Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top 5 - Coolest Things I've Done

1. Driving my sister back from the Delhi airport in a rickshaw - this may be my greatest personal achievement. My sister arrived late at night, a day after the Delhi bazaar bombings in 2005. We jumped in a rickshaw, sped away (it was illegal), and started to negotiate the price. The guy was asking for a lot, so I said "Ok, I will pay you that much, but you have to let me drive." He agreed and I took over. I can tell you that fighting with giant trucks on the crowded Delhi roads was simultaneously the coolest and most frightening thing. I don't I could've made it as a rickshaw driver. I gained so much respect for the profession on that night.

2. Pulling a lady through a human river in the Howrah train station - Howrah station is, or was, the busiest train station in the world in terms of human traffic. You can't really imagine what that means until you're standing in the middle of the place facing a river, not a stream, of people going from one side of the station to the other. I was in awe. There was more people in front of me than in my hometown. Then a woman snapped me back into reality by grabbing my arm (I suppose she saw that I was about to ford the river). I did what any person with any knowledge of football (the North American version) would do: put my head down and kept the feet moving. I emerged on the other side with all my belongings and the woman in tow. Our eyes met, hers said "Thanks," mine "I can't believe I just did that."

3. Propelling a cycle rickshaw in Jaipur - I've been fascinated by cycle rickshaws since the day I first laid eyes on one. We briefly flirted with the idea of buying a cycle rickshaw and offering it up for hire (it's not like we were doing anything interesting at work) on the streets of Chandigarh. Alas, that plan never came to fruition, so I went for the next best thing: asking some cycle rickshaw driver who was already taking advantage of us (Ryan can attest to that) to let us propel is rickshaw. He obliged. The next few minutes convinced me that this is something I would love to do.

4. Holding a street BBQ in Cairo - I'll never forget this day. Tom Gara and I had a mission: take over an Egyptian restaurant and BBQ our legendary creations for our close, personal friends. After making the necessary arrangements with the great people at El Hendawy, we were all set. It was to be the most epic BBQ Cairo had ever seen. On the menu was five different types of marinated lamb: mango-mint, coriander-fennel, balsamic-garlic-oregano, cumin-coriander-lemon-garlic-turmeric-oregano; honey-soy-garlic chicken; and grilled vegetable salad. It was all cooked to perfection. We were the kings of Cairo on that night.

5. Negotiating a bribe in Russian to get my friend into Georgia - this can be chalked up to the Caucasus being the Caucasus. Naturally, at the Georgian border, there was something "wrong" with my friend's Georgian visa in her Chinese passport. I set to work talking to one of the border guards. He asked questions, I asked what was wrong, he explained, he went into the building, he came out, asked some more questions, went back into the builing. Finally he came out and started to talk about percentages. I asked how much and he gave me a speech about how nice he was being to us. I asked again. He quoted a price much smaller than I expected. Not bad for a first time.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Top 5 - Excessive Feasts

1. Tsaagan Saar in Mongolia - My experience with steamed Mongolian dumplings (buuz) and boiled mutton reached a breaking point during the lunar new year celebrations. I came home one evening to mutton simmering away in a pot (a foul smell), ate the steamed mutton dumplings filled with extra fat that night, dumplings again the next morning, again three hours later, and again two hours after that. By 4pm, it was nap time. I don't think I have touched a mutton dumpling since.

2. Dinner in Chandigarh - A friend invited me to her co-worker's house for dinner. Not five minutes after walking in the door, sweet lassi (yoghurt drink) was forced upon us. Then the sweets came. Two types. So sweet I wanted to vomit. Then dinner came. Five different dishes, rice, and bread. More lassi. After dinner, more sweets. It was so hot outside I could hardly eat to begin with. Why the sweets came at the beginning, I will never. What I can say is that I didn't move for six hours after eating.

3. Christmas in Poland - Nine courses, all including mushrooms or fish. I put on a clinic in festive eating. Rumour has it that people end up in the hospital on Christmas Eve simply because they ate too much.

4. Slurping Molokheya in Egypt - This one wasn't so much about me eating a lot, but rather a heroic individual named Osama drinking a whole bowl of molokheya. For those that don't know, it's a green sauce possessing the consistency of saliva. For those that know (and are not Egyptian), you can imagine how legendary this is. Helwa, ya Osama!

5. Any Azeri Wedding - Here is the formula for determining how much food to order: 1. Assume that each person can eat five times their own body weight. 2. Count the number of guests. 3. Double that figure and order food for that many. You can imagine the rest.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Top 5 - Transportation Experiences

This is a tough one. There have been so many that I'm not sure I can rank them.


