Friday, May 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mary!


Have a great birthday in the NYC! Can't wait to see you soon!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Taj from River Bank

The tour of the Taj Mahal is, course, amazing. But even better is to see it from the bank of the Jamuna river, outside the Taj complex. You can do fun things there like try to catch the perfect reflection on camera, or pretend to jump over the dome, or maybe a camel will walk up to you when you are taking pictures of the building.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Music from Rajasthan

Had the great experience of getting to see live Rajasthani music at an outdoor amphitheater and took video. The two women dancers up front were cool, but the star of the show was the guy to the far left who would stand up and go into a trance while playing his hand percussion instrument, kind of like castanets. Definite showman who really had the crowd captivated.

(Click for videos)

video video

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pics From the Neighborhood

A few shots from my neighborhood taken on a 110-degree Sunday afternoon.

The fruit stand.

The barber shop.

The neighborhood card game.

Sign for the neighborhood restaurant.

The chicken is indeed very fresh. Didn't see where the mutton came from though.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kahn-I-Khana: Statesman, Poet, My Neighbor



There's an enormous tomb few blocks from my apartment that was built in 1598. No one really seems to take care of it, and you are free to walk around, in and over every inch of it. Local kids even use one of the walls as a soccer goal.

Anyway, the plaque at the entrance says the tomb belongs to a guy named Khan-I-Khana Mirza Abdul Rahim Khan, son of Bairam Khan. His dad was a regent to the famous Mughal King Akbhar, and Khan-I-Khana became a favorite of the emporer's and was eventually rewarded with riches and governerships. I Googled his name and it turns out that Khan-I-Khana was also a Hindi poet noted for his couplets. He wrote under the name Rahim and his Confucius-like nuggets of wisdom are pretty cool. Here are three that I enjoy:

"Says Rahim, the truly great never reveal their worth. Nor do those who are truly worthy of praise, praise themselves."

"Says Rahim, people will find many many ways to be related to fortune. But only he is a true friend, who stands by you in misfortune"

"To cure a bitter cucumber, we cut its head off and rub in salt. Says Rahim, to cure a bitter mouth we should apply the same remedy"

Monday, May 4, 2009

Palace Life

Did an overnight stay at a hillside palace in Rajasthan. A few rules I learned about palace life:
  • Drop breadcrumbs or something when exploring the premises. It's easy to get lost.
  • Don't try to do anything except sit by the pool if the temperature climbs above 110.
  • Be on the lookout for monkeys and peacocks invading your balcony.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cow Paths


One of Delhi's unique features is the cows in the street. I can't imagine there are many other cities of 20 million people where livestock are a common site almost anywhere in town. I've read that the city has a brigade of cow police trying to remove all of the animals by 2010, which a very optimistic goal. First, the cow police can't simply turn the cows into hamburger. Because cows are sacred, they have to be removed to farms outside the city. Second, there's a black market for the cow's milk, so the cow catchers are often attacked by small mobs.

Most foreigners get used to the cows after a week or two. But not me. While I'm no longer surprised to see a cow in the city, I have discovered that I am terrified by them. Cows are scary animals. Quiet, expressionless, enormous. Willing to eat trash. Good at staring. Some have horns, some don't (which is weird -- and I'm talking cows, not bulls). I don't think cows in a field are scary, but a cow in a dark, narrow, city alley is a terrifying creature.

Anyway, there's arachnaphobia, ophidiophobia and lots of other phobias. Does anyone know if there's a word for the fear of city cows?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Qutub Minar


I can officially check another UNESCO World Heritage site off the life list. The Qutub Minar is the world's tallest brick minaret and in a city like Delhi that has no skyscrapers, it seems even more impressively huge.

A Muslim ruler started building the base of the tower in 1193, but the structure wasn't completed until almost 200 years later. It's about 238 feet tall so they were averaging a little over a foot a year. Slow but steady.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How I ended up holding a cobra

Step 1: I spot a snake charmer and ask him to play his flute.

Step 2: The snake pokes its head out. It's a definitely a cobra.

Step 3: The charmer asks me to have a seat.

Step 4: Next thing I know, he's handing me a venomous snake.

Step 5: I can't really say no.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Delhi hits 100


102 degrees on April 14 and getting warmer... it's going to be a long summer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weekend Destination

Samode Bagh Garden Resort. Described on its website:

"Relive the splendour of the bygone age recreated in a tented encampment- unique experience in royal living."

