Tami's version of Our Adventures through India, SouthEast Asia + Beyond

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Year Later - A Wrap-up

It's been almost one year to the day since we pulled back into our SF driveway that I've finally landed a job. One year of job searching, soul searching, economic depression, monumental elections, adjusting, adapting, learning and growing. It's all paid off in the end in a number of ways, not least of which is the security of a steady paycheck. But not only that, I actually like the job. And, it's a stepping stone towards a new career in non-profit administration. I feel so blessed and am eager to embark on this new path.

So with that, it seems like a logical point to sign over and out with this blog journal. Wow, it's been a trip! Thanks to all of you who shared it with me and were inspired along the way. I know I was. May it not be our last journey together.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kiva in Cambodia - How It Works

Here's more great, new stuff from the Khmer frontlines. This excellent video was done by another Kiva Fellow we had the pleasure of meeting right before he left for the field. Both Cambodia Fellows we met - Kieran + John - are now sharing an apartment in Phnom Penh, and by all accounts never want to leave. Ahhhh... makes me homesick.

"A Fistful of Dollars"

Enjoy the video! And even more importantly, lend some money to an entrepreneur - just $25 makes a difference - and share Kiva with your friends. The holidays are over, but a Kiva gift certificate is a great gift for any occasion.

(Photo: by Kieran Ball)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kiva in Cambodia - A Comic Strip

As many of you know, Darin and I served as Fellows for Kiva in Phnom Penh exactly one year ago. Our time there was super-memorable in so many ways and stands as one of the highlights of our 2-1/2 years abroad. Since being back in San Francisco, Kiva's home base, we've stayed in contact and had the wonderful opportunity (a couple months back) to help with a training session for new Fellows heading into the field. It was so inspiring to meet everyone and we got caught right up in their enthusiasm - maybe the next best thing to actually traveling again myself.

There were three people heading to Cambodia, and one specifically to Maxima, the MFI (microfinance institution) office where we worked. This guy, John, is a great writer and put together a fun comic strip about his experiences there. Check out the "link".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

American Beauty

In my opinion, quite possibly the best movie ever. We watched it again last night. It's the first movie we've seen since being back home. And all I can say is Wow! I laughed, I cried, I felt anger and despair, I felt hope and gratitude. I felt love. And now the final words of the film, spoken by Kevin Spacey as the camera slowly zooms out on his suburban street, keep repeating in my ears. I won't ruin them for you, but those words are true. I knew the truth of them before we embarked on this trip, but they resonate so strongly with me now. Look closer...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Missed Moment

I've got to start keeping my camera on me at all times again... this city is so photogenic! Just the other day, I was driving home from some errand and was stalled at a stop sign in my neighborhood by an old, Chinese woman carrying a yoke across her shoulders weighed down by two enormous bags of recycling on each side (similar to below). I felt so at home and immediately transported back to Asia, all in one, magical moment.  That's just one of the reasons I love this city so much. There are a lot of first-generation emigrants that call San Francisco (and the Bay Area) home, and you just never know what, or who, you may come across.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why do I have SO MUCH STUFF?!


We brought our second load of stuff out of storage today and I'm feeling such strong mixed emotions - that I have WAY too much %*^#^(&!, and that I'm glad to already own so many cool + convenient non-essentials because I just couldn't re-justify spending my money on all this again. I feel a part of me belongs to two worlds now. Even in Asia, amongst the "have-nots", I admit that though I tried to live like them, I was still living a fair level above. My life on the road was certainly a far cry from the lives of the "haves" though with my food cart dining + cold water, bucket showers. And where do I belong now? Where do I want to be? Just not being homeless here you're immediately in the "haves" camp. And that's good. I also don't want to give up everything - Dammit, I've worked hard for it! And I think that's o.k. too. What I do think is that it's going to be an ongoing effort in my life here to be satisfied with what I do have and not fall into the trap of craving more.


