6.26.2008

What's with eight?

This would give you an idea of my situation... Of course poor Calvin was never so explicit, but that is just another case of photoshop-ing ;)

I picked this tag from g-man It revolves around the magic of the number eight, while seeming to be the usual unassuming tag.

8 things I'm passionate about:
# Music --> Ma says I used to ask her to sing to me evey night to lull me to sleep. My bond with music grew when I started playing the violin at eight years(another eight, eh?)... later I taught myself the keyboard and the drums(thanks to the freedom I enjoyed at our beloved school's music room!). Today I can't live without my mp3 player, be it heavy metal, A R Rahman(To this day that no one can handle instruments like him), or even certain Hindustani and Sufi melodies.

# The internet --> I get up and check mail and the blogs even before brushing my teeth. And cant the BSNL guys please provide more data transfer besides the measly 1GB a month?

# My computer --> Follows from the above. I love tweaking my box all the time!

# Reading --> I go mad if I cant read something a day. I have probably talked more in English than in Malayalam or Tamil (or hindi, obviously). I cant/dont express my emotions in the last three, simply because I never actually have!

# Cars, bikes, jet planes, and of course TRAINS! --> Well we are boys and we love our beasts >:)

# Travelling --> By rail preferred :)

# Photography --> Follows the previous passion. As of now, I have a humble Powershot A410 (Canon rulz!) which I have been using for two years to get some work done.

# My ideals --> Nobody tells me what to do.. they may only give suggestions if they are that desperate. If I dont wanna talk, I dont. Go jump off the nearest cliff if you are offended.


8 things I wanna do before I die
# Footplate a diesel locomotive (though it looks like I'll be doing this soon!)
# Drive a 'pandi' lorry, complete with the experience of being clad in a lungi-banian and on a full load of local brewed toddy.
# Ride a screaming Y2K turbine Superbike!
# Own a Royal Enfield Bullet - I LOVE that machine!
# Get a job I love and get rich.
# Build my own Beowulf cluster at home >:)
# Learn to hack using the infinite capabilities of the linux/unix terminal.
# Play the drums for Metallica, Maiden or any such metal band at one of their live concerts...*sigh*

...or did it mean 8 PEOPLE I wanna do ;)

8 things I say often
# Dammit
# What the F!!k
# I dont give a f!!k/damn.
# Yeah
# (placeholder for more)
#
#
#

8 books I read recently
# Black wind - Clive and Dirk Cussler
# The Blood Dimmed tide - Rennie Airth
# Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
# Blood Memory - Greg Iles
# Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie
# Midnights' Children - Salman Rushdie
# The Broker - John Grisham
# The great Railway Bazaar - Paul Theroux (stopped this midway since it was boring)

8 songs I could listen to over and over again
# Wherever I may roam - Symphony & Metallica
# Rime of the ancient mariner - Iron maiden (yeah, they're poets too!)
# Instrumedley - Dream Theatre (WTF! How the hell did they remember all the bits and pieces in this medley)
# Ache Zu Ache - Rammstein! (For best results, listen to it at full volume while inside an aircraft, precisely during takeoff - I've done this and it's mind-blowing)
# Leja Leja Re - Shreya Ghoshal (What a voice! The BEST female voice ever to sing on earth)
# My Immortal - Evanescence
# Maula Mere Maula - from 'Anwar'
# Any A R Rahman title with splendid instrumentals

8 people I think should do this tag
Heck, I dont think eight people read my blog! So I too adopt the g-man way --> Pick this and do the tag if you've read this!

6.21.2008

Top M$ jabs <> Top linux slogans

Sometimes, certain situations (like my earlier post)really support the fact --> never trust anyone called Gates, who sells you W!ndow$.
After reading Hari-chettan's recent post, here is something to.. um...inspire(!) you further!

www.humorix.org has some splendid slogans dug from across the world. A few of my favourites:

#  A computer without W!ndow$ is like a fish without a bicycle
#  Scared of speed? If so, then try W!ndow$.
#  W!ndow$ and DOS -- a turtle and it's shell (<-- shell.. got it?)
#  The word "W!ndow$" is a word out of an old dialect of the Apaches. It means: "White man staring through glass-screen onto an hourglass..."

#  Bugs come in through open W!ndow$.
#  I still miss W!ndow$, but my aim is getting better. 
#  Hiroshima '45...Tschernobyl '86...W!ndow$ '95... W!ndow$ '98...
#  A fool and his money are soon using W!ndow$.
#  W!ndow$ is a pane in the ASCII ;)
#  M!cro$oft broke Volkswagen's world record: Volkswagen only made 22 million bugs!

#  I once heard B!ll Gate$ say, "WHAT?!?! Netscape caused an 'invalid page fault'??! Only M!cro$oft programs have the code to do that!"

#  W!ndow$ found - Remove? (Y)es (S)ure (F)ine (O)K (G)reat!
#  Two computer people discussing those old stories about B!ll Gate$' name adding up to 666 in ASCII:
"I hear that if you play the NT 4.0 CD backwards, you get a satanic
message
"
"...That's nothing. If you play it forward, it installs NT 4.0!"

#  To segfault is human; to bluescreen moronic.
#  Why use W!ndow$, when linux gives you the whole house?
#  The best W!ndow$ accelerator is that which works at 9.8 m/s2!
#  Computers are like air conditioners, dont open Windows if you want them to work properly.

#  M!cro$oft should switch to vacuum cleaner business, where people actually want their products to suck ;)

To finish it off, "The box said, works with W!ndow$ Vista or better... so I installed linux!"

Update:
1) N just saw his Vista Ultimate display a BSOD! HA!
2) Thanks to tuxmachines.org, the traffic to this blog skyrocketed since yesterday night, with visits from Europe and the US outnumbering those from India :D
3) Wohoo! Most number of comments :)

6.20.2008

*gasp* Identity Revealed?

After a lot of tossing and turning, and a subsequently sleepless night, I've decided to scrap "The Smokin' WDM2" from the profile... Why did I choose it in the first place? Dunno. Seriously. Privacy? naah... Just search for my name in google and see what the first result is... so definitely not privacy. Well then what else... oh well what the hell :D

So Sriram it is.. and sriram it will be. Spare yourself the "WTF?" when you see some 'smoking W..D..something' in the profile. And dear ol' Calvin is back on the profile pic... and this post shall be the dump for all profile pics (updated monthly :)

But the WDM2 is still my favourite loco, and so is the WDG3A 'Shakti', so there!

