Khakra

Monday, June 10, 2013

Time to step back from the Internet PRISM

There's something nasty at work with U.S.'s PRISM program, which creates a snapshot -- or "file" if you will -- by tracking the Internet activity of people on main Internet sites. Think Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, all rolled into one giant profile about you.

This comes at a time when the U.S. does not need bad PR as it rights relationships with countries worldwide. I'm sure they are monitoring this blog entry as well, but hopefully it'll track back to my fellow writer, Venus, who owns this blog. I'm a pretty innocent dude, you know, nice guy and all.

Being a journalist, I can't opine on the topic. But I always felt some big brother activity happening somewhere, so PRISM is barely a surprise. So what now?

Step back from the Internet. Get back to the good old ways. Read books, send snail mail. Meet people, drink pints in a bar, just make sure to check for hidden cameras or microphones on a table. Or try trickery -- write about earthquakes and global warming on Facebook, and the U.S. government will accuse you of pissing off Mother Nature.

I haven't posted much on Facebook anyways, less now. It may become a barren wasteland, like a derelict high-school hang-out with some old memories stuck to it. I'll post pictures to keep the U.S. government busy. On Gmail I'll invite more spam to throw off the info-collecting spies. And the U.S. government is stupid if they are mining Myspace.

But the U.S. already has competition. My grumpy neighbor, an old lady who is a life-long New Yorker, knows more about me (she listens to my phone conversations through a thin wall.) I'm sure she'll rat out my ex-girlfriends, breakups, fight with parents, man love for kabaddi and other dirty little secrets to the US watchmen.

But there's more to PRISM than Google search, Facebook or Gmail. Firefox, IE or Chrome browsers are collecting info and sending it somewhere. Programs like PRISM are not going away, so you either live with it, or not.

Happy surfing, and remember, someone already knows you. So stop being a hermit holed up in a cave near Mansarovar searching for world peace.

Cross posted on Thine Explorer

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Martial art superstitions

As an international news reporter, I have an opportunity to see and experience many cultures and traditions. Some factoids -- like the Dan Brown-ish ones -- have baffled, but are fascinating nonetheless.

Superstitions tell you a lot about a culture's belief systems and traditions. One blogger has set up a website investigation superstitions worldwide unfortunately she's left out Antarctica!).

There are already some interesting entries in there. I gave it a whirl and left a long entry, focusing on martial arts. I've been practicing martial arts -- Taekwondo mainly, and Kendo in the past -- and investigating the topic as a journalist for close to a decade. (Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3, Entry 4)

So here goes. Please be aware that this all comes from hearsay and observations. Superstitions are an inexact science. There's a lot of rivalry between martial artists from different styles, but this covers an entire range.

1) Some never wash their martial arts belt for fear of losing the knowledge they have already gained.

2) Tang Soo Do has a "midnight blue" belt instead of your traditional black belt as the color black is considered bad luck. South Korea also has a Black Day, which is a sort of anti-Valentine's Day where individuals come together and celebrate being single.

3) Many martial arts forms are tied to tradition, which are heavily tied to belief or superstition. Really depends on how you view it. Specific Capoeira moves in modern times still reflect as a dance form in how slaves protected themselves in the past.

4) Similarlty, Kung Fu forms inspired by animals and other objects have heavy ties to Asian beliefs on protection, wealth, long life and good health.

5) During bouts, Muay Thai fighters have good luck charms in the  form of amulets or bracelets.

6) Ninjutsu itself was built heavily on superstition tied to superhuman feats and paranormal activity. The ghost-like images of ninjutsu were in fact devised to protect them from the Samurai. Those thoughts carry on again, but Samurai ain't hanging out in Starbucks or pubs anymore.

7) Like so many martial artists, some of my friends in Taekwondo believe their belts are good luck charms. Or they believe specific uniforms or color combinations are good luck charms during tournaments.

8) This one's hard to explain: Some martial artists believe they can air-fight or defeat opponents without touching anyone. It's through what they call "chi" or "qi", or flow of energy (also claimed to be used for healing). Highly creative stuff, and it seems like a superstition that works for those who believe in it. The central topic of chi or qi is tied to many superstitions in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures.

9) Lots of Wizard of Oz-ish sorcery and black magic are central to many martial arts.

All said, there's a fine line between the beliefs and traditions in martial arts, and what may be considered superstition. I believe martial artists are only as good as the amount of work that is put in.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Wordsmith-ing again, oh dear

Writing daily news has smoked my creativity. The urge to filter that artistry is back, and I'm also blogging for Venus' Thine Explorer blog. Check out my entry on Exploring Personalities, and be moved by the blog.

Hopefully, will be blogging for a while. For those wondering, I remain in New York City, reveling in a war-time apartment in midtown Manhattan. And yes, still a journalist.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Exploring personalities

Judging a person in only five seconds isn't necessarily bad. The concept is flawed if the premise is to hate or like a person, but otherwise it is a way to adapt, measure and interact in the right way. Spouting Star Wars jokes to a volleyball player won't make you exotic.

But it takes adaptation. People can be different -- could be a unique sense of humor, a bohemian lifestyle, anything. Sometimes society places limits and defines how characters are to be judged. I'd rather people liberate and open their minds, but it doesn't happen under every circumstance.

I find shy personalities fascinating. They are mysterious, and tough nuts to crack open -- they watch and measure the surroundings, occasionally expressing themselves through a smile or frown. It's highly rewarding interaction.

One of my friends is an escapist, she shuts down in groups, but is bubbly in one-on-one meetings. It didn't take long to figure out she was shy when I met her for the first time at a party.

So I started with a bang. I heard she had just moved to New York.

"So what's your story, in a New York minute?" I asked. Instinctual words, but bad start, knew it right away.

"What?" she asked, bewildered.

She didn't react well to straight up, semi-satirical questions. I had to calm the situation down, and do it quickly.

"I'd rather be at the beaches in Sri Lanka, but here I am too," I said.

One more weird face, but she seemed to figure out what I was about. She perhaps thought I was trying to impress her (which wasn't the case, I just wanted conversation). I had to calm down in any case.

"I've never been to Lanka," she said.

Time to change topic. She was looking pretty, wearing a blouse with a lehenga, and a bindi on her forehead. I didn't want to complement her looks, I never do, but I did roll out a factoid that I found interesting.

"Saw you walking two blocks wondering where you were headed, and here you are! I actually told my friend that women in bindis are hard to find walking on New York streets."

She immediately was at ease, rolling out a laugh.

"I heard the same thing when I went to salsa class yesterday," she said.

Multi-talented personality, I thought. She's raised some topics that we could talk about. The conversation went on, but I felt rewarded with the salsa nugget. She seemed to establish a small level of trust in me atleast.

She didn't ask too many questions, and I egged on. The next time we met for dinner a few weeks later, she was open, vibrant and admitted group meetings weren't for her. She also thought I was weird with the first few questions, but then I compensated well by calming down.

I gave her grief that she was judging me too quickly.

"I was not judging you, you created the situation for yourself," she said.

"I was fishing to see what type of conversation would work," I said, contesting her theory.

"So you were trying to judge me even before met?" she said.

