My first Bangalore adventure

I set out for food and adventure after arriving at my hotel earlier today and passing out in the kind of drunken stupor only possible when flying half way around the world. Ramanashree Hotel is about 50m away from the renowned ‘MG Road’ (I don’t know much about it but it conjures up images of wide boulevards and people drinking beer on pavements).

I turn left onto the main drag and have to ask a couple of people to confirm that I’m actually here. It’s not quite what I expected. I stumble along what looks more like a bad tetris game than an actual pavement. To my right is a road over which uncountable numbers of auto rickshaws, taxis and other methods of transport fly. Their flying is accompanied by the very unmelodious hooting by the same. I wonder how hooting makes any difference when everyone is hooting… all the time. I guess driving in India is about understanding that we are all held in suspension in a kind of cosmic, dynamic fluid. We alert one another to our presence in the fluid by letting one know where we are. Perhaps this means that blind people can drive in india too…

I continue along the pavement, keeping well to the left. Apparently there isn’t a clear boundary between the main road and the pavement. This doesn’t deter the locals. Although it is dark and the cars are hurtling towards them, people calmly walk along with their backs to the horror behind them. I want to shout out and save them. Instead I keep my eyes on my real live tetris game, imagining just the shape of block that it would take to level it.

On my left I pass what appears to be an army recruitment center. There are large billboards with images of helicopters and battle tanks with captions like: ‘Join the army and be a hero for life.’ (ok, that isn’t it, but you get the picture) After being tempted to give it all in to play soldier soldier, I come to a small room in which a host of krishna (and other) idols and flowers and other gold bits and bobs sit. I wonder how this works. It looks like someone is sitting outside tending to the place. Perhaps you must pay to visit?

I hear the sound of electric bass guitar coming from the mall up ahead. A band of teenagers is singing bad rock music on a stage that seems set up for Saturday sessions of this kind. About 20 people are watching. This is my idea of a concert! It’s like being on the set of Idols auditions. A young teenage girl is singing about being in her room waiting for ‘him’ to call. She’s surrounded by angsty looking boys who strum violently at their instruments. They’re hot. She must be the talk of her school. I think I see her mom. She looks concerned – not because her daughter is singing bad rock music about boys, but that her other daughter might not have gotten it all on the small video camera that she is dangerously wielding.

Seriously doubting the fact that this is the MG Road that everyone talks about, I ask a nice lady who is waiting for the bus. She says that I have passed MG Road but that there is a great mall just up ahead for getting food. I forge on. The mall is just up ahead on the other side of the road. A zebra crossing lies across the road, but apparently zebra crossings in India are a little game of ‘how to trick the foreigner into believing that these symbols mean the same everywhere’. I make as if to start walking across the road, expecting the way to part for me like Moses parted the sea (it was Moses, right?) No one stops. In fact, they actually hoot at me! I stare indignantly and then beseechingly at the wall of traffic. After a while I realise that my blonde hair and pitiful stare are not going to work. I glance around me and try to work out how everyone else is getting across. Ah. This is how it goes. Lone travelers wait for a large enough group who want to cross the road to gather. Talk, handsome man confidently holds up his hand for the oncoming mass of traffic to halt, and people follow him as he bravely holds up the traffic for the few seconds it takes to cross. Just like Moses.

I’m in the mall and it’s crazy. There are a gazillion people here. There’s a Marks & Sparks; a Mango; a lady on a stage with a microphone selling insurance. Nice. I head up to the food court on the fourth floor and straight to what looks like the local Indian food joint. I don’t know what anything is, so I pick the ‘combo’ deal with aloo paneer (which I think means potato and cheese). After holding out my pale white hand with my receipt stupidly for a few minutes, my face lights up when the plate of food I was really hoping was mine is shoved into my gleeful hands. I rush a seat in the food court and tuck in to a plate with those cool little compartments. A dhal, a chickpea curry, a cucumber raita and four triangles of the most delicious fried naan-type bread stuffed with potato and paneer. Just the right amount of heat. Just the right flavors. Just the right combinations. I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

As I eat, I’m starting to get a weird sensation from the people around me. No one is watching me! WTF?! I’m like the only blonde person I have seen in this place. I thought I’d be getting cat calls and propositions. It’s a relief… but also not.

