Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back in Hawaii

So, I'm back... in Hawaii... no plans to leave (also no money) I'm cleaning the house and looking for work. (also improving my tan and playing with my puppy).
Publish Post

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Because apparently the only way I can travel is in a whirlwind

I went to America last month for two weeks. It was one of the greatest three week vacations ever.
First, I visited Seattle. The guy next to me flirted during nearly the whole flight even with my constant coughing and Japanese-style mask. Sarah and her boyfriend Evan picked me up at the airport, then we had some Thai food for lunch (Pad Thai!), and saw Wolverine (Hugh Jackman!!!) before heading back to her apartment. They have the most amazing couches ever. I woke up early the next morning and went to church with Reid. Jen picked me up from church and we drove down to Tacoma. It's weird because exactly one year previously, she was visiting me in Japan. Anyway, I saw the school from 10 Things I Hate About You, and we walked down to the waterfront for pizza and beer (which were both twice the size and half as expensive as in Japan). Then we saw Sunshine Cleaners at a locally-owned theater, had another drink at the Ram, watched Slumdog Millionaire, and went to bed.
The next morning, Jen dropped me off at the AmTrak station, and I took a train south to Portland, then a bus to Salem. It's amazing that one hour in a bus used to feel like a long time. Of course, it was raining when I hit Salem, so I walked to the house in the rain. I spent essentially the rest of Monday in the house. It was amazing to spend time with everyone. I met the new members and felt really old, and had a chance to walk around to see the new furniture and decorations. Adam remembered me as "cherry muffin girl" because those were my favorite. Luckily, it was the last night of formal dinner, so I got to eat one of his amazing meals. Then, Erica, Kelsey, and I hung out in the lounge during formal chapter. Of course, we hit the Ram after the meeting (just like before), except now everyone's old enough to get a drink.
I spent most of the next day wandering around campus and visiting with professors and staff people, and had lunch with Cliff. That night, Alyssa and Kelsey T. hosted a party at their place. We had Cool Ranch Doritos and Black Cherry Vodka (not together, of course). The night ended amazingly with group spooning, and finally, grilled cheese and nachos at the house (yes, I felt sick the next morning from too much cheese).
On Wednesday, I visited one more professor and got some recommendations for books to read (Octavia Butler, highly recommended) before Kelsey and I drove up to Portland. She indulged me in some noodles (more Pad Thai!) and coffee at Powells before parting ways. Jeff met me at the book store and we had a drink with Chris and Liz before going back to his house. We had Thai food for dinner (Pad Thai for the third time and still wanted more), then drove over to Shane and Jessi's place (I thought she was in Hawaii, oops). We had delicious crepes, then went back to Jeff's. Josh shared some cider and we played darts before bed. Everyone left for work the next morning before me, and I locked the door behind me before realizing that I had forgotten my cell phone. Oops. Anyway, caught the bus then the MET to the airport and flew to Chicago.
Dan and Sabrina picked me up at the Chicago Airport. We had some issues getting out of the parking lot, but made it safely back to Dan's apartment. We ordered pizza and I met Dan's brother/roommate. Dan had to work the next day, so Sabrina showed me around the city. We visited the bean (a huge mirrored sculpture that looks like a bean), saw the Sears Tower and the Trump Tower, and walked on the beach (sand and waves, but a freshwater lake, not the ocean). We did some shopping and enjoyed a Reese's cupcake at the Hershey store before meeting Dan at work. Then Dan and I went to a birthday party at his friend's house on Shakespeare Street (I totally want to live there!). The next day, Dan and I visited his mom's apartment, and I played with his kitty. We had yummy gyros for lunch, and drove back to the city with a new bookshelf for Dan. That night, we went to a hipster party for his brother's birthday, which may have been the strangest party I've ever been to. A Chinese movie was projected onto a wall while the DJ (who was wearing a khaki Member's Only jacket) played 80s music. Fashion was interesting, hairstyles were interesting, and there was a dog. We ended the night/morning with breakfast at a 24-hour diner before napping for a few hours before my 9am flight.
Dan graciously escorted me to the airport the next morning, and I flew to New York via D.C. (land of delicious Five Brothers burgers). I arrived at 7, and we had Shabu Shabu at the same place we ate last time I visited. I met my sister's dog, Pickles, and mom and I drove back to our swanky cheap hotel in Manhattan. The next day, we drove out to pick up Evelyn (my sister), Collin (my sister's boyfriend) and Erica (my cousin). For some strange reason, I can't remember what we did on Monday, but we had steak for dinner and I spent that night at Erica's place in Brooklyn. On our way back to her apartment, we accidentally entered the Hudson Tunnel and ended up in New Jersey. Oops. We made it back, I did some laundry, and finally slept. The next morning, Erica and I went to Target before picking up mom, Evelyn, and Collin. We did a little shopping before seeing Shrek the Musical with Sutton Foster, John Tartaglia, and Chris Sieber. It was a lot of fun, and I had a really good time (of course, I got the soundtrack). Erica spent the night with us in the hotel, but Evelyn and Collin went back to their apartment. The next morning, we headed out to Yankee Stadium for Eva's graduation. 15,000 other people graduated, and Hillary Clinton gave a speech. We left before the chaos and went back to Manhattan. Everyone went to see a movie, but I spent two hours in Strand bookstore instead. For dinner, we went to Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. Everything on the menu was spicy, but the wine was good. I met up with Laura after dinner and we went out while Mom spent the night at Evelyn's (they live near the airport and she had an early flight the next day). I checked out of the hotel the next morning, wandered around the city on my own, and met Steve at Penn Station. We went to a bar and met Melissa, then headed back to New Jersey. The next morning, I visited one of Steve's schools, then he dropped me off at the airport. I flew back to D.C., then had a 14 hour flight straight back to Narita. We had to wait an extra 30 minutes after landing so health officials could check us all for a fever before we were cleared to leave the plane. I promptly called my boss and he gave me a week off work (so I wouldn't infect the children with a disease that I didn't have). So, that's the story of how I received three weeks of vacation for a two week trip to America. The End.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chennai and Paharganj

