Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

On the whole, I really have no beef with the State of the Union address.  It’s an impressive feat, really.  I mean, the guy goes up there and has to talk about every single thing that’s wrong or right about the US for a long period of time.  There is, however, one problem.

“We will spend 22% more on developing cleaner forms of energy…” *applause*
“Our goal is to find cleaner and more efficient ways to heat our homes and offices…” *applause*
“…so we will have less dependence on Middle Eastern oil.”  *standing ovation*

Honestly, does he really need all that applause?  It makes a 90 minute speech last like 3 hours.  And that doesn’t even bring continuity into the fold.  After the 2 minute applause, it’s hard to remember what he had just finished saying.

In all fairness, Canadian politics should have a similar address (someone correct me if we do in fact have something like this).  Instead, our government takes 3 months off for Christmas and we’re left to wonder if anything actually happens in Ottawa.    

Monday, January 30, 2006

Step 4 - Completed

Three weeks ago, I would’ve considered the feat unimaginable.  Today, I feel like I have passed a major milestone on my way to beef-dom.  That’s right, people, I have completed Step 4 of my program.  Bring on the modest-sized steak.

I’d like to dedicate the completion of this step to my hard work and dedication.  There really is nothing more satisfying than developing a plan and then seeing it through to the end – especially a plan related to something as serious as beef-phobia.

At no point throughout the last 3 weeks have I contemplated giving up.  I kept telling myself, “You just gotta take it one step at a time.”  Albeit the worst cliché in history, it really helps get you through the tough stretches.

My GI Tract is happy too.  It says that tonight was a real team effort and that things might just be back to “normal.”  Good to know…all I need to do is find a BBQ and start introducing myself to my old friend top sirloin and his buddy ribeye.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tsagaan Sar

If there is one time to go to Mongolia and live with a host family, this is the time. Tsagaan Sar, as it’s called, is a non-stop, one week party. Everything from buuz (steamed mutton dumplings) to boiled sheep tails to vodka is consumed. I remember the week like it was yesterday; the smells (boiled sheep fat), the tastes (shooting vodka), and the feelings (being stuffed for seven straight days). It is quite a party and your Mongolian experience won’t be the same without it.


Happy Tsagaan Sar (Lunar New Year) everybody.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Note to self: Don't J-walk in Front of a Cop

While walking to this great little Hungarian restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the police presence at this one intersection.  In all honesty, it made me feel right at home.  To think that there aren’t many places in India I have been to without seeing an officer of the peace at every corner.  As far as I knew, Canada was known for having policemen everywhere…apparently things have changed.

One guy j-walked right in front of a cop and was immediately questioned.  At that point, I started to think about what my excuse would be if I was ever stopped.  It would probably go something like, “I’ve just been in India for the last 7 months and j-walking is legal there, so I did it all the time and now it’s engrained in my system.  It’ll be at least a month before I learn to use the crossing lights.”  I bet they don’t hear that everyday.

Then, after crossing the street legally, I see this cop ticketing a couple of youngsters that were apparently causing trouble.  In a stroke of “genius” the kid decided to mouth off the cop.  It made me think about what would happen if a poor fool did that in India.  Anyways, the cop grabbed the kid and sat him down on the bench for a solid intimidation session.

On a positive note, I may have found the best Hungarian restaurant in Calgary…Jonas’ Restaurant on 6th Ave. and 9th St.    

Pics are Finally Up


I wasn’t exactly surprised to see that I had about 3200 pictures (plus movies) from India. What I was worried about, however, was figuring out a way to pick out the best ones and organize them for easy viewing. Well, after 3 weeks of slaving away, I’m ready to unveil my new-look picture website. I believe I have selected the best 675 pictures from India (it was hard to cut it down that much). Next step is to get my panoramas figured out, but for now, go to my picture website (link is on the right).

Enjoy.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Step 3 - Completed

Yesterday marked the halfway point of my full beef integration quest.  Enchiladas were on the menu and, as Salvador knows, a pretty good choice of food to use ground beef in. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I had missed the culinary gift known as Mexican food.  So tasty, with a kick that resembles Indian food.

I bet you’re all wonder how my GI tract responded (in a French accent, apparently).  Well, it went a little something like this:

Kent – “I’m gonna be eating a lot of these in the near future so you better get used to it.”

GI Tract – “After last week, I’m pretty sure I can handle anything.”

Kent – “I like your confidence, but don’t get cocky.”

GI Tract – “As long as it’s not samosas, peanut masala, or eggs bhurji, you can expect speedy processing and delivery.”

Kent – “Just like UPS…Shall we celebrate with a beer?”

GI Tract – “You send a beer down here and that’s it – I’m closing up the bridge and tying a knot in your large intestine.”

Kent – “Theek hai, boss.”

For those of you out there not listening to your GI Tract, you’d be pleasantly, or possibly unpleasantly, surprised at how many times it tells you not to eat something.  It really can foresee the impending doom.  

