Four Months in America

TL;DR – I’m still in America / Reverse culture shock is a thing / I’m happier now 

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One minute you’re eating mooncakes in Beijing and the next you’ve been living in Los Angeles for four months. Where did that time go? More strange than the speed with which time has gone by is the feeling that my year in Asia didn’t actually happen. It still feels more like a movie that I watched than ~365 days of my life.

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me when I was going to write another blog post. I cringed. Why would I write another blog post when I’m basically just exercising my license to chill these days? I’m not looking for crocodile blood in Bangkok. I’m not singing karaoke with strangers in Tokyo. I’m working a few days a week at an LA Thai restaurant and churning out a few articles a month. Who cares?

That self-pitying reaction reminded me of how hard it was to come back to California. Reverse culture shock turned out to be a very real thing, and I was hit with the classic symptoms of sadness, confusion, frustration, and it sucked. I slept a lot, ate my feelings – I saw how cliché it was but couldn’t stop. The life narrative I was following for a year didn’t apply to life in America, I lost my identity. I even started eating meat again (after 7 years of chicken/beef/pork abstinence) in a half-hearted, half-panicked swoop. All dramatic given the circumstances: I had a stunning home to live in rent-free in Los Angeles (thanks Crystal and Michael!), I was back with my family, I had a BEAUTIFUL new baby niece. Things were going to be ok/things had been ok!

Vegas, what fun!
Vegas, what fun!

It took a while, but I think I’ve made it past the funk. The first chunk of 2016 has been incredibly fun. I went with friends to Vegas for a low-budget New Year’s Eve, then made it to Boston for a four day walkabout. I’m ramping up my writing again and remembering how good it feels to be productive.

Even though I’ve been happy lately, I still miss Asia. I miss seeing new parts of the world. I have two months until my sister’s wedding, which was originally my deadline to leave again. Problem: I haven’t saved any money although my intention for the past four months was to save money. If I want to make a big move happen soon, I need to stop wasting money on expensive fresh-pressed juices and Uber rides. If I can make it through blistering winter nights in Boston, I can make more good things happen in sunny Los Angeles.

Here’s hoping!

Boston - where no one calls it Beantown
Boston – where no one calls it Beantown

Return to America

TL;DR – I’m in America for the first time in a year, it’s weird / Japan was hard 

I am in a Jamba Juice in San Leandro staring out the window at a Togo’s and a car wash. I am back in California, and it feels so weird.

I return after an emotionally tumultuous three weeks in Japan. The country turned out to be way more isolating than I had predicted thanks to a number of things. First, I don’t speak any Japanese and most people in Japan do not speak English. Second, the Japanese culture isn’t all about chatting up strangers, especially foreign strangers. Third, it’s very quiet in Japan, so I spent a lot of time trying to stay as silent as possible and blend into society. Toss all of that together and you have one tough trip for an extrovert.

I honestly can’t believe how intensely sad I got in such a short period of time, but I really struggled to stay happy in Tokyo and Tahara. Some days I slept for 13 hours, then spent 3-5 more in bed just looking at the Internet. Mind you, I am completely aware of how melodramatic this sounds. I’d do my fair share of walking around, exploring, taking random ferries or busses, then I’d feel exhausted/defeated and go home. A few things got me through my time in Japan: running, drinking with strangers, and working.

Jogging was a godsend. Released endorphins, upbeat music, fresh air, and happy fellow joggers lifted me out of the inexplicably heavy darkness. My favorite jogging routes were along the seemingly endless Tama River, and around Tokyo’s Imperial Palace at dusk ( minus the swarms of gnats that frequented the palace moat. I had to constantly rub them out of my eyes and when I was finished running, I had dead gnats smashed against my arms, neck, and face ).

