Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

i enjoy sneezing--HomePage


The phrase exists in order to promote mindfulness. I believe that an individual is much better off if he or she is able to appreciate the positive sensations of life that are often overlooked.
A sneeze is often treated as a nuisance, something that interrupts conversation or creates a physical discomfort (i.e. wetness). But there are many positive characteristics of a sneeze: the physical and emotional release, the loss of control, the momentary unexistence of consciousness, etc. And if we are able to tap into those positive sensations, we open up to ourselves an vast world of possible "enjoyable" sensations.

The basic idea is based on the simple concept of appreciation. If you can derive tiny yet significant tidbits of joy from the little things in life, you're in pretty good shape. In Eastern philosophies, I have seen it referred to as "mindfulness"...where Thich Naht Hanh refers to bells as a daily reminder of being mindful, I use sneezing...I think mine is better for several reasons: 1) sneezing is fun. It's like an orgasm for the nose. It's one of very few moments in a day during which you can lose yourself in the moment. A reference: in the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack refers to sex as the only act he partakes in during which everything else in his life fades away. A loss of consciousness, self-awareness, pain. Sneezing can fulfill that. You just have to be able to release enough to feel it. 2) the word sneeze is a really funny word, both written and spoken. In Spanish, the verb is estornudar. Kinda funny, but not as funny as in English. Does that mean that English is a better language? Quite possibly yes. 3) by thinking about sneezing, as an act or a word, you can acheive a small amount of the goal. Does it make you smile to think about sneezing? Can your mind drift pleasantly away from your daily worries about jobs, direction, sex, life? My mind can, if ever so briefly, bask in the pleasantry of what it means "to sneeze". Therefore, the specific idea becomes a perfect representation of the entire philosophy as a whole.
Let's not limit ourselves to sneezing. Once you can appreciate a good sneeze, your world opens up to a massive array of appreciatable entities. Personal favorites include but are not limited to (please excuse the romanticism): sunsets, people not aware of other people watching them (especially little kids and old people---this ties into the whole idea of lack of consciousness=beauty), really soft sheets, bouncy balls, fumbles, cool textures (especially vinyl with ridges), smells (leaves in fall, freshly mowed lawns in summer, snow, wet dog, sauteed garlic, girls/herbal essences(the pink one))....the list goes on and on...i encourage everyone to make a list of their own....if you have any that you believe are worthy of being on my list, please email them to me ...i'm sure your ideas are at least as good as mine...the fact is, the more we as a microcosm of society can make ourselves and each other aware of these slices of beauty in life, the more we can appreciate them, the more fulfilled we can be.

___________________'s WORD OF THE DAY:

function: adjective
pronunciation: like it's spelled, dumbass! (in-es-chew-us)
etymology: originally derived from the misinterpretation of a Talking Head's song, currently rising in popularity as a result of extreme proselytization by a certain ambitious and obsessive egoist
definition: marked by a continuous, constantly flowing action or feeling, an omnipresence enhanced by a unidirectional motion.
examples of inestuoucity: river, time, energy....any others?



Allow me to speak, for a moment, to the two-sided nature of this philosophy. As we all know, not everything is life is sneezes and sunsets; similarly, the idea of enjoying sneezing must accept that there is an equal oppositie negative side of everything (and sneezing is not exempt, i.e. inopportune sneezes, sore throat sneezes, overly wet sneezes).
The point that I'm trying to make is that just as there are an infinite amount of slices of life worth appreciating, there are equally infinite (is it possible to be equally infinite) slices of life worth recognizing as bad. While some modern day philosophies that base themselves on success in the work place or how to tell if you've landed the right man may try to drive you away from dwelling in these negativities, I encourage you to bask in them just as you would the positivities. After all, some things in life just suck.
Whether you are appreciating the good or recognizing the bad, it's that mindfulness that counts.


I often find myself blaming inanimate objects, soap for refusing to rest quietly in the soap-holder-thing as I shower, my CD player for skipping, my sheets for somehow becoming unaligned with my blanket. To me blame is an important concept in that I believe that our society places too much emphasis on it. Most Americans tend to blame even before assessing the damage, and most certainly seek to blame before determining the intentions of others and often without placing any importance whatsoever on others' intentions.


*popping the yolk on an over-easy egg, warm sheets like a cocoon on a cold day, diving for a frisbee on grass so green you can smell it, putting your arm out the window of your car during a sunny drive (courtesy of Mr. Jens Erik)
• seeing a single leaf dropping from a tree and knowing that it has never touched the ground, but once it lands, it will never again not be touching the ground
• perforations (courtesy of Ms. Rebecca Bolton)
fresh bread dough between your fingers, waking up early on the weekends and realizing you don't have to be anywhere by anytime, being soaked by wet rain (courtesy of Mr. Correll Barca-Hall, Santa Cruz, CA)
• smells (leaves in fall, freshly mowed lawns in summer, snow, wet dog, sauteed garlic, girls)
• the sound trees make when the wind blows thru them (courtesy of Ms. Bryonie Maros)
popsicles, watching a couple on their first date, taking walks with no destination, looking at my toes, "sunshower, sunshower, i'm 'bout to catch a rainbow" (courtesy of Ms. J. Aguirre)
• taking a really good dump (ah....orifices)
• waking up to the smell of waffles that my mom has made, clean socks, the red behind my eyes when I'm napping in the sun (courtesy of Ms. Rebecca Mintz)
• remembering a specific feeling from a very distant past at random, how somebody´s face can become more beautiful by the day when you get to know them, ´gezelligheid´, a feeling which can only be experienced in holland, adjectives approaching it include cosy and quaint, extreme weather, reading old diaries (courtesy of Ms. Margo Van de Linde)
• seeing a stranger reading a book you read ages ago and had forgotten about but really enjoyed (courtesy of Ms. Jodi Williams (THK/EE))
• elevator awkwardness, eating-the grand finale (eating everything but the cake iceing first...saving the best for last), walking by a telephone pole or a street sign in a very remote area and wondering who put it there, wondering if anyone has ever touched that tree, peeing outdoors (on top of a cliff is by far the best), overhearing people's conversation pieces as you walk by... always seem so inane (courtesy of Mr. David Wilson)


Life is, for me, mostly experiential. An example: I'm in a museum, not an art museum, but an informational one. Not in the mood to read or learn, I float through the narrow hallways, past the bright exhibits, noticing the odd reflections off of the curved glass casing, overhearing on a television a description of a traditional dance ritual, while a child explains to his father how the glass makes his eyes hurt.....I am not experiencing the museum as it is intended. I am experiencing as I have chosen to experience it. I float, I open my eyes, ears, nose, fingers to the world. Senses. Sensualism.
This is a feeling that I have with frequency, during which I do not feel intelligent, many ideas escape me, my sense of direction is at its worst, I smile and sometimes laugh at simple things, funny words, people whose actions normally would not seem funny. It is in these moments that I feel I exist most purely. I understand my place in the world. I fit everywhere and without doubt I fit cleanly. I flow with the rest of the world. In these moments there is never awkwardness, discomfort. I feel as though I am one with the single energy of the world. And I see myself as that in a great moment of realization. I see the entire world in a flash, and the concept of "myself" makes perfect sense. And every choice I've ever made, every act I've ever decided to carry out, seems to be so clearly not only the right choice or act, but the only one that ever could have been.

