Friday, August 29, 2008

Bandung, Indonesia: Bandung Declaration on TVET Teacher Education

I presented a paper at The First World Congress on Teacher Education
for Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Bandung, Indonesia and had a great opportunity to help craft the Bandung Declaration.

I met some wonderful people and feel like finally someone is understanding what I am trying to focus my research on.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Summary of India Tour
Overall the tour was educative but I have to say, India is not one of the places that I would want to go back to visit. There was so much poverty and the part that was perhaps the most difficult to deal with is the caste system – unfortunately still very entrenched into the consciousness of almost everyone there.  I saw some things that made me want to cry and after a few days in Delhi, I would gladly have returned to Canada without seeing anything else.  I found almost every place I visited to be dirty and most people seemed to have lost their sense of hygiene – peeing on the side of the road or wall anytime they felt like it.  Some Indians have said that all of India is not like that, and I am not disputing that but from what I saw in 24 days, I find it hard to believe that the rest of the country is not more of the same.  I suppose if you are wealthy, life is good – where you are likely to employ a maid, a cook, a nanny a gardener and a driver but for most people in India (at least what was apparent to me) ARE the cooks, nannies, driver, etc. with low wages and subject to disrespectful treatment from their employers.  The one thought that kept reoccurring in my mind was that I was glad that my foreparents left India to make a life for themselves in Guyana.  Most of them came from the poorest part of India – Bihar – but they managed, in spite of the bad treatment as indentured labourers from the British, they managed to succeed and create the foundation for my life for which I am grateful. 

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

April 16-21 & May3-6, 2008: Delhi:
The Connaught Hotel (Rating: Appalling)

When we booked two extra days prior to the start of the tour, it was with the intention of getting over some jet lag after a long travel. The floors above the fourth floor were under construction which meant that from 7am to 7pm, there was constant hammering – not conducive to rest at all for 5 full days. The facility at $250 per night was incredibly overpriced – small rooms with dirty carpets and tattered furniture. Breakfast offered a very good variety of dishes to choose from. In spite of the posted sign that the staffs are not expected to solicit tips, one could hardly get a cup of coffee at breakfast without some indication that there was a tip forthcoming. The hotel should inform companies like TCI when there are issues that may interfere with the guests’ stay and that way, TCI can make alternate arrangements for accommodations. Our return stay after the tour was no better than the initial stay. We were placed in a room with incessant hammering and at that point we requested a new room. We were then given two rooms on the 7th floor which had an overpowering smell of insecticide. The manager went and sprayed some air freshener and said it was okay. At that point we took our luggage to the lobby and said that we were not going to accept inexcusable accommodations given the money we were paying. The manager informed us that TCI was the beneficiary of most of the $4,000 we paid in accommodations and had we made a booking directly with the hotel, we would have been given a better rate. He then produced a flyer with the hotel rates which were actually the same as we paid to TCI. When we said that we would inform TCI about the atrocious treatment, we were given “remodelled” rooms on the 3rd floor. I think that remodelling consisted of new drapes in very shabby rooms. When we asked for some form of compensation for our major inconvenience, we were offered one night’s dinner, a late checkout and a few candies on our last day. This hotel’s rating as a 4 star hotel is sadly out of date. I would give this a 1 star rating and that would be being generous. Given my discussion with a TCI representative about the lack of available accommodations in Delhi, I would suggest that TCI explain that to their clients that although the hotels are rated as 4 stars, some accommodations are not in fact meeting those rating standards.

The guide Alok Tiwari (Rating: Disappointing)
The guide was somewhat informative but he seemed preoccupied with his cell phone much more so than with providing some the history of Old and New Delhi. What little we got was probably less than we might read in a simple tour book of India. Driving around the Parliament building was just that – a drive. Given the rich and textured history of India and its government, I learned nothing that I did not already know, which is little. More time explaining and less time on the cell phone would have made this a more meaningful experience. .

