Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I like these...

"Don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out."

"I must be a mushroom because I'm always kept in the dark and fed bullshit."

"Yesterday scientists revealed that beer contains small traces of female hormones. To prove their theory, the scientists fed 100 men 12 pints of beer each, and observed that 100% of them gained weight, talked excessively without making any sense, became emotional, and couldn't drive. No further testing is planned."

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

"
When was a lad, there was only one Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Khazachstan, Eusbekistan, Bosnia, Herzegovina; and then it all changed. And then it all changed back again. Those changes cost the lives of 66 million people. But it didn't cost me a penny -- 'cause I kept my old atlas."

"There's too much blood in my caffeine system."

International Animal Rights Day

On December 10th each year, the International Day for the Rights of Animals is celebrated all over the world. Check out the history and why this day in particular came into existence as one of 365 dedicated to animals.

There's a demonstration planned for Barcelona by the organisation "Libera!" on Sat, Dec 8 at 12h in The Ramblas. See ya there!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wounded in Love

So, I used to get these emails from Paolo Coelho's fansite or something, called "Warrior of the Light," which I unsubscribed from, cos I just got plain bored of the stuff... but then today, my sis who's a total sucker for the guy ('s work) and who continues receiving these emails, sent me this. and I think its pretty cool...


Convention of those wounded in love


General provisions:

A – Whereas the saying "all is fair in love and war" is absolutely correct;

B – Whereas for war we have the Geneva Convention, approved on 22 August 1864, which provides for those wounded in the battle field, but until now no convention has been signed concerning those wounded in love, who are far greater in number;

It is hereby decreed that:

Article 1 – All lovers, of any sex, are alerted that love, besides being a blessing, is also something extremely dangerous, unpredictable and capable of causing serious damage. Consequently, anyone planning to love should be aware that they are exposing their body and soul to various types of wounds, and that they shall not be able to blame their partner at any moment, since the risk is the same for both.

Article 2 – Once struck by a stray arrow fired from Cupid's bow, they should immediately ask the archer to shoot the same arrow in the opposite direction, so as not to be afflicted by the wound known as "unrequited love". Should Cupid refuse to perform such a gesture, the Convention now being promulgated demands that the wounded partner remove the arrow from his/her heart and throw it in the garbage. In order to guarantee this, those concerned should avoid telephone calls, messages over the Internet, sending flowers that are always returned, or each and every means of seduction, since these may yield results in the short run but always end up wrong after a while. The Convention decrees that the wounded person should immediately seek the company of other people and try to control the obsessive thought: "this person is worth fighting for".

Article 3 – If the wound is caused by third parties, in other words if the loved one has become interested in someone not in the script previously drafted, vengeance is expressly forbidden. In this case, it is allowed to use tears until the eyes dry up, to punch walls or pillows, to insult the ex-partner in conversations with friends, to allege his/her complete lack of taste, but without offending their honor. The Convention determines that the rule contained in Article 2 be applied: seek the company of other persons, preferably in places different from those frequented by the other party.

Article 4 – In the case of light wounds, herein classified as small treacheries, fulminating passions that are short-lived, passing sexual disinterest, the medicine called Pardon should be applied generously and quickly. Once this medicine has been applied, one should never reconsider one's decision, not even once, and the theme must be completely forgotten and never used as an argument in a fight or in a moment of hatred.

Article 5 – In all definitive wounds, also known as "breaking up", the only medicine capable of having an effect is called Time. It is no use seeking consolation from fortune-tellers (who always say that the lost lover will return), romantic books (which always have a happy ending), soap-operas on the television or other such things. One should suffer intensely, completely avoiding drugs, tranquilizers and praying to saints. Alcohol is only tolerated if kept to a maximum of two glasses of wine a day.

Final determination: Those wounded in love, unlike those wounded in armed conflict, are neither victims nor torturers. They chose something that is part of life, and so they have to accept both the agony and the ecstasy of their choice.

And those who have never been wounded in love will never be able to say: "I have lived". Because they haven't.


PS. I claim and declare and whatever else, that the text below is NOT mine or written by me. It was taken from the "Warrior of the Light" emails from Paolo Coehlo's fansite.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Thought for the Day

I think George W. Bush himself may have invented this:

"I believe in peace, even if we have to kill to get it."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Internet at home!

Yaaaay! I've finally got internet access at home! I'm making a comeback to cyberworld and I couldn't be happier. Its been a difficult separation :)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Boundaries

I've read a very interesting piece by an author that I happened to discover yesterday browsing the web. His name is Don Miguel Ruiz. He was born into a family of healers and raised in rural Mexico by a curandera (healer) mother and nagual (shaman) grandfather. In fact since I discovered him, I've gone and bought two of his books at the Fnac.

This article talks about how humans build barriers or boundaries around themselves and what is the origin/reason for these barriers we create. I was pretty amazed by the part where the author talks about building boundaries when we have awareness and when we don't have awareness.

I'm currently undergoing a phase in life whereby somebody close to me exhibits the first kind of boundaries... they have so many little boxes created around everything inside that they perceive as vulnerable, ie. emotional wounds, that its hard to get through to them. Any attempt at emotional closeness is rejected as a matter of self-preservation, the person closes himself in, in an attempt to not get wounded. The author in the article talks about the time when these wounds are healed.... and how then we create a new set of boundaries about us; those that are created with awareness.

My question is: how do these wounds heal? What is the process for throwing away the garbage? Where does it begin? How long does it take for a normal person to heal their normal wounds? By normal I mean someone who has gone through a "normal" life, ie. not been emotionally/physically abused, has lived a generally happy childhood and transitioned into adult life in a "regular" way... How do you learn to fly free again?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Disappearance

I'm back. My longest break since I started blogging is now over. I now hope to get back into the swing of things around here.

What I'm still to blog about:

- my trip to Ibiza/Formentera
- trip home to Oman
- trip to Morocco
- review Shantaram

and other crap.

Do stay tuned....

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand

OMG - Oh My God, OMG.

I'm still not done reading this book, although been madly hooked on to it for the last month or so, and in any free time I've got lately (be it a bathroom break!), no one takes this book off of me.

What I can say is that I have immense respect for someone, too bad he's a fictional character (Howard Roark ofcourse). I'm pretty sure men like him don't exist anymore (or did they ever?)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Turbulence

I've been at war with Telefonica and my future internet provider Orange. Its incredible the kind of patience one needs to have for something as simple as installing an internet connection at home.

So anyway, dont have internet since I've moved into my current place with a nice Catalan girl in August. And still waiting... The doubt seems to be who's got to do what to get the connection in place. Telefonica needs to ensure that my telephone line is active, and once that is confirmed Orange will need to get in touch with Telefonica to install the internet connection. Sounds pretty simple...but it isn't! I've been waiting since August and no one seems to move their "culo"

hmmmm.....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ibiza and Formentera

This past weekend I visited the Baleares. I thought that the much heard of island Ibiza would be the highlight of the trip. But as it turned out, I ended up having a wonderful time in Formentera, a relatively untouched island close to Ibiza.

My friend and I hired a scooter and explored the island on it. Would have been better to rent a car actually, since at night, in my mini-clothes, I was pretty chilly on those scooter rides.

A couple of do's and don'ts while in Ibiza:
- Do stay in Santa Eulalia if you want a relatively peaceful time, lovely beaches and lots of restaurant and bar options.
- Don't stay in San Antoni unless you don't plan on sleeping while on the Island, and if you want to be in the middle rowdy teenage British party-express crowd.
- Don't miss the sunset from Café del Mar in Sant Antoni.
- Do try to visit Formentera while in Ibiza. The access is only through a Ferry called Balnearia which takes you there. You can take your rented cars/scooters with you to Formentera on the ferry which is nice.
- Don't forget to go to a bar/restaurant called "Tiburón" when you're in Formentera.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Life of a Consultant

I've been totally unable to blog over the last few weeks. Actually, make that last few months. I mean just sit down, breathe and let my mind flow. That seems like a far-away state of being right now. More like it has been workdays of about 10 to 12 hours, and then after-work time with colleagues. I've also moved cities (temporarily). I'm currently living in Santander, a city in the north of Spain (where its cold and rainy all through summer).