Drinking with strangers rescued me from my silent loneliness. No one is going to talk to you on the subway, or in line at a coffee shop, so the only places to strike up conversations were in intimate Tokyo bars – I’m talking 7 seats intimate, these places are tiny. The later the better was the recipe for success. If I hit up a bar too early, my Japanese neighbors wouldn’t have enough liquid courage yet to find out what the crazy gaijin (foreigner) was doing there.

After 10 or 11 pm, tongues loosened (mine included) and broken English conversations ensued. Befriending foreigners was also crucial, and those rare times hanging out with fellow westerners were fantastic. It was nice to hear that other people felt the same melancholy I did in the biggest city in the world.

Working was the last element that kept me sane in Japan. Retreating to cafés to work on stories let me check out of my immediate reality for a while and focus on something other than my ridiculous misery. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places with free-flowing Internet access, so I ended up paying a small fortune to spend time at co-working spaces.

Despite all the first world problems bringing me down, I could not deny that Japan was absolutely incredible. The country is unreal on a million levels. Wildly clean, efficiently modern, and infinitely cooler than me. Everyone is impeccably dressed from the salarymen in perfectly tailored suits to the Shimokitazawa hipsters layering random things and looking great doing it.

The bottom line is that Japan is amazing. Everyone should go at some point in their lives, but prepare yourself before the journey. Learn a little Japanese, IT GOES A LONG WAY. Carefully choose where you want to stay. Get mentally ready to be an outsider.

I had a 17 hour layover in China that I spent mostly standing in infuriating lines at the Beijing airport. I did get the chance to explore the Forbidden City a little and eat some “Old Beijing” pastries, then it was time to hop on my 11 hour flight back to the USA.

Beijing blitz

The flight was a breeze. I did my best not to look at the clock and tried to ignore my increasingly uncomfortable head cold I caught in Tokyo. Before I knew it, the plane was landing at SFO. I was home. The flight was so easy that it was anticlimactic stepping off the plane. SFO has greatly improved its foreign entry process, and going through customs was a breeze. Suddenly I had my backpack and was sitting on the BART headed into the city. San Francisco was as beautiful as I had left it. It was all so completely normal and familiar. I cried three times.

I came back to be with my family, but my cold prevented me from meeting my sweet baby niece so I stayed in the Outer Sunset for a handful of days. The mix of being sick, being home for the first time, and being in the otherworldly Outer Sunset gloom was weird. I felt like I was walking in a dream. It was way too normal to be true. Did I even leave? Was I really gone for a year? Surreal.

Reverse culture shock isn’t the only reason I’m off. Since the decision to come home was made so suddenly, and I spent so much money in expensive AF Japan, my next move isn’t clear at the moment. I don’t  think I have enough money to leave right away, so suddenly I’m feeling a little trapped and confused. It has also been overwhelmingly nice to see loved ones again, I’m not even sure if I want to leave.

So I’m in California. I have no apartment, no sense of home, and no proof that the last year in Asia even happened (other than the memories in my brain, the scar on my forehead, and this blog).

What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine.

 

One Year in Asia

TL;DR – I’m in Japan and celebrating a year of living abroad

Twelve months ago, I left foggy San Francisco and moved to Asia. I guess it’s fitting that I’m ringing in the milestone in overcast Tokyo.

When I got to Thailand last September, I had one main goal of making it abroad for at least a year. I had this fear that I would crumble financially or emotionally at three months and have to crawl home. I also had this reoccurring nightmare that I’d be on an airplane for a visit to the States and realize “oh my god, I don’t have enough money to get back to Asia” and that would be it, I’d fail the goal.

It’s a little surreal that I made it, especially surreal considering two girls dressed up in Sailor Moon costumes just walk by. You’ll see a lot in Japan.

This post could very easily turn into a mega cliché with me reflecting on this year abroad. I rolled my eyes every time I heard a backpacker talk about his “spiritual journey” and I’ve always been the first person to joke about coming here to “find myself” like the rest of the spoiled western foreigners.

