Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Panic attack

Red sun

I think Trichy doesn’t go well with my mom. On the last trip my parents took to India they had a very nasty experience in Trichy. It was I think a day before they were supposed to come home. They were at the Rock Fort Temple when a bunch of guys somehow managed to get my father to hand over a large sum of money and even though they somehow escaped, apparently those men followed my parents for a distance.

Shaken they came home distraught. You wouldn’t believe this but on the day of the incident, two of my moms thulasi plants just died. We freaked out coz we knew we would get scolding for no reason coz my parents are crazy about their plants. The moment they got into the house they actually scolded us before even listening to our explanation.

Anyway 2 weeks later my dad passed away. I would say there was just one too many omens that warned us about what was coming, but who listens to nature?

So when I was planning my trip to India, I totally cut off the rock fort temple from our itinerary because I knew my mom still had a phobia on that place. But of course we’d have to go near there coz that’s the shopping district and the biggest saree place Saradha’s is just a few doors away.

Once we checked in to the hotel and had breakfast I decided to head to Saradha’s to change our money. Now I usually get money changed at a textile shop. In Chennai, Pothys does it for me in a matter of minutes without even blinking an eye and they give a very good rate. So I no longer go to money changers. I buy all the sarees I want, pay in Malaysian Ringgit and they would minus what we spent and give us the balance. Plus when I leave they will actually send someone with me to carry our bags and wait for us till we get an auto and just make sure we’re safe. I just love the service at Pothys.

But the moment we reach Saradhas I noticed panic on my moms face but I decided to ignore it and checked with the counter if they did money exchange. They said yes but in the next building and sent a boy to take us there. However the moment my mom walked out and realised we have to go somewhere else she panicked and refused to move and began imagining the worse. She insisted we were gonna get cheated and was nearly in tears.

Panic attacks cannot be reasoned, the only solution is to get out of the situation so I hailed an auto and headed straight back to the hotel. Only 30 minutes after we reached back did she calm down.
I knew there was no way I could travel anywhere in Trichy with her. Heading out to my uncles some 30 km away was going to make it worse. So I called him up to get our train tickets sent to us. Checked with the hotel to change money and hire a car. Double confirmed the prices with my uncle, gave him the number of the hotel and travel agent and just sat in the room for the first few hours doing nothing but waiting and calming nerves.

By the time I thought my mom was ready to go out (she claimed she was ok at about 3 so she could go to a temple) it was already 5 pm and the sun sets in less than an hour. So we headed to Sri Rangam. Came back confirmed our travel plans, purchased dinner and packed for our train trip to Chennai.

When you are travelling you have to realise that you can make plans but you have to be prepared to face situations that may arise because your partner is having a panic attack, is depressed, has no grip on their own lives or if they’re having a nervous breakdown or are just plain irritating. I’ve seen it all and so many times.  I would love to tell them, YO you’re on holiday just shut the f*** up and move on with life but it never happens. Instead you have to be prepared to accommodate them. You also need to be prepared that one of you or all of you could get injured or fall terribly sick and know how to handle the situation.

I’ve personally fallen sick, had food poisoning, travelled with injury, the flu, burning fever, eye infection, attacked by a heat wave, had a suspected room break in, had lousy guides and drivers, got stuck on a train for 20 hours without food, got stalked, had waiters and hotel staff spying or flirting with us, stranded in the airport during flight delays, stranded in a plane hungry for 5 hours because of a take off delay, faced racists hotel staff, airport drama, flight and train ticket drama, travelled plans screwed up, followed to my hotel room, bullying train travellers, got cordoned of a town during a festival, shopping season, trying to find a hotel in an overbooked town in the wee hours of the morning, got cheated, bumped into idiotic perverts, lousy bus, our bags got mixed up, weird food stops, weird weather, drivers with no sense of direction, equipment damaged and lots more both during local and international travel.

To me its part of life, I love travelling, despite any unpleasantness and trust me even in whatever unbelievable situation I would still be able to laugh it out. Even with all the nonsense of the driver, I enjoyed my trip, loved all the places I visited for the first time or revisited, met interesting people. Had a wonderful time photographing the country and of coz the shopping ;p

I do however learn from whatever I’ve faced and come up with lists to eliminate them, try to trust my instincts more coz its usually right and I share these information with others so they wouldn’t have to go though it. At the end of the day, I’m a much stronger person when it comes to dealing with crazy situations.

I hate it when people tell me oh you shouldn’t travel alone or just with females, you should go on a tour with large groups, perhaps you didn’t pay enough, you trust people easily, you should let someone else make your arrangements.

If you’re not as self sufficient, prepared or independent like me than please do not attempt travelling alone or with few people. My mom would never travel alone, she is a pretty timid person alone and is used to having people do everything for her.

Before making a trip I research location, places and things to do and buy, prices, safety advise, dos and don’ts, haggling tips, accommodation, travelling options, culture, local words and more. If I have friends in that country or I know people who have gone there, I check with them for information. I get the local map and research the routes. I am sensitive to how the local people view woman and work in their norms even though it’s against my own principals, I dress up as modest as possible and in what’s acceptable by the locals. In Rome do as the Romans!