Apart from work, I've been engrossed in the book I'm reading right now "Shantaram." It is a true story of a man that takes you on a journey like no other. I have been so absorbed by it, that part of the reason I havent been here more can be attributed to it. I will surely write a review once I'm done reading, which I hope for my sake isn't soon (I dont want this book to end).

I moved here in the first week of june and plan to stay on till the end of july. I have a cozy company-paid flat all to myself, which is sweet. I feel lonely here, have to admit. But to compensate the company pays me free flights/trips on the weekends (to visit my base of Barcelona) and been using that up to travel.

I've managed to travel to a new place every weekend since June. Visited the Basque Country over two weekends - Bilbao and San Sebastian. Bilbao was two weekends ago, and in fact, I just got back from San Sebastian a couple of hours ago. I'd gone to see a friend from high school in Oman who later went to my rival school - Georgia Tech. Was good to catch up and hang out with someone from home after a while, and actually speak english all day.

Also made a weekend trip to Belgium with three colleagues last weekend. Brussels gave me a good feeling, apart from being a historic and beautiful city, its people seemed to be pretty relaxed and "assle free" :-) It has a modern and easy-going air to it which was evident in the manner people dress there (for instance people don't tend to copy shop-windows) or "escaparate-dressing" like they do here in Spain. Also a lot of different cultures seem to thrive there, adding to the interesting mix of cultures found in modern-day Brussels. The cities of Brugge and Gent were enchanting with their little canals and old cobbled streets. I bought a lot of chocolate, which will last me possibly till year end. Overall a good time and the weather was favourable without any rain. Tried a beer called "Westmalle" which I really liked. Anyone tried it?

Today is Sunday and I've just realised how tired I was after the last few weeks of intensive work and travelling/partying. And the proof is: I slept yesterday afternoon at 5:30 pm and woke up this morning at 11:30am. Thats 18 hours straight :-)

Next weekend I'm going to Ibiza :-) No explanation needed, its going to be non-stop beach and partying all weekend. I hope to be up to it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I RENT ROOMS IN FLAT SHARED IN CENTER OF BARCELONA (EIXAMPLE)

Here goes an ad for a shared apartment I came across this morning:
(numbers and names erased to salvage poster's identity)

I think I'd understand the ad better if it were in Spanish, atleast the "fence and very fence" parts (?)

HELLO TO LEAVE 15 OF JUNE I HAVE 3 ROOMS (THE DOUBLE 450EUR.) IN FLAT SHARED IN CENTER OF THE CITY IN CARRER CONCELL OF CENT (EIXAMPLE ESQUERRE). THE ROOMS HAVE GOOD ILUMINACION SINCE they POSSESS BALCON.VERY FENCE TO THE RAMBLAS AND PLAZA CATAÑUÑA (5 MINUTES WALKING) AND VERY FENCE AL METRO UNIVERSITAT(100 METERS) (EXCELLENT UBICACION). THE ROOMS ARE FURNISHED (BED, CABINET) .IF LIKES CAN COME TO SEE THE ROOMS AND TO RESERVE IT ALONE A MONTH OF BAIL AND And THE ADVANCED MONTH .MOVIL FOR ANY CONSULTATION + 34 xxxxxxxxx. to ASK FOR xxx xxxx

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Santander - My new (temporary) home

I've got an interesting oppotunity at work to be part of a project for an Italian client that lists on the NYSE. The only thing is, the project is located in the city of Santander, north of Spain. I'm taking it up and preparing to install myself up north for june and july. That being said, I am going to miss a good part of my first summer in Barcelona! Bo HOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wardrobe "awakening"

Women in Spain dress elaborately, and at work female dress code is pretty ample. Americans and English people are usually a little shocked when they first arrive here, enter the business world and notice the liberal way women dress. My first time noticing this was in Madrid a couple of years ago when I was visiting companies for interviews. For me it was a pleasant change. I was used to dressing pretty conservatively working in Oman, and before that in the US.

Here, things are different though. You have skirts of all lengths, colours, topped and layered with funky pullovers, whacky jewellery, eccentric boots, three-quarter trousers, shorts (the kind that are above-the-knee short, except these I would call "business shorts" which look like they want to be a formal skirt, but also dont want to stop being pants and are usually black, brown or grey and much more practical than skirts when you ride a scooter), all kinds of stocking and panty-hose... and the list goes on. In fact it seems as though the good ole business suit has pretty much disappeared from the scene here. And when I say ample, I'm not referring to the seductive kind... its everything. To give an example, one of the top bosses of my department is semi-hippy! (I say semi-hippy cos she leaves that little bit of executive touch in her outfits). She totally dresses the part too. Multi-coloured long skirts with dangling stuff and very colourful jewellery... I would say she's rather an urban hippy, and pulls it off successfully. On more eccentric days I imagine her showing up to work at the company I worked at in Atlanta dressed the way she does, and the outright scandal it would create (LOL). Its almost as though instead of "business casual/formal" the Spanish work dress code atleast for women is "if you can pull it off, it works."

Men on the other hand stick to the traditional tie and jackets, although on days when we have training or are told to arrive in "business casual," they too interpret it as they like. Yesterday at training a colleague of mine arrived wearing a formal shirt and jeans claiming to be business on top and casual on the bottom :)

As for me, I am loving the flexible work-dressing. My wardrobe is under evolution; the black/white and grey only is reducing in number, being replaced by new shapes, colours, cuts and designs. Yippie!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Journey of a 1000 Years

Here is a video from one of my favourite movies ever: Latcho Drom. This documental/musical film by Tony Gatlif tracks the road the Roma followed all the way from India (Rajasthan) to Spain (Andalusia) and their journey of a 1000 years over two continents before forming the diaspora they are today.

Latcho Drom means "safe journey" in Romani, a language with Sanskrit roots and a verbal tradition, spoken by the Rom in varying degrees, divided into thousands of offshoots enriched with words and expressions of the regions they touched all over Asia and Europe. Even I as a Hindi speaker can identify several words of theirs that are exactly the same or similar to those that exist in modern Hindi. Their flag has the Ashoka Chakra in the centre... and so on.

The Gypsy or Roma population of Europe stand at 12 million today. About 1.5 million were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps. I don't understand why, but its been really taboo to say that or mention this detail in Europe. Almost as if it would take the importance of the 6 million jews' death at the hands of the Nazis seem small (?). Fact remains though, that for the fraction of the population that the Gypsies formed, killing 1.5m was a huge setback to their race, I would imagine almost leading them to the brink of extinction at the time.

Little details make Latcho Drom truly genuine. For insance a scene where an old Romani woman, her concentration camp number tattooed on her forearm, holds the photograph of her beloved that perished at the hands of the Nazis, and sings about the old days.

On a lighter note, I just love this video of an authentic fiestecita with abuelitas bailando y to'! All the generations celebrating together; the kind of thing I sincerely hope still exists somewhere deep in the heart of this beautiful country.

Canine Culling: What is wrong with Bangalore?

After reading things like this, I ask myself: Is India still the land of compassion and spirituality, or have we sold our souls to the highest bidder?

On May 24, 1996, a report was carried in Calcutta daily Aajkaal about three dogs who stood guard to a new born baby abandoned near a dustbin in the city. The dogs refused to leave the baby even to feed themselves and left only when the child was finally taken to safety the next morning.

It was a report that invariably inspires a reinforcement of the beauty and sensitivity of the four-legged animals. And it also leads one to feel that such incidents affirm what we have known since time immemorial - that dogs are man's best friends.

Source: NDTV.com.
To read the complete article, click
here.

PS. Thanks B for forwarding me this!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Irony in the news

1.) Nicolas Sarkozy, son of Hungarian and Greek immigrants, at the right end of the political spectrum in France and recent President elect vows to strengthen immigration restrictions.

2.) With all the debate about how dangerous mobile phone raditation is and whether they should be stored away from the body when not in use, here is an incident that takes the cake!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Purposeful verborrea ?

