December 21, 2011

A Man And His Dicos

Dicos is the premiere homegrown fast food chain in the People's Republic of China. Whenever I was in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city and spotted a franchise, I would rejoice. At some point during my stay in that town, I would dine at Dicos. In a strange place the hint of the familiar is enough to calm the nerves. Be it at the beginning of the day before I braved the unknown, for a lunchtime break in the midst of adventuring, or to wile away the hours until a midnight train arrived to whisk me back to Beijing, Dicos was always there in my hour of need.

The heavyweight duo of KFC and McDonalds dominated the big cities, so Dicos focused on areas where they had yet to set foot in. Some of my travel partners sulked while I enjoyed each zesty bite of processed goodness, while others refused to enter the outlets altogether. During Ramadan in Kashgar there was barely a restaurant open, yet my fellow traveller Preston steadfastly refused to entertain the thought of obtaining sustenance at Dicos. Fortunately, most readily embraced the joy of Dicos. Friends would send me an instant message from afar, saying they had stumbled upon a Dicos in Inner Mongolia or some such place.

The staff at any Dicos, being Chinese, found me completely incomprehensible. Once I pointed to a combo I wanted to order, but they only gave me the burger. I again pointed to the combo I wanted and they gave me another burger. The manager came out to see what all the fuss was about. He figured out I wanted a combo, so he added it to my increasingly long bill. Other travelers had similar experiences, often accepting the items they received (but had not ordered) with serene expressions on their faces.

Physically a Dicos outlet looks like a cross between a McDonalds and KFC outlet. The format and presentation of the food is similar. It tastes somewhat better, but not in any discernible manner. Perhaps it was the knowledge that my days in Dicos were limited to my time in the far reaches of China that made it so enjoyable. To know that no other foreigner had defiled the premises before I was an uplifting thought. I estimate I visited about 25-30 Dicos in my two and a half year stay in China.


Go: Dinner at Yoshinoya.
Preston: Why? 
Arnab: No Dicos nearby.
Preston: You are shameful.

December 11, 2011

I'm Daman

Only a few hours north of Bombay are the union territories of Daman and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. They are accessible via Gujarat, where the nearest rail head of Vapi is situated. I grabbed a rickshaw to Daman. The driver asked me which Daman I wanted to go to. I looked at him blankly and told him to take me to the one that had hotels. It turned out the main town is called Moti Daman (Fat Daman) while the secluded beach side resort community is called Nani Daman (Small Daman). I found a hotel fitting my meager budget in Nani Daman, ate lunch by the rocky beach, and negotiated a tour of the surroundings with a rickshaw driver.

We ventured to the two Portuguese forts in the region, one in Moti Daman and one across the Damanganga River in Nani Daman. I climbed to the top of a lighthouse to admire the view, the rickety spiral staircase shaking as violently as the disturbed man who had sat beside me on the train. The four hundred year old Church of Bom Jesus was my next stop, before capping of the day at Jampore Beach. Gujarat is a dry state, so its borders are demarcated by a string of boozeries rather than barbed wire fencing. I imbibed at one of Jampore's many beachfront watering holes with my driver. The next morning, I found myself having breakfast at his home.

After sobering up, the driver had taken me home to meet his wife. The rest of his family would be visiting the next day, so he invited me over for breakfast then. Despite being in his early forties, he was already a grandfather. They fed me chapatis, eggs, and sauce. Post breakfast, I said goodbye to Daman and headed to Silvassa, the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. While Daman is to the east of Vapi, Silvassa is to the west. I walked around the sleepy town for several hours, checking out the tribal museum and local gardens before catching a shared rickshaw back to Vapi. My bus back to Bombay was scheduled to leave after midnight, so I asked to be dropped at a local movie theater where I could pass the time.

Vapi is the fourth most polluted city in the world. The rest of the cities on the list pretty much map to the ones I visited in China. It was fitting that in this dirty city I would watch a movie called Dirty Picture. The film was about a voluptuous siren's rapid rise to fame in the Indian movie industry, and subsequent fall from grace. There were no females in the audience. Every time the lead actress displayed an ounce of flesh, the local men started baying like a pack of hyenas, cheering, whistling, and yelling obscenities that would have offended my delicate sensibilities had I been able to understand them.


