Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 13: A childhood dream comes true

When I was a child, I was obsessed with the idea of travelling the world. Who wasn't, you may ask! Well, then you don't quite understand the intensity of my obsession. I was obsessed to the point of craziness. In hindsight, am surprised my parents didn't seek some sort of counseling for me during those days.

I used to dream about and imagine myself in all those far, far places. All those wonderful strangers with their strange languages and strange ways of lives. I used to display my horoscope to any random astrologer or my palm to any random palmist and ask the Golden Question, "Foreign povvo?". Literal translation: "Go foreign?". In better English, "Will I go abroad?". People have given me all kinda responses, " soon as tomorrow", "Never", "Maybe after 30 years" etc. etc. The inconsistency never stopped me from asking again. I even forced my dad to get me a passport when I was 9 for no particular reason and it lay unused for almost 7 years.

There is a festival called Thrissur Pooram in my town. Every year, I used to anxiously wait for it. I didn't care for the great fireworks or the elaborate decorations or the adorned elepahnts or the extensive rituals that Pooram was famous for. All I cared for was that with Thrissur Pooram, arrived the "Foreigners". Americans, Brits, Australians, French etc. etc. etc. It used to be best of times!

I used to drag my poor dad along to meet these random strangers. I used to go up and talk to them - on the streets, in the restaurants, in hotel lobbies - just so that I can listen to their amazing stories about their countries and people in all the different accents that they came with. (By the way, kudos to my dad for playing along with my madness for so many years. I might have asked my child to get a life instead). Sometimes I even got random tourists to come to my house for "an authentic Kerala meal", much to the annoyance of my mom who would be caught unawares.

Those days, my idol was this globe-trotting uncle who had several exciting stories to tell about the places he had visited. One day I came across his pile of passports. He had around 5-6 stuck together - evidence of his globe trotting. I looked through the pages in awe... all those visas stamped on them... the sight gave me more pleasure than all my Enid Blyton books stuck together. And then someone in the family commented, "Oh, he ran out of pages in his passport." I was flabbergasted. His passport didn't expire...but it actually ran out of pages! That day, I didn't want anything more than my passport to run out of pages.

And today, I realize that my jumbo Indian passport issued in November 2004, has run out of pages.

987 more to go.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 12: The comic strip.

Today I had this very strong urge to draw. Draw something. Anything. And for that, I would need pencils and erasers and drawing papers etc. None of which seemed to be available. After spending almost an hour hunting for the required materials, I ended up with a sketch book, 1 mechanical pencil (I think that's what they are called) and a black felt pen. The resources were really inadequate even for a decent sketch but I was not one to be discouraged by such feeble barriers.

I sat down to draw and waited for an inspiring idea. None came. So I ended up doodling. Some of the doodles were actually looking like recognizable shapes. Then it struck me that today could be the day when I satisfy my age long desire to do some cartoon work or a comic strip, whatever you wanna call it! After all, I have a black felt pen.

The idea got me so excited! I drew a couple of frames and convinced that this is going to be the most special thing that would happen today, I wanted it to be part of the blog.

Then came the next set of difficulties. I didn't have a scanner. So I took a picture of the drawing and uploaded it on to my computer. It was a super ill-lit, blur picture. I played around with for a while, and kinda sharpened it a bit. As a result, it looks like some grainy sandpaper work. Anyway I added in the dialogues etc. and happily uploaded them online only to discover that the font is too small and can't be read. Oh well. So I have just added in the dialogues after each frame.

The characters are called "Da" and "Di" for no particular reason (but my Mallu background could have had an influence here). Also, I would say that this is not an exact replica of something that happens in my own household, even though my husband insists on being paid royalties for using him in the comic strip. I tried to convince that Da is not him or he is not Da, but he prefers to believe otherwise. What can I say.

So below is a strip on Da & Di. It is not a genius piece of comic art by any means, but it's my own dear little piece of comic strip.

988 more to go.

Di: Darling, can you please help clean the first guest room? I will clean the bedroom, second guest room, kitchen, living room and washrooms.
Da: Of course, Darling!

Di: Darling, am done with the bedroom and the kitchen. Are you done with the guestroom?
Da: Will do right after this show, Darling!

Di: Am almost done. How about you....Darling?
Da: In just 5 minutes, Darling!

Di: Am done. Would you like me to throw the TV out of the window so you can go and clean, Darling?
Da: No. No. Am going.

Da: Darling, I've cleaned the guest room.
Di: Oh... such a darling! Come watch TV then!

Di: Darling, which room did you clean, again?
Da: The second guest room, Darling!

