Hi.  If you’re looking for Nathan Shipley the freelance animator / VFX guy, you’re close but you want this page:  www.nathanshipley.com

Or if you came here for the travel blog written by the same guy, welcome!

New here?

Basic story is that I quit my job and traveled around the world without a plan for a year starting in June, 2008. I went through South America, Eastern Europe, Turkey, India, and Thailand. If I got to a place I liked, I just rented an apartment and stayed there for a month, which meant that I wasn’t rushed, I saved money on flights, I got to know a city better on a non-tourist basis, and I actually had a chance to make real, lasting friendships with locals.

I lived for longer periods of time in:

  • Lima, Peru
  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Budapest, Hungary (3 weeks — thanks, train strike)
  • Istanbul, Turkey (two months-ish)
  • Mumbai, India

It was basically awesome. Colombia and Istanbul were my two favorite places, though Mumbai is definitely close to my heart.

The “About Nathan” page should give the you the basics.  The trip is organized chronologically by country in the categories on the right. 

Want some cream of the crop reading without having to wade through all the posts?  Check out these stories, which have been the most popular and are also personal favorites:

Most Popular Stories

Tooth Checking Close UpDoctor Shipley Visits Peru
Lima, Peru: I don doctors clothes and pretend to be a dentist.  I go to classrooms and lie to children about my credentials while I give them lectures in Spanish about oral hygiene.

Highway Robbery at Fantom Bar: Istanbul Pavyon (& Whorehouse?)
Istanbul, Turkey: How I drank the most expensive beer of my life and pissed off a Turkish prostitute. Excerpt: “The prostitute threw her leg up on some sort of platform behind the bar in a huff, perhaps to suggest one last opportunity at the goods before she summarily kicked us out of the bar. “Go,” she ordered. Her English is absolutely awful, but it was the most comprehensible thing she said the entire night. “No drink, you go.”

The Guy that Sold me the BhangWhen the White Rabbit Peaks: Color Fights and Drugs at Holi
Mumbai, India: Color fights with strangers and drinking bhang on the day I fall in love with India.

How I met the CEO of an Indian media empire and might be the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Mumbai, India:  I respond to a Craigslist ad which leads to an interview with the CEO of a massive Indian media empire and tryouts to be the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in India.

In Search of Bottle Girl
Bogota, Colombia: I ended up with two transsexuals at a multi-level gay bar at about 4:00 in the morning on Saturday night when common sense broke out and I got the hell out of Dodge. Naturally, however, that’s not exactly how I planned the evening to end. The point was to find either Bottle Girl, mayhem, or both.

Bribing Cops and the Strange World of Pablo Escobar’s Estate
Colombia: I went to Pablo Escobar’s now-defunct estate and had to bribe some cops on the way over.

Map of where I actually went:

Starting in Chicago, heading south and east, eventually back to Chicago.


View Larger Map

Been there, read that?

But if you have been here before and you wonder where the hell I went, read on.

I flew home from Bangkok on May 8th, 2009 to Chicago.  My sister picked me up, we went to Indiana, and I was freaked out by all the white people at the Mexican restaurant we went to.  (Friday night after finals week at Purdue in the midwest.  Go figure.)

It’s been quite amazing since then.  I wonder if I should have kept the blog going since I got back?  I’ve done the number one thing I missed while I was traveling:  spent time with friends and family. Oh, I and started working.

And I went to Puerto Rico, drove across the country stopping through Colorado, New Mexico, and Southern California before ultimately moving to San Francisco, where I’m now working as a freelance motion-graphics/3D artist and compositor.

And I miss traveling.  And the people I met.  And a bunch of sentimental stuff that I have only vaguely organized in a bunch of incoherent text files in my Documents > Random folder.  I would say I’ll organize my thoughts into some nice, pensive wrap-up post, but considering it’s taken me 12 months to post this, I’m not making any promises.

I’ll be back on the road in July and August.

nathan

A Video I’ve Been Avoiding

I’ve had this idea for a trip video since I was in Istanbul and I first heard the song “No Hay Nadie Como Tu” (translation: “There’s No One Like You”) by Calle 13. I love the song. The video idea is a montage of pictures from the entire trip that goes along with the lyrics of the song.

You can listen to it here, if you like:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

However, it has made me feel uncomfortable to start working on that project. I’ve thought about it several times, but I’ve avoided it. Starting that project becomes a symbol of the trip being over. It means that I don’t plan on having more pictures to fill in the video with. (I’ve currently taken more than 5,000 pictures on this trip!)

