25 December 2008

Ornaments: Christmas Tree

I've shared 24 ornaments here this month, and if you add a couple hundred more, you come up with this. The picture is full resolution, so if you click it, you'll get a nice big image to look around at some of our other ornaments. Merry Christmas.

23 December 2008

Ornaments: The Kiss

This ornament is a recreation of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, one of Heather's favorite paintings.

22 December 2008

Ornaments: Pickle

It is commonly believed that the pickle ornament is an old German tradition. The story goes that the pickle is hidden in the tree and the first child to find it gets an extra present or good luck for a year. A few years ago, Heather and I mentioned to our German friend Klaus that we had a pickle ornament and were surprised when he asked why. Come to find out, he had never heard of this alleged German tradition. That led to a little research, which seems to point to another traditional holiday custom: the marketing ploy. Anyway, we still hang ours every year.

20 December 2008

Ornaments: Eiffel Tower

This ornament, of course, reminds us of our trip to Paris, the greatest city in the world.

19 December 2008

Ornaments: Maneki Neko

Our home in Sydney was near Chinatown, so we saw these Maneki Neko cat figures in store fronts quite often. According to the Wikipedia page, our ornament's raised left paw indicates it will bring in customers, as opposed to money, brought in by a raised right paw. Others would say the raised left paw indicates our home is a drinking establishment. Whatever.

17 December 2008

Ornaments: Reef

This ornament reminds us of our trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

15 December 2008

Ornaments: Santa and sandman

Here we have another Southern Hemisphere ornament, this time Santa with a sand--as opposed to snow--man.

14 December 2008

Ornaments: Bindi ball

This ornament is one of the few we have that is not made of glass. The decorations on the ornaments are bindis, the decorations worn by Indian women on their foreheads.

12 December 2008

Ornaments: Cat mariachis

Some more cats today, this time as mariachis. There is a third as well with a horn.

11 December 2008

Ornaments: Coronation Carriage

This is an ornament that we actually did pick up in London--the royal coronation carriage. And as you can see, it survived the rest of the trip.

10 December 2008

What is the What

I have just finished reading What is the What by Dave Eggers, one of the most important books I have read in a long time. It is the novelized version of the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from Sudan. I told Heather she needed to read it and she said she doesn't like to read sad books. I replied that while it is often sad, it is also at times funny and awe-inspiring. Besides, the reason I like reading books like this is because they are sad, because life can be sad. I do not want to take my life for granted. I want to be reminded how fortunate I am, for no other reason than the circumstances of my birth, and I never want to forget the unimaginable suffering that others live with every day.

As Americans, it is easy for us to forget the oppression and suffering that billions of others face every day. And when we are reminded, it is easy to ignore. What is the What ends with a comment on this:

Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories. I have spoken to every person I have encountered these last difficult days, and every person who has entered this club during these awful morning hours, because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don't want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.

Don't pretend this doesn't exist. Take a month, read this book, and acknowledge.

Ornaments: Koala

Another ornament for our time in Australia, but it wasn't bought there. Like the India suitcase, this was a gift from Heather's parents.

09 December 2008

Lucky Sevens (late): Independence Hall

I told you a few days ago how Heather and I went to Philadelphia on Saturday for my birthday, visiting Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The painting pictured above hangs there, depicting one of the signings. Your Lucky Sevens question: which signing is depicted, and what in the painting gives away the answer?

Ornaments: Pizza

I know what you're thinking: Oh great, another ornament completely unrelated to Christmas. But that's where you're wrong. Heather's parents have pizza on Christmas Eve, a tradition that I particularly enjoy.

08 December 2008

Ornaments: Two peas in a pod

This ornament is Heather's favorite--of all ornaments not featuring a cat.

07 December 2008

Ornaments: Snake

It's a snake. I have no idea why we have a snake ornament.

