Category Archives: travelling

The used-to-be me……

This whole blog started off as a way of journaling our move to India so we would capture – and never forget – the details of our adventure. I wanted to remember the monuments and the memories but had no real way of knowing that, while those were fun, they were insignificant in what we should remember from our experience. The memories came from traveling – but the lessons came from everyday life. The routine that never actually became routine.

We have been home for over a year now and I still have not written about everything. And I have (finally) accepted that I will never write about everything. You just cannot remember it all – and even if you could remember every detail – there is simply no way to explain it all. Partly because India hits everyone a little differently and partly because there are just not enough words.

Unfortunately, I drop little pieces of our India experiences like sand falling off my shoe.  Some of them are hard reminders and I eagerly (and unfortunately) toss them out like I would a rock cradled under my toe. Others just drift away all on their own. And this blog was supposed to be like a big broom and sweep up everything. It turns out there is not a blog or broom big enough for that task.

One by one, you barely miss a piece of sand – but together they can form a beach. It is not good to lose a beach of experience. It’s really not.

Alas.

But what is making me really frustrated and sad is that I changed in India and I am losing some of that. India taught me to be more patient and to have a bigger world perspective. To remember the reality of it all. And, damnit, I am letting myself get caught up in some of the nonsense again. My perspective is shrinking and re-framing.

In many ways, India brings non-Indians to their knees. It’s hard to live in an “all-about-me” bubble when you are constantly bombarded with people suffering and struggling and still surviving – and surviving happily. The people who have the most to legitimately complain about actually complain about nothing. I am not sure if they don’t complain because they don’t think it will do any good or if they just find it unnecessary. But complain they do not.

Please know that this is not an “India is so dirty, the people are so poor” story. If you are a big lover of India, please do not take this as insulting. But the reality is that there are people in India who survive on very little and it is hard to be selfish and self-absorbed when you are reminded of that every single time you step outside. Not everyone owns an ipod – or an outlet to plug it into.

Even when you are inside. It is inescapable.

When you have to give your cook and his wife water when they go home at night because they don’t have access to water, you suddenly remember to turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. You realize that what you absolutely take for granted as ever-flowing and abundant and even safe is non-existent for someone else – really, most everyone else. It puts you in your place a little bit.

And you have a lot less energy to worry about what other people are doing and what other people aren’t doing. You are busy getting through a day that is just exhausting to get through. And you are often even more busy getting your children through a day in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense to them. You try to let them experience the reality of it, while protecting them from the reality of it.

I remember one day in India that we got in the car to go to school. The kids were fighting about who was going to sit where. My head almost spun off my neck. My tirade went something like this………..

Holy Hell. You are really going to sit in an air conditioned car with a full belly which is covered by clean clothes and with a head that slept on a pillow on a bed in a room that you do not have to share and drive by all of “this” and complain about anything. Seriously. What are we doing here? Have you really not learned anything? You ate breakfast made by someone else, put the leftovers on a side plate for Ravi to eat at lunch (he would literally eat the crusts they left on their plates), and left your dishes in a sink for someone else to wash. In fact, I should have stopped with “you ate breakfast“. Turn to the left, look out the window and turn to the right, look out that window and shut the hell up.

It was not one of my stellar mommy moments. But that morning had an impact on all of us. The kids didn’t complain (that morning or the next and maybe not even the next). And I wondered how we could walk and live and breathe in India and not lose more of our selfishness.

How could we drive by children without clothes or a roof over their heads or even morsels of food on a plate – dear God, who am I kidding? A plate. No, you are right, they didn’t own need plates – and complain about which comfy cozy seat our bigger than necessary arses were going to snuggle into so that the air conditioning could hit our faces just right.

For Pete’s sake, our driver rode his motor scooter in traffic and dust for an hour to come and clean our car and wait for us to be ready to go somewhere, anywhere  – at any time. He held the door for us and swept up our messes and ran our errands. And at night he took our leftovers to a home with no air conditioning whenever we declared ourselves done for the day. He just waited for us to decide when we were finished so that he could see his family at some point before they laid on a threadborne mattress all in the same room together and went to sleep. Just to wake up early to do it all again.

