EY 211 DEL-AUH Y A340-600 seat 43A

On my last day, the trip from Noida to the airport was (much to my surprise) over in barely an hour, leaving me with a rather too-generous four hours to kill at DEL. The Departures floor is under such heavy construction that I could barely recognize it, one of the check-in desk rows (Row 1) already reworked into the 21st century, the others still falling apart. I’d arrived so early that Etihad hadn’t even started checking in, but after I’d completed one circuit of the terminal looking for them, I spotted a bunch of unlabeled checkin desks with their monitors turned off… and a stack of Etihad luggage tags. Bingo. They’d just opened, and I got sequence number 002 for DEL-AUH, with sequence number 270 for AUH-RUH. How does that work?

Construction prevailed at the immigration desks (over in a jiffy) and the airside had been transformed to such an extent that I could only gape. Gone were the plastic bucket chairs, gone was the Flamingo duty free shop where I used to buy my Indian wines (better than you’d think), gone was the ITC lounge downstairs, even the security queue had transmogrified into something new. In their place were lots of construction hoardings and drilling noises, and I shuddered at the thought of having to spend four hours here. But there was a sign pointing to the Clipper lounge upstairs, and having done my research on FlyerTalk’s India forum I headed up with my Mastercard in hand. Now, in America gold Mastercards are included in boxes of cereal, and even in Singapore the income requirements for one aren’t too lofty, but in India they’re apparently still beyond the means of the hoi polloi — which is why Mastercard graciously offers free use of the Clipper Lounge for every holder of a Gold, Platinum, Titanium or World mastercard. It was still before the evening rush, and aside from a few JAL pax I had the blessedly peaceful lounge (and its fridge full of Kingfisher beer) to myself.

An hour before departure I headed out, and back in the less rarified realms of the terminal the security lines were as bad as ever, with powertripping jawans doing their best to harass the poor bunch of workers heading to the Gulf, barking at them for not waiting at the yellow line (as if they could read the signs) and emptying out every last slip of paper from their pockets. Once they were finally done with them, white sahibs like me were promptly passed through and I headed to Gate 3 to board my first Etihad plane.

The good news was that it was, indeed, the promised Airbus 340-600; why they’re operating a smallish long-haul plane on a low-yield short-haul route like DEL-AUH, though, is beyond me. The plane looked nice, all muted tones of desert tan (shades of Emirates), but the seat pitch was surprisingly cramped, with sharp bits of the seatback poking into my knees no matter how I moved my legs. Fine for this three hour flight, but I’d definitely steer clear of this plane for a real long-haul. The IFE screen was big and the headphones were unusually high-quality, but the interface was kinda slow and clunky, although there was a largeish (if dull) movie selection and an immense library of music — minus, alas, any ghazals. And no sign of the rumored in-seat power plug.

The bad news was that the plane was packed to hilt and 95% of the passengers in economy were workers headed to the Gulf, who aren’t exactly a frequent-flying bunch. Sitting as I was in the back, there was a constant jingle of “bong! bong! bong!” tones as people fiddling with remote controls unwittingly punched at the stewardess call buttons and little lights blinked on and off above the seats. Etihad also certainly didn’t bend over to serve this constituency of its passengers: all announcements and printed matter were in Arabic and English alone, with not a word of Hindi, and only one harried flight attendant appeared to speak the language. At least remarkably creepy safety video, which turned those 70s-style safety card cartoons into 3D computer animations of corpselike ghostly figures stoically enduring oxygen loss, crashes and evacuations, was probably equally incomprehensible in any language…

Meal service started soon after takeoff, and at least this was Indian style: Goan fish curry, curried peas and carrot, pulao, parantha and two balls of rasgulla. Reasonably tasty if unremarkable, and the carrots were red, so you could tell it was made in India. Drink service was a little odd: we received cups of water before takeoff, nothing immediately with the meal, a juice run after it was served, and then tea, coffee and hard liquors on demand while clearing the trays. Alas, the carbonation in the beer I’d drunk earlier has started disagreeing with the reduced air pressure and my stomach by this point, and while eating dinner helped — oddly, it usually does — I wasn’t quite in a position to appreciate the meal, or the flight, to its fullest. The workers, on the other hand, were enjoying the novel experience, with the jolly fellow in the row in front happily popping powdered coffee creamer into his mouth, like a Western version of paan masala, and chomping away.

