Daily Archives: July 14, 2013

India travel tips…so far

Get a mobile phone. You need it to book anything online…and anything online is easier than dealing with Indian travel agents.

Book trains at the post office, either 2AC is a good benchmark to aim for.

Often, flying is worth it…less than 100 bucks and way quicker/safer….plus the airports are a great reprieve from the otherswise dirty streets of India

1.25L of water is probably 18ish rupees. Don’t pay more than 7 for chai, even that is high…and know that you are literally getting 2 ounces of beverage.

If somebody shows you 5 fingers for a price, it is 50 not 5.

Samosas aren’t that great here…parathas, chapatti, and curry however are a whole new world to the west. Ohhhh and the Thalis-yum!

Tourist bus means round trip…and it is also often all Indian tourists

Ashrams are not as glamorous as even eat pray love makes them out to be.

Thums up is like spicy coke with 10 times more sugar.

They like to salt fresh fruit juices, and put sugar on fruit you buy in the street.

Look carefully where you are stepping…there are many animals in the streets dumping the garbage they consumed for lunch, and nobody cleans it up….and it doesn’t really smell much worse than the rest of the street.

Eat with your right hand, something about wiping your arse with your left.

Wash your hands often, and especially before eating…there’s always a surprise that requires you to eat with your hands

Taxes are not included and they are high. Tipping is also expected…for pretty much everything it seems, or maybe I’m just a foreigner so they try…haven’t sorted that yet, but I did have to justify not tipping the guide who yelled at me in Hindi for 20 minutes about not being late returning from the Taj then waited 2 hours for the Indians to come back.

You will see people living in conditions way poorer than in South East Asia. You can’t save them all, but be grateful for what we have at home.

They are conservative…but Sarees show skin, look at one and judge what you think is relative.

Markets are outdoor malls….bazaars are what Western folk would call a market.

Traffic is bad. There are actually cars vs. just motos in SE Asia, it’s a whole new world of traffic jam

If taking a bus to one place, expect to stop at 10 other temples, marble shoppes, and often for food, it took 7 hours to get to Agra from Dehli…a 200km journey.

Use big bills wisely, and be careful not to rip any.

Book in advance…my new found spontaneity is not serving me well thus far.

If you are a girl alone and you have even the most distant of connections, this is the time to use them.

More Indians than you think speak English, be nice and they will at least try, be harsh and good luck.

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Travel Makeover

To the popular sense of the word ‘makeover’….I’d say I’ve only gone downhill. I’m quite curious to see how I look in not silver threaded neon singlets from lululemon and with a swipe of mascara…god maybe even a nice watch…But for what I’ve let go on the outside, I’d like to think I’ve made leaps and bounds with on the inside (enough cheese?).

They say travelling changes you. Sometimes instantly, sometimes gradually, and sometimes long after the fact….The joy of travelling for nearly a year, is that I can look back and see all those changes while I’m still in it. I’m sure I will get home and things will continue to shift from my previous comforts to new ones, and people will tell me I’m ‘different’….but even now, alone, sans-internet in my room in Delhi, I can tell you I’ll never be the same.

It’s interesting, when other people leave and come back, how easy it is to put your finger on what’s different. However, when it comes to yourself it feels weird…vein almost…to think about how your travels have changed you, and it’s that much harder to see the shifts. As I’ve begun practicing for job interviews, mostly practicing explaining why I thought peacing out for a year after graduation was a good idea and what I learned, I’ve come to see how different my trip has turned out than I first expected or intended.

If I ask myself why I left to travel I could give you what an employer wants to hear “to enrich my understanding of the global community …blah…blah”….but honestly, I wanted to have fun and explore cheaply (at times dirtily) while it was still acceptable to do so personally and socially. I had no intention of changing my life or my personality. It wasn’t until I was in Bali that I recognized the true magnitude of the venture I’m on. I was speaking to a yoga teacher whose reaction was “wow, this is going to be the year you wish you were re-living for the rest of your life”. In that moment I realized 2 things. 1) there was no way in hell this would be the best year of my life…peaking at 22 does not interest me…therefore, its ok not to see it ALL, because I will have awesome years to come that will include travel all the same. 2) even though I didn’t want this to be my glory year…it is by far the raddest year I’ve had so far, and it is pretty freaking cool that I saved enough cash and had enough guts to do what I’m doing so I might as well carpe diem.

So, that all being said…if you talked to me after Byron Bay I would have been gushing with my ‘epiphanies’ on life, and myself…but now I come to you with another 6ish months under my belt. I have completed the majority of my trip, and what I haven’t is pretty much planned (for once)…so now, all those hours on planes, trains, and buses aren’t spent rigorously flipping from one page to another in Lonely Planet…and as I polish off Shantaram, all that’s really left to think about is what has been done (and getting a job…but that’s less fun).

