December 31, 2008

Arnab's Year in Cities, 2008

For an accomplished world traveler, there were only a handful of cities or towns that were graced with my preSENce overnight:
This list is part of an ongoing meme [from, via] cataloging places that I stayed in for one or more nights over the course of a year. An internet meme is a concept, idea, or belief that is transmitted from one source to another.

December 30, 2008

Under the Moroccan Sun

Morocco. It has been said that the rich heritage of Europe, Africa, and Arabia come together in this place. As a fusion of the cultures of the East and the West, I was intrigued by this crossroad to civilizations. On my flight into Marrakech I met with another solo traveler from Canada - Abby. After arriving at the airport and exchanging our dollars for dirhams, the Moroccan currency, we shared a taxi to her hotel in the new part of the city. I had booked no room in advance, so she joined me in my quest for a hotel. I wanted to be situated in the heart of the old city within the walled medina. We were told that it was a short walk from where we were. My target was Hotel Ali, as a friend had suggested it for its great location.

Forty five minutes later we walked through the gates into the old city. An intricate network of narrow lanes with even narrower alleys awaited us. Apart from foot traffic, scooters whizzed past us with only inches of separation between pedestrian and driver. Cars were rare as the roads were not wide enough to accommodate them. Small stalls lined the streets with spices, carpets, jewelry, crafts, and every day items on sale. Abby tried to take a photograph of a mountain of spices, but the shopkeeper frowned and wagged his finger, so she refrained.

I was tiring from carrying around my luggage under the Moroccan sun, so we stopped at Cafe Arabe for lunch. Reclining on a couch in the open air rooftop terrace, I sipped some iced mint tea (the national drink) and then ate a chicken tagine (the national dish) for rejuvenation. I determined my current position on a map and estimated the direction that I would have to walk to reach Hotel Ali. The minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque was my landmark. Towering over the other structures inside the old city, it could be seen from most points inside the medina. I could see that some distance yet remained.

December 28, 2008


A burger is a special type of sandwich composed of a bottom bun, one or more patties (beef, chicken, fish, vegetable mishmash, etc), other secondary ingredients (cheese, bacon, tomato, pickle, etc), condiments (ketchup, mustard, etc), and a top bun. The bread, the patty, and the eater are usually circular in shape.

Vancouver has its fair share of burger joints. Vera's Burger Shack offers high quality burgers at a modest price. The BC Burger at White Spot is a personal favourite of mine. Fatburger, the "White Castle of the West", is not very impressive. Other outfits, namely Burger Heaven and Hamburger Mary's, offer an unique selection of meats including elk, kangaroo, and ox. Before shutting its doors to the public due to increasing costs, Wally's was another prominent figure in Vancouver's burger landscape.

A low price point and decent taste were Wally's hallmarks. A steady stream of people, some tearful regulars trading nostalgic tales and some just wanting to try it once while they have the chance, were in the line up. I was in the latter category, seizing a chance to savour this portion of Vancouver's burger lineup before it was removed from the roster.

December 24, 2008

On The Sails

The iconic sails of Canada Place become the backdrop for a dazzling Christmas flavoured light show during the holiday season. The multipurpose facility located on the city's waterfront contains a hotel, convention centre, Vancouver's original IMAX theatre, and a cruise ship terminal. A 15 minute stroll around Canada Place provides a refreshing breather from the daily grind. During the cruise season, glimpses can be caught of the minutiae of preparation (cleaning, loading, boarding, etc.) that the massive ships go through before each voyage.

Festive Spirit

Exactly a month before Christmas, hundreds of people gathered on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery . It was time for the second annual lighting of a large Christmas tree in the city centre. Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks had the honour of flicking the switch.

As the magical moment came near, the revelers counted down from 10 and watched the Christmas decorations come to life. It was a rather lacklustre ceremony, but all was forgiven as everyone was in a festive mood to mark the start of the holiday season.

RT: Year One

In September I completed my first anniversary of working diligently at ResponseTek (RT), an employer of mine. As a principal developer of the flagship Customer Experience Management (CEM) product and visionary founder of the Council of Office Lunches (COOL), I was given great responsibility and many learning opportunities at the organization. While helping ResponseTek grow as an organization, I also grew as an individual (includes net gain of 15 pounds over the year).

