Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The stars at night are big and bright....

Sitting on a countless train ride, I watched the countryside fly past. Under the crystal blue skies with stretch white layers of clouds overhead, I sat in silence, save for the constant clacking of the train. I watched the sun fade orange and gold across the wide, expansive horizon, and the purple Indian night unfold before me. Of all the emotions I could possibly feel, I had the strangest longing for Texas. Funny, no? I missed the big Texas skies, and the big Texas clouds that filled them. I missed the simple beauties the landscape there holds. Interesting how places that were supposed to be simple waystations on the long road of life can create such an indelible mark on your thoughts.

In any case, a night train and three uber-packed buses later, I arrived in Goa, to the beach of Anjuna. Goa is the rave capital of India, and Anjuna might be its epicenter. I am staying on the roof of a guesthouse for 60 rupees. They set me up a mattress under the stars and the full moon, and I couldn't be any happier.


On my way to the beach, an Indian girl stopped me and asked me to take a picture. I did, and then she said "give me ten rupees." To this I replied, that she should give me ten rupees for me taking her picture. Her friend also said the same, so I gave him the same answer. Then I offered them a deal, that they could both give me five rupees, and we would call it even. I did take their picture, not the other way around. They left laughing and confused.

While I was on my way to the beach, I made a friend with an Indian guy on the back of a motorcycle, who was equally lost trying to find the beach. Sanjay from Dehli works as a big-up for call-centers. Helps run them, and provide feedback. Interesting fellow. My age, actually a little younger. Spent the day on the beach, and in the nice cool water. Also went to the Wednesday market, a famous huge market in Anjuna. Lots of Tibetans there, I surprised the hell out of them when I greeted them in Tibetan.

Also went to the Beit Chabad for interviews, story will be up on the other site soon. Now, without further adieu, on to the rave...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Acha lag raha hei (I'm loving it)

I was inspired by Sebastian Mallaby's op-ed "Winning Hearts and Stomachs" on McDonald's throughout the world to stop in the local Mickey D's in Bangalore, India. Over a Chicken Maharaja Mac, French Fries and a coke, I thought back to all the McDonalds I have encountered in my travels. Although I rarely eat McDonald's in America, while I am traveling, it is a comforting reminder of home.

Meanwhile, ranging from the McSahara in Morocco (a burger on a pita flat bread), burgers on rice cakes in Thailand, to a Big Mac on a potato roll in Israel that is kosher for Passover, McDonald's lends surprisingly itself well to local customs. Things like a blue sweet taro pie, or egg burger, that McDonald's sells in China, I only wish I could find in America.

Beyond finding something familiar while being far-away, McDonald's is one of the few places in far too many chauvinistic countries where girls and women get treated with equality, based simply on the price of admission- a hamburger. Furthermore, McDonald's serves as a place that young coed couples can mix and mingle freely. McDonald's in Brazil even have computers with internet for their customers to get on to the web.

So as the slogan goes, "Acha lag raha hei (I'm loving it- in hindi)"

Monday, January 29, 2007

New pics up

Pics from Kerala backwaters and Cochin. Still feels funny to see "Jew Town."
http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

Mysore Xmas

I thought I was gettig burnt out of travel, but I was just over-tired. A nap fixed all that. In my post-nap bliss, I discovered the secret to life, the universe and everything, and it's not 42. Rather, it's "badam milk." Badam milk is a bright yellow almond milk, with slivers of almonds inside. It is sweet, filling and delicious. Puts a big smile on my face.

Meanwhile, I discovered the most apt way of describing life in India, and it simply to watch the bus system. At the bus station, there is practically a rugby scrum to get on the bus. Only the strong get seats on the Indian bus. When the bus has left the station, it doesn't so much stop at different stops as it slows down for people to chase after it, grab on the sides for dear life and climb on. Only the quick get a seat on the Indian bus once it is in motion. Of course, if you have money, you can leisurely board the private bus, with seats that recline and bollywood movies to watch. Such is life in here.

In other news, I picked a good day to be in Mysore, as Sunday nights the Maharaja's palace is lit up with a vast display of white lights. Puts xmas decorations to shame. Of course, it only lasts an hour, or the whole city would go dim.

I left Mysore this morning of an early 6:45am train to Bangalore. After finding accommodation, I took a rickshaw (amazingly on the meter, as all rickshaws have meters, but none "work") to the Central Park of Bangalore. First I stopped at Koshy's restaurant, a Bangalore institution for generations. Men in starched white linens wait on you, while the chatter echoes off the high ceilings. Fans overhead waft both the gentle breeze, and the nostalgia of English days past. Meanwhile, I had a STEAK!!!! Nothing like a side of holy beef to chase the Indian blues away. Who knew Indians knew how to cook steak so well? Washed down with a Castle beer, imported from my dear South Africa, bringing back all sorts of other memories.

Bangalore, with its bustle and self-importance reminds me very much of Casablanca. I laughed when I saw a road sign that said "respect lane discipline." Lanes? Different colonial ventures, but similar outcomes of congested snarl, pockets of tranquil beauty and wonderful food and lounging.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kanada

After a 12 hour train ride that brought me into Bangalore at 5am, I wasn't sure what to do with myself, so I took another train to Mysore. Perhaps I am getting too conditioned to travel. I don't know how to handle stationary life. Actually, it was a good way to get the day trip done and at 5am, there is little to do other than take trains other places. So after a third-class ticket on a train to Mysore, I mysteriously find myself in Kanada, the Indian State of Kanada. I'm surrounded by Kanadians, and they speak the language Kanada too. They tried to cover up the fact by changing the name of the state to Karnataka, a few years back, but I am wise to their charade.

Mysore can best be described as "vivid." Walking through the markets, there is an overwhelming display of colors in the form of incense powders. All sorts of shades that I can see but not accurately identify. Toss in flower stands galore and fruits and veggies, and you have a veritable cornucopia of colors.

From the market, I went on to the Maharaja's palace. This palace was constructed after an "accidental" fire destroyed the last one. This one under construction for 15 years, and was finished in 1912 at a cost of 4.2 million rupees (about 1 million dollars). The palace is constructed in a mix of Hindu and Indo-Saracen styles. Opulence and avarice to the extreme. Stained glass peacocks tower above crystal chandeliers. The place is set in gilded columns of swans and lotuses. Paintings of the regiments of the Maharaja's army color the walls. Mother-of-pearl and intricate sandalwood doors that lead to crushed-velvet thrones. As they say, nothing exceeds like excess.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cochin

I hopped a bus this morning from Ernakalum (Cochin's twin city) to get to the ferry jetty to Cochin, but the bus ended up taking me all the way. Nice surprise. I arrived to Cochin, to a place called "Jew Town." Still feels funny writing it. Jew Town is a dilapidated old neighborhood of a community in its twilight. I will discuss the community in the article I am writing. Jew Town was a strange mix of tourist shops, tourists (Jewish and non) and old Jewish curmudgeons who had no desire to discuss the community, as they are bombard with tourists everyday who want to hear their story. I managed to convince one lady to ask her husband if I could speak with him when he returned. She said maybe, but to come back around 4pm. Meanwhile, the Pardesi synagogue, which was written as open on Fridays before 2pm in my guidebook was closed. Setting up for Shabbat, they said.

As I was standing outside the synagogue, there was a relatively young Israeli family also standing outside. They were also a little dismayed at not being able to see the synagogue. While they were standing there, an old Indian beggar asked the man for some money. The Israeli asked him if he was Jewish, to which the man replied no. The man then said, "I only give money to Jews. Haven't the Jewish people suffered enough?" I was taken aback. What the hell does Jewish suffering have anything to do with this beggar? Has he caused any suffering to the Jewish people? I hate it when my peeps wear the badge of suffering like a medal. Although the suffering of the lower castes is far different, they suffer a great deal. I hate this attitude that we are the only ones on the planet who have suffered injustices.

Okay, enough of my rant. I picked up some cool coins for my brother at a little curio shop in Jew Town. Coins from the British East India Company, French East India Company, a British Indian coin, a Portuguese Indian coin, a coin from the Mughal empire and the Dehli Sultanate. I wandered out of Jew Town and caught a rickshaw to Fort Cochin proper. I visited the oldest church in India, St. Francis. It is the church where Vasco De Gama was first interred before they took his body back to Portugal- the tombstone was still there. I just wandered around the city, past the cantilevered fishing nets and remains of what was once Portuguese.

Around 4pm, I returned to the house to interview Mr. Samuel Hellegau. He was less than welcoming, offering me only ten minutes. He warmed up a little as we talked, but he was tired of giving the same answers over and again. He stressed the conservatism and traditional nature of the Cochin community, and that the tourists didn't respect this. He said they would rather not have a minyon than let in anyone who wasn't modestly dressed. Again, I will discuss this more in the article. After I spoke with him, I went out to find long pants for Shabbat. I found some bright yellow cotton fishermen pants. Awesome! I looked like a Jewish banana, but they did the trick. And sure enough, I watched them turn away tourists in shorts (sandals were fine, and actually I could go barefoot). I instructed the people being turned away where to get the fisher pants. A Canadian tourist paid double what I did for his pair, haha.

I arrived for services to an absolutely beautiful synagogue. White and blue tiles brought from China in the 18th century, delicate colored glass lamps and crystal chandeliers strung around the synagogue. A stunningly intricate gilded ark. There were about 70 people there, of which probably 60 were tourists from Israel, Canada and America. All over there were signs that said "PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED," but some schmuck Israeli kept taking pictures well into Shabbat. He knew exactly what he was doing, and didn't care. I see the community's frustration with those who don't respect their sanctity.

After services, I missed the ferry and caught a bus back into town. Otherwise just spent the night watching cricket. Still can't figure it out, but I am trying.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Land of Coconuts

Kerala, where I am now, translates to "the land of coconuts." I woke up early this morning and went walking around Kollam. Before all the choking traffic with its blaring horns came out. Before the searing heat kicked in. Just a cool breeze filling the street while the old men and I sipped milk coffee and ate deep fried bananas on the street corner. It was amazingly quiet and peaceful in the morning.

I got on my boat to Allepey, about 8 hours away through the Kerala backwaters. The boat ride was amazing. We slowly puttered past endless leafy coconut and banana trees. Kids were swimming, waving and screaming for us to give them pens. The water was littered with cantilever contraptions used for fishing that looked like claws coming out of the water. The ride was so tranquil, we just slowly meandered down the river. It was a very peaceful day, after so many frantic days of traveling.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pics online!

New pics up, from Mamallampuram, Pondicherry and Konyakumari now up:
http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

What the world costs- India

2 rupees (5 cents)- entrance to view point to watch the sun set over three seas
3 rupees (7 cents)- masala chai
4 rupees (9 cents)- ginger coffee, dahl poori in a bowl made of leaves on Calcutta's streets
5 rupees (11 cents)- milk coffee
8 rupees (18 cents)- Limca, an awesome lime soda
10 rupees (23 cents)- baksheesh to view Mandir temple from the roof of a hotel (Bubanawhar)
15 rupees (34 cents)- a shave; masala dhosa
20 rupees (47 cents)- egg chicken roll in Calcutta, possibly the greatest food ever
25 rupees (58 cents)- cd of my pics burned
30 rupees (70 cents)- one karat of lapis for Ellen
48 rupees ($1.12)- 3rd class train ticket from Konya to Kollam (3.5 hours)
50 rupees ($1.16)- hostel in Konyakumari
60 rupees ($1.40)- UT Longhorns hat
75 rupees ($1.74)- 650 ml Kingfisher beer
80 rupees ($1.86)- Salvation Army hostel for a Jew and a gay Swiss, amazed they let either of us in
100 rupees ($2.33)- whole grilled King fish in Puri; handmade leather sandals in Mama
250 rupees ($5.81)- 350 ml Heineken at post Calcutta club
350 rupees ($8.14)- bug infested double in Calcutta; deluxe room w/tv in Puri
440 rupees ($10.23)- 18 hour bus from Chennai to Konyakumari
800 rupees ($18.60)- new cd player to listen to awesome hindi rock and punjabi rap
1,000 rupees ($23.26)- new lonely planet guide book
4,050 rupees ($94.19) 132 karats of assorted lapis, ruby, topaz bought by Ms. Ellen the jeweler
35,500 rupees ($825.58) new Canon digital SLR, speaking of....

Kerala

For 22 hours, I rode buses to get to Konyakumara, and I left Konyakumari after only 22 hours there. If an economist where to do a cost-benefit analysis of how I spend my time, I would probably be ruled certifiably off in my decision-making process. Yet I am utterly content with how it went. I caught the sunset last night with two Japanese friends I made from the bus, who stayed with me at my 50 rupee ($1.03) hostel. The hostel was surprisingly nice considering it has been the cheapest place I have stayed in my trip. We woke up at 6am this morning to catch the sunrise, and there were tons of people out doing the same. I have never seen so many people (vast majority Indian) together to see a sunrise.

At the train station, I met an Aussie girl who was equally lost and going to the same place as I was. With the usual confusion and non-sensical matter of business, we got ticket out of Konya to Kollam, a city in the State of Kerala on India's Spice Coast (Malabar). Since it was a short journey, we got third class seats (benches). We were joined on the train by another Aussie couple, and a ton of Indians crammed in everywhere. Sitting next to us were a whole army unit. We got chatting with them, and I convinced them to trade me their isignias and pins for my Texas Rotary pins. They also taught me lots of Hindi words, the important ones.

With a tremendous amount of difficulty, owing to the overcrowding, we managed to get off the train at the station in Kollam. I came here hoping to get a boat up the Kerala backwaters to Allepy, but there weren't any boats before tomorrow morning. I found a cheap 100 rupee penthouse and went wandering around for a tailor to fix the whole in my pants that I got on a nail on the ferry from Koh Chang (yes, I have been wearing pants with a huge hole in the back for weeks, I had no other choice, and had a surprisingly hard time finding tailors who would fix it). It still took trips to four different tailors before I found someone to fix it. As my pants were getting fixed, I had a shave at the local barber for 15 rupees (maybe 30 cents). Now my pants are fixed, I am clean shaven and sipping ginger coffee. I had no idea it even existed, let alone could be so amazingly good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Cape of Three Seas

"I am writing this at the cape,
in front of the sea,
where three waters meet and furnish a sight unequaled
in the world.
For this is no port of call for vessels.
Like the Goddess,
the waters around are virgin."
-Mohandis K. Gandhi, January 15, 1937

Like Jacob, I wrestled with the muse all the way down India's coast. Finally I caught her at the place where the three seas meet, sitting on a veranda of the final resting place for one Mohandis K. Gandhi, and overlooking the very bottom of India. With the setting sun gently warming my face, I realized that I need to give back to the world that has given me so much beauty. She has shown me too many of her miseries for me to continue to sit idly by. There is too much work to be done, and I cannot remain a wandering Jew forever.

This veritable Cape of good hope reminded me of another cape in another southern land. Gandhi found his voice, his direction and his muse in South Africa. He unleashed his muse on behalf of India and her struggle for independence. I'm still holding onto mine, looking for her release point.

By 27, my eyes have seen too much beauty to describe, too much to capture in any photograph. Yet where do I stand? At 27, Martin Luther King was spearheading the Montgomery Bus Boycott. By 27, Gandhi was already a practicing lawyer, and was briefly returning to India to organize support for Indians in South Africa. I need to get a move on, as time slips away with every fading day.

