Archive for January, 2008

Doing Nut’in, at the Beach…

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

We keep hearing stories from other travelers (friends & strangers alike) about how carzy busy and expensive Goa is. Kevin & Laura even strongly suggested staying either North or South of the tiny state. So, in kovalam we switched hotels to a much less expensive one that’s right on the beach, and have decided to stay even longer and do nothing. Claudette had a slightly adverse reaction to the Malerone, and has stopped taking it. The kids and I are generally fine with it though.

The beach is nice, with a pretty big wave, and a nice (but short when the tide is in) beach. We’ve negotiated down to $54/night for the room, so that helps our bank account a bit. The sun is shining and life is good! We plan on leaving Kovlam now about Jan 31. From here wee will head North a bit to Kollam or Allipy (sp?) for a houseboat tour, and then wander further North to Mumbai for our Feb 11 departure.

Hope all is well back home (and by home, I am of course referring to Canada AND Australia) with everyone!

Pictures Update

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

We have finished getting caught up on picture uploading today finally.
http://pics2008.jamesworld.ca

Tomorrow we switch to a cheaper hotel, but are still at Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam in Southern India. We will not have as decent internet there, but we won’t be doing anything but relaxing anyways, (and that’s hardly worth reporting).

Alex is becoming wonderfully experimental with her new digital camera. The kids were taking all sorts of wild shots with it in the water as well. The first couple of underwater shots are of fish in a Spring fed pond in the middle of a Sikh temple complex that has a real gold roof. She also took a picture of a large framed photo of another more famous one in NW India that had even more gold. While we didn’t get to it in person, she insisted it’s worthiness for the gallery.

Other notable shots include a cannon ball hole in the wall of a building at the Agra Red Fort. This was the governing Palace and garrison of the King (Maharajah really) that built the Taj Mahal. The very hard white marble of this royal family residence is the same that built the Taj and with the same beautiful precious stones inlay artistry. In Delhi we also saw a regiment of camel calvary going down the street which was pretty cool. Right out of AOE!

There’s also a couple of shots of Luke at various monuments when he was captured by other tourists for photos with them. Alex has been asked a couple of times too, but fat chance of that! Luke is also shown sprawled out on a super soft silk carpet that was dirt cheap, and still miles out of our reach.

Pictures of the World’s largest Cannon and the baby brother of the World’s largest sundial round it all out. This sundial (with Luke posing at the top) was one of many very cool astronomical instruments that the Maharajah built in Northern India. This one could read time in 20 second increments, while the larger one (not shown yet) is 20+m tall and can read time in two second increments. The cannon was only fired once. It was a test shot and the ball traveled over 35km!!! About the same time the cannon was done at this Jaipur fort, a wall (similar to China’s) was completed all around the area. It was along the tops of mountain ridges, and probably included only about 20 square km.

How do you get another car of tourists to stop when you know that they’re from Canada? Lastly is a shot of Rick holding up his makeshift sign that made the Gunn family notice us. We stopped and chatted along the side of the road for a bit and then later in town. They had the exact same MEC rolling duffel’s that we are all using. Patti had the same one as well, which shows to go ya what a fine product it must be, (and super handy for world traveling!).

New Blog for YOU!

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

That’s right… For all our friends and family to throw up some news, gossip tidbits or whatever. Being that we’ve missed some pretty major events while traveling. (Examples: Canadian dollar above the Bush dollar, $100/barrel of oil, Alice’s accident, Lawrie’s passing, economy purported to be about ready to tank, Aussie election results, Brian & Coco leaving town.)

Sadly, this means that people will need to sign up again for the new blog. Luckily you’ve (mostly) all done it once and are easily familiar with the simple process. The address is as simple as this one:

http://friends.jamesworld.ca

So come one, come all! Send us your dinner stories, birthday party stories, and home news that comes to mind that we won’t read at www.cbc.ca. It’s even really simple to upload pictures to within the same blog posting you are making. Have Fun!

India’s Airports and All Trip Hotels

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

We have exchanged reviews of hotels with many other travelers which has been quite valuable. We’ve also had a couple of e-mail requests for suggestions in various places so I’ve compiled a separate web page discussing accommodation and reviewing hotels for our complete trip. It is: http://hotels.jamesworld.ca Many of the places we’ve been to are empty still, but Claudette and I will work on that over the next several weeks. There are a few different managed websites that allow users to rate places as well. We haven’t done any yet, but Claudette plans to put some in at: http://www.tripadvisor.com

The airports here in Delhi (and probably most of the rest of India) are what I would consider to be a disaster. The international terminal (we saw arrivals only) is small, enormously crowed and a complete unorganized madhouse of taxis, hawkers and scoundrels outside. Even late at night when we arrived, there was such an immense throng of crowded people that it was very difficult to find our pre-arranged guide. After he called the driver, it took another 25 minutes or so for the car to get close enough to the exit to pick us up.

We just went through domestic boarding for our flight to South India, and it was a similar madhouse. First of all, there are two separate terminals for domestic departures not close enough together to walk in between with baggage. Actually, robust go-getters probably could walk the just under 1km distance, but there is no allowances for foot traffic. It would be absolutely suicidal to attempt this without a protective car body around you. Once you figure out which of the two domestic terminals you are going to (it’s not marked on the tickets!) more pushing and fighting begins. In the foyer of the terminal are the ticket counters of the various airlines. We had to go through a secure door first to get to the check-in counters area. First in this area though each airline has a checked baggage X-ray. At the check-in counter all carry-on pieces are given special tags that must be filled out and attached. Security is a crowded unorganized affair starting with two long lines. Women are taken in separately on the left side, and at the front since there are so few of them traveling. As with all security screenings so far, (at airports & monuments) they are checked behind a curtained wall by other women. The men have two badly overloaded x-ray machines for carry-on baggage and jackets. Trays are only begrudgingly offered, and everyone is asked to put their cell phones and personal effects in their bags. This is to prevent theft on the other side, since the lineups for walk-throughs are much longer and bags will sit unattended for a few (or several!) minutes while people go through the body pat-down. After the mad zoo that is security, the noisy and crowded (but thankfully smoke free) waiting room sits, taunting you to find two seats together, (much less four). There are no planes at all that dock at the domestic terminals, so every goes to and fro by tarmac bus.

Delhi is constructing a new airport in time for them hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This will combine all terminals and passenger services into one building thankfully. Driving by it, I have my doubts that it will be completed (and the old ones demolished, cause they’re in the way) in the next thirty months, but I guess we’ll see. When fully completed and operational, they will have a whole bunch of buses looking for a new home. Actually, there are quite a number of new projects on the go for the 2010 games. Very similar to Beijing (who are in the frantic last six months of construction projects before hosting the Aug 2008 Olympics) there is large scale construction everywhere. Subways, hotels, roads and raised expressway construction are constant headaches to the already extremely chaotic traffic.

India Three

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

I have completely given up maintaining a separate electronic log as well as occasional blog posts. Instead, I seem to have switched my thinking to focusing my own personal journal of events and activities into the blog as well. This naturally makes the posts longer, and with occasional more frivolous detail, but a large part of it is to be my own personal record of memories for when I’m too old to get out of bed, (much less travel). I won’t feel the least bit slighted when people skip large sections. Exceptions of course are for my parents, Keizer’s, and the Gauthier’s. There will be a test on everything later to ensure your complete absorption of every word and punctuation mark.