Caught. Red-handed.

(Cross posted on Thine Explorer)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Winners and losers in debt-ceiling debacle

Newspapers are hee-hawing about everyone losing with debt-ceiling problems looming. Who said so? Conan the Barbarian or He-man the Stupid?

WINNERS:

Debt ceiling:
Aah, I *finally* know what it means.

Harry Potter: Cashed in before the debt ceiling fell.

Nuts: Glad the politicians joined their ilk. Also glad the politicians got kicked around.

Venezuela:
I guess America's problems benefit enemies?

Pubs: Halls were crowded with frustrated, angry people looking for a pint to sink the debt-ceiling pain.

Air conditioner: Remained cool and raised electricity bills without the ceiling crashing.

Chewbacca: Furball talked about debt-ceiling problem centuries ago, just no one understood him.

Tea Partiers: John McCain called them "hobbits," Tea Partiers revelled in joy of being compared to world's top fiction book(s)

NFL: Struck a deal with players without using the words "debt" and "ceiling."

Hawaii: Realized they had the option to join China as a state after breaking away from the US.

God: For once, not blamed for problems

LOSERS

Tea Party: America's biggest reformer turned second-worst enemy after Al-Qaeda

Texas: Found out Tea Partiers want to make them independent state, make George Dubya chief cowboy

Republicans: Wants to ban term Tea Party, because they are held in Russia

Joe Walsh
: No "compromise," Tea Party dumbass. OK with interest rate rise, loss of triple-A rating, his reelection loss

Fox News: After decades of bashing Democrats, suddenly had to choose between Republicans or Tea Partiers

Martial arts: Suddenly realizes that Tea Partiers were actually studying mouth boxing

CNN: Tired Anderson Cooper hates covering debt ceiling, realizes his white hair is growing grey

Nintendo: Glad many Tea Partiers will be voted out in next election, will buy Wii to pass time

Obama fan club: Tea Partiers want to prove Obama is an alien that beamed in debt ceiling from an outside galaxy

Planet of the Apes: Realized they have competition in Washington

Debt ceiling:
Finds out it has been banned from dictionaries by irate readers

Rap music: Cursing debt ceiling makes lyrics more intelligent

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The split second music mystery

Bollywood songs rarely play on Pandora, but when they do, I hear with plenty of interest. One such song "Yehi Meri Zindagi Hai" hit the waves that day. As is with me, I treat each song like a mystery movie, with suspense unwrapping to reveal a fine gift that jolts a pensive mind.

The song starts just like any Bollypop song, nice instrumentation with some great traditional Indian riffs. A female's vocals come on a few minutes later, and the lyrics indicated it could be filmed around a woman having a good time.

Then came the stunner: she sang "Yehi Meri Zindagi" with a classical Indian tone that slides for a second. It slowly got back to a pop mode just a second later. Clearly, this woman had trained in Indian classical music, she sang it like the great Indian classical singers. It bought a bit of a twist to the song, and a split second of listening joy. Rest of the song? Pop music, I'd say.

Bollywood music has come a long way. My parents think the old music was great, some misguidance came along in 80s and 90s when pop music from Europe and the U.S. invaded Bollywood songs. Then came AR Rahman, the experimentation, which raised the bar. And now we're hearing classical Indian making appearance in pop. Can't get any better, especially for a person who can't listen to classical Indian endlessly.

Happens so that singer is Aditi Singh Sharma. She's uneven at best during the song in switching between classical and pop, though she's kinda good lower tones at which Indian classical music becomes becomes such a joy. But she's young, and will learn. I'd like to hear her on an AR Rahman song.

And sorry for being away too long. Extended writer's block, perhaps. A bit of word shy, perhaps. It comes and goes.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

In New York

For the curious, I moved to New York last month (from San Francisco). I've been a bit more passive aggressive ever since, don't know why.

Perhaps it's the weather. Many questioned the timing of my move in February. I move, and down comes a record amount of snowfall for NYC in a month. Including the fourth worst storm since the 1860s.

Perhaps it's the people? I can't say, but I can get lunch here in 2 minutes. The lines run quicker, the people just push you out of the way. Find myself walking faster from anyone who looks in a hurry.

Perhaps it's the attitude. San Francisco was pretty laid back . I could maintain what felt like a anonymous and sedentary lifestyle though I ran, did martial arts, walked up hills. Here, it's all about avoiding getting spotted by a girl by Indian aunties roaming the streets.

Given, the speed's a bit surprising. But a glass of wine once in a while takes care of that.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Views of SF's skyline

A deep blue sky blessed San Francisco's beautiful sky today, where stunts were being performed by the Blue Angels, US Navy's flying stunt team. My cellphone camera missed the stunt jets, but I managed to snap some skyline views from my deck -- one of the small benefits of staying in a buildings full of freaks:



The skyline. Not clearly viewable, but the Bank of America building is in view. Panning left, this is what we get:

The dome in the middle is the church in Noe Valley. Does anyone know what it is called? It sits on a hill that blocks the view between the Fisherman's Wharf (aka Wharf) and the deck. If I panned the camera further left, I can view just a small frame of the top of the Golden Gate bridge, the most beautiful bridge on this planet.
I pan the camera 180 degrees, and this is the view I get:


The photo above points toward South of Market (SOMA) and Potrero Hill, and Bay Bridge. A cruise ship was in sight, but the camera couldn't grab it.
When the weather is good, it's a great view to get up to. What makes it better? Having hot chai in hand. I love that stuff!
But I certainly need to invest in a better digital camera....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Conspiracy theorists around the Mumbai blasts

Noises still come from the Mumbai blasts. The muted sounds barely envelope tragic events of that day. Some friends had a close call, locked up at home as the drama played out next door.

For some, it was too close. A couple my parents knew perished in the Taj, shot close to the lobby, and their two young children are now orphaned. I shudder thinking what life will be like for those kids.

There will never be closure for those kids, as they have to live with this tragedy for the rest of their life. But, hopefully, in time the case will be resolved and India will be better equipped to deal with attacks like these. A timeline has emerged and Indian authorities are solving the mystery.

Sure, the government will cover up some stuff to save their a**. But there are other crazies trying to make hay of it. Among them is a conspiracy theorist who wrote this article for Rediff.com on why US doesn't want India to get a hold of Dawood.

The author goes on with a windy (yawn) and disjointed explanation of how Dawood Ibrahim is a CIA asset, which is why the U.S. doesn't want him in Indian hands. The stories is so full of holes that it makes me cry.

The biggest hole: the author presumes Dawood is a U.S. friend. Sir, the U.S. Department of State has assigned him as a global terrorist. The U.S. is *looking for him*. The author talks about him as if he were some garden-variety criminal having a siesta in a park on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Organized crime conducted by guys like Ibrahim is merging with terrorism, and the U.S. government is fighting it, not supporting it. Ibrahim not being sought by the CIA would have been a great 1980s story, but it is irrelevant now. Ibrahim's story draws parallels with the arms dealer Viktor Bout, who arrested in Thailand and could be extradited to the U.S.

The article also shows how deluded the author is. He seems to belong to a group of people who believe 9/11 was Bush's fault. Well, if your view is tainted right from the get-go, cracks emerge in understanding government, the system and ultimately, the viewpoint.

