(From the BBC)
"A college professor was killed and at least four others injured when a gunman entered the Indian Institute of Science and opened fire at scientists and laboratory technicians attending a conference."
A month ago, I had joked about this-.
"My labmate and I were talking about the possibility of a bomb explosion in the Convention Center. What would it mean? At a big meeting like this you would loose 75% of the world's top neuroscientists and it would be huge setback for science. Tim argued that a terrorist might want to do that to strike at the heart of progress and destroy the intellectual wealth of a society. It sure seems like a smart idea but terrorists aren't that smart to begin with, right? Also, the impact factor (intentional pun) would be quite small. Who cares about a bunch of scientists being blown to bits?"
I feel really sorry about even thinking about such a thing even in jest. Tim perhaps saw it coming. Today's events put such thought-experiments in perspective. One scientist, M.C. Puri was killed and many others are injured. As usual, the fingers have been pointed towards the foreign hand and the ISI. Blame the green-eyed monster.
(From the BBC)
There are some sights and attractions your Lonely Planet guide will not mention. My reason why they don't - they are so obvious that they don't need to be pointed out.
One thing you cannot but notice in Shanghai is the ubiquitous PDA (Public Display of Affection). At all times of the day, in the most crowded of places I saw couples making out. While small children were flying kites, their older siblings were locked in loving embraces from which it seemed they would never emerge. Nothing to suggest that China is still a prudish country when it comes to matters of sex. A theory is that China is so overpopulated that people don't have private areas to make out and hence it has become culturally acceptable to make out in public. If this theory is true then recent political moves in India seem rather contrary. In the Sexual Freedom Dept. India is surely falling behind.
Another unmistakable sign in Shanghai is the amount of white/foreign men walking around with really pretty well-dressed Chinese women. Whether these were 'escorts' or regular, Chinese women looking for some fun (as this Time story suggests) it was hard to tell. At more than one place we were offered 'services' and from the boldness and the frankness of the 'agents' you could tell that such offers were fairly commonplace and were generally accepted by foreigners.
Like Starbucks dots every third block in any major American city, KTV or karaoke bars dot the urban landscape in China. Regular karoke is fun - most people are soon drunk on the Tsingtao beer, are singing off-key; others slightly less musically challenged think they are on stage in front of cheering millions. For those wanting a little more adventure, in most places you can hire singing companions endowed with talents other than just of song.
As we would soon find out, this is not always all fun and games. On the Shanghai-Beijing sleeper we were sharing the cabin with a Chinese couple with an irresistibly cute 3 yr old son. Since they spoke a little English, we could have a meaningful conversation. Soon the cultural exchange took a turn we least expected. The women opened up in a way we were not prepared. The purpose of the trip she told us was to get them away from Shanghai, a city she hated. She was her husband's second wife and they were no longer in love. The husband had been philandering with a KTV singer. He often took 'business' trips with his mistress, which the wife found out about and it did not go down too well with her. Naturally, she wanted to leave him but his parents had recently begged her to work things out. So they were taking this trip to get away from the evil charms of his mistress and spend some time together to work things out. While the wife opened her heart out to complete strangers of an all-too-familiar story, the husband had the strange calm of a man condemned for a crime he did commit.
Love, sex, prostitution and marital infidelity are all universal themes but the pace at which they hit us could only happen in China. China seems to have embraced the idea of the West far more quickly and with more enthusiasm than even the West itself.
(email forwarded by John)
"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick, and Colon."
I had promised long ago and I now seek refuge in the statement 'better late than never' - the posts on my China trip have finally been written.
Before I begin...
These are accounts of the 10 days that I spent in Shanghai and Beijing. China, like India is in the process of redefining itself and I could feel that nervous energy pulsating in the two cities that I visited. Of course, I wanted to know what makes China click and what can India do better? Is India with its completely beat-up but still functional democratic system still more likely to succeed than communist-capitalistic China in the long run? It was quite a trip. Despite my best intentions, I could not investigate human-rights violations, Chinese nuclear capabilities, repression of democracy, or Chinese Olympic training methods. Tongue in cheek, I mean that with a limited number of observations you cannot extrapolate a great deal. Like any first time traveller, I was extremely curious about the big questions and desperately seeked their answers. Reality, however does not pan out that way. What follows are my few observations, first impressions and speculative explanations for what I saw, so bear with me...
Surprisingly, after spending about 30+ hours in a plane flying in the wrong direction(courtesy: Air India for not rebooking my flight) from India to China - I faced no jet-lag. My theory is that by the time I landed at Pudong International Airport, my biological clock was so confused after being in Pune-Mumbai-Frankfurt-Ann Arbor-Tokyo-Shanghai in less than 40 hours, that it decided to completely give up. There were no troubles after that!
Pudong or New Shanghai, built across the Huangpu River, felt like some sort of urban fantasy-land. Skyscraper after skyscraper, broad but empty roads, spanking new facilities and housing projects. Needless to say that it was spanking clean. I know from years of living in India that views from the airport are often misleading. I half-expected, that apart from a few superficial differences, China would be very much like India, except it would be full of Chinese faces. There were a few surprises and my conclusion at the end of the trip was that China is like India's big brother. Everything in China was a few notches higher than everything that we have back home. A few notches more people, a few notches better transport, a few notches better pollution control and a few notches better planning and development.
