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Greeting from zadar!!

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The original plan was to go to Berlin for two days, then Frankfurt, then Prague, and end up in Vienna. Then I check my bank account and decided that three days in Berlin would have to suffice.

Lacie and I left last Monday, and decided to down some rum on the bus to the airport because we shouldn’t be allowed to go out in public, apparently. Seriously, whoever heard that the two of us were going on a trip alone together should have alerted the authorities… or at least been slightly concerned.

Anyways, problem #1 that we faced was that the bus was late. #2, when the bus got there it turned out that it would be an hour to the airport instead of half an hour. This meant that we would arrive at the terminal approximately 25 minutes before our gate would close. But we were pretty buzzed so it was more like an adventure rather than an emergency. In the end, we somehow made our flight.

(on a side note, airport security in Europe is wayy more lax than American security. I can’t even count how many times my friends and I have made it through security blacked out drunk or too hungover to function. I’ve also accidentally brought razors.)

Anyways, we arrive at about 9pm and realize that we have absolutely no idea how to get to our hostel from the airport. And we didn’t have wifi, but I know that we’re supposed to end up at some train stop that has “Rosa” in it. We finally found someone who knew English (which, by the way, most Germans do. More on that later), and he told us which trains to take. We got to the station then realized that we had no idea how to get to our hostel, so we roamed the streets of Berlin for about an hour, bought some wine, then asked a random guy on the street for help. he whipped out his smart phone and told us directions.

We got to our hostel and met one of the guys staying in our room, an Australian named Nick. We drank the (nasty) wine, then went up to the bar for a few drinks. After a long day of traveling, we passed out around 2am.

The next day we headed to the East Side Gallery, all that’s left of the Berlin Wall. It was beautiful and moving. We vowed to get our passports stamped at Checkpoint Charlie the next day (as we had forgotten them). Then we headed to a fantastic Turkish market and picked up a few things before heading back to the hostel to get ready for the bar crawl.

Our other roommates were two Australian brothers and a Syrian man living in Dubai. We were all going to the bar crawl, but first we headed upstairs for happy hour. As we were going upstairs, Lacie and I realized that we hadn’t pregamed the night at all, and mentioned that it would probably be a chill night and we could wake up early the next morning to go see the other sights. We have never been more wrong.

We headed to the pub crawl and they handed us a beer. After making it to the first pub Lacie and I slammed back a couple Jager bombs before realizing that it was going to be that kind of night. Allegedly we went to three more pubs, then a night club, then Lacie and another roommate got food while I went to sleep. The next morning I felt like a freight train hit me in the head, and we were told about our antics by our roommates.

Two of our roommates and we then headed to a concentration camp named Sachsenhausen. It was really eerie being somewhere that had held such great evil, and it was hard at times to get through things. I sat down on a bench at one point, then was told that the ‘bench’ was actually a gravestone with ashes of prisoners underneath it. That was a wakeup call.

We got back to our hostel and got ready for the night, although we were unsure of what we were going to do. We headed up to happy hour again and, after she handed me three Zombie cocktails right before happy hour ended, Lacie and I realized that it was once again going to be one of those kinds of nights. 

Lacie, two of our roommates, and a man from Norway ended up going to a nightclub around 2am, but were told they couldn’t get in because the ratio of males to females was too off. They ended up in a seedy club were Nick’s wallet was almost stolen, but it sounded like good fun. Me? I passed out at 2am after debated gun control with our other two roommates.

Overall, I’d say it was a successful trip.

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Goodbye Party at school with my teachers.

-Katherine

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Today is my last day in Mother India. I have a 6:30 am flight tomorrow morning and after that who knows when I’ll be able to return. I’m pretty much completely packed, and I’m spending my last 24 hours doing my favorite Indian things. I had a delicious Masala Dosa from my favorite local hotel (restaurant)the South Inn, and am spending time with the people I love. I’m supposed to grab some beers at a local brewery, drink a bunch of Indian soda, and see a Bollywood movie with TERRIBLE REVIEWS. While I digest the 3 bowls of coconut chutney I had for breakfast, I figured I’d share some of the most important lessons India has taught me.

