Thursday, July 10, 2008

A year and a half later....we're in India

Back for another episode of this man's travelling're in luck! :) There's been a year and half hiatus at this blog, my apologies for not putting up a post in the meantime....!

As you may know, Kathryn (my lovely wife) and I are currently on a mission trip in South India at the moment. I am currently writing for Salem, which is a town 5 hours drive south of Bangalore. We've flew into Bangalore on the 5th of July and arrived in Salem on the 6th of July. Our team consists of 7 guys and 1 girl (Kathryn), and we've set out to India to help Indian leaders learn more about the Word by teaching them two Moore Correspondance courses, Paul's letter to the Roman's and Creation to New Creation (AKA Introduction to the Word). Kathryn and I felt this was a great opportunity to get some experience in cross cultural ministry, and we also saw the need to help other followers who need a hand with having a better knowledge of Word so they could lead their meetings effectively. After 14 weeks of preparation, immunisation injections, admin, raising awareness among our family and friends that we were going to India and learning how to eat with only my right hand with no utensils, we find ourselves in India.

Our flight was around 12hours from Sydney to Bangalore. We had a stop over at Singapore (thank goodness!) so we could stretch our legs and run around a bit. We had a little walk around Changi airport. We were captivated by the electronics stores, and Kathryn discovered a store that sold purple gold.

We arrived in Bangalore at around 9pm local time and got through customs OK. As soon as I stepped outside, the humdity and heat just hit me. Lucky I packed some shorts and lots of deoderant. Ken introduced us to Leader Abraham, who was one of the leaders that was planning on taking the Romans course. He's a really nice dude and was very warm to us all. We go ushered onto a minibus, which was pretty cramped and taken to a hostel to stay at the for the night.

Kathryn and I had a separate room and are pretty cosy. Breakfast, however, was a whole new experience! We ate around 9.30am (which is like after lunch in Sydney, so we were starving!) and had:
* french toast - I had never actually eaten french toast until this day, funny eating a Western meal in an Easter Country
* Boori - a bubble of deep fried wafer thin bread
* Porridge (ish) - I don't usually like eating porridge, but this was OK.
* "Yellow" (we called it yellow, anyway) - a gooey liquid potato curry eaten on the Boori
* Fried eggs
* Indian coffee (instant with goat milk, it was actuallly yum). John , Mike and I have had minimal coffee here and have had withdrawals...we're OK now.

We all got piled into our minibus again and headed out towards Salem. Driving through the streets of Bangalore and through the countryside was quite an experience. The smells that wafted through our van were full on...lots of pollution, waste, burning garbage...the heat and dodgy suspension also didn't contribute positively. The scenery however was awesome. The traffic is chaotic, its noisy, the buildings look all run down and people and bikes are everywhere...hectic.

Fortunately our driver is very skilled in the art of driving on Indian streets. We've given him the name of "Dangerous Dave" (i don't think if his real name is Dave though). He took every opportunity to overtake any traffic in front of him in our lane by driving onto the wrong side of the road. There were a couple of close calls with head-ons with bikes, other buses and trucks, Fortunately, the bus was equipped with a horn so the driver was utilising that feature the feature of the bus frequently.

After a mini-stopover at a petrol station and more driving, we finally arrived in Salem. We're staying at the "Sharon" (Grace in Tamil) Community Centre, which contains various facilities in and around the campus including accommodation (where we sleep), a school, a hospital, and convention centre (where we teach the Romans course).

Our first night here was very cool. We were welcomed by the kids and staff at Sharon where the kids performed some dances and items for us. Kids as young as 4 years old were reciting chunks of the Word and giving their testimonies which was pretty amazing!

We got a good tour of facilities on Monday. Tuesday we began the Romans course at the convention centre. Around 60-70 leaders travelled from around South India came to study the book of Romans. It was encouraging to see that they were keen to learn and be challenged from this book, and we were excited to be helping them. Ken gave the lectures on each unit while the rest of the team ran 'Discussion groups' to tease out some of the ideas presented in the lecture. The lectures were given in english and were translated into Tamil for the majority to understand. Lots of questions and discussion were had during the lectures, as there were lots of cultural issues raised, and Biblical misunderstandings that were needed to be ironed out.

