Sunday, 23 December 2007

An Average Random Friday

"I hear that East and West Germany are now joined. Is that good news or bad news?" That was the rather unexpected question that my German friend M was asked on Friday morning.

About an hour earlier we had set out on the Tiger food trail. This is a day-long do-it-yourself tour of Singapore that takes you to some of the best hawker food stalls in the island. Each stop comes with a recommended dish or two which go down very nicely with Tiger beer.

We'd been off to a strong start at a stall called Epok Epok. They sold us some really good sardine pastry and absolutely outstanding kueh (a kind of Malay sweet). We were not bothered at all by the dirty looks we got from a couple of schoolgirls. They obviously disapproved of the idea of able-bodied men drinking beer at 11 am on a weekday. We obviously were loving the fact that we could.

No matter. We were on a mission. We were not to be deterred even by finding that the next stop, the delightfully named Skylab stall, was closed for lunch. (Yes, a food stall that was closed for lunch.) That meant we couldn't get any prawn vadai, so we had carrot cake instead. And Tiger beer.

That's when the stranger from the next table started chatting us up. After complaining about the high taxes on beer, he informed us that had paid his dues to Singapore by doing his manadatory 2-year stint in the army. Then, after being reassured that the reunification of Germany was good news, he turned to a topic closer to his heart.

"Is it true", he asked interestedly, "that there are some beaches in Germany where you can only go nude?"

He then told us that he intended to go to Germany for a holiday one day. I wonder why.

And so it went. Roast duck noodles and Tiger beer. Grilled tofu and cuttlefish and Tiger beer. Then, as the sun was setting, came the high point of the day: oyster omelette with the most wonderfully tangy tamarind-and-chilli dipping sauce. The oysters were fresh and juicy, the omelette was fried in generous amounts of oil, and the sauce was to die for.

It was so good that we decided we neded a break from all the eating. We took a couple of hours to recuperate at a wine bar. Then it was time to hit the final stop of the food trail. Good thing too, because by this time I was hungry again! So my supper of barbecued stingray went down very nicely indeed.

Satisfied by a good day's work feeding our baser appetites, we decided it was time we did something more intellectual. So we went to the National Museum where I remembered they were running an exhibition of Greek sculpture from the Louvre. Of course by this time the exhibition was closed for the day. But that was fine, since we really only wanted to go the museum bar anyway.

One drink and many photographs later it was clear that it was time to add a different flavour to the evening. So we made our final stop at Club Momo, a club that for some reason draws an almost entirely Chinese clientele and can usually be counted on to be interesting. I was not disappointed.

The entertainment for the night was a Thai band. Who sang only in Thai. And who did their stage banter entirely in Thai. In the middle they broke out into a sort of skit, for which one of the band members pretended to be pregnant. But I could not really tell what the skit was about because ... it was entirely in Thai.

I love this city!

Monday, 17 December 2007

BabyLegs: $12 + shipping. Salvation: priceless.

When I'm in a mall I expect to spend a couple of mindless hours walking between racks of merchandise and stuffed wallets. So on Sunday I was pleasantly surprised by an educational experience. In a store selling stuff for kids I saw a flyer that educated me on the dangers of Gapiosis.

You may unfurrow your brows now; I will explain all. Gapiosis is the space between the top of a baby's socks and the bottom of its pants. Bad enough in ordinary circumstances, it gets accentuated if you are callous enough to carry your baby in your arms. Horror of horrors, Gapiosis condemns the unprotected baby to contact with air!

That's right folks, this is the same air that is unfit for fish to live in, that can slowly and inexorably transform a fresh pizza into a two-week-old lump of moldy green culture. Imagine what it can do to a sweet, delicate baby's shins!

Thankfully, help is at hand in the form of BabyLegs, striped leggings last worn by Jane Fonda in fitness videos in the 1980s.

But now that our children are protected against gapiosis, you have to wonder what other dangers lurk. For instance, how will we defend our young against the dangers of tubercolourosis? No, no, not tubercolosis; we have vaccines for that. I'm talking about tuberCOLOURosis. This is the less well-known affliction wherein children who eat too many carrots turn orange.

And who will guard the generation of tomorrow against the depredations of cheeking pox? (You haven't heard of cheeking pox? This is when swarms of well-meaning but otherwise daft adults grab a baby by both cheeks and shake its face hard while pretending to lisp.)

While diplomats from the world over are jawing at each other over climate change in Bali, the next generation of mankind lies in its collective cradle under the shadow of these and other perils. Will we realize our danger in time? Will the BabyLegs corporation succeed in their heroic struggle to rescue our future?

Or will our race die out in an epidemic of shivering legs, orange tans and saggy jowls?

Only time will tell.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The Golden Years

I've been moaning softly to myself for the past few weeks that I'm losing my reading habit. I've bought many books and then not read them. Perhaps it was for the best. I was idling a little while ago and on a whim pulled out a book that I had bought a couple of years ago; today was a very good day to open it for the first time.

Woman's Best Friend is a collection of writing by women about their dogs.
Pam Houston's foreword reminded me of the lessons we learn from our dogs: "... that if your paws are too big to fit in your ears, you have to get someone else to do the scratching, and that if you want your hand to be licked you might have to put it under somebody's nose ... that sitting in the grass together doing nothing isn't really doing nothing at all, and that sometimes, even if you haven't acted perfectly, the good thing happens anyway."

I'm not sure that makes any sense to anyone who has not had a dog. But it reminded me why the best part of the weekend that just went by was not the partying (and there was a lot of partying). It wasn't the sleeping in (although there was a lot of sleep to catch up on). It was the Sunday morning hour I spent slowly brushing my dog Phoebe as she lay patiently with her head resting against my knee.

It's been slowly creeping up on us that she is growing older. She is six years old, her muzzle is more white than brown, and it is very probable that she has lived more years than she has left. And those years have not always been kind. From the time she was four months old she has carried a limp in her hind legs that surgery could not cure. It has slowly grown worse over the years.

Not that it's taken away her spirit. She sometimes makes a pretence of being all ladylike. It helps that she has coal-black eyes under improbably pretty blonde eyelashes. She can sit patiently for hours while you trace a finger gently between her ears. But then something clicks in her canine brain and she leaps up in a flurry of activity, ready to wrestle with you for possession of her favorite toy, a stuffed dolphin.

She is on her second dolphin now. This one is pink, much more suited to her (usually) feminine demeanor than the steel-grey one that she had earlier. Not that her feminity is much in evidence when she is in the mood for tug-of-war. She comes at you with the dolphin's tail clamped in her jaws and her tail marking time as it wags maniacally behind her furry brown bum. At that moment you know that you are expected to grab onto the dolphin's nose and hang on for dear life. There have been times during these games when I've had to let go or I'd get my hand yanked out of my wrist along with the disputed dolphin.

Phoebe gets along famously with her vet. With total disdain for behavioural stereotypes she charges into his office as soon as the door is open. After years of regular injections she has her routine down pat. She goes straight for the weighing scale so that we can make sure her weight is under control and not putting undue strain on her delicate hips. Then, while she waits her turn to go into the treatment room, she asserts her authority over the rest of the gathered creatures in the waiting room. She scrutinizes each new patient as it trots in and makes sure they know that she is the senior personage in the premises. Any challenge is dismissed with a peremptory bark.

The vet's eyes always light up when he sees her. "She may not be the best-looking dog in Singapore," he told us once, "but she is certainly the best natured."

Fiddlesticks! She is too the most gorgeous dog in the island!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Where's Your Half of the $100 Bill?

Sometimes you just have to wonder about consultants. Over the past few months I've worked on two projects with consultants that were hired by the company I work for. During that time it became pretty clear that consulting is mostly about having a client ask you a question, asking the client what they think is the answer to their own question, and then playing that answer right back. While distorting it just enough to turn a right answer into a wrong one.

Yes, it's been frustrating. And like all frustrating experiences it's also been hilarious. Earlier this week, for instance, I was informed that I am now a Change Agent. This was revealed to me during the course of a POW! workshop. Don't ask me what POW! means. If I tell you I will have to shoot you.

What I can tell you is what it means to be a change agent. Mostly it means that you sit in an uncomfortable chair in a freezing room for two days, while surfing the net on your cellphone under a desk. And it means gnashing your teeth when you run out of Oreos before lunchtime. And it means suppressing giggles when people around you argue passionately about whether or not to start calling a marketing plan "building blocks". It's like being back in kindergarten. You spend all day shut up in a room and contemplating cookies and building blocks when you'd really rather be outside twiddling your toes in the grass.

Of course there is a bright side to being an agent. For instance I can now go to office wearing a trenchcoat and trilby hat. I can spend the day hiding coded messages in the flowerpot near the coffee machine. And I can sneak up behind colleagues I dislike and garrote them with an Ethernet cable.

Mind you, there are dangers too. The Enemies of Change and Progress are everywhere. Saboteurs lurk in wait of an opportunity to perpetuate the status quo. But so far they have been unable to catch me off guard. Today I spent the day sitting in front of a giant window. It was dark and rainy outside, so the window acted like a mirror. When people tried to catch me unawares by approaching me from behind I could see their reflection long before they came close enough to initiate hand-to-hand combat. Noone could catch me off guard, and in the end the forces of freedom prevailed over the axis of evil.

Tomorrow in office I will start feeding bits of disinformation to the people I suspect of involvement in the resistance. I will then watch in meetings to see how this disinformation seeps through the organization. This way I will unearth the hidden networks of spies and renegades. Then I will unmask them and hold them to account for their evil deeds.