What Floats My Boat and Finds My Lost Remote?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I’ve been in Bangkok over the past two weeks. I’ve been on the road for almost 11 months now. I could easily keep traveling for 3 or 4 more months in Southeast Asia with the funds I have left. I’ve thought about where I could go next, but nothing is jumping out at me.

And sure, I’m having a great time here. I make a million friends living at this hostel. As usual, though, the friendships are mostly transient and relegated to the final “Come visit me sometime! See you on Facebook!” as the travelers move on to their next destination.

What I do get excited about is seeing my friends and family. Starting the next chapter in my life with enthusiasm. I want to work on big, exciting visual effects, compositing, and motion graphics projects. I don’t know if I miss the United States itself per say, but I do miss the people and look forward to the opportunities there.

What? A plan?

I’ve done a lot of personal writing over the last two days along with even more active thinking than I’ve done in the previous weeks. I think I’ve come up with a plan for the next couple months.

According to the timestamp on the file, that plan started on Sunday, May 3rd, 2009, at 11:18 AM. That’s when I created a new empty project… for the trip wrap-up photo montage video.

New Answer to an Old Question

Last night a new person at the hostel asked where I was going next. For the first time, instead of saying, “I don’t know,” I replied with a smile, “Home.”

It felt good to say. I’m excited. And not just about making a photo montage.

From one “doctor” to another…

Quote time? Sure. Dr. Seuss said,

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

From one “doctor” to another, I can already tell that’s going to be difficult in practice, Seuss. But I tend to be a pretty happy guy. I’m sure there’ll be some poignant and sad reflection moments — indeed, there already have been — “home” might freak me out, I might wish I’d done more while I was here, but I’ve got faith. There’s plenty more time to travel.

So, dear reader, thanks for joining me so far. This isn’t a trip wrap-up post. Expect more in the coming weeks. I’ve still got a Muay Thai boxing video to make (which was awesome, by the way), some more retrospective thoughts, some practical travel stuff that might be useful to others, etc…

…and there’s a little montage video to worry about.

Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling.

For now, I just bought a flight from Bangkok to Chicago. I leave on Thursday at 1 in the morning. It’s 21 hours. (Which is nothing after spending the same amount of time on a bus through winding mountain roads in Peru. I get a 3 hour break at an airport to walk around on this one!)

It feels simultaneously unsettling and exciting. What the hell, right? Good things seem to have come from pushing myself past the butterflies in my stomach so far.

Why should going home be an exception?

nathan

One Night in Bangkok

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’ta left you. Without some dope beats blogs to step to. There’s a small Flickr set to step to, too.

Hi. All is not quiet on the Eastern front. I’m in Bangkok, by the way. And it’s not been one night like Murray Head might say, it’s been four. (By the way, what the hell is that song actually about? Anyone? Stiles?)

Wait. Thailand? What? Where’d India go?

Bangkok Temple

IndiaApologies for leaving you hanging. India at least deserves a summary. Bombay was convoluted at times, busy, crazy, conservative, occasionally off-ripping, but good. I’m glad I was there. I like it. It was colorful and certainly energetic. It developed a je ne sais quoi after a while. Indians will say “I love my India,” and I won’t say I’m totally with them, but I can see where they’re coming from a little better now.

Upon arrival in Bangkok, everything was about 180 degrees different; suddenly extremely organized and orderly. For example, the taxi from the airport: the cars were nice, new, and fast, they stayed in their own lanes, they didn’t honk, they obeyed the signals. The other travelers I’ve met here keep saying that Bangkok is overwhelming, the traffic is crazy, etc. Bah!, I say. Stay with 20 million Indians in a 200 square mile area, ride a rush hour train with more than 5,000 people in it (that’s designed to carry 1,700 people) and then get back to me. 1

We’ll save the pensive India summary for later. In the mean time, here are a couple of oh-so-pensive India pictures. Seen near the Khar Road train station in Mumbai:

India

I met these guys. They’re both cool and in a hard rock band. The guy on the right is a drummer and the Indian duplicate of a friend named Adam back home.

India

Khao San Road: Backpackers, Ladyboys, and Ping Pong Shows

In Bangkok, Khao San Road is aptly described by Wikipedia as a “probably the most profound worldwide example of a ‘backpackers’ ghetto’.” Indeed, free online encyclopedia.