A major highlight over the time of the course was the pr**er and singing at the beginning of each session. The leaderssang sitting down and always clapped along, tapped, and banged on tables to the songs. The leaders had incredible voices and everyone was so engrossed in it. P**yers were usually done standing up with plenty of hands lifted towards the sky.
My experience of the discussion group was interesting. I co-lead with Andrew and it would usually start with a question, translated into Tamil, followed by a lot of Tamil being spoken by the group for several minutes, then a one lined response/question for clarification. It was a fairly tedious but necessary task. Towards end of the course, the leaders were more open to asking questions and engaging in more discussions, which was the goal of what Andrew and I were encouraging them to do. The course finished on a high with a final exam that lasted for 2 hours and 10 minutes, the giving Certificates of Participation to all the leaders, and shaking the hands of each leader (with the occasional hugs).

Another highlight is that we've officially brought the game of "Hacky Sack" into India. Christopher (an Indian leader) joined us in our games and eventually got very good at it.

On Friday, Mike and I had the opportunity to play some volleyball with the students at Sharon school. Leader Kennedy told us that he usually gets together with the students a couple of times a week to play volleyball and basketball with them for fellowship and asked us to join him. The students were stoked to have us there. Mike is a giant and could spike the ball pretty well so we pretty much won 2 of the 3 games played. It was a pretty fun morning!

Where to next....

1) We're heading to a graduation ceremony for the leaders on Saturday where Ken will be speaking. We also plan to go to the markets check out the shops.

2) On Sunday, the team is heading out on another road trip to the South of India. The distance from Salem to the south of India is similar to the distance between Brisbane and Melbourne...hectic huh... :) We have a 15 hour bus trip (with Dangerous Dave) ahead of us

3) We will be visiting a Meeting on Sunday on the way down.
If you're a p**y-er, please p**y for:

* The team as we travel all the way south to the south of India
* The health and well-being of the team as some of us have become sick
* The Indian leaders that we've helped through Romans, and for the leaders we will help next week through 'Creation to New Creation'
* John as he will be giving the lectures next week on next week's course
Keep you posted for the next update!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

'Acropolis Souvlaki Now'/Stolen Greek Art/12 hours of Sleep

Its finally up, the last episode in the European adventure. Sorry for the belated response, i've been overwhelmed really. So here it is, I wrote this blog quite a number of weeks ago but hadn't put it up.

Well, I've finally reached home in sunny Sydney where its been fantastic weather and where all the signs are in english...I arrived at Sydney airport at around 6:20AM, which was actually 15 minutes later than my expected time of arrival. My parents arrived at around 6AM, and Kathryn arrrived before 6AM and I didn't get out of customs until 7:45AM...I felt pretty bad making them wait. But I was mega stoked to have a little welcome home party to greet me after my 24 hour flight from London.

So here goes the next installment to the serial blogs of the European tour...

Yep, I caved and I ate McDonalds at Rome Airport. There was nothing else to eat and I was really hungry. I did feel bad at the time but it was suprisingly good McDonalds.

I felt a bit sad to leave Rome, because it was such a beautiful city. But I was very excited about getting to Greece, and I was having very high expectations about Athens and the stuff I'd imagined it had to offer. However, I was disappointed...I'll try to explain...

I flew into Athens and caught a bus to my hostel which was in the middle of Syntagma. It was heaps close to all the cool sites I wanted to see. During the bus trip in, I got to soak in the city's buildings and landscape. The outskirts of the city looked cool, nice green pastures and mountain ranges. However, the city was pretty ordinary. The traffic was horrendous and the buildings weren't much to look at. Athens just seemed very modern and didn't have an 'old school' feel to it. Despite this, the people seemed pretty cool. There was a coffee shop I visited throughout my stay in Athens, where I religously bought my morning coffee there. The cool thing in Europe, particulary in Athens and Italy was that they remembered who I was if I visited more than once and would know exactly what to make me!

I got around to visiting the Acropolis, which was a 10 minute from the hostel. The view on the walk up to the Acropolis was amazing, as you got an awesome view of the rest of Athens. I met some old dude on the way up who tried to explain to me the directions to the entrance of the site. He also taught me how to say 'thank you very much' (efharisto pollo) in Greek...which was very nice of him...i think.

The Acropolis site was very cool. It was orginally the place where the Ancient Greeks use to live, but later became the area of worshipping gods. The main monument on the top was the Pantheon, which was the temple dedicated to Athena. There was another temple on the side for the worship of Posseidon. Apparently, these two gods were rivals and fought, and somehow Athena came on top. One interesting thing I learnt was that the Pantheon has no perfectly vertical or horizontal lines in its structure. So basically, nothing was perfectly flat, or perfectly straight. This apparently gives the building an 'optical illusion' to appear straight and bigger than what it is...I somehow couldn't figure it out so I guess it fooled me! The Greek philosiphy behind this design was that they wanted it to be 'alive' and to be different to any other building they had made, that it was something that was living and pulsating.

