Sunday, August 31, 2008

Still haven't found what I'm looking for

Looking for porn in all the wrong places

Sometime last year, DesiPundit ran a summary of a blogger's Greatest Attempted Hits. Most bloggers track USPs and referrals via something like Sitemeter; this guy (sorry, I can't remember his name) had listed the Top 20 Search Requests that had resulted in his page.

In other words, What People Were Really Looking For when they landed on his blog.

This week, I had some really interesting ones. I have taken out the weird machine-code between the keywords.

It's always gratifying when people look for "sirensongs" or "feringhee" or one of my other signature keywords. Heck, believe it or not, more than a few people even Google "Indologist at large."

I'm also pleased to see a number of people looking for Indian and related travel advice:

"dakshineswar temple"

"sudder street"calcutta backpacker accomodation

"dried foods ladakh"

"types of amoebas"

"bhutan altitude sickness death"

"licchavi democracy"

"meaning of teertha"

Or even names of my specific blogs or photos:

"organic orphanage"

"flower girl"

As usual, there are a few people looking for

"hot indian girls"

--who isn't? ;-)

Since I went to visit Ram Bomjom the "Buddha boy" a couple years ago, there are always requests for

bomjom location

"buddha boy" nepal

"mystic buddha boy meta"

Some appear very random indeed, and a bit confused:

"Geezer 2Bindia"

"Gandhi Seven Habits"

"pharma sutical"

But then there are more unusual requests, for

"caitlin derivation"

"what goddess of sri lanka believe in"

"love yourself in tibet alphabet"

and this week's favourite:

"uncut nepali men"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't believe the heap

This just in! mountain made from molehill, film at 11
Kathmandu, Nepal

We have enough mountains here in the Himalayan Former Kingdom. In fact, with no petrol, no money, no roads, limited diesel and propane, no electricity, no schoolbooks and no real government or rule of law it's about all we've got.

I can't help but notice that some writers have lately added to the surplus, marking "Mountain" on our cultural and political maps where mere "Molehills" once stood.

One easy way to create a mountain is to heap up the hype of "news" where there is none.

Case in point: (jumping over to the western Himalayas for a moment):
Nicolas D. Kristof's
assertion a couple weeks ago that HH Dalai Lama's acceptance of Communist Party Rule in Tibet marked a "major turning point" (or some such nonsense) in the so-called dialogue between the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Chinese.

"An Olive Branch from the Dalai Lama"? What was he doing before, hurling invective?

Breathless with exci
tement, the double-Pulitzer winner Kristof rings what he clearly believes to be a clarion call:

One signal is this: For the first time, the Dalai Lama is willing to state that he can accept the Socialist system in Tibet under Communist Party rule. This is something that Beijing has always demanded, and, after long discussion, the Dalai Lama has agreed to do so.

News Flash to Nicky!: The Dalai Lama has always said this. He's been saying it for years (HHDL always says he's a socialist anyway, even calling himself a Marxist) and besides, it will hardly be seen as some major concession - the Chinese never considered it up for discussion.

Before I could muster my disdain for this silliness,
Manyank Chhaya beat me to it in this very lucid article which explains the non-event.

Indeed, the entire (widely republished, including in the International Herald Tribune) article appears to have been written in order for Kristof to reiterate, "I met the Dalai Lama personally. That's right, I got to sit and talk with him. The BIG D.L.! and ME!"

It's just like last year's reports that claimed the Dalai Lama was going to "resign." The Dalai Lama's been saying for literal years that the minute he's not needed politically, he will devote himself entirely to delivering Buddhist teachings and spiritual matters. This is nothing at all new.
Every writer just wants to be the first to break some new angle on a Dalai Lama story so they try to put old Chhang in new bottles. dot dot.....

By the way, in case you were wondering what the so-called "dialogue" or "talks" between HHDL's special envoys and the Hu Jintao sound like, our special Siren On the Scene had her ear to a tea-glass against the wall at the most recent Round of Talks in Beijing. She swears it went something like this:

HH: We give in! You run the government, just let us run our own religion. That's all we want.


HH: Not really, actually you can stay in political and military power....we just want to run our monasteries and rituals according to our own traditions.


HH: Uh, no...

China (sticks fingers in collective ears): LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA LA........

(Lather, rinse, and repeat - for the past six years.)

The "di" in dialogue means "two." The Sino-Tibetan DI-scussion is more of a monologue, going only one way.

And in other non-news....

