a view into the sordid life i lead

Friday, March 10, 2006

quick summary of things that have transpired

Feb 16, 2006 - this post will probably be removed once i get more detail up. it's basically an email i sent to some friends, to summarize, but should be a good placeholder.

ok, i lied about the blog. actually today is the first high speed inet access i've gotten since 2 days in early jan. sad but time seems to be much more important that i initially anticipated (too much to do each day, and slow inet is not an option).

anyway, quick rundown on my life thus far:
went to burma to work with some buddhist monks in dec. got kicked out of the buddhist monk cult for not prostrating myself to their leader (i think). they lasted only 8 hrs, then asked me to please leave - i'm chalking that up to i-still-got-mojo! decided to travel the country more or less on my own, and had a dandy time of it. the military dictatorship is not as oppressive as the media makes it out to be. they're not nice guys, but there's a reasonably healthy economic system in place for a 3rd world country. one fucked up thing tho is that they have left hand drive cars and drive on the right hand side of the road (because an astrologer told one of the generals that the country should go more to the right). surprisingly people don't have accidents on a daily basis! ended up teaching american slang at an english school for 3 days (eg. "she's so bootilicious", "i want the whole damn enchilada", "we dont need no stinking badge" - i can proudly say that i've contributed to corrupting a whole new generation of burmese english speakers). went to watch "the transporter 2" with the students. they didnt understand a word but thought that all black people are criminals in the US. had to set that straight - hollywood's impact on detrimental ethnic stereotyping is amazingly far reaching and this was very sad for me.

headed to the indian desert state of rajastan in late dec/early jan with jonii and her daughter tane and one other friend. went out on a camel expedition for 2 days and ate gritty rice and curry - good roughage i guess? got to shit out on a sand-dune which was a rather pleasant experiece aside from being butt freezing cold. btw, camels stink. and their shit stinks far worse than human, and dont u let anyone tell u otherwise! they also like to drink beer, and kept eyeing our bottles when we were drinking one evening.

was in the himalayan foothill town of rishikesh contemplating life, the universe and other odds and ends in early jan. basically turned out to be a shopping spree for tane.

headed to the indian northeast frontier provinces in late jan/early feb until now. nagaland is where all manner of moving life is still consumed voraciously. let nobody tell u that only the chinese eat dogs. indians do too! and cats, monkeys and other goodies to boot. i only got to see the canine butcher, and the hamster seller (yes really) first hand... hung out with some tribal villagers who have a remarkably striking similarity in customs, physiology, clothing and habits to native americans (maybe a long forgotten link between these peoples?), and talked about rain water collection technology and wind power. unfortunately it was all talk! maybe i'll go back sometime and start things up.

now i'm in assam (also in northeast india) working with an ngo called the ant (, working on a bunch of tech issues. quite a dedicated group that's teaching me that the real challenges are far more social than technical.

all in all i'm learning a lot, which is exactly what i wanted, and having a great time.

i'll be back stateside on mar 22nd, so i'll give u a real rundown then. i'm in a city today, which gives me access to fast (256k) inet. otherwise i'm relegated to 19.2k or 32-36k dial up, with all kinds of dns issues!

hope things are going well with u, and that it's not too cold.

enjoy s.

kolkata to delhi - en route to rajastan

Jan 12, 2006

there are 2 types of people in the world - those that live to eat and those that eat to live. me and my posse fall smack dab in the middle of the former. however, it's a tough responsibility to uphold - finding those outlets that are up to par for our taste buds.

delhi, december 26 2005, started off with an hour delayed flight, but quite decent food on the air sahara flight. it was a standard veg plate - rice, curry, pickle, sort of like the BA flights' fare. due to the delay timing was pretty much perfect for catching tane's arrival. we headed to the hotel in pahar ganj, probably the best place i've ever stayed at in delhi which is not saying much given the normal 300-700rs. fare. this place had a bathtub! and it was clean!

