November 2016
  • Day9

    Day 9: Abu Dhabi

    November 28, 2016 in the United Arab Emirates ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Lost my sneakers at the Olympic event at the India Expo Mart. I was washing my hands in the lady's room when suddenly people around me screamed and jumped back. I looked down, the sewage has come out of the drain and I was standing in the pool of pee and poo. I screamed too and jumped back, feeling so grossed out. Luckily we have brought our luggage with us so we could go to the airport directly from the venue, so I was able to find another pair of shoes and throw the dirty pair in the trash.

    I can't help but trying to compare India with China. There are many similarities between these two most populated countries in the world. Both are extremely crowded and polluted; both experiencing the big boost in their economies. However, I do think India is lagging behind in infrastructure development. There are way fewer roads than what the cars needed, in some smaller cities, the roads are in very bad shape, desperately need repair. Public transportation doesn't meet people's needs, that's why we see as many as 5 people in a tiny scooter. The air quality is worse than China too. Believe me, China has its own smog issues, but Evan and Steve didn't experience such a severe reaction as they do in India now. Evan started coughing soon after we stepped into the smog the first night we got here; sadly the coughing is getting worse. Last night he coughed almost all night! Steve started to develop some respiratory issues too now. It's actually a good thing we are leaving now before he gets worse.

    Despite all these issues we have experienced in India, we have fall in love with the country and its people. The rich history and culture are impressive; the arts and crafts are amazing; most importantly, the people are the nicest people we met! They are kind and considerate, hard working and easy going, always ready to help. We have made some good friends in this trip.

    To reach Abu Dhabi, we have to go through 4 separate security checkpoints. Let me tell you, it wasn't easy. We have our LEGO robot pieces in our carry on, along with many batteries and chargers. The most suspicious item is the EV block which is the brain of the robot, unfortunately it looks like a bomb detonator, so it would be checked by multiple people at each checkpoint. I have to show them the invitation letters from the Indian government for the Olympic game every time. Once they realize all these stuff are for Evan to build a robot and compete, they were very nice about it. Gave him a thumbs up and told him good job. I guess it's good that they take security so seriously, but it took us forever to go through each checkpoint.

    Abu Dhabi airport is very modern, I love the fact they have excellent Wifi, which allows me to post this final entry of my India trip travel blog.

    Thanks for reading it! It has been fun!
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  • Day8

    Day 8: World Robotic Olympic-Game Day 2

    November 27, 2016 in India ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Well, the boys' luck has run out today. They didn't get any medals, however, neither was any of the teams assigned to Table A. What happened was that after the practice runs, the judge cleaned the table using the cleaning spray, and may have failed to wipe away the wetness right by the starting point for the robot. Almost all the robots on the table have slipped, and went crazy on the table! The only robot didn't slip was the Japanese one, since that robot was super slow, somehow survived the wetness. All the teams protested, and called the Head Judge over. He looked at the table and said it was fine. Of course by the time he got there, the spot was no longer wet.

    The Olympic committee members had an emergency meeting and decided not to give the teams assigned to this table another run because one robot was ok, they didn't think it would be fair to them if we redo the match. We are all very disappointed about the decision but there was nothing we could do about it. 😢

    The bright side of the incident is that the boys now have the chance to walk around and really check out the whole Olympic game, since there are other categories:

    At the high school level, there are robot bowling and robot soccer matches. Then there is Open category. The kids from many countries brought their idea about recycling and environmental protection. The theme of this robot competition is Rap the Scraps. There are some really amazing displays here. One team's robot machine can convert used cooking oil to soaps; one team's robot machine can clean beaches automatically; the robot machine from Iran can go under water and clean the bottom of the ocean!

    As the boys walking around and exchanging trinkets with other teams, some of the asked for photos. As I was getting ready to take the photo, kids from other countries would walk by, and I told them to get in, and then more walked by and joined in. Check out the photo which has kids from 7 or 8 countries! Ghana, China, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, South Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Malaysia and of course, USA!

    Happy to say that our American Flag pins are very popular at the event. People would come and ask for them. The Syrian team are happy to see us today, and asked for photos with the boys. Evan gave them a huge handful of the American Flag pins! Iran team gave Evan and Kyran some nice chocolates, and happily took some photos with us.

    Needless to say, this is the true highlight of the event. Meeting people from so many different countries, and making new friends!

    What an amazing experience for us!
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  • Day7

    Day 7: World Robotic Olympic-Game Day 1

    November 26, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌫 18 °C

    New flash!! Evan and Kyran have made through to the finals tomorrow!! Woohoo! I guess bad rehearsal does make a good opening day!! After yesterday's disastrous practice day, I kind lost hope a bit. But guess what? They did amazingly during the actual game day! The boys are so relieved and excited!

    Sadly the other American teams didn't make it, which means the Awesome Blockies is the only team representing USA in the Olympic now.