Not until lately have I noticed my thoughts shifting from future to past, and as much as I enjoy watching slideshows of my photos and thinking of the friends I’ve made, it is a bit depressing. I am stoked to go home, don’t get me wrong…my Egyptian cotton duvet and real pillows are calling my name loud and clear…but I am having a really hard time accepting that it’s almost over. More so, knowing what ‘it’ is…this way of living I’ve become accustomed to over the past 9 months has been far from normal, but after months of resenting it, I’m attached to it.

I’m attached to the ultimate freedom to do what I want and go where I please, the constant meeting of sweet people, the sense of accomplishment after beating a scam, the fact that I can say I was at the Taj Mahal yesterday, Angkor a few months back, and swimming the great barrier reef months before that and knowing soon it will be ‘last month at work’. I’m attached to what my friendships have become, the fact that I don’t associate with people I don’t want to, and I’m so far away that it is acceptable; the lack of waste in general…not wasting money on things I won’t need…and knowing I won’t need much out of bag restriction, and the stigma of being a ‘traveler’. Most of all, that moment when you adopt a local ‘ism’ or impress a local with your cultural awareness, and you feel for a second like you are becoming a global citizen, but more so…that moment right following that slaps you in the face with humility as you realize once again how little you know about anything at all.

Back to the point….or maybe that was the point….but I meant to write about how I’ve changed…or how I think I’ve changed….which is probably, if I’ve learned anything, the opposite of how I’ve changed. All in all changed might be the wrong word, evolved or grown may be more fitting, but to which direction I’ve changed will all be a matter of perspective. I know that when I go home some of my ideas are different…so much so that people around me may be thrown off. I know that when I go back I will have to face the friendships I’ve let go in person, and perhaps most daunting to me at the moment is this notion of work. Not that I’m lazy, but more so that I have become picky. I’m coming back from travelling for 11 months, I need a job and beggars can’t be choosers…but at the same time, I’ve become so strongly rooted in what I think is important that I’m scared, almost terrified, that I won’t be able to find an employer who shares my perspective, even if part of it is that we must remove ourselves and see the perspective of others.

When I look back to October of last year before I left, it seems like 5 years ago and yesterday all at the same time. In terms of what feels like years ago, I remember being bitter that plans had changed and I was going alone, caring a lot about what people thought about my trip…mostly to justify to myself that I was leaving to spend money for a year (or two at that time) instead of getting into the workforce as somebody of my age ‘should’ be doing. I remember worrying about keeping in touch with all the people I felt I had to, I wasn’t scared…well I was, of dying on the plane because the tarot card reader told me so…but otherwise I was arrogant as hell to my travel abilities. I was all “yeah I went to Peru by myself when I was 19, I’ll be fine”…I figured I’d pick up the lingo and Asian phrases and find bargains easily because I looked local.

As per the part that feels like yesterday, I can still smell my old laundry detergent, remember the taste of Dad’s eggs benedict, and it feels like yesterday I had a beverage cup in my hand that wasn’t water that was bigger than 8oz. I remember showering and feeling clean, and walking outside without looking like I’d been swimming in my clothes. I remember being cold, and I remember ….remembering. That sense of ‘home’, of knowing where things are—not in a backpack but in a house and a city. Yeah, Sydney, Bangkok and everywhere else I’ve been have a slight sense of familiarity that could almost be home. But I don’t know any running paths the same way and no baristas know my name. I know I’ll get home and it will feel like I never left, but that everything is different all at the same time, and I think that’s what III fear most….I just don’t know what half.

Since I’ve been gone I’ve learned a lot about nothing…and a little about big things….
I’ve learned how to drink ‘goon’ straight from the bag, that if you crush a cockroach it reproduces 10 fold, that the ‘no ozone’ thing in oz/nz is not a myth, that Sydney has the best NYE fireworks in the world, that Wellington is the place for coffee….other than Vietnam (obvi), that I pick up accents very quickly, that I can indeed live without a phone, that it’s much harder to learn languages that don’t use the alphabet…or that or tonal, getting visas is expensive-and a bitch, the French only speak French, the German’s say they want to speak English but speak German, the Scandinavians will speak English, and Americans will yell. I learned not to use airport exchange booths—on that note that there are Commonwealth ATMs in Bali, to research holidays before travelling, not to get menthol talcum powder in the eyes but that it is to humidity what lotion is to dryness, find a good laundry lady and never let go, looking same same doesn’t mean paying same same, distance on a map in NZ has no correlation to time, and apparently I really like tennis. Belgians have good beer….even in Laos, put money in separate pockets to avoid actually being robbed of “all monies”, skyscanner kicks kayak’s ass, sometimes you do need to weigh time vs money (i.e. 48 hours of buses to save $10 over flying for 1), everything can be bought for a price, everywhere has a dollar store, cheap pens aren’t worth it, losing weight from the flu isn’t attractive, wearing scarves in 38 degree heat is worth not getting eye raped by creepy men, don’t require medical attention in Cambodia, always ask to see a room first, go up behind a local paying then pay the same amount no questions asked…works every time. McDonalds is truly amazing: wifi, toilet paper, 30 c cone, air conditioning, visa at no fee; Starbucks in asia doesn’t have free wifi—the 5 dollar coffee isn’t worth it, never trust the lonely planet, know your exchange rate at all times, withdraw large amounts infrequently to avoid fees, get travel insurance and keep all receipts. Cameras don’t have international warrantees, choose your moments to be that tourist wisely, make them cut fruit fresh at carts in Asia, AEON ATMs charge no fees, Cambodia’s USD atms are more valuable than you ever realize while you’re there, 24 hour buses aren’t bad if you have sleeper beds…and are Asian sized, always carry toilet paper and sanitizer, always have a scarf for chest/bum/nose coverage, new doesn’t mean clean, there is such a thing as too local. Air Asia is the shit, don’t eat on long haul transport, budget a LOT for water in asia, a quick stroll is probably 45 mins up hill in NZ, boys will be boys anywhere in the world, don’t take clean water for granted, always check beaches for clam shells and coral before drunk wandering, don’t surf with stitches in your knee, there is a point when silverescent starts to stink, per MB internet sucks balls, foam beats springs always. Of all things, don’t forget your ipod at home, you never know what somebody wants to steal, you get what you pay for applies to fake havaianas/birkenstocks, always have a a flashlight/swissarmy knife/lock, brushing teeth will make you feel better no matter how nasty your surrounding environment is, dentists are CHEAP in Thailand.

*I know that above is all commas and below is all periods…but I’m far too lazy to change it. I am also acutely aware of the poor grammar…sorry.*

I’ve also seen how privy I am to be a female in the western world and to have an open minded family that has allowed me a well-rounded and unbiased upbringing, and given me their blessing to trot the globe as a girl alone. I have realized how un worthy men are of tears, on so many levels. I have experienced the friend version of soul mates with people I’ve met for short periods that I think know me better than people I’ve been friends with for years. I know that I would rather be fit than thin. I have learned the value of my time, and the importance of not letting others use or abuse it. I have learned who my real friends are and see the superficial bonds I thought I had with others. I have learned that it really is possible to have 13kg of possessions to live off of for a year. I am less cynical, and I compensate less for my cynicism with disingenuous optimism. I believe in energy. There are more galaxies in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth—don’t sweat the small…or ‘big’ things. Even the most amazing ideas are worth sleeping on. It’s all a matter of perspective, and the more you think there is only one, the more there are. People can sense fear, so can dogs…and camels. Moments are only ever as frustrating as you allow them to be, accept what you cannot change. Sometimes even when you know you’re right, it’s easier on everybody to be wrong just for a minute. Gratitude goes a long way. Email is efficient but nothing is greater than the sincerity of hand written words. The less you wear makeup the worse it looks when you do. Some people are just good, accept that they may not be out to get you, maybe…just maybe you have some good karma banked. As morbid as it sounds, the best way to make decisions can be to consider if you’d do it if you were dying…considering the most extreme things will teach you your own priorities realllll quick. Know your own countries facts when you go abroad, hearing Americans brag that they are all the most populated, largest, and highest profit generating country in the world is nauseating on too many levels. I’ve learned that none of the world is as multi-cultural as North America, and to expect the knowledge of other countries about the rest of the world is unfair. Some books will completely change your perspective on life, others will make you sure of the opinions you already hold. Right effort is a beautiful thing; karma lies in intentions not outcomes. There will always be cool kids until you are happy with yourself, because you create the cool kids as who you wish you could be. On that note, there are times when ass-kissing is necessary. Health is cyclical, the better you feel, the better you treat yourself, the better you become; the opposite is true. Unexpected people will step up to the plate, don’t hesitate to be the unexpected person once in a while. There is a large moat between knowing and believing, typically we try to build the bridge with self-talk and faking it til we make it, but every so often life comes at you like a heard of lions and makes you leap…and most of the time you land safely, without a way back. I am most thankful for the people I loathe the most; in a world of endless possibility knowing what not to be is more liberating than thinking we know what to be. Striving for an endpoint is restricting, it’s finite, it’s in the box…acting with intention is open ended and allows possibility we didn’t know existed. When you see something beautiful tell at least one person, it might completely change their day. Compliment others. It’s ok not to be the best, and when you know you are, you don’t need to make sure everyone else does too. Sometimes it’s OK to follow the status quo. I am thankful for the safety in Canada, safety I never understood I had until I lost it all in India. Have a little faith in people; one day you’ll realize it grew to a lot of faith, and that you’re better off for it. The human race is fascinating.

I read a hand journal entry I made a few months ago about who I want to be when I’m 25… now I want none of it. Mostly because I don’t want to know now what will be in 3 years, I want what will be in 3 years to be better than me now knows exists. I don’t know much about what will happen when I go home, but I’ll tell you what I do know. I know that I will put my family and a few friends that are like family first always and make sure they know it through my actions. I know that I won’t brush what I feel under the rug for what I think. I know that yoga needs to be in my life. I know that I need more than just an income as a product of my work in order to be happy. And more importantly I know that I’m sweet, I have sweet people in my life, and if like attracts like (which I’m more than positive it does), life will be sweet too. I feel no need to fit a mold for a job, friend, or man, and gratefully I can say I am on the side of believing all of the above instead of only knowing it, and ultimately that is the meat and potatoes of what I’ve learned so far…so seeing as how I wanted to have a little fun and an authentic pad thai, I’d say I’ve done alright.

East v West

I started this thought process a couple months ago on a walk in Laos with a new friend Aaron (who plays in a reggae beatles cover band called the Yellow Dubmarine-check them out!)…How is music different from East to West: not only in style, but in importance, in its role to culture and society. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a musically inclined person; I played the piano for 10 odd years, the flute in band, and sang in elementary choirs….otherwise I’m the person that just found out about last summers hit tune and play it on repeat failing miserably to remember the words, which is usually coupled with me not knowing who is singing or what the name of the song is. So, perhaps I’m not the best person to be dissecting this particular subject matter…or maybe I’m the perfect one, who knows.

Starting with what I do know…music in the West; not just North America but western Europe as well. Music in the West is an industry, when you’re a kid in piano lessons the goal is revolved around royal conservatory exams, and the ‘cool’ pop music is a fortune in sheet music stores. American/Canadian/everywhere in the world Idol, The Voice, X factor…all those talent shows, utilize not the love of music, but the desire to be famous from making music as major money makers. Because of the massive paycheques and fanatic fame involved with being a ‘successful’ musician in our culture, music is based off of this ‘package deal’ of good looks and charisma just as much as the voice. Furthermore, concerts are major income not only for the performers but for the venues and tourism of cities. Music that can’t be performed in concert, or that wouldn’t appeal to high ticket prices is typically scuffed away from production companies that want, as all western culture wants, the best bang for their buck.

All of this is fine and dandy, I get that it’s an industry, I don’t really resent it either…it is what it is. What is interesting to me though, is how music in the East is such a contrast. Playing instruments is a way of coming together, not for 5 members of a band, but for communities of people. The songs that are sung or played have meaning, are often passed down, and sit in a range that anyone can join in to. The east doesn’t prioritize music as a money making deal, but as a way for people to come together, to create together, and it is genuinely seen as an art versus a profession of fame. Not to say that musicians in the west aren’t artists…but half the time they don’t write their own lyrics or their own music, what is produced is what will sell, not what feels good to sing or means anything important. Also, the Father in the family I stayed with in Kolkata had been selected to sing in the soundtrack to a Bollywood music…regular people rarely get such an opportunity in the West because its about marketability not raw talent.

It definitely sounds like I’m super against western music but I’m not…I just think the attitude towards it in the east is much different and worth mentioning. Religion in the east is a completely different story as well but I’m really not in the mood to start great religious debates on a leisurely travel blog.
I will however say that it is incredible the devotion and full-hearted belief people in the east seem to have regarding their religious affiliations, but how non-judgemental they are. I’ve been judged and attemptedly forced into religions/churches back home by people who don’t live the words of their doctrine themselves, but here…here I’m staying in an ashram in a temple, nobody asked me for any religious statement, nor do they force me to believe anything. Here they see religion as a personal choice not a societal requirement and I think that might be my favourite part of the East in general. Not necessarily religion but the sense of ‘this is me, my family, and my life, and nothing else really actually matters’. I respect it. I think it is amazing to see what the human race will endure here in order to make a living for themselves and their family…the working conditions, the hours worked, the hygiene (lack there of) facilities available…you couldn’t pay a North American business person enough money to do what people do here merely to put dinner on the table. Yet what do we all complain about: work. What do they complain about: nothing really…occasionally a bad chai. A lesson to be learned I think….but a lesson much easier pondered than lived.