2015 weeks! #20: it all ends with a birthday

Starting the week the right way – lunch and then coffee with James.

2015-05-26 07.57.48Couldn’t go too long without being on a plane again – this time to Sydney for the morning.

2015-05-27 18.19.04Finally got around to wearing my burgundy coloured fishnets.

Sebastian whipped up some delicious lemon tarts.

2015-05-27 21.24.50George and I watching some TV.

2015-05-28 08.41.35While the trees may be bare, they are livened up by some visiting parrots.

2015-05-28 08.53.10Walked Zac and Jude to school. I do still enjoy the walks to school – lots of time for conversation and ideas.

2015-05-28 11.47.37The week had turned out to be way more busy than we had expected – the Indian Minister for Skills, Minister Rudy, decided to join a delegation with only a couple of days notice. Which meant we had to swing into action and organise a range of skills related activities. Here he is meeting Minister Birmingham and exchanging gifts.

2015-05-28 11.58.54I do get to spend quite a lot of time in Parliament House and enjoy its beauty and utility. Here is the reflecting pool.

2015-05-29 14.26.15Friday it was back to Sydney for a Australia-India Skills Working Group with Minister Rudy.

2015-05-29 16.52.35Managed a post meeting negroni with one of our Minister’s advisers while discussing work before it was back to the airport.

2015-05-30 08.15.26All the plane-time has made it rather easy to rip through another book, despite its many pages. I really enjoyed Tigana – terrific story and very readable. I am a little dubious about the way the women in the book were handled, but that was my one small reservation.

2015-05-30 10.26.34A bright Canberra (nearly) winter morning, so it was time for Jude’s hockey.

We stopped for hot chocolate and cake on the way home.

2015-05-30 11.31.12That day was a special James birthday, so it was out to dinner as a family. It was a lovely evening.

2015-05-30 17.51.27Baked eggs for breakfast the next morning.

2015-05-31 09.59.26And then a rare opening to get to the shops and buy small boys the new shoes they so desperately needed.

2015-05-31 14.10.13To end the week, testing a range of wines and eating fabulous food with friends to celebrate James’ birthday properly.

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Weeks! #46: and it is hot wherever I go

2014-11-10 09.51.40So Mumbai and I begin the week with pretty much two full days not leaving the hotel and conferencing and working. With our Minister in attendance.

These trips are always pretty intense but when you have a Minister around and you need to make sure everything is running smoothly as well it adds to the general level of full-on-ness.

2014-11-10 14.29.36Here is me with Joanna my person in charge of India and Megan the Chair of our working group on India. We were debriefing.

One of the things we like to showcase is the highly talented products of our vocational education system. Here is Jessica Martin who was a silver medallist at Worldskills and Morgan Clementson who was the runner up for Apprentice of the Year demonstrating their skills.

2014-11-11 12.59.55I facilitated a session in which Tara was speaking – she was challenged to take a selfie while on stage so I acted as the world’s biggest enabler.

While I didn’t leave the hotel for two days, the views were still spectacular. I particularly loved the Sea Bridge which is 5.6km long (we drove it on Sunday).

When Joanna and I finally next stepped out of the hotel Tuesday night it was to head to the very spectacular new Mumbai international airport. Our flight to Hyderabad was the tail end of an international flight. Being at the airport late on a Tuesday night we got a sense of the story of global skilled labour migration as we watched lines of single men filing into planes bound for the Middle East. it was a sobering reminder of how the world works in these areas and some of the social challenges of labour mobility.

2014-11-12 08.59.25After arriving in Hyderabad late in the night, here was the view from my hotel room window the next morning.

2014-11-12 11.47.48The hotel was quite spectacular too – so much marble!

2014-11-12 12.55.27After spending the morning speaking to members of the India Economic Service – high level economics focused public servants – about skills and skill development, we went with them to Dialogue in the Dark. It is an extraordinary experience – you eat lunch in the complete dark before being taken through a sensory experience, also in darkness. The people who work as guides are blind – it must be so empowering for them to suddenly be more in control than us sighted folk. It is interesting too how intense and focused your conversations can be when there is nothing but the sound of each other’s voices. I never expected to spend a lunchtime discussing Indian economic reform and the Australian vocational education system while eating curry while unable to see anything. I must admit I was pleased I was wearing black too – otherwise no doubt there would have been curry all over a white shirt!

We also visited a training provider in the afternoon who taught construction skills and met one of the few Indian female construction teachers. I wasn’t quite sure that thongs or sandals would be approved footwear while laying bricks in Australia.

We also had a visit to the markets in Hyderabad, where it rained heavily on us but we also managed to pick up those last presents.

