Saturday, May 31, 2008

on the road back to rishikesh

Now I'm in the car back to Rishikesh. The meeting went very well, I think. But what do I know? More on Hardiwar: We eased our way through market stalls and waves of adorable children selling puja, flower offerings. Latha told us they have the incense in them so that the goddess Ganga is given a gift of all the senses.

The horn of the car I'm in sound exactly like a clown horn.

We waited around. Lauren thought she'd had her camera pickpocketed, so we all closed ranks, forming protective pods of people. But later, it turned out Alex had it, and L was somewhat embarrassed to have maligned the small children, who probably very well could have been pickpockets. A woman came by to chase the children off with a stick, so we felt bad for them even if they were pickpockets.

There were so many people about, and with that brief time we were sure successfully pickpockets were about, too, we felt under siege. Normally the crowding and the noise and the filthy river surrounding me on both sides would have had me twitching like a petrified rabbit, but I was suddenly filled with that inner calm of a deep deep breath, the moment you sign our in savasana, and there's clarity. To co-opt a tired phrase, we were all one, fingers from the same hand, that same water from the Ganages flowed in us all as a spirit just the same. I kept falling into this way/pattern of thought, like a dizzy drop, and then I'd yank myself away again, conscious that I was there with a group many of whom were feeling sick, tired and generally unspiritual.

I was able to capture some of this in the video, with the noise fading away to the Ong Namo song. The ceremony itself wasn't as moving as those moments before, but I still enjoyed it very much. But I was just too conscious of the material world after jerking myself out of that spiritual vertigo.

Speaking of the material world, Café Coffee Day, the "Starbucks of India" remains a special treat when I'm able to cross the street from the hotel to get there (which is often, but not always). Jenny and Sarah and I were there talking about how we're getting used enough to the money that $2 for a monstrously large delicious coffee drink seems outrageous (this is how much they are at CCD). We imagined our shock when we returned to the States to the real Starbucks (or, overpriced coffee shop of choice). Jenny feigned horror "Five dollars for coffee??" and Sarah's rejoinder cracked me up: the conciliatory tone of the start to haggling "How about two fifty?"

I bought a couple of salwar-kameez suits at the bazaar in Dehradun a couple of nights ago. They both have green in them, for my eyes. Sarah just told me how much diet affects her eye color, so I'm curious to experiment now. But in the meantime I will artificially brighten them with clothing. The son of the Sikh shop owner who sold them to me was kind of cute. I imagined what it would be like to be in love with him, but quickly tired of the relationship because it turned out he was bitter and dissatisfied with his lot in life. I'll have to go back to pick them up after the tailor finishes making them.

While at the same market, I found a fabric shop which will have something, I hope, that I can use as a slipcover, and some ekatt Mom would love.

some catch up

I'm waiting at the Department of Hydrology at IIT, for a Dr. Jha. The driver on the way here was nice, and very talkative once I fell out of the seat (short stop) and woke up. He talked of how everything is a gift from God. He said he'd tell me an English joke: the world is a stage, life is a drama, man is an actor, and god is the director. Somehow I knew not to laugh at this "joke." I'm nervous about this first interview, and now it looks like I've left the camera/digital recorder somewhere. Dammit. Now I'll have to write/remember everything manually. He's meeting with a director right now so I don't know how long he'll be. I'm using his pen, and would be somewhat embarrassed if he found out. After this, I'll return to Rishikesh, where Sarah is waiting. We went here and Haridwar last weekend, and much of my documentarian energies were into making videos of the days rather than writing about them. It was my favorite day so far. Rishikesh because there was good shopping, though I only bought a scarf in case it was needed to go into a temple. It was pouring rain like I've seen only a few times in my life. Then gusts began to life all the trash on the streets into breathtaking American Beauty-esque dances. Eventually it let up (it does seem suspiciously like an early monsoon season so far, though I was annoyed when someone else cavalierly blew off the Indian's opinions to the contrary). We walked around with our bumbling tour guide who managed to not get us to the Little Italy restaurant, but instead took us to the closer Little Buddha Café (where Sarah and I plan to meet later today). But after we'd ordered and before we ate, he cancelled the order because Little Italy wouldn't cancel our reservation . It's tedious to write about, but we were very annoyed and embarrassed by it at the time. Vijay later managed to lose us twice on the way to the bus, and even had to be corrected on the directions back to the bus once.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Survey of India

