Monday, July 31, 2006

Glad That's Over

Well, I handed in my very last Haskayne School of Business project today.  It was as anti-climactic as these things get. Somehow I think I’m going to miss group projects. It was just so fun teaming up with people you had never met to tackle a project that had no apparent value to your education. I’m sure one day I’ll understand the intrinsic value of the headaches and laughs that were presentation after presentation, group report after group report.

Now all that’s left is one history class, ironically on India.
    

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Must Try

I made an amazing culinary discovery the other day…BBQ’d tomatoes stuffed with feta cheese, parmesan, fresh basil, and olive oil. I’ll pretty much leave it at that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

He Could've Done Better...

“A Moscow court has sentenced an official from the Finance Ministry to 10 years in a labor camp for passing on state secrets in return for a Mercedes.” -RFE

Did the guy think he was being inconspicuous by asking for a Mercedes instead of a fancier automobile? Why not ask for a Bentley or Rolls Royce? At least you’d get to drive around in style before being sent to do hard time in Siberia.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Trip to Slovakia

I had no idea Slovakian Consular-Generals would be so much fun.

Getting a Slovak visa is not nearly as easy as it sounds, so I went with an SN to the local Slovakian Consulate to see if we could get some questions answered. Instead of the usual downtown location, the guy has set up the consulate in a north western suburb. The place is easily identifiable because of the flag and brass plaque adorning his yard and house.

We were greeted at the door by a jolly-looking fellow of at least 60. After introducing ourselves, we were quickly acquainted with his Slovak accent. He invited us to sit down at a table that was perhaps ten times the value of my life.  We found out that he happens to be a professor at the university and close friend of the president.

Throughout the whole process of him answering questions and us trying to decipher what he was saying, I gained an implicit respect for the man. He was so politically incorrect, that it was funny to the point of laughing hysterically. And his stories of Slovakian mountain roads were downright priceless. Maybe the best story was when he rented out a castle for 20 of his close, personal friends to have dinner at for a measly $450.

He was certainly helpful in the end. I think it’d be a lot of fun to just hang out there and drink Slovakian beer or moonshine in his basement. Seems like he sure knew how to have a good time.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Out for a Duck

Ryan will appreciate this….

While watching a cricket (the sport, not the animal) show on TV, I heard briefly that a team in England went all-out for 5 runs a couple of days ago. After nearly falling of my chair laughing, I decided to check out this story a little further.

The team, Goldsborough, had 10 of its players went out for a duck (term for when a batsman fails to score a run). Fortunately, five extras (term for when a bowler is judged to have miss the wicket horribly, thus giving the batting team a run…a little help, Ryan?) were scored, so the embarrassment of being shutout was avoided.

This is like the equivalent of a team being no-hit by a pitcher or combination of pitchers in baseball…ironically, a very similar game to cricket.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pyramids or Bust

Passengers: MR KENT BABIN

Flight number:  BA0086
From:           Vancouver Terminal M
To:               Heathrow (London) Terminal 4
Depart:        12 Sep 2006 18:10
Arrive:         13 Sep 2006 11:10

Flight number:  BA0155
From:           Heathrow (London) Terminal 4
To:               Cairo Terminal 2
Depart:        13 Sep 2006 17:35
Arrive:         14 Sep 2006 00:20

It’s official.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What's the Difference?

Then with the night-time temperature still well above 30C (86F) the power went out. I lay for hours soaked in sweat trying, and failing, to get back to sleep and wishing I was back in Beijing where the lights never go out.”

I came across this article in the “From Our Own Correspondent” section of BBC News. The writer lives in Beijing, but had to make a 4-day trip to Delhi, India. He can’t help but notice the major differences between the two countries. What he experiences over his short stay is so typical of anyone arriving during the summer/monsoon months: nothing seems to work, people are everywhere, and it’s boiling hot at night. I remember feeling the exact same way.

His description of the departure is perfect:

I looked at my plane ticket. Departure time 0315. Surely that could not be right. I called the front desk. "That's correct sir," he said, "the airport is too small so many flights from Delhi leave in the middle of the night."

He was not joking.

Despite the hour [the airport] was teeming with people. The queues snaked around the airport and back to where they had started. "Is it always like this?" I asked a man in the queue ahead of me.

"Pretty much," he sighed.”

I remember reading a little while ago that airlines suggest showing up to the Delhi airport four and half hours before your flight. Follow that advice, should you ever find yourself leaving Delhi.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

New Picture

Well, I’ve finally summoned up the energy to change my picture. Gone are the days of the Taj Mahal. In are the days of hiding in a cave used by Lamas to escape persecution in Mongolia in the 1930s. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for something. If so, I have no idea what it is.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chai Talk With Nicholas

"A perfect mix of spicy ginger, the tang of green cardamom and the subtle dark seduction of truly fine Indian tea." -Nicholas

This is nothing but shameless self-promotion, but if you want to read the master of chai critics rate my chai, head on over to Nick's blog. I picked up a solid 4.5/5...losing .5 only because I forgot to add sugar at first.

I think it just might be my life's work to chase after that elusive 5/5 rating that is reserved solely for "chai deities."

Ahh...India, What Will You Do Next?

“Argh!  India in it's blundering way has blocked off my own blog from me.  As well as the trainee blog.  It's a good thing I can get them at work.  They were only supposed to block certain blogs promoting violence, terrorism, etc, except I think they just blocked all of blogspot.  Argh!” –Samantha

Apparently they were only looking to block 20 blogs and websites. I’m guessing they either couldn’t figure out which ones were bad (and so just blocked them all) or couldn’t figure out how to block only the ones that were promoting terrorism. Read more here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ridiculous

How about this for illogical:

“DESPITE failure to complete the giant Tokwe-Mukorsi dam and undertake the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, the government has resolved to allocate trillions of dollars towards the construction of a showpiece parliamentary complex.“ –AllAfrica.com

One thing to note is that the currency used in this piece is the Zimbabwean Dollar.

I guess it makes sense if you’re a parliamentary figure who will spend most of your day in the new complex, but Zimbabwe is a country that has to rely on imported electricity and can barely manage to offer clean water, let alone food, to its citizens. What is this new complex supposed to prove? That visiting dignitaries will fall for the façade and overlook the pressing issues in the country? Somehow I just don’t think that’s going to work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Mmm....Cream Sauces


It's not often that I find myself with leftover cream that needs to be used up before it expires. Well, thanks to Canada Day, I was able to make two delicious sauces with the cream left from my strawberry shortcake experiment.

Yesterday, I made a simple alfredo sauce. All I can say is that cream makes a world of difference in the richness of sauces. By the end, I was almost sick of what I was eating....

Today, I got a little more fancy: Sole filets simmered in a herb cream sauce on a bed of roasted potatoes.

It was mighty tasty, but did have a strong flavour (a bit too much salt, perhaps?). Now I'm just hoping I have leftover cream more often.

Samantha's Visit

For the second Friday in a row, someone I met in India stopped by for chicken tikka and chai. I need all the excuses I can get to make those things, so any other India alums are welcome to stop by. Just don't make me wait out in the sun for an hour....

Anyways, it was Samantha's turn to sample the dhaba delicacies of NW Calgary. She is a consular official (I believe that is the correct term) in Chandigarh and stopped in Calgary as part of her 3-week vacation that started in Germany, where she paid a visit to Johanjiman (Johanna and Benjamin). During that visit, she was loaded up with gifts by said hosts (for me, believe it or not) and sent on her way to Canada.

When she showed up, she was decked out in her cowboy hat (on account of the Calgary Stampede) and carrying two bags. In one of them was this cool inflatable soccer ball chair that I had seen advertised on Johanna's blog. It's a little small for me, but it seemed to fit Samantha perfectly. The other bag contained 5 kurtas (Indian clothing) that Samantha so graciously picked out for me. Rumour has it she likes shopping for people...I see a career change on the horizon. There were also three Ritter Sport chocolate bars in that second bag. Those Germans sure know how to make a Canadian kid happy...and sick.

Overall, it was a great visit. We chatted about where she was going to do her next posting after her time in Chandigarh is finished (in 10 1/2 months) and the usual reminiscing about life in India. I'm pretty sure she's on her flight back right now...back to the monsoon and humidty that is Chandigarh in July. Thanks for stopping by, Samantha.

Gifts

What could be better than Ritter Sport and an inflatable soccer ball chair?


Cowboy-turned Canadian Consulate worker, Samantha

Friday, July 14, 2006

Meghan: In Photos

Whitewater Rafting on the Nile


An Orphanage in Nairobi

Thursday, July 13, 2006

That Was Interesting...

I had some pizza dough leftover, so I decided to experiment a little…surprise, surprise. Wanting to get away from the traditional pizza base (tomato sauce), I began contemplating crazy fusion ideas. Perhaps not the best plan because I ended up using some tahini I had bought at Superstore the previous day.

But what goes with tahini? I was thinking Middle Eastern-style, so that meant olives, cinnamon, garlic, umm….? Unfortunately, I only had tomatoes, pineapple, feta, and tofu as potential pizza toppings.

The result was so-so’ish. I was definitely missing roasted garlic, and chunks of marinated lamb, beef, or chicken would’ve been a much better substitute for tofu. The problem seems to be that the tahini has too strong of an aftertaste to really work as a pizza base.

Sorry for the lack of a picture…the pizza was ¾ finished by the time I remembered.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What is Wrong With This Town #14

The main story on the front page of the Calgary Sun:

"Flames Get New Coach"

In a small box in the corner:

"Terror Strikes India"

Apparently scores of people being killed or injured doesn't cut it as top story material. And while I am a Flames' fan, we didn't even get a new coach, so to speak, but rather the assistant coach was promoted because the head coach wanted to focus on his GM duties.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Experiment Night in the Kitchen


On tonight's menu: Moroccan Chick Peas with Couscous

This turned out to be a great dish. I started with frying garlic and ginger in olive oil, then adding the chick peas, some cinnamon, red chilli powder, salt, pepper, and sugar. Once that concoction had heated up, I added the yogurt to make a gravy of sorts. Finally, I poured the mixture over the couscous and garnished with a couple of cucumber slices.

Pictures

Mountain at our campsite


The Rafting Crew

Monday, July 10, 2006

Whitewater Rafting

With Nicholas sitting on the porch waiting for a ride, I hurredly threw together some supplies for the camping/whitewater rafting trip we had planned for the weekend. History has taught me that using this method usually ends with you forgetting something very important (like warm clothes). Our plan was to camp out Friday night, raft on Saturday afternoon, and then camp again on Saturday night. So off we went from Calgary en route to Golden, British Columbia.

After some miscommunication, Geoff and I were left at the campsite to get things set up while the others were off looking for each other. We went about starting a fire and getting the beer chilled in the river (the tents were in the vehicle that hadn't arrived yet). About 30 minutes had elapsed when we discovered a lean-to sauna hiding in the bushes. Light bulbs starting going off, so we decided to get the thing going. It took us several tries to transfer the fire from our pit (we had no matches or paper), but we finally succeeded with a little help from OFF Skintastic bug spray. Later that night, we enjoyed a piping hot sauna.

The next day featured the main event: whitewater rafting down the Kicking Horse River. For those that haven't been, you basically have 8 people plus a guide in a raft and then get sent off down the river. Everything was going great for the first half of the journey...we were paddling fairly intensely and the waves were decent. Then we got to the "Lower Canyon."

Just before, we had switched spots in the boat, which meant that I was now on the front right after being third left for the first half. In the front, you get splashed the most and have to set the paddle rythym for those behind you to follow. The first section of the Lower Canyon, little did we know, was the most intense part of the river. It featured class 4 rapids, with two waves, "Double Trouble" and "Town Centre," being the main events.

I really had no idea what to expect. It had been fairly easy up until that point, so I had a false sense of security. We were warned that, "The yelling was going to get louder and the commands more intense," by our guide. It could mean the difference between flipping and not flipping.

If there is one vision that sticks in my mind, it's seeing the wall of water that was "Double Trouble." We went up the wall, then down, then up again, and then down the other side. It was ridiculous, to say the least. One guy fell out and had to be pulled back in before we hit "Town Centre," which was right after. When we hit that, the guy sitting across from me lost his grip and went crashing into my position. For what seemed to be an eternity I could hardly tell which way was up. I looked back and saw the guide sitting parallel to the water, holding on for dear life.

We then stopped for a time, while people were rescued. It was a chance to reflect on, "What the hell just happened?" Apparently we had been really lucky not to flip. In the words of our guide, "I have no ****ing clue how the **** we didn't flip going over that wave." Well said.

The rest of the ride was a cakewalk compared to that one section. I got much more used to the front of the boat and started to actually enjoy the intense paddling. I kept telling myself that the sauna would be the perfect medicine for a day on the river. That it was.

Have You Seen the Muffin Man?

Nicholas the Muffin Man’s visit was indeed enjoyable, albeit far too rushed for two Indian buddies. The few short hours consisted of sampling strange corked beer, barbequing chicken tikka, and reminiscing about old times. Somewhere along the line we managed to get fairly drunk and sunburned. We finished off with some Indian music and a hastily made cup of chai…still waiting for the “Chai Talk” critique, though.

Thanks for the visit, Nicholas…I definitely need to get to Edmonton. Next up on the “People I Met in India Coming to Visit” list is Samantha. Should be seeing her sometime this week.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Meghan: On Location

Meghan is an old high school friend of mine. I only found out the other week that she was off in Africa volunteering. She was in Nairobi for the first few weeks, now she is in Kampala, Uganda. Check out her latest report.

Things are starting to look up here in Kampala.

We've managed to finally find a place to live that is nice and quiet...crazily expensive, but we were getting pretty desperate. There's only so many prostitutes one can handle! We no longer live in the red light district...we've moved into a much more urban area...less tourists=less prostitutes! I swear some of these girls are only 13...its pretty disgusting.

Also started working at a TB clinic today. Its not as fun as working with children but at least its something to do. The clinic is part of the university here so we are helping with an ongoing TB study. Today was mostly just paperwork but next week we should be going out into the field to visit people in their homes and provide medicines and record more paperwork!

I've also gotten brave and started using Kampala's main mode of public transport...the boda boda. Its the cheapest and fastest way of getting around town considering that the traffic in kampala is pretty horrific and the roads are really bad. You pretty much just jump on the back of a motorbike/scooter and off you go. Its not as bad as I originally thought it would be its actually kind of fun...a little scarry at times though.

The food here isn't so bad but definately starting to get a bit tiresome. The main staples here are tilapia, meat of all sorts and matoke. Matoke is a type of green banana that they seem to eat at every meal, its stewed for breakfast, mashed for lunch, and roasted for dinner! Its kinda fun going to the beach here because every beach has a fish stand and they fry up entire fish caught fresh that day...its pretty good but definately not something you want to eat all the time. Fiona tried roasted pigs ears the other day and our friend Sylvia is trying to get us to try cows hoof soup, which is apparently very good for your joints!?! I think I'll pass, it looks and smells pretty aweful.

We're thinking of going up north to Gulu one weekend to visit an orphanage there. The town has been ravaged by Joseph Kony and the LRA over the last 20 years but is apparently pretty safe to go and visit now.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hail

Today was quite the day weather-wise. I woke up and it was cloudy. After a couple of hours, the sun came out and it warmed up. By late afternoon the dark clouds were starting to roll in. At about 5:30, the sky opened up and the rain came in buckets. At 6:00 hail the size of golf balls was coming down. This stuff hurts pretty bad if it hits you and often does damage to houses and car windshields. I think you can get hail insurance in this part of the world. By 9:00, the sun was out.

Typical Calgary weather on a typical summer’s day.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Magic of Couscous

Who knew couscous would be so easy to make? It’s done in minutes and makes rice seem labour intensive (even in a rice cooker).

Now I just have to experiment with different styles. I need to dig up a good Moroccan recipe and make that sometime. Yummy.

Oh, and I just found out that Nicholas is coming down for a visit on Friday. He cooked dinner for my mom and I last time, so the favour will definitely be returned in the form of chai and some chicken tikka. Perhaps some daytime drinking will be involved as well….

Monday, July 03, 2006

Michaela: On Tour in Botswana

Check out this story from Michaela…it’s quite the read:

Me again…just thought I would tell you about my eventful day yesterday in South Africa. Bantsi had to go to Pretoria (40k outside of joburg) for a wedding fitting so Emily, Shakes (friend of bantsi’s, now dating ems) stucs (bantsi’s boyfriend) and I decided to go with her. We left at about 4am and after picking everybody up headed out to the border and into SA. Everything was pretty much as expected, Pretoria is like joburg- you would think you are in Canada, with the exception of the guys at every traffic light selling you anything from clothes hangers to baby plants, I especially like one guy and his son who performed a routine including flips and stunts at a busy traffic light, very inventive and entertaining considering we were in the turning lane for 5 red lights.

I think our day started going downhill when Bantsi lost her shoe on our way home, we don’t really know how it happened, the thinking is that it fell out at one of the many stops. Anyway bantsi was shoeless… now this would probably not have mattered if we got through the border and home with no problems, but no such luck. We were racing with the time a bit as the border closes at 10 pm and there is no where to stay without going back to Zeerusts about 60 k from the border. We were right on track when at 9 o’clock with 30 k more stucs moved a bit too far over on the road to give a big truck coming in the opposite direction some room and our two left tires popped. We only had one spare so without the help of the some really nice motswanan guys, we would have been completely stuck. But even though they were rushing to the border as well, they stopped and towed our car to a garage only about 1 k back (also another blessing). So we were back on track, the couples were in the back of the truck, trying to keep warm and I was nice and warm in the cab talking to these two guys.

Now during our conversation they were complaining about the truck they were driving, they had borrowed it for their trip to Swaziland where they were delivering some goods- they make some kind of craft. They were telling me that the truck just eats away at oil, they had filled in up when they had left and 250ks into their trip it was already empty, apparently it had been that way the entire time and they had spent an excess of 500 pula on it ( about $100). At about 15 km till the border, ( 9:25) just when I was dreaming of a warm shower and bed, the cars starts making funny noises and dies…..yep out of oil. Ok so no problem, there is a house near by, one of the guys, shakes and myself, head towards the house, in hopes of either oil or a ride to the border (only 15 k away!). We start yelling our hellos- there was a main house and another building with a bunch of single rooms and lots of lights on – but no one answers, we keep at it for a bit, then just as we were about to give up, a guys comes out of one of the rooms.

I don’t if it’s because I’m from Canada and feel as though everyone is nice but I just assumed they would help us, only 15ks!!! This guy did not seem too worried about our situation after about 5 minutes of trying to convince him to help us; he asks how much money we could pay him. Now there were 7 of us that needed to get to the border, and a nice big twin cab truck parked right outside in the yard. But apparently this was the bosses car and his car was small and had some shock problem so he couldn’t all of us. So he heads up the boss’s house to ask to borrow it. The boss doesn’t even come outside of the house but just tell him to tell us to fuck off, that Motswanans are always driving up and down this road and never help, or something of the sort- it wasn’t in English. Honestly, couldn’t believe it, all I can say is bad karma for this guy….. The other guy agrees to help us and take some of us to the border, in exchange for money. So we rush back to the truck and gather our stuff. The other guys told us to go, they would stay if we would phone their wives to bring them oil in the morning… so nice. We got in the car and rush to the border (its about 9:45)…we were so close!!!

