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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Off to Thailand. Goodbye, Malaysia! (Update Part 13)

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When I arrive in a new place, you may think the first thing I do is to sample some of the local cuisine or find some adventure activities at the nearest national park. Quite the contrary, I actually enjoy buying a newspaper, walking to the local Golden Arches, and sitting down with my international iPhone translator app in order to gain a true sense of where I am, read up on the cuisines of the region, and hunt for an additional husband in the personal ads. If FOX news and other sensationalized media have your hair constantly standing on end, I think you’ll find the honesty in these Asiatic countries rather refreshing.


Here, for example, is a clip from a newspaper tourism section I found:

The Cuisine of India: Here, it’s Our Food that Brings You Hair-Tingling Experiences

 Ah…so that’s why I got nasty black hairs in my food nearly every day.


Or take these two charming ads I found in a Bangkok daily:

Single Thai Male, 31, 5’7”. Enjoys sitting idle and rubbing feet and/or picking toenails. A lifeless look while moving hands from feet to snack food is my specialty. What gets me going? Girls who get turned on by the site of my belly showing in public. Ladies who will wear the same shirt day in and day out. If you enjoy snotting on it and wiping the day’s food remains on it too, even better. A gal who enjoys a brisk shower with no option of heat. If you’re good at hula hoop, that’s hot.

Single Thai Female, 18, 5’7” with 5” stilettos: Inspirational quote: “Tee-hee-hee-hee! Giggle, giggle, oh you so funny, tee-hee-heeeee!” About me: “Shews!””

 

On the subject of personal ads, I found this one to be extremely upfront and honest. And who can fault one for that?

Malay Muslim Man, either single or already married, 47, 5’7”: I’m staring at you. From across the way. No, not in a romantic way. I mean literally, right as you’re reading this, I am the creepy guy across the way who keep my eyes on you at all times, no matter where I am in the coffee shop/bus/mall. You just looked up and caught my eye, then quickly looked down. Sketchy? Yes. Threatening? Sure. Thinking of calling the cops? // If you enjoy these possibly dangerous courtship procedures and want a life with little or no power and choice, call me. Or just give me a nod, ‘cause I’m still staring at you.


And you know, I had a lovely, albeit short, time in Laos while renewing my Thai visa. I saw this advertisement on the front of a Laotian expat monthly:

Laos: When the White Man tires of the Thai WoMan, we Lao Women will step up to the plate.

Oh right, one of the guys I knew had a fling last month with a Thai woman after  a trannie cabaret show. He said he was too drunk to be sure of…well… ANYHOW, in other news, Laos is the new Thailand when it comes to lonely,  disheveled, bearded, post-divorcees wanting an Asian wife. Total stereotype,  but you can’t ignore what’s smack in your face all the time.


And finally, a welcome booklet I saw in Singapore:

Singapore: We love welcoming visitors to our future city, but make sure you read up on our rules before entering the country. To make learning about Singapore a little more fun, we’ve put our rules into a quick little jingle for you to remember. It goes something like this (sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but not really):

Jaywalking  =  A FINE

Littering = A FINE

Leaving Singapore in a Singaporean car without a ¾ full tank of gas = A FINE

Gum, Firecrackers, or non-sanctioned alcohol and cigarettes = A FINE

Doing drugs and getting caught = THE DEATH PENALTY

Drug trafficking = THE DEATH PENALTY

Getting caught carrying drugs, including “just” marijuana = THE DEATH PENALTY

Anyone who does something wrong in Singapore = THE DEATH PENALTY

He he, we’re just kidding on that last one. See, we have a sense of humor, too. Everyone is welcomed who will obey!

Enjoy Singapore!

