Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 6 -- Sri Lanka and India.

I'm sending out this chapter of our Journal early, because it is getting way too long. I sometimes get "wound up" and don't know when to shut up. Our visit to India was a "winder upper."

April 5th -- Three things I forgot to mention in the last chapter: snake charmers, China, and fire hoses. First, the snake charmers. We saw a snake charmer yesterday, with a real cobra. It looked extremely dangerous, and the charmer looked downright foolhardy. According to our tour guide, the snake charming isn't nearly as dangerous as it first appears. The local snake charmers will capture a cobra, of which there are plenty, and immediately pull its poison fangs out. With no antiseptic nor any suturing, the cobras commonly get terrible tropical infections in their mouth, and die from the infections after several days. Time for them to find another cobra.

Consequently, the so-called snake charmers "go through" many cobras each year, all to fool the tourists. How you view this depends on your feelings about snakes and about all living creatures. Our guide, being a good Buddhist, was appalled. I tend to agree. I guess I might possibly be sanguine about it if the cobras were taken to a veterinarian and de-fanged professionally, and thereby lived out a full life in captivity to help supply money to the desperately poor snake charmers. But to knowingly inflict certain infection and pain, and death seems to me to be a serious form of animal torture. Even to a cobra; and I don't particularly like snakes.

Now lets talk about the Sri Lanka and China connection. Yesterday we drove on a brand new freeway, the first ever in Sri Lanka. Technically the term freeway is incorrect, because it is a toll road, but I meant the term to help readers understand that it is a very high quality highway with many high speed lanes in both directions. It was built for Sri Lanka by the Chinese government. Sri Lanka owns the highway, but they repay China through the tolls they collect. China has great interest in Sri Lanka for its strategic location, for its importance as a shipping port, and for its proximity to India. Our guide said that the Sri Lankan government welcomes China's influence as a counterweight against India's. Ah, the geopolitical webs that are woven.

Finally, fire hoses. Before we reached Sri Lanka, the crew laid out 12 fire hoses on deck 3, the first open deck, and wired their nozzles into place at regular intervals along each side of the ship. I asked the technician if they were planning a fire-hose "celebration" as we left port? He said, "No, no celebration." So I understood it to be anti-pirate measures. I was correct. Two security guards were posted 24-hours per day on deck 3, and they have some sort of box mounted on the railing -- some sort of repellant weapon I presume. This evening, in confirmation of what I presumed, we got a notification from the ship's captain that they are taking anti-piracy measures, which he explained as just normal ship-safety precautions, and that they have no intelligence suggesting any problems. I've photographed the bulletin, and will make it available with my photos.

Now, in Marmagoa, they have placed a large security sign on the harbor side, that reads: "SECURITY WARNING: DO NOT APPROACH WITHIN 50 METRES." The fire hoses are still out and at the ready. The hoses are 2" diameter, and the nozzles look to be about 1" diameter, so they'd throw a pretty fierce gusher; but given their spacing -- six nozzles per 660 ft. or one nozzle per each 110 ft. -- I suspect all they'd do is make any pirates wet and angry if they boarded at midway between the nozzles.

I had not been aware of piracy off the coast of Sri Lanka and India, but it doesn't surprise me. I have not heard of any piracy attempts against cruise ships, but their ransom value ought to be more lucrative than freighters. I'm not worried, just interested.

I was wrong about another sea day before we reached Marmagoa, India. We arrived in Marmagoa this morning, a day earlier than I thought. My mistake; but no big deal. I thought we'd have a sea day, and we will -- only it will be at the Marmagoa dock. We planned no tours in Marmagoa because none of them looked particularly interesting, and because we have a good tour planned tomorrow in Mumbai. Incidentally, Marmagoa is the British name; the Indians spell it Mormugão.

Marmagoa is a small city (97,000), but it is a major sea port for India. It was designated a major port in 1963. Since then it has contributed immensely to growth of maritime trade in India. It is their leading iron ore exporting port, with an annual throughput of about 27 million metric tons of iron ore. It was featured in the 1980 film The Sea Wolves, which I have not seen.

April 6th -- One of the wonderful things about a cruise such as ours is that we get to see firsthand many interesting places. There is nothing quite like seeing for oneself. Mumbai is an excellent example. I have always pictured Bombay (the old name for Mumbai, prior to 1995) as a densely crowded (it is!), poverty stricken (many parts are; but it is also an extremely wealthy city), slum ridden cesspool -- that India should be ashamed of. The slum part is still heavily present, but as to the overall quality of the city, boy was I wrong! I think my impressions may have been more true at the time I first learned world geography many decades ago, but I am now suspecting that they were mostly wrong even then.

