Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Market in Karachi

Karachi is not only the largest city of Pakistan but also the twentieth largest city of the world in terms of metropolitan population. Non-governmental and international sources estimate Karachi's current population at between 12 and 18 million, a variation of 6 million (equivalent to the entire population of Jordan).

But Jordan did not come to my mind when I contemplate the possibility of visiting Karachi. What came to my mind first was the long list of attacks that Pakistan has been afflicted by in the last years and the constant headlines we are bombarded with which remind us daily why Pakistan is the most dangerous place on the planet (sorry Afghanistan, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Somalia or other Yemen you seems to be down the ranking this year).

I have to admit that I was selfishly concern by my own security at first, but glad that I change my mind at last, and went "visiting" Karachi. "Visiting" is a big word to say going under strict private security from the hotel to one place and then back to it.

Let me just say that behind the headlines you have lines of people suffering for what's happening currently everyday in their life. These headlines seem to fuel the concern over a country which tries to manage a parallel and exponential growth in term of population and issues.

But these headlines usually do not mention the daily courage and strength Pakistanis people have to stand still every day and fight back to gain another inch of decency or pushing for another heart beat.

I won't try to throw any political analysis at you on the currently situation because I don't understand the causes, appreciate well enough the history in the region or measure the cultural bias and divergence that exist today in this part of the world.

And even thought I study hard and put my head around this problem, I will not be able in my entire lifetime to just grasp the size of the problem of the 6th most populated country of the planet, because what's currently happening is multifaceted, dangerous, and complicated.

But what can I through at you is few pictures and some travelling impressions during my quick stay in Karachi. I had a chance to be guided in my wonders around for few hours in the Sunday Market in Karachi the one close to the sea, looking at people, watching what they doing and seeing how difficult it is today to live in Karachi.

I saw color crossing black outfits, sunlight going through flying carpet hanging in the sky, coffee boy running around making a cent or two, smiles when the camera was pullout my pocket to steal a snap or two.

I saw rawness, fear and roughness in people eyes, without any age difference. Pakistan today is not a place in which you can growth naivety and kindness although people are practicing them every day in case they come back sooner than later. No, Karachi is a place full of real people having real concerns about how to survive a real life.

This contrast is even more daunting, cruel and mind blowing when you arrived like I did, from a city like Dubai, a city that is far away from real reality. This contrast within few hours of travel is just shaking but I am extremely glad I experience it.

What are you traveling for if it's not to change your references!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Buy or not Dubai

So far I never met someone who really likes Dubai, yet everybody keeps going back to it. You have to admit that there must be something that attracts people to this city, but I have not put the finger on it.

I am sure that it is not be the symbol of the city itself, the famous Burj Al Arab. Today the world's third tallest hotel in the world (guess where is the tallest one) is definitely not the place anyone can afford. Although magnificent from outside, and even more from inside, it does not attracted people to the same extend a Statue of Liberty, an Opera House or an Eiffel Tower does today. Many more marketing campaigns and maybe a many more discovery passes with some smashing people entertainments should help reinforce the beauty of this grandiose building in the middle of the calm and red sea.

I am also sure that it is not the new construction sites that the city keeps building along it sea shore. Apart from being sign-seeing distracting, massive side by side construction sites helps to provide a caring shadow during the hot summer months and an alternative vibrant breathing training exercise for future suffocative boiling days. From outside the city looks more like an open-heart surgery operation at night and a live scale crane manufacturer convention at day. Do I have to mention that due to a shortage of sea view, Dubai is building islands outside its shores in different shapes (palm trees or other world map). Never the less, you can imagine that driving in this condition requires a daily update of the newly born construction sites and can force you sometimes to experience traffic jams that would make any Friday afternoon L.A. drivers panicking.

It can't be the Golden Shop palaces flourishing in the old Dubai, only handful of wealthy people and foolish tourists would be able to imagine having to travel to the city only for window shopping gold, stones and other precious ornaments. The travel sheikh is not an American express.