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Before I got to Thailand, and after I said farewell to my brother, a photographer approached me out of the blue. She was probably curious to know why a white girl was sitting in her apartment’s courtyard, but had no idea that I, too, was a photographer. Wonder of wonders, and as seems to happen in Asia, we ended up chatting the day away and she ended up hosting me for two days. I learned so much from her—about the life of a Malay Muslim woman, about her photography, and about her as a person. Not only that, but she let me play around with her photo equipment and even had her youngest model for us during a shoot. “Baby,” as she is called, enjoyed throwing the leaves up in the air so much that I had to laugh each time she giggled with glee. After saying a sad farewell to her, I visited my friends yet again, then caught a bus up to the Thai island of Koh Tao for more diving. Dive I did, but I quickly got sick of seeing drunk Westerners crash their motorbikes, injure themselves, and general gain the disrespect of the Thai community. It just wasn’t my scene, and I was eager to escape the 100+-degree heat and visit my friend in the mountains. I boarded a bus to Bangkok…and got delayed again by my friend there, whose hometown I was visiting. My remedy? Laos, but that’s for next time. Here are some photos of the island and more, macro shots from experimenting with lenses, and one happy (and unphotoshopped!) kid.

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Food Photos from Singapore and Malaysia. Want More? Taste at Your Own Risk.

I enjoy taking photos of food when I have the time to get the perfect shot, or when I am getting paid for it and get to eat free food on set. When I’m out eating street food in a foreign land, however, I really enjoy just feasting with my eyes and, well, eating. When my brother’s camera ran out of battery one day at the hawker stands, however, he nearly had a heart attack. How would he continue to document every single meal he was eating? “No fear,” I said, bravely stepping up to the plate. “I’ll take photos of our meals today.” The color slowly returned to his face and his breathing resumed. Crisis narrowly averted. *

So here are some [annoyingly unlabeled because I don’t know what the dishes were or where we were eating them] photos of food eaten throughout Singapore and Malaysia. Sorry they’re pretty poor, but that’s what you get for 10 seconds in dark, sketchy eateries. Vic, Timmy, Billy, and everyone else–enjoy!

*The above is a gross exaggeration of the actual incident, though he did almost panic.

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1 – hand-pulled noodles with pork, Chinatown, Singapore

2 – black-boiled eggs and animal parts, Geylang, Singapore

3 – I think it was tofu, Geylang, Singapore

4 – chili fish, somewhere in Singapore

5 – char suey, somewhere in Singapore

6 – yam cake, Chinatown, Singapore

7 – Malaysian-style curry potatoes and chicken, Geylang, Singapore

8 – Indonesian eggplant and more, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

9 – I have no idea where we ate this.

10 – I don’t know about this one either.

11 – white carrot cake (savory, and not a carrot in sight), Old Airport Rd., Singapore

12 – my favorite: roti canai with chicken curry and beef curry, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

13 – Indonesian chicken veggie fritters with fruit yogurt, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

14 – Indonesian thighs ‘n’ things, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

15 – Kuey Teow, Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

16 – Indonesian-Malaysian fusion greens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

17 – cake, Malaysian style. Sweet, but somehow fishy. Duh.

 

Diving in Malaysia and Biking in Singapore. Next Up, Eating (Update Part 11)

June was great! I left India and have been wearing shorts every single day just to spite that country. Anyhow!

During the month of June I made great new friends in Malaysia, ate my favorite foreign dish–roti canai–visited my college friend Whitney in Singapore, had my older brother Timothy fly out to meet me as we ate through all the Singaporean hawker stalls, and then went back to Malaysia to visit friends, eat, and get SCUBA certified on the northern islands! Diving has been a dream of mine for a while and something I’d been looking forward to my entire trip, so I was quite thrilled to be in a lovely landscape and have my brother along with me.

Since most of my time the past few weeks has been spent in the water diving with various fish, I thought you might be interested in seeing just a bit of what I’ve been able to see underwater. Yes, I’ve seen all these fish (and many, many more) listed below with my very own eyes—no joke! I didn’t take these photos, but Google did, and I think you’ll be able to marvel at the beauty of these creatures while learning a bit about life in the sea. 