Each day I come across instances that occur around me that if you think about it, are deeply rooted into history. The defensive nature of people with regards to this region as compared to the rest of Spain. The desire to stand out and be considered different from the rest of Spain, and the more extreme independentistas. However, behind each stand in the Catalan region, there is a reason.

Under the Fascist regime of Franco everything was prohibited. Any artistic or liberal minded person that tried to influence others was immediately executed. Homosexuals were executed. Anyone disrespecting the institution of marriage as established by the Catholic Church was arrested and possibly executed (separation and divorce were illegal). Women did not work outside their homes, or at most in family-run businesses. It was a chauvinistic, male dominated society (hmm, maybe the expression “macho ibérico” was born in this period?). People in the autonomous regions of Galicia, Euskadi, Catalunya, Valencia etc were not allowed to speak their native languages. The country was controlled from the centre, and the language of the centre was Castellano, and everybody had to speak it.

It may not sound so extreme or harsh from the outside but the only equivalent I can imagine given my background (coming from what I believe is the most culturally diverse country on the planet) is the following: Imagine a region in South Asia that has a lot of different states and each has its own unique language and culture. All the states are more or less autonomous and there is a liberal and open minded government in place smoothly running these states with the central government allowing reasonable autonomy to these states. Suddenly one fine day, a violent group of people throw off the central government and take over. They bring all these states under one umbrella and call the country Dodo-land. Tamilians are now prohibited from speaking Tamil, Kerelites from speaking Malayalam, Bengalis from speaking Bengali, Gujratis from speaking Gujrati, Pubjabis from speaking Punjabi and so on. The only accepted language, pertaining to the central government is Dodo-language and everybody has to speak it. Apart from not being able to speak their languages, the rest of the regions have to believe in the religious ideology of the centre, lets say the religion of the central government is Dodo-ism. So, they cannot speak their languages, practice their regional traditions, and are forced to speak the Dodo language, go to Dodo-Churches and believe solely in Dodo-ism. Anyone going against this is categorised as liberal and therefore revolutionary, goes straight to jail for “provoking anti-government sentiments” and most probably gets executed, the decision depends on the whim of the officials.

The English performed many atrocities in India, but atleast didn't interfere with the culture or religions - Can you even imagine something like this in India? I can picture massive country-wide revolutions, protests and consequently a lot of blood-shed and war. Which is what happened in Spain. For three years, the national civil war ensued which finally ended in the dictators taking power with Franco at the top.

In spite of religious beliefs being the same, there was a lot of repression. Journalists, painters, sculptors, writers, artists, poets, musicians and anyone practising any form of artistic expression was randomly jailed and often executed. The prevailing fear made a lot of people passionate about their liberty flee the oppression and move to France, South America and other countries. During those 40 years, Spain was closed off to the rest of the world, and no outside influence was tolerated. The state sided with the influential upper class, the Church and the royal family. It was a sort of caste system with the royalty on top, hand in hand with the dictators, the Church next, the burgouis following them and then the common peasants. Could this also be a reason why modern spanish is so full of double meanings!? Qué piensan los españoles?

When Franco died in 1975, it was almost as though the entire country took its first “free breath” in forty years. All those decades of restrain suddenly gave way and people started to experiment with everything. Be it cinema, art, music, photography, literature, poetry – freedom was in the air and it reflected in every aspect of life. The woman was released from her role of “ama de casa” or housekeeper, and started to venture out into the business world and demanded a respect that she never had before.

In Catalunya, Galicia, Euskadi etc the repression was two-faceted. These people faced both overall general and cultural repression. Unable to speak their languages and practice their cultures openly, these regions are now reinforcing their identities with a vengeance, with Catalunya leading the way. I'm not too fond of politics and don't really know whats going. But the feeling I get being here is that there is a soft-revolution going on as far as negotiating with the centre with regards to autonomy of the region. I suppose the trick is to accept the present and go along. Although personally I believe in "united we stand, divided we fall," this is clearly more complex than just a black and white scenario.

So now, finally coming to the point - as of the 21st century, in my opinion the pendulum has swung the other way - the country has gone from one extreme to the other! If you watch the really successful internationally acclaimed films of Almodovar for example, you’ll note the excessive and rampant exhibitionism, experimentation with previously outlawed themes such as homosexuality, transexuality, prostitution etc. I recently watched a movie called “Amor Idiota” (idiot love) and I was totally shocked. A seemingly innocent title, my flatmate and I were looking to rent a romantic comedy. The movie turned out to be almost too embarrassing to watch. Today more Spanish women smoke as compared to men, gay marriages are legal, men are allowed “paternity leave” and the workforce constitutes of almost an equal number of young women as men. Sex is openly discussed. After the imposition of Catholicism for so long the generations born after the dictatorship ended are exploring other religions and spirituality. In certain ways, Spain has overtaken traditionally liberal countries.

Back to the comparison with India, all people in India don't even speak Hindi. We often have to use English to communicate between the North and South. But no matter what the language or culture, everyone from Kashmir to Kerela is Indian at the end of the day. Obviously someone in Spain back in 1935 didn't realise that its not the language that makes one feel from a certain region, its much more than that.

I would have liked to be a bird sitting on a tree one fine day in 1970 somewhere in Madrid just to observe things. As of the 21st century however, Spain has come a long way - and it shows.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Aspects of my vida laboral

Between working 10-12 hours a day, dancing flamenco, studying for the CIA, having long nights out in town, and a totally unreliable internet connection, I haven't really been able to blog much lately. The "Catalan experience" is turning out to be interesting. After having lived for over a year in Madrid, I can say that Barcelona is different. The Catalan are special people, and their eccentricities I think are mainly rooted into history. In any case, living here you learn that Spain is not just Spanish and Spanish speaking (but I will get into that in further detail some other day).

At work I've been reviewing documentation of a Spanish company which originated in France. The documents are in Castellano (Spanish) mainly, which is difficult already but few are in Catalan and Euskera as well. Needless to say, its a lot of fun disciphering all of this legal documentation in various non-english languages (managing with catalan is still alright, but euskera, no way).

Working in a foreign language (spanish) and continuous additional exposure to another foreign language (catalan) is pretty challenging, but I'm staying positive. People take their work seriously, but at the same time are pretty light-hearted about things. With complete disregard to our "official timings," most days we allow ourselves a 20 minute breakfast break, a 1,5 hour lunch break, lunch always taken in three courses (primero, segundo and postre or dessert), about 3-4 coffee breaks of varying lengths depending on workload, and yes I've started writing the decimal as a comma :) Thursdays are caña day, we go to a nearby bar after work, down some beers and spend a few hours laughing. My colleagues are a laugh!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thought for the Day

I like this quote which I saw hanging on the wall of the IT guys' room this morning:

"No preguntes por preguntar lo que el tiempo te dirá"

"Dont ask for the sake of asking, something that time will tell you"


Friday, April 13, 2007

Un susto de la muerte

Yo solía llevar un spray de defensa personal (de pimienta), que me quitaron hace una semana en el aeropuerto de Luxumburgo (donde asistí un curso de trabajo o training) porque se me olvidó meterla en el equipaje. Bueno, ayer salí a tomar unas cañas con unos compañeros después del trabajo. Era el cumpleaños de uno de ellos y fue un ratito agradable... después volvía andando a casa como vivo cerca, y eran sobre las 23:40 cuando me pasó algo un poco raro. Yo antes no me preocupaba por la "seguridad" de nuestro edificio, iba muy tranquila, y incluso no me gustaba el hecho de que solo en nuestro edificio había que cerrar la puerta del portal con llave para asegurar que no entre gente "no authorizada". Al fin al cabo este es el Eixample, un barrio seguro. Qué va.

