Goa first week: tropical Christmas

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Goa equals paradise. That is the impression we have gotten after staying here for a week. The long stretching beaches have pearl white sand and the people here are more relaxed and friendly than in Mumbai. The weather has been perfect and we have come to settle in an apartment that we now consider our home. With a spacious kitchen we have started to cook our own meals, we drive around on a scooter that we have rented and in the evenings we have had a Dutch guy, who we met in Bollywood, over for dinners. 
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With a self- decorated home, we did not even feel much homesick for Christmas. Instead of a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal, we picked the most expensive meals we could find, in a classy hotel restaurant by the beach. So our Christmas dinner consisted of lobster and beef, with a good Indian white wine, which cost no more than 800rupees/90kr per person. The wine was also good, and got us in the mood to see the Christmas parties that were going on at the beach. Here in India, Christmas starts at midnight on the 24th, so every one were counting down for the fireworks which filled the sky at midnight.
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Tired as we were from the new impressions and the long day at the beach, we returned to our home to see how our new house pets (three small chickens we had saved from a guy who sold them for meat) were doing. Sadly enough, we discovered that “Plipp” was dying from cancer, and was being picked on by the others, so we had to put him to rest for good. “Plopp” was stolen from us the next night as we were asleep, and the last one, “Plomma” was still with us for another day, before he also gave up. It was sad seeing the life go out of his eyes as we were holding him and trying to get him to drink some water. It must have been heartache that took him, and it struck us as well when we had no birds running towards us when we came home. The lesson learned is that we were not yet fit for parenthood, so we decided that we would not take in the small goats, pigs and other chicken that run around here in Goa.

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Riding a burning bus to Goa

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After getting our tourist ticket application denied, we had no other option than to take the bus to Goa. This was something we had wanted to omit, because according to the Rough Guide to India “The Mumbai-Goa bus journey ranks among the very worst in India. Don’t believe travel agents who assure you it takes thirteen hours. Depending on the type of bus you get, appalling road surfaces along the sinuous coastal route make sixteen to eighteen hours a more realistic estimate.”

This was a mild description of what we would soon experience. The bus was overfilled with noisy travellers, the beds were claustrophobic, with neither space for feet nor luggage, the roads were bumpy and the bus driver was honking like a maniac. To top it all, the bus caught fire after just a few hours of driving, and all the passengers had to be evacuated in the middle of the night, and wait in the wilderness until further instructions were given. It took as much as seven hours before a new bus arrived, and we were relieved to finally be on our way again. When we finally arrived in Goa,we asked the first rickshaw (indian three wheel taxi) driver we found to take us to a clean guesthouse. The driver had some neighbors in his small fisherman village who had some apartments for rent, and we decided to go and check it out. The apartment exceeded all our expectations, as it was just perfect, after 25 hours of torture on the dirty, run down bus. This was a place far better than we had imagined to find, and would soon be our home for the next weeks.

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Our replacement bus was much more new and spacious

Trying out the life a Bollywood actor

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At 8AM sharp, the casting agent came to pick us up at our hotel, and was eager like us to get started with the long day we had ahead of us. He had not explained much about the job the day before, so we were really curious what the day would bring.


When arriving at the filming location we were introduced to the other actors and the acting job over a breakfast buffet. The other actors were British, Indian and Russians who had been travelling all over India doing acting jobs. There were also four Swedish, one French and two Italians who also were tourists, and had gotten just as little information as we had. We were then told that the acting job was for a rice commercial, where the main actors would play in a bank robbery that was supposed to happen in London,. During their crime, the robbers would discover a rice ad, saying that buying a pack of rice, would give you a ticket for a million-rupee lottery. The robbers would then put down their guns, and go to buy rice instead. 
Elise and two of the Swedish girls, were told to be stand by actors in case they needed more people in the scenes, but during the whole commercial they only used six of us to fill all the different roles of background people, just dressing us up with new clothes for the different scenes. It felt strange that they filmed close up pictures of me (JB) as the boyfriend of one of the Swedish girls, and afterwards filming us in totally different roles just after a small change of clothes.  We thought it must have been obvious that it was the same people all over again, but this did not seem to matter much to the director. We had been told earlier that for the Indians, we “white” people looked all the same, so this was not something people would think about when watching the commercial. The work around the scenes felt very disorganized and hectic, with people running, yelling, sleeping and waiting, but somehow they got everything set up just right, only minutes before the filming took place. 