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Classy Move by a Classy Individual

“Bolivia's new President Evo Morales cuts his salary by a half to a little over $1,800 per month.” -BBC

And not just that, either.  He is saying that no government officials can make more than the President and that salaries need to be reviewed.  Way to go, Evo.

I’m pretty sure I know a few elected government members that should take a page out of Mr. Morales’ book.  I believe they are the same people who insist on keeping their cars running during parliamentary sessions and the same ones who take off to Mexico for 3 months instead of getting things done.

But who am I to judge?  I don’t go to Mexico on taxpayer dollars…and I don’t even own a car, let alone employ a driver to keep it warm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shocking

Just read that the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire was cancelled due to “the ill-health of its host, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.” -BBC

This is horrible news.  If there is one TV show in India that you could count on, that was it.  There was no adherence to time – if the show needed to last 87 minutes, that’s what it did.  Although the questions were often about Hindu Gods or which gates are not located in Delhi, there was always entertainment value to be had.

It brings me back to Shimla.  I needed my cell phone charged, so I headed down to the office of my hotel.  What was on TV?  None other than Millionaire.  For about 30 minutes, I watched the show with a guy that didn’t speak English.  I do remember giving an answer and the guy seemed pretty excited.  Such a bonding experience.

Frozen Paneer?

My paneer craving started to creep in right around last Wednesday.  I had been sitting at a restaurant wondering why there were no masala or Indian cheese options on the menu.  It wasn’t just my tastebuds, either…my stomach was crying for the “digestability” that paneer offers, so it could stop grinding away at meat.

But where to find some of this magic white stuff?

The locations of Indian stores are still unknown to me (and from what I’ve heard, too far away), so the next best thing was the Real Canadian Superstore.  These places are pretty big and in Real Canadian fashion, offer East Indian, Oriental, Mexican, and all other types of food.

In the East Indian section, you could find your typical selection of spices, but not too many masalas.  There was dosa powder, sambar mix, and a bunch of jars of “Korma,” “Butter Chicken,” and “Malai,” sauce (probably nothing like the real thing and full of chemicals).  One item that had been previously hard to find was Green Cardamom.  Apparently this stuff only exists in East Indian section across Canada.

So I moved on from that section, still looking for paneer.  Where I stopped was the “International” section of the frozen foods department.  What I found was a package of frozen pieces of paneer.  Something about this made me cringe and wonder who in their right mind would freeze paneer in little pieces and then try to pass it as the real thing.

Maybe my standards for the stuff are a bit unrealistic at this point.          

Monday, January 23, 2006

Final Update

11:30 PM

Well, that about wraps up the election.  Stephen Harper was speaking, but it was making me extremely drowsy so I decided bed would be a better idea.

Looking at the all-but-final seat count:

Conservatives – 124
Liberals – 103
Bloc – 51
NDP – 29
Independent – 1

Compared to these results, my prediction was almost bang on.  For my next prediction, I will say that Canadians will go to the poll in October 2007.

Another Update

10:30 PM

Just heard that Paul Martin will step down as the leader of the Liberal party.  It’s a good move on his part, especially considering the new leader could be Belinda Stronach (a former Conservative who crossed the House in May 2005).  Now the Liberals can put the sponsorship scandal and look to take down the Conservatives.  Not that this is good for Canadian politics, but it should mean that electoral reform will take place at some point in the near future.

Word is also out that the turnout for the election was 64%.  This is up 3 or 4% over recent elections.

The seat count:

Conservatives – 122
Liberals – 103
Bloc – 51
NDP – 29
Independent - 1

Update

9:30 PM

Only good news of the night so far is that the Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1.  The seat count is as follows:

Conservatives – 122
Liberals – 106
Bloc – 50
NDP – 29
Independent – 1

Now some experts are talking about the Liberals and the NDP forming a coalition government.  This has been attempted once and failed miserably.  The simple message was that we’ll all be voting again soon.

Update

9:00 PM

Just walked in the door to find the Conservatives winning with 122, the Liberals second with 103, the Bloc third with 50 and the NDP fourth with 31.  There is also 1 Independent who won in its respective riding.  This isn’t the final count, but it’s a pretty good indicator of what the new government is going to look like.  I guess it’s time to look forward to another minority government.  More in an hour.

Update

5:00 PM

After finding out TELUS wasn’t in fact coming today, I headed out to go vote.  I was discouraged a bit by the fact that my vote was essentially wasted because I am in a Conservative riding, but that’s not the best attitude to have during an election.  Won’t say who I voted for, but I will say that it wasn’t for any of the major parties.

Election Update

1:41 PM

Just found out that election results won’t be broadcasted until 8 PM.  I was worried I would miss a big chunk of the coverage due to a 3-hour class I have at 6:30 tonight.  As it turns out, I’ll only miss about an hour of it.

Still haven’t voted yet, either.  Waiting for stupid Telus to show up and connect my phone line.  Missed them the last time because they were late by 6 hours and I’m not interested in missing them again.    

