January 20, 2013

"Holy Cow! Do You Use Toilet Paper?" And other reader questions...

We've been on the road now for about 4.5 months, and we've had a lot of questions from our friends and family - so we thought we'd write a post answering some of the more common questions. If you have others, send them to us at stephanieswain2010@gmail.com
"Do you miss cozy bedding?" - Question from Lauren Funk
You have no idea. Honestly, this must rank with one of the top things we miss. But it's less about "cozy" and more about "clean." We use our sleep sheet almost every night because the sheets and beds don't meet our Western standards of cleanliness. 

"What else do you miss?" Question from Multiple People
  • Drinking water out of the faucet and not using bottled water to brush our teeth
  • Not thinking constantly about where we'll go next, how we'll get there, what we'll eat, etc…
  • Red wine
  • Salads
  • Predictable temperatures (We didn't expect to be so cold in part of India.)
  • Reliable showers (when it goes suddenly arctic or scalding while you're rinsing out your conditioner…it sucks)
  • Friends
  • Having more than 2 outfits at our disposal
  • Peace and quiet - In India, you're constantly being sold to, talked to, haggled with, begged from, honked at, and stared at. It will be nice to leave that behind.
  • Fresh air (i.e.: not smelling urine)
  • The certainty of toilet paper

"What are you looking forward to?" Question from Haley Dorsey
  • We're excited about new food in SE Asia....we're both bored of Indian curries and of seeing the same things on menus. For the rest of our trip, the food will change every month or so, and we're looking forward to that.
  • We're excited about being warm again, as it's been surprisingly cold in North India. Of course, in a few weeks, we'll be complaining about the heat.
  • I'm excited to get fewer salacious stares from men. It really wears on you after awhile. While I'm sure it will happen in other places occasionally, the constant eye "undressings" is getting to me. 
  • EVERYTHING - We have so much trip left! We have just started to research SE Asia and we can't wait!!!

"How do you not get separated from each other?" Question from Lauren Funk
There are some crazy crowds in India. So much so that we have seriously talked about how great it would be to have one of those toddler leashes to keep us close to each other. Because it's usually not really appropriate for couples to show affection in public (even though male friends can do so…more on that later), we can't really hold hands while walking through the street. Sometimes, we'll hold hands for a few seconds so Tom can help me climb down from a ledge or into a vehicle, but I can't use him as a comfort or a guide in crowded places without feeling out-of-place. Luckily, Tom's really tall (especially compared to Indians in most regions), so I can usually spot him easily. Sometimes, I'll hold on to the back of his backpack so we don't get separated. We also each have umbrellas that we carry with us in really crowded places. Tom's is black, mine is bright pink. If we get separated, I can extend mine and wave it in the air and we can find our way back to each other. Most importantly, we both have cell phones with local SIM cards that we keep charged with minutes so that we can reach each other if we get lost, and we always set time limits if we purposely split up so that we know when to expect each other.

"I would love to hear about your marital relationship and what it has been like to be together and travel together non-stop." Question from Cyndi Willoughby
In some ways, I wish I had some funny story to tell you about how we have been driving each other crazy but, to be honest, Tom and I are at our best together when we're traveling…and we think it's because it's just the two of us. When there are complications in life; work, rent, mortgage, grocery shopping, etc… - it's normal for arguments and complications to come up in our relationship (and anyone's). But we've always been good together when we're traveling. This might be because the only way I've ever traveled is with Tom, so how he travels is the only way I know. So, aside from the occasional squabble when we're tired and hungry and "over" it, we do pretty great together. We each have certain things we handle; Tom usually books our lodging because he likes the research, and I usually book all of our transport because I like the structure and formality of having a ticket somewhere; Tom haggles with rickshaw drivers and I negotiate prices for purchases. Most of all, we made promises to each other before we started this trip, and we try hard to honor those promises, the biggest of which is that, if either of us is feeling really burnt out or "over" the whole situation or we really need to slow down our travels, all we have to do is say so and the other will respect that feeling or desire. It sounds like an obvious thing, but this one rule alone has saved us a lot of arguments. The other big promise we made each other is to give the other space when we need space and to not take it personally when our partner asks for some distance. We spend all day, every day with each other, and that's bound to cause some issues. Because of our previous agreement, either of us can ask for an afternoon solo or an hour of reading time alone, and the other person can't get offended…because it's not personal, it's human. All in all, I'd say that Tom and I are great. We are learning to enjoy each other's company in a new way, and that's a real gift. I can honestly say that this experience wouldn't be as enjoyable if I weren't with Tom. We're obviously romantic partners, but he's also my most favorite person and companion, so I can honestly tell you that I've only tired of his company a few times on this trip so far and, after a few hours apart, I want to be near him again. I am (almost) always thrilled to be side by side with him on this adventure. And realizing that might have been reason enough to take this trip.