It can't be the olds Dubai and its famous Gold, Souk, Perfume and Fish Souks. Middle eastern cities around the world have better and bigger souks where any tourists can dive and lost the few kopecks that they were willing to exchange with some local souvenirs.

I have also a hard time to imagine that people come to Dubai to observe, study and experience a Black & White society (where men wear white and women wear black). Dubai with its 90% population coming from outside UAE, has a special status when it comes to international social behavior. Tolerance and sometime acceptance (if you can afford it though) is a stimulating living direction in this peculiar Middle Eastern place on which nobody questions your outfit as long as you respect the basic rules of faith. Surprising scenes will challenge the most sarcastic human detractor of the planet.

It could be maybe its peaceful population, the original ones, the ones who were the first fishermen and desert traders. My stay was not long enough to give me a chance to encounter early Dubaists.

It could be maybe its constant clear blue sky between sandy buildings.

It could also be maybe its peaceful river dividing the old city in equally quiet playground for late walks around for tourist (or inhabitants) in dyer of postal card shots.

What I am sure of, people come back to Dubai for the national sports: SHOPPING. Never in my life I have encounter such a big line up of malls, side by side, competing for having the longuest cab line up, shoveling wagon of wallets attached to foreign tourists. Never in my wildest dreams I had imagine shopping malls cities in which you need a full paper map to find you way around. Never in my life I saw ski slopes INSIDE a mall where shoppers watch skiers and skiers watch shoppers. This is so big, that Dubai has a Shopping Festival (DSF) since 1996!

I will be back in Dubai, like the others 7 millions tourists that visited the city last year, not for all the things mentioned above though, but certainly for another trip in the desert and watch another breathtaking sunset over sand dunes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


"Don't expect anything" was the invariable answer I had when I was announcing people I was going to India. They were all wrong!

First of all, let me be clear with you: I did not go to India I only transited in one Indian city. Worse than that I only spent three days there from which half of my time was spent at a friend's wedding. But from my extremely limited time I had the chance to spend in the city of Kolkata I have to say that this city gave me a new perspective on urbanity and metropolitans.

The first thing that was surprising to me was the architectural contrast that exists within the city. For example, you can walk in a giant park, right in the middle of the city, in a prime real estate in which you can observe the overly famous Victoria Memorial seating on it throne. The grandiose white building, now turned into a museum, is dedicated to what was life before the independence/separation and the city history, but its importance in size and its plentiful white color contrast with the city, reinforcing (or overstating) the difference that existed at the time between the two sides in the planet somehow.

Luckily, the surroundings of the Memorial have cricket games after cricket games, been re-appropriated by the local Sunday national sport heroes. After all the Brits left the place over half a century ago and never came back to claim the rent, so better use the under used wide space for cricket practice....

On the same vein, if you spend some time around the Dalhousie Square (BBD Bagh), and if you look up in the sky, and if the pollution cloud is not too dark for once you will be able to contemplate the grandiose Victorian architecture surrounding. Only few places in the city give you enough perspective to see it as a whole, BBD Bagh is one of them and even today is still consider by many as the centre of the city.

My experience in the city would have been very different without the help of Uncle J. (ex-Calcuttan and neo-Bangalorian) who guided me in the city, its neighboroughs and its history. Never would I have been able to find the secret place of an old Bengali Palace, the Marble Palace (pictures forbidden), without his kind help. At the end of a very recluse and narrow street where only a yellow taxi could squeeze two wheels at the time, a giant mansion in a middle of another beautiful garden exhibits its marble walls and floors to the overcrowded street next door. With a modest fee which helps the privately own palace to maintain its dethroned status, one can discover a vast collection of statues, painting, chandeliers, clocks, floor to ceiling mirrors, and busts of kings and queens.

