Jul 9, 2011

Rules of the road

On a recent tour of Western America, I found out that travel involves so many things I had never thought of before. The first of those was luggage. The plane we took wouldn’t allow us to have a normal luggage bag, and their size limitation was 16 inches. Sure, ladies can pack their makeup kits and a scarf and gentlemen their shaving kits and a few socks, but nothing else would fit in it. If you are like me and pack 21 separate pieces for a 7 day trip, not counting extra pairs of shoes, then you are in bad luck. Either change only your makeup for the entire trip (the same outfit for all photos? Horrors of horrors!! Imagine the facebook comments!), or pay thirty dollars extra.

When I finally paid thirty dollars and got rid of the itsy bitsy plane, we were faced with even more rules in the next phase of the tour. In fact, one rule was painfully slapped on our face on top of Hoover dam. As the light was pretty good, we decided to take pictures. Soon, the sunlight was scorching us, and we decided to go for ice cream. Unfortunately, the rest of the passengers had had the right idea and had gone for ice cream first, so were at the fag end of a very long line. By the time we got ice cream, the guide told us it was time to go. But when we were about to board the bus, he stopped us. “Ice cream not allowed on bus, you eat here” he told us.

Under the scorching gaze of 61 passengers who would have liked nothing better than to shove the ice-creams down our throats, our dreams of slowly enjoying the ice cream somehow evaporated into thin air. We chomped our ice creams like chiura, an experience that I am not eager to repeat. Finally, the driver started the bus and kept the engine running, and the hint was not subtle at all. With baleful looks, we threw the rest of the coveted ice creams into a dustbin and climbed the bus.

We were muttering about the stupid rules on tour buses when we saw someone breaking a rule that not even a five year old would break! We were taken to a chocolate factory where a lady gave every person two small bits of chocolates to sample. Shortly before our turn, a person ahead of us on the queue reached behind the counter and grabbed a big piece of chocolate. Not surprisingly, the lady was pretty angry. “Please don’t reach behind the counter” she almost yelled as she took the bag of chocolates away. We would have assumed that this rule doesn’t need to be written, but we were wrong.

Later on, we found even more sinister unwritten rules of travelling. The conglomerate of tour companies, for example. While selecting our tour package, we had scouted several different tour companies before zeroing in on our decision. But on the trip we realized those efforts had been in vain, even if we had chosen a different tour company, we would have ended up with the same one. My friend happened to observe a man handling his tour papers. His receipts seemed to be from a different tour company – only they were not, as he was on the same tour as us. It looked like the same company had different websites with different enticing American names, like Sea Gull tours or Western tours, etc, and in the end all the bookings and dealings went to the same Chinese agent.

Similar cooperation was also seen at lunchtimes. Like the night buses of Nepal which always stop at the same place for lunch, these tour buses also seemed to have particular hangouts. Like in Nepal, these tour buses stopped in the middle of nowhere with only one eatery in sight. We had no choice but to eat wherever the bus stopped, which always happened to be a Chinese place. It was also invariably a buffet, which meant that we could not split the cost and share food, we would each have to pay a fixed buffet price, ranging anywhere from ten to fifteen dollars per person.

Similar cooperation extended to passengers too. The Chinese people were always prepared for any eventuality. If it was raining, they had umbrellas while we got wet, and if it was snowing, they had thick arctic jackets while we shivered. They always seemed to know where the best restaurants were, even at new places. Often when we didn’t see any shops around, they would be seen coming back with bags of delicacies. I bet all those instructions were only given in Chinese.

We had seen so many unwritten rules that when finally faced with a written one, we just ignored it. Sure, I knew that the plane allowed only two pieces of luggage, but I pushed my luck and brought my computer and my purse along with the hand carry, making it three pieces in all. I was prepared to carry my laptop in my lap the whole time, but the lady at the counter would have none of it, so I had to push it into my purse willy-nilly. Satisfied with the arrangement, the woman at the counter let me go, even though half of the laptop was sticking out of my dainty purse. Later, the trains of Chicago prominently displayed the message that solicitation and gambling are illegal on board. The message was also repeatedly broadcast on the speakers, and I wondered if these problems were serious enough for such vehement warnings. I wonder if the game of solitaire on my computer would count (Probably not)! Last but not the least, I came across two written rules at a restaurant that needed no second guesses. The first one said “there will be $5 charges for whining”. No wonder we ate our food in complete silence.

Spring Creek Cafe, Missouri

The second sign said “Danger Men Cooking”, that says just how good men are at cooking! I wish all rules of the road were so clearly spelled out!

