Thursday, April 23, 2009

Home sweet Home

Hello! I'm home!!!!
it's so good to be back. i've been drinking tap water like there's no tomorrow. sadly, my water filter is broken and the water coming out of the kitchen sink is brown from rusty pipes. gross. but still drinkable...
so far i haven't done much at home, just cleaning the house after 6 months of joon's bachelor life revisited. i love him, but he sure is messy.
i don't think i'm having culture shock in a bad way, so far i've been pleasantly surprised by things i forgot about, like how cars will actually stop for you when you cross the street. a giant MUNI bus let me cross the street yesterday and that was a huge shock! i'm so used to crossing crazy traffic and risking my life every time.
it's nice to walk around the street and understand the conversations i hear and actually know what the hell is going on.
i went to get coffee and a bagel on my first morning and the coffee guy gave me coffee on the house as a welcome back present. i really missed bagels, too.
we had fantastic weather the first couple days- 80 degrees and sunny. today it's back to foggy sf weather though.
i saw a guy washing his car and looked at all that drinkable water wasted on the sidewalk and wondered why we use drinkable water in our toilets and garden hoses? especially when the rest of the world doesn't even get drinkable water in their kitchen sinks.
also, i'm having a hard time putting toilet paper into the toilet, which i haven't been able to do anywhere on my trip. does anyone know why the us and europe can flush tp when no one else can?
so far i'm missing the indian head wiggle (which means yes, by the way), cheap everything, and warm weather. but mostly i'm happy to be back home.
i thought joon bought new pillows because they are so fluffy and soft, but then i realized i've been using 3 inch, rock-hard pillows for the last 6 months.
this will be my last blog so i guess i should just say once more that it's great to be home, and my trip was amazing. i am one lucky ducky to have been able to take so much time off to travel and see our beautiful planet. i met a lot of people who reminded me that traveling is the sort of thing that anyone can do with a little planning and saving, and that it's a choice you make. it is great to get out there and see what other people are doing, especially in countries like india where everything is so different from home that it seems like the world is upside down and backwards. after a while you realize that they have their own system and ways of doing things and if you pay enough attention, you see that it actually does make sense.
just want to say thanks to everyone for following my adventures. all the comments and emails made me feel closer to home in the lonely times and i appreciate it. with that i will sign out and hope to see each of you soon.
Love, Jenny

Saturday, April 18, 2009

beijing with joon

Here we are at Tianamen Square. Behind us is the building with Mao's huge photo portrait on it. Look at that smog!!!

We went to a snack street where they have all kinds of strange things to eat, mostly on a stick (Beijingers seem very fond of food on sticks). They had scorpion, testicle, octopus, all kinds of weird stuff. Needless to say, I didn't try any adventurous foods because they're all animals, but here is a shot of Joon eating scorpion. He liked it.

The other day we visited the Great Wall. It was a lot of up and down steep wall. As you can see from the photo, it's in a beautiful setting- gorgeous mountainside and smog-free. We hiked 20 towers, about 3 hours of walking. It was a lot of fun but we were really tired at the end.

At the end of the portion of the wall that we climbed, there was a zipline that took you to the bottom of the hill (where there is a Hostelling International, by the way; always in the best locations!). Here's Joon zipping down.

We're staying in the Hutong district. I'm pretty sure hutong means alley in English. Beijing used to be all hutongs but a lot of them have been destroyed to make room for the super modern skyscrapers. The hutongs are cool because they give you an idea of old Beijing. Lots of small shops, homes, courtyards, and markets.
Joon goes home tomorrow and I follow the next day. It's been great to be in Beijing with him. It helps a lot to have another person you trust to try to figure out what is going on, especially when you have no clue about the language. A lot of people in Beijing do not speak English at all, and sadly I have neglected my roots and don't speak a word of Mandarin. Well, I can say hello and thank you...
I am completely ready to go home. I miss everyone and everything about San Francisco. I can't wait to be in familiar surroundings, speaking my native language and knowing the customs. Feeling like an insider, basically. My only fear is that after a week I'll start to miss the adventure of world travel. It has been a great trip, and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to see so many different countries and meet so many wonderful people.
Well, the next time you hear from me, I'll be stateside. Until then...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Beijing part 2