When a person thinks about large cities, population is not a good measure of the quality of the city. It is a number that can change drastically depending on whether it includes only the city proper, or outlying metropolitan areas. And different countries define the city proper differently. Many Chinese cities have city limits that include huge suburban areas and even neighboring cities. That is, the Chinese city proper is more like Los Angeles and all its surrounding metro areas.

Furthermore, population figures tell one nothing about population densities! For example, Shanghai, now considered the largest city proper, population-wise, at about 18 Million has a population density of about 7,000 persons per sq. kilometer. Mumbai, for comparison, has a city-proper population of about 12.5 Million, but a population density of almost 21,000 persons per sq. kilometer (three times the population density of Shanghai). But even population density tells one too little about a city.

What seems to me to be far more telling measure is a city's influence on the global economy. Look at Wikipedia under the search term of "global city" for a good summary of the concept. A global city (also called world city, or alpha city) is a city considered to be an important node in the global economic system. The concept rests on the idea that globalization is largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade.

By this measure, New York is the most important world city, with London a close second. These are known as the world's only two "alpha++" cities. Following them are: Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Sidney, and Dubai -- all alpha+ cities. Next are the alpha cities of: Chicago, Mumbai, Milan, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Frankfurt, Toronto, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, and Brussels. (If you are interested, you can see where the rest of the world's major cities fall by looking at the Wikipedia article.)

I find the concept of global city more satisfying than mere population, because it gets at the level of influence a city exerts on the world economy -- and thereby is a measure of the city's productivity. It may not be a good measure of the quality of life in general (and particularly in Mumbai), because a thriving city can still leave many of its residents in squalor. But it certainly is a measure of potential quality of life, if governance is what it should be. That is, does the rising tide float all ships or sink some? Strong economic engines can and do exist under conditions of outstanding governance and mediocre governance.

So, getting back to Mumbai in particular. It has a city-proper population of about 12.5 Million, and a metro area population of about 21 Million. It is India's most populous city, and one of the most populous urban regions in the world. In 2009 Mumbai was designated an "alpha" world city (now standing as the 12th most important city in the world); it is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, Central and West Asia.

Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. It is also one of the world's top ten centers of commerce in terms of global financial flow, generating 5 percent of India's GDP, 25 percent of India's industrial output, 70 percent of maritime trade in India, and 70 percent of capital transactions to India's economy. In short, Mumbai rocks as a global city! Quite a different picture than I had in my mind prior to this visit. As a current and historic seaport city, Mumbai is a melting pot city, with many ethnic and cultural flavors.

Now, lets talk about Mumbai socially. Despite its great wealth generation, 90 percent of its inhabitants live in slums. Beggars are everywhere. It is a city of a privileged few, a broadening middle class, and the poverty stricken masses (90 percent). We are here for so short a time, so I cannot tell you firsthand if the situation is improving or declining, but the broadening middle class seems to be a strong indicator that conditions are improving for at least the well educated. In addition, the old caste system is weakening. So far, it appears that the city is mostly old, and in a state of repairs everywhere -- repair projects started nearly everywhere, but nothing much getting finished. The broadening middle class worker earns, on average between $500 and $600 per month. The guide refused to give us an overall wage average, and it probably is just as well, because it would be largely meaningless. Mumbai has more billionaires in total than any other major city; and it has hordes of slum dwellers who earn so very little.

Today, Ardie and I did a walking tour from our ship to the old Victorian post office, and to "Victoria Station," the main train station of old Bombay. Both buildings were constructed during the British era, and are Victorian Gothic. Neither is in great repair, but they are both heavily used. The many stately old Victorian buildings established by the British seem to all be in sad repair. This is in contrast to the sparkling new commercial buildings in the financial center. Clearly, private enterprise has the money to build what they want, and just as clearly, the city lacks the funds -- or the will -- to maintain its historic district.

Mumbai's train system is very efficient, quite inexpensive, and easy to learn. There are two electronic reader-boards in each station, one giving the schedules for the "S" trains, and one for the "F" trains. The "S" trains are the slow trains that stop at every single station. The "F" trains are the fast trains that stop at on the major stations. Blue stations require an "S" train; red stations can be visited by either an "S" or an "F" train. From Victoria Station, the farthest served station is about 46 kilometers.

