Welcome Home Ming!

Thank you to all of our family and friends who have helped us bring Ming home…we couldn’t have done it without your support!

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See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil

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Heading South to Guangzhou

Day 8

It was a crazy morning of packing everyone up to leave for Guangzhou, getting Ming’s passport and checking out of the hotel. We had gotten very comfortable there and it was definitely hard to leave but it was time to head south for the next phase of paperwork. Our bus/van broke down on the way to the airport so we were ‘stranded’ on the side of the road for about 45 minutes while we waited for another driver. We still got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and Mary helped us navigate getting all the bags checked and making sure everyone had tickets. There were three other families on our flight so the girls all got to run around the gate area until it was time to board. We had lollipops for all the kids which was a hit but very messy. (I was completely sticky before we even took off.) Salty caramel was Ming and Mia’s favorite flavor.

We arrived in Guangzhou in the early evening and our guide, Lee, met us at the airport and got us checked into the hotel. We stayed on Shamian Island which has the vibe of a South Florida resort. The weather was nice and warm and the architecture is British colonial. All adoption appointments for the doctor and consulate used to be on the island and you could just walk, but more recently the offices have moved inland. The island is also home to the White Swan hotel where many people have stayed as part of their adoption trip. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation during our visit. Our hotel was very nice but probably more suited to a romantic getaway rather than a family with toddler.

 

Day 9

We were up for an early breakfast and off to the doctor’s office for Ming’s medical report and visa pictures. Lee kept us moving and we were lucky to be the first family in and out of the office that morning. Just as we were finishing up, 10-15 families arrived at the same time so we were very glad to have gotten an early start.

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Our next stop was the grocery store to get snacks and drinks for the hotel room. The store had almost an entire floor devoted to New Year’s decorations and candy. We had fun picking out a few more decorations and gathering a couple bags of assorted candy to bring back for Mia’s hockey team. Back at the island, there was an art fair going on just down from our hotel. We had a caricature done from a photo of Mia and her friend Chanel with the Stanley Cup. The artist asked if we wanted their names in Chinese underneath but we opted for ‘Girls Rule, Boys Drool’ instead. He thought that was hilarious!

The laundry was at crisis stage so Doug and Mia venture out to find a place to take it. They found Jessica’s, a one-stop shop for laundry and almost any gift item you can imagine. Jess has quite the business and by the end of the day she had Doug passing out her store business cards to the other American families who were staying on the island. We wondered if business was a bit slow due to the White Swan Hotel being closed. Dinner was early (or a very late lunch) at Lucy’s – an Americanized Chinese restaurant. The food is really good though with outdoor seating and a view of the park that runs along the river.

 

Day 10

We started our day downstairs with a big breakfast. Each hotel has had a large buffet and this one did as well but it also included an omelet bar and espresso machine. We were the only people down at breakfast and wondered if anyone else was even staying at the hotel…kind of creepy.

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Lee picked us up late morning and we went to the Six Banyan Temple. The buildings in the compound were fairly close together and bordered a central courtyard. Ming had a great time running around with Mia chasing behind. We got to watch part of a ceremony in the main temple before leaving. Our next stop was the Liu Hua Hu Lake Park…lovely! There were walking paths surrounded by mini-lagoons with resting points anchored by large banyan trees. The flowers were in full bloom since the weather was in the mid 60s. Doug had Ming in the back pack and people were very curious about us. They collected quite a crowd while trying to explain our trip to the group. There was definitely a language barrier during our whole trip but overall people were very patient and wanted to talk with us. We always felt very welcome.

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There was an area in the park devoted to table tennis, both singles and doubles. Doug was watching a group play and was invited to join in. He was matched with an older gentleman who had taken up table tennis in his retirement. It was hard to tell if the match up was even or if the guy was going easy on Doug, but they had a great time. They even let Doug and Mia play a few points before it was time to turn over the table to another group.

