mardi 29 septembre 2009

Thinking about Mahler on a Bright Sunny Day in Paris


Sitting on the steps of Opera Garnier, this afternoon, reading the excellent Biography of Gabo, and feeling elated and hopeful, I thought of Gustav Mahler, the austro hungarian jew who suffered in the antisemitic capital of vienna in the last part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. I am sure he must have visited Opera Garnier?
Why think about Mahler, after a delicious lunch with the most agreeable companion..filet of colin in cury sauce, poireaux and ratatouille. perrier and a little bit of sweet afterwards?
During this last trip to Malaysia, my fourth in one year, I had a chance to renew my acquaintance with Mr Ho, a rare Malaysian in that he is truly a thinker and intellectual in a millieu so crass and capitalistic. He gave me a list of his preferred 100 movies of all time, and it was good to go through them since he knows much more about Asian Movies (not the Bollywood Glitters).. Chinese from HK, PRC and Taiwan; Korea and of course Japan as well as Thailand and Malaysia. One day I hope to watch them all, with his help. In return I told him about Mon Oncle d'amerique from France and of course in the west you can easily make up a list of 100 as well..
What is more amazing about Mr Ho, who is married to his delightful companion Kit, is that at the age of 24 he was the President of Malaysian Mahler Society and was instrumental in bringing some important soloists to Malaysia. Congratulations and well done..
That he suffers intellectually in the financial world he works in, is so obvious. He is not surrounded by friends who can translate the harsh reality of malaysia into a magical world, like we do in Cuba or Colombia or Brasil..but there are outposts of hope in that outpost of lack of magic.. in this visit i had the chance to share meals with two couples, four individudals on their right, expatriates from India, but working in Malaysia, who can bring sparkle of intellect into those dark skies... There is potential in KL for a thinking person, but one really has to look for it.. like looking for diamonds in a sand dune..
This is what i thought, as i sat reading Gabo's biography on the steps of Opera Garnier this afternoon..
pain au chocolat at Pomme de Pain, a chain cafe which serves inexpensive snacks and quick lunches, this one near Gare San Lazare; lunch as described above and cafe at Nespresso near Opera Garnier, where a slew of slim attendants wait on you as if you are buying jewelry but you are there to buy Nespress ( what else?) coffee machines and more usually, the cartridges..visually pleasant while sipping a cafe of your choice with a morsel of chocolat....

Makan in Malaysia.. so Delicious..

Even as a child, I thought of Malaysia as a destination for Food! so in the 72 hours that I spent in KL on this trip to see Friends, I managed four dinners and three lunches! All Asian Food.. Chinese or Indian. Chinese food were at Sam You, Oversea and Eden. Indian food were at the homes of Expatriate Indian Execs working for Media company: excellent food! I have always maintained and received better Indian Food in Malaysia than India itself, that may something about my tastebuds rather than India! the only mediocre meal was a foreign meal: fukuya Japanese restaurant. The moral of the story is Do not Eat foreign food.. non indian, non malay, non chinese food while you are visiting Malaysia. Always ate with friends that makes the food even tastier..
The next visit to Malaysia is planned for July 2010, to attend the First International Zheng He Conference organized by Dr Tan Tan Sen in Malacca. Long time to wait, but worth it..then there is always Paris...

lundi 28 septembre 2009

Pampering yourself in KL Part 2

I wonder how many Men have regular Facials? being a traveller, with at least once a month voyage transcontinentally, I find Facials at my destinations to be good for the skin. But nothing comes close to the attention paid by Ana at her salon Guinot at KLCC. I had special Facial treatment which lasted two hours.. yes two hours, where she uses the silk string technique from India to removed unwanted hairs from your face. she pays a lot of attention to each part of the face and in the end you feel the difference. she is the owner of the salon but there are other therapists on staff. I highly recommend this treatment for at least one hour of facial to visitors to KL when they are visiting KLCC..

Pampering yourself in KL Part 1

A Cut Above at Bangsar shopping complex is truly an experience for a tired traveller! under the artistic direction of Fei Wen, the place gives the client a luxury treatment: hair cut preceeded by shampoo and scalp and neck massage; a spa treatment of the legs and feet including massage, debriding and cleansing, manicure... all done in tandem and without wasting much time by an all attentive staff. The staff seem happy to be working there. I especially request GS for my pedicure since it is usually the best pedicure I get ( the viet girls who do pedicure in the USA can take a lesson from GS!)

