A Travellerspoint blog

Barbershop Shut Down By The Man

A editorial for my school newspaper regarding my university's despicable use of their money

sunny 3 °C

Tumblr, BitTorrent, MySpace, Mashable, Facebook. Many of today’s most successful companies came to fruition on college campuses. Echoing a zuckerburgian innovative spirit, last year some friends of mine founded the Big Dog Barber Shop, a space where young aspiring barbers on campus could unleash their talents on crunchy Wesleyan students. We may have been unlicensed, but we had the eye for enhancing the beauty of our compatriots. If someone wanted a haircut and was willing to go under the blades of our Rite Aid scissors, we put our heart and soul into the project. Once we had established ourselves as a legitimate enterprise, we started suggesting $5 a head to compensate our time. People held out their Andrew Jacksons without hesitation. It seemed like a fair price.

When Ezra, Ashik, and Al, founders of Big Dog graduated, the project hung in limbo. Where would we house the barber shop? Would it be able to stand without the guiding hands of its creators? This semester, upon my return from a leave of absence, I thought my new home on Fountain would provide the perfect space for a new chapter of Big Dog. My roommate Miles Bukiet thought we might call the shop Ivan’s Cuts, after the legendary Ivan Maulana (he flew the coop early to help Drunkie the monkey join the circus). Ivan’s Cuts hit the ground running, posting flyers all around campus, making announcements on Wesleying, and launching a Facebook page. Business was looking good: we spotted several students wearing their winter-break mullets with shame, indicating that the market for haircuts on campus was alive and well. And then, disaster struck. Miles and I received an email from ResLife, explaining that we needed to set up a meeting regarding “our barbershop services”.

I discovered that the university has a policy banning students from running businesses out of Wesleyan housing. I was also informed that my “services have come to the attention of the university legal counsel and it probably would be a wise decision to stop offering your services.” Wait, hold on a sec, sir. You mean to tell me that Ivan’s Cuts is enough of a concern that the university legal counsel gives a shit? I open once a week, for a couple of hours. I cut maybe 4 heads during that time, maximum. If we assume $10 a cut, that’s $40 per week, or $160 per month. This is the same amount of money that I can make if I work only HALF MY SHIFTS at Pi Café. You’re telling me your legal counsel is preoccupied with businesses that generate the same amount of money as a single less-than-part-time-worker at the campus coffee shop?

And another thing. Wesleyan contacts my parents regularly asking for money, and already calls friends of mine who graduated last May asking for contributions. This university doesn’t have Amherst or Williams’ endowment, and if graduates keep taking public service jobs or go to graduate school, where will the funding come from to build more idiotic structures like Usdan? However menial my business venture was, it was an attempt to provide a service on campus catering to a visible market. I know Ivan’s Cuts isn’t going to pay for the new Science Center, but at some point in my life I’m going to start some sort of business, and when I strike it big you can bet that I won’t be writing philanthropic checks to a place that threatened my first idea with legal action.

Finally, I understand that Wesleyan trembles at the thought that I might cut someone’s ear off on school premises and that someone’s parents will sue. I understand that I am living in Residential Housing and that perhaps there are zoning laws that prohibit me from having a business under this roof. But Public Safety doesn’t enforce jaywalking when people walk across High Street. Wesleyan doesn’t patrol campus on a Saturday nights, stopping stumbling students to see if they are underage. So why clamp down on my little barbershop?

One would think that our 55k per year would be used to stimulate thought, entrepreneurial enterprise, thinking out of the box -- not using those funds to employ people to harass me for cutting hair in my Woodframe kitchen which is kept up by the same department like a slum lord crack pad.

Posted by pack_it_in 09:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Notes to future backpackers

Wisdom I wish someone had shared with me me before my first adventure

snow -3 °C

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, especially since a few friends have asked for basic planning advice for their own trips in the near future. For clarity and convenience, I'm going to write this in bullet points.

Over time I accumulated a list of little things I would have brought along if I had known, as well as items that saved my life on a few occasions.