Doug and Mia crossed the bridge, from the island to mainland, in the afternoon to check out the spice market. (Ming was taking a nap so I decided to wait for another day to go over.) This spice market is one of the largest for medicinal herbs and spices. They saw mushrooms the size of car tires, buckets full of live scorpions and even a family of taxidermied deer.

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That night we went to dinner with another family who had adopted a daughter, about Ming’s age, from the same province. They were lots of fun to hang out with and reminded us of Doug’s fabulous cousins in Portland. The restaurant put us in a private room, we’re not sure why, which made things easier with the two high chairs for the girls. We ordered by looking at pictures on the menu and hoping for the best. Some dishes were a bit of a surprise but we did learn an important new detail. You can pay extra to get a meat dish without the bones chopped up and cooked/served with the meat. It made the food much easier to eat.

 

Day 11

We went to the Guangzhou Zoo in the morning. As expected, the pandas were asleep and hard to see. The tigers, elephants and monkeys were very active and fun to watch. Ming slept through the first part of the visit but finally woke up and was fascinated with some miniature deer, maybe because they were more her size. Quite a few of the habitats were under construction and the ones that were open looked very well maintained and fairly roomy. It was another beautiful day and we were appreciating not being home in the brutal Chicago cold weather.

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That afternoon, our new friends from St. Louis met us back at the island for lunch at Lucy’s outdoor café. Afterwards, Mia and Mora played badminton and ran around. Mora was a good buddy to Mia and gave her a nice break to hang out with someone closer to her own age. The girls got chased out of their badminton game by a group of military/police trainees. The group brought out a bunch of large mats, rifles and fighting sticks. Then they did an hour or so of drills and training. It was interesting to watch for a few minutes but the activities really took over the whole park and made it difficult for anyone else to use the area.

Doug scoped out a place for dinner and was excited to eat pigeon. Our guide Lee had recommended it as a local specialty. As we were seated and checking out the menu it looked strangely familiar. We finally realized that it was the same restaurant we had eaten at a few nights before but at a second location. Good thing we ordered different things the second time around!

 

Day 12

Lee had us up and ready to go early for our visa interview and family swear ceremony. The swearing in ceremony is a group thing and we did it with about 30 other families. Then we were first up for our visa interview, thank you Lee for getting us to the front of the line again! The other families cheered for us when we were done and then we had the rest of the day to enjoy. We finished shopping for gifts and then took a cab over to where our St. Louis friends were staying. (Most of the adopting families were there instead of on the island.) Mia and Mora went swimming in the outdoor pool and then we went out for an early dinner.

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There was a 20 block loop of restaurants and businesses around the hotel. The girls chose a dumpling restaurant so we set out to find it. The walk was fun but we made almost the whole way around and must have missed the restaurant. We were all really hungry by then and decided to just go to a different place…but no dumplings. 😦 It was another delicious meal with great company and we were sad to say goodbye. We promised to stop in St. Louis on one of our drives back from Kansas.

 

Day 13

We were up early to enjoy our last day in China. After breakfast, we crossed the bridge and walked to the spice market so that I could see the giant mushrooms and scorpions. We had lunch at Lucy’s again and then went back to the hotel to finish packing. Doug had to run out and buy a big backpack to fit all the extra stuff.

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Lee arrived around 3:00 with Ming’s visa and to take some photos with us. Our driver showed up at 3:30 and it was time to leave for Hong Kong. The drive was just over 4 hours through never-ending urban sprawl. We mostly slept during the drive. There was a slight glitch once we got to Hong Kong. Hotels.com had made a mistake and had moved our booking to another hotel away from the airport instead of the Marriott right by the airport. You have to love the customer service at Marriott though; they set us up in a room right away. We had plenty of time to relax, go swimming, eat and get to bed so that we could be up early for our flight home.