The personal tour ended in what I consider as one of the most unexpected surprise by far of my stay, I was given the possibility to contemplate "The Marriage of St. Catherine" from Rubens. This 5*4 meters master piece was hiding back in a dark room on the first floor of the mansion. This private collection was another wide contrast by which I could see the witness the difference of appreciation for what people value in life: Rubens hanging on one side of the wall, and dirty cloth used as a shelter on the other side of the same wall. This place is certainly complex to understand.

Outside these pockets of hidden properties, the city is huge conglomerate of people living together everywhere they can. Some lucky ones have a house, food everyday, a chauffeur and a cook for protection and some have old clothes, a piece of wood and sometime food, and sidewalk as a shelter. Never in my wander had I asked myself why, but often I could see my brain focusing on how … how come so many people could live together without suffocating, how do they organize themselves to have a share of something, how do they do this… and that.

I was constantly fascinated by the alive living aspect of the street. I am not only talking about what happen in houses and streets, but also on sidewalks and crossroads. The concept of sidewalk itself is as vague as the concept of snow in the desert: we heard about it, but not sure we will be able to see it in our life time.

Like a giant ballet without any previous rehearsal, the crow is able to move from one place to another among the multitude of stool. Here you find a hairdresser, there an orange seller, or public writer; any sidewalk place is a business opportunity for someone. If a cluster of people block the flow of movement, then the street is taking over by overflowing people and a rough and sometime violent battle start with cars on who is allow to stand still on a forbidden place. Only when cars have the naivety to stop at red lights that kids or other half disembodied professional beggars knock on dark widows for a dime or two.

This is not the only psychological violent scene that Kolkata offers to visitors you will be able to test your limits on every corner of every road. The amount of people, the diversity and density of genre, the constant flow of activities trigger an ongoing brain behavior, challenging your values and question your inner sense of human being.

I did not expect anything from my trip to Kolkata, but I receive a lot form it. My three days there help me to experience a new sense of urban space, or how people take over a city and make the city theirs rather than the opposite. I experience the constant life, anywhere, anytime of a megalopolis, not like I had experience in the past for fun and entertainment, but for survival and fight for extra day. This crossroad called urbania could be a fighting place, among thousand and thousand people for an extra day in someone life.

For sure this place is complex, dense, and rich in layer while behaving in cluster. I can't wait to explore more of India.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Kolkata address


  • Tollygunge Club
    Is a bit far away from the city center but with the railway system is just 15 minutes from all main destinations. Quiet and piecefull if not golf tournament in schedule during your stay. Place of various weddings
  • Oberoi Hotel
    Next to New Market, this 5 starts hotel is a luxury close to shopping chaos. I would recommend this expensive place very central and easy access.

[[Restaurants ]]
What could be said there ... so many that I sould do an entire blog dedicated to these topic itself, but from the ones that I personally tried (in 3 days remember!?!)

  • Bar-B-Q (Park Street) is a very nice and affordable Chinese restaurant.
  • Flury's (Park Street) is more than a tea shop, and the pastries are heaven
  • Oh Calcutta! (Forum Mall on Elgin Road) is a very good Indian and Bengali Cuisine


  • Park Street
    is one of busiest places in Calcutta. It is a place where you will find everything, from books to clothes to food - anything you wish. You can buy jewelleries in Oysterz Bay, books and novels from Oxford Book Store, choose from a wide variety of clothes in the garment stores, buy music albums for Music World, watches form The World of Titan or any other shop, mobile phones from the Nokia Showroom and top it all up with a light meal at One Step Up! or at Barista.
  • South City Mall (Address: Prince Anwar Shah Road)
    The food court has sitting arrangement for around 2000 people on the last floor. The shopping experience is western standard with western price. Place to check out : Ritu Kumar and Zodiac for men's ties
  • Forum Mall (Elgin Road)
    It is a clothe complex, from denims to formalwear for both men and women. You can also find cosmetics from International brands, and accessories. Exclusive cuisines at Oh! Calcutta. Place to check out there : Ritu Kumar, Satya Paul, Cottonworld
  • Sir Stuart Hogg Market or New Market (Lindsey Street)
    This place is a Landmark in Kolkata city and still remains very popular among the well to do Bengalies despite heat & smell. The market used to be the first organised supermarket in whole of Asia, with all kinds of shops selling from shoes, dress, vegetables, florist, jewellery, Bakery, Grocery & livestock products. It still remains till date as it was before but looks very dirty , smelly & hot. There is no air conditioning except the shops. One part of New Market was devastated by fire in 1985 then it was rebuilt but this side lacks that old charm. Ask for Chamba Lama, the best jewellery in town
  • Sabiha Satchi / Tarun Tahalani
  • 85 Landsdowne Road (guess? 85 Landsdowne Road)
    This is designer wharehouse for the best saree in town, sometime a bit pricy, but fantastic outfit

