Archive for the 'Places To See' Category

Dancing With The Elephants

I went on a vacation recently to Thailand and wandering through a new city (Patong and Bangkok) famous for its night life, “massage parlors”, cheap shopping and fleecing tuk-tuk’s, we couldn’t help but wonder…how at home we felt thanks to the extremely friendly nature of the Thai people.

Not to mention the strange but true facts – that the people in Phuket spoke much more fluent English than the people in Bangkok itself,  that no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t get lost, every single price was negotiable right from a handbag at the street store to the foot massage at a suave-looking parlor!!!

The Patong beach itself was not very attractive and moreover it was “too busy” for our taste…so we found a quiet corner in the Kata beach further south of Patong and had a whale of a time. On the third day, we even ventured out on a rented motorbike and drove up and down the entire stretch ranging from Patong to Kata beach 4 times, looking for food, fun and souvenirs…and not to mention baby elephants that were swaying their way to glory, as they ate their meal!

Food was costly and there were very few options to get a decent meal without paying up at least 100Bhat/person, going upward with addition of a beverage and any interesting experimentation with the dishes :). One can have a pancake snack with interesting combinations like banana and nutella for 50Bhat. Comparatively the massages were cheaper. One can get a good foot massage for 200Bhat and a good Thai massage for  300Bhat (and these are mid-range prices), they can get really low in cheap parlors that have girls sitting outside and shouting “Helloooooooooo! Massaaaaaaaage” to very high in well…high-end massage parlors.

While Phuket was a seaside and wandering experience, Bangkok was more of a shopping spree, for us. We went from one kind of market to another – night market (Pat Pong), street-side markets (near some subway stations), day time markets (Pratunam) and some of the larger airconditioned markets in full fledged buildings (Big C, Platinum Fashion Market) – comparing prices, haggling over 50Bhat price differences, snacking on fresh cut fruit on the street stalls and wading our way through the never ending shipping list – was a vacation well worth the price!

Hongkong Night Market – A Must See!

The Hongkong Night Market or should I call it more of “fake goods” market is a place where you can get anything from a Burberry to Calvin Klein watches, glasses, bags – you name it – except, they are all duplicates, that’s all. In some cases you will be hard put to to tell the difference if you are not a brand connoisseur and in some cases, well let us just say, you are not that easily fooled ;). And, what is more, it is more or less fixed price – you can bargain a little bit, but they are so busy with the willing customers that if you continue to argue on 20HKD vs. 25HKD, you will be ignored.

So, all of you on the way to Macau or with a day to hangout in Hongkong – do add this to a must see list of places…and have fun!

Back from a picnic and into a book

I had been to the official annual picnic of my group this weekend, it was at a place called Wild Tribe Ranch in the outskirts of Chennai, about 40kms to the north. The event was organized and managed by e-ventures. The ride to the ranch was just about getting boring, when the e-venuture guys presented a magician to us. Doing magic tricks in a moving bus at an extremely close range with people peering around your hands, neck and pockets is not an easy task – the magician did an amazing job and enthralled the skeptics and the believers alike…! Hats off Suraj….

Next came the activities at the ranch – the organizers are extremely safety conscious and take all necessary precautions. There are a couple of interesting games like the Trampoline jump, Paintball and the All Terrain Vehicle Ride, not to mention the swimming pool and the delicious food! As we were making merry with the activities, a bunch of kids ranging from 3-18 years appeared, armed with sticks and few more weapons, like churutu waal – they were students of a martial art form in Tamil Nadu called Selambattam and by God, were they good!!! The skill and deftness of hand along with the fearlessness to play with arms with fire lit at the ends made it a visual treat. Many of the performers were national level champions in the art form. The only conernmost of us had was that there was no safety precaution on their body or clothes, in case, something went out of hand, especially when they were performing with fire. All in all, the picnic was a stress-busting event and on my way back, enabled most of us to forget a lot of bitterness for a few hours.

