Wednesday, December 31

Video of the Day Click for more info

More fun and games from the ace Boymongoose, in the form of another Christmas carol:

Awesome. For those who missed last year's just as brilliant offering, have a look here.

And no, I don't relate. Much.

Hat tipped to Khalid.

Tuesday, December 30

And Pigs Will Fly

I guess 2008 really is the year of the impossible: first the USA elects a black president, and now, in many ways even less likely, I've had to call my mobile service provider in order to ask for more inclusive minutes than I currently get. After my birthday and a couple of Eids I've been caught out way too many times and so here I am doing something I'd never thought I would need to.

It's a sign. The world is coming to an end I tell you.

Monday, December 29

After Partying

I was supposed to get back into a solid work regime today, except that the groom from yesterday's wedding called and invited me to join the wedding party for lunch as well as other fun and games. How could I refuse such a request? With my current level of discipline, I guess I couldn't.

And so the afternoon was spent lunching and joking, then eating chocolate on a Routemaster while touring London by dusk and then finally ending at the London Eye for a night flight. I've never been on the Eye after dark so it was nice to have that particular experience; although visibility was low the view was pretty stunning (I've added some blurry pictures to Picasa if you wanted to check them out).

It was all so totally random, out-there, last minute and massively enjoyable; the perfect conclusion to such a good nuptial weekend. It's just more evidence of what kind of couple these guys are I suppose.

New Music

Guzarish - Ghajini

Although there's a couple of good tracks on the Ghajini OST (most of which belie the film itself), this by far stands out the most. I think it's the way it can be sweet and powerful at the same time, as well as the sniggering inducing lyric translations. Classic gems include "[...]How I pine to splash you with my colours of life" and "spring forth from the fountainhead to spew my pearls of life upon your path". Or maybe it's just me who found that funny.

Aye Bachchu - Ghajini

The second track lifted from the Ghajini OST, this is a fun and eccentric number sung by Kalpana in various costume (which to be honest is probably why I like it so much). It won't last as long as Guzarish, that's for sure.

Shak's Choice: Asin

Probably my first Tamil choice (I lose track sometimes), it's the wonderful Asin, currently starring as Kalpana in the superb Ghajini:

Although she isn't really that new after all: she has made a few films already and so it's surprising that it's taken this long for her to breakthrough. Better late than never eh?

Film: Ghajini Click for more info

Sweet, romantic, funny, hot, tragic, violent, action-packed, engaging, dramatic and thrilling, there's little that's missing from Ghajini. Although not as deep and complex as the wonderful Memento (perhaps a good thing), it manages to remain interesting enough from beginning to end, resulting in one of the best Bolly flicks I've seen this year.

Kudos goes to all who put the film together, as Ghajini is yet another example of how Mumbai can produce technically good films. Acting was okay too, with Aamir (EDIT: this guy for real or what? Just one word really: steroids) and Asin shining the most. I also enjoyed the soundtrack, despite it being tenuously shoehorned in in most cases.

So a definite recommendation from me then: if you're going to watch one final Bolly filck this year I'd totally say to make it Ghajini. Heck if you're going to watch one final film of any genre I'd say this is worth a looksie too.

Sunday, December 28

Rohit and Vandana

I'm not that angry at Rohit for breaking the pact of non-marriage we made after realising that we would be the last of the Imperial massive to get married. Of course he denies any knowledge of this, but it had been made.

But I'm not too upset since it had been clear from a while back how geared up for marriage he was - despite never having met her before it was obvious how into her he was. What was really impressive was how this wasn't in any kind of clouded or limerated manner but in a very real and controlled and valuable way.

It totally sucks that I couldn't make his wedding in Mumbai: a combination of a tough visa process (due to my Pakistani connection) and the recent events over there pretty much ensured that I couldn't go. Damn world.

I first met Rohit on my first day at university. It was my birthday and he was on the receiving end of my self-pitying and complaining of how crap Imperial was. That sums up Rohit in a nutshell really; he taught me that no matter how important and correct you felt your principles were, friendship was something worth so much that it should override them.

This meant that he wouldn't quibble over pennies or pounds, that he'd quickly get over the many times I deliberately antagonised him (often without looking for retribution) and always go out of his way to do a favour without expecting anything in return. He'd even put himself in an undesirable position if it meant saving grief for a mate.

And that's why I don't mind much that he's broken the pact he had with me. After all, if there's anything I've learned from Rohit it's how the happiness of a friend is worth much more than a mere broken promise.

Atha and Fatimah

Some guys are just cliches. In Atha's case I mean this in the best way possible: here is a universally acclaimed genuinely nice guy with lots of friends who he's always willing to put aside time for. He is super-funny and adored by all around him be they male or female; I can't imagine anyone thinking anything bad about him. He's also extremely normal and down-to-earth: many a time we've spent comically backing each other up against a room full of our more cultured and intelligent friends.

He'd never do anyone wrong let alone his wife - he's the perfect marriage material in all the right ways and yet he wasn't married until recently. Today is his valima/reception.