-Inflatable travel pillow (bus necessity)
-Sleeping pills (for long, uncomfortable, overnight commutes)
-Broad spectrum antibiotic, like Cipro (for when you get a parasite)
-Headlamp (navigate your dorm when others are sleeping, and makes nighttime hikes possible)
-A notebook and pen (take down peoples' info, write down an address, keep a journal)
-Compression bag for your clothes (gets all the air out from your pile of clothes, making everything more compact and rucksack-friendly)
-1 book (you can exchange it when you are done!!)
-A mummy liner (gross hostel sheets, buses, if you get cold ever and need an extra layer)
-Chaco's (only the best shoes ever made. Waterproof sandals with as solid soles as hiking boots. And plenty of support too. These were my only shoes for a good portion of my trip. Some people say they are ugly, but I think their usefulness discounts any fashion critiques)
-Vitamins (budgeting often makes a balanced diet difficult)
-A spork (for street food)
-A Swiss Army Knife (to cut vegetables, cheese, remove splinters, open beer bottles, and most importantly for self-defense**)
-Multipurpose liquid soap (I used Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1)
-Lip balm with SPF
-A comfortable pack not more than 75 liters that fits your back!!!

-A sarong (good to double as a blanket on buses, but also as a beach dress or picnic blanket)
-Pack cover (if it rains)
-A device that picks up WiFi (a lot of hostels/guesthouses/couches you will stay at might have limited computer access, and often times they charge you to use their computers but it's free if you have your own laptop or smartphone)
-Good bug repellent (but be careful not to rub your eyes after using it, especially if it's 95% DEET like mine was)
-A Polaroïd camera (I met a guy who had one. He would take pictures of people he met and have them write down their email address on the back of the photo)

In all this amounts to quite a bit of stuff, but it's all so useful you won't regret it. And to be honest, besides these things I really only needed clothes.

Planning your trip

Don't plan your trip. Plan a first destination and go from there. I tried to plan--because I was really into that before I left--and ended up changing EVERYTHING after the first week. You'll meet people, talk to them about where they've been, realize everything you researched on the internet is wrong, and have to cancel stuff. It's better to go with the flow and plan on the fly. Plus, if you plan, you won't give yourself the opportunity to travel with new friends (because you didn't know them when you made your arrangements), arguably the best part of backpacking.

Happy backpacking!

  • *Just kidding

Posted by pack_it_in 14:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Returning to American, urban, and university life

Reverse culture shock and a few takeaways

snow -3 °C

When I bought my ticket to Bogotá back in August, I wondered immediately how I would feel going back to school after what I imagined would be a crazy five months. Well, here I am, five months later sitting in my kitchen at Wesleyan, typing on my neglected laptop drinking some french pressed coffee, savoring the last days of freedom before classes begin. Oh, and there's about two feet of snow on my front lawn. Things have changed since Thailand.

I shouldn't have to say it but I will: coming back has been difficult. Although West Philly favorite coffee joints were still in business, brewing my beloved-bottomless-mug bold roasts, and the east coast, though cold, is glamorously snow covered, there were a few things I couldn't get wrap my mind around. First of all, why did I have so many clothes in my closet? I didn't even remember having bought half the t-shirts I could choose from every morning. And how come I spent my days walking outside bundled up, jogging to the car, putting around the corner, parking the car directly in front of my destination, running the fifteen seconds from the curb to the front door. Then sitting down somewhere. Repeat. And the 5 hours of daylight everyday (assuming I wake up at 10am)... with sun if you're lucky. I needed more time that I allotted to readjust to January in Philadelphia.

Would Wesleyan be different? Well, unfortunately Connecticut got double the snow as Pennsylvania... not looking good on the weather front. Also, convenience has another meaning up here at university. I didn't bring my car up deliberately to force myself to be less of a senior citizen, but that doesn't mean I'm not in facilitated living. My lovely home is one block from the fitness center (and swimming pool), one block from the campus grocery store, two from the library and coffee shop. Out of the three classes I plan to take this semester, only one is more than a five minute walk from my front doorstep. Not to mention, most of my friends live on my street in houses or apartments similar to mine. It's amazing that I never realized how good we had it before. Maybe that's why I could go through the motions every day, live the American university life comfortably. Now, all of the sudden I feel totally out of place.

