Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Hope the night goes well, wherever you find yourself.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Big City With a Small Town Feel...

What a great little city Kolkata is. Did I say little? I meant largest city in India. Although there is a ridiculous number of people here, the centre of town is small and can easily be toured by foot. One of the great things about this place is that there are tea stalls everywhere. And the chai is better here. Haven't quite placed the ingredient, but I suspect it has something to do with the quality of tea coming from Darjeeling and Assam.

There is also a distinct lack of restaurants, except in the tourist areas. In the Punjab, there are dhabas everywhere. In Bengal, there are food stands all over the place. You take a plate with rice and then pick what you want on it. I've had some cold bengali fish, some unidentified vegetable, potato bartha, and tharka (not sure on the spelling). And the rice isn't of the basmati variety, but rather of the really good variety because it doesn't dry out. Even better is that you just eat with your hands. The technique is scooping with your fingers and then using your thumb to slide the ball of rice into your mouth. It works remarkably well and gets your hands good and dirty.

Naturally, the tourist areas get a bit boring so you gotta venture out to the mean suburbs of Kolkata. So today, I headed out to North Kolkata to see a mirror temple. It involved taking the metro (which is pretty good, albeit hot) and then walking through parts of town that I'm not sure foreigners go to all that often. Yes, the temple was nice, but only a small fraction of the overall experience.

Next stop was the infamous Howrah Bridge, the busiest bridge in the world. To get there, however, a bus was needed (I make a point of not taking taxis or rickshaws because old, crappy buses are much more fun). If you thought Delhi buses were bad (or Chandigarh ones, for that matter), try Kolkata. They're about half the size and twice as old. As I was waiting for the bus, some truck drivers came up and asked me if I wanted to drive a truck. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I obliged and hopped into the driver seat. Then my conscience got the better of me...I just couldn't bring myself to slip the thing into gear and pull out onto the wrong side of a busy north Kolkata street.

Finally, I got on a bus heading to the bridge. It was a cramped ride (I sat up front, wedged between two people for about an hour), but a decent tour of some part of the city. After a while, the bus arrived at the bridge and I was in awe again. The entire place was a disaster area. I can see why this bridge lives in infamy...it's horns and gridlock 24/7. There is also plenty of pedestrian traffic - guys carrying all manner of things on their heads and people just trying to get across. I think the best part was feeling the bridge shake as you walked...so many people cannot be good for that thing.

Finished the day with another trip across the river in a ferry. Not too many people this time, which was much better for picture purposes. Also made it to the planetarium for an hinglish showing of the solar system. All I can say is good thing I learned about the stuff in school.

One last thing...the rickshaws here are of the walking variety. None of this lazy cycle rickshaw garbage...just a guy pulling you along.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Varanasi

Just a quick word about Varanasi. Go there.

If you want to have a true Indian experience, go to Varanasi. A quick stroll down the banks of the River Ganga is all it takes. You'll see people washing clothes and bathing in the river on the left and then endless temples on the right. Then you pass the body burning site where dead people are burned at a rate of 300-400 a day. Not pregnant women, babies, animals or lepers, though...a rock is tied around the victim's neck and dumped in the river. Not sure how to describe it, really.

If For No Other Reason, Go to Kolkata For...

the boat ride across the Hooghly River.

India may be the 2nd largest country in the world, but since coming here I hadn't really seen the sheer size exhibited. For instance, Delhi wasn't nearly as crowded as Beijing (in terms of people on the street). The only clue might be that there doesn't seem to be any countryside...just village after village. Well, all that changed upon reaching Kolkata.

One thing about Indian cities is that it's hard to tell that you're in one when arriving by train. No exception with Kolkata...looking out the window, it looked like you were arriving in a village. The train station we arrived at was on the west side of the Hooghly River and not the east side (the Kolkata side). Howrah Station, as it's called, is one of the busiest train stations in the world and that is an understand. It is wall-to-wall people moving in columns. Just to get from the platform side to the exit side, I had to put my head down burst through the line. As I was doing this, some lady grabbed my arm and followed me through.