So the author fancies himself an editor of a website journal that publishes stuff from the who's who of nightmare wannabe foreign journalists. Other raggedy scum articles he has written read like cinema verité.

He's not studied foreign policy academically, nor has he spent professional time in the field. Other than writing for no-name websites, his most legit qualification is receiving a thanks in a book as a research assistant.

It's totally ok for him to fulfill some kind of pipedream or midsummer revival. But it burns to see him feeding people the kind of crap that should be toilet-bound. Indians have lived through the tragedy, the guy's just cashing in by blowing more smoke.

Thanks, but no thanks. Indians don't need that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Punching foreign policy in the face

It's amazing how politicians come together at the Democratic National Convention for nothing but show. They hide their hatred for a few days, sing and dance together for a few days. Some even cry pointlessly on speeches, so taken they are by the moment.

From what I've heard, that is a giant change from decades ago, when these gatherings were the flashpoint where conflicts came to the forefront. The camaraderie this time was too ultrasweet, so fake. But it was fun to watch.

The coolest image was of a sardarji clapping his hand, singing "Born in the USA" with Melissa Etheridge and the crowd. Wearing an orange turban, the old papaji seemed out of place, looking left and right, hoping he wasn't spoiling the party. He seemingly had no choice but to join the die-hard crowd.

So this was a watershed event, yes. It's great we are witnessing progress in this country. I don't expect much change after the election, but that won't stop me from voting.

For the record, I'm undecided. Obama has lofty -- and somewhat flawed -- ambitions. He isn't on fair ground yet, and McCain doesn't sound like an independent anymore. A decision may come one day before election.

These scenes of celebration are a sharp contrast from Russia, where elections don't seem like watershed event. Yes, there is a level of distrust in elections that citizens don't want to force themselves into. But in some ways that could be changing.

It's tragic that people call up shows and say "the U.S. presidential candidate has to stand up against Russia for what's happening in Georgia." No offense, but those Americans seem ill-informed and would do well to return to college to study geopolitics. (The Georgia event is recycling what's been going in years.)

Candidates react, and say "we will fight Russia." That happened with brave John Kerry, who four years ago hinted at readily invading Russia to get rid of nuclear weapons. A new election, and it's happening all over again. Obama hints he will take action against Russia, but he doesn't mean it. You can't risk pissing off China and India by doing this.

So those kind of campaign threats have raised the heckles of Russians, who then resoundingly vote to keep Putin/his surrogates in office to ensurity security and peace of mind. Like every country, there are voters who really want change. Putin ensures those democratic parties are barred from entering for lack of funding/support, which makes the choice easy.

The rashness of American presidential wannabes to attack Russia creates a ripple effect. Eastern European countries are so tired, they don't trust the U.S. anymore to defend them. Russia's rival Poland doesn't at least. Russia can constantly holler threats, knowing the U.S. can't do anything to defend Poland.

Georgia is in a similar bind. Russia's been threatening it for years across the border, fermenting the independence ideology in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Despite calls for help, the U.S. is issuing token statements, saying Russia shouldn't be a bad boy.

Georgians are suffering, yes, but the U.S. can't do anything as 1) it doesn't want to mess with Russia and 2) Georgia has no significant sway in U.S. or world policy.

So American presidential wannabes need to be smarter and stop their pointless war calls with its Cold War enemy. Be discrete indeed. It has a ripple effect on the Russian election. It starts with well-informed citizens, and a lot of work is needed. You can't have people calling into news stations because Russia is pissing them off.

And McCain is pushing for Russia to be knocked out of G8 -- the Group of 8 influential countries -- he must be frickin kidding. Shed your thoughts, sure, but think before talking policy. His knowledge of world affairs is better than Obama's, and if he intends to do that, it's better done quietly.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russia and Georgia, again... yawn??

So there's this spike in people visiting my blog, specifically to entries on the Russia-Georgia war that I've been writing about for years. It's tragic: the most recent entry mentioned Russia gunning for parts of Georgia, and whaddyaknow, there they are: both countries fighting again.

Guess it's that news of Russia invading Georgia that has piqued people's interests. What surprises me is how US news channels treat this as a brand new development -- it's not.

TV coverage has the usual American razzle dazzle, what fun. Fox News seems to have sent some j-school kid to the Georgia border who manages to extract quotes from locals like "We love America" and "We want freedom."

Here are some talking points:

1) Russia has made incursions into Georgia in the past and the tensions have been high since the Soviet Union broke up, with things spiking in 1995. (Entry).

2) This is not the first time Russia has invaded Georgia. Russia has a constant presence in two Georgian areas: Abkhazia and Georgia. (Entry) It has made many, many incursions into South Ossetia, not just this one. This particular "invasion" is similar to ones in the past. It also has a number of "peacemakers" in the region. (hyuk, hyuk!)

3) Georgia has been protesting for years that Russia is meddling with its internal affairs. (Entry)

4) Georgians are treating people in South Ossetia, which Russia has "invaded," like trash. They want to be a part of Russia, but are being denied by Georgia. (Entry)

There's a North Ossetia too, and that is part of Russia. That is where the tragic Beslan hostage incident took place, where 300 people, including children, were gunned down by Chechen rebels. (Entry)

5) It is widely believed that Georgia prez Mikhail Saakashvili (aka Mikheil) doesn't care about the South Ossetian people -- he's using the war as a tool to boost Georgia's chances to join NATO. The war ending quick may not help Saakashvili. The implications are fair: there's no time to lose.

6) The U.S. doesn't want Georgia in NATO by account of both ongoing conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

7) I'm not pro-Russia! I'm mostly passive on this because the war has been on for so long. But this time, Saakashvili's taking a somewha cold-blooded approach in dealing with this. Feeling no pity for Georgia at this point, though I always do in a way.

So that's the basic primer. Don't be too excited -- this will die down, and it'll come back again. It's like a gift that keeps giving. The tension has always been high and Russia and Georgia excitable enough to jump at each other at a minor provocation.

But it's good to see word of the long war reach out to the people, finally.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Few islands building thousands of bridges

Just a few islands can build bridges that last forever, as proven by China and Russia today. Even islands that turn into the icy tundra for a larger part of the year.

Both are set to sign an agreement to resolve ownership of a few hundred islands on rivers shared by both countries. That should restore broken bonds after decades of disputes involving the islands, which seem typically pointless.

The rivers flow between the frozen tundra of Northeastern China and Siberia, and have been the main source of a rift between the two countries. They've even had a war over the dispute.

Basic details in the article are correct, but some historical data seems inaccurate. It implies Russia holds most of the islands -- incorrect -- many islands were handed over to China after the Soviet Union collapsed.

This seals one of the few serious issues of contention, freeing them to gang up against the US. Russia is apparently handing over some islands out of "goodwill," according to the article. If that is true, Russia will supply plenty of oil along with it. That should supplement China's growing world standing in the energy space.

By no means does this indicate that the two are now buddies however. When I saw the news first, I'm like: "this can't be real!"