"Bootiful?" - Rickshaw driver, after examining the photo he had clicked of me on my camera

November 24, 2011

Battle of Pratapgad

The man in Maharashtra is Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The warrior king from the 17th century established a Maratha empire through his courage and guile. Anyone who has had the luxury of growing up in the state has heard about his heroics from childhood. He is so popular in Bombay that it is possible to land at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, catch a train to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and stroll down to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya  museum in the same day.

Some of Shivaji's defining moments took place at Pratapgad, a stronghold as impenetrable as the bedroom of a traditional Indian girl who lives with her parents. I visited the fort here, which is located near the hill station of Mahabaleshwar. Set a thousand meters above sea level amidst unforgiving steep terrain on all sides, Pratapgad Fort is a demotivating site for enemies.

The Adilshahi forces of Afzal Khan clashed against the Maratha might of Shivaji at the base of the fort. With his troops outnumbered 3:1, Shivaji still came out on top. He met Afzal Khan in person to discuss a peace treaty. The negotiations came to an amicable end courtesy of an Afzal Khan disembowelment by Shivaji's previously concealed tiger claw. His troops then went on to route the Adilshahi troops, marking Shivaji's first significant victory on the way to establishing a Maratha kingdom.


“Shivaji possessed every quality requisite for success in the disturbed age in which he lived: cautious and wily in council, he was fierce and daring in action; he possessed an endurance that made him remarkable even amongst his hardy subjects, and an energy and decision that would in any age raised him to distinction." ~  Sir E. Sullivan

November 16, 2011

Mr. Tea

Strolling through the dark alleys of the Fort district of Mumbai towards my flat, I deftly sidestepped a taxi, two scooters, a man balancing a marble slab on his head, and several slow walkers before stopping at a mobile phone stall to top up my prepaid account. Suddenly, I felt a strange splotch on my neck. Not again! I thought, recalling my prior experiences in the turd world.

I took a sample of the ooze slowly tracing itself down my spine with my fingers. I was surprised to find out it was not poo, and a little worried that it might be something even more nefarious than bird droppings. The grime turned out to be the harmless contents of a tea cup that someone had emptied from the window of his or her second or third floor apartment. After my roommate studied the stains, he confirmed my findings and all was well on Modi Street once more.


"Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities will always be the favorite beverage of the intellectual." ~ Thomas de Quincey

November 12, 2011


Fans of Mass Transit Railways, Marginal Tax Rates, and Methionine Synthase Reductase may be dissapointed, but anyone who enjoys eating food will not be after enjoying a hearty lunch at Mavali Tiffin Room (MTR). My flatmate Shyam and I decided to go to Bangalore's favourite restaurant. The fare was vegeterian but delicious nonetheless. Not too spicy and not too pricy, what the landmark lacked in visual appearance it more than made up for in taste.

The service was extraordinary, not because I could distinguish the waiters from the clientele, but because how quickly empty plates were filled up within moments of the eater licking them clean. After the main course, ice cream was even served. I was encouraged to taste everything by the waiter who once noticed my hesitation at the appearance of some strange looking dishes. With our hunger satiated and our bellies expanded, we left our table satisfied. .0237 seconds later our seats were occupied by the next batch of eager diners.


"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." - James Beard

November 03, 2011

Nightmare on Modi Street

I have moved into a flat in the Fort area of Mumbai. It is a short walk from Victoria Terminus, the main train station in town. Up three stories of rickety stairs is my claustrophobic domicile. The stairwell is so dark that a flashlight is required even in the daytime to see the steps clearly. There are no windows in some rooms, although there is air conditioning.

Since the cost of the electricity consumed by the AC is included in the rent, which is apparently a rarity in Bombay, the tenants take full advantage of it. The average temperature inside is more akin to Canada than India. While I lay curled up and shivering at night, that is not what keeps me awake. Perhaps it is the bedbugs or perhaps it is the landlord, his brothers, and other lackeys who stay up all night watching TV at maximum volume. Tamil movies and the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" garner the highest ratings.