Early Update

11:30 AM

I went to check the mail.  What does this have to do with the election, you ask?  What I found in the mailbox was the first campaign pamphlet I had received since I’ve been back.  This basically re-affirms the fact that this is “Con Country” and the non-Conservative candidates basically have no hope and hardly spend any time campaigning.

What’s interesting is that this pamphlet, besides outlining the NDP platform, says “Why the Liberals don’t deserve your vote this time.”  He we are in a riding dominated by the Conservative party, and Jack Layton (the leader of the NDP) is saying why we shouldn’t vote for a party that has no chance of winning anyway.

In small, hardly noticeable print, it does say that Stephen Harper is wrong, bla bla bla.  Seems like poorly planned campaigning if you ask me.      

Election Day

The 39th vote to choose the lesser of two evils in Canada takes place today.  I say only two evils (instead of 6) because there has never been a government from another party other than the Liberals and Conservatives.  This election’s combatants come in the form of a red-faced lying incumbent (Paul Martin, Liberal) and a guy much too willing to get into bed with George W. Bush (Stephen Harper, Conservative).

From what I understand, 23 million of us “eh?” speakers are eligible to vote.  This being the tightest election in years, I figure the turnout should be pretty good.  Even better news: there are no snowstorms in the forecast, so seniors will have no trouble turning out in record numbers.

For those unfamiliar with Canadian politics, Alberta is not the place for anyone not voting Conservative.  Unfortunately, that’s where I find myself…in a riding historically dominated by the evil blue party.  Is my vote basically useless?  Yes.  Does this create voter apathy amongst a majority of university students who tend to be a lot more liberal?  Yes.  Does election reform need to be seriously considered if another minority government is selected?  Absolutely.  This whole thing won’t stop me from voting and I hope other students like me follow suit.

My prediction for this evening:

Conservatives – 121
Liberals – 110
Bloc – 43
NDP – 30
Independent – 4

Stay tuned for hour-by-hour election coverage starting sometime later today.      

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Step 2 - Completed

Well, I took the proverbial plunge a few hours ago: I ate beef for the first time in over 7 months.  Sticking to my 6-step action plan, I went with a stir-fry containing finely chopped pieces of beef.  It went pretty well and my taste buds were brought back to the days of the summer BBQ.

One thing that worried me going in was the ability of my gastrointestinal tract to handle such an onslaught of “foreign” material.  

Kent – “So, GI tract, how does it feel to have red meat passing through once again?”

GI Tract – “You mean my 7 month vacation is over?  At least you had the courtesy to develop a 6-step program to take it easy on me.”

Kent – “It was the least I could do after the India debacle.”

GI Tract – “Don’t even remind me of that Samosa that came through here in July.  Man that was ugly.”

Kent – “Do you really have to talk about that stuff?  I’m trying to eat dinner.”

GI Tract – “Sorry, but you brought it up.”

Kent – “Well, I hope the beef works out for ya.”

GI Tract – “It’s a tad “rumbly” at the moment.”

Too much information?        

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Takin' the Bus

So yesterday, I took the bus for the first time since returning to Calgary.  It brought back memories of taking the Vancouver city bus the day I returned from Mongolia – I had no idea what I was doing and felt really uncomfortable.  Questions like: Why isn’t this bus packed to capacity?  Where’s the ticket-taker who can’t speak my language?  Why is there an orderly line to get on and off?  What’s the deal with that yellow cord?  The only reason why I made it to where I was going was because I had a friend with me who was a veteran of the transit system.  This time I was saved by another person who just happened to be getting off at the same stop (I had no idea which stop it was).

I must say that I was impressed with the quality of the local buses here.  The only difference was that I wasn’t being pressed up against the window and nobody was trying to have a conversation with me in Hinglish.  In India, you usually just tell the ticket-taker where you’re going and he somehow makes sure you get there.  If worse comes to worse, you can just yell out, “BUSSSS!!!! (not to be confused with the English “bus”).  Here, you show the driver your transit pass, go sit down, and sit there in relative anonymity.  If you’re so lucky as to know when your stop is, it’s really easy by the looks of it.  Otherwise, you might just end up lost in south Calgary.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Step 1 - Completed

Well, I finally decided to take the first step to eliminating my beef-phobia. As per my Six Step program (patent pending), the first step was to use beef boullion in a dish as a beef substitute. What better dish than beef stroganoff without the beef? Had that today for lunch and I feel pretty good about it. Now it's time to try the real thing....

A Comparison of Restaurants

Another habit that has been engrained in me as a result of living in India is assuming that the waiter/waitress doesn’t speak the same language as me.

Here is the typical procedure at an Indian restaurant:

  1. You walk in the door and surprise everyone sitting in the place by being the only white person there.

  2. You sit down and are immediately handed a menu (if the place even has one).

  3. About two minutes later, the waiter comes around and you pronounce poorly, then point to the item that you wish to have.

  4. If you need more time, you say, “Ek minit,” and the waiter goes away for a minute or two.

  5. Within minutes, you have your food and the other locals in the restaurant are swarming around you trying to find out where you’re from and if you are married.

