India, and the air apparent

Okay, after a fairly busy couple of weeks, I’m going to try to get back into this. We leave India tonight, so I’m going to start by talking about one of the negatives we’ve encountered here, before writing a separate post about the many highlights.

Perhaps it’s only the most salient thing because it’s kept us in our hotel all day today, but the air in Indian cities is terrible in a way that’s hard to appreciate without seeing it. It’s not something that we came into blindly, but I don’t think either of us really knew just how bad it would be, and how persistent. Coming into Delhi yesterday, it was hard to see buildings just across the street through the haze. On our train from Bangalore to Agra, nearly every stop smelled like methane or trash fires. At this point all of our clothes smell, and we’re very much looking forward to using the washing machine when we get to Vietnam.

We were planning to go to Old Delhi today and see some of the old city, but when we woke up the air ratings were so bad we decided to stay inside and rest up before our red-eye flight tonight. At one point I went outside to go two blocks to find an ATM and all the hotel security staff were wearing face masks. Looking out our hotel room window, we could barely see across the street.

Anyway, for a country that’s obviously already struggling with overwhelming poverty, I can’t imagine the strain that the air must put on public health. Within a week of being here, both of us got sick, and the lack of clean air made it difficult to recover quickly. But there’s obviously not a fast or easy solution. Even beyond the pervasive and persistent traffic, the country seems to be heavily reliant on fossil fuel in ways I never even realized. Just one example, the street vendors making and selling sugar cane juice use a gas-powered engine to process the cane. Even in rural areas, people use wood fires to heat their homes and water. Smoke and smog are just everywhere.

Near the Taj Mahal, the government has had to enact specific emissions standards, including limiting the use of cars immediately around the Taj (tourists can take an electric golf cart in some places). Beyond the immediate area, there are restrictions that reach far outside of Agra, intended to keep the Taj’s marble as white as it’s supposed to be. And that still doesn’t keep the entire city from smelling like smog, and the air from being a dull shade of orange.

It’s really hard to imagine any solution to this problem that doesn’t involve an absolutely massive investment in clean energy infrastructure. And it’s hard to imagine that happening without some kind of global initiative. And it’s… just hard to imagine that happening. In Delhi, there’s an effort to get people to switch to natural gas, which at least would be somewhat cleaner, but would still release a ton of CO2 into the air.

Anyway, nothing I’m saying will be news to people in the public health field, and I’d be interested to hear if any of my friends (or anyone else) can suggest something good to read about this. I’m a total novice on the subject, but it’s hard to overstate how massive a problem this is, since it will clearly affect hundreds of millions of people for generations.

Travel scaries

Greetings from the other side of the globe! Suzy and I are currently relaxing a bit in the business class lounge at Changi Airport in Singapore after an extremely long (17.5 hour) flight from San Francisco last night, if you can even call it “last night.” Technically, we landed this morning, the 28th, after taking off on the 26th, so I guess really all of that was two days ago. Anyway, we spent a lovely morning and afternoon in Singapore before giving in to our exhaustion and coming back to the airport to wait out the remaining hours until our flight. More on that later though.

What I wanted to talk about in this post is something that might not be expected: anxiety, and specifically, the anxiety of casting aside your entire life for an extended period of time to go and travel. I think the excitement of doing a trip like this is pretty obvious, and we’ve been feeling that for a few months now. But something I wasn’t expecting as much was how utterly tooth-grindingly nerve wracking the last couple of weeks would be.

A lot of the stress was just plain old logistics: wondering whether we’d be able to take care of all the things we needed to do before we left, both personally and professionally. But as we cleared those hurdles, and the butterflies in our stomachs only grew, it became apparent that this wasn’t just coming from concern of leaving important tasks unfinished.

I’ve always been pretty transient, and at this point, I’ve uprooted my life to move somewhere new more times than I can immediately recall. And I’ve even gone on an extended four-month trip before, to Latin America in early 2010 (old blog still available for anyone who’s interested).

All of this is to say that even when you’ve done it before, even when you’ve wrapped up your responsibilities, even when you have someone to help you manage everything that comes with it, a trip like this is still more than a little bit panic-inducing. There’s just so much unknown and unknowable in front of us. And while it’s invigorating, it comes with a healthy side of “what are we doing this is f***ing crazy.”

Fortunately, we both know this is going to be an amazing, exciting, and worldview-shaping trip for us, and we’re very much looking forward to it. Even better, a lot of the anxiety was just wrapped up in anticipation, so we’ve largely left it behind in the US. I’m sure it will crop up again, but this also puts me in mind of one of my posts from Nicaragua nine years ago, and reminds me that as long as we take things at a comfortable pace, we’ll have an amazing time.

I don’t have much of a button to wrap this up with. It’s sort of a “pursuing your dreams is scary, but they’re still worth pursuing” kind of thing. We are incredibly fortunate to be in a position to take this trip at all, and both of us being the people we are with the interests we have, we weren’t going to let the opportunity pass. But wow, the last couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, and I’m fairly certain that’s nothing compared to what’s ahead.

So with that in mind, we’ll leave the comfort of Singapore, where everything is clean, efficient, easy to navigate, and usually in English, and head to India, where much of what we encounter will be none of those things. Adventure is scary, but exciting. Fortunately at this point, we’ve mostly tipped towards excited.

See you in Bangalore!

 

Hello and welcome!

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Hi! I’m Seth (pictured above on the right, on our honeymoon in Indonesia), and for the next few months, I’ll be using this space to keep track of my travels with my wife Suzy (on the left). If you’re here, odds are you know Suzy better than you know me, because she has a whole lot of friends. But whether you know me or not, you’ll get to know my internal monologue over the coming months. Probably not Suzy’s though, because she thinks travel blogs are narcissistic (and she’s correct).

My approach to travel is the same as our approach to life: try things. There is so much out there to experience, and traveling is easily my favorite way to experience new things. If you stick around, you’ll learn along with us about the cultures we encounter, the wildlife we spot, the natural wonders we explore, and the delicious foods we enjoy. You’ll also probably see us experience some fancy air travel, because we have saved up a ton of credit card points and we will be making good use of them on this trip (case in point, we’re currently sitting in the business class lounge in Singapore).

Hope you enjoy it! But also if you don’t, that’s fine, since this is honestly mostly for us to have a record when we want to revisit all of this some day in the future.

So away we go!