October 5, 2010
Today, Andrew (13) and I went walking with sharks! We were at the very cool Siam Ocean World aquarium in Bangkok, Thailand. They have a program called "Ocean Walker" where you can walk in their main tank and be in and among the fishies -- including some big sharks! You can see one of the sharks cruising past the ladder we went down.
To do the Ocean Walk, you wear a very heavy helmet into which they constantly pump air; it's actually quite noisy, which is pretty different from SCUBA diving. (I used to do a lot of diving during college and almost became a marine biologist). They have a safety diver in the water with you guiding you around.
You can see quite well through the aquarium glass into the viewing areas where the visitors are. Here's me and Andrew waving at a bunch of school kids.
I think the kids were especially excited to see another kid in the water.
It was a super cool experience for both of us. Even though I've done a lot of diving, I've never been in the water with sharks, and there were a lot of them in the tank. Fortunately they were well fed! Andrew did a great job, staying cool and paying attention the whole time. He's excited to learn to SCUBA dive now. I can't wait to start diving with him.
Special thanks to our friend Ann who patiently waited for us to suit up and then took these photos for us!
After my trip to India, I met up with Michelle and the boys in Thailand for a vacation during the National Holiday in China. We went with our friends John and Ann out to Amphawa to see the floating market there. This is a quiet town around 90 minutes from Bangkok where city folks come for a good seafood meal. Most of the tourists there seemed to be Thai.
The streets were pretty crowded with vendors; since it had been raining pretty hard, they were hiding under big umbrellas.
The main "drag" was a river with shops along both banks.
In some parts of the river, restaurateurs in boats cooked and served up meals in little boats, with their patrons sitting on the docks eating.
Grilled seafood was a popular dish.
Phad Thai was also very popular, including this beautiful variant with squid ink noodles.
Since our party was pretty big, we ate in a restaurant and feasted on local delights. I'm still full just thinking about it.
Long-tail boats cruise the waterways. These are long, slender boats with huge engines mounted out of the water and the driveshaft and propeller extending directly from the engine into the water. To steer, the skipper pivots the entire engine. Here's the lovely bow of one boat.
Here's the pretty purposeful looking working end of the boat.
In the evening, we took a long-tail boat ride around the river to see the fireflies. There were zillions (I counted) of fireflies in the trees around the river. There were so many fireflies that at some points the trees looked like they had Christmas lights in them. The fireflies even blink in some rhythm, further emphasizing their Christmas-light-osity. It was pretty amazing and lovely.
In addition to my tours of Golkonda Fort and both the old and new parts of Hyderabad, obviously, I ate a lot while I was in India. I don't have any photos of the meals (bad foodie), but I thought I'd share a few thoughts and observations.
I've always loved Indian food; I will reliably eat Indian food like a starving dog and continue to eat until I am beyond painfully full. I simply have no self-control around the stuff. Even though I really only ate in the hotel and in the Microsoft cafeteria (due to some risk of civil unrest around the Ayodha ruling), it should be no surprise that the Indian food in India was better than any I've had outside of India (including amazing Indian meals I've had in London and Singapore.) The flavors were just deeper and more complex than those I've had before.
Hyderabad is known for it's biryanis -- a rice dish typically made with goat meat in Hyderabad. Even the chicken version in the Microsoft cafeteria was spicy and ridiculously tasty -- a far cry from the biryanis I've had before. I also gorged on masala dosas and spicy lentil stew for breakfast; not my typical breakfast fare to be sure, but I think it would be if I had a source of dosas near home. The other curries, dals, breads, and tandoori roasted meats I had were stunningly good as well. (My mouth is watering as I write this...)
The only meal I had in a restaurant outside my hotel and the Microsoft cafeteria was actually a Chinese meal! As it turns out, the Indians are crazy about Chinese food (or their take on it); it's apparently the most popular cuisine in India outside of Indian food (there is even have an Indian Chinese restaurant in Redmond, WA but apparently it's not very good.) I saw Chinese restaurant signs all over Hyderabad, even in the less affluent parts of town.
