Friday, March 2, 2018

Female Travel in India or How to Be a Big Idiot Your First Time

After grinding the corporate stone for three years in the tech startup scene of Southeast Asia, I decided to take time off to pursue an MBA (spoiler alert: didn't go). But my first order of business was to master the discipline of mindfulness. And thus began my Great Indian Odyssey with a silent retreat for 10 days in Rajasthan, tantric yoga for a month in the holy city of Rishikesh (tantra's not the naughtiness you think, pervs) and studying Buddhism in the Himalayas less than a kilometer away from where the D. Lama himself lives! Before becoming an ancient wise one, I faced many challenges traveling as a woman in India- absolutely not mindful of my womaness in a society still largely trying to come to terms with its gender outlook. Below is my guide to being an idiot the moment you step off the plane and first impressions of a country I have come to love.

Not wearing tight clothes is one key to not being dumb. (Vintage cuban shirt from Bangkok's Chatuchak market, $3.3 USD btw omg)

Getting to Rishikesh from Delhi: An Idiot's Guide

1. Arrive at midnight in Delhi with no hotel booked, a dead phone and without an adaptor to charge it. Planning is overrated. People have voices. Ask locals for help. This is especially useful when they don't speak English. The only thing you need to know is your destination. In this case? Rishikesh because you're a unique snowflake who wants to do yoga on a gap year.

2. Despite having not the slightest clue of where to go and how to get there, learn Indian sign language fast. This consists of varying finger pointing intensities and mysterious head bobbles. Once you have mastered the language you will learn you must take public transportation to the ICBD, Kashmiri Gate. It may take an hour and you may be the only girl of a bus full of men, but when did that ever turn out badly?

3. Wear your tightest clothes. With a disturbing lack of women in public spaces, especially when travelling by night, put unnecessary effort in coveting the heavy blunt stares of Indian men. Breath in the fresh air of repressed sexuality, girls! It's a whole new ozone really.

4. Once at the dingy public bus station at 1am, continue to converse with more people who don't understand English. If you're lucky, the ticket sellers will be sleeping and will give you a dismissive bobble. The Sleeping Bobble may be interpreted as liberally as you want. When extracting info from sleeping men gets too exciting, proceed to walk around in circles past rows of more sleeping people. Contemplate laying next to them, until someone takes pity on you and buys you tea, samosas and biscuits.

5. After an hour of local bus station loitering and fruitless Rishikesh inquiries, accept the biscuit from a kind biscuit man who uses said biscuits to (successfully) soften the news that there is in fact no bus to Rishikesh at 2am. Embrace the sense of dread that looms over your exhausted body. This vulnerability look, coupled with your butt forming lulu lemons, will attract a counsel of Indian men who will gather to help you find your way. Trust them when they say that Hardwar takes you to an hour outside of Rishikesh where you can transfer buses. They say too many choices make you unhappy, right? You're laughing now because right now you have none.

6. Finally, board the gaudiest red bus with a half inch level of grime on seats and a door that doesn't close. You'll be free to enjoy the soothing honks of a bus gone mad, impossible weaving (swerving?) through traffic and high-pitched Indian songs for the next 5-6 hours. Use the chaos and your impending death as a way to get a head start on Buddhism ideals of transience that you had come to India to learn in the first place. Don't try to read the New Yorker's article about Islam erasure in Indian poetry because you'll puke.

7. Arrive early morning alive and reborn really where a blue eyed mystic man will greet you. Do not be alarmed when he menacingly shakes a wand of peacock feathers at you and chants in deep undertones. May be a hex or he may just be a Harry Potter fan. If you wish for the occult entertainment to continue, keep refusing to give him money while avoiding eye contact/ his spells.

Important Note: You may be the only female again on the bus travelling alone. Calmly clutch your belongings and put on a polite but firm smile. Best to avoid confrontation when people (men) sit too close to you or whisper 'I love you' while you're sleeping on the bus. What's lovelier than waking up to a stranger an inch from your face looking at you?

8. And finally trust the high rickshaw driver who offers you a joint when you arrive in Rishikesh city still without phone, internet, hotel or plan. Laxman Jhula he says, while he pulls a deep drag and insouciantly hauls ass around moribund mountain roads. The journey will cost you 200 rupees.  Tip: Ganga View Resort is beautiful but pricey (3000 rupees per night).

9. Nine hours of excitement and travel later warrants a nice meal. It may or may not give you chocolate rain belly and where the toilets may or may not have a seat and/or toilet paper.

10. After finally settling in Rishikesh from Delhi as a solo female traveller, make a video about Rishikesh as a solo female traveller because you're meta like that.

What's the lesson here? Planning is for squares.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Vipassana is the India Bootcamp of Meditation, Here's Why I Did It

The first time I heard about meditation, it was in the philosophical film Ace Ventura. A pillar in my young life.

I spent my life thinking it was for mystics, monks, my childhood crush Jim Carrey and kooky creatives like David Lynch and it basically gave you magic power skills. Then some years ago I started hearing about actual people I knew claiming to be doing this meditation business. I had no idea what meditation entailed except mind flying and sitting calmly for a long time. I'm not going to lie, I still wrote it off, thinking meditation was NOT for me. Why? First, I'm not a believer in anything metaphysical. I play sports. I am an extrovert. My hyperactive mind is part of what makes me, me. Plus, it sounded dull.