06 December 2008

Halfway to 70

Today was my birthday and I am now halfway to 70, or as Heather likes to say, 490 in cat-years. She surprised me this morning with a day trip to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Given my pursuit of World Heritage Sites, the primary purpose of the trip was Independence Hall, but there were several other bonuses we squeezed into the day.

Independence Hall is one of the few World Heritage Sites in the United States that is not a natural park and was the location for the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It also served as the home of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and was the former home for the Liberty Bell, now on display in the building across the street.

After a quick visit to Benjamin Franklin's grave, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They had a special exhibit called Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt that Heather wanted to see, but the highlight for me was the Rocky statue. Heather was nice enough to do a Rocky pose for me, though, including her blue mittens/boxing gloves.

Other features of the day:

  • we drove through three states, a big deal for people from Texas
  • I ate a real Philly cheesesteak from a sidewalk cart (street-meat, as Heather says)
  • it snowed on my birthday--a first ever

Ornaments: India suitcase

No, we did not get this ornament in India. It was a gift from Heather's mother last year before we went to India.

05 December 2008

Ornaments: Double decker

When we went to London last year, we made sure to take a ride on the famous London double decker. This ornament commemorates that trip.

04 December 2008

Ornaments: Cat with fish

Given that Heather likes cats so much, it should be no surprise that we have quite a few cat ornaments. I won't share them all, but here is one of them.

03 December 2008

Ornaments: Santa surfer

Our first holiday season in Australia was a bit unusual for us given that it was in the summertime. It's a strange time Down Under, where you see a mix of typical Northern style, wintery Christmas scenes and the influence of the actual weather conditions around you. In our time there, we picked up several ornaments of the Australian Christmas persuasion, this one probably being my favorite.

02 December 2008

Ornaments: Yellow rose/boot and fishing lure

After our Mexican-style Thanksgiving dinner, a hit or miss affair but fun nonetheless, Heather and I put up or Christmas tree. Over the years, she has collected glass ornaments, but because we have been overseas, she has never had all of her ornaments, about 120 total, in one place. That makes this the first year that we have had a full tree, although she says we still need 120 more. Our collection is quite eclectic, ranging from the bizarre to the sentimental. We have had a few adventures getting these, including a recent trip to Neiman Marcus, where we were surprised to learn that they only accept cash, check, NM card or American Express. No Visa, no MasterCard. What can I say: we aren't frequent shoppers and Neiman's. I'll share one a day with you until Christmas, but because I missed starting this yesterday, you get two today.

The first is a reminder of where we came from: a cowboy boot filled with yellow roses. This is one that Heather and her mom found four or five years ago. Note the golf ball next to it--that one's from Neiman's, paid for with cash.

This one Heather bought a couple months ago and was new to me, but it immediately became my favorite. I like the ones that are a bit silly, and a big glass fishing lure fits the bill there.

Check back daily for more.

01 December 2008

Jørn Utzon (1918-2008)

When the New South Wales government decided it wanted an opera house, they went on an international search for its architect. Jørn Utzon's submission in the design contest broke several rules for entries, but was selected nonetheless due to its originality and majestic design. At the time, his submission was little more than rough sketches, lacking detail and specific plans for construction and cost, but it was clear that this was the building to house the new opera house.

However, the design proved problematic when it came time to actually build it. They could not figure out how to construct the shells that would make up the roof without making them too heavy or too complex. It was such a problem that it nearly wiped out the project in the middle of construction. But Utzon himself found the solution while eating an orange. The shells would be based on sections of a sphere, allowing for mass production of the elements and keeping the weight, and cost, at a reasonable level.

Despite the international acclaim the Opera House receives today, including World Heritage status, it was very controversial during its construction, with Utzon himself eventually being forced off the project by the newly elected Liberal government looking to cut costs and leverage for power. At the official opening of the Opera House, Utzon was not even mentioned. Utzon returned to Denmark and never returned to see his most famous design.

