November 21, 2008
We FINALLY have a hard high-speed Internet connection and have uploaded our short wedding message that should have gone with our original post. See you all soon.
November 21, 2008
It’s no secret to those on our Bhutan trip that Brad and I weren’t really prepared for our Himalaya foothills adventure. We had been so focused on the first phase of our trip – in the Thai beaches and our wedding that we didn’t think much beyond so when we arrived in Bhutan we needed a few additional supplies like warm clothes. I thankfully had my running shoes (not that I’ve done much of that), but Brad had 3 choices: flip flops, tevas, leather sandals – not exactly hiking material. We found a few layers, but trying to find a men’s size 12 or 12.5 US in Bhutan was comical. We checked nearly every footwear store in the two main cities and it got to the point people laughed. “No Big size in Bhutan.” In the end Brad made due and all was fine even if his toes got a bit chilled now and again.
Then we went to India. While we really didn’t need the shoes there, we were thinking ahead to Japan. We’re big people wherever we go, but in India even more so as there are some little people there. They have some great style shoes but they are designed to fit Indian men who generally wear 8.5 or so. We had some hysterical adventures into the shoe shops. Indians – like many Asians – hate to say no or disappoint so when Brad would ask if they had big size, they’d say “yes” and bring out a US 10. He’d try and say it’s too small then they’d say “No, just stomp your foot”… as if he wedged his foot in it would stretch and miraculously fit. This went on for days. Even in Delhi where there are department stores and outlets for Nike, Adidas, Puma, Reebok – very few had anything bigger than a 46 – or 11 US. We even asked our friend Ram, who is about 6’4 for advice and he didn’t hold out much hope and told us to shop in Bangkok. When I asked where he got his shoes, he said, “US,” which he travels to once a month at least.
So in Bangkok, it was like groundhog day…lots of shops, lots of shoes yet none that fit BIG BRAD. Many shops he’d ask for a 46 or 47 and they shop keepers /staff would just laugh or they were so eager to make a sale, they’d bring out shoes and say “Big size” and Brad would see it was only a 10 and walk out w/o a word. It was hysterical!
Then in the ghastly Ao Nang Beach, Brad decided to try the Nike store and they had one pair of 46 – a pair of black Muay Thai boxing shoes. Couldn’t you just see the big American wearing these in Japan? So we’ve just arrived in Tokyo w/o any shoes and it’s dropped about 35 degrees since we were in Thailand. This is the first time he needs these shoes and the first store we walk into, the largest size is a men’s 9 and the man laughed and suggested we try the Nike store.
Fall back plan? He’ll wear socks with his tevas. Stay tuned.
November 21, 2008
Well we had big plans for doing more sightseeing upon our return to Thailand and after celebrating my b-day in Bangkok, but after India we decided hitting the beaches would be a nice respite.
Then we had to decide where to go. The challenge was the Gulf – where we got married – was in the middle of monsoon season although we longed for The Sanctuary, we decided to head to Andaman Sea side. For anyone who has heard my recs on Thailand knows I say stay far away from Phuket unless you’re interested in a lil’ Bangkok filled with LOTS of big Europeans, Starbucks, McDonalds and girlie bars so we opted to fly into Krabi then had plans to reconnect with Eva (who did our fab wedding video) on Ko Phi Phi. Brad had never been to the east side and the last time I was there was a few months before the 2004 Tsunami.
We’re on the verge of Thai beach peak season so if you like peace and serenity, Krabi, Ao Nang, Riley Beach, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket…not the best destination this time of year. Prices are outrageous and there’s too many people who look too much like you (if you’re of Western descent). Upon arrival in Krabi, we did what many don’t and headed straight for the Tiger Temple, which is built into the hillside, just about 8km from the airport. To reach the top temple, one must climb more than 1200 steps..in 100 % humidity. For two people who’ve done very little cardio in the past several weeks, we looked like we would pass out but the temple and view were worth it.
