Things that are Precarious: A Vertigo-Driven Photo Essay

It seems that when traveling outside the USA, I find many things that just don’t look stable or safe. Case in point: houses on mountains, motorcycle rides over landslides, or me on anything. Here’s a collection of precarious things that would freak any mother out–especially mine. And yes, I use the term “precarious” quite lightly. So what here is precarious?

The girl who leaned out to take this photo of me rock climbing, for starters.

Or these homes in the Cinque Terre, Italy.

Or these schoolboys in Thailand mugging for my camera over the previous night’s landslide.

Or really, everything about this photo. No wonder we didn’t have power for a week.

How about any of these mountain roads in Nepal?

Or this giant fly, trying to function on this planet on its measly legs?

Or me on other cliffs:

Or me…not on any cliffs?

Or this village dessert’s contents, in my stomach, given to me during an event at which I was the honored guest?

Or me in this hammock in Malaysia (because the first one I was in broke, and I still have the scar to prove it)?

How about these bridges in India, Cambodia, and Thailand? If only you could see the true angles…

What is the likelihood that this Maltese road does NOT suddenly end and drop into the sea?

Or that my hiking buddy is NOT going to be caught in a gravelanche?

Or that several teenage girls CAN actually live in this tiny house on stilts in Asia?

And finally, will you trust that this egg-carrying bicyclist will never have to suddenly swerve or stop short?

Precarious or not, I’m still alive. Barely, but I still am. Remember: If you’re a mom, do not look at this post. Sorry for the late warning.


Hidden Signs in Photos

An In-Depth Look at What’s Lurking in the Background of Your Photos

Do you ever get home, look at your photos for the first time on a large computer screen, and then notice details you never before saw? What’s that in the background? What is he motioning? How could she be…OH my GO–! I know I see odd things upon closer inspection, and I wanted to clue you in on exactly what I found. Throughout my thousands of photos taken throughout 9 different countries in 2012, you can imagine that photobombs were so tame in the scheme of things, they didn’t even make the cut. 

Let’s start off with a fairly normal photo (and you can read through and then click to enlarge the photos, running through a slideshow all at once) so you can be as shocked and awed as I was. 

Take a look here (below). Can’t see much except a sand hill, right? Wrong, naturally. 


Let’s look closer (below):

Yeah, weird…I didn’t know Mr. Revere was even still alive! Or that he visited India! So honored though.


Let’s take a glance at a new photo (below) from Nepal:


Big whoop, you say. A guy is asking for directions. But look closer now (below).

Holy eep, man


And this was one of the small riots, too. Naturally someone was killed here later that afternoon, but I was safe and long gone by that time.

Okay okay, let’s get a bit more light-hearted. Here’s a photo I took of the incredible mountains of Thailand (below):


And now, with the details you missed or perhaps weren’t even aware of!


Oh, that’s…hmm. Maybe not so light-hearted.

You get the idea now. Since I know you’ve caught on, I’ll only include just the labeled photos for your viewing convenience. And because you’re probably still wondering about this post’s photo header (you weren’t), here’s the “background” on that one (below) too:


Thanks for warmly welcoming me to India, ma’am.

Here’s a guy who went out of his way to welcome me to India (below):


Thank you. I know I’m laughing in the photo but I was so, so frightened. Trauma? You bet your bottom dollar!
Moving on to a treasure hunt in Singapore (below):
And now back to a sign in the mountains of Nepal (below):
Oh, you’ll like this one. Rad motorcycle tricks by a student of mine and his bro in India, bro (below)!
And another typical scene from my second Indian apartment’s front yard (below):
Just commenting, people, not judging. Calm down.
Nothing odd about this one, actually (below):
And while we’re on the animal theme…here I am in northern Nepal (below):
I, too, am saddened by this photo. And I thought being called a pig was an upgrade over heifer.
Last but not least, here I am during a huge conference of ours in India. I didn’t know what I was getting into when asked to pose for a photo (below).
Needless to say, I had to weed guys out and only ended up with 4 of ’em.
So I urge you, citizens of the world…go back through your photos. Look closely, examine, and see what’s under the surface. I’m sure you’ll be dismayed at your findings; I certainly was. Enjoy!

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


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.




[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












Life in Northern Thailand: An Interview (Update Part 16)

I thought you’d be interested in seeing the official transcript of my recent interview with จริงๆคุณทำงานเพื่อแปลนี้ from Why Am I Here? Weekly, a travel media network.