Suprisingly, no one was trying to rip me off or take me somewhere. I was able to do what I want without any hassle. What I needed to do was get to the other side of the river...I had read that the best way to do that was to take a ferry. So I proceeded down to the docks and was met with a crazy sight.

The name "ferry" is a misnomer...try "fishing trolley from the 50's." Best of all, these things were packed. We're talking 500 people squeezed outward against a discontinuous safety rail. It was the stuff of legends, just like the local buses. It made me wonder how many boating accidents occured a year. As the boat docked, the people charged off the boat like they we're gonna be millionaires if they made it to the street first. Something of a stampede, I would say.

When I got on, there wasn't that many people, so it was a relatively easy ride. To the left, the great Howrah suspension bridge...the busiest bridge in the world. You could see the steady stream of people and cars...unbelievable. To the right, the setting sun and Howrah 2 (the second suspension bridge). Looking down, one of the dirtiest rivers I've seen. Dead animals, plants, tires, plastic, etc. Did I mention the smoke? The lungs definitely hurt for the 5 minutes or so it took to cross.

This event really brought my fascination level back up. All I could do is stare in awe like fresh-off-the-plane tourist at all the people. Overall, Kolkata looks to be a beautiful city - remnants of the British Raj or everywhere and it has a small-town feel to it. But that boat ride really made everything worth it and I would urge everyone to take it sometime.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Razor Ramblings - On Tour

The lure of a new "Razor Ramblings" blog post was the reason I held off getting a shave at my usual place. I knew I would be heading to Varanasi and that would only mean a unique shaving experience. I can tell you that I was not disappointed in the least.

After a agonizingly painful train ride that saw my shoulder tighten up something fiercen, I boarded a rickshaw en route to the banks of the Ganga. Not two seconds after I reached the banks, someone was asking me for a boat ride. Seeing how I wasn't going to be taking a boat ride anytime soon, the guy told me his name and said that if I come back, I should ask for him. Then another guy approached me, "Indian shave at an Indian Price...five rupees."

I asked, "I don't see a chair around, where are you going to shave me?"

"See the boxes on the steps," he responded, "right there."

"Sweet. Let's do it."

So I sat down on the cloth, cross-legged, facing the guy who was about to do the honours. I must say that it was an interesting way of sitting and I didn't know what to expect.

Location: Steps on the banks of the Ganga, Varanasi

Number of Nicks: None

Rating: 4.5/5

His shaving kit consisted of a small metal bowl, a razor, a horsehair brush, healing stone, cream, and a bottle of what I can only assume to be Ganga water. I guess sometimes it not what you have, but how you use it.

It was hard to judge the quality of the lathering job because the services of a mirror were not provided to me. On the plus side, he really worked the left side of my face (instead of the normal right side, due to the position that the shaver usually stands). I could tell, though, the the amount of lather was probably below normal and that the sun would probably dry it out.

Then we whipped out the razor and proceeded to do his thing. There didn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to his technique...just shaving randoms bits in whatever order he felt was appropriate. Where this guy earned the 4.5 rating was in his care for my neck. Instead of long strokes that are so common in India, this guy made very short and slow strokes. I could hardly feel the blade. He was a bit rough around my chin and jaw bone, though. Didn't end up with any nicks, thank goodness.

When he was done, the healing stone was applied. To my surprise, there wasn't the usual pain around my throat and chin. Unfortunately, no aftershave or cream was applied, but that didn't do anything to hurt his rating.

As I walked away, I did the customary "close shave check" to see if it was worth the five rupees. This is where he lost the .5 rating...the shave just wasn't as close as I am accustomed too. No problem, though, at least it wasn't the disaster in Jaipur (see last Razor Ramblings - On Tour).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Christmas Everyone

Seeing as how my internet access will be sparse for the next few days, I figured I'd wish everyone a Merry Christmas now.


So, Merry Christmas to everyone and their families.


