Friday, August 10, 2007

Group email to Family and Friends

Dear All,

The time has arrived. The necessary and painful task of writing "the group email". Necessary because it provides a sense of sanity for one on the road; that, yes, there is a reality out there;but more importantly to inform you all that I am still alive (and with both eyes - explain later.) Painful because to summarise four (or round that) months of intense travel into one email, whilst simultaneously not boring you to death with my tendency to ramble, is an arduous task.The delicate art of writing. Nevertheless, travel is never done alone; it is a story and it must be shared.

Here is mine.

(As per last time, for purposes of readability, I'll summarise my travel into countries. Much easier to explain stuff in linear fashion.)

Mongolia was always an obsession of mine - I think I was attracted more to the "idea" of going to Mongolia than actually having any interest whatsoever in the country . 5 weeks later, I was hooked. Mongolia was an experience to say the least; in retrospect, it felt more like cultural immersion 101 than real travel. It was pretty challenging at times; the language barrier being the main obstacle. But I survived and all the better for it.
(Get to the point Eddie, I can hear you saying....)

Mongolia was so beautiful in everyway: the people, the culture, the landscape (minus Ulaatar Baatar). A country trying to come to gripes with the modern world, entrenched in its Soviet past; the collsion of the past and present was evident in Mongolia. (ie: A nomad herder on a mobile in the middle of nowhere.) I stayed with a host family; an interesting experience: the main being that I got to see a side of Mongolia that I wouldn't have as a tourist. Tourism can be such a barrier: mixing the real and superficial, till you don't know what is what.

Anyway, highlights included: camping twice - once with some locals, the second with some tourists; meeting up with an old friend from Seattle who I hadn't seen in 14 years; clubbing with my Mongolian buddies in UB; and, of course (and I know some of you know already) but an apperance I had on Mongolian National television. I spoke absolute rubbish, but since half of the audience had no idea what I was saying, it didn't really matter. I am tempted to keep on writing, but this is an email, not a novel, so I'll carry on to chapter 2.

I brought Mongolia back with me from China. And, no, I am not talking in any kind of spiritual way, no no no. Thanks to Mongolia, I came back with an infected eye. For the first week, my eye was plagued by any kind of light,my right eye was filled with googy liquid (sorry if you are spewing); it was bad. Very bad. (Ask Turks.) At first, I believed it to be just a minor case of conjunctives; something in the past I had left and had disappeared naturally. The diagnosis: a severe infected cornea (whatever that is), meaning that if I didn't get it fixed then and there, there was the chance I could have gone blind. (Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, I did cry out of fear.) Thus my return to China began perfectly: two weeks stuck in Beijing, going to the hospital every day; and twice having eye specialists watch over you, as one of them sticks a big needle into your eye. Luckily, it wasn't too sharp. Thanks Mum for listening to me in pain and bitching about how much I hate China.

And now onto the travel.

I will skip the names of the towns and places: they serve no purpose to a reader who is not familiar with the country.They can distract a reader from what you really want to say. My two and half months in China was diverse in almost everyway. Landscape: the hellish and depressing landscape of North; the pristine tropical provinces of the far south; to the mountainous and rugged terrain of the west. Journey: a mixture of solo and group travel; endless rides in buses and trains; absurd discussions with fellow backpackers and locals. ( know what I referring to.) Culture: the slow discovery of a culture that comes with travelling in one country for a long period: learning of its people, its enormity, its ugliness. (And boy can it be ugly. I will miss the splitting.)

To be honest, the best times I had were on the long and painful train rides. Talking with the locals through a phrasebook, as they explain to me why Chairman Mao is a hero. Domestic tourism has saturated almost every people spot in China; subsequently, it felt as though it loss a bit of its grandeur and beauty. Like you were just another ant trying to get a glimpse at the Queen. Nevertheless, China was an absolutely amazing to see (occasions: frustrating). Next time, you think of going to South East Asia, skip it, and go to China. Trust Me. But don't forget your phrase book.

Although technically still a part of China, with all its mysticism and popularity in the west, I thought Tibet deserved a special catergory. (On a side note, Tibet, or Tibet Autonomous Region, is not a reflection of Tibetan people. There are actually more Tibetan outside the TAR than in.) Again, my motivations to see Tibet were simple: the whole "idea" of it once again (like most Westerners who journey there); a method in which to cross into Nepal; and, lastly, to see for myself, the "magic and haunting nature" (Lonely Planet, 2002) of one of the most talked about places in the world.