After our last work day at KI, Emma and I returned to the hotel, showered, packed up, and boarded a train for Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It felt like a completely different country from Andra Pradesh due to the language difference. While the people in Andra Pradesh spoke primarily Telugu, people in Chennai speak Tamil.

We checked into our hotel, I broke the water faucet, and we fell asleep since we had to get up at 3:30 the next morning to catch our 6am flight. We caught our flight up to Delhi, caught a taxi to Paharganj, and checked into our last hotel of the trip (9 total!). We shopped and rested for the rest of the day before our 11pm flight back to Japan. (A word of advice, very few of the sites in Delhi are open on Monday)

The flights back to Beijing then Tokyo were uneventful, but I managed to catch my last train home. Emma took off half of the next day, but I'm out of leave, so I slept for 5 hours, showered, then went to work the next morning.

Overall, it was an absolutely incredible experience, and I really hope to go back (maybe December).


After four days in GP Village, we trekked over to Kothasatram-Indiranagar Village near Kavali City. We left in the morning after breakfast and arrived in the evening. On the way, we took a boat to an island for lunch. We had a variety of curries (and I ate fried rice). Jon also had some half-melted ice cream for dessert.

After lunch and another hour or so in the car, we stopped to visit Habitat for Humanity Andhra Pradesh (aka Ravi's old office). We chatted with his old boss and co-workers for a few hours while we figured out where to stay in Chennai (near the airport). Habitat requires recipients to pay them back for the houses, and as a result, leaves out the poorest people in the area. Average pay back is less than a few dollars a week, but the people we worked with barely had enough money to feed themselves and their families. As a result, Ravi left Habitat to help out those who couldn't afford a Habitat house.

About an hour outside Kavali, we stopped so the driver could get some food and we could have a stretch and bathroom break. However, the bathroom consisted of a tiled room with a drain and a faucet. We all waited until we got to the hotel.

The next morning, we drove out to KI Village (about 30 minutes from Kavali). I was shocked at the sparseness of the village. While GP has a church, a school, and a community hall, KI has the houses. That's it. We gathered under a tree. We left our stuff in Adustruma's house (I'm probably spelling her name incorrectly), and worked on painting doors and windows. They needed to be painted so they would last longer and to increase visibility of crawly things that should stay outside. We paired off and painted about two houses per pair per day.

On our second morning, we helped out with the feeding center. Basically we served one egg and one cup of milk to each child, and one cup of tea to each adult. We also got them some watermelon, thanks to Jon.

Sadly, after our second day, Sauna and Jon went back to Japan. Emma and I worked together on the third day, and I had a brand new partner on our last day. She wasn't the neatest painter, but she was much faster than me. We worked together to paint the higher places since neither of us could reach them on our own. Doors are about a foot higher than the ground outside due to flooding problems during monsoon season, so that made painting the outer frame difficult.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gummallapadu, part 1

The next morning, Emma and I took our time getting up (which meant sleeping in to nine), ate breakfast, and ventured over to the airport. We met Sauna (another JET volunteer) at Delhi Domestic Airport, then flew down to Hyderabad. Of what little we saw, Delhi Domestic is crowded and kinda depressing. Hyderabad Airport is brand-new, spacious, and generally far superior. Of course, the big problem is that it's located far from the city center (about 50 minutes by taxi).