"Is it everything you hoped it to be? How much do u miss hot showers, hair dryers, makeup, California Wine, etc...and me...lol" Question from Pam MacDougall
This is such a difficult question because the answer is yes/no/kinda. It's everything I hoped it would be in some ways. It's way more than I hoped it would be in some ways. And it's less than I hoped in other ways. It's impossible to explain. I didn't expect this trip to bring out such confidence in me. I feel really capable in my ability to handle anything the road throws at me. I've had some pretty tough experiences so far, and I'm happy with how I've dealt with them, and I feel stronger for it. I didn't expect to admire Tom so much on this trip. I love the way he interacts with people. I love the way he is protective of me, but also gives me my independence and trusts in my ability to take care of myself. It's a really nice thing to notice. I did expect that we'd be meeting more people and traveling around with people we meet. That hasn't happened…probably because we're a couple and most people don't really want to travel with a couple (even though we're totally not a lovey dovey, inseparable couple that make people gag). So that's a little disappointing. Sometimes, India is MUCH harder than I expected it to be and I find myself on the verge of a crying fit or a break down. I didn't expect that to happen. it's my BFF's 30th birthday this week, and I miss her PAINFULLY. I didn't expect to feel that homesick for someone I only see a few time a year anyway…but I do. I do miss hot showers or, at least, reliable showers, since hot water isn't so rare in North India, it's just short-lived and sporadic. I haven't really been missing hair dryers. And, in fact, I've been loving not wearing makeup….one of the biggest reasons for this is that I don't have to worry about washing eyeliner/mascara off or having smudges under my eyes. We do miss wine but, more than that, we miss the experience and process of sitting down to a Western-style meal with friends or family; cooking, setting the table, choosing something to drink with the meal, laughing, looking forward to dessert, etc…

"Can you sleep without A/C?" Question from Kristy Cross, AKA Berisford
A/C hasn't been a problem at all. We haven't had A/C in any of our rooms, and it's been fine. In the south, it was very hot and humid and we definitely sweated a lot (which meant our sleep sheet needed frequent washings), but we just paired down the sleepwear and cranked up the ceiling fan. Now that we're in the north, it's cold at night, sometimes shockingly so. And nowhere has heat. For a few arctic nights in McLeod Ganj, we rented a space heater for Rs150/night that did absolutely nothing for warmth, so we bought a hot water bottle that we cuddled around, but we gave that to a friend who was staying longer in McLeod Ganj. Mostly, we just sleep in a lot of clothes.

"Have you had Delhi belly?" Question from EVERYONE
Um…yes. Tom's had a few instances of the dreaded Delhi Belly and, as it turns out, my memorable train ride (read about it here) was a bout of amoebic dysentery and not just common Delhi Belly or traveler's diarrhea. We figured it was bound to happen, and just hoped it wouldn't require serious treatment, which it hasn't. When it does happen, it's not pretty. In fact, it's pretty miserable, but a year-long trip to Asia isn't really complete without a funny dysentery story.

"Holy cow! Do you use toilet paper?" Question from Todd Donovan
Most public toilets in India (even Western toilets) do not come equipped with toilet paper. Instead, they have a faucet with a pour bucket, or a spray nozzle like the one on your kitchen sink that is used to rinse your nether regions after you've done your business. Now we're all about adapting to our surroundings and the culture. I've been wearing long dresses and scarves, we've celebrated local holidays, we travel in the Sleeper trains instead of the more comfortable upper class cars. But we refuse to give up toilet paper, especially given the ailment referenced in the above question. When things are, um…in need of a cleaning, I prefer the assistance of some TP. Thus, we carry it with us all the time.

"What's up with the head wiggle?" Question from Bernadette Donovan
I'd heard about the head wiggle by reading Shantaram, but I had no idea how common it is. The "wiggle" is given as affirmation, confirmation, greeting, or acknowledgement. We get the head wiggle from people sometimes 100 times a day. It looks a little like what happens when you flick the head on a bobblehead. It's the equivalent of nodding your head, saying yes, or smiling.* 

               "Hi, I'm Stephanie!"
                'Head wiggle'

               "Does the room have wifi?"

                'I'll have a masala dosa, please."
                'Head wiggle'

               "Your daughter is so cute!"
                'Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle'

We've both tried to master the head wiggle, but I think it must be something you need to be born into, because we both look ridiculous trying to do it. Check out this video (not by us) of the wiggle in action.

We're working on a video compilation of us trying to perfect our own head wiggle...stay tuned!

*It's possible that the head wiggle could also mean, "Get out of my face and stop asking me questions in English, you stupid tourist!"

Have more questions for us? Wondering where we're going next? How we choose a place? What we eat? What we love? What we hate? What our socks smell like? Email them to us at stephanieswain2010@gmail.com.

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