tane, bless her soul eternally, had brought with her 3 bottles of pinot noir. and they were damn good - the $15+ variety! the 3 of us managed to polish that off right quick even though i was pushing to save the booze for new years' eve. pressure from the female wing, though, quelled my push, and instead i figured its better to consume damn fine wine with my favourite people in the world. only one missing was the bro, which we lamented copiously. further blessings on tane for bringing a couple of packs of american spirits black, which were just what i needed to get the pollution under wraps. i figured it's pointless to be breathing in all the diesel fumes if i'm not smoking something worthwhile on top of it all. and the american spirits were sufficiently worthwhile.

sharad had told me that the place to head to in delhi for breakfast was paratha wala in chandni chowk. he claimed it was the best paratha around, and in all flavors. he was right on the flavor front - everything from the standard aloo paratha to the exotic cashew and raisin, plus a variety of subji's. however, the paratha's were definitely not the best we've had. it barely passed muster in our books!

lunch was at saravana bhavan in connaught place. the idiots that conjured up their scheme for getting people on the list for a table should be strung up by their testicles. there was sufficient confusion that at least 2 people waiting in line were ready to deck the guy taking down names for a table. i would have been the 3rd, but decided it wasnt worth it. now this was at 2.30pm, so quite enough time to have avoided the lunchtime crowd. jonii, however, managed to get in with elbows swinging and got our names on the list. thank God, coz this is the best saravana bhavan in the world. and that's saying a lot. the dahi vada and the mini idlis are to die for. i'd say the intifadah idiots have it all wrong. so what if u get a hundred virgins when u get to heaven. my price for strapping myself up with a few strands of c4 would be to have the connaught place saravana bhavan's chef dedicated to me.

delhi was more polluted than i remember. it may have been due to the unusually dense fog, and the unusually cold weather. i was dragged down by the fumes, and was quite in a funk. fortunately we were headed out to udaipur to go chill and show tane some of stately india. dinner was at comesum nizamuddin station. this chain definitely needs to figure out some of their kinks. the idea of a fast food, clean, and relatively efficient place right in the railway station is quite brilliant. it's been necessary for at least a few decades. their fare is remarkable good, and the prices are reasonable, though a bit on the higher end. the procedure of ordering though is atrocious. you've got to order and pay up front at a counter where the guy has no idea what is available and what's out of stock. so there's always a bit of phase distortion between what you want and what you can have. but there are a laot of options. the nizamuddin comesum has a guy making fresh badam milk. and it's freaking awesome. he's obviously a bit of an artist since he doesnt just hop to when u place your order. he takes his time, putting final touches on your clay pot of badam milk, almost toying with u coz you're constantly thinking "man, not enough nuts" or "not enough malai", but he saves that for last coz u want that floating at the very top to savor!

comesom nizamuddin station was my very first encounter with the brand, and i have to say that thus far it's a pretty damn good thing that they exist in the railway system. and the badam milk was a great way to leave delhi with a good taste with your mouth.

northeast frontier territories next up

Jan 19, 2006
one thing that's a contstant while traveling in india is change. adaptability to the irritants and issues of the moment is a must. this is particularly true of travel in some of the less accessible areas of the country. earlier, my experience with burma, and the rather dramatic change in plans due to bootage from the gayuna cult brought made me aware of the need to be adaptable. now in nabadwip things are heading in the same direction it seems.

