Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Israel Day 3: Yad Vashem and Mahane Yehuda Market

Israel Day 3: Yad Vashem and Mahane Yehuda Market

This morning started off gloriously after a full 8hr sleep. After so many big trips this year, we're starting to get the hang of shaking jet-lag as soon as possible! We started with a nice breakfast, which was somewhat similar to our lunch from yesterday. I asked Michal if this was usual, and she said it was -- dinner is the biggest meal, and "salads" you would have at lunch, you'd likely also have at breakfast. We had some of that great cucumber/tomato salad, along with the excellent feta again. So good. The big change from lunch was that we also had egg and coffee.

Michal's Uncle sorted out getting a SIM card for my iPhone which was super helpful, and would allow us to use GPS throughout the trip. To pick up the card, our instructions were very straightforward: "drive down the street, and find the guy in the Yarmulke". :) We did in fact find this guy, and got the SIM card. I, quite foolishly, was excited to get it hooked up so we could have GPS instantly, and tried to install it while Michal was backing up the car. We almost hit a religious fellow, and as expected, I also dropped the miniscule SIM card somewhere into the car. Haha. We carefully found it, and I installed it when we had come to a complete stop, which was much more successful. Hooray for GPS! Waze has a useful option to simplify the driving in Israel which you can select called "Only use roads under Israeli Authority", which you can turn on. (As I learned, Waze is actually from Israel, so that's why it has that option). Google Maps didn't have that feature, so we stuck with Waze for the trip.

Up we go, to Jerusalem!
Awesome bridge
Oh look, my Hebrew name is a street!
And off we go! We drove an hour or so from Ra'anana "up to" Jerusalem. Jerusalem is up on a hill, so the phrase they use is you are making "Aliyah" or "going up" to Jerusalem. It was quite hilly and there was a railroad construction in progress as we drove. You know the "Red Cross", right? Well, we saw a building for the Israel equivalent, the "Red Star of David!" (Magen David Adom) Funny. As we got closer to Jerusalem, the style of the city started to come into focus, with the "Jerusalem Stone" used everywhere to build and to add character to the city. The scenery started dry, and then lots of trees, greenery, and vineyards.

Our first stop was a very serious and somber one, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and History Museum. We went in, and right from the start, it was an incredibly well-thought-out museum. Every question that might come across your mind about the Holocaust was answered, visually, and with shocking and relevant historic artifacts on display. Questions I've thought about for years danced through my head, questions with answers I knew some things about, or had always wondered about but had never heard a satisfactory explanation. Questions like "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" were answered with a very informative piece on Ghetto uprisings. Questions like "Why didn't people just pack up and leave Europe?" were answered with a section called "Borders Closed", describing the lack of empathy from most countries around the world for Jewish refugees from Europe. This quote floored me: "The world is full of places Jews can't live, and places Jews cannot enter". Oof.

The exhibits were immensely powerful, and had incredible explanations that were much clearer and more affecting than any Holocaust memorial or museum I've ever visited in another part of the world. It was a really tough but worthwhile experience. The kind of artifacts that were there, I have never seen before, and added to the weight of the place. There was a big patch of yellow felt, with several "Juif" yellow stars on it, with cut-out patterns. That was crazy, I've never seen that before. I've seen a single star before, but seeing the larger piece of felt with rows and rows of them with "cut-out" patterns showed the systematic, organized nature of the Nazi goals. It was pretty rough to see that. They also had the actual guard towers from Auschwitz... man. They were stark, tall, and ominous. It was very weird and unsettling to be near them. There were actual canisters that held Zyklon-B Gas (which was used in the gas chambers), that was frightening to see. Another exhibit showed an actual Torah which had been burned as part of Kristallnacht, which was both upsetting to see and also quite amazing that this evidence of such a horrific historical event existed, and was saved and preserved in the state it was found in. This image of a burned Torah -- the holy book of the Jewish people -- is not something I ever imagined, let alone thought I would see, and remains a strong memory of my visit to Yad Vashem.