The problem with this way of being is that, although it makes you open to the world, to experiences, emotions, it is a form of seperation from them. If, in sadness, you see that you are experiencing that sadness and there is an element of pride in you, or a thought that says something like "sadness is a part of life and as a seeker of LIFE i am happy to be experiencing this sadness", then one must ask oneself, "am I truly experiencing sadness?" Does awareness distance a person from the true emotion?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject.


Are we obligated to work towards something, for progress and development, to help others, to contribute positively to society?
I argued that we are not.
Potential is a beautiful thing in that it represents possibility of abilities.
But potential is also dangerous. When one begins to think of potential as something that must be fulfilled, it becomes an EXPECTATION, and therefore a LIMITATION. And when people act not based on what they want to do or be, but instead as an attempt to fulfill an expectation, they are not following their own righteous path. They begin to make decisions not based on themselves, their own goals, their heart, but instead based on other people, who they want to be as it relates to the way other people view them. If we make decisions like this, how will we maintain the energy to do these things as we begin to realize that, aside from small amounts of praise and recognition, nobody will care or, to put it in less negative terms, nobody will be able to provide for us the energy we need.

Different people's minds function in different ways. Some people do not tend to struggle within themselves in the same way that others do. Some people have to endure the same painful steps of an already-endured mental process in order to come to the same relieving conclusion. Some people, on the other hand, can simply say to themselves "I have gone through these thought processes before, I have thought these thoughts and I have realized the 'way out', the route to freedom from the oppressive nature of the painful thought, and rather than go through those thoughts once more, I will simply know that they are there, not experience them, but KNOW them, and move forward."

The thoughts go like this: Should I feel bad for a person who has made the choice NOT to take the steps to improve their quality of life, educational situation, etc.? Isn't it in themselves to find their own sense of self, and if that self happens to be a non-English-speaking fast-food worker in a world that does not treat non-English-speaking fast-food workers well, is it not still his or her choice?
I suppose that it comes down to the question: is "better" actually better, or just an idea of what "better" is? Or is the real "better" just fulfilling the self that has always been and always will be "that self"?

As I consider this person's situation, the choices that he or she is making, I consider also the way that my brother would react. He wouldn't think too much about it, which isn't to say that he wouldn't have a lot to say about it. He could talk intelligently and at length about personal responsibility versus personal freedom, race and culture, our family's view of success, etc., but he would not have to endure the painful thoughts that are related to the situation. He would already KNOW those thoughts and, possibly more importantly, know the relieving conclusion at the end of those thoughts. He would also know that he does not need to experience those thoughts every time he hears about a situation like this. Perhaps that is WISDOM.
I consider a specific friend and how he would react to hearing of this person's plight, how he would most likely go through the thought processes that ran through my head so quickly. Like an accelerated version of the original thought experience, these thoughts followed each other "en seguido", the whole process taking a mere 15-20 seconds, whereas it may have taken me years to conclude this as a philosophical adolescent. But my friend, my existential friend, he would not pass through these stages so swiftly. He would dwell in them, twist his hair and staring forcefully at the ground as he walked through this forest. He would feel what the immigrant feels; or perhaps he would feel what the immigrant doesn't feel, and for that he feels for her, doubly down. Perhaps that is COMPASSION.

i will walk along these hillsides in the summer 'neath the sunshine
i am feathered by the moonlight
fallin' down on me

i enjoy sneezing---Personal insights, etc.

I am Michael. I am trying my best.


I am realizing things about myself. This is the most recent one: my job requires that I pour myself into it. That I lose myself in the job, become passionate about it, emotionally invested, deeply involved in every aspect of my resident's lives. This is where I fall short.
I am not bad at what I do. But I am not naturally the best person for the job either. I try my best, sometimes. Sometimes I do not try my best. But even when I am not trying my best, that is the best that I can do. Sometimes it is just too hard for me, I am too weak.

The revelation was this: some people in life pour themselves into their jobs, interpersonal relationships, or other external portions of their lives. Many people do this to avoid looking into themselves, afraid of what they might find (or what they might not find). I believe that I have focused so much on my internal, my self, my ego, that now that I am asked to put my energy into external efforts, I find it extremely difficult.

I have lived alone. I have lived abroad. I have travelled alone. I spent a year without staying in the same place or with the same people for more than a week straight. Not having stability during these times was difficult, but it was a choice. I chose to put myself through this as a test, a growing experience. And during these times in my life I learned to look inside myself for joy and comfort. And I found it there. Sometimes it was me with my iPod. Sometimes I found solace in my photos. Usually it was my thoughts or memories that always kept me company best. I can remember being on a bus in India, a tough ride, and I was thinking about something, my mind a world apart, and it occured to me where I was and what I was doing, and how I had seperated myself from that by using my mind. And I loved my mind for that. And I realized: if you truly love your mind, love your self, then you can be happy anywhere at anytime. And I felt strong.
But here I am in a different world. Trying to care more about my job, about the world I am in. I am trying not to be an egotist. I am trying not to seperate myself from the people who need me here. But it feels as though it is almost too late for that. I've learned a "skill", a technique, and it works for me, and in a way it's always worked for me, and I've been this before my past three years have strengthened this part of me. It is me. And I'm sorry. Can I change now? Do I want to change? I'm sorry.



