USA Diaries – Day 27 – I left my heart in St. Louis!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary.

One thing you learn when you are under the supervision of Mark Kenoyer, and that is that he will pack such a schedule that you get the most of everything without wasting a minute of your life. And this is exactly what Sunday was all about! Despite the fact that we were due to travel to St. Louis so that we can visit the site of Cahokia, there was still a session organized for the morning. The session was all about Collection Management and how the University of Wisconsin with its limited budget and all tries to do the best it can for its collection. We also had a big discussion about why is it necessary to have Teaching Collection with which the students can familiarize themselves and learn to handle artifacts and objects and how it can be used for their Research Purposes. The tour was given to us by Danielle who works in the Department and has been taking care of the Collections for a while now. I really like this approach of Western Universities where they let you touch the objects and actually get a feel for them so that you can have a better understanding of their texture quality and everything and there is no denying that you get more out of such experiences then you can ever imagine. We even got a chance to go and visit the effigy mounds many of which just seem to be scattered all over Wisconsin Areas. These Mounds are shaped as certain animals and the exact purpose of these effigy mounds has still not been very clear. The major excavations were done in the early 1900’s and sometime around 1920 but even the evidence found has not been enough to deduce the basic person of these mounds. I would love to post some pictures of them, but then in the pictures they hardly seem like something special… actually to be honest, they didn’t seem like anything special in reality even.. oh well, that’s the non-archaeologist in me speaking! Anyways, so after that we went to grab some lunch at the same place where we ate the first day – this Indian Restaurant called Mirch Masala. And on my way back to the hotel, I saw these bunch of people gathered up outside the Capitol Building – and chalking the sidewalk. Since there seemed to be no explanation for this, I decided to go up to them and just see what are they doing. It turned out that these people were protesting against the arrest of two Veterans who were charged with Chalking on the Side walk. The people simply spread the word out and they had an entire strategy planned out about what they are going to do when the police comes etc. I really thought that it was an ingenious idea for protesting. I simply loved it. 


By the time we got back, people had already started to pile up in the Presidential Limousine and many of Mark’s students had also decided to join us for the trip. I have to say that it was a very sweet ride, but apparently there had been a bridal shower or something in it the night before which meant that there was glitter more or less every where. There is hardly anything that I can say.. I mean after all it was just 6 hours drive. There were jokes and discussions and all of that but there is little that can be shared out here.

We did get a chance to see much of the landscape and the problems that are being faced. This year there has been a scarcity of rain and this means that most of the corn fields have gone dead. It was quite sad to see this, which would have an impact on the entire food market of the world.

When we finally reached St Louis we headed off first to the restaurant Rasui – which is an Indian Restaurant. The food was really good and it was nice to have a lassi after so many days – although I do have to say that I will never get used to the idea of having lassi with a straw and without Malai.

But still it wasn’t so bad!

The night stay was at Hyatt and we were pretty excited about staying at such a fancy place. But the most exciting part of the night came when we decided to go out to the Arch, and right then at that time, a shoot out happened right across the road. A car apparently just came and started 3 straight fires…. a few people across the road were just ducking behind a bin. I think someone was injured or something. And then we even got cursed as well by a car which just passed by us. I have to say it was too much adventure for one night.

After all this, there was enough reason to call it a night



USA Diaries – Day 26 – Second Free day means a trip to Chicago!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary.

How many times do you get an opportunity to see a new city and you turn it down? The answer in my case will always be never! Anyways, we had this chance to go and see the city of Chicago, now the drive itself is almost 4 hours long and that meant that we were suppose to take an early bus to the city. That also meant that we needed to wake up at 4 am almost and board the bus by 5 am so that we can be in the city by 9 am. And have plenty of time to see some more amazing museums.. I have to say though that at this time I was becoming quite sick of visiting so many museums! I mean ya Cultural Heritage is amazing and all, but then there is always a limit to how much you can actually digest, and I was basically on the verge of having had enough!

Oh and not to mention, it was finally nice to visit a city which has buildings taller than 6 storeys. So we get off at the Bus Station and immediately make our way to the Field Museum of Chicago which is suppose to be a really renowned Museum! Since it is a Private, non-federally funded Museum, therefore there is a charge to enter the Museum, and this was something which was quite shocking to a friend who was accompanying us. I think the shock was immense for her since she belongs to Washington, the home of the free for all Museum, the Smithsonian. Oh well!

At this point, it needs to be stressed again that I have had enough of Natural History and Insects and Bugs, so that is the last thing on display where I will be rushing. I instead decided to make my way to the Genghis Khan Display which is a temporary exhibition being done by the Museum. The exhibition was nice and covered many facets of the life of Genghis Khan and then the overall period and the way people were living at the time. The exhibition was not limited to Genghis Khan, instead it even explored through a Dried out Mummy and Jewels and Clothes, etc about how people were living at that time. Since it was a temporary exhibition, therefore I have not been able to take any pictures of the display, but for me it ranged as an average – not too good and not too bad – but definitely worth a lot of knowledge.