I'll stop before this post becomes about how stupid most women are for ignoring the good guys out there (but this might come later).

Fatimah isn't without quality either. This piano-playing, horse-riding, Ugandan-kid-saving girl was the type to make many in the marriage hall wonder exactly how talented a single person could be, but then I guess it takes a Cambridge graduate like her to know what they have with a guy like Atha. He's a lucky man.

The valima today reflected this. I'm not sure I've been to many that had a games' room (well in this case a games' hall) and a dazzling array of cakes for dessert. The speeches were wonderful and the whole thing just worked so well.

So in that sense they're pretty much perfect for each other. Two classy people in a classy union; what more could a couple wish for?

Sony Alpha A200 Click for more info

I used to hate both taking and being in pictures. The former was due to laziness and an irrational hatred of collecting things, in this case photos and albums. Where would you put them all? The latter was partly due to what I considered religious reasons but also due to a mixture of modesty and immodesty: why would anyone want to take a picture of me, and how dare they even think about owning my image? Besides, what's the point of taking pictures if you can remember the moments?

I'm not sure when exactly things changed. The digital age of photography allowed us all to now store and view a massive number of pictures on a home computer, with no space taking albums in sight, and you could keep taking pictures without worrying about wasting film. I also began to appreciate the memories stored in pictures - the evidence (for yourself and other, possibly new, people in your life) of who you've been, who you are and who you will be.

Regardless of this epiphany I never actually bought a camera. Most of my impromptu pictures had been taken by my various phones once they had reached a certain technical standard, while more planned shots (holidays and weddings) were taken with borrowed gear. I never really saw a need to change this situation, until now.

I've always appreciated DSLRs. Even my untrained eye could tell the difference between the shots taken with them (on "auto" by an amateur like me) and the more compact cameras currently funding the popularity of photo sharing nowadays. But still there was no way I could justify the cost of something that would probably spend most of its life gathering dust in a drawer. I had set myself a pretty impossible budget of £200.

A combination of discounts and offers allowed me to nab a Sony A200, already the cheapest of DSLRs from any manufacturer for the handsome price of £190 - a terrific bargain by any measure. The price betrays the quality of the camera though: although the kit lens it comes with was said to be a bit iffy, the body of the camera was well specified compared to others in its class (and sometimes above). Things like in-body steadyshot (as opposed to in-lens, which also has its benefits), anti-dust measures, a large generous LCD screen and image sensor and multipoint autofocussing are all unique on a camera at this price (even before the discounts).

In hand though there are some drawbacks. It's a bit bigger and heavier than the others I've played with, and I'll also be the first to admit that the pictures don't look as good as those taken with other cameras (albeit ones which cost three times as much). On the other hand it's pretty quick to turn on and focus and can take pictures at up to 3 frames per second. For someone new to advanced photography it's also extremely easy to use, with everything laid out in a way that makes sense to me.

The picture quality issues could just be me using it incorrectly of course, and hopefully as I get to grips with the camera they'll get better. In the meantime, I'll be posting any particularly interesting pictures into a single public Picasa album; feel free to comment and feedback on them as I'd love to know what you think and how I could improve.

The National Gallery Click for more info

Despite having lived in London for the past thirty years, there are some things I've not yet done. Things like visiting Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral or the Tower of London have all been put on the back burner, partly because I know they'll always be there but mainly because I'm insensitive to their importance and don't really care much about them.

There are things that I really want to do though, many of which I managed as a part of my embracing my solitude and going at it alone (The Tate Modern being the most abused place). The National Gallery is another place I've wanted to visit; to be honest, I'm not entirely sure whether I've been there before or not (it seemed so familiar), but when a couple of visiting Canadian friends said they were going to go, I decided to, well, use seeing them as an excuse and tag along.

It was nice enough. We marvelled over Monet, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael (Turtle Ninja puns ahoy!) and Van Gogh amongst others, while taking the opportunity to chat and catch up due to our mutual inability to appreciate the art silently. I think that for me, most galleries in general are about the company rather than the content (a notable exception being The Tate Modern), although there's no doubting that they do make a nice context and vibe in which to hang out. It's also worth mentioning how impressive the gallery itself is, and I regret that I wasn't allowed to take any pictures of the place.

I also seem to have gotten over my obsessive need to see everything and anything in a museum or gallery, finally realising that checking out 100% of half of what's on offer is better than checking out 50% of everything.

As an afterthought, Trafalgar Square never looked so awesome from the Gallery's balcony. Funny how you appreciate some things so much more once you see them from a different perspective, eh?

Thursday, December 25

Film: Dostana Click for more info

Hilarious madcap comedy about two guys who put on a show of homosexuality in order to gain various advantages. Much of Dostana is pretty predictable, but it's done with such style and humour you can't help but enjoy it anyway.

Abhishek and John play the gay couple brilliantly, while Priyanka plays her part too (apparently there's a shortage of cloth in Miami). The star of the show is undoubtedly the script though; I laughed out loud more than once. The romantic twist was also a nice and engaging bonus.