Di: ...Which I had already cleaned this morning...?
Da: Oh.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 11: Five hours of voices in my head and finally, a Script in my hands.

Today started with breakfast at Murugan Idly. It's a $9 cab ride each way between the restaurant and my house but my hubby and I find it a worthwhile investment. So the morning started on a high but then there were a couple of hours of pure frustration when I had to unpack my luggage - the ones I took to US, Japan and Bangkok. After this tedious and highly boring task, I felt determined.

I felt determined to make the day special somehow - after all, am writing a blog about it man!

So I sat down to continue writing my feature film script, which I had not worked on for a while. Honestly, when I sat down to work on it, I had little hope of making any progress. After all, it's been more than a month since I gave it any serious thought.

In any case, I gave it a shot. I played the characters in my head. I watched the scenes and listened to their conversations. I acted out as if I were each character. I listened to different songs to vary my mood according to the characters.

And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Five straight hours.

And ladies and gentlemen, I have my feature film script.

OK, let's not get into whether it's good or bad or funny or sad. It is very much in a draft stage with lots of revisions on the way but it is a Complete Draft. Am not sure whether or when or how it will be made, but I have my Script!

The sense of achievement was so heady that I went for a long swim. And now to calm my nerves down further, am going for a great meal and a glass of wine at Clarke Quay.

989 more to go.

Day 10: Normal days and Little surprises

So after a couple of months of separate business travelling, my husband and I are finally back in Singapore. There is no further business travelling in view for at least a month now, which brings life suddenly back to normal. And man, how I had missed it!

I wanted to spend it exactly the way I do on the most uneventful of non-working days. Which includes:-

a) Watching TV
b) Lunch at Little India
c) Long conversation and Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks
d) Dinner and Movie with friends

So I did just that and it was great! All I wanted was a normal day and I got it.

Oh, but the normal day came with its own little surprise. During lunch at Little India, I bumped into a senior from college who told me that she reads this blog. I wasn't expecting that! I was writing away but I wasn't sure whether anyone (other than those I have kinda forced to) was reading it. So my heart did glow for a moment there.

So there. It was a special day, in all its normalcy and with its own little surprise.

990 more to go.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 9: One bottle of water. Five smiles.

If I have already not made this clear before, am a huge fan of Starbucks. Am particularly fond of their Tazo Chai Tea Latte. Hence when I found out that Starbucks in Bangkok no longer sells this wonderful beverage, I was devastated. After a long, tiring day of consumer work, imagine running all the way to a Starbucks near the hotel in the hope of having that great cup of Chai only to be told that they don't sell it anymore. It's like one of the worst things that can happen to you.

Hence, the minute I landed in Singapore, I craved for Chai. So I went to the Starbucks at Terminal 2.

I was in the queue at the cashier with an Indian guy in front of me and an old Caucasian guy in front of him. The old Caucasian guy asked the barista for water. From his struggle to say "Water" you can kinda guess that English is not his forte. The barista gave him a bottle of water and asked for something like $2.50. The old man took out some 100 Thai Baht and gave it to the barista.

Barista: "Sorry sir, we don't accept Thai Baht. Do you have USD?

Old man simply blinks.

Barista (at half the speed, hoping it would help): "Siiiirr.... No Thai Baaaaht. USDdddd?"

Old Man (blinks): "Huh?" (sways the 100 Baht note in front of the Barista's face... he probably thought the barista had issues with his vision.)

Barista (pauses, considering the situation): "It's OK sir. You can have the water."

Old man sways the note even more vigourously.

Barista: "It's OK sir. No need money. This is on me."

Old Man: (suddenly understands it all): "Water.... take?"

Barista: "Yes. You can take."

Old man picks up the bottle, gives a faint nod of appreciation and leaves. Well, I definitely was wowed. I don't recall anyone giving away something on the menu for free like that at a coffee shop ever. I looked around expecting people to clap or something. None seemed to have noticed except for the Indian guy in front of me, who was smiling at the exchange. But he didn't say anything, and he definitely didn't clap.

Next was my turn and I couldn't help but talk to the Barista.
Me: "That was nice of you. About the water."

Barista (shrugs): "Well, it would have been hard to explain to him."

Me: "Still, it was a nice gesture."

The barista smiles. His colleague who overhears, smiles. The Indian guy smiles. I smile. And hopefully as he drank the water, the old man smiled.

991 more to go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 8: 'Shit' from Bangkok

Looks like Bangkok never cease to amuse me. Amaze me, even. I have been here pretty much like 5 ot 6 times in the last 4 years. And each time, I discover something new. Something that is so Bangkok.