Over the thousands of miles I have traveled to reach this most southerly point of my journey, it has become clear to me that I need to return, as there is work to be done. There are still many miles to cross before I get to it, but I now realize that I cannot remain as a driven leaf indefinitely. Till then, journey on.

More from the "Only in India" files

Those oh so special, only in India moments:
-watching to motobikes collide 10 feet away, and running to help. In the meantime, dropping a full bottle of water on the ground. When the situation calmed, I went to retrieve my water, only to see it was long gone. It never pays to be a good samaritan.
-In the same vein, buying numerous beggars food, and having the next one who you refuse lay curses upon you. You can't win here.
-fighting what was closer to a rubgy scrum than a line on to a bus to go 4 hours north, so I could take a bus 15 hours (promised, 18 hours reality) south and be utterly content with the decision.
-meeting on the bus a man with 19 university degrees, and he is only 39 years old. He has 9 masters, and two PhDs, plus another eight assorted degrees.
-sitting down in a restaurant for a late lunch, and handed a ten page menu. After much deliberation, the waiter returns and says that there is only one thing available, masala dohsa. Everything else is for dinner.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blessed by Babar

Just when I was beginning to think I had India figured out, I was reminded that I'm not even close. I was blessed last night by an elephant. A holy, green-eyed pachyderm. I was walking down the street, wondering what I would do with myself, when I saw an alley lit up, and a temple. Outside the temple, there was an elephant with hindi chalk designs on his face and ears. He was standing in front of the temple, blessing people with his trunk. People bowed their heads, and he placed his trunk on top. He also collected money, which he handed back to his master (even coins), and ate grass. It was so bizarre. Only in India.
After, I wandered around the Sunday night market, on the street. Soooo many people. I was dizzy with the commotion. All the Indian faces were melting into Chinese faces.
After, i had dinner at a nice french place called "le espace." There wasn't a table open, so I joined an Indian guy and we had a beer. Nice guy named Adi from Delhi, on vacation with his family. After he left, I had dinner of grilled chicken and potatoes au gratin, which was c'est magnifique and all for 120 rupees ($3). The place was very cool, with ambient French music, and little red bulbs hanging from the ceiling. After dinner, I sat on one of the floor mats and read for a while. I was getting tired, so I headed back to my room.
I had found the place earlier, it was full but they were supposed to have someone check out at nine pm, and I could take their room. I arrived at ten, and they told me the person hadn't checked out, and it would be at least another half hour. I was a little annoyed, as I was kind of tired. I asked if they could lower the price some, since I was only staying one night, and I couldn't even check into the room. They said they couldn't lower the price from 200 rupees ($5), but said there was a cheaper place down the street. I checked it out, and they had basic rooms for 125 rupees ($3), so I took it. Meanwhile, I met a nice Finnish girl named Milka outside the place. We went for a beer, but only got one as the place closed at eleven. We asked a group of young rickshaw drivers if anything else was open, but they said there was nothing. They had a small bottle of grape brandy, which they offered to sell us for 100 rupees. Probably twice the price, but with few options, we took it. We found a store that sold an apple fizzy drink, and sat on the street drinking grape-brandy applefizzies, which were really not so bad.

I was planning on going today to the very southern tip of India, Konyakumari, but the trains are booked for a week solid. Maybe I can find a bus. I would like to see the point where the three seas meet (Indian ocean, Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal). It is the only place in the world where the sun rises and sets in the exact same location. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear it is in the cards for me, unless I can find a bus. Pray to the greyhound god for me.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

There was a time

I woke up this morning around six, and decided to catch a sunrise. I passed a restaurant the previous day called "Sunrise cafe" so I thought I would get a cup of coffee and watch the golden orb arise. False advertising, the place was well-locked and closed at that hour. Instead, I viewed it rise over the Bay of Bengal from the beach, sitting on a rickety old boat that was docked on the sand. Breakfast was a masala omellette, too yummy.

I left Mamallampuram on a uber-packed bus to Pondicherry. The bus had sixty seats, and there were eighty people. I spent the first half standing, then luckily some people got off, and I could sit the rest of the way.

I arrived to Pondicherry, and into a world of French colonial memories. I walked barefoot on the cool pavement of the wide-tree lined boulevards of forgotten tricolore dreams. Past pastel colonial houses, the hue of peach, lavender, tangerine and lime that have faded like the empire that built them. There was a time, but it is no more. All that is left is pink and blue bougainvillea that adorn the crumbling walls of a forgotten French corner of the world.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

tourist towns

I am always a little put off by places that cater to tourists. White ghosts fluttering through with big camera, big smiles and big bellies. Smiling at the natives, who scornfully smile back. So strange.

Other news of the weird. I read in the news that India plans to mark its Republic Day with a centenial tribute to Gandhi and his philosophies of satyaghraha or nonviolence. How are they marking this peacemaker's legacy for Republic Day? With a flyby of the Indian Airforce's top fighter planes! While the angels laugh so hard, they weep....

Shades of Achziv

I spent the evening having dinner on the beach. I was walking on the beach, trying to figure out which restaurant when I found the "Bob Marley" restaurant. Reggae music, sand floor, sea shell lights and a thatched roof ceiling. I had a wonderful whole masala-fried red snapper, pan potatoes, a 650ml beer (a 22 for y'all in the states) and a nutella crepe. Since it was Saturday night, I splurged for $300 rupees, about $7.50. I know, such extravagance.

As I left the restaurant, I heard booming music in the distance and decided to follow. The last time I did that, I had just finished climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town. I was in a cloud, and heard a beat and just followed it to a TimeWarner corporate party, which I snuck into and helped myself to free cocktails on Ted Turner's expense. This time, I wandered the beach, until I was stopped by a wall, so I followed the wall through a Tamil neighborhood, and to a fancy-schmancy resort. I just walked right in like I belonged, right past reception and into the party. It was a company gathering for one of the top-5 Indian IT firms. There was about a thousand Indians, and moi. Since I had just eaten, I passed on the lavish buffet, but sampled a few things. I listened to the cool hindi band, and talked with an IT designer who is applying to grad school at AU in Washington. Almost as much fun as when my yearcourse friends and I snuck into a club med in Achziv. There was a jetty and barbed wire, but the jetty went farther out, so we snuck in, ate the buffet, drank the wine, watched the acrobats and danced with the hot club med girls.

After the party ended, I walked back into town, past stray cows and goats, and went to a gem store, where I bargained for an hour-and-a-half for 132 karats of rubies, lapis, amethyst, and other stones for my little sis. Now I am being eaten alive by mossies, and must flee to my mosquito-netted bed.

New camera, new pics

When I told my parents I wanted to get a new camera in India, they were VERY apprehensive. They very, very much discouraged it, as they were worried I would get hustled in my purchase. To assuage their fears, when I was at the American Express office, I got the manager to call the Canon India office to find authorized Canon dealers in Hyderabad. After he called around to get the best price, bargaining in Telegu (local language). I bargained further when I got to the shop, not so much bargained as pleaded my case for a better deal based on the circumstances. Got a great deal on my new/old camera, and new pics are now up.
http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

Mama

At this point in my journey, I have crossed the rubicon, and my trip is more than half over. I might actually start having to think about what I am going to do next. Scary, Peter Pan doesn't want to grow up.

I left Chennai/Madras rather quickly, as it was hot and polluted. Also I was allergic to it, I couldn't stop sneezing. More likely the beginning of a cold. I wandered around Madras with Chris the Swiss. We visited Fort St. George, where the British East India company set up their first settlement. It is a regular fort now, and there was little to see. Also the museum that sounded interesting, with British and French East India Company regalia was closed. I remarked to Chris that it seems so strange to think that business companies ran whole countries, then I thought about Haliburton, Enron and the others.