UPDATE (25 July 08): It seems revealing my name has led my blog to lose its Google page-rank no.1! The irony of the world! *swear*

6.18.2008

fuel.. gasoline.. PESTICIDE!

I dont fancy funky digital watches - love those awesome dials and pieces in a swiss chrono. I dont like smooth, silent electric stuff - but love the sound and heavy metal inside a diesel engine. (Electronics is an exception - I wouldnt want my mobile phone to be coaled, watered and the ash emptied every two hours, not would I feed my MP3 player diesel everyday)

Coming to the case in point - I detest exotic ballpoint pens which run on refills. Refills that are simply not available in any part of the wide world. On the contrary, I love the fine craftsmanship of an ink-pen --> from the local ten-rupee nibber to the Hero or the Parker Beta.

My kid sister Ju (her shortened name is Anju, but the lazy ass I am - further shortened it to Ju) had just entered the pen-era in school - fifth standard. Entering pen-era in my school days was marked by all our impeccably white shirts turning blue in the evening, more ink having gone into the shirt than onto any paper. By the time we entered home, our shirts would be a fine specimen of chromatography, what with the sweat and the ink all over. We blamed it on the absorptive nature of the fabric. It was no wonder how we managed with just one pack of Ujala for one whole year.

Image courtesy www.thepenstore.com.au Well, the pest (Ju) had grandly started off the pen-era in school with a couple of cello ballpoints and one Add-gel, much to my scorn. I wanted her to start off the way I did, so in the evening I treated her to my repertoire. Running up to the room, I dusted the top of the shelf and slowly, carefully exhumed the carcasses of a silver Hero and a red Parker. Both the specimens were working fine after some kickstarting and liberal doses of ink. I showed her how awesome an ink-pen was and how smooth it got once you got started with one. She was impressed.

Scene: The next evening. Venue: My room. Enter me.
Me: (to nobody in particular) Alright lets get the box running. *gasp*

A Parker lies cruelly disembodied on the floor. Its cap is nowhere to be seen and its royal blood is sprayed all over the floor. For a moment, it looks like it's too late. Not wanting to disturb the evidence, I step gingerly over the ink spills and examine the nib with trepidation. Murphy again. It's undoubtedly broken.

I rush down, and the pest is nowhere to be seen. I take a couple of shots of the crime scene and clean up the mess myself. The pen is dead. Ju arrives and I charge her under Section 302. After venting my anger, I decide to buy her an ink pen of her own. As long as she's breaking them, it makes sense to be breaking her own pens, I savagely thought.

Next evening, I took her to the nearby stationery shop and bought her a Camlin for twenty bucks. Pleased with my big-brotherly-care I proceed to fill it. It doesnt write. I rip the damn thing open and clean whatever I can and fill it again.. fortunately it works.
"Try it now - it works beautifully... no no, the other way. NO! nib forward, facing straight. You'll get the smoothness best that way. JU! Oh fff...flush!" I euphemise the expletive.
Five minutes later, the training is complete(with a lot of muffled language). Knowing her well, I warn her repeatedly not to open the ink tank. Job done. I head back to the computer.

Fifteen minutes into the internet, I catch a lot of shouting in "Wherever I may roam" playing over the headphone... weird. It continues even after I switch off the song. I curse loudly and head downstairs.

Disembodied Camlin. Blood all over the floor.
Grandpa's clean white dhoti now dotted blue.
The pest nowhere to be seen.
And I to blame.

6.15.2008

Mera phasht tag!

Thanks be to Ranga for this most interesting tag. I'm supposed to make an image of myself. Of all the people who have been tagged, mine is probably the worst. Here it goes:



I have always been of the opinion that black and white is the most pleasing to the eye, and takes away the strain of viewing all those unneccessary colours. Yes, I love minimalism to a certain extent, but I'm rather a mixture of opposites. Let's start with the images in clockwise. The first - the traveller down the lonely track is a tribute to one of those 'crazy' obsessions - trains! Believe me, I have walked down kilometres from home to the rails, and back all on a scorching summer noon to catch some rare locomotive. Call it what you want :D

Next, the treble clef (or "the music symbol" as some call it) - my love for music. I wake up in the morning listening to heavy metal, and sleep listening to A R Rahman. Music has kept my soul from disintegrating all these years. People turn to their Bible or Gita in times of trouble... I have found solace in the rhythm and harmony of all those notes. The music theme is continued in that collage-like depiction of some instruments.

The garish red, blood stained feet is a tribute to one trait that has always been in me. I dont know if its good or bad, but it's plain that I tend to fly off the hook sometimes, and when angry, I often tend to forget myself and where I am.. to often regret later.

The meditating figure atop a hillock refers to the deep, contemplating moods I sometimes go into - talking all the less to people and shunning humans. The road into the horizon - travelling, one of my favourites.

The bottom left assortment of icons is the techie in me - linux, blogging, etc etc. The central crosshair is something I've often thought of myself as - focussed nowhere, just a wee bit of many things, yet nobody in particular. Frustrating. It's also a tribute to my love for photography.

The disorganised nature of the whole image reflects how disorganised my life is...

Well, thats it. I tag g-man, sidhusaaheb, harishanker, and nitin.

6.13.2008

Monsoon(bleah!) mumblings

After all those long, boring parts of Up, up and away, it's such a relief to be blogging crap again :) Well, there's a point to be made.:

Looking at the feedjit widget in my sidebar ('People and Places'), one can easily spot the wretched souls who come in search of one universal longing: 'Vista on 128 MB RAM'. Everyone - You, me, he, she, it, them, thou, Bush, Blair, Hillary, Obama, Osama, Lalu all seem to be faced with one intriguing million dollar question they type into google in their search for truth: "Can Vista run on 128 MB of RAM?" The number of hits from around the world (look at this!) for this particular post makes you wonder if Vista on 128 MB RAM was something even the Buddha went meditating for. Hell, my buddies, who come in this quest: Vista is too greedy to run on 128 megs. It cant even crawl. And what big deal does Vista offer? If thou still not realiseth yond Microsoft's evil intentions, thy life is a waste, pitiful human. Try running Xubuntu on thy legacy PC, as slick as it gets, and as fast as thought on even the oldest of PCs.

