Django’s Annotate Filter

I’ve been doing a bit of work lately trying to gather some analytics on users. I’m going to use the example of a sports application where people can create and join multiple teams. The other day I was writing a queryset that would fetch the users who have joined their first team in the last week. It’s trivial to write this queryset on multiple lines. Depending on how you set up your models, it may look like this:

users = []
for user in User.objects.all().iterator():
    if min(user.team_set.all().values_list('created_at')) in date_range:

It might take you an extra read over to understand what is going on here. I’m iterating through each user in the db. For each user I get the creation dates of each team they are a part of and check that the minimum of these dates is in the date range we want. Phew.

A nicer way to do this is using Django’s annotate filter. You can use it to summarize information about each object. Here is how annotate would be used with this example:

users = User.objects.annotate(first_team_date=Min("team__created_at"))
users = users.filter(first_team_date__range=date_range)

I find this much easier to read at first glance, making this code much more maintainable.

Posted in Uncategorized

Chrome’s Conditional Breakpoints

One thing I just recently found out is that you can set conditional breakpoints in Chrome. Open up the inspector and go to the sources tab. Find the script you are wanting to debug, then set a breakpoint like you would normally. Now right click the breakpoint and select “Edit Breakpoint”. You will get a nice text box where you can write some javascript code that will be evaluated when the breakpoint is hit to see weather or not the breakpoint should be ignored.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 7.12.16 PM

This is extremely useful when debugging functions that are executed many times but you only want to break when it is being called with specific arguments. Hope this helps someone out!

Posted in computing

Today I Learned….

I’m going into my fourth month working at Mobify. I’m learning tons of stuff on the job, so one great way to solidify it in my memory will be to blog about what I’m picking up along the way. Maybe someone else will also find it useful.

One neat thing I learned today is that you can update django models base on existing fields at the time the .save() method gets called. This can be extremely useful when trying to avoid race conditions.

account = Account.objects.get(account_number='111111111')
account.balance += 1000

In this case, the new account balance gets incremented by 1000, but another thread could update the balance and modify the account balance after you get the model and before you have a chance to save. The value of balance you are incrementing is going to be stale. You will end up incrementing the old value of balance and saving the incorrect value.

The following code is much safer. It will do the same thing, but it will only query the value of balance when the .save() method is called.

from django.db.models import F
account = Account.objects.get(account_number='111111111')
account.balance = F('balance') + 1000

Posted in Uncategorized

Semester In Innovation

This summer I applied and got into a course called Designing SFU Mobile, or Semester in Innovation. The goal was to take students from computing science, business, and interactive arts and technology (IAT or SIAT), and have us work together to develop and design a product to drive SFU’s future mobile direction. The instructors wanted to have the course be mostly student driven with minimal instructor intervention.

The first two weeks of the course were very structured and we met on campus every day. The instructors organized team building exercises such as tower building and scavenger hunts. We were also asked questions like what we thought “mobile” means and asked to do presentations on the spot in front of the class. I thought this was a very good experience for many people. One guest speaker gave us tips on how to put together good business presentation. He had us do an exercise where you get up in front of the class and do a presentation on the spot based on 5 random slides. The slides only had pictures, no words, and range from things such as birds and snowflakes, to cross sections of cabbage that looked like a human brain. I think of myself as a fairly competent speaker, but I found this to be very challenging and learned a lot from it.

Tower build by myself and three other students. I think our tri-force design should have gotten us the win Smilie: :P

After the first two weeks, we split up into our separate disciplines for some different tasks. The business and IAT students conducted user surveys and workshops to try and figure out what students needed to improve their experience at SFU. Myself along with the computing science students were told come up with some cool proof of concept in two weeks. Two ideas were pitched and we organized ourselves into teams based on which project we wanted to work on. I worked with 4 other students to develop a mobile application that would show your location on campus only using wifi. I could go into great detail about this project, but I don’t want to. Instead I will write another post about our two week spike and post a link to it when I’m finished. I will say that I was pretty happy with what we managed to come up with in two weeks. We ended up with a fairly functional application for Android and Blackberry devices.

In the two weeks that we were coding, the business and IAT students came up with final project proposals and pitched them to the class. We (the computing side) were somewhat dejected at first because most of the ideas sounded the same. The student surveys showed that SFU students wanted some sort of “all-in-one” (this word was thrown around a lot in the pitches) application that would consolidate all resources for the students different courses. The ideas sounded like glorified dashboards, which from a computing standpoint isn’t very innovative and development would not be mentally stimulating.

After the first round of pitches, the course instructors challenged us to think how any of these applications would help improve mobile learning. This seemed to spark a change in the next round of ideas. We ended up with 5 or 6 products, which we narrowed down to three. I will create a page with more details on these projects when I have some time.

The first application was called Real Questions Real Answers (RQRA). It’s a smart query engine that is tailored to SFU. The vision was for students to be able to ask questions like “What is professor James Smith’s e-mail address?” or “What time is my MATH 152 midterm?” and get accurate answers.

Main screen of Real Questions Real Answers (RQRA)

The second application selected was called SFU Engage. Engage allows students to share learning resources for each of their courses by submitting a url. The application parses the content and display it to the user. Through the student surveys and workshops, it was discovered that students prefer learning from peers. Engage aims to take peer leaning online and make it social with the use of comments and likes.

Screenshot of the completed Engage application

Lastly, there was the application initially called “Tag Tool” (later changed to Accent). It is a web application that enhances online and distance education by allowing users to watch lectures online and tag certain parts of the video (simliar to soundcloud). A user can tag a section of a video and describe what it is about, or tag a specific point in the video and ask a question which can be answered by the instructor or classmates. This tagging allows users to review video or audio lectures much more efficiently since they don’t have to seek through a long video to find content they desire.

Video viewing / tagging screen from Accent

Now that we had finally settled on our three projects we started organizing ourselves into teams to develop the three applications. The CS students decided that we would be best off letting our team members focus on what they know best and work across all three projects where they are needed. This was contrary to the business and IAT teams which were split into three teams, one for each application.

Next we decided to define our technology stack. Each of the applications was going to be a web based. The reason being that a properly developed web application is viewable on any device with a browser which makes it extremely accessible. We decided to develop the applications using Node.js, mySQL, elasticsearch, and redis.

Over the next few weeks, we familiarized ourselves with the tools we would work with while the IAT students were to come up with the user stories for each application. If there was one point in the semester I could go back and change to improve our final product, it would be here. The computing side foolishly left the IAT students to come up with user stories and requirements for the application at their leisure. Most IAT students have never developed software so they don’t know what sort of user stories are needed in order to develop an application. One of our team members did try to have meetings with them every few days, but he was meeting with all three teams, all while trying to learn Node.js. Rather than overloading one team member, we should have assigned three people to act as Business Analysts (BA) for each project. It took far too long to get the system requirements and in the end, we received too few user stories to be useful which left a lot of the implementation up to the developers. I believe that assigning one BA to each team would have drastically sped up the requirement gathering process and would have yielded quality user stories that we could immediately use as developers.

