Monday, March 05, 2007
Photo, um, Monday
Trust me when I tell you that hitting the delete key was the most merciful thing I could have done to today's post. The lack of sleep and multiple time zones have given me a serious case of the dumb... so instead of a post I'll give you some pictures to pass the time:
And Gilad, being the wise a$$ that he is, decided to dress up as 'a good question'... as in; whenever someone would ask him what he was dressed as, he'd answer; 'good question'. That he didn't get beat up this year is proof of G-d's mercy!
The view from my hotel room today is sorta neat... if you're into big golden idols, that is. My room looks down into the courtyard of a Buddhist Temple of some sort, and I've been watching a small army of monks in orange robes come and go.
By way of introduction to this last picture, I should probably apologize in advance to my Buddhist readers for the proximity of some potty humor so close on the heels of the previous picture. Sorry... There's really no good way to segue into this.
I spotted this poster in a mens room this afternoon. Luckily I was alone in there when I saw it because it gave me a really bad case of the giggles... and as everyone knows there is no talking, laughing or giggling in the men's room.
The bad part is that just as I was snapping the picture I heard the door to the bathroom open, and a second later a very grim looking Asian businessman came walking around the corner of the partition.
The look on his face said 'please take your European perversions back to wherever you came from', as clearly as if he had said the words out loud. There simply is no plausible way to explain away flash photography in the men's room.
It's worth noting that both of the people in the poster - the one breaking the 'no talking' rule, as well as the one who has just peed himself - have Caucasian coloring/features. For context, imagine this sort of poster in a public restroom in say, Chicago... and both characters have Asian features. 'Nuff said.
I have to go pack my bag for the last leg of my trip. Seeya.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
No, Zahava didn't toss me out of the house
snarky comments on the last post, and a few days of no new content here at treppenwitz, I didn't want anyone to get the idea that I'd been tossed out of the house.
Yes, I happen to be out of the house, but it had nothing to do with my post... or Zahava. In fact, Zahava gave me a nice big smooch as I dashed out of the house 30 minutes after Shabbat to the waiting taxi.
Here's the deal:
I'm posting this from the travel lounge at the Airport.
I found out just before the weekend that I had to fly Saturday night... yes, that's right, on Purim!... for work. Instead of spending Purim with my family and enjoying a relaxing holiday watching the kids dressed up in costumes and eating my sweetie's scrumptious cooking, I will be reading my Megilla to myself on an ElAl plane and 'celebrating' the holiday (what remains of it after I land, anyway) in Bangkok.
I'll be hopping around Asia all week, but I hope to be able to toss up a few posts... or at least a few pictures.
Thanks in advance for your patience with whatever disjointed crap I may throw up here on my journal this week.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I suppose the next step is pictures on milk cartons
While Israel certainly has it's share of 'real world' problems and has unwisely (IMHO) run headlong after some of the worst fashions and trends in western culture, there has always been the sense of innocence... and a blind faith that here in this tiny corner of the middle east that kids could be kids, at least until they reached army age and had to finally grow up.
Israeli children and teens have traditionally enjoyed an autonomy unheard of in the US since the 1950s. Kids here think nothing of taking buses, riding bikes and walking to distant friends after school and on weekends. And for a large portion of Israel's youth, hitchhiking is still a perfectly acceptable way to reach destinations, near and far.
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece entitled 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Holy Land' which was, admittedly, a wide-eyed American's take on this practical means of getting around the country. However one of the things I downplayed in that piece was the inherent danger involved.
In early January, 18-year-old Maayan Ben Chorin, a high school senior from a small town in the north, was reported missing by her parents. During the couple of days leading up to the discovery of her body, friends and eye-witnesses aided the police in piecing together her last known movements... and the one thing that became fairly clear was that she had been hitchhiking.
Besides the obvious shock of a young woman being brutally murdered, I sensed an undercurrent of dismay as the country was once again reminded that hitchhiking was no longer the wholesome, carefree convenience it had once been in the early days of the state.
For many years now it has been illegal for Israeli soldiers to hitchhike. But it has remained an open secret that many conscripts from remote parts of the country relying only on 'authorized' means would never be able to reach their destinations before public transportation (buses and trains) shut down for shabbat... and that they would never be able to return to their bases on Sunday morning in time to avoid a 'mishpat' for being late unless they made use of 'less-than-kosher' conveyance.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that hitchhiking is tolerated... and even expected... by the IDF.
But despite the obvious dangers inherent in getting into strange cars and traveling through remote, uninhabited areas... many rural and suburban teens (and even pre-teens) still apparently rely heavily on the kindness of strangers to get from point 'A' to point 'B'.
Such was apparently the case with the unfortunate Maayan Ben Chorin (Z"L).
