Jan 30, 2007

Babel

A cafe recently opened on University Drive near Hardy called Essence Bakery Cafe. Saori had gone there before with her friends for late night coffee, and she took me there back there for a late breakfast. Place looked good, it was small, homey, and offered fresh baked goods. However, thier selection of pastries was pretty slim and priced comparitively with Starbucks pastries (which I think is overpriced).

We walk inside and the guy behind the counter hands us two lunch and dinner menus. We tell him we're just there for a bit of breakfast and he indicates the pastry display. Saori orders a coffee and some cookies and the guy completely ignores me after serving it up, going back to wander around behind the counter. I have to ask him for a coffee. There is this horribly obnoxious stereotypically French attitude radiating off of this guy, and I instantly dislike him. I've been to Paris three times, known how hospitable the French can be, but this guy was definitely not one of them. The coffee was standard and overpriced. When he handed over our drinks, he informed us that they were in their lunch service hours and would it be a problem to not sit inside the cafe? (The cafe was unoccupied except for one table). I assured him that we would trouble him no further. We were about to walk out when he told us that it was ok if we sat inside, just this once, but if some customers came in and filled the cafe, we should move over, eh? We declined to despoil thier pristine dining area and instead drank our coffee out on the patio and left for the last time. There was another woman working there who appeared to be another French chef who was extremely gracious except for not smacking the other guy upside the head with a souffle pan.

The other day, Saori and I went to see the movie Babel, directed by the same guy who did Amores Perros and in the same fashion where it follows several characters and stories whose lives are interconnected. It was a good movie, a bit rough to sit though with the same kind of feeling and intensity as Syriana. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette playing American tourists off the beaten track in Morrocco reminded me strongly and accurately of the tourists and experiances I'd seen in Egypt and Abu Dhabi. Anyway, I thought it was interestingly impartial to the whole theme of the movie which seemed to be saying something about globalization.

However, it reminded me that as an American in America, we are black on black, our individual actions here go mostly unnoticed on the global scale. In contrast, when one is a foriegner, black on white, every movement has potential for ripples. I remember when I was in middle school, our week long class trip was canceled because the someone in military intelligence forgot to get an updated map. Becuase the map was outdated, the US military bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The Chinese government used the opportunity to create a huge controlled mob and anti-American sentiment in Beijing to fan support of the Chinese people towards its own military, a mob formed in front of the US embassy, and my school in Beijing was canceled. Ripple effects.

On our trip through Egypt, we met several Arab guides who spoke excellent English. Most of them had lived in the US for many years in various occupations, but for a few after September 11th, their businesses dropped off to failure. Anyway, time for dinner. More on my day later.

Jan 29, 2007

Off-balance

When I woke up this morning, I realized that my sense of balance was completely skewed for some reason. There was no drinking the night before nor anything else unusual, and so I am left puzzled why I constantly have to catch myself from leaning way over to the side. It's impossible for me to stand on one leg with my eyes closed at this point, and I'm using visual cues more than anything else for balance. I wonder if its possible for ear fluid to get lodged in some strange part of the spiral thing, thowing the sense of balance off. Anyway, took some photos of the apartment this morning. Here you go.



old new apartment

Jan 27, 2007

Photos

Here are some photos I took for my sketching class, combined with a trip to Tucson and miscilaneous of Phoenix. Here's a new slideshow feature I've not tried yet, so we'll see how it works:



My New Old Life

Jan 24, 2007

A Frustrating Day

It's the second week of school, and we're already staying up until 3 AM for assignments. Not studio, mind you, other work like our sketching class and lighting design. Let me step back a bit.

