Turandot at the State Theatre of New Jersey

On Sunday my parents and I went to see a matine show of Turandot at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. This was the third opera I’d gone to see and the first I’d enjoyed. The theater was not equipped with an orchestra pit (or perhaps it was and the director didn’t use it?) so the entire orchestra, plus 20-odd choir members were on stage, behind the actors. Given the lack of stage space, there wasn’t much room for a set so there pretty much wasn’t any at all. The performance was done with their acting and singing alone.

I think the thing that hooked me on this opera was how powerful the music was, right out of the gate. It was powerful, quick paced and seemed design to entertain as well as be sophisticated. The plot was action packed and the scoring sounded modern and fresh, not dissimilar from what a movie’s soundtrack would sound like today. It also helped that I read the plot first before I went to see the show, which meant I could follow along more closely to boot.

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Last Days in London and Arriving in New Jersey

My last few days in London were quite fun. On Tuesday night, we made it out to the West End and saw Spamalot. It was hilarious. Most of the script was pulled right from the Holy Grail movie, but there were some lines updated and others changed all together, but in good taste. There were times when I was nearly out of my seat laughing. The seats too weren’t bad for 20 pound.

Wednesday was a fairly uneventful day. I woke up late, watched some TV, walked around the Kings Cross and Chapel Market areas to do some errands then came back to my sister’s pad by the time she was done with school. When she was back, we went down to Waterloo station to catch a train to Egham to have dinner with my cousin. The three of us had a nice dinner at some small-ish place on the Egham high street, then went back to his house there for a while. After hanging out for a bit, we caught the next train back to London and listened to Queens of the Stone Age on my sister’s mobile phone.

While traversing the tube back to Kings Cross, it was a bit of madness with loud drunk Brits stumbling everywhere speaking what could only be guessed to be English. I was reminded more than once of having a clean shirt from Peep Show. We had plans to go out in the evening, but it turned out to be too late when we got back so we called it an early day.

Thursday about noon-ish we left SOAS and went to Carnaby Street to try to eat a bean burger that I’d been raving about for years to my sister and her friends. They’d maintained that the so-called bean burger was a fabrication of my imagination, so I decided to have lunch at a place where I know I’d had one before on Carnaby Street. Alas, it turned out to be true. The spicy bean burger is dead, long live the leek burger. My favorite pub food had been replaced. We’d in fact tried to search them out for dinner on Tuesday before the show in the West End and I’d totally failed. The leek burger, the new veggie burger at this pub, was good, but it just wasn’t the same.

We walked around the area for a while then decided to make our way to Seven Dials. Pretty cool little area and we did some window shopping there, as well as taking some model shots for Shaadi.com (look on my pictures site for examples). We started to walk back towards Kings Cross but stopped in to the Grape Street Wine Bar for a bottle of champagne, which was a great idea, then continued back on our walk. We were meeting some other friends at 830pm for dinner, so we went back to get ready.

Our dinner was in the Bayswater area, so we took the tube out there. Unfortunately, our first venue of choice (a Persian place) had almost no veg options (both my sis and I are vegetarian) so we walked a few blocks over to find a Mexican restaurant that turned out to be awesome. We had nachos, chips, salsa, guacamole, margaritas, beers, enchiladas, taco salads, the works. All told between the four of us, we put away over nearly 130 pounds worth of food (no, not “lbs” but “GBP”). Pretty dear, but it totally hit the spot. After dinner, we settled in to a nearby pub to finish the night off.

Then on Thursday, I woke up at 630ish to get ready and finish packing, then went to the Kings Cross Thameslink station to catch a train to Gatwick. The flight to Newark was uneventful and the plane was thankfully not full (altho the seat pitch on the Continental 777-200s is terrible, I could barely cross my legs). I passed out last night at 1030pm unable to stay awake any longer. This week is just going to be about relaxing and doing a lot of nothing. I’ve got plans to make it out to NYC on Monday to meet up with Derek and will probably go again at some point with my family.

