Thursday, June 23, 2011

India Journal

A trip to India during May 15th to June 6th 2011 by Taylor Sloan

May 18, 2011:
Spending my first day of my trip (May 15th) in Delhi I found that it was reasonably odd and abnormal than what I’m used to. However, as the days progressed I became less and less certain of taming this new country in my mind. I believe it was the first night reservation and the airport pickup that made the culture shock more gradual than immediate. Although I felt I had training with this sort of odd feeling in Thailand the oddity I felt in India was much more intense. Being out of my comfort zone was an understatement. In Delhi the massive amount of poverty, beggars, salesmen, lies, and scams were staggering.

I had seen plenty of beggars, but on my second day in Delhi I found, or rather she found me, a small girl holding an even smaller child in her arms draped on her shoulder asking for money. At first it seemed like the epitome of begging and poverty, which in some instances it is, but just as in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ this child was given a baby and told which streets to beg on by an older woman.

On the same day I saw such things as one of the many wild dogs easting a chicken carcass on the sidewalk, people with legs and arms off using crutches, skateboards, and hand powered bikes to get along, cows roaming the streets eating garbage, and plenty of sketchy salesmen wanting to get inside my pockets.

However, around these same areas I found brilliant colors from women’s dresses, talkative people, and absolutely delicious food. No repercussions from eating the food yet. I assume the ‘Delhi belly’ is coming.

One of the main problems in India seems to be the massive piles of trash that may eventually rival the great pyramids someday. If you can’t stand dirty floors, trash everywhere, pollution, and the smell of fecal matter and decay wafting through the air in thick waves then I would advise you not to visit many areas in India. However, if you’d like to overcome a compulsive cleanliness disorder than this is the place.

The way you get rid of trash in most of India is to either burn it or sweep it closer to someone else. It seemed like a child’s game to me. Out out sight out of mind I suppose.

At times I accidentally step in fecal matter. It’s practically unavoidable here. It can envelope the side of a street as if it were the concrete itself.

May 20, 2011:
In short I don’t have good things to say about India today. This is the second time culture shock has hit. I’m in Agra now, visiting the legendary Taj Mahal, and the streets are still lined with piss and shit. Curiously there is an apparent solid layer of unknown combination that slowly cascades above the liquid waste in the drainage ditches along every street.

As an obviously white foreigner I get hassled everywhere I go. From auto rickshaws to shop owners to kids to ticket officials to almost every person I pass. It’s finally gotten to me, and now I’m staying in my hotel room to avoid people trying to sell me something for a brief moment.

What's worse is the amount of lies I hear daily. I hear about thirty lies on the average day. I usually need to ask about four or five people the same question before I can get a reasonable answer. You also would not want to ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions because the answer will always be ‘yes’ even if they know it’s ‘no’. Always phrase a question that requires a sentence answer otherwise you’ll find that the answer can be more than fifty percent wrong on average.

Thankfully I have moments like yesterday morning at dawn when I saw monkeys jumping from rooftops (sometimes in thirty monkey packs), parrots overhead, the Taj Mahal in the near distance, and a beautiful sunrise with a glass of chai (milk tea) in my hand. Sadly, when these moments pass I’m reminded that I need to go back into the land of bargaining, hassles, scams, and lies in Agra. I’m easily reminded by the horns of the motors getting ever louder and constant as it reaches 7:30am.

I can feel weak, upset, fed up, and teary at times here. I had even contemplated leaving India early to avoid such annoyances and see the ones I love again sooner. I’m currently at odds with myself, but I feel as though I need to keep pushing forward and grow as a person in the process. I can’t let this country get the better of me.

Getting a train ticket out of Agra has proven to be much harder than getting in. On the train ride here we (two new friends I met in Delhi and I) were very popular. The train seemed packed but wasn’t. Many Indians gathered in the seat next to us to chat, trick us in learning poor Hindi, or have a picture taken with us. My new friend Matt had shown some money from Cambodia which made a mad dash for others to trade rupees for it. Foreign change is sought after by many here. He eventually ran out of South East Asia money and disappointment was in everyone’s eyes. I had traded a few Korean coins while I was at it although they really wanted American coins.

Getting this train ticket to Agra was fairly easy in Delhi. They had a tourist section by the train station near the New Delhi subway exit. Many people lied and said you need things before you can go inside that cost money. We shove them aside and make it to the room to order our tickets. Thank goodness trains here always reserve a few tickets for foreigners.

