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Jan. 29th, 2008 @ 10:16 pm Book Meme
Just something fun, stolen from http://itsabookclub.blogspot.com/. In the original creator's words: bold what you have read, italicize what you started but didn't/couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn’t stand.

I'm hoping this doesn't just go to prove how little I've actually read compared to what I think.

The Aeneid
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
American Gods
Anansi Boys
Angela’s Ashes : A Memoir
Angels & Demons
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged
The Blind Assassin
Brave New World
The Brothers Karamazov
The Canterbury Tales
The Catcher in the Rye
A Clockwork Orange
Cloud Atlas
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Confusion
The Corrections
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
David Copperfield
Don Quixote - does it count that I read the dumbed-down Spanish V version?
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Fountainhead
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
The God of Small Things
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
Great Expectations
Gulliver’s Travels
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
The Historian : A Novel
The Hobbit
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Iliad
In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences
The Inferno
Jane Eyre
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Kite Runner
Les Misérables
Life of Pi : A Novel
Love in the Time of Cholera
Madame Bovary
Mansfield Park
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Mists of Avalon
Moby Dick
Mrs. Dalloway
The Name of the Rose
Northanger Abbey
The Odyssey
Oliver Twist
On the Road
The Once and Future King
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Oryx and Crake : A Novel
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Poisonwood Bible : A Novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Pride and Prejudice
The Prince
Reading Lolita in Tehran : A Memoir in Books
The Satanic Verses
The Scarlet Letter
Sense and Sensibility
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Silmarillion
The Sound and the Fury
The Tale of Two Cities
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Three Musketeers
The Time Traveler’s Wife
To the Lighthouse
Treasure Island
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Vanity Fair
War and Peace
Watership Down
White Teeth
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Wuthering Heights
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values

If only I could create a category for "sitting on my bed waiting for me to notice it." I think I'll keep editing this list as I read them, maybe even add a few of my own that I think should be included.
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Jul. 27th, 2007 @ 06:45 pm Excursing in Estonia?
Maybe that one doesn't quite work.

Looks like it's time for an update. I do have an excuse for not journaling, mostly that I wanted to wait until I actually had something worth writing about. I still don't have anything too exciting, but here goes. Delhi was pretty insane, but I managed to escape in one piece (though perhaps a few pounds lighter from all the fluids I lost; I felt like I was literally swimming in my own sweat for 24 hours straight) and made it safely to Estonia (via London, where I met some interesting people who were stuck sleeping in the airport like me. Travel always seems to connect the strangest people). When I first re-entered the "Western world" I experienced some major culture shock. I spent the longest time just staring around me, amazed at how big and green everything was (mostly big: bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger streets and, I hate to say it, bigger people) compared to India. By now I've pretty much readapted to Western life and strangely, I miss the culture shock. As the name implies, it is of course rather shocking, but also exhilarating. It allowed me to see the world (or one particular part of the world) through fresh eyes for a time (until I surprisingly quickly readapted--it's amazing how adaptable humans can be).

Estonia was pretty foreign when I first came here as an exchange student but now, compared to India, it seems rather bland to me. The people by comparison are so cold and distant--here it's possible to sit on a bus touching legs with a stranger for three hours and never manage to make eye contact with the person. In India they'd have my name, age, income, occupation, and marital status within the first two minutes. While I do enjoy being able to drink the water and walk down the street without being hassled, I've already started to miss the countries I left behind.

While here I've tried to get out and see some of the cultural events I missed out on last time I was here. First was the Eesti Noorte Laulu- ja Tanstupidu--Estonian Youth Song and Dance Festival, that is. Imagine a huge stadium, packed full of singing Estonian youth. Add to this a crowd of about 100,000, mostly dressed in traditional clothing, and you can get an idea of what it was like. Of course, 100,000 isn't much compared to some of the crazier Indian festivals like the Kumbha Mela--a religious pilgrimage held every four years which attracts close to 70 million--but it's nearly a tenth of Estonia's entire population. I didn't sing, of course, but just observing was very powerful.

And some of the costumes:

After that was Mytofest, as sort of Scandinavian-themed Renaissance Fair. It was pretty tiny compared to the ones I've seen in the US, but still interesting, with traditonal crafts being taught and a grand battle between armored sword-fighters (being cheerd on in three different languages). Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear the traditional music groups they were hosting, as I had to hitch-hike back to town and chose not to risk doing it in the dark.

