Thursday, May 31, 2007


After our trip to Tirupati, we drove back to Madras.

Back to the world of construction (here they are building the first major overpass in Madras):

And this is city life. Bikes in an alleyway next to a shop, and a fruit-and-veggies stand on the corner:

It's colorful, with everything decorated. A truck with pretty paintings on its rear end:

A smaller one carrying exam papers:

Eco-tip: Stay away from the expensive vending machine. Put a few bags, boxes of packets of snacks from home in the car or your desk at work. It's a great place to stash and eat the snacks you might not be "in the mood" for at home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lower Tirupati

I'm still working on a couple of other posts (am I the only one who plans posts in advance and then inserts photos?), so I'm posting more from our trip, after visiting the temple at the top of Tirumala (Tirupati-mountain).

When we finally came down off the mountain, we saw some pretty trees of bright flowers

A couple of weddings were taking place up here, too

Then we ate at a restaurant. On one shelf, crispy fried pani puris were packaged (that's a tongue-twister!). The ceiling had a pretty motif.

And in a corner, a poster of the Lord Krishna, another avatar of Vishnu. He was the mischievous one, who LOVED milk and butter. As a child, he would climb up on his friends' shoulders and break the pot of butter his mother had carefully tied up. He'd steal the clothes of the girls who were bathing in the river. He'd tell one girl to close her eyes while he put a flower in her hair and then put it on another girl.

He did all that, but he also danced on and drove away the hundred-headed snake that was poisoning the village water (he spared him because his hundred wives begged Krishna for mercy). He was eating mud as a baby, and when his mother scolded him, he opened up his mouth, where she saw the whole Universe. And when he played the flute, it was the most melodious sound in the world.

Eco-tip: Need a daily eco-tip with cool advice? Try Ideal Bite's relatively light-green ideas for greening up your lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

T is for Tortoise

More from our trip to the temple Tirupati:

On the sides of the stairway up to the temple, The 10 avatars of Vishnu were displayed. Avatars are incarnations of Vishnu to rid the world of injustice whenever and wherever it appears.

Here is Koorma, the tortoise. The story goes that the gods and demons were fighting, and the gods suddenly got cursed by a sage and lost all their powers. They came to Vishnu, who told them they would have to get the nectar of immportality. To do that they had to get together with the demons to churn the ocean of milk using a mountain as a stick. But as they kept churning, the mountain started sinking. So Vishnu himself took the form of an immense tortoise and held up the mountain on his back, and the nectar came out. The demons grabbed it as once. Then Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman and lured the nectar away from them so he could distribute it evenly. But as soon as she gave it to the gods, she disappeared, so the demons didn't get any and became weak and helpless.

Varaaha is the next avatar. He was the Achilles heel of a demon. This demon pushed the world under the sea and stole the sacred Vedas, the scriptures. No one could stop him because he got a wish that he couldn't be killed by anything. He made a list of all the animals that shouldn't kill him, and no man could either. But he missed varaha, the boar. So Vishnu took the form of a boar and killed him. Then he lifted the earth out of the sea with his tusks and restored the Vedas to the creator, Brahma.

We climbed all the way to the top and reached after 11pm, when we found our hotel and slept to get an early look at the temple in the morning.

The next day we left our simple rooms for the temple. Outside the hotel were small vendors selling coffee and other things:

The fence surrounding the hotel had pretty fleur-de-lis, which I was mesmerized by:

And guess what I saw behind it?

The temple elephant! Elephants are revered in India, and every major temple keeps one like a pet. I was still a little worried because he is chained around the ankle... Here this elephant is decorated with the mark of Vishnu and had just been carefully shaved (we watched two men with Bic razors do this!).

We then went up to the temple. Here is a picture of the outside of central water reservoir of the temple. In the olden days, people used to bathe here before entering the temple itself (so they would be clean while worshipping). Now, no one is allowed there but priests. (More pictures of the temple are here).
A hundred-thousand people visit every day, so the crowds are just awful. We got a special ticket to go in and then crammed in a sort of line with hundreds of others, who pushed and pulled to get in. It's a long walk and took us about 4 hours to actually see the statue for all of 10 seconds! (It's a beautiful statue, but all the hullaballoo makes it seem almost anticlimactic)

The best part, however, was after you are done. There were signs up that described the lovely stories associated with all the gods and goddesses, and they gave us each a handful of some form of rice dish, and some sweet laddus.

