Archive for January, 2007

the third thought…

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

First of all, the elephant mural was actually more like 6 feet by 6 feet – I was kind of rushing the typing and messed that up.  Elephants are pretty great, but not that skillful, or huge!

Secondly, the last thing I was thinking about was the ways that humans have figured out to get from point A to point B.  In the short span of 5 months, in order to get around the globe, Seth and I have experienced such a variety of ways -it really made me believe that our species is remarkably resourceful at adapting to different needs and environments.  Here is a quickly compiled list of the things we could think of off the top of our head….

elephant, camel, foot, bicycle, scooter, motorbike, car, truck, plane, tuktuk, cycle-rickshaw, ferry, slowboat, plane, train, bus.

“So far no horses or goats”, to quote Seth, but I’m sure we’ll be adding more to the list in the next few weeks!

Our Lao post should be up in the next week, and we are going to attempt to put some video up then too.


Saturday, January 27th, 2007

After our time living in the lap of luxury in Bangkok, it was a bit of a shock to enter an area where almost nobody speaks English.  Even knowing I was in a foreign country, India had lulled us into a sense of language proficiency, and we were shown the reality within our first 12 hours of leaving Bangkok.  We bought a bus ticket to a little northern town called Lampang, but when we pulled into Kamphang we realized that we would have to be a little clearer in the future.  If only our ticket had ANY English printed on it we may have picked up on it a little earlier!  Oops.  Luckily we hadn’t gone out of our way much, and we still managed to make it to Lampang, which we now called LamBANG, by 7pm that night.  But I find myself really wishing I knew some better Thai here.

However, even with the intense language barrier, it still seems somehow less foreign here than it did in India – the streets are clean, the people are honest and friendly, and things just seems to move along at an easy, laid-back kind of pace.  There are lots of tourists, but after all of our ‘bonding’ time in India, it’s definitely great to socialize.  It’s funny, though, I think we’ve forgotten how normal social interaction works – last night we went to some guy’s room to ask if he wanted to go grab some dinner, and instead of being all cool and laid-back, Seth announced, “so, we’ve decided you are going to be our friend”.  I guess it worked though, considering he actually came out with us!  I’m sure we’ll remember how to be cool in few more days, but in the meantime we’ve met some bizarre people, including a man from the UK who thought he was Borat, and made his entire family do a 6-man pyramid in the middle of the pub we were at!

Lambang, once we actually arrived, has really been a wonderful start for our Thai experience.  We had a few beers, a great sleep, and a big coffee, and then decided we were ready for some exploration.  We saw some bikes on the street and asked the shop they were parked in front of if we could rent them.  The woman looked confused and said she had never rented bikes but seemed fairly open about the possibility.  Neither of us knew what we should pay for the service, and so Seth and I offered 60 baat for two, and she countered with 600.  It was really quite a friendly exchange, considering how much compromise was necessary, and we finally settled on 100.  (India has made Seth and I quite good bargainers) The bikes weren’t great quality, but they were purple and red and had baskets, so that made up for a lot!  We rode around town, checking out some temples, backroads, and stopping for a thai massage.  Or should I say….THAI TORTURE!  Really.  Now, everyone has told us that Thai massage is an ancient art that combines massage and accupressure and yadda yadda.  But I really wasn’t prepared to be almost crying for a whole hour and both Seth and I walked out of the massage centre feeling as if the two tiny Thai women had beaten us up. I actually could feel the bruises forming.  Maybe it isn’t so much something to help you relax, but rather to make you stronger in the face of pain.  I may give it another try when my bruises fade, perhaps not every Thai massage is as painful…

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Since then, Seth and I have discovered the beauty of bikes and motorbikes, and have been exploring the lush countryside.  I must say, it is sure easier to get up those hills on a motorbike, but we have lots of bicycling planned for the next few weeks.  We tried our best to organize a bike trip to the Thai province of Nan, but as we have been living day-to-day with our planning, we couldn’t get a bus there today, so we decided to head to Laos today and push off the Nan trip until later.  We are going to try to bicycle through most of Laos, taking buses where there are no options other than busy roads.  I can’t wait.  These last few days have been so wonderful and relaxing, that I am beginning to wish I could figure out how to slow down time….

I’ll leave you with a few thoughts I’ve been having while on long stretches of mountain road on the motorbike – good time for pondering things!

