Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Next Stop... Belgium.

Mountain View, California - Well, we made it through Christmas intact. Although, we still have quite a few dinner parties to attend before the New Year rolls around. It can be tiring, but it really has been very nice touching base with so many friends before we finally...actually...really...we're serious this time... take off to Colorado. In the meantime, I'm still trying to catch up on this blog. Today, I'm writing about Belgium.

New Delhi is just about as far from California as one can get on the globe. Therefore, price-wise, it didn't really matter which way around I traveled. So, I decide to continue traveling west and to visit some old friends in Europe. My first stop was Belgium to visit Vinciane and Reinout.

I met Vinciane way, way back during my senior year of college in 1992. I was going to UC Irvine at the time and living in Newport Beach, just a few houses away from the sand. Francis, one of my roommates that year, was from Belgium. Francis' sister, Cecile and two of her friends ended up coming to the states for a visit and we took them all on a tour of Los Angeles. Vinciane was one of those two friends.

When I graduated, my buddy, Derek and I decided to do a post college European tour. After seeing Stonehenge and wandering across Wales we decided to make a b-line to Ghent to meet up with Cecile and to have dinner with Francis's parents. There at dinner we saw Vinciane again. She mentioned that a friend of hers was driving to Italy for business in the morning and asked if we would like to join him. "It's all on expense account." So, 5am the next morning all 4 of us were crammed into an Opal speeding towards Italy. There is a lot more to this story including an elderly town historian, a mad hunter, an eaten ATM card, and a murdered judge, but I'm not going into that here. Derek and I ended up using Vinciane's apartment in Brussels as our European hub and we became very good friends with Vinciane.

A lot has happened since that summer. I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Malawi, Africa. Vinciane met and married Rienout. After a stop in Zimbabwe on their around the world honeymoon, they fell in love with Africa and started working out a plan to build a lodge in Zambia. On the way back home from Malawi, I made another stop in Belgium and ended up staying with V&R for almost a month. After that, we found many excuses to cross paths. They built the lodge in Zambia and made it extremely successful. It's a beautiful place. Check out the link to their website here:

Anyways, about a year and a half ago Vinciane and Reinout had their first child, Mathieu. Reinout was able to make it to our going away beach party, but it had been a few years since I saw Vinciane (Amsterdam?). It was time to make another visit to Belgium.

Vinciane and Reinout are now living about 30 minutes outside of Brussels in a small country town named Huldenberg. They have found a beautiful place with a great view. It needs a little work and Vinciane is using her skills as an architect to plan some modifications to it. While I was there Reinout was having the heating system replaced with a much more modern, efficient and environment-friendly system. They only problem I had was that it wasn't done yet. When I left New Delhi on October 16th the temps were hovering around 35C (95F). Arriving in Belgium it was hard to get used to an unheated house while the outside temps were staying around 9C (48F). Brrrr. I took many a hot bath to warm up...until they shut off the hot water to replace the boiler.

Vinciane, Reinout and Mathieu at home in Huldenberg


Besides just catching up with V&R, my main reason for being there was to meat Mathieu, their new little one. They wasted no time in introducing us and quickly I became the live-in babysitter. With the house repairs, an upcoming trip to the Zambia lodge for Vinciane and a business trip to the states for Reinout, plus chiropractic appointments and family visits, they were plenty busy and kept me moving. Somewhere in between the errand running and baby sitting I did manage to get out and see a bit of Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and of course Huldenberg (plenty of photos in the slideshow).




Here are a few highlights:
  • College kids playing guitar (La Bamba) along the Graslei in Ghent.
  • Noses. Weird purple candies that I had a hard time deciding if I liked or not.
  • Shopping for apple trees. Who knew there were so many varieties to taste test? Who know how often you would have to retest to get the right tree?
  • Frites...and frite sauce.
  • Cooking Chinese food for Vinciane's sister's three kids who had never had Chinese food. We made due with some chopped veggies and soy sauce and made our own chop sticks. They really liked it.
  • Showing the kids how to make s'mores. Although we used nice Belgium chocolate and biscuits, the kids didn't take to well to the artificialness of the marshmallows. They did like the coat hanger cooking process in the living room fireplace.
  • Learning why there is a pile of dirt with a lion on it in Waterloo.
  • Turning 39.
  • Waffles. Nothing like our version of the "Belgium Waffle." Much more addictive.
  • Discussing the merits of a lifetime in insurance with Vinciane's father.
  • Fall. The color of the trees were incredible.
  • Watching a country run without a government for 100+ days.
  • Hot water, a thick comforter and the wool sweater Vinciane lent me.
  • Hanging with Mathieu!