The lights stayed on, but I pulled on my shades and attempted to rest a bit. Three hours into the flight we crossed over the coast at Oman and started coasting down to a descent in Abu Dhabi.

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Wahhabalinese Adventures 2: Delhi

It’s been a good nine months since I was last in Dilli, and I was quite amazed by the speed at which (some) things have progressed. The Metro extensions to Noida and Gurgaon, a few tentative rebar poking out from the ground in fall 2007, had sprouted into an almost unbroken row of lofty concrete pillars with viaduct cranes connecting the tops and station boxes starting to take shape — they just might make the 2010 deadline. The Great India Place in Noida and the MGF Metropolitan in Saket had both opened and finally given Delhi malls that wouldn’t look too much out of the place in Singapore. The amazingly banged-up super-high-floor city buses slaughering pedestrians on Delhi’s roads have been joined by a growing fleet of slick green low-floor buses, and the Bus Rapid Transit line from Moolchand to Ambedkar Nagar is set to open in a few months. NH-8 from Delhi to Gurgaon has finally opened and the slick swooping curves of the grade-separated intersections around Mahipalpur and the airport are an infinite improvement on the previous jams. Last but not least, the airport’s tentative renovations are now in full swing: the entire five kilometers from NH-8 to the current terminal is now one giant construction site with worker ants scurrying about building the new terminal, the third runway and the Airport Express line. What’s this place going to look like two years down the line when everything is complete for the 2010 Commonwealth Games?

On the flip side of the coin, nine months away from India was enough to tune my eye again to the daily weirdnesses of life in India. Zooming on an on-ramp to the DND Flyway, one of Delhi’s still regrettably few expressways, a wandering swami had decided that the side of the road, ten meters up in the air and inches away from speeding cars, would be a good place to build a bonfire and warm himself. Going to lunch at the Shipra Mall in Noida, a ridiculously pompous palace of consumerism decked out with statues and Romanesque pillars and consequently rather resembling a cross between a Las Vegas hotel and Bangkok massage parlor, had one of the lanes on its entry way under repair — so they’d thrown up a strand of barbed wire across the road, with somebody’s pants hanging in the middle so drivers would see it. On the way out, an empty field between the glass offices of the call centers and outsourcing labs was covered from end to end in cow patties, drying in the sun. Under the flyovers lurk Delhi’s underworld of dirty street kids and destitute beggars, naked toddlers with dust-caked hair running about the median between the roads.

And in the sterile comfort of the bland Sheraton, where a week’s stay costs about the same as a Tata Nano microcar, I flipped my TV to state broadcaster Doordarshan’s Sports channel in prime time and was treated to a rerun of the 2000 World Chess Championship, long ago live from Tehran — another vaguely funny reminder of how India’s well-meaning government continues to cripple the country through misguided initiatives. The week’s talk of the town was the LPG shortage, caused by government fixed rates making it unprofitable to supply, and the limited supplies thus being diverted to commercial use at Rs.600 each or the black market at as much as Rs.1000 a pop, instead of the heavily loss-making consumer rate of Rs.300. The government’s reaction? Raids against retailers to make sure they aren’t selling them on the black market or “hoarding”. Sigh.

9W 017 SIN-DEL Y A330-200 seat 19A

I’ve flown this sector umpteen times, but to date always on SQ. However, this week they were booked full for days on end (the second daily flight starting this summer is not a moment too soon), so it was time to try out my first longer flight on Jet. My previous experience with the carrier has been limited to a single one-way Amritsar-Delhi hop, but I’ll confess not to paying my usual obsessive attention to the minutiae of the flight, as my intestines were in the rather unpleasant process of being roiled by amoebic dysentery at the time and I’d only narrowly avoided messy disaster in the check-in line.

This time, I was in harmony with my intestinal flora and looking forward to the trip. The plane looked new and very good, with lie-flat pods in business and modern burgundy-and-cream seating in economy in a 2-4-2 configuration. On the rather interminable taxi out from T1 to the runway, I spotted Etihad’s 777ER taking off — the very same thrice-weekly flight I was originally supposed to be on.

Take off, a towel run, and then straight into dinner with no menu, just a choice of “chicken, fish or veg”. The dinner selection looked impressive, with a miniature tablecloth on a tray, metal cutlery and a cloth napkin that looked almost good enough to steal, but the food was a bit of a disappointment: the chicken’s sauce was a pale Western approximation of a curry, just a sauce with turmeric really, and the raita tasted like it was made with sweetened low-fat yogurt. The salad was watery and the chapattiesque thing was thick and greasy, and only the finishing notes lifted the average a bit: a Magnum ice cream bar and a bag of Indian after-dinner mint spice mix. SQ wins this round.

