Jan 28, 2009

A Wild Ride in India, Plus Pics

Can I just say how amused I was that someone decided to exact revenge on Bernie Madoff by, get this, teepee-ing his house! As if the act alone wasn't enough, the Fox news headline read "Breaking news: Madoff house attacked with toilet paper." Be careful in the bathroom.

Winding back the clock. Two months ago, I really didn't have a clue when I landed in Mumbai. I had my backpack, an address scribbled on a scrap of paper, a phone number I didn't know how to call, and $11 cash. It was 4:30 in the morning.

Outside you would have thought it was noon at Disneyworld. Throngs crowded outside the exit, no doubt awaiting friends and family. No one was there for me though. I still needed to travel 4 hours east from Mumbai to Pune, my final destination.

So I hired a cab, no matter I didn't have any cash, and just hoped my little address was sufficient. I'm writing this, so obviously it was. But not without a little adventure.

My driver's name was Raju. That's about all I learned from him in about 4 and a half hours, since he hardly spoke English. But Raju's driving skills more than made up for the lack of stimulating conversation. Drifting between lanes, or taking two at a time, accelerating, decelerating. It was quite the thrill ride.

Especially about two hours in. It was getting lighter, and I was watching the countryside. Then we started drifting and slowing down again, but this time more than usual. A glance forward showed we were heading for a concrete divider. A further glance to my right showed Raju, head back in full tilt, eyes glossed. The guy was out! So I did what had to be done. Punched him in the shoulder. Hard. Raju snapped alert, a great guilty smile on his face. A minute later he pulled over to stretch and revive himself a bit, and I made him do jumping jacks for good measure.

To make a long story short, we made it through the rest of the drive. I think I reached Pune around 9:30, somewhat relieved.

Images can highlight the next 11 days. In no particular order...

Morning at the Taj Mahal, in Agra. The fog/smog didn't lift all morning, making the view feel incredibly surreal, even in person. I've included a few more Taj pics at the bottom.

Street scene in Agra, blocks away from the Taj Mahal. You can see at least two generations of rickshaws, older bicycle rickshaws (left) and motor rickshaws (right). The latter are everywhere in India.

India Gate, famous monument in Delhi.

Women escorting their children at Qutub Minar, another sightseeing hot spot, in Delhi. I was trying to capture some of the brilliant colors of India, reflected in their dress.

Fellow travelers I met in Agra. Represented at the table are South Africa, Scotland, Spain, Ireland, and one bearded American.

Another shot from Priti's wedding, this time with the ceremony in action.

A pandit at Priti's wedding, preparing for another part of the ritual. The seven rice piles are decorated and represent seven promises the bride and groom will make. Each pile is ceremoniously stepped on by the bride.

My friends and fellow employees at Xento. Left to right, Rahul Nagpure, Dhananjay Kale, and Praveen Shetty, after dinner my last night in Pune.

Another sunrise in Pune.

Qutub Minar tower in Delhi.

At Yusuf Poonawala's wedding reception, along with his bride Sakina. Yusuf's wedding was my reason/excuse for going to India in the first place. This was the day I arrived.

Back to the Taj Mahal. It might look like it, but I did not photoshop myself in. Would have been a lot cheaper though.

Like I said, the haze stayed, but we did get some beautiful morning hues reflected off the white marble. Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal took 21 years to build, with thousands of laborers and over 1000 elephants used to haul in materials. Locals told us that Emperor Shah Jahan, who had the monument constructed as a mausoleum for his wife, ordered that all the artisans and craftsmen have their hands chopped off so they could never reproduce their labors. Wikipedia says there is no evidence to support such myths. Who to trust?

One of my favorite images. Good thing I snapped this before the fountains turned on and spoiled the reflection.

A final look, but actually one of the first pics I took at the Taj Mahal. Dylan, one of the friends I met, is silhouetted in the forefront as we entered the front gate from the outer courtyards.

Nov 25, 2008

Pune Daily

I've spent 5 days in Pune, home to Xento Systems, the development arm of my company Property Solutions. My job wouldn't be successful without the outstanding work of our team here.

