Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paradise Found

We came to the East Coast and Emma proclaimed, “This is my kind of vacation.” The green shallow waters extended for kilometers into the ocean. I tried walking out to the end of it, but 30-40 minutes later, I didn’t feel any closer and was getting monster-radiation from the sun, so turned back. It was very cool standing knee deep with green water almost reaching to the horizon. We’re on a super-long (maybe 2 miles?) white beach. Some of the sand is so fine it is almost the texture of baking soda.

I apologize for the whining in the last post, but to my defense we had been trying to order local cuisine with no luck. Most often, the kitchen simply didn’t have the seafood mentioned on the menu, and when they did, it was pretty abysmal. But we found out why. It’s the beginning of the rainy season, so for restaurants, it’s the start of the low season; they don’t keep their refrigerators stocked with beer, sprite, shrimp, fish, etc. So that explains it.

Last night I tried the Swahili platter. It had beef, octopus, prawns, mystery fish, and some Swahili side dishes: plantains with coconut, potato-like things with coconut, spinach with coconut, etc. The coconut in all these dishes is like a paste that they sauté it with. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it just reminds me of a pina colada or a cake, since those are pretty much the only times I eat coconut. The octopus was intimidating with all its tentacles visible, and your tongue notices them too; in the end it’s just chewy and not a big deal.

I have been barefoot running the beach in the mornings. It feels great to the legs and the lungs back into at least a little action, but going so slow is hard on the soul. I couldn’t help but pick up the pace until I found myself sprinting towards some finishing line. I swim a bit afterwards, but even after 50 yards, with the salt stinging my eyes, I decide I am meant for land.

It’s hot here, but a few times a day we have been getting rain storms. It makes cool textures in the sand, but it also made a small puddle on my side of the bed last night. The thatched hut roof had been doing great until it started dripping on my forehead.

But ah! The beach! Sitting on the beach, looking at the water… nothing beats it. All of sudden you don’t feel like doing anything else. Em’s been rolling through books, and we’ve been playing chess here and there. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


We just returned from another crappy meal. It’s not that we’re spoiled; it’s that our emotional state is dependent on the quality of caloric input. The calamari was rubbery to the max, the cheese on Emma’s pizza made me gag so much that I couldn’t get it down, and the chocolate milk shake was warm, so it was probably just milk mixed with Ovaltine.

We’ve had terrible luck so far with food in Zanzibar. I’m not a picky eater: I was raised with the clean-plate-club-mentality, and for the last 10 years food’s served more as a fuel than a source of enjoyment. And because of that, I have a finely tuned sense of nourishment and non-nourishment: and this food is not up to par.

Dad’s been asking for pictures of food, but I haven’t had the heart to pull out the camera for fish tacos that have two meager chunks of fish each accompanied by French fries that are still cold in the center. We even gave this place in question a second chance (which failed) because it was the top rated restaurant on the island.

As we commiserate over our failed attempts at finding good food, we usually start talking about the burrito places we’ll hit up when we get back to the states, or the first thing we’ll cook up, like a bomb breakfast sandwich with great sausage the Spiros always get, or a breakfast burrito with Jose’s salsa and homemade guacamole. Mmmmm…..

We also take turns at deciding where to go, both of us hoping not to be the one that chose the terrible restaurant. And we’d love to make food ourselves, but the markets are mostly seafood hidden by a swarm of flies (and the octopus doesn’t look especially appealing, anyway).

We’re currently staying in a small town that has a gorgeous beach and half dozen places to stay, all with their own restaurants overlooking the water. The people seem tired and a bit frosty, but the beach is only 100 feet away and is perfect for swimming and has a great green color to it. Just after sunset, the water was so inviting I couldn’t resist jumping in. It was peaceful to watch the silhouettes of dhows coming back to the beach. Dhows are old-school wooden fishing sailboats with a triangle sail. They look really cool. I’d like to try and get onto one.

Two momentous occasions: we trimmed my beard an imperceptible amount, and Emma shaved her legs.

We're heading to the east coast now to hopefully get some snorkeling in and stuff.

That’s all for now. Hope all is well back home.


