Thursday, September 11, 2008


The halls in my building are usually empty and quiet, so last week it was good to see someone else on my floor. I passed by a petite blond girl who was headed towards the garbage cans. Two days later as I was leaving, I noticed that this girl's door had been forced open and then newly repaired. In addition to that there was a notice from the Cook County Medical Examiner that sealed the door...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

David St. Hubbins

The other day I was exiting Jane's building and opened the door for a man that I immediately recognized. Michael McKean, who has been in dozens of movies and shows and was on the SNL cast of 1994, is starring in a production called "Superior Donuts" at the Steppenwolf Theatre down the street.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

International Travel without Basic English??

Technically, I am bilingual. And Spanish can be quite useful in the US and south thereof. Obviously it is always ideal to speak the local language while traveling and when I was making my way through Central America and Mexico, speaking Spanish made things much easier. As for across the pond, however, Spanish is going to be of very little use. Thankfully for me, English seems to be the universal go to language for international travelers. To communicate with people I have to depend on the sometimes very basic, but surprisingly common, English skills of the locals, as well as the recommendations of fellow travelers who do the same whatever their first language. The point being: I speak English. But what if I didn’t? How would I approach the prospect of going around the world?

Example: you’re from Sri Lanka, you speak absolutely no English, and you have the desire and the means to travel internationally. Awesome. But, without a basic knowledge of English, how will you manage? As it is, some countries around the world struggle to cater to the wealth of foreigners who speak English well. And forget the remote chance of meeting fellow countrymen as you go. Assume that no guidebooks have been published in your language, and consider that even if one is available, many things are going to become outdated in just a few years. Think about crucial information like transport details. How do you get to a foreign country and actually do what it takes to get around and make it worth it? You can try to get by on non-verbal communication, but this will be extremely challenging and many topics will prove too complicated. What if the one language you know isn’t even represented on the internet?

Surely traveling under these circumstances is possible- it would certainly make for a hell of an adventure. Maybe this whole idea underscores the importance of not only knowing a bit of English when going abroad, but more important, having the foresight and the respect of the country you’re visiting to learn a bit of the local language before heading out. I would love to talk to the incredibly resourceful guy who has actually done this, but I guess I'd have to find a way to communicate with him first.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Oh, How I Love Budget Accommodation, Let Me Count the Stains

Dirt Cheap (and not so) Hotel Rooms

When I arrived in Morocco I got the first taste of the kind of dumps I was going to experience during this trip. Thankfully, though, options since then have proven much better in every other country. In Morocco you can find a room for $5 if you want it and I definitely stayed in a few of these gems. There are no hostels, so it is harder to meet other travelers and rail the customs of the local culture. The rooms usually have sinks, but the showers and toilets/latrines are shared. The really funny thing about Morocco was that even when bathrooms facilities were shared, the rooms usually included a bidet in the corner. I’d like to talk to the guy that started that trend.

Spain had an abundance of hostels and these are almost always filled with young 20 somethings just out of school. The dorm rooms can sleep as many as 12 and each room shares a bathroom. If you look you can find locations with many conveniences like wi-fi, towels, meals and even in-house bars. Beds are much expensive than Morocco, though, with the currency change to Euros- $25 to $30.

In Greece the hostels were similar to Spain, if not a bit calmer. Wi-fi was nice to find and finding single beds instead of bunk beds was always a welcome surprise. They were more reasonable as well at $18-25.

The U.A.E. is where things changed a lot. I wasn't able to find any evidence of backpacker accommodation, or even a room for under $100 for that matter. Upon arrival in the airport, I found numerous help desks available for travelers looking to book a room, tour, ect. I mentioned the possibility of a $40-50 range room and the guy looked he was trying to keep from laughing. After speaking to some guys doing business in Dubai, I found out that these "help" desks are there to help those who are interested in the $300+ range. I ended up staying in 3* for $140 a night. Nice break from dirty rooms and dorms during the midpoint of the trip. There is one youth hostel on the edge of the city, but it was full of African merchants and proved to be a pretty rough place. In Dubai, because they house mostly foreigners, hotels were the place to party. I think my hotel had three disco techs, but I stayed on a high enough floor so that it wasn’t a problem for me.

