A Travellerspoint blog

Great civilizations of the world

Paris, February 9, 2012

It's my 35th birthday and I have developed a malady - of looking back, of reminiscing, of giving in to nostalgia. Ed and I are talking fondly of our travels and we both acknowledge how lucky we are. I have visited the sites of some of the greatest civilizations of the world and the grandest cities man has built - the Forbidden City - Beijing Angkor Wat, Borobudur, Ajanta in India, Rome, London, Paris. I have looked at architecture spanning centuries, I have stood on cobble stones walked upon by 1000s of others 100s of year before me. Makes 35 seem insignificant and not such a big deal after all!

And of course, having a birthday-week helps. And what helps even more is friend's and family who indulge my nonsensical birthday-week celebrations! Spent a wonderful, but freezing few days in the shadow of the Jung Frau with Gr. Was introduced to raclette - sort of like an on-table hot plate on which you cook meats and under which you melt cheese. And then you pour the cheese on to the meat and garnish with chopped pickles and peppers. Perfect for a winter evening!

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Interlaken, Switzerland

Food and mountain pictures, taken from my grown up camera. I have resisted a camera for years, but now I have officially become a tourist. No more cellphone camera for me.

It's the silliest thing, but I rode the TGV, high speed rail, from Zurich to Paris and what a thrill! It's an ordinary train but it was a big deal as I had heard about it for the first time more than a dozen years ago I took French lessons at the Alliance Francaise. At that time, I didn't ever think that I would actually get to ride in it. Got to Paris, and it was all one lazy day after the other - lots of walking, sitting around, chatting, and of course shopping. Got me a lovely, lovely red wool coat - the kind I intend to wear for a long time. And indulged in make-up. Was bold enough to buy a classic red lipstick too. I will say this for Parisiens, they just have a bad rap. Decent folk really - they were reasonably chatty with each other and promptly switched to English for me. Translated make-up labels for me, brought menus in English on their own, quite kind actually.

My quasi-Kiwi friend instructed me to take one iconic picture in Paris, one that will stay with me forever. I know this doesnt count, but I was quite happy sitting in the sun - what a blessed way to celebrate the gift of another year - in the company of special people, in special places.

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Some truly lovely pictures with my truly lovely camera, and the getting of the camera is another story all together! Tell you about that later.

Posted by Goofy9 05:45 Archived in France Comments (1)

Nature is not fat

Serengeti and Maasai Mara

Have you noticed there are no fat animals in nature? There are large ones, hippos and elephants, but not fat, obese ones. Had the incredible opportunity to watch a pride of lions eat their kill. They were so focused on their meal that they barely noticed us. But each of them would eat and walk away and come back when they felt like more. None of that gorging at the buffet counter! I am so inspired by nature's restraints that I have a new screensaver in my phone. For the past 16 days every time I want to eat something just for the heck of it, I remind myself that nature is not fat.

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Other photos, courtesy Jack.

And for that matter neither is nature noisy. Was quite surprised how the giraffe just stood around and looked at as languidly. The zebra and the wildebeest just scattered. Even the lion just looked on unthreatened. Not much roaring or neighing or dramatic hoof sounds.

The sky is beautiful- no city lights at night to hide the stars. The sheer expanse of Africa is breathtaking. I stood in the middle of the Serengeti surrounded by zebra, and 2 other human beings. Didn't at all feel like there are 6 billion people in the world! Felt a certain oneness, a certain peace and a surity that life is actually pretty simple.

Oh, and the people are cheery- jambo! Hello! (you have to click on the link and see the video - around minute 1 there is the funniest roadsign). They break into spontaneous dance and they really believe in hakuna matata-- relax, don't worry, it will all work out! And 2012 is the year it will all work out. Happy new year, my peeps!

Posted by Goofy9 01:04 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

Can you be happy when you are sad?

Perth, Australia

One more continent-- and no, seriously, I am not counting. There is this person at work, who I don’t like one bit (and that's an understatement), who in the first 12 hours of knowing him he told me that he's been to 40 countries. I should have asked him, "So?" The thing is this: I don't want to lose the wonder of travel, I want to always appreciate the opportunity to experience new places and be grateful for it.

Was in Perth a few weeks back...little city. Every tourist brochure proclaimed that for one of the most isolated cities in the world, its pretty liveable. It's about 200 km to the next closest city. Despite the brochure, it didn’t quite pass the "could I live here" test. And for the silliest reason-- it was so, so windy! It reminded me of Casper, Wyoming and its howling cold wind. I took quite a lovely river cruise up to the mouth of the Swan River to the town of Fremantle. Multi million dollar houses, people sailing, fishing. Lots of outdoor people, though not as rugged as those New Zealanders!

Drove down to the town of Bunbury, and then daily 45 minutes in-land to a refinery - where I got to meet the team I will be working with for the next one year. Wore ugly steel-toed boots, a chunky orange jacket, and protective gear and eye glasses to walk to the loo (which was outdoors! Well, a proper loo but outside the building). At the end of the 4th day, I kept my heels in the car and changed into them the minute I got offsite. Enough of that manly, I-can-be-as-tough-as-anyone routine, and give the girl her heels back!

