18 November, 2009

...Big brother's long arms

China has the world's largest population of internet users & bloggers and the world's longest political arm at web censorship. On any regular day Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogspot, Wordpress, Typepad, Picasa, Flickr, Bing are blocked but on days leading up to any “sensitive” events (read National Day or any episodes pertaining to the Big 3 Ts) rest assured that even Google can be blocked...sometimes for months together, simply augmenting the frustration of all the internet users here alike. 2 years of living in China has made the “language barrier” a lot more of a lesser-evil than their Great "fire" wall

A famous (?) local saying goes, “whatever is blocked by humans, gets unblocked by humans too”. Apart from being mere inane bottlenecks, I for one do not believe that these "walls" are helping the cause for which it is being practiced. Any person with a little technical competency can break through these primordial "walls" using Proxies and PVPNs.

While proxy websites like Hidefap and Proxyboxonline are handy in reaching through to Blogspot and Wordpress, PVPNs like Alonweb and PacketiX, albeit a bit slow helps me access Facebook, Twitter, Picasa or any other blocked websites with considerable ease.
The Chinese version of Youtube called Youku, although not half as good as the former, is a good medium to watch Indian and English movies with live-streaming. Some free-willed Indians religiously upload most of the Indian movies onto Youku within the first week of its release. Another novel way we stumbled upon to watch movies are through torrent downloads. MuTorrent is a useful software that helps one download movie torrents from websites such as Isohunt, Mininova, Torrentbox, Themediasite et al. Most of the new releases are uploaded onto these torrent sites for global consumption. If you have a VGA-HDMI cable, you can connect your laptop to the television and voila you can see them movies on TV. Believe you me, I have watched all the latest Hindi and English movies much before my family and friends have watched them back home.

Being in China has made Internet my right hand….and ofcourse the mobile phone my left one. I feel thoroughly incapacitated if either of it is dysfunctional. I am sure a large population of Chinese must be adopting these or even more advanced methods to break through the "wall". It is certain that they would conceivably be less aggressive than they are right now had the "big brother" stopped being such a strict net nanny and allowed people the plain Right to free Information.

Obama is currently visiting China and has touched upon the susceptible topic of “non-censorship” of the Internet. In the townhall meeting at Shanghai today he has even been quoted saying that “unrestricted internet access is a source of strength"......But is China listening?

11 September, 2009

Wǒ huì shuō yīdiǎn Pǔtōnghuà

When V and I enrolled into “May in China” to learn Mandarin, we were just another “lǎowài” (the Chinese slang for foreigner) pair who were trying their hand at cracking this un-crackable language. The first couple of hours in the classroom literally scared us. They had Pinyins, Initial & Final tones and three full pages of words that needed to be practiced with the right tone! Apparently in Mandarin there are 4 tones for each word! But before you utter the three swear words (no no, not WTF; its Goodness Gracious Me :)) let me also tell you that in Cantonese there are about 9 tones for most words!… And 26 hours of classes later we are still struggling to remember the right tones for the right words!

This is how it sounds when I briefly introduce myself in Mandarin(Note the use of “tones” on each of those words):
Nǐ Hǎo. Wǒ Jiào Vani. Wǒ Shì Yìndù Rén. Wǒ Shì Zài Zhōngguó guòqu 2 nián. Wǒ hé wǒde lǎogōng gōngzuò zài Guǎngzhōu. Wǒ gēn Wang Tao xué Hànyǔ.

It simply translates into:
Hello. I am Vani. I am an Indian.I have been living in China for the last 2 years. I and my husband work in Guangzhou. I am learning Chinese from Wang Tao (Our Mandarin teacher Wichin’s native name). If you thought that was crazy, you must see how it is when it's written!

There are no separate words in Mandarin to discrimate genders and so a he or a she is just a plain "Ta". There are no plurals for anything too. Its always 1 pen, 2 pen or 3 pen.. and the simplicity of this language ends there.