  6. Before eating, you take a picture of your food for your friends back home.

  7. Now that you’ve shown your camera to the onlookers, you’re obliged to take photos of them.

  8. After finishing, you get up and pay your bill (the total of which is approximately 2 bucks).
Contrast this to a Canadian restaurant:

  1. You walk in and are greeted by someone who speaks your language.

  2. You take a seat at the table only to realize that no one in the restaurant has noticed, nor cares, that you’ve entered the establishment.

  3. You sit idly as the waiter/waitress attends to 8 other tables at once.

  4. When he/she finally gets to you, you are actually able to make small talk (which makes you feel uncomfortable to begin with).

  5. While placing your order, you habitually point out the item on the menu to the embarrassment of not only yourself, but to the waiter/waitress as well.

  6. Ashamed, you wait for your food only to notice the person across from you laughing at your silly little habits.

  7. The food arrives, you eat it with a knife and fork, and then you pay an outrageous price for it.

  8. You walk out of the place without taking photos, talking to locals or a grumbling stomach…how boring.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Roommates

Believe it or not, the one thing that has made me feel most at home since coming back to Calgary is my roommate situation.  I had no idea as to who they would be prior to moving in, nor did I know how many there would be.  To my surprise, I showed up to find a 37-yr old Egyptian guy and a 30-yr old Japanese woman.

Didn’t I just leave an “internationally flavoured” house in Chandigarh?  What are the chances that I would find the same in Calgary?  What’s great is that it was like nothing had changed – I still listen to non-native English everyday and I have inherently become the English teacher (this time at the request of the Japanese woman…unlike Ryan who just wouldn’t learn).

Maybe it’s time to learn some Arabic or Japanese.  Or maybe I’ll polish up my sukiyaki and kebab skills.  The opportunities are endless.  

Will Update

Just saw on CBC Newsworld that Will’s mother has flown to Germany to be with him.  According to the report, Will could return home as early as the end of this week.  Things are looking good, though, as he remains in a medically-induced coma.

What Happened to the Environment?

Coming into the election campaign, a lot of people that the environment was going to be a big talking point. Stephen Harper was going to implement some anti-Kyoto reform, whereas Paul Martin was going to keep the status quo (if not continue to make anti-pollution reforms). Canada has been a major player in the Kyoto Accord and has attempted to pressure the US into joining.

Now, environmental issues are no longer brought up. Nobody seems to care the Harper will rip up Kyoto (I guess that's one way to get the world to notice you). By the sounds of it, the Liberal scandal has trumped all negative aspects of the Conservative campaign. It has given undecided voters a reason not to vote Liberal, instead of looking at what the Conservatives could potentially do to the environment, minorities, and judicial system.

It's great that the Liberals are being held accountable for the mess they got themselves into, but did they have to do it when support for the Conservatives is at its highest since Brian Mulroney sang with Ronald Reagan in '88 (watched that clip the other day...I think it's enough to give one nightmares)?

This might in fact be the most exciting election since '88 (for those observers, was it actually exciting?).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I Didn't Think It Would Be This Bad

My sleeping pattern has been a mess since I've been back. To illustrate this, here are my wakeup times since Jan. 6th.

Friday (Jan 6th) - 11 AM (after 47 hours of awake time)
Saturday - 4 AM
Sunday - No Sleep (overnight bus)
Monday - 12 PM
Tuesday - 4 AM
Wednesday - 6 AM
Thursday - 6 AM
Friday - 11:30 AM
Saturday - 6:30 AM
Sunday - 9 AM
Monday - 12:30PM
Tuesday (Today) - 7 AM

A very simple conclusion can be drawn from the above data: early wake times = sleeping through class. So far, I've only managed to stay awake for 2 whole classes (out of 6). This isn't a good record when you have small classes and the professor can tell that you're nodding off (making a note of it on his class list). Too bad the "I'm still jet-lagged from my flight back from India" excuse has passed its expiration date.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Is Reverse Culture Shock Supposed to be Enjoyable?

It has been just over a week since I've been back in Calgary and I can tell you that this reverse culture shock thing has been quite enjoyable. Everything is new again, I still can't figure out why people stop for me when I'm crossing the street, and I have already embarrassed myself on a number of occasions by walking to the left instead of the right. Another thing that perplexes me is why people ride their bikes on the sidewalk. If only they had been to India and experienced what life could be like on bicycle...they would think the roads in Canada are a dream.

Longing for the Indian life hasn't eluded me just yet. There are moments when the simplicity of Panchkula haunts every moment of my day, but that is easily taken care of with a mouthful of garam masala....

I attribute this "enjoyment" to my experiences after returning home from Mongolia/China. For whatever reason, I got stressed out over things I couldn't control (something I don't normally do). I also comitted the cardinal sin of returning home after travel: believing that reverse culture shock wouldn't affect me. Haha, big mistake that was. It wasn't until someone told me to "calm down" that I actually realized what was going on with me.