Then a couple things happened. First, a good friend would not shut up about it. In fact, once we were out in Jakarta he went to look for a rose to buy from some old guy on the street. I thought it was sweet, but unnecessary to buy me a rose because we were just homies, no need to try. I let him know as much.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Indie Food Guide to Bangkok: Picks for Best Curry, Seafood and Brunch

Before I had ever visited Thailand, I asked my best friend Andrea what she thought of her experience. Normally a talkative sort, she had only one word for me this time: Delicious. 

Her laconic response was apt. Everything about Thailand is delicious. When it comes to food, the Thais know how to enjoy life. Instead of McDonalds or Tim Hortons on every street corner, in Bangkok you'll find a fresh faced Thai woman selling fresh coconuts or a mobile meat skewer man with sizzling chicken, pork and innards brochettes that he can roll away with at any time to find better corners. 

You'll have your neighbourhood fruit lady with glistening watermelons and mangoes cut for your convenience and a neighbourhood noodle soup guy with some spicy boiling liquids with ghostly white glass noodles. Less prevalent but still everywhere are bbq fish and seafood stalls. It still amazes me that nearly anywhere you go to eat Thai food in Bangkok you will be in ambrosial heaven. It almost seems impossible to have gross Thai food. 

That being said, a lot of people will have their "special spots" and personal recommendations. I have no doubt that they are delicious. Permit me a bit of arrogance by saying that I know the BEST of some things. Such as best crab curry in Bangkok, best seafood, best vegan, and best western restaurants! I'm joking of course, I have a penchant for hyperboles. Joking aside, I've been living in Bangkok for three years and have been on an infinite quest for bestness. Here is my best list. If I'm wrong, don't be shy to share your spots!

Defining "Best": My 3 Pillars of Awesome
My criteria consists of three pillars: taste, ambiance, price. To make it on my list a restaurant has to satisfy at least 2 of 3.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Indie Guide Bangkok: Wonderfruit Music Festival 2015 and

When people ask if I enjoyed Wonderfruit , I just heave a deep sigh and look at my half-polished nails in shame. It's not that I didn't enjoy the music art festival (Southeast Asia's fresh, less commercial answer to Burning Man) but more that, my possee and I were not prepared at all. And it's all my fault. Hence the burden of shame weighing my head low upon mention of this magical wonderland

Listen, using my free time, a resource with ever decreasing amounts of freeness, to plan for partying camping festival weekend is not the top of my priorities.  So when my friend asked me to join their shanty town of tents, I figured I didn't need to prepare much except awesomeness and some sweaters. That was a mistake.

No tent or booked accommodation meant we had to be super resourceful (luckily we were three Canadian champions). Besides being an eye sore, that orange garbage mound you see above also served as a tent when a chair is under to prop it up. The weekend was a bit rough for my old self, but whateves, still loved it.

Anyways, this post is mega late so I'll just wrap up quickly. Wonderfruit 2015 was a great out of the city experience. It was in no way as magical as what I hear Burning Man to be - lacking volume and probably the right crowd (very family friendly atmosphere) - but something I would do over and over again and probably travel from around Asia to go to. If you imagine it as a weekend camping trip with friends, music and some art and over priced, albeit delicious as, food you will have managed your expectations perfectly. Oh and for a tech plug: the cashless payment system worked very well and was stress free. THE FUTURE!!

Follow adventure travel and life stuff at Snapchat: lil.fel or tweet and abuse me @LilFel

Some of the photos were taken from Cynthia. Check her blog, here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hiking Ontario: Hamilton Waterfalls & Spencer Gorge Toronto Day Trip

Orgasm for the eyes, yawn-worthy for the thighs


Day Trips from Toronto - Homeboy Steve & I's "Staycation"


After travelling Thailand's electricity free mountain villages with my old uni friend to erasing our brains on catamaran boat parties of Asia it was time to look homeward for some tantamount level thrills on my annual trip to the patria. It's weird, but I've seen so many of my childhood (and non-expatty) friends become paralyzed by the inertia of routine. You know, when one lives in a place for so long that they lose the sparkle for adventure and discovery simply because they are inured to its existence and availability i.e. death of FOMO for anywhere not typically "exotic"?! It's sad and disappointing for returning expats to see such a paucity of enthusiasm for adventure-- the very stuff that becomes the crack that keeps addict expats away from ever returning to normal. So it was nice to see that Steve (Toronto-based) was still up for Toronto waterfall hike in what he called his 2 days off from consulting a 'staycation'.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Vintage Shopping in Jakarta and the New Wave of Indonesia's Hipsterpreneurs

After almost two years buried away in Bangkok (doing that whole young professional thing in tech startups), I am updating my pick for the best vintage shopping in Jakarta. I wrote about Pasar Senen before as a pulsing, sweaty second hand market for the people (ie perfect for a poor UN intern living in an alley with goats) where through hours of digging you could find purple leather loafers for $8 and even designer stuff for under $20.

