25 March 2012

A Brief Interruption

One of my favorite countries I've traveled to is Russia.  Part of it is the history, I have always loved history, and for some reason I was always interested in Russian history.  Now I had no idea, at all, that I would ever get to travel there growing up.  I grew up in the 60's and 70's... and the Russians, the Soviets, were our sworn enemies.  How could I ever go there?  I had a couple of professors at Purdue who were from Russia, and a good college friend worked in Russia for about a year, ending when he was back in the US on home leave in August 1991 and there was an attempted coup in Russia.  Greg loved his time there... loved the people.  And I do too.

My first trip to Russia was to a diamond mine near Aikhal, Siberia... in February.  When the plane landed the temperature was -39 degrees.  That was the warmest it was the week I was there.  That first night we went out to eat at a restaurant, I think I have some pictures I will try to find sometime, but this is not about that right now so I'm not going to look for them.  And as we ate, we drank... vodka.  And by that I don't mean we drank mixed drinks, or sipped it genteelly, or took our time about it.  We drank shots, in toasts, just like I always saw in the movies, but I never really believed was real.  And as we drank, I learned.

I learned vodka is better ice cold, it was kept outside on the window ledge as we ate.  I learned that once a bottle is opened, it must be finished, or it is bad luck.  I learned that once a bottle is emptied it must be removed from the table, or it is bad luck.  I learned that the 3rd toast is for the women in everyones' lives.  (I have also read among soldiers it is for those who have died in war)  And I learned that, rightly or wrongly, drinking and eating with the local people, like the local people, is a great way to earn their trust and friendship.  (I also learned years later, on my most recent trip to Russia, they know the right things to toast as well.  This was my first international trip after our grandson Allie died and 1 night at supper I got teary, then downright weepy talking about him.  I got a couple of hugs and pats on the back,  Then we did a toast to Allie.  And my family.  And several more after that.)

There were 7 of us at dinner that night, and we drank 3 bottles of vodka.  I had talked, some, mostly through the local Cummins person I was with who was acting as my translator, and as dinner was wrapping up I felt I had to say something.  Now this was not meant as a toast, all the vodka had been finished, all the empty bottles removed, it was merely me thanking them.  I don't remember exactly what I said, time and said vodka consumption might have something to do with that, but to paraphrase I said "I just want to thank everyone for having me here and being so welcoming.  I grew up in the 60s and 70s and I never imagined I'd be here.  It's been great so far and I look forward to many more trips to Russia"  Igor, my translator, immediately shook his head and smiled and the man next to me, who hadn't said 5 words of English all night, slapped me hard on the back and said "Open another bottle!  That's a toast!"  So a 4th bottle was opened, and finished.  And I've loved Russia ever since.

Now when people come to Columbus from our Moscow office it's not unusual for me to get an e-mail; You have special Russian souvenir at your desk.  Which means another bottle of Russian vodka.  And we only drink it ice cold, out of the freezer, as shots, giving toasts, with our closest friends.  We drank a bottle before the Indianapolis 500 with our closest friends in the world from Purdue.  We drank a bottle the night Bob turned 50, and George turned 50 the next day.  And we drank a bottle the night before Mr. Levora's memorial service, in honor of him and his life.  And the 3rd shot was for the women in our lives, but especially for Mrs. Levora.

Now to pivot just a bit.  One of the best books, or series, I have ever read is The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simons.  It is set in Russia and opens just as Germany is invading Russia in 1941.  It has many of the elements I love in a story;  History - check, WW II - check, heroes and heroines I can look up to and respect - double check, and it's a great love story.  One of the elements in the series is Tatiana cooking for those she loves, and it is described in such exquisite detail I could almost taste it.  It turns out there is another book, Tatiana's Table, that has most of the recipes described in the books as well as more of the story of Tatiana and Alexander.  It is also out of print and ridiculously expensive used.  I have become friends with a great group of people through the Outlander series here, and Peggy let me borrow her copy of the book.  Superbowl weekend we ate Russian here... Borscht and Cabbage Pie on Saturday, leftovers and Blinchiki on Sunday.  It was great and I enjoyed reading the book, but I left on my trip before I could finish it.  I offered to send it back to Peggy but she said it could wait till I got back, so I decided to take it on a little adventure.

This was in India... I know, it could be any hotel window with palm trees, but the trip was very rushed and I didn't have an easy way to take it with me.

This was in Beijing... I know, it could be any high rise hotel with a dirty window... I guess I need to give more evidence.

Me and the book on the Great Wall.  From where we parked pretty much 35 minutes walking UPSTAIRS to the wall.   But what a view... truly amazing.

 Me and the book in the Forbidden City.  I'd walked around it before (Holy crap that's a long walk!) and been through the part you didn't have to pay for, this was my first time inside.

