Wednesday, March 31

Korea-Japan, Day Nine: Fish Markets and Hakone

Although it probably won't make the top of the list of many people coming to Tokyo, the fish market at Tsukiji was one of the best things we visited during our stay here, even if it meant having to leave the hotel at an incredible 5am.

Visiting the market itself was cool, but what were really awesome were the tuna auctions. They end at 6:30am (hence the early start), but were totally worth watching. Just picture how you think frantic Japanese sellers and buyers would act and you'll probably have a good idea - the whole thing was a brilliant caricature of Japanese culture, which is amazing considering the vast sums involved in the auction itself. After wondering around the market itself (there's nothing like dodging the splashing of a flying fish while checking out the live eel and crabs) we had some sushimi in the market itself, as fresh as fish can get.

After a brief stop at the hotel I headed off alone to Hakone in search of Mount Fuji. The weather wasn't on my side and I didn't see anything but the trip was a decent one consisting of a circuit of Hakone via many different means including a brilliant cablecar, various trains and a boat across the lake. I also spent a good couple of hours in the Hakone Open Air Museum, a wonderfully interesting yet massively out of place exhibition of modern art. For some strange reason that was the only place where I felt kind of lonely.

Hakone is two hours away from Tokyo. I slept the way there but latched on to a couple of Americans on the way back which passed the time pretty well. I headed straight back to Shibuya to meet my friends for food (I had grown weary of local food; MacDonald's had never tasted so good). We wondered around a bit, checking out the talent at Shibuya 109. I've concluded that hime girls are awesome and that Shibuya is at the top of my list when it comes to people watching. I regret not spending the time to explore the area more actually, but for now time happens to be up.

Tuesday, March 30

Korea-Japan, Day Eight: Nikko

After a relatively late start we decided to spend the day in Nikko, a compound of various shrines and other sights. We made it there for midday, which didn't leave us much time to get through all we wanted to but we managed to cover the main sights.

Prioritising what we wanted to do, we got on a bus and headed straight for the Kegon waterfall. On the way we took a cable car for a pretty stunning view of Kegon and Lake Chuzenji, well worth the time spent on buses to and froing. We then made our way to the lake and waterfall proper, although since we still had the temples and shrines left to do in Nikko we couldn't stay too long. Although this was unfortunate (the lake seemed like a nice enough place to have chilled for a while) it was a bit nippy.

The shrines were impressive, but again standard fare. Toshogu was the nicest of the bunch, while the Shinkyo bridge was typically Japanese. Unfortunately the place started shutting at 3:30pm which left us a bit stranded, but after a late lunch and our train home we ended up at our hotel at 9pm anyway. The day was quite efficient and we got a lot done, but for those of you who are planning to check out Nikko I can only advise that you start your day earlier than we did.

Monday, March 29

Korea-Japan, Day Seven: Going At It Alone

We woke to find that we were a man down as one of our three didn't make it out of bed due to illness. The remainder went to Asukusa to check out the temple there, although to be honest the market street leading up to it seemed more interesting than the temple itself, especially seeing how it was completely covered for renovation. I was beginning to understand how those who had seen Japan before me could claim that sightseeing got a bit samey; I suspect only those with a personal interest and relevance can keep up the enthusiasm after the first handful of religious sites.

We then tried something different, and walked to the Ryoguku area to see if we could spot any sumo wrestlers. Unfortunately all the stables were empty as their inhabitants were in Osaka for a tournament that had ended the day before; this meant we had no one in Tokyo to even watch train.

After dropping me off at Ginza, my remaining colleague decided that she was feeling a bit rough too and decided to head back to the hotel. Ginza didn't hold my interest for long; apart from the mildly exciting Sony Building there wasn't really much to do there if you're not into designer gear and brands. I decided to cut my losses and head to Akihabara.

For me, Japan was always about Tokyo, and Tokyo always about Akihabara. This was where the gadgets and videogames were, where the otaku and nerds hung out. Needless to say I spent forever there, and could have easily spent a couple of hours more... Although I did chicken out from going into one of the many maid cafes there. I think the concept was weird enough to go as a group let alone on my own. And besides, I much preferred watching the many kids in the arcades there trying to get a 100% in whatever music game they chose to be an expert in.

