Saturday, December 19, 2009

Building a home for Wanida in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I was so fortunate to be selected to go to Thailand this year for the Habitat Build. It was 66 people traveling to Chiang Mai which is a city North of Thailand. We flew from Atlanta to Narita and then from Narita to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Looooong journey but worth every second.

We were tasked with building a total of 6 homes and this was part of an 82 home build with Delta Air Lines and the Jimmy Carter Foundation. Jimmy & Rosalind Carter were both present and I saw Jimmy working in the hot sun, mixing cement. Truly amazing couple and people.
On the first day we had a fun excursion planned to the Elephant Reserve -- very nice and I just loved the elephants! Monday was our first day of hard work and the sun was hot at 90 plus degrees. I was the leader of team "Bandanas" and we were assigned to house number 34!

The home was around 300 square feet, one external sink and one external kitchen. Foundation was laid and our job was to build with concrete blocks. uptil row 26. Then we had to get the roof up and the tiles and finally finish up with doors and windows. In all honesty, the first day was pretty chaotic -- too many chiefs and order givers and not enough teamwork. My house had 8 people from Delta, 4 from native thailand, 1 Habitat contractor, 1 block leader & 5 others from different parts of US and the world. Thats too many people! So at around 11 am, I called a team meeting under the tree and established some rules -- Rule 1: Only the construction lead gives instructions Rule 2: We will each be assigned areas like walls, doors, windows, grouting, mixing cement and we will each stick to our areas. Rule 3: we will keep ourselves hydrated and make sure we help each other out and take care of each other.

Things started getting smooth as we went along. Soon we were gelling and by day 2 we were rocking and rolling. By day 3 our house was ahead of most others. I have to mention that I had a fainting/passing out episode on Day 1 in the afternoon -- I drank a ton of water but I ended up going to the medical tent and then back to the hotel where I slept until the next morning. The doctors called it soem kind of Heat Stroke-Exhaustion. I heard that it was almost 100 degress that first day and I knew I had to be careful. So I decided to rest and after my rest, I was back on day 2 and then good to go. My co-team Cheryl was great and she helped me out a great deal. The rest of my team were rock stars too -- Ed and Alex, the married couple who worked at Delta for 31 years. David Hamm who had great engineering skills and was nick named the "scaffolding cat". CK, my pilot friend who was with me on the Chile build as well. Jane who was Miss congeniality and added humor to every day. Debbie, our lawyer and grouter, Belinda our Red Coat and Francis from Philli. Kirk from China and John from Tampa were also very good. I was very lucky to be working with such awesome people and I will always remember the moments I shared and everything I learned.

The lady in the picture with me is the home owner Wanida. With the help of a translator and learing some Thai myself like Sawa dee ka (hello), Kap kun kha (thank you so much)...I began to start conversations with her. She is 50 and this is the first time in her life that she will have a roof over her head. She is a tailor and also does some landscaping. She wanted her plants planted in certain spots and she was right on in terms of light and shade plants so I knew that gardening was a passion for her. Wanida has been HIV positive for 15 years but has been recieving the medications and is living a happy life. She has one daughter who made me a lovely bookmark that had a beautiful elephant drawing. Wanida was such a nice person -- so greateful and so loving and sweet. She worked hand in hand with us every day. On the last day we gave her the key to her home and she cried and hugged me -- I will never forget the emotion I felt when I hugged her. I cried a lot and again felt grateful and blessed for what I have today.
I wished her many happy years in her new home and told her I would loved come back to visit and have dinner some day. She said she would make me her special chicken curry.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Guide to perfect 2 day weekend in Argentina

So I was in Buenos Aires Argentina a couple weekends ago and decided that I had to blog the itinerary for the perfect 2 day weekend in Argentina. You will not be dissappointed!! I have to thank Cindy Espinoza for it and Jonathan for indulging my escapades including the obsessive trying on of boots which there are plenty of in Buenos Aires. So go to Argentina for the weekend. Its doable! Follow this itinerary and you will come back happy!

