Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

I feel I can wish "Happy New Year" out loud now, although Indians have been saying it for the last five or six days. They miss off the "Hope you have a"! Several strangers wished me it today and in one shop I was even given a piece of celebratory cake!

Today I needed to travel to Trivandrum to buy loudspeakers for my PC and, as I had ripped a shirt during the Christmas Eve tug-of-war, I needed to buy shirt material. I set off early from the bus-stop outside my house.

The route took us through parts I've never been before. I hesitate to call them villages or rural areas - one village pretty much runs into the next. There were lots of stops and the bus was absolutely crammed full. It felt so top-heavy that I think we only just avoided toppling over on one sharp corner. I stood right at the front with my view forwards obscured by the destination board and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation visor banner. If I crouched a bit I could see OK, so that's what I did, and managed to avoid feeling travel sick. The driver did his best to make the journey smooth - he had to double declutch on every gear change and the brakes really snatched. And he wasn't one of those drivers permanently leaning on his horn. Since I was right beside him I was able to thank him when we finally arrived. He was quite pleased, I think!

The problem with getting there early was that none of the shops was open! The chai wallahs were serving, of course, but the shops didn't open till 9:30 and, even then, they didn't really get going until 10:00. I hadn't anticipated this because Indians seem a pretty industrious bunch.

I had researched computer loudspeakers on the Internet, but could I find them?! I traipsed everywhere - not only were there very few PC shops but the ones that there were didn't have them! After asking a few likely-looking geeks I finally found a little enclave of electronics shops with plenty of home-entertainment systems or PA systems or loudspeaker enclosures but, as it happens, very few speaker systems for PCs. I did see a shop which sold Sony amplifier enclosures into which the unscrupulous owner presumably fits any old electronics, but no Logitech speakers! I realised I had done this arse-about-face. I should have found out what was available in Trivandrum first, and then selected from that, rather than selecting from all current models on the market, and finding it not available.

Then I had a brainwave! I would go to an Internet cafe and check out the ones I could find! Nothing is ever quite that simple but I got there in the end. The Amazon reviews for the Altec Lansing speakers were the best so I bought those. They cost about £14 and, now they are home, that's about what they were worth. Rubbish! But the best of a bad bunch. The acoustics of this marble-floored hallway don't help, I suppose.

As I mentioned, I wanted to buy shirt material too. Although ready-mades are easily obtainable, I've got this idea that it would be nice to buy Indian cotton and have a shirt made up by an Indian tailor. It's cheap to do, too. There's a chain of textile shops called "Ramachandran" and I found the material there. Finding buttons was another matter. The shop assistants couldn't tell me where to get them - well, they did suggest places but they were all wrong! You would have thought that with five or six textile shops, all in close proximity, that either they would sell buttons themselves or some one would know for sure where to buy them, but no. I think it was a case of the Indian trait of suggesting something, anything, because suggesting nothing is considered rude or unhelpful. Wrong!

Waiting to return at the bus stop in Trivandrum, a rickshaw driver snuck up beside me and two other white folk and started trying to negotiate a deal for taking us to Kovalam. The bus costs about Rs.10 while the rickshaw is usually about Rs.200-250. He seemed desperate to do a deal. So much so that he dropped the rate to Rs.20 for each of the three of us just as the bus pulled in. We agreed but even on the short walk to the rickshaw he was trying to wheedle out of the deal! And then, on the way, he tried to renegotiate. These guys are really artful and a law unto themselves! But we stuck to our guns and I, at least, paid Rs.20 when I got out at the first stop at Kovalam Junction.

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