Jump to navigation
Damn. 29 today and still not mature yet.
A decade ago, I would have thought maturity is one of those things that just happens to you. Like rain on a sunny day. Not necessarily bad, but something that would make a difference in how you perceived the world.
Maturity is the stage in life when you recognise that you have gained some acceptance of yourself and have a vision on how to move to the next stage. It is the stage when we are ready to be productive.
However as society succumbs to the individual, there is less pressure to mature early or to mature at all. Some of us go through life never really reaching that stage of maturity. Maturity is turning its back and taking a long walk into the sunset.
The office has become my temple to pray for maturity to find me. So that I might get somewhere in my career. Nowhere else for me is there more evident need for a productive outlook.
Occasionally I receive fleeting glimpses of it in myself during meetings in which I make a contribution. Or when I take some initiative in a project. Or when I become inspired during a sales pitch to a client.
As I bead all these experiences together, it becomes slowly clearer that maturity does not come as an epiphany. Like waking up from a smoky sleep. It comes from conscienciousness. A desire that wells up from within from streams of self-realisation, not self-deprecation.
To selflessly look after yourself.
Just moved host to a Portland
-managed host called United Net
. What can I say? It's free. There are no ads. There's PHP and cgi-hosting. And it isn't f2s.com
which recently gave up free hosting. Damn.
Anyway, it was a relatively painless move thanks to some foresight and the fact that I used relative links instead of absolute links. Whew. But comments aren't working just yet. I have to check the dotcomments manual again. No hurry, I guess. <"Sarcasm">Nobody leaves comments here anyway.<"/sarcasm">
Just finished uploading all the 400-odd pictures in my camera to my Imagestation account
Going to spend the next couple of days placing the links in the blog entries. I wish someone would invent a drag-and-drop way of doing this.
Back in Malaysia
I'm back in Malaysia and I'm writing this from the office. It was an uneventful but long and tiring way back from Indore.
I said goodbye to Saurabh and his family on Saturday evening and took a 15-hour bus to Mumbai, arriving at about 10am on Sunday. From the bus stop I took a taxi (285 rupees) to the international airport.
My flight was at 12am on Monday morning. So I just sat around the airport -- the check in for the Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur wouldn't open the counter until 9pm. Unfortunately, Mumbai International Airport is one of the most uncomfortable places to get a kip. The chairs are hard and straight-backed.
Chatted to a Korean student on her way back to Seoul after spending two months touring north India. Despite spending two months in India, she was still pale as a ghost. Spoke to an elderly Gujaratti Muslim from Ratlam on his way home to Malaysia and helped him fill out his debarkation form.
Killed seven mosquitoes. But their brothers (or is it sisters) all took revenge. Ouch.
I slept on the plane. I usually don't but I was dead tired. But then again I'd seen all the movies they were playing on the flight and that included the horrific Serendipity (starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale).
Took a taxi back to the apartment at about 8.40am. Slept for 5 more hours then made a call to Saurabh to let him know I made it back to Malaysia ok.
Afghan transport minister killed by angry mobThis is an absolute tragedy
. But I couldn't help but laugh. I've always wanted to get my hands on the minister of transport in Malaysia and smack him about. These guys actually had the opportunity and took it. And it appears most of them got away with it. Good luck guys!
The trip to Thincha falls
The Unofficial Indian Driving Manual
1. Use extreme caution when attempting to use the sidewalk as a third lane.
2. Motorcycle helmets are there for your protection. And they also make wonderful hanging pots for plants.
3. Motorcyclists who attempt to breath while driving may find themselves weighing 800lbs more from the inhaled dust.
4. Beef sure tastes nice, but beware of it when it's still alive and trying to cross the road in front of you.
5. He who first gives way will not move from his spot for another day.
6. Beware of on-coming traffic. Indian one-way roads have the habit of becoming two-way lanes at the discretion of the driver.
7. You may honk your horn to communicate to the driver in front of you that a) the dal at "Singh's High-Class Eatery" is excellent, b) there is no truth in advertising, c) colon cancer can be a pain in the ass.
8. It is considered an act of common courtesy to swerve into the driver to the left and to the right of you to make sure they are still awake.
9. Give way to pedestrians crossing the road. Those poor fuckers don't have long to live anyway.
10. You can play chicken, I can play chicken too.
Arriving in Indore* * *
According to the map, the distance between Mumbai and Indore was about 560km. Taking the highway, I expected the coach to reach Indore in less than 10 hours.