On the other side of the Himalayas, scandal-mongering secularists attempt to create child abuse stories where there are none. The way to create a mountain, in this case, is to accrete creative imagery and selective exaggeration atop a religious custom you clearly don't understand.

There is plenty of child abuse in Nepal. Bonded labour, child trafficking, and so on. But these folks aren't concerned with that.

Witness today's "news" by AFP's Sam Taylor:

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A Nepali tradition of locking a young virgin girl in a palace and worshipping her as a "living goddess" has been dealt a blow with the country's Supreme Court ruling she has the right to go to school.

"LOCKING a YOUNG VIRGIN" (as opposed to a wrinkly, OLD virgin) "in a PALACE! " Now there's real objective journalism - visuals courtesy The Brothers Grimm.

It's sort of like saying that child monks are locked in a monastery, or that kids in a Catholic boarding school are prisoners. They are kids. Their parents decided where they would go, like most kids. In those places, there are rules. No kid has a "right" to go just anywhere he or she wants to...that's part of what it means to be a kid.

These girls' parents accepted the title of Kumari for the girl. They could have refused. The girl receives home-schooling, which is quite a luxury in a country where many children get no education at all. Her health care needs are met. There is no "labour" to speak of and even if there were, why are the plaintiffs not equally concerned with the thousands of bonded child labourers across the region?Above: Sajani during, and below after, Kumarihood. Photos by me

What if the girl doesn't want to be a Kumari? What if she doesn't want to enter a beauty pageant, be a child spokesmodel on TV, or take piano lessons? Do kids ever really get to say no?

Sure, she could be non-cooperative. She could sulk and be rebellious (I definitely tried it). The parents could still force her to do any of these, non-abusive, activities.

Those claiming to be so concerned for the various Kumaris' "rights" should review the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ones they keep harping on but haven't actually read. It seems none of them are violated by the Kumari tradition.

...the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

I would submit that the meaning of participating fully in cultural and social life varies from culture to culture. In a typical Nepali household, "full participation" of girl children in family life means doing a full day of chores after school, if they do indeed attend school. Carrying water from the well, chopping vegetables, sweeping, cleaning, laundry and so on are all "full participation." Female literacy overall in Nepal stands below an appalling 27%.

The Kumari is exempt from all these things, and as such is quite privileged, rather than deprived. There isn't a whole lot of hanging out giggling at the mall involved in the average Nepali girlhood. All the Kumaris are able to receive visitors and play with children their own age - they are hardly sequestered in the locked palatial towers Taylor suggests.

Some interested parties made much ado about the Bhaktapur Ekanta Kumari's being "forbidden" to travel overseas last year to promote the documentary Living Goddess. In fact, Sajani Sakya herself was never forbidden to do anything. The seated KUMARI, however, traditionally does not travel in such a way. Sajani was free to go, but that would mean surrendering the title of Kumari. It was her (and her parents') decision.

Every title and position has its rules. Miss America, Eagle Scout, Class President and other titles can also be rescinded if protocol is not followed. The person is free to do as they like; but in order to retain the title, they must follow the rules. It's not a rights issue, it's an issue of whether or not you want to keep the job.

And that's about all the non-news that's fit to print.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Love the Big Family

Bring on the dancing pandas
From the lobby of the Kathmandu Guest House

Friday night, there was nothing for it but to break out the newly-discovered microwave popcorn and plop down to watch the opening ceremony of the "Friendship Olympics."

We expected that the Pompous Event, like so many Chinese cultural presentations, would be cheesy and kitschy, so were surprised at its sophistication.

All in all, I have to admit that China did a great job of representing all the ancient civilizational achievements and various traditions they did their best to destroy during the Cultural Revolution.

The small, cozy lobby with its big-screen TV and armchairs was filled with all nationalities. I appeared to be the only American, but there were folks from China, Chile, Norway, UK and New Zealand and of course Nepal, to name a few.

The following are text messages sent between my friend A. and I during Friday's Olympics opening ceremonies. I predict this TM-copying will set a new standard for innovative laziness in blogging.

Siren: Now watching opening of the FRIENDSHIP Polemics, I mean, Olympics

A: Bet it has scary looking pandas and will be cheesy like all things Chinese. What are you doing later?

Siren: Later, dunno yet.... 'Tis a mega spectacle....