However, getting the train ticket out of Agra was immensely more difficult. We went into the station and got in the foreigner/elderly/handicapped line. We needed a ticket for the next day (May 21). The lined moved as if magnetized by the counter. The closer we got to the ticket booth the more Indian’s surrounded us and tried to cut in line. The rat race was on! I had a man behind me who was reminiscent of a mouse who had to constantly peek at every motion of the teller. He sniffled and curled his nose over my shoulder at each movement. When it was my turn to get a ticket I couldn’t reach the counter due to some people who never leave the line. I stretched my arm to hold the circle speaking hole and yelled for a ticket to Amritsar in Punjab. The ticket man said it was impossible and I asked why. No reasonable answer was given so after arguing with him we decided to go to the station manager She was even less helpful. They kept telling us to come back tomorrow with no help in sight. We eventually gave up and went to the dreaded Indian travel agent to book our tickets. Amritsar for me and Lucknow for my friends. The tickets he got us were quite overpriced.

May 21, 2011
Flies buzz all around me while waiting at Agra Cantt train station. I was immediately approached by salesmen, curious boys, and beggars yet again. I saw dogs scavenging for crumbs with mangy spotted fur partly due to shedding the winter coat and malnutrition. Indians raised their fists and threw hard items at them. There’s no shortage of brick chips here. At this time I feel more sympathy for the dogs than the beggars. Always had a soft spot for dogs.

The most common sequence for meeting a foreigner here seems to consist of this: ask the foreigner where they are from then saw everything you know about that place then tell them a story about your family then ask for money. I’ve started saying I’m from places like Estonia just to avoid some of these questions. Plus, I’m very tired of people thinking I’m “American rich” as well as hearing about Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden. I’ve even had hand gestures of a gun shooting Bin Laden in the eye. Ah, memories.

Before my train arrived I met an Indian man whose first question was “Where are you from?”. Due to the annoyances that come with saying I’m American I said I was from Estonia. Luckily I’ve met a few from that region of the world so I have some background information. Little did I know that this man was Punjabi (the region where I’m headed), and he has lived most of his life in Canada. He was the first man who went out of his way to help me in India. Sadly, it took me about a half an hour to admit my lie. Afterward, he had agreed that it was a good thing to do while in India. People pull higher prices on him just because he doesn’t act Indian anymore. His name is Jessie and I really liked him. He was helpful, informative, nice, and above all honest. Sad that I finally found someone like this that doesn’t truly live in India. He was visiting family before going back to Montreal.

While on the train together we came across hermaphrodites, people who have both male and female genitalia, who asked for money. Culturally they go door to door and find houses with a new baby or marriage. They do a little dance then get some money. Something tells me that wouldn’t go so well in the deep south of America. I was not ready with my camera when they came so no pictures. They wore bright sorees, traditional Indian dress for women, and gaudy jewelry. Smiles appear on the faces of the people they pass.

I also saw a boy with dust covered hair on hands and knees cleaning a dirty floor with a dirtier rag. With minuscule energy he came to me and tapped my leg while holding out his hand. I motion the no money sign, but he persisted. I usually don’t give beggars money, but I felt very odd with him over two minutes so I gave him five rupees (about 10 cents) to continue on his path. Plenty of other beggars approached my while on the train including a man with deformed arms, a man with deformed legs on a skateboard with shes on his hands, a singing old woman, a man with no reason, a girl with incense and shrine, a woman that clearly points out the color of my skin, and a boy with a pan who seemingly can’t speak. I went to sleep on the train with my bags firmly attached to my arms for about three of the eight hour journey, so I could’ve easily seen more more beggars had I been awake.

May 24, 2011
India’s great now! I’ve been in the Punjab region for about two days now and it’s at the top of my list thus far. I first arrived in Amritsar which is the city that houses the Sikh’s golden temple. This is mecca for Sikhism. The Sikhs are essentially a warrior race easily noticed by the way they look. With searing eyes, giant turbans, knifes, swords, and spears at the ready. These are intimidating folks if you take them at face value, but they are really some of the nicest people I’ve met in India. The piercing glare turns into a smile in no time. Such colorful turbans and long beards on the males make for great photos.

At first I tried to stay at a hotel, but it seems that they guide every foreigner to a foreigner only room right next to the golden temple. It’s donation only accommodation hostel style with a large open space nearby our room for anyone to sleep in, 24/7 food commissary, and a pretty decent bathroom facility. All very welcome for what I’ve become accustomed to in India. These guys seem to have a lot of money. I absolutely loved staying here. The dining area was working on a massive scale feeding perhaps thousands a day. Once you walk in they hand you a plate, spoon, and a bowl. You’re then lead into a great dining hall with mats lined up on the floor. There must have been over two hundred people eating around me and the place wasn’t even a quarter of the way full. The look of amazement in my eyes attracted the smile and laugh of Indians near me. Men come by and full your plate with food inside buckets. The meal consisted of chapati, curry, a bean dish, and coconut rice (my personal favorite). It was quite good actually, but I found that the food doesn’t change from day to day.

