Saturday, December 26, 2009

I love Bill (sometimes)

And yes, I am happy. What else can one be when one is fed some awesome kothu parotta on this dreary, cold winter evening?



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is this Bill?



That's what iPhoto's "brilliant" face detection technology asked me this morning as I was uploading some pictures.

ps: Cat - And you thought he is just an angel?

Monday, December 14, 2009

A moment's happiness

Because sometimes, we are happy too. And it usually doesn't involve Hamlet.

"Are you happy?"

"Are you Falsie?"

"No"

"Then I am happy"

"I see"

"I don't know what is there to see"

"As long as I am not Falsie, you are happy"

"I said nothing of the sort"

"You just did"

"No, I did not. If you were Falsie, I would have not told you I was happy"

"Why?"

"You don't tell Falsie such things"

"But this is not about Falsie"

"Then why are asking such absurd questions?"

"Good point. What's for dinner?"

"Dosai and puli kuzhambu"

"Now I am happy"

"I know"

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Scenes from a Marriage: The Silk / Fruit / Appliances edition

Paper, Cotton, Leather / Glass here. And when I said we couldn't possibly get more boring a year ago, I had no clue what I was talking about.

This morning. I wake up to find Bill packing.

"When is your flight?"

"Noon types"

"You are already late"

"I know"

"So what conference is this you are going to?"

"MTV 2009"

"What?"

"The non-Britney Spears kind. Microprocessor Test and Verification 2009"

"Really?"

"Yeah"

"I thought you do some CS theory type work"

"I do"

"How is this connected with MTV?"

"It sort of is. Or rather, we have managed to con them that it is"

"I see"

"Its not a big deal. Austin this time of the year is pretty nice"

"Yeah. Anoop knows you are coming?"

"Yes but I am not going to have much time to spend with him"

"Why not?"

"I have a packed schedule"

"Doing what?"

"Meeting people"

"Will they give you a job?"

"No"

"Will they give you any money?"

"No"

"What's the point then?"

"They will support my grant applications. It counts for something"

"Ah, grants. Whatever happened to the one you were applying to a few months ago?"

"Nothing happened. They are reviewing and asked for responses. I sent some"

"What did the reviewers say?"

"Very positive"

"Really? What did they say?"

"That I or rather my proposal is very ambitious and novel"

I thought about this for a minute. Long time readers of this blog no doubt know that ambitious and novel aren't exactly adjectives one would apply to the man in question.

"What were they asked to review on?"

"Well, on how ambitious and novel the proposal was"

"Ah"

"They could have said it wasn't"

"Right"

"Anyway, its still in the running"

"If you say no"

"You have got to have more faith in me, you know"

"On what basis?"

"World famous people I don't know think what I am proposing is ambitious and novel"

"You surely have a different defintion of world famous than the rest of the world"

"Oh shut up"

"Sure. Ah, what is this? In-flight reading?"

This being last book of the Millenium trilogy that happens to be on bedside table.

"I got it yesterday"

"You are buying hardcover pulp nowadays? Seem to have lots of money nowadays"

"It was on sale"

"Right"

"Anyway, its not for in-flight reading"

"Then?"

"I thought you might want to read it over the weekend"

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Since I am not around and stuff..."

"So this is stand-in for you?"

"You aren't really saying you don't want to read Bamse books?"

"No. But will this cook? Or do my laundry?"

"You can't have everything, you know"

"Surely I know that by now, don't you think?"

"Then what are you complaining about?"

"Who said I was complaining?"

"Whatever. Btw, your mum called when you were asleep"

"And?"

"She is going to get some wet grinder or something when she comes. She has bought the thing"

"Oh. She called early in the morning to say that?"

"Not really"

"Then? Oh wait..."

"Yeah...that too"

"Fuck"

"I know. Fuck"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

You know you are way too old...

...when you suddenly realise that your first major international memory was twenty bloody years ago. But one shan't complain as it concerns one's favoritest city in the Continent.



All posts tagged Berlin here.

But what you should really be reading here and here. An usual suspect here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Now we know who to blame

Oliver Stone. Never again will he let pigs be glorified, he says :)

And Times reporters having more fun - a few plot ideas.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Not that you asked me but still as someone who once shared a city with you...

here it is:

We have lost the South for a generation, said one of your predecessors when he signed into law what is probably the most important piece of legislation signed in your country in the last century. The "South" or what it signified did not matter to this Texan. There is no reason why it should to you. And anyway, a generation has gone by, and you still don't have the "South". Which basically means, Mr President, you have nothing to lose. It would be good to remember that.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Read and Cry

How does Texas live with this?

Further reading on topic in case you think this is an isolated case: Centre on Wrongful Convictions.

Land of sunshine and happy criminals

In a rather boring business article on Lego, this quote:

“It’s our way of looking at the world,” says Soren Holm, the head of Lego’s Concept Lab. “We have happy criminals; even they are smiling. The sun is shining every day.

Bamse, I love you and all but isn't this a little too much?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great American Roadtrip

In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I'm glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie—the curtain drops and then you're home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I'd ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I'd driven, in all that wonder, there wasn't a moment when I felt I didn't belong; not a day when I didn't rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant—but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I'd ever seen.


Go read.

And perhaps, until I do the same in my home country, the most beautiful country I'd ever seen is likely to remain America.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is it going to be Freedom whisky...

Or is it going to be bourbon only from now on for all you across the pond?

And what exactly will you do about shortbread?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

NHS murders Stephen Hawking but ghost comes back to claim that it is happy with single payer healthcare

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

- From a previous version of this editorial

The physicist's ghost claims to be alive and is reported to have said:

I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived

(from here)

Is there anything more to be said about the health care discourse (if it could be called that) across the pond?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Redeeming social importance

"Hey consultant"

"What?"

"Need some help"

"Are you paying for this?"

"Maybe"

"Where is the money coming from?"

"From this grant I am writing"

"I see. What grant?"

"Some grant I am applying for"

"From whom?"

"From someone ya. Somebody is giving me money. Is that a problem?"

"Usually not. But I have a feeling I know who this someone is"

"Its not you"

"I pay taxes you know"

"In that case, consider this your tax refund plan"

"You are worse than bankers"

"Actually no. One, it is a question of degree. We don't fleece taxpayers anywhere close to as much as those guys do. Our needs are simple, we are like normal humans"

"Simple needs indeed! You don't have to fleece so much when you have partners who actually work"

"Yeah okay, that too. Two, its about redeeming social importance. Which incidentally is what I need your help with"

"Right. I guess I should be glad at least you admit it what you do is criminal and obscene"

"Nope. I can't believe couple of years outside the country and you have forgotten all their laws. Its only obscenity if it is utterly devoid of social importance. I am telling you that my work, unlike banker work, has social importance"

"Right"

"I am not making this up"

"No, you are not"

"Dude, I am serious"

"Of course you are"

"You don't understand. I improve the country's competitiveness"

"In what? Sleeping?"

"And its technological edge"

"How?"

"And the UK's quality of life"

"How again?"

"Well, by letting people watch four you tube videos at the same time"

"Of course!"

"That was a joke. I really do all these things"

"Let me ask you again. How?"

"That's what I need you to tell me"

"What?"