Speaking of Linux, yesterday I had the shock of my life - I was refused entry to my own computer! I had changed my user password in linux, and something had gone wrong ("Malignant fate sat by and smiled, eh?") and I was greeted with login failed everytime I typed the new password(or what I thought was the new password). Also remember, Kubuntu has no 'root' login via the normal way. Panick soon gave way to hope.. oh well, what the hell! No.. no question of a reinstall. I rebooted and entered the recovery mode. The scrolling text-bootup soon greeted me with a 'root@wdp4:" *whew* I was safe. From there, command 'startx' and the beautiful GUI(do I see someone shaking their heads?) logged me in as root. A quick visit to system settings, user maanagement, and setting a new password (It didnt even ask me the old one - well, I'm root, aint I? Authority has its previleges).
I resumed breathing normally when I logged into my good ol' user ID, into my good ol' desktop. But now I shudder... Wasn't that a MAJOR breach of security? I mean, any illiterate infant could come in and change my password via the recover option in bootup. The recover option doesnt even ask me for any password - just logged in as root. So, the paranoid Kubuntu user, beware... edit your /boot/grub/menu.lst file and delete the second bootup option(recovery mode).

Just look at that weather-widget in the right-centre of the screenshot! Its June, and yet the damn temperature is 28 degC with a tiny 8kmph wind. Well, IS THIS THE MONSOON? Whatever the hell happened to the famous Kerala monsoon? Where are the dark-as-7pm afternoons, the roaring winds, the smell of the sea being hinted in the thundering wild rains? Dark, lazy afternoons when one could sit on the balcony and listen to the raindrops, glimpse the green canopy all over and smell the gallons of fresh water being poured all over God's own country... it's still hot and bright outside.

The time is 1240.. the bell rings 12 kms away in school, to signal the end of the luch break. Sweating, we walk into our bright classrooms, to while away the time for two periods till the interval. It's three months and I've begun to miss school already. But school's not the same now...

Things change... and its time for me to get out of some of the dark days I've been in for sometime. Coincidence is omnipresent, and Mac's latest post is most meaningful for me, too.

6.11.2008

Up, up and away: Part five (finale)

It is with a heavy happy heart that I open Kate(my 'advanced text editor' duh) to dump the last part of the trip from my memory onto the hopefully reliable servers of Google. Traffic on the blog has been steadily declining, with viewers coming to the page, but getting turned away by the some long piece of junk, beginning with 'Up, up and away: Part nineteen hundred and eleven'. So I make the final dump... fellow bloggers, and loyal readers, I welcome you to part five :)

Again, for some history, here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4



******** DAY 8: Sun shines in Singapore ********

Our kind guide had given us a lot of time to sleep and continue sleeping before we dragged ourselves out of the hotel at 0945, tucked in some BBJ(bread, butter, jam) and plonked ourselved into the coach. After the 'Numbah 1(Yes), Numbah 2(Yaaaees)' ritual, Mr John announced that we were going first to see the 'Padang' (if thats how it's spelt... second syllable accent, with a 'dh' sound for the 'd', and the second 'a' stretched to the effect of two 'a's is how it was pronounced) - Singapore's Independence square. Nice, grassy place with tall buildings occupying the skyline in one corner, and assorted others in the rest of the places. Quick photo shoot... depart.

This time, to see the Merlion, the iconic lion-head-with-the-tail-of-a-fish-spewing-out-water-with-no-fear-of-a-fine-of-$500. The bus was parked about half a mile away from the actual spot, and it was a delightful walk. The sun beat high upon our heads the instant we peeked out of the coach... and after walking a bit I made a dash back to the coach, thinking I should rather get sunburnt with my cap on, rather than without it. On the way, I run into A, who thinks she'd rather get sunburnt with her goggles on, rather than without it. On our way to the coach, both of us bump into Bs, who thinks, he'd rather get sunburnt with his handycam, rather than without it. Goods procured, the three of us dashed back to the group.

The group was standing at the side of the river, where, as the guide said, the eye-level was hogged by "Old Singapore" (small buildings barely three stories high) and the skyline dominated by "New Singapore". The latter part consisted of Govt Buildings, a hell lot of banks - Bank of China, Standard Chartered, etc. The riverside looked more like an English town. Neatly paved walkways, cute little kids from the nearby school sitting on the neat floors, drawing the surrounding scenes(as part of their school activity to "get them out of their computers and video games"), various other architecture, a bridge across the river(looking straight out of an English story), an underpass ("Please push your bicycle through the undepass...No riding - Fine:$1000" What the- !). As a tshirt proclaims, "Singapore is a fine city, lah! Spitting: Fine $500, Littering: Fine $200, Crossing the road at no-crossing zone: Fine $500"... But the neatness of the place is one thing to be proud of.
A stop at a souvenir shop, and a walk under a huge expressway going over the river, and we reached the edge of the land - and amidst the salty spray onto our faces, we stood with the merlion and snapped merrily. (Tourist tip: Guard your camera lens! Open it only at the instant of clicking and close it immediately afterwards. Cleaning up all that salt spray from it is a pain in the er...optical device)

Next stop was a Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of the sea, who, with her humanity-friendly deeds had won over the hearts of the people, that they deified her after her death (The religion was Taoism).

For lunch we headed to Little India, Sitara Restaurant adjoining Mustafa centre. I was feeling really ill this time, cold and a slight fever to add to the cough and sore throat, but a good half an hour of Metallica and Iron Maiden did the trick. The fever subsided and the cold got better. Sore throat virus is immune to heavy metal music.