After eating you’re then guided to the washing area of the complex where hundreds of people are cleaning dishes and piling up for the next round. Off to the side you can see part of the cooking process. Two older men with long poles mix batches of food in boiling pots the size of a kiddie pool.

Others next to them were rolling and cooking chapatti bread. After meeting some of them I tried my hand at rolling out some chapatti. I made about ten before it went from an amazing experience to dull and tedious. Needless to say I wasn’t nearly as fast at it as the Punjabis.

While staying near the golden temple for three days and two nights I had met some of the kindest people in India. On the second night I went to see the boarder closing ceremony between Pakistan and India, domestically called Hindustan, in a town called Atari (just like the old game system). There were massive crowds and military searches before we got to the bleachers. No water allowed so definitely drink your fill before coming in. The ceremony was all bravado and pomp.

Each side had peacock-esque hat s and even stepped similarly to a mating dance among a Himalayan bird species. The show started with loud speakers blaring famous songs from both countries. The Indian side had people dancing, jumping, and waving flags while the Pakistani side were calm and sedated in their seats. It was a stark contrast as if India was having a party and Pakistan wasn’t invited.

Afterward, the guards on both sides did harmoniously timed steps toward each gate trying to kick their legs as high as possible. It was rather peaceful considering the relations between the countries. The show concluded with lowering the flags and slamming the gates.

May 25, 2011
While at the Amritsar bus station waiting to go to Mcleod Ganj I saw messy stains on a bus coming from the window. It looked like vomit. Turned out it was. Apparently bags are used for vomit on buses which are tossed out of the window.  I’ve heard stories from motorcyclists that they need to swerve to not get hit by these aptly named “vomit bombs” while traveling on the roads near buses. Needless to say my bus ride was an experience.

It certainly was beautiful though while approaching Dharmsala near Mcleod Ganj. I saw snow covered mountain peaks and quaint villages, but the best part was the fresh air. I hadn’t smelled air without the soiled scent of pollution and sewage for a while now. I began to breathe as though I was hyperventilating trying to get a massive lung full. I met fellow travelers on the short bus from Dharmsala to Mcleod Ganj who helped me find my way around. I later saw these folks along with some friend I’d recently met in Amritsar. What a small world.

May 26, 2011
I’m now in Mcleod Ganj where the Dalai Lama lives. It’s proving to be a mountain paradise. The first day here I met a girl from China and a man from Germany while looking for a nearby waterfall. He left to find a motorcycle to rent while she and I met a monk traveling to a meditation field. He invited us to follow him. After showing us the field he then invited us to his house nearby. Tanya, the girl from China, spoke Mandarin to him while I spoke English. He needed teaching for both so we offered to teach him out languages. We scheduled the next meeting in two days (May 28) at 2pm.

At his house we talk about anything and everything. His name is Gyaltsen Thupen and he traveled twenty eight days on foot from Tibet to India while going through Nepal. He scaled up the vast and unforgiving mountain terrain of the ‘world’s roof’ to get here. He also broke his shoes along the way. Luckily he brought spares. He had studied Mandarin in Tibetan schools that have been taken over by the Chinese government. They teach only Chinese history and no Tibetan history. They also don’t allow any picture of the Dalai Lama to be held by the native Tibetans. It brings great political controversy. Even though the Chinese government has engulfed Tibet and caused Tibetans to flee from their own lands he had no ill will towards Chinese people. He only thinks the government is bad.

After talking to him we headed to Dharamkot, our next hilltop destination. Along with the Tibetan monk we ate wood fired pizza, his favorite food, at a local shop. Eating pizza with a monk and a new friend...what a great first day. I don’t even feel like I’m in India anymore.

May 28, 2011
It’s been pleasantly relaxing here in Mcleod Ganj which is great because I’ve had a constant flux of half diarrhea since coming to India. What I eat doesn’t seem to change this. I have been practically vegetarian the whole time here with the very occasional chicken or mutton dish. Even simple things like pancakes and rice don’t change it, and I always drink purified water. Who knows? I’m just happy to have my own room and bathroom right now.

At 2pm Tanya and I went to meet the monk again to teach him our languages. When we arrived he wasn’t there, but his friend Songma (another Tibetan monk) was. She told us that he was out teaching and would be back in a couple of hours. He sometimes teaches her the craft of Buddhism, so he asked her to see if we would wait for him. We didn’t want to wait, but we did anyway. Songma had also been learning English on her own, so I took the opportunity to teach her pronunciation and grammar while we waited for Gyaltsen. She had words from ‘calm’ to ‘submarine’ written down that she wanted to know how to pronounce. As for many Asians the ‘r’, ‘th’ and ‘d’ were tricky as well as recognising syllables by the amount of vowels in a word. With much repetition she began to improve a lot. By this time it was 4pm and we needed to leave so we could check bus schedules and catch a show called the ‘Lion Man’.