After this display I made my way to the African Display – the display was colorful and very lively and it explored the Cultural Diversity of the African people and how they are different. It dwelled into the history of the Africans – and my topic of interest – Slavery! I think the topic has become a major interest of mine since I read Alex Haley’s wonderful Autobiographical work “Roots”. I have said it many a times and still, I will say it again, that this book defines me and who I am and what I believe and what I follow. I really loved the display in which they have tried to capture the true essence of the problems that were faced by generations of African Americans and how they were treated. The truly amazing part of it was that they have even dug out some of the Ads that were placed in the newspapers and magazines to advertise the coming of the new ships with the slaves. 

I also had the chance to make a round of this Mummy Exhibit that they have. The exhibit entrance is through a Pyramid shape itself and then you go to the basement where you can get to see some real mummies.  The dioramas that they have in the exhibition are truly amazing. They are so realistic and they show the entire process of mummification, from the bandages to the gutting of the human body. It was too cool!


After that, we decided to head off to Lunch and a friend of ours kept screaming that we just had to try the Deep Dish Pizza that is in fact a specialty of Chicago. For lunch, the place selected was Hyde Park, which is located in the heart of University of Chicago. It was nice to see the University and the wonderful Architecture that is the synonymous with Wonderful Architecture.

The place for Pizza which we decided to try was a little restaurant called “Edwardo’s”, a small cafe sort of thing, with a wide variety of options available. We decided to have a cheese pizza, with chicken as an add on. The wait for the food was quite a while, but when it did come, I have to say, that it was worth the wait.


After lunch, I headed off to Robbie House, instead of the Oriental Institute, which was the original plan, but I was pretty sure that if I have gone to another Museum, I would have simply thrown up. Plus I had other plans, and these included a visit to the wonderful Robbie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which reflects it Prarie House Theory. The house is not allowed to be photographed from inside, but the feel of being inside a house which I have heard and read so much about, was truly wonderful. And it goes without saying, that a few books were also bought.

While we were taking a tour of the house, the bells from the Rockfeller Church started to ring as loud as they could, and they just would not stop. It turned out that this is a practice for the Concert that they have every Sunday, therefore I just had to make a stop at this wonderful Church. The building and the interior inside was so wonderful, it simply took your breath away.

I decided to make a short stop at the Oriental Institute as well, which seemed to be completely dedicated to the Art and History of the East. There were so many wonderful artifacts that were on display and having only 15 minutes in hand to see that Museum was hardly Justice in anyway.


On the way back, I was able to get a chance to see the Sears Tower,, but from very very far away!

And that was more or less the end of the day – with a 4 hour journey back to Madison. I was really glad I got this chance to see Chicago.. it was truly so different from Madison and Washington…. It was nice to finally see a real city!




USA Diaries – Day 25 – Poetry Dreams becomes a Reality!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary.

Hello! The last week or let’s say the last stretch of this journey is really turning out to be exhausting. Not only are we losing our mind, trying to get everything done, but even the timetable that we have is making us feel like we are trying to just pack in everything… and let me say that such a thing tends to takes its toll. Plus I miss home! One month is long enough to stay in a place which is the complete opposite of what your home used to be.

So Day 25 (5 more days to go) started off yet again at 9 am in the morning, but today we were supposed to start off our day at the Chazen Museum of Art and meet the director, Russell Panczenko. We were to understand the main purpose of the Museum and how it relates to the University as a whole. But my interest remained in understanding that in contrast to Washington DC, which is a big tourist destination, how a town like Madison attracts crowds and people towards it. Well the answer given by the Director was the most simple and brilliant answer that I could have expected. They simply make and organize shows which would be a big attraction for the local crowd. And it is here and at this very moment, that I got to know the FLW (Frank Lloyd Wright) is owned by the whole of Wisconsin as their hero. And more importantly, Taliesin – which was his studio – is only a short distance away.

During this trip we also got a chance to see their Storage Units, which have been installed with State of the Art Equipment and also all that goes on Behind the Scenes – which included the Loading Deck, their underground additional Storage.

The building which we visited is the new wing of the Museum and an extension to the original building which had many of its own issues. The new building is one of the few extensions that I have ever seen which gives respect to the old structure. The extension carries on to the new interior the same feeling which is there in the old building. The most important feature for me of the overall complex is how even the bridge that has been made between the two buildings to link the old to the new, is not only to conserve the Pedestrian Mall, but also takes use of the bridge as the Gallery Space as well.

The end discussion of course with the Director himself was one which was one of the most interesting aspects of the day.

