Thursday, December 25, 2008

Song Of The Week X

An Evening in December is an awesome a cappella album. I had the audio cassette of this one but have never been able to find the CD. If you like Christmas songs or a capella, you should try this now! If you don't like either, try it and it shall convert you! In case you're still against it, I'll have to personally visit you and convince you, but I highly doubt that would be necessary.
This is the title song, the only one from the album I found online, and it's not even complete :( I wish I could find the "O Come Emmanuel" from this album. That one is simply... beautiful.

An Evening in December - Kelly Nelon with First Call

Heres the link to the full song performed tolerably well by a high school choir

Christmas Carolling

What is Christmas without carols? Bah humbug!
Unfortunately very few people here know what it's like to go carolling and to encourage a better understanding, we decided to do just that in the University. There were a few hiccups early on with getting permission. This had more to do with the spite of one person than the laws of the country. But thankfully, every mean man has a sensible person above him who can overrule senseless decisions. That meant, eventually, that we were okay to sing on the evening of the 23rd.
There were around 12 in total who were interested and we practiced a couple of times so that we didn't embarass ourselves in public. Some invitees couldn't make it because of reasons like a) it was too cold, b) they weren't feeling well, c) they couldn't refuse free university dinners, d) they lived too far away. Finally though, a bunch of us made it out in the cold night.
Alex was dressed up as Santa Claus, with an old red jacket and a Santa mask. We started at Xin yuan, our own dorm area, and with Oswin on the guitar, belted out some old classics. Unfortunately it was too cold for people to stay for long enough and notice. But we did get some of our friends to come down with us and there were 20 or so people altogether when we set out for Qin yuan.
To keep with the Christmas spirit, we greeted the people on the way and once we had worked out the best way to do it, people actually waved and wished us back rather than crossing to the other side of the road in fear.
Qin yuan was better because there were more people out on the square but the best was at SOGO where we thought we'd do a pre-dinner carol round by the big Christmas tree. Ending on a high note is always good and we gave them an encore of Jingle bells to thank them for their support.
Back at the dorm, we went to each floor of the boys hostel singing carols. Our success triggered a couple of rip-offs with other carol groups vying for attention, but hey, the original is always better!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Last Saturday evening as I was listening to some music, I had the sudden urge to sing along with "Have Yourself..." As I was listening to the song, I took down the lyrics on a piece of paper and it's been in my head ever since. Oswin and I have officially declared it to be the theme song for this Christmas and we went out and got a star to "...hang a shining star upon the highest bough..."
Going along with the consumerist spirit, many Chinese shops have switched to Christmas colours with Santa hats and paper snow flakes on windows. After all, Christmas is just another commercial festival, right? The upside of this sad turn of events is that you can buy Christmas decoration in communist China. So getting a star at "Underground" was not a problem. [For the uninitiated, "Underground" is what we call the bunch of shops under the little park near the city centre]

In a sense, it's not a traditional christian christmas song - just a sad song from a musical [and the original doesn't even have the "shining star" line!] So it's the Frank Sinatra version I give to you here. [I was really tempted to put up the Twisted Sister version but didn't like the "hohoho here we go" line, maybe you could check it out on youtube]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Oswins got chicken pox.

He was all set to accompny Joji's mum back to India when he found out that he had chicken pox. So he came back from Wuhan and I had him shift to Amjith's room, who already was in the middle of his personal battle with chicken pox. They are keeping each other company now in the Chicken Pox HQ.
I felt bad about losing my roommate though it was the right thing to do as it minimised the risk of spreading of the infection. But that doesn't mean I am alone in the room right now. At the end of the summer when we came back, we found out that there were quite a few new tenants in our room. In addition to the ants that had moved in last semester, this time, we were over-run with cockroaches. There are so many of them that you can be sure of stepping on at least one if you happened to walk around the room at night with the lights off.
Took this picture when one of our new roommates decided to drop in and finish off a cup of coffee.

If you look closely, you can almost see the roach making a "V" sign... with its antennae.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Accident

Joji Varughese, a 4th year student here, passed away in the morning of 16th October. He had been involved in an bike accident and had spent his last three weeks in the ICU of "Di er Renmin Yiyuan", a hospital in Yichang. His friend who was driving the bike, escaped with minor injuries.
His funeral took place last Saturday in India.
This was the second loss we suffered, after my friend Vivek Ram in the second year succumbed to complications from a fracture in his leg.
It's always hard when a young life is lost. Please pray.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Dam'd - In A Good Way :)

The Yichang Travel Card has been a real success story. A day after I saw the Yangtze Sturgeon Research Centre, I went to the dam. And this time, I saw it! Nizar, Anoop and I did have some trouble getting there but all in all it was a pretty good trip.

I guess it is a huge blot on your travel credentials if you haven't seen the most famous place in your city. The Three Gorges Dam [SanXia DaBa - literally Three Gorges Big Dam] is the largest hydroelectric power project in the world and possibly, the only claim to fame for our humble little city of Yichang [other than our university, of course!]

Even though the weather wasn't the greatest on Saturday - rainy and foggy - our little team braved the cold and set out to conquer one of the modern wonders of technology. After my visit to the Sardar Sarovar dam last winter, I must say I appreciate dams more and I was looking forward to the trip. More importantly, I didn't want to repeat my failure the last time I tried a similar trip.

I had never really cared about the dam [before last winter] but I did want to give it a look-see as it was really famous. So, when Brad's students were looking for travel companions to the dam, I put my hand up. The students had signed us up with one of the tour groups operating in the campus for the holidays. Our little group comprising Brad, 5 Chinese students and I met one fine morning to board a bus which I presumed would take us to the dam.
It took us to the GeZhou dam, the smaller, older and almost unknown cousin of the Great Three Gorges. They told us that the rest of the journey would be on a boat, which sounded even better. We had an up-close view of the single-stage shiplock at the GeZhou in action. I had heard that the shiplock at the Three Gorges was a 5 stage one and now it sounded more than impressive.
I was a bit worried about the time though because it felt that we were already running late. But the boat soon shoved off on its pleasant trip up-river. This little tourist boat had its own in-house souvenir shop and the sweet lady running it and I, got talking on whatever topics my limited Chinese allowed [which weren't many]. We also met other people on the boat, including another one of Brad's students [no surprise there] and a group of University students who had come down from Wuhan just to see the Great dam.
It was around lunch time when we got to our next stop. Even though we were getting worried about the limited time left to see the dam, the extra scenic spot wasn't bad. It was themed around one of the great poets of ancient China and the place was pretty pleasing to the eye.
Once we were done with this stop though, our patience was beginning to wear thin. It was getting really late and we were relieved when the boat started again.

And then it resumed its journey - downstream.
This was surprising because the dam was just a little way off - in the opposite direction! Our friends Rick and Steve found out that we were not going to the dam afterall. This wasn't the news we wanted to hear but our fellow passengers didn't seem to mind. I went and talked to the lady at the souvenir shop and that's when I learned that a trip to the dam by this tour company would have cost more than what we had payed. It seemed that the tour agent at the university had tricked us. We were just getting the trip we payed for, which, was not the trip to the dam.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were planning to go to one place and end up in a totally different one at the end of the day and someone tells you - Oops wrong bus... that's how I felt! We tried talking to the tour guides on the boat who said there was nothing they could do about it - "We can't reach the agent right now", "We can't reach our boss right now", "We can't turn back the boat, its too late in the day for a dam trip now". Our friends were feeling miserable because they were the ones who had arranged for our tickets and so it didn't seem fair to vent my frustration just yet.
What did seem to be the right time was when I found out that all the other people in the boat had also been under the impression that we were on our way to the dam; the agent had duped us all! But now that we were not, they were all sitting around dejected. Just sitting!!

Wake up people!! You've just been taken on a wild goose chase! Been cheated off your time and money!! Oh... umm... *talk**talk**take pictures**talk more*
We figured that's why some people here like to drink the nasty baijiu. They had just been cheated off a day but they didn't want to do anything about it - except get back on baijiu that night and drink to "We got ripped off - again!" You need something strong to take away your sorrows I guess...

The poor girl from Wuhan started crying because they had just spent the night in Yichang so that they wouldn't be late for the trip! This ignited some fire under the other boys with her and they found some sympathisers in the group to go and talk to the man in charge. For a minute there, I thought they might just get the boat turned around and restore some sanity. But the guy who was driving the boat just came out of the engine room, won a quick victory in the shouting match, and continued on his way.
I just could not believe all the rest of the people on the boat! I even took a picture of all of them just sitting around - it was one of the strangest and saddest sights I've ever seen. People without the will to fight for their right.