 

Day 14

We got to the airport three hours early to work on checking in for our flight. We had problems trying to check in Ming and her one-way ticket online so needed to get it resolved at the airport. Cathay Pacific moved Mia, Ming and I to the bassinet seat which was very nice. It was still a really long flight, 14 hours, with very little sleep for any of us. The movie selection was extensive though and kept us entertained.

 

Day 15

We landed at O’Hare right on time and had no problems getting our bags quickly. The immigration line only took about 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes for an additional paperwork stop for Ming. Then we were on our way back home. It was nice to know we were finally bringing Ming home but we were already missing the fabulous time we had in China and talking about when we would go back!

 

See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil

On to Nanchang – Ming Day!

Day 3

We left the hotel at 9 am to get an 11:30 flight to Nanchang, the capital city of Ming’s province. The check-in at the airport was super organized and efficient. We got through security and to our gate at Air China quickly and even had time to sit and get a coffee. Our flight did take off late due to bad weather in between Beijing and Nanchang so we got in about 1 hour late. Our guide, Mary and her son Brillian, met us at the airport. On our way to the Peace International Hotel, we crossed the August 1st bridge which commemorates the Chinese people’s liberation army. The bridge was finished in September of 1997 and is the first cable-stayed bridge in Jiangxi province.

We arrived at the hotel at the same time as Ming and the two representatives from the Shanggao Social Welfare Institute (Ming’s orphanage). We quickly got all of our stuff up to our room and hurried back downstairs to officially greet Ming. She was playing hide-and-seek with one of the orphanage representatives but became shy once she saw all three of us. Doug and Mia got down on the floor and crawled around with her to make her feel more comfortable.

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It was a real honor to meet both women from the Institute. You could tell that they had strong feelings for Ming and had made sure that she had the best of care through her foster homes. They were very protective of her at first and wanted to get to know us a little bit more before they felt comfortable leaving her with us. It was a great opportunity to get more information about Ming’s foster mothers!

There were tears all around when it was time for the women to leave for the evening but we knew that we would get to see them again in the morning for the official paperwork. The crew, now plus one, was exhausted so we just camped out in the hotel room for the night. Ming was a real trooper; she enjoyed her bath and only woke up a few times during the might and was able to get right back to sleep.

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Day 4

Paperwork day! It was an interesting morning getting everyone ready…a bottle to make, diaper changing and getting Ming dressed. It all came back to me, but slowly. We barely had time for a quick breakfast before heading over to the adoption office for pictures and document signing. (There was another family that went with us. They adopted a 2-year old girl, their first child. They were so cute…the grandfathers made the trip with them. They were actually on our flight from Chicago and are from Indiana.) Next we went to the notary office to ‘official-ize’ all the documents that we had just signed. Then it was lunch and naps back at the hotel. In the afternoon we all went to the police station for more photos and paperwork. The police station was very busy but it was fun to see all the new families coming in to finalize their paperwork.

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Later that afternoon our guide took us on a tour of August 1st Park. The weather was cool, but not really cold this time of the year, so we didn’t need to bundle up. Big mistake for Ming! Once we got to the park I was gently scolded by some older women for not having Ming bundled more. The other babies I noticed were dressed with so many clothes that they could barely move and looked like puffy marshmallows. This was a theme for the rest of the trip. I also noticed that most of the babies and toddlers wore a type of split pant that was open in the middle for potty training. Our guide Mary mentioned that potty training starts very young and it was cute to see all the puffy little ones with bare bottoms. I guess that you have to really bundle the kids up to compensate for the cold air hitting a very sensitive area.

The park had beautiful walking paths around a small lake and many open areas where people gather to socialize, exercise and even perform dances. It was nice to see so many people having such a great time. Also in the park is an area where you can feed the koi. They swim right up and suck fish food out of baby bottles that are attached to short poles. The bigger fish were fairly aggressive and would almost jump out of the water to reach the bottles.