And we did learn those lessons and we do embrace letting go of some very unnecessary involvement in things. But sometimes I slip and those slips are coming more often. I am getting caught up in minutiae and it is making me nuts. I have an opinion about too many things.

Anyway, this little rant is almost over. Pinky swear.

The bottom line is that I am going to start praying harder for (and working harder toward) patience and perspective. And, yes, a winning lottery ticket would certainly be nice – but if perspective kicks in properly, I won’t push my luck. 😎

Ooops, I did it again……………

I just got home from a 3-day field trip with 120 fifth graders, some teachers, and several other parents who did not have the good sense to not raise their hands. We rode on a train to Ranthambore in India. I never thought I would find myself on a train in India. It just was not on my list of things to do. In fact, it was pretty high on my list of things not to do.

But nothing ventured – nothing gained. Right? Right.

So, I went on the train and Flower and I got to see tigers – again.

Ranthambore is an amazing place – it is a wonderful wildlife sanctuary and has a tremendous fort. I will share more about our journey with you soon. But, right now I am going to go take a shower, eat some food I recognize, brush my teeth, go to bed, and not worry about what 120 fifth graders are doing – or not doing. 😎

I wanna be an Airborne Ranger……

I went to high school in Columbus, Georgia near Fort Benning. My mom was a college professor helping many of the soldiers earn their degrees while they were completing their military training. There were lots of men in her classes (and I am pretty sure she never called any of them Blondie 😉 ). She often came home singing this chant….

I want to be an Airborne Ranger.
I want to live the life of danger.
Blood. Guts. Sex. and Danger.
That is the life of an Airborne Ranger.

She never actually sang the 3rd and 4th lines – at least not out loud – but I included them anyhow.

It’s funny how memories can come flooding back. When we were in Bangkok, I saw this little boy and this chant ran through my head 8 million times. How adorable is he?

What do you think he wants to be when he grows up?

This guy is either flirting with me or preparing to stab me.

Be Careful……………..

The Indian government has changed the rules on how you are allowed to travel in and out of the country on a tourist visa (even on a multiple entry visa). The bottom line is that if you are on a tourist visa and you leave the country – even for a quick stop over in Nepal or Bangkok or Singapore for just a few days – you will not be allowed in back into India for 2 months. Now, you will hear stories of people who left and came back in with no problem – but you will also hear of people who could not come back in. It’s not worth the risk until the details are straightened out. Make sure you confirm what your passport will and will not allow you to do while entering and leaving India.

A river runs through it…………..

Bangkok was a whirlwind and, unfortunately, although we saw a lot, we left a lot unseen. Some things we just ran out of time to see. Some things we simply chose to leave unseen. We had heard about the floating markets – had heard that they were once active trading centers and super fun but are now mostly tourist traps. So we opted out of the official floating market tour and instead rented a boat to take us on a roll down the river.

Honestly, the thought of being “stuck” on a boat in a crowded market where vendors hawk their wares try to gently coerce you into buying only the most beautiful trinkets that you really want with no escape route and no bathroom just did not appeal to me. And we have found that we are not buying that much stuff. There are a few things we want to get but most of Asia seems to have the same kind of trinkets – wooden elephants, chess games, hair accessories, and the like. We are kind of  at the point of “been there, done that, don’t even want the t-shirt”.

So, we said no to the floating market and yes to the canal. It was all kinds of loverly and I feel like we got to see the more secluded side of Bangkok. You may have realized this already – but I am what you might call geography challenged. I had absolutely no idea that a river runs through Bangkok. Duh.

We rode on a boat like this.  In fact, we rode on this boat.

Temples lined the canal. And each one was just as intricate as the next.

This is the view from the main thoroughfare and either I was drunk (was not) or the buildings look crooked.

Then we hung a right into the canal.

It was like a window opened to a whole new world. You could just tell life stories just happen here. Everyday stories of everyday life. Day in and day out routines that just happen over and over again without much thought or planning. Life periodically rocked by sickness, travels, visitors, spiritual revelations, new discoveries, birth, and death. Full circle life lived through generations of family after family simply repeating the same cycles as their parents did before them and only occasionally stretching to break long-held traditions.