Estaba casi casi en casa... abriendo la puerta del portal... y se me acerca un tío con una mochila, con un aspecto absolutamente normal, empieza a susurrar... "quieres coca, ¿hacemos 'un francés?'" y cosas de este estilo que yo no entendí y ya supe que esto era algo muy raro. Le dije que no (todo el rato intentando abrir la puerta del portal de mi casa). No me hacía caso, seguramente estaba drogado, seguía intentando venderme la coca, encima sacando cosas de su mochila para enseñarmelas. Yo, nerviosa y con un susto de la muerte, al final consegui abrir la puerta, cerrarla, llamar al ascensor, y subí corriendo a mi piso. El chico se quedó fuera del edificio pero hasta que entré el ascensor él seguía intentando convencerme y hablar desde el otro lado de la puerta. Una vez en casa, cerré bien con llave la puerta y me quedé en la oscuridad para que él de abajo no supiera cual era mi piso. Pero dentro de un minuto empezó a llamar el timbre de mi casa.... Yo pensando como puede saber en qué piso vivo, y que puerta. Pues creo que estuvo llamando todas las casas del edificio... de todos los vecinos Piensa que la mayoría de la gente en mi edificio (y en el bloque) son o mayores o familias con niños y a esas horas estarán todos en la cama dormidos. Yo ya empecé a flipar.... claro. Es que encima, no está mi compañera en casa. Después de llamar durante 10 o 15 minutos en el timbre (yo ya había llamado la policía mientras) ... creo que o le llevaron, o se cansó y se fue.

Pero vaya experiencia. Yo creo que este finde me voy a acercar a Pº de Gracia con Balmes a la tienda de defensa personal y comprarme este spray que me falta. Ningún barrio esta completamente seguro, así que ten mucho cuidado.

Pero eso sí - disfrutad del finde, SEGURAMENTE!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bollywood Magic

Lately I've got a good amount of Bollywood influence around me, thanks to my dear flatmate. The only movies she has are Hindi and every evening when I get home from work, I find her sitting at her laptop listening to her Bollywood course music (I work longer hours, ofcourse!). With this full-on daily immersion, I'm getting into it too. Or rather, I'm "staying with it" as almost all of the last year in Oman was spent watching Bollywood exclusively. And why not. I think Indian cinema is heading in the right direction, atleast as far as direction and scripts are concerned. And you know what? The music is not too bad either. I admit though that when songs have totally unorthodox lyrics like "batata wada" its not quite as happening.

I spent my Semana Santa holiday yesterday watching videos on youtube - from flamenco, to Nancy Ajram to Bollywood, and everything in between. For those who haven't watched Dhoom 2 yet (hehe, ofcourse I loved it!) I recommend watching the movie, if only for the Crazy Kiya Re video. Totally Bollywood, with all the jhatkas and matkas, so terribly catchy, and I can't remember seeing two Desi actors look so good before!

Ah, and who has watched Gangster? Awesome performances by Shiny Ahuja and 19 year old Kangna Ranaut. Soundtrack mostly good. Two songs worth talking about: Bangladeshi singer "James" makes an awesome debut with Bheegi bheegi and then Ya Ali isn't too bad either (who sang it?).

I could go on, but its bedtime so I'll write some more later as my Bollywood saga continues...... in Spain of all places :)

Why I love Barcelona


Those who know me know that I am a strong supporter of animals' rights. One of the great things about Barcelona is that there are lots of other people who think like me, and are are not afraid to vocalise their beliefs. To this effect, the streets of Barcelona recently witnessed an AnimaNaturalis (animal rights group) campaign called "Día Sin Carne" or day without meat.

Above: activists simulating a tray of human meat; just like the kind that is available in supermarkets, except of animals. A strong, gory and graphic reflection of reality, and most would say "Yuck, disgusting!" but I absoluely love it.

Meanwhile, here are 101 reasons to go veg.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Reset ---- the life button!

I've slowly been settling into my new home, and done with first week at work. Its been "getting used to the real world" time for me - cooking own food, washing clothes and dishes, packing "taper", buying groceries, cleaning, ironing... Its almost as though upon snapping my fingers I've come out of my ultra comfortable "bubble-life" in Oman.... into the real world.

Weekdays are long and intense, currently with 45 working hours weekly, which thankfully turns into 35 hours from April to June and 30 hours from July to September. The days are growing longer and the cold weather is smoothing out. The pace is quick. Barcelona is buzzing with life; I'm glad to be part of it. Soon it will be time for spring festivals and live concerts... I still have a hundred things to get done, but within a month I should be settled in, and then those that have been talking about visiting - you can start letting your faces be seen!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday blues

The weather in this city is so unpredictable. One day its cold as hell and you wish you had taken the thick jacket. The next day when you do, it is hot and you come back sweating in your clothes. Similarly, since I've arrived, my spirits have been like the weather. Up and down. I guess its because its all new. One day I'm so happy to be alive, the next I don't know what I'm doing here (¿qué coño hago aquí?).

Well, hope that once I start working, I don't have time to think or to be bored, or to wonder about these things.

For now, a few observations. You know you are in Spain when:

- you cannot walk on a main street without passing by a bank every 20 metres.
- you see dead stuff hanging from the ceilings of bars (jamones).
- you have your after-lunch coffee at a café while the girl next to you has a beer.
- you see women with 4 inch pencil heels walking all over the city with no effort whatsover.
- you ask for a salad and it arrives with egg, tuna and (of course) jamón.
- (Abha, I am really only noticing this now) - favourite hairstyle for young women (below 18) is the mullet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bon dia in Barcelona

I am back in Spain after 16 months and its a lot of mixed emotions. Best of all was to see my close friend and soul sister Mireia at the airport, along with her husband Nigel (bear hugs to you both if you are reading this!) More recently though, I was a bit overcome with sadness and lonliness, which I guess is normal when you find yourself alone at night in a hotel in a city you dont know your way around, and everything around you is new.

However the feeling of vulnerability disappeared this morning when I paid a visit to what will be my workplace starting Monday. I felt good and people from my department seemed nice and helpful. I was briefed about the kind of work I can expect to take on, and I think I will be learning a LOT here. Another good thing is that we are a very close knit department and managers work hands-on with staff, something that wasn't done at my previous workplace. After this morning's visit, I'm looking forward to my first day at work.

My apartment hunting process turned out to be so different from what I had anticipated. In a city like Barcelona, it can be a tough thing finding a suitable place to live, specially if you are going to share with someone. I am not sure if it was a stroke of luck; I found a place to live the same day I got here. This is so whacked that my conclusion is that this cannot be anything else but destiny. I'll explain why. I hadn't decided to meet this girl before getting here, rather I had another appointment to see another place a bit far out from where my targeted area was (close to work). Well, we (Nigel, Mireia and I) were walking down the street a few hours after I landed into town and left my stuff at the hotel, and I remembered to call another girl who'd written to me, just to see if it would be ok to see the place sometime that day, or maybe later. She told me the street and we decided to meet later on in the day. Then we noticed her street was round the corner. I called her back and said we were right there and if we could come by then. She said that worked even better, so we were at her place in 10 mins. Its a tiny little flat, like most flats in Spain, 20 minutes from my work place walking. All through our little meeting the vibes were positive and after talking to her for a while, the three of us left the flat with a unanimous consensus - YES!

My new flatmate is a 27 year old French girl who works as a journalist for a fashion magazine. She has been living in Barcelona for four years. In her free time she learns Bollywood dance (didn't know such a thing existed?) and has put in a request to her editor for a transfer to Mumbai. The living room is decorated with little Lord Ganesh images and her wallpaper had Aishwarya sitting in front of the Taj Mahal. She wants to learn Hindi and I want to get back into French (one of my projects for 2007). I cannot believe my luck. Or is it destiny?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Book review: The Zahir - Paulo Coelho

Two words: dragged out. In spite of being a believer of the listen to your heart, follow your dreams philosophy, to me, this book clearly went over the top. I started reading it late last year and normally should have been able to finish it within two weeks. I took it with me on my trip, and found myself reading the book less, and the lonely planet more. Ofcourse, its normal to read a guidebook when you're travelling, but honestly, I would read completely unnecessary stuff from it, and even about places I wasn't planning to visit (like Indonesia) just in order to avoid reading this book.

I won't even go into the plot except that it revolves around this near-perfect writer's life story (take a wild guess who that character may be based upon) and his obsession with a woman that makes him visit Central Asia and tag along behind groups of punks in the streets of Paris. The sentences are long and unnecessarily complex, and by the time you finish reading one, you've already forgotten what he started off saying in the first place. I have Veronika Decides to Die, another of his titles sitting on the bookshelf, but considering the huge effort it took to read this one, I don't think I'll be picking that up for a while.

