Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Umm... other good things?

Spurred on by encouraging friends, here are some more things that are good:

Truckasaurus. (warning: myspace burns your eyes and is loud) If you can deal with the occasional Gameboy, you might like this. Try "Ain't No Danbo Copy Remix".

Owls. (warning: this is the creepiest thing on the internet.) But I actually find it kind of cute. And creepy.

Biking? Sorry to be a broken record here. Sometimes I don't enjoy biking and it's just transportation and a trip to the gym like everyone else grumbles and does, but sometimes it's quite nice. Today was the latter.

Seaweed and fancy mushrooms and brown rice. Cooking for people who don't mind if you take a long time.

Oh! I know. My job. It's great! Even when you spend all day fixing a bug that's not really a bug because it works on every browser except yours. It's just "make a cool thing" for a living.

Why God Won't Go Away
. Have I talked about this book yet? It's super good. I don't want to get all into it now, but the thing I got out of it is: nirvana/ecstasy/moksha/whatever is actually an observable mental state, and people can get there.

This is all sort of working. I can kind of deal with the fact that life is pretty good. That's an improvement. And I can deal with the fact that I'm already good enough for anything or anyone, and that I don't have to do anything else amazing to prove myself.

And, speaking of good things, I'm coming to Pittsburgh the week of May 11-17. If you are reading this, I probably really want to see you. Will you be around?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Other things that made me happy over the last couple days

Don't worry, this won't become a habit. The last thing I'd want to be is cloying. But shut up, I have liked the following things:

Dinner last night at Quinn's. I mean, a fancy restaurant, right? (but still in the "very good beer" category, not the "wine" category, and naturally pretty hip- welcome to capitol hill.) It was great. And I kept going "hey, I am actually enjoying this." That was easy.

Shopping at the Pike Place Market today. This is consistently a thing that makes me happy. As such, I have built it into my routine.

Exploring the U district today. Wandering into a shop that sold gargoyles.

Fixing my bike fender with duct tape (because it's absolutely a job for duct tape, and that is the high point of my mechanical skills)

Going to St. Mark's Cathedral to listen to their men's choir. It was sort of chantey and sort of hymney, and filled with young people! How interesting.

Deciding to buy a gray pinstripe (or plain blue) suit, a brown overcoat, and converse all-stars; the nerdier among you may know why, and the rest of you don't get to learn exactly how nerdy I am.

My bed! Now taking up a lot less room. It's like I gained a bunch of square feet! PS. don't tell my mom and dad I have a mattress on the floor now. they think that I would do such a thing to save money and that I shouldn't because it's depressing. but the truth is, it's not to save money; I had a bed frame and it just took up a lot of space, and I really like the way it is now.

Worrying still (for example, I didn't cook at all this weekend! oh noes! my mad sauteing skills are atrophying as we speak!), but a little less. Hey, it's a process.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The next life lesson

I remember hearing some theory in some psych class about how there are stages of life, and they're something like ages 0-1, 1-2, 3-5, 5-13, 13-21, 21-30, 30-50, 50-70, and 70-whatever. Or something like that. And in each stage there's a thing you have to learn. Like in the 0-1 stage, you have to learn trust. If your parents abandon you, and you don't ever trust them, you'll be kinda developmentally stunted. And like in 5-13, it's that you have to learn to play well with others. Whatever. Anyone know what this theory is called?

Anyway, I can buy it, except I don't think I agree with those age divisions, and I'm not sure how they know what the lesson is in each stage. Maybe it's different for every person. For example, in my 18-22 stage, those college years, the most important thing I learned was "if you're in a group of people and you're worried that you're not as cool as they, you're incorrect." and its sidekick, "if you're in a group of nerdy people and you're afraid that you're a nerd like they, you're also incorrect."

I think the lesson I learned in the 14-17 block was "you should be outgoing." (Note that these lessons are not necessarily the same for everyone.) You only learn these things after the fact.

