Monday, December 3, 2007

Please Please Me

After a couple of day's in Mysore, we'd pretty much figured stuff out. We had a nice, cheap guest house in a chill neighborhood, we knew how much the rickshaws were supposed to cost, we'd found a place where internet access was 10 rupees an hour instead of 30, we found a really nice little place with flowering vines growing from an overhead lattice to have breakfast, and half the town knew us by sight, including the really sweet guy selling ghee (clarified butter) from a big metal bowl near our guest house. So we had the luxury of taking our time with stuff and finding the interesting things to do and see. Our attempts at the touristy stuff were not so brilliant. After walking around, past and up to the palace on numerous occasions, we finally decided to go in one afternoon. But upon arriving, we find that the price for foreigners is 100 rupees, which Dana did not want pay, and that there was no photography allowed inside, which sort of defeated the purpose of me going in by myself. So we sat on the ground outside and chatted for a while instead. It was a great conversation, and well worth the effort of walking to the palace. I also got some pretty nice shots of the outside and of the interesting people milling around, including an adorable group of school kids who went running by on their way in. Dana also got a chance to employ a new tactic for getting rid of unwanted postcard salesmen. When one wouldn't go away, she just started talking and talking and talking about pretty much nothing, using her best California girl air-head impression. He left quite quickly.

The other touristy thing that everyone who comes to Mysore does is visit the sandalwood oil factory. This factory was built by the government of Karnataka to help the local economy and exports sandalwood oil all over the world. The place was pretty much deserted when we showed up and no one seemed to be doing any work. We were told that they were waiting for a new shipment of sandalwood. The store there sells pure sandalwood oil at far cheaper than you could get it in the US or Australia, but still out of our range. The only really memorable thing about the place at all was our rather gruff tour guide who insisted that we pay attention - "Madam, please!" - and that we should only tip him when no one else was looking. This was one of a long line of direct commands we, especially Dana, have been given in situations and by people one would not expect...

Mr. Krishna (the guy from Thanksgiving) - "Drink up your tea quickly."
Bangle salesman, when asked if we could see the yellow ones - "No. You look at this one." (produces garishly coloured ones with glitter flaking off them)
Guy on the train (with hand motions, no English) - "Don't cross your legs."
Shoe salesman, when asked if we could see the red ones. "No. You take this one." (produces aquamarine slippers with pink flowers on them)
Mr. Krishna - "You eat this now."
Guys at parades that we get dragged into - "Please take your wife and go."
Mr. Krishna - "You will send birthday money to my children."
Guy taking photos of Dana at the train station - "Madam, laugh."
Children everywhere - "Photo! Photo! Photo!"

Shopping in Mysore was definately an experience. When we were clothes shopping in the fancy part of town, the sales-people would pull out pile after pile of stuff and spread it across the counter despite our insistance that we didn't want to see it. It's hard not to get frustrated after this hapens for the 40th time, but we managed to stay far, far more polite that the Indian shoppers who are generally extremely rude and dismissive to the people working in the stores. You are also asked to sit in every store you go into, so there's no popping in to see what's there and then just leaving. I always end up feeling bad, because I'm not going to buy anything until right before I leave, but I still want to see what there is. One night the California girl came out a bit in Dana and we ended up doing some shoe shopping. She was only sort of interested in buying shoes, but the experience of meeting the shoe salesmen was too good to miss. They were all so polite, but at the same time so pushy about what shoes she should try, we had a hard time not laughing out loud. At the last place we tried, the guy turned out to be a friend of Sami's and recognized us by his description. If we had've stayed in Mysore much longer, we would've known the whole town.

The last episode I can reacall from Mysore is visiting the Sikh temple on Guru Nanak's birthday. Because of the special occasion, there were young men chanting from the Sikh holy book all day and listening to their voices was very soothing. They also fed us special sweets - can't remember what they were called, but they were nutty and buttery and delicious. I have no experience at all with Sikh religion, so I was nervous going into the temple, not knowing what to do and not wanting to offend anyone. But they were extremely friendly and welcoming and made me feel like they have the right approach to religion: that the beauty of the world and the way they worship God is there to be shared. Soon after coming in an old man came up behind me and wrapped a piece of cloth around my head. I didn't know that in Sikh religion, you're always supposed to have your head covered. I felt bad for a second, but then he leaned over my shoulder and said with the sweetest smile I've ever seen, "When you are here, you are already Sikh." I hope I never forget his face.

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