Then a one-day trip to Helsinki. I got to see these lovely buildings:

but only from the outside. As I found out a bit too late, all the museums are closed on Mondays. But fortunately for me, there was the Academic Bookstore to make up for it! Bigger and better than any Barnes and Noble, this bookstore boasted not only the biggest travel section I've ever seen, but also the worst prices (32 Euros for a $20 book)! All in all it was a good time, though, and I managed to not get lost, mugged, or rained on while I was there.

This Sunday I'm off for good, first to Viljandi for the Viljandi Folk Music Festival (http://www.folk.ee/2007/about.php) and then to my first WWOOFing experience in Europe!
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May. 20th, 2007 @ 05:58 pm Hiding in Hippie Town
One month later and I still haven't made it to Kinnaur and Spiti, as every time I was on the verge of leaving I met someone and was enticed to go elsewhere. But such is travel in India (or perhaps travel in general)--I've come to realize that the true purpose of plans is to provide something for fate to completely overturn. If I had the courage to travel with no plans at all, then why, I'm afraid I might just become a true traveler and never reach home again.

So now I'm in the hippie haven of Dharamshala. Here the travelers truly do outnumber the locals, especially during the high season (I arrived smack in the middle of it) and the locals are taking full advantage of it. All streets within a two mile radius of the bus stand in McLeodganj are chock-a-block with restaurants, bookstores, and shops selling all sorts of hippie paraphernalia, from "fisherman pants" and colorful shawls to crystals and chillums. Frustratingly, I haven't actually *done* anything here or been able to overcome my scepticism thoroughly enough to try out one of the many courses offered here. From yoga to reiki to palmistry to silversmithing, it's possible to find any sort of "alternative" course which an enlightened (or perhaps just seeking enlightenment) traveler could want. Looking back on it, I still can't say exactly what I've been doing here, but the time somehow passed all the same. And like Kathmandu, this place exerts some strange force that keeps travelers here weeks after they originally planned to leave and gets stronger the longer you stay. It seems the only way to break free is to pack up and, with no plan whatsoever, walk into McLeodganj and board the first bus going anywhere.

I should be putting such a plan into action very soon, as I finally have the incentive of limited time to get my lazy bum out of here and back on the road. I've booked two plane tickets for the eighth of June that will eventually bring me back to Estonia and hopefully a more fruitful existence, at least for a while. After having good birch-twig beating in a much longed-for sauna, getting a taste of Parnu's beach, and experiencing the exuberant Estonian celebration of the summer solstice, I'll see about WWOOFing through the newly created WWOOF Estonia and then have a look at the rest of Eastern Europe that I didn't get to see last time I was in the area. I'm so excited!

Now for some pictures from my latest wanderings, however infrequent they've been.

After Shimla, rather than venturing to Kinnaur and Spiti, I found a trekking companion at the last minute and hopped in a bus for the little heard-of destination of Jibhi. The village itself consists of maybe twenty houses clustered at a bend in a one-way road, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Jibhi itself had a few modern conveniences (one very slow telephone service and an unfinished bank), but the surrounding villages were remarkably untouched. The pictures can do it more justice than more words, however.

Some friends met on the road:

Women proudly showing off their newly born livestock:

Here's a man I encountered on a day-hike, who herded his flock over to the base of the waterfall where we were sitting and then proceeded to haul the sheep one by one into the water and scrub them clean. The goats (producers of cashmere, as I later found out) were spared and, like us, were able to simply look on with amusement.

A woman spinning the traditional way, with the spindle supported in a carved bowl strapped to her waist. I actually managed to buy a few handmade spindles like this one when I was there, and plan to try them out when I get home. The long-handled bowl is a good idea, as it allows her to spin while walking and (presumably) herding sheep as well. I was told that in this area the men also know how to spin.

The view from Triund, a high ridge few hour's walk from Dharamshala. We stayed the night in a shepherd's hut up there and woke up to bleating of the hundreds of sheep who had hunkered down around the hut during the night. Quite a strange experience.