We wanted to treat ourselves to the fancy Chinese restaurant at the hotel for dinner but were a little confused by the process. You picked out your food from refrigerated cases that lined the hallway and then had to get a waiter from the restaurant to come back with you to actually order it. (Sort of like picking out a lobster in a tank and then telling the chef how you want it prepared.) We decided that we needed some menu assistance from our guide before tackling the process and ended up at the main restaurant where the menu was already translated. It turned out to be easier with Ming since they had high chairs all ready for the babies. The Indiana family ate right next to us and it was fun to see the granddads dote over their new granddaughter.

 

Day 5

We had the morning to ourselves. So, after breakfast, we set out to find some restaurants that were recommended by the hotel – one Indian, one Thai and one Chinese. There were a couple of crazy/busy street crossings along the way but we where able to find all three restaurants. I’m glad we went during the day b/c I think that two of the places would have been really hard to find at night. On our walk back to the hotel, Doug navigated the ordering of Nanchang Noodles from a small, open air stand for lunch.

That afternoon we took a tour of the Tengwang Pavilion. The Pavilion was first constructed in 653 AD and over the centuries has been destroyed and reconstructed almost 30 times. The existing Pavilion was finished in October 1989. We made it around all six of the open floors and saw a performance on the top floor that included dancing, singing and bell ringing. The artwork on each floor was amazing and included beautiful landscapes of the Jiangxi Province.

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We were still up for more activity after returning to the hotel so we walked to the August 1st Memorial to see if anyone was flying kites. There wasn’t much wind, so no kites. We walked a bit farther to where the notary office is located because we saw some porcelain shops on our drive the previous morning. (Jiangxi is known for their porcelain so we wanted to look at small tea sets for Ming.) There were a handful of stores that had nice things but we thought we should check with our guide Mary to see if this was the best place to purchase one.

Mia wanted to try the Indian restaurant for dinner and it was delicious! The food was a little too spicy for the crew but right up my alley. The experience really reminded me of my Corporate Service Corps team and the range a spicy-ness that people wanted when we went out to dinner. Always a good opportunity to order lots of different dishes and try everything!

 

Day 6

We did a walking tour of People’s Park, another beautiful park with walking paths around many small ponds. We saw an interesting game where a whip-like instrument is used to keep a large top spinning. It looked like fun but we were hesitant to get too close because the whip looked a little dangerous. Then Mary took us on a shopping expedition to an open market. We purchased some horse-themed souvenirs to commemorate the Chinese New Year including a red horse covered with sequins and tassels. Dinner that night was supposed to be at a Chinese restaurant that was recommended by the hotel but we accidentally ended up at a Japanese steak house instead. It was really good but not what we were expecting.

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Day 7

We walked to the Rope and Gold Pagoda from the hotel and went through a few back alleys on the way. It was mid-morning and things were pretty quiet although we were a funny looking group with Ming waving to everyone from her baby backpack. We got lots of attention and waves back. The grounds around the Pagoda were really spread out and had some really neat features. When you first walked in, there is an enormous metal bell and we made Mia ring it a few times. It was pretty loud but had a nice deep tone. Off in the corner where what appeared to be some Terracotta Warriors. (The Terracotta Warriors and Horses are considered to be one of the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century.) I have no idea what the soldiers were doing on the grounds of the Pagoda so far away from their original site and there was no one to ask. However, they were really spectacular and it would be a treat to see these life size terracotta figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations at the museum. Maybe on our trip back! There was an interesting rock/boulder collection that was on display in the back gardens. The highlight was two pieces that were shaped like dragons and were placed in front of the double dragon sculpture that anchors the garden.

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Mia continued to be ‘famous’ and was asked by a few different people if she would pose for a picture with them. Ming made friends with some local grandparents who had come to the pagoda with their grand kids. They gave her candy and cookies which she loved. A Tia Chi master also came out to see what we were all about. He was fascinated with Mia and started bending her arms and legs into all sorts of different poses. It was a little awkward for Mia at first but then she got into the spirit of things and enjoyed herself.

