Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Monday, December 26, 2011

At 39,000 Feet

At 39,000 feet and somewhere over South Pacific that is. Almost 3 in the morning, Sydney time. 

Did I tell you I hate flying? Well I fucken hate it even more now. I'm at the window seat and in addition the aisle is vacant too. Yet after trying every imaginable position - which included normal seating position, curled up in two seats head to the window side and the other way around, facing seat back, the other way, up, etc - now I'm back to the original and sleepless. 

Luckily I have the iPod - ever the faithful companion - with me. I have a feeling it knows me so well somehow. I kid you not, for about an hour it's continually playing my most favorite tracks even though it's set to random mode. Yes, most of the songs you put in your iPod are favorites, but it's been playing undoubtedly the best of the lot. Such a comforting feeling at this otherwise miserable moment. If this iPod was a girl I would marry her right now. 

Alright then, there's nothing else to whine about.  I've still got four and a bit hours to go and I'm debating whether I should brush my teeth on board or not. I must say I'm leaning towards 'later'. Don't judge me, I'm only human! Anyway once I land I shall do that and also find a WiFi and hit the post button. 

On other news, yesterday (or today depending on where you are) was (is) my mom's birthday which she shares with Jesus. Happy Birthday mom! 

Update : So I'm hitting the post button.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sydney here I come!

I most definitely am not talking about a girl named Sydney and going to her. I will actually be going to Sydney, the Aussie city tomorrow though it'll be the Boxing Day when I actually arrive there. Which means twenty or so hours of on-the-road which isn't exactly the correct term but you know what I mean. Though I love travelling flying is the most disliked part of it. Even though it's unavoidable. I really do wish we had Harry Potter style disapparate and apparate technology. However it's a small price to pay compared to the awesomeness of travelling, so no complaints really. Just bitching.

I've not made very many specific plans though. Except the Australia vs India Sydney Test on 3rd January. Someone I know rolled her eyes complete 360 degrees hearing that I'll be going to a cricket match and sit there for 8 hours on my vacation. But she's such a cricket tragic what else can you expect? Anyway, this is one golden opportunity for me to see the legends of the game like Ponting, Sachin, Dravid and VVS probably for the last time. Not gonna miss it. I do wish Ponting would score a 100 there. Would be an added bonus if Sachin gets out in the nineties again.

Other than that I'm planning on going whale watching though not yet sure when and where. Probably because I'm staying at my sister's place (not my own, but probably better than my own if I had one) so guess I'm trusting her and her hubby to take me around. The only other fixed item in the list is the fireworks on new year's eve at Sydney Harbor. In between I guess I'll go here and there seeing stuff; probably Opera House, Harbor, some Kangaroos (hopefully eat one too) and, er, I don't know, I'll tell you when I know. I don't think I would be doing a post-a-day travel diary this time like I did for the Beijing tour, but hopefully I would get to write something of my accounts there. I don't think it would be as much adventurous as Beijing but you never know. Fingers crossed!

Okay then, later peeps!


I don't often post YouTube vids, but this I just had to share. She's such an inspirational and brave (you got to be brave to do what she did) woman. Loved every bit of this.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Murali the Thief

In yet another one of his boring and meaningless articles, our articulate-with-the-bat, not-so-with-the-words ex-captain Mahela has insisted the need to play our own brand of cricket in order to achieve success in South Africa. If I got one rupee for every time I hear our cricketers talk about this so called our own brand of cricket I would be filthy rich. Only I don't and so I'm not. The point is none of them seem to understand that this phrase has become such a cliche now.

Everybody seems to talk about it but nobody seems able to do it. It's like nobody knows where to find it anymore. The only possible explanation for this is somebody stole it. Our guys were playing this our own brand of cricket so happily, world was all rosy and sweet, and then all of a sudden, BOOM! Gone. Vanished. Now they have a problem. They are nothing without it. Success is only a distant dream. But of course they can't reveal it's gone; how can you come out and say this valued treasure is gone just like that? It would be like the king going out to the public and saying "I'm sorry guys, I seem to have lost the crown." Or Pamela Anderson announcing she seems to have lost her fake boobs last night. Not gonna happen.

What would the king/Pamela do in this dire situation? He/she would probably make a fake crown/ fake fake boobs for the time being, use it/them pretending everything's fine while fanatically search for the real thing(s). This pretty much is what our poor cricketers are doing right now. They are writing an unnecessarily large amount of articles explaining the need to play our own brand of cricket while on the lookout for the real thing. Hoping, praying, they would come across it. And then they can start playing the real our own brand of cricket and attribute the current poor patch to a glitch in the matrix. Or something like that. Bottom line is somebody stole it and the poor guys are desperate now.

So I decided to get to the bottom of this shit and find out what happened.

First thing to do, re-trace the steps. Find out what went wrong, when and where. Obviously the right thing to do would be to go back to the last time we were playing this our own brand of cricket. Last significant (actually, any kind of) Test success; July 2010, against India. Last significant ODI success; reaching the World Cup final, April 2011. However those two events are some 8 months apart. While we looked like the desperate king/Pamela in Tests since July 2010 we still seemed okay in ODIs till April 2011. The only logical conclusion; we had not one but two our own brands of cricket one for each format. We lost the Test version back in July 2010, the ODI version April 2011. Now what is the other significant thing that happened in relation to our cricket on both these occasion? Of course. One off spinner called it quits in Test in 2010, and ODIs in 2011. It all fits, doesn't it? Everybody doesn't have access to king's crown/Pamela's boobs though one could argue that the latter is subject to dispute. However, chances are that only someone who's close enough can steal them. It's the same with our own brand of cricket. It's got to be somebody who had pretty good access to it. And who has better access to it than the very players who play the game with it? Dressing room is where they probably keep the our own brand of cricket and after the last time this player has access to it the our own brand of cricket vanishes. Same happens April 2011; he quits cricket, we lose our own brand of cricket. Coincidence? I think not.

I always thought that fellow was a bit dodgy but this proves it beyond doubt. Yes, yes, he pretty much raised that our own brand of cricket baby by himself, but who is he to think that he owns it? Give it back, Murali, they need it!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Business in Paradise

There's an inherent trust issue with business in Sri Lanka. To be more precise with the relationship between seller and buyer. This in turn leads to huge frustration and the want to kill each other in whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps it is the result of colonialism; back then the Brits were the businessmen and Sri Lankans were the customers and they more often than not fucked the customers. Sometimes literally but mostly figuratively. Or maybe it was the presence of the the lefties who continually influenced most of the governments after Independence. Or else it's just the way we Sri Lankans are. I'm not really sure why. But whichever the reason is, the general public has an unfavorable attitude towards business. Often business is considered as unethical or immoral. If not at least not as good as the government. Business is perceived as some sort of evil entity who's out there to get you. That it's only purpose of existence is to trick you and get every cent out of your pocket. Hardly is a business seen as something that's out there to provide you some good or service and get money for it. General conscience is they will only give you some cheap stuff and get a shitload of money out of you. It always is evil. 

On the other hand, not many businessmen, ranging from street vendors to multinational companies, are doing things to improve this either. Customer is often treated as a piece of shit. They are seen as cheap people who always rant about high prices, irresponsible and are looking to use every small opportunity available to make it so that the companies will lose something. You need to scream to get the attention of the Kadey Mudalali. Sri Lankan Airlines think that customers are at their mercy and that they can do whatever they please whenever they please. Dialog seems to think So what if we lose one customer? There are so many more! Only the other day I found out that they allocate phone numbers which were not in use for a few years to new customers even without letting the previous owners know about it. Taking your customers for granted much?