Last weekend was a busy one for me. I moved into my new apartment with a third year architecture student, taking four loads from my storage unit with Sally's van. I have way too much stuff, obviously. In addition to moving into Salvador's apartment, I also took a trip down to Tucson with Saori which was really a lot of fun, staying with friends, and we went to go see the Sonoran Desert Museum and the San Xavier church. The desert museum is really cool and well done, a combination zoo, botanical garden, and musuem. Notable exhibits included a section of wild cats, an explorable fake cave, an aviary of hummingbirds, and an otter exhibit where you could see the swimming around underwater though a huge acrylic window.

WHen we got to the mission church, it began to rain and we saw the inside before deciding that it was raining too hard to go spend any time at the Pima Air Museum. So we trekked back to Bookmans for an hour or so before going back to hang out at Cassie's place. We wanted to get back before monday morning so I was extremely concerned with the freezing weather, poor visibility with the sleet rain and then shocked when it actually began to snow in Tucson. About an inch of snow dusted everything. We waited a few more hours after the storm passed and the roads were clear and safe.

I took Suki home with me, on a ride that she of course howled the whole way home.

So, now I'm set up at my apartment although my room is bursting with boxes, and I've actually lifted my bed up on six huge plastic storage bins. Suki seems to be comfortable with moving now, and got used to the place immediately. She is still the most princessy, needy, fluffy cat I've ever seen.

Back to today. Because my weekend and first few days were tied up, I had to go check out my sites for studio this morning (studio is at 1:15 PM). My bike, which lasted six months in Tempe locked up outside, was gone, no sign of it at all. Lock, everything, missing. So much for my transportation to the site. I have to believe that maintainece staff took it. It was attatched with A U lock to a steel lightpole on a grassy yard beside the front road. I am at a loss to explain why. Anyway, I had to borrow my roomate's little bike and make the three mile trek to the building to realize that the gates were locked and the whole area closed to the public.

Jan 20, 2007

A Hmong Among Us

There is one redeeming class to my spring lineup. A sketching class which is more about how to see and understand the world than how to draw it. Highly recommended by everyone who's taken it, it seems like a great class, although it will take time and effort. It is being taught by a young architect who works at Will Bruder's office, and interestingly, it contains two grad students who went to Buenos Aires with me, my girlfriend Saori, my 3rd year roommate Salvador, and a friend of mine who dropped out of upper division. It is the one class that I'm really going to enjoy I think.

Last night, Saori took me a house party with a bunch of her friends. It was a surreal experience, where the atmosphere and activities were the same as any typical ASU house party, except the majority of the people there were Japanese. If I heard English spoken at all, it was typically a Japanese person talking to Taiwanese, who also had a huge presence at the party. I was surprised at how well I fit in to the party, but these guys are mostly third culture, or expat people anyway, and my basic mandarin Chinese helped me start some conversations. The surreal elements: the birthday boy bringing in a huge platter of sushi on a wooden bridge platter, shouts of GanPei! in the kitchen, and this random Hmong guy circulating around the group. He was an animation major, and privately confided that he thought that he was the only Hmong in Arizona.

Jan 17, 2007

The Sandlot Team

Change is constantly occuring but I tend to overlook it because of its incrimintal nature. However, when I returned from nearly seven months abroad, I was surprised by all the changes in Tempe. There are three high-rise projects either under development or in construction right in the mill avenue area. Stores and cafes I used to frequent have moved on or closed to make room, and everything on Mill is a little more slick than it used to be. Tempe is upscaling its downtown to be a kind of rival art/shopping district to Scottsdale. I have really mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, I love cities and increasing urban density is ok by me especially by the mixed use plan. I have nothing against polishing a city, taking a little more care with its landscaping, and a little more pleasant to be in. Hopefully, it will also raise the quality of ASU with it.