With the fever gone, I was ready for a roll. The coach headed straight to Senthosa Island. Had we known what was awaiting us, there would have been second thoughts - a queue. And what a queue! The whole of humanity seemed to be wanting to go to Sentosa on that particular drizzly evening. We waited and waited, moving inch-by-inch until we came to the entrance, to board the cable car that would fling us over to the island, but the queue went about 3 times round the entire venue before finally entering it. On the way, people were frustrated. There was a nice patch of wooden floor overlooking the road yonder, with flowers and stuff. With no seats around, everyone seemed to be eying that spot, longing to park their bums, but not quite willing to do so in front of all the waiting people. I gave the public hell, left my family on the queue and went straight over to that place, sat down, stretched my legs and popped my earphones in... music poured over. Then, people got brave enough! A lot of them came over and sat down merrily :) After some more time of crawling, the queue ended and we plonked ourselves into a red six-seater car.
After about five to ten minutes of gliding slowly down the cable to the island's station, our guide, waiting for us with his sceptre(the red ribbon tied to the stick), went off to pruchase tickets for the dolphin show. After yet another long queue, we boarded a bus, and hung about in another one, and finally arrived at the venue, which was packed. I fought my way to the edge of the water, where I could employ my tiny 3x zoom to its best. The show was very impressive - Three dolphins, doing that popular jumping-thru-the-loop, 'kissing' volunteers, balancing balls on the tip of their nose, 360 degree flip-overs, etc. Shows how much training goes into these things. I hope the dolphins are happy, though...

It getting dark by this time, so we joined another queue, through to the bus stop, into the air-con bus, (the place was really humid) through another queue, to the famous under-water world. There is a slow-moving conveyor belt, on which you can stand(if you are tired of walking) and watch as an awesome array of sea-creatures in all colours, shapes and sizes swim about you. It was more of a 'human-show' for these beings, as we are the ones in a glass tunnel, and they are free to roam about! Disappointingly, no big sharks, though... There was a touch-pool outside, and just as I was trying my hand at feeling some fishes(they don't feel very pleasant to touch, though), some Indian kids(early teenage, maybe) came over and were having a tough time... wanting to touch the fish, but too scared to. Everytime they put their hand in and a fish passed by, they would squeal and take their dripping hands out of the water, and the water droplets would splash over me. It got annoying after sometime despite my disapproving glares, so I put on a deep voice and blared, "Hell, DO YOU WANT TO TOUCH THE DAMN FISH OR DO YOU WANT TO SPLASH THE WATER ABOUT?" The row subsided ;)

Out of the building, we met at a cafe and had something to satisfy our tummies before the late supper. I bought a mug of tea, and unfortunately took a tiny sip of it to see how hot it was.
I swore that I would NEVER commit that mistake again in my life. SCALDING would be an understatement. Hell, one could run a steam engine with the amount of heat trapped in that small paper mug! I swore under my hoarse breath, lisping from the burnt tongue, cursing my sore throat which prevented me from buying ice-cream like the others. F!!k you, all you people who like to drink boiling tea... I hope you f!!king freeze to death!

It was getting dark and we reorganised ourselves, joined yet another queue and proceeded to the laser show. We waited in a disorganised queue-like-fashion(60% Indians, remember?) and waited and waited, moving a centimetre a minute... but little did we know that we were waiting for the damn best show of our lives!
Upon entering we lost ourselves and scattered ourselves in different seats. The view up front was a little row of timber-houses on stilts, built over the water. Somebody bought some packed snacks, and started eating it... and it smelt like puke. So much for their appetites :|

The shore-lights came on and in ran five children. A bit of singing in all languages, and dancing followed, when the guy called 'Lee' started his "Aaaaaaa" (musically, E F G C..... in C-Maj scale) The whole background came alive.. Laser beams created cartoon-like creatures. Well, the whole story is, they glimpse a princess, and Lee and his friends set out to find out who she is. As usual, she is trapped by some magician. On the way, the friends discover forms like the God of Fire, who has lost all his powers, and orders Lee to sing to him.. loud, louder, LOUDERRR!!! till the whole thing goes up in fire and the God smiles... my goodness, it was like a live Rammstein performance... Flames of fire shot up from the rocks near us, from the sky.. and we could feel the heat! AWESOME!!! Though not laser in this case, the next forms were the Goddess of light and that of sea. These were superbly rendered with the laser beams, using sea-water spray as a medium. Simply awesome... No words can describe how it looked.
And all through, idiots were using their stupid cameras (WITH FLASH haha) trying to capture the magic of it all...imagine their faces when they peer at the darkness and blurred lights in the playback later! I pitied the ignorant asses near me and let mine eyes feast. But the real thing was yet to come...yes, the princess!

Lee finally frees all the Gods and Goddesses and helps them get their power back, and sings one more time. The entire audience held their breath as the long drawn "Aaaaaa" filled the air. Then, an explosion of light, and the air ahead came alive, revealing a splendidly crafted, beautifully human face, so alive and blinking, her hair dancing in the breeze, Princess Amy! The laser creation was stunningly perfect.. words fail me.
This easily beat the fire-show to become my favourite. The show ended with the children singing a song for Lee "Who did it, we did it, whodidit, hedidit, whodidit, hedidit, he did WHAT?".. And the show ended with some spectacular fireworks. The audience made their way out, the Whodidit song still stuck in our minds :)

Only dinner was left. wolfed it down, and caught a cab back to our hotel.

******** DAY 9: One last glimpse ********

After breakfast, it was up to our bus coach to take us to the Bird Park. Fortunately, there weren't much queues here. A predatory-birds show, with bald eagles, griffin vultures, fish owls, SNOWY OWLS!(these are cute), hawks, etc. There was a penguin world too, with penguins behind temperature controlled enclosures. Emperor penguins stood just like we see on discovery channel, and a lot of them were swimming in the water. Straight out of Pingu!

After a lot of photography and stuff, we had lunch and were let free. Presumably, everyone headed straight to Mustafa centre for some shopping and was lost for the day. During supper we were visited by Mr.K, a former colleague of my mother. Mr K is now settled in Singapore. We had a short walk and were joined by another colleague Mr.Bj and we also visited the nearby Perumal temple. The Indian temple looked great with plasma screens and cars. India seems to be following you everywhere.

We tumbled out of Mustafa centre sometime past midnight and trudged back to our hotel.

******** DAY 10: Seyonara Singapura ********

We had to start off at noon. I slept till then. After lugging all that luggage down to the reception, it was a goodbye to our hotel and we boarded the coach one last time to the airport. Everyone was pretty silent, except for the goodbyes to our good ol' guide and so on. Depression hit me like a bag of wet cement. Typical leaving-and-going-back-home depression. The good old mp3 player was switched on and I found some refuge in the ocean of melodies.