August 1979---I was conceived in a tent in the Alaskan wilderness. Whether this is true or not, no one can confirm, except that it can't be because I think that April minus August doesn't equal 9...or does it? Math is tough.
My mother has confirmed that it is indeed possible that I was conceived at a mountain location known as Wonder Lake in Denali National Park. Check out the pic at the bottom of the screen and let that "suck it" feeling sink in.
April 15th, 1980---I was born in either Washington, D.C. or the adjacent suburbs. I like to pretend I was born in DC so I can utilize the following riddle: I was born in the United States, but I wasn't born in the states. Everybody says Puerto Rico. Stupid people!
I was a really cute kid for a long time, but nothing terribly eventful happened, at least not that I can remember. There are some great pics that I hope to someday get online. Anybody got a scanner I can borrow?
High school...hmmmm...1996 Coed Volleyball County Champs...suck on that one!!! Boosted interest in drugs and alcohol...oh, and I got really good at obsessing about girls I didn't know anything about!
Summer '98...graduated high school and got the fuck out of Bethesda...phew!!!...University of Michigan Summer Session, a blast and a half! Changed more in those months than I will ever change in my life.
'98-'99 4318 Elliot....if you weren't there, you wouldn't understand. Special room, special roommate, special friends. Six years later and I still love all those guys...can't complain about that.
'99-'00...Cambridge. 7 very unique people, strong personalities. MM,JS,JG,SZ,JN,AM,ER seven sevenths. a whole lot of growth for just one year. i think that age lends itself to growth like that. a lot of philosiphizing, a lot of dancehall reggae, a lot of curious few, a little sex.
if i could, for one moment, mark the most important trips of my life, if only for my own sake: 8/98-Arb, 5/99-Arb, 10/99-Arb, 5/00-Manitou, 7/00-Capitol Reef...there are a few more, but I can't brainstorm about this subject, once you get to be 20, they just can't be as life-changing. they become more of a reminder of that world. i think i need to write a whole page on what hongos mean to me.
2001---i lived in Spain for a while, learned some Spanish, got really wasted a bunch but somehow never threw up. Granada, Andalusia
After graduating college I moved to Costa Rica, taught English, learned Spanish. Good stuff.
I came back here just in time to do advance work for the Kerry campaign. I'm sad for the following reasons: 1)When all these people (young people, old people, disabled people, celebrities, people who never cared before, etc....) all come together to fight for a common cause, and then that cause is just doesn't seem right. 2)I love my country, and as a traveller I find myself defending it to foreigners....I say things like "we're dealing with diversity as well as anyone"...I make myself believe in our country, and until November 2nd I knew that this election would prove that belief right...and now it's really tough to believe in it...I mean, am I anything but a outed member of the left? Is this even my country as I had once perceived it? 3)People vote with their hearts, not their minds, their fears not their hopes.
After the campaign I headed west. Way west. So far west in fact that I was actually east. I spent half a year checking out the "lesser hemisphere". Fiji, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and India. Amazing experience, I'm very lucky. India is by far the most (insert adjective here...positive or negative, it would still most likely be accurate). It's an extreme place. Everyone who can should be there before they die. Don't ask me to explain why (but if you do, I will answer). Actually, go ahead and ask me.

Now I live and work in Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. I am the Case Manager at the Transitional Living Program of the Latin American Youth Center. Shibby!

If I only cry at beauty, does that mean that I do not embrace fear...?

i enjoy sneezing---New Zealand


I had dreamt of snow the night before. Snow in just the same way too: flurries, with no expectations of accumulation.
I don’t know why or in what context the snow dream took place. I hadn’t seen snow for two years, and I had come to terms with the fact that a third year would pass snowlessly in the southern and eastern hemispheres. All I can remember from the dream is that a) I was cognizant of it being the first snow that I had seen in years b) I was extremely excited to be seeing it, feeling it, dancing through the light flurries, the crisp air. Other than that, I only remember the feeling that I was on some sort of a mission, that something was to be accomplished, seemingly unrelated to the snow.
I woke up remembering the dream, disappointed that I hadn’t, in reality, been amongst the falling flakes. It was a dream, and awaking from a dream can be disappointing, but somehow this one struck deeper; not the disappointment, the disappointment struck me superficially. It was the feeling of walking in the snow that hit me. It stayed with me as I rose, much like the feeling that follows a night of dreaming about the deceased, a dream in which it seems that not only the image of the dead person has come to you, but the feeling that the actual spirit of that person was present.

We headed south towards Tongariro, inland. The landscape changed suddenly from dense, wet forests and farmlands to drastic hillsides, gaping valleys separating them, asymmetrically rising and falling. As the sun lowered itself, the variations of lines and creekbeds in the hills were accentuated by the shadows, striping the hillsides. In flat crevasses buried in the steep inclines stood individual sheep, appearing perilously perched between the angled trucks of the occasional tree.
Further up, towards Tongariro, the green faded to brown, trees dwindled to shrubs, broomed bushes allowing for endless views of sweeping emptiness. Flat slopes led us to the Chateau, our 19th century-style lodge resting at the base of the largest of the three snow-capped mountains of Tongariro National Park.
The rain came in, socked us in, made us painfully aware of the drop in air temperature our car ride had led us to, and aware of just how underdressed we had become, sandaled and short-sleeved. To what extreme the temperature had dropped we would not realize, not until we sat inside, playing cards in the ample 7 o’clock sunlight pouring through the raised window of our high-ceiling villa. The sun caught my attention and turned my head towards the window. The rain had converted itself into something thicker, frozen, air suspended within its boundaries.
I threw on shoes and a thin long-sleeve and darted outside, turned instinctively uphill, always seeking the vista, which led me towards the snow-covered volcano that at that moment was beginning to shed the last of its clouds that had only seconds before engulfed it. The late afternoon light of the second-to-last day of spring, the 19th, shone firmly and proudly on the freshly-fallen inches that buried the perfect cone. And in the cone the snow, cooperating with the all-black rock, created lines, running up and down the volcano, curving outwards at its base, and reaching upwards at its top, stretching towards the apex of the volcano, the incomplete part, the mountain without a peak, the peak having blown itself off with such geological force that in its stead lies nothing, a flatness, a peaklessness, a volcano.
And in that moment, like so many other moments alike, nothing is wrong, and all that there is in life to worry about is seen for what it really is, which is nothing, nothing to fear.
And it becomes clear that the world will be fine as will my place in it, as predetermined and perfect…and everything is beautiful.

This story is similar to the snow story...both happened just as i wrote them, remarkably, which is what prompted me to write them.....dreams are cool like that



Awoken early to the sound of rain. All night it had fallen, with force and consistency. Puddles were visible on the trail between the lodge and the river seemed to be moving faster and carrying greater quantities of water than the night before.
I awoke uneasy, dreams flooded with discomforting thoughts, images of Jim Carrey on a time constraint and me rushing to catch a flight. As a last second hope to get to the proper airport on time, I bummed a ride from a guy with a helicopter. It was clear that he didn’t want to fly me there, but that he felt obligated under the societal understanding that he who has a helicopter at his disposal shall give rides to those who don’t. As we took off from the roof of a large building and I began to question my personal safety, I reminded myself that in Houston this technique of helicopter airport rides were once commonplace. The thought only temporarily assuaged my fears, for upon takeoff I realized that this helicopter was unlike any other helicopter I had seen or ridden in. On this one, it was my responsibility to maintain myself balanced on a flat, hard surface, the texture of a cement block, no wider than five feet across, with high likelihood of death in case of failure. To make it more difficult, the block swayed and shifted, as would any large, weighty object dangling from a cable beneath a helicopter in-flight.