“You won't realize the distance you've walked until you take a look around and realize how far you've been.” - Anonymous

Some of the highlights during my time there:

  • Good times with my friends and collegues at various events and gatherings, COOL and otherwise
“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.” - Charles de Montesquieu


  • A grand slam of feature packed quarterly releases (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)
“You will achieve grand dream, a day at a time, so set goals for each day / not long and difficult projects, but chores that will take you, step by step, toward your rainbow. Write them down, if you must, but limit your list so that you won't have to drag today's undone matters into tomorrow. Remember that you cannot build your pyramid in twenty-four hours. Be patient. Never allow your day to become so cluttered that you neglect your most important goal / to do the best you can, enjoy this day, and rest satisfied with what you have accomplished.” - Og Mandino

  • Introduced valuable documentation practices into the organization
“Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one.” - Baltasar Gracian

December 22, 2008

Iona of Solace

On Good Friday, a paladin of the people was seeking a moment of peace. I would find it at Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond. It features a massive sewage pipe stretching into the ocean. There was no stench emanating from the sewer, so my nostrils enjoyed the natural scent of the sea as I walked on top of it. Around 4 km in length, I completed the round trip in two grueling hours.

It was quite chilly, so I did not break a sweat during the strenuous walk. The breeze wafted through my hair, as the wind flowed languidly around my aerodynamic form and into the Straight of Georgia. I was one of the few people on the jetty apart from a handful of birdwatchers, joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists. 300 species of birds reside in the area.

The North Shore can be seen in the distant and Vancouver Island on the horizon. Fantastic views of the Vancouver International Airport were afforded from the jetty. Planes flew overhead as I strolled along the pebbled surface. There were a few Plexiglas shelters along the way where I rested. A sewage treatment facility and an outhouse lie at the end. Upon arrival I made a significant contribution to the complex ecosystem, gazed at the open skies, and then headed back.

December 21, 2008

Shady Business

I was meeting a friend so that we could visit the newly opened Starlight Casino in Queensborough. One of the restaurants there had been recommended. As I was getting into my friend's car I viciously collided into the side door frame of his vehicle. A *crack* sound resonated through the September sky. It was not my head that had been split in two, but my spectacles. The left arm had snapped cleanly off the rest of the frame.

I had misjudged the height of the vehicle, believing it to be of regular height when in fact it was quiet low. The collision caused no damage to the offending car, so no insurance claims were filed. The impact was strong enough to cause severe damage to my eyewear. My friend laughed with unabandonded glee at my misfortune for several minutes straight. He even phoned some of our other friends to tell them of my mishap, tears forming under his eyes as he shook uncontrollably whilst recounting the incident. Several more bursts of laughter followed, his mirth untouched by compassion for his fellow man.

The only store in the vicintiy selling glasses was Wal-Mart. I showed the optician my new pair of monocles and asked if he could fuse them together. He studied them carefully before coming to the conclusion that he could not. He scotch-taped them together, but they soon dislocated. At the restaurant I could not read the menu or see my food properly, relying on my other senses for guidance. We then went to another friend's house where I was barely able to watch the debut of the new version of 90210 on television.

I would have to wear sunglasses indoors and out for many days thereafter until my new glasses arrived.

December 17, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness

The importance of tasty food and natural beauty can never be overemphasized when gauging the general level of happiness experienced by the people of a city, province, or country. I celebrated British Columbia Day by going to Vancouver's tastiest vegeterian buffet. Saravana Bhavan is a worldwide chain of restaurants serving South Indian staples offering a "synergy of taste and quality". While the quality of the food at the Vancouver branch is comparable to average fare available anywhere in India, it vaults into the upper echelon of Indian restaurants in the city. I had several dosas and finished my meal with a cup of filtered coffee.

I headed off to Charleston Park near Granville Island after my lunch. The park is a haven of the rich, both in accumulated capital and leisure time. It offers a grand view of the False Creek skyline, with the residential condominiums that have sprung up across the waterway in Yaletown serving as a backdrop. Yachts are docked along the shoreline, beautiful women are tanning, and ducks are floating in the pond in this idyllic locale.


“There is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness, but there is the discovery of joy” - Joyce Grenfell

December 15, 2008

Short Tracked

The Pacific Coliseum will be hosting short track speed skating events during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The Vancouver stage of the ISU World Cup Short Track competition was held as a test event for the venue. Learning experience taken from this competition can be applied to the big show so that everything runs as smoothly as possible when 2010 rolls along. Every detail from how the event was organized to the track conditions on ice to the performance of the ice miesters will be painstakingly analyzed to see what can be improved.

Only the lower bowl was opened to the public, with a surprisingly large concentration of Koreans. The rest of the fans had Canadian, American, Chinese, and Japanese origins. Skaters from these nationalities were also the ones in medal contention. There were individual men's and women's races of 500, 1000, and 1500 meters and men's and women's relays of 3000 and 5000 meters. Canada finished with a medal count of 6 (1 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze). They narrowly missed out on a gold in the exciting grand finale of the show. Apollo Ohno, the world's most famous short track skater, powered the US team to the slimmest of victories over the Canadians. The fetching female skaters wore form fitting outfits made of cut resistant material. I refrained from doing the same, maintaining a low profile throughout the competition so as not to affect the results.