After we wandered around George Town, which is far different from the Georgetown I know. Then we visited the beautiful red indo-saracen style High Court of Tamil Nadu. Straight off the set of Aladdin, except for Indian barristers walking around in black robes. Unfortunately no wigs. Made a trip to the overcrowded beach, and quickly abandoned that. We had lunch at a packed Indian place. I have never had such a difficult time figuring out how to get food and drink. It just didn't make any sense, it took us forever to figure how the system worked to order, pay and receive food. As all things in India, there is what's called "Institutional Anarchy." Things really don't seem to make any sense, but somehow manage to work out in the end. Food was great, as I snarfed down my meal with my right hand. So much fun.

Nothing too much else to report from Chennai, so I left this morning on an early bus to Mamallapuram. On my local bus to the bus station, I accidentally sat in the women section. I guess I didn't notice at first cause there was a tranny Indian ladyboy sitting behind me. My friend Chris informed me that the Indian ladyboys are considered the lowest of the lowest caste. They are held as the "bad karma recepticle." Apparently they show up at partys and weddings to sing and take away all the bad karma in exchange for money. Bizarre.

Anyway, I caught a bus to Mamallampuram, a hippyish town on the beach (not sure of the Indian Ocean or Bay of Bengal). I found a place to stay for about 5 bucks, I didn't look hard as I am leaving tomorrow. I had a nice lunch of egg curry, rice and chapatis with a fresh lime soda at a restaurant on the beach. Beautiful place with a thatched roof, seashell enveloped light bulbs and a great view of the sea. As I was waiting for my food, I noticed something written about 15 feet up on the wall that said "tsunami level point." A little sobering. It reminded me of New Orleans, as I passed through driving home from Texas. In New Orleans, there was still a green line across the buildings of where the water crested.

After lunch, I went to the Shore Temple, a 1300 year old Hindu temple right next to the beach. India has a two-tier system of entry to all places of interest. Indians pay ten rupees entrance, foreigner pay 250 rupees. I have been unsucessfully trying to convince the ticket people that I am Indian. I throw out all the Hindi, Telegu and Tamil I know, then say I am from Mumbai. For some strange reason, it just isn't working. Anyway, I saw this ancient carved temple, which was pretty interesting. Then I walked to another group of temples that were very cool. Just as old, with better carving of lions, cows, elephants and the Hindu gods. On the way I picked up a pair of handmade buffalo leather sandals that look like my Moroccan pair for 100 rupees ($2.50).

I meandered back by way of a park, and made friends with a school full of Indian kids. Nice to see kids are kids wherever you go. When they all posed for pictures, a few girls put bunny-ears up on their friends. One boisterous but sweet little girl asked if she could call me "uncle" (a term that Indians use with elders), and i replied only if I could call her "auntie." This made all her friends crack up.

Now I am just uploading pics to avoid the heat, and listening to the taping of carvers working on marble statues. Tomorrow I am off to Pondicherry, an old French colony city on the beach. Wide boulevards and french cuisine. C'est la vie.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Madrasete

Back in action with a new camera, and I had ample subject in Hyderabad. After I got my new-old camera, I quickly hopped a rickshaw out to the tombs of Qutb Shahi . A stunning sight of mini-Taj Mahals. These seven shrines were built by the Muslim rulers of Hyderabad, the rulers of an independent kingdom before the Mugahls sacked the state. Beautiful domes adorning intricately carved white buildings with bougainvillea hanging growing up the walls. There was one tomb, where a muezzin did the Muslim call to prayer to show me the echo. Really an amazing thing to hear.

I also met a nice Hindi family who let me take their pictures and then wanted a picture with me. I am a rockstar, everyone wants to take their picture with moi. After wandering around the wonderful tombs, I hopped a rickshaw to the Golconda fort. The driver was obnoxious, he kept giving me a hard time cause I was American, and wouldn't pay ten times the normal fair. He kept telling me a story about sucker Australians who paid him far too much, and all I could reply was that they were stupid and he was a big liar. Anways, the fort was also very amazing. Kind of a mix of Sintra in Portugal and David's Citadel in Jerusalem. I ran into the same family, and they invited me to join them for a picnic lunch. I had literally just eaten but couldn't pass up their hospitality. Two lunchs, fatty be me. Anyway, I climbed up to the top of the fort, and got some great shots of the city below.

On to the market for a little while, it was chaotic and sparkly. They sell bangles all over the market, and it literally shines throughout. Then hopped a quick rickshaw back to town, and got on my night train to Madras-now-Chennai. I met a Swiss backpacker named Chris, and we both checked into the Salvation Army guest house. Rather than payment, I have promised to stand out in the cold next X-mas and ring that annoying bell.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hyderabad, hyperabad

Hyderabad, hyperbad. Avarice and opulence uncomfortably in bed with destitute poverty. With giant domed palaces the color of nectarines. Bulbous onion and radish domes, alongside cucumber minarets, towering majestically over a river of shit- a cesspool with a current, in which regal cranes fish for a polluted dinner. Street sweepers gently dusting street sleepers. The home of the palace-cum-museum of Salah Jung, that gently guards the treasures of a mysterious land. Intricate lacquer tables with mother-of-pearl inlay. Jaded jade statues of Ganesh laughing at the bronzed Shivas. Gilded millennial manuscripts in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu of Islam's precepts.

Hyderabad, hyperabad. A symphony of din, a cacophony of shrill noise. The evening rush hour symphony in g-minor. It begins with the purring of motorcycles and motobikes. On the side of the road, a gentle tap-tapping of masons carving away at marble soon fills the air. In comes the incessant honking of impatient horns from the yellow three-wheeled chariot rickshaws. The flutes and whistles of the poor traffic policeman trying to conduct this madness. Then the crescendo of the giant bus horns, emanating from giant sardine cans on wheels, practically spilling its contents into the street. Mozart himself could have never dreamed this concerto up.

Hyderabad, hyperabad. An amazing juxtaposition of Hindu and Muslim. Death-out-on-a-stroll women dressed head-to-toe in black, but with stylish, fancy heels. Waiting next to them for a bus is a rainbow of saris. Pure veg restaurants neighbors with kabab shops. Cyberbad, as it is affectionately known. An IT hub that jockeys with Bangalore (u) to be the silicon valley of India.

I'm fighting a losing battle with the muse, as she is omnipresent in this enigmatic upside-down pyramid of a sub-continent.

See under: Mulvenia

India uses the slogan "Incredible India" as its advertising pitch. While that is nice, and pretty accurate, I thought I would offer a few of my own.

"India, a land that toilet paper forgot"

"India, where the mustache is not only still in fashion, but still king"

"India, the land of bobbling-head mystery"

The last one relates to the fact that in India, when people say yes, no or maybe, they kind of shake their heads back in forth in a wobbly manner. It doesn't necessarily mean an affirmative or negative, I am still trying to gage signs of how to determine just what each bobble means.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Orissa

I was greeted on the train by the smell of sweat, peanuts and loneliness. All of this dissipated as the cool air rushed in through the barred windows as the sleeper train slowly pulled out of the station and into the hot Orissan night. Men played cards with half-naked girls on the back. Meanwhile peanut shells accumulated on my bag of no value- chained tightly to the seat, and I was reminded of past peanut encounters. I sat in solitude, silently savoring "The God of Small Things." My silence was punctuated by the need to enquire if I was indeed on the right train. To Hyderabad, tomorrow.

Tomorrow came early, as the trains incessant rocking woke me early. I spent the day staring out the open train doors, into the Indian landscape around me. Drinking chai and trying to find privacy in a land that utterly lacks it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bhubeneswar

I did blessedly little yesterday. Minseon and I went all the way to Puri to visit the holiest shrine for Hinduism in Orissa (the province we were in), yet didn't bother to go on account of the chaos with all the pilgrims there. I hate to admit it, but I didn't care to see the sight since I didn't have my camera. Rather, we lounged at a beach restaurant, having a beer and reading. I am reading "The God of Small Things" by Ahundrahi Roy, which is an amazing book about India. Highly, highly recommended. One of those books you read a page at a time.

