Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stuck in Calcutta with the Chennai blues again

Where can Gary stay?
Letter from Calcutta

My old India friend and Carnatic music buff G. just wrote a one-line SOS signal.

I need a hotel recommendation in Calcutta - badly!!

The caption reads: "Stuck in Calcutta with the Chennai blues again."

Indeed, Cow-cutta, Kolkata or Kalighata has far fewer decent bargain hotels than most other Indian cities its size - even worse than Chennai.

Sudder Street (shudder) is full of things like Salvation Army, that's a no-brainer. But where are actual budget hotel rooms that are cheap n cheerful? Is that asking too much in the City of Eternal Twilight?

In fall 2003, I was desperately sick in Calcutta. I needed to stay in a room that didn't require steeling my stomach each time I walked through the door and enduring the stench of floor cleanser. The place I had been staying (a well-known volunteers' and backpackers' hangout) had rats running across the floor, sometimes even into the shower stalls.

Finally just around the corner on Sudder Street, I found the rooms above Super Chicken. Super Chicken is a big shiny relatively new fast-food place somewhere on the far end of Sudder, nearer to Mirza Ghalib street. There are only 6 or so rooms in this mini-hotel but they are all spotlessly clean with brand new fixtures, AC and even flat-screen TVs. Imagine my joy!

At that time the rooms were $12 a night, which was a splurge for a budget traveller. I don't think I ever could have gotten well otherwise. I can't remember the name of this place for the life of me, but I just told G. to look for Super Chicken.

Everyone, help G. and future Calcutta budget travellers! Where can G. stay? We are looking in the range of $10-15 a night. Send answers and suggestions via Comments!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Coined of the realm

Copyrighted phrases 2007-08

Just a few bits of terminology that have sprung to mind in the past 7 months or so. If you use them without
crediting me I will hunt you down like a redbone coon hound hunting a polecat under a Mississippi full moon.

The most socially acceptable form of "creative procrastination;" that is, procrastination involving work online: whether Flickr, Google, Google Earth or Wikipedia ("I'm doing research"), Facebook, one of the myriad chat gadgets (in the guise of "staying in touch" or "networking" when you're really putting off work). At a distance, E-crastination is indistinguishable from "work" - because you are studiously typing away and leaning intently into your laptop.

Dynocracy: A hereditary form of democracy passed on through the bloodline or via marriage, as seen in contemporary Nepal (the Koirala family), India (the Gandhis and many more), Pakistan, Phillipines & Nicaragua (widow successors) -- and now thanks to the Bush family, America.

See "Family Affair," January 2008.

Pseudhu: a type of intinerant performance artist dressed as a Hindu holy man or "Sadhu," but actually just a bum wearing the costume and garb of a sadhu, asking for traditional alms. About 90% of the "babas" and sadhus you see on the road, conspiciously offering tikka in exchange for a handout, are not sadhus - they are Pseudhus.

Chatalog: An internet text chat copied wholesale to a blog, providing "spontaneous' ready-made content. Special thanks to Amod Dange.

I know there are a few more rattling around in my brain....more to come.

Still life with vomit

Chatalog: Copied chats are the new blogs
Los Angeles to Kathmandu, Nepal

A Google Talk with my buddy,
musician, singer and software designer Amod Dange in Los Angeles.

amod.dange: yo mama
amod.dange is online.

amod.dange: how ya be

sirensongs: oh, man i have been better for sure. just vomited in the bathroom of a japanese rest. and i hadn't even eaten. don't you love hearing this first thing in yo morning?

amod.dange: awww
sirensongs: cute huh

: :)
well it happens to the best of us
sirensongs: sometimes even to me, ha
amod.dange: do you think it was the food?
sirensongs: no, i have been sick for nearly 1 week
off and on....kept thinking it was going away
amod.dange: oh no
sirensongs: got better

amod.dange: did you see a doctor?
sirensongs: then i took the Metronidazole meds. for it---no doctor
we know the parameters
however, i neglected to find out that
Metronidzle is also called Flagyl
and Flagyl makes me puke

honey you should see a doctor
sirensongs: thanks dear....yes my "special friend' keeps saying that
but, there are only 3 possibilities
cyclospora -- the meds. for which i am allergic to--Bactrim that is;
or amebiasis
giardia and amebiasis req. the same meds--Tinidazole
every year i forget and brush my teeth with tap water during monsoon. it's my fault

do you think that's what does it?
sirensongs: well, it could have been something i ate
bt evidently no firang here in nepal brush with tap water. in india it's always bn ok
amod.dange: maybe you should try gurgling with rum/whiskey after brushing... just a thought
sirensongs: so my foreign friends are chewing me out saying "you BRUSHED with TAP WATER??!?!?"

