Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The comings and goings of whimsy……


whimsy  -   ˈwɪmzi/  -  noun
playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.
When we were traveling on this past 8-1/2 week trip, we started noticing that, on certain days, we were less tolerant of the differences that we saw.   We started saying that, on these days, we had “lost our whimsy”!!!
Let me give an example…..  on a whimsical day, we would see a small child standing in front of her Father while riding on a scooter and say “isn’t that cute”.   But, if we saw the same scenario on a “non-whimsical” day, we would break into a diatribe about how dangerous it was and how the Father shouldn’t allow it to happen.
As the trip wore on, we realized how fortunate we are to live in a place where there is a lot of standardization in how things are done.  That was probably the thing that most often caused our whimsy to wander away. 
The classic example was the day that I wanted to buy a Coke in the hotel restaurant.   First I went to the restaurant and asked for the drink.  The waitress didn’t know how I was supposed to pay for it so she called a supervisor.   The supervisor wrote up a paper ticket and walked it into the lobby to the front desk.  From there, the desk clerk put it into the computer and printed out an invoice that I finally was able to pay.  I walked away with a slightly bemused expression and a now warm Diet Coke!!!
With that being said, let me review the trip.  Being an Accountant, I am enamored with numbers, so  let’s look at the numbers of the trip……
19 airplane flights
15 hotels (and new beds)
31 Taxi rides in China alone!!
An unknown number of car rides (with driver) in India
4 boat/canoe rides
84+ teaching contact hours between Michael and his students
3,746 photographs!!
Umpteen banquet or buffet meals!!!   The problem with these is that you just get a small amount of a bunch of different tastes and smells and you come away feeling like you haven’t had a full meal.    We took the opportunity to order ala carte any chance that we could!!!
All in all, it was a good trip but we were both happy to arrive back in our Georgia home!! 
Except for a quick trip for Michael in December, we don’t have any trips planned for the near future.  However there is a possibility that next year we will spend 4 months in India!!!   We will wait to see if the grant is successful……
And for now, life goes on with work, house cleaning, gardening, catching up with friends and family and, hopefully, a little bit of creative time too!!!!!
Thanks for traveling with us!!!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A few days in Shanghai

On Sunday, September 11th, we made our return to Shanghai for the last stop on this journey.  We had thought to ourselves that, because they are so close, flying from India to China would be easy and fast…..not so much!!!

Unfortunately, our flight from Trivandrum to New Delhi was early in the morning but our flight from New Delhi to Shanghai didn’t leave until 2:30AM so we had a 17 hour layover in the New Delhi airport!!!

We found that there was a lounge that you pay to sit in so we shelled out the money so that we could at least sit in comfort for the first 15 hours!!DSC08904

The good thing was that the chairs were comfortable and internet was very good so we both managed to get some work done and then we spent time watching some DVD’s that we had brought with us. 

The bad thing was that there wasn’t much food available in this part of the airport so we bought a few snacks and picked at this and that.  By the time we were able to check in and move into the main terminal, we were starving!!

Fortunately the flight was basically on time and we were able to sleep some so we weren’t completely trashed when we arrived in Shanghai at 10:30AM.  We were met at the airport by two young women who were both PhD students at the university.   They didn’t want to tell us their Chinese names, but told us to call them Tina and Becky, although “Tina” kept forgetting what her English name was!!!   DSC08908

They dropped us at our hotel and then walked us across to one of the canteens for lunch.  They took us at our word that we liked spicy food and ordered one of the best meals that we have had while in China.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and trying to get our minds back into the mode of being in China again!!

On Tuesday, Michael had the day off so we headed to one of our favorite spots….the Bund!!! 

We didn’t have a major plan for the day except that we had a dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant that we had enjoyed back in 2012.  We walked to the building where the restaurant was housed, just to make sure that we knew where it was.  While in the building, we saw a fun restaurant with a balcony overlooking the river, so we decided to stop and have a small lunch first.  The views were magnificent…..


….and I especially like the dots of red from all of the flags!!

After lunch, our time was spent walking along the Bund itself and enjoying the buildings on the other side of the river……


This is a magnificent skyline and one that is easily recognizable!!

The area known as “The Bund” is a wide, long walkway along the river and we enjoyed strolling back and forth……IMG_9527

I especially liked the “flower” topped building the the center of this photo.

And, this building changed shapes as we walked past it.  It was interesting to see that it was actually curved and leaning slightly….


There was some interesting metal work on one side of the walkway…..


….and I was truly enamored with the way that it dipped and moved……


Wouldn’t it be fun to design a quilt with some of these shapes.

