Thursday, April 23, 2009

“The streets have names! The houses numbers!”

This was one of the messages Shu sent me hours after she had arrived in München, Germany, for a shortish trip to Europe.

“You can tell the Germans drive their cast fast, but well!”, was another text message she sent.

It actually brought a HUGE smile on my face :)

I guess it doesn’t make much sense unless you have spent some time here in the sandpit. For those who haven’t, here is a quote from a CouchSurfer who was going to stay with us, whom we just sent the description of our buildings’ location (building x, behind building y, on street y): “can’t you just send me the address?”, silly guy, I know, of course not, no one would understand it, let alone know how to find it!

The way-things-work-here-in-the-sandpit: All streets have numbers, most of ‘em also have names, all  of them have nicknames. A map will usually show you only the official name that no one uses, and if you’re lucky, it’ll also show the number. But no one uses those either (apart from people who have just arrived and haven’t adjusted to the ‘system’), cos everyone uses the nicknames, which are on no map. Also, houses don’t have numbers, well, they do, but no one uses those. That would be too easy, eh?

So imagine the surprise of being in a country which is actually organized to use street names and house numbers for what is was intended! So one could actually give an address and find his way around!

Also, speeding is one of the main causes of accidents in this country, linked to a staggering number of deaths. But it’s not just speeding, and Germany is the prime example for this. No speed limits on most of its highways, and a relative low number of casualties on its roads. It’s more than just speeding, it’s the way people drive. And out here, it’s maniacal. The comparison I draw is the difference between driving in Manila and UAE, in Manila, traffic might be worse than in UAE, but people at least take others in consideration. Whereas here, people don’t. It’s that simple. A signal to switch lanes here is interpreted as a signal to block the other person, at all costs, to enter the lane he/she wants to enter. It’s horrible.

I guess for us, traveling outside the region, is our reality check, to know that there is a world out there which is understandable, in which people can give you an address which you can look up and actually *find* on a map!

We were talking about it for the past few weeks. We hadn’t necessarily planned to go back to Europe, but circumstances made it this way (not that we mind, mind you!). And it is our way of making sure the real world is actually out there, with real people, with real addresses!

Shu has just started her trip to München, Germany, and will also visit Salzburg, Austria, to visit friends, and then will join me in The Hague, The Netherlands. I will join her there, flying in from Brussels (where else?! Anywhere else would just have made sense!).

It’ll be a welcome week surrounded by friends and pamily, and addresses that make sense :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shantaram (and Dutch rap)

It took me a while (I started when I went to India, December last year)… then again, I wasn’t rushing either. But I’ve finally finished the book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts!

The book tells a (1000 page!) story about a Australian drug addict who escapes from prison and flees to India. Here he lives in the slums, sets up a health clinic, works for the maffia, makes friends, enemies, fights in Afghanistan, and much, much more. A very inspiring book and well written book (descriptive without ever getting tedious), which I will read again somewhere in the future. Thank you, our friend (if he could, he would add the .com to his name!), for recommending it!2009-03-28-10h01m48s-Canon-EOS-10D-CRW_4027

Here are some memorable quotes:

“Every day, when you’re on the run, the whole of your life, every minute is a short story with a happy ending.”

“Come, you are not drinking! I hate it when people take so long to drink a single glass. It is like putting on a condom to masturbate.”

“Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender before you win.”

“And make sure he doesn’t learn any bad words, don’t teach him any swearing. There are plenty of arseholes and bastards around who will teach him the wrong sisterfucking words. Keep him away from motherfuckers like that.”

“Driving is not so good. But I have to say, the spitting and insulting is a first-class job.”

“You were naked. Naked, without any clothes on. This is India, nobody is ever naked in India. And especially, nobody is naked without clothes. So please, promise me that you will not be naked in India, especially not without your clothes.”

“If fate doesn’t make you laugh, then you just don’t get the joke.”

These quotes do not even begin to do justice to the book as a whole, so go out there and buy it, borrow it, steal it. And when you’re done, share it with others! How about set it free on :)

* – * - *

By the by. I’ve always listened to a lot of Dutch music, and now being overseas doesn’t change that. Maybe now even more so! It comes in all kinds of flavors, one of which is, brace yourself, Dutch rap! One of the current hits was performed live for a radio show, with a few cams recording the show. Have a look, I thought it was awesome (blog mailing list subscribers, I think you might have to go to our blog directly to see the video):

Recording from my favourite DJ, Giel on 3FM (listen live!).

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Indian Visa Drama

My flight to Mumbai leaves in 12 hours. At this moment, I am sitting here with no passport, no visa, but only my plane tickets. Getting a visa for India has proven to be very difficult in my case. I can only share my stories below and hope others (i.e. you) would have better luck.

1st trip to Indian embassy. About two weeks ago. That was my first attempt to get a visa for India. We were told the visa service has been outsourced recently (is there anything that can't be outsourced?!) and is at another location, but of course the information was not updated on their website. Oh well ran out of time so had to do it another day. Damnit.

1st trip to Indian visa office. 10 days ago. A smiling head-bobbing staff explained to me that my Canadian passport only had one blank page and it was not sufficient for visa processing. I needed two blank pages, i.e. a new passport!

1st trip to Canadian embassy after reaching out to the emergency service immediately. Filled out application form for a temporary passport in addition to a regular passport as a regular would take twenty work days to process, whereas a temp can be printed in Abu Dhabi and ready in five. The staff casually mentioned at the end of the conversation that she was the only one that can print the temp passports, and she would be away on personal holiday for five days, but “don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.” Uhmm, right.

2nd trip to Canadian embassy. 4 days ago. Picked up 8-page temporary passport. Noticed that it was only valid for six months exact. Thinking to self if that it might be a problem to enter India because there’s a requirement of 6 months validity upon arrival. But no time to waste. Need to hand in visa application form FAST.

2nd trip to Indian visa office. 4 days ago. Filled out visa application form. Was told “no problem, madam. Visa will be ready in one day. Two days maximum.”

3rd trip to Indian visa office. 2 days ago. Just when I thought everything was going to be sorted after all. I received a phone call Friday (weekend) night from the visa office, telling me that my application is not complete. I had to go in and fill out an additional form because, take this, I was born in China! “Additional five work days will be required.” So India and China don't get along, eh? Who knew!

3rd trip to Canadian embassy. After Q’s nudging I decided to follow up on the six month passport validity situation. Canadian embassy staff agreed to give me a copy of my new passport (which arrived yesterday), and a letter explaining my situation. You see, I can’t get the new passport yet because I can't carry around two valid passports at any given time, and my visa would be on the temp. Get it?

--- Insert dozens phone calls to Canadian and Indian embassies between trips. ---

Latest update: Just called my friend Sashi at Indian embassy, yes, we are friends now since he's on my speed dial. I was informed that my security form was just faxed to New Delhi, and now I must wait for security clearance. You gotta love the protocol though: if they doesn’t hear back from New Delhi after five working days, they can assume everything is okay and proceed to issue me a visa, but not before. The staffs can't afford risking their jobs over failing to folllow procedure and that is it.

I’ve done the upset-and-bitching part, so what now. "All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope.” I think I will do just that. Actually, add "blogging" to that list.

New latest update: Still no visa after another day of waiting. I was told that Indian embassy will be closed tomorrow due to Indian public holiday, so there is no chance for me to get a visa and get myself to India before my course starts. This is it. My India trip is off.