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.