However, travel on Indian roads and highways is a completely different concept from travelling on coaches in Malaysia. There aren't any roads or highways as you or I might call them. Cheese-grates have fewer holes. Deserts have less dirt.
My coach was a sleeper coach meaning it had five columns of single bunks on either side for passengers to lie on. I took one of the lower bunks. It was made for someone who was 5' 6" not 5' 11".
In the end, the journey was completed in 15 gruelling hours.
Within four hours, lying cramped on the hard bunk being jolted around by the road, my spine was wrecked.
I was also freezing. Who knew that Indore would be so cold. Mumbai was hot, so I hadn't prepared a sweater. I slipped on four t-shirts and was still feeling cold.
At about 1am, I woke up with a slightly stiff neck on the make-shift pillow I made from one of my bags. My head was thrown back, my mouth was wide open. My first thought was: did I snore?
I looked to my right and one of the other passengers had kindly drawn a curtain across my bunk, providing me with a bit of privacy and, more to his point, isolating me from the other passengers.
I was snoring and nobody had the heart to wake me up.
What the hell am I going to do with all this hash?
"Ok, I will get you one tolak of hashish," said Ramsan as he jumped out of the cab.
He had stopped in his haunt in the Muslim section of Mumbai with dust and flies all over the place. The problem is I never asked him to get me any.
I protested, Thanks, but no thanks, Ramsan.
But Ramsan insisted that a bit would make my trip to Indore much better. How about half tolak? Only 500 rupees, he recanted. I knew he wasn't going to take no for an answer.
Soon he came back with a small dark-skinned man with greying beard and wearing a pair of Indian wrap-around trousers. Inside a Gold Flake ("It's Honeydew Smooth") cigarette pack that he offered me was a lump of hashish the size of my thumb.
I'm going to have to get rid of this hashish, maybe trade it back to Ramsan later. But I can't bring it back to Malaysia with me because of the death penalty on drugs and I can't see myself smoking that much. There was enough hashish in the lump for a dozen tobacco-hash mixed cigarettes.
Glumly, I put the cigarette pack in my bag.
As I did so, Ramsan produced two cigarettes from his pocket. "This," he declared, "is my share, ok!"
How to make a joint Indian style
I had this demonstrated to me several times.
Indian hash isn't processed into dry green and brown leaves like the tobacco leaves you get in cigarettes. (Most times you get processed leaves in Malaysia.) Rather, it comes in a lump of soft and moist dark brown mush.
1) First you take a tiny lump, say, about a centimetre is diameter and roll it around in your fingers to give it consistency.
2) Then you stick it onto the fission-end of a match stick.
3) Take another match stick and lightly-burn the lump of hash all over. This will dry it.
4) When the match stick burns itself out, blow out the burning lump of hash.
5) Take the now blackened lump of hash off the match stick and push it into the palm of your hand with the thumb of your other hand. It will break up into pieces.
6) Tap out the tobacco leaves from a cheap Gold Flake ("It's Honeydew Smooth") cigarette onto your palm and mix the hash together for several minutes with your thumb.
7) Scoop up the mixed hash and tobacco with an empty cigarette stick. Tap the stick after every scoop to fill loose spaces inside the stick.
8) When the stick is about one centimetre from being filled, neatly fold the end of the cigerette stick to hold the hash and tobacco in.
9) If there is sufficient hash and tobacco left in your palm, fill another cigarette. Otherwise rub the fine remains onto the leg of your trouser.
Sleaze day with Saleem
By 2pm yesterday, there were three guys in a yellow-roofed Padmini taxi leaving Juhu beach with hash smoke billowing out of the windows like an angry Donald Duck.
I met with Ramsan that morning after checking out of Cowie's Hotel to take me to see Bollywood. Granted that I didn't know anything about Indian cinema let alone Indian movie stars, I thought it would be a shame to come all the way to Mumbai and not take a few snaps.
"I have a friend who can let us into the film studios," said Ramsan. "He works in Bollywood."
That friend was Saleem, a 40-year old balding man with big eyes who kept the back of his hair long. "I work in event management," Saleem explained. When we have movie shows I manage events around them." When I inquired about what kind of events, Saleem shrugged, "You know, events."
Saleem was the kind of person who would take you to lunch and 'allow' you to pay for it. Which is exactly what he did later that afternoon. "You know this place takes Mastercard and Visa," was his way of broaching the subject. I was absolutely amused and I played along, "Let me take care of this." The bill didn't come up to an extreme amount, just 371 rupees.
