June 29, 2010

The Persecution of the ARNABeard

Afflicted with pogonophobia from an early age due to a diet free of follicly gifted men, the vast majority of Chinese girls get the the chills when they see a man with facial hair. One day, I walked onto the street with a coworker. She immediately noticed that she did not have my undivided attention. Following my appreciative gaze, she deduced the source of my distraction.

"Look, so many beautiful girls all around..." she murmured.

"But none of them can speak English." I lamented.

"Have you ever considered that they aren't the problem? That you are!"

"Eh?" I sneered, one of my eyebrows arching upward.

"You should shave your beard!"


"You look like a bonobo!" squealed another Chinese girl, referring to the endangered great apes of Africa.


"Don't worry, you are still a good human being person." a Korean girl said comfortingly, after I told her about the persecution of the ARNABeard in China.


Ceding to popular sentiment, I finally shaved off my magnificent mane one night. The ARNABeard had been tamed, but not for long. Virile to the core, I sported stubble by the next morning. Nonetheless, my 5 o'clock shadow was appreciated by the local beauties far more than the resplendent glory of the thick yet well groomed masterpiece that had previously decorated my face.


"There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. This period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard." ~ Jean Cocteau

June 25, 2010

Shanghai Buddhas

There are a couple of interesting Buddhist temples in Shanghai. The Jade Buddha Temple has multiple admission levels - one to enter the temple, one to see the jade statues, and one to watch the fish swimming in the stream behind. After paying the initial entrance fee, the security guard eyed my friend Barry and I suspiciously. We lurked around the entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famed jade statue as a group of cell phone wielding monks passed by.

The Temple of Peace and Tranquility looked brand new and was attached to a shopping mall. In the courtyard stood a large vase. Visitors tried to throw coins into it for good luck. Most people missed, as the coins glanced off the exterior, clattered onto the cement, and rolled away. We observed one lady who collected all these coins and pocketed the loose change. To divert attention from her insidious actions, every once in a while she performed a mock coin toss that missed horribly. She collected my daily wage in coins in the 15 minutes that we observed her. We moved on to Yuyuan Gardens. The well manicured property is one of the the more pleasant areas amidst the steel and concrete of the modern metropolis.


"There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed." ~ Buddha

June 19, 2010

The Olympic Flame

A cross country Olympic Torch relay culminated in the hockey god known as Wayne Gretzky being revealed as the final torchbearer of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. The opening ceremonies were held under the domed roof of BC Place Stadium, so the Olympic Flame was to be lit in a separate outdoor location for the first time. As Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and presented it to mortals, so too did the Great One as he ignited the Olympic Cauldron to the cheers of thousands.

Unfortunately, a chain link fence was quickly erected around the site of the Olympic Flame. This was to prevent visitors from being engulfed in the flames if they got too close. Inaccessible to the public, it was hard to get an obstructed view of the flames flickering against the night sky. The unwashed masses jockeyed for position in front of a hole in the fence, so they could capture a clear snapshot of the cauldron without being incinerated.


"A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark." ~ Dante Alighieri

June 17, 2010

Salad Days

"I don't see this 'ballooning' weight. However, I know FOR A FACT that drinking 1 million sugar-packed juice boxes and other similar beverages, and 3 days a week worth of fruit (although natural sugar, still sugar) is INCREDIBLEY fattening. If I did that I would 'balloon' as well… you should try giving up the juice boxes and drink a lot of water, and instead of only doing fruit try and have a nice complex salad and one piece of fruit on those days. I can guarantee you will notice significant changes in your weight and how you feel!" exclaimed my beautiful secretary to me.

She provided the friendly advice after I complained that I was going through a period of significant ARNABloating at ResponseTek. After shedding some extra pounds in India following the infamous Satyam Diet, I had started re-inflating my spare tire at my job back in Vancouver. With a world of dining options in the downtown core, I explored a new restaurant every day. The possibilities were limitless - Monday sushi, Tuesday fish and chips, Wednesday pizza, Thursday burger, Friday burrito!

After my secretary's sound salad advice, I tried alternating salad and eating out for a couple of weeks. I bought a large bag of salad into the office and left it in the freezer. On the first day it tasted fine, although incredibly bland. I could not add dressing as that would neutralize the health benefits of eating the salad. After a few bits of vegetable accidentally fell into my cup of hot chocolate, I tried mixing the salad with chocolate milk to add some flavour but the results were unsatisfactory. Two days later when I returned to the refrigerator to retrieve my salad it was completely soggy. It had become frozen solid while in the freezer and then thawed out in the fridge, leaving it a wet inedible mess. Despite good intentions, my salad experiment had ended in failure.