On the other hand, I worry about Tempe becoming just like scottsdale stylized, everything high gloss, tinted glass with spider connections, rusty steel accents, brushed aluminum, and concrete. Nothing wrong with these materials, but they are just used in such a bland and faceless way, like any major international airport. I have a hard time identiftying that kind of slick sleekness with the student's Tempe, and I forsee the same kind of sharp division as happens in Boulder Colorado, with a definate "Upscale" and "College" area. I've been here less than four years and I already miss the old mill avenue. Call me a hippie, call me nostalgic, call me whatever, but I'll prefer a changing hands bookstore instead of a borders in that context. I love Borders bookstores anywhere else, but they are so bland and so easily insertable into any place. I guess I'm really afraid that Tempe instead of being a college town with its unique feeling (and problems) will become another faceless thing.

Today was an interesting day. I secured a place to live within walking distance to campus. It's actually a little cheaper than the place I used to live and the guy is ok with suki so I'll probably start moving in this friday and saturday. The guy is nice, quiet, third year architecture student, and the place is pretty unfurnished so I can unleash my hardwood furnature and make the place a little more homey.

Today, instead of going to the studio you were assigned to at the specific time, they had everyone meet on the bridge togather. In true ASU college of design form, there was no email notification or other official notification of this at all. I heard about from a group of friends, who heard it from a guy, who heard it... Ad absurdium. They do some things really well here but communication is not one of them.

Anyway, at this meeting, we were presented with six teachers who gave short pitches for what their studios were going to be about. We were then given ten minutes to decide what we wanted to do for our last semester. Two of the studios focused mainly on landscape design, as we are combined with landscape students for this semester.

My first pick was the urban infill studio with professor Munier, because I like his ideas on the urban condition and his rejection of the "new urbanism" movement.

Second pick was more experimetnal- a studio which focused on the Chicano community and thier role and spaces (especially as the majority minority) in the city of phoenix, and how to tie those communities closer togather.

Third pick was a studio which seemed very vauge and theorertical, but seemed to offer the opportuntiy for me to finally come to terms with defining Phoenix and trying to figure out why its such a failure as a city, and why I regard it as a failure. Really, it was a negative decision, that I'd rather take it over the other three studios offered.

We submitted our votes and they took awhile to tally them up before they posted them. I was in my third choice studio. Interestingly, every other architecture student in the class ALSO listed the class as thier third choice. It would seem that if you listed the studio at all, you ended up in the class.

Anyway, most of us (apart from the landscape students) were pretty depressed about the whole situation and the first meeting did little to console us. Our studio is being taught by a woman who holds two masters degrees in architecture and landscape architecture, and she seems to be intensely theoretical. As for the studio itself, there is no real program. Its the same kind of broad situation as Buenos Aires, except we don't have a broad problem, we don't have a site, and we don't have a Claudio. Basically, she told us that we could use this studio to do whatever we wanted to do in other studios but never could. My understanding of the class is that we pick a problem or area or situation, document it (DIAGRAMS!W00T!), and propose insertions of various scales. It's about as unfocused as possible, with the only real limitation being the size of Phoenix.

Sitting there, I realized that I was developing an extremely bad attitude about the whole thing which would be fatal for the studio and any chance of me getting anything out of it. I forced myself to think positively. On the one hand, I'd rather be in this studio than three others ( although knowing what I know now, I would have reshuffled my choices a bit), this studio is vauge enough for me to really focus on a problem of my chosing, and its also good experiance for graduate classes.

Our assignment for friday- think about places in the city that you might want to focus on, places that seem "dead" ( I considered bringing in a road atlas of phoenix), strange, or exceptionally lively. I really want to look forward to this semester, just like our design behavior teacher really wants the class of 250 to be "interactive".

Oh, latest news from the minor front- I got a response back from the Textiles in Interior Design class professor. She told me that there were three prerequisites (none I've taken) but she might be able to make an exception for me, depending on if I made a good case for myself. So I need to write her an email about why I am enthusiastic about taking a class I don't really want to take.

Fortunately, I may be able to moot the whole thing since I realized that I never got design credit for something I should have, which would allow me to forget the whole thing, provided I can convince the advising staff to accept it for the minor- which shouldn't be too difficult. Stay posted for more details.

