Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Uber-Tourist...

I usually don't feel the need to go on rants and raves about people with a certain mind-set or habits. But this one puts me over the top and for some reason I cannot keep quiet on this subject matter any longer. I am talking about the always embarrassing but equally entertaining "Uber-Tourist." I find myself to be very accepting and in some cases forgiving even. However, this one group I will just never for the life of me understand. Nor, in all honesty do I believe I ever will understand. The Uber-tourist as defined by me is, n. A peorson who while traveling takes it upon themselves to embody every bit of the local culture to a T. This group goes so over the top that they more often than not find themselves as the only ones dressed in local apperal. They out local the locals! Often times today the true locals dress western and still manage to embrace and respect their culture. It is this particular group of misfits that go out of their way to wear the local garb and spout off about how enlightened and accepting of other cultures they are. I am afraid we in the west are slowly coming to a point where our confused youth are in the mist of a mass identity crisis.
Tom Cruise for example in the movie The Last Samurai becomes a samurai warrior and leads the last group of samurai into battle against a westernerizing Japanese army. At the same time he manages to court that hot Japanese woman whose husband he had killed earlier in the movie. In Hollywood or Scientology (often today synonomus with each other) this seems to work. So if you as an "Uber-tourist" are preparing to lead a batch of locals into war against an immenent occupying force then I say so be it, you can wear that full on traditional garb. However, these westerner's that I have come across flat out look ridiculous.
I can only begin to imagine the locals walking around every day getting their own culture shoved down their throats regularly by western tourists. Here is some food for thought, how often have you ever seen a Japanese man walk down the streets of Holland in wooden shoes with a wheel of cheese under each arm? Or have you seen an Indian tourist wearing the wig of our colonial forefathers while walking on the mall in Washington DC? I would bet my right hand that you have never seen either. The fact of the matter is that the reverse does not happen. Why do weseterner's insist on such ridiculous practices. Then often insist that they in fact are the "enlightened ones" and are really truely experiencing and embracing the local culture. The only time I feel the need to extrovertly flaunt my Americanism is when I feel like I am losing my connection to my homeland. Having to dress up and act the part is not in my opinion respecting another culture. It is frankly quite the opposite. I understand that it is nice to pick up a shirt here or an interesting pair of pants and a hat there but to wear it all, all the time is a bit overkill.
These westerner's are as out of place in my eyes as a sunbather in an Antarctic winter. They do not belong and never will (assuming of course global warming doesn't get to that level). The harder they try to fit in and the more they push it the more ridiculous they look. I do not know whether they were bottle fed as kids and are years later looking for a connection that was once deprived from them by their own mothers. I have no idea... But I surely would like to find out. I missed a golden opportunity in northern India because I could throw a rock down the street and hit 20 of these "Uber-tourists" at any time (and trust you me I wanted to throw that rock!!). I am sure more chances will present themselves as my travels through India continue. To get into the mindset of one of these uber-tourist is my self imposed mission.
I cannot wait to let you know what I discover once my research is complete....