I must stop writing now. I have a feeling I am being watched.

Monday, 19 November 2007

She's An Artist, She Don't Look Back

I quite enjoy listening to Avril Lavigne. Partly it's because of the way she spells her last name, but mostly it's because her songs are rollicking great fun to listen to. But that they aren't exactly poetry, I think we can all agree. For instance this morning on my way to work I was listening to her recent single Girlfriend. Somewhere between the "Hey hey"s and the "No way"s were the spectacularly wooden lines

She's like so whatever
You can do so much better

That made me daydream wistfully about Joan Baez, an altogether superior songwriter with a voice of liquid gold. If you've listened to Diamonds and Rust, and I mean really listened, you know what I'm talking about. And if you have not, then I invite you to linger on scene she described when she wrote

Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you're smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air

There is something very wistful about the image of a solo songstress. It represents what I'd like to believe the sixties were like. Under a greasy crust of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, I picture a dreamy nether-world of flower children living unfettered in peace. Noone conjures up the image better than Led Zeppelin in Going to California

Someone told me there's a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair
They say she plays guitar and cries, and sings

Appropriately enough, that song was inspired by Joni Mitchell, who was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the sixties. And who ironically missed the Woodstock festival because her dingbat manager thought it was more important for her to make a television appearance on The Dick Cavett Show than to "sit around in a field with 500 people". Don't ask me, I'd never heard of Dick Cavett either. As it turned out, Woodstock was attended not by 500, but by 500 thousand people. Joni Mitchell cried as she watched the Woodstock concert on television. And then in a further ironic twist, she listened to her boyfriend describe the event and went on to write Woodstock, the definitive song about the festival:

I'm going to join in a rock n roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try and get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Years later, she would inspire Sarah MacLachlan, who in turn influenced her fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette, who was an influence on yet another Canadian singer .... Avril Lavigne. So maybe there is hope yet.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

One Candle

The big day is here folks - today is the day that Living On A Jet Plane turns one. I hope someone other than me cares. The past couple of posts have drawn a depressingly low number of comments from readers. Specifically, none so far. Lurks, take the hint. Leave a mark, please.

Anyway, as you might imagine this is a date I had looked forward to with some anticipation. And of course I considered a bunch of different topics for this anniversary post. Such as how I started this blog with no clear idea of what it would turn into. Well, I still have no idea. I also considered writing about what the past year has been like, or what I have learned from the other bloggers who have slowly but steadily made an imprint on me. But then I thought, who gives a s#!t?

So instead of wasting everyone's time in some navel-gazing indulgence I decided it would be so much better to celebrate the utter pointlessness of Caitlin Myers' professional life. She's an economist(!) who has conducted extensive research to show that coffee shops in the Boston area discriminate against women by serving them more slowly than men. In fact, the scumbags make their female customers wait an extra 20 seconds!

That's right, folks. Savour the thought. In a world where it takes 20 seconds just to place your order, several minutes to be served, and possible another half an hour or so as you slowly sip your coffee down to the bottom of it's styrofoam haven, some people are robbed off 20 seconds of their lives by sexist baristas. I'm outraged, and I hope you are too. I bet the good people of Massachusetts will now organize a Boston Coffee Party where they will throw into the harbour assorted baristas, economists and short lattes.

Inevitably I started wondering about all the things that a person can do in 20 seconds. If you are Michael Johnson you can run 200 metres, set a world record, and have time left over for a quick wave to the crowd. But for the rest of us, more mundane options must suffice. Such as watching the YouTube video of Michael Johnson setting a world record. I should point out that one of the less-appreciated things that you can do in 20 seconds is throw a sheep at someone on Facebook.

In fact Facebook opens many 20-second object-throwing options. There's sheep-throwing, cow-throwing and now that Christmas is merely six weeks away there is also turkey-throwing. I hear that on St. Patrick's Day they plan to introduce dwarf-tossing.

But back to the subject of coffee, gender bias and irrelevant academics, let me honour Ms Myers with a sonnet (for no better reason than that earlier today I tried and failed to find a copy of Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate, a brilliant novel/poem written entirely in sonnets).

The Ballad Of The Slow Roast

I left home before the sky turned blue
To go to work to earn my bread
I had no time at home to brew
So at Starbucks I'll make a stop instead

It's cold and dreary this winter's day
I woke chirpy; that mood's gone away
But the smell of beans is cheering me up
Oh how I long to hold my own cup

Damn! The barista's torn my temper in tatters
By serving an ugly guy in horn-rimmed specs
In the same time as me, minus 20 secs
I must calm down, focus on what really matters

Like remembering to congratulate Mahog
I know! I'll leave a comment on his blog!

Could I possibly be less subtle? :-)

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

What In Blazes Is Periwinkle?

I really should stop taking vacations. They're too bloody exhausting. I've spent the past two days messing around the house from morning till late at night. And I'll be doing more of the same all the rest of the week. Taking a week off to redecorate my home no longer seems such a great idea.

Still, I must admit that I feel better for the work that I have put in so far. My house does not look particularly different from the way it was last week. But I do feel as if somehow order is slowly being established in my home. It is becoming my castle again. Soon I hope to get planning permission to build a moat.

But seriously, tired as I am, I'm quite enjoying myself. I've always thought of myself as being verbal rather than visual. (As you might have noticed, this is a blog rather than a cartoon strip). My own self-assessment was reinforced by my third-grade art teacher who hated me with a passion. Mind you, as the bearer of the rather unfortunate name Sweety Bhalla, she probably hated the whole world with equal passion. Nevertheless on the matter of my artistic skills we were unanimous: they did not exist.

So years later, when we moved to Singapore and I took charge of decorating our first apartment, I knew there was a serious risk that I would spawn something out of an Andy Warhol nightmare. Imagine my pleasure (and shock) when friends came over to the apartment and said it looked great. Imagine my consternation when they assumed I had nothing to do with it, that it had all been put together by the Significant Other. A pox on all sexist stereotypes!

In fact in some ways men are better equipped than women to be interior decorators. Take colour-matching, for instance. Most women can name at least seventeen shades of blue, and can probably visually identify another twenty-eight or so. So if they have to colour-coordinate furnishings, they are faced with a challenge that is so complex that if a man even tried to imagine it, he'd blow his circuits faster than you could say "Saturday night football". In contrast (pun intended!), colour coordination is much simpler for a man. All he needs to do is to find a light blue curtain to put in the same room as the dark blue sofa, and then it's off to the pub for a couple of beers.

There's a theory that women are better at colour recognition because of evolutionary reasons; in a hunting/gathering society the gathering was done mostly by women, and good colour recognition helped them differentiate fruits from foliage. Men, on the other hand, were hunters, so they did not need the same colour sense. What they did need was the ability to identify a moving object by shape, and track it in motion.

That is why, to this day, a man can spot an attractive girl in a crowd from across a football field. And from then on he can locate her to within a radius of three feet at all times. But ask him about the colour of her eyes and he will draw a blank even after he closes in to a distance of six inches.

Which is a very roundabout way for me to confess that the prospects for my current redecoration project are very dim indeed. Luckily I have a backup plan in case the result turns out to be a total disaster. I'll simply put up a painting of a dark blue sofa in front of a light blue curtain. Then I'll go down to the pub for a couple of beers.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

What a To-do About What To Do

Greetings, y'all. I've just released myself from a self-imposed Internet lockdown. For the past few days I had barred myself from blogging or from any but the most minimal life-support activity on Facebook. Why, you ask? Well it has to do with how I've spent the past week. Which is mostly by eating Oreos and not making a list.

A word on the Oreos: I hadn't eaten them since I was about eight years old, and I recently rediscovered their delights. It's brilliant how they make Oreos so that they are tasty and great fun to eat. I just love the whole process of completely separating the cream filling from the cookies on either side and eating them separately, slowly, a little at a time. I can write freely about this, since I've already outed myself as a food deviant in an earlier post.

Unfortunately while I was regressing into my childhood, I was neglecting to plan my project. Which is to redecorate my home. Which I need to start doing tomorrow. Because I have taken a week off from work for precisely that purpose. I finally got round to making my to-do list late on Sunday night. Now all I need to do is actually do everything on my list.

Of course once I had finally made my list I could lift my internet ban. Naturally, the very next thing I did was log on to Blogger. And through sheer serendipity I read about a blogger who collects to-do lists and has just released a book featuring 100 to-do lists and the stories behind them. I sampled a few. The oddest was one which featured (in this order):
Check linens, put clothes away, dry cleaning/laundry, bills, breakfast, dishes, rent make-up check, divorce, picnic basket.

Huh? It seems there is at least one person in this world who either
a) Can get divorced in the brief interval between doing the dishes and making up a picnic basket.
b) Thinks that making a picnic basket is a great way to get over a divorce.
c) Thinks that checking the linens is more urgent than getting a divorce
d) Is checking the linens to kill time and put off the divorce for just a little bit longer.
d) All of the above.

That one was the oddest, but my favorite list was one in which the last item was 'Become whole'. Become whole? Sure that is a worthwhile objective but it's hardly the sort of thing you'd put on a to-do list. Unless of course you are a Miss Universe contestant. In that case it would be only natural to want to: Check linens, end world hunger, become whole, establish world peace, and eat a salad for lunch.

No, I'm being unnecessarily rude to Miss Universe. After all, there are many others who might put "Become whole" on their list. Such as Jack (the one who fell down and who broke his crown), the three blind mice who had their tails cut off, and poor old Humpty Dumpty.