Journey to Friends Food and Other Loves Day 4 Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur

The wait at the Amsterdam Schipol Airport seemed interminable. There were lots of japanese boarding their flights to Tokyo. The KLM club is spacious and full of amenities. I tried to sleep but couldnt, even though i saw many people slumped over their chairs after long intercontinental flights, including a very large chinese woman sleeping in a reclining position in a chair with a large baby on her chest who was also sound asleep.
KLM 089 Boeing 777-300 will fly us from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on its way to Djakarta and coming back the same evening to fly back to Amsterdam. There are not too many direct flights into Kuala Lumpur from Europe. MH flies to a few destinations in Europe but not on a regular basis except to London. KLM flies in from Amsterdam, Lufthansa flies three times a week from Frankfurt.. no other european or australian or american airlines at this most modern facility. I wonder what it means? is it because every one flies into Singapore?
Compared to the elegance of the Air France Staff, the cabin staff of KLM exhibited their nordic stock, big men and women with long blond hairs with purposeful gait and stern voices.
fortunately they had left the seat next to me vacant and that made the journey very comfortable. The surprise of the journey was a Dutch wine! a dutch wine? you might ask, yes, De Linie 2008 from North brabant, Holland. First ever time to taste a dutch wine (combining the fruits of Pinot Blanc, Bacchus and kerner with crispiness of Riesling and the soft spicinessof Gewurtztraminer witha bit of Pinot Noir thrown in.. a combination indeed, but it was tasty)
The dinner began with Tandoori Salmon with indian spices and marinated cucumber. The salmon is my favoured fish but if there were indian spices in it, my taste buds failed to detect them. Seared fillet of Hake served with cepe sauce and mixed garden greens and alkmaar-style barley. Just before arriving in KL they served a spanish omelette served with tortilla and courgette and cherry tomato. By then I was already dreaming of Teh Tahrek and Roti Canai waiting for me in KL! The dessert wine was a delicious one from Riverina in Australia, Lillypilly Sweet Harvest, made from three varieties of late picked grapes, including Riesling and Muscat. It reminded me of the dessert wine on QF when my good friend Sandra Kennedy was in charge of the front cabin on a flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles less than one year ago..
The best thing about this flight was the arrival at KLIA where a nicely toothy smiled Chinese air hostess welcomed us HOME.. Welcome Home, a nice ring to it.. in fact I felt I was coming home, my rediscovered Home.. and the House of Glass at Seri kembangan of course..

Journey to Friends Food and Other Loves Day 3 Miami to Paris to Amsterdam

I was the last one to board the Air France Flight 095 to Paris, as I had lingered longer at the new Delta Airlines Club at Miami Airport. The French Canadian gate agent was gracious and soon I was seated in my requested seat next to a stern looking lady from northern sweden, with whom I had nothing in common and it manifested itself in the silence of the journey.
I was not able to rest well on this trip, the begining of a long trip to Kuala Lumpur, with changes of planes in Paris and Amsterdam.
The aircraft was a fairly new Airbus 340-300 and as is usual with Air France flights to and fro Miami from Paris, it was full.
I looked forward to a nice meal. The champagne was Henriot Brut Souverain, a non-vintage brut champagnes of the region, comprising of 60 % Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Nice start of a meal.
Scallops marinated in champagne vinegar and pesto
Glazed filletof salmon accompanied by beans and basmati rice with wasabi
a good selection of cheese
peach tart
The breakfast just before arriving in Paris was supposed to be crepe with herbed srambled eggs and grilled sausage but the pleasant breton flight attendant said there was pork in them, so i had to forego that..instead had some nice croissant and breakfast pastries.
After arrival at CDG, walked over to terminal 2C to go to the Air France Arrivals lounge where a very lean french woman from Reunion or Mauritius offered a warm welcome. A long shower and cleaning up and checking of email and then time to board the flight to amsterdam for the short 40 minute flight, but being a French Airline, they offered some tasty morsels for the flight, along with a glass of Champagne.

dimanche 27 septembre 2009

An Anthropologist on MH 020 from KLIA to Paris


I arrived early this morning at CDG Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris after a 12 hour 20 minute flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaisie. The flight was comfortable and good with pleasant service and variety of food. No wonder MH stands for Malaysian Hospitality.
An anthropological observation is in order.
The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200. It is fully booked. More than 90 per cent of the passengers were European, there was not a Single Indian among the passengers, and the number of Chinese passengers could be counted on your fingers. The captain was Chinese but almost all other cockpit crew and cabin staff were Malay, with a couple of Indians and Chinese thrown in.
The Economy Class was full as I mentioned, so was the Business/First Class. But the racial composition was different up front. Most of the passengers in this section were Malay, with a few Europeans and one Chinese who lugged a huge suitcase. The Malays were young and old, and none of them looked prosperous enough to afford the Business Class fare. Good Luck to them!
It is very obvious that Malaysia is being successfully promoted in Europe and especially in France as a holiday destination.
From now on, both Malaysian Airlines and Tourism Malaysia can count on yet another voice inviting Europeans to visit the beautiful Truly Asia country of the East.. Malaysia.. and that voice would be mine.