– Firstly, yesterday we saw some elephants who are in the guiness book of world records for painting.  their best painting (a 6metre by 6metre mural) sold for 1.5 million baat two years ago.  they really were pretty good painters, but they were definitely better dancers, and one could even play the harmonica.  i remembered how good it is to feel like a kid again and decided that i really like elephant shows, even if they are kind of touristy!

– I’ve decided that travellers all experience places differently, and that there are different ways to see and interact with new places.  And of all the ways, I’ve decided that I am a food lover first and foremost, with ecotourism and socializing not far behind.  It’s lucky that the latter two balance the first so that I don’t become a blimp while over here in the land of incredible food and drink!

– i forgot the other one (the most important one i think) – there really were three things when i began but our bus for laos is leaving pretty soon and i’m feeling like i should probably go….i’ll write it out in my journal and post it up next time! 


Hanging in Bangkok with royalty

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Claire and I arrived in Bangkok after a pretty grueling journy.  We left Pushkar and took the bus to Jaipur, spent the night there then got an early (~7:30) bus to Delhi, thinking that the bus would be late and we’d end up just making our 9pm flight.  Not so!  For once everything went right on time and we were at the airport for 1pm.  At this point India decided to give us one last kick in the ass – because we were too early for our flight we were told that we couldn’t go into the terminal, and not only that, but to use the seperate waiting area outside we were going to have to pay!  Paying to wait at the airport was just too funny.  We tried our hand at bargaining our way in, but in the end just went to an expensive restaurant and spent our money there. 

After waiting 8 hours in Delhi we took our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore and commensed our next session of waiting.  We got in at 4am and our next flight was at 1pm, so another 9 hours of waiting and we were on our last flight – a budget airline that didn’t even serve water, much less coffee.  By the time we landed in Bangkok it had been about 34 hours with only 2 hours of sleep in the Singapore airport chairs.  Ugh. 

Thankfully we weren’t without help in Bangkok.  A friend of the family, Brent Smith, had very kindly offered to let us stay at his house while we in town.  On our way there we immediately started learning about our new surroundings.  First thing is that there is almost no spoken English here.  In India, just about everybody speaks Engish, so after all the traveling we got in a fight with the 1st Thai cabbie and ended up having to change taxis.  

When we finally got dropped off at the end of Brent’s block we proceeded to walk, pretty much aimlessly, around the neighborhood thinking that Brent’s house was this way and that way.  Finally ending our 1 hour search only 15 meters from the start!  Exhaustion can do some funny things to your brain!

When we fianlly made it to Brent’s house it was like we had arrived in the holy land after a long pilgrimage.  Brent was at work, but his friendly maid was home and let us in, gave us slippers, showed us our room, gave us towels for the shower and pool, and directed us to the freshly baked beef lasagna in the fridge!  We ate, showered and collapsed in our beds at 5:30pm and slept straight through until nine the next morning.

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After being welcomed like royalty, we learned that we were living not far off.  Brent’s beautiful condo in the center of Bangkok is located right next door to Thai and Indian royalty!  We even got to play in the pool with the young princes and their flock of nannies and friends.

After a bit of R&R we were ready to tackle Bangkok!  The first day we were in town we went out to the JJ weekend market and shopped till we dropped, literally!  We both bought new outfits to replace the ones that we wore out in India – or in Claire’s case, just to look pretty.  We knew that we were becoming more dangerous travelers because we decided, after 18 hours in Thailand, that it was time to try the street meat…and it was delicious!

The next day we went to the Siam Paragon mall, apperently the largest in all of Southeast Asia, and visited the flagship Barbara Barry store.  My aunt Barbara is an interior designer in Los Angeles and her first store opened in Bangkok right next to the Marth Stewart Living store.  And if I do say so myself, her work looks frigging great when displayed next to Martha’s!  We were treated like royalty there too!  Served her signature tea (from the shop “T” located at Grandville and Broadway in Vancouver) and given the full attention of the staff.  Especially when I was doing acrobatics infront of the store before introducing myself.  The highlight for me (sorry aunt BB) was admiring the painting by my mom, hung in prime position, right by the front door!

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The next couple of days went by in a flash.  We spent one day finding and figuring out the buses in Thailand, and capped off the day with just about the best dinner of my life!  Brent took us to a teppenyaki steak house where our personal chef juggled his spatula, skewer and even the egg for the fried rice!  Soooo good!

