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.