Now I'm in the next block, the one that starts at age 22 and continues until... I don't know. Maybe you only learn when the group ends after it's over. And you only learn the lesson then too. But I have a sneaky suspicion that the lesson is going to be "it's okay if you don't save the world." Or maybe "become a complete person, not just an intellect." I've worked out the following things:

- You know, sex drugs rock and roll, the ol' dumb-hedonism is textbook not-worth-it
- I will not be remembered long after I die, even if I'm awesome (you know, Ozymandias n'at), so trying to be famous is not worth it
- I am a pretty good person, so trying to be like a superman because it will make women want me and men fear me is not worth it (this I believe probably 90%; sometimes I still want to be a superman but I'm mostly over it)
- Living "the good life" is not such a bad thing- I can easily go on to a pretty fulfilling job, a comfortable living place, hopefully a good family; these are not easy, but definitely doable if I work at them

So, you know, this is okay. The one niggling doubt is: what about all the other people? Living the good life is fine if everyone else had the opportunity to live the good life too. But they don't! Shouldn't I be helping them?

Anyway, besides that, I'm mostly doing okay. But I think the answer to that is sort of Beej's question to me a few months ago, which goes sort of like this: I want to be happy. How do I think I will be happy? By helping other people to be happy. But if I'm not happy, how will I show other people how to be happy?

Or the monks' response to the people's question "how are you helping others by just meditating all the time?" They're purifying themselves. How do you get rid of anger, clinging, attachment in the world if you're full of these things yourself? It is not so easy!

So anyway, point is, I'd still like to save the world, but becoming happy myself is also a worthwhile goal, and one that will be more fulfilling to me in the long run. If I'm anxious because I haven't saved the world, there are two ways out of that: save the world, or stop being anxious. The trick is, if I then save the world, I might still be anxious, because people who keep striving for more keep wanting more. Stop being anxious, stop wanting, stop craving, etc.

Enjoy the little things in life! Enjoy enjoyment! Don't be all like "well this is nice but I have to go do laundry."

I might start posting things that make me happy, either incidentally or on purpose. Studies show that makes you happier. Burmese people keep photo albums of good deeds that they have done, like if they're going to do a charity thing, they hire a photographer and save the photos so they can look back later and be all like "yeah I did a good thing."

So. Some things that made me happy today. Warning: you might find these very tiny and not worth reading and you might think I am dumb. If this frustrates you, the problem is with you, not me.
Trees have blossoms on them now.
When I rode my bike home I got in a good pace behind someone.
I had some mushrooms, onions, eggplant, and spinach. I put the onions in butter and let them fry until they were a little burnt, quite accidentally. They turned out tastier because of it. I think I "deglazed" them.
Sarah does not think I'm a basket case, even though my mind was going in circles and I was lost in thought a lot this evening.
I like these pants that I am wearing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I am so f***ing lost right now! India: the confusing list.

EDIT: censored the title. I'm okay with irritating my parents, but I remembered my grandma reads this too, and I think being a rebellious foul-mouthed young blogger is only funny about one generation up. Not that I think my grandma would shake her head in disapproval or anything. I guess it's just, the more you think about swear words, the more it's like a big deal to use them, and thanks to my parents, I think about them a lot now. It's like watching a Bruce Willis movie or something, and then after he shoots a dude, stopping the movie and sobbing because oh my god he's dead and his wife and kids will have to go on without him. My position on the issue of "swear words" (they're silly) still stands, but if people I care about are going to stop reading and wag their fingers at me, I mean, it's not worth fighting over.

ANYWAY, the sentence in question comes from a (super american) kid we saw in an alley in Varanasi. We had been wandering around a bit, vaguely trying to find our hotel, and apparently he had too. We made eye contact and it's like the whole charade just dropped, like he finally found someone who would understand not only his language but also his predicament, and the exasperation came tumbling out. Hope we pointed him in the right direction.