After that we were ready to head north and anxious to see the rest of this cool country!

The REAL last post!

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

So, Claire and I have finally come to the end of the India/Nepal section of our trip.  As these things go, there were times that I thought that the trip would never end, then all of the sudden I look at my journal and realize that our flight out of Delhi is tomorrow!  So as a final post from India I thought that I would give you some preliminary thoughts on the place and the people.  I have to warn you that I am still processing much of what I have learned here so don’t expect too much ground breaking insight.

To start with, how about a description of a typical day in India?  Generally I wake up at about eight o’clock.  Lying in bed I try to think if we had any plans for the day.  It’s likely that Claire had something in mind, but I can’t remember what, and her plans are probably going to change about three times before breakfast anyway.

Getting up I wander to the bathroom and hope that the power has been on long enough that there’s hot water.  Regardless of what I find, Claire and I are both ready for the day at nine and we head out the door. 

The hotels are usually planning on making the majority of their money off of the food you buy, so as we pass through the lobby it takes considerable effort to rebuff the offers of tea, coffee and toast with jam – Claire and I tend to prefer the company of the locals and also find that the street food (omelets, tea and coffee) are frequently better than hotel food anyway.  We step out of the safety of our hotel into the streets.  Before we are 5 steps from the door trail of ‘Hello!’s, and ‘Good morning!’s follow us like a shock wave.  During the first few weeks in India, you feel obligated to reply to all of these advances, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that you will never get anywhere in town when you have to stop and talk to every second person on the road.

Part of the day is spent searching for an acceptable coffee and embarking on whatever we have planned for the afternoon.  There is also a part of the day that is spent looking for a local food vendor that makes thali (a bottomless Indian dish that consists of dal, curry, rice and chipati) and can understand ‘Little salt, little oil, but spicy.’  We tried learning the Hindi for this, but that confused them more than our English…

The evenings are bonding time.  We almost never have TV, even more rarely TV and power together, and when the stars do align, Hindi CNN is never enough to keep our attention anyway.  There is very little in the way of a tourist night life in India.  Claire and I have speculated long and hard about this, and believe that there are a few factors.

1) If you go to a local place, you are the entertainment.  Indians have no qualms about outright staring, and will readily stop what they are doing to watch our funny Western ways and to laugh if Claire is showing more than her neck.

2) Drinking is sacrilege, making bars and hard to find.  And coffee and tea all night just doesn’t do it.

3) The travelers in India are generally older and seeking enlightenment.  Very few people under 30 come here and as a result many are content with just reading, meditating and going to bed.

So what this means is that Claire and I have had about 90 nights of one on one bonding time.  Some might say that that’s too much, and I times I agree with them.  But we have found ways to entertain ourselves and have actually bonded through it all.  And it makes the social life of Vancouver all that much more special.

So that just about wraps up a normal day here.  I also want to comment on the culture and people, as this has been asked about on this blog before.  It is hard to know where to begin.  The couture here is really beyond description.  I have seen it called a ‘functional anarchy’ and think that that’s reasonably accurate.  In public ways I couldn’t imagine a more live and let live environment.  You can spit, throw trash and pee wherever you like and can drive on the wrong side of the road if you like.  Nobody will look twice.  However, in private ways this culture will judge you and damn you before you even know what you did.  They also have very little modesty when talking to travelers, asking questions like ‘Do you have sex together?’ and once, when Claire had her hat in her front hoodie pocket and her money belt below that, she was asked ‘Are you pregnant?’ – always without the slightest look embarrassment or guilt!

Work conditions and poverty are another issue altogether.  It seems that most of the country is self sufficient.  Neither paying taxes or taking advantage of the taxes others pay.  In small towns, those who cannot, or do not farm are generally destitute, and most of those who farm are heavily in debt.  However, they make a living, own their own home, and smile at you as you pass.  The workers who see the hardest work conditions seem to be the ones without property.  You see them hauling cement rail ties from the train, or moving dirt for new roads from the bus.  These people are normally doing long days in dangerous conditions wearing sandals and torn cloths.  They do not smile.

I really can’t get into the poverty issue right now as my feelings are not solidified.  I will say that it is more extreme that I ever planned to see and – to make it ever worse – includes many, many children.  To some extent you really have to keep it at an arms length while here, for when I let my guard down, I am struck with such remorse that India loses all appeal and adventure and takes on the visage of an open air prison.  This is one aspect that will impact me over the course of my life in ways that I cannot even speculate on.

