Monday, January 28, 2008

even better than set or scrabble

if it seems like I'm talking about bodily functions a lot more than usual (which, admittedly, is already more than the average person), it's because most conversations with backpackers in india inevitably turn to poop, and all the irregularities and misadventures revolving around it. fortunately all my stories only concern pee so far (see past post, "Squat Toilet: Still Not Owned"), but I was complaining the other day that squat toilets really make me miss relaxing on the toilet with a good book in hand. they're just not conducive to such leisure. so I figured I'd blog about the games I've come up with to pass the time during a bowel movement.

1. Battlepoop -- sort of like battleship. the object of the game is to land a poop squarely in the little pool of water. however, I've since stopped playing this game because of splashback -- even though I win, really, I'm losing.

2. Pin the Tail on the Poop -- after you purposely land one piece on the porcelain, you aim to hit it again and again with each subsequent piece. this is my favorite.

3. Chutes and Poops -- (this works best after an initial pee) poop lands on the porcelain, and you see how high up you can get it before it won't slide into the water anymore

if you have any other suggestions for games I can play on the crapper, please let me know because I am bored to tears sometimes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

maybe I'll take the train next time

my plan for this morning was to take the bus from munnar to coimbatore -- the guy at the tourist information center told me that it left at 6:30am from the bus stand in town. easy enough, right? not really.

after I finally found the unmarked bus stand, 6:30 came and went, so I started asking the locals, "what time does the bus to coimbatore leave?" I got the following responses:

"there is no 6:30 bus"
"there is sometimes a 6:30 bus"
"there's a 6:30 bus but it leaves at 7"
"do you want tea or coffee?"

all spoken with the trademark head wobble, my absolute favorite.

yet another reason to love india.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

my first indian traffic jam

I'm in Munnar, a hill station high up in the mountains of Kerala. it is 60km to get from the bottom of the mountain to the actual town, if that gives you any idea of how many winding, single lane roads there are here. considering all the cars, buses, rickshaws and scooters in any indian city, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that we were caught in traffic for about an hour. the following seems to be the general idea:

* the initial traffic jam. most likely a huge tourist bus meeting another huge tourist bus, and neither can give way.
* the cars/rickshaws/buses start to pile up on either side
* since it's a single lane mountain road, there's nowhere to maneuver. so, people start parking their cars toward the side (turning the one lane road into about 4) and get out to enjoy the mountain air
* time to socialize. people are smiling, laughing, climbing on top of cars/buses to get a better view of what's going on. shanti shanti, indeed.
* out of nowhere, people appear to sell snacks
* those toward the back, like my car, are told to try to u-turn. easier said than done on a narrow mountain road clogged with cars. every able-bodied man between the ages of 15-60 tries to direct each car. however, we still hit the cliff divider, rocks, the occasional small child, etc.
* somehow, cars start moving. people keep all their limbs inside as each car/bus passes.

if I am ever frustrated by traffic on the NJ turnpike or the Eisenhower or the 405, I'll remember that it could be so, so much worse.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Squat Toilet: Still Not Owned

this is probably an inappropriate thing to blog about, but I figured I'd blog about it anyway as a warning for any of you who are going to be using squat toilets in the future.

I was on a 5 hour bus ride to munnar and had to pee really bad. so I went to the squat toilet and did my thing. unfortunately, I have a habit of looking down to make sure I am hitting the porcelain. (I don't want to veer right or left out of consideration for the next person, since pee on the bottom of your shoes is pretty gross) as I was looking down, the sheer force of my pent-up pee hit the toilet pretty hard and actually splashed back onto my forehead. yes everyone, I gave myself a bit of a golden shower today. the lesson here is: shield your eyes if you are going to look down while you pee.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


the one thing I regretted after I left the andamans was that I never caught a sunrise because I was always waking up at 10am. luckily the light shines right onto my bed at the hostel in Kodaikanal, so I was able to catch it this morning. the only thing better than watching the sunrise over an ocean is watching a sunrise over a lake of clouds.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm a cheap bastard now :(

when I originally started planning this trip, I figured I would budget about $15 (around 650R) a day for hotel, food, and incidentals. that's a good chunk of change in India, but I thought I would use it to make sure that I was always relatively comfortable. however, now that I'm here, I've started judging things by indian standards and it's hard to justify a lot of expenses. for example, I can usually get a meal for 70-80R ($2), and that's in a sit-down restaurant that is decently clean. a meal that costs more than 250R ($6) is really splurging for me, even if it's well within my western budget. and today, a rickshaw driver was charging me 25R to get to my hotel, but I knew he was ripping me off so I bargained him down to 15R. all that trouble to save 20 cents, probably one of my lower moments here.

during my final day at port blair, my friend Alex had a mild freakout to the hostel we chose to stay at -- justifiably so, considering our other friend, Cyrille, and I were killing mosquitos left and right in the bathroom, and while I was brushing my teeth, something was trying to crawl out of the sink. so Alex got a nice room at a nearby hotel for about $30, and later when he came to pick us up for dinner, he told us stories of his hot shower, a bathtub, a full-length mirror, a tv, sheets on his bed, a pillow that doesn't smell like mold, no need for a mosquito net, etc. all these things I used to take for granted! but things I won't have for a while because I can't bring myself to spend more than $3 a night for a room.

dirty hippie alert #2 -- the devotee edition

I'm sure they're all really nice and well-intentioned, but you should have seen the bemused looks these guys were getting from the locals. these people just scream 'I live in northern california,' no?


After being so chilled out on Neil Island, I was sort of ambivalent about going to Havelock Island -- it's a bigger island with more people, more restaurants, more everything, but I just wanted to keep my lazy hedonistic lifestyle going for a bit longer. not only did I become so lazy on Havelock that I opted to skip my dive course and instead lay around on the beach or on a hammock all day long, but Havelock blew my mind with its beauty. it's still hard for me to describe, so I'll just share what I wrote in my journal at the time:

We [my friend Alex and I] drove past farms and rice paddies and swaying palm trees and happy children as the sun was setting. The clearing through the trees opened up to the widest, most beautiful beach I've ever seen. White sand carefully groomed by the waves pushing back to sea. The water is flawless, arresting and so still. It actually glimmers. A stunning hill of trees fringing the south end. An array of green -- shocking, heart-starting greens where we were, faded lonely color toward the sun. We missed the actual sunset but it still radiated in the sky. Delicate watercolor canvas. An empty sky striped with softness. I wonder how many people start believing in God after seeing something like this.

The ride back is poetry. Really. Alex reminds me that I should look at the stars while he drives the moped, so I look up. A flashing Venus. Mars burns. Orion's belt has turned into a knife. A thousand flecks of cold white against a cloudless sky. It is bigger than my life. The thickness of the air lapped at my skin.

The milky sand is a waterfall at my feet and the water is lighter than light. A child's blue. The sun is disappearing behind a mountain of clouds when I finally get back to the beach. A molten pink fireball kissing the water, a veil of violet hiding their sin.

Monday, January 14, 2008

the Andamans: "if it's smokable, we're smoking it."

Hi mom. you probably don't want to read this post.

I've spent the past 5 days on neil island, a very quiet island in the andamans where there are only 3 guesthouses, a few restaurants, no internet or cell phone reception, and the main mode of transport is a bike. I always wondered what my life would be like if I had nothing to think about and nothing to do, and apparently it consists of eating, napping, sitting on the beach staring out to sea, reading occasionally, and smoking whatever comes my way.

just to be clear, I've only occasionally dabbled in illicit drugs -- I don't care either way for them, and I much prefer the destruction/debauchery that ensues from alcohol. but in the end, everything in moderation. however, there is nothing moderate about the sheer amounts of hash and grass and cigarettes that everyone has been smoking over the past 5 days -- there is apparently never a wrong place or time for it, since I've seen people roll a spliff and smoke it in plain view of police officers. I've had nothing to drink over the past week since there are no bars anywhere, but I've learned 3-4 new words for hash and smoked the indian and the israeli way, thanks to my new multicultural friends. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

India revelation #1: grown men get spanked here

I've spent the past 3 days in port blair, a semi-shitty entry city into one of the most unspoilt places in the world, the andaman islands. the reason I've spent so much time here is because of some debacle issuing ferry/boat tickets a couple of weeks ago -- they're in high demand and I didn't get on the ball until this morning. I've heard stories about how chaotic indian queues get, but the reality was even better.