Jan 16, 2007

The Perkins Report

Its been unbelievably cold here in Phoenix. Sunday and Monday mornings were the coldest two consecutive mornings on record for Phoenix in 30 years. There was FROST if you can believe it. December was apparently wonderful with temperatures well into the 70's, but its just plummeted lately, and it sounds like we're getting away light down here compared with the rest of the United States.

My action items aren't acting very quickly. I still need an apartment, car, job, cat, and laptop. In the apartment department, one of my friend's friends needs a roommate and he lives relatively close to campus and is willing to take on a cat as well, so I'm going to check out his place tomorrow morning. Ideally, I'll be mostly moved in by this weekend although I'm not sure that's going to happen.

Today was the first day of school. My last undergraduate semester at ASU. It was a cold walk to school in the early morning since I have some serious issues to work out with the advising staff, so I was there early at 8 AM to hop in the long line. 4 basic problems:
1) I never got credit for my minor in design for a class I took a year and a half ago, so I needed to figure out how to get credit for it (turns out I need to petition for it by (SURPRISE) filling out some forms.)
2) Somehow I was signed up for two sections of the same class, one in Argentina which I took and got a grade for and the other which was in Tempe, which for obvious reasons, I couldn't attend, so I got a 0.0 INCOMPLETE mark on my records for it, which is equally obviously killing my GPA.
3) One of the classes I took in Argentina was a studio on Latin American design, which I realized that I was never signed up for, so it was ANOTHER form to take to my old professor, then to the faculty assistant chair, and then back to advising for approval. At least I got this issue resolved today.
4) My minor in design studies was relegated to back burner for Argentina, so I'm a bit behind. As far as I can tell, if I can get Issue 1 resolved, then all I need is two more design classes. One I'm already signed up for and the other I need to get approval for.

My options for these classes are somewhat not fun. I took "Human Behavior and Design" this afternoon along with 240 other students in a massive lecture hall. The teacher of this course is a postgrad student researching at ASU, and seems to be completely uninterested in making this course interesting or worthwhile. "I would really like for this course to be interactive," she told us, inferring that she would also really like a free ticket to Tahiti as well. I cringed a bit on the inside when she told us that most of what we would be studying would seem extremely transparent and obvious. Oh well, I could use some relaxation time. At least its supposed to get better as the class wears on.

The other class, which I havn't signed up for yet but seems to be the only class I CAN take to finish off my minor, is "Textiles in Interior Design" a small, upper division course with less than 30 people in it. While the human behavior class I can safely file under Mediocre, this textile class I think will be either really good or really bad. I'm actually a bit intrigued.

Ultimately these other classes mean I'll probably end up dropping the sketching class I'm currently signed up for, especially as its a late night class and apparently has a work load like another studio. El grand total course load would then be 14 hours.

One of the best things about today was seeing my old friends again, both those from Buenos Aires, and those who I've not seen in seven months. It was really cool to be back, to touch base, see how thier semester went, share anxieties over studio, and just to stand around and talk.

When I left for Abu Dhabi, I abandoned a beat up woman's mountain bike since I didn't have room in the storage unit and I'd gotten the $35 I'd paid for it out of it. Unwilling to let the loathsome bike thieves get it without a fight, I left it U-locked to a bike rack at my old apartment complex. Seven months later, I'm completely shocked by the fact that its still there, a little more rusty and dusty, but still with all parts intact. All that remained was to add some air to the tires and I was back in business. I think I've found a bike thats both really undesirable and difficult to steal- a good combination.

The other class I had today was taught by an extremely stiff man whose nationality stumped me until he revealed he was from Bavaria. Systems II is going to be extremely rigid with the first part focusing on lighting design, which seems to be our professor's forte who has a doctorate on the subject. Very clear and nearly metronomic diction, but we had no clue what he was talking about for most of the class. He danced around the questions so well, and seemed exasperated that he had to spell out what he wanted specifically for next class. This does not bode well. We're also expected to learn from scratch a new rendering program ("industry standard for lighting designers!") which I've never even heard of.