It was pretty exhausting being bossed around for twelve hours, and told to do things just a little bit different in the same scene (walk faster, walk slower, look over your shoulder, turn around when you look etc), but they treated us well in between the acting, serving hot chai(Indian tea), water and plenty of delicious food.
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After a long days work, we were offered another acting job at a shopping center during the same night, and then again in a movie the next day. It might have been because we did not complain about the working conditions, and the extremely low payment (500rupees/60NOK), but we kindly said no, as we were planning on traveling south to Goa the next day.


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The unfortunate parts of Mumbai

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After a few days of self provided sightseeing, we decided to take a late night walk along the seaside of Colaba to see a wedding event that was being prepared right outside of our hostel. The place was beautifully lit up and flower decorated, with the Gateway of India and a whole fleet of lit up army ships in the background. In the mild evening temperature we were sitting peacefully watching the beautiful Colaba promenade when a legless man approached us with his tricycle. 
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It was clear to us that this man came with good intentions, and did not intend to ask for money or sell things like most of the other poor-off Indians.  The man was genuinely interested in our backgrounds, and what we expected of our stay in Mumbai. We told him we were not only interested in seeing the top sights of Mumbai, but also the contrasts that are so clear, but also hidden away for mainstream tourism. It was then that e mentioned his taxi driver friend who lived in the slum, and would happily give us a taste of his everyday life in the Dharavi: the biggest slum in Asia.


The next morning the taxi driver stood smiling by his legless friend, and was ready to take us on a trip he promised we would never forget. And that was true indeed. He got to show us how the recycling worked in the slum, how the locals did their cooking, shopping and laundering and how they managed to work as a society with their limited amount of resources. He even took us to his home to show us his family and neighbors, where he generously offered us a cup of slum water (that we did not dare to drink). He was very proud to show us his house, even though it was just a shack with tin roofs and concrete floors to sleep on. Most of the slum “houses” lacked clean water, sanitation and electricity, but these factors did not seem to play a big role in peoples quality of life, as people were happy and very friendly to us and everyone around. Everywhere we went, there were smiling children running around, observing every move we made. After our three-hour visit, these people came running after our car and waved enthusiastically to say goodbye, leaving us with a warm feeling in our hearts that even though these children live in extreme poverty, their quality of life seemed better than some people living in Norway.
When returning to our hotel, there was a casting agent from Bollywood waiting for us, asking if we might be interested in doing an acting job the next day. It became clear that he had received a tip from the hotel manager saying that he housed some blond Scandinavians. And after a short look at each other, we though: this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and accepted the job offer pretty much right away. 

Coming to India from South Africa

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Even though 13 hours is a long time, the time passed by very pleasantly as we flew with the awarded flight company Emirates from Cape Town through Dubai to Mumbai. They had great service, excellent food and a huge selection of movies and entertainment, which made the time go by quickly.

When we first had come through the strict customs, we were met with a humid and hot climate in Mumbai. Our concerns for malaria were quite big, as we quickly collected bites from the mosquitos that were swarming around us outside the airport.
 
Even though the time was close to midnight, the streets were crowded with playing kids, pushy sellers, dogs, goats and cows. As we seemed to be the only western people among hundreds of mostly really poor Indians, we were met with staring gazes and the kids were running up to us in excitement to greet us with the few English words that they knew: “hello mister, what’s your name, mister?” The new impressions we had gotten from walking around for nearly an hour was enough to make us really exhausted, and we were relieved once we got to our hotel VITS, which finally could make us more relaxed and prepared for the next days in the worlds third biggest city: Mumbai.
 
After two days of isolation in a luxurious hotelroom, we were once again prepared to face the busy streets of Mumbai. We had decided to go on a boat cruise to see the famous Elephant Island, the temple caves and the Gateway of India, before we found a new, much cheaper hotel in downtown Mumbai, Colaba. The hotel we decided to go for was called “The Indian Guest House”, and was the same hotel where Australias most wanted, Robert Langdon had been staying in the beginning of his book “Shantaram” (which is an increadiby good book of 900 pages describing life in Mumbai by an Australian prison refugee). The restaurant Leopolds, where a lot of the book also takes place, also had to be visited, and had good food and drinks, even though it was very overpriced. The waiter also showed us bulletmarks in the walls, from the terrorist attack where 10 shooters had killed 164 people in wild shooting sprees. The famous hotel cost no more than or 30 NOK a night, but was a horrible place to stay with fungus on the walls, short separation walls (which kind of made it like sharing a room with the rest of the hotel) and no air-condition (which made us hardly sleep at night), but it was cheap and it was the most central place we could find in the overcrowded city of Mumbai.

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