Pasar Santa is different. To shave the prolixity, it will suffice to say that this Jakarta vintage market has, in the last year, turned from a traditional derelict

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Indie Guide Thailand: Catamaran Party Near Bangkok

How to Escape Bangkok for a Day: Ballin' Boat Party in Pattaya !

You know what has always made me jealous of my friends living in Hong Kong? Mind-erasing boat parties. When I heard about the libertine expat life of Asia, these nautical tales of music x waves x homies teased my heart with promises of the ultimate adventure! What could be more thrilling than dancing with your friends on a boat in the middle of paradise?

But living in Bangkok the last year has not really afforded me the opportunities that Hong Kong expats had. I've been NEAR to water, like this Kolour party, but golly I wanted to be the meat in a sky and sea sandwich.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Where to Buy a Turkey in Bangkok or How I Battled this Big Ass Bird and Won

Happy Thanksgiving, Bangkok!

I'm delighted to report that it is not excessively hard to find a turkey in Bangkok for Thanksgiving, as I discovered for my Canadian Thanksgiving party feast I had in October—nor is it stupidly expensive. Thanks to the most useful Facebook group for expats in Bangkok, Desperately Seeking Bangkok, I was given great tips from da hood to host the most epic dinner party of my life with the most butterlicious bird to ever enter my mouth. If you are desperately searching for a place to pick one up either for Canadian or American Thanksgiving or Christmas try these recommendations below.

Did you know that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on a different date than Americans?

 If this sounds like an obvious knowledge nugget, you need to back.right.up, (hoser). To my chagrin it was obviously not obvious to most of the Europeans I had invited to my dinner (if you're Canadian I'm sure you have suffered at the repeated stings of the world's ignorance). The Canadian day is a day of munificence  to celebrate the end of the harvest season the second weekend of October. Whereas the Americans celebrate as a historic symbol of cooperation between the Native Americans and the pilgrims at the end of November. Boom. Knowledge. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Indie Guide Bangkok Nightlife: Thong Lor & Ekkamai

Finding Toronto in Bangkok in Thong Lor
Two years in Asia and I wouldn't be lying if I said I could not find anywhere that channeled Toronto vibes. You know what I'm talking about? Remember my stint in Ossington, with the ol' amour?  The street art, the small dive bars, the smell of interesting people doing interesting things ( not the stench of carefully cultivated authenticity that Jakarta struggles to hide)..

Praise da lord! Bangkok has an alley with awesomeness too! 2bhonest, I was shocked to find such a culture enclave in a city known for lady boys and red bull buckets in the street (you literally drink alcohol out of a bucket). Yes, yes, I too sold my soul deep into the depths of soi 11 pail drinking and trashy partying long ago,  resigning  my boy Coran's Kolour Sunday event as the sole reprieve from the sloppy college like goodtimes that Levels and RCA provided.

But now my eyes have been opened wider than your mama's booty. 

Where to go
I absolutely recommend Sukumvit 51 in Thong Lor and Ekkamai for this Toronto secret goodness. It's no secret to my friends living here but I am certain it is not the first place people go when they grow their kahunas big enough to venture off Khao San Road. The standard spot seems to be the club called levels on Soi 11, which is fun but definitely not the apotheosis of cool. 

Here are two bars I discovered this weekend:

Tuba Design Store and Restaurant (Ekkamai): Filled with antique furniture, funky nude paintings, super heroes  and no two chairs that are alike. This funky joint is a sit down bar to enjoy with a big group or even as a couple. The music is not obnoxious, the vibe is as comfortable as your living room on a Sunday night with cigars ( oh yea there is indoor smoking). I don't do bars that much, preferring house parties or clubs to shamelessly shake tail, but this place sedates my inner wild child into humble pleasure.

WTF (Thong Lor): small, dim mood lighting, a glowing heart hanging outside (not a cute heart, like a human heart), and a massive Buddah in street art made its way dep into my soul and gave me a pang of Toronto missing. For my friend John visiting from jakarta, he said while we hung outside for a block party (!!) that Bangkok is the coolest city in Asia. I mean when you come from Jakarta it's not a hard standard to beat, but I totally got it. The city is the perfect mix of Jakarta's roughness with Singapore's development. 

Location: thong lor BTS, sukumvit soi 51

Not finished yet
Anyways I'm doing my first blog post through mobile, so please excuse the poor everything. Like why am I even writing at 4am? Update on the work side is that my job and company is damn cool. If you are following on instagram or twitter you saw I got to go to Singapore to do this! He is one of my  favourite street artists from indonesia. Despite doing awesome shiz, I  am feeling more and more like an adult (I equate this to becoming boring? Which is why I am blogging less?) I dunno, I'll just stop whining now and call the waah-mbulence!

My office in Singapore. Coolest start-up ever letting me brand them with art !

Now that I've woken from my drunken stupor I am excited to help you discover more awesomeness! I met a Japanese artist tonight, he told me there are openings every week (with free food and drinks, for all you interns out there!). Bangkok, you rock the c..lock!