These blossoms are all over place! It's springtime in Beijing... I came at exactly the right moment. The weather is warm but not hot and humid, and all these pretty flowers are everywhere.
Here's a gate in Behai Park. It is not far from my hostel and I walked over there the day before yesterday. I was just getting over the Night of Terror (food sickness) and I walked very, very slowly. There's a big lake there and it was a peaceful place to sit around and enjoy being outside.
This is the face my stomach makes when i get food poisoning. Probably also what my face looks like during food poisoning, come to think of it.
Peking duck. (not the eating kind)
Yesterday I went to this really cool outcrop of art galleries. It's called 798 Art Galleries or something. It used to be a factory but has since been converted and there are over 200 galleries there now. There was a lot of cool sculptures and graffiti outside, as well as cool art inside (but I couldn't take photos of any of that).

Today I went to the Summer Palace but I'll save the pictures for the next blog. It takes a really, really long time to upload photos in China. I'll just say that it was quite crowded but also very pretty.

Tomorrow Joon's coming! Obviously I'm really excited, since it's been over 4 months since we saw each other. He will be featured in the next blog. Until then...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beijing is pretty

Hi! I just arrived to Beijing yesterday. Here are a couple pictures I took when i first got here. They are all from the street/alley where my hostel is. I'm staying in the Dong Chen district, which is an historical Hutong (alley) district.
Up there are some candied fruits.
Here's the outside of a restaurant under construction on the inside.

A Chinese rickshaw thing?
Really cute public phones.
Here's the Sprite that accompanied my only Beijing meal so far. It was pizza, which to me seemed like a safe bet. They put it in the oven, all the bacteria gets cooked to death... right? Well, I was wrong apparently because I got a pretty bad case of food poisoning. I was up all night throwing up and doing other unpleasant things. It was doubly bad because I opted to watch movies on the plane instead of sleep a full 8 hours (I couldn't resist- it's been forever since I saw a movie or tv in English! Plus, you don't really sleep on the plane anyway) so I was super exhausted anyway, just from the travel. Today i stayed in bed until 3pm and slowly walked to the store to find Gatorade and crackers.
I'm feeling a bit better now and hopefully I'll be ready to hit the town tomorrow. On the ride to the hostel from the airport, I was surprised at how clean all the streets are. The air is also wayyy cleaner than the air in Kathmandu. There are lots of blossoms blooming and it just looks like a really nice city.
Well, I will write again in a couple days. Hope everyone is doing well at home.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Kathmandu Part 3

Here is a prayer wheel- as promised. This one is a big one (about 2.5 feet tall) and in the left of the picture, there is an inset in the wall with some cloth covering the top. You can see it, but there are a smaller prayer wheels. The Boudhanath stupa has many of these lining the wall along the outside base of the stupa. You are supposed to walk around it clockwise and you can spin the prayer wheels.
Hello! Yesterday I went to Boudanath, which is where the world's largest stupa is. It is really big and beautiful. It looks a lot like the Swayabunath stupa, only it's not on top of a hill, and the dome part is much larger. It's one of the holiest places in the world for Buddhists and there were many, many monks there. I joined them for a few laps around the stupa. A lot of the monks were elderly and it reminded me of mall walking because some of them were walking pretty fast, almost like they were trying to get exercise at the same time. They carried wooden beads with them and they were praying. It actually felt like a pretty holy place even to me, agnostic that I am. I think because everyone there was giving it so much respect. There were still restaurants and trinket shops around the stupa, but it didn't feel as touristy as some other places I've been to lately.
Today I visited the Royal Palace, which has just opened to the public as a museum about one month ago. The royal family was murdered there in 2001 and it was pretty scandalous. There are a lot of Nepali people who I've met who are really curious about the palace because it's been closed for so long. They don't let you take cameras in there so I don't have any photos, but it was a pretty impressive building. In the back of the palace, they had signs explaining where the royal family was shot or found dead, and this fascinated me the most. (I know, kind of sick but you have to admit that it's really interesting.)
The best part was that I met a group of four cousins in the line waiting to get into the palace, and they sort of adopted me and translated signs for me (even though the signs were also in English). At the end of the palace tour, we sat around in the grass and talked about stuff. They were really sweet and cute, especially because they were a family of teenagers hanging out together on a Saturday. They were just really genuine and kind and they made me realize that I am sort of in love with Nepalis. Some of the people I've met here have been so nice to me and just really gone out of their way to help me out, just because I'm a guest in their country. It seems like this is a characteristic ingrained in people and I hope that when people come to the US they find that we are that kind to strangers too.