8:45 -- I arrive at the ticket office to find a line of about 250 men on the left, and 20 women on the right (there are always separate men and women's lines). thank god I've got that extra x chromosome. it is hot as balls outside and there is no shade.
8:50 -- people start getting pushy because the ticket office is opening soon. men have their hands on the shoulders of the guy in front of them and they're pushing in a massive line toward the door. meanwhile, there are several indian navy guys with bamboo sticks waiting for them.
8:52 -- a small ruckus. 2 men are pulled out of line and whacked across the butt.
8:53 -- a large ruckus. 5 men are pulled our of line, all are whacked, 2 of whom at least twice.
8:55 -- the doors open and the women are let in first. I enter only to find that I have to get into another women's line, but at least this time, I have 14 to choose from.
8:57 -- the men are let in. I see running and a lot of tripping. I hear a lot of yelling. they are rushing to line up next to each women's line. everyone is sweaty, and that's made even worse because now we're in a relatively small space with no ceiling fans.
8:59 -- lots of money switching hands around me. dazed looking wives in line looking for their husbands, who probably made the right decision by sending the women to buy the tickets. guys are trying to sneak into the women's line. the rare times that the men don't yell at them to get back, I start preemptively staring people down and saying loudly, what are you doing, this is the WOMEN'S line.
9:06 -- bored-looking ticket counter workers take their seat and give all of us a look of disdain
9:08 -- they're just sitting there looking at us
9:10 -- still looking at us.
9:16 -- they finally open the counter. the woman in front of me is buying a boat ticket to chennai and doesn't have enough money, so she sends her friend to get more from her husband. two different times.
9:20 -- in the middle of this transaction, one of the other ticket counter workers needs to replace his printer ink. 2 other ticket counter guys, including mine, go to his aid.
9:23 -- printer crisis averted
9:33 -- I'm next in line. it's supposed to alternate between women's line and men's line, but I've heard stories about men trying to cut in front of women they perceive as hapless, so I put on my best intimidating look, put my backpack on the ticket counter so I can claim as much space as possible, bare my pointed elbows in a 'subtle' way, and say, hi, I'M NEXT.
9:36 -- as the 3rd person in line, I finally get my turn.

I think I've learned my lesson here, which is to either do this online or bribe an island boy to do it for me.

cows, cows everywhere, and not a steak to eat

that pretty much sums up on my feelings on the cuisine here. I threw up all over the streets of port blair the other day, and even though it's probably due to taking my malaria medication on an empty stomach, I like to think that my body is rejecting all the vegetables I'm now being forced to eat. 5 days down, 2 1/2 months more to go. well, at least my poops have taken on all manner of interesting features.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Bucket bath, I own you. Squat toilet, you're next."

the last time I took a bucket bath, I was 11. I was at my lola's house in the philippines and there was a well in the backyard with an enclosure around it, and you pumped out water, heated it on the stove, and then did your thing. not one of my fonder memories, because it felt sort of scuzzy and really, who wants to take a bucket bath when showers are obviously the way to go. so imagine my delight when, after a nice day at the beach with some kids from the hostel, I decided I wanted to freshen up before dinner, walked into a shower room, and saw a concrete room with a faucet and a bucket, with nary a hook to hang my clothes on. since it was dusk, there was also a nice swarm of mosquitos around the little puddle by the drain.

I'm pretty proud of the fact that not only did I sack up and have a neuroses-free bucket bath, I also mastered the art of killing mosquitos while filling the bucket/washing myself. I really think this must be what parents feel like when they watch their child take a first step.

as far as the squat toilet, I'm actually pretty good at sitting on my haunches without peeing on the cuffs of my pants, and I'm not even squeamish anymore about using my left hand whenever I forget to bring toilet paper, which has been often. but I still let out a little yelp whenever I see a gecko or spider, so I don't consider it a true victory just yet.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

dirty hippie alert #1

the first in a series, I imagine. I am embarrassed to be american (I'm assuming he's american because come on, have you ever seen a german or an italian dress like that?)

Day 2: my eardrums long for home

I took the bus to Mamallapuram this morning, about an hour and a half away from chennai. mamallapuram was fine -- pretty rock carvings, a beautiful shore temple -- but the bus ride was outstanding as an exercise in noise tolerance. it seems like bus drivers here honk at the following:

* when cars/mopeds aren't driving maniacally enough
* to tell people to get out of the way (in a city of 11 million people, this is a frequent occurence)
* while passing cars, both to alert the slower car and warn anyone in the oncoming lane that we are f-ing unstoppable
* when traffic is at a standstill. again, a frequent occurence
* when someone falls off their moped and isn't getting up quickly enough
* when passing a fellow driver or anyone else they know
* a 'fuck you' of sorts to other drivers who so much as question the use of the horn with sideways glances
* when nothing's wrong, to show everyone that he has the loudest horn (i.e. biggest penis)

the honking seems to continue until the situation has resolved itself, sometimes 10 seconds later. as you can probably imagine, there was more honking than non-honking, and the decibels were registering quite impressively since I made the awesome mistake of sitting up front next to the driver. I didn't think anything could be louder than the new kids on the block concert I went to in 1989 (screaming girls + joey mcintyre's falsetto = deafness), but clearly I was wrong.