On our way home we ran into Gyaltsen and said we couldn’t stay any longer. He gave me his address to send English letters if I can. I certainly plan to in the near future. He thanked us and we went about our way.

While at the Lion Man show he started by telling the story of how he came to India from Tibet. He fled the now China ruled Tibet when he was a boy with his brother and mother along with about thirty other Tibetans. They had to travel at night with no lights so the Chinese soldiers would not see them even though they used big spotlights. They had no doctors, medicine, or treatment, so everyone had to look out for themselves while scaling up and down the world’s highest plateau region. The snow was so bright that some lost vision during the journey. They had to get to the next Tibetan village for a few days to get treatment so they could continue on.

Before reaching Nepal Chinese soldiers came out from the forest and put the whole group in a prison with no food or clean water. They cooked what they had and some got very sick from the water. They soldiers asked many questions about their families which could endanger them too. The soldiers also wanted the Tibetans to pay money. If they could not give the asked amount then they would be returned to Tibet and put in another prison. A Tibetan government official eventually came to release the Tibetan prisoners by paying the soldiers off.

They were allowed to enter India and after a two day bus ride from India the reached Delhi. Afterward, they came up North to Mcleod Ganj and Dharmsala where the famous Tibetan holy man Dalai Lama resides. Most never see him in person, so when the Tibetan refugees were invited to see him they were speechless. Tears formed on many of their eyes and they felt happy. Some stayed in Mcleod Ganj and others dispersed to other Tibetan colonies in India. Tsering Dorjee, the Lion Man, stayed in Mcleod Ganj because he wanted to stay with his mother. The Tibetans couldn’t speak English or Hindi so they felt out of place. Some wanted to go to up to the nearby mountains just to feel at home.

Tsering went to school and eventually learned English. Now he does a dancing show to open the minds of people and to reveal everything about himself. You get really personal with this man during the second part of his show. Some say too personal.

May 29, 2011
Finished gift shopping for loved ones. The rain comes in again which causes me to stay inside. Saw a movie on my German neighbors laptop called ‘Alone in the Wilderness’. It’s about a man who ventures out into the Canadian wilderness to see if he can handle the things nature can dish out. He brought camera equipment and documented his whole experience. He’s incredibly ingenuitive and I highly recommend watching this older classic. We also watched a BBC documentary about the Himalaya mountains. Very interesting because we’re right next to them. Wishing I had brought a laptop about now.

For breakfast I ate Tibetan bread with peanut butter, a cheese and tomato sandwich, and banana toffee (fried bananas). Great meal. Cost under three dollars.

May 30, 2011
I woke up this morning, took some timelapse of a nearby mountain, met an Israeli man, and had a wonderful breakfast. I later went on a trek with my two new friends from Germany and China which turned out to be thirteen kilometers long and took about six hours to complete. About one hour into the trek I’m reminded how easily I burn in the sun. My pasty skin can still be compared to a brand new piece of paper. Proper sunscreen action was taken, but the burns still came.

Five kilometers into the trek is when we reached the pinnacle of views for the snow topped mountains nearby. However, the view was completely blocked by clouds. We then found a path that led to a stream near terraced cliffs. Curiously, cows manage to trek up and down these steep rock laced paths meticulously. Never pinned cows as the hiking type of creature. Regardless, the poop everywhere proved their frequency. We had to get out of their way most of the time, and for others they kindly moved out of ours.

It’s about this time my camera battery dies so no more picture related links for the day. Must have been the morning timelapse that drained it since I keep it on video mode so the mirror locks and doesn’t have excess wear and tear.

Once we got to the water we partook of overpriced mule lugged goods and sat next to the rushing stream. A water fight broke out amongst us and afterward we we chillingly refreshed.

The long walk back definitely tested my joints. I hope they will be fine tomorrow because we’ll be climbing a much higher mountain bright and early.

May 31, 2011
Sascha (the German), Tanya (the Chinese girl), and I started our trek at about 1,600 meters above sea level in Mcleod Ganj. We are headed to Triund, one of the Himalaya region’s mountains. Colorful flags lined our paths. The sun illuminated the West while a ominous dark cloud loomed over to the East. Hopefully it won’t bother us too much today. We met a British family on horseback taking the easy way up. At 5,000 rupee per horse I’ll become a hiker.

At 2,200 meters above sea level we can see our town as well as the Dalai Lama’s house which has distinct rooftops that look like tents.

