Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coming Home and Signing Off

After a few days at my parents' place on Staten Island, I'm back home in New York City, jet-lagging but grateful for a wonderful trip. Not solely because I got to see and do some pretty cool things, but because writing to all of you made traveling alone a lot more fun and interesting. Actually, it made it feel like I wasn't traveling alone. So thank you.

Some people deserve individual shout outs. Madhuri, Jenna, Emily, Sherif, Sona, and Janet come to mind, for their quick replies to emails when panic set in and I feared becoming a social pariah. Devoted readers Dharshan and Corey (and Amaya) also deserve mentioning. My family in India and Clive and Margaret in South Africa, for being gracious hosts. The friends who either entertained or rescued me: Braian, Jony, Arno, Fatima, B.J., Manmeet, and Anu, to name a few. And of course, most importantly, my most devoted readers and cheering squad, my parents, for making this possible and for not freaking out.

I will be sending some of you links to photos as soon as I can (I think I might have left the CD at my parents' after a photos, beer, and Mom's food binge on Friday night). And I promise to stay in touch better than before, even though school is starting and my books are plotting to take me hostage.

With much love,

Friday, September 7, 2007

Taxonomy of Leering

I'm back in New York and wide awake at 4am with either jet lag or insomnia (one never knows), so I figured posting here would be a good idea. After traveling the world, I feel qualified to say that lecherous men are omnipresent, like Oprah and schizophrenia, and their predatory nature is in need of an international classification handbook. This is by no means a taxonomy of men worldwide (I met wonderful ones along the way as well), but of a particular breed or species, so to speak. So, here it is:

Argentina: Overt staring, even if eye contact is made, but coupled with mute behavior. Occasionally staring may be followed by a suggestive raising of eyebrows.

South Africa: By far the sketchiest interaction, whereby a man stood behind our tour guide to simple stare at me. When the tour guide turned around and asked what he wanted, he smoothly replied a cigarette, and then continued to stand there and smoke it while staring at me.

Dubai: Judgmental staring by every man from Kerala with a mustache and a smattering of Emirates. I know from a reliable source than it is not simple staring or ogling, but a quick survey of character and judgment that is passed as to whether the prey (woman) is chaste or easy. I do not know which one is more desired by said predators.

India: Baseline ogling, much like New York, where men check out all women that walk by in direct proportion to how fair they are. However, unlike Argentina, they will look away if you make eye contact, thereby making offense the best defense (i.e., they can't leer at you if you're actively checking out every man). However, occasional Dubai breed also found here.

Kuala Lumpur: Unaware of being ogled at, but I was only there for 7 hours. More field research required.

Bali: Most lecherous of oglers, especially towards Indian women, all of whom are a poor man's substitute for Aishwarya Rai. Physically nonthreatening due to short stature and malnourishment, but somehow I felt most disgusted by being prey to this particular brand of leering. International tourists and ex-pats may also engage in leering due to beach culture previously noted.

Hong Kong: As international as New York, therefore having a wide variety of both lecherous and non-lecherous men. For example, group of Indian boys that sat on a bench while I walked into a store in order to extend their predatory time. Hong Kong native with no social skills asked for my number in the middle of the subway. Middle eastern guy spotted with nice eyes, but traveling in a pack, which therefore made him more threatening. American guy that apologized when he bumped into me, and who I later leered at while pretending to shop. Like I said, like New York.

Well, there you have it. But, this is by no means exhaustive and/or authoritative, so please feel free to add and amend as you see fit. Like a Wikipedia for single women worldwide.

PS- Shout outs are due for people who supported and encouraged me this whole time, and so I will make one more entry about coming home in the next day or two.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hot Hong Kong Nights

Hong Kong is hot. Hot and humid like New York, where the asphalt radiates heat like coals and the exhaust fumes from passing buses sticks to your skin. It's bright and busy and open 24 hours. Basically, New York in Chinese with English subtitles. And it's good to be back in a city, After Bali, I've realized I'm not that into beach culture. Funnily enough, I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune on the plane yesterday, and the NY Times columnist David Brooks had already satirized beach culture in his column mcuh better than I ever could (you can find it at For my friends that don't have access, email me and I'll send you my ID and password).

I've also realized that there are good things to be said for cultural imperialism and globalization. Now I know Jenna and Madhuri and possibly a few others of you will shower me with tirades about vanishing cultures and individuality, and I would probably agree with all your very salient points. But, after a long flight, there is a sense of relief and gratitude one feels when one sees a Starbucks, knowing that a cup of tea (with milk) is to be found and caffeine can be safely ingested so as to avoid getting lost, ripped off, or pickpocketed on the way from the airport to the hotel. There is childlike joy in eating gelato while waiting in 90-degree weather to see Hong Kong's famous light show. And, given that my stomach is like a Manhattan apartment (there is only room for the things I need and like), and I'm not the biggest fan of East Asian food, there is comfort in finding Pizza Express with it's margherita pizzas and penne al pomodoro.

In case you should start to think that I've become a predictable American tourist, I did do some very Hong Kong-y things yesterday, like visit the Temple Street night market that is open from 4pm to midnight, and spontaneously bought a chess set that has intricately carved Asian figures as chess pieces (I have no idea how I'm going to fit this thing into my suitcase, but I've been wanting a nice chess set ever since I had to learn how to play chess last year in order to treat one of my verbally-challenged patients). I also went to a temple this morning where you supposedly get what you wish for. If you have any doubts, there are fortune tellers lining the walls, waiting to read your palm.

Of course, no visit would be complete for me without a forced interaction with a sketchy man. So, anecdote du jour: I got on the subway, and this man started peering at me from behind someone so intently, I was convinced I had a button open or doing something wrong. Perhaps it's rude in China to lean across somone to hold onto the strap as to avoid falling over in the train. He then gets up and starts the oddest conversation:
Him: Are you Helen?
Me: Sorry?
Him: Are you Helen?
Me: No. Sorry.
Him: Oh. My friend introduced me to a woman named Helen.
Me: Sorry. I'm not Helen.
Him: Are you Indian or Pakistani?
Me: Yes, but I live in New York.
Him: Oh. I want to go to New York to study there. Are you a citizen?
Me: No.
Him: Oh. You're not a citizen. But you live in New York. Can I have your phone number?
Me: No.
Him: Oh... (pause) no?
Me: No.

Here's how that conversation should have gone:
Him: Are you Helen?
Me: Of Troy?
Him: Sorry?
Me: No, I'm not Helen. Are you Bill?
Him: Pardon?
Me: I don't speak English.

If only I was as witty in real life as I am in my head.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What would you do?

In a moment of confusion, I ended up giving my cylcing tour guide in Ubud my email address (I was making plans for other trips and I thought he needed it to book a trip). Here's the email I got two days ago:

Hi Friend, can I sharing bad new to you.I loss my mother on August 27 2007 on 9.30 pm.She is very old, 79 years old. She is not sick, but the problem only old, with nine children and 23 grandchild's.On august 28 2007 we carried it to cemetery for buried and then on August 2008 will be cremation ceremony.Followed our rules in my village.Sorry I am late to tell you.I am sad and was crying but now I must return to work for my family and try to find more money for cremation ceremony.Thanks for your attention.Are you still in Bali, please reply...Best regard

How would you respond? Would you respond?

And Jenna, the circumstances are not anything like those in the book you gave me. Quite the opposite.