Monday, December 11, 2006

Fresh Lesson (salted)

One of the lessons that you learn real quick-like when you live in places where most people's language isn't yours, is 1. double check your tickets and 2. do it again. In Japan, i chalked this one up under "lesson learned" after missing a Green Car (first class train) ticket home from Tokyo. But sometimes even though you know your lessons, you need a reminder. I thought I had that one done in Beijing when we were lolling around the hostel with 30 'till departure at a train station that was an hour away, during rushhour.

But after Beach Blanket Bingo 'till the early hours, our facilities were less than razor sharp when we went to board our "3x the normal price cause you bought it from the owner of the guesthouse and besides today and tomorrow are holidays and i'll have to buy it on the black market so it'll be 1500 rupees" tickets from Goa to Bombay. So somewhere it was decided that 1. double check you tickets and 2. do it again ought to be learned one more time, or at least have a little reinforcement.

Reinforcement came at 10:00am in the form of a train with "Bombay - Margao" emblazoned upon the side. Our tickets were for 10:00 (ish). A train stood in front of us. It was 10:00 (ish). Our destination was clearly written on the panel of the sleeper.
When we woke up in Margao to the conductor saying "end of the line" we realized 1. double check your tickets and 2. do it again is real important. It then made sense why we could snooze out on the train and why there was nobody in our compartment, let alone the train at all.

So, 600 rupees and 6 hours later, we boarded the overnight bus to Bombay from Margao, with some cashew nuts, some mango paste, and a handful each of fresh Lesson (salted) to tide us over for our 14 hour ride. Luckily we were in the front of the bus, right next to the driver, who was trying desperately to walk it out via the bus' airhorn.

Walk it out:

Saturday, December 02, 2006



Where you Goa-in?

After 2 months and countless miles (kilometers, leauges, whatever) the soles of our feet have become as rocks, solid as the railroad rails which have carried us across this great (in) continent. Which is why, after about 30 seconds of discussion, we decided to purchase a fare on the democratising airline known as "SpiceJet."

Delhi to Goa by train= 42 hours.
Delhi to Goa by SpiceJet = 3 hours.

60 bucks for sanity and two days, no question.

So Don and i abandoned our westward snails pace for a birds-eye-view, and a three hour tour straight to the beach.

If you're looking for your random uncle who got lost somewhere in the 60s and hasn't turned up since then, i found him. Not only him, but also all the people who thought the "rave" scene was not only a viable subculture, but something that ought to be perpetuated. I found them too. Either that or Barnum & Baily dump the has-been clown costumes in the second hand stores around here, cause people are looking downright silly. Checker pants with a matching vest. 50 year old men with thongs. I though people recognized that the ambiguous tribal tattoo was pretty grunge 90's, maybe they didn't catch the memo in Eastern Europe.

But the beach is beautiful, the water warm, and its snowing in Chicago (be safe). So there.

Thanksgivin' !!

We spent Thanksgiving in Delhi. Sacrelidge though it may be, i must admit, we visited one of Ray Croc's entrepreneurial establishments, since clean and cheap (if not good, plentiful and nutritious) for the Maharajah Mac (value meal). It was bogus. TO make up for it, our friend and fellow Semester at Sea alumni AJ (currently residing in Delhi, working as an industrialist) took us to the almighty NIZAM's KEBAB.

Heavenly. No picture would do justice to the "Double Mutton Double Egg" rolls, which were put away with a fierce-ness. Carnivourous we became, rapidly raptoring the remaining remains of such a fine feast. In fact, in honor of the Turkey sandwiches we would be eating for days to come, we spent 3 of the next 6 meals there. Beats the rat head.