Revelling in my solitude, I decided to head back to Harajuku for a spot of people watching. I was still disappointed that I hadn't seen any yesterday, and although it was a long shot I thought it would be nice to see the area during a weeknight, when it wasn't as busy. After hanging out for a while (still not seeing any cosplay) I decided to walk back to Shibuya instead of taking the train, where I stopped off at that crossing again for more pictures.

I took up position on the second floor of the Starbucks overlooking the area when I was approached by a random Japanese guy who wanted someone to practise his english with. After realising such stuff was normal in a land where people find it safe to talk to strangers I managed to humour him for thirty minutes or so. The whole experience reminded me of the stuff I tend to like most about travelling nowadays; the randomness, the checking out of the people rather than the places and the creation of my own story instead of the retelling of one from a guidebook.

Unfortunately this only seems possible when I'm on my own.

Sunday, March 28

Korea-Japan, Day Six: Checking Out The Locals

We headed out relatively early, looking to get a lot of Tokyo city done today. We started with Harajuku and its surroundings, just north of Shibuya.

We first headed to the Meiji Shrine. To be honest I've no idea what the significance of this particular shrine was but it was as nice a shrine as any I suppose. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but we witnessed a couple of weddings happening too which was nice. After we were done looking around, we headed south of the Shine to the adjoining Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park is a typical inner city park, and that Sunday morning it was filled with joggers, picnic makers and others looking to soak up what little sun they could find. We had come to Japan during the cherry blossom season, and although there was no way for us to tell what a normal level of activity was, it seemed especially busy this morning.

To the south east of Yoyogi is Jingubashi, or bridge, famed for hosting a variaty of cosplaying girls and boys each Sunday. We didn't really see many that morning though; we figured that it was still early and so moved on to Takeshita Dori (or street). This was the "trendy" part of town (think Camden) although it was way too busy for me to detect any specific vibe. We then walked down Ometosando, where the shops were less trendy and more western, and spent a while in the toy shop Kiddieland. I didn't grab much; a horrendous rate (135 compared to last year's 220 or so) means that I won't be spending much this holiday.

Toward the afternoon we headed to the business district of Shinjuku, purely to take the not-so-short walk to the Tokyo metropolitan government building one, two 243 metre tall towers, each with their own (free) observatory. It was still day, and visibility was low but we got a good enough sense of Tokyo regardless.

The night was spent in Roppongi for dinner. We had a reservation at Gonpachi, the place which allegedly inspired the final scene in the first Kill Bill but as a restaurant it wasn't that special (although a special nod does go to the fatty tuna we had there. At six quid a piece we were expecting something good).

As we spend more time with the locals we're noticing more of their cute idiosyncrasies. They're extremely clean and hygienic for one thing. As you probably know most toilets have bidets built in, and the streets are wonderfully clean with no gum, litter or dog poo to be seen (despite there not being many litter bins around). But you'll often find sanitising gel at entrances to shops and things, and a good number of people on the street wear face masks to protect themselves from foreign germs. But best of all was the way we saw a train attendant wipe down ticket machines after they were being used - whether this was just at that time or if it was a continuous process I don't know, but I certainly wasn't offended when he wiped down the machine after I had used it myself.

Saturday, March 27

Korea-Japan, Day Five: Hello Tokyo

And just like that, our time in Korea was over. However leaving Seoul wasn't that painful as I was now going to head to my real destination of Japan, one of the places listed on my "places I need to go to" list. We booked an early flight; and despite knowing that this was a sensible thing to do it still felt like a mistake as we made our way to the airport during the early hours of the day.

Tokyo is pretty awesome, and it's safe to say that I fell in love with it on sight. I was surprised by its charm and warmth, and how it wasn't the futuristic and robotic place I thought it was. In the few hours we spent making our way to our hotel in Shibuya I discovered the friendliness of the people, the understated hotness of the women, how blummin' clean the place was and how there was a certain indescribable buzz in the city.

I'm a bit ashamed to say that Korea had already been forgotten.

We were staying at the Granbell in Shibuya, a boutique hotel (which is a bit quirky if you're used to the normal stuff like I am). I just accepted it as another example of Japan's uniqueness.

We spent the afternoon at the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Alas I didn't see much cosplay but the exhibition was interesting and fun enough and I was knackered by the end of it. On the way back to the hotel we checked out Shibuya, including what is apparently the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.

Although our day has ended early, it feels like we've done loads already.