"Well, I need to explain to these grant people how I am going to create social value with this research"

"But there is no value, let alone social value, to your work. In fact, there is only negative value and I am happy to quantify that if you like"

"Well, you don't really want me to do anything useful, do you?"

"Wait, where did that come from?"

"Finally I find one way of making little money and you find negative value in it. You don't really want me to succeed"

"I am the drama person in this household"

"No drama here. I just want to put in a few paragraphs explaining how I will create value"

"How much is it worth?"

"You ever think of anything except money?"

"Dude, you are asking me to completely make up stuff that's totally not true"

"Yeah but isn't that what you do for a living?"

"Perhaps. But I get paid reasonably well to do that. And I am pretty sure you can't afford me"

"Go away"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Back with a conversation in Xinjiang

Now that you are all convinced how much I love Bill, I am back. Not sure how long this will last though. First up, a post I wrote a few weeks ago during all that rioting in Urumqi.



“Have you seen the film ‘Braveheart’?” Rahman asked me.

I turned around, the picture in my camera frame forgotten. The one and a half millennium old earthen Buddhist stupa that had been the sole object of my attention for the past few minutes was now proving to be less interesting than Rahman’s question. It wasn’t the question per se; it was the incongruity of it in the setting we were in that attracted my attention.

We were baking in the 40 degrees Centigrade sun, in the well-preserved ruins of the Silk Road town of Jiaohe, middle of nowhere, Xinjiang, Western China. Jiaohe, built on a large islet in the middle of a river, has a history going back over 2000 years, and was an important oasis town on the old Silk Road. It was abandoned after an uninvited visit by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. For the past hour or so, we had been traipsing among the remains of aristocratic residences, granaries, government offices, temples and stupas in this ancient town.

Braveheart?

We had obviously talked about Bollywood in the first ten minutes of our meeting. I have long ago come to terms with the fact that regardless of the part of the world I find myself in, I cannot disown Bollywood any more than an American can disown Disneyland. Perhaps Rahman was drawing a connection between Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bachchan?

The expression on my face must have given away my bewilderment because Rahman was quick to respond.

“You are from England, aren’t you?”

“Not really. I live in London. And yes, I have seen the movie” I answered, even more baffled.

“Don’t you think the film is great? I have seen it more than twenty times”. His eyes shone as he said this, and the practiced smile that he had adopted all morning gave way to a more unrestrained, excited grin.

It was slowly dawning on me. I had met Rahman that morning, at the railway station at Turfan, where he had picked us up. He was to be our translator and guide in Turfan and Urumqi. He came across as suave and competent; his career as a national guide seemed to be taking off. His English was the best I had heard in the country so far. But despite the careful attention that he paid to what we wanted to see and do, he had seemed to hold back. Until now, that is.

Perhaps he had had to make sure that he could talk to us safely. He had quite easily figured out life stories on our way here; he seemed to have convinced himself that we were harmless. Or maybe he was just the kind of chap who takes a little time to warm up. With a little help from Bollywood, Peter Hopkirk and Victor Mair, it looked like he was finally letting his guard down. Either way, I was now keen to see where this conversation would go.

“Yes, it is a well made movie” I said, encouragingly.

But it did not look like Rahman needed any more encouragement.

“It is the same story here, don’t you see? It is no different. Han Chinese and us Uighurs. The same imperialism”

“Really?”

“Of course! An American friend gave me the DVD. I have seen it so many times. It is my favorite film ever”

“Surprise, surprise! The Americans at it again!” Bill muttered. Rahman, not privy to Bill’s views, continued.

“I think we should make films like that here. People will learn more about their history and culture”

I considered telling him the differences between the real William Wallace and the one played by Mel Gibson in the movie, but decided against it. If Hollywood, with all the power that is vested in it, succeeded in instigating some old-fashioned nationalistic feelings in this remote part of the world, who was I to object?

But Rahman had opened a door, and I was not willing to let it shut easily. In my past few weeks in the country, almost all of which had been east of Xinjiang, I had not met a single person who had not been overtly respectful of the regime. It was not surprising that murmurs of dissent would be heard more vocally in Xinjiang, and its Southern neighbors in the plateau where the Han Chinese are not a majority.

“You think that without movies like this, people will forget their history and culture?”

“If the government has its way, it is quite possible. We have to learn Chinese as our first language. It is an alien language, and most of our people dislike being forced to learn it. The company I work for deals easily with foreign names from every part of the world, but cannot say or write my name without mangling it completely. And you have heard about the razing of the Old Town, I gather?”

He was referring to Kashgar, the western most border town which we were to visit next. The historic Old Town of Kashgar is now being torn down, ostensibly to make it earthquake-safe. The residents are being asked to move to apartments far away from their current residences and work places.

“Yes” I replied. “But it is not just Kashgar, is it? Every town we have been in China has been modernized by moving people out of where they live”

“I want modernization and development. But Kashgar is our heart. All of us trace our ancestry one way or other to Kashgar. Tearing the town down is not a wise decision”

He seemed certain of it and I did not want to dwell on so sensitive a subject.

“Uighurs are still a majority in Xinjiang?”

“In Xinjiang, yes. But not in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang. Urumqi is two-thirds Han Chinese. The government encouraged Han Chinese to migrate just like in Tibet to ensure that our communities are broken up, and then they can wield power. Tibet gets all the attention in the international press, but our situation is no different. I wonder why nobody cares about us” His frustration was evident.

“Hmm. The perception of Buddhism generally…” I started. But Rahman was having none of it.

“Yes, we live right next to Afghanistan. And yes, we are Muslim. But how many Uighur fundamentalist-terrorists have you heard of, other than the uncharged handful at Guantanamo?”

“True enough. So the Uighur people do not want to be part of China?”

Rahman did not seem to have been expecting this. He thought for a while before he answered. He spoke slowly, as if measuring each word.

“I do not think that is the case. We might have fought for independence decades ago, but that is now history. But if I am a Chinese citizen, I do not want to be an ‘Other Nationality’. You know, that is what they call us – Other Nationalities. I live in Urumqi, which has seen unprecedented development in the last decade. I am happy about that, and I want that for the non-Han Chinese areas of the city and for the rest of Xinjiang. But on our terms, not forced to vacate our towns so that they can divide us, control us, and build monstrosities on land taken away from us”

The sun was making its way straight up above the stupa as I chewed on his words. We were at a high but narrow section of the islet by now. From the cliff, I could see the river on both sides with grape vines taking over the river banks - an incongruous stretch of lush green surrounding the dry baked earthen town. I wondered if he wasn’t being a little too honest, too open.



“Rahman, are you supposed to be talking to us about this?” I asked him. He laughed.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to without getting into trouble with the authorities. But today I can. That, in this country, is development”

Monday, June 22, 2009

I love Bill (sometimes)

Its worth interrupting hiatus when one opens Bill's back-from-India suitcase in anticipation of amma's food and finds so much loot (in addition to the food of course)

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Great Game: Invasions and Independence

While I am sure we all know how important it is for a country to have a flag, I am not quite sure all of us know the importance of a map. The map and the flag together were the two greatest assets a country could have in the Age of Exploration. In fact, I am quite convinced that it was the map making obsession that made the British Empire. Imaginary lines result in real events. The old European map makers knew this, any unsuspecting tourist who happens to walk into Stanford's or wanders into Cecil Court will find this out pretty quickly, the Royal Geographic Society has always known this. Without a map, there is no nation, no Empire. This is why these Fellows trampled across continents, recruited natives when the going got tough, and surveyed every inch of land they could possibly get to. This is why maps tend to occupy a large space in the British imagination, and the children of the world are subject to mugging names of numerous imaginary lines which mean nothing.