The view from the top was very awesome, it was pretty much a 360 degree view of Athens where it just seemed like a sea of buildings with cool mountains in the background. I could see the 'Theatre of Dionysis' from the top, but I didn't actually visit it because I exited the Acropolis and wasn't allowed to come back in...dumb.

After hanging around at the Acropolis for an hour, and headed towards the Roman and Ancient Agora, where there were more ancient ruins of living quarters, buildings, temples and structures. Ancient Agora was cool to walk around in and I tried to imagine what it would've been like to have been back there in the day. However, much of the ruins were just rocks, large slabs, and statue bases. So it became more difficult to imagine what the place would've looked liked. Plus, the lack of info provided next to the destroyed structure wasn't really provided so that didn't help....and the heat didn't neither. Roman Agora was a little better as it did have structures that were still preserved. There were some pillars left from a temple dedicated to Athena, and 'The Tower of the Four Winds' was pretty cool.

I munched on a Gyros, which was kinda like a kebab, took a quick nap because I was stuffed from travelling and I hopped down to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. In hindsight, the temple would've been huge, as the pillars were massive and 2 sets of these pillars ran around the sides of the temple. This was pretty much the only attraction at this site, because everything else was rubble...So again, there were some living quarters, shops and stuff, but they were reduced to frustrating.

The next day I managed to hit Ancient Corinth, which was around a one and half hour train trip from Athens, then around a 15 to 20 minute bus trip. Ancient Corinth is just outside of the modern city of Corinth. I bumped into a Japanese guy named Naoki, who was a really cool guy I got along with really well and made the day heaps fun! He was also trying to get to Ancient Corinth so we teamed up and spent the day together. We checked out the ancient ruins and there was some cool stuff to see. Some of the structures were exisiting in someway, however a lot of it was in rubble. The site itself wasn't very big and we basically did it in 2 hours. It was a little difficult to decipher what the structures were in some areas and how they would've looked. The main temple of Athena still had some of its pillars standing, however it was interesting to see several statue bases right next to the temple, where these statues were other gods that these people worshipped at the time.

After a good lunch and a good chat about how different Australia and Japan is, we decided to head up to Accrocorinth. It basically a hike up this massive hill and it was even harder to do because it was intensely uphill and there wasn't any shade on the way up (yeah, you apparently shouldn't do an intense walk like this in the mid afternoon heat...). So we made our journey with the help of a Greek dude in ute who gave us a lift up to the top from about halfway...very cool guy!

Accrocorinth was probably the best thing I saw in Greece. The views were breathtaking and it was just really refreshing to see something green and natural, instead of looking at concrete jungles and smelling pollution. The site was used a defence wall to protect the rest of the Penelopenese Island from invaders by the Greeks, but failed. Naoki and I spent a fair time wandering around the mountain and checking out the view from the top until we got kicked out around 3PM.

The last thing I went to in Athens was the National Archaelogical Museum with Canadian whom I met at my hostel. The museum was worth seeing and was a good opportunity to read up and learn about the artwork of Greece and to see Grecian statues and carvings. There was a large section dedicated to jewelery and another to pottery. The jewelery was interesting to look at, however the pottery wasn't that exciting for me.

Food was pretty cool at Greece though. I met a girl from Canberra who took me to a place to have some Souvlaki at a reasonable price. I ended up visiting the same place 2 more times and pretty much had the all types of souvlaki the had to offer (lamb, beef, chicken). I also go to have some greek salad in Corinth and that was great. Lots of olive oil and vegies...mmmm. Its also interesting to note that buying alcohol in Greek eateries and restaurants was the same price, if not cheaper than soft drinks.

The rest of the time in Greece was pretty cruisy for me as I got to hang out with a Canadian girl and 2 Aussie guys. We walked around Athens, sat at a coffee shop and I had some great Greek Coffee! It was also the only day in my trip where it decideded to dump down rain, so I guess it was kind of a relief to leave the place. I flew back to London and dumped my stuff back at Christina's place. She was very cool to let me stay at her place again for one more night! My last night was great as I got to see a show called 'Stomp' at the Vanderwall Theatre (I think thats what it was called). Very cool show, it was kinda a cross between a play and a gig. It was very energetic, rhythmic and clever in parts. It'd be too hard to explain what I liked the best so you're gonna have to imagine...or ask me in person when you see me next.

My last day in London was a bit mixed because it was sad to leave Europe, but I was more looking forward to heading home because I wanted to see some familiar faces. And also because I kinda got sick of living out of a backpack! I had a great time for my last day, I had the best breakfast for trip, which consisted on eggs, sausages, toast, and (surprisingly) a good cup of coffee. I didn't dare ask for a flat white to avoid any problems or disappointments.