So today, after the back to back consumer research work, a colleague and I decided to visit MBK, one of the few super cheap malls that is open until 9-10pm. After the usual walking around and buying a few things I don't really need (but they are cheap, so I feel like I would be cheating myself if I don't buy), I glanced at a shop that sells bags and accessories.

And on the counter top, right in front of my eyes, in clear view was... A Pile of Shit. Yup. People call it other stuff. "Excreta", "Potty", "Poop" etc. Whatever you call it, you know what I mean. So there it was. A lump. Just sitting there.

I was Stunned. Horrified. I stared at it in pure shock.

And then I saw something dangling out from it... it was a chain. Oh. I figured it out. It's a keychain. A keychain made from an unbelievable plastic imitation of a pile of shit. A quick glance also confirmed that there were more pieces of this extraodinary visual delight made available. In different shape and sizes. All sitting there. I was amazed. It was a work of pure genius really. How one could come up with such a precise form of imitation is beyond me.

However, all the appreciation that I could muster up for the work of art lasted only a few seconds. Some might have walked up to it for a better look. Some might have even picked it up. Some might even buy it. But I... I prefered to run before it ruined my appetite.

Bangkok - Khorb koon kaa. You make me smile.

992 more to go.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 7: Home of a Thai flower tea maker

Am here in Bangkok to do dome consumer research and that means going to the houses of some consumers and talking to them. In the process, I have visited around 6 homes over the last couple of days but one of the houses that we went to today was worth writing about.

As usual we were expecting it to be the house of a well-off working woman, the kind that we are targeting for this research. The house was expected to be spacious, neat, elegant.

And it was indeed the house of a well-off working woman. She works and she is rich. But her house was different.

It was located in an extremely cramped lane which was overflowing with food stalls on either sides. The house was a tiny, double-storey building.

The tiny house had a very, very tiny living room brimming with stuff. I mean, STUFF STUFF and STUFF all around. These include
- 1 wooden long chair, several stools, 2 wooden cupboards, 1 mirror.
- A grandfather clock
- A fridge, TV, music system
- A cycle, mini bike and 5 helmets
- Around 10 pictures of the Thai King and Queen in various sizes
- One picture of a guy elegantly dressed in some 1940s English suit (the only person who has a photo in the living room other than royalty, so presumably a very important guy)
- 6 huge aluminium vessels (the kind that you find at wedding feast preparation)
- 30kg sugar sack
- A similar sack with some dried stuff in it
- 2 huge wicker baskets
- Beauty products - creams, lotions, oils, combs, make up etc
- A prayer altar
- A drying line with clothes on them
- Statues, trophies, curios, paintings, dolls, handicrafts, books, magazines, papers
- Etc. etc. etc.

What was also interesting was the number of people present during the interview. There were:
- The lady who was to be interviewed
- The moderator who interviews, the translator and couple of us from P&G
(The above are expected under the circumstances of course, but there were more)
- A guy who sat and watched the entire interview from the doorsteps of the house
- A boy who was dressing up for school
- A girl who was getting her hair curled at the only available mirror
- A lady who came in a bit late, went into an inner room, came out again, went in again, came out again, went in again, came out again carrying a towel, went in again, came out again dressed in different, went in again.
- A cute little boy who came in and greeted every single person in the room (including me) with folded hands and then disappeared

It was all one interesting experience. Obviously curiosity got the better of one of us and she asked what the sacks of sugar and the dried stuff were doing there. So turns out that the interviewee and her two sisters are into a Flower Tea business. Some kinda herbal tea and the business is flourishing. Better still, the three of them and their families live together in that ancestral house.

They live together out of choice, in that tiny, cramped, no-room-to-breathe space. They simply don't see the need to get separate places and they don't give two hoots to the modern concept of 'privacy'.

Have not seen a family like that for a while now. God bless them.

993 more to go.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 6: 'Hello' from Big Brother

Am the only child. But I have several cousins with just one older brother among them. So he was and is my only Big Brother. We were pretty chummy in our childhood days. I was tomboyish enough to be counted as a suitable playmate by him, while probably the female cousins thought me less of a playmate for exactly the same reason. But as we grew up, we slowly moved apart. He stuck to Malayalam movies, I took to English and Hindi. He took to Carnatic music, I moved to Michael Jackson. He was convinced never to move out of India, I was convinced I wanted to travel the world. In short, we haven't really spoken much over the years and I think the last time I met him was at my wedding 3 years ago while I couldn't even make to his wedding.

Today I got an email from him. In fact he had written to me a couple of months ago but we are so out of touch that he had actually emailed to my ancienct hotmail address (which is pretty much a dead account). So today, I managed to come across that email.