User stories for Accent project in Pivotal Tracker

During the requirements gathering phase, our computing cohort realized that it was taking too long. Anticipating the worst, we decided to look at each application and find core objects that could be shared across all three applications. A system data model was created, and we went to work developing the models for our application. This was another thing I would have changed about our development process. Initially our team wanted to try to practice iterative development, but coding the entire back end first caused us to fall into a waterfall development model. With our time constraints I don’t think we really had a way around it at that point. We knew our time was limited, so we had to start developing something. The models were the only thing that we could be confident writing at that stage without proper user stories. I think this would have been avoided had we assigned BAs and driven out requirements more quickly.

Final data model drawn up using Lucid Chart

Eventually we started getting mock ups from the designers which provided more detail to the user stories. This is when our development really sped up. We decided to write a REST API which each application would make use of. The API would allow us to develop native mobile applications in the future if we chose to. A couple team members shifted gears and started converting the UI mock ups into HTML/CSS. Another member created a bunch of AJAX methods that our front end could use to access data returned from our REST layer. Everything started coming together quickly.

One thing I learned working with designers is that they may not realize how much their designs influence the functionality of the software behind it. Many times, we were presented with new screens that have new text fields which imply changes to core data models, or new screens all together.

While all this was going on, the bussiness students were getting worked very hard by their instructor to come up with the final Business plan for each project. It was 80 pages of financials and a bunch of other businessy stuff that I don’t yet understand.

Two of our three projects were fairly well polished by the end of the semester. The third, now called “Accent” instead of “Tag Tool”, was still very buggy since we started development on it last. I’m not very proud of the applications themselves. I’m more proud of how well our computing team organized ourselves and adapted. Only half of us had done coop terms before, and I’m guessing fewer had worked directly with designers or business people. One thing I took out of this course is how valuable working with designers can be. Although our final applications might not function perfectly, they look damn good and having something that looks polished helps tremendously when pitching an idea to someone.

The course didn’t go exactly how I expected it, but it is the first time the course has been offered, so that’s ok. Having students from different faculties work together in this fashion is a great idea and every student will take away some invaluable information that no other faculty specific course can offer. I think we will see the quality of talent coming out of SFU would greatly improve if these types of courses are offered more often, and earlier in students education.

Posted in School

Spring 2012 Semester Review

I’ve just finished the last of my exams for the spring semester and want to record my thoughts while they’re still fresh. My course load was very light, especially for a 12 credit semester. I didn’t end up attending many lectures because I didn’t find them too informative.

CMPT 496
Directed Studies (Courses Project)

In the fall I heard that Greg Baker was heading a project course where a team of 8 or 9 students would spend the spring semester making improvements to It is the site that is used by most computing science courses to manage grades and assignments. Anytime I see Greg teaching a course that I haven’t taken, I sign up. He’s simply one of the best lecturers at SFU, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn some more from him. I applied and managed to get into the course. The website is implemented in Django, the python framework. I had done some development using Django before, but it took me a few weeks to get back into it. Greg organized the course to feel more like an agile development environment than a class, and for the most part it did. We had scrum meetings twice a week where everyone would update the team on what they were working on, what they planned to do as well as any blockers. What felt different from an actual agile development job was the development style. We had tons of freedom and leeway with our coding. Normally a company would have fairly well defined coding standards, and frequent code reviews. Occasionally Greg would let us know if he found something wrong with our code, but most of the time it felt as if we were unmonitored. This course helped me keep my programming skills fresh as it was the only course I coded for this entire semester.  I would highly recommend trying out a directed studies course.

CMPT 371
Networking I

I really enjoyed this course, despite not going to any lectures. I found the professor to be quite dry, reciting his powerpoint slides almost word for word. Instead of attending classes I decided to spend my time reading the book (Computer Networking: A Top Down Approach) which was excellent. I believe any computer scientist or programmer should know some basics about how the internet works, and this course made me learn everything I could want to know. It covers everything from what the internet is, to how cell phone calls get routed and passed off between towers. The class isn’t a requirement for a CS major, but I almost think it should be.

CMPT 376
Technical Writing

I came into this course expecting to hate it, and was pleasantly surprised. It was entirely assignment based with each assignment being very relevant to computing science. This made me do research and gain knowledge on topics I had no prior experience with. The professor was Art Liestman, and he managed to make the lectures I attended quite interesting. He provided certain writing techniques that could be applied to improve the quality of your assignments, but students were never tested on these techniques. It was for this reason that I was able to get away with skipping so many lectures. Five percent of the grade is based on class participation, but in the end it didn’t matter too much. This course is required for CS Majors, and I would definitely recommend taking it with Art if possible.

CMPT 370
Information System Design

I took this course because it fit my schedule and it gave me credits. I wasn’t too excited when I read the course description and my expectations were confirmed once I attended the first lecture. I won’t name the professor, but he didn’t seem to put much effort in the course. It was a three hour lecture, the first one I missed because I got into the class late, the second one was cancelled because the instructor was sick. Mid semester, he cancelled another class because he was sick. That’s almost a month worth of cancelled classes. I would have cared more if it was a good lecture, but it wasn’t. I only attended a few classes, but my experience was that the professor spent half the time talking about his real job where he designs software. On top of that, his tests were overly easy. The level of study I put in would have me fail tests in any other course, but I averaged about %90 on all the tests. It’s because his tests are miniature subsets of the assignments, so if you do the assignments, you can do the tests no problem. To top it off, the final exam was open book! I had barely studied at all because the course material was so boring, and I showed up with my laptop and was told I could use it! I normally wouldn’t complain about a course being easy, but I think it was easy because the professor wasn’t putting any effort into the course material. When I pay as much as I do for school, I expect to get something useful out of every course, and I didn’t gain anything from 370.

Posted in School

India Part 3 (Mumbai)

All of us were happy when our little plane took off from Delhi. It took a while for the aircraft to break through the fog and into the blue sky. We were only in the air for two and a half hours before we landed in Mumbai.

The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was how hot it was compared to the northern cities. I had gotten used to temperatures around 10 degrees, but it was almost 30 in Mumbai and it was humid. We found a taxi booth and prepaid for two taxis to take us to our hotel. When the two drivers showed up, we were very skeptical as to how they were going to fit our luggage into their small cars. There were 7 of us, and we each had one large suitcase plus a carry on. Our driver filled the trunk with as many bags as possible, which wasn’t many since there was a large gas tank in the trunk. After he tied the trunk down, he proceeded to stack the rest of our bags on top of the car. They tied the bags down with some string. The other cab had a very shallow, metal basket on top. Their driver placed two or three suitcases inside the basket, unsecured.