I've finished up my traineeship now and am heading off to Varanasi and Kolkata (Calcutta) for a week and a half. So stay tuned for stories from that little excursion.

Viagra Now on Sale

Good news...Viagra is now on sale in India. It'll set you back about 600 rupees ($18 CDN) a pill, though.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Visa Extension

India seizes to amaze me...the simplest things can take months, while something as involved as a visa extension takes a matter of minutes. Case in point: getting furniture in our trainee house. It took 3 months to get that done. And yet, today, when I went to the Foreign Registrations Office to get my visa extended, it took 10 minutes. No questions, no hassle, no signs of the infamous Indian bureaucracy. In fact, the guy I was dealing with was downright friendly and genuinely willing to help. Good thing, too, because I don't have too many days to work with. Now I can head off to Varanasi and Kolkata without having to miss my train.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Just Another Day at the Office

Due to the lack of excitement in Chandigarh, a common hangout for us trainees is a liquor stand/chicken joint.  It’s genius, really.  You buy your beer at the stand, then proceed to the back and sit down.  Peanuts, or moongphali, are brought out to you and then you have the opportunity to order some of the finest chicken tikka in town.  Chicken and Beer…such an exquisite combination.

Anyways, Ryan and I were loitering outside the liquor stand portion of the establishment when a tragedy happened.  I looked up at complete random to see a horse trapped underneath a card loaded with wood.  For the horse, the situation looked bleak at best.  Our first instinct was to run over there and lend a hand.  As we approached, a big crowd was starting to form.  One guy was shouting out directions in Hindi and there were probably 15 people trying to get that horse out.

Ryan and I went to the back and tried to use gravity to our advantage.  We pushed and pushed and the others on the front pulled and pulled.  Finally, we were able to get the cart to a level position – unfortunately that didn’t get the horse out yet.  I decided that standing on the cart would be better, so I jumped up.  I wish I could say that my actions made all the difference, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  

As the cart began to tip in our direction, boards started sliding off, almost crushing Ryan.  All that cycling he does paid off because he used is cat-like agility to get out of the way.  Finally, the guy was able to get the horse out.  Luckily, the horse’s leg wasn’t broken, but it was extremely weak.  I think it took about an hour just for the horse to “shake it off” and get hooked back up to the cart.  As is usual here, there were no “thank you’s” given or any signs of appreciation – just the liquor store salesman ushering back to his shop to buy more beer.  

After a heroic act like that, I think we did deserve a beer, right Ryan?  Check out his story.  You’ll probably find the two remarkably different for two people that took part in the same event.    

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One Week until Christmas…

Christmas in India is definitely a change from the everyday.  There is a distinct lack of lights and Christmas decorations adorning the houses and office buildings; no Christmas carols playing in the streets; and no Santa Claus sitting in the nearest multiplex.

It’s understandable, really.  After all, Diwali (Nov 1st) is the Indian version of Christmas and New Years rolled into one.  Sure, the multinational company stores are decorated, but there is that lack of a “festive atmosphere,” so to speak.  We’ve done our best to find decorations (a long and exhaustive search), so the house is starting to cheer us up.  However, I think I speak for the trainees here when I say that something is missing.  Snow? Carols? Christmas Pudding?

One of the common complaints about Christmas is that it’s too commercial (sales spikes on the toy companies’ earnings graphs make that pretty obvious).  Not here.  In fact, it’s one of the unlikely positives of an Indian Christmas: retailers don’t try to take advantage of the holiday (they do this at Diwali time).  Ironically enough, maybe it’s the commercialization that does bring out the Christmas spirit in many of us.  Not necessarily the gift giving part, but just seeing Christmas everywhere we look.

      

Friday, December 16, 2005

Morning Shower Routine

If you want a good explanation on the morning routine we follow here in India, head on over to my friend Nick's blog for a quality explanation that includes a picture.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why Am I Not Surprised?

