India (3 of 3): Udaipur

Last stop! I really enjoyed Jodhpur and wouldn’t have minded a few more days there, but Udaipur was beautiful as well. I’d heard it was a nice drive between the two cities so we booked a private car tour that stopped at the Ranakpur temples about halfway in between. Jess and I were too broke to actually pay the entrance fee (more on this later; we had some funny stories) but we walked around them to stretch our legs before getting back in the car. I don’t have any photos because in many places cameras weren’t allowed, and in others there’s a fee to bring a camera into the site that I was tired of paying. But we got a lot of photos of other places we stopped. It was a fun road trip. Just beware, “private tour” means “let me stop at all my friends’ places so they can talk you into buying things you don’t need and can’t afford”. Spoiler: I bought a lot of things I didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Oh, well, how many times do you get to go to India?

Our Airbnb was about 10-15 km outside the city, a bit farther than expected, but Udaipur was a bit cheaper than Jodhpur. Our hosts called Uber for us and it only cost about 160 rupees to get into the center of town (about $2.50). We spent our first day mostly walking around the city:

We hear about water shortages and problems with clean drinking water around the world but still, until you’re faced with the reality of it it’s hard to connect. It’s easy to take things for granted when you’ve always been able to shower or run the sink water to wash dishes or get a drink. Even in Beijing I don’t think about it too much. You can’t drink the tap water there but it’s easy to have bottled water delivered and we use the water for everything else. But many places in India still rely on wells and old-fashioned water pumps. Several times I would see people on a street corner using the communal water pump to fill buckets and carry them home for daily use. In Udaipur, people would swim, bathe, and wash their clothes in the lake. It’s a sobering sight.

The next morning I slept in and was awakened to this wedding procession. We had a small balcony we could watch from and it was really cool to see. My favorite part though, was this random camel that was walking around. We saw he had a pen across the street from our apartment but the gate was open and he just seemed to roam around the neighborhood. He gets his own slideshow:

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Afterwards, we got a cab to see Fateh Sagar lake nearby, then went into Udaipur and found Gulab Bagh park.  I had just noticed there was a park on Google maps and we had time to kill so we thought we’d check it out, but weren’t sure what to expect. It was huge, with a gorgeous rose garden-there were dozens of different varieties, along with other flowers.

My favorite encounter of the day, however, was with this cow. She was enormous! We were pretty used to cows at this point and didn’t pay much attention to her as we passed. A little ways down the street we stopped to window shop at this jewelry store. I noticed they did ear piercing and was debating whether to try it when Jess jumped up on the doorstep and told me to look out. I turned around and found myself face to face with this:

I wasn’t too concerned as the cows all seemed pretty harmless. I just jumped up on the doorstep to get out of the way, thinking she’d pass us and mosey on down the road. Instead she swung her head around and headbutted me on the hip. We ran into the jewelry shop and I tried to close the door as she seemed to be following us in. The shopkeeper was sitting just inside and got up, laughing at us, to get a jar from the corner. Apparently his wife makes homemade treats for the cows on the street. This girl was just stopping by for her afternoon snack when we got in her way! The shopkeeper was friendly though so we ended up looking around and I got my ear pierced after all, figuring that clearly the cow was a sign from some Hindu deity that I was supposed to.

That evening we found this quiet rooftop bar with a great view of the lake to watch the sunset.

We decided to check out Bagore Ki Haveli the next day, a former palace turned into a museum. It was a bit run-down and mostly deserted, which was nice as we got to explore and take photos on our own without a lot of crowds. I liked the second floor women’s quarters, with all the hangings, stained glass windows, mosaics, jewelry boxes and artifacts. They also have a collection of different styles of turbans, including one that weighed more than 30 kilos!

The elephant was clearly not an ordinary sight, even for locals. They seemed as excited as me and Jess. A crowd was all around her taking pictures, a lady next to me offered her a handful of hay, the coconut water vendor was feeding her coconuts, one guy pumped some water from a pump near the street so she could drink and splash and spray water around. It was so fun to see!

