I'm back in the States after my one month trip to India, Holland and Belgium. It was a long trip, and I'm really glad to be home.
There's always a change in perspective after a trip that long. For one thing, I don't see why we are bellyaching so much about gas prices. In India, where the average income is probably 1/4 what it is in the US, gas costs more than $5 per gallon. In Holland, gas is approximately $9 per gallon. We still have cheap gas in the US. The trouble is that we have built our country on the principle of low-density sprawl with the assumption of very cheap gas in perpetuity, which of course is impossible since fossil fuels are a finite resource that is gradually being depleted. The European and Indian models of city planning provide for more population density and as a result have more efficient transportation. You don't see SUVs in Holland or India! There are wind turbines all over Holland and Belgium these days. I don't see much of that going in the U.S. We really need to wake up on the issue of energy.
After my business trip to India, I stopped in Amsterdam and met my 23-year-old son who flew in to meet me from Boston. I have to say, going to Europe made me feel poor. I decided to economize and stay in budget accommodations with my son. The cheapest you can do is about $55 per person per night, even if you have a shared bathroom, youth-hostel style. Regular hotel rooms are substantially more than this. You can really tell that the dollar is low right now. Restaurants seemed particularly expensive ($40-$65 per person total for dinner at mid-range restaurants).
But my son and I had a great vacation. We kicked around, drank some beer (my son is an enthusiast of high-quality brews), and saw some priceless art treasures. In particular, I can recommend the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck. It's one of the earliest known oil paintings (1432) and is absolutely breathtaking. We spent more than an hour looking at it. It was truly one of the highlights of the trip.
I also like Belgian French fries, served in paper cones with mayo. Yum.... The beer was extraordinary. We traveled to a remote Trappist monastery called Abdij St. Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium for what is considered by beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world. You can only buy this stuff at the pub run by the monastery. Well, I have to say that the connoisseurs were right; it was an absolutely incredible beer, by far the best I have ever tasted. I bought a few bottles and took them back in my suitcase. I have one still sitting in my fridge.
Wouldn't you know it, we also ran into the missionaries on the street in one of the Flemish towns we visited. We stopped and chatted with them, asked them where they were from, etc. I think they were a little spooked, since we didn't fit into any category that they recognized. In general, they were a little stiff and formal. Talking to them definitely brought back memories. I forgot to ask them how the branch was doing in that town.
I don't know what to say about India. I'm biased against that country because I always get sick when I'm there. Haha. It's no fun having your GI tract in an uproar for an entire month. On this trip I had more of a chance to talk to some of the locals on non-work-related topics. I found out a lot about their marriage and courtship practices, which as you might guess, are extremely conservative. There's really no such thing as 'dating' in India. Marriages are arranged with the help of the parents. In fact, it was funny to see the personals ads in the Sunday paper... they were placed by parents for other parents to answer. A couple is only allowed to go out for dinner and a movie after they are formally engaged to be married.
I did meet one gay guy in India. He is the friend of a Canadian guy that Tobi knows. So I invited him over for brunch at my hotel. The guy is a 25-year-old Muslim medical student who is deeply closeted. I think I was the second openly gay person he has ever met. We had lunch and talked. He wants to do a medical residency in the U.S. (surgery), but visas appear hard to come by for young Muslim men. Aarggh!
Anyway, I'm back home now and trying to get back to normal. I'm certainly not sorry to have missed the past month of the Democratic primary. Haha. My sleeping schedule has been topsy-turvy and I've been eating a lot of plain white rice to get my stomach reset. But other than that, things are getting back to normal. :- )
I went to the airport yesterday and picked up my boyfriend Tobi who had been in Japan visiting his parents for part of the time I was gone. His suitcase weighed a ton. It was full of sake for me and two bags of groceries. Even though we have really good Asian food stores here, he wants his familiar foods from Japan. It was kind of cute. We came home from the airport and I spent the day with him. We snuggled for a while and then went out for Mexican food and a long walk. We were both so jet lagged that it was funny. We were kind of stumbling around, trying to stay awake.
So that's the news from these parts. I'll post some pictures and more comments about India later.