Jun 30, 2008

litter india - trash, noise, smoke in the nature...

to continue the tradition of posts drawing criticism, here is one about how india is less and less beautiful, only because of the careless mentality of its citizens.

i found this graphic on graphicreflections.org, and sadly my own experience makes me agree with the post there saying that the majority of indian citizens treat their country as a large wastebasket.

in hyderabad, where i am spending most of my time now, you can collect a ton of litter on any kilometer of roadside. there are almost no public trash bins, i usually carry my small trash items around for half an hour before i finally find one.

the way india actively destroys its natural beauty became painfully obvious to me for example last weekend, on a trip to panchgani. one of the greatest panorama points of the area is kates point, a small, but high plateau, ending in a strange shaped cliff called needle hole point or elephant head point.

the view (even with the gigantic dam in the valley) is spectacular, really amazing from there.

so what is painful about this, you may ask. well, here are two quick 'development areas' for the place:

the small (40x100 meters) plateau, the trees, bushes around it, as well as the upper regions of the cliffs, hillsides under the plateau are all covered with a dense, colorful layer of litter. it is tragic. solution: modest, functional wastebins placed on the plateau for people to throw away their trash to. even better if visitors are asked to bring down their trash to the village. how to enforce? well, cheap labor is something india is not short of at the moment, and i am sure local villagers would be proud and happy to be selected and trained to preserve the natural beauty of their panorama points. /trash with dog picture by patrick colgan/

to reach kates point, people now take the 1 km forest road with their cars from the village, and park all vehicles directly on the plateau. there are at least 3 major problems with this. first, the road is narrow, when cars meet, they practically drive into the bushes to inch by (see pic above by jalaja). there is a lot of smoke and noise pollution (horns, engines), and it all disturbs wildlife. second, the cars parking in total chaos on the hilltop take up virtually all the space, making the plateau a mud-bath. as usual in india, cars rule everything, horning madly, making people run for their lives. the constant noise makes the enjoyment of the view near impossible. third, as the road leading to the top is open to cars, it becomes exclusive to cars. walking on a narrow forest road with cars on it in india is suicide, therefore enjoying a nice walk to the top is not an option. solution: close the road to all vehicles, have a parking area ready for them on the village end. 1000 meters is a pleasant walk, especially if you don't have to fear for your life, don't have to inhale smog, and don't have to go deaf from roaring engines and screaming horns. keeping traffic in the safe distance could make the hilltop a real silent plateau, where grass could regain the area from mud, where some benches could be planted. Such places could be the beginning of a new revolution in india to remove four-wheelers from the absolute epicenter of design, what they took over so violently from humans and everything else in general.

finally, here is a map of the place described, with the village on the left and the hilltop on the right end of the arrow-line. i am open to any comments, opinions on the topic. also, if you have any other suggestions on how such natural places could be saved from us while even enriching the experience we can have there, well, you know, don't hold yourself.

disclaimer: before i start getting comments about me complaining or me building a negative image of india, i would like to state that i am having the time of my life here, just its my nature to analyze and improve where possible. now you can throw the stone at me :)

Jun 25, 2008

Panchgani - Adventure trip

so i did this adventure trip with a bunch of other googlers on the weekend. as i want to read a lot tonight, i will keep this post short, just touching on a few highlights.

so this is the anatomy of a trip like this:

as you can see, the so called useful parts of the trip, such as walking around, seeing stuff, taking pictures, etc. are all in the category labeled as 'other', which accounts for a mere 15% of the entire duration of 60 hours. but of course, in good buddhist spirit, we all know that it is not the destination, but the journey that matters, and i think this trip was a prime example (or exercise?) of this philosophy.

i mentioned highlights earlier, so let's cut to that, keeping the system outlined in the chart

taxi) no highlight. eventless rides to and from the begumpet railway station in hyderabad.

train) wagons divided into bays, each accommodating 8 passengers. during daytime they can all sit, and at night, all 8 have their full length (well, for indian average hight) beds. an amazing engineering design problem, well solved. the indian economy is very efficient, even the smallest profit possibility is tapped. on the train different dudes bring around different foods (mostly snacks, soft drinks, sandwiches, water and ice cream) and drinks. in the beginning of the journey a guy takes the dinner order of the entire train on a piece of paper (the choice is rather spartan of course: veg and non-veg biryani, maybe something else), probably calls a station far away to deliver all that, and then like 5 hours later, everyone gets their hot meals to their seats. a tip: if you wanna go for some beers (and who wouldn't on long and hot trip), you have to keep it low key and silent as frequently patrolling police officers become rather unfriendly if they catch you. be ready for a bribe... err... i mean a fine.