"You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100." ~ Woody Allen

The Sport of Kings

The thoroughbred was met with silence as he entered the race track. I looked around and noticed the audience was largely made up of senior citizens who were there to gamble away their retirement savings and government pensions. Through the centuries, the popularity of the equestrian sport has always been tied to betting on its outcome. I took a seat in the grandstand right in front of the finish line. The tag line of Vancouver's Hastings Racecourse is "Bred for Excitement", but I had no idea what to anticipate in my first live horse race.

With one devastating injury all that separates them from life and death, the careers of race horses are thankless and short lived. They are given mildly amusing monikers such as "Hoof Hearted" and "Gotta Pee". The horses were escorted to their starting gates where they calmly took their position. A shot rang out and they were off, their powerful legs picking up speed as they galloped around the race course. The diminutive jockeys did their best to guide the noble steeds to the finish line, but only one would feel the thrill of victory.


“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.”
~ Ovid ~

June 14, 2010

Mont Saint-Michel

While spending a week in France in the summer of 2007, I took two day trips. One was to see the famous gardens at Versaille and the other was to the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel. One kilometer off the coast of Normandy lies the rocky islet of Mont Saint-Michel, rising sharply out of the Atlantic Ocean. At the prodding of the Archangel Michael, the bishop of Avranches founded the fortress-like monastery in 708 AD. It could only be reached by a natural land bridge at low tide, but would be protected from intruders at high tide.

The history of Saint Michael's Mount is filled with strife. It appears in the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Norman conquest of England. During the Hundred Years War, the English met with repeated failure in their attempts to seize the island. The French Revolution saw the fortified abbey converted into a prison due to the high security nature of the compound. With the help of Victor Hugo, the site was restored as a national monument in the late 1800's.


"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
~ Ecclesiastes 9:11 ~

June 03, 2010

Shaolin Temple

The Shaolin Monks had fascinated me from an early age, even before I watched them perform live in Vancouver. The acrobatic warrior monks were from a far off land shrouded in mystery. In reality, life is much more mundane at the Shaolin Temple than I had imagined it to be. In 464 AD an Indian monk had come to China to spread the Buddhist faith. He did not speak for nine years and made a hole in a wall with his eyes. After that, he established the Shaolin order of priests. These priests were also well versed in the martial arts. Under the watchful guidance of their masters, repetitive and rigorous training is undertaken by hundreds of youth until the requisite skills are mastered.

The most interesting part of the trip was getting there. From Beijing I took a fast train to Zhengzhou, a bustling transit hub and capital of Henan. After lunch I caught a bus to Dengfeng, the nearest town to the Shaolin Temple. From there a minibus had to be taken to the monastery. Stuffed to the brim with passengers, all the standees suddenly fell flat to the ground after the conductor barked something. I looked out and saw that we were passing the police station. The extra passengers had to hide from view so that it would appear the minibus was not carrying too many riders.


“My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk.” ~ John Keats

June 02, 2010


In a country where meeting a fluent English speaker is only slightly less difficult than finding a good driver, I get by mostly with sign language, grunts, pointing, head nods, and artistic skills. One of the hardest things is to communicate with barbers on how I want my hair cut -"Same style, but shorter". A couple of times a Chinese friend accompanied me and explained to the barber what I wanted. On several other occasions, I would explain my desires over the phone to a Chinese speaker and then hand it over to the hairstylist so that the instructions could be relayed onwards.

I decreased my reliance on others even though my Chinese skills did not improve. I started indicating the length of hair I wanted remaining on my head by showing the gap between my thumb and forefinger. I then made a "bzzzzzzzzzzz" noise to suggest the use of a trimmer for my sideburns and the back of my head. This met with limited success. When a barber tried to buzz the top of my head off, I quickly fled the scene. I do not have a preferred barbershop, because the turnover rate is quite high and there is no guarantee a capable hairstylist will be found twice at the same location. Nowadays, I just find out the price of the haircut and sit down. The barber does the rest.


"There's many a man has more hair than wit." ~ William Shakespeare