Then I discovered the free internet centre, and that's how a certain comment on this post came :) Some time later in the day we boarded the flight to Colombo(what's with the tour operator and Srilankan Airlines, I cannot imagine). Airbus A330. Managed to fight sleep and dumped in some food(the same as I described a few days ago - typical). No wine. Damn. I settled down and watched a boring Hindi movie and killed time by looking at the snowflake-patterns forming outside my window. But landing was torture. When you have a bloody cold, landing is bloomin' painful. I have NEVER experienced any form of airsickness or ear-poppiness or giddiness in an aircraft before. But this time it was different. Some excruciating pain shot up my head and settled near the top of my left eye. The ears went fully on mute, and I was forced to put my little finger into the right ear shaft, and the other hand pressed hard on my left eye to stifle the pain. Weird posture.. I looked like I was crying, when in reality I was cursing the pain in choicest words of my own :\ In between this, I also managed a shot of the plane's shadow on the ground, sailing atop palm trees near Colombo airport.

After waiting some hours at Colombo International airport, we again went through the stupid, paranoid routine of removing our belts, watches, and shoes(well? what next?)for the security checks, and found ourselves in the cramped A320 to Trivandrum. We took some time to take off, and while the cockpit doors were open, I had a glimpse of the awesome cockpit lights at night. *sigh* I wish I could footplate(yeah right) an aircraft! Barely a few minutes of flying, before we found ourselved dipping to land at TRV. Upon touching terra firma, I thought, "Thalley, Thiroanthoram!" ;) hehe

I need not bother to say how small and un-airport-like TRV domestic airport is, compared to the others. It was around eight o'clock and our taxi took us along the sandy beach, into snarling early-night-traffic, back home, loaded with hundreds of pics and sweet memoires of my first ever international trip.

If any of my co-traveller-friends happen to stumble upon this, do drop me a mail. It's been a nice time together...

6.08.2008

Up, up and away: Part four

If you have missed the earlier parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

******** DAY 6: The Malaysian 'cithee thuah' ********

I woke up in one piece, sans my voice. I suspected the cold of Genting more than anyting else... and the water in one of the restaurants we dined at. On coming down after breakfast, down to the reception we discovered that we (the people of bus no.2) had a new guide - Hasina, as Zai had duty elsewhere. A couple of our co-groupers were yet to come, so I ploked myself onto the plush chairs and got down to talking in a hoarse whisper to my friends. All of us missed Zai very much and more so, after A told me that the guide in her bus, Linda was not very talkative or good humoured as she heard about Zai from me. A few minutes later we boarded the bus and traversed the smooth roads to the King's palace. Well, I have not a good memory for names, and the King's name is not easily memorable either. Anyway, our arrival was bang in time to witness the change of guards... stiff gentlemen sitting upon chestnut-brown horses, guarding the palace gates. We stopped for a few minutes to allow ourselves a couple of photos with the horsemen. Everyone seemed scared stiff of the horses. Our guide had told us to approach(and touch, if needed) the horses gently, but some of our co-groupers took it as a warning and as a result, came out in the pictures looking as if they were standing next to a lion or a bear or something. Yours truly ended up holding the bridle of one of the stallions :D

The bus rolled on at some 80-90 kilometers a jam(hour) and stopped next at the lake garden. which was a tribute to the soldiers killed during the fight for malaysia's independence. And so it read, "may the blessings of Allah be upon them"... Fountains, lampposts with the national flower (the hibiscus rosasinesis - 10th std biology, hehe) as shades for lights... the details fade in my mind... it's someting like two weeks since I've been there. Too many happenings, places in a day dont stay well in my memory... yet obscure details like the reg.number of the bus, colour of fellow-travellers' clothing, etc stay... weird brain of mine :-\

We then zipped off through the traffic to reach Independence square, near the confluence of two rivers that gave KL city its name. There was a considerable difference in architecture around the place, from British to moorish. All thoughout our afternoon ride we could see the twin towers and the KL communications tower since those two were so freakin' high.

Next up was the original chocolate-making centre, where we were treated to some mouth-watering samples of exquisite oriental cocoa, almond, strawberry, durian, tche-something, coconut, white cholocate, etc etc delights... Premium quality at premium price... bought for family members and close relatives to chew on :)

After a sumptuous lunch at an Indian restoran, the next stop was the famous twin Towers, landmark of KL city. This is the office of Petronas, Malaysia's petroleum company. This structure is incredible... It ges straight up unlike the Eiffel tower and the like so one never got enough of (literally) lying on the ground to look at the tower(s) rising to touch the jets :) Weird feeling leaves you speechless... but with a doubt - What the hell do those Petronas blokes do inside such a huge structure everyday? Accelerate subatomic particles?


We went into the public domain at the base of the building and spent sometime loitering around and playing about with the info touchscreens and 360 degree view machines (a telescope like thingy into which you peered and touched buttons to zoom in/out or turn left/right within the image you saw inside).

On the way, in the bus Hasina pointed out a long painting on a tumbledown wall and called the place a seven star hotel, where one could get accomodation and food for free. A moment after surveying our bewildered looks, she announced - "kuala lumpur prison house!" She then mentioned the torture(aargh!, no detailing now) and punishment to drug traffickers. Horrible :|

The rest of the evening was reserved for shopping at the Sungei-wang Plaza - a huge shopping mall where we purchased some stuff. After about two hours of wearing away our feet, we parked our weary bums at the entrance to it, where there are a big, wide feet of steps. It was raining heavily, with a lot of thunder :) In the first few minutes of sitting thee I had spotted a monorail way running above the road in front of us and I spent a few minutes trainspotting the stupid, silent monorails! A short while later I was conscious of the fact that I had been passive-smoking like hell and had come to the conclusion that if I were to remain sitting any longer there, I probably would pee out smoke the next time I visited the tandas :) A few other friends of mine had also come to similar conclusions and we spent the nexty half an hour or so talking, standing away from those disgusting smoking bastards.. (I prefer smoking-locomotives, not homo sapiens). After T,M,Mb,S1,S2,Aj,A and yours truly finished a not very engaging conversation, our guide and Mr. B had finally decided to brave the rain and walk to the restaurant.... and so it was - on a wet, sulky evening, the whole group walked down the slippery pavements and reached Restoran Ghazal (Authentic fine dining North Indian cuisine, the subtitle read)... and it went happily down the digestive tract.