Another memorable item was a comic strip, drawn by a 22-year-old prisoner. It was called "Life in the Camp" and was drawn using Mickey Mouse artwork. This was also quite unsettling to see, given the age of the artist and my chosen area of study. Most of my friends where I work would have drawn cartoons in their college years, as this prisoner did in the camp. He, presumably, used his artistic skill as a way to express the horror of his "Life in the Camp", and not to entertain and inspire audiences around the world, like he might have done alongside me and my friends -- if only he was born in my generation, and not in his own. This was very sad.

Something I noticed about the exhibits is that they clearly used the word "Murder" when discussing the Jews who died in the Holocaust, not the softer or indirect terms like "Reduction" or other words you might imagine seeing in governmental literature to lessen the horrific nature of the reality. Further exhibits talked about the 20,000 children refugees. Another section talked about US Immigration, and the huge bureaucracy involved there -- not surprising, but it was really crazy to think of bureaucracy slowing down refugees given the bigger picture of what was happening in Europe. The emigration exhibit did also mention Shanghai, and how favourable of a location it was for Jews fleeing Europe. It was interesting and exciting to see that mentioned after hearing similar positive stories about how the Chinese welcomed the Jews from the Shanghai Jewish Museum a couple months ago in China. After walking by an exhibit of personal effects (shoes, combs, razors...), the room started angling upwards as we walked up to more hopeful things.

The exhibits continued with a description of the Trials at Nuremberg and the world getting justice for some of the crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Holocaust. It descried "The Righteous Nation" of people who hid Jews and helped them escape. It also spoke of the birth of the State of Israel.

Yad Vashem, holocaust memorial
The view of Israel, from the Yad Vashem exhibit exit
Heading out of the museum, upwards further, through the outside doors, was a beautiful and breathtaking view of Jerusalem. The build up of sadness and horror, eventually leading upwards to hope. The build up to this was just incredible. What a museum!

From here we walked to the Jewish Holocaust Art Museum section of Yad Vashem, which had some amazing paintings, some created by prisoners at concentration camps. One called "Apart from the world" was one of my favourites.

Steven Spielberg, you are awesome.
We walked through the Audio/Visual Center, a place for learning and research, and had much documentation generated by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation (his work on this foundation is one of the many, many reasons why Steven Spielberg is an incredible inspiration of mine).

From here, we walked to the actual Holocaust Memorial, and took some time there to reflect and be silent. We also went to the Children's Memorial, a presentation of glass, lights, and names being spoken aloud. It would be impossible not to be moved to tears in there.

Very powerful memorial of Holocaust victims
We then visited the extensive research area. It was very open and you were able to spend time in there researching family members, researching with books and documents from the Holocaust, or searching the computerized databases. I had never before seen the Shoah Foundation's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, and so I tried a search for "Jutan"...

To my extreme surprise, MANY names came up.

The moment I found out that Jutans died in the Holocaust. Very tough moment.
My parents are from South Africa. Their parents were also from South Africa, born in the early 1900's, well before the Holocaust. It was my impression that the Jutans had traveled from England and/or Lithuania to South Africa, and we did not know of any relatives who had died in the Holocaust. I had assumed my extended family at that time was safe from the horrors of Europe, living in South Africa. This was not the case, and it was quite a shock to learn this immediately after experiencing the exhibits at Yad Vashem.

Documents about members of the Jutans (also, "Yutan" and "Iutan" from Poland and Lithuania) who died in the Holocaust
This database is actually available online, outside of the walls of Yad Vashem via this website: http://db.yadvashem.org/names/search.html?language=en I would like to honour the names of all the known Jutan family members who were victims of the Holocaust by listing them here. (Some of the names listed had a maiden name of Jutan, Yutan or Iutan). May their memories be a blessing.