Simply neither party trusts the other. That is exactly what you don't want to happen in a healthy relationship. Compare this to that of a country like Japan. Well probably it is a little unfair comparing it to Japan, for Japan is one of the oddest countries in the world anyway. Nowhere else in the world is this relationship stronger than in Japan. But the truth of the matter is that is why they are so good at business. Companies genuinely try to offer customers something worth their every penny, and in turn the customers are ready to trust the companies to do their job well. Services are even better than goods if that's possible. I was at the dentist a few days back and it was close to 8 p.m. when we were finished. She prescribed me some meds and took the trouble to call the nearby pharmacy to ask them to not close it until I go there. That's even without me asking her to do so. Wonderful things is that it's not a surprise but the norm. Trains arrive in time, and in rare cases they don't people are ready to accept it for it is truly rare. If you go to Starbucks to buy a coffee but is sold out, cutie at the counter will apologize to you with a face similar to what she would use if she accidentally spilled the only remaining bottle of medicine in the world that would cure my terminal wife who's lying in her deathbed.

Really, if you want to be a customer, you want to be a customer in Japan. If not for anything else, just to see that face.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Late Arrival

For 30 years I had a fine set of teeth. Alright, they aren't the best in the world but they got the job done just fine which is what matters. I was perfectly happy with them. But then all of a sudden my mouth (or brain or genes or whatever it is that's responsible for your teeth-management) decided that they're not enough, so the bugger threw in another one to the mix just a day or two ago. Yes folks, at the ripe old age of 30 I have a tooth coming in! WTF! It's like you had fifteen or twenty kids who turned out to be just fine but at the age of seventy you think you need to have another one just for the sake of it.

I don't really if it decided to come in just silently. But the goddamn thing fucking hurts like a bitch! I mean, it really REALLY hurts.


Okay, rant over. I'm outta here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Month of Plant Eating

Ever since I can remember I was a meat-eater. A lot of people I know are the same. Though some of them tend to discriminate against cows and pigs, most of them don't. But as we all know there is yet another strange breed of people live among us who don't actually eat meat at all! You might not believe this but there are some reported cases of them not eating meat for as long as a year or two even. I swear I'm telling the truth. This always puzzled, baffled and intrigued me. Not me telling the truth, there never was any question about that, but people not eating meat. So I wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery. How on earth can someone go on for so long without tasting meat? I mean, let's face it. There's nothing like a well prepared steak, a lamb chop or a roasted chicken right? How can you even begin to think that any plant can substitute that? I like a good fried potato or a parippu curry, but comparing that to meat is like comparing a scooter to a Mercedes.

However, like I said, I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Which in other words I wanted to see what the world looks like to these plant-eaters. It must be grey scale, boring and tasteless, I was sure. I mean, did I tell you how good the steak is? So I just threw all caution to the wind and decided to become a plant-eater for a month.

Adjusting, at first, wasn't easy. Adjusting in the sense adjusting my lifestyle. As you probably know I live in Japan, and I live alone. And despite me being quite good at cooking - take my word for it even though I myself say it - I'm too lazy for it most of the time. So the combination of not cooking and living in Japan naturally mean eating a lot of meat. Usually I eat my breakfast at a coffee shop which contains at least sausages or bacon. I don't usually have lunch, and the dinner is either eaten outside, bought from a shop or in rare cases made at home. Unless it is the rare case, this means dinner has a lot of meat too. So this left me with no option but to cook most of my meals. This, at first, was a bitch. How on earth am I going to cook so frequently? But yours truly isn't one to give up so easily. I started having breakfast at home. For dinner, instead of cooking same old Sri Lankan food every time I opted for more variety. Italian, French, Moroccan, Russian and Maldivian food were among many varieties I tried. Okay that's stretching it a bit far (Only two paras ago I said that my telling the truth was never in question. Jeez) but I really did prepare different food, particularly Italian style. Then after a few days it was all part of my daily routine. Cooking wasn't a pain in the arse anymore. In fact, I started loving it so much I started improvising even. And I made through that month without even realizing it!

At first I thought I would not stand a chance, that I wouldn't last a week. Even if I did last a month by some miracle, I thought I'd run to a MacDonald's just when the clock hits midnight and gobble down dozen Big Macs. Well, it's been two days since the end of the month and I'm still to eat meat! Never did I think there would come a day I say this, but I actually enjoyed being vegetarian! When prepared well veggies taste as good, you feel guilt free since no more fatty stuff and unless you eat at fancy restaurants home cooked meals are always fresh and better. So much so that I started eating way too much I think I'm putting on again. Simply, you don't really need to eat dead animals it seems.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Side Effects of Recession

Initially I thought of naming this post "Dumping Dilemmas". However that's not because I was going to reveal you the secrets of how to dump dilemmas. Rather because this post is about the dilemmas a man face when he is about to take a dump. But on second thoughts I named it as it is now for bloody recession is what caused all the dilemmas to begin with.

Let me give you a little background first. Before the recession the company I work for was spread across four buildings. One near Tokyo, three somewhere else. The one near Tokyo was the head office or the HQ as more educated, intelligent and important people would call it. I am well educated, intelligent and important, thus I would call it such. However the other three buildings play a more important part in this story so it would be easier I gave them names too. Well they already have names but for obvious reasons I am not at my liberty to reveal those names to you. Instead, taking your convenience into consideration as well, I will name them as follows. The first one, the one I work in right now, I'll refer to it as The Building I Work In Right Now. Then there is a second building next to The Building I Work In Right Now, but across the street. I will name it The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now. The last building is located across the street to The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now, hence I will give it the most logical name; The Building Across The Street To The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now. However The Building Across The Street To The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now and The Building I Work In Right Now aren't the same. So I assume that by now you must have realized there is a junction in the equation as well. Anyway, I hope I've made things crystal clear to you by now.

Moving on.

After we were hit by the recession as a means of cost-cutting the management decided to do away with the HQ. No, they didn't decide to destroy it, just move our company from there to The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now. But they didn't stop there. They also decided to move everyone who were originally in The Building Across The Street to The Building I Work In Right Now as well as The Building Across The Street To The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now to The Building I Work In Right Now. So to recap;
  1. People who were originally in the HQ are now in The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now. 
  2. People who were originally in The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now are now in The Building I Work In Right Now.
  3. People who were originally in The Building Across The Street To The Building Across The Street To The Building I Work In Right Now are now in The Building I Work In Right Now.
Now my story focus on only The Building I Work In Right Now. I hear you breathe a sigh of relief. Anyway because of all this mess now The Building I Work In Right Now has a population that roughly equal to the population of a small island. However it has only one men's room and only one ladies' room per floor each of which has 3 toilets. And that's where the fun begins. Imagine a perfectly normal scenario such as you want to take a dump and you proceed to the men's room. These floors are so crowded that it is very likely that at any given minute all three toilets are occupied. I am in the 8th floor which also happens to be the top floor. If the 8th floor is occupied the next best option is to hold it in or go to the 7th floor. But there's only so much holding a man can do. So I - or any random unfortunate guy in The Building I Work In Right Now - will have not option but to proceed to the 7th floor. However often the case is that all of it's toilets are occupied as well. In which case, 6th floor. Then the fifth. So on and so forth. You get the drift right? This is all nice and easy to say like this, but doing it is not so. Especially when holding is not an option anymore. Imagine going to the men's room in the 8th floor, finding it occupied, leaving it as quick as you can, going to the elevator and press the button to the 7th floor, waiting for it to arrive and getting in, getting out of the elevator on the 7th floor, go to the men's room in the 7th floor, finding it is occupied as well, leaving it even quicker, pressing the elevator button to the 6th floor, getting in, getting out on the 6th floor, entering the men's room, finding that occupied too, exiting that like a tracer bullet, pressing the elevator button to the 5th floor, getting in, getting out again, dash in to the 5th floor men's room, finding that occupied too, disappear from there, pressing elevator button to the 4th floor, getting in the elevator, getting out, entering the men's room in 4th floor only to find that it is occupied as well, run to the elevator, pressing the button to the 3rd floor, waiting...

