Friday, December 17, 2010

India, Part 5

I'm now staying at Khandwa Haveli, located in the upper class area of Jaipur. I really like Jaipur so far--it's got a nice mix of young people, students, and middle class residents. When I say Jaipur is upper class, it's upper class for India--lots of privately owned cars, lots of people who speak English, lots of students who can afford to go to universities, and a few nice malls.

We visited two must-see attractions today, the Amber Fort and the Amber Palace. The fort looks similar to China's Great Wall. My sister and I paid 900 rupees total to take a short elephant ride to the top of the fort. The elephant ride itself was underwhelming. Just a bumpy ride, really. I felt sorry for the animals, so it wasn't a fun experience overall. Once we reached the top of the fort, we ran into a bunch of other tourists, including a very beautiful group of mixed race Chinese-Indian women. They are from northeast India and are called Naga. They look like lighter-skinned, taller Nepalese women.

The Amber Palace is beautiful. It looks like a castle combined with the artwork of the Taj Mahal. If you go by yourself, feel free to climb random stairwells like I did. You'll get lost in the maze of different hallways, but it's quite a fun experience (I managed to get back to my tour group in time, but only with the help of another guide). Again, this one's not to be missed.

I've got several thoughts I want to share, but they're all random, so I'm going to issue them in no particular format.

1. Coffee here is cheap. A medium latte at British-owned Costa Coffee is only 80 rupees, or about 2 American dollars.

2. If you visit India, you will, at various points, experience persistent hawkers trying to convince you to buy loads of crap. Before you start whining about the hawkers, think about why India is so cheap. If you want to pay for police to arrest or lock up everyone who is guilty of being poor or idle, or if you want to pay for all children to attend school, things would get awfully expensive quickly. (Here in India, education is free until 5th grade, and there is a nominal fee beyond that level.) In the States, we tend to lock up loads of non-violent criminals, and we have a high taxation system to support that level of enforcement. So please, please don't be an idiot and complain about the hawkers and poor people unless you also want to complain about the low prices in India.

3. I've always wondered what a libertarian-lite society would look like. Delhi might be a good example of a certain type of libertarianism at work. It's basically organized chaos. As expected, there are wide gaps in income and wealth levels. Although Delhi is energetic and safe, few people would argue that Delhi is better than the U.S. in terms of quality of life. Pure libertarians ought to visit Delhi--it would give them something to think about.

My own brand of libertarianism has been a common sense version. I have always supported basic regulation, especially regulation concerning systemic problems (i.e., too big to fail), as well as basic welfare programs; however, I have serious issues with government waste and various groups manipulating the political process to protect themselves at the expense of others. Public sector unions, which seem to control California, and senior citizens, who receive (either directly or indirectly) about 50% of all federal tax revenues (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.), come to mind as two of the worst offenders. [Update: the military obviously captures large federal expenditures, but keep in mind that there is a difference between annual fed expenditures and the annual fed budget--the military appears to have captured an increasing level of fed expenditures via discretionary spending (or via appropriations), but note that about 66% of the fed budget is mandatory spending--i.e., Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid--and cannot be touched absent major reform.]

4. The biggest lesson I've taken from India has to do with the environment. The smog/pollution here is terrible. Combine that with the dust in the air from all the small vehicles, the steady streams of cigarette smoke, and the constant hum of industrial activity, and you have a recipe for long-term environmental disaster. I haven't gotten sick from any food, but I've developed a cough and watery eyes due to the pollution. If you come here, invest in two things: a to-go pack of Charmin toilet paper (some bathrooms don't have enough toilet paper), and a dust/surgical mask. The pollution here is so bad, taking pictures of the Taj Mahal has become difficult--it's hard to see the structure from far away because of all the smog. The locals call it fog, but many visitors know better. If India wants to make it to the 22nd century, it needs to ramp up its investments in green technology.

5. I think I avoided getting sick by sticking to vegetarian food. India is a majority Hindu society, and Hindus tend to eat vegetarian food. If you want meat, you might want to try a Muslim-owned establishment, as they might have better experience with preparing meat dishes. Overall, though, I recommend sticking to vegetarian food. Even McDonald's has a tasty sandwich called the McVeggie, which is a potato cutlet in between two bread buns.

6. For people who like beer, Kingfisher seems to be the beer of choice here. Believe it or not, Kingfisher also has an airline.

7. From an economic standpoint, it's hard to see any major company gaining a foothold here. India is so big and diverse, it will always be a challenge for any company to assert pricing power. There will always be lots of competition due to the small businesses that are located everywhere. India confirmed for me something I've known intuitively, i.e., that laws and regulations tend to help larger businesses rather than provide leverage to smaller businesses. It seems that the usual American business cycle involves a company entering the marketplace with a disruptive product, creating cheaper or more efficient products for consumers, and then using their heft to lobby for legal protections for their business model. In India, the seeming lack of regulations--the ones enforced, anyway--have allowed numerous small businesses and one-person shops to flourish.

8. I went shopping today at a posh mall. One of the stores had bags with the picture of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast in Tiffany's. I was quite happy to get the bag until I realized that not a single person in the store I spoke to--and I spoke with at least 15 store employees--recognized the picture. They did know about Marilyn Monroe, though.

Let this be a lesson to anyone seeking immortality--if the great Audrey Hepburn can't achieve it, almost none of us have a chance. If you want to maximize your odds, I suppose you need to date a famous President.

9. Speaking of women, I had a bit of an epiphany about relationships. In many major American and European cities, women have to work outside the home to support a middle class lifestyle. However, women tend to place a higher importance than men on domestic chores, such as cleanliness and beautification of the home. The problem is that when women work outside the home and continue to do a disproportionate share of work at home, they can feel overwhelmed as well as underappreciated. In the past, when most women didn't work outside the home, they may have felt underappreciated, but that isn't usually enough to cause someone to walk away from a marriage or deep bond. However, when we throw in feelings of being overwhelmed and underappreciated, it's easier to understand why modern marriage seems so risky.

Of course, the fact that women do more work at home than men is nothing new. Look up Duck vs. Collier, etc. Although we recognize a disparity in domestic duties, most domestic work isn't viewed as necessary by men. In contrast, women see such domestic activities as "taking care of men," but most men surely don't see it that way--they'd rather not have anyone do the small details of maintaining a home unless something is falling apart or broken. As long as that kind of laissez-faire attitude is uncommon in the fairer sex, I don't see this problem getting resolved anytime soon.

We leave for Delhi tomorrow morning, and then it's back to London and then the States for me. It's been a good trip so far, especially because of our tour guide, Luv Jawad. If you're looking for a foreign correspondent in Delhi, you might want to snap him up before someone else does. Seven days in Delhi was enough for me, and I am looking forward to returning to the States.

Your humble traveler,

Update: this is my last night. We are staying at Hotel Shanti Place in West Patel Nagar. If you're going to stay in Delhi and want mid-level accommodations, you might want to consider this particular hotel. It's been an interesting trip. Although I've always recognized America's exceptionalism, it's easier to appreciate how lucky I am after this trip.

Update: this became a 5 part series.  Part 1 is HERE.  Part 2 is HERE.  Part 3 is HERE.  Part 4 is HERE. Another post, titled, "India: the Good Stuff" is HERE.  

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