in a strange place, I always explore escape routes in case of fire. I have a window in the corner of my room that slides open. It is big enough to walk through. There is a large ledge about four feet below it and a fig tree next to it. My plan is to collect my handbag, my money belt and leave by the window.

Then, I wondered how fires can be fought here. I have never seen a fire hydrant or a fire house. Many of the streets are so narrow and the traffic so heavy that a pumper truck would never get here anyway. The street in front of the hotel is blocked at one end due to a storm sewer replacement project and the street in front is narrow with parking on both sides and taxis usually double-parked. There are one set of stairs and two elevators. People on the upper floors could burn to death. The learning curve here is that one should always request a room on the lowest floor and plan an escape. [NOTE: When I looked for hydrants, I did see a few.]

 

WALKING THROUGH A MUMBI NEIGHBORHOOD (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

WALKING THROUGH A MUMBI NEIGHBORHOOD (a travel series) by Gina Stanley

It is 1:30 pm in Mumbai and the heat of the day was arrived. I worked up a bit of a glisten after walking a mile or so. The buildings in this neighborhood are very old, some 150 years from the look of them. They are mostly four story buildings of flats, and I am guessing that they were built to be multi-family structures. One was undergoing an extensive renovation so I could see the bones of the building. They appear to be built of soft brick and parch-coated with a Portland-based cement or stucco. The stucco is easily stained and darkened by the rainy season and pollution. There are also many stone buildings including the Taj.

I was stopped by a couple of men who requested photos of us. For those of you who didn’t read my posts from my first stay here, Indians like to claim friendships with westerners. They will share photos on social media. So, I put my arms around them and acted silly for the camera, all without a tooth in my head and not a bit of makeup on my face.

PANORAMA OF MUMBAI SEAWALL AND BAY

The bay is full of boats today and the walk along the sea wall is full of people.

I bought a coca cola today. I haven’t had one in years because the ones that they sell us at home taste like crap. This one has real sugar and tastes like I remember before high fructose corn syrup.

I found a very nice restaurant in the next block. I might check it out in a bit. I usually eat two meals when I am here, one early and another late afternoon. There are also plenty of shops nearby, including pharmacies. The problem with the area of Fort where I stayed in May was lack of restaurants and shops. It seemed to be a non-retail area.

THE TAJ HOTEL

There is retail space in the Taj at street level like Gucci, Dior, and Tiffany. Plenty of security wearing paramilitary uniforms and arms with heavy automatic weapons with high capacity magazines may be seen in the area.

Winter is a good time to be in Mumbai. The forecast highs have been about 90 degrees and the lows are forecast at 72, but I don’t think that it has been warmer than 85. The humidity is rather low for the tropics and it is the dry season. The weather is perfect.

I have breakfast at the Hotel Godwin which is about thirty feet away. My hotel pays for it. The Godwin also has the rooftop with bay views. I was able to eat soft food this morning which is traditional Indian food with breakfast cereal and milk for Europeans. I have never been a big breakfast cereal fan so I had a boiled egg, stewed veggies in yellow curry with yellow rice and something called chick cutlets which seemed like chopped heavily spiced chicken shaped as flattened meatballs and deep friend. Very tasty. I also had two glasses of very sweet non-acid orange juice and a mashed banana followed by a cup of cooled tea. I’ll walk around some more and rest today. I am still adjusting to the time difference and the trip. I am getting too old for this shit.

I haven’t seen many Europeans here. There was a German couple on the roof last night at Godwin and an older English couple in the restaurant this morning. That has been about it. But I’ve only been here one day.

India is in the midst of its own political crisis. As I understand it, the country suffers from a lack of currency which I don’t follow. Money can’t be exported from India. I need to investigate this more.

I spent four hours today in the dentist chair and ninety minutes traveling to and from the office. I did have a walk this morning. The trees are full of figs, coconuts and other fruit that I can’t identify.

FIG TREE FRUITING

I noticed palms all long the streets full of green coconuts. What happens when they start dropping on cars and pedestrians?

