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Back to Bangalore. (Thanks god I have all of those notes.)

One of the adventures in Bangalore was getting a phone. I planned on getting a SIM card for my phone as soon as I get to Bangalore, since I was sure life would be much easier, and getting a SIM card is somewhat of a fixed cost, so it’s good to get it over with early. On my first day, Friday, I went around Brigade Road looking for a place to get it. I asked people in a few random stores and finally someone pointed me to a kiosk. I got there, told them I wanted a SIM card, they said it was R$250 (~US$6.25) which seemed like a pretty good deal, at least much less than what I paid in Brazil. Little did I expect what it would cost me in terms of time.

I hand over the money, get the card. One little detail, the guy says, he needs a copy of my passport and a passport photo. A photo? What the hell? I say where am I supposed to get it. He says: don’t worry, just bring it some time. Great, I think, sounds like this means “bring it sometime if you have nothing better to do, otherwise forget about it”. Ok. What about activation? In 12 hours it will be working, he says, then you can charge the credit. And it doesn’t matter when I bring the photo, I ask? No, whenever. Awesome I think. I go send out an email with my new number to family, saying they can call me in 12 hours.

The next day came and the phone wasn’t working, but I was too busy to go figure out why. Finally I got to the guy in the evening, said “What’s the deal?” Well, he says, where is the photo and the copy of the passport. You bring them, then, 12 hours later, it will be working. Damn, now I see it in painful clarity. Ok, so I go looking for a place to take photos. No such luck, everything is closed.

Next day I repeat the same in the morning. It’s Sunday though, so everything is closed until after noon. Finally at 1:30 p.m. I find a place to make photos and copies. Both are cheap (Rs. 60 for the photo, Rs.1 per page for copies), but did it take time. Finally I got to the guy, he registers me somwhere. Then ask me for a proof of residence. What? Luckily I had my hotel receipt on me and that worked.

So, at 2 p.m. my phone is registered (though not yet working) and I rejoyce in anticipation of cheap phone calls. The cell phone rates really make up for the hassle of the registration. Sure things are generally cheap in India compared to other countries, but one might think cell phone calls are cell phone calls. At least between Russia, US and Brazil there is little difference in price. In India, however, I learn that my pre-paid plans is going to be half a rupee per minute for calls within Bangalore (including cellphones). Half a rupee is just a bit more than US$0.01 – something like US$0.015 with taxes. How, this is base rate, without any “deals”. There are ads all over advertizing one rupee rates for any place in Karnataka (the state) or Rs 0.25 for local calls. In Rio the base rate for pre-paid was R$1.30, i.e. US$0.70, so that’s a 50 time difference. They warn me that when I get to Calcutta I will have to pay roaming – the crazy rate of Rs.6 per minute (US$0.15). Again, that’s roaming. Another strange twist: calls to landline phones are more expensive than calls to other cell phones. I suppose it makes sense. The landline phone system is probably antiquated and monopolized. Cell phone market seems to be competitive and the equipment is new.

I go celebrate with a lunch at “Nagarjuna” at Residency Road. The lunch in Nagarjuna was the first fully satisfying meal I had in India, and I finally understood what people mean when they say that food is awesome in India. They mean Nagarjuna on Residency Road. For R$100 (US$2.50, cheap by the area standards, since it’s not hard to end up paying over US$10 for a meal there), I got a fix-price South Indian meal, where they give you a banana leaf and waiters pass by and spoon rice, dahl and other things on it. Just for dahl and rice it would have been worth it.

The fun pla thing about Nagarjuna was that it felt intensely “local” place. Not that there are foreigners in Bangalore in general (I probably saw a dozen over my week there), but the places that I went to before seemed to be dominated by young yuppies like myself who among whom I probably only stood by being blond. Nagarjuna, on the other hand, seemed like a family place and I didn’t see any other foreigners. Since I was alone, I they also put me to share a table with a gentlemen that looked ~50, so I could see how he was eating his food and he could see how I was eating mine. Did I mention they didn’t give me a fork? And of course I didn’t want to stoop to asking for one and instead did my beast eating with my hand with the extra pressure of being watched by a local. (I did eat my dinner with a hand last night too, but that was sitting by myself in a dark corner – no pressure.)

Next morning I find my phone working, a few hours later I get a call from my wife. (The cheap cell phone rates don’t apply to international calls, so I can’t call her and have to wait for her to call.) I also recharge the phone, which turns out to be strangely easy. In Brazil and Russia you buy a card to recharge your phone. In Bangalore, you find a guy who recharges phones, give him your phone number, pay, he makes a call, you get an SMS and your phone is recharged.

Next day the phone stop working. I find the guy, he says he doesn’t know why. I go to the “Hutch” store on Brigade Road (“Hutch” is the cell provider brand). I should have gone there on day one, except that I didn’t find it. They tell the guy sold me a card that was supposed to go with a particular Nokia handset, so it got desactivated. You'll have to get a new one they say. Luckily it’s only R$100 (not the R$250 that I paid to the other guy) and they do everything on the spot. (And luckily I the extra photos, a copy of my passport and my hotel receipt with me.)

From that point on, though, the phone worked with no surprizes, and I was quite happy with the quality of signal everywhere.