Also Spring Creek Cafe, Missouri

P.S. Recently seen rule: As we were driving by on a roadside we saw a sign: "Road Closed Ahead." we ignored it and continued on our own way. After driving for 15 minutes, we saw that the road was really closed. We turned around, and when we got back to the original place, we saw that the backside had something written too. It said "I told you so!"

Published, yippe http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/07/10/oped/rules-of-the-road/337126.html


Govinda Raj Bhattarai said...

Wonderful vivid and so elegantly written sewa I started my fresh morning with your very interesting art of writing that presents some unknown habits or underlying "deep structure rules" of the of the world,
which are not coded which are not written even if written so dangerously. Who is the dangerous cook ? I laughed and imagined vaguely.
Write more and more

sewa said...

thank you buwa, it is always interesting to discover hidden structures. Don't know the dangerous cook but I ate the pancake he made!!!

Yug zee Tah said...

haha this is hilarious. and especially the comment.

sewa said...

gosh, wat's the point of writing if all people like is the comments! :P

Me said...

my honest suggestion: don't publish the write-ups that you send to newspapers on your blog in advance. have some patience. :)

~ bhoowan ~ said...

Really enjoyed your writing. But sorry for all those "rules", which troubled you guys. ohhhh...that poor ice-cream !!

Shyam Sharma said...

I just returned from a tour of the north, including going on a package tour to Niagara Falls and Thousand Islands from New York City. I too didn't like the way the megabus would stop in the middle of nowhere (reminding the nasty food, sky high price for a plate of chana, and the impolite restaurant wala in Dharke), I didn't like the fact that they would put you in the same bus no matter which website/company you book your tour from, and I am always disgusted by how unfairly and unprofessionally the airline industry treats people in the advanced world (this industry takes full advantage of fear and vulnerability of travelers in highly systemic ways)--or I should say that the US society in general is way too, too good compared to this industry). So, my travel experience with the tour buses was similar to yours. However, I must add that I had a different experience with the tour guide. Early morning in NYC, I and my wife and two little ones felt extremely uncomfortable when the guide changed our bus two times ("Guys, this is not your bus, okay! Another bus, another bus.") She also irked me to no end when she made me call my wife back from a long line at the public restroom in Chinatown because she said the bus was leaving in 2 more minutes; but after I caused panic and made Soni return to the bus, another guide said, "You can take your time, we will wait." The changed bus came after half an hour to the stop. When I told the guide we were confused and found the treatment unacceptable, she almost snapped at me, "Sir, I don't understand what you are saying..." But here's the important point that I want to share in response to your post. After Soni told me to be friendly with the guide and see how that goes--well, if my wife tells me, why not :)--I started treating the beautiful tour guide (remember, she was much less beautiful than my sweetheart), the guide started treating us differently as well. I told her that my family may need some kind consideration because of our small children, I made sure to ask her what to do and not to do, when to be back--I was deliberately more polite and nice than I would have been. This worked like magic. Despite the language barrier--I often didn't understand what the heck she was talking about, and I seemed to give her an even harder time with my accent--we became almost like friends with the guide and her assistant. The assistant in particular was such a lovely young woman who was absolutely grateful when we "allowed" her to hold little Ava (I have a touching photograph of the two cute ladies). The main guide also treated us in such intimate ways that we were touched. So, to be frank, I learned a lesson: if we go the extra step to meet the person as a person, that tends to work. I think that there is a reason why the guides put on a mask of "tyranny": they have to manage and serve everyone, including the Nepali couple that will start changing their baby's diaper when the lunch time is over (like we did), the old Indian man who talks too loudly too long on the phone, the young Japanese couple who kiss too audibly all day behind the driver, the teenager looking man who comes late all the time, etc, etc. I noticed that our guide was careful not to give away her gentle and polite self until the end of the first day when it seemed to me that she trusted all the travelers to be reliable in coming back on time and treating others around them well (except the kissers who hated our babies, making us wonder if they are only going to kiss forever). Once she seemed confident with her pack, our guide became more and more and more friendly--and I like her a lot, that is, with Soni's full permission.

sewa said...

hahaha, this is so interesting, there is an entire article here shyam, that you could write!!!
i agree with you on the unfair airlines, they really fleeced me.

Its interesting that you had similar experiences with tour buses. Maybe they have similar nationwide policies... but the most important thing, you have pointed out that there are ways to get across the barrier of racial prejudice - if we took the initiative to be friendly to other people, like you did, then maybe we have a chance of ending racial problems. Thank you for your insightful comment, i really enjoyed reading it! Really liked the descriptions of your fellow passengers! I hope you had a wonderful trip with you family!

sewa said...

thanks for support bhuwan, hehe yea those poor chiura icecream...

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