i should step back for a second and provide a bit of background. the reason for my travel to the northeast of india and to burma previously had a couple of different aspects to it. my story though changes on a regular basis so my story today may not be the one that you heard before or the one that you are likely to hear in a few days from now or when i next see you. i quit my job for want of a real challange and due to frustration with the management of the company's inability to recognize certain talents that people had. namely moi. the fact that i saw nothing more challenging or satisfying than the current position i held over the next 5 years (made doubly obvious by the fact that i was doing the same job i had 5 years previously). so i had to leave. the reason i gave for leaving was that i had an opportunity to go work with some non-profit agencies and ngos. this is only partially untrue. my intention was to go on the service tour with the cealo organization and get my hands dirty worknig with some burmese villagers, assisting with whatever they needed. that went wrong quick. i also put out feelers to aid-india, which is hooked up with several ngos around india. on a more ethereal front, the reason for specifically picking the burma zone was due to jonii's prognostications. her assessment of my astro-cartography was that a very prominently helpful line crossed through vancouver, seattle, phoenix, guadalahara, san juan, capetown, assam and northern korea. obviously the sine wave crosses a few other places, but not many. the vast majority of the line is in the ocean. maybe the other option is for me to be on a boat?! of the lot, the assam area, which includes the burmese sector, sounded most appealing for a number of reasons. it's remote, sounds slightly romantic, and not too many people think of it as an ideal place for the next phase of their life. in the vein of going against the grain, as i've tried to do all my life and ultimately get forced back towards the grain, i opted for the burma direction.

given events that have transpired to date, burma does not appear to be particularly welcoming towards me (re. ghosts, chucking from cults, and generally strange associations). but i'm the stubborn sort and need to have the nails really pounded into my skull to actually get a clue. so i'm thinking the ephemeral astro-cartographic track is probably has a right side and wrong side. i need to, obviously, be on the right side of the tracks, which would be the western side which puts me smack dab in assam, sikkim, arunachal pradesh, etc. so that's the plan now.

on january 18th i was introduced to the contact person that would give me access to the mystical north-east of india. this 70-ish gentleman, generally referred to as storyman, used to work in the indian border services in nagaland. storyman is retired and used to rent a room in the house behind sajal's. shortly after he moved in (storyman, that is) his window was pelted with stones by some passers by and the landlord pointed fingers at sajal. the landlord allegedly tried to convince storyman to lodge an official (i.e., police) case against sajal. storyman refused to believe that sajal was involved in the stoning, and somehow decided to approach sajal with the story. and that was the beginning of a friendship of sorts. the fact that sajal is a tantric and a jyotishi of sorts may have also contributed to storyman's wanting to make contact, since sajal's account randomly inserts the fact that storyman wanted to have his chart read. sajal says that when he read the chart he saw that this person should have 2 marriages. so he asked storyman if he was married. storyman said that he was. so sajal said that if he was married he must have 2 wives, or at least a concubine or a mistress. storyman said that that was not the case. sajal persisted that if the date was correct and the chart was correct, then there must be a second family someplace. the story finally came out that storyman had been married to a naga woman while living in nagaland. upon arriving in west bengal he married a local girl 30 years younger. he had basically abandoned his naga family, but was maintaining them remotely (he has 4 children in nagaland). his naga family is pretty well taken care of and the kids are working. sajal's theory is that storyman married the naga girl to protect himself from any potential insurgent activity.

storyman is a very gentle looking person. he's got a bit of a hunch, but it's apparent that he's a very disciplined or honorable person - he carries himself with great stature. he has incredibly tired eyes, which are immediately apparent. i initially thought it was due to alcohol, but i now think it's just age. storyman's english is quite good, but precise and slightly labored, as though he wants to pick the words carefully.

i was introduced to storyman since i had expressed interest in going to nagaland and the north-east. storyman said that he would contact his friend in kohima, who was an auto parts dealer, and send me word the next day. my plan was to leave on the 20th of january, since my indrail pass expires on the 25th.

jonii and i were wandering about on the 19th shortly after lunch, back to sajals, and ran into storyman. storyman asked whether i had gotten my train reservations. i said i was planning on doing that later in the afternoon. storyman quietly, and completely in passing, mentioned that he had spoken to his friend in kohima and had been informed that it would be better not to go before the 26th, which is india's republic day, and instead go after the 27th because "there may be some blasts". the conversation carried the same sense of caution you might get from someone informing you that it might get a bit cloudy over the next few days. i decided that it's probably best to heed the advice and stick around for the prescribed duration - until the 27th - so that we were not in the path of any blasts.

