Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds turns 40 - check out the podcast

One of the great albums of all time that didn't make the top ten list from Britain is the Beach Boys' masterpiece, Pet Sounds. I was only about 12 years old when Pet Sounds came out and so I missed it at that time. My Beach Boys knowledge was mostly restricted to the few car songs that ended up on a multi-artist compilation called Shut Down. (Curiously, Shut Down, Vol 2 was, I believe, a Beach Boys album without other artists.) That was a fun album and I had friends who were heavily into cars and they convinced me to buy the album and listen to a lot of these car songs. The two Beach Boys songs, if I remember correctly, were "Shut Down" and "409" - which referred to the size of the engine, not a household cleaning product.

Anyway, Pet Sounds had few radio hits and didn't sell real well so it went completely under my Middle School radar at the time but many years later I finally got on the bus and figured out how cool it was. This is the 40th anniversary of the release of Pet Sounds and there is a podcast here with commentary on the making of the album. The first few episodes are already up and it's been fun so far. Check it out here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Beatles Top Album Poll

Check out this article, The Beatles Top Album Poll, to see the top ten albums of all time as voted by the British public. While I, no doubt, would have had a different list, I think they came up with a list that I think has some merit. Here is their top ten

1. Sgt Pepper - Beatles
2. Thriller - Michael Jackson
3. Joshua Tree - U2
4. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
5. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
6. Revolver - Beatles
7. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkle
8. Abbey Road - Beatles
9. A Night at the Opera - Queen
10. The Beatles (White Album) - Beatles

The people in Britain seem to be as old as I am. I find it hard to quarrel with any list with FOUR Bealtes albums in the top ten. I also find it hard to quarrel with any of these choices and while you won't find Thriller in my collection I can see how it got there.

It would also be disengenous of me to complain about only one U2 album making the list (because it would bump one of the Beatles albums out) but one has to wonder where Achtung Baby ended up and the article which I found (with only the top ten listed) says that Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor was the only recent album to make the top 100. So where is How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb??? I think that one ought to be there too but, then again, I'm not British.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

'Who's Afraid of Postmodernism' by James K. A. Smith

I don’t read a lot of philosophy but the topic of postmodernism interests me, especially as it relates to the emergent church and Jamie Smith is a colleague of mine at Calvin College and we occasionally sit next to each other in chapel. (Here is his blog.) So when I saw Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism at a bookstore this summer I thought it would be a great thing for me to read. It turns out, I was right.

Smith looks at the “unholy trinity” of French philosophers Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard, considers the phrases that they are best known for and unpacks those phrases to help the reader understand what they really said – often not what we think based on a first reading of the phrase. I found these discussions enlightening and engaging. (And, to top it off, I read some of it IN PARIS – how cool is that?) Smith uses recent films to illustrate each of his main points which makes for an effective way to pull non-philosophers like me into the material. Finally, Smith takes each of them to church and relates their thoughts to the church. Since they are often seen as enemies of the faith it is helpful to see that what they really said does not have to be seen as diametrically opposed to the faith but, rather, there are some things we can learn from them. In a final chapter Smith helps us see what the church in the postmodern world can be.

I found this book to be readable (although the chapter on Foucault a little less so) and fascinating. Smith is a good writer and he has great insight into the church. I truly enjoyed reading this.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Platinum Weird - the true story?

There is now a Wikipedia entry about Platinum Weird, which I blogged about way back in March. Check here on Wikipedia to read what the various Wikipedia writers have to say about the group. They cite many of their sources so I think it's probably correct (at least it was on the day I wrote this - with Wikipedia, who can tell what it will be tomorrow!)

Unfortunately, the bits of PW that I've heard have left me a lot less impressed than I'd hoped I would be based on the original track that came out (with George Harrison) and the cool intricate hoax that they perpetrated about their history.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Freakonomics' by Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Every quarter Calvin Seminary sponsors a book group. Last spring we read the wonderful Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (my review is here). This quarter the book is the quirky Frekonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Levitt is an economist (a “rogue economist", according to the book jacket) who has a unique view of the world. Dubner, a reporter, did a feature on him and many people enjoyed it and suggested that Levitt write a book. Levitt had no interest in that but suggested that he’d be the source if Dubner would write it and so we have the book of Levitt’s as written by Dubner.