Friday, March 26

Korea-Japan, Day Four: Jummah and Car Shows

After a lazy start I headed to Itaewon, location of the only mosque in Seoul in order to attend the Jummah congregation there. As such it was quite the focal point for Muslims - those I met and chatted to all seemed to be immigrants though. The imam appeared to be local, offering us a khutbah in Arabic, English and Korean. I love attending foreign jummahs; its usually the place where I manage to get closest to the people and culture of a country as they accept me into their place of worship. It's the ummah in full effect. I even got to grab a halal kebab for lunch afterwards.

That afternoon we headed to KINTEX to attend the tuning show that was being held there. But in order for you to understand the significance of this (we're not into cars anyway) I have to rewind a bit, back to a conversation I had with one of my travelling companions a few months ago. It went something like this:

Him: Check out this bird. She's so hot.
Me: Aww. Cute. Where is she from?
Him: South Korea. She's a Korean Race Queen.
Me: We should go!
Him: Okay!

And a few weeks later we had our tickets booked for Korea and Japan. Now I'm not one to chase skirt, certainly not across the globe, but an idea comes from a variety of places and in this case it was a model. But Korean Race Queens aren't just booth babes (even though the majority of pictures from a Google search will be of them draped half naked over cars), but super girlie too. For example check out the undisputed Queen of Queens, Park Eun Kyung do her thing. Guys, prepare to melt. Girls, prepare to hate. Pout-tastic or what?

So when we heard that a Tuning Show was being held in Seoul while we were there, we had to check it out. We weren't expecting big things: our, uh, research showed that the Tuning show didn't traditionally have any of the big names (they're usually saved for the big Korean and Japanese motor shows) but we thought it would be something different to do during our stay anyway. Imagine our surprise when we found Park Eun Kyung was actually there, doing her stuff (admittedly I didn't even recognise her myself; I'm more of a pew pew fan myself). And no, I didn't take many pictures. Ahem.

It was our last night and we had one last thing on our checklist to do, and that was to try some san nachi. I'll let you guys Google it yourself if you want to find out what it is, but unfortunately we weren't able to find any place that had it on their menus tonight. We did find an excellent fish restaurant instead which happened to be super cheap to boot. I guess that's a win of sorts, but for now san nachi remains not-done.

Thursday, March 25

Korea-Japan, Day Three: The DMZ

Today we got all real and went to the Demilitarised Zone, the 2km wide buffer between North and South Korea. To be honest the history and story behind the border as told by our guide was more fascinating than the wire fence (the North and South are still at war apparently) but the sense of scale was pretty tremendous, perhaps more so than other contentious borders I've been to.

A cool part of the trip was visiting one of the three underground tunnels to the South dug by the North during their attempt at invading Seoul. It's probably a bit of a cliche, but you could almost visualise the armed forced sneaking in for an attack - we were allowed to go pretty deep into the tunnel, and not far off from the border proper. Apparently there's many more tunnels still around, laying undiscovered.

During the morning session we were also taken to Dorasan International, the northmost station in South Korea. This would be where South Korea would be linked by rail to the rest of Asia and even Europe, and although there is a railway it leads to nowhere at the moment.

After lunch we were taken to the Joint Security Area or Panmunjeom. This is the only place along the border where there isn't a 4km wide buffer zone - in other words we were able to come face to face with North Korea. It was pretty weird seeing North Korean guards checking us out with their binoculars (and sometimes hiding behind pillars while they did so).

In the centre of the JSA is a negotiation room and inside that a table which straddled the border (BSG fans: it was a bit like that negotiation station in the first episode). We had free access to this room, and so were effectively able to hop back and forth across the border too. Other interesting sites included the "Bridge of no Return", as depicted in Die Another Day.

After returning to the capital we headed to the N Seoul Tower to check out views of the city. It was quite electric at night, although it did make me realise how small the place was.

The temperature dropped today. It was freezing.

Wednesday, March 24

Korea-Japan, Day Two: Surfing Seoul

Today was about being a tourist and leaning on our guidebooks. As such we clocked up the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces, took a walk down Insa Dong, passing by the Cheonggyecheon Stream at the end. Toward the evening we checked out the Samsung D'Light building where the company had on show their current and future products. To be honest I was kinda underwhelmed; it seems that technology is a bit more global now, and there wasn't anything futuristic or amazing to see there. We did try to make our way to the river but we aborted as it turned out being further than we expected.

