Namaste!

To anyone keeping track of my life via this blog, the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I’m in the midst of a 12 day trek through the Khumbu region of the Himalayas (notably the home of a little mountain called Everest), along with my travel buddy Dave, my brother Ed and my dad, Tom. I’ve got lots written in my journal, and even more floating around in my head. However, the satellite internet connection pricing plans aren’t conducive to my normal (“high quality”) writing, so I’m going to have to wait to type them up until the trek is over.

Until then, you’ll have to busy yourselves with my outstanding catalog of insight.

(posted at 11,300 feet)

Bombay The Hard Way: Sam goes to India

300px-taj_mahal_in_march_2004

That’s right, I’m going to India. I’m packing some sandals, a dog-eared copy of Siddhartha, way too many rupees and I’m heading off to the land of Gandhi, Ramanujan and Aishwarya Rai. I’m not quitting my job, I’m not skipping out on that much responsibility and I hope to find Truth along the way.

You’re going by yourself?

Not quite. I’ll be meeting my friend from college, Dave, who’s in the middle of a slightly larger trip. I’m sure he could use some company, and he clams to have run out of Febreze and needs a refill.

Where are you going?

I’m flying into Delhi, where I’ll meet up with Dave and head straight to a small village in Utter Pradesh, where we’ll be doing an Engineers Without Borders project. From there I hope to see the Taj Mahal, Nepal, the Himalayas, deserts, jungles, broken motorbikes, overcrowded trains, extreme poverty, monkeys, beggars, movie stars, Hindus, Muslims, naked Jainists and everything else India (and Nepal) has to offer. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’ve got a decent pair of shoes and some earplugs that say I’m getting there.

When, and for how long?

I’m leaving January 11th, and I’ll return on March 8th. That’s 8 weeks to the day, and I won’t even use all my vacation to pull it off. Ask yourself again why you don’t work for the government.

But … but … but what about the Terrorists?

I bought my plane ticket an hour after I first heard about the terrorist bombings in Mumbai. India’s a dirty, dangerous place even without Islamic militants, but the same can generally be said about my bathroom. Of course I’ll take precautions, but I’m honestly more worried about food poisoning than I am fundamentalists.

Why India?

In many ways, it’s quite logical for me to want to visit India. I mean, I dated an Indian girl for a while, and I’ve always enjoyed Indian food. When I play Civilization 4 it’s generally as the Indians (they get the fast worker unit, and I’m a ‘builder’). Ashoka was the preeminent philosopher king, a position that could be said to be my only true career aspiration. However, all of that isn’t strictly enough.

India isn’t easy. India will make me work for what I want. India isn’t like the US, or Europe, or Japan. India isn’t like any other place I have ever been in my entire life.

And that’s exactly why I want to go.

The Great American Road Trip

America is big. Really, really big. Even adjusted for inflation, gasoline is more expensive than at any point in the last 90 years. The western United States is mostly desert, and the desert gets unbearably hot in the months of July and August. My friend Mark and I live AND work together. All of these facts combine to make taking a road trip to the West coast a fairly miserable idea.

Fuck it. We’re doing it anyway.

Mark and I are driving to California. We’ll be gone from around July 8th until August 3rd.

The map below has what we hope to be some of the highlights of the trip (click the icons for pictures). The exact path remains flexible, but in general will involve a clockwise motion through the mapped locations, heading down to the Gulf of Mexico before heading west and returning via a massive slog along Route 80 (~7500 miles).

“Wow, Sam, that sounds horrible. Why would you do such a thing?”

Because it’s long, surprising, boring, dirty, exciting, straining, memorable, lonely, frightening, repetitive, (philosophically) romantic, noteworthy, stressful and unbelievably fulfilling. In other words, everything life is supposed to be.

P.S. If you want a sweet postcard, pop me an e-mail at sam@taoofsam.com.

View Larger Map

BREAKING: The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg all trashed by f’ing Yanks

I just got back from 10 days in Europe, where me and several happening dudes (Mark, Arpan, Sherwin) visited Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges and Luxembourg City. Outside of Luxem-(Ithaca-the-country)-bourg, the entire trip was a non stop thrill ride of beer, broads and bad decisions.

EuroTrip 2008

Even though I fear incriminating myself, Sherwin has an excellent wrap-up of his portion of the trip: http://www.properscoundrels.com/?p=330.

Chapter 105: Ten things I learned in Japan

I’ve had a extremely hard time summarizing Japan, both conversationally and Chaptorally. It could be that the trip was so multifaceted it defied description, or perhaps Japan just stepped outside my comfort zone into a realm of new experience. Maybe I’m just not as good as I think I am.

1. A culture of non-immigrants
I’m used to the melting pot. Never in my entire life have I felt like the outsider as blatantly as I did in Japan. Something around 98.6% of the country is Japanese, and us whities and blackies and brownies stick out like Wizards in the Shire (though they’re not as short as implied). When I walked into a restaurant it occasionally felt as if the hostess would mouth “What is HE doing here?”

2. Japan has never been introduced to the Twinkie
“Jesus, there are a lot of really hot girls here!” I initially became worried that I had become inflicted by the Asiaphile virus that often besets white males with engineering degrees. However, there exists a much simpler explanation: the Japanese are just all very thin. Chase argues that it’s the diet, that culturally the meals are healthier and also tend to encourage smaller portions. In any event, the girls are incredibly skinny.

3. Recycle culture or “Someone stole the Trash cans”
There are very few public trash cans in Japan. By few, I mean that you walk around for 30 minutes carrying your empty fast food cup before you find somewhere legal to drop it. It’s a remarkably effective passive measure to force you to conserve and reuse your trash, or at least sneak into more restaurants.

4. Repressed sexuality and the objectification of women
Imagine the US where the 60’s never happened, or at least the feminist movement was a joke. Love hotels, masturbation motels, porn at every turn, creepy men on subways grabbing peoples breasts. And yet, the women just sort of smile passively and look the other way.

5. Japan has stereotypes of which you haven’t dreamed
There are roving bands of girls dressed up in a cross between full authentic victorian formal wear and Little Bo Peep’s outfit. Be careful when walking in crowded areas lest you be surrounded by a Group Of Guys Who Look Like Elvis. Also, we once wandered down an alleyway to find 30 teenage girls wearing tattered rags as fashion statements, sitting on the ground poking each other laughing.

6. Public transportation is the future
The train system is incredible: fast, clean, reliable. The subways are smoother than babies bottoms (we’re talking a constant acceleration between start and max speed, every single time). For being the largest city in the world, Tokyo’s transportation system made travel easier than I could have imagined (though stay away from the buses, good luck figuring them out).

7. You can do fine without much personal space
I had originally been worried about being surrounded by so many people at all times, but I found it was easier than I had thought. The scary parts of Japan for me had more to do with confusion and being lost than not having room to breath. Chase’s apartment was quite small, but after a couple of days you just get used to it. Arriving back in Alexandria felt like returning home to a warehouse.

8. I’m still learning as a trip planner
Vacations are incredibly important to everyone, and not everyone speaks up when group decisions are being made. It’s incredibly important to talk individually with your trip partners before you leave to get an idea of what they want out of the trip as a whole. Otherwise stuff just gets left out.

9. It took me about 15 minutes to become desensitized to the sight of a penis
Goldie and I went to two different authentic Onsens (bathhouse) while in Japan. I never had a shared shower experience in high school, so at first being surrounded by naked dudes was a little shocking. At the beginning I covered my package with my little hand towel timidly as I moved between different hot tubs, but by the hour and a half point I walked around with my hands on my waist and my hand towel thrown haphazardly over my shoulder. We’ve all got ’em, and judging by experimental observation they’re all *about* the same size, so what’s to be embarrassed about?

10. Anything to the exclusion of all else is bad
Japan was a long trip for me, the longest I’ve done without my parents involved. It wasn’t homogenous at all, changing gears and settings frequently. Context shifts are incredibly important with long vacations; you (specifically I) can’t survive doing the same thing for too long, so moving between cities and travel partners helped keep the trip interesting. If I had to do it again, I’d head further outside the cities into smaller towns and try to find some way to spend more time with Japanese people my age (too many Gaijins for my taste).

I’d go back.