Category: travel

Notes From The Road: Good bye, India. It’s been real.

On November 29th, I’m flying out of Bangalore, spending the night sleeping on my backpack at the Delhi airport and then flying into Kathmandu for two weeks of trekking and three weeks of volunteering at the Timai refugee camp (the same camp lots of my students came from).India has been great. So great! Here are some of the things I loved about this huge, diverse, delicious country.

* The lovely, amazing girls that I’ve met here. It’s oddly comforting to know that girlfriends are the same the world over – talking about what we want out of life, trading tips on cooking/fashion/money managing/relationships. A weekend with girlfriends in India (going out dancing, checking out the newest movies, getting coffee, shopping) isn’t that different from my weekends at home.

* Fresh juice every.single.day. Watermelon! Carrot-Ginger! “Sinful Banana”! (the latter is my regular – it’s banana, coffee, a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce)

* Indian Sweets! There are approximately 8 million different Indian sweets and I’ve yet to encounter one I don’t like. And let me assure you, I have been doing my best to try all 8 million.

* Getting mendhi on the sidewalk for a pittance. Apparently the spectacle of a white girl, outside of the tourist district, getting mendhi is crowd-worthy. At one point, eight people had gathered to watch the process and a little old lady said to me “We are just very curious.”

* School children who work up the nerve to talk to me. Usually involves lots of nudging and stare/smiling and then a question like “Are you from Australia?”

* The occasional camel, standing on a street corner, eating a tree. Obviously.

* Being in Bangalore long enough that I have My Juice Place, My Coffee Shop, My Bangle Place, My Favorite Restaurant, My Internet Cafe. I walk the same route so often the vegetable vendors have taken to greeting me every morning.

* A gaggle of goats being herded down my street

* The fact that nearly everything has a vegetarian option. Never in my life have I been able to order absolutely anything off a menu!

* Saris and Salwaars! These Indian ladies are on to something – leggings, scarves, flats, heaps of bangles and comfy tops; I could dress like this forever! And saris somehow manage to be conservative yet sexy. How is that even possible?!

* Street cows – and street calves! There are two sweet little, thigh-high guys that wander around my neighborhood and I’m constantly trying to entice to hang out. Currently, they’re only interested in me when I’m offering them something to eat.

* My students who ask if my hair is real, if they can touch it, if I eat pizza for lunch every day, if I can bring in a picture of my cat.

* Vegetable vendors who wander the lanes of residential neighborhoods with blue carts, selling produce door to door. (How incredibly convenient!)

* Drinking soda out of a glass bottle – it feels so lovely and old fashioned! And it’s actually an appropriate amount of soda, rather than the big-gulps that I’m used to consuming

* flowering trees that drop orange, hand-sized flowers into the street

* My amazing Indian family. My friend Megi’s mum and sister have been looking after me – picking me up at the train station, taking me to dance performances and movies, inviting me over to celebrate Diwalli and just generally being as awesome as humanly possible.

* Going to the doctor and getting four precriptions within 10 minutes, for $10.

* Showering out of a bucket. I realize this seems totally dire, but I assure you it’s not. It’s somehow oddly gratifying and very … wet?

* The toilet bidet system. The rest of the world owes India’s 1.8 billion inhabitents a huge thank you for not using toilet paper. Can you imagine the impact on the environment? Also, to engage in a bit of oversharing, bidets are quite refreshing.

(this is my walk to work)

* Giant trees shading the street

* Vintage tourquise vespas, humming down dirt lanes

* Indian Vh1 and MTV and the fact that they actually play music videos. Like, most of the time. Shocking!

* Not having to tip everyone 20%.

* Proper tea time. Every day between 4:30 and 6:30 my dorm offers up tea and biscuits for all of us. And we cluster around the dinner table chatting about our days and gossiping about Bollywood stars.

* The woman who sells beans on the street and yells ‘Hi!’ at me every time I walk by.

Have you been to India? What did you love?

P.S. I mailed off all of the ‘thank you’ packages. Will you let me know when you get them? I feel slightly nervous about the Indian postal service!

Notes From The Road: How Rude!

One of the best things about travel is regularly having your mind blown by other cultures – their concept of time! how they eat! their social mores!

And attempting to navigate the latter? It’s frequently embarrassing/hilarious/really challenging. If you visit another country there is a 99% chance that, at some point, you will inadvertently do something incredibly rude. And of course, at some point, a local will do or say something to you that will make you huff “Well, I never!” (Or, you know, mutter some choice swears)

Things That I Have Inadvertently Done That Were Culturally Inappropriate

* Not taken off my shoes when entering someone’s house

* Not accepted a second serving of food

* Pointed at something with my foot

* Totally refused to engage in double cheek kissing and greeted everyone with a hand shake

* Threw rubbish in what I thought was a rubbish bin but was actually a ghost money burner

* Didn’t tip

* Made direct eye contact and raised my voice. To, um, my manager.

