Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Fabulous Lecture for Traveling Design Students

A transcript with notes of our RISD lecture on May 02, 2007 at 6:00PM in the Mason Building. Download our Power Point presentation.

Prep - Goal
-To research international sustainable design, different ways of living, and different ways of making.
-Motivation before and during
A goal keeps you going through the whole trip. It takes a lot of planing to do this, and your goal will keep you focused on getting throught the nitty gritty. Also while you're away you may feel lost or aimless at somepoint, this is a great time to review your goal and clear out any doubts or depresssion you may be facing.

Prep - Contacts
-Talk to people who have been there
-Make connections with people who are there
-Talk to professors
-Contact people in advance
When you first arrive in a new country it's great to know where you're going to be staying, especially if you know people in the area, so if you have any contacts try to plan around them if you can.

Prep - Support
-Plan in advance
-Get a grant writer
-Study part time, work part time
-Go either way
Ask organizations for support
If you decide to write a grant proposal your self, utilize the writing center during the entire process, not just for the final draft. There are people there that are more expereinced with grant proposals and will help you develope the porposal appropratly.

Prep - Tickets
-Shop around
-Round the World
-We do not recommend STA
-Leave wiggle room
-Get travel insurance
-Get an international student discount card
While we never needed out insurance, some countries like India won't officially let you in without it. Our student discount card paid for itself in transportation costs alone, the admissions discounts were like a bonus. But remember if you;re going to a country like India you're not going to get a discount on anything. Try to get tickets that our refundable, when you're planing flights so far in advance it is probable that you'll change your mind or the world will intervene somehow before your travels are over.

Prep - Health
-Bring prescriptions and over the counter medicine with you
-Antibiotics, Nausea, Diarrhea, Fever, Malaria
-Get all vaccinations before
Medicines that we recommend: Antibiotics(more than 3 days supply), Imodium, Nausea, Fever, and Electrolyte mixture (the home brew is a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice, a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar to a liter of water. The mixture should taste slightly salty, sweet and sour. Only sip the mixture.)
Make sure the doctor explains when to take what.
For Example: How long do I take the Anibiotics for? What should I do if I get sick again? In what situation do I take each medicine? When do I call the doctor or go to the hospital?

Prep - Moral Support
-Bring a friend
-Ignore those who doubt you
-Get a guide book
-Watch some local films
-Make it a big deal
While it is quite possible to travel alone having a friend makes all the logistics easier. It also saves a lot of money to travel with someone; double rooms are only marginally more than singles. Having a friend can make you less likely to talk to locals though and rely on strangers less, so know your style. And seriously ignore people who say you can't do this, what they are really saying is they cant do it.

During - Keeping in touch
-Keep a blog
-Keep a journal
-Post Restaunte
-No cell phone
Keeping a blog is a great way for people to keep up with what your doing, and if you're emailing you'll need to find computers anyway. Be warned, however, writing a good entry can take an hour, and putting photos can be challenging in some places. Many big cities have Post Restaunte facilities at their GPO, so if you need anything mailed to you, check it out.

During - Make friends
-Work exchange
-Culture exchange
-Take breaks
If you're traveling at all you've got to get to know the locals, so it really helps to spend some time in each place you visit, at least a week. Volunteering or doing a work exchange / homestay is a great way to get to know people and give you some insights to the local culture, but don't string all these experiences back to back. Give yourself a weekend here or there to relax.

During - Transportation
-Book in advance
-Ask locals
-Don’t stress out
-Consider getting a vehicle
Tickets, be it plane, bus, or subway, were by far our greatest expense. Buying early certainly saves money and peace of mind, but is not always possible. If you're going to be in one place for a long time consider getting a car, motorbike or bicycle, in the long run these can save you heaps on public transit. Having a vehicle is also nice if you're doing work exchange so you can get away during your off time.

-Have something lined up
-Summer job
-A place to think
It's quite overwhelming to come back from a trip like this, so having something lined up when you return is very calming, and searching for work / whatever right away is the last thing you want to do.