So now that I am feeling charitable again I think I will contribute one more list to the cyberverse:

My list of the top 5 things that could go wrong while I attempt to redecorate my home:
5. I run out of Oreos and all work has to be halted until I can restock.
4. My dog disapproves of the changes and decides to 'express herself'.
3. My TV gets busted. I know this has nothing to do with redecorating. It's just that I have a constant terror of my TV getting busted.
2. I am so engrossed in redecorating that I forget to become whole.

And the number one thing that could go wrong is...
1. I buy a spanking new drill only to find out days later that I know someone who has a drill with even more attachments than mine.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Me Hunt. And Renovate. Oog oog.

The writing is on the wall. The Significant Other is battening down the hatches. She knows that A Project is about to begin.

About every eighteen months, I feel an urge to start A Project. This is a natural hormonal surge that all males experience. The Significant Other is unfortunate in that the male she is married to sometimes succumbs to these biochemical spikes. This time around, the neurotransmitters in my brain (a.k.a. the voices in my head) are telling me that it is time to do up the house.

Not that there is anything wrong with our house as it stands today. As far as I can tell, it is unlikely to fall down around our ears. But it's been ages since I had to buy a new tool. I could really do with an excuse to buy a drill. A nice big heavy drill with a sombre Black & Decker logo running down the side. And about sixty-seven different kinds of attachments that could be interchangeably attached to the drill to make different kinds of holes.

(I really need to buy a drill. An orange drill. Don't ask me why it has to be orange. That's like asking why I paid an extra twenty dollars to get a red hard drive instead of a black one. Her name is Rowen, by the way. I haven't yet decided what to name the drill. If I had, that would be bad luck, wouldn't it?)

Not all the fun in A Project lies in buying new stuff; a lot of it is in getting rid of old stuff. I was quite pleased that once The Project had formally begun at about five this evening, within an hour I had gotten rid of my first piece of furniture. That's much better than how my last Project fared. That one had a rocky beginning. I tried to give away some of my stuff to the Salvation Army but they refused to take it! Apparently my furniture was not good enough to be given away for free to the underprivileged in Singapore, That really made me feel good about myself.

Coming back to the present, this time round things are looking good. I've gotten rid of my evil sofa. I have started planning all the holes that I am going to drill. And I have a bunch of holidays coming up in which I will alternate between pottering around the house with a measuring tape, and slobbering through the aisles of the nearest DIY store. All in all, The Project looks like heading to a glorious conclusion.

It must be said that the Significant Other is more cautious in her enthusiasm. So far she has deftly batted away hopeful suggestions such as "How about if we just put in a new kitchen in place of the old one?" or "Should we knock down a couple of walls?" Apparently these ideas do not fall within my mandate, which is to accomplish a minor makeover of the house while not doing anything that would be a permanent monument to my poor taste.

It promises to be an entertaining fortnight ahead.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Uncommon Valour

I hate the common cold. It is debilitating in an insidious, undignified way.

It does not allow you the grandeur that a sporting injury offers. For instance when I fractured my back last year, I could tell a great story. "It's a football injury", I explained to my friends, "I was going for a bicycle kick and mistimed my jump." Whereupon I could tell that they thought my stupidity was hilarious, but my bravery was admirable. (I'm fully recovered, by the way, and back to playing football; or I would be if it were not for a stubbed toe.)

If I came down with malaria or chicken pox people would talk about me with sympathy and concern. They would inquire after my well-being and send me commiserative emails. Some brave souls might even drop by and leave presents of chocolates. These would cheer me up even though I would not be allowed to eat them until after I had recovered.

But I have a cold. And if I try to tell people that I have a cold, they don't want to hear about it. It's a cold after all, and oh-so-common. It's not life-threatening. It's not pneumonia or even the flu. It's just a messy, snuffly, inconvenience.

No it's not! It's a disease!
It causes fever and malaise! I cannot breathe! I cannot sleep!
I should by rights be taking sick leave but through an act of sheer courage I have dragged myself to the office!

Not that anyone cares. Why, just this morning one of my colleagues looked at my morose face with concern and asked me if I was unwell. "Yes," I sniffed in reply, "I hab a gold". She looked at me blankly for a second, deciphered what I had said, and then turned away without a further word. Ah the injustice! I expected her to sympathise with me in a low, concerned tone. I thought she would tell me in her best maternal manner that I should go straight home and tuck myself into bed with a steaming mug of soup. Not a bit of it.

So instead of taking her unoffered advice to rest, I slaved through the day. I desultorily sipped hot water. I ate a sandwich for lunch and wondered what it tasted like. I ran through 2 packets of paper towels and frightened a young financial analyst by loudly clearing my nose in the bathroom (something about the acoustics creates quite a frightful echo).

Thank goodness for antibiotics. I am gleefully nuking the rhinoviruses (rhinovirii?) that have attempted to seize control of my nasal passages. I shall thwart their attempted coup and put them down ruthlessly. The ringleaders will be dealt with mercilessly and even their misguided followers will find no quarter. In this fight to the death the first victim will be mercy. Woe betide the uppity bug who thinks it can take me on.

For in the end I shall prevail, open-nosed, unwatery-eyed, and clear-voiced.


Monday, 22 October 2007

Not Yet In Utopia

Last Friday J.K. Rowling announced that Professor Dumbledore was gay. The media pounced on the news in delight. You could almost hear the breathy whispers of excitement at the offices of the Associated Press as they released the news to the world. In quivering voices they told us that the announcement in Carnegie Hall was greeted first with gasps and then with applause. The message was clear - a major fictional character is now gay, and this proves that that homosexuals are now fully integrated into society's mainstream.

Yeah, right.

Let's start with Ms. Rowling's outing of old Dumbledore. Isn't it worth remarking that she waited for him to be safely dead before leading him out of the closet? Dead men tell no tales and sell no books. So whether Dumbledore is straight, gay, or a tree-worshipping bisexual druid makes no difference to Ms. Rowling's royalty stream. Certainly not enough of a difference to be noticed by a woman who is already the wealthiest in Britain. So she need not hesitate to make a whimsical announcement that will amuse a bunch of adolescents and steal headlines in the entertainment section of the weekend newspapers. Yes, I am being cynical about the whole thing. That does not mean I am wrong.

But frankly, it does not matter. In fact, J.K. Rowling deserves credit for keeping Dumbledore interesting even as a corpse, and for doing that without taking any financial risks.

What I find rather daft is the reportage in the media. Do they really belileve that an open declaration of the sexual preferences of a dead supporting character in a fairy tale has anything to do with discrimination in real life? I bet there aren't too many gay men or women who see it that way.

Where is the openly gay head of state, or even the openly gay cabinet member in any country in the world? Where is the openly gay captain of industry? Heck, other than Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova there has not even been an openly gay sporting icon. As far as I can tell it is only in the advertising, fashion and entertainment industries that gays don't have to fear discrimination. Fully integrated into society's mainstream? Don't make me laugh!

Larry Craig is an American senator. He was recently arrested for "disorderly conduct" while allegedly making a pass at an undercover police officer in a toilet. Mr. Craig has been "accused" of being gay since the 1960s, and still feels compelled to declare emphatically "I am not gay". The question is: why should it matter? Why should "I think Larry is gay" be an accusation that, if true, would render him unfit for public office? We still live in a world where the suspicion of being homosexual can destroy a man's career. So if the dead Dumbledore's open homosexuality is sufficient sign of the new revolution then I am a jewel-encrusted parakeet.

One day the media will talk about individuals as individuals, not as type-cast members of a constituency. One day they will be able to report on a U.S. presidential election without ever feeling the need to mention that Senator Obama is bla- (I beg your pardon) African American, or that Senator Clinton is female. One day they will tell us about the ways in which French President Sarkozy's principles were moulded by his mother, instead of telling us that his mother came from a Jewish background.

in the meantime I'll keep reading Harry Potter as a work of fiction rather than as wishful social allegory.

Group Hug!

Wooohaaaa! Living On A Jet Plane got it's first award ever. I could not be more chuffed.

Thanks, Rayshma! It's incredibly satisfying when another writer, whom you enjoy reading, turns around and gives you a pat on the back :-)

Once I got over my initial burst of satisfaction at the award, I got curious about it. I remembered reading a recent post from Y in which she was a bit tentative about being called a schmoozer. And then I came across one from the MadMomma after she got the same award, and which ended with her deciding to delete her blogroll.

With a little help from Google I traced the origin of the Power-of-Schmooze award to Miguel. He's an artist/cartoonist/blogger who lives in New York state. He created the award to recognize bloggers who got noticed, built a reputation, and made new friends.

So Rayshma, by giving me this award, by telling me that some of the words I wrote have made you think, you've paid me an incredible compliment. If that's what schmoozing is about, den gimme some more o' dat hot soup, mama.

So now I'm going to unhesitatingly grab my award with both hands. And after holding on to it briefly I'll pass it on to a couple of people whose writing always brightens up my day.

First up, here's one for you, Unpredictable. I love the way you write straight from the heart.

And take a bow, Punkster. You're a writer of rare intensity, honesty and courage. A lesser person could not have confronted the blog-trolls with your aplomb.

Cheers to the both of you, and keep doing what you do so well!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Slight Return

Much like a poltergeist, I'm baaack!

It's been two and a half weeks since my last post, but somehow it feels like it's been much longer than that. In case you're wondering (yes I know, no one actually asked), I spent most of that time in India. It was a good trip. In fact it was a great trip.