* Wrote a thank-you note in red pen.

* Wore pants into a Fijian village.

* Talked to people while wearing mirrored sunglasses.

* Responded to someone’s questions with the answer “I don’t care”

Shocking Things People Have Said To Me/I’ve Witnessed

* “You’re pretty, but a little fat.”

* “What happened to your face?” (When I got a tan!)

* “There’s nothing in here that fits you!” (This accompanied by the saleswoman crossing her arms in an X shape)

* “Americans start working when they’re 9 years old, right?”

* “You eat pizza and burgers for lunch everyday?”

* Witnessed public urination about a million times

* “You are very pretty. Why doesn’t your boyfriend want to marry you?”

* Very nearly hit with bettle nut (or normal) spit about a million times

Part of travel is developing a thick skin – both in terms of what people say to you and how you may accidentally offend others. The vast majority of the time, people are incredibly sweet and very likely to cut the well-intentioned gringo some slack. After all, the apologetic smile is international.

What rules of local etiquette have you accidentally broken while traveling? What “rude” things have you heard or seen while abroad?

Notes From The Road: The Volunteer Diaries

As you guys may know, one of my secrets to cheap/fullfilling/non-stressful travel is “go some place and then stay there for a while.” But what do you doooooo while you’re “staying there for a while”? I like to volunteer. Not because I’m a particularly kind or awesome person but because I get bored sitting in my hostel room watching HBO and because I came to India to meet Real! Live! Indians! … not to sit in my hostel room watching ‘True Blood.’
For the last three weeks, I’ve been volunteering with the Brindavan Education Trust. It’s a non-profit school that works with students who are slipping between the cracks in the large public schools – specifically kids with ADHD, Aspergers, Autism and Dislexia. Learning disabilities are very under diagnosed in India; a lot of people don’t even know what ADHD or Aspergers are. Kids with these issues are frequently written off as ‘naughty’ or ‘a little bit off’ when what they really need are trained teachers, small classes and heeeeaaaaps of patience and understanding.

Brindavan does a great job of providing all of the above. Classes are often as small as five students and the teachers are saint-like in their patience.

Before I started teaching ESL, I actually worked with EBD kids (emotional behavioural disorders) and I worked at a group home while I was in college. It’s oddly comforting (if that could possibly be the right word) to be working with this population again. I love working with Asperger’s kids – their non-stop questions, their disregard for social mores, their total unswerving commitment to The Topic That They Want To Talk About RIGHTNOW! They can certainly be challenging, but mostly I just want to hug them and be all “I totally get you, dude.”

Some of the highlights with my favorite student from the last three weeks:

“Ma’am? Are Americans very hygienic? Can you throw rubbish in the street?”
“Yes, we’re clean. We get into trouble if we throw rubbish in the street.”
“Ma’am I think too hygienic is no good.”
“Oh, well. We like things clean.”
“Are you allergic to dirt, Ma’am?”

“Ma’am, I think Christmas is nonsense. And is Valentine’s day a bad day?”

“What’s your favorite German heavy metal band, Ma’am?”

“Ma’am, this is boring I don’t want to do it.”
“Oh no? It’s boring?! You hurt my feelings!” (followed by dramatic sad face)
“No, Ma’am. I didn’t hurt your feelings.”
“Yes. Yes, you hurt my feelings.”
“No. Nope, I didn’t” (emphatic shaking of the head and arm crossing)

(fevered and impressive nose picking)
“Oh, yuck. Please don’t. Please take your finger out of your nose”
(finger is immediately replaced with a pen. Nose exploration continues with ballpoint pen)


Have you ever volunteered when you’ve been traveling? If you have, leave a link to the program you did in the comments!

PS do you want a postcard, package or thai temple blessing from me?

Notes From The Road: Love and Dating, Indian Style

Have I told you guys where I’m staying while I’m in Bangalore volunteering? Why, I’m staying at a dorm for unmarried Indian woman. Obviously.I’m quietly thrilled to have escaped the clutches of backpacker hostels and to be spending this month hanging out with Real! Live! Indians! After all, I didn’t come all this way to trade Lonely Planets with 19-year-old German boys.

The dorm is lovely – three vegetarian meals a day, one roommate, a nice bathroom and even cable tv! But the best part? Making heaps of new friends and getting insight into the culture of this huge, fascinating country. (And also dispelling the myth that all western women are fast and loose. And prone to eating McDonald’s every day).

