Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nepali Horticulture

stuff grows like a...well...weed

Ok, so this stuff really was everywhere in Kathmandu Valley, growing alongside the road, between buildings, everywhere. Even though it's not my cup of tea, it was funny to watch the guys try to replant this stuff everywhere they could. Nevertheless, the farmers in the village saw these plants as nothing but a nuisance. They would pull them up by the roots and throw them on the nearest open garbage fire. Huh.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Checking In

We have been home for exactly 50 days. In that time we have lost three apartments and found one. We have attended a funeral and two graduations. We have put about 2000 miles on our car, and spent about that much in gas. One of us started a new job, one of us applied for several. We made a commitment to eat organic, to find comfort in faith, to spend more time together. In short, it's been an eventful 50 days. But it has also been an adjustment. Because for all that has happened in the past 50 days, it is incredibly, unbelievably, undeniably different than all that occurred in the 50 days before these 50 days.

Before we went on the trip, I knew that there was a chance that a trip like that could really change us. But I feared that it would change us in mostly negative ways. I worried that we would grow really tired of each other and that the trip would make us want to spend as much time apart as possible. I worried that it would be nearly impossible to integrate into my former life upon my return. I worried that I would resent Boston for not being somewhere as exciting as Bangkok. Um, I'm a worrier. But as it turns out, some of my fears were well-founded, and others of them were totally unfounded.

One of the things I have noticed over the course of the past 50 days is that I look at the world as though I'm wearing different glasses. By way of example, we went to hear Jane Goodall give a lecture a few weeks ago. Before the trip, I would have heard what she was saying, would have reflected upon her words as the true message of an incredible woman, but I would have walked away thinking that I do enough to make the world a better place without worrying about chimpanzees in Africa. For the most part, I still believe this about myself. But while I was listening to her lecture, I also found myself thinking that I DO care about chimpanzees in Africa, that I have opinions, STRONG opinions, about the effects of global warming, and that while I believe I do a lot to make the world a better place without occupying my mind with thoughts of chimpanzees in Africa, I enjoy being someone who can stop to think about chimpanzees in Africa.

Just this past weekend, as we were listening to various graduation speakers remind us to follow our passions or risk living an empty life, I found that I wasn't sitting there thinking of all of the things I have yet to do with my life, rather, I was sitting there thinking about what I have already done. I felt proud that we listened to our hearts and bought those plane tickets, that I have decided to listen to my heart and follow it to a career in the public sector, that I realize just how good my life is.

In a way, coming home has helped me to see what an incredible place this was to leave behind for a while. In this new city of ours, I literally have every opportunity at my very fingertips. And I am in a place, a good place, where I feel grateful and excited about that opportunity.

I am very fortunate to have a few people in my life who understand exactly what it is that I am feeling these days. They write me encouraging emails to remind me that the adjustment will get easier. They tell me that I'll eventually get used to living two lives, the one here that I'm actually living, and the one I might be living if I was in, say, Nepal. They say that I will grow accustomed to having two simultaneous conversations, the one I'm having with whomever I'm speaking with, and the one I'm having in my mind about whatever is going on in the wide world. I have every reason to believe that these people are right, that I will get used to this new person that I have become.

I also think that as I pursue my place in Boston, as I find where it is that I belong here, there will be a part of me that might never get used to those feelings, that might never get used to the fact that I was lucky enough to follow my passions to places farther east than here, that I am lucky enough to hear a heartfelt tale about chimpanzees and feel that I can actually do something to make their lives better, that I am lucky enough to be living that moment where I realized that to change the world, all you need to do is to positively affect just one single soul.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Checking Out

As we jetted off to my graduation this past weekend, I finally felt relieved. Not that I was culminating a difficult chapter of our life, even though there was a touch of that mixed in. No, I was relieved because that morning we finally checked out of the hotel we've been living in since the beginning of April. Yes, we finally have an apartment that we love and we are excited to call home.

Think of this: we checked out of our hotel here in Boston EXACTLY six months after we moved out of our apartment in Pittsburgh. If that's not auspicious, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

By the Numbers

Because I'm a complete dork, when it comes to reflecting on our trip, I try to capture things in terms of numbers. Because, to me, numbers make sense. Even though one of the things that I discovered on the trip is that I like people too. So, yeah, people and numbers, they are what makes me happy. We've writing so far about the people, but I can't let that go unabated any longer without paying my own homage to the actuarial side of our adventure. Here is a glimpse of our trip broken down by the numbers.

Days: 108 days
Time zones encountered: 4
Longest lag (difference between current time zone and Eastern Time): 13 hours (Hong Kong, Dec 2007)
Shortest lag: 9.5 hours (India, Feb-Mar 2008)

Countries Visited: 8
Hotels/Guesthouses/Home Stays: 37 (that's a new place to call home every 2.92 days)
Total Distance Covered (includes one-way, long-haul travel, not local tuk-tuks, taxis, trains, subways, or buses): 28,306.76 miles (262.1 miles per day or about 1.14 times around the Earth)
Air Miles: 24,876.98 miles
Land Miles: 3,210.79 miles
Sea Miles: 218.99 miles

Number of Cameras Taken: 2
Total Number of Photos: 5,491 (that's 51 photos per day, folks! It's also the red line on the graph below)

I came up with a little metric that I like to call "geophotodensity," and it's defined as the number of photos taken in each country. Nifty, huh? We took the most pictures in India, almost 2,000 (a whopping 1,985 to be exact). The least number of photos came from the US the day before we left (we took 9 snaps then). But if you don't count those few shots, then China (only Hong Kong, really) is the biggest loser with only 61 photos taken.

Clearly there's a correlation between the number of photos taken and the number of days we spent in a particular country. If you're interested (I know I was), the correlation factor between those two data sets is 0.99. In other words, the longer we stayed, the more pictures we took. I used Excel, but I think a 4-year-old could have reasoned through that bit of intuition.

I normalized the number of photos taken in each country by the number of days we spent in the country to achieve some measure of how interesting we found each country. Although we took the most pictures in India, by this measure we thought Cambodia was far more interesting. Hm.

There's more analysis to do, particularly on the financial side. I'm really curious to see exactly how close we came to our budget. But this reflection took almost a month to collect the data and get the graphs just right, so we'll see when/if that bit of reflection ever sees the light of day. For now, enjoy the graphs and pie charts.