Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Busy weekend.

Anderson had three DJ gigs, including a Full Moon Party, a 6-hour set, on X-Mas Eve. On Sunday we dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus for another branch of our school (that doesn't have foreign teachers yet), singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" to two auditoriums full of Korean parents and children. We'll try and get a copy of the video for everyone's amusement. Christmas Day we went to a fancy buffet dinner at a beach-side hotel, which was spectacular. The most (100,000) we've ever spent on a meal together, without a doubt, but decadence was the name of the game. Sushi and sashimi, piles of seafood, and every animal one could desire cooked to perfection: lamb, duck, turkey, beef, pork - plus extensive holiday dishes - it was a Westerner's dream come true, with plenty of wine included as well. Pain never felt so good.
On Saturday night we had our teachers' party for school, at one of our Korean co-teachers' house. Chris made an entire table of spectacular food, from chicken salads to sesame beef, and there were even 3 different cakes. Haagen-Daz narrowly beat out Baskin-Robbins for the best ice cream cake. We played with her crazy cat (a scratcher and a biter), and even had a mini-dance party before hitting up Neo, the fancy but chronically empty bar the Anderson DJs at on Saturdays. It's just changed ownership, doesn't advertise, and has a bad location... but the place is beautiful, has a good drink special, and a sweet American DJ Saturdays at midnight :-)
Today, Wednesday, we were back at work, doing speaking tests with all of our classes, which meant there were pretty easy. Holidays are few and far between with our job, but at least we had a four-day weekend for Christmas, and while we have the joy of working NYE until 8:30pm, we do have both the 1st and 2nd off. For New Years we are going to either go out, or go to a bonfire down by the beach, but either while we'll be beach-side for the sunrise of the new year, which is a bit of a Korean tradition, and is supposed to be spectacular with the ocean lit up in reds and oranges. Our camera is currently not functioning, but we'll definitely get photos from someone to remember the moment(s) by.
We just watched the movie "The Constant Gardener," and you should follow suit - it's really good, and will surely make you love big pharmaceutical companies more than you already do.
We finally have a wireless internet router, so both our computer are online, much to Liz's delight since its hard to wrestle Anderson off of the computer - he's been waiting over a year for regular internet access, and he's not going to give it up easily...
We got to talk with both of our parents on our X-Mas evening, which was quite nice, and our video chat with Anderson's parents was very nice, given the long-time-no-see factor.
Our cat-sitting venture is still going well, Jonesy now sleeps with us every night, and thankfully Liz is a most patient mouse-waver, so he is getting plenty of exercise.

That's about it from the 10th floor...
Much love and seasonal greetings
Anderson & Liz

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another exciting week in Korea has passed, with all going well as usual. We got paid last Monday, and although our checks were only partial since we started working a little ways into November, it was very nice to see our bank account increasing instead of decreasing! Our computers have arrived, and we have internet at our house (tracking down an adapter for our modem proved to be a bit of an effort), which means Anderson is one happy nerd.
Last week at school we had an observation day, which went much better than expected. Our combined negative comment: Anderson shouldn't use recycled paper for his activities... rather environmentally conscious, don'tcha think? Everything else they said was good, so both of us, and our director, are quite pleased with things, since we were definitely not respecting such positive feedback. After all, we've taught a total of 2 months in our lives!
Anderson's DJ gigs over the weekend went pretty well, and despite a generally sluggish performance his soccer team, DMZ, managed a still easy 5-3 victory over rivals Inter Busan. Afterwards was the team Christmas dinner, at the American-owned Seaman's Club (meant for Navy sailors), which meant cheap and tasty bacon cheese-burgers, as well as equally cheap Corona's.
Our next week, the last before Christmas obviously, will be busy since we have to prepare our bi-monthly student reviews, but our reward is a much-appreciated 4-day holiday. This upcoming weekend will be busy: Friday & Saturday are DJing gigs and Sunday we are dressing up as Mr. & Mrs. Claus for a party at another branch of our school (missing soccer will be a shame, but the overtime pay is pretty nice). We'll be teaching/performing Christmas songs, as well as doing activities - should be interesting...
Monday, Christmas Eve, is the monthly Full Moon Party, which hopefully will be busy and crazy, and then we're going out for a fancy Christmas buffet dinner, as well as an orchestral Christmas brunch at the Korean cultural center where we saw the Korean opera last week.
We are also cat-sitting for Anderson's teammate Kester, so for the next 3 weeks we have a nice feline friend named Jonesy. Not quite the same as the dog-trifecta (one big, one medium, one small) that we dream of, but certainly a nice short-term substitution.

A: Anything else?
L: Ummm... not really.

Guess that's it for now then, hope your December is one to remember, ha-ha, and have a Merry X-Mas if you don't hear from us before then, ho-ho.

As always,
Anderson & Liz

Monday, December 03, 2007

Anderson now has a blog for his DJing:
You may have noticed that our posting is back to "infrequent" - not because we don't love and miss you all, rather just that we're more than a bit busy!
School, the occasional obnoxious child aside, is going well, prep time is down to a tidy yet leisurely 60 minutes, and most classes fly right by, particularly on Tuesday and Thursday when things are more listening-oriented. That means we primarily play either a tape or CD, and then ask questions, etc. about it. Monday/Wednesday/Friday is book-based, though we are allowed/encouraged to use games and conversation to assist in learning.
Enough about our jobs, though, right? We only teach for 28 hours a week, plus a few more hours of prep, so we've got lots of time for "life," which is great. We had a very busy weekend:
Friday night Anderson DJed hip-hop at The Basement bar, which went pretty well... we were out late dancing, though our 4am McDonalds was all too quickly just a memory. Saturday we did some shopping, in Nampo-dong, a cheap and large market, before going out to the Vinyl Underground for some dancing. The house music was somewhat bland, but it was still a decent time. Sunday Anderson had soccer in the morning, and his team, DMZ, played 3 30-minute games against Korean teams. They won all 3 games: 2-1, 3-0, 2-1. Not too shabby. Afterwards some of the team went to a Korean bath, Vespa, which was spectacular. All sorts of baths and saunas rubbed most of the pain of the games away, and then our Korean-pork feast afterwards took care of the rest of our woes (as did the maekju and soju :-). From there we played pool and poker at a teammates house, before going out for a quiz show at a pub to end the night.
Now it's the week again, so our afternoon/evenings are spent working, although tonight, Tuesday, we're going to go to The Basement for an open mic, and so Anderson can set up a more permanent DJ schedule.
Hope all's well for you, too
Peace and love

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quick update:

Week 2 of teaching went well, this next week features the monthly test on Wednesday, so we've got to make tests for all of classes, but that shouldn't prove to be too difficult. Saturday featured the return of the promotional clown and princess, this time we were even loaded with balloons in additional to school literature. Our fellow teacher Rachel was also dressed up, as the Korean equivalent to Barney, and the post-promo lunch of pork-spine soup was delicious, much better than its name would imply.

Saturday night Anderson made his Pusan DJ debut, and his first time playing in front of a crowd in about 5 years. A local bar/pub, called The Basement, had a "Full Moon Party" techno night, so he played on two CD-decks, with a hastily assembled collection of tunes on burnt CDs. He had the party rocking from 11pm - 1am, and while the dance floor wasn't necessarily packed at all times, people weren't leaving, either :-). Liz and Rachel were definitely getting their groove on, hopefully mostly inspired by the music and less so the discounted pitchers (yes, pitchers) of rum-and-cokes. Anderson will be DJing there again this Friday, for a hip-hop night, which may prove a bit more interesting... we shall see! Once his Mac laptop arrives from the States, then things will get real banging...

Today, Sunday, was also Anderson's debut soccer experience in Korea, with the club DMZ, which is part of a just-starting half-foreign-team and half-Korean-team league. The league officially starts in January, so this is all warm up friendlies, but still fun. He played in goal, since thankfully the club lacked a regular goalkeeper, though the shots were few in DMZ's 7-0 drubbing of rivals Inter Busan. Interesting statistical anamoly - not that any one's keeping them, but - saves equalled assists thanks to the super small field size, 1 of each :-).

We're hoping to get our Alien Registration Cards this week, which we've turned in our passports for, so we're just awaiting processing. That will enable us to get a Korean bank account, as well as a cell phone. Mostly we are waiting for December 8th, though, which is when we finally get paid :-).

A fresh post when it is warranted,
Peace from Pusan

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Had a fun weekend, although Saturday was a bit work oriented. No teaching though, just some promotional work. For about an hour we passed out flyers outside a public elementary school, and then on a street corner to a swarm of potential customers. Afterwards we spent another hour at school during an informational session for parents, which basically meant we introduced ourselves and then hung out and ate snacks.
Oh yeah, and we got to wear costumes, too:

In between our "hours of hard work" we were treated to lunch by the school, and were urged to load up on snacks to take home. Not that working on Saturday is all that sweet, but at least it's easy and fun!
Last night was spent taste-testing Hite beers in our apartment, had to sample quite a few to make sure our tastebuds grasped the full complexities of its flavor :-).
Today we went with our fellow foreign-teacher Rachel to Beomeosa Temple, a gorgeous temple complex at the north end of Pusan. Lots of ornate buildings, most fully painted and well-restored, and everywhere was bustling with plenty of other people. The complex is also the starting point to hiking trails up into the mountains, so we did about an hour's worth of walking along stone paths and steps. The trees were in full-on autumn mode, which meant in the shade it was a bit chilly, but our warm and spicy soup afterwards took care of things nicely. A kindly Korean woman walked around with us, explaining what's what, and introduced us to a delicious fruit: persimmon. We had thought they were weird tomatoes, turns out they are vastly superior, like apples crossed with pears and peaches...
For dinner tonight we combined our very limited groceries to produce a previously unknown concoction: Fish Bacon Corn. It fortunately tasted better than it sounds, although no restaurant will be serving it anytime soon :-).
Week 2 of teaching starts in about 12 hours, we're looking forward to it for sure, although Anderson is more excited for an indoor soccer he's going to join next weekend!
Hope all's well,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We're doing fine, settling "down" into our Korean apartment and our new jobs. Liz has returned from Japan, so we're both here for "good" now, and are steadily getting used to teaching. We have the same students 5 days a week, but what we teach is split between M/W/F and T/Th. Classes are short, at 40 minutes, so though it's taking us time to get used to so many new things, time at work definitely flies by! Anderson is currently teaching 6 classes, while Liz only has 5, but those both may increase if more students enroll in the school. Some classes (and students) are easier to teach/handle than others, but all and all things are pretty easy, since after 2 days each we almost feel into the swing of things.
We've got an informational meeting tomorrow morning, so we have to be at school around 10am, but our 2:30 work start time is pretty prime, and then we are finished by 8:30, so our day definitely flies by! There are loads of good restaurants, including several 24 hour places, right around our school (and thus our apartment, too), so we are eating quite well. And for super cheap. Anderson's lunch today was 2000 won, and our dinner for two (soup) was 3000 won. It's around 900 won per dollar, but since we're getting paid in won, once this month is over we don't have to think in dollars anymore.
We'll try to get a more thorough "our thoughts on Korea" post up soon, but eyelids are starting to close...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Well, so much to say, but don't quite have the energy for the "full version" right now.