After the visit to the Museum we had the chance to grab lunch and today we decided to enjoy the many kiosks that seem to appear automatically on State Street during lunch hour. We were told to try the Jamaican Food, but I went to this other vendor which had Teriyaki Chicken, and sadly I have to say that the choice was not a very good one.

The second session of the day was dedicated to Dr Mark and his wonderfully amazing Experimental Archaeological Techniques. We started off first with understanding how the Faience Beads were made by the Harappans. We were told about the Stone that they use, the way they used to roll it in to form, the way they used to give it the signature and the art work that they did.


I made the cylindrical beads which can be centred by two circular beads!

Afterwards, while half the group – who in my opinion are completely crazy – decided to head off to the Stone Making Class, I opted for Pottery. Now this is something that I have always desired to do… in fact there was a time when I asked my mother to let me get admission in this Institute so I can actually learn it. But well… I finally got my chance on Day 25.

I have to say it is not as easy as it seems – but well then that seems to be truth about more or less everything in the world. On my very first try I shifted the clay off its centre on the wheel, and Dr Mark at this point had to come to my rescue. I then started again to get in shape my Matki – which is more or less a small cup which is used to have drinks or water or something. Anyways, it was really hard and half the time I was just praying that Mark doesn’t lose his patience with me. But he is truly a wonderful teacher; he kept saying “This is the way you learn”!

The class ended, and we decided to head off to the hotel, but not without a few stops first. The first stop of the day was at this lady who was selling handmade antique jewellery. Afterwards we even called in a friend of my roommate – Katie. Now Katie has been working in Harappa Sites for more or less a considerable period. And it was with her that we headed off to Macy’s.


Dinner was a Nepalese affair…. That’s right.. We headed off to the Nepalese Restaurant on State Street. And I have to say that their menu had a lot of variety. I got myself a Nepalese Dish – I can’t recall the name – but the oddest part for me was that they served the Dal or lintel as an actual soup item. But it wasn’t so bad!

The rest of the evening consisted of a lot of Facebooking and Email Checking!




USA Diaries – Day 24 – A Field Day to Milwaukee!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Since I am late with this update,I am going to cut straight to the chase and give you the main headlines, and considering the fact that it has been more or less raining since the day we have come here, there has been little or no action. The day was dedicated to a field trip to Milwaukee, which is like an hour or so drive away from Madison. This also meant that the day had to start pretty early.. .again early for us, normal for these Advanced Americans… that is at 7:45 am. We were to travel in style that day, that is in our Presidential Limousine.

In Milwaukee, we had to meet and see this wonderful College or Letters and Science, which is one of the oldest institute offering a Certificate in Museum Studies. The place appears to be amazing, and so is the course. the program is 2 years long and offers hand on experience to the student, which is one of the reason why the classes are kept to a minimal. We were given a tour of the facilities and we were able to see first hand, how Institutes and Students who have little or no budget work. It was a nice experience for us, since we were able to get an understanding about how we can do certain things, considering that in our countries Budget is always an issue.

The Museum Studies program is being done in coordination with Milwaukee Museum, and believe me when I say this, that the Museum is one of the most impressive Museums I have seen. The details and the way the exhibition had been conducted was really good.So without ado, here are some wonderful images of the Museum!

PS – Since it was raining the rest of the day was all about being indoors. The only highlight of the evening was that I went out and got pizza for myself… And it was raining and chilly like anything!


USA Diaries – Day 23 – The word is “Nouvelle”!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 24, 09-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Madison, WI, Local Time: 1812, Pakistan Time:10 August 2012, 0411

So yesterday was our official start in the town of Madison. The morning started off early where I thought I should give breakfast a try, since a new place new breakfast and maybe something interesting. But it wasn’t as wonderful a layout as it was at the Capitol Suites, but there were many things that I really liked, for example there was pancakes.. and I really did like it!

Anyways so after that we headed to the Anthropology Department, where Dr Mark was waiting for us all. At 9, the lecture began on the various aspects of Storage and how collections can be used to train and educate students and how this is an important aspect of what we need to be doing back home. He also talked to us about we need to be working on, which is basically a paper and presentation that we need to be writing to present on the last day of our trip!

He showed to us the Collections that they use in their class room and the various Ethnological objects that he has collected from all over the world to make use of in his Classroom. More importantly however was his discussion on how he has been using these objects and lectures to make students get a better understanding of these tools and objects. This is further achieved by making the students get hands on experience in which they are made to make these objects come back to life. For instance, they are taught how they made stone tools, The Smoke Room which the Indians used to make, the Kilns which the various Civilizations used, etc!

Replication of the first battery ever made!

After this we were given a special tour of the entire department, including the wonderful labs where you can do some of the most fascinating analysis… but let me admit something here, everything went right up my head… like WHOOSH! The lingo was truly archaeological for me to understand any part of it, but please don’t think that I didn’t enjoy it. I loved it, I loved seeing what the world is doing and ow far beyond they have taken research and how minutely now they are looking at the various things.