"That's the beauty of our sport. On any given Sunday, anybody can win." - Apollo Ohno

December 13, 2008


The third longest underground river in the world runs through Puerto Rico. The Rio Camuy is covered by an intricate system of caves. Currently the public is not allowed into the caves to see the subterranean spectacle, but other wonders await within the Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. There are two massive sinkholes in the area. The larger one, Tres Pueblos Sinkhole, is 400 feet deep and 650 feet in diameter. A trolley takes tourists around the sinkhole, stopping in each quadrant for a different view of the gaping void and the river below. Early inhabitants of Puerto Rico used the site as a garbage dump, since they could just toss rubbish into the basin and it disappeared from sight. Now the Rio Camuy Caves Park is a protected area.

The Spiral Sinkhole is smaller and more accessible by foot. A staircase has been built that allows visitors to descend the 200 steps into a lost world. The flora and fauna differs vastly from the world above. A glimpse into a foreboding cavern is available from near the bottom of the sinkhole. Hundreds of bats can be seen, heard, and smelt, hanging from the roof of the cave.

“I am much mistaken, however, if he has not fine strata in his nature. He is capable of rising to heights as well as of sinking to depths.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of The Lost World

December 09, 2008


Apart from mosquitoes and birds, my third main nemesis in India was the cockroach. No matter how many I disposed of, dozens would spring up to replace their fallen brethren. Many came into direct contact with the soles of my sandals. Others were coated with toxic subtances emitted by cans of bug spray. Some were flushed down the drain, swirling into oblivion. The objectionable creatures were resilient, surviving even after taking considerable punishment. They hid in my cabinet and under my bed, in the shower and under my bedsheets. They lived in my room and in my nightmares. Being an amicable fellow, I never deliberately hunted them down. Our coexistence was peaceful until they disturbed my serenity. They would rear their ugly heads when I least expected it, forcing me into taking defensive measures for the protection of my sanity.

Studies have shown that the antibodies needed to fight of cocroach allergens makes people more susceptible to asthma and other allergies. They are the ultimate survivors, having randomized escape patterns so that their enemies cannot predict their trajectories. Most horrific of all were the cockroaches that could fly. Combining their powers of indestructibiliy with airborne capabilities, they made for a very formidable foe. The epic struggle escalated. Usually every room in an India room has at least one resident gecko responsible for insect control. I enlisted the aid of these little lizards called 'tik-tikis'. They thoroughly enjoyed munching on the disgusting critters. 

December 08, 2008

Incredible !ndia

While crossing the street in front of my office building in Vancouver, I noticed an interesting message plastered on a public bus passing by. "Not all Indians are polite, hospitable and vegeterian" it boldly stated.

The punchline was the picture of a Bengal tiger underneath staring right back. The Government of India's Ministry of Tourism promotes the nation through the Incredible !ndia campaign. This eye catching advertisement was a step in the right direction for marketing one of the world's premier tourist destinations.

December 06, 2008


Although I am a fine piece of art I had never been inside the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). An opportune time to visit presented itself when an exhibit showcasing the "Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art" arrived at the establishment. On Tuesday nights, the VAG has extended hours and entry is by donation. I made a generous one to secure my entry to the KRAZY! attraction. The celebration of visual culture was named after the comic strip Krazy Kat.

There was a half an hour guided tour through the exhibit which provided a high level abstract of the different forms of art on display. Photography was not permitted within. After the tour ended, I went through the displays again more thoroughly. A small library had a collection of comic books available for reading, while another hall had anime classics projected on to the wall. Anime and manga are Japanese cartoons and comics respectively, and they have gained a large fan following around the world. I played Pac Man for the first time in a room containing playable versions of gaming consoles from different eras. Graphic novels and animation are visual forms of storytelling and artistry that are evolving at a rapid pace, and the KRAZY! exhibition strongly demonstrated the potential of the diverse media.

December 03, 2008

The Arecibo Observatory

Amidst the dense jungle around Arecibo, a gigantic structure faces skyward. Puerto Rico is home to the world's largest radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. It peers into space, seeking answers to man's questions about the cosmos. Falling under the auspices of Cornell University, the celestial observer has been seen in films such as GoldenEye and Contact. A thousand feet in diameter, the awe inspiring instrument is used by scientists from all over the world for research purposes. The dish does not move, only the receiver. The antenna can be positioned in any angle as it slide along a cable far above the spherical reflector. SETI@Home relies on observational data provided by the Arecibo Observatory in its search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

In operation from 1963, the telescope can be used during the day or night. Its visitor center is only open during the day though. It has a small science museum, a theatre, and an observation deck from which the public can view the giant device. The film that describes a day in the life of the observatory is an interesting watch for the scientifically inclined. Only professionals are allowed to walk on the on the tiled surface of the reflective dish. Special footwear, resembling snowshoes, are required to traverse its near 40,000 aluminum panels.