Earlier today I went to the gym. True, being in a gym is like being a fish in a fishbowl but let's face it, with the weather like this I can't be bothered to run outside. It's cold, icy, raining, and I'm not as intense as I used to be. I walked into the fitness center, changed into my sneakers (no outside shoes allowed in this pristine facility!) and found an available treadmill. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't recognize a single face in the gym. That's rare, going to a school with less than 3,000 people and having been there for almost four years. Not just that, but I had forgotten what it was like to do two things at once: listening to music while running was way more challenging than I recalled. I kind of scanned the perimeter, verifying that I was in fact a stranger in my own domain, and realized that half the people in the gym were doing the same thing... watching everyone else. The girls would tidy their hair, the guys with muscle shirts would look at all the people on the elliptical machines while pretending to watch themselves lift weights. The yogis on the mats held their tree poses by starting straight ahead of them at the lacrosse players doing squats. I was so uncomfortable that I ended up spending my 25 minutes staring out the window at the sheet of ice hiding the track.

I left the gym earlier than expected, feeling like I didn't belong at Wesleyan anymore. I'm used to walking down the block and recognizing just about everyone, saying hi to those I'd consider more than a brief acquaintance. Is this still my playground? Or did that semester off shake the Wesleyan stamp off my shoulder?

It's only my first day here, as well as my first full week in 'real life' --whatever that means-- so I think I need to give myself some time to take everything in and re-adjust. Culture shock, or in this case, reverse culture shock, is not permanent. My plan is to take it slow, hang out with a few friends I really missed while away and hang out in the warmth of my new home. Also, when I had just recently gotten back I made a small list of things I wanted to do even when I stopped moving about the globe. I wanted to continue writing in my journal, reading for pleasure, being active, and meeting new people on a regular basis. These will all probably have to be conscious efforts, considering in this last week I've neglected all four of those things. Amazing how quickly I forget promises I make to myself.

Also, just because I've stopped travelling doesn't mean this blog is dying. Surely it'll have to slow down, since the number of worthwhile stories will decrease dramatically here at Wesleyan. The routine takes over and tends to normalize daily events, sad as this may be. Hopefully by accepting couchsurfers at the house, and as always dreaming about future excursions, I can keep my nomadic spirit alive.

Posted by pack_it_in 14:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)


Wandering the capital of the mother of civilizations

sunny 15 °C
View Middle East on pack_it_in's travel map.

Egypt. It was on the second I boarded my flight to Cairo: sandwiched between two women, one wearing a burka and the other a hijab. The lifejacket notice was written only in Arabic. The majority of the passengers were men, and the few women on board were accompanied.

Cairo's no different. I've buried all my sleeveless tops and shorts at the bottom of my rucksack. When I go out I wear a scarf to cover my entire neckline. Most of what I see when I walk around the city is the sidewalk. I dont dare look anyone in the face-- it's considered a pass to make eye contact with men here. I walk quickly and with purpose. I pretend not hear when people speak to me in the street, even policemen. It sounds oppressive, uncomfortable, but I don't see it that way. Yesterday I wished I wore a burka-- it must be kind if empowering to be able to see everyone and for others to only see your eyes and fingertips. You're as close as it gets to invisible. If I were invisible I wouldn't have to stare at the ground and pretend I'm deaf. I could walk, observe unbothered.

The only place I can really act freely is in the lady car of the metro. I rode it yesterday with a new friend from my new home, a hostel I. Downtown Cairo where I've been camping out ever since I arrived from Bangkok. The lady car of the metro is specially indicated in the station, generally less crowded than the rest of the train, and men get fined if they board it. The first time I got on I was in awe. I might be western and a non Muslim , but I'm not a stranger in the lady car. These Egyptians and I, every one of them, have something in common from the start. Most women return a smile, make eye contact, and are eager to help when I show signs of being lost ( which is often the case since I get on without really knowing where I'm going). The men here might be annoying, especially on the greets, but the women are warm, friendly, and approachable.