I'll get into changes in Tempe later. Its been a long first day.

Jan 11, 2007

Phoenix, again

I'm back safely in Tempe, Arizona. It feels strange to be back after nearly seven months abroad (not counting the two days I was here between continents). I have to remind myself not to be shocked by all the American students here, and I am very aware of how spread out and sprawling the city is. It's a hard reality to face, coming back from Etihad airlines and Swiss clean Abu Dhabi. I must contradict myself and confess that I am, truly and deeply, spoiled. If one had a scale of spoildness where 1 was an American who ate fast food a few times a week, and 10 was Paris Hilton, I think I'd fall somewhere in the 8s. You mean, there's no MercedesBenz to take me home? I have to wait in line at check-in myself? The hotel doesn't have suites or a sauna? They don't have hot meals or free wine on this flight? Welcome back to Tempe.

2007 should be an interesting year. On my first day of the new year, I went to the Pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx, went into the Pyramid of Khefren, and the tombs at the Zoser funerary complex, finishing the day at the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. We dined at an Italian restaurant in the triple security checkpoint zone of the Nile Hilton. My brother, mother, father, and grandmother were there with me. How much more spoiled can I get?

2007, year I graduate, start my serious career, plan for graduate school, and really take up the full responsibility for myself. I'm starting off with an intense workload- I need to get my laptop computer fixed, coordinating between Dell and my insurance people, find an apartment, shop for and buy a car, find car insurance, and figure out my working situation this semester. Its a little daunting, but I know I can do it if I just take each step one thing at a time, the way I've learned to travel. Don't worry about getting through the ticket line if you're still lining up transportation to the airport. As dad said, make a list and work the list.

It should be an interesting year.

Jan 7, 2007

Egptian Holiday, Middle Period

I found Cairo to be filthy, lively, and mysterious. A city dominated by a religion alien to me, which still retained the decaying architcture of her past colonizers and occupiers, French and British. My impression from the few days I was there was that it was, like Buenos Aires, a cosmopolitan, international city with its glory days behind it and covered by the desert dust and the city grime. Perhaps I only imagined it, (as I tend to romanticize) but I could still sense some of that old movie feel, the combination of the the boats on Nile river, the dust, the victorian architecture, and the palm trees. It could just have easily stemmed from a past where mummies did stalk nosy archeologists on the streets.

There was some confusion on our arrival as to the room to be used by Taylor and me. They ended up giving us an executive suite when we checked in around 2 AM, with the warning that we might have to downgrade rooms in the morning. We were all wiped, so we said fine. The rooms were very, very nice. A living room with a writing desk and big tv ajoining a huge bedroom, all behind wooden screens. The largest bed I've ever seen, I believe it was wider than it was long, so it meant less bumping into Taylor while he was rolling around in his sleep. Both rooms had balconies and views out over the Nile, whihc was just across the street. The front desk called and asked if we liked the room that night a little after we had checked in. I told them it was great, and they said fine we could keep it.

The next day we met our guide downstairs in the lobby at 11, who was dissapointed we didn't show up six hours after we got to bed at 3 AM. She was a pushy 27 year old Egyptian woman who had probably just graduated from Egyptian tourism school.

At any rate, our first destination was the world famous Egyptian Musuem, which happened to be right beside the hotel. In fact, we asked if we could walk there but the guide looked at us if we had suggested we walk to the pyramids. "The driver is right here," she told us. So we drove around the block to go to the museum. As it was high season, the muesum was totally packed with large tour groups. Our guide would take us over to a certain artefact or sculpture, get a minute into talking about it when a massive group of Spanish tourists would mob the case, and thier guide would begin shouting in Spanish.

I'm just picking on that one tour group: there were actually tons of groups, mostly British, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese.