Once the drivers seemed content that we weren’t going to lose any bags, they asked where our hotel was. We told them we were staying in the Grand Hayatt, near the international airport. Tarak, Sneha and I got into one cab and followed the behind the others. The old yellow taxi we were driving in was the sketchiest vehicle I’ve ever been a passenger in: there were no side view mirrors, I don’t think any of the dials on the dashboard worked, and the horn was just a couple of frayed wires coming out of the steering wheel that the driver would touch together to complete the circuit. Our driver was very haggard as well. He was a skinny older man with thin grey hair. I think he had a bad chewing habit because any teeth he had left were brown and looked as if they would fall out at any moment.

After a 20-minute drive we reached a hotel (though it wasn’t our hotel). The drivers took us to the Hyatt Regency instead of the Grand Hyatt. We explained to them that this wasn’t our hotel. They told us that there are two Hyatt hotels and the other one is right beside the domestic airport, where we just came from! It was clearly a trick they play on tourists often. Play dumb and get the tourists to pay more in order to get to the hotel. We gave them another 200 rupees to get to the Grand Hyatt.

After a 20-minute drive in the opposite direction, we arrived at the right hotel. It was much bigger and better looking than the Hyatt Regency. Security was very tight. There was one checkpoint outside the gate where men with mirrors check underneath the car for suspicious looking devices. They also check the trunk and sometime inside the dashboard. After passing through the gate we unloaded our luggage. To get inside the hotel we had to put our bags through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal scanner. We didn’t have any problems and were checked into our rooms very quickly.

The Hyatt was easily the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Amish, Ron and I were staying in a room together. It was small, but very comfortable. We had two double beds, an additional fold out bed, and a really nice washroom. The prices for service reflected the appearance of the hotel. 1oz bottles of liquor from the mini fridge cost $7 minimum.  This may not sound absurd when you think about drink prices in Vancouver, but you can buy three or four meals in India for that price. That night was new years and most of our nice clothes were wrinkled. We checked the cost to get them dry-cleaned and ironed. It was going to be cheaper to buy new clothes than it was to get them washed at the hotel.

We unpacked quickly and met up with the others in the lobby to coordinate our new years plans. The Hyatt was throwing a new years party that included a buffet dinner, dancing, and unlimited drinks for $100. I had never paid that much for a party before and was not too excited about the idea at first. I asked the hotel concierge if there was any good clubbing areas in Mumbai. He only recommended another hotel party, saying that the clubs were not going to be as fun as the hotel party. I called the hotel and their party turned out to cost $50 and was a 30 minutes cab ride away. In the end the others convinced me that the Hyatt party would be the best option and we bought our tickets.

By this time it was almost 4:00pm and the dinner was starting around 7:30. We took a quick nap because we were tired from the flight. Once rested, we started putting together our outfits. Luckily we found an iron in our room. My shirt still smelled like smoke from the village in Shiker, so I ended up borrowing one of Amish’s shirts. The three of us cleaned up just in time for dinner.

Our dinner was in one of the four restaurants the hotel had. I was initially skeptical about paying $100 for a new years party ticket, but in hindsight, the dinner was probably worth the money alone. They had laid out a huge appetizer spread. There must have been about 30 different dishes, none of which I can remember the names. It was very hard not to stuff myself with starters, or drinks for that matter. We were sucking back wine and drinks very quickly. The kitchen manager even came around to our table to see how we were doing and suggested tequila shots. Oh how I hate tequila. The menu had ten or so main dishes to choose from. I elected to try the fillet mignon. It was all right, though it was a bit overcooked for my liking. Ron ordered the lamb, which was wrapped in ham and then braised. I was lucky enough to try a bite of it. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten, and maybe the best dish I have tried period. A few of the others ordered a delicious gnocchi pasta, which I also sampled. After eating our mains, we attacked the desserts. As with the appetizers, the dessert table had roughly 30 options to choose from, most of which were very small. I sampled as many as I could. The best were these shot glasses layered with different flavours of mousse. My favorite was green tea mousse layered in between chocolate.

Once we had stuffed ourselves, we went to our room to digest the food before hitting the dance floor. We recovered quickly and returned downstairs where we got our money’s worth in drinks and danced with everyone we could find. We even got some of the kitchen crew to join us. The security guards were not amused. We danced until the music stopped around 1:30 or 2:00 am.

Everyone else went to bed, but Amish and I were pretty bummed that the party stopped so early. We decided to wander around the hotel and see whom we could meet. We wandered around aimlessly for a while and eventually met these two girls who were both from Mumbai. One had lived in Scotland for most of her life and had a very thick accent. They had come because they thought the party was going to last much later than it did. The four of us sat at the hotel lounge that was still open and serving drinks. The girls gave us some suggestions on areas of Mumbai that were worth visiting. When we finally went to sleep it was 4:30am.

I woke up the next day around noon. I wasn’t feeling too bad considering how much I drank the night before. Ron was already awake and Amish got up shortly afater. The others had gone to a mall to get food and do some shopping. We were getting fairly hungry and decided to get a cab and meet them there. The mall was just like any North American mall. Four floors of stores like Nike, Addidas, Levis and a food court.

The food court was the only thing that was different from North American malls. There were many Indian food places and most of the food was vegetarian. Places like McDonalds and KFC also had many vegetarian options. I settled on getting a McSpicey paneer burger from McDonalds. For some reason everyone working at the McDonalds would start cheering and whistling every few minutes. We couldn’t figure out why, but it was the happiest group of fast food employees I’ve ever seen.

After eating we found Tarak, Sneha, Tarung and Roshni. There was a theatre in the mall, so we all decided to watch a movie. Tarak, Amish, Ron and I went to see Sherlock Holmes 2 while the rest of our group chose to see a Hindi movie called “Dirty Movie”. This movie theatre turned out to be way nicer than the one in Jaipur. All of the seats in the screening rooms reclined and were almost as comfortable as lazy boys. The seats are on a fairly steep slope, so no matter how tall the person in front of you is, you will still be able to see the screen. My favorite feature was that everyone gets his or her own set of armrests. Why haven’t we done this? The movie was very well done, as was the first Sherlock Holmes. Both are a must see. When the movie ended we went back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.

The following day we headed to a street market to do some shopping. Once we got to the street with all the markets, we saw a shady looking mall, which we opted to look in first. There were tons of stores with cheap shirts and knock-off watches. We spend an hour or so looking through all the shops. I went through every fake watch shop looking for a decent knock off. The nice ones turned out to be somewhat expensive. The asking price for a good-looking fake Omega Seamaster was around $100. All the shops in the mall seemed to be run by the same people, and none of them would do any haggling. I wasn’t about to buy a fake watch for $100 so I eventually gave up. Amish was the only one who got something from the mall. He ended up getting a haircut for $2.00! and it didn’t look half bad.