We got a good feel of Korea and its capital today. The Koreans are a nice enough bunch, although they do seem to walk a bit funny. And they totally don't respect the usual food conventions that I'm used to in the west. Yes, that's right, their seafood pizza has meat in it. Still, at least the place was kind enough to make me another one.

Tuesday, March 23

Korea-Japan, Day One: Arrival

The problem with travelling west is that not only do you spend time flying, but you also lose hours crossing time zones. So, despite us taking off at 8pm or so last night, we finally managed to reach Myeong Dong and check into our hotel at around 6pm. A whole day killed in transit.

Still we had the evening to walk about Myeong Dong, taking in the various stores and street markets, checking out the food for sale and the people passing by. After grabbing dinner we decided to hit the sack in a vain attempt to wipe out any lag.

It didn't work.

Friday, March 19


Shak says (16:35):
    well obv
    it depends on who pays more!
xxxx says (16:36):
    i guess
    cos we poor
    but when you rich
    say the bids were 100 and 120
xxxx says (16:37):
    and you feel the guy bidding 100 would do a better job making it succesful
    if you REALLY cared about it ... you'd go with 100 instead of 120
Shak says (16:37):
    hey man
    like ive always side
xxxx says (16:37):
    obv you a merc
Shak says (16:37):
    this is just work
xxxx says (16:37):
    just in it for the money
Shak says (16:37):
    i dont have all these "passions" others do
    if i did....
    i'd become an artist
    or a poet
xxxx says (16:37):

New Music

Juthi (Ravi Bal Mix) - Surjit Khan

Old, but still going strong. I think it's a bit cheeky calling it a remix though seeing how most mainstream tracks from the genre sound like it.

Tere Liye - Prince

And Atif's selling out to Bollywood continues. Not that I care if it means more of this kind of stuff.

Thursday, March 18

Film: Green Zone Click for more info

It's Modern Warfare! But in a film!

This alone makes Green Zone great, but along with that we also have a solid and engaging plot, some super acting and plenty of cracking action all coming together in a pretty decent flick.

Without spoiling the film too much, it was also surprising to see just how much they got away with in terms of theorising about the Iraq war and WMDs. I don't think such a film could have been made even two years ago.

Really good stuff and totally recommended.

Link of the Day Click for more info

A generation of women bred to work

I know I promised you all not to revisit this topic... but to be frank I couldn't resist being vindicated yet again (and that by a woman, yet again). For your reference I give you this and this. You know, sometimes I wonder if these journos read our blogs just to rip them off.

Thanks to Mash for originally tweeting the link.

Monday, March 15

Game: Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (360) Click for more info

Like most other boys growing up, I wanted to be a fighter pilot (quit laughing at the back please). Of course also being Pakistani meant that this was never going to happen, either due a lack of knowing how or real inclination. Instead I used to pretend to fly around outside, either on the street or in the park, locking on bogeys bad-guys (other pedestrians) and other destroyables. Later on, I played arcade fighter games, starting with the seminal Afterburner all the way to this the sixth in Namco's Ace Combat series.

In fact Ace Combat was the first game I bought for my 360, even thought I'm only playing it now, two years later. Reviews were luke-warm, but the promise of arcade style dogfighting was enough to buy me over and I'm happy to say AC6 delivers on all fronts.

That's not to say I'm any kind of fighter pilot expert; I don't know the difference between an F16 and F18, I can't name the size of the bullets that go into a Vulcan cannon (if that's what they actually call them). But that's okay 'cos AC6 is so accessible you don't have to worry about the complex stuff; this is all about simple but effective controls, locking on with missles and just letting the game do most of the hard work.

Graphics and style are pretty good, with the gamer being treated to a series of irrelevant, yet pretty engaging, cut-scenes throughout. Complex game elements like operations and sub-missions are easy to manage, especially after being taught to by the built in tutorial system.

Maybe I'm biased, but I really like AC6. Anything that stops me pretending to be a plane in public must be a good thing after all.

Tuesday, March 9

Film: Alice in Wonderland Click for more info

Classic Tim Burton madcappedness as he retells the classic story of Alice and her Wonderland. It's all you would have expected having read the books and seen other films by the weirdo director, so it's pointless my trying to add anything in a review.