I'd hardly call Dostana a memorable experience, but it's super fun while it lasts. Recommended (if you can still catch it).

Tuesday, December 23

Food: Tamarai Click for more info

Nice enough Pan Asian place on Drury Lane offering a small yet complete menu of fancy dishes I couldn't quite understand the composition of. Compared to the usual dazzling array of options it was actually refreshing to have just one fish, one lamb and one chicken main to choose from! Although the lamb and chicken were said to be halal I stuck to the boneless fish and loved every fillet of it, although the rest of the table found their respective lamb, chicken and prawn dishes to be merely okay.

Service was excellent with the staff prompt and polite, although the food did arrive slower than we wanted it to. Still we were treated to pre and post-appetizers to keep us busy while we sipped on our overpriced non-alcoholic cocktails.The place itself is of the bar-restaurant type, a bit dark and loud for my liking and not really conducive to good conversation. That said we did manage to kick back pretty quickly.

Despite enjoying the food the price was pretty prohibitive despite being on a Top Table 50% offer - we paid a smidge over twenty per head for a starter, main and shared sides and were in unanimous agreement that even after the discount we paid a fiver too much for what we had.

Just another option then, rather than a place to go back to.

Monday, December 22

Holiday Pictures Now Up Click for more info

Just a quick post to say that my holiday pictures from Pakistan and China are now up! Follow the link in the title to get to them.

I've kept a few private, including the one of a certain bovine (amongst others) being slaughtered. Mail if you'd like to see these. Family also have their own albums to view.

I'll try to update the relevant posts (if I can be bothered).

Sunday, December 21

Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still Click for more info

Apocalyptic alien invasion ahoy! There wasn't much that TDTESS brought to the table that was new, but nevertheless it managed to keep me entertained and engaged for a while. There wasn't even much for the special effects brigade; you've probably seen most of the highlights from the trailer so don't go watching this expecting any more than that. Oh and like all good science fiction nowadays we also get given a big fat moral of the story too.

Not bad, but hardly unmissable either TDTESS might be worth watching seeing as there's not much else on at the moment.

Film: Rab Ne Bana Jodi Click for more info

RNBJ made many mistakes on its road to being a classic. Along with a title no one could quite remember we were also given a confused and unrealistic plot (even more than usual I mean) and a distinct lack of depth.

That's not to say RNBJ was totally devoid of any entertainment; on the contrary since it was fairly sweet, funny and engaging. It all just wasn't enough to make the whole thing memorable. Where were the deep, over-emotional moments? The classic and defining scenes? The dialogue that people were supposed to quote in real life? RNBJ had none of these.

Although I didn't quite understand why he did what he did, Shahrukh Khan did a fabulous job as the guy who reinvents himself for love. I had major issues with his opposite, Anushka Sharma; ultimately I just didn't believe her performance and was longing for those feelings I got while watching other actresses much better at playing the leading lady role. It would have also helped getting someone who could dance to play someone who, uh, wanted to dance.

Otherwise production was of a good standard apart from some rubbish dubbing; the music was also good (keep an eye out for Phir Milenge, Chalte Chalte) if a bit on the scarce side.

I am being a bit unfair in my criticism: RNBJ is still by far a good film and a league ahead of regular Bollywood love stories and this is still A-one stuff here that's definitely worth checking out if only for a bout of feel good factor. It's just not the classic I was expecting despite having the correct ingredients, and for that I guess I am sorely disappointed.

Saturday, December 20

Shak's Choice: Rachel Stevens

Let's get this straight: I've always had the hots for Rachel. Yes, okay, I know I wasn't alone in placing her as my favourite S-Clubber, but my point is this post isn't just because of her current success in Strictly Come Dancing:

I'd actually say she's more cute than hot, but hey: let's not get into semantics. I write this as she enters the final two in tonight's final and although I was always backing her from the start I don't actually care whether she wins or not since she'll still be awesome whatever happens.

Tuesday, December 16

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD is back on form with it's latest take on why we chicken out on what needs to be done:

Who knew that the "friendship rationalisation" was such a cliche? Well, I guess we all did really.

Game: Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (DS) Click for more info

Although it's been out for a while, I finally got to play Ouendan 2 during my stay in Pakistan. The sequel to one of my favourite DS games ever (2005? Damn) brings more of the same rhythm action fun.

There's no new gimmicks or gameplay elements here, so you will already know whether you want to play this or not. It's a nicer experience as you can now skip a lot of the guff, as well as play pretty detailed multiplayer with just the one cart. On the downside though the all important music isn't as catchy as it was in the first game.

Otherwise there's nothing much more to say. Osu!

Sunday, December 14

Pakistan, Day Eighteen: Goodbye Pakistan

We awoke to a call from PIA, the airline due to take us home, informing us that the flight would leave an hour later than scheduled. Between that (an hour's delay isn't that unusual) and the news that the Pakistani Air Force had repelled a couple if Indian fighters from Pakistani airspace had us worried that something was up.