A couple of responses to my last post about India’s omnipresent filth necessitate some further explanation. The origin of the feces common everywhere is not limited to animals sadly. The second worst smells encountered are the horrid stench of rotting discarded food. The abundance of roaming animals (dogs, cows, pigs, goats, monkeys, camels, elephants and occasional cats) seem to eat a lot of these food scraps thankfully. Rotting food smells still abound everywhere one walks though. Even though it’s “winter” here it’s nicely warm enough during the day to wear sandals. We are hesitant to though, due to the refuse everywhere and the possibility of getting it in our toes and on our feet so easily. The worst smell I alluded to a few sentences ago is urine. The stench is constantly overpowering. Obviously it’s mostly from men, (we’ve walked or driven by many) but we’ve even seen one woman hike up her dress a bit and squat and go. We saw a few women go in the street or alley in China though. Anyways, the ridiculous controversy last summer of a few public urinals along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton (removed during the daytime) seems crazy when considering the alternative smells that will offend everyone long after the fact.

Back to the animals for a moment. We had long heard stories of cows roaming the streets etcetera, but were really unprepared for the immensity of them everywhere. I think that the kids have counted more dogs here in India so far than the rest of the world combined! After the tonnes of roving K-9’s in Latin America and Southeast Asia, that’s a whole lot of dogs!!! The cows are numerous as well. What a huge shame we can’t get a good prime rib on any menu here. The interesting thing is that they are not skittish at all, having grown used to just being there. Cars drive past both sides of a cow standing and relaxing in the middle of a road without slowing down to less than 60KPH. There’s no swerving either, if I rolled down the window and reached my arm out I could touch the animals as we race past. Goats and pigs are equally un-startled, but usually stay in the ditches or along the sidewalks nosing around for scraps. Driving in India is bad enough, but to create a good traffic jam, one would only have to dump a bunch of old rotting food in the middle of the road. Drivers would be stymied waiting for the huge crowd of animals sure to gather in the area and blocking all accesses. At least the elephants and camels had “drivers” as they plodded along.

Alex and especially Luke have had a tough time (mainly since entering Asia) not petting dogs, or touching other animals even though it would be easy to. The diseases, filth, fleas and mange are just rampant. The mange especially is horrible! So many dogs we’ve seen since entering Thailand have just scratched themselves raw and have open wounds from the mange. It is terrible and very sad to see. It also took frequent explaining to Luke to convince him to just say a prayer for them rather than helping them scratch.

I had forgotten also in the previous post to describe our guide in Jaipur. He was certainly the best one we’d had yet in India so far and was very knowledgeable. Still though, he took us to some pretty high pressure shops which was quite annoying. One other thing he did was also a little sneaky. At the original Jaipur Fort and Palace just outside the city proper we have to walk a ways up the hill to get to the entrance. The hill has stairs for people, and a switchback ramp for vehicles or elephants. At the bottom in the parking lot, the guide said we could either walk way up there, (just over 110m vertical maybe) rent a 4WD jeep, (with emphasis on the excitement of a 4WD) or take an elephant ride, (with the most emphasis on this option). Walking in the end only took us just under fifteen minutes. The jeep option was only $6 for the five of us (including the guide of course). The elephant was $16 for only two passengers, so we’d need two for $32 for a little walk up the hill. There were LOTS! of people taking this option though. Many were old and needed to save their energy for getting around in the Palace I guess. Most were just doing it for the experience though. The part where the guide disappointed me though was his heavy emphasis on the two money options. We had hired the Toyota wagon and driver for the week though. So I asked the guide if we couldn’t just drive up there with our current vehicle rather than paying for a 4WD. The switchback road looked entirely doable by an old Austin Mini, never mind our six cylinder wagon. The guide stumbled a moment, and then agreed that, yes, if we wanted he supposed we could just drive up to the entrance. I guess they just have to spread the tourist wealth around. I’m sure I saw a little wry smile from our driver though, since he’s been incredibly fair and respectful of us so far. He also seems to know that we are not filthy rich and appreciate not getting screwed over. As Alex mentioned though, the driver can’t really object to the guides suggestions in front of him though.

While shopping at one textile store I abandoned Claudette a few minutes early while she was being shown the progressively nicer works. I had seen a tiny kite store a little ways back down the alley and wanted to have a look. It was about 2m x 3m, but the guy had a lot of stuff. Reels, (plastic, wood & homemade bamboo ones) string, and all kinds of basic designed kites. The homemade bamboo reels were about $0.58 while the plastic ones were about $1 (string for bot6h sold separately). The kites were made of two splintered bamboo sticks with a rectangular piece of heavy tissue paper glued on as the surface. They were only about thirteen cents each. Most had strips of the colored tissue paper cut out with different colors glued in. In Jaipur there had apparently been a big kite festival a few days before we arrived. There were hundreds of kites flopping around in all kids of trees and in the massive tangle of power lines snaking every which way through the city.

After having a look at the little store I walked back to outside the textile shop. It was on a corner of alleyways (really considered roads here). Down the side direction was a local boy, clean and well dressed, trying to fly a kite. He had difficulty getting it higher than about 5-6m though due to the narrowness of the buildings, trees and power lines encroaching his makeshift playground on both sides. I was vocally cheering on with oohs & aghs as it went higher or lower. After a few minutes I was playfully shouting at him and waving wildly to get it away from the power lines. After a few futile minutes of deft maneuvering he lost the battle and it was tangled. I knew I couldn’t buy a kite for Alex and Luke (no matter how cheap they were) but I jumped at the opportunity to run back to the store and pick one out for this other boy. I picked out a nice purple one, but clearly my kite pre-purchase analysis skills are utter crap. So I proudly took this new pristine purchase back to the boy and gave it to him. He readily accepted, and began poking small holes in it to attached the string line. I held it up while he ran the string out about 10m for its maiden flight and on the count of three I tossed it straight up while he pulled the string to birth this majestic paper into the wild blue yonder. We were as a well oiled machine, but the kite did not participate in our desire to have it soar with the pigeons. (No eagles here, but thousands of nuisance birds.) The purple pig-headed kite took a quick U-turn at 3m and nosedived straight into our car. Balgit, (our driver) was chuckling at our earnest yet failed attempt. I avoided all further contact and possible jinxing of the kite after that. The boy tried again a few times on his own with his tried and tested techniques. After a mere six attempts the nose was tattered and the bent bamboo was splintering too much and loosing the flexing elasticity needed to maintain a taunt flying surface. Disgusted with myself I pulled another five rupee bill (thirteen cents) from my pocket. I stomped on the kite before the boy could pick it up again, gave him the money and pointed him down the alley to pick out his own with hopefully better results.

Alex and Luke came out to see what was happening sometime around here, and watched the boy bring back the new and improved spoils. He came back with a plastic one that I hadn’t even seen in the store. It was recycled bag plastic and was the same price as the tissue paper ones apparently. I still chose to have nothing to do with this new launch though, just in case… It was flying with 30m of string out in no time! I then went back inside for a moment to check on Claudette. When I returned outside the kite was so incredibly high up that it was barely visible. The immense smile on this boys face was prominent for anyone to see though. He gave Luke the reigns for a bit too which was pretty cool. I came in second in a kite flying contest when I was about eleven or so. It was open to all ages, and first place went to some early 20’s guy who made a 3m square behemoth (sp?) that didn’t even fly. I used my plastic drugstore $2 special and kicked butt against all of the 30 or so other entrants. I should have remembered the lessons of flying with plastic, but I guess I’m old and it had slipped my mind. I tried telling the boy that I’d won this contest when younger, but I think the significance was lost on him. I won a $50 voucher for the toy store in Bonnie Doon mall that had sponsored it by the way. That was 1978ish and huge money for a kid in a toy store! It was also significant since my Grandpa James was in Edmonton visiting and got to see me do very well along with my Dad. K, sorry… enough childhood reminiscing.