As the afternoon wore on, the area became much more crowded with SOO many cameras and photos being taken….


It actually became hard to walk because you were always in some “selfie-taker’s” way!!!

There were a couple of professional photo shoots going on…..IMG_9558

They were a handsome couple and it was a pretty place!!!

We enjoyed our dinner at “Mercado” and were planning to walk along the Bund after dark but unfortunately it had started to rain, so we just caught a taxi back to the hotel.   Even with the rain, it was a fun day!!!

The rest of the week was fairly quiet as Michael worked during the days and I (since I wasn’t feeling well) spent some time relaxing  at the hotel. 

On Friday night we were taken back downtown for one last banquetDSC08916

…enjoying some really good food with some very nice people!!!

As we were walking back into the room for the last time, I finally remembered to take a photo of the carpet……


It wasn’t super exciting, but I did like the carpet in one of the sitting areas……DSC08921

I think that it would make a fun piecing design….


On Saturday, the 17th, we climbed on to the 18th plane of our trip and enjoyed a good flight to Detroit, although we were delayed by 2 hours leaving the Shanghai airport.  This is a fairly common occurrence as the Chinese Military controls all of the airspace and they are very particular about how many planes they will allow at one time.

Even though we arrived late to Detroit, we still had time to eat a Big Mac before our final flight to Atlanta.

It felt SO good to be back home and to sleep in our own bed that night.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Exploring the Backwaters of Kerala


The second part of our Kerala vacation was spent on a Kettuvallam, a type of boat which were originally used as grain barges but have been transformed into floating cottages with each having 1 or more bedrooms, a Western toilet, kitchen and dining area.  Once again Jai, of Sanchari Holidays did a marvelous job of hooking us up with Gokul Cruises .

Our driver picked us up once our ferry from Coconut Grove arrived at the dock and drove about an hour to the town of Alleppey which is the 7th largest city in Kerala.  We were told that it is called the “Rice Bowl” of India because it is below sea level and the conditions are perfect for growing rice.  We were met there by a company representative and put onto our own private boat (which, unfortunately, I dont have a good photo of!)…..IMG_9226

We explored the boat, checking out our bedroom…..


the simple and compact kitchen…..IMG_9117

and the magnificent dining/living area……


As you can imagine, the first plan for the trip was to check out these chairs…..IMG_9316

…..AHHHHHH….such bliss!!

We joined the queue of boats slowly passing thru the canal…..


…and started to enjoy the daily life that was passing by us…..


One of the first things that we noticed were the myriad of canoes that also plied the water, each with their long shanked motor…...

IMG_9150We wondered about the length of the shank but then saw someone running thru an area of vegetation floating on the water and noticed that all he had to do was lift the motor out of the water and the vegetation would shake off.  Very ingenious!!

I loved the scenes on the sides of the canals, including this laundry hanging lazily out to dry….IMG_9154

This boat carrying silage approached…..


…but we were amazed to see that it was not a wide boat but simply a single canoe carrying a wide load…..


We were entertained by this boat filled with umbrella wielding passengers….


Our captain asked if we wanted to stop at a fish market and buy some Tiger Prawns to have for dinner and we answered with an immediate “Yes, Please!!”.  As we approached the docking area, all three of our crew members would come to the front to help guide us into shore….


They would beep the ship’s horn and immediately others would come out from the fish shop to help us dock..

The store (and I use that term loosely) was very basic and the fish were stored in these huge coolers…..


We selected our four Tiger Prawns (which I never knew were BLUE) …..


….hopped back on the boat and we were off again.

On closer inspection of the prawns, they looked like tiny sea monsters ….hopefully very TASTY sea monsters!!!….


A little further down the canal and it was time to stop for lunch with yet another docking.  They presented a marvelous lunch highlighted by a small crispy fish…..


….and accompanied by a myriad of curries, vegetables and, of course, rice…


We spent a bit of time in the kitchen while they were cooking and I was intrigued by this utensil….IMG_9135

….wondering exactly what it was used for.   I found out a few minutes later as one of the crew started grating coconut with it.   I like this video because it not only shows the tool in action but also the big smile on the gentleman’s face!!!…


There was a much larger Houseboat next to us as we ate lunch and we enjoyed listening to the rock music and laughter that came from the bunch of young men occupying it.

We had been told that there would be a tour of one of the smaller canals which the houseboat couldn’t get to.  We were expecting a small motor boat but were pleased to see a canoe arrive as our transportation.  Our guide rowed calmly along for about 5 minutes…..