The pyramids accentuated the gender discrepancy I've noted here in Egypt. To be honest I didn't really want to go. It's expensive, at that point I was alone, and I knew it would be one if those tourist traps with heaps of people trying to sell you things. A nightmare, in other words. But you can't really leave Cairo without seeing the last remaining wonder of the world, towering over the western suburbs of the city. I sucked it up and went early on Satuday morning, hoping the majority of tourists would wait until later in the day to flock to Giza. When I arrived sure enough it wasn't mobbed, but I was far from wandering the desert alone. Every ten meters, "Camel ride, miss? 10 pounds," and when I didn't respond, "okay okay, 5 pounds." And when I didn't respond, "camello, señorita?", but I keep walking, eyes glued to the sand. They'll follow you for a while on camelback, but after 100 meters or so they give up and trot off to hassle the next tourist. Its a pain, but with my Cairo-street-training ignoring people is a small price to pay for temporary peace.

The pyramids, aside from typical tourist pestilence, were pretty cool. They are HUGE, perfect geometric objects. And in the morning the hazy sunlight makes them look even more surreal. I didn't go inside, not wanting to pay extra or feel claustrophobic that early in the morning, so my visit consisted mostly of strolling over the sand dunes from one pyramid to the next. There are nine at Giza, three big and six small. The smaller ones are crumbling a bit, but the large ones... Wow. If you had told me they were built in the 1800s--and I lived in a cave-- I would have believed you.

Today is my last in Cairo. I'm going to go to the bus station soon to buy a ticket to the Red Sea, on the Sinai peninsula. That'll be a night bus tonight, followed by a handful of day hanging out on the beach trying not to get limbs ripped off by sharks while snorkeling. Kidding... The shark attacks were way far south in Sharm El Sheik. The beahes in Dahab, where I'll be, were never affected or closed. Once I've pretended to be Moses (climbed mount Sinai) and gotten my fill of shisha and falafel I'm crossing into Israel for a proper Jewish Christmas. You'll probably hear from me again on that side of the border.

Posted by pack_it_in 23:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Farewell, Fried Rice

Leaving Asia

overcast 28 °C

My flight technically doesn't leave until tomorrow morning (6h30 departure out of Bangkok International Airport), but I'll be in the terminal in about 3 hours, so just before midnight. I've decided to catch the last SkyTrain instead of paying for a cab in the middle of the night. Saves me a night in a hostel and about 10 USD in transportation. I hear the Bangkok Airport has nice carpeting and free WiFi, so hopefully it won't be too hard to pass the time before it's time to check in.

The last day in Bangkok has probably been my most authentic Thai day to date. I didn't buy anything, I didn't go to the MBK (a 7-story mall in Bangkok), I didn't go see Harry Potter with subtitles, I didn't get a massage, and I didn't take any tuk-tuks. Sure, these are all things most people do in Thailand and they feel really exotic, but the truth is that only foreigners, or fahrang, do these activities when in Bangkok. So what did I do instead? Woke up, met a friend for lunch. Ordered spicy papaya salad, with a full-on dose of chilli. Then we took the canal commuter boats (yes, there are canals in Bangkok, which earned it the title 'Venice of the east') followed by a subway to the park. Bangkok canals are filthy. They are lined by shanty-town-houses, most without plumbing or a sufficient trash system, so a lot of the waste ends up in the canals. Anyhow, our boat putted downstream passing station after station, people hopping on and off at their leisure. It's like an open-air subway.

We got out at one of the central parks in Bangkok, the one famous for having giant lizards running loose all over the place. I didn't believe it at first, but soon enough I looked over to where the duck boats dock and saw one. He looked like a crocodile except for his long tongue that slithered out of his pointed snout every two seconds. There were big ones and little ones, strolling around the park like it was no big deal. I felt like I was back in the pampas, but with eyes watering from all the pollution. The park was fairly quiet today--just some drums in the distance from a school band practising in the courtyard. A few months ago this same park was the sight of a massive camp out when the Red Shirts rioted in Bangkok. My friend, who was in the city at the time, told me that they had set up tents right where we were sitting. The protesters refused to leave until the current prime minister left the country and resigned. If you kept up with the riots you probably already know all about this, but I didn't know much except that my parents hadn't wanted me to fly into Bangkok when I was booking my flights because the city was rumoured dangerous. Interesting to be sitting in the same park months later, everything seeming peaceful, the night curfew abolished and the tents all packed up.

