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Hunt the Wumpis

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India is an exceptionally beepy place [Aug. 14th, 2008|12:06 am]
Hunt the Wumpis
India is an exceptionally beepy place. All the roads in Chennai are packed full of vehicles zooming about in seemingly well organized chaos, tooting for time to time From what I can tell there are four types of motor vehicles: motorcycle, three wheeled moto taxis, and full sized busses. The larger two appear to have had their normal horns removed and replaced with little beepy horns. I believe this was done purposefully.

Automotive horns, or at least as we know them in the States, are auditory behemoths that are meant to make a statement about how important whatever it is you are honking about, accuse someone of being an idiot, to show surprise, or just to be a jack-ass. Big horns only piss the world off with the noise they make, and irritate the horn using driver more by reinforcing angry with angry sounds… in s sort of negative feed-back of automobile angst .

But little beepy horns are different. They just say ‘Hey!’ in a rather meek voice to the cars around you, much in the way that birds chirp at one another in a flock to coordinate movement. The result is a mass of motorcycle swarming around cars swarming around buses, all beeping excitedly in a simple one word language. Planning to pass a car? ‘Beeeep!’ Get cut off? ‘Beep!’ Someone straying to close to your vehicle? ’Beep!’ Traffic stopped? ‘Beep beep beep! And because the horns are non-conformational, no one seems to get the least bit upset about it.

Of course, this all seems grand for an outsider’s perspective. The reality is that road accident are one of the major causes of deaths in young men. And in India, where the bulk of traffic (is many cities) is two wheeled and motorized, the toll is particularly high. And the sign I saw earlier today which states “Driving fast thrills but kills” convinces me to check my sped about as much as the anti-tobacco add “Smoking is for Adults” convinces teenagers to wait until they are 18.
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Ants Like Me [Aug. 10th, 2008|11:10 am]
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Where as mosquitoes here have a casual disregard for me, the ants seem to find me irresistible.

We arrived at lovely guesthouse in Vellore late. My boss and I ate a quick dinner that was laid out for us and headed our separate ways to sleep. While brushing my teeth and casually inspecting my bed, I noticed a tiny insect… an India Ant I was latter told, trekking across the vast world that was my pillow. I brushed her aside, only to discover another. Interested, I moved the pillow and found a few more milling about, to which I turned over the entire pillow and found a score of the tiny creatures walking this way and that. I quickly finished brushing my teeth, and provided to remove the sheets. More of the little buggers where beneath the covers, but the mass of the critters where around the pillow, seemingly enthralled by it.

Luckily, the room had two beds (I assume for just this sort of happenings), which I inspected thoroughly and only found one ant. They seemed to be less interested in this bed, and this pillow, so I deemed it habitable. After dispatching the creature, I made myself comfortable and prepared to sleep.

Now, my internal clock had been off since arriving. The day before I went to bed a 2 am after watching a parade of delightful movie (one being a kung-fu movie about amazons). I was set to wake up at 10am and explore the streets of Chennai, but instead woke up at 3:30 PM to a call from the driver who was taking me to Vellore… I had slept 13 hours and managed to miss our 3 PM meeting time. The poor man had been parked outside since 2:30… I had apparently I slept through his first call to my room and ringing my doorbell. Therefore, tonight I decided to set my internal clock straight by working till midnight and going to bed, while setting several alarms to wake myself.

The nights in the guesthouse were lovely. Birds and crickets chirped outside the window, and geckos slithered about the ceiling. I settled down for a nice rest, but the jet lag would not let me sleep. I lay in bed restlessly, scratching a small itch here, and itch there. After 4 hours of restlessly laying in bed, the itches began to accumulate, and it dawned on me that something was wrong. At first, I equated it with the half dozen mosquito bites I had accumulated in the last two days, but decided to investigate my room for mosquitoes, just to be safe. I could find none, but did find many very small black and brown pebbles stuck to my skin. After much squinting, these turned out to be the tiny heads of ants. Next to me, the adjacent bed had accumulated five times the number of ants during my hours of tossing a turning as were there before.