So thank you Peggy!  I got to finish reading the book, it got to see some sites, and log a lot of air miles.  I will get it back soon, I promise!

21 March 2012

Looking back at India

Okay, maybe I'm not cut out for blogging.  Or maybe I blog best when I have lots of time with nothing else to do.  I think part of the problem stems from my last little rant about India.  There is so much I really liked about it, I won't repeat it all here, but that last little bit, dealing with all the ridiculous BS of "security" at the airport effected my view of the country.  And I have to stop doing that.  So let me load some pictures and give some more background to my trip so I can get to China!

This was an Indian... band?... I'm not sure that's the right word, but I have no idea what the right word would be so I'll go with that.   They played at a work function we had and while I never (ever) listened to Indian music, unless I was in an Indian restaurant, I liked it, a lot.  I took a video, but it's huge and I need to be on a much faster connection before I try uploading that.

Another picture of the band, but also the (whatever it's called) that the girl there is wearing.  (Side note; I do not mean anything bad when I say girl.  Men and women are old... I'm not old, so how can I be a man?  It makes no sense sometimes.  Likewise, women my age?  younger?  they must be girls...right?  So I hope nobody takes offense, there is none intended,  and if you do?  Well you can just not come back again, okay?)
 On the highway to Mumbai... interesting tunnels, and no pictures turned out of them, but the inside walls were unfinished, even raw and rugged looking.  Very unlike all the tiled and finished tunnels I have seen before.
 Several pictures of a rest stop on the highway...
 A veg mcmuffin... hmmm... and no I did not try one.

 Papa John's was closed, and looked like it had been for some time.  The guys we were travelling with said American chains that come into the Indian market always failed.  Once they came in with Indian flavors, and Indian style foods, like the veg McMuffin, they made progress, then started adding the American flavors.  Now, I love food, and I love American food, and nothing, I mean NOTHING, tastes better than a hamburger after an extended trip overseas, but even I acknowledge American food is bland compared to Indian food.  I'm not sure why that succeeds in India.

 They even had a ferris wheel!  Now... it looked like it hadn't been used in years, and there was no way in hell I was getting close enough for it to fall on me should it pick that moment to rust to pieces... but i thought it was picture worthy...
 I think Americans would be healthier if there was more food like this at our interstate stops... not that I'd eat any of it, but for others... yeah I think it would be a good idea.
This was a post holding up the canopy that apparently somebody backed into, causing the post to bend, and it was repaired (or maybe connected in the first place?) with 2 pieces of rebar that are now cracked as well.  That fills me with all sorts of confidence!  Where is that ferris wheel again?

These motorized rickshaws were everywhere... all the time.  And looking at this picture I cannot recall why I thought I should take a picture of it, but it is a typical example of the thing.  I did not ride in one this trip but I think I should at some point.
Just some women (girls?) with kids.  1 thing we noticed was that kids were walking right by all the insane traffic, with apparently not a care in the world, and the parents, if they were around, did not seem concerned either.  WTF?  I'd be a nervous wreck, I almost was anyway, on their behalf.

A view out my window in Pune, India
Nothing remarkable about this, and I did not go in the store, but how could I pass on a picture of a place called Pantaloons?  Obviously I could not.
Now, I am not a big fan of the handheld shower thing, it always seems to turn and not do what I want it to do.  So when I first saw it I thought "Shit!  A week of fighting to keep the water spraying on me!"  I did not notice the HUGE shower head in the ceiling... only noticed it when i pulled the knob and got soaked with not-quite-warm water from above.  I decided I love the huge shower head in the ceiling, I could get used to that.  And I figure it's good practice for if/when I ever get to shower under a waterfall.

 This looks like just another picture of traffic in Pune till you notice the woman (girl?) on the back of that scooter is in uniform and carrying a semi-automatic rifle!  Impressive!
 Just a few of the motorcycles and scooters parked on Mohandas Ghandhi Way in Pune...
 Just a few of the t-shirts you could buy... and Guns 'n' Roses?  Seriously?  GACK!
 Just another cart full of coconuts.  They thought it was hilarious I was taking a picture of it.  But hey, not a typical sight in Indiana...
 A fort in Pune, the brochure said Gardens!  Fountains!  eh... not so much.  The fountains were not on, the gardens were empty, but there were some interesting things to see in it.

 There was this concrete... cone?  for lack of a better word, maybe 7-8 feet high with a slick coating on it.  Jacob was the first to run up to the top, then Scott.  I can't recall exact ages, Jacob is not yet 40, and is seen here "surfing" down from the top, Scott is 41-42 I think.  So of COURSE I can't let them do it and I not do it! 
 Of course when I tried to kind of surf down I ended up on my ass on the ground.  Oh well.  At least I made it to the top.

