Calcutta, City of Kali
I leave the Sunflower Hotel in Calcutta (Kolkata) on Sunday, April 19th. Â The day before I had visited the Ramakrishna Math. Â Everything was wonderful except the cab driver, who was in a bad mood because I didn’t want to give him an extra 50 rupees. Â The cab driver was a friend of the hotel manager. Â When I ask for a cab for dinner that night, he calls the same guy, and the guy is two hours late picking me up. Â I try to say, “Cancel–I find taxi.”Â But they don’t speak much English, and they don’t have his phone number. Â After the cab ride, he asks for more money again. Â I tell the hotel manager I don’t want him to bring me to the airport at 6:30 am.Â “Cancel car. Â I find car myself.”Â He says “Ok.” By this point I really don’t want to see him again, and I doubt he wants to see me, either. Â In the morning I get dressed watching MTV India, pack my things, and walk downstairs to find a cab to the airport. Â And there’s the same cab driver, ready to go. Â I’m so annoyed I start laughing.Â I remember to pack the chili powder in my checked bag, as it’s illegal to carry on the plane.
I arrive in Bangkok that afternoon for the first time dressed in the flowing white garments I imagine we’re all wearing when angels descend from the heavens. Â My boyfriend’s plane is supposed to have landed hours ago, and he’s not waiting for me adoringly at the gate. Â I leave a note at the information desk, and when he goes to the desk to announce my name, they recognize him from my description and get excited and hand him my note. Â We finally find each other, and he’s grown this funky week-old goatee, and I’m trying to remember who he is after three months away.
We take the bus to Khao San Road, the tourist ghetto of Bangkok. Â The streets are lined with shops selling strings of colored paper machÃ© lights and freshly squeezed orange juice.Â Foreign women walk around with too little clothing for my newly founded Indian modesty. Â The storefronts go like this: tailor, restaurant, tailor, massage place (legit), tailor, wedding dress tailor, tailor, middle eastern restaurant, tailor, internet place.
We arrive on the first night of Passover. Â My boyfriend shaves his “goatee,” and we head for the Chabad House seder, which is completely in Hebrew. Â He provides a running translation. Â We hang out in Bangkok for a few days to catch our breath and see some temples, and then take an overnight train up north to Chiang Mai. Â
We learn to cook ten indulgent Thai dishes at the Siam Rice cookery school…Â coconut milk soup, papaya salad, pad thai, pad see yiu, red, green, yellow, and panang curry, and best of all sticky rice with mango and pumpkin in coconut milk…
And but so we’ve booked a trekking tour up to the hill tribes. Â We arrive at the elephant trail, feed the elephants some bananas, and then climb on them. Â There are four people on our elephant, and I have the honor of riding bareback, sitting on the elephant’s head! Â The ears kind of grip your legs when they’re not fanned out, and it’s a little like balancing on a mechanical bull in slow motion. Â After the elephant ride we climb 8 km up the mountain on a rocky not-for-slackers path. Â I am in fact gasping for breath, my muscles are shaking, and I think something might pop. Â (Did I mention I didn’t get any exercise in India because the tuk tuk drivers don’t let you walk anywhere, and even if they did, you don’t walk because you don’t know where you’re going.)
We stay with the hill tribe people, and I feel quite out of place invading their village, as so foreigners do every few days. Â We light a campfire and later fall asleep as the rain beats down the thatched roof at the top of the mountain.Â The view is exquisite; as the fog lifts, you can also see the smoke rising from the slash-and-burn jobs the hill tribe have been doing (you don’t need to practice sustainable agriculture when there are only 50,000 people in the whole country.) Â The next day we hike down the mountain and stop to play in a waterfall. Â The steep, slippery hike down is almost more painful than the one going up. Â We gently whitewater raft down the rest of the way, which is really fun.
We entrain for yet another overnight train back to Bangkok and then fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor Wat. Â Cambodia has a peacefulness and also a post-Khmer Rouge despair that is a very strange combination. Â The traditional dance is beautiful, the architecture of the pointed roofs is picturesque, but the food pales in comparison to Thai.Â Aaron wants you to know that if you enjoy temple-gazing, you shouldn’t cut your Angkor Wat trip short–stay five days or so.Â Three days is fine for me.Â I want to get to the beach.
We fly to the island of Phuket back in Thailand and head for the beach, which has been my initial goal all along.Â They’re erecting a giant hundred meter high sitting buddha on the top of the mountain, and it glows white at night. Â We take a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, a smaller island, and spend several days snorkeling, getting massages, and drinking coconut shakes on the beach. Â
On the last day we rent a nicer room for 1000 bhat (33 dollars) with AC and a TV, which is timely because it’s pouring rain all day. Â As we leave on the boat and but to Surat Tani and the 16 hour train back to Bangkok, we see a newspaper headline: Â 10,000 dead in Burmese cyclone. Â The same weather system that poured buckets on Koh Phi Phi also wiped out so many lives and homes in the neighboring Burma. Â We are very lucky that it misses us, and also very sad about the devastation, especially considering the already tenuous political situation.
We fly back to NY. Â I do standup at Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan, featuring some brand new material about India, which went over really well (with my whole family in the audience!) Â
“Eat, Pray, Laugh!”
This summer I’ll be developing my new show about India and spirituality (sic) and putting it on in workshop form at 975 Howard in San Francisco.Â (Of course) the title is “Eat, Pray, Laugh!
Thanks for accompanying me on my journey. Â It was great to know you’ve been following along, to get encouragement and cheers on the other side of the earth. Â India says hi. Â I almost went skydiving this weekend… Â maybe I’m missing the thrill of the oncoming tractor trailer on a two-lane Indian road?
Oh, and I penned this silly phrase while doing some joke-writing in India: Â “People pleasers rarely do so, whereas people eaters do so rarely.”