A slight mis-pronunciation of the tones can land us in very awkward situations. For instance: If I go to a restaurant and tell them I want Jī (鸡), it means “chicken”. But if I pronounced it as Jì (妓), then I just ordered myself a “prostitute”!!
Amused? I’ll let you in to some more tone faux pas. Lǎogōng (老公) means “husband”. But if you happen to say Lǎogong (老公) it means a “eunuch”...and still if you say it as Láogōng (劳工) it means going into “labour”!!!. The word Sì (四) means “4”..but if you pronounced it as Sǐ (死) it means “death” and Sī (丝) means “silk”. Guì (贵) means “expensive” whereas Guī (鮭) means “salmon” and Guǐ (鬼)means “ghost”!

A lot of words with the same tone and the same Chinese characters can mean different things under different circumstances too, like for example the word Tái (台). This word with the same Chinese character and tone can mean “typhoon” or a “stage / platform”.

Who would have ever guessed that Ramayana is known here as Luó Mó Yǎn Nǎ and Mahabharata is Mó Hē Pó Luó Duō!

Now, to make an already complicated language more complex they have something called as “measure words” like we use in English for some objects such as a “loaf” of bread, a “pair” of jeans etc..but in Mandarin they have over a 100 measure words for a whole lot of things...even for things that don’t need them. Instead of plainly saying “two cars”, they say “two –measure word– cars”...how about that for keeping things simple.

To say this is a difficult language would be a gross under-statement. Wish I am able to learn it to make a decent conversation atleast...sigh!.

By the way, the title “Wǒ huì shuō yīdiǎn Pǔtōnghuà” means “I can speak a little Mandarin” :)

03 September, 2009

I am like this only.

This blog has survived a year. When I started putting up my thoughts and experiences on this platform I did not expect this to travel this long and considering what a chronic procrastinator I am, I must say that I am pleased to see it still alive.

With this 24th post marking the moment, I thought I must dedicate it totally to me. No people. This is no Narcissism or Soul-searching. I simply wanted to list out things that I like or dislike so that years later if I ever change, I wanted to remember being what I was. So here I go.

1) If soul-mates could be non-humans then I think movies and books would be a part of my list. I used to read ‘em dime a dozen but have slowed down a lot, thanks to the pretense of being busy on the job. Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead” has been my best read so far. A habit I copied from V, I must say that I really do enjoy watching those movies and for the last 2 years I have even recorded the “watched-list” names. No prices for guessing that I am totally partial towards Pacino, De Niro and Mohanlal. If there are second favourite lists allowed, it would have Hanks, Depp and Di Caprio. I have a few more that will fit into the “not so bad” list too.

2) I like them men just plainly-sexual...not metro-sexual!! So please, please do not wear pink, velvet, bling or florals, do not shave your chest, legs and arms and do not ever, ever wear tapering jeans or trousers (you can do all this only if you are Hrithik Roshan!).All you Himesh Reshammiyas out there…shoo away. You belong to another planet. Please let earth remain for saner people.

3) I am an ardent Calvin and Hobbes fan...If Calvin is the imaginative 6 year old, then Hobbes is his greatest voice of reason. They were the coolest comic pair one could have grown up reading.

4) Doggies must be one of God’s best creations of life forms. These cute, adorable things never fail to make me go awwwww…I grew up with almost 16 of them at home and each one of them contributed their bit for fond lasting memories.

5) I am partial towards Namma Bengalooru. Maybe because I was born and raised there and maybe because I was one of the lucky few who lived through its wonderful phase before the IT boom brought about its downward spiral. Although now, this city remains only as a distant resemblance of its past, the memories of the hale (old) Bengalooru, with its English-named streets, old town pubs that played all my favourite rock numbers, the then “golden-quadrangle” of Galaxy, Symphony, Plaza and Rex theatres around my college area that we used to frequent, the now non-existent boulevard on the M.G Road, the Gulmohar-lined avenues that never fail to burst into bright red-orange blossoms at the onset of each spring, the moral police that minded only their own morals and the weather to die for remains etched in my mind.