This time around, I've learned from my mistakes. If the phone line takes a week to be connected, who cares? If nothing works the way it's supposed to, big deal. All I have to worry about now is my beef-phobia (still have yet to complete Stage 1).

To update Will's condition, word is that he is in a medically-induced coma.

Another Link

Tomoe, a former trainee in Chandigarh, is now posting in English on her blog. In fact, she puts in quite a bit of time because she first writes in her native Japanese and then writes the translation below. Keep it up, Tomoe.

Oh No

"I've made no secret of our desire to rebuild the Canadian military to have the capacities of a sovereign nation," Harper told supporters on a campaign swing through Atlantic Canada. "To make foreign policy decisions that are not only independent but are actually noticed by other powers around the world." -Reuters

If recent polls are any indication, Stephen Harper of the Conservatives will be the next Prime Minister in Canada, albeit in a minority government. I wonder what he has planned for these "foreign policy decisions that are...actually noticed by other powers around the world"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the world notice our exclusion from the war in Iraq?

Anyone not on the side of the Consveratives will likely tell you that Harper is "in bed" with George W. Bush and will be with the next President. By the sounds of this speech, he wants to become a world power and start poking his nose into territorial disputes and religious wars. Or maybe he plans to take over a small country. Unless he's talking about Canada's little squabble with Denmark over some Arctic island....

I'm probably not the first to admit it, but I'm a little bit scared of what Harper has planned. There may be some good things in the Conservative platform, but turning Canada into a world power of sorts trumps them all for me. All I can tell you is that the next time I go travelling, I do not want to receive ill-treatment, or be banned by some foreign country, because my Prime Minister decided it a good idea to be aggressive.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tragedy

Even though I knew one of my childhood friends (William Salikin) held a role in the restructuring of Afghanistan, the severity of risk that he was facing every single day was never really clear in my mind. Every once and a while, I would hear about an explosion or attack involving Canadians and immediately think that he might have been involved. Fortunately, he was never affected...until today.

The exact details of his condition were not disclosed, but CBC has reported that a suicide car bomber ran into the convoy that was carrying a Candian Diplomat, Glyn Berry. Mr. Berry was killed (the first Canadian diplomat to be killed abroad, says Foreign Affairs) and three other soldiers were critically injured, including Will.

I sincerely hope that he is OK. Apparently he will be transferred to a US Military Base in Germany for further treatment. My thoughts are with you, Will.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Link

Now that I'm back, I'm discovering blogs that my friends have. Megan told me about hers today and after looking at it, it's pretty good (especially considering she deleted 2 months worth and is left with a mere 3 posts). Hopefully she keeps it going. The link is on the right.

And if you're wondering what happened to my banner, my webspace expired so I have to find a new place to put it. Should be soon, I hope.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Shopping

Hard to imagine that a weekly, sometimes daily, routine could bring so much excitement into my life. Well, considering this was the first time I had been to an establishment that offers among other things 8, count them, 8 different types of balsamic vinegar (all products of Italy), it was bound to be an adventure.

Did I make a list? No. Why not? Didn't cross my mind at the time. In Panchkula, you only ever went to the market to buy eggs, cheese spread, or vegetables...and never did you find a broad selection such as a local Safeway (mind you, I wasn't able to locate even 1 of the many thousand types of masala). So there was really no point in having a list.

I also found pushing a buggy (or cart) around to be fun - strolling up and down the aisles, running into people....

A couple things were missing, though, besides the masala. One, nobody greeted me upon entrance into the place. I'm used to a, "Hello, sir. Umm, twelve eggs?" Two, there was nobody loitering inside either talking on the phone or smoking cigarettes. Didn't bother me so much...especially when I got to the selection of olive oil. I was like, "There are too many choices...what do I do?" At one point, I actually contemplated giving up. Finally, I decided upon a litre of Italy's finest (or at least Italy's finest export...no doubt they save the best stuff for themselves).

The last thing that got me was the bill. For about a week and a half worth of food, it cost about the same as a flight from Delhi to Goa. No problem. I'll pay anything for that kind of olive oil and balsamic vinegar variety.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Food

I now see what Indians are talking about when they say North American food is bland. Everytime i've eaten since I've got back (save for two meals at Greek restaurants) has sadly disappointed my tastebuds. Not that the taste has been bad, but rather the food lacks any sort of "punch." My tongue keeps expecting/waiting for it, yet it never seems to come. Good thing I brought some tikka masala back with me, so I can give my tastebuds what they are sorely craving.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Beef-phobia?

I'm starting to wonder whether or not i'm afraid of eating beef. When I walk through the heavily stocked beef aisle, I ask myself, "Didn't I used to eat that?" Grilling steaks and kebabs on the BBQ was a favourite activity of mine, but it seems so far away. When asked if not eating beef in Alberta was illegal, my friend replied, "I don't think so." Has India left that big a mark on me that I won't even eat the main meat product this country has to offer (except Canadian bacon)?