We also had a chance to make a stop at Union Stop, which is like a student Cafeteria. Now the story behind this building is that it was pretty ugly and therefore the students decided that an extra $5 can be charged on their admission fees and this is how the funds were collected to make this wonderful new building. I really like the solutions that these people come up with in this country to solve some of the issues that they are facing.

Anyways, so dinner was suppose to be a personal affair that day, but instead Mark called us in the evening, and it was decided that people who have no issues with experimentation can go out with him for food, and we headed out to this wonderful restaurant called Harvest. And OMG! The food was amazing! From the bread to the butter, from the fish to the pasta, everything was wonderful. And the steak… I can’t tell you about the steak and how good it was! But lets begin from the beginning! The Restaurant that we went to serves Nouvelle Cuisine – meaning new cuisine! This type of food is a mixture of French and Italian and American! The restaurant uses 100% local produce and all which are produced locally!

Tenderloin Steak

My Mako!


We started off some weird Salads, and since I am not much of a vege person so I more or less ignored that part. But I am all ready to jump to the main part. I had Cornbread marinated Mako… which is a fish, with a potato salad. I have to say it was like those typical Top  Chef dishes. I tried everything on the plate separately and that didn’t make much sense, but when you have it all together as a single bite, it brings out the most fascinating taste. Mark had a tenderloin steak which was rare, and I didn’t think I would like, but I pretty much loved it! The meat was so soft and wonderful that I would have never imagined that something that is not completely cooked would be so soft.

Anyways for dessert we had this amazing Cheesecake, in which the Crust was actually spread out on the side, and had a well of Blueberry in the middle! The dessert had a saltish, normal and a sweet component but together they made the most amazing bite.

It was truly a wonderful night!

USA Diaries – Day 22 – Hello, Madison!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 23, 08-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Madison, WI, Local Time: 2241, Pakistan Time:09 August 2012, 0840

Apparently for a flight at 10 am you need to get up at 6 am… And I say this from experience! And let me add, that so early in the morning I am not a very nice or friendly person! This is simply for information!

Anyways, we wake up early, run with our suitcases out of this wonderful hotel and land at the Ronald Reagan Airport.. where we all await to know the dreadful news… Our luggage (or at least mine for sure) is overweight. When I loaded my luggage 22 days ago from the Karachi Airport, it was a mere 16 kg or 32 pounds approximetly. Today, when I had the same suitcase weighed, it was almost 79 pounds….. and it was all books… Oh well, there is nothing which I didnt already predict! Anyways, I get my luggage in and then I ask this old sweet man about which gate is my flight to be depart from.. I am travelling by Delta.. the old man however tells me to go to United Terminal.. that is located on the other end of the Terminal….. of course this is something that I will only get to know that much later. Not only do I go to the United terminal, I even clear security. I get done with the entire screening process and go inside the lounge and sit at this particular gate and wait.. until…. things start to seem fishy! I check from the counter and my suspicion is cleared! I am in the wrong Terminal. So I walk back to the Correct terminal, which guess what, is on the other end of the terminal!

But hey, you can never expect me to complain about getting lost… I loved the entire experience!

So I am finally at the right terminal and I board the right flight, and then after an hour or so of flight time, we are in Dallas, Texas Airport. Now I have been quite shocked about the Airports that they have in US, and this one was no exception… I mean there is a bloody train which moves inside of the Airport… I mean INSIDE! I mean you can be walking on those escalators, and all of a sudden you can see a train moving from one end of the Airport to the next! And there were around 78 or so gates in that one terminal alone, and I am sure there were other such more terminals!

And from Dallas Airport, we took another flight that took us to Madison! Now the plane in which we were suppose to travel was ridiculously small. I mean it was a matchstick! I don’t even know how we fitted into that plane, but anyways we did, and after another hour or so we had shifted … from our room in DC…

..with out combined Kitchenette …

…. into this..

So, the place is amazing! It is small and petite and tiny, but there is a huge difference between the crowd of DC and Madison. Since Madison is a University town, where you can see these kids getting the ideas of liberalism for the first time, therefore there is a huge difference in the way they dress to even the way they flaunt their cigarettes in public, this being particularly true for women. But the women in DC were much more sophisticated and I think I hardly saw anyone smoke in public like the way I saw in DC.

So as soon as we reached our hotel, we were greeted by Dr Mark Kenoyer – the larger then life personality, who instructed us to put our luggage and come out for lunch with him. We headed to this Indian Pakistani Restaurant called “Mirch Masala” and I tell you, it was God send. I mean after days I had vegetables and desi food, and Achar (pickle) and roti…and Achar! I mean it was heaven! This is not to say I don’t enjoy what I am eating now, but I loved the desi food!