And last of all, another class of friends, brought out the torrential rainstorms we've been having here:

I found a truly monstrous one of these at my guesthouse a day or so ago and was crouched down admiring its bulk when one of the guys who works there discovered me. I'm still disposed to think he was pulling my leg, but he told me quite seriously that when someone breaks a bone here in Himachal, it's custom for his family to try to feed him some slug without his knowing it, usually in the form of soup. Supposedly, it helps with healing. Urrrgh! And this is the man who does all the cooking there! That was enough to put me off soup for a good while.
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Apr. 19th, 2007 @ 08:23 pm One Snap, Please!
This may be my last chance at internet access for a while, as I'm heading up into the remote valleys of Kinnaur and Spiti tomorrow. I'm currently in the former British hill station of Shimla, having finally had enough of the suffocating heat of Rajasthan. Shimla's a pretty laid-back place compared to the usual insanity of an Indian city, but it definitely has its quirks, from snap-happy Indian tourists (today when I visited the Jahkhu temple there was almost a line of them wanting to take their pictures with me--it seems other travelers have had similar experiences and none of us have been able to work out exactly why) to vicious, thieving monkeys (I witnessed one ripping the glasses right off someone's face) and roaming astrologers. It's strange city, very clean and quiet with neat colonial buildings, yet very shallow and "Western", sprawling down several hillsides in a strange combination of resort hotels and corrugated tin shacks. I'm definitely ready to leave, even if it means no more hot showers for a while.

Here are the latest pictures from my wanderings, starting from Udaipur:

On to Jodhpur:


And last the evil monkeys of Shimla, looking misleadingly benign here:

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Apr. 6th, 2007 @ 02:42 pm Madness
How to even begin describing my first month in India? Should I start with places (Varanasi, Orchha, Bhopal, Mandu, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, Bundi, Pushkar, Udaipur...) or experiences (being temporarily dyed purple during the festival of Holi, encountering transvestites on a night train to Kota, just barely preventing a bedbug infestation of my backpack, joining the women of Maheshwar in a mad dance to the goddess Durga...)? Or perhaps I should begin with pictures.

I love it here and at the same time hate it. It's nothing like what I expected yet some things are exactly as I expected. I've been sad, shocked, amazed, and seriously scared at times. Every day I waver between wanting to escape this place and be safe again within my own culture (I know now that I will never understand Indian culture; the longer I stay and the more I learn, the more bewildered I become) and thinking that perhaps I could stay another six months. Confused and uncertain, my only option is to keep moving and see what this insane country will throw at me next. Northward, I think.
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Feb. 21st, 2007 @ 12:16 am Still Here
Current Mood: sicksick
Kathmandu is like a black hole. Life is so easy here that travelers like myself simply get sucked in, never to reappear. I originally planned on staying for three days until my friend flew out, but as of today I've been here for two weeks since returning from the farm. Two weeks!? Fate has conspired to keep me here, it seems: first it was the weeklong process of applying for an Indian visa, then waiting for Shiva Raatri to occur, and now I find myself down for possibly another week with a stomach bug. And to think, all this time I could have been on a farm somewhere busting my ass and possibly even accomplishing something! I've promised myself that if I ever escape this place, I'll never again stay in a city for more than three days.
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Feb. 11th, 2007 @ 10:42 pm Kathmandu, I'll Soon Be Leaving You
Current Mood: restlessrestless
Just realized that I've been in Nepal for nearly a month and haven't updated this thing once. To sum things up, it's crazy, annoying, hectic, loud, fascinating, stinky, strange, and amazing here. I've been in Kathmandu a total of two weeks, broken up by two weeks in an idyllic village living and working (though not as much as I'd hoped) at a fledgling organic farm. Since they're in between major crops here (the wheat is already in the ground and the rice planting begins in June), there isn't much actual work for a volunteer to do. I almost managed to cross the barrier between guest and family member by asking to help cook (albeit badly), but my hostess still wouldn't allow me to assist with the daily "women's work" of carrying water, washing clothing, milking cattle, etc.

So now the plan is to work my way around India for about three months, praying that my money will last that long, and return to Nepal in early June. So while I enjoy the comparative luxury that is life in Kathmandu, I'm itching to depart for warmer climes before they get too warm.