2014-11-13 15.38.24The next morning I was up at 4.30am to fly to Delhi and from there home. Once again I got to witness the weird sight of clouds through the tinted Dreamliner windows.

2014-11-14 00.28.01I had half a day in Canberra to wash myself and some clothes before James and I were off on another plane to Queensland.

2014-11-14 16.30.26It was funny – the Minister ended up the row in front of us on the plane so I checked in with him about his return flight. He’d been back a day earlier but then had had to be in Canberra for Cameron’s address to Parliament so was feeling at least as exhausted as me. James and I headed to Ipswich on arrival and found ourselves dinner before I eventually collapsed into bed.

2014-11-15 07.48.50We were at the Ipswich showgrounds at 7am the next morning for the kick off of the men’s national roller derby championships. The first game was Capital Carnage playing Scartel – the team from Brisbane City Rollers featuring my good friend James – Copter to the derby initiated. I was, however, firmly on Carnage’s side.

2014-11-15 07.56.07Slams, Sir Gestive and I are here ready and waiting for the action of the first game. In the end, the Scartel won, but it was a well fought game and the Carnage boys did a great job.

2014-11-15 08.53.30Of course, it was around 40 degrees in a tin shed and it got pretty hot. Especially after you’d been playing derby.

2014-11-15 11.56.41-1It was hot so drinking was required but the only beer was Four X. A girl has to opt for cider then.

The boys played their next two games in their hot pink alternative strip. They were very proud of it and it got them a whole lot of love.

2014-11-15 09.28.36Copter and I watched some games together. Here we are being amazed by the Bass Strait Brawlers – Victoria Vanguard game. So close. I was cheering for the Bass Strait Brawlers because (a) underdogs and (b) Sausarge Rolls. Though it could be argued that Vanguard were the best looking team at the nationals….

2014-11-16 07.39.55James and I had dinner and breakfast at the same quality restaurant. We were very tired in the evening. Sure James played three games of derby but I sat watching in 40+ degree heat and it is very tiring cheering and shouting.  And I did still have jet lag.

2014-11-16 08.33.43It was so stupidly hot I resorted to thongs for day 2. I never wear thongs. Queensland made me do it.

342014-11-16 08.54.13-1More derby watching. Carnage did well to get themselves into the game versus Light City, but, while competitive, couldn’t quite take it out. With two wins for the weekend however, they could certainly consider that they had acquitted themselves well.

2014-11-16 10.26.09The fan provided some relief from the heat even if it did mess up my hair.

2014-11-16 09.56.38In the end it was Vanguard’s weekend and they came out well deserved winners even if I was still cheering for the Brawlers in the final. Blurry celebratory photo.

2014-11-16 18.09.58And so the first men’s nationals were done. You can see from how Slams looks in the next photo that it is completely true that spending an entire weekend watching derby in the heat is as tiring as playing! well, that’s our argument and we are sticking with it.

2014-11-16 20.43.05

Mumbai: from poverty to extravagance

2014-11-09 14.14.34With a small amount of time to discover Mumbai, we went on a tour with a guide, organised by the hotel. As this is India, it wasn’t long into the tour that we discovered that we weren’t undertaking the tour we had proposed, but instead the tour our guide decided we should take.

We started in the slums. I was quite happy to just have a brief visit – I feel a certain uncomfortableness in being the rich white tourist in the lives of incredibly poor Indians, but it is also good to see the reality of where so many people live. I also felt a bit sad for the unhappy goat. Then there were children who built there kite and flew it while we were there. Small joys.

The flower market was lovely to visit – we were told not to sniff the flowers. Apparently the scent of flowers belongs to the gods. OK to look, but not to smell.

2014-11-09 14.48.46We also visited the gigantic outdoor commercial laundry. I’m not sure what happens when it rains.

Next stop was a vegetable market where the number of photos I took was equally reciprocated by the photos taken of me. As one of the Indian staff told me later, blonde white people are still pretty rare and generally seen on television. With Joanna and her blonde curly hair, we were no doubt a completely rare sight.

2014-11-09 15.18.08We visited the Mani Bhavan where Gandhi hung out while in Bombay. It has some great old photos and takes you through his life. We also got in trouble with our guide: we were talking when he wanted to explain something so he told us “Talk on your time, not on my time.” Whoops. Ghandhi remains inspirational.

2014-11-09 15.23.53Joanna with excellent persuasive skills managed to get the guide to take us to FabIndia so we could do some shopping so that was excellent. I bought tablecloths at James’ request. And shirts for all my boy-folk. It was then onwards.