We arrived in Sinuwa, a town situated in the edge of one of the steep foothills, after a two hour stint down and up 4000 stone stairs – Chris counted. Our room that night felt like it was about to fall off the side of the mountain. We were both thoroughly surprised to find out the guesthouse had hot water! And true to their word the shower was amazing, definitely needed after the long day of ups and downs. After a week on the trail our stench was reaching intolerable heights. (Maybe it should remain unmentioned but let’s just say Chris has to cut out the built-in underwear in his pants and my shirt got sealed in a ziplock bag.)

From Sinuwa it was a two day climb up to ABC. The first was relatively uneventful – meandering through forests until it eventually broke out into rocky landscape as we reached higher elevations. Around mid-afternoon we were watching dark clouds roll up the valley. Within a matter of minutes the sky turned dark and we could hear the distant roar of thunder. Luckily we were within sight of our destination, Durali, when it began to sprinkle. We arrived 5 minutes before the storm broke into a violent downpour of hail and rain.

Listening to the rain pelting the tin roof of our room, I was glad to be warm in my sleeping bag. In the morning we awoke to crystal clear blue sky and a beautiful day to continue our ascent. We did hear the distant rumble of a few landslides/avalanches but didn’t see any of them. The trail brought us closer to the river as the valley narrowed. To our right we could see the towering ridges of Machupuchare, the Fishtail. Everything was covered in a few inches of snow, making it look all the more imposing. A few times we did see small patches of falling snow after hearing a rumbling echo through the valley.

To our left was a sheer rock cliff extending for a couple hundred feet – so high we couldn’t see anything beyond. A few waterfalls cascading over the top of the wall provided for some excellent photo opportunities. After passing a small sign warning of avalanche danger, we crossed some old avalanche fields. At first they look like dull rocks and mud but on closer inspection they are really dirty snow. Some of the ice chunks and boulders caught in the mess were up to 4 feet in diameter, crazy. We continued along the bottom of the rock wall, pausing occasionally to take photos and strip off our layers of warm clothing in the sun. Suddenly, we head the deep rumble of falling snow. All three of us paused to scan the opposite bank. Nothing.

Holy shit! We turned to find snow pouring over the cliff above us, landing just a few hundred feet behind us. It was shooting over the top like a gigantic waterfall of white. Following our guide’s yell, we ran down the trail a few hundred feet before turning to stare at the huge avalanche stunned. Somehow I fumbled around and was able to get out the camera to take a short video. It went on for upwards of 5 minutes, a cascade of snow that covered the very trail we had stopped on to take pictures not 3 minutes earlier. We had almost died. In a nervous voice Pemba asked, “No one on the trail right?” Visible shaken we couldn’t do anything for a few minutes but stare at the huge pile of snow and ice. Literally, we had almost died. There was no way we could have escaped the snow had we been caught.

For the next hour we walked in almost silence, with a few intermittent comments about how lucky we were. We questioned if we should continue along the trail, but were reassured that it got better. I was definitely scared as we continued to climb and eventually reached Machupuchare Base Camp, the final village before ABC. In hindsight we should have been more careful and our guide should have taken us on the alternate route on the other side of the river – designed specifically to bypass this high risk area. But we lived and eventually the stunning scenery warmed us again. Our close encounter was a story at every lodge we reached, Pemba chatting away with all the locals.

As a testament to instant weather changes in the mountains, the last hour of our climb to ABC was a whiteout of clouds and snow. We couldn’t see fifty feet in front of us, making the journey seem never ending to me. The altitude makes each step feel like a chore, but surprising enough I wasn’t dying as I had expected. After what seemed like ages we eventually reached base camp – a small cluster of buildings in the middle of a cloud of snow, or so we thought at the time.

Best thing about reaching our goal – hot chocolate and some bomb French fries. Yum. It was freezing, of course, so we piled on the long underwear and down jackets and pretty much jumped into our sleeping bags ASAP. We did get to see some amazing stars once the weather cleared. It was eerie to find yourself in a bowl of towering mountains that you didn’t know where there.

The next morning was another sunrise not to miss. Chris again had to drag me out of bed after snapping a few pictured in the pre-dawn glow. The morning was crystal clear. Annapurna South towering on one side, Machupuchare on the other. As the sun rises it touches the very tops of the peaks first before slowing descending and throwing a golden light throughout the bowl. The sun reflecting off the snow was blinding and everywhere was covered in snow. The morning was so perfect for our descent, but it was sad to have to leave in such beautiful conditions. A total transformation from our arrival. But slip and slide down the snow we did. Of course we stopped to take lots of pictures along the way.