Along the same kite story lines we enjoyed our un-guided fort visit yesterday afternoon. This one was at the high hill directly adjacent to the new Jaipur city. We climbed the stairs to the roof and had a spectacular view of the city. Being Saturday, there were lots of kites flying way below us. We were quite a ways up, and the hill was very steep, so buildings of the city were just below us, and not too far (50-60m) laterally. As we looked further off in the distant horizon we could actually see several kites at our level. These were actually the tissue paper kind and obviously of superior construction to the one I had previously bought. Then, I’m not sure why but I turned my eyes even higher and spotted a few more kites flying a ways above even our heads! The ones even with us must have been bare specs in the sky to the kids on the ground. The higher ones though must have been completely invisible! They could probably only feel tugs on the strings as the wind carried it too and fro well beyond their eyesight. The fort we were at was about 220m to 250m elevation above the city. This means that those kids had probably a whole roll of 1000′ of string spooled out! Oh what a life…

India AFTER the Taj

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Wow, what a beautiful and yet filthy country so far (in the North). Dirty does not quite do it justice. Filthy barely addresses the litter, sand and feces strewn about the countryside and everywhere in the cities. The sights and people are beautiful though. Well, except for the hawkers, taxi drivers & beggars I guess. Actually, the beggars are far fewer than I had expected or been told about for India. From other blogs or speaking with fellow travelers I expected to be almost constantly marauded. At many busy intersections there are two or three beggars, holding their fingers closed and motioning towards their mouth. They are mostly kids, with some women (always holding a baby) and only one man begging that I’ve seen so far. Luke hasn’t been quite as outwardly affected by the kids begging as Claudette and I expected. The sandy, refuse littered areas (roads, cities and countryside) remind me quite a bit of Goa haven, in Western Nunavut.

We drove on from Agra to Jaipur, a city of about 2.5 million. It is the first ever “planned” and structured city in India. So being laid out in rectangular blocks make life and navigation fairly easy. Unfortunately, the city has long outlived the 40,000 population designed size, and the majestic but narrow seven gates into the “old” city are major traffic choke points. Lots of forts and palaces though! We are pretty much palace’d out I think. The views, the work and the grandeur; they’re all amazing. But there’s just so much to see. We’ve heard the same about old churches and stuff in Europe… they apparently just start to blend together in their looks and historical significance after awhile, (sadly). Tonight we went to a revolving restaurant in Jaipur. It was only ten stories high, but the view was still far reaching because all of the city is typically only three and four story walk-up buildings until you get about 10km out from the relative core where we are. There were a bunch of fireworks being shot tonight which was pretty cool to see from up there too. Sadly, the place turned out not to serve wine. Then (even worse!) when we got the menu’s there wasn’t any meat dishes to be seen. After checking the front of the menu Claudette noticed the “(Veg)” written in small text… I politely asked if we could leave and find somewhere else. The look on my wife’s face said that that was apparently not a possible plan of action. She then ridiculed me further by insisting that surely I find something on the vast menu that was good. And surely I could eat one night without meat. I ended up having mushroom soup (it was OK) and rice, with a little bit of the kids cheese noodles. Yipee… At least we shared a couple of banana splits at the end which made it ever so slightly bearable. Still though, the total bill was $50!!!! For a full non-meat meal in India, I’d say we got taken.

Along this drive we have made a few (non-electronic) purchases as well. Some beautiful table covers & napkin sets, and a fine silk padded bed duvet for a crazy price of $90. These stores all start off saying that there’s no pressure and they serve pop & teas, but when you try and get out of there without buying 20-30 minutes later, the guide directed stores pour on the pressure like crazy. The driver directed stores however have always been nice, genuine, and have the best prices, (by far!).

We’ve also met up with some other Canadians along the route. We saw another Toyota wagon that passed us on the road. On the roof were the same MEC bags we have. I made a sign on a sheet of paper (photo to show up in the picture gallery soon) and had our driver go up beside them when there was no oncoming traffic. They got a chuckle and we both pulled over to chat for a few minutes. They are traveling off and on for a year with four (4!) kids from grades 5-10. We met up again briefly in Jaipur, but got cut short again there. It was a shame. It would have been nice to swap some experiences and advice on traveling. The next evening at our hotel was a single Canadian lady we spent the evening with though. We were doing some areas in reverse and were able to give each other great advice on our future places to visit. Both have blog links that I added to our blogroll list on the left.

We are heading back to Delhi a day early (tomorrow) and skipping a town further South that we were going to see due to a general strike that’s supposed to hit this state on Monday. The state and the federal government are bickering about highways and funding (or control of roads something). The state has organized a blockade of all highways and the police will not interfere, (there is no federal police force like the RCMP). Our driver is very worried and says that any cars on the road will be stopped, people pulled out and the vehicle destroyed by a beating and then burning. Nice, eh… The blockade will show the feds that the state has the real control over when the roads will work. All in all, I have found India to be the most fascist, oppressive country we have visited thus far. Way more so (outwardly, in tourist noticeable ways) than in China even! Clearly India has a thinly disguised democracy that really isn’t. A few quick examples are showing (and having photocopied or scanned) our passport info (or local ID for Indian tourists) for everything from major purchases (over $50), using internet or even just to use a computer, and to stay at any hotel. All four of our passports have to have all sorts of info written down on three different forms at each hotel. This info includes the passport number, issue place, DOB, date of issue & expiry, our individual Visa numbers within the passport, when we arrived in India, when we are leaving India, what town or city we just arrived from, and what town or city we are going to next. Simply crazy…

Don’t EVER buy Business Class…

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

We managed to get some sort of weird seat sale on business class tickets from Bangkok to Delhi (a five hour flight) a few months ago when we looked into it. The economy tickets were the same price as usual, but the business class tickets were almost half of their regular price!. For only $25 more per person compared to an economy class ticket, we had a glimpse into a lifestyle that is regretful to even know about now… (I am a bit of a hic, for anyone new here.)

First we got to que jump the check-in and waited barely a couple minutes for one guy at the counter ahead of us. Sadly, the economy fare line was only about a dozen people and not the 40-50 people (90 minute wait) that we had sometimes encountered previously. It was still nice even just skipping a few people though. Then it was off through security and to our own (almost) private lounge. There were big comfy chairs, huge windows with a view of the tarmac, and power plugs galore to use! There were also a half dozen internet enabled computers (only one of which was being used). This was one lounge out of three available near different gates in the International terminal. About a half hour before our flight, Luke found the complimentary food and drink area (beers, pops, highballs) and we pigged out on a variety of snacks and deserts. This abundance of luxurious living was all before getting on the plane even!

Then we took our seats in row three! We watched as our delightful stewardess closed the curtains on the cattle packed back in economy class, looking forlornly at us before being cut off. We had super deluxe touch screens with all sorts of programming and games. Economy had only audio and dinky little shared ceiling screens (with common programming) every six seats or so, (I went and checked). Of all our flights so far (25) we had only had these super deluxe touch screens with customizable programming twice before in economy.

Before departure came the menu choices. It wasn’t a slap down of a tray of commonly heated food, no sir-ee! We had a five course dining experience where we had to choose between one of three items in most categories. Mmmmm, even after pigging out on the free goodies in the lounge I was salivating at the thought. I also kept the menu to mail home later as a souvineer. yeah, I’m a big hic, but I warned everyone of that before.

During the entire flight we had two stewardesses devoted to business class. That was only six rows of four seats, but just thirteen people! What a ratio! After a most relaxing plane ride, we disembarked before the curtains behind us were lifted and got on a tarmac bus to take us to the terminal. We got standing area near the door and were prepared to be crushed by the throng of people. Odly (to us) people stopped coming off the plane and the bus doors were closed after us thirteen snobs got on, and we went to the terminal in golden silence and comfort. This is a HUGE deal of course, not only for the uncrowded five minute bus ride, but to be first in line for immigration and passport control meant another 20-45 minute lineup was gone out the window.

Lastly, our bags were previously marked as “important!” and they were collected from the luggage conveyor and brought to a certain area. It had a sign requesting that Business & First Class passengers need not rub elbows with the riff-raff pushing and crowding around the turnstile. We need only wait there at the sign, away from the melee, and our bags would be fought for and courteously brought to us. What a way to go! I don’t know how I can ever go back to economy class again!!!