2014-11-09 15.56.25We were lucky with the traffic – being a Sunday there were very few cars on the road and we thus got to cover a lot more ground than we would have any other day of the week.

We ended the tour at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – site of many visits from world leaders and terrorist shootings. It is a magnificent building.

We got into trouble again with our guide – we were wondering how we could take photos of the bay – his response “Can I talk now?” But we did get some photos.

And after a tour which has taken you from some of the poorest parts of Mumbai to one of the most wealthy? Gin and tonics by the Taj Mahal Palace pool.

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Weeks! #45: from normality to Mumbai

2014-11-03 20.44.07-1An epic level of wine – that is definitely for me. James and I went and did something on Monday night which we haven’t done for probably 13 years – spontaneously went to the movies. We saw Fury which I found a little disappointing – stuffed full of every war film trope you could think of, particularly the whole naive-youngster-meets-wizened-oldster-who-teaches-him-to-be-a-man stuff. Some of the cinematography and the images were extraordinary though, so that was a saving grace.

2014-11-03 20.45.22After nearly a month of no regular game nights with Andrew off on his European adventures, it was back to fighting the Old Ones on Tuesday.

2014-11-04 21.02.54On Wednesday I escaped from work long enough to see Zac’s class host junior assembly and Zac sing in the choir. He also was on hand shaking duty for people who received awards.

Wednesday I once again elongated my ride home to make up for failing to get up early in the morning.

2014-11-05 18.13.16A spider decided to take up residence near my bed.

2014-11-05 23.04.45Thursday morning it was my regular walk to school early with Jude and Zac.

2014-11-06 08.13.35By some miracle, my branch team managed to win the Department’s soccer grand final. The opposition were a bit intimidating – especially as their average age was a good ten years younger than ours – and after they had scored two goals in the first few minutes I thought we were settling in for a substantial thrashing. But somehow guile and age managed to triumph over youth and fitness and in an extraordinary surprise to everyone, but no one more than myself, I even managed to kick a spectacular goal from an impossible angle. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and pretty much confirmed that sports involving running are exhausting, but more fun than running without sports.

2014-11-06 12.57.53Sebastian has been reading the Hunger Games books and much inspired he decided to construct his own bow. It even worked.

Friday morning at work we had a branch get together to talk about our work. I then made my staff form a human venn diagram to show how are work is all inter-connected. It was an idea I had come up with just the night before. Sadly I didn’t have the ability to take an aerial shot.

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Friday afternoon was cricket watching with Zac. His bowling is definitely starting to improve.

I was excited to find that Past Me had preordered the new Alastair Reynolds which had arrived just in time to take on my trip to India. In a week of a few downs at work, this was a happy surprise.

2014-11-07 21.22.03And then Saturday morning it was off to the airport and on my way to Mumbai. A lamington seemed an appropriate last dish in Australia.

2014-11-08 10.49.59We flew Air India direct from Sydney to Delhi in a Dreamliner. They have these great windows with no shades but which have tinting that is changed remotely. It makes the clouds look extraordinary.

We were staying at the Taj Land’s End in Mumbai. This was the sight that greeted me from my hotel room window Sunday morning.

2014-11-09 08.06.55There was also an extraordinary view of the sea bridge – 5.6km of road out into the ocean.

2014-11-09 09.48.48I was most pleased though to get a chance to try out the pool in the morning, even if a somewhat briefly.

In the afternoon we did a tour of Mumbai with some of the conference participants but I will post about that separately. But we did end the tour appropriately – with a g&t.

2014-11-09 17.34.18

Weeks! #30: delegations, derby and more sickness

2014-07-22 10.54.47The beginning of the week was dominated by a visit from an important Indian delegation. It is nice though when you are on good enough terms with the Indian leader of the delegation that he asks you solicitously about the health of your children when you have to excuse yourself to tend to sick people. Judewas at home sick, and James and I were playing tag team parental care because we both had work obligations. Modern parenting.

2014-07-21 11.11.15The sick boy himself, clad in his Tigger onesie. Medium sick days can involve quite a lot of computer gaming.

2014-07-21 18.23.26Before going out to dinner on Monday night with the Indian delegation, I also managed to pick up Sebastian from his hockey training for the ACT team. Hockey pick ups also serve as excellent fodder for conversation with Indian delegations – several of the Indians had themselves played hockey, so there was lots of comparing of notes. I can be always grateful for my knowledge of hockey and cricket because it is a major upside in the Indian diplomacy space.

2014-07-22 19.07.54-1Here is a gratuitous Zachary in his dragon onesie shot. He has become very fond of wearing this at home and to bed and now the challenge is removing it to wash it.