India was super confusing! Mostly in a fun way. Occasionally intriguing, or just plain old noteworthy. Here's a sampling:

- Addresses. You might think a hotel would have an address that you could tell a cab driver, who would then take you directly to that address. Wrongo! My hotel was at A27/1 Road No.1, Mahipalpur Extn, New Delhi. "Road No. 1"? It took us about five tries.
- Taximen let you share a taxi. Like it's Rs900 for the two of us to get from Guwahati to Shillong with one other passenger, but only Rs600 if there are two other passengers. (and even then, Indianmen sure don't pay the same price as whitemen.)
- All around Shillong, you can buy tickets for the daily sweepstakes. Here's how it works: twice a day, a whole bunch of guys shoot a whole bunch of arrows at a target. You bet on the last two digits of the number of arrows that stick in the target. Sadly, never saw this happen.
- At one point it got all muddy when we were walking on the road where some kids were working. So they built a rock bridge for us. Really, we can walk through the mud, it's okay! But, um, thanks anyway!
- Handwriting is held in higher esteem in India. And by that broad generalization, I mean I saw one guy with really great handwriting.
- We got white-person gawked a lot! Kids would say stuff to us. My conversations were decidedly one-sided; I'd just sorta go "khublei!" (which means hello, goodbye, have a good one, peace be with you, uh, a penny saved is a penny earned, red sky at morning sailors take warning, etc.) a lot.
- At the orphanage, we played games with the kids. I ended up playing pick-up sticks a lot. You can imagine it's difficult to agree on the rules when most of the players don't speak your language. And by that I mean they all speak Kid.
- If you have three pots, what would they be? Would one of them be a pressure cooker? In India, yes.
- Milk comes in a little pouch. That just kinda sits out. I mean, no fridge. So you boil it. Then it has a skin.
- In Kolkata, we went to the Kali temple. I explained how cool this was. But we were trying to put our shoes in the shoesplace (in every temple there is a shoesplace so you don't wear your shoes in the temple) and we got bamboozled by a fake shoeman. He asked us to put our shoes under a little corner of a store, so we did, and then he proceeded to take us for a tour. Hey, there's a Shiva lingam. Hey, there's a tree that's good for your family or whatever. Here's a flower, throw it at Kali. Here's a string that I'll tie around your wrist, more good luck. Now come over here and make a donation. Of course I "didn't have any money," so after some badgering, I was sent to set on a step and "meditate." But first I was asked to write my name, country, and the number 2100 in a book. Whatever, I'm not giving you money, I'll write whatever number you want. I soon found out they tried to use this "fact" to persuade Catie to "donate" because "look, Dan donated 2100 rupees." (of course she is too shrewd for this nonsense.)
- EDIT: As if our evening wasn't bewildering enough, we proceeded to wander around the darkened grounds of the Victoria Memorial, ignoring a groundskeeper who tried to tell us it was closed. We had heard tales of a "sound and light show", you see, and if there's anything better than viewing an old vainglorious British colonial-era monument in the middle of India, it's viewing the same* with bright lights and music. I guess. Er, we were bored? Anyway, we found our way in, sat in the rs20 "front" section (about 10 feet in front of the rs10 "back" section) among a bunch of oldmen, and were immediately blown away by a rollicking Caribbean-inspired tune called "I am Calcutta". Not only were the pictures of the accompanying slideshow taken in approximately 1970, the lyrics were inane. I mean, "I am the memory of years/ I am the laughter and tears/ I am Calcutta!" sort of inane. Then we snoozed through 45 minutes of a terribly Anglocentric history of Calcutta (with some bright lights) and got bitten by mosquitoes. All in all, well worth the price of admission.
* Like my use of "the same" there? We saw that all over India.
- Taking a domestic flight from Kolkata to Gaya, we had to fill out a "declaration of goods" form where we said we weren't carrying certain things. You know, money, guns, etc. And also cameras and "zipper pulls".
- Being white (and therefore, apparently just puking money all over the place) is weird. We wanted to take an autorickshaw somewhere in Bodh Gaya, I think it was. We saw one filling up with people and we figured we could share the ride, you know, because we could save 40 cents or something, but the point is, it'd be fun or authentic or something. So everyone started talking in Hindi and then the other passengers started to get out. Apparently he was going to boot them out and take us. We hastily explained, no, it's okay, please continue, you know, taking these people who were already in the car. Sheesh.
