April 29, 2014

Conversations with Cabbies: Gastronomy

On the first day of 2014 I made my way to the Philippines from South Korea. As I exited the Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport I was met with a long snaking lineup at the taxi counter. Not many taxis were around as it was a public holiday. I eventually made my way to the front of the line and caught a cab. The driver immediately engaged me in conversation, a form of verbal interchange I had become unfamiliar with after living in Korea.

Upon inquiry, I told him that I was going to meet up with some friends in the Philippines and travel around. “Did you come here to meet a lady friend. Lots of foreign man come to Philippines because they like our ladies”. I replied in the negative, as my travel buddies were two Dutch men. He let out a loud juicy fart and apologized “Sorry! Gastronomy”.

We also discussed my travel plans, our educational background, career paths, job prospects, and the notorious behaviour of Korean men in the nation. Kopinos (코피노) are the byproduct of illicit liaisons between Korean guys and the Filipinas who these men have either paid or misguided. There are now over ten thousand of these fatherless children scattered across the Philippines. A coalition of mothers has even made their way to Korea to demand child support money from the fathers, who either do not know or do not want to know about their spawn.

The taxi driver also told me he had an ex-Canadian girlfriend who he had met when she had accompanied his sister (who works as a nurse in Canada) on a trip back to the Philippines. They had a long distance relationship for a few months until she dumped him unilaterally. “Why are Canadian girls so mean?” he asked me. I struggled to give an adequate answer, mumbling “I don't know. Are they mean?” and “I’m not sure it’s a trait particular to Canadian girls”. "They are moody like a smoothie!" he exclaimed as we passed a 7-11 convenience store.

The name of my hostel in Manila was Our Awesome Hostel, located in a poor neighbourhood outside the gates of modernity. The cabbie parked outside the entrance, took one look, and immediately declared "This is definitely not awesome".

April 11, 2014

Urinal Etiquettes

Although I had some ghastly experiences in Chinese toilets, most of my memories are happy ones. I much enjoyed reading the words of wisdom posted above urinals all over China, from the succinct "Closer, easier" to the more verbose "You can enjoy the fresh air after finishing a civilized urinating". I was heartened to see that the Chinese visa processing office in Vancouver maintained the tradition with a similar sign posted at its bathroom facilities.

The urinal etiquette instructed the user to maintain eye contact with the urinal at all times, and not chit chat or look at neighbours while taking a leak. The user generated stream also had to be parallel to the Earth's surface. Physics experiments, particularly those involving parabolic trajectories, were strongly discouraged.


“I just peed in the sink. Why? Because there was already somebody in the bathtub.
― Jarod Kintz

April 04, 2014

It is Suck

In South Korea, conformity is the name of the game. Anything that deviates from a very limited spectrum of acceptability is scorned, particularly when it comes to matters of appearance and style.

Me: My jacket is very nice.

Korean coworker: No, it is suck.

April 03, 2014

Zhengzhou - China's Largest Ghost City

With their empty streets and their deserted buildings, ghost towns have always fascinated me . Desolate and decaying constructs leave a physical reminder of glory days that have been swept away by the winds of destiny, disuse, and destruction. Living in Asia provides access to a particular phenomena - that of modern day ghost towns built in anticipation of a demand that may or may not materialize.

Some are worthy experiments in city building while others are entertaining combinations of vanity project and investor folly. China is in the lead with Ordos and Zhengzhou, followed by South Korea's Songdo. India has contributed deserted Lavassa, a holiday resort within driving distance of Mumbai and Pune but with around 0.01% of their population density.

As one of the eight ancient capitals of China, Zhengzhou itself has a long history. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed that it was the first city of the Shang dynasty around 3500 years ago. After visiting several heads of states, my friend Swathish and I made our way to the outskirts of the capital of Henan to visit the Middle Kingdom's largest ghost city - Zhengzhou New District.

Although Zhenghou's urban population base is nearing 9 million, not many of its inhabitants had made it to the New District. Swathish and I wandered through the deserted boulevards undisturbed. 'Caution for tumbling' warned a sign beside a staircase in front of an empty convention center and museum complex. Although mostly unused and uninhabited, the office towers, apartment complexes, and civic spaces showed heavy investment.

Rent is supposedly excessive even though tenants are hard to come by. One area is named Vancouver Square. The ghost cities are a testament to a future that is desired by the powers that be, but not one that is necessarily a reflection on the present day capabilities or desires of the populace.

Unlike Ordos, which is a lengthy highway drive away from its older namesake, new Zhengzhou is a modern, well-planned continuation of inhabited Zhenghzhou, so there is a greater likelihood that it will soon transform into a functioning community.

Apart from the short term gains that are generated by a resource and manpower intensive project like building a city from scratch, the grand vision of Zhengzhou New Distract may yet become a reality as migrants and businesses slowly trickle into a settlement where the infrastructure is already in place to handle an increasingly urban and affluent population.


Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. ~ Mark Twain