bus) well. don't imagine anything eu conform. probably the oldest bus i have ever been to. as you enter the vehicle, first you have to jump over a transmission lid the size of a modest american fridge. once you passed that, you enter the passenger area, which was probably designed for like 13-14 seat rows, but which is populated by 17 rows. as a result, you could seat 12-16 more people, if they had space for their legs. but as they don't, well, you can imagine. quantity over quality in this case heavily. the bus crew consisted of (A) a lunatic driver, taking turns with the bus in reverse gear faster then usual swedish cars go forward, (B) a few bus boys, jumping out on various occasions to help the driver in navigation while parking, or trying to inch by other cars on a 240 cm wide forest road. you have to die someday anyway, i told myself calmingly, and trusted my karma, while the bus roamed down in the narrow forest roads, slippery from an ongoing dripping rain, in a 25 meter visibility fog, full speed, horning wildly in the frequent twists and turns.

sleep) we did not have much time for this luxury. maybe one highlight i can pick from the hotel we stayed at is the show about the history of wimbledon on star sports we watched a bit saturday night. i should get that show from somewhere, it was pretty amazing.

eat) i am now making again another attempt to go partly vegetarian. this time i am shooting for 5 veg days a week, which, having the richness of indian cuisine, is actually not that hard. i am developing a deep affection towards some types of indian bread, naan beeing my favorite. i have also grown to love the paneer, the indian cottage cheese, used widely in various spicy sauces. local beers belong to the nothing special category, they are pleasantly drinkable, but there is no 'wow' experience there.

other) so yeah, we actually travelled there to panchgani to check out some hill stations and some panorama points. also, the place is famous of its strawberry juice and jam. here is a photo of the landscape at the elephant head point (below), and one about me sitting on the cliff (above, for popular request, as it is also an update on my face's recovery). expect more on my oservations on these things in the next post, already in production with the title 'litter india'.

verdict. well, the whole thing felt like a school trip. you know, snacks, taking pictures in the bus, infantile jokes, big loud laughs, etc.. usually not my cup of tea, but still i am very grateful to have experienced this in india. mostly it was very pleasant, i had some truly interesting conversations and experienced some cool stuff. i am granting a strong 4 stars for the overall adventure, with a subscore of 3 stars for the destination (explanation in coming post), and a full 5 stars for the journey.

Jun 15, 2008

dasavatharam - the first bollywood movie in my life

11 pm. i am sitting in my bed, there is a cab under my window now, and it is apparently doing a reverse maneuver. how do i know this without actually seeing it? well, easy. i hear the theme song "my heart will go on" from titanic, in a completely monophonic, loud, high pitch beeper sound, similar to those very first mobile phones.

after a long workweek of not many significant events, today i was lucky enough to be invited by my colleagues to a bollywood movie, that was awaited with great expectations wide across india. as this was my first encounter with this genre of entertainment, i had a great chance to be introduced to some of the quite unusual charms the indian movie industry has to offer.

/update 16/6/2008: today i learned from rohit, kote and ramya, that actually this movie was made in chennai, in tamil language, so it does not qualify as a real bollywood piece, which are mostly made in mumbai and in hindi. this puts my review in a little different perspective, but the essence remains true./

i would like to warn you, my dearest reader, that a candid, straight opinion is coming in the following paragraphs, from a movie lover, who have seen many good and probably even more bad movies. the critical tone i allow myself is addressed only to this exact movie, and has no intention at all to hurt or insult the indian movie industry as a whole.

now let's discuss some of the circumstances first. the movie started at 10 am in the hyderabad imax theater. they show many 2d movies in there on the big ass screen, among them this one. dasavatharam (adsense heavy site here) was originally created in tamil language, which is spoken in south india, chennai for example, as i understood. hyderabad however is telugu language territory, so most shows of this movie are the dubbed telugu version here. the only tamil show was the 10 am one, without english subtitles. the main actor (or hero) in the movie is kamal hassan, a 51 year old handsome, slightly chubby lad from chennai, apparently a widely cheered and respected star. he seemed to me to be the tom hanks of bollywood, although much more iconic and celebrated in his own way. some of the facts i learned about dasavatharam before the show:

  1. it is so far the most expensive bollywood movie, it cost 120 crores (indian name for ten million) in rupees, or about 28 million usd.
  2. kamal playes 10 different roles in the movie, breaking the record of nine roles played in one movie by the same actor, set by an other indian sometime earlier
  3. the movie tries to deliver a message, something to do with chaos theory and the butterfly effect.

armed with all this knowledge, i entered the cinema with great valor, to sit out this 3 hour grandiose epic.

here are my observations, in random order:

  • the audience loudly cheers, claps, whistles with great frequency, depending on their emotions. i found this to be in great contrast with the deadly still and silence we endure movies in in dublin.
  • there is a break in the middle of the movie. 10 minutes for grabbing some snacks, sodas (thums up, without the b is the local coke), and to process and chat about the first 90 minutes (which is often the length of a light hollywood full feature). i found this tradition rather strange, but actually it wasn't disturbing at all in the case of this movie. however, if the screening operator stopped the deer hunter, the pulp fiction, the game, or any significant and brilliant movie for even a 60 second break, i would personally go up to his little dark room to ... well... to talk to him about the capital sin he just committed against art.
  • families go to see movies together. mommy, daddy, kids. lovely. although i personally have doubts over the beneficial effects watching brutal fights and killings can have on the minds of children, especially those 4-5 years old. i would prescribe some child psychology literature to the lunatic who rated this movie with no age restriction, and of course i would also lock him up for a few years to have time to read it.
  • the movie was packed with computer animation, visual effects. while the ways the camera was moved and scenes were shot were definitely very now to my eye, i can't also say they were good. the quality of the textured 3d buildings, the blueboxed action and the projected background sometimes dived into scandalous regions. i took note of a ridiculously low attention to detail, which manifested in severe logical glides in the story, obvious mistakes, and also objects and characters behaving according to very unearthly physics in some cases.
  • the actors were doing their job more or less to a high standard. the main guy indeed played ten characters, among them a singer, a bioweapon scientist, an old lady, a stupid police chief, and an american ex cia agent, not to mention the president of the usa, george criminal bush. unfortunately, as these characters showed up in the same scenes quite often (two, sometimes even three of them), the many layers blueboxed and projected over each other resulted in an other huge drop in image quality. sometimes you could easily and painfully spot that the figures on the scene were all shot with different whitebalance and even resolution settings, probably not even with the same camera. ouch.
  • bollywood movies contain song implants. these are music videos, that could easily function separately from the movie. they are more or less embedded into the flow, and in my view, greatly compliment this kind of cinema. in this one, there were maybe 4 or 5 such clips, 3-4 minutes each.

verdict. a stabile 4 star for the experience, i always enjoy seeing, learning new things, be it pleasant or unpleasant. as for the movie itself, placing it in worldwide competition, i grant a mere 2 stars, which, let's face it, is not too much.

Jun 9, 2008

scarface - the movie in three scenes

(note: this post contains disturbing, graphic images)

so as promised, we are going to get hurt a bit and visit a hospital in the next few paragraphs.

the story is quite simple. it is mostly true, and it took place 96 hours ago.

scene one
/text on the bottom of the screen, aligned right: madhapur district, hyderabad, india, one june evening, around eleven pm/
we see a semi narrow alley, non pawed, dusty. there is no public lighting in the street, some orange glow reaches in from the main avenue not far away. a young european lad in peach linen shirt enters the set from the left, the camera follows him from a near-above angle as he explores his surroundings interestedly. a mystical tune emerges from the street noise, going ambient slowly, as the figure approaches a spot on the street that is even darker and is very hard to notice. now we see him from inside the alley, the camera zooms in just a little as he considers the dark spot for a brief second. we don't know, but we feel that trouble is right around the corner. now with the camera taking a closeup on this feet, he steps forward, but his sandal (what a brilliant product placement ad) doesn't find the expected step. the young man looses his balance, and falls into the ditch (later described as a man hole in his medical report).

scene two
/text on the bottom of the screen, aligned right: image hospital, madhapur district, hyderabad, india, 10 minutes later/
we are now in a very nice indian hospital, the young man is taking his sandals off before laying up on a bed. his colleague, who took him here on a motorbike, now stands beside the bed, clearly amused, taking photos. a nurse and a doctor emerges, closing the curtain around the bed. while the camera circles around the four (like in the beginning of reservoir dogs), a short inspection takes place, wounds are cleaned, tetanus shot administered. the discussion that goes on is blurred, only some words like "... no stitches needed....... but i just had tetanus..... dude .... thank you..." can be heard out clearly. in the next shot, the young man (with great gratitude in his eyes), and his three colleagues take off from in front of the hospital on three motorbikes.

scene three
/text on the bottom of the screen, aligned right: jayabheri guesthouse, hitec city, hyderabad, india, 30 minutes later/

thanks Nikhil, Nash and Mazhar for saving my life and joining me for some beers after the exhausting shooting day.

also, I would like to express my gratitude to the very effective and kind image hospital, where I spent a very pleasant 20 minutes.

in the meantime, a new workweek started, so probably no real big adventures are ahead for the near future. however, i have some posts forming in production. in the pipeline are:
- the best of the many great things about hyderabad, india - or some of the observations i made so far in this country
- wwdc keynote by steve jobs - what have we got there

full disclosure: the author of the post enjoys perfect health and is recovering with great speed.