- And then in Varanasi, the aforementioned white dude who was soooo lost. He had started out looking for an internet cafe. We tried to point him to a shop owned by this guy who had an excellent marketing pitch: he stood outside, and as we passed, called out "Yes, madam, we do have internet here!"
- At one point we hit a dead end. Kids laughed at us.
- At a few other points, our way was blocked by a bull. I think the bull was laughing at us.
- Did I mention the kids playing Holi? So Holi is this holiday where you throw color at each other. It was on Wednesday. Starting about the Friday before, there were kids with colored water balloons out on the streets. I mean, these were super stainful- we each lost a pair of pants. Could be worse- we saw one dude just get pasted with a big green splotch on his back. Some had plain water balloons (and in fact Catie got walloped with one in a rickshaw), but still. For about four days, we were pretty frightened of kids.
- Train ride to Agra was fun. At one point, this friendly Muslim student joked that we couldn't speak English. "You're in India, you have to speak Hindi." We could not even say that we could not even say anything.
- Also, we got booted from our seats a couple times. We thought we were in the right place, but these Muslim students had our bunks, so we just took theirs (or so we thought), but then someone else arrived to claim them, and blah. Around 2AM a couple guys asked us some questions and then everyone started getting involved and duking it out in Hindi (this is a common occurrence)*. Eventually they got it figured out.
* At this point, Catie noticed the station we were in. "We're in Lucknow", she said. "Yeah," I said, "these guys seem like they can help us." SUPER PUN!
- When I got to Hemant and Gaurav's house, I went to take a shower. I had been out of shampoo for a while, but I thought, no problem, they'll have some. They did; it was called "Black Shine" and looked smooth, silky, and pitch black. I debated whether to use it, read up on how it would make your hair so beautifully black, and decided against it. Le sigh.
- According to everyone we talked to, there are two kinds of Holi colors: dry colors (in a powder) and "water colors", which are universally evil. Okay.
- Also, sometimes they call shorts "half-pants"!
- Things that are okay in India, or at least okay with Hemant and Gaurav, part 1: commenting on people's bodies. They've outright called Catie fat (ludicrous) and she was pretty excited to see if they would do the same to me. Nope: instead they told me I needed to work on my figure. You know, buff up a little bit. I'm too skinny. (to be fair, I'm pretty skinny. However, I absolutely don't mind.)
- Things that are okay in India, or at least okay with Hemant and Gaurav, part 2: the word "chink". As in, "the people up in the Northeast are kind of, what would you say, chinky, right? They look a little bit Chinese?" Even better: Saturday nights at the "disc" (disco) are "Chinky Night."
- Even better sales pitch than the Internet guy: "Hello. Beard?" (from a sidewalk beard salesman.)
- Finally, on our last day in Delhi, everywhere we end up it's all fancy and posh. We just wanted some food! Eventually we asked a guy where was good to eat and he sent us to Pandara Rd. At Pandara Rd. there are about 4 buildings, each of which has a restaurant. We see some Indian guys going into one, so we follow them. It turns out it's called "Havemore restaurant", it's super fancy (like white tablecloths), it's super expensive (like $5 each!), and the stereo features a Celine Dion soundalike singing "Run" by Snow Patrol.
- Have I mentioned what a mess Indian pop music is? I mean, the Indian pop music that is actually Indian is cool. But the American pop they get is abysmal. It's like the post-grunge of 5 years ago (hello, Nickelback and Three Doors Down) with the occasional odd bootleg mashup (like that mix of "Wonderwall" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", or "In the end" by Linkin Park plus some crummy Garage-Band drum beat).
- Going to a coffeeshop in the fully middle-class Defense Colony Market: I order an Americano. The response is "With Irish flavoring?" as if that is the most natural thing in the world. "Of course!"
- And then, some 30 muddled hours later, I board a bus from Sea-tac airport to my home, only to hear some lady talking loudly on the phone, dropping not only an "I'm gonna whoop your ass", but also a "You're gonna get a Whopper shoved up your butt." It's great to be home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Journey! or, India: The Awesome List