The Indians have adapted Chinese cooking to their tastes and ingredients. My friend Saurabh took me to a very upscale place in the Taj Hotel; it looked pretty authentically Chinese and the menu looked relatively familiar as well. That's where the similarity stopped though.
The appetizer was sort of like french fries in a chili sauce. It tasted very good, but the flavors were a mix of Chinese and Indian tastes (and french fried potatoes don't factor into Chinese cuisine much). For our mains, we had two of the more popular dishes: "Manchurian gravy" and chow mein. The Manchurian gravy was a brown sauce with deep fried cauliflower balls; it was sweet and soy saucy with chilis and garlic. Pretty tasty. The chow mein was like other Chinese fried noodles, although there was something a little different about it as well.
For dessert, we had a classic Indian-Chinese dish. It was deep-fried wonton skins cut into wide noodles soaked with honey and served with vanilla ice cream. Of course, it was delicious, although I'm quite sure no Chinese emperor ever had this delight.
Wikipedia has a whole article on Indian-Chinese food. Fascinating! Who knew?
I really wish I had more time in India to try even more dishes. Next time...
During my brief visit to Hyderabad, India, in addition to my visit to Golkonda Fort, I spun around town a bit, seeing both the new and old parts of Hyderabad.
The Charminar - a famous mosque in the center of the old part of Hyderabad.
Hyderabad has a large Muslim population including the most women I've seen in full burqas.
The streets were as chaotic as any I've seen anywhere, with motorcycles, scooters, and the ubiquitous yellow "auto rickshaws" darting in and out of traffic. Somewhat surprising to me, there were almost no automobile taxis to be seen. Auto rickshaws dominate the trade. You need to call a taxi to get one apparently.
Of course, Hyderabad is an exciting tech hub with a vibrant new economy as well. Google is hiring aggressively here.
Here's the very nice Microsoft campus in Hyderabad. It's much bigger and nicer than our facility in Beijing.
Perhaps this is a very telling view of modern India. This is a fancy shopping mall in Hyderabad, easily as nice as most any mall anywhere in the world. It was covered in netting, however, to keep people from throwing rocks at it. I'm not sure if the netting is always there or was put up especially because the ruling to the controversial Muslim-Hindu Ayodha debate occurred during my visit. All of India was on alert for unrest as the ruling approached; A few examples included Microsoft sending their employees home early, officials closed schools, and police blocked off the old (mostly Muslim) part of Hyderabad from the rest of town with barbed wire. Fortunately, there was very little trouble after the split ruling.
India, like China, is a complex place with a diverse and huge population, a long and rich history, and a fast-growing future. The mix of these things will continue to stretch the capacity, imagination, and patience of their leadership and population. Hopefully, they'll manage it well.
After many years of really wanting to visit India, I finally made it last week for a very short business trip to Hyderabad. Fortunately, I had one day to explore the city before heading out. Even more fortunately, Saurabh, one of my colleagues from our team in Hyderabad, graciously agreed to show me around his city.
Apparently, the key site everyone sees in Hyderabad is Golkonda Fort. This was really a fortified city built starting in the 13th century by a Muslim kingdom. The kingdom was apparently wealthy, with diamond mines in the area; the Hope Diamond came from mines in this region.
The site is pretty impressive still with a keep/palace on the top of the hill and a large village below. The outer wall encompasses a large area where some 40,000 people lived. The engineering was impressive as well. Hand claps at the gates can be heard at the keep on the top of the hill almost a kilometer away, facilitating communication. Water was pumped up throughout the complex, and there were several large covered cisterns to provide water during a siege. They also managed the airflow to keep cool breezes moving throughout the fort. Even in its current degraded condition, the fort is pretty amazing and worth checking out.
The keep from the village below.
The village as seen from the keep:
The ornate carvings at the front gate:
The barracks area:
Beautiful alcoves in the village: