Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It is such a whirlwind coming here!

I am going to blog so hard. There are a million thoughts in my head. Holy cow. (an expression which is entirely appropriate when talking about India.) I'll try to keep it concise, but no guarantees.

On Tuesday afternoon, my flight took off from Cleveland. This morning at midnight:30, I arrived in Delhi. Here's what happened in the middle:

- A wonderful layover in Boston. I got to meet up with my friend Catie whom I hadn't seen in a while. Boston looks like this:

They have some great Italian restaurants. And cannoli. Boston! This might be my favorite American city I've never lived in.

- A nondescript layover in Frankfurt. Frankfurt, erm, airport looks like this:

- Consuming lots of media in the meantime. Noteworthy: Rang de Basanti. Indian films! They always throw me for about three loops! This one: haha, it's the story of some college kids filming a thing, and there's some historical context but they're silly, until all of a sudden, bam, (ahem) stuff gets real.

And finally, yes, I am here, in Delhi Friggin' India, sitting in my hotel. Oh yes, I am back in it, grotty cheap hotels (well, I let them upsell me from the $8 basic room to the $13 AC room; inflation happens), fake english (on trucks: "horn please; use dippers at night"), and genial extortion of a couple extra bucks here and there. (taxi driver: so you can pay the Rs600 ($12) taxi fee with the hotel later, but if you want to give a tip, for good service, or because it was so late at night, you can do that now [long pause]. me: You know, it is late and I am exuberant; here is Rs100. he: oh, just 100? but that is so small. In your country that is $2, that is nothing, people from your country have lots of money. me: [long pause] well that is just how it is.)

Dear Lord, Tao, Universal Consciousness: Thank you for my youth, because this is exciting!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Doxycycline: take on an empty stomach

(one hour before and two hours after eating). Don't take within 2-3 hours of anything with a lot of calcium, iron, aluminum, magnesium, zinc, or bismuth. Take with a glass of water. Don't lie down for 10 minutes after taking. Start taking two days before the trip; continue for four weeks afterward.

So I've got a small amount of antibiotics in me now, messin' up my innards a tiny bit but also keeping me safe from malaria. And I'm leaving tomorrow.

Yes, I'm excited. I'm super excited. Something like this trip has been a bit of a dream since at least August 13, 2007, when I announced to my friend Beej that we were going on the Mongol Rally. (My other friend Ram soon pointed out that the Rally seemed like a race, and therefore less fun than was possible; meanwhile he and Beej and Aaron all went and got themselves reasonable somewhat-stable lives that you can't just up and quit for a while, so the Rally itself fell by the wayside.)

This trip itself, in its current incarnation, has been in planning for the last year and a half. It's been in planning for so long that I couldn't even start applying for visas when I first conceived it. Of course it's a little hard to believe it's happening.

I would be lying if I said I weren't a bit worried. Not that anything bad will happen; I'm worried that I'll miss out, that this "once in a lifetime experience" will just start happening and I may not grab enough bulls by enough horns. You don't get many free years in your life; don't waste them.

But that is not an attitude that is conducive to bull-horn-grabbing. So I'll continue to look forward to what is happening and not worry about what's not happening. Tomorrow after the bardo of flight, I'll be in a land that smells worse and better than here, beginning a year that will change me whether I like it or not. Charge on with furious gusto!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I made a page about stuff I'm taking

If you are a red blooded American and like to buy stuff, or want to know why I don't make fun of other people for buying clothes, or are wondering how I'm going to fit a year's worth of gear in a 10 13 lb*, 28 L pack, have a look!

*My goal was 10 lbs. The juggling balls push it over.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hack me.

Not really. But do take a look at my security plan and let me know if I've forgotten anything, or left anything a little less secure than it should be. That's right, computery friends: have at thee! (warning to non-computery friends: this could get geeky.)

First, cyber security assumptions, which actually make the whole thing somewhat easier to wrap your head around: if you can log into my Google account, game over (or rather, the "game" of recovering from identity theft begins). You can recover passwords to lots of other stuff by asking them to email it to you. So I can reduce the security of a lot of other things to "as secure as my google account." This is simple, and if I have to trust one company not to get hacked, Google is as good as any.

