Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Possum Party

By Kathleen

The wildlife in Australia is endlessly fascinating to me. With no indigenous mammals accept the dingo dog (or so I’m told) the creatures that inhabit the land are new and strange to me. Being as isolated as they were from the rest of the world, Australia’s animals evolved in special and unique ways.
Most of the warm blooded ones are marsupials ( the kangaroo) or monotremes ( the platypus). They all seemed to have evolved to be especially adorable, which I’m not convinced is the best survival strategy.

I often wonder what the first European explores thought of the wildlife and how they described it back home. There are birds that sound like demons in the woods and rainbow colored parrots. There are strange warm blooded creatures that lay eggs, and then there are the famous kangaroos which have heads that look like deer, eat grass, hop like rabbits and are as big as a man. I wonder if anyone believed them at first or if people just nodded and smiled and thought “ that’s what happens when you drink too much salt water”.

Most cold blooded animals seem to be some degree of poisonous.  So in Australia I have made my own categorized of wildlife, cute and deadly. Lets hope I don’t find something that falls in both of those. ( Thinking about it kangaroos do fit this as they are cute but if they jump into the road while you are driving they can be deadly, it’s like hitting a deer… that hops.)

I so far have been lucky enough to see some wild kangaroos up close, well, not too close and even encountered one of those poisonous snakes. There are road signs that warn of wombat and koala crossings but we haven’t actually seen one yet.

Then, last night, I was taking a shower in the bathroom when I heard this group of kids with accompanying mothers come in. “ Where is it honey?” one of the mothers asked, “ Up there see.” A child responded, clearly afraid. I was toweling off so I stopped thinking ; where was what.. hopefully nothing poisonous…

I asked them what it was “ There’s a possum!”. I thought for a second with the accent that they said python which would have been cool, but then I remembered that I don’t think they have those here. “ Oh a possum” I replied and hurriedly dressed as they discussed a way to remove the hapless fellow.

Now I grew up with cats, outdoor cats, and anyone who has ever had one will know that they bring you “presents” often still alive for your pleasure. So I’ve seen my fair share of scared bunnies and birds and chipmunks and the like, oh and I love rodent like creatures. The kids thought I was hurrying to get dressed and escape, I was hurrying to get dressed and see the little guy.

There it was up in a corner of the bathroom, looking like a thief caught I the act, all big eyes and scared face. The poor thing was obviously terrified and upset that its dry warm evening home was inhabited by us. The ladies and kids went off to find some men to clear it out all the while shrieking about how ugly it was. I went to get Fiz to show him how freaking adorable it was.

The men got a broom, which really didn’t seem necessary and attempted to brush  out of the loo but it kept evading them until it ran to where Fiz and I stood cooing. “ Go that way” I told it and it seemed to understand because it followed where I was pointing to and escaped.

Possums back home are sort of like big cute rats, they are generally white and have whip-like tails and little fangs. They get hit by cars a lot and strangely they also play dead when they are scared. So generally unless you catch one scurrying around your garage this is what they look like.

This is an Australian possum. Now as yourself, would you sweep that out with a broom!? Adorable.
Australian Brushtail Possum by Michael Humphrys

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I’ve Been Workin’ On the Blueberry Farm…

This is how a blueberry cluster should look. Lots of blueberries ripening all the time. This is New England, not Australia.

By Kathleen

Alright, I know, we’ve been bad bloggers. Its true. I’m sorry.

See  last time we checked in, which was too long ago, I still had not seen a kangaroo and we were headed up the Hume Highway towards are blueberry destiny. That destiny, like so many fantasies, does not have a happy ending. Suffice to say we have completely sworn off blueberries and anything else blue for the rest of the year. Ok, well no not really that would be very dramatic. But we were swindled and now I have a better feel of what it is like to be migrant worker.

Where shall I begin…

We arrived in the small town of Kempsey, ready for our adventure and were excited to see, amongst other signs of life, a crunchy little organic store selling bulk items and Dr. Brommer’s Soap ( squee!)

So delicious!
The farm was located on a pretty little dirt road that apparently is populated by growers, we were warned not to go wandering lest we be mistaken for trespassers or police and shot. The blueberry farm was simple enough 6,000 plants is actually no so many when you see them all and there were reasonable facilities. Here I will point out that after Asia almost anything can look reasonable but in this case I mean a hot water shower, flushing toilet and kitchenette. Best of all it was filled with other backpackers. “ Great” we said.

The next day was our first blueberry picking day and it went swell. The sun wasn’t too hot, the work was easy, most everyone who spoke English was nice and we hit it off really well with a girl who is a long term volunteer at Panya ( for those who weren’t paying attention that’s the farm we stayed at in Thailand and yes… there is a quiz). We were in good company.

However, there were problems. They were small issues to be sure, like the missing door on the shower, or one toilet for 20 people, but seeing as we have already established that anything above what 10$ will buy you in Asia is fine we didn’t much mind. What concerned us were the rumors that the money was crap.

In the add we were promised 7$ kilo for big berries and 2.50$ for a kilo of small, pretty good money. But then it rained… for a week, so but the time we showed up what fruit was left on the bush was mostly overripe. This was complicated by the fact that the last bunch of pickers hadn’t stripped the bushed properly so there was no chance for the plants to make new fruit. We were stuck with leftovers.

Still big leftovers little leftovers, they add up… or so we thought. Turns out that anything other that top quality big berries was deemed a “ jam berry”. We weren’t paid for jam berries. At first this seemed fair, they couldn’t sell jam berries so we didn’t get paid for them. Until it became clear that they were in fact selling jam. That interestingly, it was one of their biggest sellers. Funny…. I swear they were “jam berries” because they were bad and couldn’t be sold.

Now here’s a lesson for all you budding entrapanuers so listen up. If you have a product that requires minimal cost input and you don’t pay your labor then what you make is almost entirely PROFIT.

It really would have been almost tolerable, except for the farmer’s husband. He comes to us after work and gloats about how “his” jam sells so well he was able to buy a big screen TV after last weekend's market.

This is compounded by the fact that at every turn they would try and do favors, freeze your meat offer pizza, so we all felt too guilty to leave. Until we saw our paychecks. Then everyone made like Moses and got outta dodge.

Fiz and I didn’t leave with the exodus, we stayed for another week ( we did drive 1000Km to get to the damn place). In the end it was sad, the full timers were so cool and the work was fairly easy. Strangely the boss could never figure out why we all left. Totally eluded her. When we found out Fiz made $7 in one day we left too.

We traveled to Sydney where we stayed with the friend from Panya for a few nights. We also meet a German couple who happened to be staying as well. They were super cool and we ended up traveling with them on our way back down south.

The four of us spent Christmas under a tree with a roast chicken, some blueberries and Australian brandy cream.  Tropical birds, pink and white “caw-cawed” as we North Hemispher-ers wished each other a Merry Christmas. We were right in the middle of it when a huge thunderstorm came rolling, we ran through the rain with our chicken back to our cars.

Now we are back in Victoria in a place right outside of Shepparton called Mooroopna. It’s the middle of nowhere, not even a nice little organic shop in sight. We are looking to pick tomatoes. We need to get new tires for our car.

Prospects seem good. The people at the camping spot across the way have offered us picking jobs and we drove down here on the promise of a packing job. One is a lot more money than the other but the hours are crazy. Still I’m debating the crazy for the substantial increase in my personal wealth.

It is quite difficult to decide. I think we may find out more information tomorrow.

Oh and I finally did see some kangaroos!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


By Fiz

It has been five days since we arrived in Australia, and so far we have landed a job, bought a car, and started out on the 1200km journey to the farm we will be working on.