Both have demonstrated expansionist ideologies; that won't change. China's squabbling with India for Arunachal and parts of Kashmir. Oh, don't forget Taiwan. Russia is gunning for parts of Georgia and if a grim situation hits the overexposed Eastern Europe, Russia will jump at any chance to gain ground. But then every country is like that.

So what should we expect through this warming of ties? For starters, the trade routes along the Sea of Japan will be freed. Russia will be able to supply oil and weapons to India more freely, with lesser Chinese supervision. China may get better access to Russian oil resources along the sea. It will also get better access to Mongolia, which holds a mostly pro-Russia stance.

When the rivers are operational, trade routes between Russia and China are now freed as well. That should boost trade between Siberia and the Chinese region of Heilongjiang.

Moreover, both countries can now peacefully negotiate a policy to subvert a somewhat confused U.S. foreign policy, which is focused on the Middle East. Don't forget that there are other places where oil exists, not just the Middle East! India gets a lot of its oil from Russia. Time for the U.S. to add another oil front to its foreign policy.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

For the fearless

Take on the fear
You can't ignore
Make it a friend
Open a new door

Your will to live
is stronger than before
So melt those tears
You had in store

Your courageous soul
Is not alone
So write a new song
Set a new tone.

For mom.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How not to write

What happens when a writer's on crack and goes overboard to write a bloated article that means zippo? You get these types of articles, like the film review of "Sarkar Raj" written by a bloke who thinks he's the illegitimate, "Machiavellan" grandchild of Shakespeare.

I've been a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan since his Sholay days, but the author is the real star of this article. So tragic, yet so funny, I couldn't help but rip this article. Here were my thoughts as I read it. Enjoy.

--

-> Dark, sinister, sinewy and rugged - “Sarkar Raj” is Shakespeare on cocaine. Or the lacerated life of a Thackeray-like family with the concept of spatial harmony becoming meaningless because of the disembodied camera movements.

Incorrect usage of lacerated as a verb. It reflects as a noun. Poorly conjugated. And hello, writer, this is you on cocaine, not Shakespeare. The Shakespearean sentence means crap, cut.

Ram Gopal Varma just doesn’t let the characters be. In “Sarkar”, he observed, studied and pondered on the compelling contexts of political powerplay in the Nagare family.

Studied is an adjective, and if it was meant to be a verb, too many overlapping verbs. Also, illegal construction, contexts is not a legit plural. Reconstruct the sentence. Combine observed, studied and pondered to one verb.

Here he drags the uneasy relationship between patriarch Subhash Nagare (Amitabh Bachchan) and his son (Abhishek) into an arena of exacerbated emotions.

Sentence is in present tense, exacerbated is in past tense. The past participle makes the "emotions" verb irregular. Emotions could read emotion. Look at it closely, the complete sentence means garbage. Cut.

Amar Mohile’s background score doesn’t help the cause. Every discernible space in the soundtrack is saturated with tempestuous sounds straight out of a B-grade horror movie.

Pointless adjectives. Cut. Replace "out of" with "from."

In contrast, the three main characters maintain a poise and serenity that defiantly move in a direction opposed to the one Varma has chosen to take this time.

Move who and what in what direction? Please specify. Then correct the sentence, define "a poise and serenity" as singular or plural nouns (depending on what the reader is trying to reflect, or remove "a") and change move to moves to reflect present tense.

This is an angry film about an angry young man and his uneasily-calm father who define and demonstrate power in different ways.

No hyphen after uneasily. Infact, never use a hyphen after words that end with ly.

“Sarkar Raj” could have been what Coppola’s “Godfather 2″ was to “The Godfather”. Instead, Varma shrouds the characters’ grief and angst in a cryptic chaos.

"A cryptic chaos?" What the f***? Cryptic chaos.

-> What compounds the sense of claustrophobia is that every frame looks cramped.

Now I'm really getting pissed. Bad, absolutely bad construction. Every cramped frame compounds the sense of claustrophobia. (or claustrophic sense).

-> Dilip Prabhawalkar, who played Gandhi in “Lage Raho Munnabhai”, is a machiavellan rural icon here.

Machiavellan? Wrong, it's spelled Machiavellian. Sentence means nothing, cut. I bow to you, oh Shakespeare on crack.

--

And it goes on and on, more and more garbage sentences that torture intelligence. In fact, the article is one giant piece of garbage.

Then comes the question: "Oh, so you think you are a great writer to criticize others?" Granted, I'm not a great writer, I can be especially inconsistent with grammar, but I know my limits and operate within them. And yes, my work is massively ripped before getting published in the New York Times, for example. It never feels good because it exposes my weaknesses.

This was an example of a writer going overboard, trying to achieve what he really can't. So he's trying to show off. His grammar, verb usage, tense, sentence construction, adjectives, everything calls for help. If you can't get enough of him, let me know. I'll post his name.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is Hilary Clinton the next Bush?

Clinton's claiming she's leading in the popular vote over Obama, counting states that weren't to be part of a Democratic ballot. That's like telling people "well, in the big picture, we might as well count the votes I got to become New York Senator."

She's lying to herself, lying to the people and asking for "trust." Ridiculous. I won't trust her, though I used to. She's challenging my intelligence with outrageous claims like that, and I'm good at math.

She's just another George Bush, a snake-oil seller willing to cheat people to reach her goal. "Who cares if I have to lie to people, let's keep going," she perhaps tells herself.

This is not about Republican or Democrat anymore. It's about who's lying. That's going to set my benchmark on who to vote for. I can't take 8 more years of a Bush clone like Clinton.

The question now is: who to vote for? I'm not thrilled by Obama, Clinton or McCain.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How I really feel..

Want to hear how I feel? Listen to the first few seconds of this song...



About relationships, expectations, guilt and conflict. Found myself humming this ditty today morning, so figured there must be something wrong, but still trying to figure it out.

Perhaps it's my turn to dump trash.

Perhaps I felt too environmentally guilty when carrying groceries in a plastic bag yesterday.

Perhaps I could have fit one more glass in the dishwasher before starting it.

Perhaps I'll forget to do my taxes on time and get fined $15.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

It's been a while since Brimful asked for throwback songs, and I recommended this one. Now studying what seemingly is medicine, it seems Brimful could use the song too.

The vocalist is Faith Evans, if you wonder. Check her bio, and yes, she perhaps sang the song because she really needed it. The band is A Tribe called Quest.

The song's from around the mid-to-late 90s, during my days as an NYC resident. And yes, I really needed the song every month in fear of meeting rent.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Obscurest of blow-outs

Put it in the history books: Dmitry Medvedev is Russia's new President, and for the next 8 years, naysayers will keep on harking about the election being "rigged." Yeah, maybe Russians officials had the crazy idea of smuggling Chinese across the border to vote for Medvedev.

So what's the outrage? Medvedev was handpicked by Putin to be Russia's new President. Medvedev reciprocated, saying he wanted Putin to be his PM, to delay his political retirement. Foreign governments will call that foul, but they have more to lose if it isn't Medvedev.

More than 70 percent of the vote went to Medvedev, with between 55 million and 60 million people voting (50% of eligible voters). But what is a voter to do if the opposition is full of nutcases?

Guys like Vladimir Zhirinovsky (with his anarchist policies) or Gennady Zyuganov (USSR-type policies) should worry foreign governments even more.

Every election needs an circus clown, Zhirinovsky is that. He once stupidly suggested said that India conquer Pakistan to get rid of a menace. That's the war-mongeror in him, a crazy guy under whom Russia will implode.

And there's the evergreen curmudgeon who wants to go back in time. Zyuganov's policies take Russia back to its USSR days, without accounting for new world orders, like energy. Russia strikes fear into governments through Gazprom, a gov't controlled agency that controls part of the world's energy supply. Gazprom will lose its power and suffer under Zyuganov's reversal policies.

And Garry Kasparov as president? Please. Leave him to the chess table. Yes, his arrest may have been wrong, but giving the country to him is like asking for a death wish. He's pesky, but inconsistent and very moody. He's even worse than Zhirinovsky

Which brings us to Medvedev, a known quantity who will keep Russia's world status alive without floating crazy ideas.

One friend who doesn't hate the U.S. said he voted for Medvedev because he wants to be protected from the U.S. It's a tit-for-tat; Russians want to be protected from Americans, like Americans want to be protected from the Russians. Putin had a fan following with that, and Medvedev will continue to wield that stick, he said.

Like him, I don't have a proper read on Medvedev yet because he's an unknown quantity. But he's educated, sensible and is a hard worker. He will combat the U.S. with the somewhat twisted, but effective policies that Russia has in place today.

Where Medvedev becomes really hard to read is his plans to reform the Russia's political system, if he has any. Putin failed to launch a fledgling political system that would inspire and breed a competitive opposition, but will Medvedev develop that? Or will he lay waste on the private sector? It really depends on the people and how they conceive the economy to be.

Muscovites seem happy with their urban lifestyle, though students complain; villagers in remote parts of Russia complain because their nearest town draws talent away, a sort of internal brain drain. But supermarkets are expanding, the money is flowing in, the complaints from the country seems to be fewer than a few years ago. I'm not an economist, and it's hard to judge the metrics that reveal Russia's actual economic barometer.

All said and done, Putin is not dumb -- he is smart enough to remain in the background and exploit weak spots in int'l affairs to help Russia (like weapons sales, defense systems and oil). He will assist Medvedev until fading away. That is good news from countries like India and China, who need support to counter the U.S.'s growing geopolitical ambitions.

What about the U.S.? Both Democratic nominees -- Ms. Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama -- don't even know Medvedev's full name yet, so that's even harder to judge. But neither expects much change in Russian policy, and that's a smart guess.

But the Russians have voted, and we have a winner. Life moves on. And Garry Kasparov will go back to jail 1000 more times if he can't work the political system a bit better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

One song and a five minute stand

Some songs don't just jam, they invoke a strong and kneejerk reaction. Songs don't shake me up easily, but Massive Attack's fabulous "Teardrop" did.

Having drinks with a friend a month ago, Madrone's smart DJ dropped that song, the biggest lounge surprise I've had in years.

The sensual, ethereal crooning of Elizabeth Fraser was spellbinding; I floated back to some of my wildest years: London in the late 90s. I was young, stupid, the scene was hot, and sleep was impossible.

Like in Madrone, the song flowed out slowly and smoothly in a London club, and with it came a visceral feeling of passion. I exchanged glances with A, her bright black eyes trying to say something intimate. Instantly, we clutched each other tightly and swooned to Fraser's vocals for a few minutes. We were just friends, but the song evoked that strong a reaction.

It ended when a Eurotrash mix blew out the speakers. We were perhaps wasted, not knowing what we did, but I haven't forgotten those few moments.

So I landed a tease call to now-married A in London, telling her the Madrone moment didn't feel complete without her. She's got a razor-sharp memory, so it wasn't surprising she remembered those moments like it were yesterday. She now was intent on learning how I felt during the swoon, so she played along.

She grimaced loudly: "Want to share something? An emotion, perhaps?"

"A, come on, that was ages ago! We were young and stupid," I said, chuckling.

"You felt nothing in your heartless soul?" she said, behaving heartbroken.

"Yes, it was a special moment, but..."

"But what...?" she asked.

"Can I call it a 5-minute stand? I don't want your husband killing me!" I asked in humor. I've learned this the hard way, never tell women 'we're just friends' or similar. Be a bit more appreciative of what they mean to you.

It was a special moment, we agreed, but not much spice otherwise. But the song could have well redefined my my life in just a few minutes.

It was released when lounge in general -- Thievery Corp. and Buddha Bar's experimental tones -- started entering the quartet of club styles: house & trance (mostly summer ibiza anthems), hip hop, classic 70s/80s, and international (which included bhangra/rai/garage).

Fraser's lyrics were indecipherable, like most of her Cocteau Twins songs, but it has this weird charm that still haunts both A and me. Just amazing what it did.

And I heard a snippet of the song again recently. Until it disappears, I'm in for hell.

(A! hola!)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Cheap wine

Few years ago, I contributed a $7.99 Merlot to a dinner gathering. Like any genius, I forgot to remove the price tag, which was shining bright throughout the room when the bottle was being opened. Everyone seemed to notice it.

Unless you remove the price tag, cheap wine isn't well received, I knew that. I picked up two lessons since -- 1) Never buy a cheap wine; 2) To always buy Yellowtail, the coke of all wines, which is cheap and universally enjoyed. Ravenswood's good too.

So there's a party tonight, and I went looking for a Yellowtail at a nearby grocery store. They didn't have it, and I've already taken Ravenswood there once, so sought an alternate. Nothing seemed pure Merlot -- they had Cabernet mixed with Merlot, Shiraz and some kinda low-fat "vegan" wine. How San Francisco.

Walked up to the store owner, asked him if he had Yellowtail.

"They are having supply problems, for some reason we haven't received a bottle in a few months," he said. He recommended one wine sitting in a box lying on the store corner.

"$6.50?" I shouted, stunned at reading the price of King Fish Merlot, with its cheesy sketch of some random prehistoric fish on the cover. "You must be kidding!"

"It's very good," the store owner said. "I don't drink wine, but it is very good."

"Cheap wines?" I answered, convinced it wasn't a good buy. "And who will drink a wine with a prehistoric bird sketched on the label?"

"Don't judge it by the name and price," storeowner said. "Got a good deal on it, just trying to pass the savings."

He pointed to 5 boxes of ugly King Fish bottles lying on another side of the store. It looked like decoration for a haunted house.

Worth a buy? A good gamble. The party I'm headed to tonight isn't a bunch of wine n cheese connosieurs, so it would be a good King Fish testbed. If people enjoyed it, I'd be able to buy a good wine atleast 1/2 the price of Yellowtail.

If it doesn't turn out to be a success, I dread the consequences...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Far away from the action in Burma...

You've perhaps heard of the drama in Burma: military folks crushing peaceful protests, people being killed, and of all things, monks being whacked. Burma doesn't appear in the news often, so the Burmese may really be suffering.

Time to re-familiarize myself with the country.

So I picked up a Burma map and looked at its geography. The main action's up north; down south Burma narrows into a thin archipelago connected to the Andaman Sea. The Andaman Sea's got some amazing beaches.