Today we left Puri on a train for Bhubeneswar, which is the India equivalent of Pakxe in Laos. One of those places you go from paradise on the way to somewhere else. Your basic stopover point. It wasn't bad though. For lunch we ate at a local side of the road place, where everyone was eating with their hands. Of course, I did the same. So much fun to eat with you hands. India reminds me a lot of Morocco. Same warmth in the people, but not sure who to trust. Same eating utensils. Same bathroom utensils. Different chais, but both wonderful. Surprisingly similar sweets.

Now I am killing time before I am off on a 24 hour train to Hyderabad. Minseon is going to Chennai, so we are parting ways. Twas nice to have a travel companion for a while. I haven't traveled with anyone for more than a day or two, and I was with her for a week. It was nice. As HL Menken wrote, you are only as old as the one you feel. Ah, to be 19 again.

Meanwhile, I am astounded by the stray cows. Cows wander the roads like stray dogs. They meander across the streets, or sit on the side of the road rather peacefully. If the Hindus ever changed their minds, they could solve India's hunger issues in a huge bbq.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What the world costs- Thailand

7 baht (18 cents) sweet milk rotee in Changmai night market
10 baht (27 cents) mango sticky rice on the side of the road
15 baht ( 40 cents) the best pad thai ever
20 baht (54 cents) half hour of internet
25 baht (.67 cents) ride on the skytrain in Bangkok
35 baht (1 dollar) small Tiger beer
50 baht ($1.35) large chang beer
70 baht ($2) access to swimming pool on a hot day in Changmai
100 baht ($2.70) overpriced coca-cola for working girls in Patpong
120 baht ($3.20) minibus to Bangkok airport
200 baht ($5.40) one night stay in Changmai or Kho San Road in Bangkok
220 baht ($5.94) bamboo bungalow complete with hammock on Long and Lonely beaches
300 baht ($8.10) silver chain necklace that promptly turned black
500 baht ($13.5) Departure tax to leave Thailand
800 baht ($21.60) buses from Changmai through Bangkok to paradise aka Koh Chang
1000 baht ($27) day of adventure trekking in Changmai
1,500 baht ($40.5) front row seats for Muy Thai

Kilos

All the kilos I lost in Southeast Asia, I have a feeling will be returning in India. The food is amazing here. In Calcutta, I would eat dahl purri on the side of the road for 4 rupees (5cents). Dahl purri is lentil and potato curry eaten with two fried flatbreads. It comes ready in a bowl made of leaves. So good and so cheap. Meanwhile, the sweets are amazing. Sweets drenched in sugar syrup, or rose syrup. The syrup oozes when you bite into it, sooooo good. Washed down with a cup of cardamon masala chai. People may be starving in India, but I will be a fatty krishna.

In an Indian minute

I spent the better part of the day at the police station, finishing up my report. Things work very differently here. First I arrived to the police station, and received the report from the officer I worked with yesterday. I was on my way out, but was stopped by a massive throng of people in the road. Thousands upon thousands in a parade, banging and clapping, with music blaring. Sort of like Carnival in Rio, only with much more clothes on. I was a little worried to be there, so I just put my hands together in the "nameste" pose. I think it helps that I have a UT longhorns hat, as cows are sacred here.

As I was waiting for the parade to pass, the police officer came back. I didn't recognize him at first, and suddenly a police officer was asking to see my passport. I got a little worried, then I realized it was the same guy. He wrote down the information he needed, and spent a while staring at the Pakistani visa. After a few minutes, he told me I could go. I went to the train station to get Minseon and I tickets to Bubenswar, where I catch a train to Hyderbad and she to Chennai. As I was walking back and forth between the information counter and ticket counter, a few rickshaws started yelling to me, I paid them no attention as this is pretty common. Then the police officer appeared again, and called me back to the station for a third time. This time, there was a man with a type writer who wanted more information about what I did, where I came from and details about the robbery. They were friendly, and wanted to know why I wasn't married. I told them I was looking, and they asked if I was looking in India. I said, "why not?" The guy replied, "Indian women ugly- blackie." I tried to explain that I liked that, but he couldn't believe me.

Just as I was set to leave, Minseon arrived on a rickshaw. I had left her, so that she could see the town and not bother with the police. She was worried I wouldn't be able to get her a train ticket without her passport, so she came to the station. After we finally finished there, we went to the train station for tickets to Bubenswar. When it was finally our turn, the man closed his window and said it was lunch time, come back in half an hour. After we killed half an hour in the Indian heat, with people staring at her, we got back in line to wait to buy tickets. After another thirty minutes, the guy told me we couldn't buy tickets today but that we should come back tomorrow an hour before the train leaves as reservations were not needed to Bubenswar. He wouldn't sell us advanced tickets. C'est la Indie.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Crimes Against Humanity

Call up the Hague, a major crime against humanity was committed. My camera was stolen, along with my lens, ipod and guide book. I was on my way out of Calcutta, on the train when it happened. First off, the Calcutta station is a zoo. Throngs of people sleeping on the ground, both inside and outside of the train station. Minseon and I were on the train, in a second class sleeper car. We were in a six person berth. There were 3 other foreigners there, and a well-dressed Indian gentleman. As we had just entered the train, and the berth was cramped, there was a lot of jostling taking place. I took my camera bag out of the day pack and put it on my berth, right in front of me. I was trying to put my daypack under the berth, so I could lock it up to avoid theft. The Indian gentleman was jostling me as he was opening the window, and was messing with the tray table. I saw him walk off. When I looked down, just a minute later, I saw my bag was gone. I quickly looked on the ground, as it could have fallen. Nope, gone.

As the said in "Lucky Number Slevin," it was a Kentucky shuffle. A diversion by someone who looks respectable while the partner reaches in and snatches the bag from outside through the window. I don't wish death upon them, I would prefer they live long lives racked with syphilis and herpes. Welcome to Calcuthroat.


So my camera is gone, as is my 300mm lens and 3 memory cards. Ipod gone. One travelers cheque and guide book gone too. Thankfully, I spent 1.5 hours uploading pictures before I left Calcutta. I was on a new memory card, and lost a few nice pics, but not too many. I spent yesterday morning at the railway police station, filing a report so hopefully my travel insurance will reimburse me some. I am keeping up good spirits, as it is just stuff. To paraphrase Fight Cub, don't let the things you own, own you. The ipod was a luxury, and I think I will get a cheap cd player and some cheap cds of fantastic hindi rock music. However, the camera is a necessity. I am going to look into a new one in Hyderbad or Chennai. Nothing I can do now, as I am in Puri, a small pilgrim town on the Bay of Bengal.

As for Puri, it is amazing. Pilgrims abound, to Hinduism holiest site in Bengal. Also tons of Japanese and Korean tourists and backpackers. Poor Minseon, everyone keeps asking her if she is Japanese. She is going to make a t-shirt that says "I'm not Japanese, I'm Korean." After I took care of business regarding my theft, I spent the afternoon walking on the beach on the Bay of Bengal. Lovely. I sure missed my camera, as there were great shots of kids playing cricket on the beach, and the sun setting into the Bay of Bengal. For dinner, we joined a Belgian woman we met on the train for dinner at a restaurant on the beach. With feet on sand, we had the most amazing fish dishes. I had a grilled whole King Fish, she had a delicious tuna steak in a tomato, onion and garlic sauce. We also had dhal and basmati rice, and coffee. Dinner cost 250 ruppees, $6, while the Belgian woman enjoyed our company enough to pick up the tab for the beers we all shared and also the chocolate coconut crepe.