Monday, July 12, 2010

Award Speech

I would like to accept this award on behalf of those who cannot make it tonight and be with me here today... And would also like to take you on the beginnings of a journey, so sit back relax and enjoy the ride.
First and foremost, I need to thank my loving family and supportive friends. Without them I could not be taking on such a momentous project. I am indebted to them for more than I can explain in this one speech alone. And for that, to those who are reading I thank you.
Currently, I am taking on India with my itinerary in one hand and a roll of TP in the other. I have my trusty fanny pack filled with all my valuable worldly possessions and a backpack full of an ever changing wardrobe. As I visit one region I pick up a few things with some local flavor and style, while in turn I inevitably sacrifice a few things to the backpacking Gods watching over me (and sometimes it seems as though they are laughing at me having a gay ol' time).
My first travel buddy of many has just left today to go back to the "real world." It is my first glimpse into October when I to will lose the battle and fall victim to a similar fate. However, despite public opinion, I am not dreading the comforts of the western world and my old life per-say. What I am dreading is the looming thoughts of this trip having an expiration date.
I flew into India a little over one week ago and hit the ground running. My trip has included a full day around Old Delhi seeing the mosque and Red Fort. Followed by a day of rest due to unforeseen strikes all over the country. Conveniently enough for me, I got sick and was on bed rest for the entire day. Early the next morning meant a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. And what an impressive symbol of love for a wife it was! Husbands around the world dread the day their wife lays her eyes on this temple because from that point on... nothing, and I mean nothing you do can compare. You will always be trying to keep up with the Jones's or in this case the "Shah Jahan's." A husband's only disclaimer is that if you don't marry an emperor then don't expect a Taj.
Following a day very pleasant day trip to Agra we were scheduled to leave by train north towards Mcloed Ganj. This train left from the train station located at Old Delhi. Let me take a moment here to help you visualize the train station at Old Delhi. Picture this, a very public urinal at the END of a huge 5 day music festival. You with me? So now imagine that this urinal or johnny-on-the-spot is the size of a basketball arena... and this basketball arena has the heat cranked up to about 115 degrees F.. and that the owner of the basketball arena in the interest of making a few more shekels over sold tickets by 100,000 and EVERYONE showed up.. If you can imagine this, then you are beginning to imagine Old Delhi train station. Even, the most veteran of travelers crumble to their knees with tears streaming from their eyes when they hear that their train they just booked is leaving from Old Delhi train station.
After about 30minutes of disorganized questioning of anyone in uniform (I am sure at some point we even interrogated the janitors by accident and for that I apologize to them whole heartedly) we discovered our train, was of course canceled... This cancellation comes at 10pm and we are anxiously trying to begin our trip north to the outskirts of the Himalaya Mountain range.
Will they get up North? Will they be stuck in Delhi? Does Woody become a shoe shiner in Delhi train station to pay for a ticket home? Tune in next week for the next installment... Same India time, same India channel...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bourne Rendition

I was woken up at 3am on a hot and bug filled Sunday morning to carry out a mission of utmost importance. I quickly and quietly packed the things I would need to accomplish my task. With help from the President (Abigail Alling) I quickly got briefed on the events that would most likely occur in the next two hours. The challenge begins with a simple exiting of our boat, unnoticed, under the cover of darkness. The second task was scaling at least two fences upwards of 20ft high. The first fence proved a menial task. The guards did not even lock it, so I was able to stroll right through. I was not as lucky when I got to the perimeter fence. Rusty, old, and menacing are the three adjectives that best describe fence number two. The guard shack within earshot and a light post overhead proved the most difficult obstacle that could spoil my mission before it even started. I quickly but meticulously examined every possible weak point that would allow me to get over of the fence. The decision was made; the most promising section was where the two fences met in a corner. This was my escape route. Looking down at my watch I saw that I had 10 minutes remaining before I was supposed to be at the rendezvous point.
I was meeting my local asset at little known café on the outskirts of town. This asset, knows the roads and the people that would allow me to complete my mission. This prominent businessman by day and undercover super spy by night will be referred to as Mr. E (for Egypt). I had never met Mr. E. I had heard tid-bits of the legend that is the man. I was told to take a seat at the café and wait for further instruction. About 30minutes passed and many of the 4am regulars were still going strong until the earliest signs of light peaked over the mosque to my right.
No sooner was I enjoying an Egyptian coffee than a middle aged Egyptian (Mr. E) stepped out of a sleek silver BMW 3 series (which especially in Egypt, is NOT low profile). He carried himself with distinction and had an air of confidence about him. Mr. E proceeded to holler for the owner to come from behind the bar to bring some sheesha and two new coffees. We sat going through the usual small talk sizing each other up building up mutual trust and comfort. My life was in his hands and all the details of our plan were in only his head…
Around 6am we made our move. Together with his youngest son in the backseat we hit the road. To the outside world, we must have looked like a very bizarre trio. It was roughly two and a half hours until we were scheduled to arrive at our destination. Along the way there was scattered traffic in each direction. We were at a steady cruising speed when we experienced our first and what would be our only real obstacle in our mission. A flat tire caught early by Mr. E was quickly repaired and before long we were back to burning rubber and rotating our tires. In exactly the two and a half hour allotted for our trip we arrived at our destination, unharmed and undetected.
I am now permitted to fill you in on the mission that required hours of planning and years of Mr. E’s experience here in Egypt. The mission was to get from my boat in Port Said to Cairo… in one piece. Mission: Accomplished!!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Thank you, come again..."

