The Tea Is to Die for, the Water Likely Survivable: Sampling the Old Delhi Spice Market

"Clear, pure, cold water." I was parched, it was 105 degrees out and the airborne spices of the Old Delhi spice market were starting to irritate my eyes and throat.

I must have made some sort of subconscious assessment of the likelihood of the water before me being contaminated. I seemed to be thinking.....well, optimistically. A sign on the vendor's cart had a picture of plastic cups and even said "disposable cups." However, instead the street vendor handed me a 12 oz discolored glass (the fragile kind) full of water he had pumped from his own personal container of water.

I drank it quickly, neglecting a conscious risk assessment with the ludicrous rationale that if I drank it really quickly I was less likely to get sick. I had already eaten some street food just prior, and since it was my last day in India, unofficially decided I would go all in and test the waters. This decision required repressing my memory of flying sick for 24 hrs after taking a risk with n…

Mr. Thakur's Saloon

Snip snip snip snip snip snip snip....I counted roughly two snips per second consistently for at least 25 minutes. Mr. Thakur carved the hair on my head with precision. The cut itself was by-the-book...there was no stylistic creativity. He simply gave me a nearly flawless traditional men's haircut. The experience he provided, however, was art. Not the kind you hang on the wall and rarely, if ever, take the time to truly appreciate. But the type of art that comes and goes once. The kind that slips away if we don't allow ourselves to fully experience it. That type of art which can fundamentally change our perspective forever if we are present to witness it.

Sachita Nand Thakur, originally from Darjeeling, India, has a one-man barber shop on a small paved residential alley toward the top of a Himalayan foothill. I'd seen his shop door open, the light on, but the shop had been empty every time I walked by on the way to my local home stay.
One evening, I saw him sweeping up hair …

Duguma Hunde

A few of the few of you who read my blog nearly ten years ago may remember a post which mentioned Mr. Duguma Hunde, the owner of Ethiopian industrial conglomerate DH Geda. In short, I met Mr. Hunde who was in his 60s, and one of his board members in a Beijing train station. I can't remember for how long we spoke between that time and our exit in Shanghai, but he will forever remain with me. 
I'll never forget the way Mr. Hunde made me feel as we sat next to each other in the station, talking quietly and calmly about the upcoming 2008 US presidential election and other things, as he held my hand gently between his hands. I could have never guessed that I'd be comfortable with another man holding my hand. I can't really describe what I felt, but the experience was something like the following. 
He leaned toward me, was completely focused on what I said, and made me feel like I was important to him. His eyes and attention not once averted from me and our conversation. He ha…

They "Madoff" With It...

Bernie's not the only fella who "Madoff" with his investors' money...during a recent family roundtable at Comanx's home, the topic of a small bank paying over 300% interest to depositors over 4 months came to the forefront of the discussion. This particular bank pays interest and returns the principal on $300 in the form of a $1,200 scooter or even cars for larger deposits. "Not possible", I piped up. Her brother laughed in agreement, and her parents, despite having friends who have successfully "invested" were skeptical enough not to take it seriously.

I explained that in order for the bank to pay such interest, it must find investments of its own that pay returns in excess of those it provides its depositors. Then it hit me...Bernie Madoffs and ponzi schemes are alive and at work, even in small villages in Indonesia. This particular bank had been open for a couple of years, and apparently had no problem attracting myriads of new money as it d…

Treasures Lost...and "Found": Bali, Indonesia

It was 10pm. Comanx and I were tandem on the scooter, casually cruising back from the shoe store where she had purchased a pair of gold heels for her University graduation ceremony the following day. I braked in preparation to make the turn into Comanx's village. As I glanced in my mirrors, I thought it odd that another scooter lingered behind us rather than circle around us on the outside of the lane. Finally, the scooter made its move, but on the inside of the lane, and as the man operating it accelerated past us, he snatched Comanx's purse, which was strapped over her right shoulder. "B! Go! Go!", she frantically screamed. The contents of her purse flashed through my head as I maneuvered the 125cc Honda through the narrow village passages dodging obstacles and doing my best to assess any telegraphed turns: a bit of money, the replacement cell phone that she had spent her last money on, important school and certain job-search related documents... Confident in my ab…

What is Brandon Still Doing in Bali?

"Chk-chk-chk-chk---vroooooom". And I'm off. I slide open the gate of the Tropical Bali Hotel, where my hosts, Mikael and Brama, have created the most tranquil, relaxing accommodation I have experienced, and speed up the dirt lane past the rice paddy on my pink rented scooter. If I turn left, I could head down past the cafes and the rooster traders (they trade cock-fighting roosters daily) toward the beach (oh, and don't be fooled...a "cafe", in Bali, is basically a brothel), but now I turn right. I approach the final bend before hitting the main road (the "by-pass"), and stop to drop off a few recyclable cans for Comanx's mother at the warung, and sit for a few minutes with a couple of local farmers. When I arrive, Comanx's 5 year-old sister, Dia, jumps into my arms, gives me a big hug, draws back and grins. Old man "M" soon stops by and tries to haggle me into staying at his guesthouse again and offers me the services of one of …

Don't Fall Asleep

I've spent the past two weeks scuba diving in Bali, Indonesia. This week, I'll be working towards becoming a certified rescue diver, which will include three days of underwater and surface rescue exercises among other required certificates. A prerequisite for the rescue course is to obtain certification as an Emergency Responder. So yesterday, Mark, my New Yorker-turned-Balinese scuba instructor, and I sat in the gazebo at my hotel reviewing my completed coursework and rehearsing responses to endless potentially life-threatening scenarios...from serious auto accidents to impaled persons to strokes and heart attacks to drowning victims.

Had I not taken such a keen interest in diving, chances are that I would have never considered becoming an Emergency Responder. After all, how many of us have actually had to respond to a situation where a life is at stake? As such, I initially viewed the course as a means to an end. But as I first leaned over "Annie" and delivered 30 f…