Thursday, April 15, 2010

of Nemo and sunburns

I love Phi Phi Island's Long Beach. My goodness. I feel like I've been photoshopped into a travel book. The ocean is crystal blue and the sand is soft and white. We've been snorkelling a couple times already and I can't believe the beautiful creatures I've seen. What a God we serve!

Right now I'm paying 3bhat/min to be on the computer so this will definitely be a short one. It's only a week until Dad and I head for the airport in Bangkok--to a plane that will take me back to my old life in North America. I'm praying to God every day that I'm not the same person I used to be, nor will I fall back into that person...

But for right now, I'm enjoying seeing Nemo and his friends: angel fish, parrot fish, needle fish, star fish... Just beautiful. But all that comes with a price! Dad and I both have wicked sunburns on our backs. That just means though that I'll have a wonderful tan by the time I get home :) Yay team!

more later,
ami tomake bhalobashi

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

of lotsa water and sandy beaches

Ahhh another early morning. At this rate, I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation when I get home! lol We were up at 4 and out the door at 5am this morning to catch our plane to Bangkok. Luckily, Dad and I didn't have anyone beside us on the flight so I was able to stretch out a little and catch some zzz's.

When we arrived at BKK, we had almost three hours before check-in for our flight to Phuket opened up... What to do..? SLEEP! lol We found a couple chairs in a quiet area (if there is such a thing) and I fell asleep again. The sad thing is, at this rate, I'm going to have to retire my blanket soon.. It's been so many places, so many countries with me but now it's starting to get a little tattered looking. That's kinda a sad thought for me so I'll move on to happier things!

I'm in PHUKET! Even more exciting, I'm in Phuket during the water festival! You should have seen the streets on the way from the airport to our hostel. They were just lined with people armed with buckets and baby powder. Yes, Phuket has taken it one step further and has been putting dabs of baby powder on people's cheeks for good luck. It hasn't happened to me yet but I'm sure somewhere along the way it will... :P Dad and I bought little waterproof pouches at the night market last night so I tucked my camera into it and vowed to protect it with my life lol.

After Dad and I checked into the Pineapple GuestHouse (nothing really special but suffices for the night and is close to the beach), we wandered around Karon before heading down to the beach. Good thing we changed into our swim suits in our room because we got doused over and over with full buckets of sun-warmed water. Honestly, this festival is really fun but sometimes creepy old white men come up and pour water down your front... You can't tell me that it's completely innocent. Yuck. So I've been turning around and letting them pour it over my head and down my back. That seems more kosher.

About five minutes walk from our hostel, I set foot on a BEAUTIFUL sandy beach. The sun was just setting and the whole sky was shades of pink and purple and orange. It was stunning. Dad and I ran to the surf and let our toes sink into the wet sand as the waves rolled by our ankles. Wow. Just incredible. This is SO much better than White Rock! lol I feel so blessed to be here and am so thankful that Dad decided to come travel with me.

Tomorrow morning is a slightly less early morning. Only slightly. We have to get up at 6 so we can leave by 7 to make the ferry headed for Ko Phi Phi Island. So many people have recommended that we skip right over Phuket and head for Phi Phi and then Krabi or Koh Lanta. Krabi is where they filmed The Beach, that horror movie from a couple years ago with Leonardo DiCaprio. Anyways, we're hoping it will be just as beautiful--though a lot less violent--as the movie lol.

I've been disappointed with the internet here in Thailand. I thought it would be a lot better because usually the Asian countries are so up on the technologies but I really think I had better internet in Bangladesh. For reals. Anyways, the point of that comment is that I don't know what the wi-fi will be like on Phi Phi but I'll still try my best to blog and put up pictures so you can see what we're up to over here!

9 days til home. Can it really be...? Elliot posted a blog today about how she's contemplating life right now and wishing she could be back in Bangladesh because life was so much simpler there. I really couldn't agree more! That's part of the reason why we are headed for the jungles of remote Phi Phi in efforts to get away from the commercial Phuket area. But moreso, I miss feeling a strong sense of purpose like what I had in Bangladesh. I don't want to slip back into a comfortable materialistic lifestyle. I miss Bangladesh, the people, the language, the sense of family. I guess what I have to realize is that the more I go through life, the bigger my family will get. It's not a bad thing--it's something to be revered and rejoiced upon. I have a big enough heart to go around I think.
ami tomake bhalobashi

Monday, April 12, 2010

of scooters and cooking class

Yesterday was our relaxing day. The day before, we joined a day-tour and went to the Golden Triangle. It was an early morning (7am) and we didn't get back to our hotel until 9pm. Ugh. It was about 8hrs in a crampy 15 passenger van holding 14 passengers. My poor long legs... :( Sad face. But it was cool to see the place where Burma, Laos, and Thailand all meet up. Granted it's somewhere in the middle of a large river but still! I set foot on Laos soil and got a stamp to go in my passport so I'm happy!