That being said, it turns out there’s a reason that’s such a well-known cliché. It’s not like you set off a floating lantern at a full moon party and suddenly you’re reinvented, but spending a year out of your element challenges you in ways you’d never predict. I’m not even saying I’ve changed in a good way, but I’ve definitely changed. For example:

-I have a backpack full of clothes – and that’s it.

I started this journey (barfs in own mouth)  with just a suitcase and a carry-on bag, then accumulated some things while I spent 9 months in Bangkok. When I decided to hop around freelancing, I gave away everything that didn’t fit into my traveler’s backpack and purse. So wearing the same four things has been new. [Full disclosure – I have some cold weather clothes and apartment furniture stored at my parent’s house. So by “that’s it” that’s not totally it.]

Said backpack in my luxurious Tokyo Airbnb rental
Said backpack in my luxurious Tokyo Airbnb rental

-I’m much more comfortable being alone.

Moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone was a good introduction to solo life, but backpacking around bolstered my confidence operating as a one man wolfpack. Meals alone, movies alone, sightseeing alone, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it is totally depressing. I have to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with traveling alone. Emile Hirsch looked badass doing it in Into The Wild, so why do I feel like a total loser every now and then? It’s nice to fall back on the security blanket of saying “I’m traveling for work” when I don’t feel like being brave.

-I’ve learned a lot of helpful and useless new things.

For example: During my first week of working at HotelQuickly, my coworker said “and he didn’t even know that Singapore was a country.” I laughed out loud with the rest of the people in the conversation, but in my head frantically noted “OK SINGAPORE IS A COUNTRY AND A CITY, JESUS HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.” So that was an important thing to learn. Less important are things like if you don’t take off your shoes in the Gap dressing room in Japan, people are going to yell at you. Or that teens sling their backpacks really low in India.

I could go on, and I’d probably disgust anyone reading this in the process. So I’ll leave it at this – and bear with me while I’m shamelessly gross for like two more sentences – it’s been the best year of my life, even despite the head wound, the loneliness, and the excessive sweating. For anyone debating whether or not to take the plunge and live somewhere new (out of the country or otherwise), do it. Life is short.

Reflecting aside, after a year of being gone, I’m finally going home for a while. Some of the best and worst things to happen to our family happened in August, and I’ll be making my way back to California to spend time with loved ones. At this point, I don’t have a plane ticket out of the States yet. I’m still figuring out what to do next. Until then, I’ll just keep wandering around Tokyo.

Bali Bagus, Again

TL;DR – Bali is still dreamy. My mom came to visit. We went to Lombok. 

After nearly a month in India, returning to Bali felt like being enveloped in a tropical, familiar hug. Everything was sunny and bright. A familiar – or rather familial – face came to join me in Indonesia, my mom, for her fourth time visiting me in Asia this year! I can’t think of many people who would fly almost 70,000 miles in a single year to see me (or maybe it’s just for the cheap massages).

Mom at Green Bowl Beach
Mom at Green Bowl Beach

We spent the first few days relaxing in Seminyak, adjusting to the time zone and working on our licenses to chill. We hired a car to check out a few of South Bali’s best beaches: Green Bowl and Dreamland. Green Bowl was an undeveloped pocket of clear water and white sand, whereas Dreamland was more tourist-friendly with sunny orange beach umbrellas, great surfing, and a restaurant or two.

After frolicking around Seminyak for a while, we hopped on a plane and headed to the Indonesian island of Lombok, Bali’s less developed neighbor. The short flight and drive to Kuta Lombok seemed to transport us back in time. Horse drawn carriages were more plentiful than taxis, there were no street lights.

Slanty hut literally throwing us shade in Kuta Lombok
Slanty hut literally throwing us shade in Kuta Lombok

In Bali, foreigners are no big deal; you can get lost in a sea of white people sporting flip-flops and sunburns. In Lombok, there are markedly less foreigners, and the locals got a kick out of us – particularly when my mom and I went on our morning jogs. On our daily run, we were met with cheers, laughs, waves, and scowls from the locals. The people of Lombok were not exactly outwardly friendly, but after dropping a few Bahasa Indonesia phrases, they instantly broke into smiles.