As a final note, I must not leave out the beauty of the culture and customs.  The desire of the people to know everything about you.  The hustle and bustle in streets, the open markets in the shadow of the Himalayas.  The men and women selling coconuts from baskets on their heads and the joy and majesty of beholding wonders like the Taj Mahal make India an all round positive and unforgettable experience.

Now to find out about Southeast Asia!

Last post from India – rats, camels, and power lines on fire!

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Well, first things first.  We finally got around to taking a picture of the brilliant powerlines system they have in India.  It pretty much consists of a rat’s nest of wires supported just above our heads, sort of an ‘each for their own’ type of arrangement.  People steal power, frequently lose power, and we’ve even seen power lines on fire, with no one seeming to take much notice! The other pic is for my dad, who loves taking photos of limes and chiles, and would be interested to know that they are considered a good luck charm here, and strings of them are found on every shop and car!  The picture is sideways, but you get the idea.

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Since Hampi, we’ve hit up some big cities – Delhi and Jaipur, and have some assorted pics.  The first one is the Grand Bazaar in Delhi, a crazy little strip of humanity!  The second is the largest single piece of silver in the world, used to hold Ganga water for some Indian dignitary while he visited England, so he could cleanse himself even while abroad.  The third if from the huge astrological observatory in Jaipur, where the instruments are the size of apartment buildings.  This one is Seth in front of the sundial, which is accurate to 2 seconds.  The final one is Pushkar, where we are hanging out and relaxing until the 18th, when we head to Bangkok.  If you look really closely, you will see the hundreds of kites in the air, as we were here for the annual kite festival yesterday, where kite flying, drumming, and dancing filled the streets!

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The highlight of our last two weeks was the ‘camel safari’ we did just outside of Bikaner.  Two Swedish girls, a guy from Boston, Seth and myself went off for two days into the desert, equipped with 6 camels, 7 camel drivers, guides, and cooks, and two large carts to haul all of the blankets, food, and beer.  Just a casual little expedition!

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The camel trek was lots of fun, as we enjoyed getting to know the funny guides (constantly getting really high), having some local boys play music by our campfire, and getting to know the three other travellers.  But we also rode through some of the poorest villages in all of India, isolated in the desert, accessible only by 4WD and camel cart, with very little water and food after the drought this season.  These towns were the most untouched by tourism that we have seen, and the children would run after our camels, yelling ‘Tata!’ (hello) and asking for our empty waterbottles, a very valuable commodity, apparently.  We wanted to get to know them better but their poverty created a huge barrier, as they were only begging from us, seeing us as bearers of vast amounts of wealth.  Even at night, our campfire was ringed by a group of small children hoping for a handout.  At one point, a boy was begging for what seemed like a beer, but it turned out he only wanted the can, for use as a lantern.  At the end, we were left with the impression that the desert is a majestic and beautiful landscape, but harsh and inhospitable to live in.  We have a high respect for those who can survive in it, and I can’t even begin to understand how they could grow any crops at all in the hot, dry sand.

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The trek finished up in a town famous for its ‘Rat Temple’.  Not sure how this all started, but someone must have started feeding the rats, and the temple became infested with hundreds of them.  Now, they are billing it as the “Eighth wonder of the world” all because of these resident rats, which are now very well fed and NOT afraid of the light or the tourists.  It was not our favorite sight, especially as no shoes are allowed inside the temple.  Perhaps it might be the 1,987,789th wonder of the world, but it ISN’T in the top 10.   

Chocolate IS a major food group! (we tested it..)

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

Well we somehow survived our 37 hour, 2000+ km train ride from Hampi back to the north, and arrived in Delhi for the second time.  However, two and a half months in India really prepared us for busy cities, and Delhi seems a lot more calm, pleasant, and manageable than back in October.  For example, arriving at the train station, we were barely hassled at all.  When we were last at that station, we were surrounded by touts and beggars all yelling at us and trying to head us off in their preferred direction.  I think we have perfected the ‘icy look of death’…!