He said he was writing in to say "Hello". He had realised that he's been caught up with life so much and been out of touch with a lot of family and friends, including myself and even my dad with whom he used to be in touch regularly. Hence he has made a resolution to contact as many from his old family and friends circle as possible, one person per week. And it was my turn, the week he wrote to me.

He said as he was writing the email he was reminiscing to his wife about all that we used to do together so many years ago.
- How he used to visit us in Thrissur during the summer vacations.
- How we used to go for the Thrissur Pooram festivities together.
- How we used to watch the movie "Chitram" and keep a bet on who cried first or most or last or least (differed every time we watched it).
- How some random uncle had turned up at the door one day and we made fun of him coz we thought he was drunk.

And then he asked me whether I remember any of these.

I couldn't help but smile. Of course, I remember! I also remember...
- How we used to play badminton together, indoors, with my plastic kiddy rackets
- How I learnt the first few card games from him.
- How we used to follow the trails made by the Kuzhiyaana (some kind of insect that looks like ants but found only in special kinds of soil)
- How we used to have a strong love for WWF and the numerous Trump card games that followed.
- How we used to be the "brave" ones, being absolutely fearless on the Giant Wheel at the Thrissur Pooram, while the rest of the female cousins and their moms screamed for dear life.

I remember all of it. And am glad he wanted to say "Hello".

994 more to go.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 5: Missed the Annoying Hubby

This is the first time ever that both my husband and I are neck deep in work travel at the same time and have not seen each other for a while. When am back from a trip overseas, he is usually around and he usually says "Great to have you back!".

Now, now before you go "Oh that's so sweet" and stuff, let me make it very clear that the niceties end just there. In fact, when I got back from U.S a few weeks ago, I called him up and asked him to come down and help me with the luggage. He said, "Why?! Am like.. sitting in the house. Just get it yourself na!". So.

Also, usually whenever am back, I glow when he says "Great to have you back" but this glowing feeling is very quickly displaced by complete annoyance. This is a result of a) Open packs of chips on the couch and leftover mcDonalds on the floor, b) Piles of clipped nails waiting to be cleared on the computer desk, c) Lights and air-con remaining switched on in every single room, d) Pile of his mail that I would have left for him to look at, but are still unopened e) Fact that he has not checked the post ever since I left town, f) A kitchen flooding with egg shells because apparently those ward off lizards (and the knowledge that he didnt exactly consume these eggs but threw them drown the drain to collect the shells)...etc. etc. etc.

But when I got back from Japan yesterday night, he was not around and my house was in exactly the same condition as I left it. And then I realised that I missed him and also the chance to tell him how annoying he really is.

And now that I have declared this on a public forum, I have a strong sense of foreboding. Damn.

995 more to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 4: Japan, Japan and more Japan!

Today was so great! I roamed around Tokyo as I had planned to. There were so many things that made the day so special that am just gonna list them all down! :)

a) Breakfast at a cafe inside a Japanese garden.
b) Cafe Latte that came in a cup without a handle, with a wooden-rectangular-flat saucer, with a wooden-long-rectangular stirrer, with multi-coloured sugar-hemispheres (yup, they were not cubes and they were coloured).
c) Walking through a Japanese garden complete with pretty trees, stone sculptures, a stream and a Japanese tea room right in the middle of it all.
d) Exploring some crazy, filty-rich Parisian Japanese guy's collection of antiques in a museum.
e) Being the only non-Japanese and for that matter, only person below the age of 50, in the museum.
f) Figuring out the complex train system in Tokyo and actually managing to get to different destinations without getting lost.
g) Walking through the crowded streets of Shibuya - equivalent to the Orchard Road of Singapore and Times Square of New York.
h) Ogling at the amazing 109 mall's fashion collections (which were reasonably priced as well, by the way). It was all winter fashion and it was way better than what I saw in US! Loved it!
i) Lunch at a tiny Japanese restaurant where the chef cooks at the centre and the customers eat around him, seated on wooden stools at a circular wooden table.
j) Being the only non-Japanese at the restaurant as well.
k) Discovering even more incredible functions of the Japanese toilet bowl such as a remote control, a dryer option and a massage option!
l) Last but not the least, being the only female in Tokyo to be wearing jeans. The rest were all wearing leggings.

Now I am on my way back to Singapore. So Japan, it was wonderful! :) Arigatogozaimas and Sayonara for now!

996 more to go.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 3: I fell in love with the Japanese people

I have always liked the Japanese. They are polite, soft spoken and pretty nice to me (I think mostly because I usually look lost and I can work pretty impressive doggy eyes in times of need). But today I realized they are seriously, I mean Seriously Sweet people!