The trip is 60% done! Three weeks of five finished, just this week here in NJ and a week in Central America left until it’s back to the real world.

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Tate Modern, Westminster, Soho

My sister and I made our way to the Tate Modern yesterday afternoon and spent the better part of it there looking at the exhibits and the huge collection they have. When trying to reach there, we took the tube to Waterloo, which, for some reason we thought for sure was on the north bank. Not so much, so we ended up walking along the waterfront for some 20-odd minutes trying to find the building.

The Tate currently has a slide installed exhibit (aka the ones from the park when you were a  kid) that are 5 stories high. You apparently reach 28 mph if you use the highest one and have to wear elbow and knee pads. I didn’t get to try them since there was a half-hour queue to get a ticket to go on, but watching people fly through them was pretty interesting.

We had lunch near the Old Globe and then walked across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Pauls and had a coffee at Paul (i.e. the French bakery) and made our way back to her place afterwards. We ended up going to the grocery store in the evening and bought stuff to make monster nachos, which were in fact monster.

Today I left the house early and went to the Palace Theatre at Shaftsberry to get tickets to see Spamalot tonight. The show doesn’t participate in the TKTS program (along with Wicked and a few others), so I had to buy them full priced and got balcony seats for 20 pounds each. Not terrible, but we’ll have to see how the seats here. After that I walked through Picadally Circus. While walking through the West-end I stumbled upon Chinatown and found a 中国银行 branch! I stopped in and asked the teller if I could use my mainland China issued card to buy GBP. She got a big laugh out of the fact that I had the card and said unfortunately, no.

After walking through Regents Street, I cut past Carnaby Street and got to Soho in order to make my way to the Microsoft office here in Soho. For a while I was quite lost in the area since a lot of the streets looked the same and it’s been two+ years since I’d been to this office. I finally found my way when I stumbled upon a street where there were a lot of sex shops and the like (as the office is a block from there), which is the legacy of the old red-light district that Soho used to be. I plugged in my laptop (pictures are finished syncing now) and got lunch with an friend from the office here.

It’s after lunch now, and I’m heading back to Russell Square to meet my sister’s friend until she’s done with school. After that, it’s on to Spamalot!

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Holi in London

Yesterday here, near Russel Square, at SOAS housing, I was splattered in reds, yellows, greens and oranges. Yes, it was Holi in London. A couple of my sisters friends had thrown a party where they cooked food and imported colors from India. I was smattered and looked like I was had gone thru some college football fest. In the last few days here I’ve pretty much been in India, been seeing brown folks, hearing Hindi and eating Indian food. Did I ever leave?

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Stratford upon Avon and Coventry

Early morning (read: 10am) yesterday we took a bus to the Euston station to pickup a rental car from the Avis near there. The plan, as decided when we went to bed about 6 hours earlier was to go to Stratford-upon-Avon. We got the car and realized we had (a) absolutely no idea how to get out of London and (b) absolutely no idea once out of London where Stratford was. Well, let’s backup a bit. First, I walked up to the car and realized what they’d given me was a boat. Then, I remembered that this is a driver-on-the-right country and I’ve never driven on that side of the car before. Uh-oh.

When I got in the car, it was really awkward trying to use the clutch and the shifter for a while and by instinct I’d throw my right arm out when I needed to grab the shifter. Needing directions we went Russel Square to the SOAS lab to find directions. As I pulled the car out of the Avis parking lot, I nearly hit the left side mirror and driving the narrow narrow streets of London turned out to be a huge problem.

While waiting for my sister to actually get them at SOAS, we did a few loops around Russel Square and drove past the British Library. En route, I managed to get lost in one dead end, hit the side view mirror of another car to the left of me, stop to avoid hitting a bicycle and end up having him hit the car and kick it. Lovely. Driving in London, I highly recommend avoiding it.