I’m in such a good mood that I decide to splash out on a salwar suit. I go into a shop where there are many determined young women, opening up beautifully folded items of clothing and dropping them just as quickly. These gals know what they want. I look at a couple of the gazillion tops in as many colors and choose a pink short-sleeved top and black pants that look like they are made for a human-sized praying mantis. Apparently this is a salwar suit. I skip the try-on queue and purchase the goods. It feels good to be alive.

India. Baby. I love you.

I walk back along the way that I came, pausing only for a strawberry miracle smoothie and a smile from the gaggle that serve it to me.

What’s with all the crazy people?

Bezerkeley, California. Today marks my first week anniversary since I arrived. In that time, I have been called a dunce by a woman shouting at me in the street, I have been jeered at by a guy on the train, and I have been read sections of crazy books by a man in a hat on the street. And so my question, to all the learned men and women studying at this prestigious university, is always: what’s with all the crazy people? Is there some crazy-person magnet that draws people from throughout the US to this town, or is there something in the water that I need to worry about?

The general perception is that social services are really good in this town and that there is a general tolerance for the crazies that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the US. But surely people don’t turn crazy just because they are tolerated? Daniel’s answer is probably closer to the truth: that many of these folk fried their brains with psychedelics in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and this is the result.

This doesn’t explain my run-in with the guy on the train on the way back from San Francisco, though. I was sitting in my seat, minding my own business, when suddenly the guy opposite me who had been lolling asleep sat bolt upright. In a slurry voice and with darting eyes, he fired off a series of questions to everyone who he caught in that flickering gaze.

Now you must understand that this was not an old hippie from the ‘60s. I had actually thought that he looked like a hip Internet entrepreneur or a modern artist and was about to ask him on a date. He didn’t smell and was wearing clothes that indicated a certain degree of fashion-consciousness that certified people probably do not possess. But here it was, 1pm in the afternoon, and the man was either very drunk or very high.

I watched other peoples’ reactions with fascination. They tried to play the pretend-that-absolutely-nothing-out-of-the-ordinary-has-just-happened– and but for the flicker of nervousness in their eyes you would have believed it. But this man wouldn’t be ignored. He was crying out to the world to take notice and to tell him where in the world he was and what day it was. Poor guy. I guess he had a really bad hangover later.

A young woman sitting next to him was very kind (as was I in a “kind of” way). In return, he asked her if she was single, and then he got off at her stop. I do hope both of them are ok.

And so, the madness continues.

2008: moments that stood out

1. Most days: Waking up with my beautiful boys.

2. Feb: Sapporo with K and laughing ’til my stomach ached.

Tash and H in Jozi
3. March: Fun with Tash in Jozi – fun like in the old days fun.

4. April: Driving 15 hours to to spend 24 hours soaking up the Northern Province bush.

5. August: The close of what may be the last iSummit in Sapporo, Japan. Pic: iSummit 08 group pic by Fred Benenson on Flickr CC BY

6. August: Going to the onsen with my friend Rebecca and washing it all away.

7. November: Celebrating my god-daughter’s second birthday with my second family in Jozi.

Barack Obama by
'We can' Barack Obama's acceptance speech by jmtimages on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA

8. November: Woohoooooooooooo! Listening to Obama live on CNN during his nomination acceptance speech on my couch at home in Jozi.

9. November: Being very insignificant in my very special brother’s annual celebration.

10. December: Making Christmas mince pies for my friends Oso and Brij in Oakland and learning how hard it is to know the right path when you come across it in the dark.

Winning and losing and the GRE

I arrived home last night after three weeks in the US of A.

I’m happy that I got to finish my application to the Berkeley iSchool. A week before I left, I realised that I had to write the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and send in my results by the application deadline of 7 January. I had all but given up (and was feeling pretty happy about not having to write the test) when I found a test center where I could take it on the day that I left. Studying all week (the GRE is one third math – *not* my forte) I was pretty damned nervous when I drove my friend Oso‘s car to the center in Fremont at 6am on Saturday morning. Half way through the test, the computer wouldn’t move onto the next section. We were then told that there was a world-wide problem with the GRE and that we should all go home and come back on Monday. Unfortunately, on Monday, I would be many feet in the air somewhere above Senegal (again, math is *not* my forte), and so I sat waiting for the problem to be sorted.