After recognizing this disturbing trend, I've developed a 6-step program that will put me on the road to recovery:

1. Use beef boullion in a dish as a beef substitute
2. Make a stir-fry comprising of finely chopped pieces of beef
3. Prepare a dish containing ground beef
4. Have another stir-fry with larger pieces of meat
5. Eat a modest-sized steak with BBQ sauce
6. Go to Nick's steakhouse and have a 24 oz. steak with its heart still beating

Not sure when I'll start it, but I will keep you updated on my progress.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Razor Ramblings - Special Edition

After shaving myself for the first time in approximately 5 months, I noticed that I had apparently become a tad rusty (mind the pun). It made me realize that the work of a straight-edge by some lunatic in India is second-to-none. I cringe at the thought of never having that same quality again. Had I been able to foreseen the job I did on myself, I would've given every shave artist a perfect rating.

Location: My bathroom
Number of Nicks: None
Rating: -1/5

The only benefit of the MACH 3 shaving system is that you rarely get cut or nicked. So much for the commercials - with such claims as "The closest shave ever." Well, that's the tool I brought out for the innaugaral shave of 2006.

Having only lived in my current domecile for a day, I hadn't the time to go out and get proper lather. Luckily, soap is a solid substitute. I'll skip past the shaving part, simply saying that it felt weird to drag a razor across my face (albeit less painful).

When I was done, I did the usual inspection only to find out that the razor did a terrible job. What was that cliche, a poor worker blames his tools? Either way, I was embarrassed with my work and contemplated doing it all over again.

I wonder how much it would cost to bring over a professional bladesman from India....

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Back in Calgary At Last

Let's see, after a 5 1/2 hour flight from Delhi to Taipei, an 8 hour wait in Taipei, a 10 hour flight from Taipei to Vancouver, a 5 hour drive from Vancouver to Kelowna, and a 10 hour bus ride from Kelowna to Calgary, I finally made it back to the place I call home. The jet-lag is pretty intense this time and I don't remember the last time I had a decent night's sleep.

It does feel a bit weird to be back. After all, it's been a year since I've been in Calgary. For one, there is no snow. In fact, it's been warm here for the past few weeks (like +10 celsius). Not that I'm complaining, but it's certainly not what I expected.

So far, the biggest thing I've noticed is while walking down the street. I've always had the instinct to pass people on the right. 7 months in India has changed all that - my instinct is to now go to the left. On multiple occasions I have made a fool out of myself performing the simple task of passing someone on the street. Even while sitting in the passenger seat of the car I've noted the times when I would've went left to go around the car (obviously a big mistake in this part of the world).

I had a twenty dollar bill in my hand and went, "Is this worth anything?" It is, in fact, worth 740 rupees, but because it only has the number "20" on it, it seems almost worthless. Don't even get me started on the coins....

While loaded up with bags, I approached the door of the bus station only to have the door opened by someone. After setting the bags inside, all I could think was, "Welcome back to Canada."

Stay tuned for the list of things I hate when the reverse culture shocks starts creep in.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Flights

If there was one good thing about the flight back to Canada, it was that I live Tuesday, January 5th twice. So if I screwed up the first time, I had a chance to do it all over again and not make the same mistakes. Or maybe it's just the 50 straight hours without sleep talking...

The highlight of the trip was definitely Taipei. Back in June, I had arrived in the Taipei airport knowing that an 8-hour wait was in order. The place was horrible, the food was terrible, and I was just flat-out bored. One thing I did notice was that a free tour of Taipei was offered at 8 AM and 1 PM. Unfortunatley, my flight had arrived at 2 PM.

This time around, I arrived at 7:00 AM (due to my flight change), but still had a 7-hour wait ahead of me. On the bright side, I had the opportunity to take the tour. Apparently, the good immigration people at the airport will give you a 30-day visa-exempt entry for free...not bad for anyone with an extended layover. So I ventured up to the tourist bureau counter only to find out that the tour was full. "But I can show you how to get to Taipei on your own," she added.

Not wanting to turn down the possibility of getting lost and missing my flight, I noted the required information and headed to a bus. I just wish somebody would've reminded me that the people of Taiwan speak Mandarin and not Hindi. It took a surprising amount of time for me to figure that out and then try to remember the few Mandarin words I knew.

The bus ride took just over an hour to get downtown. Too bad the weather was a blustery, rainy 14 degrees because all I had was a t-shirt and pants. Didn't exactly want to get off the bus, but I reminded myself that it wasn't that cold.

When you reach downtown Taipei, you are greeted by one dominant landmark: Taiwan 101. No, it's not a university class, but rather the giant 101-storey building that adorns the cityscape. This thing is utterly ridiculous in the sense that it dwarfs everything around it. Not that the other buildings are that tall, but they look small nonetheless.

After walking around for a couple of hours, I came to the realization that this would be a city I could live in, or should I say, "eat in." There were restaurants everywhere of both the local and international variety. Couldn't complain about the cleanliness either. I would describe Taipei as Beijing without the police presence.