But... we are settled in in Pusan, we spent our first few nights in a hotel (a love hotel, meant for couples getting the noise on, so the room was pretty deluxe with a big TV, bathtub for two, and a sex chair that we didn't realize what it was at first!) but have now moved into our apartment. We live on the 10th floor of a pretty modern apartment building, it is fully furnished, though it is a bit used at the same time. But we have a TV, couch and all other furniture one could need, a very comfortable bed, nice bathroom, and even a "porch" where our washer is looking out over our part of the city. We live two blocks from our school, so its a very short walk to it as well as anything else we could need.

Our school is amazing. Everything is brand new, the design was professionally done, with brightly painted rooms, and modern decor. Our director is extremely nice, as are the other Korean teachers, and they all speak English quite well. There are three other foreign teachers, they are all nice, too, and we went out with one of them, Rachel, last night to a techno club. The Vinyl Underground was having its 5th Anniversary Party, so we danced until around 5 am, met a lot of cool Koreans and other English teachers, and burnt a lot of beer energy dancing to house and drum'n'bass music!

Food here is simply fantastic, kimbop (veg "sushi"-type rolls) is our current fav, and both our director, Rony, and another school admin, John, have taken us out to fancier meals which were spectacular. We had a simple breakfast this morning at our apartment, great to cook a semi-real meal for the first time in ages.

Anderson spent Thursday and Friday in Japan, getting his work visa, and Liz will do the same tomorrow and Tuesday. That involved taking a ferry from Pusan to Fukuoka, the riding a few buses to the Korean consulate (which was entirely painless), then lounging in an upscale hotel for the night, enjoying the complimentary breakfast buffet in the morning, and then picking up the visa and returning to Korea by ferry. Anderson managed to only ride the wrong bus twice (so much for those high school Japanese skills...), and squeezed in a visit to a very relaxing visit to Sumiyoshi Shrine, which was within walking distance from the hotel.

So, how did we get to Korea you might ask?

It was quite the journey: we left Kathmandu on Tuesday at 1pm, flew to Singapore, where we had a short layover but ate some tasty food and sampled some free high-quality whisky. Then onto Seoul, where we arrived at around 7 am on Wednesday. We found out that our second bag, which cost $2 and was cheap plastic, had effectively ripped open, but luckily nothing had fallen out and we were able to tape it back up. Then we took the 10am flight to Pusan, which took around an hour and gave us a great view of our new city and home. Pusan is situated right on the water, with a river running through the western part of the city, and has mountains on the side without the ocean. A beautiful natural setting without a doubt.

We were met at the airport by Kelly, our recruiter, who is even nicer in person than she sounds by email, and who is also our own age which is great, so we will be going out with her sometime soon. We headed straight to our school, though Liz got to call her family for a few minutes, and we got to talk to two of our nephews which hopefully made their day! Liz's mother got the "hi, mom, we're pulling up at the school now, but we love you and miss you, bye!" which we were and we do!

As said our school is sweet, more details to come soon, but since Anderson hasn't actually taught yet, we'll save our first impressions for a later post this week. We've been trying to catch up on sleep, but at the same time enjoy Korea as much as we can, which means we aren't really sleeping that much! So be it :-)

Much more to come soon, but we don't want to live at this PC Bang (net cafe) any longer...

Peace and much love,

Anderson Teacher & Liz Teacher :-)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

We have tickets to Korea on Tuesday, at 1pm. Going via Singpore, then to Seoul, then a domestic flight to Pusan. We'll get to Pusan around noon on Wednesday, just in time to go meet our students. We're so excited we just can't hide it... :-)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Our patience is currently being tested, much more so than even our "sub-continental hardened" selves could've expected. Every flight out of Kathmandu has been full, if not overbooked, since our last post, and thus we're still stuck here since we've been unable to get confirmed seats.
We're optimistic about tomorrow, since Saturday is a one-day "weekend" here in Nepal, so theoretically at least things should be less hectic on Sunday. We will most likely still be going via Bangkok, but there are also two flights to Delhi tomorrow afternoon, and if we can get on one of them then so be it.
So we're just sitting around, anxiously attempting not to be anxious. Jealous, aren't you?
Again, hopefully our next post will be from Korea...


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Finally some news to report: we're going to Korea!
Either today or tomorrow, we'll know in just a few hours - which means we have some frantic scurrying and packing to do!
It's been a topsy-turvy week: Monday we filed for work visas with the Korean embassy here. Tuesday we "found out" - we already knew, that they needed some original paperwork. Wednesday the recruiter, embassy, and Korean Immigration talked things out - apparently the embassy has jurisdiction so no paper no work visa. That means we had to go pick up our passports, sans visa, leaving us sans $120. Now we're going to fly to Korea, enter on a tourist visa, and then go to Japan Monday and Tuesday next week to switch over to our work visas. It's 10:30 am now, at noon we'll know when we're flying out, which will be at 3 pm. Hopefully today, that'd be sweet, though waiting until tomorrow means we can relax for at least a few more hours!
Hope all is well, next post will probably be from Korea! We're working on a comprehensive "best of our trip" list, well, several lists, so hopefully that will be posted sometime soon.
Gotta run

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The recent lack of posting has been due to lack of genuine content, so we hope you'll forgive us :-).

Things are progressing quite well on the job front, on Thursday we received our "pin numbers" from the Korean government, which means our paperwork has gone through and our work visas have been approved. So on Monday we have to go to the Korean consulate (which we finally managed to locate, Kathmandu's address system - by "tole" or square - combined with a lack of maps beyond the main tourist area of Thamel, makes things hard to accurately find), and give them the numbers, an application, and 8000 Nepali rupees. Which puts the total at 12,000 Rs for visas in the last week, including our (we hope final) renewal of our Nepali visas. Of course getting the Korean visa isn't going to be super easy, since we have to go tomorrow and deposit the money into their bank account - apparently, unlike every other consulate we've ever visited, they will not accept cash.
There's a bit of disagreement regarding if we need to have a piece of paperwork with us from Korea, but we've gotten some contact information for the immigration office in Pusan, so we hope that the Korean government's various branches can sort things out between themselves, to whatever degree that may be necessary.
Beyond that we are shopping, mostly for "teacher clothes," which is more fun than you can imagine for Liz while somewhat the opposite for Anderson - something about getting tailored trousers just seems inconsequential to men, while women dream of outfit coordination, accessorizing, etc. Must be a difference of philosophy...

Yesterday we had to renew our Nepali visas, which was pretty much painless to us, though our wallet sorely missed the 3810 rupees the government snatched from us, but by our calculations it will have cost us around 46 Rs/person/day to be here, which comes out to 60-some cents or so. We've definitely been having our daily $1.20 of fun.

Probably have much more to post on Monday evening, so until then enjoy the weekend.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Somewhat due to the Nepali festival Dashain, the biggest of the year, we've been laying low for the past few days. Most people are spending time with the families, so most shops and restaurants have been closed, some for ten days straight. Here's a BBC article about one controversy associated with the festival - animal slaughter, though it also talks about the festival in general quite a bit.
To keep our lives exciting, we went rafting yesterday on the Bhote Khosi river, which was pretty enjoyable. Billed as Class III/IV, it wasn't anything too intense, but definitely more whitewater than the Trisuli River. A few times wave walls hit us pretty hard, and we got stuck for a bit in a "hole" at the beginning of the trip. So we're, like, totally loving the rafting, dude, and feel foolish for not having taken more advantage of the opportunities available to do so in the States. The cost here in Nepal is about 1/4th of that in the US, so it is definitely cheaper here, and probably more beautiful as well in some ways, but this will hopefully be far from our last rafting adventure, though we will probably be taking the next year off :-).
And Kevin, we were definitely thinking of you when we weren't focused on paddling!
No new job news yet, hopefully things will start moving forwards early next week, when our "pin number" is released for our approved E-2 work visas. Then it's off to the Korean consul here in Kathmandu to sort everything else out. Should be fun...
We've found a cheap new local restaurant hidden behind an elaborate Nepali sign - haha - which is where we are headed now, our 2-meal/day plan works great except in the long hours right before dinner.
Hope all is well

Monday, October 15, 2007

We've returned from our weekend, which consisted of an unbelievable quantity of trance music. Don't get us wrong, we love our techno, but the party's system cranked out rather monotonous beats virtually 24/7. So we got to dance a lot, which fortunately was our primary intention, though the second night got pretty intensely rained out. The location was beautiful though, in the woods a few kilometers short of Nagerkot, and despite a general lack of flat ground we found (for our small rented tent) a semi-level patch down a slippery slope behind the stage, with a nice view through the hills into the Kathmandu Valley. That turned out to be the only view we really had, as clouds/haze denied us any chance of seeing Everest from Nagarkot , even in the painfully early morning.
The music was exclusively psychedelic trance, with the only exception being a Japanese DJ that played each morning at 10 am, so during his 2 hours of house/electro we danced our hardest. Also, apparently on this continent, when a party is advertised as Oct. 11/12/13, that means the music starts late in the day on the 11th - we arrived on the provided transportation around 5 pm - but ends by noon on the 13th. Though, honestly, 2 days of repetitive electronic music (which by its very nature is going to be mostly repetitive anyways), we were quite tired and sore from dancing. And our tent leaking on the 2nd night, soaking the majority of our clothes and blankets, really livened up the party. We had to sleep under a main tent area for a while until the rain stopped, before we could slog back down the muddy hill, dry our tent, and return to bed!
Anderson also magnetically attracted leeches, which was made more impressive by the fact that Liz avoided them entirely. While dancing on Thursday night, his sandal started getting rather sticky - much of his foot was covered in blood, from at least three leaking leech wounds! Rather hilarious, really, but when you're on leech ten or so in a day it starts to lose much of the appeal! Thankfully some of the Nepalis we'd been dancing with were very helpful, so locating the nearest water source wasn't too difficult.
There was some rather ridiculous dancing that we witnessed, "natives" trying a bit too hard to fit in... is techno dancing something that is ultimately culturally-specific? The crowd was, overall, international, although mostly consisting of Israelis. We were the sole Americans, but there were a variety of Europeans, and a large contingent of Nepalis. Mostly couples, except for the Nepalis which were, per the usual, large flocks of men. Its interesting how Western culture is not-so-gradually being adopted, but the subcontinent generally seems to struggle with escaping its traditional gender segregation. The result here is the Western women usually had some eager Nepalis dancing around them, though Anderson, in a truly hilarious moment, got what can only be described as "gay-grinded" by one dance enthusiast. We are still laughing... :-)
So overall it was a good time, food was cheap and tasty, sound system was quite solid, ultimately, weather aside, the lack of musical diversity was the biggest frustration. For food the fried buff momos were the best we've ever had, and the potato sticks, before a mid-party price increase, were also delicious. And fortunately the still-pounding psy-trance at 6 am couldn't faze our highly-effective ear-plugs!