This morning I left Kobe and took a flight to Tokyo. I had to take a bus from the Tokyo airport to the meeting venue. Usually there is a ticket vending machine at the bus stop. Having found none, I waited for the bus, assuming that I can pay the driver directly which is sometimes the practice. When the bus arrived, the driver asked me for the ticket. I was like... er... I dont have one because there is no machine around but I would be more than happy to pay him the money and get my ticket. Obviously language was a barrier but after gesticulating for approximately 4 minutes, I got him to understand what I was trying to say. He replied, "3000 Yen". I took out the cash and gave it to him. He called an airport official standing around there and talked to him. That guy took the cash from the driver and ran off!

I must say I was concerned for a few minutes but then the chap came running back waving my ticket, complete with a receipt. They actually helped me buy my ticket (which I should have done myself) from somewhere inside the airport terminal. I mean, who would do that? Definitely not the Indians, or the Singaporeans, or the Europeans or the Americans. The best case in other places would be asking me to get the ticket myself and if am late, requesting me to take the next bus! But no... the Japanese are different.

And the niceties didn't end there. During lunch at the meeting, I casually mentioned that I have a bit of time tomorrow morning to roam around Tokyo...and asked for suggestions on some interesting places to visit. Before I knew it, I was sitting with a folder collated by a colleague, on 5 different options I can explore within the time I have tomorrow morning. Each with travel options and maps. Each with contact details and fares. Each with a list of things to do. The lady gave me an entire folder! All because she wanted me to "have a good time in Tokyo." She even apologized because one of the museums in a garden is not currently operating but the garden itself is nice. Well!

Moving on to other special things that happened today, I discovered that the toilet bowls in Tokyo have an additional "flush sound" button with the picture of a musical note on it. With this you can control the volume of the sound of the flush. Not sure what the practicality of the function is, but I still think they are damn cute and I love the Japanese for their fancy ideas!

Met three very, very nice people - Kenneth, Mariko-san, Shuichi-san who gave me a 8-course Japanese dinner complete with sake.

997 more to go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 2: Pampered my taste buds in a Japanese ghost town

After an overnight flight from Singapore to Osaka and an hours' bus ride post that, today I got to Rokko Island in Kobe, Japan. This is my second visit to this place (on work both times) and I remember the exact words my manager told me, before my first visit, when I asked him what Rokko Island is like. His exact words were "It is sinfully the most boring island on earth." And am happy to let you know that, it is still the same.

What you need to know about Rokko Island is that it is jam packed with buildings but with hardly any humans around. I went to the biggest mall in town and it had like 5 people in it including myself. In other words, to me, Rokko Island is a ghost town.

But ghost town or not, Japan is still Japan. One is still fascinated by the ultra sophisticated toilet bowls (I can live without the 10 different options for water sprays and bidets but if only we had the warm seat option in other cold countries), the cute nap time kimonos (even though not very fashion savvy since it has "Sheraton Kobe Bay" written all over) and the absolute surprise of hearing a Hindi song in a mall where I was the only Indian!

And something else, on top of all the above fascinations, made the day pretty special. Rokko Island might be boring but what it does offer, is the Indian Restaurant that sells the Best Naan Ever. Called "Nanak from New Delhi", it was a discovery I made during my previous visit. You might think that it is pretty silly for me to travel to Japan to eat Indian food. But you need to eat this Naan to believe it. I have not had a better piece of Naan ever - not in Singapore, not in India, no where in the world. So today after work, I set out in the cold in search of Nanak, armed with Ken Follett's 'World Without End'. My keen sense of memory and direction took me there without much trouble. And I, once again, had the Best Naan Ever, accompanied by a dish of brinjal and eggs. The cold, the silence, the book, the Naan. It was perfect.

998 more days to go.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 1: How it all started.

So a friend of mine turned 30 over the weekend. A few others are about to turn 30 in a couple of weeks' or months' time. And all of them are, well... kinda sad. Turning 30 is like being told that it's half time. Statistically you could possibly prove this wrong, but that's what the feeling pretty much is.

Now, I take pride in not being bothered about it. Or so I tell myself. But then I was bothered enough to figure out that I have exactly 1000 days to go before I turn 30. Now that I am aware of this critical piece of information about my life, question is what do I do with it.

No worries, I have the answer. I will blog about at least 1 thing that made the day special for the next 1000 days. If I know that I have lived 1000 beautiful days, that would pretty much make turning 30 quite tolerable now, wouldn't it?

So today is Day 1. What has made this day special is that....well, I have embarked on this chronicling journey and that gives me a pretty clear goal for the next 2.5 years. Something to look forward to.

999 more to go.