Year of Birth
Place of Residence
Fate based on this source

Blacher, Miriam  1916  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Henia  1902  Osmiany, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Chana  Kupiskis, Lithuania‎  List of persecuted p ...  Murdered 
Jutan, Mania  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Genia  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Mania  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Genia  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Rywa  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Rachil  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Sachariasch  1895  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Israel  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Rejzl Reizl  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Moshe  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Yita  1932  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Zacharijas  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Israel  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Malka  List of ghetto inmates  Presumably murdered 
Jutan, Israel Yisrael  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Gdaljau Gdaliyahu  1900  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Batia  1925  Osmiany, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Rachel Rakhel  1908  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Liba  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, First name unknown  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Gustav  Nasice, Yugoslavia‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Sonya Sonia  1890  Wilno, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Hersch David  Devenishki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Jhudit Yehudit  1904  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Aharon  1890  Vilna, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Etl Etel  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Eliezer Leizer  1902  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Hania Henia  1904  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Zachariasz Zakharia  1889  Wilna, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Mosze Moshe  1923  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Chaje Khaia  1913  Schelib, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Zachar Zakharia  1889  Wilno, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Szmuel Shmuel  1903  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Asnes  1885  Wilno, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Shmuel Samuel  1880  Wilno, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Reizl Reizl  1917  Devenishki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Jutan, Lejb Leib  1905  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Lewin, Rachel Rakhel  1913  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Maliszkiewicz, Rivka  Wilno, Poland  Page of Testimony, D ...  Murdered 
Nowoplanski, Szeine Sheina  1898  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Nowoplansky, Scheindl Sheindl  1907  Dzwiniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Snaider, Liba Ahuva  1901  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Sztyler, Golda  Wilno, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Yutan, Moshe  1934  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Yutan, Yitzhak Yaakov  1937  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Yutan, Laizar Eliezer  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Yutan, Henia  Oszmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Yutan, Shushana Shoshana  1914  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Beninson, Yehudit  Osmiana, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Goldberg, Chaja Khaia  1903  Wsielub, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Iutan, Shmuel  Oszmiana, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Iutan, Leiba Liba  Oszmiana, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Iutan, Leizer Eliezer  Oszmiana, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Iutan, Adela  Oszmiana, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Iutan, Etl Etel  Devenishki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Iutan, Khaia  Ukmerge, Lithuania‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 
Iutan, Etel  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Iutan, Yisrael  Dziewieniszki, Poland‎  List of murdered Jew ...  Murdered 
Levin, Rachel Rakhel  1915  Devenishki, Poland‎  Page of Testimony  Murdered 

This, as you can imagine, was quite a surprise.

It was also quite unexpected to see so many Jutans from Poland, as I had thought our ancestry was mostly from Lithuania. The spelling was cross-referenced with last names "Yutan" and "Iutan", since the Hebrew spelling is יוּטָן

It was a great experience at the museum, a very well-designed and perfectly-implemented memorial of respect for the many who perished. And, as with life, when there is bad, there is also good. It was wonderful to end the tour on a sweet note. After a few hours at the museum, it was most certainly time for an ice cream. I got a Frozen Passion Fruit (Passi-Flora) juice.

From Yad Vashem, we went to the famous Mahane Yehoda "Shuk" (Market)! It was SO cool. The food was amazing, it was kindof like an Israeli Ferry Building. First things first, we had to stop at a place called "Martzipan". This has fresh, hot rugelach, so good they taste like tiny, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate croissants. These were insanely glorious. We got a pack of those, along with a few smaller ones and a folded, almond thing. They were all perfect and magical and we went to town on that pack of rugelach.

EPIC Rugelach at the Mahane Yehuda Market
Then, it was time to wander. We saw figs and cherries, dried fruits of all kinds, and a pile of Yarmulkes! There were some touristy things like Hamsas with house prayers on them... even one in Spanish, like I got in Buenos Aires!

