On our way to stardom

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People are absolutely fascinated by Greg and I.

Most of it, I blame on our natural good looks; the other parts of it, I blame on being white.

Okay, maybe the latter takes the lead.

Either way, I expected a lot more westerners to be here. In our first 3 days of being surrounded by millions of faces, I could count on my head, shoulders, knees and toes how many of them were white.

We got so many stares, some which seemed to turn into fixations. I thought for sure Angelina Jolie was standing behind me (to adopt a 19th baby) for the amount of time people spent looking our way. At a park Greg and I were sitting at, an entire Indian family (extended relatives and all) came up to us in awe. Only one of the women spoke very broken English. The others had intent stares, friendly ones of course, but also pensive and perplexed. It seemed they wanted to say or ask so much, and we felt the same. One of the kids really got Greg’s attention, or maybe it was the blue, blow-up ball the kid had. All the while they were playing, the boy mustered up some English to ask what is your name? He had the biggest smile at our answer, realizing he’d exchange with a real, live westerner.

In a second run-in with the fans, pictures were flashed with me via cellphone camera. Of the 5-person family, each one wanted an individual shot except for the shy 8-year-old boy. He smiled and blushed, though, when I shook hands in depart and didn’t leave his out. Greg was off on his own being the photographer of the pair to have received the celebrity accost.

I also can’t tell you how many other young faces lit up and arms raised high to wave in our presence. I felt like Princess Diana at how genuine their admiring eyes were and tried to return an earnest excitement. It was cute to keep waving far beyond an appropriate amount of time and like always, my heart was filled by smiling children the same.

Sadly, though tale made me expect it, kids aren’t always chipper. Often times, they come lightly tapping at your arm asking for money. They’ll even knock on your car window and gesture their hunger, hoping you’ll open your wallet. At one point in the car ride, we got out to take a picture and a girl started running our way. A spirited girl, she was reluctant to walk away after we politely declined, so I started making silly noises, purely out of goof. She threw them right back at me until it turned into a laughing game of copycat. Though we weren’t giving her money, she was smiling at our interaction, and that made me feel contributing enough.

The overwhelming crowds in India continue to surprise me at every turn. What is particularly fascinating to me is the ratio of women to men that flood the streets here. I’d honestly guess there is one woman to every thousand men out in public. It’s a bit intimidating, but having boy Greg by my side eases the trepidation. Blaming the ratio on tradition, it’s the women who keep the home and the men who win the bread, er, naan.

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Buggin Out

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I am seriously trying to tough this one out here. I have always had this really big nightmare where a cockroach runs across my body when I’m sleeping. I honestly shiver hard just thinking about it, and I’m in the middle of sweltering India. So tonight, after a long, long day of sightseeing and absolute craze, we open our hostel door hesitantly. It isn’t the most appealing room, in fact, even Oscar the Grouch would call his garbage-can living quarters The Hilton compared to this room. We cringed as the dripping dirt became overtly apparent against the tacky pastel-colored walls. The florescent light, which flickered for seconds before turning on fully, lit up the crevasses where tiny bugs made their colonies, and it revealed sheets that were stained in more places then they were white. Greg stripped the pillow cases and ran them downstairs, hoping to swap them for a pair that wasn’t predominantly filthy. In the 3 minutes it was just myself in the hostel room, I’d never felt so disgusting and alone.

When Greg came back, we sat on the edge of the bed- my head hit his chest and and it stayed there as I breathed in and out words that spoke be strong, be strong, don’t cry, filth is nothing but a condition, and clearly noted from a single day in a million-person city, it has to be livable. Greg’s hand was on my ponytail as I stayed nestled, nervous for the night of sleep that I was or wasn’t about to get, and Greg, too, was spilling words of encouragement.

I was beginning to feel better. But that was fleeting.

A second after I’d caught the breath of strength, the same hand that eased my head was now softly shoving me out the door. In that flash, I saw what had flinched Greg’s hand- it was a two-inch cockroach that scurried out of the headboard and across our pillows.

I stood outside with my hands over my eyes, my worst nightmare the closest to ever becoming true. I heard every moment of the roach’s murder, as I reiterated the words be strong, be strong. An image of the street rat we’d just seen before walking into our hostel replayed itself.

