Monday, January 31

Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles Click for more info

You can always trust Mr Wiggles to keep it real:

I think it's quite established what I think of work and those who pursue it out of love (in short, you're all lying to yourselves). I'm glad to see I'm not the only one, and look forward to the day when society finally catches up. It's slowly happening.

Sunday, January 30

Food: Mercado Click for more info

Now this was more like it. Unlike yesterday, where I felt the place we were eating in wasn't quite able to facilitate a group of twenty or so, tonight Mercado showed how it should be done. Which is strange since on paper it was a much worse place - not as clean, more familiar than formal service and some very strange decoration. Still I guess vibe isn't really something you can define on paper.

So yes, it was a fun place to eat, especially in a big group. But the food wasn't too bad either, even though the majority of us were baffled by the (fully halal) menu - and even after eating most of it we still weren't sure what the difference was between a fajita and a burrito. Luckily I was able to sample a wide variety of items due to my geographical location, and I have to say I have no regrets overeating.

I did think that at £17 a head (after a 15% discount) that the food was slightly overpriced, but I suspect that this was due to some members of the party exploiting a split bill by going a little overboard with the five quid mocktails (once again proving that one drink policies work well in larger groups like these).

But in any case I will recommend the place nonetheless, if only for the bags of fun we were able to have during our time there.

Friday, January 28

Food: ORA Click for more info

Perhaps I just go to eat out more than I should, but I'm continually finding it more and more difficult to be impressed by places like these. Yes it was clean, yes it was lush, yes the food wasn't bad and yes the service was great. We ordered a la carte, and with the option of halal chicken, lamb, beef and duck we had quite a few options. I stuck to the prawns for starters, the green chicken curry for my main and sampled a range of lovely desserts (but stick to the Chocolate Cheesecake or Pineapple Pie) and all were quite good.

Thinking back, I have no idea why I wasn't as impressed as I should have been. I guess it was a mood thing, which might indicate exactly what was lacking in ORA. It was another ICSS even and so heavily subscribed; although the venue should have been commended for just accommodating such a big party it wasn't able to facilitate interaction in the way other places could. The place was quite noisy, open and lacked intimacy and once again a long thin table killed any chance of socialising. Perhaps it would have been better for a smaller group? Or perhaps these flaws are only tested with a big party such as the one tonight.

The bottom line was quite good though - after a 50% discount we ended up paying around £20 a head which was quite reasonable considering we got three courses and a drink. I wasn't left hungry either, so the portions were just right too.

It would be unfair for me to not recommend ORA, so I'm going give it the benefit of the doubt and put its lack of atmosphere down to how it wasn't able to contain larger parties. If you're going with friends then it might be a good place to eat; unfortunately I wasn't able to determine this this time around.

Monday, January 24

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Emo special!

Yes, yes I know. Pathetic. But the truth is that I am lucky enough to have lots of friends and I do always seem to have lots of various things to do, and yet I don't seem to place the same importance on these things as my peers. Maybe I'm just spoiled and take it all for granted... Or perhaps it's only after having something you realise exactly how important it is.

Damn green grass.

Sunday, January 23

Dil Dil, Pakistan

I think I'm quite lucky in that I'm able to visit Pakistan so relatively often. We tend to visit every two years for around the same number of weeks (which just happens to be my own personal limit), and as such our experience of going back home can be quite different to those of others. Oh and that reminds me: nothing much tends to happen during my trips back so unlike with my other holidays there won't be any daily coverage. I know how some of you can't stand those.

Essentially it comes down to training. Like most people who were force fed the subcontinent during the school summer holidays, I had a horrid time over there when I was a kid. It was unclean, I couldn't talk to anyone, the food sucked... and of course there was the toilet issue. To be fair I had it better than most; most of our time was spent between Karachi and Hyderabad which were established and quite cosmopolitan compared to the villages and pinds my friends had to endure. Still, despite our relative comfort we did still have the infamous water and power cuts, and still had to swallow what seemed like deliberately awful tasting antimalarials each day.

During university, trips did become more scarce but they also still happened. Eventually as family migrated to Karachi we stopped visiting Hyderabad altogether which made the whole thing more straightforward. The standard of life in Karachi improved over time while my own fussiness and impatience reduced with maturity, and all of a sudden I found myself actually enjoying my trips to Pakistan. Since graduating I've been at least once every two to three years. Relationships with family also matured as I discovered that it wasn't my language skills that were the problem but my inability to relate to them. I learned to adapt to and tolerate the instability of utilities (power cuts are now scheduled which makes things easier), and even squatting became second nature.