Our last day in Udaipur we got up early and took the boat tour of Lake Pichola, which stops at the island palace of Jag Mandir. There are actually two islands with palaces in the middle of the lake, but the Lake Palace has been converted to a hotel and is open only to guests, so Jag Mandir is the only one open to the public. It was a lovely and peaceful way to spend a morning. A bit of trivia-Jag Mandir and other parts of Udaipur were the setting for the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. The whole town is plastered in original movie posters advertising nightly viewings of the movie at seemingly every bar and restaurant. We thought we’d try to see it while we were there, but after checking at a few different places, finally realized they quit showing the movie a while ago and kept the posters up for bragging rights.

That afternoon we got on our train back to Delhi around 5pm, which meant arriving around 5am, which is basically the middle of the night. We quickly determined that middle of the night in Delhi is not where we wanted to be. Nothing would be open for hours and even if there had been somewhere to go we had no money, so we decided our best bet would be to take our last 1000 rupees and take the airport express subway to Indira Ghandi International to wait for our flight. At 12:05 am the next day. That’s eighteen hours in the airport if you’re counting.

We got off the subway (the subway station is connected to the airport and has its own shops and food places), got some coffee, and then just found a spot on the floor to sit and read and nap for a few hours. Around noon we tried to go into the airport but they wouldn’t let us in until 6 hours before our flight. The guard directed us to a passenger lounge to wait but when we went in we saw a sign behind the desk that looked like it said 100 rupees per person for three hours. We had a lot of hours left and barely enough money to cover snacks and drinks for the day, so we went and sat outside for a while, then went back to nap in the subway. Note: it was actually a very nice subway station, and we were not the only ones doing this. Although we were definitely the only foreign women which certainly got us some stares. At one point this well-dressed older man stopped near us. Jess was asleep under a scarf and I was reading my book. He looked down at us all concerned and asked “Is there a problem?”. No, no problem, we said, just waiting till our flight later. “Why don’t you go to a hotel?” In truth, we couldn’t afford it but we just told him we had just arrived in Delhi that morning. “Okay, but you know, it looks a bit…odd.” Yes, yes, we do, thanks.

I’m sure he was being helpful and we mostly just found it funny at that point. I hadn’t gotten paid yet before we left Beijing so I had roughly USD $200 in cash when we arrived in India, and that only because of a payday loan courtesy of my parents-by the way, thanks again Mom and Dad 🙂  My school is fairly…flexible with payments. My contract states I get paid on the 15th of each month but in reality I’ve gotten paid anywhere between the 6th and the 22nd before. Normally we get paid before holidays though, which is what I had been counting on. I got paid after we arrived in India but it was pointless because my Chinese debit card only works in China so I couldn’t access it. I thought I could outsmart the system and transferred money from my Chinese bank to Paypal, so I could then withdraw it to my US debit card and use that to get cash. Paypal however, decided to hold my money hostage for the better part of two weeks because they suck, so the transfer didn’t go through until the day I arrived back in Beijing. Jess was not much better off than me, so by the end of our trip we could not stop laughing at ourselves and how broke we were. Jess actually turned down coffee (which as anyone who knows her could tell you, she desperately needs) because it was too expensive. The coffee in question was 100 rupees, or about 10RMB. Coffee in Beijing is between 25-40RMB so that was actually extremely cheap, we just couldn’t afford it. (I convert everything to RMB since that’s how I get paid so I no longer think in dollars, but the coffee would have been about USD $1.50.) Most of the really expensive souvenirs we wanted were in actuality $4-$30. The Ranakpur temples we couldn’t afford to enter cost about $3 per person. We sat on a bench outside them and laughed at ourselves for about 20 minutes when we realized that.