February 2007: a time to remember

After much procrastinating, I am finally able to come up with a summarised account of how I spent the last month, or rather the main highlights.

WARNING: Read on if you have lots of time on your hands!

Malaysia

Majority of my time was spent in Shah Alam, Selangor, the state bordering Kuala Lumpur to the west, where my friend Louisa lives. Selangor could be considered a suburb of Kuala Lumpur and theirs is a plush green neighbourhood. We visited Kuala Lumpur on two occassions, first one during the day. Visited the Petrona Twin Towers, KL Tower, Chinatown, Little India, and generally strolled around the city, shopped, ate... and another time to check out the vibrant KL nightlife.

Next we visited a charming little historic town situated South West of Kuala Lumpur, on the coast called Malacca. Malacca was founded by a prince from Sumatra in the 14th century, and turned it into a major port city for ships from India and China. Later in the early 1500's the Portuguese conquered it, then the Dutch in teh mid 1600's, and finally much later the English. We made a day trip there by road and visited the Stadthuys (official residence of the Dutch governor, now converted into a museum), A'Famosa (the fortress built by the Portuguese to defend themselves, of which only the entrance wall remains today), St Paul's church, the site where St Francis Xavier was buried before his body was moved to Goa... everything about this town was old and quaint, which was brilliant. Malacca was probably my favourite of the places I visited in Malaysia.

The next day we made a visit out to Batu Caves, home to a highly revered Hindu shrine, the entrace of which is adorned with a beautiful gigantic gold statue of who I think is South Indian God Murugan. Next up was Genting Highlands. And was it "up" or what! At 2000 metres above sea level, this place takes a while to get to. As you're driving up through mountain passes, you have the opportunity to admire little Malay towns and villages, lush greenery and life in the countryside. Once up at the top, we left the car and visited the actual Genting Resort area by cable car, the fastest and longest cable car in the world. Below us was rainforest, more rainforest, and perfect calm. Once we were inside Genting Hotel, Louisa's parents headed up to the casinos, whereas Louisa and I went for a walk around the premises. We did briefly hang around in the casino and I must say I didnt like the look or feel of it one bit. It was amazing to see the hordes of people that were arriving with every cable car with their suitcases and bags packed for the weekend (it was a Friday when we visited, those arriving then with their luggage were planning to spend the weekend there, gambling ofcourse). I don't understand casinos, but thats just me. Someday when I visit Malaysia again, I'd like to check out the Northern region, and the islands.

Cambodia

I have to say I have a soft corner for this place. From the moment I arrived to Phnom Penh, to the time I left Siem Reap (marking the end of my time in this magical country), I was so absorbed by the place; its people, the roads, the buildings, the trees, um, you get the point. What I first noticed was that it wasn't as green as Malaysia, rather it was brown and dusty like India. However, my first "vibes" from Indo-China were very positive, I was struck by its similarity to India, putting me at ease and making me feel at home immediately. I had a great guesthouse - Top Banana, that I had found on the internet and confirmed with before getting there (I recommend it to those who are planning to visit Phnom Penh, but don't count on too much comfort: plus is that this GH is at a good central location and great for meeting fellow travellers, minus is that there is no AC and no hot showers). It is run by a sweet guy called Soby. His elderly dad came to pick me up at the airport, and once at the guesthouse I met people who were with me for the rest of my time in Cambodia (two French guys and a girl from Hong Kong - thanks to them I never had to flag down a moto taxi or a tuk-tuk :) Top Banana has a nice terrace where there is a row of miniature flags hanging, and noticing that there was no Indian flag on the line, my goodbye present to the guesthouse was an Indian flag I found in the market. I had initially only planned to stay three days (two days in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap), but everyday I said, "alright, I'll stay one more day," and I ended up staying almost a week.

Its true what they say about the majority of the country's population being only young people. Pol Pot (the dictator of the Khmer Rouge regime) killed almost half the country's population in the 70's in what what many say was worse than the Jewish concentration camps in Germany. The Tuol Sleng prison, which is a former high school, has today been converted into a genocide museum, where one can still see the skulls of thousands of people (including babies) that perished there. It didnt particularly call my fancy so I didn't go visit Tuol Sleng, although most tourists don't miss this museum. So, point being that I saw a lot of young people. Also, in Cambodia (as in Malaysia, Laos and Thailand), I noticed that the women are very up-to-date fashionwise.

On the right: Kunti and I. She worked at the restaurant next to my guesthouse. Right now at home, I'm listening to a mix mp3 CD which was playing at this restaurant, which they were nice enough to let me copy, with Indian, African and Latin fusion music. Which reminds me, I heard bollywood music playing in all of the countries I visited.

Spent most of my days hanging out around town, going swimming by the riverside (Mekong), getting massages, and visiting places of interest. Phnom Penh also has a vibrant nightlife and there are a lot of foreigners that actually live there. My friends had all been there for atleast 4 months, one of them for a year. Another interesting thing I noticed was that there were a lot of "happy" things. Happy Pizza, Happy Shakes, Happy Resturants :) My favourite was Happy Pink Pizza Restaurant. I'm talking about regular food and drink; didn't have enough time to try anything happy, hopefully on my next visit ;)

Siem Reap is obviously a must-see and must-visit for anyone that is in Cambodia, but I have to stress that Phnom Penh deserves a visit too. At Siem Reap, the undisputed thing to do is to visit the Angkor Wat. There are a series of temples, and they are all geographically spread out, making it impossible to visit them all in one day. So if you want to do a through visit of the Angkors, you need two to three days. I however, didnt have that much time and so I visited the main one, which was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, and it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Over time, it has turned into a Buddhist temple, following the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. And I found this in my guide, the literal translation of Siem Reap in Khmer is "Siamese Defeated," which makes it a strange name for the city home to one of mankind's treasured architectural wonders.

Thailand

I can't say much about Thailand that hasnt already been said. Majority of my time in this country was spent on KohTao Island, in the Gulf of Thailand, north of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. Took a lot of effort to get to this place, but in the end it was all worth it. For me, it was about the sun, sand and diving (actually my side of the island was mainly pier, so sun, boat, and diving is more like it). I stayed on Mae Haad Beach, on the eastern side of the island, in Easy Divers Resort.

Koh Tao is a divers paradise. I hadn't decided on getting a certification earlier, but once I got to the island I realised this is one of the best places I could do my advanced and jumped straight into it. The island is littered with excellent dive sites. Whats more is that people on the other two neighbouring islands Samui and Pha Ngan travel by boat to access the dive sites at Koh Tao.

On day 1 Ana and I (the girl I met on the bus) arrived there and moved into our bungalow (which was actually more of a bamboo hut). We were invited onto the dive boat (just to snorkel), so off we went to Japanese Garden, a beautiful site located off the northeastern bay of Koh Tao. Saw hordes and hordes of Zebrafish (?), so much so that we had to swim away from them, there were just so many... and I'm quite certain I saw a seahorse too.

The next day my course began. I was pretty excited about all that I'd get to see, having seen all the stuff I did the previous day, and only just snorkelling! Instructor was a 21 year old Canadian guy called Adrian and it was me and Andrew, a Kiwi who were the students. Blue-eyed Olivia, a 19 year old American/Argentinian girl was our assigned Dive Master. Brilliant. One professor to two students is a ratio I like. Started off with Peak Performance Bouyancy Dive (Japanese Garden) which was real fun as we were playing ball underwater, going through hoops without touching our fins, and walking upside down on the boat! Then we did the Navigation Dive (also at Japanese Garden) which was boring and always leaves me slightly confused.