But after all that time in the van, we took a day off. We slept in until like 9am and slowly started the morning. Stephanie at the front desk helped us secure a scooter for the day at only 200bt for the whole day. That's not such a bad deal considering the tuk-tuk (Thai form of autorickshaws) usually costs about 100bt for an across the city ride.

We jumped on the scooter, Dad in the driver's seat, and headed up the hill by Chiang Mai to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (another Buddhist temple). I hate to say this, but after awhile, all the Buddhist temples look the same. This one was nice though because it had a view of the city from the very top--well, what you could see through the smog that is. [I'm really surprised with the amount of air pollution around here. I thought because we were so far away from Bangkok that the skies would be clear.]

While we were in the market at the bottom, we had the brilliant idea of buying water guns. The water festival, called Songkran, is starting tomorrow in honour of the Thai new year. Basically the whole country turns into a big water fight area. So we saw these little water guns and thought we'd better arm ourselves in case we stumbled upon an open battlefield. After wandering around for a while, we decided to head back down to the city to see some more Wats.

I got to drive. I'd driven moped's before in Victoria with Auntie Jane but for some reason, I had a wee bit of trouble driving this one. I was doing great for a long time but then something jolted me out of my happy little world and I started to over think things. Then things got bad. Before, corners were easy to go around since you can just lean in the direction of the force, but now I was freaking out and the scooter was wobbling around coming dangerously close to the ditch.

Then the inevitable happened. We were going around a bend and my mind blanked on how to get it to maneuver smoothly around the corner. "Just bail!" my mind screamed. I didn't bail though... I did my best to slow it down but you have gravity pulling down the hill and we slid into the top of the ditch before we were stopped by well.. I guess me and Dad putting our legs out. Hence, I have road rash on two of my toes, the top of my foot, and the front of my leg. Dad got a little on his ankle and I'm thankful neither of us got hurt too badly.

We stood there for awhile just recollecting ourselves--well that's what I was doing at least. I feel like an idiot. Who can't drive a moped! Those things are designed for children! Anyways, I decided to get back on the horse and proceeded to drive us [safely] another 10min or so before we stopped at a popular Thai hangout by a mountain stream. Since I had already proved I could do it safely, I swallowed my pride and let Dad drive the rest of the way down and into the city.

I still feel like an idiot, not going to lie.

But the whole day really turned around once we got into the city. Someone told me to take a trip around the old moated city if I could so Dad and I headed down the main street, ready to go around the whole square. What we didn't realize is that Songkran started in Chiang Mai and thus some people feel the need to celebrate early than the official April 13 New Year. Woosh! A full bucket of water was dumped on us as we sat at a light. That was only the beginning...!

The north part of the square wasn't too bad, but as soon as we got near the northeast corner and turned onto the eastern side of the square it was on! The streets were lined with kids standing with buckets, water guns, and garden hoses. Anyone and everyone was fair game. Pick-up trucks full of people and bins of water drove around soaking anyone in sight. Luckily the same friend who told me to take a trip around the city also told me that I can either get upset or I can join in the festivities and have fun with the locals. So I told Dad to keep driving (as best he could as he was having water thrown in his face) and I grabbed our dinky little guns and started shooting whoever was throwing water at us. Really, our guns didn't register as more than a sprinkle but we had a BLAST! We ended up driving around the outside of the city once, then pulling a u-turn and driving around the inside of the city TWICE! We were DRENCHED by the end. And laughing hysterically.

What was so funny to me was to see a man driving his scooter with his son standing up at the handlebars holding a huge SuperSoaker. There were tourists with huge backpack jugs of water attached to pump-action hoses--only they were spraying icy water. That was a shock. Even though it was crazy hot out, the icy water was a little much.

All in all, the city-wide water fight made my scooter-accident of a day so much better. Later that evening, Dad and I spent a couple hours walking the blocks and blocks of the night bazaar set up in honour of the New Year. There were so many knick-knacks, so many clothes, so many... EVERYTHING! You could find almost anything your heart desired there I'm pretty sure. We even got 30min foot massages for 60bt at one point. It was a pretty good way to spend $2 if I do say so... :D

Today was another day for the record books. This morning at 8am, we met another pickup outside and joined a group. Today was Thai cooking class. They took us to the market first to explain how to pick out the best produce, how to substitute Western products for Asian products (if you so choose or can't find), and just basic facts about the food itself. At one point, a little boy ran up with a squirt gun and opened fire so I grabbed our little squirt guns and returned the favour. From that point on, I don't think I was completely dry for the rest of the day!