"Dang, South Burma must have amazing beaches," I thought, a sort of Johnny-come-lately realization that was the day's moment of zen.

Indeed, it does. The Mergui archipelago in southern Burma is touted as an isolated haven with sensational beaches, clear water and stark beauty. Isolated, well, because Burma doesn't want tourists in its country. That also means amazing snorkelling and diving for the lucky ones who manage to get there.

Here's one photo tour of a Mergui island. And when the Burmese gov't decides not to be the party pooper, it'll perhaps be one of the country's hotspots. Maybe I'm wrong, but Burma doesn't offer much otherwise.

China's also partying in Mergui, renting an island to watch India, which has a strong naval presence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, not too far away.

China has a history of using Burma to keep India under watch since World War II, so this shouldn't be a surprise. Read The Burma Road to get an amazing insight into how it started.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Trip to Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

It may not be Morocco, but the trip to Puerto Rico wasn't far behind in brilliance. No passport needed, cheap, and isolated Caribbean beaches aren't too far.

Old San Juan felt like a European city. It's got an amazing old-world feel, with cobblestone streets, fortresses and enchanting buildings. Forget a few days; you need a week to see this city.

In the spirit of a true vacation, I spent most of my time on Culebra, an island off PR, swimming and snorkelling on some of Caribbean's best undiscovered beaches.

As my friend lazed around the hotel and read her book, one day I biked out to Flamenco, Culebra's most noted beach, and Carlos Rosario, a remote beach offering PR's best snorkelling. Enjoy a photo essay of that trip.


View from Culebra's ferry dock (Is it PR or Vieques?)


Culebra's ferry dock


A rude vendor at the ferry dock


Hippie dude Dick in old VW van with a gaggle of rental bikes to choose from


Culebra's tiny airport popped up on the way to Flamenco. Small aircraft fly in from San Juan airport, and don't leave until the 8 seats are filled.


The deserted airport had enough space for my bike. Visitors avoid Culebra between Aug and Oct fearing a hurricane.


Biking to Flamenco beach is a bit of an effort...


.. but worth it. Added gas into pedaling as the turqoise waters of Flamenco beach came to view.


An unstaffed information booth at the beach. With no tourism, Culebrans vacation in Sept.



Don't forget sunscreen!


Flamenco's calm waters are stunningly beautiful and yet to be discovered


Coconuts litter the beach


A tank on the beach.. self-explanatory


The green hill adds great effect to Flamenco


Sooty Terns breed on the island


The blue sky, turqoise waters and an isolated beach.. can't ask for more..


Heading from Flamenco to Carlos Rosario (CR) beach to snorkel


The trek to CR is arduous, on a hill with a small, slippery path and thorny bushes. Carry a Swiss Knife and antibiotic ointment. No road approaches CR.


I snorkelled around CR beach for 3 hours. Some of the best corals and fish in PR can be found there (it is a designated wildlife refuge). Snorkelling in Belize remains tops though.


Watch your step on CR beach...prickly objects are everywhere.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Press conference tug-of-wars

If you want to waste time, attend a press conference thrown by the U.S. government. It's a waste of U.S. tax dollars and you'll grab lessons on poor management skills.

An unruly lady greeted me at the U.S. Department of Justice building in San Francisco, where a press conference to announce a guy's conviction in an accounting scandal was being held. My plan was to gather a few sound bytes and get out after 5 minutes of government BS.

In a bid to undermine my identity, the lady asked for my driving license, library card, passport, anything to prove my ID wrong. After convincing her I was as advertised, she called someone and said, "a hack is here." (In PR parlance, a hack is a journalist). Great, another ego-boosted character working for the government.

"How many hours a day do you sit behind that desk," I asked her. She growled, and silently asked me to get out of her sight. Ah, those small victories of life. I'm glad she didn't respond with: "I'll put you on jury duty you rascal." I would've run 5 miles away from her.

Then I was in the press-con, officials milling around, arranging the room for the big announcement. One yuppie guy popped out of nowhere and shook my hand, asked if I was "a hack." Stunned, I stared at him for a second, giving that "look" of disgust, and asked him who the f*** he was. An investigator with the FBI, his business card said. And he doesn't know saying "a hack" was rude.

We spoke about the case, he revealed some amazing things, after which I asked "Can I quote you?" His gleaming smile turned into a growl. "No, please" said the young one. He asked for my business card, grabbed it and ran to the other side of the room, to the comfort of other government folks hanging out. I went back to my seat.

In the front, near the dais, a lady wearing the dunce cap was trying to fit the oversized DOJ flag into a room with a low ceiling. The flag wouldn't fit, but some wild reason, she kept trying. She tried the left side of the dais, then the right side, but the flag wouldn't t fit. Nor did the ceiling level change. It seemed like her life depended on the flag.

As the flag bearer continued to hold her ground, a gov't lady was trying to decorate the background, mulling whether to put up the photograph of the U.S. president. She put it up, pulled it, put it up, couldn't seem to make up her mind.

Behind me, a DOJ guy argued with a TV cameraman over the camera location. The most helpful lady was helping reporters plug microphones into the dais, where a lawyer would announce the conviction.

As reporters schmoozed and caught up. I walked into a crowd of three reporters I regularly bump into. "What's up with the flag lady," I asked my friends.

"In the Girl Scouts we're not taught to bear a flag like that," a colleague said.

"Maybe she had 99 bottles of Red Bull," another colleague said.

Finally, she pulled the flag and headed out the door, not before bumping someone in the head with the solid steel pole. Anyone in the flag's range immediately cleared.

We waited, waited, and the press conference started after 45 minutes. For 5 minutes, the DOJ raved about how cool they were, and "no comment" on most questions that mattered.

What a waste of time.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Taekwondopia delay

Got a note from a Taekwondo Park guy a few days ago. Construction of Taekwondo Park in Muju Hills can be expected to be completed by 2015, he said.

He declined further comment, and asked me to check the Taekwondo Park Web site for further updates. Well, not everyone outside outside Korea knows Korean, which is why I e-mailed WTF in the first place. If anyone wants to practice Korean, please visit the site and pass along an update!

So, we're back to square one -- Taekwondopia is under a shroud of mystery. Which raises two questions: Is it really stuck in the public approval process, or is red tape an excuse to cover up WTF's internal battles over the Taekwondo shrine?

Controversies aren't new at WTF. It came under fire when TKD was almost booted out as an Olympic sport. Then South Koreans pummeled WTF for trivializing TKD, a national treasure, by marketing it abroad. Now Taekwondo students are riling over its new, el-cheapo Dan certificates they are issuing themselves and via a U.S. agency.

There's a lot more to this Taekwondo Park delay than meets the eye. I sense a cover up, but the investigation will continue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Moroccan fall

The Morocco trip got scuttled. My travel buddy R took up a job as a bartender in Southern France where she was hanging out, and that led to many planning woes.

Oh well, I'm thinking of going solo to trek the Atlas mountains, maybe not. It's up in the air.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

There's no perfect Taekwondo school

Finding a good Taekwondo school in San Francisco is a challenge. Fair to say, it's tougher than learning a rare African dialect.