Eco-tip: Do you have bare windows? Naked windows can look nice but they offer no privacy, and worse, they are no good at saving energy. Putting up curtains, blinds, or shades will let you collect heat during the day (open) and keep it in at night (closed) in the winter, and reflect heat in the summer (closed).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Poem, Seven #14, Croqzine

Croqzine #9 is out! This "Trash issue" features cool ways to recycle and reuse things. Plus a reprint of my article on "Reuse vs. Compact." Thanks gals!

This week's seven turned out to be pretty good:
- 3 tops
- 1 salwar set
- 3 pairs of socks
- set of bangles
- 1 sari
- 7 single socks (I'll count that as 1)
- 4 tupperware boxes
- 3 carry bags
- 3 old cds
That makes 20, for a total of 152.

I was thinking about the people I have lost over the years - dear friends, pets, relatives, and came across the most beautiful poem I had to share:

Staring at the Sea on the Day of the Death of Another

The long body of the water fills its hollow,
slowly rolls upon its side,
and in the swaddlings of the waves,
their shadowed hollows falling forward with the tide,

like folds of Grecian garments molded to cling
around some classic immemorial marble thing,
I see the vanished bodies of friends who have died.

Each form is furled into its hollow,
white in the dark curl,
the sea a mausoleum, with countless shelves,
cradling the prone effigies of our unearthly selves,

some of the hollows empty, long niches in the tide.
One of them is mine
and gliding forward, gaping wide.

by May Swenson
from How we live now: Contemporary Multicultural Literature. Ed. John Repp. 1992

Tall Temples

T is for temples. Hindu temples in India are works of art. They say that they are built with intricately carved tall towers (gopurams) on top so that you look up, towards the spot between your eyes, which is the focus-point of meditation.

Temples are (as many religious places are) gathering spots for the community, the location of classical performances, teaching centers for children, and of course, places of worship. They're a quiet, or not-so-quiet place to meditate.

T is for Tirupati (thee-roo-pah-thee). This was the temple we were visiting. Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe, known here as Venkateshwara or Balaji, is the presiding deity of the Tirupati temple. We couldn't take pictures there, of course, but you can see a picture of him here.

In visiting the temple, you have two options: drive, or walk. The hike up to the temple is long and tiring, but beautiful.

Along the way, you first touch the chappals, or sandals, of Vishnu, because legend goes that he came there first. You are also supposed to visit his wife, a form of the Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity), known as Alarmel Manga (lady of the lotus) or Thaayaar (Mother). She stands on a pink lotus, with lotuses in her hands and money coming from her palms, surrounded by white elephants (like this).
We visited her only at night, when they take the small bronze version of the goddess out of the temple to visit the common folk who might not be able to make it outside. This is called an utsava. Here she is from behind, a retinue of devotees with her:

We climbed the 3600 steps slowly, along with others. Some people lit small lamps or bits of camphor along the center of each step.

Others tied bits of cloth or other things to strings hanging from banyan trees, for good luck or to make wishes:

Still others made small piles of rocks for wishes, or as recompense for some wish they had made earlier:

At one point, we could see the top of the temple, lit up with Vishnu's characteristic symbols: on the left, his chakra, a sharp-toothed circular wheel used to cut off the heads of the unjust; in the middle, his namam, a mark that usually covers his eyes to the world and which signifies him; on the right, the conch shell, which if he blows will stop the Universe.

We passed the deer park (a deer reserve):

Along the way, dancers danced under a tall statue of the monkey-god Hanuman, the son of the wind.

Eco-tip: Stop buying icky toxic paints and colors for your kids and artwork. Go natural with homemade finger paints(scroll down for the recipes)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

T is for...

This post brought to you by the letter T.

T is for Thank you. Thanks to everyone who gave me great ideas on how to knit my first socks. I'll be trying the 2-needle version out after I finish my papercutting (any day now...)