We needn't have worried though and we managed to board our flight okay. I'm always glad to see Jinnah International - the first step on my way home. Landing was amusing, seeing how we spent an hour in the plane while it was on the tarmac, the ground staff having difficulty in attaching the skybridge to allow us off. We ended up having to walk off; even while in London we were suffering from the Pakistani effect!

We arrived home at around 5pm, but our day wasn't over - after a quick shower and rest we had to get ready to attend a wedding; just the ticket to get over any residual jetlag we may have been suffering from although I always find it easier travelling from East to West anyway.

Between Lahore with my aunt, China with my parents, having an English cousin in Pakistan and just being plain older, this has been a fantastic trip "back home". It may even rank amongst the best and makes me wonder if there'll ever be a time when I stop going.

After the past month I sincerely hope not.

Pakistan, Day Seventeen: Counting The Minutes

We planned on spending today at home, receiving all those who wished to bid us farewell. My poignancy was obscured by my homesickness, and I couldn't really hide my desire to go home. We exchanged well wishes and prayers for safe travel with promises to see each other again soon, hugged and kissed, and said multiple goodbyes in doorways. It was all so familiar and yet still difficult to get used to. The next time I see these guys they’ll be two to three years older, with some even having one or more kids in the meantime.

It was also a day of inevitabilities, the first being us having a power cut (our trip is now complete) and the second being the last minute packing that we really should have had sorted a while ago. And why the heck are we sleeping so late too?

I shouldn't have had that farewell fillet-o-fish and quarterpounder for dinner either. I hope I offload before taking off.

Friday, December 12

Pakistan, Day Sixteen: Winding Down

More housekeeping today, as we met some of dad's workmates for lunch and Jummah prayer, and then another friend of his in the afternoon. All meetings were pretty much uneventful and consisted of them talking about stuff I wasn't particularly interested in or didn't understand. Inevitably there was the odd defence of my single status, but that was my only real involvement in the proceedings.

Dinner was better as a relative took us out to Pizza Hut. Still, even that was a quiet affair; it seems I've not got much left to say this trip!

Pakistan, Day Fifteen: Winding Down

The holiday began to wind down today – we didn't really have anything planned for the morning so I spent it in the best way possible: by channel hopping. Seems I had exactly the same issues as the last time I did this here, although I must say that the programming is pretty advanced now.

The afternoon was spent doing the relatives rounds – we managed to visit a good five or six households in a couple of hours and it was good meeting all my mum's uncles and aunties, even if I didn't have much to say to them. I also suddenly realised how old they all get each time I manage to visit them in this way.

The evening followed a similar theme, except this time it was my father's side and all in one house. Nine of his siblings (out of a possible 11 in Pakistan at that time) made it to the party, and it was awesome seeing them and their respective families all together; just like in old times. Once again I got ribbed for being the oldest (by far) unmarried cousin (I didn’t realise gay jokes were available here), but it was all such a laugh I didn't mind. On the contrary; I wish I had enough time to spend properly with the 150+ people or so that had made the effort to come.

But despite all the fun and joy I find myself very tired, both physically and mentally. It's coming up to a month since we left the UK, the longest I've been away in recent times, and the homesickness is beginning to kick in. That, and all of a sudden the mosquitoes have begun to bite.

I miss my bed. Only a couple of days left to go, I guess.

Wednesday, December 10

Pakistan, Day Fourteen: Slaughter Time!

After what seemed like an age of sleep I managed to recover quite a bit this morning. I was no longer spewing stuff from both ends at least, although I was feeling a bit weak from the lack of nourishment during the last 24 hours.

I was strong enough to hang out for the second day of sacrifice – it's not as numerous or as exciting as the first day, but it was good enough as I witnessed my father do away with two goats. He had a cow to do later on in the day; after lamenting how I wish I had been perky enough to slaughter a goat he graciously offered me Daisy (not her real name) instead; a bit too gleefully now that I think about it.

I first met Daisy later on this morning, around 11am. She was clearly shaken after a day and a half of watching her kin being taken under the knife, but after a while she calmed down and allowed us to pat and groom her. And once again a lady misplaces her trust in me.

It was finally time to do the deed. With the help of some hired butchers, Daisy was brought to the ground, tied up and held, her neck ready for the knife I held in my hand. Reciting a little prayer, I took the blade to the place I was told to, slicing once, twice, perhaps three times before the blood began to spray on to my hands. Despite how it sounds it was a very smooth cut (or very sharp knife) and I felt no resistance; in fact I'm pretty certain Daisy didn't feel anything either until the knife was taken out of my hands in order to finish her off. Hey look, it was my first time okay? And it didn't help that I had a big butcher in the way.

Washing my hands of her blood, I began to assess what just happened. Strangely I didn't really feel anything for Daisy – it was almost as if she had literally already become a piece of meat way before a knife got anywhere near her. To be honest I'm a bit surprised at this lack of feeling or that I didn't feel any remorse. Meh, perhaps I'm a cold hearted bastard after all?

