Monday, April 30, 2007

Fighting the dragon

My interest, or rather curiosity, on Tibet and its plight started during my first visit to Manali (HP, India). The compound wall of the Tibetan monastery in Manali had an inscription that would generally be considered rebellious - "Free Tibet from the clinches of China", made by the Students for free Tibet. I made a mental note to check up on the entire history sometime later. And while doing so, I also got to watch the movie '7 Years in Tibet', which again prompted me to read the splendid book by the same title.

The book stands high up there as one of those marvelous books of human struggle, determination and courage I've ever read. From those days, I try to follow the developments and what Tibetans try to do to make the world notice of their plight and struggle. Of course, given a chance, I'd jump at the opportunity to visit the roof of the world (Tibet) and the Forbidden City (Lhasa).

Image Courtesy: 'Friends of Tibet blog' - one of those blogs that I *try* to follow.

As anyone who knows a little about Tibetan culture would say, it's one of the most simplistic cultures in the world. Tibetans are very peace loving and simplistic - which is exactly why China had absolutely no problems taking over an entire country without creating as much as a whimper. It was like being a nice guy and someone just ran over an 18 wheeler on you for being nice.

The biggest problem that Tibetans face today is that not many in the world know of their real plight. And all because they are the 'nice guys' who wouldn't cross the line of morality (which I guess is wired in their religion and culture) to prove a point or two. On the other hand, struggles such as that of LTTE are known to the entire world and there's recognition of the world. What happens next is a different story, and one that's better left untold.

Now, the moral of this story - I guess it doesn't pay to 'be nice' all the time. The world would swallow us and we wouldn't even know about it. Sometimes it pays to be crude and be dodgy, if that is the way the world works.

The latest initiative by Tibetans is 'One world. One dream. Free Tibet 2008', and to create a real ruffle before the Olympics 2008 to make China look nasty before the eyes of the world. All this even as China bulldozes into the world economic scene. Let's see what's in store...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

20 Indian cities 'mapped'

Yahoo! has mapped 20 Indian cities - providing a detailed online map with a decent list of services.
On Wednesday he launched "Our City", a new Net resource which aggregates city specific information including, news, travel and tourism, weather, local business as well as user contributed blogs, photos and videos, for 20 Indian tier-1 and tier-2 towns.
Following are the cities in the radar.
The 20 Indian cities now in Yahoo's new Our City Web portal are: Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bubhaneswar,Chandigarh, Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kochi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Madurai, Mangalore, Mumbai, Mysore, Pune, Shimla, Thiruvananthapuram.
This is, obviously, a good thing. The maps for these cities are quite detailed. We don't have to purchase a city map anymore, and ATMs and other common services such as restaurants, theatres, hotels and tourist spots can easily be located using this service - especially helpful for someone new to one of these cities. I'm not sure how useful weather information is going to be - Indian weather is too predictable, unlike in the west.

This is a good start. However, I think the key feature that's still missing is the navigation aid. Similar to the US (I don't know about the rest of 'west'), if there is a service that shows the exact map and directions to reach place A from place B - including all the roads and turns you need to take and the distance between each of them, that would be of real benefit for travel. Let's hope this great service comes soon - at least within the major (top 10) cities.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Have a Patel (photo) shot yet?

A friend of mine told me about 'Patel shot' yesterday.

What is a 'Patel shot' anyway? says this:
Patel shot n. a candid photograph with a person in the foreground and a place or object of interest (such as a tourist destination or landmark) in the background.
The phrase reeks of derision from the word go. All of us have posed before famous monuments, but I guess the phrase originated because we Indians tend to overdo it. You'd find it easy to catch an Indian taking a photo as s/he poses before something, but it does seem true that we take lesser number of person-less photographs compared to other races. Not that any of this is wrong; it's just that I didn't understand why Indians overdo in 'Patel shooting'. A random blog search might have the answer:
In India, with international travel booming in the IT industry which employs almost 40% of the eligible educated bachelors, 'Patel shots' are the in-thing for quite sometime now. I am not sure if it is by choice or chance, 90% of such IT world groom-to-be snaps that are exchanged happen to be shot abroad in a well known tourist spot!

It is not the same with the opposite sex though. Bride-to-be pictures are usually shot at home, studio with a plain background in ethnic wear. Women travel abroad too, but the pics in western outfits in tourist spots are not preferred.
Interesting. I guess the other reason is that we travel very less compared to, say, westerners, and hence visiting these places itself is an important event in our lives, and we make sure we record it for posterity.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The city that's 'Always turned on'

‘Always turned on’ is the caption for ‘Atlantic City’. This is a caption adapted consciously for the sake of branding.