Rick’s Agra (city with Taj) Description

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

The night before, we went to see the “Red Fort” in Agra, (or Agra Fort as it is now called so as not to be confused with the “Red Fort” in Delhi). It was even larger and more spectacular than the Delhi one, with more areas open to the public. It was the main residence and ruling location for the King who built the Taj as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. This one had an “S” curve, three gated, upwards sloping entrance, which apparently had made attacks nearly impossible. The seventy foot walls probably helped with the “impenetrable” reputation it had as well. Just across a very wide (and currently dry) riverbed the Taj Mahal stood, even more majestic than all the pictures I had previously seen.

We had many early mornings in China, but still found it difficult rolling Luke out of bed (not to mention ourselves of course!) early enough to see sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We arrived a little after the sun had lit up the sky, but a half hour before it crested the buildings on the horizon. Quite a few tourists were crowded just inside the main gate getting early morning light pictures of the Taj Mahal in the reflection pool. This was a few hundred meters away from the actual Taj. It looked fairly close, but then we could see the little tiny people up on the base of the Taj who were incredibly small. That helped put the scale of the building into much better perspective. There were lots of “staff” (or so they said they were) around who were only too helpful in grabbing people and (almost forcibly) guiding them to various specific spots to get all types of “perfect” pictures of the Taj. A couple at different spots of the reflective pool, and a few to gain all manners of artistic perspectives of beautiful pictures.As soon as several outstanding shots were gained, the staff member would maintain a perfect smile while semi-demanding a tip. I only paid the first guy about $3 of the $6 he was asking and then kept only small bills (equivalent to about eighteen and thirty-five cents) in my shirt pocket for any future scoundrels. Any that greeted me after that first one were initially thanked by me and then warned very sternly that I was out of money! They would then only show one good spot, still ask for a small tip, and then wander off to find more lucrative tourists.

Our guide was supposed to be provided, and while our driver (for the eight day circular tour out of Delhi to Agra and Jaipur) is great, the guides have been very poor so far. Just before leaving the hotel for the Red Fort, our guide changed. He knew very little about the fort and a pushy photographer was obviously (in Hindi) feeding him bits of info. This was after telling the “professional photographer” (as he kept on referring to himself as, it reminded me of Denzel’s experience in Man On Fire) many, many times that we didn’t want his amazing, photoshopped pics of us around the fort.

On the left side was a fairly large Muslim Mosque and on the right was a similar sized guest house house. Both of these were about three quarters of the height of the Taj, with about the same footprint as the Taj, (excluding the large 3m high plaza base all around the actual building that is). The two side buildings were a red stone, but with very similar exquisite craftsmanship in the hand carving and sculpting of the stone. All decorations in the three buildings were made purely from inlay of other types of stone, or precious and semi-precious jewels. Inlay means that the grooves are carved out of the larger marble and then precisely the same sized pieces of other stones & jewels are laid in to the grooves with a heated glue (from a top secret formula of course). The building(s) was (were all) spectacular by sheer size and logistics of moving such a massive amount of large pices of marble from a different area of the country a few hundred kilometers away. The artistry of all of the inlays, and piecing the marble (almost seamlessly) together however is just totally amazing! Along with the flowers, and general patterns were scribed text (in who knows what language?, arebic presumably) from the Koran.

We later went to a marble inlay factory and showroom, which had tonnes and tonnes of amazing pieces. There were tables which they insisted could withstand and pop spills or any winter temperatures that we could throw at it. The size was irrelevant to the price, everything was based on the quantity and difficulty of the inlay work. He showed me a small (football) sized elephant with to most exquisite and delicate inlay work all over the body. He said it took his master craftsman eleven months to make and was selling it for about $15,000, (and well worth it for the beauty and craftsmanship that went into it). This place also had inlaid designs on marble wine goblets which would have made an excellent addition to the Gauthier collection, but $300 was just a wee bit out of our reach (we still Love you guys though!). They also had some small (and not too heavy earrings that would have been nice to get for a friend in Smith who paid me some cash to buy his wife odd $5-$20 earrings from around the world on our travels. These ones were $85 though, but were probably the most unique ones I’d seen so far.

INDIA In Action

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Today we were touring all after noon ( SO TIRING huh ) We visited the red fort, we took some pics of monkey’s. we actually spent most of are time at the red fort touring around the grounds we also saw some parliament buildings they were very boring except for one building with real gold for a roof top ( Alex actually pointed it out. ) We went to a lotus temple second (the parliament buildings were third.) We bought lunch and a elastic helicopter at the lotus temple

Today we went to the TAJ MAHAL we had a little trouble with are guide. our driver handed us to a guide That guide took us down a path to a gate then handed us to another guide and said, here is your guide THAT guide took us to another gate (if you looked through you could see the Taj Mahal) and left us when we asked him to come through he said, I can’t I don’ have the right papers to guide you. SO we ended up guiding are selves we got into the chamber (finally) and looked at The fake tombs I bet your wondering if I said that right YES fake tombs to make along story short (Alex did the long story) there are two tombs one is real one is fake The real one is under ground the fake one you can look at BUT not take pictures of. There are stairs going down at the entrance (there ARE blocked off). We also took a look at the reflective pool (it showed the reflection of the Taj Mahal.) It was rather disappointing we did not get to see it turn pink at sunrise P.S On the trip I have been counting dogs the entire trip number is 572 not including India the number for India is 427 ( that is in 5 days) the old record was Australia with 217.

Today we went on a tour to see tigers. We did not see any though (no one has seen one for months ) on the other hand we saw lots of deer we saw some deer the size of a caribou the men looked like they were caribou with there huge antler’s we also saw spotted deer they looked very much like bambi with the skinny legs . We also saw some Indian Gazelle there were only two one mother and one baby. At the start of the tour the guide asked me if I could come with him to get the tickets it turned out he wanted me to draw the route number out of the bag. He said that was a good route to take. In the end I thought he said that to make me feel good. P.S we are half way into the trip!!

My choice (finally) is the BETSEST!

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

The Taj Mahal is beautiful BEYOND words! I would feel kinda bad just saying it was “beautiful”, or “cool”, or even “breath taking”. It is simply beyond words! (it is also pretty much beyond exclamation points!)! I am just the slightest bit disappointed because we didn’t get to see it go pink. I guess it has to be a certain time of year or something. They made you wear these little cover things over our footwear so they don’t have to clean the marble. It was looked after VERY well! They have lots of precautions and rules to keep it in good order. For example you are not allowed to bring food, gum or candy in, or bags (so they don’t have to search it). You are allowed only to bring in cameras and water (and clothes of course). Then, once you get past an outside gate you have to pay for use of a video camera. Then, once you get inside the main Taj Mahal gate you aren’t allowed to take video anymore. Only still pictures. The people didn’t know (and probably wouldn’t let us explain) that dads camera takes pictures and video, and that we wouldn’t take video. They thought my camera could only take pictures (and we didn’t explain that it can do videos and we took several. We were then even).

Then, once you went to go inside the fake tomb room (I’ll explain in a moment) you had to put all cameras away. There are two chambers, an upper chamber and a lower chamber. The bodies are actually in the lower chamber but you aren’t allowed to go there. In the upper chamber there are two fake caskets.

