Saturday, June 23, 2007

When in Rome...(or India)

I just left McLeod Ganj, or as I have been calling it to family, friends, and other backpackers... Dalailamaland. Home to the Tibetan government in exile and a large population of refugees, Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj are little pockets of Tibetan culture in India. It is to the credit of India as a nation and a reflection of the strength of India's democracy and freedom of religion that this community can exist and thrive. Although I attended a yoga class, I do not see myself suddenly becoming interested in taking up Buddhist philosophy. However, I will say that these monks are definitely onto something- they are all so happy!

Before McLeod Ganj I have resisted the temptation to go vegetarian while traveling mainly because I love meat. I love Indian food with meat. I find nothing in this world tastier than a big juicy steak. I own this shirt. You get the picture. However, I am now on meatless day 5. I'm not quite sure what to think really. I haven't noticed a change in energy levels or overall well being and I fully intend to have a reindeer steak shortly after arriving in Finland, but Tibetan vegetarian food was just so tasty I think I am going to stick to eating momos and veg Italian food for as long as possible before descending from the mountains. I suppose the vegetarianism in town did rub off a bit. Yum.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Back to Delhi

After a whirlwind trip and travel from Goa to Mumbai to Jaipur to Agra, (yes the Taj is gorgeous) we came back to Delhi to regroup and reclaim our stomachs before heading up to the mountains. Day one we basically crashed although I did venture through the bazaar by our cheapo hotel without being tempted to purchase anything. Many hawkers post "fixed price" signs in this particular bazaar at the heart of backpacker hotel heaven. Fixed prices at an open market quickly makes me lose interest and I ambled across the street to the train station where I was physically blocked from entering by three different touts who attempted to direct me to the "official tourist office" (i.e. their commission paying office) across the street. I am not a fan of the touts who attempt to physically intimidate me so I chose to simply say ahh, thank you, turn around and walk 10 feet to one side of them and try again. On the third attempt I managed to dodge the touts and actually enter the station and find the tourist booking office. Unfortunately I left a critical piece of info at the hotel so it was all for naught and I had to return the next morning. The phrase "you're looking for the tourist office?!" has become a joke of the trip. We have only ever looked for the tourist office once, in Delhi, and we had a map.

Yesterday was consumed by taking care of business- train tickets purchase, doctor's visit, nice Italian lunch, shopping at the Oxford bookstore, starting on the assigned math prep. I may have my accounting text ordered to Delhi so that I can study in Finland. The bookstore was as close to American style Borders and Barnes and Nobles as you can get. I love bookstores, and can spend hours in them. A chef for Park restaurant was doing a mango demonstration- showing recipe development and taking questions about different varieties and ingredients that complement mangos. I had no idea India produced so many different varieties. I ended up being one of the audience members interviewed by several camera crews for who-knows-what specialty programs about my thoughts on mangos. Interviewing for business school was a piece of cake compared to coming up with coherent feelings about mangos. I do like mangos though... ironically I haven't seen any mangos in fruit stands.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Globalization... or How I Learned to Love McDonalds

One of the things that has made our lives slightly easier in India is the presence of Citibank and other major banks. With trustworthy, easy to use ATMs and clearly posted exchange rates our finances have gone quite smoothly thus far.

Speaking of globalization, after flirting with food poisoning for the second time in a week the bf decided it was time to add another country to his growing global list of places where he has eaten at McDonalds. Now, given the fact that Hindus consider cows holy and many MANY Indians are Hindu, there is no cow based meat on the McDonalds (or any Indian) restaurant menu. McDonalds carries a lot of varieties of chicken and their flagship sandwich in India seems to be something called the Chicken McGrill. Now, the lack of the BigMac sandwich brought to mind one of my favorite things published by the Economist- the BigMac index. The BigMac index is an interesting look at purchasing power parity. For example, we purchased two medium sized chicken mcgrill combo meals (smaller than the US medium sized meals but similarly including a soft drink and fries for a total of 170 rupees. (Approximately $4.25) Last time I checked- at the bus station in Boston a similar purchase would cost between $10-12. The Economist has to ignore India in the index as these stores do not sell the BigMac but it still makes for an interesting read about the appropriate valuation of currencies and the "basket of goods" used by governments to determine inflation and cpi.

Another interesting note is the global advertising campaign recently launched by Reebok. I noticed the amusing ads aimed at people interested in keeping fit but not competitively sporty with the slogan "Run Easy." The slogan began with "Run at the speed of the Big Dig. Run Easy." The Big Dig in Boston is a monster construction project moving a highway underground and building park land over it that has been going on for 10 years or something like that. It's slow and is immediately identified as being slow by any local resident. In India as we were taking in the sights and smells from an autorickshaw I noticed the local version of the "Reebok ad- Run at the the spped of chat. Run Easy." From what I recall chat is some sort of relaxation food(?) At any rate, due to the global nature of Reebok's ad campaign, I know chat is something that should cause me to assume it is relaxing or slow. This campaign reminded me of HSBC's ad campaign that started around 2002 (?) focusing on local knowledge and cultural differences- such as the different meanings of the color red in different countries. A TV ad in 2004 showed an American golfer getting a hole in one- which would require nothing more than a round of drinks from the golfer in the US, but required him to buy his Japanese companions expensive gifts. The whole "think global, act local" mantra seems pervasive in the marketing culture- I can't wait for my marketing courses!

