Donna & Joe Random Travels

Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

NC Mission Trip: day 3

Donna, Krista Beth, Rod, Donna, Tim continued working in the same house, Mudding, painting. Donna is the problem girl, fixing taped joints that were not good for some reason. Joe helped on a team that put new shingles on a home roof. The picture is of Ruth lecturing the sunburned roofing team on the importance of sunscreen.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

North Carolina mission trip:day one.

Donna, Donna, Krista Beth, Rod &Tim were part of a team of team that worked on mudding the drywall in a house. Here are pictures of krista Beth & Tim at work & the whole that Donna fixed.
Joe spent the day at a different house fixing wiring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kids of Bangalore

I took these pictures one Saturday while riding my bicycle around Bangalore.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A tourist in Hiroshima

I am here in Japan for the CMC meeting Monday and Tuesday and I have some free time on Wednesday so I decided to come down to Hiroshima (site of the world's first atomic bombing) to see the peace park. Turns out there are two world heritage sites here, the site of the bombing and Miyajima and island said to be home of a goddess. I'll try to post again after I visit.

I came to Hiroshima from Kyoto on the Shinkansen (aka the bullet train). Here it is leaving pulling away from me. But it looks the same on each end so it could equally well be coming toward me. Each train runs back and forth on the same route without turning around so the same end of the train is always toward Tokyo and the other end always toward Hakata, the other end of the line for the train I was on. I took a look of pictures out the window but the train was moving to fast and they are mostly blurry.

This lady stood on the platform outside the engine on the rear of the train watching her watch. When it was time to leave she climbed in, leaned out the window, holding her hat so it would not blow away and the train immediately began to move.

This was inside the train station. I think it must be class trip week in Japan because I saw many groups of school children like this mostly sitting neatly in rows waiting. Occasionally there was a group all moving in mass to catch a train I suppose. The seemed much quieter and more orderly than I would expect American students to be. It must be the uniforms.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Segovia is a small town about an hour and a half drive north of Madrid. Segovia's claim to fame is the Roman aqueduct shown in these pictures. Until sometime in the 20th century it was still functioning, bringing water from a river 10 miles away into the city. It was built sometime around 100 AD out of large granite blocks laid without mortar. At its highest point it is 93 feet tall, to bring water over the top of the city wall. This first picture was taken from the city wall looking out toward the mountains from which the water came.
Here you can see the size of the blocks at the base of each pillar. The blocks get somewhat smaller as you go up to the double arches that support the aqueduct. Still it seems like a quite feat to lift all that rock up that high & hold it in place until the arch was completed by the keystone, with only human and animal muscle power to do the lifting.

This last picture of the aqueduct was taken from the window our our hotel room. The city is small enough that we could easily walk from this hotel, just outside the city wall to any where in the city. We arrived in Segovia in a rental car complete with a GPS navigator. It actually did a pretty good job of getting us to Segovia and close to our hotel. Spain has a lot of one way streets, so when I missed the hotel drive way on the first pass it was quite a long drive get back to a point where I could take another pass at the hotel driveway. The process of getting there was complicated by the fact the navigator and I seem use different systems for counting. Each time we approached a round-about the navigator would instruct "enter round-about in 300 meters, then take 2nd exit on the right." I would take what appeared to me to be the second exit and the navigator would respond "Re-calculating route." The difficulty seemed to lay, at least in part, in determining whether first opportunity to turn right was actually the an exit from the round about. It appears that sometimes the navigator would consider that first opportunity not an exit from the round-about, but a right turn independent of the round-about. The navigator did offer a street name but I was rarely able to find a sign that I could read while driving by.

This stained glass window is inside the Alcazar of Segovia. Alcazar simply means castle, so many cities and towns in Spain have an alcazar--always referred to as "the alcazar". The alcazar of Segovia was built in the 12th century on the site of an Arab fort which was built on the site of a Roman fort. The present structure served as both fortress and palace in the middle ages, then as a prison and finally as an artillery school before becoming a tourist attraction. It features many stained glass windows such as these depicting its royal inhabitants.