Bulk Candy is a thing here. Tell me more...
Interesting and unusual teas
Tasty Olives and salads
Angry Birds kippahs :)
So many
Nuts, figs, prunes
Next we saw a store that sold only Halva! This was crazy. I got a Passionfruit one and a 5-chocolate one. It was so smooth, like fudge. Amazing!

Some excellent Halva
HUGE Avocados
Picking out some Olives
We saw candy in bulk, tried a tasty snack mix, and I bought some "Bedouin Tea" with cardamom and sage in it, as well as a Chai Masala with cinnamon bark and ginger root in it! It was from a spice market and seemed a bit more "spice" than "tea", but it tasted pretty good.

What seemed funny is you could try anything you wanted to try... just by... taking it?! I "tried" many a grape and olive that way. Good times. On our way out of the market, we got a 1/2 falafel which came with fries in it. We also walked by the "Burekas", similar to the Borek pastry that I know well from the London Covent Garden Market. Back we walked to the parking lot... via Martzipan. I explained to everyone that sometimes, there is just the "right thing to do", it was something just so obvious that one should race to complete the task. What I was discussing, of course, was the obvious requirement to buy a 2nd container of rugelach to take back home that night (and eat a few more immediately). No one questioned this incredibly truthful statement.

For dinner we went to Chana and Avi's place, met by a funny cat (yes!). We had tons of salads, as Michal had explained them -- many, many, many tasty vegetable salads. I would be a vegetarian for this! Carrot, very hot pepper, eggplant ("Chatzilim"), roasted red pepper, and of course, HUMMUS!!!

More amazing salads at dinnertime
I tried a local liquor called "Arak", which was like the Greek "Orzo" and was quite strong. After many epic salads, we had fish and potato, chicken with filo pastry, beef roast, just so much food! I had brought a Coppola Wine from California, and we all had just a little -- with ice cubes added to the glass! We finished off the dinner with some pastry with plum, and amazing Neihaus chocolate. What an evening of good company and epic eating!

We headed back to Ra'anana after a great evening, and of course, it was time to eat again. We had an awesome midnight snack of pita (SO fresh!), hummus, pastrami, and matbucha (a type of tomato red pepper sauce). VERY good! We finished off the night sweetly with some of the crazy flavoured Halva we bought, and tons more of the epic rugelach (you know, we better eat it while it's fresh!)

After a long day of seriousness and somberness, followed by a lively afternoon of market food sampling and an evening of good company and great food, it was time for another great night of sleep!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Israel Day 1-2: Welcomed with open arms, and lots of food

Israel Day 1-2: Welcomed with open arms, and lots of food

And off I go, on my first ever trip to Israel!!!!!!!!!!!! I always thought I would visit someday, never knew when it would be. And, low and behold, the day is here! It's so wild to be actually going, and even more exciting to be going to visit Michal's family there for a "simcha" (a "joyous celebration") -- the Bar-Mitzvah of Tomer, her cousin's eldest son. Exciting!

We got up at insane-'o-clock to get to SFO for... 4am. Oh boy, here we go! The airport was super quick as always (I love that place), and we got to our gate. We were flying to Israel via Toronto, but to get a good price to Toronto we had to also go through Chicago... with a very short stopover. Turns out, when you go to the airport at 4am, there is usually extra spaces on the earlier Chicago flight :) As we got in, there was a lineup for an earlier flight to Chicago, and we swapped our tickets easily and got onto that one. Awesome! Grabbing a coffee, yoghurt, and banana, we just walked right into line and onto the flight. Sweet. Since it was 4am, I slept like a champion for the flight to Chicago.

Arriving in Chicago an hour earlier made it nice and easy to chill, get some Coconut Water, and send of a few last emails for the week to people before turning my gadgets off for the trip. Onwards to Toronto, which was also a nice, quick flight.

On the way through Toronto, the usual important stop
We arrived in Toronto and couldn't go to the international lounge (they are fancier), so that was too bad, but I probably would have eaten too much anyway. Instead, we did the only thing honourable Canadians should do, and hit up some epic Tim Hortons. I got a frozen lemonade and it was magical.