Tomorrow I am leaving Nepal for Beijing, the last stop on my world tour. Joon is going to meet me in one week, and I'm so excited to see a familiar face and hear about home. We'll be there for a little over a week, then we head home (on separate flights, sadly). I'm pretty excited to see Beijing and try out their street food. Also, seeing the Great Wall of China has been a dream of mine for a long time.

Well, the next time you hear from me I'll be in another country... talk to you soon

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kathmandu Part 2

Greetings from Kathmandu, again.
The other day I went up to a stupa on the edge of town called Swayabunath (I think) at the suggestion of my friend Anni who's been to Nepal a few times. It wasn't very far from the neighborhood where I'm staying, but after a half hour walk, the rest is almost vertical. There are 365 steps that you have to climb to get up to the stupa, but it was totally worth it. From up there I had a nice 360 degree view of Kathmandu, and the stupa itself was really cool.
I just realized that I didn't choose the best pictures to represent what the place looks like. Behind this lion statue there is a big dome with the Buddha's "all-seeing eyes". There are four sets of eyes which point in the four cardinal directions. There are also a lot of small shrines all over the place, as well as prayer wheels. You're supposed to walk around the temple counter-clockwise and spin the prayer wheels as you go along. I will get some pictures of prayer wheels in the next blog for those who don't know what one is.

I realized recently that I really don't know much about the religions in India and Nepal, even though every place I go is spiritual and almost every person I meet has some religion and feels deeply connected to their spirituality. Maybe I'm not ready to think about things in so much depth?... I've met quite a few westerners who seem like they're looking for answers on their trip, and I have to say I can't really relate to that. Mostly, I came just to see stuff and be in awe of how we're all so different and so similar at the same time. I do think all the religious symbolism is beautiful, mostly because of the way people light up when they teach me about it. I have to say I am starting to be more interested, and maybe the next time I come to this part of the world I will pay more attention.

Ooooh-look at this!!!! It's people getting water out of an ancient fountain! I'm not kidding- the guide book said that this fountain has been working for over 6 centuries. This picture's a little far away, but you can see all the ladies lined up with their water containers, waiting their turn for water.
And here we have the Golden Temple. Today I went to Patan, the town just next to Kathmandu. I visited the museum which had a lot of stuff about Hinduism/Buddism symbols in Nepal (probably what got me thinking) and their Durbar Square (yep, more temples) and then the Golden Temple. Isn't it pretty? It's actually a small courtyard with this gold stupa in the middle. There's a lot of interesting stone carving in the walls of the courtyard, as well as prayer wheels and bells that you ring (I think after you're done praying). There's even a monastery upstairs where I saw an old man making candles and muttering to himself.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