Now to start describing it. From any pictures you see, you’ll think it is a building with a dome on top and two towers on each side. But it is actually the building with a dome on top then a square raised platform surrounding it and a pillar on each corner. It is a BEAUTIFULLY carved Indian Marble. It is actually harder than Italian marble, ect (we kept on getting told this). And once you get on the outside of it near the entrance, there is lots of semi-precious stones inlaid into the Taj Mahal. It was designs of flowers and there were just so pretty! There were also carved flowers right below it. It went all the way around the building. Once you got inside (surprisingly there was no long line and you actually had room for your elbows!). There was a first little room (again with the inlaid flowers) which in the middle had the stairs to get down to the real caskets. This opening in the floor had a little fence to keep people away and a metal grate that was locked up with a padlock for even more security measures (because lots of people here ignore the ropes and the fences we often saw).

Then you would walk into the second room where the fake caskets were. It has another grate like wall (except carved of marble and going vertically instead of horizontally in the floor) which had a kind of doorway so you could see the “pretend” caskets (and of course surrounding that was a rope fence.). Around the room on the outside walls were again beautifully carved white marble window openings. I think there was 3 kinda “layers” (shall we say) of walls with windows. The first layer had glass, but the second and third did not (have glass). The ceiling was very high and it had clever grooves carved into it so you couldn’t tell which part was the groove or the part that was sticking out!. The entire thing was just stunning!

Surrounding the Taj Mahal (about 200 meters away and outside the main gate) were the places where the laborers slept. Now time for a little history about it. The Taj Mahal was a dedication (from a king) for his second wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child. He wanted to also build a black Taj Mahal (an exact copy of the white one, but for himself). The Maharajah’s son didn’t want him to build one, so he imprisoned his father. The son thought it was a further waste of money, and didn’t want anything to foreshadow the mausoleum built for his mother. The black Taj Mahal never got built. When his father died (I think he was still imprisoned), he got put in the Taj Mahal with his second wife, (in a slightly larger more ornate casket). There was no big ceremony or anything. He was simply placed beside his favorite wife in there and then everyone left. Very sad.

I forgot, once the Taj Mahal was finished, the Maharajah had the hands of the master carvers who worked on the Taj Mahal cut off. This would ensure that never again could they create something as beautiful. That’s all (sadly) about the Taj Mahal.

Also today we went to look at some shops where they have semi-precious (or colored) stone inlaid into white marble, (from the same quarries as the Taj). First we went to the guide’s place, and didn’t buy anything. Then we went to the driver’s place and bought about 200 dollars (Canadian) worth of stuff. (I’ll explain why we went to the driver and guides place in a sec.) We bought a plate for our kitchen wall rack (with the Taj Mahal on it of course). I bought a VEERRRY pretty pendant. It is a heart with some colored inlaid stones which makes a flower. It only cost about 20 dollars Canadian. The tourist business is cut throat here! We had to go to both places because, if we buy something, whomevers place it is they get a commission when we buy something. The driver was polite about it, but the guide wasn’t! He took us to his inlaid place then, when we didn’t buy anything and we got back in the car, he said “ I want to take you to a place, it has star of India”. We just said we wanted to eat, then we were gonna go to the next town with our driver (the guide was only for Agra). The guide kinda got mad and us and starting insisting that “no you will like, I want to show you star of India”. We just kept on refusing and you could barely tell, but he was a bit angry. We later found out from driver that when you don’t buy an inlaid thing, they’ll take you to a jewelry shop, then a fabric shop and on and on. There are desperate for that commission. I liked how our driver actually asked us if we wanted to go. He told us before that they get commission and if we don’t want to go then tell him. We did tell the guide before we left that we didn’t want to go, but when we came out of the Taj Mahal we forgot and he noticed and took us there anyways. The drivers do what the guide says though, because they want to stay friends. Also everyone wants a tip! A guys tell us how to get good pictures and what to do then after he says he wants tip. Oh yeah I forgot our guide was also very bad! Yesterday he took us to the red fort but he rushed us through everything! Then today he showed us the right way down to the Taj Mahal, walked us down this road where cars can’t go, then handed us off to another guide. Then once we got to the second gate to get in, the second guide pointed us in the right direction and said goodbye. Turns out he isn’t an officail guide so he can’t go in (or get caught inside) with tourists. He only walked us about 100 meters and told us “that is where some of the laborers stayed”. Then guess what he did? He asked for a tip. Then, also near the gate there were 2 cows who had a huge rotary blade style lawn mower that pulled behind them. We took a couple pictures while they were on a break) and the owners posed with the cows. Then once we were gonna leave they asked for a tip! I didn’t have to pay but I still got a headache!

It was funny because when we were just about to leave Luke had to go to the washroom, but he forgot to get toilet paper and when Dad went in to check on him, they remembered mum didn’t have her purse. So dad pulled out and suggested using a 10 rupee bill (not even thirty cents Canadian). Luke, who seems to care more about the money than himself said “I can’t use money!!!!!!!!!” We could just barely hear him from outside the bathroom! In the end they found the attendant who was selling toilet paper. Ironically it cost 10 rupees! S’all for now miss everyone!
Alex
PS Taj Mahal is AWESOME!!!!!!

Mind your own business (class)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Today we went on a business class flight (finally). We had big comfy chairs and me and Alex got Harry Potter 4 sticker books (yeah) Harry potter 4 is also the book I am reading. Best of all the stewardesses were doting on you, (hee hee doting is a funny word). We also watched some movies and Spongebob episodes; Dumped, and survival of the idiots. For Dora, I watched the lost city episode. Last but not least, I watched 2 Rugrats episodes; the BBQ and waiter, there’s a baby in my soup. I enjoyed it a LOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Incredable India! (cont)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Today we did a little half day o touring. We saw the Red fort, the lotus temple and some parlamint buildings. We spent most of our time at the red fort though. It was very cautious. They did the uuh thing were they feel alover your body to make sure you you don’t have a bomb or something. It’s my first time, and hopefully last! There were two seperate lines for boys and girls. All the boys were sniggering as the girls went through. It was veeerrrry embarressing! The lotus temple was absolutly breathtaking. We went by a few parlamint buildings but they were all boring except for one which had REAL gold on the roof.
S’all for now, miss you guys!!!!Alex

The Great Food of China

Monday, January 14th, 2008

In Beijing we had all sorts of meals. Our first interesting meal was peaking duck. In Beijing you eat duck like a taco. You slice the duck up and then wrap it up in thin soft taco bread. Our second main meal was a hot pot. For those who don’t know what a hot pot is, you basically have a bunch of ingredients around a table and boil them in well, a hot pot. The last interesting meal was at 1001 Arabian nights restaurant but it was not the meal that was cool it was the entertainment. There were belly dancers dancing. We only watched two dances. I think it was a different girl dancing both times. Mom thinks they were the same girl.

New 2008 Picture Gallery!

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

With over 600 quality photographs in our original travel web gallery, we decided to start a new one for 2008 pictures. Unfortunately though, I haven’t had a chance yet to update our main http://www,jamesworld.ca index page, so there is no link to the new gallery from there. Hopefully I can get to fixing that in the next two weeks. In the meantime, the direct link can be accessed from the blogroll on the lower left portion of any blog page. Or you can memorize the link:

http://pics2008.jamesworld.ca

I also added a (slightly longwinded) description of some aspects to consider when planning a similar RTW trip accessible from the upper left corner of the blog pages, (just below “The Adventrures Of Pete”).

Buh-bye Beijing & Gerbers

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

We had an incredible few weeks in the city. Not the least of course which was the fantastic hospitality! After Jim came back we toured around a variety of amazing sites, (most with Jim, some without) with occasional CJ recharge time here and there. Our first day back to Beijing I (stoopidly) made a sarcastic remark to Jim about his toque and insulated gloves. Well, we quickly went to a market in the neighborhood and bought some North Face imitations for all of us as well. It was rather nippy! Especially since none of us had really really worn long pants or shoes since departing Edmonton six months previously.

