Day #20

“Silently and serenely, one forgets all words,

Clearly and vividly, it appears before you.

When one realizes it, time has no limits.

When experienced, your surroundings come to life.”

 

Some forms of Chinese poetry, and some of their Japanese counterparts, always evoke a feeling of peace in me, which I have found on an RoI (Return-on-investment) basis, to be unparalleled. The poems also sound as if, at the time of their inception, the poet was riding high on some pure, premium quality Green Tea! I, myself, have dabbled previously in both, their poetry and their tea, but this time around in Hong Kong I decided to go all out and visit a traditional Tea House.

This one happened to be located inside the Nan Lian garden, itself a slice of paradise (comes highly recommended for anyone visiting HK). I was alone on that sweltering day, thirsty, looking for a place to rest. As I went in, an attendant came outside to help me out. As she walked me past the empty tables, I took in the sights and the sounds. The place was all wood, far as the eye could discern, dispersed carved panels depicting traditional Chinese people doing traditional Chinese things. The table tops were spic and span, well-polished; you could sense by looking at their design that there was more to them than met the eye. The absence of any other soul in the place made its presence felt. As I chose a seat and settled in, I could feel the masterful plucks of the erhu filling up the air around me. The sound was a heavy and all-encompassing fog, like the settling smoke on a cold winter night.

The server came along with the menu, and as I fished around my wallet to check my working capital, I decided I would go for “the experience” today. I lay my index finger on the top right corner and slid my way down, and settled once I found my drug. It was a Jin Fo Shou tea. A quick google told me that it was a rare form of high quality tea, whose name literally translates to “Golden Buddha Hand”, and which is cultivated exclusively on the below hill. Intrigued is an understatement.

The tea came in a tiny porcelain petri-dish, along with a manual on how to go about preparing it, the Chinese way. Thankfully, the server took pity, and walked me through the fascinating baby steps:

  1. Fill kettle with water from tableside tap
  2. Open secret compartment on table top and place kettle on mysterious looking boiler plate (I will, for now, assume this is the way it worked in ancient China too)
  3. Bring out three sets of cutlery:
    1. A mini teapot to let the tea soak in the goodness
    2. A slightly smaller buffer cup (nope, not autocorrected) whose purpose will be to hold the tea before distribution among various people at the table; this is done so that everyone gets to drink the _exact_ same thing as everyone else at the table. Details!
    3. And lastly, a tiny ceramic cup for your own self. Calling it a cup doesn’t somehow do it justice – let’s call it a “tea holder”
  4. “Warm up” all of these cups with the perfectly boiled water from the kettle (Oh yes, multi-tasking required. Focus, people. Focus!) And drain the liquid in a secret drain right in the middle of the damn table! Chinese old timers can put the Q07 pair to shame, I am sure.
  5. Now using a peculiar looking spatula (wooden, of course) slowly and carefully pass on the tea leaves into the teapot, and let the china from 4.1-4.3 do its job.
  6. As the slightly golden liquid finally reaches your holder, pinch the cup between your thumb and index, take in a whiff from the escaping vapors, taste a sip, and relax.

That tea was a mild conquest of the senses; not an attack mind you. The music, the wood, the *clinks* of the ceramic, the customs. The experience was calming, natural as if I had willingly surrendered my city to these invaders and accepted them as my own..

As I left after what seemed like a few hours, the sun had started its journey downwards, but I was comfortable at my zenith. As I sat down on the nearby wooden bench, my mind raced yet was in no hurry; it hammered out this little piece:

“As my eyes close

My senses open

They soak in the peace

Music flows between them

A sense of calm in the air

Flowing yet still

Bridging the divide

Between the thought and the mind”

 

(I could have sworn they added opioids in that tea, somehow!)

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

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Day #19

I have been watching documentaries on major wars recently, going backwards from World War II. I am fascinated and repulsed simultaneously by this palatable cocktail of human genius and depravity. But, if anything, this should be mandatory for everyone to see & learn from. After all, we either learn from out mistakes; or simply repeat them.

I found this and this to be particularly good for some real world footage of the World Wars, the rest unfortunately don’t have such extensive coverage. The following is the product of this pre-occupation.