Survey of India

This was a bit of a disappointment. We waited so long for Dr. Zonn to come back while we were at the map shop, and knowing how hard Dr. Eaton had worked to make it happen, I expected full military clearance to the darkest secrets of the government. But we wended up in some museum of archaic sextants and tide predictors (looked like a giant multi-eyed fly). The tour guide did come up with some interesting tidbits about the explorers who first measured a lot of the world, or at least the Himalayan region. I was kind of shocked when we were all done so early. I tried to hit them up for GIS data, but they foisted me off on the Institute for Remote Sensing, which we visit later. So that was that. I didn't buy any maps because I didn't have any money on me. I was the only grad student that went today, but I didn't even notice till later because I get along with the undergrads so well.

Dr. Gamkhar arrived today.

Tibetan Cultural Center

This was an odd little jaunt after the Survey of India. A Buddhist temple with a lot of construction sucking away all the Zen the place may have had. A lot of people found it very interesting, but I found it thoroughly unspiritual and had trouble finding anything to plug into besides the child-monks working on a scroll drawing with their master-guy. It was indeed beautiful (the parts not being hammered away on), but I can only take so many pictures.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wildlife Institue of India & Rajaji National Park

Two wildlife excursions I neglected to write about were in the first week. The first day we visited the Wildlife Institute of India. First of all, they gave us all Pepsis, so that was an auspicious beginning. There were three presentations-first on the overview of the institution, then the best one on statistical methods for tiger counting (my dream job!) and a third less interesting one on the history of India's environmental legislation. Dr. Eaton may have dozed a little during these, which made the rest of us feel better about subsequent days' presentations at various institutes when we wanted to do the same thing. We then went on a nature walk with a few stops to point out interesting flora or the occasional fauna. There were very cute and very angry monkeys. One shook his tree at us menacingly, but he was adorably impotent and knew it. Still, glad I got those rabies shots. After a good bit of flowers and herbs, we made it to the guest house for samosas, chips, and a bit of cake, and really good tea. The following weekend we went to Rajaji National Park. When we got there, we learned a bit about the elephants that were chained up around and being ridden around with lots of straw on their backs. Most, they said, were younger and/or being rehabilitated. After standing around a while, waiting for a group to use the guest house's single bathroom. During the wait we found a couple of chained up elephants and Dannie wanted desperately to touch them, but we persuaded her not to. I know the agony of not being able to touch though-I still want to pet every dog I see, even the mangiest, most pathetic. Especially them. Eventually, at Rajaji, we piled into jeeps and a safari bus (very Jurassic Park of us, which was way awesome) and roamed the roads, through mud and rocks we got jostled more than a bit, and many of us ended up with a headache. One of the muddy rivulets had that smooth-looking mud that then made me think of the Swamp of Sadness, and through subsequent talk of the Neverending Story, it was revealed Sarah and I are the same age. I had a weird knowledge of all the child actors' "where are they now"s, which I shared. Our guide had an amazing eye for animals, and even animal prints-he somehow spotted tiger pawprints in the mud, which was weirdly, very tangentially, exciting. I was glad to be on the bumpy bus with that amazing tour guide. The next day I was covered in welts from what must have been insect bites. Wouldn't it make more sense for the bites to hurt while they're being delivered?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Central Soil and Water Conservation Res...CSWCRTI

The presentation at the museum was very difficult to understand because of a heavy accent. The parts I understood with the help of the museum's visuals were pretty interesting. I had been wondering what the terrace farming was supposed to do-they decorated the view from Mussoorie and looked quite nice. Turns out they also help with soil erosion, which became my "humanity's emergency" du jour (concurrent with supervolcanoes and sinkholes). Deep Thought: "Somebody told me it was frightening how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared." True.

Anyway, we were able to speak with the somewhat reticent director about getting some help for me in translating-people during my journey. We'll see how that pans out, but I need to write a followup letter.