Saleem took his seat in the front of the taxi and we were off. Amid the small talk that we made, was very inquisitive about the Indian movie market in Malaysia. We get a lot of Indian movies on TV, I said. But there isn't a very large market on account that there isn't a very large population of Tamil and Hindu speakers. Would there be any possibility of organising an event in Malaysia, Saleem inquired further. Possibly, I replied. "Good. We must make some money." He had a way of saying money like it was the tender of heaven.
First we made a short stop outside what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse while Saleem walked some way away to have a conversation with a man squatting under a roadside billboard.
"What's going on?" I asked Ramsan. "Nothing," he replied at first. And when I pressed him, Ramsan said, "He's buying hashish."
"I hope we're not going to get into trouble for this," I said while secretly hoping Saleem had plans to share it.
He did. We smoked it out of a short black stone pipe Ramsan kept in the taxi, using a white strip of cloth as a filter. It was very strong and the light buzz lasted a very long time.
"My friend you are now in Bollywood," said Saleem after a while. He started pointing out the homes of several movie stars and producers and directors. The scene had completely changed.
This was the rich part of Mumbai where taller apartments in bright pinks and blues are stationed on the edge of the magnificently-wide and long Juhu beach. Double-storey semi-detached houses with opulent Roman-columned patios. Guards dressed in black security uniforms sit outside 12-feet high gates. Luxury cafes with glass-fronts and names like Barista are commonplace along with finely-dressed patrons in silk and ties. I didn't see any huge bungalows or mansions with grand gardens. But those would probably be hidden somewhere much deeper inside.
Next to an open field where workers were taking down decorations from a wedding the previous night, we stopped the taxi. All around were guarded luxury apartments blocks. In front of them, Saleem walked into a shack with a roof that looked like it would cave in at any second.
Ramsan said it was the home of a famous film producer. That?! I thought. He doesn't like attention like other producers, Ramsan added. In Thailand, two months ago, I met a traveller who had come from India and described an incident where he was diverted by a corrupt taxi driver to a house where five men pressed him to take some diamonds back to the UK. This situation had a similar feel to it and I became very wary.
It turned out I didn't have much to worry about. This was after all Bollywood. The worst you have to manage is avoid the occasional slime trail.
Saleem came out and motioned us in. We walked into a tiny six-foot by eight-foot patio that had been converted into an office. On the back wall were hung several pictures of movie stars and two tarnished Silver Jubilees (Indian Oscars) and a Golden Jubilee. They belonged to someone named Gupta. We sat on a row of seats with drawers that were labelled in huge conspicuous letters as if someone had serious myopia: "Art, "Film", "Stars" and "Models".
After a while a big clean-shaven man with black rimmed glasses and a blue shirt squeezed in through a tiny side door and sat behind the desk in front of the awards. He had big hands and a firm handshake, Saleem introduced him as Andy. ("If you want to, you can take pictures with him." Andy offered his card. His last name was not Gupta. It was Aanand Balraj.
"Tim is from Malaysia and works for Ogilvy and Mather," Saleem began excitedly. Uh-oh. That was a topic that came up in our small talk earlier. Ogilvy is a huge and famous advertising agency in Mumbai as well as in Malaysia. I could hear the ka-ching ka-ching coming from Andy.
To be honest I can't remember much about the conversation. It was sparring between myself and Andy with him insisting on my assistance in getting sponsors for bringing Indian film stars to Malaysia for events. And my insistance that I had no such contacts or such clients. Most of my clients are large American corporations such as Glaxo Smith Kline and Mattel. And besides there isn't that large a market for it. Andy based his argument on Malaysian Muslim women going ga-ga over Indian Muslim film stars. I based mine on ignorance.
Finally, Andy let me go and he left me with some common-sense advice. "Sometimes the people you do business with talk big but have no money."
"It's the same all over the world," I replied.
Saleem and Andy had a big laugh over that as I left.
After I complained of a running nose to Ramsan, my guide, he took me straight to a roadside pharmacist where he procurred two yellow coldrin
tablets for 3 rupees. I traded him a Malaysian Marlboro cigarette for them.
Then he took me to a place where they had "special tea" which he informs me is the only hotel in Mumbai where they make it.
That place wasn't a hotel but a street-side cafe called Jabbarri Restaurant. There, they touted a cup of masala tea for 4 rupees.