We didn't take a train trip today, as one is scheduled for us tomorrow. We contented ourselves with a walking tour to see all the sights and sounds.

We came across what can only be described as a sidewalk market. No market stalls, just merchants and their portable wares, all laid out along the sidewalk outside Victoria Station. Many of our tourist visitors were buying nice shoes from the sidewalk vendors at very low prices. But so were the local business people. And we got to observe a little bit of local custom; the local business person who bought a new pair of shoes left his old ones on the curb in front of the market, and they quickly found a new home on the feet of someone who had no shoes.

I had a funny experience in getting a shoe shine. I'd scuffed the toe of one of my shoes during one of our adventures, probably the elephant orphanage, and had asked our room steward to have them polished. They came back buffed, but the scuff was still there; they'd used no new shoe polish to cover the scuff. So, I was looking for a shoeshine, and I found a young fellow who was offering shoe shines. I dickered with him, and settled on a $1.00 cost, most likely more than a local would pay, but I was happy. So, once we settled on the price, he started to lay out his brushes and polish, and an old man came up and shoved him aside, and proceeded to polish my shoes.

He took a full 15 minutes to do them both. Three coats of polish, some white goop, and many steps of buffing. They looked like new. I have never had a nicer shoeshine. So, it was time to pay. I give the old man a dollar. Then the young man I'd dickered on the price with came and held out his hand. So I gave him a dollar too. Then the old man was upset that he'd done all the work and got no more than the kid whom I'd dickered with. So I gave him another dollar.

It cost me $3.00 in total for a shoeshine I'd agreed to pay $1.00 for, and I had been "played like a fiddle!" I could only laugh at how well they played me; I wasn't angry in the least. In fact, I was impressed! But the story doesn't end there.

As Ardie and I were walking back towards the ship I kept smelling diesel fumes. When we boarded the shuttle bus at the port gates, the diesel smell was inside the shuttle. When re-boarding the ms Rotterdam, I kept smelling diesel. While in the ships elevator, it finally clicked; I was the one with the diesel smell; and it was my shoes!

Whether it was in the polish, the white goop, or on one of his brushes or rags, the old shoeshine guy had thoroughly "dieseled" my shoes. They shine wonderfully, but they will stink for a few days until the diesel all evaporates. It is abating rapidly, so it won't be long. We've had some good laughs about the experience. It doesn't diminish our experience in the least; if anything, it is a memory we'll long cherish.

April 7th -- Up at 6 am, an ungodly 2 hours before normal for us, to be ready for our guided tour of Mumbai. Our first stop was the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. It is a shabby, rundown museum, but the story of Gandhi's life is deeply inspiring. We were so please to have this museum as one of our tour stops.

Gandhi is revered in India, and will be long remembered Internationally for his deep commitment to fight for India's self governance by non-violent means. We read many things in the Museum that only heightened our respect for Gandhi. Rather than ramble on about his greatness, I prefer to quote Albert Einstein who had this to say about Gandhi:

"Mahatma Gandhi's life achievement stands unique in political history. He has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country, and practised it with greatest energy and devotion. The moral influence he had on the consciously thinking human being of the entire civilized world will probably be much more lasting than it seems in our time with its overestimation of brutal violent forces. Because lasting will only be the work of such statesmen who wake up and strengthen the moral power of their people through their example and educational works. We may all be happy and grateful that destiny gifted us with such an enlightened contemporary, a role model for the generations to come.

Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."

All I can add is "Amen," although this does not suggest that I think everything Gandhi did was in the best interests of all of India. He was, after all, a very devout Hindu, and that influenced his decisions, often in favor of his Hindu persuasion.

The lack of work for the poor was one of Gandhi's favorite topics. He hated factories and their mechanization because they displaced so many of the illiterate poor of India. He wanted to develop cottage industry -- weaving looms in every poor home -- to displace factories. Most industrialists thought him a bit looney in this dream, as do I, which is neither here-nor-there to the point I want to make. The raw fact is true, that the poor lack the education needed to better themselves, and manual jobs are their only salvation. He is also correct is seeing that industrial modernization exacerbates the problem. These are very important points.

I don't think Gandhi's answer is a workable one, but at least he proposed something! The same issue is repeating itself around the globe, and no society seems to be finding any real solutions. I will, however, give credit to China for trying much harder to resolve this issue than any of the other countries we have visited, including our neighboring country, Mexico.