    I always told the boys that the fact we are here means we have already won; but now we are going to the finals, my hope has gone up! It's so nice that all the hard work has paid off for them!

    They will be facing very strong competitions tomorrow (Russian, Chinese, German, South Korean, South African, Japan and some other teams are all through) with extremely strict single elimination rounds, meaning they only have one try to score perfect points in the shortest time. A lot of times, it comes down to luck. So please send us your good wishes again!

    The coolest thing about coming to Olympic is to meet people from other countries. Check out this awesome photo of Team USA and Team Iran! When the Iranians saw us taking a group photo, they said they wanted to join us. Of course we happily agreed. It doesn't matter how much our governments don't get along, we know we can be friends!

    The boys then walked around the hall and tried to talk to people from the all over the world, to exchange our American Flag pins with their trinkets. Check out all the stuff Evan scored from other countries !

    What an amazing experience it has been for all of us so far!

    Go USA!
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  • Day6

    Day 6: World Robotic Olympic - Practice

    November 25, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌫 15 °C

    Many other countries' teams are staying at our hotel, so we saw lots of them at breakfast. The German team already got their game faces on, looking serious and ready to battle. The Philippine team ate all the white rice at the buffet table, and a guy insisted that Evan take a picture with two Philippine girls. LOL!

    Once we got to the Expo center, we saw many more International teams. So happy to see the Syria teams made it. They were happy when I asked a photo of them, but did refuse my American flag pins. :(

    Many other countries were happy to receive them and exchange their trinkets with me. Although a guy from the South Africa team expressed his disappointment about us electing Trump.

    I wish I could report that the practice went well but I can't. The software in the robot malfunctioned and was running an older program. Not knowing about this, Evan and Kyran spent all day fixing the new program, but the robot was not running it. We were so confused as why the robot didn't perform any of the changes, and we didn't discover this issue until it was time for us to leave. Basically, the two boys wasted all day and didn't accomplish anything.

    However, there is still time tomorrow for them to make some fixes after they finish assembling the robot during the game. We have confidence in our boys to do a good job.

    Fingers crossed! Wish us good luck!
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  • Day5

    Day 5: Bharatpur

    November 24, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌫 15 °C

    I went to sleep at 9 PM hoping for a better sleep, but woke up at 12:30 AM and unable to fall back to sleep. It's going to be a long day for me.

    The palace hotel is not a 5 star hotel, but it's very charming. The decorations in the hotel restaurant is astounding!

    The main attraction today is the bird sanctuary, and according to everyone, now is the best time to visit since many kinds of migratory birds come to this park around this time.

    We hired two rickshaws and a naturist guide, so we can cover more grounds in this huge park with an expert. The wonderful thing about this naturist is that even though he has been doing this job for more than 20 years, he was still super excited to spot the birds and show us the best parts of the park.

    The most amazing thing we saw was that in one area, there were 3 or 4 trees that covered with almost 100 beautiful birds. Not sure what they are called, but they are big and colorful, with black, white and pink feathers. There were many baby birds on the trees, and they were being fed by their mothers, which got our guide extremely excited.

    We can easily spend many hours here, but guess what, we only had cash for 3 hours, in order to pay for the drivers of the rickshaws and the guide. After paying them, I only have about 400 rupees (about $8) left in my wallet, and we still have 4 more days here. I hope we can use credit cards from now on since we will be in a more developed area for the Olympic competition, otherwise, we are in deep trouble!

    On the way to our final hotel, we met one of the worst traffic jams I had ever seen! We spent about 30 minutes to drive 100 meters! By the way, I saw a bike carry 5 people today! A boy about 3 years old, his father the driver, his grandmother, his mother and his baby sister who was in his mother's arms.

    Tomorrow Evan and Kyran will spend all day practice.
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  • Day4

    Day 4: Agra / Taj Mahal

    November 23, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Finally, we went to Taj Mahal! It's as beautiful and magnificent as I imagined. It towered over the entire city, glistening under the sun, shining through the history.

    Our local guide Raj gave us some wonderful history lessons and told us the love story behind this building. I didn't know Mrs. Taj had 14 children in her 20 years marriage! Another interesting story is that after her death, her husband was going to build a black Taj Mahal in a mirror image of the white one. But his son (one of her 14 kids) took the throne from him and put him in house arrest, because he thought his father had spent too much money on the white Taj Mahal, and the country couldn't afford a black one. Interestingly, when we went to the back side of Taj Mahal last night, we actually saw the foundation of it, didn't realize what that was. Can you imagine how awesome it would be if there is a black Taj Mahal standing right behind the white one?!