Khao San RoadThe streets are packed full of lights and backpackers of every shape, size, and color. Music blasts. Street performers show off. Ladyboys prowl around. Thai girls (that actually are girls) in short skirts try to get you to drink at their joint. Dudes walk around selling lighters – some of which have a flashlight on one end that projects porn. (How handy! I, for one, find it annoying to light things on fire without easy access to a projectable picture of a chick and three dudes going to town!)

Some of the foreigner guys walking around have cute young Thai girls on their arms – who’s company they’ve more than likely paid for. And sure enough, spend more than a minute walking around as a farang guy and you’ll be hit up by guys with porn pictures asking if you want a girl (“Cheap! Very, very young! Special price, my friend!”) or to see a “ping pong show.” (Yes. A ping pong show is not a demonstration of table tennis. It’s what you’re thinking. Only apparently not just with ping pong balls. Darts, pens, string, whistles, candles, and even frogs. Frogs? Mm! Sexy and sanitary!) More gory details here for the curious or oblivious.

Khao San is one of those places that I’m glad I saw, but I got tired of quickly.

That said, the best Khao San moment was definitely when an American from the hostel I went out with accepted a challenge to a for-money thumb-wrestling match from a spunky and awesome 12 year-old girl. And lost. Twice.

My comment immediately after he accepted the challenge was, “Whatever happens, I guarantee he’s losing that 100 baht.” See for yourself:


American Loses Money, Dignity in Thumb-Wrestling Match with 12 Year Old Thai Girl from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

You might see Crystal Ball Guy performing as well:


Crystal Ball Guy plays with Crystal Ball on Khao San Raod, Bangkok from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

Gulliver’s on Khao San Road

Gulliver'sGulliver’s is a bar at the end of Khao San. Standing outside, some drunken Brit stumbled up the stairs, made eye contact with me and enthusiastically yelled out, “The stuff of legends, man!” Right. It seems normal enough at first blush. Certainly not red-light. Pool tables, dance floor, TVs, drinking. Normal until you notice that more than 75 percent of the patrons are Thai girls in short skirts. And they’re all eying you.

“Something tells me these girls didn’t come to this place for a fun night out on the town with their girl friends,” I mention to one of my compatriots. I now have a sense of what it might be like to be a woman who walks into a bar full of dudes.

A perpetual Googler, I looked it up the next day and sure enough, these girls are glad to go home with you — for a price. I even found a blog written anonymously by one of the prostitutes offering the other view from the other side of the bed fence. I quote:

Yesterday wasn’t as good as my first time, I have to say. I went with a farang but he only gave me 2,000 baht and my taxi home cost me 100 baht and I bought four drinks myself so really I didn’t make a profit of more than 1,500 baht.

… We sat there for ages, talking and smiling at farangs, but by midnight Anne was getting worried because Gullivers closes at one o’clock in the morning. Then two American men walked by. They were quite old, more than fifty, one was bald and the other had white hair. They both had big beer bellys. I don’t know why farangs like to have beer bellys but a lot of the farangs in Gullivers do. The bald one was called Eric and he liked me and the white-haired one was Gerry and he liked Anne. They bought us drinks and talked for a while and then they asked how much for us to go with him. Anne said 3,000 baht but they said that was too expensive and that the night before they had paid 2,000 baht so Anne said okay, 2,000 baht was enough.

… The sex with Eric was really bad. Terrible. Even with my eyes closed it was bad. He couldn’t stay hard and he blamed me and said that I was a starfish and I didn’t understand what he meant.

So there you go. Suspicions confirmed. Those two American guys she’s talking about could easily be the awful, awful drunk business men I sat next to on the plane to Bangkok who regaled each other with expletive, smut, and prostitute-laden stories of their Bangkok exploits. With a bunch of kids sitting around. Nice, guys.

11 Months on the Road

Bangkok TempleBangkok is a cool city. I’m a bit road-weary, though. It’s been almost 11 months on the road now. I currently have really no idea where I’m going next and it’s a bit hard to get excited about places. It’s almost like it’s tough to faze me after Mumbai. There’s one of Thailand’s famed Full Moon parties on May 9th in Ko Pha Ngan. (20-30,000 partiers in an all-night pukefest. Hrm.) Everyone says Chiang Mai in the north is awesome.