Mussoorie, post-non-mortem

A further entry to May 26's brief pre-mortem entry. We spent the day at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, and Mussoorie where it's located. After a tummy-hurling bus trip up the side of the Himalayan foothills, we arrived. I had true adrenaline surges if I looked over the edge of the cliffs as we went around the hairpin curves. I had a bracing position in mind, and I tried to tell myself that was all I could do to prepare for the worst and should take my mind off it, but easier said than done. Hence, on the ride back, I wrote my goodbye note, feeling sad that my cats would never know what happened. During the ride itself, which was much faster, and in the dark with one headlight, Kate and I made very fast conversation with the express purpose to keep our minds off it. The town Mussoorie was nice, but nothing was as nice as the dinner at the hotel, where I stuffed myself on what turned out to be the tandoor appetizers, and had both fish and chicken because it was a very special evening. They even had Pepsis, for $4. Four dollars! The Academy was potentially useful, but it was hard to guage from the people we met if it's a real possibility, or how helpful it really would be.

Monday, May 26, 2008

pictures from india

Here is my set of pictures in the group album I set up for the trip. I did a video, which is what I'm most proud of at the moment, even though it's crappy. I vow better camerawork in my next endeavor.

india pictures

Sorry I haven't updated in so long. I have no time! But I edited a video together, so hopefully I'll still be able to capture some part of the experience together.My videos and pictures will be here:

dinner at the five star hotel

Most wonderful evening at the restaurant. Everything was perfect. I wish there were a better word for it, less dull, but the weather, company, view, food-I can't imagine anything better. I am writing this as a record of this evening, however brief, in case we die on the ride home.Don't know the name of the hotel we ate at.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


a boy here has a shirt that says "an awkward morning beats a boring night."

i can't tell if this is advocating or discouraging stupidity. can you see the ambiguity that i do? "beats" in what way? as being worse, since they are both bad things? or basically as being the lesser of two evils?

he said not to think about it so much. but i can't stop thinking about it. one thing's for sure, i'd never want to have an awkward morning with someone like him.

Friday, May 23, 2008

forest research institute

Wasn't feeling well today. I could tell everything was interesting, objectively, but I had trouble standing for such long periods of time. In the wood museum, I remembered a lot about my time working at the lumber yard at Twin Oaks-the way to stack the wood to cure it, specifically. But also the fun of lifting entire logs to the sawmill and impressing others with my might! I missed the organic garden part of the tour because the chemistry department finally did me in, and I joined Tabby in the bus. Other departments we went to was the genetics department (which, according to the video, does something with hashish. Awesome, said those of us still awake at that part of the video, which literally was not all of us), where a woman in the lab showed her ice-cold samples and some of what she does with them. They showed us a family of eucalyptus trees that had concomitant generations and clones so really scientific control groups could be experimented on from initial growth. A man in another department (herbology? Or is that just in Harry Potter?) was very enthusiastic about the many samples of leaves and flowers he had pressed and recorded on yellowing papers throughout his library. The buildings in general were beautifully designed, but we found it odd that everything was wood, and they had obviously cleared the surrounding area of trees to build the place.

web ads

Since I'm in India, the web ads along the side of Yahoo say things like "Arrange your OWN marriage!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I was working studiously at my computer, and I thought I saw Xander stick his little head up like he does sometimes when I'm working. But it was just a napkin, flapping in the AC's breeze. I miss my kitties.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Last Sunday we went to the National Museum. Same old-cultures, eras, broken pottery and frayed textiles of these cultures and eras. It was moderately interesting, but we mostly went to get out of the heat. We went into the theater and dumbly watched a baffling film about a golden statue of Buddha (I think) before Jenny said to me "What are we watching?" which surpassed my favorite thing she said-the first morning, sleepily before we'd said anything else "So...the beds are hard." I may not have mentioned this, but none of the mattresses are at all springy. You land on them with an unexpected thud. Monday I reuined a haggling session of Jenny's for a couple of salwar-kameezes by naively piping up "Gee, that sounds like a pretty good deal." She was nice about it, but she was pretty annoyed, too. We had been in the Palika Bazaar, an underground market which reminded me of a casino, in the overwhelming sensory input and the darkened environment meant to blind you to the outside world. I am refraining from buying much (except my shirt and pashmina, both overpriced) till I can get a better handle on the baseline prices. As I said, I don't mind there being mostly seller surplus (in the economic sense), but I think prices will be cheaper here in Dehradun. At the National Museum, we met a few guards. One gave us mango while we lunched in the Canteen, and later, in his gallery of musical instruments, a cookie and some nuts warm from his pocket. He managed to slyly ask both me and Jenny if we were "available" He was old! But pretty sweet all things considered. In another gallery, I attempted to mimic a Buddha statue's mudra, a complicated hand position much more intricate than the usual YogaYoga forefinger-to-thumb mudra. Jenny and Mari tried to mimic me, and we turned to find a guard also mimicking us and laughing. He attempted to ascertain Jenny's status by asking if she was our mother. This managed to shock all of us and offend her somewhat. Another thing I may forget to write about if I don't write it now is how overstaffed everywhere is. I guess when you have a population of nearly a billion, you enter the realm of diminishing returns, especially when the economy can't support nearly that many. It gets confusing trying to remember who took your order, whom you should pay, how you get the food.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On the bus to Dehradun

