Monday, February 25, 2008

"A Whole New World....."

"A hundred thousand things to see..." Yes, Disney's Aladdin theme song was in my head the entire time I was touring India and the Gulf. And how could it not be? Camels, turbans, temples, mosques, and the desert. I felt like I was Prince Ali myself, staying in some of the nicest hotels the cities had to offer. But, it was a work trip for Baylor, so I didn't have too much time to lavish in luxury or even see that many tourist sites. It was all about hitting the high spots, capturing a few photos and then moving on to the next location. The two week tour was planned by an organization called International Student Network (ISN) that organizes fairs in various cities around the world. My supervisor at Baylor asked me to attend this trip to India and the Gulf and, of course, I jumped at the chance to see this new part of the world.

In India, there were 15 other universities on the tour, and in the Gulf, there was a group of about 30 universities represented. It was very exciting to feel oh-so-professional again, and to be able to break out my work clothes that have been sitting in the attic. It was a wonderful networking opportunity to meet others in the field of international recruitment and I'm so excited about the opportunities ahead for Baylor.
The adventure began on February 2nd when I flew from Frankfurt to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) with a four hour layover in Bahrain. Stepping off the plane in this Arabic kingdom was quite a shock as I was not expecting to see so many people wearing the Arabic-style dress with long robes and head scarves. It was the young, old, male and female who were walking around in the traditional dress, yet shopping for the latest trends in the Duty Free or talking on their cell phone.

After the layover, it was off to India where I was in store for some more shock. I was surprised at how dingy and out-dated the international airport was in Mumbai for being one of the largest cities in India. I later realized that they are in the process of renovating it, and have already updated the very nice domestic airport that we used when flying out of Mumbai. All the taxis in Mumbai are old-school style Fiats (from the 60s), and I was surprised that they drive on the right side of the road, but I should have figured that with it formerly being a British colony.
The drive from the airport was truly shocking, as it was through miles and miles of the "ghetto" where thousands of people live in shacks and tents with trash everywhere. I was amazed at how long this area of poverty stretched and yet people seemed to go about their daily business of carrying water, buying fruit, etc., as if it were the most normal neighborhood in the world.

Before I knew it, we emerged from the devastating landscape to see beautiful, yet decaying, architecture of Mumbai and the harbour with the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal hotel nearby.

A few minutes later we arrived at my hotel, which was absolutely beautiful, however on the streets below, was the trash that seems to be everywhere throughout the city. I quickly learned that this is a country of extremes where poverty and opulence dwell together.

We were in Mumbai for three days, and on the second day, we had an opportunity to do a little sight-seeing after our morning school visits. The next three pictures are of me at the Hare Krishna temple. We were not able to tour the inside of the temple, but were able to look around the courtyard area.

Posing with the President/Caretaker of the temple.

After the temple, we had a special treat in store for us - access to a Bollywood film shooting! We went to an apartment building where they were filming the scene, and got to see the actors in action. The movie will premier this May and is titled, "Let's Dance." Before getting back on the bus, a few of us wanted to take a quick pic in front of this taxi. On the streets of Mumbai old-school taxis and rickshaws (as pictured here) rule.

In the middle of the city is a huge area dedicated to people who wash clothes for a living. They each have their square of water where they do the laundry and hang it to dry. This area is so expansive and it's one of the many examples of India's fusion of development and despair living side by side.

The Central Train Station in Mumbai where thousands of passengers commute each day for work in the city. I desperately wanted a pic of the trains with no doors and people hanging off the sides, but didn't manage to get one. It truly is a sight to behold, though!
The next stop on our India express train was Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southern east coast. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this destination and truly didn't get to see much of the city, as we arrived in the evening, had a full day of work the following day, and left bright and early the next morning. I DID enjoy my favorite hotel of the trip and a wonderful hour by the pool in the 90 degree weather here.

Our last destination in India was Ahmedabad, a city in the northern desert region of India. Although I did see some cows on the side of the road in Mumbai, in Ahemedabad, they are free to go as they please and don't have to be tied up, so it was quite bizarre to see them roaming down the middle of the road.

I also got to see plenty of camels too, which are used in this region to pull carts, etc.

The night we arrived, our entire group went to an amazing dinner at an outdoor restaurant that is adjacent to a temple.

When we entered the restaurant, we were all given red dots on our foreheads, and then proceeded to sit on the ground at a long table.

We ate off of plates made of leaves sewn together, and I had the most amazing food. I have no idea what I was eating, but it was delicious, spicy and so full of flavor. It actually reminded me a lot of Tex-Mex.

Afterward, we had some entertainment with musical drums and a puppet show, and also the opportunity to smoke some delicious shisha (flavored tobacco). Hey, when in Rome.

The next day after our school visits in the morning, we were able to see both Muhatma Ghandi's house along the river and the beautiful Golden Temple. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let us have cameras at the temple, but it was absolutely breath-taking and the gardens surrounding the temple were an oasis in the middle of this desert region.


Arriving in Dubai was quite a different contrast from the poverty-stricken and dirty India. First, the airport was so incredibly nice, roads were new and actually had lanes, and there was no trash to be seen. Dubai is absolutely out of this world, and the entire city is drenched in opulence.