I think I hardly ate anything except this!

So, when the sun had gone done a bit we were given a private tour of the town by Dr Kenoyer and we got to see Madison with all its history and even the minutest of detail.

A sign of protest against the freedom to carry weapons in Public taken up by the various Shopkeepers!

We took a tour around the University Campus where we even had the chance to see the Boating Club in full swing…. yes they have a boating Club!

We finally went up the Anthropology Department and from there we had the chance to see the various classes and rooms, before we finally took our spot in front of the amazing Bell Tower!


I think we sat on that spot for about an hour, or until it was already 7:30 and it was time to head back for dinner, which we had at this amazing Restaurant,

And we had such a variety of food that even I don’t know what we did have last night. I know there was Sushi involved, and there was Raw Fish, and there was a Shrimp Head, Saki and fried Ice-cream. Let me just say for the record, I didn’t like Sushi… the sea weed around it, I just didnt like!

Do you really think there is anything more left to the day when you wake up at 6 am and have had dinner?








USA Diaries – Day 21 – And thus the final goodbye to DC!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 07-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Madison, WI, Local Time: 2302, Pakistan Time:08 August 2012, 0902

Yesterday we celebrated our last day in Washington DC and therefore it is completely safe to assume that the day was a bit emotional…. Or at least some parts of it were! The day started off with an effort to wrap up everything and to get all those lessons and lectures done that we wanted to learn about.

That meant an early start… well actually not so early from the American Standards…. It is astonishing for me to know that Americans het their day started at around 6:00 am.. and more surprizing than that is that not everyone goes to bed early. Since I have now been to a Pub Restaurant I can claim that most people are out for late hours and they enjoy their lives. They drink, they sit with friends, they joke around… more or less they try to get the most out of their lives.


So early morning start….. and as usual, we gather at the Eastern Island Statue. Now let me tell you a bit more about the Eastern Island. The Eastern Island has become this wonderful space for us where we always meet. And today was the last time that we met there!

From Eastern Island, we headed off to the Museum of American History, where we met the Curator of the Numismatics Collection, Karen. Now Karen is a wonderful person who has a strong opinion about things and she has a laugh that should melt mountains. She is very understandable of the various policies and problems that are there in our Work Community and how they are to be tackled. She was a researcher in Biology (I think) but then she switched her fields and since then she has been working with the Museum of American History.

She walked us through the Numismatics Gallery and after that visit we were forced to agree with her that the space does no justice to the million or so collection that they have. She also showed us the new space where the Gallery will be shifted, she showed us the vaults, the coins from the various regions, including the Czar Collection, and the coins issued by Catherine the Great.

But please excuse me since I have little or no interest in Coins. What was interesting for me during this trip were the comments and POVs I got to hear. It realy makes my blood boil when after seeing all of this – that we are seeing – some people (Read Pakistani’s) – can continue to close their eyes and think that what they have is the best and nothing can be better than that, that nothing can be better than what they already know. , that nothing is worth learning. I hate these sorts of people! These people should be locked up in a room and gassed!

The argument in the room also moved to how coins are usually a subject that is considered to be more of a “Man” hobby than a woman hobby. And that led to a whole new argument about the status of women in our country. There is another thing that I protested about – however, I did have to keep my tone in check. When the argument took a turn where the men in our country started praising the condition of the women and the status that they hold, I had to say something. It is not that they are wrong – it is just that this is not the whole picture. I am not going to get in this debate right now – But let’s just say that in a country where 96% of the women don’t have rights, the conditions are not well then!

I had protested once before as well. Last week there were 5 bomb blasts in Pune and that meant that our friends from Pune were worried about their friends and family back home. It was also a moment when we all felt a bit closer to each other. It was when this lady who is with us from the Lahore Museum said that “Oh in Pakistan a bomb blast is a daily routine” that I could not stay quiet anymore and I said out quite rudely and abruptly, “No they are not and especially not in the Urban Centres”. So let me explain what I meant by that! When someone gives a statement like that, it interpreted in my mind as she is making a joke of this tragedy! That the lives of people who die are not worth anything, it meant that they are so common that they have no value or worth as a tragedy anymore. So yes I protested and I am not at all sorry for that!

The second session of the first half was about Lighting and how to have suitable lighting for the Museum which is not only environment considerate but also does not damage the artefacts and remains. The lecture was delivered by Virginia who has been doing Theatre lighting for the last 22 years before moving to Museum Lighting – which she has been doing for the last 4 years now.

So after this we came back and had our lunch the last time – Turkey and Mashed Potato with Gravy! I have to say for the last meal in the Smithsonian this was a pretty good treat! After lunch, we had to have a session with Carol Butler – the amazing lady who we have been in love with since the very first day. She has this wonderful personality which is always so full of energy, and she has a wonderful mantra to keep her going day after day – which she calls as the “Registrar Mantra – which goes like this “I am cool, I am serene, I am flexible”.