Our week with Jim (and also the few days of the six of us after Letty returned home) can pretty much be considered an orgy of eating! We saw lots of amazing sights too of course, but the food stands out as a very fond portion of our stay there. Even if I had cared particularly about loosing weight before, these two weeks would have blasted me back up into the 210+ pound realm. We naturally went to a famous (and down to earth) place that specialized in Peking Duck. (The city of Beijing was formerly called Peking.) This ranked right up there with having a Singapore Sling in Singapore (well, except for the fact that Claudette and I chose NOT to have such an expensive girly drink while we were in that nation/city.) except the duck was great! We were a little short on actual duck meat for the five of us, but got by and really enjoyed it. On some other nights we had incredible beef ribs at a place where we ordered them a half day in advance since they usually run out. We finished off three huge plates, (along with other plates of dumplings & greens and stuph) and none of us left hungry for desert that night, (no matter what Luke might say now). Yet another places’ specialty was some sesame coated and glazed ribs which were also delicious. The table next to us got a Peking Duck, and we longingly watched their plates go by, before turning back and digging in to our excellent ribs. There was just amazing food every which way we looked. (Oh, and cool cultural stuph too… Yeah, lots of goodly cultural stuph…) One other meal (and dining style in general) worth noting were the “Hot Pots”. This can be done different ways, and typically just includes a can of sterno (a jellied type of Kerosene) under a frying pan still burning. It is set in the middle of the table for everyone to extract the sizzling food from. Very Nummy! Another derivation of this that we went to was actually a type of fondue though. It had a double style of pot in the middle of the table. The middle section was for charcoal briquette’s (sp?) burning, and the “outside” attached pot had boiling water in which we put all sorts of raw food to cook it. The raw foods included a variety of vegetables, thinly sliced red, meats, tofu chunks (just for Jim) and fish meatballs. The food was really good, but the concept was way cool! We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we looked around for, and eventually bought one of those pots. It cost just under $50 to buy, and another $35 to mail home. (Keizer’s and Gauthier’s, buy some charcoal so you can be ready and try it when it arrives! The kicker is, ya hafta use chopsticks to get everything out! My pot, my rules…)

All in all, it was really great to see Jim and Letty again. Our visit was just too short, (plus they have a HUGE! LCD TV that we all enjoyed watching. I wonder if he’s compensating for something though???). Our entire visit there consisted of us (together and individually) all asking them to come and visit us in Smith. Airfare of $800 each from Edmonton seems to halt most people’s aspirations of coming for a visit though, and the Gerber’s were no exception. We will continue resorting to pure guilt to get our way though…

The only other regrets I have for our visit in China was not being able to fit in (monetarily and time wise) the Three Gorges Dam, and much of Western China. There is so much more to this vast and culturally rich country than just the little swath of Eastern section we made it to. I didn’t push it too hard though, since it’s obvious that China should really almost be a two to three month (minimum!) trip unto itself. We’re very happy with the sights and activities we managed to fit in though. And we’re most happy of all to have been able to visit with old friends who don’t look as though they’ll be returning from foreign teaching anytime soon.

Lastly, I should casually mention that leaving Beijing and arriving in Bangkok marked the extent of our bulk Airtreks purchased tickets almost a year ago. The remainder we have just purchased ourselves a few weeks or months or so in advance, as we cruised along. While we are confident now in “winging it”, it was sure nice having the first half all scheduled and looked after for us (and tickets in hand).

Incredable India!

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

We are now officailly in India! We actually only got here last night and we’ve only taken a little walk just this morning, but, we are here! We are in the budget end of town so we don’t really know what to compare but so far I like where we are! Traffic is crazy though!!! All you can hear is honking horns! Worst of all traffic is bad pretty much 24 hours! I think our taxi driver said something about big trucks only being allowed to go on the roads at night. That reduces traffic a bit. But it is still very crazy. I’m VERY excited because we are nearing my destination choice, The TAj Mahal. NOw that I have my own camera we will have triple the pictures!!! S’all for now!!
Alex

Travel Updates

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

While the web is a spectacular resource, the abundance of misinformation (sometimes intentional but mostly human stupidity or laziness I believe) seems to cast a shadow over relying on it too much. We looked up information on getting travel Visa’s to India and their site said we needed bank statements with $1500 per person and we needed to show purchased tickets OUT of India as well. So, we diligently went to the Emirates office in Shanghai to purchase tickets out of Mumbai to Nairobi Kenya, smugly thinking to ourselves; “What could possibly go wrong?!?” Well, two days later was the election, the rigging and the pursuant chaos and killings. What could go wrong indeed…. We are currently tentatively planning on maybe changing our tickets to go to Tanzania instead of Narobi from Dubai.

The cool thing about buying Emirates tickets was that it was only $25 more per person than some other smaller airline, but allows multi-day stays in Dubai while passing through without a monetary penalty. We have three nights planned there now so we can take the kids skiing, for the first time ever in their lives, at the indoor ski resort in a +40 degree desert. A very cool (yet likely expensive) opportunity to be sure. I’d also like to see the “soon-to-be” tallest building/tower/structure in the world, not to mention the sail hotel and all of the outrageous manufactured palm resort islands.

So that portion after Dubai is still up in the air. At the airport tomorrow we’re going to try and change the tickets to Dar Es Salom (sp?) instead of Narobi. We only just booked a Delhi hotel tonight and have yet to design any sort of route or plan for India at all! Much to do… In India we have to do about three mini DVD video camera backups and uploading of still pictures to the gallery. Luke had told me the other day that the gallery wasn’t fully loading when he showed his “classmates”. I think that there’s almost 600 pictures there now, so we might have to delete some. It all loaded fine for me tonight though. We had planned on using a second gallery for 2008, but I just haven’t been able to get the pics off of those discs yet. Plus I need a computer with an FTP program to change our main index page with the links to everything, (including the new picture gallery page). Hopefully in the next week!

I received an e-mail from another “James” family in Washington who are planning a similar twelve month trip to ours for July 2008. He was casually asking about any suggestions or recommendations. Hah! I have tonnes… I plan on writing them out on a separate page linked from the top left in the next month or so, with additional updates and edits along the rest of our trip. Their website is:
http://thewidewideworld.com/

School….. On vacation!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

today we went to the school Jim works at W.A.B but this time it was quite a bit cooler because I was with kids my age.I was in grade 5 alex was in grade 8 ( the grade we are missing WA WA ) : (
It was kind of funny because all the people at the tables were saying SIT HERE SIT HERE I ended up making friends with zdenek (it is pronuonced sdenek ) juran and thomas ryde I gave them my email address and the website address. The class subjects were haiku,social studies,math, Gym, language,s and lastly I got to show the class the wesite . My favorite subject was gym we did hockey Yah !!! 00
U

School days

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Yesterday I went to school (again but this time it was way funner!)!! Jim got us some teacher friends and we got to stay for the day. I was in grade 8 and Luke did grade five. My teacher got me a buddy for the day, Her name is Sabel (I think it might actually be Isabel but every one was calling her Sabel. We did computers, languages (Chinese French and 2 other ones I think), Band, LA and I think Math (I can’t remember!). My favorite subject was in band. In every other class I has to sit and read. but in band I got to fiddle around with the drums and the guitar and the piano. It was fun. The class split off into there bands and practiced the song they each made up. It was the most fun I had had at school for a while( considering the fact that I HAVEN’T been at school for a while.). S’all for now! miss you guys (and school) lots!!!!
Alex

The Great Wall

Monday, January 7th, 2008

This morning we are heading to the great wall near Beijing. We booked a driver for early so we could get there by about 7:30 AM to see the sunrise. We couldn’t get the driver any earlier, but it’s a great price. Travel time is about an hour each way from the Gerber’s place. Then, we will be taking a gondola ride up the mountain to a high point on the wall. The driver apparently will just stay and relax in a tea shop as long as we want, waiting for us for a whole day “rental” of about $70. To get down the hill there is a concrete sled run similar to the one at Paskapoo, (Canada Olympic Park ow I think) in Cowtown. That should be a blast! We packed a lunch so we can sit and relax for a bit along the top just taking it all in (and avoiding the hawkers at the parking lot).