Since we've been back, we feel like we just bleed money. So much of it's just being in this cultural context. You're not just buying things you need, but things for the house, high-end groceries... extras. It's a new, but unpleasantly familiar feeling of not just making do. Of wanting more. Is this an innate part of being American? It wasn't though once we'd penetrated the country's borders... this feels more akin to being caught up in some sort of religious fervor. And my now jam-packed schedule too. Is that an American thing? It's of my own design though... nobody is making me do it. Fortunately, for now, it consists of reuniting with friends and doing things that I enjoy. I continue to strive towards the valuable lessons I learned in Vipassana - operating both in + outside of time, of not clinging, and of the realization that all things (even my own life) is fleeting. And of the desire to work towards something larger than myself.


We've emptied out the storage space now and have most everything moved back into our home. I find myself feeling a bit less guilty splurging on a few non-sale grocery items and a night out at a club. Some friends tease us about our frugality, but as we watch the U.S. + global economy go down the toilet right now I feel more prepared to weather the hard times that are most definitely ahead than most. Most of that is simply because I've returned with such a deep appreciation, one that goes to the very core of my being, of how amazingly lucky I am just to have been born in this country. Because of this awareness, I am truly content to live simply. So many people on the planet will never know the luxuries + freedoms that I have. Now, maybe one of the biggest challenges I face is to find a job. But even with that, I have faith that if I'm open, opportunity will present itself.

And speaking of "Stuff", here's a "link" to a great little film about all the stuff in your life too

Friday, September 26, 2008

Make the Dream a Reality

Another frequent question/comment from people has been - How did you manage to take a trip like this?! While I wouldn't say it was easy, the hardest part was certainly just making the decision to do it and then coordinating finances to make it happen.

I've gone over alot of the practical specifics on a separate blog, but here are some general tips to help you take the trip of a lifetime too.

TIME - Wait until you're at a transitional point in your life. Are you ready to change jobs or just got laid off? Are you in your last few years of being childless, or before your child enters school? Did you just get booted from your rent-controlled apartment? Time is a hard thing to come by and you may never get the opportunity again so plan for as long as possible.

MONEY - Do not travel if you're in debt. Mortgage on a house is o.k. if you can rent it for something close to what you're paying, but credit card debt or payments on a vehicle are a no-no. Get yourself out and quit buying stuff so you can spend your hard-earned cash on something much more enriching like travel :)

LOWER YOUR STANDARDS - Life in the U.S. and other developed countries is exponentially comfier than the lives of the majority of the people on the planet. A big reason for traveling is to see firsthand how the other half lives. You can't see this on package-tour or by staying in 5-star hotels. You've got to do it yourself to allow for local interaction. Also, your money won't last very long going this route either. I personally find it the most interesting taking budget accomodations and traveling overland when at all possible. While this might not be the easiest way to see things, it certainly packs alot of experience for the buck.

BE OPEN - Throw out all your preconceptions. Some of my most-loved destinations have been the places other people panned. And some of my least-liked have been those that were raved about (typically they prove to be tourist ghettos). Keep a sense of openness + adventure, though not to a fault (remember that some people are unscrupulous so trust your instincts). Reply like an Indian to interesting opportunities - Sure, why not?!

WHERE TO GO - It's a great big, interesting World out there, but don't pack too much in. We've met more people than I care to count who are racing around from one place to the next like they're trying to check destinations off a list - 1 week in Rajasthan, 2 days in Varanasi, 2 days in Kathmandu and only 4 days for a trek (that could have bee stretched to 3 weeks) before hoping on a plane to Bangkok, Chiang Mai + Ko Samui (the three most touristed spots in all of Thailand), then on a plane to Bali for 2 weeks, then Australia, then... you get the picture. I'm not saying this is wrong, but you're going to blow right through your money and only have fleeting memories of every place you've visited instead of a deep understanding of any one place. As a rule of thumb I wouldn't allow less than one month in each small country or in a state/province in a large one. Note: I've listed 2-3 week itineraries for all the places we've visited (See Recommendations) for those working stiffs... of which I soon will become again.

Any other questions? Just ask. We are more than happy to encourage people to travel and can recommend places to suit your taste.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gear that Stood the Test, or Not

Packing for a trip of indefinite length was certainly a challenge... What to bring???

