April 26, 2015

Why is the Tenderloin Called the Tenderloin?

Me: Look... Here is a map marking all the places people poop on the streets in San Francisco.
Friend: You live right in middle of the large brown spot!

My friend had correctly identified that the large brown spot was the Tenderloin, my residential neighbourhood in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The filthy downtown district consists of historical buildings, good nightlife and dining options, and a community of homeless (but not hopeless) people, drug addicts, nutcases who had been released from asylums and left to fend for themselves without any societal support, and other maladjusted individuals.

More loin than tender, I wondered how the area had earned its moniker and did some investigation. It seems the original Tenderloin referred to a seedy section of New York in the 19th century that shared many of the same characteristics as its present day San Francisco namesake.

Dirty cops earned so much money for looking the other way at the sinful activities taking place in their precincts, that they could now afford to eat expensive tenderloin steaks rather than the cheapest hunks of meat that their meagre salaries would otherwise allow for if they had not engaged in graft and bribery. The San Francisco version had borrowed the name as 'the Tenderloin' became a more generic term for crime-infested red light districts across America.

April 12, 2015

Life After Pox

Friend: I can barely see anything. Your face looks fine. I don't know what you worry about. I can literally see nothing other than a tiny thing on your forehead.

Me: Before the pox my skin was very smooth, with no blemishes. Now there are holes on my forehead, cheek, and nose.

Friend: Dude... I was expecting something way worse.

Me: Sorry to disappoint.

Friend: Yes! shame on you! You can't even get proper chickenpox. Useless. Completely useless.

Me: Now I look like a normal human with blemishes.

Friend: It gives your perfection a human touch. It makes you more relatable for other people.

Me: That's a good way to look at it.

Friend: It's the only way to look at it.

March 30, 2015

Thirty Years A Hunk

I suffered a terrible bout of adult chicken pox, leaving my previously unblemished skin tarnished. Once I was no longer contagious I returned to work.

Coworker: How's your chicken pox? All recovered?

Me: There are scars and holes all over my face. It's horrible. I had smooth skin for 30 years.

Coworker: I hadn't noticed all the scars till you mentioned them.

Me: I noticed the scars.

Coworker: But honey... you're vain.

March 09, 2015

A Goodly Woman for a Goodly Man

I received an interesting email today:
Hey. My name is Ekaterina :) I'm from Kirghizia and very goodly woman! and I'm trying to find goodly Man ;) If You are interested ;) reply me ;) I can send You my photo attached, good bye)
Unluckily for her, this goodly man has already found his goodly woman.

January 11, 2015

The Living Root Bridges of Cherrapunjee

We walked down the rough path leading to the river by the village of Mawlynnong. As we approached an jaw-dropping sight awaited - the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee. It takes a lot to impress me, considering what I see in the mirror each day, but I was truly in awe.

Before I could explore it further I was asked to partake in a Bollywood-style photo shoot, heroically posing with my driver’s girlfriend as he captured the magic on camera. After quite a few pictures had been taken, the couple wandered off and I made my way to the bridge to explore it in detail.

Often compared to something that came straight out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the fantastical living root bridges of Cherrapunjee are in fact a harmonious collaboration between the forces of nature and humanity.

The roots of living banyan trees on one side of the river banks are guided towards the other side using a tree shaping mechanism developed by the indigenous (and ingenious) Khasi people. Betel nut trunks that point in the desired direction that the banyan tree should grow provide a skeletal structure for the roots to wrap themselves around. When the roots reach the other side of the river they take take hold in the soil.

Ever strengthening, the roots grow thicker and thicker as the years pass. The suspension bridges can support up to 50 pedestrians. They have lifespans that can extend to over 500 years. There is even a double decker bridge with two trees stacked on top of each other. It is unknown when the first such bridge was constructed or whose brainchild it was, but the living roots remain one of the world’s most renewable and remarkable constructs.


In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.
~ Aristotle

January 05, 2015

Asia's Cleanest Village

As it was Valentine’s Day, my driver asked for permission to bring his girlfriend along on our day trip to Mawlynnong, Asia’s ‘cleanest village’ and home of the spellbinding living root bridges. A true romantic, I acquiesced to his request. He picked me up outside my hotel early in the morning and we headed over to his aunt’s place for breakfast. He belonged to the Khasi tribe, a matrilineal clan that calls this region home. Thankfully the Khasis enjoy a meat-centric diet. I immediately dug into some tasty pork meatballs.