All that browsing made us hungry, so we stopped into KFC and got some food. Turns out they serve corn on the cob, and it was very tasty. Ron and I decided to get some food from a store we saw across the street that served sandwiches made in big hot dog buns. Once we fuelled up we hit the street shops. The shops reminded me of one’s I’ve seen in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. They sell lots of crafts and clothing. Sneha found a guy selling scarves. We ended up buying 12 off of him for a pretty good price and continued to walk down the street. Along the way, many guys had tarps laid out on the ground with various goods on top of them. At one point all of them suddenly grabbed all 4 corners of their tarp, bundled up all their stuff, and ran across the street. It turned out there was a police car coming, and they aren’t allowed to sell things on the ground in front of the shops because they cause traffic jams.

Once we were satisfied with our day of shopping, we caught a taxi to Jugo Beach. The beach is a popular place to visit in the evening because there are lots of food stands, shops, and rides. We arrived around 4:30 and the place was packed. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the place was. I got used to seeing lots of litter in India and thought a beach full of people would be filthy, but in actually it was very well kept. Swimming in the ocean didn’t seem like a popular activity. It may be because there is so much else happening on the beach itself. There are tables set up with fresh fruit, snacks, jewelry, men selling kites, and even a guy who writes peoples names on grains of rice and makes necklaces or key chains out of them.

There was some pretty sketchy stuff at the beach as well. While walking down the beach we saw a miniature Ferris wheel spinning around. Upon closer inspection, we saw that the Ferris wheel was powered by men who would jump up and grab onto parts of the wheel, using their body weight to spin it. To stop the wheel, they would grab onto the opposite side and get pulled up off the ground. It looked really dangerous, so naturally I had to try it. I convinced Ron to ride it with me. There was a tiny little safety bar, and nothing to prevent the seat from spinning completely upside down. Once the Ferris wheel got up to speed, our seats were rotating us almost to a lying down position when coming over the top of the rotation. It actually turned out to be really fun, and nobody got killed. After the Ferris wheel ride we saw a tattoo artist who had set up a towel on the beach with her scrapbook of tattoo designs. She was currently working on a customer who was getting two pairs of initials inside a heart, carved into his bicep. There didn’t seem to be any spare needles, or any way of sterilizing the equipment. I asked how much it would cost to get a basic tattoo covering most of my shoulder. The going rate was about $10, which would leave you plenty of money to fund your medical bill to treat all the diseases you’d get from that needle.

The best part of Jugo Beach was the food stands. Once it got dark out, a number of stands opened to serve various traditional Indian dishes for super cheap (around $1 per plate). It was just like the Richmond night market in Vancouver. Amish, Ron and I went around the whole place buying plate after plate of different foods and sharing them. One of the best things we tried was a paneer butter malsala dosa. Dosa is kind of like a large thin pancake, only a little bit crispier. We watched the guy make it in front of us. He had a large cooking surface where he spread out the dosa batter. While the batter was cooking he started putting all of the ingredients for the filling directly onto the dosa. After every few ingredients the chef would take a bucket of melted butter and slop it on. He added one last giant knob of butter at the end before mashing all the ingredients together. Once everything was mixed properly, it was folded up and cut. It was delicious, but I couldn’t imagine eating a whole one myself since it’s so rich. We went back to our hotel, likely a few pounds heavier than when we left.

The next day was our last full day in Mumbai. Amish wanted to visit the Elephant caves (a set of man made caverns carved out of rock on a small island). A couple of us didn’t feel like going at first, but we couldn’t think up any alternatives so we reluctantly tagged along. We hired two cabs to take us to the Gateway of India, a 40-minute drive from our hotel. The cab drivers made a deal with us. If we paid them 4000 rupees, they would wait for us while we went to the elephant caves and drive us anywhere we wanted for the rest of the day. We decided it was a good deal and took them up on it. After stopping in for lunch at a popular cafe, we headed to the gateway to purchase our ferry tickets.

The Gateway of India is located right on the sea, across from the Taj hotel (one hotel bombed in the 2008 attacks). We bought our tickets and found the dock where our boat was. There were tons of boats in the water, most looked like our ferry. Our boat had two levels, the upper deck not having any cover. I was glad to be on the lower level in the shade since it was almost 30 degrees out. The ferry ride to the Elephant Islands took 40 minutes. During the journey we passed a navy battle ship and many industrial ships with numerous cranes aboard. One thing that surprised me was that people throw their garbage into the ocean even though there are garbage cans on the boat. I don’t mind people littering on land, since you know it’s not going anywhere, but when garbage gets thrown into the ocean, you don’t know where it ends up.

Once on the island we walked a long way to get to the ticket booth. There was a long path up a hill with tables set up on either side selling touristy nick-knacks. While walking up the path we started seeing more and more monkeys towards the top. Lots of people think wild monkeys are cute and funny. They’re not. Monkeys are scary. There was one sitting on a ledge beside us as we walked up and it hissed at Amish and bared it sharp pointy teeth. At the top of the hill, monkeys were everywhere. A couple of tourists were sitting on a ledge feeding something to a monkey. Once the monkeys found out the people had food, they wouldn’t leave the people alone. The monkeys started grabbing the people’s bags and hissing at them. One monkey grabbed a water bottle right out of the guys’ hand and ran away with it. The couple got up and walked away, but the monkeys kept on following them.

I wasn’t too impressed by the caves themselves. I think it was because I had already seen some amazing sites on our trip. There was one main cave with 15-foot high ceilings, which had a few large carvings of people in the back wall. The impressive bit is that the makers of the cave were able to carve them out of the rock so long ago using primitive tools. We briefly explored the caves, then returned back to the ferry.

We met our drivers back at the gateway and got them to drive us to a mall with a Mexican Indian restaurant that Amish and Tarak had eaten at 10 years ago. The food was somewhat expensive compared to most meals we had paid for in India. We started off ordering two plates of nachos. They were the most disappointing nachos I’ve ever had. The chips resembled Doritos and they were covered in runny cheese that tasted like cheese wiz. After this we contemplated leaving and finding somewhere else to eat. We asked for our bill and I went outside to look at our other options. There was a pasta place, but the menu didn’t look too great. The other options were McDonalds and Pizza hut. We decided to stay at the restaurant and try out the mains. I ordered the chicken tortillas, which turned out to be the same chips the nachos were made of with a little bit of chicken on them covered in nacho cheese. The other dishes people ordered looked a lot better than mine.

The next day we met Sneha and Tarung’s parents at our hotel. We went to lunch with them at a really fancy Indian restaurant before heading to the airport in the evening. Sneha and Tarak’s flight was at 11:00 pm. Amish, Ron and I were flying at 2:00 am but we headed to the airport at the same time. We killed the time by playing cards.

Our flight was connecting trough Heathrow in London England. We had an 8-hour stop over, just like our flight to India. This time we decided to go through customs and catch the underground into down town London to explore for a few hours. It took an hour to get from Heathrow to the heart of London.