However, over the last decade, the Sydney Opera House has again reached out to Utzon, naming him as an advisor on the future development of the Opera House. And although Jørn Utzon has still never returned to Sydney, his son Jan, also an architect, has, where he works in conjunction with his father on the other side of the world. Some have again criticized Jørn, questioning how he can work on the Opera House without having ever seen the finished building. He responded by saying that he carries the Opera House with him in the same way a composer carries his music in his mind.

Jørn Utzon, Danish architect and designer of the Sydney Opera House, died in his sleep in Copenhagen on November 29. The Australian icon of Danish design reigns over the world's most beautiful harbour as his legacy to the world.

28 November 2008

Hello DC

I've been in Washington for a week now, so I thought I should let you know what's going to be happening here at Look Right. Basically, things are going to continue as before, except with (hopefully) more posting. I've been slowed down a bit this year because of school and preparing for the move, but I hope to pick that up a bit again now. I will still attempt to keep you up to date on the happenings in Australia, but the D.C. scene will be added to the mix. I have a few things in the works to post, including some things from my last few months in Sydney that were put on hold. I considered an address change, but decided to keep Look Right as a reminder of where this all began. So if you keep reading, I'll keep writing. More to come.

25 November 2008

Farewell, Australia

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

Dorothea Mackellar (1904)

02 November 2008

Why I'm voting for Barack Obama

I am well aware that most of the frequent readers here are both Republican and Christian, and are likely planning on voting for McCain. But please, before passing over this post, give it a read. I think that my story is different than others you have heard.

As you likely know, I used to be a Republican as well. But over the last four years, my view of America and the world has changed, and so have my political leanings. I alternate between amusement and disgust with the Religious Right component of the Republican Party. Though I am certainly a Christian, these people in no way represent me, nor, in my opinion, do they represent Jesus.

In my understanding of Jesus's teachings, we are called to love one another and to help the sick, the poor and the downtrodden. These are moral issues. The Religious Right, and by extension the Republican Party, have campaigned for years on a platform of morality and family values. However, they have been selective and too narrowly defined morality, limiting it to abortion and gay rights.

I agree that these are moral issues. I, too, am pro-life. And while I oppose gay marriage, I do think that, for example, access to a partner's health insurance should not be denied because of sexuality, whether I am morally opposed to it or not. So in in these issues, there is at least some level of agreement between me and the Religious Right. But what about other moral issues?

Poverty is a moral issue. The economic policies of our country put the poor at a disadvantage and make it difficult to escape what quickly becomes a vicious generational cycle. Our tax policies provide loopholes, havens and exemptions for the wealthy, while millions of Americans live below the poverty line, most of them children. And still the wealthy dare to challenge any suggestion of increasing their tax liability as un-American? Still corporate CEOs expect buyouts from the American people when they are reckless in their business dealings and walk away with millions while the common man worker in his company gets nothing but a pink slip? This is morally wrong, and the Religious Right are silent.

Health care is a moral issue. I have heard that the United States is the only highly developed country without some form of universal health care. People die in America from treatable illness and disease because they cannot afford health insurance. Millions of others with insurance are denied coverage they have paid for for years when they need it most. Basic preventive care alone would resolve many of these issues, but it is currently not available to the American public. This is morally wrong, and the Religious Right are silent.

The environment is a moral issue. We have been ordained by God to be stewards of this planet. And yet we plunder the earth for energy, throwing habitats out of balance with our exhaust and our waste. We have abused our position of God-given authority and made the natural environment our servant rather than serving it as protector. And we have done all this because we are too lazy to realize other sources of clean power that are readily available. This is morally wrong, and the Religious Right are silent.

Human rights are a moral issue. Our government has been holding hundreds of people illegally in Guantanomo Bay for seven years, denied them a speedy and fair trial and has used torture on the authority of the President to extract "confessions" from many of them. You say they are not American citizens? Agreed, but they are humans, and deserve to be treated humanely, even if they are eventually proven guilty. This is morally wrong, and the Religious Right are silent.

I choose to stop the list there.

In 2004, I voted for George W Bush, even though I preferred John Kerry's policies on most issues, most notably education (as a teacher, I witnessed firsthand Bush's failure with No Child Left Behind), health care and the environment. But I was persuaded by fear--fear that Kerry was weak on the issue of national security. I voted on a single issue, despite my misgivings on all others. I will never do that again.

Which is why I mailed my absentee ballot two weeks ago, casting my vote for Barack Obama. Even though I disagree with his stance on abortion, I will no longer deny the other moral issues that are also at stake.

Besides, the abortion issue is a red herring for Republicans anyway. In the thirty-five years since Roe v Wade, we have had a Republican president for twenty-three of them. Not one has so much as mentioned Roe v Wade outside of an election year. This is nothing but a ploy used to bring in conservative voters. To his credit, McCain is not pushing this button like his predecessors have. But the Religious Right is doing it for him to the same effect. And yet on other moral issues, they remain silent, choosing instead to spew hatred and fear of anyone who does not look or sound like them.

The United States is in desperate need of a leader who will address these other moral issues. The world is in desperate need of a United States that is willing to champion morality without exception. Please pray, consider what you believe morality to be, and vote accordingly. God bless.

19 October 2008

Where the hell is Matt?


I'm only the 11,040,653rd person to see this, so this might not be new to you. But my friend Jesse posted about Matt and his site wherethehellismatt.com recently and this was the first I heard about it. There is also an outtakes version that is humorous.

Scanning through the comments on the YouTube page reveals a few who think Matt "needs to get a job". I say that when you think about some of the other things he could be doing--starting wars, dismantling the economy, yelling "kill him, he's an arab!" at a Sarah Palin rally--traveling the world and dancing isn't such a bad choice. I think it is beautiful that he sees all these places and meets all these people who share his joy. And I am thankful that he has recorded it to share that joy with the rest of us. He has stripped away everything that makes us different and focused on what makes us the same--the joy in being alive. May we all approach life a little more like Matt.

07 September 2008

Lucky Sevens: The Green and Gold

Last month, everyone had their eye on the Beijing Olympics. At the time,
I got a question from a friend that I will now pass on to you for this month's Lucky Sevens question: Australia's flag is red, white and blue. So why do all Australian national sporting teams (further examples: rugby, cricket, lawn bowls--yeah, that's right, lawn bowls) wear the iconic 'The Green and Gold'? Bonus points will be awarded for identifying the athlete pictured here and his event.

17 August 2008

Next stop: Washington D.C.

I've been putting off writing this one for a while now, partly because you probably already know and partly because it makes me sad, but in a good way. OK, kind of in a bad way, too.

Heather interviewed for a job in June with the National Cancer Institute in Washington D.C. She found out just a couple days later that she was hired. The only bad news was that she had to start August 4, while we had been looking for a January '09 start date. By the time she got back to Sydney she only had a few weeks to say goodbye to this city.

Meanwhile, I have a semester to go on my masters degree. I looked into finishing it there--George Washington University has a program--but I would have to wait until next July to continue my coursework. So instead, I'm still here in Sydney, while Heather left three weeks ago. I will make a two week visit in the beginning of October and move over for good right after Thanksgiving.

It's tough being away, but it has made the move easier in some ways. We scouted the internet for an apartment and picked out a car before she left, so in her first two days she had an apartment lease and bought a car. Shipping will be easier than it was three years ago, too. I'll be here to pack up, and she'll be there ready for delivery. Of course, having the government pay for it all helps--the movers will pack everything, as well as unpack it all there. All we have to do is point.

So that's all well and good. But for now, I miss my wife. I had a couple papers to write the first two weeks that kept me busy, but now I'm just bored. Heather stays occupied getting settled in to a new place and a new job, but she misses me, too.

As for Washington D.C., we are both excited. Heather's job is a great opportunity, and there are a lot of NGOs in D.C. that are potential employers for me when I finish my Development Studies degree. Besides that, we both like Washington. When Heather began applying for jobs, we were very selective. We love Sydney and weren't going to leave it unless a great opportunity in an equally great city presented itself.

Now for the important stuff: I've been partial to the Washington Nationals for a while now, with the Texas Rangers history in the capital, so that's a natural fit. I'm intrigued by the Capitals and their young talent. The Wizards leave me completely apathetic for now, but I have already looked up their schedule to see when Dallas will be visiting. As for the Washington Redskins--well, it'll be fun rubbing it in when the Cowboys win the Super Bowl.

08 August 2008

Lucky Sevens (Late again): Australia/New Zealand Rugby

Once again, I must beg for your apologies for being a day late. Perhaps I should consider just renaming this "Lucky Eights" so I'd be on time.

Two weeks ago, Heather and I attended an event that we have waited three years for: the rugby union test between the Wallabies and the All Blacks. The last time they played in Sydney was in 2005, one week after we arrived here. Needless to say, we have anticipated this event for quite a while.

Not only is this a great rivalry between neighbours, it is also some of the best rugby played in the world. Include South Africa, a fellow competitor in the Tri-Nations Series, and you have the top three sides in the International Rugby Board World Rankings. There is talk of Argentina joining the Tri-Nations in the next few years. Guess what? They are ranked number four.

I'll give a full report in the next few days, but for now, here is your Lucky Sevens question for August: As stated Australia, New Zealand and South Africa compete in the Tri-Nations Series. But within that, what special prize do the Wallabies and All Blacks complete for in their annual rugby union test series?

18 July 2008

2008 City2Surf and Oxfam Australia

If you are in my email address book, you probably already got this, but the 2008 Sun-Herald City2Surf is in less than a month. This will be my third time to run it. Each time, I have improved my time, and more importantly, moved up in group. They have four starting groups: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. This is a really big deal when you have over 60,000 participants. My time last year qualifies me for the Green starting group, and gives me a shot at beating 75 minutes, which would qualify me for next year's Red group. That's my goal.

I have a more important goal, however. City2Surf added a feature allowing runners to raise money for a selected charity. Last year, with the help of friends and family, I raised $365 for UNICEF.

This year, I have chosen to run for Oxfam Australia, an organisation that works to relieve poverty around the world. As I have studied development over the past year, I have looked at many aspects of developing countries, including human rights, peace and conflict situations, and the environment. But the issue that has inspired me the most is poverty. I recognise that most of what I have today is due to the fortunate circumstances surrounding my birth, and that I am not a better or more worthy person than the billions that are living in extreme poverty around the world today.

My goal is to double last year's donations, so I have targeted $730. If you would like to help, please go to my donation page and consider a small gift to this worthy cause. I believe that we really can end poverty in the world if we so choose. Let's make it happen.

13 July 2008

Did I tell you about the time when...

A few items from the trip that I somehow missed before.

In London, we went to two musicals, the first of which was Wicked. This is based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire, which I read several years ago. The book is very good, telling the "true" story of the Wicked Witch of the West. It gives all the "extra details" that are omitted from the popular version of the story The Wizard of Oz. As an English teacher, I really enjoy how a story like this can be created, completely turning a popular story on its head without actually contradicting anything from the original. I also enjoyed the political dimension of the story as it examines the control of power by the wizard and the media campaign enacted to turn the people against the "wicked" witch.

Unfortunately, most of that was stripped away from the play, leaving a rather bland version of the story instead. And they absolutely butchered the ending. The performances were good enough, but the musical version of the story is lacking. If you have seen this performance, do yourself a favour and read the book.

Our second musical was Avenue Q, the story of a recent college graduate (with an English degree, no less!) who is ready to take on the real world. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that he can't find a job and most of the world isn't interested in being changed. He settles in a neighbourhood of other struggling young adults and even a few monsters. As a group, they start to figure out what real life is all about, or at least how to deal with it.

This play was quite a surprise for me. It's a musical with puppets, and it is irreverent, crude and outrageously funny. In other words, it isn't your typical musical, and chances are, you have never seen anything like it. If you have the chance to see this one, I'd do it.