….and then handed me an oar.  I quickly passed it on up to Michael and he proceeded to help with the rowing work…


Our guide was actually quite fortunate as Michael knew HOW to row and was able to do a lot of the work.  We passed other canoes where the passengers were doing more to hinder the rowing than to help it!!

It was very interesting to be closer to the shore to be able to observe life along the river.  Every home had a small opening that led onto the river and most had a large rock in pride of place….


It didn’t take long for us to understand that this was the “washing machine”….IMG_9251

The noise when women were washing was very recognizable….


In many places we could see over the shoreline berm to view the rice paddies in their full glory…..


As we floated past, we got a closer view of river life and I have to say, that it looks like a hard one!! IMG_9299 It seems that everything is done along the river’s edge, including bathing, dishwashing…..


… recreation…..IMG_9283

…and food provision…..IMG_9295…although it was interesting to see that many houses had a satellite dish perched on the corner of their homes…..


I am not sure why these pots were stuck on the ends of long poles, but it reminded me of pirate movies where skulls were set out this way to warn others not to enter…..


We returned to our boat and a very sweaty (but happy) Michael took a photo with our canoe guide…..IMG_9306

The guide immediately climbed back into his canoe and headed off to the next boat for yet another tour…..


Now it was time to just sit back and enjoy the trip and we made the most of our relaxing time.  It was fun to listen to the sounds of the canal, from the “slap, slap, slap” of women washing clothes, to the “tap, tap, tap” of men using machetes to open coconuts, the “ beep beep beep beep” of water taxi’s moving quickly thru the canal and wanting all of the house boats to get out of the way………IMG_9356……and the occasional cry of a vendor as he floated upstream hawking  his boat full of wares….


It was also interesting to pass the other boats and smell the aromas of their cooking, wondering if their lunch was as good as ours had been!!

Many people would wave as we passed and I think that they were not particularly used to seeing white people along the river!!  One young girl waved shyly to us and when we waved back, the whole family joined in the waving!!

This group of men were rebuilding the wall and “dock” in front of one house….


One of the funnier sights was when a canoe decided that it needed to cross the canal in the middle of a long line of boats…..


He would paddle as fast as he could as all of the Houseboats made adjustments to their engines to allow him time to pass.  We did discover during this episode that our captain “was a honker”!!!

We passed one LONG snake boat (Chundun Vallam) which was being prepared for the races associated with the Onam Festival……


Unfortunately these races fall on Sunday so we will miss them!!

I loved seeing this little girl practicing her rowing……


…and we laughed as this man quickly rowed up in his canoe, attached himself to the boat and allowed himself to be towed along…..


As it got later in the afternoon, the canal traffic increased greatly…..IMG_9426

…and before we knew it we were ready to dock for the evening.  We tied up in front of a smallish house,  along with 2 other boats from the same company.  An electric cord was pulled off of the boat and plugged into an outdoor socket.  We were told that it cost 70,000 Rupees ($1,050) for the plug to be installed and that each boat paid between 350 amd 500 Rupees for each night that they spent there.    It is quite an ingenious way to earn a bit of extra money!!

Soon we were told that our Prawns were about to be cooked, so we hurried to the kitchen to see them being placed into a small skillet with butter, covered and cooked for 10 minutes.


While we waited for the delicacy, we enjoyed the sunset that quickly colored the sky…..


Our delicious meal centered around the perfectly cooked Tiger Prawns…..


…and we greatly enjoyed every part of it…..


After dinner, we relaxed on the deck, happily watching the Geckos cavort around the ceiling of the boat…..IMG_9490

When it was time to head to bed, we found that they had closed our door and turned on our air conditioner so that our room was extremely comfortable!!

We awoke the next morning and were treated to a wonderful breakfast of toast (made by holding the bread over an open flame), omelet, vegetables and fruit…IMG_9491

All too soon it was time to cast off and head for port again.  We enjoyed floating slowly down the Backwater, but signs of civilization started creeping into the views….


We soon docked in our spot amongst all of the other boats…..IMG_9507

….took a final photo of our wonderful crew…..


….and met our driver for the return journey to Trivandrum.

The drive back was slow and deliberate, taking 5 hours to travel 154 kilometers (92 miles).   We laughed at several signs that noted that we were in an “Accident Prone Area” and to “Drive Slowly”!!!

We arrived back at our hotel mid afternoon and immediately started re-packing for our return trip to China on the next morning!!

We both felt that this trip was a magnificent way to end our time in India.  We were well cared for and the time was just SO relaxing!!!

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