Lombok is a magnet for surfers, and most of the limited number of tourists were hella gnarly bros. While far from gnarly, I still took the opportunity to surf there as well. Instead of paddling out from the beach, you have to hire a boat to take you out to sea to get to the waves. The session was well worth the effort, it was fun taking the boat ride alone.

En route to Inside Gerupuk (aka Bumbang Bay) to surf
En route to Inside Gerupuk (aka Bumbang Bay) to surf

After our Lombok days were up, we set off back to Bali. Since Mount Raung wouldn’t stop spewing volcanic ash, my mom and I had to take a ferry. We were told the trip would take four hours, but it ended up being an all-day affair.

The hassle began when our “fast boat” was late in a very ambiguous way. After a two-hour car ride to the port, no one could tell us when the boat would arrive. We were ushered from one spot on the jetty to another to wait. It felt pretty stupid to complain about our inconvenience when we were surrounded by twinkling water and a coastline of palm trees. But complain we did, all dozen foreigners stranded on the sun-drenched dock.

A pretty hassle
A tropical pain

An hour and a half past our boat’s departure time and we learned that our ferry had yet to leave its dock on another island. We continued to freckle, burn, and rot on the jetty, clamoring together in limited slivers of shade. As other boats came and went, we all kept squinting into the brilliant blue horizon, straining to see a boat that wasn’t on its way.

At this point, Bali seemed to exist only in our minds like some unobtainable oasis, so close and yet so far. After two hours of sweaty frustration, my mom and I bought new tickets for the next boat we saw. The ferry took us to a town three hours from where we were staying in Bali, but we were just happy to get the F out of Lombok.

At dusk we arrived in the rice field-ed beach town of Canggu, Bali and checked in to The Kirana Bali hotel. This place had the most comfortable bed I’d slept on in weeks and it was just a 10 minute walk to Batu Bolong Beach. We were in close proximity to top-notch eateries like Betelnut Cafe, Le Petit Prince, and Deus Cafe.

Smoked salmon delights at Avocado Cafe in Canggu
Smoked salmon delights at Avocado Cafe in Canggu

So things were good back in Bali. My mom and I spent the rest of her time in town at the beach, massage spots, and bangin’ restaurants. It was fun having a travel buddy for two weeks, and it was sad to say goodbye to my mom when her trip was over.

I’m now entering my third month of the whole e-hobo thing, still adjusting to being semi-nomadic. One outcome of the lifestyle change is that I’m outside much more, which is great for my disposition but maybe not so great for my skin. I know one day a dermatologist will grimace at my weathered face and curse this time in the sun. Wrinkles be damned, I’m having a hell of a time!

Canggu, all rice fields and street art. Also, cows.
Canggu, all rice fields and street art. Also, cows.

Next up, I’ll spend a few days in Jakarta followed by a week in Bangkok before heading to Tokyo. Getting ready for Japan, I’m anxious as F about how expensive it’s going to be. I have been able to manage supporting myself in Southeast Asia, but Japan is a whole different ball game. The cheapest accommodations aren’t even cheap, and allegedly food is also pricey. The trip may be good for my waistline (still bloated from the parantha-filled India adventure), as I may have to starve to make it through the experience (jk that’s unlikely). 

Goodbye again, Bali.

Wrapping Up India

Two weeks of India exploration in Himachal Pradesh.

Heads up: LONGEST POST EVER.  You try cramming two plus weeks into one concisce blog post. I dare you. If you hang in there, you’ll read about WEED and ANGORA RABBITS and BEING IN THE CAR A LONG TIME. Anyway, TL;DR we went north to Himachal Pradesh and it was beautiful. 