Sikh It Out

When i did my TEFL certification course at the wonderful Boston Language Institute (yes, of "T" fame, beantowners) our headmaster dude was a fella wearing a turban and a white mundu. We all thought he was an Arab. "Actually" he said, "I'm from Philadelphia." He continued to explain that he is a Sikh, and that they are definitly not Arabs. Don and i went to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, right on the India/Pakistan border. It was a 24 hour train journey from Varanasi to Punjab, one made much more uncomfortable buy some stomach bug i picked up somewhere along the line in Varanasi, which kept me moving between the bunk and the toilet. You really get acquainted with those things, toilets. Like the train varity which have two metal footprints to show you where to place your feet when you squat.
But Amritsar was beautiful, the Golden Temple is fantastic, and the Sikhs seem to have a great thing going on. We also made a stop by the border to watch the ceremonial Closing of the Border. The biggest Indian and Pakistani army men are chosen to huff and puff at each other while they lower the flags and officially close the border to traffic for the evening. People gather on both sides to cheer and jeer at the soldiers below. Check it out!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Mighty Ganges

Now, some may scoff when they check this lil' webpage, saying, "man, if i was not working, running around the world like a chicken with his (or her) head cut off i shure as H-E-double-hockey-sticks wouldn't be sitting at a dang compooter writing autobiographical doodoo about myself (redundant?) all day long!"
Unless you were in Varanasi for the fourth day. In which case you might.
Not that Varanasi (Benares) doesn't have its share of things to see for the touristically minded. There is of course, the legendary Ganges river, right down the alleyway. In this city of Shiva, there are temples galore (gore?), boatrides to be had, photos to be taken. But of all the places i've been this one is particular.
It could be the noise, which is similar to a Ratt/Styx double bill opening up for Poison. Or, more descriptively, someone systematically destroying the entire rhythm section of the JB's. Horns. In your eardrum. direct and non-stop. Or, possibly, if one was aurally challenged, it could be the constant ducking and weaving needed to negotiate the alleys full of people, cows, their sh!t (both people and cows (that exclamation point makes it PG right? ohh bold)) and the persistent touting of everything one could possibly ever desire. No, seriously, soliciting here comes close to an art form. From whispers of various street names for drugs (brown sugar?) to paint, the ubiquitous postcard and every form of textile under the sun, they got what you didn't even know you needed. But the all time winner is the Handshake Masseuse. Operating near the Main Ghat, a proffered hand leads to a gentle come on to show the amazing dexterity of the artist. One look into the rotting maw of the practicioner, however, leads one quickly out of the relaxing state in which he wished to leave you, and into hysterics at the thought of where his hands might have previously been.
Now, im not one to knock someone's hustle, cause its a tough world out here. But better believe, after traipsing across Asia, that you better come with a smarter game than a hand massage if you wanna get me. For instance, Goldie Hawn. Approached by a gang of 12 year olds, who originally came with the postcard/"what country" intro, we were quickly suprised to hear next "wanna see some pictures of Goldie Hawn?" Now, at the tender age of 26, im a little young for "Laugh-In" but Private Benjamin's kind of classic, and i saw "Death Becomes Her" in the theatre. And as far as intros for getting folks into your patron's silk shop, that's priceless. Turns out Goldie actually not only visited Babu's silk shop, but came for dinner, and posed for an entire roll of photographs, not to metion keeping up a now-laminated corespondence with Babu(although it must have changed from a beautifully scripted handwritten to email which was then printed, complete with typed signature).
These kids were great. Not that we can't tell, but they knew who was legit and who wasn't, and were secular enough to say "ok, no one's looking, quick, take a picture!" at the infamous Burning Ghats. Not that you need a picture, cause the ashes are all over you, and the memory doesn't really fade quickly. Especially when your hired boat pulls right up to the bank where the bodies are pushed (swept?) into the water, and you are offered a chance to get out and stand right next to the fire. An entirely different kind of experience. As i was told by a still groggy Israeli in Beijing (insert your best accent here) "India's the real sh!t, man."
Yes. India is the real sh!t. Next stop Amritsar, the Sikh Golden Temple and the famed Pakistan border formalities. Don't worry Fox News watchers, we don't have visas.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Getting Up

This photo was on the cover of the Kathmandu Post. Look close.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

McCarthy's Nightmare

(with NEW! Nat'l Geo style intro)

"As i stared out into the sea of red shirted, bandanna wearing, slogan chanting Communists, my thoughts were, first; How did i arrive in this predicament, and second; how will i extricate my capitalist/imperialist (depends on where you're from) passport wielding self from in front of this podium with the hammer and sickle so prominently displayed? When the first speaker began those of us trapped in the press box began snapping photos destined for the AP wire or various publications of major importance in the realm of world affairs. They would then describe to the world the rally celebrating the legitimizing of the Communist Party Nepal (Maoist) better known to western media receptors as "the Maoists." But let me start from the beginning...