U.S. bans Cuba from World Baseball Classic” – USA Today

I wonder why the US didn’t just come out and say the real reason for this decision: “Cuba is probably our biggest challenger and the only way we can ensure victory is to ban them on some stupid technicality.”  This is like banning the Canadian hockey team from participating in a tournament in the US because Canada represents the best competition.

The article did go on to say that the organizers would push to have the decision reversed.  All they want is the best countries represented so that the fans are in for a treat (and, of course, financial reasons).  Even Republican Senator Jose Serrano is against the government’s decision and is doing his part to see the decision reversed.  

"Let's leave the politics out of this," Serrano said in a statement. "The World Baseball Classic should not be tainted by our grudge against Cuba's government. Cuba produces some of the finest baseball talent in the world and they deserve to participate."

I couldn’t agree more.  How fitting would it be to see the US lose out in the first round and Cuba go on to win the whole thing.        

The Day the Ground Didn't Shake

Another day, another earthquake on the Asian subcontinent.  Doesn’t come as much surprise anymore.  There was the October 8th devastating quake in Pakistan, along with numerous aftershocks.  Just yesterday, a 6.7 earthquake shook the Afghan-Pakistan border.  And now today, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter in the north-eastern state of Uttaranchal, was felt as far as Delhi (and Chandigarh).

At about 12:30pm, I was msg’d by a fellow trainee.  She said that she had just felt an earthquake and that everyone in the office was freaking out.  Even in my earthquake-prone building, I still managed to feel not even a tremor.  A quick query to my colleagues produced just as much surprise as I would’ve expected...”What, really?”  Part of the reason for this has to be the nickname given to me by one of my colleagues.  When I type, I create an earthquake as it is (the screen and desk start shaking), hence the nickname “earthquake.”

Then the news reports starting coming out.  Reuters reports that there is no injury or damage that is yet known, however limited reports are all that’s available.

When asked what it was like, Germain (a fellow trainee from France) replied, “Hum, it's quite disappointing actually. It's was smooth and noiseless, a bit frightening. I felt like I was in a boat.”

Monday, December 12, 2005

“Kent, I would like to introduce you to the back of this rickshaw.”

It is fairly well known amongst Non-Indian Residents that negotiating traffic on a cycle here is a harrowing experience.  Up until now, I hadn’t had an accident.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve almost been smacked by a scooter, rickshaw, car, truck, bus, tank, cow….No problem, though, because after every near-miss, I become de-sensitized a little bit more.  Maybe that isn’t such a good thing in a country where turning the head 90 degrees to the right as an impossible motion while on a motorized vehicle.

Case in point: the other day.  I was on my way home from Chandigarh, following the main road as I normally would.  Nothing was out of the ordinary – I was passing other cycles, while all other motorized vehicles were passing me.  One of the common complaints here is that there is no courtesy.  Even if it makes no logical sense to pass someone and then pull off to the side, people still do it.  

I didn’t really notice the rickshaw going by me on the right…it happens all the time and if I continually paid attention to them, I would lose all focus on the road ahead.  After the rickshaw had cleared me by about 5 metres, it decided to pull over to the left and drop someone off.  As I looked up, all I could say was, “Oh s***,” as I rammed on the brakes (Indian brakes aren’t exactly top notch).  Seeing no positive end to the situation, I braced myself for the collision.  

As a crashed into the thing, I was surprised that I wasn’t propelled forward to get up-close and personal with the passengers inside.  I can just see it:

Random Person: “So, how’d you two meet your wife?”
Kent: “I crashed into the rickshaw she was in, flew through the back, and landed right in her lap.”

For some reason, I wasn’t fazed by the situation and just moved my bike to the side and kept going.  But not before I shouted some obscenities at him…something to the tune of, “What the f*** are you doing?”  Funny thing was, I knew exactly what he was doing – it was just impossible to stop in time.

When the driver started going again, he slowed down to my speed and we exchange a non-verbal, “Sorry, my bad, are you ok?”  All it took was a little hand movement and everything was fine.  After he passed, I inspecting the damage I had done…the license plate was dangling, but that was about it.

