November 29, 2010

Heavy Dew in Gulang Yu

Xiamen is much like any other prosperous large coastal city in China with decent beaches, a bustling pedestrian shopping area, and delicious seafood. What sets it apart is the delightful island of Gulang Yu. The 2 square kilometer isle is a short ferry ride from the mainland, and an even shorter private speed boat ride away from the harbour. Colonial buildings, pedestrian walkways along the shoreline, and a dearth of vehicles apart from the occasional golf cart transporting sedentary Chinese tourists, makes Gulang Yu a relaxing haven even when it is crawling with these aforementioned tourists. I visited during October holidays, when the whole nation of 1.6 billion goes on vacation en masse.

A torrential midday downpour quickly dispersed the crowds, groups of them huddling wherever they found shelter from the deluge. Water cascaded down the narrow stairways of the island, forming temporary waterfalls. When the rains subsided, they all congregated at the ferry terminal hoping to get back to the city of Xiamen as quickly as possible.

Like a scene from an apocalyptic movie , thousands of souls crowded against the gates, clamouring to escape the calamity of being drenched by rain water. I selflessly changed course and went for a coffee instead, waiting several hours for the rest of the crowd to be evacuated safely before leaving the island myself.


"Into each life some rain must fall." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

November 27, 2010

Xinjiang: The New Frontier

I had a flight to catch to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. China's largest province has seen ethnic tensions rise in recent years. Bordering Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, a third of China's oil reserves are to be found in this volatile region. The "New Territory" is inhabited by a hodgepodge of ethnic groups including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz. This has been augmented by a massive influx of Han Chinese in recent years. The Uyghur are still the major ethnic group in the Xinjiang autonoumous region, but will be soon overtaken by the Han population that is the majority in most other Chinese provinces. Uyghurs can generally be distinguished from Han Chinese by their olive skin, sharper features, and ability to grow hair on their faces.

I hurriedly packed and had breakfast with my landlady. "Beijing is safety, Xinjiang is not safety!" she warned as I headed out the door. At Beijing's Nanyuan Airport a small child poked me to see if I was real. On the flight, the same toddler was sitting behind me. She had finished delousing me by the time we arrived in Urumqi. I followed the signs for "distant range arrivals" and picked up my luggage. I decided to immediately head to Turpan, where I was scheduled to rendezvous with my friend Preston the following day. At the bus station I discovered that all buses for Turpan had already left, so I shared a taxi with three chain smoking men to my destination.


"You are not Uyghur???" ~ Question asked in English to me by a shocked Uyghur taxi driver after I did not understand his original query posed to me in the Uyghur tongue.   


I stretched my arms and breathed a sigh of relief, having just launched the biggest project of the year at work. I shut down my computer, switched off the lights, and locked the doors. I was about to embark on my grand voyage through China the very next day. Several meters away from my office stands the recently opened World Trade Center Phase 3 tower. I walked into the gleaming new lobby. Eighty floors later I was in the highest bar in Beijing. The aptly named Atmosphere provides a panoramic view of the city, from the modern skyscrapers of downtown to the sprawling structures of an imperial capital.

I was meeting up with my friends in Beijing, some of whom would have left the country by the time I returned from my trip. Coincidentally, we bumped into the CEO of my company and several other higher ups. An office ARNABabe who was at my table spotted them. The two groups awkwardly combined, as I introduced my colleagues to my friends - my onetime Irish roommate, a scintillating Malaysian diplomat, a Nokia employee, a couple of ABC's (American Born Chinese), and a tousle haired iPhone application developer. After having a few drinks and reminiscing about our past escapades, we parted ways.


“Don't be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” ~ Richard Bach

November 22, 2010

A Civilized Urinating

In China, an urinal primarily functions as an ashtray for the masses. Cigarette butts fill the urinal while the actual urine collects in a pool on the ground below it. These streams then form into tributaries of the Yellow River. Authorities have tried to reduce the popularity of this floor-peeing phenomenon by displaying instructions above urinals notifying potty patrons on correct usage of the facilities:

 "Thinking of making things easy for other before urinating"

"It's civilized to get close to urinate"

"You can enjoy the fresh air after finishing a civilized urinating"

"Closer, Easier"

Unfortunately, the clever signage has been unable to stem the tide of long distance urination. The motivational messages have met with little success. The urinal remains too close for comfort.

November 19, 2010

The Safety Notice for Passenger

China Rail High-Speed, abbreviated CRH, is the premiere rapid train service in the country. Operating since 2007, the CRH trains can go at speeds exceeding 230km/h. Between looking at the scenery outside, sleeping, eating, and watching the other passengers get into fights with each other over trivialities, I enjoy endless minutes of jocularity from reading the safety pamphlet available on board the trains:

1. It is forbidden to take with or consign the flammable, explosive, corrosive, posionous, radioactive, and other dangerous articles, including the forbidden knives.

2. The ticket checkage will be stopped before the train’s departure. Please pay attention to the stop time of checking, get on train or stand within safety line on platform for waiting before it.

3. Please stand the queue during get-on and get-off. When getting on after the get-off, please don’t crowd. It is forbidden to pass through under train, climb to roof, jumb off station, enter railway track, and so on. It is forbidden to follow the running train for get-on and get-off before stopping.

4. During the trip, don’t be crowded, lying on the door, and don’t pull (or push) the emergency brake valve handbrake handle, emergency brake button, and other safety facilities at random.

5. Smoking is forbidden at any position inside the train.

6. Under the conditions which may effect the safety of the train and the passengers, please follow the crew’s instruction, keep order, and help the elder, children, illness, disabled, pregnant, and others who need help, but don’t be urgent to take luggage. In case of emergency, please notice the crew in time.

