Expat Life In Old World India
“My friend Jose and I are in Kochi, formerly Fort Cochin,” writes far-roving Correspondent Paul Terhorst, still hot on the trail of retirement opportunities in India.
“This is one of the largest cities in southwest India, with a population of 1.5 million.
“Kochi spreads out over several islands and peninsulas, with the mainland quite busy. We’re staying in old town, a tiny area on a peninsula that offers fine living, urban but neighborly.
“Some houses here go back hundreds of years, old Dutch houses that look chic today. Along the water, you find mansions built by Indian spice merchants during the salad days. Around the old port are fish merchants selling the catch of the day and restaurants that will prepare your fish for you for a small cooking fee. The entire old town, also called the fort area, runs for only two or three blocks, with more cafes, guesthouses, internet shops, small stores, and eating places on the side streets.
“We ran into a small, cheerful expat community here. At the local hangout (the Kashi Art Café outstanding Western food for breakfast and lunch), I met retirees, tourists, and working expats who own art galleries, cafes, and other businesses. Some had Indian spouses. I’m told that, in high season, December to March, the hangout becomes a tourist mecca. Locals have to meet elsewhere, at least until the monsoons return and there’s no more waiting in line.
“The mainland, just a short ride on the ferry or over the bridge, offers ample shopping, hospitals, train stations, an airport, and government offices. But the mainland also means the real India: crowded, noisy, dirty. Stay in the old town, a peaceful cocoon, so compact and easy to get around.
“We had a couple of adventures on the way up here. First, on the beach about two weeks ago, a persistent beach vendor followed Jose and me around. To make himself even more of a nuisance, he sold drums, banging on them every so often. I ignored him for a while, but he got on my nerves. I turned and, er, may have spoken to him in harsh tones. Well, yes, I’m sure I did. I even resorted to intemperate language. When he finally left, a tourist in a nearby cafe applauded. ‘Good work!’
“That was the end of the story, or so I thought. But a week later, at another beach some 100 kilometers away, Jose and I were walking on the boardwalk when someone said, very friendly, ‘I know you. We met on the other beach.’
“I turned, and there he was, the same vendor with the same darn drums, treating me like an old friend. Just then, Jose was about to take a picture, and the vendor came up and said, ‘Sure, I’ll be happy to pose with you.’
“By that time, I was laughing so hard I forgot the hard feelings. I never did buy a drum, though. What a guy.
“Yesterday, we met another specimen, a cab driver. He was to take us two hours to Kochi, to a guesthouse friends had reserved for us. The guesthouse had no name, no sign. To find the place, all we had was a phone number and a vague idea where it was.
“I showed the cabbie the phone number and checked that he had a phone. ‘Right here,’ he said, proudly pulling his cell phone out of his shirt pocket. When we got closer, we’d call the guesthouse and get directions.
“So, when we got closer, I gave him the number and told him to call to find out how to get there. He didn’t do it, so I pushed him. ‘Just call.’
“He finally admitted, ‘I have a phone, but it’s not charged up. I can’t make calls.’ What a guy.
“He seemed annoyed when I didn’t tip him. And, to be fair, I’d only asked him if he had a phone. I didn’t ask him if he had a phone that was charged and that could be used, at that moment, to make calls.
“One of the joys of traveling around India is seeing Indian tourists–that is, Indians from other states, often speaking other languages, getting to know their country. They stay at the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, and take the same trains that Jose and I do. They often speak to other Indians in English, as they have no local language in common. I love it. They seem to be enjoying visiting their country as much as I am.”