At the Intersection of East and West

By Irina Papuc
Marcia Faye

At night the street became a small night market, the chaos unchanged except that now it was mixed with enticing smells of samosas, samar, and chapatis. We went from kiosk to kiosk, sampling a samosa here, a parantha there. We grabbed a bag of grapes to wash and eat on the terrace. On the way back, I was chased by 10 determined cattle and actually ran into a side street only to realize that they weren’t after me, just after the food laid in one of the stalls on the side of the road. Later that night it began to rain and true madness ensued when the crates holding the Holi paint across the street tipped over, spilling some kilos of hot pink and orange dust on the street, which quickly streamed everywhere as the rain fell harder. I felt exhausted. Shoving my way to Agra has sapped me of all my energy, and I fell into a deep sleep in total darkness.

In New Delhi, Irina Papuc (PHYS ’12) dresses in a shalwar kameez, a traditional pants and tunic outfit worn by both men and women in south and central Asia.
Photo by: Irina Papuc

The passage above is part of a travel blog written by Silk Road adventurer Irina Papuc (PHYS ’12) during her 15,000-kilometer, six-month trek from Thailand to Romania, which pushed off from Bangkok in February. A Chicago native, Papuc took her first trip abroad while an IIT student when she was selected to participate in the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program and worked alongside physicists on an experiment utilizing the Large Hadron Collider [IIT Magazine, Fall 2013]. In February 2013 she moved to Taiwan and decided to further her overseas experience by traveling west, along the Silk Road and beyond.

“Living in Taiwan has challenged my perceptions of what ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ really means. Befriending locals, eating the cuisine, and sharing daily ups and downs in the Far East has surprised and sometimes even shocked me. But deep down, I believe that the Taiwanese and I are pretty much the same,” says Papuc, via an email from the road. “It is this shared human thread that carries me westward. My journey to the west is an attempt to see where the east ends and where the west begins, as well as the common human element throughout. I also want to observe the slow transition from Asia to Europe, and hopefully, pick up a few good stories along the way.”

You can read Papuc’s blog—“Our Journey to the West: From Thailand to Romania by Motorcycle, Bus, Airplane, and Boat”—which features her “Silk Road Diaries,” music clips, and helpful resources for those contemplating more than armchair travel musings.