Speaking of accidents, my housemate and co-worker, Benjamin, broke a pedal and avoided near death with incredible skill.  It was crazy to watch and I give him all the credit in the world for staying on his bike has his feet dragged along the ground and other parts of his body rested on the top tube.  And my other housemate and co-worker, Johanna, had a little run-in with a pedestrian and a scooter.  Didn’t see it, but it was nonetheless a frightening encounter.  All three accidents happened on three successive days.  

If you want to read more gripes about riding a cycle on the streets of Chandigarh, Ryan gives you all you can handle in a segment aptly named “Traffic Troubles.”
    

Golfing in December…Why Not?

Ever since coming to this relatively fair-weathered country, I’ve reveled at the thought of golfing this late into the year.  Well, yesterday I satisfied my appetite for “a good walk spoiled,” as it were, by going to the Panchkula Golf Club.  

If there is one thing about golf in India, it’s that it seems a rather exclusive club.  The Chandigarh Golf Club is members only and seeing how I didn’t know a member, I wasn’t going to be golfing there anytime soon.  Luckily for me, the Panchkula track wasn’t as exclusive and I was able to play without a problem.  Did I say “without a problem”…I mean a few snags.

The first thing probably not helping my cause was my mode of transportation.  Honestly, who shows up at a golf course riding a bike?  Everyone was laughing at me and I felt about as small as an ant.  Even the guards were chiding me (albeit in Hindi).

So I began to wonder around the “Clubhouse” looking for someone that would let me play.  I guess the GM must’ve seen me and came out.  Is first question, “Do you have any golfing experience?  What’s your handicap?”  

“I don’t know, 13 maybe?”  

“Oh, welcome to the Panchkula Golf Club, then.”

After talk to about 5 different people, I eventually found out that I needed to supply my own tees and golf balls because there was no pro shop at the place.  That’s like not selling beer at hockey games…it just doesn’t happen.

A group of people was kind enough to give me an unbreakable plastic tee, but refused to give me a couple of balls (shrugged me off in utter disgust, I might add).  So I had a tee, but no balls…too bad both are needed for a round of golf.

Finally, the guy in the office had the bright idea of telling me to go over to the caddy shack and get some balls from them.  He phrased it in such as stereotypically India way, “Go over to the caddy shack.  They will give you some balls after you give them some money.”  Not only did I return from the shack with balls, but with a caddy as well.  I had never had one before, so this was all new to me.  

Finally, I was ready to tee off on #1.  Now I know nobody wants to hear about the actual golfing part of this story, so I’ll leave it out.  One thing I can tell you was that I embarrassed myself rather badly.  I learned that chipping and pitching are not like riding a bike….

When I was about 2/3 of the way through my round, some legend joins me.  He claims he was an 11 handicap and had only been golfing for 2 months.  Right….

After we both hacked it around for a few holes, he decided to leave in the middle of the 18th fairway.  It became clear that he was not in fact a paying customer like myself and had to leave before somebody caught him.

Coincidently, the 18th was my best hole of the day.  I had embarrassed myself just enough to want to go back and see if I could tame the beast.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

New Banner and Colour Scheme

As you can see, I decided to change things up a bit…hence the new banner and colours.  You may be able to recognize the monument in the banner.  The silhouetted head in the foreground is me (the regular picture was so bad that I had to do something).  What do you guys think?

Crossing the Wagah Border (Radcliffe Line)

The first trial run of the new Amritsar-Lahore bus was successfully made on the weekend.  Although it was only a test, it is a very positive sign for the two countries.  The first scheduled passenger bus will go from Lahore to Amritsar on December 23rd – the return journey will take place on the 27th, says the Times of India.

“I’ve Just Been Bengaluru’d?”

The Indian state of Karnataka announced in the Times of India that the technology hub of Bangalore will be renamed Bengaluru by November 1st, 2006.  This change follows three previous name changes: Bombay -> Mumbai, Calcutta -> Kolkata, and Madras -> Chennai.  Reasons for the change usually revolve around, “Why do we have to call our cities what the British called them?”