We met Michal's parents at the gate. Our flight was only slightly delayed, but all was well. The plane was huge, and it had seats with just 2 beside each other and then the aisle!! Ahh so amazing.

Wow, the plane had some crazy mood lighting
And... a bazillion hours later... Michal looks beautiful, and I look like I haven't slept in a bazillion hours.
The flight was great. I watched some great movies: The Muppets: Most Wanted and The Grand Budapest Hotel. That was super solid and the flight went well. I didn't sleep too much (too excited, plus amazing movies, plus you gotta love international flights with free food). We got to Israel and I was tired, but really looking forward to exploring. I love that feeling you get when you arrive in a brand-new country you've never been to before: the familiarity of a place like an airport, but the total overwhelming stimulation to the senses of brand-new things, signs in different languages, people speaking quickly in another language, the complexity of trying to rent a car, it's all just fun and awesome and amazing. I love it all.

Yep, there's a Synagogue at the Airport!!!

Arriving in Tel Aviv was a cinch. Nice and smooth, and our luggage even arrived despite our last-minute flight change in SFO! Win.

Michal's absolutely wonderful and kind Aunt and Uncle came to pick us up and they were just as incredible, welcoming, and amazing as she had said. The first thing Michal's amazing aunt said to me was, "You have nice green eyes". I apologized for my lack of Hebrew and she apologized for her lack of English (really she was very good), and she gave me a hug and said, "It's not what language you can speak, it's what's in the heart!"... I was speechless. I don't think I could imagine a kinder or a more sweet welcome. :)

Everyone was very patient as we fumbled our way through a car rental at Hertz, and hung out and hugged and talked while we got everything sorted. The Hertz desk was funny and crazy. It took forever, as car rentals always take, and so many things went wrong, as they always do in every country you visit and try, in earnest, to rent a car successfully. After some time trying to score some Hertz points and not getting sucked into (too much) extra insurance, we got out to the car via the terminal exit, garage, etc... and there were baby seats in it?! The dude took those out, and we got in, ready to go... and... just about to leave... and we realized it was a manual transmission, which neither Michal nor I know how to drive. Whoops :) We schlepped all the way back through the garage, back into the terminal, and had to pay a grand total of an extra $2/day (for a total of $9 a day!) for an Automatic Transmission instead. The girl at the desk hilariously told us that she had told us it was Manual, and presumably didn't read our reservation which was definitely for an Automatic. Haha, and so it goes, another country, another car rental experience that takes about an hour longer than it should.

We got out of there (in an automatic this time, apologizing to the Hertz garage dude for him having to remove all those random car seats for us earlier), and headed on the short drive to Ra'anana.

Coca-Cola :)
We relaxed for a bit and, as turned out to be quite the tradition for this trip, it was time to eat! We had an amazing fresh lunch of cheese, INSANELY AWESOME FETA, smoked salmon, pickled herring, bagels ("toast"), and this really great tomato/cucumber salad combination. We tried some "half-sour" pickles, which have still "got some oomph!" The melon there also ROCKED, and the grapes and cherries were also very fresh. Michal had mentioned how the food in Israel was very fresh, and man was it tasty. We had some dessert and coffee, halva (which was really good), and some ice cream cubes which were nice in the hot weather. We continued to meet and chat, and everyone was so nice and welcoming. I started to get super jet-lagged, so we had a quick power-nap, and then got up. It was time to eat again!

BBQ time! This is the most awesome way to cut a hot dog ever
BBQ time! Like a scene out of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", everyone showed up for the BBQ. My parents always talk about BBQs (Braais) in South Africa, and how everyone would show up, this cousin, that cousin, and it was just such a warm family atmosphere. We don't have a ton of extended family in Canada, so it was pretty amazing to be a part of such a large family event like this. Ilanit, Michal's cousin who I met last year in Seattle, was there and it was so nice to see her. I became insta-bros with her boyfriend Nir who rocks fierce. We covered the basics right off-the-bat: scuba diving, model airplanes, and, of course, Scotch Whisky. Insta-bros.