I took a sip and it burned like whiskey if they could make it thousand-proof.
What's inside, I choked.
"Spices", Ramsan said. "Chilli peppers, black peppers. Spices."
Walking in the footsteps of a king
I visited the Gateway to India
on Monday afternoon.
The monument is a huge gateway designed with Muslim iconography by the British architect George Wittet in 1911 and opened by the Viceroy of British India in 1924. It commemorates the first visit to India by the reigning monarch of the British Empire -- King George V.
I tried to imagine the way India was when King George V took a launch to the harbour steps. Stepping on the bright newly-laid foundation stones on a blue autumn's day. Trumpets and drums by the army band heralding his arrival.
Rows and rows of Royal Indian guardsmen in full plume and Royal Indian cavalry on the bigger African breed of elephants lining the path to the official residence in the Taj Mahal hotel a few hundred feet away. The governor of India ushering him toward the viceroy in full white military regalia proceeding to inspect the Royal guard.
I walked on those very steps -- with great purpose as might the king have -- now crowded with Indian tourists and postcard salesmen.
Toured Mumbai with Ramsan
I decided to hire Ramsan and his cab for the day yesterday. I wasn't feeling too well. The day I left Kuala Lumpur, I had a fever and now I've got a running nose.
1) to the Muslim-sector street market where Abdul, his father-in-law ran a highly-sanitary butcher stall where the local cats and dogs picked off bits of meat from the chunks thrown onto the dirt ground by Abdul and his assistants after chopping them up.
2) to the Kamala Nehru Park, overlooking the Arabian Sea bay and Chowpatti Beach. What a wonderful view of the smog.
3) past the Towers of Silence which the Pashri people of Mumbai still use to hold funerals. They toss the bodies into a pit and leave them for the crows. No wonder Kamala Nehru park was filled with crows instead of pigeons.
4) to a bridge over-looking Dhoby Ghat, where all the washing of the city gets done using the traditional method of flinging the clothes against stones to fling out the dirt and dry it at the same time. (I recall a similarly-named place in Singapore, near the Little India district.)
5) later, I met Abdul again at the Bombay Racecourse where the Bertolli Cup was being held. He was there with Joshua Ismail, his Jewish best friend. "Anything can happen in India," said Ramsan when I inquired about the relationship between Abdul and Joshua. "No, no," he replied when I inquired about the relationship between Indians and Pakistanis.
6) to the Prince of Wales museum, a really good cultural and historical museum summarising the period of the Mughal empire and the arrival of the Chinese and Tibetan cultures through artifacts, paintings and statues dug up from Rajasthan.
7) to several gift shops which I was obligated to go into because they pay Ramsan in shirts for each tourist he brings. I bought two small pieces of silver bracelets and a parchment with a vegetable-ink painting of Shah Jahan and his harem - similar to the ones I saw at the Prince of Wales Museum. The shop-keeper insisted the painting was a genuine antique done in Shah Jahan's time but couldn't tell me who the artist was. It's probably a recent painting done on old paper. In any case, the paper alone was well worth the price I paid for it.
On Tuesday, before I take the night bus to Indore, Ramsan has promised to show me around Bollywood - a tour of star residences and inside the film studios.
14 things I notice about Mumbai
1) If you stand in one spot long enough, you'll also be surrounded by more than enough people begging for money.
2) People drive really crazy. And that's not just the taxi drivers.
3) There isn't a single car on the road that doesn't have a dent on it somewhere.
4) Nobody washes their car (not even the BMW-owners).
5) Mumbai is covered with such a thick smog of exhaust fumes and dust that everything gets coated within a few hours anyway.
6) The stick-men on the no-littering, no-spitting and no-urinating-on-the-walls warning signs all look like Elvis with the long side-burns.
7) People urinating on walls is a major problem in Mumbai.
8) Everybody says 'thank you' after you take their photo.
9) In a town where half the population lives below the poverty line, there is no sense of irony in one electronics shop labelling a Compaq iPaq as "Only Rs 19,900" on a 20-foot cloth banner.
10) Mumbai has two huge beautiful beaches that everyone goes to.
11) Nobody ever swims in them. The water is full of contaminants.
12) The entire city is filled with billboards touting all kinds of branded goods from designer suits to GPRS mobile phones.
13) Nobody sports a designer label. Not even a Nike t-shirt.
14) There is no Burger King, Pizza Hut or McDonalds anywhere in the city.
