|Dancing in the park with maracas, what else?|
|Fish heads– for sale or to discard? I’m not certain.|
|Fresh pomegranate juice just outside the metro station.|
|The Bund at night.|
|Street food (pre cooking). For all of the street food fun, check out
|“Open Lock. Make Key. Fix Lock.”
An apt description of services offered.
|“Alley Curd,” purveyor of (the apparently
very trendy) juice served in IV drips.
|Gates and doors.|
In it’s 2500-year history, the city of Suzhou has developed and refined many times over. It is known for its light, elegant, delicate cuisine and women. Marco Polo, when he visited in the late 13th century, declared it the “Venice of China.” Admittedly, every water town in China seems to bear this moniker, but I think Suzhou is the original.
Suzhou strikes me as particularly ugly upon arrival. Massive, congested highways and bland, expressionless buildings. Never judge a city by its facades, of course. Tucked into pockets, Suzhou’s gardens and old walking streets are magical.
At this time of the year, people come from all over China to eat hairy crab, a prized delicacy harvested from the lake nearby.
If 1 billion people like something, I figure, it can’t be bad…
You have to pull away the organs– heart, liver, etc.– in order to get to the edible parts. “No, that is not good to eat,” the woman helping us said, seemingly each time I pointed at a segment of my remaining crab.
I am lucky to have a lot of “roe” (which I think is actually liver) in my crab. This is the best part… Finally, the crab is tasty, but very scarce, and a whole lot of work to get to. Something to try that I probably wouldn’t choose to order a second time, not least because of the cost– one 200 gram crab costs about 30 dollars!
On our tour of Old Suzhou, our “guider,” Billy, leads us through gardens where rocks, trees and water have been arranged in perfect harmony. Everything symbolizes long life, prosperity and abundance.
The sky darkens as our boat steers down one of the main canals. Red lanterns come to life, and streams of tourists pour along the cobblestone banks.
While on the boat, “fighting noisily and playing on board are forbidden.”
The laborious process of silk making emerged from this bastion of Chinese culture. Silk, you may be interested to know, is not vegan. In order to extract the silk fibers, manufacturers must boil the silk worms’ cocoons, killing the aspiring moths in the process.
|Another beautiful waterfall in Laos, which I did pay to see. 🙂|
In that time I have tried every tropical fruit available in Sri Lanka, spent a night with my family on a houseboat in Kerala, celebrated Christmas Eve with a very drunken Keralan Santa Claus, celebrated New Year’s Eve with my big brother in Varkala, completed an intensive yoga teacher training in Goa, learned about energy healing, overstayed my Indian visa, traveled 40 hours by train from Goa to Calcutta to get an exit visa, sat on the stoop of a man named Asheef and listened to his life story, eaten every kind of street food, sampled scorpions in Bangkok, learned how to make curry paste, biked 70 kilometers to a waterfall in Laos, kayaked from one city to the next, explored a massive cave, avoided abduction by tuk tuk, gotten sick, gotten better, rushed, relaxed, walked, danced and wandered.
Whew! The longer I’ve put off catching up, the more daunting the task has become. Since I couldn’t hope to fill in all the gaps, I will call that caught and move on to a topic that has long occupied my thoughts, especially in the last couple weeks…
Ah, aimless wandering! Some would denigrate you, belittle and besmirch your name, but I would like to come to your defense. Each day, I wake up with no set plan, no idea where I will be tomorrow, and no worries. Each day stretches out before me in an infinite rainbow array of possibility, so bright that the future beyond resembles Sri Lankan hill country, where thick gray fog conceals green valleys of unknown depth.
In moments of doubt I worry that this traveler’s lifestyle I have chosen to adopt for a few months might be frivolous, or that others may judge it so. But then I remind myself: I spend each day from sunrise ‘til well after dark with my eyes, mind and heart wide open—how many people can truly say that? Each day is dedicated to the new, consecrated by the unknown and celebrated by the joy of movement.
I suspect I may seem to be glorifying an ambitionless, idle existence, writing a slacker’s manifesto as it were. Not so. If plans are the sticky rice of life, then flexibility and spontaneity are the hot red curry that makes that rice not only edible, but beautiful. I would make the distinction between life without destination and life without intention—the former can manifest in aimless wandering, while the latter results in meaningless grasping.
It is when we wander with purpose that we become frustrated, lost in the twists and curves of an unfamiliar city, unable to arrive at our destination. But when aimless, without direction, wandering realizes its full potential, and we find suddenly, on arriving, where we were heading all along. The best swimming holes, cafes, temples, parks and people are not to be found, let alone enjoyed, in a hurry.
To wander aimlessly takes courage, to defy society’s demands for plans and commitments; confidence, to stand by a pursuit that on the surface has minimal value; and perhaps a wisp of insanity and a shred of common sense, to know when to keep going, and when to stop, respectively. In small doses it can cure most ills, and in large ones it is a lethal injection to normal life. I defend it wholeheartedly but within reason.
To you, aimless wandering, without whom every journey would be routine.Continue reading
1. The spitting. I don’t care if it’s culturally acceptable, hacking and spitting is still gross.
2. The dogs. I have never before felt absolute hatred for any dog, but when gangs are barking outside my window at four in the morning, I am far too sleep-deprived to feel anything else.
3. Specifically Lucky, SIT’s dog.
4. Being talked about in my presence. Yes, I mean you, homestay family. I might not understand everything you say, but I know when you’re talking about me!
5. The staring. It may be a cross-cultural phenomenon, doesn’t mean I have to like it. Besides, this is Nepal, I know I’m not that much of a novelty.
6. Load-shedding. Twice-daily power cuts on a rotating schedule. It certainly made me appreciate the luxury of constant electricity, but I won’t miss it.
7. Rice and potatoes. All the time.
8. The honking. Unneccessary.
9. The baby ladies (“please, my baby is hungry”) who borrow babies and will sell the milk you buy them back to the store and split the profits.
10. The pollution. Carbon emissions control?
11. Kathmandu’s Indian Embassy. Horrendous.
Next stop India!
|View from the old fort, 16th century, across the street from the Red House Lodge where I stayed.|
|View of Kagbeni from above. Photo credit Tasha Kimmet.|
|Protector grandfather standing guard at the old gate to the village, now somewhere in the middle of town.|
|At the top of the Golden Hill– finally made it!!|
|Baby dzo (yak-cow)- my favorites.|
|Library at the Kag Chode Monastery.|
|Yac Donald’s Restaurant. A little bit of America in Mustang… I’m lovin’ it?|
|Traveling convenience store.|
|My Nepali didi-ji. You don’t need to share a language to be sisters.|
|Apple juice-making day!|
|Making friends with monks. Typical day in Kagbeni.|
|Apple juice and family time.|
That’s all for now. See you on the other side of 40 pages of writing!