Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mumbai Nights - Part 3


Probably could've spread this new installment out over three days, but I honestly couldn't wait that long. The previous picture showed the train station on the outside. This one is an interior shot. You might say that all of these people were my roommates that night. The earliest train is at something like 5:30, so people wanting to avoid paying for a hotel room (like me) just hung out here. Only difference was that these people were prepared for a night on a cement floor.

Mumbai Nights - Part 2

Do not be fooled by the grandiose nature of the Mumbai Central Station. Sure it looks great on the outside...at night...but wait until you see it in the day. If only I had a picture to illustrate my point....

Mumbai Nights - Part 1


I was only there for a few hours and was hard-pressed to find things to do. Since I wasn't allowed in the Ladies Waiting Room (go figure, eh?), I ended up wondering around in the near vicinity of Mumbai Central Station. This picture shows a few of the million or so (no idea what the number really is) taxi-cabs in Mumbai. I wanted to take a picture of the "sea of yellow (the rows of parked cabs on the side of the street), but some cops, obviously bewildered at the sight of a foreigner on the streets of Mumbai at 3 AM, tried to tell me that it was for my own safety that I go back to the train station.

Happy Birthday, Ryan

Just like to wish my friend Ryan a Happy 22nd Birthday.  Among other things, he got some wonderful cards for the occasion…especially the “We wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year” card.  Why do I get the impression that the sender had both cards ready to go, but ended up sending the wrong one?

Monday, November 28, 2005

And Down She Goes

Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government was just defeated in a vote of non-confidence after 17 scandal-stricken months at the helm. What this means is that parliamentary hopefuls will have to campaign throughout the holiday season, with the election tentatively set for January 23rd.

Maybe I was naïve in thinking that this minority government might actually work. In May, the Liberals had to make a deal with the NDP just to get the budget through the House. What the NDP got was more money in the budget for social programs, etc. This seemed like a positive step, but unfortunately the Liberal government was embroiled in the Sponsorship scandal. Millions of dollars in kickbacks had been made and there really wasn’t anywhere for Paul Martin and his boys to hide.

I’m just not sure the Conservatives are going to gain as much ground as they think. If any party is really going to benefit, it’s the NDP. They showed a lot of gumption in the House of Commons and really deserve more seats. My opinion is that the government will be another Liberal minority, but probably without the Liberals + NDP + Independents = Conservatives + Bloc seat total situation. Then we’ll go through the same process again, which is to say that we’ll have to listen to Steven Harper (leader of the Conservatives) whine about how brutal the minority government is instead of trying to make it work.

More information can be found here.

#64 - Propel a Cycle Rickshaw...Check

It was a late Saturday night in a sleep Chandigarh. Events of the night included discovering the "underground" gay bar (the aptly named "Down Under" bar) that exists here and getting to drive a cycle rickshaw. We stumbled upon the aforementioned bar because my Australian-born English friend, Ryan, wanted to see what a supposed Aussie Bar looks like in India.

I can tell you that this was not an Aussie bar and there was a distinct lack of the opposite sex. You see, homosexuality is not looked upon as being a good thing in this country. So, the significance of a gay bar need not be explained. Upon entrance, we could feel the intense bass from the Hindi rave music - not such a comfortable feeling after a few beers. Once seated at our table, we were approached by some guys looking for a bit more than answers to the questions, "Which country from you?" and "You like India?"

Getting to the point of this post, Ryan and I were looking for a way to get home after an unsuccessful attempt at getting into the Taj (nicest hotel in Chandigarh) club. Our desired choice of transport on this occasion was the pedal-powered covered-wagon known as the cycle rickshaw. We had utilized this form many times before, however the opportunity to drive one had never presented itself. Maybe it was the liquid confidence in my system or maybe it was the fact that I was leaving in soon. In any case, I finally summed up the courage to ask the driver if I could take the reins. He obliged and I was ready to go.

I must say that it isn't all that easy. This particular rickshaw had an awful pull to the right, which almost landed me in a ditch. Luckily, my adept braking avoided any unnecessary damage to the vehicle. Once I got going, it was like a dream come true - everything was in perfect unison. I wasn't happy to cede control to Ryan half-way home, but I knew my time would come.