[very difficult to read handwriting]After an emergency bathroom break, when 5 of our number trooped out to behind a thatched hut into the woods behind, and shortly after a woman in a bright pink sari emerged smiling a big smile, the first boy returned and said gruffly "There's monkeys." Indeed! We are traveling through a national park. More observations-I am, as Sara warned, about a foot taller than anyone here. I often have to duck through doorways and on second floors.

Monday, May 19, 2008

nobody cares, zorak

no one.

This encapsulates my feeling at the moment. tomorrow i'll be all better.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lodhi Gardens and National Museum

We went to Lodhi Gardens, which were beautiful. I took so many pictures, and the air finally smelled like air, not like care fumes. We actually got a decent price no an auto-rickshaw, but the driver had a rather sour look on his face as we left. I hate not knowing the baseline. I don't mind paying a little extra above what would be normal, but paying three times as much would make me a bit angry. Anyway, we next went to the National Museum, where I missed out on a 1 rupee admission by not having my ISIC card with me. It as the same old-cultures, eras, broken pottery or those cultures and eras. We met a guard who gave us some mango, then some cookies, then some nuts, warm from his pocket (eeyuck!). But he was sweet. Poor Jenny twice got pegged as older than us-one guard tasked if she was our teacher, and another if she was our mother. She's three years younger than me and looks it. It was really weird. Another haggle-ridden rickshaw ride home, by an elderly Sikh man who'd been a driver since 1961 ("the taxi change, I the same!") tried to make a commission off of us. I ended up getting a pashmina for 200 rupees, much to Jenny's chagrin (she'd wanted to talk them down even lower). But it's green and lovely.


Last night we didn't end up going to the girls' hotel because they never answered when we called (they were down in the bar it turned out). So we went back to the Banana Leaf Café, where we'd gone with Raj and Mir. It was full of Indian families, children glancing shyly at us. Jenny brazenly asked people on either side of us what they were eating, and both answered friendlily. One even gave her some of what he was eating! I told her about hat unofficial couple's experiment I heard on NPR. It's morning now, and we're waiting for Marissa to come by the hotel. Marissa just came and she looks like a faerie child, or a lot like SleepyBird. They just ran back to the room for something. Marissa didn't want to go to Agra with the other group, opting to go with the full group at the end of June. I tried to set up my water pump but hit a few snags-chlorine expired, for one thing. But hopefully we'll get it working. We drink so much water in a day! But speaking of annoying on the personal level, we ran into Raj at Café Coffee Day this morning, and apparently Mir was angry we couldn't go out last night-he had it al planned because it was some kind of couples-only concert, so they weren't able to go. Oops. But I really did feel pretty sick in our defense.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