I finally made it back to Russel Square with nobody else injured (except the aforementioned) and we headed to make our way M40 to head north. After about 30 minutes we managed to get out of the craziness of London streets and on to the Ring Road which was a lot more manageable. We drove for about 2 hours up north and made it to Stratford. The town is very cute and the Avon river that runs through it made for some very picturesque scenes. We saw Shakespeare’s House and walked around a lot of the other buildings that he or his family was involved in the area.

The skies were really blue but it rained intermittently so whenever it started to rain we ducked in for some tea or some food, but when the skies cleared, they left a silver lining to the ground and water which made for some amazing pictures. My photos are still syncing from my laptop. In fact, the sync hasn’t even gotten to the pictures from India yet (it’s still on a bunch from Shanghai) and I doubt it’ll finish this week.

After doing the Stratford thing until about 5:00pm, we decided to venture further north to see the bombed out cathedral at Coventry, so we continued north once we met up with the freeway. Coventry was a crazy city and for half the time we thought we were going to die. As seems typical it had tiny streets and crazy drivers. The cathedral was very cool tho. Given that we got there at 6:30pm or so the gate was closed so we could not get inside but we were able to walk around the grounds which was cool. The rest of the architecture around the city seemed very post-modern, especially around the uni and given that it was dark already made for an interesting (if not a bit spooky) visit.

We left Coventry at 7ish and made our way back via M1 to London (because we missed the M40 interchange). People driving on the freeways in England are nuts. I was driving ~80mph and getting passed left and right all morning and night. I started to get up to like 95ish and was still getting passed. Perfectly crazy, British drivers. Once back in London, it took us a long time to find a petrol pump but we finally did and dropped the car back off, took the bus back to home and finished our day by ordering a pizza.

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In London

The last few days I’ve been in Santa Cruz eating, eating and more eating. Did I mention that I was eating a lot? Well, I was and it was fantastic. I’ve been spoilt senseless by good good food.

Yesterday I flew from Mumbai to London on Virgin. I left around 11:30 from my grandma’s house and we had a really hard time getting transport to the aiport. Rikshas and taxis refused to go for who know what reason, but we finally found a riksha that would take us. In true form and fashon, two thirds of the way there it broke down in the middle of the street and we had to find a taxi to complete the trip.

The flight was uneventful, if a few hours late. I toke the Picadelly line from LHR all the way to Kings Cross (nearly an hour) and then met my sister ouside the station. We went back to her flat where I put my stuff down (all 20 kg of it) and then we headed out to a part of town nearby called Angel for a few pints at some of the pubs. I quickly picked up a pint of a bitter (called Pedigrie) and smiled, amused that I’m in London again.

Today we’ve booked a car out of Euston station and we’re heading to Stratford-upon-Avon for a day trip and will try to see Twelth Night there if they have any seats available.

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Juhu, Bandra, Mahim, Central Mumbai, Elephanta

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to blog, so I’ll try to bring this up to speed fairly quickly.

Sunday I spent most of the day at my grandma’s house in Mumbai and then went out in the afternoon and early evening with my cousin to see various things in Mumbai. We started with the ISKON (I think) Temple, which is a Hari Krishna temple. It’s very well kept and very clean, plus has lots of booths that show diorama style informational scenes from various parts of Hinduism. After that we went up to the top of this mountain-ish thing to Mount Mary’s Church, and I took a bunch of pictures from that side. When the sun started to set a bit, we went down the hill to the Bandstand area beach side where a bunch of film stars have homes and had some corn that was sold rode side and then had a coffee at the Barista that overlooks the water. From there it was back via Bandra where we stopped in some art galleries, did some sidewalk shopping and had (gasp) pani puri! There’s this resturant in Bandra called Only Paratas that sells pani puri made hygenically, so we had some there. I’m dying to have some more, they were so stuipd good. After that, we went back to my grandma’s house.

