We started our day by changing it a little by visiting another temple. This time it was a synagogue, who would have thought there are Jews in India! Here is some background of Indian jews:
Prior to the arrival of Baghdadi Jews in India, the Jews residing in Mumbai had come as representatives of King Solomon and had settled in the towns of India, living peacefully with other communities in India. It is also said that among the Jews who now remain in Bombay are a group of Jews known as Bene Jews or Bene Israel who were reportedly descendants of seven tribes of Israel who, in the 2nd century BC, were shipwrecked on India’s Konkan Coast while escaping persecution in the Galilee.
They found that living in India, amidst a cosmopolitan community consisting of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and, much later, Muslims, was a very cordial environment, totally free of anti-Semitic feelings.
The Jewish merchant community which played a significant role in the commercial development of Bombay consisted of Jews from Iraq, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries who immigrated in the late 18th century under the threat of persecution. They found the environment conducive to continuing their trade and settled in the city, becoming prosperous in business ventures such as textile mills and international trading. In 1784, the British government took over the East India Company. With this change, many business opportunities emerged in India, and Bombay in particular, encouraging immigrants to set up businesses.
Unfortunately, the synagogue caretaker was not very welcoming or friendly, so there was not really room for asking anything about the history of this place. Even the Kippahs or Yarmulke (jewish funny little hats) looked more like what a Muslim would wear, we found that very interesting, maybe they used this to avoid having the Jewish look? who knows…
We needed to send another bunch of souvenirs home that day as we were flying soon and couldn’t carry them anymore. As you might know from a previous post, sending a parcel in India is not easy, but I actually thank them; it is an interesting live exhibition of how the postal service worked in 1854. The inefficiency here is just mind blowing, it’s like if they kept the same procedures and regulations from when the British had control and never updated them after they left. I say that if you can successfully send a parcel here without going insane or killing someone, then you could easily live here. Here is what is involved sending a parcel in the Mumbai General Post Office (the biggest and most important one here btw):
- You have some souvenirs you want to send home and you need a box. Easy right?
- You visit the post office to then realize they do not sell boxes there. Because why would they, it’s not like it’s the freaking postal service and they deal with thousands of boxes every day.
- You then have to walk the streets asking around to shop owners if they have a used box they can give you. Some are friendly enough to actually give you one, some try to rip you off by selling it to you. It might not be the size you need, but you take anything you can. There is no such thing as office depot here; there are no stores that sell boxes that easily.
- Let’s say that miraculously you found a box that fit your needs, yeeey! Now you go to the post office to be interrogated to the bones about the content of your box. They then don’t believe you and start inspecting the items. For real, they stared at a small souvenir wooden box for about 5 minutes like if it’s a weapon of mass destruction. (this overall feeling we have had all the time in India, where people just always try to find something wrong with what you are doing to seize an opportunity to take advantage of you, like the police at the entrance of the airport that checks you boarding pass, he reads it, reads it again, turns around, looks at you, read again, compares it, read again, looks at you, check if the paper is real, check the weather, checks the boarding pass again, looks at you again… then when you give him the face of “are you retarded?” thats when then they let you in).
- After they inspect your items (which I could be pretty sure it’s illegal, at least the way they did it), they send you OUTSIDE the post office where there are a few stands in the middle of the street to get your box packed… with a cheap sewed piece of cloth… like if we haven’t invented this thing called masking tape used around the world for this specific f^&^%#ing reason… like freaking 1854. You see? If you are still calm and haven’t killed anyone by now, please continue to the next step. By the way, the cloth around the package is a government law!
- Then, you fill out your Indian customs declaration. Obviously blatantly deflating the price of the contents inside that box. Write that the contents of the package cost a lot and your package will never get delivered, well it will, but to some postal service employee kid as a birthday gift.
- Then they ask you for an ID, any ID. We only had the driver’s license so they took it, they check, double check, triple check.. (you know where this is going) that the name of your ID is the same as the senders name on the package. A task that a 5 years old could complete in 4 seconds, it take these guys 5 minutes.
- After they corroborated that the name is the same and you are not a terrorist sending explosive souvenirs to a house in Pasadena by faking the senders name with the very suspicious name of Sarah, they ask you to go find a place to get photocopies of the driver’s license and the customs declaration. It was one block away so not bad, but if you are doing this on your own, you will be leaving your package unattended for a good 10 minutes while they finish sewing it (this could lead to the suspicious disappearance of your package, or worse the insertion of illegal substances without your consent so you can get framed after and then required to pay some crazy money to get released), luckily Sarah waited there while I went to get the copies.
- After coming back, they tape the customs declaration, you check its nicely sewed like your grandmas blanket, and then you need to walk again with the package to the post office counter.