"Happy Journey" is a thing they say a lot in India. (Well, as much as we say "Bon Voyage", I guess.)

And so it was! A whirlwind tour through 8 cities in 13 days, in 3 parts. First, I met up with Catie in Guwahati and took a taxi to Shillong, where I hung out with her host family in Shillong, their parents in the nearby village of Kharang, and the orphanage she's working at (also in Kharang). Next, Catie and I set off for a quick trip through Kolkata, Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Sarnath, and Agra, tourist-style. Finally, we ended up in the outskirts of Gurgaon, just south of Delhi, where we spent a few days with her friends there and a couple days in Delhi itself.

India is awesome, gross, enlightening, and confusing. We decided that we'd both be happy if the "awesome" or "confusing" list won, and indeed, the latter did. So I'll share with you the awesome list now, interspersed with the gross and enlightening lists as appropriate. And I'll split it into three parts, so it's a little shorter for you to read, but so I don't have to lose out on completeness.

AWESOME LIST (aka a quick summary of our trip), which I will split into three parts:

PART THE FIRST: Northeast India
  • flying to India. It was nice, even! I had two flights, with a 3 hour layover; total travel time maybe 24 hours? In the first one, they had the little seat-back movie screens, and those make a heck of a lot of difference. You almost want the flight to take longer so you can watch more movies. I watched "Finding Nemo" and "Speed", two movies I had really missed out on. Plus, first flight I've ever had free beer!
  • more interesting travel: taxiing through hilly Assam and Meghalaya (with a stop for tea, of course)
  • staying with the wonderfully kind and hospitable family of Barri and Nangroi, although Nangroi wasn't there; it was sort of the family of Barri, Dari, Khlur, Banjop, and many others who would be there sometimes or not. They were super nice! Apparently I was too tall for their spare bed, so they made me a bed on the floor. I was kinda the tallest person in the entire state.
  • the markets of Shillong. Well, the markets of anywhere, you know? Sprawling webs of narrow alleys, unusual things for sale, uh, fake American goods. Whatever. Markets are neat and Shillong's were no exception.
  • taking a sumo to Kharang. A sumo is a big van-truck that seats about 12, which means it seats about 24. It leaves at 1:00, except it usually doesn't actually leave until 2:00, but once in a while it leaves at 12:00. We got there at 1 and it left at 2. Which gave us time to sample...
  • Indian sweets. It's a thing. Sweet shops are abundant, but instead of stocking prewrapped candy, they sell freshly-made really interesting stuff. And, you know, for like Rs5 each. ($1 = Rs50) We had some ladoo and barfi there, but neither was as good as the soan papdi we had a couple other places. I'm a fan.
  • the countryside around Kharang. It's some really ideal combination of rocks, hills, trees, rivers (or riverbeds), and crops. And the occasional mysterious prehistoric monolithic stone. No lies.
  • the family in Kharang that we stayed with. Mei and Pa, we called them; Nangroi's parents. (or Barri's? I don't know) Again, super nice. Made us food and tea all the time. I felt like a lazy guest in these places, but they insisted they didn't need help with anything.
  • Cell phone internet. Do you have an iphone or something? Can you "tether" it to your computer? (connect your computer to the internet through your phone when your phone gets 'net but your computer doesn't) No, I can't either. But people in rural India can! American phone companies, get on that.
  • Bucket baths. Try it sometime, get a bucket of hot water, a bucket of cool water, and a little dipper cup, and take a bath. It's not hard, and it probably saves water.
  • Tea and biscuits. Or at least tea. We drank tea often, as a thing to do when not doing anything else. It's nice. Relaxing. Downside: the tea was always full of milk and sugar. (or maybe that's an upside, your call.) Upside: tea was always accompanied by "biscuits"... they're sold like cookies, but they're not as sweet; they walk a line between cookie and cracker, and there are tons of varieties. Downside: I mean, these things are just white flour, sugar, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. But you only eat a little bit. This is cognitive dissonance: I hate unhealthy packaged things, but I like things with lots of varieties. Well, tea's good, anyway!
PART THE SECOND: Tourist blatz from Shillong to Delhi