It should strike many of us as strange and utterly counter-intuitive that a Communist country could actually be working harder on this problem than any other I have observed. So, as a bit of a side-comment, let me explain what China has been doing, and how their laudable efforts are currently unraveling on them.

As everybody is aware, China is on the fast track to modernization in its major cities, but not so much elsewhere. They have a fabulous "freeway" system between major industrial areas and their port cities, so they can move goods to market fast and efficiently. The freeway system, however, doesn't serve the many small villages it passes by and through. Many don't even have freeway entrances and exits, and the ones that do dump off into dirt roads. This was a deliberate focus on building highway infrastructure for moving products to the International market. During this same time, many of China's farms have consolidated to humungous size, that give up nothing to the U.S. farms of the San Joaquin Valley.

But this agricultural modernization has left the single-family rice paddy farmers unable to compete. The Chinese government, in an attempt to solve two problems with one stroke, offer to buy out these single-paddy farmers and to relocate them to the major industrial cities, such as Shanghai. It is a voluntary program, and the farmers and families that do volunteer are guaranteed factory jobs, a new apartment dwelling in Shanghai, and free schooling for their children. These relocated farmers become workers in the new industrialization. When I visited China in 2009 the government was moving one million people to the cities per month!

During the last economic downturn, China's export business literally tanked. The government operated banks have extended interest free loans to thousands of export-related businesses to keep them from going bankrupt. The demand for more workers in these major cities obviously tanked as well. A whole industry of apartment building, one-quarter million new units per month, was in high gear before the economic downturn. The government was hesitant to throw all these workers into the list of unemployed as well, so they soon had millions of vacant new units and no imported workers to inhabit them.

China's problems are far from over, and may be getting worse. But when their economy eventually turns around, they'll go back to the same plan. In contrast, when NAFTA was passed, big agribusiness moved into Mexico with a vengeance, and soon the El Fuerte valley was filled with big corporate farms like those of the San Joaquin valley. Right beside one of these corporate farms with its huge John Deere tractors and 40-foot corn-drill planters plodded the little Mexican farmer behind his mule, pulling a single-bit plow through his 20-acre field. He simply could not compete! What did Mexico do for their displaced farmers? Nothing. Not a thing. Many of them came north as both legal and illegal farm workers to work the garden crops of Southern California. But Mexico did nothing for them. Absolutely nothing. Apparently the Mexican Constitution has no clause about the duty of its government to "promote the general welfare" of its citizens. (I really don't know what their constitution says; I'm just trying to be snide.)

After visiting the Gandhi Museum, we were taken to Churchgate Train Station, modeled after London's St. Pancras Station. From Churchgate Station we rode the train for several kilometers to another part of our tour. We had seats in the first-class portion of the train. Instead of the 30 cent standard fare, our tickets cost about $3.00 for first class, and for that we each had a seat -- because we were going the opposite direction as the hordes headed for work -- and a bit more room. The train lacked air conditioning, but there were many electric fans in the ceiling, and the doors remained open, so a good breeze kept us comfortable.

I wouldn't want to ride one of Mumbai's trains during rush hours, even in first class. The ceiling is festooned with hand rings for standing passengers, and the rings are spaced 6 inches apart in the direction passengers face, and 12 inches apart from shoulder-to-shoulder. And this is in first-class! Our tour guide says that in standard class during rush hour you are literally compressed together as a mass, so much so that if you lift your foot, you won't find a place to set it down again. She was not exaggerating. We really enjoyed our ride, because we were in first class, going against the crowds. It was fun and entertaining.

Next we visited one of Mumbai's "laundries." It is a sight to behold, so much so that I have to include a picture with this Journal to show it. Words can't describe it like the picture will.

The laundry is full service. They pick up your clothes at your residence, wash, air dry, iron, fold, and return them. Cost is about 30 Rupees per item; or about 25 cents each.

Our tour guide said that Holland America sends their laundry here while we're in port. I laughed, but some of our group thought she was serious! Very funny.

What the picture doesn't show, because I cropped it to show just the laundry, is the modern city in the background. Quite a contrast.

Mumbai laundry service One of the many laundry complexes in Mumbai.

The laundry picture gives one the impression of abject poverty. It is a proper impression, but only one of the true pictures of Mumbai. There is a modern business district. There is more housing for the poor; developed while Indira Gandhi (Nehru's daughter, who gained her last name of Gandhi by marrying Feroze Gandhi) was in power. There is a broadening middle class. There is still intense religious friction within India and between India and Pakistan. All these "pictures" are the reality of Mumbai.