The man who picked us up at the airport is amazing. His name is David, but we called him a range of names including Dr. David, Dr. S, and others (we thought he was a Dr., but found out later that's not quite right. I'm still not sure...) He's working with Ravi (who I'll get to later) to spread word about the issues facing the Dalit population in Andhra Pradesh. He knows a lot about Indian politics and how to work the system. During the trip, he shared a lot about his experiences and expressed his frustration at the rampant corruption. For example, apparently, politicians bought a lot of land around the location of the new airport before the location was announced. Then, after the public was notified, they sold the land for over 100 times what they had purchased it for. This sort of thing is common in Indian politics.

We arrived at our hotel (hotel #5 for those keeping count), wandered around Hyderabad in search of the post office and snacks for the train, had dinner, and went to bed. This was the only night that we shared a room between three people. Jon (the final member of our group) arrived in Hyderabad at some point in the night, so we met him the next morning. Then we boarded the train for our 7-hour train ride. Luckily, it went by fairly quickly. I taught Jon and Dr. S how to make origami cranes and we gave them away to the children behind us.

I expected the trains in India to be fairly crowded, loud, and dirty, but luckily it wasn't so bad. Ravi booked us seats in the air conditioned car since we were traveling in the morning, and it was definitely worth the extra money. However the ac was so strong that Emma was cold. The economy class cars looked to be more along the lines of what I imagined riding a train in India to be, but safer. There were guys hopping on and off the train as it was moving, and others were sitting with their legs dangling off the sides. Apparently, it's now illegal to ride on the roof of a train.

We arrived in Eluru in the afternoon, checked into hotel #6, dropped the luggage, and went out to the village for the first time. Since we were intercepting the previous group as they were leaving, they combined our opening ceremony with their closing ceremony. The ladies of the previous group looked lovely in their saris, the boys looked handsome, and everyone had children all over them. We also finally met Ravi (but I'll talk more about him later). The ceremony was great, a dancer started by performing for us, then three of the boys danced for us as well. Then the usual speeches (in English and Telugu), from Ravi and the village leaders thanking the first group and welcoming us, from Anna, the leader of the first group, and from Emma. Then we had a big dance party before Ravi herded us away from the kids and into the cars so the other group could make their train. I love my group, but the group before us seemed fantastic. They were energetic, friendly, and pretty crazy. I half wish the groups were combined, but the other half of me knows that I would not have had the same intimate experience if the group was that big. However, try to imagine this: ten people in a standard SUV singing Disney songs (and listening to someone make up rhymes about the passengers) for an hour in the middle of the Indian countryside under a clear, starry sky. It was amazing.

The next morning, we slathered ourselves with sunscreen and insect repellant and were ready for our first work day. Unfortunately, Emma had been feeling ill since Jaipur, so Ravi decided it would be better for her to stay and rest for the first day. So our driver, Sauna, Jon, Ravi, Sagar, and I headed out to the village.

Ravi may be the most compassionate man I've ever met. He's incredibly devoted to his cause no matter what the cost. He used to work for an NPO in Hyderabad, but left the organization because of a conflict in ideals. The NPO was working to help people who had nowhere or insufficient places to live, but required repayment over several years. As a result, the poorest people were shut out of the system. Ravi left behind a stable salary (even a low NPO salary) to help the poorest people. His current project is focused on building homes and he has also implemented a program to improve nutrition in the second village we visited (I'll get to that later). Long-term, his main goal is to improve the livelihood of the people in these villages. Many of them are brought up to think that they are worthless and "untouchable," and Ravi's main work is trying to convince people that they are not. The main purpose of bringing volunteers from Japan to work in the villages is not for the actual work. The villagers are more than capable (and far better than us). We were there to send the message that they matter so much that people from around the world travel all the way to their tiny village for them. Sagar is his right-hand man, like the Kronk to Ravi's Ezma (I'm sure there's a better comparison, but I can't think of one right now. They also reminded me of Bert and Ernie, but in personality, not relationship).

