Filed under: Big Bang, Fotorama, Huarong Home, India Be Trippin', Laos Be Trippin', Nepal Be Trekkin', Operation Engrish Prease, Razorcake Columns
From Razorcake #57, the one with Noam Chomsky on the cover!
The eyes are restless from the fatigue of resting them upon an unmoving landscape. The legs itch, muscles twitching in between the tibia and the upholstered surface it leans against. Its wanderlust simmering and the only cure is to give in, to strap that pack to your back, put one foot in front of the other and let your eyes drink in every dashed yellow line in the middle of the road.
I blame my legs. These non-proportionate stumps that move me around. They loathe when I sit around too much and love it when I push them too hard. Wanderlust is insatiable, and my legs gobble it up. One in front of the other, marching forward because they know no other way. In all my travels, there has been some epic adventuring but I’ve also faced my share of tribulations. Since sharing is caring, I would like to tell ya’lls about some of my low-lights so can you can learn from my own misadventures with these travel tippies.
There’s the obvious:
Pack a pair of flip-flops, as un-punk rock as they may be, will save you from cooties in shared showers and cool your toes when you wanna relax. Don’t worry about bringing a pillowcase for hostel beds, resting your head on one of your t-shirts will save you room in your pack. I always bring issues of Razorcake to read on the road and leave them in hostel lobbies or music shops in places where I know they’ve never seen it. And I never leave without a passport pouch that I tuck into my jeans next to my sweaty crotch cash.
If you’re traveling the People’s Republic of China, don’t buy souveniours that you can buy at your local Chinatown USA (which is most everything). Bargain at every chance, most shop-keepers will give you an opening price that is at least twice of much as it worth, if not more. But know that there’s a fine line between being fair and being brutal, because chances are that if you’re reading this magazine you’re better off than a street vendor in Mui Ne, Vietnam and you spend $3 for a pint of beer all the time so what’s it worth arguing about it with a shop keeper. (Though, hypocritically, some of my proudest shopping moments have been when a shop owner has angrily begrudgingly agreed to sell something to me. [Though, in my defense, living on volunteer salaries in developing countries will drive you batty and make you feel entitled.]) And speaking of monies, always check the big bills you get in return to make sure they’re not counterfeit.
Street food will make you sick, but it’s worth it. Check bottled water caps to be sure it wasn’t shoddily soldered back on after being refilled with dirty tap water. A small squeeze tube of hand sanitizer will ease your mind and you’ll get used to that medicinal smell and start to think it makes your food taste better.
And there are the travel scars that have left me wiser and with a couple good stories to tell:
Laos is the only landlocked country in southeast Asia and is usually forgotten on itineraries. It’s tourism industry is still growing its legs and learning to stand on them and the easiest way to make money is to give the kids what they want, and that’s usually stuff that’ll fuck them up.
Ironically, even though Laos is landlocked, it’s the only country I’ve traveled to where I’ve gone tubin’ down a slow moving river. It’s a lot like basking in the sun with my limbs draped over an inner tube floating along the Sandy River in Portland, except in Vang Vieng there are middle-aged Laotian women squatted on makeshift mini-docks hawking Beer Laos at your lazy drifting body. Naturally, Vang Vieng needs to offer a hearty post-tubing recreational substance abuse.
Every restaurant had a not-so-hidden ‘Special Menu’ that had three mainstays:
Happy Shake with whiskey and fruit
Magic Mushroom Shake or Tea
Then further down the same sheet, scrawled in loose handwriting it offers:
Magic Mushroom Pizza
I especially love how the menu devolves and gets straight to the point at the bottom where it reads:
A bag of weed
A bag of mushrooms
A bag of opium
There’s something beyond sketchy about buying a bag of illegal substances off a menu, so I opted for Magic Mushroom Shake. I could taste the small flecks of mushrooms that had been blended into my banana shake and sat back into the loungey restaurant stall and waited.
The high was weak and gave me a headache. I crawled into my hostel bed and hoped to sleep it away. I felt fine the next morning when I boarded a bus to the capitol city, Vientianne, but was soon burping up a rotten egg smell and knew immediately that traveler’s diarrhea was about to commence.
Our Vientianne hostel felt like a three story building that had been haphazardly converted into a five-storied guesthouse with narrow and steep stairways and wobbly landings. There were only two toilets in the entire building and our room was nearest to the first floor bathroom that housed a toilet without a toilet seat. I had never wished for a squatty toilet so much in my life.
Lesson learned: If you’re going to order off the ‘Special Menu’ make sure a) you don’t have a five-hour un-air conditioned bus ride the next day and b) book a room with its own toilet (and toilet seat).
I am a moderately fit person with very sensitive joints. I was reminded of this on a 45-mile trek through the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal when I wanted to rip out my left knee at the end of the four-day hike. Every step I took during that last morning was painful, it felt something akin to being stabbed in my knee every time I took a step. I started to lag behind and teared up at the thought that I would have to endure it until the sun set again.
Even though all I wanted to do was to curl up into a ball right on that trail, I refrained from collapsing and asked everyone around me if they had Ibuprofen. I must have had about a dozen to get through the day before collapsing in a van and ingesting more sleeping pills to numb all the other parts of my body.
Lesson learned: If I were a smarter person, I’d say that the lesson learned from this trip was to know and understand your physical limitations. But fuck that, because if I let my own physicality limit my movement, I’d go nowhere (have you seen my stumpy legs lately? Instead my lesson learned from this trip was: Pack painkillers. If you neglected to do so, ask everyone you encounter if they have any. Ask directions to the nearest pharmacy, because even if it’s a hole in the wall and looks like a shoddy American swap meet stall—they will have some generic Ibuprofen to numb your pain away.
Hong Kong during peak season is nowhere to be if you don’t have money. Every cheap hostel was booked up and short of sleeping at bus terminals or in neighborhood parks, we had no idea what to do. That’s when desperation went into overdrive and we found ourselves haggling for rooms at places that I’ve lovingly dubbed as ‘hooker hotels.’ These are small rooms that are rented out by the hour, but might sometimes offer a nightly rate with check-in at 10 PM and check-out is sharply at 8:00 AM. It may not seem so bad in hindsight, but when you’re exhausted from working to find a room all day, and when you finally do find one, all you wanna do is to lay in it. Instead, you have to busy yourself and think of all the people who are fucking in it before you can even check in to sleep in it.
When you’re finally laying in your heart-shaped bed, try to ignore the condoms on the counters, the mirror on the ceiling, the stream of 80’s porn on every other television channel and the moaning and hollerin’ of the other patrons. You may also be awakened throughout the night from the ring of the doorbell as, you know, the other rooms are being rented by the hour.
Lesson learned: Even establishments that rent rooms by the hour might offer nightly rates, you should inquire with the management.
I’ve got a few more low-lights that might help ya’ll out, but it’ll have to wait for another time. And to be honest, even the down time during trips can be awesome stories in and of themselves if you handle it right.
And by “handling it right” I mean: always bring a small package of tissue paper, it’ll save you ass literally and metaphorically.
Like I said before, Bodhgaya was a definite highlight of the India trip. Not only did we stumble onto a lost carnival, but this was also the spot where Buddha stumbled onto nirvana. Let us take a moment and connect those two events, shall we?
More: India photo set.
This monk is peering through a thick wall which protects the Bodhi tree, the spot where Buddha first attained enlightenment. Here’s the tree in all it’s glory!
Before the Buddha was the Buddha, he was Prince Gautama Siddhartha. He decided that he wanted to seek something more than what he saw around him as his life and he meditated in this Mahakala/Dungeswari Cave for years. It was meditating in these caves that made him realize that fasting and depriving one’s body of nutrition is not the correct path to wisdom. (He’s saying: eat a sandwich and the truth will come!)
One of the highlights of our India trip was Bodhgaya, where Buddha found enlightenment. It was probably no coincidence that this was also the same place where we found a lost carnival amidst the dry, arid land.
More about enlightenment later, but for now enjoy the photos of the incredible carnie rides that we braved!
More: India photo set.
This attraction is commonly known as “Wall of Death,” with motorcyclists slowly ascending on a slightly slanted wall as they spin round and round and round.
It’s all smiles for the Wall-of-Death defy-er!
Marah and her new friends! She treated all these little boys to a hand-cranked carousel ride!
In the middle of January, Katherine and I traveled to India during a term break. It wasn’t just any ol’ holiday, this was the vacation where my super friends, Gus y Marah, joined us too! Here are pics from the first part of the trip, when we were in Kolkata.
More: India photo set.
At Mother Teresa’s former home. This is her tomb, the only place we were allowed to photograph. On top of her tomb, formed by marigolds, it says “You Did It To Me.” Really? Me? I did it?
Holy cow! Gus is in India!
More: India photo set.
During one of our last nights in India, I strolled up and down Main Bazar Road and peeked into shops searching for a bag of peanuts. I found a street vendor selling freshly-fried biscuits and perused his cart for a nutty snack, but there was nothing. As I looked, he asked, “What do you want?”
I shook my head and he repeated his question.
“Nah,” I reiterated.
Then he asked, his voice heavy with genuine concern and desperation, “Please tell me what you want.”
No one’s ever asked so directly before. Too bad he didn’t have what I wanted though.
E-mail to friend:
I’m at an internet cafe in Varanasi, India. This is where the Ganges is, its the river where you can bathe to wash away all of your bad ju-ju and begin anew with fresh karma. I haven’t touched the water yet. We’ll see how that goes.
Response from friend:
Hope you guys are having fun. If anyone needs their ju-ju bathed, it’s probably you.
Immediate follow-up message from friend soon thereafter:
Wait. That totally came out wrong.
Highlight of the trip thus far has got to be the small carnival we stumbled upon in Bodh Gaya, the epicenter for Buddhism as it was where Buddha became enlightened after 40-some odd days of mediation beneath a bodhi tree.
The air was dry in Bodh Gaya, and auto-rickshaws kicked up dust on the roads. The carnival was about a 15-minute walk from the center of town, sitting on a landscape that looked like a desert. It was the most amazing thing to see a rickety ferris wheel sprung upon the dusty earth of India. Obviously, we rode it. We saw a couple men circle a dome-room on motorbikes and spun around on a hand-cranked carousel. All at the birthplace of Buddhism.
I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time.
Gus and Marah are here in Kolkata with meez! It’s like we were just hanging out last week when in fact we haven’t seen each other in almost a year.
Gus took a back-lit photograph of my by the Queen Victoria memorial and all you can see is the outline of my head and a shiny spot on my forehead. We laughed about how greasy my head is and he said that it looked like a cartoon apple. I laughed so hard, I cried.
Maybe you had to be there for it.