Levitt does, indeed, have a unique view of the world. He thinks that lots of difficult questions can actually be answered if you have the right data. And he thinks he often has the right data. These are questions like “If selling crack is so lucrative, why do crack dealers live with their moms?” and “do realtors really get people the best prices on their homes?”

Throughout the book it seems like Levitt continues to pull rabbits out of his hat with one amazing data trick after another and as the book goes on you keep waiting for it to add up to something. That’s just the thing, though. It never really does. It’s like all topping and no pie or all dessert and no main course. Pick your own metaphor and it might well work too.

Don’t get me wrong, half way into the book I was telling people about it and saying “this is a cool book – you should read it” to people but, by the time I got finished I was less enthusiastic. I think Levitt has some really interesting ideas (although the chapters on the crime rate being linked to abortion were just a little weird) but there is no grand climax to the book. I really wanted it to go somewhere but it just never did.

So, if you have a chance you might want to read it because there is a lot of cool stuff in there but don’t read it looking for Levitt to tell you “what it all means” because to him it seems that it’s just the solution to yesterday’s crossword puzzle that he left here to amaze us. In the meantime he’s off checking on something else.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gravity | Love by Sandra McCracken

I’ve mentioned how much I like Sandra McCracken before when I reviewed her album The Builder and the Architect. That album was a detour from her usual folk/pop style and I loved it. Now, less than a year later, comes her newest “regular” album, Gravity | Love.

Simply put, this is one of the best new albums of the year. McCracken’s writing is at her usual high standards, the singing and playing are great and the production is well done without being too slick. Every time this album comes around in the CD player in my car I enjoy it. A lot.

The opener “Head over Heel” is a joyous reflection on love which has a catchy melody and great singing and playing. "Broken Cup" is a song about materialism which manages to make it's point without being preachy or holier-than-thou. There are a number of great songs on this album – there isn’t a stinker in the bunch – but my favorite has to be “Goodbye George” a wonderful tribute to George Harrison which uses a number of lines from George’s songs and some musical quotes as well. The first time I heard it I immediately played it again. Great stuff. While I still have a great big soft spot in my heart for Builder and Architect, this may be Sandra's best album yet and that's really saying something.

So do yourself a favor and surf on over to or to and check it out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mae in concert 8/20/06 - The Intersection, Grand Rapids, MI

Mae in concert – 8/20/06 – the Intersection, Grand Rapids, MI

Mae’s second album, the Everglow, was great. It was presented as a concept album with a spoken intro and pictures supposedly showing the journey of the main character. I never spent enough serious time with the album to determine if there really was a concept or not. It’s not obvious to me. But the first pair of songs, “We’re So Far Away” and “Someone Else’s Arms” are so strong that the rest of the album really only needed to grab me once or twice and I considered it a success. And that’s exactly what it does. Much of the album has a nice sound to it, in no small part because of vocalist Dave Elkins and the interesting and sometimes intricate arrangements. It’s a fine album so when they had their show coming to Grand Rapids I decided that I would go along with my son, Bryan to see them.

First of all I was, by a long shot, one of the oldest people in the crowd. Most of the crowd was within 5 years of 20. I’m not. So I felt a little old. Bryan’s friends who were there didn’t quite know what to make of him going with his dad but we have a long history of going to concerts together so I think Bryan was OK with it. Plus, I paid for his ticket so I’m guessing it was fine.

Openers Verdera did a nice job. I like vocalist Kristen May’s voice and attitude (she’s got the perfect rock-chick thing going) although live the band lacked a little nuance I think they might have a future. I like what I’ve heard from their album on myspace and itunes so I wish I had taken the opportunity to talk with Kristen when I said hi back at the merchandise table. You can listen to samples from their album at itunes here. Or visit their myspace site.

Next came the band, Brandtson. They just didn’t grab the crowd for some reason. They didn’t grab me either. Part of it was attitude. Just as much as I liked Vedera’s leader’s attitude, Brandtson’s attitude irked me right from the start. Their lead guitarist especially was of the Jack Black / School of Rock variety – like the beginning of the movie – and the whole band seemed to have a “look how cool we are” thing going. I was glad when their set was done.