The apartment has two bathrooms, one of which has a shower and one a sink without a faucet. Unluckily, I share it with 13 other men. There is another sink outside, which is used for washing vegetables and brushing teeth. One guy uses so much Axe body spray that it burns my eyes. Another gripes continuously about a long list of problems that life has thrown at him in a thick accent. His roommates listen on silently, either because they are captivated by the minutiae of his life or because they can sleep with their eyes open. I later realized he was talking on the phone to his girlfriend or fiance, whom he may or may not have met in real life.

So far I have stayed in three rooms. I was shuttled from one room to another, when the guy whose bed I had been sleeping in initially arrived back at the apartment at dawn one day. He had gone back home to visit his family. I was relocated to the bed of another resident who was away on a business trip. Upon his return, I shifted to the room of the only guy who cooks in the apartment. Since there are no tables in the flat, he eats on his bed. He cannot eat out since he is recovering from jaundice.


Me: They also smoke, fart, and ball scratch.
Friend: Looks like you've found your tribe...well done!

October 28, 2011

Blowing In The Wind

How many roads must a man walk down,
before you call him a man?

My career as a public servant lasted through university. I quickly transitioned to the private sector after graduation, whereupon I allowed notorious companies such as Satyam to profit from my talents. Endowed with responsibility and managerial powers from a young age, I never maximized the amount of rent that I could extract from my employers as long as I enjoyed my work. When the excitement cooled and the learning peaked, it was an automatic trigger to explore new opportunities.

And how many times can a man turn his head,
and pretend that he just doesn't see?

Having spent two and a half unforgettable years in China, it was time to shift gears. After completing a circuit of Southeast Asia, I came to Mumbai. In a country where 58% of children do not complete primary school and only 6% of the population make it to university, I entered the non profit space for the first time. I joined Teach For India, a movement of young leaders intent on ending educational inequity in the nation.

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind,
the answer is blowing in the wind.
- Bob Dylan

October 23, 2011

Humble Beginnings

After I started working in Mumbai, an HR lady gathered some information on me so that she could share my profile information with the rest of the staff.

HR: So what are your strengths?
Me: Smart, handsome, responsible, versatile, hard working, well traveled, ...
HR: Are these your strengths or your praises?
Me: Is there a difference?
HR: ... And why aren't you smiling in your photo?
Me: I usually don't smile in my pictures.
HR: Why? Are you afraid you won't look good when you are smiling?
Me: No, I look good either way.
HR: Aren't you modest!
Me: Oh yes, add humility to my list of strengths.
HR: ...


"In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself...For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility." - Benjamin Franklin

October 17, 2011

Forbidden City

After arriving in Beijing one of the first places I went was the fabled Forbidden City, former home of the manliest Chinese natives. One million workers were needed to construct the walled city, and nowadays almost ten million people visit it annually. I visited on a chilly February afternoon, when the air was crisp and the crowds were sparse. The grandeur and magnificence of the architecture is best enjoyed from atop a hill in Jingshan Park,  located directly behind the moated complex.

Unlike the Great Wall or the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City never managed to take my breath away. After serving as the Chinese imperial palace for 500 years it has now been reconstructed to perfection. Not a hint of character or charm remains in the sprawling compound, which in the past could only be entered or exited with the consent of the emperor. Each room once had a colourful history of its own, but even with a fresh coat of bright red paint they now looked lifeless and dull. I traipsed through several dozen of the Forbidden City's nearly one thousand buildings, turning back when it became repetitive.


"The more things are forbidden, the more popular they become." ~ Mark Twain 

October 11, 2011

The Aviator

I have been aboard many commercial flights and even dabbled in the odd hot air balloon ride, but I had never piloted my own aircraft until a sunny summer's day in Vancouver came along. I arrived at King George Aviation's flight school along with fellow daredevil Sri and his spectating wife. The airfield was composed of grass and several bales of hay. As we waited for our planes to arrive, Sri and I inspected the light aircraft in the hangar and became increasingly nervous.