T is for train. We took a train from Madras. The train platform was crowded with people:

And inside, too

At every stop, vendors board yelling "Coffee" and whatever else they're selling. You have to catch them fast if you want anything, and you'd better have change! You can eat on the little trays behind the seats, airplane-style.

I stood by the entrance of the train (the rest of the windows are sealed shut because of the air conditioning) taking pictures of the beautiful views:

and villagers passing by. These are girls on their way back from school.

And train stops:

The train conductor checked our tickets, and the manager gave us a survey to fill out afterwards about the condition of the train.

The train was an hour late, stopping at this station for an unknown reason:

We finally reached and met up with family, and piled into a jeep, which had this sticker on the back, proclaiming devotion to Lord Vishnu:

Another India-inspired Eco-tip: If you have leftovers from a party or even take a doggy bag after eating out, drop them off with a homeless person or the nearest shelter. You won't have to have leftovers and you'll do a little good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Socks HELP!

I really really really want to knit a pair of socks.

But I have two limitations:
- I don't have the right needles, I think
- I don't know how

All the tutorials on the web (that I could find, anyway) are beyond my comprehension. There appear to be three needles and then magically they turn into four. Or they turn at the heel SOMEhow and then lose me.

I also only have one set of 3 double-pointed needles. They are 3mm in size. Otherwise I have 2 size 11 circular needles, and straight (single-point) needles in a variety of sizes.

Can anyone out there help me figure out how to proceed without buying a whole new set of needles? Is that even possible?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


An apology in advance for anyone waiting for more India photos. I have a bunch but they need organization first (whoo boy!).

I haven't done a tally in a while, so here is mine for March and April and the first half of May:

1. Stuff given away: 64 (about 5 a week...a little low. time to ramp up)

2. Poems written: 3 (all in March) Here's another:


Writing lists
makes me feel content
and artificially in control
of my life.

What good is a list
if you do not do
what's on it?

3. Drawings done: 2 for Illustration Friday + 1 yesterday (does that even count? not really)

4. Compact-violating stuff bought: about 35 music books (including a long-sought set), paid for some books for grandma, paid for some souvenirs for visitors

5. Incoming (gifts received): 2 hand-me-down saris, 2 new saris, 1 top, 1 trinket, 1 handkerchief, 1 pr earrings

6. Tough Projects: paper-cutting (ongoing)

7. Defashion Rules broken: browsed a fashion mag on the plane, watched "Who wants to be a doll?" and "Next Top Model" with friends, complimented two people, some not-so-accidental window-viewing, dressed REALLY slowly one day (took about 10 minutes instead of 2)

8. For wardrobe refashion: nothing. But I'm not sad. I have enough clothes, and didn't buy any myself.

9. Progress on goals: meditated a little to help find myself, am planning to visit Paris, started practicing music a little, and emailed/called some old friends

10. List items done: list? what list? I'm starting with the following: 5 minute showers and once-a-week bucket baths

11. Eco-tips (since the last tally): 17

Today's eco-tip: You know how mom used to say "turn that off?" Just imagine her in your head - for the lights when you leave a room, the faucet when you're brushing your teeth, the computer when you're up too late. Which is what I will do now.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Gratitude of the day: Thanks to all of you for your kind words about the things I sent out and your very sweet comments. I am just basking in blog love.

I managed to get rid of a BUNCH of things all at once today that I had posted previously in my Seven Things - 3 bags of stuff out by the curb for American Veterans. I hope they can use the stuff.

I recently read on my local Compact list that some places (like libraries) just send things they can no longer sell or use to landfills! Augh! Exactly what you don't want to happen... So I'm sending them to organizations that help the needy instead in the hope that they'll get used somewhere.

I've also acquired a bunch of stuff. I just love receiving things, especially things of beauty, but then I think, oh I have all this other stuff, whatever shall I do with all that? And therein lies the dilemma: What is the use of getting rid of stuff if we keep receiving more?

I can't say no to ALL gifts ALL the time (this is nice, but take it back?). I will bring stuff into my home - a fact of urban living. I once wrote this article, which was a great idea at the time: use everything until it cannot be used anymore. But a gal can't turn her bedroom into a storage room for a maybe.

