I am a 42 year-old American living in Berkeley, California (20 minutes from San Francisco) with two adorable cats, Pele and Koshka. I work for Stanford University, developing and operating educational travel programs all over the world for Stanford alumni. When I am not working or traveling (whether for work or for pleasure) I can usually be found on the dance floor!
I am a principal dancer with the Dholrhythms Dance Company, which performs bhangra and gidda; Indian folk dances from the state of Punjab. We dance both traditional and non-traditional style bhangra, which could perhaps best be described as "Indian hip-hop." It is extremely popular not only throughout India but in the US and the UK. Dholrhythms puts on a monthly event called Nonstop Bhangra which has been attracting a very diverse crowd for over seven years. So if you happen to be in the Bay Area on the third Saturday of the month and if you like to dance (you don't need to know any special moves and besides, we teach a short lesson at the beginning of the night), I'm sure you would enjoy this very local, very unique scene. Don't wear high heels, though!
My favorite country, as you might guess, is India! In addition I have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East - a destination about which I am also passionate. My favorite Middle Eastern countries and the countries to which I most recommend as fantastic travel destinations are Lebanon and Syria but I lived in Israel for eight years so that country holds a special place in my heart too.
I travel often to Uruguay and recommend that as a lovely country with extremely warm people that doesn't see a lot of tourists which is nice. I have traveled throughout South America though and in terms of exotic, you can't beat Bolivia! I definitely recommend that anybody interested in South America visit Bolivia. In terms of food, though, Uruguay has Bolivia beat hands down, though it is not very vegetarian-friendly!
I have been very fortunate through my work to have been able to travel to some pretty exotic places and I think the biggest surprise for me in terms of recent travel was the Republic of Georgia. I had zero expectations, not knowing anything about it and was AMAZED at how beautiful the landscapes are (imagine dramatic Alpine scenery), how picturesque the towns were (uniquely Georgian churches, castles, fortresses, etc.) , how interesting the culture is and how friendly the people are and how INCREDIBLE AND UNIQUE the food is! It's not Eastern European, not Middle Eastern, not Turkish, not Russian, not Mediterranean...just...Georgian! Completely unique and delicious.
I am a pretty voracious reader - and I like all kinds of books - literature, classics, non-fiction (usually historical or political), mystery...it totally depends on my mood. The best books that I have read recently are "A Conspiracy of Paper" by David Liss, "The Night in Lisbon" by Erich Maria Remarque and McMafia by Misha Glenny. But my all-time faves are "Jane Eyre", "Pride and Prejudice", "A Room With a View." Not very unique but I can read them over and over!
In terms of movies I am a HUGE Bollywood fan. My favorite Bollywood movies are "Khabi Kushi Khabi Gam", "Veer Zara", "Rang de Basanti" and "Fanaa". I recently saw "Three Idiots" which was excellent and "Delhi Belly" which was hillarious but a serious gross-out - kind of like an Indian version of "The Hangover" (but grosser!) I also like classic American films like "Casablanca", "Gone with the Wind", "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Godfather" I love all kinds of films though and in terms of modern, non Hindi cinema I tend to go for dark, noirish thrillers or historical dramas. Currently my favorite TV show is "Dexter" which I LOVE!
I have very ecclectic taste in music. I listen to bhangra and "filmi" music (music from Bollywood pics) of course but I also love latin music - salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaeton, pop Latino - all kinds. And I'm into punk, post-punk and "alternative" tunes too. Some fave bands are The Pogues, Green Day, Radiohead, Beck, Juanes, Mana, The Dum Dum Girls, The White Stripes, Cake, etc. The only kind of music I really can't get into is jazz. I've tried but other than traditional Dixieland or Big Band, or Cole Porter type stuff I really kind of hate it. Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Chick Corea - I seriously don't get it. But I don't judge - so I don't disrespect people who like it! (Which is most people.) Actually I don't dis people's taste in anything - it's all valid!
I love food. All kinds of food. One of the best parts of traveling for me is sampling local cuisine. I am very fortunate to live in a neighborhood that is nicknamed "The Gourmet Ghetto"! (I'm not making that up). I don't cook as much as I used to but when I do it's usually Indian, French, Italian or Belgian. When I go out (which I mostly do) more often than not it's Indian (North and South), but I often go for Mexican, Turkish, Vietnamese (never get tired of Pho), Thai, Sushi, Ethiopian and of course there is always pizza which is always good when all else fails!
When I travel for work I end up staying in five-star hotels and eating at the top restaurants and being driven around everywhere and I am fortunate to know what that's like but it's not actually my style when I'm traveling on my own and not just because I can't afford it! I much prefer to stay where real people live, eat in restaurants or at street stalls where real people eat, meet people in normal, everyday circumstances, take public transportation (though I'm not above splurging on a taxi now and then!) and get a sense for what it's like to live in whatever place I happen to be visiting rather than just see it from behind glass, protected in a bubble. One of my favorite things to do wherever I travel is to go to a local grocery store even if I don't need to buy anything. I really like to fit in wherever I go and, to whatever extent possible, adopt local customs, etc. I find people open up to you so much more if they perceive you as being more "familiar" than "foreign" and then whatever experience you have is so much more enriching. I would much rather sit with a local family and chat than see whatever the location's main attraction happens to be. That being said I never get tired of churches, mosques, temples, museums, monuments, etc. But walking around just getting a feel for a place is my favorite travel activity.
I like to think that I am a considerate guest. I certainly treat wherever I stay as my home, even if I am staying in a fancy hotel. I don't make a bigger mess than I would at home just because perhaps it's someone's job to clean it up. I don't want to make someone else's life/work harder just because I am sloppy or lazy. I take care of other people's belongings as I would want people to take care of mine - with care. I never leave dishes in the sink and I never leave my bed unmade - not even on vacation! I'm don't suffer from OCD, and I'm not a minimalist but when things are in their place my mind is more at peace. I am considerate of my neighbors, whether at home in Berkeley or wherever I happen to be staying. I have never been an Airbnb host but I would like to start as it seems a lovely way to meet people from all over the world and make their experience in my hometown (and home) unique and special. Unfortunately I don't have a separate property that I can rent out but I am not averse to having a guest in my home - I think it could be fun!
And that's me in a nutshell!