Being surrounded by such a totally foreign belief system a Hinduism is fascinating but also overwhelming. Walk on any street outside Thamel for more than a block and you're bound to stumble across some sort of temple or shrine, usually lodged improbably between a trash pile and a butcher's stall. The most important temples, usually popular tourist destinations, have an almost carnival-like atmosphere surrounding them, as hawkers gather there to sell everything from cotton candy to prayer wheels (at Buddhist sites) and cheap silk scarves. In the village, religion was simply a part of daily life. Amazingly, our hosts included us in everything, with no fuss and no awkwardness. We tried to spy on the Saturday puja (a ritual of offerings and incense to the Hindu gods, predominantly Shiva), only to be hunted down and solemnly given tikas (the red dot on the forehead) and expected to participate in the ritual. Another morning, we were surrounded by our customary crowd of preteen girls--I made the mistake of teaching them "Go Fish" on the day we arrived and as a result we spent our evenings playing interminable games of "Go Piss", as the Nepali accent rendered it, for the entire two weeks--and begged to "Go to temple" with them. Complying, we were led on a two-hour hike through the countryside and eventually arrived at a jumble of massive stones on a hillside. After removing our shoes, we followed our hostess into a tiny crack in the rocks and were led crawling through a tight passage to a cave deep in the rocks. At the shrine--a barely-lit jumble of rocks with an image of Shiva lodged between them--we imitated our hostess in tossing offerings of rice and flowers to the rocks, ringing the puja bell (supposedly to wake the god), and finally receiving tikas. We repeated the process at various other red-smeared rocks in the cave, then received a blessing from the resident priest just outside. Another interesting aspect of Hinduism is that worshippers all give something--a few coins, some food--to the priest in exchange for his blessing. From the flower-strewn red rocks to the crawl into the darkness, it was a surreal experience, and still hard for me to believe that we were included as foreigners.

For those few people actually reading this: when I speak of "we", I mean myself and the British guy I met who unexpectedly decided to join me after he helped me find the place (on a motorcycle, no less, but I don't have time to write about it). I realize now that this is a whopping big post, but there may not be any more for a while. Unfortunately, I won't be posting pictures, as I idiotically left my camera cord at home. Argh.

Hopefully, my next post will be from India!
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Jan. 3rd, 2007 @ 11:08 am Twelve days!
Current Mood: giddygiddy
Current Music: Kapten Kapsyl by Vasen
I'm two days too late and a bit sappy, but I feel I must remark on the astounding beauty of the first day of the year. The sky was that incredible "clean air" blue that I've only seen when backpacking and occasionally on cold October evenings, a color so deep it made me feel almost lonely. It's hard to describe such things (I'm out of practice, too)--but it was like a primal joy so powerful that it left me somehow isolated. Perhaps it was just the feeling of my body chemistry righting itself with the return of the sun. Or perhaps it was an omen.

Many people I know (some of them bloggers) have talked about writing as a way of experiencing life, as a "part of their being" or maybe a way of being. I wish those were my feelings. To me, writing is a desperate, scrabbling, disorganized attempt to express feelings and describe moments in time and place that were never and could never be words. I've always left something out or barely approached the edges of an experience. I always feel inarticulate, clumsy, hackneyed, and stupid. My diaries are always miserable for me to read later. But I try because I want to remember what I felt and saw, even if so inaccurately. What other option do I have?
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Dec. 17th, 2006 @ 02:43 pm Wired from Lack of Sleep
Current Mood: weirdweird
I've been reduced to desperate measures trying to get my sleeping times back to something reasonable. The other night I pulled an all-nighter to make myself tired enough that I could crash at eleven the next day. It would seem I'm still feeling the effects. At least it gives me another excuse not to practice driving.

I also wonder whether or not I should wait until I'm not sleep-deprived to make some rather important calls to Nepal, esp the rather sketchy volunteer situation (should I trust some random poster on Thorn Tree?). I'm not confident about my scam-spotting skills.

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Nov. 29th, 2006 @ 03:27 am It's Imminent!
Now that I'm about to head off for my Big Adventure (TM), maybe I should try to get in the habit of blogging. Otherwise, who knows, I may forget I ever went.

I've now had two of the required five scary required vaccinations (think Typhoid fever *shudder*) and my plane tickets are almost ordered, so I think I'm allowed to start getting nervous, especially after reading this. But also excited. I can almost already smell the stink of Kathmandu and see the cows roaming through the streets...
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