Today is to my time in Malta since September as to what Wednesday is to the week.. I finally feel like we are "over the hump." We are on the home-stretch, pouring every last ounce of energy and productivity we have into the remainder of our preparations for our journey.
I say that today is the hump day of my work year because I have recently taken on the grueling task of attempting to obtain a tourist visa to travel India with some friends during the month of July. After a few phone calls, I was able to locate the Indian consulate located here in Malta (Santa Verna to be exact). On a map it is not to far from where our boat is docked. I called many times during their work hours which I was amazed to discover were between 9am and 12 noon Mon-Fri. So the Indian consulate here in Malta is open for a mere 3 hour window. On top of that I discovered that it is closed on all Maltese AND Indian holidays, which in other words it is open three or four days a week, tops.. Obstacle one, calling and determining how/when I can come visit the consulate; complete.

--- One Month Passes ---

As you can see I was on the ball when it comes down to completing very necessary personal tasks. It is now the end of April and I finally skip out of work for a few hours before they close to get my 4 passport size photos taken. I will need these for my visa, as well as a ticket into Inida, an exit ticket out of India, a letter of intent and a copy of the crew list. Documentation in hand, I jump in an overpriced cab and head off with a smile and determination to complete this dark cloud that has been lurking in the background of every daydream of how amazing it will be to travel to India!
I arrive at the door of the Indian consulate after negotiating a price that was triple what it should have been given its distance and my experience here.. but at this point could do nothing but bite the bullet and pay the cabby. I go up to the door, here it is the last obstacle between me and my Indian visa!!! I am shaking with anticipation and eager to check this off my To-Do-List. My To-Do-List has recently become a type of Bucket List... If I don't start checking things off I will be suffocated by the exponentially increasing random tasks... And in that sense my To-Do-List would then inadvertently become a very depressing Bucket List.
Much to my dismay, upon further intel recon, I discover that I have just arrived to a Indian Consulate door that has the metal guard down.. I am quickly fighting that awful feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach that I imagine you would get when you realize that you drank from the same cup as someone with mono. I see through the metal guard a sign written on an A4 size paper that say, "If the door is locked, please enter Indian Consulate through door of Auto Dealer Ship next door." Hmm, strange but I've seen much stranger. I look up and as stated on the sign there is a Jeep Dealership right next door. I walk in and am very unsure of why my hunt for an Indian visa led me to a Jeep dealership. How will my question be received by someone who sells cars? Not to my surprise, the showroom is empty except for a few Jeeps, the models of which I have never seen before on any street in America.
I proceed to the back, I am looking for the offices. I half stumble upon what seems to be an employee... I ask him, in a very uncertain tone...

Me: "Excuse me sir, is this, the.. Uh... Indian Consulate?"
Car Salesman: "No no, you must go through that door," pointing to a glass door that was off to the side of the dealership.
Me: "Oh ok, great thank you.."
Car Salesman: "No problem sir.."

