February 28, 2013

A Bahraini Day

I was stuck for 12 hours in the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, not for pleasure or for a layover, but due to a delay of a Bahrain Air flight to Mumbai. For a large airport, Fiumicino has little to offer those have no particular fascination with luxury handbags. Gucci, Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Fendi stores are peppered through the airport. There was no word from the airline on how long the delay would last or if the flight would be cancelled altogether.

The other passengers grew increasingly agitated and spent their time yelling at the Italian airport staff, two of whom left as shells of their former selves. After becoming a handbag expert (giving me something to discuss in the future with purse swinging Korean men), finishing a novel, babysitting some children with the assistance of their mother's iPad tablet, eating some pizza, and napping, an announcement was made that the flight would not be cancelled. Five hours later we were on our way to the oil-rich Kingdom of Bahrain, but anyone with a connecting flight had long since missed it.

A fellow passenger commented on my extraordinary patience and coolness during the whole ordeal. The Indian men who had caused a commotion at the airport protested, saying they were also even tempered fellows. They had only pretended to loose their cool for entertainment purposes as they had nothing else to do during the flight delay.

We would have to spend a day in Manama until we could be put on the next flight to Mumbai. I spent the better part of a day exploring the mosques, skyscrapers, and markets of Bahrain's capital. The locals abhor doing any physical labour, as black gold runs through their veins. The heavy lifting is done by labourers from the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. The population of 1.2 million is split evenly between citizens and non-nationals.


An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather. - Washington Irving

February 27, 2013

Seoul's Symphony of Fire

Each year, the city of Seoul hosts an international fireworks competition on the banks of the Han River. Similar to Vancouver's Celebration of Light, massive crowds gather to see several countries present pyrotechnics demonstrations choreographed to a musical score. A winner is announced at the end, but by then most of the crowd has dispersed and begun making their way to the nearest subway station.

With hundreds of thousands in attendance, it is a nice chance to see a cross section of the entire society in one place. Families and oldsters arrive hours in advance, setting up their picnic mats and relaxing by the river all day. There is barely any room to manoeuvre, as the whole river bank is covered by tarps, people, and bottles of soju.

As night approaches, couples and groups arrive and stand in front of the picnic crowd so that they can enjoy unrestricted views of the fireworks bonanza. The sitters loudly complain about the standees who have arrived after them and are now blocking their much anticipated view. By and large, their gripes are ignored even after they start chanting "Sit down! Sit down!" or the Korean equivalent.

The journey to get to Yeouido, the island in the middle of the city from where the fireworks can best be viewed, is a spectacle that parallels the actual fireworks extravaganza in entertainment value.  The subway is packed tighter than a Korean male into his skinny jeans. I had to transfer from one subway line to another to get to Yeoudio, but even the transfer station was extremely congested.

I circumvented the lineup by going one extra station in the opposing direction, and then crossing back onto a train heading in the correct direction there. At the destination station, bodies poured out of the subway and slowly bubbled to the surface from its subterranean depths. Wave after wave of black haired heads poured out the exits of the station, greeted by their first fireworks of the night.


Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
- "Firework" by Katy Perry

February 24, 2013

Mumbai - A Cavalcade of Life

The name Mumbai is derived from the goddess Mumba Devi. I went to visit the temple of the city's patron goddess with my cousin. The six hundred year old structure is not especially fascinating, but the neigbourhood around it is packed with the colours, smells, and sights that indelible memories are forged out of.

The streets of Seoul are quite predictable, full of bright neon lights and 24/7 life. The primary difference between day and night and from one area to another is that the number of drunken Korean men asleep on the sidewalk varies by time and location. Mumbai, on the other hand, always has something new to offer around every corner.

We chanced upon a series of vibrantly painted carts with disproportionally large bugles attached to the top as we continued on from the temple. The miniature vehicles can be hired to noisily accompany marriage processions. At another junction, a goat was parked amidst a line of motorcycles. A public washroom with an "Urine" sign accompanied by an arrow was next in line to draw my attention.

We visited a store selling burqas, the traditional Muslim body coverings, and inquired about the pricing and the different styles on sale. The store owners asked if we planned to open a burqa shop of our own, wary of freely distributing market intelligence to potential competitors. We informed them that we had no such plans at the moment.


"The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It's an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that." ~ Julian Sands 

February 23, 2013

Christmas in Calcutta

It seems whenever I am in Calcutta (now Kolkata) some kind of celebration is taking place. On my past few visits to the City of Joy I have commemorated the ARNABirth, enjoyed the incomparable sights and sounds of Durga Puja, and attended my cousin's wedding. I happened to be in Kolkata for Christmas in 2011, and yet again the city was in a festive mood.

The most vibrant nightlife district in town centres around Park Street (now Mother Teresa Sarani), which is decked out in Christmas lights. The grand buildings from the days of the British Raj, deteriorating yet elegant, still stand tall. Anachronistic restaurants and clubs, like Trinca's and Mocambo, are decorated in the manner in which they were during their heyday decades ago.

A large audience watches a concert take place in a nearby park. Worshippers or those just looking to rest for a bit fill the church pews. Crowds clog the sidewalks like cholesterol in an American's arteries. Magnificent yellow Ambassador taxis ply the streets. Once in a while I spot odd combinations in the dense mass of humanity, such as women clad in saris wearing Santa Claus hats.

Kolkata is a magical place. There is not much to like about the city, but so much to love about it. The commonplace and the exotic come together, the poverty and grandeur live side by side, no one is in a hurry and time passes slowly, and where, even if for a little while, anyone can feel like they are home.


"Instead of death and sorrow let us bring peace and joy to the world" - Mother Teresa

February 03, 2013

Haves and Have Nots

Korean guy: Learning Korean is easy.

Me: It seems tough.

Korean guy: No, it's easy. For example, issoyo (있어요) means have and opsoyo (없어요) means don't have.

Me: That's hard to remember.

Korean guy: No, it's not. If a beauty girl says to you "Do you have some time?", what do you say?

Me: Issoyo.

Korean guy: And if ugly girl says "Do you have some time?", what do you say?

Me: Opsoyo!

Korean guy: See, it's easy.