There was no malice in their action, which brings me some comfort. Apparently some of the ants were exploring the room, had wandered on to my bed, where they were rolled over during my tossing and turning. My scratching had removed all but there strong little mandibles. Their bites were not enough to hurt, just to cause slow growing itchy red lumps.

So, at 5 am, I removed the blankets, pillows, and covers from both beds, and spent the next 2 hours waiting for my alarm to go off; staring at the ceiling fan as the world around me slowly got lighter and my insect bites grew larger and itchier. Covered in a rash or red bug bites, and with less sleep than before, I embarked on my first day of work in India.
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Whats in a dream [Aug. 9th, 2008|09:16 am]
Hunt the Wumpis
Last night I had a dream that I stabled notes to my knee caps because I did not want to for what was written on them, and today Ace of Base’s hit song ‘All that she wants’ was playing on a loop in the lobby of the fancy hotel in Lucknow during checking in.

Coincidence? Very Doubtful. But what does it mean?

Now, I’ve been watching the opening march to the Olympics for a while now. It is quite mesmerizing. All that is happening is each country’s officials or athletes are marching by, and that is it. Sadly, not one country’s group is dressed like pirates. There is always 2012 I suppose.

But it has taught me one thing: the African Continent has style. From Swaziland to Tunisia their outfits are the most colorful and the most unique, sporting a variety of clothing from robes, to military outfits, to altered suits, to combinations of everything above. The continent has my kudos.

And, judging by the crowd’s reaction when a nation enters, the four most popular countries (in order of cheer exuberance) are China, Australia, North Korea, and Germany.
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A bit about mosquitos [Aug. 8th, 2008|06:15 pm]
Hunt the Wumpis
I am generally dissatisfied with the mosquitoes here. It is not the numbers that bothers me, in comparison to the intolerable swarms I’ve encountered else were, even in my home state, India has been fairly mosquito free. However, the ones I have encountered are big, lumbering, and exceptionally apathetic.

Mind you, I hate all blood-sucking insects, and I reserve a special hatred for mosquitoes. I have spent many sleepless nights around the campfire defending myself from their relentless assaults, and many more dodging their attacks while transversing forests and jungles. But I am forced to respect them to some extent.

They are undeniable marvels of miniscule biological engineering, mini machines designed by eons of evolution to track blooded creatures. Small, sleek, and efficient, with tiny sensors honed to detect the carbon dioxide we exhale and oils that evaporate off our skin. They are, until I met these mosquitoes, truly tenacious and stubborn; qualities that I rather admire. If we could only convince the little insects to inject us with vaccines, HIV medication, or cancer curing drugs while they steal a sip of blood (instead of the plagues of man-kind) the world would sing their praises and gladly give up a drop or two to keep their order thriving.

However, these mosquitoes do no hold any of the few qualities I respect. They are on the portly side, so much so that they squish a bit when you smack them, even before they have had a meal. But it is their casual disregard for humanity I did like the most. While sitting in the airport in Deli, I was passed by no fewer than 70 mosquitoes, all which were casually journeying on one direction or another, none of who even seemed distracted by an exhausted, sweaty traveler who was momentarily too weak to defend himself. A few winded mosquitoes paused on the chairs and tables around me to rest before continuing off in another direction, much like a large man stopping to pant after walking up a flight of stairs in the summer. Perhaps the sheer number of people mean they are already gorged, or that the flame-retardants which soaked their way from the airliner seats into your skin during flights act as a repellent. Whatever the reason, I took the opportunity to swat as many of the little buggers a possible while silently cursing the rest of humanity for not being nearly as to the task of mosquito eradication. After all, if everyone else was as dedicated a mosquito smacker as I, they world would be a much less itchy place.