Agent Ford and I were just settling back to finish reading our morning paper in the garden of the local Tibetan Peace Guest House when our reverie was disturbed by loud honking and cheering. Never ones to pass up a scene, ( a trick we learned from the Chinese, who happily pause all goings on to gawgle at traffic accidents, arguments, minor domestic disturbances and foreigners) and due to our well honed spidey-senses, we knew something was afoot. I quickly settled the bill while Don went to collect our image capturing devices, what the french reer to as "les appereil-photo." With the swiftness, we descended from the relative calm of our secluded guesthouse area to the din of the dusty street below.

"Blazes!" cried Donald, "It seems the Maoists are out in force this afternoon, and they seem to mean buisness." It was true, along the street were forming orderly lines of red cap'd Nepalis, from children in school uniforms to mothers in saaris, rapidly being organized by others clad in the ubiquitous red-visor-thingy.
The air rang of celebration, and with the signing of the peace treaty between the government and Maoist forces, it rang with good cause. As the lines began a cheering march forward, we slid up the sidelines like a young Deion Sanders and Terrell Owens. Soon, however, the crowd became too much even for such deftness and fleetness of foot as that possessed by such as we, and we were swept along with the current of chanting Maoists.

Swept along, that is, until the beaver dam known throughout the world of image viewers as the “Line of baton and shield wielding police creating a barrier” stood in the way. Seperated by the masses, Don and I took our considerable initiative in capturing the moments for the world. At one point, divided by no more than 25 yards stood the crowd of chanting Maoists, and the line of demarcation established by the urban camo clad baton wielders. Tense was the moment while the heretofor beligerrent Maoists discussed alternate routes with the head of police. Catcalls flew, and tensions flared, but cooler heads prevailed on this day of celebration and the march was re-routed towards the center of town, where the rally was to be held.
Unbeknownst to the impromptu embedded journalists like us, this stream was only one of many, and when we reached the rally grounds we joined a veritable ocean of people.

Say what you will about the tenants of national socialism, but the maoists can set up a rally. Even rows of people were rapidly seated within viewing range of the stage. In order not to be seated among the masses, and subjected to 4 hours of speeches in a foreign tounge, Donald and I took separate routes to try and reach the stage. I was luckily adopted by young man who helped me to push through the crowds, right to the front, where I was pressed beyond the rope leading to the press area. Free from the crush of the masses, I had a moment to survey my surroundings. 180 degrees from right to left saw army green jackets and red hats, bandannas displaying and affinity for either Che Guevara, Bob Marley, marijuana or the great U.S. of A. As far as the eye could see were people craning to see, from the tops of buses, bridges, boxes and curry carts. Directly behind this view stood the podium, and the crowding photographers.

“I see you’ve made it in, but do you have a Press Pass?”
I whirled to see none other than my partner and erstwhile photo-journalism major brandishing a recently acquired press pass.
“This is so dope.”
High fives (dap, big twist, etc.) completed, we began, through the rhetoric aimed at creating a new Nepal, to document the moment. No less than 5 speeches, accompanied by song, dance and more song, led us to a quickly descending sun and a crowd with empty stomaches. With instructions to disperse peacefully, the crowd began their dusty shuffle back to their homes and neighborhoods to waiting curries and discussions on the future of the fragile democracy.

Afterword: Befriended by a “(do the little finger quotes here) punk-journalist,” Don and I were invited to dinner and homemade liquor at his friends’ house. But that’s another post altogether, as “Raj Against the Machine” (a nickname) insinuated himself into our lives enough to awaken us this morning with his head sticking therough our open window. And that leaves out the guy with the 2Pac tattoo, and “the world’s last surviving Megadeth fan.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tough things to do at 5000 meters

play basketball.

climb mountains.

Get lost walking to Everest Base Camp.



Easy things to do at 5000 meters:

Look at yaks.

eat yaks.

smell yaks.