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tropical N

Tropical N. is today the number one pandemic sickness spreading around the globe, but nobody knows about it.

Tropical N. (a.k.a. Tropical Napping) is severely gaining roots in Singapore and I would not be surprised that this virus is also gaining momentum in other part of the planet. My long and deep observations on this important t(r)opic, conducted me to come up with a new theory on how and why tropical islanders are falling for Tropical N.

First of all, I would underline that Tropical N is neither a pastime like it is in South Europe, nor a hobby like it is in South America. It is on this side of the planet, an epidemic that has been turned in last decade or so into an Art of War against ... Sun, Rice and Trees.

I can see it in your eyes, dear reader, from across the wire cable that you are already questioning my fundamental thesis on the relationship that men across the tropics have with each other and Mother Nature. How come on earth, Tropical N is different from anything you've seen before? And what does it have to do with ... Sun, Rice and Trees?

Let me tell you, that Tropical N is different than anything you have been experiencing, reading or contemplating in your life. Today Tropical N is becoming mainstream, a social mandate and a corporate practice. It has been reported (somewhere on Wikipedia, so that must be true) that an ancient Japanese soldier, left on a deserted island in Indonesia, lived to 158 years because he was Tropical N'ing 6 hours a day. He also did not know that the War World II was over, but that's another story.

Tropical N is different because of its nature. Tropical N happens anywhere, anytime, any length, to anybody, in group or alone (remember that you only need 20 seconds to fall asleep). Tropical N has been recently reported to happen in streets, at work, at home, in public and certainly in private, between the dark walls of homes. Tropical N has been now socially tolerated, accepted as a common sickness and scheduled for isolation.

Where does it all come from?

The primary reason for Tropical N is the Sun.
From the early hours of the day, bodies are cooked by the vicious sunlight that by a weird local magic managed to find its way across any modern or ancient landscape. Not even the famous tourist tour groups, who honed for decades the world famous 3T war tactic, can escape the current pandemic outbreak on the island (from Wikipedia: "The 3T, or the Tourist Turtle Tactic, is a tactic that tourists use to progress in hostile foreign territory, by being covered in pastel color from top to toe, wearing giant sunglasses and sun visor protectors, and only moving in one coordinated group move").

Tropical N is also the consequence of the widespread use of Rice on tropical islands.

Rice is a base (I am talking about the cereal not Condoleezza here for those who try to read between the lines). And because of that, rice needs other dishes to go with. And then the issue comes along. What do you serve rice with? Stomach-heavy sauce, greasy curries, and other filling dishes that no human stomach can decently handle. Check out the list of rice dishes for your convincing.

It has been commonly accepted now in the healthcare industry that the root cause of S.A.D. (Sleepiness Attitude Disorder) is rice. A recent report has identified that 38.62% of rice eaters are SAD positive among underaged, non-pregnant women who use a pen as a tooth brush and eat rice three times a day at breakfast, lunch and dinner in a tropical island and living with their grandparents.

The last factor of the Tropical N pandemic is the natural luxuriance that exist in the tropics. Photosynthesis creates the lush and fascinating trees, the ones that can be 30 meters high and 40 meters wide, covering an entire backyard, bringing a fresh and cooling atmosphere under their branches. And like a kid to whom an old lady is singing a song, you are invited to climb into her arm and let your reclining napping monster get out of the box for a moment.

