December 29, 2009

Giant Buddha

The world's largest sculpture of Buddha sits against a cliff wall at the confluence of three rivers near the city of Leshan in Sichuan province. Many boats met with their doom at this point, so a monk decided to construct a giant statue of Buddha to ward off further calamities. Construction begin in 713AD and lasted for almost one hundred years. It remains in good condition to this day, although its nose has been blackened by modern day pollution. The world's largest handkerchief is said to be in production in a nearby factory.


"The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain." - Local saying

December 21, 2009

Gobs of Spit

One of the favourite pastimes of my Chinese comrades is to spit noisily in public. Whenever I hear a thunderous throat clearing noise followed by a symphony of spray and splotch, I know another gob of spit has left the mouth of a citizen and found its way on to the pavement. If there is silence following the release, the spittle has most likely landed on a living creature or some other absorbent material. The exact composition of the dribble varies, sometimes containing phlegm or leftovers from a past meal mixed with the saliva.

'Do not gob anywhere' signs do little to discourage the activity. The subzero temperatures of winter bring along miniature ice skating rinks, as each new drop of spit freezes in place on the pavement where it landed. Sometimes I hear the windup behind me and try to predict the gender of the spitter, turning around to check only after the drool has been discharged. More often than not, I guess incorrectly.


"Hhhhhhhhhhghhhhhhhhhhhhhooiikkkkkkkkkkkhhhhhhhh......pppthhhwwwwiee" - Anonymous

December 20, 2009

The Fragrant Hills

Xiangshan or "Fragrant Hills" is a mountainside park located in the northern fringes of city of Beijing. The most popular time to visit is during autumn, when the hills are ablaze with the red and orange leaves that have gently fallen from the trees. I went in winter. Although there is a cable car that can be taken to the peak of the highest hill, I chose to take the more scenic route. The strenuous hike to the top was completed by both young and old. I passed musicians, singers, temples, and villas along the way.

As the only visible non-native that day making the 600 meter climb, the Chinese eagerly pointed at me and said "foreigner" in their local tongue. I was accompanied by a Chinese girl who had previously worked in the same company as I in India, so she could translate the remarks of the fellow hikers. To keep me energized, the girl continuously plied me with chocolate, biscuits, and duck tongues. I was nonetheless famished once we reached the top, so I purchased some preserved dog meat and chowed it down. Revitalized, the way back down was swift and painless.


"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
- Anne Dudley Bradstreet

December 14, 2009

Condom Conundrum

A long time family friend was visiting Beijing with her elderly brother-in-law. She asked me to come over and stay the night at their hotel near the airport. I stayed in a room with the gentleman, while she slept in a separate room. Early next morning, it was time for them to catch their flight out of the city, so we checked out. As we patiently waited for the airport shuttle bus to arrive, a concierge approached us. He pantomimed that we had used an item in our room and not paid for it. As this was an international hotel, his English vocabulary was non existent.

Upon closer examination it was determined that he was holding a condom. The family friend expressed her complete shock and surprise at the peculiar turn of events. "They are uncle and nephew. No need for a condom!" she exclaimed. One of the desk girls snidely retorted "It not free, you know.". The argument reached a deadlock, so a visual inspection of our room was suggested. This confirmed our innocence and all involved breathed a sigh of relief.


“Condoms aren't completely safe. A friend of mine was wearing one and got hit by a bus.” - Bob Rubin

December 08, 2009

Kingdom of Heaven

Once the largest city in the world, Kaifeng has fallen into relative obscurity. An ancient capital of China, Kaifeng was also the home of the first Jewish settlers to the region. The Jews had settled here after crossing the Silk Road, bringing with them their customs and traditions. Over time, this knowledge faded. The original synagogue no longer exists, but a nearby alleyway is still called the "Lane of the Torah". The religiously diverse city also has a mosque, a church, and many Buddhist temples.

The Kaifeng night market is where the whole city gathers to shop and eat on a Saturday night. There is a multitude of options to satiate the taste buds, but very few to relieve the bowels. I was traveling with an Argentine, who notified me in advance of his desire to defecate as soon as possible. There was a KFC about 500 meters ahead, and it provided hope of a clean washroom. As we waded through the sea of people in the direction of deliverance, he noticed a sign for a public toilet and dashed off in that direction. Minutes later he was back. It was so dark he said, that people were using the light from their phones to navigate their way through the filth on the floor. The horror was too much for him to bear, so he chose to carry forth his burden to the world famous chicken franchise. I picked up my pace, sympathizing with his situation. He complained I was walking too fast, explaining he had to walk at a certain speed to make sure nothing came out. The Argentinian was able to complete his business in time, and we continued wandering amongst the street stalls.

Soon I felt the same urge he had just experienced and the race was on again. We strolled quickly back to the poultry provider and most popular bathroom destination in town. At the crossroads of two major streets, the KFC occupied a prime piece of real estate. A queue had formed for the only toilet inside. In front of me was a man and a young boy. The young boy was in dire straights, holding his pants, grimacing, pacing, and repeatedly knocking on the bathroom door. A voice inside mentioned he was almost finished every time, further annoying the little fellow. Five minutes later a man emerged, pulling up his pants and buckling his belt as he left the washroom. The boy darted in, having received permission from the gentleman ahead of him in line to do so. The door kept swinging back and forth. The child was having trouble locking the door. He gave up and the door swung wide open as he dropped his pants, squatted, and let loose. The man in front of me wanted the cleaning squad to have a turn before he went in, so I was up next. After I concluded my ordeal, we had dinner on the street. As a safety precaution we ate within a 50 meter radius of the KFC, remaining tethered to it by an invisible rope.


Tho` much is taken, much abides and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven that which we are, we are
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

- "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

December 05, 2009

ARNABeauty Contest

On a quiet Sunday evening in Beijing, I received an urgent call from a coworker. A client of my company had given us tickets to go to a beauty contest, but the client manager could not make it. Could I go instead? Not wanting any of my other colleagues to be disturbed on their day off, I made an exception to my "no working on weekends" rule and accepted the offer. I had only an hour before the show was scheduled to start, so I rushed out of my apartment.

I rendezvoused with another colleague directly on the subway, notifying him when I was nearing the stop he was at so that he could hop aboard. Unfortunately, we were in different compartments at opposite ends of the train. At each successive stop we jumped out and walked towards each other, before getting back on the train just before the doors slammed shut. A couple of stops later we converged, and he gave me my ticket. The event was called the Kanebo 7 Beauty Pageant. We got off at the appropriate subway station, and jumped into an auto rickshaw-like vehicle that dropped us of at the entrance to the Olympic Sports Centre. The show was starting in minutes. We frantically sprinted through the parking lot before entering the stadium where the event was being held.

The performance was action packed. A bevy of Chinese beauties smiled, danced, and posed for the audience. There were about forty of them. An hour and a half into the program, one of them actually spoke. The crowd grew restless. The focus quickly shifted back to their stronger attributes, as they started dancing and smiling again. After a winner was crowned and confetti poured down from above, I made my way to the floor. Some of the finalists were still milling about while workers were disassembling the stage around them. Squeals of delight were heard, as the ARNABabes posed with the Indo-Canadian Temptation for a photograph.


“It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly.” - Oscar Wilde