Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Final Word

I wrote a long entry thanking anyone and everyone I could think of that was involved in my trip or this show. It was long, it was eloquent and it was a final entry to make me feel proud.

Then my computer crashed.

So I'll make the thank-yous brief. They all fit into four groups: The Indians I met who were guides, hosts and friends to me; the University of Chicago Staff and Students I was with and who got me here; the people behind the scenes at NBC who first got me on this thing and then worked incredibly hard to make it great; and finally my fellow cast members for showing us their fantastic experiences all around the world.

Thank you.

As for me, well, my next step is on the way. I go back to Chicago and use what I learned. After that, I will travel around the world. Like I said, I've been saving up since I was a little kid. India was only the beginning for me.

I'm going to lay an open invitation for anyone who wants to join me to do so. I will be leaving after I graduate in the summer of 2008. I don't know where or when. I don't expect anyone to come with me all the way (and in fact I intend to do some of it solo) but if you're reading this from France and want to see Germany, or you're in South Africa and want to try to get to Madagascar, or maybe you're near the Tierra del Fuego and want to catch a glimpse of Antarctica, come with me when I'm near you and see them.

All I know is that I will be seeing every continent on this planet in the space of a year. Anyone who can help me or who thinks I can help them should get in touch with me through this site or email me directly at This goes out especially to my fellow cast members of JYA 2006, Lauren, Jason, Erica, Matthias, Christopher, Natalie, Lisa, Stacey, Roger, I want to see some of what you guys did up close. Drop me a line.

The world is too big for you not to see it. If you still have to chance to study abroad, take it. If you do not, find out the best way for you to leave your home and return. Find somewhere you'd never thought you'd see in your whole life, and go see it. Money will not be an issue if you do your homework on the subject. Time and opportunity will.

I don't feel like I'm a good enough writer to end this properly with my own words, so I will leave with a quote from one who I feel can:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

I thank you all, and wish you all good-bye, good luck, and real adventures.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Notes and Corrections

Allright, here are some things I wanted on the record about my individual episodes:

Ep 2: "The Privacy of the Passengers": The "shrine" shown as I'm talking about shrines... isn't a shrine. It's a statue of Shivaji, the local war hero. You can find his likeness all over Maharashtra.

Ep 4: "They Paint the Streets":
-The food I was talking about is specifically the food we got at the hotel; People who come to India are a pretty self-selecting group. If they don't like Indian food in general, they don't come.

-As a rule, I asked for permission before turning the camera on people. Often people would ask me to film them and their friends and family when they saw I had a camera. That's where the footage of people staring at me comes form.

-See the shirt I'm wearing during the camel ride? Okay, now watch "The Varkari Guru" again. Look familiar? That's because these happened on the same night. The camel ride in this episode happened when I briefly stepped out of the drumming ceremony in the last episode to see what the parade noise outside was all about.

Ep 5: "Treehouse": Notice something funny about the edges of the shots in the forest of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary? It's a plastic bag. It was raining for the first hour or so of our hike, so that was how I kept the camera safe and dry.

Ep 6: "What to Eat with Your Hands":
-First of all, yes I am eating my gulab jamun with a spoon after saying they eat with their hands here. Not everything is eaten by hand, and often people will use utensils to be polite. Us westerners often did it just because eating rice and liquids and tearing bread with one hand is harder than it looks...

-Second, people asked how people ate liquids with their hands. Generally what they would do would be to take some sort of roti (bread) and use it to get the solid pieces out (meat, veggies, paneer, etc.) and then soak up what's left with rice. Usually in a thali restaurant they will serve you roti first, then wait until you're done with that to give you the rice for that reason.

Ep 7: "Big Cat":

-Okay, I got up at 6 am to record this. I thought I could find privacy and quiet that way. You can see how well that worked out. Listen carefully, you can hear those car horns during the main body of the episode as well as the outtake bit, (thankfully the music covers them up some).

-It's worth saying that graffiti of sacred images is not generally a big concern among Indians, but I did spot a lot of graffiti in roman script in other parts of the temple, probably from foreign tourists That's why I was talking about putting the main images behind bars.

-Why did I go to the zoo? Well, I actually worked in the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle over the summer; I kinda wanted to compare notes. Interesting experience overall. The "Please Don't Cross the Barricade, Survivors will be Prosecuted" sign is now my desktop photo on this computer.

Ep 8: "Namaste" (no accent on the e necessary, but it's passable as it's from a language that uses a different script).
-The temples date back to the 7th century CE, not BCE. That may be a one-letter difference, but it changes the date by about 1400 years. My mistake.

-The "Monkey Menace" sign was no joke; one of my friends got robbed by a monkey in Vijayanagara. Those guys will try to mug in packs given the chance. Do not show them food or anything flashy, they will try to take it.

-The Golgumbaz in Bijapur is not bigger than the Taj in Agra, it just has a bigger dome than the Taj does.