I purchased a book titled – “what got you here, won’t get you there” by Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach, mentor and facilitator and have been immersed in it ever since…more on the book’s interesting insights in the next post… Do visit the Wild Tribe Ranch, if any of you guys live in and around Chennai – it is definitely worth a visit once in a lifetime. I shall publish pictures soon…

My Chinese Impressions – Part 8

Me n’ Entertainment in China…

Online and TV Entertainment

The interesting blogs I found ranged from China bashing to ones that helped me learn some Chinese to ones that very passionately went along in the Mandarin script – depriving me of the valuable insights that they were offering.

In my TV entertainment section if I don’t mention Bloomberg, I would be missing out on something important. Most of the nights when I returned to my hotel room from work and switched on the TV, there was Bloomberg had a fumbling Maithreyi Raman who gave me company. She generally analyzed hi-tech stocks on Bloomberg and had me all amused when she fumbled her way merrily along for many weeks on just basic number reporting off the charts. Left me thinking who gave her the job, anyway?

The fake DVD cartel

Outside of all major malls and shopping areas in Shanghai, there runs a very organized and low cost and surprisingly, fixed price fake DVD Cartel. It is so organized and the price is so well-known that you don’t have to interact with the person who is standing with the DVDs. All you need to do is browse through their collection, chose the ones you want, give him the fixed price/DVD and walk away. These provided entertainment for several days…

Around Shanghai in less than 2 days 🙂

My first few weeks in Shanghai, I was looking to go explore something unique. There was an acrobatic show at a cultural center and I dragged my colleague to see the show. The show was a disaster – with the acrobats falling down a couple of times and overall nothing spectacular. What was more, it was less of a “ethnic cultural” thing and more of an “china culture showcase for expats/foriengers” thing, but we did have some good food at the restaurant attached to the cultural center!

Later, towards the end of my stay in Shanghai, we went on a whirlwind tour of Shanghai – ranging from some cultural landmarks to pub hopping (believe me, pubs in Shanghai are extremely cosmopolitan with respect to the crowd as well as music played). There is a club called “M on the Bund” very close to the Bund in Shanghai where the DJ even plays Hindi music and I noticed names like “Arundhati Roy” in invitee list for some event at the pub!

Anyhow, spicy food at a side alley near a Buddhist temple in Shanghai, random pub hopping where a few girls almost jumped on top of my one colleagues, locating the Arabian Nights restaurant with belly dancers (we reached their way past the dance time, though!) and finally eating Greek food on the same street…are a few experiences I will never forget!

Hangzhou – Venice of the East

Picture of West Lake with the Pagoda in the background at Hangzhou (also known as Venice of the East)

My Chinese Impressions – Part 6

Continuing on my series of experiences in Shanghai in this post, I want to write about two of my memorable experiences – one that lasted the entire trip and I marveled at its efficiency day in and day out, and the other that lasted a few minutes but is etched in my mind and perhaps would last forever…

The All Pervasive, Always Available – Taxi Culture

For me the efficient taxi culture in Shanghai, as a visitor, was the best part of the experience. Not to belittle, anything else, but when a piece of machinery in a state works so efficiently that there is no scope (or even the mere thought) of fleecing a naive or guliable foreigner – that too in a developing nation – the effort needs to be applauded.

The taxis are available almost everywhere. Given street name and building number will get you there without any cheating (ok, there is some bit here and there, but it can be largely ignored in the larger scheme of things and given the number of taxi rides I have taken). Meter will be promptly used and no haggling on charges – ever! Once, I thought I was being taken for a ride and started haggling in my broken Chinese (much to my boss’s amusement), but only to realize that it was indeed the right fare and we were not being cheated.