Flying into Australia was quite nice, except for some issues with the in flight entertainment systems.  We highly recommend Thai Airways, the flight attendants were very courteous, and accommodating, the food was quite good, and the planes were new with a very aesthetically pleasing interior. Our flight from New Delhi to Bangkok was just shy of 3 hours, then we had a 6 hour layover (where we dropped $20 on two burgers with fries and sodas), and we finished it up with the 9 hour flight to Melbourne. 

We arrived famished at Hotel Discovery, “Perfect for the budget traveler” with dorm beds starting at just $18 around 1:00 o’clock pm!  Our room was a four bed dorm which we shared with two Swiss women traveling having just graduated from College. We were paying $24 per bed and we were still paying less than any other guesthouse/hostel/hotel listed online for the Melbourne region.  After we checked in we went looking for food, which we found at a chain café/bakery called Pie Face, a cute little place that served all manner of savory and sweet pies.  Kathleen got a meat pie with a face drawn on the crust in gravy, and I had the first quiche lorraine I actually enjoyed since we left home.

With satiated appetites we began the job search.  We took the advice of other travelers and began our search on the Australian equivalent to and sent off applications to any and every ‘help wanted’ ad we saw.  There are two types of listings on Gumtree, the casual *Holy shit!  We just hit a bird in mid-flight, it flew in front of us and sorta bounced off our hood (or bonnet in Australia)* work, for backpackers and travelers, and Full-time, which is a permanent position listing.  About 15 cafes and restaurants got resumes from us, and a few farms as well.

Ironically the farm we landed a job picking blueberries on is the farm we liked best when we were first looking at harvesting listings while we were in Nepal.  They ignored us until we called, though when I did they were very welcoming.  So within 24 hours we found employment.  The only issue was that we were a solid 15 hour drive south west of the farm itself… 

Thus began the hunt for a car. This was a bit more difficult.  We called every ad for every vehicle that could fit our luggage and was in our price range, so we responded to at least 30 listings on Gumtree, we ended up looking at three vehicles before we found the car for us.  The first was a camper van in rough shape, without any of the paperwork needed to actually drive the thing.  The second was an SUV that didn’t match up to the listing at all, and there were 3 groups of buyers, but the owner hadn’t put any effort into actually selling it, and was just showing it around. And the third was a station wagon that was all good and well except for the tires which looked like they were going to spontaneously explode, and the mileage was super high.

We ended up buying a Holden Commodore, from a used car dealership, a station wagon with enough room with the seats down to fit an inflatable double mattress in the back, AND fit all of our luggage in the front seats. Booyah!!  It has some issues, it likes to lean to the left, and when going uphill the ac only blows on our feet.

After stocking up on produce from the largest farmers market in the southern hemisphere and some other necessities; tent, inflatable mattress, cutlery, maps, ect., we turned out tail to Melbourne and began the journey to the Coffs Harbor area, we drove 4 hours and spent last night in a camper park.  We left the park this morning and have been driving through country oddly reminiscent of Southern France, or Tuscany, it also happens to be the wine country of Australia.

This morning we were woken up by the sounds of wildlife that was as foreign to us as the names of most of the road signs, cities such as Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, and Yea (No joke).  As of right now we are cruising at 120 Km/hr and are about halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, and haven’t seen a rest area for over an hour.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Days and Nights in New Delhi

By Kathleen

Sorry for the lax posting, it’s been pretty dismally calm here.

New Delhi can be an exciting place, or it can be mind-numbing. I hate that in cities you can’t be bored and go for a walk in the woods. In an Indian city especially going out for a walk always becomes an adventure and sometimes you don’t want an adventure you just want a god-damn walk.

That beings said this is what we’ve been up to:

Annual Day:
Fiz’s cousin has two kids, both boys, aged 13 and 8. Their school is posh, large and multi-storied with a soccer field and stadium lights, the amount of space it takes up is quite impressive considering it’s in the heart of New Delhi. Well once a year they have the Annual cultural and Sports Day, to prove their “fitness”.

“Fitness” is an obsession here, and while I agree that obesity is bad, there is more to life than sports, something which people here don’t always seem to get. Sports, Money, Family, end of story.

So we sat through two long, chilly hours of kids performing really mediocre theater and dance. Oh it’s true I’m bias, I was a theater kid and I went to a performing arts high school that produced really awesome stuff so when people say “they are just kids” I say “ so?” no excuse for bad theater.

It was interesting to see how many things were on fire during the show, at one point literally 40 kids had torches, TORCHES, out on the field… and yes a kid did catch on fire and need to be thrown under a blanket.

Birthday-Indian Style:

The day after Annual Day turned out to be one of the boy’s birthday so we got to celebrate India style. It’s been a few years since I was 8 but the level of the party seemed a little over the top to me. I mean really did the kid need a caterer? Really? I guess in India the answer is yes.

There was even a magician, which was a nice distraction and meant I didn’t need to pretend to be amused by 15 sugar high 8 year olds. (Though wow, they were all sitting very nicely and talking very pleasantly and then the soda was handed out. Ten minutes later they were bouncing off the walls yelling, popping balloons. I wish we had video of it. “These are your kids on sugar”)

The whole thing lasted about three times as long as I would have liked and nobody was speaking any English except Fiz. My Hindi is getting better, slowly, but after being so sick I didn’t much care to play bablefish with my brain. Turns out one of the ‘relatives’ who was sitting next to me for hours spoke English perfectly fine, she just hadn’t wanted to speak to me.

When she did start talking to Fiz later it was quickly revealed that she is one of the most boring people on Earth. I practically fell asleep as she explained her job and when she proudly said that she “never ate anywhere but home, ever” I just nodded. Clearly it was pointless to disagree. My favorite part was when she showed us a stand up comic on you-tube “here you’ll know him he’s American” and then he was British. Really people there’s a big difference between the U.S and the U.K… like 3,000 miles of water I like to call the North Atlantic.

A Venture into the Upper Crust:

So two years ago when we were in Auroville we met a woman our age who was loud, out-going and perfectly modern India. Her husband played in a pysc-trance band and she offered us rolls in the first minute of conversation. We declined but we have stayed in touch so we looked her up on the facebook and told her we were in town.

I hadn’t ever been to Gurgaon accept once on Valentines day to go to a hookah bar, and wow is it a totally different world. There are trees and huge glossy glistening Technicolor marriage halls and country clubs and malls like OMG.

Set amongst all this modern glam were pods of high rises which are not businesses but flashy sexy designer apartments for the new Indian Elite. We took the metro out to meet our friend. She met us with her chauffeur a half hour later because she had gone to the wrong station, she doesn’t take the metro, she confessed.

Her house was something out of either a designer magazine or an IKEA wet dream, everything was brand new, there were big windows, a nice kitchen and three floors of rooms. It was kinda intimidating I won’t lie.

We had dinner there and sort of talked, it seems the Indian tradition of not being great with strangers crosses over economic gaps. We smoked, we played Uno. It was nice to get out of the house and away from people who think we are extra-terrestrials. But it made me miss my down to earth friends and super appreciative of just how awesome they are.

This entry is mostly thinly veiled complaints. I’m itching to move on and get outta India. I’m sure I’ll miss it when I’m gone but right now this particular trip has been a huge fail. I still feel tired from being sick and seem to have lost all taste for Indian food, which is awkward. We leave for Melbourne in two days  and I’m a bit nervous about finding a job and getting into the travel groove again.