Oman was much more reasonable than the U.A.E. I found a great place for something like $40 a night in Muscat right on the wharf next to the fish market. The huge yellow fin tuna were impressive and it was a great area.

India, unsurprisingly, was another really inexpensive place to find accommodation. Checking into my room in Mumbai was when I felt the tourniquet on the cash flow hemorrhage tighten. Like Morocco, India seemed totally void of hostels and dorm rooms. The rooms were about as cheap as the ones in Morocco, but a bit better on average. The most interesting thing here was that the bathrooms had no shower stall so that essentially the entire bathroom was the shower with the toilet and sink just kind of thrown in. Singles were uncommon and TVs seemed to be included no matter the region.

China has been great so far. There are loads of cheap hostels and single rooms are usually only around $10-12 when get you need a night to yourself. There are many backpackers here and the hostels always seem ready at the helm to take care of them. Incredibly, most places have their own tour operators, bars, and restaurants.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Final Leg

I've been in Beijing for 4 or 5 days now and have been really surprised how great it is here. I really needed some recovery time after being in India for almost a month and Beijing turned out to be a great place to find that. The people here seem to be so happy. They're incredibly friendly and very patient with the language barrier. Religion is not in your face constantly and it's not taboo to drink beer in public. Of course the food has been good also. Great duck. Yesterday I hiked along a 6 mile strch of an upper section of the Great Wall. Definitely one of the most amazing things I've ever done. Tonight I'm taking a train to Pingyao for a couple of days and then will continue on to Xian where the Terracotta Warriors stand. The train should be an experience in itself.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I’ve been homesick for a number of days now and I can’t seem to shake it. India is an incredibly diverse country and different from the U.S. in almost every way imaginable and therefore has much to offer the visitor who is eager to stick around for a while and really soak it in. I am tired because what it has to offer is unrelenting on the senses almost every single moment. Unlike Morocco, India is not reserved about “bearing it’s soul”. I’m really glad that I came here for the experience, but it has really worn me down as a single traveler. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't come back on a shoestring budget. Moreover, I’ve been out of the U.S., off and on, for over 3 years now and I think after 3 and half weeks in India my cultural sensitivity is starting to wane. The most patience-draining things here include car horns and noise in general, ubiquitous filth and the ever confusing Indian head wobble- which can mean almost anything from yes to maybe to I don’t know. When I get a head wobble response to a very straight forward question I usually say, “so… yes?” Of course as an answer I will surely get another fun and entertaining head wobble equal to the first one.

I’m in the state of Punjab now witnessing the ways of the subculture of the Sikhs and going to see their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. Next, I’m headed up to the home of the Dali Lama in Dharamsala. Should be a nice change of pace up in the foothills of the Himalayas. There’s no way I’ll make it to Tibet now with all the protests and police blockades, but hopefully the exile refuge of the Dali Lama will prove an interesting alternative. And it should definitely be a peaceful respite to the loud and relentless cities that I’ve known so far.

Tomorrow I’m taking a 3 hour train and then a 3 hour bus to Dharamsala. Turns out I’ll be able to stay there for 2 days. Then I’m taking a 16 hour train down to Corbett Tiger Reserve to get a glimpse of some nature/wildlife in India- which should be awesome.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Dabawallahs

Everyday, these guys go to 200,000 suburban households and pick up hot meals prepared by mothers and wives and deliver them to office workers throughout Mumbai. With the grueling traffic and overflowing trains that most commuters face everyday, getting lunch delivered to your workspace from home has got to be a nice thing. The lunches are carried in cylindrical aluminum tins that stack on top of one another. And because many of the dabawallahs are illiterate, they use a sophisticated system of numbers and colors to indicate where the meal must be delivered. The really impressive aspect of their work is the level of efficiency that they attain. According to Forbes, only one tin in 6 million does not arrive safely to the correct son or husband.