It’s getting hot in here, let’s turn on all our fans
Feb 27th, 2006 by teragram

The temperature is rising folks. We’re in the mid- to late-thirties and it’s only going to get hotter.
/me melts

We went to Cochin (aka Kochi) in Kerala (God’s Own Country) for the weekend. We being me, C and A. I bought a painting from the world’s coolest cafe/art-shop. It’s unselfconsciously cool, which makes it even cooler. Basically it’s a two-storey shop in Jewtown (yes, that’s what the area’s actually called) filled with piles of paintings. There is no better word than strewn for the arrangment of said works of art. In the middle of the upper floor are a couple of tables with some mis-matched chairs. We knew the sign outside had said coffee shop, but we had to ask someone before we were sure this was it. We had a masala tea while I pondered which painting to buy. C, who wasn’t there when I bought it, is no longer frightened of it, thankfully.

Paying caused some difficulty. Both our bank cards were eaten by bank machines in Bangalore (hopefully our new ones are winging their way to us now), so we were relying on credit cards for the weekend. Unfortunately, the art shop was too cool for credit cards. A‘s brave attempt to get some cash by going on the back of the owner’s skooter to a nearby bank machine failed. So the owner suggested that I take the painting, and he come to my hotel later for the money. Luckily for him, I told him the name of the hotel I was actually staying at. I had thought I’d gotten the painting for a reasonable price, but when he brought all his kids with him to pick up the money I had to wonder if he was bringing them out for a slap-up meal on this poor schmo.

We took a backwater tour on Saturday. The first half was a smooth, leisurely trip on a sort of a large canoe powered by two muscley men. The pace and the scenery really reminded me of The Thin Red Line, but the whole day was mercifully free of gun-shots. The second half started really well. We had a Keralan Thali on a lovely house-boat, and another gentle trip across wider stretches of water. Then we got to The Island We Would Never Have Visited. We got to see sea-shells being turned into calcium-hydroxowhatsit. This involves a fascinating exo-thermic chemical reaction which gives off noxious, and no doubt dangerous, fumes. There was an unspoken consensus that we should vacate that room as quickly as possible. It was even more uncomfortable than the previous room where we were told that temperatures can rise to 4000 degrees celsius, as we all tried to clear our minds of images of burning human bones.

We were then treated to an interminable tour around the garden of the man running the tour. We could tell it was his garden, because he had occasional shouted conversations with his wife. Every plant was good for Ayurvedic medicine, apparently. And of course Ayurveda is better than western medicine because it treats the cause of the illness rather than just the symptoms. Did you know that by eating the roots of a particular plant, diabetics need no longer take insulin? Or that if a pregnant lady drinks pineapple juice with black pepper it will help keep her child healthy but that if she drinks pineapple juice without pepper it will cause an abortion? My favourite of his theories was that smokers get cancer because they lack vitamin C. All you need to do is have a glass of pineapple juice a week (with pepper of course, if you’re pregnant) and you can smoke away to your heart’s content. Pun intended.

C, who’s given up standing for such things, had long since returned to the boat. The whole group gladly joined him when the garden tour seemed to be over. The boat trip back was just as pleasant as the trip out had been. So all in all it was lovely, and even the boring bit was educational! Who knew Ayurveda could be so powerful, and without the use of science?

Tomorrow’s pancake Tuesday! I’ll have to enlist A‘s help tomorrow evening in preparing some sugary lemony treats.

On another unrelated tangent: does the headline “Too Few Female Tech Leaders, But Efforts Under Way to Grow More” make anyone else think of ladies in business suits being grown in vats? Or is it just me?

Tg – melting

“Can I hinder you madam?”
Feb 16th, 2006 by teragram

In India, every shop is over-staffed. On the positive side, it does mean that if you want to ask a question – such as “do you have any bathrobes?” – you don’t have to find an attendant first. There will be one nearby. Hovering. Unfortunately, he (or she) will continue to hover. When you focus on the bathrobes, not showing any indication that you are about to ask for more help, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched, he will say “can I help you madam?” It may not sound annoying, if you haven’t experienced it, but it is. Once, when I was shopping for moisturiser, I had a very strong urge to run out screaming “leave me alone!” at the six women offering their ‘help’ in the moisturiser section.

It’s the incompetence that does it. The bathrobe example is a case in point. He searched for five minutes for an XL bathrobe that was not pink. “No colours madam, only pink”. “No other colours? Not even white?”. “No colours madam”. I thanked him and walked away. As I browsed through the asymmetrical saucers and other arty home furnishings a suspicion crept upon me. I had lost my friend at this point, and I decided to go back and check for myself. I found two white XL bathrobes within a minute. Between finding the first and the second, another ‘assistant’ asked what I was looking for. I explained, and continued searching. That always makes them uncomfortable, when you search for yourself. I found the second and legged it.