We had one last tour of the various Collections within the Natural History Museum and we saw some pretty amazing stuff, like Dinosaurs Skull, Dead Squirrels, Insects and Mosquitoes!

Squirrel Bones

That is the skeleton of a Monkey



So we had our last session on how to deal with issues that we may be facing at work places, and then we had a session on Re-entry. Now I will really like to take a moment her and thank her for doing this session with us because well every experience chances you in some way or the other! Already I have experienced so much in such a little time, and I am sure that maybe it has changed me in some way or the other! I have no doubt in believing that going back to Pakistan will be an experience in its own and dealing with all those tiny little problems that seem to take a toll on our lives – the lack of Electricity, Water, Options, freedom, The variety of Choices, and so much more.

But before this it was time to become part of a cult that is Carol’s own invention – a cult that is held together by a Marble. This cult or network is spread across so many countries and people and is a reminder to us that we are all part of a bigger world. That in some way we all face the same issues and problems every single day of our lives and together we can always come up with a solution. The concept was simple – each person gets a marble as a reminder – this marble idea comes from her eccentric aunt. The very personal story goes something like this that whenever someone used to say to her aunt “Oh you have lost all your marbles”, she quickly used to retrieve one from her bag and say “No I haven’t! I have still one left”… I don’t know how I saved myself from crying.

After the re-entry was time for the Certificate Ceremony!

And then the final good byes… but what is a good bye without a final group picture… and what can be a better location that the Eastern Island.

After hugs and kisses, we came out of the Mall Entrance to find a big Screen – or more precisely “Screen on Green” sponsored by HBO. I had seen this before but I really didn’t know what it was more. Well the idea is that every week in Summer HBO puts up a big screen on the Mall and plays a Classic movie for everyone – free of cost.

And I have to say this was a wonderful experience. Americans love to picnic and despite being a Monday by 6 pm (the movie was due to start after dark – which is typically around 9 pm) the Mall was full of people. They had come directly from work, some people were saving seats for their friends, some had even bought their pets along who sat with them and enjoyed the movie and food. When the movie finally started from the middle of nowhere (for us) people got up and started to dance. The dance hardly lasted for 2 minutes but apparently is a tradition! The movie up for the night was “Psycho” and it was a truly new experience. People laughed, drank and just had fun! When the movie ended, everyone picked up their trash, stuffed it in the bins and headed for the metro.

The rest of the night was spent in packing and then just crashing on our beds, to start a new day, which will be taking us to Madison, Wisconsin.


USA Diaries – Day 20 – A day to get the “Bloody Tourist” Stuff done!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 06-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 0024, Pakistan Time:06 August 2012, 0924

Today was “fit-everything-in” Day – which basically means that being the second last day that we will be spending in DC, I needed to get started on my list and get done with as many things possible. This included getting the typical “Bloody Tourist” Stuff – a term a guy at my work place used to describe my desire to see the typical places like White House, Washington Monument etc. Anyways, the morning started with my decision to go and see the Sunday Mass at this Church which is located right next to the hotel in which we are staying. I had no idea what was happening there, considering the fact that I have never really attended a Mass before in my life. But nonetheless, I did everything that I could do by copying the people around me. I have to say that the Church was a truly magnificent structure. The details and the Stained Glass work inside the building was superb and not to mention the lady who was singing the hymns – OMG – Her voice could truly open the sky above. The crowd was a mixed crowd with a lot of younger people with their kids also present in the crowd. When the Mass was over, I asked a man in charge if it was okay for me to take the pictures, and he encouraged me more than anything to go and take as many pictures as I want. This place was truly serene.

At 10:45 am, it was time for us to drive away to Mt. Vernon – the wonderful home of George and Martha Washington. Now I don’t know why but when we entered the place and saw the orientation movie, since then I have been in love with their story and how they got together. So much so that I even bought a book about her and their life together. The book is called “Martha Washington: An American Life” and is written by Patricia Brady. The Mansion was beautiful and showed the love and dedication that each of these individuals might have put in this place and making it into a home.

I liked this place much more though to Williamsburg and the main reason for this was the scale of this place. This place was much smaller and much more quiet and it had a certain intimacy to it which was completely absent from our experience in Mt. Vernon.

The most moving experience however was the one seeing the Slaves Quarters and how they lived in those times. The beds were miserably small and I really doubt that anyone could have lied down straight ever in these beds. I was really moved by seeing the condition of the way they were treated. And therefore it was equally moving to see the Slaves Memorial that has been erected close to the Tomb of the Washington’s.