I didn't check my email for a week and Georgetown gave me three assignments. Ah well. I get on an overnight train up to Jaipur tonight, then into the hills.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Oh right, MBA stuff

The only bad thing about traveling all summer is the pre-school activities I will be missing. I am missing the Forte Fellows event in a few weeks, which is disappointing but I would not have changed my India plans for it even if I had known earlier. I am also missing the career workshop, the first assignment from Georgetown. The email I received only listed workshops in the US. I wonder if I am on the domestic mailing list and if there are any international workshops... at any rate I can complete it online but it won't be the same as meeting classmates! I tried to pack in as many Gtown events as possible before I left the U.S. so I know I will recognize a few faces when I start. I'm pretty sure I took care of my loans, email accounts, etc. as well, although I received mail at my address in Boston up to the day before I left. Ah well. I have a very responsible law student sublettor who will hopefully keep my mail for me as promised.
One of my Boston friends took the GMAT the week I packed up which gave me flashbacks to last summer and reminded me that the great circle of life that is the application season is now back to the beginning. My conversations with her and another friend is part of what led me to start this blog about six months ago so I hope that she has a successful application season as I did! Best wishes to everyone out there taking the GMAT, writing essays, etc. Keep calm, stay cool, and you'll do fine.

Goa

The off season in Goa gets two thumbs up from this backpacker. The monsoon has not hit Goa yet so it's muggy (I grew up around DC, so that's par for the course) and it rains a little bit every day but not enough to even cause us to stray from a walk on the beach. It has been consistently in the lower 90s which was a relief after roasting in Delhi.
There is a lot of hedging of relgious bets in this area of the country with Jesus and Mary iconography posted next to various Hindu gods many places, but particularly the busses. I am woefully ignorant of the Hindu worship system and god set which makes the variety of temples a bit confusing but fascinating nonetheless. The capital of Goa- Panaji- is pretty laid back but every one seems to be rushing around to get somewhere. Where exactly I have not discerned. The influence of Portugal still hangs around Goa like the humidity. Vaguely oppressive although you can't quite put a finger on it. The archives in the capital are crumbling but the Indian government will not give enough money to restore and preserve them. However, nor will the government (for the obvious political reasons) accept any funds from Portugese foundations.
Most of the western tourists currently in Panaji all ate at the same restaurant last night. It's recommended in Lonely Planet. Amusingly these two British kids (they're 18 which made me feel old) who were also at the same bar as us two nights ago at Baga- a beach area northwest of the capital- were eating at the restaurant. They are traveling on the pound which gives them a bit more luxury than the dollar and euro travelers but everything is so cheap here it's hard to blow even our conservative budget.
One of the local pastimes of the wealthier set (judging from the top end Nokias they own) is collecting currency and stamps. Everywhere we have been in Goa there has been some kid or teen approach us and ask us where we're from and if they can have "some of your currency" all in one breath. My bf is from a smaller nation that is much more exciting than my Americaness so he has attracted much more interest and requests. We had one guy give us a full address, phone numbers and invite us to his house yesterday.
With the caste riots in Rajastan still happening we have delayed Agra and the Taj until the end of the trip in hopes that things will settle down in the next 6 weeks. Most of the coverage on Rajastan is on the Hindi language channels and local newspapers. BBC world has been a great link to the western world to follow things like the G8 summit. Instead of Jaipur we are headed a bit more to the east from Mumbai towards the Ajanta caves. From there we'll see how much heat we are willing to take before hightailing it up to Nepal.
I am taking a break from Indian food for a few days so that I will be able to one day consume chicken tikka masala again. Right now it is giving me nightmares. Or maybe that's just the malaria pills talking.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Give me an I!

For India! I am typing along on the comp at the guest house we're staying at in Delhi. It's 6 am. I can't quite recall the last time I saw 6 am willingly but that's what a combo of jet lag and initiative to finish touristy things before the temp hits 105 does for you. We started out near the US Embassy yesterday to take care of some business and I took a great photo of the ridiculous line forming for U.S. visas. Once I get to a place where I can hook up my camera I will post the photo. We saw the Red Fort which was full of Indian tourists and three other white people- a dutch woman and two north American women. I had my photo surreptitiously taken by two men who then not so sneakily stood by me and took more photos. That was before we even entered the red fort. Then had my hand shaken by all the women and girls in this one family. I'm not sure what part of the country they were from but they ignored the bf entirely and were dressed to the hilt with jewelry, bangles, earrings, etc.
The poverty is pervasive, but I was expecting it and was not as shocked as I hadexpected to be. What is heart breaking is the street children. You have to ignore them but I know it will continue to bother me throughout the trip.
The goal of today is to hit at least one muslim site and not get totally screwed by autorickshaw drivers like we were yesterday. Tomorrow we fly to Goa (yes, I know it's the monsoon season but I still want to see the cities) and then Jaipur and Agra- assuming things have calmed down ion Jaipur. Otherwise just Agra. Breakfast time- so far no Delhi belly. Let's see how long this lasts...