After that experience behind me, I was glad to see the dam yesterday, the whole enormity of it, and things got better when I ended the day with free pizza courtesy of Amitha, a treat for the house-warming back in India.
A wish come true and a full stomach, what more can you ask for?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October Vacations

Vacations in China are always a bit confusing. A notice which says," have a holiday on Monday and the class scheduled for normal Monday will be moved to Sunday. On Monday you will follow a normal Sunday schedule. If you have class on a normal Sunday, you will have class on Monday..." isn't always very clarifying. But somehow - I'm sure after much deliberation - they managed to give us 7 straight days of vacation this October for the National day here in China. [Even if some holidays were in fact working days]

Hmm, anyway, these holidays passed without much incident. It rained a couple of days which kept us in, but we did manage a trip to Jingzhou.
We [Anoop, Nizar and I] were all set to inaugurate our Yichang tourist cards, when we learned that apparently, the cards cannot be used during the holiday season. The card lets you visit 16 places of interest around Yichang for 100 yuan, much less than the entry fee each place requires. But as it was holiday season and we couldn't use them, we checked around to see where else we could go on a day trip and decided on Jingzhou.
Jingzhou is an ancient walled city, less than two hours from Yichang. They also have a museum there, the main attraction being the almost intact remains [intact remains? umm... a well preserved 2000 year old male corpse actually] of one Mr.Sui, purported to be the best preserved soft corpse in the world according to one tourism website. The jadeware, porcelain and silk collection from the Warring States period was also quite interesting.
It was a fun, photo-and-rain-filled trip and we once again got to see wonder in the eyes of the locals when they see foreigners. Something that doesn't happen in Yichang anymore. At least not to us.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I've never tried sushi. I don't really know what foods would constitute sushi, though I've heard about it a lot of times. So I finally decided to take the first step and savour this speciality on Sunday.

It was Oswin who told me about the Sushi stall at SOGO guangchang [translated as 'square', but really just a mall-ish place] Before I go any further, may I add that we have no idea if it had the 'authentic' taste or not [no Japanese people around to help us]. I would also like to add that I am rather picky when it comes to food but I'm never against trying new stuff. Snake blood, chicken feet, peanut butter and jelly... bring it on!

We got the assorted sushi, which, didn't look like my idea of sushi at all. I know it's funny how you have a certain idea about things even when you have never seen it, but I wasn't disappointed when I had it wrong. You can't always be right!

The sushi didn't taste great, in fact it didn't taste like much at all - a certain lack of flavour, which I realised might be intentional. And that brings us to the title, Wasabi.
Now, I had heard about wasabi before; supposed to be some 'hot' spice. I'm not afraid of "hot n' spicy", most Indian foods I like are made that way. When I was in Chongqing, the centre of hot Hotpots in China, I took in the hottest they could offer with a smile, sweating forehead and teary eyes. Oh, and it was good. "No milk to wash it down, thank you"
So I tried the wasabi sauce supplied with the sushi for that added flavour, and the result, was strange. The Wasabi sauce tasted like ground peanut shells in some green goo. The goo, might I mention, tasted awful. I gave it a try, in fact three tries. I even scooped up some and put it in my mouth just like that. I don't know how to describe that taste... like... wasabi [that's the new 'Ba']
I haven't given up on it though, I never do. Maybe with a few days/months of continuous trying, I might even come to like it. It's just that I'm not exactly inclined to do so right now. Or in the near future.

PS: In case you were curious,
Snake blood tasted just like baijiu, the traditional white wine of China, because they were mixed together in that glass. The same as the bile and the gall bladder.
My first tryst with chicken feet was with the rubbery kind which I tried to swallow, but gave up on. The second time though, it was fried and rather decent.
The first time I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich it tasted like "Ba", a synonym for 'bad' [found in only select dictionaries around the world] But later that winter I was stuck with eating just peanut butter and bread for more than one meal a day, and it was good! Now I like PBnJ sandwiches, though I still prefer either plain jelly or peanut butter ones.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Song Of The Week IX

Almost all movies made in India have songs in them, be it in any language. This huge market for singers, lyricists and composers makes it very diffcult for stand-alone bands to survive, especially with the lack of a strong live music scene.
"Silk Route" has just faded away now, but they made great music when they did.

Sapnay - Silk Route

Sorry about the sound quality, but this is the only video of this song on Youtube. Apparently they aren't very famous.


I once read a book about the Holocaust, among the best I've read. Owing to the circumstances [I had a very limited time to read and return the book - less than two hours] I didn't notice the name of the book or the author, and had been regretting it for a while. Recently, as I was randomly searching through the iRead application on Facebook after months of inactivity, I came across "Night" and it's author, Elie Wiesel. I have already quoted him in an earlier 'Quoatable' blog. That book is awesome. Thanks iRead.

Talking about books, a foreigner had once raised the question,
"What book would you have to read to get some background in Chinese culture?"
No one really had an answer, even though some suggested a Taoist book or two. I think it should be "Wild Swans". Read it a couple of months back, and if you've been in China as long as I have, you can see quite a few connections between the people now and all the upheavals of recent history so poignantly described in that book.

Right now I have in my possession "Shantaram", a Bumbai epic by a firangi. Thanks to the really long gaps between each time I pick up that book, and the enormity of it, I'd say this one will last me a looong time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lifting walls

This is just an update. I once spoke about the banning of websites here in China and so I feel it is my duty to update things.
Blogger is no longer blocked here. The unblocking happened sometime during the holidays, probably before the Olympics.
Wikipedia of course has been available for a year now. I don't know about the editing though, since I've never tried that. [me? make a Wiki entry??]
I'm not sure about Xanga though... think it's still banned.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fifth Year

I don't think I'm going to be a big fan of the new post-midnight flight timings of the Sri Lankan Airlines. On the Colombo-Bangkok leg I was watching "Ironman" and I fell asleep as soon as the final battle started. On the Bangkok-Beijing leg, I decided on the new Indiana Jones movie and again fell asleep during the final fight scenes. It's been more than a week now and I still don't know how they end!!

Other than the timings, the journey was pretty good. This time my one day Colombo transit was at the Club Hotel Dolphin, which was the best Sri Lankan transit hotel so far. I've heard that there are even better ones but this large establishment was really good. To be critical though, it could use better room-furnishing.

At first, when the plane touched down at the Beijing airport, I thought we were headed to the new, and now famous, T 3 - the largest terminal in the world to date. But to my dismay we skirted around the new one, back to the familiar old terminal. So I missed it again, maybe next time....

The bus brought us to Yichang from Beijing, on Monday, and the first good news awaiting us was that we didn't have to move anymore. The day before we left China for the summer, it was announced that we from the 2nd floor, would have to move to other rooms or perhaps go outside the university. But I'm glad the higher ups finally came to their senses and just let us be. Now the students from the 6th floor are required to shift to other rooms...

In related news:

This is the last semester of studies for us and the University wants us to remain till March. We're doing the "jian xi" at the hospital again for the first two months, and then it's back to the classroom before the final exams.

The first sunday in Yichang was good. It was great to meet old friends, get new ones and miss the ones who weren't there. Umm...? Well actually, the last part was no fun at all. None whatsoever.

The university has been changing in our absence... not too drastic, but changes there are. The new football stadium coming up behind the G-building looks like it's going to be grass! [the other two we have are synthetic turf] Can't wait to play there, but in all probability, we'd have to pay entry fees like we did in the first year for the synthetic ground in front of the library.
The food market is still not open, though work looks more than halfway through. Wish I can get back to the chaofan shops there soon. I wonder if they'll still be around for the new and improved Snack street.

Since most of the courses are 4 years long, it makes us the "senior-most" students in the University right now. [Of course there are post graduate students, but who's counting them] Guess this makes us feel more responsible.

Our seniors are taking the MCI screening test in Delhi the coming sunday. We've been hearing quite a lot of rumours on the possible outcome of this event. Hopefully, the more disturbing ones won't turn out to be true.

Anyway, this is the year we move out of the comfort zone. Hope we can all make that move comfortably.