On the walk back to the hotel, we bought what we thought were handmade potato chips from a food stall. It was my first real sampling of ‘street food’ and it was delicious! Doug, on the other hand, sampled and enjoyed everything. He has an iron stomach and was great about eating something new everyday.

Mary brought our notary documents to the hotel that afternoon for us to proofread. It was a little difficult because there were mostly in Chinese but I did my best to verify passport numbers, addresses and birthdays and then just hoped for the best. Then she took us to People’s Park for the rest of the afternoon. The landscaping was really nice and since it doesn’t freeze in Nanchang there was lots of color with the annuals that had been planted in preparation for the New Year celebration.

Later we got in touch with another adopting family in the hotel. They had just adopted their second little girl from China and the Mom and 13-year old daughter had traveled to pick her up. Their new daughter/sister is around the same age as Ming and it was really cute to see them interact. Doug led us all on a mini-tour to purchase porcelain tea sets and then to a Thai restaurant for dinner. We were thrilled to have the extra company and had a great time getting to know them better.

See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil

Off to Beijing – Operation Ming

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Day0

We left Chicago in the evening on 1/8/2014 and arrived in Beijing on the evening of 1/9/2014. The flight was almost 14 hours long. Marsha, our guide in Beijing and the woman that planned our whole trip to China, met us at the airport and got us safely to the hotel. Everyone was pretty tired and we had a big next day planned so we unpacked and went to bed.

 

Day1

We started our day with a huge breakfast at the hotel. They seemed to get quite a few international travelers at this hotel and there was food for all different times of the day, from eggs and sausage to savory noodle dishes with veggies.

Our first sightseeing stop was the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing. It was first constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty to worship the God heaven and pray for a good harvest. (Photo Caption – Main building is the hall of prayer for good harvests) The Echo Wall surrounds the celestial warehouse. If two people stand on opposite sides of the courtyard, facing the wall, they can speak to each other in a normal volume and hear each other clearly. I told Doug to whisper, since he has a very loud voice, and I could still hear him. It was really neat.

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After the Temple of Heaven, we visited a national pearl company and learned about fresh water and sea pearls. We ‘harvested’ an oyster from the fresh water tub and found over 20 small, pink pearls. Mia got to keep the biggest one! Marsha took us to lunch around the corner and we let her do the food ordering. There was way too much but we got to try a little of everything…and we needed to get our energy back for the afternoon tour.

The next stop was a silk company. It was interesting to see how the silk from the cocoons was spun into silk thread. There were also double cocoons that were pulled apart into sheets of silk and layered to make pillows and comforters. (If anyone from my CSC India team is reading this, you will be cracking up at this point and saying to yourself, ‘I’m going crazy with too much shopping and not enough sight seeing!’ Fortunately these stops were short and there was still plenty of daylight left for touring.)

The rest of the afternoon started with a walk down Tienanmen Square. We went past Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and saw the guards changing as we walked toward the Forbidden City. Entering the main gate of the Forbidden City was amazing! Everything is so massive and spread out. We walked down the center path toward the Hall of Supreme Harmony. On the way, I think that I found the IBM kiosks that featured the virtual world replica of the Forbidden City. (This was a project that I worked on about 5 years ago.) The signage invites you to plan your tour but the kiosks were turned off and the gigantic monitor in between them was covered with dust. It made me sad to think that all that work is going unused.

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Our favorite area was toward the back in the private gardens. There are interesting rock grottos and winding paths that connect the different areas. Outside of the Forbidden City walls there ware dance groups, people practicing martial arts and groups playing checkers. We bought a feathered version of a hack-a-sac that we saw a group kicking around. (If you are an Amazing Race fan then you saw this activity as a team challenge recently. It is harder to do than it looks!) The temperature started to drop quickly as the sun went down and the crew was pretty tired from the big day.