The 3D was above average and the action adequate, while the special effects left much to be desired; think Christmas weekend television special and you'll know what I mean. Still, it doesn't spoil the film too much.

Overall Alice is pretty good fun and worth a watch. Just don't go expecting a classic.

Friday, March 5

A Distinct Lack Of Ambition

Our wonderful English teacher Mr Adams once handed us a classtime assignment, something about us having to write about how we imagined our adult lives to be. While everyone around me talked about being doctors and architects, driving in fast cars and living in fancy houses, mine was pretty staid: I wanted a terraced three bedroom house in a suburb with a four door hatchback parked on the street outside and a 9-5, Monday-Friday desk job.

Mr Adams, as awesome as he was, rejected my submission. Apparently the work was an exercise in creativity, ambition and imagination and mine didn't quite have enough of any of that. I argued that for me it fulfilled the set criteria, that it was precisely what I wanted and what would make me happy, but after realising that wasn't the point I relented and rewrote my piece, this time writing about yachts and mansions made out of gold. As an aside, I think that was when I learned how important it was to answer the question that was being posed, rather than the one I wanted to, a realisation that put me in good stead academically for years to come.

Back to the point though: looking at my home it was clear where I had gotten this simplistic attitude from. Like most other immigrant or partially immigrant families back then, mine as a whole wasn't an extremely ambitious one; having a good, stable job and owning a home was more than others managed to accomplish, particularly since it was my father who had come to this country to marry rather than the other way around (assuming we're sticking to traditional roles, I figure it's harder for a immigrant husband to establish himself than a wife). We weren't really known for anything in particular and weren't at the forefront of society or community. We did participate - my mum used to come on school trips and mix with the other mothers, and we were regulars at the local mosque and stuff, but nothing more than that.

We didn't go out much, and when we did it was as a family to the houses of other families. Our hobbies consisted of watching TV and movies together, while regular holidays were mainly to the exotic land of Pakistan (although we did go to Paris once). We drove various Nissans and hadn't even heard of Mercedes or other brands (I suspect the biggest brand in our house at the time was Sky TV). We didn't read poetry or appreciate art or create music; culture largely consisted of following the Top 40 each Sunday and, sometimes, Eastenders.

But we were happy and comfortable. Moreover we knew we were, which might explain why we didn't really need much else.

This ability to know what made us happy was pivotal in any family decision we made. So for example my father would decline quite big career changing opportunities if it meant displacing or him having to be away from his family. He didn't need more money or status since what he already had was enough for his family (and I'm not talking about the poverty line here, we were lucky enough to have anything we wanted; we just didn't want much). On the other hand my mum raised and fed us while making sure our house was clean and homely - her way of enabling her family as my dad enabled his. It was hardly thrilling or exciting and perhaps not even challenging for either of them, but they made their personal goals about other people rather than themselves. For some reason it was enough.

And it really was. Despite not having any impressive achievements to list on their personal CVs, I did see how we as a family were much happier than quite a few of the others around us. We never seemed to have any of those personal or dark problems other families had (with debt or family politics or even crime), we were never preoccupied with chasing money or status or careers and had no need or desire to go on exotic holidays to Turkey (we enjoyed Pakistan way too much). It was amazingly boring yet we were more content with our lot than others seemed to be with theirs.

I guess it was this attitude that disassociated the concepts of ambition and success, something that was aptly demonstrated in that particular piece of English work I did. But for me it didn't end there: just take my education for example. For my parents it was never about us kids getting straight As or going to prestigious grammar schools but more about us being happy while studying. I picked a degree which provided the fastest route to financial security for the wife I was yet to find and the kids I was yet to have - IT offered high pay for little effort, unlike subjects like medicine or law which required long hours or a long term commitment, things I found as obstacles to my real goals of family and home building. I had never even touched a PC to program it before university, so Computing was hardly a deep rooted passion for me.

Even now we each ensure that we have these boring yet sensible things in place: health, savings, qualifications, credibility and even a decent credit rating - all things which we see as contributors to well-being and stability. Even when I quit an (at the time) extremely stable job in finance, it was to start a business that would at a minimum contribute to my CV. My change of career was more to do with leveraging my current situation than chasing a dream of success or fame; I've always maintained that as much as I'm enjoying what I'm currently doing I would immediately drop it for a job - any job - if my position happens to change. Decisions like not taking a graduate job at an investment bank, declining places at grammar schools or quitting my hedge fund were easy to make and instantly rewarding for me, while others looked on as if I was crazy for taking such massive risks.