I want to go off topic for a minute and comment that Justin Bieber is immensely popular here. I I have no idea why, but I see Indian masses singing his song played by a loudspeaker on an outdated cell phone. Luckily we came across hippies playing psych-rock and smoking weed. It was a nice escape from “Baby Baby” which tends to be the only song of his that made it over here. It’s such a simple easy song it wedges itself inside your head and is a very long and painful process to get out. Anyway, just thought that was noteworthy.

Just noticed a massive amount of goats climbing the steep cliffs of Triund. They are shepherded by Indians that use clicks and whistles that don’t sound anything like a goat to attract them. It doesn’t seem to work. Some goats pause on precarious cliffs to gnaw on the fresh foliage while others bump and ram each other to push the next goat along.

The mountain passes and valleys are extremely steep and vast. What a beautiful landscape. Hope some of my pictures turn out well. We’re now 2,510 meters above sea level and thoroughly exhausted. We’ve hiked over six kilometers with three kilometers to go. We rest on some rocks while eating some Tibetan bread we had previously purchased. At this time I feel like a hobbit climbing Mount Mordor except this mountain keeps getting colder. Supposedly every thousand meters you climb it gets seven degrees (Celsius) colder. We’ve just about climbed a kilometer strait up. Very nice.

We have reached one of the tops of Triund at 2,875 meters above sea level. That’s what the sign says at least. Our German friend’s GPS says around 2,700 meters but I’ll go ahead ab believe the larger number. The top looks similar to Machu Picchu’s terrain with interestingly shaped rocks and grass everywhere. Quite a sight. We can see another destination from here through a thick screen of fog and moisture. It’s a glacier. We decide not to go to return before sunset. It gets down to eight degrees here at night and places to stay are not heated. You have a choice between a cave or a very expensive (and crappy) room. No thanks.

Another side note: there is poop everywhere. Not just on this mountain, but everywhere in India. On average while walking outside in India I see poop about every ten seconds. It’s simply astounding. I feel as though I’m becoming a poopologist due to the amount and variations I’ve seen. From hard to soft to runny to tiny to mounds to pies to about any shape size and smell you can imagine. I’d say if there is a lowest common denominator of things to see in India it’s got to be poop. Poop poop poop.

June 1, 2011
Very glad I didn’t stay the night on the mountain. It was incredibly cold, rainy, and windy today. Nearly impossible to climb down. I also would’ve missed out on my amazing banana, peanut butter, and honey pancake along with hot chocolate and a banana chocolate crepe. Yum yum! Cost about three dollars. Must remember to try and make these back home.

*Note to self: Mush the banana into the batter and spread peanut butter on top then drizzle honey over the pancake.

June 2, 2011
Today was a mix bag of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. I started the day eating the best pancake I’ve ever had. It was a banana, honey, peanut butter, and fruit jam pancake along with fresh seasonal orange juice. Simply amazing! They use green oranges here to make juice with. Interesting. The pancake felt like I was eating a dessert. Heaven on Earth. Later I tried to figure out how to get a canceled flight refund through the travel agent I booked it through. It’s a very difficult process that hopefully will be completed tomorrow. 
I decided not to go to Srinagar for fear for my health. I’ve heard horror stories online about militant groups coming aboard buses, religious extremists, and even kidnapping for money. Decided it’s not worth some pretty pictures. 
Sascha and I trek to a waterfall which lasted three kilometers after a short rickshaw to Daramkot. The waterfall was beautiful, but I wound up at a crossroads weather or not to step on a rickety log that looked as if it going to float away or jump to the next rock over.

I ended up jumping to the next rock which was slightly diagonal. My foot stayed with the rock and my leg went across causing a loud crack as if several celery sticks were just broken.

I severely sprained (hopefully not broken) my ankle after the jump. I cursed myself because I was three kilometers away from a place with roads. Luckily, I was near the freezing water from the falls, so I dunked it to slow the swelling. Afterward, I kept my leg elevated on the rocks and repeated the process until my foot felt frozen. After that Sascha and I made the slower trek back with a taxi waiting for us. Expensive, but it was worth every rupee. I got some cream from a pharmacist before he closes and some apple beer to help me sleep. It’s dark now. I will see a doctor in the morning.