I leave India heavier – both figuratively and literally. The combination of inhaling Indian delicacies and hardcore lounging definitely resulted in some kilo gainage, but my short trip to the country also made me realize that there is so much more of the place to see. I’m left with this nagging urge to go back and find out more about what makes India tick.

For now, all I know is that Himachal Pradesh turned out to be a stunning place of rushing rivers cutting through massive verdant mountains, baby cows walking through misty forests, apple orchards covering dewy hillsides. It’s a place you can go on an incredible hike, hold a baby goat, and eat a perfect pear right from the tree all in one afternoon.

The Ol’ Taj, Shilon & Shimla

We started the Indian adventure with a day trip to Agra where we saw, of course, the Taj Mahal in all of its glory. The place was enchanting, and being a low season for tourism we went in without spending any time in line. After a tour of the grounds (filled with cheesy photo ops), we went to the Oberoi for a luxurious lunch before heading back to Delhi.

After another day in the Capital, we set off for Himachal Pradesh and spent an ungodly number of hours in a van with our driver Kashiram. Being on the road in India feels like being in a video game. Thanks to my history of getting carsick, I stayed in the front seat most of the trip and had a premium view of the roadway madness.

In India, lane lines seem to be suggestions; people weave in and out of them wildly to constantly pass lagging cars. Red lights are jokes. Honking is incessant. One minute you’ll find yourself on a spacious highway in farmland, then in a bustling town, then on a single lane dirt road, then back on a  paved highway.

I passed the time anxiously, cringing every time Kashiram dodged cows that wandered into the traffic.

After a number of hours of flat landscape, we made it to the hills and started ascending toward the Himalayas. The roads became bumpier and less predictable, but the scenery became more mesmerizing. Mountain towns nestled in greenery appeared out of the fog. Silver monkeys gave zero f***s running across the roads.

Hours and hours and hours later, we finally got to Shilon, a minuscule little settlement outside of Shimla, where we stayed in a great Airbnb place for a few days. The house was on an largely undeveloped mountainside and the views were unbelievable. Surprise bonus: the place came with a cook and we were fed delicious homemade Indian feasts morning, noon and night.

Being monsoon season, it rained a lot. On one dry afternoon, our caretaker took us on a walk through the verdant area around our home. We stopped by an elementary school and were allowed (why, idk) to hang out with the kids for a while.

From Shilon, we took a short drive to Shimla and stayed at the most incredible bed and breakfast, Sunnymead. To say the chalet-like retreat was dreamy would be a criminal understatement. From the rooms to the gardens to the hospitality, everything was perfect.

Madhavi Bhatia is the woman behind Sunnymead, and arguably the most wonderful caretaker on the planet. When we arrived, she baked us a chocolate cake. Even though it wasn’t part of the deal, she whipped us up a “simple dinner” that turned out to be three courses of heaven. It was actually painful to check out of her place, especially after the glorious breakfast that left us in a food coma.

Sunnymead was just a short walk to Shimla’s Mall Road, a historic part of town that blends hundred year old cafes and shops with commercial newcomers like Sony and Baskin Robbins. While exploring town, we even ran into a Dominos pizza guy walking up endless stairs to make a hillside delivery.

Gushaini & Naggar

With broken hearts yearning for more nights at Sunnymead, we headed six hours north to Gushaini. We stayed just one night at the Himalayan Trout House. Surprise! We ate trout there.

Surprise number two! There is a ton of marijuana growing in Northern India. It grows – fittingly – like weeds. When we went on a morning hike in Gushaini, we kept doing double takes at the foliage along the road. We asked our guide if our eyes were deceiving us, but no, it really was wild-growing pot.

Before anyone gets too excited – we learned from experts at the Trout House that this stuff isn’t much to write home about (as I literally write home about it). Smoking any of the plants that grow below 6,000 ft. altitude would be like drinking kombucha to get drunk; it’s apparently not potent enough to do much unless you smoke like five joints. Extracting enough resin from the plants to actually make a joint would take forever. Like my homie Samual Taylor Coleridge said, water water everywher; nor any drop to drink. The locals don’t smoke it much and prefer to drink it in bang lassi.