We then headed straight back, past the mall, to Bukit Bintang station to board the KL monorail that would drop us somewhere near our hotel. The ticketing system is like our own Delhi metro... drop the torkens(or touch the cards) into the slit and the gates open... at destination station, drop the damn thing into the collection slit and hurry home... simple.

After a long queue we were waiting at the platform for the train. It glided in smoothly a few minutes later and after the mass of outoing humanity got out, we, the incoming humanity got in. I got a place right behind the driver to stand, so I was able to examine the controls. The throttle and brakes are fused into one lever that is at the left hand armrest of the driver. Simple - move forward, it applies tractive force and accelerates. Ease it back and you coast at no power... bring the lever backward and it brakes. Small cab.. minimal power(duh, what do you expect for a small, silent thing that glides on the rails - a WAG9?) Three stations away, we simmered out and walked for about fifteen minutes through the drizzle and reached our hotel.

I was desperate to find a computer to unload all the pics from my tiny 256 MB card to my mp3 player(which fortunately had 2GB), but the reception would not entertain me.. nor did they have a business centre nearby. It was somewhere around midnight and there were no cafes nearby. Then Mr. B invited me to his room and had it not been for his laptop, I would not have those five hundred plus pics on my hard drive now.


******** DAY 7: Down the expressway to Singapore ********

Our coach(in Malaysia and Singapore calling a bus, a 'bus', is taboo) was waiting and ready for the 250+ kilometres down the supersmooth expressways to Singapore. We boarded, sniffing for the umpteenth time the citric smell of the lemon-flavoured air freshner, inside. "GIVE us lemonade dammit, not just let us sniff it!", exclaimed one of the guys. After a few initial quirks like M3 forgetting his bar of chocolate inside the fridge in his hotel room, we were off... We revved up once outside the busy city roads and went at the maximum permissible speed. I once or twice wondered if the bus had cruise control.. well they needed it anyway! I tried a few vain attempts at playing dumb charades with S1,S2, T, M and Mb, but couldnt concentrate, owing to some restless feeling hitting me. M3 also seemed to be similarly affected, so the end result was both of us plugging our earphones and switching on some metal... Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Metallica, went flashing by.. I contemplated nodding off. I was vaguely aware of some cultural outrage going on, with T and some other folks of the upper generation singing and stuff, so I increased the volume on my player >:)
Losing track of time, I woke up when the bus pulled over to a drive-in for a bite and a quick Tandas :)

The sun was blazing outside. Running through the shelter of some trees, I took a leak at the spanking clean public Tandas, and bought a mug of scaldingly hot tea from one of the numerous little shops there. I had about fifteen minutes to kill before I could make the slightest attempt at sipping the tea. At around t = 10 mins, our pairing bus came up and we booed at them, reminding how we had started off after them.

We left the place after a while, when I decided to travel in my way - right up front, enjoying the view, chatting with the driver, and not sleeping under some air-con spoilt seat. So the rest of the journey was covered with me sitting in the small seat right near the door, left of the driver. And from there I couldnt help but click my tongue in pity at the view those people inside were missing!
The speed limit for buses was 90kmph, liberalled out to 120 in many places.
And most of the time, Suresh, our driver(and owner of many buses) was just relaxing with his hands crossed over the steering wheel, making just flicks of his elbow when a small turn was required(which was very rarely), with the cool breeze pouring in from the aircon vent above, and music streaming from his Nokia Nseries into his bluetooth headset! The drivers seat was a special one (and quite unlike our buses, where only the passengers get the benefit of the AC), with springs beneath it, so when we hit a slight bump on the road, he went rockin up and down :)

The expressway stretched like some huge ribbon of grey, down the green slopes, through the little valleys, and winding through palm-plantations. Behind me, a lot of interesting activity was going on. Hasina (our guide) had been discussing how the people in this country used monkeys to harvest coconuts from palms, and how they made toddy(to loud cheers from drinkers inside :). Then Mr. R held a sort of quiz, based on stuff related to the tour. The prizes were donated by many, and the result was, most of us ended up munching Malaysian chocolates :p Then it was down to Mr. C and Mr. SM who discussed anecdotes from their life.. to peals of laughter and amusement of the co passengers. It was real fun inside :)

We then alighted at the border state - Johor Bahru, to have some food at 'Restoran Amma', run by Tamils. It was damn hot outside but we the younger generation braved it and stood chatting till the buses arrived to take us to the border for customs inspection. The guy behind my counter was an ass. He took as much time to dismiss one passenger as the other officials took to dismiss THREE. (He ignored my parting "Wow! You're FAST". Damn)

Here, my folks and I had a change of bus - over to bus No.1, since there was a change in accommodation. Disappointed at leaving the jolly group behind, we boarded the first bus. The only remnant of the later-teenage-plus-or-minus-a-few-years generation was me, A(a couple of years my senior) and A2(a contemporary :). Apart from the three of us, the bus consisted of the upper generation and a couple of pretty young half-tickets ;)

We headed straight for our Hotel Windsor, and headed out after a quick fresh up. We met our guide, Mr. John, an enthusiastic sixty seven year old, "one of the most experienced guides in Singapore", according to our tour guide Mr B. Well, Mr. John looked so much an English gentleman, but his face showed a little bit of his SouthEast-Asian Ethnicity.

His English was flawless, with a hint an accent. "It's more than a welcome to people like you", he said. "For your people and our people have lived so long together... harmoniously, ya, both peace-loving. We have borrowed a lot from you - Buddhism, ya, was from India.. and it was your people who helped us build this wonderful city".
We liked him immensely... his age, his dedication and his experience.. all spoke volumes about him. He had his own ways, assigning each family its own 'numbah', "so that I just need ta call out, Numbah one - Yes, Numbah Thoo - Yes, and so on... I don't wanna leave anyone bahain... in Singapoh. Y'all haf come spending youah hard earned money, and y'all will haf a wonderful time, ya"
It was already evening, so we were going to the 'Night Safari'. Throughout the bus journey Mr. John was pointing out peculiarities, and listing ways and means by which his Singapoh had become a neat city - "We shoot the crows! They littha the roads, turn ovah trash cans... ya". The talk had progressed to criminals(the lack of them) and city lighting, when we reached our place.