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We went back to the hotel and took a 2 hour nap. We forced ourselves to get up and go out for a walk around the ‘neighborhood’ and found an outdoor fruit and vegetable market. Since it was winter the market wasn’t very busy but looked like there was plenty of room for more vendors and food carts during the summer. We stopped at a noodle hut and picked out something that looked good from the pictures on the menu. It was very good but we were still pretty full from lunch so one dish was enough.

 

Day 2

We had another huge breakfast at the hotel today to prep for our visit to the Great Wall. On the way, we stopped at a jade factory and got to watch two carvers creating statues. One very old statue that was on display featured 100 horses carved out of a single piece of jade that measured about 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide, truly amazing! Next we did a stop at a cloisonné factory. There were stations set up to see each step of the process…shaping the brass under layer into the desired style, soldering on the brass wire to create the outlines of the design (sort of like the leading on stained glass), applying the color/glaze into each section of the patterns, cooking it in the kiln, applying color and firing it in the kiln 6 more times and then polishing it to create a smooth surface.

From the factory we drove on and finally made it to the Great Wall. We started our tour on the east side and climbed to the top of a few watchtowers along the way to get an even better view. With each step you couldn’t help but be in awe of the work that it took to build the wall and walking all the ups and downs was really a work out. The weather was perfect, a clear day and cool temperatures with only a little wind. As we turned north, the wall just ended and you could see where the restoration work had stopped. We turned south and headed toward the bridge that crosses over the highway and links to the west side of the wall. Tucked into the valley, before the bridge, was a grouping of pagodas that had interesting decorative paintings. The west side was definitely more crowded and had more of a village feel with a series of smaller buildings at the base of the wall. If we had stared earlier in the day it would have been fun to pack a lunch and walk the whole loop, east and west side. It will be a goal for our next trip!

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On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a tea house named Dr. Tea. We sampled five kinds of tea, all made at a private table just for us. We learned about their different healing properties and how to drink each type – by slurping, simulating chewing or just drinking.

We had an early dinner at a ‘hot pot’ restaurant close to the hotel. The table consists of a flame/burner in the center of the table that keeps different flavors of broth at boiling temperatures. You then cook your meat and vegetables in the different broths, depending on what flavor you want. The meal was really good but our clothes smelled pretty strong the next day!

See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil

The Golden Triangle: Post-CSC Travel

Most of the team stayed in India post-CSC assignment to do additional traveling and we had a great time ‘running into each other’ in Delhi and Agra. The Taj Mahal did not disappoint and was amazing to see at sunset. The elephant ride into the Amber Fort was also a trip highlight.

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We only had 4 days to see the sights and we made the most of it. Here’s how the itinerary went…

Day 1

6:00 am:

– Leave Delhi for Agra. Agra is in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

– Stop at the tomb of Akbar the Great, also known as the “Sikandra Tomb”, on the way. This tomb was built from 1605 – 1613 of red sandstone with white marble inlay. The entrance to this tomb was designed to imitate the Gate of Magnificence at Fatehpur Sikri (read on for our visit to this site on day 2).

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This was a fairly quick stop but the architecture was really amazing.

11:30 am:

– Arrive in Agra and go straight to the Taj Mahal. This mausoleum was built in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Mumtaz who died giving birth to their 14th child. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, the principle mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were completed in 1653. The mausoleum is constructed of white marble and is inlaid with semi-precious stones.

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We lucked out that day because the weather was a little cooler than normal, only in the high 90’s instead of 100’s, and there was a breeze to help keep the temperature down.

2:00 pm:

– Head to the Agra Fort for a tour and views down the Yamuna River of the Taj Mahal.

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This site is really more like a walled city and we toured several palaces and a mosque within the fort.

4:30 pm:

– Surprise stop at the ‘Baby Taj’, also called the Tomb of Itimad ud Daulah. This monument was built before the Taj Mahal, between 1622 – 1628, architectural elements – the white marble inlay techniques – used for the Taj Mahal were borrowed from the second phase of construction here.

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6:00 pm:

– Arrive at Mehtab Bagh, the park across the river from the Taj Mahal, to see the sunset.

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This park is well landscaped and is an awesome place to take photos of the Taj Mahal. We stayed until the sun went down.

8:00 pm:

– Arrive at Bansi Homestay for the night.

We had a fabulous thali dinner with the owner. Great place to stay! www.bansihomestayagra.com

Day 2

8:00 am:

– Start the drive to Jaipur, in the state of Rajasthan.

– Stop at Fatehpur Sikri on the way. This deserted, red sandstone city was built by Emperor Akbar as his capital around 1560 – 1585. It is a walled city with a series of royal palaces harem courts, a mosque and private quarters. The site is two miles long by one mile wide.

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This was our only stop that we didn’t have a guide lined up and we quickly realized that we needed one. So, we hired a guide once we got to the entrance, mainly to keep the hawkers from bothering us. We were pleasantly surprised to realize how knowledgeable he was and ended up spending over 2 hours on the tour.

3:30 pm:

– Arrive in Jaipur

– We drove into the city’s old quarter, known as the Pink City for its red-washed buildings.

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We saw the Hawa Mahal, sadly under renovation, an ornate five-story facade designed to allow the women of the royal household to observe the street life without being seen.

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Our first stop was the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built in 1726, with really interesting architectural and instrumental innovations like a gigantic sundial.

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Across the courtyard is the City Palace Museum. We viewed the armory of old weapons and the collection of robes of the royal princes.

7 pm:

– Check into Girisadan Homestay, www.girisadanhomestay.com.

We found out that Maltilde (another CSC colleague) and her sister were checking in that night as well so we stayed up after dinner to wait for them. After catching up, we decided to tour together the next day.

Day 3

8:00 am:

– Leave for the Amber Fort, about 11 kilometers outside of Jaipur.

Our plan was to ride up to the fort on an elephant so we got had to get to the site before it got too hot. We made a quick stop on the way to get an outside view of the fort, to see a decorated elephant walking down the street and to watch a snake charmer. Once we arrived at the entrance, the line was already pretty long. But the whole operation was, unusually, well organized and the line moved quickly.

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The elephants were so gentle and calm. Our guide made sure that we got on one that was well decorated. The elephant seemed much bigger once we were sitting up on top and the views on the way to the fort entrance were amazing.

The interior of the fort includes royal halls that are decorated with intricate ivory inlays, stained glass and interesting incorporation of mirrors into the wall paintings. There was so much to see at this fort, we were there for over 3 hours.

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12:00 pm:

– Head back to Jaipur for a quick photo opp of the Lake Palace.

Unfortunately, this was also under renovation. When it is open, there is a restaurant and hotel on-site and you can take a boat out for a visit. This was a really quick stop. The view was great but the surrounding park was not so nice and it was time to head back to Delhi.

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6:00 pm:

– Arrive at Charlotte’s B&B and get settled.

We were exhausted but hungry so we walked to a neighborhood restaurant that Charlotte recommended

Day 4

9:00 am:

– Start our tour of New and Old Delhi. We met our guide at the Shri Lakshmi Narain Temple. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of prosperity and good fortune & is commonly known as the Birla Mandir. This temple was built over a six-year period (1933 – 1939) and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on the condition that people of all castes would be allowed in.

The interior is beautiful with lots of activity as people go about their daily prayers.

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10:00 am:

– Drive to Raj Ghat, the memorial site of Mahatma Gandhi.

The grounds were landscaped nicely and it was very quiet and peaceful there. Delhi is one of the ‘greenest’ cities in the world with a green cover of almost 20%. It was also just starting to get hot so everything still looked lush and green from the cooler weather.