I then took some time out and headed towards the Wharf and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions that I made that day. The Potomac River is a sight to see and the wind was just perfect. The environment was so serene and peaceful and I could have sat there and enjoyed the weather for days and days. It was just the most wonderful experience ever.

There are so many things that I just loved about this place, the pathways, the forest trail, the wonderful views that you can catch of the River from almost every part of the site – Mt. Vernon is truly a wonderful experience.

Oh – and the Museum, do visit it too. The entire life journey of Washington has been captured so wonderfully and in the most interesting manner. It just makes you wonder about the effort these American’s put into each and everything thing that they do. The other half of the Museum showcased the furniture and the jewellery from the Mansion but photography was not allowed in the hall. It covered the various aspects of the Mansion life, including the food that was cooked in the time of Martha and you can even find the recipes of them in the gallery.

After coming back to the hotel, and half an hour rest, I decided to take a long walk to cover the “Bloody Tourist” List. So via Metro, I got off at the Smithsonian Station and start to wonder towards the most probable location for White House. Now I knew that it has to be on my right, but I had no idea about the exact location. It is therefore, I would like to take a minute, and thank the wonderful people who work in the Signage Department of DC because it wasn’t for them and the wonderful signs that they have put up all over DC, there was no chance in hell I would have ever gotten anywhere. Oh and it was raining today!

It was only due to the signs that I kept finding my way and finally made it to the back side of the White House. There was a huge crowd outside the gate of the White House and nobody was bothered with them and what they were doing. No policeman or Secret Service man came up to people and told them to get off the rail or don’t put you hand beyond the rail or any such crap. People were allowed to take as many photographs as they wanted and go as crazy with their posing as they cared – That is not something that you can expect to happen in Pakistan EVER!

I then walked up to the Vietnam Memorial and finding it was a bit hard. Firstly it was raining and secondly, this time I had no idea about whether to turn left or right even. But here is when my Lonely Planet guide came much handy. Thank you Lonely Planet People .. you have saved another wanderer. Anyways, so I finally reached the Memorial and I take my pictures and head out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, when I hear a man talking about eh Memorial and the concept being it. I just stopped in my tracks and started listening to him; he talked about how the Veterans just by the word of mouth got to know about this memorial and they started sending in money, about how the competition was announced and some 400 entries came and were exhibited in some Air Hanger close by, about how the idea was that by this memorial it would be exhibited how the war cut the people and the nation right in the middle and that is why the structure is not rising but is splitting the Earth and Landscape, how the winner of the design was a 20 year old student of Architecture from Yale. It turned out that the man was the Guide for a group of people who were in town doing Baseball tours – which basically meant that they were looking at all the Baseball Stadiums in the country or something. I have to say that they were the most wonderful people since they let me be a part of their tour so generously.

I then headed out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial…. Now Lonely Planet People, you need to zoom in on that area more where the Memorial is, because I took one hell of a wrong route. I have to say I was pretty scared today, so scared in fact that I had to stop and ask the Old Town Trolley Driver if it was even safe for me to go down that path or not. He guaranteed me that there will be nothing wrong since the Park Police is still patrolling the area. Well it was such a long road that I have to say that his words hardly comforted me for more than five minutes. I walked and I walked and I walked, until I finally saw the Memorial. There was another tour guide driver standing with whom I confirmed my pathway. And then once again asked him “Sir Is it really safe to go there at this time. I mean will there be people in there?”. And he goes “There better be my 59 people who went inside”. I was relieved. So I went inside, and there were so many people inside – I don’t think I have ever been so happy before seeing people.

Anyways, on the way back, I reconfirmed the closest Metro from a Police man and then stalked this couple halfway until I finally recognized the area in which I am. Apparently there is a short cut to get to the Memorial, but that I only discovered on the way back. And finally after an adventure that lasted 3 hours, I was back home. I have to say it was fun being scared in DC.

USA Diaries – Day 19 – Free Day equals a trip to the Zoo!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 19, 04-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2121, Pakistan Time:05 August 2012, 0622

Today was a free day for us – Today was also the last free day we would have in DC – Today was also the third last day that we were spending in DC! So it meant that there was a long list of things that we wanted to do but time was just not on our hand. Tough choices had to be made – which museum to prefer, which other places to hit, shopping or sightseeing or just sleep? I tell you the idea of sleeping was pretty tempting, but nonetheless, I decided that Zoo was a must for me! But first – a stop at the Congress of Library! The Library is one block down from where we are staying but beside that we have not been able to actually go there! The reason has been the lack of matching our timing! The library closes off at around 4:30 pm – we don’t ever get free before that. But I am glad that I made it there today. The place is magnificent – and it is truly a tribute to the great thinkers that we have had in the last century.

The exterior of the Library or more specifically The Thomas Jefferson Building is a grand building and it proudly holds these busts of these great names – which includes Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and many more – right on top of the entrance gate.

