Jaipur - The Bad


I apologize in advance to my readers if this post comes across as overly negative and pessimistic, but to be honest, there was a moment during my stay in Jaipur when I felt like I hit rock-bottom. I wanted out of India, away from the people that constantly call me Japanese and jeer at me saying sayonara, and the pervasive attitude of people trying to cheat every foreigner that crosses their paths.

It all started with Rahul, the rickshaw driver I thought had become a good friend in a city very foreign to me. If you read my last post, you know Rahul as the guy who took me and Emily to see a few of Jaipur's historic sites on the day. At the end of that day, he stopped his rickshaw on the aide of the road to tell me that we were his first American friends and asked us to shake his hand to seal our friendships. It wasn't a few minutes later when he asked if we could do him a favor and visit his uncle's store even if we don't decide to buy anything. His "uncle" was at best just a friend, and we were thrown into this store where the owner harassed us for half an hour trying to get us to buy his overly priced textiles. Well, we eventually got out of that place with clear expressions of anger and frustration. We didn't want anything to do with Rahul anymore, and I realized it was a huge mistake to have given Rahul my number because for next couple days, he called me 50+ times with the obvious intention of harassing me.

This next story still makes my blood boil every time I replay the events in my memory. Emily and I were window shopping through a bazaar near the Hawa Mahal when a man inside a chinaware shop stopped us to chat. His name was Akram, and he started talking to us about how everything in these bazaars are overpriced for tourists. Wow, at least one person understands our plight, I thought. After a few minutes, Akram told us that he had a girlfriend in the UK that he really wanted to write to, except he didn't know how to write in English. When he asked us if we could transcribe a short letter for him, we said we'd be more than happy to. So for the next 20 or so minutes, we helped Akram write a nice, albeit cheesy, love letter to his British girlfriend, Cecilia.

He wanted to return the favor and refused when we told him that it really wasn't necessary. He told us that he knew of a place on the outskirts of the city, a factory where a lot of the textiles and handicrafts sold to tourists in the city are manufactured. It was at this factory, he said, where we'd be able to buy everything for prices that would make us want to get 5 of everything.

All together, we take a rickshaw several kilometers away from the metro area to a dusty part of town where we were introduced to Raj, the owner of the the "factory." Raj looked more like a stereotypical thug than the owner of a textile factory with a clean-shaven goatee, expensive jeans, and a pair of Ray-Ban shades. This so-called "factory" was a single room with a couple large tables, rugs hanging on the concrete walls, and a couple people pretending to look busy stretching out fabric. He explained that production was slow that day because the power was out. An interesting excuse seeing as how there was no piece of machinery or even a light bulb for that matter in that room.

We then followed Raj up a set of stairs for the real reason why he wanted us there. The second level was essentially a giant fabric store teeming with other tourists that had been dragged there with the same promise that they'd be able to get dirt cheap prices for anything they wanted. We let him give us his shpeel about the amazing quality of his fabrics, but did not take too much time before telling him we wanted to leave. He was charging at least twice as much as Rahul's "uncle" had the day before. A Korean tourist named Jun Hyup approached me with a terrified look on his face, and asked me, in Korean, if this was a good place or not. I told him that he needed to get the heck out of the place. He told me that he was dragged there without knowing where he was being taken (we met up for dinner later that night to unwind and vent our frustrations about the city).

On the way out of the capital of tourist scams, I caught a pair of tourists who were on their way in and whispered to them that they needed to be careful. Akram, Emily, and I were walking away when Raj grabbed me by the arm and asked me why I was trying to kill his business. I told him that it was wrong for him to lie, to pay rickshaw drivers commissions to trick tourists into coming to his store, and to take advantage of peoples' trusts and unfamiliarity of India. Thinking that I didn't understand Hindi, he told Akram to never bring people like me back to his store.

We told Akram we were tired and that we wanted to just head back to where he had found us. We all hopped on a bus, paid our fare, and found seats near the back. After about 5 minutes, without a single word or eye contact, Akram got up and jumped off the bus, leaving us without a clue as to where we were going. What in the world? A couple really confusing minutes passed, and with a really bad feeling about things, I decided it would be wise for us to get off the bus and figure out where we were. I asked a nearby shop owner a few questions, and found out that the road we were on led out of the city into the desert north of Jaipur. He had tried to get rid of us in the desert.

It was then that I realized it had all been an act from the beginning. He didn't have a girlfriend in the UK. By asking us to help him write that letter, he was taking advantage of tourists' desires to help a local and make a friend in the process. Jaipur is teeming with people like Akram, people who get paid a small commission for deceiving people into false friendships, gaining their trusts, then leaving them after they've been milked for all they're worth.

For the rest of that day, as I kept rejecting call after call from Rahul, I thought to myself how much I wanted India to be a country I could one day fall in love with, a place I'd leave and know I'd return to someday. I know that to locals, I'm different. I look, talk, and act differently. Expecting them to not think this way would be highly unreasonable, but how should I react when people left and right are out to take advantage of the ways that make me different from them? In their minds, I'm nothing close to being one of them, I'm just another foreigner with money, some of which can end up in their pockets if they just play their cards right.

Rickshaw driver: Oh! Sayonara!
Me: Sorry, I'm not Japanese.
Rickshaw driver: Yes, you are! Sayonara!! (laughs and to his friends in Hindi) The Japanese is angry at me!
(I start walking away.)
Rickshaw driver: Angry Japanese! Where are you going?? Sayonara! (laughs and honks his horn) Sayonara!!

I'm sorry again for this very negative post. I'm sad that my time in India has to be shadowed gray by these experiences, but it's a part of India that unfortunately exists. I didn't come to India expecting everything to be perfect, but these past few days have pushed me really close to a breaking point I didn't think I would ever get near.


Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your bad experience Eric. My sincere apology for not warning about this as i know you were planning to visit Rajasthan before I left for New Zealand.

I'm just wondering what would have Zach done if he was in your place.. Hope he didn't get any such bad experience.. Knowing him he would have just smashed those people.

Hiren Patel.

electric broccoli man said...

sorry this is kind of negative, but i was wondering almost in bewilderment that you hadn't blogged anything about this yet, and then ywhether if you had experienced this at all bc i felt like it had to be there (after all, you are terribly Korean-looking). i hated this in China too, and it too made my blood boil and brought me to a breaking point on at least two occasions which i can remember. it's interesting because even though i'm "Chinese," i still have the telltale tan and clothing of a foreigner there. i think experiences like these are all too common for foreigners and it's really a shame because these not-so-rare experiences are terrific triggers for culture shock which, at least for me, was 100% absent otherwise.

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