Monday, September 1, 2008


As part of a recent drive to reenforce laws in Mumbai, all hoardings announcing the names of business establishments in the city should be bilingual, with the Marathi name displayed prominently. Since Devanagari [the script used to write Marathi, Hindi etc.] is a phonetic one [unlike the Chinese jigsaw puzzle] it isn't very hard to write close approximations of the English names, now prevalent, in Marathi. They've successfully managed to rewrite names such as Haute Couture, Smokin' Lee's, Nature's Basket, Not Just Jazz By the Bay etc. But mistakes do creep in and I saw that the Marathi name, for a ladies ethnic work wear store called "W", was "dubloo".

But I guess this one can be comfusing so I shall not laugh at them. When I learned the alphabet, this little symbol was called "Dubbli-yoo". I can still recall, thanks to my amazing memory, the nursery rhyme, "you, we, dubbli-yoo, ex, why, ezed". I had always wondered what "dubbli-yoo" meant until later on I realised it could be "Double-U". But why doulbe-U? Why not double-V?? It definitely looks closer to a double-V and a double-U! Besides, most of the time it's read as double-V anyway : vvhat, vvhy, vvhen rather than uuhat, uuhy, uuhen.

UU-hat?? No vvay!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

All you need is...

From the Readers Digest

When asked "Do you think all any of us really want, deep down, is to be loved?" US novelist Garrison Keillor responded:
"No, we want to be rich, to be admired, to eat like a horse and be skinny as a snake. To have small children ask for our autographs, to be on terrific medications that make us calm and witty and sexy. To sing divinely in public. But in the absence of all that, it's enough to be loved."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Think again

The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference
- Elie Wiesel

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Beach

One of the things I learned in Goa was that no one owns the beach. There are a lot of beach resorts there but they don't own the beach and cannot fence off their own private portion. I noticed the same thing in Colombo as I took a long walk along the beach.

There is a certain calm in all the turmoil of the waves and I could feel it as I walked barefoot on the sand.
The place where the two great elements meet, a border, a no-man's land full of people - all kinds of people. From the foreign holiday-making family to the father and son fishing on the beach for a living, they were all there.

The best part was of course when the huge rain clouds came in off the sea trying to obscure the setting sun. Beautiful.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fine Line

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
- Matthew 5:15-16

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
- Matthew 6:2

Monday, July 14, 2008

China University Football Tournament

Three Gorges University was the host for this year's China University Football Tournament.
It was a fun few days for us as we went to every match of our University to cheer them on. The team coach was so pleased by our vociferous support that he sent up cartoons of cool drinks every game and provided us with drums and loud speakers. Every substituted player would bow and cheer us a they left the field and of course played extra well... or so we like to think anyway!
Our university team is really good and in fact were the defening Chmapions. They didn't let their supporters down either and reached the finals. For every match we had our own half-time shows with Mexican waves and lots of songs with improvised lyrics including my own rendition of "We will rock you".
For the finals we were out in full force with painted faces and printed banners proclaiming our loyal support to our university, "San da" [short for "Sanxia Daxue" the original/Chinese name of our University]

And yes we won the finals too! Our favourite defender was chosen the 'Player of the Tournament' and we got to take pictures with the Trophy... the only sad part was that it was raining and the camera was no good, so none of the pictures came out well. Oh well, who needs photos!

"Go San da; San da, Jia you!!!"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Song A Week VIII

Someday - Michael Learns to Rock

This is one of the more famous English language bands in India. I don't know why this band from Denmark is not more popular in other parts of the world... sad.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Finally I decided I had waited long enough and so enrolled to take the HSK [Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi] Chinese proficieny test, in June. We are supposed to pass HSK level 3 before we graduate. There is some kind of a scheme running among the students where you enlist the help of students who have already passed the test and now more and more students are getting through with levels 4, 5 and even 7.
But some of us decided that since we have to carry this certificate with us for a while [all our life], we'd rather do it by ourselves. So far only one Indian student from the University is reported to have passed the test on their own merit.
Anyway there were about 100 students who took the HSK on June 22 in Wuhan, the capital of our Hubei province. The test is in 4 parts - listening, grammar, reading and cloze test. The results are already out. I didn't make the grade, so the prophecy was not true. I have a good total approaching level 4, but not enough in the grammar and the cloze parts. Guess we all make our own destiny :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fund raising

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
- Matthew 6:1-4

When the fund raising for the earthquake was going on in our University, there were boards all over the place giving us details on how much each class, group, department and college had managed to raise. Obviously when there is a fund-raiser going on, such information helps raise more.
Unfortunately this has some side-effects. The saying "from each according to his ability" is taken a step further in China. And since everyone knows how much everyone else is putting in, this means that you cannot donate more than your senior officer/co-worker does.

When we printed the banner "People of Wenchaun, we are with you", the printers didn't charge us for it. They said that just our willingness to do this was payment enough. The same happened when we had to scan a copy of the receipt of the Red Cross payment. When we were looking around for a good channel to put the money through, everyone we talked to were surprised and expressed thanks for our thoughtfulness.

We also wanted to do a print-out of the Indians donating the money for the earthquake relief fund. Just to let people know that we do care and that there is no need to be surprised. Especially now that not many people in the university hold a high opinion of the foreign students here.

What about Matthew 6:3 then?
No, we didn't start it all with thoughts of any rewards coming our way from any of the people around us.
But can we just opt for the reward from the people instead of the reward promised when a deed is done in secret? A reward of recognition and respect. Yes, a conscious option for a lesser reward. But we can, can't we?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Earthquake Fund

Immediately after the earthquake, a lot of fund raising was done in the University. Red boxes were placed in many places around the University, including all the student dormitory areas.
There was a fund-raiser in Qin yuan [a dorm area] which I attended with some friends and towards the end of the programme, representatives from all the colleges came on stage with plaques displaying the amount of money each had managed to raise. The medical college too had it's donations displayed and we felt that we could have contributed to it... if we had known. As usual, we were the last ones to know about anything happening in the university unless of course we are the ones doing it ;)
I had thought of course that given the nature of the tragedy, the medical college officials didn't want to sound as if they were asking for 'outside' help if they had asked us to donate, and so I was surprised that there was an open letter by the Xin yuan gate [our dorm area] calling for donations from foreign students.
We had already been discussing about this and so we didn't lose any time putting our plans into motion. First we printed out a banner to show our support to the earthquake victims, but by the time we had collected enough money, all the donation boxes in the University were gone. So we dropped off the money at the Red Cross branch in Yichang and we hope it will make a slight difference to the plight of the people in the quake hit areas.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Song A Week VII

Nothing Else Matters - Metallica

There are quite a few Metallica songs I like like King Nothing, Fade to Black, Unforgiven... and of course this one.

" I seek and I find in you..."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Trofeo de Troyanos

Whatever the reason behind a Spanish name, this was what the recently concluded cricket tournament was called.
The Trojans, after their last triumph at the final Champions Trophy [a legacy of our Senior batch], were upbeat about conducting this tournament. Quite a lot of us felt this was a bit too upbeat [especially after their rather overzealous putting down of our 'Super 7's Trophy' with a "football? who cares" tone] but they were determined to present the best tournament ever.
But of course as part of team Avengers, I was looking forward to a good tournament. As it has been the rhetoric for the past year or two, this time too we said - whether we win or lose, this will be the last tournament for team Avengers. But of course no one likes to lose and we got through the group stages for a semi-final clash with team "Malabar". Luck was against us as the first match was rained off when we were in a commanding position of 134/1 in 12 overs in the 20-20 match. The rematch [three weeks later!] came down to the last ball in which we needed 4 runs to win.... but we didn't. So we lost out on another final berth. Phoenix XI won the Trophy after a long wait but they had played really well and were the best team in the tournament, so they deserved it.
This tournament saw a couple of new teams trying their luck and they were just white-washed in every match. Two matches saw scores in excess of 300... in 20 overs! We also had a match with one of those teams but unfortunately didn't win the toss and so had to bowl first. We bowled them out in 12 overs and then won in 3.
But this was definitely the most drawn out tournament and in the later stages the organisers just fell apart. I doubt we'll ever see a second edition of this trofeo...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fortune told?

My "Today's Fortune" on Orkut says:
"You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier"

Does this refer to the HSK [Chinese proficiency test] next Sunday? There is an old saying in Malayalam "Aana koduthalum aasha kodukkaruthu"... don't give false hope...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

T-shirts in English

A lot has been said about the 'English' on Chinese T-shirts which usually display anything from a random set of alphabets to strange word combination to snippets of offensive newspaper articles and novellas. And so it has been good to notice some decent T-shirts the past few days which actually have something to say...
"Is your cup half emtpy or half full"
"Tibet, Taiwan and Diaoyu Islands were, are and will always be part of China"

Friday, June 13, 2008

Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic torch came to Yichang on 1st June. The relay was scheduled to start at 8 am from the 'Peace Park' by the Yangtze River.

