Harper Ganick
Hyderabad University, India
An Excerpt from her blog post “City of Dead” 
http://harperganick.blogspot.com/2013/01/city-of-dead.html

Let me say, Varanasi is, hands down, my favorite city that I've yet visited in India. The city was originally dedicated to Shiva (the Hindu god I've always favored) and is situated right alongside the Ganges river. Of course, the Ganges is seen as an incredibly holy river and Hindus believe that if you wash in it you will be cleansed of all your sins, and if you're cleansed in it and burned by it after you die your soul immediately reaches "nirvana."

We stayed in Varanasi's Old City, which is located right behind the Ghats (which are the "steps" they burn the bodies on). The Old City wasn't so much a city as it was just a labyrinth of alleyways and narrow streets. Cars and rickshaws can't drive through it, so it's very quiet considering how conglomerated and populated the area is. Of course, it was all too normal for a single cow to block an entire street and we'd frequently have to step to the side when funeral processions passed, carrying the dead wrapped on a colorful stretcher over their heads.

Most bodies are burned at the Manikarnika Ghat. Passerbys are welcomed to stop and watch the cremations take place, but pictures are not allowed, something which you'll be told 1000 times if you have a camera over your shoulder. We were told that any Hindu is welcomed to be buried at the Ghats, unless it's a pregnant women, a child under 10, or someone who died of leprosy or a snake bite. Behind this ghat there is a huge well that is supposed to have been dug by Vishnu after his wife, Parvati, dropped her earring down it.

The Ganges has a reputation as being a horribly polluted and disgusting river and we found no evidence to the contrary. We didn't see any floating bodies, thank goodness, but hundreds of people bathe in it and drink the water. I had every intention of bathing in it as well, but then Diana talked me into reading some health reports about it. For instance, did you know that over 10million gallons of untreated sewage are dumped in the Ganges on a daily basis? I decided against having my soul purified.

Behind the ghats, in the Old City, there are a lot of shopping and restaurants catered to Western tourists and backpackers, so, like always, we ate really well in Varanasi. Its incredibly easy to get lost walking through the Old City. In fact, I think I only didn't get lost going back to our hostel just once or twice. One afternoon I took off on my own and purposefully got lost for a few hours. I had a blast and found a cafe with awesome scones that we went back to the next day.

The ghats stretch on for miles and miles, so walking along them and just taking in the sights was something we did nearly every day. That's got to be one of the reasons why I like Varanasi so much; yes, it is definitely a touristy city, but on the ghats it is just so unashamedly Hindu. Cremating bodies on the Ganges is something that has been going on for centuries, and even though a lot of white people come to watch, nobody stops what they're doing to try and accomodate for them.

Some of my friend's had a hard time watching the bodies being cremated, but it really didn't bother me and I found it beautifully fascinating. I find putting dead bodies in coffins and then in the ground incredibly disturbing to begin with, so I was just a lot more comfortable with the total acceptance of cremation. I just found it so awe-inspiring that no one was trying to hide the fact that this city has become famed for death. Even though its a daily occurrence all over the world, its very respected and ritualized here. It's just another part of the normal, Varanasi life.

When it gets down to it, I think thats what bothers me so much about death rituals in the United States. We treat death as if it's always so unexpected and sudden, and though it certainly can be, but really it is just as natural as birth. It's just the end of a cycle, but not the end of every cycle. Its just another beginning, and that beginning is sure made a hell of a lot easier if you aren't pumped up with embalming fluid, stuffed in a synthetic coffin and buried in the vicinity of thousands of other identical corpses.

 
 

Kara Loveday
Thammasat University, Thailand

So this past weekend we decided that we’d hope on a greyhound and head to the beach. For those of you who have never been by bus anywhere, it is quite the experience and one that everyone should have at least once. The bus was just like an airplane that would never leave the ground with seat numbers, a ticket, and an uncomfortably small and gross bathroom. Perfection. As we made this short trip to Pattaya beach, we drove past the non Bangkok part of Thailand. This was the Thailand that looked familiar and less foreign until we drove past small fires on the sides of the road that were unattended with possibly no intentions of becoming attended. Once we arrived at Pattaya we realized that this was no ordinary Myrtle Beach. It was a place primarily for single men. Despite this fact, we had fun with it and stayed away from the madness that it is known for. The beach is lined with vendors selling you a prime piece of real state on the sand and various foods and souvenirs. For someone who would like to be catered to, this was the perfect spot. Your entire job was to sit while anything you wanted or needed was within reach. What I learned from this experience is two things: first, although something is deemed a certain way, you do not have to conform to that and second, nothing is free in Thailand including a place in the sand.

To follow more of Kara's adventures in Thailand check out her blog Mai Pen Rai at http://karaloveday.wordpress.com/
 
 
Kara Loveday
Thammasat University, Thailand

So yesterday, after sitting through a course about Thai food, we decided to become more gutsy about what we were eating here. For the first few days, everything looks foreign and dangerous to eat. This is partly due to the fact that I do not understand the language in which things are described in and more so because everything is cooked on the street. As an American, I have been raised to believe that what we eat should be of the most quality in terms of freshness, cleanlyness, and type of food. That’s why we eat McDonalds and Taco Bell. This week I’ve learned to come away from the traditional views about food and try something new. The picture is of the most amazing street food! It’s rice with fresh veggies and chicken. The lady who made it literally cut the veggies in front of my face. There is also egg in this dish. Egg that had been sitting out on a hot street corner all day. As an American I think how dangerous the egg is without refridigeration but the truth is that fresh eggs do not need to be refriderated. It was amazing and way more than I could ever imagin eating. This fresh meal cost me $1. So my lesson I’ve learned this week is eat to learn about the area, culture, truth about food and also learn to eat things that might not seems so appealing at first.

To follow more of Kara's adventures in Thailand check out her blog Mai Pen Rai at http://karaloveday.wordpress.com/
 
 
Picture
Kara Loveday
Thammasat University, Thailand

This week I have learned many things about the Thai culture, one of which I feel is very important for those who truly want to emerse themselves in it. This is the wai. The wai is a traditional Thai greeting that is displayed in a few different forms. Because Thai culture is based traditionally on hirachy, each wai is developed from ones status in society. For example, if I was to wai at a monk, it would look very reverent because he is of a high status in Thai society. My hands would be at the top of my forehead, pressed firmly together, with my sholders bowed toward the monk. If I was greating a child, my hands would be at my chest, pressed firmly together, with a slight bow in my sholders.
As a person in a foreign land, showing reverence for those who claim this culture is important. It signifies an understanding of their culture, even if you do not agree with the the ideas behind it. Respect the hiarchy and follow it traditonally. Do not do it to fit in or look like you belong. Wai because you understand and embrace the culture. Wai because you respect the Thai people. Remember, you are on someone else’s turf so do as they do, wai.

This week I have learned many things about the Thai culture, one of which I feel is very important for those who truly want to emerse themselves in it. This is the wai. The wai is a traditional Thai greeting that is displayed in a few different forms. Because Thai culture is based traditionally on hirachy, each wai is developed from ones status in society. For example, if I was to wai at a monk, it would look very reverent because he is of a high status in Thai society. My hands would be at the top of my forehead, pressed firmly together, with my sholders bowed toward the monk. If I was greating a child, my hands would be at my chest, pressed firmly together, with a slight bow in my sholders.
As a person in a foreign land, showing reverence for those who claim this culture is important. It signifies an understanding of their culture, even if you do not agree with the the ideas behind it. Respect the hiarchy and follow it traditonally. Do not do it to fit in or look like you belong. Wai because you understand and embrace the culture. Wai because you respect the Thai people. Remember, you are on someone else’s turf so do as they do, wai.

To follow more of Kara's adventures in Thailand check out her blog Mai Pen Rai at http://karaloveday.wordpress.com/