With or without the weed sightings, the hiking in Gushaini was excellent. Our guide took us through hilltop farms and mossy paths until we reached an epic waterfall. I’m also 80% sure I saw a honey badger.

After Gushaini, it was off to the hills of Naggar where we stayed in a beautiful hassle of a place, Sonaugi Homestead. The staff and accommodations were fantastic, but we had to go through hell to get to and from the property. We needed to get out of the car and walk so the van could make it through the muddy unpaved roads. Even if the road had been dry, we still had to walk the last leg down a steep hill to the guesthouse. It was hard to complain about the ordeal when a 70-year-old man from the guesthouse was doing the same exact walk with us.

Once we got there, we were delighted by the cabin-esque setting, extravagant Indian buffets, and puppies running around the property. On the morning we were set to leave, it had been raining for hours – a problem for those dirt roads and our soccer mom van. Predictably, the van got stuck just 5 minutes after we left Sonaugi and we spent two hours depending on the kindness of locals to rip the car from the mud. Fortunately, there were fresh pears to be eaten – albeit eaten in the pouring rain on the side of the road.

Manali

Once we were free from the shackles of the mud, we drove a few more hours to Manali. Our first morning in the Himalayan resort town, we were stoked to see snow capped mountains and bright blue sky instead of rain.

We went to explore Old Manali and learned that it’s a tiny stoner version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Hippies from around the world congregate here to frequent eateries with names like “Moon Dance Cafe.” Men with dreadlocks and girls with hula hoops lazed around the cafes playing guitars and eating edibles. We had fun drinking locally made cider and listening to live music at Lazy Dog and eating leisurely breakfasts at Sunshine Cafe.

We had a bit of an issue with our Airbnb rental, so we decided to splurge on rooms at The Himalayan for our last nights in Himachal Pradesh. The “Medieval style Castle & Cottages” was excellent with views of the valley and the garden-surrounded pool. It was hard to pry ourselves out of the comfortable antique four-poster bed in the morning, but we managed.

In New Manali, we walked around Tibetan monasteries, ate Indian sweets, and perused the various shops for gifts. I had my first taste of celebrity status when groups of dudes would ask to take their photos with me (Because I’m a white lady? Because I was sweaty AF?). It would start with “Miss, one photo, one photo?” and I said yes because why not?

But then one photo turned into twelve, with other dudes swapping in, changing poses, handing me props like an Angora rabbit (really), asking to put their hands on my shoulder, and so on. It got weird, so I started saying no to future photo-op requests.

Back to Delhi and leaving India

It took us more than 16 hours to get back to Delhi on Thursday. We listened to music, This American Life podcasts, and tried not to think about the incredibly long journey. We didn’t make it home until midnight, but my friend’s grand-aunt was awake and ready with some crustless sandwiches for us weary travelers.

Just before leaving Delhi, Abhi took me back to bowels of Chandni Chowk so I could work on a story for Munchies. It was painfully hot, but we got through the afternoon and even stopped at Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib.

After a shower at home, I ordered an Uber and got the hell out of Delhi. The main takeaway from this trip is that three weeks is not nearly enough time to wrap your head around this country, although it is enough time to become an expert on parathas if you put your mind to it.

Landing in Bali almost felt like a joke. It’s too easy; there are no obstacles to overcome, nothing to fear. The only downsides here are the mosquitos and the tourists (says one such tourist).

Bali is this idyllic paradise that exists beyond reality. Everyone greets each other on the street. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear someone laughing. There are always flowers in bloom. I swear that even the air smells sweet on this island. When I saw the ocean again, my heart actually fluttered. Not a bad place to spend the next three weeks.

Avoiding Delhi Belly – Hello India!

For starters: INDIA IS INSANE!!!  