dimanche 20 septembre 2009

Journey to Friends Food and Other Loves Day 1

I thought the journey had begun well, when my coworker at the Indian Clinic informed me that there is enough time for us to drive to the nearest town, 25 miles away, for lunch at the Thai Restaurant there.. Off we went, and well rewarded at our tonsils with hot soup with mushrooms and chicken with coconut milk and also Radna.. very satisfying.
Before leaving the reservation, I had a very nice experience, which I have detailed in the blog below.
I invited a good Indian friend of mine, to La Bouvette, at the Old market in Omaha, the place was brimming with people. all dressed to celebrate what might be the last warm day and night for the summer. it was good to see so many people out to enjoy themselves.
La Bouvette was a poor choice. the service was poor, i was attracted to it by the large wine cellar it has.. in fact it is a wine bar with a pretentious resstaurant.. they even use french words for their menu.. but the food was so below average: a huge chunk of lamb with metallic taste and a bunch of mussels which was virtually inedible. a glass of 2007 Greviere Bourdeux was the only consolation.. Waste of Money..Not recommended.. how they can call themselves a French Restaurant is beyond me.. it is a poor quality american restaurant...
Sitting at seat 2 E on the Continental Flight from Omaha to Houston, I noticed the chief flight atttendant had a Cuban flag on his lapel. We began chatting in spanish, his parents are cuban and he asked me the inevitable question: How is it in Cuba? needless to say, he would hear my very positive approach about Cuba which has been very very good to me.. I gave him my card and wished him well.
the breakfast was cereal which i didnt want, so i was given a bag of Pita Chips with cinnamon, a small bag of almonds along with coffee and orange juice. This country has a serious problem about FOOD.. it is something else mixed with ingredients of food, but never FOOD.. how can I eat Pita chips in a plastic bag with multiple chemicals and to my great surprise, even the small bag of almonds contained Maltodextrin which does not do very many good things to your liver!
Seat 1E to Miami from Houston. Lunch was : split pea soup ( i declined for fear of ham in it) and a chicken fajita wrap with cheese. The sweet biscuit with chocolate in between had hydrogenated palm oil..it was called Milano and made by pepperidge farms.. I had two glasses of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay.. not bad for a domestic flight.
My friend, JS, a Jamaican of mixed Cuban-arab ancestry, picked me up and i wanted to tell him that he had taken the wrong road when he left the airport. He knew how much i have missed good coffee while i was away in the middle of nowhere, our first stop was a typical cuban coffee shop, the kind which is fast disappearing.. where you can sit at the bar and sip a nice cortadito to your heart content.. Bienvenidos a Miami.
The purpose of this visit to Miami is to visit my sister, J. As I walked into the house, the smell of scotch bonnet hit me and a very nice dinner was waiting.
mackerel, calaloo, green banana... then a nice cup of english tea with milk... thank god for colonialism for uplifting our tonsils! eventhough mackerel was a food for the slaves, ah well..
DAY 2
The breakfast amidst talk and conversations was ackee and saltfish, a typical jamaican dish. Here I am in USA and what have i eaten.. very very seldom do i eat american food, perhaps that would guarantee good health? a lot of time, when i give lectures, someone might ask, what is your suggestion for good health: if it is a predominantly indian audience, I would say to them, live somewhere else! Yanks might get offended so i dont say that to unfriendly or unknown audiences..who knows some of the Bush supporters are still lurking out there..
Lovely chat with another jamaican of arab ancestry who is conscious of his health and thus knows about HighFructoseCorn Syrup and other poisons..He invited me to visit an erudite friend of his, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon but i was in a hurry to get to La Carreta to have a cup of cuban coffee.. it is a kind of addiction, you know... this love for Cuba and things Cuban..
There is nothing better than being there... if you love someone, make every attempt to be there for them. I dont understand the excuses of not having time when it comes to your loved ones.. what is more important than love?
if you are harmonious inside yourself, you would wish to bring harmony to other lives as well and that involves conversations, travel and spending time expecting nothing in return. But in terms of humanity, the returns are unlimited..