Key: I = Interviewer; Me = Kathryn Cooper

Happy reading!


I: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.

Me: No problem. Really, what else am I doing?


I: Good point. So tell me about your experiences here in Nan Province, where I hear you’ve spent time in both the town and the moun—OW! WHAT IS BITING ME?

Me: Oh, that’s Solenopsis invicta, or the Thai red fir– 


I: I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY ARE. Just tell me how to get them off of me.

Me: Well, with all the biting ants, whether big or small, black or red, I find that you really have to wear the right clothing in the first place—thick pants, socks covering the–


I: You are not helping. This is really not a positive start.

Me: Welcome to Thailand, the land of smiles.


I: I probably shouldn’t say this, but did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or what?

Me: I wouldn’t call it a bed, and… [sighs] Sorry. It’s just that I’m so hungry all of the time. I…I knew all the rice was going to be bad, but it’s just so…bad. I can’t think about much other than the fact that I’m hungry all the time.


I: Eaten anything interesting?

Me: Well, Santol is a fruit found here that I’ve never seen or heard of. It looks like a tan mangosteen, but one only can eat the middle flesh section—not the skin or white inner pulp. It’s roughly chopped and served with fish sauce, cilantro, dried shrimp paste, and hot pepper flakes. I’ve tried it several times and each time it’s worse. Gah.  


I: I didn’t know you could speak in hyperlinks.

Me: [smug shrug]


I: So have you noticed anything weird or experience something unforgettable during your time in northern Thailand?

Me: What hasn’t been weird, really? For example, I noticed in my friend’s house that right beside the place they told me to keep my big pack (I could only fit a backpack for my trip up the mountain to the school), there was a large dish on the floor filled with long, dark brown objects, which I assumed were some sort of half-rice, half-orzo objects. It wasn’t until more than 15 days later when I noticed bits of rice on the floor and what was decidedly mouse poop. Then it dawned on me…were they actually collecting the mouse poop? That could have been part of what it was. It sounds disgusting and crazy, but considering that my friend’s mother watches tv at night and ends up with a collection of 50 or so dead mosquitoes next to her (yes, she actually puts them in a neat little pile), it’s not that crazy.


I: I think you enjoy grossing your audience out. You do realize that all 4 people seeing this have a disgusted look on their faces right now, right? Is there anything you could say right now to make them feel better?

Me: Well, I could tell you a more normal food story. I bought pineapple at the local market as a little treat. We cut it on a platter for all 6 of us—me, my friend, his parents, and his two aunts—and munched away. It was just delicious—perfectly ripe and juicy. I looked up and on both sides of the table, people were making the most grossed-out, I-just-ate-something-disgusting look. “What, what? It’s delicious! What is it?” My friend wouldn’t explain, but both aunts rushed off and came back. One aunt dumped salt on one side of the platter and the other aunt dumped raw sugar. Huh? I was the only one who ate it plain. I just don’t get it, and I never will.


I: Has anything totally crazy or dangerous happened?

Me: Well, my mom’s going to be reading this, so I don’t want to say anything that will scare her. Really, aside from the two near-accidents and the near-surgeries, plus a few gun and knife incidents, nothing really was that dangerous.


I: Uh…I mean…you do realize that what you just said will make your mother more nervous now?

Me: Oh, absolutely.


I: You’re obnoxious.

Me: You’re unprofessional.


I: [sighs] Well okay, let’s try to look on the bright side. Have you figured out anything in your life?

Me: Oh, absolutely! For 3 years I’ve been wondering why Thai orange juice is so darn delicious. I finally found the ingredients in English: 12% juice, 10% sugar, 10% fructose, and the rest is water or “natural” flavorings.


I: That’s not really what I meant, but fine. Can you tell us something truly positive?

Me: Well, yes I can. I’m having an amazing time despite the usual frustrations and terrible food. Just going for walks is memorable every time. The people are crazy, the views are fantastic, and I swear even the butterflies are happy here. My ride down from the mountain was luckly to see clear skies and no rain for most of the trip, and I was blessed I got to see mountain crops, jungles, waterfalls and brooks, craggy limestone peaks and caves…it was just beauty I have no words for. Imagine the valleys and hills of Switzerland, the landscape of tropical New Zealand, and the greenery of Iceland. Not that I’ve ever been to those places, but from the photos I see, that’s an apt way of describing this place. I feel so lucky I got to see this place and in that respect, I don’t want to leave.


I: Well thank you for your time. It’s nice to end on a positive note.

Me: [deleted]