So, let's look at possible scenarios:

Google password stolen (somehow): I just took the plunge and enabled 2-factor authentication. So you'd have to have my password and my phone to log into any of my stuff.
Google password forgotten: I don't think I've ever done this. But I could go through the forgot-your-Google-password rigamarole and eventually get back in.
Google auth token stolen, i.e. someone logs in as me somehow: that is bad. But they still don't have my password, so it's only a one-time disaster- they can't lock me out or anything, and if I see it happening, I can log them out.

Phone stolen: I've got a PIN lock on it. Sure, you could break that eventually. So I've installed "Android Lost" on it to remote-wipe it as soon as I get back to a computer. (it's developed by some guy, and I'm a little leery of trusting so much to just-some-guy. You log in with your Google account, via oauth?, so I don't think even the app maker can access it. The site's not https, which I think is a bad thing: it means some guy snooping your packets could log in to the site as you and run any of the commands. Most of the time this isn't disastrous; all info is sent to your email. But it's on his radar, and I'll not use the site much anyway.
Anyway, Android ought to come with a remote-wipe service; it does if you have Google Apps for your business, but not for consumers.)

Phone lost: Android Lost will take care of that much-nicer situation. I can send a message to the phone, get GPS coordinates of it, etc., so I'll find it somewhere.

Passport lost/stolen: welp, next week is embassy week! Nothing to be done here. I've got copies of it and all my visas online, which might help, but it's not like I can just print myself a new passport.
Incidentally, I just sewed a new pocket inside my pants.
If a pickpocket gets his hand in this pocket, I've got bigger problems.

Computer lost: It's got a password lock on the screen, so it'll be a brick to whoever finds it.
Computer stolen: that, plus the hard disk is encrypted.

Wallet lost/stolen: I've got an "emergency card" with my passport. It's got contact numbers so I can call my banks and cancel my credit cards. It's also got Google Authenticator codes so I can log into my Google account even without my phone.

All my belongings are taken from me and I'm teleported into an unfamiliar place, much like the Terminator: As soon as I get online, I can call my parents to help me get an access code so I can log into my Google account (backup phone number). Then I can get all my credit card phone numbers, embassy phone numbers, etc, and start fixing things. Then I'll beat up some dudes and steal their clothes.

Moral of the story: the cloud is wonderful, and security is hard. So now! What bizarre recovery scenario have I missed, and what obvious security hole have I left open?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Travel Insurance, or, have I done anything wrong yet?

I got some insurance. I really only need medical insurance, so that in the case of a terrible catastrophe I don't, in the words of my dad, "come back with a mortgage." (he sure knows how to strike fear into my heart.)

I don't need much in terms of cancellation insurance or stuff insurance. If my stuff gets stolen or a flight gets canceled, I'll buy new stuff, for less than the cost of an insurance policy. Or maybe I'll just stay where I am! Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.

Anyway, medical. I'm looking for a high max coverage (mortgage mortgage), I'm not too picky about the deductible (nothing bad ever happens ever), and I don't want to get hosed. Approximate prices for a year of coverage:
World Nomads: $600, $100k max
International SOS, including medical: $1000
Some other site I don't remember: also $1500
IMGlobal: $350, $500k max (customizable)

I feel like I must have missed something. How can different companies be off by a factor of 4? But I read through the plan a couple times and it looks pretty foolproof. And IMGlobal is a legit company. Chalk it up to truly just buying what I want, I guess.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cleveland: It's Not Bad, You Might Like It

New marketing campaign. Or maybe "Our economy's no longer based on Lebron James".
How about "We got big piles of salt" or
"Come see our waterfalls and learn what tent caterpillars are" or
"Sometimes it's sunny, and sometimes it's stormy" or actually Amtrak says it best:
Yes! To be honest, there are a lot of great things you can point out about Cleveland: disproportionately many big museums, good restaurants, and fine arts; sports and more sports; most people are nice; it's rather idyllic in the summer; and actually there are cool neighborhoods to live in. But unless you're trying to decide where to move, don't waste your time worrying about "which city is better."