That wasn't to say that we don't appreciate success and status. I'm sure my parents would have bragged about me being a doctor as much as any other parent would, and I wouldn't say no to being able to drive a sports car around or flying first class. But we as a family realised that these things alone wouldn't make us happy. The same goes for things like travel and socialising; rather than necessities which I think are obligatory I see them as luxurious bonuses which can easily be discarded with little effect on my happiness.

Without this impetus to visibly succeed we were also never bothered about proving ourselves and were completely secure in who we were. Self-worth was thus established via internal and hidden processes that we decided rather than external and visible ones quantified by those around us. The upside of this was that it was easy for us to find maximum happiness without relying on anyone or anything else while the drawback was that we might not have yet reached our full potential according to society. Yet paradoxically despite that material successes did come: I did get good grades and jobs, we did travel and enjoy a decent standard of living. I mean hey, make no mistake here: I fully acknowledge all of our achievements and experiences and am grateful that we were blessed with each and every one of them, even if we didn't require them.

I guess some could (and do) say that we as a family aimed quite low - whether that's true or not I don't know, but we're not currently driving any fancy German cars - but I will say that judging by where we are now we succeeded in achieving what we really want in a way very few the more typically ambitious people do. Of course on the flip side I could just be taking for granted the relative success that we have found ourselves in, be it due to luck or hard work or whatever. Maybe we've just simply not had the same obstacles that others have had and have therefore not had to tackle them?

But it's not really about the lack of ambition or drive but more that the priority for my parents, and in turn us, their children, wasn't to be a director or PhD or someone who had seen the world or written books on Islamic philosophy (heck, I have a blog for that), but to ensure the happiness of those around them in the best way that they could manage; anything else would be a rare, but appreciated, bonus. Of course this in itself doesn't preclude an exciting and ambitious life, although looking around now I don't see many who manage to have both fully, even if they claim to. In fact sometimes I struggle to understand the price some people pay, be it willingly or not, to achieve what they think they want to: friends, family, homes and ironically even their happiness all take a backseat for something they think instead will make them content, but rarely does. This isn't about aiming low in order to increase the chance of succeeding in everything you plan, but more about not requiring ever more in order to be happy, and not feeling incomplete when you find out that, as a human, you can't do or have everything.

So I'd say that my family and I are as ambitious as the rest, but just in a different way and with different goals. Perhaps we don't take a happy family and warm home for granted and see that it takes effort; as much effort and focus (if not more) than a job would. I saw this in the sweat of my parents are they lived out their boring and domestic life how much hard work it is, be it the rat race for my dad or domestic chores for my mum or even us kids having to study hard. But just like with a career it was this hard work which brought with it the same reward others seemed to only get from work. In that sense I'd say that we are quite lucky.

Amusingly I have been challenged a few times on this attitude of mine; at best I'm being lazy and at worst selfish as I'm not fulfilling my (possibly Islamic) duty to contribute to the world and make it a better place. With respect to laziness, personally I just think I'm lucky in that I don't really need much to feel happy and fulfilled. To develop or evolve are a means to an end for me, and not goals in themselves. In fact I'd say its the less sexy things which take priority over the quite modern concepts of personal fulfilment and enjoyment. I'd even say that an explicit die-hard chase for success indicates that one may not realise that all we attain actually comes from God, and not ourselves, in the first place. And although it's not in the scope of this post to determine whether a desire is worldly or not, I do personally think that a lot of things typically pursued with ambition are short term goals; and that includes careers.

As for contributions, well my input to the world may not be as explicit as others but that doesn't mean that it's not there. I just don't seem to have that overwhelming need to explicitly add value or contribute - the extent of my political involvement ends at voting (something we as a family have always done). In fact I'd say in the long run living a personal and self-involved yet righteous and happy life is a much more effective way to add value to and better society than becoming a Member of Parliament or even starting the more grassroot projects like a local charity.

That's not to say I see ambition as a bad thing. In fact I'm quite impressed by the drive some people have to establish businesses or projects, or those who become really good at an extra-curricular hobby or pasttime - but only provided it doesn't get in the way of what's important. I'm not sure I can claim to have such a drive, and I always struggle to list stuff under "hobbies and interests" mainly because I usually don't have more than a passing or incidental interest in the things I happen to do.