Hanging out at the test center for the next three hours, I met another Heather and her two friends who were working there as a part-time job while they finished college. They were talking about the worries of finding a job in the current economic climate, and wondering how they were going to pay off their student loans. I also saw a bunch of kids – no more than 8 years old – filing into the computer room to do tests for a gifted child program. All the kids were Asian-Americans. They were all accompanied by parents who looked a lot more nervous than they did. I felt sad that they were in there having to undergo all that stress when I suddenly realised that they probably didn’t see it as stressful in the least. As my trusty Kaplan guide to the GRE said: If you see this as a stressful, excrutiating experience, then it’s going to be a stressful, excrutiating experience. The GRE is a game – see it as that and you’re well on your way to having a great time with the thing (my words, not those of the much more lucid Kaplan Guide).

I don’t know whether I managed to take the GRE with the same level of calm as playing Scrabble with Oso on Christmas Day (there’s something about seeing your component in the flesh that makes beating them to a pulp so much more tangible and certain) but at least the scores that I got straight afterward confirmed what I already knew: math is *not* my forte. ‘Verbal reasoning’ on the other hand – now *that’s* my forte. In the end, I know I could’ve done better in the math at least (my score was the same as when I started studying!) but after all, the GRE is a game. And like losing at Scrabble sometimes, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good wordnik. Only that you lost the game. on Jozi

A friend who lives in New York sent me this awesome article by William MacNamara on the regeneration of Jozi inner city in the Financial Times. It made me realise how important it is to have outsiders saying such great, positive, optimistic things about living here. South Africans certainly aren’t going to say it!

A weekend in the bush


Last weekend, at Lou and Mike’s wedding at Gwahumbe in KZN, I reconnected with old friends, the Takis brothers from Swaziland who I last saw about eight years ago on one of my very best holidays to Kariba and Sodwana. My cousin, Tash and I were planning on going to Mbabane but the Takis’s were going to be at their game farm bordering the Kruger Park just outside of Phalaborwa, so we packed up our khaki and headed off on what became a 7.5 hour drive to the farm on Friday night.

picture-13.pngYou will know how incredible it was when I say that driving 15 hours for a weekend was totally worth it. We arrived at about 3am to the sound of lions mating just outside the house. We saw giraffe, elephant, kudu, klipspringer and a very inspired dung beetle. But the best sighting from the weekend was what we later called a ‘bushy-tailed-mongoose-shaped-sheep’ but which I’m sure was actually a spotted hyena. We were almost at the farm with Tash driving when she slowed down as a shadow crossed the road. The animal was locked in the headlights as we stared each other down and he then ran off.

Life in Africa sure is good.

More pics on Flickr here.

‘Sunset’ by H Ford CC BY-SA and ‘Spotted hyena’ by Eva Hejda CC BY-SA on Wikipedia.

Interesting pics

eslitereader_h2.jpgHave a look at these great pictures taken for the September edition of Eslite Reader at the recent Wikimania conference. They asked me to do something ‘relevant’ with my laptop for the picture. So I tried to eat my laptop.

I guess I was trying to talk about the fact that information can feed people in a way that no amount of food can. But I have a feeling that no one will get it 😉

Pic: Eslite Reader on Flickr: CC BY-NC 2.0 GB 


picture-11.pngJoi has kindly let me stay at the Lab in Meguro-ku, Tokyo this week while Fumi and I visit local companies to rally support for the iCommons Summit in Sapporo next July. I love Tokyo, and the area that I’m staying in is unreal. Along with the beautiful dark fiber network in the lab, there are equally unfamiliar things like the incredible ‘Three dog bakery‘ down the road (picture of doggie cakes left).

I’ve read a lot about Japanese people being over-polite and ‘crisp’, but I have loved every second of my interactions here.

When I arrived at Narita Airport, I was walking out of the bathroom when a lady stopped me to kindly and quietly pull my skirt from my underwear. ‘Sorry sorry,’ she said as I smiled at her and blushed and thanked her profusely.

The next evening when Fumi and I went to dinner at the soba restaurant that I demanded we eat at, the chef watched me intently as I drank my soup from the bowl and then rushed at me to kindly explain how to add the soba broth to it so that it wouldn’t be too salty. He ended up giving Fumi and I a pair of lovely paper fans that they were giving out at the traditional street dancing festival the night before.

Later, at the pharmacy, the young cashier first wrapped the tampons that I had bought in a brown paper bag and then painstakingly packed that and the other things I’d bought into another bag. When it didn’t fit perfectly, she giggled and blushed, and went to find another bag so that it would all fit at the bottom.

I feel a bit dumb most of the time because of my bad Japanese, but completely safe at the same time. If this is over-polite, then I’m very, very happy with over-polite – at least for now…

Picture: from (they don’t allow you to take photographs in the store and I just had to show you!)