Since this, I have come to loath another type of mosquito, a sub-species that seems to live exclusively off of blood extracted directly from toes. Now granted that India is a society that largely wears long skirts or long pants and saddles, so a disproportionate amount of mosquito bites are bound to be aimed at the feet compared to shorts/skits wearing societies. This does not account, however, for the fact that every damn bite I have gotten took place on a toe. The only explanation that seem reasonable to me is that these animals are filled with a strange malice toward the species that they are dependent on, and express this by biting them on a place that is particularly sensitive, swells in the heat, and becomes a bit tender after days of walking.

I hate them, and hope they choke to death on my foot-blood.

But my experience with the mosquitoes has, so far, been nothing compared with my run in with the ants.
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Regarding general disappointment with the state of a Central European airport [Aug. 3rd, 2008|12:22 am]
Hunt the Wumpis
I am sitting in the Vienna airport, and the lack of order, efficiency, and aesthetic appeal is astounding.

I suppose I had high hopes. Austria was, after all, the center of a grand empire that harbored a dynastic family that very nearly conquered Europe. To me, it serves to reason that the main airport in the country should be a testament to their glorious past. Is a tile mosaic commemorating the siege of Vienna, the decisive battle that stopped the Ottoman expansion into Europe, too much to ask? Or perhaps I some sort of Baroque or early renascence mock-classical era architecture, intertwining effortlessly with the efficiency one comes to expect from a Germanic people. All I wanted was past grandeur naturally transferred into a clean, well-organized, efficient air port, standing to a testament to all the forward thinking stereotypes portrayed by Liberals in the States. Boy howdy was I wrong.

I love security checkpoints in airports. It gives you a chance to stop and examine the people around you, glance at people’s passports, and, if you are lucky, station yourself behind an X-ray machines a to see what is inside people luggage. (Consequentially, you’d be surprised on how many people have hair dryers in their packs – thank you very much gender equality). And once you are past the security check, you are free to rush to your gate or meander about in the duty free shops to eye useless crap and the people who take duty free useless crap seriously. I could see my self leaving the world of academia and happily settling down in to a quiet position as an airport X-ray operator, content in scanning packages, watching people impatiently stand in lines, looking at passports, and wandering off on breaks to ogle the cigars in the tobacco shop – happy for the rest of my natural life (which would likely be significantly shortened due to the exposure to radiation).

But I digress.

This airport does not have the standard two security point system (one international one national). Oh no. Or even the less common entrance scan and terminal scan. It has a security point at about every gate. Every gate. Within the little area I am sitting is 10 gates, 10 X-ray machines, and a lot of workers standing about doing nothing. The inefficiency of it kills me after blowing through the mechanical works that is the Dulles security system. Lets no even consider the excess radiation admitted by, what I assume are inferiorly shielded long wavelength scanning equipment.

20% of the gates are crammed with people lining up to get pumped through the system, but 80% of the security gates are empty. The bored employees whose gate do not have a flight at this time are milling about, walking in and out of the security points with armloads of Red Bull and assorted carbonated beverages, causing the metal detectors to happily beep with every pass as a constant reminder to the lack security and ridiculous system setup.

I’d say it is character rating is on par with the national airport in San Jose… maybe. If there were a drinking fountain or two, places to sit for the crowds waiting for their flight in 5 hours, internet (even that pay per minute coffee house shit I loath buying), or a power outlet to recharge my computer, I would find it tolerable. The only real gem in the airport in the glass cube designated for smoking. Which, oddly enough, is located next to the café where I am now situated which is full of smokers choosing not to take part in this glass-cube-smoking scheme. Not that I blame them; I find the cube rather scary, and if I where in their perdicement I would rather share my carbon monoxide than be locked away with it in an oversize aquarium.