June 3, 2011
I woke up with my leg feeling better, but once I got walking it started to hurt again. I ate breakfast, got money from the canceled flight. and started to ask around for doctors. The hotel manager took me to one, but little did I know this doctor was just on the street. I nervously agreed to have him look at my ankle. He started to press on my foot to see where it hurt then pulled out a medieval looking rope and string combination. He wrapped it around my toes while I looked on in fear and uncertainty. I looked around at the people coming to watch and asked “Is this okay!? Is this right!?” loudly. He quickly yanked my foot and undid the string around my toes with my jaw agasp. I really hope it hasn’t exacerbated my condition. Afterward, he said to walk up and down the alley to exercise it. Turning around was still hard for me. I falsely thanked him then proceeded to find a real hospital. I need an x-ray to ease my mind. Especially now.
I arrive at the Tibetan Delek Hospital. When it’s my turn after an hour of waiting they tell me it’s lunch time. “Why did you come so late”, they said. “I didn’t know 11am was late”, I replied. Apparently they have a lunch break from 12am-1pm. I’d hate to have an emergency during this time here. I wait another hour for the hospital to open again and get my x-ray. Only 100 rupees (about two dollars). What a deal. As I’m waiting for the film to develop I see an increasing amount of pregnant women. I’m informed that Friday at this time is when the doctor only sees pregnant women. Now to get a doctor’s opinion I have to go to one upstairs. This kind of schedule un-uniformity is incredibly common in India.

I went to the doctor upstairs with my x-ray and it turned yet again into a rat race. Even foreigners tried cutting in front of me. I eventually stood by the door legs apart to make sure I’m the next one in. Finally saw the doc and she told me that the swelling is so great she can’t make an accurate assessment of the x-ray. She also says that I shouldn’t be walking (great), no massaging, and keep it elevated which is exactly the opposite of the opinion from two street doctors. I believe I’m going to listen to her. Luckily she says the meds I’ve been taking from the pharmacy are just fine.

Before I call it a day and rest I went to visit an interesting old man who I’ve seen wondering the streets. I wanted to know his story. Sascha and I saw him at his usual afternoon spot near some shops just off the main street. He has a bushy untamed white beard, a golf cap, rolled up pants, a white dress shirt, a cane, and feet that looked swollen and infected. His head slouched as if he couldn’t move his neck. I greeted him and a friend of his named Daisy, an Indian woman, along with Rosie, a Tibetan woman, who look after him when they have time. I asked him who he was and about his life. Turns out he is only sixty years old and has been traveling for 44 years without having a fixed address. He’s originally from New York and is fairly Christian. He asked me if I believed in God a couple of times, and when I helped him stretch his arms in the air he always said, “Praise Jesus”. He was very soft spoken. I often had to put my ear right next to his face to understand what he said. He suffers from Parkinson's and an illness that causes a lapse in consciousness.

He still thinks he can travel more and even wants to teach English in Asia. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he couldn’t, but he really is in no condition to move anywhere. He is in desperate need of a social worker, but won’t go near the subject. Probably spent most of his life doing things by himself that he won’t admit when he needs assistance. A bit hypocritical because he essentially has just that with the two women that help him from time to time. The saddest part is that he has no place to stay. All the hotels won’t take him as he is and if there are any steps he needs help getting up and down them. It’s hard to find a ground floor in a mountain village. He asked to stay at my place. With my current foot condition I’m in no condition to help him up stairs, but I said I would ask my manager. He said no.

He then wanted to go to an Italian restaurant with a lot of stairs called Jimmy’s. We tried to talk him into a lower place, but he insisted. A brightly colored Indian woman, a cripple (me), and a German walk down the street helping this old man. We were quite a sight.

I managed to only get one picture of him. He was very against having pictures taken of him, but he eventually warmed up to me and I snapped a picture. He insisted that I don’t show his infected feet, which I thought had a story to tell just by themselves, and that his head was correctly aligned. I gave a joke then he smiled nice and big for the photo. Inside his pocket was a straw to help him drink, tissues, and a photo of him with the Dalai Lama. That picture was his most prized possession.

Some Indians ask us as we walk to Jimmy’s, “Do you guys need anything?”. Knowing that they either want to sell drugs or make a quick buck I still reply, “A place for this man to sleep”. “We live on the streets too”, they said as we passed.

The old man feels upset as he wobbles and pauses in the street. He believes that the hotel owners are superstitious of him which is why they won’t let him stay at their place. When he asked for a room at my place the owners got angry and upset that he was there. They shouted things in Tibetan as well. Perhaps there is some superstition unless he did something like pee on their doorstep in the past.

At the long awaited restaurant he falls asleep after after a long process of getting him up the steps and into a chair. Afterwards, I had to leave so I could elevate my leg, take care of myself, and chat with loved ones online.

June 4, 2011
The foot’s doing a little better and getting closer to normal size, but under the swelling bruises appear with an array of colors in a long horizontal streak just above the heel. I finally found a walking stick. You can’t buy one nearby, so the vegetarian restaurant I usually go to gave me one that someone left behind along with some ice. Thank goodness for the ice. Such a rarity to see ice in India.