6) I love music...I can’t claim that I am this punter and all but some good music of the Rock genre in the likes of Pink Floyd, Scorpions, GnR, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin...you get the drift right and ofcourse A.R.Rahman, Yesudas, S.P.B’s soul-stirrers can spring me back into a vim-ful mood.

7) I hate them morning alarmas. Awake, shine and rise must have been words made for the early birds that do believe they get the first worms.. but not for me. Whoever thinks they are out to conquer the world by waking up at 6 am has not known the real joy of sleeping. Snuggling under the sheets deeper as the morning becomes brighter; snoozing the alarms atleast 5 times before you actually really open your eyes; curse the sunlight for emerging so quickly when you just went to bed a few hours ago is a daily routine for me. I take almost an hour to jolt out from my sleep after I am awake...so there you are.

8)I am obsessed with perfumes. My overtly sensitive olfactory nerves couldn’t have wanted anything more than a good fragrance to sate it. The current faves are Nina Ricci’s Premier Jour, Bvlgari’s Pour Femme and Versace’s eponymous perfume simply named as “Versace” which I feel is a real classic. Given a chance I can shop endlessly for these wonderful smelling products...So, all you people out there intending to present me something you know you don’t have to think too hard for a gift idea :)

9) I am a complete travel aficionado. Given a choice between owning let’s say a Sedan or travel around the world for that money, I would jump for the latter. There is definitely a high in travelling to a new place each time and drinking in the wonders it offers to you.

10) I love colours. I am in awe with the nature for its greens...the seas with its blues and the brighter the dresses are the more I like them. I tend to lean a lot towards Blue, Green, Red and Black and do not prefer them pastels.

11) Indian reality (??) shows and soaps in all the languages I understand there give me the creeps. From the 500 year old Baa in the Kyunki saas bhi khabhi bahu thi to MTV’s mindless Splitsvilla to Rakhi’s torturous prime-time wedding saga has left me with headaches to last a life-time. This from watching a sample episode of each of them. I shudder to even think of what might have happened to me if I was one of the billion that actually followed these telecasts completely!

12) I am an anti-social-element, no no..not a terrorist, but someone who lacks the smooth-talking social skills. I am very comfortable with the people I already know very well than put in a lot of effort to know new ones. Yeah I know its nice to know new ones and its great to be socially-inclined and all that..and I am working on this people. Till then, swalpa adjust maadi.

13) Although I do not have a problem with the existence of female bosses, I hate to report into one. I always have a dart of bad luck with them & every one of these species I have worked with seems to have their run with the Queen Bee Syndrome! Sorry women...you need to use your PMS quirks on someone else and not me.

21 August, 2009

18 till I die...

My earliest memories of her date back to the “bhoomi pooja” (or the customary ceremony that is performed to inaugurate the construction on a new site) that we performed. During the later months, I remember accompanying my grandmother and parents many a times to monitor the construction progress throughout its various stages. As we completed the planned ground floor of the house, dad with his penchant for space and luxury, infused more money into her and very soon the little wonder grew up to be a three-storeyed one. It was like a vision taking form. A east-facing house in a quaint locality in Bangalore’s desirous Indiranagar was like a dream-come-true to all of us. The house when completed, was every neighbour’s envy and of course was the owners’ gigantic pride.

Fondly christened as “Meenakshi” after Muthi’s name, this house soon became a very integral part of our growing up years. I remember how Muthi, with her green hands, painstakingly build her garden with over a 100 pots of plants on the ample balcony space; the varied flowers that flourish on the pots there and Muthi plucking them out everyday for adorning the Gods’ pictures inside; the diverse vegetables like brinjal, drumstick, pickle-lemon, avarekkai etc that she used to grow in her garden making it quite a sumptuous meal for us all the time; how the wide terrace area provided abundant room for over 15 dogs that we used to nurture and rear; the warm summer nights that I used to like spending on the terrace under the jeweled sky; the numerous hide-and-seek games that we used to play inside the house with the cousins who used to visit us often; the street wearing a bright golden-yellow hue with the Tabebuia blossoms every year with the onset of spring; the house illuminated each year with diyas during Diwali and Karthika festivals; the bright illumines with lights and decorations with coconut leaf pandals & flowers on mine and the sibling's wedding eves... the memories remain vivid in my mind as I sit down and reminisce