But overall trips more or less follow the same pattern. There's always a wedding or something to attend, after which the majority of time is spent doing the rounds and attending dawats (or dinner invitations). My father has twelve siblings, each of whom insist on feeding us - although unlike other people these are a pleasure to attend and not a chore at all. As time goes on the family of each sibling grows, as does the dynamics within, so it's always fun to catch up (I've given up trying to remember all the names of my nieces and nephews though). They also appreciate the trouble taken to get to see them so are always welcoming and comforting.

Next up, there's the clothes shopping. As some of you know, the majority of my clothes are Asian, and since we visit so often they all more or less are bought and tailored during trips to Pakistan. There are also other random things going on that never usually happen, but I'll talk about some of those in a separate post.

For those who ask how dangerous it is to visit Karachi, well to be honest there's never been a right time to go for a decade now. So yes, I guess we do take a risk, but as with most places of this type there are various ways to adapt to and mitigate those risks - I don't travel alone or too late, I stay away from obvious hot spots and leverage my innate pindu-ness (which most in the UK have witnessed first hand) to lower the chance of a kidnapping. That said, we did have an earthquake this time around which I couldn't really do anything about; having said that even though we were awake at the time we didn't notice anything happening (and I know I should be thankful but a part of me is a little disappointed at that). Oh and there were around five or six political assassination in Karachi during my stay there - once again, not that I noticed.

But still two weeks is and probably always will be my limit. This is less to do with Pakistan and more to do with homesickness, even though I do feel more at home in Karachi than anywhere else other than London. And so I don't leave with a heavy heart; instead I know I'll be back there sooner or later; not because I have to, but because I want to.

Friday, January 21

My First Rishwat

That means bribe. And giving, not taking.

I know we always hear the old stories about how you need to carry a few rupees while driving in India and Pakistan to pay off coppers who give grief to passer bys, but despite being in a car for most of the time while travelling in Karachi I never once got to see it done myself. Until today of course (which is kind of why I'm writing this post, but I suspect you knew that).

It was pretty much how you would imagine. It goes something like this:

  1. A policeman pulls us over.
  2. I'm told by my cousins to keep my mouth shut (the only thing that could give us away since I was in the habit of dressing even more natively than the natives).
  3. The cop then hassles the driver for his documents.
  4. The cop then creates a flimsy excuse for ticketing.
  5. The driver "makes a phone call".
  6. The cop sweats it out and then falls for the bluff and starts negotiating.
  7. The driver ends up 100 rupees out of pocket.
  8. We go on our way.
To be honest it wasn't that thrilling. Still at least that's one more thing I can tick off my todo list.

Monday, January 17

Made in Pakistan

The vast majority of my clothes are bespoke. They're all cut by hand and stitched by machine one at a time. Of course, I'm not talking about some fancy custom suits or anything; no these are my clothes of choice, the stuff I wear whenever I can, my shalwar kameezes and qurtas, made of fabric I pick myself and then sent to good old Jameel for him to put together for me and only me. A suit costs around a tenner to source and produce, so we're really not talking about big ticket items here.

Nevertheless this does mean that I appreciate hand made stuff. I've seen fabric being knitted and then dyed. I've witnessed first hand the cutting and sewing that goes on. I've personally thanked the tailor who has, with his own hands, created something to hide my modesty and keep me warm (well, ish).

On the other hand I do also have some mass market stuff - you know from places like Gap and the like. Despite my relationship with tailors and the like, I am desensitised to items which make a shop rack. As far as I'm concerned they just appear on the shop rack by magic.

Today, I accompanied my father to a denim factory to see a friend of his. Although I've been to some factories before, I can't remember visiting or having access to one of this size and scale. Six thousand skilled workers and tens of production lines gives an idea of the capacity and output of the place, but more than that it was the machinery, both literally and metaphorically, which really impressed me.

Production was a mixture of manual labour and automated process. There were different sections for cutting, stitching, washing (it turns out that some jeans are actually quite literally washed with stones), quality assurance and packing, all in units of thousands at a time. Amusingly most of the cutters were men and most of the stitchers were women, but apart from that particular observation the workforce was mixed.

And they weren't just making do with what they had - no, they had access to industrial quality equipment, processes and management. Chain mail gloves for the cutters, health and safety notices including evacuation maps and fire handling equipment and multiple staff notice board listing union members and leaders were the subtle signs of professionalism here. More obvious was the heavy security and how power was all generated onsite. A lot of workplaces are quite proud of the ISO accreditations they've worked hard for, and it's easy to see why. I wonder how the standards here compare to those of factories in other countries?

I really missed my camera. There were so many shots screaming to be taken; not that I would have necessarily been able to - the looks we were getting were firmly placed somewhere between "dirty" and "curious". Similarly, I really wanted to talk to some of the people there, but I figured that was equally impossible.