In various parts of the alcazar weapons from various ages are on display. The horse in life size but not real. Donna still wanted to pet it. The throne room as about 50 by 100 feet. These statues of kings and princes form an unbroken ring all the wall around the room at a height of about 10 feet.

The alcazar was built at the top of cliff with a commanding view of the plains around it. In the center rises a tower which you can climb to the top of for a separate fee of a couple of euros. A sign at the ticket booth and another at the foot of the stairs warns you that there are 152 stairs and it is not recommended for people with heart conditions. After about a dozen stairs in a straight, relatively wide staircase you enter a tight, dark spiral staircase. I'm not sure why the tight spiral is required because once you get to the top you are one a platform about 20 by 40 feet with a stone wall on all sides.

From the tower you have great views in all directions. This first one is looking west toward the palace end of the alcazar and out over the dry countryside. Driving north from Madrid the land reminded us of northern California and western India--miles of brown dormant vegetation punctuated by occasional green trees.

Looking toward the city the view is dominated by cathedral. In the distance are the Guadarrama mountains from which the aqueduct drew its water.

This shot, looking north must have been taken from a window in the castle since there was a stone wall and no iron railing at the top of the tower.

We did not have a chance to see the inside of the cathedral but we did eat dinner on Plaza Mayor where we took this picture of the cathedral light up at night. The plaza was similar to many others in Spain although larger than most. It is ringed by restaurants, all of which offer seating on the plaza. Some actually have no indoor seating and even where indoor seating was available it was empty, everyone preferring to eat outside on a warm fall evening. Spain at least the parts we visited is too dry to raise mosquitoes .

The local specialty in Segovia is roast suckling pig. However 80 to 120 euros plus drinks seemed a little expensive, so we chose a "fixed price" three course meal. Many Spanish restaurants offer these fixed price menus where you choose an appetizer, an entree and a dessert with a list of 2 or 3 choices for each course. Our meal started off with the bean soup (also a local specialty.) Notice the size of the beans compared to the size of Donna's thumb. Our guide book suggested that you ask for the house special or specialty, or ask what the waiter suggests, in order to try the best of the local specialties. We had pretty good luck using this approach. It saves a lot of looking up things in the dictionary, often not finding them. By the time you've looked up 5 or 6 things, you can't remember what any of them were anyway.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our visit to Spain begins in the Madrid airport. This is a moving walkway. To the right are windows, to the left is a glass partition separating you from a moving walkway going the other way.

Madrid is a wonderful mix of old, new and in between. The cabbie told Donna this is a "TV tower" It is so covered with antennae, I think it most have cell phone and other antennae on it, as well.

On our first evening in Madrid we went out for a stroll and some dinner. Along the way Donna spotted a hardware store and we went in to see what was there. They had liter sized cans of paint which are round similar to a quart of paint in the U.S.. But for a larger size, they had these rectangular paint cans which stack more efficiently. Only after we unloaded the pictures back at the hotel did we notice that the can has a picture of the Taj Mahal in India.

You can't tell from this picture but this street juggler has only one leg. Those are his crutches in the background leaning against the light post. In addition to juggling he balanced on his head on a ball. Then he stood in the middle of the ground as traffic went by so people could drop coins in his hat. In most big cities I've been in that would very dangerous, but drivers in Madrid (and also Segovia) are very respectful of pedestrians.
We are developing a collection of photos of street signs like this. Street signs are always on the side of buildings. Some are metal but more often they are ceramic tiles with the street name and a picture fired in the glaze.
This building has a very sharp corner to match the sharp corner of the intersection. The streets of Madrid were laid out long before anyone thought of automobiles and traffic signals. So in much of the city there is nothing which resembles a grid and right angle intersections are a rarity.
Most streets are designed to come together into round-about or central plazas.
The art of graffiti is alive and well in Madrid. Most of the messages seem intended to be easily read, unlike much of the graffiti in New York City, which seems be aimed at making it a challenge to read the message. Many businesses have pull down garage doors to close at night (just like in India!) But many of them have the business's name painted on the door in graffiti style. The best, most elaborate work, like the next photo, seems to be in the little ramps going to what I think are underground parking. (You have to be brave, and coming from the right direction--and have a small car to boot, I think!) Perhaps that is why the graffiti artists have so long to work on them!