Jet’s inflight entertainment system is really good, probably the best I’ve used interfacewise and far better than SQ’s Wiseman. It’s fast, responsive, easy to navigate and intuitive, as important settings like volume, brightness and screen on/off have their own buttons on the bottom of the screen, which can easily be manipulated by touch alone. The screen is nice and big, and there’s a pretty decent selection of programs, if with an understandable Indian slant. Today’s selections: episodes of Rome, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, The Office (US) and then a lengthy trawl through the dedicated Ghazals section of the music selection, where I drifted off to Lotus-land listening to Ghulam Ali. I was introduced to this amazing singer by trash novelist Shobhaa De‘s works, where the mango-breasted heroines rave about the aphrodisiac properties of his songs, and while they took a while to grow on me I’m starting to agree: a few bars, and I feel like I’m smoking opium and crushed pearls from a jewel-encrusted hookah while watching Hyderabad’s finest nautch girls dance. Score one for Jet.

Service was quite good also: Jet’s crew aren’t quite as dolled up as the SQ girls, nor are their faces contorted into a permanent rictus of a smile, but everything does work quite well. There was no water/drink service during the “night” while the lights are off, but I snagged a miniature water bottle from the galley and they did do a juice run before descent. Tie with SQ on this one.

The one big downside to Jet from SIN, though, is the terrible flight timing. Arrival into DEL is after 2 AM (meaning you’ll be lucky to get to your hotel by 4 AM), and the return flight wastes a full day by leaving DEL at 8 AM and arriving in SIN around 5 PM. And the smaller downside is the lack of alliance mileage, although I did manage to park the miles in my comatose Northwest account. Now to figure out a way to do something useful with the ~7500 miles I have in there…

Wahhabalinese Adventures 2: Delhi, Riyadh, Jeddah and Janadriyah

This trip report is a followup to the original Wahhabalinese Adventures, detailing my second sojourn to the Magic Kingdom. I’ll be traveling a bit longer this time, and hence my agenda includes a little sightseeing and scuba diving in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second city and commercial capital.


This was supposed to be a straight Singapore-Saudi round-trip with a local round-trp thrown in.  However, two days before my planned departure I got an early-morning phone call, and by the end of it I’d changed my plans to head to Delhi for a week first instead. Our corporate travel agent, who are good at everything except finding cheap fares, first suggested a ridiculous SIN-DEL-BAH-RUH-JED-AUH-SIN routing on 9W/GF/SV/SQ that would’ve cost nearly US$3000, but Etihad’s remarkably helpful Singapore office managed to rebook me on DEL-RUH-SIN for barely a third of that — it actually ended up costing substantially less than my previous SIN-RUH return!  Here’s the final route:

Index

India 6: Googling at Gurgaon

Pounding bricks in Gurgaon, IndiaToday I’m going to take you on the world’s shortest sightseeing tour, in which we will cross the street from one shopping mall to another. The shopping malls are located in India Shining, the proud, new, resurgent India out to take over the world; however, the street is still firmly in Bharat, the ageless, eternal land of preordained destiny and reincarnation.

Our journey starts at the DT City Centre mall in Gurgaon. It’s a smallish box-shaped shopping mall, three stories high, with maybe 50 shops, rather cramped, and would be entirely unremarkable in most of the developed world — but it was among the first to open in Gurgaon and is a landmark of sufficient stature that a Metro station planned outside will be named after it. Tenants include Ruby Tuesday, where Indians get to indulge their fantasies of being America (wood paneling, cowboy-themed crap, old Coke ads on the walls) and meals of hamburgers and fries cost Rs.500 (~US$10) a pop. Opposite it is Pizza Hut, in the inner atrium is a Barista coffee shop, and most other tenants are small little shops selling jewelry or scarves or CDs or whatever it is that small little shopping mall outlets sell.