And eight hours later, tired and worn out, we finally reached our guesthouse. How we made it down and up the 4000 steps again at the end of the day I’ll never know. To be honest the downhill was ten times worse than the uphill. Boy, our legs were aching. The following day was another long one all the way back to Nayapul and Pokhara. By hour two Chris was getting quite tanky and I had to appease him but talking about dorky mathematical models for a few hours. And done. Definitely one of the best hikes I have ever done.



Friday, March 21, 2008

Hiking n Stuff

Once we were in the hills and walking through the little towns, it really hit me how ridiculous it was that these people were living in this area at all. We were on the sides of steep hills that would not be arable without the endless terracing that could only have come from many generations’ worth of hard work. And they don’t have many other options other than sell things to tourists or subsist off the land.

Waking up and going out on the deck of our lodge I saw that these foothills were simply monstrous. It felt like I was standing on top of a 100 story building. This path is the only way to get to these places, so if you want something, either a person or a donkey must carry it. Women seem to be in charge of hauling wood and grass. Here distances are measured in hours/days it takes to walk.

We had fun learning a few things in Nepali. Our guide was ADD for sure, so after he taught us a word, he’d sing a song feature that word (and only that word) for a few minutes. He wore an MP3 player with a few hundred Hindi songs loaded on; he liked to mention that “music is friend.” It broke our hearts to see him the morning one of his earphones went dead. He was pretty sullen. On the uphills, Emma goes quiet pretty quick, and I kinda stop talking too, and then he would get a little antsy and swing on a low-lying branch or start jumping off stumps and stuff. On the way down from ABC it was slick and his antics caused him to fall on his ass 7 times. (Em and I both bit it once.) He also tripped once and fell off the steep side of the trail, but did a graceful run-out recovery onto a terrace 15 feet below. A few of his most common sayings stuck with us and cause a chuckle for Em and I.

In many of the towns, the kids are a highlight. My favorite are the two year olds who are wandering around barefoot and dirty, chasing chickens and babbling incoherently.

These trails, as Emma mentioned, do not feature many zigzags, instead taking advantage of the unlimited rock nearby. Aside from the visually awesome stone steps, the slate roofs and bridge supports are also notable. And much of the stone has a glittery effect from the minerals in it, and it looks cool as you walk along the trail. But then you’re rudely awakened to the fact that this cool-looking trail goes straight up for 2 hours. It became the running joke that when Pemba said 1 more hour of hiking, it meant we had to go 1000 ft higher.

We saw tons of waterfalls. For a few towns, somebody has built a small stone building on the edge of town that has a PVC pipe running from a water source up the mountain and a waterwheel and generator inside. I thought it was pretty cool that there’s small scale hydropower in the middle of the Himalayas. If they’re going to have power, this is the way they should do it, rather than rely on coal power from the valleys. These installations appeared to be a foreign contribution.

Sleeping at altitude wasn’t much of a problem. A bigger problem was when I would have to go pee, and I would try and hold it to avoid getting out of my warm sleeping bag and walking the cold journey to the shared bathroom. A few times I would end up being awake for a few hours in the middle of the night because of this procrastination and false hope that it would go away. After a while, my farts usually made it a necessity to escape the sleeping bag.

The lodges always had a simple dining room where most of the trekkers would convene to hang out and eat. The lodges closer to ABC had an interesting heating system that cost 50 rupees per person: the table had a dark, flame-resistant(?) blanket stapled along the edge of the table, and an employee would bring a kerosene stove on high flame and stick it under the table. There it would just burn and burn. There was a wire strung around the inside of the table to hang socks right where all the hot air collects. We were skeptical about the safety of the whole thing, but it made our legs marginally warmer, so whatever.

Some of my favorite memories will probably be in these villages, where we would huddle in the dining room with a plate of French fries and a small pot of tea, and switch off between chess games and Rummy 500. Emma’s definitely getting better at chess. Although I’ve only lost twice, often times I am behind by quite a bit and emotionally exhausted from having to beat off all of her attacks. As for Anapai, Emma’s the ruling champion after our last best-of-nine game.