2014-07-22 19.07.59-1Jude had recovered enough to go to school on Tuesday – and practice the viola.

2014-07-23 08.07.13On Wednesday it was up early and off to Melbourne for more meetings with the Indians and others. They had given me a beautiful scarf as a present, so I wore it.

2014-07-23 08.35.20I also wore my fishnets.

2014-07-23 08.29.29The offices we were in in Melbourne did have a spectacular view. Apparently there are attempts to introduce AFL to India so the MCG was a double discussion point.

2014-07-23 12.29.04I had been getting increasingly sick with a coldlike thing during the week. It was particularly annoying that I went straight from the gastro to a cold, but such is life. I struggled into work Thursday morning for a couple of important meetings, but by lunchtime-ish I was completely smashed and essentially went home to pass out in bed. And I stayed there for most of Friday with George as company. Except when I went to the doctor and he told me I had a nasty respiratory infection and to take all the antibiotics and ventolin.  I had kept hoping right up to 6pm that I would be well enough to make training and hence play the next day, but it was not to be. Not even close.

2014-07-25 19.18.59

I was spared Saturday morning sport due to sickness, but was out of the house in the afternoon. We went for coffee with Jude and Sebastian while Zachary was at his skating session. You know I am sick when I drink tea over a hot chocolate.

The boys’ training spot had moved to Woden CIT. I liked the wall-art.

2014-07-26 15.50.15And then it was the big boys’ turn at skating.

2014-07-26 15.51.49It was then off to Tuggeranong for the VDL double header. While I was far too sick to skate, I did manage to line-up manage for the co-ed bout. James bench managed the other team. My team (red!) won.

It was weird to watch the other game from the stands and to have no active role to play. And we won convincingly. At least I got a star biscuit with my name on it.

2014-07-26 20.30.49-1Sunday I continued to rest. The respiratory infection meant there was no chance of training. while I was resting though, others cooked and we ended up having a lovely dinner with Helen, Sean and the two Andrews.

Agra

2013-11-30 10.20.10 - CopyAnd so it was up early and off to Agra on the Expressway. After an uneventful drive we arrived in the town of Agra. Delhi seems chaotic – and then you get to Agra which is a whole nother world. Goats and cows and buffalo and pigs roam the streets and eat rubbish from piles. Donkeys carry bricks on their backs.  There are open air barber stalls where you can see men being shaved. There is rubbish, both industrial and household, all over the place. Traffic and people everywhere. As we didn’t stop, I didn’t get many photos except from the back of the moving car – but there are a million extraordinary shots one could have taken.

Our plan was to head to Fatephur Sikri first, although our driver did try and talk us out of that “no, Taj”. But in the end we triumphed after Caroline referred him back to the tour operator, so we picked up our tour guide before stopping for some Indian sweets. Delicious.

2013-11-30 10.48.39 - CopyAnyway, off to Fatephur Sikri. It took us another forty minutes or so to get there. Right next to the carpark – an actual snake charmer! i didn’t take his photo because I figured he might want to charge me. Also, pretty sure his cobra was non-living, but he also had a huge python. And I don’t mean that euphemistically.

The complex at Fatephur Sikri, the home of an emperor and his family for a period (and their 15000 retainers, servants and soldiers) is very impressive. Our guide told us many fantastical stories of life there and I must admit I could not be sure where documented history and folk myth started and ended. But it was amazing to imagine games of parcheesi played out in the courtyard with human pieces being yelled at from the roof top pavillon, or a singer coming to sing every night from the middle of a pool. Whatever actually happened, life would have been something quite out of fantasy. It was also something to consider exactly how much more impressive the place would have been when gold cover the roofs and an elephant meted out justice in the front courtyard (apparently he sniffed you and stepped on your head if you were guilty).

The red sandstone is an impressive canvas though for a complex like this one.

Caroline got to stand under the banyan tree to absorb good energy.

2013-11-30 13.09.36 - CopyWe also were slightly distracted afterwards by the family of very cute homeless puppies who lived just outside the complex.

On the way back to Agra we stopped for lunch. It was quite nice to look at the fields while we ate our lunch.

2013-11-30 13.34.40 - CopyThen it was time for the Taj.

Through the gates…

And there it was. It really is a magnificent building.

The Taj Mahal is all about symmetry so clearly some of my photos fail badly to capture it as they are not at all symmetrical. However built for the beautiful dead queen who asked for something that would symbolise their love for ever, it certainly works. The whole complex was 22 years in the making by workers who were actually, apparently, quite well payed. All 30,000 or so of them.