India's history has been troubled for hundreds of years, starting well before Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule. Since its independence in 1947 the troubles have not abated. Self rule has been so troubled one cannot help but wonder if it has been beneficial to the masses? Of course, all peoples for all times prefer self rule; but sometimes what is called self rule turns out to be in name only. The right to vote does not imply that minorities are thereby afforded equality. Holding together the disparate opinions of a populace with a single religious heritage is tough enough -- as witnessed by the U.S. Civil War. But to hold together a nation of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims is a continuous tight-rope walk, requiring political leadership as deft as our Abraham Lincoln's, only forever and ever. Like our Abraham Lincoln, Indira Gandhi laid aside due process in order to accomplish her objectives. In retrospect, most Indians believe what she did was essential to India's survival, but just like for Lincoln, there are those who will forever disagree. Historians generally agree, however, that she performed the necessary balancing act better than Mahatma Gandhi.

The people we have met on the streets of Mumbai were all friendly and gave us big smiles, some with perfect teeth, and some with few teeth. I think the Indians are inherently a friendly people; but the Hindu history of assassinating their own Hindu leaders (Gandhi, Nehru, I. Gandhi), one after another, suggests that the more radical of these Hindus resolve their differences more forcefully than their Buddhist neighbors, and perhaps even more so than their Muslim neighbors. The ongoing conflict between Muslims and Hindus was largely the reason for the breakup of India into what are now India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan -- which solved nothing in terms of the ongoing conflict. Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu by birth and by religion, tried to get them to live together peacefully, and was assassinated by one of his own -- who wanted no part of peace with the Muslims.

It is no wonder that some people see religions as the bane of progress. The simple goal of Mahatma Gandhi, and later of Indira Gandhi, to feed one's people and to better the plight of the very poor, cannot be achieved because all of their government's time, energies, and funds are expended on extinguishing uprisings fostered by the religious leaders. God must weep.

Back to Mumbai and our tour. I am struck with one real and abundant beauty here -- the trees along every street in the older sections of the city. These trees -- banyan, mango, mimosa, and to a lesser extent palms -- are everywhere, and are old, huge trees, probably planted during the time of British rule. These trees are so prevalent it is very difficult to photograph the Gothic architecture of the many public buildings, because the trees hide all but their roof lines. The trees make for pleasant strolling along the streets and avenues. The mimosas are in full flower now, and are a profusion of yellow.

Another interesting feature of Mumbai is the absolute blizzard of taxis -- all yellow and black. I recall going to New York City in the early 1970s, and marveling at the taxis. I'd stand and count taxis and non-taxis, and the numbers were about 100 to 1! I think this might be a good guess-timate for Mumbai today. The taxis here are tiny Suzukis and Hyaundais, so small that the luggage goes in racks atop the taxis. Whereas Sri Lanka had hundreds of tuk-tuks, they are rare in Mumbai, replaced by the profusion of Korean-built taxis.

More surprising are the urban cows. We took pictures of cows lounging in the outer porticos of large commercial buildings, caring nothing about the crowds passing within inches of them. These are seriously large cows, with big horns and big feet. They seem thoroughly domesticated to the crowds. We know that cows are considered sacred here in India, but I have no idea why they tether them on concrete sidewalks within the urban city. One effect of seeing these cows everywhere was to remind me of our visits to Amish country in Pennsylvania. If you think auto emissions are bad, you haven't walked around the emissions of cows and horses! Our EPA hasn't, so far, developed emission standards for cows and horses.

Ardie and I bought a few small items here in India, mostly just to have some gifts for our grandchildren. You start haggling price by asking "How Much?" They respond with a price that is twice what you could get the item for in America. After several minutes of haggling, you get the item for 20 percent of their first offer. And they go away with a big smile, because you still paid twice too much. We don't have the heart to haggle down to true value here, the people are so desperate. I took a whole bunch of quarters to hand out to the little children, who learn to beg at about age 2. How can one say no to such beautiful little children?

April 8th -- We departed Mumbai last evening at about 9 pm, and are en-route to Muscat, Oman. We have today and tomorrow at sea before our arrival. The humidity in Mumbai was between 60 and 70 percent, which was a welcome relief from the 85 to 95 percent we experienced in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. As we travel northward today, it is lessening even more. The nastiest humidity is behind us, for awhile at least. The sea is relatively calm and beautiful, with a 12 knot breeze. Another wonderful sea day.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 4/9/2014

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