It was on 22nd August 1991 that we conducted our “Grihapravesham” and commenced living there. Every year on this day, we used to visit the nearby temple to thank the Almighty for blessing us with her. Tomorrow is 22nd August 2009 and the house that grew old with all of us completes 18 years of proud subsistence. She was sold 2 weeks ago to someone else and I know that we wouldn’t have another anniversary to celebrate her existence in our lives. This person who has bought her from us may continue to live there or pull her down to erect a new one in her place but I can only look back at the days by-gone and silently thank her for being there with us..for us all along. Although I have melancholic feelings inside me, I know that, albeit with forlorn hearts, Muthi, Dad, Mom and our 2 year old lab puppy Achhu are moving to newer grounds, newer lives and newer experiences.

18 August, 2009

Of Abject reporting lines.

Life is definitely a series of experiences. While most of them are good, there are a few distasteful ones that can’t be avoided. Repugnant catastrophes like the person who I am about to write about here exist only to give us a taste of such experiences.

Let’s refer her here with her initials PC. (I am yet to decide if I need to write out her entire name on this and ensure this write-up is thrown on all the searches that anyone makes on this person!).

A 47 year old hag; All of 3 feet tall...er...short; Has a first name that sounds like the bark of a dog and the surname is a human body part; Must have attained menopause but behaves like she’s constantly on PMS!; Her laugh is so shrill and loud that it can curdle milk!. This is a little description of the Malaysian @#&$% I report to at work here. Did you just say I sound malicious...wait till you read further.

She is single which comes as no surprise since we really understand the guy who must have committed the gravest mistake of getting involved with this thing, but unlike us, managed to escape (hopefully alive!) and is living happily some place else. The constant smirk pasted on her face that looks like a weird extension of some body-part, anti-friendly behavior, rude remarks, breathing-down-your-neck fetish, inept at handling business pressure and petty conduct make her the “manic depressive” person that one can come across. She is the most expensive employee in the centre and gets billed onto an engagement with the lowest business margins. Five people across various levels have already become “casualties” of her wretched behavior and I, or for that matter, a lot of others would have been fine if there was even an iota of benefit that arose from retaining her in that role.

I knew I was always jinxed when it came to working with female bosses. But this time around I had vouched to not lay low. I escalated the last show-down we had, this time over my food preferences!. Someone who ate only Chicken from among the meat delicacies that this country dishes out did not “whet her appetite”. She expected me to eat Goose and Duck meat too! The Centre Director and the Head of HR were notified on this and they had to set right this behavior now.

Set right they did. I was moved out from her reporting line to now report directly to the Centre Director. Is this how a behavior issue at work is addressed did you wonder? I am wondering too.

15 July, 2009

Goodbye Blue Sky...

The view of the China sky from my office on the 37th floor of the building showed no shades of blue…..as always. The perpetual grey hues across the cities are not rain clouds. The smog, that has even driven away the birds from the city permanently, is the price this country pays for the industrial and economic boom it has been witnessing for the last decade.

As I stood there at the cafeteria listening to the famous Pink Floyd number, “Goodbye Blue Sky” in my mp5 this afternoon, I couldn’t help noticing how well the lyrics complemented the somber situation. There are no literal “falling bombs” like in the lyrics but the pollution in the city will always remain as a battle that no one wins…

10 July, 2009

Happy Wedding Anniversary!

Dear V,

Socrates once said, "My advice to you is get married. If you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher."

I know you have not become a philosopher "yet". So I must be good :-)

Happy Wedding Anniversary. Thank you for all the wonderful times that we have had together all these years. I look forward to share the exciting long years that lie before us!