Dropping off the Plateau

Similar to a penny off the Empire State Building, we arrived in Katmandu day or so ago (ahem 7, sorry), via one of the more amazing georgraphical experiences i'ev had; coming off the tibetan plateau. You drop 3000 meters or so from brown rocky moonscape into verdant valley territory rife with waterfalls and curry, the weather goes from windswept sunburn (sun) or windswept icecicle (shade) to tee shirts and flip flops in half a day. Kathmandu is a huge shock to the seasoned China traveller, all of the things you took for granted in the "sure wish i had a ... right now" catagory are right at your fingertips. All of a sudden things are 1. cheaper and 2. better and 3. western.
for example:

In Tibet..yak noodle soup In Nepal...lemon marinated chicken breast with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables
IN Tibet... "Can we please get another blanket, we're going to freeze." in Nepal... (insert subcontinental accent) "is there anything else i can do for you sir? HOw much would you like to pay for the room? yes yes That is a fair price my friend. "

but since the last broadcast:

We left Lhasa headed 'cross the plateau in a rented 4X4, me and Don plus Gulliame and Princess K, and our driver Tsenour. 6 nights in steadily decreasing levels of accomodation, tibetan tea houses, vast plains and in front of Mt. Qomolangma. (tallest mountain in the world they say). Tibet is a tough land, the people mirror that for sure. At least they don't really care about such minor inconveniences such as cleaning toilets or washing things. Or toilets, or washing, apparently. Cause we didn't see a piece of porcelin the whole time. And if you want to see how atrociously untended the toilets were, i have a small visual excercise:
take your left thumb and forefinger and make a circle.
insert your right index nuckle in the circle from the bottom.

But who needs that stuff when everything that you need is provided by some part of a yak? Some people like that (yak). Some people don't. Princess K would rather be passive agressive/complain monster about everything. Its understandable, one shower in 6 days can make anyone a little testy. But when you are tugging your rolling luggage over rocky mountainous terrain on day 5, don't be looking at us with a look of entitlement.

Tibet is cold. It could be the fact that at one point, the only thing seperating me from the tallest point on this planet was a cinder block wall and 3000 vertical feet. And every single article of clothing that i own. One would expect the tallest mountain in the world to be a little chilly, but im talking about putting on extra clothes to go to sleep under blankets. At least you don't have to get dressed in the morning.

We made stops at Gyantse, Shigatse, Sakye, Shelakar, Rhongphu Monastery (Everest Base Camp) and Old Tingri. We drove in the mornings, and checked out Monasteries and Tibetan villages in the afternoons. Our biggest worries were where to poop, and being cold while doing it. Tibet is an incredible place. As you ride, the view becomes normal, until you hit a bump and realize where you are. We made it safely through (more like down) the border to nepal with a new appriciation for comfort, which Nepal was happy to provide.
(phew! I gotta keep up on this thing. Relating a weeks worth of stuff is too much. My secretary will take appointments for photo viewing or go here (actually not much new, but speeds slow round these parts))

Sunday, October 22, 2006

No Sleep 'Till Lhasa

Regardless of the Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence (you gotta fight for your right) T-shirt and concert campaign for a free Tibet, Don and I shamelessly boarded the brand-spankin' new Chinese cultural infiltration railway known as the Qinghai Express from warm and spicy Chengdu to the chilly Tibetan capital of Lhasa. This is railway like it used to be, except the buffalos were yaks and we wern't using them for target practice. Aside from the fact that 48 hours worth of instant noodles, spicy space tofu and wheat boba tea will send one running with a quickness to the intestinal confessional, we arrived safe and sound 4000 meters above sea level on the Roof of the World. The train climbs high enough that they issue oxygen tubes in case you start seeing stars. Even though we kept the astrology to a minimum, we did play with the oxygen tubes, which basically only serve to dry out your esophogus.
Welcome to the Wild West. Dudes walk around with ceremonial knives, and the monks are the biggest guys around. They could crush you. The bars can only be called "taverns" and the locals drink beer that looks like you poured it in the middle of the fermentation. But its so different from China proper, and feels it. Especially in the lungs when you walk up a flight of stairs. Tenzog Norgay i ain't. Yet. Cause we got our group together for the trip to the Nepali border yesterday, which includes a stop at Everest Base Camp. Its all downhill from there.