in which we meet raj and mir

One never knows where I day will take her! We were getting coffee when somehow we started talking to two dudes, Raj and Mir (numbers on opposite page of this journal). They dot their Is with a star and a bubble, respectively, so they can't be fearsome predators. They took us to another coffee/chai place, Raj's store for carpets and silks (we thought this was their game at first-salesmanship), a shop where I got a nice embroidered red shirt, and eventually, Raj's apartment so Jenny could see if she'd be renting it for part of the summer. We've been in so many tourist bureaus today! I got the old "You look Indian" (or, you know, insert country I'm in), which I find flattering. Maybe people will rip me off less when I'm on my own, or it could be that I don't actually look Indian at all. Mir assures me I will have a deep tan in no time at all. But in the meantime, I'm whiter than this sheet of paper. Hmm, no, but disturbingly I am exactly the same shade as this paper, and that is true. Instead of going to a concert with Raj and Mir, I was feeling sick (That was the cover story, too), and we were going to go hang out with the girls in the other hotel. But we can't get in touch with them now, so I'm not sure what's going to happen, despite this afternoon's great nap. I would be happy just staying in and reading all the stuff I'm supposed to. I got some contacts this morning from Daman at ERM. I think they will be good contacts for the water research but we'll see. I really need a better grasp on what I'll be doing. And I really need to finish the IRB submission.

first morning

I arrived last night and couldn't keep my eyes open. I had slept plenty on the plane so suspect it was the combo of cold medicine and the 10 hour time difference at work. My seatmate was a PhD student, studying nanotoxicity in quantum dots. It made me feel foolish when I had found this out, as I had spent most of the flight thinking she was 12. I spent the rest of the flight reliving all our interactions to figure out if I'd revealed this to her. I think I expressed that I was impressed she was traveling without her family. Surely it's not the first time she's gotten that, though. Prepaid taxi drive was...interesting. Terrifying would be another word, but not so bad that I didn't fall asleep sitting up. There was a long time when I wasn't sure we'd find the place (Asian Guest House), and I envisioned what it would be like stranded without a place to sleep. I would have cried if I hadn't been so numb from exhaustion. One funny thing about the way people drive here is that they honk the horns constantly. For the most part, it's done without ill-will, more like "Hey, here I am, and I'm not stopping for you, buddy!" Makes for a noisy city. But maybe the horns are better utilized than to express annoyance and anger, like the in States. They allay annoyance and anger this way! Woke this morning with a headache and no voice. Took medicine for both, then promptly, with minimal warning, threw up. So, that sucked, but I felt better.Now Jenny and I, up 2 hours earlier than we intended, are talking about the men I saw waking up on the neighboring roof. And about what to do with our day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

this time tomorrow...

I'm leaving in a couple of hours. Then the next post will probably be from India. And probably at my travel website. The usual things apply for when I travel--I love you all, blah blah blah, I'll miss you, blah blah, I feel ill right now. Blah.
i am totally not a leaf on the wind.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

i am a leaf on the wind

watch how i soar.

oh. god.


if you want a missive from India, send your address to myfirstname.mylastname at yahoo!

awesome. you're awesome.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

CD organization

A couple of years ago when I arranged my CDs by color (see also), whenever I couldn't find a CD, I would calmly think "Well, I could find the CD easily, if I organized them by name like a CHUMP!" But now, well, I regret to say I am returning to chumphood. Except I'm doing it backwards (Z-A), which is still a little bit wacky! Right? Right?...

It allowed me to dust, and allowed me to go through my collection thoroughly.

Also, it allowed me to not write a paper for just a little bit longer.

Friday, May 02, 2008

grown-up things

Yesterday I got a safety deposit box because it was included with something else I have. However, when I got down to the room, I squealed "It's just like the movie pictures!" which did not impress. I'm not impressing myself, either, when I realize the most valuable thing I have probably, worth keeping in a safety deposit box, is my safety deposit box key. Which I should not place in the box. So I guess I'll put my summer lease in there, and my social security card, because god know how many more times I would lose that otherwise.

My eyes are going, though. Soon, I will be blind. Which is. Awesome. Because I really wanted to see India.

mojito mint

Remember when the new Orbitz flavor 'sweet mint' came out and every loved it so much. By everyone, of course, I mean me and my three friends. But the point is, 'mojito mint' is now the new flavor. You might think "Geez, you wouldn't think the taste of stale alcoholic beverages would leave you with that fresh-brushed feeling." And you'd be right. My mouth died a little bit the first time I put the piece in my mouth. However, I have acclimated, because as a perectly valid way to get rid of gum I don't like, I stuffed half the pack in my mouth at the same time. Now it's not so bad. But I don't think I'm ever, ever going to buy them again.

This is an appropriate post because the Kentucky Derby is tomorrow (right?), and Kentucky Derby=mint juleps =(is similar to)= mojitos.