29 April 2010

TOURIST turned traveler

The days after visiting India gained velocity –traveling became a rush against the clock as we docked from one Asian country to the next for the following few weeks, taking the days at sea in between each port to alleviate sleep deprivation and travel-worn, tired feet. India marked the physical halfway point in our journey ‘round the globe, and the thought that we were now turning around ignited our stamina to see and do everything possible. As a result, journal entries became more and more scattered; statements quickly turned to phrases and jots. Like all travel experiences, those crazy days have required some significant processing time. After all, it’s been more than a year since the voyage and I’ve only documented the first half… and I’ve only skimmed the surface.

Before the whirlwind begins, I’d like to take a step back from Malaysia tales and return across the Bay of Bengal to India, to the day I realized how not to travel, and the day that inspired the creation of this blog.

The last two days in New Delhi have been a blur of sights and sounds and buildings and tour guides. Traveling in a large group is getting intense, and half the time we can’t even get out of the bus that reads “TOURIST” in huge block letters across the front. This is not experiencing culture- it’s a human zoo with a metal barrier.

To elaborate on the intensity I described, I’d like to add that the bus reading “TOURIST” was filled with at least 50 American students, and it followed another bus with the same capacity and the same demoralizing word slapped across the front. It was a scorching day with no clouds in the sky. The windows of the bus wouldn’t come open. Someone threw up that morning, and the stench had permeated throughout the entire vehicle. I was doused in sweat and could only focus my thoughts on how rewarding a tall glass of ice water, or maybe a cold brew, sounded. As the bus jumped from Agra to the Taj Mahal to the Fatehpur Sikri village, I watched them float across tattered, foggy windows. Although I spotted all of the famous buildings that the tour guide pointed out, my memories from that day still consist of tang and discomfort on that mucky bus.

When we did get out of the bus, street vendors swarmed us… And for good reason: The “TOURIST” label was practically an invitation to attack us with trinkets for sale. Most of the desperate vendors couldn’t have been more than ten years old, and all I could wonder was whom they would bring their magnet-sale money home to that night, or if there was home to go to at all.

I decided that if I have a label I'd like it to be "traveler" instead of TOURIST.  I knew I was missing out on conversations, (bearable) scents, sounds of the city, smiles with passersby, and the like by sitting sedentarily watching it all go by. I had flashbacks of the huge bus that invaded the favelas in Brazil, and the standardized lion-hunting safari drive in South Africa. In all of those situations I was just sitting in some sort of transportation, removed from the activity around me. It was one of those epiphany, “a-ha!” moments –I didn’t want to be an audience to the bustling streets of India; I wanted to be a participant.  

I kept writing frantically. As I formulated my plan for this blog, the oh-so-overused cliché kept running through my head. “Live for the journey, not the destination.” I overuse it here once more because although chestnut, the phrase reminds me to slow down a bit and take it all in.

I think this blog will help me to tell all my stories –and it will get me started on my future journey. It will be a “travel” blog about virtually anything I do. Let’s face it –traveling means waiting in lines, getting lost, experiencing mass transit, getting confused, feeling uncomfortable and doing a hell of a lot of sitting. You don’t have to be in a new country to do all that. Traveling can happen anywhere, and the results are transformative. I think I’ll call it “En Route” or “In Transit” until I can come up with something cleverer. Endless possibilities because I’m always headed somewhere –I’ll be in transit my whole life.

So now with a breath of fresh air, so to speak, back to Malaysia, and the following countries, and beyond. I continue to journal to this day, and I'm excited for the evolution of Global Osmosis (a much more fitting title than "In Transit," if you ask me). 

27 April 2010

The Petronas Towers

"A visit to Kuala Lumpur wouldn't be complete without a visit to the infamous Petrona Towers, the second-tallest buildings in the world, surpassed only by Taipei 101 in Taiwan," -or so the travel books say.

I never made it to the top of the skyscrapers, but I did lay on the pavement below.

25 April 2010

"Lip-Sweat Warrior Water"

It’s water. Deliciously frothy, light and crisp lip-sweat warrior water.

I wrote this statement stuck to a plastic chair in the mucky humidity of a fishbowl food court in an outside shopping mall, pillows of steam clamming my face from every direction. The pillows are drifting from lines of food stands of all sorts. One for curry, one for dim sum, one for sushi, one for fresh fruit, one for pad thai… the list goes on.

And then, in the middle of it all, is a food stand dedicated to Tiger beer. Just Tiger. In 22 ounce bottles. Only 22 ounce bottles.

It’s on tap in seven countries, and available in 60, but I could only find it in those big bottles. They would immediately accumulate a layer of watery condensation, much like the beer inside.

Typically I’m more of a dark brew devotee, but there was something about the Tiger that I couldn’t put down. Apparently there’s something in the water, too, because Tiger has been internationally recognized by brewmaster’s associations since Heineken crafted the first batch in 1930. It won the 2004 World Beer Cup and the 2005 Wine & Spirit International Beer Challenge. And it won me over the week I visited Malaysia. 