My goal by the end of my time here is to spend a day driving a cycle rickshaw. It would be a great "Day in the Life" story and this time I could finally be the one trying to rip people off. Ahh...the irony.

This vocation is the third in my list of potential employment opportunities in India. Previously, I had considered becoming an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi and a ticket-taker on Indian local buses (not sure about driving them yet).

Friday, November 25, 2005

My Dad Is Crazy


Here is my crazy dad going out for a stroll in the snow back in my hometown of Grand Forks, British Columbia.

Grey Cup This Weekend

Another all-Canadian event is being played on Sunday. This year's version of Canadian Football's Superbowl, the Grey Cup, is being contested by the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Allouettes. Being a big Calgary fan, any Edmonton-based team is my arch-nemesis. Nothing against the city, but it is not possible for me to like anything about this rival sports city.

I think I'll have to go with Montreal, even though I don't like them much either. I suppose this is like having to choose between the Yankees and Red Sox or Arsenal and Manchester United when you hate both. Lesser of two evils in this case.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Two Things - Not Related in the Least

My boys, the Calgary Flames, are on a big roll in the NHL. In the month of November, the team has been on fire, winning 10 of 11 games. This puts them in a tie for first in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference. Last month, I was worried because the Flames were playing terrible.

On a completely unrelated note, I just heard that Britain and Wales have introduced 24-hour drinking (AFP).

"Those in favour argue it will usher in more civilised, continental-European style socialising -- while those against fear a tide of vomit and urine as booze-fuelled louts become free to binge-drink and cause mayhem around the clock."

Yikes. From what I've seen from my British friends, this can only mean mayhem. Then again, it doesn't matter how late you can drink if you're passed out at 11 PM.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

His Neck Must've Been Sore When He Woke Up


That does not look comfortable at all. Isn't it great when you find a gem like this in the background of one of your photos? The actual focal point of this picture is a guy selling peanuts at a train station. This bench also epitomizes the religious harmony that is being achieved in India.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Anything to Get Your City's Name on the Map

Want to find yourself on a typical map of the USA?

It's really easy if you're willing to change your name to a dotcom. A few months ago, I made a post about Halfway, Oregon changing its name it Half.com in exchange for a seemingly paltry sum of money. Well, the big news out of Santa, Idaho this week is that a name change is all but finalized. Ever heard of Santa, Idaho? Me neither. For the record, it's a small town of about 115. 115, eh? I think more people live on my street....

So anyways, the good people over at Reuters (where would I be without them?) are reporting that the new name for this metropolis-in-the-making is "Secretsanta.com."

"Gidget McQueen, the Santa official spearheading the re-christening, said the deal with Secretsanta.com -- a Web site that group gift exchange planning -- is too good to pass up for a village that is otherwise not on the map."

In return for the name change, Secretsanta.com will be given an undisclosed sum. A documentary has been planned to show the people of America what it takes to sell-out your city.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In Memory...

According to Reuters, the last remaining Allied witness of the infamous "Christmas Truce" of World War I has died.

"Alfred Anderson was the oldest man in Scotland and the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war."

On Christmas Day in 1914, British and German soldiers stopped the fighting for a brief period to celebrate the significance of the day. The troops exchanged handshakes, cigarettes, addresses, and merriments...all in the name of Christmas. Among the biggest surprises was a game of football (soccer) that was played.

According to the article, there are less than 10 remaining British veterans of the Great War.

Alfred Anderson was 109.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Do I Have a Cow Picture Fetish?


Now that cow is pimpin'.

A Night, no, Day Out

I am not lying when I say that last night, I thought my cellphone clock had stopped on 7:15 PM. Not sure if that's even possible, considering the electronic nature of such devices, but I really was confused....

It all started with the consumption of potent potables in an event known to many as the "Alcolympics." This test of courage and stamina can break the weakest of souls and yet send the stronger ones into the annals of history. Something about chugging beer as fast as you can and then spinning in a circle ten times that really makes you appreciate the difficulty involved in running in a straight line to tag your partner. Did I mention this took place before 3 PM?

Then it was off to an Indian phenomenon known as a "Day Party." For those unfamiliar, a day party runs from about 3 til 8 on Saturdays and Sundays. What happens is girls tell their parents that they're going to a restaurant or the park and then sneak off to the club with their friends. The resulting populace in the club, therefore, is predominantly the female gender. Unlike night parties, there is a very noticeable lack of boyfriends. This is still India, mind you.

So much for the habitual "starting drinking at 8, go to the club at 10, and leave by 2" routine that was often practiced by people like myself back in Canada. Imagine my confusion after finding myself in a club, under the influence, at 7 PM on a Sunday. It seemed out of the question after checking my cellphone clock that it could possibly only be 7:15. Hadn't I been out partying all night? Wasn't I about to find my way home to my woven bed, only to wake up the next morning with a ferocious hangover? Apparently not.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Whip Has Been Cracked

The greedy rickshaw union (RDI local 342) outside my office has finally be disabanded, or so it would seem by the frequent Hindi obscenities being put forth by the angry local 342 mob. Gone are the days of price fixing and monopolization, in are the days of a free market rickshaw economy where prices are based on supply and demand.

According to an "innocent" bystander, our chai man, the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh had showed up. There presence was marked by a big truck filled with furniture. I contemplated asking the guy in the middle of the melee, "Any chance you could drop that stuff off at the trainee house?" Decided against it, though, in fear of being mistaken for a rickshaw driver. On the other hand, we really could've used that furniture.

This just in...after looking out the window, the rickshaws are still there and the local 342 looks to be as strong as ever. I'm pretty sure the initial bargaining price for a ride to Chandigarh has just risen about 200%. Let's be honest, if the Municipal Corporation can't do anything about it, who can?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Razor Ramblings

Normally, I wouldn't even need to rate my normal shave guy. This morning was a bit different, though, mainly because I had a different guy perform the blade ballet on my face.

It became obvious after I walked into the establishment that my regular guy was unhappy with me for cheating on him. He usually waits for me and doesn't deal with other people, but this time he was busy with someone else. My heart sank as I saw the lineup of other suitors...one guy, no wait, one kid was waiting with gleaming eyes. I couldn't really turn him down because he did seem rather excited...maybe a little too excited (read on).

Here is the rating:

Location: Sector 8 Market, Panchkula

Number of Nicks: 2

Rating: 3/5

Things started to go awry right after I sat down. For one, the tube of shaving cream was empty. Naturally, this didn't stop the kid from trying to squeeze every last ounce of the stuff onto my face. Only time would tell if the meagre amount he had produced from the empty tube was enough to adequately lather my face.

The next thing I noticed was that the kid had ice-cold hands. Didn't stop him from manipulating my face, though. Not the most comfortable feeling in the morning, I might add. Even with these unfortunate occurances, the lather process was still completed with relative skill and ease.

I was really hoping that having a rookie behind the blade wouldn't result in a 3-inch (7.5 cm) gash on my neck. As the guy brought the blade up to my face, I winced and thought, "Did I leave the water on?" Anyways...

The kid's razor technique wasn't nearly as unpolished as a I thought it might be. After the first stroke, something strange happened. As the kid was going to take another one, his hand "slipped" onto my chest area. The next time, there was a little bit more of a squeeze. It continued like that for the remainder of the shave. I'm willing to chalk this one up to Punjabi closeness, but it was quite a shock nonetheless.

Overall, a solid shave. Sure, I got a couple of nicks, but that's to be expected every once and a while. If you're in the area and looking for a shave and a little "extra-curricular activity," ask for "the kid" at Dressers in Sector 8.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NGO's Forced to Leave North Korea

This from SR International - Radio Sweden:

Foreign aid workers say their non-government organizations have been ordered to leave North Korea, after the European Union criticized Pyongyang’s human rights record.

Eleven of the 12 NGO’s working in North Korea, including Sweden’s PMU Interlife, have been told to leave the country.

North Korea issued the order after the EU submitted a resolution to the United Nations expressing serious concern about reports of torture, and restrictions on religion, travel, and other activities.

Check out the United States Institute of Peace (maybe not the most unbiased source, mind you) report on DPRK.

According to the report, North Korea asked for assistance in 1995 after a food shortage threatened starvation. Agencies and foreign governments responded, however complained of restraints put on their actions. Some withdrew, while others decided to hold the fort. Aid continues to save lives and improve the lives of North Koreans, however there is still heavy monitoring by the government.

It would be nice to hear what the average North Korean thinks of this decision. Highly unlikey considering the censorship-grasp the government has over free speech and the Internet. All I know is that winter is coming and one has to wonder if enough food as been saved up to feed the population.

The Life of Ryan

One of my good buddies (or mates, I guess) here in Chandigarh finally got himself a blog. Check it out here, or click on the link in the sidebar.

Culture Shock

While in discussion with a Canadian consular official, Samantha, here in Chandigarh, the topic of culture shock came up. Before going on a traineeship, every AIESEC trainee goes through a culture shock seminar, or something along those lines, to learn all about this wonderful natural "syndrome." What I remember from the presentation was that culture shock started with the initial euphoria of being in another country (a week), then a low (another week), and then integration (the rest of the time). Of course, that may not exactly have been it, but it's vaguely what I recall.

What I was somewhat suprised to find out during yesterday's conversation was that the culture shock cycle takes about 6 months. Anywhere between 5-6 months into your time in another country, you start to experience a low. I've been here 5 months and a week now and I'm pretty sure that I'm going through it right now. I can honestly say that the Indian culture is starting to wear me down. One thing I've noticed is that I've lost my normal level of patience when dealing with curious locals that want to know as much as they can about me in as short amount of time as possible. Another thing is that I'm sick of having to bargain for everything and having people try to rip me off at every opportunity.

Apparently, things start to get better after you pass 6 months. Since I'm only staying a total of 7, I probably won't get to feel the full effect. I've often asked fellow trainees what the ideal length of a traineeship is. My personal opinion is 5 months, but others would say more like a year. From what I am experiencing now, 6 or 7 months seems like too short but too long all at the same time - it's like being in culture shock limbo.

Anyone else have ideas on this matter?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Goa Pics Are Up

I've uploaded a few pics from Goa (more to come from the rest of the trip). You can see them by clicking on the "Mongolia/China/India Pics" link on the right. Once there, click the "India" link, then the "Kent" link, and finally the "Goa" album link.

Enjoy.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's Cold Outside

I've noticed recently that the most common possession for the local people to carry on trips is no longer a small towel for wiping sweat, but a blanket to keep warm. For instance, the guy behind me on the bus last night was sprawled out across the back bench of seats with the blanket covering is entire body (i.e. mummy-style). The guys in front of me were sitting, curled up in their blankies and trying to sleep through the brisk temperatures. When we passed Ambala (a popular transit point for train travellers), all I could see were people huddled up in big coats, toques, gloves, and blankets. I though to myself, "Is it just me, or is it winter outside?" I keep forgetting that it really is winter to the locals (at night). Anyone that has to spend a majority of their time outside (rickshaw drivers, etc.) is probably not having the best time of it.

I do have to admit that it is getting a little chilly at night and in the morning - that feeling of cold marble on your feet really wakes you up. Without insulation, 10 degrees feels a lot colder than I ever though possible. For anyone taking the bus or train at night, I would definitely advise taking a blanket. Windows and doors don't always close properly, so the draft factor can cool things down dramatically.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Remembrance Day

Due to the time spent in a sardine can (aka Indian local bus), I was unable to post about one of the more significant days of the your for me. Novemember 11th is known as Remembrance Day in Canada (Veterans' Day in the US). It is a day when we honour those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom. At 11 AM on this day, a moment of silence is observed, so we can give thanks for everything we have today.

The origins of this day come from World War One. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, an armistice was signed that ended the deadliest war to date. From then on, this day is a special one in the hearts and minds of Canadians and people around the world.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Old Habits Die Hard

Couldn't pass this one up, from the Times of India (Mumbai):

Two Indian hotel owners in the United States were arrested for allegedly ripping-off victims of Hurricane Katrina who had come in search of shelter. In true Indian airport tout form, these two guys inflated their prices because they knew people had no other choice. The worst case was when one victim signed a hotel bill for $1,089 and then ended up with a credit card charge for three times that amount. There wasn't even an itemized listing on the bill.

Being a foreigner in this country, you begin to get the idea that everyone is trying to rip you off. It is true to a point, especially in the big cities, but I don't want everyone to think that it happens all the time. Personally, i'm sick of people trying to rip me off just on the fact that i'm white, but that's because i've been here 5 months. In any case, I just find it rather ironic when Indians go abroad and then rip people off.

Random Stuff

Had the privilege of staying in the Mumbai Central Train Station on Wednesday night. We got in at about 1:30 AM and figured it wasn't worth it to get a hotel for 5 hours (our train left at 7:25 AM). Best part about doing this was the late night sandwich and juice duo (or maybe it was a quartet) we stumbled across.

If I were to rate these guys on sheer convenience and quality, he'd get 7 stars (this rating actually exists in India). They were a little hard to spot, mainly due to the lack of lighting, but all we really had to listen for was the "whur" of the blender on a dead night in Mumbai. The juices were of upmost quality...sweet pomegranate and pineapple, and the sandwiches were uniquely grilled. For the sandwich guy, his motto was "All filling, no bread." I wish Subway was like that....

So we hung out on plastic stools, were harassed by drunk guys, and took pictures of a real "sandwich artist" at work. At about 6 AM, we returned for a second round of juices. If you're ever caught in out predicament, stop by these guys for some solid food at ridiculous hours.

Adding to my list of places i've had tap water in: Goa, Mumbai, and Delhi.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Razor Ramblings

Taking from my friend Nick, who rates tiffins and teas on his blog, I figured I'd rate the quality of the barbers here in Goa. I usually get a shave close to my house in Panckula, but now that i've ventured away from that place, I've had to place my trust in a complete random. That might be hard for someone, but I'm inclined to believe that having someone else shaving you with a straight-edge is safer than me shaving myself. Anyways, here's the report.

Location: Palolem Beach Goa

Number of Nicks: 0

Rating: 4/5

On a hot day, there's nothing worse than sweating under a towel while some guy drags a razor across your face, so I have to give the guy props for putting a fan above the chair. The lather was decent, although he didn't create enough foam with the horsehair brush. This can be done by dipping it in water throughout the lathering process. Not that this was a big problem, though. After about 2 minutes with the lather on my face, I noticed it had some RUB A535 properties, i.e. it started to tingle. A new experience for me, and not necessarily an unpleasant one.

If I were rating the guy's razor technique, probably would've given him a 2 or 3. He probably had years of experience, but he seemed a little anxious. Maybe I needed to remind him that this was not like peeling a papaya....

Second go-around with the lather and razor was about as uneventful as the nightlife in Chandigarh. It is necessary, however, for that close shave.

What really won the guy bonus points was the "after shave" facial I received. First, I had peppermint-scented cream applied to my face. Next, a pink napkin pressed up against it with a whole poked in the mouth for breathing. Third, he brought out the aftershave...not sure of the brand, but it smelled nice. Finally, he brought out some yellow cream and applied that. No idea what it was, but every little bit of cream helps, I suppose.

I was asked for a face massage, but declined, thinking that my face had experienced just about enough manipulation for one day. Besides, it still had to deal with sunscreen, the sun, and aloe vera.

All-in-all, a good shave. Came out with my face feeling smoother than a baby's bottom (to quote the familiar saying). If you're ever in Palolem, make a stop by if you've been travelling for a while and need a good shave.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Waiting for Dead People

I managed to go 22 full years without seeing a dead person...then this past week happened. The first one I saw was on the way to Delhi from Chandigarh - a guy had been hit by a truck or had been the driver of a truck that had an accident.

So yesterday, we go to a restaurant on kind-of-a rocky outcrop. It was strange because there was a crowd of people standing on the rocks watching something. When I got up to a good viewpoint, I saw a dead guy bobbing up and down in the water. Everyone was just standing around watching - nobody doing anything. Finally, a boat came by and "scooped" the guy up and took him somewhere.

As the story goes, there was a group of 10 locals drinking away on saturday night. One of the guys decided it a good idea to go swimming in the rocks. Put two and two together and you don't have a pretty ending. Seeing that his friend was in trouble, another guy jumped in to try to rescue that guy that had probably been knocked unconscious. Unfortunately, he too met a watery grave.

A few hours after finding the first body, the second body appeared - we only saw it on the beach with a crowd of people around it. Not a pleasant sight at all. To be honest, I was quite uncomfortable knowing that a dead guy was just laying there/bobbing up and down in the water.

Here is the kicker...none of the locals know how to swim. Apparently it's like that all over southeast Asia as well. Living/working on the beach does not equal the ability to swim, unlike in Australia. Add some alcohol and rocks into the mix (no pun intended) and it spells disaster.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Three New Years

I just realized the other day that I've celebrated three new years already this year. You obviously know the first one...the second was the Lunar New Year in Mongolia...the third was Diwali. I was on the train at the time and everyone was saying "Happy New Year" to me. Didn't realize that it was actually a new year here, but now I know. Could've celebrated the orthdox new year (jan 12th, I think), but I think I was on the train head to Ulaanbaatar at the time.

Been eating tonnes of seafood here. King Prawns last night, Kingfish in a banana leaf today (see picture), maybe shark tonight...who knows?

Pictures will get put up eventually. Probably won't get a chance to do too many, but I will try my best, Johanna.

More tomorrow....

Friday, November 04, 2005

Oh Beautiful Goa

I guess you could say that 52 hours of travelling have been worth it. We managed to get to Palolem beach in south Goa at about noon today. All I can really say is, "Wow." This place is incredible. There are a lot of tourists, but it is no where near busy. We ate baracuda tikka for lunch and dinner may feature shark tikka or lobster.

The line of the day was this: "I'm sorry, sir, but this fish has already been booked." It became immediately clear that you have to book big fish beforehand, otherwise you might not get the giant red snapper you wanted.

Accomodation-wise, we are staying in a hut suspended about 10 feet off the ground. And, believe it or not, AIESEC trainees were just leaving the hut when we arrived. Apparently we are everywhere....

And then you have the sunsets. Life is good.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

52 hours later...

You'd think a 31 hour train ride would be enough to drive a person crazy...then comes another 21 hours worth of buses. Needless to say, not much sleep was had. One thing that was reiterated during these last two days is that deluxe buses in India suck. They are full of locals who think travelling is getting on a bus with A/C and watching a bollywood movie. Honestly, I have never felt so uncomfortable than on that bus since I got to this country.

Back to the train ride, it was a nice and slow journey from Delhi to Mumbai. What made it slow was that it stopped at every single station. Only good thing about that was the guys selling everything from idlis to dosas to pakoras. Oh ya, and a chai guy, or actually 10 guys, came by every 2 minutes. We also celebrated Diwali (Indian Festival of Lights) on Tuesday night. That consisted of singing, clapping, eating, listening to endless firecrackers go off outside the train, and, of course, a creepy Indian guy who had to get escorted off our carriage by the police because the women didn't like him. Night was a little chilly and one thing you realize very quickly in a carriage full of locals is that people go to bed really early and wake up really early. We're talkin' asleep at 8 and up at 4...not exactly my style.

Got off the bus in Mumbai and immediately noticed the difference between it and Delhi - everything is much newer. Instead of staying there a day or two, we decided to go straight to Goa. Good idea in theory, but it ended up taking a lot longer than planned. We spent 10 1/2 hours on the deluxe bus that took us to who knows where. At the end of that journey, some guy came on the bus and asked me to open my bags because he thought I was "selling" something. He wasn't a cop, but I still asked him for some identification. I honestly think he was younger than me to begin with...strange incident nonetheless.

The next bus took something like 10 hours and included a unexpected climb up a mountain pass and a steep decent that featured the usual Indian sport of hurling (no relation to curling). By that I mean decorating the sides of the bus. Near the top, we stopped for some south Indian veg thali (combo of 5 south Indian dishes with chapati and rice)...not bad for the middle of nowhere. Speaking of food, had a great masala dosa just outside Mumbai - best sambar and coconut chutney yet.

Well, here we are 52 hours later...finally clean and ready to hit the beaches and eat fish curry til we explode.