I am here during a pilgrimage day, and the streets are full of pilgrims dressed in white robes or beautiful saris of every hue. Since my camera is gone, I will just have to work on making my words glow and paint pictures of what I see. Journey on.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Good Morning Calcutta

Ah, the joys of traveling with a girl. My lord, they are all uniformly slow in getting ready in the morning. The price you pay.

I leave Calcutta tonight on a night train to Puri. I wish I had a little more time here, or just that I could have that wasted afternoon with the hustle back. Minson bought a sari (also one of the forehead pieces), and when we were walking around last night all the Indians were staring. Lots of nice compliments, and lots of stares. Street food dujour for dinner, so yummy. They sell chicken egg rolls (nothing like the chinese version), which is a flatbread with an egg fried into it, plus tandori chicken and tomatoes, onions and spices. Sooooo yummy, and only 20 rupess (50cents). So kulfi for desert, a mango-ish ice cream with rose syrup and some gummy thingees. Then off to a bollywood flick. It was all in hindi, but basic plot was understandable. Just a hindi soap opera. I fell asleep for an hour, but missed nothing as when i woke up, the boy and girl were professing there love in a choreographed song and dance. Kinda funny flick.

Today we are off to the Indian museum, a museum showcasing India's long history. Also to Mama Teresa's place. Maybe to the Marble Palace too, if there is time. All of this assuming one korean is ever packed and ready.

City of Joy

If I could take a thousand pictures, and write a thousand pages, I still couldn't begin to describe Calcutta. They say that in Calcutta, no city prospered more from British colonialism and no city suffered more in the wake of her departure. Part of the reason Calcutta has such issues with poverty is the millions of refugees who came streaming here after the partition of India (East Pakistan) and later the creation of Bangladesh. This city is teeming with dilapidated colonial structures that must have once been so regal. It is filled to the brim with people, as it is the second largest city in the world. People bathing in the street spigots. People carrying huge boxes on their heads. Yellow HM taxis that look out of the fifties, speeding through the narrow streets. Human rickshaws bearing the burden of their heavy load. People, rats and ravens fighting to pick through the piles of garbage on the streets. Colors upon colors, smells of spice and refuse. Something between a fabled dream, and an apocolyptic nightmare.

Strangely the two worst meals I have eaten here have been from the only two restaurants I ate in. All the street food has been amazing. Dhals and chapatis, sweets oozing with honey. Chicken and mutton rolls. Egg toast and masala chai.

Last night, Minson and I decided to go clubbing. There aren't independent clubs here, but rather they are located in hotels. We ended up in a place called "Underground" which could be likened to a wannabe English club. It wasn't that busy, but we had walked a long way to get there, so we decided to have one drink. We ordered a heineken and a gin and tonic. The bill came and it was 750 rupees. The beer was 25o rupees($6), and the g&t was 500 rupees ($12). I have never paid that much for a drink in America, I was in shock. The Indian upper class truly live a world away from those sleeping on the streets.

Today, we went to the Kaligat temple. Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, was named for Kali the black goddess (much like Athens). This is a major temple for her. On a normal day, between 10,000 to 15,000 pilgrims visit the shrine. Just our luck, today was a special pilgrimage day where 30,000 to 40,000 enter. It was hectic. We had to take our shoes off to walk into the temple, and we weren't sure if we would ever see them again. People pushing and fighting to see an idol of Kali. . To be perfectly honest, it looked like starvin' marvin from Southpark. Our guide of sorts took some red ink and put it on Minson and my foreheads. Yes, I have red ink on my forehead, just below my shaved cabeza. There was also a goat that goat slaughtered for Kali, and people were prostrating over the sacrificial sight After we worked our way through the temple, we came to a pool filled with water from the river Gange, with people young and old bathing in it. The whole thing was intense.

After we left, we took the metro up to BBD Bagh square, in the heart of the city. We visited some old colonial buildings. We strolled back to our area, passing by aforementioned sights. Tonight, we are off to see a Bollywood movie. All for now.

PS: An anecdote. The Indian men stare and gawk a lot at foreign women. As Minson and I were walking through the park, she was walking a few paces ahead of me. A young Indian guy saw her, and started completely checking her out. As he passed her, he turned back to stare at her some more. Then he looked up and saw me glaring at him. He gulped, gave a quick smile and put his hands together for a "nameste." Then we both cracked up.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pics

I have new pics up from Thailand. Sorry no pics yet of my Gandhi haircut.
http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18

They almost didn't make it up, as there was a power failure at the internet cafe, and half the block lost power too.

Bengal

India is an overload of sights, smells, tastes and colors. I can honestly say I have more affinity in two days than an entire month in SE Asia. I love India very, very much. I am as giddy here as when I first started my travels in China. I feel like I have started my travels afresh. The day began with a delicious chicken and egg wrap in a chapati, with iced coffee and chai. To cover my shorn cabesa, I picked up a Texas longhorns hat on the side of the road for 60 ruppees ($1.5). My korean travel buddy Minson and I walked past Gandhi (Indira and Mohandis) statues onto the Victoria memorial, a stunning white marble imperial beauty, built to honor Queen Vic. It had Mughul domed columns and a grand imperial dome on top with Victory above. Inside was what India was, statues of the colonial regents, landscape paintings from Europeans and pictures of Calcutta in the forties in black and white. Also a great museum on the history of Calcutta, with a passage on the wall that I will share:

"To fifteenth century Europeans, India is a land of fables, Africa is a dark continent, and America is unheard of. Yet, by the end of the seventeenth century a fragmented world has been largely explored and pieced together, and a global linkage set up in which peoples of the world come to know each other. Cities like Manila (1572) , Madras (1640), Bombay (1661), and Calcutta (1690) are products of this coming together of nation which marks the beginning of world history. They are young but they are not insular. Therein lies their modernity.

Mutual knowledge , however, does not always lead to mutual happiness. The global network that arises is Eurocentric. It is largely colonial and commercially exploitive by the powers that rule the waves. The stage is nearly set for the question of imperialism and colonialism. It is not really one world."

As I was walking around, I met a nice Indian couple. The man remarked that Indian history is 5,000 years old, while American history is only a 4 centuries. I replied that my people too have a history of five millennia. As we left, there were multitudes of yellow turbaned men and colorful saree clad women sitting on the marble steps, making a striking picture of color on white marble.

After we walked around the gardens, and met a beautiful family of a newlywed couple (Punjabi and Bengali), whose family invited us to their home for the wedding party. We wanted to go, but they lived 2 hours away from the city, and we wouldn't be able to get back to the following day. We wandered back down the avenue to our part of town, stopping to eat delicious street food all the way. Dhal, chapatis, fresh squeezed orange juice, sweets, etc. Every few feet, we would try a new cart. I also picked up "The God of Small Things" on the street for 80 rupees ($2), in a photocopied version. Also a copy of "The Alchemist" for Minson, because she hadn't read it.

I need to get some pics of India up, because this place is indescribable.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Welcome to India!

I had a day that can only be described as utterly part of India. If my words did glow, as the Grateful Dead said, I still don't think I could acurately describe or give all details of what I saw today. I was awakened at 5am to the sound of the muezzin giving the Muslim call to prayer literally next to my ear. After I woke up, I grabbed some breakfast with Minson, a cute 19 year old Korean girl who is in my dorm. She appears to be my new travel buddy, as she is also heading south and we are both going to Puri. We found some back alley place that made omelettes cooked onto bread, and fantastic chai. The tea here is amazing. Those starbucks chai lattes suck, the real stuff is right here. We were joined in breakfast by a 70 year old Japanese guy with a cane and a bell. He was a bearded traveler wandering the earth. I could be so lucky to be doing the same at 70.