So when Mae came on it only took 15 seconds to show that we were in for a much tighter and better band. Mae is in the process of writing their third album and the show featured songs from both their existing albums and a few new songs. It is clear that the crowd was familiar with the songs from the Everglow and that’s when the band connected best with the crowd. Elkin’s voice is both a strength and weakness for the band as he sometimes was off pitch. But the band is very tight and have a good sense of working the crowd and of playing together as a unit. They don’t really feature any one player although their guitar and keyboard players both seemed highly competent (as did the rhythm section – really a well rehearsed and tight band.). The band is more about a band sound than about solos so no one person (except the lead vocalist) shone. All in all it was a fine show. Mae has recently signed with Capital so their next album could be even bigger that The Everglow which was released on the small Tooth and Nail label. This could well launch them to bigger venues and more sales. If their third album is as strong as their last one they could well be the “next big thing” ® so I’m glad I got to see them when I did.

Mae’s MySpace page.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Looking Closer Journal: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" rocks.

The one show I'm MOST looking forward to this fall is the new Aaron Sorkin show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Jeffrey Overstreet has seen the pilot and he review it here: Looking Closer Journal: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" rocks.

Overstreet's blog is worth checking out in general - he does a lot of good musing about film, music and other cultural things. I check it out daily.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Calvin Grad featured at U2 website

This webpage over at U2 - features a story about Lies Rosema, a recent Calvin grad, under the "One person making a difference" category. Here is the first paragraph:

Meet Lies Rosema. Many of you who post at's busy forums know her better as LivLuvAndBootlegMusic. She loves gymnastics, designing websites, and of course, U2. She recently graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she obtained a degree in business communications, with a minor in Third World development studies. Calvin College is a school fully enriched in the Christian tradition of justice, compassion and discipline and inspires its students to make this world a better place.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fingers crossed

I just sent off my book about children's faith to the editor at the publisher that is considering it. It will be some time before I hear anything I think but now one kind of pressure is off and a different kind begins. It will be nice to not think about that though for a few weeks.

Glass Harp Video from 1972

Here is a video of Glass Harp, featuring Phil Keaggy, from a 1972 PBS broadcast. The quality of the video is not great but it gives us a glimpse into what Glass Harp could do even way back then. Great fun to watch.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

House, M.D.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, I’ve been looking for a new TV show to be the show that I don’t miss. I now have a good candidate and a backup candidate. The new show that I will try to watch is House, M.D. I checked out the first season DVD from the library and it’s great. I really like Hugh Laurie’s character and the mystery in each episode is icing on the cake.

My backup show is 24. Now I tried to watch season two once and it got a little too intense but I am in the process of watching season one and Meredith says many good things about it lately so I’m going to give it a shot. I’m a little reluctant to watch a show that I will absolutely need to keep up with and that Laura won’t want to watch – that makes it tough to fit it in – but I'll at least start and see what happens.

The good news about House is that Laura likes it too – in fact, she’s the one who got me hooked.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Book Meme

Bethany tagged me so here it goes:

1: One book that changed your life: Foundation by Isaac Asimov. It set me on an Asimov kick in my teens and twenties that lasted at least fifteen years.

2: One book you have read more than once: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein.

3: One book you would want on a desert island: Lord of the Rings.

4: One book that made you laugh: The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Honorable mention, One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. I wouldn’t call it a great book by any stretch of the imagination but I just loved the tone in this novel and it often made me laugh.

5: One book you wish you had written: Joining Children on their Spiritual Journey by Catherine Stonehouse. Until my book on ministry to children comes out, it is the one I most often recommend to others about this topic.

6: One book you wish had never had been written: Although I was tempted to say The DaVinci Code I settled on How the Bible was Built by Charles Merrill Smith and James Bennett. See my review here. [Edit: on reflection, this is probably way too harsh on the Smith and Bennett book. I didn't like it but I'm not sure I wish it had NEVER been written. So I'll pick another book I didn't like recently, McCartney by Christopher Sandford. My review is here. Not only did I dislike the book, Sandford just seemed to be mean in the things he chose to write about.]