It's in the state of Rajasthan, about 4 hours from Delhi and a short drive from Jaipur. We're close to the Samode Palace, and actually these gardens were built for members of the Samode royal family as a weekend retreat (I guess living in a palace isn't all it's cracked up to be).

http://www.samode.com/home/garden/index.htm

Anyway, should be a good holiday weekend. Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, April 6, 2009

HEELS!



I wonder how you say CHAMPS in Hindi?!?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Camel



One of the biggest challenges of life in Delhi is transportation. The city is very spread out so a bicycle isn't practical, and there's so much traffic that cabs, although cheap, are frustrating (plus you have to bargain down to the cent for every single fair).

So after weighing my options and deeming a motorcycle to be too dangerous, I decided it was time to get a camel. The price of 10,000 rupees includes a harness, a seat and a week's worth of instruction from the camel's previous owner (the guy holding the rope in the picture), who says that's all the time it will take for me to have perfect command of my steed.

My camel is about 8 and a half feet tall and weighs over 1,000 pounds. She's 18 years old and was born in the northwestern part of rural India -- a country girl. I'm still trying to think of a name for her.

It's about a 20 minute ride into work... will have my first ride tomorrow morning. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jama Masjid



Continuing on the religious theme, I also checked out Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, which is India's biggest Mosque. I think the picture pretty much describes it: massive red stone courtyard facing the large temple. It's framed by two minarets -- the one on the left is where they make the call for prayer. The lines you see on the ground are where the worshippers kneel for their prayers.

Sikh Temple


Checked out the Gurdwara Bangla Seikh Temple this weekend… interesting stuff. The temple is open for worship all day and open to everyone, so long as you take your shoes off and wear a turban to cover your hair (which, luckily, the temple will lend you if you don’t happen to have one.)

Once you get your turban, you walk up a stairway that has a trickle of water flowing down it. The worshippers touch their hand to the water on their way up and brush it against their forehead, a few even doing it on each step.

Inside the large prayer hall, you find a place to sit on the ground, facing a brightly lit glass shrine (no idea what was in it, appeared to be a book and some robes) while three men play drums and sing. There was no centrally led prayer, just people sitting and rocking to the music.

After taking this scene in for about 20 minutes, I decided to head for the door. People exiting were routed to the front, past the main shrine and then down some steps to another smaller shrine, where they would touch their hands to the glass and saying prayers until an usher told them that they needed to move forward. Then it was back down the water steps to the exit, where you were given a handful of grain on the way out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nayabas




The town I went to last weekend in rural India was called Nayabas, in the state of Rajasthan. Two vanloads of us from work took off from New Delhi traveling East and South along a highway, and the towns and villages became smaller and smaller, as did the roads until we finally ran out of road and were driving on farmland paths.

None of us knew where Nayabas was and no map could tell you exactly how to get there so navigation was a bit more like sailing than driving. We'd try to keep an East-Southeast bearing, and as we got closer we would ask people if they knew of a road/path that would take us to Nayabas.

No one in the village had been told we were coming so there was an explosion of curiousity when the vans rolled up. After about 2 minutes of shyness, the kids wanted to start playing or having their pictures taken, and the grownups would invite us into their homes for tea or a smoke. Most of the homes were three-walls with a celing and a few of the buildings had a second story. There was also a central courtyard with about 10 buffalo for milk.

After dinner in one of the homes (and a wolf search that only turned up a few foxes), we slept on the front poarch of one of the houses under the stars. The villagers watched us fall asleep and were still there watching us when we woke up in the morning.

In the morning, the kids took us on a 10 minute walk past the town's wheat fields and we went swimming in the nearby river until a bunch of the buffalo showed up for their turn to wallow in the water.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Watch Me Dance

From the Holi party I went to. Impossible not to dance to these drummers.


video

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Elephant vs. Camel




So as previously noted, I've had the opportunity to ride both a camel and an elephant in the same weekend. Who knew that riding these two beasts of burden could be such opposite experiences?

1) Boarding: Both animals kneel down so you can climb on, but you board an elephant from the front, stepping on it's neck and the riding on the very top of its back. You board a camel from the back, riding behind it's hump (at least that's wht you do with a single hump camel,).

