Monday, December 30, 2013

Wedding trip to Indianapolis

We were in Indianapolis for Brendan's wedding. Indianapolis is the un-Kuala Lumpur: incredibly clean, pollution-free air; blue blue skies; courteous drivers who do not speed up when they see a pedestrian.The wedding was a three day party. A Friday night party for out-of-town guests and rehearsal survivors (not as cut and dry as I expected) at a duckpin alley. The adults talked and ate and the kids played or bowled in the lanes. Saturday morning we hosted a soup and bagel brunch. Doug made two delicious, hearty soups - borscht (a Russian language teacher's recipe) and minestrone (Martha Stewart recipe).

The key participants - one of whom was dressed for the occasion
Our still small grandson was intense as he led the procession clutching on the ring box. He was followed by four nieces dressed in matching sun dress and purple sneakers. The service was high church - lots of smoke, bells, and holy water. The church was filled with an enthusiastic crowd who cheered once they were wed.
The happy couple
Transport from church to reception

Who cares if a party is going on? I captured a flock of favors
On Sunday morning folks came over to finish off the soup. I made two bagel runs. The 2nd run was a lesson in business planning. Einstein Bagels was totally out of bagels. We found a few bagels at a local grocery.
Bagels & soup in our condo
To avoid being jet lagged we arrived two weeks before the wedding and spent many an hour at the YMCA and the Indianapolis Library, We joined the YMCA in 2011 and resumed our membership with no extra fees. (The Y is in the Anthenaeum, which was built by a German-American gymnastics club. The monthly tours are worthwhile.) A poster at the Y alerted us to Germanfest (Click for tv film cliplederhosen race, although few runners had on either lederhosen or dirndl, and wiener dog races. The wiener dogs are dachshunds - we missed seeing their race. German "soldiers" served as an honor guard. No mention of what they represented. We assumed they wore Hessian uniforms, but the Hessians in the Google pictures are much slimmer.

At NC State University I would say, "I go to the library everyday, but rarely enter the building." I could do the same thing in Indianapolis, but that would be a mistake. The central library is a hive of activity meeting diverse community needs and interests. When we are in town we attend its free chamber music concerts. Its reading rooms exude the coziness of a traditional library. Its children's library is a wonder with child-level computers for families and tubes for reading, hiding or just chilling out.

Our condo is across from Maxine's Chicken and Waffles. We heard that it was on a list of the America's
100 most popular cheap eats  - so what were we waiting for? It has the feel of a small town cafe with friendly staff.  (We chatted with an owner about the challenges of running a restaurant - not a good plan for an easy retirement.) It serves Southern cooking - think Carla of Top Chef.Soon after we ordered we were served fried corn bread with peach butter. Doug had smothered chicken that he loved. I had a tilapia sandwich with 3 large fillets.

Our waitress & nieceof the owner (have her name somewhat
perhaps it will show up)
Doug's smothered chicken
As we drove and walked these two signs caught our eye. The first was on the lawn of a ranch house.

Not only bail bonding - gun permits notarized
Tourist Tip - Our holiday got off on a strange note. Doug went to PNC, a large US bank, to change a USD100 bill. The bank teller refused to take the bill saying that the bank would only change bills for account holders. $100 bills is what the ATM in Chicago gave us. We were stunned that a US bank wouldn't accept and change US currency. With everything else we had to do we just moved on without following up. One more piece of evidence that something is seriously amiss with US banks to say nothing of PNC being unwelcoming to tourists.

Let's end with a view from our condo

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Stopover in Chennai

We have spent more time in Chennai than in any other Indian city, so we look forward to the opportunity to relax, visit favorite places, and discover new things.

We stayed at the New Woodlands Hotel (everyone we meet who has been to Chennai has stayed there or at least heard of it). We love its South Indian breakfast and thalis. The menu was so enticing that we ate all our meals there. (At lunch and dinner the wait staff is in constant motion - not so much at breakfast. To get breakfast coffee required more than simple hand signals.)
New Woodlands Courtyard 

Thali - still to come rice and a sweet
Doug wanted to visit the Navagraha Temples outside Chennai. Unfortunately we didn't have specific information and the tour desk was mystified. With some Googling (not as successful as today) we put together an itinerary of five temples in Kundrathur. We asked to hire a licensed guide; we were told it wasn't necessary. It was! Our taxi driver spoke limited English. No matter, he wasn't familiar with the temples. (We hypothesized that tour agencies have the market on the best guides.) Here are some favorite pictures.
Hanuman sporting IU (Indiana Uni) logo?
Doug's been to a Shiva Temple

A library (we dropped in on a meditation/discussion)
An opportunity to advertise
In addition to beggars in the temples, children offered to have us take their pictures. I usually said no by pointing out that I did not have a camera (true). One woman chided her children, because she noticed that Doug did.

We had a more satisfying visit to Kapalehwar Temple, a Shiva Temple, in Mylapore, an area of Chennai. A hotel staff member recommended it say that he went there to view the architecture and enjoy the peace. He was absolutely right about the peaceful part. We were sitting and a young man came and introduced himself. He said that he comes to the temple to mediate on the good things that have happened to him and his wishes for himself and others. His few comments will make us feel less hesitant to just sit. At the entrance signs describe the temple and its rituals. It noted that the lingam was not anthroporphic, but rather a "symbol of the form and formless aspects of the deity." Not the story told by our guides in Vietnam and Sri Lanka who equated the lingam with Shiva's penis.

Devotees walking, sitting and queueing

Exotic? Think of the outside of Notre Dame Cathedral
The temple at dusk
We took a morning walk to the beach. The stall selling snacks were closed and the ancient amusements were not yet running.

A walk to the beach passes Citi Centre Mall - it has Atomic Donuts (for a small, sinful snack) and Landmark, a well stocked and inexpensive book store. Fab India is across the street, but it has a modest collection. I much prefer Kalpastree on Cathedral Road (close to the New Woodlands past the Music Academy). (In a shop near Kalpastree we chatted with a clerk about India's problems of corruption and the desire for easy solutions. We could have had the same conversation in KL.)

And finally a message that could go on many walls.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bank Negara Muzium - Gallery

I recently visited the Bank Negara Muzium (Bank Negara Museum) with the Muzium Negara Volunteers.  I am reminded all the time of the surprises Malaysia has to offer.  Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery is located at the Sasana Kijang complex a short walk up Jalan Dato Onn, a quiet tree lined street near the Bank Negara KTM train station.  Near by are memorials to former prime ministers: Tunku Adudl Rahman, and Hussien Onn.

Now about the Muzium.   The muzium has 4 continuing galleries: An Art Gallery displaying the art collection of the Bank Negara on a rotating basis, A Numismatics Gallery, An Economics Gallery, an Islamic Finance Gallery, a Children's Gallery, and a Gallery for temporary exhibitions.  I went to the Museum for a temporary exhibit on Maps and Malaysia.
I must confess that I am a map freak.  So much so that Liz has been known to throw away all maps collected for a road trip at the first stop, and declare the trip as a map free vacation.  Nonetheless, I continue with my obsession with maps. 

The first map displayed was a replica of a 15th century map based on one created by Ptolemy.

Ptolemy described the Peninsula of Malay as the source of the world's gold.  And described the Island of Borneo as the home of Satyrs, describing what we know as orangutans and other apes living there. Maps in the 14th and 15th century vary greatly in what they display of Southeast Asia.  To Europeans, the area was basically unknown.

European maps of Southeast Asia began to represent our known geography with the Dutch.  Java, Sumatra, and the Indonesian island change began to be fully described.  The northern and western coasts of New Holland (Australia) were described but the east coast of New Holland was connected to New Guinea.  

As mapping technology progressed, maps became more accurate.  Maps became more accurate as the inland portions of the peninsula were explored.  With colonizations maps began to display the resources to be exploited (coal, coconut, petroleum, rubber, pepper, timber, etc.)  Little cultural information was displayed.

With the British came modern surveying, and recording of land ownership.  This may have been previously done by the various Sultanates and kingdoms of peninsular Malaya, but written records are lacking.

The exhibit also displays the changes in the technology of surveying.  Surveying instruments are displayed, as well as modern GPS devices to determine geographic coordinates.

The exhibit showed the ethnocentric bias of mapping.   Almost all of the maps were those showing the world view of European explorers.  There were no maps showing the Malay view of the world, nor were there maps showing the Chinese or Tamil views of the world.  Both the Chinese and the Indian Tamils were great traders and must have had maps.  I was sorry that these viewpoints were not included in the exhibit.

Our gracious guide.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Long Weekend in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), Brunei

The South China Sea from Empire Hotel, BSB
Last year unable to find a restaurant offering a Thanksgiving meal Doug cooked his own celebratory meal. Good, but with just two of us it didn't seem like Thanksgiving. Our 2013 solution was to celebrate in Brunei with newly arrived US friends. We didn't have a plan. No problem, the US Embassy in Brunei took care of everything. It traditionally holds a Thanksgiving potluck for Americans in Brunei and their guests and our friends had an invitation.