Jun 7, 2008

episode two - average tuesday night

as i started posting only a week after arriving, now i have to rush through the episodes that took place, so that i could finally start posting about the present. in that spirit, here we go. the first few days in hyderabad involved some heavy acclimatization. of course it was hot, like 40 in the daytime. it took me 3 nights to finally find a fine tuned mix of the ceiling fan and the ac that would allow me a normal sleep (the mix is: 2 hours of 20 degree aircon before sleeping, and no ac/fan during the night). also, the way people live their lives around here, how they sleep on the streets, how they want to take me down for money everywhere, how they do nothing at all so often just waiting for something for hours, the functioning chaos they call traffic in general... so many questions and experiences poured on me, i felt really stimulated.

on the first weekend i did some trips in town with a driver.. we went up to a white marble temple (birla mandir) on a hill in downtown hyderabad, without shoes/cameras/mobiles of course. also, i had my first experience with local food in the restaurant angeeti. i was crying of joy over the wonders that manifested in front of me. the appetizer fish dish punched me hard, the chicken tikka burned over me like a nailed leash, leaving my complete decapitation to the lamb roganjosh and the garlic naan.

tuesday night we checked out a british pub named 10 downing street with some other expatriates. after a tremendous dinner again from the indian cuisine, i joined my local colleagues sasi and sailusha for some beer and black johnnie. dj blackjack, the tuesday resident was spinning classic 90s rock and sharing chocolate to guests. as the place got crowded, waiters started fueling the mood by pouring ethanol on the tables and setting it in fire.. mood got fueled as you can imagine. after some time my colleagues told me that we are going to check out some nearby fort now, to have some beers under the open skies. i did not ask many questions, we took two subaru taxies and headed off town. two hours and 90 kms later (i was surprised but by no means upset), we ended up on a hill with a white marble sacred temple, heaps of people sleeping in various positions (in car, on table, on chair, on pavement), and some monkeys. beers, photos, heading home. i finally got to bed at five am to get a few hours of bad sleep, only to get up to a completely washed off wednesday.

to supplement this saltless post (i guess i wasn't in my best writing mood today) i shared some photos from the first week. please check them out on my flickr stream.

in the next episode, our hero goes through some unpleasant surprises resulting in a late night hospital visit (and this episode will already bring us back to the present).

Jun 6, 2008

i left dublin 168 hours ago

it is friday afternoon. i am in hyderabad, india. i arrived
last saturday. i am staying for 7 weeks. business, google.

it has been an adventurous trip so far, and i intend to keep it that way. i greatly enjoy every bit of it, overall it is a 5 star experience to date :)

episode one - the flight
aer lingus took me to manchester, where i was waiting 7 hours for my next flight. i completely messed up, like a first time traveler. first, i was waiting for my suitcase at the belt for like an hour before i made a complaint, only to realize that it has been checked in straight till hyderabad. oops. second, i took the wrong exit and got out to the arrival hall instead of staying in transit. i had to wait 3 hours to check in again. amateur :) emirates took me to dubai, quite an eventful flight, 3 british lads got completely drunk on wine not far from me, spilling drinks all over the plane, shouting/singing. i tried to put together some podcast, but the noise did not allow more than some videos of me sipping my whiskey. anyway, i compiled an ego movie.. enjoy ;)

emirates otherwise is a great airline, they share out those warm, moist towels from time to time to refresh and clean your face and hands, which i just adore. food was pretty great too, i was amazed over the quality my fish selection meal lived up to. how the hell? i was eating and fighting with crying. dubai was stunning from the air, but i couldn't find the burj al arab, nor the burj dubai. i spent a pleasant 3 hours (0000 to 0300 am) at the airport with some sheiks and ladies in black, free wifi of course, so i could chat with a few friends. emirates then flew me to hyderabad. now this was an interesting one, i was the only white person on a boeing 777. this arabic kid and his full black dressed mom near me was a real experience. they looked afraid of me first, but then my radiation of confidence and kindness helped their curiosity gain priority over their fears ;) by the end of the flight, the round 8 aged boy was comfortably browsing for food on my tray with his hands and his knife, and he even offered me his unfinished sandwich. no thanks, but still, i was happy and deeply touched over the fact that i managed to engage in a sophisticated interaction with a local from an entirely different culture. i shed a few tears again.

more to come, watch this space.. in the next episode, our hero ends up drinking beer on a temple hill at 4am, deep into a night, 90 kms from the city...