Friday, March 28, 2008

you know it's hard out here for a pimp. I mean, rickshaw driver.

my friend Bjorn is learning Hindi and as I was flipping through his lesson book, I noticed this. man, I definitely would have paid more attention in french if we had anything half this interesting to translate.

dirty hippie alert #4: modern "dancers"

yesterday, my friend Bjorn asked me and another friend, Philip, if we wanted to go to a japanese dance performance. my initial thought was, awesome, maybe it's kabuki! no, it was even better. I don't even remember the name of the style of dance, but it's all about letting your inner being express itself. in a later conversation, one of the dancers called it "a dance of the subconscious."

this guy's inner being seemed to like clinging to the walls and acting super "special". I mean, christ, how else do you describe this.

and apparently his inner being is actually a monkey.

during all the performances, the other dancers would sit to the side and "feel inspired" by the dance. you can't really tell in this picture, but the guy in the black is swaying in circles, the woman in pink is bobbing up and down, and the woman in yellow is snarling and clawing at the floor.

this is during the finale, when all 5 dancers let their inner beings start interacting.

it started raining, so obviously their inner beings wanted to go outside and be in harmony with nature.

theatre was in the stunningly beautiful, large home of the japanese teacher, overlooking the mountains. the dancer pictured below told me that you have to take the course for a minimum of 3 months, and I couldn't help thinking, you sucker, you are paying the utilities for this guy's pool so that he can teach you crap. absolute crap.

later that night, Bjorn, Philip and I were sitting around shooting the shit and the performance came up. I won't name names, but here's a little slice of our deconstruction. see if you can guess who said what:

"it was really interesting, I think it was about the ego overcoming the self."
"maybe, I thought it was more about life and death and the struggle of the spirit to break free of that cycle."
"uh huh. hmmm. yeah . . .I could, uh, see that."

just to be clear (so I don't go to hell for this post), Bjorn and Philip are awesome and the dancers I talked to were really cool. and I'm sure the dance is therapeutic and all that, and who knows what sort of fucked up dance my inner being would do. but I really, really have no interest in finding out :)

dirty hippie alert #3: the osho devotee

my past couple of posts have been pretty serious, so I figured I would counter with some dirty hippie action. I've been slacking on the alerts due to a combination of slow internet connection and always forgetting to bring my camera to the internet cafe. this is actually an alert from february, when I was visiting my friend Cyrille in pune.

this was taken outside a german bakery near the osho ashram. for those of you who don't know osho, he is hot shit over here. officially, he is an indian guru who spent time in oregon establishing a commune, and was subsequently deported for immigration violations and tax fraud. unofficially, he is the "sex guru." he's got a pretty open attitude toward sex -- so open that in order to take workshops at his ashram, men and women (mainly westerners) are required to take an HIV text. why? because osho's belief is that people should be free to act on their sexual impulses, and if that means orgies in the public gardens for everyone to see (I've actually heard reports of this), then so be it. unsurprisingly, the demographic at the ashram apparently becomes somewhat skewed, with older western men comprising the majority of devotees. like this guy. come to papa!

the worth of the west

during my time in india, I've had to defend myself against a fair amount of anti-americanism -- there aren't very many americans travelling in this region, so the few americans who are here end up being a sort of whipping post for frustrated europeans, australians, and other folk. after explaining to them that more than half of americans actually disagree with bush and that I myself worked for 5 years against his domestic policy, they usually let up a little. then we inevitably talk about obama v. hillary, and everyone is excited to see what happens. weirdly, all these conversations have sort of reinforced why I love the u.s. -- sure we've been in a dark time with bush, but people have never stopped trying to change things. and now, with the democratic primaries, there is so much potential for good in the future. coupled with the fact that the past few weeks in india have been really trying, I've been oozing with pride over the fact that I'm from the western world -- women are treated unbelievably better and have much more self-expression, I don't constantly worry about getting ripped off or taken for a ride, we don't throw our garbage in the street or river, etc. if patriotism was about western values and the western way of living, I would be uncle sam's favorite poster child.

all that has changed in dharamsala. it is sobering to understand how much power the west has, and how frustratingly little they do with it, particularly in situations like tibet. I thought I knew what 'marginalized' meant through my work in the u.s. (of COURSE, big drug companies are going to take advantage of old people! of COURSE, wealthy companies are going to exploit their workers!), but the situation with these tibetans is really opening my eyes to how much worse marginalization can get. the organizer in me wants to build a movement from the ground up, but how do you do that against a behemoth like china that doesn't actually give a shit? how do you do that when your people are so spread out and your real government is in exile? what the tibetans need is outside interference, but how do you do that when no country will be your advocate because in the end, it's not worth it, literally? the western world could band together for human rights so easily, and yet they choose not to. over and over again in so many parts of the world.

I've been reading stories about western 'support' for tibet and I don't know if I should laugh or cry. like when pelosi was here, sure she met with the dalai lama but she was so careful to word what she said, because her hands are tied by u.s. interests in china. but for days after, monks were carrying american flags. even yesterday, I had 2 monks approach me, ask if I was american, and when I replied yes, they gave me a big smile. for once, being american scored me bonus points. but for once, I wished one of them had called me out on it. it is so upsetting to be identified with a country that will inevitably let them down because it doesn't have the balls to go against its economic self-interest, because it doesn't have the balls to take the moral high ground.

after the holocaust, everyone said 'never again.' and yet, my beloved country and my beloved western world, with all of its money and power, still can't do the right thing.