Friday, December 09, 2005

Land of a 1000 Dances

Ever wondered what crazy international dance moves are spawned when people from all over the world meet in India?  Ryan explains.

The Group of Death

Looks like Group E is the infamous “Group of Death” this year.  Italy, Czech Republic, the US, and Ghana make up the group and two will be going home early.  A close second for the title is Group F, with Brazil, Croatia, Australia, and Japan.  Can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

The final draw can be found here.

Was That Really Necessary?

Every morning, the newspaper has to get tossed up onto the first floor balcony.  Sometimes, the paper boy’s arm just doesn’t have the gusto to get this done.  This morning was just one of those days for the poor guy.  All I can gather was that his toss ricocheted of the facing of the balcony and landed in the flower bed.  The consequences of this action may not be immediately apparent until a new character joins the fray.

Enter the evil Gardener.  Every morning, he comes into our house, takes all of our tank water, and leaves a mess all over our balcony and floor.  Before that, though, he waters the plants of our landlady.  On this day, apparently the guy felt that the newspaper that had inadvertently fallen into the flower bed needed water like the rest of the foliage.  

I wasn’t overly impressed when I went to collect the soggy newsprint.  All I could think was, “Was that really necessary?”  

Bring Your Own Music?

Answering our plea for a new club closer to where we live, the good people of Panchkula finally opened one up on the 4th floor of Fun Republic.  Popularly dubbed FR, Fun Republic epitomizes the multiplex craze that is taking over this country.  It is a 4-story mall-cum-movie theatre that gives the locals a little taste of western mall culture.  With only a few stores, the shopping sucks, but the movie theatre does play English movies (albeit with intermissions).

So last night, we decided to hit the club and see what it was like to party at the highest point in any building in Chandigarh.  Breathing was difficult for the first part of the night, but that was quickly erased by the soft, cushiony chairs and stunning view of Panchkula.  Looking at the menu, one thing stuck out:

”Dom Perignon champagne for Rs. 14000 ($400 CDN)”

Now that’s what I call a high-class establishment.

You could tell their were some rich clientele in the place, simply by the Rs 350 (10 bucks) Heinekens that kept being brought out, and subsequently spill all over the floor.  Surprisingly, a female DJ was doing her thing…something I had never seen before.  It was so refreshing because she would actually let songs play (unlike her male counterparts who switch the song half-way through).  Then the midnight hour struck….

The DJ packed up her stuff and took off, but decided to leave one CD – techno covers of classic songs.  We only found out about this predicament after talking to the manager.  His solution:

“Did you bring any CD’s to play?”  

Lesson #1: Always bring your own music to an Indian club.  

That’s What Cheating Gets Ya…

For lunch today, we decided to cheat on our beloved Om Sweets.  A new place had opened up down the street, exotically named “Bengali Sweets,” so we had to go check it out.  As I cycled by our usual lunchtime destination, my heart skipped a beat…could I really do this to a trusted friend?  All was forgotten when we pulled into the inappropriately-sized parking lot of the new establishment.  For a place that seats a maximum of fifty, did the parking lot really need to be a kilometre long?  I guess so.

I was immediately enthralled by the sheer number of sugary delicacies that are so common in Indian sweet shops.  At that point, my stomach wasn’t even thinking about masala and chilis…it had gone straight to dessert.

The menu was like a novel.  Must’ve had about six folds and was filled back-to-front – everything from South Indian, North Indian, Tandoori, Pizza, Sandwiches, Pasta, Desserts, Sweets, Soups, Cakes, and Sundaes.  The opportunities were seemingly endless, but I had to make a choice because time was of the essence.  I ended up going with a grilled sandwich and malai paneer tikka.  For those wondering why I would have a sandwich in India, the answer is simple:  I’ve eaten Indian food everyday for the past six months…it is nice to have a break every once and a while).