We’ll keep you posted.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Day Away

By: Kathleen

When it comes to holidays some travel better than others. Christmas can be spent on tropical beaches or ski slopes, New Years Eve can be spent anywhere you want, but Thanksgiving, All American Holiday that it is, can’t truly be celebrated without being in the U.S with friends or family.

You can take the tree out of Christmas, the snow and the reindeer and it is still a holiday, but take the turkey and the pie and the fire and the love ones out of thanksgiving and it becomes nothing more than another Thursday in November, no more special or interesting than any other.

So it was that this year I woke up in New Delhi and my first thought was “ It’s Thanksgiving”. As Fiz slept on beside me I played back some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories and then, in a fit of nostalgia started to try to remember as many Thanksgivings as I could, in order.
An hour later I was decidedly homesick. As it happens this was also the first time in four days that I’ve had enough energy to do anything other than lay in bed and read, so to test how human I felt and to celebrate the day we did something decidedly American, we went to the mall.

“The mall?” Everyone at home asked, yes, the mall.  New Delhi has changed quite a lot since my first visit here in 2008, a new metro is being built and new malls are springing up. The Select City Walk Mall is nicer than the mall near my home, and shiny new. Inside, purified air is pumped into a well lit space with international name brands like The Body Shop, Lush, Nike, Benetton, Adias, Marks and Spencers vie with Indian companies like Woodland. Here you can stop and get latté or a cinnamon roll (from Cinnabon) and still find stores that are selling the latest saree fashions. This year there are even lingerie shops added in, though no Victoria secret yet.

We got some pizza, which was made on a tortilla and had string cheese as mozzarella and stopped at the Crosswords for the latest George R.R. Martin book. We saw a kidi- table set up for making "Thanksgiving Gratitude pots" and wondered what the hell those were and counted the number of stores with Thanksgiving sales ( 4).It was very tiring after being so sick and we moved slowly.

The mall itself is a great place to people watch, ex-pats from all over the world gather here to shop, relax and escape the craziness of India. Well-healed locals lunch dressed in jeans and shalwar tops, all well manicured and done up. There are the occasional groups of Indians who stumble in and look about in awe, clearly new to the mall experience. It’s a happening place.

I have to wonder what India will be like in 10 years, 5 years even. The big cities are changing so fast and the country, and smaller cities are… Not. The divide between the two is getting bigger every year. The airport that I first flew into with no AC and squat toilets has been torn down and now a gleaming smoked glass and echoed steel marvel stands in its place. It’s hardly the same city I first met. It’s catching up with the future.

There is evidence of the changing India in other ways too. A new movie features a sperm donor as its main hero and my husband’s teenage cousin has a ‘spin the bottle’ ap on his iPad ( though it’s rules say things like “ kiss any girl on the check” and “ flick your friend’s forehead” which seems silly considering I was dating people at his age but these things take longer over here).

Though it’s undeniable that India is changing I wonder, as it vies for superpower status, is it changing fast enough? Compared with China India lags far behind in many areas, China is cleaner, its cities are more modern, its people are more familiar with middle class life an are less fettered by religion or custom. India has creativity though and imagination in abundance… if only it could get itself organized. But organization seems a far-fetched dream the moment you walk out of the mall. Then the traffic and the smog and the beggars hit you and its India all over again.

 But it’s Thanksgiving and I should be giving thanks, Here’s my list. This Thanksgiving, I’d like to say I’m grateful for all the things that have aligned that have made it able for me to travel, to learn about and to compare countries, to get new stamps and cross new boarders. I’m thankful for my health and the health of my husband and family. I’m thankful for the feel of wind in my hair, for the clean air, for clean water and clean food. I’m thankful for my friends and loved ones at home and for those abroad.

I’m thankful, despite all the issues it comes with, to be an American. It becomes especially clear on days like this that there is no place like home, no other place where I can get a taco and a swarma and a seaweed salad in the same town. There’s no other place where such amazing diversity of people and beliefs intermingle to create such astounding thoughts and dreams. I hope that we can find our way, that we can as a country get things straightened out because although here in Delhi I may be able to get the latest hits and the newest fashion…. I still can’t get a decent burger and certainly not a turkey.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Down with the Sickness

By Fiz

Traveling while sick sucks.  Few things are as disconcerting as feeling unwell in an unfamiliar place, where the doctors speak an unfamiliar language to one another, as if to spare you knowing what is making you feel like shit. 

Fortunately for us we didn’t get seriously sick till we arrived in India, where I do speak a bit of the language, Hindi.  It was in Varanasi, about 7 days into our stay, when it hit.  It started in the middle of the night, I woke up at some god awful hour and remember thinking that I was going to hurt in the morning.  Sure enough, I did.
Before my sitar lesson at 11:30 I had already vomited once and had 4 bouts of diarrhea.  Without going into the grizzly details, and believe me, you’re glad I’m sparing you, I was puking out my brains and shitting a steady stream for the rest of the day.  By 5 I conceded that I needed a doctor, so we called.

Now in India if you need a doctor to make a house call, make sure you call a good 2 hours before you actually think you will want to make the call. 

Like a proper Indian he said he would be there in less than an hour.  It was past 7 when he finally showed up, and the guest house staff had yelled at him at least once between 6 and 6:30.

‘You are sick.’ he declared authoritatively, like I needed him to tell me that.  He took my blood pressure and pulse, and said I was mildly dehydrated, and need an IV. And with that he sent for a nurse to come with an IV and a box full of everything imaginable.  Most of which I didn’t even use, but of course we had to pay for it all.

The nurse arrived another hour later and put the IV in and began prepping some injections for me.  When we asked what he was giving me he said “medicine”… no shit.
I asked again what it was, and got the same reply.  He eventually had to call the doctor as if to get permission to tell us what he was injecting me with.  Then we asked what the side effects were, and if it had any adverse reactions to what I take for my epilepsy, and he again had to call the doctor who instead of answering the question just said that it was all fine.  Eventually the doctor said that we didn’t find the medicine satisfactory so we should just go to the hospital. 

This went on for an hour.  Every time we asked the nurse anything he had to stop look at us confused and call the doctor.  On top of that he didn’t wash his hands once the entire time he was handling the shots or the drip or anything at all.  When he came the next day he actually blew his nose into his hand and rubbed it off on his pants and carried on changing the IV like nothing happened.  I was too shocked to say anything until it was done.  He was sick and he didn’t even wash his hands. Fucking asshole.

In fact the only time he did wash his hands was after he pulled the IV out.  The IV was in my arm for just shy of 2 days and I had been given 4000 mg of an anonymous antibiotic.  Then that evening we got on a 14 hr train to Delhi where family met us. 

And once there Kathleen promptly fell ill with the flu. 

Indians don’t understand the concept of having an upset stomach, which we both had.  They understand even less the idea of a restrictive diet not for weight loss.  So the very next day after we settled in with family, they serve very oily chicken.  I managed to avoid it, but Kathleen was guilted into eating to drumsticks.

Kathleen spent the entire night vomiting, the next day we took her to a clinic, and we hadn’t even finished telling the doctor what was wrong with her when he started telling the nurse to give Kathleen a shot.  Then it took another 5 minutes to find out what the shot was for, let alone what the name of the medication was called.
Then he gave us a list of things to buy from the pharmacy before he gave a lab order for a blood test. 

So when we got home less than 30 minutes after going in we look up what antibiotic he prescribed Kathleen on and we find out that the drugs are for respiratory infection, and UTI’s.  WTF??