What is war, but a vote;
its electorate, fortune
The gray cast the die
The stripes go to war
The green go to battle

Answer the call, soldier
Your country awaits your blood
Red; lest purple may fall
They say it’s too valuable,
Yet too cheap to pass on

Sacrifice your order, Build us a new one
Save our humanity, kill yours
Lay the foundations
With your brothers-in-arms

It is yours to do and die;
Or is it
To do
Or die?

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Day #18

I woke up to the sound of banging doors. Assuming it was my niece trying to find and wake up her mamu, I rolled onto my side, hoping she wouldn’t find me now. (Yeah, when in Rome!) I looked at my phone screen: 7 AM; about the right time for me to wake up, but my niece?

Next thing I remember, the door really started to rattle and I could here a siren in the distinct background. This cannot be good. I tore myself away from my bed, moved across the hall, in the direction of the siren. As I got to the gate, I was told that this isn’t a siren. It is an exhaust fan, being operated “organically”; by the howling winds at more than 160 kmph. Welcome to Hong Kong, the land of Typhoon-induced holidays!

As I sat and sipped my tea with a groggy mind, yet to wake up from its slumber, my eyes darted from the breakfast table to the tightly shut window, ever so often. Having lived in places where I had never had the chance to witness one, and being lucky enough to be present in a Level 8 Typhoon was quite a nice happenstance. I didn’t really know anything about their Typhoon grading system, but the number 8 seemed impressive, so… I was impressed. While there weren’t any real worries, but there was that tiny hint of concern in the air. The doors were bolted, windows one step away from being boarded, news reports streaming in about how the typhoon was now a level 9, now a level 10, posts on facebook by witnesses of beaches submerged, winds blowing at 180+ speeds, windows getting smashed, clouds no longer appearing harmless, but rather akin to those deadly icebergs…

Done with my routine, I went to the glass, watching the wind strip away a little bit of grass here, a cable or two there; as the rain hammered and poured below, it was carried away almost horizontally by the charging gusts of air. It was a sight to behold, along with the constant siren-like warnings of the exhaust.

Good day to tuck in.

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Day #14

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

I am prone to strange and fleeting obsessions (oxymoron spotted!) On a trip to Kenya a while back while in a boat safari in Lake Naivasha, I encountered an unlikely one. This big guy:

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Unlikely, indeed. But I was fascinated by the fact our guide whipped out about the hippo being the deadliest killer of humans in Africa; something which I was woefully unaware of. As we neared the hippo harem, our captain looked genuinely concerned. And why not, the hippo does happen to have a bad(ass) rep. What with them carving out humans who disrespectfully cross into their territory. (I wonder what other high-functioning mammalian species tends to do that a lot.) As we crossed the bloat of hippos, the alpha opened up his huge mouth baring his teeth; there was something just awe-inspiring about it! So today, I set out to do some PR on behalf of the not-at-all-gentle giant who most likely doesn’t care about some puny human out to improve the way he is perceived (And that’s what makes him all the more admirable IMO)

Let me start off with their “cute” side: First off, have you ever seen the hippo swim? Probably not, else you wouldn’t be alive & kicking to see this. Of course, you don’t want him chasing you around while he does his daily bit of cardio. Or, have you seen them eating? Or, wiggle-waggle as he runs (better a spectator, than a competitor) Or, seen a baby chase around a full-grown crocodile? Or, just observed a baby sleep?

Makes you wanna go kidnap a baby hippo, doesn’t it? Don’t. Coz a) it’s illegal, b) it will shred you one day, and c) the logistics just don’t work! I’ll explain C in a bit more detail. See, I have thought it through. First, you’ll have to get a huge bathtub, where the hippo would sit in all day peering out like an iceberg. And I mean huge. POTUS knows best.

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Let’s say you are fine with the tub thing, you need to get some grass, man. Like a-few-tonnes-a-day kind of grass. Need to make sure the big guy stays a herbivore eh? Plus, imagine him getting out of his tub and spraying it around every now and then. Ugh. One puppy, please.