Anyway, we spent the day tossing bricks and passing cement on metal trays. Around 12:30, we stopped for lunch (rice, chapatis, three slices each of tomato, carrot, and cucumber, and two types of curry at every meal). Ravi encouraged us to lie down and take a nap since it was extremely hot in the middle of the day. At first we rested for about 2.5 hours, but as the days went on, we became too popular. The boys were always yelling for Jonathan to play volleyball with them, and the girls liked making me look beautiful.

In all honesty, the days sort of run together, so from here I'll give you highlights from the four days we spent working in Gummalapadu Village.

Tossing Bricks and other things:
At first I was awesome at tossing bricks to the workers. However, after the first day, I kinda sucked. We also experimented with tossing other things. Some, such as water bottles, became useful and common while we were working. Others, such as trays of concrete, didn't work out so well. Jon tried to toss a tray to one of the workers and merely suceeded in showering everyone around him with concrete. I didn't even try tossing concrete after I accidentally dumped a tray of it on someone's feet while only passing it.

The language of the villagers is Telugu. Most people (myself included) have never heard of this language, even though it's spoken by over 70 million people. The reason for this is it's spoken primarily in southern India, and rarely found in other countries. Many of the villagers spoke a few words of English, but conversation was limited to whose house we were working on, children, siblings, and "whatisyourname?" Emma sent us a sheet of useful Telugu phrases and words before we left, so I had a chance to attempt learning a little before we arrived. I learned that "na" means me and "mi" means you. This saved us some confusion when the kids pointed at us and said "mi name?" I had also learned "wandanamuru" which means "thank you." On our first day at the village, I learned one new word. "Aradi pandu" means banana. It's not as easy as it sounds. Telugu is full of retroflexive vowels that sound the same as regular vowels to native English speakers. The next day I learned how to count to 10. Suriya, the guy who taught me, was awesome. We spent hours counting (I taught him Japanese), and otherwise conversing primarily with the words/phrases "good boy," "bad boy," "dance," "sing," and "lover" (he was also quite the romantic... he had a necklace with his "lover's" name around his neck. He was also super excited about marrying her the following year.) After I mastered those numbers, I started learning animals, and other fruits (mamorikaya pandu means mango). Ravi told me that I could become fluent in Telugu in 6 months, but he's also trying to recruit an English teacher.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agra and Delhi

We woke up bright and early and left the palace at 6:30 on Tuesday morning. I promptly fell asleep and woke up only once during the five hour long trip to Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri is a palace that was abandoned due to lack of water. The guy who built it was extremely happy with his creation, but no one else was. As a result, everyone left shortly after he passed away. Luckily, since no one lived there since there was no water, the palace is in extremely good condition. There were a variety of interesting sites including a building with a giant column in the middle and four walkways extending toward it. Allegedly, he used to have conversations and debates with four of his advisors while atop the pillar. Also, in the courtyard of the palace is a Pachisi area where he allegedly played the game with slave girls as pieces.

There was also a striking white mosque which really stood out against the red brick. We had to cover our heads in the mosque, so we borrowed plastic basket like hats. Emma also made friends with a guy who was trying to practice his English. On a side note, I pretended not to speak in English whenever we were approached by annoying potential tour guides, salesmen, etc. It worked extraordinarily well, except poor Emma couldn't get away with it as I could.

After another hour long drive, we arrived in Agra and checked into our hotel (not at all as interesting as the first one. In fact, our first hotel was by far the best). Darshan advised us to catch the Taj at sunrise the next day, so we visited Agra Fort that afternoon. This fort was different from Amber Fort in that it was mostly open space.

The guy who built the Taj Mahal was extremely rich (obviously). However, he didn't have infinite amounts of money and his son was worried that he'd spend all of it before he died. The Taj was built as a memorial to the guy's wife, and he only wanted the absolute best for her. The son felt differently, overthrew his father, and locked him in Agra Fort where he could only gaze at the Taj from afar. Sad, no? Emma and I sat on his throne, which was a huge black table with a crack in it that reminded me an awful lot like the table Aslan was sacrificed on in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

After the fort, we went back to the hotel, had dinner, and fell asleep early.

The next morning we left the hotel at 6am to catch the sunrise at the Taj. It was amazing! It's definitely something everyone should see once in their lives. The detail in the stone work was incredible. Each piece was shaped by hand by a craftsman, and these are not even the most detailed. The smallest, most intricate designs were inside where photography was not permitted.

It was especially amazing to watch it change from gray to orange to white as the sun rose. Note the difference between these two photos. These were taken only 10 minutes apart. I highly recommend the sunrise viewing of the Taj if you have a chance.