I could have sat on this boat for hours and just watched the stories unfold – or imagined them to be much grander than they probably most often are. It was really a fantastic place. “It’s a Small World” in Disney could have been modeled after this canal. Except that this canal was exceptionally quiet. The most noticeable thing to me was that is was so peaceful. Quaint and quiet and peaceful. Deep cleansing breath kind of peaceful.


It was a world of laughter,
A world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes,
And a world of fears.
There’s so much that we share,
That it’s time we’re aware,
It’s a small world after all.

There is just one moon,
And one golden sun.
And a smile means,
Friendship to every one.
Though the mountains divide,
And the oceans are wide,
It’s a small world after all.

Tastes like chicken…………

We don’t eat a lot of any street food in Delhi, so I was very surprised when my husband went all “game on” over the street food in Thailand. There seems to be more of it in Thailand, especially Bangkok, and he wanted to try some new things. I offered to take pictures – giving me the “oh, I would love to, but I don’t want to get anything on the camera” excuse. He did not eat all of the things you will see pictured, but he did eat chicken butt. I cannot find the picture of that. But here is one of hubby eating “canal” food. A lady on a boat will pull up to your boat and sell you some bbq chicken. And you will suspend your reality and believe it is chicken. Fascinating.

Number one hubby also ate crocodile – at the crocodile show.

Yes, you read that right – he ate crocodile at the crocodile show. Maybe it is just me, but I think there is something fundamentally wrong with eating crocodile at the crocodile show right in front of the c.r.o.c.o.d.i.l.e.s. Especially when one of your fellow humans is about to do this. No wonder they say revenge is sweet.

I personally have a v.e.r.y. hard time eating anything that is looking at me.

These were some of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen. In Asia, they are called prawns, which makes perfect sense because there is nothing “shrimpy” about them. And, you are right, they don’t look as appetizing before they are “prepared”.

I don’t know if these are chicken feet or octopus. I am thinking octopus but really, it could go either way. And, nope, did not try.

I am always happy to find something recognizable that is not staring at me. These strawberries looked delish.

These little gems are called Century Eggs. Yes, I completely agree – eggs are not supposed to look like that. No, we did not try them. Because of the way these eggs smell, there is a myth that they are soaked in horse urine. Yeah, that’s about all I need to know about them. This is what century eggs look like in a buffet at a hotel.

And this is what they look like on the street. I am off the school of thought that both of these are a big fat pass.

Not sure what some of these next things are … if you know, please enlighten us all….

(and yes, I am aware that there is a sign in this picture that probably tells me exactly what this is – but I have this little obstacle called “I can’t read Thai” – so I still have no idea what it is – they look like mini lunch bags though)

This is honestly a little more my speed – cucumbers.

We tried this coconut concoction when we were in Singapore. It was not all it was cracked  up to be.

I am so sorry – was that a little corny?

Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua …………

Say what? That means “Tiger Temple”. It is about a 3-hour drive from Bangkok. Yes, we went! You had to know we would. It is a Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand run by Buddhist monks. The head of the temple is called the abbott (not sure why you need to know that – but if you ever pull that one out in a game of trivial pursuit you can thank me.) They care for the tigers and give visitors an opportunity of a lifetime.

There are two different types of tours – one is where you go to the park in the afternoon and see the tigers during their quieter time of day – afternoon. I am sure this is fabulous – when else are you going to see that many tigers so close together and get your picture taken with a big arse cat? However, it’s afternoon – the cats are not that active. They have just eaten lunch and it’s hot. (Did I mention that Thailand is super hot? I did not think it was possible to be hotter than India. Wrong.) So I am guessing you do a lot of looking at cats resting after lunch. Of course, if you are going to sit near a big arse cat and have your picture taken, after their lunch is probably a very good time to do it. Otherwise you might become what we call the appetizer – formerly known as my loyal blog reader.

We chose to go to the temple first thing in the morning and spend about 3 hours with the monks and tigers. Holy cat batman, that is the way to go. You might suspect that this is the (much) more expensive option – it is – but it really is a once in a lifetime experience. And our children are earning their bachelors degrees from the school of life, who really needs college anyway? I am quite sure that when their prospective employers read on their resume that they have pet and played with and fed and bathed very large tigers, they will be a shoe in for any job.