Poon Hill

After waking up to our first views of Annapurna South we set out along the ridge and down into another small river valley. Winding our way along we reached the beginning of our next climb. The town of Ghorepani sits at almost 9,000 ft. We kept climbing and climbing until we came out on a saddle between the two mountain ranges and valleys. The town is situated right at the top of this pass, overlooking both valleys and the stunning mountains beyond. Ghorepani is a major destination for a lot of the trekkers in this area. On one side of the town the trail climb to the top of Poon Hill. The view from the top draws travelers from all over.

For many people, Poon Hill is the highlight and goal of their trek. Of course to get the best views you have to reach the top of the 500m climb right at sunrise. This means waking up at 4:00 am to start the hike. Chris successfully dragged me out of my cozy sleeping bag at 4:30 and we bundled up. It was completely dark except for the tiny lights leading up the hill – people slowly climbing to the top. As you might have guessed climbing 500m at 4:30 am is not my cup of tea so I was struggling to say the least. Chris was of course grumbling as people kept passing us, but I give him credit for waiting. With the altitude on top of that it was not an easy hike for me and I was feeling a bit sick when we finally reached the top. Definitely not enough sleep for me.

Standing at the top, cold despite my long underwear and puffy down jacket, I was mesmerized by the surrounding mountains. It’s pretty much a 360 degree view of peaks over 15,000 ft. Not a view you can get in very many other places in the world. The clouds were still low in the valley and the sun was just beginning to touch the tops of the peaks. We watched the landscape transform from a cold, misty darkness into a sparkling world of snow. Awesome.

It was a quick trip back to the village where we had a much needed breakfast of toast and eggs before setting out for the day. The day before our guide had played volleyball with the locals on the town’s dirt court, and he visibly worn out as we started on the trail. From Ghorepani the trail follows a ridge line before climb over another pass and heading down into the neighboring valley. In one of the towns just below the ridge we stopped for a small break and bought a few knit woolen hats from the local women. We had been eying the cozy hats for since we arrived in Kathmandu.

Descending we reached another river, but this one cut through sheer cliffs. Down and up we went through the forest of rhododendron trees. Their red blossoms where in full bloom throughout the valley. Looking across we could see patches of red dotting the landscape. Passing through the village at the top of the saddle we dropped again and ended up on a flat terrace that turned out to be a quiet guesthouse. From the lawn we had an expansive view of the valley and mountains, giving us a great sunset and sunrise. That night we geared up for what we knew would be three hard days to come – the ascent to ABC.



Monday, March 17, 2008


Hi everyone! We are back from the playground of the gods and our trek up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in the Himalayas of Nepal. The trek was stunning and the mountains enormous. It will probably take a series of blog entries to get up to date with our adventures so here is the start.

After my quick trip back to SoCal to visit graduate schools and play a little beach volleyball with Will, Seaners, and EP, I flew back to Bangkok to meet Chris and off we flew to Nepal. Another whirlwind of buses, planes, and taxis, but we made it to Kathmandu without too much trouble. We have been here for only two weeks and wish it could have been more. Because of our time constraints we arranged for a guided trek to ABC before our arrival. We were a little nervous about whether the company we had arranged our trek with after we received the following in an email:

''Good news. Money has arrived. I just picked up this afternoon. Now we are very much looking forward to serve you soon in Nepal.''

As it turned out they were there to pick us up from the airport and have been extremely organized and helpful with everything. (The company is called Nepali Experienced Adventure Treks – NEAT.) We drove directly from the airport to their tiny, hole-in-the-wall office to meet the director and our guide for the next few weeks, Pemba. The next day we had a 7:00 am bus ride to Pokhara - the jumping off point for most of the trekking in the Annapurna area. Luckily both Chris and I were so exhausted we slept for most of the seven hour ride. The "highway" that runs from Kathmandu to Pokhara winds along the steep cliffs alongside a huge river gorge. Swerving around blind corners on the edge of a cliff isn't exactly the safest endeavor but we made it in one piece and arrived at our hotel just in time for dinner.

Pokhara definitely has the hippy, outdoorsy vibe going on. The main tourist area is lined with stores selling woolen hats, scarves, and North Face knockoffs. We didn't get to spend too much time walking around because of the scheduled power outage and our early departure the next morning. From Pokhara we took a two hour taxi ride to the beginning of the trek. The ride brought us up and over some of the foothills, which of course seemed like mountains to us. The countryside is so steep it’s incredible. Then on top of it all there are villages dotting the hills and more terraces then I have ever seen in my life. The whole mountainside is terraced to grow rice, wheat, and vegetables. It's crazy!