Reasons for Traveling
-You’re not tied down
-Experience other cultures
-Experience other ways of life
-See variations on what you do
-Don’t get stuck
Getting stuck is tricky. You don't want to get stuck permanently in one of the countries you visit, we almost got stuck in Japan. But you also don't want to get stuck your home country either. Keep traveling!

Traveling Resources




Art/Design (RISD has an exchange program with this Art school) (Traditional Japanese woodworking school) (Art/design school)

Cultural Exchange/volunteering (Kyoto, Japan)

Language exchange/volunteering

Japanese Language study
AJALT Japanese for busy People
Pimsleur Language Tapes
Rosetta Stone Language Software

Volunteering (Jodhpur, India)

Art/Design (Chandigarh, India)

Meditation Retreat

Sites related to Bhuddism

To print, click the "Traveling Resources" title, which will open this post by itself, and then select print from your file menu.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Being Back

We arrived yesterday. We managed to stay awake all day (except for a 2 hour nap that I took). Matthew's parents greeted us at the airport with tears, welcome home signs and flashing lights. We spent the rest of the day settling down and answering many questions about our trip. It was intense, but I really enjoyed it. The day made me feel like there are people that really care about us and what we have been doing.

Although I am not coming back to a specific home (I will be traveling from Boston to Providence to NYC to Aspen Colorado) I really feel like I have arrived home. I can feel spring in the air of the USA. Everything looks different but so familiar. The bathroom is one of the nicest rooms in the house instead of the grossest! There are no cows on the streets and no stray dogs. But on the other hand, when I walk around here I am not easily reminded that there are a lot of people that are starving in the world, or that what we consider a hard life is nothing compared to others. The reminders are helpful so that we are motivated to change and to encourage change around us.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Back in the USA

We're on the plane. I really don't feel like I am returning to the United States, but that the US is the fifth country we will visit. My perception of America and my life there has changed so much since we left, there's no way I could return to the same country, the same life. My journey does not end, but continues anew.

We made it back safely. Breath.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


While most Indian cities look like populated ruins, Chandigarh looks like a city on its way to ruin. The three capital buildings, or Temples of Democracy, designed by Le Corbusier after India got it's independence are amazing, massive concreted structures of abstract diplomacy. They were built around the same time as Ronchamp Cathedral in France for reference, so the builds are far from Corbusier's earlier strict simplistic designs. Here we have flowing concrete painted pink yellow and green dotted with imprints of fish and wheat. The Assembly Hall (V.S. Parliament hall) was my favorite, described as a Boat of Freedom in the Sea, looked more like a slitted volcano rising out of a 3d concrete planer grid, which keeps the building cool and light with no AC. Three cheers for Corb. Sadly, the numerous offices and security heck points needed to see these buildings were tiresome, and showed how the insides of the buildings were deteriorating. I think we spent more time getting our passports checked than looking at the architecture, but that's ok, it was well worth it.

And no, it does not make me want to be an architect again.

I'm afraid this will be my last post before we get back to the states, it has been quite a trip. We will continue to post through our lectures, which I will post specific dates for when we know them. One will be May 2nd at RISD. I hope to add photos from India when I get back, and stay tuned for the book we will be publishing.
Carpe Diem.

The God of Small Things

I didn't think I'd finish "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy before we left India, but I did. This is another look at life in India, but this time written by an Indian, and set in the current day. It is principally the story of two twins and their mother. The time line of the story jumps around a central event - a visit from their English cousin - showing the twins as children before, after, and latter as adults. The style of writing is superb, unlike anything I have ever read before, a bit like e.e. cummings had he written prose. Through combining somewhat random words into delicate phrases she brings out the minds of the children without seeming childish. She also uses repetition to set the memories of the children, which also helps the reader follow the time line. While there is much tragedy in the book, it ends on a good time. I highly recommend this book.

the last of India

We are comign to the end! WE exchanges money back into US dollars. and i think it is setting in that we are leaving. I can not explain how excited I am. This trip has made me think about how fast time flys and that it really does not stop for anyone or anything. The only thing I can do is make that best of my time here.