The issues:

- Schools want contracts to be signed. Am I dumb to sign a 3-year contract *with* a penalty for breaching it? Am I wearing a dunce cap? (Read: ATA schools.)

- Back to the wonder years. If you're being taught like a kid, there's ego involved. I'm not against lining up in a class with kids, I *don't* want to be treated like a juvenile. I don't want to play kid's games. I'm paying wads of cash, treat me like an adult, give me respectful training. Don't ask me about my grades in school. And yes, I obey my parents, thank you.

And as a rookie, I'm banned from the "intermediate" and "advanced" classes, where the adults are.

- Short classes. What kind of workout am I getting in a 1-hour class in which the first 1/2 hour is spent meditating and socializing?

- Expensive. I'm selling a limb for an hour of training, I want a good workout. Schools want the limb, but don't deliver the promised "brilliant" workout. Everything in San Francisco's expensive.

- Distances. Each hill in San Francisco adds minutes to the commute, and a decent Taekwondo school can't afford prime area. Property's too expensive. There's one school accessible to me, that's all, but the classes start too quick.

- Timings are weird. Classes start at 6pm, when my work ends. That's fair, but they don't want students coming late.

"We ask students to take rounds if they are late," said one instructor, clutching his black belt with a kung fu grip.

"Rounds?" I asked, amazed. I just told him that I'd probably be late, but no accomodation. I looked at the gym; it's barely 15x15, it would take 200 rounds to take the gas out of me.

"Thank you sir," and I leave, looking for a coffee store to gather my breath and gasp over what the instructor just said.

- Styles. Taekwondo is fragmented -- with so many styles -- it's hard to pick one that will last long. There are no vanilla TKD schools - they are either combined with other styles, or the styles suck.

I could rant for hours. Nevertheless, it's been fun checking out different martial arts, their complements, and their flaws, like the "internal martial arts."

The quest goes on!

Morocco, here I come

I'm going to Morocco in early September, watch this space for pictures! Any tips? Leave a note here!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You mess with Taekwondo, you mess with Korea

With North Korea itching to dump a missile on its southern brother, the last thing South Korea needs is another controversy. One low-scale controversy has hit its national sport, Taekwondo (TKD), but don't panic.

Over the weekend, I read an e-book, in which an author talks about undying love for TKD lands the nutty author in South Korea. Insane, and fantastic at parts, the book redefines the meaning of the word 'obsession'. The book's pretty blithe and entertaining.

The author jumps into every moment as if life was at stake -- be it while learning TKD or simply being a foreigner. There are the Korean language problems. Freak dudes. Break-ins. Shabby houses. Double-crossing women. The book ends talking about TKD and Korean peculiarities.

Interesting bits dot the pages -- like plans to build "Taekwondopia," a new TKD HQ, in the hills of Muju. It's an upgrade to Kukkiwon, TKD's crabby HQ, where Koreans enlikened the author to an alien. (Taekwondopia's now Taekwondo Park)

Cute plan by the World Taekwondo Federation. Or deceptive, I thought. The park could attract foreigners and expand TKD's popularity.

Lo and behold, the plan isn't so cute anymore. The harmless project has morphed into a controversy that Koreans are boiling mad over.

A PR stunt gone wrong and a glitzy "Americanize it" marketing campaign are to blame.

Koreans are revolting against TP's international marketing plan, concerned that an American intrusion could destroy the sport. Taekwondo is a national treasure and overtures to the U.S. could attract sponsors like Nike. Americanizing the sport would effectively destroy it.

Even worse was a PR stunt that unknowingly created a national stir. A brochure made TP look like a Japanese joint -- big mistake -- never associate anything Korean with the Japanese. Korean and Japanese martial artists throw hacks at each other regularly, but this one drove all of Korea crazy.

And the icing on the cake --construction's stalled. Planned to start in 2005, TP is now plagued with legislative and public approval delays. That's the price you pay for messing with an environmentally conscious valley.

End game? If you mess with TKD, you mess with Korea. Ask the author. TKD is intertwined with Korea's society and politics, be it as a lazy gym on a city corner, or a sport that brings Olympic medals. More than an art, TKD is a lifestyle, S. Korea's face to the world.

All said, the Taekwondo Park is progressing. It may take 15-30 years, who knows, but it'll come. Serious controversies will piggyback, which will be worth following.

It may revolutionize TKD and bring rival organizations under one roof. WTF, the top TKD organization, could negotiate with rival ITF to be a joint part of the monument. A hard bargain, but ITF won't say no.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

War gobbledygook

As the war drifts on, some media-speak for you... these terms could be heard in briefings by the U.S. Defense Department.

This list compares words Defense uses for our army and the bad guys. It's a PR tool for the military to sell the war to the people, journalists use it to cut through the crap.

Us (USA)The bad guys in Iraq
Men and womenTerrorists, bad guys
LadsHoardes
DaredevilCannon fodder
Brave Fanatical
DeterminedRuthless
Professional Cowardly
Collateral damageCivilian casualties
Eliminate, neutralizeKill
Press briefingsPropaganda

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yippee! It's downhill straight to a warzone!

My eyes popped wide open after hearing that Sochi, a Russian resort, was selected to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The resort is not too far from a declared Georgia-Abkhazia war zone (under 50 kms), and as I wrote a year ago, that figured to be a topic of contention when evaluating Sochi as a host.

Either the Winter Olympic officials are duffuses who don't know the area, or they were bribed. After all, we have witnessed weirdness from the Russians in past Winter Olympics. Remember the 2002 incident when a French judge was pressured to vote for the Russian figure-skating duo over the Canadians? The Russian duo stumbled and slipped their way to a gold medal over the Canadians, who were technically perfect.

But it's still 2007, and we're a good 7 years away from the Winter Olympics. Things can change. It is being reported that Sochi's selection is a reason for Russia and Georgia to reach a peace agreement over Abkhazia, the area of contention for both.

Georgia contends that Abkhazia, a breakaway republic, is its state and that Russia is meddling in its affairs; Russia contends that Abkhazia is an independent republic, and that the Georgians are torturing people and committing atrocities on Abkhaz people.

I earlier described their conflict as two kids fighting over a toy. The theme continues; both Russia and Georgia claim Sochi to be a victory for itself. How and why, I don't really understand. No, Georgia doesn't expect to beat Russia in curling, but it does expect political gains and concessions.

Maybe Georgia believes Russia has to treat it right, otherwise Georgians will create mischief in Abkhazia and keep the world from coming to Russia and Sochi. It's like hosting the Winter Olympics on the Iran-Iraq border.

There's another reason Georgia digs the Sochi victory: It will keep getting oil from Gazprom, the bully gas company that really doesn't care about Eastern European and CIS nations.

Sochi will finally come out of the woodwork of being just a backwater resort, it will put the Caucasus on the map. Hopefully it will bring some peace with it. Georgia and Russia need each other; it's time they both realize it.

But if the combat continues, nobody's going to visit Sochi. Security first, after all.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Stuck in Kamloops -- Part 3

(Part 1, 2)

After spotting a Punjabi woman selling samosas in remote Canada, atop a mountain, we headed to Kamloops, a a snug city in a valley where two rivers meet.