The kicker was when, after an afternoon of pacing from place to place, we finally decided to “splurge” on the passenger lounge (which was also about USD $1.50) and just eat chips till we got on the plane. After some back and forth with the woman at the desk, we realized that the 100 rupees per 3 hours sign we had seen earlier actually applied to parking; the lounge was in fact, free. Yep, we spent 12 hours on the floor of the subway station before we figured that out, people. In our defense, we were already sleep-deprived. Anyway, we managed to survive until our midnight flight back to Guangzhou, where we had a 5 hour layover but were fortunately able to access our Chinese money at last.

I tell this story for all the people wondering how I have money to travel. Guys, I don’t have money; I have priorities. Somehow it just works out.

July 25, 2017

I know, it’s been an absurdly long time. I was busy with end of school things and when I finally got through that I was just exhausted and didn’t feel like writing. But I’m home in Kansas City at the moment for a visit so it’s time for a long overdue update.

To begin with, my flight home was an adventure in and of itself. I took off work a couple days early, after two solid weeks of helping to write curriculum and planning lessons, so I could have a full month away from China. Got to the airport early on the 12th, checked in, no problems, my flight actually boarded on time, which is practically unheard of for BCIA (Beijing Capital International Airport). And then we sat. And sat. First, because of BCIA air traffic control. This is normal as it’s the second busiest airport in the world; there’s usually a line to get off the ground. But while we were waiting there was a loud bumping and shaking underneath us in the back of the plane. So then we waited for maintenance to check it out. And for them to fix one of the air conditioners which had broken. Did I mention it’s been over 100 degrees in Beijing? Yeah. Eventually they let people go back to the gate for about 20 minutes. When everything was fixed they reboarded everyone and about 10 minutes after we got in our seats they announced that we couldn’t take off because the crew’s time had expired. So, back off the plane, through immigration to get our exit stamps canceled, customs, and then we were all rebooked on another flight the next morning and shuttled to a nearby hotel for the night.

It wasn’t all bad though because I met some fun people and got to hang out with them at the hotel and while we were waiting around the airport the next morning. The hotel was really nice and the airline took care of everything, rooms, food, transportation, rebooking flights. My trip was a little more complicated because I actually had two round trip tickets, one from Beijing to Boston (with a stop in San Francisco) and another from Boston to KC (with a stop in Chicago). It was cheaper for whatever reason (I will never understand airline logic) to fly from Beijing to San Francisco to Boston to Chicago to Kansas City, than it was to fly from Beijing to Kansas City with a stop in San Francisco. And my youngest brother is in Boston so I thought it would be great to stop and see him on my way back to Beijing. But I didn’t particularly want to stop in there on my way to KC; it’s just always cheaper to book round trip tickets than one-way. So it was a bit of a hassle to reschedule my connecting flights.

The next morning we got back to the airport and were delayed again. Because they tried to put us on the same plane, again. And the air conditioner was broken, again. One of the crew had told us that this particular plane was supposed to be decommissioned last September. I’m not feeling very confident at this point… Eventually they told us to move to another gate and we boarded a different plane there. The people who were already at that gate got sent back to our gate to wait for that plane to be fixed…I hope they made it off the ground but I have my doubts. And all this running around made us miss our newly rescheduled connections in SF. Which would have made me miss my next connection in Boston. When I explained everything to the ticket agent though he was super helpful, and instead of making me fly halfway across the country and back he got approval to change my ticket to go from SF to Kansas City and skip Boston altogether. So despite leaving Beijing 26 hours late, I still got home the same day I planned.