I got to go out into villages in India for the first time in over ten years. It was quite amazing how they have changed. And how they have not. There are cellphones all around now, and more of the buildings are made of brick and plaster. But then the sun starts to drift down to the horizon. The cowherds stroll back home with their animals after a day's grazing. You stand still while the evening breeze drifts past you, redolent with dried cowdung. It's a warm, dusty evening in early October. The young men in the village know that they live in a new world. But as far as the cows can tell, this is how it's always been. I think they are both right.

I also finally got to wipe out the stigma of having lived in Delhi for twenty years without seeing the Taj Mahal. I can't help but state the obvious: it is gorgeous. What really amazed me was that no matter what angle you look at it from, it still looks absolutely symmetrical. When I got up close, I was quite surprised to see how unadorned the Taj was. But I guess that when the structure itself is so perfect, it would be utterly pointless to embellish it any further. When the structure is so perfect, any adornment would only be an imperfection.

If the Taj was the highlight, the lowlight was definitely the sight of men dancing with each other in nightclubs in Delhi and Bombay. And when I say dancing, I really mean grinding. I admit that when I still lived in India I would have not considered it odd to see guys getting up-close and personal on the dance floor. But I'm not used to the sight anymore and now it curls my toes when I see a Balwinder and a Sanjeet getting it on under the strobe lights. I am deeply thankful that when I was growing up I was way too awkward to even consider dancing in public, otherwise I would have been one of them. Excuse me while I throw up into a flowerpot.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Custer or Montgomery - Which Will I Be?

There are two kinds of writer’s block. The first is where you want to write but you have nothing to say. You sit at the keyboard, you stare at the screen, and you pray for inspiration. The longer you wait, the more miserable you feel about being an uninteresting inarticulate piece of pond life.

The second kind is worse.

That’s when you do have something to say, but you can’t say it because you’re not sure what it is. I’ve spent all day sensing that there is something lurking under the surface of my conscious thought. Like dust-motes drifting in a beam of sunlight, I can sense its form but I can’t see the structure that will solidify it. It is the precursor of an idea but I have no idea what it is. So as an experiment I am just going to start writing, hoping that the tappity-tap of my fingertips on the computer keys will tease it into existence.

I think it might have something to do with the last few days at work. I’ve felt a sense of tiredness. Not inside me but around me, like the smell of stale cigarettes. Dull eyes. Tired faces.

I suppose I noticed it more because lately I’ve been feeling the opposite. The Significant Other recently remarked that I’ve been unusually energetic about work. And it’s true. Some time ago I had a boss who had the intriguing idea that work was a game that it’s impossible to lose. I think I am beginning to understand now what she meant.

But most of the faces I looked at last week belonged to people who did not think they were in a game. And if they did, they were not enjoying it. Ironically, some of them were colleagues with whom I spent the last two days talking about how to get the best from the people who report to them. My fellow-managers' minds were fully engaged but I’m not certain about their energy. Their managers should be worried.

I’m going to make a comparision now. It will sound melodramatic but I'm making it anyway because I think it fits. In war, a commander has an undeclared compact with his troops. He identifies objectives worth securing. His troops trust his judgment and do their best to secure those objectives. But if the troops believe that their commander is asking them to fight for objectives that are not worth fighting for, their morale breaks down and turns into cynicism. They stop fighting and they start losing. Or they simply desert.

I don’t work in the army and the products my company deals in are clearly not a matter of life and death. Nor do my colleagues and I risk our lives selling them. But we do spend massive amounts of our time and energy at work. We need to know that when our managers ask us for that time and energy, it is for a legitimate purpose. Right now, some of us have managers who don't do that.

Likewise, the people who report to us need to be able to trust us to do the same with them. After all, even though we’re not asking for their lives, we are asking for a part of their life. And they know it.

It’s sobering to consider that this is what my team expects me to do for them. It’s intimidating to think of what would happen if I got it wrong. (And what will they think of me if I do?) But it is also really cool. Because if I can master the art of only asking them to sweat the stuff that is really worth sweating, then I can make it worth their while. That, I think, is a responsibility worth having.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Next Time I'll Go For The Potatoes

What do you do if you just can't sleep?

I spent a couple of hours trawling through the blogosphere. I invested quality time on facebook. I typed random words into the Google search box and then hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button. (And I discovered that Ahuda is a Hebrew name for a girl and it means "dearly loved".) How's that for desperation?

It must have been all the green vegetables I ate for dinner that are $@&#%ing with my head right now. A boy's got to be careful about getting too many vitamins in a single meal. Right now I've got a gazillion little healthy molecules zipping through my arteries and clanging into my brain receptors. They're making such a din that my mind is unable to zone out.

I've poured myself several very small helpings of juice to break the monotony. Oops. Idiot! More juice = more vitamins. What was I thinking?

Sigh. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. I'm so looking forward to the seven hours of meetings on my calendar.

I'll need to find a way to impersonate someone who is awake. Should I do that by being extra quiet and thoughtful, or by being unusually vocal? Maybe I'll go through the day as a dark, brooding presence. Sort of like Darth Vader but without all the funky S&M gear. I wonder if I can find a pretext to say to someone in the office "I am your father"? On second thoughts, maybe I'd better not. I wouldn't want the stormtroopers from HR to lock me up in one of their ionic phase-shift prisons.

It's three in the morning and time for desperate measures. I'm going to read an essay by Tolstoy titled What to do? Thoughts evoked by the census of Moscow...

... Gah! It's excruciating! Within the first page the protagonist has asked five policemen five times whether it is truly illegal to be a beggar in Moscow. (Yes, it truly is.) I'd rather be up all night than try to put myself to sleep by reading this dreary, repetitive gunk. Even if I do fall asleep I'll only have nightmares of old men in long overcoats chasing policemen and pleading for beggars' rights.

All right, I give up. I shall now proceed to toss and turn restlessly in bed until I count sheep number 2,468 and finally fall asleep. Just in time for the alarm clock to sound off the start of another day.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Encounters In Space And Time

Yesterday was a temple day for me. I spent the morning at Borobodur, a ninth-century Budddhist complex. It's built on a hill in layers. As you walk through the corridors in each layer, you walk among carved panels that symbolize spiritual growth. As you go up, you pass through stages of increasing virtue, then degrees of enlightenment.

I know this because I was lucky enough to have a delightful guide to lead me through my symbolic spiritual evolution. Atin walked me around the base and showed me four panels that depicted different sins. She told me that explorers had found that at that level there were more panels, covered with stones. Those coverings still remain. That's partly to protect them from the elements. And it's partly to protect us from what they show. "I tell you frankly, some of them are really pornographic!" she told me in a voice that rang with amazement and a hint of a guilty titter.

As she led me on up I was reminded of how much I love Buddhist monuments. I'm not quite sure why that is. It is certainly not because I am religious. But every time I visit a Buddhist temple or stupa I feel ... nice. I can't think of any other way to put it. I just feel nice.

The feeling stayed with me right through the day. Later in the afternoon I went to Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex that was also built in the ninth century. It's a lovely sprawling expanse of grassy meadow with the remains of temples scattered across it.

Near one of them two boys were in a tree, trying to finesse fruit from one of the upper branches with a stick. A couple of hundred yards away a shepherd had decided to bring his flock of sheep for their afternoon graze. I wandered between temples in various degrees of decay and restoration.

At some point an airplane flew past, the passengers undoubtedly oblivious that thousands of feet below them there were stone edifices that had stood patiently for a millenium and more.

Strewn all around were endless mounds of stone blocks, waiting to be placed back where they belonged. As I circled around this enormous 3-D jigsaw puzzle I ran across a deer. He was busy rubbing his antlers against a tree. He tolerated me as I edged nearer and nearer. He let me get to within ten feet as he concentrated on shredding the bark of the tree. Even the staccato clatter of my camera shutter did not throw him off.

Eventually he tired of the attention and sauntered away, with thin strips of bark dangling from his antlers.

So I carried on prowling the grounds. Finally, after maniacally taking maybe thirty photographs in ten minutes (I was looking for the perfect sunset picture) I decided to call it a day. By then the only people left in the grounds were me and about a dozen French tourists. Waiting for us outside the gate was a lone Indonesian man. He had straggly long hair tied in a pony tail, a gaunt face, and the most improbably white teeth. He was seated comfortably on the ground, cradling a guitar.

I took a final picture of him as he sang Hotel California in a strong Javanese accent.

Later that night, as I sat looking at all the pictures I had taken during the day, I had an image of worlds reaching out, snaking tendrils across time and space, gently brushing past each other and then moving on.

Monday, 17 September 2007

All Calm On The Eastern Front

I'm into the first day of my holiday. I'm calling this the first day as the few hours I spent in Jakarta yesterday do not quite count as part of the holiday in my mind.

Most of what I have done so far is to sit languidly in a train.

It was eerie how much it felt like a train ride in India. On the other side of a blurry window I could see long stretches of fields occupying the spaces between longer stretches of dry forested land. Every now and then there was a small village for punctuation. The houses seemed to huddle for shade under densely planted leafy trees.

I expected the countryside to have the dense green rain-soaked look that I've been used to in Malaysia and Thailand. But I guess it makes a difference that, as my taxi-driver in Jakarta told me, it has not rained much for the past couple of months.

There was hardly anyone to be seen in either field or village. That may be because Ramadan has begun. I suppose people are trying to stay indoors during the day as a way of getting through the month of fasting ahead. Of course there were a few children playing outside, impervious to the blazing sun as only children seem to be.