It was also so nice to see Orit, Rani and their kids, who I had just met in San Francisco a few months prior. It's going to be so nice to get to know them better over this trip, too.

The first hilarious part of the BBQ was how they cut the hot dogs! It was super awesome. I've never seen that before, and clearly, this is the best way ever to cut a hot dog. Just awesome. This was such a great family dinner, and in true Jewish style, tons of food. We had hot dogs and beer "to start", steak, chicken, fish, corn, coleslaw, sauerkraut... whew!!!

After helping to clean up, it was dessert time, naturally. :) We had a few more of those tasty tiny ice cream squares, and then gave out the gifts we brought from SF. After dinner I was starting to fade from all the jet lag again, so Michal and I went for a neighbourhood walk. We saw a local pi-tza place (פיצה)!! That was funny, as it was just the word "Pizza", but written in Hebrew letters. It reminded me a bit of the "Katakana" I saw in Japan ("Harr-eee-o Pottaaahh" for Harry Potter), where the local language is used to "spell" English words, though those words don't necessarily correlate to anything in the local language. Rather, it's just a way to pronounce the English word, with the local character set. So far, Israel has a leg up on Japan here, given that "Pi-tza" sounds exactly like "Pizza", and the Japanese attempt at "Harry Potter" was funny and also embellished with Japanese word endings.

Cars in Hebrew
A grocery store that carries "Life" Brand... yep, same owner as Shopper's Drug Mart in Canada!
This is all of the awesome.
We continued our nice walk and exploration, finding a local convenience store that was the Israel version of Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada (actually, it's the other way around). We checked out some randoms shops, bulk candy is apparently popular (sweet). We went to a "Yoghurt" place (i.e., Frozen Yoghurt) and figured it was time for another dessert.

After a nice walk, I had shaken some more of the jet-lag, and we had a nice chat back at home about the history of the city, including a wave of South African immigrants who came to Ra'anana some years prior -- I had actually heard some very clear South African accents at the ice cream shop earlier! We wrapped up a nice chat, and cleaned up. And now, time for sleep!!! What an awesome and super warm welcome. Wow.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Don't worry Mom, I won't do this bike ride

I've been getting more into XC mountain biking over the last few years, and while I am generally keen to keep both wheels on the ground most of the time, I've been at a couple of parks (eg. Duthie Hill in Issaquah, WA) where some of the guys riding there are doing some really incredible and crazy jumps.

Take that to the extreme, and you get Danny Macaskill. It sure is amazing to see someone pushing themselves to the absolute upper limit of this sport. What an incredible film, and one of the best Danny Macaskill movies I've seen. Truly incredible!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

GoPro 4 Release Video

This is freakin' incredible. The quality these camera are able to capture the world in is truly stunning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

...And 7 hours later, we'd built a playground in Oakland

Last Friday, I joined forces with many of my Disney-company counterparts from ABC7 News, Disney Store, Lucasfilm, Disney Interactive and more around the Bay Area to build a "dream playground" for the kids of the Millsmont neighbourhood in Oakland, CA.

Thanks to incredible organization and dedication of KaBOOM!, councilwoman Desley Brooks, the City of Oakland, and Disney VoluntEARS, we somehow managed to get it from (pretty much) start to finish in 7 hours!

A few weeks before, local kids from the Millsmont neighbourhood met with a "design team" to get their ideas on paper and design their dream playground. And last Friday, we built it!

We got there nice and early and got divided up into teams, and were immediately rollin' on our tasks. I was on the "Lettuce" team and our job was to spread gravel in the area which would eventually house the planters/vegetable garden. We also tamped the ground and made it nice and level, with expert guidance from the experts at the Oakland Parks Dept.