This very British idea that maps define everything is the central theme of Durand Line, Play 2 of the Great Game (Part 1) series that's currently playing at the Tricycle Theatre. In Durand Line, Sir Mortimer Durand the then Foreign Secretary of British India is sent to negotiate with Emir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan over the demarcation of boundaries between Afghanistan and the Russian possessions in view of keeping the Russians as far away from India as possible. Sir Durand is your quintessential colonial British civil servant with some very brilliant lines, played almost to perfection (slightly overdone, I felt) by Michael Cochrane trying to convince the Emir to sign on the dotted line in return for improved weaponry and a monopoly on the opium trade. The Emir, played convincingly by Paul Bhattacharjee, comes across as witty, indolent (at one point, Sir Durand refers to "the perfumed indolence of the Eastern court" which the Emir doesn't let go that easily) and remarkably perceptive about the far reaching consequences of drawing lines on a piece of paper. In a particularly memorable exchange, the Emir takes the map of the United Kingdom that Sir Durand had drawn up and draws a line across the middle of Scotland, erases the Highlands and calls the upper half of it Durandistan. He signs finally as he must, stuck between the British and the Russians, there isn't much of a choice. The point is made but both Sir Durand and the Emir of the play are caricatures, a bit over the top, taken to extremes to balance the tilt and therefore, the most memorable character in this play happens to be that of a young British engineer brought in by Sir Durand to explain to the Emir how he would be able to modernize his weaponry.

Paul Bhattacharjee plays an Oxford professor of Afghan history in Campaign (Play 3), and this time, he is so comfortable in the role that it is like he is playing himself which is not surprising considering this is set in 2009. Part 1 of the Great Game covers the period from 1842 – 1930 but given that the audience might not be familiar with the history of Afghanistan, Campaign is a rather sneaky way of providing context and history for the play that comes after this. The Professor, originally from Pakistan, is invited to a Cabinet Minister's office where the Minister's Private Secretary (an Oxford man himself) attempts to test him on his history. The Professor for the longest time is puzzled as to why he is there but indulges the arrogant Secretary all the same. The overarching theme of Part 1 is the futility of playing with a country that one does not know the first thing about and while the other plays use the weight of history to make the point, Campaign does the same very effectively in an absurd and light-hearted manner. This is possibly the only play in Part 1 (and I suspect, in the whole series) that is comic without being depressing but that is only because the campaign that the Secretary is suggesting is too absurd to be taken seriously. But this surely isn't the first absurd idea to be implemented as a real strategy, and it will be far more depressing in a few years when we begin to see the real consequences of this campaign to bring about secular, liberal democracy in Afghanistan.

The last play of Part 1 Now is the Time is set on the day in 1929 that Shah Amanullah Khan left on his lifelong exile with his wife and father-in-law. Amanullah Khan fashioned himself as the Ataturk of Afghanistan and introduced social reforms that would be considered sacrilege in his country in the current day. The reforms made him unpopular and he was forced by the tribal chiefs to abdicate the throne and leave the country along with his mentor and father-in-law Mahmud Tarzi and his wife Soraya Tarzi. Their Rolls Royce gets stuck in the snow en route to the Russian border and the British drivers goes to get help while the three passengers are left to discuss their state of affairs. Of the four plays in Part 1, this one for me was the least effective – it tries to do all the right things and make the right points, brings out Amanullah's desperation and helplessness, and the problem with introducing groundbreaking reforms in a country perhaps not quite ready for it but it seemed to fall into the very trap that these plays warn us about – that of not understanding the region and its people. I don't mean the fake accents; one can easily overlook that but the portrayal of the characters and their interactions were more in tune with what Western spectators would expect them to behave rather than the how real people are. To be fair though, all the plays were guilty of this caricaturing (which led Bill to remark that it wasn't surprising that all the lines he thought were most convincing / effective were all spoken by the British characters) but as this play has all its main protagonists as Afghan, it was more noticeable.

Last but not least, Play 1: Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad. Regular readers of this blog know that Peter Hopkirk is a recurring theme in this space. I take my childhood obsessions a little too seriously sometimes and this happens to be one of them. If any of you reading this who has not read the Great Game, I suggest you go buy it right now. Anyway, one of the vivid images that I have of the book is from 1842 - that of Dr William Brydon, the sole survivor of the British retreat from Kabul, at the gates of Jalalabad proclaiming "I am the army". This play is about four British soldiers at the ramparts waiting with their bugles to see if there would be more survivors. There is no hope and their conversation is supported by excerpts from the diary of Lady Sale who remained behind in Kabul as a hostage. The soldiers do encounter an unexpected visitor, the one misstep in this play in my opinion. Regardless, Bugles captures everything there is to be said about the situation in Afghanistan, 1842 or 2009, imperialism, ignorance, wars, religion, and the futility of it all. It is a difficult choice, but this play is my favorite of the four in Part 1.

The Great Game is playing at the Tricycle Theatre until June 14th. It is trilogy with each part consisting of four plays and you can either see it all together in a marathon session in the weekends or take it one at a time on weekdays like I am doing. If you have even a passing interest in history or political theatre, I suggest you go get your tickets now. It's a small, intimate theatre and the seats get filled up pretty quickly.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Chotu, Motu, BM in Beijing: Olympic Glory



Still Day 2. This time we are on a taxi (Day One was all about public transport; Day 2 we had just discovered that taxi drivers understand maps, so we were taking full advantage of this discovery) to the Olympic stadias. Our driver proudly pointed out the Bird's Nest to us as we got off the highway. We were all suitably impressed. Little did we know about the Kafkaesque adventure that was awaiting us here.

BM: "Bill, you know the drill. Here's the camera"

BM poses and Bill plays cameraman while I walk ahead to what looks like the entrance.

"I am so hungry. You think we will get food inside?"

"I am hungry too. I can see some food stalls already"

"Cool. You think we should go in and get a tour?"

"Why not?"

"Okay, there are people inside. Let me see where the entrance is"

"There are no directions anywhere but it says Entrance E"

"Yeah, but I see no open gate"

"There are security guards there. That must be the entrance"

"No, nothing open here. I think we have to go to the next gate. Maybe this is the VIP entrance"

So we start walking. This Bird's Nest thingy might look like a small thing on TV but trust me, it is not. It takes a while to get from one gate to another. The weather and the wind wasn't helping either.

"Man, I am so hungry"

"Hey, there's the Water Cube"



"Oh cool, we should go there also"

"Of course, of course, Phelps ki jai" (BM)

"Alright. Lets do this then - lets go inside the Bird's Nest first and come out and get food and then head to the Water Cube"

"Ya ok"

Bill: "This gate isn't open either"

"You've got to be kidding me"

"Serious. Look for yourself"

"Shoot. Next gate then"

"I guess so"

Ten minutes later we were in front of the third gate. By this time we have gone halfway around the building. Closed.