There's not much to see there, but Kamloops' real vibe is in people's lives. (Much like Vancouver and Victoria). Overworked and struggling, life seems like a daily struggle. For good or bad, seems like they have nowhere to go.

Take the hotel manager. He complained working 14 hours a day, with their massive turnover rate. He couldn't even find people to carry luggage. Bah, this is just a manager's rant, I thought, heading out to trek.

On Day 2, I headed to the reception to get Kamloops' maps. I waited as a receptionist was chatting on the phone, giving what seemed more like a phone interview.

"Yes, I can come to Vancouver any day for lunch," she said, smiling and aware of my presence, but trying not to make eye contact.

She was thin, well groomed, with short blond hair. She was also in a bind, with me hearing the interview. I smiled, behaving like I didn't hear anything.

Another chat with her would be great, I thought. We did chat later in the day, about life in San Francisco and about Canada's skilled labor shortage, a rather grim topic among Canadians.

Kamloops is a stepping stone to big places like Vancouver and Victoria, she said. There's no shame in giving open interviews, even her bosses know that she intends to move on. She was perhaps the only qualified person available to staff the reception desk; her managers had no choice, she said.

That didn't ring true; there must be resorts as Kamloops downtown seemed weirdly active. In the evening, no downtown parking spots were available though *all* stores were shut. It just defied conventional logic. Comparable to New York or San Francisco. I kid you not.

It's a big ski town, the lady said, but lacks social life and the excitement of a tourist town, she said, as I watched her charming face turn to disgust. No Greek parties, few salsa dances. Skilled labor tries to avoid a life like this, she said.

Kamloops is only a stopover for nature enthusiasts and the timber industry, she said. I agree with that -- Kamloops' riverside is beautiful. We were greeted to a stopover of migratory geese; watching them sloppily parade around. What fun. Also got my weekly run in.

"It gets more remote as you head to Jasper [in the Canadian Rockies]," she said, adding "and I'm not going there." She's bent on getting to Vancouver, leaving Kamloops in the dust.

"Do you want my job?" she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An ode to my grandmother

Ba, my grandmother, was the most unassuming individual. Her love was unconditional, and she held nary a grudge.

Sitting in her little throne, a couch on the roomside, she loved watching movies. She was fond of flicks with Gujarati superstar Naresh Kanodia or Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt. She'd watch Chinese movies. English movies. Tamil movies. Language didn't matter to her, she somehow understood the visuals and patched the movie together.

We'd go crazy if an English movie was deemed too long, but she'd sit there, calm like a turtle, waiting for the next scene. The amazing patience came from a tough life she lived and a roller-coaster ride of emotions she endured. Under a tough and petite frame, inside, she was as tough as nails.

The rare tear she shed was gut-wrenching to bear and perhaps the most emotional few seconds anyone in our family ever faced. She would talk about small things and be overcome by emotion. She hoped her estranged son would come and meet her again, but she held no expectations. As long as her son was happy, she was happy.

She was a comic too. She loved banana milkshake, amusing for a traditional Indian lady who didn't enjoy modern food. Any other milkshake was "banned by religion." The exception also went to chocolates, a thing every woman needs.

The watchdog she was, Ba reported the daily activities of my younger bro and me to Mom and Dad. If we watched TV for 2 straight hours, she'd tell Mom. If we ate twinkies on the sly, she told Mom. She was the Mom's eyes; there was nowhere to escape.

Finally, we counterattacked. One day we recorded and reported everything she did to Mom -- from watching 2 Gujarati movies to drinking 2 banana milkshakes. She panicked, not expecting us to report her, and denied doing everything. In jest, she gave us a naughty glance as if to say "you finally got me!"

She mostly kept to herself; religion pulled her together. She would go to the Jain temple every morning, and we held her religious commitment in high regard. We didn't want Ba upset, so we refrained from eating nonvegetarian food at home, but we did outside.

We had codenames for non-veggie dishes -- "chicken" was "kitchen," and "kabab" was "tree" (for mint leaves that came with the kabab). Ba was smart -- she knew we ate nonvegetarian food outside but never said a thing.

Memories pinch me so hard that I can't stop shedding tears. She cried when I left home for university; she held on to my hand for a few seconds trying to stop me from going. I cry with the memory that she is now gone, no hand to hold or none of her tears to wipe away.

But it is her memorable smile of when I came back home that I'll remember the most. She lived a long life, and her memory will be forever with us.

We miss you Ba.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Marooned by 5

I thought Maroon 5 was some pimp band when I first heard of them last month, like "Lavender 6" or "Purple Velvet 1876". And I was paying a fortune for their concert tickets, so if they sucked, I was gonna destroy somebody's guitar. What I won't do for KM, who was hell bent on seeing them rock out.

Lo and behold, Maroon 5's the next coming of Stevie Wonder, Sting, U2 all rolled into one, atleast for KM. Anticipating atleast 1/4th of U2, KM godded me to hear Maroon 5 @ the Great American. "I've really never heard of this band," I told KM. "You're from Mars anyways," she responded, making fishy faces.

The room was crammed with a Britney Spears meets Eddie Veder type crowd, so I didn't know what to expect. Then the band appeared, a bunch of wannabe rockstars still in their diapers. All I wanted some rockin' jammin', vocals don't mean jack. I evaluated the instruments they bought -- a few guitars, keyboards, drums, few rhythm accessories -- hmm, enough to indicate a decent jam. Hope was in view.

Maroon then started ripping out songs that ringed of familiarity -- I thought I'd heard some of them in in movie promos, radios, paid bathroom stalls, everywhere. Ah, I thought, so those songs were sung by *these* guys. One of life's mysteries solved.

Overall, twas a good jam. Vocals were OK, but their music, arrangements and sounds were unique. The timing of keyboards, guitars and drums were impeccable and meshed surprisingly well for such a big arrangement. It's tough for three major guitarists to put their act together to a single keyboard octane, but these guys didn't miss a beat, not once. Bringing so much together can be tough, even a terrible guitarist like me can tell you that.

The songs were the usual pop fare, but the bass provided the kick I was looking for. They mixed interesting keyboard sounds with good bass guitar riffs to generate a somewhat deep bass. Not the kind you'd find with a bass viol, pick-up and strings, but good enough to please. But in the end, it's Maroon 5 and a pop concert for teeny boppers, not an a capella or jazz concert.

Also tuned into the MP3 of their new single, "Makes me wonder" and it's much more polished than the concert version. Guitars are fewer. Rugged synthesizer shots accompany bass guitar. Bongos add to what's an already deep bass. Drums are less significant they they were in concert, simple keyboards riffs instead set up a stanza (not like that in concert). Essentially the keyboards are the glue that patch the song together. They make up for bass cut by drums, and act as a great set up to execute the vocals.

Very clean and sophisticated pop arrangement, with interesting instrumentation and bass for a pop song. We see that in all pop songs, but this is a particularly interesting example.

If you hear it the second time, forget the vocals and focus on the song's instruments. You might find something new to appreciate.

And now I know Maroon 5, KM. Shut your big trash talkin' mouth.