- They obviously are still trying to find something wrong, so they found it. Now they need our passport. Apparently, the name Sarah Noodle is still very suspicious to them but we didn’t have the original passport with us. They luckily accepted the copy we carry on a daily basis. They checked that the names matched, they checked again, they looked at us, they checked again (you see where this is going again) and after proving to the world that they have the intelligence of a baby ostrich, they requested me to go back to the photocopy place to get 2 passport copies (hello identity theft, how are you doing?). So there I went to get the copies, honestly I don’t know what they do with them but it was either that or no souvenirs!!
- Time to pay, the cost of sending a 6 kg (13.5 lbs) package to the U.S. the slowest possible and by Air (apparently parcels shipped by sea have a tendency to mysteriously sink in the Pacific Ocean) is around $50 and it takes 3 to 4 weeks. Not bad.
- And that’s it! It just took us half the day to ship it, so for all of you that have souvenirs inside that box, you better say a nice thank you when you get them (if it actually arrives and the package was not abducted by aliens). If you can survive this process and still be smiling, then you might have mental problems and you better get checked.
So after that very long disturbing history lesson we were ready to remember what civilization looked like. We declared that day “America Day”. We took a taxi to the closest high end mall around which is the south coast plaza of Mumbai call High Street Phoenix. It is extremely upscale with all sorts of fancy stores and rich Indian people. When we entered this air conditioned paradise we felt we were in a completely different India. People are dressed in more western attire, they don’t seem to care that we are white people, and there was an overall sense of calm. We intended to shop but the stores were all a bit pricey for our budget so instead we ate and saw a movie.
We went to T.G.I. Fridays! Yes, say whatever you want, but we needed a taste of home after 4 weeks of Indian food. Here it feels like a trendy and nice place to eat out versus at home where it feels somewhat trashy. They have a cow meat free menu only offering buffalo meat, pork and chicken. Eating here was much more expensive than the Indian places we have been but luckily they had a great happy hour so we just ordered from there; they had 1 dollar alcoholic drinks and 1 dollar American style appetizers. We got these chicken kebabs which actually had an appropriate amount of sauce and probably the best chicken we have had in all of India! but the bruschetta and onion rings were definitely not the same as they would be at this place back home. But 1 out of 3, we can’t complain!
We then went to Starbucks and were surprised that the prices are basically the same back home (very expensive for Indian standards). Their menu wasn’t much different and they even use cow milk, but they don’t offer all the alternatives such as soy and coconut milk and fat free this and that so all the L.A. hipsters would die of their fake lactose and gluten intolerance they made up in 2015. The aspect that was more different was the snacks which included pasta and Indian flavored sandwiches. We were very happy that our coffee frap was delicious!
To continue on our civilized afternoon, we then went to see Captain America in 3D in English with English subtitles (strange country). The theater was very nice and before the movie started everyone stood up as they played the national anthem to a very pretty video shown on the screen (we don’t’ get why countries like India and Thailand have to mix their politics and patriotism with entertainment, or is it just to counteract the feelings of freedom that a movie like Captain America may give to the locals?). Right in the middle of Ironman discussing the next avengers move, the movie abruptly stopped, they couldn’t wait for the end of the scene to start the 30 min intermission. We began to laugh thinking of course the movie breaks in India but then realized it was intentional as it was the planned intermission. Everyone left the theater to get snacks and Eitan followed the crowd to get some sweet masala corn in a cup. The movie was pretty good, well Eitan loved it and Sarah wasn’t bored (which is a victory for Eitan).
As we left the mall there randomly was a fashion show going with all these beautiful Indian models walking down the middle of the mall in fancy dresses. We wished we had been invited to this show as everyone was enjoying fancy wine and it seemed like a very civilized crowd. We just caught the end of the show and then made our way back to our gross hotel.
The next morning we had a very enjoyable experience at the Mumbai airport. We got there about 3 hours early for our flight so we could fully enjoy the lounge. This airport is new and absolutely beautiful, We both feel it’s the nicest airport we have ever seen; it is full of art installations and spotless clean.
The lounge offered all sorts of delicious solid food so Eitan and I both enjoyed a diarrhea free meal, they charged for alcohol and that seems to be the norm in India so we skipped on our drinks but were plenty satisfied by our free gourmet buffet! We flew Air India and our flight actually left on time! (First on time flight in India since 1974). Air India was less bad than we expected, the seats had a decent amount of leg room and they even served free food (if you can call that “food”) on a 45 minute flight!
When we arrived we looked for our airport pickup who wasn’t there but we called the hotel and he arrived about 5 minutes later he arrived. This hotel is a massive upgrade from our Mumbai hotel even though it is cheaper! We attempted to go eat but then realized all the well-reviewed places are not close to our hotel so we just ate at the hotel restaurant which turned out to be quite good. The food was the same as always but they had better customer service, the waiter was friendly and attentive which just made the experience that much better! India has led to us really appreciating genuinely nice people with no alternative motives. This is something I didn’t really notice before but now we sure do!
Next day we will be visiting the world famous Ajanta Caves (but I guess its not really world famous as nobody has heard of them)….