so much for the pure Himalayan spring water
sirensongs: oh hell, nepali water is disgusting
we are not that close to the mtns here in the valley
anyway i do feel much better after vomiting...i know it was the flagyl
can switch to Tinidazole
if that doesn't work then i have to sit it out.
take ayurveda
hey thanks for the SSBanner
that came out funny
star spangled, that is
SS, Secret Service, sirensongs

sirensongs: maybe I can find a way to play it at the Embassy 4th July party
amod.dange: i can send you a hi-fi MP3
sirensongs: in 2006 all they played was old Gerry Rafferty things from the 70s, and Billy Ocean. no really
well okay, i can put it on my flash drive i guess
amod.dange: or an audio file that you can put on a cd
sirensongs: dunno what setup they have there
amod.dange: well i can send you a regular audio file that you can put on a regular cd that will play in a system,
i'd really love it if the US Embassy used it
sirensongs: me too.

amod.dange: it will be a big honor :-)
sirensongs: even if they just play it once early in the day. yeah, most expats are pretty preppy, boring types
amod.dange: hahaha
sirensongs: so i wouldn't get too excited, ha
really, they only want clean scrubbed preps working for them.
no one going native or any weirdos like me

amod.dange: hey even if they played it to 2 people at the breakfast lounge i'd still be honored
sirensongs: cool. i think that could be arranged.
also my friends own bars here and i know that's not the same
but they may want to observe.
amod.dange: no bars are better
sirensongs: americans are here despite the travel warning

what warning?
didn't know there was one
sirensongs: oh, the US offiically has an official warning that officially we shouldn't be here
then again Mandela was on their terrorist list till last week

hey, this is fun, maybe i will run this convo as a blog

amod.dange: i know wtf is that all about
sirensongs: for stuff he did with the ANC 30 yrs ago

you know i always thought chats were worthy of being published in their original form

sirensongs: back then he was a terrorist. but he did things like win a nobel pprize since then
amod.dange: i see

sirensongs: they are! chats
dialogue and the whole back and forth thing
is so much fun
much more fun than the ranting monologue stuff lots of blogs are made of

amod.dange: epecially since they retain the spontaneity of the moment
sirensongs: that's what really makes blogs special
like, if you hadn't called, or whatever people are calling it these days,
i prob. never would have written 'i just vomited in the bathroom of a jap. rest"
amod.dange: maybe you can start a new trend - i'd call it a "chatalog"
sirensongs: COOL

is there a bujilt in save on this chat device or must i copy it to word?
amod.dange: use google

cos it automatically emails you the whole chat session
sirensongs: oh right

amod.dange: but never CHANGE anything
sorry the caps should have been on NEVER

sirensongs: weren't you going to
mention yr GF yesterday?
amod.dange: well yes she is awesome
sirensongs: cool
is this the Chinese girl?

amod.dange: she'll be here for the long weekend
sirensongs: who is really young
amod.dange: yes she's 23, I am 35
sirensongs: so, quite a bit diff. of age. i suppose that doesn't matter much anymore
people are more accepting

amod.dange: well 23 yr olds are the lot smarter now than they used to be when i was 23
sirensongs: and a LOT more experienced, dang
kind of scarey
amod.dange: no kidding
yeah she surprises me all the time with her calm about things even I would get stressed about sometimes
sirensongs: wow
amod.dange: she's going to china for 2 months though
amod.dange: and she's not sure if they'll give her a visa to come back
sirensongs: wow, bummer

why would they not?

sirensongs: oh, it is china after all

amod.dange: yeah well it's to do with finances for education etc. strange cos she is still enrolled in school which doesn't end for another year
sirensongs: hmm really strange
amod.dange: she thinks that the US govt discriminates between Chinese and Indian students
cos the indians all get 10 year visas
and the chinese only get 1 year
which can be renewed only from China
sirensongs: ah
well, that's prob because india was willing to make a deal with US and china was not, or something
i don't think the US has any reason to keep Chinese out
not chinese students
china would seem to have more of an interest in 'protecting' and being proprietary about its people

oh yeah, the thing about china being 'open ' now is rubbish

amod.dange: nah you think so?
could be i have no idea really
china is certainly not "open" of course

sirensongs: well, after making all the hoo ha about opening tibet and china again for foreigners
amod.dange: open to do business on their terms though
sirensongs: you can only travel in groups and all members of the group must be the same natilty.
which is very unlikely these days. for instance it means you and your GF could not go

sirensongs: together
amod.dange: that makes no sense
sirensongs: of course not
amod.dange: so if husband and wife have different nationalities they can't go together?
sirensongs: my friend runs an Everest tours and they are letting him take 2 nationalities, but one has to be nepali, of course the porters are all nepali
and he is Kiwi
so...what, find 10 Kiwis?
amod.dange: hahaha
this is a joke
sirensongs: AFAIK [as far as I know] yes that's what it means.
then you must submit permission 2 mos in advance
but they reserve the right to reject it up to 1 wk before your intended travel date
amod.dange: how nice
sirensongs: and of course, for such a trip everyone has already bought expensive tickets often non-ref
and third of all
everyone's being really scrutinized
for instance, i might not get to go if they find out sirensongs is me
and biz people who have been going for 5 yrs are being rejected
this is all acc. to my close friend who runs the prof. agency
people who've been many times are being rejectd for mainland.
amod.dange: wow (sorry phone)
sirensongs: kay
your GF has any family in US? or no
Sent at 11:09 PM on Wednesday