It's also important to note that it's not just about chasing money either. In fact it's sometimes the lack of a financial incentive which fools some into thinking their ambition is well placed. That's not to say it necessarily isn't, but I would suggest that more noble passions like volunteering, studying, art and culture or even religion can be a distraction to what's really important to someone. Why can't we enjoy a night in watching X-Factor just as much as a night out at the theatre? Why do we only feel intellectually validated only after we've attended a well marketed class or talk? Why do we need to drag our babies and young children to Egypt when they would just as much (or even more so) enjoy a trip to the seaside? Why are exotic Rumi quotes the only way we're able to express how we feel to others on our Facebook statuses or Twitter feeds? Why do we need fancy clothes in order to look good? Why does food at a restaurant only taste good if we've paid over 20 quid for it? It quite depresses me that I've not been to a Pizza Hut in years solely because no one thinks it's cool enough to want to go with me. Like Pizza Express is any more classy.

Why do some things hold more of a perceived value just because we're told they do?

But why does such a topic deserve such a lengthy post? Well in my case it seems to be this lack of ambition which most contributes to the conclusion of incompatibility myself and a potential rishta settle on. It's not that anyone has incorrect or wrong priorities, but I feel what drives someone has to match or at least be understood and supported by a partner for a marriage to be successful. And if a potential rishta lists being a partner or having her own business or even travelling the world as life goals with not even a single mention of a family or how it would be a part of them, well let's just say it becomes a bit of a barrier - partly because it's not what I want, but mostly because I wouldn't be sure enough of being able to provide her with what she says she needs to keep her happy.

Unfortunately (for me, not them) the vast majority of women I meet demonstrate this attitude, while seeing what I explicitly say I want as a silent inevitability or even triviality. You see, I wasn't the only one who was berated by a teacher for not aiming high. Girls who said that they just wanted babies and take care of a home and family were being told at school (and ironically sometimes even at home by peers who didn't appreciate the beauty and strength of their own simple way of living) that this was nowhere near high enough an aim; that these things would all come in time anyway and so existing efforts would be better directed elsewhere instead. This advice (as well as those to their guy counterparts) sometimes had the double whammy of making some strive for these other, grander, things in life, as well as later making them feel like discontent failures if they weren't achieved.

Judging by the people I meet I will say that my family and I are in a pretty tiny minority especially when you consider the Asian Muslim community as a whole. I won't even attempt to explain it but I do sometimes wonder why we don't have the incessant need to achieve and possibly even prove ourselves that our peers do. And even when I find that I can't answer that question I'm always thankful that, for us, happiness and contentment has always been so easily and boringly attainable.

Originally drafted 1st of July 2009

Thursday, March 4

Film: Valentine's Day Click for more info

I love films with multiple story arcs. I also kinda like (yeah, alright: like a lot) romcoms, so I had high expectations for Valentine's Day; the cast alone indicated that this could finally replace Love, Actually's place as the romcom-with-multiple-arcs champion.

But as good as VD (snigger) was, it wasn't quite good enough. For sure this was purely due to it's lack of technical prowess; it lacked a certain quality, polish and sophistication that its peers have in abundance and a lot of the cast seemed to consider themselves as supporting with no one really taking the lead.

This lack of care is unfortunate since the premise itself was ace - enough to save this film anyway. It had tons of charm and feel-good-factor and plenty of laugh out loud as well as poignant "awwe" moments. It never quite reaches genius level though and I was ultimately left feeling a tad disappointed. Since that's almost certainly due to my own bias of expectation I'll still recommend this film as one that's worth watching.

As a final note I'm sure some of you are wondering whether or not I actually went to see this on my own. Well I'm happy (and sad) to say that I did; not only that but I went to Ilford too. And amazingly I wasn't the only single loser guy there either.

No I didn't hook up with him. Gosh, you guys are so predictable.

Tuesday, March 2


xxxx says (14:30):
    this one supposed to let you train harder as well
xxxx says (14:31):
    can push your muscles more
Shak says (14:43):
    good stuff
    ive.... accepted that i'll never be big big
    ill stick to slim and toned :D
    although now im not running maybe ill just be fat