Jul 28, 2008

randy pausch, his last lecture - truly inspiring

randy was a professor at cmu, died from cancer recently.
this is his very last lecture, and a real inspiring one. it is teaching so much, and even more... it is a goodbye and saying thanks. i did not know this man, but in 76 minutes he taught me about his life in a way that told me a lot about mine. i hope you also find this time to watch it.

Jul 27, 2008

back from india

wonder where i have disappeared for the last 2 weeks? well, in brief:

  1. i finished my assignment in hyderabad, did farewell fireworks and parties, packed my stuff, and headed down to kerala with mate (my good friend who visited me in india for the last 2 weeks).
  2. in kerala (which is the most developed state in india in terms of gdp/capita, lowest fertility rate) we spent a day on cherai beach, just north of cochin, in a nice ocean-view hotel, great food, waves, practically no other people around.
  3. we also set off for a houseboat trip on the backwaters from allepy. a 22 hour trip on a 25 meter boat with a crew of 3. the backwaters are paradise, palm meadows, warm lagoons, rich wildlife, peaceful and harmonious local villages. if you go, ask for 'green palm certified' boats, as they are using solar and take care of the waste in an ecological way. also, if you go in the low season, don't worry about booking in advance, just show up in allepy, and bargain your own price (~4000 inr for a 22 hour trip).
  4. a train took us to verkala, a frequented tourist location on a coastal cliff, nearly deserted and very calm in the low-season. we arrived here to spend 1 day, but ended up spending the rest of our time, 4 days, in this paradise. we met many other travelers here (switzerland, austria, belgium, nz, us, iran, germany, uk...), eat great food in the funky art caffe (thanks george and shambu baia) and in the italian caffe, took a short backwater boating trip, rode elephants, got sun burnt, played in the waves, pissed off the coast guards, photographed crabs, stuff like that.. we rented a penthouse apartment in a castle hotel that was under renovation from the workers for a bargain price.
all in all, the south-india week was a well spent one. it got better and better, cherai was a strong start, then we dropped our jaws again on the backwaters, only to drop them once again in verkala. in verkala we stopped with the conclusion that there is simply no better place around probably anyway, and we never regretted our lazy mentality.

after the peace of verkala, came the marathon tour home:

  1. after 3 hours sleep, an early morning flight from trivandrum to hyderabad through bangalore on friday
  2. after an other 3 hour night, an even earlier morning flight to dubai on saturday
  3. a 26 hour stopover in dubai - sightseeing in 40+ temperatures
  4. a dreamless 3 hours on a bench in dubai international, followed by the early morning flight to birmingham on sunday
  5. a few hours wait in birmingham (where i found my dream camera bag finally: lowepro d100) before our final flight to dublin with good old aer lingus (felt really simple after those emirates air flights)
so now i am back in dublin, blogging on the balcony from a sofa. i learned who ricco and tornado was (the latter i already knew).

i don't know what this blog is going to look like going forward. i promise to write if there is anything giving me thoughts. still, as next travels are not till late september (fishing and photo tour to finland), posts are going to be rare here now. although i still have one post on india in draft, which i might still finish and publish in the coming weeks.

for now, enjoying life and pushing on work on my part.

Jul 6, 2008

"girl killed for seeking food"

i read this short article (photo below) in the calcutta telegraph on my way back from there, and i decided to write about it. i am sorry to post on one of the dark faces of india again, i'll try to pick something positive for the next one, or maybe the one after the next one. the article goes like this, please click, and take a moment to read it:

the article focuses on the evilness of the agrawal family for treating alo so bad, and even killing her. i agree, the agrawal's are monsters, and a disgrace to humanity. however, what came even more shocking to me were the comments from alo's own parents. her father was aware that her 'little girl' was not given enough food to eat. and her mother sent her to work for the agrawals for 250 rupees a month (a little less then 4 euros, or 6 us dollars), clearly against alo's wish (who would want to work and starve and be tortured...), while she should have sent her to school instead.

well, are these good parents? no, i don't think so.

were these parents at least unhappy with the way their daughter was living? that she is undernourished and tortured? that she remains uneducated and therefore doomed for the same poverty as of her parents? maybe, maybe not, i would guess yes.

well, why didn't sonu and manju (the parents) change something then? didn't they have a choice? well, possibly not, they were trapped in poverty. it seems that even the small amount of 250 rupees a month mattered strongly in the sen family's budget, and most probably they were not able to give their daughter even the inadequate amount of food the agrawal's gave alo.

who is there to blame for all this misery then? well, blaming will solve nothing. but there can be a lot done to improve/prevent situations like this, which i am sure is not a unique case, but only the tip of the iceberg.