this guy is part of a group of young tibetans that paints anti-china/pro-tibet tshirts all day long. here he is, with the beginnings of a shirt that will show the tibetan and u.s. flags intertwined. as if my heart weren't breaking enough as it is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

free tibet

I am in dharamsala right now, where the dalai lama is living in exile. usually it's pretty shanti shanti here, but things have changed ever since the massacres in lhasa in mid-march. half of the tibetan shops were closed when I arrived, out of solidarity with the strikes in tibet. tibetans, even the monks, are painting their faces with pro-tibet slogans. everyone, including foreigners, is displaying a tibetan flag. there are at least 2 different hunger strikes going on. walls throughout the town are papered with news articles from around the world regarding the massacre, pictures of murdered monks, and painted signs expressing tibetan frustration. there are continuous marches throughout the day, and candlelight vigils and prayers at the temple complex at night.

as a western liberal, I've always known I should be pro-tibet, but I never actually felt what that meant until I got here. it is really sobering to see how little power and leverage these people have against a behemoth like china, and how no country will actually step up to defend these people if it means acting against their economic interests. for example, nancy pelosi and 9 senators came to dharamsala to meet with the dalai lama, and there are still signs up saying "thank you, united states, for supporting the tibetan cause." that makes me want to cry.

Monday, March 17, 2008

or, we could just do that

I needed to recharge my cell phone today but there was no electrical outlet in my room. I asked the owner of my guesthouse where I could find an outlet, and he replied that there was one on the wall near my room. I was fine with just plugging my phone in right then and there, but, nice guy that he is, he offered to set up an extension cord into my room.

hello, shady, shady live wires.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

kind of like being back on the J train platform

this is the Karni Mata temple in Deshnok, renowned for its holy rats. around 22,000 of them.

there's a neat story behind it, something about the hindu goddess Durga asking the god of death to resurrect the son of some guy, and when he refuses, she takes all the souls in the underworld and turns them into rats, thereby depriving him of company. something like that. either way, the story was the least of my concerns in this temple, especially since I arrived shortly before dawn in time for their morning feeding. in case you're not sure what's going on in that last photo, those are 2 rats nibbling at my feet -- thank god the sadhu was nice enough to give me booties.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

what can YOU fit in a pickup truck with an extended cab and short bed?

because in India, you can definitely fit:
* 14 people in the bed, as long as 4 people are standing. oh, and 2 goats.
* 2 people on the roof, though I think 4 would still have been comfortable
* 4 women in the backseat with 5 children in their laps
* 3 people in front, in addition to the driver

welcome to my ride across the thar desert to get back to jaiselmer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

definitely better than backgammon

in an earlier post, I talked about games I had invented to make the time pass quicker while on the squat toilet (see, "even better than set or scrabble"). I have a small addendum to that.

Bullshit: (esp good if you have just taken a 3 hour cooking class or are in a town with Gujarati food) you create a massive pile of shit on the porcelain, and then see how many quarter buckets of water it takes to flush it down into the hole.

is this becoming excessive? I think it probably is.

a sunset that is . . .memorable

looking at this picture, you'd think I just went to some badass indian rock concert, right? nope, I went to watch the sunset. that's right folks, these people are filing off of a mountain. I'm in mt. abu right now, which absorbs a lot of the honeymooning runoff from udaipur, and sunset point is supposed to be one of the most romantic things to do here. I mean really, can you imagine anything more romantic than . . .

walking up a shit-stained street, hand-in-hand with your beloved . . .

so you can sit on benches and crowd around with 1,000 of your closest indian newlywed friends (while women walk around selling bhel puri, chai, and other snacks, of course) . . .

and take pictures as the sun (what you can see of it, as there are probably people in front of you) sets into dust? smog? what is that?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bond does india

Udaipur is my first stop in Rajasthan, and any local will tell you that it's most famous for its part in 'Octopussy,' a mediocre Bond film (Roger Moore, not even Sean Connery). after spending a good chunk of the day walking around, I was a little miffed to discover the following discrepancies between the film and reality:

1) There are gorgeous western women running around half naked and in perfect hair and makeup, everywhere. Manning the rows on the boat, at casinos in sheer tops, bellydancing for guards, all of it a veritable boobfest. First of all, those women don't exist here-- most western women here are pretty grizzled from all the travelling they've been doing, and I certainly didn't see any dirty hippies in that movie. Secondly, those women would definitely be gawked at and/or harrassed and I didn't see a single sideways glance from anyone. that sounds harsh, but it's a reality -- india is probably not the best place to play out your half-naked harem fantasies, yet here is Octopussy, leading a rogue band of hot women on a scantily-clad-women's-only island in the middle of udaipur's lake. wtf?

2) Bond escapes into a jungle, where he is pursued not only by the bad guys, but also every single type of animal you would stereotypically find in a jungle. there isn't even a jungle around here, but if there were, you certainly wouldn't find a crocodile in it. some would argue that the tiger is legit, but I think we're in the wrong part of india for it. and the big snake is reasonable, but to encounter all of these within 3 minutes? udaipur is the honeymoon capital of india because it's tame and pretty, not because it's the bush.

3) the bad guy's bodyguard is a huge indian guy wearing a turban. I really don't think any of the hollywood producers were thoughtful enough to think, hmmm, he's wearing a turban because we want him to be Sikh. nope, I bet the producer was like, OOOH, what is more indian than a turban? and come on, he has maybe one line in the movie! all he does is grunt, and bring out all sorts of exotic weapons with which to fight Bond. a totally disappointing representation of indian people.

4) no head wobble, no one spitting betel nut juice, no indian music anywhere, and only one cow the entire film? they might as well have saved their money and filmed on a set in Queens, because the only thing they got right was the crazy rickshaw driving.