Setting off on the Milford Track, crossing the suspension bridge a mere 100 meters from the Glade House, a similar feeling passed through my body. As the quick-moving water below taunted me by causing my mind to adjust and counter its visual movement, the bridge reacted to my movement with a sway downstream. It wasn’t until I reached the center of the bridge that the dream surfaced in my mind, the point at which the U of the cables dropped so low that to lower myself the keep them within my grasp would have been more dangerous than simply trusting my legs to succeed in balancing me and my top-heavy backpack. It was this desire to have handrails that reminded me of the previous night’s dream.

The rain continued without any signs of loosening its grip on the climate, streaming through the leaves above which despite their grand presence did not protect the sanctity of our once-dry clothing. Maintaining dry feet was a task taken more seriously, as it seemed to be much more within our control. We stepped lightly, avoiding accumulated water, utilizing our toes in ballerina steps, leaping from dry edge to a protruding root of a tree to safe, dry ground, which lasted only until the next aqua-obstacle. Although this process took a great deal of time, it did not last long. Less than a mile down the track we came to a flooded creek, depth unknown. We hesitated, analyzed the options, of which there were none other than simply plowing through the water without hope of dry sock. With no way around and no objects to step on, we went straight, and the water immediately filled our boots and soaked into our socks. We assumed that this would be quite uncomfortable, but instead the water became a comfort, both in temperature and in touch. The waterproof boots, meant to keep water out, were now keeping water in, water which acted as if in a wetsuit, returning the heat to the feet that it was originally given by the feet. The wool socks, now drenched, gave a sort of gel-type comfort, adjusting to every movement of the foot. But the greatest benefit was that of pride versus fear. Where we had previously avoided wetness, danced around puddles, we now ran through them, at them, with a sense of childish enjoyment coupled with the feeling of being untouchable. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. Nothing can make you ‘wetter’. We walked high above the sensation that water was to be feared, knew it was harmless and scoffed at those who feared it.
We came to a clearing, and the sharp incline of the walls of the glacier-carved U-shaped valley became apparent. And pouring down every open face and crevasse of the valley wall were infinite waterfalls, large and small, in trickles and cascades, peacefully and violently. In the sky above the green trees and silver rock faces, harsh treeless rocks had faces carved into them by the snow fields that blended into the endless white of the cloud and fog that filled in all the negative space, floating, always floating, in one direction or the other but going nowhere, both above and below the unreachable crevasses of the snowfields and waterfalls and dancing through the trees just above eye level.
Something was coming, breaking the peaceful, consistent white sound of the rain and the falls, chopping at the silence, approaching. It landed a few hundred meters away and there they told us that we must board it, that the land route was impassable, that Dead Lake had flooded. In hindsight it made sense, how all the water you could see racing down the walls had to go somewhere, and the river, although working harder than usual, simply could not carry all that water out of the valley as quickly as it was coming in. It made you wonder how there was even enough dry earth to take off and land, or even to walk up to this point, just before Dead Lake, where we stood.
We boarded. Just as we were about to take off, my brother turned to me and said, “I wish it would at least take us all the way to our next lodge so that at least it feels like there’s a point to it.” We had just been told that it would only take us as far as necessary, a mile or two over the lake to the next safe, dry spot. Still, I was confused. “I’m excited that we get to ride in it, just that we get the chance to, aren’t you?” I said, with a look on my face that you might find on a kid at a birthday party, in the moments before the presents are opened. “No,” he said emphatically. His eyes shot images into my mind, images of hiking trails running along cliff edges and of fear, basic fear.
As we took off, a certain instability resonated through the group, as one landing leg lifted before the other. We rose straight up, no more than fifty feet high, turned slightly, and hesitated for a split second before speeding down the canyon. The wetness of the lake below, rising up to the necks of the trees, the hundreds of waterfalls on the walls above and below us, the rain pouring down on the windshield and glass roof all merged into once scene of drenched beauty. Too much of it to soak in as individual pieces of god, only as a single united rush of flying through this, the Southern Alps, on this day in this moment.
We turned sharply and the feeling of unsureness as to whether rollercoaster-type screaming is or is not appropriate became insignificant. He must have done that just for us, because he likes us and knows that we’d get a thrill out of being 45 degrees while moving 120 kilometers per hour while fifty feet from both the rock of the canyon walls and from the ground.
We flatten ourselves out and begin to drop, straight down, smoothly. “Now are you glad we got to do that?” I asked Dan, mostly knowing the answer. “Hell yeah,” his face said with a laugh.


Impressions about New Zealand: the people are insanely friendly and smiley. Everything is clean and beautiful, and the signs/graphics are aesthetically pleasing. And, of course, the natural scenery and landscape is just spectacular.
Everything feels so peaceful, so idyllic. I can't imagine violence, poverty, any sort of -ism existing here. I know that is not the case, surely, but that is how this place feels. It's pretty nice.

i enjoy sneezing---Writings from Southeast Asia & India

The Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum....marching two by two, surrounded by Vietnamese, we enter the grey marble edifice, not really a building, just a big room encased. Guards stand by to assure that visitors bare no skin, wear no hats, have no cameras. The two near the entrance hold rifles and stand tall and still like Buckingham Palace, except that their eyes dart awkwardly about. The cold air rushes at you as you enter, significantly colder than the chilly Hanoi air. You enter in the middle of the building, then follow the single passageway with the crowd, turning left as the marble dictates, then right, then right again, looping around the viewing room. One more right past the numerous guards places you in HIS room, a side back-angle view of the large glass coffin and, inside it, his body, looking much as he looked in photographs from more than 35 years ago. Could they possibly be the exact same strands of hair?
I notice the guard on each corner of the raised encasing, but in the dim lighting I don't notice much else, not removing my eyes from his face and his body, lying peacefully, arms resting naturally. I am surprised to see him lying down (did I expect him to be standing????). The path U's at 90degree angles around him, giving each person a half a second to stand directly in front of him, not allowing for a pause, but often losing pace with the people ahead. As you exit stage left you exhale, and the sunlight pouring in the building's exit around the next bend reminds you of where you are and what time of day it is. Inside, I imagine, it is always the same.