Sun, Rice and Trees are the three main factors causing Tropical N, and can only be fought back by cutting all trees, putting a bubble around tropical islands to protect inhabitant from the sun, and finally start globally subsidizing french fries. Unfortunately Tropical N is not well known on the planet because it touches a too low of a percentage of the global population now. I just hope that by explaining the danger of it, people will finally agree on acting on it and start spreading the message: Tropical N is S.A.D.

"I don't generally feel anything until noon; then it's time for my nap."
-- Bob Hope

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Growth Report finally arrived

Launched in April 2006, the Commission on Growth and Development brought together twenty-one leading practitioners from government, business and the policymaking arenas, mostly from the developing world. The Commission was chaired by Nobel Laureate Michael Spence, former Dean of the Stanford Graduate Business School, and Danny Leipziger, Vice-President, World Bank, is the Commission's Vice-Chair.

Over a period of two years the Commission gathered the best understanding there is about the policies and strategies that underlie rapid and sustained economic growth and poverty reduction.
The Commission has finally released its final report, The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development, which looks at how developing countries can achieve fast sustained and equitable growth.

At this occasion, The Straits Times of Singapore covered a double central page in its Saturday edition about the report and had a full interview of the Senior Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong. One the questions asked was a very interesting one, in which an official paper mixed in the same sentence Singapore and Democracy. Here is the question and answer.

"The Straits Times: As Singapore develops, will the rights and freedoms associates with a liberal democracy become more important?

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong: I think it’s going to be discussed more because, as the people get used to long periods of growth, and their wealth goes up, so will they move up the hierarchy of needs.

They will look for things beyond bread and butter, like intellectual discourse, political expression, arts, sports and so on.

More people will want our politics to be more liberal. That is fine, provided you’re not worried about your stomach and shelter, security and physical freedom, economic growth and unemployment.

I think it is fair to ask and debate, “Can Singapore practice liberal democracy now that we are a middle-income country? Are we now so strong and secure that we can ignore our geography, our neighborhood and our permanent vulnerabilities? What are the long-term implications for us if we move away from our present system or government?”

Liberal democracy includes the right to gather, demonstrate and protest against anything under the sun. Do you want demonstrations every day along Orchard Road or Shenton Way? I don’t think so. This is a small place. If there’s a big demonstration in our city, the whole place comes to a halt.

It’s different for big countries. If there is a demonstration in the capital city, the rest of the country will keep on producing. We can’t follow that model of liberal democracy.

But we can have a marginal kind of freedom to demonstrate, like designating Speakers’ Corner, for example, as a place where you can demonstrate as long as you don’t spill to other areas and hold up other people’s daily activities. Or we can allow people to rent a stadium and demonstrate. "

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Street walking in Melbourne

"Omnis comparatio claudicate" (every comparison is to some extent flawed). This statement is more than appropriate when used in a travel context, yet impossible to restrain.

I had a chance to spend a couple of days among Melburnian, changing the rule of casual travel by having a long weekend on weekdays. My duty was to wonder in the street of Melbourne, Australia and to report my founding to head quarter for future investigation. I was a spy agent, undercover in the city, taking pictures, trying to pretend I was one of them while I was not at all. Before accepting my mission, I did my home work by locating the best ice cream shops and other corner stone of the local habits. But nothing prepared me what I saw on the field. Like one of my best inspire and role model used to say “Preparation is not ...” (John Rambo)

So as I said, my mission was to be alike in the city and notice everything and anything that could be used later on by HQ for a more mass scale invasion. Before dawn, on my first day, I decide that the best way of explore the city is to do the same as everybody else, and I decided to sleep in for at least 4 hours more. The red eye flight that I took was not comfortable enough to be able to rest and look fresh. The best way to spot a spy agent is to look at his/her eyes. I would be an easy target if I was walking around, asking question, starring at people with my red eyes. I did not want to take any risk, so I slept in and woke early in the afternoon (around 4PM or so)

