My Trip Comes to a Close: Thoughts on Sarees, the Caste System, and Things Crawling Up Your Leg.

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I know none of you want to hear a long-winded summary of how amazing, trying, tribulatifyingtasticnessish, and rewarding my trip was. So I’ll make this a fairly short-winded rundown about my adventure-seeking superiority. Duh.

Yes, really, I did have quite the trip. I had some nasty illnesses and have learned to never again smooch so much with water buffalo. Of the 6 countries I was in–India, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand–I also can’t stop thinking about 3 countries in particular: Thailand, Nepal, and India. 

India isn’t a terrible country at all; had I been traveling through it and not lived in it, I probably would have liked it a lot more. They just have so many problems there, and as one friend pointed out, they DO have the technology and resources; they’re just unable to spread those resources correctly and have even more corruption than we do here. They’re a country out of control: They believe that their massive population equals massive power. They’re beginning to understand and accept more in terms of marrying outside one’s religion, living with those outside one’s caste, even picking who one can “court.” To me–and this is only my opinion–I almost feel that those in love with India are actually in love with what’s on the surface: Unique and cheap food, beautiful colors, history, kindness, and tradition. I loved that part too. But unlike loving those same things in Thailand—a third-world country that’s happy with that status and has just millions, not billions, of people— India believes it is pushing into the modern world successfully. It’s not. Nothing real can change when the large majority of this billion-plus-member country refuses to even let someone of a lower caste co ok for them. Or how they separate their buses into the female and male sections because men can’t keep their hands to themselves. Or how women aren’t allowed to show skin because of how men may act. And it’s not just me complaining; these issues have real and measurable consequences when that rule means you can’t really exercise, farm, or do things “normal” men do (not that they exercise either). Come now, do you even remember seeing anyone from India in the Olympics? When the population is more than one-sixth of the world? The people were, as I mentioned, some of the most delightful and helpful people ever, and I would quickly rush to try to repay them with the kindness they showed me. But I also know that with a suffering economy, pollution running rampant, and a society that’s never been taught how to deal with strangers, there’s no way they can move forward. It breaks my heart to see such intelligence, corruption, and poverty (not that I even saw near the worst of it) juxtaposed in such a way, and simultaneously makes me feel so afraid and disdainful of what this country is doing to their own people—and to the world. When will it stop?

In other news, I still think about Thailand, Nepal, and India every day. Thailand still has horrible food but incredible scenery and situations as always. Nepal had great food AND incredible scenery. And India was great when I was visiting its people and enjoying the surface instead of working and understanding its many pitfalls. How very hypocritical of me, right?

It shocks me at how easy it is to travel in seemingly foreign and faraway places. To those who have never ventured beyond (your local big city), Paris and Cancun, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur probably sound scary and full of the unexpected. Well, they are, but too many never get that far. There are always hoards of young adults—many wearing “PUB CRAWL 2012 PHUKET – AN EXPERIENCE I ALREADY FORGOT” wife beaters—who hop from city to city, often in groups, visiting monuments, drinking on the cheap, hooking up with other foreigners, and looking exhausted and hungover at border crossings. Is this travel? Sure it is, though it’s not travel I’m a fan of. It shocks me how I can actually be working with someone in a foreign country who is so ignorant to what’s going on right outside our windows, or how you can live for years in an unfamiliar city and still elect to go to the local Starbucks every day. Is travel about comfort? I guess for most it is. For me, I seem to brag most about the uncomfortable situations.  I will never forget how crazy it was to be yelled at for having the wrong bit of stomach flab show in my saree, feel scared and lost while sick and seemingly alone in the mountains, get assistance while literally stuck in the mud during rice planting, and be judged by Indian neighbors for wearing shorts in my own home. How could YOU not want to experience THAT?! Those experiences are what I’m most curious about, at least, and I think it’s a lot closer to real adventure than tour guides. Why travel halfway around the world to do the same old when you can have be standing on a rubber tree farm, weilding a dangerous tool of sorts, unsure of what’s about to come next because something is biting your leg and no one around you speaks English?                          