Anycat, the day started with us being picked up at our hotel in Bangkok at 5am in the morning. We get in the van and drive, drive, drive and then drive some more. Luckily, it’s early and we are still exhausted, so we slept a good bit of the way. (By the way, the roads in Thailand are very well developed – but they are bumpy – so dramamine is a good idea of you are easily nauseous in the car.) Then we stopped at a mini mart – now if you have been living in India and do not exactly have mini marts, this is a pure slice of junk food and soda heaven. We filled up with c.r.a.p. for us and bought some breakfast items to offer to the monks. It is my understanding that the majority of the food they eat is donated. Our guide told us to buy them Pepsi because they apparently don’t get too much of that. Too funny. Pepsi it is.

So we get to the park and line up behind a table with our offerings. We had to remove our shoes. The monks lined up and walked past us with buckets. We bowed to them. They took the food and Pepsi. It was kind of strange really – but cool enough. If you ever do this, there are about 14 monks at the temple. Each one of them walks by you with a bucket. Make sure you buy at least 14 things. And the volunteers at the temple, get their leftovers – so really stock up.

Okay, I was the only one in my family who actually offered food and bowed. This is all the hard evidence number one hubby needed to prove, once and for all, that I am a dork of the highest magnitude this side of Kanchanaburi. But, I believe that when in Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, you should do as the Wat Pha Luang Ta Buans do.

Then we were asked to sign a waiver. It went something like this. You are an idiot for wanting to play with and feed real tigers – you do know they are wild animals, right – they might attack you – if they attack you, you are not going to be on the winning side of the fight – we are questioning your sanity – oh good, you brought your smallish children – sign here.

Off to the park. We first met the smaller tigers and one adorable tiger cub named Full/New Moon – sorry, I cannot remember the thai translation for that – but she was born on a full moon. She was just about a month old. We fed the tigers bottles and honestly marveled at their beauty and strength. The younger tigers were very soft – but as they age, their fur becomes more wirey.

And I got bitten- for the first time – by a real flippin tiger. In our little intro to the day, they explained that they really weren’t kidding – these are real tigers with real teeth and they really might (try to) bite us. They live in this nice little sanctuary but they are w.i.l.d. animals. If they did bite at us, we were supposed to push their heads away and NOT pull away from them.  It was our responsibility to keep their mouths away from any body parts we wanted to leave with still attached to our own body. The not pulling away part was emphasized – so I made a mental note of it. Do not pull away. Then, I completely forgot that and immediately pulled my leg away (intact) and I did not remember to push the tiger’s head away. Luckily there are trainers with you and they remembered just what to do. The tiger did not even break the skin – but it was a wee bit scary. They immediately rushed to me and asked if I was okay. Leg still there – check. No blood gushing out of my body – check. Children ok – check. More blog material – check. Yeah, I am good. I was left with a small scratch and a bruise – battle scars.

I can now add “I have been bitten by a tiger” to my list of quotes for that silly getting to know you game where you write something down that no one would ever guess about you and then they try to guess who wrote it. It’s good to have something interesting to write down.

There was a baby cub there and several adolescent tigers. The larger tigers were chained to posts and we were able to sit with them and pet them and feed them bottles. Interestingly enough, tigers don’t purr like domestic cats do. They do roll and stretch and like to be scratched like pets though.

Next we had breakfast with the monks. Well, the monks had breakfast over there and we ate over here. But they sat and we watched. I stood up to take pictures and was told that a woman cannot be higher than the monks so I had to sit back down. Normally, I would have been all “what’s up with that” but they were letting me pet their tigers, so I took a pass on going Norma Rae on them. Then we got to watch a small chanting/prayer ceremony. That was interesting enough and really quite peaceful.

Then off to walk the tigers. Excuse me? Walk the tigers – as in take them off the posts that they are currently restrained by? Okay. Please remind me exactly what that waiver said. This isn’t safe or a good idea? Am I remembering that correctly?