While waiting for our food to come, something about the venue struck me as odd.  Was that “I’m just dyin’ in your arms tonight, must’ve been something you said…” playing in the background?  Next up, a little “Sexual Healing,” followed by “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain.  What a collection of classics the radio station was playing.  But why in a Bengali Sweets shop, especially when the TV was playing Bollywood music videos?

I all but devoured my food when it came…dessert was just too important on this day.  When the time came, I could feel the pressure.  With over a hundred to choose from, would I make the right choice?  I went with Ras Malai for comparison purposes (I eat it everyday at Om Sweets) and Chana Toast.

Was I impressed?  Hardly.  The place may get an A+ for “new and exciting things that we’ve never seen because we only eat at one restaurant every single day for lunch,” but the food was second rate at best.  Sure, the menu was big, the music was solid, and the sweets endless, but there is no way it makes up for the cozy atmosphere and friendly service you get at Om Sweets.  I’m not sure I can face my trusted friend knowing what I have done.  I hope she takes me back.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What is it about India that makes you…

  • drink water from unidentified sources?

  • impervious to honking?

  • unfazed by near accidents on your bicycle?

  • appreciate squat toilets?

  • negotiate roundabouts with ease?

  • tolerate +45 degree heat?

  • handle copious amounts of pollution?

  • not surprised by anything?

  • re-examine your non-vegetarian ways?

  • feel overly comfortable on a local bus?

  • utterly confused on a daily basis?

  • mad when the chai isn’t done right?

  • cringe at the thought of eating processed food?

  • tell the difference between masalas?

  • lose weight?

  • obsessed with cricket?

I don’t know.  Do you?
    

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Reality TV in Mongolia

Couldn’t help but notice this headline while browsing the UB Post website:

“Mongolia’s first reality TV show prepares to air”

According to the article, this new show will be very similar to Big Brother.  Six guys and six girls will live together in an apartment without TVs, radios, telephones, internet, newspapers, or magazines.  However, each room will have a camera in it to record the thoughts of each contestant.  After each show, the audience will dismiss one contestant until only one remains.  That person will receive 10 million tugrugs (approx $10,000 CDN).

In other news, Vietnam will support Mongolia’s bid to join APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Jaipur Pictures

Pictures of my recent trip to Jaipur can be found here. Click on India -> Kent -> Jaipur.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Indian Jobs


Here are some jobs I would consider doing if I were to live in India (in no particular order):

1. Auto-rickshaw driver
2. Cycle-rickshaw driver
3. Omelet man
4. Re-bar straightener
5. Chai man
6. Bicycle repair guy
7. Ticket taker on the bus
8. Rickshaw Caterer

Indian Driving

Indian driving has perplexed me since the day I arrived.  How is it possible that accidents aren’t a regular occurrence?  Since I ride the ol’ cycle everyday, I see a lot of insane driving.  Sometimes it comes way too close to affecting me, while other times I just stare in amazement.   After witness driving in developing countries, you come to realize that there truly is a method to the madness here.  Call it “organized chaos” if you will.

On the way to work this morning, we witnessed an accident involving a scooter and smallish jeep.  Riding the scooter was a woman and her child.  Not uncommon to this country, the child was standing up in front of the woman while hanging onto whatever it could.  Not sure how easy this is to imagine, but I can tell you that it’s a danger position for a toddler to be in.  

From what I remember, the jeep at swung started on the right side of the left lane and turned left as if it were going into the right-hand lane (remember, India drives on the left).  At the same time, the scooter was turning left into the left-hand lane.  All of a sudden, the jeep decided to go into the left-hand lane, cutting the scooter off.  When the two vehicles hit, the scooter went down bringing the woman and child with it.  The woman got up right away, but there was no indication as to the status of the toddler.  After a few seconds, the woman immediately picked up the crying child and carried it off.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it no doubt could’ve been a lot worse.