Pune itself is mostly unremarkable as a tourist destination. However, it is a paragon of modern India, a sprawling city of 4 million plus, and a rising technology hub that's lured companies like IBM and Cisco.

Being with my colleagues here has allowed me to experience a truer sense of daily life, and it's been wonderful. Here are a few more snapshots.

Manikchand Malabaar, apartments directly across the street from the Xento office. Property Solutions lets a 7th floor flat here, which is where I've been staying.

Xento team lunch, Nov 25. Everyday at 1pm the office orders out and eats together on the top floor of the building. Same restaurant each time, but different menu.

Some of the Xento team on a walk after lunch. Left to right: Gurunath Auti, Netaji Wakde, Shahjad Ali, Aniruddha Malvi.

A typical street view is littered with debris and trash. Anyone interested in a checkup?

View from the Property Solutions flat. Pune is larger than expected. Already on the southern outskirts, this view looks further south east and away from downtown, yet there continues to be development as far as you can see.

Sunrise view from the flat.

Nov 23, 2008

First Glimpses of Pune

Pune, Maharashtra, India.

This morning crossing the street, there were two cows wondering unattended down the road, as the cars and motorcycles just zipped around them. I'll try to have my camera ready next time.

Traffic is easily the first area of culture shock; the best word to describe it is madness. Seeing the cows was just the cherry on top. Base ingredients include motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws ("autos"), carts, dogs and pedestrians. Add a healthy dose of honking, sprinkle with dust, and make sure to omit order. Then bake at 90 degrees F, 24x7.

Yesterday I watched a guy's hat come flying off as he sped through traffic. He came back against the grain, and stopped in the middle of the road to pick it up, while everyone else just dodged him. Love it!

Anyway, with that build up I'm sorry, but I'm not posting any videos quite yet (the only thing that would do the traffic justice). Wanna take a nap. But here are a few random photos from my experience thus far.

Paper masala dosa for breakfast. The dosa is the large cone-shaped part (like a brittle crepe made from rice), and the masala is in the bowl inside. Accompanied with chutney and other stuff, can't keep all the food names straight.

Pushp har for sale on the street. Flower necklace worn at weddings and other such ceremonies.


Wedding of Priti Chaudhari, flanked by some of our developers. She's one of many of a fantastic team.

Mehandi, or heena, on Priti's hands. She said it took about 4-5 hours to do.

Shaniwar Wada, ancient palace, downtown Pune. Mostly in ruin now, aside from the exterior walls. Now the interior is a nicely landscaped courtyard, frequented by school kids and sweethearts.

Front gate to Shaniwar Wada. The spikes start at about 7 feet up because they were used to deter elephants from ramming through. At least that's what I heard.

Apr 21, 2007

Designing for Dinner

It's amazing how unemployment will drive you out of your mind.

As I continue to job search though, I try to keep myself busy enough to avoid completely losing it. So I'm designing. It's great to be able to get back into a hobby I was forced to put away on a high dusty shelf the last 10 months.

My recent designs include the entire DVD menu and DVD labels for Token Chinglish, the amateur documentary we pieced together last month. Here's a screenshot of the main menu.

I helped tailor a design for a CD my friend recently recorded and released. She has some great songs on the album, my favorite being a little tribute titled "Ray of Sunshine". I also recently completed graduation announcements for two other friends, both of whom were interested in having less-to-non-traditional designs (and are looking to rake in a little money). Here's what I came up with.

All of this work has been for free of course (these are my friends), so I'm still seeking an actual source of income. But I haven't come away from all this work completely empty handed. I'm trading my services for dinner, so I guess I should say empty stomached.

Apr 7, 2007


Let's get caught up, shall we?

Rewind to December. Just a few days shy of Christmas, and my time teaching at Berhan has come to an end. Farewells are never easy. I have absolutely loved my experience here, with the people I've met, and especially with my crazy, endearing students. But it's time to get away from these monkeys!