Now we're back in Kathmandu, same same but same, our documents have arrived in Korea, so employment is moving forward gradually, still will be a few more weeks before we can depart, most likely. We are looking at going on a rafting trip, one-day, on the Bhote Khosi River, although currently the prices we've heard are all ridiculously high, so we shall see. At least our almost-nightly rooftop-yoga sessions, with kites flying high in the wind all around us, are free. Being cheap is still our primary goal, since we don't yet know our departure date, but we know of a variety of cheap restaurants (last night was "sekuwa" - meat/potato kebabs), drink boiled/filtered water for only 5 Rs/liter, eat half-price pastries (after 8/9 pm), and mostly engage in cheap activities (reading secondhand books, practicing Korean, walking aimlessly), so being frugal is practically second nature at this point.
Found a cool link for our nerdier readers (we know, that's all of ya'll :-), it allows you, in theory, to send free SMS text messages anywhere in North America. Hopefully it works...

More news when there is news,

Monday, October 08, 2007

Things are moving along on the job front, we've heard back from the recruiter, and with some assistance from Anderson's mother our documents will be on their way, via FedEx, to Pusan. We need to contact the Korean consulate here in Kathmandu again to determine visa timing and such, but the whole process will probably take at least a week, and probably two.
We will probably be going to this party this coming weekend... should be a good break from "boredom in the big city," looking for a job, etc.
An "annual black moon trance festival" sounds like a good time, and hopefully some of the DJs will be good. We'd actually postponed going to Nagerkot previously, so this will work out nicely, since the views of Everest (and its neighborhood mountain buddies) are supposed to be sublime. Plus, it has been WAY to long, since Prem Joshua in Vagatore, when we've been to a concert that was "danceable" - and that's giving Prem quite a bit of credit!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our cousin has just finished her first week of teaching English outside Bardia National Park. If you are interested in reading what she has to say, here's a link:

An Email From Reannon

If you want to contact her directly, or do anything to help out BBAS Memorial School, please let us know. We plan on establishing a website about the school, once we're in Korea, with photos and videos of the students, plus information about volunteer teaching and making direct donations to help out. We're going to call our project F.R.I.E.N.D. - catchy acronym, eh? - Funding Rural/Indigenous Education (in) Nepal Directly. The annual cost of education, at the best private-school in the area, costs around $50 US, for tuition, books, and testing.

Pretty much as soon as we arrive in Korea we'll be getting a Mac laptop, and developing this website will be one of our first projects, so be on the lookout soon for much more information very soon! We had a wonderful time teaching in Thakurdwara in April, and going back to visit in September was highly enjoyable, so we're very happy that Reannon is one-upping us and teaching for an entire month! We know that the children are very grateful, and that foreign teachers can genuinely make a large impact by donating their time, knowledge, and abilities.

That's that from K-Town, come correct
Nothing new to report, except that we've signed a contract for teaching in Korea :-)
We haven't heard back from the recruiter to confirm, since it's the weekend, but we've been offered a couple position, to use the correct lingo, that is exactly what we want.
Once this has been confirmed, you are all invited to our Employment Party here in Kathmandu!
In reality we will have to get E-2 work visas arranged, which involves a bit of effort coordinating our documents in the US with the recruiter in Korea while we're in Nepal, but hopefully that won't be too complicated.
Overland via Tibet is dually infeasible, financial reasons and time constraints have deemed it an impossibility, which leaves us in a quite jealous state of Iain & Claire, who are departing on a semi-delayed trip hopefully on Tuesday. The Chinese consulate has been closed for the last week, so no visas have been approved, so their Oct. 6 start date has been postponed. They will do a package tour to Lhasa, then travel by train to Shanghai, via Chengdu.
We may go to Chinese airports at least, there are 4 main flight options to Korea (direct, via Thailand, via India, or via China), but getting confirmed tickets is difficult since it is the high season right now, so we will take what we can get. Thankfully our employer will cover the flight cost, but coordinating it is primarily our responsibility.
Hopefully more news tomorrow, until then we plan on laying low, since we're in economic conservation mode until things are completely guaranteed. We want to go rafting again, and ideally at least one other activity as well, if we can afford it, before returning to the land of the employed. We've been managing to live quite cheaply, under $15/day total, which is spent on lodging, food, and internet. That means lots of reading, wandering, window-shopping, and relaxing between meals! Rough life...
More news when there is some,

Monday, October 01, 2007

Yesterday was fairly routine, though never dull, until we arrived in the Durbar Square in central Kathmandu, where the final night of the Indra Jatra festival was going on.
We'd missed the giant carts being pulled through the streets earlier in the day (though we waded through the packed streets in search of sustenance), but at around 10pm we joined the massive crowd waiting outside the home of the Kumari. The Kumari, a 10-year-old girl (or so) is believed to be a living goddess, so being able to see her is an extremely big deal. In one way the biggest dignitary there was the Prime Minister, since he had broken with tradition by going to see the Kumari, although the crowd certainly reacted much more strongly when the beleaguered Nepali King "became a commoner" to see the Kumari. Then everyone else is allowed, in cramped crazy queue fashion, to see her one-by-one, receiving her blessing in the traditional form of the tikka (wet colored powder placed on the forehead, symbolizing the awakening of one's third eye).
At times the revelry nearly turned to riot, as there was intense pushing by the crowd, surrounded by a heavy police presence. Machine-gun toting guards and the riot squad were both there, but all and all things were calm, with the main exception being that many a Maoist yelled at the king when he quickly emerged from the house of the Kumari, before escaping into a SUV. From our Western perspective it wasn't the most exciting event, but with only 51 days before Nepal is due to have a historic election, this might have been the last time the Nepali King sees the Kumari in his current political and religious role. Plus, our brief second of King-spotting was exciting, in that ridiculous sort of way, and the sekuwa (kebab) meat we had, though served over puffed rice, was quite delicious!
The job search is progressing, we have an interview with a school tomorrow, and more presumably on the way very soon, so hopefully we'll get to "have to" choose between a couple good options!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Of course much has happened since our sacrificial Saturday over a week ago, and of course we meant to post earlier, but of course we've been busy. Of course!
This actually was started, as is obvious, yesterday, but a monsoonal power outage postponed things by a day...
Anyways, its a rainy Saturday, so our plans of seeing Prashant, the Nepali-heritage winner of Indian Idol in concert this afternoon have effectively been washed away, although our budgetary restrictions until we can turn a job offer into an actual job factored in more than just the inclimate weather. We are back on our own again, Reannon has departed our company to return to the jungle of Bardia and teach English at BBAS Memorial School for around a month. We're really excited for her, not just for continuing the Muth teaching legacy in rural Nepal, but also because it is a great ESL teaching opportunity in an amazing traditional community that is very welcoming and kind, and the students will genuinely appreciate her efforts.
The last week had a clear highlight: a two-day rafting trip on the Trisuli River. For $23/person/day - more than we probably could have paid, but best price we found - we joined up with a bunch of Chinese tourists to head down a Class 2/3 semi-raging river. No one in our raft spoke English, besides the guide of course, so we were issued commands in Chinese ("sensin" for forward), although to be honest the middle-aged Mandarin-speakers, dedicated to shouting in rhythm, were none too devoted to the actual paddling. We were very glad the river wasn't too intense, since the three of us and the guide were all of the arm-power and raft-direction, but the ride was still very fun, we have been definite fools not to go rafting at all while in the States!
Thoroughly, happily, soaked, the three or so hours of rafting was soon up, and while enjoying an unexpected non-daal bhaat lunch (coleslaw, tuna salad, bread - oddly American), we learned that everyone else was heading to Chitwan, so the next day's rafting would just be us!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, due to sore extremities, plus more eating, playing with goats, and walking over a large suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the river. Our provided tents were reasonable, though not as comfortable as our air mattress back home :-), and the three of us stayed up light, next to a fire, chatting. Then the scorpion(s) appeared, first Liz got stung on her leg, and then Reannon found one crawling in her tent... nothing too terrible resulted, but sleep was decreased at least partially by well-founded paranoia.
The next day was pretty much rapid-less, best part was a clothes-on shower in a clean freshwater waterfall a little ways off from the river. Turned out we'd had the same guide in Rishikesh, rather unbelievable, really! Still a fun trip, more floating than paddling, so in some ways we should've stuck with the standard one-day trip, but all's well that end's well, preferably with an enjoyable journey along the way. We then parted ways with Reannon, her bus wouldn't leave for Bardia for a few hours, but we caught one for Kathmandu pretty much right away, although soon enough we ran into an enormous traffic jam. Apparently the Maoists had set up a road block, so for about 3 hours, conveniently during the heat of the day, we inched along within a giant backlog of buses and trucks. So our hopes of arriving before dark turned into hopes before 10pm, which we did manage, though not by much.
We were delighted to find a few legitimate job offers waiting in our Inbox, so this next week should hopefully move us closer to our return to the land of employment, although we're going to refrain from any premature excitement until things have advanced past the current stage. Confidence is high, but we are going to be patient and pick the best job that we can, ideally in Pusan, South Korea. Unfortunately, with September now over, our chances of joining Iain & Claire on their Oct. 6 Tibet Tour have disappeared, but we're also not sure if we'll be able to go ourselves later, or if flying direct to Korea will be in our best interests, both economic and otherwise. We shall see, but the job is the big priority for now.
Speaking of Iain & Claire, they've now arrived in Kathmandu, so we had a nice night together last night, and will be hanging out much of this week until they depart to the Tibetan plateau. On Friday we went and extended our Nepali visas, other than the $30 charge/person it was entirely painless, taking only 45 minutes, which the interim time being spent at the nearby Ethnographic Museum, which is very nice, modern, and informative. Also, at 25 Rs, it's quite cheap. Dioramas are set up about all the native people of Nepal, with traditional scenes recreated, plus an entire of room of jewelry, clothing, and artifacts. Much better than the Pokhara incarnation of the same museum, thankfully. So we've got new visas, lasting until the end of October, and while we can renew them again if necessary, we are really hoping to be in South Korea by then!
Today we're just laying low, we are trying to keep our costs low and save money until we have sorted out our job situation, since we have several different potential start dates and rather limited funds. Good thing we like reading...
That's that from the Kath.,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Going to Dakshinkali