Then we went to Ao Nang Beach. After stumbling through a couple tourist-laden days here and Riley, we abandoned Ko Phi Phi (the tons of tourists hanging off the ferry heading there drove the nail in the coffin) and opted for Ko Lanta.
This is a much bigger island than Ko Phi Phi but without the density of resorts and people. While there are a few areas with adjacent resorts much of island is wide open. It’s like what Ko Phi Phi must have been 10 years ago, but bigger. We opted for a resort at the farthest end of island from the ferry terminal in Bamboo Bay. It was perfect. A few modest units built into the hillside with an exceptional restaurant right on the water and incredible staff who were most helpful and friendly. This is what Thailand is and should be…not the insulation of resort that cater to “farrongs” with every last amenity of home. If I wanted to go to Hawaii, I would. This was pure Thailand – except one part of the island that is home to a colony of historical sea gypsies. We took off on the scooters one day and went exploring and uncovered a tranquil part of the island then went to the Sea Gypsy village where they have their own dialect and most people look Polynesian. In fact, we could have easily been in some of the remote areas of Hawaii or Samoa.
We enjoyed beach time, swimming (the water is about 78F), scootering, napping and even took in our first joint scuba effort. (Brad did a refresher).
It was way too short, but if we make it back, we plan to spend much more time. We’re packing up our sandals and bathing suits and heading to Tokyo where we’ll spend three days along with a 2.5 day trip to Kyoto. Can’t believe we’re near the end…but really the beginning of our new lives in the Bay Area.
November 16, 2008
Sawadee….Back in Thailand.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Bangkok was have a fresh fruit smoothie…ahhhh. The mango and pineapple here is amazing. We arrived in Bangkok after a red-eye (not pretty) and mad our way to a boutique hotel on the Chao Praya river. We checked into the Arun Residence, which is directly across from Wat Arun…otherwise known as the “Temple of the Dawn.”
From our suite, we had a direct view of the temple, which is absolutely magical and lit up all night.
The 12th was a full moon and the national holiday Loy Krathong during which people set banana boats out along the canals and rivers. There was also a parade of lighted military boats that made there way right past our balcony and then fireworks…I though Brad was very thoughtful to arrange it all for my b-day.
After making our way to town and watching some locals dance who had been drinking all day…we made our way to Patpong. Both Brad and I have been to Bangkok before and neither of us had been to this red-light district before and we figured if we didn’t do it now – who knew if we ever would. MY OH MY. Aside from having a large night market, the area is filled with girle bars who do “tricks.” Since this is a family blog, you’ll need to ask us what the night entailed, but let’s just say I saw things I never need to see again!!
We rang in my birthday and were up until the wee hours, which meant Nov. 13 was a slow day starting. We made it out to see one of the largest reclining buddha’s then went to — the TEMPLE OF THE DAWN. Now that we’re married, Brad will always have his own Temple of the Dawn, but this is a truly amazing wat where you can make a steep climb up one of the stuppas. It was a great afternoon.
We then made our way back by water taxi to the hotel where I was surprised with a 1.5 hour Thai massage then dinner and drinks on our lanai looking at…the TEMPLE OF THE DAWN. I couldn’t have asked for a more special b-day…but that’s not the end of the party…my good friend and fellow Scorpio Paul Duckett and I are hosting the 10th anniversary of our 30th b-day party Jan. 2 if anyone is in San Francisco. But, now we’re headed to the Andaman sea beaches… before we make our way to Tokyo and Kyoto.
We’re due to land back in the USA the week of Thanksgiving.
November 16, 2008
NOTE: posted later than written due to internet
November 12 — I heard before we arrived, that people tend to either love or hate India…or they maintain a love-hate relationship with it. I have to say…mine is a love-hate relationship. There was quite a bit I found fascinating, especially the fact that there is so much history there are truly beautiful people. I was deeply moved by Gandhi’s plight and his goals and principles and enjoyed visiting the place where he died and was cremated. If he wasn’t assassinated in the 1940s, I wonder if India would be different today. It’s a great country filled with great people, but there’s an undercurrent of “take.” People beg…they try to swindle tourists, they are always on “the take” to see if they can get more.