The Egyptian Museum was plauged by the Hermitage effect: World-class, priceless treasures housed in a developing world museum. Signage was terrible, there was no apparent coherance to the organization of the different parts of the museum, as if the dynasties had been randomly shuffled around the building. The building had once been beautiful, and was inspiring in its British neoclassicsm, but its interior and its displays have not been well maintained. The tour guides may have some role to play in this, as ours ignored signs to not lean on the old flimsy cases, or touch the statues and carvings.

The colllection was facinating to me, but overwhelming as there was far too much to be appropriately showcased. However, the gem of the collection, worth the price of admission alone, was the contents of the tomb of King Tutankhamen which occupied a massive hall, and a smaller gallery. The smaller gallery contained the gold, jewellry, and solid gold sarcophagai of the boy king. I was blown away by the intricacy of the relgion and culture as much as the sheer craftsmanship of the objects which alluded to it. It staggers me to think about my own ancestors in Europe, who were probably still hunting with flaked stone spears at the time.

The two hours we spent at the museum flew by and we traveld by minibus up to see the citadel of Cairo and the massive mosque built on it. The citidel is the highest plateau in the city, before the city reaches the rocky desert foothills. There is a massive mosque on top of the citadel, known as the alabaster mosque for its use of alabaster on the interior and exterior. It is a traditional courtyard type mosque, similiar to the Suleyman mosque in Istanbul, and pattered on the cascading domes of Hagia Sophia. The courtyard contained the french clock tower which the builder of the mosque, Mohammad Ali (not the boxer) had traded for one of the solid granite obelisks from Karnac. I've actually seen this obelisk before- it was erected at the front of the Tulieries in front of Louvre in Paris.

After the citadel we drove down to the Sultan Hassan mosque and madrassas. This is another very old structure in the city, consisting of a mosque attached to a courtyard with four Iwans which sheltered students from the four schools there. I thought the place was really cool. The Iwans are massively tall vaulted porticos, with lights on chains which hang down to a few yards of the ground. Students would sit in the Iwans, protected from the sun and the noise of the street.

Afterwards, the other mosque we were going to see was closed so we told the tour guide hahloss (finished) and we went back to the hotel.

It was New Years eve, so we had arranged to have a celebratory dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. All fine and good. However, I neglected to bring appropriate footwear the Gala event so I ended up wearing my beach sandals. We arrived at 8 PM which I immediately relized would end up with us leaving as most of the poeple would be arriving to be able to still be there celebrating when the clock struck twelve. The set dinner was good, but not great, and we all retired to our living room to watch TV as is our Family New Years Tradition. Another part of that tradition is that mom and dad both get tired around 10:45, toast whatever part of the world where its currently midnight, and retire to bed.

Tay and I racked our brains for something a little more celebratory. We settled on ordering a bottle of "sparkling wine" on the "Egyptian Wine" list on room service, which ended up being my biggest mistake of the week. This was the worst alcoholic beverage I've ever tasted that came out of a glass bottle. Usually, after a while your taste buds are numbed by the alcohol so you don't notice the aftertaste as much, but this suff actually got worse as we drank it. Breaking my own rules about sunk costs and negative experiances, I still drank the stuff, especially after sinking an unmentionable cost in that one bottle. We were rewarded, however, for watching the road and the corniche from our balcony.

All day a crowd of Egyptians had been walking along the huge walk beside the Nile river in front of our hotel. As New Year was also conciding with an Eid, a three day holiday following Islamic holy days, all the famers and people all came in from out of town. They have no real disposable income, so they were primarily walking around to see whatever was free and to just enjoy enjoy themselves in the city. Actually, the first day of Eid, we were surprised to see piles of freshly slaughtered goats and sheep back in Hurghada, as it was custom to sacrafice those animals on that day. Anyway, around midnight, Tay and I were surprised to walk out on balcony to see a huge mob of people, 500 or more, standing on the traffic island and on the corniche across the street all obviously looking up at the hotel.