I had breakfast yesterday with a 70ish Australian couple. Given the current news, the conversation turned to “herr drumpf.” I told them that I despise him and it was clear that they do as well. They watched our election closely and are mystified about how Trump was able to gain the support that he had. The answer is not that difficult. He did it by tapping into some of the basest of human instincts: fear, envy, greed, resentment and deeply-held racism harbored by those weak-minded enough to believe his lies.

I hate Microsoft products! I was in the middle of a post when it shut itself down to update. I lost my work. Anyway, I took a long walk after breakfast. It was early when I started so I walked over to Fort and back to Chhaptrapati Shivaji Museum (yes, it has two “hs”).

THE MUSEUM

The museum doesn’t open until 10:15 am. When I returned, there were buses unloading uniformed school children. They looked to be 7 or 8. The girls were all lined up single file in one line and the boys in another, just as God intended. I noticed two little boys holding hands who were standing between the two lines and a few boys lined up with the girls, but were directed to the other line. There should be a law against that sort of gender confusion. I received quite a few stares, as usual. They likely thought I was Gulliver. They all said hello and smiled. As I mentioned earlier, Indians have this thing about familiarity with westerners as elevating status. If they only knew how vile some of us truly are! [Note:  Remember the book “The Ugly American?” which came out many years ago and described how Americans behave, particularly overseas.]

I paid the 500 INR to enter the museum (Indians pay much less, but it is their country). There is a charge of another 100 INR to take photos. I had no extra batteries with me and they expired soon after I got there. I spent more time in the areas that I sped through the last time I was there. I took a break around noon and went to the outdoor garden café where I had a cup of coffee instead of tea because they only had Chai. I also bought a small box of crackers (cookies) which I shared with the house crows. I got one to come really close to get his crumb.

The unusual thing that I noticed is that the Indians who were also using the area didn’t dispose of their refuse. I see people throw things on the ground all the time here. There are no refuse receptacles on the street. I see men with stiff brooms sweeping debris into piles along the street each morning. Other men with pushcarts come and gather the piles into bins and haul it away. It seems that no one does anything for herself lest she deprive a man of the opportunity to work. If people picked up after themselves there would be no need for so many menial jobs. I have a comp breakfast at the Godwin Hotel each morning. It is a buffet, but there must be six men working the room for tips.

I encountered the usual hustlers this morning. One wanted to take me on a tour of the city, including the slums. I told him that I had no interest in doing that and I could get to Elephanta Island and the Museum of Modern Art on my own. A Krishna “holy man” placed the usual flower in my hand and wrapped a few pieces of colored yarn around my wrist.

KARISHNA HOLY MAN

I thanked him very politely and walked away. One wanted to show me his shop so that he could make me a tailor made suit out of French material. Do they still make textiles in France?

I had chicken masala and white rice with ginger tea in a small café close to the hotel, the kind that isn’t marked on Google maps. It is closed a night by pulling down a heavy metal garage door. It was very clean and furnished with well-worn 1940s vintage leather booths. My best guess is that it is owned by the Arab, possibly North African, French-speaking man who was in front behind the counter. I saw him counting a lot more money than a place like that should earn so he must have a sideline. The steady stream of men dropping off money was also a clue. All of the male patrons wore topis and beards. The women wore burqas, so I’m guessing that they were all Muslim. The food was nicely spiced and flavorful and it was more than I could eat. Best of all, there was no air conditioning so I didn’t freeze. And, the food was very reasonably priced, about $3. It is a place to try again.

It is a very pleasant evening in Mumbai. The temperature is perfect and there is a gentle breeze blowing from the north across Colaba. I sat on the terrace for awhile when I returned to my hotel at 8:00 pm. A man named Ram came by with business cards. He does therapeutic acupressure massage. I made an appointment for 6:00 tomorrow night. He only charges 35 INR (about $5.25) for half an hour. If he is good, I’ll give him 500 INR. He works in a hospital during the day. 

[This is second in the series by Ms Gina Stanley, written while she was on a recent trip to Mumbai, India.  We appreciate so much the exclusive right to publish her exotic adventure.  Gina lives in Huntington, West Virginia, where she practices law.]