Because it's not wonderful. It's got a lot of issues: car-centric sprawl, crime, unemployment, etc. But the flaws make it exciting to explore, and Cleveland's got lots of hidden corners. It feels bigger than it is. It feels huge. You can live in it for years and keep finding new parts of it. Not that you'd want to go back to, say, Garfield Heights all the time. But you might be there, and it'd be hot and bricky and there'd be restaurants with names like "Belly Backers", and then you drive north and you're in the land of historic big houses in Shaker Heights, and then a little further north you can hit up the Cedar Lee, Cleveland's main (only?) non-mainstream theater, in Cleveland Heights. Or you might be out with a friend who'd tell you about the hidden Whiskey Island/Wendy Park, right on the waterfront but hard to get to. These are nice things.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When I'm at home, it's more talk, less pictures

Sometimes I try to think about this trip, why I'm doing it, what I want to get out of it. When we think about big vague questions like this, without any clear directions, we end up telling stories. Some stories you can tell about long-term travel:

1. It doesn't sound like fun (the "satisficer" story)
This is one thing you could say, that I of course disagree with. Well, sort of. There are (at least) two kinds of "happinesses" and correspondingly at least a couple of kinds of fun. Travel is fun in the remembered mind; not as much in the moment. But this assumes that "fun" or "happiness" is a number you're trying to maximize. Hold that thought.

2. It's a long fun vacation, and therefore irresponsible (the "archie bunker" story)
3. It's a long fun vacation, and therefore totally rad, bro (the "hedonist" story)
Jason Peters's essay against "vacation" comes to mind here. In short, vacation is a symptom of the unhealthy outlook we've developed towards our lives. Traveling doesn't mean you're taking a break from something, and one would do well to integrate it with our lives instead of thinking of it as a time out before we get back to our crummy grind. In this case, I'd come down closer to the hedonists than the Archie Bunkers. But if vacation isn't the goal, what is?

4. It'll actually help you with your career, dear aimless college graduate (the "careerist" story)
Nomadic Matt would agree here. Nomad Lawyer Paul Karl Lukacs would then demolish him. 's fine. It probably depends on your industry; if you're something new and hip and entrepreneurial like a "social media consultant" (ugh), your travels probably will help you find or create a job. If you're something more established like a lawyer or banker (ugh), probably not. Either way, I'm heading to grad school (insh'allah), so I'm not so worried about that here.

5. It'll lead to some greater appreciation of life or whatever (the "deep travel" story)
I got the term from Tony Hiss. Any number of travel blogs will sell you this story. Wait, not quite, let me amend that:
6. It'll lead to some greater appreciation of life or whatever, but only if you get "off the beaten path" (the "not-a-tourist" story)
Any number of travel blogs will sell you this story. Some examples I used to read: Nomadic Matt, Everything Everywhere, Go Backpacking, Almost Fearless. Apparently travel blogging is a small industry now. (along with writing books like "Eat, Pray, Love" I guess.) I'm a little soured on most travel blogs because they posit traveling as the answer to everything, talk about really getting off the beaten path, and then write a lot about southeast asia, hanging out on the beach, making new friends, and trying scuba diving. There's nothing wrong with this! But it's nothing profound!

Backlash against travel bloggers sometimes makes a few waves, like Caitlin Rolls's essay in Thought Catalog. That's a little off too; I don't just want to go party with some new short-term friends. Jessa Crispin's response is probably closest to what I'm trying to say.

It's a lot of new experiences and a lot of different memories. Much like a machine-learning system can be improved in unpredictable ways by adding more data, life can be improved by adding more diverse memories. That's my story for now. That, and:

7. It seems like a good idea at the time. (the "Gramp" story)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Oh I am back in the Midwest!

And so here I am (post written on Tuesday) in Chicago, city of broad streets, where I remember some things about our country:
- sometimes it is 80 degrees and humid
- public water fountains are really lovely
- sometimes people are not white
- we love our concrete

Yes yes yes yay. It's this last one that causes me to wax particularly nostalgic for a little bit of this post-industrial concrete wasteland, a little reminder of our country's gritty past (if you're rich) or present (if you're not). It's awful, it's dirty, it makes heat ten times worse, but it is the city that I grew up in and the city I came of age in, and it is one distinct type of landscape, with its own rusted, chunky beauty.

And you can find this grimy appeal particularly on the Bloomingdale Trail, an abandoned rail line near I think Wicker Park. Here's more info, and here's a photo or two.

The highlight of my stay, of course, was getting to spend some time with my good friends Erik and Dave. But more interestingly to you: The zoo is free. The city is so flat with a nice lakeside trail, so biking is quite a pleasure. Intelligentsia is apparently *the* coffee roaster, but a couple others whose names I forget are making an appearance. Pour-over coffee is big, figuratively and literally (16oz?!). And the Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the better museums I've been to recently.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tracking my location: Latitude?

