Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My tree necklace made it in a Travel Channel Commercial! My Seattle penpal tivo-ed it for me. I'm a one-hit wonder with that darn thing. But I guess that's better than no hits at all.

I'm fighting off yet another post-India cold, but mind over matter - I think I'm winning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another nail in the coffin

I'm sitting here stewing in my own juices - a nauseating feeling oddly similar to the night of Nov. 2, 2004. Just like that fateful night, here I am in a kind of mouth-open, stupefied slump. Although this time, my cupboards are cursedly devoid of booze to lull myself to sleep. I just read that the Supreme Court has handed lobbyists and the corporations that employ them, the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to intervene in our supposedly democratic process.

I sound dramatic, I know. I'm sure many people would say, "well that sucks, but what can you do?" Indeed, what can you do? Don't worry, this is a democracy! And every 2 years you get to go to the polls and do your part to make this country great! (sorry, my "facetious" font is not working).

Increasingly, I'm finding that so many of the problems I concern myself with studying - the food industry and global hunger, the demise of independent media, the alleged health care reform - stem from a problem that has to do with corporate personhood. Corporate personhood is the (in my non-J.D. opinion) absurd notion that a corporation is a person, and entitled to the same rights are individual citizens. Did you know that it's illegal for a person in Texas to criticize the beef industry? After all, beef companies are people, and you might hurt their feelings. Just ask Oprah - who spent upwards of a million dollars defending herself in a Texas court for saying she didn't want to get mad cow disease from a hamburger. So please, if you're in Texas reading this, I beg of you to close your browser, because frankly, I can't afford a lawyer.

So, I went to the library tonight and rented The Corporation - a really fantastic documentary about these issues. I'd seen it for free on the internet - and you can too, although it's worth a purchase of the DVD, which is much better quality, and a mission worth supporting.

Here is a particularly savory slice of the film. This clip is only about 11 and a half minutes of your time, and it shows a real world example of just why these issues affect you and me every single day. You will never watch corporate media in quite the same way. And you might never want to drink milk in the US again.

Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to channel my anger. I'm thinking... a white russian at Eclipse - who's with me?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yesterday, my Grammy died. She had 9 children, and 18 grandchildren.

She used to call me "Lamb" or "Lover" or "Jenny Penny".

She was beautiful. And she will be missed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Home Again Finnigan

So here I am, back at "home" (a tiny speck of an island in the East China Sea). Funny that Japan is "home" to me now. And, ironically, only for about 4 months longer. After India, I was exhausted, dirty, beaten down. Osaka airport was a clean, disinfected pillow on which to rest my dreary head. The first chance to give my hands a thorough washing in two months.

I arrived in Delhi at 5 am from Jaipur, not having slept. Like I had done after many middle of the night train station arrivals, I sat down amidst the sleeping bodies and rats and waited for day to break so I would feel comfortable enough to venture out to the rickshaw drivers. I did have a bit of fun with the lookie-loos while I waited though. I must have been delirious from lack of sleep, but I started combating the stares with cross-eyes, tongue tricks, and other childish antics. After months of politely lowering my head and accepting the somewhat violating stares, I'd had enough. I should have done that weeks ago, because it worked, no one dared stare at me after that! They even moved a few feet farther away. Ah, peace.

After aimlessly walking around a freezing Delhi all day, just waiting to leave, I made it to the Delhi airport, which was a madhouse (what were you expecting? Order? Lines? HA!) Our 10:00pm departure time kept getting pushed back - first 2 hours, then 3, then 5, then 7. They kept moving us from gate to gate. But here's the kicker, the Air India people would only tell one or two of the passengers. There was no announcement, no flashing marquis. Only if we were paying attention would we know to move. So, TWICE I woke up wondering why I was the only one sitting at my gate. Then I'd run frantically through the airport looking for the group of Japanese tourists who were also presumably Osaka-bound.

After about 50 hours of sleepless travel, I finally made it home.

I want to thank all of you who actually read this blog throughout my trip. I can count on one hand those who were really concerned about my whereabouts. And that's okay. This blog was really for me a place to make light of the loneliness I felt. The hardships to joke about. To make it all seem like an adventure was just a "Bollywood Movie" that would hopefully be over by the time the popcorn ran out. The trip for me was always a challenge of sorts. The "your-husband-is-off-serving-his-country-what-are-you-doing-with-your-life?" challenge. And I made it home alive, and I have to say, a better woman for it.

So what have I learned in the past 60 days?

- A rickshaw ride should never cost more than 50 rupees and negotiate the price up front. Don't be afraid to jump out and refuse to pay if they take you to somewhere you don't want to go.

- Never say it's your first time in India. Never walk through the market place with a bewildered look. March straight - let the oncoming foot traffic jump out of the way (or hoof traffic, as the case may be). The only way to fit in in India is fake it till you make it.