It was wonderfully relaxing to sit back all day and let my attention wander lazily between the paperback in my lap and the countryside outside. I'm glad I took the train.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Toothbrush In My Bag, Butterflies In My Stomach

Tomorrow I'm off for a vacation like none I've had before. I'm travelling alone. No friends, no family, noone. Just me, a camera and my iPod. I get an odd feeling thinking about it.

Part of what I'm feeling is anticipation. After all, I'm going to Borobodur which is one of the places on my "must set foot in before I die" list. I'm particularly looking forward to the ten-hour train ride from Jakarta, since I have not been on a train in years (and never before in Indonesia). It's a daytime train, so I can stare out the window for hours with music tinkling out of my earphones.

I'm also a bit nervous. What if I get bored silly? What if I absolutely hate not having a companion to exchange notes with, to watch over my bag while I'm in the loo, to split dessert with because we both ate too much at dinner and to generally shoot the breeze with? What if it turns out that I am social animal after all? What if I want to come back home the day after I leave but I can't because there are no seats available on any flight except the one I am already booked on but that leaves from a different city four days later?

And I'm feeling a bit guilty. Because the companion who will not be with me, who I wish could have been with me, will be at home.

But I do still really really want to go to Borobodur. And I do still really really want to find out what happens in my head when I am alone in another country with noone I know to talk to for four days but myself. So I'm going to go and I'm going to have a great time. And when it's done I'm going to be delighted to be back home. And just a little bit relieved that it turned out all right after all.

In the meantime...I'm tagging!

Yes, that means Y, Shrenik, Rayshma in particular, and anyone else who feels like a bit of daydreaming, if you had to go for a solo vacation, where would you go?

Sunday, 9 September 2007

I'm Not Proud Of It. Well, Maybe Just A Little

After a couple of weeks away from my blog, I lazily checked for comments. There was one from Y, telling me that I am it. It? As in the terrifying clown from the Stephen King novel? A little investigation revealed the even more sinister truth - I had been tagged to spill the beans on my compulsive behaviors.

So I started making a mental list. But I quickly realized that although I am as kooky as the next person (unless the next person happens to be sane), the one bit of kookiness that knocks the kook out everything else is my technique for eating Ferrero Rocher.

I am convinced that there is only one acceptable way to eat Ferreros. You have to pop the whole thing in your mouth. And then wait. For the first few seconds nothing happens. Or rather, the only thing that happens is that you feel rather silly about having an oversized object stuffed into your gob. That is why I prefer to eat Ferreros in private.

Just as you are beginning to think that you should probably bite down, you realize that the outermost layer has started to melt. As it does so, the bits of nuts that are impregnated into that outer layer start coming loose. By this time your mouth is watering thanks to the intense stimulation created by taste and texture. You have an incredible urge to crunch the nuts. Desist. In just a little while the entire outer layer will have melted. As a result the chocolate will have shrunk to the point where you can in fact chew the nutty bits while leaving the chocolate ball intact.

No we get to the really fun part. We have now reached the biscuity layer. Time to bite in, you think, but no. Be patient and ye shall reap even more rich rewards. Because eventually the biscuit will simply dissolve with shocking suddenness, releasing the inner chocolate core. By this time you have probably closed your eyes so that your surroundings do not distract you while you let your tongue drift through a little sea of chocolate.

And then, as the chocolate dissipates, you reach the final prize, the innermost central nut. The treasure inside the sanctum sanctorum. The heart of the Ferrero Rocher.

NOW! Bite down without mercy! Crush that nut!

And finally, lean back, open your eyes, and let out a little sigh.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Winds Of Change

Yesterday I went to watch the opening night performances at WOMAD Singapore. The Mahotella Queens were great. It was delightful to watch three young ladies in their early sixties sing and twirl with joyous abandon. Shiela Chandra pulled a sickie, citing a sore throat as the reason for her non-appearance. Shooglenifty did a lively turn with a set of Scottish folk rock. But the band I had really come to watch was the Asian Dub Foundation.

ADF is a British band formed of immigrants, mostly from the Indian sub-continent. They've been on the fringes of the mainstream for several years now. They've got a unique mix of hard rhythms that are almost - but not quite - drum 'n' bass, plenty of loops and samples of Indian rhythms, layers of reggae, and politically aware lyrics. Last night they totally lived up to my expectations. They were loud and fast and forthright and they were bloody good fun to dance to.

But the highlight of the set actually came in an interlude between songs. Guitarist Chandrasonic (he's the guy in the orange t-shirt on the right) had the microphone and commented that "They say that India is going to be the next superpower". There were lusty cheers from sections of the crowd, presumably those sections that had Indians in them. Chandrasonic quelled them with a dirty look and the observation that "that's not necessarily something to be proud of. No more superpowers," he went on to suggest as the chastened cheerers quitened down, "equal powers". The rest of the band took up the chant "Equal powers, equal powers" and launched into their next song, sending the crowd into another bout of frenzied heel-thumping on the lawns of Fort Canning Green.

And so it went for another hour or so. But the comment that being a superpower isn't all it's cracked up to be stayed in my head for much longer.

The rise of India has been cover-page material in all sorts of magazines for a few years now. It is an obvious matter of pride for many Indians. The conspicuous exception are the Indian communist party who presumably still think India's golden age was the 1960s when we were friends with the Soviet Union and everyone was slightly hungry.

I'm beginning to realize that it is possible to think the commies are idiots, to be deeply appreciative of the way that a healthy economy has improved the lives of millions, and still be disturbed by the social consequences of that economic growth. In the course of my work I've had conversations with many people in India over the past year. I'm struck by how materialistic people suddenly seem to have become. In conversation after conversation I hear a repetitive litany: I want to become rich fast because everyone else is getting rich fast and I don't want to be the loser who got left behind. I've asked people about their hopes and dreams and all they can speak about is the money they will make and the homes and cars they will by with it. And I have had as much as I can take of people trading stories of the killing they've made on the real estate market.

I remember when I was growing up in Delhi in the nineties. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and America was now the only superpower. We knew that China was progressing in giant leaps while the Indian economy remained shackled. We used to take grim comfort by telling ourselves that Americans were rich but unhappy. We were acutely aware of the breakdown of the American family, of high divorce rates and other social ills.

Well, lately I've noticed a disturbing increase in the number of divorces among the Indians that I know. I now count a couple of dozen divorcees among family, friends and colleagues. All of their marriages have broken in the past ten years. Every single couple was a dual income couple - that social emblem of a modern, growing economy. I think it is impossible to escape the conclusion that India is exchanging old ills for new ones.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for economic development. Far better to be rich and unhappy than to be poor and miserable. As Ogden Nash pointed out,
Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won't buy, but it's very funny
Have you ever tried to buy them without money?

Ironically he wrote that bit of doggerel back in 1933, when the United States was about to begin a period of economic growth and social change similar to that in India today.

I'm aware that it may seem unpatriotic of me to have misgivings about the changes in India. I guess I am a bit sceptical about patriotism. I think it is admirable to be proud of where you came from, but dangerous to be arrogant about it. And I am not proud of the arrogance I am beginning to see among my fellow Indians.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


At this moment I am overflowing with snug satisfaction. I'm in Bangkok, my absolute favorite city in the whole world to visit. I'm sitting at a roadside beer garden on Surawong Road. I'm watching the world roll by as I sip on San Mig Light, my absolute favorite beer in the world. And I've just used my cell phone to post this on my blog. Life is good :-)

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Grey Skies, Dark Days

Pour your misery down on me
I'm only happy when it rains

(lyrics from "Only Happy When It Rains" by Garbage)

It's been raining for the past couple of days and I could not be happier. There is such a thing as too many sunny days. I like the steady patter of raindrops hitting the ground. I like to look out of the window and see only a solitary person hurrying back towards shelter. I like the sound of cars sloshing through puddles.

I like watching my dog watch the rain pour down. She's lying on her side right now, with one paw resting gently on the sill of the giant window in my room. It's a spot she loves. There's a sheer curtain that gently nudges her head, stirred by the breeeze from a fan. I think she enjoys the way that feels.

I like going to the refrigerator every couple of hours and helping myself to a single forkful of mango sorbet. I like letting it melt in my mouth.

I like agonizing over which CD to play. I love the old-fashioned joy of having to place a physical disc in a machine so that I can listen to music. I love the irony of describing a CD as old-fashioned. It's only been a couple of years since I finally threw out all my cassette tapes after my last cassette player broke. I had bought some of them when I was still in school and had to save up pocket money for weeks so that I could buy one more album. It was a sad day and I remember it well. The sun was blazing down on my back as I carried the box of tapes out of my apartment.

I like thinking about whether I should make myself some coffee. I can already smell the aroma and feel the weight of the mug in my hand. No, I think I will just stare unseeingly at the window and focus on hearing every note and every beat of the Dream Theater CD that I finally decided to put on.

I'm really happy when it rains.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

As A Boy, He Dreamed Of Becoming An Astronaut

Last night I was at a Koffee With Karan viewing party. As deviant as that behaviour is, it is not the subject of this post. That dubious honour belongs to a person I have never met, and a profession I had not heard of prior to this party.

The individual in question (let's call him Zoltan) is an art investment consultant. He caters to the nouveau riche who are also nouveau purchasers of art. Except that to them it's not art, it's an asset class to diversify into. And Zoltan helps them to make those investments. So far, so good. Artists get access to a market of buyers, the buyers get a diversified portfolio, Zoltan makes a commission, everyone is happy.

Except that we forgot about the art. You see, Zoltan's clients don't particularly want to display the art they're buying. They only care about whether the paintings they buy appreciate in value. They don't actually care to appreciate the paintings themselves. In fact they don't even need to see them, because Zoltan takes care of warehousing them. That's right, he warehouses them.