  • Flights from Catie's magic travel agent from Guwahati to Kolkata, then Kolkata to Gaya. He got us to Gaya relatively quickly. Gaya has a tiny airport. How did we fly there? I'm telling you, magic travel agent. (he wears a turban and makes you feel very much at ease. I liked this guy.)
  • I mean, Kolkata (Calcutta) was cool too. It wasn't on our original itinerary, so we didn't know what to do really, but we spent a good day there.
  • Gross +1: Kolkata was super hot and sticky. Way a lot.
  • Gross +1 more: saw a roach in our hotel room. I note this because it was the only one we saw the whole time we were in India. Even when you're staying pretty cheap, the rooms are generally bug-free. This is nice!
  • Coolest thing in Kolkata: the Kali temple. It was super kinda nightmarish. We got there at night, there were bells ringing, and the center of the temple was surrounded by walls except for one place you could see this sorta evil-looking face. Unfortunately, we were ushered through by a temple scammer, but more on that later.
  • Enlightenment +1: it was a Hindu temple. Only 28943 other religions to go!
  • The Mahabodhi temple. With a descendent of The Actual Bodhi Tree! Where the Buddha reached nirvana! +1 enlightenment for sure!
  • Giant 80-foot statue of Buddha. Partially hollow. Filled with 20000 more Buddha statues. +20000 enlightenment, although I'll settle for +1.
  • Varanasi: home of the Ganges. Enlightenment +1 more.
  • Did I mention how alleys and markets are cool? Varanasi sure has them.
  • At one point we wandered into an ashram. The people welcomed us in, showed us around, gave us some food (a really tasty turmeric rice thing) and a book about yoga. We kept waiting for them to badger us for a donation. They never did! They weren't like everyone else who showed us sudden and surprising kindness! How nice!
  • There's a temple there too that has the Hindi translation of the Ramayana on the walls. That's cool.
  • Night train to Agra. We met a few very friendly Muslim students. They gave us food and we all laughed at our inability to communicate. Good fun for all. An overnight trip on a train: $5 per person.
  • And then okay the Taj Mahal. Yes it is really that big, and yes you should see it. I mean, no religious experience or anything, but it was pretty cool.
  • We spent our day in Agra with a Swedishman named Alexander. I love befriending solo travelers. It makes things more interesting for you and much better for the traveler. I suppose I have a little empathy. (but not like this guy: he was spending a month and a half in India by himself! I don't have that kind of guts...)
  • Und zo... we took the "chair car" on the train to Delhi. (the cheap seats were full.) Apparently "chair car" means you get a comfy chair and they feed you a meal, even on a 2 hour trip.
PART THE THIRD: Delhi and suburbs
  • We spent two and a half days near Gurgaon. It is the new India. Huge fancy swanky new apartment buildings tossed into the desert like big rocks. And then, huge fancy swanky new office buildings. But if you have a place to live and a place to work, where do you hang out? Answer: at the huge fancy swanky new malls. (and I'm serious about these. They're like something from the Jetsons.) Ugh.
  • Catie's friends Hemant and Gaurav, and their mother (whose name I never caught, we just called her "Ama"), lived a bit outside this swank, in an old "colony" built by Maruti-Suzuki for their workers. They were really cool! 20 and 22 years old, they work in call centers. Talking about work was a lot of fun. We're all techies, just on other ends of the globe! Well, maybe not techies: Hemant is sort of an HR manager at a Capital One call center. But Gaurav is a call center guy at Dell and he wants to learn more about server management. That's neat.
  • Holi! Where you put colored powder on people's faces and throw colored water at them! We celebrated in their village, it was really fun. Lots of dancing and ceremony too.
  • In general, a couple days relaxing was well-needed after the long trip.
  • I'm running out of steam here; this is a long post.
  • The Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in Asia.
  • The Chandni Chowk is a market in Delhi. Again, markets, cool, wish I had spent more time here.
  • The Lotus Temple is a Baha'i temple. And it's pretty like a lotus.
  • Then we went to the ISKCON temple... more about that later.
  • Last on the monuments list: Humayun's Tomb, which was a little like the Taj Mahal, except smaller and brown.
  • Took a cooking class with an Indian lady.
  • Finally, whittled away our last few hours before I had to catch a flight at the Defense Colony Market, which is just like the US.
  • Why did I just list things that I did here? I'm just going to do it again in the photo album I will post... er... later.