Military Precision/Prison

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, May 26, 2006

To make our plan of obtaining Pakistani visas work in no time flat, we concocted a scheme that relied on assumptions, dumb luck, and most of all ... military precision. The kind where we all march in step, not the kind where we accidentally drop bombs on the wrong apartment building (coincidentally having also just recently before occurred in, of all places, the country we were about to visit). Below is a field report on our operations.

0700 - 0930: Fly to New Delhi. Encounter no major resistance.
0930 - 0945: Collect provisions, regroup infantry division, procure cavalry (taxi).
0945 - 1000: Transverse capitol, arrive at Eagle's Nest (US Embassy) to receive engagement authorization.
1000 - 1040: Plans change. Details:
 - Greet Beret team (us) not recognized
 - Friendly fire ensues (they confiscate everything down to my fork
  - Mistaken identity (no joke, Ryan fit a certain profile and they thought a wanted terrorist might have actually wandered into the US Embassy in India and we were stalled during our simple letter-collecting procedure so their CIA liaison Reed could come sniff Ryan out. Elliot and I didn't even realize that anything was going on. But Ryan knew there was something fishy. Because he's used to it. Because he looks like a terrorist.)
 - Issued papers (slightly incongruously compared against security to get in, I finally made it to the Citizen Services desk by myself as they wouldn't let the other two in and simply told the nice man at the counter ... Me: I need a letter for the Pakistani embassy and I have two friends outside but they can't come in because one of them looks like a terrorist but I promise they are American citizens but darn it all I forgot their passports and it wouldn't matter anyhow cuz Ryan's is flagged because he looks like a terrorist but anyhow you seem like a nice and understanding guy so can I have three official letters instead of one? Nice Man (with Southern accent): Sure. But going to Pakistan is a bad idea. Y'all.)
1040 - 1045: Navigated terrain (crossed street)
1045 - 1130: Mission Execution. Objectives:
 - Arrive at target: Pakistani Embassy.
 - Recon: Coast clear.
 - Holding Pattern: Big ol' line.
 - Emergent Threat: Sneaky bugger kept trying to cut us in line.
 - Near Miss: Snuck in as last people before windows were closed for the day.
 - Critically Insufficient Rations: 4100 Indian Rupees (about $100) short. New ally (surprisingly nice visa officer) gives affirmative that we may supplement funds upon next rendezvous.
 - Marching Orders: Back at this spot on Monday at 1700 hours, soldiers.
1130: Mission Accomplished
1131: But some ice cream, cuz I'm sweating like a dog.

We three kings continued on to the area by New Delhi Railway Station where our Cal connection in Delhi, Chandra, told us that we could find a decent hotel. We went exploring, found a couple that we'd shared a bus to Bangkok with, and a British pub that was showing a selection of classic cricket matches (we were determined to learn this bizarro baseball by the end of the trip).
That night we learned that everyone in India has a friend that can get you exactly what you need, except not at all. We went out that evening looking for a hookah bar, only found a man who kind of knew what we were talking about, and took us in his "helicopter" (Indian tuk-tuk) to a place where, as it turns out, was not a hookah bar but rather a place where you could buy a hookah. Except you actually can't buy a hookah at all there, they only sold rugs. But wait, oh I see, says the helicopter pilot, let me take you to my friend Ali's place, he's in the know. But all Ali knows was to try to sell us a trip to Kashmir. But never to fear, we split and got another driver to take us out and did make it to the hookah bar. It was closed. There was another place too, and like it's predecessor, was also closed. But here's a third place that, while not a hookah bar, can bring us a hookah. Or a rug. But a hookah is what we wanted and it was strawberry and delicious. And I saw my friend Sara from Cal but she wasn't there at all she told me later over email, she was in Malaysia. Weird. Then the police came and our rickshaw was still waiting outside so we went home.
It was hot like a stolen tamale on fire so we slept/roasted late. When we got up I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which inspired me to want to talk gonzo forever if I even understand that term correctly which, never haven driven across the desert with a trunk full of mescaline, I probably don't. Chicken Tikka Masala, my favorite dish at Naan 'N' Curry but apparently not a real Indian dish at all (I may have already revealed that fact in my post on Kolkata, but I'm currently in a boat and so have no way of knowing) was our aim and the people spoke and they said go to Gol Market. Gol Market is the chicken capitol of Delhi, sort of like how Paul is the King of Big Screen TVs, and we went to a place that had a Microsoft Word Clipart graphic of a chicken on its sign. Where they may have excelled in sign composition, they lacked in ambiance and perhaps the chicken chopped on the next red and white checkered tablecloth over ought to have provided a clue as to the potential excellence of the salmonella population joining us for our meal. Especially when, after being mercilessly chopped, the chicken bits would recover for a moment by resting in the comforts of the dirt blanket on the floor. That's not propaganda, it really happened. That sentence is somewhat out of place but Ryan just came on deck and we were discussing propaganda and I thought to myself that I haven't used that word nearly enough in this travelogue, and now I have. The point of all this is to introduce Wilbur. His name is Wilbur because at the time I happened to thinking a lot about Charlotte's Web, but he was not "One Fantastic Pig" at all; rather, he was a tapeworm. And he used to live in a piece of chicken on the floor at the restaurant in Gol Market with the Microsoft Word Clipart chicken graphic, but then he lived in my belly. And also Elliot's and also Ryan's. Even though Ryan looks like a terrorist. More on this later.
Though the above sentence does refer to more on Wilbur later, it could be construed to read more on Ryan looking like a terrorist later and, even though that's not what I meant at first, I hate to disappoint so I'll talk about that more as well. Ryan, anxious about the fact that even though he had been mistaken for a terrorist at least once before he may not be taken for one again, went to get his beard died and trimmed to look that much more menacing. This is not to imply that people with dyed dark beards are all terrorists, simply to state that Ryan with a dyed dark beard might just eat your puppy. Though as of this writing he has not explicitly outwardly been mistaken again, I can tell you that, should time travel become possible in our lifetimes (huh, that word takes on a whole new meaning then huh) I will certainly not let my future children anywhere near Mr. Hallahan for those few weeks in 2006 that he looked like Bluto from Popeye.
Elliot also played the hair game, buying a matching mohawk, mostly so he would be tall enough to be allowed onto the big rides at amusement parks. Then the random street guy who led us to hair adventures #1 and #2 made us get back in his decked-out helicopter for chilled beer where we watched the Bollywood version of There's Something About Mary, no joke.
Who can go to India without seeing the Taj Mahal? We can't, certainly, and set out to prove it. Wilbur was hosting a party in my belly and everyone was not invited, so he was doing his best to let all the other guests know that they were going to have to leave one way or the other, quickly, and in liquid form. And so it was on the several-hour bus ride over.
Once in Agra, some sneaky fellow who may or may not have actually been in charge told us the bus was late and would be making several long stops before the Taj so we were invited to get off, go there in his friend's rickshaw, and told that they'd buy us a train ticket back to Delhi for that night. I'm still not quite sure how it was a scam, but Elliot and Ryan and Wilbur agreed that something about it all was funny but Wilbur is just generally skeptical of everything, namely, any food that I try to eat.
We did make it to the Taj and I thought it would be loads of fun to swim across the river to the other side but Elliot and Ryan astutely pointed out that it looked like sewage and Wilbur was so-so ... he did like the prospect of a companion, but also didn't like me to move or do anything, particularly, digest. It was quite lovely and, more importantly, I got my Oski shot in front of it. We went for our train tickets, a man tried to talk Elliot into an international gem-smuggling scam, and we argued with a lot of people in different capacities until we got back to Delhi. It was too late to get together with Chandra but not too late for live Indian music and grilled cheese. So works karma.
We were meant by our military precision plan to get our visas to Pakistan next early evening, and that morning went to buy our train tickets in that direction because I knew it would all work out, that's why our plan was called Military Precision. We did go to the Dilli Haat to meet Chandra, the leader of the India Cal alumni group. He and his driver came to collect us and, after Hostage Exchange (our visas for 4100 rupees and a grateful smile), asked us if we wanted to see a protest at the Indian university that he attended before Cal and this is our contact through Berkeley so you know we said yeauh.
Held at AIIMS, over the reservations controversy, it was like an affirmative action rally at Berkeley but bizzaro because they were holding a hunger strike against it and when the Berkeley College Republicans are against it they hold a bake sale. The funny part was that, as this protest had been going on for many days, and the reporters were hungry for news, we were interviewed while there and the next day a well-misquoted story appeared prominently in the Times of India, the largest circulating newspaper in the world, as appears below:

AIIMS a tourist attraction for Berkeley students
Vividha Kaul
[ 30 May, 2006 0209hrs IST TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

NEW DELHI: Central lawns at AIIMS - the venue of the hunger strike by students agitating against the government's reservation policy - may well have become a tourist attraction for some.
On Monday, three Americans from Berkeley arrived here to check out the "parallels"between protests surrounding affirmative action in the US and reservation in India.
The three, who are on a six-month Asia tour, preferred to visit the institute rather than any of the tourist spots or markets in the Capital.
"A decade back, our university was where a lot of the debate surrounding affirmative action was centred around. We wanted to see the parallels between the two. There, most of the protests were actually in favour of affirmative action, here we have realised that it's completely opposite,"said Misha Leybovich, while posing for photographs in front of the anti-reservation banners.
Accompanying Leybovich was Elliot Cohen, a neurosciences graduate. "In the US, it was all about race, so it's roughly parallel.
I have a basic idea of the history of the caste system in India. We wanted to visit this place rather than some tourist spot because we are more interested in meeting people and observing what life here is like,"he said.
The students have already been to Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, China and are all set to leave for Pakistan on Tuesday. "We had several Asian friends while growing up too, but even then, we never really had a real picture of what Asia is like. Now, we are getting it,"said Bryan Hallahan, an engineer.
Some of the students on hunger strike also walked up to the trio and explained their reasons for going on a hunger strike.

Chandra then took us to his very impressive home, where we had to beat their hospitality off as it was nearing time to catch our train north, and we shared some laughs about him trying to marry off his pretty 25-year-old feisty daughter who'd thus far already rejected six suitors (though to be fair, one of them told her that she'd not be allowed to work at all after having earned her college degree and another revealed that she'd have to be alright with and expect his rampant womanizing). It was very interesting to learn about the system of arranged marriages that still largely exists. Chandra and his wife are more liberal than most, he said, and give their daughter say in the process, but they still follow the convention of finding a suitable man with a suitable family through an agency and allowing the possible fiances-to-be only a few two or three hour coffee dates to go over everything and decide if it will be a match. As you can imagine, such a limited time encourages frank discussion, which is good, but I just cannot imagine being set up in such a way, not that my Mama in her quest to find me a nice Jewish girl hasn't tried.
Back to the hotel to pack and argue once again over the "late fee", we hurried out to the station to get cozy on the lifted cots as we chugged towards the holy city and Indian border town of Amritsar.

Moral of the Story: Let's not all get too panicked if the Homeland Security Alert color gets orange-ish the week that Ryan gets back to the States.
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