During my homework, I discovered that Melbourne is the second most populous city in Australia, with population estimated at 4 million. My mission was going to be a very easy one, then. Being stationed already in a city of 4 millions people, I perfected the Art of Infiltration in foreign sovereignty without being spotted. In his book, “The 2 things a spy agent should know before crossing enemy’s line”, John Rambo mentioned that “Infiltration is the …” It took me a while to understand what John really wanted to say, but I realized later on during my stay in the capital of the Victoria state, what he meant. I guess he wanted to say that if you want to be in, you should not stay out.

Being a field agent for more that 15 years, I have to say that camouflage is probably the most difficult skill to acquire as a spy. Not enough, you’ll be recognized and too much, you’ll be spotted out; but the "four seasons in one day” proverb help me to choose my outfit for my first exploratory mission outside base camp number one (hotel room). I was the only one with a dawn jacket around my hips during the day and sweating like a pig at night. I guess that coming from a tropical island did not help me to easy the transition. I should write to John about this and ask him to update his online suitcase check list.

Anyway, my camera in one hand and my courage in the other, I decided to explore the city founded by free settlers in 1835, 47 years after the first European settlement of Australia, as a pastoral settlement situated around the Yarra River. On the way out, I put on my large Crocodile Dundee hat with the corks balancing around, but realized quickly that I should have done a bit more or research on the local habits.

I was the only one who had the bush outfit, and everyone on the block was tall, skinny and well dressed. I understood right away why the city is often referred to as Australia's sporting and cultural capital and it is home to many of the nation's most significant cultural and sporting events and institutions. At first, the locals are seeing as friendly and even non aggressive toward the tourist specie. At second, they are still seeing as friendly and even non aggressive toward the tourist specie. I am not used anymore to be the smallest in the street, but with was the case. I was immediately surrounded but a feeling of being at home.

Locals knew how to street walk.

I had to look up in the street and not be worried of one who cut throw your walking line, or one who suddenly change direction in front of you without noticing that you were behind, or one who not changing direction when going toward your direction playing the famous bluff game (You change! No YOU Change!), leading inevitably to improvised dance steps unheard at the “So You Think You Can Dance” competition.

In a not so recent article in the New York Time (Metro Matters; Urban Dance: Choreographing The City Streets), Sam Roberts ask himself which city has the best pedestrians. According to William H. Whyte, in his "Social Behavior in Public Places & Lessons for Urban Design: observations", the ones from New York City are the best. For 16 years William H. Whyte has been walking the streets and public spaces and watching how people use them. He started the "Street Life Project" with a number of social researchers and a band of observers.

According to William H. Whyte, New Yorker ''walk fast and they walk adroitly. They give and they take, at once aggressive and accommodating. With the subtlest of motions, they signal their intentions to one another - a shift of the eyes, a degree or so off axis, a slight move of the hand, a wave of a folded newspaper.''

This is what I rediscover, deep inside me was hidden this ability to handle the signals around me, and dance while walking without having to be or aggressive or accommodating, but both at once. My social street walker codes were all put back together and I was able to move around a city without having to fight against the flow of people and other ambush on my way. I was at home for 3 days, walking everywhere, jumping in and out the Free City Tourist Shuttle.

Now when you think that Melbourne is notable for its mix of Victorian and contemporary architecture, its extensive tram network and Victorian parks and gardens, as well as its diverse, multicultural society where food, restaurants and outdoor activities are ones of the finest in Australia…

Even thought I should not compare my current stationary camp with Melbourne, I have to say that street walking should be tough at school as a mandatory topic from the age of six to twelve and if you have consistent bad grades you should only be allowed to move around a city by taxi or in your own personal car. I am all for a street walking permit based on points and merit.

Melbournian passed the test, Singaporean did not.