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Pretty spectacular sunsets in the town of Bunbury...took a stroll on the beach. Felt sad. Ok, Big Brother told me not to get into this sort of thing. But here's the summary - felt like crap. And even though I was on a beautiful beach, sun setting, sand under my toes, I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t feel God's hand on me, and yet, it was ok. I knew it would pass and in the depth of that unhappiness, I felt happy at the knowledge that it would pass. Maybe not soon, but it would.

And then today, Ed sent me this video - so upflifting, so completely nuts. Jump and the net will appear!

Posted by Goofy9 11:08 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Slums and all that's incendiary

Soweto

Took a tour of Johannesburg and Soweto last month and ever since something has been bugging me about what I saw. Let me unpack that...drove around town, picked up other tourists, and the guide drove us through old neighborhoods and pointed out certain houses. It was actually a silly thing to do because you could not see the houses - they were all behind impossibly high walls, in mostly white neighborhoods with armed security guards. One had to imagine who lived there and use that same imagination to figure out what those houses looked like since you couldn’t see a thing from the street! Discovery number 1: The higher the wall, the richer you are. And we are not talking about palm-lined, pretty Hollywood-style walls. I am talking about Fort Knox with wires and barbs and electrocution.

Interesting fact: Mr. Nelson Mandela lives in that neighborhood. You can actually see his house, it's not behind a wall, just a normal fence, and his house is the one with minimum security. It's a wonderful thing that no one would ever think of robbing or harming Mr. Mandela.

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Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton

Drove through downtown Johannesburg. Not like any downtown I have seen before. It was completely black. Not even an Indian in sight, and we know that Indians are everywhere! And it felt like a scene from a movie, a scene from the future, where only 1 race survives and there's graffiti on the walls, and cars on cinder blocks. Seriously. Not making this up. 10 bucks says that my brother will say that I am over reacting!

Drove on to Soweto. Drove in through the "civilized" part...normal looking houses, some fencing, concrete walls. Deeper one drove in one saw the true shanty town. Some pictures...drove deeper in through the "ghetto" and honestly, I am embarrassed to type this, I was scared; in an unfounded sort of way. It was safe, but to me it felt like a country simmering on the edge of discontent. And disruption from malcontent was right there, upfront, and ready to boil over quickly - not a decade from now, not five years from now, but tomorrow.

I wondered why all of this was bothering me - there are Sowetos in India, I've seen them in Jakarta, lots of South East Asia is like that. What makes this odd? In India, the slums grow due to poverty, and I think that's true for most of Asia. You are poor, cannot afford housing, you live in a shack in a city. Simple. Not much more to it, at least on the surface (not withstanding the caste system, and economic disadvantage from birth). Soweto on the other hand is a black slum. It's not by poverty, it's by color! And it's so damned obvious.

There I said it.

Disclaimer: Not all of Johannesburg is like this, obviously. I live in Sandton - quite like any suburban American town. Wide streets (no pavements), lots of cars (on last informal count that I took, 7 out of 9 fancy cars, were driven by whites), malls and whatnot.

Posted by Goofy9 21:31 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Detoxed and Disconnected

India, 2011

While in New Zealand, for the first time ever, I felt like I was so, so far away. So disconnected from everyone I love and everyone who loves me back. For some reason being geographically in one corner of the world made me miss Bloomington, IL with as much intensity as Gonikoppal, Coorg. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I did not have Internet on my phone! Never before did I realize how much the Internet is a lifeline to my life.

And then I got to India, and typical India-style, the telecom companies needed me to hand over my future first born child, just to give me a sim card. Once I finally finagled a sim card, it was almost amusing how I would get cell phone signal only if I stood on one leg and held my phone at a certain angle. Wish mom had taken a photo of me doing that.

Select photos from various spots in India.

India was the last leg of my time-off and in evaluating the time off, it was not everything that I thought it would be. Before I started my break, I had these grandiose ideas that I would make time to educate myself about stocks, and I would research what it takes to publish a book, and I thought I would apply my mind to thinking about starting a business.

I did none of that.

What I did do is travel- madly and haphazardly, from Cambodia to Germany, Japan and zig zag to Switzerland. One of my greatest wishes to go to Japan was fulfilled. A lifetime dream of immersing myself in a language came about when I lived in Dusseldorf for a handful of weeks. I experienced two Unesco World Heritage sites with my parents, and I know how very special it is to like traveling as a family. I was to skydive on my 30th birthday but instead now I got to skydive in one of the most spectacular places on earth, New Zealand. And to boot I reconnected with old friends in all parts of the world.

I am glad this sabbatical was everything it was not meant to be.
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123 stops; March 2010 to October 2011

Posted by Goofy9 22:53 Archived in India Comments (2)

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