There was a time when this kind of chaos would have sent me into a panic or angered me but the more I travel, the more I’m able to brush these things off. There were some people on the flight who were hopping mad and screaming at the gate agents and I just had to roll my eyes. Is it an annoyance? Sure. I get frustrated too sometimes. But is it worth screaming about? Screaming at people who have no more control over it than you do? In the scheme of things, does it really matter? I like to make plans-I have books full of notes and schedules and to-dos-but I also know things don’t go according to plan all time, or even most of the time. It’s the unexpected things that sometimes end up being the most memorable, good or bad. So what I remember about this trip is that I got to finish two books I’d been meaning to read while I was waiting. I got to have a nice dinner and interesting conversation with Baynie from Las Vegas and Meredith and Ben from Wisconsin, who gave me some great ideas of places to visit when I finally take my cross-country road trip, hopefully next year. I got to soak in a hot bath and get a good night’s sleep in a hotel that I can’t even afford-for free. I’ll remember the chatty business lady who flies back and forth to China every other month (didn’t catch her name), that befriended us at the hotel and later, when she saw us stuck in the check in line at the airport, went and bought us all her favorite breakfast rolls to eat while we waited. I’ll remember the friendly flight attendant who asked all about my life in China, kept us all updated on what was going on, and even tried to help me find a different connecting flight on her phone while we were waiting. And I’ll remember the ticket agent in San Francisco who could have told me that I had a non-changeable flight, as three previous representatives had, but instead spent half an hour on the phone with his corporate headquarters trying to upgrade my ticket and finding me a way to get home as soon as possible. People are people, anywhere you go, and people are generally nice if you’re nice to them. Most of things I hear folks complaining about could be solved with a smile and a simple “please and thank you”.

I had another situation in June when I went to Macau for my visa run. I usually go to Hong Kong but I wanted a change. And if I’d flown directly into Macau it probable would have been fine, but I also wanted to see Zhuhai, on the mainland, because I’d heard it was beautiful-one of the cleanest cities in China. So I planned to fly to Zhuhai after work on a Friday, crash, get up early and go the port, where you can walk through the immigration building into Macau on the other side. Solid plan. Except my flight was delayed and I didn’t get to Zhuhai’s little airport until almost 2am, when we were the last flight in and almost everything was shut down. I had booked a room online at a hotel near the airport, and stopped at the information desk to ask the only employee in sight how to get there. She didn’t recognize it, but called the number on my booking to ask them for me, since no one spoke English there. Turns out, the hotel did not accept foreigners, only Chinese people. This isn’t unheard of in China-either they didn’t want to deal with foreigners or they couldn’t accept foreign passports. (Some places require a 15 digit Chinese ID number.) At any rate, I was stranded with very little money, and would get my refund until later in the week. The girl at the information desk was a little lost too, but she pulled out her phone and between her English and my Chinese, and a really good translation app, managed to explain what was going on. By this time a curious security guard was hovering around trying to help too. He suggested a hotel nearby where airline staff stayed and they helped me call to book a room. Then the girl called her friend who also worked at the airport and had a car, and I waited a few minute until they got off work at 3am, then they drove me to the hotel, walked me in and negotiated a lower price with the girl at the desk, and made sure I was all set before they went home. I’m so grateful for people like that; they make the journey worthwhile. And I got to have a good time in Zhuhai (which was beautiful) and Macau:

I wanted to post some last pictures of my kids, too-I had some adorable ones of them in their little graduation cap and gowns-but I can’t find them! I need to get my computer organized. The last month of school was a blast though-we did experiments with eggs, trying different ways to wrap them and then throwing them off the roof (only one broke!) to see which was strongest, making baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, movie day, art projects, making a class book and just playing games. I’m going to miss those guys but I’m excited for next year. At least, I think I’m better prepared for next year.