I’ve experienced a wildly swinging pendulum of emotions these past four days. India has been so much more intense than I predicted.

All of the pre-trip reading I did made me pretty anxious about spending time in New Delhi alone before my friends joined me a few days later. Nothing sold the country as a dream destination for women, especially women traveling solo. I arrived to New Delhi on Wednesday night on high alert and got a taxi to my hostel. It was pouring rain when the cab driver started to slow down in one of the sketchiest neighborhoods I’ve ever been in.

I thought to myself, “This has to be a mistake.

Stops Hostel, said TripAdvisor reviews, was “great,” an “Oasis in Delhi” with “excellent staff” and I found it to be none of those things. The hostel was located in a bleak part of Darya Ganj, and even in the dark of night, I could tell that this was not a neighborhood I should be in alone.

In the morning, I was able to confirm that yes, yes this wasn’t a choice pick of locations for a solo lady. Darya Ganj was a clusterf*** of haphazard construction where I saw the sadness of abject poverty in full light. I also saw a fully nude man casually strolling in the street. I didn’t arrive in Delhi expecting to find San Francisco, but I had booked this particular hostel expecting to be in a safe location.

Although the hostel itself seemed safe with security guards, I wasn’t loving the place. The front desk staff turned out to be cold and inhospitable. I had booked an all-girls dorm, yet on my second night my roommate was a 30+ year old man lounging around the room in nothing but a bath towel for way too long. I couldn’t handle the dodgy area, the front desk staff’s demeanor, or the unreliable WiFi, so I ended up booking a private room at Moustache Hostel in the GK-1 neighborhood.

I spent the next few nights in a little 2nd floor studio apartment reached by a quaint spiral staircase. The place was perfect, and free of semi or fully nude men.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
Moustache Hostel = #Upgrade

So things were off to an interesting start from the get go with the accommodation issues. Day one I spent shopping for India-appropriate garb, adjusting to the culture, and meeting with locals who could help me with some Delhi-focused stories for Munchies.

For one such story, I needed to find a place in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar called Jain Coffee House. On day two, I set out to try Jain’s mango and paneer sandwiches. One metro trip, three failed rickshaw rides, and two and a half hours walking in the rain later, I finally found Jain hiding in an alley.

"Welcome to Jain Coffee House!" this sign probably says. Good thing I can read Hindi!
“Welcome to Jain Coffee House!” this sign probably says. Good thing I can read Hindi!

I approached the counter and asked about the sandwiches, to which the staff simply replied “no.” I was confused. No sandwiches now? No sandwiches ever? The language barrier made it impossible to find out what the actual f happened to the sandwiches. I was obviously killing it my first 24 hours in Delhi.

I spent the next 15 minutes simmering in my failure over a cup of their excellent chai tea.

The rest of days two and three I filled trying to research a story on a popular snack beloved by Delhi residents. The momo is a dumpling that originated from the Tibetan Plateau, so I went to different Tibetan colonies and Nepalese restaurants stuffing my face with the doughy spheres, Delhi Belly be damned! A highlight of the trip so far was being welcomed into the kitchen of Big Apple restaurant in Majnu-Ka-Tilla Tibetan refugee camp to photograph the pre-cooked momos.

DUMPLINGS

When I’m wasn’t thinking about dumplings, I kept finding myself wondering, “where are all the women?” On the streets, there are so few women out and about. There are very few on the metro (compared to the number of men), even in the women-only cars. Most of the vendors I come across are guys. I guess I get it; being in public as a lady isn’t very comfortable when you have men shamelessly stone-cold staring at you. I feel it myself and watch the way other local women get thoroughly stared at from every angle.

There’s also a clear reason for those all-women metro trains. During rush hour I was waiting in line (with other women) to board a co-ed train when a man placed his forearm on me like he was trying to get in between my butt cheeks. When I tried to move away, he moved with me, readjusting to make sure he got his arm right back in there. I pivoted and he pivoted. Finally I just power walked to a wall and put my back to it, forcing him to choose between continuing to harass me or miss the train. He left me alone.

