Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Power Outages

Once again there has been more than a week since my last blog entry, and again, it is for reasons beyond my control. Namely, power outages and more Maoist strikes. We have been shocked by the number of power outages we've experienced in all 3 countries we've visited. We don't think there has been a single day in nearly 2 months of travelling when there wasn't atleast one outage. Some outages only last a few minutes, but many last for hours. Some we notice more than others, because there's no back up and we aren't prepared, but others are while we're in swanky tourist places with generators that kick in seemlessly. We've learned to never go anywhere after dark without a flashlight. I've been stuck in darkness naked in the shower about 5 times so far, and often in outdoor bath houses where I haven't a chance in getting back to my room without a light.

The funny thing is how tolerant the local people are to these outages. Imagine trying to run a business when the power keeps going out. With internet cafes, suddenly you're kicked out and the cafe can't handle any more business. They usually don't charge you for the time before, because they understand you probably lost what you where doing. And the restaurants have very limited menus when the power's out. They can cook food with wood and propane gas, but there's no electricity for blenders and fruit shakes.

We've learned that it's useless to pay extra money for ceiling fans and a/c without first checking whether these are covered by generators or not. If not, it's a waste of money.

Sometimes these power outages are scheduled, and the locals tell us how long the power will be out for. Other times, they surprise everyone. In some places, the power can be off more time than on. Last night in Bodhgaya, the power went out 12 times after 7pm. Each time, the generator kicked in after 1 minute, for lights and ceiling fan, but no tv or a/c. We were trying to watch a movie, which was silly. After another 15 minutes, the power would be back, but not for long. You can't help but get exasperated.

We asked locals what the cause of the power outages were. Burmese people said the Burmese government sells too much power to China for its peak periods, but doesn't care about its own people, who simply don't have enough. Nepalese people blamed the problem on global warming, with a decrease in the amount of water coming during the monsoons, and therefore damaging the hydro dams which provide the majority of electricity for Nepal. And Indians say the problem is too many people putting too much demand on the current system, with the Indian government not paying for infrastructure of more electricity.

All I know is, I'll never complain again about the rare power outages we experience in Canada. I'll also make sure my generator really would work if needed. And maybe I'll see if I can work out some complicated backup system with our used car battery like the Burmese people do. They manage to run tv's and lights and all kinds of things on these cheap back-up plans. Perhaps we'll be in their situation in a few years and I want to be ready.

As for strikes, I thoroughly enjoyed our nearly 3 weeks in Nepal, but I was absolutely relieved to cross the border into India and know that I'd been inconvenienced by my last strike. In total, we'd gotten through 4 strikes in our short time. For the first 2 days we simply walked/trekked instead of taking other options. By the third one, we left early by taxi to arrive before the strike time began. The final one was the worst. We were on a local bus that arrived at the state border of Terrai, a stronghold for them, only to be kicked off the bus, with the bus driver dissappearing instantly with the bus. We eventually arranged for a 2 hour rickshaw ride into the next town, at our expense. All this at 44 degrees in the middle of the day! Apparently strikes go up and down in frequency, but this was rediculous. I can't believe the government tolerates such widespread strikes across entire states and even a country, to shut down all activity. Again, how can people tolerate such interruptions to their business and plans???

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