Damn I got tired of writing that. I think, nay, know you got tired or reading it. Imagine actually doing it! Recession is such a bitch I tell you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pointless Post

I've never really liked Zombies. It is hard to imagine anybody would, but that's not what I meant. I never really liked stories about Zombies. Or Vampires for that matter. Crappy Hollywood movies had a lot to do with it apart from the fact that they both are ridiculous ideas to begin with. But that was till I watched The Walking Dead last year; now that changed everything. It is by the creators of Shawshank Redemption which is the only thing that prompted me to watch it after a friend recommending it and ain't I glad that I watched it. Those guys picked the tried, tested and failed theme of Zombies, gave it a whole new dimension, turned it on it's head two and a half times, gave it a face lift and the result is The Walking Dead. Simply the best TV series to come out after LOST. I don't want to go into much details, just take it from me, a huge Zombie skeptic till then, that it's brilliant stuff. They have returned for a second season last week and I am loving it.


On other news cricket this year - that is cricket I play, not the cricket I watch - have been so disappointing. It is almost winter and we managed only two matches so far. The Tokyo earthquake and so many other things have unsettled the life here in Japan and a lot of people have other things than cricket in their minds. Pity.


However after ridiculously poor four days of cricket, us, that is Sri Lanka, finally managed to save the Test. Don't I just love Test cricket; even a non-result can bring excitement like no other. And even after like gazillion let offs it was still a great double by Sanga, probably the greatest Test batsman to come out of Sri Lanka.


And so tomorrow is the big final. The final of the world cup that is. Finally it looks like the Blacks will be able to set the record straight by bringing the cup home. Technically it is already home as the world cup is being played in New Zealand but you know what I mean. It'll take the brave man to bet against them but if the said brave man did bet something like a hundred bucks against them, and the Blacks choked again, then the said brave man would be a millionaire. That is how huge the odds against the French. But for the sake of game I do hope they put on their giant-killing shoes and give us a game to remember.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Clash of the Titans

It's a pity that both Dan Carter and Kurtley Beale - one already a legend of the game and the other certainly has it in him to become one - aren't going to be there for the tomorrow's clash. This was going to be Dan's World Cup, and Beale would certainly have wanted to spoil his party.

Yet, all is not lost for the stakes are sky high for both teams. Blacks would want to set things straight after losing to Wallabies in both previous occasions they met in a World Cup semi final, and the Wallabies would love nothing but to stick it in the Blacks' - and their supporters' - faces for they always cope a lot of shit whenever they tour New Zealand. It is romantic in a way that they should meet in a semi final instead of the final for now the stakes are even bigger; whoever loses has a lot to lose while the winner will - mark my words - go on to win the World Cup.

This is going to be the game of the year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It wasn't Nadal's day

It's not often you see Rafael Nadal get thrashed. But yesterday, at Japan Open Tennis Championships 2011, it was a real thrashing that he got. Murray came from behind to win the last two sets with 10 out of last 11 games going for him. It summed up Nadal's day when he hit a scooped up ball which he could have put anywhere he wanted right into the net. Sad, for I was rooting for him to win. Still it was a great privilege seeing two wold class players, one a legend of the game, live. Here's some pics.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

මාර පරාජය (Resounding Defeat)

I have a nice bunch of friends. Well, mostly nice but they - at least some of them - can be very nasty too. Let me introduce a few of them - all but one of them are from the same university I was at, and the 'but one' is a foreigner whose house is located halfway up the Mount Everest - to you which is necessary in order to tell you the story I'm about to tell you.

First there is Nee. A rugby fan, cricket tragic and a happily married father of four living in some unheard rural area of Australia. He's your pretty much average decent dude though unremarkable. Then there is Sayya who insists that we call him BS. I assure you BS doesn't stand for what you're thinking of right now. Now, if Nee is your normal dude, BS is at the other end of the spectrum; he's anything but normal. Born and raised in the hill capital of Sri Lanka, this dude at a very young age developed an uncanny ability to score as easily as another friend of mine whom I will introduce to you in a moment can gobble down anything with sugar in it. After a while, not just Kandy but the whole country was not big enough territory for BS so he decided to move on to bigger and better things. The territory I mean. Now under the guise of some unimportant but made to look important job he travels the world as he sees fit and 'scores' without fail wherever he goes. Remarkable dude he is. The man we all wish we were. Then comes A, the CEO of a leading web site in Sri Lanka whose greatest achievements to date remain tricking authorities to admit him to the prestigious university we went to and scoring a try in a game of touch-rugby at the said university. Then there is the 'but one' (there's only one T, you pervs!) mentioned above, let us call her B, who's so good at Sinhala she can fool Sri Lankans into thinking she's Sri Lankan. Last but certainly not least there is Looney. The same WWTCILB I told you about here. Now she's one of a kind. Her extraordinary feats include being the said WWTCILB, sleeping 16 hours a day, freezing shoes before putting them on even in winter and being able to consume - in a day - three times the amount of candy a normal person would in a week. Unfortunately for him Nee was not aware of this last fact until he found out about it the hard way. This is the story of how that happened.

All of us are regulars in G+ and fool around there a lot. Nee, being one of the two unremarkable dudes (the other one being A of course) among an awesome bunch as we are (Oh yeah I didn't tell you why I am awesome, but then again does it really need to be said? You all know I am, right?), wasn't feeling particularly happy about it. The fact that he was in the same side of the fence as A didn't help his confidence either which is quite understandable. Grass on the other side was indeed greener for him. So one fine day he decided enough is enough and that he should join the ranks of us immortals. His intentions were good, but the method he chose was, well, a poor choice. He decided that he would challenge Looney to a cookie eating contest to see who can eat the most in a given time and emerge victoriously on this side of the fence. Yes, cookies aren't candy, but they are somewhat sweet-ish and that's more than enough for Looney. Poor Nee, was the first thought that came to my mind. But this unprecedented sweet-ish-things-consumption of Looney was unknown to BS as well as A, and they were rooting for Nee to win the contest. I knew better and advised Nee to consider another time but he was having none of it. I decided to let him go bang the head in the wall. It was agreed upon that to spice up the contest A would also compete while I, BS and B will be the impartial judges. But B also wanted to participate so it was left for me and BS to organize the whole thing. However at the last minute B dropped out because she had finished all the cookies she had in her house and she was not going to be able to climb down Mount Everest and come back in time. Then we had to kick A out because despite being a CEO he did not want to spend a few bucks on cookies and started demanding judges provide him with them. This is not a place for the cheap so out went A.

Agreed date and time arrived pretty soon and we all gathered in one Hangout in G+ to start the highly anticipated event. Nee was still very confident of his victory and was sledging Looney even before the contest started. That was to be his demise though. We started the contest soon, and Nee was still sledging all the way while Looney was quietly going on about her business. But then, unexpectedly to me at least, Nee was getting ahead of the number of cookies and after the 10 minutes we decided upon he was on 16 cookies to Looney's 12. Looked like that Nee had finally crossed the fence, but unfortunately for him there was one last twist in the tale; the cookies Looney had brought were much heavier and bigger compared to the ones Nee had brought. Our calculations revealed that Looney, staying true to her self, had eaten more than one and a half times what Nee had had. Fate had let the poor fella down once again. There he was beaten and confidence shattered destined to be where A is for the rest of his life. Such is the cruelty of life he must have thought. But as I see it, he has only himself to blame for had he asked me, I would have told him the secret of beating Looney.

He should have opted for a cookie-not-eating contest; she wouldn't have lasted five seconds.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You'll be remembered, Steve

It is said that Steve Jobs knew what the customers wanted even before they did. There's no greater tribute that can be paid to probably the greatest business visionary of our times.

RIP, Steve.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Three Years

Year 1
WOW it's be an absolutely wonderful year! Blogging is awesome, it's great to get to know you all and blah blah blah.

Year 2
It's been two years! It's a part of my life, and thank you all my readers, etc etc...

Year 3
Three years. Okay. Good.

Year 4?
Who knows.

Oh and thanks for sticking with me, folks!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stolen Gems

You just can't stop loving that TV show Seinfeld can you? Here's another gem from it.

I love it when people are complimented on their clothes. And they accept the compliment as if it was about them.

"Nice tie."

"Well, thank you. Thank you very much."