Tokyo is one of the few places I’ve thought about that really sparks my fancy, but it also sounds like a nice way to roundly screw the rest of my dwindling budget.

In the bigger sense of things, the rest of my life looms around the corner and it’s hard to ignore. I’ve got extensive and growing bulleted lists of things to do and options for when I return. I find myself frequently considering big life questions without easy answers.

Who doesn’t love the ‘Kok?

Some Bangkok highlights and other goings-on in photo ‘n caption form!

I went on a boat ride up the river with a couple guys from the hostel:
Boat ride!

Then we went to a food market…
Bangkok Market!

…where I tried this white mystery vegetable. I tried to buy just one, but the lady gave it to me. I took a bite of it immediately after she handed it to me and the four people selling vegetables all started laughing at once. I think you’re supposed to cook them first. It didn’t taste very good.
They all laughed at me when I ate it raw.

The day was nicely capped off when the German turned to me and asked, “Hey, is there something on my back?”
A lizard jumped on the German's back.  Happy times!

At Bed Supper Club.The next night, I went with out with American Ashley and a South African dude to a place called the Bed Supper Club, which is a club with beds on the second floor. The sign outside helpfully reminded us not to fornicate in the club. That did not, however, stop the lusty couple on the steps outside from getting about as close as you can while leaving your clothes on. Ashley was nice enough to let me pretend to take a picture of her so I could get the couple. Unfortunately, I missed the part where her leg was wrapped around his waist.

Bed Supper Club. They were making out on the steps.  Ashley faked a picture so we could get 'em.

Two Great (and atypical) Hostels

Venus Makes the Best Iced Coffee I've had.Bangkok seems to have hostels figured out. Despite their strange names, both Niras Bankoc and Lub D hostel are fantastic places to stay. The land of smiles did not dissapoint upon arrival at Niras from the airport. Venus, pictured to the right presenting a delicious iced coffee, is hands-down the most pleasant person I’ve met on the trip and is high on my list of Most Pleasant People Ever. The hostel itself is beautiful: teak wood flooring, a bamboo garden on the roof, big screen TVs, and attached coffee shop.

Due to a full house at Niras, I’ve moved to another place called Lub*D Hostel, which hardly fits into the standard “hostel” mold and is touted as the “coolest hostel in all of Southeast Asia” by Matador Nights. I’ve never seen a hostel so well-designed and with so much thought put into it. It’s simply cool. In fact, I was inspired to do a quick walk through video of it so you too can experience the glory of Lub*D:


Lub D Hostel in Bangkok from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more news from the front. Flickr set.

Update, September 25th, 2012 — I’m turning off comments on this particular post. The only people posting here are people asking to for admission to the Ashram. Which is all well and good, but, eh, misses the point.

Editor’s note: Been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been hunkered down in my apartment doing freelance animation work. Got any animation you need done? While good for the bank account, it’s not typically the best for stories. …That said:

I was in the city of Pune this weekend. (pronounced poo-nay) It’s about 75 miles east-southeast from Mumbai. While I ended up being mobbed and given fresh fruit by a group of friendly young guys with porn on their cellphones who wanted me to go drinking with them (pictured below), I started off visiting an (in)famous sex commune.

Some of the guys.

Osho Ashram: Sex Commune? Cult?

Note to those here from a Google search about the Osho International Mediation Resort in Pune: I have done very nominal research about this whole thing. I’ve never attended. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am blatantly spreading rumors that I have not personally confirmed. I am biased against things that I perceive to be culty. If you’re inclined to get pissed off by someone talking trash that hasn’t taken the time to really do their homework, you may as well move on. I’m not here to argue with you.

I had heard about the Osho Ashram before. It’s one of those things people mention when you talk about traveling to India. I’d heard it was a sex commune under the guise of a meditation resort. Free love, tantra gurus, boink your meditation partner while the teacher watches, the like. …Which one might initially feel skeptical about until one hears that an HIV/AIDS test is required to enter the commune and take part in the various groups offered. Right. Apparently it’s trying to get past this reputation and has changed it’s name to “Osho International Meditation Resort”

I was in Pune where Osho International is located and was aware of the ashram’s reputation, but I hadn’t yet connected that it was the very same place that I was sitting near at a coffee shop.