A gift from the Heart... The Winnebago way

Winnebago is a small village of american Indians along the river in the North Eastern corner of the State of Nebraska in the middle of the USA. I have been associated with this for a few years, and the professional appointment spills into the social millieu as they are a people very fond of establishing relationships.
I walked into the store, I was leaving the village this evening for a very long journey, in distance but not in time, the store itself is nothing more than a few petrol pumps and a convenient store attached to it. Inside I ran into a young mother who wished to discuss the nutritional aspects of her children's diet, since availability of good food is a problem in these parts.
I was leaving the country (drive to Omaha, flight to Miami and then flight overseas). While I had Euros, Cuban CUCs, Malaysian Ringgits in my wallet, I did not have much US currency in small denominations. The young woman, her mother whose picture is in the centre of the above collage with all of her grandchildren, noticed that i was short of money for a bag of mixed nuts and i had opted for a small bag of peanuts. they had a good laugh at the situation of a doctor with no cash. We laughed together
I left the store and as I was about to get into the car, I saw the young woman, rushing out to the car with the bag of mixed nuts in her hand. She smiled and said, this is for you, doctor; and she was gone.
Outsiders always complain that Indians dont say thank you or not use that word enough, in the indian way of thinking, dont do anything expecting thanks, do it from your heart and then you wont be waiting for a thank you any way..
Something simple, but very symbolic of the relationship i have built up with the Winnebago Indians of Nebraska. I was very touched: good sign of this important journey to Miami and Kuala Lumpur and then back home to Paris... all very very far from this small, isolated community where I, a foreigner and from another culture, is made to feel at home..

samedi 19 septembre 2009

Sad News of the Death of Sammy Hallegua in Cochin



Received an email from my good friend Rockey Neroth from Fort Cochin to say that his local guardian, whom he had known since 1986, had passed away in Cochin. It was Sammy Hallegua, the warden of the synagogue.
Last October, 2008, I had the chance to participate in the Simchat Torah celebrations at the Synagogue and it is an unique celebration of the cochinis, a joyous occasion with the synagogue all lit up and decorated. I clearly remember Sammy singing and dancing, since he was conducting the service. On my way to a conference in Cochin december 2008, I saw him waiting for his son, who is in the USA, who arrived on the same flight as I had, from Bombay. He looked frail but bright and cheerful and had his kippah on.
it is a sad day for cochinis. there are just 7 left i think in Jew Town.. where there had been a synagogue since 1145 of common era! today is the first day of New Year, and I am sure that the silence of the jew town and the synagogue would be deepened by this loss.
I remember Dickie Cohen, who is no more, his brother in law Shalom and my good friend Itzhak Hallegue.. all departed leaving good memories.
I have a hebrew calendar for 5767 hand copied by Sammy since there were no Hebrew calendars to be had that year. Sarah Cohen gave me her old copy, which I shall treasure.
My heartfelt condolences to his wife of many years, Queenie and also his son David who is practising as a Rheumatologist in LA, his wife and their lovely daughter. I had never met sammy's daughter who also lives in the USA, i knew that she had received a Masters Degree in Sociology. Sammy did mention that he went over there for her wedding as well.
You are in our thoughts like you are in the hearts of many people, not only jews, indian and foreign who had the pleasure of meeting you or praying with you, but hundreds of men and women from every walk of life from your beloved cochin. They will remember you with gratitude, as did my good friend Rockey Neroth..
I shall say the Kaddish..
AmericanIndians say that nothing is casual, casualidad es no tan casual.. just today I also received in the mail , the book by Edna Fernandes: The Last Jews of Kerala..

Looking for Postcards in Miami

I had promised the Indians in Nebraska that I would send them postcards from my forthcoming destinations and I had made up my mind to write to many patients of mine, as was my custom when I began working with them.
With that in mind, I searched the Kendall area of Miami for post cards... I never thought it would be this difficult!
at one store, the girl behind the counter did not even understand what i was after.. I reminded her that people used to write to one another .. it was a little sad but good to witness the death of the written word.. i went to about 10 different places and none of them had postcards of Miami, they had large centres of prefilled in greeeting cards, magnets and also keychains made in China inviting you to come and enjoy the beach, but no postcards..
I will try again tomorrow at some of the more popular chemists stores, with the hope that i can get a few so that on my next leg, a long trip to Asia, i can start writing postcards to my friends, Indians and Non Indians alike..

lundi 14 septembre 2009

Thank you Continental Airlines..Platinum Frequent Flier for yet another year

OnePass Elite Level:

Platinum

SkyTeam Elite Level:

Elite Plus

Year to Date Elite Miles:

77,681

Year to Date Elite Points:

28

Flexible Elite Miles:

11000

Lifetime Flight Miles:

1,409,126

There is something to be said about being loyal, even if it is only to an Airline! With four more months of flying to go, I have made it to the Platinum Level of Frequent Flier Status for the year 2010. It does give you an enormous amount of perks, the least of which is the ability to board the aircraft ahead of every one. Which does make a difference when you are flying Economy Class on trans atlantic flights. And also they try to keep the seat next to you free, so that you have a little bit more room. If you are flying within the USA, if seats are available there is always complimentary Upgrade to First Class, which can come in handy! And of course, when something goes wrong with your journey, they attend to your grievances pretty quickly. I cannot say enough about the service I receive at Continental Airlines and every now and then get personal thank you notes!