Perched on the rock that poked its neck over the edge and out into the endless expanse of air, balanced on a face, hovering 20 meters below the top of the waterfall, 280 meters above the trees in the vast valley below.
I was first called to go there by the sunlight that was slowly changing shades, white to yellow, which shone on said rock on the other side of the falls. Having a j made me take off my shirt, which in turn made me want to feel the sun on my body. I was driven across the stream. Bounding along I called out to Paige, that she must join me, that I was headed somewhere worthwhile, that she trust me. I bounced down the face and was hit in my eyes by the light reflecting orange off of the water rolling quickly over the 45degrees before falling off the edge 9.8straight down.
She crossed tentatively, carefully, leading me to question my own methods. I slowly lifted my body up onto the boulder, turning methodically to face outwards to the expanse ahead. She joined me and we sat on the rock enjoying a digital camera and its instant gratification. I told her that she must know that she is photogenic, "people say that" she smiled, and wore a face for the camera that would make it seem like she didn't wish to be so.
As the sun dropped I changed my focus, sitting cross-legged facing the light. My mind and body began to change the way they reacted to the scene. I breathed in and my lungs shuttered in an attempt to inhale, drink in, consume all the beauty that was present. The rays were coming in at low angles, pretty unto themselves. And the waterfall itself, any time of day, would be something to marvel. But all that combined with the intensely shattered movement of the reflection off of the rushing water took me over. Still barely conscious, I asked "are you afraid of what it will look like when the sun drops below the ridge?", wishing that she would sincerely respond that Yes, she was afraid.
Sitting perfectly upright my whole self began to feel engulfed by the scene, minutes of silence passing timelessly. I felt my Self as an open object, doors widened to the suns gaze, allowing it to enter me, delve into me. An image passed through my mind: my present circumstances, of travel and travelmindedness, had created in me a vast void, not so much an emptiness as a space. The space existed to be filled, filled by a person, a scene, a feeling. And as everything entered me, it also consumed me, swallowed me whole, because I too was a part of it all. Water splashed on my side and my eyes squinted at the red-orange rays, gliding over the miles of thick forest between me and the distant mountains.
I was overtaken. My breathe became deep, deeper, deeper still, as if building up to a single moment of release an infinite amount of seconds away. I reached for the rock, as much out of passion as out of fear. My fingers sought a handhold and I caressed the rough surface, running my palms over the mossy moistness. My fingers bit down on a small ridge, its teeth digging themselves into my skin. My mind began to flip, mental somersaults, and I thought of the consequences of fainting. I grabbed tight and adjusted my body's positioning. Instead of sitting I found myself stomach-to-rock, my head on its chest, my extremities draped over either side. I held on firmly and my body disappeared, entering into the rock's belly, under the fading red light, hundreds of meters above the forest floor, travelling deep, deeper, deeper still into the earth, through the granite and into the core of the waterfall.


Riding high after the internet, an inspirational message originally inspired by me, from Kyle, urging me to continue living and writing as I have been.....

Before dinner, the perpetual chorus of "hello"s had begun to annoy me. But now I float freely through the dark streets. Dim streetlights pleasantly bathe the pavement of the streets and tiled first floors of the doorless residences-turned-businesses, shops selling shampoo and warm sodas, foodcarts with noodle soup and dried squid. The residents wander about in their pajamas, a single design head to toe, usually flowers or teddy bears. Simple and comfortable, a thin, soft fabric welcomes in the evening breeze. The adults walk calmly, aimlessly, between the client-less establishments, stopping to chat with a neighbor, take a seat and share the tea. The children run frantically to greet me, the foreign celebrity; or else they run away, pretending to be scared of my height or features; or else they simply leave me, loss of interest, novelty's worn off.

When the sun beats down heavy on the black pavement, the feeling is a noise in my head, unbearably loud. I am saved by a homemade frozen yoghurt tied tight in a small plastic bag by a thin rubber band, sold to me humbly by a seemingly pregnant girl, young, first-term no doubt. She tries to explain to me the price with her fingers, and I can't tell if it's 500 or 5000 dong. She gives me change for 2000 and I buy a second one, 6cents for the two. She grabs me as I walk away, double-fisting, to remind me that she needs to cut the top of off the second one, and I am grateful.
We are hot because we climbed all 260 meters of Sam Mountain, the only lump of land poking through the endless flatness of the Mekong Delta. The view extends past the city of Chau Doc to 360 degrees of green, a deep, rich green despite its light, rice-paddy shade. Green paddies and the canals that separate them; that and a road that continues unturning towards the dock where we came in yesterday on a longboat, weaving through narrow canals where the locals bathed themselves, fully dressed, knee deep in the murky browness, as happy to see foreigners as the city's children, the rural elderly made no more modest by the seemingly personal act of self-cleansing. Two questions enter my head as we coast by: 1) why are these people so happy? 2) why are they so happy to see us? We're passing through, invading their culture with our iPods on our laps and digital cameras in their faces. Their smiles are faked, I assume, their happiness contrived. Just then, we approach a canoe, wood unfinished, and in it two boys, aged 20-ish. One of them struggles to load a block of ice the size of a small child onto the shoulder of the other, and therefore he does not notice our tourist boat creeping up on him. Just as we pass he turns, no more than 10 feet away. The grin hits his face like a freight train, no time to think or make, just "is". And the "is" is a smile so wide and so pure that I not only know how he feels about seeing me, I now feel the same about seeing him.

At an altitude of 260 meters stands a military base. A bucket with the letters PCCC, red and yellow, holds a shovel head fixed on a makeshift handle, a tree branch that fits more perfectly than the manufactured wood the machine once put there, teh one that must have failed at some point in time. The comrades sit inside, watching television. The sign says no pictures, it's a military base after all, but the celebratory atmosphere of the Sunday after Tet tells me that nobody cares.
Atop Sam Mountain we find all the locals we sped past us motos as we stammored uphill. Perhaps 100 of them, spread between the two hills, one a makeshift moto parking lot, on the other the 30 X 10 foot tin shack known as the Military Base. On the road between the two hills they've erected a tarp to block the sun, under which they sell noodle soup with liver and vegetables for 2000 dong and bags of a cherry-esque fruit for 1000. We start off with the fruit, the sun having beat out of us all the interest we once had for steaming noodles. All 100 Vietnamese turn our way as we approach. The moto drivers stop their card game, the soup girl smiles and offers me a bowl, the old lady selling fruit toothlessly grins as she hands us a free sample.
At first it's just smiles, laughter, and the occassional "hello". But once we sit, establish ourselves, a young man with a camera sneakily snaps a photo of me. I catch him doing it and in what I considered to be the only appropriate response, took out my camera and snapped a picture of him. Once he realizes that we don't mind being spectacles, he and his friends gather around, ask us to stand, put their arms around our shoulders and take more photos. A young Vietnamese girl comes over to practice her English, and all of a sudden we are now the official center of attention, no longer the pink elephants. They love it, but we love it even more.