The first night there, I had an opportunity to experience the city with a local, Sarah Stem, whose family are friends of ours from Texas. I had never met Sarah before, but had an amazing time with her and her friends that night. We met at the Mall of the Emiratis and had delicious Moroccan food for dinner and later toured the indoor ski resort.

Afterward, we went to a roof-top bar on the 22nd floor of a building that had amazing views of the famous 7-star hotel, Burj Al Arab, and the lights of Dubai at night. We ended the night with a trip to a very hip car called, Budah, that is appropriately decked out in Asian decor. Although this city is run by rich Arabs with more money than they know what to do with, it is a melting pot of cultures with workers from the Philippines, India and other southeast Asian countries as well as plenty of Brits, Aussies, and some Americans. Every day there are new developments and I'm told that the landscape of the city changes drastically yearly.

The next day I had an opportunity to see the Burj Al Arab in daylight as we were having a luncheon at a resort adjacent to this hotel. It is situated on an island that is connected by a small pathway. You have to have reservations or be on a list in order to pass through the gate, so this was as close as I could get.

We had an amazing lunch at the Madinat Jumeirah resort in Dubai, that consists of a series of hotels and residences. The cheapest accommodation is $1,000 a night with most expensive around $10,000. I may not be staying there anytime soon, but at least I got to have lunch there!

We had lunch on the patio pictured above overlooking this beautiful lagoon, with views of the Burj Al Arab hotel.

After lunch, we got to take a boat, or abra, ride around the canals of the resort.

We took a day trip to Abu Dhabi for an expo, and we saw miles and miles of sand, with the occasional mosque.
At the hotel in Abu Dhabi where our expo was held. We so wanted to be laying out on the beautiful green grass overlooking the lagoon, but hey, at least we got to visit.

After three days in the UAE, our next destination was Kuwait. This was a very quick trip, so there wasn't a lot of time to sight see (not that there is a lot to see anyway), but we did get to visit the Kuwait Towers.

After being in the land of no alcohol, crazy custom officials, a long 4-hour delay in the airport, getting booted from our hotel, etc., we were ready to get the heck outta Kuwait and head to Bahrain. It proved to be a welcome sight for sore eyes, and I very much enjoyed my stay in this kingdom.
After our school visit, we were once again able to view a little of the city and visited a camel farm, the Grand Mosque, and the causeway (border) between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

I also had a free day my final day there before flying out and was able to do some shopping in the souhk, or bazaar, which has alleys and alleys of stalls and vendors selling souvenirs, spices, Arabic and Indian garments, rugs, etc.

It was a whirlwind of a trip and although I never thought I'd say it, I was ready to go home again after this adventure. I would certinaly never pass up an incredible opportunity like this again, but did realize that traveling for work may not be as glamorous as it seems. The reality of waiting in airports, having little free time, and a strict agenda to follow defintely set it, but it was still totally worth it to experience a whole new world and I can't wait to return.

Friday, February 15, 2008

MUNICH! Its' a Fact!


Yes! This Just Happened-Munich '08 mit los cousins!

Now if that wacky amalgam of languages hasn't thrown you off, this is the undisputed recount of West meets East. If you don't like it-we'll fight you. The Jim and April Vaughn- live in Munich, Germany, alive in our hemisphere for one day and night only!

So there we were-your favorite ex-patriot couple a marchin' down the ancient walkplatz(an area only reserved for pedisdetian traffic), there in there heart of beer in the universe-proceeding to converge with family from the new world. Which is wacky later on in this telling, I digress. Up to the hotel, into the lobby there is the beaming(seriously, you can see this smile a continent away) smile of April "Flossie" Vaughn. Crazy excited to see Cat and I, hugs of ancestrial proportion ensued. Serious bear-Dora-Mae-Clough hugs!

Jim and April were in Munich working a great scam I can't do justice describing here. Really, they own Whalebone Surfshops on the East Coast and Germans went nuts to have them represent American businesses for this expo.

Jim descends and we lite out for a little (revionist) history and some German brand wackiness!

The haziness in the picture below is the real deal people-Holy Spirit all around! St. Michaels Church, where the mad Bavarian King Ludwig(the guy who broke the bank building disneyland-style castles), the second in entombed.

Munich is all about walking and we hit the major sites, St. Michaels Church, the Glockenspeil, St. Peters, some good luck statues and the mandatory Hoffbrauhaus!

We dined on fine delicacies like Schweinbraten, pretzels and of course-beer; dunkel(dark), original(original) and weiss(refined clear wheat beer).

My cuz April and I, "are cut from the same bolt of cloth," says the wise, David Clough, aka: pop. It was here that I realized why we can party longer, stronger and way more badass than our friends. Essentially stated, "Its' the Spear in us!" Said April.

Right on, personally I've always contended that we were from Krypton/had rad superhuman party powers but this succintly stated geneological fact says BOOYAHH! Its science...

A great convergence it was, saw where WW2 jerks get their start, saw where beer in its modern form is best in the universe-Munich, a study in contrasts.