Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Frogs in the well/ village ponds... whatever!

At the outset, I must confess that I was not very comfortable publishing this post. Though, while writing it, I felt far easier in my mind with all the venting. It felt good to get it all out of my system.

One of the things I dislike is when fellow Indians who travel to or live in other countries come back and describe everything that is wrong with India. The thought running uppermost in my mind at those times is "Hell, why do you come back then?!"

However, I am going to stick my neck out and do a similar number here. I must add in my defence that these incidents really, really got my goat, to the extent that I ended up having at least one minor scrap with a 'fellow Indian'.

On this recent trip to Thailand (of which I blogged in my previous post), the following incidents were cringe-worthy and extremely unpleasant.

1. At the airport in Bangkok where we had to stand in line for a visa on arrival, there was a long queue. Flights had come in from various Indian cities and many of us were standing in line for our passports to be stamped. We had arrived at a time when there was to be a shift change among the Thai visa officials, so it was taking longer than necessary. The queues of Indians meanwhile disintegrated into one large mass, which looked like the hordes that try to enter an unreserved railway compartment at most Indian railway stations. Only the security guard near the visa officials' booths ensured that they did not run forward and trample everyone in sight. 

In that fracas, there were still a few people who wanted to behave like civilised beings and were quietly waiting their turn. But the uncouth ones, shoved and pushed people around, so much that it almost ended in yelling and shouting. I have to admit, I added to the noise levels for giving someone an earful for trying to get ahead of me, out of turn. The Thai officials seemed unperturbed by the ruckus but I thought I detected an even slower processing of the visa, almost deliberately. 
(If I had been in their place, I would most certainly do the same or probably deny the idiots visas and deport them!). Next time visa in advance, for sure - a lesson well learnt. 

2. In the shopping arcades and malls, we (I had friends with me) noticed that when there were Indians around, the shop keepers  became very wary and would not really talk to us directly. If they did, it would be a bit more aggressively. (Thais are some of the nicest, calmest people I have ever met. Aggression is not something I would normally associate with them). As we spent more time shopping, we realised the shameless haggling our fellow Indians were resorting to, was the cause of all the heartache. In most Asian countries, bargaining is taken as a norm, but not so in Thailand. The Thai shop keepers were more or less rude about the whole situation, either quoting absurdly high prices which they would drop to the regular amount or simply refuse to entertain the Indian customers. 

3. The best feature of the country for me were the amazing foot massages that were to be found at every street corner. Every evening after the end of a long day we would all troop into this place near our hotel for an hour long foot massage. Simply heaven! But I digress. 

During one of these sessions, there appeared a noisy bunch of 3-4 men (they spoke a certain Indian language which made it easy to identify them) who came in and demanded massages, loudly. That itself shattered our peace for the evening. After the receptionist told them the different types available and the details, they decided on the ones they wanted - some body massages/ scrubs on the list. As the masseuses were directing them into their enclosed spa areas, one of the men, loudly stated "massage only women, only women". Meaning: He wanted to ensure that the masseuse for him and his friends were only women. Since I was watching the whole spectacle like a drama unfolding before me, I noticed the masseuses looking at each other and unspoken signal seemed to have been conveyed. The men were told that "all women" was not possible as the women masseuse were busy. The masseuse would have to be men. 

Thais in the tourism industry seem to have devised means of handling the nastiness that comes their way. And this was in an upmarket, posh area of the city, not one of the seedier areas. I hate to think what might have happened there. 

It's sad that women in Thailand, especially, the hospitality industry are seen as 'available' irrespective of what they do or who they are. But, no matter what the profession, treating a woman with any less respect than you would treat your friend/ family/ acquaintance is just NOT DONE. 

4. On my way back, while boarding the flight, there was a newly married couple ahead of me. At one point, we were waiting to enter the aircraft and were being assisted by the airline's ground staff. The man said something to the lady attendant (from the airline) who was standing nearby. His English was not very good so his speech was indistinct. The lady asked him to repeat himself. He did not say anything, instead pointed to her eyes and made a gesture indicating the slant of her eyes and grinned at her, idiotically. She was so furious, that she just walked off. The man's wife just looked on. It was so infuriating to not be able to tick him off or say anything nasty because he just would not have been able to comprehend what it was about. Most people around me, I realised, from the conversation I overheard, thought nothing of cracking jokes about the shape of someone's eyes or the way Thais spoke. Racism was the last thing on their mind. Any ranting on my part would only seem like I had lost my mind, not them. 

My experience of Thailand was of a people who were friendly, polite and soft-spoken. To get them angry and/ or aggressive, one must really offend them. 

I am not even relating the behaviour on board the flights, am sure many of us are familiar with it on domestic flights itself - the incessant calling of the stewardesses for inane requests, asking for freebies etc.  

It's sad to have to gripe about the behaviour of Indians abroad, but I did search around in my head for any good, decent stuff I came across. And there was nothing, zilch. 

When I was relating these incidents to a friend, back home, he joked that India tourism's advertisement ought to also be created in reverse to teach us how to behave in foreign lands with citizens of those countries. It's certainly not something that can be taught overnight, but a mindset that must change, if we are to be viewed more favourably wherever we go. 

(Pic courtesy: Google search)

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