When we left the market, there were tons of kids just WAITING for the pickup full of foreigners to go by.. They mercilessly drenched us. My goodness. One bucket of water hit me so hard from behind that it pushed all my hair into my face. I was just dripping. And we just kept getting pelted all the way to the cooking school. But we were all still laughing--it's just Songkhan!

mmm I learned how to make the most wonderful yellow curry, coconut milk soup with chicken, and basil chicken (all easily made vegetarian by adding firm tofu instead of chicken). We took a lunch break to taste all our dishes, then headed back for dessert. Dad made a yummy pumpkin in coconut milk dish and I made mango sticky rice. Oh my goodness... I will most definitely be making that when I get home as long as I can figure out how to steam the rice. I don't have the bamboo baskets he was using so I'll have to find some kind of substitute.

We were all rolling out the door by this point so in mercy, Max the chef let us put the pad thai in doggy bags to go. Pad thai was our final dish so we all met back at the outside workbench to regroup before heading back into town. Max gave us the cooking school's cookbook and we all exchanged contact info so we could get pictures later. Then the little old ladies who help at the school came by with big bowls of water and gently poured water down each of our backs. And we sat there and took it, cringing as the water dripped from our necks to our knees. This is really an incredible festival. It was just an incredible day. I'm sad that WallaWalla doesn't have an Asian market because I'm going to be wanting to cook my new favourite dishes down there!

Upon arrival back at Penny's Place, we changed our clothes and relaxed in our food comas up in our room. After resting for a bit, I ventured out in search of a hair saloon. I'm so proud of how long my hair has gotten but the dry and brittle ends have really been annoying me lately. The housekeeper here helped me find a place and she explained to the stylist that I just wanted a trim. Well when my hair was that bad, a trim turned into a good two inches off.. Blast... I was really impressed with how long it had gotten--I just should have been maintaining it better along the way. The slight bummer of the day was when I showed her a picture in a magazine of a woman with cute bangs. Then she proceeded to give me Asian bangs. Oh dear, I hope these grow out quickly. And no, I'm not going to post any pictures :P lol I feel like an anime character.

lol How much can hair grow in a week...? Enough to make a bad haircut into a good haircut?

After dinner, Dad and I took the manager and his wife out for dinner. Pete and Stephanie have been so helpful, advising places to see, places to eat, and organizing all our tours for us. Just incredible people. Super sweet, super generous. So we wanted to show them thankyou in some way. We went to a Thai restaurant and Pete ordered for all of us. Yikes, I was able to grin it off and pick around the shrimp and pork but all I could think about was how I wanted to eat my pad thai... lol Oh well, all food aside, it was a great evening with great people so I can't complain.

Tomorrow, I'm sad to say, we are leaving Chiang Mai. I'm going to miss it. Elephants, cooking schools, scooters.. So many memories are here. We fly out at 7am to Bangkok, then have to catch a plane down to Phuket after a 3hr layover. I'm sad to go but also excited to stick my toes in the sand and gaze out over the clear blue ocean. That'll be a first for me. What a way to end my adventures in Asia...

10days til I hit Canadian soil. Crazy thought eh?
ami tomake bhalobashi

Friday, April 9, 2010

of treks and Pwei

ahhh I'm so tired from our three day adventure... Don't get me wrong, it was an INCREDIBLE experience but wow I'm tired...

The first day we were picked up from our guesthouse at 9am. We sat on bench seats in the back of a pick up with a French couple that ONLY spoke French. It was sad that the first language that came to mind was Bangla and I kept mixing up 'ami' with 'je' when trying to say I. But just as we were beginning to make progress with the conversation, we had to jump out and join another tour group. I was pretty bummed out. I was looking forward to improving my French.

We jumped into the back of another pickup, this time with six Puerto Ricans and three fellow Vancouverites. The group of six had two guys and four girls--all the girls were about to graduate from medical school and take their boards to start interning in America. Each was going into a different area of medicine so it was cool to pick their brains a little.

They took us to the first elephant camp where we stopped to have some fried rice for lunch. Then we headed down to the elephants and climbed into the big chair perched precariously on the elephant's back. We weren't able to take pictures of ourselves on top and instead had to buy a copy from the company's photographer. Kind of a rip off but when it's your first time on an elephant you really don't care. I think the rest of our group got pictures of Dad and I in our chair so hopefully they will post them to Facebook soon so I can steal them.

After about an hour ride through the jungle, we headed back to camp and started our three hour hike from 300m to 1200m above sea level.