We started walking in the village of Nayapul. The majority of the buildings in this village are little shops selling Coke and various trinkets to foreign trekkers. They also sell buckets, baskets and containers used for hauling materials up the trail to reach the higher villages. From Nayapul we entered the Annapurna Conservations Area Project – the first and largest conservation area in Nepal which was designed to promote sustainable community development and environmental protection. The trail brought us along a river valley, slowly climbing into the foothills of the giants above. Because of the overcast weather we couldn’t see any of the towering peaks – at first we didn’t even know they were there. In hindsight this might have been a good thing because we would have had second thoughts about just how we were going to arrive at our destination thousands of feet above.

Lower in the valley the weather was fairly hot. As we climbed higher we reached out first destination of Tirkhedunga. Following the advice of our guide, we decided to continue for another two hours to the town of Ulleri. Pemba pointed to some of the buildings way above us on the hill. Here was our first introduction to the preferred method of trail building – stone steps. We climbed and descended thousands (literally we counted for a few hours) of stone steps on this hike. How the people have managed to build these staircases I’ll never know, but they are everywhere. There is none of the winding gradual switchbacks you have in the U.S. – it’s stairs straight up or straight down.

Halfway up the hill we reached the first houses. Overlooking the entire river valley and terraces, these small stone buildings all have incredible views. Here we found out what we thought was our stopping point was only about halfway. I was not too happy about more stone stair climbing, but it was time to sack up and keep trucking. We finally arrived at the top of the hill some 500m later, tired but very happy to be there. The decision turned out to be a life saver, not only because of the big climb the following day, but because the next morning we got our first view of Annapurna South out our bedroom window. Wow, who knew such a huge mountain was right beyond the hills? Of course the question going through our minds was – how are we going to get way up there?



Monday, March 10, 2008


well, as a testament to the ubiquity of the internet, there is now a small wooden shack in Ghorepani, Nepal, with 5 computers and a satellite connection. the only way this could have gotten here is a 2 day trip by donkey. the trail's been great, and we've been climbing up and up and up (now at 2700m) and we have a long way to go until base camp. we'll be doing poon hill tomorrow morning. the climb is a constant rock staircase, and last night before arriving at our teahouse/lodge we climbed about 1000 ft straight up. waking up and looking out it seemed like we on top of a 100 story building to the towns down in the valley; the moms would def not have liked it, as even I had to step back after first seeing how far down it looked. we also had a bomb view of Annapurna south right out our window this morning.

so we might wander over and check out the view some more (hopefully the good weather continues!) and then go check out the local volleyball game (locals vs. guides, I think). Emma's getting stronger by the minute, but still is wary of the next few days, checking the topographic map often (ps. we still have 8000 ft to climb).

talk to you soon and love you all.
chris and em

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Goodbye Bangkok, Hello Nepal

Well, we're off to Nepal. I haven't been eating very much; I have no appetite (very unusual - bad sign) and some abdominal discomfort, but no symptoms other than that. Weird. I've been getting massages every night the last few days ($6/hr). I found out there's a certification you can get at one of the local temples, but it takes a week and I only just found out about it. Both Thai massage and foot massage, too. I went to see the floating market north of Bangkok today and it was a total tourist trap but whatever, it was cool. But the other accompanying tourist trap was crazy and worth it: the snake dudes.

It's a snake farm where they have a bunch of snakes and milk their venom to produce the serum for snake bites. They also host groups of 100 or so tourists for a freak show every hour. They have these four dudes that are absolutely lunatic and go into this ring and agitate the snake enough for it to try to attack them, and they doge it. They're really good at it, but it still looks dangerous as hell. I posted two pics, but I have some incredible video once I have a good connection.