The night safari venue is brilliantly designed, with quaint little oil lamps right in the midst of green bushes(they looked awesome!) and the whole place constructed(or made to look as if it was) with rock and timber. Our guide carried(till the last day) his identification symbol - a stick, with a thin red ribbon tied to it("Red keeps off the evil spirits"). We stood in a long, never ending queue for the first show, "Creatures of the night". The host was a lady, proficient in almost five or six languages. The hosting was almost like the ones we see on American and European TV, very good. Sadly, we are yet to see such enthusiastic, humorous and indulgent hosting anywhere in our blessed country. We were treated to hyenas, owls(wow), A PYTHON(which also had a volunteer let it crawl around him!), anteaters(or so), and various other animals. All through the show, a few of us were seated at the edge of the spectator-steps, so we were treated to ominous growls and howls from the nearby pit where they caged the creatures :)

A loooooooong queue was awaiting us for the next major show - the tram ride through the forest. This one was awesome - people seated in a silent (electric?) tram with trailing coaches, which moved through the dark, softly lit forest-like enclosures, showing us animals in their natural habitats, a guide sitting in the front car, speaking softly through the PA system... all very quiet and dark. Awesome way to see the animals so close(Yes one could almost touch them, but it was strongly warned against, for our own safety)... Couple of hyenas, deer, cattle, lions, pigs, zebras(why not 'zebrae'?), giraffes, the rhino(this one's fearful), Asian elephant, etc. made up the show.

After that enjoyable experience, it was back to our coach, which took us to the famous "Little India" area to dine at a tandoori restaurant (with the same name)... and yeah, God bless the Paneer :)
We hunted about to buy a calling card, and A's family also wanted one, so we went round and round till we came to a 'callable' phone(ie, where you could actually use the card). A few attempts were not working... when a little door popped open near us and a man told us in HIndi not to prefix 91 to the number. Thanking the good soul profusely, we made our telephonic conversations. It was already past midnight. This part of Singapore never sleeps, as the famous 'Mustafa' shopping mall, open 24x7, selling everything under the sun(and the moon ;) is bang in the middle of it. Our hotel was a couple of miles away.. fortunately Mr B was around and he hailed his familiar cab driver, Kuldeep Singh (yes, there are so many Indians around the place that we wondered if there'd be any left back in India). A and I had become good friends now (what with those long, boring queues!) and she, my sis and I spent the time chatting in the cab till it dropped us back at the hotel. Then it was a sleepy pull to the room, and the eyes shut.

Finish it off at Part five

6.02.2008

Up, up and away: Part three

If you have missed the earlier parts: Part 1, Part 2

******** DAY 4: Malaysian mania ********

Early next morning (it was barely morning - 0300 hrs) we woke up, had a cup of tea and awaited our ride back to the airport. A few of the members of the group had chosen to spend the night at Colombo airport itself rather than wear their bums going all the way to the hotel and back as we did (and they had a point), so we were eager to compare and see who had the last laugh. Their advantage - 3 more hours of sleep. Our advantage - freshing up and mattress to sleep on.

Our flight to Kuala Lumpur(KL) was due at around 0710 hrs or so. We lingered about in the lounge before boarding. The aircraft was a huge Airbus A340, with 2-4-2 seating in each row. Every passenger had mini TV sets embedded in the back of the headrests in front(not touchscreen, however) and the inflight entertainment was very good. The only thing good, again. Terrible food was served and I settled down to watching Om Shanti Om (WITH English subtitles, of course :) The movie was pretty good, except for some liberal amount of sleaze in the songs. (If I had wanted sleaze I'd rather have watched porn. And instead of having some nice videography they got some rubbish dancers to show skin, spoiling the serious atmosphere of the movie. WTF).

We reached KL International airport (KLIA) around noon or so (KL time) and boarded a train that took us out of the airport. That done, we split up into two groups (consequently, two buses) to proceed to the famous Genting Highlands in malaysia. We had a guide in each bus, mine was a fat little lady who introduced herself as 'Zai'. And for the next few days we would see wierd words on signboards, which we would attempt to understand and then suddenly remember that Malay was written in the English(Roman) script itself. Well, since some boards were thankfully bilingual, I remember(and guess) some of them:

First and foremost -- Tandas, meaning toilet :)
Keluar, meaning exit. (both Tandas and Keluar can be spotted almost everywhere)
Pematan api -- fire extinguisher (I guess api means fire... yes mallus, I can see you laughing!)
One more for mallus: Kurangan Laju -- doesnt mean 'Laju the monkey', simply means "Reduce your speed".. not very obvious, this one :)
Jam -- hours (so you find spped-limit boards like "90 km/j" on roads, and "24 jam" outside shops)
Many english words are kept, but with a simplified spelling - Bas, telefon, execituf, restoran... a lot more)

And hiyah we goth ova faahsth thaysthe of the famous South Asiaan accenth, ya? Qwyth differenth from ova khanthree, ya? (It later dawned on me that this continuous application of 'ya' was derived from their 'lah', which is very common in that region). Our bus was a rocker... very comfortable suspension, spring seats for the driver (or is it pilot? ;) and numerous other bells and whisltes. The first thing that struck you was the disciplined nature of traffic there. Everyone stuck to the rules (and his speed-limit, and his lane) - a more extreme form of which was awaiting us in Singapore. As a result of such neat driving, there is absolutely no honking. Unlike India, where we lean onto our horn-buttons and swear using the horns in morse code, here in Malysia you needed to honk only if someone jumped in front your speeding vehicle unknowingly (and similar circumstances). And there is no congestion, implying, traffic glides like over oil.