Saturday, May 03, 2008

May 2-3, 2008: Agra

Clarks Shiraz Rating: Average
This hotel was average compared to the Clark’s Amer. The room had a nice view of the Fort and Taj which I assume was what made it a deluxe room although it seemed pretty standard. Although we anticipated that the Taj Mahal would be the highlight of the trip, overall this was an anticlimactic end to the fourteen day trip. The drive to the Taj and the walk to the actual buildings proved more than a little distracting as there were way too many beggars and hawkers. This of course is no reflection on TCI but could certainly be suggested to the mayor of Agra that given the sheer number of visitors each year, cleanliness of the area surrounding the Taj could be vastly improved.

Guide: Adil Ali Rating: Good
He was knowledgeable about the Taj and the fort and provided the necessary comments about the tour. He did seem a bit rushed at times but did find a locker for some items that we were not allowed to take into the Taj complex. He also bought and offered us bottled water without our requesting it. That was a nice thing to do. In consideration of my father’s health and the intense heat, he chose the cooler garden route to the Taj. He offered to take us to the fort and craft stores but we declined since we had seen several in our 14 day tour. On our way to Delhi, we decided not to do any more sightseeing so the guides that were arranged were informed that their services were not needed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

April 30-May 2, 2008: Jaipur

Clarks Amer Rating: Excellent
This was a fabulous hotel with a very helpful staff. The breakfast (included) was very good. The wait staff on the first breakfast was quite rude but after talking to the dining room manager, the service at lunch (not included) was impeccable. The manager apologized and offered to prepare a special breakfast the next morning which we gratefully declined. That was a very nice thing to do.

Guide: Bhopal Singh Rating: Excellent
The palace with the mirrored room was very special. We were a bit disappointed that the elephant ride was not possible; however we understand the circumstances. Bhopal was quite jovial, joking about street life and did not mind pointing out the underbelly of India which no other guide had done to that point. It allowed us to ask some questions about life in India that we were not able to do prior to his guiding. Several of them said India is a land of contrasts but none seemed willing to talk about anything but castles and forts. This was a welcome change. He took us to the Astronomy tour and that was quite different and very interesting. We had an opportunity to calculate and calibrate our watches to the sundial. That was impressive.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April 29-30, 2008: Ajmer

Mansingh Palace Rating: Good
Upon check-in, we were given two standard rooms and when I mentioned that we had deluxe room as per itinerary, we were moved to one standard room and one deluxe. Not sure why we were not given two deluxe rooms in the first place. The deluxe room was quite spacious. The standard room was “standard” at best .

Guide: Nandu Sharma Rating: Good
We did not want to do the activity so we thanked the guide and gave him a generous tip for taking the time to come to the hotel.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April 27-29. 2008: Udiapur

Hilltop Palace Hotel Rating: Average
The most palatial thing about this hotel was the view which was very pleasant but did not make up for the quality of the room. The variety of breakfast selection was good and the staff were very helpful. The garden and pool area were well kept but the same cannot be said for the interior of the hotel or the rooms. The hotel itself can best be described as “shabby” and could certainly use some upgrading.

Guide: Sheikh Rating: excellent
Sheikh was an excellent guide. He was knowledgeable on all aspects of Udiapur and surroundings. He could answer every question we asked and was willing to provide as much detail as we needed. All our questions were answered to our satisfaction. He showed some obvious pride when he explained the details of the castle as well as the temples. He offered bottled water for my father when he needed it. He was by far the best guide on our trip, professional in every way.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 26-27, 2008: Jodhpur

The Ummeid Rating: Excellent.
This was by far the best hotel on the tour so far although the hotel at Mandawa was a close second. The staff and facilities were superb and the breakfast as well as the wait staff was very professional. It’s too bad that it was only a one night stay.