The bus was so packed the irrelevancy of our seats was simultaneously apparent to our noses and crushed toes. We'd arisen early, for our perma-tourist lifestyle, at 7 am for a warmup walk across half of Kathmandu to the bus stand. Now our journey to witness ritual sacrifice was rapidly becoming too self-involved. Crushed in the last row of the Nepali-capacity bus, we crawled out of the city, only to be slowed even more the hills en route to the temple. Some semblance of comfort came at Pharping, the final village before a brief descent, as at least a few people jumped off the bus.
Situated in a shady valley, amidst a pair of rivers, lay our traveler's version of Saturday Morning Cartoons. We'd neglected our cereal, but we were here to, presumably only metaphorically, watch slack-jawed as the great Kali's bloodlust became temporarily sated. We worked our way down the crowded path, stuffed with sellers, politely refusing such necessities as metal locks, framed photos of Kali, plastic trinkets... before spotting the sacrifices-for-sale section, thoughtfully located adjacent to the last loop of the line. Chickens clucked in cages, while tethered goats awaited their inevitable transformation to mutton. The line, or rather two lines, snaked endlessly, up stairs and into parking lots, full of queued Nepalis patiently waiting. Many carried coconuts in baskets, or rice, though plenty of live animals were around, too, as everyone waited patiently, talking and time-passing. As non-Hindus the offering line was an impossibility, so we walked the gawker's walk, that awkward amble of the tourist. Amidst candles and incense, tikka powder and fresh flowers, goats and goat poo, ritual and blood, we walked. Lines inched as bells clanged, and we perched as heads rolled - a few chicken heads, recently removed, failed to stay in their proper place...
A well-shaded overlook, a vista over the vivisectionist, allowed us to sit, relax, and admire the melding of religion and ritual with culture and chaos. The ante room for the altar was where the line's civility ended: in the proximity of the goddess her violent spirit is apparently quite strong. The throng, with godly gifts in tow, pushed and pressed, themselves to the front and their money to the priests. When the time was right, chickens were carried underarm while goats were led in on leashes. There's no drama or performance: the gods don't require the extravagance of Indian Idol (just won by Prashant of Nepali-heritage). Chicken limbs are appropriately tucked and folded, while goats are held down by half a cricket squad of men, and then the burly butcher saws quickly from neck to nape. Blood pours onto the altar, we sensitively snapped a few photos, then rupees are handed over and then the meat is hauled off for hacking. Many families dine at Dakshinkali - carnivores for Kali. The goddess is usually depicted as blood-splattered, dancing on skulls, the most fear-inducing incarnation of Shiva's beloved consort Parvati.
Overall the flow of supplicants certainly outmatched that of the blood, and after an hour of soaking up the scene, we spied some familiar faces as we made our escape: our companions on the bus, still diligently awaiting their turn, their moment with the goddess. Certainly more intriguing than an average temple, Kali and her devotees definitely made a firm impression on us, even though we're a bit jaded from "too many temples" syndrome...!

Friday, September 21, 2007

More of the same is the name of our game. Still looking for a job, still mostly not doing all that much. Our anniversary was rather uneventful, since we were supposed to have a job interview that night, but there was a mix-up on the recruiter's end, which was very frustrating since we waited around all night for a call that never came, only to have them act like it was somehow our fault that they lost the email we sent them...

We've been watching more movies, eating more tasty and inexpensive food, etc. etc.

The next few days will be spent doing some more sightseeing around Kathmandu, since Reannon will most likely by heading to Bardia to teach English sometime next week - abandoning us... :-)

We've had a lot of fun with her the past month-and-a-half, but soon enough it's back to just the two of us. We're not too stressed out about the job situation, we're applying to everything we can, talking to as many recruiters as we can, and even considering alternate options in Thailand as a last-ditch option - there are some short-term teaching positions there if we cannot find what we want/need in Korea. We really, really want to live in Pusan though, it sounds like a great place, being a big city with Western amenities, but next to the beach and mountains both. We think Seoul is just too big, and most other places are too small to have the Western culture, or attempts at it, that we crave... but we shall see.

Today we're going to go to Bohdinath to see another exciting stupa - should be a thrill a minute.

Hope all is well wherever you are at,

Please pray on our behalf to the Korean ESL employment gods!


Anderson & Liz

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We've mostly been preoccupied with applying for jobs, waiting for responses, and ignoring those that simply won't work. So if you have a spare couples job for Pusan, in mid-to-late October - please let us know!
So, how'd we get to Kathmandu? After arriving in Bardia, we spent almost a week there, with a keen focus on relaxation. We spent one full day in the jungle, trekking for much of the day before riding an elephant for 3 hours. Not riding an elephant was probably our worst "regret" from our trip, so we made up for it in style, meeting Ms. 'Phant deep in the woods, crossing rivers, ambling through forests, and laying trees and shrubs in our wake. An elephant has an unusual gait, swinging you around strongly, but it was very enjoyable. We didn't really see much for the first 2 hours or so, besides a few deer, since the jungle during the monsoon is very, very thick. But then the animals arrived, and we got to see both a one-horned rhinoceros and a large male elephant close up! Our elephant was intimated, if not scared, by the elephant (the rhino didn't faze her) - he knocked over three trees to "impress" her before eating the roots and bugs beneath them: an elephant delicacy. So we got our $116 worth - yep, 3000 Rs. ($39)/person for 3 hours - but when else will we be able to ride an elephant in the jungle?
We of course went and saw our former students, twice in fact, and we gave them a small gift of a mechanical pencil and a (much-needed) eraser. We also went to the elephant breeding center twice, the second time solely to play with the orphan baby elephant - and so Anderson could win a $10 bet with Reannon by french-kissing said elephant. The 650 Rs. was well-spent later that night, as we had an American-food party for all our friends around Bardia. We cooked fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, cold macaroni salad, and for drinks, of course, had the local rice-alcohols: rakshi and chaang! The food was plain tasting compared to the Nepali diet of spicy lentils and rice, but every enjoyed the food (the large pieces of chicken in particular were probably quite unusual) and we had a very good time... so much so that we got a bit of a later start than hoped the next day, although as it happened our journey to Kathmandu would have been quite epic either way!
Basically a crucial (though short) bridge along the Kathmandu road was knocked out by violent rains that night, so our 14-hour journey turned into an exciting 30+ hours of transit. We had to spend the night sleeping on the bus, before our bus arrived at the downed-bridge traffic jam. There it quickly became apparent that the one land-mover was going to take a few days to build a new road (it ended up taking over 5 days), so we decided to grab our bags, cross a small stream, and cut through the hills to get to the other side of the river. There, after waiting for a bit, we found a Kathmandu-bound bus, which we ended up riding on the roof all the way to the capitol. The ride wasn't too bad, although we had to argue a bit over the fact that we didn't want to pay baksheesh to ride on the bus (since our tickets were with a different company) and that the conductor should get reimbursement from them, not us, due to the situation. With a translator/mediator things were worked out decently quickly, since we felt it was ridiculous for us to pay the full amount for a proper seat when we were on the roof!
We've now been in Kathmandu for a week, with a lot of time spent on the internet. This is really the only place in the whole country with decent and affordable internet access - Pokhara is a bit slower and 5x the cost. Yesterday we went on a day trip to nearby Patan, which has a beautiful Durbar Square - full of old buildings, temples, and even a restored palace that is now a museum. It was also a Hindu holiday - Ladies' Day - so all the women were dressed in bright red saris, and there was much dancing and music-playing. The museum overlooked the square, so were able to people-watch to our hearts' content! The museum was, as it is hyped, the best in the subcontinent, with many fine pieces of sculpture, good descriptions, and a nice sense of design and style. There's even a nice garden (and restaurant, of course :-) out back, in case wandering the three stories and two gift shops gets to be a bit much! We also visited Patan's Buddhist Golden Temple, where there was live music playing while we walked through the gold-plated hallways which were filled with statuary.
We've also visited Swayambhunath, a large Buddhist stupa on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, which was very peaceful, monkey-filled, and quite active. Doubly so, since an invigorating walk up some steep steps is necessary, while there are also lots of devotees in addition to the tourists. We also went to the Museum of Taxidermy, mistakenly called the National History Museum - the 20+ foot snakeskin from Bardia made us glad to be in a city! They had way too many stuffed animals, including all sorts of snakes, rhino and elephant fetuses, and plenty of other horror movie accessories. Good times being a tourist.
We've attempted to "go out" a few times, with a dance club last Saturday being the apparent highlight - the music was bad, drinks overpriced and bad, etc. The cover bands are none too good either though, so we've been renting a DVD player and watching Western movies - nice to laugh with a movie again! "Knocked Up" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" were both rather hilarious, though last night's "Reno 911: Miami" was a bit of a letdown. Kathmandu has a lot of bakeries, so we've eaten our fair share of pastries (half-price after 8/9pm), and there's a restaurant near our hotel that is run by chefs-in-training, so the very good food is very affordable. That means a steak, with potatoes and vegetables, is $2.50. Actually less than that, at 150 Rs. Or you can get a good Tibetan thukpa for $0.75. Too bad beer is still spendy at $2 for 650 ml -- but there is cheap, and illegally imported, Chinese brandy; a whole bottle costs less than $2, if only it tasted good!
We've seen most of the sites within the city by now, mostly being the Durbar Square (Kathmandu's and Patan's are both very nice - Patan's is just better maintained) full of temples and bustling touts. There are a few other day trips around the Kathmandu Valley we plan on making, but given how the job search is going we're not rushing around, preferring to be leisurely since we know we're in Kathmandu, for better or worse, until we have a job. We can't really go to Pokhara, since the internet is super expensive there, and when we do go to Pokhara, we're doing so to go trekking for a week, not stay in the city, and we cannot disappear from the digital world again until we've resolved our employment. So we're stuck in Kathmandu, which really isn't too bad at all, since food is cheap, as is lodging, there are enough things to do (navigating Thamel alone is time-consuming and often a bit exhausting), although we feel a bit bad for Reannon that she is stuck here until we've ceased to be unemployed bums!
We obviously want/need a job ASAP, starting in October, but we just have to be patient until the Korean language gods smile upon us...!
Our third wedding anniversary (and 2nd outside of the States - last year we were in Hamburg, Germany, at the very beginning of this trip!) is coming up this Tuesday, so that should be pretty fun, although that night we, conveniently, have a phone interview with a recruiting agency, so the party may have to be a bit late-night! No plans yet, but we have a couple of days to make up our minds...