Some friends and I got up at 4 am that Sunday to go and see the torch. We had been told that the roads would be blocked by 6:45 and so we wanted to make sure that we could get a good spot to watch the relay from, as early as possible. Many Chinese students from the University spent the previous night in the downtown area so they could book their spots. Fortunately, we got a taxi and so we didn't have to walk the whole distance as planned.

When we got there, we jumped right into the festive mood and bought some Olympic T-shirts, head bands and flags. We found a good place which was right across the Peace park and began our wait... and that's when the pushing started.
Already there was a sizeable crowd when we got there some time past 5... but the people just came piling on and on. Soon there was pushing, shoving and cursing among all the chanting and flag waving that was going on. As foreigners of course, we had special consideration - "These foreigners have come to see the torch in China, they should not be disturbed!"; "This is the place for the Chinese not foreigners!" Yes, special consideration from both sides.
We also got interviewed by two TV crews and many members of the press were snappy happy with their cameras. May I add that we played the celebrity part well :) In fact, a couple of days later, our faces turned up in one of the local papers.

The torch itself was just a passing moment. We saw someone [a Chinese tennis star possibly] run a bit and then hand over the flame to another guy... and the crowd around started moving in all directions.

As soon as the torch had passed we marched on to the stage where the relay had started to take pictures. It was really funny because each time we posed for pictures, lots of Chinese people wanted to take their pictures with us. It was fun and crazy and our cheeks started hurting because of all the smiling we had to do for the cameras.
Once we were done with being celebrities, we trekked back, across the Central Hospital and took the No.17 to the University.

It really was a good day and I'm keen to go see another torch relay!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Central Hospital Cutural Fest

The "First International Cultural Fest" was organised last week in the Central Hospital, Yichang. The Chinese title was a more accurate "First Get-together of Teachers and International Students of the Central Hospital", plus it also had the 'welcome Olympics' somewhere in there.
This was actually the brain-child of our Dr.Fang Qing, the Head of the Teaching department in the Hospital. He wanted a combination of the cultural programmes we have in the University, our organisational skills displayed in the Super 7's Trophy and the involvement of teachers and students as in the farewell party organised by our Seniors for the doctors. And of course, we had to do all of this by ourselves. Though the constant butting-in of scores of leaders who had their own ideas on how to do things didn't help very much, all the Chinese people on our side [i.e. the non-leaders] worked with us and got things running smoothly.
I was part of the compairing team along with other Indian, Chinese and Nepali students. Having written the English introduction for the programme, my only regret was that I could not elaborate on the 'One World One Dream' slogan of the Olmpics that - "we all share One Dream; a dream of individual freedom and international brotherhood" because my Chinese co-announcer jumped the gun and I was left stranded just as I was opening my mouth to speak.
After two whole days of trying to figure out things do say, rehearsals, stopping the 'leaders' from cancelling too many items and trying to make sense of all the directions, we finally managed to stage a wonderful programme. There were a few songs, dances and a drama and the last song was a group performance by all the teaching doctors who had attended the programme.
The main idea of the evening was to increase the student-teacher interaction in the hospital and I really hope it works out that way.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Song A Week VI

Chinna Chinna Asai - 'Roja', A R Rahman

AR Rahman is arguably the best Indian music director today. This is the first song of his first film 'Roja', which catapulted him to a National celebrity status.
For those who like references, 'Roja' was listed in the "Top 10 Movie Soundtracks of all Time" released by the Time magazine in 2007.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


All the Chinese websites are in black and white now as a whole nation mourns this tragedy.
As the rescue work drags on, the toll has been rising. The thunderstorms aren't helping too much either.
It certainly is a sign of strength as all the Chinese people come together to help out. It's impressive how fast the funds have been raised but the enormity of this disaster seems to demand it.
I don't really know how well the rescue operations are going but from all I have seen and heard it certainly has increased my respect for the Chinese people.
We are with you.

Security Risks

There is a McDonalds on the second floor of the Shenzhen railway station and its entrance from the main walkway was shut.

Apparently they are worried about the security risk it would pose for the Olympics which is three months and a thousand kilometers away, in Beijing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting wiser

It looks like every travel opportunity instructs you in many ways, including teaching you about yourself. Just listing some things I learned when I was on the road during the May holidays.

1. It can be hazardous for your health and general well-being if your traveling companion is a baby with bottomless pants. [For the uninitiated, these are pants with a long slit on the bottom, and the babies don't wear diapers] There's no telling when the next leak is due or where it might land.
2. Carrying a heavy bag while sight seeing can be annoying.
3. I enjoy trying new food items when someone explains them to me. Otherwise I'd rather stick to KFC or McD's for fast, cheap food.
4. Even though I don't particularly enjoy being pointed and stared at by people because I'm a foreigner, when they don't do so, I feel inadequate and inferior - "Am I not special enough for you?" I take this as a sad sign of being a foriegner for too long.
5. I seem to be a pretty demanding teacher. But I'm not! :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Yesterday the quake hit Sichuan, a couple of provinces to our west but it was so powerful that we felt it here too. But thankfully nothing was damaged. My biggest fear of course would be the destruction of the Three Gorges Dam... that would just mean we'd all be trying to swim for safety...
For the latest news we have to rely on the Internet and the only English language TV channel available here, CCTV 9. The last news broadcast I heard at 7:00 put the number of dead at 9200 and rising. Unfortunately, thunderstorms are impeding the rescue work.

Last night when the number was still pegged at 107, a university representative was walking around in our dorm talking to students.

Students: How many people died?
Representative: I don't know, do you?
S: You don't know?? CCTV 9 said 107...
R: oh ok. Did you contact any of your friends in other provinces?
S: No, did you?
R: No.
S: Why? Don't you have any friends?
R: ...yes I do.
S: So what are you doing here?
R: Just making sure you are okay... The university is maybe going to take some protective measures.
S: Like what..??
R: Maybe give some advice....?

I really don't want to debate on the way distribution of information is handled here and I do think there is quite a bit of the quake being shown on TV mixed with all the reassuring images of troop mobilization and emergency rescue work. But next time they send someone to talk to us, they better send someone who knows what he's talking about.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Super 7's Trophy finals

It was a very hot afternoon when we, the Hurricanes, played our opponents 'Real Madrid', in the finals of the first 7's tournament held among the overseas students in CTGU.
The pre-game poll was in our favour, with 66% saying that we would win, but unfortunately we didn't. Luck was not on our side as we lost 2-1 in the tightly fought contest. It was rather sad because we had put in a lot of work to ensure that the tournament ran smoothly.

The Deputy Director of the Medical College and the HOD, Teaching dept. Central Hospital were among the chief guests in the finals and so this event did make it to the University news website. But it said that we had conducted it as a part of welcoming the Olympics.
I don't have anything against the Olympics, but this tournament certainly didn't have anything to do with it.

A Song A Week V

Ohne Dich - Rammstein

I liked this German song long before I knew what it meant or I ever saw the video. Don't ask me why...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Farewell '03

After 4 years in Yichang, the first batch of Overseas students of the Medical college are now back home. We gave them a farewell party and it did bring back old memories even though I was not that close to the 2003 batch.

Our senior batch had completed their first year in another University in China and then moved to CTGU when we arrived. The old hostel, the welcome party, AEC, our first day in suits, the meetings, the first cricket tournament, the first snow... they are all so fresh in my memory.

Well now that they are all back in India, we are waiting to see what they will do. They are the first batch to complete this course in our University and are among the first to pass out from China after this new Overseas programme was introduced. In effect, they are like the lab rats in this little experiment of ours.
Let's hope they pass the test!

Warm wishes for your future '03!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Great Wall of China

No, I'm not talking about one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it's still a wonder to me.