I’m just enjoying being home for now and seeing family and friends. My driver’s license expired about a year and a half ago while I was out of the country. And since it had been expired over 6 months I had to retake the whole test. I had attempted this when I was home in December and failed the driving exam so I was actually nervous this time. I know how to drive; it’s like riding a bike. But I can’t stand being judged. I had a death grip on the wheel the whole time, and the examiner looked about 22 years old, which was annoying. But I passed! It feels good to drive again. I’ve been hanging out in the pool, playing with my dogs, and revisiting some of my favorite places. Definitely experiencing some reverse culture shock though. When I first moved to China I would automatically convert everything I bought into dollars; now I convert everything I buy in the States to RMB, and it hurts. Oh it hurts. Prices here seem outrageous to me. My mom is coming with me visit my brother in Boston when I leave KC. She booked our hotel last night at one of the cheaper places available, and the price of two nights there would cover accommodation, food, transport, and activities for two weeks in most places in Asia. And the choices here are overwhelming. I spent like an hour and a half in the grocery store the other day. Most the shops I go to in Beijing might have 5-10 different options for something, say, ice cream; here there is a mile-long aisle devoted to it. In a way it’s nice, but there’s also something ridiculous about it. We drive to places I would just walk to in Beijing. Life here seems foreign now.

January 15, 2017

Happy New Year! A little belatedly, I suppose. So I just thought I’d post a short note of what I’ve been doing. I didn’t take as many photos as I wanted over my holiday and I appear to have misplaced the ones I did take, so this will just my some random rambling words. And note to self: clean out computer files.

I’m still recovering from the jet lag that accompanies flying halfway across the world and back in a two week period and I have to say it’s brutal. I wake up at random times, like midnight or 3 am, and then I’m up for the day. It’s impossible for me to go back to sleep. Which results in me falling asleep at weird times, such as during dinner. Seriously. Passed out on the couch with a bowl of soup in front of me. Or I’ll be watching Netflix and suddenly wake up three episodes later and wonder what the heck happened. It’s been disorienting to say the least.

But I enjoyed getting to spend a couple weeks at home with my whole family and catching up with old friends and being drooled on by my dogs. I got to celebrate my dad’s retirement which was great. I even got a dusting of snow before leaving K.C. Then straight back to work this week. Beijing was exceptionally clean this week, albeit freezing, so I got to have fun playing outside with my kids. They were really pretty well behaved for being gone two weeks.

Then Jess and I had a fun relaxing weekend. It’s been a while since we had time to just hang out and have fun. We grabbed lunch yesterday at this little Irish pub then entertained ourselves playing darts very badly in the back room. We were so bad that at one point I decided I might do better with my eyes closed, so I tried it and I did. Fortunately it was slow and there were no other people to get in the line of fire…Then we got pedicures and milkshakes. Because what else do you really need to be happy? Then we came home and accidentally-on-purpose dropped some oranges out our twelfth story kitchen window. (The first one was kind of an accident, the rest was just because we liked the sound they made. No humans were harmed and for the record they were turning rotten so it wasn’t a waste.) Because we’re us. I could explain in more details but really it wouldn’t make sense to anyone else and it would take a while.

Today I did some homework and got caught up on some little to-do-list tasks, then did some planning for Spain (Countdown to Barcelona-12 more days!!!) And I’m very proud of myself for booking train tickets on Renfe.com, completely in Spanish. There is an English version but it kept giving me errors, so I decided to test my language skills. I’m surprised at what I remember when I put my mind to it but I still wish I was more disciplined at studying. Still, I’m glad that’s out of the way. I booked a few days in Barcelona, near Sagrada Familia, and a few days at another place in the Gothic Quarter. Then I’ll take the train to Granada. After that I’ll still have a week that I’m leaving open-ended for now. I’m thinking about Bilbao or Madrid but I’m not totally sure, so I think I’ll just book the rest when I get there. And if anyone has suggestions on what to see, let me know!

November 23, 2015

Sorry about the slow updates, I’m having trouble accessing my blog website lately. Also I’m just swamped with work so I have no time to post or really do anything worth writing about. It’s been a domestic couple of weeks. I explored the area around my apartment some more and found some nice little shops and restaurants. I finally broke down and bought an air purifier for my apartment-expensive, but still the best purchase ever.