So that's what's up...

PS - This is our 100th post - proof positive we need jobs so that we can better keep ourselves busy! But thanks to all who read what we (well, mostly Anderson) write, family and friends, we love you all and miss you, and our "normal American life"," very much!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Well, no time right now for the complete Nepal update, but we are busy "looking for jobs," which mostly entails emailing recruiters about possible positions and awaiting their replies. But there are definitely a few good opportunities, and after all we only need one so-called couple position to actually work out, so confidence is high that things will work out soon. Just sucks that we need to figure this out while in Kathmandu, ideally, since the internet is the country's best and cheapest here, and our other main activity in Nepal is going trekking for a week, which we cannot exactly do without having some confirmation on the employment situation. Slowly, slowly, and patiently as well...
We've found a good sandwich shop on Freak Street, the original hippie neighborhood where Westerners first encamped in Kathmandu, which means today we've mostly just wandered the streets. We're going to go to Bodhinath, outside the city, this evening, but some rest and relaxation is most likely in order until then.
More soon, please pray for ESL jobs to rain down upon us!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

No we haven't died, we've just been either traveling or without internet access for the past two weeks or so. Here's Part One of what's happened thus far:

On Aug. 27, our 4th day in Dharamsala, we went to the FRRO, the visa
extension office, and talked/pleaded ourselves a 3-day visa extension
in order to get to Nepal, given that our visa expired that night!
Initially we were going to just overstay, thinking we had to go to an
office in Delhi, but Dharamsala, due to all the Tibetans, has its own
office, which had no line (Delhi's went out the door) and not too much
hassle (only had to ask for it 10x or so). We just filled out letters
explaining our self-induced plight, an application, and gave passport
photos and visa copies, and after a few hours of idling, were allowed
to escape after 15 seconds of face time with the Superintendent of
Police (same building, he has dual authority evidently). He just
asked what our jobs were - how random?
Uncle Chipps (by Lays/Pepsico) are definitely
the best snack around, and the resulting plastic waste well
appreciated by your average hungry cow -- so, so gross what cows will
eat here!
The Delhi train arrived, a bit late, and we found seats
easily enough, in a relatively empty compartment. It filled up
eventually, half-way through our books, but the hours continued to fly
by. After too much waiting at a few stops outside the city, one in
particular in Haryana state was packed with entertainment-deprived
young men, we got to the new Delhi station, where a series of
attempted scams began:
First a tout dragged us across the street to a tourist office, which
was none-too-fast in trying to get tickets - we left. Then the
authorized train ticket seller pulled a double-scam: first that no
sleeper was available so we'd have to take first class (which we
"fell" for, we had to hurry, insisted on sleeper repeatedly, and
really had no choice), and ...
(this is now being continued a day later :-) ...
then that two of the 500 Rs notes we gave him were accidentally 50 Rs.
notes (some fast slight of hand would've netted him an additional 900
Rs., thankfully we had just been to an ATM and had no 50s). Yelling
at him vented some frustration, but obviously changed nothing, but at
least we didn't get totally ripped off. Our sleeper train ride that
night was relatively uneventful, after wandering through almost every
sleeper car we finally found some bunks at the end of the train. The
next morning, however, we awoke to some commotion, a a sharp-eyed
kindly neighbor had caught a thief in the process of stealing
Reannon's handbag! Ironically it contained solely personal effects
and books, but despite our protests a swift public beating ensued just
outside the train car: the unlucky (?) thief was punched and kicked,
and hit repeatedly with two pieces of wood - one small, one a stick of
bamboo - before finally being dragged off presumably to the police,
although we'll never know. Definitely intense mob justice, that is
culturally ingrained apparently, that we were powerless to stop.
That occurred at the last main stop before our destination, Lucknow,
our most favorite Indian city ever. Our wait in Lucknow was a hot 3
hours or so, as the train was rather late, and thankfully Anderson's
lice scare was merely nasty travel head - yum. Bad food preceded a
long slow train ride through rural Uttar Pradesh, rainy and humid too
much of the way. We reached Gonda, around 3 pm, needing to arrive at
the Nepal border before 9 pm, ideally. No trains were going to
Nepalganj for several hours, so we bucked up for a taxi ride the rest
of the way, which ended up getting us there just in time, as both
offices ended up being semi-closed but with all necessary employees
still around. Leaving India involved only a bit of hassle over our
decision to ride trains across India rather than the buses indicated
on our 3-day visa extension form, but soon enough we were stamped out,
and into the no-mans-land between the two countries. The Nepal
immigration office also went smoothly, though we ended up spending the
night in an office there due to the rain! The Nepali officials were
most kindly, we got a great dinner featuring some amazing chicken -
and dal bhaat of course - and slept on the floor in order to escape
the torrential downpour.

More to come on our time here in Nepal soon, got to get back to work
on that tricky employment issue!
We are currently in Kathmandu, having just spent a week at Bardia National Park, and will
be here for at least a week or so longer. Looking for a pair of jobs is our priority for the next few days, thankfully the internet is cheap and abundant in Kathmandu, unlike everywhere else in Nepal.

Thanks for everyone's input on whether to visit the States or not - our finances have definitely decided for us that although we suffer from homesickness at times, we can't just succumb to our every travel fantasy! We miss you all, and our homeland very much, but "slowly, slowly," is unfortunately all too true in this case.

Peace and much love
Anderson & Liz

Saturday, August 25, 2007

All is going fine, finished our cooking classes, so no we can make some wicked Tibetan breads and momos, in addition to our recently acquired soup expertise... our instructor, Lhamo, is definitely a great teacher, as well as an experienced cook, so we learned a lot and enjoyed ourselves for our 6 hours under his wing. Be in Dharamsala another day or two, before fleeing to Nepal.
We are currently undergoing a massive multi-part decision, so any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated:
We're debating on whether to return to the States, probably for only a few weeks/months, as a respite before going to S. Korea for a year of ESL teaching. We obviously love, and are enjoying travel, but we definitely miss our friends and families very much, and in one way it seems rather difficult to just roll through another year without seeing all ya'll's smiling happy faces. We are currently applying for S. Korean jobs, so we must be deciding our fate quite shortly... but the options are to fly home to the US for a bit from India (we'd be "home" for 2 months maximum, being bums in CO, IA & WI - with family time being a clear emphasis), or just to fly direct to Korea to start teaching (and therefore finish a month or so earlier), or most crazily - if we can get overland reimbursement from our Korean employer, is to travel through Tibet with our friends Iain & Claire, going through China by train to reach Korea. All 3 are legitimate, and wonderful options, we just have to decide. Sucks to be us, right?
We definitely will be teaching in Korea, in one way we are too broke not to, but also we want to experience foreign culture for longer, but "merely" traveling is wearisome, and we definitely crave a house, routine, and some semblance of Western culture, something India clearly lacks... Going back to the States would literally wipe us out of money, but worse things have happened, and our current cash flow is pretty minimal anyway, since we have been stretching things out in the subcontinent for a bit now anyways...
So any suggestions, comments on here or via email, would be greatly appreciated - after all it's you all we'd be seeing...
Thanks so much
Peace & Love
Anderson (& Liz)

Friday, August 24, 2007

We know, we know, two posts in two days, what's going on?
Just means we are in the land of cheap, reliable internet again... Anderson couldn't be happier!
Took our first of three Tibetan cooking classes this morning, learned how to make 2 types of Tibetan noodle soup. Educational eating is pretty sweet. Tonight we'll be learning how to make all types of momos, and then tomorrow morning its Tibetan breads. Breads should be particularly nice, we really love this steamed bread called "tingmo," be great to know how to make our own. Raining a lot here, right now, but at least its not ultra-dry, nor ridiculously hot. But really Indian weather is pretty bad all over during the dreaded monsoon. Not that we'll be fully escaping it in Nepal (which we'll be in after this weekend), but it should be a bit better.
We're starting to get a slew of job offers for South Korea, which we now have to wade through and separate the worthless (most) from the worthwhile (few and far between). Too many chain schools, with shady reputations and over-zealous recruiters. But that perfect school must be out there somewhere, we've just got to track it down, and then negotiate a beneficial contract. This travel lifestyle truly is never a vacation!
Still uploading photos - slowly, slowly currently - but at least some of the Leh/Mars photos are up.
So enjoy those, we'll enjoy the momos, and if you're out west right now, we are jealous of you (yes, we mean all ya'll peeps who keep fleeing IA, short or long term)!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Well, after 30 hours of travel, we made it to Dharamsala from Leh. 13 hours on a jeep to Srinigar, then a 12 hour bus ride to Jammu, before a 2nd jeep ride to Dharamsala which took around 5 hours. Good times, but at least we made it, albeit exhausted and in a bit of pain!
Our time in Leh was wonderful, though Reannon was struck by a bit of altitude sickness. The 2 rupee doctor's visit proved very helpful, she got some effective medicine for around $2, and laid low until our departure. We also got to see our collegiate friends Will & Jeanne, which was crazy, and very fun, though the two meals together was definitely not enough time! They are currently out in the mountains traveling with some nomads, shooting footage for a multimedia documentary - definitely some cool stuff!
We are working on getting all the photos we have taken uploaded, currently only on Shimla, but hopefully the photo site will be fully updated by tomorrow. We are going to start some Tibetan cooking classes tomorrow, a total of three: breads, soups, & momos, which will be fun, but other that that relaxing is our main priority!
Yep, yep, yep....
Oh, Srinigar, in Kashmir, was an interesting experience, we only went through in transit, but Dal Lake and the houseboat scene looked very nice - if you can overlook the immense military presence. Throughout the entire city there was a machine-gun armed guard posted every 10 meters or so, with plenty of additional fortifications, like gun-posts, as well as armed vehicles with machine-guns posted on top. It looks like, and essentially is, an occupied city. It felt like it would be hard, not to mention painfully ironic, to truly relax in such a place. Even if we weren't on our tight time schedule we probably would not have stayed, though it was definitely a beautiful location, too bad India and Pakistan both are willing to fight for it. We think Kashmir should be independent, and Ladakh separately as well, which seems the only reasonable and fair conclusion. Hopefully important global readers will read our blog, and contact us, so we can broker these peace deals, ideally in the same weekend when we iron out the China/Tibet deal! Haha... funny but oh so sad.
Dharamsala is even more rainy than when we were here last time, but compared to the dryness of Leh it is a welcome change. Good thing we can "take it easy" in any weather. We are also focusing on our Korean job search, since we seriously need a job, so we are emailing recruiters, friends in Korea, etc. So if you have a hot job tip for Pusan, please send it to us!
Peace and much love,
Anderson & Liz