Let's do this!
"Oy, how are we gonna mix all these bags of 80lb concrete?!"
Nikki believes in us
Pre-work selfie
Making new friends from other Disney companies :)
Hard at work
Lynda taking care of business
Party time
Look, we see ourselves on the ABC7 News Live feed!
After a great morning of spreading and tamping, we were asked to go help the concrete mixing and pouring team; they had 30,000 lbs of concrete to get through, and it was incredibly hard work! This turned it up a NOTCH. This work was way harder but also super amazing. I was quite keen to use this time off to do some much needed away-from-my-desk-epic-exercise as well as donating my time to a local community service project... so the more intense the work, the better! And oh man, was it epic!

Mixing the concrete was a tough job but lifting the concrete bags was the hardest. They were 80 lbs each, and I must have lifted about 40 of them all afternoon! That rocked. "Lift with your legs!" As we continued the hard work with truly excellent construction workers supervising us and directing us, it was really satisfying to see the playground turn into reality. I moved around a lot after eating some very tasty lunch they provided, and tried the herb garden planting, shoveling, and ultimately went back to lifting concrete bags, pouring water and mixing concrete, and (my favourite activity), taking finished wheelbarrows of concrete from the mixing area and dumping it into the playground structure foundation.

The playground is turning into something real...
Epic dragon slide! And some of our fancy concrete work
Planters for flowers and herb garden
Lucasfilm gets the job done!
After an awesome 7 hours of work, councilwoman Desley Brooks told us that the building behind her was burned down 12 years ago, soon after she became the councilwoman for this district. She said one lady asked her way back then "when will it be rebuilt?" Desley told the lady that "there just isn't any money to rebuild this park" -- and she said she knew that was a bad answer and she would work hard over many years to change that reality.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks talking about her Oakland District and how they will benefit from our work
Later she not only got it rebuilt and did other work in the park, but she organized all the work for the grant to make this park build happen this past week. She seems like an incredible and dedicated lady (her banner says "tireless", that's a perfect adjective!) and certainly made true on her promise to rebuild this park.

I met a man at lunch who was participating from the Oakland community, and asked him how he got involved. Turns out he is a preacher at a church in Oakland, where "we get drug dealers, and people in gangs, and everything. We welcome everyone." What a bunch of amazing people. This man was really an incredible person too, really funny, and a kindhearted soul. It was awesome to meet people like him there, and people who came with the optimistic spirit of making their community better. He told me this park used to be overrun with drug dealers, and he was hoping this project would really help continue to turn it around and make it a welcoming, safe place for Oakland's children and families. The spirit and dream of making the world a better place is something I care a lot about, and it was beaming from all the smiles and sweaty brows at this great event.

We did it!!
Sweet rock climbing thing, and that slide rocks
Impromptu dance party
Planting some tasty basil
Concrete mixing
Before and after!
Dan Ashley and a whole lot of very recognizable faces from ABC7 News were there as well, and some of the news team REALLY got into it! One of the guys I recognized was mixing concrete for at least a couple of hours, the hardest job and the messiest. It was great that everyone really got into the spirit of the event.

As Dan Ashley says in the above video, "there is much more we could all do to lend a hand where it's needed... it's a drop in the bucket, but at least it's a drop. Volunteerism can change the world, literally. Good people did something good at Concordia Park today... but there is much more to be done, and we should all resolve to do our part." Beautifully put!

I loved this event and it was especially fantastic because of the extreme good nature and organization of all the people who planned it and donated their time and effort. We arrived, most of us had no construction experience, and we all worked hard together for the same cause, for a more positive future for some children and families that we will most likely never meet. This is the real aim of "tikkun olam" (lit. "repairing the world"), and as Dan Ashley so finely puts it, we should all resolve to do our part. There is a lot more work to be done, if only we make a small amount of time in our busy lives, get out, and do it. I was surprised with how much I was able to do with no prior experience, and I urge you, dear reader, to try joining a volunteer effort like this. It was awesome, and enjoyable on many, many levels.

Finally, here's some more great coverage of the day, courtesy of ABC7 News: