Our (Accidental) City Tour of Jaipur
“Yesterday, we went to see a movie.” Re-read the sentence and imagine the process: you check the show times online, you get in a vehicle of some kind, drive to the theater, buy the tickets, and sit down for the show. Right? Usually, that’s how it’s done. That’s even how we’ve done it before here in India. However, yesterday, that’s now things went. Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
We’ve had an anxiety-filled couple of days here in India as we mulled over whether to continue our tour of the north with our hired car and driver, or to cancel the car and driver and strike out on our own again. It’s not that we weren’t enjoying our car or our driver, but we didn’t feel like we were getting enough value out of the arrangement to warrant the cost and the decision was weighing heavily on us. Ultimately, we decided to cancel and yesterday we informed the company of our decision. They took it graciously and so, with lighter hearts and a heavier wallet, we felt like going out for a low-stress, “remind us of home” night. We settled on dinner and a movie at a local mall here in Jaipur.
In bigger cities in India, some big-budget American movies are released in English. Unfortunately, there’s usually only one or two out at a time, and last night our only option was “300: Rise of an Empire”. Online, the movie was listed as playing in English at the INOX Cinema in the Bani Park neighborhood. We got general directions from the staff at our hotel and then hailed an autorickshaw. After about a minute of price haggling and ensuring that the driver knew where we were trying to go, we set off on our 3.5 mile journey.
The drive wasn’t too bad, and the price was on the low end of what the hotel staff had said to expect, so we were feeling like India pros as we pulled up to City Plaza Mall and headed for the theater. Sadly, our bubble burst as we approached the window and asked to buy tickets. “No English, only Hindi.” We were directed to a (huge) poster for the movie right next to us that said in small letters “(In Hindi)”. Bummer. Oh well, we knew of another mall with another theater that also allegedly had the movie in English, and the show time wasn’t for a few hours. So we walked back to the street to hail another autorickshaw.
Getting into a rickshaw under circumstances like this poses two problems, both related to information:
1) Inadequate Information – Since we hadn’t prepared to go to this second theater, we didn’t have the address, phone number, or part of town that it was in, nor did we know any landmarks or government offices that were nearby. This information is absolutely crucial when using a rickshaw or taxi in India. Even when you possess all of this information, you’ve only got about an 80% chance of arriving at the correct destination. The other 20% of the time, you end up somewhere that almost sounds right, but isn’t. For example, once we needed a ride to the “Residency Hotel” and ended up across town at the “Presidency Hotel”. When you have none of this information, your odds flip around to only a 20% chance of arriving at your destination. Literary critics may note that this here is what we call “foreshadowing.”
2) Asymmetric Information – Before embarking on our first rickshaw ride, we asked the hotel staff what the ride should cost and how much it should cost to come home. The ride home would cost more, because it would be night time by then and all transportation cost more after dark here. Sadly, we were now in a situation where we needed a rickshaw but didn’t know how far we were going, how long it should take, or what it should cost. Assuming the driver actually knows where you are going (see above), he does know all of this information. You don’t need a Nobel Prize in Economics to know that know that with these market conditions, you’re going to get taken to the cleaners.
Bravely continuing despite these information-related problems, and with some help from Hindi-speaking passerby, we came to terms with the rickshaw driver. Assured that he knew what theater we were talking about, we set out on our 3 mile journey.
As we were pulling up to our destination, we were skeptical that it was the right place. We had asked to go to the “Crystal Palace Mall”, and this place not only didn’t say “Crystal Palace” anywhere, it didn’t really look like a mall. It looked like an office building with an INOX movie theater and a Domino’s Pizza attached to it, so it probably wasn’t the right place. We knew from reading online that the place we were now trying to visit had a Pizza Hut in the mall, and we saw no Pizza Hut.
Undeterred, we walked up to the counter and asked about the movie. “No English, only Hindi.” Great. We turned around and headed up the street about a block where we had seen an actual shopping mall. It didn’t have a theater, but we were hoping we could find someone there who could help us out. Near the front door, a kid who was maybe 10 years old said “good evening” to us as he passed by. I simply smiled and said “Hello,” but Danielle recognized our opportunity:
Danielle: “Good Evening, do you know the Crystal Palace Mall? With the INOX cinema?”
Kid: “Crystal Palace? Ummmm…. Oh Crystal Palm! Crystal Palm!”
Danielle: “Crystal Palm? Ok, how do you say that in Hindi?”
Kid: “Crystal Palm.”
Turns out, we may have confused matters by asking to go to a mall that didn’t exist. The mall we actually wanted was Crystal Palm, not Crystal Plaza. This is what happens when you have inadequate information. Oops. Thanks, kid. Armed with this new information, we sought out a third rickshaw driver. His English was excellent and we concluded our price negotiations and direction-giving confident that we would in fact end up at the Crystal Palm INOX Cinema. Hopefully the movie would actually be in English.
After what seemed like a shorter ride than the first two, our driver pulled up in front of what was obviously a large shopping mall and there, emblazoned on the side, were the words “Crystal Palm.” After paying and thanking the driver, we crossed our fingers and headed to the ticket window. “Hello, is ‘300’ playing in English?” When we heard “Yes, at 7:45”, we each let out a sigh of relief and a lot of laughter. By the end of the night we had come, literally, full circle.