"Maybe there is no way in"

"There are people inside"

"Hmm"

"Maybe they get there on a chopper. Sure there's a pad inside"

"Could be"

"What's the plan people? I am so hungry"

"Why don't we go to the food stalls and get some food and then come back?"

"I am not coming back. I am happy just seeing the Water Cube"

"Actually so am I. I got some good shots, good enough"

So our tired and thirsty travellers headed to the broad avenue between the two stadiums which seem to have a few booths. BM takes her time as she is shooting Water Cube in every angle possible and every lamp post in sight.

"These are selling phones"

"Oh fuck"

"Why can't they have food here? This is like the middle of nowhere"

"That seems to have some food, lets go see"

The one food stall has instant noodle boxes and what looks like baguettes with cholocate sauce inside.

"You think that's chocolate?"

"What else can it be?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"No, but lets get it anyway. I am going to faint if I don't have something soon"

We eat. It is chocolate sauce but as to be expected, not good chocolate sauce but were too hungry to complain. BM notices a mermaid sculpture and runs to take picture. She poses and asks Bill to do his thing. As is usual, a few locals want picture of mermaid + BM + themselves. BM obliges. Once this is over, we walk to the Water Cube.

"Yes, the entrance is open! yippee!"

"Yeah there's even security check and stuff. This place is more guarded than Tiannamen dude"

"Looks like it only"

We get closer to the Cube. Visitors (all local) are queueing up to get through the security check. I suddenly notice two young men on my right, they seem to have come from nowhere. I look closely. It might be more than ten years since I have gone to a movie theatre in India, but I have spent enough time at KG and Central and Karpagam (all Coimbatore establishments) to recognise black ticket vendors. I turn to one.

"Tickets lady, how many?" One whispers.

"They are actually selling black"

"In front of these scary looking guards, yes"

"Yeah man. Lets just go get proper tickets. Who knows these might not even be real"

"True" (Huge mistake, needless to say)

We turned left and walked towards the direction where people with tickets were coming from.

"You cannot buy tickets here. Far away" One of the black ticket men said. We said No thanks and continued walking. After about ten minutes, we realised what was going on. It is like the queues at amusement parks. You think you are there but no, once you make a turn you realise you have another turn to go. So we walked for another twenty minutes.

"We should have bought tickets from those chaps"

"Yeah. What's the point now?"

"Hmm. I don't even want to go inside anymore. If we don't see a ticket booth in the next five minutes, I am out of here"

"Yeah? Which way will you go? Do you see any taxis or buses here?"

I look around. No. Nothing. Just these buildings. Which look nice and all but we were trapped.

BM: "You can check out any time you please..."

"There's a reason why everyone here looks so pained"

"Hey, hey there. I see it"

BM ran. Bill followed. I stayed put. They can go get tickets. Since we have to walk back this way I wasn't going anywhere. Two minutes. Five. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Where the hell were these people? I started walking towards the booths. More scary secuity guards with huge rifles. Something is wrong. No. They are on their way back.

"What happened? Long queue?"

"No ya. There were more secutiry guards than people"

"What took so long?"

"They didn't let us go buy tickets without checking us thoroughly"

"What nonsense?"

"Dude, by now nothing about this place surprises me"

We walked back. Half hour later we were at the entrance to the Cube. We showed our tickets and went through the security check. Yes, again. Five cartoon men in front of the Cube.

"Hey look at these cartoon things" BM started shooting. "Bill here take picture of me with one no?" She handed Bill her camera.

Moi: "You want pictures with these things? Where do you think you are Disneyland?"

"30 RMB. We have to make it pay" She went towards the charaters. The cartoons were just saying good bye to the people in front of us and were turning our way. They all walked towards us, excitedly. What we (in our determination to get value for 30 RMB + plus all the pain we had to endure) hadn't thought of was that we were more of an attraction for them than they were to us. One of then came and shook and hand. Another one shook Bill's hand and said "Hello". Mine hugged me. Bill's hugged him. He smiled and tried to take picture of BM.

"Hey, where is she?"

"There, behind that one. Its dancing with her" Orange cartoon was twirling BM around.

Bill took picture.

"Guys, this guy is not letting me go"

We laugh.

"I am serious. I am trying to get out of its grip"

"Turn around this way. This angle is good"

"Bill, enough of picture. Come save me!"

Bill to the rescue. Knight-in-Slacknerny-tshirt walks over to BM and the cartoon (in the process of molesting her). Cartoon sees Bill and lets her go. However, wait, twist in plot. Cartoon next to me has caught hold of me by now. It tries to twirl me around.

"People....." Knight turns around. Laughs. I break free and run into the Water Cube. BM had already taken this course a few seconds ago. Bill joins us a minute later.

"What the hell was that?"

"I hope we aren't going that way on our way back"

"You forget, we aren't going back. This is it. We can't leave"

"True enough"

Oh, there was nothing much inside. You are better off seeing the pool on your TV. Our ticket also promised us a restaurant and a bar which was a popcorn stall and well, vendor selling water. Also, in the restrooms, the stall I went to had no toilet paper and BM had to pass some under the stall from the adjacent booth. That's when realisation struck. We were in real China. This place wasn't ready for foreign tourism yet; by the summer it would be but for now, our experience is all very authentic. We are one among the billion.

BM: Good time to put up 798 Art post / pictures. Together, they will make so much sense. Really.

Oh, before I go, bonus picture: You should be able to see more than one nest if you enlarge.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A few bloggable items

1. Dear friend Anoop is getting married. Since he has already given me my lines, I shall probably tweet the wedding. (BM, BG - Can you like call today when you wake up? Need to coordinate itin. Already those bastards at United are charging me a "close-up processing fee" for making a booking so close to travel date)

2. If you want another opportunity to make fun of Bill and Bongs in general, here - fun with Bill puns over at ??!'s. Also, learn why stash of marijuana is much more useful than Bill (thanks to Falsie).

3. Public Service Announcement for foodie Londoners - Taste of London tickets are on sale.

4. Film time. French New Wave at BFI Southbank.

Seen till date:

- Chronique d'un été - This collaboration between movie maker / anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin takes us through a series of interviews with a cross-section of Parisiennes in the summer of 1960. The cast (no real actors I understand) includes a Holocaust survivor, a black student from Africa, a haunting Italian immigrant, an artist couple, college students, factory workers and children. Starting from an innocuous "Are you happy?" question to people on the street, the film attempts to explore everything from Algeria and Congo (people, this is 1960), the Holocaust, and the monotony of modern life to boredom, solitude and well, St Tropez. While all these topics bring out interesting reactions, it seems as if the real driving force behind people's reactions is the camera in front of them. The experiment (as I understood it) that Rouch and Morin were performing was an attempt at finding how much reality can one get when the camera is rolling and the movie closes with them wondering about the results. Chronique d'un été is apparently considered an innovative experiment in cinema-vérité and I, for one, definitely wanted the camera to keep rolling for longer. (Would appreciate if the experts would weigh in. SB - Post, no?)