The first bits I saw featured what appeared to be hundreds of humans covered in full-sized boxes, each the size of refrigerators, alternately squatting and standing to form various Chinese language characters. (I would have said "alphabet," but I know they don't actually have an alphabet as such and then some know-it-all would write in to harangue me about that. )

The resultant designs resembled nothing so much as the blocky icons of a 1980s video game, say, PONG, Tetris or Space Invaders. I could almost hear the blippy Tetris music in my head.

(three minutes later) --

TV Narrator: "A dove, the symbol of peace...."

Siren: Making the shape of a dove, of all the nerve!!

After the blocky fridge-boxes did their aerobics there was a very willowy, lyrical tribute to the Silk Road.

My favourite sequence opened with a solo female martial artist. After all the Big Formation Large-Scale spectacle it was nice to concentrate on the grace of a lone human form, carving out shapes in space. Later she was joined by a Tai Chi school. You can read the back story here (after their open criticism, we may not be hearing from these young men again soon).

I also remember a young classical pianist with a moussed-up pompadour 'do, playing a white grand piano. Seated next to him was a five-year-old girl prodigy who didn't play, she was just there for cute-sies.

Another sequence featured dancers atop platforms, which looked like carved capitals of columns. The platforms then began to rise, ascending literally about 100 feet into the sky with the performers still perched on top, so that the whole stadium floor looked like the corridor of a mammoth temple. I figured this was some kind of tribute to Chinese religion and philosophy, including Taoism and Confucianism.

Right then would have been a perfect time for the whole thing to explode into flames, representing the destruction of at least 6,000 monasteries in Tibet since 1959.

Later, designated reps of various "officially recognized" ethnic groups danced in their colourful costumes, suitably placed toward the end of the programme, although we are constantly assured by the Chinese government that they are fully integrated into the Harmonious Nation. I thought it was appropriate...they come in at the END. Not like they were there as part of "China" from the BEGINNING.

I looked hard for representative of Tibet and of the rebellious Uighur minority, but couldn't identify them.

Siren: We are happy and prosperous minorities within the big harmonious family!!! --and nobody told me to say that. ;-)

Then it was time for the Parade of Nations. Though we had switched to CCTV with its Chinese narration, they popped up the nation's name and flag on screen as soon as they appeared, so we couldn't play the ever-popular Name That Flag Game.

(this photo is courtesy of the CNN-IBN website.)
As they were marching by the order they appear in the Chinese Non-Alphabet, not in the Roman one, they were to western eyes all "out of order." So, we couldn't just wait till between Nauru and Netherlands to look for Nepal. And United States came close to the beginning.

Everyone in the Guest House lobby had been cheering for their own nation, or even for neighboring nations. "Are you from Argentina?" I asked someone. "No, but they are our neighbors!" I noticed that although nobody either cheered nor booed for United States, they roundly booed when George and Laura Bush appeared onscreen.

Hey, I thought, at least MY PRESIDENT meets openly with the Dalai Lama, gave him the highest civilian honour possible and delivered a speech encouraging the Chinese to "tolerate dissent."

By contrast, nobody booed the backtracker French PM Nicolas Sarkozy, who had issued a list of conditions, none of which were met by China.

It was fun to see which nations chose to appear in their "national dress" (-I always wondered what that would really be for America; Native American buckskins, Little House on the Prairie puff-sleeved dresses, Elvis jumpsuits, or low-rider jeans?) --and which chose to represent themselves as "modern" in western dress, as if to say, "What, you think we are some quaint ethnic stereotype? We are a MODERN nation, damnit, MODERN. And we are doing our part in contributing to the increasing homogeneity of the MODERN world by wearing off-the-rack western duds that look just like everyone else."

India chose to wear sherwani and at least one saree. The Pakistani team, however, appeared in boring blazers and slacks. So did Nepal, though one guy at least sported a topi.

Russia opted for hideous, fire engine red-real estate salesman blazers and cheap white fedoras that looked like New Year's party favours.

Siren: So far Russia gets the prize for ugliest costume.

A.: Didn't see them. Liked Slovakia's outfits, Portugal's hats and Samoa and Fiji getups.

As the Fiji contingent appeared onscreen, my Chilean neighbors were puzzled. An Afro-haired Fijian woman in the traditional palm-frond mantle and skirt carried the flag.

Chileans: Is that a HE or a SHE??

Siren: That is a female.

Chileans: (nod with amazement.)

Siren: FIJI was cool....

It seems to be okay these days for participants in such a ceremony to carry their own, very intrusive, cameras the whole time - ensuring that the photographers trying to get the athlete's photos get mostly photos of the athletes' cameras.