We had fun with it at first, waving to them regally as though we were pharaohs, delivering oratories, and blowing them all kisses and thanking them for all coming. After awhile it began to get a little unsettling. What the hell were they looking at? I was further unnerved by news reports of a bombing targeting westerners in Bankok. Did they know something I didn't? Apparently there was some celebrity up on the roof bar, or in the restaurant we had left nearly two hours before midnight.

They actually crossed the street and mobbed the exit in front of the hotel, causing great consternation for the security staff who had to nearly fight them off to let the cars get through. For the next hour the mob exploded and regrouped at various places in front of the hotel. Some clapped, some chanted, and not a few danced. It was an event. Finally the police showed up and began pushing the people back. The police moved the crowd back across the road, back to the corniche, and finally dispersed them. From our vantage point above the crowd, we were able to keep tabs on plainclothed officers who would periodically drag various people over, and chase other watchers away.

Must have been some party.

Jan 4, 2007

Egyptian Holiday, Early Period

Most memorable moments from my trip through Egypt:

Fighting our way through Cairo airport, with our subpar guide who was supposed to guide us to the other terminal for our connecting flight to Hurghada. The two cars he arranged for this purpose were probably bought used from the Cairo Taxi pool, and our driver got lost driving us to the other terminal, while the other car stopped so the driver could get out and pray towards Mecca for a bit. But we made our flight, leaving from a terminal usually reserved for private charter flights as the regular terminal was fully dedicated to Pilgrims traveling to Mecca for the Hajj.

The do-it-yourself service experiance at the Hilton Hurghada Plaza, which reminded me more of a parody of or a training a regular Hilton. The place was completely filled with Russians on holiday, as most of the Brits and other Euros vacation in Sharm-el-Sheik. We fetched our own water, scavenged our own place settings at the buffet, and hunted down towel guys. The buffets were mediocre and we got sick of the same food.

SCUBA Diving in the Red Sea wearing 5 mm two-piece wet suits so we all looked like extras from StarTrek. The worst moments were stripping down to our bathing suits and slipping into the cold, wet suits in the cool, cloudy weather. Once we were suited and in the water, we were very warm. My favorite meals in Hurghada were the hot lunches served on the dive boat, a little buffet of local hot dishes prepared while we dived.

Seeing a highly toxic lionfish and swimming around a towering pinnacle of rock and coral in a relative seafloor desert. Also swimming through a lush coral garden where not a rock was seen for all the table coral covering it.

Walking down Hurghada's main street. The place only boomed as a tourist resort town in the last ten years from almost nothing, so the main street looks like something out of rural Mexico, except filled with tourist shops selling tee shirts and plastic ancient Egyptian junk and souveniers. Also, we were in the middle of a blowing dust cloud, but that didn't deter any of the shopkeepers from running out to grab us, shake our hands, and attempt to start a conversation which they hoped would end with us buying something from them. "Where are you from?" they would ask. "America! We love America!" they would proclaim, giving thumbs up signs, "come inside and see, my friends!" This little conversation we would have with every single seller we passed. Finally in irritation, Taylor replied that he was Korean. The shopkepper without a moments hesitation retorted "Me too!" After we realized we weren't going into any of the shops, we gave up and went back to the sanitzed disneyland of the hotel.

Until the end of the trip, I could not decide if the Egyptians we encountered were desperate for conversation because (A) they wanted to engage us to sell us something or swindle us (or more likely, both), (B) they were really bored, or (C) they were genuinely curious about life the United States.

Getting a deep tissue massage at the resort. They put mom and I in the same room with two tables and appeared perplexed that we didn't want to strip in the same room. "But he is your son," mom's massuse said. I ended up waiting outside until mom was on the table covered before coming in. It was not a great experiance. I'd never had a massage before, and it would be unthinkable to have a female massaging a man in a muslim country, so I was being rubbed down with oil by a small Pakistani man, which was uncomfortable enough without being in the same room as my practically nude mother. I found it impossible to relax. Bizzarely, at the end, they wrapped us in towels and hid at the bottom of the massage tables. Never having had a massage before, I wondered if it was something usual. They literally jumped out of hiding when mom asked "are we done?" We figured out later that they were giving us "'time to meditate" in our relaxed state. Taylor, who also got a massage in a different room, disliked his as well.