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The air has been absolutely awful lately; in fact, we had the worst week of pollution ever recorded in China. Everyone’s been sick, me included. Fortunately, or rather, unfortunately, we got some snow this weekend. Fortunately because it cleared the air a bit and prettied everything up:

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Unfortunately, Jess and I were supposed to head to Hong Kong last night for a visa run/Disneyland trip. We didn’t expect any problems since there was barely a dusting of snow. But apparently that’s all that was needed to cause a panic attack at the airport. Remember the great “snowpocalypse” of Atlanta? This was more drama over fewer flurries. Our original flight for 7:30 pm Sunday was cancelled when we got to the airport but they rebooked us on a flight for 7am this morning. We decided it wasn’t worth the bother of going home and then having to get up at 4am and come back (since immigration lines would be crazy because they were trying to push everyone out in the morning), so we planned to just spend the night at the airport. We hung out, ate junk food, people watched, window shopped, planned our New Year’s trip (well, we’ve narrowed our choices down to the Philippines, Poland/Czech Republic, or Vietnam/Cambodia) and still had some fun.

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Then around 9 I got a text saying our flight was pushed back to 2 pm Monday. By the time we got to the information desk it was 3pm, and eventually 7pm, almost 24 hours later! We wouldn’t have arrived in Hong Kong till almost midnight, then would’ve had to turn right around and come back the next morning. So we just cancelled, went home, and decided to try again next Sunday. Bummer. 😦  When we left, every single flight on the departure board was cancelled. We’re still trying to get things rebooked since the airline couldn’t make changes for us because I booked stuff through Expedia. And Expedia wasn’t getting any updates from the Beijing airport because when we called they showed that our plane had already landed in Hong Kong! Fun.

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Still, had a good day running some errands downtown, around Yonghegong (Lama Temple). Beautiful area, especially with the snow. Stay tuned, hopefully I’ll have an update next week from Hong Kong!

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Finally here!  I knew things were going too well this morning.  I had no trouble on the flight to Houston; just a little plane and not even full.  Getting out of Houston was a whole other story however.

First of all, that place is huge.  Got in around 8 am and my connecting flight didn’t leave until 9 but it took nearly 40 minutes just to get to the right gate.  The plane from KC was so small that carry on suitcases had to be checked at the gate so when we got to Houston we had to wait for those to be unloaded outside.  After that, I had to wind through Terminal B to catch a train to Terminal E.  Once after everyone had boarded, there was a delay waiting for bags to be loaded.  Then there was a “traffic jam” and we had to wait for other planes to take.  We finally started heading toward to the runway, only to have the flight attendant announce that there was a problem with a valve and we had to return to the gate.  Next we waited for the mechanics to come check it out and see if something could be easily fixed.  Once they determined that it could, they had to go get the part they needed.  After 2 hours they let people start going back in to the gate area to wait; that’s when it got really fun.

I had just decided to get off and go walk around so I grabbed my purse and went back into the airport, where the gate agent was informing everyone to go back to the plane and get all their belongings as they were going to deboard the entire plane and possibly switch planes.  I no sooner did that and walked back to the front of the plane when the pilot said there was no reason to get off; they’d have everything fixed in 15min.  So I went back to my seat and as soon as I put my bag into the overhead compartment they announced over the intercom that since there were already people off the plane and it was an international flight, we had to deboard with our belongings so they could sweep the plane and reboard.  So the flight that was supposed to leave at 9am didn’t leave until noon.  Exhausting, but I will say in spite of all that the crew were really friendly and handled it pretty well.

But I am here now!  Managed to get through immigration and customs, get a cab and check into my hotel.  And I have to say it’s fortunate that most people I’ve spoken to know a little English because my spoken Spanish is not so good; I’m picking out one word in 6 maybe.  I can get the gist of what someone else is saying but I can’t find the words to answer, at least not very quickly.  Fortunately I will have plenty of time to practice.

Got a couple shots of San Jose as we were landing and from above it seems like everything has a red roof:

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Although the view from my hotel room does not appear much different from home…

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