We pull up the border at about 10:02 just as the guard is shutting the gate, we run and beg him to let us in, and after some convincing he does but it doesn’t matter the office is already closed. So now we are stuck at the border, with no car to even sleep in and they are making us leave, and they were quite rude about it. It was so cold outside, just above 0 degrees, but they didn’t care. We are standing outside of the gate, only 15 minutes from home with a whole night in the cold ahead of us. When just as we were about to accept our fate, this guy comes out from one of the office trailers, to see what is going on. He starts laughing when he hears our story and with no hesitation invites us into the office, where a bunch of guys are watching the football game and having some beers. And this is where we spend the night, bonding with our new friends- Danny K., Walter, France, Isaac and Ticha. Over beers bought from the Botswana side of the border- they took Stucs, hopped the fence and trekked to the closest bottle store- we enjoyed our night stranded at the border post, waiting till 6 this morning when it opened.

So what have I learned from this experience- there are some people that are so generous they will give you everything and ask nothing in return….and there are others who aren’t. And the only way to tell is when you are desperate and completely reliant on them. I hope that I return the favour when it’s in my hands, and go out of my way to help people, because it’s easy to forget about experiences like this and just think about what’s in it for you.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Canada Day


What's a good Canada Day without strawberry shortcake and whipped cream?

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure this is our national food. Good thing, too, because now I finally have an answer to give to all those people that ask.

Happy 139th Birthday, Canada. You don't look a day over 100.

Punjabi Dhaba?

Nicholas, I’m sorry to say, but you kept me waiting way too long, so I did the unthinkable…went for Indian food at a placed not called “Tandoori Hut” with a couple of friends. Don’t be mad.

One might speculate that I would’ve gone for Indian food soon after I returned home. Truth is I was afraid of the stuff in Canada. People would come up to me and say, “Oh, I had butter chicken yesterday.” All I could think was, “Butter chicken wasn’t even that good in India…I much preferred <something you probably never heard of>.” There was also the issue of paying $1.85 for naan that cost me 15 cents in India, or a channa masala that cost 12 bucks here, but only a buck in India. Granted, that’s not an excuse, but it was a deterring factor. So, when my friends asked me if I’d “go for Indian food so I could show them what on the menu was good,” I was a bit hesitant.

Off I went to Moti Mahal, a little Indian restaurant just off of 17th Ave. on 14th St. On first impression I must say that the place was way to clean. I was tempted to go to the owner and ask if he could dirty it up for me a bit. Upon sitting down, I noticed copper cups were being used…that’s definitely a plus. After explaining the menu to my friends, we ordered some lassi, paneer tikka, chicken masala, and daal, with naan and puri. It was a solid Punjabi meal and a decent introduction to anyone that isn’t familiar with North Indian food.

Overall, I was impressed by the food. The flavours were solid, but I could definitely detect the Canadianization element. Near the end of the meal, I was chewing my food when my molar struck something hard. It turned out to be a little rock that had snuck its way into the daal. Some people might freak out and complain. But not me…I rejoiced in happiness. The fact that the restaurant was able to incorporate one of the finer points of Indian cuisine was extraordinary. I’ll give it top marks for that. We finished the meal off with some Gulab Jamun. It was pretty similar to what you get in India, so I was indeed happy.

I must say that it did feel eating Indian food in such a nice place and for such a long time. Normally, you’re in and out in 20 minutes…we were in there for over an hour and a half. That’s ok, though, it won’t stop me from recommending Moti Mahal to anyone looking for fairly authentic Indian cuisine.