Also in London, we happened upon a film site on one of the many bridges on the River Thymes. We asked someone in the crew what it was for, and we were told The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. When we got back to the hotel, we looked it up and saw that is was starring Australian Heath Ledger. A week later, we heard that he was found dead in his New York apartment.

While we were in India, the Indian cricket team was touring Australia. When we met people and told them we lived in Australia, the cricket always came up. I was told by several people that I looked like either Ricky Ponting (left) or Adam Gilchrist (right). Ponting is the team captain and Gilchrist was on his farewell tour, so both guys were getting plenty of facetime on TV. I figure that accounts for why I was told I looked like them, since I don't particularly think I resemble either.

And Weet-bix agrees with me. During the summer, they ran a Face2Face campaign, which enabled you to upload a photo and would tell you which player you most resemble. When we got back to Australia, Heather found a suitable photo of me and submitted it. Face2Face returned with Stuart Clark, pictured below. Of course, the picture she chose was a few years old when my hair was much shorter, which I think accounts for the selection. I'm sure a more recent picture would yield different results, but alas, Face2Face is no longer available.

12 July 2008

Serendipity?

Yesterday I mentioned our beneficial hassle with our flight to Thailand. Here's that story.

We just missed our original flight from Bangkok to Phuket, but were just able to catch the next one half an hour later. As we sat down to catch our breath for a minute before boarding the plane, we noticed a gentleman across from us wearing a University of Wisconsin shirt. Heather struck up a conversation with the couple, asking if it was a bit cold this time of year there. Turns out Jim and Sandy were in Thailand visiting their son, Jesse, who had spent the year working there. We asked if they were staying in Phuket, or were going elsewhere--they said they were going to Ko Phi Phi. Us, too! What hotel? PP Casita. Us, too! The plane was open seating, so we sat across the aisle and kept getting to know each other. About ten minutes into the flight, Jim mentioned something about Cuba--Heather turned to me and said "switch" so I could be on the aisle. Jim and I talked about Cuba the rest of the hour long flight.

He goes with Pastors for Peace (their 2008 trip is nearing the end right now, by the way). Their "Friendshipment" starts all across America, gathering donations and people to make the trip, funneling down through Texas. They ship everything over to Havana from Mexico, then fly to Cuba for a week. Everything is above board--Jim even showed me the Cuba stamps in his passport. As an organization, they feel the Cuban embargo is unconstitutional and inhumane, and they actually welcome a challenge from the U.S. government, because they believe that if it ever goes to trial, the ban would be struck down. This year is the 19th Friendshipment: the government has backed down the previous eighteen times that Pastors for Peace have called their bluff.

If you were reading here about a year and a half ago, you know this is a big interest of mine. Over the next four days, Jim and I frequently talked about Cuba, as well as other issues. He told me that whenever Heather and I get back to the U.S., I should consider joining the trip, which I am certainly looking forward to. Heather and I enjoyed ending our round the world trip relaxing on the beach, but spending time with good people like Jim, Sandy and Jesse (who is now taking it day by day in LA after his year in Thailand), in addition to making a huge contact for a Cuban humanitarian relief effort was a very pleasant surprise.

11 July 2008

Thailand

At times, India was tough. But when it came time to leave, we were both a bit sad. That is, until we got to the horrible airport in Delhi and had our flight delayed by five hours--then we couldn't get out fast enough. We made good use of the time, though: we rescued a two year old who wandered off from his mother in the crowded terminal.

Contrast that hectic airport experience with Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, the nicest airport I have ever been in, bar none. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to enjoy is, as our generous four hour window until our next flight evaporated with the delay in Delhi. We checked at the ticket counter to book a new flight to Phuket, and were just able to catch a new flight out. Turns out, this hassle turned out to be quite beneficial, but that story will be told in my next post.