Somewhere along the way the entire concept of art got perverted. The way I see it, art is all about expression. Anything that is expressed can be considered art. Even this blog is art, albeit of a rather pedestrian standard. Conversely, anything that is not expressed is not art. And Zoltan, by arranging for people to buy paintings and stick them in a lightless warehouse, has become a middleman facilitating the temporary destruction of art.

Maybe I'm overreacting but the whole business seems twisted. What I find most disturbing is that even the artists themselves might prefer things this way. After all, the alternative is hardly better. The penniless artist's life is a great literary subject, but it's not a life anyone would aspire to. At least with Zoltan's help the artist can make a living from art and therefore create more. And there is still hope that when Zoltan liquidates his clients' assets, he will sell them to someone who believes that the proper place for a painting is a wall where people can admire it.

Yes, I can imagine this happy ending. That makes me feel a little better. But I remain convinced of one thing: Zoltan's profession may be a necessary one, but it is not admirable.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Our World Needs A Hero

And that hero is Spiderpig!

Born on a farm in the south of France, pig was an ordinary little porker. In fact some would say he was less than ordinary. He was too skinny to make it to any self-respecting roast, and too stringy for the breakfast plate. As Jethro Tull might have put it, he was too old to pork and too young to fry.

Then one day, as he was rooting around for truffles, he was bitten by a radioactive spider. He thought nothing of it at the time. But weeks later he was chased by a dog and without thinking about it he shimmied up a tree, knocked over a stranded cat (who fell on top of a surprised fireman) and trod over a sparrow who was still abed in its nest. At that point pig knew something out of the ordinary had happened.

His best friend was a tailor bird who obligingly stitched him a costume. Pig wore it as he explored his new powers. He loved being able to climb up farmhouse walls and jump down chimney chutes into the living room fireplaces of his neighbours. (Luckily it was summer and the fires were unlit, or his dressage would have turned into sausage). He enjoyed vaulting from tree to tree, suspended from a nearly invisible silken thread while he beat a tattoo on his chest in enthusiastic imitation of Tarzan.

Most of all he loved to kiss Kirsten Dunst as she hung upside down in the rain.

But one day his idyllic existence was shattered and he was adopted by Homer Simpson.

"Doh" said Homer.
"A deer," said Spiderpig, "a female deer".
But Homer was not to be fooled - he knew a pig when he saw one.

Homer and Spiderpig traveled back across the Atlantic to Springfield (Illinois), home of apple pie, a non-descript baseball team, and a circus featuring the world's prettiest bearded woman. Actually she was a gorilla, but the circus manager wasn't about to tell that to anyone, and the gorilla could not speak. So none of the patrons realized they were being duped. They thought they had paid $3 to throw yellow missiles at a hot and hairy chick. In fact they were merely feeding the monkey with bananas.

However Spiderpig had first-hand knowledge of the animal kingdom. He knew Uwaka (as the bearded lady gorilla was called) was a damsel in distress. And he was determined to be her knight in shining armor. Or pig in tights. Or strange half-superhero/half-farmyard-animal. Or something.

Anyway, he decided that he had to rescue Uwaka and to that end he devised a fiendish plot. He would buy a ticket to the circus, break into Uwaka's tent, gnaw through her chains, and shoot his way out with a shotgun that he had bought from Walmart. That night he went to bed early. He was full of anticipation and wanted to be up early the next day so that he'd be well-prepared to effect Ewaka's rescue.

At about midnight Homer got hungry and turned Spiderpig into a delicious spam-and-baloney sandwich.

"Doh" said Homer.
"A deer," said his wife Marge, "a female deer".
"No," replied Homer, "that was Spiderpig. I miss that cute little pig already. He was tasty."

Spiderpig's epitaph read: with great power comes great responsibility and a splash of mayonnaise.

Homer's would read: with great hunger comes a triple-decker sandwich.

Uwaka still eats $3-bananas and waits to be rescued.

The End

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Why Rocket Scientists Are Bad At Sports

We live in a world where top sportsmen are constantly watched by the media. Every word they speak is reported. And we've learnt from experience not to expect those words to be clever. After all, it wasn't long ago that David Pleat explained that "A game is not won until it is lost". And Stuart Pearce took his joint out of his mouth long enough to tell the world that he could "see the carrot at the end of the tunnel". Must have been a genetically engineered giant carrot. Or a really small tunnel.

So I guess I should not have been surprised by Ivica Osim. He coaches the Japanese football team but is himself Bosnian. And yesterday he recited an old Bosnian proverb: "It is pointless looking for unborn rabbits in the forest".

I think this is inspiring. I think we should all create proverbs to make our lives richer. For instance tomorrow if my boss asks me whether I have prepared stuff for an upcoming management meeting, perhaps I will say to him "Even the space monkey never eats a Martian banana". Or perhaps I'll have the wisdom to just nod. After all, as the ancient Sudanese saying goes, "A camel in the hand is worth two in the bush, but you'll never be able to hold it anyway so all three camels are worthless in the end."

You can really go a long way with this proverb thing. Whole movies have been made that were entirely proverbs. Think of The Empire Strikes Back. It's basically two hours of Yoda reciting obscure Jedi proverbs with awkward syntax, alternating with Luke Skywalker whining about how he's really bored and can he go rescue his friends from Darth Vader now please? Inevitably, lose his arm to Vader, Luke does, for searching in the forest for unborn rabbits is he.

Alternatively, you could string together a bunch of proverbs and write a book of haiku. Let's see...

The forest listens
Rabbits roam; but not yet seen
Unborn and unfound

That sounds almost on the verge of being profound. Methinks there is a zen master in the making here. Or as they say in Japan: "The cow that barks must really be a dog, but only if it also chases cars."

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

You Can Check Out But You Can Never Leave

Such sweet irony! Let me tell you a story:

Friend of mine gets an MBA degree and embarks on a career in marketing. Disillusioned by the superficiality (or perhaps bored by the futility) of the profession, he resigns and decides to go back to school. After a few years of being a professional student in LA, he finally gets himself a PhD in communications. His PhD thesis relates to the use of technology for empowering slum children with education. He then accepts a teaching job in Singapore and....

...his first course assignment is to teach a course in branding!

Thus we come round in a full circle. I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes you just cannot escape your destiny. Poor Indra is probably cringing at the idea that his destiny lies in marketing. I'll admit to enjoying his discomfiture. But I enjoyed it largely because I have also admired his conviction in walking away from the rat race at a time when things seemed to be quite rosy for him professionally.

Now that he is a professor, he has threatened to invite me to be a guest lecturer in his class. I hope he follows through on that threat.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Swing Low, Swing High

Ah, the joys of self-inflicted mood swings.

I'd been through this phase where I read depressing books and saw depressing movies and steadily worked my way to "ready-to-slit-wrists" status. Even more worrying, I started turning this blog into a stream of reviews for morbid entertainment. Now, I still haven't decided what this blog is for (not that I really need to), but I'm pretty sure that inside me there is not a little reviewer banging his fists on a glass cage and screaming soundlessly to get out.

Obviously it was time to do something. Step one was to dose myself with some over-the-top Hollywood kitsch. That worked a treat. Next, some televised football. I hadn't been able to bring myself to watch a game since Liverpool lost the Champions League final back in May. So after that long hiatus, it was a real treat to watch Argentina spank Peru.

As a long-time Argentina fan, I find it galling that Brazil get the tag as the team that plays beautiful football. Frankly they don't always deserve it. Frankly, it's often Argentina that plays the more attractive football. Frankly, I am so looking forward to Monday morning, when I expect to watch Argentina play (and beat) Brazil in the Copa America final.

But all that is still in the future. Back to today and me bashing at the computer with endorphins fizzing through my veins. Why, you ask? Because I went for a run! Well, alright, it wasn't a run so much as a gentle jog. And the endorphins aren't fizzing, they're really gurgling gently. But after a month of physical inactivity, this was just the pick-me-up I needed. Once again I can feel self-righteous, as behooves those who 'take care of themselves'.

I feel an ice-cream urge coming on...

Thursday, 5 July 2007


I had a turbulent flight to Sydney, but not because of the weather. It was because of the in-flight movies.

The first one I watched was Amazing Grace. This is the story of how William Wilberforce got Britain out of the slave trade. It’s a wonderfully uplifting story in the end, but along the way it took me through the most agonizing emotional twists and turns. It’s the sort of story that leaves you feeling tight-chested at the sheer mercantile callousness of people. Bewildered by their ability to truly believe that they have good intentions and yet act like villains. Stunned by the incredible changes that a handful of very angry people can bring about in a society. It gives me no shame to admit that several times in the movie I was misty-eyed. Sometimes it was because the story was deeply upsetting. Sometimes because it was profoundly inspiring.

(It also left me thinking very hard about my job. It forced me to consider how much of my time and energy helps other people. I’m thankful that plenty of it genuinely does. But there is no denying that some of it is worn away by friction in the corporate machine. Good thing that on the balance I came out feeling positive.)

So then, feeling all uplifted and cleansed inside, I made the profound error of watching Blood Diamond. Now that is an absolutely brilliant movie. As a story it is every bit as good as Amazing Grace, and as cinema it is immeasurably better. But it’s depressing! Several weeks ago I wrote about the appalling state of affairs in Zimbabwe, the country formerly known as Rhodesia back in the days of apartheid. Well, in Blood Diamond I watched a Rhodesian soldier / mercenary / diamond-smuggler /arms-dealer set out to enrich himself with systematic, cynical, callousness.