There’s also an air of difficulty in everyday life here that makes it exhausting to be in India much of the time. Brad reminded me several times, “It’s India” when I asked questions about “why” something was done a certain way…because there’s often very little logic or reason to “why” – it just is. By the end of the trip when Brad was getting a little *short* with some of the lacking logic, I even got to reply to him “It’s just India!”
One of the most memorable shopping experiences was when Brad taught a shopkeeper a lesson about haggling. First, he taught them the word then he proceeded to tell the man that he didn’t want to haggle and asked him why he was trying to steal from tourists with Indian prices and Tourist prices. The explanation? Because most people (tourists) will pay a higher price…so the part Pashmina shawls I eventually bought for 400 rupees (US $10=Indian price) started out as 1200 ruppees (US$30). The guys was so shaken by Brad, he asked him to write down the word “haggle” so he could know this for future.
Brad was amazed though (I’ve encouraged him to write himself to no avail) at how much India has changed since he was last there (when he contracted Dengue fever in 2000). In Delhi, for example, he was able to eat things like Japanese food, salad, Mexican food…he shopped for shoes in Nike and Adidas stores – things he was never able to do before. And, the most notable was the advances in the transportation system. We took trains and flew out of Delhi airport. For one, we can book train and airline tickets online but he tells stories of years past when he had to arrive 8 hours early and bid for seats – even if you already paid for and had a confirmed seat…because all the systems 8 years ago were manual. (This is why we arrived at the airport 3 hours early – ugh. There’s no need BTW, regardless what Air India says)
Below is a list of whys we started as we made our way through country… I’m sure anyone who has been to India can add their own and we’d love to hear.
- Why is people can ride packed like sardines in a tuk-tuk or car and travel on top of a bus and transport a family of 4, including an infant on a scooter, but it’s compulsory to put on a seat belt in taxi in certain regions?
- Why will a hotel pay a man to walk 100 yards back and forth for days to transfer small bowls of dirt on his head when he could buy a wheel barrel for $20?
- Why does everyone feel they are entitled to know “where I go?”
- Why does every shop owner want you to sit to shop in their market?
- Why do tuk-tuk drivers expect you to pay more when they get lost for 20 minutes?
- Why is a horn more valuable than headlights after dark?
- Why do they bother to paint lines in the road when they are never used?
- Why must I have 2-for-1 drinks at happy hour and not just one at half-price?
- Why aren’t there incentives to keep family sizes low in a place plagued by overpopulation?
Any other whys for you?
November 16, 2008
Note: dates out of sync w/ last post. Delayed posting due to lack of Internet connections
(November 7) — It feels a bit like speed touring the last few days. 1. I wasn’t feeling well, but we’ve been trying to see a lot so that leaves us just 1-2 nights in some locations. The last 3 nights we’ve been in Rishikesh then Haridwar.
Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world, built along the sacred Ganges river, which divides small villages and communities in half, connecting them by foot bridges. Each night at sunset, people gather along the river, bathe themselves and provide offerings and artis and puja. In many locations, there are steps that flow directly into the water. In most places, they set flowers and candles afloat inside banana leaf baskets that symbolize prayer, blessings and cleansing. When you provide puja (an offering), you are often marked on your forehead in red dye powder, which you can see emblazed on us in some of the pictures.
The day I was tied to the bathroom in Rishikesh, Brad went on a walk high above the river and ran into monkeys and sauhdus (holy men). You can see some of his shots.
On Nov. 6, we made it to Haridwar, which is one of the holiest places in all of India. People make pilgrimages here from across the country to soak in the Ganges and make offerings. At 6 p.m. each evening, the river banks fill with thousands of people – visitors, pilgrims, locals, and the destitute. After prayer and rituals, people make their way to the river’s edge and release their banana boats. There are also scores of people walking through the crowd with oil pots burning and people put their hand in the flame then touch their head.