We thought we had made it clear that she had stomach problems.  On top of that the side effects of the drug were nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Which just so happened to be the major symptoms of whatever the hell had infected Kathleen to begin with. We called the doctor back and told him that we thought he gave us the wrong antibiotic, and he said he didn’t and left it at that.


Doctors here are terrible, they don’t really listen to what you say, and they act like you know nothing about health, and remedies.  But worst of all, you don’t feel like you can trust anybody, or feel comfortable or safe in anybodies hands.  The only comfort is that the needles come in packages so you can watch the nurse crack one open before the tip slides under your skin.  Also, they suck at taking blood, and giving shots.

In short, don’t get sick in India. It’s almost worth catching a quick flight to Bangkok if you feel yourself coming down with something serious.  Or try to track down a well known Ayurvedic doctor in the area.

Ah well, we are both on the mend, and hopefully we will be in Australia soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011


By Fiz and Kathleen

A hellish bus ride south from Pokara, that included a loud argument with the bus drivers (which we lost), and a ride on top of a jeep, brought us to the border crossing to India.  From there us and our travel companions had two options either we make do with the mediocre accommodations, with no information of the bus timings in India, or we could cross and hope for better beds, with India’s idea of a bus schedule. We opted to cross.

The hotel should be casted in a horror flick set in India.  The place was creepy.  We walked in just before dusk and when we walked inside it was pitch black. We wandered in bumping into walls and the first person carrying a flashlight was a family of Indian tourists.  Some one brushed past us to go kick on the generator.  The din it raised shattered the silence of the hotel.

The room had that, accidental overdose kind of décor that’s so popular amongst cheap stays in Asia and we left the light on all night to prevent cockroaches from appearing.

Food was another issue, there were no restaurants in Sunali so we settled for cold deep fried sandwiches and samosa and chai from a tiny street vendor. We ate in what we later realized was their bedroom/living room/ kitchen.

Let me pause for a moment and explain “ we”. There was the two of us, a young German couple and a solo-woman from Taiwan. We didn’t really talk, we weren’t really friends but for two days and two nights we found food together, took busses and trains together and slept under the same roof. This is called safety in numbers and it the unspoken agreement is, we all go together and no one gets left behind. This is one of those rules of the road that I really love, it reminds me of epic travel adventures, meeting people in taverns and hazarding the road together. It cool that it still exists. Once we reached our destination we split ways, no contact information necessary.

That’s the way the road works, you meet people, some you love some you hate, many in-between. You exchange stories often more openly than you ever would at home, you talk politics and bitch about world events and you above all try to impress upon one another what you country is like.

Amongst other English speakers we usually try to find all the possible differences between our language. I know that sounds contradictory but there are so many kinds of English and though we all speak a common tongue we don’t always know what the other person is saying.

Then there are the regional differences, people like nothing s much as to point out where exactly they are from in the English speaking world and why, this is especially popular amongst Americans who I think get tired of being lumped together when we are sometimes very different. “Noooo, that’s what they say in Georgia not North Carolina” or “ I’m from Massachusetts… no not Boston.” “ Ohio is nothing like Minnesota” ect.

Fiz started this post, but I’m finishing it in a very interesting place, a government lassi shop called the Blue Lassi in Varanasi while he goes and has a sitar lesson. I was told that they have wi-fi here, but I haven’t seen any evidence of this yet. Its very surreal to be typing away while I’m sitting next to an eclectic mix of tourists and locals. Occasionally a cow wanders past, or a funeral…. There’s lots of those here. The other day we were in here with some French tourist we were chilling with when all of a sudden we hear this strange puttering noise. Two men pushing a cart came into view, on the cart there was a contraption that looked like an engine with a large exhaust pipe spewing white smoke. “oh no!” yelled one of the customers in genuine dismay as the staff ran to cover the doorways with totally ineffectual plastic.

Within minutes the streets, the shops, and our lassi spot was filled with noxious white gas. I took my bandana off and doubled it up as a mask. “ What is that?” somebody shouted… in truth we don’t really know but what we could gather from the waiters was “antibacterial/ anti-mosquito”…” trying to stop malaria”…. Great. Then they came back again.

If I ever wondered before what a bioterrorism attack would be like, I guess I have a better idea now. It was pretty scary even if it wasn’t going to kill me( immediately). There was nothing you could do it just happened so fast. Oh India, thou art so interesting….

Still its good to be back, hard to believe this is my third time. Four years ago if you had asked me I never would have guessed that this land and its people would become such a deep part of my life. My understanding of myself, life and especially Fiz deepens every time I come here, a great big unfolding, messy colorful, splendid, dirty, terrifying and delicious mystery. ( and OMG I wish the dude next to me would stop slurping his curd!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rooftop Riding

By Kathleen

Ok so the busses in Nepal are bad, not as bad as say Vietnam, but bad. You think I would have learned by now to not trust the time frames and to expect no toilets. As we careened up and down the mountains between Kathmandu and Pokara I was struck by how beautiful the views were, or would have been I suppose if it wasn’t for the persistent haze of pollution and dust.

It’s a serious shame how polluted Nepal is. Here we are in one of the outdoor capitals of the world and it’s filthy. Locals and tourists alike contribute to the piles of rubbish on the side of the roads and the busses spew black smog into the air leaving you gasping and wishing you had a cigarette because at least that is filtered. The peaks of the mountains were lost in the haze and though I am in the Himalaya it hardly feels like it.

Busses and trucks fill the highway, a slender strip of road just one lane for either direction, clinging to the side of the mountains that rise sharply from a tropical forest floor. The buses in the true Indic style are painted with faces and slogans.         “ Wel-come”, “ Good Luck” and my favorite “ Speed Control”(yeah they are called brakes and I sure as hell hope that you have them). You should always be wary of getting on a vehicle that has “ Good Luck” painted above the door.

The curves were sharp and the drop incredibly steep but there at least the smog helped, you couldn’t see either the mountain peaks above or the valley below so its wasn’t as terrifying as it would have been. The careening made me fear for my life at points but that too served a purpose… at least I wasn’t thinking about how much I had to take a piss. There’s no stopping for ladies, just the gents who get to pee off the “edge of the world”. I suppose I could have joined them but then it would be a bunch of Nepali guys watching me hike into the bush and who’s to say if the bus would have waited for me to return.

Leaving Bahktapur was sad, it was such a beautiful city but we wanted to see more of the country. Kathmandu is a bonified shit-hole worth only the airport and few short stops. Pokara at the other end of the valley is the gateway to the Himalaya and you can see the snow crested mountains lining the edge of the lake. In between there are tens of dusty little towns clinging precariously to the side of the road, all concrete and poverty, nothing much worth seeing. However higher up from the road there are a few little gems, one of which was our destination Bandipur.

Once Bandipur was a trade hub, a last stop before the dangerous trails into Tibet…. That’s’ all over now with the boarder closed and McAdam roads replacing dirt caravan routes, but the town remains. Few tourists visit here and it’s a wonder why, the village is perched at the top of a peak with terraced paddies of rice and wheat and veggies draping down below it like a skirt. Nearby there are caves to explore and in the right weather paragliding.

I’m not one for heights or dark confined spaces so both of these marvels were lost on me but it was lovely to spend a day wandering the streets of the town and trying to catch baby ducks.

Getting up their was an experience, after being on the public bus for 7 hours we were let off in Dumre a sketchy little way point, more of a glorified truck stop than a town. There we were told that getting up to the top of the mountain and our destination was impossible.  It was after dark and we hadn’t booked a Jeep. The guide book had said nothing about having to book and Jeep and really that seemed unlikely so despite the persistent arguing of the local motel owner I told Fiz to go ask around.