Dear techy friends: I'd like to keep track of where I am on this trip. I don't really want to share it real-time, but it'd be nice to record my lat/long every so often (once a day is fine), even if I don't have internet (italics means that's important!), and perhaps publish it after-the-fact on my blog.

A bunch of apps will track you short-term, like if you're going on a run or a hike. The only one I know of that tracks you long term is Google's Latitude. It wants you to share your location with friends, but I could just not add any friends. The main sticking point is that I'm not convinced that it will work without internet. Any ideas?

Travel update: I'm in Chicago, it's big and exciting, and my friend Erik and I have walked to Intelligentsia, a zoo, and two delicious restaurants; drunk wines that I didn't know existed; and eaten the bellies of two different animals. (at the restaurants, not at the zoo.) It has been a wonderful, and decadent, day.
It is hot here, flat and griddy, and sometimes it rains for serious. I like it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

My mom was afraid I'd have to sleep in a train seat for two days, or, Greetings from the Dharma Lounge

So it was nighttime, so I stumbled around the train, and found this cafe/lounge car. It has two rows of four seats each, which made perfect beds. One was taken, so I sprawled out on the other. The next morning, I found that my companion, Jampel, a twenty-something white guy like myself, was a Buddhist monk. His friend Tsundru joined us, and we spent the rest of the trip hanging out and talking Buddhism and things. (and juggling.)

It is interesting and humbling to hear about Buddhist experiences of other young folks like me. Well, it's rare, is all. They brought up an interesting point: sure, Buddhism's been around forever, but is young in America, so there aren't these huge organizations about it. I might like Buddhism because I'm confident that it's not hogwash, but I knew it before it was cool.

The train car attendant, Tashi, not only let us hang out in our own little lounge, but joined us and brought some tea. Turns out he was Tibetan, and used to be a monk himself for 17 years. Wonderful! ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཆེ་།! It is also exciting to talk about Tibet, Nepal, and India with fellows who know about it and can share my excitement.

Washington is bigger than I thought (and we slept through most of it), Montana is wonderful,
North Dakota is only a little less beautiful, and only in Minnesota and Wisconsin does it start to feel a little more developed. Oh, and we're 8 hours behind schedule (bringing the total trip to 53 hours). There's a water tap on the train, the food is a bit pricey but fine (I'd bring my own more next time), bathrooms and leg room are plentiful, the observation car has ceiling windows, rest stops are rare but enjoyable, and the whole thing feels a lot more human/less soul-crushey than planes.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Journey of Two Thousand Miles

To quote The Lion King Video Game, "It starts." To quote LCD Soundsystem, "This is happening." Well! This is Take One for the trip, the trial run, the first leg: 45 hours on a train from here to Chicago. I'm sitting in the station now, the train's been delayed an hour and a half, I'm a little thirsty and pretty sweaty, and I feel a few emotions that average out to great!

First, there's the catharsis of moving out. I finished packing up my apartment today. Weird how, even when you don't like stuff, you accumulate a lot of stuff.
Clockwise from the top left: clothes, technology, a huge burrito of outdoor gear, desky things in a box, Domos and Androids, tools, my round-the-world pack 1.0, and fancy clothes in my grandpa's classy suitcase. (not pictured: about 20 books.) And that's just the stuff I'm keeping! The rest of it, I don't have to worry about ever again.

Second, there's the slight sadness. I'd expected it to be sadder; I'm either quite adept at dealing with the sadness or quite awful in that I'm just holding it in. I guess I've had a foot out the door for about a year and a half. (N.B. I don't recommend this.) So the sadness is there, but it'll kick in more later.

So third, finally, and primarily, now I'm left with the start-of-trip jitters/excitement. And not even jitters, because this part is easy: I get on a train, I see friends, I get on another train, I see family. I kick back in Westlake OH for a couple weeks surrounded by people I love. Life is easy, life is good, thank you for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever.

Practical Shipping Tips: USPS parcel post tends to be about N + 5 dollars, where N is the number of pounds. Shape/size doesn't matter unless it's huge (length + girth > 108 inches; even the burrito there is only 78). You can ship stuff in duffel bags; just make sure the address is securely affixed. I shipped the burrito, grandpa's classy suitcase, the toolbox, and the office stuff (in another duffel), for about $90. Finally, shipping books is hella cheap via media mail; about half the price of parcel post.