I'm sitting at an internet bar in the middle of Bhubaneshwar, India on the east coast by the Bay of Bengal. Indian guys all around me are watching New Zealand and Australia's cricket match and playing internet games. What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been!
Two Fridays ago I turned in grades for my Sophomore university students and got on a train for Hong Kong. I'm on Chinese New Year and traveling with 3 other people for 6 weeks. We took an overnight train and arrived in Hong Kong, my favorite city to date! The skyline was incredible, on the water, so clean and full of international flair. We were full blown tourists for 3 days visiting SoHo and taking a water ferry to Victoria Peak and finally eating some Mexican food! Being a Californian, it's been way too long! We went to church on the Kowloon side and met some incredible people from all over the world. Then we jumped on a plane and went to Bangkok and then to New Delhi, India. In New Delhi we got caught in a tourism bubble that we've now coined the "Indian Tourism Mafia".. it's this web of high priced accomodations, taxis etc. and everyone knows each other. At one point we thought we had escaped and made plans to travel to Agra and Jaipur to see the Taj Mahal.. and in walked one of the mob guys again to our "new" travel agency. We sighed knowing that eventually we'd we flying to a friends hometown in India.
The Taj was great and my feeble words here in this internet bar cannot do justice to the insanity of the past week. Picture the Amazing Race and you have our team of 4 (Heather, Jev, Michael and I). We've gotten along great and our personalities really complement each other. We're in a bit of culture shock coming from 5-6 months in China yet still being treated like Americans in India.
We then flew to Orissa (Bhubaneshwar) to a fellow Indian colleague (in China) home in India. We've ridden elephants, got stuck in a cattle drive, visited indigenous people, and eaten curry for every meal. This has been the best part to be in the village with them, eating at their home and learning the culture.
I'll tell you about yesterday and just multiply it by 10. Last night our friend's family treated me like a dress-up doll, putting bindhis (sp?) on my forehead, bengals on my wrists, braiding my hair and putting big gold earrings in my ear. I've even worn a sari! Last night we ate from banana leaves with our hands and drank some questionable water (the verdict is still out on sickness)- pray for me! We went on a 4 hour boat ride yesterday day to an animal reserve on Chilika Lake. We landed on an island with an indigineous tribe that worships the Hindu god Kaliji. Ah, I'm frustrated that I can't get everything into an email!
Our host Pradeep (a friend of our China co-worker) is a journalist/activist for the poor (Dalits, etc.) here in India. He raises awareness through an organization named ODAF (funded by a German organization) that works primarily with the tribes in the upper jungles of India. They help them learn how to grow sustainable products and how to defend themselves legally against "corporate development". We are going to one of those tribes tomorrow for 3 days!! They are primitive and definitley not a tourist attraction. This is only made possible by the NGO that Pradeep works for. If you know me well, you know I'm squirming with excitement at this opportunity! I've been able to show off some of my Aveda knowledge being that India uses Ayerveda medicine. Seeing activists doing the very thing I learned about during my time at Aveda has been really encouraging.
I've spent long enough typing this email and internet has gone out a couple times, so I'll end this now. Miss you guys and I'll try to write again from our conference in Thailand. Can't wait to post pictures on Flickr and email when I have more time and more clarity.
January 8, 2007
The picture above is Heather and I, we'll be traveling together the entire time (Jan 12-Feb 24)
Below is the tentative travel itinerary:
Jan 12-15 Hong Kong, China
Jan 15-28 India (New Delhi, Agra, Orissa, Kolkata)
Jan 28-30 Bangkok, Thailand
Jan 30-Feb 8 Chiang Mai, Thailand
Feb 8-11 Bangkok, Thailand/Ranong, Thailand
Feb 11-18 Koh Phayam, Thailand (island in the Andaman Sea)
Feb 18-19 Ranong, Thailand
Feb 19-21 Bangkok, Thailand
Feb 21-23 Hong Kong, China
Feb 24(ish) Back to Nanchang
January 1, 2007
How is it already 2007?! If today is any indication of the next year, than this will be a good, productive, relaxing year. I slept in this morning and did the slow wake up routine... when you just lie in your warm blankets, afraid to move your foot onto the cold wood floor, but knowing it eventually needs to happen. I put some Norah Jones/Colin Hay/Sting/Over the Rhine/U2 on my iTunes and just let the morning drift by.
The internet was down so I read a little bit of Henri Nouwen's "Reaching Out", and thought about studying Chinese (that didn't happen, but my intentions were good.) Then I finally got out of bed and made Starbuck's Christmas Blend coffee with French Vanilla creamer (thank you Wieland family!) and some Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal from mom. Eventually Rachel and I thew on our tennis shoes for some laps around the track. We talked and lost track of the laps after about 6, but I'm guessing it was between 2-3 miles (the goal is to continue this throughout the year). We got home and made a New Year's Resolution to drink more water. The details of which are yet to be determined. I also resolve to read more (from different authors!)- I've started 'Ragmuffin G' about 5 times, and Chamber's 'So Send I You' about 10 times. I always seem to go back to Miller, Nouwen, Piper, and Tozer- but I desire to strike out. 2007 is the year of new perspectives- literary and otherwise.
When we got home our internet worked so I researched Hong Kong hostels for our trip in 12 days to INDIA. I can not express my enthusiasm for this trip! We're going to take a train to Hong Kong then fly to New Delhi. We'll spend a few days there with a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Then we're going to Bhubaneshwar, where we have contacts that will show us some authentic Indian life. There's been talk of white water rafting, alligator reserves, and jungle adventures. After our week there, we'll head to Kolkata to spend a couple days helping out in the homes of Mother Teresa. Should be intense, but it's been a dream of mine to see the work being done there. After the two weeks in India we'll go to Thailand for a conference and some down time on Thai islands. (Five of us ladies are going back to Koh Phayam, where I was a year and a half ago helping with tsunami relief...I'm so excited for this portion as well!) My India travel partners are Heather from North Carolina, Michael from South Dakota/Minnesota, and Jev from Colorado/Minnesota. Incredible people that I can't wait to travel with. I'll be out of China for a little over 5 weeks. All this India talk led me on quite the tangent.. back to today.
I started to knit a red scarf as a Chinese New Year's present for my Chinese friend, Tracy. I've 1/2 way done within hours...fingers of fury, I know. I cleaned my room, cleaned out my desk, and baked cookies. When did I become a knitting, cookie baking lady? I'm not quite sure myself.
I got to Skype with some great friends in San Diego right before they rang in the New Year. They passed around the phone and I got to talk to some amazing people. Now I'm back under the warm blankets and doing grades in Excel. I think I'll head into the office where I can get more work done.
Last night I rang in the New Year at an Italian Restaurant named Cellar Bistro. The place was empty except for 13 of us Americans and 3 foreign businessmen. We played pool, danced to Golddigger, ate Western food, drank Diet Cokes, and were merry. At midnight Prince's "1999" was blaring throughout the restaurant, everyone hugged, and then we got in taxis and went home. One of the highlights last night was playing with some kids outside the restaurant, absolutely adorable little ones.
I'm heading out for the office, but HAPPY NEW YEAR friends and family!