Next day we did the Deep Dive and Naturalist Dive (at Chumphon Pinnacle and White Rock respectively). When we went down for the deep dive, my right ear wasn't equalising correctly, and I had a bit of a panic-attack as I touched bottom at 30.3 metres. Although I'm certain it wasn't a case of nitrogen narcosis, I did start out feeling a bit paranoid down there and coughed out my regulator at one point. The instructor had a few exercises for us to do, one of them was counting 10 with the fingers which Andrew and I had to do one by one, and which calmed me down as I focused my attention on that instead of my ear. Chumphon Pinnacle is where whale sharks are seen around Koh Tao, and we were hoping to see one, but no luck. The Naturalist dive was at White Rock, a dive site home to the largest variety of fish around Koh Tao. On the ride from Chumphon to White Rock, Adrian briefed us about different kinds of tropical fish, showed us underwater signals for these fish and other whacky facts (for eg. certain kinds of fish can became male or female as and when required!!! another one: Butterflyfish are always seen in pairs and if at all you see one alone, that means its mate has died and it will spend the rest of its life alone!! Now if only humans were that loyal!!!). Some of the stuff we saw here: Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Parrotfish, Moray Eel, Triggerfish, Pufferfish, Barracudas, Nemo, a Hermite Crab...and many others whose names I'm not quite sure of.

I was still a bit bothered by my ear that evening, so decided to leave the Night Dive for the next day. The next evening we did the night dive with about 12 people and thats when I really learned to be thankful to having had such a small class for the rest of the dives. The entire 40 minutes or so, we spent accidentally kicking each other, bumping into each other in trying to see what the instructor was showing, keeping track of our torches, remembering not to shine it in anyone's face, bumping into each other some more.... in short, it was a mess! The dive it self was magnificent, but the logistics were clearly not happening. However, I did manage to see a Blue-spotted Stingray (instructor pointed it out to us) but missed a large Barracuda that others apparantly sighted because someone got in my way! Darn it!

That brought the course to an end, but I decided to do two more fun dives the following day and also get a DVD filmed of those dives (it cost only 2,500 baht so why not!). Each evening, all the diving groups would get together at the Irish pub and watch the videos of the OWD (OpenWater) group that had just finished that day. Overall, I had a great time on this island, and would recommend Koh Tao to anyone who wants to dive in Thailand, and combine it with a small-town rural setting with loads of places to eat, drink and meet people.

Laos

Main highlights were the temples of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, a sleepy little town nestled in between mountains. Here I signed up for a full-day tour which took you to the Elephant Cave (a natural cave in which stalagtite and stalagmites have formed in the shape of an elephant), a long water cave which has an ice-cold river flowing through it and people get of tubes and paddle their way in with their palms. Next up was rafting on the river which we did for a good three-fourths of an hour if not longer, and when we were tired, we stopped at one of the many make-shift bar/restaurants on the side of the river. Ours had a trapeze too, to get on which you had to climb a ladder and that placed you at a height of about 18 metres up in the air, from where you swing off (much like Tarzan would) and land in the river which was easily about 12-15 metres below you!! I can't believe I did this one - twice!

Laos otherwise was simple and untouched, even more so than Cambodia. What shocked me about Vang Vieng is that the restaurants there show reruns of Friends and The Simpsons, and a lot of people sit down and watch them all evening!

Back in Bangkok, visited the Royal Palace where the Emerald Buddha is housed, more beautiful breathtaking Buddhist edifices, temples and monuments. On my last day I bumped into my Israeli friend on Khao San Rd who I'd first met on the bus from Cambodia two weeks earlier and met a girl from Barcelona who was on a one year round-the-world trip. Later, some other people joined us and it turned into a memorable last night out in Bangkok.

I already have a list of places I'd like to visit and things I'd like to do the next time I'm in South East Asia, which is a very good feeling to have when you're closing off a trip. After from re-visiting the places I did this time, I hope to visit Chiang Mai, Pai and other Northern regions in Thailand, Vietnam and perhaps Myanmar. Hope that day is not too far off!

Two favourite drinks on this trip:

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Argentinian flamenco artist

Found this video on youtube by one of my favourite music groups "elbicho" with a guest bailaora or dancer. This woman clearly knows how to move. Check it out.



PS: Also check out the "Perro Records Producciones" ie. Dog Record Productions banner at the back :-)

Back home

I'm in Muscat and my situation resembles that what Formula-1 people refer to as a pit-stop, whereby I rest and move on again in a bit. Been sleeping an average of 15 hours every day since I've been back from my month-long adventure. Taking into account jetlag and the fact that I'm not currently working, I guess this is normal. Did the medical yesterday and found out that my haemoglobin is 11.5 whereas the normal range for women is 12 to 16. That explains my shortness of breath and tiredness even with slight efforts. Incredible though, considering how much I eat. Searched the net and found out that I am going to have to make an effort to eat a lot of iron rich food along with Vitamin C in order for the iron to be absorbed by the blood. Another project for the year.

I still have to get my international driving license, reason being there are only about 12 countries whose driving licenses are accepted (or transferable) in Spain. Morocco is one, and neither Oman nor the US are on the list of those 12. Since my license is not transferable, I can use the international license in Spain for six months, after which if I want to drive there, I must take a driving test and get a Spanish license. Also, no automatic cars in Spain. I've driven a manual on occasion but never regularly, therefore at some point I'll have to get used to driving a manual again. So many bridges, its best not to worry and cross each one when I come to it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Almost back home

Its my last day in South East Asia, and I'm sitting off of Khao San road in Bangkok, been doing the last bit of shopping and even had to buy a new suitcase because all the stuff I've accumulated over the month cannot fit into my backpack anymore. My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 9:45am, and once I am back, I will most likely be running around doing all sorts of organising: closing off at my old work place, paperwork at the spanish embassy, sending off boxes to Barcelona, international drivng licence, medical test, etc etc etc. Back to reality!

In my mind right now there are various images floating around: buddhist monuments, rivers, boats, buses, faces of the people I met, conversations I had with them, cities I walked through, animals I caressed, fish I saw underwater......I will go back a richer person, richer because being alone the past few weeks has taught me to believe in myself, because I have taken risks that I didnt think I would or could take. I have also come out being in love with Indo-China, a beautiful region with its simple, yet beautiful people. I hope to sit down in a few days and be able to write down in detail my most memorable experiences from the past month.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I thought Cambodia was the land of smiles - till I came to Laos!

I cannot believe it, but I am in Laos. After spending a great week in Koh Tao where yours truly became an "Advanced PADI Open Water Diver," :) I was back on the road when I was told that I didn't need to personally be in Muscat at the spanish embassy for the visa stuff, that my parents could manage it, and that my plane ticket home couldn't be changed anyway - that meant I had another week in South East Asia. It was tempting to just say, oh well, Laos can wait for another time, let me just kick back and chill on the island (what with great diving, a nice dive friends circle already and the beautiful scenery.... ) but then I decided against that and in favour of taking off and coming over here (will write more about Koh Tao when I am back home, complete with pictures and maybe the video that I got done of me diving). From Koh Tao, came down to Laos with a Basque friend (make no mistake - Basque, not Spanish) who decided she wanted to see the country and that this would be a good, quick opportunity to do it.

We paid for very expensive Bangkok Airways tickets (13,200 Thai Baht / almost 300 Euro, about the same my Muscat-KL ticket cost me!) from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, and I was on my way. Took the ferry from KohTao to Chumphon at 2:45pm on the 21st, and arrived by bus to Bangkok at 1am. Flight to Luang Prabang was at 9:50am, decided to spend the night at the airport. By the way, the blue seats on Bangkok airport make for a comfortable crash spot. Arrived in Luang Prabang (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) at 12:45 noonish , managed to find a guesthouse that wasn't full, and we rented bikes for $1 after a refreshing cold shower off I went around town (didn't want to lose one of my only two days there!)

Sawadee... this is what everyone says with that dazzling Lao smile (actually this is what they say in Thailand as well). Think it means welcome. Notice how I said "Lao" smile - all things from Laos are Lao whereas the country itself is Laos (the 's' is pronounced). Persons from Laos are called Lao - so Lao people... things from Laos are also called Lao things.... the most famous example would be Beer Lao.

Back to Luang Prabang, honestly, I was a bit disappointed. There are old French style neighbourhoods, but nothing that would make you say wow. I didn't understand what the fuss was all about. The most impressive to me are the Buddhist temples in the typical Indo-China architectural style. It was blazing hot, so having rented a bike was a good idea, went around the city, the national museum, then to the market after getting a bite to eat, bought some stuff... later on after it became dark and a bit chilly, went to the night market which was huge and filled with amazing stuff, where I shopped some more for souviners and gifts. Since I've constantly been meeting people, I havent felt alone at any point in the last few weeks. There is always someone to accompany you anywhere you go, or you decide to accompany someone where they are going.