: back from phone.....
well she has an aunt
sirensongs: k, before you forget send me an MP3
amod.dange: in DC
sirensongs: oh that's good
amod.dange: ok sure
sirensongs: does that help at atll?
amod.dange: what? the thing about the Chinese policy?
sirensongs: with her staying
amod.dange: oh you mean the aunt
sirensongs: yeah
amod.dange: well the aunt is the sponsor
so she is instrumental in having her here
sirensongs: ah
amod.dange: but i'm not sure if the US immigration sees the aunt as also a factor increasing the possibility that she will not rerturn
Sent at 11:16 PM on Wednesday

ok darling i better focus on work - it's getting busier here
you take care of yourself

sirensongs: well great chatting. I will put this up on the blog. yep, i don't get alarmed at vomit anymore.
amod.dange: and i'll send that audio file across tonight
sirensongs: ;-)
happens with altitude, wrong meds, etc
amod.dange: that's the spirit -- well Happy 4th of July!
sirensongs: thanks! you too!!!
amod.dange: stay safe and eat well
and i'll send that audio 2night

Thursday, July 10, 2008



There's a new addition to the narrow streets and alleyways of old Kathmandu. In among the Hindu and Buddhist icons, Maoist political graffiti, street signs in three scripts, and the famous "Kathmandu Eyes" appear various figures from the 1980s video-arcade classic, Space Invaders.

Sometimes orange, some turquoise, a rare one in black and white....the Invaders are the latest in the layers of urban kitsch to be absorbed by The Infernal City.

It's the latest in the travelling guerilla installation series "Invasion," instigated by a European artist who calls himself Invader. Invader's progress in his "reality game" is detailed on his own web site (complete with game score).

Having entered the "neighborhood" in Bangkok and dropping by Dhaka, Invader appears to have scored many successful "hits" here in the Mountain Former Kingdom, before moving on to Varanasi and perhaps (my guess for the next stop) Delhi.

I've had fun spotting the Invaders throughout old Kathmandu, and even more fun wondering how the heck he got them up there without interference. There's several in Thamel and at least one down by Ason Tole.

I especially like this installation at the Varanasi Hindu Ghats in India. Invader has also branched out into paintings, like this one also in Varanasi.

I've long joked that if an item remains stationery long enough in this part of the world, someone will start worshipping it. Perhaps someday we'll see tikka, jamara and marigold garlands round the Invader mosaics, just like those of Buddha and Bhairab.

Another art-guerilla is going round spray-painting the Matt Groening "Binky"Rabbit, familiar from Groening's Life In Hell comics. While it ain't Futura 2000, I am glad to see some kind of street culture emerging in Kathmandu, other than burning tyres and holding strikes, that is. (As theatre those long ago became redundant.)

Now playing: Dead Can Dance - Devorzhum
Now playing: Henry Wolff - Leaving the Body
via FoxyTunes -
Now playing: Dechen Shak-Dagsay - Lobön Rinpoche
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lha Gyalo

....means "victory to the Gods" in Tibetan

From my sickbed (severe, persistent giardia) I've been watching the, er, progress of various situations here in the 'Du (or as Tnog perceptively called it, the Mountain 'Du).

Having missed both HH Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations -- July 6 is now World Tibet Day - as well as the first in-exile birthday celebration of HM Gyanendra (he stayed in at his new downsized digs, the Nagarjun hunting lodge on the edge of town), I was delighted to see that, for once, due process - this time in the form of a Supreme Court verdict - seems to have worked in Nepal.

About two weeks ago, three Tibetan community leaders were imprisoned without charge. Most alarming was the fact that one of them (Kalsang Chung) was not at all involved in pro-Tibetan demonstrations and in fact was the director of the Tibetan Refugees' Reception Center (the first place new arrivals go when they've crossed the mountains, escaping Chinese Tibet).

Since I couldn't get any first-hand info, here are the news blurbs. Lha Gyalo!

Nepal court orders release of Tibetan leaders
Reuters via Yahoo! News Tue, 08 Jul 2008 6:46 AM PDT
Nepal's Supreme Court has ordered the release of three senior Tibetan refugee officials recently arrested in Katmandu and accused of involvement in anti-China activities.

Nepal: 3 Detained For Anti-China Protests Released Tue, 08 Jul 2008 8:19 PM PDT
8 July 2008 - The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal has welcomed the release of three people who had been detained under the country's Public Security Act (PSA).

Tibetans hail Nepal's release of three jailed leaders
IANS via Yahoo! India News Tue, 08 Jul 2008 5:06 AM PDT
Kathmandu, July 8 (IANS) Tibetans in Kathmandu Tuesday hailed the release of three jailed community leaders, including two women, after Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to free them.