Despite the unfortunate issues related to the country’s patriarchal culture, not everyone is the aggressive metro offender or the leering pedestrian.  I have met really great Indian men (and women) who have been more than welcoming and helpful. In a city of 9.8 million people, you are bound to find bad apples in with the good.

Ending on a good note, I’ve had the pleasure of eating some damn good Indian delights even though I’m worried about getting Delhi Belly. I have this very unscientific theory that I’m less likely to get sick from Indian sweets, so I’ve had my fair share of gulab jamun, laddu, and the sweet mother of all street desserts, jalebi. Thus far, my theory seems to be working out although I am on a sure path to diabetes, obesity, and toothache ( #WorthIt ).

Jalebi, you magical Indian version of funnel cake, you dog!
Piping hot jalebi, you magical Indian version of funnel cake. You dog!

Tomorrow is a new day, and we’re are headed to Agra to see the ol’ Taj Mahal before trekking north to Shimla, Kasol, and Manali. Outside of Delhi, I’m sure India will continue to surprise, shock, and delight, and I can’t wait to find out.

A Bali Fortnight – Groundhog Day, but in a good way

Getting sidelined with a cold pulled me out of my dreamy Bali tunnel vision. For the past two plus weeks, I’ve done almost the same thing every day and it’s been a great fortnight – possibly the best I’ve ever had. It doesn’t feel like real life at this point. My Groundhog Day existence looks like this (but subsitute a frustrated Bill Murray for a happy Bill Murray):

  • Early Morning – Wake up with the sunrise, go jogging (or change my mind and sleep in), eat breakfast at my hostel, slather my body with multiple coats of 110 SPF sunscreen
  • Morning – Walk down to the beach, go surfing (see also: attempt to surf), hang out, drink coffee, go surfing again (continue wiping out), drink a fresh coconut
  • Late Afternoon – Head home, shower, maybe nap, go to a cafe/restaurant to eat and write
  • Evening – Go out for drinks or go to bed early – like 9 pm early – maybe eat yogurt and granola on my bed

Then I got sick, and suddenly I couldn’t do the things I’ve been doing for like 16 days straight. Stopping the routine made me realize that holy f, almost three weeks has passed and I have done WAY LESS than I planned on doing. I feel like I just got here. How did time fly by that fast? What happened!? I wanted to file way more stories, see way more places, try way more restaurants.

Even though my days aren’t filled with the sort of variety I predicted, one perk is that they have been filled with damn good meals. Indonesian food is a dream; it’s so good that I haven’t missed Thai food yet. One of the dishes I’ve eaten is so incredible, I wrote about it for Vice.

Ok, so more reflecting on life after leaving Bangkok.

It has been interesting adjusting to backpack life. I thought that by packing 95% black clothing, it would be easier to wear the same thing all the time. Instead, I feel more like a gothic outfit repeater in a sea of Bali’s well-dressed beach goddesses.

All I want to do is surf or sit on the beach (go figure), so it’s harder than predicted to be proactive with my freelance work. By the time I do get to a cafe to write I’m exhausted from an active day in the sun.

Once I got sick, I had the chance to take a step back and reexamine my productivity game plan (aaaand see that something needs to change). As I recover from the cold, I’m trying out new routines to coax myself into working more while still soaking up ample beach time. (Insert quote here about life lessons or progress or something, idk)

So what next? I have about two weeks left in Bali until I fly to India where I’ll spend nearly three weeks stuffing my face with naan while simultaneously trying to avoid Delhi belly. Once I’m healthy, I imagine I’ll fall back into the surf-eat-surf-repeat routine until I wake up one morning and have to catch my flight. I booked a ticket back to Bali after India so I can come back and do more of the same, this time with my mom who will be visiting me again.

Freelance life: so far, so good.