Woke up early this morning and took a minibus to Vang Vieng which is where I am now. After 6 hours of rickety bus and rickety road we finally made it here in one piece, and to my pleasant surprise, I have a guesthouse that, for the first time in weeks, has a hot shower!!! It almost feels like luxury now. My bungalow in Koh Tao was lovely, but it had a cold shower. I am now off to look around town and later to a river party, and tomorrow to the Nam Song river for tubing and rafting!!!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Koh Tao or Turtle Island


Im on Koh Tao island in southern Thailand. This place gets its name from the green turtles that used to abound its shores ( I think there arent as many now). All I know is that if there is a physical paradise on earth, this should be counted as one. It is so unbelievably green, the sand is so unbelievably white, and the waters are so unbelievably clear.

I'm starting my advanced padi in half an hour so this is a small update. Met a sweet Dutch girl on the bus/ferry, we decided to share a room. Got here and moved into our home for the week, which my dive company (Easy Divers) which is where Zigor works (the brother of a friend of a friend) arranged.

We got here yesterday morning and thanks to Zigor, we were invited to go on the boat and snorkelled for a couple of hours. The water is unbelievable. I am excited about my course, will write about it later.

A few observations:
- there is one main road through the island.
- you gotta take your footwear off before entering any restaurant, internet cafe, shop etc. basically no footwear indoors. its brilliant!
- internet is double of what it is on the mainland (in bangkok its 1 baht/min, here it is 2 baht/min)
- best way to get around, again moto (scooter). I have decided to learn how to ride a scooter here.
- the Thais say Hello/Welcome just like the Indians do with their hands in front, palms joined, Namaste-like. Still have to figure out what it is they say though.
- this is the most laid back place I have been to.

Ok, I am going on the boat now, but will tell u how it went!

Hasta ahora!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thailand - the journey continues

I finally have a few hours to myself. It is 13:50 in Bangkok and I am at my guesthouse's internet lobby waiting on the next bus, and later a ferry which leaves at 6 and which is supposed to get me to Koh Tao island tomorrow morning at 9. The world is definitely a handkerchief (el mundo es un panuelo). What with me, an Indian girl going to Koh Tao at the recommendation of a Basque guy who lives in Oman who has a friend in Bilbao, who's brother has been living in Thailand for the last five years with his Thai girlfriend, working as a dive instructor in an island. The guy's name is difficult to pronounce even for me, but has been really sweet the few tiems I have spoken to him from Cambodia and from Bangkok. He is arranging my "bungalow" on the beach which will be my home for the next five days while on the island. Also plan to do the "Advanced" padi course while I am there as Koh Tao is known for its excellent dive sites.

Got into Bangkok last night at about 8:30pm from Siem Reap, Cambodia (more on that in a bit) after a 14 hour multiple bus journey, and got myself a room at the first available guesthouse in Khao San Rd. The previous day I travelled in bus 6.5 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. There is so much going on that I cant possibly write about it all, so here I will talk about my second bus journey which was how I spent practically the whole day yesterday.

Starting from the time I boarded the mini-bus from the travel agent's, to the time I arrived in Bangkok, we changed 4 buses. The bus was full of backpackers. The Cambodian buses were an experience in itself. Luggage strewn in the middle of the passageway, the tiny not so comfy seats, the Khmer countryside with its smiling faces waving "hello" .... Fellow travellers in the bus were an Israeli bunch made up of two girls and one guy all ex-army ppl taking a year off after fighting in Gaza for the last 3 years, two girls from Germany, a Swede, a Swiss, a Frenchie, an Irish guy, two Norweigian girls and three Spaniards (who to me are my paisanos or countrypeople, specially due to the complete absence of Indian travellers), and more people that I didnt get around to speaking with. Since I havent seen a single Indian backpacker, I've been feeling at home when I see the spaniards. Aren't many around this part of the world. I noticed there were a lot of Indian tourists in Malaysia. They were usually the young married couple who were on their honeymoon type thing. No single people. I get the impression that most Indians prefer travelling to places like Australia, the US, Europe, and more developed countries in general.

Back to the bus, the 45 odd year old Swede dude was alcoholic and throughout the bus journey kept buying atleast 3 beers per stop, until the point we reached the Thai border and changed to the last bus. He did things typical of drunk people; being a bit of a pain, speaking louder than usual, recounting his travels through the years etc. The good part was that he was definitely an intelligent guy who'd had a lot of interesting experiences. The German girls were sweethearts and waited diligently for me at the border checks where I had a longer inspection at one of the check points (possibly bcos of my Indian passport). I would have even gone along with them to their hostel but it was on the other side of town and I had to be on Khao San to take the bus to Koh Tao from here. The French guy was trying to get cozy and was a bit of a pain, the Israeli guy told me about his experience in Laos, Vietnam and I have promised myself to go there someday, given that it is even less developed than Cambodia. Also that he cant go to Malaysia although he would love to. Can you believe Israelis are banned from entry to Malaysia. How absurd. He is heading to Nepal and possibly to India next, and was keen to stay at an Indian family's home. I made him an offer to stay at my grandparents' and who knows, they might end up with an Israeli visitor. After spending the day exchanging travel stories and talking about our experiences, once in Bangkok, and having exchanged emails with half the bus, I was accompanied to the hostel by two guys from Galicia. We met for dinner at an Indian restaurant and this morning when I checked out, I received a note from them with their emails saying they'd gone south and to be in touch if I was ever in Galicia.

I'm off to catch some lunch a maybe a bit of shopping before I leave in three hours. A final thought: The last few days have been extremely interesting and travelling alone is turning out to be less scary than I had initially imagined!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cambodia - the land of smiles

I'm in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. This place is so much like India, the streets, the ambiance, the whole atmosphere. The streets are named "rue so and so" so there is an unmistakable french air to the place. The older people still speak the language, since Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were colonised by them. Also, what a great change from Malaysia which was clean and developed, this is very different. Nice different. The word Khmer is synonymous with Cambodian.

I have been doing heaps of things, met some interesting (French!!) people, visited an island in the Mekong river, visited pagodas, eaten khmer food, (going for a Khmer massage now) and generally strolled around the river front and the city. The most convienent way to get around is moto, right now my butt is a bit sore from all the moto ride! Tomorrow off to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat. Don't want to leave Phnom Penh just yet!!!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Selamat petang from Malaysia

The above means good evening in Malay. I have been having a nice time here with my Malaysian host family. I'm staying with a friend who lived in Oman doing whale and dolphin research for three years. She is currently working on a phd, and when she is done with it (late this year) she will be the youngest doctor I know (she is currently just 24 years young). Malaysia itself is a country of incredible greenery, mainly inhabited by three races or types of people - the Malays, the Chinese (but ofcourse!) and the Indians (mainly Tamilians). It has 14 states and a very well looked after infrastructure. It was ruled by the brits until 1967, and this year happens to be the 50th independance anniversary and the Visit Malaysia year as well. I must admit, I am very impressed with the little I have seen in the past two days.

I will recount my adventures later, but the big news is that my work papers for Spain are finally through! After all these months of hanging from the beurocracy thread, it comes through when I finally take off and go on holiday! Turns out I may have to return to Oman before the planned date, but in any case plan to make the most of the trip. Got my Laos visa today, did a lot of sight seeing, including KL tower, twin towers, little India, Chinatown...etc but I've shopped too much for my own good and now I'm going to be lugging an extra half dozen kilos around!!

Look out for detailed Malaysia post in the next few days!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Jobless and lovin' it

I left my job on January 31st. Was sad to say bye to the people I've been working with for the last year. I detested the bit where you send out that goodbye email and then actually go around saying bye.