Osho DancersEvidence of proximity to an ashram was abundant and of the “foreigners wandering in maroon robes” variety. I felt immediate disdain for the people walking around in their stupid maroon robes. They walked around looking culty and calm and meditative and pissing me off just by being there. In fact, there seemed to be a general concentration of spacey tourists where I was and I didn’t like it. I’m not used to seeing tourists where I live in Bombay in the first place. Occasional Germans with shorts and high socks and sandals are one thing, but these guys are a farce.

“Oh, come on. Look at this guy with his bald head and his damned maroon robe,” I say as he commits the sin of crossing the street. “He looks ridiculous.”

What’s up with the hate, Nathan?

Why the hating, you ask, dear reader? Am I being very un-dude right now? Is there a point to my unprovoked animosity for people that just came to a meditation resort? “Live and let live, man.”

I’d typically agree with you, but it’s how I felt. At the time I was annoyed. After reading more about the place and it’s now-deceased leader online as I write this, I feel hostility towards the whole thing. I hate cults.

Though mostly non-judgmental, I’m at least weary of spirituality and gurus and religion and wisdom traditions. (And bears! Oh my!) I’m also initially weary of other tourists even though I am one, too. Especially tourists wearing culty maroon sex commune robes and purporting spiritual self-exploration and revelation through fornication whilst paying lots of money for a perfectly packaged, use-it-on-your-one-week-of-vacation-time week at the meditation resort. Why you gotta pay big bucks to meditate? I don’t buy it.

I don’t know. Perhaps their inherent awkwardness upsets me because I subconsciously see them as a possible reflection of how I look as I travel around the world. Maybe I’m worried my reaction to them is the same way locals react to me? I don’t really think so, but I can’t be sure. At least I try not to crank the silly attire up to eleven, for, ahem, God’s sake. Either way; take these characters and throw them in phony meditative get-ups and I start thinking and talking shit.

Throw a bunch of “it’s a cult!” accusations found on the internet while writing a blog entry and I get actively pissed off. These things can mess with people’s lives in a very destructive and alienating way. To put it eloquently: fuck ‘em.

Quit rambling, Shipley. What happened?

Osho International Mediation Resort Visitors RulesI digress. So I was there. I had an afternoon to explore Pune. I figured why not go see the commune?

I did and the campus is beautiful. A very relaxing place on a very relaxing street, surrounded by trees and grass and water and Buddhas that are all very relaxing. I managed to get into the twice-daily tour which consisted of watching a 30 minute video and a single file, in-total-silence walk around a small part of the campus.

Before the tour started, I was leafing through a three-ring binder of frequently asked questions about the resort. Somewhere near the end was the question, “Why do I need to take an HIV/AIDS test to enter the resort?”

“Aha!” went my mind, “This is the place people were talking about! The sex ashram! I’m in the lion’s oh-so-sexy den right now!

I was excited. I called a friend. “This is the sex ashram! The one!” I took a new interest in my observation. They sat us down for the video in a group of about thirty people. Osho Representative Man who was speaking with us gave a 2 minute intro before the video. He listed Tao, Sufi, and Tantra as some of the meditation techniques we could learn. I was the only one of the tour group hungrily scribbling down notes in my vertical flip-open Moleskine.

Osho Ashram Tour Group BadgeThe Promotional Video

Awash with skepticism and excitement, I jotted away. The video is entitled The Silent Explosion, which inevitably caused chuckles in the Beavis & Butthead portion of my brain.

A bored-sounding voiceover gave me an overview of India explaining that it is more than a country; it is full of invisible vibrating energy fields. Specifically:

[India] is not only a nation, a country, a mere piece of land. It is something more. It is a metaphor. A poetry. Something invisible, but very tangible. It is vibrating with certain energy fields which no other country can claim. It is strange because it has renounced everything for a single search: the search for the truth. India is the only land in the whole world which has devoted all of it’s talents in a concentrated effort to see the truth and to be the truth.

You don’t say.

At Osho Ashram, all of the wisdom traditions are made accessible. One-hour meditations “silence the mind.” Also at Osho Ashram, every transition between clips in the video is a soothing dissolve. Aaaand star wipe! Star wipe! Why have hamburger when have filet mignon?

Shots of huge rooms of people spinning and shaking fade by. They show the 90-foot tall black pyramid on the compound. The show the “multiversity” and a board with some class names. “The Fragrance of the Master” and “The Art of Touch” are my chosen favorites.