We’re on our way back to Beijing now; what a day! The kids both wrote a bit about what an amazing visit it was. At the bottom of the hill my chest felt compressed with the sheer majesty of the view. For a full 180 degree view we could this this incredible structure snaking up and down, curving and flowing, following the ridges of the mountain. “Breathtaking” barely describes the feeling, and that was before even getting up the hill and touching it! The hill wasn’t much, we would have only taken 40 minutes or so I’d say to climb it. We still opted to ride up though in order to have more time for traversing along it. The gondola was out for a three day service, so we took the chairlift up instead. It was a simple ski hill chairlift and we bought tickets to take the wheeled sled back down. That was hours off though!

The workers started up the chairlift just for us and stopped it to run back inside their break room once we jumped off at the top. I guess they weren’t expecting anyone else for awhile. We actually were the first ones up that morning. That was even cooler than just being there. While the sun was certainly above the horizon, it hadn’t yet crested the hills. First things first, Luke had to go pee, and the lifties told us there was no bathroom close by. So, he got to stand on the lift exit sidewalk and urinate adjacent (a few meters away of course!) to the wall. Then we climbed up and were immediately wowed! The view all around was incredible, and the stonework was just immense.

We later surmised that a few kilometer section had been redone with new large cobblestones for tourists to walk on. This section also was structurally maintained compared to most of the rest which was left to slowly crumble under the elements. I’m not sure how many stratiegic sections like this had been set aside for tourism, but there’s abundant opportunities in 5000km of wall…

We took our time wandering West, stopping to thoroughly explore the towers along the way. At the first tower in that direction we stopped for a snack. We’d all had a quick bowel of cereal before jumping in the car at 6:30 Am in Beijing, but I brought along some leftovers from Sunday Brunch the day before. Who would have thought cold Letty’s brown sugar, maple syrup, special, ultra french toast concoction would be so incredible as I barely got my fork into the shared tupperware with my ravenous family. We had also packed some cheese bread sub sandwiches for later. We discussed going along up to the gondola and then perhaps to the top of the adjacent peak depending upon the time. We had a self imposed deadline of leaving by 1:00 PM in order to pickup our passports and travel Visa’s at the Indian Embassy.

After a very leisurely 40 minutes or so up there alone we heard the chairlift start up, inevitably bringing us some tourist company. We still continued at a pretty leisurely pace, and the young Aussies aught up and passed us while we were exploring an offshoot wall section and they were in a rush. We later caught up and visited with them at the gondola station. The two guys in their tour group had hustled along ahead to reach the top of the peak. We later chatted with them and were told that the last bit was incredibly steep and starting to be a lot more of a ruble walkway than freshly laid stone blocks (in the last 20-40 years I would guess). At the top was a sign forbidding anyone to continue. They also noted that the remainder of the wall was in a fairly decrepit state of disrepair. (As would be expected from 500-600 years of Mother nature’s elements.) They both seemed pretty proud of seeing the “untouched” section of wall in it’s naturally depleted state. I asked if they had taken pictures, but they were in such a rush that they had forgotten.

The girls in their group were fun to talk with. One lady (the lone Canadian in the GAP tour group) said she was from Edmonton when I asked. I asked what state of the US that was in to Claudette’s horrified chagrin. The woman started to try and explain that it was a major city in Canada before I broke into a smile and informed her that I was in fact born and raised there. She was actually from Sherwood Park and was equally shocked when Claudette said her sister, father, Aunts & Uncles and her grandmother all lived there. Here we ate our sandwiches which hit the spot quite nicely. After the girls departed we were along on the walkway and steps of the gondola access, (I need to emphasize that we were not actually on “The Wall”. I then felt the need, and found a nice ledge from which to launch a decent stream. While urinating into the bushes and grass below I sang aloud “I’m the king of the castle…” just to give my grandmother a good chuckle later when the story would be retold to her. Claudette didn’t seem to buy in to this excuse, but it was too late. We then began to head back to the other end for the sled ride down. Along the way vendors had now taken their positions at intervals to hawk ridiculously high priced snack goods to the unprepared tourist (not us in other words). They were pretty aggressive since there was probably only about 100+ tourists along this section which in the Summer Jim estimates the daily crowds to number at almost 1000.

We took the awesome sled ride down and at the bottom of the hill were rows and rows of hawkers and peddlers selling everything one could want. T-shirts were dirt cheap here too, only $1 for the cheap thin cotton and $3 for the heavy & thick nice cotton that won’t fall apart for a long time. We bought a “I climbed…” plaque and a t-shirt or Claudette and I to share. Also, while I was negotiating for a dragon embroidered Hugh Hefner silk robe, the kids were playing hacky-birdie (hacky sack with a large flat nosed end with feathers) with another vendor, so we grabbed that for them to play with too.

We headed back all promptly fell asleep in the car after such an early morning (and late to bed the previous night). The kids came up with an idea I thought was pretty cool. They wondered if someone could walk the entire length of the wall and make a film documentary of that trek. (With all government permits and clearances in place of course!) I’d like to see someone do that some day. Hopefully even, one of them!

The Great Wall Of China

Monday, January 7th, 2008

A few days ago we went to the Great Wall of china it was quite like Machu Picchu except it was easer to look at because it was long not wide .we saw the sunrise peek over the mountain then we ate our breakfast (witch was very good) French toast Letty made it . There was only one tower with a stair case so you could go up to the top it was the second closest to the chair lift. We met a Canadian from sheer wood park born in India we also met some Aussie’s and one New Zealander they were all in the same tour group we went as far the gondola then we went back to the chair lift . I wanted to go further but Alex and mom were tired .

Great Wall

Monday, January 7th, 2008

The great wall was absolutely amazing! You can go pretty much any where! Time gos by really fast. We decided we were gonna go to the place were the gondola comes up (it was closed so we had to up by the ski lift). We got up reeeeaaally early and caught the sun rise. We were also the first ones on the wall. It was just amazing! We set a goal (the gondola place) And we thought it was impossible, but we did it really easily. It was kinda funny, because we were coming back and Luke said “Hey look its a snack shop!” then dad asked if it had a big M and golden arches, and Luke said no but then I said “ does it have a big L for liar liar pants on fire theres no snack shop!?” In the end we found out he wasn’t lying (I was confounded)! I highly recommend going there now!!!
Alex

Places I want to go another time

Monday, January 7th, 2008

here are some place,s you should think aboat going and I wish we had gone

1 Florida
2 equator
3 Australia
4 Thailand
5 China
6 easter Island
7 Tanzania

The Incredible Beijing Acrobats

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Last night we saw a fantastic acrobat show. the first thing that happened was some men on a titer tater and a high board two men jumped off the high board and a man on one stilt ( both feet were tied to the pole) was on the other side he did a double flip in the air ( WOW ) they did this a few time,s but they did’t do it with a stilt all the time.Next three girls came out and started doing very difficult gymnastics you could not do it inless you practiced for 11 years or be born with it. Next we saw a man standing on a chair with eight bowl,s on his head. under the chair there were sholder pade,s beside the sholder pade,s were two girl,s .under the sholder pade,s was another man under the man was a board under the board was a wheal under the wheal was a table under the table was the floor. After that act some Girls were doing some tricks on biciyle,s the part that was really cool was they got 14 Girls on one Bike.

A week plus in Beijing

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

We have had a great week with Jim in Beijing. He had a great itinerary worked out for us in half day blocks. We have managed to see The Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, The Llama Temple, the Confucious Temple, a variety of shopping from expansive inexpensive markets, to reasonable and super deluxe (not so reasonable) shopping malls, and an exquisite menagerie of fantastic restaurants. Jim’s wife, Letty, only got home from Mexico on Saturday and spent Sunday catching up on work and sleep before they both had to return to work this morning, (Monday January 8).