And just like with my ethnic clothes, here before my eyes I could finally see the value being added to raw materials. This is where that twenty pounds (or at least part of it) went. How much to these particular workers, I'm not sure but I'm not sure I'll be taking stuff off the rack for granted any more. I even started wondering how many people were involved in the clothes I was wearing at the time.

Today was most definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far, both from an informative and enjoyable point of view. And despite not having anything at all to do with the factory, I couldn't help but feel a little proud of what Pakistan is able to achieve. Of course there's always room for improvement and I'm sure there was plenty of the bad stuff that I didn't see, but still, the potential and attitude was definitely there.

It certainly made me wonder how much the country was capable of if it wasn't bogged down with corruption and instability. And ironically just as I was thinking this in the car while leaving Korangi we happened to witness a car being held up by two motorcyclists. It's just such a shame.

Friday, January 7

Going Home: A Blessing, Not A Curse

So here I am, packed and ready to embark on a two week break to Pakistan. No, I'm not going for any particular reason; we visit every two years or so and it just happens to be that time again. But still, I am looking forward to catching up with family and just spending some quality time in Karachi.

But more than that, I'm also looking forward to visit for another reason. And so this is where the clich├ęd lecture begins. Apologies in advance.

You see, as patronising as it may sound to my friends and family over there, the biggest and most valuable thing I bring back from my regular trips to Pakistan is what I believe to be a good sense of grounding. Yes, I realise that I sound exactly like our fathers did back in the 80s and 90s, but it's only over time that you realise exactly why they wanted us to retain links with our second homes. Of course part of it was due to tradition and duty and a lot of it was due to family, but I think our parents also wanted us to see exactly how lucky we are.

While people over there are putting up with water and power cuts, we start citing our human rights when our broadband goes down. Corruption is institutional and indeed a tool to survive, while we lament after we miss out on a killer designer label sale. People over there celebrate when they finally get a television on which to watch the news; here we do the same but with a fancy handbag or watch (one of which would probably pay for fifty televisions). Some of my own family work over 12 hours a day; not for a promotion or bonus but just to hold on to a job that pays just enough to feed their families.

But the lesson here isn't to be thankful. I like to think that most people are grateful for what they have. No, the real point is that despite all these things they all still seem much happier than many of those who live under better circumstances. And bringing this a little closer to home there does seem to be a correlation between those who, like me, make regular visits to the home of their parents or grandparents and the content way in which they live their life over here. The priorities, energy and focus of these people all seem fundamentally different. Whether one causes the other, I'm not quite sure.

Of course we should all strive for better and I'm also not suggesting anyone to artificially resist the opportunities and facilities we have here out of protest. But it does raise an eyebrow when people with much less are much more content than we are. We're blessed that we have such an accessible way to see this stuff close up, and personally I think it's a mistake that so many of us pass up the opportunity.

Monday, January 3

Film: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Click for more info

I was so underwhelmed by the first Chronicle that I didn't make much of an effort to watch the second, Prince Caspian, on the big screen. I did eventually watch it on television, and I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it. In any case it was enough to prompt me to watch the third film in the cinema - more so seeing as The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favourite book of the series. There's just something about travelling to the edge of the world that turns me on.

But what of the film? Well in terms of enjoyment it ranks somewhere between the last two films. Admittedly it was pretty faithful in terms of the major events, but there was something rushed, something shallow, about the whole deal which made the ending a little anti-climatic. There was zero character development (well apart from the obvious one), and the whole thing seemed like it was a chore or burden to make. I'll ignore the 3D for now (except to say that, as usual, it was an irrelevance).

That said, I wasn't as disappointed as I was with Wardrobe. Either way I can't quite bring myself to recommend this for a cinema viewing, so instead I'll say that it absolutely does at least deserve a watch at home.

Saturday, January 1

New Music

Ainvayi Ainvayi - Band Bajaa Baaraat

The song that pretty much sums up the film for me - fun, colourful and simple.

Dooriyan Hain Zaroori - Break Ke Baad

I don't know what it is about this that I like it so much. Perhaps it's how manufactured it is that makes it so easy to listen to. I can't help being happy when listening to it.

Adhoore - Break Ke Baad

Okay I admit it, this is only a bonus that slipped in the above. Still, it compliments it well, almost to the point where I get the two mixed up.

Maula Mere Maula - Anwar

I really don't have to explain how much of a tune this is - I'm ashamed to say that I was only reminded to add it to my playlist after hearing it on Sonia Deol's Bollywood tracks of the last decade.

What's My Name Feat Drake - Rihanna

Rihanna is very up and down. I don't like some of her stuff, most of it is okay, but then every now and then she releases a track that I absolutely dig, like this one. Shame about the Drake bit though.

Say My Name - Destiny's Child

A song I really liked Back In The Day, but never got to add to my current playlist. Glad it's back.