Allow me to explain.
The West gate of my university leads to a small street, on both sides of which, there are shops and little restaurants. The Chinese called in "Snack street" while we Indians prefer the name "Food market". It really does have a strong market feel to it especially during rush hour when the street is basically clogged with students of all shapes and sizes.
Yesterday, a friend and I decided to have an early dinner and walked to the West gate. Instead of the familiar worn out iron gate, we saw a new, fresh brick wall! Once we managed to fix our gaping jaws back in place, we tried staring at the small Chinese notice board in front of the wall hoping that some part of this mystery might be solved. Neither of us were too knowledgeable in the area of Chinese reading comprehension and so I was really glad when my Chinese friend Johnson showed up. He told us that the University had decided that the food market was too dirty for the students. We wanted to find out more and so Johnson took us on his bike out through the North gate, around the campus and dropped us off at the other end of snack street.
We talked to some people and this is what we found out.
All shops along the street had been ordered to pack up and leave by the 20th of April. [They had three weeks notice] To make sure they did, the student access to the place had been blocked off by a neat wall on the 14th. The street was going to be "beautified" and "developed" with new shops coming up and would reopen on 30th June. The present rent they had to pay for putting up their food shacks was 400 yuan. They had no idea how much the new rent would be. Even other establishments not in the immediate path of this "beautification" were considering closing down for 3 months because the wall would restrict student access. Half the shops have already closed down while the others are waiting to see how many people would still take the trouble to visit snack street in the post-wall era.

Again, there are many things I learned from this.
One, the Chinese are fast builders. That wall just took one afternoon to build. I can already imagine how some Chinese student had gone down to one of the Internet cafes by snack street in the morning and when he came back that evening he found a tall wall blocking his path. Talk about rapidly changing skylines...
Two, China can never fail to surprise me. I come from a place where anything can trigger strikes. People just take to the streets, create a scene and we students get holidays. The only laws passed without much trouble are the ones supporting salary hikes. No one can take anything away from you unless you let them. And even then, there are others who can't stand it. I know there is a lot lacking in that situation and there are quite a lot of problems, but it's a crazy free world. And in no way can I understand the blind subservient obedience of these people! They probably run whole families with that one shop and now they they cannot run their little shops for 3 months with no idea about what will happen after that. Yes I can see the development. There will be new beautiful shops with licenses, things will be cleaner and look a lot better... no wonder China is developing so quickly. They don't care who they have to step on. Why should they? The person being stepped on doesn't care either.

Or maybe they cannot do anything even if they cared.

Or maybe I just cannot understand because I'm an Indian.

Cross cultural hurdles

Last week I was in the Hepatology dept. and was talking to one of the doctors there. Out of the blue, he asked me what I thought about Chinese economy. I started out on a winding comparison of Indian and Chinese economies when he cut in and said,"No, not economy... just China." Observing my puzzled expression, he asked me,"Where would you like to live, India or China?" My answer was of course India and he wanted to know why I didn't choose China. "Less freedom", I promptly answered. He looked rather sad when I said that and remarked to his colleague next to him how most of the foreign people seemed to think that there is no freedom in China. He said to me that he would defintely want to live in China and that he knew that sometimes the government had to take hard decisions but they were for the good and helped in the development of the country. He wanted to know what lack of freedom I experienced here and I thought of the ban on Blogger among other things. I just told him about freedom of press and information and then he asked me,"Do you want the Olympics in Beijng to run smoothly?" "Of course", said I, even though that question took me by surprise.

We moved on to different topics, mostly about liver cirrhosis, but all of that got me thinking.
One, I love sports and I wouldn't want anything getting in the way of the Olympics.
Two, the people here don't really care about lack of information; the ones who do, know how to get around the system.
Three, you will always judge others using your own standards not theirs. This applies to me and the Chinese.
Four, the Han majority in China view themselves and everyone within official Chinese boundaries as Han. For them, 'Chinese citizen' and 'Han' are synonyms. In other words, what's good for Beijing, is good for China.
Five, sometimes what's okay for me is not okay for you... and what's okay for you is not okay for me... and we just have to accept that.

Super 7's Trophy

Our first year in CTGU will be remembered for many things and among them, the tournaments will surely find a place. We had two cricket tournaments and one football tournament. That's when the Hurricanes football team was formed. The credit for putting up our team should really go to Vivek Ram. He is no longer with us but the team is still here.
Anyway, there have been two other football tournaments over the years but they were never completed. A friend and I have been thinking of holding a tournament for a while [almost a year now] and here we are finally. Our football team, the Hurricanes, are in the middle of organising a 7-a-side football tournament. We've got 7 teams divided into 2 pools and after two weekends, it's time for the semi-finals.
We did pretty well with our games, drawing the first one against the tournament favourites and beating a weak opponent in the second. I must say I can see a realistic chance of winning but with just 50 minutes of football in a match, anything can happen.
Of course we also have to do all the organising. We've been printing out articles and results for two weeks now and the success of our "Spot the Ball" contest has been most satisfying... but now we've got to spend more money to buy prizes for all those contest winners...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Song A Week IV

Praise You In The Storm - Casting Crowns

Tough as a Rhino II

Last semester a doctor told a friend of mine that the Chinese can withstand more pain than the Indians and from what we've seen, that wasn't his national pride doing the talking.
The Chinese really can take more than others. This also translates into more hard-work. Just looking at the students and the workmen on their shifts gives you an idea of how much they can push themselves.
History tells us all that they have gone through the last 50 years but they still keep going. It's the little things you notice... my friend was telling me the other day how the chinese don't care if someone cuts across them when they are walking, they don't even notice the offender. Their ability to brush aside 'irritables' is amazing. Maybe that's why they don't care if they are hit by a car.

Back to the Hospital

Finally I'm done with my exams for the semester. All my 'teacher' friends, including my mother and my sister, have told me what a headache exams are for them and that they would rather go back to being students at exam time because in hindsight that was so much easier. But still, everytime I take an exam I think of the evil teachers who make us do it. I can almost see them sitting in their little corners, rubbing their hands in pure delight and with an evil grin on their faces, waiting impatiently to see what effect this torture has on the poor students.

But now that the exams are done, I'm on amicable terms with my teachers again. I don't believe in carrying grudges.
My football team, the Hurricanes, is organising a 7-a-side football tournament. It's called the 'Super 7's Trophy' for want of a better name and right now it's keeping me busy. The last two football tournaments organised among the overseas students here, met with premature endings and so our main aim is to see this tournament through to completion. Of course, we would also like to win the Trophy but it doesn't look very easy right now.

Back on the studeis side, our clinical practice for this semester has started again. Once again I'll be in Yichang shi Zhong xin Yi yuan [Central Hospital of Yichang]. This time we have 14 weeks in the hospital and this week we are in Hepatology. We change departments every week and this semester we have some new departments as compared to the last one. Yesterday during the morning rounds, our teaching doctor asked us if we had been to his department last year. When we answered in the affirmative, he asked, "Then why have you come back this year?" I just shrugged.

Rulebook Test

It's been a while since I last blogged... just been a bit busy, but hopefully things should improve soon.
This is just an update. The Rulebook test on March 31st was an open book multiple choice test. And some students still wanted to copy answers from others...

Monday, March 17, 2008

The New Rulebook

At 6:00 pm last friday, we had yet another one of the "Foreign students - FAO" meetings.

The main purpose of this meeting was the distribution of the new Official Handbook for the Foreign Students. The book is actually called "Implementation Measures on Punishment on International Student Violated Disciplines of China Three Gorges University (Trial version)"

I guess one of the first things our "leaders" at the university did after the infamous "Nov 4th incident" was to sit together and draft out a new rulebook so that they could be prepared to counter everything that might occur in the future. It is not strange for the Chinese to have rules for everything; that's how the country works. And it looks like they've done a pretty good job.

They have thought of almost everything...
"Violations of Chinese national and local laws and regulations..." Article Eight
"The international students who were engaged in trouble-making or a fistfight" including "those who didn't hit peopple, but used insulting words...", "those who hit people but didn't hurt others", "those who hit people and caused slight injuries", "those who hit people and caused serious injuries", "those who plotted...", "those who beated others with tools", "those who provided others with tools", "those who beat others for revenge".... Article Ten
"Those who missed classes..." Article Eleven
"Those who obliterated, or tore up the proclamations such as announcements, notices and notifications...", "Those who viciously dialed emergency numbers..." Article Sixteen
"Those who didn't sleep in their dormitory at night for five times..." Article Twenty-three

Oh and did I mention that we have to take a test based on this book? The rules will come into effect from April 1st (according to Article Forty-three) and to make sure that we are all aware of what we are getting into, we have to take the test on March 31st. They have already announced cash prizes for the top ten scores. Not to worry if you can't make it the first time though; there will be retests for which we have to pay 50 yuan, and they have promised to increase the fees for every subsequent retest until everyone passes the exam.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Directly Indirect

Before I came to China, I used to think that people in this part of the world are never direct in their conversation. The idea that people from Japan and China beat around the bush a lot more than anywhere else on the planet seems to be universal. But this never prepared me for what I would encounter here.