After dumping my luggage at Victoria Station, I headed over to Camden Markets where I got to walk around and go shopping for a bit. I really enjoyed the vibe at Camden and it kinda reminded me of Newtown, because there were a lot of punks and goths walking around and there were dudes asking me to buy weed. I ravaged through all the record stores and bought some cool CD's and DVD's (the collection of Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham film clips and other works) and pretty much soaked up the vibe there. After, I checked out the British Museum and though I was only there for a little over an hour, I was stoked to make it there! The architecture outside and inside the museum was amazing and the collection was very extensive, after all, they are the English.

There was an extensive collection, including Italian, Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Greek art that I didn't get to see in Greece and Italy because it was all at this museum! I got to see some awesome statues and carvings from Greece and Italy, carvings from palace walls from Assyria and Israel, Rosetta Stone and bits of the Accropolis. The carvings taken from a palace wall during Hezekiah's reign in 701BC (2Kings 18) was really intersting as it depicted a battle/takeover of Lachish by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. Rosetta Stone was great as well, though it was hard to see the engravings on it because of the silly reflective glass that it was encased in. It was a shame not to be able to stay at the museum for longer because it had some awesome stuff in there, like paintings and stuff...and there was so much to learn!

After visiting the Bristish Museum, it was pretty much a mad rush to get my luggage at Victoria station then to Gatwick Airport to fly back to Sydney. The plane trip wasn't very eventful because I was pretty over plane food and my inflight entertainment broke. I met an older Englishman who was travelling home and we talked for ages about everything. We had a long debate about The Beatles and talked about music from the 50's to the 80's, very cool convo. I also got to watch the movie 'An Incovenient Truth', which was an intersting movie about Al Gore's quest to tell the world about global warming. It was a great watch and I recommend it. I also got to watch the live DVD by the Gorillaz, which had a live backing band and a orchestra. That was cool too. I was going to watch 'Thank you for Smoking', but my entertainment machine broke...dumb. The rest of the time was spent sleeping.

I was pretty exhausted when I arrived back to Sydney. I slept for 12 hours straight that night, which was something I had never ever done in my life. I struggle to sleep in more than 9-10 hours, but to perform 12 hours straight was an amazing feat for me!

Anyways, this episode needs to end here, as its rather long! Thanks again everyone who sent me emails, prayed for me, wondered how I was, and importantly for reading!!

Nuff' said


PS: Feel free to comment and ask questions as I may have left out some stuff.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When in Rome....Walk Everywhere

Wow, what a last few days. I think my legs are ready to fall off because I've been walking everywhere in Rome. I've been here for the last 3 days, doing a lot of crusing around by foot because I don't really understand the bus system here. The Train Metro system is great and I used it to get to the Vatcian the other day....

The day I got to Rome, it was very hot! I also learned that the hostel was very close to the station, but the area around the station is not such a nice part of town. But I'm still in one piece so thats pretty good! I got to cruise around Rome and sorta got lost as I made my way around, but everything is cool now. The architecture in this place is amazing, I remember numerous times that I had to push up my jaw because I was pretty gobsmacked by the scenery and buildings. Its pretty much like stepping back in time...

I got to check out some pretty cool sites as I cruzed around that arvo, including the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, which are amazing! I'd pass by some massive buildings which I didn't even know what they were but were very cool to look at. The Piazzas (Squares) are much prettier here than Florence. However, its much busier and dirtier here than it is at Florence as well. The Pantheon was pretty amazing due to its sheer size and unique architecture and the inside was massive. I think it use to be used as a meeting hall and church so it had various Catholic artworks and altars. I spent a bit of time hanging out at Trevi Fountain. Its pretty much a massive fountain with these awesome statues that spit out water. There were tonns of people hanging out there and the vibe was very cool.

The next day, I got a metro train to Vatcian City. I arrived there at 10am and waited in line for 1hr and a half to get into the museum. The Vatican was pretty much the only museum I could visit on the Monday because all museums are closed on Monday....weird huh. Monday is like our Sunday in Sydney. The museum was phenomenal. Awesome Italian sculptures, awesome paintings by Raphael and Carravaggio and of course...the Sistene Chapel! I must've spent a good 30mins to an hour in the chapel checking out the Michaelangelo's artwork on the ceiling and back wall. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to share because they wouldn't allow photography in the chapel (as well as talking!), though I'm sure you can find a picture of it on the net, just google it. The ceiling contained a painting of Creation, and has the famous picture of 'The Creation of Adam'. The back wall contains the masterpiece 'The Last Judgement'. This was apparently taken out of the Bible, particularly from Revelation about how Jesus will judge the world. The side walls of the chapel contained paintings of different prophets and people from the Bible, and also paintings of different events from the Bible, including events from Moses' life, the Crucifixion and Ressurection of Jesus, the last supper etc. I had a lot of fun trying to guess which stories corresponded to what paintings.