When the sun begins to set the streets become social once more. The children are about and the food stalls are actively empty, undersized chairs placed meticulously around tiny tables, the perfect height for tea time with dolls. The speakers mounted on every other telephone pole belt out speech and song, presumably something "unifying". As I walk, the last speaker becomes comfortably not-loud just as I approach the next one. I wonder what wonderful things about Ho Chi Mihn or the state of the union are said, and I wonder our nation's addresses are much different, even if less frequent.

I walk alone down the dimly-lit street. The teenage boys shout at me to sit with them and have some tea. I know I want something to taste, something sweet, but not tea. As I pass the house with the frozen yoghurt, I consider going in, but I see that there are more people in there with the pregnant girl and I am intimidated. I see her face through the bars on the window and I see that she sees mine, and that she recognizes me. She smiles and waves, and I cross the street to find her inside with what seems to be her mother and grandmother. The older women laugh and smile as I attempt to convey that I would like another yoghurt. They nod and giggle in recognition of my wish, or of the fact that I had been there earlier, as no doubt the pregnant girl had told them as I crossed towards their door. Some older children, age 11 or so, saw me enter the house and have now also crossed the street towards the family's house/shop. Apparently, me buying something sweet is quite the spectacle. They box me in as I try to leave, and once more the pregnant girl stops me as I have forgotten to have the bag cut. Her and I laugh in a moment of recognition as I double back towards her cutting board. She cuts it for me and I smile and bow one last time to the eldest woman. The children chatter and giggle as I exit, all smiles. Perhaps they're talking about how tall I am, perhaps about my facial features, or maybe about how strange it is that I'm eating local frozen yoghurt, not a typical tourist move. The thing about being in this situation is that I never know what sparks the joy, I just have to hear it, enjoy it, ride it as positive, which is easy now, on a full stomach, feeling good about my friends and my life in the other hemisphere.
The commotion around me is carried out into the street, and it has picked up steam. It seems that the whole neighborhood has had its interest peaked by the foreigner with the yoghurt. Everyone smiles and waves, but one woman, one woman in particular, age 60 or so, selling noodle soup across the one-lane street, finds a particular humor in it. She is not giggling, certainly not scoffing. She is laughing, laughing out loud, hysterically and continuously. I smile at her, and at myself for being able to have this kind of effect on this person, for whatever reason. My smile turns into a giggle, and as I suck a large bite of frozen creaminess of the small plastic bag, it all hits me: the woman, the children, the yoghurt, the bag, the pregnant girl, the shouting, the laughter, the.......and somehow, I get it, and we all laugh together.


As I mentally prepare myself to leave Vietnam, I ponder what my final perception will be of the people. Similar to the dual-sided nature of the tourism of this country, the pros and cons of the Vietnamese are a sharp contrast, though I would say that the parallels between people/tourism are two lines heading in opposite directions.
What I mean is this: travelling here lacks a certain toughness in regards to comfort vs. struggle. If a person wanted to, they could go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Mihn City, seeing all the sights, without doing anything by or for oneself. In this sense, it's comfortable, but not real (I hesitate to use that word...bear with me).
Conversely, the Vietnamese are real. They know exactly what it is they want from the tourist, and they do not hide behind pride or shame, nor do they utilize courtesy to get it. Their goal of obtaining as much money as possible from every passing foreigner is out on the table for all to see. The result is heckling as you walk down the street, constant noise, incessantly being asked to buy fruit, take a moto ride, stay at their hotel, eat at their restaurant. The initial response is courtesy, an endless supply of "No, thank you"s. But by the end of the trip the traveller has no more patience. Weeks of harassment has left him ego- and ethno-centric, the power dynamic enhanced by a person constantly protecting one's own money and sanity. He stares at the ground, avoiding eye contact with the vendor or the product. He learns how to walk in such a way that the moto driver cannot block his path, faking left and walking right.
And in the marketplace it's worse. To some Vietnamese, to whom bargaing is more than a business technique, it's THE business technique, a lowball offer could be such an insult that the saleswoman will snatch the product from your hand, throw it back where it came from, shout something that surely is a curse word, and gesture with her arm that you should leave. Men tend to be more understated in the sense that a reasonable offer will not result in yelling, but instead an exaggerated laugh accompanied by sneering. His fellow moto drivers always join in on the joke too, making the foreign negotiator feel small and stupid. This happens so often that I've subconsciously learned how to predict the laugh-comeback such that I often preempt it with a fake laugh of my own.
Men, however, are the only ones who try to overcharge after the product/service has been provided, ignoring the previously agreed upon price. I, refusing to be taken advantage of, only gave in once. In this instant the child who was pulling the stunt finally gave in and admitted that we had decided on a lower price, at which point I gave him the difference. He declined and I insisted and I think we all felt good about the result.
This happened today: I was telling the shrewd hotel staff of a bad-vibed occurrence in which a moto driver followed me for 15 minutes demanding that I pay him ten times the price that I thought we had agreed upon. To him, the number 5 meant 50.000dong, an obsurd amount for a ten minute moto ride. To me, it meant 5.000dong, standard. I refused to give the guy any more than 5.000, and a crowd gathered and a young woman tried to translate but I knew that I wasn't going to give in. He refused to receive my payment, so eventually I just tossed it into his bike's basket and he finally gave up. Upon hearing the story, the 20-something male hotel guys patted me on the back, "you're Vietnamese at heart," they said. I asked them if Vietnamese acted this way only towards foreigners. "No," they responded, "money makes father fight son, mother fights daughter." "But," I asked, "isn't this a Communist country...communism, sharing...?" The guys smiled, understood my point. "Vietnam is Communist in government, not in people."