An hour later and the butchers had cut up Daisy into smaller and more manageable chunks (including her brain), amusingly bits of her still pulsating even after this much time. Two hours later and we had our first taste of the meat. Disappointingly it didn't taste any different to me.

There's more to the qurbani than merely slashing a poor beast's throat. This cow was offered on behalf of my parents and me (amongst others – a cow is good for seven people) and the meat was to be given away to neighbours and poor people living nearby. I'd even say that this bit was harder than the actual slaughter – it was pretty damn hot.

On a side note I also had my first bike ride this trip – man, I've always loved these and they've been one of the reasons I come to Pakistan. Unfortunately due to recent trouble in the area two men on a single bike has been banned (the passenger assuming the gunner's role), so my ride was pretty short lived.

Later that evening we had a pretty awesome barbecue. A part of me is waiting to see if Daisy has the last laugh by exerting her revenge on my stomach.

Pakistan, Day Thirteen: The Worst Eid Ever

There are sometimes clear indications that you're about to have a really bad day. Vomiting at 4am is one of them; now, sure, getting some kind of food poisoning isn't new when you visit Pakistan – heck, it's one of the things we should embrace and even look forward to, it's that inevitable.

But today was Eid, and being ill on Eid always sucks a hundred times more. Not only did I have to abort my first attempt at Eid prayer to make way for more vomiting (luckily I managed to catch a later congregation), but I was so knocked out I missed the qurbani, or ritual sacrifice I was looking forward to for so long to see.

In fact I spent most of the day in bad – I can't have been awake for more than four hours in total, and that just to puke up the stuff I tried to eat or drink. Needless to say, I had written off today completely.

Monday, December 8

Pakistan, Day Twelve: Missing Eid Back Home

The day before Eid here in Pakistan, and so not really much to do except wait. We had lunch around a cousin of mine's house, after which the folks had some chores to do in town - I tagged along just to get out for a bit. Luckily I bumped into my English cousin and spent the rest of the day, including dinner, with her.

It's Eid in the UK though, and it was good to call home and check in with family. It's really weird to be celebrating Eid a day later than the friends and family at home, almost as if I expect them all to have waited a bit, or that our own celebrations tomorrow will have had some of the edge taken out of them. Even though I fully support the notion of having multiple Eids in one place, I'm glad I usually fall into the camp that celebrates first!

Pakistan, Day Eleven: The Beginning of The End

We managed to get some sleep at least, playing it rough by sleeping in the airport's prayer room. Between the time difference and naps on the flight coming to Abu Dhabi, this turned out to be pretty valuable rest. The remaining time at the airport was spent breakfasting and chatting online with an insane friend from the UK who happened to still be awake (it was about 5am back in the UK).

But we were back in Karachi before we knew it – even the severe turbulence on landing wasn't enough to sway our excitement. For the second time in a month, landing in Karachi felt like I was coming home. I didn't even wait to leave the airport before getting a McDonalds.

The biggest change during the two weeks we were away was the sheer number of livestock lining the streets, patiently waiting for Eid so they could offer their necks to the butcher's knife. I then realised that I didn't even get to know the cow we had ordered. I didn't even know where it was!

My new clothes had arrived from the tailors too – this is only interesting since I've decided to go for patterned and contrasting upper and lowers, instead of the straight plains I've gone for during the past 18 years or whatever. Reading back, perhaps this is not that interesting after all...

Surprisingly none of us were too beat. Nevertheless we spent the bulk of the day settling in and resting, treating ourselves to dinner at Seaview's Village (my poor mother not having eaten much during our stay in China). This was the life; although I had a feeling Karachi wouldn't be so stress and carefree for what little remained of our time here.

Sunday, December 7

China, Day Thirteen: Leaving China

In the morning my dad and I decided to take a flippant ride on the Beijing subway; having had a driver for the duration of the trip meant missing out on public transport. Our assessment? It's pretty neat.

After lunch we headed back to the market to pick up some last minute shopping (read: more trinkets and gifts), after which we headed to the airport. Oddly, it felt like we had just arrived at the still-impressive Terminal 3. I think we were all happy to be leaving though.

I type this from Abu Dhabi airport, at the start of what will surely be a horrendous nine hour stopover. Urgh, what a way to spend the night; I better try to get some sleep somehow. Still, we're almost there.

Friday, December 5

China, Day Twelve: Winding Down

Our second Jummah in China and so another late start as we got ready for the midday prayer. We had pretty much exhausted our time here in Beijing, and that coupled with how the guide refused to amend The Schedule meant that today wasn't that eventful.

We visited the calligrapher from our first time in Beijing to pick up a couple of pieces, this time having the pleasure of watching him work his magic. After that we headed to a new market where we picked up some more gifts and things.

Like I said, pretty uneventful. Still, at least I got to play Teen-Do-Panch with the parents this evening! Result.