Picking our fish at the "cleanest" seafood restaurant in town. Dad, Taylor, and I were sick of the buffet, so dad decided to seek sustainance elsewhere. We tried to get a taxi from the front desk, but they called us a limo taxi which cost about ten times as much as a regular taxi would be. By chance, our local guide was there, who offered to drive us into town as he was heading that way anyway. He dropped us at a fish place he recommended, and we were reasured by all the Russians eating inside. We all picked out a fish to have outside and they cooked it all up for us, and served it by sailor-cap wearing waiters who all had name badges with the title of "captain."

Traveling by convoy across the desert wasteland to Luxor from Hurghada. We were told initially that we would travel by convoy "in case one of the vehicles broke down." This was for a four-hour drive. Granted, there were only a few outposts along the way, but when we got there we realized that the convoy consisted of a half dozen tourist busses and minibusses (like ours) and headed by a armored police truck with armed police in the back. Breakdowns, my camel. We were together as a security precaution against terrorists and bandits.

The desert itself was beautiful and rugged, pristine in its absolute inhospitability. It felt like a road trip on mars. It was a shocking contrast to the lush greenery when we crossed into the areas irrigated from canals stemming from the Nile.

Looking at hieroglyphics and carvings in the tomb of Ramses IX in the valley of the Kings, and walking around in the small canyon which held the great pharoes, including Tutankhamen. Sadly we had time to explore two of the 60 some tombs.

Crossing the Nile river on a local water taxi/ferry. Our party of six were the only people aboard the long, narrow open air craft, and we were nearly hit by a much bigger ferry. The distinctive sailboats could be seen sailing down the river in the late afternoon sun, and the pilot's young son practiced english with me, and began asking me for money. I refused, and later when he saw me writing in my moleskein, asked me for my pen, which I gave to him.

Exploring Karnac temple as the sun was beginning to go down. The orange light and shadows lent an amazing air of mystery and grandeur to the ruins. The temple is built on a scale which is almost unbelievable. This was my favorite place in Egypt.

Listening to our guide explain a extremely long carving of the Nile river at Luxor Temple which depicted the ceremonies of carrying the statues of the gods. Our guide was actually an Egyptologist who was working on a doctorate degree specializng in daily life of ancient Egyptians. While he was incredibly knowlegable about everything we saw, he had a detectable air of condesention to the effect that he'd much rather be studying and working on his dissertation than herding around a bunch of American yahoos.

I can understand to a certain extent. Mom added Luxor at the last minute, so we could only dedicate one afternoon to see the things that this Egyptologist had probably spent years studying. He did really look the part though, a stooped back, very overweight and unweildly shuffling along, with glasses, and pants belted high up his stomach.

The slowest-napkin unfolding event. This needs some explanation: we were dropped at the nicest hotel in Luxor for dinner, and we had three hours to kill before the van picked us up again. So, we took our jolly time, and really worked hard to linger. We lazily competed to see who could take the most time unfolding our napkins, (taylor won) and waiting for our drinks to arrive. The wait staff approached us twice to remind us that the buffet was self-service. We lingered over drinks, we lingered after the first plate, and the second, and over tea and coffee.

We flew on to Cairo at midnight, getting into our hotel at 2 AM, and getting to bed close to 3 AM.

Jan 2, 2007

Back from Egypt!

Just returned from vacationing in Egypt. We spent four days in the red sea resort of Hurghada, an afternoon in Luxor, and three days in Cairo.

Here are some pictures from the trip:

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by archalec

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...