29 March 2011

Singapore: Only One Day, So Much Food and Fun

A view from the top floor of the famous old Rex Hotel, a Singaporian Institution since the late 1800's.  This was a fabulously posh hotel and the small museum of the Rex's history was great.

The local, modern Buddhist Temple in Singapore.  Located across the street from the Food Vendor Hall were we ate a massive, cheap and ridiculously good lunch.  The Bhuddist Temple is also known as a hall of 10,000 Buddhas, due to the large amounts of Buddha statues included in the walls.

Vibrant colors in Little India, Singapore.

More color, more Little India.

Noodles, Won-ton Soup, Chicken and Rice, Food Stall Center, Cheap and Delicious,
Shopping, Little India, China Town, Colonial Row Houses, Fantastic Modern Architecture, Pouring Rain, Chocolate, Merlion, Brilliant.

Pics from Mauritius and India

Me, Raja, Alla and Steven at the Botanical Gardens on Mauritius.  It was a great day with great new friends.
After traveling to India from Mauritius, I headed out on a trip to New Delhi and Agra. Here is the Red Fort of Agra, with the Taj in the background (on the horizon on the left).

A Brahma Bull, heading to the local Hindu temple, being lead by one of the Brahma priests.

Fatehpur Sikri, a palace and city complex created and abandoned (due to a lack of water) all within a 50 year period.  The city stands as a classic example of late Indian Sculptural prowess.

Fatehpur Sikri, a tall pavilion within the royal city.

The tower above the main entrance of Mylapore Temple in Central Chennai, India.  This layered tower is echoed by smaller towers within the main precinct of the open air temple.  It serves to announce the temple entrance to the nearby community.  All towers include an uneven number of layers and ornaments, including the odd number of golden vessels atop the tower.

28 March 2011

Africa Pics

On our way from Ghana to South Africa, we were lucky enough to cross the 0-0 point, where the Prime Meridian crosses the Equator.  The Captain blew the ship's horn and we all had a 5-minute picture party.

The open window is the cell occupied by Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment at Robyn Island, South Africa.  This island had been used since the earliest colonial days in South Africa for housing prisoners and less than desirable peoples by the ruling colonial powers.  Robyn Island was a very powerful experience, compounded by the fact that our tour guide was a former political inmate during Apartied.

Students visiting Robyn Island, the political prison of the Apartied South African Government.

A display from the District 6 Museum.  District 6 was destroyed under the auspices of "Urban Development and Renewal" during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The area of District 6 was demolished save for the religious structures on the site, and remains undeveloped due to the now recognized land claims of former inhabitants.  The are was so politically and civilly contentious that the area still remains mostly vacant.

A hand-drawn map of the District 6 area surrounded by poems and diary entries from former residents and important South African literary figures.  It is a strikingly beautiful, yet haunting image of a now vanished place.

Artwork at the District 6 Museum.

Rescued street-signs and rubble from the demolition of District 6.

On the second to last day in South Africa, I was able to go on a day long Safari.  Here the bull Water Buffalo eyes our safari jeep, making sure we don't get to close to his harem.
Cheetahs at the Safari Park Rehabilitation Center.

The view from the Cable Car up to the top of Table Mountain.  The ride was beautiful and we got to watch sunset from the top of Table Mountain.  One of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed.  I even saw the green spark that only truly accompanies awesome sunsets.

Me at the top of Table Mountain.

Standing above the clouds on Table Mountain.  The cloud cover that often falls down the sides of Table Mountain is referred to by locals as the Table Cloth.  It is easy to see why.

India II

After spending one day thoroughly enjoying Chennai, I headed with a large group of students to the airport to start our adventure to New Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Rule #1 in India:  No liquids allowed in hand-baggage on Indian airlines.

This rule lead to some pretty interesting situations with checked baggage.  How can students accumulate liquids while traveling for only 2 days?  I just don’t understand. 

Rule #2 in India:  Counting is an important skill.

I felt a bit like a summer camp councilor during our two night trip to Delhi and Agra.  I must have counted to 44 (the total number of students on our trip) a million times over the 3 days we were together.  It was nice that we were all on one bus, but it was also a pain to count everyone, every time.  But, we left no one behind and we came back with everyone in one piece and healthy, which is more than can be said for other trips.  I will say, however, that all of the students were great, and apart from a few issues of waking up in the morning, were fun to be with for the entire trip. 

Rule #3 in India:  See the Taj Mahal at different times during the day.

I got to see the Taj Mahal, not just once, but TWICE!  It was great.  We traveled to Agra by bus, after our train was massively delayed.  The bus ride ended up being better than the train ride would have been anyway and we were able to make it to Agra by midnight, rather than the train’s final arrival time of 4am the next morning.  We were able to grab a few hours of sleep at our fabulous hotel before heading out to see the Taj Mahal, or simply the “Taj” as it is known to Indians, at sunrise.  The pink hues of the sky were mirrored by the brilliant white marble of the Taj.  The local red sandstone of the other buildings on the site also glowed in the early morning light.  The best part, however, was that there was virtually nobody there.  It was like having the place to ourselves. 

That afternoon, we headed back to the Taj to view the site at sunset.  It was great to get a second chance to explore the site, which I find rarely happens on trips like this.  I got the chance to view such an important Indian Monument at two very different times of day, and in two very different moods – which can change your entire reading of a structure or space. 