Thursday, December 4

The Silver Lining

Getting rejected is a good thing. Hold up, hold up: let me explain.

As the proposer, you know you've done as much as you can. You've taken it as far as you could have on your own, after having given the situation your full consideration. You're the one who was brave; you're the one who took the risk. It was you who had lived life to the fullest and seized the day. You're the one who went out of your way to compliment and flatter the other. You're also the one who knows that they couldn't have changed the outcome, that there's nothing left to see, that this is, in fact, the end. There's nothing more to see here, and you're the one who can move on.

Now let's consider the poor rejector. They on the other hand was put on the spot and had little time to come to the decision they did. Can they ever be sure that they made the right one? They're the ones who could regret saying no; they're the ones who will wonder what if. The full weight of missing out on what could have been is fully on their shoulders, the responsibility wholly theirs. In fact, for them the story might not be over for a long time.

So not only do they fare worse than you, but they also did you a favour, having saved you from one of those inevitably sticky relationship things (does anybody even want one of those things?).

On the other hand, it could quite possibly suck. But to be honest I don't think there's that much in it.

Originally posted 21st August 2008

Aiming For Rejection

Never ask someone out unless you'll be disappointed with them rejecting you. After all, if you don't actually mind them declining your advances then you probably don't really dig them as much as you think you do anyway.

If course this is based on the approach that you need an argument or case to ask someone out, and flies in the face of the other side that says you can only develop things fully after being explicit and so should give everyone a go, you know just in case.

Of course I'm not saying that you should aim for rejection just to prove that your feelings are correct - I'm not that much of a masochist. However it may be a better situation to be in than being received positively and then finding out that you don't actually like the person after all; although perhaps not at first since a yes is always awesome for the ego, whatever your real feelings.

It's difficult to know how you'd feel about someone saying yes or no either way, but I think it's possible if you really think about it. You could perhaps place some distance between the two of you to simulate rejection or something?

Ultimately though you might never really know until you do the deed. In that case, perhaps the best thing to do is to just stop makings excuses and take the plunge? I suspect that a rejection is better than not knowing at all, and deliberating about it all may just be a terribly inefficient way of getting the exact same answers.

Originally drafted 2nd August 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

Today, I'm going to talk about rejection. Before I do I have to qualify this all a bit first - I've never asked anyone out before, and so as a result have never been rejected. However I have been approached a few times by girls who, for some bizarre reason, have found some kind of interest in me. These have all been lovely people, each way too good for me, and as flattered as I was, I was also probably an idiot each time I declined their respective offers. Out of respect for these people I've never talked about them or what they managed to do so bravely, not even in general terms like I will today; but the fact remains that this really is the only exposure I've had to the dynamics of that dreaded beast called rejection.

The first time someone someone said they liked me was way back in college. I foolishly rejected the advice from friends that I was sending out the wrong signals (however innocent they were), but the fact remains that I was slightly responsible for her coming forward - a lesson I still haven't really learned even now.

I told her that my parents were planning on finding me a wife, possible from Pakistan, and that I wasn't the type to date. A bare faced lie of course, but one I managed to get away with nonetheless. The truth was that I just didn't see her in that way but didn't think it was right to just say that for some reason.

To be fair I did conscously make an effort to remain friends with this poor girl, but something was never quite right - either she was still getting a bit too close or I was all of a sudden more sensitive to her behaviour. I totally overreacted to things like her stealing my topi/headcap (at least 80% of you will be raising your eyebrows at this point. Let's just say that my time in college could create not just a post but a whole blog on its own), and eventually we (or perhaps just I) had to drop contact altogether. Thankfully we were to leave college anyway.

The second time a girl was intersted happened a few years later. This time I didn't take any chances, choosing to drop contact cold turkey even before she had the chance to make her feelings known on her own terms (I had discovered them via other means). I didn't even explain what I was doing, and even though she probably figured it out anyway it was grossly unfair and pathetic on my part since she never even had a chance.

It was from that point on that I promised myself to be as honest as I could be during these situations, whether I was being asked or doing the asking, and no matter how much damage the truth could cause. With honestly on my side there's no way I could be in the wrong. Of course this doesn't mean that tact and diplomacy both go out of the window, two things I need to work on still now. And in the absence of being able to dress up your reasons adequately and constructively, telling the truth is the next best thing. It's certainly better than lying anyway.

And so far this policy seems to have fared me pretty well. Without being too proud I can say that the truth has always been more appreciated than otherwise, and that it made it possible to fully talk about the situation and resolve it to the satisfaction of all concerned, something I make myself available for. In most if not all cases, something positive does come out of the situation, and I hope I'm not wrong when I say there've been little regret on both sides (well okay, perhaps once or twice from my position).

I've even managed to remain friends (sometimes very good friends) with everyone since those first two girls, sometimes even after they marry and find themselves in a better position than they ever would have bein in with me. I even get along with their new husbands, that's how fully resolved and comfortable the situation is. I'll always be flattered that such great people once had an interest in me and seeing them with the right people vindicates my actions in some ways.