As we step out the door, we can watch the security parade, in which all shoppers are made to walk through a metal detector. As everybody is toting purses or backpacks, the detector duly says “beep”, which the security guards duly ignore as they wave everybody onward. But we’re going in the opposite direction. Outside the shopping mall is a parking lot, with modern, expensive cars (nearly all recently dented, scratched and banged). But between the parking lot and the street, there is a 20-meter strip of rutted dirt, muddy in the rain, dusty in the sun. It’s on an inclined hillside, but there are no steps or stairs, so shopper clambers over it randomly, gingerly treading around cow poop and garbage. There’s no road from the parking lot either, so you can also entertain yourself by watching cars try to avoid the worst potholes and pedestrians try to avoid getting run over by monster SUVs.

The strip has recently been bisected by a strip of pavement, running parallel to the main road, but not connected to the parking lot or the main road. This road is inhabited by a permanent logjam of rickshaw drivers, and the strip of dirt next to it has the guy who sells roast yams for Rs.5 (~US$0.10) a pop, the guy who sells paan masala and a scrum of beggars: the mother with listless rag doll child, the wizened old sadhu who looks at you with sad eyes and wordlessly motions toward his mouth, the aggressive ten-year-old girl with a dusty shock of hair, a permanent coat of grime and bony fingers that she uses to pinch those you who don’t pay up.

If you turn your head left, you’ll see a chunk of land cordoned off with Delhi Metro barriers: they’re doing preliminary drillings for an elevated high-speed mass transit system. On the right side, there is a massive construction site for a new shopping mall, and you can watch men bending steel and women carrying baskets of bricks on their heads as the work proceeds. Once the mall is complete, there will be an unbroken sprawl of malls eastward: DT City Centre, One India Place, Vipul’s Agora, Sahara Mall, CWC Mall, and MGF Mega Mall.

But we’ll keep going in a straight line. Ahead of us is Mehrauli-Gurgaon (MG) Road, one of Gurgaon’s two main links to Delhi. It’s three lanes in both directions and full of cars, autorickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, cows and the occasional bullock cart from morning till night. Unusually, there is a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights here; however, the lights are near-universally ignored, and people can thus only cross on foot by massing into clumps of sufficient volume that their bulk and the messy cleanup that hitting them would require intimidates even the most leadfooted of drivers. In the middle of the road is a median strip and a fence, with a gap here for the crossing, usually inhabited by a beggar lady and her baby, whose shit-streaked, naked, blue behind attracts both flies and alms.

If you make it across without being flattened by a truck (Tata Bye Bye!), you’ll find yourself standing in the busy lanes used by cars driving into and out from the MGF Metropolitan Mall. There are no provisions of any kind of pedestrians, so you just have to pick your way across the lane dividers and traffic wardens towards the stairs that come out of the mall and abruptly terminate on the pavement. MGF is anchored by a big cinema multiplex, and from the outside you can also spot a large McDonalds, a popular TGI Friday’s outlet and a Citibank ATM, which is permanently watched over by a dedicated security guard.

As you enter the mall, through another metal detector whose sole purpose seems to be to provide background noise (beep beep!), you’re greeted by a 10-meter pair of curvaceous breasts, barely contained in a lace top. It’s an advertisement for lingerie, in a country where an on-screen kiss in Dhoom 2 (released Nov 2006) generated outrage and a ongoing trial for obscenity. On the left wall, a Bollywood actress in butt-hugging jeans and a clingy silver top; on the right side, a model shows off her backless dress, two slinky legs and pumps that could also be used to skewer kebabs. At the far end of the mall is Chor Bizarre, where you can pay Rs. 500 (a decent monthly wage in some parts of Bihar) for a meal of Delhi-style street food, served by liveried waiters from an antique automobile converted into a buffet table, and whose general manager wrings his hands in genuine distress if you complain that the golguppa shells are a little too chewy.

Road upgrading donkey style, Gurgaon, IndiaThe laws of writing dictate that I’m supposed to provide some kind of pithy closing statement here, but this is one of those times when India leaves me at a loss for words. Nowhere, but nowhere, in the world will you find the wealth of sheer misery that is India. The slow rollback of Gandhi’s murderously deluded policies of self-reliance and recent surge of economic growth is the best thing that has ever happened in this benighted land, but this distance to be covered yet is dauntingly vast. I’ll be back some day, but for now my quota is full.

And oh yes — do you want to do something? Donate to WaterPartners. Amoebic dysentery nearly killed a friend of mine, but she had the best medical care money can buy: millions of children every year aren’t as lucky, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die.

India 4: D is for Depressing

Delhi in December is damp, dismal and depressing — and so is this blog entry, which veers from the trivially tiresome to the thoroughly tragic. Grab a box of Kleenex and, err, enjoy.