A lawyer lady gives a passionate testimonial. So does Darin Judkins and Leeroy from London. Leeroy explains the rush of energy he had that precluded him from talking for an hour. The woman sitting next to me in the tour group smiles knowingly and nods her head in silent approval showing her understanding of and camaraderie with Leeroy.

I can’t remember exactly who gave the last testimonial, but I was promised that I, too, might see the jewel at the bottom of the pond. I could change myself, my quality of life, and open new dimensions. Testimonial person “didn’t know the meaning of joy” before Osho. That’s open-your-wallets cult talk, people.

A strong start, Osho.

A walk through the brain-washing fields.

Next we were divided up into two groups. I got the old Indian guy as my tour group leader. People didn’t pay much attention to him as he explained that we would walk in a single-file line and were to remain completely silent during the trip.

In we went. It was remarkably peaceful — especially compared to the aural and visual onslaught that is Mumbai. The maroon robers moved about the campus. Some sat. Some chatted. I found them less annoying when they were confined to their compound. We moved at a snail-pace which was only slowed more by one of the many times the old Indian guy had to turn around to hush the group.

Because almost no one was listening when he told the group we were to walk in a single-file line, we moved more like a shuffle-stepping amoeba. In vain, old Indian guy tried to rectify this. He would silently hold his arms outstretched at his sides and then bring them together in front of him repeatedly. He looked kind of like a bird flapping the wrong way. People weren’t sure what to make of it.

Osho Pyramid of CultitudeThe campus was spotless and beautiful. We didn’t really get to see much, though. No class observation or anything like that. The coup de grâce was the big black pyramid with shallow pools in front of it. It was big, it was black, and it was a pyramid.

I would have liked to watch a class or talk to some people, but that wasn’t in the cards. Probably need an AIDS test first anyway before I go that far.

All in all…

Osho Ashram was interesting to see but it’s actually more interesting to read about online. Understandably, they’re not going to put the juicy or controversial stuff in front of the potential clients, save a couple mentions that we could study tantra.

Obviously not my speed or style. I’m sure there are plenty of innocent people there just enjoying their vacation. Fair enough, but I still don’t trust it. Try not to drink the Kool-Aid, people.

The rest of them can go chill with Rev’ Moon and L. Ron. Fuckers.

My New Friends, The Fruit Sellers

Giving cigarettes away seems to be a decent enough way to make friends with randoms the world over. Or at least break the ice. Smoker’s camaraderie or some such Band of (Cancer) Brothers crap.

After a couple hours of walking around in Pune post-Osho and eliciting the usual stares, I’d sat down on a side street near a bunch of motorcycles in the shade in relative obscurity from the street, hoisted the Marlboro flag, and was passing time.

It started with a little kid coming over curiously. Upon me saying hello, he skedaddled back to the two young guys selling fruit and reported a white guy sighting. They all looked and I smiled and waved. Eventually curiosity took over and a couple of the fruit seller guys came over to me. I gave one a cigarette. Then, over the course of 30 minutes, a small crowd formed.

They kept offering me fruit and I kept offering them cigarettes. (Way to be healthy, America. Wah.) Their English was minimal and my Hindi is limited to “hello,” “no problem,” “okay,” “cool,” and “stop.” However, as things tend to go in these situations, communication happened anyway. There were a thousand questions. It was great.

All of the typical “getting to know you” questions ensued. Then they pointed at the two darkest-skinned guys of the group and yelled/asked out “Negro? Negro?” One guy threw in an “Obama” for good measure. I think I was being asked if the two Indian dudes looked like black guys. They didn’t. I said no.

They began prompting me to repeat things they said, which were undoubtedly swear words based on the howls of delight they elicited. Fun.

The Porn Comes Out

"The Agent"The guy they referred to as “The Agent” (pictured right) got his cellphone out and started trying to direct my attention to his porn clips. The first one featured a black guy and a white girl. “American?” he asked.

“I — uh — maybe?” came my reply, “It doesn’t seem like they’re really talking very much.”

Seeing my attention quickly waning, he switched to the next dirty clip — which, despite some creative angles, had decidedly lower production value. All things considered, of course.

“Indian.” This time he wasn’t asking, he was saying. This was apparently Indian porn, though it was hard to tell on the cell phone-sized screen.

“Are you sure?” I ask pensively, “How do you know?”

He pauses the clip and expertly fast-forwards to a close-up of the woman’s face as she’s demonstrating the intricacies of the Kama Sutra. Sure enough, there’s the bindi on her forehead. “You see?”