She first caught a ride with one of her teachers who dropped her at a gas station near the entrance to an Israeli Arab village. She then caught a second 'tremp' in the direction of a remote farm where she intended to apply for a job. She was apparently dropped by the second driver at the head of a long unpaved road down which she would have to walk in order to reach her destination.
According to police forensic sources and the confession of her killer, she met her end after walking only about 700 meters down this lonely dirt track.
Here's where I start to wonder at the wisdom... not of the young hitchhiker... but of those who were nice enough to give her a ride.
I suppose one can give her teacher a partial pass for at least dropping Maayan at a gas station since it is a public place with cars coming and going all the time. The fact that it was near an Arab village might, in retrospect, trouble some people reading this... but it is my understanding that this isn't such a sticking point as the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the north of the country are somewhat more cordial than, say, near my home in the Judean hills.
However, in my mind, the driver who took her from the gas station and dropped her in the middle of nowhere at the head of a dirt track has to bear at least some of the responsibility for the events that followed. Obviously the real blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the man who actually killed her... but there is plenty of peripheral blame to be shared around.
Nearly every day during my commute through the south Hevron hills and northern Negev desert I pick up and drop off hitchhikers. Some of them call me in advance for rides, but a lot of them are simply people that I find waiting at intersections and bus stops along my route.
You can read my earlier piece if you are curious about Israeli hitchhiking etiquette, as I don't want to revisit it here. What troubles me is that few of the drivers, nor the hitchhikers themselves, seem to have adjusted their mentality to the unfortunate dangers that now exist on and near the roads.
Countless actual and attempted kidnappings have taken place at such hitchhiking posts, and roadside shootings and stabbings have become so commonplace as to sometimes not warrant media coverage. Yet I still find young men and women standing alone, quite literally in the middle of nowhere waiting for someone like me to come along and pick them up.
I have a policy that if someone asks to be let off at a remote intersection or bus stop I will always take them down the road to the nearest town, settlement or army check-point. This is more than a courtesy... it is common sense. I wouldn't let my own children off in a setting where they were vulnerable to any passing danger... why would I potentially put someone else's children in harm's way?
I take a small measure of comfort in the expert and timely police forensic work that led to the capture of a suspect whose DNA is apparently a match to tissue found under the victim's nails. But I hope that my countrymen (and their children) will take a lesson in common sense from the events that led up to this tragedy and adjust their hitchhiking habits accordingly.
Yes, it is sad when a country loses the last vestiges of its innocence to tragedies like this. But unless we wake up and take the necessary precautions for ourselves and our children... the age of pictures on milk cartons probably won't be too far in Israel's future.
Note: All of my knowledge about the case comes from news sources such as this one.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
In which Zahava never lets David go anywhere alone, ever again.
Anyone who has ever traveled abroad for work... especially to developing countries... can attest to the fact that there is little glamour and even less time for playing tourist (much less relaxation). 14 hour work days are the norm and no matter how carefully you arrange your schedule something will happen nearly every day requiring that you reshuffle your plans.
However, despite the fact that I miss my wife and family more than words can describe and I never sleep well when away from them... there is something to be said for the hotels where they put us up. Obviously security is a primary concern, but with added security comes a certain level of, um, luxury, that doesn't take much getting used to.
For instance, the hotel where I am staying here in Goa is actually a large compound that was litereally carved from the jungle along a huge stretch of beach. Rather than being one large building, the resort is made up of dozens of smaller buildings that are connected by bridges and raised paths through the jungle. Fresh water pools, waterfalls and scenery out of "The Jungle Book' is all one sees in every direction.
The rooms are set apart from one another and each is a self-contained building surrounded on three sides by water.
Yes, that pit you see in the background is actually the bathtub. You walk down three steps to get into it, and the number of people it can accommodate would probably be illegal to attempt in most places. Set into the ceiling is one of those giant shower heads that makes it feel like you are in a huge rainstorm... and next to the tub is a big dish of fragrant flower petals.
On the other side of the room is a set of glass doors that lead out onto a big covered balcony overlooking the pools and the jungle. When I opened the drapes to take this picture several monkeys scurried off into the night.
Don't worry honey... I'll try to take you with me on my next trip. :-)
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Tradition and Women
I find it interesting that in many corners of the planet it is the women who, by choice or convention, tend to dress in traditional garb while the men... don't.
India is no exception to this trend. While many men dress in traditional garb for ceremonial and festive occasions such as weddings holiday celebrations, for the most part they dress in western-style attire for both business and casual circumstances.
Indian women, on the other hand, are much more likely to wear traditional garb in their day-to-day lives. Of course many women opt for western-style clothing here, but the percentage that opt for Sarees and Salwan & Kurtas (the long pajama-like tunic and pants often called a panjabi suit) is very high.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Haves... and have nots
One of the many things that has contributed to my sense of 'otherness' and cultural disconnect here is seeing the enormous gulf that exists between the wealthy (or at least upper middle class) and the poor. Walking down the street you see young and old begging. All of them are unspeakably dirty and many either have some sort of incredible deformity or are carrying filthy infants around to garner sympathy from passing tourists.