in india, there are clearly too many people. it is overpopulated, and this is a bad thing, period. overpopulation reproduces and worsens poverty and misery, and it makes life cheap, unimaginably cheap.

probably the best approach to population issues is the 'wanted children, wanted parents' principle:
"only wanted children should be conceived, who can grow up in the belief that their parents, era and place are the best for them."

obviously, this principle is violated hundreds of millions of times every year, around the world. the number of unwanted births is around 80 million a year (worldwide) in these times, and this is only the 'wanted children' part of the principle. i am sure alo sen could have imagined better parents, era and place for herself. and she is not alone. if the 'wanted children, wanted parents' principle was respected in india, its population would be shrinking already, closing back to sustainable levels, contributing to solving many of india's problems naturally.

if india made stabilizing population a priority, through education on sexual and reproductive health, support on available family planning, and policies empowering women's rights in society, it could go a long way towards a prospering, but sustainably prospering country, where alo's story could not happen any more.

Jul 2, 2008

extremes in steamy kolkata

warning. this post contains mayhem, enjoy responsibly.

this weekend i visited kolkata, one of india's great (i mean large) cities. it is located in west bengal, in the top-right corner of the india map. my colleague joshua took me with him, as he went visiting his parents. kolkata used to be the capital of india under the british rule, and this has influenced the city, in some places it has a faint londonish feel to it. it is also a very humid city, it was steamy now in the monsoon, lush green in some places.

joshua is coming from a well educated, christian, wealthy family, and i crashed at their place for my 2.5 nights there. his parents were very hospitable and also very interested in me. it was a nice experience to be a real indian family's guest. view from the balcony:

the weekend held some surprises for me. in just 24 hours between noon saturday and noon sunday i saw and experienced two very far ends of the lucky scale.

saturday afternoon, while crossing the river hooghly in the northern regions of kolkata, i saw a man laying face down on the rocks of the riverbank. he seemed a little strange, even though there are thousands of people laying in various poses and various places all the time all around in indian cities. this man was dead, and this was obvious at first glance. i looked around. maybe to see if other's also noticed him. if they find a body in the canal in dublin, it always makes the news, and of course it is removed/buried. here it seemed that i was the only one finding this a little strange, and definitely nobody wanted to do anything about the body. i have never seen a dead body before. i took some photos, and realized once again, that the life of the indian poor is very, very cheap. these people and streetdogs are treated pretty much the same way in their lives and in their deaths too. i was a little hesitant about posting the photo of the body here, but then i decided that this is probably the only written notice of this unlucky person's death, and also because of illustration for this post, i am going to place a link to it, here.

so after this episode, later in the evening, we sat back to joshua's car and asked his chauffeur to bring us to the 37th best restaurant in the world, which is also number 1 in india. it is in the itc sonar hotel, and has 2 michelin stars, serving indian cuisine (at least this is what i was told, however my research shows different, see end of post). i was invited to the kitchen where 3 chefs explained and demonstrated me in detail how the naan is done. then they gave me the naan fresh from the tandoor on a white plate. the food was really nice of course, actually we did not even get to order, because the manager of the restaurant was joshua's childhood friend, so the chef took care of our table. we did not get to pay at all of course at the end, although i would have been very happy to pay, the food was really nice. again i remembered the poor unlucky guy on the riverside... some get nothing, some get everything, sometimes even for free..

the next morning we went to have brunch at the tollygunge golf club, which is a vintage, members only, exclusive club founded by the british. one of joshua's friend's grandfather is a member there, so we got in as conditional member and guests. i had a great english breakfast with tea, and called my friends in dublin and hungary to tell them about it. the friend in dublin is visiting me this weekend in india, the friend in hungary was on his way to rome for holidays... some of us are so so lucky, while others are so miserable.

kolkota is not a great city, but it has the potential to be one. just that it is running to its destruction like many other indian cities, not being able to stop growing endlessly, therefore suffocating from its gigantic poor masses and its army of four wheeled monsters. i judge cities based not on a few nice places, but on the overall picture. kolkata, like most gigapolises, has some parts that function, but the city as a whole is disfunctional.

verdict. the hospitality and the experience of being the guest of an indian family is a solid five stars. the roller coaster between luckland and misery, the whole understanding and thoughts it gave me is again a five star. lastly, the city itself, its sights and eateries was worth 3 stars to me.

update: my research on the best restaurants of the world reveal that the best restaurant in india is also the best restaurant in asia, and it is not the itc sonar, but the bukhara in the itc maurya in delhi. the bukhara was world 37th in 2007, but it actually did not make the top50 in 2008.