Ticket to Indore
I got my ticket to Indore after:
a) an agent at Victoria Terminus told me that there were no more tickets to Indore.
b) another told me that there were no trains to Indore and that the nearest train station was at Khadwa, a town 80km to the south of Indore.
c) a third told me there were no more tickets ot Khadwas because it was "wedding season"
d) a fourth told me there were bus tickets to Indore.
So I am now the proud holder of an over-night sleeper coach ticket to Indore for a wonderful 14 hour trip which my Lonely Planet map indicates is less than 500 kilometres long. Happiness.
Yolanda and Ramsan
Yesterday, I met a blonde Italian woman called Yolanda who had emigrated to England years ago. She spoke English with a slight Italian accent. I couldn't tell what colour her eyes were because she wore fly-eyed Jacklyn Kennedy sunglasses. She also had on a black fabric necklace filled with crystals that kept "the glands at the back of the neck" cool. "A friend of mine makes these," she said. "I imported 500 hoping to sell them. But I haven't done anything yet."
I bumped into her while I was trying to get information about Mumbai at the Government of India Tourism office. Unfortunately, it was closed, and nobody around seemed to know why.
Ramsan, a taxi driver who ingratiated himself as her guide for the afternoon, advised her to go straight to the Victoria Terminus train station. She wanted to get a train ticket to Calcutta for that night, and since I also needed a ticket to Mandu, she invited me to come along.
I was to find out that she already had a train ticket to Calcutta, but Ramsan had noticed that there were discrepancies in the details. For instance, the distance the ticket allowed for travel was 400 kilometres and Calcutta was at least twice that from Mumbai.
That was just the start.
She had received the ticket from a travel agent that her hotel had recommended to her.
At Victoria Terminus she found out that the ticket she got was only worth 178 rupees whereas the travel agent had told her it was 450 rupees.
Fortunately, her story ended happily and she managed to get her ticket. And Ramsan saw her all the way to her seat on the train.
But I get the feeling that this is only the first of lessons I am about to experience about how the truth in India "depends".
1am Saturday - Cowies Hotel
I booked the hotel through the free accommodation booking service at the airport. I told Anil, the agent, that I wanted a cheap hotel. He offered a choice of three for the price of 1,000 rupees (about USD$20) per night, sight unseen. I picked the first one on the list.
Sunil, an Indian who works in Kuala Lumpur and who sat next to me on the flight to Mumbai, warned me that cheap hotels in Mumbai were awful places. Cowies Hotel wasn't so bad.
My room is on the fourth floor, a windowless cell with CNN featuring Larry King Live interviewing Heidi Fleiss, the 30 year old Beverly Hills madam. The graveyard-shift bellhop took me to my room via an old fence-door elevator -- the kind you always see in art movies. The flush doesn't work. The mattress is hard. And there was unidentifiable hair between the covers.
That's ok, I remember thinking. At least there were no cockroaches.
The first thing I have to get tomorrow is a 3-pin adaptor for my iBook and a street directory. As well as a train ticket to Mandu and Indore.
12am Saturday - The Bombay Taxi
I arrive in Mumbai International Airport at 10.40pm local time to a cool 20-degree Celsius night. The weather of a south England summer.
All along the way from Mumbai International, I hoped the hotel that I booked through the agent at the airport wasn't going to be near some main road.
Roads in Mumbai are an orchestra of a thousand-member horn section, each wanting to be lead horn. Taxis are built with the horn button next to the rim of the steering wheel. (And there are thousands of them on the road, even at midnight.) My taxi driver played his vehicle like cannon-fire in a German opera.
It took about 40 minutes and one stop to ask for directions to get from the airport in the far north to my hotel in the Colaba district near the south-side wharf. The ride was bumpy and cramped. The locally-built taxis are half the size of a regular car. They're motorcycles on four wheels.
Along the way, a smell that reminded me of salted fish brought me back to the sea. We drove past shanty towns of corrugated metal-sheeted roofs which had above them billboards brandishing financial advice from the Mutual Fund of India. Huge black oxen fed themselves out of dumpsters. A bus-stand light billboard with a gorgeous girl with long blown hair and bright brown eyes suggested that Colgate makes her a smile.
When we got to the hotel, the taxi driver stood around for a tip and when I gave him 10 rupees, he mumbled something inaudible. I must ask the hotel manager what's the tipping policy in Mumbai.