So, this is Ghorka. it is a very rural place which is lovely for the peace and quiet and lack of air pollution (except around the bus park of course). Also, i only paid 100 rupees for my room! That's like $1.25! Ridiculous. The only people in the family who spoke English were the exceedingly charming children of the family. They had the biggest smiles and most open faces I'd ever seen in my life. The down-side to a $1.25 a night room is that the sink and shower are one, which is a cold water spigot coming out of the wall above a squat toilet which was pretty gross. But for $1.25 I don't think I have the right to complain.
The other thing about Ghorka being so rural is that it is filled with villagers who seem like they've never seen a foreign person before in their life. Everywhere I went I was stared at and laughed at. It's a very alienating feeling. I'm not talking about curious glances, I'm talking about hard-core staring. On my first day there, I went for a walk around town and I was reposing on a stone wall, smoking a cigarette and writing in my journal, and a woman coming up the hill stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me for a full 30 seconds. I got kind of wierded out, so I smiled and said "Namaste", to which she smiled back and said "Namaste", then took 3 steps up the hill and turned around and stared again. She didn't stop until I got up and walked away.
That being said, Ghorka is a beautiful place. I hiked up to the top of the hill to a temple at the Ghorka palace. The climb nearly killed me but it was worth it. Apparently twice a month they sacrifice goats and chickens up there and there was dried blood all over the place. I also saw some villagers skinning a beheaded goat in their front yard on my way up the hill. By the time I was headed down, they were hacking up the ribs. It reinforced my vegetarianism.

Here is Rani Pokhari (Queen's Pond). You can't see them, but to the right of this picture was a group of 4 girls staring and laughing at me.

The neighbors beautiful garden just before a crazy hail storm.
I was going to get some food, and it had just started sprinkling. I was standing in the doorway of my guest house watching the street and it got real windy and everyone was running around like crazy, closing up their shops, running home, the portable ice cream stand guy was hauling ass down the road and I didn't get it. Why are they all freaking out? It's just a little wind. So I set out. I made it about 300 yards away when it starting hailing stones the size of golf balls. I was stuck out in the hail with another guy, getting pelted, when a nice watch repairmen let us into his shop to wait it out. When it was over, I went back to the guest house and kids everywhere were ecstatic. The kids of the house brought me up to the roof to look at more hail, and their neighbors were having a rooftop hail war from opposite sides of the street. It was classic.

The ride back to Kathmandu took forever but here is an awesome shot of a goat on the bus. Three of them came on mid-journey.
I am back in Kathmandu. I'm here for 5 days, then I head to Beijing. Joon's going to meet me after about one week. I'll be doing some day trips from here; there's lots to see in the Kathmandu Valley. So far the weather's been nice- raining in the afternoon/evening and sunny with clean air in the mornings.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Strange inedible fruit outside my hostel room.
This is the lake in Pokhara. I don't know for sure, but I think that Pokhara means "lake" or something like that in Nepali. The tourist part of town is along this lake, and as you can see, it's very pretty.
Yesterday some new friends and I hiked up to a Peace Pagoda on top of a big hill. You have to take your shoes off, or Off Your Shoes, or F your shoes, before going up to the temple.
On the way back down, we walked through this little village on the side of the dam. There were kids swimming in the river and mommas washing clothes. We got to cross over this cool suspension bridge.
Pokhara is beautiful! It's mainly a town for starting treks, or if you're lazy like me, sitting around relaxing and watching other people plan their treks. I am definitely coming back here one day to do the Annapurna Circuit, which is a cool trek that takes about 3 weeks and you get to walk through all these small villages in the Annapurna mountains. I've been walking around town and up the lakeside mountain, and eating and reading a lot. It's been very relaxing to be out of the chaos of Kathmandu.
Tomorrow I leave for a town called Ghorka, which is where the republic of Nepal was started. It sounds like a small town with nothing much to do but read and walk around. I'll stay there two or three nights, then head back to Kathmandu. Only a little over a week left before I head to China. Once again, I am amazed that my trip is almost over and I'm trying to enjoy the last bit of nothing to do but read and relax and enjoy. I am looking forward to getting back home, though. Can't wait to see everyone and catch up on what's goin on in SF!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

kathmandu pt.1 and chitwan national park

There are about 8 million temples in Kathmandu, which is wonderful and beautiful- and confusing. The other day i went for a walk and thought i'd be able to find my way back, no problem because of all the temple landmarks, but i just got horribly lost in the rain (of course it started to rain) for an hour or so. Eventually I hopped into a cafe for tomato soup and momos (did i tell you about momos yet?) to wait out the rain.
The photo above is the house of the living goddess. According to the guidebook, Nepal has a living goddess who is chosen as a child and has to meet many requirements, including certain measurements of her face. When she hits puberty or if she loses a certain amount of blood, she ceases to be a goddess and just becomes a mere mortal and another girl is chosen to be the living goddess.