Check out the slide show here:


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Long Lost Third Color City - Jiapur - The Pink City

Mountain View, California - So... it's been a while since I've blogged. A long while. I thought I could get caught up in Belgium, but I was too far behind. I thought I could get caught up in Ireland, but the Celtic Tiger charges 1 Euro for every 20 minutes, which works out to be about $5 bucks an hour, plus... Gary and Kay kept me moving so fast I was barely able to find time to check email. I thought I could get caught up when I got back to California, but Suwei quickly whisked me off to Monterey to watch her run a half marathon. When we got back I barely had enough time to pack up our gear for a week of climbing in Joshua Tree. After that, I knew I would have no time once we arrived in Colorado as we only had one week to get our stuff into the house before my mom came for a week's visit. Then...we decided to renovate the floors and things got even busier. it is almost two months since my last post...I'm now back in California for the holidays with no skis, no climbing gear, & no bike. I plan on spending the next few days visiting friends, reading, and catching up on the blog. Nice. So, stay tuned. I will finish up the trip posts.

Backing way up...I arrived in Jaipur on October 11th. Jaipur, the third city in my tri-color cities tour, is know as The Pink City. Supposedly pink because in 1876 the Maharajah had the whole place painted pink as a symbol of welcoming for a visit by the Prince of Wales.

Busy Streets in Jaipur

Again, I'm going to refer to the slide show for the details of the touristy things I did and saw there. It is full of good information like that. However, I would like to write down a few random thoughts or rather describe a few random experiences or things I saw that had an effect on me in my last week in India.


I spent my last few days in Jaipur wandering about aimlessly, shopping a bit, and napping a lot. I was tired after six months of traveling and although I was still fascinated by India, it also wore me out. I spent more time chatting with touts than I did in other places. Not because there were more of them, it was just that I was too tired to run away. I ended up sitting down with a couple of them and asking them about how other people cope with their constant badgering, asking them how they themselves coped with always being blown off, and asking them the meaning of truth. I was not surprised by the lack of depth in their responses, but it was nice to be able to ask. It was hard to get upset with them as they were only trying to get by in a place where millions are also just trying to scrape by. Each one was using every trick he could think of to get one step ahead of the competition...and these were the smart ones. Others were two and three steps behind, using scams that the Lonely Planet has been warning about for the last 10 years.

Sales Technique:

My last night in Jaipur, I had dinner at the roof top restaurant of my hotel. The food was just so-so, but it was still quite crowded up there. I figured most of the people eating up there were there for the same reason I was, they were just too lazy to go out and deal with the hassles of getting a meal elsewhere. Anyway, also up there with all of us hungry tourists was a local puppet salesman. He had a lovely stage set up for a puppet show and had many puppets laid out for sale to the tourists. I thought this was an excellent way to do business, much better than the constant harassment that caused most of the tourists to flee to the roof top in the first place.

However, by the time I got my food I realized that this poor puppet salesman had no chance in hell of selling any puppets that evening. Not because they weren't nice puppets, it was just that he had no idea how to sell to westerners. Instead of putting on a nice, pleasant puppet show, catching people's attention and letting them peruse his selection of puppets, he decided instead to walk from table to table interrupting peoples meals and conversations to ask if they were interested in buying a puppet. No one was. The guy spent the whole evening pacing back and forth through the tables like a hungry wolf. He would wait 5 to 10 minutes and then would ask everyone again if they were now interested in buying a puppet. New arrivals were polite, others less so. I really felt like pulling the guy aside and explaining why he was going to go home empty-handed this evening. But I was too tired.

The Division Between Rich and Poor:

While wandering from site to site I did a lot of walking. On one of these outings I took two photos within a block or so of each other. One was of a young boy and his baby brother sitting amongst a few dirty pots below a street sign pointing the way to the airport. Their parents were nowhere to be seen and by all accounts it looked like they were living there. The more time I spent in India, the easier it got to ignore much of the poverty. I would see poverty...everywhere really, but after awhile it just failed to shock me. Well...I took this photo because I was shocked.

Right around the corner from these children, I took the second photo. This one of a store called "Status Symbol" selling televisions. I was thinking at the time, that the Indians must be so used to seeing such desperate poverty that maybe they completely fail to recognize it. A few weeks earlier I was on a train to Delhi from Agra talking to a well-educated Indian gentleman who insisted that 80% of India was literate. Is that the 80% of India that he recognizes?

How Bad India Can Get:

Many of the thoughts provoked by the images above were still fresh in my mind as I was waiting at the Jaipur train station for the final leg of my Indian journey. The station was quite crowded as usual, but I noticed that people were avoiding a spot on the platform where an old man was laying. He didn't look well. In fact he looked like he could be dead. The only thing making him look even slightly alive was the movement of the swarm of flies picking at the open sores that covered his body and at the pile of shit he was laying in. In all my travels I don't think I have ever seen anything more pitiful. No one turned to look at him. If he wasn't dead, he wasn't going to be around for much longer.

Random Jaipur

And How Good:

The last image of India I have floating around in my mind is that of the many families that came out to the India Gate in New Delhi to watch the sun set. There were lots of people selling snacks and drinks and toys and flowers and balloons. Kids running around, couples holding hands, paddle boats in the canal, the smell of cotton candy. It was like a day at the fair.

The India Gate, New Delhi

That's it. No point. No conclusion. I was fascinated, disgusted, irritated, intrigued and worn out by India, but I liked it and I would go back in an instant.

Here is the slide show:

Jaipur, The Pink City, India