I overheard the passenger of the jeep saying the following after the accident had occurred:

“She was turning left and then she decided to turn right.”  Nice try, buddy.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Razor Ramblings: On Tour

For this installment of “Razor Ramblings: On Tour,” I ventured to Jaipur, aka the Pink City, in Rajasthan.  Expecting to be treated to the finest in local straight-edged hospitality, I was dumbfounded at the lack of blade wielders as Ryan and I roamed the crowded backstreets.  It became quite clear to me that when one is looking for something, it can never be found; when one isn’t looking for something, it’s everywhere.  Eventually we found a couple of shops willing to do the honours.  In hindsight, maybe we should’ve looked in a different part of town.  Never have I walked out of a shave with such a horrid look on my face; nor had I seen another man so stunned after a date with the shave man.  The rating tells you how it all went down….

Location: Somewhere in Jaipur

Number of Nicks: Too many to count

Rating: 2/5

I had to search long and hard for this place.  Normally, you would think such hard work would result in a nice reward.  Then again, this is India and nothing ever happens the way you would like it to.  

I could tell the moment I walked in that this was going to be more of a “Neighbourhood Event” than just a simply shave.  People were crowded around hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious foreigner who seemed to have wondered off the beaten path.  They no doubt thought, “Does he know what he’s getting into?”  Apparently I didn’t.

As the shave man lathered up my face, I kept wondering if the cold weather might affect the willingness of my pores to open up.  If there is one thing I can give the guy credit for, it was is masterful work with the horsehair brush.  Not a speck of lather on my lips, my nose, nor my ears.  The burning sensation of the eucalyptus in the cream was a bit troubling, but by no means alarming due to the experience I had in Goa.

Things were going along fine – even after the first run-through with the straight-edge.  I was impressed with his careful work around my defined jaw bone and that he wasn’t trying to race the guy shaving one of the locals next to me.  As the second lather came, it still seemed clear that I would walk out feeling like I always do: fresh.  That was until the second go-around with the shave came.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference in speed at which the guy was now working at.  It was like him going out for a Sunday drive only to realize that it was in fact a Formula 1 race.  He ripped the razor across my face at lightning speeds, leaving no chance at all to negotiate my chin and jaw bone.  

Alarm bells started going off when he brought out a healing stone the size of a boulder.  It was as if he hadn’t done enough damage with the blade that he had to rub this monstrosity on my face for about 2 minutes.  I’m fairly certain that one knock to the temple with this thing and I would’ve been carried out of there on a stretcher.  Had this been the worst of it, I probably could’ve afforded the guy a rating of 3, but there were still 3 creams, aftershave, and a violent face massage to come – and I don’t use the term “violent” lightly.    

The first two creams were mixed and applied to my face in the normal fashion.  Then the guy took his hands and started forcing the cream into my skin.  Over and over my face he went, gouging my eyeballs, and using his substantial hand strength to reach every nook and cranny.  Next the aftershave was brought out.  Apparently the guy thought it a good idea that my eyes smelled nice, so he performed the same violent motion as with the first two creams.

Finally the end was near.  The last cream was applied in a much calmer fashion, or at least compared to the previous two.  As I stepped out into the fresh air, my face felt like it had been sandpapered and then rubbed with hot chili oil.  My eyes were on fire and observers probably noticed me shuddering as I stumbled down the alleyway back to meet Ryan.  

You might want to check out his story…it was just as eventful.

“I donated so much blood that I should’ve been paid for that shave.”  – Ryan Hill

Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Communist Country Celebrates a Birthday

One of the few remaining countries of its political ideology, Laos, has just celebrated 30 years of communist rule. Reuters.

“For the tiny nation of 5 million, and in particular its rulers, the date marks the start of a golden era of independence and stability after the trials of French colonialism in the first half of the 20th century and the horrors of the Vietnam War in the second.”

Sure, there has been relative peace in the country, but this doesn’t mean life is good for the average Laotian.

“With a tiny economy hamstrung by a lack of enterprise and investment, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with many of its citizens living on around $1 per day.”
North Korea’s Communist Party celebrated a 45-year anniversary on August 24, 2005.