[sorry I have to interrupt this blog post because it's so late.. It took forever to load up all 162 pictures to Facebook so I'll continue my story later. Check out the pictures though if you want to get a taste of what Dad and I have been up to :)]

--And we're back in after a short delay :)

So we started our hike up. At first, it didn't seem too bad. The first hour and a half was pretty intense but our guide Puzaa had us stop fairly often for water breaks. Then he'd say "Okay Puzaa Army! One more mountain!" Of course, we thought that meant, only one mountain left but nooooo... lol He said that about 10 times, each time making us hate him a little more. Especially since the last hour and a half was almost vertical. My goodness. We were all sweating like none other, chugging water, and gasping for breath. My poor calves... While the whole thing was pretty much uphill, sometimes we were walking through jungle-y parts and other times, we were walking through burnt landscape. The local farmers set controlled fires to burn away debris from last year's crops in order to make room for the new. That's also the reason why the whole valley had a dense layer of clouds covering everything. The worst part was when we were gasping for air on the hike up, we were breathing in smoke sometimes which only made our lungs burn more.

Eventually though we made it up to the Black Lahu village. The house we were staying on was built half on the ground and half held up by long pieces of bamboo and wood. The house had a long front porch and a single room with no divisions, save for the mosquito nets between the beds. We showered by garden hose in the room adjoining the outhouse, then relaxed in the setting sun as we let our muscles unwind.

Later on, Puzaa made us yellow chicken curry and green bean fry and we all filled our hungry bodies to the brim. Puzaa pulled out a deck of cards and showed us a couple card tricks, then did a couple mind-bending puzzles with toothpicks. As the night wore on, they pulled out some local moonshine whiskey and we all sat in a circle to play a game. We basically had to count to 21 but there were rules along the way to trick people into messing up the counting. If you messed up, you either had to take a shot, sing a song, or let someone in the group paint your face with charcoal from the bottom of the cooking pot. Like lifelines, once you used one, you couldn't choose it again. Hence I sang "I want it that way" by the Backstreet Boys, let Vanessa put a mustache on my chin, then warded off the whiskey by heading to bed early. All in all, we had a pretty good time.

The next morning, we woke up, ate breakfast, and began our descent of the mountain. We actually went up and over the mountain down a new trail that was just as equally steep. Thankfully no one fell and got hurt but there were quite a few people that slipped at some areas. I don't know if going up or down is harder, but my poor quads were shaking by the time an hour had passed.

The waterfall was well worth it though... So beautiful. And refreshing after a long hike in the mid-morning sun! Puzaa said I could change behind a rock in the distance but he didn't mention that was on the trail. Right after I had put my bikini top on, though I hadn't started changing my bottoms yet luckily, another tour group came by. Freaked me out! lol I scrambled my stuff together and hid behind a more secluded rock to change.

The pool was only about 2-3ft deep but it was enough to wade around in and submerge to your neck if you wanted. At one point of the rock, you could lie against the rock and have the water spray against your back like a full blown shower. It was pretty cold but again, after a long hike, it feels sooo good!

Another hour through the jungle. This time it was fairly flat and half of the time we were walking alongside the road. We came up to the white water rafting station, grabbed paddles and helmets, and headed down to the river. Right now, it's the dry season so the river was kinda low but we still had a lot of fun--though we got stuck quite a few times on the rocks. We rafted for about an hour, then transferred from the boats to bamboo rafts to gently float down the river. Dad was chosen to steer us Venice-style down and did a great job :)

Another 30min of that. When we got the end, we all piled onto the shore, grabbed our bags from the truck, and made a beeline for the showers. Those rivers aren't the cleanest things I've ever seen so it felt nice to wash off any invisible gunk on my skin. lol We had a great lunch of pad thai, browsed the shops, then all piled into the pick-up for one last ride. The truck dropped us off at Baan Chang Elephant Park then headed back to the city to drop off the rest of the people. Again, I really hope I can get their pictures because my library is missing quite a few shots I'm realizing now.

At Baan, we were put up in a really nice room about five minutes walk from the main area. There were three other rooms in the complex but we were the only ones staying over. We rested for about an hour then headed down to see what was going on for dinner. We took some pictures (from a distance) with the elephants and got to spend some time talking with Tom Cruise, our tour guide and main mahout, about how the place is run.

They really have an incredible thing going. They rescue elephants from work camps and other places where they are being abused and give them such a great life. The elephants get plenty of food and never have to have those big metal chairs on their backs because the company only offers bareback riding in consideration of the elephants. They save most of what we pay for the rides so that in low-tourist season, they will still have money for food and such. If they are able, they seek out abused elephants, buy them, and bring them to the park. They actually got a new elephant while we were there that had been working in the rock camps for 20ish years.

Later that night, Tom lit a campfire and made bamboo sticky rice for us. He basically put raw rice down a bamboo shoot, added coconut milk, and sugar and put it over the fire to cook. It wasn't bad actually! He also brought out these huge lanterns that, once lit, fly high into the sky filled with hot smoke. They burn for about 20min then float back to the ground, leaving someone else to deal with their wire frame. lol We put three in the sky and watched the air currents take them high up and over the mountain. We stayed up eating sticky rice, listening to another mahout play the guitar, and just enjoying company with the staff. We were the only guests there!