7: One book that made you cry: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

8: One book you are currently reading: Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism by James K. A. Smith.

9: One book you have been meaning to read: Plan B by Anne Lamott.

10. One book you wish everyone would read, and why: Precalculus, a Study of Functions and their Applications by Todd Swanson, Janet Andersen and Robert Keeley because someone needs to buy a couple thousand copies.

Now tag five people.
Ron R
Ron H.
Beth (actually, look here.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chennai Journal (in Paris!) Part Six.

To start reading these from the beginning, go here.

Monday Morning July 31, 8:00 AM, Paris, France.

The plan was to stop in Paris on the way home for a day of sightseeing. It seemed like a good idea because it added no expense and, as long as we're in Paris we may as well see something. Our plane trip to Paris went off without a hitch - well, it was an hour late but we got over it. The hitch came when we got to Paris and had to find our way to the hotel. Neither of us speak or read French so we struggled to figure out how to get on the train to go downtown. We had a pretty good idea where our hotel was and we had a pretty good idea where the stations were. However, we had no idea really how to get change for the machine to get our ticket or how to make sure we actually got on the right train.

After a few false starts we found the right train and thought we knew what we were doing. We got on the train headed to downtown Paris. Aside from seeing some of the French countryside we were serenaded by an accordion player on the train (playing in the hope that the passengers would throw a few Euros his way.) He played in a stereotypical French style which made a wonderful soundtrack to our trip. I think he played a medley of sorts – I’m not sure exactly what it was but I know I heard “Those Were the Days,” that old Mary Hopkin song.

After negotiating the train transfer without any problems we went one stop too far but managed to get back to our stop and emerged from underground to see the Arc de Triomphe. We walked the five or so blocks to our hotel in the rain. We had a couple of room issues but they got settled and we left our bags and headed off to find a café in which to have lunch. It was about 3 PM. We ate lunch pointing to the menus to communicate and then headed off toward the Louvre. It’s a long walk to the Louvre and we walked the Champs-Elysées and saw the amazing square trees and the Jardin des Tuileries. It really is a beautiful walk. It rained but we didn't let that bother us. Finally we got to the Louvre. The building is larger than you can imagine and the IM Pei pyramid which is the entrance is also really cool. When we bought our tickets we realized that we had only 45 minutes before closing so we hustled to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. It was a little strange seeing these both in person. I certainly knew what to expect and you can’t get real close to the Mona Lisa, for example, so in some ways it was a lot like seeing a picture. However, there certainly is something about it that is cool. Both pieces really were spectacular.

Then we left and walked along the Seine River toward the Eiffel Tower. It was a delightful walk with beautiful buildings and wonderful views every block or so. The Eiffel tower is also fun to see both from a distance and also up close. We didn’t get real close, about a block away, because we had no plan to go up the tower and besides, we were exhausted by the time we got that far. We headed back to our hotel, had a very late dinner at a nearby café (began around 10:30 PM) and collapsed into bed ready for the flight home. We had walked about 7.5 miles in Paris. We leave for home this morning.

My day in Paris
Jul 25, 2006 - 18 Photos

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part Five

Sunday morning, 2:00 AM, July 30, 2006, Chennai Airport

Chennai India
Jul 25, 2006 - 52 Photos

What a whirlwind day! It started when we met Anthony for breakfast. Ron and Anthony and I were having a very nice breakfast and were about ready to go back to our rooms when one of the waiters came up to our table. “Excuse me, are you Mr. Robert?” “Yes” “And today is your birthday?” I was stunned. “Yes, it is.” “Many happy returns of the day, sir,” echoed by the two other waiters who were there along with Anthony and Ron. I was pleased but confused – I had no idea how they knew and neither did Ron. We suspect Gloria (who had left by this time) might have been responsible but we really don’t know. Then he said “would you like your cake here or in your room?” I asked them to send it to the room since we had just finished breakfast. What a nice start to another great day.

The sessions that morning were again fine and well done. Ron and I ducked out on one to buy some gifts for our families in the hotel emporium but it was a fine morning. The afternoon session included a brief time for Anthony, Ron and me to make some final comments of reflection and response regarding the conference. I was happy to do it.