But if you still can't find yourself being able to tell the truth then you could always try picking your nose, scratching your crotch, telling rude and inappropriate jokes or simply perving on their sisters while they're letting you know how they feel. After all, if its them rejecting you then all the effort of being truthful and tactful suddenly falls on to them; and you may as well make that easy for the poor buggers, eh?

On the other hand you could just try growing a pair; who knows? After the dust settles it may do you both a great big deal of good.

Originally drafted 18th April 2008

China, Day Eleven: Back to Beijing

We left the hotel before breakfast this morning, in order to catch a 8:40am flight back to Beijing. We were now unravelling our journey and in some ways Beijing seemed like a well trodden and familiar place to us. It felt like ages since we left there.

The weather seemed to have followed us back and although it wasn't snowing it was damned cold. I mean really cold. The day's schedule seemed more like a chore than something to enjoy - taking a rickshaw through the hutong/alleyway part of town wasn't that fantastic, and we bailed after an hours' shopping on Wangfujin Street, deciding the warmth of the hotel would be a much better place to spend our time in.

Compared to Xian, Lanzhou and Linxia, today wasn't much fun. The same strict and inflexible guide as before didn't really help, and we wished we could go back to eating the food we had found much more agreeable in the western part of China.

It seems that the end of our trip to China had begun a few days early.

Wednesday, December 3

China, Day Ten: I Now Want Chinese Babies. Lots Of Them

The temperature dropped to a freezing -10 overnight forcing us to wrap up warmly for the day ahead. Despite the bad weather we were looking forward to this morning's activities, since we were due to visit a kindergarten catering for Chinese Muslims.

As we entered the, admittedly lush, pink building we were almost attacked by a swarm of incredibly cute 3-6 year olds - all welcoming us with salaams (Arabic greetings of peace) and "how do you dooooo?"s without much prompting. Immediately we got the impression that these kids were outgoing, confident and, most importantly, happy. Indeed the unofficial motto of the morning was "increasing education through happiness". The 150 fee paying (of a nominal amount) kids and 50 staff all lived on-site in a complex built and run by businessmen who wanted to promote Islamic education in the area. It's currently funded by the same type of people.

As the Urdu-speaking headteacher explained to us, the school not only emphasised Islamic teachings - some of the kids had learned up to six chapters of the Quran already (I'm not sure we could get enough of the class of four year olds reciting Surah Lahab in chorus, complete with Chinese translation immediately after) - but also provided a healthy level of non-Islamic and extra-curricular study like art and dance. They even had a dance room/gym that doubled up as a prayer space - however it became clear that such dual usages of school facilities wasn't advertised lest they become a focus point for the authorities. Likewise, as important as the non-Islamic facilities were, there was an impression given that the boasting about it was a form of lip-service.

I could have spent the whole day, maybe two, just hanging out with and watching the kids as they learned there (have I mentioned how ultra-cute they were?), perhaps helping out the school if and when I could. Once again I felt like I was leaving too early. I sincerely hope that I'll get the chance to return someday.

After lunch (interesting if only because we almost crashed a wedding being held at the restaurant) we headed back to Lanzhou. The road back was pretty treacherous, the well built roads irrelevant in the face of such snow and ice; we must have passed at least three different incidents on the way back.

But back safely we did get, the evening rounded up by a wandering through a pedestrianised road-cum-shopping street; although not really - we stuck to the underground "street" that ran below it - it was blummin' cold after all. Amusingly and for the first time during this trip we felt very self-conscious as we were repeatedly being stared at during our window shopping. This was no big deal as most of the women down there doing were staring were by far the hottest I had seen during this trip. Cough cough and all that.

Dinner was followed by an early night - we had an early flight to catch the next day. The backtracking of our path through China to date had finally begun.

Tuesday, December 2

China, Day Nine: Pilgrimage to Little Mecca

The morning was pretty basic. We visited the Big Yellow Waterwheel Park – an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things, but since it was paid for we had a peek. We were actually on the way to a smaller town three hours drive away named Linxia, the main city in the prefecture of the same name. This town was relatively off the beaten path, and sometimes a stop over for those travelling further south to see and meet a Tibetan village. The relevance for us, however, was that Linxia was a town where the majority of inhabitants are Muslim - in fact it's often referred to as "Little Mecca" in recognition of this fact.

I was wrong to think that Lanzhou was visibly Muslim. Linxia was in a class of its own – you could literally see at least one (typically there'd be two or three) domed mosque or minaret everywhere you looked. Most men wore headcaps (presumably those that didn't weren't Muslim), the women had their hair covered. Markets were full of livestock, with people bartering in order to get ready for the day of sacrifice next week. Even with my eyes wide open I could imagine myself being in Karachi with only the Chinese signage and (ironically) the multiple domes giving away the true identity of the place. This really was a Muslim town, as opposed to a town which had Muslims in it - indeed the prefecture status of the area implies a certain level of autonomy for the otherwise minority ethnic group (Muslim typically describes an ethnicity in China as opposed to religion).