A true hero faces his fears courageously. I encountered a brief bout of uneasiness upon seeing the aircraft in which I would be flying and rushed to a portable toilet I sighted nearby. I was stymied by the combination lock affixed to the door handle of the outhouse, when an employee told me that is where they stored petrol. By now our flight instructors, a man and a woman, had arrived.

After perhaps making a politically incorrect statement about women pilots that enraged Sri's wife, I volunteered to fly with the female instructor to demonstrate my unbiased nature. The bright yellow plane had two seats and also two sets of controls. I put on my headset and buckled up, as the instructor tested the radio. Since it would be very loud once we were up in the air, all communication would be conducted via the headset.

The instructor would be in control during landing and takeoff, while I would get a brief chance to pilot the winged marvel once we were safely airborne and away from population centers. Within minutes we were soaring over the coast of White Rock. She steered the plane over the water, gave me a brief explanation of the maneuvers I could make, and handed over the controls to me.

The aircraft was surprisingly easy to pilot and I quickly got the hang of it. I made course corrections to keep tracing the coastline below. When we headed overland, we hit some turbulence. The instructor was back in the pilot's seat for the remainder of the session. We circled back to the airfield and made a smooth landing, bringing an end to my exhilarating fifteen minutes of flight.

Some photos courtesy: Sri


I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
- R. Kelly

October 06, 2011

Grouse Grind

After completing one of Vancouver's classic rites of passages in Stanley Park, I set my sights on Grouse Mountain for my next challenge. The mountain on the North Shore is home to the infamous Grouse Grind, dubbed "Mother Nature's Stairmaster" for its punishing steepness. The grueling hike from the base to the peak of Grouse Mountain covers a height of 853 meters. The trail is 2.9 km long and has 2830 stairs in total, making for an average grade of incline of 17 degrees or 31%.

Wearing black track pants that accentuated my firm buttocks, I blazed through the Grouse Grind in two hours*. I was powered by chocolate bars, several litres of water and Gatorade, and a desire to reach the summit. I enjoyed the view from the top while catching my breath. My t-shirt was soaked with sweat, looking more like a greasy napkin used by a customer at KFC than a fine piece of apparel. Going down the Grind is not allowed, so I descended to ground level via the aerial tramway.

*The official record is 25 minutes and the average person takes 90 minutes to complete the Grouse Grind.


"We don't get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life." ~ Steve Jobs

October 03, 2011

Not Interested

The elevator in my office building in Beijing was packed with the lunch crowd. Among the occupants was a friendly man who worked in an adjacent office and his cute colleague who was friendly to all but one.

Friendly man: Where are you going for lunch?
Me: The Place.
Friendly man: Which place?
Me: The Place. You know...the shopping center.
Friendly man: Oh, I see.
Me: Do you guys want to join?

The friendly man conferred with his cute colleague while the rest of the elevator riders eagerly awaited her response.

Friendly man: She is not interested.
Me: In the Place? Or in me?
Friendly man: Both.

The elevator audience chuckled in unison.

October 02, 2011

Stanley Park Seawall

Although I grew up in Vancouver, I had never circumnavigated Stanley Park's seawall. Upon my return from China, I finally got around to it. I caught a bus from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park. I assumed the bus would drop me off at the seawall, but the last stop was in the center of the thousand acre park. I followed my instincts to reach the coast, and commenced circumnavigation.

The pathway on the perimeter of the world's most beautiful urban park is popular with locals and tourists alike. Whilst enjoying the scenery, pedestrians must keep an eye out for rash cyclists and rollerbladers who barrel down the path. The stroll took me a couple of  hours and one bottle of Gatorade to complete.

I walked past the park's famous sites - totem poles, a gun battery installed to ward of a possible Japanese attack during World War II, the lighthouse at Brockton Point from where large piles of sulphur can be seen across the Burrard Inlet, and a mermaid-like sculpture set on a stone out in the sea.

As I was alone and did not appear to be in any rush, I was frequently stopped by tourists. I functioned as their principal photographer whenever they wanted group shots taken. I went underneath the mighty Lions Gate bridge and then stopped for a few moments at a one of the beaches along the coast of Stanley Park, before closing out the day at English Bay.