1. Overnight train from Xi'an to Beijing - this remains one of my most memorable experiences so far. The unavailability of tickets meant that I had to take a hard seat if I wanted to get back to Beijing. It was 12 hours and overnight. Across from me was a woman breastfeeding her child, 100 people filled the car that was meant for 60. Dudes had to stand all night, while others were all over the corridor between the rows of seats. For the entire time I sat there and discussed in very limited English about various things. I even passed my Canadian money around the car...and it came back. Most importantly, it was on this trip that I developed a taste for cured quail eggs.

2. Bus back from Mussorie - this was a wild ride. The first leg, from Mussorie to Dehradun, featured a long and windy ride down a mountain, women vomiting out the side of the bus, and a cow munching on cardboard. In Dehradun, we considered hitchhiking in a truck at one point because we were told another bus would not come. When one finally did, there was such a clamour to get on it that dudes were almost crushed. We didn't end up with a seat in the end (there were four of us), so I reached a point where I wanted to tie my arms to the hand rail and just fall asleep. At one point, a seat opened up, so it was decided that my friend sit on my lap. It was probably more comfortable for her, as I could hardly walk after the six hour ride was over.

3. Train journey from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar - my first ever real train journey. I was so excited. We shared a compartment with two Mongolian women, but I spent most of my time either staring out the window at the scenery or in the dining car drinking beer. At the border, I froze on the platform while talking and drinking beer with two Russians (the train had to go switch trucks). I awoke the next morning to a vast tundra of white with the bluest sky I have ever seen. If only the hangover wasn't there...

4. Train from Warsaw to Krakow - this wasn't so much a train ride to Krakow as a train ride to the middle of nowhere. My Polish friend accidentally (or so she claims...ironically, she was the same person who sat on my lap in #2) put me on the wrong train. I ended up somewhere past Warsaw East station with engineers yelling at me to get on a train back to the station. So I jumped out of the train, ran across the tracks (dodged a few trains flying by) and then jumped on a train headed to Berlin. Back at the station, I got mixed up over the Polish words for Arrival and Departure. Back and forth I went from the platform to the station. People must've thought I was crazy. Alas, I ended up in Krakow, only two hours later. Luckily Jenny was ready to start drinking.

5. First Class flight from Cairo to Chicago - there was no discomfort whatsoever on this trip. I was treated to champagne, strawberries in champagne, and every other luxurious food item one could imagine. I looked so "like I had lived in Egypt for the last 11 months" and was asked a couple of times if I was actually in first class or not. Let them think otherwise. All I know is that I had to avoid sleeping just so I could take advantage of all the food and onboard entertainment.

Monday, July 07, 2008

My Humble Garden

Lots of basil to be had. The thyme should be ready soon and I saw my first oregano seedling come up the other day.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Top 5 - Surreal Experiences

Sometimes you see things that make you stop and think "Whoa. What just happened?" These are things that don't come around too often. They the diamonds in the rough when it comes to travelling, far outweighing any tourist attraction.


1. Parting of the Grounds Crew in India - I was on the golf course for the first time in Panchkula, India. Golfing in the shadow of a giant gurdwara and using a caddy for the first time--it was already surreal enough. I stepped up to one of the tees, only to see that the fairway was covered in people fixing divots. All of a sudden, the caddy yells something and the people immediately clear the fairway. It seriously looked like the waters being parted.

2. Ten Simultaneous Calls to Prayer in Cairo - Al Azhar Park in Cairo. It is perched up on a hill and overlooks most of Islamic Cairo. In most other locations of the city, you only hear one or two calls to prayer at sunset. In Al Azhar park you can hear at least ten competing calls. Hearing them echo over the city, one after the other, was incredible.

3. Man Guiding a Sheep like a Wheelbarrow in Mongolia - Sometimes herding your sheep through town is a necessity. But what happens when one of your animals doesn't want to cooperate while crossing the street? One man decided that picking up the hind legs and then pushing the sheep like a wheelbarrow was the best option.

4. Death on the Beach in Goa - This one is a bit chilling. Apparently many coastal residents in southwestern India are not able to swim. My sister and I were having lunch one day when a crowd formed around this rocky outcrop the restaurant was perched on. We went to see what was going on and found man bobbing up and down in the water. He had been drunk the night before and decided to go for a swim. You can guess the rest.

5. Burning Dead Bodies in Varanasi - In the city of Varanasi, there are two places where bodies are burned. At one of them, there is an elevated place you can go to get a better view of the situation. At the time I was there, a body was just set alight. Seeing the flesh sizzle is something I will never forget. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's Always Trouble When These Two Roll into Town

How do you spell perpetual drinking in Georgian?