8.30pm Onboard MH194, still parked
The captain's voice comes over the intercom to explain the 20 minute delay. They're removing the baggage of a "no-show" passenger. Apparently someone checked in their luggage into the cargo hold of the flight and DIDN'T BOARD. Eerie.
7.25pm Friday Kuala Lumpur International Airport
The sky is the shade of a bruise. Appropriately enough. There were several accidents on the way here.
Somewhere near the Sungei Besi highway tollbooth, Shan, a friend of mine who was taking me to the airport tried a technique to cut through the 5pm weekend traffic congestion called "ambulance-chasing". If an ambulance passes you, which one did, you duck into its slipstream as all the other vehicles ahead give way, forming a clean clear path for it. And you.
A Johor state-license lime Kembara van tried the same technique and rammed into our right door as we passed by, scraping the paint and taking off part of the rear right fender.
Still shaken by the accident, Shan missed the turn off to KLIA. And we tried another technique called "reversing against on-coming highway traffic" to get back to the exit.
I managed to get to KLIA at 6.10pm, just making the minimum 2-hour check-in time for my 8.10pm flight on MH194 to Mumbai.
I'm still waiting for the third misfortune to occur (misfortunes come in threes, don't they?). If my luck holds, the flight will have a Pakistani suicide bomber on it.
A new habit
I have decided to take up a smoking habit.
Actually, it's more like walking-around-with-a-pack-and-a-lighter habit.
Thanks to building safety regulations and office policy on smoking on premises, smokers in the office have to seek out small isolated corners of the building for a fag.
To me, that's the perfect excuse to find a little peace and quiet for a short while. Time alone to think out problems and consider solutions is a premium in the office.
I don't really have to inhale, I just have to put a cigarette in my mouth and light it for show.
Besides, smokers have the best gossip. Just like out of the Series Two episode of Friends in which Rachel finds that her boss and a colleage make a lot of decisions while smoking on the office balcony, I find a lot of informal meetings get held in the smoking room.
The office smokers have become so tuned into each other that their tobacco cravings tend to hit at the same time. It isn't unusual to find five or six of them talking shop while puffing away.
Marlboro should start a new modernised ad campaign. Smoke: It Does Your Career Good.
Thoughts before I fly to Bombay
On ICQ today, Saurahb was very concerned that I had once again changed my plans. I had told him a few weeks earlier that:
a) I was going to stay several weeks. Now that I will still be earning a salary for the next 6 weeks, I won't be able to stay away from Malaysia for long. Just for the 10 day Chinese New Year break.
b) I was going to Johdpur and the desert outside Jaisalmer. Johdpur is fairly far from landing point of Bombay. I had a flight booked for Bombay to Johdpur, but domestic air fares are horribly expensive in India and it was going to cost me almost the same price of a ticket from Malaysia to Bombay. So I changed my mind. If I had carried onto Johdpur on land, I reckon I would have wasted about half a day on the trip there by train and then half again back.
Now I'm just going around Bombay and the hills of Mandu. The furthest point I'll go is Indore to visit Saurahb. I'd rather spend more time sight-seeing than sitting in a train.
Frankly it doesn't really matter where I go in India. The fact that I will be in a country so culturally and socially exotic is wondrous enough that I don't have to purposefully seek out specific wonders like the Taj Mahal.
I think he was more worried that I was going headlong without guidance and kept insisting that I get a Lonely Planet guide. Actually I do have the North India edition of Lonely Planet as well as the Discovery.com Insightful Guide edition on India.
I'll be fine. I do know what I'll be doing. I just haven't planned it to the minute. The only thing I can truly say for sure is: I'll know more when I get there. And that's good enough for me.
Besides, what's the point of visiting an exotic country if not for a little adventure too? :-)
"Why don't you take this job and shovel it!"
Whew! I had the evaluation session today with my boss and he fired me! Yee ha! That was a sigh of relief. It's the waiting that's unbearable.
I was also feeling extremely guilty for not performing up to expectation (as I noted in an earlier entry
) and for making too much money. But I wasn't about to leave because, well, I was making too much money. ;-)
According to my probation contract, he could have fired me in 24 hours. But he is allowing me to carry on till the end of March at a much lower salary. That was fair and decent I thought. And also very trusting. ;-)
That's fine by me. I need as much money as I can get so I can stop working and not have to hunt for work for a while.
But I am not allowed to see what was written on my evaluation sheet by him or my supervisor. That's ok. It's probably what I think it says: not working up to expectation. If it's something nastier, I don't want to see it. I feel good about going and I don't want anything to bring my mood down. Besides, the advertising industry is too small to start holding grudges.