  • There is a kitchen in my office, about 2 sq.m. in size, with an automatic Nescafe-making machine. Two people are employed to wait in the kitchen. If somebody asks for tea or coffee, they take a cup, press the button and hand the drink to you. Only one of them has a chair.
  • In India’s state of Orissa, under one in five households has electricity.
  • Most factories in Gurgaon have signs prohibiting child labor. Instead, 8-year-olds spoon out dal and wash dishes in the dusty roadside eateries outside them, and 12-year-old rickshaw-wallahs cycle the adult workers to work.
  • Half of India’s children are malnourished. Television commercials heavily promote zero-calorie sugar substitutes.
  • The Delhi city government decided to give all elementary schoolers an aid package consisting of a school uniform, school bag, shoes and two pairs of socks, valued at Rs. 290 (~$5). This is also the price of a single 8″ pizza and a Coke at the food court in the MGF Metropolitan Mall in Gurgaon.
  • India has over 5 million people infected with HIV. Under 50,000 of them receive treatment.
  • Whenever the power fails in my condo in the evening, there is a moment of pitch black silence, and then the screams of terrified children start to echo through the tower blocks.
  • The average per capita income of Malawi, the world’s poorest country, is $161. Average per capita income in India’s Bihar state is $94.
  • “A three-year-old boy was eaten alive by a herd of pigs in a village on the outskirts of New Delhi after family members did not notice him wander outside his home. Only the boy’s limbs were recovered.” (Reuters)
  • Flat surfaces in the Indian countryside (and Delhi’s slums) are neatly lined with drying patties of cow shit. They are used by the poor for fertilizing fields, as cooking fuel, for heating houses, as insect repellant, as insulation and to provide durable flooring.
  • One of Gurgaon’s many epithets is “the Singapore of India”. Unlike its namesake, it has no public transport system, and in November alone 28 people were murdered by a gang preying on people hailing illegal cabs.
  • The average Indian spends 2.9 rupees ($0.06) on telecommunications yearly. It would require over a million of them to employ me for a year.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll confess that I’m actually starting to like India, warts and all. But the next episode will probably concentrate more on Gurgaon, the bizarre yet intriguing site of a continuing slow-motion collision between hypermodern India and ageless Bharat. Tune in next time…

 

India 2: How are you relaxing?

So my first week in India is coming to an end, and I had the time to take a spin around central Delhi‘s tourist trail over the weekend.

Transportation in Delhi is interesting. I took a taxi from the hotel, one of those ancient Ambassador jobbies that still form the bulk of the fleet, and asked the driver to use the meter. He punched buttons on it around 17 times, grinned a bit too widely, and I watched the numbers spin dizzily upwards as we set off.

– How long in India, sir?

– Four months.

– Oh…

By the time I got to India Gate, some 5 km away, the meter read 350 rupees — quite literally ten times the real metered fare. Now it was my turn to grin and tell him his meter was crazy: he grinned back and said no need to use the meter, why not just charter him for the whole day? I grinned more, gave him the smallest note I had (100 rupees, alas) and sauntered off without even a whimper of protest.

Delhi is not a walking city, to say the least. Footbridges seem to be totally absent and pedestrian crossings are about as useful and protective as the painted little swastikas on the back of cars. Navigating from India Gate thus involved crossing the traffic circus’ (such an appropriate word) lanes of non-stop vehicles the same way I did in Jakarta and Saigon: just step out onto the road, hopefully to the leeward of a few locals, and walk in a straight, predictable line so drivers can try to swerve around you. I stomped my way to Mandi House, where there was supposed to be a Metro station according to my map, but the map was off and it was just a construction site — it was another km to the end of the line at Barakhamba Road.

The sparkling new Delhi Metro, complete with squeaky clean Korean-made coaches, is a technological marvel made only more so by the chaos above. After a quick stroll and lunch at Connaught Place, I took the Metro to Chawri Bazaar (6 rupees), and stepped out of the train onto a cycle-rickshaw to the Red Fort (20 rupees). It was another world: the road was jammed from side to side with bicycles, cyclerickshaws, autorickshaws, three-wheeled trucks, motorbikes, bullock carts, pedestrians all jostling for space.

On the way back to the hotel, I took an autorickshaw and negotiated up front for 50 rupees. The first one refused this, but the second accepted, so I can only presume I was in the right ballpark this time.

