Friday, April 11, 2014

Urinal Etiquettes

Although I had some ghastly experiences in Chinese toilets, most of my memories are happy ones. I much enjoyed reading the words of wisdom posted above urinals all over China, from the succinct "Closer, easier" to the more verbose "You can enjoy the fresh air after finishing a civilized urinating". I was heartened to see that the Chinese visa processing office in Vancouver maintained the tradition with a similar sign posted at its bathroom facilities.

The urinal etiquette instructed the user to maintain eye contact with the urinal at all times, and not chit chat or look at neighbours while taking a leak. The user generated stream also had to be parallel to the Earth's surface. Physics experiments, particularly those involving parabolic trajectories, were strongly discouraged.


“I just peed in the sink. Why? Because there was already somebody in the bathtub.
― Jarod Kintz

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It is Suck

In South Korea, conformity is the name of the game. Anything that deviates from a very limited spectrum of acceptability is scorned, particularly when it comes to matters of appearance and style.

Me: My jacket is very nice.

Korean coworker: No, it is suck.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Zhengzhou - China's Largest Ghost City

With their empty streets and their deserted buildings, ghost towns have always fascinated me . Desolate and decaying constructs leave a physical reminder of glory days that have been swept away by the winds of destiny, disuse, and destruction. Living in Asia provides access to a particular phenomena - that of modern day ghost towns built in anticipation of a demand that may or may not materialize.

Some are worthy experiments in city building while others are entertaining combinations of vanity project and investor folly. China is in the lead with Ordos and Zhengzhou, followed by South Korea's Songdo. India has contributed deserted Lavassa, a holiday resort within driving distance of Mumbai and Pune but with around 0.01% of their population density.

As one of the eight ancient capitals of China, Zhengzhou itself has a long history. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed that it was the first city of the Shang dynasty around 3500 years ago. After visiting several heads of states, my friend Swathish and I made our way to the outskirts of the capital of Henan to visit the Middle Kingdom's largest ghost city - Zhengzhou New District.

Although Zhenghou's urban population base is nearing 9 million, not many of its inhabitants had made it to the New District. Swathish and I wandered through the deserted boulevards undisturbed. 'Caution for tumbling' warned a sign beside a staircase in front of an empty convention center and museum complex. Although mostly unused and uninhabited, the office towers, apartment complexes, and civic spaces showed heavy investment.

Rent is supposedly excessive even though tenants are hard to come by. One area is named Vancouver Square. The ghost cities are a testament to a future that is desired by the powers that be, but not one that is necessarily a reflection on the present day capabilities or desires of the populace.

Unlike Ordos, which is a lengthy highway drive away from its older namesake, new Zhengzhou is a modern, well-planned continuation of inhabited Zhenghzhou, so there is a greater likelihood that it will soon transform into a functioning community.

Apart from the short term gains that are generated by a resource and manpower intensive project like building a city from scratch, the grand vision of Zhengzhou New Distract may yet become a reality as migrants and businesses slowly trickle into a settlement where the infrastructure is already in place to handle an increasingly urban and affluent population.


Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. ~ Mark Twain

Friday, March 14, 2014

Colombo's Bat Park

Perhaps one of the stranger sights I witnessed in Colombo, apart from a solitary white woman who expertly used only her hands to devour a meal served on a banana leaf at a traditional Sri Lankan eatery, was a park in the middle of the city filled with hundreds of bats. Multitudes of these webbed mammals were roosting high above me on the branches of several trees clustered in the centre of Viharamahadevi Park on a sunny afternoon. 

I looked up with curiosity, but also frequently down at my feet to establish the path I should follow to avoid an undesired coat of bat guano. Using my powers of probabilistic reasoning to ward of danger, I tiptoed my way around the heavily splotched sections on the ground and maintained a brisk pace to avoid being pelted by any dastardly droppings. 

I was astounded by seeing so many of these creatures of the night out in pure daylight, as usually I only encounter them in caves or other dimly lit locations. I escaped unharmed and later found out that they are fruit bats of the Indian Flying Fox variety, addicted to fruit juice and capable of swallowing pieces of fruit in their entirety. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kaziranga - The Land of Rhinos

Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve in Assam is famed for being home to two-thirds of the one-horned rhino population and having the highest ecological density of tigers of any protected area in the world. Elephants, water buffaloes, wild boars, deer, monkeys, turtles, migratory birds, and other wildlife are also present in significant numbers in the 450 square kilometre World Heritage Site. During monsoon season, the park is closed to visitors.

I headed from Guwahati to Kaziranga on an Assam State bus, handing my phone to the driver so the manager of the jungle lodge where I would be spending a few nights at could tell him exactly where to drop me off. I was deposited on the side of the street in the dark and told to wait. Soon after, I saw a light moving towards me from 200 meters away. It solidified into a boy holding a flashlight who guided me to my tent at the nicely maintained Nature Hunt Eco Lodge.

After dinner and some drinks with fellow guests around a campfire, I headed back to my tent. The same boy who had retrieved me from the road ran towards me yelling ‘Leopard! Leopard! Come see!’. I did not have a strong inclination to head in the direction of a leopard, but the boy was particularly enthusiastic so I followed him. He pointed his torch into the trees above and pointed to a civet among the branches. It was a significantly smaller jungle cat than a leopard.

The next day I woke at 530 am to go on an elephant safari. The start point was a half an hour jeep ride away from the lodge. I sat atop the elephant. The giant beast slowly ate its way through the grasslands, stopping at the behest of its mahout whenever rhinos or other wildlife were within breathing distance.

After pulling over at the side of the road on the way back from the jeep safari for a quick halt at a roadside temple, the driver told a story about why he prays for safety to the gods every day. Apparently the week before a rhino had munched on the front wheel of a jeep, then continued up until the windscreen, at which point he tossed the car sideways, flinging the passengers of the vehicle to the nearest hospital. The rhino had also hurt his neck in the incident.

I also heard a story of a tiger attacking a forest ranger within the national park. Another ranger rushed to his defence and shot the tiger, but he was punished. The law states that it is illegal to harm tigers, even for self defence, as Kaziranga is their natural habitat and it is humans that are encroaching on their territory.

In the afternoon I went on 3 hour open air jeep safari, spotting pretty much everything but a tiger. The driver did point out fresh tiger prints on top of the tire tracks of the last jeep that had passed the area, and trees where tigers had left claw marks.  I was surprised to hear that rhinos could achieve speeds of up to 40-45 km/h, similar to the pace K-girls can reach when they detect me in their vicinity. We had a few close calls with charging rhinos and protective mother elephants but the driver was always quick on the accelerator to keep us out of harms way.


The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there's a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants. ~ David Attenborough