Throughout travelling in Italy and in Paris, I've seen heaps of Christological/Catholic paintings. No doubt, they are very awesome in terms of art and would've taken ages to paint, and I can imagine how some of these images would've been so vivid in the minds of the painters and the artwork in the Sistene Chapel was a very good example of that. However, I found it disheartening while I was in the Chapel to find the Mother Mary at the right hand of Jesus during the Last Judgement. It was quite common for the painters in this time to exalt Mary to the same level as Jesus, if not higher. In several paintings I've seen, there's been images of Jesus even 'crowning' the Mother Mary. I found it difficult to appreciate the art sometimes when they were depicting something that was so unbiblical. It made me so thankful of the Reformer's of the 18th century who set it straight!

After the Vatican Museum, I got to check out the rest of Vatican city and wandered through St Peter's square, the Vatican Church and the Tombs of the Popes. Again, it was amazing to see the size and design of these buildings, but a major focus on Mary was disheartening. I also noticed a major focus on the Pope, where I was wandering through the Tombs of the Popes and saw people praying in front of the recent pope's tomb. And there is a statue of the pope in the Vatican Church and it was some ritual to touch the foot of the staute and people were having their photo taken whilst doing it. It was sad and disheartening to see all this happenning....The Vatican building was amazing however, with high ceilings and awesome artwork on the ceilings and walls.

Yesterday, I managed to check out the Colosseum and Palantine sites. I caught wind that a few mates from Sydney were going to be there, but after much toil and phone calls, I wasn't able to meet them until later that night. The Palantine was first up, and its where Ancient Rome use to be, before it got smashed.....somehow. The place is in ruins and contained many Temples dedicated to different god's, and a temple dedicated to Caesar. The place was amazing (despite it being so hot) and it felt like I stepped back in time. I ended up in the part that was Palantine, which is the residential area of Ancient Rome. The place was destroyed obviously, and there were Roman Huts, gardens, an arena and old stables. They were still excavating the place and doing work to it to try and better preserve the site. Again, very cool place and you could imagine what it was like to live there as you looked at the remnant brick work and old school architecture.

After grabbing a panini (sandwich) to eat, I checked out the Colesseum. It was recommended by a few dudes from the hostel that I take an audio tour, and so I did and it was great, I learned heaps about the Colesseum! It was a shame to see so much of it destroyed, as it was pulled apart and bits were ripped down so that they use the materials from the Colesseum to build other buildings in Rome. I had just watched the movie Gladiator as well, so it was kinda cool to remember back to the film and imagine how the fights would've been in the main arena!

Today, I said goodbye to my Aussie mates who were heading Naples. I headed to the Rome Museum which had a special exhibition of a famous Photographer named Henri Cartier-Bresson. He died recently and did a lot of portraiture. It was good for a change to see some Black and White photography and something that was modern! After, I took a very long walk to Travestere, which is to the south of Rome and went to the top to overlook Rome, very pretty!

The food here has been very cool. I had the most awesome pizza last night. It was Calzoni and it was nothing like I had ever tasted. Its like a folded pizza with mozzarella cheese, ham and egg inside. The restaurant was extrememly Italian, as it was heaps loud and the male Italians were VERY Italian with their mannerisms and speech. The Chef was the coolest, he spoke just like the guy from 'The Godfather'! Gelato here is pretty cool too, much cheaper than Florence and Venice. Coffee here is great, I keep going back to this coffee shop in Campo Di Fiori and the staff know me well enough to know what I order!

The people I've met at the hostel have been pretty cool. There are heaps of Aussies staying in our hostel, and only one or two are from Sydney. I got to know really well a New Zealand girl, and I met 3 Korean guys who were on Vacation from being in the army in Korea. They were paratroopers and said they would teach me how to parachute out of a plane... :P

Well, that was a mouthful, I hope you're enjoying the read. Thanks for hitting the blog and reading about my adventures, its good to know people are reading! Feel free to comment and ask questions and I'll try to answer. I'm heading to Athens tommorrow, which should be fun (and hot too)! Only 7 days to go till I head back to Sydney!


PS: Heres a link I found to 'The Last Judgement' painting:

PPS: A big happy b'day to my mate Aaron Babb, who turned big 25 yesterday. Congrats man, welcome to being a quarter of a century dude!