We were ready to go by 4:30, anxious to get to the airport in plenty of time to make alternate plans in case our plane to Paris (scheduled for 2:45 AM) was cancelled. Since we were so early we asked if we could see the Mylapore temple on the way. Our hosts were happy to show us so we got to see more of the city and the magnificent Mylapore temple. Joshua, one of the young men who works at St. Christopher’s acted as our guide and took us through the temple. We had to leave our shoes at a little stand near the entrance before we could go in. It was a fascinating experience. We got to see a priest come out of a little area where there was a statue of a god with ashes left over from some of the offerings which people smeared on their foreheads. After stopping at a fabric store where we did more shopping for family members, we headed to the airport.

We were unable to get into the main part of the airport until closer to our flight so our plan to make alternate plans was foiled right from the start. However, after a long wait by the Delta office we discovered that our plane was not cancelled, only about an hour and a half late. So we are waiting in the airport until 4:00 AM. We’re both really tired. This is the sixth night of the trip and we’ve only slept in hotels three nights. I’ve had a hard time sleeping because my internal clock is all messed up so I was up at 4 AM this morning (or is that yesterday.) My body is worn out and ready to sleep but I can’t until I get on the plane.

On to part six

Friday, August 04, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part four

Friday night, 10:00 PM July 28, 2006 – Chennai, India

This was the best day yet. It started when we gave our talks for the 9:00 AM session. Dr Anthony Edwards from Liverpool Hope University and Ron and I were on the bill for this all-group session. Anthony talked about e-learning at their university and Ron and I talked about using PowerPoint effectively. An interesting thing often happens to teachers when they use PowerPoint – they forget a lot of the other stuff they learned about teaching and go back to straight lecture, except now their lectures are spiced up with colored words on a screen. So we talked about that.

The talks went over extremely well. We posed for dozens of pictures afterward and spoke with a number of people about what we said and about whether we would be able to return to talk more about things like this. We also got to know Anthony a lot better, which was a great deal of fun. I was asked, as Ron and Anthony had been yesterday, to chair one of the breakout sessions. These sessions involve five or so people presenting the papers that they had prepared. Some read the papers and some talk about them. The chair, however, needs to run the meeting, announce the names of the participants (a real challenge for me since the Indian names are quite unfamiliar) and then respond to the paper with a comment or question. That was also a challenge because I sometimes had a hard time understanding some of the people because of the accent. I think they have a hard time with me as well, especially when I speak quickly – I tried to slow down and succeeded at least some of the time.) At the beginning of each of these sessions the chair is presented with a memento of the event, an inscribed silver plate and flowers. It was great and I’m looking forward to displaying the plate in my office.

After a long day of sessions we were all invited to St Christopher’s College for a cultural program. Dr. Vimala Punithakumar personally took Ron, Anthony and me to the college and gave a look at the beach on the way. We stopped at the beach on the Bay of Bengal and looked out at the sea. This is a spot where the tsunami stuck a year and a half ago and killed about 100 people. The beach is very long and very wide, the longest beach in the world, I understand. The sand reminded me of Lake Michigan near Holland. The driving in Chennai was not as hectic as on the way to the airport – at least it didn’t seem that way but perhaps I was just getting used to it. Anyway, we saw some more of the city, saw the University of Madras and also saw some people living in extreme poverty. Quite an amazing thing to see. After a while we got to the beautiful campus of St. Christopher’s College of Education. This was a calm spot in the otherwise crowded and hectic city. The campus buildings are simple but well kept and functional. After a brief tour of some of the campus we sat with a few new Indian friends in a room that might be the staff room and chatted for a while. Then we were escorted out to the outdoor theater for the cultural program, which consisted mostly of traditional Indian dance. It was wonderful. The dancers, all students from St Christopher’s, danced beautifully and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The whole time we were hearing mynah birds in the background. Amazing. This was a real highlight of the trip. After dinner on the lawn we got in a bus and headed back to the hotel. The bus had curtains so we didn’t see much outside the bus but Ron pulled his back and at one point a beggar with a partial arm came to the window asking for something. We really couldn’t tell what he was saying but the image is one that will stick with me for a while.

This day was wonderful. I finally got outside the hotel, got to experience some of the city and made some new friends.