For their part, the locals seem to take no notice whatsoever of these street people and step around and even over them the way you or I might avoid dog droppings on the sidewalk. I was briefed before my trip to NEVER give any of the beggars money because I would be instantly swamped by hundreds of them demanding handouts.
Here are two pictures I snapped within moments of one another that I think aptly describe this vast gap in the social strata.
India seems to be all about contrasts.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Postcards from the edge
OK, I guess I owe you some kind of explanation so here goes:
1. I can't see my site. Yes, that's correct... the part of India where I am (Mumbai) has my site blocked for some reason. Therefore I had no idea that I had double posted my previous entry until a few kind souls clued me in.
2. I can read your wonderful comments thanks to the email notification, but I can't respond. You see, responding to your comments would require me to be able to leave a comment of my own... which would require being able to actually see my site. See item # 1.
3. I have been working 16 hour days here and have had almost no time for personal stuff. Touring has been slim to none... and even my family have had only the occasional phone call. So if you're feeling neglected, get in line behind Zahava and the kids.
I have no idea if Delhi and Goa will be any better in terms of site access, but in case this situation continues for the duration of my trip I will simply post a couple of pictures every day or so... sort of 'postcards from the edge'. Feel free to comment. As I said, I can read your comments via the email notification... I just can't respond on-line. If you say something truly inspired I'll probably send you a direct email response.
So here we go...
First up is a picture I took from the back window of my taxi of a family outing, India style. Note that not only is the mother sitting side saddle (with a newborn on her lap out of sight), but there are a total of 5 people on this motorcycle!
Here is another pic of the side-saddle posture that I find so fascinating. I understand why they are sitting this way (because of the saree), but how is it that they seem to have absolutely no fear of falling off?!
Last up for today is my nightstand in the hotel where I'm staying. I'm used to finding the Gideon's Bible in the nightstand when I travel. I usually just check i into the close so i can use the drawer for my tallit and tefillin. But this time when I opened the drawer I noticed that the Gideon folks have some competition. Along with the ubiquitous bible is a copy of Bhagavad-Gita. Nice to see that they have all the bases covered. :-)
I'll try to put up another postcard from the edge tomorrow night.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Culture Shock on the Subcontinent
Posting may be sporadic... or perhaps a little disjointed over the next couple of weeks. I am traveling around India on business with a very full schedule and spotty Internet access.
I'll begin by saying that for four years I lived the old saying 'Join the navy and see the world' ... an adventure which enabled me to visit about 30 countries before the age of 22. I mention this because I am not the typical sheltered American when it comes to other countries Before I visit a place I usually try to learn a few phrases in the local language and read up on the history and culture.
This trip was no exception... however, there are some things one only notices/learns from visiting a country:
1. Nearly the entire population of India seems to ride around on motor scooters and motorcycles.
2. Women in Saris sit side-saddle on the back of their husband's (or boyfriend's) scooters.
3. I think I may die from sensory overload from the brilliant colors I see everywhere here... especially the brghlty colored Saris and Salwan & Kurtas (a long tunic worn with pantaloons underneath) worn by Indian women.
4. Service personnel here seem to be COMPLETELY focussed on the comfort and wellbeing of guests/customers.
5. It is culturally jarring to have waiters, bellmen, hotel staff and shopkeepers stop whatever they are doing as I approach, bow their heads slightly and press their palms together (fingers upwards) in greeting. I can't explain why.
6. Women in southern India often wear incredibly fragrant flowers in their hair (usually woven into their braids).
That's it for now... I'll check back later.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Why didn't I think of that?
The other day I was driving through the outskirts of Be'er Sheva with one of my regular carpool-mates - an Israeli who was born and raised in London - in the passenger seat when we passed a Bedouin woman who was covered from head to toe in traditional black veil and robes (niqāb and burqa).
As we passed her, all sorts of thoughts swirled through my head:
- How do her friends and family recognize her?
- How does she recognize her girlfriends?
- What kind of picture would they put on her driver's license or passport?
- Is she cold or hot in that thing?
- What if a Bedouin woman is claustrophobic?
- Is that even a woman under there?
I've come to recognize that this sort of free-associating inner monologue is typically American, as we tend to be a bit more sheltered from other cultures in our formative years.
On the heels of this jumble of unspoken questions came a mild wave of frustration that we Americans seem to lack the ability to exercise the economy of speech so common amongst our UK counterparts. I tried to imagine how succinctly my British carpool-mate might have summed up the same observations I had mulled over as we passed this specter in black.
As if on cue, my passenger glanced casually over at the woman and remarked "Hmmm... she looks familiar."
Now why didn't I think of that?!