La Peau Douce - Truffaut's The Soft Skin is a love triangle (yeah, the man seems generally fond of triangles). A well-known publisher, seemingly happily married, falls in love with a flight attendant on a trip to Lisbon. He attempts to hide affair from wife but is forced to face up to the music at the end. Jean Desailly as the fumbling publisher gives a superb performance and his relationship with his wife is done to perfection though one can't say the same for his relationship with the other woman as this seems a bit contrived. The film is hilarious in a rather cynical sense - the blurb said it was considered a serious and cold movie coming from the director who made Jules et Jim but I (along with most people in the theatre) were laughing through most of the movie. Very watchable.

Have about half dozen more to go before the month runs out, so expect to see notes on this over the next few weeks. Suggestions welcome.

5. Those of you wondering why China posts aren't happening, please to shout at BM. I have posts, she hasn't sent me pictures I asked for 4 days ago. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chotu, Motu, BM in Beijing: Red Sunrise

I am conflicted between going about this in a chronological manner and just posting about random events. Bill is convinced that I will never have the enthu to complete this if I start from Day 1, so he thinks I should just do random days. The dutiful spouse that I am, I shall listen to him and do short, random snippets which are more manageable. So here people, flag hoisting in Beijing (Day 2).

Day before we are supposed to leave for Xian. We woke up at the crack of dawn, actually, before the crack of dawn to see...hold your breath...the flag hoisting at Tiananmen Square. Whose brilliant idea was this, you ask? BM's of course. Because she was so totally jetlagged and couldn't sleep after 3 in the morning, she made us wake up at 4 to go see this flag thingy. By the time we got a taxi to the Square, there were already busloads of people there. There was also some military presence as to be expected in the form of a few yawning men in proper outfits standing around the flag pole. The section was roped off and us spectators have to stand about 30-40 metres away.



"You think we blend in?"

"Do you see anyone other than Han Chinese people in the crowd?"

"But still..."

"Do you see any Beijinger? They are all from the provinces"

"I am a provincial too. I am not like you cosmopolitan people from Bombay and Bangalore"

"Maybe you should go mingle with your provincial friends and see if you blend in"

"Sure" I said and left the other two and walked off by myself to join the provincials. This was Beijing in March, so it wasn't exactly warm and after a few minutes, my teeth started chattering. But still, I was right behind the rope and had an unobstructed view of the flagpole. My provincial friends were all around me, at times pushing me against the barrier that I was sure that the yawning soldier staring intently at me was going to pull out his rifle and shoot but thankfully did not happen.



Then I saw Bill pushing his way through the crowd.

"What is the idea?"

"I just thought I would come meet your provincial friends"

"Right...dude"

"What?"

"Did you see who? Someone touched my hair"

"Don't be silly"

"I am serious. They touched my hair"

"If I were BM, I would say that they are all jealous of your wavy hair and want to touch it to see if its real"

"And since you are not BM..."

"I think you are imagining things...dude, here they are"

Sure enough, there were about a dozen soldiers coming out of the main gate of the Forbidden City (this is the one with the Chairman's picture that we are used to seeing in the news) and walking towards the flag pole. They marched this way and that way for a few minutes before going up to hoist the flag.




"This is what she wanted to see?"

"Jetlag. Don't blame her"

"If you say so"

The flag starts climbing up.

"What?"

"Hmm"

"What are you mumbling?"

"Nothing"

"Quiet. Everyone is quiet"

"You don't find that strange?"

"Why would I find that strange?"

"The flag hoisting!"

"So?"

"Don't you feel like singing Jana Gana Mana?"

"No, as strange as it may seem, I don't feel like singing Jana Gana Mana when I see the Chinese flag go up. Maybe those of us from certain states..."

"Says the Bong"

"Not the point"

"Agree. The point is nobody is singing national anthem or waving flag. Something is wrong"

"Nothing is wrong. They are not used to it"

"How can they not be used to it? Its their national flag being hoisted"

"Yeah, why don't you teach them to sing their national anthem?"

"Oh shut up. You are useless"

"That I am"

By this time, the flag was all the way up to where it was supposed to be.


The crowd was slowly dispersing. We looked for BM and found her posing for someone else's family album. This obviously would be a recurring theme. The way back to out hostel was uneventful except for the fact that we discovered why we lost a War.

"This long jacket these military men are wearing - it sort of looks funny on them"

"What do you mean?"

"You don't think so? Probably some Russian influence. Because the Russians have long jackets doesn't mean these people should have"

"Why not? It is winter"

"Yeah, but this is not Moscow. It is not that cold here"

"But this is a big country, you know"

"The US of A is a big country too. The point is it does not get colder than this in this country"

"Right. Up there in some of the tallest mountains in the world, it absolutely does not get colder than this"

"Oh, there"

"Yeah, there"

BM now: "Why do you think we lost the war?"

Bill being helpful: "Because we did not have long uniforms"

"Exactly"

Poor me: "Never heard that one before"

"Its true. Its also why my mother fasts on Fridays"

"Wait, where did that come from?"

"Shastri was then PM and he said on radio that our soldiers need socks. He then requested everyone to eat one less meal on Fridays to help the troops. My mother started fasting then and even now, she fasts on Fridays"

"She knitted socks too, I am guessing"

"Of course. But we did not have long jackets. So we lost"

"Shastri wasn't PM in 62"

"He was PM and he came on radio"

"Different war with a different country"

"Perhaps. But why do you think we lost the war?"

"It must have been the long jackets only"

"Of course it was"

The rest of the way back to our hutong was spent in thoughtful silence.

Coming up next: How we got molested by cartoon characters in front of the Water Cube

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More Foreign Devils at Mogao

Bill provides some well-needed distraction - An account of visit to Mogao Grottoes outside Dunhuang. TR's account here

Mogao, on the banks of a stream behind the sand dunes close to Dunhuang has a big set of caves with paintings and sculptures of the Buddhists. Built between the fourth and tenth centuries AD, there are almost 500 caves here (At least officially, as our guide later pointed out. Included in the count are tiny crevices you can barely stick your head in, but also huge caves that can comfortably fit about a hundred people). There is much to interest tourists, whether religious Buddhists, especially from Japan, or secular visitors who would like to admire paintings of the Buddhist symbols. These paintings, comparable to the ones in Ajanta, have the usual Buddhas and Boddhisatvas, and also heavenly guards, apsaras, princes, worshippers, musicians, and dancers. Some, especially the early ones, are obviously Indian in origin, with large faces and clothing similar to Gandharan art. Others are equally clearly Chinese, with motifs from the Tang dynasty, the high point of Chinese art from the seventh century. The additional claim to fame of the Mogao caves, and why it created such a huge interest in the early twentieth century, is the treasury of scrolls and manuscripts found hidden in one of the caves by one Abbot Wang, and subsequently carted off by Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Albert von Coq, and others, in an incident which more than anything made the Chinese give them the title of Foreign Devils.

We reached there at about nine in the morning, when everything was just getting started. Our regular guide could not go inside with us. Mogao has its own set of specialist guides, who have to accompany you. In high season each of them may lead a group of twenty or more, but at this time we had one guide all to ourselves. This turned out to be someone quite formally dressed in a blazer, even in the heat, with a permanent smell of tobacco on him. Every time we got out of one of the caves and started walking to another, he would light up again. He also had a strange accent, somewhat British, and a very British sneer permanently on his lips. One of the first things he asked was "Are you religious?", and our "No, not really" got his sneer to relax a bit. Throughout the next two hours he would get ever more disdainful whenever he discussed religion. Reminded us of a very entertaining guide in Vatican seven years ago but that story, some other time.