Arrive Saturday morning:
If you work have starwood points, stay at the Sheraton Libratador. Fly in Friday night and you will arrive into Buenos Aires in style and rested by 8:30 am. Ask the hotel to hold your bags and walk down to Florida Street. Shops and restaurants will just be opening. Its your time to explore the area and and grab a coffee or a snack. Walk all the way to Casa Rosada (The Pink House). See the famous balcony that Evita stood on as she sang "Dont cry for me Argentina (ok, that was only in the musical -- but you get the point).
Lunch on Sat: Go to La Boca. Cab rides are cheap. You can spend hours here. Its the street with colorful houses. I have never seen a street more colorful. You will see multiple cafes, bars and Argentine Tango dancers on the street. Get some poses with the dancers!! Walk around and check out the local artists and their works. Try the Empanadas -- yummmmm and Quilmes (local beer). Check out the leather goods. When you have had enough, take a cab to the Recoleta area where the Cemeteries are. These are a must see.
The Recoleta Cemetery includes graves of some of the most influential and important Argentinians, including several presidents, scientists, and wealthy characters. Internationally, Eva Perón is the best-known person buried in this cemetery.
The entrance to the cemetery is through neo-classical gates with tall Greek columns. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.
After exploring this area, its probably time for an evening of rest or refreshment before heading to the best steak restaurant in BA.
Dinner on Saturday:
Since you are in Argentina, you have to try a fine restaurant for Stealk and Malbec. Take a cab to La Cabrera located in the Palermo area. This came highly recommended by Cindy and by NY Times. Best cut of meat and Malbec I've had yet.
Note that there are 2 La Cabrera's across the street from each other. Either is fine. One of them had classy tables set out on the sidewalk and I believe requires a reservation. 8 or 8:30 is the right time for dinner. After 9 it will be very crowded however I hear that they serve champage to all guests that are waiting for tables :-).

Sunday Morning:
After breakfast, head to the San Telmo flea market. Its is very crowded and bustling with activity. Plenty of things ot look at and plenty places to eat and drink. We selected, La Terraza del Balcon which has a Tango performance with brunch plus the option to sit ion the roof deck and sip some chilled beverages. Very nice! When you are done here, head back to Florida street to finish up some last minute shopping.
Sunday Tea or Cafe + Snack before heading to the Airport:
You have to visit Cafe Tortoni to try some churros and cafe. Perhaps a sandwich if you are hungry. The Café Tortoni is a coffeehouse located at #825 of Avenida de Mayo (which is right in fron tof Casa Rosada). Inaugurated on 1858 it is the oldest coffeeshop in the country where the elite of the Parissiense culture gathered in the 19th century. Inspired by Fin de siècle coffee houses it makes the perfect last stop before heading back.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Japanese Vending Machine Products - Fascinating

Green Tea Latte
Great tea, Many flavors



So I landed in NRT (Narita Airport) which is about 1 hour from Tokyo on April 28th. This was a work trip but knowing me, I have to experience the sights, tastes and sounds of the city to rally call it a true travel experience.
Here are the highlights of my trip:
1) Bento box (also called Obento) shown in the picture is a classic Japanese lunch box with everything Japanese
2) Tokyo Tower which is walking distance fromt he Northwest Office located in Kamiyacho.
3) The Trains and Subways -- Really sophisticated. Not many people have cars
4) Tsukiji Fish Market: Have to go at 4 or 5 am when the auction for "tuna" begins. Japan has the worlds largest demand for seafood. Large 100 to 200 lb Tuna are brought in, every morning, graded and auctioned off to hoteliers and restauranteers.
5) Shibuya Crossing: It's like Times Square. Need I say more?
6) Pachinko: Vending Machines with Pinballs. they are everywhere.
7) Akasaka area near New Otani Hotel in tokyo (Walking distance); Lots of restaurants open late. Great for walking around and taking in the Japanese way of life.
Also shown above are pics of a Traditional Japanese Garden -- This one was inside the New Otani.
I picked up some Japanese!!
Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank you Very Much)
Aridato (Thx)
Sumimasen (Excuse me)
Campai (Cheers)
Itagakimas (Let's eat, Lets be thankful for the food we have in fron of us): Said before a meal.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Years

I celebrated NYE in a cabin in Chattanooga. I actually had decided that morning to be home this year because it has been so tough and I wanted to be alone, quiet and reflect. At noon, I had already spoken to Nameeta and Dad and they had already had their New Years in India. Then I decided to take Rita up on her offer (Thanks Rita!). She invited me to join her, Mark, Mel, Morgan, Dave and Angela at the cabin. She asked me to pack a bag and be ready by 3 pm. She also said that they would drive me there and back the next day. Thank God for friends. What would have I done this past year without my friends. I did end up thinking about mum the whole day and night and it was nice also to be close to my friends who are always looking out for me.

The log cabin was wonderful with several bedrooms, pool table and hot tub. We cooked and made cocktails and played Jenga, Uno Attack, cards all day. We also took the riverboat cruise for dinner and champagne at midnight. I looked up at the stars from the boat with my champagne glass and gave mum a flying kiss and raised my glass to her love and life. I missed her very much. Soon after, we went back to the cabin (not sure how but I ended up being designated driver so I was not buzzed but it was fun watching everyone else). We got in the hot tub in 20 degrees weather and by then I was very very very tired. Tired of 2008 and ready for 2009.

Thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving was really nice at Mel and Morgans. We each brought a dish and her friend who is a chef cooked the Turkey so it all worked out. Michelle brought her yummy procuitto wrapped dates and green bean casserole, Tori and Marcus brought Mac and Cheese, I brought sweet potatoes and a brocolli salad, Mel took care of the drinks. We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and desserts. Mel as usual was a great hostess!