The next day, we had a traditional Thai breakfast of rice and vegetable soup and helped feed some of the elephants. Tom took me around, sharing some of the elephant's stories, letting me feel their skin, and all around get to know them better. We had to change into these awful blue denim outfits that were supposed to protect our clothes from the day's events. It would have been fine but my dumb shirt was about 15sizes too big :P lol

When the day group arrived, we had a quick orientation with the park's founder who told us all the history and facts associated. Then they let us feed whole bunches of bananas and halved pineapples to the elephants. My favourite elephant was Pwei. She's 10yrs old and whenever she is standing or eating or whatever, she is always swaying. I call it dancing lol. They think she was separated too early from her mother when she was a baby and thus was devoid of contact. Just like babies in the same kind of situations rock back and forth, Pwei dances. She's a really sweet elephant though. I gave most of my bananas to her :)

After the feeding was over, we got our first lesson in driving elephants. I volunteered to be first because it didn't look that hard to climb up. Was I wrong! Those things have HUGE necks and it's a lot harder than it looks to wrap your legs around. But we learned "na-long" means stand-up and sit down and that you really have to yell it.

Then they gave us the little hook tool that mahouts use when driving. It looks like quite the violent tool but really is about the same as using a riding crop or reins as a whip to a horse. The elephant's skin is so tough and thick that it just gets their attention without hurting them. Plus, the mahouts use this as a last tactic, using their legs and voice first to command. "Kway" plus the hook means left or right. You have to put the hook against their right ear to turn left, and against their left ear to turn right. I know that sounds backwards but it works. "Pai" means forward and "How" was stop. I think I used these two commands the most.

Dad rode on the neck for the first half of the ride and I held onto two rings on the back. We went up a hill around the camp, stopped for 10min to let the elephants rest, then I jumped into the driver's seat with Dad on the back. Honestly, for the most part, the elephants just follow one another but it was amazing how aware of your balance you had to be. Otherwise, you are going over the head! lol It was an incredible experience.

But my favourite part BY FAR, probably even my favourite part of our trip around Asia so far, was bathing the elephants. After the jungle walk, we took them to the watering hole by the park and let them play. Don't worry, we handed all our cameras and such over to the staff before jumping in. The elephants had SO much fun playing and spraying water all around. The little baby elephant kept doing barrel rolls beside us and spraying us over and over. We were all given rough scrub brushes to clean our elephants with, a great experience in itself.

I really can't say enough about our day with the elephants. It was just incredible. I would come back again if I could. Dad is wanting me to get off right now so that he can write a review about them on actually :) lol

But we had a long day today so I should get to bed anyways. We left this morning at 7am for the Golden Triangle. It wasn't anything TOO spectacular but it was cool to see where Burma, Laos, and Thailand all meet up. We got back around 9pm tonight... long day... About 8hrs in the van. I'm going to take a shower beceause it's blazing hot still and hit the hay! :)
ami tomake bhalobashi

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

of flights and one square kilometer

Another early morning. We had to wake up at 4am in order to catch our 5am airport shuttle in order to make our 7am flight to Chiang Mai. Normally, that wouldn't be too bad but our dumb hostel was right on Khoa San Road so people were out partying and making TOO MUCH NOISE practically right up until we left for the airport. Blasted tourists.

But it was peaceful when we arrived into Chiang Mai... Ahhhh so nice... Chiang Mai is to Bangkok what Hili is to Dhaka--a relaxing, quiet town far away from the busyness of the main city port. Hallelujah. And our cheap little guesthouse is so adorable. Chiang Mai is restoring my faith in Thailand because, I'm not going to lie, I hated the first couple days of seeing Bangkok such a mess :P

Yesterday we took things pretty easy. We were going to try to get to Mission College and then up to the AIDS hospice but it didn't work out once we realized our flight was this morning :P Good planning eh? That's alright though, we have something saved for our next trip to Thailand lol. Instead we did some more sight seeing, went to MBK shopping mall, then chilled around Khoa San Road for the rest of the night. The coolest part came when I happened to sit next to some Bangladesh-born now-Singaporeans. This world just keeps getting smaller and smaller. I was able to share my experience at the orphanage, as well as converse with the little Bangla I know. It just made me miss my family in Bangladesh even more...

After checking into our guesthouse [Penny's Place], we contacted a guy who runs treks into the jungle up here. We were trying to get to the Golden Triangle but found out you can only do that on a one-day tour. We were looking for something more adventurous. Hence, tomorrow morning, we are leaving on a three-day trek! Day one we have an hour-long elephant ride through the jungle, then we have to hike about three hours to a remote northern village. They'll put us up for the night and then the next day we have white-water rafting (not as exciting as it may sound because the rivers are kinda low from the dry season.. but doesn't matter :D), a bamboo boat ride, two waterfalls, and another hike back down to the elephant camp. Day three is elephant day. We get to feed the elephants, then are given a crash course in how to sit on their shoulders and guide them with your legs and a small rope. Then we go on trail ride through the jungle again (this time steering our own elephants--well Dad and I will be sharing because it's cheaper that way lol), stopping at another waterfall to give the elephants a bath! How fun does that sound!!! I'm so freaking excited. Well, not so excited for all the hiking because I sent my good shoes back home, plus I hate hiking, but so excited to be in Thailand, in the jungle, with elephants!! Will post pictures as soon as I can!!

So after we got that all settled out, Dad and I began our attack on the city. Chiang Mai is an older city and thus has tons of temples. 71 to be exact. The square kilometer that is the downtown hub has 33 Buddhist temples alone. So we didn't really have any specific target in mind, we just went out walking. Inevitably, there was a temple practically every 100m or so. Just mind boggling. After a while, sad to say, you stop taking pictures because, although they are so beautiful, they are all kinda the same. I still enjoyed every moment of it and soaked in as much of the sights I could, stopping to snap a picture every now and again at something that really caught my eye.

Later this evening, Dad and I got lost looking for the night bazaar. We found one block of about four stands and thought, Wow someone really overexaggerated the coolness of Chiang Mai's night market. Then someone pointed us in the right direction. But again, we came across some lame square that had half a dozen stands and a bunch of food carts. Same thought. Yet again someone had to point us in the right direction and WOW! We found the true night market of Chiang Mai. It just goes on for blocks and blocks! Honestly, it's not as cheap as I would have liked--but that may be coming from someone who lived in Bangladesh for so long :P Anytime I see a Thai t-shirt and they are asking 350bt for it (about $10), I start to think "But I could have gotten the same souvenir t-shirt at New Market for 50tk (about 75cents)." It's a dangerous game to play... lol

anyways, that's all the news I have right now. The elephants don't have wi-fi and the village we will be staying at doesn't have any internet cafes so I'm leaving my netbook here at our guesthouse in storage til we get back on Friday. In other words, check back Friday evening if you want to see some SWEET pictures and hear some incredible stories about me fording my way through the Thai jungle :)

til then,
ami tomake bhalobashi

Sunday, April 4, 2010

of catching up and first impressions

wow. A whole week since I last blogged... Where do I even start...? So much has happened since last Monday that I really don't know how I can get you guys all caught up! Luckily, I journaled almost every night but still... SO much! lol
Okay, so I had just gone to Humayun's Tomb (great place by the way) and the next day we headed to Akshardham. Instead of hiring a taxi for the day, we set out with Jaeem's friend Jimmy and navigated the public transit system--which happens to be about a hundred times better than Bangladesh's. Upon arrival to Akshardham, we were informed that we weren't allowed to bring in any cameras or cell phones, as well as really anything in our bags. Yeah, okay. They said the same thing at the Louvre and I may or may not have a picture of Mona Lisa. So I checked my backpack and kept my camera case with me. Oh man, on the other side of the locker station, there was a MASSIVE security check. I'm talking like airport security. The women and men were divided into two lines, walked through metal detectors, then FULLY patted down by guards. When we saw that, we turned around and added our cameras and iPhones to the locker station.

But this place was beautiful. Gardens, statues, fountains sprawled out all over the landscape, all encircling an enormous temple. All around the base of the temple were hundreds of elephants carved into white sandstone. As you walked around the base, the metal plates under the elephants told a story with little one liner quotes to sum up the moral of the story. Some were obvious, yet others were so profound... I wish I had my CAMERA! Or at least a pen to write them down with... Alas ney. I had nothing.
The three of us walked around the outskirts of the temple, we found a photographer offering pictures for 100rp. It's the only picture now that I have of the inside :P Blasted security guards taking away my camera... I love the picture that we got but honestly it looks like we were photoshopped into the scene. But I swear we weren't! lol

On the way out, we walked through a giant concrete lotus flower, two petals for winding stairs and the other six filled of words of wisdom. Again, I wish I had a pen or a camera or something! There were more quotes from politicians, Indian gurus, and random other known and unknown people throughout history. Now that I'm back in the land of internet, I'm going to try to find the quotes and write them all down. I would most definitely go back there again.. Just breathtakingly beautiful!
"We each have enough for our needs, but never enough for our greed." ~Sandstone Elephant

Later the same day, we went to Delhi's Red Fort. I found some beautiful beads in the corridor that were of the same caliber that I had looked around Nepal for. I got a sweet deal for two strings and have been wearing them ever since. Dad had an interesting perspective of the market: we were just outside of the temple and there were so many vendors and shops all displaying beautiful and highly breakable items. It really put it into perspective the story of Jesus chasing out the people in the temple. They must have been so ticked off--but then again, so was He.

Wednesday was the day I got to see the Taj Mahal. THE Taj Mahal. The TAJ MAHAL. THE TAJ MAHAL. Yes, I was so excited as you may be able to tell. We boarded a train at 7am headed for Agra (lol I was humming Aladdin songs the whole day). It was a 3hr train ride, which actually flew by. There was a nice gentleman who chatted with us for most of the trip, one of the friendlier Indians we met on our journey.

Just as we were arriving to the Taj, rain sprinkled down for about five minutes. That's the second time I've seen precipitation since I left last October! But it quickly got hot again... Then, there it was... The Taj Mahal. Just beautiful. A beacon of hope for those who have lost their faith in love. The sheer size (16m tall), the extensive marble, the grounds, the two temples on either side... Just the most beautiful sight. We wandered around for about 3hrs, soaking in everything and storing it to long term memory.

We left when we had seen everything and once our tummies started grumbling. We ate at a [somewhat questionable] place called Joney's Place. The fun part was "Joney" was there! The food was really only so-so compared to other Indian food we've had but we were hungry so it didn't matter!

By the way, I saw a CAMEL pulling a cart along the streets by the Taj. They were kinda nasty looking but it was a CAMEL!! lol Dad also got to see his first monkey in the wild. We saw horse-drawn carriages that were decorated to look nice but the poor animals looked half-starved and sad. I was sad too.

We headed to Agra's Red Fort after and spent the rest of the day there. There wasn't as much to see but I did something pretty awesome: I drank the bottle of Starbucks Mocha Mom sent me for Christmas. I'd been saving it for a special occasion in Bangladesh but at the time, nothing stood out as extraordinarily special. Nonetheless, it was slightly warm but delicious. A little taste of home for sure. Yum :)

The next day, we slept in. Ahhhh. Sweet sleep! Dad, Jimmy, and I headed to the Lotus Temple. It was the last place I really wanted to go to in Delhi so I was able to leave with a peaceful mind lol. What I didn't realize was that the Lotus Temple was only built in 1984 so there wasn't as much history as I thought. Plus, it's a Ba'hai temple, which sparked an interesting discussion between me and Dad about the meaning of religion.

Anyways, no matter whether or not I think Ba'hai should be considered a religion or a global organization, the Lotus temple was beautiful and I felt like it did bring me closer to God--mostly because it was pin-drop quiet. Usually places are so noisy making it difficult to concentrate, but not this place... Soooo hushed. It was wonderful. I poured my heart out to God and He heard me.

We made our way to Lodhi Gardens after, taking some time to rest in the cool shade of the dilapidated mosques. What amazes me is that India has so many mosques and temples that it can afford to not protect all of them, letting some just fall into ruins. After the busy week, it was nice to just stroll through the park, admiring the parakeets and squirrels playing in the trees.

Good Friday. Jaeem invited us his church to hear him speak. He's working towards his Masters of Divinity and was given 5min to speak for the Easter service. Try to imagine a Baptist church in India if you can... Only, there was no pews and the men were all on the left and the women were all on the right. "Amen" and "Yes Lord" rang out through the room and people danced where they stood. The main problem came when it was time to sit. The place was packed already but now you expect us all to sit..? Oh dear. I was so cramped! And for two hours!! My poor bum was in so much pain but I had nowhere to move or stretch or anything. Plus the sermons were in Hindi (and I don't speak Hindi :P) so my mind was free to meditate on the pain radiating from my pelvic bones. Blasted concrete floors!

After church, we went out to eat at a nice Indian place. The food was good but I think it got me sick... I didn't feel well the rest of the day and 4am that night I was doubled over a bucket in the bathroom puking. It was good times. The weird thing is, Dad ate everything (and more) than I ate but he didn't get sick at all. I'm finally feeling just a little bit better today but that's probably because of the massage... :D

Saturday was spent in the airport between Delhi and Bangkok. Josiah met us in the BKK airport and we headed to Khoa Sun Road. Oh dear. This was and IS reverse culture shock to the MAX!! I've just spend 6months in a simplistic, conservative 3rd country and am now staying in Asia's version of Sin City. My first impression was "I hate you all." I know that sounds absolutely awful but seeing all these people drinking their lives away, partying with "lady-boys", and just the overall materialistic mentality has sent for me for a loop. Even as we visited different temples today, I couldn't help but feel angry so much money had been wasted on these stunning, yet exuberantly adorned, buildings while my family in Bangladesh is living by such meager standards. In the same breath though, I know I need to avoid being called a hypocrite considering Dad and I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around to see some parts of Asia...