Sting

Blue-Spotted Stingray

Body around 28″ in length; up to 4ft. long from head to tail

Yellow-grey coloring with bright blue spots and long, blue tail with white underside

Can be found hiding under rocks or large coral patchesgroups; lives alone or in small

Is unable to rid himself of the negative image brought on by his cousin’s great-great uncle, the late Sting, who was most notorious for killing wildlife legend Steve Irwin. Suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder when at parties and introducing himself

 

Christmas

Christmas Tree Worms

1-3 inches in length; usually grows in clusters

Colors range from solid blues and yellows to pink, black, and white striped

Will react to changes in water pressure or irritation by withdrawing into its small lair

Sick of telling people it’s Jewish

 

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Batfish, Goatfish, Butterflyfish, Lionfish, etc.

 

6-20 inches in length

 

Colors vary from intense yellows and blues to whites and blacks. Many striped

 

Blame Noah and his ark for running out of original names for his children of the ocean

 


Grouper

*Note: That is not I in the photo. I did not grow a bald head since I left the states.

Giant Grouper

3-5.5ft. in length 

Colors range from brown-and-grey-striped to black-spotted

Often stays hidden in dark crevices or under coral, but occasionally catches sunlight while resting directly atop rock pinnacles; looks like the giant fish from “Big Fish”

Perhaps ingested too much milk and hormone-injected meat as a child, thus resulting in its current overgrown state; intends to try Jenny Craig, as Weight Watchers is much to clicky for him


Banner

Bannerfish

Body 5-8 inches in length; head banner 8-14 inches in length

White, black, and yellow striped bodies with a white flag

Still try to cover up the fact that they use L.A. Looks brand hair gel to get their fauxhawks looking great. The other fish know

 

Trevally

White/Clear Trevally 

Little data exists on species

So clear-colored and hard to see that few accurate sightings have been made

A recent sighting in Malaysia revealed a fish, confusing lack of color for another attractive sub-species, thought Kathryn Cooper was its new mate; the sighting was confirmed when embarrassment in the form of blushing showed up as pink dots on camera sensors from both fish and human species. Neither has been seen since


Triggerfish

Titan Triggerfish

12-24 inches in length

Black body with unique colored stripes, spots, and additional markings; clown lips.

If you get near it, it will bite you. It will attack your feet or hands, or, if you use your fins to get him away, he’ll clamp down and take a bite out of your fin. He’ll chase you around for 20-30 minutes. But don’t get him wrong; just because he is violent at work doesn’t necessarily mean that he supports domestic violence. 

 

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Wrasse

2-14 inches in length

Pink squiggles and stripes on top of green, blue, white, orange, or yellow mottled skin

Wants to be noticed for her personality for once, not her stunningly gorgeous looks, lusciously smooth skin, and ideal tail-to-jaw ratio. The shoe collection is just for fun; she can donate the extra Choos and Blahniks at any time, especially if she meets a guy who’s worth it. And as long as you treat her like a princess, she’ll be loyal to you. When she’s in a good mood, what’s not to love?


 

Angel

Blue-Ringed Angelfish

7-14 inches in length

Depending on species, may have yellow, blue, black, white, and other colored stripes on blue, orange, yellow, or white bodies; tail may be a different color from body

Snout-nosed mouth on some species

Mates for life, so if you see just one, rest assured that those plastic rings from your old 6-pack Pepsi cans you bought in the 90s killed its mate. Way to go, man. Or should I say MURDERER?!

 

Oh, and here are some photos from time spent around Singapore and Malaysia: Biking Pulau Ubin, Singapore, underwater photography in Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia, and more. Next up? Yup, food photos only. 

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Anyhow, Timothy has headed home after 2 weeks of intense eating, and I’ve spent some interesting time in Malaysia and now Thailand, diving more and soon heading up into the mountains for some intense secluded village time in the middle of who knows where, northern Thailand. When will I go, where will I stay, and what will I eat? All I know is that a whole lot of rice is about to make an appearance, so I won’t be a happy girl very shortly. Stay tuned!

 

With love but no cheese,

 Li’l Coopy