These two photos are taken in Durbar Square- it's a pretty big square with many temples. It's great for sitting and people watching because some of the temples are tall and you can climb up to the top of them, which i did in order to escape the rain and take these photos.

Ha- I thought this was funny. It looks like this is the place where Mischa Barton gets her hair styled when she is in Kathmandu.

OMG!!! Can we all just take a moment out of our day to appreciate how fucking CUTE this baby elephant is? Some people were feeding it cookies and I think it ate 4 or 5 packages of cookies in the 10 min. i was standing there.

I spent the last couple of days in Chitwan National Park. I had a pretty fantastic time. I was one of two people staying at the lodge and I got a lot of individual attention from the staff. They were all really great people. My guide was hilarious and he loved to speak American English. I taught him some slang and he taught me some basic Nepali.

Here's me with the baby elephant. Notice how uninterested he is in taking a photo with me. I didn't have any cookies.

The first thing we did was visit the elephant breeding centre. It was great to see pregnant elephants and their babies (obviously), but the life of the captive elephant is pretty depressing. There are some working elephants who carry tourists around the park- it's pretty much the only way you can get really close to wild animals like tigers and rhinos without risking your life. The sad thing is that they work so hard, and they have to be trained in a way that isn't exactly humane. There's a certain amount of cruelty that has to happen in order to "tame"(break the spirit of) an animal that is way more powerful than you. The mamas at the breeding center were chained up by their feet to a post. That alone is enough to break this vegetarian's heart.

Afterwards, we walked home through the village. The indigenous people who live in the area are the Tharu people. They live in huts made of elephant grass, mud and dung. They do a lot of farming- rice and wheat mostly, and...

marijuana! The stuff is growing everywhere, mixed in with the wheat or on it's own. My guide said it's not for everyday use, just special occasions.

There's an underground spring in the area and the water is pretty clean. Apparently the use of pesticides in the farms is gaining, and my guide said that in about 50 years time, the groundwater will be too polluted to be safe to drink. Here's a shot of water being pumped up to irrigate the rice fields.

A photo from my jeep ride into the park. Probably the dustiest 5 hours I've ever experienced, by the way. The jeep was open in the back where everyone sits and they haven't had rain in awhile. When I got out of the jeep I was covered in a layer of dust and my lungs hurt today from all the dust I inhaled. Gross.

The one-horned rhino! These guys are huge! way bigger than I expected. They can run 40km per hour, and if they get spooked they will charge you. We saw two on our jungle walk and got close, than sort of trotted away when it looked at us, then snuck back, then ran away when it started moving. I was questioning my purpose in the jungle as my heart was beating out of my chest.
When we got back home, my guide showed me a gnarly scar above his ribs where he was mauled by a rhino years ago.
These rhinos can only be found in Nepal and in one area of India that used to be Nepal. There back is really weird. You can't tell in the picture, but it looks like a suit of armor.