Here are a couple of examples of food from Spain. The first picture is Huevos y patatas. Either the eggs are better here, or there is lots of butter or something, because they were really good. This was the second course of a three course meal we had at an outdoor table. We didn't care for the free appetizer, which seemed like rawhide covered on both sides by sort of mushy stuff. We found out later they were pig's ears. We didn't eat very many---even before we knew what they were.

At least in September, when the weather is very pleasant, Spaniards seem to prefer to eat outside. You find a place you want to eat and sit down at a table in front of it and the waiter will come and take care of you. An important phrase to learn is "la cuenta, por favor". It means "the bill, please". It is normal to linger after the meal and they will not bring you the bill until you ask for it.
The next picture is from McDonald's. I (Donna) had walked for miles that day looking for and at the costume museum, and was too tired to stare at a menu and try to figure out what everything meant--lest we end up with more pigs ears. Joe and I had had trouble finding each other at the pre-arranged meeting place--A tourist information center that is the best hidden one I have (finally) found in all my travels! Joe could tell I was ready to melt down so he steered me towards a McDonald's, which also have public bathrooms, another high priority at the time. We usually try to eat local fare, but it's also interesting to see, at least once, how each country does McDonald's. The meal combos give you a choice of a salad instead of french fries. It is topped with olives, corn, and cherry tomatoes. The dressing comes in a double packet: one side sherry vinegar, and the other extra virgin olive oil. By tearing carefully, I was able to pour both on at once. The bun has toasted onion pieces on top, and there were more in the sandwich, which seemed to be a much leaner and better grade of beef than in the U.S..

Friday, July 24, 2009

Leaving Home--Coming Home

Which person in this picture does not belong?

Wrong question!

Although the pale man second from the right was born on a different continent, in a different generation, the other men made him one of their own. I write this sitting in our home in Bangalore as our belongings are being packed in boxes to be shipped to our home in Vermont.

So it is time to say thank you to the men (and the few women--Ramya, sisters are part of the band of brothers) of the IBM Bangalore SRDC (Semiconductor Research and Development Center) for the way they have made our time here truly wonderful. We arrived at 1:00 am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, but Shyam and Prabhu were there to meet us. Muthu, Srinivas, Debprasad, Ananth and Sourabh included us in their weddings. (Not to mention Madan, who is part of Burlington SRDC but came to India to get married.) Many, many other IBMers took care of us in many ways. I will only mention "mother" Govind who advised us not to eat anything in the cafeteria except cheese sandwiches and chips, and repeatedly warned me about the dangers of riding my bicycle on the streets of Bangalore. Both these pieces of advice I decided to ignore, but much of his advice on how to manage in India was very helpful. For example, he taught how to write a check in India. (It's different here, where "only the paranoid survive".)

One of my early struggles in India was getting my travel expense accounts approved. I complained loudly enough that a second line manager from "inbound assignments" came to visit me. I asked why this was so much harder here than in the US and he replied "We start with the assumption that every Indian is a crook." The good thing he did for me was assign me to an administrative assistant. After a couple of "admins" who didn't last long, I ended up with Leena. Leena is the admin for the VP in charge of India software labs and she sits on the other side of Bangalore, so I rarely see her. But whatever I need, whether arranging travel or getting reimbursed, she just makes it happen. If I need special approval from business finance to take a more expensive flight, she gets it; if I lose my boarding passes (required for reimbursement) she takes care of it.