After the Taj, we went back to the hotel, grabbed some breakfast (and I fed a monkey!), and then were off again for another long car ride back to Delhi. I slept. We got into Delhi in the afternoon and said bye to Darshan.

We checked into the hotel, relaxed for an hour, then went off to see the Baha'i Lotus Temple. Simply stunning. It was pretty amazing to visit both the Taj and the Lotus Temple in the the same day since they were both spectacular buildings made of white marble, but for entirely different purposes and with entirely different stories. Emma and I were incredibly lucky to catch a 5-minute service. Baha'i is a fascinating religion with a universal message of acceptance, and the steady stream of visitors from all over seemed to be an interesting literalization of their belief. The temple was surrounded by 9 reflecting pools which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also keep temperatures down.

On our way back to the hotel, we also drove past a Sikh temple. Both our drivers were Sikh, so we learned a little about the religion during our time in India (Emma learned more than me since I slept through most of the car rides). What I remember most was how Darshan was always insistent that Sikhism was the best because women were treated equally, they were hard workers without being mindless followers, and were incredibly dedicated to India.
Finally we got back to the hotel and had dinner. Among the dishes we ordered were a harakebab and the rice of death. Seriously, the spiciest food of the entire trip (although I think that was mostly mental since I expect rice to be safe). It was presented nicely in a clay pot which only added to the rice of death name (sneaky rice!).

Next: Gummallapadu Village!

Monday, April 13, 2009


My friend Emma and I left Narita airport in the afternoon on Saturday and arrived in India at 1am (after a short stop in Beijing). Emma hired a company to take care of us for the first few days of our trip, and it definitely paid off. We were greeted at the airport and driven to the lobby of a nice hotel where we brushed our teeth (with bottled water) and napped on the couches. Our driver for the next few days, Darshan, met us a few hours later and we drove down to Jaipur. I'd like to say that the drive was lovely and eye-opening, but honestly, I slept through most of it. In fact, I slept through most of the long drives with one exception (which I'll get to later).

The name of our first hotel was somethingsomething Palace, but my expectations were still pretty low (White Castle isn't really a castle and I've never met Wendy at Wendy's... yes, I'm writing this right before lunch). However, I was surprised to find that it was a pretty cool place. There were stone elephants hanging out by the pool, the common areas had a fish pond and parts of the walls were delicately designed with thousands of tiny mirrors. Plus there was a tiger in our room

After checking in, Darshan drove us around some of the less famous sites of Jaipur including the Palace of the Winds, a garden and a smaller palace. We also watched some block printing and carpet making. We got back to the hotel, had dinner, and I fell asleep around 8pm. Poor Emma is a night person, and if you're reading this, you probably know I prefer the morning. True to form, I woke up bright and early at 6am the next day. We set out to Amber Fort and Palace a couple hours later. We rented an elephant for about $10 and rode up to the fort. Unfortunately, I don't have a good picture of us on the elephant, but here's a picture of the animal's tail taken when I was on it.

The fort and the palace were absolutely stunning. Many of the buildings were in the process of being restored, but it was fascinating to watch the workers. We saw a group of women carrying clay to repair walls and a man with a tiny tool who was cleaning the cracks between mirrors. As with most of the sites, it's hard to explain how amazing it was, but here's one of my favorite pictures (for more photos, as always, see facebook).

In the afternoon we visited Jantar Mantar. There are actually 4 or 5 Jantar Mantars in the northern area, but the one in Jaipur is the best preserved. The guy who built Jantar Mantar was obsessed with astronomy, but he found that the instruments used at the time were too small to be accurate. So he built his own. He had tools to track various constellations including this one of Taurus (my sign!). This is one of the smaller sculptures, and it was still twice as tall as me.

Next we went to the City Palace. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited in the most interesting parts of the palace. The weapons room showcased hundreds of different weapons and weapon-type type memorabilia, many of which we couldn't figure out. The main receiving room was lavishly decorated with portraits of past maharajas and gorgeous paintings, but the centerpiece was the seating area. This area looked exactly like how I imagine a royal receiving chamber with two huge chairs at the front and two rows of chairs facing inward lined up down the room. Alas, no photos. Interestingly, there was a mini-market in one of the outer buildings.

Finally, we went back to the hotel. I didn't bring my swimsuit, but went swimming anyway. It was definitely a good way to end a sweaty day. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take a photo of the pool. Oops. Anyway, we had curry for dinner on the roof of the hotel and saw a wedding party parade through the streets. It was a great way to spend our last night in Jaipur.

Coming up: Agra and Delhi!