I couldn’t believe how much of London we got to see in the 3 hours we were down town. The stop we got off of took us right to the London eye. Right across the river from the London eye is Big Ben. The view was spectacular. We crossed the bridge to the foot of Big Ben and caught a double decker bus to Trafalgar Square. There we saw the Olympic countdown clock and went into the national gallery. The last supper was being showcased while we were there, but we didn’t feel like paying 15 Pounds to go see it. Instead we blitzed through some of the free exhibits.

By the time we left the gallery it was 11:00 am and we were getting hungry. I suggested we find a traditional English pub to have lunch at. We wandered through the streets looking for the most stereotypical looking pub we could find. We saw one we liked and headed in. The bartender told us they didn’t start serving lunch until 12. Amish wanted to eat breakfast, but Ron and I wanted to order from the lunch menu. We decided to return at 11:45 so Amish could order his breakfast, then Ron and I could order lunch 15 minutes later. To kill time we found a local mini-mart and bought a whole bunch of chocolate bars. If you’ve never had chocolate from England, you’re missing out. I’m not sure what they do to it, but it’s better than the stuff we have here.

We returned to the pub at quarter to twelve to order the most English meal we could. Amish got veggie bangers and eggs. We then sampled the beers on tap until noon when Ron and I could order our lunch. I got fish and chips with peas while Ron ordered a beef pie. The food and beer were everything I hoped they’d be. Once finished our meal we caught the underground back to the airport and flew home. I never had the urge to visit England before, but I had a great time while I was there. I would love to go back someday and spend more time.

That concludes my stories from India. I wish I had written these posts sooner. I’m sure I missed a few anecdotes along the way. If you’d like to see any photos I have an album on my flicker account.

Posted in Travel

India Part 2 (Tourists)

The day after the funeral, I had recovered from my little illness and was looking forward to leave on our tour of northern India.  Coming on the trip was Amish, his brother Tarak, Tarak’s wife Sneha, our friend Ron, as well as Tarang and his wife Roshni.  We had an overnight train to catch in the city of Ahmedabad.  We were told the drive would take about 5 or 6 hours on the highway depending on traffic.  Thankfully, we spent the time in a 10 person bus with very comfortable seats.  This made the drive very tolerable.

Once again our driver was very aggressive, swerving in and out of “lanes” and squeezing through spots that seemed too small for a 10 person vehicle.  At one point of the drive we were stuck in a large traffic jam.  The driver pulled onto the shoulder and drove as far as he could before having to pull back onto the road to avoid a ditch.  He continued doing this as often as he could, but we weren’t making much progress.  Finally there came a point where the divider on the highway had a break in it.  Naturally, our driver, along with many other cars, crossed the divider into the oncoming lane of the highway and proceeded to drive against the traffic.  Eventually we crossed a bridge where the traffic thinned out and we were able to cross back onto our side.

We arrived at Ahmedabad a few hours before our train was set to leave. We were all hungry, so we went to a hotel and had dinner.  I think that was the best paneer tikka masala we had on the trip.  Once dinner was finished, we went to the train station, picked up the tickets, and found the platform our train was at.  It looked pretty shabby from the outside.  Our tickets were the best tickets available on the train, but I wasn’t expecting much.  Each room on the train held 4 people.  There were two bunk beds with enough room in between them for one person to stand.  Thankfully it was an overnight train and we spent all of the trip sleeping.

When we awoke, the train had just arrived in Udaipur.  It was about 8 in the morning and the temperature was much colder than it had been in Shiker.  A man from the tour agency, as well as our driver from the trip, greeted us at the station.  We were pleased to learn that we had another 10 person tour bus for the rest of the trip.  The interior was very comfortable.  All of the seats reclined, there were curtains to block out the sun, and it even came equipped with blue lights that made it look like a party bus.

We made our way to the hotel to check in.  The drive there was very nice.  Udaipur is one of the more touristy cities in India.  Since many people come to visit, it is kept much cleaner that other areas of India.  The landscape is very beautiful.  There are lots of hills and mountains with lakes in between.  We were driving up the side of one hill and noticed a huge building that looked like a palace on our left.  We drove a few meters passed the gate and the driver stopped.   He was not too sure where we were.  While he was figuring things out, a couple of small children ran up to the van and started knocking on the windows begging for money.  They made the motion of putting things in their mouth like they’re eating to let us know they wanted money for food.  It was sad because most of them are very cute and Amish informed me that they really do need money for food.

The driver seemed to figure out where we needed to go and started reversing the van.  He backed up and pulled through the gate of the palace-like building on the hill.  We got really excited as we went through the security check.  The hotel looked amazing.  There was a great view of a palace on top of a mountain across from us as well as all of the buildings below us.  It turned out that the hotel we originally booked was still under construction, so we got upgraded.

After checking our bags into our rooms we met our driver and picked up our tour guide for that day.  Our guide first took us to see the city palace.  It is a huge complex that used to house royalty.  Now it’s a very busy tourist attraction.  The inside of the palace was very crowded while we were there.  One thing I learned at the palace is that it’s common to cut in lines and push people in crowds.  I quickly got used to this and started to enjoy it.  You can get places much faster if you’re willing to impose yourself a little bit.  Most of the rooms in the palace were filled with art that depicted the history of the rulers.  Some of the stories were cool, but I didn’t like the style of painting.  I found the architecture of the palace much more interesting.

After exploring the city palace, our guide took us to a garden called Saheliyon ki Bari.  It had a bunch of nice fountains and huge plants.  When you enter the garden there is a walkway with water spouts on either side.  All of the other tour guides would tell their groups that if they clap, the fountains will shoot water higher into the air.  The tourists would then start clapping at the water and the water spouts would rise.  Our guide took us in and pointed to worker sitting in the garden.  He told us that his job was to sit there and when all the tourists start clapping, he turns the water pressure up on the fountain.  We walked over and sure enough, there was a big valve at his feet.  We watched him work his magic as the next group of tourists came into the park and started furiously clapping.

Once we had explored the gardens, Sneha wanted to go see a puppet show.  She had been told that it was very good, and a popular tourist attraction.  I think we went to the wrong museum.  The puppet show we saw was pretty sad.  The room was tiny, filled with roughly 20 metal fold out chairs.  The people who didn’t get a seat either stood or sat on the floor in front of the chairs.  The first scene of the puppet show was a snake tamer and a cobra dancing around on stage.  I’m no puppet expert, but I was not impressed by this puppeteer’s talent.  Most of the show consisted of the puppets flying back and forth across the stage as if the puppet master was just swinging his arms wildly.  The only saving grace was a weird scene where a puppet dressed like a woman would flip over and change into a man.  That part was pretty funny.

Once our brief puppet encounter had concluded, we went to take a sunset boat ride around the lake.  The nickname for Udaipur is the Venice of the East, and for a good reason; it’s gorgeous on the water.  We went around the lake palace and stopped at another floating hotel to look around.  We got a great view of the city palace before travelling back to shore.