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sorry about the lack of posts - internet in Leh is unreliable and overpriced (90 Rs/hour - twice the usual price), and we've been rather busy these past couple days. We'll be in Leh for another two days, then back down to Manali, and then onto Dharamsala. Yesterday we went rafting on the Zanskar River, some Class 3 rapids but nothing too difficult, mostly amazing scenery straight from the planet Mars. We managed to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama a third time, in a mass gathering outside Leh in a small village. As foreigners we had front row seats, and got plenty of photos and videos of HHDL, although the English translation was once again quite lacking. We also did a one-day monastery tour, with the definite highlight being the village of Alchi, where four small chapels were covered with amazing 11th century Buddhist wall-paintings, plus enormous two-story clay Buddha statues. Pretty impressive, amongst the best art we've seen throughout India. We've met a lot of Americans, a couple from California, and a few single male travelers from New York, but we're more excited about our friends from college, Will & Jeanne, who are flying into Leh from Delhi tomorrow morning. Hopefully we'll get to see them, its been a few years, Leh seems a great place to meet up!
Overall the climate is rather dry, the altitude is taxing, and the scenery is spectacular. We are all breathing heavy, and drinking as much water as we can - how fun. The food is good here, though the nightlife is a bit lacking. We did go see a rather strange Hindi film, a psychological thriller full of murder and violence - rather different from the Bollywood action flicks we are accustomed to.
So that's about that, details and photos will surface once we've escaped the altitude and are back in Dharamsala (at a low elevation of 2000 meters). Hope all is well -


Sunday, August 12, 2007

You'll have to wait for the long version, but we are currently in Manali, arriving via Mandi (daytrip to Rewalsar Lake), after leaving Shimla. Shimla's highlight was probably the Hanuman Temple, either that or the dance-party which we attended, representing 4 of the 10 people in attendance. We have been traveling with a Brazilian, Flavio, in addition to Reannon, of course, whom we met on the miniature train (100 tunnels in as many km) up to Shimla. We've been learning all sorts of interesting things about Brazil! The train actually broke down on the way up the mountain, resulting in a few hours spent roasting in the hills outside Kalka. In both Shimla and Manali we have stayed in extremely large, and nice, hotel rooms, due to it currently being the off season. So we've gotten mid-level hotels (usually 800-1400 Rs/room) for 150-200 Rs/room. Nice to have some deluxe amenities for low budget pricing. Manali is beautifully set up in the mountains, Anderson took a small day trek up to a pair of temples in the hills today, one made entirely of wood, the other itself a tree...
We have decided to go to Leh, in Ladakh, despite the fact we'll be on a tight time schedule by doing so, but Manali is rather rainy and all the outdoor activities we'd like to try aren't available: rafting, horse-back riding, etc. So we leave tonight, at 2 am, and will spend 18 hours aboard a taxi, up to a few 5000 meter passes, before arriving in Leh around 8 pm tomorrow night. The views should be amazing, though the ride a bit long. We are having lots of fun with Reannon, and all three of us are excited to get so far up in the mountains. It will be a whirlwind tour, but a high elevation and high excitement one, too. We plan on exiting via Kashmir, a day or two in Srinagar aboard a house boat, before finally swinging down to Dharamsala to pick up our luggage, some of which now we really wish we'd brought with us!
Internet access is slow and overpriced so far north, so we may be out of contact for a few days, but so long as we can avoid altitude sickness, all will be wonderful.
Apples are in season here, so they are sold everywhere, and hang on all the trees, plus there are fresh apple pastries, juices, and jam - all delicious. Back in Delhi we had an American evening, eating at McDonald's and going to a movie premiere. Food and service at the Golden Arches were much better than in the States - the worker's were actually cheerful, and then the movie, Cash, was a big, confusing, dumb action movie, but rather enjoyable nonetheless, with a highly hummable theme song: "Cash to the front of me, cash to the back of me, cash to the left of me, cash to the right of me..." Eaten some Western pizzas in the last few days, as well, Pizza Hut and Domino's - sounds like our stomachs are a bit homesick, must have been the Cool Ranch Doritos Reannon brought! The Domino's actually came back up on the twisting bus ride from Shimla to Mandi, a stomach-settling shame, really. More food news: had some great fresh lake trout the past two meals, first cooked in a tandoori, and then made into a spicy curry. Head, tail, and skin all included, not to mention the ocean of bones swirling around in the midst of the succulent meat.
Sorry about the random rambling, not too much time to type, but we'll try and post from Leh if possible, otherwise it may be a week or longer until we even check our email - we shall see.
Hope all is well,
(Robert - we're jealous of your houseboat!)
Peace & Love
Anderson & Liz

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Currently we are in Shimla, having successfully escaped the heat and humidity of Delhi. Don't have time to write a full update, but here's what we did for our first few days in the capitol of India:
We left Dharamsala after an early dinner, with a significantly lightened load, leaving much of our luggage iwth Iain & Claire (thank you!). We took an overnight deluxe bus along curvy roads down out the hills, full of bump and fast driving. Hours of nausea ensued, which Liz at least was able to escape after politely asking her downwind neighbor to close his window! We were befriended by a kindly fellow traveler, named Aroop, who works in Delhi for the Prime Minister, with whom we shared a rickshaw when we arrived, at dawn, at the tailen of 12 hours of pounding monsoon rains. Streets were flooded with several inches of rushing water, of the sewer and feces variety. We'd received a recomendation for a hotel, on Arukash Road, just north of Paharganj, which is the main traveler's hangout. The hotel was uncooperative on price, we'd been told 250 Rs, but they wanted 700 and wouldn't budge, so we began a wet slog through the slowly lightening streets. We found a few acceptable options, ignoring the rancid stench of urine in the bathrooms, but on our 5th place or so, Hotel Neelam Palace, which while definitely optimistically named, was able to compromise on a 400 Rs/night triple room. No windows, a small bathroom, and a slight paint smell due to construction were a few of its features...
We also set up a genuinely cheap roundtrip taxi for that night, in order to pick up Reannon from the airport, at 450 Rs a great deal considering Aroop has estimated 600 for the ride. After sleeping off the bus ride, as best as possible, we grabbed a much needed thali, before doing some minor shopping and meandering. Soon enough it was evening, and time to go to the airport, but of course the 1st driver refused, claiming he did not have the proper tags to be seen by police at the aiport. An hour later, then, we were rolling around Delhi in a taxi-van, thankful our hotel managed to work things out on our behalf. Then came the anxious gate-side wait, for over an hour, since international flights, particularly in India, take a bit of time to deplane fully. We observed numerous happy reunions, a few disgruntled Europeans who were looking for their ride for over an hour, and more than a few Westerners with apprehensive faces upon their arrival in India. But no Reannon...
After checking an alternate exit since we were at the main gate, Anderson decided to buck up the 60 Rs to enter the actual airport, and 30 seconds later there was a Muth cousins reunion! The journey home was uneventful, just lots of chatting if you can believe that, and soon enough Reannon was settled in her 1st (amazing) Indian hotel. Being a late night, we slept in a bit on Friday, and after another thali we headed off for some sightseeing...

More to come soon, this internet connection is super slow, but we are leaving Shimla tomorrow, for nearby Mandi probably, although that is still up for some debate!

More to come soon,

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tashi Delek!
Quick update, since not too much is really going on...
We've both finished our volunteering, Anderson's last day on Friday went well, a surprise test wasn't too much for the students to handle, although they enjoyed the crossword puzzle afterwards much more. The two weeks definitely flew by, but hopefully everyone learned a bit more about English! Had some nice class photos at the end, and some traditional ceremonial white scarves were presented to him, which was definitely unexpected.
Liz "had" to volunteer on Saturday as well, but like all days with the cute and energetic Tibetan babies the morning hours seemed all too quick, and she got to put all of her favorite babies: Rangdol - aka "Sam," "Spiderman" - due to his favorite outfit, and "Chubby" - because, well, she's a bit chubby, to sleep. Liz has even learned a children's song in Tibetan, although she's not too sure of the meaning! (Sompa sera-nam, sompa sera-nam...)
Since Saturday we've been chilling out, which has been encouraged by the heavy and daily monsoon rains. Some sad family news, we found out on Sunday night that Liz's maternal grandmother passed away on Friday from a heart attack. Hard to get such news by email, but life (and death) is what it is, and we know that she is in a better, more peaceful place. We did, then, also talk to both of our parents that night, a first thus far on the trip - and we even got videoconferencing to work via Skype with Anderson's parents, which was downright amazing!
So sad turned into happy, thanks to the international comforting of our parentals, but we obviously wish very much that we could have been at her funeral yesterday - the world is so big despite at times feeling so small.
Our good friends Chris Powell & Katie Ockers are getting married on Aug. 4 in Wyoming, so, again, we really wish we could be there, but obviously cannot. But we wish them all the best, our hearts will be with them during their special day! And they can have our jealousy too, while they soak up the sun in Jamaica for the whole next week after the wedding!
Tomorrow night we head to Delhi, on an overnight bus, which will undoubtedly be very enjoyable! Thursday night, then, we will meet our cousin Reannon at the Delhi airport, to give her an American welcome to the wonderful world of India. We can't wait to see her, and are looking forward to our month or so of traveling together, plus the fact she's hopefully bringing some much-missed Doritos with her!
So that's that, if you're in San Francisco, you should check out our friend Ben Thompson, laptop DJ extraordinaire!


PS - Tashi Delek means "Greetings" in Tibetan...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Its been a lazy rainy weekend, though this afternoon we went to the main temple again, primarily to see the attached Tibet Museum. The exhibits were well-done, though definitely disturbingly depressing at times, and we also watched a documentary they were specially screening, called "The Tears of Torture." Yesterday we also watched a Tibetan documentary, "Red Flag Over Tibet" by Frontline, which showed some good archive footage as well as what Lhasa now looks like - a "modern" concrete Chinese city.
We have organized our resumes, along with photos, and are beginning to contact recruiters for Busan, in Korea. Emailed three so far, will wait and see what they have to say concerning our "demands" - primarily reimbursement for overland travel, most other things are pretty standard (housing paid for, health care 50/50, a pension plan, bonus at the end of 1-year contract, etc.). We've been using the popular Dave's website to look for Korean jobs, so hopefully things will work out well. We'd rather avoid posting our resumes - since by doing so we'd consequently attract piles of emails from shady companies - if we can, instead contacting a few recruiters that sound reliable and will set us up with well-known established schools.
This coming week will be more volunteering, plus a trip down to the Tibetan Archives, another Tibetan museum, and maybe a day hike at some point. That last option depends on how the monsoon decides to behave!
That's that, off to dinner soon enough,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The past week we have been primarily volunteering, though also juggling a bit of illness (for Anderson), plenty of reading, and now research on Tibet. First, the volunteering:
Anderson has just completed his first week of teaching Lha's Intermediate English class, which runs from 9am until 10:20am. All of the 20+ students are Tibetan, except for a South Korean couple on holiday who are also seeking to improve their English. Most topics have at least some Tibetan overtones, obviously, but focii thus far have been on writing and then reading English, as well as improving vocabulary and grammar. The students are "typically Tibetan" in that they are rather shy, but inquisitive and confident at the same time. So far they have written pieces on "The Future Of Tibet," and on "Things They Like" - thrilling topics indeed - but many of their paragraphs were very interesting, and today one of the students even wrote an entire parable about a thief mistaking a tiger for a cow, which in turn meant he was mistaken for a king!
About half the class actually does the homework, but they are all good-natured and definitely put out a lot of effort: they realize that education, and the English language due to its international prevalence, is the path to a better life and more opportunities. Liz remembered something from her youth, Daily Oral Language - with sentences full of misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, etc. - so that has been the daily warm-up to get every one's brain switched from Tibetan (or Korean) to English. Next week, our last here in Dharamsala, will orient more on the students' weaknesses, most importantly prepositions, vocabulary, and reading out loud. Many of the students have never attended formal school, so their confidence when singled out from the group can be a bit low. For example, forming groups of 2-3 students takes an eternity some days, as does finding out who actually did their homework (usually more people did than initially admit to it!).
Anderson also taught the Super Beginner English class one day, which proved much more of a challenge than the Intermediate class, although fortunately the game of Hangman proved to be rather popular! The volunteer teacher for that class never showed up (who does that, really?!), but another teacher has been handling it these past few days. Lha also has other projects we ca help with: Liz painted new signs for their library, which has a plethora of great books, and on Monday afternoon we are planning on assisting in rearranging the library onto some new shelves - fun, fun!
Liz, meanwhile, has been volunteering at Rogpa, Dharamsala's baby-care center for working underprivileged Tibetan families. However, unless your Korean is rather advanced, you might prefer the amusingly-translated (by Google) English-version of the Rogpa website. The 30-40 babies (all under 3 years old) that attend are absolutely adorable, hilarious, and all-together irresistibly lovable, with the only minor downside of things being the changing times! Mostly Liz and the other international volunteers (between 2 and 5, plus 6 full-time Tibetan employees) play games with the children: blocks, play-doh, singing, races, etc. Liz handles the morning shift, from 9 am until noon, so the last part of her day is a quick medley of potty-breaks, snack time, and nap time! Her week isn't over quite yet, she also has to work on Saturday, although she did have Wednesday off due to a religious holiday, though conveniently unannounced until she arrived to a locked-up building that morning... Bad news for Anderson, though: Liz is completely in love with all these cute Tibetan babies, and its rather hard as a gangly Westerner to compete with such sweet round-faced children! It's easy to awake early when there are smiling faces waiting to kiss you, touch your tattoo, and shyly play with your hair.
We will both continue with our same programs next week as well, and we are undecided on if we will depart from Dharamsala for Delhi then on Saturday or Sunday. We have both taken a break from conversation class these past few days, we each had attended six straight beforehand, but there has been an abundance of volunteers lately for that, so we aren't feeling too bad!
The monsoon is definitely here, the past couple of days have been rainy, and right now a downpour is competing with the pounding techno music from a nearby shop. Makes us very happy that we have our plastic ponchos!
Our friends Iain & Claire should be arriving here today, so that will be a welcome change - some friendly faces of fellow travelers! Though, because of our volunteering, it is now pretty much impossible for us to walk anywhere in town without seeing one of our students, or in Liz's case parents of children, which is nice versus the usual sea of unknown people we merely wander amidst.

So... currently we are debating our future plans, beyond the first few weeks of August cruising around northern India with Anderson's cousin Reannon. Nepal is still atop the list immediately afterwards (Kathmandu for sure, along with a possible visit back to BBAS Memorial School where we volunteered), but afterwards things get quite murky quite fast:
The issue of visiting Tibet is rather complex, for both moral and ethical reasons, as well as feasibility and economic factors. To share in our dilemma, here are a few links:
Facts & Allegations Concerning China
The Complexity of Travel and The Permits To Do So
A Lonely Planet Discussion re: Recent Olympic-Related Activism & Its Repercussions
Also, here's a link to a semi-humorous, in the "awful truth" sort of way, anti-Chinese Olympics website:
Race For Tibet!
There's plenty more on the web, and elsewhere, in regards to the current situation in Tibet, as well as elsewhere in China, but unfortunately due to government censorship if you reside in China, you aren't able to read any of it...
Ultimately, visiting Tibet is akin to visiting Burma/Myanmar - it is a foreign-occupied country, suffering oppression, a lack of religious freedoms, the denial of freedom of speech, a systematic destruction of culture, etc., etc. Thus, we are seeing and experiencing more of Tibet here in Dharamsala than we would in Tibet. Tibetans there cannot even speak, or have photos, of the Dalai Lama: to do so risks imprisonment, beatings, interrogations, torture, etc. The Chinese government also controls all tourism, so we would be monitored and guided virtually at all times, while paying an exorbitant price to do so. At the same time, it clearly would be very interesting and eye-opening to see Tibet for ourselves, although in many ways we feel like speaking, freely, with Tibetan refugees here in India is a much more authentic and informative experience than the alternative...
It's a tricky issue, one we still haven't made up our minds about, but obviously we are looking more so at other options than we were earlier considering. Maybe we're headed to Thailand after all, who knows?!

Have a good weekend, if you're at 10,000 Lakes we are very, very, very jealous of you!
Peace and much love,
Anderson & Liz

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our attendance has been 50/50, though not in the traditional sense - while we ended up attending no more teachings by His Holiness (due to rain, the sub par English translation, and the 2 minutes worth of excitement when he arrives), we have gone to every English Conversation class this week at Lha - so all and all we don't feel too shabby about how our last few days have been spent. Last night we went to a bizarre concert of traditional Sufi music: a singing harmonium player with a tabla accompaniment. The music was top-notch, as was the singing, but the singer/leader was thoroughly in love with his Sufi music, and wanted the audience to share that "feeling" overly much at times. That meant we were constantly encouraged to clap, sing mantra-esque phrases, and even dance. Enthusiasm is nice, and certainly admirable, but at times it was a bit much (like when he chastised one girl for not "sitting right" when she was reclining instead of sitting cross-legged). Another downside was the "halftime show" of a religious speech on opening one's life energy, but at least the accompanying milk tea drowned our sorrows pretty effectively. Weirdest concert we've possibly ever been to, but at least the (forced) group dance session for the last song was fairly fun, though totally bizarre!
Otherwise we've been eating more good food, we briefly attended a Tibetan Youth Congress anti-China/Beijing Olympics protest rally yesterday, and Liz also signed up to spend 15 days babysitting adorable Tibetan babies/toddlers. The organization is called Rogpa, is run by a Korean woman (so it is primarily funded by South Koreans, it seems), and aims to support self-sufficiency within the Tibetan exile community by taking care of children of lower-income families, for free, so long as both parents are working. While it is then, in one capacity, a childcare service, it is also an organization designed to encourage economical stability amongst recent Tibetan refugees, and therefore Rogpa has many other plans currently in the works, including a handicrafts work shop to help create jobs for needy women. The group is well organized, with excellent informative literature, as well as a cute video showing all the tasks for new volunteers: diaper-changing, game-playing, singing, snack time, picture-book reading, colored-ball sorting, etc. We are both, then, excited to begin our 2-week volunteer stints on Monday, though we will undoubtedly sleep in late on Sunday to prepare for our early rising all next week!
We've been doing some rooftop yoga lately, very nice and relaxing, with a great view of the valley around McCloudGanj. Tomorrow we plan on visiting the local "hippie hangout" of Bhagsu, which means we'll need to brush up on our Hebrew in order to read most of the signs - haha. No ill will meant, its just that Israeli tourists have created a well-marked, in Hebrew, path across "hip" places in India. Bhagsu is also home to some tasty desserts, from what our Israeli friends told us, so that should be a nice treat as well.
That's all for now,
Anderson & Liz