I proceed to the frosted glass door with a nice wooden frame. I am one step closer to reaching my final goal, I am so close I can almost taste it.... not the visa, the curry and naan bread I will live off of for a month straight!!! Out of the corner of my eye I catch a fleeting glimpse of the very helpful and kind car salesman go back to his own office area.. I begin to wonder how many times he has had a very confused tourists ask him that exact question. As I am reaching for the door I see my friendly car salesman slip into a side door of his own...
I am now, FINALLY in the Indian Consulate.. With everything that I need and all the time in the world!! I am as good as legal to visit India. I turn the corner and walk to the counter. What happens next has only been seen in movies or happened to a friend of yours once in their life....
Remember that friendly car salesman that was so helpful and kind?? Hahahah, as it turns out, he is a man who wears many hats, a jack-of-all-trades. I am not kidding, he IS the man who will be deciding on the success/failure of my visa application. He is a car salesman by day and an.. an.. Indian Visa officer... by day?! I laughed out loud and couldn't stop thinking that he is the Indian equivalent of Clark Kent, Chakyar Kopoor... He is faster than a speeding bullet when getting from the car dealership to the Indian Consulate office. He sells cars and plans your travels. He provides you with an automobile if you are in the market or a stamp in your visa if that is what your heart desires. I wish I could remember his name. By this act of welcoming me as a car salesman, only to then transform in the blink of an eye to the Indian Visa officer, his powers can only be trumped by Krishna.
This experience will stick with me for a long while. To those of you who read it on my blog I apologize for the time in which you will pop your head into a conversation I am having in which I am re-enacting this exact experience.. To my loyal readers I apologize for the 3 month hiatus (I was in Belgium and had writers block.. or a 3 month long hangover.) But now I am back... and all I say to you is what you would hear if you were leaving the Kwik-E-Mart, "Thank you, come again.."

Friday, January 22, 2010

So When Did I Grow Up?!?!

A landlocked sailor thinks deep thoughts... Let me indulge you on one of my own.
It came to me the other night while I was racking my brain for something worthy of putting down in writing. An idea that was worth the finger cramps and future carpal tunnel syndrome I will inevitably have while attempting to satisfy the endless thirst that my friends and followers have for devouring each word that is in itself a small part of me. Writing this blog is a selfless deed that I enjoy thoroughly. I hope to entertain you for the next few months as I grow and continue to dig deeper and reflect more on myself and my interesting new life venture.

So anyways, about me growing up. I realized I did it, it happened without me knowing. I have been fighting the good fight for years now, to no avail. The one and only factor that was enough to determine that I am technically now a grown-up is this:

I no longer scour on or in every surface, under every vending machine, in every change return slot from telephones to newspaper machines and everything in-between for someone else's forgotten change. At some point in time I got too caught up in school, work, sports, life shenanigans? Without realizing I almost completely stopped cold turkey, one of in my favorite of all childhood activities. It is sad to say but I have lost my inner-child, to some degree. I no longer stick my finger (or hand when space was available) in any corner or change receptacle that is potentially filled with nickel and copper. My mom will vouch for my inappropriate and reckless obsession for checking vending machines and under check out lines for forgotten gold.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that my desires and my material needs have increased in costs. So to continue looking for coins has become foolish. Previously, as a pre-teen my every wish could be answered with a few quarters and access to a machine that held any product with large quantities of sugar i.e. a soda machine or candy dispenser. One single quarter just 25¢ could satisfy my wildest childhood fantasies. Economically, I believe the cost/benefit theory is the adult way of explaining my new level of maturity. I subconsciously weigh the total expected costs against the total expected benefits of finding spare change drinking that soda. And over time I have almost completely phased out that entire part of my life.

After reading this you are now obligated to leave behind that the 5¢ that is rightfully yours. I am asking you to do this for me but for the kids. Come on, do it for the kids!! I am asking you each next time you make a purchase from a vending machine of any kind to intentionally leave behind what to you is a seemingly insignificant amount of unnecessary weight in your pocket or purse. By doing this you will be increasing the odds of making some unsuspecting but hard working kids day or even week. If nothing else good comes up that week, remember that, that child was able to snag that shiny 1998 quarter from the soda machine and put it into his/her pocket. And in turn you single-handedly are responsible for putting the biggest most genuinely pure sense of joy and happiness into a kids heart.

There is a disclaimer, if you are like some of my friends and are currently milking unemployment checks for all they are worth you are given a temporary pardon from leaving behind change. I say this because you need it more than the kids do. And for Christ sake get a job 'cause you are killing our economy. (you know who you are)... haha. Or better yet, your new job could be to follow around mutual friends of ours that read my blog and are now leaving behind excess amounts of change. You can follow them and collect all the coins they leave behind before kids can get to them. You have access to cars and cell phones to ease the task of following the paths of our friends. Most kids have neither. Advantage -- 23 year old unemployed college grad. Happy Hunting!!