Haridwar is also a place where people make alms to those who are less fortunate and destitute. As such, there are hundreds and hundreds of beggars here, many of whom are maimed, deformed and close to starving. I wasn’t quite prepared for this and it was a bit overwhelming because everywhere we stepped near the river, we were approached by someone wanting something. We also saw the grotesque practice by many women to use small babies to their advantage. I talked to friends who live here and they say the practice of “renting” children to exploit locals and tourists for money had been done for years. In some cases, these kids will be intentionally burned or scarred to make it more “emotional.” They are also drugged to look more pathetic. It was awful and really hard to stomach. Then there were people who were more reserved and would take offerings given to them without aggressively asking for it. It makes you realize a lot of the stuff we get so worked up about is meaningless to people just trying to survive day to day.
While Haridwar isn’t on most tourists’ itinerary, many companies take groups to Varanasi, which can be significantly magnified, due to the size and number of tourists, according to Brad.
The evening prayer was interesting and beautiful so I’m glad we made the trip. If you’re going to Rishikesh, Haridwar is worth the evening stop – just be prepared for the other elements that come with it.
November 16, 2008
Nov. 10 – We already noted the craziness of India roads but until we arrived in Delhi, we made a point of not driving any distances at night. Well, we made our first night drive last night to see my friend Ram Seethapalli, who I used to work with at Cendant in NYC, and his wide Ajita. We hired a taxi and as we pulled out of the hotel, I noticed there were no dash lights…no head lights and said something to Brad who didn’t seem concerned… so I asked the driver to turn on his headlights…well not so easy. He had to pull to the side of the road and change fuses until he got the lights to work. After we got started we quickly realized the driver’s horn didn’t work. Not a big deal in most places, but in India people honk for everything. It’s almost used as a rearview mirror. If you don’t honk, people don’t know you’re there. So we drove about 45 minutes to Ram and Ajita’s home without a horn. One the drive, I said I’d rather have headlights…Brad wanted a horn so the first thing he asked Ram and Ajita when he arrived is what they’d prefer and they overwhelmingly said HORN. Too funny!
p.s. – thanks again to Ram and Ajita for a lovely evening. And, stay tuned for information about Ram’s new Indian venture.
November 16, 2008
Nov. 5, 2008 — Over the course of the last several days in India, Brad and I had a driver who transported us to our destinations and within cities. For those who have never traveled in India, driving a vehicle requires the power of suggestion. While signs and signals might suggest you do something, an Indian driver basically does what he wants.
When we arrived in Kolkata, I would get started and shriek when a car was headed for us or we almost ran over a group of school boys but now I am remarkably calm driving in a car, tuk-tuk, or pedi-cab…because the unwritten law in India, is “don’t hit anything” and they do a pretty good damn job. While we’ve seen the remnants of accidents on the side of the road we haven’t seen one. Despite the fact you have farm and zoo animals on the roads (think lots of cows, goats, donkeys, monkeys, camels, elephants, dogs, pigs and an occasional cat), people swerve, stop, come within centimeters and yet avoid colliding. The roads are narrow and when there are lines in the road, they are merely suggestions. Indians use about 6 lanes on a two-lane road and pass on the right, left…ditch… heck, they even drive the wrong way down a one-way. It’s nearly impossible to rent a car here – although I’m not sure what non-Indian tourist would. CRAZY!!
Crossing the street as pedestrian is a also fun challenge…as a former Manhattan resident I know how to move quick and avoid oncoming traffic…but I’ve never seen oncoming traffic quite like this…cars, vans, buses, animals, motorcabs, pedicaps, mopeds, etc. from all angles… you have to move fast and people swerve to avoid you. Brad got a good laugh the other day when he left me stranded in the center divider her and started talking with a local man, explaining to him that I was afraid to cross the street. As they pointed and laughed, I finally made it.