why storyman might know anything about blasts needs to be explained. storyman said that his motorparts friend (let's call him motorman) in kohima used to run a guest house a few years back, prior to the nagaland peace accords. he had a couple of lodgers that stayed with him for about a year. over the course of the year motorman started realizing that these lodgers were actually insurgent leaders. whether or not motorman is still in contact with these insurgents is unclear. motorman also used to work for all india radio as a driver many years ago. there's an enormous amount of conjecture surrounding sajal and his buddies. the godfather vibe that sajal exudes may or may not be real. but on the strangeness front we may as well surmise that somewhere there's an insurgent connection, which is giving us information that we should keep away for a few days.

so, plans change. the next step is to either head just to assam, bhutan and return, then head on to nagaland later on, OR head out on a jeep expedition with sajal to a few temples and places where he can prove the existence of ghosts to me and show me some tantric things.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Yangon ho!

Dec 5, 2005
I don't read omens. Jonii's recent jyotish classes and omen-related education caused me to start paying some attention to events surrounding me. Those that understand these things would have probably had much to say about the minor events that led to my entry into Myanmar.

1. I got quite sick from the pollution in Calcutta - got a horrid cough that i could not kick.
2. When I arrived in kolkata, i went directly to the IA office in the airport to change my return flight from yangon from the 22nd of dec to the 26th of dec. The gentleman at the counter was quite helpful and said to me that there would be "plenty of seats, no problem", which gave me to surmise that I could just as well make the change when i check in to my flight to yangon, or when i get to yangon, on dec 4th. Obviously I am an idiot and did not take into account that everyone in any kind of service position lies incessantly in this country. When i got to the IA counter the following day in Calcutta they said the 26th flight was completely full, apparently of monks from burma heading to gaya. Some very resolute monks to have made the booking at night. Silly of me not to have made the change when i supposedly had the change tho'.
3. When i checked in to Yangon my flight in Cal, i overheard a woman behind me stating to a friend in hindi "oos admi ka inthna kam baggage hai ... unse pooth loon" [that guy has so little baggage ... i'll ask him]. given that i was the only guy in line with only a backpack, i thought to myself "oh fuck! she's going to ask me to help her wiht her overweight baggage". pretty much exactly what happened. I don't recall if I told you i was an idiot, but just in case the point did not settle in well enough, I actually went along with her request, and somehow got nailed with one of her carry ons as well. and not just anything - the thing i despise the most in the world: roller suitcases that fit in the overhead compartments!!! cruel world, why do you hate me so?!! best of all, this woman, meenakshi, does the whole coyness thing that indian women do that causes me to cringe. the show of being helpless makes me want to shake them until their marbles settle in the right sockets and they the dollar signs in their eyes and their tongue hangs out and they shit a bag of gold coins.

anyway, 3 hours, a crappy indian airlines sandwich (2 slices bread with the edges lopped off, a layer of butter and a layer of cheese-wannabe milk product), and a very nice immigration lady at the burma immigration counter later, we wait for baggage. my bag shows up about 2 minutes after i get to the carousel. meenakshi's bags show up after all the other passengers have left. meenakshi's baggage has enough stuff to declare that she spends another 40 minutes at customs. i waited for 20 for her to fill out her forms, but then realized that this was pointless. i waltzed past customs' green channel pretending not to know anything, with 2 of her gigantic suitcases. i was just hoping that i would not get accosted and sent off to mandalay bay prison, where the food is not supposed to be too good. the problem now was still that i needed to get a ride into town, and my guesthouse (the heaven inn) had aparently not sent a car. plus i had meenakshi's baggage. so a painful 20 minutes later she gets past customs, and is greeted by her husband, who's been watching me coz i obviously have luggage that looks like his wife's.