Believe it or not, except for just a handful of items, during the past 3 years I've gone through four entire changes of wardrobe. Clothes just aren't designed to be worn day in and day out, and washed again and again, and again. I wore everything until it disintegrated, and then searched for some cheap, new item to replace it. And then repeated that cycle again 6-8 months later. Fortunately, that's pretty easy to do on the road if you average-sized.

The one item that stood with me every day and didn't give out 'til the last month were my shoes. These Salomon Amphibians are amazing! Comfy, lightweight, breathable, easy to get on and off in a country where no one wears shoes indoors + extraordinarily durable, they are the ideal shoes for travel. Very fortunate as good quality outdoors shoes are one thing that is actually quite difficult to replace on the road. If you're planning a trip, besides your pack, this will be your #1 item of concern, so chose wisely.

Speaking of packs - I loved my Lowe Alpine, and Darin dug his Arcteryx pack. Both are great picks, and so are many other well-made brands that REI carries. The trick is to try on the pack in the store, with weight, and wear it around for an hour while you're shopping to really get the feel for it before committing.

On the outs list for equipment were some of our electronic gear. I blew through two digital cameras - a Minolta and a Casio - that each died for unapparent reasons. On the other hand, Darin's digi - a Canon Powershot A620 - is a workhorse. Even after ten of thousands of photos it's still going strong. Consequently, I purchased a Canon Powershot A570 in Mumbai to replace my last casualty. Also on the electronic front, both of our 80GB I-pods have died or are on the fritz and need to be replaced. Both were brand new too when we left. That seems pretty par-for-the-course with those though, which is crazy to me considering that they're not cheap! We loved our Altec Lansing inMotion portable speakers for the I-pod though and couldn't have lived without them. A good pair of sound-blocking headphones would've been nice too for those long, loud bus rides.

Do you have any gear that's stood the test? We won't be going on a trip anytime soon, but next time...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The New News

To all my lovely, loyal readers -

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the planet or met with some untimely fate now back within the safety of my home country (though oddly enough, parts of SF do seem more menacing now than most of SE Asia). I/we have just been incredibly, incredibly busy trying to catch up to speed (which I not-so-secretly hope never to) with life back in the States. Just getting a phone without an existing phone number was a hurdle that took AT+T three, long weeks to figure out. But enough of our bureaucratic woes. The short of it is - I'm back! And, I'll continue this blog as long as I feel I can voice noteworthy + unique views of comparison + contrast between what I experienced as a very fortunate third-worlder to what is now my current reality as an average first-worlder. So, when you have the time + inclination, it'll be worth scrolling back as far as June as I finally post all the drafts I've not had the time to edit and post until now. Many more photos will be forthcoming too, as well as a brand new San Francisco series, because I do have the good fortune of living in one of the more unique + photogenic cities on Earth. And with that - Happy reading!

Note: I love to get comments posted directly on the blogs for all to share instead of a direct e-mail (well, I love the latter too, but let's try to keep this a more open forum going forward). Thanks! And in the words of S.N. Goenka - Be Happy :)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Home - August 5

It's been a fun but hectic five weeks back in the States visiting family + friends. We arrived home, yes HOME, late Friday night. That first view of the Golden Gate and the cubist mass of the city beyond made my heart swell and brought tears to my eyes. We picked up the keys from our property manager and made our way to 199 Valmar Terrace. The house is empty, but the power + water are still on. The yard is mostly dead, but other than that, it's not much worse for the wear. We woke up Saturday and headed to Marin for a 2-day party with many of our closest friends in our Garage Mahal group. The weather was sunny + beautiful and the love we received from so many people still has me floating on a cloud of euphoria. Thank you, thank you!