Made it back to the airport with 2 hours to spare. However, when I reached Terminal 2, I noticed that I didn't recognize the place at all. There were nice restaurants, new shops, new tiles, new waiting rooms, new everything. Basically, in the last 7 months the airport had all of a sudden become nice. "Well done," is all I have to say.

Now I'm back in Vancouver with still more travelling ahead of me to get back to Calgary...ugh.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Last Day in India...

Well, that about does it for 7 months in India. I'll be heading to the airport in less than two hours and it's really hard to describe how it feels. On the day I flew back to Canada from Beijing, I remember thinking that "going to Canada was just another thing I had to do that day." In a way, I feel the same now except I know that it'll be a while before I get to go anywhere exciting again.

I always said that India was a roller coaster ride from the beginning. Some days it was good, others it was bad. Overall, though, it was in incredible experience that is unlikely to be matched. As I leave, I start to wonder how much I'll miss this place. The way I see it, I'll miss the following things:

Chai
Lassi
Chapati
Getting Shaves

I also won't miss:

Pollution
Traffic
Questions (Which country, etc.)
Dust

I'm looking forward to seeing what Canada has to offer now that I've been away from it for some time. Hockey is one of those things i've been craving for the last while, so can't wait to see it again. One question is what to do with the blog now that I'm no longer travelling. My hope is to make life in Canada comical in some way. After all, I'm Canadian and should be able to make fun of my own country, right?

In the end, it's hard to believe this year is over. It started in Mongolia, then China, Canada, and ended in India. Sitting in my living room last June, I never would've expected that I would be sitting in an Internet Cafe in Delhi waiting for a flight that I almost missed due to it changing.

This is one year I'll never forget.

China Airlines

Note to self: To avoid unwanted hassle, reconfirm your flight at least 72 hours before departure.

I had been none too pleased that my flight was leaving at 3:30 AM on Thursday morning. This meant having to kill time with no place to put my bags. My only option appeared to be sitting in a bar for a few hours contemplating my return to Canada.

Just for kicks, I decided to check to see if my flight was leaving on time. Delhi is infamous for fog at this time and, hence, many a delayed flight. What I found turned out to be rather astonishing. For one, there was no flight at the time I was scheduled to leave. As you might expect, this caused my heart to leap into my throat. Apparently, the flight with the same number was now running on the 4th and 6th at 10:30 PM.

After trying to figure out what was going on and wondering if I would be able to get on the plane, I headed down to the China Airlines office. Luckily, it was only 20 minutes away.

I can honestly say that my dealings with this office may have been the best throughout my 7 months here. The lady I was dealing with didn't tell me, "No," or "It's not possible," like you hear so often. Instead, she was helpful and said, "There isn't a problem. What day did you want to fly?"

I would just like to extend my thanks to the office. The whole experience definitely made the day go a lot smoother.

Razor Ramblings - On Tour

For the final installment of this segment, I took my act to the captial and heart of India: New Delhi. As I perused the streets for a unique place to get my face hacked, I came to the realization that I had pretty much been shaved everywhere: under a mango tree, in a shop, on a box, on the banks of the Ganga.... Could I really find a place that was original?

What I settled on was a cement block on the sidewalk of a busy street in Dehi. Needless to say, I doubt too many foreigners had frequented this shave artist before. He was just as surprised to see me asking for a shave as I was to see him come running from halfway down the street. What he was doing that far away from his stall is anybody's guess.

Location: Cement block on a sidewalk
Number of Nicks: 1
Rating: 4/5

At the risk of repeating myself, I will just say that this "ballet dancer," as it were, had the "skills to pay the bills." My facial pores weren't all the receptive to a shave on this day, but the guy more than made up for that little problem. Sure, my chin area was a little irritated after, but the sheer lack of nicks negated any discomfort I experienced.

After getting up, I could feel the cold Delhi air (16 degrees celsius) against my face. I must say that I've never felt so good after coming face-to-face with a sharp blade. After doing the routine check of the face, I couldn't help but give kudos to the guy. "Badiya," I exclaimed ("good" in Hindi). A fitting end to four and a half months worth of not shaving myself.

Bumper Rickshaws

One thing that has surprised me over the last 7 months is that I had never once been in a rickshaw accident. Yes, I ran into the back of one on my bicycle, but I'm talking about being in one when something exciting happens.

I remember hearing about two trainees in Chandigarh that were in an unfortunate accident in Agra. Their auto rickshaw rolled and one of the girls injured her arm pretty bad.

Agra was where I found myself today. I wanted to go back to the Taj Mahal because my pictures weren't so good from the first time. Normally you wouldn't go back to this monument because of the Rs. 750 ($22 CDN) price tag, but I have a residential permit and can get in for Rs. 20.

I was worried that the residential permit wasn't going to work, on account of other trainees trying and failing. Well, it worked for me again but, ironically, it had rained the night before and that had created a dense fog around the structure in the early morning hours. I showed up at 7:30 only to realize that pictures were going to be tough. So I waited, took some pictures irregardless of the light and just hoped they turned out okay.