we all get introduced, and meenakshi tells her husband that i really helped her a lot, to which he hands me his card and says 'let me know if you need any help in yangon', and they start taking off. my mind usually takes a long time to react since i need to go through the politeness factors, then put in the will-they-be-inconvenienced variables, and then punch up the card that i need to play. this usually takes about 30 minutes longer than anyone is willing to wait, which leaves me with zingers without a victim. sort of a george costanza and shrimp plate syndrome. but this time, maybe because of my incessant cough, extreme hunger and slight fever, marbles move in the right direction and I say "actually you can help me right now - i need a ride to my hotel and a suggestion for a restaurant with vegetarian food". this caused them to pause for a moment. i don't think they were expecting to have to do anything further with me, but they couldn't very well refuse at this point. i got the ride, prefixed with a lunch of chappati and dal and baingan fry at their house.

boldly he heads forth

dec 5th 2005
jonii and i got a couple of nights together in madras (yum), after which we headed in opposite directions (not so yum) - she to the south and i to the north and on to burma. not the best of circumstances, but i think given my current state of mind (cranky and assholic) it was probably best that we were separated for a while. the point of this trip was to get to do some thinking and being on my own. the mere thought of touristing caused me grief.

india provides about the most diverse forms of transportation that you can find anywhere in the world, all available to the adventurous traveller - everything from bullock cart to bus to airplane. traveling between the indian metros boils down to either the relatively slow and somewhat stinky express trains to the relatively unreliably and lacking in customer service airlines. the latter have supposedly changed with influx of new and sexy independent airlines. we now have choices beyond the ubiquitous indian airlines (who've rebranded themselves as just "indian", dropping the 'airlines' suffix ostensibly because that was an insult to the industry). pricing is pegged to sexiness of the air hostesses i think. being generally oblivious of all these subtleties my departure from chennai (nee madras) to kolkata (nee calcutta) was by the venerable indian airlines - cheap and matronly. IA is an institution that boldly reflects the state of the indian government and all services public. my 7pm flight managed to depart at 9.30pm with no notice of the delay. fortunately the airports have improved over the years and the throngs of sightseers (who i'm sure came to see strangers fly off since they were just so happy that someone was leaving and giving them a bit more space) have been kept away with a hefty Rs. 60 entrance fee.

indian air travel does not require id's. this is more welcome than i can emote. the bullshit that the west puts in with all their id related crap irks me every time i get on a plane. why even a third world country (ok 2nd world country) can get it together to ensure that there's safe travel without the need for a pointless id card while the US can't really brings up a lot of ancilliary questions - john gilmore had better win his case and i'm praying every day for it!

however, let it not be said that the indian airline system does not have irritants. when i got to security check the officer (armed with a rifle) indicated that i did not have a cabin baggage tag on my luggage. i said that's not a problem since it has my name tag on it, and it's got an american airlines platinum tag on it. he insisted that i must have a cabin baggage tag from the appropriate airline. i told him that i was going to keep my bag with me and that it did not matter. he insisted that i go get a cabin bag tag. at this point i realized that it's not a good idea to be getting hostile with a guy with a firearm especially over a piece of paper. i figured he was an idiot for making the suggestion. about 20 minutes later, when i was boarding my flight, another passenger was made to go all the way back to security check in order to get a baggage tag. it's good to see that mindless beaucracy still has a strong position in india.

arrival into calcutta sent my eyes swimming. the pollution in cal is ferocious. and i was introduced to getting raped by the taxi-wallas. i needed to get used to it, so better that this came early. instead of the customary Rs. 250 fare from the airport to alipore, i had to fork up Rs. 500. granted it was past midnight, but hey, there should be at least a token of civility, no?! a 60kph ride for 45 minutes scared me shitless and by the time i got out of the cab i had somehow forked up another Rs. 50 for a tip. somewhere in there is a lesson that i have not yet learned!

phew i guess

internet access is available all over india. even in the smallest of villages. rates vary from intolerable, where you sit for 30 minutes and get your login screen show up for gmail, to frustrating, where you sit for 30 minutes and just get your email out when power goes out or the connection dies. this is to say that my ambitious hopes of being able to blog from the road on a regular basis encountered india. hopes get dashed easily here, which is why you're got to really appreciate the fortitude of the masses. anyway, here's the blow-by-blow, in retrospect. just imagine you're reading it over several weeks!