[the palaverist]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

[chaos in mumbai]

So when the situation in Thailand went pear-shaped, I started looking at other places to go. One of those places was Mumbai.

Then, of course, Mumbai was struck by a horrific series of terrorist attacks, which are still unfolding. They've targeted places popular with Westerners, which means places I've been. I've met people and relaxed in the Taj Mahal Palace lobby, even bought a shirt there. I've caught trains at Shivaji Terminus.

And Leopold Café! Friggin' Leopold's! For a New York equivalent, it's as if terrorists attacked not just the Waldorf-Astoria and Grand Central Station, but also Katz's Delicatessen. It's just wrong — and yes, I know that the whole thing is about as wrong as can be, but bringing Leopold's into it is so dementedly off-script for this sort of thing. It's horrible, and I'm sad.

Meanwhile, Thailand seems to be moving towards a confrontation with the protesters who have shut down the airports. Will I still be going there? We'll see. If there's not any actual fighting, and the airport is open, I probably will. And if things suddenly get nasty again? Well, "I was trapped in a foreign land by a military coup" would be the most interesting excuse I'd ever given for missing work.

We'll see.

Update: A Mumbai Chabad House has been attacked as well, and there are hostages inside, and probably some people have already been murdered. Horrible.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

[thailand in crisis]

In 23 days, I am planning to fly into an airport that, at the moment, is being occupied and shut down by a protest group called the People's Alliance for Democracy.

This is not good.

I expect that this situation will be resolved in 23 days. I will almost certainly go ahead with my trip. But it's unnerving, and I'm stuck with the lingering worry that the situation will worsen, and then what'll I do? I've already bought the ticket.

I've been down something like this road before. The day after I arrived in Nepal in 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed the prime minister and dissolved the parliament. There was some tension, but it all seemed to be happening above the heads of average Nepalis.

This PAD situation in Bangkok is much more serious. And it's growing into a standoff, with no easy end in sight. And so, from an incredibly selfish perspective, I worry about my vacation.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

[wheels and straps]

Years ago, when I went to Ireland, there was some kind of snafu at Kennedy Airport. I can't remember the details, but I do recall that I literally ran from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, had some kind of a discussion at a ticketing counter, and then ran back to Terminal 1. I had my backpack with me, and it would've been hard enough to run had I been wearing it. But by the time the sprinting started, helpful airline staff had already wrapped the thing in cellophane so that the straps wouldn't get caught in the baggage-handling equipment. And so I was stuck cradling this giant, slippery football in my arms as I trotted from terminal to terminal.

Since then, I've stuck mostly with a rolling suitcase for domestic travel, where the road surfaces and airport landscapes are predictable and well maintained, and where schleppage is largely from baggage claim to the trunk of a car in the parking lot.

On my international trips, though, my backpack served me well. It was necessary for trekking in Nepal, of course — hiking the Annapurnas with a wheelie bag makes less sense than heading up there in high heels. There were times, too, where a long walk from the train or bus station, over broken ground, was made infinitely easier by a bag I could heft onto my back. Still, there were times, as the bag grew heavier with our accumulated goods, when it was painful to carry, and wheels would've been a serious relief.

And so began my quest for a backpack with wheels. There are a few on the market, and they're mostly pretty expensive, but I consider this purchase an investment in my future travels. I hope to go to a lot of different places, and I wanted one bag that could go with me on all but the most strenuous adventures. (For those, I'll break out my beloved Gregory backpack.)

After looking at the Victorinoxes and the Eagle Creeks, I settled on the Osprey Meridian. As the salesman explained, Victorinox bills their bags as the lightest, Eagle Creek as the most durable, and Osprey as the most comfortable. The Meridian is easy to convert from a backpack to a rolling bag and vice versa. It has a spacious interior that will be big enough for most of my travel needs. And a big selling point for me was the detachable day pack, which is spacious and well enough designed to be genuinely useful. That means I can attach my carry-on directly to my luggage, then remove it when I'm ready to check in. Without that, I'd either have to carry two loaded bags around, which I've done and not enjoyed — wearing the day pack on the front is no picnic when you've got an overloaded pack on your back — or else stop and transfer items from one to the other whenever it came time to check the bigger bag.

We'll see how it performs in actual transit.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

[dreaming of fluorescent pepsi in the night]

So where were you last Tuesday night?

Seven years after the definitive where-were-you-when moment for Americans under sixty, it is with great relief that there is now a new moment to talk about. For the past week, conversations have turned to the election, which has unleashed a giddy elation in myself and countless others.

As for me, I was at a house party in a high-rise on West 42nd Street, where I stayed to watch first McCain's and then Obama's speech. At around 12:30, I headed out, planning to walk back to Times Square and take the subway home, but soon it was clear that something extraordinary was happening. Packs of people streamed by, chanting and waving Obama signs. Strangers were smiling and talking to each other, even embracing. A black woman threw her arms out and howled, "I'm goin' ta work naked tomorrow!"