The compliment is for the tie. It's not for you. But we take it. And that's the job of clothes. To get compliments for us. Because it's very hard to get compliments... based on your human qualities. Right? Let's face it. No matter how nice you are, nobody is gonna say;

"Hey, nice person."

It's much easier to be a bastard and just try and match the colors up.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Angelo is back! So is The FlySlip

Test cricket is like punching babies, it's not for everyone. And the truth is that you might be able to survive punching babies but the chances are that you probably aren't going to survive Test cricket.

It's a game like no other, and the other day I saw one man battling it out the other day in the middle. A lot of people might say Mahela's innings was a brilliant knock - and it is - but Matthews gave us something equally good. But let me stop at that and let you find out why by directing you to Damith at FlySlip for he has done a far better job of it than I would ever have.

Check it out guys, and his other posts too if you never have. He knows his shit, but don't take my word for it. Go there and find out for yourself. I promise you are gonna have a great time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 5 and 6: The End of a Wonderful Journey

At Mutianyu, once you come back by cable car to the base you have to walk about 100 meters to get to the parking area. This small pathway is very much like the pavements in Pettah for both sides of it are covered by small stalls where they sell everything from replicas of Great Wall to pictures of Mao to I Climbed The Great Wall T-shirts. I know better than to show even the faintest interest at this kind of a place for a brief glance is enough for them to flock around you, so I was just walking steadily ignoring their pleads for me to buy 'original' replicas of Great Wall and the like. However, though those T-shirts looked pretty cheap the words printed on them tempted me so I just paused in front of one stall and the woman in there practically dragged me inside. This is the conversation that followed.

"Sir, this is very good t-shirt, buy one."

"How much?"

"Original price is 285. But I discount price only for you. 230 sir!"

Now, 230 RMB is about 3500 Yen, 5000 LKR or more than US$ 40. That's way too much for a cheap-ass T-shirts and I instantly realized (though not unexpected) that she's trying to rip me off. I just laughed and took a couple of steps.

"Okay okay sir, hundred!"

If you are a Sri Lankan, or from around South Asia in general, you know what's about to follow, right? I thought I'd have some fun.

"Hundred? Hmm... nope, still too much."

"Fifty then!"


I took a few more steps, and the woman in the next stall calls me.

"Sir come here, it's 20!"

The way things were going I wondered, if I persisted a little more, whether they'll give me the T-shirt for free and maybe some money along with it too. Now that would be me ripping them off, which I didn't fancy, so I left saving them some money. A couple or so minutes later I arrived at the parking are and was faced with the next problem; now I needed to find a ride back to the bus stand so I could take a bus back to Beijing. There were no taxis to be found and most of the vehicles around were either private vehicles or large buses where tourist groups arrived in. Finally I found a guy who was willing to take me back, and the same conversation took place when I and the French couple tried to hire a van to the Mutianyu. But this time, probably because he knew that I was at the mercy of him, he was not willing to bring down the price so easily. We started at 75, I was trying to get it down to 25 at least, but he was not willing to go below 50. There was also the added condition that I would have to wait till he found enough people to fill his van. We were going nowhere - figuratively as well as literally - with this when I heard a loud "Sach!" from behind. Wondering who the hell from around here knows me, I turned back.

It was Homar and Mili, in a car, waving at me fanatically.

I needed no second invitation so I jumped in leaving the dude I was bargaining with to curse at the new driver, the French couple, me and probably our mothers too. Our driver Cheng (or Chzeng? I'm not sure, it sounded like that) with whom we struck a conversation later was only too happy to take all three of us back for 25 RMB each which was a very good price. Especially considering it looked like I was going to have to pay 50 while not knowing when we will leave even. Rest of the trip was much more uneventful as we soon caught a bus back to Beijing and slept most of the way. Finally upon returning to Beijing we said our final goodbyes again before parting. They were such a nice couple and I must say they have brilliant timing.

After that I returned to The Den again, my new home away from home if you will, for a cool beer and a plate of noodles while contemplating what to do with the final night of my stay in Beijing. I was very tired by then so a hot shower and the bed back in my hotel room seemed so inviting and irresistible. The only place I couldn't visit so far was The Bird's Nest and I admit that I even thought it's a damn stadium for god's sake, what's so good about it for a moment. But then again I might not go back there ever again so why leave something to be regretted like that. How am I going to tell my grandchildren that I was in Beijing but skipped seeing probably the biggest stadium in the world because I was tired? No, I was not going to let them mock at me like that so I plucked up all my strength, found a taxi and headed for The Bird's Nest.

Even from a distance you could see how big the stadium was. It wasn't just big, it was huge. I mean HUGE huge, not just huge. So much so that it was a little intimidating if truth be told. It wasn't just about the size though. Stadiums like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff or MCG in Melbourne are probably equally big if not bigger, but this was so impressive in that it wasn't only a stadium but a work of art as well. There still was daylight when I arrived there so I circled the stadium (which took about an hour) to find a good spot to take a few pictures. I found one which reminded me so much of Galle Face for this was also crowded with families, lovers and just random people who had come there to spend a nice evening. The picture was complete with kids running around playing, flying kites and the like, a lot of street vendors selling all kinds of stuff (no scorpions though) and the general leisurely feeling in the air. A quick inquiry from a guy nearby revealed that they do indeed light up the stadium when it's dark just as I had wished so I settled myself into a corner and started people watching again. Just watching the world go by in front of you while doing nothing is such an obsessive activity (or lack thereof) sometimes that you don't realize how quickly the time pass. Before I knew it about thirty of forty minutes had passed and it was starting to get dark.

Then they lit up the stadium.

Thank god I had decided to come, was my first thought. It was such a spectacular sight that I'm sure I was transfixed for a few minutes. That there, my friends, was a sight I will never forget for the rest of my life. The stadium may have been intimidating during day time but it was absolutely charming at night. It has three main lit up tiers which glow in bright red and yellow. I feel that words are failing me again here - I could use all the words like stunning, breathtaking, brilliant and awe-inspiring but I'm sure they still wouldn't do the justice - so perhaps you should check out these pictures I've taken. It might give you some idea, but just so you know, in reality it was hundred times better a sight. With the general happy and relaxed air around it was a place to be. I would have killed myself if I didn't go though there's no way I could know that this is not a sight to miss until I see it with my own eyes in which case I am there rendering null the need to kill myself. That last sentence didn't probably make any sense but after I started writing it, it looked so cool I got carried away. But I digress. The gist of the matter is that if you're ever in Beijing, DON'T miss this. And make sure you go there when it's dark.

After being amazed at the sight for a while I started my usual routine; setup the tripod and camera then click, click, click. Then I walked some more circling the stadium again to take more pictures from different angles. While doing that I saw there was a very cute and young couple of girls, surely not more than fifteen or sixteen, keenly watching me. We exchanged smiles before me asking whether I could take a photo of them and they were all too happy to pose for me. After a couple of photos I said a quick thank you and started to turn back when one one of the girls said, "how can we get it?" I asked for an email address and noted it down before leaving them thanking again. I mailed them the pics later that night. That was about it for the day so I headed towards the street and spent several unsuccessful minutes trying to find a taxi because several taxis went past me without stopping. I must say that this is a very common scenario in Beijing for so many taxis go passing ignoring their potential customers which doesn't make sense at all. Luckily there was a young Chinese couple next to me watching this and seeing that nobody would stop they offered me the taxi they managed to stop which was a very nice gesture. I asked them whether they're heading the same way I was going (though I had no idea which way I was going) but since it wasn't the case we said goodbye and I arrived at the hotel about half an hour later.