The Chinese are quite direct in some situations - "Oh no!! What happened?? Why did you cut your hair like this??", accompanied by a small scream and a look of complete shock.

But in other cases they are quite indirect. For example, they use "cool" when they mean weird. "I saw a boy yesterday... his hair is... very cool."
"Oh you mean the guy whose hair looks like he hasn't washed it in ages?"
"Yes, yes, him!"

They also use "strong" when they mean fat. In fact, I was actually advised by a friend that calling a girl strong would not be taken as a compliment. What else am I supposed to call a girl who beats everyone at tennis with her strong smashes?
"oh... okay..."
"Clever" or "wonderful" (apparently they are synonyms in China) is supposed to be a good compliment for almost any occasion. And compliments are free.
"Oh you are wearing so few clothes in winter. You're so wonderful!" umm...thanks. I didn't feel the need to wear my sweater to come down and buy this loaf of bread, just thought the jacket would suffice.
"You really stay up after 12 and sleep whenever you like? How wonderful! Your life is so special! You are so clever!"

Having said that, even after being here for more that 3 1/2 years, I still make mistakes. Learning is a continuos process.
S : (jovial) Hey man! How was your vacation? Looks like you had a good time back home with your family. You've put on some weight too.
R : (not smiling) Another way to say it would be - you look more strong.
S : Oh... umm... okay...

Follow the Leader

In India, no one wants to be the class leader/monitor in high school. They have to work hard, cope with insubordination from everyone and have to take the blame from the teachers if anything goes wrong.

Not so in China. Perhaps it is something instilled into every child's mind in accordance with the Communist principle or perhaps it's just the way things are, but leaders are to be obeyed. And obedience here means not questioning their decisions. If your leader tells you that you have to get up at 6 am every morning and have fun doing excercises, you will have fun. If your leader tells you that you have a major test tomorrow, you don't express shock over the short notice... you just rush to the library and bury your head in your books.

Being a leader has more than it's share of perks. Other than the unquestioned authority you have over your minions, you get to talk with other leaders. Even introducing yourself as the leader of a group of five students will win you much respect and admiration from young and old alike. But the hazards are great too. If anything goes wrong they'll have your head on a platter. According to some recent news reports, if you are in a big enough position, this is a quite literal possibility. Leaders make excellent scapegoats.

Nevertheless, these leaders are everywhere; and everything has a leader. Even in our humble settings, we are constantly made aware of this fact.
There are a couple of "leaders" stationed on the ground floor of our dormitories to help us. If there is any trouble, we have a long talk with them at the end of which they say, "We'll talk to our leaders." And we say, "Oh... so you can't do anything about it? Then why can't we just directly talk to your leaders and get something done without wasting our time?"
This is probably a very un-Chinese thing to do. There are four or five levels of leaders you have to get through to, before anything gets done and each level is only supposed to speak to the level right above it.
But after all that has happened here in our university, things are changing. But there is nothing called gradual change here. I guess there is nothing gradual in any of the changes in China. Every change feels massive and radical. Perhaps that's why they need people to obey the leaders... to minimise the confusion.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chinese Concern

The Chinese are strange. Yes, I know that everyone is not the same and a person who is not from your hometown always appears to be strange with strange culture, language and customs. But the Chinese are strange.

During early winter, when the weather is cool, we enjoy walking around in our jeans, t-shirts and sandals while the Chinese are all sweating under their double layer jackets. Realising that since it is their country and that they might have different customs, we try not to tell them that all those clothes are not essential for survival. But when they start staring at our sandals and slippers it does seem strange. It is even more so when people tell you that you must wear more clothes and definitely give up those flip-flops. It is at those moments that you are supposed to feel grateful for the thought and concern the Chinese have for their fellows and outsiders.

But there are other times when the Chinese don't seem very concerned about anything.

This happened last semester, when I was waiting for my bus back to the university from the hospital where I study.
The bus stop is on the road running behind the hospital and it gives me a good view of the back entrance to the Central Hospital of Yichang city. This road is never really busy and I had been waiting for a while by a roadside shop, sheltered from the slight drizzle. And then it happened. On the other side of the road, a motorist on his not-so-cool motorbike came off a by-lane and a car rammed into him.
The little guy fell off his machine and his little yellow Chinese helmet, the kind which cannot do anything to protect anybodys head, flew off to the middle of the road. The driver of the car, after a quick glance at the fallen bike, drove off carefully so as not to run over the motorist or his little helmet. A couple of people passing by, saw that the motorist wasn't really injured and just walked on. By this time, I was already on his side of the road and had retrieved his helmet so that the other vehicles didn't crush it as they went on their way. Our motorist was trying to untwist the handlebars of his bike and was surveying the damage, which was minimal - just a broken rear-view mirror and a missing indicator light, plus the stuff that had fallen off the back of his bike.
Picture this - It is raining and I'm standing in the middle of the road with a yellow helmet in my hand. The motorist who is limping slightly is in a hurry to start his bike. One Chinese guy is standing aside trying to see if any damage was done. People and vehicles are going by on their way. As I hand him his helmet he gives me a look that says - What a strange person, I could have done it myself.
And I walked back to the bus stop with my unopened umbrella in hand.

A Song A Week III

I realise that with my present internet connectivity options, if I keep doing the Song a Week feature, this whole blog would end up being a video music blog because I just can't get online long enough for any other blogs. So even though I won't rename this little blog, it will not be a song a week anymore... more like a fortnightly...

This week features Eminem. I don't listen to rap much but I really like Eminem, and that's probably because I can understand what he says :)
This one here is my favourite Eminem song. I personally think that the song really dosen't need this elaborate video because the words themselves tell an excellent story.

Presenting.... Stan - Eminem

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Song A Week II

Dumb - Nirvana

I started listening to to Nirvana about 5 years after they had stopped making music because of Cobain's suicide.
What I like about their songs is that carelessly lazy feel that you get when you listen to them. I think that if you try to dig deep into their lyrics, which a lot of people have done, you miss the whole point.
Some of my favourite quotes from Nirvana...
"I'm so ugly, but that's ok 'cause so are you" - Lithium
"It is now time to make it unclear, to write off lines that don't make sense, I love myself better than you, I know it's wrong so what should I do?" - On a Plain
"Who needs action when you got words" - Plateau

And here's the song...
"..I think I'm dumb or maybe just happy.."

Friday, February 29, 2008

New Semester

The first weekend of semester no.8 is here.

After a 6 week long vacation it was back to classes again on monday. It snowed the first day of the new semester and it reminded me of how it always rained the first day of school back home in India.
After hearing all the stories about the weather during the vacations, I was glad that I had decided to go down to India this winter. Last sunday the topic of discussion was slothfulness, something that had great meaning in my life for sure. Even though I didn't agree with everything that was said it was a much needed reminder of what we should be doing.
As usual, I have set myself some goals for this semester and I hope I can meet them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lessons for a Tour Guide

Lessons for a Tour Guide or What I learned from India when I travelled with Non-Indians.

My time travelling in India with my American friends was productive in more ways than one. Other than of course the joy of visiting different places, I got to learn a lot more.
One of the unofficial slogans during our time together was "Make your dreams come true". Not everyone had a dream in the first place and some had to live out others' dreams for them. My designated dream, well aim actually, was to get in touch with my roots. And I did quite well if I should say so myself. Here are some of the things I learned.

1. I figured out that the head wobble is a wide spread phenomenon. And that I did it too. I was told though, that I didn't do it in China, and it probably came as a surprise to my friends who saw me wobble my head to everything when I was in Kerala. Well, at least it surprised me.

2. When Genies are done with their three wishes they come to India for a happy retired life. If you don't believe me, ask Brad, he knows all about it. How else can you explain all those strange non- Indian beings wearing Genie pants?

3. Strange Indians think that strange foreigners have strange tastes. eg. Giant balloon sellers.

4. When you travel with foreigners, you are almost never considered a tourist unless you ask 'tourist' questions with your foreigner friend in view. This usually makes them answer in English.
But once you start talking with someone they are really friendly. In fact they become so friendly that they want to tell you lots and lots of things. And they also want to tell you what they think of foreigners and start describing previous encounters with the 'strange ones', not all of which are very flattering.