Why do they shout at us? travellers ask themselves. For one, they believe that they can rip us off, turn a larger profit, a fact that easily justifies a rude response, or no response. The second reason is simply that we have more money, and we come here to spend it. This I am still not comfortable with, and I don't really understand it in terms of economics, and I certainly can't begin to understand why I deserve to have it.
I curl my arms around my $80 fleece, trying to keep warm in the back of a speeding minibus, first sign of daybreak pushing through the thick clouds. I try not to think about the cold, tune into my iPod and reach in my bag for a snack. I glance out the window and see an 80 year-old woman knee-deep in the freezing slop of a rice paddy. I imagine how the amount of manual labor and physical discomfort that she endures before noon approaches that which I've known in my 25 years of life. She does this for food and warmth, which makes me think about all that I have to show for my life of leisure and luxury, so much that I take time off to live without the comforts of my home. So, as I pass the day eating a 15cent bowl of soup, followed by a 20cent gelatin dish and capped off by a 10cent beer, I really have to ask myself, "who's taking advantage of whom?"


and there's this burning like there's always been, i've never been so alone, and i've...never been so alive

this is of you on a motorcycle drive-by, the cigarette ash it flies in your eyes and you dont mind, you smile and say the world it doesnt fit with you, i dont believe you, you're so serene, careening through the universe, your axis on a tilt, youre guiltless and free, i hope you take a piece of me with you. and there's things i would like to do that you dont believe in, i would like to build something, but you'll never see it happen. and there's this burning, like there's always been. i've never been so alone, and i've...never been so ALIVE

my favorite moments, basking in the surreal nature of it, the world screaming by at a fast 50kph, an excess of dust, motos and input on the whole. You open your eyes wide to try to perceive as much as you can, color and light, faces. As you pass a moto that is passing a rickshaw, a sedan honks from behind, repeatedly. He must be angry, impatient, frustrated, you think; so when you look to your left as he finally manages to pass you are surprised to see that the angry face you expect to see two seats over has a smile from ear-to-ear, sits behind the steering wheel on the right side, and has a baby on his lap. The overcrowded streets somehow do not lend themselves to road rage.
The first country I've been in where they drive on the left and it seems half of the cars have the wheel on the right. Similarly, it seems like the motos do just as much driving on the left side of the road, weaving through oncoming traffic as they start their left turn early and assume the other motos will veer slightly as they approach.

At night they go faster, without having to deal with the 10 motos per 10 meters squared ratio that clogs up the main road from sunrise to sunset. We're drunk, and so it's easier to relinquish control as we drop to 45 degrees taking the bend. The cool, black air blows her short, blonde hair out of her face, exposing her face and neck. She tightens as we turn, grabs me. If you cant relinquish control, you cant enjoy it....i say....God will take care of us. and in that moment, and that night, he does.

i enjoy sneezing

Traffic patterns are waves of energy. To cross the highway a crowd of pedestrians gathers. First it was just me and one guy, and we tried to cross but failed as a taxi accelerated and veered right, closing our only gap, and we stepped back quickly as it flew by with an extended honk. But as time passed without another opportunity presenting itself, our numbers rose and, in numbers, our power, until finally we became so strong that as a group we shifted our feet in anxious anticipation caused by the feeling that we would soon cross despite no apparent traffic lapse forthcoming. Finally, our growth, like boiling water steaming open the lid of a pot, we moved, in one single motion, the combination of all our first steps and shift in body weight well-powerful enough to stop the numerous taxis and buses that only moments ago were the unquestioned rulers of the six-lane road. In control now, we carried on swiftly past the immobilized traffic on our right and, without hesitation, our dominance carried us through the 10-foot gap in the concrete barriers, paralyzing the traffic to our left, and across the final 3 lanes and to the far sidewalk. We dispersed and the cars continued and the rhythmic chaos that is India carries forth.

Other impressions (still day one):
The urinary freedom is unbelievable; it makes me think about what true freedom is. On the streets there are stalls, of sorts. Three tiled concrete slabs, stood on their end, form a U-shaped area in which one can relieve him or herself in semi-privacy. A whole in the base of the middle slab allows the urine to flow smoothly to the gutter, where it finds a fine home next to the street, beside the Chai salesman.

The Chai salesman offers two sizes. He uses plastic cups to show the difference in size, but then pours it into a clay cup. After I have my tea and biscuits I stand to return the cup to the man and thank him. He points to the large clay trash bin and directs me to drop my cup in there. Plastic is too valuable for one-time use yet the clay cups are disposable.

A policeman saw me walking down the street, called me over to him. "Have you had any problems in Kolkata?" he said with a smile. "No," I said, "Kolkata is great." I wanted him to be proud. He asked me where I was from. "Washington, DC, United States of America!" he shouted with glee. "Wonderful, wonderful! Thank you for coming to Kolkata. Thank you! Thank you!" He was being very sincere, and it made me feel welcomed.

I wrote this on the plane last night:

I am looking at blue sky for the first time in months, reminds me of home. The sky and the familiar whir of a jumbo jet, the memories of a lifestyle not long ago in time but ages ago in my head. A plane ride meant time alone, mobile and alone, just like this moment, 30,000 feet up.
Only here do the thick white clouds exist. I wondered whether or not they existed at all on this part of this continent. I thought maybe the haze extended infinitely upwards, or perhaps simply faded into blue. But no, they're here, and I can see the miles of haze below them, and imagine that that same haze buries India, too.
Can I do two more months surrounded by it, engulfed in it, my mind buried under infinite errands and distractions, clouded by harassments? To pretend that I am not scared would be denying something. Perhaps it wouldn't be Truth being denied, maybe just a thought or a feeling. Of course I'm scared, I tell myself.
I attack India like a hungry man attacks a hamburger. Fearlessly, I hope to consume it, first in large mouthfuls, feeling the texture of the ground beef against the insides of my cheeks, then in nibbles where the subtle flavor of Worchestire is noted, then I will pick up the single fallen piece of greasy onion with a touch of ketchup and focus on that.
I can say "fearlessly" because I know that I have no fear, which to me is different than being scared. I am scared of an endless amount of things: that my new plane ticket will outlast my patience, that I will have regrets, that I will deny my true wishes. I have no fear about finding comforts, about finding a guesthouse to stay in tonight, about the night train to Varanasi, about loving India. Still, I picture myself going home and the image of how many mini-dramas stand between me and 6600 runs through my head, makes me weary. But I've come this far and I must push forward, and I know that I will because I let time make my decisions for me, and so I know that all the considering, pondering, thinking in the world will only drive me insane and leave me conclusion-less.

Today I had this feeling: remember the Simpsons episode where at the very end Milhouse asks Lisa if she likes anyone else (now that her and Nelson are no more). She says yes and the episode ends on a freeze-frame of Milhouse jumping up in the air, dog leash in hand that reaches high as he exclaims "YES!!!!" That image is how I've felt today. "YES! INDIA! INDIA!!!"
If it weren't for the fear, the excitement couldn't be as strong as it is for me. I walk through these city streets, finding my comforts and feeling the thrill of India pulsating through me.