Rule #4:  Bring and Take Pepto-Bismal.

This is important, and should be self-explanatory.  Indian food is great, however, when your stomach is not used to spices and new types of veggies, it can be deadly.

Rule #5:  Take the Auto-Rickshas.

They look dangerous, and most definitely are, but boy is it an experience you will never forget.  Taxis are great, efficient and cheap, but are too tame for adventurous hearts. 

Rule #6:  Just go with the flow and try to blend India.

You will never truly be a local, at least not yet, but it is great to try.  India has so much to offer.  So much to see and experience, there really seems to be nothing worth trying, worth getting involved in.  Whether shopping, eating, exploring, bartering, traveling, touring, just remember to always enter with your right foot and always try to eat with your right hand, its just easier that way. 

25 March 2011

India I

I may never return to India, but one visit was not enough.  If I never make it back to India, I can be happy in the sites I have seen and the people I have met.  However, I would count myself extremely lucky to be given another opportunity to experience more of what India has to offer. 

The first sitting of our berth at the Chennai Industrial Port was spectacularly disheartening.  It was dirty, smelly and drab, a poor first vision of this sub-continent.  After exiting the port on our first day in country, my mission was to find Indian Rupees (the local currency).  After obtaining enough to keep me afloat for a couple of days, I headed back to the ship to join the city orientation tour.  We walked and drove all over Chennai, India’s 5th largest city with over 7 million people located in southern India in the Indian State known as Tamil Nadu.  You may have heard of the Tamil Tigers from a few years ago, who lead a rather violent political movement in this same state. 

The city of Chennai is crowded and dirty and far below the standards in most US cities in terms of sanitation and transportation, but the grime seemed to only throw the kindness and laughter of the populace in stronger relief.  Everyone we met was extremely kind and generous.  The service at every point in my journey was great and humble to the extreme.  Granted, I am not used to nice hotels – being a connoisseur of hostels across the world.  However, I don’t think I have been anywhere with such great service and FOOD! 

I have always loved Indian food, but the real deal in a million times better.  What we get in the US seems to tend towards northern New Delhi style Indian, while the southern style is also just as great.  If I lived in India, I could be a vegetarian in a heartbeat.  The best places we ate at were totally vegetarian.  Including one restaurant were we did make a bit of a spectacle of ourselves (Danny from the Field Office, Adam the Videographer, Brittany the Photographer, Daniel the LLC and myself) by ordering nearly one of everything from the menu.  We ate everything, including a bowl of Mango Ice-cream.  It was totally worth the weird looks from the locals at the neighboring tables.

Shopping in India was also brilliant.  I bought a full-on Sari (traditional Indian formal wear) as well as several tunics and linen pants in the “Aladdin” style.  We also bought tons of traditional Indian snacks from the “candyman” in Pundi’s Bazzar in central Chennai.  It was great to hear our friendly “candyman” explain what everything in his stall was made of and what it was called in local Tamil. 

India is not a cohesive group, just as Europe is not a cohesive group.  The difference between northern Indian provinces and southern Indian provinces like Tamil Nadu is very similar to the difference between the UK and Italy.  Even the languages are completely different.  The unifying language is actually the colonial English language, usually spoken by the educated class, rather than any type of Indian language, with the possible exception of Hindu.

04 March 2011



It has been a while, and I apologize. 

We are coming up on India on Sunday.  The entire ship has been gearing up with explorer seminars, cultural discussions, a viewing of the film Ghandi and lectures on various Indian topics.  It has been facinating.  We have several faculty, staff and students on the ship who have significant connections to India.  Whether through family or personal time spent in the country or even personal research. 

I can't wait to buy a Sari, see the great Hindu Temples of the Tamil Nadu region and the city of Chennai.  I am even flying to Agra and New Dehli to see the Taj Mahal from Monday through Wednesday.

Our last two ports were amazing.  South Africa was a different experience in and of itself.  It was like arriving at Disney World after living in the desert for a year.  Especially after visiting Ghana.

Our last stop was in Port Louis, Mauritius, the island most famous for the extinct Dodo bird.  It is sad that such a beautiful Island is known throughout the world for something that doesn't even exist anymore.  I will say, however, that I did by a Rain Stick with a Dodo carved on it.  It was a total impulse buy, but I only spent 3 US dollars on it, so not so bad in the long run.  I also was able to mail a post card, even though it was Sunday.  That means I have sent a post-card from every port when have been at after leaving Nassau.  I hope to send many in India.

As a previous of posts to come soon.  I want to take a few posts to look back as South Africa, and the amazing natural beauty I saw and experienced.  Let me just say that I totally walked with Giraffes.  Yes, you read that right, Giraffes.  I know, I can't believe it either.  South Africa was rife with contrast.  Poor, rich, white, black, brown, high, low, dry, wet, cloud, sun, windy, still, calm, crazy all interact on a level that is distinctly personal.  I also want to talk a little about Mauritius, and all the things I am learning about student life.  It is strange, but I am learning more about University life as an administrator that I did as a student.

Life is so strange, and short, and it is running by at a speed that is impossible to keep up with sometimes.  Don't waste a moment.