7. In case of the get-off which is necessary during emergency, you can break the safety window by a special hammer for escape. If on Electric Multiple Unit, you can also push the emergency stopping button above the compartment end door.

November 15, 2010

Let The Bullets Fly

The shells ricocheted off the walls as the loud rat tat tat of heavy gun fire resonated all around me. I took my position, gripping the trigger of the sniper rifle firmly in my hand. I looked carefully through the scope, one eye closed, fingers steady, before squeezing down on the trigger. The bullet left the barrel at blazing speed. As it was my first time using a gun, the force of the kickback caught me by surprise. I paused to adjust my grip before emptying the remainder of my cartridge.

I put my glasses on to see if I had hit my target. I was at the China North International Shooting Range. The attendant beside me started giggling. The black and white rings on my target paper remained unscathed. I had completely missed. Usually these sheets of paper are given to participants as souvenirs, but mine was reused since it looked brand new. With steely resolve in my veins and eyeglasses back on my face, I switched to an AK-47 assault rifle and a Beretta handgun. I rarely missed the mark in the remaining sessions of target practice.

Half an hour before, I had been taken to an exhibition room displaying the various forms of pistols, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers I could try out at the shooting range. After selecting my arsenal, I had gotten into the back of a military vehicle that took me to the actual outdoor firing range. Located near Beijing on land formerly used for army barracks, the ballistic bullet park provides a controlled environment to try out the deadly devices. Starting from 10 RMB per bullet, prices rise steeply as the weapon of choice becomes exceedingly ridiculous. For instance, the child beside me in the shooting gallery was using a mortar to pound large holes into a mound of earth a hundred meters ahead of him.


"If you make a gun, you are either going to sell it or you are going to use it. And if you're going to sell it, someone else is going to use it." ~ Arthur Boyd

November 06, 2010

My Name is Arnab

When an exiled hero returned home after many years having vanquished a demon king, his countrymen laid out rows and rows of lighted lamps ("deepavali") to welcome him back. Nowadays Deepavali, or Diwali in condensed form, marks the triumph of good over evil. Observed by many people in different parts of the world, the festival of light has transcended religious and national boundaries. Every year the Indian Embassy in China hosts a cultural event to celebrate Diwali.

This was my second Diwali in Beijing. I had met my good friend Swathish during the previous year's jamboree, so we commemorated our one year anniversary in style. After a brief speech by the Indian ambassador which I missed, Indian and Chinese performers sang and danced to both traditional and modern tunes. This was followed by a fireworks extravaganza and then dinner, which was the primary motivation for attendance for a large segment of the audience. Accompanied by an ARNABombshell and several other ARNABuddies, Swathish and I retraced our steps from the previous year. We concluded the evening with a nightcap at a lake side bar cosily located within nearby Ritan Park, the beats of Bollywood music still resonating in the background.

As I was leaving the embassy premises, I heard someone calling my name. "Arnab! Arnab! Arnab!". I saw an Indian lady I did not recognize rush towards me. I was unperturbed. A man of my immense dignity is accustomed to receiving outpourings of affection from random females. "Arnab! Arnab!". The woman continued past me to a child who had wandered on to the street. Now I was intrigued. She picked up the infant and let out a sigh of relief. "Arnaaaab". I was no longer the only Arnab in town! I looked at her and said "My name is Arnab". She gave me a look of disdain before walking back into the embassy with her son in tow.


"Happy Diwali!"

November 03, 2010


Coorg is a scenic locality in Karnataka filled with rolling green hills under clear blue skies. I went with a group of friends and friends of friends to the "Scotland of India" during a weekend escape from Bangalore. Most of the time was spent relaxing in a secluded cabin set amidst a verdant valley.

We took an elephant ride around a park, climbing onto the pachyderm by means of a stairwell that ended where the the giant beast's backside began. Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan settlement in India, was located nearby. We had lunch at the local monk hangout. The monks at Namdroling Monastery were quite modern, shelling out rupees at the corner store for such earthly delights as toilet paper and India’s favorite soft drink Thums Up.


"Mark how fleeting and paltry is the estate of man: yesterday in embryo, tomorrow a mummy or ashes. So for the hair's breadth of time assigned to thee live rationally, and part with life cheerfully, as drops the ripe olive, extolling the season that bore it and the tree that matured it." ~ Marcus Aurelius

November 01, 2010

The Garden of Ten Thousand Beasts

Not to be confused with the Beijing Subway, the Beijing Zoo is one of the city's more affordable attractions. An imperial manor in the Ming Dynasty, a small menagerie was first established in the park in 1906. Now the 219 hectares of gardens and ponds has the largest collections of animals of any zoo in China. After purchasing my tickets, I followed the crowds to the wildly popular giant panda pavilion. Groups of pandas jostled in the artificial playground that had been created for them, while others enthusiastically chewed strips of bamboo.

The cafeteria doubled as the rhinoceros viewing area, so customers could eat lunch and watch the giant creatures laze about simultaneously. The tiger collection was another highlight my visit. One Chinese man repeatedly popped up behind me every time I saw one of the magnificent creatures. "Tiger!"he would shriek into my ear. I said "Yes, tiger." the first time, politely nodded the next few times, and then ignored him for the remaining few episodes.

Meanwhile, a small Chinese child saw a dark and hairy beast roaming freely outside of the enclosures. The toddler shrieked and clung tightly to his mother's left leg, one tiny finger pointing at me fearfully. I gave a friendly scowl and continued onwards to see a bear being enticed by a local to eat yogurt from his cup.


“Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings.” ~ Evan Esar