- I've become an unabashed pilferer of toilet paper. I've been finding it everywhere - in my pockets, in my purses. I will never again be caught without it.

- All the material possessions that I need in this world can fit into one backpack. Not sure if this is really true, but it worked for 2 months! Not once did I think "golly, I really wish I'd brought more crap along with me." As a matter of fact, I would have been happy to leave half of it by the roadside.

- From the hour I was leaving Delhi for the airport, I had this urge to run out on the street, and drink chai with whomever I could find. I miss the closeness of the people on the street. The Delhi Dance. The human interactions that have been bred out of our culture. Try as you might, you are never alone in India.

Ironically, the day I got home, I seemed to have contracted some food poisoning of sorts. Ha! I think I probably was on the way to being sick in India, but my body was like, "Oh hellz no you are NOT getting sick in this country." I'm more than happy to roll around in pain in the comfort of my own bed.

John gets home in mere weeks! Then we've got 4 months to take Okinawa by storm. Adventures to come.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jaipur - city of gems

Well, it was going to be difficult to match the beauty of Udaipur, and unfortunately Jaipur did not. The highlight of my 3 day stay there was a rendezvous with my friend from college, Rachel and her husband Scott. They had hired a tour guide and a driver, so we got to see some sites together in the comfort of an actual car and with a very knowledgeable guide. We hadn't seen each other in over a year and so we had quite a bit of catching up to do. Funny that we used to live less than a mile from each other in LA, and did not see each other nearly enough when we had the chance. When you move 5000 miles away, your perspective changes, I guess. And last night I saw my first Bollywood film called "Three Idiots" which was about 98% in Hindi but it was FANTASTIC. IT was 3 houts long, even had an intermission. All I can say was that it had it all. Love, suicide, some seriously emotional male freindship (tears in almost every scene), dancing, singing, potty humor, an emergency birth on a pong table, and the engineering geek wins out in the end! I was surprised how much we understood. And the audience was roaring.

Another highlight for me personally was the gems. Oh. My. God. The Gems. Jaipur is the world hub for gems, so of course I scouted out several factories and got to see how the serious stuff is made. We're talking 20 karat diamond necklaces, massive door-khocker rings, and some serious artistry. I was in heaven. I'm also smuggling some home in my undergarments. I figure that will distract the authorities from the contraband seeds I got at the farm.

I should never have opened my mouth that I was a jewelry designer because at one point in a 6-hour sitting in one factory, (and after about 7 chai teas) I was surrounded by every diamond dealer in a 10 mile radius. I wasn't even in the buying mood, but this guy called every dealer he knew and before you knew it, I was sifting through bags and bags of diamonds - fancy, marquis, rose cut. Shades of champagne. Lovely. All stunning. While I was there, a Japanese woman who lives in Paris came to pick up her orders - she has a fine jewelry line and it's all made in Jaipur. I wish I had thought ahead about this, but oh well, this just means I'll have to make a buying trip to India.

I arrived in Delhi at 5 am today and will fly out at 10pm tonight. I'm now going to trapse through the bazaars of Delhi and waste away the day. Funny how it's not nearly as intimidating than when I first got here. I've already even given out a bunch of travel info to newbies I ran into at breakfast. I've learned the delhi dance!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Farewell Fair City!

Today I spent my last day in Udaipur, reluctantly. So far this has been my favorite destination. There's just something beautiful about a rajistani sunset over a floating lake palace. Today I took a boat ride from the city palace to the lake palace, where James Bond's "Octopussy" was filmed. I saw the movie for the first time last night at my hotel's open air lounge. Apparently they've been showing it every night for the past 9 years. So has every other hotel in the city. They're really milking that 15 minutes of fame. There's a fantastic scene in the movie where Bond gets into a car chase in autorickshaws through the streets of Udaipur. There are women in saris running for their lives, cows to be avoided, street market carts overturning. I was watching it with 6 other foreigners and we were laughing hysterically because a "car chase scene" is exactly what it's like driving in this town on any old day of the week.

Udaipur is covered in these glass mosaics, made with fragments of mirror. It lends a certain Marrakesh feeling to the buildings (I'm just guessing, since I've only been to Morocco in my dreams). The palace is full of them - usually in the pattern of flowers, trees and peacocks. I spent the first half of my day in this guys studio watching him make one from scratch. Some are small, for tables or chairs. Some are huge mural sized. They are stunning creations. He could live a cush life if he set up a shop in Beverly Hills. I'm going to try to attempt one when we get to our new home in Washington. (Just what I need, another hobby.) This town is filled with artists. Even the guys on the street are handcarving blocks of marble into works of art. My kind of city.