“Yup. Indian,” I confirm.

Conclusion? Young guys are pretty much the same everywhere.

Eat the grapes, thank the people.

They asked if I wanted to go have a drink with them, but unfortunately I had a bus to catch. Sorry, guys.

Nathan samples a bidi.Chai was brought as were the little Indian cigarettes called bidis, which they wanted me to try. There’s one in my hand in this picture. Then came the grapes. The grapes didn’t look very good. They were dirty and a lot of them were bruised, soft, or partially bug-eaten. At home I’d toss them, but I’d be damned if I was going to get uppity over more potential stomach bugs and not graciously eat the grapes I’d been given. The hell with being hoity-toity — these guys were damned nice.

That’s the thing about India. People tend to share and gift a lot more generously here than they do at home. It’s a very “what’s mine is yours” attitude. An Indian friend told me, “Europeans have money but they aren’t rich.” While I’m pretty sure this was prompted during a conversation about food, I think it applies here, too.

nathan

My Favorite Meal in India

There is no story to this entry. I did not impersonate a doctor, speak to classrooms of children, get my life threatened by a crazy man, bribe a police officer, get taken to a gay bar by transsexuals, go looking for a legendary stripper with expats, buy $12 pistachios and fight with a whore over them, see an exciting new style of toilet, get wrapped up in red tape, ride a train, or even make any new friends.

But I did have the best meal I’ve eaten in India for lunch today at a place called A. Rama Nayak’s Udipi in Mumbai. I left feeling like I could die happy. It was 85 rupees, which is $1.67. It’s all you can eat. Best part other than the killer food? The plate is a banana leaf.

This one goes out to the people that like food entries. Big ups Dru Down, Jumpin’ Jim Crow at Harvard, and E. J. Wiaky.

It went like this:

Go past the cows near Matunga station. Not Matunga Road, but plain Matunga. Give a nod; they made your curd.
Thanks for curd, ma'am.

You go to the end of this alley. You’re not going to find it, so have a local with you. The stairs up to the restaurant are past the guy in the blue shirt at the end of the alley:
A. Rama Nayak's Udipi Restaurant, Mumbai.
(Side note: Does anyone else thing the guy at the bottom right of the above picture looks like an Indian Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters?)

Up the stairs:
Go up the stairs.

Squeeze through the big line of people waiting to get in:
Squeeze the people.

Your plate and place mat in one will be this banana leaf:
My Favorite Lunch in India

Food guy comes and brings food. He’ll be back as many times as you need.
Food guy serves food.

It’s like this once he’s done. From left to right, that’s a spicy fresh pickle curry, bean curry with coconut, something called “aviyal,” and potato & peas curry. Curd guy also brought curd.
My Favorite Lunch in India

Bread guy serves bread.Then bread guy comes and brings bread. There’s papadom on the left and chapati on the right. Papadom is a crunchy, fried, rice-based South Indian wafer and chapati is your standard Indian wheat bread.

My Favorite Lunch in India

Then you get a desert. Shirkhand on the left, which is an awesome sweet dish made of strained yogurt, and sweet mysore pudding on the right. You can get mango juice, too, which is in the middle and basically the best thing ever.
My Favorite Lunch in India

Rice guy will also come if you’d like. You’re eating all this with your hands, so go for the glory:
Eat the rice with your fingers.

And here it is all laid out and labeled. Click the image to see the easier to read full-sized version.
Best Lunch in India Key

Indian Buffet near Lafayette Square Mall in Indianapolis, you know I love you, but you just got served.

The executive producer, Raj, and I leave the air-conditioned CEO’s office and go get in a rickshaw for the quick trip to the production bungalow. On the way there I ask him, “So what is this show exactly?”

“I don’t know,” says Raj. The CEO hadn’t known either.

We arrive at the small production bungalow and I sit for an hour talking with a director and some Indian voice actors. Raj eventually comes back and gestures to a door saying, “Hey Nathan, can you come sit in here?”

“Okay.”

I walk in to the small room. It’s a recording booth. There’s a chair, a microphone, a video monitor, and a small leaf-shaped window into the engineering booth. Apparently this is go time, Shipley.

Raj hands me a script. “Okay, you read this part here. The part for ‘Sonic.’”

“Okay. Um. What is this? What does Sonic look like?”