The driver’s girlfriend was taking a while to get ready, so he dropped me at the nearby Elephant Waterfalls while he went to pick her up. After wandering around three different waterfalls I met up with the couple at the exit of the popular tourist site, where we exchanged pleasantries and had some tea at a stall before starting our road trip in earnest. On the way we stopped at a roadside Khasi diner for more delicious delicacies consisting of animal flesh and internal organs.

Home to approximately 100 households, Mawlynnong was arbitrarily named "Asia’s Cleanest Village" by Discover India magazine several years back and the moniker stuck. All the waste generated by the households of Mawlynnong is collected in bamboo dustbins and composted, while littering is a fineable offense. The entire community is aware of the need to coexist with nature and boasts a 100% literacy rate too boot.

Tucked away in a remote part of northeast India 90 km from Shillong, the village is cleaner than the balance sheet of a firm audited by a Big 4 accounting firm. The forest cover around the village is not especially dense, but a canopy of trees provides sufficient shade to comfortably drape the entire village. Agriculture is the primary industry and betel leafs the main crop. Pathways wind around the homes and lead to a staircase down to a nearby river where the most magnificent site of Mawlynnong awaited.


Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean. 
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

January 03, 2015

The Wettest Place on Earth

Resuming my journey in the northeast of India, I caught a bus to Shillong near my lodge at Kaziranga. The capital of the state of Meghalaya, Shillong is a scenic hill station nestled among rolling green hills. My thirst for cheap accommodation left me, as it often does, in the seediest part of town. The hotel I was staying in only housed a vegetarian restaurant, so I had to venture out into the night in search of dinner. Narrow alleys, uneven mud caked streets, and a winter chill greeted me. Wrapped in shawls and warming their hands around bonfires, locals eyed me with intrigue. Who was this handsome stranger?

I found an Islamic restaurant open after a lengthy stroll and ordered a chicken biryani. The taxi driver who dropped me off at my hotel had left me his phone number, and I gave him a call while waiting for my meal to arrive. I arranged for him to pick me up early the next day for a trip to Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth, as my dish was deposited roughly on the table in front of me.

Holding the records for both the greatest total rainfall in a month and in a year, Cherrapunji (now once again referred to by its original moniker Sohra) is almost a kilometre and a half above sea level and a spectacular winding drive away from Shillong on mountain roads.

Despite its claim to fame, Cherrapunji was bone dry during my visit. The winter months face water shortages and California drought-like conditions, with the bulk of the rain hitting the region during the monsoon season. The tallest plunge waterfall in India, Noh Ka Likai (Leap of Ka Likai) trickled weakly like urine down the streets of San Francisco.

The most memorable aspect of the waterfall was the grisly tale of how it got its name. Ka Likai, was a widow with a child who was forced to enter a loveless marriage with a second husband. When she was out running errands one day, the jealous husband cooked her baby. Tired, the wife returned home and had a meal before going out to find her child. When she found a tiny bone but not her baby, she went wild with grief and leapt off the cliff.

A friend of a friend had been stationed in Sohra as an administrator by the government. He gave directions over the phone to my driver on some sights I should see before heading over to meet him for lunch. I met my friend of a friend at his office and we soon headed out after he wrapped up a few orders of business. We dropped by his residence for a tasty home-cooked meal, and then he gave me a tour of the township before we parted ways.

Although less than 60 km separates Shillong from Sohra, there is a lot to see on the road to Cherrapunji. There is a viewpoint at Duwan Singh Syiem Bridge, named after a former chieftain of the region. Unfortunately haze shrouded my glimpse into the plains of Bangladesh as I stood on the cliffs of Cherrapunji, my broad shoulders dropping in disappointment. At the Mawsmai Cave, sharp rocks, slippery pathways, and narrow openings allowed for some spine-tingling exploration of eerie limestone structures. As we returned into Shillong, my driver and I agreed to continue our partnership into a third day for further adventures.