Lhasa, its captial, to use a better description was...well...funny. Here:

Chinese tourists snapping away, completely oblivious to the tragic history of the place.
("Who is Dalai Lama, Eddie?).

The "liberation of Tibet" monument that was patrolled constantly by guards. (Yes, it looked very free to me.)

The Bahkhor - the heartland of Lhasa, where tourists and pilgrims walked side by side: one pure capitalistic in nature; the other pure spiritual. (American tourist: Ah, look at those Tibetans, we should buy them something.)

And although it was funny in Tibet, it was by no means easy. After a protest on Everest Base Camp a month ago, the situation in Tibet had changed dramatically. Permits for this. Permits that. I could not leave the surrounding Lhasa area without this elusive permit, which you never saw anyway. And one point, when I befriended some Chinese university students and decided to go on a trip with them, I was pulled up at a checkpoint and told to go back. I wasn't allowed to travel with Chinese. I was a foreigner. Absurd. Chinese bureaucy at its finest.

The main highlight, of course, was the seven day journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu. Fairly costly, but I had no choice. The journey was pretty enjoyable: it was nice to sit back in a Land cruiser and let it all float past, unlike before with all the horrible bus rides and screaming Chinese. Our guide was amateur at best. He knew nothing about Tibet. He did however have a vehement hatred of the Chinese authorities, referring to them as crocodiles, which provided a bit of light entertainment, but also a reality-check that Tibet is ultimately, no matter which way you look at it, still a police state. (Eddie, look at crocodile, that is all they do. Snap Snap.)

The candle on the cake (can I use that metaphor?) was the two day stay at Everest Base Camp. To see "her" was a surreal experience: 8844.43m to be precise - that is one tall lady. Her snowy peaks painted in the most intense white; the sunrise slowly going down: a shade of pink brushed on its side. The altitude did affect me a bit - I was sick one of the days. The shock, though, was to see that base camp was merely just a street of dilapated make-shift huts and restaurants. Nevertheless, I saw Everest. I figure I am allowed to brag...just this once.

Despite all my whinging and carrying-on, Tibet was a special place. The monasteries that are slowly being repaired after the cultural revolution. The tibetans and their smiles- god, they had the best smiles I have ever seen. The picturesque landscape accentuated by the fields of yellow oil flowers (or whatever they were.)...Kodak moments left and right. I will definitely come back to Tibet more prepared: I had arrived in the T.A.R after only hearing Chinese propaganda continuously for eight months. But, have no fear, I won't try to recruit you on a Free Tibet campaign when I return. You'll have to see it for yourself.

Well, I only arrived in Kathmandu yesterday, so I am by no means in a position to describe the country. Actually I haven't even ventured beyond Thamel - the epic centre of backpacking world. So far though: Nepal has been amazing, probably due to the fact that the previous country I was in was such a pain-in-the-rear. Kathmandu: Western restaurants....Natives who speak perfect english... Japanese hippies playing guitar and smoking weed...A reggae band is playing right now, I can hear it in the distance. A city can never be seen as a reflection of a country - I am looking foward to seeing more of Nepal.

As for the immediate future, well, sadly (for some of you anyway), I have decided not to venture onto Europe. More so due to my lack of finances than anything. That, and of course, I really don't want to work; the freedom of doing anything you want, however you want, is just too good. Solo-life is hard at times, but I think it will be good for me: you know, character-building, personal development, yadah yadah yadah.

I am planning to head to India in the next month or so, catch a flight from Mumbai to Thailand, hang at the beach for a while and observe the drunken 18 year olds at the Full Moon Party, and then head home with the knowledge that I have to start my life. Reality. Work. Credit Card Debt. That will be fun.

And if any of you have not bothered to read this email: don't worry I understand. Rambling is a nasty habit of mind. I would probably be the same. I will probably tell you all again in detail upon my return to the land of green and gold. But group emails are a necessary and painful endeavour: the story must be shared.

I can continue on now...sanity in check.

Missing you all. Be home in November.


Oh yeah, I am sure I forgot many people on this list. (Facebook doesnt allow you to copy and paste email addresses.Mark Zuckenburg sort it out!!!) You know what to do. May the force be with you.

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