Raj moves to the door and shrugs, “I don’t know. You’ll see it on this screen here.”

I look at the top of script he has handed me. Its a script for an episode of the cartoon version of Sonic the Hedgehog.

It suddenly strikes me that I’m trying out to be the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in India. Yeah. The voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in India.

Sonic The HedgehogAfter reading through the script once, the director comes on to the headphones. “Okay, Natan [sic], are you ready?”

“Uh, yeah?”

Likely sensing that I have no idea what I’m doing, he explains further, “You just read what it says in the script and make it so it matches the character’s mouth, okay? We’ll play it for you on that screen. I don’t have a copy of the script here, so you just do it, okay?”

“Okay.” I pause. “What do you want the voice to sound like?”

“Just make it sound like the one that’s already on there. Your are the little blue guy.”

Sure, fuck it. ‘Like the one that’s on there.’ I am the ‘little blue guy.’ No problem. Just like every other time when I audition to be the voice of a cartoon character for foreign television, I think to myself. What the hell am I doing? I have had no preparation, I don’t know how to do this, and I have little clue what Sonic the Hedgehog’s voice should sound like. I’ve done some reads for voice over stuff before, but this is beyond the norm.

Laughing to myself, I put on my improvised Sonic the Hedgehog voice and start reading with fervor. No sense being embarrassed, I guess. I end up making what I think is this psuedo cool-guy voice with a little bit of California surfer mixed in. Match the lips. Don’t move the paper while they’re recording. Try making the voice a little thinner. Can you read this part for the evil guy, also? Standard stuff.

So how did I get here?

Craigslist, of course: the jump-off point for various awesome ventures on this trip.

Upon updating my trip finance spreadsheet the previous week, I realized I should deal with the fact that my cash situation was getting precariously low. I started sending some emails and looking for work online. For the hell of it, I checked the jobs section on Craigslist Mumbai. This is what I found:

Craigslist Ad

American accent? Check. Freshers welcome? Check. Willing to work as a professional dubber? …Sure? I sent an email explaining that I had a neutral Midwestern accent, was in Mumbai, and was available for dubbing work. I got a reply with a phone number for Chandan.

I called Chandan. Chandan explained that he is an Indian guy from Boston and works for a television station. Could I come to his office on Monday at 1:00 to discuss things further?

Yup.

I asked some Indian friends about the station he said he worked for. Apparently it’s a big station which is part of an even bigger Indian financial conglomerate. Monday rolled around and I left with plenty of time to allow for the molasses traffic and inevitable difficulties finding the office, which were both present.

Upon arrival at the office, I told the guard I had an appointment with Chandan. He took me up to a big open room full of 100 people on computers. Someone explained that Chandan was in a different part of the building, which we went to.

I had to actually go through an elevator and three more different guards to get to Chandan’s office.

Upon finally entering, I immediately wished I had some better clothes to wear, even though I was wearing the nicest clothes I have. “Nicest” means baggy khaki outdoors pants that convert to shorts (with various stains), an untucked white button-down shirt, and my battered pair of grey Chucks. Chandan was wearing a suit and tie. He’s a big, imposing man.

I sat down opposite him at his huge desk in the large, spartan office. He quickly got down to brass tacks and I quickly realize that this isn’t just some producer I’m meeting with. This guy is a heavy. He’s talking about the media empire and future plans for expansion with new channels in other countries. He hands me his card.

Sonic The HedgehogThe front of the nice card stock has only the company logo, his name, and the three letters “CEO” written below it.

Ohhhhh boy. He doesn’t just “work for a televison station.” This guy is the CEO of the entire media and entertainment division of a corporate empire with almost a million employees. …And I’m wearing pants that convert to shorts.

It was like Costanza going to see Mr. Steinbrenner. Calzone, sir? That’s eggplant in there.

“So I assume you have experience doing this?” he asks.

“Well, I worked at a TV production company for 4 years. I’ve done some voice over reads. Couple of acting classes in college. You know.”

“Sure, sure. So what are your salary expectations?”

“I, uh, am not really familiar with the market here, sir.”

It went on for a while. He talked big. It was impressive. He got lots of important phone calls and visits while I was in his office. He seemed to like me, though. Eventually he called executive producer Raj to come pick me up.

After my session reading Sonic at the production bungalow, both Raj and the director told me I did good work. They’d get back to me in a week or so. I haven’t heard anything yet, but this is India.

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