Therefore, I resolve from now on to give away OR regift whatever I cannot and do not use. I know this is sure to be an unpopular announcement, so in advance, I apologize to everyone who has ever sent me anything I once liked but do not anymore. I will still be keeping things of beauty that I really do use - like custom-made items and things I truly love and clothes that have sentimental value (after all, what is life without those?). But anything that I want to give away but feel guilty about - begone with thee!

Every rule has exceptions, the ones I've had before, like things my mom will kill me for giving away (so I'll give them to her to keep), things for work, and stuff that is needed for a project that is in the foreseeable future (one year max). The difference between this and my defashionista rules is that it applies to EVERYTHING at home that is mine - not just clothes, but shoes, jewelry, books, pots&pans, food, and all the other knickknacks.

I'll start tonight. It won't be easy. But it's all part of being a defashionista.

And that is my Eco-tip today, too: give away what you are hanging on to for unknown reasons. Ponder, cry, and let go. Someone, somewhere will love it, or it will return to the earth.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Crossing Seven Seas (#13)

India is a faraway place, and everyone seems to think of it as exotic. I'm amazed myself that until recently, I had not traveled much anywhere aside from India. And going to India was never like traveling to a faraway, exotic place!

Still, I tried to see it through the eyes of the rest of the world this time, learning about the culture like a newbie, being open to everything.

Traveling within India is exciting and frustrating. You have the option of traveling by train or flight or car, depending on how far you intend to travel. Flight is typical - a bus takes you to your plane:

And then you get on the plane and go:

Indian hospitality really blossoms on board. They offer you a choice of limeade and orange juice, and serve beautiful usually authentic Indian food (choice of vegetarian or not) with real napkins tied with a pretty string. The meals are complete with a typical fennel-and-candy after-dinner mint. We read the magazine and chatted and sped on our way.

Out of the window, we saw winding rivers:

And then the curve of the Madras coastline:

Coming closer, everything was green, with buildings nestled among the trees.

In Madras, the city breathes with the sweat of many, slums sitting next to temples next to mansions. Green buses wind through the traffic

among motorcycles, trucks, modern cars and autos

and best of all, the widest beach in the world stretches out from the roads to the water like a man relaxing in the hot sun. This is a view of the city from a modern mall:

If Bombay is the New York City of India, Madras is Boston, both quaint and city-like at once, conservative but open.

I languished in the 40 degrees (104F) in cool cotton clothes, which I left behind for the poor. And that brings me to my first Friday seven since I have been back (I'm hoping the 20+ items I gave away before I left covers the intervening weeks. I'm not including the freebies here!):

- 2 tops
- 1 skirt, torn
- 1 sari
- 1 cloth bag
- 3 pieces of random fabric
That makes 8, for a total of 132.

In India I gave away more stickers and small toys for children in schools. I also gave away 2 sets of Indian clothes in India, left the rest for my mom and sister, and came back with a suitcase full of music books (my one buying weakness, for which I happily broke the Compact).

Eco-tip: Save random boxes from everything - chocolate, tea, soap (if you have the space). They make perfect, scented gift boxes (see macberger's Sophiesaur opening up a soap box with stickers here. Isn't she a cutie?)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thinking thinking...

Just as I write the word "think," I can't recognize it. It's one of those moments where the word becomes separate from the thought.

It reminds me of a test I once took in school, where we had to memorize the meanings of random made-up words (eg kablooa - fireman) and then see how many we could recall. Some things just don't match up. Strange how the mind works.

It also brings to mind this thought-provoking article about how Americans and children perceive science. Apparently, we separate the brain from the mind. But they're the same!!!

Anyway, this is all a prelude to the meme for which I was tagged by Gaia Girl, who has a thought-worthy blog herself. This is the thinking blogger award, with the following rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote

I'm grateful and honored to be nominated! Here are 5 truly inspiring blogs. I wish I could name more (including ones already tagged!) and I'm sure there are more who deserve it. Please feel free to comment on any other blogs that have inspired you.

1. Tania - I've tagged her before and she's done a great job so I'm giving this brilliant artist another task :)

2. Living Small - Emily's goals are so much in line with my own that she gives me great ideas for what to reduce next. Smaller is better!

3. Life in LaLaLumay Land - A new blog for me, but already full of great refashioning and truly inspiring knitting.

4. Moonstitches - my current blog read. I'm going through the archives and oohing and aahing over the little owls and crochet and contemplating how I will ever get such talent. Maybe she can give me some tips?

5. Isle Dance - A recently-found blog that's got me thinking about blog design and the beauty of presentation, with the added benefit of embracing sustainability.


Thanks again to all for your enthusiasm. I'm busy putting together a couple more packets for this weekend. Last chance for one!

On to more about my trip: we arrived in India, in the city of Mumbai. To everyone who's been there before, it's still Bombay (a British corruptions which Indians adopted happily).

This is a great view of India - India in its beauty, its color, its dancing and vibrant life:

But that's from a magazine (in-flight). Instead, let me show you something else.

This is the ubiquitous "auto," the taxicab of India. Depending on where you take one, you may negotiate a fare or go by meter, but you'll sit tight with at most two others as you speed and weave through the horrific traffic, the breeze whipping at you from the sides. The drivers emblazon the backs of these autos with religious stickers, family planning sayings including "We two, ours one," anti-child marriage publicity like "The proper age for a girl to get married is 21," and feminist slogans, such as "Power for women," amazing given that all of these autos are driven by men. (That's dh's profile in the photo)

In Bombay, we visited cousins and relatives, who live 6 people to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment of about 800 square feet. Surprisingly, it was VERY comfortable, and we managed to fit a few extra people over the course of our stay, too!

We also had a surprise visitor: a curious monkey who came at the windows (barred for exactly this reason!) and went away with a banana.

It was when we went out in the 85-degree humid weather that we got the full effect of Bombay. Whether it's 2am or 2pm, the streets are alive with people and cars. We drank tall, cool glasses of pure sugarcane juice (no ice or water added, of course), and ate spicy Bombay specialties in air conditioned restaurants: pav bhaji (toasted bread with a vegetable curry) and vada pav (bread with a fried lentil-and-vegetable ball). The color started showing up all over the place: store fronts with plastic buckets, garlands, and earrings for sale; women's traditional dresses in every color of the rainbow; vendors with carts selling mangoes or flowers. Here is one of a traditional store selling "cool drinks" hanging up at the top, with a modern telephone in front.

My favorite part of Bombay is one I don't have a picture of: spending time with family. There's something I cherish about being in that kind of environment where it's okay not to have much privacy, and people are genuinely kind and intimate and comfortable without being formal or polite or even having to say how they feel about you. They'll take you in any time of day or night, chastise you when you've been bad (and know it), but forgive you the next instant and love you all the same. That's family.

Oh and a new eco-tip (India-inspired): Carry a scarf. It's like the towel of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame. it works as a towel, a head covering, an impromptu skirt, a warm shawl, and it keeps out pollution on dusty roads.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Traveling tales

Thanks to all for your interest in the freebies - they're now taken and on their way! For anyone else who didn't get a package, I do have some other interesting things to send out now and in the future, so if you are still interested, leave a comment below and I'll send you something interesting from India.

Thanks also for your enthusiasm for learning about India! As someone of Indian heritage who has lived in the United States all her life, I see India with a mix of wonder and familiarity, so I'd like to convey to you my sense of both.

I'll start with a record of our trip TO India. We flew Korean Air via Seoul, but didn't get to stop and look around there. The airport is lovely though.

On the plane we got these lovely little packets of socks and toothbrush and eyepatch in a pretty seafoam color:

I tried to sleep, but couldn't much, and read the magazine, which had this ad with the cutest pictures of sleeping animals:

I also found that traveling makes me trigger-happy. I couldn't resist taking pictures out the window, especially when the sun came out.

The flight was long (total 22 hours), but short compared to my other trips (as long as 36 hours). Unfortunately there were only two movies played, one of them in Korean (with subtitles). I'm sorry to say it was as bad as a typical Bollywood movie!

We landed exhausted in the morning and did our best not to sleep, but took a nap anyway. More about India tomorrow!

In the meantime, check this out: Animal welfare in science