Secondly, been bummed out the last few days as I was careless enough to leave my beautiful camera under my seat last Monday when I left the flamenco concert at the Al Felaij Castle Theater in Barka (talk about despistada). I tried recovering it and allowed myself to become a little hopeful when the organisers called to tell me on Thursday that a camera was found at the concert location. Did three trips out to Barka since then and finally got to see that camera today, and as it turns out, it was someone else's video camera. Anyway, my dad couldn't see me as miserable as I looked and got me the same one :-) You can bet I will be guarding this one with my life!!!

Apart from the above pathetic incident, three days into my jobless state, here I am, excited about my trip. Leave tomorrow night for South East Asia to travel for a bit and clean out my head. Between work, Paraddax being here, and my paperwork for Spain, not to mention other undisclosable yet mentally strainful events, I really really need a break!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Walking Dogs

Have you ever tried walking two dogs at a time? How about a 35kg labrador in one hand and a 5kg yorkshire in the other? Its incredible the kind of alertness your brain can need for a seemingly simple activity such as dog walking.

The 35kg labrador can give you one tug and you go flying with him. Therefore you cannot not pay attention to him at any given point of time during the walk. The left side of your brain, and consecuently the right side of your body (right hand in my case) have to deal with the incredible stress of controlling this huge creature, adding to it that that I live in a country where the average human being is scared shitless when they see a dog like him. Ont he other hand the right side of my brain and therefore the left side of my body has little Grani to worry about, a tiny little yorkie who if I pull his leash hard enough, will go flying. So this imbalance between the two sides of the brain and body, needless to say, can give anyone quite a challenge.

As if that was not enough, it gets even more fun when these two creatures decide they find interesting things to smell on opposite sides of me, and start criss-crossing, as a result your arms are criss-crossed around yourself... the urgent need to pull the leash between your legs so as not to go flying in one direction behind the big one.... and not to lose the little one either, not to step on him or pull his neck too hard....uuufff!! As I was the only one at home yesterday, and well past the dogs walking time, and lazy to go one by one, I was left with no other solution but to walk them togehter. Once the little devils are done with their pissing and shitting business, we get back home and boy do I enjoy sinking into the sofa. What stress!!!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

France Legalises the "Siesta" at Work

The French Minister of Health has come to the conclusion that short naps are beneficial to people while at work, as about 10 million people in this mid-sized country suffer from sleep deprivation. A pretty bold move, considering sleeping at work has traditionally been a taboo subject. A comprehensive study was done by a group of researchers and the result was something we all know - a short nap works in favour of the employee, helps them concentrate better and (in case of construction, mining and other potentially dangerous industries) helps the worker practice greater precaution and safety. The plan is to invite companies on a voluntary basis over the next two years to try out the "napping at work" program and measure effectiveness of employees thereby. Six million euros have been designated to the project, which I imagine will be used to set up rest areas at workplaces.

I've always admired the French, not for their wine or cheese, but for their proactive outlook to matters that concern the general population. This makes the government of France arguably one of the most efficiently functioning democracies. Evidence is seen time and again when people take to the streets, make their voice heard, and many a times succeed in changing laws. A similar event comes to mind when the mother of a 16 year old girl in Getafe, Madrid, who was raped and killed by three boys under 18 went around the entire city, managed to collected 500,000 signatures and succeded in changing the "ley de minores" or law of the minors so that these boys would face a sentence stricter than just being put in a detention centre. This incident happened in the neighbourhood I lived in. This "culture" of getting out on the streets and demanding what you deserve is slowly seeping into Spain, I would say a positive influence from their neighbours to the north. Coming back to France, be it the high cost of housing, steep oil prices, lack of dignified, permanant work contracts for young people, no matter what the complaint, the Frenchies are on their toes. They dont let their government breathe easy or relax. The way it should be.

When X swears into office, he should know and be prepared for the kind of responsibility he's taking on (unlike in India that politicians just want to get on for the love of the "kursi," do jack, fill their pockets as deep as they can, and meanwhile let the people go to hell). When one cares about her/himself, demands that their needs and wants be met, then others take that into concern. As they say in Spanish, "el que no llora, no mama," (literally: one who doesn't cry, doesn't get fed).

Paraddax in Oman Part II

As promised, here are pictures of Paraddax at the Muscat Festival.

Jellyfish Sting

I got stung by a semi-transparent whitish gooey-looking jellyfish last weekend. My entire arm swelled up and became almost double its size (ok, I'm exaggerating a little). Lucky for me I'm not allergic to the stuff or I would have to be taken to the ER at the nearby hospital. Out of a group of 8 people, I was one of three that were stung. We'd hired a boat and gone out snorkelling from the Marina Bandar al Rowdha and within 10 minutes of jumping into the water, everyone was back on board again, three of us being stung, others feeling a terrible itch and burning sensation all over (it was in the water).

The guy at the Marina was happy to make his 100 rials, even if it meant not disclosing to us that we would probably get stung. I later heard from people that in the wintertime Omani waters are filled with jellyfish - the kind that sting. Whatever happened to people's conscience?

Anyway, here is the treatment to apply in case a jellyfish sting causes allergy; and it appears that vinegar is the popular medicine in such cases, just like when you get a needle stuck in your foot from sea urchins.

So, next time you hit the water in winter around the Gulf, make sure you check for jellyfish.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gulf Football Frenzy

We're in the midst of the Gulf Football Cup, and Oman came out as one of the better teams. As a result, the city has been celebrating. Interestingly though, over the last couple of days, I have seen more police cars and ambulances on the streets than I have living here 20 years. Football fans have been going wild after Oman victories, hanging out of car windows and sunroofs. In one case, a car had the flag hanging too low out the back, as a result, first the flag, then the entire car caught fire. Nice celebration huh?

On the main street in Qurm where I live, each match night (irrespective of whether the team won or lost), the street outside lights up with football fans honking, driving recklessly and generally making peace impossible. I haven't caught a wink of sleep until about 5am on these match days (not to mention the Muscat Festival that goes on in the park right outside causing an influx of people from all parts of the country with countless cars all fighting for parking space, right outside my front door). Similar cases are to be heard in the UAE where football "celebrations" have caused 6 deaths so far.

Finally, I'm quite happy that the Oman football team do well in competitions, but some moderation and control as far as the after-party is in order.

Paraddax in Oman Part I

The Muscat Festival this year was a special event for me as I worked to bring the Paraddax European Paramotor Team (EPT) to Oman, after having met them in Spain two years ago. The team was made up of: Armand, Ramón, Carlitos, Carlos, Nino, Felix and Cédric the coordinator. It all went smoothly and for 7 days I did the job of coordinator, chauffeur, tour guide and basically just had a great time with no or little sleep and rest, all worth the effort in the end.

The EPT is a group of expert and accomplished pilots who perform unprecedented aerial shows and exhibitions worldwide. With an impressive record exceeding 1500 performances in 20 countries worldwide, these guys are arguably some of the best paramotor pilots alive.

They were here for a week to do aerial choreographies for the weekend of Jan 25 and 26 (thursday and friday being weekend days in this strange land). On the second day, after favourable winds and after having done more than 3 choreographed routines, they decided to take me up and proposed a tandem. Being my first time flying in a paramotor, I was more than happy to get up there and what an experience.

Coming up soon... pics from the air.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Last Month at Work

Happy 2007 !!!

Its my last month at work. Im soon going to close the Oman chapter and move back to Spain. How great!

However, I still have exactly 21 working days to go. Each moment at work since my transfer was approved has been difficult. But this last month takes the cake. Each morning I think yesterday was long, hope today will be alright. But today always turns out to be longer and draggier than yesterday!

At the office, everybody and their mum knows I'm leaving and can't stop asking me nosy questions that leave me quite annoyed, because I don't have all the answers yet. Sadly enough, the entire transfer process has been not too well organised from the Barcelona side, leaving a lot of room for improvement. I've had to constantly do the follow-ups, which leaves me with a sense of being a bit of a nag, specially to the HR guy at their end. Its now that I wish they would come out of their holiday mode and get their culos moving.

In case my 'permiso de trabajo' (work permit) is not out and processed by the end of this month, I am surely taking off in February to go travelling to SE Asia. Thats my plan so far. Lets see how it goes.

From Muscat, Happy New Year !!!