The Ambassador provided turkey and perhaps the stuffing, The table overflowed with food, including sweet potato casseroles (several), cheeses (always welcome in this part of the world), a tasty bean concoction, and our contributions (scallop potatoes, a tomato and cheese dip, and fruit salad). Some dishes were finished when we arrived and others arrived after we were finished. Lots of desserts, but I don't remember any fruit pies. There were about 50 guests; we were the age of most of their parents!

As we left I wished the guards "selamat malam." From their reaction I assume expats don't commonly speak Malaysian (also the language of Brunei). Throughout the trip our fractured Malaysian was treated warmly. I told our building guard, who is struggling to improve my Malaysian, that the people in Brunei thought my Malaysian was pretty good. His body language said that they were very kind.

Our friends' driver (A), an Iban, took us to his longhouse. It had separate sets of steps that lead to the rooms of each family. Between the steps and a family's rooms is a wide corridor. A introduced us to his grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. All were crowded in the kitchen, either cooking for the evening's festival or watching. We were offered and accepted a sip of rice wine - enough to graciously accept the host's hospitality.

Making kuih penganan - so good we bought more at the night market
Along the corridor was a weaving house, a library, and an exhibit Iban woven items, handmade fabric, and other crafts (for sale).
Corridor - on the left library, crafts for sale, doors to individual
family rooms, pic of sultan who has visited longhouse
Except for the unique architecture and the residents' kinship a longhouse resembles a village. In the corridor and the yard children played, men repaired autos, and men and women chatted. While the longhouse has 200 residents many live elsewhere and return for weekends, festivals, and school holidays. The outside of some houses were adorned with planes, built out of spare parts. The bodies were from vacuums.
Folk Art, but the dish is real.
A vacuum cleaner helicopter.
The longhouse was a two hour drive from BSB. Along the way we stopped at Taman Rekreasi Hutan Luagan Lalak. The few people there were walking, fishing, or taking in the scenery - a quiet and relaxing place.
One view from Taman Rekreasi Hutan Luagan Lalak
A walkway leading to a gazabo
In our travels through rural areas, we could count on finding small shops and cafes and traveling alongside buses and motorcycles. Not on this trip. Few motorcycles and no buses except near BSB. Midway we stopped at the one shopping centre to buy fruits to take to A's family. When we returned around 1 p.m, and it was completely closed. (Many businesses and all cafes close between noon and 2 for Friday prayers.)  Brunei has one of the most unique work weeks:  Monday - Thursday, Friday as a rest day, work on Saturady, and Sunday as a rest day

Night markets are always a part of our trips. Gadong night market in BSB, which is open every evening, wasn't to be missed. It had the usual displays of produce and an impressive array of deep fried foods - not quite up to US state fair artery clogging choices. Our plan to be hunter/gatherers was thwarted by a heavy downpour. We spent too much time avoiding puddles and too little surveying the food for healthier choices. Consequently, we missed grilled foods that are in the market.  But the piasang goering was delicious.  How did we pay for our purchases, in Brunei Dollars, which the locals sometimes refer to a ringgit (the term for the Malaysia currency which older Malaysians sometimes refer to as about confusion).

A display of durians

During our trip we made other short stops. We went to the national and handicrafts museums both were being renovated. At the national museum only the Islamic art, Brunei's petroleum industry, and natural history galleries were open. The handicraft centre had a catalog of Brunei's craftspeople - a valuable resource for scholars and collectors. We drove around the campus of the Universiti Brunei Darussalam with its impressive buildings including a colorful science building (couldn't find a picture). Instead of the familiar dome its mosque had three parallel roofs similar to a pagoda. The covered walkways were on poles so students, faculty and others could walk comfortably in the rain.
Our host had stayed at the Empire Hotel during his job interview and later during their first days in Brunei - a hotel sure to make one think "I want to stay here a long time." Of course, they wanted us to see the hotel, its beautifully landscaped grounds, and the views.  The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is open to non-Muslims except during prayer times. We didn't have scarves with us and it was getting late so we took pictures and headed home. We planned to come back  to enjoy a beautiful sunset enhanced by the lights of the mosque (see links for pictures). A rainstorm ruined that plan.