Atlantic City is located 2 hours from the New York, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And it’s designed for one purpose: to be the Las Vegas (The Sin City) of the East Coast. And how do you do that? Build flashy casinos and legalize gambling. All ingredients of a ‘Sin City’ automatically come in. You’ve got money, casinos, gambling, stage shows, lots of tourists, and lots of shops, lots of lights, a fabulous beach, and dance bars. I’m not sure if prostitution and assorted stuff is as prevalent as in Las Vegas - which is probably why people say Atlantic City isn’t there (as a Sin City) yet.

The picture below is that of a tourism office that’s bang on the edge of the city at the entry point. You can’t miss it because it’s beautiful. You don’t have to know anything about the city before you plan to visit since these guys assist you in everything.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk, which is the world’s first boardwalk. It’s now filled with all kinds of stores selling exotic stuff. Just walking here is a great time-pass. Wonder why Indian cities with much better and larger shoreline beaches – like Chennai – haven’t implemented the boardwalk concept.

The Ripley’s Odditorium.

The Trump Taj-Mahal theme based Casino. Actually it isn’t anything close to Taj Mahal in its style, but I don’t think people from this part of the world know that. I read somewhere that Donald Trump spent 1 billion dollars to build this, and he sold junk bonds for the purpose. The jazz just oozes out.

Casinos are generally divided into two sections. One is full of slot machines like below where you really don’t have any say in the output. You just keep putting in money one unit at a time – from a nickel to a dollar depending on how risky/wealthy you are – and press the slot machine wheel. If the machine gives you a good combination, you get rewards. You lose otherwise, which is what happened most of time. I gave up after wasting 20$. People just sit there and feed in 5 cents at a time and spend 100$ a day.

This is what was surprising: you have a lot of old and poor-looking men and women playing in these machines. Most of the players were over 40/50 year old. I guess these guys want to gamble but just don’t want to think. Just watching it was like waiting for an absolution that’s never gonna come.

The (shaky pic, which is all I could get) is the second part of the Casino – which is what most of us have seen in movies. There are different types of games here. I picked up the Big Six Wheel of fortune, the Double attack Blackjack and American Roulette here. I tried hard to understand Craps, but it just didn’t sink in - maybe since it was late in the night.

At the end of playing in the Casino for about 9 hours, I broke several myths I had about Casinos:
  1. You don’t lose big time unless you are real stupid and/or bet real hard.
  2. Its 25% brain, 15% speed and 60% luck.
  3. The chances of winning and losing are 30% and 70%. Yes, you do get to win. We started with 500$ in bets, hit a bottom of 240$ at one point, and came out in the end with 492$ after playing 10$ as tips. And this was our first time. I’m not implying we were smart - you’d do just as good.
  4. The Casino floor had at least 5% Indians – all youngsters, all into the games. Indians gamble - and gamble real hard - given the chance.
  5. It’s all professional. And there’s not even a security guard to vet you at the entrance, let alone brick-bodied bullies.
  6. Gambling is like dope or alcohol. Stupid people get addicted, and smart ones just use it to pass time. I don’t see why nations like ours are too conservative.
  7. Casinos make a truckload of money because there are truckloads of people who want to pass time. I could relate to what DeNiro said in 'Casino': "Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It's like a morality car wash."
  8. Casinos don't trick you to make you lose money. Games are purely built on probability, and, like most things, the probability is designed not in our favor in the long run.
Just watching different players bet was an entirely different experience. It’s just amazing. People just throw 100$ (and these are not real wealthy people) bet on 1 square out of 35, and just lose all that in no second. No sweat.

I closed the mad-day starting the mad-drive back at 3.00 in the night and reached home at dawn, on what is usually a 4.5 hours drive. Still waiting for any over-speeding tickets I might’ve picked because over-speeding is an understatement to what I did the entire route on a stormy, slushy night. See ya around!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Life with Liberty

The visit to Statue of Libery just had to happen. It was only a question of when, and it struck me at 6 in the morning of the Sunday that went by. The slight snow and the chilly wind just couldn't put the brakes.

Come to think of it, it's been a nice decision to sleep on the visit to Liberty - since the round trip pretty much consumes half of your day. You start from the tip of Manhattan, from the Battery Park in a ferry to the Liberty Island. The trip also takes you to Ellis Island before returning to the point of start.