2) Liftoff. Once aboard a camel or an elephant, there is a moment of sheer terror at the beginning of the ride. An elephant rises on its front legs so that its back becomes sloped at a severe angle. You grab on and pray to holy god that you don't fall off the back. With a camel, its the opposite. The animal rises from its back legs so you think you're going to topple forward.

3) Ride: Both rides are very bumpy. I couldn't imagine trekking across a vast desert or jungle aboard either animal. The motion sickness would kill. but again there's a difference: An elephant has a rumbling gait that rocks you from side to side, while a camel lurches forward and back.

Finally, note the coloring from Holi on the elephant's trunk and face. Even the animals get in on the Holi fun!

Holi Photos

A few before and after shots from the Holi festival last week. I'm a nice, clean young man in flowing traditional garb on the way in. A mess on the way out.

The party was at a farm and a bit Woodstockish in feel, with peole drinking a marijuana-laced fruit drink called bhang while dancing to Indian music and throwing dye all over each other. A very good vibe and fun time:


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Add riding an elephant to the list. And going on a night-time search for a wolf on a wheat farm. And eating a dish called Raabv that's just like grits with an Indian farm family.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quick update

A few things I did rural India today:

Rode: A camel.

Drank: Buffalo milk.

Saw: In addition to the aforementioned camel, a monkey and an elephant.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Holi Holiday

Today is Holi, which is India's spring festival. Apparently I will not be able to walk down the street without getting doused in colorful paint. We'll see what happens... pictures to come!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Call to prayer

Just heard my first ever call to prayer from the Mosque near our office. Exactly at 5pm. Pretty cool.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

WK from Satellite Photo

Here's a link to a satellite image of the intersection where the office is located. We're in the building that's just south of the words "Adhchini Crossing".The hotel where I'm staying this week is about half a mile away from here. I walk into work along the road called Saheed Jeet Singh Marg.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=india&sll=42.358544,-142.646484&sspn=28.568463,56.337891&ie=UTF8&ll=28.536364,77.197661&spn=0.002078,0.003439&t=h&z=18

Flickr Photos

Here's a photostream that I think illustrates what I was trying to say about the poverty here being so striking, but that there's also an amazing vibrancy.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/meanestindian/

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Made it to Delhi

Arrived in Delhi at 2:30 am and got a cab to my hotel. As I exited the airport, I immediately got hustled by a few men offering to carry my bags to the taxi.

In Delhi, it's impossible for a foreigner not to be struck immediately by the poverty and lack of infrastructure. From the airport's gravel parking lot, we took a patchy two lane road into the city. Dirt seemed to be the main roadside feature, along with the shanties and dilapidated buildings that ran along the street. As we drove past one cluster I could see a family sleeping on a mattress that lay on the floor of their three-wall shelter.

But there are several charming things about Delhi, especially after living in Shanghai for four months.  First, even though both cities have more than 20 million people, Delhi seems smaller. The area where I'm staying doesn't have many high rise buildings and there are nice patches of trees and grass with birds chirping throughout the streets. In Shanghai, there's never a moment where you aren't aware that you're living in a mega-city, whereas my neighborhood in Delhi could just as easily be in a much smaller town.

It's also very colorful. The buildings, the cars, the clothing, and the jewelry are all vibrant. This probably has to do with the weather: sunny and warm. Perfect conditions for city explorations this weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

China Goodbye

Had a farewell to China dinner last night. It was actually at the same restaurant where I had my very first China meal. Full circle. The menu included pig's ears and jellyfish. I also successfully ate tofu with chopsticks, which isn't easy to do.

Next Blog post will be from India!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Car Crash




Walking out of a convenience store over the weekend, I witnessed two taxis get in a head-on collision. No one was hurt and the damage was minimal, so I (and the group of friends I was with) didn't feel guilty rubbernecking the scene. In fact, we decided that we might was well open the beverages we'd gotten and make ourselves comfortable. It turned out to be a pretty interesting show. A few things that happened:

1) After the wreck, passengers from both taxis got out and started hailing other cabs. The drivers of the wrecked taxis immediately turned on their "taxi available" lights.