September 24, 2011


Me: You are dressed nicely today.
Wide eyed Chinese beauty: You means usually I dressed ugly?
Me: Umm... I mean even better than usual. Is it because you want to have dinner with me tonight?
Wide eyed Chinese beauty: No. Misunderstand.

September 17, 2011

Landslide in Laos

The people of Laos take the definition of laid back to a whole new level. The old joke is that the "PDR" in Lao PDR stands for "Please Don't Rush" rather than "People's Democratic Republic". To prove this point, my ten hour bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane expanded into a 36 hour ordeal. It involved sleeping on a parked bus, leaving my stool samples in the jungle, and buying food from hill tribes. The Lao seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience, treating the bus ride as an extended holiday.

I was supposed to leave Luang Prabang in the morning for Phansavon, home to the mysterious Plain of Jars. The once daily minibus headed there never showed up. I did not want to wait until the day after, so I recalibrated my plans and decided to head to the capital city of Vientiane directly from Luang Prabang. We departed on time at two in the afternoon. My seat neighbour was a lightweight Lao with a heavyweight odor. He regarded me as an extension of the internal furnishings of the bus and used my shoulder as his headrest. When he tried to rest his left thigh on top of my right thigh, I would have none of it. Our relationship soured.

In the first few hours there were only minor delays, including helping one family move all their material goods from one village to another by using the bus roof as a storage device. The first major stoppage came three hours into the journey. As the bus slowed down, I saw the heads of all the passengers in front of me pop out from their seats like badgers from their holes. When the bus came to a halt, most of the passengers immediately rushed out.

An hour later the bus started moving again, passing all the Lao who had started to walk down the road in the meantime. When one man mentioned that half the passengers were missing from the bus, the driver gave a sadistic smile and stopped at the top of a hill. Everyone boarded the bus with big grins on their faces. Some ran, but most strolled with leisure, so that was another half an hour gone.

As night approached, the traffic on the winding partially paved roads began to increase until we were no longer progressing to our destination. The driver turned off the engine, followed by the lights and air conditioning a few minutes later. A long procession of cars, trucks, and buses were ensnared in a traffic jam as far as the eye could see. A landslide had taken out a large section of the road ahead. Bulldozers were needed to clear away enough debris so that vehicles could pass, but that would have to wait till daylight came.

No one complained, even when the driver suddenly decided to turn the bus into a disco for half an hour. He cranked up the rather impressive sound system and busted out a three song rotation featuring two soothing Lao melodies and an English song about "Having the Time of My Life". I drifted asleep after the music stopped, if only to avoid smelling the construction worker-like aroma of the man beside me.

I awoke at dawn the following day at nature's behest. I got off the bus and noticed that the nearby villagers had set up a food stall directly in front of it. I would return there to eat a healthy breakfast of chicken liver and feet, but first I had more important matters to attend to. I went to look for a private spot in the nearby jungle. The road was extremely muddy, and my shoes had become caked in dirt. This was a blessing in disguise, as I could no longer differentiate the mud from any other similarly hued filth that I would soon step on.

Like a mother bird building a protective nest for her young ones, I snapped some branches and twigs to clear an area where no eyes could see me. Five minutes later I emerged a happy man. My stomach now had room for breakfast. Eight hours later the bus was on the move again as the bulldozers had completed their duty. Ten hours later, and a full day past my initial forecast, I reached the capital city.


Now I've had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes, I swear it's the truth
And I owe it all to you
'Cause I've had the time of my life
And I owe it all to you...
I've been waiting for so long.
~ Time of My Life lyrics

September 14, 2011

Southeast Asia Circuit

This year's edition of the epic forty day trip focused on some classic backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia. With so many tourists around, this oft visited region of Asia is not as challenging to navigate as India or China, but still offers a splendid assortment of temples, museums, and natural attractions to explore. English, although not well spoken, is usually comprehended. Unfortunately the locals involved in the tourist industry have become quite aggressive, particularly in Vietnam. As advertised, Laos was the most relaxed nation of the bunch.