Our first kite, belonging technically to Omer, was lost when the weak string snapped and the kite plummeted pathetically to rest unreachable on a nearby rooftop.
The second one was mine, and I refused to watch it die by something so simple and careless as low quality auxiliary equipment. We procured fishing line, flourescent orange, from Pappachi, our guesthouse's owner, and struggled with the tying technique, headed up by the virtually English-less but clearly more knowledgable in the ways of kites and in the ways of knots. After much deliberation, Kamo and Tomo settled upon a plan which led to half an hour of failed flying. Occassionally it would rise rise rise in the sharp winds, only to fall in one fell swoop, losing all the height we had worked so hard to put between the kite and the rooftops. Once it fell with such force that upon slamming into a cement roof the kite-paper tore and the balsa-wood frame was left bent, requiring a serious duct tape repairs.
All the stoned and frustrating attention proved worthwhile when, finally, and with the help of Pappachi, we were able to send my black beauty soaring. So high it was, so high that I just smiled my birthday party smile, tugged the string gently as if I were still controlling the kite's actions, turned my head to the group that had gathered, seeking the well-deserved attention.
The extreme height and related increase in wind speed eventually destroyed the kite. The 3-rupee Icharus snapped in a single moment, the forceful air pushing through the thin tissue and tape. It startled, held for a second like you'd imagine a bird would for a split second after being hit by a bullet, a second to recognize what had happened, before succumbing to the wound and falling weightily from the sky.
Our next kite was Pappachi's and he, controlling the elements, sent it high with ease. So high that we quickly ran out of string length, releasing it liberally until we had no choice but to tighten our grip, feeling as though it would surely carry our weight with it upwards. It soared so high that it toward above the rest, dwarfed the hundreds of black specks in the hazy hot sky that only moments ago had seemed admirable. So high did it soar that it drew attention from the whole city of rooftop kite-flyers. And with attention, as usual, came negative attention. Pappachi noted this, as only he perceived the oncoming danger. An assassin had us in its crosshairs and as the hater swept downwards towards the line between me and the kite, Pappachi shouted "Ours is no fight string." We were unprepared. He yelled at me as though I had some control, as if I could change the location of the fabric that flew 200 meters overhead.
He took control and began to reel the string in, perhaps only just to salvage the string, perhaps it was an attempt at retreat; whichever it was, was done in vain, as the tar and glass shards sliced through our string in one solid strike, and our tension was lost in a single moment.
But this kite didn't simply fall. So high was it soaring that the wind current would not simply let it drop. It went sailing, and as it fell it also flew, long and far across the might Ganga and over the heads of the children running down lost kites on the far building-less bank. WE watched it as it shrank into nothingness in the distance, imperceptively far on the endless expanse of sand that the dry season had afforded the land. Perhaps one of the children on the comparatively close far bank's edge made the effort to chase it down. Perhaps somebody came upon it wandering the next day. Perhaps it still lies there motionless, waiting for the heavy monsoon rains to come and sweep it downriver along with the sacred city's sewage, the ashes of those who can afford to be cremated here, and the bodies of the pilgrims who come here to die, to find relief from the cycle of life and death.

INDIA IS CROWDED. Simply "being" in India can be challenging. Sometimes it is a loud, bright noise in your head that simply cannot be turned out or shut off. This is part of the reason why:

Travelling in India is hard. That's what everybody says, everywhere you go. That and that the first month is pure adjustment. But for me it was an easy transition from Southeast Asia, Bangkok to Calcutta. They're different, but not that different. So I've adjusted, I tell myself. That wasn't so hard.
Last night over some charas a friend turns to me and says something to the effect of "I think that India is affecting me more then I lead myself to believe." He went on to talk about how he too found the transition too easy from SEAsia. I said something like:
"You can say to yourself "travelling for me is easy. I don't miss home/family/friends/life at all." and that can be true. and then you can say to yourself, "i miss my home/family/friends/life sooooo much" and that can be equally true, simultaneously. it's just a matter of how you choose to perceive or be conscious of it."

And with India's madness, it is the same. We are smoothly comfortable with the insanity, but at the same time we are in constant turmoil in our attempts to cope.
Sometimes I cope by saying things that occur to me, verbalizing my diabolic thoughts that are not true but are not false. For example:
I am rascist. I am infinitely more likely to respond honestly or as a friend to a Westerner than I am to a local. These people speak kindly to me, sometimes just to be friendly, sometimes seeking something. But even when it's just to be friendly, it is not true kindness, it is the combination of CURIOUSITY and LACK OF SOCIAL BOUNDARIES that manifests itself in an overly friendly way. I hate their mustaches and can't fathom how they could possibly think that they look good.

Personal space does not exist in India. So much so that when, in rare moments, they find themselves with a low person-to-space ratio, they react in such a way as to maintain a sense of crowdedness. On a midday sleeper train, 10 compartments lie empty while 12 people squeeze into the 2 compartments at the end (our compartment being one of them). They are accustomed to the tightness. We find comfort in space, whereas they would prefer to be packed in with total strangers.
They are curious about us. They sit as close to us as they can and they sit there watching our every move. Without asking they start reading my book, what's mine is yours. Personal property doesn't exist either. Crowds gather quickly here, the numerous population is constantly clogging. It is not considered rude to enter yourself into a situation that does not concern you.

Many traveller's use joking racism to deal with all the attention. They stand around staring at us, so we stare back. A child asks a British girl for 5 rupees and she responds, "Sorry, we only give to people with missing limbs."
My friend, referring to how he feels like it is hitting him deeper than he is allowing himself to believe, sees the negativity coming out in his interactions. In me I feel it in the way that I ignore, that sometimes I float through their world without seeing their faces. My mind sees internet signs and thali restaurants and distances itself from the temples, the city, the people. It's sad but it's a defense mechanism and we all have our own.

On a 24-hour train ride, halfway through, just as night is rolling in and we are thinking about converting our compartment into padded sleepers, we find out that we are not in our proper seats. Our coach simply was not added to the train, S3 does not exist, and we are forced into third class, seatless, with not an empty seat in the bright wooden-benched cabin. Stepping over old men with canes balled up on the floor, seeing only each other's white faces in the sea of flourescent darkness, we begin to panic, which releases itself in the form of laughter. I consider myself to be not the most angry, not the most scared, nor the most energetic of our group of 4, and therefore I float mindlessly. I smile at a man in a turban, a Sikh, and he speaks to me in excellent English. He lives in the states, sings at a temple near Sacramento. He recognizes our predicament and his family adjusts itself so that we can sit until things are sorted out. We sit and eat and chat and he smiles when I break out my iPod and speakers. We make the best of it.
At night his adult son sleeps on the floor so that two of us can share the wooden bench under his. We are grateful and he is happy to help. We arrive in Rishikesh the next day in the same way we would have had things not gone to shit. We are more tired, perhaps, but we are there.

And that is India. At the end you are equally alive as you would be had you not put yourself through it. You are more tired, perhaps, and certainly thinner, but being able to ride the challenge, the frustration and discomfort out from atop the wave places you safely on the beach at the end of the trip.