Anyways, the guy is still the king of kings. I leave you with proof

Day #13

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

The dusk is visible in the leaping splashes of what used to be still water, but which I am now involved with in a dog-eat-dog race, as I put forth one arm after the other pushing back my enemy. Talk about savoring my first foray into a swimming pool in Hong Kong! I am going to squeeze a few paragraphs out of this –
yes, I am that happy about the whole deal.

Let me start with the pre-swim prep. After doing (unnecessary/obsessive) online research mining reviews on Hong Kong pools, I was a bit skeptical. Most forums would go on about public pools being crowded and so on. I feared a scenario like this:

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But hey, I am really geared up for the whole deal and how bad can the crowd really be? I am a veteran of the Dadar battlefield and have the scars to prove it. Plus, I mean its been almost 2 weeks since I last tasted chlorine; I rather miss it. All I really wanna do now is suit up and jump in. YOLO. (Well technically, not jump in. Since the pool is just 1.4 metres deep…)

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Anywho, desperation and good sense win over, but as I swipe my Octopus and enter the fairly large Kennedy Town Swimming Pool facility, my steps falter, unsure, as if testing the waters. I become conscious of the fact that I am probably the only Indian guy in the whole place at the moment. I begin consciously trying to be as invisible as possible, hoping to blend in, for some reason, with my predominantly Chinese brothers and sisters.

At the gates of the changing rooms, there is an odd sign which says, roughly, “Anyone above the height of 1.35 metres or older than 8 years old won’t be allowed in the changing room of the opposite sex”. It is one of those things which you know, deep down, that there is some backstory to it. One of the two conditions was surely an addendum and my bet is on the latter. There is absolutely no way, after all, that some tiny dude did _not_ misuse it at some point in the past, and prompted the law-makers to rethink things! 😀

Well, as I enter the men’s locker room, my efforts to “blend in” are rendered futile as I come across my first culture-shock. For the sake of civility, I shall not venture into details, but samajhdaar ko ishaara kaafi hai (A gesture is more than enough to the wise). Takes some time for my eyes to adjust to this new darkness. No one on any forum cared to mention this phenomenon, of course. Thanks, internet!

The first couple of laps are nice and slow, as I stop to smell the roses; not really counting the laps anymore, free/frog-styling, soaking in the warm water and the cool breeze, sighing with content after every lap. Boy, have I missed this. The pool is mildly warm and a little crowded, but reality is way better than expectation. After a few relaxing rounds, I get a little competitive with random strangers, setting arbitrary goals for beating them to the finish (always fun!).

I notice something peculiar after some time in the pool. There is a general lack of body hair on everyone! They have as much hair as would a skinned potato (Nothing wrong with it, of course) I feel like Anil Kapoor from the 90’s swimming among the people.

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Yeah, I know – Disturbing. Now you feel my exact mental state for the next few seconds after becoming conscious of the fact!

As my swimming session draws to an end, I have the pleasure to view the sunset from the quiet, open-air pool deck. As the Sun takes in a deep breath for its long dip in the far off depths of the ocean, it brings down the shutters on an almost perfect day…

Day #12

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Russia trip, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 7 – 11 pm:

What a day to be alive! You’ll be introduced to the reason for my enthusiasm soon enough. And I won’t even have to tell you when.

Bright, sunny day it was after another heavy buffet breakfast with the fancy cereals and the breads and the fruits and the omelettes and the sushi and on and on. First sight, right out of the door, we caught a red hot beauty standing there:

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*whistles and jeers* After ogling the vehicle for the better part of 10 minutes, we went ahead with our plan. We decided to tour along one of the canal routes that St Petersburg is supposedly famous for. Our first stop on the route was a bit far off, namely the Church of Spilt Blood (fancaaayyy!) The other thing it is infamous for, however, made sure we took off and wore our jackets as many times as this guy:

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St Petersburg has really beautiful canals, reminiscent of Venice itself. The intermittent clear skies help; brightening up the warm colors of the city landscape.

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These canals were artificially constructed and connected with the Neva river to ease transportation through the city. Very Venice-like! Little boats scuttling about ferrying starstruck tourists through the waters. Anyways, we got to the destination finally and it was a pretty sight. It was also a little underwhelming after the Moscow trip unfortunately, so I am not going to dwell much on this part.