I guess that’s enough from me this time around, but I’m always, always happy to share stories. Best of all? I have an amazing adventure coming up…well, in 2 days. You’ll hear about it soon! Until then, over and out. It’s been real, crazy, and absolutely unforgettable.

Coop

 

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[Here are some of my favorite new photos from throughout my trip. Enjoy!] 

1. (Top) My friend’s sister, a nomade living in Nepal’s Himalayas

2. (Above) The wind catches a woman’s saree

3. Crazy, awesome, magnificent bugs in Thailand

4. A student’s family in India, or the guessing game of Who Is Out Of Place In This Photo?

5. Teaching in Thailand, or the most set-up looking photo ever (it wasn’t)

6. Looking out in southern India

7. Showing neighbors my photos in Thailand (my friend translated for them)

8. And then there was that time one of the greasy locals grabbed me, put his arm around me (I was laughing uncomfortably), and proceeded to…BITE ME?! Stay away from this guy.

9. I can dress up. Sort of. Me and my first roommate, Claire, on conference day

 10. Being blessed by the locals

11. Learning to play the sitar

12. My usual posse of men. Kidding, kidding, they’re my students. Oh come on, stop being nasty!

13. Women of the woods

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PHOTOS – Florida – (not my photography) – trip for food, fun, and bizarre activities

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Well, what can I possibly say about this trip? It was pretty darn awesome in very odd ways. By now you probably have realized that I enjoy the not-so-touristy aspects of traveling. Why spend time on the tourist strip when you can get to know the locals, go hiking on the hidden trails, and eat at the neighborhood spots? So you can probably guess that when I took my older brother Timothy to Florida this December as his birthday present, it wasn’t to go to Disney World.

No, I had gotten us plane, car, buffet, and concert tickets to see one of the biggest oddity performances, brought to you by American culture. It was called the Singing Christmas Trees, and the story as to why this was the worst/best birthday ever is too long and unique to post here. Just trust me when I tell you it was a bizarre, sacreligious performance in the most religious of places. I, actually, am a very privately religious (or spiritual, if you like) person, but to me, this celebration of 250 people singing in a tree was a joke, and we were the only folks who had traveled that far to…well, not cry tears of joy. Out of (some) respect, I will post only one photo of the fiasco.

Other news: We had three buffets in two days, saw a wild armadillo, ate way too much other food, went swimming in a natural springs not 200 feet from alligators, went to a shooting range, saw megachurches, played mini-golf (my brother’s favorite), realized that Florida is the South, met some very sketchy rednecks, raced on a triple-decker go-kart track, and did so much more.

Many of the locals were not helpful.

Example:

“Excuse me, but where would you recommend eating breakfast around here?”

“Denny’s. Or McDonald’s.”

These are not my photos, but I hope you’ll enjoy them all the same. Timothy took hundreds of photos, but I’m saving you some time and vomit by only showing you 13 precious ones. You should start to get concerned around photo one. We visited some odd places that were definitely not on any tourist track. Nor should they be.

Photo captions labeled by number:

(1) It’s a pickled egg. No, it was not tasty.

(2) “Drink.” The noun, not the verb.

(3) Crosses on Christmas trees (with people singing inside!).

(4) An assortment of breakfast foodstuffs at the grill-your-own-pancakes state park.

(5) I was enjoying eating. And bringing the ’80s back, apparently.

(6) The water temperature was NOT a constant 72 degrees, contrary to the literature.

(7) Pork Uteri from the mega Vietnamese store we spent a lot of time exploring.

(8) My great friend Billy drove up to visit! I killed him on the go-karts, however, especially because some drunk gal rear-ended him and he spun around the opposite way.

(9) My bro. Goat head. Mexican store. That’s all you need to know.

(10) Me on the shooting range. I was able to get 5/5 in the bullseye after a one-hour lesson!

(11) Timothy looks like a killer.

(12) The hushpuppies on this plate were absolutely incredible. We were so inspired, we made our own version for Christmas dinner. Not quite as good, but with a chipotle mayo, why the heck not?

(13) It’s a drive-through liquor mart. I guess Florida state legislators puzzled over how to raise the number of DUIs before coming up with this genius business. Crikes, man.