As I was saying, we were proceeding to Malaysia's highest region - Genting Highlands - altitude: 2000 MSL or so. They had this impressive conveyance - "South Asia's longest and fastest cable-car": The Genting Skyway. Seating about eight passengers in a small, light car that moved with the cable supporting it, through three and a half kilometres of lush green tropical rainforest. Since it was cloudy when we arrived, we saw nothing but fog for a while, with visibility restricted to something like five metres. We passed through the jungles at stomach-churning heights as the car ascended and descended, clinging onto the moving cable for dear life! After a thoroughly enjoyable twenty minutes, we arrived at 'First World Hotel', one of the five or six HUGE hotels situated atop the highland. The weather was very cool and would get chilly at night. Our hotel itself had two towers (we were in "tawthoo" - Tower 2) around three thousand rooms, all opened with electronic cards (which would cease to function after 1200 hrs on the day of checking out... neat, huh?) Our rooms were kinda small - something like those on a cruise vessel - but we had been warned in advance to expect such a contraption. Anyway, dinner was waiting for us famished souls and we proceeded straightaway to the blessed 'FirstWorld cafe'. At this point, certain complications arise:

First of all, we(two families out of 15) were vegetarians. This habit is, be warned, recognised only in our beloved country. The rest of the world thinks of you as some kind of exotic breed. But that was not the problem. Outside India, people think vegetarian food is made by chopping veggies raw and putting them 'as is' into a saucerful of water. (YUUCCCK!) This was the case. We first found some noodles, to our delight and got our chopsticks ready... but looking around we saw: Lettuce put in a bowl of water, tomatoes and cabbage put in a bowl of warm water (with some bits and pieces, like the ends of carrot, fallen leaves of some plant, seed-coats, mud off feshly dug potatoes, etc for company). AND NO SAUCE/KETCHUP AT ALL. I asked a waitress politely if they had any, and she seemed not to have heard of it. There was, however, sulking in a corner, a big bowl of mushroom soup. Finally finding something viscous (if you get what I mean), we poured liberal quantities of the stuff over the sphagetti and got the first mouthful to the buccal cavity.

And that was all. Quite unlike-... Horrible would be an understatement. I wonder how many of you have tasted fan-belt. You guess the rest. But, merciful heavens, sitting over the other end of the buffet was a whole load of fresh cut fruits, which formed the chief item at dinner for the day. After having had our fill we came out of the cafe and I went over to some people (they preferred non veg) and asked them good humouredly how it was. Boy, if looks could kill... Well, our tour operator dude Mr. B came over with his ever smiling face and assured all of us that this was the last meal of this sort. From the next day we were to dine at Indian restaurants wonly :)

And God bless the Paneer!

With not much of the brighter part of the day left, we went around the whole of First World plaza (the HUGE shopping/recreation/entertainment complex attached to our hotel), trying to call back home. After a little roaming about (and LOTS of window shopping :) I got an 'Inthenasinal Khollinh khaah' - (I think she meant an International calling card). The lady at the counter was apparently giggling at this 'foreign guy in some stupid clothes and a funny cap' and I too smiled at whatever joke she found in my tshirt and jeans. I had to 'yoosth thiths khaa on a puppyfon'. In reply to where in the world a puppyfon(whatever that was) could be used, she again hushed her friend who was giggling uncomfortably and pointed to a board nearby that said, "Public Phone - Telefone awam" *sigh* We made the necessary telephonic conversation and retired.


******** DAY 5: Getting high on Genting ********

Morning... woke up frozen after sleeping right below the air con vent. We had most of the whole day to try out the rides and activities (which included a casino) The rides included - roller coasters, a slow monorail that covered the whole of the 'indo an otdho thempaa' (indoor and outdoor theme parks - I swear I'm not making this up!), skydiving (yeah! but sadly it was closed for maintenance, damn), the numerous water-based stuff, etc etc etc... Genting Highlands was discovered by someone who struck it big in the tin mining trade, and he liked the place to such an extent that he built a private guesthouse for his people... later the bloke died and the place has been expanding and expanding since... "Yoo com bakh aftha three munths, ya, an yool find something has change... iths alwaaays being upgradhedh...", as Zai, our guide put it.

Around mid afternoon it was another ride down the dizzy heights in the cable car, back to the hot and humid KL. Now, KL would seem to be a small city, but that is because you always spot the Patronas Towers(the famous twin towers) and the KL communication tower anywhere you go. But before we could go there, we had another stop - Batu caves - "tha playce of Lod Muroogha"... we were quite a jolly bunch of tourists in the second bus, and our guide Zai was also very good humoured. We heard from her how the people there ate five times a day - brekfasth, brunch, lunch, dhinnah. suppah. "And somethimes, ya, we also haf tea", she added, amidst loud cheering and remarks like "Kochu kallee!", "Ippo pidikitti ee size-inde rahasyam!" :)

Batu caves is a natural formation that has been conveniently annexed by Lord Muruga :) There is a huge gold-plated statue of the latter at the base of the hillock, with the rock-cut temple up at the summit. Two hundred and seventy two, very very steep steps is what one had to climb in order to reach the temple... and boy, we were few of the adventurous who chose to climb... Around 150 my legs started to give way, but I spotted two guys(co groupers) making it up further, so I thought I might as well be the third up there and went up the remaIning, without stopping... and up there, all three of us boys stood in weird postures, gasping for breath and holding our leaping hearts in place :) "Aiyyo.." "Entammey.." *wheeeeze* *Phooo* *wheeeeze*
Well, you get the picture.. it was only about five minutes later that we could see properly and admired the view from the place. A few steps into the cave, and one sees the temple. The cave at this position is very very tall, with small naturally formed holes to let in air and light. Monetary offerings were accepted both in Malaysian Ringitts(RM) and Indian Rupees(INR) ;)

As a rule, it is recommended to have atleast ten minutes of rest before climbing back down. Brakes are very important while going downhill and if you legs are not strong enough to control the whole mass of you, then chances are that you'll have a very blurry ride down, headfirst and end up unable to go back to India before your visa expires >:) My 60-kg minimalist frame was supported satisfactorily by the legs and we coasted down. Once down. I recommend trying out the various Indian eateries at the base - "Restoran Rani" for example, and taking a leak at the nearby Tandas for 10 sen(0.1 RM) - they're very clean, quite a world different from our govt's public conveniences :)

It was twilight already and we proceeded straight through the congested evening traffic(again, no honking!) to the KL communication tower. The tower is four hundred and something metres tall and the observation deck for the public is at the first level, which is at two hundred and someting metres. We were taken up to the deck in a very fast lift (so fast that your ears go on mute, like during takeoff). At the observation deck, we were greeted by the nothing-short-of-awesome view of KL city by night. One could see the brightly lit Twin towers, vehicles speeding like ants on the orange expressways... There was a telescope too, which almost everone used to take a peek at the Petronas towers. We also had headsets, with which took place a guided tour at each and every window of the deck. We then came down and had dinner at a Tandoori restaurant at the base. Then it was back to Hotel Puteri Park which held us for the night.

...Continue to part four...