I suppose my expectations we misplaced. After all the Austro-Hungarian empire came to a close with the finale of World War I, and really the Hapsburgs’ bid for European domination ended in the 16th century. Both of which occurred well before the commercialization of air flight, let alone the construction of this airport. So , sadly, as my $8 café latte (damn you GWB for destroying the exchange rate and dooming caffeine deprived travels to) is near empty, and my computer’s battery is bottoming out, I am forced to leave my comfortable café stall and return to my silent vigil sitting on the abandoned table near my gate thaw my plane will depart from in 4 hours. Hopefully I will find Delhi’s airport more in tune with my discerning taste
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Cali Trip Part 1 [Feb. 4th, 2008|08:42 pm]
Hunt the Wumpis
Well, I’m back in school after 6 moths in Peru and a month bumming around California. Its nice to be back workin’ and schoolin’ again, after the trip I’m all traveled out for a while. I’d formally like to thank Tony, Megan, Ari, The Parents, Matt, Kyle, Ari, Josh, and John for giving me a place to crash on the trip.

More or less the trip started with me arriving in San Francisco and waiting at Meghan’s place (I finally got to REALLY meet her girlfriend… I approve) for Anjie to arrive. She did, at 1 am, and I went to pick her up at the airport. After driving around for an 10 minutes trying to find her, I discovered that I was at the wrong air for, SFO instead of OAK. 30 minute later Anjie and I were headed back to Meghan’s apartment to sleep. Not a very good start to things, but at least the next morning we got a lovely walk along the beach.

We headed up to Sonora for Xmas. Anjie held up very well to meeting The Family, and The Family were very well behaved. Except for one incidence involving a statue and a mask, for which my mother should be ashamed of. And Josh for egging her on. As always, it was good to see The Extended Family, and unlike the Mother, they were all super nice to Anjie. I had a blast, and so did Anjie… here she is decorating The Parents Xmas tree and next to the snow cat we constructed.

After Xmas was over, The Parents, Anjie, and I headed down to San Francisco where Matt was kind enough to set us up with cut rate rooms in the lovely San Remo hotel in North Beach. We wandered about the city with The Parents, museum a bit, and spent the evenings playing Spite-and-Malice. But the highlight for me, happened when we ran across the Happy Happy Happy man in China town.

A real turtle on a fake turtle

Anjie makes some new friends

Matt hard at work

We had planned to spend a few days with Kyle and Ryan in Santa Cruz, but Kyle had an unexpected emergency, so Anjie and I had to change our plans rather quickly. Luck was on out side, Matt gave us another night at his hotel and I managed to find us a sot in a hostel beneath a lighthouse on the coast. We spent the next two days exploring my old stomping grounds: the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We wandered on the beaches and in forests, and I re-introduced Anjie to salamanders and banana slugs.

Our light house hostel

Anjie and her first impression of a newt

The graffiti on the bathroom wall a good ol’ Pergalessi’s

Sunset over Capatola... it is tough to see, but Anjie is chasing birds.

On the 1st I dropped Anjie of early in the morning at SFO for her trip back to China. After that the trip got a little weird…
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Christ I love Cali [Dec. 20th, 2007|03:33 pm]
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Well, I’m back in the US after 6 months. First impression… well… there is Elvis impersonator directly across for me. Need I say more? Maybe a little more. They had the cutest little beagle sniffing bags for drugs. It was just plain lovable with shinny little eyes and waggley little tail. I think the idea with the cute little dope smeller was to dazzle felons with pure unbridled snuggle adorableness. So that if they are caught, they would not dare put up a fight inform of such a precious little creature.

My love for the Bay Area has been knocked into high gear after only12 hours back. The air is clean, the cities are full of trees, and there a mix of every type of people wandering about happily interacting with each other. I always liked the Bay, but seeing it again after being in Peru and Baltimore, it just seems like a paradise.

All in all, I’d say I gave Peru a good go. I took a total of 6 trips outside of Lima, covering the coast the mountains and the jungle… in fact according to William the only part I really missed was the far north beaches and forests by the Ecuadorian boarder. I suppose I need to start chronicling these, but until that time, I’ve put together a map sketching out where I visited.