After breakfast, we headed to the train station to try to get tickets out. You need to buy them early, because the trains fill up real quick. Tourists can buy them at special offices, but we felt adventurous and went directly to the station. Big mistake. First, I have never seen so many people in my life. Just as we were trying to walk in, the crush of humanity was trying to walk out. We just sat on a cart with an Indian guy, who was wonderful. Everytime we had something to thank him for, he said that no thanks were needed as we were guests in his country. After the wave of people receded, we tried to find the right counter for foreigners. I said of Vietnam that the people were very helpful in the most unhelpful of ways, India is even more so. We were pointed to different buildings, floors and hallways, only to get told to leave and go to the tourist office.

Walking across the river, over the bridge that connected the the train station to Calcutta proper, we crossed literally the most congested bridge in the world. Throngs of people crossing, some with huge bags of stuff on their heads. Below, people were bathing in the river and there were colorful markets of flowers and heaps of trash. Eventually we got our tickets in a rather easy manner, and had some yummy dahl on the side of the road. We were on our way to see the city, when things got strange. They didn't start strange, but it ended in a hustle.

As we were walking down the street, somehow we got talking with a nice Indian gentleman named BP. He was very friendly and was walking in the same general direction. As we were talking, we passed a tea shop, and he invited us for a cup. Seemed harmless, so we stopped in for a chai. We talked a long time, about his wife and kids (whose pictures he showed us) and his career in the airforce. He was going to the market to buy his daughter and granddaughters sarees, and invited us to join to learn about shopping for silk. Seemed like a nice idea to watch a real Indian bargain, and he was so friendly in a very sincere manner. We went to a few stores, before we finally stopped in one. He inspected a few silks, burned a few to test their quality, and was starting to bargin over them. As we were talking, he asked if I liked beer, to which I replied affirmative. He had one of the guys in the store go fetch 3 beers for Meinson, him and me. After the beers arrived, we were invited to the roof to drink beers. We went up to a little room with mats, and opened the bottles. It was so nice, we just talked about India, and all sorts of things. I was planning this blog in the most effusive of terms for India.

More beers came, and things were lovely. The son of the store owner joined us, and we continued talking. BP called his wife to tell her that he would be late, and put us on the phone with her. As we were all talking, BP showed a picture of himself as a younger man. The store owner's son asked him if he was a football player, to which he kind of deflected the question. Once the kid left for a few minutes, he told us a long story about his childhood, how he was a benchwarmer on the national team, until the big match where he was put in and scored three goals. Also stories about his childhood, his adopted family, his life or death decisions over his wife and children. He cried at times, the whole thing seemed very amazing. We thought we had really connected with this guy.

As it was starting to get late, the shop clerk brought up the sarees that BP wanted. Minson was considering buying a saree, so BP was going to bargin for a few to get a better deal. I even saw a beautiful silk I was considering. Things seemed fine, until they first mentioned the price. Very high for my little silk. I decided I wasn't interested, but suddenly BP and the store clerk start pressuring the two of us to buy something. I asked for a second to speak with Minson outside. We both agreed that we weren't buying anything, and things were getting a little strange. When we returned, suddenly the pressure got heavy.

It was a setup from the start. BP wasn't off to buy silks for his daughters, he was merely a con trying to lure us in. It became obnoxious as they kept trying to get us to buy stuff. We held our ground, and paid an outrageous price for the beers, but let it go. In the end, it was just a well-planned hustle that I recognized as similar to what they do in Turkey for rugs. Someone befriends you, buys you tea and suckers you in his store. Usually it is the store owner, not someone else. It was a good trick, but we walked out relatively unscathed. Frustrating, nonetheless, as we really thought this guy was nice. Our trust was betrayed, naitivity exploited and we felt somewhat violated. It was a good wake-up call to India, and the hustle that exists here. I won't comment anymore on the issue, as I have moved past it. I will simply leave wisdom from my father, who always says "good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement." Nameste India!

Monday, January 08, 2007

The land of Gandhi

Chapter II of my adventure, Southeast Asia, has now come to an end. I can't say that I will miss Thailand so much, it is a dirty place. I arrived to Bangkok, thinking that I wouldn't be spending enough time, only to be happy to leave when I did. I loved the Thai food, and koh chang, but really wasn't such a big fan of Siam. I was fascinated by SE Asia, but with no real affinity or connection.

I also saw a disturbing thing at the guest house I was staying at. It was a sign at the reception that said "We don't accept Israel (impolite and steal)." If it hadn't been late when I saw it, I would have left. I took my revenge in other ways. Strange, because on the same street there were restaurants and guest houses that catered specifically to Israelis.

Now I am in the crown jewel of my trip, India! In honor of my arrival to the land o' mahatma, I shaved my head. Going for the Gandhi look. Also because I did it two years ago to the day, for my 25th bday. I will post pictures soon. My cab (a car from the fifties) from the airport was packed full and terrifyingly dodging traffic. I found a dorm for less than $2. I have been in India for all of 5 hours, and already I love it. I have been eating street food that is better than any Indian restaurant I have ever been to. In fact, I think I will eat only street food for the next six weeks.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

a very merry unbirthday to me

So my bday has come and gone. Although it is still my birthday in many parts of the world, sadly for me it is over. 364 unbirthdays. My birthday was much calmer than it started. Dan and I woke up way too early, as I have a habit of doing these days. My body is so excited by the prospects of new things, that I am out of bed by 7am, with no alarm whatsoever.

After getting up and on to a new guesthouse (since Dan was leaving later that day), we had some great Muslim curry food for brunch, then went to the King's palace. I actually opted not to go in, as it was a little expensive, and I had seen it before. I just wandered around some markets nearby, then went to meet Dan after he saw the palace. After we went to a weekend market, by way of the skytrain. We spent a lot of time getting out to the market, but didn't stick around long because it was packed. The only thing that really made the trip worth it was a fresh, hot rum raisin waffle that I had on the way.

As a birthday gift to myself, I got a great Thai oil massage (pg version). An hour for about $6, so nice. For dinner we grabbed the best pad thai ever on the side of the road. Dan had to catch his bus to the airport, so I was walking with him to the stop, when I bumped into Kate, a Canadian girl who I had met in Si Phan Don, Laos. We had met on xmas, and quickly had a good rapport over beatles music and beer laos. We had ditched the xmas party I ruined, and spent the night hanging out at the reggae bar. She is from Toronto (t-dot) and has been living for a few years in London. I didn't expect to see her again, but there she was on Khao San Road. I said goodbye to Dan, and went with Kate for bday drinks. She took me out for my bday, it was a nice and unexpected surprise, and a nice bday gift from the guy upstairs cause I just expected to wander around my bday aimlessly and alone. She might be coming with me to Calcutta, if she can get a ticket. Birthdays are always funny.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

seven and a score

To paraphrase Nas, I woke up early on my born day, I am 27 years of blessings and evanescence that greets my body. Twentyseven sounds so regal. I woke up, shaved and stepped on the scale to find I had lost a total of ten pounds so far. Not a bday way to enter 27.

Bday is already off to a bizare start. After the milkbar, me and the droogs went out for a night of the ultraviolence. Off to muy thai last night, and sat front row. The air was filled with sweat, tiger balm and thai music, as wire-thin fighters pummeled each other. My friend Dan and I were betting on the fights, I won 2 of 3 bets. Then off to patpong, where I dodged pingpong balls and received a "Happy Birthday Paul" sign from a girl with the most unusual of talents.

As I'm sure you are all waiting anxiously for my bday answers to my patented bday questions:
1) bday dinner with Humphrey Bogart
2) 1991, turned 11 and had a superbowl party where the Redskins won the championship (okay, that was a few weeks later, but it was still bday related)
3) In Houston, supposed to go to NYC, but Sharon was languishing in a coma and the Consulate asked me to stay. Got a wonderful gift from my girlfriend Alicia, had my first South Africa meeting, saw the Houston Symphony Orchestra and had Kosher deli cornedbeef with coleslaw and russian dressing.
4) Perhaps Buenos Aires, perhaps Nairobi. We shall see...