Just as we were begging to give up hope a Jeep filled with around 23 singing Nepalis pulled up next to us. “ Bandipur!” the driver shouted, “ Bandipur?” we asked, “Bandipur 300 rupees” he answered, about 15 times the going rate, but it was either that or spend the night in Dumre, we paid and jumped on, the roof was the only available spot.

With one leg over the sitar and one arm to hold on with we rode upwards, and upwards… and upwards, each turn taking us higher into the night and deeper into the forest, all was black. The young Nepali girls riding up top with us began to sing a merry song back and forth with those sitting below and as I started at the moon I found it amazing how beautiful life can be.

Then the headlights on the Jeep went out, great…, luckily there was some Neplai innovation and a lamp was procured, this had apparently happened before. With the only the lamp to guide us I was glad for the cover of darkness, shielding me from the sight of the drop below. The lights did come back on eventually.
When we were offloaded in Bandipur the power was out and the city was dark except for candles. The guesthouse, the restaurant all was light by the glow of flame and for a moment it seemed as though we had take a Jeep right into the 1830s, complete with the locals cooking our dinner over wood fire.

The next day we met two travelers, a couple, one Aussie the other from home and teamed up to enjoy the evening. He was biking (BIKING!) the highway so we made plans to ride the bus with his lady. Which we did, at least for a short while, in the stylish Nepali comfort of the bus roof.

Now really you would think, the roads are dangerous enough why get on the roof? Well, one the pollution is less bad when you are in a breeze, you can stretch out up there and the views are ten times better…. And you can smoke…. You know the usual reasons.

For anyone who’s ever been impressed at Fiz’s rolling ability they would be all the more so to see him doing it on a bus roof, in the Himalaya as we careened around corners. Champion skills.

Eventually we were made to get down and ride like normal people in the bus where the diesel fumes leaked back in the cab and gave all of us a choking headache for the remaining hour and a half.

Pokara, sadly, is a disappointment, the weather has been bad and if I’m in the mountains well then I’d be damned, you can’t see anything through the haze, not even the lake. So much for pristine nature.

It seems likely that I won’t see the Himalayas at all, the plane ride in will be my only glimpse at their majesty. I’m sure I am not only underprepared materially to walk but totally physically unable to do any of the trails. I’m not a whimp I’m just pathetically out of shape. I know my limits. Hopefully in a couple of years when we come back to India we can make a pit-stop here and actually do some treks, the thought of them will be my motivation.

They say the weather will clear, and visibility will return in 3 or 4 days, but by then dear readers we will have moved on. A new plan stirs us and we are canceling our time in Chitwan to head across the boarder early. India is next but only for a moment to see family and get visas. Then, well we have to eat and in order to eat we’ll be needing money. Word amongst backpackers is the jobs are easy picking in the land down under…

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bakhtapur: “It’s All An Illusion” UPDATED! W/ Photos

By Kathleen

Darbur Square
Having been laid up for a week being sick in Kathmandu we have now arrived, mostly recovered to Bakhtapur. Located only an hour from Kathamndu the two cites could not be more different. While Kathmandu is noisy, crowed by tourists and polluted beyond belief Baktapur is a calm breath of.. well not really fresh…. air.

Once an independent city-state Bakhtapur now is a sleepy city which fills with day-trippers by 10am and is deserted by 9pm. For those wise enough to spend the night and a couple of days the city is like a marvelous treasure chest or a time capsule back into the 15th century.

The narrow streets are lined with slanted wooden homes and temple squares pop out from behind ramshackle buildings. It is a photographers dream and as soon as I can get my technology to co-operate I’ll post some pictures.

One of the “sites” if you will is Hannuman Ghat, which the Nepali equivalent of the Ganges. In short it is where all good Hindus are supposed to come to be cremated after death, their ashes scattered in the waters of the three scared rivers which merge at the spot.

Darbur Square during the rain
Curious and lured by the promise of the largest lingum in Nepal we headed down to the river. Hanuman Ghat stood quite, no funeral pyres burned in the afternoon light and the only people around were women winnowing grain and old men smoking on the cool slanted rocks of the temple.

We wandered down to the rivers, past tens of little Shiva lingams (the big one wasn’t so impressive after all) and past a faceless, almost formless statue that stared without eyes and had a gaping black hole for a mouth.

The space was silent accept for the whispers of chatter from the old men and the constant chiming of a bell, distantly marking a ritual. Down by the water we stopped to take in the space. Here is one of the most scared places in all of Nepal and yet…rubbish, trash, plastic bottles and filth filled the water and lay like a blanket on the banks. The water was a filthy grayish green and stank of pollution, not of death.

I ruminated on the disconnect; How was it possible to find a natural spot scared and then trash it? Why didn’t anybody clean it up? If something is sacred, you would think that you would want it to be clean… right?

As I’m speaking these words a sari clad woman walked past us and down to the river to make her ablutions. In her hand was a black plastic bag filled with trash. She, without a second thought or pause, hocked it into the middle of the river, and in the same motion bent down to scoop some of the water up to her forehead as a blessing. Then she straighten up and walked away.

Our jaws dropping we watch the weak and dirty current push the plastic bag, still floating with its trash, downstream. Like an artery pumping putrid blood, carrying more plaque to a heart. I was stunned, Fiz and I had no words to express our dismay.
Especially having just come from Panya, where every bit of trash and waste was accounted for we just started and shook our heads, cognitive dissonance stealing our words.

As we turned to walk back to the road, past the eyeless statue and the lingams and the flowers and leftover prayers we saw the old men, who had bummed cigarettes from us, smoking next to a dead goat. It’s wet body covered in flies, clearly it had drown in the water.

Yet strangely this place was serene, in the way that cemeteries are. It brought to mind that same thought that I had in Cambodia… everything is scared, everything is profane it’s all a matter of prospective an din this land of tantric practice maybe something can be said for that, it’s all an illusion anyways right?

But I’ll continue to not throw my trash on my food/water/sacred places all the same.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In The Home of the Yeti

 By Kathleen 

After three flights and 15 hours of overnight layover in Dahka, Bangladesh we have arrived in Nepal.

The layover went surprisingly well considering that there was no lounge and we had to sleep on plastic chairs. It was a great way to spend our first anniversary, no I’m being serious, it was just so “us”.

The airport was super basic and in some ways that was nice. When we had that layover in Abu Dhabi there were big screen TVs blaring all night but in Dahka there was more or less silence. 

The flight into Kathmandu Valley was a breathtaking hour and a half, soaring over the Himalaya. They appeared like a mirage, jutting up out of the clouds, higher than the plane. Like we had entered a sky kingdom. As we drew closer we flew threw and below fantastic gargantuan clouds, moving and spinning moisture into fluff as they rose like legions above the peaks. The Mountains themselves were everything you’ve seen in movies and more. 

 As we descended more and more appeared out of the fog and clouds like megalithic apparitions. They felt alive and I understood at once why they are worshiped. Unlike the mountains of home, which are slowly crumbing back to earth these mountains are still growing and you can almost feel them breathing.

I know we saw Mount Everest but I’m not sure which mountain it was. I don’t think however, despite our interest, that we will do much if any trekking. We are woefully under-prepared given that we packed thinking we would be a year in Thailand. We don’t even have long sleeved shirts! Not that we couldn’t buy them here, just we are on a budget.. still… those mountains… we’ll see.