My return trip back home the next day was totally uneventful, except perhaps for the gorgeous evening sky I saw out of the window. I had my breakfast that morning, packed up (thank god I travel light) and paid my bill at the counter which took very little time. The hotel staff was not exceedingly friendly but they were efficient alright which was all I needed. I soon found a taxi and headed for the airport. Since had I arrived a little too early I tried to connect to airport WiFi but thought they said 'Free WiFi', none of them really worked. So I put aside the iPad and turned to my oh so favorite hobby which you must be familiar with by now if you've read the recent few posts. Also airports being places where you see all kinds of people this was just the perfect place for people watching, so I must say I had a good hour there. Cappuccino was really good too despite being ridiculously expensive. Afterwards I got on the plane (Like George Carlin says, why is it 'on' the plane, not 'in' the plane? You don't get 'on' a car do you?) and watched the remainder of Rio which I couldn't watch on my flight to Beijing. Then, as I said earlier, I got to see the most amazing evening sky I've ever seen plus some lightning in distant clouds in a purple sky. That was a sight to remember much like this whole trip was.

All in all it was a trip well worth the every penny (or should I say every yen?) spent especially considering I got to go see The Great Wall of China which was one of my 'dream destinations' if you will. I always loved traveling and this, not surprisingly, made me love it even more. There are so many other places in the world that I want to see and I think I will go see them as much as possible heeding the golden advice Wijitha - a blogger that I admire so much - once gave me:

"Sach, travel the world as much as you can; you'll be poor with rich stories to tell."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 5: To the Great Wall for a One Last Time

After a satisfactory fourth day in Beijing, I had seen most of what I wanted to see except for the Ancient Observatory and Bird's Nest. On the fifth day I was hoping to visit the former first thing in the morning and the latter in the evening with the hope that they would light up the thing. So I had a several hours of free time in between and a few choices as well. I could either go see 798 Art District which was supposedly very impressive, just walk the streets getting a taste of the lives of locals, stay at the hotel relaxing or go see The Great Wall again, hopefully a different place this time. Finally I decided on the last option for a) I was so inspired by it I didn't mind a second look, b) I wasn't really satisfied with the pictures I took there the first time I went and c) though I love art I was sure there was no Michelangelo stuff. Since I had visited Badaling already, this time I wanted to go to Mutianyu but was faced with the problem of how to get there. A quick inquiry from the front desk revealed that it would cost me around 700 RMB for a taxi to and from the Mutianyu Great Wall. It wasn't a huge amount per se, but a considerable amount nonetheless. So I turned to ever so faithful Google - though it was google.jp as they've blocked the .com site over there (yeah, makes sense) - that I visited for real. It told me that I could take a bus so to make sure I called Lynda and she e-mailed me the details on how to get there. I needed to take a bus to a town close to the Great Wall and then either take a taxi or hire a car. The bus fare - I'm not kidding - was 11 RMB and a taxi or a car would cost about another 25, so it's about 70 to and from there, one tenth of what a taxi would cost. I didn't need any convincing.

But first I grabbed a taxi and headed for the ever so elusive Ancient Observatory which I so wanted to see. No it wasn't avoiding me as such, but the circumstances prevented me from seeing it so far. The ride was only a few minutes and upon arriving there I got off the taxi to face, for the first time in Beijing, a deserted entrance to a tourist attraction. I was not sure even if it was open, but a quick inspection revealed that it was though nobody had bothered coming there. Maybe, no, surely, not everyone is an astronomy fanatic like I am. I bought a ticket and entered to find an amazing and unexpected sight. It was an oasis at the heart of Beijing, masked from all the noise and chaos. The place was very quiet and with a bunch of trees inside, very cool and beautiful. I could stay there for hours I didn't have other plans. There were so many ancient astronomy related instruments with lots of descriptions and I spent a good hour or so there chilling. And taking pictures of course.

Once I had seen all that was there to see I proceeded to the next step. Which is to find the central bus station where I was supposed to take a but to the hills. Another few minutes' taxi ride later I was there and quickly found the correct bus with the help of a information counter lady. However I had to fend off a couple of guys who offered 'cheap' rides up there, and believe me getting rid of these people is not easy. Finally I bought a ticket and was seated inside the bus which was pretty comfortable. Unfortunately an oldish looking couple sat next to me who wanted to talk to me despite them not speaking a word of English and me not speaking a word of Chinese. It must have been hilarious to see for others though I didn't exactly feel that way at the moment. Finally I just shrugged and turned away to listen to my iPod and they got the message so they left me alone for the rest of the trip which was a little more than an hour. Towards the end of the ride I saw there was a young foreign couple sitting a few seats away from me and we exchanged one of those "phew, glad to see another alien here" nods and proceeded to talk. Turned out that they were a French couple - Homar and Mili - who were living in Vietnam and travelling around in China for their summer vacation.

Upon arriving at our destination we got off the bus and were immediately approached by a couple of locals who again offered us 'cheap' rides to the wall. Cheap ride being 50 bucks each. But I as well as the French couple had done our homework and we knew it shouldn't cost any more than 25 so we said no thanks and headed away from them. Just as I expected one guy started following us, nagging us to go with them saying there were no taxis. And we quickly realized that unlike in the central Beijing it is indeed hard to find a taxi there. But we still feigned disinterest and got down to bargaining.

"Sir, no taxi here. I take you fifty, fifty, fifty", said the dude pointing at each of us.

"No, fifty's too much. Way too much."

"Okay, give me forty."


"Okay sir you tell me price"

"Fifteen" we said, though I felt a little bit of guilt even.

"Noooooo sir no fifteen. I give you thirty. Best price."

A little more bargaining later we managed to get it down to 20 each, and if we persisted a little more we could probably have taken it down even more but decided it wasn't worth the hassle. A few minutes later we jumped in his van and was on our way to Mutianyu which was about fifteen minutes away. At the entrance I bought a return ticket for the cable cars while they bought only one way saying they wanted to come back on foot. Upon arriving at the wall we said our goodbyes knowing that we will probably never meet again in our lifetimes. Wasn't to be so, but that's for later. Then I turned my attention to the sight that was there, and I shall not waste your time again trying to describe the scene there like I did the few posts ago. I could use the words like spectacular, amazing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring and many more but they will all fail me, I'm sure. It is worth saying though that this Mutianyu wall is much less crowded than the Badaling wall but probably more scenic. If you ever intend to go there, I suggest you go to Mutianyu if you have time to visit only one. This time around I spent time there to my heart's content (or more like till I got exhausted) and took a bunch of nice picture. I also met a few tourists including a bunch of Americans who walked with me for some time, a family of Indians who were very keen to inform me that they lived in America though I didn't ask and finally an elderly South African couple who got very hesitant about walking the rest of it seeing me in my exhausted state. We chatted for a while and found out that the gentleman was as big a sports fan as I am so we got to talk about Tri-Nations and the Bocks' pathetic display this year until the old lady interrupted asking us to stop with the 'stupid rugby talk'. We parted after a while and I took a cable car back ending my second and probably the last Great Wall visit.

Next and final post will bring you the story of how I met the French couple that I thought I would never meet again, and also the details about my thank-god-I-did-it moment that night.

Part Six

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 4: A Heavenly Temple and My Celebrity Status

As I was saying in my previous post I was in search for the perfect bar around though with the every passing minute I was getting less and less confident about it. After the sex shops, dodgy bars and the like I arrived at a range of street-eat stalls where everything from fried scorpions to to crocodile heads (okay that was an exaggeration, but not that much) could be found. But I was so hungry I could eat a croc in whole (I said 'croc' you bastards!), not just a head, so I let it pass too and walked a little more. Then I spotted a white dude, followed by another one and then a hot chick, also white. Looking around I spotted a bar, named The Den which to be honest wasn't much to look at. But it's not for nothing they have said that don't measure a book from it's cover; don't let the looks fool you folks. I entered it to find just what I was looking for, scratch that, to find things exceeding my expectations. It had all the awesome foreign beer you could hope for, not to mention the strong stuff like Whiskey, pretty reasonably prized yet very tasty food and, wait for this, huge ass TVs showing nothing but sports. There was the Tri-Nations match between All Blacks and the Wallabies which I missed, a Manchester United (I think) match, an NFL game and some tennis match. I was in heaven, people.

Fast forward to next day.