* * *

India’s intelligentsia and newspapers bemoan the lack of equality in the country, and print the matrimonial service ads neatly sorted by caste and expected dowry size. At one intersection, a bunch of darker-skinned Indians wearing Vanilla Ice masks were advertising some type of whitening lotion. Chemical trucks careen on expressways, hazmat signs marked with neatly stenciled letters saying “CORRECT TECHNICAL NAME”. But rest assured: a roadside safety campaign proclaims “Accident brings tears, safety brings cheers!”

One day, we went out for lunch in a Gurgaon pizza parlor, curving past a beggar woman holding a baby with a bloody bandaged head and flies buzzing around its bare soiled behind, into a strip mall that wouldn’t be too far out of place in New Jersey. In Ruby Tuesday’s faux-American surroundings, all Texas license plates and old Coca Cola ads, entrees cost 500 rupees a pop (this in a country where income of above Rs.1100/month means you’re not considered poor) and our group of three was fawned over by around five staff. As soon as I’d popped the first mouthful of curry into my mouth, one of them materialized next to me and asked: How are you relaxing, sir?

I could only think of the McDonalds ad in heavy rotation on local TV, where an older Hindu couple jabber away in Hindi for a few seconds. The sari-clad grandmother-type, hair curled into tight gray bun, bites into a crispy McVeggie Burger(tm), then lifts her hands up in the air, twirls her head in the Indian figure eight and proclaims with a lilt: Ooh, I am loving it.

* * *

Next on the agenda: a weekend trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttaranchal.

Soundtrack: Shoulder Surf, by Sukshinder Shinda feat. Takeova Ent

India 1: First impressions

Twenty-four hours have passed since my passport was stamped into India, and it’s time to distill what I’ve seen so far into a series of witty insights, dodgy comparisons, fatuous overgeneralizations and outright mistakes.

A useful travel skill is not expecting too much out of the places you’re visiting for the first time, as this makes it much easier to be pleasantly surprised by them. (This, for example, is the only way to enjoy the Slovenian coal-mining town of Trbovlje.) For Delhi, this was easier yet: I expected a shithole with absolutely no redeeming qualities, and having now discovered at least three, I’m actually looking forward to the rest of my stay here.

The Expected

India is poor, New Delhi is no exception, and economic pundits who think India will be catching up to China any time soon would do well to go to Shanghai and then compare notes here. It’s not quite as desperate as I was afraid (I’ve yet to see any corpses or people shitting on the street), but beggars and shantytowns abound even more profusely than in my previous benchmark of big-city squalor, Jakarta.

Indian infrastructure is famously bad, and here too Delhi is no exception. Traffic is crazy, with three-wheeled autorickshaws emblazoned with “Horn Please”, sacred cows, clunky old Ambassador cars and crazy bus drivers, jostling for space on unlaned roads. Signage is laughably minimal, traffic lights are rarities and Jakarta’s sweeping elevated expressways shine in their absence. Especially at night, with clouds of dust whistling among the trees, it feels like an unusually busy night back in Chipata, Zambia.

The Unexpected

Delhi is both more flat, more spread out and less congested than I expected: there is so much wasteland and so many derelict buildings that you just don’t get the same sense as in Bangkok or Jakarta that every square inch counts. Then again, I’ve only been in southernmost Delhi and Gurgaon so far, so I fully expect Old Delhi to be much more squished together.

Pollution here is really bad. On Singapore’s PSI index, I have no doubt that every day here is well over 100, although mornings seem to be particularly bad. I woke up today sneezing with a really bad runny nose and a headache, triggered by the double whammy of dryness and pollution — fortunately it seems to be getting better already.

The Positive

After a few too many nasi gorengs, Indian food is excellent. It’s just one of those great cuisines of the world that defies easy description: Khmer cooking can be passably described as “half-Thai, half-Vietnamese”, Korean food is “Japanese with chili and garlic”, but how to describe the country that invented the curry? After a lifetime of eating the stuff only in dedicated restaurants, it still feels weird to actually find myself in a country where it’s eaten three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m loving it — and looking forward to my first McMaharaja Burger tomorrow. (I’m planning to go veggie for the first few weeks.)

Indian music (especially the more dancy styles of bhangra) rocks. And so do the babes in Bollywood music videos. (Unfortunately, and less surprisingly, they seem to be a rather rare species in reality.)

Second impressions to come this weekend, after I actually get a chance to see something other than fancy hotels and data centres…