Kathmandu itself is crowed and full of tourists and shops. Going to do some sightseeing today, spent yesterday acclimatizing. The change in altitude from Dahka to Kathmandu is extreme and you can feel it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Return to the Concrete Jungle

A Joint Effort

Well, we are back in the lands where the internet is fast and reigns supreme.  We were given a lift to the baht bus stop to Chiang Mai this morning, and for about an hour we watched the landscape ‘develop’ from mountains huddled over vast rice paddies to the inner city hustle and bustle.  Fortunately for us Chiang Mai is quite possibly the most laid back city in Thailand, so the transition hasn’t been too jarring. 

For the last 2 weeks we have been in the company of the 4 other members of the course and the 8 members on the farm. Now we are once again surrounded by crowds of strangers, tourits and locals. It is a bit jarring.

The only exception to our social reclusiveness was when we went down to the village for a small organic farming festival, where we toured 3 of the 10 homesteading houses each with their own garden patches, with rows of carrots and bean stalks climbing steaks, to fruit trees, to a patch of corn, and of course lots of lemon grass and Thai chilies.

 The village invited people from all over the province to show off their successful gardens and listen to the mayor give a talk about the importance of sustainably farming to provide food for the community first, and commercial produce second.  There was a marvelous feast provided with different stalls getting judged on presentation, and taste.

At Panya every moment of the day from dawn till dawn was full of the chirps of crickets, frogs croaking, the odd noise of geckos, and the attention-craving cats that live in abundance in and around the buildings at the Panya Project.  Here the sonds of bird are drowned out by the rush of the traffic and the chugging of motor bike engines.

 Of the many animals who mad their home on the hill, a cat named Steve (a fat cream and grey tom with distinct mustache markings on his face) got attached to us and would meow at us every time we walked within his line of sight. He even took to coming with us to bed most nights.  Though Mimi ( a slender ginger) was by far the noisiest cat in the bunch, she would meow at anybody as long as they weren’t a dog in hopes of a warm lap and loving touches. Its hard to say how many creatures lived at Panya, because one of the members had a habit of bringing home new pets, sometimes secretly, with surprising regularity. One cat was even from Laos.

 Our legs and arms are covered with semi-infected insect bites (though we were lucky enough to escape the jungle leeches) and we both have better tans. Our brains are filled with much more information on permaculture and we can’t wait to learn more. Our hearts are filled with new friends.  Though the itching bites will fade we hope that our memories won’t. Panya was a place of peace and beauty in the foothills of the mountains. I will miss the sounds of the tropical birds singing in the morning.

Now there is the constant noise of moto’s and horns for a soundtrack to our lives. And so far, from what we are learning about our next destination, the soundtrack will continue.

Next destination you say? Next time friends, next time we will be someplace far away. Thailand is flooding and we are heading to higher ground.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Condom Hiest!

By Fiz

This post is a bit T.M.I but because the story is so weird we have to tell you.

This morning I left the used condom and lube next to our bed but inside our mosquito net, and went to breakfast.  Two hours later we went back to our room to find a swarm of red ants clambering all over the mosquito net trying to find a way to the lube, or so we thought.  So I sprayed a little bug repellant and they ran off, I quickly grabbed the condom and lube and bagged up the lube and left the condom in the wrapper on the floor. 

We then went to a small celebration in the village and when we returned two hours later the ants had surrounded the condom in straight lines radiating outwards from the condom.  The lube, despite a hole in its bag, was left forlorn.

We ate lunch and hung out for a bit, after another two hours or so I went to change out of my only clean clothes to the work clothes I have been wearing, and to my great surprise I found the ants had pulled the condom out of the wrapper and were hauling it across the floor.  A comparatively small group of ants were surrounding a puddle of some liquid that was leading from the condom (semen or lube, you decide).  I pick up the condom with a Qui-tip and threw it towards the corner of the dorm where tree branches touch the dorm.

We come back to our room after an afternoon’s hard work laying down the foundation for a cistern and putting some final touches on the first section of the composting toilet we’re working on, and discover the puddle was significantly smaller, with much fewer ants around it. Stranger still the condom had been pulled all the way to the wall and half of it had been pulled though a very large crack.

The whole experience was very surreal. We have been theorizing as to what was so damn appealing about the used condom to these red ants. Sugars? Proteins? Condom worship? All I could picture was these red ants dancing and singing around this condom in an ant hall filled with ant tiki-torches and drums. The jungle is a strange place. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

On The Farm

By Kathleen

Since Monday we have been up in the hills around Chiang Mai at a permaculture farm called the Panya Project.  There is an abundance of three things here, bananas, mosquitoes (dubbed mozzies) and people who care about sustainability.

We are up here for a 16 day Permaculture workshop, designing and building a compost toilet and a water tank. It’s been a real adventure. We are pretty far North in Thailand and the nights are chilly. It’s the rainy season and we’ve been working in between bursts of rain and clouds.

It’s been amazing to meet people from all over the world and talk about permaculture, environmentalism, and sustainability. For me personally it’s a nice shift from writing, getting your hands dirty and really making a structure, is deeply gratifying though exhausting.I confess however that I’ll be glad to get back to toilets that sit level and don’t require me to add dry rice husks to help compost. (I know I’m a terrible greenie preferring my flush toilets….only more reason to find a compromise between comfort and sustainability.)

There are people here from all over the world, the UK, New Zealand, China, Japan, Sweden, Spain, it’s a little UN convention. So wonderful to see how these ideas are spreading, slowly change is happening.

This morning we laid down seven courses of adobe bricks on the compost toilet, after building a stone and cement foundation earlier this week. We structured in a wattle and cob panel so that the compost can be removed later. In the afternoon we began a big heaping pile of 18-day compost ( Yum!) layering green ( nitrogen) and brown(carbon) material so that we can produce a healthy garden compost. Then we made compost tea from older compost. This can be sprayed onto veggie and plant beds to add extra microbes for better soil health. Sorta like drinking probiotics for intestinal wellness.

Tomorrow we begin work on a ferro-cement water tank. This is particularly interesting to Fiz and I because it would be a great addition to a future greenhouse we want to have. Also it’s essential any design to have a water source.

My only major issue is the wickedness of the mozzies, my legs are chewed up and it’s a real struggle not to itch constantly. The jungle is full of creepy crawlies, from giant centipedes to red fire ants and vinagaroos. It has been determined that we are in fact not jungle people and have been fantasizing about our temperate climate…. And lack of giant bugs all week.

However, there is one bug that I can’t help but be amazed by; butterflies. I have never seen such abundance and variety as I have seen over the last four days, black, blue, poka-dotted, yellow and pink. Such lovely creatures, little bits of magic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Master Burrito

By Kathleen

Many people come to Thailand for the food. I am not one of them,  I know I must be crazy right? Well, I can’t stomach most sea-food (literally) and the smell of fish sauce just reminds me of long nights in dirty bathrooms so I stay away. That and I’ll admit it, I like my food a bit hardier than Thais do. I like to feel full at the end of a meal and rice noodles just don’t do it for me. In short I’m more of a beans and rice kind of girl. That being said it’s ridiculously hard to find good Mexican food while abroad.

Do Mexicans not travel? Do they not emigrate to other countries? Or do they just not open restaurants? Whatever the case it leads to a depressing lack of burritos and in Asia the issue is compounded.

Chiang Mai does not suffer from this problem. Chiang Mai has burritos, burritos that are giant, filled with goodness and smothered in sour cream and cheese. They also have corn chips salsa and the holy grail….. guacamole.

The spot we found was just called “Burritos” it had one page for a menu and was beyond delicious. Maybe I’m just starved for a good burrito but I was in heaven. The meal was completed by a fantastic frothy mint and lime shake, political posters and classic rock. For the first time in almost two months I couldn’t finish because I was so full.  (those who have traveled to SEA will know what I mean).