Tours might seem pretty much easier but most tours omit the time and places I like to visit. Non touristy locations, local people, activities and most of all I spend a lot of time walking around a location which is unacceptable on tour. Lol I sometimes spend such a long time staring at pillars you’d think I’m crazy but I love that. I’ve only been on tour once in Sri Lanka and I hated that.

Didn’t help that we had a driver who had connections with every little jungle home cum restaurant he was helping give business. Lol we ate the most mediocre and weird food during that time. At the end of it I directed him around Colombo on where to shop and eat and he agreed my choices were excellent. And this guy was hired by the airlines in a package deal! I was about 22 then and knowing me, my dad and the two aunties who were in the same tour with us let me make the decisions.

I actually had planned out what I would do with the Trichy driver if he had gotten any worse. I would have gone straight to the cops and gotten him arrested for the alcohol, because he still had more bottles with him. Seriously I could have beaten or gotten him beaten at any point with the help of the locals. How to beat up a guy you ask? Kick him in the balls, that’s what they teach you in self defence class and start screaming. Do not be afraid of making a scene. I was actually hoping he would cross my limit so I could take drastic actions.

Yeah he hadn’t crossed my limit. I was even prepared to take the car and drive it myself if he did anything worse but I realised this guy was all words and was a real coward otherwise. Of course I was a bit worried everytime he stopped in those villages to deliver his liquor; there I wouldn’t get local help as he knew them. That’s why I kept silent through out the journey even though I knew what he was doing.

Speaking about price, trust me I never skimp on transport and accommodation because I am not cut out to be a back packer. I need certain comforts. I can take trains and long journey busses but I do not do public busses nor stay in share rooms with strangers in obscure hotels. I’ve been to India 8 times and I’ve never travelled on their public busses which kinda scares me nor have I done their subway trains. I actually paid a higher daily rate for the car in Trichy compared to what I paid in Chennai because I wanted to travel at my own pace and with a proper car and driver.

Every time I get a room I check the rooms and bathrooms first no matter how tired I am before confirming a hotel. So unless I’m in an obscure town where there’s only one hotel I go for the mid price hotel with the clean air-conditioned rooms, non dodgy looking staff (trust me I have walked out of a hotel because a staff kept staring at me), preferably with its own restaurant and new bathrooms.

The most important skill when travelling is being street smart and thinking on your feet. It’s easy to be rash and retaliate when something happens but it’s always best to think first and take a look at your surroundings before making a move. It’s like playing chess, make calculated moves in respect to the surroundings. I could have called him words, screamed at him or even beaten him up myself when I got back to Trichy, I was that angry but I controlled myself and waited to see the reaction of the hotel people.

I changed my anger to distress and it worked on my benefit as they came to our support and fought with the travel company for us. Even though it might have been too late, it definitely made us feel better.

You know why I highlighted the travel companys name? Because I am 100% sure they wouldn’t have fired that idiot, as I have a feeling the remaining alcohol bottle was for the muslim owner himself. This driver of ours calls him up everyday to complain about us and he actually thought it was acceptable to smuggle alcohol. He kept telling us oh but he didn’t drink. And that was what drove him to act as he did with us because he knew he had the support of the boss.

Remember on the last trip I had one crazy driver on my Chennai leg, well after we complained to the hotel, they no longer deal with the company and are now dealing with a wonderful travel agent. We used their services in Chennai this time and had such a lovely guy drive for us. But that hotels service itself has gone to the winds thanks to the new management and idiotic manager. So I’m looking for a new hotel to stay in Chennai on my next trips that’s in central Chennai preferably near T Nagar or Mylapore. We scouted for a few, found a pretty okay but old one but the place had heat issues and crazyness. They charged me for a slight make up stain on their towels – err?? Oh there was one place which flatly turned me down when I said I was travelling with my mom, I was like huh? Weird right! 

Always give feedback, it might not benefit you but it would someone else. People aren’t gonna know a service is crap if they don’t receive feedback. If you get good service, appreciate it and spread the good word. I still remember the darling uncle who was recommended by our hotel in Kasaragod. So much so I just wanna go back there just to enjoy the hospitality of the hotel staff and that uncle. Or even the lovely travel people in Ernakulam. Of course the dude was trying to flirt with me and was under charging but it wasn’t harmful flirting where I would have to be afraid of him.

Yeah there’s degrees of flirting, just be polite to the nice ones and complain about the perverts. Simple as that. Ah I can still remember the cute botany student who was a guide at a Sri Lanka herb gardens’ attempts to flirt with me even though my dad was there. He even expertly made sure he assigned himself to give me a shoulder rub after assigning people for everyone which I attempted to refuse but couldn’t coz my dad insisted I get one. It was actually one of the best massages I’ve ever had – the dude had magic fingers ;p

I still don’t get why he was flirting with me –as I look my worse during holidays since I’m sunburnt and usually look weary from all the heat. The dude even slipped me his contact card ;p

So now that I have officially gone off topic lets get back to the story. Anyway the moral is shit happens, just learn how to deal with it.

I really appreciate advice and tips but telling me maybe I didn’t pay enough or that I shouldn’t travel alone because I’m female is just bull.

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