5. I noticed that in India, people like to wave at everyone. This is probably something that comes very naturally because I remember waving like crazy at everyone, whenever we used to go on trips. Maybe it's the Indian traveller thing to do.

6. It is a great thing to be able to understand what the local is saying, even if they don't know that you do.

7. Many tourists have a certain image of India in their minds which they love to re-create once they are actually there. We call them strange people with strange ideas. But sometimes, when you look at things from their point of view, you are not so sure anymore... maybe just 85% sure.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Song A Week I

I know I should be posting here regularly and now I've come up with an idea to do just that. Each week I'll upload a song I like. Yes, it's the easy way out but then I can tell myself that I am indeed updating this place regularly.
So I had to decide which song would officially kick start this "A Song A Week" fixture and I thought of the Beatles. But making a desicion about which song to play was really hard. There are a lot of Beatles songs I like though I finally picked "Yesterday". This was the first Beatles song I heard, just before they released "1", which of course I bought without another thought.
This song really made a good first impression but that's not my only reason to choose this song. I generally like sad songs and this is just so good! The music and lyrics are not only beautiful but they also captivate you in their simplicity.
"Yesterday, All my troubles seemed so far away, Now it looks as though they're here to stay..."
And this makes me smile - "Why she had to go I don't know, she wouldn't say..."
All in all a very good song. 10 out of 10 for you!

Literary ventriloquist... the follow up

I saw an article in The Times of India yesterday. Looks like another addition to the list of people who can 'read' minds.

"An author has produced a book in which he imagines the thoughts of famous couples while they are having sex, his subjects include Britain's Prince and Princess of Wales, Bill and Hillary Clinton and George and Laura Bush" Other couples he has written about in the book include "...Adam and Eve; Bonnie and Clyde; Attila the Hun and his 12th wife; King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn; and even Santa Claus and a female elf." Cheap publicity trick? As it turns out though, this American author is the 1993 Pulitzer prize winner Robert Butler who denies doing any of this to stir up controversies. He says, "It is a rendering of the inner consciences of these people, a way into the inner selves of the characters." Right... but wait, there's more. "Two years ago he published Severance, short stories imagining the final thoughts of decapitated heads, based on scientific evidence that the brain keeps functioning for up to 60 seconds after the head has been severed from the body. His characters included Marie Antoinette, John the Baptist, a victim of Al Qaida and a dragon slain by St.George" He has "...always agreed with WB Yeats, who said that sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind." "Severence was my death book; Intercourse is my sex book"

Are you serious??

This is the link for the original article But we aren't really talking about the same thing... their focus is mainly on whether we are invading the privacy of Charles and Diana.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Behind every famous Author there is a Critic

Have you ever seen movies that don't seem to make any sense at all and are really very boring? We call them art films and those are the ones which win all the National awards. Any why? Some super intellectual person decides that if it's so hard to understand it must have some deep seated meaning and so it's an excellent movie. That's what happens most of the time, or at least that's what I think happens most of the time.
With books it's even worse. There have been lots and lots of books which went unread in their time and whose authors starved to death. But half a century later some guy decides that the book is worth more than it's weight in gold because it is an exposé of the human nature in disco lights or whatever else pops into his confudled head. And if that guy is influencial enough, people buy into his largely confusing interpretation and certify that the said book is indeed a masterpiece and start raising funds so that they can erect a statue of the said author in front of their local libraries.
And this is mostly true of poems. All those old classics are pretty good; as long as you have someone to explain them to you. The critics are so brilliant! They not only explain the poem and it's ever present importance and connection with the modern society, they also tell you in what state the poet was when he penned those lines. They can draw parallels between anything and everything. They can even tell you what the poet had for lunch. They can tell you everything except the name of the poet, which unfortunately was lost somewhere along the way. Without the critics, those 'great' works would probably just be worth their weight in firewood.

But I do wish I had my own super cool critic friend, who could find all sorts of hidden meaning in everything I write; who could read between lines, phrases and words and portray such a wonderful picture that even I would be stunned at my abilities.
Yes, that's what I'm going to do; befriend a critic.

The Pretenders - I'll Stand By You

"...Nothing you confess, could make me love you less..."

My first time uploading a video... lets see how it works. Just thought it should be this song because it gets mentioned in the previous post ;)
The video let me down though :( They really should come up with an alternate video coz I really like this song!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ode to Moonlight

Not the moonlight, to Moonlight.
Ode to Moonlight. Hmm... that would make an interesting poem. If only I had some major poetic revelation or inspiration I could have done justice to the title. But alas, words fail me. I cannot seem to think creatively.
I look up at the moon. Just past its half now, and yet so bright. I think I'm in love with the moon. That's decided then, Moonlight - my Valentine for 2008.
The Breeze is here again. I like you too. But Moonlight already has my heart.
Poor Moonlight. I wonder how many people have romanced her... and gotten over her. Will I be just another in her long list of lovers? Maybe I should sing her "I'll stand by you" by the Pretenders. But I know I cannot, because I know I'll change. I'll leave her behind soon. I'm sure I would always come back, I always do. But I am sure I will leave, I always do. I know she deserves much better treatment. No, not a better person, just better treatment. Even a bad man can treat someone well. "It's what you do that defines you, not what you are deep down inside" haha thanks Batman ;)
I must not slip into monotonous monologies... she is still here, shining down on me. Maybe I love her because she is soft and the light she casts is just enough to cast shadows. It's a... blurry light. It helps to differentiate things and yet merges things, unites things. She is white and everything else is grey - shades of grey. Even the shadows are grey.
It's getting chilly now. I can feel the cold creeping up on me. I should go in. No point sitting outside and catching a cold. I leave. I am leaving. I am leaving her. So much for "I'll stand by you". And suddenly I realise the truth and smile. It's the other way around - she'll stand by me. Just like she has stood by all her other ungrateful admirers. She understands me. She knows I will leave and she knows I will come back. She is patient and lets me know that whenever I want, she'll be there. And of course, she will do her own special appearances from time to time... so beautiful that I'll forget everything else and fall in love with her again. She knows she can do that. She has the ability to make me fall in love with her over and over again. Hmm... does that make her sound like a calculating and evil character? But she's not. Because, she is pure, and as far as I am concerned, for my short little life on earth, she is eternal and I should be eternally grateful to her for loving me.
I should.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Ever since I learned that the term "Catch-22" came from a book, I've wanted to read it. And finally I did just that this winter.
Turned out to be an excellent read, the funniest I've read so far. But amidst all that sarcasm and dark humour you really feel for the characters too. The narration is excellent as it jumps back and forth in time, letting you know only what you need. [I've never given much thought to this before but... yay for modern writing techniques!]

And I just have to post this excerpt from the book...

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."

I wanted to post more parts of the book... but hey! go grab your copy!

Thursday, January 31, 2008


So now I'm mid-way through my vacations and today my friends will arrive in Mumbai.

Having successfully made it to Mumbai, I had to go down to Thiruvananthapuram, my hometown, to recieve my 4 American friends who wanted to spend the Chinese New year in India.
I guess it was a good idea to come to India because China is freezing now. It's been snowing for over three weeks in Yichang where the normal snow is two days per winter. I heard that the water in the pipes has frozen over and even the electricity has been affected.

My friends did have some trouble getting the Indian visa... hmm... a lot of trouble actually, but thankfully they made it. I did have to get some sightseeing plan in order, and with all the tips coming in from various quarters, it wasn't much of a problem. After a short day in Thiruvananthapuram, we went to Kollam to catch the 8 hour "backwater boat ride" to Allapuzha. After spending the night in Vandiperiyar, day 3 was spent in Thekkady, the wildlife sanctuary. Unfortunately it turned out that there was no elephant ride through the jungle so we just decided to do the elephant ride through a 'spice plantation' which looked like someones backyard. Day 4 [and 5 thanks to Shibu the caretaker] was spent in Ernakulam. Fortunately all the foreign friends seemed to enjoy the South Indian cuisine so there wasn't any problem getting our bellies full. Ernakulam seemed a lot more congested than when I was there but the Auto-rickshaw drivers were still the same... they still don't use the meters. After 2 days in Ernakulam we took a train to Bangalore.