On to part five

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part three

Thursday, July 28, 2006, 6:04 PM – Chennai

The tiredness has really caught up to me now. I faded during the first afternoon session, although calling it the first afternoon session is a bit off because the morning sessions went very long. One of the honored guests was quite late and we waited for him to start. Gloria presented a “felicitation” during the opening sessions. I asked her what a felicitation was and she said she didn’t know but the coordinator of the conference said “just say nice things” so she did. It was nice. Anyway I just about fell asleep during the first afternoon session so I took a break, came back to my room and lay down. The air conditioning here in the hotel makes all the conditioned rooms very cold. The hallways aren’t conditioned so they’re hot and humid. Nice contrast. My glasses get steamed up a lot.

They serve tea and coffee here a lot but mostly tea that is unlike any other tea I have ever had. It is served with a mix of cream and it has a weird taste to it. Strange stuff. The food in general is really really spicy and I just finally gave up at lunch and came and got a granola bar out of my luggage. I am generally OK with spicy things but this is over the top and after a couple of meals of it I finally just had enough.

The good news is that I’m having an easier time today with the Indian accents than I did yesterday. The bad news is that it often isn’t enough of an improvement to make a difference. I think it depends on the region the people are from. Some I find very easy to understand. It also doesn’t help that most of the small talk is around the “where are you from” stuff that inevitably includes the names of places I don’t know. I do a lot of nodding and smiling.

We’re concerned that our flight back has been cancelled. It hasn’t flown the last two days so we’re suspicious. We have a plan to get to Paris by way of Mumbai which we are prepared to press Delta to enact but, when we called them, they said “your flight will go as scheduled” so we’re leaving here for the airport earlier than expected on Saturday so that if they say “oops” when we show up we can take the earlier flight to Mumbai. We lost our day of touring Chennai because they cancelled our flight here – we don’t want to lose our day in Paris too. Unfortunately, that means additional time camped out in the airport.

On to part four

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part Two

Thursday July 27, 6:00 AM – Chennai, India

My internal clock is all messed up. Ron and I were awake until midnight last night putting the finishing touches on our presentation and I fell asleep instantly. About a half hour, maybe an hour, later I woke up and only dozed off and on for the rest of the night. My ipod is a lifesaver. We have cable TV in our room but many of the channels are in Tamil (instead of English) or they are things that wouldn’t hold my attention so I listened to music and podcasts instead.

We ate in a restaurant that is just two floors above our room. We’re on the ninth floor and the restaurant is on the 11th. It was very nice but I learned that “gently seasoned” on the menu does not mean “not spicy.” In fact, it was so spicy that I couldn’t eat much of it. I feel more confident about the food here though since there is always bottled water and we’re eating in the hotel all the time. I’m still remembering my food rules though and even brushing my teeth with bottled water.

We’re treated like special people here. I don’t know if it’s because we are Americans or because Ron might have tipped a little too much when we first arrived but, for example, when we went to the front desk to leave a note for someone we patiently waited for the clerk to finish with the person he was working with, an Indian. The door man (who appears to run the lobby) didn’t like it that we waited and told the clerk behind the desk to take care of us. We NEVER have to wait at the hotel. We’re taken care of immediately by more people than we want.

It seems that here they throw lots of people at everything here at the hotel. Need waiters? Put in twice as many as you’d have in the US. Need your bags moved? We’ve got a small army for that. (Speaking of Armies, as we taxied in at the Chennai airport I saw an army troop doing one of those stiff-armed marching things – it was SO COOL.) When we went to the restaurant last night we were one of the first there getting in shortly after 7 when it opened but we had four people helping us at our table – there were only two of us! I guess there is no shortage of people here.

Last night after dinner we met Dr Vimala Punithakumar, the director of the conference and the principal of St Christopher’s College. She was really swamped trying to pull this conference together but sat with us in the lobby for a while. I think she wanted to show us proper respect and didn’t want to leave us there alone but she clearly had other things to do so we eventually convinced her that we were going to meet Gloria Stronks and the others from Worldwide Christian Schools in yet another restaurant in the hotel. We sat there with them for an hour or so while Beatles played on the stereo. I didn’t expect that to be soundtrack to our dinner!