What I am going to dwell on is what made me a devoted theist. While it might seem like an exaggeration, for a few microseconds, it really wasn’t. Imagine my horror when while strolling across the massive Palace square in the shadow of the Hermitage, I see this sight above my head.

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Low flying fighter planes in some sort of formation. Non-Russian. In Russian Airspace. Broad daylight. Holy shit. But thankfully, seeing that I am doing more or less OK at the moment, it was something more innocent. If a multi-billion dollar hi-tech aviation exhibition/market is innocent, that is. What followed was a series of sights and sounds that left me awestruck. It was beautiful. I hope I captured it OK:

Plain vanilla hellies!

Them Fighters

Anyways, having had enough adventures for the day, we headed back to our hotel for a quick refresh before a relaxing river cruise. Walking along the Nevsky Boulevard, the main street of Petersburg, we encountered hordes of tourists snapping and storing various pieces of history gracing the street, including the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk – a touching memorial which marks the bravery of a city that stood through under probably one of the most devastating sieges in history.. This is indeed a popular street; one can also tell by the tourist prices being charged in the souvenir shops!

Finally, we landed up at the cruise loading point in time to grab tickets for the last available cruise. The wait begins..

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Day #11

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Apologies for the delay. Russia trip, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 6 – 5 pm:

There are probably few feelings as frustrating as running 100 metres through torrential rains, having to carry a faulty 20 kg bag that you cannot wheel along because its stupid handle won’t budge, looking like an idiot to passersby wondering why you can’t simply do the above and then realizing after getting into the taxi that you could simply have taken a comfortable internal route. Quite a mouthful, eh? So, after probably the worst welcome a city has ever graced me with, I sat in the back of the SUV taxi the hotel had kindly sent across, shivering, nursing a sore set of fingers and an aching back, and my jacket dripping all over the seat. Welcome to St Petersburg!

Thankfully, it all went uphill from there. After checking into the room, taking off the jacket, shaking off the cold, and freshening up, when the curtains were removed this is what greeted us:

St Isaac's Cathedral

The beautiful dome of the St Isaac Cathedral. Also built by Peter the Great, the church, like everything till now in Russia, was colossal – Huge pillars, a glorious dome to match, archangels decorating the circumference. So before I go further, a little bit about the city of St Petersburg that I quickly read up at the time. It was constructed by the relatively progressive and worldly Peter the Great who also established it as the new capital of the newly christened Russian Empire (admittedly, a much better capital shifting exercise than a Mr. Tughlaq). He named the city after his patron saint, who also shared his name. (One wonders whether that nomenclature would have been different had their names been different. Or who knows, the patron saint himself might have been someone else! “When in Russia”…) Peter was a big European buff and got a lot of European artisans in to build the city; and the influences can be clearly seen in some of the structures. It is, at first impressions, a more relaxed place than the hubbub that was the current capital. The city centre consists of most of the places of note for tourists and also quite friendly for us; it is beautiful, well constructed, well planned, and even boasts of such treasures as an art gallery with more exhibits than the Louvre!

So, once we ate our usual fare of room service Italian, we walked out into the now calm skies, armed with umbrellas and windbreakers. First stop, tourist info centre and a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city centre. Note that everywhere we went in Scandinavia and Russia, we encountered the same tourist agency operating these buses; and the service was quite good too. This is the link, in case it helps someone out. Anyways, back to the fickle Petersburg weather. During the approximately 2 hour bus ride, the weather must have changed its mood at least 5-6 times. Amid the decent sunlight to god-help-us-rain, we tried to listen to the not-properly-synced commentary on our headphones about each building as we passed it by. If not a whole picture, we got to see the outline and the colors for what lay in store for the next 5 days. We also realized that getting around on foot was the way to go, since as I mentioned earlier, most of the buildings of note were in the same area.

But for the day, we had had our fill of Russia. We found a cozy little Indian restaurant near our hotel which had better food, better prices and better service than more than half the restaurants I have visited back home and we chilled! No such feeling as diving into Dal Makhani bang in the middle of a former Russian capital. Amen.