So I thought you guys might be interested in what we brought on this trip, so Em and I arranged everything and took a few pics. Here's the list, of what's in the picture, starting in the upper left and going counterclockwise.

rain jackets
hiking boots (2 pair)
running shoes (em)
closed toe sandals (me)
flip flops (me)
clogs (em)
lightweight daypack
socks, underwear, long johns
pants, long sleeve shirt, running shorts
chess set
plastic screw container (spices n stuff)
Aloe Vera
toothbrushes and toothpaste
laundry detergent for washing clothes in sink
pain killers
hand sanitizer
dish rag
strong bug repellent
watch (lost soon after photo was taken. also almost immediately after chris starts wearing it.)
more bug repellent.
water tablets
hand soap
women's deodorant
2 headlamps
more sunscreen
books: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Bird of Thailand, John Irving's World According to Garp, Memoirs of a Geisha, and a few romance novels
maps: around vang vient, around Koh Tao, around Laos
traveler bible: lonely planet
2 silk sleep sacks
small leather notebook
purse with most official paperwork
regular wallet and travel wallet
water pump
petroleum jelly
emergency shelter
sleeping bags
stove with windscreen
first aid kit
2 spoons (usually, one's missing)
emergency fire starters
2 sarongs
1 hat
2 sleeping pads
medications, as noted previously
camp towel that smells like ass
wall plug converter
more meds
camping cup for tea and shit
big camera (canon SE15)
small camera (canon)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Meditation Class

So I took this meditation class. It was the Buddhist style of meditation where the underlying method is to note everything. When you see something, you note this; when you observe anything with the senses, you try to note that as its own. When you make a particular movement, you note it. When you intend to do something, you note it. For a less butchered explanation of the exercises and their reasoning behind them, check out
an introduction to Insight Meditation as taught within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

I interpret this exercise as one that helps the practitioner to try and discretize the input of senses. Instead of looking around with that glossy look and having all your senses meld together, you really focus on that instant that you realize you sense one thing. Similarly, you really focus on the exact moments you have a new thought, becoming aware of the existence of that thought.

One of the first exercises you practice is becoming aware of your breathing. You note the movement of your stomach, and focus on the moments that you are breathing in, the moment your breathing in stops, your breathing out, and the moment your breathing out stops. This wasn’t that helpful or new for me, and I doubt it would be for any athlete, although I think it’s valuable for those who aren’t used to listening to their body. However, I think that this exercise revealed their hopes in getting the practitioner to discretize their experience of time.

Because of these two, I think the result of this discretization of time and space is that the person gets a better handle on the interface between their consciousness and “reality.” They are better able to grasp this smaller number of inputs on their consciousness and deal with it in the moment. (Whether this reality is embedded within consciousness or whether consciousness is embedded within reality is still a point of contention between Sam and I, but outside of the scope of this discussion.) I think this is helpful in some ways, but more than anything, it feels kinda cool. Lots of nothing, but a better grasp of the thing you’re concentrating on. The problem I see is that these exercises, as well as the teacher, seem to support that good-ol’ Cartesian mind/body dualism. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I need to do some more reading on that stuff.

On the other hand, I do like how this doesn’t interfere with any science whatsoever. Of course, when she was explaining the act of hearing and listening, to explain how one might note this event, she said something to the effect, “You speak and the energy of your words travel through the air and hit my hear and I have energy burst at my ear and I can hear those at that time.” And I thought to myself, “Well, in my day-to-day life it seems a more accurate explanation has been provided by science, where my vocal cords create a vibration that creates a compression wave of molecules in the space between you and I, and your eardrum … but then again, I guess your explanation works just fine for our purposes right now.”

So two of their stated goals of all this: to live in the moment and become removed from the pain of life, and this reportedly coincides with discovering truth and reaching nirvana. I agree that improving your ability to conceptualize the reality around you would help you gain more footing in the present, and yeah I agree people who do this might be happier than those who dwell in the future (which I often do) and in the past (which I do too little of). And I agree that these exercises help separate you from reality (and pain I guess – maybe that could have helped with bike racing!) because all of sudden reality is just this little items entering your experience for a moment, then vanishing and being replaced by other infinitesimal snippets of reality.

Now is this getting any closer to discovering any truth? I’d say no at first, nothing more than some personal realizations. But then again, what if spacetime is at least partially discrete? This is definitely not impossible; time’s a weird thing/illusion. What if these exercises do help you conceptualize your experience in a way more in tune with the-way-things-are? That’d be kind of cool.

But there’s something about being firmly embedded in the whirlwind of life that’s kind of fun, so why give it up? It’s kind of like that wisdom thing. It just doesn’t sound as fun as being young and thinking that everything matters and having no responsibility.