While at Snow Lion, my vegetarian restaurant of choice, I learned of another story about the man I’ve noticed outside who lives in a metal box with a veil draped in front. Apparently he’s been living out of it for forty years with nowhere else to go. His brother lives down the street and does nothing to help. After living there for five to ten years he lost his vision, hearing, and ability to walk. Now Tibetan charities come by to clean his wounds, feed him, and nurse him. My foot troubles pale in comparison to almost all the stories I find in India. As I walked back to my hotel, just twenty meters away, I saw a dog licking his tail which had been severely cut and looked as though it was going to fall off. At this point in time I feel very lucky in this world. Things could have gone much worse than a severely sprained ankle. Suck it up Taylor.

June 5-6, 2011
I had prepared everything I could before 6pm which was the boarding time for my 12 hour bus ride from Mcleod Ganj to Delhi leaving at 6:20pm. I had bought another ticket for a slightly later bus just in case something went wrong. Sascha agreed to carry my stuff. As we walked we passed the man in the box again, but this time it was cloudy and the silk screen had been pushed aside. Great time for a photo, but sadly I had to stumble on with my bad foot or else I’d be late. I arrived at the bus parking at 6:10pm with no buses in sight. I asked a Punjabi passer by for help and he recommended to call the company. We were informed that the bus station moved a kilometer down by a church on Sundays. There’s that whole un-uniformity thing again.

I almost missed the bus, but narrowly made it on. The Punjabi man kindly went ahead and asked the driver to wait for a cripple. My seat was on the opposite side of the aisle than I needed for my leg so I asked a Tibetan girl across the aisle to exchange seats. She declined with no reason. I take back my statement that all Tibetans are generous.

As the bus gets going it turns into a rickety old machine that sounds like it’ll split in two any minute. Keep in mind this is a “deluxe” tourist bus which is much nicer than the local buses. The rest of the trip felt like a 12 hour roller coaster. Absolutely horrible for a man with a severe sprain and a belly full of food. To make the ride more bearable I made a make-shift splint/leg rest out of my bamboo stick and a hand towel. I positioned it under my butt to prevent it from pivoting. However, that didn’t stop it from shaking and bouncing on the roller coaster bus.

Eventually I decided that resting on the dirty aisle floor was the best option to get my leg elevated correctly. It certainly felt better on my foot, but my tailbone back paid the price for lying in that position. Ouch.

After my bus endurance test was over I finally arrived at a hostel near the Delhi airport where I’m writing this. Only 18 hours to go until my flight back to Korea then to America. Trying to get an hour of sleep in here and there. Let the good times...[snore].

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Phi the Golden Ratio

A Fibonacci spiral.  Cheesy...yes, but to the point.
Now a lot of people in the field of media and photography probably know about this, but I thought it should be noted for those within the amateur spectrum (myself included).  There is a mathematical ratio that can make things beautiful (most of the time) when it comes to photo composition, architecture, and even nature itself.  This magical number is approximately 1.6180339887, and it goes by many names:

- the golden ratio
- the golden mean
- phi ( \varphi \,) from Greek origin
- the golden section
- Fibonacci’s Ratio
- extreme and mean ratio- medial section
- divine proportion
- divine section
- golden proportion
- golden cut
- golden number

It has such a divine label because it has been connected to some of the most beautiful works of art (Mona Lisa among others), architecture (the Parthenon), a huge chunk of nature (sunflowers, the human body, DNA, shells, the universe, etc...), and even financial markets (see the Fibonacci retracement).  By noticing it's connections there seems that everything has been built as if by a creator; hence the word divine.

"... this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that appears often throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye. Since the Renaissance, artists and architects have designed their work to approximate this ratio of 1:1.618. It’s found all over the Parthenon, in famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and it’s still used today. The divine proportion has been used by companies like Apple to design products, it’s said to have been used by Twitter to create their new profile page, and has been used by major companies all over the world to design logos. It’s not talked about in most photography circles because it’s a somewhat advanced method of composition and can be confusing to a lot of people. It’s so much easier to just talk about the “rule of thirds” because it’s exact, precise and easy to follow." - DPS (Digital Photography School)
The rule of thirds, more commonly found in film and video texts, seems to be a poor man's version of this.

Hit 'Read more' to check out a gorgeous video about the subject below along with great links for more information:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ode to Korea

Here's a short music video describing South Korea from a foreigner's perspective to the tune of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab".

Ode to Korea from Taylor on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

M.C. Escher in Real Life

People have gotten a little creative on the "internets" and decided to make impossible structures based off M.C. Escher designs.  Others have gotten very creative with the aspect of tricking the eye.

Hit "read more" for tons more photos and videos.

Why Games Are More Like Movies

Video games have certainly come a long way since I was little.  I'm 25 years young, but I still remember games reminiscent of Pong on the Atari system my Grandpa had.

With cinema scenes becoming better graphically and cinematically by utilizing actors, creative lighting that looks like a video version of HDR, music, sound, and story there's room for video games to heavily influence our movies instead of visa versa.  Below is a great example of how games resemble the art and craft of cinema.