Bday gifts are being accepted, and cash is the gift of the year. Please send your bday donations to the "Paul continues to eat fund" 6302 Landon Lane, Bethesda, MD 20817 :)
Off to see the palace of the King of Siam.

Jpost article

New article up on at the Jpost on Luang Prubang! In the Jewish world section. www.jpost.com

Paradise

After a long 12 hour bus to Bangkok, followed an hour later by a long 6 hour bus to Trat, followed by a 45 minute ferry, followed by a 30 minute truck ride, I finally arrived to Lonely Beach- paradise. I got to a place called "The Treehouse," where I checked into a $6 bamboo hut right near the water. I spent the night with a cute Israeli couple, a dutch girl and a cute French Canadian girl, hanging out on the porch over the water.

The place was full of ambient music, cool lights and delicious bbq. I had a baracuda steak, which is even more delicious because baracuda would eat me if they had the chance. The French-Canadian and I were flirting, but then she said she had a boyfriend of 5 years who was coming in 3 days. She was excited to see him, so I let it drop. Later that night over dinner, she casually threw out that during her 7 months of travel, she had an "open relationship." My ears perked up, as did the Israeli guy who asked me in hebrew if I heard her. As everyone filtered out, the Canadian and I hung out. Over a french singer named Noir Desir, I got a smooch, and an explanation that if it had been a week prior, things could have been different. C'est la vie.

I woke up to the sound of the ocean splashing on the rocks outside my bungalow. Lonely beach was a beautiful white sand beach, but a little touristy for my tastes. However, there was a second "Treehouse" on a secluded spot on the island, called "Long Beach,"' so I decided to head over there. On the way to the LBC, I met a cute British girl who was living on the island. She was also staying at the other treehouse, and we flirted along the way. We arrived at everything I wanted. A bamboo bungalow on stilts with a hammock for $6. White sand beaches, strewn with coconuts on the ground and in the palm trees. Crystal clear water that was bath temperature. You could walk out in the water for 50 yards before it ever reached your waist. I had lunch with the Brit, some yummy curry and a mango lassi. I lounged in a hammock, reading "Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad. Later I went swimming with the Brit. As we are splashing around in the water, and I am debating making a move, in simple conversation I asked her about a ring on her finger. She replied it was from her boyfriend, a thai guy. Wtf, could have been a little more forthcoming with that info. Plus ca change, et plus la memchose. Anywho, had a fine time just hanging out with the lass even if it wasn't all I had hoped for. It was really paradise, and worth the trek to get there.

My way back to Bangkok, I sat next to a cute German girl, and got my first b-day smooch. Life is good. Now I am in Bangkok. Just as I arrived, I ran into my friend Dan, who I found in Angkor Watt. We were planning on meeting, but I bumped into him just as I arrived and was on my way to the internet cafe to find him. Funny, and funnier because I am wearing the exact same shirt he was wearing when we found each other in Angkor Watt. Tonight we are off to see Thai kickboxing. Good way to start off the b-day festivities.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Trekking

I had a nice evening in the night market. I had gone through all my baht, and didn't feel like hitting the ATM again, so I roughed it on 12 baht (35 cents). That bought me a yummy rottee (malay pancake) with sweet milk. The night market was full of stalls, with lights and trinkets.

This morning, I went on a trek outside of Chang Mai. I was joined by 3 Australians of Asian background, an English girl and a French guy. We drove about an hour and a half to an Elephant place, and I rode on the back of an elephant for an hour. My elephant was fickle, and a little nuts, it was not the best ride. But I had fun feeding him bananas. He would reach back his trunk, and I would place it on, and he would bring it down to his mouth.

After the elephants, we went hiking for two hours, out to a waterfall and back. It was beautiful, walking through the lush jungle. It was hot, but once we were in the underbelly of the jungle, under a canopy of trees, it was very pleasant. The waterfall was nice too.

Then we went white-water rafting. No one had been before but me. The rapids were actually pretty good. I had to keep yelling at frenchy to paddle. At one point, we hit some tough rapids, and the English girl went over. I quickly fished her out, then an Aussie went over too. I snagged him back in as well. For my troubles, I go hit in the lip by someone's paddle. After the currents ended, we switched to a bamboo raft and floated like huck finn down the river. The day ended at a Akha tribe village.

Now, I am back in Chang Mai, waiting for my bus to Bangkok, on to Koh Chang. I just polished off a falafel from Jerusalem Falafel, yum.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pics

Luang Prubang pics now up, enjoy...

Siam I am

I can't take credit for that great title, as I understand it was the name of a blog a friend named Gabe who was in Thailand for six months. Still I like it, so i will expropriate for my blogging usage.

I woke up this morning, and did enquiries into trekking. I decided on one that gives me an elephant ride, village stop, white water rafting and some other assorted trekking adventures. Then I spent the morning watt hoping. Watt are begining to become like pagodas in China, and bridges, castles and cathedrals in Europe, ie seen one....

I had lunch at a local thai place, where I had wonderful pad thai with different spicy, sour and sweet sauces, lemonade, tea and donut balls for desert. After lunch, I went swimming at a hotel nearby, since it is really hot here. After a dip, I went wandering around the markets. I might be getting tired of the watts, but I never tire of the markets. Smells of spices, dried fish and flowers, and a multitude of colors. I even saw a few people selling silk worms, mealworms and crickets. I tried to eat a silk worm, but couldn't do it. Sadly, I am going soft in my old age.

Thailand is utterly different than Laos. There are soooo many tourists here. Europeans galore. Dirty old men with young girls. Also every western establishment imaginable. McDonalds has a McRice burger, with rice cakes as the bun.

After my trek tomorrow, I am headed by overnight bus to Koh Chang, to white sand beaches and fun in the sun. It will only take me 18 hours on a bus to get there, plus ferry. After that, I deserve to put my to put my toes in the sand.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Leaving Laos

2006 ended true to form. I had a shave from an old Lao guy. I hadn't shaved since Saigon, so I really needed one. The old man did a fantastic job, not one nick. All for about a buck. Shaves are one of the few things I don't bargain over. Later, I met a French guy named Reno who was looking for a place and couldn't find any. Since I had a 3 person room to myself, and was happy to half the cost, I told him of my situation. We went out to the Lao Lao Gardens and had Lao bbq (soooo good). We split our time for New Years there and another place called the Hive. I didn't stay out too late because I had a motor boat to catch the next morning. I also caught news of bombings in Bangkok. This is the second time Thailand, my easy travel destination, shocked me with its goings on. I went to bed around 2am, and prayed my alarm would wake me.

I woke up at 6:15, and Reno was not there. I was a little worried, as I wasn't sure he knew where the place was. I got out, and as I was standing on the corner getting coffee and breakfast, he walked past after a much longer New Years than I had. I hopped a tuktuk to the speed boat station. When I got there, I received a crash helmet, life jacket and ear plugs. I climbed in the tiny little boat, expecting the worst and receiving the best.

We took off, hurtling full throttle. Cascading over a river of glass. Past lush green jungle and forest, enveloped by the morning fog. Past sandy beaches the color of peaches. Past life in unchanging simplicity. In Laos, they say "the simpler the life, the happier the life." So true.

The ride was utterly beautiful- a little bumpy at times but not too bad. Also not so loud as I expected. We rode for eight hours, stopping a few times. When we arrived to the border, I took a tuktuk to the border with a Dutch guy named Harry who was on the boat with me. I checked out of Laos, took a quick ferry and arrived in Thailand. I took a minibus for five hours to Changmai, where I am now. Thailand is utterly different from Laos. It is thoroughly westernized, with 7-11, Starbucks and ATMs galore. I just found my 200 baht ($6) palace and I'm off to bed for some much deserved rest after a long day of travel.