Times Square was still packed when I got there. The big screens around the square were all showing the results still coming in, and Obama's picture kept drifting by on the giant LEDs. I called my sister, then my parents, then some friends, to let them hear what was going on. "YES! WE CAN! YES! WE CAN!" "O! BA! MA! O! BA! MA!" "YES! WE! DID! YES! WE! DID!" Fire trucks drove by and honked in rhythm. I talked to a man from Guinea who was texting his friends back home. They were still celebrating, though it was nearly morning there.

I bought a T-shirt that said President Barack Obama. I cheered and I chanted with strangers. I stared at the monitors and talked shop with strangers about Senate races. At last I headed home, by cab, sharing my joy with my Senegalese driver. It was a beautiful night.


The next day, I bought my ticket for Thailand. I'll be going on December 20, returning on January 4. At first I agonized over how I would book internal flights for when I arrived, but yesterday I decided to let that go. I'll just show up in Bangkok and figure it out. There's always a bus to somewhere.

Bus travel, of course, is unpredictable. I have been battered and bruised on buses, ridden on the roof over mountain roads, crossed the United States with Euro-hippies, been awakened by snapping fingers in my face and a man barking, "Tea, toilet!" But what comes to mind most viscerally for me are two experiences. In one, I am riding through Bridgeport, Connecticut, gazing out the window at a bombed-out husk of a city, and listening to "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997," by Beck:
I was born in this hotel, washing dishes in the sink
Magazines and free soda, trying hard not to think
The other memory is of India, staring out the window of a night bus — god knows where — listening to Dig Your Own Hole by the Chemical Brothers and watching these islands of fluorescent light drift by, illuminated roadside bhatis with walls of turquoise and pink, hand-painted Pepsi logos, and skinny, mustachioed men with bushy hair, bushy mustaches and dhotis.

In each case, the memory mixes music, bus travel and alienation. Buses, it seems to me, are an ideal environment for feeling alienated, with none of the romance of trains or the sense of occasion that still clings to air travel even in the age of the flying cattle car. Buses rattle and bump, stop unpredictably, go off course, get stuck in traffic. And music is ideal for creating a contrast, or an emotional frame, for absorbing images that are somehow surreal and out of context.

And so I'm sorting through my music, trying to figure out what goes on my iPod for my trip to Thailand, and contemplating a bus trip up the country, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, with stops in Ayuthaya and Sukhothai and who knows where else. What will settle into my memory this time?

My first little taste of adventure travel was on a Green Tortoise bus down from Oregon, and it sold me on the notion. I soon spent ten days crossing the Northern US with the Green Tortoise, and then another fourteen days heading back across the South. After college, when I leaped blind into India, I experienced bus travel in whole new ways: riding the roof with a couple of cackling old men on the road that winds over the mountains back into Pokhara; wrapped in a shawl, trying to sleep as the cold desert wind whips through the empty window frame of a night bus to Jaisalmer; pressed up against a man smelling of sandalwood and sweat, trying to tune out the high-pitched warble of distorted Hindipop. I have been bounced and battered in a sleeping compartment with no seats. I have been awakened early in the morning by snapping fingers in my face and a man barking, "Tea, toilet!" I have

Bus travel is unpredictable. Some of the best and worst travel experiences of my life have involved buses. My first trip, down from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco, was a revelation: my first time jumping into a travel experience with no clear idea what it would entail. I sat on the back, on the mattress platform, while an impromptu bluegrass band struck up, and then sat by a river at the Oregon campsite stopover and shared stories with probably the most beautiful woman I've ever met.

Over the next couple of years, I twice crossed the United States in Green Tortoise buses. Then, after college, I made a grand, blind leap into India, where

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Sam Cooke - A Change Is Gonna Come
Parliament - Chocolate City
James Brown - Funky President

Forget about the financial crisis. Forget McCain-Palin, forget the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, forget health care. Forget about the challenges of the next four years, and all our fears and worries about how Barack Obama will do as president.

For this moment, let's savor the extraordinary revolution in American culture that took place today.

Barack Hussein Obama is not the descendant of slaves. His father comes from East Africa, not West Africa, and his mother is a white Kansan. But by the strange logic of American race relations, Obama grew up black in America. He was born four years before the Voting Rights Act was passed. He was seven years old when Martin Luther King was assassinated. He grew up with the decline of America's inner cities in the 1970s, came of age at the time of the crack epidemic, was a young man when cities across the country exploded in rage at the Rodney King verdict.

Obama is slightly younger than Chuck D.

Barack Obama may be the harbinger of a new, post-racial America, but he grew up in the old, still-racial America. His election is a stunning breakthrough for our nation, one that millions of Americans have worked, fought and prayed for through the generations.

I wish Martin Luther King were alive to see it. And James Brown. And W.E.B. DuBois, and Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. And Obama's grandmother. And Walt Whitman. And Rosa Parks.

In March of next year, the Lincoln Memorial will be rededicated on its centennial. And our president, a son of Africa, will be there.

This is amazing.


America is different now.


Previous Posts

[things i'd like to write about but haven't]
[drop the red lantern]
[how not to apply for a job]
[pop is the new alternative]
[what does it all mean?]
[national fears]
[lies, damn lies, and sound effects]
[our pakistan moment?]
[how to fail like an olympian]
[cold winters]


July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
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June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
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November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
July 2008
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November 2008
December 2008
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