An actual HDR video can be seen under this paragraph.  The time-lapse technique used is the easiest way to have HDR in video. Essentially putting three different pictures (one dark, medium, and bright) at the same angle and stitching them together.  Then stitching all those together at about 29 pictures a second.  Don't forget a buttload of color correction...phew. Still, incredibly well made and executed using sliders from Ditogear by Patryk Kizny.

Holographic Entertainment: Way Better than Current 3D

3D is still the trend when it comes to blockbusters and today's consumer technology, but there has been a more effective way to watch things in three dimensions for a while.  You've heard of it and seen it many places, but it's ability to be immersed in mainstream media has been limited.  I'm talking, of course, about holograms.  Holograms essentially display images as if they were real objects.  You're able to walk around them and view them from all sides.  Just think what this will do for video chats, conferencing, movies, TV, medical and engineering departments, porn.

The reason 3D technology will eventually be ousted is not only that holograms will look and feel more realistic, but the technology can never let you reach that point.  Your eyes converge on actual objects, but in 3D movies they stay fixed on the screen.  The more "3D" the look of the media the more flicker you get while watching it.  It makes it more and less real at the same time.  Plus you also can get major headaches and eyestrain from watching 3D content because it's fooling your eyes to make it seem like there is depth when there really isn't any.  It's for this reason children under six should stay away from watching 3D media.  However, with hologram technology there will be physical depth to the image that your eyes can converge at just like a real object.

You can expect to see holographic TVs for sale within the next few years or so.  With all this new tech coming out it's only a matter of time before they make the holograms smell like objects (hello again smell-o-vision), move the hologram, and feel like something is there (i.e. Japan's ultrasonic sound hologram).

Educate yourself!  See how much hologram technology has evolved under your nose. Check out these pictures, links, and videos:

Hit the jump for more videos, an amazing hologram, and a crappy one.

LASIK: In Seoul

LASIK has no doubt come a long way since it's conception.  Believe it or not using a microkeratome, or the tool to cut a flap in the cornea, has been utilized since 1950.  Moving forward into the recent past, people used to have to wear bandages after the surgery, it carried more risks, and was incredibly more expensive than today.  Now with new technologies such as wavefront, micro-LASIK, LASEK, and permanent contact lenses it's seems to be a good time to say goodbye to glasses and least until I need readers in old age.

That's why I recently opted for LASIK surgery at the Dream Eye Center in Seoul, South Korea.  Besides it being a truly professional place that speaks English it's also a fraction of the price than in America.  Sorry USA, but keep working on that health care system.

For those of you who are unaware or interested in the LASIK procedure then here's the gist:

    The good - Fast recovery, little discomfort, and a simple three step process (make a flap, reshape the cornea with a laser, and put the flap back).
    The bad - Possible long term effects (i.e. dry eyes, night halos, etc...)
    Micro-LASIK - cuts a thinner flap and leaves more of the cornea untouched.

    The good - For people who are not as applicable for LASIK (strange shape of an eye, people that do contact sports, etc...) and with less long term risks. With new tech it can have much less pain than previous LASEK.  
    The bad - Usually has more pain and a much longer recovery time than LASIK.
    Micro-LASEK - uses mitomycin to reduce haze

WAVEFRONT: It more precisely measures the imperfections in your eye by using waves to create "perfect eyesight".

(ICL) Implantable Contact Lens: Just what it sounds like.  They insert a sterile contact lens into your cornea.  Safer for your cornea, but currently costs more.

Below is a video of my surgery from the viewpoint of a friend outside the operating room.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Smell-O-Vision is back baby!

Good greif. I feel like this will somehow be less annoying in the future. "Well, if there's a buck to be made..."

Have you ever gone to a movie and wanted to feel like you were really there? As if all the smells and sounds were real? This year at CES, ScentSciences released a bread loaf sized product that appeals to your nose…of all things. Movies that have been created with their ScentEditor software can make you smell all the smells that you would imagine to be on screen. It’s kind of a creepy way to put you more into the movie, but hey, smells are a sense we don’t use during a movie other than for popcorn, so why not?
There is a scent cartridge that can hold up to 20 distinct smells and any smells you want can be custom ordered. These cartridges should last up to 200 hours and needless to say that’s a lot of time to smell things. This weird device only costs $69 and $19 for the editor software. This probably is a really good idea to start incorporating into movies and such as scent and memory are closely connected, but it’s still a strange concept to me.

Link via Red Ferret 

Some photo tests and experiments

Took a lot of tries to get this kind of smoke jellyfish pattern.

You can even see the texture of the lens. Tell me that's not cool?

Being in Korea you can't really forget about soju.