The sun was down and we were all hungry, so our driver took us to a nice looking restaurant near our hotel.  One thing I found is that the more we seemed to pay for food, the worse the food would taste.  This was one of the first restaurants on our tour that lead me to believe this.  The restaurant itself was very nice, it had marble tables underneath tents with a view of the water.  The food, on the other hand,  was awful.  Almost everything we ordered was very bland, the opposite of what you’d expect from Indian food.  Near the end of the trip I realized my favourite food I had eaten on the trip was your everyday cheap street food.

In the morning we departed from Udaipur and headed for Jaipur.  The drive took about six hours and went buy quickly.  Our hotel in Jaipur wasn’t quite as nice as the one in Udaipur, but our doorman had an amazing moustache (not actually our doorman).  We decided to see a movie to kill the rest of the day because we were spending two nights in Jaipur.  Neither Ron nor I spoke any Hindi.  We thought an action movie would have the easiest plot to follow.  The big flick that was showing was “Don 2“.  It’s an action flick about some gangsters trying to steal some money printing plates.  From what I got, the plot was  very similar to “Rush Hour 2″.  The  movie theatre was pretty impressive.  The best tickets at $3.00 sold out, so we settled for the second best at $2.00.  The seats were not very comfortable, but the number of seats was crazy.  There was one screen at the theatre, and it sat 1100 people.  Watching the movie was a different experience as well.  It was like watching the movie with a live studio audience.  Everyone would laugh or hoot when jokes were made and cheer when the main actor did his big stunts.

The seven of us took two separate rickshaws back to the hotel.  Riding in a rickshaw at night was very sketchy.  Three of us were fairly crammed into one and I had to hunch over pretty far to see out of the vehicle.  There were tons of other rickshaws, cars, and trucks speeding by us within inches of our tiny car.

The next day we woke up early and left to pick up our tour guide.  He took us by the wind palace.  There were some snake charmers out front showing off their cobras.  The snakes looked as if they wanted no part in the act.  The charmers would hit them on their heads to make them come out of the baskets.  One of the snakes slowly tried to slither away, but was quickly grabbed and pulled back.

Once I had taken a few pictures of the snakes, we went to a big fort in the mountains called Amer Fort.  The whole area was very picturesque.  There was a small lake in front of the fort.  The fort itself is on top of a hill.  To get there, tourists can either walk or pay to ride an elephant the entire way.  Our tour guide told us the line up was roughly 30 minutes to get an elephant.  He said there was another area we could go for an elephant ride that cost the same, had no line up, and was more like a jungle safari.  We decided to walk up to the fort and ride elephants later.  There was a separate path for people on foot.  Occasionally the pedestrian’s and elephant’s paths would cross.  The fort had 140 elephants employed so the amount of traffic was very thick.  Dodging the elephants was tricky.  We avoided getting trampled and made it to the top of the fort where we explored.  Similar to the city palace in Udaipur, it was full of artwork and some pretty gardens.

After seeing most of the fort, we went for our “jungle safari” elephant ride.  Our van stopped in the middle of a bunch of buildings and we got out.  In what looked like a large alley, stood a huge male elephant and a trainer.  It didn’t look like much of a jungle.  Sure enough the ride consisted of the elephant walking down the alley for a while before turning around and coming back.  I didn’t end up riding the elephant as I had already ridden one when I was younger.  My favourite part about the jungle safari was hanging out with a funny looking goat and watching it eat garbage.

We left the jungle and went to Jantar Mantar.  It is an outdoor collection of old astrology equipment.  There were really cool sundials and other instruments used to read constellations.  It was a nice surprise as none of use expected it to be very interesting.

The next stop on our tour was Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  We left very early in the morning so we would have enough time to visit the Taj before traveling on to Delhi.  It was very cold that morning.  We stopped for breakfast and I almost froze in my shorts and sweatshirt.  The fields on either side of the road had frost on them it was so cold.

By the time we reached Agra, the temperature was much more comfortable.  We reached the Taj Mahal around 10 in the morning, just after picking up our guide.  The entrance fee to the Taj Mahal for foreign tourists is roughly $15.  Similar to most sites around India, there was a special price for Indian tourists.  I believe it was something like $0.50!  Pretty big difference, but it was worth every penny.  Cars are only allowed so close to the Taj.  The last bit of the journey is either on foot, or in an electric car.  The reason is to help protect the Taj Mahal from pollution.  I would think that pollution diffuses through the air and would hit the building just as badly.  I was very impressed by the building itself.  I had only seen pictures of it on the internet or on postcards.  In most of the pictures there either aren’t any people, or I didn’t pay attention to the people.  I didn’t have any idea how big the Taj really was.  It’s massive.  The entire building is symmetrical, including all the buildings surrounding it.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  It is truly something you have to see for yourself to appreciate.

We left the Taj Mahal and drove to Delhi.  We entered the city around 7:00pm, but traffic was so bad that we didn’t arrive at our hotel until around 9:00pm!  By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were extremely tired.  The quality of the hotel was much lower that the three previous ones we had stayed in.  It was supposed to be a 4 star, but in reality it was around a 2-3 at best.  The rooms weren’t cleaned very well, the showers didn’t have warm water unless your let them run for 5 minutes, and we were promised a lake view.  This was our view.  We weren’t pleased so Sneha called the tour company to let them know.  They offered to get us a room in a different hotel, but we were too tired to switch.

The next day we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel.  It was the worst meal I remember in India.  The only thing that tasted somewhat decent was the toast, which is hardly breakfast.  Once we were done we picked up our tour guide and headed to Akshardham; a breathtaking temple in Delhi.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take my camera in.  The security is very tight at the temple because they want to keep it peaceful.  Construction was completed in 2007.  Every part of the complex is hand carved with extreme detail.  The actual temple was free to enter, but there were a few exhibits that cost a bit extra to visit.  We went to a couple, both gave lots of history about the religion.  Unfortunately our tour guide was near useless.  It turns out it was his first time to Akshardham and we ended up having to pay for his entrance to the exhibits.  The entire time he seemed to be rushing through the temple and gave us no information.  Any facts he  did give us were recited from a notebook he kept on him.

After Akshardham we visited the Lotus Temple.  It was built as a temple for followers of any religion to visit.  The interior of the temple is almost as impressive as the outside.  Everyone entering the temple is supposed to remain silent.

We decided not to see any more sites after the Lotus Temple.  It was still fairly early in the afternoon and we were sick of our tour guide.  We decided to return to the hotel.  Once there we called the tour agency again and let them know about how poor the guide was.  The director at the agency decided to give us a free dinner to make up for it.  We were excited and thought our luck in Delhi was going to turn around.