  1. How to be alone: I moved to India by myself, and although I’ve made friends I’ve had to face myself quite a bit. I’ve learned to be a lot more independent and figure things out on my own. Going out to eat on your own isn’t nearly as weird as you think it will be.
  2. How to not be alone: I’ve had to reach out to so many people in order to meet people here. I’ve had to use the internet, and meet up with strangers. I’ve asked for a lot of phone numbers. But despite some awkwardness, I’ve made some awesome friends.
  3. How to take risks: The best experiences often come from some questionable choices.  Sometimes you have to plan trips with someone you just met, or hop in an auto to go someplace you don’t really know where it is. India can seem scary, but sitting around in fear does no good. I’ve hopped on buses by myself headed to unknown cities and while it was somewhat scary, these experiences has been the most rewarding.
  4. How to deal with the unexpected: “Anything can happen in India.” Plans never go as you expect, and sometimes you have to deal with crazy situations (Auto drivers trying to sell me drugs, my train being stormed by teenage boys, being completely lost, getting groped). I’ve learned to take things as they come. India has taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. Stand strong, use your head, and you’ll be fine (and sometimes punch a groper in the stomach).
  5. How to communicate without words: Only 12% of Indians speak English. Although this number is higher in cities like Bangalore, I’ve come in contact with a lot of language barriers. Hand motions, head wobbles, and smiles help with these. After 4 months I’ve learned to understand a lot more Kannada and Hindi than I thought I would be able to.
  6. How to ask for help: When in a foreign country you get confused. Most of the time if you ask someone for help or directions they will gladly help you. Going up to an Indian military man holding a gun is intimidating, but without his help I would have never found my train in Varanasi.
  7. How to get over serious nastiness: My apartment in India is majorly infested with bugs and lizards. There are trash, rats, and stray dogs on the street. Walking over trash filled sewers is gross but you learn to get over it. No one likes a complainer. I’ve also used some of the grossest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in my life during bus stops (flooded floors, feces everywhere etc), but you just have to squat and do your business. Don’t let filth hinder you.
  8. How to deal with Indian men: I could write a ton about this, but understand that there are serious cultural barriers between Indian and western culture. I have Indian guy friends who are great, but I have also had a lot of awkward situations: guys that won’t stop calling me, creepy guys obsessed with “easy white women,” and even a guy telling me he loved me A WEEK AFTER WE MET (my reaction was just to scream “AH DON’T SAY THAT”. Just be careful and think about how your actions are coming off.
  9. How to barter: I never get a chance to do this in the United States. At first I was intimidated by the idea of getting ripped off, so I would always go to fixed price places. Then I learned bartering is a sport. Walking away, laughing at prices, and getting a good deal is great fun.
  10. How to hand wash clothes: Bucket washing clothes isn’t particularly fun. I’ve certainly ruined a few shirts, but it builds character.
  11. How to take cold bucket showers: See above example. Not fun, builds character.
  12. How to eat with my hands: I can eat anything with my hands now. It’s a lot easier to eat rice with your fingers than one would think. Plus then you don’t have to wash a spoon.
  13. How to fall in love with a home away from home: India is a beautiful country with amazing people. I love the chaos and the diversity. And then there is the delicious food… Even though India has a lot of problems, and lacks many of the comforts of the States, I’ve really fallen in love with the place. I would love to live here again and I will certainly return.

-Katherine

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To the surprise of exactly nobody who has read this blog, I have found myself suffering some pretty intense hangover while abroad. Whether it was due to the 10 for 10 Jager bomb deal, or the particularly delicious taste of an entire liter of vodka, the day after drinking has left me, and most of my friends, immobilized. How do we deal with this and still go out and explore Europe the next day? Well… I’m glad you asked.

1. WATER: This is a must. We all keep a liter bottle of water in our beds to be consumed before passing out. Drink 3 liters of water the next day, and you should be good to go the next night.

2. Pain Killers: aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, whatever. Taking one at night and multiple the next day will effectively defeat the hangover headache most associated with wine hangovers. It’s not particularly good for you to binge on these, but if your head is pounding so hard that you can’t make it past airport security, your liver will understand.

3. Food: the greasier, the better. French fries, pancakes, asian food, anything, really. Meat and protein will help that ‘not right’ feeling you get, and carbs will help you move your head off your shoulders. I’ve found that fruits will upset your stomach in the first few hours, though.

4. Fresh air: whether it’s the beaches of Barcelona, the canals of Amsterdam, or the Chain Bridge over the Danube River, fresh air will not only stop the hangover sweats, but allow you to appreciate that the world is not as horrible and painful a place that you may think.

5. Vitamins: take a multi and a b-complex before bed, or when you wake up. This will stop the cramped muscles associated with hangovers.

6. Sleep: hahah just kidding. You’re in Europe, get out of bed.

7. More alcohol: if you can’t beat them, join them, right?

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Gokarna: Kudle and Om Beach

-Katherine

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This weekend I planned to escape town by headed to the coast for the weekend. I had been making plans to go to Goa with a large group of people, but plans were getting complicated and the travel time was longer than I would have liked. I got an impromtu invitation from an acquaintance of mine, Puneet. Although we had only really hung out once, we decided to book bus tickets for a weekend in Gokarna, a beach town on the other side of Karnataka. We met up on Friday night, and after getting stuck on our non-AC bus through multiple bus transfers, we made it to Gokarna at 7 am on Saturday morning.

Neither of us had ever been to Gokarna before, but a few friends had referred us to Kudle Beach. We took an auto there and although Puneet is Indian, his Hindi gave away him as a North Indian and our prices were still a little steep. The road to the beach was really rough… It didn’t really exist and our rickshaw drove over steep bumpy rocks. We had to hike another 10 minutes after that to reach the beach. The beach was about 1 km across and gorgeous. It was not very touristy and only a few beach shacks and restaurants spattered the landscape. We took rooms at the Sea Rock Cafe/Rooms and lounged around the rest of the day. 

We ate and enjoyed some semi chilled beers at the Sea Rock. Even though liquor sales were technically outlawed for elections, the Sea Rock was isolated enough to not care. I switched between reading a book (Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore), jumping over waves, and napping for most of the afternoon. Within my first ten minutes swimming in the Arabian Sea I lost my sunglasses in a huge wave. RIP cheap sunglasses. Throughout our lazy afternoon Puneet and I made fun of some of the backpackers we met, including an Italian named Francesca.

Francesca had come to India to stay in an Ashram and “find herself.” All of this at her parents expense. However she ended up leaving the center deciding she was tired of waking up early and meditating. She had been staying in Gokarna for the past two months, and was by no means the longest stayer there. (A few burnt out surfer dudes originally from the UK had become brown after years of sun, and had adopted the native dhoti dress.) When she asked what we were doing in Gokarna we explained we were just on a weekend break and she sneered “oh so you are wasting money then.” I don’t know about “wasting money,” but the whole weekend was a nice break from the daily grind and traffic of Bangalore. I would certainly not want to spend more than 3 days there though…

At night we sat on the beach, which was nearly pitch black and watched the ocean. Wild dogs (we called every dog “Milo”) and cows sat around us. It was oddly peaceful watching Indians and backpackers’ cell phone flashlights shining their way through the beach’s darkness. 

The next morning we checked out of our basic rooms (non western toilet, a single tap), and got ready to hike to the next beach during the heat of the day. We had been told it was a 10 minute walk, but soon discovered it was a 30 minute walk without a visible trail up and down a huge hill. My shoulders were sunburnt and I lost a lot of water, but we made it to Om beach. 

Om beach is shaped like the Hindu symbol “Om/Aum.” Although this beach was only a few kilometers away from Kudle beach it was completely different: rocky, with less waves and more people. We spent the rest of the day lounging at the Namaste Cafe (A very common restaurant and guest house name I’ve found) and drinking Cokes with straws. 

We made it back to Bangalore by bus early this morning, and the whole weekend already seems like a dream. We didn’t really do that much, but a lazy weekend on the beach was just what I needed for my last full weekend. Puneet and I had both been worried about the trip being awkward, but instead found each others company quite enjoyable. We knew how to give each other space, but were enjoyable traveling companions. He joked that I was “obsessed with Masala,” and I made fun of him for cherishing his fair Punjabi complexion, and nagged him to “find a good Indian girl to marry already.” I had left for the weekend with an acquaintance and a lot of stress, but left with a friend, good memories, and a pretty bad splotchy sunburn. 

-Katherine

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I did an email interview with Bangalore Author Anita Nair for a literature paper, and figured I should share it with the internets. Nair is the best selling Indian author of “Mistress,” “Ladies’ Coupe,” and “Cut-Like Wound” (soon to be a motion picture. Here’s the contents of our interview. Check out her website anitanair.net 

Anita Nair Email Interview: April 21st 2013

1. How did you end up getting into a career in fiction? Did any particular people, thinkers, or authors inspire you to go into writing?

It was not an intentional act, though there was a serious desire to publish. I always enjoyed  writing  and  as the  theory  goes, you sing because  you  enjoy  singing, I felt the need to  do  it. 

While working for an advertising agency, I wrote a short story and left it on my desk. My friend who read it appreciated the story and suggested taking it to an editor at the Times of India. A year later the editor suggested that I consider publishing my short stories and with that my books started appearing on the stands.

As a writer, I would hate to repeat myself in terms of theme. Hence the subject of my novels tend to be very different from each other. However there is one recurrent theme that is buried deep within the warp and weft of the narrative. Namely that in the relationship between individual and society, I have always stood up for individual happiness rather than societal acceptance. That, if there arises a conflict between individual happiness versus social acceptance, individuals ought to be strong enough to put their own beliefs first.

My biggest source of inspiration has always been life. Human beings must be the most fascinating creatures on earth. Everything we do, we say, how we live, whom we love and hate, why we go to war, what instigates violence, what inspires kindness - everything is a source of inspiration for me.  

2. As a native South Indian (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka), do you feel that your writing is affected by regional differences? Have you had to modify your stories in order to explain things to readers from other regions within India? 

I write about South India because this is the setting I am most familiar with. In fact I write mostly about Kerala more than any of the other states.

Bangalore and Kerala to me represent two ends of the spectrum. On the one hand Bangalore is very cosmopolitan, and has to it aspects of urban life. It represents a life style that it is fast and happening. But there is also a hidden Bangalore. The stimuli that I get from Bangalore is vastly different from the one that Kerala offers.

No, I never modified or tinkered with my writing in order to explain unfamiliar concepts to readers outside Southern India.

3. To what extent does your gender plays a role in your writing? Do you think that you would   approach certain topics or characters differently if you were male? Do you feel that your gender has ever helped or harmed your success in becoming a popular author?

I don’t think it is simple to be a writer anywhere in the world. I have never viewed life from a woman writer’s point of view. But merely as a writer. 

That the literary establishment in almost all countries is a male bastion and so writing by a woman’s considered perhaps not that important enough or expansive or deep enough as compared to male writing is a battle women writers all over the world have to face. The same goes for India too. 

The difference arises in terms of reaction. 

As India is still a conservative country, any deviation from traditional mores to come up for questioning. For instance, when I write about sex, this always comes up for discussion.

I think in some sense writers lost their sexuality when they walk into the world of words; I believe that writers ought to be able to slip under the skins of both men and women. Only then will the writing and the characters have credibility and strength. I don’t particularly address gender issues in my novels. However I do have a great pre occupation with what it is to be a contemporary Indian woman. As I do believe that it isn’t easy to be a contemporary Indian woman. This is a woman more aware of what is right and wrong and who knows there is an option to choose how she wants to live her life. But something holds her back. The 2000 year old Indian culture which expects her to be the custodians of the traditional culture and hence put her desires on a back burner 

I don’t think gender has harmed my success as a popular author. But it certainly has affected my reputation as a serious author. The literary establishments generally considers some themes to be weighty if dealt with by a male author and the same subject is considered pop fiction if written by a female author. I am a victim of that ideology. 

4. As an English-language author who has been published across the world, when you write a novel, who is your intended audience? Do you feel that you have to explain Indian culture to international readers? Do you feel that writing in English has distanced you from potential Indian readers?

When I began writing, I gave very little though to being published or where I would be published. But what I have realised that a culture might be region-specific but the human condition is universal and that good writing triumphs and rises above culture related differences…in fact, it perhaps helps to accentuate a story.

How else can I explain that my books have been translated into 30 languages all over the world. This means I have built a bridge with that many people in different countries. An audience I have almost no real contact with. But people to whom my writing means something despite the differences between my culture and theirs.

Yes, to some extent writing in English has distanced me from the mass of the Indian readership. This could be addressed with sound translations and therein lies the problem.  

-Katherine

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The 50 Best Study Abroad Memes I've Ever Seen

Most of these apply to Kelsie: Meme Master and Drunk American Abroad.

I miss her.

-Katherine

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Mysore/Coorg/Koopa

-Katherine