Now to the point....

My train back to Delhi left at 10:10 AM (turned out to be 11 AM), so I had to get in an auto rickshaw to go to the train station. There was this one section of the road that was under construction, so that meant only one rickshaw could fit. Not surprisingly, my driver tried to pass the other driver during this narrow section. Then, some dimwit decided to jump out in front of the rickshaw we were passing. This forced the auto to jerk right and subsequently bump into us. My rickshaw was on two wheels for a sec, but quickly returned to three.

With disaster narrowly avoided, all I could do was wonder what the hell the guy jumping out into the middle of the road was doing. To make fitting end to the rickshaw journey, a guy on a bicycle ran into us just as we pulled up to the station.

One more full day left in India....

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve

What was New Years like in Kolkata, you ask? It's hard to describe really.

It started off innocently with some drinking on the roof of the hotel. We were all careful to stock up on liquor because the shops were closing at 10 and we didn't want to be left out in the cold. By about 10:30, the heads were feeling a lot lighter and we were having a good time.

Being in India, I guess we were hoping that we could "stretch" New Years a bit...i.e. have the countdown at 1 AM instead of 12. Our hopes were fulfilled a bit, but only by a second (on account of the leap second that was added by the scientists).

I think we made it out on the street right at about midnight...there was no countdown, no noisemakers, and no party. We were perplexed as to the whereabouts of all the people. That was until we headed down to the famed "Park Street." This, we were told, was the place to find the good "craic (pronounced "crack")," in the words of a Northern Irishman. And boy were we not disappointed. Talk about pandemonium. It was absolutely crazy.

On the way, every local that caught a glimpse of us came over to wish us a happy new year and shake our hands. After about two groups of people, it got really tiring...to the point where I just tried to ignore everybody. Unfortunately, it's difficult to ignore the entire male population of central Kolkata. I am not joking when I say that there were more people out on the streets than in the city of Chandigarh. The only term that can describe this phenomenon is "wall-to-wall."

Naturally, I decided to go from one end of the street to the other...on the wrong side of the street. It was like trying to take on an entire army. Not even the technique of putting your head down and pushing through worked on this occasion. All I could do was work my way through as best as possible - and elbowing a few people along the way.

This "walk of death," so to speak, was like a hazing ritual. I had my balls grabbed, my face slapped, and numerous attempts were made on my pockets. I came out feeling like I just had the crap beat out of me...not a pleasant feeling.

On the main roads, there was gridlock. The remedy was for people to get out of their cars and start dancing in the streets. Yet the crowds still seemed to recognize the significance of the day for the foreigners. After all, this was our holiday and Diwali was theirs.

I was glad I finally got to witness New Years in a large city, albeit in India. Now it's time for me to go eat my way out of Kolkata...the food is so good I don't want to leave.

Razor Ramblings - On Tour

Well, I couldn't help but get a shave in Kolkata. After all, where would this segment be without me looking for the oddest places to have a razor dragged across my face? As I roamed the streets, my eye was constantly on the lookout for the best place...and the best story. What I found was similar to Varanasi, however I was perched on a box and not on the banks of the Mother Ganga.

Location: Sidewalk of Sudder St.
Number of Nicks: Three
Rating: 3/5

I had just come out of the Indian Museum (the oldest in India, in fact). Not surprisingly, I was disappointed immensely by the number of sections that were under renovation and what little effort was put into providing any useful information. What better way to cheer me up than for some guy to take liberty on my face with a sharp knife. It just so happened that a willing suitor was right around the corner. He had been busy with another victim, but still welcomed me with open arms.

When it was my turn, I was ordered to sit on a box and sit very, very still. "Theek hai, boss," was the only thing that came to mind (no wonder it was on my leaving cake...). The only unique part of the lather stage was the poking of my throat with the horsehair brush. Why this was necessary I will never know, but apparently the guy enjoyed doing it so I didn't object.

As he brought the razor to my face, all I could think was that his angle of attack was different seeing as how he sat across from me. It meant that he should be able to navigate my chin with sniper-like accuracy. Unfortunately, all it meant was quick, violent strokes with the blade. Had I had the skin of an 80 yr-old, the technique probably would've worked quite well. Too bad that's still 58 years away (is that all?).

My face didn't feel worse after...just the usual "why couldn't he just be careful around me chin? It feels like it's on fire" feeling. I had been wondering how he would clean off what was left of the foam. The answer: he just dipped his hands in the water and quasi-massaged the liquid into all the tiny pores. I noticed that he really worked the nose...not sure why.

After assuming it was all over, the guy brought out some scissors and went straight for the nose. Now I know why he said "Sit very, very still." You really don't wanna be moving when you have scissors in your nose....

Finally, the aftershave was applied and a price of 30 rupees was put on the table (which was subsequently rejected). He ended up getting 15 off me...but only because of the extra-curricular activity with the scissors.