As for the rest of you - We've got a VERY busy few weeks ahead of us, but will try to squeeze in as much quality time as we can. Our priorities right now are patching + painting and trying to get connected to the grid. Any suggestions for good but cheap cell or internet service? Until then, our main point of contact is via e-mail, which we're accessing in 30 minute increments at our local library. Inconvenient, but better than nothing. Also, feel free to just drop on by to say "Hi!" Can't wait to see each and every one of your beautiful faces :)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Go West Young Man

Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota – 3 states in 3 days. From the relatively hip, cultured cities of Wilwaukee + Madison to the handful of architectural masterpieces in Iowa to the forlorn American Indian reservations of the prarie state. On two-laners, crossing both the Mississippi + Missouri rivers, the changing landscape is a treat for both the eyes and senses. Last night we slept on one of the grassy knolls of the Little White River valley, miles of prarie running off in each direction for as far as the eye can see. There was a lone teepee down by the river and only a couple lights within sight. We picked our spot just as the light was getting good and poured a couple glasses of wine to enjoy as we cooked a tailgate dinner and watched the light change, and then fade into darkness. The night before we'd slept outside of Algona, Iowa to see one of Louis Sullivan's "Jewelboxes". Also there we enjoyed the surprising treat of the largest group of fireflies yet, twinkling around us as we enjoyed an evening in the forest.

We continue West now along desolate Highway 44 through the lunar landscape of the Badlands, past majestic Mount Rushmore in a hailstorm, and through the Black Hills in to Custer State Park. There we spend another night in the wilderness and are treated the following day to a host of wildlife including spotted + mule deer, pronghorn sheep and herds of American Bison! That's a first. These prehistoric-looking animals look imposing and I marvel that we can view them at such close range.

From here we take a more South-Westerly trajectory to visit my brother + his family in Cheyenne. Sticking to two-lane highways and back roads leads us through the dramatic and unpopulated Oglala Grasslands of Northern Nebraska. It's an undulating, wheat-colored sea that stretches to infinity in every direction. Without signs, we take our guess at random intersections in the road, continuing towards the sun which has become obscured by a very dense mass of clouds. With the uninterrupted vista, we watch as the storm moved across the horizon, then towards us, then enfold us, and finally to continue on leaving a vibrant rainbow in it's wake. We spend the night somewhere in this golden sea. Tomorrow, we go West.

Check the links for more photos of the Great Plains area, friends + family and funky Americana seen along the way

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Whirlwind Tour of the Windy City

We just finished a speedy 3-day tour of Chicago as the next stop on our way back West. My legs are sore and my feet ache after our relatively inactive three weeks reuniting with family + friends in Michigan. Here, the weather's been perfect – warm + balmy - and everyone's out enjoying it. The entire east side of the city, flanking the downtown, is an almost uninterrupted lakefront avenue with biking + running trails and several sandy beaches packed with sunbathers even mid-week. I suspect employers are hip to the unseasonal epidemic that's keeping employees out of the office. Who wants to be indoors on days like these?!

Day 1 we hit "The Loop", walking up and down crowded downtown boulevards admiring the World's first skyscraper + the numerous others that followed – The Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, and the Carbon + Carbide Building among others until dark. Then we head uptown on the "El" to the cheap + funky Chicago International Hostel near Loyola - a decent pick for budget digs.

We began Day 2 in "Lincoln Park", walking along it's charming streets and through several parks to the more upscale neighborhood of "Gold Coast" where we had an excellent free tour of Louis Sullivan + Frank Lloyd-Wright designed Charnley house. Built in 1892, it's a beautifully detailed forerunner to the California bungalow. After, we lunched on the lakefront with the scores of people out enjoying the warm, sunny day. From there we continued south past the Hancock Building to the riverfront and further to the Cultural Center with it's stunning Tiffany glass mosaics + domes. By then it was getting late, so we grabbed a couple of cold brews and joined the throng assembled in stunning Millenium Park for a special evening performance of Beethoven's Seventh.

For our final day in the Windy City, we hopped the "El" out to Oak Park to stroll amongst the numerous FLW works, including his own home + studio, and the Unity Temple. This filled the majority of the day, but we still managed to make it back into the City for the free evening hours at The Art Institute, containing masterpieces like American Gothic and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

As we've had the supreme luxury of time on this trip we've indulged and satisfied our curiosity so that there have been few places that really left us wanting more. Three days in Chicago was just barely enough for an overview. One week would have just given us time to see
the highlights at a comfortable pace. We didn't even have time for a dip in the lake… Aaaah, next time.

Check the "link" for more photos of our time in Chicago + The Great Lakes area