The Forbidden City was a large walled and moated administrative center for the Chinese government starting around the mid 1400’s. It was pretty vast, but cool to see the incredibly old buildings and huge piazza’s. The cobblestone here is about the same age as Machu Picchu but was in much worse shape. They have redone sections of about 3m wide pathways for tourists, but left most of the other areas. The buildings were in pretty good shape and Jim emphasized how packed it would be in the Summer, Spring and Fall seasons. We didn’t take much time to wander through most of the buildings, only stopping in a few at the core to check out the artifacts. At the entrance was a gate tower, (really a taller gymnasium sized building) over top of the moat that provided a fantastic view of Tienanmen Square.

Tienanmen Square

After touring the Forbidden City we ventured to the edge of the road to take in where all the tank action had happened. The road here is huge (eight lanes) and completely uncrossable, so we used the subway access to get to the other side. The square was incredibly vast and just emanated “history” as we strolled along in no particular direction. “If only these bricks could talk” was a lament that frequently buzzed through our minds. I later read that Tiananmen is the largest civic plaza in the world, and at 500m by 800+ that’s easy to believe. It was pretty impressive with only one obstruction, and tall monument, near one end. Beside the square is Mau’s mausoleum which wasn’t open at that time of day (the afternoon). Across the street on one side was the monstrous Beijing Museum of Natural History. We had heard from many people how impressive and enjoyable a tour through it was and trekked off in that direction. Unfortunately it had just closed down a few months previously for a massive three year renovation.

Around Town

While Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world (population wise) it is laid out quite well with pretty decent transportation infastructure. There are four major ring roads allowing for fairly straightforward travel. the difficulty lies in the large density of cars now travelling these roads. While there are some cyclists who just won’t ride in the colder winter months, most of the cyclists have upgraded to cars in the last several years. I recall seeing many media pictures that always showed four or five lanes of road full of bicycles for a couple of city blocks of length. That is no more due to the robust economy and mass production of very inexpensive cars. At one dirt market we went to there were a few hundred three wheeled cycles all propped up (to save space) outside that all of the vendors had arrived on. I took a few pics of the line of them all piled up just because it was so amazing to see so many all stacked up in one place.

The Confucius Temple was nice and immediately brought about a calmness to us. Jim’s school had somehow arranged to have their (first ever) 2007 Graduation take place in the main Confucius Courtyard which I thought was extraordinarily cool. across the street and down a block was the Llama temple. This was very similar architecture and artistic painting styles to most other “old” buildings in Beijing, such as The Forbidden City. The temple though consisted of room after room (in between courtyards) of various Buhda statutes. At the very back of the temple complex was a huge Buddha, certified by Guinness, carved from a single tree. It was absolutely huge at about 3m across and maybe 8m high. The whole temple complex was considerably larger than any of those we had toured in Thailand or Laos, but I’m not sure if that’s simply due to age, or the fact that there’s far more people to “service” in China.

We also went to a little lake park in the city called “Ho Hi”(not that spelling, just the pronunciation). It was frozen over and there was skate and sled rentals with a bunch of people out enjoying themselves. There were also a dozen or so guys playing hockey (mostly Caucasian expats by the looks of it) in a section away from the leisure skaters, and lastly, one guy with speed skates who was taking himself way too seriously. Just around the corner was a restaurant supply services store where we finally found a charcoal burning hot pot. The prices were pretty good and we bought a medium sized one. Jim asked only once for us if they could discount the price at all and got a look that was deadly at best (and killed & chopped him up into little pieces before feeding those to some pigs at worst). Apparently negotiations are only expected in every other aspect of Chinese retail, but not in the services reseller supply market.

Down a little further was the Drum Tower. Jim said he had walked there with other guests and friends several times previously, but had never gone in before. It was a great little exhibit of drums in a higher tower used to convey the time to people. All the doors on the top would open to allow the sounds to penetrate the suburbs of the city. The staircase climbing up was incredibly steep, and took a bit of wind out of all five of us. At the top was a water clock as well. This series of bins and narrow diameter pipes was very cool, and ended with a 1m statute clanging his similarly scaled cymbals every quarter hour. Every half hour several drummers put on a few minute show banging out a beat on a bunch of the massive drums in the tower. Also housed off to the side were some of the original (now rotted) drums from the 1400’s, with different sizes and sounds depicting different times. Behind those in the corner is the world’s largest drum (or so the sign says) at 2.61m face diameter, 2.89 width diameter, and 1.2m in height. Across a small park was a similar tower called the “Bell Tower” with a huge bronze behemoth that we could even see quite vividly from about 200m away. We were running out of time to go check it out unfortunately.

Amazing Acrobats!!!!!!

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Last night we went to the Beijing acrobats, and they were positively absolutely amazing!!!!! I mean you could tell that they had all been training since the age of 2 and that pratice took up a lot o time in their lives, but it was so cool! First off they were doing some very hard stunts. they had a teeter totter set up an a ladder (it actually looked more like a diving board) and to guys would jump off the ladder and fling another guy up into the air, where they would do all do a flip or a double flip or something. One person was on 2 stilts and he had a pole so he wouldn’t fall, then the 2 guys jumped and he let go of the pole, did a flip in the air and landed it!!!! then the next guy came on on ONE stilt (they were tied to his feet, not a foot). The two guys jumped and he did a double flip and landed it!!!! The next act were some very very very flexible girls. They were amazing!!! It would be so hard to totally describe what they did so I’ll just tell you a little. There was one girl for this bit and she had a candle like thing in each hand, one on her foot and the last one she was balancing from a rod in her mouth! and she turned all around the table thing she was on. There was actually three girls total. Then in another part the first girl lay down on her belly then brought her feet up near her head. then the second girl lay down on the first one then brought her feet near her head. then the third girl did the same thing on the second. They all got on and smiled. the entire crowd was laughing and clapping like crazy (moreso clapping though). I think my favorite acrobatic feat was with the bicycles. somehow they actually got 13 girls on one bike!!! and once they did it was really cool because the girls on the outside edge put out they fluffy white fans so they looked like one giant fan, on a bike!!! My favorite not acrobatic act was this one guy who was in front of a made stage wall. You could clearly see a rip in the wall. but when he got near one of those rips he would start waving his fan around and you couldn’t even see the transition, but every time he got close to one of those rips his out fit would change color! thats all I really totally remember about the show that I could say in great detail. See you later!!
Alex

Temples of Beijing

Friday, January 4th, 2008

The other day we toured the summer palace. It is where some of the old emperers (and empresses) would go for summer. It was a very nice llittle place. It sort of surronded a lake. Because it is winter the lake was frozen and on the lake there was some people folling around. There was lots of decorative buildings all along the grounds. I think my favorite one was the boat house (thats was I think it was called). It was a building that was shaped like boat, but it was on the lake and extended a bit. So it looked like a boat. We weren’t allowed to go in it though. After lots of touring I think I’ve decided China (popular places like where all the tourists are) are as bad as in Peru, when it comes to people trying to sell things to you. They just don’t take no for an answer! Its painfully anoying!! The only funny thing was when someone offer to be our tour guide for forrrbidden city, and we told him that Jim was our guide! It was very funny trying to convince him!
Yesterday we took a quick tour of forrbidden city. I don’t know much about the history but it was also a very nice place, and had a nice view of tienamin square. I can’t rem much now but this will be a fixxed.
Today we went to 2 temples. The first was the lama temple the second was called the temple of confushus (I was just guessing the spelling). It was really nice to walk around both of the temples. The second one was almost like a maze! It has a world record (guiness) because the really tall budda was made out of one tree. S’all for now
Miss you guys lots!!!
Alex