At the end of two and a half hours of carnage, cruelty and greed, the movie’s catch-phrase was echoing in my head: "T.I.A. – This is Africa". By the time I landed at Kingsford-Smith, all the good work done to me by the first movie had been comprehensively undone by the second. As I headed morosely to my hotel on a dark and wintry evening, I no longer felt cleansed. I felt purged.

You have to wonder, what is it about Africa that’s led to its dismal history and depressing present? After all, it should have a lot going for it. It’s where mankind originated. Civilization had developed five thousand years ago in Egypt. It is in many ways a rich continent. On the face of it, there is no reason why the same positive winds of change that are sweeping across most of Asia should not also be blowing across Africa. And yet its nickname, the Dark Continent, is still sadly apt.

Many first world governments blame bad governance by African leaders, and there is certainly plenty of that going around. And in Guns, Germs and Steel, writer Jared Diamond offers a theory based on the climate and vegetation prevalent a few thousand years ago. His theory is very simple, which also makes it very convincing. In fact there's a multitude of convincing theories. But in the face of stories about slavery and conflict diamonds, any theory seems inadequate.

In the face of these stories all you can do is feel woeful about the human race and wonder why it is okay to just say

“T.I.A. – This is Africa”

Saturday, 30 June 2007

When The Left Brain Doesn't Know What The Right Brain Is Doing

I just finished reading a very disturbing book. A Scanner Darkly is set in the near future but it's not really a science fiction novel.

What it is, is a dark and surreal chronicle of a drug user's descent into a permanent state of psychosis. Bob Arctor is an undercover policeman investigating the traffic in an illegal drug called Substance D. To get information he poses as a dealer himself, and ends up being a user. Since Substance D is lovingly nicknamed Slow Death by its users, that's an ominuous situation.

What follows is a remorseless progression into brain function decay. One of the effects of D is that it hampers cooperation between the brain's hemispheres. The result is paranoia, delusion, hallucinatory episodes, amnesia and, ultimately, loss of self-awareness. If that sounds scary, reading the actual book is frankly terrifying. The writer, Philip K. Dick, has drawn on his own experiences as a drug user in the early 1970s. As he recounts in his poignant notes at the end of the book, many of his friends and fellow drug users either died or suffered permanent damage as a result of their habits.

But there is more to the book than a depressing description of a guy going downhill fast. The book really shines in the fleeting episodes where the world of the addicts collides with that of the 'straights'. The straights are portrayed as being every bit as irrational as the addicts and have equally perverted perceptions of what is real. In one memorable incident a straight girl asks Bob to help her kill a dangerous-looking insect. When Bob explains that it is harmless, she replies (without any intent to be ironic) "If I knew it was that harmless, I would have killed it myself".

In the end, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. It's unpleasant but hard to tear away from. It frequently reminds you that bad things happen. It suggests that good things are desirable precisely because they are fleeting. It offers no morals, promises no happy endings.

It's a brilliant book, but one that's only safe to read if you're in a good mood.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

So Much To See. So Little Time.

I saw the coolest thing on A Bend in the Lane. It was a map that shows you all the countries that you've been to. As someone who loves vacation travel (as opposed to the business kind), I got really excited. I wanted to make my own map, and gloat over all the wonderful places I'd been to.

Boy, was I disappointed.

create your own visited countries map

In case you're wondering, the white swathe that covers most of the map is all the places that I have not yet been to. I just look at that gigantuan expanse of unexplored lands and I think to myself "Can I possibly hope to see more than a fraction of all there is to see in the world?"

Thankfully I am pathologically incapable of staying depressed for long, so I've decided to cheer myself up by recalling some of the brilliant travel experiences that I have had. Let's see...

There was the bar in Kobe where I got to play with a sewing machine and feed live penguins.

There was the wonderful old man in a train in Japan who saw me reading a book. He complimented me on my English skills. Speaking in flawless English himself, he apologized for his own poor command of the language and announced that he had decided to give up his attempt to master English. After sixty years of trying.

There were the Scotsmen who brightened up and became my new best friends just because I said Scotland was so much nicer than England.

There was Stonehenge, so much smaller than I had expected, so much more enigmatic than I had imagined.

There was Angkor Vat, and Ta Phrom, and the Bayon, and all the other wonderful, mysterious, beautiful, peaceful and utterly unforgettable temples in Cambodia.

There was the stranger I met in Hong Kong who treated me to the most amazing recitation of Shakespeare and Tolkien.

There was Trinidad, home of Calypso, steel bands, and one heck of a Carnival.

There was...

Hmm. I feel much better already. There's still many miles to go, many lands to see, many things to do, many moments to sieze. But right now I can snuggle back in my sofa, enjoy the feel of home, and know that I've not done too badly so far.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

I'm The One Who Looks Like Ketchup

In response to vox populi, I've posted these pictures to show what's become of me after my latest adventure with hair color.

This has been quite the week for me to mess about with pictures. I'd returned from my New Zealand vacation back in March with about a thousand photographs. It's taken the better part of the subsequent three months to get rid of the trash and touch up the really nice ones. I finally got through the whole lot and last night I uploaded a selection of the very best images on to Picasa.

In case you're interested, have a look at my New Zealand vacation pictures. (I recommend watching as a slideshow.) Some of them are so amazing I can hardly believe that it was RJ and I who took them.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Hello, Bluey

One of my earliest memories is also one of my most unpleasant ones. I was two years old and I was getting my hair cut for the first time. More precisely, and in accordance with tradition, I was getting my hair shaved. While I bawled inconsolably, a brutish barber took a razor to my locks (I might add that they were rich, curly, shoulder-length locks). Ever since then I've taken a very dubious view of haircuts. In fact, that first experience was so traumatic that I think it passed into genetic memory. Now every time my son gets his hair cut he yells as if we were tickling him with a red-hot poker.

But as much as I dislike getting my hair cut, I quite enjoy getting it coloured. I've been doing it for a few years now, and in that time I've slowly upped the redness quotient. Shortly before I first started this blog, I had got it done in a mahogany colour, hence the pseudonym that I chose for myself. This weekend I decided it was finally time to go all the way. So I sauntered across to the salon and nonchalantly told the hairdresser to pick me a shade of red. Carine suggested a particularly vivid shade. She looked at me apprehensively to see what my reaction would be. But we agreed that the whole point of hair color is for it to be visible. From that point there was no turning back.

I'll admit to slight misgivings when I saw the color mix that they were going to apply. It was somewhere between bubblegum pink and a sickly turn on watermelon red. But I decided to trust the professional and see what that led to.

Two hours and a shampoo-and-rinse later it was time for the grand unveiling. I'd done it! I was now a redhead! Carine was quite pleased with her handywork too, and celebrated by giving me the longest haircut I've ever had.

When my wife RJ saw what I'd done she was not pleased. At the best of times she is sceptical about hair color. And when it comes to my experiments, her scepticism usually turns into outright dismay. So it was no surprise that she thought this time I'd gone off my rocker. Luckily for her she was leaving town for a week so she'd have some time to get used to the idea that she was now married to a carrot.

Meanwhile, reaction from friends and colleagues has been interesting. It's ranged from appreciative (from people who have good taste or are scared of me or both) to stunned (from Philistines who think that you're only well-groomed if you blend into the wallpaper) to clueless (like my friend who did not even realize that I was looking any different from the day before).

That last one reminded me of a guy I used to know in college. I met him one day after one of my annual haircuts, where I started with hair below my shoulders and ended with it above my ears. He stared at me for several seconds and then in a plaintive voice he asked "I don't know why, but you look different today. Have you shaved your beard?" As it happened, I had shaved my beard. But that was really besides the point.

At any rate, I have now completed my journey to redness. Next stop: purple highlights.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Three On The Dance Floor

I had a pleasant surprise on Friday. I was in Mumbai and had planned to meet my old friend Vijay and his wife Y for drinks. We met at the Hawaiian Shack, a great little club. While we were screaming at each other over the hip-hop music, I realized Y was not looking her best.

"You're hair looks terrible", I told her. "I never asked for your opinion", she reminded me. "No, seriously," I said, you need to do something about that hair." She gave me one of her I-am-glaring-at-you-and-therefore-I-expect-you-to-be-scared-of-me looks and offered a plausible explanation. "Maybe it's because I'm pregnant".

After I had picked myself off the floor I asked her if she was serious. She was. I asked her how many months pregnant she was. Seven. I got up off the floor again just in time to hear her ask me incredulously "Do you mean you did not notice? Or did you think I was just getting stupidly fat?"

Even I am smart enough to know that you never answer that question.

So I cleverly went on the counter-offensive. I thought of someone we could both agree to blame. "Why the hell didn't your husband tell me?!?!", I demanded to know. Vijay tried to pretend that he had told me but he knew he was guilty as charged.

My ploy worked. Y was torn. She wanted to protect her husband. But she knows that she owes me for being the first person in the cyberverse to link to her blog. We silently agreed to not argue the issue and instead decided to inspect the dance floor.

