1) Horn OK Please: This phrase is written on the back of every vehicle larger than an economy car, and I’m still not entirely sure what it means. The current most popular explanation is that it is a request to use your horn to alert the driver before attempting to pass; but that is hard to verify since every driver honks ever 10 seconds, regardless of the traffic situation. To make it even better, all large trucks are painted bright colors and covered with decorations, and HORN OK PLEASE is usually in a flowing script and decorated with stenciled flowers. The icing on the cake is the sign on the front of every truck, in similarly artistic block letters, which proclaims “Goods Carrier.” It’s a cargo truck, of course it carries goods! What kind of goods? For whom? The world may never know.
2) Back-up Music: At home, only large trucks emit beeping noises when in reverse. Here, nearly every vehicle is equipped with that technology. Except they don’t beep, they play music. It sounds like a really loud cell phone ring, and you can get any tune you want. I actually heard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” coming from a hatchback in a parking lot last week.
3) Cricket: See the previous blog post. What can I say, I miss baseball and this sport is addicting.
4) Indian Food and Ghee: With the exception of paneer, which is Indian tofu, I have yet to find a dish that I don’t like. I’ve even fallen into somewhat bizarre eating habits, such as munching raw red onions sprinkled with lemon juice as an appetizer. I also decided that I liked my food cooked with ghee, even though I had no idea what it was I just liked the taste. Then I found out that ghee is butter, which means that I just like my food to be cooked in huge gobs of butter.
5) Indian Eating Times: Most restaurants close their doors between 6pm and don’t open again until they start serving dinner at 7:30pm. Laura and I often eat at 8:00pm and are the only ones eating. I feel like I’ve retired to Florida and am getting the Denny’s early-bird special at 4:30.
6) Bureaucracy: This deserves an entire post of its own. Nothing can be done until approval is given by a supervisor, at least 10 unnecessary forms are signed, and the supervisor gives approval again. As Laura says, this can be a great country to be a tourist but a horribly frustrating one in which to work.
7) Booze: It’s hard to find, and where it does it exist it is at western prices and taxed at around 70%. And after dealing with bureaucracy all day, sometimes I really need a stiff drink after work.
8) Trains: There’s nothing quite like seeing people clinging to the OUTSIDE of a train as it rumbles by because there is no room inside (thanks to Drew for that superb link). Just another day in the life of a Mumbaiker commuter. Needless to say, I don’t ride the trains to work. Instead, I take…
9) Mumbai Taxis: Officially called Premiers, they are actually 1950s Fiat knockoffs. How they are still on the road is inexplicable. Yellow-roofed with black bodies, they are unmistakable, omnipresent, uncomfortable, and always stuck in endless traffic jams. The meters are at least 30 years out of date, so you need to use a conversion chart to determine the actual fare. Taxi drivers are experts at running up the meter, lying about the conversion rate, and displaying fake charts that double the price. If you don’t want to take a taxi or the train, you can always turn to…
10) Auto-Rickshaws: Three-wheeled motorcycles with a small cab enclosing a bench that comfortably seats two, autos are usually seen swerving in and out of traffic while carrying at least five people. They are so skillful at making traffic jams into traffic nightmares that they are banned from downtown Mumbai.
11) Cows: It’s cliché, but unceasingly amusing, to see a cow munching garbage and standing in the middle of a crowded road while Indian drivers, who are as a rule aggressive and obnoxious, wait patiently. The cows rule the roads, the sidewalks, the alleys, and anywhere else they decide to roam.
12) Hotels with Bedbugs: Definitely don’t like them. Bedbugs suck.
13) Falling Into the Sewer in the Slum: Since Laura did it, and didn’t get hurt, I consider it hilarious. If it had happened to me it wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Slum sewers are gross.
14) The Head-Waggle: A uniquely Indian gesture, it involves pivoting your head from side-to-side. It can mean yes, I understand, I am listening, no, maybe, I agree, I disagree, or anything in between. A good head-waggler resembles a bobblehead doll on steroids. I like to practice at home in front of the mirror.
15) Mr. Pai: This man deserves his own entry. He is our office assistant, an expert head-waggler, and he features one of the coolest moustaches I have ever encountered: it is long and thin and he has a wonderful habit of stroking it like an old movie villain. My favorite part of Pai is his constant disregard for the fact that Laura and I have work to do. Instead, he likes to sit and chat with us about all manner of offbeat topics. Today he asked us what brand of toothpaste we use and proceeded to launch a ten minute sermon on how Indians used salt and the ash of dried cattle dung before the British arrived. Not exactly conducive to working, but at least it’s amusing.
16) Indian look-alikes: Do you ever see someone and think to yourself, “wow, that guy looks just like so-and-so except taller/shorter/different hair/etc”? Well I’ve found several people here who could be the long-lost Indian brother or sister of Americans. My favorite is the doorman at the Punjabi restaurant around the corner who is unquestionably the Indian Paul Newman.
17) My Blog: Simply because I can title a list as “1,001 Things” and then only list 16 items. I’ll add more later.