2) Even though there was little damage, both drivers kept their cars right in the middle of the intersection at the exact spot impact. Apparently this is a rule in China. You are not to move your vehicle until the police come. This even extends to bike-car wrecks, and not just the bike but also the biker. If you are knocked of your bike, you are supposed to stay on the ground until officers arrive.

3) The drivers didn't seem angry at all. They both got in one of the wrecked cabs and were sharing cigarettes and talking.

4)When the police showed up, the men came over to the sidewalk and talked to them. They agreed that the driver of the red taxi was at fault. The police told the men to go around the corner and settle it. Apparently the driver at fault was to pay the other driver whatever amount they agreed to.

5) After a short minute, the men came back and nodded to the police that they had reached an agreement. The taxis drove away and the policemen left. Problem solved.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Haircut

When it comes to immersing oneself in a foreign culture, even the most seasoned of world travelers has his limits. My time in China has and will change many things about me. My hair will not be one of those things. The chasm between Chinese tastes in hairstyle and my personal tastes are even greater than the difference between the languages we speak. By my standards, many young Chinese men have hair that is overly-styled and ridiculous. (They probably think my haircut is something that even a scarecrow would be ashamed of. That's okay. It is possible to hate the pilus but love the person.) A fairly common China 'do features closely shorn sides with huge, swooping bangs across the front and a bed-head look at the top. I badly needed a haircut this week but were I to just show up and have a seat, I would almost certainly get something along these lines.

So I needed an interpreter. Luckily (after a bit of persuasion) my friend Dan was a good sport and agreed to help. We walked in and she started talking to the receptionist. I thought I could hear her saying something about "average American male" and "yes, as a matter of fact, he is kind of boring." This was a good start. I was then handed a menu, which except for a few numbers, was entirely in Chinese characters. There was a range of options having to do with how long they spent on my hair and whether I wanted a more experienced stylist. I chose the shortest option from the least experienced stylist, thinking that a novice would be more likely to take instruction and that speed is the bedfellow of simplicity when it comes to haircutting.

So we were ready to go. Here's my before picture.

And one with Dan:

I was led back to a chair that reclined into a sink and given a lengthy wash in lukewarm water. Rinse. Shampoo. Condition. Repeat. Very soothing except the man in the chair next to mine was smoking a cigarette.

Then, I was led to my novice stylist. His name was Wing. He looked to be about twenty years old and his hairstyle channeled David Bowie. The beginning was bad. He pinned the hair from the top of my head into red hairclips and began working on the sides with an electric clipper. This wasn't a promising start, but Dan was long gone and there wasn't much I could do. After carefully trimming the sides and back he took the clips out and started working on the top. He was very meticulous, much more so than an other haircutter I've had. He would pinch out small tufts of hair, no more than 15 strands at a time and give them a measured cut. He worked in careful rows from front to back and then across the side with a different set of clippers.

It took perhaps half an hour. I was actually quite pleased with the results and thought we were all finished, but I was directed back to the washing station for another double round of rinse, shampoo and condition. Then I was led back to Wing's chair for a final styling session. I could have done without the wax, but didn't know how to say no so I just went with it. Again, he was quite meticulous arranging each lock of hair across the front until it was just how he wanted it. Then he kind of ruffled the back and sides, and we were finished. Here's the result:

Just kidding. That's Kei and me at the office messing around. People thought we looked alike when I wore that wig.

Here's the real result. Too much styling, but not bad for about $10.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wen Miao Rd Confucian Temple

Visited the Wen Miao Rd Confucian Temple, which dates back to the 13th century, though it has been in its current location "only" since 1855. It was a very quiet and peaceful escape from the noisy din of Shanghai.

The first courtyard was a busy book market (at least it looked like it was busy earlier in the day, but was closing when I walked in). The temple pathways led to other courtyards, a pond, study and lecture halls, a library, and a display of traditional Chinese and Japanese teapots. The teapots were impressive. Some were big enough that you could bathe a small child in them, which I guess means that Confucian scholars drank a lot of tea. My favorite was bright yellow with a giant green flying dragon painted across the front.





Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lantern Festival






Office had a special Lantern Festival breakfast earlier this week. The very interesting menu included rice glue balls, black rice, and goulash-like dishes with corn, peas, tomatoes and pork... a great way to start the day. Food was all prepared by our aiyee (auntie). I really didn't see that many lanterns around the city, but there were plenty more fireworks.