Once we got to Phuket, we got a car to the ferry dock, then took a two hour ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi. So by the time we got to our bungalow on the island, we had been on two planes, three airports, a car and a ferry, all without so much as brushing our teeth. Needless to say, we were ready for a nap.

We did get a little refreshment at the ferry dock. Recognise these?

This was our beach for the week. You'll notice the deeper water is very blue, while the water in the foreground appears browner. This is only because is was very shallow, and stayed that way for quite a ways out. It was so shallow that low tide caused the water to move out a couple hundred metres--the boat you see here was easily grounded at low tide.

As nice at Ko Phi Phi was, there were plenty of reminders that this part of Thailand was hit by the tsunami a couple of years ago. These signs give instructions on what to do and where to go in the case of disaster. There was plenty of rebuilding going on over the island as well.

This is on the other side of the island, on the dock side. This part of the country has lots of these rock formations/islands, many very dramatic in their structure--let's just say that you wouldn't want to be underneath some of them.

Also did some SCUBA diving while we were there. I've done it before, but it's been twelve or thirteen years. I was a bit nervous when it came time to go in--putting my trust in some hoses and a bottle of compressed air just didn't come as easy as it used to--but when I was underwater I forgot to be scared. I did well on conserving my air: a sure sign of a rookie diver is a quickly emptied tank. We saw lots of fish, plenty of coral and rock formations, and even a couple sea turtles. the dive instructors told us we might see some black tip sharks, but no luck. So my goal of swimming with sharks is still on the table.

The food on the island was fantastic. In between our bungalow and the docks was a small village of shops, tourist attractions and food. Heather and I both love Thai food, especially when it is authentic and cheap. Other than that, we just sat on the beach.

All in all, I would highly recommend Thailand. I have been to several tropical destinations--Cozumel, Tahiti, Great Barrier Reef--and I rate Thailand the best. It's beautiful and provides an authentic yet convenient experience. The people are beautiful--so friendly and kind, and down on the island, very relaxed. Instead of going to the Caribbean again, why not give Thailand a try?

08 July 2008

Indian animals

While in India, we saw quite a variety of animals. In addition to the usual dogs, cats and birds, we also saw (in the cities, mind you): cows, horses, mules, pigs, goats, chickens, peacocks and camels. As for a few of the more exotic, I'll let you see for yourself.




And that last picture is not the closest we got to a cobra. On the way to dinner one night in Agra, we found ourselves next to a boy, about twelve years old, carrying a small basket. As he was standing next to me and right behind Heather, he removed the lid of the basket to reveal a cobra, who began to slither out of the basket, about a foot behind Heather's arm--she was completely unaware of what was happening. I told her to hurry up. Why? Just hurry. Why? Hurry, there is a cobra. What?!? As this is going on, I am trying to tell the boy thanks, but we'd rather not see your cobra. But we survived, and dinner was lovely.

Missed the tigers--maybe next time.

07 July 2008

Lucky Sevens: Platinum Populations

We're going to take a look at populations this month. The United States has nine cities with a population greater than one million. Your Lucky Sevens question for July: How many does Australia have, and can you name them?

28 June 2008

Agra

The Taj Mahal is, without question, the most impressive structure I have ever seen. The combination of size and craftsmanship are astounding, especially considering it was built nearly four hundred years ago.

In this picture you can get a bit of an idea about the craftsmanship. This inlay work is quite impressive, especially when viewed up close. Although the Taj appears completely white from a distance, in reality a fair bit of it is covered with detailed work like this.

This was a popular spot to take a picture--it is a bit elevated from the surrounding area and is front and centre of the Taj Mahal, plus you get a nice reflection in the pool. Because it is so popular, there is quite a line to get the picture, so we had to wait our turn. But the end result was worth it.

Everyone was taking pictures as if they were holding up the Taj. When we first got there, Heather and I laughed at the silly tourists. Before we left, however, Heather decided she wanted to dangle the Taj, too. Hey, it's not like everyone couldn't tell we were tourists anyway.