Well, for people in the developed countries this might seem a trivial experience but anybody who is well traveled in India will sigh a relief reading this bit about Shanghai, because this efficiency is not easy to achieve. They might not know today, but on account of this service I would rate them on par with any US/European cab ride I have taken – of course, only cheaper and faster (they don’t strictly wait till the red light turns green at signals…)

Nanjing Trip

Nanjing literally means the south capital (Beijing being the north) and is a large city with a thriving economy. We were doing a customer visit and traveled via train to get there. My experience has to do with the landing at Nanjing station. As we descended the stairs to get out of the platform, I saw a sight of this large human wave, with no space between any two individuals at any point – in, around, behind or in front of me – converging towards a common point from three different directions to move outwards. For a moment, I thought I might faint, there must have been more than 3000 odd people trying to get down the steep fleet of stairs all at the same time to the same point. As I did a quick check on my senses, I was gripped with a fear that I might be tossed up into the air as there would no space on the landing podium.

Luckily, nothing bad happened, the crowd descended at its own pace, went merrily outside the station and busy with their lives – I think, just the sheer scale of handling such a large crowd day in day out within such an efficient train system is a great feat in itself and people being so cool about moving in and out of such large crowded spaces is something that beats me!

My friends tell me that it might be because I have never lived in Mumbai and I must experience the metro to believe it…I guess, I will someday, until then – this goes down in my memory lane as the largest crowd experience ever!

My Chinese Impressions – Part 2

Terracota Warriors, Xi’an, China.

I visited Terracota Warriors late last year and it is an interesting story, much like many other things in China. Xi’an is located in Shanxi province. Shanxi has an ancient history dating back about 3000 years and had a thriving civilization for about 1000 years due to the fertile basin provided by the yellow river. It’s map looks like a kneeling archer, who was part of the army of the Terracota Warriors.

Dipping A Toe In History

But let me focus on the task at hand for now..the story goes that Emperor Qin, who lived aronud 3000 years ago, was a fierce warrior, had a large army and had amassed several enemies over the years. Chinese tradition, much like Indian one, believes in after-life and he wanted to secure his life after death. Hence, he created his entire army of 6000 soldiers, face for face, hand for hand, foot for foot in larger than life-sized models made from terracota and positioned them around his tomb so that he will be protected in his after life. Only a portion of the entire army has been actually excavated, the rest of the sites, though open to public are not completely excavated, yet.

Digging A Bit Deeper

The legend also has it that when the soldier figures were excavated they had several different colors on them which were probably based on some pigments (which shows that 3000 years ago there was knowledge of colors and pigments in the Chinese culture). However, the moment the soldiers were excavated, the colors faded and now nothing remains (except for a figment of yellow on the color of one of the soldiers). Also, due to a pillage immediately following the death of Emperor Qin, most of the soldier figures were broken and had to be rebuilt bit by bit at the excavation site.

The large terracota army of soldiers was not the only heritage that Emperor Qin left behind. He was the reason behind the building of the Great Wall of China as well as the unification of the Chinese (Mandarin) script – for which I consider him to be a visionary, because in spite of the differences in dialects and culture, Chinese across the world read the same script and there are a lot of advantages inherent in it for a nation so large and I can say it with such confidence because I come from India, which is a nation just as large in terms of population and yet is not only divided by culture, languages, caste but also by the lack of a unified script.

Vision In 250 BC & Marketing in 21st Century AD

But before you start thinking that I’m getting all philosophical here, let us take a practical example. I visited markets in Shanghai and all the consumer durables and FMCG products have information printed in the Mandarin script in terms of contents, usage, price and even safety precautions, expiry date etc. I whistled, knowing very well that such a thing could never happen in India. What with 26 different languages and around 20 different scripts, imagine the supply chain & logistics nightmare not to mention the forecasting issues and micro segmentation for marketing…so in Indian supermarkets we get products with information in English printed on them. You would say, what’s wrong? Nothing. Except that even in villages (where 70% of India currently lives) the same products are sold in the very same packages, with product information written in English, so the poor villager, who does not know English is either forced to buy products whose information he cannot verify or not purchase the product. Well, what exemplary vision, what injustice, is all I can say!

Coming back to the topic of Terracota Warriors, the site is also considered to be the 8th wonder of the world. It was indeed an awesome experience. and more to come of my Chinese impressions and adventures…

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