Phones and Head Bobbles, Oh My
Having a phone seems like it will really come in handy here in India. For example, in order to sign up to buy train tickets online, you need an Indian mobile phone number. There is a workaround for people who don’t have one (which we already used), but things are generally easier if you have a phone. Some things end up being cheaper if you have a phone. For example, we are taking a tour this afternoon that is quoted at 800 rupees per person (about $13). If you go to buy the tour online, however, the exchange rate they give you is out of date, so it costs $16/person. Booking via phone lets you pay in cash in rupees at the 800/person price. Not a huge difference, but keep in mind that $3 will buy dinner for two here.
So today, we went and bought a phone. We first went to the Vodafone store to see about buying a phone and prepaid SIM card,
but the cheapest phone they had was about $80. So we went around the corner to a little stall on the side of the road and bought a nice cheap Nokia phone for $17, then went back into the Vodafone store to buy the SIM card.
After being in the Vodafone store for about 2 minutes, we both remarked that the store was an awful lot like a Verizon store in the US. You walk in, go to a kiosk, and enter your name and a brief description of your needs, then you get number and mill about in the store for a while, waiting for your number to be called. Everything is in English, and they are really pushing smartphones which explains why they don’t stock the $17 dumbphone we bought around the corner.
We ended up getting to skip the waiting list, as there seemed to be only one salesperson designated to help foreigners. He walked right up to us while we were waiting for the kiosk and offered to help us immediately. We showed him the phone we bought (he was not impressed) and asked how we could buy service, and he walked us over to his computer to start the process.
In India, as a security measure, you can’t buy a SIM card without ID. I think this has something to do with the 2008 terrorist attacks, but I’m not sure. At any rate, we needed to furnish our passport, visa, and a 2×2 inch color photograph. Copies of the passport and visa were stapled, with the picture, to a paper form. The form required my name, a US phone number, US address, address in India, and phone number in India. Pretty thorough. I then had to sign the form in about 10 different places (not exaggerating), and had to sign my photograph.
With all that done, we were walked upstairs to the business office and seated in a waiting room. Our salesperson then vanished and it was unclear what we were waiting for. There were 4 people in the business office, all busily entering data from other paper forms into their computers, stopping occasionally to make a phone call or send a text. After about 15 minutes, I started hearing people saying my name to each other, so I figured they had received my paperwork and were processing it. It was a good guess – seconds later I was called over to sit down with one of them and asked to hand over my phone. The staff person then put the SIM card in and made a phone call to what I assume was some Vodafone processing center and repeated the details of my application to them over the phone.
When he was done, he handed me back my phone and said “bye bye”. I asked “I am finished? Done?” and gave a thumbs up to see if we were ready to go or if there was another step I needed to take. He responded with a head bobble (which Danielle describes as “infuriating and hilarious at the same time”) and a smile, so we got up and left. Shortly after we left, the phone started going nuts as we got text after text from Vodafone confirming the details of our new account. Victory.