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11:00 am:

– Head to Humayun’s Tomb which was built in 1570. The building and grounds represent the earliest example of a Mughal scheme garden tomb, with causeways and channels. The double domes elevation with kiosks significantly influenced the style of the Taj Mahal, built almost a century later.

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12:00 pm:

– Visit to the local Baha’i Temple.

It was fun to see the Baha’i Temple in Delhi and to make comparisons with the one that is a 10 minute drive from my house. The line to get into the one in Delhi was hours long and I never see anyone at the temple in Wilmette. Both buildings are lovely, the Delhi temple looks like a lotus flower while the Wilmette temple looks more like a very fancy orange juice squeezer.

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2:00 pm:

– Drive to Qutub Minar, built in 1193, to see the tallest minaret in India. The tower is 238 feet tall (73m) and tapers from 47 feet (15m) in diameter at the base to only 9 feet (2.5 m) at the top. The tower has 5 distinct stories that each defined by a projecting balcony.

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3:30 pm:

– Drive along Rajpath, the ceremonial avenue to get another look at the India Gate and stop at the Parliament House for a few photos.

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We liked the details on the wrought iron gate surrounding the Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace. The view down the avenue was impressive.

4:00 pm:

– Head back to Charlotte’s B&B to meet up with Francis (another CSC colleague) and his wife and brother-in-law for coffee.

After spending a great month with Francis in Kolkata, it was a real treat to meet some of his family. It was an even bigger treat to be invited to dinner at his in-laws house. Dinner was wonderful and it was the perfect end to a fabulous adventure in India.

See more photos at flickr.com/jilldaffodil.

#ibmcsc #India

India is Great! and Other Fabulous Graphics

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It was fun to see the different variations of this message on the back of every bus in Kolkata, especially the version with the big DANGER underneath.

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Kidding aside, India IS great and the marketing efforts to promote it were wonderful to see. During the month, I captured a number of signs, billboards, advertisements, murals and announcements that caught my eye. We also created some messaging of our own in appreciation of one of our best team dinners at the famous Bengali restaurant, Kewpies.

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See more photos at flickr.com/jilldaffodil.

#ibmcsc India

One Incredible Month in India – my experience working with Prayasam in Kolkata

I recently returned from a Corporate Service Corps (CSC) assignment in Kolkata India were I was part of an 11 person IBM team providing problem-solving assistance to small businesses, non-governmental organizations and social service providers. Our team, the 19th in India since 2009, came from 9 different countries – Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Peru, Philippines, UK and USA.

My client was Prayasam, a non-governmental agency that empowers disadvantaged children to become leaders and health advocates in their community. Their motto is ‘Each One, Teach One’ and we lived that everyday in our work there.

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Our team developed a branding and communications strategy to help make Prayasam’s work more structured and professional – enabling them to become a more trusted consultancy with a greater say in the shaping of national policies designed to assist marginalized sectors of society. We facilitated a number of workshops that were then tailored to use as learning modules for Prayasam’s adult education classes and even had the opportunity to lead the classes for a week to train the future trainers. It was the experience of a lifetime and I feel so lucky to have been able to spend a month with the fabulous individuals at Prayasam.

India 19’s other clients were ONergy, a small business that provides energy from renewable sources to the disadvantaged; the United Way Kolkata, a non governmental organization that assists the needy; and Sukanya, a specialty retailer created and managed by economically and socially disadvantaged women. 

The CSC experience was amazing from both a personal and professional standpoint. Contributing my marketing and branding expertise to Prayasam was really rewarding. I grew professionally from working so closely with a global team. An unexpected outcome was realizing how much I learned from the talented, wildly creative and dedicated child advisors and staff at Prayasam. Their creativity, resourcefulness and work ethic are truly inspirational.

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Thank you Prayasam for including me as part of your family!

See more photos at flickr.com/jilldaffodil.

#ibmcsc India