When we got board of the park I boarded the subway once again to head back to my hostel and pack up my things. I got some street Pad Thai and a green tea...yum... and ate it while finishing up my book. I'll admit I had to rush a bit through the end of my first Hemingway novel ever, but I had to trade it in before leaving. No use carrying a thick book when you only have 50 pages left. Sad ending, didn't expect that one. Kind of a downer before getting on the plane, but not to worry, the terrible Bruce Willis film showing in the movie room of the hostel, Tears of the Sun, quickly cheered up my mood. It's not a happy movie; on the contrary, it's about a squad of American soldiers in Nigeria rescuing people from the jungle. But just like most films you see in Thailand, it was a copied DVD and the quality was so bad that the acting looked horrendous. So horrendous that I couldn't take anyone seriously--all the dialogue looked like American military propaganda. I giggled a bit, wiping clean the sour taste in my mouth from the ending of my book, and giving me a bit of energy to write this post and get my rucksack together for the SkyTrain.

It's about time to wrap this up and grab a bottle of water at the 7 eleven on the corner (I don't know if I've mentioned this before but there is a 7 eleven literally on every corner in Bangkok). And it's time to stop being nostalgic about my brief Asia stint. Favourite part, you ask? Hmmm... probably an hour ago when I watched the ladies on the corner making my chicken pad thai. It took them a while because they had about 15 orders ahead of me, but I wasn't complaining. That meant I got to watch them making every dish. 4 women, 3 woks (large pan-bowl-things that they cook everything in), a pile of green vegetables and a sister-pile of raw meat. Oh yes, and the famous jumbo-size rice cooker. Each of the women worked on a different order, throwing in greens, pork, some soy sauce, a tad of chilli, and then spatula-ing it all together. Add a bit of oil, drop the spatula--CLANG--on the side of the wok, walk away, grab a plate, toss on some rice--wait no that's too much--grab a small handful and put it back in the rice maker for the next plate. Take the steaming rice over to the wok, spatula the concoction one more time and then scoop it out over the rice. And ta-da, one plate done, but no time for pats on the back though because she's already tossing the next lot of vegetables in the recently emptied wok for the next order. My pad thai came out kind of like that, but there were some noodles involved.

Yeah, that was easily the coolest part of Asia. Damn I wish I could cook like that.

Posted by pack_it_in 06:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Khymer Time Warp

The magnificent temples of Angkor

sunny 29 °C

With few exceptions, travelers on the Southeast Asia circuit make time for Siem Reap, a small town in north central Cambodia that hosts the temples of Angkor. I didn't have the faintest idea what I was going to witness. I knew close to nothing about Buddhism or Hinduism, and even less about Cambodian ancient history besides the fact that the United States bombed the shit out of this country in the 70s. My only knowledge about Angkor was that it was the largest collection of temples in the world.

Day 1 in Siem Reap was a chill one. I needed it after all the relaxing I had done in Laos the previous week... joking. I think my routine has slowed down considerably since I hit Asia. Maybe it's because I chose to go to the islands first. Might have set the tone. Anyhow, Siem Reap is a cool place over all. Relaxed, though there are tons of motobikes and tuk-tuks (but that's pretty much standard out here), massage joints on every corner, tons of 'Happy Pizza' shops (use your imagination), and an extensive artisan night market. I wandered around on one of the hostel bicycles for a few hours to get my bearings straight, then made it back to the hostel where I met a couple of friends heading to Angkor for sunset. At 4:45 we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the temples. We were late. By the time we braved the hilly path to the top of the highest hill at Angkor, it was dark. Just my luck.