So yes, I just wrote a blog post about a burrito. I am such a farang.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Protest Thoughts

By Kathleen

By far one of the strangest things about traveling is that you are so removed from things at home. Even in this day and age of instant communication and trans-Pacific flights you can still feel a world away from important events. Twice in six weeks I have felt like I’m missing something. The first was the hurricane, worst to hit the Northeast in decades and now the protests.

From here it is hard to tell the scope of these protests, from my own experience protesting the war in Iraq in 2003 I know that the media is often silent about these things and when they do report the numbers are often skewed, heavily, towards the smaller side.

While I cannot gauge the scale of these protests I can say that I am glad they are taking place. There are too many serious issues hanging over my generation to be borne in silence anymore.

The NYTimes says that the protests are “an expression of anger over a financial system that they [the protestors] say favors the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary citizens. (September 17, 2011, 4:26 pm)” 

The protests are an expression of not just anger but frustration and disappointment in a country and system that has failed to address some of the most serious problems facing not only our economy and our generation but of our planet.

The protesters have been accused of lacking any central talking points, of rallying without cohesive demands.  What are their concerns, what do they want?

Traveling I have heard many grievances too many to name I have been told, by friends, by strangers by people I have met at home an abroad. If you don’t know what we are angry about then you haven’t been paying attention to the state of our times.

This is not a post about what we don’t want, but about what we do. The list is long to be sure. There are things I have left out, but we need to be focusing on the positive. If not we will end up being a reaction not an action and a reaction cannot create, only destroy. Our country is becoming more volatile every year. The cracks between rich and poor, between young and old and blue and red have widened into gaps that no one seems willing to cross.

War has torn us apart. The economy has ruined many. If we hope to change anything, to really change we need to overcome the hate, the mistrust and the anger that the media wants us to hold onto and instead come together over common goals.

The United Sates of America, in spite of our foreign policy, our corporate greed, our destruction of the environment  is still to me the best country on Earth. Everywhere I go I have met wonderful Americans, from every walk of life, from every political side, from many religions.

They are by far some of the most optimistic, outgoing and polite people in the world. We get a bad rap it’s true but we try to fix it, one by one with our smiles and our curiosity. We Americans, we the people are what makes our country so great.

We as Americans try, we really do, we try to believe, we try to get along and we try to make the best out of bad and awkward situations. It’s not until you leave the country and travel to other places that you being to see the genius vision that our founding fathers had, a vision of equality and freedom that is yet to be matched anywhere.

That being said, it is often yet to be matched at home.

All we as a generation want is for our futures to be as bright as our parents and grandparents and for our children and grandchildren to be able to stand on good clean earth, eat good clean food, drink good clean water and be proud to be citizens of such a diverse and wonderful country.

We want jobs that fully utilize our talents and our minds, that don’t condemn us to a life of minimum wage and juggling part time shifts. We want freedom from the fear of poverty, we want the opportunity to use our degrees in productive and creative ways.

We want our environment to be respected, to be looked after and to be healthy. We want the long term sustainability of the Earth to be more important that the bottom line. We want our water to be clean of contaminates, our soil clean from chemicals that makes us sick.

We want there to be fish in the sea in 10, 30, 400 years. We want there to be trees and clean air. We want to find innovative ways of living with the environment. We want to change our lifestyles and balance our desires for comfort and our need for sustainability. We want to do it now.

We want our families to be healthy, and to be able to receive quality affordable healthcare regardless of where and if we work. We want the U.S to join other industrialized nations in offering comprehensive national healthcare and parental leave time.

We want schools to be centers of learning not a political fighting ground. We want teachers to be able to teach without fear of losing their jobs because of ever changing testing benchmarks that limit, not measure, children’s ability to learn. A free country stands on the education of its public and we are committed to free quality public education at all levels of learning.

We want people to be people and business to be businesses. Corporations should not have legal personhood, period. We want to close the gap between rich and poor. We want to be relived fully or partially of the incredible burden of student loan debt which shackles so many young Americans and cripples their ability to create a life for themselves and contribute to the economy.

We want people, legislators and politicians to be held accountable for their actions. Wealth should not be a barrier to justice and greed should not be an acceptable reason to look the other way.

We want people of all religions and all colors to be respected. We want all citizens to be free to worship or not worship what and who they want without fear of persecution, suspicion of general mistrust. We want citizens of every ethnic background to be respected as Americans, equally and wholly without division into greater and lesser sub categories of such.

Caring about the environment is not political, we all live here. Caring about our jobs is not political, we all need and want to earn a living. Caring about equality and tolerance is not political, it is what makes us American.

What we want as a generation is simple, it is not hard to accomplish and it is not expensive. The only thing required to make it happen is that we as Americans try. Try to rise above our differences in politics, in religion, in race and come together to create something for the greater good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back Alley Opera

By Fiz
Photos: Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst

Sept 26 marked the first day of the Kin Jay Festival, the Chinese vegetarian festival.  The streets of Chinatown are overflowing with food carts vending everything from vegetarian pork buns (that tasted identical to the original), to tofu shrimp stir fry to whole potatoes, spiral cut, fried on a stick.

And I am sitting in my hostel with a bowl of cream of mushroom soup and a basket of French fries.  Though to be fair I did buy a taro root ‘pancake’ and a bowl of deep-fried orchids for lunch.  They were delicious!

On Monday, the first day of the festival we spent a good deal of the evening wandering around, getting handed free samples of God only knows what and loving all of it.  Each vendor jovially attempted to convey what they were handing us consisted of.

We walked for about an hour before our feet started to protest and our bellies were satiated.  We decided to walk through a couple of packed alleys before calling it a night. The first was filled with wholesale dried mushrooms of all sorts, curries, and buckets of tofu shrimp and salmon.  The second was all desserts. Then towards the middle the sounds of gongs and cymbals touched our ears.

Following our ears we wandered around a corner and the narrow alley got steadily more crowded, then we beheld a glorious sight.  A small stage tucked into the courtyard of a small temple. On the stage were the actors with the glamorous makeup and extravagant costumes of a Chinese Opera.

We were definitely the only farangs at the performance, and this did not go unnoticed in the crowd.  First we stood at the back of the audience, then we got ushered forward onto stools, then an older man who looked uncannily like my idea of the laughing Buddha with hair started talking to us. Asking where we were from, what we were doing in Thailand, if we knew what the festival was about.  He then described it for us in good detail with a thick accent.  Telling us it was a time when all the devotees gave up meat and ate like monks for nine days. One day for each of the Gods that come down from heaven to absolve the sins of the faithful.

The first act drew to a close, and all the actors, in costume walked through the audience and into the sanctuary of the temple, getting blessed with holy water on the way.  As each group of actors walked by we were told who they were, some were the Gods, others soldiers, concubines, and one was the Yellow Emperor.

Before they made their way back to the stage for act two he gestured for us to join him in the two empty seats next to him.  And while we waited he translated peoples questions, and our answers in return.  Contrary to the rest of Thailand, we found out, the Chinese hold Indians very close to their heart because India is where Buddha came from.  Which made me feel a bit better, the discrete racism here is becoming a bit grating.

When the curtain rose he began narrating to us the best he could what was happening.  Before he gave up learned that the scene was the Yellow Emperor being blessed by a small group of Gods with a son. We were then asked repeatedly if we had a son, and when we said no, were told to pray to the Gods of the Sky and Sun.  We were also assured he would do the same for us, so we could really be happy.