We saw an amazing rock garden that used found object/junk. the garden was amazing, nothing like i have seen before. The one thing about Chandighar is that there people that live here are not extremely poor, In fact they are some of then more wealthy people oof India. It is really nice to see Children and adults playing on swings, picnicing at the rose garden and in genreal enjoying their lives, instead of begging for food or money. It has been a little bit of a mental break from the rest of India. It's not just the people. There are also no cows on the street here, which means there is no cow shit to aviod walking on! I am thrilled about that.

It is a little strangethat the wealthy in India can live their lives knowing that just miles a ways there are people starving to death. But I guess that is what we all do. But we can mentally try to have compassion for others and at least want to alliviate their suffering (a little Buddhism mentallity).

Wait Staff

After walking half way to the waterfall and back this morning we decided to pass the time drinking milk teas in a tiny Tibetan cafe, which turned out to be most fortunate as we saw Regina passing by and pulled her in to join us. We hatted for a while before she invited us to join her on her evening circuit of the Dalai Lama's residence, the Bodhichitta path, so we went. And a good thing to, it was fantastic! We had somehow missed the pathway the previous two times we visited His Holyness's residence. The whole path was strung with prayer flags and dotted with stone stupas painted white. One section in the middle sported an elaborate large stupa and rows of prayer wheels.
There was even a gap in the trees to see the sun set, usually hidden by mountains. It was a good walk and I christened my rosary with a couple hundred "Om muni padme hum"s. As we wound past the Court yard on our way to Nick's Italian Kitchen for dinner we caught a slew of monks debating in Tibetan; they really do stomp and clap to conclude their point. Very interesting and amusing to watch. At Nick's I talked a lot about how great Japan was and Regina told us about wait-staff slavery. WE had heard rumors of this in town, but it was better to hear it from the friend of someone who wrote their dissertation on it. So here's what happens: To get waiters the restaurants go out and get 8-9 year old street orphans, give them food, a room, and maybe Rs 1000 ($25) a month. Now Westerners call this slavery, but I'm inclined to call it better than sleeping on the streets with a begging bowl. The problems arise when you find out that legally you have to be 15 to work in India, so the 9 year olds have no rights, and thus can't complain if they are mistreated. What perpetuates this problem is that no one will hire Tibetans, even other Tibetans, because they won't work for pitiful Indian wages. This leaves vast unemployment among the Tibetan youth. We had noticed some disparity between the Tibetan and Indian lifestyles, but didn't realize it went to deep.

Friday, April 20, 2007


We went to see the Bhagsu waterfall the other day when the rain stopped. (Rain what? in India? Crazy...) It was closer and more beautiful than I thought. We enjoyed a Kit-Kat and Limca by its spray. It is still hard for me to comprehend the synergy between the grandeur of India's landscape and the chaos Indians subject it to. I've had a strange fear of writing and taken photographs that has only now, a week before we leave, begun to fade. Odd. But with its passing comes a feverish anxiety about all the stuff I want and need to do back in the States.

Post-Tushita Musings

While Australia has venomous snakes and deadly spiders, Dharamasala has scorpions. I've only seen two so far, one small, the size of a dime on a window sill, the other larger, the size of a fifty cent piece squished on the road. There's also a lot of monkeys. Alison was nearly attacked by one of the fearless red ones the day we moved down the mountain. They're so cheeky, they'll take food your eating right out of your hand if you're not careful. WE saw a couple of the more peaceful black lemurs at Tushita as well. The nearly human sized lemurs are even bigger than the red dog sized monkeys. I liked to eat my meals at Tushita out on the patio watching the monkeys and gazing at the distant snow capped mountains.
The other day we wandered down to the Dalai Lama's residence. We couldn't find him, but the temples were neat. Such intricate paintings and so many food offerings, you'd think the Tibetans were Idolaters. It really is strange the emphasis they put on images of the Buddha, but that may well be our Western minds having difficulty seeing that the material Buddha can not be separated from the ideals of Buddhism, if that makes any sense. We had a great walnut tomato pizza at the cafe there and got down to the museum, too, which was informative about the Chinese occupation and thus depressing. If there is anything we can do as free people for the world its to not but products made in China.
The little old married Tibetan women here are so cute. They wear these dresses that are a bit kimono like, but with colorful striped aprons. They have a very American Indian presence.

Our Tibetan friend

Earlier this week I was walking back to our guest house (Matthew was in town going some shopping), a young Tibetan guy(Tsering) started talking to me in very poor English. He asked me all the typical questions. What's your name? Where are you from? how long are you staying? And then he explained that he is taking 3 English classes a day. And asked if I could meet with him everyday and talk English. I was a little surprised because of the way he said it. It wasn't much of a question, more like he was telling me. "you will meet me everyday to practice conversational English, ok" I know it was because he didn't speak much English, so I wasn't to worried, plus he didn't look very threatening. He gave me his phone number so that we could meet the following day. I told Matthew of my encounter and asked if he would come with me. Although he was very skeptical, he agreed.

The first meeting didn't work out because our phone conversation was very difficult. He understood that we were going to meet at a restaurant, but he went to the wrong restaurant.

The next day Matthew and I were walking along the street and we happened to see Tsering. He was with one of his friends that happen to be a Monk. This is even less threatening. We both had free time, so agreed to go to his place and talk.

He lives in a one room apartment. It was very simple and cozy. We sat around and tried to think of questions to ask and he tried to answer them. the monk spoke a little more English, so we were able to have a decent conversation. We talked for over an hour and then agreed to meet the next day.

The next day we met at his place and then walked to cafe to get some tea. We talked about the US an he talked about Tibet. We found out that he has had a very interesting and difficult life:

He is 20 years old. In Tibet he wrote for the Tibetan newspaper. He wrote an article that protested the Chinese occupation of Tibet and wanted freedom for Tibet. The Chinese government came for him. He was sent to prison for 3 years. He was put into a tiny room with many other people. There was no toilet and only a very small window. After 4 months his parents and brother got enough money to pay for him to get out of prison. But he is no longer allowed to be in Tibet. He walked for 25 days from Tibet to Nepal, through snow and mountains. From Nepal he drove to New Delhi. After working at a magazine as a poet he moved up to Dharmasala. He hoped to learn English and get a job in England- where one of his brothers is, or the USA. He also has a brother in South India that is a Lama. So his life has been quite interesting. And he is only 20!

We are not sure if we will be able to meet him again, but I hope so.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


It's taken a while but I've finished up with "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling. The only reason I picked it up was because I remember that Kipling wrote the "Just So Stories" I loved so much as a child and that "Kim" is set in India. It was interesting because the book takes place in Northern India and Kim visits many of the places we have been, there's even a Lama involved. What was most amazing to me were the similarities between current India and the India described in the book, which was written over a hundred years ago in 1901. It really hasn't changed that much. So if you like Kipling and India check it out, but it's not on my favorites list.

india, oh india

so, i haven't posted much about India.

her we go. . .

My time here is almost finished. I am excited to go home, but I am also very sad to leave. The Buddhist retreat was a very contemplative experience. I had a lot of time to think and learn. And for 10 days I didn't talk much( we were supposed to be silent except for in discussions) The silence was a little bit of a challenge, but it was very helpful for think about all the information from the lectures. The Buddhist religion is very interesting, but there are aspects of the Tibetan Buddhism that I am not sure about. Anyway- I met some really nice people even through we didn't talk to each other much.

So now that the retreat is over, I am taken it easy. We found a really cheap monastery guest house. The manager is so friendly and speck hardly any English. Today, he pointed out that the bucket I was using to wash cloths was broken. He said this over and over again while laughing. Then he came down and sat on our door step and washed me wash cloths. He gave me some pointers and then he started to ask me where I am from, again. I told him - America, but her really doesn't believe me. He thinks i am from South Africa. Most people here think I am from south Africa. and they drill holes in my forehead. but I feel more relaxed here than most places. I am not sure if this is because I am finally really getting accustom to India, or maybe this city is particularly nice. I think it is a combination.

we are in Dharamasala/McLeod Gang. It is a city on the side of a mountain. the view is beautiful. the weather is pretty nice here. I am waking up and doing yoga in the mornings. Really I have no complaints.

but Matthew might complain about the fact that I haven't taken a shower in 3 days. I find it hard to convince myself to clean off dirt that will jump right back on minutes after I get out of the shower. Or even while i am still in the shower! and we have to pay extra for hot showers. so I don't know if it is worth it. but don't worry I will take at least 3 more showers before I leave India. Maybe even more!!!!

Matthew and I have been together on this trip for a long time. People keep asking if we are married. No we are not, but I am not sure how we will function in the states when we are not 5 feet apart at all times.

I would also recommend people to read up on the Tibetan exile. It is a very moving story and it would motivate people to discourage the purchase of Chinese products. I don't have time to explain, but please read up on it.

OK, that's all for now

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tushita Retreat Group Photo

Here's the photo of our retreat group. Remember to click on the picture to open it as a full size image and the right click it and save or just drag it to your desktop.

Also, to clear up any confusion about getting in touch with us, our email addresses are in our blogger profiles now. So click our names at the top of the page and our email addresses will be in the category "Contact".


We're now staying at a funny little monastery on the outskirts of McLeod Gange. It's nice because the city noise is barely audible, but a family of dogs lives just outside our door charged with the task of warding off other dogs by barking all night long. I managed to sleep though, after spending a few hours listening to music. It's funny, I've only listened to music a few times in India, but after the retreat I just wanted to cut loose, so I had a dance party in my sleeping bag. I can't believe there's only twelve days left to our trip. I'm glad in a way that it ended with India because it's bittersweet. Had we ended with Japan it would have been just bitter.

The retreat itself was wonderful. I went hoping to learn more about Buddhism, which I did, but I learned even more about myself. It was much less silent than I thought it would be, with daily discussions and teachings, but they really helped me understand more of the philosophy. The meditations, which were three times a day for forty-five minutes, we're good but hard. We westerners are not used to sitting cross legged for so long, which is unfortunate because the posture is really much better for you than chairs. Everyone should eat on the floor! What I'm trying to say is that meditation is painful, and it's hard to stay focused for forty-five minutes. I kept losing it in the last five to ten minutes. It was well worth it though; nice to get a good foundation for my own practice. It was also nice to get to know some people from all over the world. After being so removed from people who speak English it was nice to chat a bit. So if you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism and find yourself in India check out The Tushita Meditation Center in McLeod Gange.

The Universe in a Single Atom

I just finished reading "The Universe in a Single Atom" by H.H. the Dalai Lama and I really liked it. While the book opens with a discussion of current cosmology and quantum physics theory, as the title suggests, it quickly moves into the study of consciousness. With consciousness as the focus, more time is spent on topics like evolution, biology, and neuroscience. The final chapter, Ethics and the new genetics, is by far the most moving and demands out immediate attention. I like this book because it addresses the biggest questions facing since and humanity today without answering them. Buddhism, seemingly unique among world religions, is very accepting of scientific discovery, even encourages it, so that the religion can adapt to fit our modern view of the world. The problems Buddhism sees facing science are closed minds, jumping to conclusions, and not considering all the options. Fortunately science can change too, as the world turned from Newton to Einstein.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Starting a conversation about community engagement

I am emailing Kim Libby back and forth. Matthew and I plan to have a couple of lectures when we get back. One will be focused on Community engagement.

[Re]viewing city.

this is a quick email that I sent to kim. i thought I would share.

Matthew and I have talked about this topic of the changing city and public and private space. Traveling seems like both a public and private experience. We seems trapped in our private world peering out onto the public and the public is peering in on us. But in some areas you are able to cross these barriers. In Japan you will always look like a foreigner, but you can blend in more by learning the language and picking up on the small things. Australia you can definitely blend in. In India I am not sure you can ever blend in. Everything seems public. but it seems like they don't take care of the shared space. The space is shared with people, animals, everything, but no one takes responsibility for it. Everything is falling apart. In India there are spaces for everyone.- the street, the palaces, the forts. but they are all tourist places and you are always a tourist, attacked but sales pitches everywhere you turn. And I guess no one thinks that tourist will really move to India.

From Australia:
What are you thoughts about communal living?

Is there a way to look at our community in more of a communal way? How can you make a students life more integrated with it's surroundings?
As Cities change , it seems very important to think about - how do you make people feel welcome? Are you able to create spaces that ar comfortable for the stranger and the old comer? A good example- the river in Kyoto. Every one can feel welcome there.

How do you create spaces that both RISD students and the locals feel comfortable? Is it possible? Or so all the locals think- why?, it's not like they are going to move to providence anyway.

Community engagement
Are we talking literally? How do you get people involved with the community?

Everyone must be committed. Or a few must be obsessed and everyone must be aware. In Japan, the community is always thought of, b/c that is just the way it is. there are no questions about it. The question is how do you get people to do? to believe?

Peter Adams at windgrove is committed. but he is only one man that has control of his community. He is luck in that sense. All the small communal places in Australia only had to deal with a small number of people. It becomes more difficult when the numbers and the space gets larger.
the bigger it gets the more commitment.

know your place in what you are trying to do.

How The Universe Got Its Spots

I just finished reading (we're plowing through books here) "How The Universe Got Its Spots" by Janna Levin and of course it makes me want to be a cosmologist. It's an interesting mix of complicated physics and personal life in one book, sadly the asks many more questions than she answers and ends with us waiting for two future satellite missions to tell us the fate of the universe. But the book was written in 2002, so maybe by now those satellites have been launched. While "A Brief History of Time" by Hawkings may be a tougher read, you might learn more from it, though Janna talks more specifically about background radiation from the big bang than Hawkings does.

I think ten or thirty years from now when I look back at my journals what would I tell myself now if I could? You should start making jewelry immediately, you'll love it! Apply to film school ASAP! You know you always wanted to go to MIT, do it! Or will I just laugh at my own folly?


I'm so hot and I'm always tired. I don't know why, maybe it's the heat, maybe it's the yoga. At least our room is blessed with a consistent lack of direct sun and remains cool all day. Maybe it's the mosquitoes. Our mozi net is hing in such a way that when I'm sleeping a fold in the net rests just inches from my face. The mozis can smell us inside and cling to the net hoping we will emerge. Because the net is so close to me I can hear their buzz as they try to penetrate the net and find myself half asleep slapping at my ears while the bugs remain outside. I am beginning to understand what it must be like to be mad. At least I can see the insects beyond the net.

Our Bathroom, In Detail

Our bathroom is small. I hold the patinaed upright pipe that connects the pit to the cistern while squatting so that I may lean back a little and improve my flow. All the yoga in the world can't help me balance and shit straight at the same time. Only the cistern doesn't work, so I flush the toilet manually using the small bucket meant for washing your left hand in after using it to wipe your ass. I have yet to familiarize myself with this custom and continue my American practice of using toilet paper. However, there are many signs indicating that toilet paper is not to be put down the drains, and since I'm using my only bucket for flushing I put the used toilet paper in a grocery bag. I'm not sure what to do with the bag once it's full, and have have a lingering suspicion that my toilet and sink drain to the open gutter around my building anyway. It certainly smells that way. I guess wiping your ass with your hand is more sustainable than using the old TP.