In a way, it makes me feel like a bit of a bitch, being so irritated by this. But I just want them to leave me alone and let me get on with what I’m doing. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that it’s someone’s job to press the buttons in a lift. But I’m glad he has a job. I don’t want my driver to wheel my wheely bag. It’s very light, and it has wheels!

I suppose it says something about our bubble of privilege that the most annoying thing here is getting too much help.

On a less moany note, here’s a map of countries I’ve visited:

create your own visited countries map


Feb 14th, 2006 by teragram

I’m back! I’ve been busy with an essay for my Open University course, and a trip to Mumbai (see below), so I haven’t had a chance to post for a while. But lucky for you I’ve found a spare five minutes. Before I go into my adventures in Mumbai, check out this quote I came across in “Big Bang” by Simon Singh. It was Georges Lemaître (a Catholic priest, and one of the first scientists to suggest what is now known as the big bang) who said:

“Hundreds of professional and amateur scientists actually believe that the Bible pretends to teach science. This is a good deal like assuming that there must be authentic religious dogma in the binomial theorem”

I love it.

Aaaanyway. I went to Mumbai with our current Irish companion here in our bubble of privilege, A. C didn’t come along, because he was nerding it up with Linux geeks in Delhi, and didn’t get back in time. In some ways, the trip was more adventuresome than we had planned. For instance, we got to experience first-hand a minor airport taxi scam. “Madam, you gave me a 100 instead of a 500”. I can’t tell you how much I’m still kicking myself for giving in on that. At least when he went on to rip the 500 rupee note and ask us to replace it because it was ripped, I held my ground. I still can’t figure out where he was going with that. I should have offered him his 100 back.

So then he said we had to get into another taxi, because our current taxi was out of petrol. What was it doing picking up people at the airport with so little petrol I ask you? Lying in wait, that’s what. I must say, I was pretty nervous at this point, but thankfully the thief didn’t get into the new taxi with us. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, except for the taxi’s decor. There was this … pole, in between the two front seats. It looked like a pole-dancing pole, but without any room to manoeuvre. The ceiling was also mirrored. I wish I’d taken pictures (I did get a photo of another mirror-ceilinged taxi). The new taxi driver asked us how much we had paid the thief (I guess he knew who he was dealing with) and I said “five fifty”. He calmly replied “5 thousand?” and I must admit I laughed. We had been ripped off for 400 rupees, but surely no-one would be thick enough to pay 100 euro for a taxi ride in India. Surely.

We made it safely to our hotel. It’s a nice place, but we had a strong suspicion that it used to be part of the nearby hospital. In the velour-lined hotel bar, on the last night, we met some friendly English masons. That’s right, freemasons. “We’re here on masonic business”, they said. A finished her drink mysteriously quickly, and we left. We waited till we got to the lift to break our hearts laughing. Afterwards we kind of wished we’d stayed and asked them some questions. What would you have asked?

There was a meal at a revolving restaurant. The view was beautiful, but the food wasn’t great. We had some sushi (vegetarian, of course), and the wasabi was toxic. I actually had to spit out a whole piece of sushi, because I felt like I had a mouthful of turpentine filling my nose with fumes. That was a shame, because the sushi itself was quite nice. The other dishes we ordered were in goopy sauces, and were pretty disappointing.

We played “easy-listening” at the bar with the world’s worst mix of decor. The walls are all faux 18th century, except for the cornice which is an underwater scene, complete with fish. Easy-listening is the game where you try to be the first to figure out what song the bar-singer is playing. A totally kicked my ass at that game. Even when I figured out what it was first, I could never think of the name. We left to “Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door”.



How do you even talk about these things?
Feb 1st, 2006 by teragram

An old college friend of ours (mine and C’s) died over the weekend. He was also a colleague of C’s at The Company. It’s the first time either of us have really missed home so much. He was a private guy, so I didn’t know him very well, but I have some nice memories of him. One time he misunderstood an internet posting I had made (entirely my fault – I can be confusing) and thought that I was saying I was pregnant (which I wasn’t, and amn’t). He suggested that someone should design a My First Unix Box. He was a funny guy.

He didn’t generally go to many parties or events, but he came to our after-honeymoon-party thing. I didn’t recognise him at first; he’d changed a lot since college. He really seemed to be enjoying it, and he told me “I go to weddings”.

I did a web-search on him the night I heard. It was one of those morbid things you end up doing when you don’t know what to do with yourself after getting such news. I didn’t find much that said very much about him. It was just technical posts on technical threads.

I’m very sad that he’s gone, and that I’ll never get a chance to get to know him properly. I hadn’t cried until I read this thread, but something about seeing all those friends from “the old days” talk about him made me burst into tears. I wish we could all meet up in a quiet pub somewhere and just talk for hours.

Rest in peace Dave.

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