We started off with a walk to one end of the almost mile-long set of caves. The front had been renovated and protected in the early 60's with a concrete front and steel doors on each cave, giving the place an aura of a prison or a old-school hotel, very different from what Stein and that gang would have seen. Beside us was the bed of the river that created and sustained this community, now dry because it had been diverted by irrigation works.




First stop was the cave with the largest of the Buddha statues, about 36 feet in height. Around its feet was a dark tunnel ("for going round clockwise, don't you have the same thing in India?"), and what looked like shallow steps. These turned out to be the floor from different centuries, excavated in layers. We now got interrogated about Indian religion, the differences between Hinduism Indian Buddhism, and the Chinese versions of Buddhism. We told him what little we knew, and he was very amused by Buddha being considered a reincarnation of Vishnu.

The next cave was of a large sleeping Buddha, (we told him about Ananta Shayanam Vishnu, which pleased him), surrounded by statues of worshippers from different lands (a multicultural assembly, with many skin colours, hairstyles and clothing styles represented). We were also introduced to the Buddhas other than Gautama Sakyamuni, in particular, Amitabha Buddha, guardian of Paradise (somewhere vaguely west of China). "Have you heard of Amitabha Mantra? For Chinese people it is very easy to get to Paradise, you just have to recite Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha... Perfect religion for lazy people!" This sounded good to us, but BM was already covering all bases by kneeling (this would be a recurring theme throughout our travels, she would be kneeling at anything remotely resembling a Buddha, and there were, oh, only about a thousand of these in the next week. This was her idea of a fitness program, we reckoned). This of course made our guide's lips curl up again.

A later cave had a large set of paintings depicting the life and times of the Buddha. "Here his mother dreams of a white elephant, and next day she gives birth from her armpit, ha ha ha!" "And then here he is meditating, and some, ah, ladies, are trying to distract him" (The, ah, ladies in question were the famed apsaras, we think). "They are drawn nude, very Indian influence, wouldn't you say?" (much head scratching followed). "And then he preaches to a big assembly of monks and tigers and lions, for a touch of realism, ha ha" "And later in life, when his mother is dying, he returns to fulfil his family responsibilities, very Chinese now, all family values". (So the primary difference between the two countries is that Indians are libertine nudists, and Chinese are family oriented people, go figure).

The next cave had a very feminine-looking Buddha. "This was built during the Tang dynasty, when the Empress was giving money, and many images were built to look like her". "Which Empress? Wu Zetian?" (Wu Zetian is famed as being the only woman who sat on the throne in the two thousand years of Chinese imperial history, as opposed to many others who preferred to be the power behind the throne while not formally taking the title). "Ah yes, you have heard of the empress Wu Zetian of course. She killed off all her family and opponents, the Bloody Empress as we call her". "And this is different how from the other emperors?" Needless to say, our man wasn't happy, but didn't say anything more. Girl power is not a big win, it seems.

Next we started on the controversial caves. First up was a smallish cave guarded by very Indian looking Dwarapalas. These Dwarapalas, threatening as they were with their swords and sticks, hadn't managed to stop one Harvard professor, the ill-famed Langdon Warner. (Before our guide could explain the Warner story to us, our Ms. Know-It-All blurted out the name and started telling us the story. This was strange as she knew very well that not only were we familiar with the story but we had just this morning re-read the TR-nama in preparation for Mogao. We both glared at her and she shut up. For a while.) By the time he turned up in the 1920's, the treasure trove of documents had disappeared to London, Delhi, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing. But he had a new plan, that of taking back the murals themselves. His secret, "modern" formula for removing the murals did far more harm than the centuries of wind and sand, destroying the adjacent paintings quite effectively. The mural actually removed is now in the Sackler wing in Cambridge, MA.

The next stop was a low-slung building, not a cave, which used to be the hapless Abbot Wang's residence, and is now a museum attempting to explain what happened. The good abbot had discovered a cave-in leading to a bunch of documents, and had started selling them by ones and twos to refill his rather empty coffers. Word got around, and the officials stopped him from selling, but not before the word had reached one Aurel Stein, explorer. Stein rushed to Mogao, and talked the abbot into letting him look at the documents, and for a small amount, remove what turned out to be a "few cartloads" of ancient manuscripts. Analysed later, this turned out to be a rich treasury in several old languages, and made Stein's name. A few years later, Paul Pelliot, a French explorer and expert in Chinese history, followed. Where Stein had picked documents essentially at random, Pelliot knew his ancient China and its languages, and managed to take away the most historically significant documents. Later pickings were by other "foreign devils" such as Albert von Le Coq, Count Otani, and others, followed much later by a deputation from the Beijing national museum who managed to find only the last remaining and comparatively insignificant documents. The story was told in Chinese and English, complete with photographs and reproductions. The English translation at least was very restrained, and almost polite to all the above, all except the American Langdon Warner, who "mercilessly destroyed and stole the murals". Either overt anti-Americanism, or the fact that he actually destroyed murals. Also in the museum was reproductions of some documents, where we could identify a few Pali and Sanskrit ones among the Tibetan, Persian and other languages.

Finally, we ended up in the "library cave" itself. Small little nook in the wall, with no trace left anymore of having preserved thousands and thousands of rolled-up manuscripts for ten centuries, or the explorers and archaelogists who scraped through them a hundred years back.

Done with the grottoes, we walked back slowly to the entrance. Our guide asked us what parts of China we had seen and where we were going next. In particular, what did we think of Beijing? We tried to be neutral, saying it was a big city like any other, very developed. This started off a mini-rant. "I think we are developing too fast, destroying all that we had before. Our system of government, you know. I am sure India is developing too, but you must be preserving the character of your cities". We told him our big cities do not give off any more vibes of being Indian than Beijing does of being Chinese, it's all a case of grass being greener.

Changing the subject completely, he started quizzing us about higher education. "There's a university which holds a national exam, isn't there? Very difficult to pass, I have heard?" I got passed the conversational baton immediately, and told him about the JEE. "Yes, yes, the IIT, don't all students go immediately to the US afterwards?" I hemmed and hawed, telling him, "No, nowadays many do stay back,.." when BM and Veena helpfully butted in with "he went to the US". "Yes, I have heard, when someone passes, their parents have a grand feast for the entire village". This left me speechless, deciding to ask my parents as soon as possible why I (and the whole of Bombay) got cheated out of a feast.

We ended off with a trip to a more modern exhibition hall outside the caves, built to approximate some of the caves that are closed off to the public. The building is very flat and blends in with the surroundings, almost like a Lloyd Wright creation transplanted to the other side of the globe, but the caves are not very impressive, being similar to the ones we had seen. The last look was of the thousand-handed Buddhist goddess ("we have female Buddhas too, in India Buddha is always male, right?") Guan-Yin Boddhisatva, Goddess of Mercy, originally the Indian or Tibetan (male) Avalokiteswara.

Distractions

"The year was 1967. A tall Bong and a tall Japanese sat down for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo."

"I don't want to hear the joke"

"It is not a joke"

"Right"

"Seriously"

"Shut up"

So one shuts up. Tries to continue reading one was trying to read. Gives up, goes back online and reads the same sites again.

No, the blogosphere is pretty useless at distraction. In fact, it only fuels the obsession. Where has all the righteous indignation gone? Conspicuous by its absence. Unnecessary anger. Can't wait to get to work tomorrow. Can't wait for the 10-12 hours of peace. For me, that is.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Its obv the thought that counts



At the Summer Palace in Beijing. You will have to click and enlarge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A short love story (for Luddo)

since he is asking for it.

Xi'an. Where it all begins. Where all roads would lead to if history were written in the East.

We were on our way into the city after seeing the terracotta army. Our guide Echo who would have made an excellent drill inspector has already informed us that this is nap time and she would not like to be disturbed. Bill happily dozes off. I look out of the window. BM starts fidgeting.

"What?"

"What do you think is considered handsome in this country?"

"Come again"

"Its not a difficult question"

"I know. But why would anyone have such a query?"

"I want to know. My Chinese colleagues at work think someone is handsome, I don't think so"

"Why don't you ask Echo? Obviously I can't provide you with an answer"

"She said she wants to sleep"

"Nonsense. Echo - we..BM has a question for you"

Echo wakes up with a start and turns around. "Sure. How can I help?"

"Do you think Takeshi Kaneshiro is handsome?"

"Dude, he is not even Chinese"

"He is half Chinese" She turns to Echo. "I am trying to figure out who is considered handsome here"

"Yes, he is cute"

"Not handsome?"

"I don't think so. But I am from the South"

"What does that got to do with Takeshi Kaneshiro being handsome?"

"In the South, we prefer milky men"

"Milky!"

"Yes, milky intellectuals. In the North, women prefer strong men with moustaches who are generous"

"Generous? You mean rich?" I couldn't help myself.

"Rich too. I prefer milky intellectuals who are rich"

"Those exist?"

"I haven't found one yet"

"If you do, let us know. We could do with a few"

"What about women? What kind of women are considered beautiful?" BM again. For some reason, she had to analyse this thing to death.

"Hmm..." Echo is thinking now.

"Do you like Gong Li?"

"No" Echo replies immediately.

BM turns to me. "She is like the Aishwarya Rai of China. Everybody casts her in movies but she cannot act"

"Gong Li is just another model / actress. She is okay but not beautiful" says Echo.

"All my colleagues love her"

"Yes, all men love her"

"That makes sense. So what kind of women are preferred in China?"

"Dude, you just asked her that"

"No, I asked who is considered beautiful. Now I am asking what kind of women are generally preferred"

"I wasn't aware you were on a groom hunt"

Echo: "It depends on what the man is looking for"

"Oh"

"Most men prefer stable wives who are kind and considerate and intelligent"

"I see"

"Who will take care of the house work"

"Of course"

"But if they are looking for a short love story..."

"A short love story?"

"Yes, like in the movies, then they prefer a vase"

"A what?"

"A vase. However you say it"

"Oh, like that"

Needless to say, since then, every time we encounter a vase, we feel like we should take it away and offer it to people looking for a short love story. This special Ming one for Luddo-san, may he have a lovely short love story.



***

Bonus: One more love story.

At the terracotta place. We were walking from Pit 1 to Pit 2. Echo is telling us about the men excavated from Pit 2. I was walking a few steps ahead of the three and could hear only parts of the conversation.

"The most well preserved exhibit is from this pit. He is exhibited outside the pit in a glass case and you can even see colours on his body"

"Cool"

"Yes, the kneeling archer is quite famous"

I stop dead in my tracks. Turn around. Bill is walking faster. He smiles.

"Kneeling archer. That's what she said"

"Oh. That makes sense"

BM: "What did you hear?"

"That only"

"Liar. Bill, you tell"

"The love of her life only"

"I thought that was you"

"Eeeks! No way"

"Dude, chill. I heard Newland Archer"

"Ah"

"So I started imagining Daniel Day Lewis with this terracotta warrior headgear"

"Man, that is cool"

"I know"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Notes

Okay people, we are back. Lots and lots of stories. I managed to fill in 86 pages in my journal and so you shall not be spared. Though in the interests of laziness, I shall probably do only conversations. For pictures and explanations, you can pain BM.

But before we begin, random trip notes in no particular order:

1. Recurring theme #1: Reconstruction and resettlement under banner of development. People moved from city centres to somewhere relatively far away as ancient buildings are constructed in city centres. Scary the first time we encountered it but very used to it by the end of the trip. There seemed to be no discrimination between provinces in this regard.

2. I can die happy now that moi makes an appearance in at least 43 family albums across China. Thats about 25% of pictures I was asked to be in. BM is all jealous that she got asked only 62 times.

3. The further West one goes, stronger the opinions. Foreign devils and Revolutions talked about more, invasions not so much, rather, not at all.

4. Recurring theme #2: TR aka Monkey King. The holy book is called TR-nama (see picture below). BM and Bill are Peter and Paul and two more devoted followers, you shall not find.

5. Ethnic minorities aka Other nationalities. This nation comprises of a number of nationalities. Anyone who is not Han Chinese is other nationality.

6. Recurring theme #3: Over-ordering food. The amount of food we wasted could have fed the whole of the Western Regions.

7. We learnt from (the totally entertaining) China Daily that expat husbands are no longer wanted in the country. 'Normal guy' is in demand in the current economic climate.

8. While on the subject, we were also told that in Northern China, macho and generous men are preferred. In the South, milky, intellectual men are quite the rage. There's still some hope for pimping out Bill, I guess. Just need to move to Southern China.

9. BM wants to be Empress at Jiayuguan Fort - BM Zetian! Bill wants to be General. The plan is for Bill to write proposal for funding to build a fort to test security of programming languages or something. Lost on me. But I was told I will be given money to travel and build caves. Happiness.

10. Nobody asks us for food preference in airplanes. By default, they gave us food marked "Muslim". Not that we are complaining.

11. Freedom above all. Freedom to get lost in a country where you don't know a word of the language, freedom from translators and drivers. BM and Bill even did a celebratory dance on the train to celebrate new found freedom on the night train back to homebase Beijing.

12. Last day in China, our food consists of Subway sandwich, Haagen Daas scoop and a burger. Freedom indeed!

13. Recurring theme #4: Street and Subway cleaning. If you have over a billion people who need to have jobs, perhaps this is the way to do it. Clean everything every five minutes.

I am looking through my journal and there are far too many, so I shall stop here for now and do this properly over the next few days..weeks..err..months.

Oh, wait, before I go, pictures for people. More (and better ones) over at BM's as and when she posts.

For Space Bar







A hutong Cat for the Cheshire Cat



For Feanor - this counts as translation too, no?



For Luddo - BM has the engine I think



For TR - Original plan was to bury this in Chini Bagh but in the interest of time, left at hotel in Kashgar



For Anoop



For Szer



Falsie: Of course you aren't spared. BM's got a long list of pictures in your honour. Wait.

??!: You are just too difficult. I have gone through my entire set and can't find one for you unless I stretch it really far. I have delegated job to BM now.

How (not) to do your taxes

Step 0: Ensure that you have to file taxes in as many countries as possible

Step 1: Schedule vacation for two / three weeks before tax due date. Also ensure that atleast one person on the trip is from country you have to file taxes in

Step 2: Put in a reminder in your diary for the day you leave reminding yourself that you should not forget to do your taxes before you leave for holiday

Step 3: Check diary half hour before you are due to leave for airport

Step 4: Panic.