Bad news is: I'll have to come back to work on the 19th of February. So I won't be able to stay long in India. Rats! But it's still Bombay and Bollywood for a few days, then Indore (to see Saurahb) and then the hills of Mandu. That's plenty already!(BTW, the quote in the entry title is a Sandra Bullock line from the movie Demolition Man.)
Consumer e-commerce doesn't make sense in Asia
One of the things I miss about living in Europe is the ability to purchase goods off the internet at a cheap price and without worry. There are two things stopping me:
a) Not cost-effective to buy from US and Europe
Virtually all the products on the internet are sent from Europe and the US. Although many of the goods desired by me (like Mac software and hardware) are cheap even by Asian standards, once the hefty US-to-Asia and Europe-to-Asia courier costs are tacked on, they don't look attractive any more.
b) Regular mail isn't trustworthy
Although Malaysian post is cheap, parcels get lost a lot of the time. Not from incompetence but often enough from theft.
Right now consumer e-commerce in Asia is barely growing. It's being held back by the awful mail system. Before it can succeed, there must be consumer trust in the mail.
What the mail needs is an overhaul. To start with, they have to start paying the mail sorters decent wages, instead of slave wages, to minimise the temptation to steal or to do a half-assed job.
Welcome to all my visitors from American Dialect
-- the academic society that's "dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it."
The Mandarin vs Cantonese entry is two entries below. Sorry to disappoint you, but it's anecdotal rather than an academic discourse.
Spent most of this morning at the Indian High Commission.
The Kuala Lumpur branch is a squat white-painted building in art-deco style with a flat roof. Inside, the marble floor is greyed with scratches looking worse under the government-office-white fluorescent lights.
The public area isn't very large. It's shared by plenty of plastic seats, a Milo drinks dispenser, a table for form-filling and a TV tuned to an Indian satellite news channel. I watch it for a little while to glean the latest cricket scores, except it's all in Tamil.
Despite the fact that there weren't many people in the High Comm, the wait to get my visa application approved took an hour. The payment of the USD$40 for application processing took another hour.
Apparently, like many government offices, the Indian High Commission accommodates agents -- a curious profession of people who are paid to submit application forms for a small fee.
Operating freelance for several travel agencies, they gather the relevant documents and payments from the agencies' customers then wait in line, armed with 20-30 visa applications, and collect the visas the following day. It's a profitable, easy and highly competitive line of work, taking just a couple of hours to earn about RM5 for each application. And there were several agents ahead of me.
I should have used an agent. It would have saved me the effort of applying and collecting the visa myself, except that time was short. I'd have had to make two trips to my travel agency on the other side of town and it really wasn't worth the trouble.
Mandarin vs Cantonese
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect that's preferred by the Chinese of Kuala Lumpur. I can't speak Cantonese, mainly because I'm not from Kuala Lumpur.
Chinese taxi drivers tend to speak to me in Cantonese and I can't understand much of what they say. So they ask me in Cantonese, "Are you Chinese?".
I normally say I'm from Japan to avoid the usual conversation that follows. A 'Yes' response leads to: "So how come you don't speak Chinese?" which is followed by the offensive "Chinese should speak Chinese!" which is really as arrogant and secularist as it sounds.
Actually I do speak Chinese. A smattering of the Mandarin dialect, thanks to some education I retained from schooling in Singapore.
Today, I had a Chinese taxi driver start the same conversation again. But this time I was armed with a solution. Before I tell you what it is, you need to understand a bit about the relationship between Mandarin and Cantonese. I'm no expert at linguistics, social studies or history, but I'll try to explain it in my own words.
Mandarin and Cantonese are just two of the dialects that the Chinese speak. There is actually no unified Chinese language per se. There are in fact hundreds of dialects, linked very strongly to towns and provinces in China. You could identify where a person was from by the dialect they spoke or by their accent.
Mandarin was originally spoken only by the Mandarins of the Mandarin province in northern China. Cantonese was spoken only by the Cantonese of Canton province in southern China. Mandarins turned out to be very influential people, kind of like the Chinese version of the Rockefellers. So those who spoke Mandarin were usually of a higher status or were employed by or related to them in some way.
(Am I boring you yet?)
Because of its historical preference by upper-class Chinese, it is still perceived that Mandarin is a higher-class of language compared to the more provincial Cantonese.