My plans, however, do not take me straight home. New Year's Eve finds me on a calm, warm night, relaxed on a floating dock, perched on water's edge... on the Kwai River in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. We're exhausted and tempted to get to bed early. But how often are you in Thailand, and so we have the first resolution of the new year -- just make it to midnight. We do, and good thing too. We get an impressive fireworks display, not more than a kilometer away, illuminating the sky above the Kwai River.

From Thailand, it's back to Taiwan, but only for a few days. Time for final goodbyes to friends, brief visits with my students, shopping, and preparations for the next stop - Fiji!

Everytime I visit the islands, I leave determined that this trip will not be my last... but never knowing when the next will come. So I take a full month... storing up the land, the people, carefully preserving my memories... and well, just being plain lazy!

Following a month in Fiji, and now nearly 8 months overall abroad, I'm eager to return home. I'm ready to take on the next stage, whatever it may bring.

Fast forward to mid February. I arrive in Los Angeles, pick up a rental, and drive two hours south. The next two days are spent in Bonita, California, visiting my aunt Celia. She has a beautiful home, and she's a fantastic host. We get this great idea to spend an afternoon south of the border in Tijuana, Mexico. Our main objective -- find the donkeys that are painted like zebras she tells me they have in Tijuana (zebrurros as I call them). How can you pass that up? Well, as you can tell, mission accomplished.

The next little bit is sort of a whirlwind. After California, I find myself back in Utah. Within a week, however, I'm on the road, driving south to Thatcher, Arizona. I know, it's like... "Where?" Or maybe you're thinking... "Um... why?" Well Thatcher is where my friend Stori lives. She and I are collaborating on an amateur documentary about our experience in Taiwan (where we worked together). In a week and a half we throw together a rough cut of the film. Then, we break and I return to Utah for about a week, following which I return to Thatcher, and another week and a half later, we have a finished film. Now one more drive back up to Utah. Each leg of the drive covers about 750 miles and gobbles up about 12 hours. Times four and that's a lot of one-on-none time! Fortunately, each time I drive through the amazing Salt River Canyon.

The documentary is done, finally. I almost missed all of March Madness. I get back to Utah three days before I turn around and fly up to Portland, Oregon. A vacation from vacationing sort of. My sister Melanie and her family live in Tualatin, a Portland suburb, and I haven't seen them in over two years. But it's not only a reunion with them. My sister Nadine and my brothers Jeremy, Matt, and Andrew all come out as well. We spend five great days together, and we do some wicked double-dutch.

Ok, I'm back in Utah. I moved into the White House, well a white house, and I've emptied the bags that played dressers the last four months. Time to return to some degree of normalcy. I'm staying put now... at least until the end of April!

This post is far too long!!

Jan 13, 2007

New Year, New Chapter

Remember Groundhog Day? Ever wonder what that would be like... to revisit time already lived? Fly back and forth across the Pacific and you can. I got 5 hours back, and let me tell you, I can think of a hundred better ways to spend it than sitting around a crowded airport.

But such was my lot. January 8th I left Taiwan, and after a rather long flight, found myself back on US soil five hours earlier than I left, the same day. I didn't stay in Los Angeles for long - 11 hours later and I was onboard another 747 pointed right back across the world's largest ocean. Destination - Fiji. Translation - another rather long flight.

Crossing the international date line once is a kick in and of itself. Do it twice in the span of 24 hours, and well, I'm not sure what it does to a person. But somewhere over the vast deep, an entire day disappeared from my calendar. Kind of fun to ask... what were you doing on January 9th? Not me, mine didn't exist. The date line exacted it as a fee for crossing. And our hypothesis didn't hold up - you can't erase jetlag by flying one way and then immediately backtracking a nearly equal distance. I arrived safely, and completely out of wits.

A new chapter for a new year. My time in Taiwan has come to a close, quicker than I could possibly have imagined it seems. I leave behind many friends and wonderful experiences. However, I plan to continue this travel log, for I still have many stories and many images worth sharing. Only bear with me. I will not likely write again until after I return from Fiji, in about one month's time. So if you are interested and remember, please come back and check again in the near future. God bless.