 A picture of the security pylons at entrance to the hotel parking lot.
 I can't remember what this is called, but spicy lentils I ate over rice.  Very good!  I think I could almost be a vegetarian in India!  Almost, but not quite.
 The engineer gang our last day in India

Next China!  And it should be less than 2 weeks this time...

04 March 2012

And now for this little rant...

Update from somewhere over the China Sea…

I will post more about India and post more pictures but first this editorial comment after leaving India.  

I loved most of what I saw in India.

I love the food

I love how friendly and kind everybody I dealt with on a personal level was (with some notable exceptions but this is a personal blog, not work related, so I won’t say anything about certain customers)

I love the chaos, now I know that sounds odd coming from somebody who has lived in a city that has had somewhat of a population “explosion” and is now >19,000 people for the past 23 years, but I do.  I don’t think I could live there, but I loved feeling it.

I love being in new places and experiencing new things.  I will be back probably 2 more times this year going to different parts of India and I’ve heard about the food in those regions and some of the attractions and I’m looking forward to seeing those.

But there are some things I most decidedly did not like.

I don’t like having every car and taxi checked for bombs before being allowed into a hotel lot.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the attention to safety, but it also kind of creeped me out.

I don’t like having my itinerary/passport/boarding pass checked 7, yes 7, times in a fairly small airport from the time I pull up to the departures lane till I get on the plane.

I don’t like having to repeatedly empty every scrap of metal out of my backpack at 1 airport and sailing through 2 others without a second look.

I don’t like being felt up by 1 security guy after passing through the metal detector.  I’m pretty sure he thought I had some device hidden in my underwear.  I thought about telling him we caught the underwear bomber but thought better of it.

I don’t like not being able to find any t-shirts for my grandsons in either of the airports we went through today, or hardly having any time to look for them because of the 7x document inspection bullshit

So enough griping.  I HATE whining and I refuse to do it.  I’ll be back; I’ll love a lot of it and not like other parts.  I’ll find t-shirts somewhere, somehow for Tommy, Nate, and Paul.  (I bought them Moscow Hard Rock CafĂ© t-shirts one time that the writing glowed in the dark and Nate wore hardly anything else for the next month, and I still see him wear Tommy’s some times, that might just be the best souvenir buy EVER.  (Way to make grandma* feel good Nate!)

On to China, but I’ll go back and fill in the holes on this India trip.

*  Yes I am called grandma by 2 of my grandsons.  When Tommy was born I was 44 and Sarah asked me what I wanted him to call me and I said “Clay, he can call me Clay”.  That was greeted with he CAN’T call you Clay!  And I said we had time to think that over, after all, most kids don’t talk the week they are born.  Well, when he started talking I said he can call me grandpa.  I liked that (George is Mimi) but Tommy kept saying “Gramma” and he’d get corrected and 1 day I said don’t worry about it… he can call me grandma, I don’t care, mom is Mimi so it won’t be confusing.  So they do… and now Tommy is 7-1/2 and Nate is 6.  And they will stop some day, and when they do it will probably break my heart a little, but that’s okay, it’s worth it now.  So… for the record, Tommy and Nate call me grandma and Paul calls me grandpa (and I just love the hell out of that too) and it has made for some interesting situations.  Like when Tommy asked Sarah why Paul called grandma grandpa.  And the look I’ve seen Paul give Tommy and Nate when they call me grandma sometimes.

03 March 2012

India Update - 2Mar12

Okay, I know it's been too long since my last entry.  But in my defense I AM here for work.  I got to Mumbai late Sunday night, flew to Pune early Monday, worked till evening, then left the hotel at 4-freaking-AM to catch a flight to Nagpur, worked till 6:30, work dinner from 7-11, then started the next day at 9, worked till 7:30 and got back to Pune around midnight, then up at 7 to drive to Mumbai for work.  Doesn't leave much time for taking pictures, enjoying the local culture, and certainly not blogging.

And certainly not as many food pictures.  It's a combination of eating for work in hotels and work cafeterias and how they eat.  At lunch and dinner in Nagpur it was kind of like a cocktail party feel, everyone standing up, eating and talking, people bringing you food, so hard to juggle holding a plate and a drink and taking a picture all at the same time.  But I did take some pictures... and a couple of videos.

Okay... well that did not work, I went to bed in hopes of uploading 50 pictures of so and it never occurred.  So, let me try fewer.....

This is in the car on the way to the airport in Mumbai to fly to Pune:

This is my room in Pune... not too shabby!

Outside my window in Pune

Driving to work Monday afternoon...

More to come later, right now I have to pack to go to Beijing...