Sure, I’ll walk the tiger. And I will let my children do it. Why not? Katie Couric isn’t here filming a “what not to do as a parent” episode is she? Because if she is, I need to put on my lipstick.

And if you are wondering if they are as powerful as they seem on the Discovery Channel when they are bringing down a large antelope – the answer would be “absolutely!”

Angel was thinking that maybe she got delivered to the wrong family by the stork. She was hoping for parents that looked out a little better for her safety and well being.

The next stop was an enclosure and where we got to play with them for a good 45 minutes. They were majestic and magnificent and amazing and, dammit, another one bit me.

Don’t even ask, if I remembered the “rules”. You know good and damn well I did not. I pulled my leg back immediately. I did not push his head away. Angel watched it happen and decided that she really liked the tigers – from a distance. Again, no blood. Again, leg still attached. Again, children fine. It’s all good. But I have to say reality set in and I got a little nervous. So I decided Angel should not have to watch from far away all by herself. Like any good mother would, I went and sat with my cub in the shade, far away from the action. And like any good mother would, I left my 12 and 10 year old in the middle of the activity.

After that, we were invited to bathe and feed the tigers. Tremendous. You mean they will eat something besides me? Yeah! So we washed them with soap and rinsed them with a hose and fed them cooked chicken. Yes, right out of our hands.

Tigers in the wild eat raw meat – so they also get supplements to offer them the nutrients that the cooked meat does not have. But they do not want them eating raw meat because they do not want them to taste the blood. No, I did not read that on the waiver. They conveniently left that little tid bit off. But there is also the concern for avian flu – so it is important that the meat is cooked. The tigers had no problem eating the chicken and leaving our hands in tact. So it was  a win-win.

And if you are wondering, my thought bubble is very full of wonders at this point – is this the one that bit me earlier? Do humans really taste like chicken? Remind me again who thought this was a good idea.

Then we were told it was time to go to the canyon with the big cats. They said Angel was too small to be in the canyon because the really big tigers might want to play with her – I think that translated into – we weren’t kidding with the waiver crazy lady – your children should not be here. But they offered to let her go back with the baby cub and play with her for a while. They were so nice and told me that one of the staff members could take her back to the cub and walk her around the park to see the bears and lions they had rescued while we went to the big cat canyon.

Now, I might let her come to the tiger temple and walk and feed tigers – but thank so much – I am not letting a total stranger walk her around solo in the wooded Tiger Temple that is in Thailand. Yep, I went with Angel – Number One Hubby took Bear and Flower to the canyon.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. The temple has rescued a couple of lions and a couple of bears in addition to the tigers they care for. Angel and I got to see these animals because she could not go to the canyon. They are not on the regular tour yet. Their enclosures are being built and I think once they are done, these animals will be available for the public to see.

This bear is folding his paws and giving the traditional Asian bowing greeting. The guide asked if Angel wanted to feed him. I said sure – after all I had already signed the waiver, right? And at least this guy is behind bars.

Meanwhile, the rest of my crew went the the canyon where they watched the big cats frolic and play and were in absolute awe of their strength and agility. For that part of the tour, you are in a small fenced in area while the very large tigers walk and play around you. As you can see, the term fence is used loosely – it was not even waist high.

The staff and volunteers were amazing. They shared their love of these big beasts with us and kept us safe. Most of our pictures are from them – they were so generous with their time and energy and often took our cameras and captured our experience so we could just be fully engaged in our adventure. One thing that is important to know is that flash photography is strictly forbidden. But as you can see, you really don’t need it.

There are reports that abuse and illegal trafficking and breeding are happening at the temple. There is even speculation that the tigers are drugged to make them calmer. I can tell you that the people we talked with love these animals and treat them with respect and tenderness. The tigers seemed very comfortable and relaxed. We never saw any abuse or signs of abuse. I cannot speak to how the tigers get there or what breeding practices are in place. But I can tell you that the tigers we saw were vibrant and active and simply magnificent and are very much loved.

I will leave you with this – my new friend is about 400 pounds.

In the meantime……….

I have sporadic access to the internet right now so this will be quick. We are having some fabulous adventures and I have lots to share with you. In the meantime, here are a few photos….