So, my thanks to Continental Airlines, for

Upgrading me whenever they can, keeping the seat next to me free, excellent serice over the phone when I need some special itinerary, friendliness at the President’s Club at EWR, IAH. Special mention must be made of the Japanese International Concierges especially in IAH and NRT.

Being loyal also makes you familiar with the personnel and I have made some good friends mainly at the CO check in counters at MIA.

The sweet desert of all these is free Business Class Tickets to Asia twice a year!

Australian Sense of Humour


Those of us who grew up in Australia, and many others who have made this great brown continent their home, an australian sense of humour is essential for an integrated life in Australia. I have always felt that an Australian, whether of Irish Catholique origin or Malaysian Chinese origin, is the person who fully understands Australian sense of humour.

I was sent to Sweden on an exchange programme from australia and I remember telling them that we had a shortage of postmen in Australia and it was wonderful sight to see Kangaroos with mails in their pouch delivering mail all over australia.. They did believe that!


These were posted on an Australian Tourism Website and the answers are the actual responses by the website officials, who obviously have a great sense of humour (not to mention a low tolerance threshold for

cretins!)

__________________________________________________

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK).

A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

__________________________________________________

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)

A: Depends how much you've been drinking.

__________________________________________________

Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)

A: Sure, it's only three thousand miles, take lots of water.

__________________________________________________

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)

A: What did your last slave die of?

__________________________________________________

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia?

(USA)

A: A-Fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe.

Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not ... Oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

__________________________________________________

Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

_________________________________________________

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK )

A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do...

__________________________________________________

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)

A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is….Oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

__________________________________________________

Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)

A: You are a British politician, right?

__________________________________________________

Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)

A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.

__________________________________________________

Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can Dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)

A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

__________________________________________________

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear and lives in trees. (USA)

A: It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of Gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

__________________________________________________

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia? (USA)

A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

__________________________________________________

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)

A: Only at Christmas.

__________________________________________________

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)

A: Yes, but you'll have to learn it first

dimanche 13 septembre 2009

I am going to work 12 september 2009


I thought to myself, I am going to work… On this day, 12th September 2009

As the Continental Airlines 767-400 took off from CDG, I had a curious sensation: I am going to work! All of a sudden, the ten hour flight to IAH seemed bearable!

Travel and its significance has changed this year..

India: February. Meeting the remarkable Blind Astrologer of Madras/Cennai

Malaisie: May. Good Food/Conversations

Myanmar: May. A sentimental journey to the Hat Sellers of Chaungtha

Havana: June. Love and Affections

USA: various times to be with American Indians, to be with sister jackie in Miami

The only Tourist visit was a weekend spent in New York City in the company of MunChing, Samiye and Nancy, meeting Ada, Neem.. and seeing English/Spanish version of The West Side Story.

This year I will attain Platinum Frequent Flier Status (have already flown more than 75000 necessary) on Continental Airlines and Inshallah, Gold Status on Air France ( you really have to fly a lot on them to get Gold Status! They don’t award miles actually flown but according to what you pay, fair enough I suppose).

Where does Travel end and Life Begin? The boundaries have long been blurred: Travel, Life and Work. Work has never been that stressful after I made a decision very early in my career that I will direct Work rather than it dictating to me!

Forthcoming Trip: Miami to Kl on 21Sept 2009 and then KL to Paris on 26th Sept 2009.. Once again food for the mind and body in KL..

Life and travels among the American Indians, Paris where the Heart and the Dreams are and Havana for the unending feast of emotions!




Death of a Philosopher Gerard Cohen


Gerard “Jerry” Cohen, Jewish, Montreal-born, was till his recent death Professor of Philosophy, Fellow of All Soul’s College. He was a fervent egalitarianist-the kind we do not come across very often. His view, which he was still developing at the time of his death, that personal behavior, personal example and personal morality were important, in that they gave the society an ethos that could elevate the nature of social life.

Having had a father, who was an egalitarianist, it made me think very early on in my life, that all of us have to do very little to make the society a better place. Who other than the venerable Zhou En Lai, who said: let us all get ahead together. This idea of being one of the many, being part of a force that swells up, is still alien to many Asians, because of their penchant for money and to many Europeans, because of their steadfast belief in Individualism. Multiple examples in both sides of the Divide exist.

To the charge made by his opponents that he was flirting with bourgeoisie liberalism, he would say: No bourgeoisie liberal would argue for real egalitarianism. Nor would they live among the proletarians!