In Bangalore I went with my cousin, Dilip, and my friends had friends of their own there. I finally got to see my cousin sister Brindha akka. Last time I had seen her she was still just a college student. Now she is married and the mother of two! I had a good time there. Bangalore seemed different too. Dilip tells me it has the largest two-wheeler population in Asia. Just one look and you could tell for yourself! But I didn't have much time there and my Bangalore stay was over between Lalbaag, a shopping trip and 2 visits to my cousin's.
I took a bus back to Mumbai as all the trains were booked. Not only was the bus very slow, but by the time we reached Pune they informed us that the bus was not doing so good and couldn't continue the journey. I finally reached Mumbai in a Sumo with 8 others... the bus people paid for it of course, and I got one of the more comfortable seats so it was okay.

I got back last Friday and on Saturday I went on a 2 day family trip to the Sardar sarovar dam in Vadodara. We were basically guests of the builders of the dam so we travelled in a private plane and had people waiting on us all the time. We got back on Sunday and since then I've been lazying around, waiting for my friends to get here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

From another song in my head

"When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool..."
"If I swallow anything evil,
put your finger down my throat..."

- The Who, "Behing Blue Eyes"

Today at Church

We had the special Covenant Service today as part of the Sunday service. It had three parts : Prayer of adoration, Thanksgiving and Confession of sin.
And one of the prayers went like this...

We confess the poverty of our worship, the formality and selfishness of our prayers, our inconstancy and unbelief, our neglect of fellowship and of the means of grace, our hesitating witness for Christ, our false pretences and our wilful ignoring of your ways.
Have mercy on us, Lord, and forgive us.

From 'The Old Man and the Sea'

Santiago talking to himself...

"You give me much good counsel," he said aloud. "I'm tired of it."

-Ernest Hemingway, 'The Old Man and the Sea'


This is a new label and will contain my own quotes plus anything else I see from time to time which sounds good. I just felt the label "Poetry?" wasn't doing this one any justice. So this is essentially the second post under this label.

"The world will be much funnier place if you learn to laugh at yourself"

Tough as a Rhino's hide

The Chinese are different.

Well, as everyone knows, everyone is different. And I thought that for someone who has never been to China, knowing what's different about them would be an interesting read.

So I'll start at the very outside... the skin. This appealed to my medical curiosity and perhaps you wouldn't care to continue reading. But to me, this is one of the most important differences.

A friend once told me that holding a Chinese girl's hand is different from holding an Indian girl's hand because the Indian hand is much softer. And I believe him because he has experience. And I've also seen in the hospital that Chinese skin is pretty hard.
They also lack the kind of hair that covers our body. Both sides seem to agree on this because I once read that the common name for foreigners in the North-East of China can be translated as "the hairy one".
The Chinese seem to sweat a lot less than normal too but this is probably a subjective observation because being from a tropical place, I start sweating as soon as I see the sun.
The way the Chinese wash their faces too indicates that there is something different there. They usually just go about clawing their faces and rubbing it with face towels.
But this type of skin does seem to suit their heavy use of makeup. The use of so much paint makes them look like dolls... or old women trying too hard.

Breakfast in China

A lot of Indians, and millions around the world, seem to love Chinese cuisine. No doubt it is a very rich and varied one, but in some cases it falls short of expectations. And one huge area is the breakfast.

This time when I was on the Yichang-Beijing train, I bought breakfast for 10 yuan.
As I was sitting in my cabin, I heard shouts of "baozi" [baked flour balls with meat stuffing]. I like those and as I was pretty hungry I ventured out to buy them. It so turned out that I had to buy a "set" breakfast. I got a bowl of porridge/gruel/(soup?) with the plastic box containing the main course and a pair of chopsticks which the lady handed to me with a "bon appetit" expression on her face.
The soup-thingy tasted like water does when you have drunk too much of it. But I knew it was full of calories and other such important items and so I decided I should try to drink as much of it as possible. The plastic box contained assorted flour balls; one of which I identified as being a boazi and quickly gobbled up. I prodded the other three with my chopsticks and spent some time pondering over the delicate curves and smooth texture of the food. I did take a bite, but the half baked flour didn't feel too appetising.

After taking another sip of the oats+rice+water+/-? drink I moved the rest of the breakfast with quiet dignity into the waiting dustbin.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yichang to India - Of Dead Toes and Magic Gates

This is my fourth year as a med student in China and it will be the first time I spend the winter break [also the Spring festival/Chinese new year] in India.
So after all the hassle of the last few months I finally decided to run off to India for a while and spend a good five-six weeks in my motherland as a lazy Indian and part-time guide.

With this in mind I contacted Firos, our Sri lankan Airlines Officer and 4th year med student of Yichang for tickets. The tickets were confirmed without much trouble. But as seems to be the trend this semester, there is always something waiting to go wrong.

When I went to the bank to withdraw money for the ticket, the ATM there faithfully debited the amount from the account but somehow forgot to hand it over to me. It just thanked me in the firm but polite manner of ATMs worldwide and asked me to take my card and leave. Fortunately there was a security guard there who helped me file a complaint. I have now been told that it will be at least a month before I get back that money.
I did manage to pay for the ticket though and also got a train ticket from Yichang to Beijing.

So now it was D-Day, the day I left Yichang. After doing my packing, I took a shower and set about getting some last minute preparations done. I suddenly noticed that there was something odd about one of my toes. It had gone completely white, totally drained of blood. At first I thought it was just the cold shower I took and so sat down to rub some colour into it. You see, after a fire in one of the Chinese student dorms, we are not allowed to use any heating rods or hot blankets, so my only option was to rub it down. After about 15 minutes, I decided I needed a second opinion. I called Oswin into my room and we put our medical heads together. There was still 'pain sensation' in the toe and so we unanimously declared that it was not dead even though it looked like a lost pale ghost among the other healthy pink ones. Still, we were undecided on whether to go to the hospital and risk missing the train. Finally though after half an hour, the toe began to show signs of life and I'm glad to announce that he is doing quite well right now.

The Yichang-Beijing train journey was very pleasant and quite uneventful. I had a whole soft sleeper cabin for myself and it was truly "yi lu ping an" [Peaceful travel] except for the 10 yuan spent on the Chinese breakfast.I had a very good time in Beijing as well, renewing old friendships and making new ones. Had a great dinner courtesy of David [Dai Hui], my friend in Beijing who I lived with when I was there to get my passport work done.
At the airport I was joined by 5 of my University mates who had flown down to Beijing that morning and would be with me on my flight to Colombo.
The flight was pleasant with good food and nice movies even though there were some strange fellow passengers...

The plane dropped us off safely in Colombo and we were taken to the "Sunflower Beach Resort" for the night. I got a single room with a comfortable bed. But I soon realised that I had to share my room with a whole squadron of mosquitoes. I had to wrap myself up like a cocoon with a big white sheet to get some sleep at the "beach resort".
After a modest breakfast, I was out on the road with a jovial "Drive-for-Hire" guy from the Sri lankan Airlines, who drove me to the Airport.

Upon arrival, I was informed that I had to get to Gate no.10 in order to board the flight to Mumbai. After waiting for quite a while outside Gate no.10 [as it was still quite early] an airport employee came up to me and announced that the Gate had been changed to no.3 and that it was open now. So I walked across the airport to get there. I went through the Security Check-up... even our shoes were being X-rayed. After being cleared, as I was tying my shoe lace, another guy came up to me and told me that due to some technical difficulties the Gate had been changed to no.12. After some snorts and audible sighs, my fellow travellers and I trudged back to no.12. On the way I passed a lady who was being told that the Mumbai flight would be at Gate 1. I successfully rescued her and lead her to the safety of Gate no.12. After once again going through the motions of removing belts and shoes, we got our boarding passes stamped and we settled down to wait for the plane. After about 10 minutes a sheepish looking person came up to us and told us that the gate had been changed to no.8. There was much gnashing of teeth now but I couldn't help laughing. Once again we trekked through the now familiar corridors and reached Gate no.8. Here we had to stand behind a long queue of people who had mysteriously arrived out of nowhere and who were boarding the same flight. And by the time it was my turn, it was already the "Final Call" for flight 145. All this really got me thinking.... maybe arriving early is too over-rated.

When I finally landed in Mumbai, it took longer than usual at the Immigration counter because the officer was not too impressed with my "issued-in-Beijing" passport. He wanted to see my Chinese student ID and appeared to read all the Chinese in it.
I also had to open both my bags at the screening place just before the exit because they seemed to think that my baggage contained illegal/dangerous/unidentifiable objects, they failed to mention which one it was.

Once outside though, I found that my mother was waiting for me and so was the driver. And I was home.
All said, it was a pretty good trip. Yes, it was.