Being so small, there isn't much to see here. Our schedule largely involved meeting and talking to people and trying to establish a perspective on the culture here. How did Muslims live and practice here? Were there any issues in them living their life? Were they oppressed by the government as so many of us in the West believed?

Our first stop was to a Muslim school for girls. This was a private school which took in girls of all ages for three years in order to teach them Islam – except not quite since they were obligated to also provide education in other skills like English and Computing in order to avoid being shut down by the authorities. Religion alone isn't a justification for opening a school it seems, although from what I saw the added benefits were worth it; some girls were even learning how to program in Delphi!

We sat in a Quranic Arabic class, impressed by the recitation of the students. Asia (pronounced Asiah), an 18 year old student acted as ambassador to the school; her English was outstanding and she served well as a bridge to the rest of the students. She accompanied us on a tour of the rest of the school as we checked out the library, prayer and computing facilities.

We left the school uplifted; these were independent and strong willed women who were striving for knowledge and were doing something about it; the majority had travelled from all over China to study here and had ambitions to continue study further, even abroad. They were comfortable and content, being able to achieve exactly what they wanted to, and more.

Our next stop was less joyous; it was to an orphanage currently housing thirty kids after having been established five years ago. The building itself was tiny and simple, with clear indications of financial struggle (since it wasn't an officially sanctioned orphanage, government support is minimal). The kids themselves were grubby, a few of them having been playing in the dirty street. They sure knew how to pose for a photo though!

As we ate the offered apples and oranges we were told about how some of these kids had ended up here – reasons all too familiar like the preference of boys over girls, or how some were the children of a remarried divorcee woman who were unable to go to the new home their mother was heading to.

Since the kids were studying at public schools, they weren't lucky enough to gain a formal Islamic education. Instead this was left to the rector of the orphanage (or “grandpa” as he was introduced to us); he obviously does a good job at this if the six year old reciting Surah Naba for us was anything to go by.

Our final stop before home was to a Sufi mosque to offer our evening prayers. Unusually this was not domed like the majority here, it was still majestic in its own right.

A friend back home had asked me to observe and report on the social struggles Muslims face here. Obviously there are many, but I've yet to see any grave issues caused by them being Muslim and in China. Most are the usual problems caused by poverty and a lack of education (like the gender bias), but some of the more stressing ones are caused by people just being Muslim alone; indeed they are the same problems afflicting Muslims the world over.

Take the number of mosques here. Despite there being many practicing Muslims in Linxia, there is still way more prayer space than is required, something that appeared to be a result of sectarian differences. The community is quite segregated in this manner and even butt heads – we were told of the pissing contests some groups had in building their incredibly impressive three storey mosques, all while their adherents lived in squalor.

Seeing The Great Wall and Terracotta army was nice, but this half of our time in China was equal in its wonderful eye-opening effect. We still have time in Linxia and Gansu, but already my impression of Islam in China is a world apart from what I had thought before coming here. And once again I feel like I’m not spending enough time here (we leave tomorrow), this in contrast to usually feeling homesick after just ten days away from London.

Monday, December 1

China, Day Eight: Arriving in Lanzhou

Bit of a logistical day today, as we left the hotel late to catch our flight to Lanzhou. We arrived in the capital of Gansu Province much later than we had expected - 4:15pm to be precise. In short our Monday had pretty much been killed.

Lanzhou City was bigger than we were expecting. I guess that was obvious - after all it is a capital and does have its own airport and stuff, but I am ashamed to admit that I was relieved to find large hotels and restaurants here too. I didn't even mind the excessive use of neon lighting! It's very Las Vegas or Dubai, and just goes to show how bling has penetrated even the most remote and modest (or at least what I thought was remote and modest) parts of the world.

Despite arriving late, we did manage to salvage something of the day as we visited the largest and most impressive mosque in the city. Xiguan Mosque was pretty cool, but we were too late for Esha prayer - hopefully we'll get to join a congregation there at some point. It's actually one of a pretty incredible number of mosques (unlike Beijing and Xian these were newer and so were of a more Arab style with minarets and all) dotted around the city - I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that if I didn't know better I'd have thought I was in a Muslim town. Even our guide is a Chinese Muslim!

Famous for The Silk Road and some temples, Lanzhou is an unusual place for tourists to visit, especially ones on their first visit to China. We weren't here to be tourists though, at least not the type who sight see. No, Lanzhou was actually more of a springboard into our next and final destination for which we leave for tomorrow - and as such you'll have to wait for my next post for the lowdown there.

Banned In China

A quick note about comments: apparently my blog is so radical and out there that it cannot be accessed from anywhere in China via normal means! Well okay apparently it's every website hosted by Blogger, but still the point is that I can't access my own blog, even though I can post to it.

What this means is that I can't reply to any of your comments. Don't worry though, I am receiving them and have a long list of replies to make once I can!