I am amazed at the current polemic about providing Health Care for all in the USA. Such rhetoric and such fire being fueled just because individualism triumphs over egalitarianism. Jerry Cohen would have chuckled: his emphasis on the morality of human association (such as providing Health Care for all on an equal basis) does not have to frighten the ordinary people as workings of the devil, charged to change their lives as they know it, but this morality of human beings ( Che argued that in his book, The New Man and Zhou En Lai lived the concept) can open a possible future for happiness among humans who interact and have contact with the mechanisms of their own societies. We are going through another era of lack of disrespect for other human beings, whether our own kind or other societies. Yesterday, they intercepted a boat load of people from Eritrea intending to get to the shores of the USA ! and they were intercepted off Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Even us, who have international upbringings and wider worldviews, these geographical crossings point to a failure of our own morality.

We want Bangladeshis to clean our homes, Indonesian maids to look after our children, Mexican maidens to make up beds in hotel rooms, Salvadoreans to wash dishes at cheap eateries.. but we are not willing to do something extra.. not all of us can do something extra, but at least think favourably something extra.. Visiting Bangladesh may be out of question, starting a project to help Bangladeshis may not be within the realm of many, but think of them, not as a congregation of humans ( In the Gulf States, they are equated with animals!), but people working hard to bring up the standard of living which we take so for granted. Why do I mention Bangladesh? (apart from the fact that Bangladeshi taxi drivers in New York City ask me whether I am from their country!)

Of all the countries that rely upon remittances from abroad for a sizable proportion of their income, only in Bangladesh the amount of remittances have not gone down (in fact during August of 2009, the remittances from exiled Banglas was at a record peak), compared to the countries whose citizens have gone to Europe or USA.

So Jerry Cohen, who grew up in a working class neighbourhood of Montreal of Jewish Communist parents, himself elevated to the august halls of academia but never forgetting the basic concept of being a human being…a philosopher who would leave his legacy for years to come, something not all of us can claim to do.

At least we can follow the Jewish Concept of Mitzvah..vaguely translated as Good Deed..and try to be better human beings..

vendredi 11 septembre 2009

What am I doing here?


WHY

MunChing with two Hocank youngsters

Today is 10th September 2009. In exactly 11 days, I will leave MIAMI for a long flight to KLIA.. leaving at 5 45 pm local time and arriving TWO days later at 1500 local time..
How long do I plan to stay in KL?
Just three days!
Are you crazy you may ask.. not at all. I am going there to see my best friend in
Asia.. MunChing!
Siince I met her in Siem Reap in January 2008, she has helped me in a thousand ways. Apart from helping me with my projects in
Cambodia and Myanmar.. she travelled with me to both Cambodia and Myanmar and has contributed to the health care projects in both countries.
In 21 months, I would have been in KL about ten times, that is ten times coming in and ten times going out.. always from KLIA and each time she has picked me up and delivered me to the airport. You know how far it is? very long ways from KL,
When I am there, she takes time off her work (thus having used up most of her holidays)( she has a very responsible job as Chief of Finance section of a well known company in KL)..
plus on three different occasions, organized Facials at Guinot in KLCC and pedicure/manicure/haircut at A Cut Above in Bangsar. I dont take taxis nor LRT but my best friend is always there to ferry to my destinations, making appointments to meet intellectual friends we have made in common, not only in KL but also in Malacca and Penang.
I a truly grateful to have met her and her unselfish committment to this friendship.
It is not always I who travels the long distance, she made an effort in july of this year to come and witness the annual celebrations of the HoCank Indians of
Nebraska..
Truly a wonderful Human Being, a great ambassador for Malaysian People and also a very atypical chinese person, when it comes to the time, effort and money she spends on her friends, which includes not only me but many scattered around
Shanghai, New York and the Indian subcontinent..
She speaks Fluent Malay (reads and writes in it) and is a frequent visitor tothe Bookstore at KLCC.. being an avid reader, a habit she picked up in NYC.. She subscribes to the weekly newsmagazine The Economist, in my opinion the most erudite analytical news magazine in the english language..
That is why i am willing to travel Air France Miami to Paris 8 h 45 min Paris to Amsterdam 1hr 30 min and KLM Amsterdam to KLIA 13 hours... and back to Paris 13 hours on Malaysian Airlines just three days later.
Thank you so much, MunChing my best friend in all of
Asia...

mercredi 9 septembre 2009

Food that does not Harm you.. in Paris


If you are interested in my musings about Nutrition and Health, some with a heavy cultural overlay, you can consult www.crossculturalendocrinology.blogspot.com
When coming home this evening, I thought, what is that in the food, even things such as Almond crusted croissant, that does not harm your body in Paris whereas a croissant (i must admit they are much larger in the USA) hurts your body with increasing blood sugar?
At Brioche Doree, i bought a Croissant aux amandes for i.55 euro. Couldnt wait to get my nespresso going and viola... it was ready.. before that, I thought I would check my blood sugar, it was 97 mg/dl. Lunch was three hours ago ( Lamb Tajine with couscous, with a very creamy dessert and coffee) and i enjoyed my croissant and coffee and was reading my emails etc.. 45 minutes later my blood sugar was only 102 mg/dl. I am an Endocrinologist, a specialist in metabolism, I can only say that it reflects the ingredients that made that croissant? or the fact that I am happy to be in Paris and eating Croissant and my favourite Nespresso? ( will you believe that in the isolated part of the midwest, where the nearest cafe is 35 miles away, I have a Nespresso machine, with the convertor from 150 volts to 220 volts, which I had to search all over the world and was able to get it in madras, India!). So while you are in Paris, eat and drink to your hearts delight, very soon you might be in countries where eating and drinking may not be that safe.. (USA, UK, Australia... all with great food but easily available food is contaminated!)