Guide: Pradeep Singh Rating: Excellent
Pradeep was very humble and he certainly knew the history and details of the tour. He was accommodating especially as it was an incredibly hot day and my father was having some difficulty with some of the stairs as well as the heat. We cut short the tour because of the heat (no fault of the guide). He called the next morning to wish us well for the rest of our journey. That was a nice thing to do.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

April 23-26, 2008: Jaisalmer
Heritage Inn Rating: Average to good
The hotel staff greeted us with a mala and had a welcome board with our name posted – nice touch.  The rooms were very average with poor lighting (too many energy efficient bulbs with not enough light) although they were clean and overlooked a nice courtyard. The staff in the dining room was fairly attentive but the breakfast (included) was mediocre.  Lunch and dinner (not included) was quite good.  
Guide: Kamal Rating: Average to good guide. 
At the beginning of the tour, Kamal was informative about the fort and the dam, giving the history of each in some detail.  However, it would have been nice for him to accompany us into the Jain temples (much like other guides were doing with their groups) to explain some of the carvings on the walls.  Beyond the beauty of them, they were meaningless because we could not understand the symbolism of them without benefit of someone who knows the history.  Again, this guide would have served us best if he would have turned off his cell phone and done what he was hired to – guide.  In the evening, he explained that he would take us on a silver tour into the town to see the silver craftsmen and their work but instead took us to a showroom where a silversmith plied his jewellery.  The same thing happened with the textile tour.   What we saw was a showroom with salespeople trying to sell us blankets and cushion covers rather than how the garments were made.  His cell phone again provided much distraction for him with not much else for us.  He explained the next day on the way to the camel ride that he was disappointed that he spent the previous day with us and we did not purchase anything so he got no commission.  He may need to understand that ALL tourists do not come to India with the intention of buying trinkets.  Some actually come to appreciate the history and culture.
After lengthy discussion of karma, I explained my interpretation of karma to him (karma is part what you make of your life and part destiny and your effort is proportional to your reward), our purpose for this trip and our lack of interest in craft stores, he redeemed himself somewhat and arranged for a camel cart for my parents since they would not have been able to do the camel ride.  At the end of the tour, he said that he learned a valuable lesson from me that day - one that he will carry for the rest of his life.  I hope so! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 22-23, 2008: Bikaner
Heritage Resort Rating: Very good
Overall, the facility and staff was good.  The rooms were good as were the dining facilities.  The dining staff were accommodating and the variety at breakfast although not as lavish as Castle Mandawa, was good. The Ayuevedic massage was a welcome treat after 5 days in Delhi’s heat.  
Guide: (don’t remember his name) Rating: Good
This guide, although knowledgeable about the history of Bikaner, seemed intent on letting us know through one means or another that his Brahmin status was usurped by the opportunities of the untouchables of Bikaner and India in general.  His little rant about the injustices he as a Brahmin now has to face with the outlaw of the caste system was unnecessary.  His knowledge of the fort was good and he did explain about the paintings and the maharajah’s presence at the fort.  He told us to walk around part of the time on our own but not knowing the history, it was just a walk to look at some of the architecture.  Other groups in the fort had their guides explaining individual carvings and symbols which would have been helpful to us too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 21-22, 2008: Mandawa
Castle Mandawa (Rating: Excellent)
Everything about the Castle and staff was outstanding.  From the moment we entered the facility, we were offered a cool drink and a wet facecloth.  The staff were warm and friendly every step of the way. The upgraded splendour of our rooms was indeed a pleasant surprise after the Connaught.  The staff was helpful and friendly without being intrusive.  Dinner (not included) was a spread fit for a king’s feast and the entertainment was a nice bonus.  Same with breakfast (included). The staff was again attentive without hovering and the selection of breakfast food was good. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it right.
The guide: Mahboo (Rating: Excellent)
The guide was friendly and courteous.  He explained the history of Mandawa and our walk through town was very informative.  He did not appear to be rushed or in a hurry and answered all our questions in a knowledgeable way.  Given our first experience with intense desert heat, he was willing to wait for us or cut short the tour when we were no longer able to tolerate the heat.   The guide was sincere, humble and attentive.