Thankfully all that traveling was not in vain!  Hampi was easily one of the coolest sights that we have seen in India. It is unfortunate that such a nice place has a name that reminds me of a friend’s hampster, also with the same name, but nonetheless it managed to rise above my prejudice.   Not only did it have the impact of ancient Rome’s ruins, but one tenth the people (and the price)!  Hampi is the town which sits amidst the remains of a huge empire which ruled most of South India until it was sacked in the 16th Century.  What remains is a 27km square protected historical site with hundreds of temples and carvings spread out among huge boulder fields and banana plantations.  The town is peaceful and friendly, (except for the mosquitos) and the landscape is vast and powerful, with huge rocks that seem to be precariously balanced on each other (for those of you who know Wyoming, notice the striking resemblence to Veedawoo – except for the banana plantations and the river).

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Although every single person told us it was “NOT possible” to cover the area on foot, we found that the roads didn’t really access everything we wanted to see, and walking was a much better pace anyway.  And less breathing in of exhaust.  So not only did we get some exercise, but we also got an in-depth tour of the plantation when we got lost and had to scale the palm tree and climb across the river to get back to the road.  After that we still felt like an adventure so we climbed to the top of the tallest mountain that we could find and took photo panoramas.

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The rest of our time in Hampi was spent preparing for our marathon train ride.  After getting sick so many times we decided to try and take all our food with us.  The only problem was that the only food that could last in the heat was from the bakery and came prepackaged.  We have now proved that Snickers, chips and cake are all it really takes to survive in India.

Goodbye Paradise…

Monday, January 1st, 2007

After 6 days on Panolem Beach, we headed for Candolim, just north, to spend Christmas at a guesthouse we had reserved in advance…

Things didn’t work out quite the way we had envisioned, considering we walked into the garden and thought we had accidentally ended up in a retirement home.  And the blasting Christmas tunes didn’t improve our mood.  5 minutes later we had already had our first fight with the owner, amazed that her ‘free breakfast’ included only watery nescafe and two pieces of white toast.  All this for ten times what we normally pay for accomodation.  We ended up winning the battle for some fried eggs but the next day we set off to find some new, greener pastures.  The last ‘kick in the pants’ was when she served us the hard-won eggs and toast but denied us the butter until we had completed another argument.  Good times!

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Our Christmas day was 6 hot, dusty hours looking for the perfect spot in the hippie beach town of Anjuna.  Our search finally paid off 5 hours in, when a restauranteur called up his friend, who luckily had a suite in her place available.  As soon as we saw the brand-new house with green marbled floors, 15-foot coved ceilings, and our own private porch, and realized that it was half the price of our other place, we knew we were home!

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With the money we saved, we rented a motorcycle for the week (if you happen to be our mothers you can go ahead and skip the next paragraph…) and spent the next 6 days tootling around town and daytripping up the coast.  Claire learned how to drive the little ‘Red Rocket’ and it was hard to get the driver seat back after that! One day we ended up at a beach near Arambol, with a freshwater lagoon just 30 feet from the ocean, and a hike through the jungle brought us to fresh mud baths and a huge, sacred Banyon tree with a 50M canopy span.  Pictures do not do it justice! Note in the last picture on the line that Claire is wearing her ‘water safety’ gear, a thoughtful Christmas gift from Seth.  Even on holiday, safety first!

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Probably the highlight of the week was our night out on the town at Club Cubana, an open-air, three tiered club high up on a hill overlooking the Goan coast.  We had prepared for our big night out with an afternoon in the Anjuna markets and a few beers at a beach bar afterwards, listening to an aging hippie band that consisted of a sitar player, two drummers, a didge player, a guest accordian brought up rather randomly from the audience, and the star of the show, a mick jagger lookalike wearing skintight black pants two sizes too small, with a hairy belly hanging over the belt.  By this time we were PUMPED for our night out!  

We’ll be honest, the real draw to the club was that once cover was paid, all drinks were free all night.  And even better, the night we went, ladies cover was free!  So after Seth paid cover, we set off into the club to make sure we drank our money’s worth (not too tough!)  We were amazed by the decadence of the club, with multiple bars, free massages, and a pool with an incredible view of Goa.  We had a great time dancing and meeting all kinds of people and wishing this club existed in Vancouver…although the ski club would DEMOLISH it!

New Years was similarly fun, we got some gin and headed to the beach, where we discovered a bonfire, some good house music, dancing, and fireworks.  All was great until just after midnight when some drunken amateurs were setting fireworks off directly over (and into) the crowd.  After Claire found a spark on her foot, we decided to move along. 


Tomorrow, onto Hampi and then back to the North to check out the Rajasthan desert.