The marchers also talked constantly on their cell phones. What are they, saying to the people at home "See me now? yeah, there I am! We're walking in! Like you couldn't see that without me telling you live!"

My neighbors had another question about Naurau.

Chileans: Naurau?! Where is that!

Siren: It's a tiny island nation in the South Pacific.

Then followed an overlong sequence of Olympic flag-worshipping.

Siren: OK, I'm bored now....oh no!

(a colour guard, in solid black uniforms, began a funereal goose-step carrying Olympic flag)

Nazi Youth Alert! Heil to the Fatherland!

A.: Chinese cheerleaders are annoying. Why are all those people talking on their cells?

I thought the same, who cld they be talking to? And dig those crazy white lace-up gogo boots on the cheerldrs.
A.: Yeah, those are some crazy boots. I predict Li Ning lights the torch and then crazy pandas will dance.

Then Li Ning "flew" like Peter Pan up to the perimeter of the stadium roof. I had to admit the moment he "took off" was pretty cool. Silhouetted in a full moon spotlight, he brought to mind either
the FTD messenger or the famous bicycle still from ET.

A.: Yeah it was Li Ning who lit the torch. Any minute, dancing pandas!

Well, we were a bit disappointed about the dancing pandas. We decided they must be saving that for the closing ceremony.

According to the LA Times:
There was also online grousing this week about the opening ceremony's aesthetics.
"It was nationalist clothing over authoritarian underwear," said Sichuan province-based writer and blogger Ran Yunfei.

But no worries, the authorities have stepped in and put a stop to all that free speech:

China's propaganda ministry moved in Tuesday, deleting many online discussion entries and blocking access to video links showing Miaoke's lip-syncing.

More fun and Games include the Scary Security guards (Chinese Checkers??).
"They look like they have faces of stone. They’re scaring the visitors. Something needs to done," says Norwegian member of the International Olympic Committee, Gerhard Heiberg.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Howrah now?

Life's Rich Pageant
Notes From Calcutta

As you may have read in last week's blog, my friend G. ended up staying in a place called the Howrah Hotel, out by Howrah Station in Calcutta. The famous nearby Howrah Bridge (sorry, I have no photos) is a great place to contemplate the human condition and your place therein. I recommend standing on the side of the pedestrian path near sundown, when the bridge literally groans with the weight of commuters.

It's like a parade of every vehicle from every century has reconvened for a slow crawl in the purple smog....bicycles, pony carts, stray cows and dogs, pedestrians, cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, private cars, Ambassador taxis, trucks, and the traditional Bengali-style long boats glide silently beneath. You begin to feel very, very well you should.

On the same note, I had a psychedelic experience in Howrah Station itself. No drugs necessary - just immerse
yourself in the crowds whirling about you. I became disoriented, though I was standing in one place. Finally I had to sit down on a wooden bench and just gaze at the glowing-green, shifting electronic timetables. The Bengali script started to fuse with the English and Hindi and I really didn't see individuals anymore, just forms of energy.

It will happen if you stay in India long enough. If you are lucky, that is. "Why do
people go to India to find themselves? India is where you go to lose yourself."

The Howrah appears to be one of the old-school die-hard budget hotels, much like the famous (or is it notorious? ) Broadlands Lodge of Chennai. G. said it was a near-clone of the Broadlands, which is high commendation coming from a Carnatic music buff. Except, he noted, everything is dirtier - it IS Calcutta - and for those who know the Broadlands, that is really saying something.

Anyway, here are G.'s photos of the Howrah and beneath them, my photos of the Broadlands. Almost twins. I love that distinctive, garish Indian Blue paint (never seen it anywhere else, except possibly the Caribbean, where it is said to ward off evil spirits). The above are all photos of Howrah Hotel.

Below is the Broadlands. If you need to find these hallowed halls in Chennai, just tell the rickshaw driver "Star Cinema."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Missing in traction

There was a crooked (wo)man
Still in Kathmandu; Letter from Chennai

Yes, it's true, I haven't written in weeks. Din din ne, ek naya samasya aunchhu (every day, another new problem comes).

No sooner did I get rid of the Colonic Critters than
a new health problem arose. Lumbar spondylosis with marginal osteophytes means my lower spine is growing crooked and has little bone spurs sprouting from the vertebrae. It also means I have to lie on my back and side a lot. Kind of hard to type upside down.