While there is incessant honking…it’s not NYC hostile…it’s almost as if drivers are saying “hey, I’m here, move aside.” Not once did we ever see yelling of any kind. Everyone is in the same boat… too many people trying to go in the same direction. When cars or bikes stall no one screams…people help move along.
The photos here show some of the landscape, views and incredible sights we’ve seen from our trip thus far in India from the vantage of the car. In a place where “anything goes,” you quickly become immune to what might be traditionally “out-of-the ordinary” as in India, I assure you, its quite ordinary.
November 12, 2008
November 5 – We awakened early this am and were able to watch final electoral votes on the Indian affiliate of CNBC. Over the course of a few hours we watched McCain concede and Obama deliver his acceptance speech. We are left – like many Americans – hopeful. It was entertaining watching this from the Indian perspective as the media here is not quite as “unbiased” as the U.S. media pretends to be. One of our favorite comments came while a female Indian correspondent (they all seem to be female) based in Grant Park was interviewing a black Obama pundit in New York. He want on and on saying that Obama wasn’t the man for the job and seemed to whine a bit when the reporter cut his off and said “ok thank you, but I don’t think anyone in Chicago really wants to hear this right now.” Hilarious.
We left the country too early to get a printed ballot card so we had to go to the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata when we arrived in India. People are constantly asking us where we’re from and when we say “America” many talk about “Obama” and “Bush.” Like us, most people here have little regard for our current U.S. president although most still revere the United States. Hopefully, Bush’s departure will help us begin to repair our reputation and garner more respect overseas. We hope.
November 10, 2008
November 3, 2008 – We came. We went. We marveled. One simply can’t come to India without experiencing the Taj Mahal. About 200 km outside of Delhi, Agra is a little lacking for a city that hosts one of the 7 wonders of the world (according to UNISEF) but we managed to entertain ourselves. First, we didn’t book ahead so we wound up in a budget alternative for about US$10 where I could hear our neighbors singing in the shower. (for those in Bhutan, it wasn’t as bad as the Norrling)
The Taj was well worth it. We headed out about 6:30 a.m. as the morning light is supposed to be the best. Well actually we were supposed to leave at 6 a.m. but our driver was a no show. After entering the lobby with three people sleeping on the floor, we were met with blank stares as we searched for the taxi we ordered the day before – twice. For anyone who has been to India, you can appreciate the “just five more minutes sir” we kept hearing from the staff…but we made it.
It’s a spectacular structure that is a true testament to love and admiration as the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their fourteenth child in 1631- yes 14th. I might have died too! Construction began the same year and wasn’t completed until 1653…over 20k workers and cost roughly US$70 million. Today, both the emperor and his wife are entombed in the central dome of the Taj. It’s entirely made of marble and the detail/craftsmanship is unbelievable.
Here are some of the photos. As you can see, the Taj has some resident monkeys, which Brad detests…and is a little bit afraid of…but I protected him. We even got a little view of true monkey love, but refrained from uploading the photo due to its x-rated nature.
If you make it to India…be sure to make the trip…but no need to stay in Agra long. One night max – book ahead if you want the better accommodations and remember the Taj is closed on Fridays. We double checked before making our trip as my friend Paul discovered several years ago is helpful. The Fort is also worth a trip and enjoyable – boasting great views of the Taj – depending on the smog levels – some days are better than others.
Be advised the restaurants in Agra are lacking. We decided to drink our dinner (I’m about Indian food-ed out and well on my way to a carb overload since even if you can find fish you cant trust it and eggs aren’t available everywhere). We wandered into a tourist eatery where we were entertained by three brothers who play, sing, dance. We even entertained ourselves more by joining in the dancing…and we taught the brothers to thumb wrestle. One of the most hysterical exchanges was when the waiter asked Brad – who was on his second beer — if he wanted some food…and he said, “Sure. I’d like “seared ahi with wasabi mashed potatoes and bok choy.” The waiter looked at him perplexed, said something we couldn’t understand then brought out some fried bread. It was good ole comic relief when I would have given my right arm for that ahi!!