    Ever wondered why the beautiful writings and pictures on the building never fades? It's because they were not painted, they are actually gem stones inlayed into the marble stones. The red colors are coral; the blue colors are turquoise; Brown colors are jasper; white colors are mother of pearl; green colors are jade... All the writings in black are onyx. When you touch the surface, it's entirely smooth. Because the artists would shape a gem stones into a flower pedal shape, then outlined it on the marble, then carve out the shape and finally use a very special glue to stick the gem stone into the carved out space. They needed to do it hundreds of thousands times to cover this huge building. The colors will never fade!

    The reason I know all this is because we went to a shop where local people demonstrated how this is done. I know it's a tourist trap, but I still enjoyed learning how this was made. Also, I am now the proud owner of a set of very, very expensive coasters that were done exactly same way as Taj Mahal. Next time you come to our house, you can set your coffee mug on one of these beautiful coasters made with a rare green marble, and inlayed with gem stones. LOL! Yeah, I know I may be a sucker for falling into this kind of tourist trap, but I really like these local artists who were making this kind of art, so I wanted to support them by paying way too much money for their goods.

    Evan's favorite Indian food is samosa; and for some reason, he hadn't had the chance to eat one since we arrived. Once we told our wonderful driver about it, he brought us to the roadside stand that supposedly selling the best samosas in the city. They were indeed delicious! This is the first time we ate street food in India. Hopefully we wouldn't come to regret the decision.

    We then visited the Agra Fort. An interesting story: when the British attacked the Fort, they used cannon. One of the cannon ball hit the King's throne and bounced off, created a hole on the wall.

    We arrived our hotel called Laxmi Vilas Palace. The room we are in is a very traditional Indian palace room. Evan is so happy that he got his own room for once. In our last hotel room, he had to sleep on a couch. A spacious couch but still just a couch.

    Looking forward to visiting the famous Bird Sanctuary tomorrow !
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  • Day3

    Day 3: Road to Agra

    November 22, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌬 1 °C

    Woke up after 4 AM today, I guess I am getting better at recovering from Jet lagging. After another excellent breakfast, we visited an amazing Sikh Temple in Delhi.

    The uniqueness of this Sikh Temples, called Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, is that they have a large kitchen hall that feeds anyone who is hungry, regardless of race and religion. At this temple, they are known to feed more than 10,000 people every day!! Many poor people actually set up their shelters just outside of the Temple, so they will never go hungry. I donated some money at the alter to help with their noble effort.

    Inside, it was peaceful and tranquilizing. Three Sikhs were singing their prayer songs with traditional instruments, a Sikh holy man sitting in front of a large holy book. Some people were praying quietly. I was happy to see men and women were praying at the same area, not separate areas like some religions. By the way, anyone enters the temple must cover his/her head. I was happy to know that Steve and Evan need to cover their heads too, not just me. I like when a religion treats men and women equally.

    A large reflecting pool is at the center of the temple. For the first time since I arrived, I felt calm and peaceful. The city itself is full of nervous energy, it was so nice for us to quiet our mind down for a while.

    This is my favorite temple so far. It's too bad that Sikh people are harassed in US a lot because they wear turbans. They are actually the most generous and peaceful people in the world. Needless to say that no one should be harassed for their religion and beliefs.

    After leaving this temple, we were heading to Agra, where Taj Mahal is located.

    Along the way, we also saw the magnificent Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple (the largest temple in India).

    Lotus Temple is one of the Baha'i temples that located at several continents. The North American one is located near Chicago, so we have visited that one many times. It's so nice to visit their Asian Temple. Today is a no school day in India, so many school children were visiting there as well. They were lined up in an orderly fashion, and were ushered in the temple in absolute silence (no one is allowed to talk inside the temple).

    We sit there quietly, marveling the intricate architectural design of the roof. When I asked Evan if he is ready to leave, he shook his head. We waited a bit longer and he was final ready to go. Outside, he told me that he needed more time to study to architecture design of the building, and explained in detail how they managed to build the lotus shape roof (which materials they used, and how everything was supported). I could only nod my head because I didn't quite understand everything he was saying. He really should be an architect when he grow up because he has gotten such a natural talent for it. He loves modern arts, very good at drawing, and unlike most people, as his IQ test has proven, he can design an entire object in his head in 3D; he loves geometry and math, and is incredibly creative. Perfect attributes for an architect. Well, we will just have to wait and see.

    Akshardham Temple is no doubt magnificent! Getting inside was not easy for me though. They have a strict no electronic equipment rule, so we were not allowed to bring phones and cameras. The lady at the security checkpoint (men and women have different entrances) seemed to love their jobs too much. They checked my purse and told me not to bring a USB cable. So I ran back to the car and gave it to our driver, then ran back to the checkpoint. They checked my purse again and dug out my headphone. I was getting really annoyed, and was worried they would send me back again. The head lady waved me over to her, checked my Apple Watch and waved me through.

    Meanwhile, Steve and Evan breezed through their checkpoint in seconds.