Since I'm not traveling at the moment, I'm filling space with snippets from friends who are.
My friend G. wrote from Chennai (land of fabulous fluffy Idlis and world-famous Meals Ready and Madras coffee) to tell me about his Calcutta lodging situation, and why he was going to Chennai at an otherwise unlikely time of year.

G. ended up staying at a place called the Howrah Hotel, which he describes as a sort of Calcutta version of the famous Broadlands Lodge of Chennai:

Howrah Hotel is across the road from the station if you come off the bridge you bear a bit to the right where there is a nasty vegetable market and the hotel faces that and a single room is 265 rupees with attached bath. It is dirtier than Broadlands, and of course you are in Howrah. But there are some "higher class" Indian places walking distance away with a/c restaurants and decent food. One the Asoka hotel has a speakeasy bar with a plasma screen tv and very cold beer and thalis and all sorts of food.

Why Chennai/Madras in August?

Why Madras in August. ... the weather is cloudy, rainy, not hot at all, better than muggy Thailand. The train south was a killah; I am just too soft from Thailand where everything is easy. BUT THERE IS NOTHING LIKE THE IDLY WADA AT RATNA CAFE on Triplicane High Rd.!

Turns out there is a rather unique South Indian Music Marathon concert "for world peace." That could only happen in Chennai. (A few years ago the Carnatic musicians congregated to sing nonstop in Amritavarshini raga for some 36 hours in hopes of bringing the rains.)

Indian music tradition holds that various ragas can produce not only various moods, but specific effects. I wonder whether there are specific ragas to produce VishwaShanti (world peace)?

There will commence today a 5 day Carnatic marathon of nonstop concerts with all the available major artists performing one hour segments AND A PRIZE WILL BE GIVEN TO THE RASIKA(fan)WHO LISTENS TO THE MOST SEQUENTIAL NUMBER OF CONCERT HOURS!!!!!!!!!! I wonder if he gets a ghee soaked kiss from Jayalalitha?

G. wrote a few days later to elaborate:

I am attending a few hours of the 100-hour marathon of Carnatic music for world peace. It is in a small temple in Mylapore. NO one knew where it was exactly, so I hopped a bus on Peters Rd which took me to Royapettah/Mylapore crossing and walked from there. All the living big shots were there, each artist playing for one hour. Good stuff.

Oh man, I know that crossing. Royapettah/Mylapore. I can taste the ghee poli now.

Mylapore is The Hood for Carnatic traditionalists. If you go, don't neglect to visit Karpagambal Mess on East Mada Street (I think), and get your card read by the Kili Jyotisham (man with a trained parrot who selects a card for fortune telling) in front of Kapaleeshwar Temple.

(My card was Saraswati. Don't ask me what Jesus is doing on the signboard....the cards were mostly Hindu deities.)
Mylapore is one of the last 'hoods for ultra-traditional South Indian Brahmins (above). While watching them tirelessly prepare for pujas on the ramparts of Kapaleeshwar Temple - bundling durva grass and reading Tamil astrological almanacs for the right tithis -- I always reflect that the men I'm watching may be the last of their kind. Will India's Generation Next find time to do duty for the gods, and do they even know how to wrap a dhoti or vaishti?

G. continues updating me on some old haunts:
I am sure you remember the old Maharaja restaurant in Triplicane. It is under new ownership and called the Suriya. It has been cleaned up, new chairs and staff. The food is good but the service is terrible. It seems they cannot find good staff. What they need is a waiter boss who can shout orders and make them scurry around. They are sleepwalkers now. A good meals hotel has to be in frantic action like Ananda Bhavan, where they slap on the sambar before you run out. Suriya does have a bit of style--the coffee comes with the proper foam on top and the added touch of a crisscross of coffee powder on the foam gives some points.

Then G. describes a less appetizing reality of Indian urban life. I witnessed this in Chennai couple years ago in 2006. If you are eating you should probably stop reading and looking now....

They are cleaning the sewers here so small black men descend into fetid pits of black goo and bucket them out on the sidewalk. Now there are huge piles of black stuff for several blocks. I can now hold my breath at least 3 minutes.

That's right - tiny Dravidian men practically dive into the reeking pits, totally naked save for a tiny loincloth strip. No protective gloves or mask, no disinfectant provided, nothing, and come out dripping in green-brown slime. My photos from 2006 are below.

In 2006 I was on my way to a "nice" restaurant when I saw these scenes just outside. I couldn't eat after going in, so I described it to a man working there. "Oh, the municipality gives them gloves and protective wear," he said, "but they sell it and keep the money." I'll decline to comment on that.