Our most memorable experience in Brunei occurred as we were leaving the airport. When we thought we had completed check in we asked to pay the departure tax (12 Brunei dollars/person). We had missed that detail and had spent our last dollar. The woman behind us gave us the money, so we could complete check in and go to an ATM machine. We agreed to meet "on the other side" (meaning a few feet away not a more final destination). After immigration I had my eyes peeled for an orange hijab. No luck. Doug asked the flight attendant to make an announcement asking the "young lady who had lent him money to identify herself." Again no luck. We could not imagine how she had disappeared into thin air. But since the money wasn't ours Doug put it into the collection box for Typhoon Haiyan relief (AirAsia matched all donations and the box was packed full of bills). After we disembarked the mystery was solved. Muhammad introduced himself, we gave him the RM equivalent of the Brunei money, and asked about his friend. She was his girlfriend who had come with him to the airport. Their random act of kindness proved that "good people are everywhere." Furthermore we had a chance met a couple who respect and admire each other. We will remember them for a long time and hope that in their lives they experience others' generosity.
Muhammad -
No worries for the world as his generation takes over

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Visiting a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in Kuala Lumpur

When we saw that the Malaysian Cultural Group (MCG) had organized a tour of a Sikh Temple  we jumped at the chance. The particular tour was open only to members. What to do? Join.

The  Gurdwara Tatta Khalsa Diwan is located on 2 acres in Chow Kit - a section of the city we had heard about but never visited. As we walked through Chow Kit knew that this was a  place to take visitors, at least the ones who don't mind visiting a grittier part of urban Asia. Chow Kit has the city's largest market, but at night the area becomes seriously sketchy.
Fruits at the market
Prior to the tour we received a memo with dress directions. No shoes, modest clothing, and a head covering for men and women. A temple member helped the men with their head coverings. The tour began with Mr. Singh, the temple president, giving us a history of Sikhs in Malaysia. (Sihks originally came to serve in the colonial army and police. Currently there are roughly 100,000 Sihks in Malaysia and 150 gurdwara.) Before the tour I knew was that: Sikh men had the last name "Singh," but all Sikh males are Singhs but not all Singhs are Sikhs;" Sikhs didn't cut their hair; and they wear turbans. I now know much more. Some of which we will share here. Of course, any errors are mine alone

Mr. Singh in his office
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. Its temples have no statues, idols, or sacred pictures. The Guru Granth Sahib, its sacred book, is the focus of a gurdwara and the community; it is not worshiped but respected. It has writings from other religions including Islam.Mr. Singh's major project has been amassing 8 kilograms of gold to cover the altar that contains the Guru Granth Sahib.

We were visiting on the first of a three day celebration of the birth of Guru Nanak, Sikhism's founder. Temple members take turns in a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. In the prayer room a few men and women were seated. Men on one side and women on the other, but equidistant from the altar. The prayer room can be opened up and accommodate for than 1000 devotees. The gurdwara has multiple prayer rooms that enable members to hold rituals, such as, weddings, at the same time.
Close up of an altar; Guru Granth Sahib under the gold cover
A view into the prayer

We entered a room the contains multiple copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. Members may take a copy for their own use at home. The room was seriously cold. There is a space to the side where Mr. Singh retreats to rest and think. As is true of other places in the temple - the room is not Mr. Singh's private retreat; others can use it as well.

Copies of the Guru Granth Sahib are under the white cover
We asked about Sikh baptisms and funerals. Mature persons who are ready to maintain a Sikh life style may be baptized. Sikhs respect all religions and do not proselytize. Still a person may ask if s/he can join the Sikh community and be baptized. A MSG member and member of the community said that when her mother died her body was kept at the house for prayers then she was cremated. The temple provides a hearse and clothes and other materials needed for a funeral.

We sat down for a vegetarian lunch. A gurdwara serves vegetarian meals three times a day. (Our neighbor from India said that from time to time when she was a student she and her friends would go to a Sikh temple to eat.) We were asked to only ask for as much as we would eat (seconds allowed). Lunch was tasty - worth a revisit.

 After lunch we went to the kitchen and met the chef. Virtually all the kitchen workers are volunteers as are the row of women preparing the vegetables. (Doug just read that in addition to tithing Sihks are expected to give time to volunteer at the temple.) Members also drop off food. Meals are prepared from purchased food and donations.

Menu for the week

Preparing Vegetables
The kitchen: Old fashion, huge pots and burners
As we left we saw a white board containing the verse of the day (my term). When a child is born and her/his family visits the temple they will give their child a name that begins with the first letter of the verse.

The gurdwara is open, welcomes visitors (and diners), photography is allowed. On a typical weekday it is just a series of open, empty rooms. We were told not to hesitate to drop in if a wedding was going on. I wish that I had known this when I saw the temple door entrance pictured below.

Wedding invitation (?) in Chennai
We were happy that we joined the Malaysian Cultural Group. We had a chance to broaden our knowledge of Malaysia and SE Asia and met others with similar interests.