Nov 18, 2006

Yuanzuei Mountain

Shrouded in a sea of gray. At over 2000 meters, the summit of the mountain thrusts obstinately into the low-lying clouds. But, the obscured view is hardly a concern right now. My attention is wholly diverted to the sheer rock face I am desperately clinging to... fingers shaking... feet slipping... cue the Mission Impossible music...

The day began on a much milder note. After wrapping up Saturday morning classes, Trevor, Kathryn and I strapped on the gear and mounted up. Nothing better than a refreshing scooter cruise and a quick weekend overnighter. It took us a blissful hour and a half to reach the base of Yuanzuei mountain, northeast of Dongshih. First item of business, get away from the crowds and set up camp. Check. Next on the list, the object of our excursion - a leisurely afternoon hike to the mountain summit.

Stage one of the trek held little drama. A direct ascent, not more than a kilometer long, up the wooded mountainside along a well-groomed trail. The tranquility of the forest was breathtaking. Or maybe that was the merciless stretch of uninterrupted stairs. Either way, the first half of the hike proved a pleasant experience, despite a little bit of burn in our legs. Before long, we reached the top of a low ridge, still canopied by the surrounding wood, where we were greeted by a fork in the road. Right. Another 1.5 km to our destination.

Stage two is marked by a perceptible change in the landscape. The mature giants of the forest disappear. The mountain granite protrudes more prevalently through the soft soil. And the ascent steepens. Ropes appear on the trail to help the novice hiker, and soon ladders. We are no longer hiking, just climbing. Our seasoned party, of course, unanimously agrees - hands off the ropes! Let the real adventure begin. As we press on, the trail steadily grows rockier.

And then, a short distance ahead, it suddenly appears. The barren summit of Yuanzuei, a wedge of solid granite cutting into the sky like a giant stone knife. On one side, it's bordered by a sheer precipice, completely unapproachable. The other side is formidable as well, but offers just enough of an incline to not fully dissuade one from attempting to scale it. Like a siren she calls to me...

...My grip is weakening now. I'm stuck. I won't last much longer, not without a better foothold. But there aren't any. The tread on my shoes is practically worn off. Time to make a move. Brazenly push up, hoping to land an invisible handhold just out of reach, or go down, don't know exactly how from my current position... where's that theme music already?

Adrenaline flowing, I make my decision. Carefully, I flatten myself against the rock. Then I spread eagle and begin inching my way down, sliding against the sandpaper surface of the stone to help control my speed. OK, so it's not Hollywood, not today. Trevor kindly comes over to brace me from the bottom of the face. In a moment I'm down, no harm done. With that adventure behind us, what do we do next? Why move further up the face of the summit and begin climbing again of course! Only this time, footholds are plentiful.

Nov 15, 2006

Alarm Parade

It was a late night. No alarm clock. I'm just gonna wake up when I wake up...

The rude awakening came at about 9 AM. (That is not sleeping in, ok? That's much much earlier than I had intended to get up!) Forget the usual suspects. The wretched blare of my alarm clock had been silenced, intentionally, the night before. It wasn't the mosquitoes patiently draining the life out of my feet. And no, it wasn't the routine wave of screaming Chinese pages coming over the school intercom system. Couldn't be, Trevor and I unplugged our room phone months ago. Today's culprit was fresh and completely unforeseen - a random Taiwanese parade! The discordant blend of live percussion, ear-splitting fireworks, and karaoke-style techno would have been enough probably to rouse us all the way from downtown. Fortunately for us, this parade moseyed right down our street.

Actually, I jumped at this most convenient photo op. Since I don't really understand anything about the parade (occasion, symbolism, purpose, etc), I'll let the images do most of the talking.

The paraders taking a short break during their rain-soaked march. That's Trevor cruising down the middle of the street, getting the up close and personal.

Left. Two percussionists contributing to the cacophony.
One of the parade vehicles banking my direction.

And then there's this guy, casually launching roman candles from palm of his hand.

Two enthused officers, busily engaged in directing traffic.

More of the participants, helping guide one of the parade displays.