  • Bangkok
  • Penang
  • Kuala Lumpur
    • Putrajaya
  • Siem Reap
    • Angkor Wat
  • Phnom Penh
  • Saigon
    • Mekong Delta
    • Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Hoi An
    • Danang
    • My Son
  • Hue
  • Ninh Binh
  • Hanoi
    • Halong Bay
  • Luang Prabang
  • Vientiane


“One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.” – Alfred North Whitehead

September 12, 2011

Belly Beer

While traveling through Southeast Asia, I met an Indonesian girl at a bus stop. It turned out she had also lived in Beijing in the past.

"Did you gain weight while you were in China?" she asked me. "How did you know!" I bristled. She giggled and pointed at my stomach. "You have a belly beer!"

August 02, 2011

ARNABeer: The World of Tsingtao

Tsingtao (pronounced ching-dao) is for all intents and purposes the national beer of China. It is not the best tasting beer in China, but it is the one with the most name recognition and availability. Beer advocates give Tsingtao a 'C', griping that it is the colour of urine but grudgingly admitting that it goes well with spicy Chinese cuisine. It is not even officially the world's most consumed beer, with that honour belonging to its tastier compatriot Snow.

Fiercely potent rice wine, baijiu, has been the staple drink of the nation for generations, but now faces stiff competition from its less alcoholic brethren. Beer is steadily gaining popularity as China's middle class swells like the belly of a mother awaiting to give birth to her only child. Tsingtao is leading the way, both locally and as the leading exporter of Chinese beers. Germans living in the coastal Shandong city of Qingdao founded the Tsingtao Brewery in 1903.

Although pronounced the same, the beer and the city are spelled differently in English. Tsingtao is spelled using the old Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese, while Qingdao is the spelling using the present day pinyin system. The brewery fell into Japanese hands during their invasion of the Heavenly Kingdom, before being repatriated and privatized after the People's Republic was founded.

The original brewery in Qingdao is now a museum and visitors are offered freshly brewed beer at the end of their tour.  Since 1991, the brewery has organized the annual Qingdao International Beer Festival. Foreign friends are plied with free booze by the Chinese, if they are lucky enough to stumble into Qingdao during the summer months when the festival is held.


"Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder." ~ Kinky Friedman 

July 29, 2011

Ngong Ping 360

A cable car made a slow journey across Hong Kong's Tung Chung Bay and over the lush green hills of Lantau Island. It was raining intermittently. After disappearing into the mists above the rolling greenery for 25 minutes, the cable car emerged on the other end 5.7 kilometers away. It's destination was Ngong Ping village, home of the giant Tian Tan Buddha. Three British girls sat in the gondola, eyeing the stranger sitting in front of them with a mixture of fear and delight.

The cable car switched directions twice, with the gondola temporarily detaching from the cable at the angle changing stations. With low visibility outside, their only view was of this handsome man. Occasionally their attention would be diverted when an empty cable car going in the opposing direction would break through the mist for a few seconds, before disappearing into the same fog once more. One of the trio squealed "This is straight out of a horror movie!".

My face remained impassive until I arrived at Ngong Ping village. I let the three girls get off the cable car before me, and then climbed up the many staircases to reach the giant statue of Buddha. It was my last day in Hong Kong, and I had a plane to catch across the border in Shenzhen later on the same day. I wandered the island for a little while, before having a quick lunch at the village, and taking the bi-cable gondola lift back to Tung Chung. This time I was alone.


"In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true." ~ Buddha 

July 27, 2011

Beijing's Underground City

Despite spending almost two and a half years in Beijing, one place I never made it to was the fabled underground city. Built in the seventies to shelter Beijingers from a potential nuclear attack by the Russians, the tunnels reach depths of 18 meters, with 30 kilometers of tunnels covering an area of over 85 square kilometers. 300,000 people chipped in to build a thousand shelters that could hold forty percent of Beijing's then population. Beijing's city walls, its ancient defense mechanism, were torn down and the material used to construct the underground complex. Apparently, each citizen knew where to find the nearest trap door entrance to the tunnels from their house, and could quickly go into hiding if necessary, which it never was.