Onto Jaipur next where I am thrilled to be meeting up with Rachel and Scott!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Udaipur - quite a little gem

Udaipur is described as the "Venice of the East" and I think perhaps that this time, Lonely Planet got it right. Flanking both sides of Laike Pichola, the narrow streets rise and fall among clusters of shoips and eateries. Sipping a rose-flavored lassi (yogurt shake) on the top of a haveli five stories up, I can see rooftop cafes from which to choose for my next meal. This arial layer of the city reveals a breezy atmosphere from which to get your bearings. It's easy and yet tres, tres difficile to plan my menu for the four days I'll spend in this town. The food is outrageously good and there are many options. Oui, c'est magnifique! (I've taken to musing in French after spending three days with a french woman in Agra. It's fitting, as Udaipur has a European feel to it.)

I arrived in Udaipur at 6 am and my hotel of choice was filled, so I let my rickshaw driver take me to a recommendation of his across the lake. My instincts were sharp, as this beautiful Lake Shore guest house has an open air cafe with cushy bed-style seating for lounging and contemplating the day's itinerary. My ornately-decorated room has three windows from which I could jump into the lake if the mood struck. $11 a night left plenty of rupees for he endless parade of meals which would follow.

Walking through the Saijhan Niwas gardens, I came upon an elephant who graciously got down on his knees and offered me a ride. Quite the attraction the two of us were! The blonde foreigner in a punjabi suit atop a painted elephant, trapsing around the lake. When we came upon a camel or two, my guide made a great effort to keep the elephant from seeing the camel. He would turn him around or feed him to distraction. The camel's guide also took great care to pass waaay on the other side of the road. ON the third encounter, the elephant got wind of the camel and started to freak out a bit, shaking and squirming. "No problem, madam, no problem!" It was then that I took inventory of the distance between my noggin and the pavement below, and so I decided to dismount and let the animals duke it out (if it came to that) sans moi. A med-evac to god knows where is not really in my budget.

I had the meal of my trip last night at the Whislting Teal on the east bank. A vegetarian Thali - a "thali" consists of a few types of curry, a dal, rice, raita (yogurt to calm the spice), naan bread and a delicious dessert. I love thalis because I don't have to choose between several dishes - I get to try them all! It was absolutely superb, and it was set in beautiful candle-lit gardens. The only thing slightly out of place was the steady stream of Bon Jovi's greatest hits. Not that I minded it one bit. And the staff liked it when I sang along.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Some Oddities and Observations

1. When you walk into a shop in the US, most shoppers appreciate a brief greeting and then the freedom to browse without pestering. But at a restaurant, you usually want prompt and repeated visits from your waiter, attending to your every whim. In India it's exactly the opposite. You cannot enter a store without the salesman unrolling every rug, draping you in countless saris and insisting you sit for chai while trying on every shoe in his inventory. Protests only make this worse - his staff work doubletime to body-block the exit. Meanwhile, you sit unnoticed in a restaurant while your waiter eats, talks on the phone, goes out for a smoke, or leaves entirely.

2. The infamous Indian head bobble is exactly that, a bobblehead motion in a side to side manner, much like the 6 inch baseball player versions on the hood of people's cars. It can mean "yes," "no," "I don't speak English," or "your train left hours ago." it's one thing when being led down the wrong street by a bobblehead policeman. It's another thing when getting your nose pierced and asking the girl if the nosering has been disinfected. In something other than water, preferably. Sometimes the situation calls for a definitive answer.

3. Dogs here love foreginers. They don't really care for the Indians, it seems (and Indians have told me this) but they can smell a sucker when they see one. Foereigners are the only one's who pet them, talk to them, and give them leftover chicken Masala.

4. Grown men walk around holding hands. So9 do strapping male teenagers. Sometimes its a complete interlace, walk in the park style. Sometimes its just a casual pinky-finger link as they navigate through traffic. They also spoon each other when sleeping. I came home one night to find two of the male coworkers canoodling in the hallway in front of my door. Now if you're thinking India will be the next to jump on the gay pride bandwagon, you're dead wrong. It's just the way men hang out together. Meanwhile men and women are all but forbidden from and physical contact in public. Go figure.

5. It's not rude to stare. It's actually quite permissible to gather in large groups around a lonely foreginer and stare at her FOR HOURS, particularly when she's waiting at the train station. It's also quite acceptable to get close enough over her shoulder to read the blog entry she's typing on her iPod, and if this gets a trifle boring, to request that she take you through her digital p[hoto collection instead.

6. Being a celebrity must be the worst life ever. Particulalry one that people recognize and request photographs with. I'm just guessing, but based on my experience in a park the other day, I'd say incognito is the life for me. I was the only non-Indian in this small, non-touristy town, and the entire park stopped and watched every step I took, the whole time I was there. I was stopped by two girls for a photograph with them. Then two more braved it. Then their mom's wanted photos with me. Then their dads. Then came the babies. Lots and lots of babies. 45 minutes and countless photos later, I'm ready for the silver screen. Nah, not the life for me.