Thanks Sky God, we’ll take a rain check.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back in the BKK

By Kathleen

Success! We now both have one more piece of paper to our names and are officially qualified to teach English. Ha! That makes me laugh a little when I think about how we talk to each other and our friends. Just goes to show you…

We have returned to Bangkok TESOL Certificates in hand, not really sure what we are doing here aside form killing time and spending money we can’t afford to spend. We are not looking for jobs in BKK, we are instead planning to head north of Chaing Mai to an Eco-Village by the name of Panya Project where we are taking a 16-day permaculture course. I’m really excited. I’ve been dreaming of visiting eco-village worldwide for a couple of years and now I’m getting the chance. There will probably be more on that dream later.

It’s strange being back in Bangkok. The city hasn’t changed hardly at all to my eyes, the tourist haunts are still open and bright, the shops still hawk the same wares, other than a change of soundtrack (from Lady Gaga to Justine Beiber) you would never know that time has passed.

And yet things are different, almost imperceptibly but nevertheless certainly changed. It’s me of course. I’m in such a different place than last time I was here. It hasn’t even been two years but much of my life is different in ways I wasn’t aware of until coming back.
Travel can be strange like that, a place can hold a piece of you suspend din time, waiting for you to return and remember or reclaim or discard it. Like a favorite sweatshirt forgotten for months at a good friends house, once returned feels strange in your hands.

We are traveling with friends from our course, keeping them company while they settle in or leave or o whatever is next in their lives. It’s interesting watching their reactions to the city, every much like my own two years ago. They are the same age that I was then, fresh out of college, trying to find their footing in the world.

It is only looking at them that I realize that I have found some footing. Or perhaps that I have become more comfortable with having not ground beneath my feet.

Last time staying in hostels I was envious of the single girls traveling solo, I wished I could be like them. Now I don’t envy them at all. I have come to love the sharing of experiences and the connection of being married. I no longer feel like the idea of being married takes something away from me but rather gives much back.

I have much to say in the way of commentary on TESOL courses, or at least our course, but it will have to wait for anther day when my computer’s battery is longer lived. I hope to be posting more frequently now that my days are not overwhelmed with ESL information.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Quieff on Command

By Kathleen


 I am no prude. Really, I’m sometimes ( to some people) shockingly open mined and when it comes to sex, I believe as long as the people involved are consenting and of age I don’t much care what the hell they do.

I’ve been to strip clubs, see the shows in Vegas, Watched naked women eat sandwiches in Amsterdam and been awe struck by the lovely ladies at the Lido in Paris. I’m not squeamish. That being said there are some things that just gross me out.

Friday night, Pattaya City, Thailand.  We were walking down the infamous Walking Street, part Las Vegas, part Thailand, part sleaze factory with our ESL training companions following them as they hunted down some of the more exotic offerings.

Pattaya City is one of those places that you can skip unless you are middle aged, undersexed and overweight, for it seems the only thing to do here is spend money on overpriced piss water (beer) and make lady “friends”.

Though prostitution is technically illegal the Thai Police decidedly look the other way when it comes to sex tourism on their own turf. A bit hypocritical seeing as they don’t look the other way when it comes to other illicit things that are decidedly less harmful to individuals and society.

Prostitution for many in the tourist hubs of Thailand, and especially Pattaya, is a way of life. Young women and men, generally from middle class families, end up in the oldest profession on earth by a variety of avenues. For some an important wage earner has died in their family and in order to continue living posh lives they take up the lifestyle, for others it’s a way to earn cash quick for school or a business, for others it’s a way to spice up their lives, a Thai gap year of sorts. Those are the willing, those who come to the clubs and bars of their own volition. They are the ones you see walking arm and arm with the fat tourists and looking bored.

There are others of course. Where there is a semi-legal sex trade there’s a totally illegal sex trade, but as a tourist you probably won’t come across it. That’s for export, or for the locals.

Walking Street is the shopping mall of sex, Go-Go girls, boys and everything in between strut their stuff in teeny tiny short and shirts. You can stroll the neon lit streets glancing at “ Sexy Airlines” stewardess or Moon Club’s astronauts. It makes for an interesting walk if nothing else. That is if you don’t mind the terrible ‘80’s cover music blaring out of open air bars and being solicited for ping-pong shows.

But ping-pong shows are exactly what our friends wanted, they were out for the full Thai experience. Feeling like a terrible feminist I grudgingly agreed to accompany them, on the basis of a once in a lifetime experience. I was underwhelmed.

Our first stop, to warm up to the idea, was a Go Go bar where scrawny Thai girls stood on tables and pretend to dance. I have never seen such lackluster movement and I’m not big on the Thai aesthetic of super super skinny. Clearly some of the men thought otherwise as they got felt up at their tables. Not my idea of a great time, but sure.

Next we headed to a bar where the ladies could refuel on super strong Long Island Iced teas, in glasses shaped like naked women. I drank City Gin along with Fiz and our guy friend. Didn’t seem like the type of place you wanted to be off your guard in. Though I’m sure a drink would have gone a long way towards easing the pain of listening to the cover singer whine Bryan Adam’s “ Everything I Do” off beat and out of tune.

Finally the group leaders got enough liquid courage in them to head out and find one of the many, many, little dudes selling tickets to the ping-pong shows. For less then $10 each we got pulled upstairs into a seedy little room with low ceilings jam packed with tourists. It was more interesting to see who was watching then to watch the show.

Big blonde German women, American and European couples on dates, Middles Eastern men in groups looking shell shocked. We sat down in front of a platform that held a naked woman covered in bubbles. She rubbed them around with lackluster motions and checked her cell phone every two minuets until her shift was up.

Then the main act began, various Thai women doing all number of strange and bizarre things with their vaginas. Opening soda bottles, shooting darts, blowing out candles, you know the usual.

Then things got weird, one smoked two cigarettes out of her nether bits, which really must be terrible for you never mind the smell. Another “drank coke” with her pussy, a third pulled razor blades out by a string, yes… razor blades, she even cut things with them afterwards.  Another pulled needles out. Basically the least sexy things imaginable.

The girls loved it, Fiz and our guy friend and I sat staring in horror and checking our watches. An hour is a long time to watch that shit.

Adding to the gross factor was the knowledge of how unhygienic it all was. One woman who shot frozen bananas out of her va-jay-jay picked a fallen one OFF THE FLOOR and put it back in her. She also pulled audience members (including our friends) out to catch the flying bananas in cups. For the record I declined to catch a banana, yeah… no… total pass.

The famous “ping-pong” act was completely anti-climactic (no pun intended), she literally put three of them up their squatted over a cup and laid ping-pong eggs. Not impressed, I could do that. People have babies with those things a ping-pong doesn’t move me much.

Basically all the acts were performed using the same skill set. Vaginal muscles contracting and expelling trapped air… at home we call this a pussy fart, or a quieff. All they were doing was inserting objects and quieffing on command (instead of accidently after sex just when you think you look cool).

Throughout the performance the girl with the cell phone was replaced by a woman who coated herself in the same bubbles and touched another woman in most boring ways possible. Cleary lesbian sex hasn’t caught on here. It was mostly just awkward.

Now picture all of this with nice sexy young Thai’s and it seems a bit better than it was. The reality was many were as old as my mother. The whole show I kept staring at one lady thinking, she’s somebody’s mom, though when she asked to see our friends who-ha (and offer her cash) I stopped feeling like I was taking advantage of her.

Just another Thai paradox, Ping-Pong shows OK, facial hair deeply insulting. Not sure this is the place for us after all.