Step 5: Consider filing extension, but decide against it as you hit on bright idea - do taxes on the plane and all you have to do is to hand it over to friend who is coming with you on vacation and she can worry about filing it once she gets back into her country

Step 6: Forget to take a couple of required attachments and numbers you need to fill in form

Step 7: Needless to say, don't bother to spend your plane time doing taxes. Watch movies or go to sleep

Step 8: Last day of holiday, check diary again.

Step 9: Panic.

Step 10: Spend two hours in the morning in exotic country doing taxes

Step 11: Lament to other backpackers in the hostel as well as hostel owners about taxes. What better way to make friends?

Step 12: Realise that you do not have all the required forms

Step 13: Panic

Step 14: Bright idea again. Sign form and give it to friend. Tell her that you will send numbers and documentation once you get home, and she can fill your form with the numbers you provide

Step 15: Fly home and search for docs. It ain't there.

Step 16: Panic.

Step 17: Discover docs after a 3 hour search

Step 18: Send to friend required numbers and documents

Step 19: The funnest bit. Remind friend every other minute that she has to file your taxes as soon as possible. Tell her that you have not met a more inefficient person in your life and she better hurry up before the deadline.

Sounds like fun? Trust me, it is. Try it yourself.

PS: I know people. But first, let me do taxes alright?

PPS: BM, what are you doing reading blogs? Go do my taxes and file them asap. There is no time.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The road goes ever on and on...

...And we shall follow, as much as we can.

Off, finally off in a few hours. Chotu, Motu and BM are off. Mostly following on the trailblazing footsteps of the Prof[1] and then some more. Also there's a probability of some medical tourism happening which obviously we are hoping to avoid but who knows? There might be a story in there.

Be back after Easter with lots of stories. Ta ta.

[1] You would have to go to like July 2007 and start reading from there if you are interested. Else, a pdf can be made available for a nominal fee though it might not be exactly legal.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Today's question

How long does BM think it will take her to clear immigration and get out of airport (Beijing Capital if you are interested)?

A. 30 minutes
B. 1.5 hour
C. 2.5 hours
D. 3 days
E. Forever

Hint 1: She is flying from San Francisco, so apparently the flight will be packed. I have no idea what this has got to do with anything but you might find this useful.

Hint 2: She also thinks that the airport staff at Beijing will be very inefficient.

Hint 3: She is bringing a notepad and pencil. To communicate.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More entertainment

Times at it again. This time, they have published the resignation letter of a certain Jake DeSantis, an EVP at the infamous AIG-FP. Needless to say, fodder for another seven days or so.

The best part of the letter, if you are interested, is on page 2, somewhere in the middle.

We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Just exactly how deluded are these people? This chap is making me feel bad about the four seconds of sympathy I felt last week for the bunch of chaps who have been made the face of everything that's gone wrong.

Related question: Do people watch reality shows anymore? Why?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

For Space Bar

Or Chotu-Motu's Mandarin classes

I know its late and all but had to wait for special day no?

shēng rì kuài lè

PS: BM, I took some liberties with your logon to upload this. Will rectify.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Encounter with the TV man

Last night just after 8. I managed to catch the 5.52 from W Sussex so had gotten home at a decent time. The buzzer.

"Hello"

"Hello ma'am. I have a letter for you"

Check time again.

"Can you put it through the mailbox and I will pick it up later?"

"No, I need a signature. If not, I would have done this hours ago"

"I will be right down"

He must be a burglar. Do burglars ring the bell? Maybe. Maybe I will open the door a crack and see. What if this guy has a gun or knife or something? Enough paranoia. Go down. Open door.

"Hello"

"Here is your letter ma'am. It says you have not paid your TV license"

"Are you the TV license inspector? I have never met one"

"Yes, so you need to pay your license fees within..."

"But I don't have a TV"

"You don't have a TV?"

"Correct"

"Are you sure?"

"I think so"

"Can I come and check?"

"Now?"

Narrowed eyes. "Yes"

Should I say that I can't let anyone in when partner is not around? Cultural exception. This guy doesn't look like the sort who would buy it.

"Can I see your ID?"

"Sure" Man pulls out ID and hands it to me.

"You are really a TV license inspector!"

"That's what I said ma'am"

"Come on in"

He follows me up the (spiral) stairs.

"These stairs are dangerous. Do you go up and down every day?"

"Don't have a choice. But you get used to it. Here we are"

"I am going to go here and check..."

"That's the kitchen"

"Many people hide TVs in the kitchen"

"Why would I hide my non-existent TV?"

"The detector did not detect anything"

Living room next. Nothing.

"Can I go here?"

"Sure"

Man goes into bedroom. Kneels down and points detector device under the bed.

"Since I did not know you were coming, I wouldn't have hidden it even if I had one"

"You took your time coming down"

"Fair enough. There's a room upstairs. You might want to go up and check"

"Another spiral staircase!"

"Yeah. Sorry about that"

Man goes up and comes back in a second.

"You really don't have a TV"

"I told you that"

"People say that all the time"

"How many times have people told you the truth"

"In my five years in this job, thrice. Including you"

"Ah. That's the first time anyone associated me with being truthful!"

"When did you move here?"

"A couple of months ago"

"How long do you intend to stay here?"

"End of this year for sure"

"Do you intend to buy a TV?"

"No"

"You are really not intending to buy a TV?"

"That's correct"

"Why?"

"We don't watch it"

"What do you do then?"

"Why are you asking me all these questions?"

"The other two people who did not have TVs were crazy. You look like you are fine, even seem to have a proper job"

How does he know I have a proper job? Is he stalking me? He is not a TV inspector after all. No, no, chill, I am still wearing my suit.

"I am very much fine, thank you"

"We might come up again in a couple of months to check"

"You are welcome"

I let him out of the flat and close the door when I hear the sound. Man promptly fell down stairs on his way down. I open my door.

"Tell whoever is coming up next to watch out for the stairs"

***

In totally unrelated news, I was just chatting with the Don and he was telling me that yesterday they announced the MP candidate for Thiruvanthapuram. It's a Sonia boy - name is Shashi Tharoor. People are apparently scratching heads and wondering WTF is going on. (Hey Feanor - Looks like now is the time. Before those papers come through, go file your nomination)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Does anyone else get the feeling...

that the Times is secretly (well, not so secretly) enjoying this economic crisis? Almost every article, op-ed, editorial on the topic (esp the ones on struggling corporations) is pouring oil on the fire with barely concealed glee. Once in a while, they decide to be "fair and balanced" which turns out to be even more entertaining - as an example, see this article here. Publish a half-hearted attempt at defending AIG bonus payouts and then sit back and watch the fun. Just in case some unsuspecting soul starts to nod head, wait, the article actually provides you with a number of hints that ensures that you stay on course - for instance, the reference to the auto industry (talk about sacrosanct contracts!) or the random quotes from the exec compensation consultants. Its a riot and the Times is so thoroughly enjoying every moment of it. And writing articles about comments in their own forums.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Telly question

Hey TV-watchers,

Would very much appreciate it if anyone could let me know if there's a better newsman on TV right now. I might end up buying one to watch.

Thanks!