Anyways, I know this is just my first impressions of being back in the 1st world. I don't know if I'm handling it well compared to the norm, but I'm handling it. I had my first real Pad Thai, hot from the street vendors wok, and mango sticky rice for dessert. It was such a cheap meal but one of the best I've had in all of Asia, hands down. Next was a Thai&oil massage for an hour... That woman bent me in half, squishing me with her knee as if she was sealing a Ziploc bag. But oh man, it was worth the $7, again hands down. I'm slowly reformatting my view of Bangkok and am trying to find the value.

We're heading to Chiangmai on Tuesday so hopefully I'll have some elephant stories to tell afterwards. I'm going to try to blog more often--for your benefit as well as my own. That way it won't take me almost two hours to write an update :P I blame Emily for distracting me on Facebook chat while I was trying to type lol. Just kidding, I welcomed her interruption with a smile. Anyways, my bed (which I really think it just an old hard door) is calling me. That's what you get for paying 350bt/night for a room. I count us lucky though--Josiah doesn't even have a window in his room lol.

til next time,
ami tomake bhalobashi

Monday, March 29, 2010

of Jaeem and Kumayun's Tomb

I've been in Delhi for a full day now and wow is all I can say. I'm sitting in an internet cafe right now because the flat we are staying in doesn't have any wireless. That really doesn't matter to me because, well, just that we are staying in this flat is a blessing. My friend Caylen was an SM to India last year and a couple days before I left Bangla Hope, I messaged him saying that I was going to be in Delhi for a week. He wrote me back right away, sending all kinds of information--most importantly was the number of his friend who he had worked with. Thus, his friend Jaeem picked us up at the airport yesterday morning, took us to his flat, and is letting us stay there for the week. Just incredible. He's also going to take off Wednesday and be our personal tour guide down to the Taj Mahal.

Today Dad and I set out in a taxi we had reserved for the day and hit up three major sites: Qutub Minar, Raj Ghat, and Kumayun's Tomb. Qutub Minar is the tallest structure in all of India and isn't really used for anything. It's in the middle of a bunch of stone mosque ruins and was probably erected in honour of some important person who died.. Not sure. Raj Ghat is the vast gardens (kinda similar to Stanley Park) where Mahatma Gandhi's grave is. Nothing too exciting but something I can say that I've seen--Have you? LOL

Now Kumayun's Tomb... Wow. It's the precursor to the Taj Mahal and was designed by the emperor's wife upon his death. It's breathtakingly beautiful. Just incredible really... I wish I could load pictures, but after loading them onto my laptop, I could quickly see that the picture really doesn't do it justice.

The one thing that has caught me off guard is how I feel stuck between culture shock and reverse culture shock. It's hard not being able to speak the language and many a time I've found myself slipping up and speaking Bangla to a Hindi-speaking person. Sad day... But the converse is worse! India is by no means up to Western standards and I still feel myself in awe of the quietness of the traffic, the lack of rickshaws, and the price of things here. I know how much a bowl of rice SHOULD cost so why are you charging me so much for it? I could get the same thing in Bangladesh for... And that's when I'm caught thinking about how things are in Bangladesh and feeling confused why they aren't the same here. And I'm in INDIA. How is Bangkok going to feel? How is VANCOUVER going to feel? My goodness... This is going to be rough isn't it...?

I've noticed that I've been beginning so many of my sentences with "In Bangladesh, this/I/it..." and so forth. Any time I start to add anything to a conversation it has to do with Bangladesh! I hope I'm not starting to annoy Dad but I really can't help it! I'm pretty sure this trend will continue even when I'm back home, but honestly, suck it up. This place is a part of me now. I'm petrified of forgetting it so even just talking about random adventures, culture norms, and the language helps me to feel just a smidgen closer to the life I left.

Speaking of which, I miss my kids. Even when I saw the kids at Bill's orphanage it made me miss my kids. Any kids I see remind me of how adorable the kids at Bangla Hope are... I can't NOT go back. And even after only four days, I think Dad has the same sentiments. Who wants to come next time? lol Spring break next year sound good...? lol And I'm only HALF kidding...!

Okay. 10rp/hr is about to run out. I don't know if we will be coming back to the cafe again before we leave, but if not, I'll be in Bangkok on Sabbath and I'm sure we'll have internet in our hostel. Well, we'd BETTER have internet lol. So for now, I hope this was able to be a tiny insight into Delhi... Probably not but it was a good effort eh? Maybe when I have more time I'll go back and update these posts--even if it's for my own benefit. Nonetheless, for now, peace.
ami tomake bhalobashi