“Okay, come back in,” Greg said, the legs of the cockroach still remaining, but the meat of it disposed. Our toilet doesn’t flush, so who knows where Greg hid it from me. We went back to the nestled position and Greg tried to rub out my headache.

Only sensory overload in our first day of India could be blamed for the pounding ache that’s kept me up most of the night.

Day 2, we head to Jaipur. Little sleep and all- roaches, rats, the bombardment, goats, wild dogs, beggars and connivers-I’m still excited.

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All you need is a good horn, good brakes and good luck.

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We woke up at 10 in India’s capitol city of Delhi. Our flight had landed at 3 am, so driving to our hostel, it was too dark to realize anything about the city.

Our first mission that blind morning was to find another hostel. The one we were staying at was overpriced, relatively, and had annoying construction. The second one we picked was cheaper, though dirtier, and had no interrupting workmen.

We dropped our bags and headed on our sightseeing way. We had made no plans, just as I’d done in Southeast Asia, so we had no clue where to start. A young, chipper man approached us and asked where we were from. He said he had many friends from America, too, and asked where we were headed. He seemed sincere so we told him our lack of destination, and Raj offered us advice to go to the government office of tourism, since the other travel agencies take advantage of non-Indians and bump prices up, up, up.

He said, come this way, I get you taxi for Indian rate.

A fourth of the price later, we were on our way.

The spirited man at the tourist desk sat with us for two hours as we realized having no plan was kicking us in the butt. The trains, which we were to take from city to city, were completely booked for a week’s time. Supposedly 12 million people a day use Indian railways.

I was reluctant to dish out the cash for a private car and driver for the next four days, but our options were depleted.

After spending a full day around Delhi, I’m actually relieved we took this option, as it cut out a lot of stress and haggling over and over again with cab drivers. It also gave us an air-conditioned break from the outside humidity.

Our stops for the day included, as most sightseeing excursions, a few palaces, temples and tombstones. Even after day one, it’s already quite repetitive to see these things. Each place, however, had a slightly special and unique offering, and as touristy and trekked out as those places can be, there was still something new to be seen.

Roads in India, as expected, are unbelievably insane. I don’t feel unsafe in this however, because I trust in the insanity. If it’s gotten this far, it must somehow, in some crazy algorithm, work. The streets are also overly polluted and infested with dingy, dodgy everything- trash, bugs, murky water, rats, spoiled food and flies absolutely everywhere. Walking down some streets, I was afraid to breath in too heavy for fear I’d suck in one of the flies. Honest.

What lined the streets were cramped, stacked and dilapidated buildings with windows covered by sheets, if covered at all.

Though it all looked in pieces, all of it looked like it worked. It seemed as if not an Indian soul would flinch at an ounce of it. Where in New York, we flip people off for getting in the way, in India, ain’t no thang, carry on.

In one alleyway, I noticed two men facing a wall, followed by an unmissable stench.

“They’re peeing, Greg!” I said as if they’d offended me horrifically.

“Oh, really?” he said, hobbling over to do the same. No pun intended-no one gave a shit. I still kept my sour face.

At lunch, for our first Indian eating experience (we’d had pretzels leftover from plane snacks for breakfast), we turned straight to street food. One thing I particularly like (and am disgusted with at the same time) about Greg is his excitement and openness with food. I’ve tried more mouthfuls with him then I would ever on my own- duck liver, for example, on the Valentine’s Day menu.

We got two vegetable samosas, some deep-fried bread, rice and a mush of something unknown for dressing and spicy flavor. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, but I was happy Greg had rubbed off on me to go full force into street food. I was also happy to have spent a buck twenty five, as compared to dinner punching in at 35 against our budget big ones. That meal, however, was significantly tastier, as proposed by Lonely Planet. We stuffed ourselves with garlic naan, two appetizers, tikka masala and some reddish chicken curry- most of it being delicious. One of the appetizers I especially liked had fried potatoes with both a sweet and spicy sauce as well as onions, tomatoes and peppers in the mix.

Here, there is a common silly touristy phrase called Delhi Belly, and it basically means what you eat will most likely come out of you from both ends.