The agency told us that our driver was going to pick us up at 7:00.  All of us waited in the lobby.  Our driver didn’t show up until 8:00.  We arrived at the restaurant which appeared very nice.  It was very busy inside and there was a live band.  We met a man from the tour agency who was there to pay for our meal.  Once seated the waiter told us that we were being served a fixed menu.  Most of us were alright with this, but a few of the group were very particular eaters and the menu did not really suit their pallet.  The service at the place was horrible.  We waited for ages to get drink orders taken.  There would be 5 or 6 employees standing around talking to each other.  If we wanted service we’d have to work pretty hard to get the attention of a waiter.  When we did get service, the servers were very rude, and slow to put in orders.  A table beside us was complaining to the manager about the lack of service.  Eventually we saw the man from the tour agency talking to the group at the table.  Amish went over and asked if they were on a tour with the same company as us.  Turns out the were!  They had a similar problem with a hotel and got sent to the same restaurant for dinner.

During the meal we called the director of the agency again and let him know how poor the restaurant was.  He felt was sincerely sorry and insisted that we join him at a different restaurant for a drink.  It was late and we were tired but we reluctantly accepted.

We met the director at a Chinese food place near his office.  He told us how sorry he was about our time in Delhi and bought us all drinks.  We told him that we were heading to Mumbai the next day and didn’t have any tickets booked for new years yet.  He gave us a number for a contact he had that may be able to get us a deal on tickets to some big parties.  After thanking him, we returned to our hotel and slept well knowing that we would be leaving Delhi the next morning.

Posted in Travel

India Part 1 (The Village)

I just got back from an amazing 3 week trip to India.  I was invited to attend my friend’s brother’s wedding early in 2011 and accepted the invite knowing that it may be the only time I would get to see a wedding in India.  There is a lot I could write about on this trip, so I will separate it into three separate posts.  This first post concentrates on our time spent in the village of Shiker and the wedding celebration.  My apologies if it gets confusing as I left out names of people.

Our plane arrived in Mumbai around 11am where the first thing we were greeted by was a giant rat that was hanging out in the middle of the airport hallway gnawing on something.  It didn’t seem to be bothered by anyone, and no one was bothered by it.  Outside, we were met by the driver who was sent from the village to pick us up.  I forget his name, but he was one hell of a driver.  There are virtually no rules on the roads in India.  Nobody uses their mirrors or shoulder checks.  Instead, people use their horn constantly to let other drivers know when they are passing each other.  Nobody uses the lanes properly.  We asked the driver if anyone obeys the lines on the road and his joking response was: “We don’t understand what they mean.”  When we got closer to the village, we pulled off the highway and onto a two-lane road.  This was much scarier because our driver would still pass everyone on the road, only he would drive into the oncoming traffic to achieve this.  The last hour or two of the drive was a constant game of chicken with oncoming cars.  To make things worse, it got dark outside.  You could see nothing but the headlights of cars coming at you, then, at the last second, our driver would pull back into our lane.  Some people say that India’s drivers are the best in the world, as well as the worst in the world.  After my trip I fully agree with this statement.

We arrived in the village around 7:00pm and immediately got changed into our proper outfits for the wedding that night.  A few minutes later the groom’s party arrived.  It’s a tradition for the groom’s side of the family to walk to the wedding place in the bride’s village.  The walk lasts a few hours and is actually more like a giant party, moving throughout the streets.  At the head of the party was a pick up truck loaded with 10 or 15 huge speakers blasting music.  Everyone was dancing their way up the street to the wedding tent, while children ran all around lighting off fireworks.  The groom arrived on a horse drawn carriage which had been decked out with flowers and lights.  Before the groom enters the wedding tent, he must go through a few traditional tasks.  The only one I understood and remember is that he has to stand on a little platform and break two clay bowls that have been tied together.  If one of the legs on the platform breaks while he’s squishing the clay, bad luck is brought upon the marriage.

After the traditions outside had been performed, the wedding party entered the tent and sat down for the main ceremony.  Indian wedding ceremonies are very different from North American weddings.  Instead of sitting there quietly and listening throughout the whole wedding, people chat to each other and are free to get up and move about.  I was told that I could get up and go right up to the couple and take pictures if I wanted.  A great feature is that people come and serve you food and drinks during the ceremony.  At all three weddings I attended we were served water, a plate of food, soda, and ice cream.  You can also leave the wedding at any time.

We had a Garba to attend that night in a different bride’s village so we left the wedding early, since we weren’t directly related to the bride or groom.  Garba is a form of dance.  The dancing took place after a cake cutting ceremony and lasted until early in the morning.  We were exhausted from all our travelling and ended up leaving around 1:00 am while the party was still going on.  That night we were lucky enough to get a bed in my friend’s uncle’s house.  We slept very well.

The second day, we got a ride from the house back to the village and dropped off our bags.  We then met a driver at the uncle’s house and went to explore the nearby town of Bardoli.  On our way we stopped by a grilled sandwich place.  They had about a dozen sandwich grilling machines lined up and would make them in large batches.  They were veggie sandwiches as most people seem to be vegetarian.  (A quick look at wikipedia tells me that about 30% of India is vegetarian with only 30% of non-vegetarians consuming meat regularly.) We bought 6 sandwiches for a total of 90 rupees ($1.80).  They were delicious. Once in Bardoli, only a 15 minute drive, we had more food.  I unfortunately have forgotten what most things were called.  I will have to ask my friend again and update this post when I figure it out.

After returning from Bardoli we got ready for another night of Garba.  This night it was in the groom’s village.  There was another cake cutting ceremony, although on this night it was a surprise for my friend, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday.  After the cake cutting ceremony there were some dance performances by family members as well as a dancer whowas performing with the band.  During the dance performances, guys would get up and shower the girls with bills.  During one song the dancer spotted me and gave me the “come here” hand signal.  I didn’t have a pocket full of rupees to throw at her so I just went up and danced with her.  She was trying to teach me some moves, but I didn’t pick up any of them very well.  After the Garba, we were in the house cooling off when the dancer came in to talk to me.  She didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak Hindi so one of my friend’s Aunts translated for me.  She was asking if I would marry her.  I assumed she was joking, but just to be safe I politely declined.  She got upset and informed me that she had a Bollywood movie star waiting for her at home.  We all laughed and went to bed.

The next day was the day of my friend’s brother’s wedding.  The events started around 1:00 pm.   The family headed over to a house in the bride’s village where we waited for her family to come over.  When they eventually came over, the bride’s sisters all played a joke on the groom.  They offered him a soda, which they sometimes sabotage with something like masala or salt.   This group of girls made it look like they had tampered with the drink, when in fact it was fine.  ( After the groom takes the drink, they make him pay for it. )  The groom ended up paying the equivalent of $27 for the bottle of Pepsi. ( Once they’re done, the bride’s family leaves.)  We waited in the house until we were called over to have dinner.   After walking to the dining tent, we sat down with about 200 people to eat.  The tent was set up with about 6 very long tables.  People sit on one side of the table facing people at the next table so that workers can walk in the middle of the two tables and serve food.  Food was constantly brought to us for about an hour.  After dinner, the grooms family retured to the house and got ready for the walk/party to the wedding tent.  The groom and his immediate family got changed into their traditional suits and a ton of photos were taken.  Once that was over, the groom got on the horse drawn carriage and the party started.  We had a moving band, with brass instruments, drums, and a stereo which playied vocals out of a super old loudspeaker.  One of the family friends had a hook up to someone who sold fireworks, so we had an entire truck full of fireworks.  They were lighting up the sky for the entire 2 or 3 hours it took us to get to the wedding tent. There’s another funny tradition once the ceremony starts.  When the groom gets onto the altar, inside the tent, he must take off his shoes.  When he takes them off, people from the bride’s side try to steal them.  If they are successful, they sell them back to the groom later, or else he has to walk around in bare feet all night.  In this instance, my friend managed to protect his brothers shoes for a while.  They were eventually taken and they had to pay $50 to get them back.