So that’s my current take on Buddhism thought. The religion part of these kinds of systems I usually don’t like, and I haven’t often seen a more streamlined religious process than in Bangkok. You can get your prayer incense and flowers at the door; there are security cameras and ceiling fans and a voice on a speaker system once you enter the big building with the monstrous statue of Buddha; entire neighborhoods survive by producing the little buddha icons people carry around. Taxi drivers bow slightly as they drive by some of the wats (temples) at 100km/hr, taking their hands off the wheel to execute that palms-together-at-the-chest move, whatever it’s called. Even the calm meditation exercises look like mindwashing to the outsider with all the cult-like chanting and glossy looks.

Yeah, the buildings don’t impress me a huge amount after a while. The big artifacts are cool, but they all fit in the category of “What humans have done in the name of religion” which encompasses plenty of other great things, and plenty of other stupid/bad things. So seeing things in that category gets tiring after a while.

What doesn’t get tiring? Seeing 100 Asian girls dancing up and down screaming along with a live Asian punk band at one of the bars down the street. Wow. Needed another beer after that one – after walking a good kilometer as quickly as possible to get away from the sound.

Lost in Bangkok

My main purpose for being in this 3rd-world version of LA was to deal with the Indian consulate, ensuring that I can get to Nepal without delay. After Skyping the office, both in Bangkok and Phuket, it seemed that to get it done in time I would have to get to Bangkok immediately to complete my application in person.

I took the overnight bus. I sat in the back, unknowingly next to the airconditioning unit that was jacked up to restaurant-freezer-status. Everyone was cold, but my seat was colder, and only having a t-shirt on I had to steal some extra blankets from another part of the bus. After not sleeping much, arrived in Bangkok and took a Tuktuk and the guy dropped me off at some random guesthouse. They had a windowless room for $12/night and I was glad to put down the stuff and relax.

After remembering they were only open 9am-12am, I hurriedly looked up the address and jumped in a taxi. I organized my papers and other stuff and then looked up to realize I didn’t really get a good look at where I had started. But I saw some big temples and got the name of one.

Dealt with the visa stuff all morning. [You can easily skip this paragraph.] Turns out to get a transit visa, they need exactly 5 business days, and there was an Indian holiday next week that I hadn’t accounted for, so my transit visa would be ready at 4:30pm on the day we fly out at 2:30am. So, they pronounced smugly, it was absolutely impossible and I would have to change my ticket. But I said I wouldn’t even be leaving the airport, and they finally let on that I didn’t even need a transit visa unless I were flying to another Indian city before going into Nepal. Whew. But since I go from Dehli to Mumbai on the way out of Nepal, I’ll have to get one there, but they couldn’t help me find out if this is even possible (no phone number or internet address). I realized that these were outsourced visa services provided by a corporation for the state of India, so they didn’t know/weren’t responsible for anything but Indian stuff. Sorry for all the boring details, but there you have it.

I was proud of myself for taking the subway back, which cost 20baht instead of the 200baht I paid for the 1hr long taxi to rush to the consulate. I hopped off the subway at the stop closest to my destination and knew I should roughly head north to get where I was staying, so figured I’d just walk. I guess I wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t too good to walk in Bangkok.

Apparently everybody else is. All traffic. All pollution. All the time, and everywhere. I had to limit myself to little sips of breath.

There are cool little pockets in Bangkok, found via the sidestreets off every road, with more secluded little shops and markets a little more shielded from the noisy hustle and bustle. In the right pockets, no one cares where you’re coming from or where you’re going or if you’ll buy anything. I found hints of them, but don’t know how to begin the search for the best ones. There’s too many of them.

And I should have checked the map’s scale a little more closely, because 2 hours of walking and I was just getting to where I wanted to go, and I couldn’t orient myself enough to figure where I wanted to go at the 6 street intersection, cursing myself for being so zoned-out in the taxi ride. Those big temples I saw? Well, there were about 10 just like it in my area. And nothing else looked right, either, and then I realized that everything within a 20 block radius had indeed transformed during the day to a market, with sidewalk stalls ubiquitous enough to block view of the businesses, especially a hole-in-the-wall kind of place I was staying in. I got a little claustrophobic with all the backpackers milling around and all the shit for sale; piles of tshirts and CDs and lighters and all that. I was just super disoriented in general.

After another hour of walking like this, I remembered I my room key had the name of the place, Googled it, walked to it, and instead discovered a restaurant by the same name (Popiang House). Another hour and I found the right spot. Promptly locked the door to my room, took a cold shower, and fell asleep. Not too hard to get lost here when you’re half awake.