Today I took a bus to Pokhara. It was so beautiful! We drove alongside a big river most of the way, and of course it reminded me of California. Looks like the Trinity River up by Hoopa. Pokhara is a really pretty town. There's a nice lake and lots of mountains. A lot of folks start their treks from here.
I will email again in the next few days. I'm planning to stay in Pokhara 3 or 4 days, then maybe make my way back to the air polluted Kathmandu from which I will do a bunch of day trips.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

welcome to nepal

i had the longest journey to kathmandu, ever. first, i went down the hill from darjeeling to a town called siliguri. then i had to take a taxi to the border town of panitanki (india side) to cross to kakarbhitta (nepal side). there are supposedly buses from there to kathmandu, but there's some sort of strike going on. which entails people protesting against the government by blocking all the highways between kakarbhitta and kathmandu. i'm sure there is more to it, but this is the most information i could get out of anyone.
so, i was stuck in kakarbhitta. which is a dusty town which has nothing but tourist offices and hotels, and their main square is the bus stand. also, no atms, no electricity for 16 hours a day, sometimes no water, and dodgy phone lines that were never working at the same time as the electricity or when i wanted to make a phone call. i was only there for one night, but i was starting to feel as trapped as the indian tiger i saw at the darjeeling zoo. it was only a matter of hours before i started pacing back and forth down kakarbhitta's only street. so this morning when i woke up and the hotel people told me the strike was still on and could be for another 7 days, i decided to take drastic measures to get the hell out of there.
this involved booking a plane ticket from the nearest airport (4 hours away), jumping in a shared taxi and driving back into india and around the nepal border to a different shithole border town, using the atm machine, and making my plane 10 min. before it left.
but i am here, in glorious (by that i mean dirty and big) kathmandu!
actually, kathmandu doesn't seem terrible. i've seen much worse on this trip. like delhi. also, nepali people are really nice. they are amazed that i'm not nepali and they all seem to feel the need to tell me that i have a nepali face at least 4 times after realizing i'm not from nepal.
tomorrow is a new day and i will have a look around the city and then the next day head to chitwan national park in the south, where i will hopefully see tigers or some sort of wildlife.
ok, goodbye for now

Monday, March 16, 2009

Darjeeling is the Humboldt of India

Hi from Darjeeling. It's pretty different here from the rest of India. In fact, i feel like I'm in a different country. First of all, the faces are more Nepali and Tibetan than Indian-looking. That's good for me because i feel like i fit in more. The climate is cooler- you could say freezing cold at night if you've been sitting still for a while. It's a welcome relief from the scorching, sweaty heat of the south.
The picture above is a temple on the top of the hill near Central Darjeeling. I wandered up there and there were millions of prayer flags all over and a lot of small shrines.

Today i visited the Happy Valley Tea Estate. This is tea. It doesn't look how you'd think, huh? I took a lame tour (lame because the factory was empty- it's the start of the season but nothings happening yet). It was explained to me that the tea gets picked and dried and rolled and dried and some other stuff. It wasn't that interesting for me; I only went because my friend Cassie is really into tea and I thought I could learn something and tell her about it. Sorry Caxie!
But the tea plantation is really pretty, isn't it?
Here are two photos of the toy train. The toy train is really cool because it's very very old and when it was built it cut the travel time to Darjeeling from one week to one day. Of course nowadays we have jeeps and buses so the train is the long way to go (7 hours vs. 3 in a bus) but being enamored by old-timey things, I had to take the toy train.
It's called a toy train because it's really small compared to normal trains. It's on a narrow guage rail and when it pulled up in the station it really looked like a toy. It moves about as fast as Lance Armstrong going uphill, and some of the turns are too tight so they make a path like a "Z"- which means they have to go backwards in some spots. You can see in the pictures how it crosses the road. The tracks were there before the road, and the cars just wait when they here the train horn.

Today after the tea estate I went to the Darjeeling Zoo, which was kind of depressing when it came to the leopards and tigers, but here is the red panda, which is adorable! Just look at that face! It's also called a cat bear because it looks like a cross between the two. This one was pigeon toed when it walked across that branch and it made my heart feel like it was going to burst with the cuteness.
Oh! I almost forgot- Darjeeling is the Humboldt of India because there are all these trees here that look a lot like Redwoods, though they are not. I got up close and inspected. It's also really quiet here (relatively speaking) and there is more fresh air than exhaust fumes.
Well that's about it. I have all day tomorrow in Darjeeling, then i head down the hill and cross over to Nepal. More on that later.

Cities I've Visited