It was only today that I had this epiphany.
So I derived absolute satisfaction from seeing the taxi driver's face drop when I replied in Mandarin, "Ni xuo she-me? Ni keyi chiang huayu ma?" Translated: "What did you say? Can YOU speak Mandarin?"
Faced with a Mandarin speaker, he suddenly found his offensive stance turn into a defensive one.
I had a nice quiet ride after that.
Visa and passport
The Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur refused my visa application because my passport expires in July. They issue 6-month visas and they felt my passport expiration cut too fine a line.
Luckily getting a new passport is much faster in Malaysia than it used to be. Now it takes just three days instead of the two weeks it once did. However, it costs about USD$80. A new passport will last me five years.
I collect the new one on Monday then I go straight to the High Commission again to drop my application form and the USD$40 visa processing fee. Applications for Indian visas before 12pm, if successful, can be collected the following day at 5pm. If all goes well, I should have a visa to India by Tuesday 5pm or at the latest by Wednesday 5pm if I can't make the 12pm deadline.
My flight leaves at 8.10pm local time on Friday and I should be in Bombay by 10.50pm Bombay local time. After which, begins the hunt for accommodation.
Welcome to the Tim Yang school of Irresponsible Travelling.
Ooh ooh, I gotta get one of these!
The ultimate GPS device
Teenager gets nervous disorder from playing PS
A 15-year old British boy has been for the last two years exhibiting symptoms typical of the hand-arm vibration syndrome
seen in industrial settings when people repeatedly use tools such as chain saws and pneumatic drills.
It was allegedly caused by excessive playing with vibrating modules on Playstation.
Health officials are insisting that Sony put warning labels on their game machines which vibrate.
I've used those vibrating modules before. They barely vibrate and only during, say, crashes during racing games or getting hit during fighting games. Those situations don't happen that often because you quickly become an expert at the games, especially after the 7 hours a day the boy had supposedly put into it.
Methinks the 15-year old has found another kind of vibrating habit. Ahem.
I can't help myself
KFC has a way of advertising that's completely irresistible. At least to me.
Every restaurant pumps out the air released from its steam ovens into its vicinity. You could say it's air-pollution. But not after you catch a whiff of the aroma of crisp cooked chicken and all the herbs and spices.
I usually find myself desiring some KFC, especially when I'm hungry, if I were to pass by a KFC restaurant. I'd go in, order a 3-piece plate of breasts and drumstick. I'd sit down then realise that I hate KFC and lose my appetite. (I worked on the KFC account for a short period of time at a previous advertising agency.)
It's a combination of consumerism and old fashioned stupidity. But hey, that's me. I indulge my whims without considering the repercussions when instead I should be doing the wise thing and submit to a cooling off period to let the whims ride off into the sunset.
I do this constantly and I never learn. Take for example this latest incident.
Recently, I got the idea to shoot my own TV commercials instead of having to deal with film directors, photographers and art directors just to get the commercials shot. So I went straight out and bought iMovie 2: The missing manual
. I figured it would be liberating not to have to attend endless pre-production meetings with the film crew, then having them change your original concept to meet their artistic and production-speciality needs.
(Not that I dislike any of the personalities I've worked with. But insecure person that I am, I prefer to have a bit more control over how my ideas are executed.)
Besides, I've also got my own editing suite with the iMovie
software pre-installed in my iBook.
Then I remembered: I don't have a DV camcorder which costs about USD$650 in Malaysia.
The book is now gathering dust in my library of thousands of Books-I-Bought-On-A-Lark.
I often work under the assumption that asking for help is like breaking the 11th Commandment.
"Thou shalt not admit defeat."
It's a false assumption of course. But it's a behaviour ingrained from youth and extremely difficult to break. So although I'm facing a great deal of difficulty and uncertainty at work (even during these last days at the office), I am very reluctant to ask for help or for clarification.
Recently a lot of my work has been rejected internally (within the hierarchy of the company) to the point that I'm starting to think it's personal, but I'm reluctant to bring up that subject.
Even if it isn't, it's wearing me down and destroying any kind of morale. Although that might sound like a legitimate reason for complaint, I'm also reluctant to do so on the grounds that I'll be labelled a defeatist, incompetent, or worse, a whiner.
Or maybe it's situations like this, when my feelings are confusing my agenda, that's making things difficult. Then I create situations (like keeping my distance) that help me avoid dealing with it.
(That kind of makes sense. But now what do I do?)