Shanghai has had quite a chequered history. Pudong might have been marshy land less than 10 years ago and might have sprung up from nowhere, but Shanghai has always been around. It has been an international city since the early part of this century. For a number of years in the 1930s the city was home to the largest population of Europeans in Asia. There were more than a handful newspapers in European languages and people still remember some streets with their French and English names. Shanghaians are not only known for their tightfistedness and financial acumen, but also for being torchbearers for China. The Communist party was founded here and now, Shanghai is once again the epicentre for another kind of revolution that is sweeping China. The commercial and enterprising spirit of the city that was bottled-up for years has now been released. Given a second chance the city shows no signs of looking back. If you ask a Shanghaian where he wants to go, he will say, "Up!", and if you asked any other Chinese, he will say, "I want to go to Shanghai!".
Due to the conference(this was the 'supposed' purpose of the trip), we were booked at the magnificent Pudong Shangri-La Hotel. It really lived up to its name. My friend, Greg remarked looking at the toothpicks frosted with green mint at the ends, "Is there anything that they don't class up in this place?". It felt like the hotel depicted in the movie - Lost in Translation complete with a singer accompanied by a pianist in the main foyer in the evenings. Travelling with a bunch of Americans also makes travel abroad more interesting. They had quite a few culture shocks! The best among them was having to piss in what they called '... literally a hole in the ground'. It's time they knew how the rest of the world goes about its business. What surprised them the most was the amount of service personnel. There was 6' tall girl in a red dress with black stockings whose only job was to smile profusely and guide people to one of the six automatic elevators, that's it! I was not even about to tell them about how 3 people are needed to operate an automatic coffee machine in India. America welcome to the land of billionaires!
After two days, I was ready to leave the rarefied, synthetic atmosphere of the Shangri-La. So began the explorations with nothing but a printed card with directions in English and Chinese to places in Shanghai. If you are fussy about food, you won't get much of a chance in China. In most places, the menus are in Chinese and so it is a real blind test - you simply go 'eenny-minny-moe'. I really don't know what I ate, but I ordered hot-spicy 'Sichuan' stuff and I was happy. Till the buffet I was not aware that there are so many kinds of meat and so many ways to cook them.
The first question that may occur to most after a couple of days is: Why do the Chinese smile so much?. There are a few explanations. One, is that they are really friendly. Two, they have been 'ordered' by the government to do so. Three, smiling is generally a good substitute for not being able to speak any English. The most frustrating part of the trip was trying to conduct a simple conversation. I have yet to meet a rude Chinese; you could sense that they had a lot to say and would like to know a lot too, but in most cases I was reduced to the most rudimentary kind of sign language. In China, if you don't get a translator or speak Chinese be prepared for a lot of games of Pictionary and Dumb-Charades! I hate when I travel to a wonderful, new place and cannot conduct a meaningful conversation with people, except make really pathetic Mandarin sounds from my Pinyin phrasebook. All they did was smile and behave in an extremely friendly way, while drowning me in a barrage of Chinese.
Ingrid Newkirk has not been to to the Bird and Fish Market in Shanghai, because if she does she will instantly die of brain haemorrhage. All kinds of small animals were on sale - cricket, parrots, turtles and simply not as pets! In some countries humans have such few rights, what to say of the animals?. Curious onlookers stared at us as we walked about in the market. Then goaded by the excited audience, we participated in the local sport. Tim and I bought a pair of fierce fighting crickets and fought them. After a few bouts, we returned them to the astounded salesman and wife(pic on link below). Perhaps, we should have kept them and set them free. .
Being able to bargain is an absolutely essential skill for shopping. These guys were ridiculous with their prices! I felt completely at home: I simply knocked off the first digit of the price they quoted, they laughed, then I walked away, then they called me back, I came back looking hurt, the quoted new price, I said nothing looked dejected, then 'last price', more haggling, the the deal is sealed. The usual charade. By the end of the trip all my American friends acknowledged the potency of Gujju genes when it comes to bargaining! At one shop, I was actually banned from making the deals for them! I managed to avoid the charms of the tenacious 'Rolex' salesmen, but succumbed to the temptation of buying a whole lot of DVDs for 1$ after bargaining on a calculator. How can you not buy an entire box set of Stanley Kubrick for 15$?
Pictures from Shanghai
From You and Aids:
India has the second highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world after South Africa. India accounts for almost 10 per cent of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS globally and over 60% of the 7.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in the Asia and Pacific region.
It is still less than 1% of the population, but 1% of a billion is still a lot of people! The figures above are conservative, since till date an in-depth survey of HIV/AIDS has not been carried out. The disturbing trend in recent studies is the spread of the disease from urban to rural areas; more and more women are getting infected as the disease travels from sex-workers to wives; and homosexual Indian men are spreading the disease as they continue to lead normal lives and have sex with their wives.
To bring home yesterday's point:
"...the HIV/AIDS pandemic kills as many people as this tsunami every three weeks."