Monday I got up a bit early since I was going to be heading to my aunt’s in central Bombay, where my other grandma lives. I had breakfast and the like there and then took a taxi with my aunt over to this side (where I am now). While only some 10km or so, it took about an hour due to hideous traffic. Interestingly, once past Mahim on the way south towards more central Delhi, rickshas are now allowed so it makes the traffic a little more sane. In the afternoon in central Mumbai, I walked around the Fort and Kara Ghoda area nearby (which is an arts district) as well as a bunch of the little streets around here. In the evening, we went went on a walk on Nariman Drive during the sunset and then later on to the Taj Hotel for dinner at a Chinese place called Golden Dragon. Needless to say, it was far from authentic.

Today (Tuesday), I went to the Elephanta Caves, on an island an hour via ferry from the Gateway to India. They caves are in fact temples cut in to the mountain that form an entire Shiva temple within the mountain. They were quite a sight to see and impressive. I managed to get some really good pictures there (I think).

Either tomorrow or Thursday I’m going to head back to the suburbs to my other grandma’s house. Hopefully I’m going to try and take a train (the commuter rail system they say is “lifeblood of Mumbai”) since it’s probably fastest and it’s supposed to be a crazy experience. I’ve taken a local train a long long time ago, perhaps 10+ years but I don’t really recall. Then Friday, it’s off to London.

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Arrived in Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai yesterday via a flight from New Delhi. I flew on Kingfisher Airlines, which is indeed owned by the beverage group. The plane was fantastic. Great food, good service, comfortable seats, friendly flight attendents. It was a very positive experience flying with them. The terminals on both ends left a lot to be desired but the in-flight experience was among the best I’ve had.

In Mumbai, my aunt picked me up from the airport and we went to my grandma’s house in a part of Mumbai called Santa Cruz. I’ve been coming to this house for pretty much my whole life whenever I’m in India and it really feels like home. My cousins were a bit busy with school during the day and so I hung out and had tea and the usual during the afternoon. Once in the evening and they were a bit more free I went to the bookstore (Crossword) and picked up a few books by Indian authors that looked pretty good and came with recomendations.

For dinner in the evening, we went out to a Goan resturant in some part of town I can’t remember (M-something). The food was totally totally different than anything I’d tried before and was awesome to boot. For those foodies out there, try to check it out. It’s unlike any Indian food you’ve had. The owner was really friendly and came by to chat at the table and told us of a new Maharastran resturant he’s opening up next door and we took back menus. The cuisine they were serving was full of things that I grew up eating and apparently it’s the first (?) Maharastran resturant that’s been opened, period. I’d like to check it out, but that’s seems a bit ridiclious given where I’m staying.

We got home a bit late, but it was a great day. In Mumbai, the city feels a life and full of energy yet more organized and logical (e.g. they follow traffic lights). While the streets and roads of Central Delhi might be better and perhaps cleaner, they feel too sterile while in Mumbai it feels like the city has its own heartbeat. The comparison of Beijing to Shanghai is fitting.

Today we’re probably going to go around a bit and see a few things, and then not sure what the evening will bring. Tomorrow I’ll likely relocate myself to more downtown Mumbai to where my aunt and grandma from the other side of my family are and stay there for a few days.

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Jaipur Day 2 and Back in Delhi

My riksha driver picked me at up 9:30am on Thursday and we made our way to multiple multiple forts through the day. I’d eaten something funny on Wednesday and I woke up with a stomachache that haunted me all day long.

Instead of starting on the itinerary we’d discussed in the morning, we stopped by an oil store to pick up some motor oil for the riksha. What good would a quart of motor oil be without having your engine serviced? So we stopped on the side of some street and had the riksha serviced and oil changed before we acutally got on our way. At first I was getting irritated but decided to let it side and just assume this is part of the experience.