The wedding ceremony was fairly quick.  There is some kind of superstition or rule that you can’t get married on a Wednesday so the wedding had to be over by midnight.  This was a relief, as we still hadn’t caught up on our sleep yet.

The next day we attended another wedding.  We were part of the groom’s side again, so the day’s structure was the same.  We went to a house in the bride’s village and waited for the bride’s family.  While we were waiting, about a dozen small boys came in and sat beside me.  They kept staring at me, so I eventually started talking to them.  Only one or two spoke some broken English.  When we asked about what music they like, they all started singing Justin Bieber.  I asked if they knew the Beatles or any other English music.  Sadly the only English music that had reached them was Bieber.  The party through the streets was just as good as the night before, just a few less fireworks.  Their wedding started later, and lasted longer.  Again this was because the wedding started on Wednesday, but the couple had to be officially married after midnight as to not be married on Wednesday.  We left before the ceremony ended.  We found out that the wedding lasted until about 3:30 am.

On Thursday we went with the two newly married couples for dinner, into the city of Surat (45 minutes away).  The restaurant of choice was pizza hut, which turned out to be the most expensive meal yet (fine dining).  After dinner we dropped the couples off at a fancy hotel where they spent the night.  The drive back to the village was fun.  Rush hour in Surat was the most traffic I’ve ever seen.  Cars and motorcycles surrounded us, with only a couple of inches between each other.  We got bumped only once.  Our driver said that when you drive into Surat, you should expect to get a new scratch on your car by the time you leave. This would explain why we rarely saw nice cars in India.

The plan on Friday was to return to the hotel, pick up the couples and go see a movie with them.  On our way to pick them up, we received a call to tell us that my friends Grandfather was in the hospital and wasn’t doing to well.  He was old and had been sick for a while.  We headed to the hospital, which was in what looked like a back alley.  It was small, and fairly dirty.  Unfortunately my friends Grandfather passed away at 2:00pm while we were in the waiting room.  They planned the funeral for 5 0-clock that evening at their house in the village.  We returned to the house with the body.  The funeral had to be delayed until the morning because one of the family members couldn’t make it back home on time.  That night we stayed in the house next door because no one is allowed to sleep in the same building as the body.  The owner of the house was very friendly and drunk.  He insisted that before we go to sleep we must have a beer with him.  Eventually we accepted, and concluded the beer may have been tainted as we got sick the next day.  Gujarat is a dry state.  Alcohol can’t legally be bought, so any alcohol is pretty sketchy.

The funeral started at 8:00 am the next morning.  There were some prayers, then the body was carried to a truck and driven to a building where it was cremated Darth Vader style.  When we returned to the house I wasn’t feeling well (the beer kicking in).   I had a fever and felt very cold, so I spent the day in bed. The next day we would leave on our 6 day tour of India which I will cover in my next post.

Posted in Travel

Fall 2011 Wrap Up

This was a very eventful week.

My fall semester is finished with the exception of two final exams.  I was only working three days a week and taking two classes, yet I was surprised at the amount of work required.  My graphics course (CMPT 361) had four assignments, four of which I put over 30-50 hours into.  The assignments for my compilers course were also time consuming and challenging.  I enjoyed both courses very much and learned a lot.  I will most likely do another post soon summarizing the courses.

Yesterday was my last day of work at Elasticpath software.  I had been working part time for EP software since January.  First as a quality assurance analyst coop, then as a performance analyst coop since April.  Instead of going back to full time studies in September, I stayed on with EP three days a week and took two classes.  If I had fewer courses left in my degree then I would love to have stayed on with the company.  There are roughly 140 employees at EP, yet it feels like a much smaller company.  They are constantly innovating their product; as a result, the work is exciting and always provides new challenges.  The employees love organizing events, from drop in hockey and rock band parties, to bigger things like company picnics.  I’m sad to end my time at Elasticpath, but I’m also looking forward to completing my studies.

As for crossfit, I’ve falled off the wagon a bit in the past few weeks.  After competing at the Crossfit Taranis Winter Challenge, I took a few days rest before training again.  A cold I’d aquired before the winter challenge started making a comback once I got back in the gym.  I decided to take 5 days off to make sure that I got rid of the nasty bugger.  Once the cold was gone, I got back in the gym for a weekend team workout.  It consisted of 195 pull ups, 195 kb swings, 195 double unders and 195 overhead squats.  The pull ups absolutely destroyed my arms and I ended up taking another 5 days off.  That leads us to this week.  Monday and Tuesday went well, and then Wednesday rolled around.  Fran.  For people who don’t know much about crossfit, Fran is probably the most famous crossfit workout.  Everyone talks about how painful it is.  I had heard this on so many occasions, and this was my first time tackling the WOD so I was expecting the worst.  The only problem is that you can expect the worst, but until you experience the worst, you have no idea what it’s like.  Fran messed me up worse than I could have ever imagined.  I started off the workout strong, doing the 21 thrusters unbroken, then moving onto the pull ups.  After the 21 thrusters, I was already starting to feel the lungs burning.  I took a few breaths then jumped up and hammered out 21 pull ups unbroken.  After I dropped from the bar the real workout started.  I was starting to feel light headed, and had a very hard time catching my breath.  I walked back to the bar and thought “Ok, lets get a good set of 7 or 8 thrusters now.”  I picked up the bar and did 4.  That’s all I could muster.  At this point, 15 thrusters is sounding like a lot bigger number than it did initially.  The rest of the workout went this way, picking up the bar and hammering out small sets of thrusters, and breaking up the pull ups.  I pushed it as hard as I could have pushed it, ending up finishing in 5:56.  After I finished, I collapsed and thought “Thank god it’s over!”  But it wasn’t over.  For then next 50 minutes I felt absolutely horrible.  I didn’t get the puke feeling that many athletes get after throwing down Fran, but my heart was pounding, I was light headed, and my vision was off for a few minutes (color hue wasn’t quite right).  I never thought a 5 minute workout could feel like so much work.  Now I know, Fran is legit.

Next week I’ve got two exams, one Monday and one Wednesday.  Then on Friday evening I fly to India for 21 days to attend a wedding and do some travelling.  I’ll be sure to write a post as soon as I can, but my classes start right when I get back from my trip, so it may be a week or two.

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