By now I had decided that I can find my way around by myself which was the original plan anyway. My plan for the fourth day was to first visit the Temple of Heaven followed by The Summer Palace and if possible, in the evening, either Ancient Observatory or The Bird's Nest. I had read the Lonely Planet as well as Wikitravels like a good traveler should, so as they had instructed I asked the hotel staff to write down the names of those places as well as the directions back to the hotel in Chinese so you could show it to largely non-English-speaking taxi drivers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had taken care of that already; the hotel had this card where on one side they have the names of some of the major tourist attractions in Beijing (including those places I mentioned above) written down in both English and Chinese, and on the back of it they had a small map of the area around the hotel and instructions on how to get there, also written down in both languages. Very convenient I must say. So with a couple of those cards in hand I walked out, asked the dude at the door to find me a taxi and was on my way to the Temple of Heaven within a couple of minutes.

Upon arriving at the entrance I was faced with the daunting task of buying myself a ticket. Even though I've lived twenty something years in Sri Lanka, a land where chaos is no stranger, still the orderly smooth fine ways of Japan have spoilt me a little. In Japan, buying a ticket is a pretty straightforward task - you join the line at the end and buy the ticket when your turn comes. It doesn't get simpler than that. Neat, fair and efficient. But it's a whole different ball game in China which I did not have to worry about up until now because of my tour guides who took care of it for me. To begin with, there was no line to join at the end. Instead there is a bunch of men women and kids flocked around the ticket counter and finding your way through to it is a task that can be matched to breaching an All Blacks defence when they are not playing in the World Cup. When you do finally make it to the counter they also need you to have change since they can't change a 100 RMB note at a place where a gazillion tourists visit each day. However finally I managed to get through all those hurdles and emerged victorious with a ticket plus a map of the place in hand and headed towards the temple.

The garden around the temple was pretty cool, green and relaxing but it was no match for the temple itself. I will not try to describe you the place for I'm pretty sure that the words will fail me so instead you can check out a few pics I've taken here, here and here. But I'm not sure even if those pictures can do the justice for I'm only an amateur photographer, so maybe you should Google for better pics. To put it simply the place was serene and awe inspiring. No wonder they called it The Temple of Heaven. After being amazed at this marvellous piece of work for about half an hour, I set to work. I set up the tripod in a place where I thought would give me a good composition, mounted the camera, took out the lens cap and looked through the camera. Big mistake. I had forgotten to take into account the population of China. There was absolutely no way I was going to get a decent picture without a gazillion heads in it. I realized it was a damn wise decision to travel there by myself without joining a tour program though they were pretty cheap compared to what I spent for the whole trip. The main reason for me to go alone was that this could very well be the only time I'd ever visit China and I did not want to just glance the places. So since I had ample time in hand I found a little less crowded place, placed the tripod and camera in front of me, leaned on a fence, put my sun glasses on and started people watching which is sort of a hobby of mine.

Then a funny thing happened. Though the place was less crowded by no means it was empty so there were a few people near by, among them an oldish looking guy and a young girl. Probably father and daughter. With the advantage of sun glasses I could see that they were sort of staring at me though they probably didn't know I saw it. A moment later she came to me with a point-and-shoot camera in hand and asked, in broken English, "take photo?" while pointing at the cam. I thought she wanted me to take a picture of the two of them so I said "yeah" but before I finished saying the word even she handed the camera to the father, put her arms around me and posed for a picture! The dude took a picture and before I knew it they were walking away while uttering a hearty "thank you". There were a couple of young girls nearby watching all this drama and they decided they too wanted a picture, and this time they posed on either side of me even without asking really. I didn't have any other option but to comply, and comply I did. This followed by another chick nearby posing for a picture and I was starting to be worried by now. What the hell was going on, thought I. There weren't anymore girls left and luckily the few guys around did not want a picture, so I was left alone to be confused about my new found celebrity status.

After a while the area got a little more less crowded (see what I did there?) so I finally decided it's time. From then on I spent about an hour or probably even more photographing it. However the place was still very much crowded and I had to put some great effort to take the shots I desired, working the angles. I wished very much that I had an accomplice so I could have asked him or her to chase away the people nearby while I took the photos without any people in them. Trey Ratcliff is a photographer - who was introduced to me (not in person) by a good friend - that I like very much and he had put up this awesome picture of the place sometime ago on his G+ profile. He was lucky enough to get the authorities to clear the place for him so obviously he had a very decent shot at it. I tried to reproduce it but it was much much more difficult with hundreds of people in, so I couldn't even get a picture that's close to it. Probably about a hundred or more pictures later I decided that was enough, packed all the equipment and headed for the exit.

A snack and a bit of a rest later I got into another taxi instructing the driver to take me to The Summer Palace. He took me there alright, but the bugger dropped me a little way off the main entrance so amidst thousands of people I was left wondering how the hell am I going to go in. Few minutes later I met an American couple who were faced with exactly the same problem so we set about looking for it together and luckily found the entrance quickly. The first thing I can say about The Summer Palace is that it's vast. It's not just one palace in one place, but a whole lot more spread across a vast area which included a huge ass lake and a steep hill. I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to explore it all with the little time I had (it was past 4 in the evening when I got there) so headed for the top of the hill hoping to get an aerial sort of view of it all and a few decent pictures with it. I was not disappointed with my decision; the view from the top of the hill was spectacular. I took a different route downhill exploring the area a little more before finally deciding to call it a day.

Rest of the day comprised of heading for the perfect bar which I told you about at the beginning of the post, having a delicious Chinese noodle with a few beers and heading back to the hotel to find out that the bunch of wonderful 'friends' I have had spread all sorts of false rumors about me trying to defame my name on G+, though of course not at all to my surprise. The surprise would be if they didn't.

Await my account on probably the best day I spent in China on next post.

Part Five

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 3: Not So Awesome Forbidden City and Some More

Let me tell you, as I promised, about what happened on that second night then.

A hot water shower and a cup of tea later I was contemplating whether I should stay in my room to get a well deserved rest or just go out and see around. Then a moment later I realized that I had forgotten my dear old pair of Bata back home (kind of strange that now I've come to call my apartment here in Japan 'home' but to be honest that is how I feel) so that left me with no option but to go out and get a pair of slippers. I was not going to stay there for five days wearing shoes all day long. I put on my jeans back, went down to the lobby and found out that there was a supermarket close by where I could get a pair of slippers and other stuff that I needed.

It was only ten or so minutes walk from the hotel so I decided to walk because I really wanted to see the real life over there; immediately I realized it was no Japan. People were less polite, bad driving, way too much noise and a mild form of chaos just about everywhere. Kind of reminded me of Colombo; you can certainly draw comparisons with the notable exception of pedestrian crossing. When I say that I bet you assumed that for some strange reason pedestrian crossing must be better over there. I'm right, am I not? And who can blame you for it is really hard to believe that there could be any place in the world that's worse in that department than Colombo. But that's until you go to Beijing.

Let me paint you a picture of pedestrian crossing in China. It could be the biggest city in China but it has traffic lights only for vehicles, not for pedestrians. Luckily drivers seem to follow them mostly but pedestrians, now that's a different story. They just cross the roads at will - I've lived long enough in Colombo to know that it's shit there but trust me this was much worse - without a care in the world. Imagine a pretty big road with four or six lanes. The usual method of crossing it is you just step onto the road unless there is a vehicle within 5 meters on the left side of you. Then walk as farther as possible towards the middle of the road until another vehicle approach you at which point you would just pause for a moment to let it pass and then resume the walk. You will be able to get to the middle of the road this way hopefully without getting a couple of limbs severed. Then you change the attention to the right side of the road and resume the walk again barring in mind the 5 meter rule. Now repeat the steps you followed to get to the middle of the road until you reach the other end of the road. Of course this is much easier said than done and I was VERY confused for a few minutes. It was life and death business. But it is in our Sri Lankan blood to handle any type of chaos so I quickly formulated a method to cross the road; whenever I wanted to cross the road I would just wait behind a Chinese who's about to cross the road and follow in his footsteps - literally, not figuratively - when he (or preferably she) crosses the road. They are so good at it never did I have to worry about getting killed on the road since then.

Anyhow, after some more such dramatic road crossings I finally arrived at the said supermarket and quickly did my shopping; a pair of Bata-like slippers, some kind of fancy sweet and a few local beers that I thought I should try and lined up at the counter. Now, several times friends of mine have told me that Chinese people have absolutely no sense of personal space but this is when I really got to see it. This is no exaggeration, but when I was lined up at the counter, there were no less than five people in the space between the entrance to the counter and the other end of it, which must not have been more than a four or five feet. Yes, there were FIVE people, and when I looked back over my shoulder, the next guy was right behind me. What the fuck, really? So I waited till everyone in front of me cleared, then paid the money and got the hell out of it. To shorten the rest of it; I headed back to hotel, grabbed my camera and wandered around a bit more and photographed some night views before heading to the hotel to have the beers I bought. They were crappy.

Damn, I'm through four paragraphs and I'm still not into day 3 proceedings though this is supposed to be about day 3. Okay let us move on then.

I had asked the tour guide company for a guide for the next day as well, and this time it wasn't Yan but a Lynda! I got to know that her real name was Linlan, but she insisted that I stick to Lynda so, well, who am I to argue then. Since I wanted to go by train and also taxis I hadn't asked for a car that day, we both headed to the subway station nearby to go to this Ancient Observatory that I had heard about. However it seemed like it wasn't really a tourist hot spot as even my tour guide didn't know about it and hadn't been there before. Unfortunately, upon arrival we got to know that it was closed on Mondays so we proceeded to our next place, Tiananmen Square. Lonely Planet and other travel guides might say it's a must visit, but to be honest you wouldn't miss much if you skipped it. I took a couple of pics and then we went to see the much adored and world famous Forbidden City. I had heard so much about it, I was sure it was going to be freaking awesome. But again I was in for more disappointment. It was huge, it was impressive but it was also boring. Forbidden City in a nutshell is copies of one building in different sizes. So we spent some more time there, then had a brief fast food lunch before heading to see a silk factory. It was, however, not a disappointment but I don't want to go into details of silk making. Just take my word for it. After buying a supposedly awesome quilt that can be used in both summer as well as winter alike (since then I have come to realize that it is indeed awesome) we left the place and headed for the Old Summer Palace. Let me just say that it was okay there, nothing spectacular except for one thing there that I enjoyed very much and also has a funny history. It was a maze. A real life-size maze made of stone where you can navigate through to the center at which there was a small structure. The funny history being this was built by an emperor (more like built for) back in the day and apparently he had held 'competitions' among his many wives - letting them start from outside the maze and find their way into the center - and the winner would get a prize. Wonder what the prize was. I too found my way into the center - wasn't as easy as I thought it would be - but nobody gave me a prize. Maybe because I wasn't a queen.

On our way back, I asked Lynda whether there are any cool places to hangout like bars or clubs nearby my hotel and found out that there was a 'bar street' nearby. So again that evening, after a shower I went out at night intending to check out the so called bar street. It was a nice place, and there were more than just bars, like shopping malls and the like, also there were more foreigners there than anywhere else in Beijing I visited and was in general kind of a 'posh' area. After window shopping in a few designer stores I got bored so headed towards the bars wondering where to go. While I was browsing the streets I saw a line of dodgy Chinese bars where people really stare at you, some more way too posh restaurants and, I kid you not, a sex shop named BJ HOT. I passed them all and walked some more distance till I found the perfect bar one would ever find in Beijing.

More about that later...

Part Four

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 2: The really great Great Wall of China

Now I'm pretty sure you were waiting to know what I did with the pack of condoms I found in the minibar inside my room, but sorry to disappoint you dirty minded people; I just left it there. And went to sleep at around midnight. Luckily I had told earlier my tour guide to come pick me up from the hotel at 10 in the morning so I would have enough time to get a proper sleep.

The next morning I headed for the dining hall since I was to get free breakfast with my hotel package and it truly was an awesome breakfast. I'm all for trying out authentic local food and all, but I would always like a good old English breakfast if I am anywhere but Sri Lanka. Thank god they had just that; scrambled eggs (and if you prefer all other sorts too) with mashed potatoes, sausages, salad, toast and of course tea. But it didn't stop there. There was such a huge variety of food, and I was SO hungry after a poor meal in the plane last night, I ended up eating not just that but also wheat bread with peanut butter (crazy, I know) and Chinese noodles with, well I don't remember with what.

Anyhow, full to the brim I was back in my room getting ready to go when I got a call from the reception saying that my guide had arrived. Few minutes later I was in the lobby looking around everywhere wondering how the hell am I going to spot my guide what with three fourth of the people in the lobby being Chinese and they all looking pretty much the same. But I guess that a Sri Lankan with a big ass camera and a tripod in hand in a hotel lobby in China must be kind of a rare sight, so a moment later I saw a cute girl heading my way.

"Hello sir, are you Sach?"
"Yeah, and you must be my guide?"
"Yes sir, I'm Winnie, nice to meet you!"
"Hello nice... what? Winnie? You said your name's Winnie?"
"Yes, like in Winnie the Pooh!"
"Erm... okay, hi Winnie, nice to meet you too!"

Now you shouldn't assume that this conversation went as smooth as you read it. Firstly, the accent of Chinese when they speak English is damn hard to follow especially if they are not really good at English. Add to that the fact that while I was talking I was also thinking how the hell did a Chinese got a name like Winnie. Strange, just like if you named a Sri Lankan guy Angelo Matthews. Anyway after this initial surprise we got into the car she had brought with her and proceeded to teach each other how to say "good morning" in our respective languages. For your information, or FYI as they say in this age of the Internet, it's zao shang hao. Stop trying to pronounce it now and read the rest of this post. As I was saying, we exchanged this information but I was still bemused at "Winnie" so I asked if it is her real name or just a pet name. Looks like most of the Chinese, or at least people who deal with foreigners, have an English name too which I thought was pretty stupid. I can't for the life of me imagine Japs changing their name so it would be convenient for the foreigners to speak it. Eventually I got to know her real name is Yan which I thought pretty cool and also easy to say so we stuck to that. Of course I asked her to do away with "sir" and stick to just Sach.

My plans for the day were first to go see Ming Tombs, then to the Badaling Great Wall and later if time permits, somewhere else too. The first place I visited, Ming Tombs, disappointed me since there wasn't really much to see. Then Yan suggested that we go see this Jade factory and store, which to be honest I didn't think would be very interesting either. How very wrong I was. It was fascinating to see the all the brilliant sculptures, jewelry and all sorts of other things that were made of Jade. Before this Jade stones meant green color beautiful stones to me. But it was much more than that; there were all sorts of colors like blue, purple, orange, brown, gold - you name it they have it. They also took me around the factory to see how actual stones are cut, polished and made into beautiful artwork which was pretty awesome. It was tedious work which sometimes take months apparently and you need to be skilled at the art. After spending more than an hour there and taking many many photos I finally spent a few bucks on a Jade bracelet before leaving the place.

Next was the lunch. Yes even after such a huge meal I still was hungry so we proceeded to find a restaurant and ended up in a place which I can best compare with a Saivar Kadey in Colombo. I ordered Chinese Fried Rice and a pork curry and I was in for not one, but two surprises. Firstly, being used to get so little whatever you order in Japan, I couldn't believe the size of the pork curry for one person. Easily three people could eat it. And secondly, I think the Sri Lankans can give a good lesson to Chinese on how to make Chinese Fried Rice. This rice was SO bland. I finished only one third of what was on the table though I must tell that the pork curry was really good.

Now all that behind, finally, I was ready to go see my dream destination. We hopped in the car and headed for the Badaling Great Wall, but I had picked the worst day of the week, Sunday, to go there. The traffic was awful and it took much longer than I had hoped so it was close to 4 in the evening when we finally arrived there. From there tourists must take cable cars to go up to the Great Wall, but I felt really hopeless seeing the very long line that was there. But that's when Yan stepped in; not only she was able to get me tickets pretty quick, she also found another cable car place where I could use the same ticket but was MUCH less crowded. Thank god I had decided to go with a guide that day. However, since Yan could not use her tour guide pass to travel by the cable car the plan was for me to walk on the wall for about one and a half hours before coming back to the same location where she would wait for me. Since the cable cars stop their service at 5 p.m., she was continually reminding me to get back on time. Minutes later, finally, there I was on The Great Wall of China, and what can I say but it truly was a great feeling being there taking in the absolutely spectacular sight which was literally all around me. Whichever way you look the Great Wall ran on almost all the mountains until you could not see it anymore. Ever since I was a kid I always was fascinated by this place, I often wondered how cool it would be to actually see this place but never really thought I would be there someday. It was truly a dream come true though not for the first time; I felt the same standing in front of the altar in Sistine Chapel and looking at the painting Last Judgement, a wonderful work by that genius Michelangelo.

After about ten minutes of being amazed I realized I also need to take photos so set up my tripod and camera and set to work. Several minutes later I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder and I turned to see Yan there behind me. Apparently she was worried that I might miss the final cable car downwards - actually I would have - so she had talked up with the guys operating them to take her up there. And a good thing she did too; I took SO much time photographing eventually it was close to six in the evening when I finished. She was very patient with all that, and then we walked on the Great Wall towards an exit where we can go downwards on foot to where she had asked the driver to bring the car to. From there onwards I mostly slept in the car on our way back to hotel where I said my goodbyes to Yan, a really wonderful girl whom I would love to meet again someday.

You can see a few pictures in by Photoblog and a lot more in my Flickr stream.

Await for more which happened on that night as well as the following day, on my next post.

Part Three

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 1: Getting There

As you might have already guessed I was in Beijing last week, spending my much earned break of summer vacation seeing the things I so desired to see ever since I could remember. However, it was much more of a sudden decision to go there so let me track back a bit and tell you how and why I ended up there. My initial plans for this summer was to go to New Zealand to – no it wasn't to see the country, it would be foolish to go there for sightseeing in winter – see a Tri Nations game between the All Blacks and Wallabies. However, as often happens with the best laid plans, last minute changes at work meant that I could not take time off to see the match I so wanted to. I love rugby and I love this Blacks team, and I was SO looking forward to going there and seeing the match in addition to meet up with some of the friends over there. But then I was left with a week’s worth of holidays and no plans, so then I decided maybe I should make a trip to China, to see The Great Wall of China in particular which is one of my childhood dreams.

Then I got to work; first spending hours on the net reading Lonely Planet and Wikitravels and the like deciding where to go and what to see. Finally I decided upon Beijing for it’s quite close to Japan and also most of the tourist locations are so close to each other I would have to spend less time travelling and more time seeing them. Booked a plane ticket as well as a hotel also with the help of the above said sites, which are must reads if you intend to travel anywhere in the world. After that did some more reading and got to know what to expect over there and arranging my travel plans too. It goes without saying my first and most important destination was The Great Wall, and I decided on going to Badaling Great Wall first and if possible to Mutianyu Great Wall too. The first is the most famous and the second, apparently, less crowded. I also decided upon Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and finally a much less popular a tourist destination but one that I was sure would fascinate me; an ancient observatory. Then I arranged for airport pickup and a guide with a car for the following day to go to The Great Wall. My plans were to see how it goes and then if possible travel by myself for the rest of the trip.

So then everything in place, there I was at the Narita Airport in Japan on 6th of August waiting for my JAL flight. Sweating a lot too though not because of fear of flying but because as a means of saving power the Japs have cut down air-conditioning at the airport. After about a half an hour’s delay I finally boarded the plane and sat next to a grumpy old German couple who kept talking nonstop. I quickly put on my headphones and started watching a documentary about Dinosaurs followed by Rio, an awesome movie. Well actually only half of it as that’s all the time I had.

After a smooth landing and a few minutes later I was inside the Terminal 3 of Beijing Airport and people, take it from me, that airport terminal is big. Not just big, really really big. After walking on and on for what felt like hours (okay it didn't feel like hours but it give a nice edge to the sentence) finally I arrived at the immigration counters and the Chinese lady was nice to let a tired me in very quickly. After waiting so long to pick up my baggage (why is it my baggage ALWAYS the last to arrive at the belt?) I headed outwards and found the driver dude holding a name board. He could speak only few words of English, but that and the sign language was enough for us to get by. The hotel was about a half an hour drive from the airport, and the dude laughed and put on his seat belt when I inquired him about the seat belt rules in China.

So finally after a long day I arrived at my hotel at around 11 p.m. that day. The hotel staff was nice and they checked me in very quickly not letting me wait there for long. After a nice hot shower I plugged in my laptop and sat down to do the most important thing before going to bed; to update G+ and FB status only to find out that they both are blocked in China. Oh well. Then I caught up with someone on Skype, someone as jobless as me, to have a little chat while enjoying a bar of chocolate I found in the mini-bar inside my room which contained, among other things, a packet of condoms.

To be continued…

Part Two

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuff Over Here

If my last month's schedule was busy like Obama's, this month's is more like that of the president of Switzerland. Do they even have a president? Who knows, for all we know they may just be, you know, nobody making any trouble and generating news as interesting as drying paint. You know what I mean right? In case you don't; I'm having a quiet and quite sedated couple of weeks now. Not much work, already long weekend extended to 4 days by taking Friday off and all. Things are cool, so to speak, though not literally as it looks like this summer is going to be as hot as the last which was the hottest summer ever recorded in Japan. But then again, I'd take a hot as an oven summer day any day over shitty, gloomy and cold days of winter.

During the weekend I along with my teammates went to play our second game of cricket of the season. It was about an hour's drive away from Tokyo, actually it is in the now famous Ibaraki prefecture, a place nobody outside Japan would ever know if not for that earthquake. As is the custom with Sri Lankans we yet again got late about an hour but the opposition being Indians did help; we were quite early in their eyes. So after our good old skipper - actually he's quite younger than me - winning the toss and electing to bat (pretty much the default decision I must say) I went out there to open the batting, though of course not alone. However, as it is the custom with our team we were yet again in trouble with 4 down for 13 only few overs into the innings. Crisis alright. However I dug in with our next guy JT and started building a partnership mainly taking singles and twos. Unfortunately it was probably the hottest day of this summer so far, and I quickly realized how unlucky I was not to get out. To hell with ones and twos; running is a bitch when it drains you out like that. Anyway yours truly did not do a Mahanama but got the score up to 73 with good support from JT. But then a vicious in swinger - at about 12 noon on a hot-like-hell day - did me in and I was gone for a quick 39 off 35. Sad I couldn't stay longer but the others who batted after me too dug in, with a 60 n.o. from JT and an unprecedented double figure from Solomon, our usual last man, to get the score up to 201/9 after allocated 35 overs. Very good score but that was as good as it was going to get for us that day. Our fielding display that followed could give serious competition to eleven drunkards fielding on one leg with one hand tied to their backs. I don't think I need say more.

Secondly, I CAN'T wait for the Tri-Nations to start. Only months away from the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, this is the last chance for three of the biggest competitors to get a measure of their strengths and fine tune the last bits of their machinery, so to speak. Wallabies already suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Samoa last week which is NOT what they would have wanted going into the Tri-Nations to face the mighty Blacks. Bocks may not be the number one side in the world, but you never know what they can do. And All Blacks probably has one of their greatest teams in history with a set of backs as awesome as they come. Usually Tri-Nations offer much more competitive rugby than the RWC so the coming two months will be, well, I'll have something to look forward to. Go the Blacks!

Finally, though I have rugby to look forward to there's only one game per week. And I'm in a serious slump when it comes to watching TV series as all the regulars won't start till this fall. So can somebody please suggest a couple of good ones? And no I DO NOT want to watch The Big Bang Theory or Two And a Half Men. Why is it that EVERYONE suggest those two when you ask for a TV series? Beats me.