When building it they used some Egyptian techniques with walkways spiralling around up which elephants carted the huge marble pieces. The top part is all one carved piece and weighs tonnes and tonnes.

The carvings and inlaid detail are fantastic. Many of the decorations are carved into the marble and the precious stones inlaid directly. It is fantastic work when you get up close.

Around 80000 people a day visit the Taj Mahal and the “low value ticket holders” wait in an enormous line, potentially for hours to see the inside. You have to either remove your shoes or wear shoe covers to walk around on the marble. It is a wonder well worth seeing.

It was Dave, Caroline’s partner’s birthday, so she called him from the Taj to say happy birthday.

2013-11-30 16.53.05There were also some cows. We were warned they were dangerous, I am not sure why.

2013-11-30 16.55.20After a good day of sightseeing it was time for a G&T and a cocktail. We couldn’t get into the Oberoi, so the ITC was the next best thing.

It was then another two and a half hours back to Delhi.More fascinating sights as we left Agra and then a pretty clear road all the way back. And after a long drive and day, nothing for it but more cocktails.

2013-11-30 21.51.35While most of the rest of the trip was packed with work, I feel privileged I got the opportunity to see Agra and all it entails.

 

The week that was…week 49: Delhi

2013-11-25 09.52.32So time to head off again – Delhi this time for a whole week. Almost a whole day of travel to get there, though time differences meant we arrived before midnight Delhi time.

2013-11-26 00.06.182013-11-26 07.22.23Compulsory hotel room view – the haze is smoke which is particularly prevalent at this time of year. It was actually surprisingly pleasant weather – I guess my concept of India was super hot, but we had ideal days of high twenties and nights in the teens. Would have been completely lovely except for the pollution haze and terrible air quality at times, especially at night and in the mornings.

2013-11-26 14.27.43It was straight into work with meetings all day on the Tuesday followed by a reception at the High Commissioners residence. We had a meeting with the Minister for Human Resource Development, Mr Pallum Raju, at his house. As we were leaving he showed us some pictures – his grandfather with Gandhi, another with Nehru, his father with Indira Gandhi… Quite a political legacy.

Drinks at the High Commissioner’s residence were pleasant. There is a very nice lawn.

The next day it was conferencing, but at a different hotel.

2013-11-27 10.26.32We had a site visit in the afternoon to see a training provided. I went to Don Bosco where they teach printing and some engineering trades.

It is useful to see a training site like this and get a sense of the challenges. While they were learning printing a in an environment where they were actually producing things, it is hard to imagine the place passing an Australian quality audit.

Being out of the bus allowed us to see a few more of the sights of Delhi.

Joanna who was travelling with me and I managed some time to go shopping in the evening on Wednesday and discover some particularly Indian Christmas decorations, amongst other things.

On Thursday we didn’t start until 10am, so I had time for a swim in the morning.

2013-11-28 08.24.19It was pleasant to float on one’s back and look up at the birds of prey which constantly circle the skies of Delhi.

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From the pool you could also see this building – the shell had been completed but nothing further. Apparently there are a few around Delhi – if a property dispute arises (which according to stories is reasonably regularly) then all work stops until it is resolved, which sometimes takes years.

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For the rest of Thursday and Friday, however, I didn’t leave the hotel and it was all conferencing and dinners.

On Saturday Caroline, who by happy coincidence was in Delhi with the aid program, and I headed out of Delhi to Agra. But that is another story – here is a brief preview.

2013-11-30 15.47.42On Sunday after another swim and a sleep in Caroline and I caught up again – meeting at the Christmas Fair the the German Embassy. That was a little surreal. We then headed a proto-hipster style shopping area in South Delhi where, hidden amongst the standard Delhi shops and alleys are stores and cafes of both Western and Indian style fancy-ness.

We then went to the Imperial Hotel for some high tea. Sometimes being a rich westerner in developing countries is fun.

Of course, time in places like India does make you think about the scale of the problems faced by developing countries. The scope and challenges of India of simple but fundamental things like clean water are enormous. Or rubbish collection. Or dealing with the many many dogs which roam the streets. And the poverty and opportunities, or lack of them. We try to play small roles in overcoming these things, but honestly, sometimes the scale and scope is enough to make one despair.

But when you can’t solve poverty, it is on to cocktails. We went to a bar called P.O.C. (I think) which required us to call ahead to get the code which we had to enter to get the unmarked door to swing open. It was all speakeasy style with waiters in 1920s gear. While the bar was fairly empty while we were there, it is a haunt of Bollywood stars and the like. They did make a good corpse reviver!

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