    Finally inside, our mouths dropped open. We have never seen so much carvings in our lives! Well, when we were in Istanbul, we loved the lovely and complicated Islam design in their mosques, but nothing compared to the detailed carvings here! Every inch is the entire building is carved; and the building is HUGE! The artistry and detail for this every inch is unbelievable! Too bad we couldn't take any pictures, so bought some post cards so I can show everyone what it's like.

    After this temple, we finally head to Agra. We arrived just in time to see Tan Mahal in a beautiful sunset.

    Can't wait to see it again tomorrow morning!
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  • Day2

    Day 2: New Delhi

    November 21, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌫 27 °C

    Woke up at 2:40 AM and couldn't go back to sleep. Stupid jet lag!

    One good thing about staying at a 5 star hotel is that we can always count on the quality of the breakfast buffet. And this one is no exception! Fresh squeezed juice and make to order omelette and dosa (a paper thin deep fried bread) were all excellent!

    Our Driver and our guide met us promptly at 9 AM at the hotel. Both are really nice guys! Our guide speaks very good English. His knowledge of history, culture and location made our entire day very educational. Our driver is an excellent driver who knows how to navigate his way out of the crazy Indian traffic. We felt very safe while in his car.

    Happy to report that the smog has significantly reduced today, we can actually see the blue sky. Although we are all experiencing some kind of respiratory problems. Especially when we were in the world famous spice market, once we walked in, everyone was coughing and sneezing. We had to turn back from an alley after only spent a few minutes there.

    There are many people sleeping on the street in this city. The starch differences between rich and poor are very apparent. The saddest thing was to see young kids begging on the street. Two of them (a girl and a boy) were fighting in the middle of the street for some reason. The girl, in her messy hair and dirty clothes, was using one of her shoes to hit the boy, crying and shouting. The boy, who was a bit bigger, tried to defend himself by holding her arms. The people in the fancy car (maybe the kids were fighting about the money these people gave them) were laughing, sitting comfortably in their air conditioned car with windows closed. A sad scene we witnessed while stuck in a traffic jam on the other side of the street.

    Delhi is big and crowded, dusty and dirty. Everything is covered by a thick layer of grey dust, including every leaf on the trees. Our guide told us that Delhi is the greenest city in India because there are many trees. Every tree is tagged and protected by the government. It's so nice to hear that, because this city needs all the fresh these trees can provide.

    At the end of the day, my throat is dry and painful due to all the dust in the air and all of us are coughing.

    Tomorrow, we are leaving this wonderful grand city, heading to Agra.
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  • Day1

    Day 1: Arrival

    November 20, 2016 in India ⋅ 🌫 26 °C

    Finally arrived in New Delhi, immediately realized what disorganization look like. The surprise move by the Indian Government to discontinue the most popular currency has sent the whole country into a huge chaotic mess! All the ATMs are out of cash, we had to wait for 40 minutes just to exchange our US dollars to Indian Rupees. And the cash is limited to only $70/person. Let's see how much we can use our credit card here. Otherwise, we may need to wait in other long lines to get cash every day! Not good at all!!

    After finally getting some cash at the currency exchange, we stepped out of the airport, and was hit by the smog. The government has declared the city was smog free, we didn't think that's true. There is a terrible smoke smell in the air . After I took a couple breaths, my throat felt tightened, my eyes started watering a bit. I started to regret my decision not to bring a mask.

    We used a Uber driver for the first time, in order to persevere our precious cash. We met him at the messiest taxi stand I've ever seen. There were 4 or 5 lanes of cars, instead of coming into the pickup/drop off lane, the drivers would stop at any whichever lanes as they want, even though there were many policemen standing in those lanes and trying to stop this kind of behavior. They blew their whistles as loud as they could, but no one paid them any attention. The drivers were honking their horns, waving in and out of the lanes... many and many accidents were averted at the last second. We got into our Uber car nervously.

    Then we experienced the famous Indian traffic. Turned out the entire traffic system was not that much better than the taxi stand. The lines of the road seemed like a suggestion only, since many drivers just drive on top of them instead of between them. The drivers would stop their cars in the middle of the highway, and pedestrians would walk across and dodging the incoming cars like it was nothing. More horn honking, and many last second traffic aversions. Well, we did see an accident while the driver crushed into the medium poles. For some reason, the medium divided the highway was a deep ditch, so the car was almost vertically stuck in that ditch.

    Motorcycles seemed to be the best method to move around since they could squeeze between the cars and get ahead. Although much to our horror, many people would jam a kid between the driver and the passenger. Of course no one wore helmet.

    I thought, this is just like China in 90's. Riding a car is more like riding a roller coaster... but more scary!

    We have hired a driver for our trip here. We are meeting him tomorrow. Fingers crossed that he would keep us safe in this crazy chaos!
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