The interior are just as grand and magnificent! The entire ceiling is covered with these magnificent panels and Cherubs and Quotations and once more these great names – oh and some of the most wonderful murals which show the evolution of knowledge.

However I did learn one thing today – It has always been told to us in our lectures that ornamentation is something that was done without any reason – that it was simply a decoration element, and something which required too much resources. That is not the case! The ornamentation are a way to add to the concept behind the building and the function which it is suppose to serve. There is such a strong rationale behind using these form for ornamentation. The usage becomes essential in creating an atmosphere that this is in fact a temple for Knowledge. For example, this Cherub on the side of the Stairs illustrates the various fields which are housed and which constitute the part of Scientific fields – One Cherub being a Physicist, another a Chemist or a Cook, or a Philosopher, etc.

The panel below illustrates the various form of Literature, with the two Cherub on the side showcasing Comedy and Tragedy and the middle one showing Drama.

The exhibition that were put up at the Library of Congress were truly amazing. One of the exhibition was about the Early America and how the Conquest and the search for new resources changed the world. There is also a Thomas Jefferson Library which is on display, but one of the best exhibition is about “The books that shaped America”.. it was nice to know that there were so many books that I had actually heard of .. and even read! I remember this one kid that was beside me who exclaimed to his parents and siblings “Oh my God, Charlotte’s Web is also here.. Can you believe it came out in 1952!!!” – I have never read that book!

It was an amazing Place!

So with much difficulty I decided that the second stop should be the National Zoo – Little did I know that this will be my last stop of the day! Why you wonder? Let me explain – I left my hotel at 9:30 am, Walked to Library of Congress, Roamed around, Got out by 11:30 am and went to the Metro, reached the Zoo at around 12:30 and then got out of the Zoo at 5:00 pm – Yes it took me a full 5 hours to see three-fourth of the Zoo! Apparently 5 hours even are not enough to see the whole Zoo! They need to make smaller Places I tell you!

Anyways, it was a delight to see the Pandas and the wonderful Outdoor Pavilions where we can see the animals in action, the Pink Pelicans, the King Vulture.. and then there were so different types of Turtles.. .I am missing my turtle a lot actually and I really need to go and meet him. I miss him.



By the end of this zoo trip, I was so dead tired that I didn’t have the strength to go anywhere and came straight to my hotel. The rest of the day was usual – we cooked and ate and now we are just talking away!

USA Diaries – Day 17 – A day dedicated to Collections Management!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day ………..Lets just say very very late updating

I apologize for the gaps that seem to have come up in my Diary.. but there is only so much that a person can do in 24 hours! And that too when you have little or no control on you own time.

So getting back to the account of this day… .. the entire day was dedicated to understanding the various aspects of Collections Management, what they are, how do you work with Collections, what are the best approaches and the Bus Test! The “Bus Test” is a wonderful concept – another typical Carol Butler thing – which basically means that if tomorrow you are hit by a bus how your Institute can carry on without you. This means that you should leave out clear instructions for all the concerned people and make sure that they are getting a very understanding of how you were handling things so that they can carry on!

Again this is one of those approaches that you hardly see in Pakistan. In Pakistan, the general trend is that you should hold on to things so tightly that no one.. and I mean no one can do anything without you. It is one of this sick tactics in which you try to make yourself more relevant when you are extremely insecure about your position… or at least this is how I see it.

Lunch was a simple affair, which revolved around Pizza and Chicken Tenders… we had a lot of these items on this trip!

The afternoon we took a walk.. all the way to the Smithsonian Institute Archives.. this Archives is dedicated to the Smithsonian Collection, which includes their Administrative, Financial, Director and other such things! So the guide for the day in the Archives was Tammy Peters, who was a completely wonderful soul. What caught my attention as soon as I got there was these slides that were stored in this cabinet.. and they were all the pictures of Panda’s…. Panda’s sleeping, eating, playing, looking, rolling, .. Just everything Panda’s.. It was a spectacular collection!

One of the most coolest stop on this tour of the Archives was this wonderful thing that Tammy shopped us… it was the Draft of the will which James Smithson had written in which he made it clear that all his wealth should be donated for making a Museum. It was really cool to see that!

Let me just say this one thing about Tammy Peters… she is a wonderful person. I asked her so many questions about Archiving and everything and she was always ready to help. I asked her about Cataloging, about their policy to destroy certain documents after 10 years or something, about how the original format of the file should be maintained, Accession and Cataloging Number and God knows what else!

The end of the day happened with a continued discussion on Collections Management and how the National Museum of Natural History had to create an understanding regarding the storage Unit they have and the digitization that hey have done. The survey was a self assessment done on a scale of 1 to 5 by each department, and it truly made them get a clear idea of where there is room for improvement.

After that we headed straight home, and I think it was another day of leftovers!