Day 2 in Siem Reap. A dorm-mate and I had a leisurely breakfast at the hostel, then got in a tuk-tuk to the temples. We planned, in accordance with some advice I had gotten from friends in Laos that had already done Angkor, to go to some temples on east side of the national park first. Some 40km from the hostel, we weaved through the last of the Cambodian country road to our first destination: Bantey Srei, temples that were not actually meant to be temples. Ironic. Pink sandstone, the entrance so small it might have been made for children. Parts of the structure are in ruin and overgrown, but a lot of the intricacies still stand strong. 'The most impressive carvings of all of Angkor are here', our guide Jim said in his impeccable Cambodian English. We saw what he meant immediately. Every door, every arch, every wall, every statue, looked like it had been slaved over (quite literally) for ages with a toothpick-thin carving utensil. And the precision... you could hardly tell the difference between the thousands of Vishnus if you discount size variation. I spent about an hour wandering the temple grounds, inspecting the sandstone figures and trying to figure out the story the walls tried to tell. I might have been more successful if, again, I knew anything about Khymer history. Goddamnit, Wesleyan, teach me something useful!


After Bantrey Srei we went to another few temples on the way back to Angkor Thom--the name of the larger complex of temples inside the park--but Jim didn't lie. None were as intricate as the first. Intricacy, however, turned out to be just one of many ways Angkor Wat would impress me in the days to come. Ta Prohm, the set for Laura Croft Tomb Raider (dumb movie where Angelina Jolie prances around in a leather suit trying to find the origin of the universe...yeahh...), might have taken the cake that day for coolest temple in Cambodia. This temple is likely the most overgrown of the complex. Giant trees inside the walls of Ta Prohm have decided to grow roots in between the stones that make up the temple, taking years to destroy the walls but slowly accomplishing their mission. Sounds tragic, but I think it adds to the charm. Everywhere you turn there's a huge root sandwiched through the middle of a stone wall. There are giant rock pile-ups, making it impossible to enter or exit through various doors. But it's cool, you just wander around until you find a way out of the labyrinth. I kind of felt like I was escaping the Minotaur.


Day 3 at the temples started way too early. 4:30am departure from the hostel to make it for sunrise. To be honest, it wasn't worth it. I was tired, Jim was tired, and there's scaffolding on Angkor Wat (Note: Angkor Wat is the name of the central temple in the collection. It covers 82 hectars, making it the largest temple in the world) and it was cloudy. Coffee also costs $2 if you buy it on premise. That's the same price as my gourmet fried rice lunch. Anyhow, once the sun had risen anticlimactically we set off into Angkor Wat, supposedly the crowned jewel of the place. I wish I had been more impressed. Day 2 had set the bar high, though, and even though Angkor Wat represents 'the universe'--the center temple has the steepness of a mountain, the moat is the ocean, etc-- I was done exploring after half an hour. I wanted to go to Bayon, the face temple, so that's where we headed next.

Bayon restored my interest in temples. There are faces carved in every tower, all with this sort of mysterious, coy smile. I won't describe it more because I'll ruin it. Here's a photo.

I suppose I could go on for a while about temples, but even after reading this post you're probably as temple-jaded as I was after Day 3. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it), I had one more day on my overpriced pass and I wasn't about to waste it just because I was tired. Time for a change of pace! So I rented a bicycle.

Everyone in Siem Reap rides the same bicycle. It's what we in the US of A would call a 'hybrid', it's gray, probably rusty, and it has a basket on the front. Seat too low? Tough luck. 5 year olds ride at the same height as full grown men. Blame it on a misplaced screwdriver, or the Cambodian easy-going attitude. In any case, I managed to get a lock for my bike (score!!) and peddled off to Angkor...again... down the road I knew quite well at this point. Once I dodged a million motobikes and tuk-tuks to get out of Siem Reap, blundered past a few traffic lights, and braved the sunny 7 km to the gates of Angkor, I was home free. The next few hours would be dedicated to zoning out and passively experiencing the temples that had made me borderline brain dead the day before.

15 kilometers later I realized I was back at Ta Prohm. Subconsciously I think I returned to bid farewell to my favorite temple. Exhausted and realizing I had at least 20 km to get back to the hostel, I took a water break, stretched a quad or two, hopped back on my bike and daydreamed of a shower and my daily order of fried rice waiting for me in Siem Reap. It went by surprisingly quickly, mostly because I made a friend with a fellow biker on the way back. He couldn't have been more than 10 years old, proudly riding brilliantly blue new wheels. $32, he told me in English. When the turn off for his school came around, he pointed me in the right direction for town, and screamed 'Good luck to you!' as he veered off.

Posted by pack_it_in 05:23 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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