16 April 2010

Family-Style Feasting

Deep-fried prawns and a round of Tiger Beer. It seems as if our menu orders arrive before we can even sit down on the plastic chairs in the restaurant. The cheery man, presumably the owner, serving us moves hastily to deliver the Heineken-crafted Singapore beers and a plate of sizzling hot seafood onto the plastic sheet covering the lawn table at which we’re seated. There are three of these tables; one of them serves as a cash register where the owner sits behind a box of bills, pretending to read his newspaper, but actually peering over its edge to see that any empty plates are quickly cleared and any dwindling beers are replaced. He never asks us if we need another 32 ounces; he just keeps them coming.

Much like the beers, the heaping plates of food that we order seem to come out of nowhere. We’re dining in a long, skinny concrete room with high ceilings and what looks like open garage doors on either side. There are no windows, the closest bathroom is probably two blocks away and there isn’t a back room or a food prep area. We don’t even smell food from where we’re sitting.

We don’t hesitate, though, to order a large meal from the mystery kitchen, and we certainly don’t mind all the beer on this burning hot day. After a few days in Malaysia, we’ve realized that tiny concrete hole-in-the-wall lawn chair parties are a Pangkor Island local treat not to be missed.

The owner doesn’t hesitate in bringing out our feast: shrimp cabbage salad with orange slices, thick black rice in lemongrass curry, bamboo shoots and chicken, green bean noodle soup, and spicy scallops swimming in coconut water. The once-oversized table is now laden with carefully arranged fresh ingredients that we transfer to our plates family-style with a drizzle of chili paste that we wash down with Tiger swigs. Food coma is inevitable.

A violent burst of island rainstorm begins outside the warehouse-esk tunnel. We can see steam rising from the hot streets. Another round of Tiger please. And some coconut ice cream with durian fruit to top it all off.

12 April 2010


I can't find the words to describe the most memorable sunset I've ever experienced. But I did just find the pictures.

04 April 2010

A Vindication for Audacity

I spent my last afternoon in Chennai at Mocha, a hookah bar clad with tapestries and dim hanging lights and gem-toned embroidered pillows to lounge on. Friends and I posted up outside to sip chai tea under a the green canopy and write some postcards.

My message to my family couldn’t fit in the scarce white space on my postcard, so I composed a letter in my journal instead. Here’s an excerpt.

          This trip has taken me so far from my comfort zone in so many ways –just as I had hoped. Before the first port, I made it my goal to take a risk in every country, or at least try something new. I would do something that terrified me, or something that I would absolutely refuse to do at home.

         I hiked LenSois and jumped off cliffs in Brazil. I get nervous while precariously hiking because I don’t know where to put my feet and II was once terrified of heights because of what jagged, deathly edge I could land on. I surrendered to all that, though, and finished the six-hour, potentially treacherous hike in its entirety. I marched to the top of the rocks, and dove fearlessly into the dark waters... And I lived.

         I went sand boarding in Namibia. I’m the shameful Coloradoan who has never skied or snowb.oarded in her life. When my traveling group in Africa decided to board down a sand dune, there was no way I could continue being so lame. I lugged my heavy board up the dune and crashed, tumbled and struggled the entire way down... And I loved it.

         I went skydiving in South Africa. At this point, I was a self-proclaimed thrill-seeker, an adrenaline junkie. I had newfound confidence from jumping off cliffs and falling down sand, so I decided the best option for this port would be jumping out of an airplane. I can honestly say that those four minutes of soaring through the sky and falling toward Table Mountain were the most alive I’ve ever felt.

         Now I’m writing from India, where a week ago I was raring to go on the next adventure that would speed my heartbeat and mess up my hair.

But India didn’t have any extreme sports or natural structures that I could jump off of. Although I felt overwhelmed with the intensity of the traffic and crowds of people, I never felt fearful. There was only one instance when I felt especially out of my comfort zone.

         A friend and I wanted to buy silk scarves and saris, so we hailed a rickshaw driver and eventually broke past the language barrier to explain to the driver that we wanted “shopping.” He bobbled his head, which we took as “yes I know exactly where you want to go.” When he drove us to St. Thomas Basilica, we realized that the bobble head meant “I have different plans for you.”

         He drove us to a variety of destinations, and in between each stop we tried to tell him where we wanted to go, each time in a different way –hand gestures, different words for shopping and scarves, drawing stick figures on our arms with a pen – and each time he bobbled his head back and forth, grinned happily and zoomed down the highway. He would pull hastily to a hault at his next stop and wave for us to follow him. He speedily ran everywhere he went. We would shake our heads and submit to his strides. This went on for several hours.

At the mercy of our rickshaw driver and unable to communicate, we never did make it to the shopping center. We did; however, observe a prayer grotto, visit remains of the tsunami damage on the shore, enjoy a snake charming show down a dusty dirt path, and sip spicy tea while at a carpet-weaving lesson in a rug and silk shop. We even arrived back to the ship on time.

         Well, it seems that I did find my risk. I trusted a man whose language I did not speak to transport me through a country I’d never been to before. I kept getting back into the rickshaw after each stop, well aware that I had no clue where I’d be going next. I risked getting lost and missing the ship’s departure. Now that I write about it all, my heartbeat is pumping a little faster. The windy rickshaw ride tangled my hair, too.