-Joel Shack was a shack that sold seafood and cocktails in Goa. I visited it and sought out the owner. Hilarity ensued.

That's about all! Any questions, comments or further corrections should be emailed to me at

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Guy, Old Home

Well, I’m back. I’m home. I’m sitting in my room writing on the same laptop on the same desk that published the very first entry of this blog, (with the same cat in my lap, for that matter).

It’s taken me a good three or four days to recover from the jet lag of jumping 13 ½ hours backwards. London cushioned me from the culture shock, though I’m still not quite ready to drive somewhere where the cars are on the right side of the road.

I’ve changed. That much is clear. I’m not entirely sure just how much I’ve changed, but living, studying, and traveling on the other side of the planet for a quarter did something to me.

Part of it is a little abstract. We’re used to defining a big part of who we are by our environment and how we interact with it. What our opinions are, what food we eat, where we go in our spare time, stuff like that. So if you’re suddenly plunked down in a completely different environment, where those opinions aren’t relevant, that food doesn’t exist, and those places aren’t accessible, who are you?

When I was a kid, I used to think the idea of people “finding out who they were” was laughable. You are you. You know who you are better than anyone possibly could. If you try to “find yourself”, all you’ll end up doing is chasing your own tail, right?

But when you take whoever you thought you were and put that person somewhere you’d never expect them to be, you’re in for a surprise. It’s half adventure-seeking, half science experiment. What would happen if, like me, you found yourself in a rural Indian hospital compound around 10pm, looking for a friend’s pregnant cousin so you could deliver a get well message, and the power suddenly dies? I know what I did, I learned more about me. What would you do?

Beyond that, once you’re back home in your old comfort zone, once the experience is a memory, a story you can tell at parties, post in a blog, or keep secret, do you look at yourself the same way as you used to? What if you had a couple hundred experiences like that? After you’ve passed a crowd of hungry Indian children who get into a fistfight over the sandwich and apple you’ve given them from your lunch, do you look at your leftovers the same way when you’re back home? Or are you now someone new?

The clich├ęs are true. When you study abroad, you do get a broader perspective, your life does change. You won’t look at your home the same way again when you return to it. You will gain memories you will never forget. And when someone on the street asks you “how was it?”, you’ll never be able to give them an answer that captures the whole thing no matter how hard you try.

If that gets your attention, study abroad.

Friday, December 8, 2006

In Heathrow

I'm standing at an internet kiosk in the biggest shopping mall I've ever seen: Heathrow International Airport, London, UK.

London has been something the like of which I've only seen in movies and advertisements for the last three months. Everything is clean, everything is orderly, everything works. When I got to the home of my hosts, the place dazed me. The last time I had visited a friend's house was in Pune; they had insisted I sit in the only chair (a rickety lawn chair) while they sat on the bare floor as we watched a movie on a computer monitor. Here I was seated in a skylit room on a black leather couch being fed several types of real cheese, biscuits nuts, fruit and more. When they showed me the bedroom they were obviously concerned that it was too warm or cold. All I could think about was the fact that it was the first soft bed I'd felt in ages. As soon as I lay down in it I slept for more than 15 hours straight.

The next day, I hopped a double-decker bus to the West End. From then, I was taking in as much as I could get my hands on. The place is a completely different world from where I've been. I can drink water right out of the tap without getting sick. I can hand people things with my left hand without offending them. I don't have to take my shoes off anywhere. And that's not even touching on the physical differences, how everything looks, sounds, smells; the weather, the streets, buildings, monuments, cars, stores, sidewalks, everything!

I want to thank my hosts, Mike and Clare for being so welcoming, helpful, and generous in so many ways, doing everything from showing me the tricks of London transport to taking me out to some of the nicest meals I've had in weeks to providing me with anything and everything a visitor could want and more. It was a pleasure, please come to the U.S. so the favor can be properly repaid!

But now I have to go. My flight boards in half an hour.

...I'm coming home.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

He left in the night...

The time is currently 5:00am. I'm in Bombay international airport with my luggage. My flight out isn't until 9:10, so I can't check my bags for another hour, security will probably be another hour after that.

I got some sleep on the way here; a bus picked me up from Pune a little before midnight, when and where I said goodbye to the friends who were still hanging around the hotel.

People keep asking me how I feel about this. Leaving. The truth is, right now, I don't. I don't have time. I need to finish this, that, and the other thing before I can really start analyzing myself. Once I get on the plane and it lifts off, maybe things will be different.

I tried five different times to update this blog with something like fifteen different things with no luck thanks to the internet connection available. First it was a piece about poverty, then about the riots that happened in a nearby suburb, then the strike that followed, then other things that have happened since. I have two albums of pics left from my archeology course to upload, plus a few I snapped a few hours ago to record my last night in Pune.

I'm going to spend a few days in London with friends of the family before I head home. I'm looking forward to that of course. I think if I concentrate on that, I can deal with how I feel about leaving India later.

Until then...