Bangalore SRDC is part of ISL-TES (India Software Labs - Technology Engineering Something-re-rather). There are way too many acronyms in India for me to keep them all in my head. But I did want to mention that Pamela, our director made an effort to connect me to people across her organization all of whom all immediately accepted me as part of the team.

We got that same kind of warm welcome from virtually everyone we met in India. A few of these people were hoping to separate a couple of "rich Americans" from a little of their money, but most are simply very warm friendly people from a culture which highly values hospitality. If I stop my bicycle on the street and look at the map, someone will invariable come to see if I need help. Very few people in India can actually read a map, but generally they know where they are which is more than I do. There is a man who has a small news-stand on my way to work. He calls out "Hello, Sir" and waves to me every morning. Our connection: one Saturday I stopped at the tap across the street to take pictures of people getting water. He came over to say Hi and ask me to take his picture in his stand. I know I have that picture on my home computer and on a CD backup but the computer is packed the the CDs were organized to maximize packing density, not ease of access.
We quickly found a church home at Richmond Town Methodist Church based on the recommendation of a friend in Vermont and the fact that they invited Donna to sing with the choir the first day we were there.
The community at Maangalya Residences (our apartment complex) also made us feel at home. Dhana and Nilesh got up in the middle of the night to take Luna (our dog) to the vet when she went into seizures after eating rat poison. (Luna survived, although it was a pretty scary). And Simran who lived in the apartment across the hall helped Donna write out instructions for putting on a sari before we went off to our first Indian wedding. Simran also has the only pair of female legs (except Donna's) I ever saw in India. In Bangalore you do see women in western clothes, usually jeans, but Simran is the only woman I have seen in shorts. Simran went to college in the U.S., and is the most westernized of Donna's friends.

And of course the two Indians who did the most to help us during our stay are Joseph, our driver and Jaya, our housekeeper. Joseph and I had a discussion early in our time here that went something like this:

Me: Joseph, I'll need you to take me to the airport on Sunday evening, will that be alright? (Sunday is Joseph's day off)

Joseph: Yes sir. I am your driver only. No other work for Joseph.

Me: Yes, I know driving for us is your only job, but you are also a father and a husband and you have your own life.

Joseph: Oh no, sir. I am your driver only. If you need me, I am coming. 2 O clock in the morning, I am coming.

Me: But you're entitled to a day off that you can plan on.

Joseph: Oh no, sir. If you call me late, one bus is not there. Then I can take one auto and I am coming.

Me: Thank you Joseph.

Joseph: Welcome sir. I am your driver only. If you need me, I am coming.

Because Jaya mostly worked when I was at the office I mainly knew her via the food she cooked, which was always good, if sometimes a little spicy. She never got familar enough with me to stop calling me "master". But Donna calls her "my housefriend" and says Jaya is the wife she always needed. Jaya was always loyal, hard working, and so determined to do a good job that if Donna gave her extra work to do or they talked extra long one day, Jaya would still refuse to leave until she was done with all the work she usually does, or thinks we need done. She is a trusted adviser, translator, "mother", and friend.
Family connections are very strong in India and Jaya & Joseph's families also became a part of our lives. On Donna's birthday one year, Joseph arrived in the morning with two daughters, a daughter-in-law, four grandchildren, flowers, 2 cards, and a birthday cake. A birthday party delivered to our door. Notice Luna sandwiched in between David and Sharon...all of Joseph's & Jaya's grandchildren loved Luna...and vice-a-versa.

This picture shows Donna with Jaya and her husband Ram, listening to a guide when we toured a Hoysala temple near Hassan in southern Karnataka.

We will miss warm January nights, flowers blooming everywhere, all the time, women who dress like flowers and India's rich landscape of historic and cultural sights. But mostly we will miss the people of India. We will miss them but we will hold them always in our hearts.

God bless India!