There were a few underground shopping areas scattered through out the city that I explored, but I could never confirm they were previously bomb shelters. I located the official tourist entrance in a back alley near Tiananmen Square. A polite message, shockingly inscribed in English, was posted on the door saying that it was closed indefinitely. A few friends mentioned that there was a staircase that descended into complete darkness in their apartment complex, and surmised that this could be an entrance to the subterranean chambers. Another urban legend is that these underground shelters have been converted to makeshift dwellings and rented out to poor migrant workers, who emerge from them only to work, eat, or smoke. Another rumour is that due to safety reasons the underground city will not be opened to the public anytime soon. Until then, what lies beneath will remain lurking in the catacombs of the imagination.


Message posted at the entrance: Welcome to our under-ground City. Since April We have a big constru-ction inside until now So we don't open for the public. We're so sorry about this. May be. it'll open next Year.

Beneath this, someone has scrawled: May be. I'll come back.

July 25, 2011

ARNABlades of Glory

Expo 86 shaped the Vancouver of today, leaving behind BC Place, Canada Place, Science World, and the SkyTrain as significant parts of its legacy. For the 2010 Winter Olympics, one of these legacy projects was the Richmond Olympic Oval. On December 12, 2008 the oval was opened to the public. As part of the opening ceremonies, the masses were invited to skate on its icy surface or merely admire its form and function.

I entered the oval, briefly gazing at the sleek wood paneling on the roof, before turning my attention to the sheet of ice before me. I took a deep breath and sat down on a bench to put on on my skates. The sinews of my arms rhythmically stiffened and loosened as I laced my ARNABlades on. I stood up to test that the skates fit snugly around my ankles so that they did not wobble and hinder my balance. Satisfied that they did, I pulled off my blade covers and and ran my fingers gently across the edge. Both the tips of my blades and my eyes sparkled as I stepped onto the oval. It was unlike any ice rink I had skated on before.

I glided around the smooth surface of the track, effortlessly sidestepping any toddlers, novices, or Olympic mascots that were not keeping pace. I completed several dozen laps of the oval before calling it a day. The facility was impressive from top to bottom. Apart from the speedy ice surface, which could be replaced with turf or ball courts as desired, the roof was another attention grabber. Its rippling wooden roof was constructed in the shape of a heron's wing in recognition of the Salish people who had first inhabited the area. Giant sky lanterns artfully adorn the exterior of the complex. These nets, made out of polytetrafluoroethylene mesh, change shape in concert with the wind.


"I was more interested in skating and the girls and traveling than I was in calculus." - Scott Hamilton 

July 20, 2011

Shanghai Tang

Shanghai Tang revealed its Spring Summer Collection for 2011 in Beijing's Honglingjin Park. Despite its moniker, Shanghai Tang was actually founded in Hong Kong in 1994. I had received an invite to the launch celebration being held by the "global ambassador of contemporary Chinese chic" from my good friend Swathish. We were welcome additions to China's fashion scene, posing on the red carpet as photographers clicked away.

My favourite Chinese bombshells were in attendance, including actress Fan Bing Bing and MTV China VJ Zhu Zhu. Fan Bing Bing and I made eye contact for a moment. Time froze and a lifetime together was imagined in that split second. I had first seen the captivating Zhu Zhu hosting an event at the Sanlitun Village in my early days in China, and did not expect our paths would cross again. Zhu Zhu interviewed Fan Bing Bing. After regaining consciousness, I went to get a drink.

After cocktails were served, the guests were ushered to seats near the stage. The actual fashion show portion of the gala was over in a flash. One model was indistinguishable from the next, presumably so the clothes could stand out and grab the attention of the trendsetters in the audience. The models strutted to the front of the catwalk, jutted out their bony hips, swivelled, and returned backstage. Even though a warm weather collection was being revealed, Beijing in March is still quite chilly. I empathized with the plight of the scantily clad beauties that stiffly patrolled the catwalk, understanding why they had broken neither sweat or smile.


“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” - Yves Saint Laurent