And I just got a part time job with the HiB initiative until I graduate.

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Amazon Part 3 – Piranhas are tastey [Dec. 15th, 2007|10:29 am]
Hunt the Wumpis
Now, I’m done several type of fishing in my life, and they all take at least a bit of skill. Piranha fishing is the exception. A fishing pole for piranha fishing is nothing more than a stick, a string, and a hook. It turned out to be simple: put a little bit of chicken on a hook, toss it in the water, and jerk the pole before the fish steel the meat. And they steal it fast, the meat is gone in about 5 seconds if just left in the water. Our guide took us out side a local fishing camp to catch piranhas. The locals toss the remains of their catfish and pike into the rivers, so piranha love to hang out by the camps and act as natural garbage disposals. Anjie seems to have way with carnivorous fish, catching 5 piranhas in total… more than the rest of us combined. They were by no means terrifying animas, as the picture below attests, but I still would not like them nibbling on me. No one minded that she caught all the fish since she shared them at dinner.

A fair time of the trip was simply traveling up and down the river to spots were we would hike or look for birds. I think I enjoyed bobbing along the river an observing the weird twisted trees and water plants more than anything (except the frogs of course).

Viewing the beauty of nature was punctuated with threatening to push Anjie into the river.

The there were the sunsets over the river…

At night, Anjie and I spent most of out time playing dominos with a set of complex rules we made up. Anjie claimed that she was naturally superior at dominos because she is Chinese, but her theory was laid to rest after three nights of getting her ass whooped. Here is Anjie fretting over her inferiority at dominos

And here is the moon light though the trees.

The final day we went off to swim in the Amazon. Despite the brown water, camions, piranhas, and warnings about electric eels I was super excited… besides, when is the next time I would get the chance? I was surprised to find that I was the only person willing to swim. Undeterred by the fear of the others I dove right in. My plan was to try to convince Anjie with verbal wizardry to join me. I assumed it would take quite a bit… but she pleasantly surprised me by jumping in with no convincing on my part. With Anjie as a brave example, the rest of out group hesitantly got in and we al had a dandy time.

Latter that day we said good by to our new friends and headed back to civilization. The entire way back we were chased by a storm, which made me think the jungle was sad and trying to stop us from leaving. I was sad too.

Saying goodbye

The storm chasing us back to Iquitos
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Amazon Part 2 [Dec. 11th, 2007|12:18 am]
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Birds were every where night and day. Chirping, squawking, catching fish, and just kind of hanging out. None of them seemed to care a tiny bit about people being around. The notable exception was the Horned Screamer, which would fly off in flocks the instant it saw us. Interesting fact: the name ‘horned screamer’ comes from tow facts, it has two feathery horns and makes a screaming sound. The birds preferred to stay close to the river where there is an ample supply of bugs and fish, which made spotting them easy and mosquito free.

Here is Anjie’s favorite bird, which she dubbed an ‘Anjie Bird’ because she claims it bore a resemblance to her. I don’t see it.

Mammals were a bit harder to spot. They had a tendency to be deep in the dark forest high in trees, making them hard to see and near impossible to photograph. But we managed to see a fair number of different types of adorable monkeys and sloths. The sloths were the best, since they wore to sluggish to get away. My favorite here is the sloth.. we watched it for about 10 minute while it… very… slowly… scratched… its… head.

We almost missed these bats who where just hanging out on a tree next to the river during the day. They are harder to see in real life, I had to turn up the contrast to get the little bastards to stand out.

The toughest to spot were the dolphins, but we managed to see both the grey and the pink types. Getting a picture was even harder, a hump was the best I could get out of 30 shots.