Today the conference begins. We’re not sure when we speak yet – there are lots of officials from various government and educational agencies making welcoming speeches. We’ve also been asked to give a response at the end of the conference reflecting on what we’ve heard.

OK, time to shower and think about the day. Like I haven’t been thinking about it all night!

On to part three

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part One

I'm just back from my amazing trip to India. I'm home now but while I was in Chennai, India I wrote about my trip. I'll be posting some of what I wrote while I was there over the next few days.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 4:00 PM – Chennai, India

Well, we finally made it to Chennai. But we were late getting in today. Most of that time was spent in the Mumbai airport. We were supposed to take a plane from Paris to Chennai but that was cancelled so Air France set us up on a Delta (same company) plane to Mumbai and then we were to catch an Air India plane at 1:00 AM to Chennai. Well, because they added a lot of the people from our cancelled flight to the flight to Mumbai they had to get additional food ready and the plane was delayed for an hour. Not only that but there was no way in the world we were going to get from the Mumbai international terminal to the domestic terminal in an hour even under optimal conditions so we missed the plane to Mumbai and the next one was scheduled to leave at 6:45 AM. The process of getting Delta to sign us up for another flight on yet another airline was a bit of a challenge and, while we had no hassles it took lots of standing in line, waiting for officials to look at our ticket and our passport and many don’t speak English real well and if they do I can’t understand half of what they say but we got it done.

We had no phone numbers for the conference people so we sent an email from Paris (they had a lounge for World Club members like in Chicago – very nice) and we sent an email saying we were coming in at 2:45 AM instead of 12:45 AM. We asked Delta to try to get a message to them at 2:45 but, of course, they didn’t so they waited for us last night and we had no email access in Mumbai. We spent 6 hours in the lobby of the Mumbai airport – there was sitar music on the PA, lots of people in sarees and other traditional Indian clothes walking around – it was almost like out of a movie.

But we we’re tired – between when we left Michigan at 11:00 AM on Monday and when we arrived in Chennai at about midnight Tuesday night (Michigan time) I got about four hours of sleep. I nearly fell asleep sitting on a bench in Mumbai – Ron and I made sure one of us was awake although I don’t think either of us actually slept there – we just closed our eyes. We had to take a bus between the terminals and that ride (at about 2:00AM) was really strange. First we had to wait in a room to get the bus and the room was almost stereotypical – chairs in a big room that might have been nice once but really wasn’t any longer, a couple of fans, and lots of soldiers (some with rifles.) There are more soldiers and officials walking around the airport than I can believe – most of them are just there, telling people to go this way or making “move along” gestures. They certainly weren’t there to be helpful. On the bus we passed lots of buildings that almost looked bombed out but I think that’s just the state of many of the buildings here. There are nice buildings like the hotel we are staying at but there are lots that are just in terrible shape.

But we finally got on the plane (which meant we had to listen carefully for when our plane was called – more challenging than you might think since their version of English and ours sometimes has only a passing similarity.) We got to the airport in Chennai hoping that they had gotten the message and had someone waiting for us but they didn’t. You know how people line up with signs to greet people in the US? Make it a line five deep of people packed together and you have the idea. So we went back inside, convincing a soldier with a rifle that we had good reason to, and hired a taxi to take us to the Savera Hotel.

Traffic in Chennai is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The number of lanes on a road at any given time is completely negotiable. The lines on the road do no good at all. There are lots and lots of motorcycles and those strange little three wheeled carts that weave in an out. We asked the driver what they called those things but he had no idea what we were asking. (I later discovered that they are called auto-rikshaws.) The horn is apparently the most important piece of equipment on a vehicle in Chennai and it is used almost continuously. Since it is, it does almost no good. I have absolutely no idea how there isn’t an accident every block but I saw no cars with dents – they must have better spatial intelligence than I do because they see holes developing in the traffic much like a really good running back in football does. It took about 45 minutes to get to the hotel. Most of the city that we passed through on the way here looked like it was in the middle of being demolished but people were living there anyway. Construction sites look like demolition sites and the place is just a mess.

But we got to the hotel and checked in and got a little sleep. Now we’re going to get dinner here in the hotel because I’m certainly not venturing out on my own.

On to part two