I’m particularly fascinated by the role that love/marriage/dating plays in Indian society. Of course, in a country of 28 states, multiple religions and 1.2 billion people there are just as many approaches to relationships.

Here are some of the women I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard over the past three weeks:

* The Hindu woman who can’t tell her parents that she’s dating a Muslim

* The many, many women who are earning their M.B.A/Ph.D/M.D and putting off marriage until their careers are on track

* The engaged woman who is doing a ritual fast for her future husband’s health

* The woman in an arranged marriage who is totally, totally in love with her husband

* The woman who turned down 17 (!) arranged marriage set-ups to marry her boyfriend.

* The woman who trusts her parents’ judgment in men more than she trusts her own

* The woman whose fiance broke up with her when he discovered she wasn’t a virgin

* The woman who is living abroad, dating men outside of her race and religion and not hiding it from her parents.

* The woman who is ready to marry her boyfriend but is waiting for her older sister to find someone first

* The woman who isn’t interested in getting married, but is afraid of being an unmarried woman in India at the age of 30 … so she’s doing a second Master’s degree in America.

It’s also been really interesting to hear about the reality of arranged marriages. I think most of us envision parents tearing daughters away from the boyfriends they love and forcing them to marry very boring, ‘suitable’ men. Not so, friends.

From what my girls have told me, love and dating usually progresses something like this:

1) Ages 18-23
Girls have boyfriends that they don’t introduce to their families. Relationships aren’t necessarily serious. Relationships might be physical in nature but since almost everyone lives with their families, things usually stay pretty PG-13.

2. Ages 24 – 32
If you’ve been dating a guy for a while and he seems like ‘husband material’ (comes from a good family, has a good job, etc) you introduce him to your parents. Families meet and if all goes well, blessings are given and a giant, giant wedding ensues.

or!

If you’re single and haven’t had any luck on your own, you can tell your parents to start looking for you. You can tell them what you want in a mate, and (hopefully) they’ll take that into consideration. They’ll put out feelers to families and social contacts they know to see if there are any nice boys available. They’ll arrange a meeting with said boy, you have coffee or dinner, chat and see if you like each other. After several more dates (totally non-sexual!) you may or may not decide to get married. Again with the giant wedding.

So it really doesn’t seem that different from when your mom tries to set you up with the neighbor’s grandson!

Does your family have any expectations for the people you date? Would you ever marry someone that your family didn’t approve of? Indian readers, did I get this right?

The Best Travel Makeup Ever, Always

Looking for the best travel makeup? Well, I've been to 36 countries so I kind of know what to pack in a travel makeup bag! Click through so you can pack your own!
Let me be honest with you, friends. When I travel, I usually give up wearing makeup about two days in.

Suddenly, getting an order of mango sticky rice from the street vendor and finding the nearest beach seems a lot more important than applying eyeliner.

But then I see my travel photos and I’m all Baroness Blondieeyelashes Von Palelips. So I end up spending time in photoshop, trying to render myself non-zombie-like when I could have just applied some Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers and some waterproof mascara and called it a day.
But toting a giant makeup bag through multiple countries is also not happening. I want things that are multi-purpose, won’t spill and can be applied in the back of a moving bus. That’s a bit of a tall order, no?

What Makeup to Bring on an Extended Trip

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Just Like The Darjeeling Limited

I’m starting to gear up for my big trip in a tell-the-boss-I’m-leaving, get-all-the-shots kind of way. I’m so excited, you guys! I can’t wait for that moment when the plane comes in over Mumbai and I realize that this? It’s 100% for real.I’ll be spending a week in Mumbai before I head down to Bangalore for a month of volunteering at a special-needs school. I’ll be riding the train for 24 hours to get from Mumbai to Bangalore. To prepare for said journey, I’ve been watching a lot of Darjeeling Limited clips. It’s going to be just like this, right? Riiiiggght?

 

I love traveling on trains – buying food from the little carts, watching the hills roll by, seeing how to the neighborhoods change as you get further and further out of the city. Most of the trains I’ve boarded have been of the less than glamorous variety (A friend and I once spent the night sleeping in non-reclining seats between Hanoi and Sapa, Vietnam being hassled and photographed by a bunch of drunk dudes) so I’m quite excited about the possibilities of traveling in style through India.



Really, I would probably enjoy myself more in the I-brought-my-chicken-with-me section of the train. I feel like my Chaco flip flops would be a bit out of place here!Do you love traveling by train? Have you ever taken a long trip my rail? (Blogger is acting up today and a lot of comments aren’t publishing! So if you don’t see your comment, it’s just a glitch in the system, not a commentary on how I feel about you and your train experiences)

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