After two Indian meals and a night to sleep on both, we haven’t gotten Delhi Belly, yet, so I’m hoping we are in the clear as we head to another city today.

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Luxury Before the Storm

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It’s about time I saw The Social Network.

During the 11+ hour flight, I slept eight hours and watched this movie for two, of course enjoying every minute. A historic depiction behind the addiction I’ve been slowly, but very slowly, weening off since college graduation plus sly Justin Timberlake intimidatingly taking charge- what’s not to enjoy?

It’s also about time any of the US’s airlines step up their game like Qatar has on Qatar Airways.

We were not in first class, though with all the fine treatment we received just five minutes into boarding, you’d think we were front row on Air Force One.

Getting handed a hot towel and a travel pack of a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, an eye mask, wet wipes, candy and an ultra-soft pair of socks, we felt fully pampered. The real kicker was that the plane, a Boeing 777 which could fit 300 people, only had 80 people on it, and we basically had the entire back cabin to ourselves. There were a few other people so it’s not like it was a honeymoon suite, but the emptiness allowed each of us our own row for sleeping, hence the 8 hours of shut-eye that blew away the dauntingly long flight.

As we flew over Qatar for our connection to Delhi, I wondered if I should be nervous, with all the recent uprisings, to be in the Middle East. We were looking out the window at a vast desert when suddenly a highly-developed city came into view with lights as bright as Times Square and cranes everywhere to continue the upward and outward construction. Palm trees and yachts that lined the water quickly dissolved any fear. Of course a bustling hub gives me no insight into Qatar, a country never in my vocabulary until it entered my flight route, but I still felt I’d visualized the manifestation of oil wealth. Crazy.

I should probably use that last word sparingly. Delhi, India in 5 hours might call more for the adjective.

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One slobbery flip flop coming right up, said the Elephant.

Lamae
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The other day, I was writing a story about Thailand (published today on the Huffington Post). It highlights all the many and varied things to do in one of my favorite countries.

In writing, I had a heck of a time flitting through my experiences from last year’s trip, and one thing in particular stood out as I pulled from my memory.

It was Kamu’s penis.

Kamu was roughly 9 feet tall, 10,000 enormous lbs, and he consumed over 300 lbs of food a day. Guiding Kamu’s every ground-shaking step, was elephant keeper Lamae, whose Burmese name translates into moon. Like most people whose jobs in Thailand were to tickle tourists, Lamae spoke a decent amount of English- certainly enough for his epic one-liner, which I will disclose shortly.

In the meantime, back to Kamu and the first of two astonishing things about him: again, his penis. When I figuratively say larger than life, I literally mean larger than my leg (and let me just tell you, homegirl’s got some stride).
DO YOU SEE THAT THING?

The penis, when nature called, came out of thin air and extended all the way to Guam. I guess proportionately, it was [as goldilocks would put it] just right, but I was still shocked out of my mind.

Lamae caught notice of my wide-eyed stare and, here comes the zinger, says to me with a slightly sparkled eye, “me and Kamu, same same.”

For his humor, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

The second astonishing thing about Kamu was how smart he was. They say elephants are the third or fourth smartest animal, but I was never sure if that was just a second grade hypothesis (you know, because wouldn’t it be one of the smartest animals since it surely was the largest in size?).

Anyways, how I came to a more tested conclusion was seconds after my travel confidant, Beth, mistakenly dropped her flip flop. It fell to the leaf-covered ground in the most dramatic of ways and disappeared into camouflaged oblivion.

13 feet off the ground, and on the back of an elephant, we quickly lost hope in the shoe’s return and accepted that for the rest of our two month journey, Beth would walk half barefoot.

Less willing to give up was dear sweet Kamu, who began rummaging through the pile of leaves with the tip of his trunk. In all truth, Beth and I scoffed at his attempt.

Clearly, we were astonished [a second time] when Kamu’s trunk (just a touch smaller than his penis), came sweeping over his head, handing Beth a slobery, fully intact flip flop.”Wahoo bambooo!” we shouted at Kamu’s brilliance, and we sighed in relief.

Moral of: Big brain + big penis = sorry Lamae (slash men of all kind), you’ve been out-shined by an elephant.

Now all of you go to Thailand and see for yourselves.

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