dimanche 6 septembre 2009

Sorry, I want to say to the Japanese Lady, in Marais, Paris


Corruption of Morality to other Human Beings

Last night, around Midnight, was walking along Marais, a Hip neighbourhood of France, after a very satisfying dinner at Breizh Café, a Breton owner with Creperies in Japan and now in France!

Someone approaches and offers a Rose. We are so used to con people, usually women in long dresses and their heads covered, offering this or that, they say , it is just a gift and then try to get a few Euros out of you. I usually politely say no, and move on. So the immediate reaction this time also was that… But a second later, as the lady passed me by, I realized that it was a very nicely dressed Japanese lady who probably wanted to give us the rose some admirer had given her…I felt so terrible, this corruption of morality in which a gesture as gentle as this had to be reciprocated in such harsh terms, in this reality of western world.

All large cities in Europe (and America, but their very few cities are pedestrian friendly) have huge numbers of legal and illegal immigrants, who are eking out a few centavos, selling fake clothes, things made in China of familiar brands, in Paris, Bangladeshis by the millions, are selling fruits and nuts by the road side.. I have immense sadness to see this. With all the progress the rich countries have made in the last 100 years, we still only steal the best from the developing countries but close the doors on the thousands who would benefit by a human glance from the rich.

Look what Cuba does! A poor country by any standards, but it educates THOUSANDS and thousands poor students to become professionals and go back to their own countries and help their countrymen and at the same time make a decent life for themselves. Isn’t it better to be a teacher in Zanzibar than selling flowers at a metro stop? I have immense pride in this action of Cuba which educates 18000 doctors for Latin America and 5000 doctors for Africa at any one time...

In the meantime, I am really sorry for my action of not accepting the rose from that lovely Japanese lady, at Marais last night around midnight...

mercredi 2 septembre 2009

More than Proud of Paris

Walking around the Place de la Republique, I was pleased to see a large poster of Aung San Suu Kyi, The Lady of Rangoon, The leader of Burma, exalted as the Honorary Citizen of the City of Paris. If all cities and all countries who pay lip service to democracy, mainly the countries in South and South East Asia did the same, the Junta MAY listen and at least let her contest in the next years elections.. Three Cheers for Paris!

mardi 1 septembre 2009

CUBA and Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Gabo and Magical Realism; Alejo Carpentier and Realidad Maravillosa

Currently I am reading an excellent book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gerald Martin, a labour of love of over two decades. And it shows.

Gabo’s autobiography Living to Tell the Tale was a good read as well, which read like one of his books of fiction. Reading this biography, one can make the relationships between what had happened to Gabo in his life and their re appearances in various novels of his.

To quote:

Many years later, when Garcia Marquez managed to reconstruct these two ways of interpreting and narrating reality, both of these involving a tone of absolute certainty-the worldly, rationalizing sententiousness of his grandfather and the other-worldly, oracular declamations fo his grandmother-leavened by his won inimitable sense of humour, he would be able to develop a world-view and a corresponding narrative technique which would be instantly recognizable to the readers of each new work.

Gabo, a lover of Cuba and a personal friend of Fidel ( in fact once opening an international Medical congress in Havana, Fidel confessed he had not much sleep the night before, because he had just read a virgin copy of Love in the Time of Cholera! Before it was published!) is a literary phenomenon in that coming from the “third world”: Caribbean coast of Colombia, he has influenced the writing of so many other writers who came out of the developing world: when I read Albert Wendt, the NZ educated Samoan writer, the first line of his book, Leaves of the Banyan Tree , had shades of Marquez in it: It had rained all day, and Tauilopepe Mauga had remained in the main fale plaiting sinnet.

Who does not know Macondo? And Cien Anos de Soledad/One hundred years of solitude must be one of the most widely read novels of all time! In fact, Macondo was the name of a Banana plantation near where Gabo grew up in the company of his morally loose but socially strict grandfather and a grandmother who was forever seeing ghosts and constantly praying to all sorts of spirit forms even though they were strict Catholics.