Then there were the frogs. I’ve been a sucker for since I was a kid, and the Amazon is a cyclone of frogs. You could hear the chirping in the trees and reeds day and night. Went eh boat pushed through water lilies you could see frogs jumping into the water or onto a safer lily. I spent a large time of the boat trips peering over the edge of the canoe, lunging at every frog I saw. This required a keen eye, since there were just as many grasshoppers and awful looking spiders diving out of the way of the boat that I sure a hell did not want to grab. One of the following is not a frog; see if you can tell which one!

The highlight of the frog catching was when I passed a freshly caught frog to Anjie. It was sealed completely in her hands, but she wanted to get a good look at it. When she opened up her hands a little and put her eye right up to the hole, the frog seized the moment, and jumped directly onto her glasses. Needless to say, Anjie screamed and I laughed, and the frog jumped in the water.

One night, we went night hunting for baby caimans. It was less hunting and more catching, rubbing its scaly little tummy, and releasing it.

The next day came the piranhas…

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Amazon Part 1 [Dec. 8th, 2007|04:14 pm]
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My trip to the Amazon with Anjie was fuck awesome, better in every way than I expected. We arrived in Iquitos, found the agency we were traveling with, and an hour latter we boarded a little speed boat with and Australian (Keith) and an Englishwoman (Emily) headed to our camp 2 /12 hours up the Amazon, then up a little tributary. My first Impression of the Amazon was that it was big. Very very big. It is tough to tell whether you are on a lake or a river since the river is so wide, and the frequent slow bend of the river give the illusion that the river ends a few miles ahead.

The Amazon is flooding this time of the year. It is raining and snowing like mad in the Andes, so the main rivers are rushing with river. So much so that the water in the little tributaries that are fed only by jungle rain were running up hill. So we had the interesting experience of leaving the expanses of the Amazon and going with the current up a little river to our lodge. The water also pushed millions of water lilies from the Amazon up the little river, clogging the rivers in a mat of vegetation. It gave me the distinct feeling that we were boating our way across a lush clearing, rather than a river. Along with the lilies came the occasional piece or garbage from the down stream villages. I kept referring to the errant Coca Cola bottles we would frequently see as ‘bottle fish’. Anjie was not amused the first time I pointed out a bottle fish, let alone the 50th time.

Anjie Paddling though a Sea of Lilies

Them’s all lilies under those roots.

We and out Austro-Anglo companions were all pleasantly surprised with the lodge. I sort dock lead to a series of huts and walkways. Everything was raised 6 feet off the ground to avoid being drowned in the rainy season. The food was fantastic. The one complaint I read about the lodge in online reviews was the food. Apparently they took the criticism to hear because the food was better than the restaurants I frequent in Lima. And a lot of the supplies were purchased from the little fishing communities, so the locals liked the lodge and it helped them out. There was not electricity in the common room of out little huts, but who needs electricity when you have a hammock and the colony of weaver birds to listen to?


Inside the main lodge

Me and my hammock

Weaverbirds… which are the mocking birds of the Amazon. They squawked and twittered out every bird sound imaginable from sunrise to sunset.

We went for out first nature walk behind the lodge, and in 30 steps we were in primary forest. The trees were very very tall. The guide took us though the basic, pointing out bugs and plants… mostly I think to prepare us for future hikes so were would be past the “what is that ant” sort of questions. It rained heavily the day before, so we were assaulted by mosquitoes. Luckily Anjie and I had Deet to hose ourselves down with, and the pungent odor of the Australian to distract the insects with a keener sense of smell. The deet did not, however, stop what was probably an ant from biting my inner thigh twice and my finger once before I killed the little shit head. I’ve been bitten by lots of people and animals in my day, but this was the worst I had ever felt. The bite hurt for 3 days, which really put the tiny pin prinks of mosquitoes into context.

Walking in the forest, Emily is fending off mosquitoes.

Tall trees

Termite nest at the cross section of 4 trees.

Termites build covered tunnels with their feces and saliva to protect themselves from the constant rain and predators. I envy them.

And that was just the first day…

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