We then really started at the Lake Palace, then went up this huge hill (mountain?) in his little green and yellow autoriksha to start at Nahargarh Fort. Then we crossed through the mountain top to Jaigarh Forth, which I wasn’t too impressed with. It was just large and there wasn’t much to see there. We then went on to Amber Palace, which was just amazing. As you approach, it’s even higher on the hill top, with steps and elephants and monkeys crossing up and down (not to mention people as well). I opted for the little more foreigner-with-upset-stomach approach, and took a jeep up to the top and decided to hire a guide at this fort as well. It’s stunning on the inside with marble rooms in places, huge gardens on the inside, mirrored walls adorning columnades, internal cooling systems, etc, etc. Simply fantastic.

By this time it was about 2:30pm and I’d done most of the major sites so I made my way back to the bus stop and managed to catch the last seat on the 4pm Volvo bus back to Delhi and was picked up near Iffco Chowk about an hour ourside of Delhi proper. Pretty grewling 36 hours, but well worth it.

Today was pretty low key. I went back in to Delhi, saw the National Museum (the first floor of which is awesome, the second and there were iffy at best mostly due to presentation rather than content). Then I went to Connaught Circus and hung out there in the afternoon browsing through the streets and the spokes off the wheel. In the evening, I had dinner with my other uncle who lives in this area and just got back. Tomorrow, I’m off to Mumbai on the 10am flight (via Kingfisher Airlines no less, the company known for its beer).

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Jaipur Day 1

I woke up at 6:00 this morning to catch a taxi my aunt had ordered for me at 6:30. That early in the morning, it took only 40 some odd minutes to make it out the Delhi (Bikanar House). I booked a ticket on the 8:00 coach from Delhi to Jaipur. After about 6 hours in the bus (with a stop around noon), I made it to the bus depot in Jaipur. The ride was only some 250km long, but I guess that’s largly due to the traffic and general chaos that exists on the roads en route.

In Jaipur, I took a auto-riksha to my hotel (Umaid Mahal), which is quite lovely. It’s a bit over priced for what it is, but the decorations inside look picturesque. It’s just that the rooms don’t really match what I’m used to expect for that much money. In some ways, China has spoiled me in terms of these things.

I headed out via a riksha I’d hired for the afternoon to a bunch of places in Jaipur. We started by crossing in to the city walls (e.g. in to the Pink City), which reminded me a lot of the walls at Xi’an, except with a distinctly Indian flavor rather than Chinese. Unfortunatly, it was quite late already so I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at all the various places this afternoon. I started at Hawa Mahal which was awesome, then went over to City Palace, and then to Jantar Mantar. That took up the large part of the afternoon.

Of worth to note, I was chatting in a part of the afternoon with my riksha driver and after a while we exchanged names. I first gave him my name to which he responded “oh Indian name, Indian face” (since I’d prior told him I’m from the states). Then he gave me part of this name and then in the briefest moment of hesitation gave me his full name. His full name very certain Muslim name, and he told me that he was Muslim right away and immediatly asked me “is that a problem?” I, of course, answered that it’s not a problem at all and he replied saying “Muslims, Hindus, all the same people.” It was an interesting exchange.

On recomendation from my aunt and uncle, I went then to a veg resturant apparently of some fame in Jaipur called LMB and had some chaat there. The food was fantastic and the chai was so good. I was there too early to have dinner, but the snacks that I did have were great. Also of note City Palace and the Jantar Mantar area, there were tons of Asian tourists, mostly mainland Chinese (I heard some Cantonese as well as some Japanese). At one point I gave a hand to a few of them in Mandarin. It totally shocked them when I started speaking Putonghua to them.

On the flip side, everybody here expects that I speak and starts speaking to me in Hindi, which is almost a total loss to them. I can understand maybe about 10% of conversational Hindi (e.g. what time things open and close, directions, etc) but that’s about it. Thus, when people are speaking non-specific Hindi, I can make out the gist of what they’re saying but if it gets at all specific or starts using anything but the most basic vocab/non-shared-with-Marathi, I’m lost.

Tomorrow I go to see the rest of the major sights in Jaipur and I’m going to try to catch a bus back to Delhi at around 4pm.

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