Good on you Y, for a woman with a nearly-done bun in the oven you sure shake a mean leg. Just for that, I'll forgive Vijay. But when your baby is born, I advise you not to count on him to text the announcement.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

6.6 billion, and one

r had a baby on Monday. I went to visit him and his wife at the hospital, and this is what I learned:
1. It's a bad idea to visit new parents when you're hungry. Because then the moment you you see them you say "Do you have any sweets?" instead of "What a cute baby!".
2. Even if you've had a baby of your own, some things do not change: all newborn babies look the same. And that is not a compliment.
3. Hospital beds are cool. You press one button, the back gets elevated. You press another button, it gets lowered. I could spend all day playing with a hospital bed.
4. Hospital rooms are cool. Behind the bed was one valve labeled "Air" and another labeled "Vacuum". I figure if you connect the two, you could make a perpetual motion machine.
5. Hospital food sucks. Even the Milo is bland. I don't get it. When I have Milo in the office it is always sickly sweet. I had it at the hospital and it tasted like it had been steamed.

Last (and by no means least), paternity leave is brilliant. At least while you're still in the hospital. You get brownie points for taking time off from work, you have a comfy room (with a cool bed), cable TV, and plenty of time to read the newspaper. Sure, you need to share the room with a baby, but if you get tired of it the nurses will take it off your hands. All you really have to do is smile vaguely when people congratulate you.

Congratulations, r.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

There's Noah Place Like Home

Earlier today I returned from a trip to Australia. It was a trip I'd been looking forward to because it was to be my first visit to Melbourne. I'd heard from many Melbournians how nice their city was, and I discovered they were right. I loved the wide roads, the generous greenery, and the interesting buildings. But the highlight of my trip had nothing to do with roads, shrubbery or avant-garde architecture. It was a visit to a lady who lives in the suburbs with her family.

I was sitting in her living room and had just started making conversation when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. I looked up and saw a snake. And then another. And another.

And another.

Luckily for my composure, by the time I'd finished counting the snakes I had realized that all four of them were safely housed in a large glass cage. Having thus evaded a heart attack I decided to have a closer look. To my surprise, they were gorgeous! I usually view snakes with a cordial blend of distaste and distrust. But these were lovely black and gold and green creatures. Their skin had a burnished chrome finish that screamed "clean and healthy". And they had no odor – no sign of the gamey smell that saturates the air in snake parks. They were simply beautiful creatures.

My hostess was obviously pleased by my interest and she proceeded to tell me more than I really wanted to hear. It turned out that they had more pets. A few more snakes at the back. A box of scorpions (?!) and a bunch of tree frogs in the living room. Some guinea pigs and rabbits - although not all the rabbits were pets; some were snake fodder. Gecko lizards. And in the midst of this menagerie they also had a dog. It was so odd to have an ordinary animal along with all the others, that it felt as if the dog was the exotic pet. Finally, she (the hostess, not the dog) told me a little sadly that she also used to have a stick insect, but it had died a few days previously. I gave her a nod that I hoped look sympathetic because my thoughts certainly weren't. All I could think was "Who the hell keeps a stick insect as a pet?"

It all made a little mores sense when she (the hostess, not the dog or the stick insect) told me she used to work in the Melbourne zoo. And as she talked some more, I realized how great an environment it was for her kids to grow up in. They each had their tasks to perform such as feeding and cleaning. And they knew that the pets depended on them. So they were learning lessons in discipline and responsibility.

Of course they were also learning about nature. The lady told me about a time when her nine-year-old son had filled his water bottle with dirt. When quizzed about what he was trying to do he explained that he was using the bottle of dirt to keep a spider he had found. The thing that impressed me most was that this kid knew the name of the species of spider that he had.

What a cool house for a boy to grow up in! And what a cool thing that I got to visit it!

Sunday, 29 April 2007

An Arduous Quest Comes To A Dark, Bitter End

A few years ago I realized that I like dark chocolates more than any other kind. Since then I have been searching for the one perfect chocolate to rule over all others.

At first it was not a systematic search. I would just randomly pick up something from the supermarket and see if I liked it. Then, about six months ago, I became more methodical. The turning point was a conversation at a birthday party in which a friend was talking about chocolates with different proportions of cocoa. She explained that the chocolates with more cocoa were more bitter.

So the next chance I got I picked up a bar with 90% cocoa. I reasoned that if bitter is good then bitterer should be betterer. Alas, it was good but fell short of perfect. It was too ... full of cocoa; it didn't entirely seem like chocolate anymore. Surprised and disappointed, I thought perhaps some additional ingredients were needed. So I experimented with fruity chocolates such as rum & raisin, and orange. They were an improvement but still did not quite hit the mark. It was a grim time. I began to lose hope.

Then, almost by accident, I decided to try plain dark chocolate again, but now with less cocoa. I bought one with only 70% cocoa. And it was great! It had robust bitter overtones that were in almost perfect balance with its underlying chocolatey sweetness. The sun was shining again and my quest was nearing its successful conclusion.

And then I found what I had been searching for all this time: Lindt Excellence Madagascar. It's made from beans grown on that island. It's unmistakably dark, with just the right bitterness to send an instant tingle shooting up your tongue. And then it follows up with a mildly sweet aftertaste and just a hint of vanilla to relax your taste buds again. Quite simply it is pure joy made solid and wrapped in foil.

At last, my search is complete.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Another Time, Another Place, And It Could Be Me

I live a fairly comfortable, secure life (as, I suspect, do most of my fellow blogospheroids). So I appreciate the occasional reminder that for many others life is harder. I got such a reminder today, courtesy my wife.

She had lunch with three people from Zimbabwe. Now, if you read the Economist, then you already have an inkling of what's coming up. This is a country where life expectancy has now diminished to 35 years. Where the economy shrank by half over the past ten years, even while the global economy grew by a third or more. Worst, as one of my wife's lunch companions confessed, this is a country whose people have learned to live with diminished dreams; all they really want now is to be allowed to return home safe.

The Economist is unabashed about it's right-wing politics and conservative economics so it is sometimes easy to disagree with its views. But when it comes to the subject of African leaders I find myself agreeing with its scathing criticism of the 'Big Men'.

Too many of them insist on clinging to power. They adhere to high office like barnacles on a ship's hull. And like barnacles they are unthinkingly malignant by nature, damaging their reluctant hosts beyond the point of viability.

In a twisted sort of way their behaviour is understandable. It must be hard to relinquish control after a couple of decades leading a revolution and then another couple of decades leading an independent country. That sort of life is guaranteed to supersize even the most modest ego. After so many years in power, who could then vanish silently into obscurity? It is so much more human to hold on grimly to the sensation of being in absolute control of all around you.

But as understandable as the phenomenon is, that does not make it any less oppressive to the millions who must bear the consequences. They are the millions of refugees, the millions who lose lives to starvation and disease, the millions who survive ignorant of the possibilities for prosperity and happines that they have been denied.

As we enjoy our everyday lives and bemoan our petty everyday problems lets be thankful we do not number among those millions. And lets spare a thought for those who do.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Any Colour You Want, As Long As It's White

Our dryer is on the fritz and I have discovered that shopping for a new dryer is a truly soul-killing experience. The tumble dryer is the last frontier of un-design.

You can buy the most wonderfully designed appliances for your home. Smart microwave ovens. Sleek refrigerators. Kettles with verve. You can even buy a washing machine that looks good. But a good-looking dryer? No way. You walk into a store and you get to stand in front of 7 identical white cuboid blocks of stainless steel and pick one.

You can try to ask a salesman what's the difference between them. If you're lucky you might even get a shrug of the shoulders in reply. There was one particularly god-awful machine I saw that had a shoe-rack built in. A shoe-rack! I get it, it's a clever idea for people with athletic lifestyles and smelly feet, but it's not attractive merchandizing!

How about some colors? Would it kill someone to make a black dryer? Or a silvery blue one? And how about an LCD display? Something that actually makes a dryer look different from a miniature electric crematorium? And no, I would not sue anyone if they decided to slap on a brushed metal finish.

Some chance. The choice is between Japanese machines that have no LEDs or LCDs, German machines that have no curves or elegant lines, and British ones that are as stolid and boring as you would expect. So of course that's the one we ended up getting. At least it promised nothing and delivered what it promised.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Looking For A Ping From Centaurus A

It's fun to wonder if alien civilizations exist. It's even more fun to look for them. Thanks to a wonderful program called Seti@home, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can join the hunt.

I've been doing this for a few years now, and there are over five million others like me. We get chunks of radio signals from an observatory in Puerto Rico, run them through our computers, and send the processed data back to the University of California at Berkeley. The most promising sources of radio signals get tagged for further investigation. With all these computers hunting together, hopefully it won't be long before we find a signal from another civilization. One of the key people in the SETI@home program expects to hit paydirt within twenty years - which means that success will come well within my lifetime!

Of course, there is also the possibility that we won't find anyone. Maybe there isn't anyone else, or they're too far away, or we just don't know how to look. Luckily, when thoughts like that arise, I can always turn to kooky new-age science for reassurance. Enter Graham Hancock, who makes a convincing case for a lost civilization that centred on Antarctica, and implies that it was seeded by aliens. Or Alan Alford, who was more specific in proclaiming that humans were genetically modified clones of aliens from the as-yet-unidentified tenth planer in our solar system, Niburu. And that Niburu is not really a natural planet; it is in fact a giant spaceship.

You can imagine my delight when in 2003 scientists announced that they had in fact found a tenth planet in our solar system. Unfortunately in 2006 this planet, now named Eris, joined Pluto in getting demoted to dwarf-planet status. That is quite an insult to deliver to what is effectively our homeworld.

Be that as it may, the search goes on. If all goes well we'll start using a telescope in Australia, so we can look at the skies in the southern hemisphere. And as more people with newer computers join the program, the data gets crunched faster.

In the meantime I'll keep my eyes open for a sight of little green men, and my ears pricked to hear the magic words "Greetings, Earthling. Take me to your leader".