Every one could read about Macondo, but very few could live in a place like Macondo, for which I thank the stars. Our Macondo was and is Baracoa where it was not unusual for us to sit by the wall facing the ocean and recite poetry, under the slight influence of strong Cuban rum. That is how we all remember, the first and last lines of all Gabo’s book.. and either me or the little poet of our village, just known by his surname Castro, even though he would pompously introduce himself as Miguel Angel Castro Machado, the spiritual guardian of Baracoa .. we would break into the lines of Gabo’s books. Any one from our village who had attended university could recite from memory many of the lines: On the day he was going to be shot, Colonel Auereliano Buendia thought fondly of that distant afternoon when his father took him to see ice (written from memory) or the last line: How long shall we go on sailing? The capitan asked. Florentino Ariza has been waiting for that question for 59 years, four months and three days and its night, he answered.. Forever (written from memory). The names of his characters seemed a little odd to us educated in the anglo saxon tongues but when your mother is called Tranquilina Iguaran Cotes and that she lived calmly knowing that her husband had sired various illegal children during the time of marriage and some of whom were to come and live in the house which was the beginning of the novel Cien Anos in the head of the little Gabito growing up in that arid countryside trying to make sense of his place of the world of Generals, A thousand Day war and the Untouchable Indians.

What has Cuba to do with all that? Salman Rushdie being influenced by a Latin American form of writing?

Who was Alejo Carpentier? His home just a couple of doors away from the famous La Bodeguita del Medio (where Hemingway used to hang out and now a very popular tourist destination in la Habana) is now a museum dedicated to his memory.

Alejo Carpentier was a Cuban writer who straddled the connection between European literature and the native culture of Latin-America. He was for a long time the Cuban cultural ambassador in Paris. Carpentier was trying to place Latin-American culture into a historical context. This was done via a conscious depiction of the colonial past - as in The Kingdom of This World, and Explosion in a Cathedral (title in Spanish El Siglo de las Luces - or The Age of Enlightenment).

His literary style is a wonderful combination of dazzling images and a rich language, full of the technical jargon of whatever subject he touches on - be it music, architecture, painting, history, or agriculture.

He was also the first to use the techniques of 'magical realism' (and he coined the term, lo real maravilloso) in which the concrete, real world becomes suffused with fantasy elements, myths, dreams, and a fractured sense of time and logic.

Carpentier is generally considered one of the fathers of modern Latin American literature. His complex, baroque style has inspired such writers as Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes.

Alejo Carpentier is considered the father of Magical Realism, made now very famous and popular by Gabo. It is no irony that Gabo spends part of his days in La Habana, he is supposed to be a good cook and Fidel used to stop by his seaside home for a snack.

Even while he is recuperating from his surgeries, one of the few visitors Fidel has entertained has been Gabo and his wife Mercedes. In July 2008, Fidel wrote: ( part of his weekly reflections published by Granma)

I chose to get together with Gabo and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, who are visiting Cuba until the 11th. How I wanted to chat with them, to recall almost 50 years of sincere friendship!

Our news agency, as suggested by Che, had just been born, and it hired, among others, the services of a modest Colombian journalist named Gabriel García Márquez. Neither Prensa Latina nor Gabo had the slightest idea that there would be a Nobel Prize; or maybe this son of a small-town Colombian post-office telegraph operator buried in the banana plantations of a Yankee company had some inkling, with that "Brobdingnagian" imagination of his. He shared his lot with a bunch of siblings, as was the custom, still his father, a Colombian with the privilege of being employed thanks to the telegraph keys, was able to give him an education.

I experienced the opposite. The post office with its telegraph keys and the little public school in Birán were the only facilities in that hamlet that were not owned by my father; all the rest of the goods and services of any economic value belonged to Don Ángel, and for that reason I was able to go to school. I never had the privilege of getting to know Aracataca, the small town where Gabo was born, but I certainly had the privilege of celebrating my 70th birthday in Birán, with him as my guest.

The morning of 1 september 2009 is ending for me in Paris. How lovely to think about Gabo, Carpentier, Fidel, Baracoa, Cuba on this morning when Continental Airlines informed me that I have flown 75 000 miles during the year 2009 to continue my Platinum Elite Frequent Flier Status!

(sententiousness: tending to indulge in pompous morality as was the case with Gabo’s grandfather Colonel Nicolas Marquez Mejia.

Declamation: a rhetorical or emotional speech, made especially in order to protest or condemn as was the case of Gabo’s Grandmother, Tranquilina Iguaran Cotes)

My Macondo, Mi Pueblocito Querido, BARACOA

Just few of the thousands of images of my life in Baracoa, Cuba: full of magic and mystery and sensuality and satisfaction, intellectual stimulation and divine friendships.. Yes A True Dream Indeed! dedicated to my closest friend in Baracoa, the poet and historian, eccentric raconteur, Miguel Angel Castro Machado, simply known as Castro..