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dharamsala is still treating us quite well, though seeing HHDL has been somewhat deprioritized (practically sacrilegious, we know) due to the fact that the teachings are lengthy while the English translations are rather sparse. If only we understood Tibetan! So far we've only attended one other teaching, two in total, although we will go to at least one of the remaining two days, maybe even both. We have found out that at 2 pm every day there is an organized explanation of the teaching, with a Q&A session, so we will attend that as well, in hopes of getting a bit more out of the very technical Buddhist teaching.
We have spent the last 3 evenings volunteering at Lha, an education-oriented charitable trust. We are involved in their nightly "conversation class," which draws many motivated and excited Tibetans, the majority of whom are around our own age, who want to improve their English speaking. There is no set topic, it is just an hour of free-spirited discussion, but obviously politics, religion, and America have been key focal points thus far! We are learning a lot as well, possibly even more than some of our students, as we get to discuss the realities of being born Tibetan. Almost all, if not all, of our students were born in Tibet, and chose to leave their family and home behind for the freedom and education available to them in India. This means they traveled, often with a large group of fellow refugees, for weeks over the high mountain passes of the Himalaya, escaping Chinese persecution just like the Dalai Lama himself (along with the government-in-exile) did back in 1959. Other than phone conversations these Tibetans-in-exile have no contact with their families, and are unable to go back home, as they only have Indian refugee status and lack a Chinese passport. A lot of what we hear and learn is rather shocking and disturbing: to speak of the Dalai Lama in Tibet will get one arrested; most Tibetans living in Tibet have no idea about what China has done, nor about the outside world at all; almost all the monasteries and libraries in Tibet have been destroyed - remaining monasteries are essentially a joke, monks wear robes but learn little about Buddhism; families are punished when members seek refuge in India, so most of our students didn't even tell their parents they were leaving Tibet; China has been forcibly displacing ethnic Tibetans with ethnic Chinese - Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, now has more Chinese people than Tibetan people living in it; etc., etc. It is a heartbreaking education for us at times, and we consider ourselves reasonably well-informed :-(.
However, this means we are even more motivated (and excited) to go to Tibet, and plans are shaping up to join our friends Iain & Claire in October to do exactly that - hopefully things will work out! All the Tibetans we have spoke with came to India at least partially for education (something effectively unavailable in Tibet under the current Chinese military rule), and they strongly believe that we, as Westerners, ought to go to Tibet and see things for ourselves, in order to share what we see and learn with the rest of the world. It's a weighty obligation we will be happy to undertake, though going to a land full of oppression will undoubtedly be challenging at times.
For now though, while many things that we speak about are sad, their never ending enthusiasm for life and learning, combined with their unerring optimism, means we have already gained a deep appreciation and respect for the Tibetan people. Subsequently, we have decided to spend the rest of July in Dharamsala, enjoying this beautiful place and taking advantage of its wonderful opportunities to learn and volunteer. Anderson has agreed to teach an Intermediate English language class, which will meet every morning for 1.5 hours, starting once HHDL's teachings are over. Both of us will possibly also teach a less advanced language class in the afternoon, since it is also currently lacking a teacher. Liz is hopefully going to volunteer as a babysitter of Tibetan babies in the mornings - the program enables their parents to work without the concern of childcare (or lack thereof). We will also continue the conversation classes, all three we have attended have been very enjoyable and educational, although leading a discussion for an hour can be more mentally taxing than we initially surmised! We still plan on taking Tibetan cooking classes, and will probably take a few Tibetan language classes as well.
Lha also has an extensive library of English-language books, the first of its kind we've found in India, so we are taking full advantage of the multitude of excellent books they have available for free checkout - a wonderful change from having to buy a book at a bookshop, both read it once, and then losing half the value at least when we trade it back in to purchase another...
We've found an amazing restaurant, called Norling's, so we eat most of our meals there. We've tried other restaurants, obviously, but they just don't measure up :-). Norling's has great Tibetan food, an extensive menu with large portions and low prices, so we are gastronomically quite content. Dharamsala also has an abundance of street momo vendors, 5 momos for 10 Rs, so we pack in a few appetizers as well; there is also a great bakery here with fresh baked breads, pastries, and even cakes (without the "plastic frosting" problem that plagues many an Indian cake) for when our sweet-teeth are chattering!
If you are interested, here is a map of the entire Dharamsala area, that has everything labeled quite well. We are staying/living at a hotel in the village of Dasalhani, which is across a small valley from McCloudGanj, sort of beneath Bhagsu. That map is taken from a local (and free) publication called Contact, that has interesting articles on Dharamsala, plus many advertisements for all the available services/opportunities here.

In totally unrelated news, if you are at all interested in the universe around us, check out Galaxy Zoo, where you can help classify all the galaxies around us - very interesting having just read Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything, possibly the best science book ever written.

Well, that's enough links you probably won't click on anyways, hope all is well, and you ought to have some thanthuk (Tibetan thick-noodle soup) for dinner, you'll definitely enjoy it!

Peace from Dharamsala (or Dharmasala as we too often misspell it :-)
Anderson & Liz

Saturday, July 07, 2007

He entered like a radiant grandfather, with a steady but purposeful stride, the reverent crowd already fallen to their knees. Right hand up, smile wide, both salutary in nature. The primarily Tibetan crowd was excitedly respectful, or maybe respectfully excited? For his people the man transcends godliness, and has led them through years of Chinese oppression and a lengthy Indian exile. As a Westerner, this was a rare opportunity to see one of the most revered people on the planet, a religious and spiritual leader, master philosophizer and famed advocate of peace: His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama.
Due to gender-segregated searches (and corresponding lines), coupled with HHDL's apparently majority female audience, as a male my wait time was quite short, so shortly before 8 am I was well-positioned to wait for both wife and peace-warrior in the cool shaded garden outside of the main temple area. My survey of the packed upstairs hallways around the inner sanctum made a strong case for a grass chair with a view of the flat-screen TV broadcast. Best to at least see a picture of HHDL, given that his Tibetan words would be spoken over by an English-translation FM-radio broadcast. Seat well-chosen indeed, as the main man appeared mere minutes after I'd settled down! He relatively quickly, yet calmly and confidently, passed by the downstairs crowd, surrounded by a small red-and-gold robe-clad Buddhist entourage. He paused for a moment to speak with a man near me, maximizing my darshan experience. Liz of course arrived minutes later, more entrances having been opened up to handle the abundance of ladies, though she wasn't the most ecstatic to discover her timing concerning HHDL's arrival. Fortunately he is speaking for an entire week, so surreally such sightings might almost become normal.
We settled down against a tree, nature's blessed backrest, and as the cool morning turned sunny, the morning began with we non-Tibetan-speakers adjusting radios and earphones. A few Buddhist chants allowed the Dalai Lama to flex his wit, asking the chant leader if this was his regular job - apparently he missed the head-nod cues! Despite the fact that all we could comprehend was coming through an often lagging translation, HHDL's jovial mood and sense of humor became readily apparent - he also joked about an overdressed monk suffering in the heat. Soon enough it was time for the teaching, officially the topic being as follows:
Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from July 7 to 13: His Holiness will give seven-day teachings on Je Tsongkhapa's The Principal Path to Enlightenment (jangchup shoonglam) and Bestowing Boddhisattva Vow (jamdom bokjog) at the request of the Bliss and Wisdom Monastery of Taiwan.
After explaining he was going to skip his usual general brief introduction to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama dove right into the deep philosophical explanation and exploration. Like most dogmatic discussion, simplicity gave way to technicality, but deep concentration on the rampant pace shifting translation enabled most things to make sense. A nearby French-speaker was not so lucky, only English and Korean being available over the radio.
Buddhism's key tenets were examined, in a fine detail, beginning with the question of how we can eliminate the three root causes of suffering - those being afflicting emotion, attachment and aversion. Ignorance was then clearly explained as the root cause of all these poisons, being opposed to the wisdom of reality. This must be combined then, with the transcending of sorrow, being the ultimate selflessness. The remedy to combat ignorance is to seek ultimate education and cultivate wisdom. And that was just the partial explanation of the first line of text being examined!
Many of the points raised early on dealt with the dualism of reality, at one point described as a "dualistic dualism," and that while wisdom can be obtained through mere learning, it is rather the secondary learning through contemplation and reflection that needs to be cultivated in order for "immaculate wisdom to be born." This, the second line of text, combined with the first, are an explanation of all the teachings of Buddha. So simple, yet so very complicated to properly digest as a member of the audience!
The Dalai Lama's voice was clearly audible much of the time, as the translation was sparse at times, even dropping out for five or ten minutes on occasion. He sounds an awful lot like Yoda, a general low-tone crossed with intermittent higher frequencies, although HHDL is probably stronger in the force. He delivered a steady compassionate speech of knowledge and wisdom (albeit highly specific) - evidently he talks just as he walks. The teaching began at 8:15 am, ran until around 10, stopping for a brief chant-filled break to relieve ourselves, allowing HHDL to wax comedic again, inquiring about some diligent attendees at their 13th-annual post-birthday teaching: "any changes?"
The teaching was interspersed with readings from the two source texts, although based on the English-commentary it appeared that the Chinese text reader was, like the chant leader, missing his cues - evidently HHDL causes quite the case of nerves even in the Buddhist hierarchy, or else they were hung over from the birthday party the day before?
Other key dogmatic points included: wisdom with selflessness is needed to obtain a state of Buddha-hood; one must simultaneously abandon their afflictions and perfect their generosity by being infinitely cherishing of others; "all obstacles [must] be removed" to achieve realizations; one must seek the "wisdom of emptiness" - "go, go, go beyond, still beyond;" the dharma of Buddha himself is dual: profound and vast; the teaching of perfection of wisdom is the highest kind; and perhaps most importantly -- "without effort one cannot obtain enlightenment."
It was a bit of a mental adventure at times: the juggling of highly detailed linguistic intricacies with complex philosophy while also attempting to interconnect overlying themes and ideas of the technically specific Tibetan Buddhist religion. Perhaps that sentence encapsulates the entire experience in a way :-). Thus the crowd, myself included, began to get a little restless as the heat of the day increased, the experience was quite enjoyable and at moments rather amazing.
The Dalai Lama, unlike most MCs, has no need for a hype man - he's peace's heavyweight upon the international political scene: purposeful and profound. The weight of the tragic plight of HHDL, his government-in-exile, and the Tibetan people firmly lies on the Chinese government and the ever-idle rest of the world. Do your part and get informed, and "eliminate the darkness of ignorance."

* It should be (redundantly) noted that all quotes are from the English-language translation, so their accuracy in regards to the Dalai Lama's words in Tibetan may or may not be exactly precise.