The universal soldier in Battery Park. It's a simple statue, but one that's neatly done, and adds a lot of character to the whole place. I liked the imagination that went behind. Simple yet neat stuff.

Downtown Manhattan from the waters. More of a customary photo!

The lady of Liberty. Gifted by France in 1886, and took about 30 years to become green due to oxidation. The statue is quite good looking, but it isn't really awe-inspiring or anything - absolutely nothing close to the first look at, say, the Taj Mahal.

That, I guess, is one less in the list of Thousand places to see before you die.

Ellis Island immigration checkpoint. This was the port of entry for about 12 million immigrants in the early 90's, mostly from Europe. A major reason why America stands for diversity.

Then was this costly visit to Madame Tussauds ($31 for 2 hours), the wax museum. They painstakingly design wax figures of very popular figures with near total perfection.

Captain Jack Sparrow in his elements.

Jimi Hendrix. A classic (and funny) pose.

And I'll stop right here. :)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Logan hits the C segment

Renault Logan enters the Indian market - and that in the 4.5 to 5.75L price band. This is some fine news for people who follow the car segment and are interested in picking one. I've been looking at cars in category C entry level for sometime, and I've always felt there was a strong vacuum.

Class A and B are full of options - Maruti 800, Alto, Estilo (Yuck!) to Santro, Getz to Swift and now the Chevy Spark. Indicas and Wagon-Rs have some ugly bends, and nobody's ever heard of Palio.

The option is to jump into the C segment - without burning too much money - and there are few options. Accent is probably the best in line, but it's lost its charm becoming a 'cop' car. Ikon is a decent deal, but maintenance, I hear, is prohibitive. Esteem looks too old fashioned, Indigos just don't scale up, while Corsa and Seina have long been forgotten. Swift is arguably in this segment, and it's terribly cool, but I'm done with hatchbacks and fastbacks.

The C1 segment - Hyundai Verna and Fiesta - becomes a shade costly (into the 7L range), while Baleno's design is too crass.

In short, there wasn't a reliable, neat looking and less maintenance saloon in the entry-C segment. And that's where Logan fits the bill. It sounds like a neat deal - we just have to wait for initial round of feedback on Indian roads and the maintenance/service issues. No doubt it is going to be a great gun since it was meant for East-European and other developing markets. Mahindra having half the share in the partnership certainly gives confidence - that after-sales spares and maintenance wouldn't be a rip-off. Let's wait with bated breath.

If you are interested in it's performance and reviews, here are some: Autoexpress review, Yahoo review. Most of them say it's a fine a value for money car, and that makes fine sense.

What is surprising is you get Logans in Europe (being among the cheapest cars there) for Euro 5.5K to 6K, while it is costlier in India. This being produced in the Indian plant, does anybody have any idea why it becomes costlier than in Europe?

Update 1 (April 10 '07): I stumbled on the site called when I was doing basic researches. Never knew such a great site existed for comparing and researching about Indian cars. The research is deep and helps a ton in making decisions. Do check out.

Update 2 (April 11 '07): This is some serious dope. A comparison in Logan website says Logan is wider, taller and has a bigger boot than all of the following: Mercedes C-Class, Chevrolet Optra, Honda City and Toyota Corolla. Some serious shakeout in the car marketspace in the offing!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Life's a beach

I decided to hit a couple of places around the shoreline this week to compensate the hard week in office.

As I was researching the beaches, I found one named 'Hammonasset beach' 100 miles away under National Geographic Traveler's Best Beaches, and it was mentioned that it was off-season till June. I instantly knew where I'll spend the evening - It's been a long wish to visit a totally tidy and neat beach in solitude.

A chilly wind rushed through as I entered the beach front. The only sounds that were puncturing the silence was the 'chalak' sound of small waves lapping the shore and the calls from sea gulls around. The place was eerie, and that made it lovely.

Boardwalk to paradise.

A lonely planet.

The other place I visited was the marine aquarium in a beautiful little town called 'Mystic' in Connecticut. I mean, how cooler can a name of a place get?

A pair of frolicking sea-lions.

Live Jelly fish. They've been living in planet earth for more than 650 million years. And we think we are the masters of the planet. How typically human!

I loved the refraction effect. It's a rare beluga whale that is small when you look at its head above the water surface but looks huge when under water.

I'm limiting my photos here. Rest are uploaded in my photobucket account.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Danger Bush

Spotted during a visit to one of the popular photoblogs. ROFLMAO!