(picture) cow hanging out at the bus stop -- that cute kid and I were taunting it by mooing:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

India: I love you but for no real reason just yet

after a flight debacle that resulted in an overnight stay in DC, I've arrived a full day late to chennai, where I'm staying with my friend Shona. I haven't left her apt yet and actually I've only been in india for about 6 hours, but I think I'm going to love this country because:

-- it's so humid here that the pages of my books are curling. I'll probably learn to hate it, but so far it's a nice change from the freezing chicago cold.
-- it smells really . . .raw. I don't know how to describe it, but it reminds me of the smells in the provinces of the philippines. sort of earthy mixed with rain and diesel and soap. yum.
-- the driving is chaotic and it's really fun as long as I don't die. it took me a few minutes to realize that everyone drives on the left side here, because my taxi driver was taking advantage of the empty streets and driving on the right to speed past gas trucks that had "flammable" marked all over them.
-- people everywhere -- my taxi driver got lost in the small neighborhood where Shona lives. at 430am, we asked 5 different people where her street was. that even beats NYC I think.

look for more halfway-formed opinions once I actually get off the couch and meet Shona for lunch.

"You're doing what? Are you insane?" and other FAQ's

"Wait . . .where are you going?"
India from jan-march 21ish, living in beijing with michael until mid-April, travelling through china for as long as I can stand the language barrier (probably a month), cross the border into laos and make my way to bangkok, where I'll fly to london and live there for a month with michael so I don't go insane -- late june-july, most likely. fly back to bangkok and finish up the backpacking trifecta of thailand, vietnam and cambodia. get to malaysia, make my way down to singapore, maybe cross into indonesia and go through sumatra. see my family in the philippines, then fly to beijing so I can take the transsiberian railroad through mongolia to moscow, then get on another train and stop off in warsaw, berlin and brussels before I finally meet michael at st. pancras in london. this itinerary gets pretty sketchy past august, and anyway if I run out of money, I'm coming home a lot sooner :)

"what on earth is driving you to do this?"
it's the natural break in my life -- I hated my job in NYC and was going to leave anyway in January to go travel for 4 months before coming back to find another job. but when I was laid off in September, it actually worked out better because I was able to spend 2 months living in london with michael and see my parents for a good month and a half before leaving. cutting off all my ties to nyc is a lot more exciting anyway because it feels like I have the whole world at my feet and I can do whatever I want. and anyway figuring out what to do next is much easier when I'm relaxing on a beach somewhere in thailand, as opposed to freezing my ass off in february in NYC.

"so what are you going to do when you're done travelling?"
not sure, work-wise. I was throwing around the idea of grad school, but I think I'll miss the first semester with my travel schedule. I think I might just want to get on with it and find a job at a non-profit that won't piss me off as much as the union did. I'm 90% sure I'm going straight back to NYC with Michael -- he's looking into transferring to the NYC branch of his office, and anyway, we have a wedding to plan :)

"you're getting married? no way."
hey you'd get over your commitment phobia too if you met the man of your dreams. may 22, 2009, NYC (probably in queens, if you want a tiny hint for the venue)

"aren't you scared? your parents must be freaking out."
even though I've done a good amount of solo travel, this is kind of scary but not in a getting robbed/murdered/kidnapped kind of way . I don't do too well with loneliness so that's going to be the biggest issue for me, but that's also one of the things I really wanted to face on this trip. learning how to sit in bad spaces and be totally self-reliant. but maybe I'm wussying out by getting cell phones wherever I am. and yes, my parents are freaking out.

"are you bringing, like, everything you own with you?"
no, I have 5 ugly shirts that redeem themselves by being really good for hot weather, 2 pairs of khakis, 2 skirts, mosquito net/hostel sheets, rain stuff, tevas that I am reluctant to wear since I will be pegged as a dirty backpacker wherever I go, running shoes, and a rather impressive array of medical equipment that includes everything from cipro to syringes. a giant package of baby wipes for all the diarrhea I'm going to get. and I'm splurging by bringing a bottle of mouthwash, you know, since I'm american and I'm clearly obsessed with my teeth. etc.

"well . . .don't die."
I'll try not to.